Sunday, March 26, 2017

You never forget your first...


"Forty eight hours after the Chuckanut 50k in Bellingham, WA and the stoke is still crazy high and I'll be honest my body may here in Santa Clara, CA but my mind is still on the Ridge Trail."

Six weeks out from race I was getting ready to the hay when I popped right up, stared at the calendar, and freaked out. I had no accommodations booked. No flights booked. So at 11:02pm I booked it all starting with the Air BnB after checking out the race start line and finding the closest space available....a cozy studio apartment 0.8 miles from the start line (spot on!). I should have known adaptation was going to rule the trip when I booked my Alaska Airlines flight a day sooner than my Air BnB check in a casualty of having way too many tabs open in my browser. No worries though I got it all aligned about 10 days before the race.

Four weeks out from Chuckanut I raced in the Fourmidable 50k (2/18/17) in Auburn, CA which also served as the USATF 50k Trail Championships and I used it as a tune up for Chuckanut (3/18/17) exactly four weeks later. Little did I know that it would be the perfect training run to test every scenario including the coming down with an intense 72 hour flu that prevented me from hitting some of my favorite workouts. I loving call Fourmidable 50k "FourMUDable" for it rained up to race day morning. Similarly, the race emails started coming eight days out from Chuckanut with a forecast of rain through race day! We got a break from the rain on Thursday but then right on schedule Friday at 3pm it started to rain again.

It is now been forty hours since my last Chuckanut and I'm listening to the "Four hour work week" as I type. Like racing. It is time to finish this puppy and ask for forgiveness later rather than ask my brain for permission to be less than perfect.

I stuck with the McMillan Run Club training plan as much as life allowed and layered with Orangetheory Fitness classes 3 x a week for 6 six weeks (Jan 16, 2017-Feb 27, 2017).
The goals for the race were set out as follows.

Plan A: Going into the race I planned on snagging a well earned PR or sub 4:55. Needless to say once I learned of the mud, rain, and colder temps of which the first two do not equate to PR conditions for me.

Plan B: ran a smart race take out the first 10k faster than I normally would, pull back the rain over the ridge and have the energy to hammer the final 15k. Looking back that was pretty aggressive but hell I was going to learn something either way might as well bring it!

Plan C: Run strong and use every muscle attached to a neural connection. Hey I may even find a few more muscles along the way. Nothing to lose.

Here is how the race played out in thirds:

Check that heart rate (1/3)

In all reality I didn't really take the first 10k faster than I normally would in a 50k.  The difference is that while previously I just went along with the group while this time I struck out with intent.  At the 0:54.39 I was on 4hr 25 minute pace and having covered around 6.8 miles.  The heart rate spiked from time to time cresting at 182. I would back off some to keep it closer to an aerobic rate rather than hitting that tempo to all out HR.

Unfortunately, I was a little too conservative over the next 10k dealing with bio breaks and packing my Patagonia Houdini into itself and into my Nathan pack. Nutrition consumption went well as I was sucking down 200-250 liquid calories and another 70-100 calories from gels, that work in conjunction with Generation UCAN, per hour.

Now. Now. It went down Euro style kiss to the cheek.
Before I knew it I was running the ridge after kissing the girl (see photo).  The aid station were phenomenal!!! We could hear then from a mile away and it made me feel like I was racing a championship cross country meet that than ultramarathon.
So much STOKE and it awaken the inner WILD!

The Chinscraper climb (2/3)

After surviving the technicality of the ridge trail some "just get through it" miles filled the time and a little sadness set in. Chuckanut was about to hit its climax and I wasn't ready for that. In fact I wish I had magical powers like in "Out of This World" to just bring my index fingers together and pause time and soak in the mist, slide on the rock slabs, and peer over the canyon.

I was so grateful for this climb for it got us out of the rain and onto less muddy ground which meant more stable footing.  I felt some, previously unknown, muscles tweaking in weird places just before this crown jewel of climbs. I subtly let the mind drift to thoughts of my friend Mike Shep, now in Naples, Italy, and wondered how he felt climbing the Chinscraper.  Definitely had some of my slowest mile splits in this section. The summit kicked us back out to the "Kissing Booth" Aid Station where I loaded up with both bottles with 250 calories a piece so I blast through the remaining aid station and roll for as long the legs could hold a pace.

Trouble in Paradise (3/3)

Shortly after leaving the aid station I started to pick up the pace as planned. Then the rain started to pour! I roared. Yelled and let an orange and black version of William Wallace loose.  Everyone that passed me over the passed five miles had a target on their back.

A little voice in the back of my mind was trying to be reasonable and convince me to back of the pace a little bit so I could run a more consistent pace on the Interurban trail for the last 10k.  I didn't listen and kept hammering the 4 mile descent that shot me like a sling shot past the last aid station as I thanked the volunteering, dished out high fives, and turned other runners negatives into positives.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2
Around mile 27 and with roughly 8k to go I hit the wall not energy wise but physically. I felt as if I my left leg was doing all the work and the right leg was only tapping the ground long enough to keep me from falling over.  About four people passed me back at this point and I searched for signs. Literally, the Chucaknut signs with pictures and "mantras" and for familiar points that would give me some hope that the finish line in near.

I could hear footsteps.  Their pace wasn't threatening so I forced the pace some.  I couldn't shake'em until the sign: "Catch the runner in front of you!" caught my eye. Hell with that I am that runner! You are not catching me! Then about a half mile later I look to my left and I saw the Virgin Mary. I was home. I knew exactly where I was. I tapped my the go button one last time as the rain stopped. A negative split 50k with a finish time of 5:37 only 2 hours and 4 minutes behind Max King, Hayden Hawks, and Sage Canaday.

Alas, another adventure is in the books. New ideas are a brewing. Wanderlust has set in.

Ciao Amigos!

Take a peek at some the race reports interviews and weekend recap:

Sage Canaday's Chuckanut 50k video: click here 
IrunFar post race interview with Max King: here
Ginger Runner Live Episode 158: aqui!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

OrangeTheory Fitness Weight Loss Challenge Week 1

Straight up the central focus of 2017 is to transform my body from where it is to where I want it to be: 100 miles ready. Last year brought about the following accomplishments:
  • completing my first 100,
  • completed my first Vertical Kilometer,
  • marathon PR at the Berlin Marathon,
  • half marathon PR at the Humboldt Redwoods Half, and
  • summited Mt. Humphrey (12,633 ft).

Let's face it. Strength training is an important element. So is motivation and finding something that you are willing to do and make sacrifices to do.

Thus, the water-based rower, squat jumps, plyo-step ups, ultimate burpees, TRX exercises like bridge pull ups, single legged, body-weight, and muscle confusion templates (breathe)... Will help my body become fitter, stronger, and leaner. Setting up the table to become a fitter, faster, and stronger road, trail, and mountain runner.

Recap of Week 1

The weigh in took my by surprise.  I figured I'd be around 152 lbs not 159! Then the body fat.
Maybe I was dehydrated and not been drinking enough water, in general, but yo it was an eye opener! Oh and yes I do
now that are perfect ways to measure body fat.  The point was proven.  I have room to improve. 

Monday Power Day with Coach Victoria: 45 splat points, 920 calories burned.

I came into the day low on energy.  Understandable since I ran 19 miles in 3 hours on Sunday after Coach Dubs Endurance day class on Saturday. Power day to me means using my running muscles in a different fashion and activating other muscles. I got a little excited with the beats and it showed as time I spent in the red zone was high. Key movements: row to squat jumps w/10 lb wgt, Plyo-step ups, hop overs, plank punches

Wednesday: Endurance Day with Coach Dan aka Dubs: 31 splat points, 859 calories burned.

I had the major wobbles today.  Walked into the studio as if I had been riding a Burro for 24 hours with no saddle. On Saturday Coach Dubs helped me with my row technique.  The 1 count pause at the end of the pull.  Given how sore I felt I knew I needed a few days off of OTF to recover.  In class I focused on good form.  TRX exercises that stuck out were the split fly/split arm/aligator and the bridge row.  Time spent in the green zone (zone 3) is a metric I am going to keep an eye on. 
Today 19 minutes in the green.

Sunday: Endurance Day with Coach Amber: 33 splat points, 915 calories burned.

Felt much better soreness-wise stepping into class despite yesterday's long run of just under 3 hours and 50 minutes covering 24.3 miles with the last 30 minutes fast finish style aka running harder than I've been for the previous 3hrs.  The 7:30am class was a in 3 group (3G) format which meant quality time with the rower.  So, I started there for the row squat jump combo. We went 800m/14sj- 600m/16sj- 400m/18sj- 200m/20sj and if you got to the bottom before time you climb the ladder back up!  The floor had a bunch of upper body based exercises which is perfect 'cause I need that upper body to scramble up summits!

The Weight Loss Challenge

The challenge lasts six weeks from January 16th thru February 27th 2017.
Rules of the game:

  • Weigh in three times: Pre-challenge, Mid-way, & at completion.
  • Commit to three 1-hour workouts per each week of the challenge (18 total).
  • Only one workout per day will count towards the challenge.
  • Complete the majority of the workouts at your home OTF (varies by studio).
  • Optional: Front, Side, and Back photo (varies by studio).
  • There might be another one but the ones above are the ones I remember.

Pre-Challenge Stats

Saturday January 14th
Weight: 159 lbs
Body Fat: 19%

Tuesday January 17th (Yearly Physical)
158.8 lbs

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Coding while Latino: 14 days later...

November 21, 2016 

I logged into to Code Cademy to start a journey into learning to code. In December I got the email titled "Congrats on one month of code!" The only problem I had not returned to site in a month. Well things were about to change. 

I turned to YouTube and started searching everything about learning to code:
  • Best websites to learn code, 
  • Methods: CS degree vs. bootcamp vs. self-taught, 
  • Top 5 things, 
  • The three most important to do's, and
  • Being a digital nomad, etc.
Let's peel the onion back a little bit.  For some of you reading this post you know I've attended open houses at Coding Dojo, started an application with Learner's Guild (felt intimidated), logged into a webinar with Bloc (gained hope), and looked in Galvanize, Dev Camp, and blah, blah, blah give me money <insert name here/> coding bootcamp site.

The biggest obstacles that I started to reason out were:
1) funding ($4k-$14K), 2) giving up 3 months of seeing daylight, 3) not having a sugar mama or sugar daddy <see obstacle #1/>, and 4) let's face it I run and it's my life's anchor.

The main video on YouTube that spoke to me differently after watching it the second time and accepting the obstacles identified was the following:

1) code everyday.
2) hang out with other people who code.
3) tools really don't matter.

The first day of the year I summited Mt. Diablo with the Beer Bucket Run crew.  The second day during an uber driving break at whole foods-dogpatch I popped open the laptop and started reviewing what I learned on November 21st.  My brain hurt but I was back on the horse.

Day 3: I logged onto Free Code Camp and was totally impressed by the depth of resources: chat forums, facebook groups in seemingly every city, blog, and industry news. It was in the blog that I learned about the 100 days of code challenge.

Day 5: The First Stump
The began quite swiftly as I turned on the uber app and started taking people from point A to point B.  Main goal was to get to Berkley and continue learning how to code at one of my main eastbay coffee shops Sacks on College near UCB! sets you up with a challenges that navigate you over a curriculum. I the challenge wall hardcore.  So I did some google searching. I finally asked the forum on FreeCodeCamp and asked for help. The person that decided to "help" could not have been more condescending! It ticked me off but I was cordial and asked that the help not "put me down" in the process. Response: "I should run on to my next helper." OHH! Now I am livid, but focused.

My interpretation was the following: "You can't do this." Those of ya'll that have been around me know that even implying "You Can't!" Fires me Up! Why? Because Yes, I Can! Yes, I will! Watch Me!  How many Latin@s stop there? Where are the Raza that have made it? Where is their journey? I know they are out there.

Let's that this Ethnic-Macro...How many Latin@s stop there? Seriously, whether the negativity comes at school, in the home, online it can have the effect of discouraging progress.
Thus I ask, Where are the Raza that have made it? Where is their journey documented? Where are the career changer Latin@s? I know they are out there. There is tons of 411 on high school programs, college programs like google summer of code, but what about the 30+ that have game, skill, and drive that want to blow sh!t up and go beyond the stereotype and bring some swagger and vegan tamales to the industry.

Ok. Enough ranting. I'm fired up. You get it.
The next few days I plowed through the content while figuring out what my learning best practices are in respect to learning how to code.

Day 13: At the conclusion of the day I had put in roughly 15 hours of learning. Next up my first projects on FreeCodeCamp.  Quickly I realized that I needed to take a step back and supplement the learning with more substance. This is where CodeCademy comes into the mix.

Moving forward the plan is document the journey.  The learning curve might be greater coming form a non Computer Science background but what I have in favor is that I have a science background.
I come from a solution finding career as a former political operative. Where will the journey lead me? Unclear.  All I have to do is keep moving forward and focus on what I can control.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Black Canyons 100k: Rising Out of Darkness

I'm not having fun.  Why should I go on? Where are all these rocks coming from? Damn it these shrubs don't move.  I miss my trails.  I should just drop. Three letter facebook status update: DNF.
Just keep moving.  I wish I could see my crew. I wonder how Megan is holding up.  What was I thinking a 100k in the desert. Who put that Cactus there?

Volunteer: "You're halfway done it's all downhill from here." 
Me: Down down down like a burning ring of fire. Crap this race gets harder in the 2nd half.  I'm not cut out for this.  5k's are more fun.  I can't wait to run a road marathon.  I don't want to go on... 
Well just get to Black Canyon City to see your crew.

What a way to conclude the 2015 racing season!  I had intended to take the conventional end of season break after completing the North Face Challenge 50 Miler in the Marin Headlands.  However, if you know me you know I don't tend to follow what the flock is doing. 

A couple of weeks before TNF50 my friend, co-worker, and pacer for TNF50 was like "Hey Isaac.  You want to a Western States Qualifier with me in February?" The logic made sense.  I had a solid build up into TNF50. All I had to was recover and then pick up the McMillan Race Plan from RunClub that matched the course profile.  McMillan Coach Ian Torrence posted a great read in my training log that helped me put together race day.  McMillan Coach Jacob Puzey (blog link) lent me some great insights and shared Micheal Carson's blog post: Tips for Finishing the Black Canyons Ultras.

Back to the task at hand....If I listened to my body, focused on quantity over quality, then I'd be ready to toe the line.  I even finished TNF50 with the thought I could go for another 12 miles or two hours.  The icing on the training cake was going to be a mixture of Orange Theory Fitness, core session with Alison Corcoran of Glodilock's Training on Thursday at A Runner's Mind, and a little zumba near the end of the training block.

About every eight to ten days I would jump online and consume as much info about the race as I could.  All the downhill worried me.  I mean my quads were sore for 4 days after Ann Trason's Overlook 50k back in October and there was a ton of downhill starting at mile 5 dipping into the canyon just as the day was going to get hotter. The one element I did not work in was allowing my mind to recover and it reared its ugly face shortly after the leaving the Gloriana Mine A.S. at mile 24.

The Course: Vegetation, Asteroid fields, Gulches, River Washes, and Detours

The Black Canyons 100k was the most challenging race I've ever had the pleasure to toe the line.   
The technicality of the Black Canyon Trail is not to be underestimated for it's a different type of technical.

Every type of vegetation is armed and dangerous! Some of the quills on these desert plants feel like they release a minor toxin upon breaking the skin.  You might think they are easy enough to avoid but some these bad boys are the curve of a downhill switch back or you graze them as you dance over the asteroid fields.

I almost named this report kicking rocks because some of the longer segments between aid stations only gave you about 5-10m of runnable terrain before you entering another asteroid field.

If the ready for war vegetation and asteroid fields didn't serve up enough spice for you then maybe the Gulches, River Washes, and semi-out-of-sight marking on the detour are more your forte! These just sucked. The rocks turned to boulders, the dirt to sand, and you had to climb back out of these.

My advice to you should you be seeking to run the Black Canyons 100k is this... unless you have the talent and base to get after a golden ticket, have finished Squamish 50/50, HURT 100, or have completed the course before and addressed your weaknesses, then throw time goals out of the window.  Your goal is to finish.

Note: If you train and race in Vancouver, love the roots of the HURT 100 then you will move faster over the asteroid fields.  Additionally, if you consider yourself a bosu ball champion or have a nickname of twinkle toes then you should add this race to your list.

Miles 1- 4.5: 

The start of the race is sweet from the High School track in Mayer, AZ you are released onto the asphalt stretch that takes you onto the trail with long slithering stretches of almost buttery terrain. You get introduced to the tiny versions of the asteroid field of rocks you will encounter in frequent stretches as you day moves forward.

Starting in the wee moments before the sun rises is picturesque but once the sun rose it came with an intensity I was not expecting an hour into the race.

The cactus will draw your attention and the nopales look sweet and innocent. The rest of the desert plant life you will encounter along the course literally fights back, snaps back at you or straight pokes you through your clothing.

After reading Charles Klinger's Race Report from 2015. I gleamed the importance of drinking at least 16-20 oz before the first aid station.  I took one step further and even sipped from my bladder as I emptied my bio bladder.

Miles 5-24: Descending into the Canyon

In this section I needed to hold back as the canyon feels like it drawing you in like a magnet.  It is all too easy to let it fly and smash up your quads as the mercury intensifies.  The first two aid stations were pretty sweet.  I saw my crew at the second and third aid station which was awesome as I kept finding myself in stretches of no man's land and being hyper vigilant about my footing.  The moment you drew your focus away from the line you were navigating was inviting an ankle roll or a rock would push your foot inward.  Needless to say my brain was working overtime!

Miles 24-37.9: Demons tearing up the mind
One the last things I remember leaving the Gloriana Mine AS was a runner dropping out of the race. He entered the race with a torn knee ligament that needed surgery and the technicality of the descents kept attacking his knee's integrity.  The sun was getting hotter and hotter and I was starting to hate the experience.  

My stomach started to turn on me and the thought of drinking fluids was starting to make my nauseous and my pace slowed way down.  The voice telling me to drop from the race kept getting louder and louder.  Reason was not working.  I questioned what the hell I was doing in AZ (AZ and I have an intense history) again.  I started to beat myself up internally.  I started to rehearse telling Deb and Rach that I was going to drop.  I questioned what I was thinking signing up for ultras.  What am I trying to prove?  

Despite all the heat management I had a headache over my right eye since the second hour of the race.  Things got so bad runners kept asking me if I was ok. "How you doing?" On occasion my misery brought company.  One gentlemen shared with me the exact location where he mentally quit, sat on the sand, and started checking his voice mails missing the cutoff at Black Canyon City.  He regretted it everyday for year until he came back and finished the course in 2015. "You don't want that feeling."  My negative mindset turned that into I don't want to come back here again and I needed to find the magic mantra. I started to go over a check list to justify dropping:

            • Are you hurt? No
            • Are legs done? No
            • Have you thrown up? No 
            • Is anything broken? No
            • Is your pee black or bloody? No
I had no justification to drop. My ego was getting in the way.  Ego is no reason for me to drop. Meb wouldn't drop.  I couldn't let my crew down. I had to at least make it to Black Canyon City.  Then I found it! My pacing chart had me planning to run for 12-13 hours or into 7pm to 8pm.  I came to run for at least 12 hours therefore I could not drop before 12 hours.  Then I needed to get to 13 hours. I searched for every bit of motivation to step forward.  The last uphills before the Aid Station were a godsend because I knew what to do here....grind!  
The Amazing Crew: Christian, Rachel, Deb, Megan, and Moi.
Not pictured: Puppy Dog!

Finally, I descended into the Aid Station and I saw Megan there.  Her race was done.  I understood and it made me angry at the course. This run just turned into heavyweight fight and I was sick and tired of taking all her blows.  The clouds covered the sun and it became my time.  I changed socks, shoes, singlet, switched electrolytes, switched salt tabs,  repacked my bandana, drank some ginger ale and some coke. The only option was to finish this off and bringing this buckle back home to A Runner's Mind!!!

Miles 37.9-62.4: Fighting Back

I walked out of the aid station thanking the volunteers and wishing a great night.  I started having flashbacks of the last 10 miles at North Face. One by one I caught runners that had passed me, held a little conversation, passed them, and surged ahead cross country style. There two good climbs and descents that allowed me to plow, plow, plow. My brain was back the sun was setting. I thanked the heavens for the overcast clouds.  Thanked the earth for the hills and marshaled forward into Cottonwood Gulch (mile 46.6).

The terrain to Table Mesa (mile 51.2 and my crew) got technical real quick.  I started run-hiking the more technical parts and surged on the longer more runnable stretches.  Nightfall increased the technicality of the asteroid fields.  I was entering the longest climb as approached Table Mesa were I changed my socks one last time, drop my hydration pack, picked up my handheld, and UD Groove waist belt with a 15oz body bottle.  I had some more coke, cracked a few jokes, drank a little ramen broth, thanked my crew and volunteers.  The night had set, the coyotes were howling. I mentally transported myself to the NYE night time Marin Headlands 20 mile fun run and it was time to deliver the knock out blow!  

Getting to Doe Spring (mile 58.7) sucked.  Rocks everywhere.  I could feel 4-5 rocks kicking up as I toed off.  I started cursing them underneath my breath, shoving some of them off to the side especially if they were in a dangerous spot.  I made a quick in and out of Doe Spring.  Did some quick math and figured that if I hustled I could still break 16 hours.  A mile and a half out I could see the silhouette of the finish tents.  Passing, surging, and the final .6 miles were very runnable and I hammered dropping a final sprint at 5:48 min/mi. pace, and slammed down my Nathan Handheld as I crossed the finish in 15 hours, 56 minutes, and 10 seconds.

Reflection: The Sun Sets in California 

I could not have finished this race with our amazing crew also known as the Rieger Family.  

Deb: thank you for being steadfast with problem solving, asking questions, driving, rolling up the ice in the bandana, and being a beacon of mindfulness.  

Rachel: Thank you for mixing my electrolytes, filling up my bottles, your laughter, and your hustle.  

Christian:  Thank you for the food, camaraderie, and bringing joy to us all.  

Megan: Thank you for inspiring me to sign up for BC100K, jumping and translating my sound effects into english, and prepping my bottles in between aid stations.  

Jack: Thank you for the ritual you provided for us upon our return and sending us off caffeinated.  

This was the first time I entered into the darkness.  It forced me to dig deep into the netherworlds of my brain.  What more can one expect from a race directed by Jamil Coury who took on the slam of damed in 2015 then a tough race that will morph your soul.

I am almost fearful of the person resides in that world.  In 2010 I left Arizona and started my departure from politics that sent me on this path to redefine Isaac Medrano.  By the time the sun rose on Feb 14th I was thankful for the challenge for there is a certain level of toughness required of surviving in the desert.  

I now have a greater sense of my weaknesses and confirms the level of strength training I need to add to my training, and that I need to practice hiking technical terrain.

Thank you for taking the time to read Black Canyons 100k: Rising Out Of Darkness.

PR weekly mileage: 77.2
First 100k Finish.  
100k PR: 15:56:10. 
First Buckle 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The FUN of the FIDDY

PC: Bernson Photography

"Because in the won't remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing you lawn.
Climb that goddamn mountain." -Jack Kerouac

Thanks to a little Mozart in the Jungle here comes a rather late tale of a first time fifty mile finish inspired to become a repeat offender. First, let's take a flashback to where this whole journey began...the yoga mat.  I laid there in savasana parting the sea of ideas, thoughts seeking to distract peace.  Faces, sounds, passion, and then clarity.  Change is the reward.  Adventure is the path.  Passion is the music that plays cresting the summit.  All this carried me to the finish line on Boylston St. and into a deeper meditation on life and running. Most of this race reflection is going to be on the movement that led to the event and I'll highlight a few of the cornerstone moments that really brought the experience together.

While volunteering at Bull Run Aid Station for the Quicksilver 100k with the Stevens Creek Striders I was asked your typical question: "What's next for you?"  A few moments late the universe spoke to me.  I ask Peggy if I should do the 50 Miler. She replied: "Go ahead and Do It! You want to.  I see it in your eyes."

"Never limit where running can take you." Is the inscription that Bart Yasso signed my copy of his book and a mantra I hold dear.  The whole build up to December 5th was filled with love and signs affirming the decision. All truth be told my entire community was behind me including the my running store, A Runner's Mind, whom allowed me to tweak my schedule so I can spend 4, 5, or even 6 hours training in the Headlands and geek out on the course like Karl Hoagland advised me during a few miles we shared at Overlook 50k.

PC: Lady Cyclist; Carnales en Training
I debated whether or not to have a pacer.  My approach to this event was an experiment. I've never ran that far before in one bout.  My goal was to be in and around 10 hours. Outside of working Get Out the Vote efforts when I was in politics. I've never had to put in that amount of time to complete a race.  Low and behold here comes the universe again.  One of our new hires at a Runner's Mind in July was an ultrarunner and a speedy one (confirmed via at that.  Her name is Megan. She asked me if I needed a pacer.  She gave me the weekend to think about it.  I replied and she responded: "you're in luck the 50k sold out.  So I'll pace you at North Face!" Megan's husband David would join us and serve as my crew. Thank you David for crewing for me on your BIRTHDAY! I'll elaborate on pacing in a few.

Bare with me if you're not into astrology but I am and I am proud to be a July 30th Leo. Megan as it turns out also happens to be a Leo; August 18th to be exact.  I had to take a step back because August 18th is the birth date of my late grandmother Elena Lopez (hint: this is another sign).  My grandmother was taken from us by breast cancer.  In reflecting back upon her history, Grandma was a fighter.  She spear headed my families move to the United States around the time of revolution. A revolution that split families and pinned kin against each other on the battle field.

Megan and I coordinated training around our work schedules and we had some good outings with delicious meals afterwards.  These runs helped shape how I would approach the last 23 miles of the race.  After our first run I knew that a) Megan has positive energy, b) she races to win, and c) she can crush the downhills. During our meals she peppered me with questions like:

"Do you want to run along side, in front, or behind you?
"How do you like to be motivated?"
"What do you go for at aid stations?"

Well those are the ones I remember.  Most of my responses were unclear except for the motivation one which was simple tell it like it is.  The most important part of these runs is that she got to experience me having a good day, low mental moments, a fatigued day, and a day we had to improvise our way back to the cars.  This was crucial on race day when you must be ready to face the good, the bad, or the ugly.

The night before the race I prepped Megan and David with the plan, anticipated time frames per aid station, what I had in my drop bags, and gave them the Oh Shit bag.  In the Oh Shit bag I prepped for two scenarios. Scenario #1: Oh Shit we have to problem solve included change of shoes, first aid kit, back up power charger, rain poncho, and additional hydration and nutritional items.  Scenario #2: Oh Shit we are having a good day had a flip belt with a Chocolate Seasalt GU in my flipbelt and a Simple Hydration bottle with electrolytes.
PC: Michele Sun. Prepping the dropbags.

From the get go I planned to start the day conservatively which was really easy to do because of all the friends I had running in the race, working the aid stations, and lining the course to cheer.  Early
on I knew my friend Sablle was also doing North Face as her first 50 miler.  We hit the trails together on a few training runs and planned to run to Stinson Beach together.  We kept each other in check with hydration, power hiking, and geeked out on the gear we observed in the mid and back of the pack.

Arriving at Stinson Beach felt awesome. I picked up Megan, shared some plesantries, planned for not seeing David til Tennessee Valley and we were on our way.  The first half of the race my aid stations stops ate up a bit of time as I had to use the portos hydration was on point but in hindsight I was running deficient in electrolytes but I remedied that later on...

Reaching Cardiac AS for part deux was another swift AS visit. There I dropped my UD AK vest, downed the rest of my bottle, refilled it, thanked the volunteers, said "Hi!" to Pen, Paulette, and Marcia.  The section that followed worried me a little because the downhill has some technical aspects and lots of places where gravity could inflict carnage on the quads.  However, I felt great so Megan headed down ahead of me clearing the path and dashed down behind her.  I definitely used up more calories than expected so I dipped into my stash of Justin's Almond butter and later on my wheat bread with almond butter.  Megan made sure to note that since we started running at Stinson that no runners had passed me and I was passing hella people.  While I did not keep a tally at the end of the day only two runners passed me in the last twenty three miles.

Highs and Lows go hand in hand in running especially ultras.  One great high was seeing my friend Emily Gordon and her boyfriend Ryan at Old Inn AS.  Totally unexpected and exceptionally awesome!  Thanks for coming out Emily! The aforementioned low happened climbing out of Muir Woods.  This climb sucked!  It was also the only part of the course I did not train on.  After getting through that is when my hip flexor started to flare up especially on the descents.  It was suck it up butter cup time.

In my mind I kept counting down the miles to 40.  Once I got to 40 it was on regardless of my condition. Why? I had spent so much time running those last 10 miles and visualizing them every moment possible.  Rolling into Muir Beach was spectacular that stretch leading into the aid station allowed my stride to open up and get into a nice rhythm and the hip flexor issue went away for the time being.  The gremlin in the hip flexor resurfaced on the descents heading towards Tennessee Valley (Mile 44ish).

PC: Chad Su; Entering Tennessee Valley AS
The fresh scent of the eucalyptus is what I looked forward towards.  I grew up drinking eucalyptus tea that my grandma would make. It always takes me back to those beautiful early years of childhood and today it would sound the horn of a triumphant finish. First, I dumped my flipbelt, simple hydration bottle, and grab my Nathan handheld while downing coke with  3 salt tabs, eating two chips, some water, and thanking the volunteers.  Robert & Shannon, so great to see you both. Dan thanks for coming out and volunteering! And just like that we were off.

Oh to spend more time on these heavenly trails. To feel the rhythm of the leaves rustling in the wind. To become one with each subtle bend. To know the way each pebble sways when bustled by its maker.  Exquisite it is.

Exquisite is how I'd describe the last 10km of The North Face Challenge.  How could it not be!  The best hill of the course awaited us the magnificent Marincello where I shift into 2nd gear and grind. How did 50 miles go by so quickly? My mind began to drift and the eyes would swell with emotion. Thankfully, a new crazy venture is already planned.

This crazy idea was in the final chapter I had to take in some deep breaths and turn sightly away from Megan.  I mean I couldn't let her see passion in liquid form there was work to be done.  We approached the last aid station.  Megan asked me several questions. Each one was answered with No. Then she asked: "Ya wanna just run right through it?" Ohh ho ho....Did I ever say YES to that one!!!
We applauded and thanked the volunteers to which they responded with cheering and clapping. The Energy was so great that my hip flexor ceased to hurt.

Being a nerd when it comes to running has its advantages.  Seeing friends exit the event area and recognizing ultra luminaries with festive smiles.  Then choir of boisterous men were going nuts for the runner behind me that about to pass me up in the last 200m.  Soon as he passed I turned to Megan and like a pacer gave me her last instructions. "Go get him!!!" I caught up to him. Stared in his eyes and dropped the hammer. 10 hours. 28 minutes. 33 seconds. FIDDY's are FUN.

PC: Lucien; Coastal 50k Training Partners
"We lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies." - Jack Kerouac

Black Canyons 100k anyone? See you in AZ!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Stanton Chan Experience: The 2015 New York City Marathon

I’ve been asked by Isaac to write a bit about my experience at the TCS New York Marathon last weekend. Happy to write a race report and hope that some of this information finds its way into runners that need a resource getting into New York next year!

The New York Marathon is the world’s largest marathon.  Let’s start by taking it by the numbers for 2015:
  • 80,080 lottery applications (14,326 accepted)
  • 50,235 starters
  • 49,617 finishers
  • 125 countries represented including runners from all 50 states in the US + the District of Columbia

With a field this huge, it was amazing to me how well-organized it was from start to finish. I guess you learn a ton from organizing a race for 45 years running!

My journey all started with the $11 lottery entry. Since I’m not even close to the qualification times, which are even stricter than Boston’s(!), and I didn’t make it in for 2014, I thought I’d give it another shot this year. A few clicks on the New York Road Runner’s website and $11 later, my name was in and in March, I got the happy surprise that I made it in!

Personally, training up for New York was hectic. I had a lot on my plate this past year including the San Francisco Marathon and my wedding. Despite it all, I was able to get in some good training at the start of the year incorporating some swimming and hill work. I was feeling strong by the time New York came around – though a bit nervous as training got lax right around the end of this cycle due to my wedding. Still, I arrived in New York with a few goal levels in mind: 
  1. Finish in under 4:30 – my first full marathon finish time
  2. Finish in under 4:07 – my San Francisco marathon finish this year
  3. Finish in under 4:00
  4. Finish in under 3:56 – would get me a new PR

Since I knew New York was a HUGE race, I figured I would not tempt fate and only go for a PR. 

Logistics. Logistics. Logistics.

I ended up planning my New York Marathon trip really early after finding out I made it in. I like to be prepared and I was paranoid about not being able to find a good place to stay. I had already decided that I would get to the start by ferry to get the “full New York Marathon experience” and wanted to arrive a few days early to adjust to the time zone. 

By April, I had already booked an Airbnb apartment to stay nearby the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and subways, and had also booked a direct flight out of SJC to JFK through JetBlue. I would later semi-regret booking so early, but that said – I’m one that would rather be safe than sorry. For those booking with Airbnb (one of the major sponsors this year), there’s really no reason to book so many months out in advance. In fact, when I first started looking, I got turned down a lot since people weren’t really ready to book their places out for November while we were still in April! I hear booking got much easier closer to the date, but be warned – if you wait too long, you might miss out on a really prime location. 

I ended up with a location in Lower East Side (LES) close to a couple different subways and walking distance to the ferry terminal. As far as flights, I wanted to book a direct flight to avoid any additional travel hassle. Booking in April, I got my flight for $406 – not bad for a direct flight. I put a price notification on the flight just because I was curious. The bad news: I found out that flights could get as low as $276! The lowest prices showed up about a month and a half out from the race. The good news: my wife was able to book one at that price, so all-in-all our flight prices evened out. Again, your miles may vary as you can’t guarantee how airlines will pick their fares.

I arrived Thursday morning on a red eye flight. Though I was pretty tired, I kept myself to only an hour and a half nap before making my way over to the expo. As soon as I arrived, I could tell New York knew what it was doing. This year’s expo was held at the Javits Center between Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea. It was super convenient to get there as they’ve recently finished a subway station for the 7 train just outside the center. If you’re not near the 7, it’s just a few blocks from several other stations or four avenues’ length away from Times Square. 

The Expo

My first New York Marathon experience came with picking up my bib. I was greeted by two super friendly volunteers – both New York Marathon alumni – ready and waiting to tell me all about the race. Since I was there relatively early, there were no lines and the pair spent a good ten minutes telling me all about the race and giving me tips for where to conserve energy and some of the tougher and more interesting sections of the race. Afterwards I made my way through the Asics store (another major sponsor) and checked out some official race gear. It was tough not to grab a bunch of gear, but I limited myself to a pint glass since I knew as cool as those jackets were, there isn’t much need for them in good ol’ California. 

A few of my favorites in the rest of the expo included the Race Strategy talk, the Runner’s World cover photo-shoot, and the New York Marathon information booth. There are quite a few logistical things you have to consider including how to get to the start and where to meet up with your friends and family afterwards – the organizers were sure to provide as much information as possible around options. 

The Race Strategy was great – they had a previous runner take you through each mile discussing areas where you may want to conserve your strength and the hills to watch out for. During the talk, I learned about the dangers of speeding up too much during the most energetic sections of the race (the second half of the Verrazano Bridge, 1st Avenue after getting off the Queensboro Bridge) and being careful with some of the obvious (and not so obvious) inclines during the race. Glad I paid attention since I used some of that knowledge during the actual race.

"Run - or at least visit- the last part of our race."

I was once given some really good advice for long races, “Run – or at least visit – the last part of your race." Knowing how the race will end can save you. Instead of worrying about where the finish line is, you can just concentrate on making it a good finish!” 

I took heed and spent Friday exploring Central Park. The last few miles of the race begin right outside Central Park on 5th Avenue. Though it’s straight, there’s an ever-so-slight incline leading into the Engineer’s Gate where you first truly enter Central Park. I noticed it a bit during my preview walk and I went on to curse it while I was running mile 23 during the race! 

The last couple hills  especially up 59th Street and around the bend towards the finish line are a bit grueling if you don’t know what’s in store in the final mile. Another good reason to check out the finish – at least for New York – is the finisher’s pavilion. When I arrived, they had recently just finished setting up and I was able to take another cool photo at the “mock finish” and, as luck would have it, I was able to meet Meb! 

At first, I didn’t even realize I was standing next to him since he’s a bit shorter in person than I expected and very soft spoken. He was there to help judge a runner’s app competition amongst high school students. I missed my chance to say hello, but I stayed and listened a while to some of those super talented high school kids. 

Afterwards, I made my way out to get lunch. However, as I walked out, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever get another chance to meet Meb without wading through a crowd of fans – most folks didn’t even seem to notice he was there! I quickly walked back and, as Meb was finishing lunch, I walked up to him and asked if I could shake his hand and grab a quick picture. 

We shook hands and wished each other luck on the race – what a humble and talented runner!

Saturday was mostly spent trying to relax and stay calm. I will give one piece of advice – most of the time, the New York Marathon will take place right after Halloween weekend. 
The weekend is crazy busy as it is with parades and kids everywhere, but this year was even more hectic with the Mets in the World Series! 

One thing to consider while booking your hotel/Airbnb is where the parade and action will take place – especially if you’re looking to get some good shut eye before the race! I wrapped up my day with my pre-race ritual of homemade spaghetti carbonara, prepping my race gear, and was in bed by 10pm – nervous, but ready for my race.

Staten Island Ferry Ride

As I mentioned earlier, I chose the ferry option to get to the start. Though I had set my alarm for 5:15am, I was pretty much awake by 4:45am. I got up, put on my clothes, ate a banana, and made my way out the door by 6am. To my surprise, there were still Halloween revelers going to basement parties at that time! I got to the Staten Island Ferry by 6:30am – plenty of time before my 6:45am ferry departure. I grabbed a seat and nervously waited with the hundreds of marathoners waiting in the terminal. They announced boarding at 6:40am and I got in a jumbled line – sadly, the ferry was full before I could get on and I had to wait for the next ferry at 7am. 

No worries though – jumble in close enough and you’ll get on the boat. I picked a seat near the front of the ferry and on the upper deck so I could at least get a view and I’m glad I did – it was warm inside and you could still get some great views of the Statue of Liberty and the skyline. I couldn’t help myself and I walked out to the back of the boat, too, to get some nicer pictures! The whole ferry ride took no more than 15 minutes and then it was a short trek on to a bus that took us over to Fort Wadsworth welcome village!

The start was probably one of the most well-organized areas I’ve ever seen – including the Walt Disney World Marathon! New York has multiple waves and multiple starting sections (Blue, Orange, Green). I was in Orange Wave 3 Corral C, which put my starting time at about 10:40am. Pretty crazy considering I was in the start village by 8:30am. That said, there was plenty of places to sit, relax, and prepare for the race.              

Walking over to the Orange Village, I was happy to see port-o-potty's lined up everywhere – in fact, there were so many that I never saw lines more than 4 or 5 deep – you could pretty much go as you needed with no more than a 3-5 minute wait. Pretty unheard of at other big races I’ve been to! At the start village, there was Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and beanies if you needed to keep your head warm, bagels, and water. I walked around a bit, used the rest room, and downed my UCAN with 30 minutes to go and walked over to the starting corrals just a bit further from the village start. 

Worried about missing your start? Don’t worry – they had very nice recorded audio piped throughout the start area in several languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Italian) letting runners know when corrals opened and close for each start. As I said earlier – super organized! Also – don’t worry too much about wearing some throwaway clothing if you want to stay warm. They have Goodwill bins everywhere including inside the start corrals. Glad to know my warmup clothes will go to good use!

Before I knew it, we were headed to the start line in front of the Verrazano Bridge. I turned on my watch and… quickly found out my battery had somehow discharged overnight and I only had 19% battery life left. It was a huge psychological downer right before the race, but I figured I could use it for as long as I could and then try to keep pace by feel for the rest of the race. Boy was I glad I checked out the race strategy talk beforehand!

Ready, Set, Go!

Once the race started, my training and race energy took over. It was amazing running over the bridge at the start – thousands of runners on every side of you and helicopters circling overhead during the first two miles of the bridge. Then, as you get off the bridge, you’re welcomed into Brooklyn where the crowds begin. Rarely was there a place without hundreds of cheering spectators – posters, photographers, live bands, DJs – New York was out in force! It was super entertaining throughout. I loved how each Borough had its own little flair – each neighborhood had a different feel whether it was the music that was played or the slightly different cheering accents. I loved seeing the blowup punching bag of Donald Trump in Brooklyn, the amazing cheering after mile 20 in the Bronx, and the rappers freestyling in Harlem. 

My watch died out around mile 8 and I was left to my own devices for the remainder of the race. I decided I’d go by feel and mainly try not to overexert myself early on. I felt decent, if not a bit too fast, during the first half of the marathon. I really started feeling it when I was going over the Queensboro bridge though – with no spectators around, I could feel my legs starting to ache a bit going uphill to the peak of the bridge before coming back down and into Manhattan. As we turned into 1st Avenue, my legs felt like jelly as I saw that the street ahead was slightly inclined most of the way. It wasn’t killer, but after 15+ miles on your legs, small hills aren’t so small. By the time I made it out of Harlem and on to 110th St where I began my preview trek only a couple days prior, my legs felt like they had gone through meat grinders. 

My vastus medialis was on fire and it took a lot of will power to try to keep up my slowing pace and not walk. By the time I made it to the Engineer’s Gate, I had to walk a few times as the slight incline somehow felt like it got steeper. The last couple miles were difficult, but it was great having the energy from the crowd – everyone knew we were close to the finish and despite how tired and desperate some of us looked, the crowd knew we could make it and that definitely helped energize me for the last stretch. 

I crossed the finish line, drained, in 4:16:26. Not a PR, nor anywhere close to a majority of my goals. At first I was disappointed – annoyed that my watch had died, frustrated that my training hadn’t enabled me to finish with a PR, but looking back on it now – it was still one hell of a race. The course was fantastic and the crowds were great! An amazing marathon experience for sure! 

To Poncho, or No Poncho - That is the Question

Wrapping up with the race, I will say that the poncho is definitely the way to go. You still have to walk a good mile or more between finishing and first being able to see your friends and family. As you exit the finisher chute, you’ll grab a medal, a heat sheet, and a nice drawstring “recovery bag” filled with a protein bar, apple, Gatorade, water, and pretzels. This was great as I felt like I really needed some nutrition after that race. You’ll continue to walk up Central Park and will either be funneled into the poncho area or the baggage area. 

If you went for the baggage option, note that you’ll be trekking even further out before looping back to the reunion area starting at 65th St – I think they go up to 85th St before they can double back around! With the poncho option, you exit around 77th St and double back to about 74th St where they start passing out these wonderful fleece lined ponchos that keep you MUCH warmer than the heat sheets they pass out right at the finish. You’ll be able to start making it on to the streets around 72nd street – so if you’re looking for a meeting place and the setup is the same as this year, I’d highly recommend that to going all the way to 65th St. Also, keep in mind that the Columbus Square subway stations are all blocked off – so if you’re headed that way, you may have to walk a few blocks more to hit a subway.

That's a Wrap.

All in all, I’d say the New York Marathon is definitely a race you have to experience at least once! This is my second World Major – my first being Chicago. Having run both, I’d give a slight edge to Chicago – I really liked the super flat course and the cheering was just as good. That said, New York has some amazing charm and is one of the most well-organized races I’ve seen to date. At $255 for the entry, it’s a bit steep, but the organization and New York shutting down for a full day and cheering for you is well worth the price of admission! Sign up for the lottery and try your luck – you won’t be disappointed!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Changing Gears

Recovering from a race is such a tricky thing.  After Ovelook 50K I knew there would be a short turn around time before I starting peaking my training my first 50 miler at The North Face Challenge California.  

Usually after a 50k that doesn't have 7K+ ft of descent I would a day off for every 10 miles of racing but I needed to scout a route the following Wednesday for a run I was leading on Sunday.  This meant I needed to at least do some hiking on Tuesday and leaving Monday as the only 100% day off from running.  Soreness lingered in my quads for days.  It wasn't until 8 days after the race that my legs felt like mine.

Now that we have some depth...yeah there's over 9, 100 ft of gain and over 10k ft of descent on the North Face Course. Weather will add final touches with either El NiƱo wrecking havoc on the course or its going to be 90 degrees.  No joke Murphy's Law is chilling in a bush waiting to jump onto the trail with a surprise.

"A goal without a plan is nothing but a dream." Robert Herjavec

In preparation for this I reduced my in store hours at A Runner's Mind from five days to four giving me Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday off.  

Tuesday have been my uptempo day (threshold, farleks, hill repeats, tempos tu sabes).

Friday I intend to either a) get up to the headlands and memorize each rock for four hours or b) run up and down and around the P G & E trail in Rancho San Antonio.

Sunday I go by feel and by that I mean I am going to listen to my body.  If it feels fatigues then I rest or do something else maybe I need to find a pool and follow Dr. Hansen's recommendations.  Who's Dr. Hansen? He's a savant that can help you run faster if you listen. Check him out on Coach Jay Johnson's Run Faster Podcast.

This past week I joined Greg McMillan's McMillan Run Club.  Why? For staters I have been studying and learning about different aspects of running via the McMillan Running Calculator and the volumes of information explaining each aspect on since my days at Fleet Feet Sports in 2012.

Sneak Peak of my plan
I purchased a plan from McMillan Running to prepare specifically for the 2015 Boston Marathon that led to my most complete road marathon to date and a forty-five minute PR in the 50k.  Following the build up to the launch of this unprecedented platform, becoming a founding member was a no brainer. Find out more about the McMillan Run Club here. 

Now some quick bullet points on the rest of changes/preparatory steps:
  • I got rid of the bed/cot I have been sleeping on for the past five years because it was hurting me more then it was ushering in restful night's sleep.
  • Found an amazing pacer or I should say she found me and I said yes after the TNF 50k sold out.
  • I have a reason greater than myself to power me through the tough times.

A First Time for Everything

There are a lot of things I have to think about for the first time like creating a pace chart.  Even if I don't use it I know it may help my crew and pacer gauge what to expect at Stinson!

On my last training run I was like well these shoes feel good for three hours, fours, and five hours but I'm unclear about hour TEN!

Ever since Way Too Cool 2015 I have been fueling exclusively with Generation UCAN and hydrating with Tailwind.  However, there is a chance that what's worked for five hours might not be the jam on race day.  Thus, I am testing different combination of UCAN consumption, bringing back the almond butter, and testing different electrolytes for hydration (UCAN Hydrate, Sword, and Tailwind, Cliff, GU brew, etc.).  

During my last training run we made a couple turns or didn't trust the direction of the trail vs amount hydration we had remaining.  This proved fortuitous for it helped train the brain during hour four and change, under the hot sun the day after hill repeats, for those down moments of long endurance events.  Hey! Ya'll know I keep it positive.

I will be spending some of the downtime during my days off to fill this chart below and turn attention to what I may want to have in my drop bags.  My goal is to keep it as simple as possible because after all it's a long run in nature with a few hundred friends!

First Pace Chart. A work in progress.

I totally heed the calls for specificity of training and getting to know the course.  With vistas like these I'd say you are twisting my arm and holding me against my will not to get up there everyday!

Training Partners are the best! I spy with my little eye ___.

This coming week bring us the Rio Del Lago 100.  Thus, I shall be heading up after work on Saturday to witness my friends fulfill their dreams.  My friends I am in your service.

Thank you for taking the time to read another installment of RunMedrano: "Confessions of a Brown Runner."