A really good bad day

Let me set the record straight up front: I am very pleased and excited about my performance at the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run.  How could I not be?  I ran 2 PR’s and finished the last three miles of the race stronger than I could have imagined.

Getting to each of these three positives were tough.  First, my 50K Pr.  I came through the 6th aid station of the day at Granite Bay (31.67 miles) in 4:24.  My previous 50K best was 5:45 at the PCTR Santa Monica Mountains race in the rain and mud last November.  But, it was a painful 5 miles from the 5th aid station at Beals Point (26.53 miles).  Steve and I came through Beals in 3:34 (about 11 minutes faster than my initial race plan).  But my ITB was already bugging me.  I was wearing shoes with an 8mm drop although I typically train in shoes with a 4mm drop.  After about 3 hours of pounding on the pavement–and one short, technical downhill–my ITB was killing me.

My original race plan was to stick with one pair of shoes the entire way, but once I hit the trails shortly after Beals, I knew that I could not finish the race with my current shoes.  Luckily, I had packed my trail shoes in my bag that my crew brought to four of the aid stations.  I had to back off the quick pace between aid stations 5 and 6 to limit the pain–this section is a very fast section of trails, so backing off was the beginning to the end of my A Goal (sub 7:30).  When I got to Granite Bay, I changed into my New Balance MT 110’s and immediately felt better.  The pain, for the most part went away, but the damage–at least for the day–was done as the pain would come back later on in the race.

Besides mitigating the knee pain, I was also having issues with fuel.  I started off the day on top of my fuel plan, as I was taking a Gu every 22 minutes–this lasted 8 times, which is by far more Gu than I have ever had in my life.  But, I just couldn’t take another Gu after that.  It wasn’t that my stomach said no more, it was that I couldn’t think about taking another Gu.  But when I tried to switch to some other form of trail sugar, everything was too sweet–both Sports Beans and Honey Stingers.  I probably should have tried to get a few more calories from real food at aid stations, but I was so focused on getting in and out of aid stations that I was not thinking straight.  For the last 4 hours of the race I was taking less than 100 calories per hour.

Steve and I picked up a pacer at Granite Bay–Steve’s college teammate and good friend Paul.  Though Paul was running with us, I led the way followed by Steve and then Paul.  I typically run a lot stronger when I am in the front of a group.  For some reason, I do not drift/pace well off of others–only in the occasional speed workout can I pace off of someone else–as I typically fall off the back of a group by 20 yards and then maintain the same pace 20 yards back.  Paul stuck with us through Rattlesnake Bar (aid station 9 at 40.94 miles).  It was good to get another person in our group to keep the conversations fresh.  We continued to run the essentially the entire way while Paul was with us, with the exception of a few steps up steep/technical trail.

When we got to Rattlesnake the only thing I planned on doing was drinking some Ginger Beer that I had stored in a handheld in a bag.  I knew the contents were under pressure as I saw the sides of the handheld bursting outwards.  I knew what would happen once I open the cap to take a drink.  Yet, I did not turn the bottle away from me as I opened it–for the same reason that i did not eat solid foods at the aid stations; I was not thinking clearly.  After wiping the Ginger Beer from my face and then drinking some from my handheld and taking a quick breather, I was ready to finish the final 9 miles–and with a new pacer.  Phil, Paul’s brother, tagged in and followed us to the finish line.

Let the walking begin! As the day went on, and our time started to slip further from each goal, my energy level slipped with it.  Taking less than 100 calories per hour had a lot to do with this.  I was still hydrated throughout, but just didn’t have the energy.  As we moved along the single track, more and more people started to pass.  More and more often did we walk the uphills that I would have otherwise considered running.  I got to a breaking point.  No energy and my knee starting to hurt on every stride again.  I had to walk.  We were somewhere between 1.5 and 2 miles from the end of the trail and the start of the final 3-mile climb.  But I had enough.  So the walking began.  We continued to get passed.

Finally, I could see daylight–so to speak, as it was a bright day out–as I knew the trail was ending.  I still could not run again, but I started to truly grasp how much farther we had left to the finish line.  Our coach, Jimmy Dean, told us we had to run 90% of the final 3-mile climb.  I was supposed to lead Steve through mile 47 and he was supposed to pull me up the final hill.  I still had this in my head as we got to the flat parking lot that led to the final climb.  I started to slowly jog again on the wide open, flat parking lot.  And then the final hill.

Phil was feeling good going into the final climb–as we were unable to push him that hard for the previous 6 miles.  But, he was in for a treat.  The first half mile or so of the climb is on dirt and gravel before hitting a road for the majority of the final stretch.  The dirt/gravel part is also the steepest part.  So we began to run up the hill.  I was feeling better, especially knowing that we were in the final stretch of the race.  But I wasn’t sure if we could keep up the running for the entire hill.  About a quarter of a mile into the climb I forced all of us to walk, but for only 50-100 feet.  Once we started running again, we never walked again.  I dug deep, and despite not having any energy I had the will to finish strong.  We gutted out the three fastest miles since mile 31–not even stopping at the last gasp aid station.  Fortunately at Last Gasp (2.4 miles left in the race) the young men (shirtless and in tights) working the aid station ran down to us grabbed our water bottles and sprited to the aid station to fill them up; so when we made it to the aid station we just grabbed our bottle and left.

We finally made it to the top of the hill–and those three miles were fast enough to bring me back to the region between theB (B-Goal of 8 hours) and the S (Slow bracket of 8:30) on my pace card.  We made a right turn onto some grass, entering the the final stretch–the grass felt so good under my feet that I wished the final 100m was on grass, but it quickly turned into concrete–we were almost there.  I couldn’t dig any deeper but was able to finish strong.  Steve and I finished in 8:13.  It was a huge PR for me (10:02 at North Face) and it was Steve’s first 50 miler.  I was so glad to be done as both my knees started to really hurt over the last 5 miles.  But all the pain from my knees and the lack of energy from the three bonks all went away over the last 100 meters.  It wasn’t my A goal or B goal, but I cannot complain about a huge PR.  So the bad day completely disappeared with my final 3 miles and finishing time.  At the finish line Eric from Ultra Runner Podcast handed us a very good recovery Libation.

Since AR, Nike came out with their new campaign for their Nike Free’s.  The Free 3.0 is the only Nike that I would wear–even though I haven’t bought a pair in a while as I have been experimenting with other shoes.  But the Free 3.0 is still on my list of shoes that I would buy again.  Here is the long version of their commercial.

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A blank blog

I started this blog with the ambition of sharing my running life, as well as some of my other hobbies.  But after only one post in over half a year, I obviously did not succeed with my mission.  Maybe I will start over again.  Since that weird day at Baldy on Labor Day 2011,a lot has happened in my running world:

  • Ran the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim
  • I ran 5 races in 5 consecutive weeks including: 
  1. Tied for 5th in a muddy Catalina Eco Marathon
  2. PR (though still very weak) at the Santa Monica Mountains 50K
  3. 3rd place at the Gobble Wobble 6K Turkey Trot in Fells Point/Harbor East (Baltimore)
  4. Completed my first 50 mile
  5. Paced 2 friends to huge PR’s in the 10K
  • Ran a 10K PR (though still a weak time)
  • Finally broke 3 hours in the marathon at Napa
With lots more adventures planned for this year, maybe I should attempt this blog again.


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A Weird Day at Mt Baldy

Everything about the annual morning Labor Day Run at Mt Baldy felt weird: starting with the hour plus drive to the ski lift parking lot and ending with my best time despite the race being cancelled.

I was looking forward to Mt Baldy this year.  It was the fourth time I signed up for the race (dating back to 2001) and it was the fifth time that I ran to the top (I ran a training run to the summit and back in June, while preparing for my trip to Ecuador).  I knew I was in the best shape of my life, despite a nagging foot bruise from 11 days before.  Mt Baldy was also my third race in about 16 days (Pikes Peak and Bulldog 50K); it was also the shortest in both time and distance of these three races.  I had a time in mind for where I wanted to be: 1:29:59.  My previous best was 1:42 (both official from 2010 and unofficial from my training run), and I knew with my current shape and my recent races (and hikes in Ecuador) that my old best was going to crumble.  But as the title of this post suggests, it was a weird day.
Steve and I drove out to Baldy, leaving West LA around 5:45 for the 8:15 start.  As we were driving east on the 10, we saw some spectacular lightning–not quite as spectacular as what I had seen in my cross country drive earlier in the summer or what we saw a few weeks later while manning an aid station for some friends on the backbone trail, but still it was a sight to see.  The lightning was south of the freeway, which is south of Baldy, so we thought nothing of it.  Then it started to pour, as we were just entering San Bernardino County–my thought was it will at least help settle the dust for the race.
 The rain stopped well before we exited the freeway.
We parked our car about one hour before the start of the race and immediately got in the long line for the porto-johns.  It was a bit chilly out as we waited around for the line to slowly move.  Once we got done with the line we started our warm-up by running through the parking lot to our bib pickup.  I went cheap this year and did not pay for a race t-shirt–I figured I have enough race shirts that I don’t wear and the Baldy shirt never has a good look to it.  Turns out that this year they had a nice design–even though it was still a cotton t-shirt, but no worries, I still don’t need another t-shirt.  Once we got our bibs, we continued to warm-up through the parking lot, getting nearly 2-miles in before the start of the race.  After our final preparation at the car–I originally left the car without my bib–we got down to the start line with about 10 minutes to spare.  I was pumped.
Right before the start of the race the starter makes an announcement, that sounded very similar to the announcements that were made at Pikes Peak Ascent–the announcements at Pikes are made every year, but this was the first time I heard this at Baldy.  The announcement was that they are monitoring two thunderstorm cells, one for the south and one from Santa Barbara, and if you are directed off the mountain, get off the mountain as soon as you can.  They also told us that it was 38 degrees at the summit.  I was so excited to break my PR out there that I thought nothing of these announcements.
And then the race starts.  For those not familiar with the course, the first quarter-mile of the 6.9-mile race (yes it is 6.9 miles NOT 8 miles like the website and the race-director claims) is a steep downhill on asphalt.  It felt like I was breaking as I went down this hill in my Inov-8 Rocklite 295’s (not really a good road shoe).  But, I was with Steve at the bottom of  the hill (we were going 5:30 pace for the first quarter)–this would be the last I saw of Steve until the final quarter.  The course then makes a right turn onto a paved drive way that leads to the fire road (the entire first mile of the race is now paved, where in past years it was dirt as soon as you made the turn).  So I begin my slow and steady climb.  My goal wasn’t just to run a new PR, it was also to run the entire time until I got to the Notch (the restaurant and ski lift around mile 4)–Steve pushed me to do this entire section while running during our training run in June.
Somewhere between mile two and mile three my left foot–the one with the bruised ball of my foot–fell asleep (specifically the toes).  I managed the pain, well more like the lack of feeling, until I got to the base of the steepest climb in the first four miles.  I stopped there, took off my shoe and sock, and tried to get circulation back to my toes.  After putting my shoe back on–a lot looser this time–and loosening my right shoe to prevent a similar problem, I was back on course (and only lost 2-3 minutes).  The good thing about the break was that I was feeling good at the start of this steep section, which I was able to attack and have the momentum carry me all the way to the Notch.  I came through mile 4, slightly past the notch, in under 11 minute pace, and I was feeling better at that point than I had ever felt before in previous four attempts.
But things got weird.  Slightly past the notch and mile 4, I saw a runner running back towards the notch.  I initially did not think anything of this sighting–maybe he was not feeling well and needed to get back to the aid station.  But then I saw another runner coming back down about 100 yards later.  This time I spoke up, “Are you ok?”  The second runner responded, “The race has been cancelled.”  What?  Well, I was having a good day to this point and I was on PR pace, so I decided to make the best of it and push as much as I can to the point where they will stop me.  I probably ran more at this point than I would have if I didn’t think the race was cancelled–which in the end helped me run a better time.
Around the 4.9 mark, at the very top of the ski lift, I saw a group of runners gathering.  I pushed to get to this group, where I saw two fellow coyotes, but not my friend Steve. I stopped my watch at this point, but it was for only about 30 seconds.  Shortly after I got to the official end of the race for the day, one of the thirty or so runners of the group I caught up to asked, “Are you stopping us from going to the top?”  Now, it had been raining for about a 1/2 mile, but the skies had cleared, and it was clear above the peak.  It looked safe to us to proceed.
The volunteer rescue workers replied to us, “The race is cancelled, but we cannot stop you from going on.”  This was met with some cheers of enthusiasm and at least 80% of the group charged on.  I started my gps watch again, and proceeded to the peak.  The volunteer rescue workers remained all over the course, so I made sure to smile and thank them for being out there, whenever I saw them.
Even though many runners ahead of me decided to go past the official cancellation of the race, at least five of them decided to turn around when we got to Devil’s Backbone–a thin single track with a mountain wall to your right and a sharp drop to your left.  This was just too much for some people that were no longer running an official race.
At this point I was in more of a walking/hiking mode than running mode–with the occasional breaking into a stride for a few yards at a time.  Finally, I made it to my favorite part of the course; the rolling meadow that leads to the bottom of the final climb.  This is a very runnable section, and it felt good to open my stride up a bit.  Then there is the final ascent/scramble/hike; a 700+’ climb over the final half-mile.  I have never run any portion of this climb in my previous 4 attempts.  Today was going to be different.  I used my momentum from the meadow to start the first few hundred feet up the hill before breaking into a slow hike.
And the climb began.  I just kept looking at the pace on my gps dropping.  I knew I had a PR in the bag, but the question was, how much under was I going to be.  Somehow, for the second time in a row, the trail I was on veered to the left side of the hill, and I had to cut back over at some point to get towards the finish.  At this point, I saw Steve–how could you miss him in his bright yellow Valley Crest 1/2 shirt?  He started hiking with me up the hill and I asked him how he did.  Turns out he crossed the finish line first–though he is too humble to admit that he won; I will explain below.  Steve hiking with me was a good thing; even though I was about .2 from the top, he encouraged me to start running with about .1 or .15 to go; so I did.  I ran from that point through the finish line, where they took my bib pull tag and read out the time: 1:34:59.  I broke 95 minutes!  I ran a 7 minute PR on this 6.9-mile course!  And I did it with taking nearly 3:30 off for my shoe and for the race cancellation.
After the finish, Steve and I relaxed at the top for a bit–talking to some friends–and getting some fruit and water.  It was cold up there; it wasn’t the 39 degrees that they warned us about, but it was below 50 degrees.  Steve then tells me more about his race.  First, at age 49 and slightly a year after knee surgery, Steve ran a new best on the course by over 30 seconds; running low 72’s on the course.  Unlike where we got stopped at 4.9, Steve got stopped at mile 6.  He got to mile 6, where the top 3 or 4 runners were waiting around–probably for no more than 90 seconds.  When Steve got there, he knew how well he was running and didn’t want to waste the effort; so he was the defiant one.  He asked the same question that someone in our group asked, “Are you stopping us from going to the peak?”  His group was met with the same response, “The race is cancelled, but we cannot stop you from going on.”  Course record holder, Matt Ebner, and Steve went on–I am not sure about what happened to the other 2 or 3 runners.  Steve was with Matt for most of the way up the scramble, when Steve passes Matt–Steve did not know it was Matt until after the race was over.
Not everyone was so defiant, and some people did not know that they were not going to be stopped from proceeding.  I would estimate that a little less than half of the starters made it to the top.  Fast times, the race being stopped/cancelled, and Steve beating Matt Ebner…WEIRD!
Although they were taking our bib tags at the top and reading times at the finish line, the race never happened.  Here is what the official website had to say about race results.
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Transitioning to wordpress

I have decided to transition over to wordpress from Tumblr. Tumblr is slightly more suited to some of my photography posts, but it is not the best format for race reports, restaurant reviews and travel logs.  So please give me some time as I mess around with the look and feel of this blog.  I might import some of my Tumblr posts over here as well, so please forgive me if there are out-of-date posts.

As for the name, JMRosenfeldPhoto, unfortunately JMRosenfeld (which is my twitter name) was already reserved.  Even though this is not a dedicated photography blog, I decided it was easier to just add the word photo versus trying to be creative with web addresses.

I hope you enjoy.

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