Thursday, June 15, 2017

From 2005 - Bonk Management

Note: My blog was originally posted on AOL's Journal service. Then they ended the service and I lost a ton of blog postings. This one I was able to recover. It originally ran in 2005 but seemed to still be relevant, especially as summer temperatures are peaking in many places around the country. Hope it is valuable.

Yesterday was the infamous Team in Training SF Peninsula's Woodside run. This is a challenging 12 to 20 mile trail run through Woodside, CA and Edgewood Park. It is easy on the knees and joints but has some tough hills. Weather was perfect but for some reason I had a mid-run bonk.

I'm a month away from the the Maui marathon so needless to say this was a bit concerning to me. I've done runs longer than this and have been training on hills a lot this season with no bonking.
Started the run very strong, maintaining a great pace with good cadence and comfortable stride length. Was able to maintain a comfortable conversation and good breathing pattern. Hit the first hill and hammered it, which felt great and recovered quickly on the backside. Kept this pace for the first 10 miles no problem. Downed a HammerGel at this point and powered on. Then the trouble began.
By mile 12 I was hurting. Maintaining pace became a struggle and found myself really slowing down. By the time we entered Edgewood Park I was in full bonk and even the smallest uphill grades forced me to walk. Ugh!
I was mainlining Accelerade at this point, hitting every water stop for more Gatorade and chose to take the second HammerGel a bit early. This helped. My energy recovered a bit, but I couldn't maintain a steady pace until I got out of the park and back onto Canada Road.
The last water stop was a godsend (can't tell you how fantastic it feels to have a cheering group of volunteers encouraging you on when you are feeling this way. Thanks gang!!
After a bit more Gatorade I pulled myself back onto Canada Road and found I was able to get right back into my usual cadence. Stride length wasn’t there but the energy returned my body fell back into the efficient relaxed state and the last 3 miles were a breeze.
So what happened?
I made two mistakes that caused this bad experience:
1. I did not bring a watch.
2. I ate too late.
I’ve found through my training that I function best when I hydrate and eat regularly. I don’t have a set meter for drinking Accelerade but I do eat an energy gel every 40 minutes, whether I‘m hungry or not. This day, I didn’t take my first energy gel until 74 minutes in and it cost me.
The other thing I learned, though, was that I could recover from a bonk. While I certainly did not recover to the level at which I did the first 10 miles, I was able to regain my cadence and finish efficiently.
Big lesson and better learned on a training run than during my goal event.
Go Team!

What better place to be a VIP than LA

The gauntlet of half marathons is over and I’m just two events away from my goal of being the first person to complete the entire 2010 Rock n Roll Marathon Series. The final half marathon was a special one for me thanks to San Francisco 49er great Roger Craig and fantastic Southern California fall weather.
After finishing the Rock n Roll Denver marathon I had just six days to prepare for Rock n Roll Los Angeles and my legs weren’t too thrilled with this news. I’ve been nursing sore quadriceps and an IT band for several weeks and they could have used a bit more rest. I took it easy on them that week choosing short hikes with my dog Scout and brief recovery runs over the usual push before an event. And it paid off.
At a Forrester Research conference, the week prior, I had run into a client who works at the same company as Roger Craig who said that the hall of fame running back had access to VIP passes for this upcoming race and could hook me up. He came through midweek when I got an e-mail from Roger confirming this news.
I had seen the VIP tents and roped off areas at prior Rock n Roll events but had not partaken myself. Guess I wasn’t worthy. I was certainly curious about what special treatment Competitor Group provided to the elite runners, celebrities and other important people it invited into these areas and would find out for myself in four days.
The weekend started early Saturday morning when Reesa and I flew down, picked up our Rental car and immediately got nostalgic. We both had earned our Master’s degrees from USC and met in a class our first year. And had lived for a short while in Manhattan Beach so made that our first destination. It was only around 9am when we arrived so we stopped into an MB institution, The Kettle, for pancakes and omelets. We then walked down to the pier and along the strand as surfing and beach volleyball got underway as they do nearly every day in this fantastic community.
That afternoon we hit a few other LA hot spots, the marathon expo and then took a long nap. It felt good to get off my feet and rest up for the next day’s race. That evening we headed down to West Hollywood for a fantastic vegetarian meal at Hugo’s on Santa Monica Boulevard. Even if you aren’t a veggie, this place is worth visiting. Creative dishes mixing genres and flavors are their specialty. After the dinner we walked down to Barney’s Beanery, another local institution to watch the final game between the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies. In a dramatic 9th inning duel, SF’s Brian Wilson put the tying an go-ahead runs on base before striking out the final batter and sending the Giants to their first World Series since 2002. In typical LA fashion the bar grew silent as the umpire signaled the final out. Dodger fans can’t stand the Giants.
We returned to the hotel on a major high, which made turning in early before the race, a bit of a challenge. Plus all that great food from Hugo’s was making us both feel like stuffed ticks (great image, huh?). I don’t know why it is but no matter the race, I can never sleep the night before. I awoke at 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5:24am that morning – six minutes before my alarm. While the race didn’t start until 7:30am, we had to board a bus from downtown to Griffith Park where the race would start an you never know how difficult it will be to get to the start with over 12,000 people going to the same place.
This was the second Rock n Roll event that bused us to the start and as before, Competitor was very much up to the challenge. I got to the corner of Chick Hearn Court and Cherry Street and there were buses lined up four across and ten deep awaiting runners. I got on immediately, the bus quickly filled and we were off. Thirty minutes later we were at the starting corrals. Great organization.
Since I had 90 minutes to burn before the start of the race, I slowly made my way towards the VIP area in hopes of relaxing a bit and maybe getting some coffee. When I arrived and showed my pass I found a nice spread of fruit, bagels, coffee an other drinks awaiting us. And to the right of the food sat Roger. I had seen him at Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon and being a rabid football fan, certainly knew what he looked like. So I walked up confidently, introduced myself and thanked him for the hookup. He couldn’t have been a nicer person. He introduced me to two of his children who were also running in the event – their first half marathons – and took me around to meet others including the president of Competitor Group, as if I were an honored dignitary. Thanks, Roger. I will never forget your incredible hospitality.
The other benefit of being a VIP, in LA especially, is being in the same area as the celebrity runners. Having worked in LA and been around actors and other celebrities before I’m not typically one to get start struck but it was nice seeing Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jerry O’Connell among the star runners. I’m a big fan of O’Connell’s new drama series on CBS, The Defenders, and told him so. I ran along side Jerry for a short while during mile two; it was his first half marathon and I think he went out a bit fast as I didn’t see him again after that.
I started the race along side fellow Heavy Medaler Adam [name]. He too was coming off Rock n Roll Denver and so we both viewed this as a recovery run.
About mile 5 I started feeling really strong and left Adam as I picked up the pace. I had done an 8:15 min/mi pace for the first mile or so – part of the recovery run mentality – but felt up to a bit more after loosening the leg muscles.
The course was a net downhill run from Griffith Park, where the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory make their home, down through a few nice LA neighborhoods, along the Sunset strip and into downtown where the race finished in front of the Staple Center, the home of the LA Lakers.
Much of the course was new territory for me, which made it engaging to visit. The Silver Lake district and Echo Park had some nice parks and interestingly architectured homes. There were a few uphill sections along the way which suit me well and helped me to pass several runners who were unaccustomed. With each mile I felt stronger and upped the pace a bit as I progressed. When we hit mile 10 I was doing under 8 min/mi. This turned out to be the first reverse split half marathon of my career, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever achieve. It was an incredible feeling.
I crossed the line at 1:35, stretched my aching muscles, hugged Reesa (who was a little reluctant due to how sweaty I was – can’t blame her), showered then went down to the VIP tent to greet the other finishers. It was at the finish that VIP status took on its meaning. Competitor laid out a fantastic spread. There were organic breakfast burritos for the early finishers, followed by a fantastic lunch with salad, sliders, pasta and fresh fruit plus beer and wine. Nice.
We closed the day by heading over to the outdoor stage where Neon Trees put on an incredible, high energy show. I knew the band only from their biggest hit, Animal but was blown away by some of their other songs. Lead singer, Tyler Glenn was an adrenaline-filled force on stage – at 10:30am, no less!
Thanks Competitor Group for yet another fantastic experience.
Onward to event number 13 – Rock n Roll San Antonio Marathon.

The Relay 2012 - Our Fastest Team Yet

It’s a couple months past our annual rite of passage here in the Bay Area -- The Relay, a 194-mile tour from the Napa wine country down to the beaches of Santa Cruz County -- and I’m relaxing in our Jacuzzi J-325 hot tub reflecting on a fantastic time, new friendships and awesome weather. The Relay, now in its 17th year hosts over 300 teams of 12 runners who take turns running 6-8 mile segments of the course that winds through grape fields, past cow and sheep pastures, up to and over the Golden Gate Bridge, down along Ocean Beach, through the streets of Silicon Valley, up into the Santa Cruz Mountains along the always-nasty Highway 9 and down to an organic strawberry farm at the beach. Whew. 

The beauty of this event comes through its incredible scenery but more so through the bonding all teams get being packed into vans for two days. This year, Jacuzzi returned as our sponsor providing awesome racing shirts, hats and towels (no, they didn’t throw in the hot tub; I had to buy that).

Our running team, Are We There Yet?, is one of the original teams from the very first running of The Relay, which is how we have maintained the elite team number 4. Only one member of our squad this year was from that original team, Rick P; and this was his 14th running. Awesome.
Joining the team this year were a few veterans and long-time SMSers Kent and myself along with veterans from the 2011 team, Christine and John and a passel of rookies: Zach, Jen, Anne, Aram, Travis and Nipun. Just a couple weeks before the event we lost 2011 veteran Steve, to a stress fracture. Recover well, my friend.

We normally start the weekend with a kick-off party at my place the night before the race but this year, due to our new-found blazing speed (yes, Jen and Anne, this means you!) we were given a late Saturday start (1:30pm) so we opted to kick things off Saturday morning with a breakfast meet and greet. Aram grabbed the spatula and whipped up a batch of incredible eggs while Reesa made the coffee and I manned the waffle irons. Meanwhile everyone pitched in to packed sandwiches to sustain us over the two days, decorate our vans and carbo-load.

Around 10am we sent off Van 2 who drove up to Calistoga to sign in and start us along the 25 hour trek.

Day One – Calistoga to San Francisco

Each team loaded up their vans with coolers full of sandwiches, a case each of water and electrolyte drink, fruit, salty snacks and Oreos. Van 1 hit the trails at 1:30pm (our seeded start – yeah, we’re fast). Here’s each runner’s take on each leg (in racing order).We're still awaiting the accounts from a few of our runners. Hopefully seeing their names in "lights" will push them to share their stories!

After Van 1’s successful take-down of the first six legs, Van 2 took over at the Napa Prime Outlets. Kent grabbed the wrist band from a blazing fast Anne and carried our team South through Napa:

Kent: Anne was so fast on the previous leg that I almost missed her at the exchange point.  Our van was just chatting away in the parking lot, when we heard them call out our number.  I had to sprint over to the line just to make sure that Anne didn’t finish alone.  After taking the wrist band, I set out with two other runners on the course.  The heat got to us early and we quickly set into our own paces as we tackled the first hill.  We did a good job in pushing the pace with each other in a little friendly competition.  By the time we made it to the end of the leg, we were all glad to see the next runner’s and to have a chance to grab some more water.

James: As many of you know, I am working on speed this year in hopes of finishing a marathon in under 3 hours, so I took this first leg, which was mostly flat, as a tempo training opportunity. I grabbed the wrist band from Zach and took off like a rocket - too fast (yep, I know) and was panting for breath but quickly gaining on the runner ahead of me. I took the pace down to a more comfortable 6:26/mile by the second turn and tried my best to hold this pace which was a push but manageable. I was able to pass several runners on this leg but was passed like I was standing still by the pro runner from Team Google 1. These guys always finish in the top 3 for the Relay and if this runner was any indication of their strength this year, they were going to win easily. But it was still a let down to be Googled. Anyways, it was a gorgeous early evening and the conditions were perfect for a run. I hit the transition line in 55 minutes. Not a bad time for 8.1 miles.

After the Rymer boys split up leg 12, we arrived at the Cheese Factory near Petaluma and handed the wrist band back to Van 1 who would take us through the evening down to the Golden Gate Bridge

It was an absolutely gorgeous morning for running with the full moon illuminating the whole bay area. Anne and Jen came in all smiles and handed off to Kent as Van 2 took over for the legs that would cover the wee hours of the morning.

Kent: This leg is one of my absolute favorites in The Relay.  It’s an amazing experience to run in San Francisco when it’s completely quiet at 3am.  Not only were the roads deserted, but you could hear the waves crashing on the beach from a few blocks away.  By this time in the morning, it was pretty cold, so I set out as fast I could just to warm up.  By the time I got to the top of the first hill, I settled into a nice pace that kept me going for the next seven miles.  There are some amazing views in San Francisco as you approach the beach from the Cliff House, and the Moon and stars provided plenty of light to take in the views.

James: This leg was a bit hilly and wound its way mostly along Skyline Road. It was labeled as Easy by the Relay crew but was definitely not. I had run this road before and biked it many times but didn’t really recall exactly how much up and down it entailed. I pushed the pace as best I could but needless to say was glad to see Nipun at the end of it.

Nipun and I split leg 24 and I had the honor of passing the wrist band back to Christine who took off like a bandit despite two broken toes and nearly no sleep. How does she do it?

Three hours after arriving at crash pad #2, Van 2 was off, heading toward Highway 9 East of Saratoga to take over for the final push to the finish. Van 1 could start celebrating and that’s exactly what they did - driving down to the Santa Cruz beach to have some beers and margaritas and celebrate seis de Mayo and a massive accomplishment.

Kent:  I was feeling pretty refreshed in the morning after enjoying 20 minutes in James’ Jacuzzi during our break (especially considering that we had only gotten about an hour of sleep.  We awaited Anne at the top of the hill, and I got the privelage of running down the hill after she did all the hard work of running up it.  Since I’m training for another downhill race in the area, I took the time to practice pushing the pace on the road trying to keep my pace under a 7 minute mile.  By the end of the long, windy, and downhill run, my legs were definitely ready for a break.

James: My leg was the second toughest in Van 2. It started out with a nice flat city run in the rising heat but then turned uphill and kept going up for 4 straight miles. I love running hills and took advice from John, who had this leg last year, to take it easy through the town. That helped a ton. By the time I hit the hill I had enough steam left in my legs to power up it and finish with a strong average time.

Kent/John:  I took the last 3 miles of the final leg, and I was glad I didn't have to run the entire thing.  As we turned the corner onto the coast highway (Highway 1), I was greated by some heavy head-winds and some surprising hills for a final leg.  But it was great to see so many other runners and supporters out there with me.  As I turned into the farm where the finish area was staged, I was greated first by Nipun and then by the rest of the team.  It was great to see everyone and be able to cross the finish line together.

We all gathered for finish line pictures, beers, Barbera wine from Jacuzzi Family Winery (thanks!) and lots of hugs and congratulations. Then you could feel the fatigue from two days of running settle in. We climbed back into our vans for the final time and headed home. It was another incredible year and my thanks and love go out to all our runners and volunteers. We finished the race in 25 hours, a top 25% finish and were all winners. You don’t run The Relay to win; you do it for the experience and the friendship.

Tips from a veteran team:
We’re team #4 in The Relay and 16 years of experience has taught us how to do it right. Here’s how to make the most of this incredible event – and the rapidly growing list of other relays across the country. Want to do it like a pro? Heed Rick’s top tips – sage advice from a 13-year veteran.
  • 12 passenger vans: If you are going to cram six increasingly stinky and tired runners into a vehicle for 19-48 hours it’s important to have room to stretch out and catch a few moments of sleep. Minivans might be great for hauling pre-teens to the soccer field but they are torture on aching runner’s muscles. Go for the big daddy, the Ford F-350 12-passenger van. It gives lots of room for stuff, people, food and of course cowbells.
Rick’s top tip: remove the first row of seats in the van. This gives you extra room for runners to get ready for their legs and stretch after a grueling hill climb. It also gives you extra room for the cooler which is much easier to access when it isn’t buried by bags, towels and pillows.
  • Crash pads: when your Van is off, the last thing you want to do is stay in the van. Sadly many teams do just that cramming themselves into inhuman poses trying to get a few hours of shut eye. You can go the outdoor route and pull out sleeping bags to rest at the Van Exchange but they are never quiet and not all that comfortable (plus you gotta cram the bags and tents into your van leaving even less room to stretch out. The Are We There Yet? plan is to coordinate with family or friends who live near the van exchanges to serve as crash pads. Everyone gets a chance to shower, sleep on a bed or couch and fully rest.
Rick’s top tip: Don’t throw anything at the van leader when he wakes up up at O-Dark-30. It is not his fault that the other van is 5 hours ahead of schedule. Sit up and say thank you sir, may I fix you coffee.
  • Plan ahead on when to leave the pad. While each team tries its best to calculate when it will arrive at the next van exchange things never go as planned. Runners hit a high and take off faster than planned, routes get shortened by construction and the blood lust for roadkills results in a PR. The running Van’s responsibility is to call the resting van when they are starting to approach the end of their last legs but cell phone reception is a problem in the hills where the exchanges take place and you can’t miss a hand-off. If you finish a leg and the next van and next runner aren’t there, you gotta keep running.
Rick’s top tip: Plan on leaving the crash pad between 30-60 minutes earlier than you scheduled and ask the running van to call you when their fifth runner is on the course or as soon around that hand-off as they have cell reception.
  • Headlamps and blinking reflectors. The Relay mandates reflective vests and carrying a light when you run at night but we err on the side of greater visibility for the cars on the road and for the runner. As a coach for Team in Training I usually advise runners who have to share the road with bikes and cars to run at traffic as this gives you and the oncoming vehicles equal visibility to each other and equal chance to dive in the bushes if your eyes are more alert than the oncoming driver or rider. But The Relay mandates running with traffic. Since no one wants to be slapped on the back by a cranky old biddy in a two-ton Volvo it’s in your best interest to be as visible as possible and that’s where the blinking red reflector on the back comes in. Looking forward you must carry a flashlight but I find that a handheld breaks up your natural arm swing to hold the beam where you need it, right in front of you. Headlamps are better as they keep the light right where your eyes go so you always have a safe step ahead.
Rick’s top tip: For added visibility, carry the hand-held flashlight anyway, but point it behind you. This gives drivers even more visibility to you. And you can quickly flash it into the woods if you hear scary noises at night. Miriam, no watching scary movies the night before The Relay.
  • Register and reserve your vans early. When I first joined Are We There Yet? for The Relay the even capped the number of teams at 199 (matching the total mileage of the event most years). Now there are well over 300 which means sellouts are inevitable and renting 12-passenger vans from the local rental car agencies can be difficult. The most famous relay is Hood to Coast in Washington and has sold out every year for the past several years. Registration for most relays opens up to a year in advance and rental car companies take reservations that far in advance too. Don’t risk being a minivan moron.
Rick’s top tip: Next year’s vans are already reserved (at the same price). It pays to know people.

  • Recover like a champion. While I missed out on running this year, I’ll be back again until they tell me I can’t (and probably a year or two after that). With nearly 30 marathons, 5 relays and a few ultras under my belt I can tell you that proper recovery is the fastest path back to the trails. My recipe: chocolate milk followed by lots of stretching, a good go on the foam roller, a long soothing shower, and a dip in a Jacuzzi hot tub. At 101 degrees and its jets on full blast there’s little else that beats it for relaxation and recovery. I like to rotate between the seats of my J-325 starting with jets pulsating on my lower back muscles, then to the spine-tingler opposite the foot jet for a nice arch rub, then over to the seat with jets hitting the shoulder blades. Pop open a bottle of Jacuzzi Family Winery’s award-winning Barbera. invite in the wife and a couple other runners and let recovery take over. Sweet.
Run it next year: May 4-5, 2013