Monday, October 3, 2016

California's Most Remote Ghost Town - A Four Day Backpacking Journey

Header Panoramic

A Geocache, A Stubborn Ass, A Packmule, and A Billy Goat

A primer before I start. For those who don't know what geocaching is, it's like adult hide and seek, with GPS coordinates leading (typically) to hidden items all across the world, where the adventure is in finding and signing the log, often hidden in public places, or taking you out to amazing locales across the world. This cache falls in the latter category.

About six months ago, my father in law, an avid geocacher, heard about a cache that can be "claimed" by visiting a cemetery near the headquarters of Burning Man in Nevada, followed by a hike to the most remote ghost town in California, down in Death Valley. The cache, though posted in 2002, had only been found four times, yet was on the bucket list for many cachers. When word of a potential archival of the cache came downwind, the drive to get this cache by Robert went from desirable to urgent. Within weeks, he had put together a team of himself, the geocaching guru, his son, the young, fit, and energetic one, and myself, who he just called "the brains."

The location of the ghost town, Beveridge CA, lies between the Inyo Wilderness area and Death Valley. It's situated in a valley about 5,000 feet in elevation, where a spring supplies water down the gulch. Getting into the town means about 6,900 feet of vertical ascent, followed by 1,300 feet of descent into Beveridge Valley. Fortunately for us, several people have blogged about their trips into the town, but with multiple options in, we chose the path outlined by Matt Clapp in his blog, as it seemed the most straightforward and achievable route in.

The Preparation

Our virtual guide took the trip in two days, ten hours of hiking in, and eight hours of hiking out, with regrets at not giving himself enough time to explore Beveridge. Our drive time would be eight hours, so we knew a two day trip was not at all possible, so our plans were to give ourselves four days in total. One day for travel down and sleep at the base of the trail. One day for hiking in to Beveridge. One day to explore, and possibly grab some of the other area geocaches, and one day to return and drive home.

With this plan in place, a key part was missing for all of us. None of us had ever gone backpacking before. Probably a bad idea for a trip considered for experienced backpackers only, but that meant that we all had to make a trip to REI and pick up gear. An hour into working with the sales guy, and we were outfitted with new sleeping bags, a sleeping pad (I already had two), and Osprey trampoline-back 65L frame packs. We each tried out the whole selection of appropriately-sized packs, and we all landed with the same one for size and comfort.

Subsequent trips got us the key element which every guide had pointed us to... water storage, and tons of it. We knew there would be no water until we got to Beveridge (and hopefully the spring was still running!), and eight liters was the suggested amount. MSR makes a ten liter water bag which we figured to be perfect for the hike. Add in the camelbak-like tube, and Robert's water pump, and a Delorme emergency satellite beacon which Robert invested in, and we were set.

Last plans were for clothing and food, which I calculated to be about 10k Calories each, and we each took slightly different approaches on. Robert packed a jar of peanut butter, tortillas, beef jerky, and salami. Vincent made some oat and Nutella energy bars. I grabbed pistachios, cashews, jerky, trail mix, and nut butters. On top of all that was five boxes of Honey Stinger waffles, which were my only fuel for my Half Ironman, and I was very comfortable with. Everyone limited their clothing to one or two items of each type. Add in the final necessities like first aid, paracord, knives, etc. and our planning was complete.

Departure and Early Starts - Friday

A 6am start from Sacramento got us to the trailhead just before 6pm. We lost about an hour to a wrong turn (Hwy 4?), breakfast and lunch added a bit of time, and our trust in Google. We Four-Wheeled it along Google's chosen route, which took us on 4WD roads when a groomed path suitable for most vehicles existed with just a single turn. However, since the goal of this blog is the hiking,
I'll just leave it to say, if any of you choose to go into Death Valley as we did, just take Death Valley Rd to Waucoba Saline Rd, and skip any "shortcuts" you're offered on Waukoba Rd or other such roads. 4WD is still helpful to get you the closest to the base of the mountain, but we didn't cut out too much more than what any SUV could have done.

After final prep of our bags, we figured that we still had about ninety minutes of daylight left to get a head start on our journey. Had I known what finding a good campsite would be like, and what sundown really felt like on the hikes, I would never have chosen to start hiking at 6pm, but the choice this time was fortuitously good. We got our start into the trip and cut an hour out of our "day one" hike into Beveridge.


The first mile and a half of our journey was along the "road"... if it can be called that. Clearly the road existed in a usable fashion at one point, but it is now mostly a broken jumble of rocks, with a one to two foot crevice down the center, which one constantly has to jump or climb across as either "side" of the road may exist or not at any given point.
About four full washouts exist within that first mile and a half (well two, but encountered both high and low on the road), though these weren't too difficult to navigate across. We cleared a mile and a half or so of hiking, and 420 feet of elevation gain, before dusk and the discovery of a fairly flat place to set up camp got us to call it for a night.

This was the first test: can any of us get sleep, without tents, under untested sleeping bags, in the middle of the desert night? The area was quieter than I think I've ever been in for an extended period of time, and while I've spent time in places like Yosemite Valley, and have seen the multitudes of stars visible from a more remote location, I can confidently say that I have never seen more stars than I saw that night. Death Valley is a "dark sky park", with no civilization, no lights within the peaks, our three days were across the new moon, and the stars were just amazing.

I can proudly say, I was the first to fall asleep, and didn't get up until dawn. It's a very new experience to me, being in "bed" for almost twelve hours. And yet, I got somewhere between six and ten hours of sleep... I have no idea how much. Around midnight, I awoke, and just stared at the stars for countless minutes. I shifted many times during the night from one sleeping position to another. I'd awake to a body part being asleep, only to relax, and some time (five minutes? fifty?) later fall back asleep again.

We all awoke around dawn, had breakfast, and got packed up to leave once the sun arose, around 7am.

The Main Hike and Little Mistakes - Saturday Part One

Our guide blog breaks this trek into five main parts: the road, the wall, the ridge, the traverse, and the descent. We were a mile and a half into "the road," what our guide blog said was a 2.3 mile road with 1800 feet of climb. We'd been climbing most of the way, and so were pretty confident that we were approach the beginning of the hardest part of the journey, the great white wall. With hindsight, let me say now, that this was wildly inaccurate, and that inaccuracy eventually led to many, many bad assumptions on where we were. Eventually, I figured out a better way to gauge our progress, but at this point I was just going by the key distance elements and the "feel" of where we were.

It took us just over two hours to reach the wall, a location I was expecting to hit in just thirty minutes or so. Fortunately for us, the wall has a definite starting point, which was very helpful to getting us situated in location. There are three posts, surrounded by rocks and chicken wire, which we were looking out for which signaled the beginning of the wall. We knew already that this would be the toughest part of the journey, and having a very clear guidepost (literally), plus the change in trail type from the road to a more traditional trail, brought us to stage two, just after 9am. We stopped for a bit, to catch our collective breaths, prepare for the next part, and set out.

The Great White Wall - Saturday Part Two

Four hours. That's how long it took to climb the Great White Wall. Our expectations from the guide blog were this: "Start your ascent of the Great White Wall for 1600 vertical feet of switchbacks in under a mile. There is one stretch of scrambling on the ascent. Otherwise, it is a steep but walkable trail." Under a mile, 1600 feet. Now I can't tell you who is right: my GPS says it was over two miles, and this was my second clue into that navigational mistake that'll come bite us later, but the blog came from a much more experienced backpacker who also was tracking his information via GPS. I hadn't yet noticed the wide discrepancies between our guide distance and my personal distance, but eventually I will figure it out. As for the wall? Describing it as a "steep but walkable trail" is somewhat correct... at least to start. Most of it does fit that description, but definitely lacks nuance. The whole mountain range is built out of crumbling granite. That decomposed granite that gets used across all of our parks to make nice walking trails? That's what the entirety of the mountain is. Sections of granite that look like solid hand and footholds might peel off the rock at any point, and even sections that were stable when you stopped to take a breath might shift underfoot thirty seconds later. And areas of the trail that were once walkable might now be a giant washout you have to cross.

By 1:09pm, we had finished walking the wall, guided by countless cairns placed along the trail by those who came before us, and generally made it to the top with little-to-no issues, except for some tiredness and general slow-going. At this point, done with just the first two of five main sections, and past midday, it was definitely becoming apparent that our plans may need to shift, but we were all accepting of that and prepared for the eventuality.

The Ridge, The Traverse, and the Big Oops - Saturday Part Three

At 1:35pm, Robert posted with his Delorme that we had finished "The Ridge" and begun the traverse. This mistake of mine comes from this quote:

"After reaching the top of the Great White Wall, continue climbing on the trail along the ridge.

Briefly descend to loop around the right of a peak and continue ascending on this trail until you reach the start of the traverse. Once you turn the corner you will lose sight of Death Valley and be able to spot plant growth upstream from Beveridge."

If I had been looking at the topo maps, and not mostly the satellite maps, I would have understood the error in reading it this way. Take a look at this map:



You'll notice that the end of the wall to the traverse is quite a long way. This is not brief... but that's what I expected it to be. The ridge isn't described as a three mile long ascent of thousands of feet, but by my GPS, it was. So when we looped around the peak and left what felt like the end of the ridge trail, we though we'd reached the next section. However, it just kept climbing, and climbing, and climbing. The topo version of the map makes it very clear that we were still on a ridge, but my experience with ridge trails were much more clearly along the top of the mountain lines, as we had been previously, and it didn't feel like that then. We were still encountering many sketchy areas of washouts, loose terrain, and difficult steep-grade climbs, and it just didn't seem to end. The actual end of the ridge was over eight hours into our Saturday hike, and took us about four hours!

Now to the big mistake. We missed some cairns. Like, five of them right next to each other, guiding us in a specific direction, and a row of rocks placed to prevent us from going the direction we did. By all distances, we should have been done with the ridge, done with the traverse, and beginning our descent, and at this point, we could now see the glorious valley that was our end destination. And we saw a cairn, possibly two. So Vincent and I began descending a VERY sketchy area of rockfall, trying to find the full trail that the two cairns were guiding us to. However, we weren't on the path at all. The one cairn, Robert later surmised, was just an attempt by a hiker to say "I got here!" to a great outcropping that looked like the Lion King rock. We descended way farther than was safe, and finding our way back from there, after about 30-40 minutes of wrong going (look at the mile 7 marker), meant climbing up rocks and scree in order to scramble back from a very dangerous area.

Once greater prudence forced us back, we found the hugely obvious directions as we were ready to hang up our hats for the night, and pushed on a ways into what I now know was the midpoint of the traverse. It was at that point of finding our "new" correct path, that I made some key learnings. I, the "brains" of the operation, had saved into Google maps offline versions of the area. I had also saved the entirety of the blog. Using the terrain map on the blog, and the terrain map on my phone, I could coordinate the two to ensure we were on the right track, and to get a feel for how much more of any type of terrain element we had left. I could now see clearly the ridge portion, the traverse, and how far along the track we were. Even though we hadn't had cell reception since we were on Highway 50, I could still use the technology at hand to make our navigation a more active process.

We set up camp at about 6:22pm, thankful that we were back on the right track, sure that we wouldn't make it into Beveridge in the last 30-60 minutes of light (we hadn't even started the descent yet!), and glad that we found a spot we could stop. At this point, the discussion turned to what the rest of the hike would look like. Collectively, at that point, we agreed that we would be departing Beveridge about noon to head back, instead of spending all day and sleeping in Beveridge as originally planned. Clearly, our pace was much slower than we anticipated, and expecting to hike out of Beveridge and drive home in one day was not realistic.

Beveridge and Footprints in the Sand - Sunday



Knowing that we survived a mistake, that we were heading in the right direction, and we'd be in Beveridge that day, I would say that spirits were up the next morning. We had a clear path to travel, we were making good progress, and it felt like we had success in hand.

The descent into Beveridge was fairly unremarkable, except for the rattlesnake encountered by Robert. We rounded a few more "fingers" of the mountain on the last of the traverse, and headed down. We had already seen a couple of interesting remaining artifacts from the mining era along our trek in quite random places, but it was fantastic to not only begin to see the valley in earnest, but the first item we knew was directly associated with the town, the "tram". I have no idea how it worked, but the cables stretch several thousand feet, and at one point there was a pulley still attached to the cabling. We descended the last part of the trail, after taking a few required pictures at the tram, and finally made it to our destination!

We had a few landmarks in our list to go view, but priority one was water, and priority two was getting enough pictures to satisfy the geocaching requirement. Arriving around 10am, three hours after departing that morning, we had about two hours to walk around the area, eat enough food for the trip back, and refill 30 liters of water. After snapping a few shots of the mill press, I quickly headed to the water to ensure it was still available for us to pump... otherwise we were likely calling a helicopter for a very expensive rescue. Fortunately, even after years of drought, the spring was still active and we'd be able to refill before we departed.

There only exists left in the main part of town a few key items. A large mill press, that for the life of me I can't imagine bringing the parts in and building within such an inaccessible town, some bed frames, a couple of collapsed cabins, and two very intact toilets. One, an outhouse built overhanging a cliff so that the leavings drop down the side of the mountain, and one an open hole built over a large stone-walled opening. Above and below the town are also some other cabins, but given our two hour stopover, and the expectation that it would take that full time to refill our water, we kept our wanderings to the main part of town.

On the water, Vincent and I started trying to refill my Nalgene bottle. About fifteen minutes of pumping later, and we had gotten about 400ml filled. Not a good omen for doing 10L worth of refill. However, shortly thereafter, Robert came with his dromedary bag, and once the pump sealed well onto the receptacle, filling was a breeze... or at least I'm told. Robert did the bulk of the pumping, filling all three bags in under twenty minutes, a much better experience than I had with my Nalgene.

After our two hours were up, we were rested, fed, and resupplied, we donned our packs and began the ascent back to the truck. Our all-day exploration limited to two hours, it was a bit of a let-down to expectations, but in actuality, unless we planned to hike all day and bushwhack our way out of the main town, we had sufficient time to see everything that Beveridge had to offer. I can't believe that there was a post-office servicing this town for a year... there isn't much of a town to begin with! Our mission complete, it was time to wind our way back on an uphill again. You'd think after nearly 7,000 feet of climb, I'd be used to this, but I would say that ascent was the toughest of the trip, as I was already fairly tired, and was definitely looking forward to days of descent.

Returning along the path had one very large difference than arriving. Yes, we had more experience finding the cairns and had a pretty good idea of where the trails were heading, but there was an even easier way to find our path... our own footprints! By this time, we had a fairly good feeling of how we worked together as a team, and while there were some back and forths on who was doing what on the trip to Beveridge, for the most part on the return, we each had a particular role. I scouted ahead as far as the next bend, spending the time where I had additional speed to travel the trails, look around, and determine the correct path to take, while Vincent supported Robert as they persevered through the trails.

Also, having a chance to be ahead meant I had time to take some pictures of the area that I didn't have time, or leftover concentration, for on the way into town. All-in-all, I took over 200 shots of the area during the trip, the majority of which were taken during the return.



While we mostly took about ninety minutes per mile traveling into Beveridge (by my GPS, that is), our return through the ascent and traverse was closer to an hour per mile. This boded well for our entire return journey. As we approached 6pm, we reached a large plateau that I believed was nearing the Great White Wall, though in actuality was about 2/3rds of the way through the traverse. This offered us a great place to find nice, level sleeping ground and wind down for the day. However, that feeling of relaxation was short lived, as it began to get very cold as the winds picked up... and I mean picked up. Looking at the weather data, we were experiencing 50 degree weather and 40 MPH gusts of wind through the night. Vincent built a wind shelter out of rocks, Robert sat and rested till he was ready to sleep where he sat, and I climbed into my sleeping bag early since I had the least clothing with me. It was a very eerie experience, hearing the gust build up in the valley before it actually reached us during the night. You could hear the howl very clearly, and knew to expect some strong gusts shortly thereafter.



Homeward Bound - Monday

While we encountered this at a few points along the hike in minor form, I think this is the place to address one piece of the preparation that was enlightening for me. Vincent has run a 50 mile trail run. I've completed a Half Ironman and most of an Ironman. I forget sometimes that one of the key things that athletes learn as they begin endurance training is how to eat while they train. Many people lose their appetite during exercise. Overcoming that is a learned behavior. One of my coaches once admonished us "Fuel Early, Fuel Often!" So on the large descent portion of the journey, when Robert was the most fatigued, Vincent had to regularly admonish him with "Eat, Dad! Eat!" Even though he is in the best shape of his life, that skill, fueling during exertion, is something that he likely has never had to encounter before. This proved to be a definite issue at times, as he would be severely lacking energy after a strenuous part of the hike, and Vince and I both knew what a part of the problem was. However, after you've bonked, it's REALLY hard to have the stomach to get down food. Vince was regularly pushing more and more food on Robert, and watching him closely.. giving him two Honey Stingers on a break when he was likely willing to manage one, or hounding him until satisfied with the results. It was one of the few points of frustration on the trip, but serves as a good reminder of that piece of training that is so far behind me, I don't even think about it any more.

While the last parts of the traverse continued to progress at the one mile, one hour pace as before, once we reached the ridge trail, and then onto the wall, our pace slowed down considerably, as this was the most difficult part for Robert to manage. Unstable footing is much easier to handle while ascending, but descending where you cannot trust your footing is quite difficult.
This especially held true when we got to the giant washout. There's one section of trail where, instead of following a trail or switchbacks, instead you must scramble straight up (or down) a large washout. This means that there is no good way to know where you are or aren't pickup up the trail, and there is zero solid footing to deal with. As the lead (or Billy Goat as Vincent put it later), I went part way down the washout, then unsure of where we'd catch up with the trail, headed off of the washout and climbed along the rocks beside it. I feel pretty confident scrambling around these steep areas, so I moved back and forth along sections of the washout, looking for where we'd pick up the trail.

In reality, I probably could have continued on the washout and found my way, but this was the role I was playing, and enjoying, so I was trying to do my best to minimize any delays for those behind me. The upside to this is that I got some fun rock climbing. The downside is that the pants I had spent way too much money on to handle this type of excursion didn't survive the trek... at all. I got a giant cut all along my bottom as I was climbing over and around rocks.





The descent down the ridge, and down the wall, while long and difficult, were fairly uneventful compared to the trek in. All of us were surprised at how much rougher the trails were than we remembered them from just a day or two previously. We got to the bottom of the wall, stopped for about twenty minutes for a breather, and continued down the road. One last stop happened at our first night's camp spot, where we relaxed for fifteen to twenty five minutes (depending on when each person got there), before making the final hour descent to the truck. That descent was fast, and it was a great relief to find ourselves back and the truck by 3pm, with time enough to make it home and sleep in our own beds for the night.

Last Impressions

KFWB GPS, the team that placed this epic geocache, GCB416,, deserves grand kudos for bringing us out here. If the tone of this blog feels negative, it's mostly because I like blogging about my learnings along these types of activities, and the process of blogging for me is quite self-reflective. I had a wonderful time going out and tackling this adventure with my family, and that never would have happened without Team Bardini's drive to accomplish and tackle great things. It is an experience the likes of which I probably will never have again, and that in itself is a very rewarding feeling.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

California Kids Triathlon - 2015

SportTimeRankAG
Swim+T1 4:58 ?/89 9/11
Bike 12:34 55/89 10/11
T20:58
Run 2:36 4/89 3/11
Total 21:0846/89 9/11

Race Prep

Tripp's first triathlon, he was two days into riding a bike. His second year, he was just a few weeks out of floaties and swam the race without them. This year, Tripp had three real attempts at riding without training wheels, but decided to race on a two wheeler. As he said, "four wheels makes you heavy, I'm going to go faster because I'm on two wheels!" So with one trip two weeks ago to the park, where he successfully went a few hundred yards on his own, to last week with D on a slightly longer stretch, and last night with me for a last attempt, and a successful circumnavigation of the park, Tripp was ready to ride his first long stretch on his own.

Tripp started the race thinking he'd be the fastest swimmer; I had unfortunately mentioned that the dolphin kick is the fastest swim stroke to D, and he loves swimming underwater. The leadup time to the race, from breakfast to arriving at Arroyo Park, we talked about how the only person he was really racing was himself, and that as long as he did better than last year, he was doing great. He was geared up with his tri-suit (an Aquasphere "core warmer" wetsuit), his new-old bike (Damon's previous bike), and his fastest running shoes. All that was left was four hours of waiting till the 11:34am swim start, the 54th wave of the day.

After a great breakfast at Noah's, and a bit of a scare on arrival times (don't ask), we made our way out to Arroyo Park to pick up our bibs, shirts, and get set up for the race. This being our fourth time doing it, setup went pretty smoothly, and we got to spend the rest of the time wandering around, watching some swim starts, and relaxing for the hour before our race start.

The Swim

Tripp was pretty eager to start this year, and we were lined up first for our wave. With just about thirty seconds between the pool entrance starting "gun", we didn't have a lot of time to prepare. Just in the water, and off we go! As expected, Tripp spent more than half of the time under the water, and the rest swimming along the top and getting a breath.
He can swim about 40 feet without a breath, since he can swim one length of our pool at home, so he did what was most comfortable, and just kept going strong without need a rest on the ropes, like last year.

Unfortunately for Tripp, he was still the last one out of the water. It was a disappointment for him, but as I told him before the race, as long as he does better than he had done the previous year, then he's doing great! His results were a minute and a half faster than last year, including T1, so there's no question that he improved, big time.

Training Wheellessness

I'm very proud of Tripp for making it out on the race without training wheels. About a year ago, I tried to get him to start without training wheels, and he was just not going to do it. One fall, and no real start, and he was done. This year, he still wasn't too sold on going without the wheels, but I had him go out to our neighborhood park and try, and after a few false starts, he was able to get about twenty feet on his own before a crash, and finished off the attempt with one, slightly downhill, hundred foot run.

About a week before the race, knowing that we'd have to make the go/no-go decision, D took him again to our park, and was able to get him to go a bit further. It wasn't a long trial, and it didn't do much to help make the training wheel decision, but neither was it a bad experience. So two days before the race, and I take Tripp on one last park run.
This time, he rode around and around the park, and crashed only a couple of times. Whatever it is that is the difference between going and falling (confidence?) happened, and it was at that point that Tripp was no longer deciding whether to use training wheels, there was no way he would.

So at race time, he took off pretty good, and I was jogging alongside him again. However, when we got to the first turn, about fifty feet into the race, Tripp ended up in the dirt. I realized at that point that my attention was going to have to be a lot more focused than before, because there was a good chance of bad things happening. The next straightaway went without a hitch, and Tripp was aware enough to slow down at the turn, and while he ended up in the bench, it wasn't an awful spot to be in. And then came the first downhill. Scary, fast, and fortunately I was there enough to grab the handlebars and keep him safe. Unfortunately, that's when confidence kicked in for me, and I began letting him do his thing a bit more. I didn't mind if he fell, falling is part of learning, I just hoped he wouldn't hurt himself so bad that we couldn't finish. The next fall was almost like that. About half way through the bike route, Tripp fell, scraped up his hands pretty bad, and hurt enough that for a few seconds, the whole thing was over in his mind.
Fortunately, Tripp is a pretty resilient kid, and he was able to get up with some encouragement, get going, and get over the issue and move on. I think there may have been one more fall on the second half of the ride, and one more section (narrow passage through cement pillars) that I helped him through, but overall the back half of the ride went smoothly.

The Finish

All that's left is the most important, how we finished. A quarter mile run, for Tripp, is nothing. And this year, he completed it 41 seconds faster than last.
All in all, Tripp cut six minutes off of his time from last year till this. If I could cut 30% off any of my race times, I'd be ecstatic. Tripp was very happy with how he did, enough so that he's ready to do another one again. So while doing these isn't motivational enough to get him running much at home, or thinking of anything like "training," he is having enough fun that he wants to continue doing these, and in fact would like to do more than one a year. The real question is whether or not next year, he'll want to do the individual divisions, or still stick with parent/child.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Big Sur International Marathon

Div PlacePlaceTimePace
122/285997/342904:10:009:32 min/mi

Registration

I can't start a blog about Big Sur without starting at the beginning, with registration. Getting in to BSIM is difficult at all times, often voted as the best destination marathon, many more people want to run Big Sur than are allowed to.

The 2015 registration process was split into five stages. Four traditional signups across different times of the day and days of the week, ostensibly to create some equity across regions, work schedules, and time zones, and one lottery. On the first traditional signup, Harry, Joy, and I were all at our desks, frantically hitting refresh to try and get in. Within four seconds, the seats were sold, and Harry successfully got into the race, but Joy and I didn't. The next three were similar situations, one I tried to do remotely via phone as I was in San Francisco at a work event, one I missed due to being out with the family, and one I had a similar situation as the first. Joy successfully registered in the next three rounds, but I was left to the luck of the lottery. Fortunately for me, I was successful in getting into the race with the lottery, so all three of us who were training for the race were able to get in. Yay!

Training

Out of my three previous marathons, I had a variety of training, from constant and consistent, to severe under-training. My undertrained races proved that by mile fifteen or twenty, I would be cramping and underperforming. Knowing this race to be one of the most difficult to complete, I knew I couldn't scrape by, but would have to be amazingly consistent in my pre-race work. If you've read my blogs leading up to this, you know that I completed a lot of races leading up to this, enough to help ensure success. Yet, just racing would not be enough: I should be running 30 miles a week at minimum. And yet, I didn't. Life, as always, as well as a lack of training partners running at lunch (kids keep me from early morning training), meant that I was very consistent in my long runs, yet barely if ever ran my weekday runs. What I learned from this training is that, enough cross-training and enough distance building means that I can complete a run by just building up my long distance training, but I can't get any faster or better without adding in the base work during the week: hills, track work, and mileage. My training wasn't good, but it was enough to do a consistent and full marathon instead of a half marathon plus some walking. I didn't run the whole thing like my PR, but nor did I find myself unable to run the last few miles, either.

The Bus Ride

Over five percent of Big Sur's budget goes to buses. That's over $150k, for bus rentals. Why? Because how do you get over 8,000 to the start when the roads are closed, the parking lots are where you stand to prep the start, and there are no hotels nearby? You bus all of them, one way, in one shot. 185 buses taking 8,000 people from fourteen locations to eight different start zones. So at the buses, by 4am, to hit the starting venue by 5:30am and have the race course cleared for the starting gun at 6:45am.

The Beauty

This is the first race that I have ever done where runners, and not the type who go in a pack and celebrate running as a big social event (and there's nothing wrong with that), but the real runners stopped to get out their phones and take a picture. Anyone who didn't, either didn't have a case that could carry their phone, was drop-a-phone-phobic, was blind, had already run it several times, or had no sense of beauty. When else do you get to actually exist, not behind windows, but out in the clear along the PCH for four beautiful hours?

The route begins at its namesake, in Big Sur State Park, and winds its way up a closed-to-traffic Highway 1, finishing in Carmel. Between the iconic Bixby Bridge, the ocean views along the whole route, and the top of Hurricane Point, there is practically no point which isn't awesome in its beauty. And while one friend of mine said that his PR is on Big Sur, I followed the advise of the rest of my running friends and took advantage of the scenery to make this a race I truly enjoyed, not just ran. And yes, I took some selfies, too.


The Race

As you can tell by the rest of this blog, the race itself wasn't as big of a goal as the venue; however, out of the three marathons I've done so far, only the first was truly successful. The second and third were plagued by undertraining and cramping, and so my goal was to do a good race, even if not my best. Running the whole course with a 9:32 pace, I'd consider successful for that goal.

The first ten miles, leading up to heartbreak hill, I kept a pretty relaxed pace of low 9s, running with both Harry and Joy for the first few, and keeping my heart rate in zone two. A quick pit stop before the big hill, and I was heading up to catch up with Harry. The whole way up the hill, my mind was on relaxed and easy running, and I averaged 10s all the way up, though my heart rate jumped up into the 170s to get to the top. I had been warned not to blow out my quads on the downhills, so I kept my same mid-9s pace on the way down.

By the next few hills, I still kept up the same mantra, relaxed on the way up, slow on the way down. Not long thereafter, I caught back up with Harry, and we were running together again. Then, we got to the the first big hill after mile 22 in the Carmel Highlands, and things changed for me. To quote the race organizers: "Just the mention of the Highlands strikes fear into the hearts of Big Sur vets. It is a series of short steep hills made all the more brutal by the sharp cant of the road which wreaks havoc on tired quads and tender ankles." About half way up the hill, I began to feel like I might cramp up, and I know from my previous races that once I reached that point, there would be no turning back. I said "good luck" to Harry and began walking up the hill. I reached the summit, and said "screw it" to my plan of backing off on the way down. I knew, if I was going to do decently, and be walking up the hills, I'd have to make up time downwards, and if I was going to cramp, I needed to take advantage of every opportunity I could. So up the hill I went at low 9s for the first half, 15s for the second half, and I came down in the 7s and 8s. Shortly thereafter, I shocked Harry by catching back up with him. "Never thought you'd see me again, did you?" "No" was the honest reply.

Harry and I paced each other through the easier sections, and I kept up my walk/run up and down the hills, and we kept going this way till around mile 25. Then, looking at my watch, I had a realization. The last time Harry and I did a big run together was a couple years ago at Shamrock'n, and when we got near the end, he fell back and I pushed it in to the finish. Had he known that he was going to be eleven seconds off his PR, that would have been enough motivation to push it into the finish. So knowing his marathon PR, and looking at the time, I realized that if instead of pulling back as we both felt like doing, we just pushed a little harder, Harry would PR in Big Sur! My fastest mile on the race was mile 24 (assisted by a nice long downhill), and my final mile was in about eight minutes. I had enough left in me to push a bit harder than Harry into the end, so I came in front of Harry, but he got a PR! Harry finished in 4:10:06, beating his 4:10:52 PR, and I finished in 4:10 even. The end result was a race I did about spot-on to expectations, and enjoyed tremendously.



Final Thoughts

Anyone planning on doing more than a marathon to check off that tick on their bucket list should plan on doing Big Sur. There's a reason that it sells out so fast, and is consistently featured in magazines and top race lists, it's worth every bit of training to go run this course. And while I may not do it again, I'm extremely happy that I did it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Shamrock'n Half Marathon - Eighth Time's the Charm

Div PlacePlaceTimePace
47/390244/646701:39:067:38 min/mi

PR! PR! PR!

TL;DR? This post can be summarized with "I GOT MY FIRST PR SINCE 2008!"

Past the excitement of this statement, underlies a large amount of elements coming together unexpectedly to me getting a PR on a race I only expected to treat as a "B" race. And honestly, there's no way that this would have happened without my training for Big Sur, my half marathon the weekend prior, and encouragement from Mai Tran, a karateka friend.

The Race

I don't need to talk about Shamrock'n... again. The race is one that I've run every year except the last, and that's only because I was living in London and not Sacramento. It was my first race, it's the race I've done even in years when I'm not running, and it's a race that I hope to continue for many years to come. It's close to home, a fun course, big enough to have a lot of energy, and yet not Disneyland or Nike big. Half marathons are still the perfect distance for me; I don't need to train much if I don't want to, yet I can still pull off a great run if I put a month or two of work in.

Thus, coming into the race this year, it's not that Shamrock'n was a goal race, that's Big Sur. Neither of my BSIM training partners, Harry or Joy, were running it with me, but there is never a year when I don't run into folk form STC, TBF, work, or other places that helps add to the fun of the race for me, and this year was no exception. I had been looking out for a few people that I knew were running the race, but beyond one coworker, I was at the start line before I found any of the key individuals, and that was Mai. Mai had invited me to go on a couple of training runs with her this season, but as she is an early morning runner, versus my preference for lunch time, I never did run with her. Yet once I hit the corral, I found her getting ready to start.

Not content with my typical mid-pack starting position (I do like to track the "I passed XX people" stat), Mai grabbed my wrist and pulled us nearer the front of the corral. After the guns had gone off, I went to start my normal "ease-into-it" pace, but Mai had different plans. I like to start about 30 seconds behind my goal pace for the first half mile or mile, then ease up a bit as I get my stride. Mai, on the other hand, started us out at 7:30s. Not to be beat already by someone who's generally my pace, I kept up with her for a rapid start.

What happened next was not what I expected. By mile three, our pace had picked up to 7:24, and I was still feeling pretty good. Mai began to flag a bit (and I do mean just a bit), and so at that point, I had the choice of slowing down from what I was doing, or going on at what could be a PR pace for me. I bid Mai farewell in mile three, and kept going strong. We had started about behind the 1:45 pacing group, and had caught up with them by then, but I decided to keep up the pace I was making and to keep running.

At about the half way point, I caught up with the 1:40 pace group. Now, I knew 1:40 would get me a PR, as 1:41:34 was my Disneyland '08 time, so catching up with that group was a big blessing; I could cut my pace down to theirs (a nice 10 second relief), and still make it in for a PR. Through the next six miles, I mostly kept up with the group, dropping behind a couple of times and picking it back up when I had a moment or three of rest (and by rest, I mean running an 8min/mi for a few seconds). My HR had climbed from the high 170s into the mid 180s, and I knew I was pushing about as much as I could, but I had a goal I could achieve, and that was enough to push me. By the last mile, the pace group was about 50 yards in front of me, but a last minute sprint put me just behind them, and my final result was a 1:39:06, over two minutes faster than my last half marathon PR.

Thus, a little early encouragement, an attitude of yes I can, and a group to run alongside and pace myself with brought me to a new PR just ahead of my big race. Woot!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

2015 Lost Trail Half Marathon

Race Logo
Div PlacePlaceTimePace
7/1132/10502:06:169:38 min/mi

The Race

The best part about racing with TBF is the history I have with the group. Two years of twenty-hour weekends running the events, and to come back as a racer feels comfortable. I know the people, I know the organization, and even if eighty percent of the volunteers are new to me, it still feels like the same group I spend so much time with. So coming into this race, I didn't come with the idea of winning, or even treating it as an A or B race, it was just a fun event, on a course that's outside of my usual training routes, with some extra organization and support that makes it a more fun venue.

Since I've run this course (or similar) twice in the past, I knew what to expect, and I knew not to work too hard at any point since the hills run through the entire route, so I took off easy, didn't work too hard, and enjoyed chatting with a few people when I could. I expected to breeze through the hills since I had done a decent amount of hill training in prep for Big Sur, but I will say that they were harder than I remembered. I'm not training quite as much as I should for the upcoming marathon, and to make this post short, I'm not entirely satisfied with what my performance means for April, but I was just a couple minutes slower than my last time on this course (2012) and felt okay, just not great. It definitely met its goal of a much more interesting training run for this short-weekend training day. I just hope this means I won't do poorly next week at Shamrock'n.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

California Kids Triathlon - 2014

SportTimeRankAG
Swim+T1 6:31 80/123 50/68
Bike 15:41 93/123 57/68
T21:35
Run 3:17 69/123 42/68
Total 27:05 176/246 53/68

The Race

The last time we went to the California Kids Triathlon, put on by Change of Pace, it was a whole family affair. Four kids racing, two in a parent-child division, starting early in the morning and finishing in the late afternoon. This time, the only kid wanting to compete was the youngest, Tripp. His last tri was when he was three, this time at five years old, it was bound to be a very different race. He was just a few weeks out of "floaties" in the pool, hadn't spent much time on his bike, yet was much more
confident than a child with about thirty minutes on training wheels as he was on his first race.

I got to be the chosen partner for this race, putting this as my first triathlon since the IM 70.3 Oceanside. 25 meters in the pool, a one mile bike ride, and a quarter mile run means a less than thirty minute race, less time than it takes us to drive to Davis to get there.

Tripp was definitely in a great mood for the whole race, much different than when we came out two years ago. He had a lot of confidence coming out of the pool without floaties. And on that trip, each time he rode by a playground or a bench, he'd be asking to sit. I had to help him up every hill, and encourage him the entire thirty-plus minutes of the bike ride. This time, out of the pool, he was rushing off to get ready for the bike. On the bike ride, he flatly refused help at any point, and though he was getting passed every few minutes, he was intent on continuing on in race fashion. And as he got to the run, he was off as fast as he could go.

I had a lot of fun joining Tripp on this, his third triathlon. Even though I've stayed out of the sport for the last year, I'd love to have any of my kids continuing to participate in tris or in running with me. The attitude of most athletes in the sport is fantastic, the continual feeling of team, without the pressure of the "win the game" attitude is healthy, and it is something that I enjoy doing myself. While my kids have seen me fail, they've also seen me succeed in a big event, and it's something that I want to have them see in their dad. I hope Tripp continues to race into the years to come, and that I can be there with him while I still can.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ironman California Oceanside 70.3

SportTimePaceRankAG
Swim 41:04 2:07/100m 1763/2283 275/331
T19:15
Bike 3:51:51 14.5 mph 2095/2263 321/329
T25:42
Run 1:57:42 8:59/mi 834/2203 145/322
Total 6:45:34 1711/2203 272/322


My First Tri Since the DNF

So you DNF your first race. It's depressing, quite a downer, and de-motivates you from continuing. Three years later, when you decide to sign up for another race, you train hard and work your best not to DNF, right? Well... I thought I would. I got panniers so that I could commute to work on my bike. I planned several swims. I trained for CIM and Shamrock'n. No sweat! Except that... I didn't do any of that except the running part. In 2012 and '13, I rode 120 miles, total, 47 of that leading up to the race (and none over 21.7 miles). For swimming, I trained once each in May, June, August, and October, and then once two weeks prior to the race. So training up for IM 70.3? Yeah, didn't do that. But I've learned that I can complete a 70.3, as long as I'm just there to finish. I can't fake it on a full IM.

T minus One

Oceanside is a beautiful city, and thus, when presented with a place to go and watch a race and a holiday weekend as well, my parents, my sister and her kids, and my whole lot came down to join us for Easter and a race. We had a pleasant holiday the days before the race in Tahoe, and drove down as a family to Oceanside to enjoy the Easter holiday on the beach. Meeting up with the family was a relaxing way to spend the time, and I enjoyed being able to stop by and pick up my bib and gear while the kids of both families spent time playing together.

I dropped off the gear the day before, made my way through the vendor area, and grabbed my bib. Having realized on the trip down that I'd forgotten my sunglasses, I took advantage of the sales to buy myself a new pair of Rudy Project sunglasses. We spent the evening with the family, and I prepared to race the next day. Despite having five people crammed into a tiny two-queen room (since one decided to stay with the cousins), and a sub-optimal way of getting ready in the morning (trying not to wake up the kids), I woke up in the morning, hopped on my bike with my gear in hand, and made my way to the swim start.

Being part of a tri club, it's not uncommon to run into fellow members out at a local race. So when the person next to me at swim start at a race hundred of miles from home saw my jersey, and commented that he was a member too, I was shocked. It was great having a fellow club member, Silas Bauer, at the race with me. As we prepared for the start, it gave me a great opportunity to chat, and stay centered as the moment for the start arrived.


The Swim

When I swam in IM Arizona, I realized that most of my training meant little. By that, I mean that within a few hundred meters, any speed or agility had been depleted, and I was left with Dory's mantra. For half the distance, it still felt the same way. I hadn't trained this time, so the initial energy reserves lasted a bit less, but the same general feel of "just keep swimming" was present through the forty-odd minutes of swimming. The swim start was pleasant enough, and the course meandered out into the bay, then back towards the beginning in somewhat of an L shape, but I'm not a super strong swimmer. Folks continued to pass me all swim long, and I just keep going and going. 1.2 miles isn't very far, especially compared to my previous 2.4. I felt strong enough coming out of the swim, and was happy to get out of my wetsuit and move on to the second stage of the race.

Camp Pendleton, aka the Bike


I was probably most excited about the improvement of the bike course for this race versus Arizona. In Arizona, it's a long, straight stretch, there and back, with multiple laps. For Oceanside, the route goes up the coast, wanders through the mountains, and heads back into town in one long loop. The area was beautiful, even if there were posted marines all through the course (you are on a base through half of it!), and the change in scenery and altitudes was fantastic.
I in no way worked hard. 14.5 mph is a pace I can keep up near indefinitely, and I knew my biking wasn't strong, so I didn't push myself at all. My goal was to stay healthy, keep moving, get enough fuel (six honey stingers), and make it out to my strong sport. I definitely met that goal. I used my action cam to record the bike, though only captured the first twenty minutes. If you want to see me get passed by loads of riders, you can check it out on YouTube.

The Run!

Sub 9s was way better than I expected. As I mentioned in the intro, running was the only sport I really trained on in the previous year, so saving up enough energy by taking it easy on the bike (and getting passed constantly), meant that my run consisted of non-stop passing of other athletes. It's a great feeling to spend two hours running past person after person. I never slowed, I had plenty of energy (though I was tired), and I kept booking it till the end. Being in the slowest of 10% of the riders was definitely balanced by being in the top half of the runners. It was a great way to finish the race, and it was a blast getting to run by the family who were busy playing at the beach during my run. D and my parents were able to catch me on the run as I went by, and D even made it to the finish for me crossing the finish line. The feeling of completing the race after my last let down was great, and I'm glad to have come back to the sport without a DNF. Next time, though , I'll definitely need to train more.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Shamrock'n Half Marathon - Take 7

Div PlacePlaceTimePace
74/382477/619001:45:04.88:01 min/mi

Oops, this is number seven, not eight

One thing I like about this race is that, well, it feels like home. Shamrock'n was my first race ever, and even in the last couple years of not racing, I've still continued to do it every year; even if training for it meant a couple of runs ahead of time, and nothing
more. On my bib, I wrote "Shamrock'n #8", but I realized before it started that it really was only #7... Oops! Oh well, Sharpie to the rescue.

This year, thanks to CIM, I was a lot better trained. Harry and Joy had been doing more running than I had, but I had joined them on a sixteen mile run starting up Costco hill, as well as a few other runs. So while I only did 10 runs in the two and a half months leading up to Shamrock'n, they averaged 7 miles each. I was pretty sporadic, though: two runs one week, zero the next, two the following, then zero, then three... you get the picture. Harry, on the other hand, is back into marathon prep, and is pretty solid in his training. As usual, I went into this fully expecting to be beaten again... as did he.

Race day

So packet pickup done, race day comes. I have been working to cheapen up on my running: gatorade is free at work, so why am I buying Gu (or actually, Raspberry Hammer Gel)? That said, I spent a month's worth of Gu money downgrading my water bottle. Don't get me wrong, I love my Camelbak, but I've watched coworkers switch to the smaller ones for shorter runs, and I was hoping to carry less weight on my arms. Harry and Joy had both decided to try this marathon solely on supplied hydration, but I'm too much of a wimp to go that far. I bought myself Nathan's little bottle. Enough to get me from stop to stop.

So after dropping off my bag with my STC buddies, we were off to the start just as the gun was going off, just like last year. While I believe that is not a way for me to get a PR, for that every second counts at this point, I wasn't going for a PR this year... that was Harry's job. I was just hoping to stay social through the start, and maybe the first half or quarter mile, then start picking up the pace after the warm-up.

The rest of the race went pretty normally. The small bottle worked great. Using the race fuel was plenty sufficient, though looking back, I guess Nuun doesn't have any carbohydrates, so I really only fueled up with my single Gu
packet? Guess I should check closer next time! My performance wasn't stellar, but wasn't bad either, coming in fourth of my thirteen road halfs. The better news is that Harry broke his PR (which he missed by only seconds last year), so the main goal of the race was a success! On sadder news, I still beat Harry, even though he out-trained me. Coming into mile twelve, he had to pace back for a bit, and I wasn't willing to give up anything at that point. We were still within shouting distance, as he responded to my call-out of mile 13! Oh, and starting at the back of the wave, I get to use my favorite statistic again... I passed 4,939 people on the run, in a field of 6,190!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

California International Marathon - CIM 2012


Div PlacePlaceTimePace
331/4454088/649604:45:1210:56 min/mi

The Race - A Timeline View

I've decided to try something a little different with my blog this time. Instead of a long, textual experience, I figured a timeline with what was happening and going through my head would be a bit more fun, as well as give a better view of what my pace and everything was like.

Wakeup, morning breakfast of a bagel and some PowerAde, followed by a Clif bar later. Get the morning prep done, and off to Harry’s at 4:45.
-3:15
-2:00
Arrive at Harry’s, have a chance for some discussion on last-minute plans, get ready for the morning, and head off by 5:20 to the bus stop.
Bus stop at the Convention Center, grab the second to last bus, with only 6 people on board. Didn’t realize until I checked later that the busses were only supposed to run 5-5:30. The walk to the stop was pleasant; light rain, moderate temperature. The bus drive to Folsom was insane, the bus was being blown across lanes by the intense wind, rain made visibility tough, and we could hear chatter from other drivers getting lost.
-1:15
-0:30
Getting ready to race. Final stop at the zillions of port-o-johns (they stretched for over a hundred yards), and to get the sweats bag dropped off. It’s so windy and rainy, people are hanging out in the busses. I’m so frazzled by the insane weather, I forget to finish tying my shoes, and forget to take off one layer under my jacket. Oh, and I left my garbage bags (make-shift rain gear) at home, so I guess I’m wearing my actual rain jacket.
Race start! Over seven thousand runners, ready to go. Seems like very few people dropped out due to rain. (6496 official finishers)
Go!
9:03
Mile 1
Dodge bags all mile long. Seems like half the runners decided to ditch the rain gear for the run.
Eek! Shoe untied. That’s what I get for being out in the rain not 100% prepared. Ditch Harry, tie it, then try and find him as I catch up.
8:30
Mile 2
Shoe number two goes out, shoe one is too loose. Ditch Harry again, tie both, then lose Harry for over a mile. Our plan to find him doesn’t work, as I pass him apparently, then slow down on hill to find him again.
7:39
Mile 3
8:22
Mile 4
Left shoe’s too tight. Stop one last time, this time at a water stop and adjust. The top of my left foot feels like it’s bruising, and I can’t go on with it like it is. Ow!
8:43
Mile 5
Definitely not running my best. Race times are usually 8s, I’m closer to 9s. A bit tired through the hills, but it could be the rain and wind doing it, too. Ah well, no PR definitely (but I didn’t expect it due to the weather and training).
8:55
Mile 6
8:38
Mile 7
Into old Fair Oaks, Harry is definitely doing better than I am, a bit more energy, and bit better performance. I guess training well pays off, eh? My knee has been hurting me for a mile now, enough that dropping out is at front of mind if it doesn’t take more than a mile or two to go away. Foot still hurts too.
9:07
Mile 8
8:52
Mile 9
8:45
Mile 10
9:04
Mile 11
See you Harry. Good luck on your run. Glad we could run this far together, and I’m happy to see you feeling confident enough to take off.
Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Thanks for braving the weather to come out and see me. Nice job weather-proofing the SLR, I hope it survived okay.
9:44
Mile 12
9:29
Mile 13
And hello to the rest of my family. Stop and walk to give hugs to everyone, even though I’m soaked. Still too cold and wet to give up any clothes, so it’s just a quick hug and hello, then back off to the run. The kids have already seen me DNF once. Now that the foot and knee pain are tolerable, I’m not backing down. Estimated finish: 4:15-4:30
1:58:46 – my second worst half marathon time. Definitely not doing great this run. As long as I’m not doing well, might as well stop at the port-o-john to make this more comfortable.
10:13
Mile 14
10:19
Mile 15
10:33
Mile 16
Time to start kicking in to a walk/jog. Things are starting to hurt, and I feel the same cramping coming on that I had at mile 15 on my training. Guess it wasn’t just electrolyte issues, just a matter of under-training.
12:19
Mile 17
12:24
Mile 18
Definitely getting very slow. Run till I feel the cramps come on, walk till I feel them go away. Watching pace groups go by, and estimate about a best-case 4:30 finish.
12:30
Mile 19
12:49
Mile 20
At least I have lots of company. Loads of runners are now in the same walk/jog boat I’m in.
14:56
Mile 21
Thanks for the beer!
13:22
Mile 22
Nothing will change from this point on. Just keep up the miles, track the mini goals (Watt/Fulton/Howe, check!) and find my way to the finish… eventually. I hurt, but not enough to stop.
12:22
Mile 23
13:12
Mile 24
Quarter pint of Guinness? Don’t mind if I do! Bonn Lair always has a group of supporters there to keep runners content. Harry even had a full pint when he realized he wouldn’t hit four hours.
13:23
Mile 25
13:05
Mile 26
Official Finish: 4:45:12
.2
Official Pace: 10:56 ... ugh!