MY FIRST ULTRAMARATHON

Here's how I made this happen on 40 miles a week.

APPRECIATING THE AWESOME

Saying Thank You to my wife, because relentless forward progress doesn't happen alone.

THE ARMY BUSTS OUT THE BAN HAMMER

The Army says "NO" to Vibram Fivefingers in formation.

THE BENCH AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD

Running Garapata

THE 2011 SAN FRANCISCO MARATHON

How NOT to do it.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

So, what ha-happened was . . .

I didn't intend to take six months off from blogging.  Really, I didn't.

It just sort of happened.

Certainly my focus was on writing, but it had nothing to do with running.

In January I found myself staring at my computer and its blank screen, wondering how I would manage to replace it with a series of words that were worthy of being called a Master's Thesis.

In February I found myself wondering how I might manage to coach my daughter's softball team while simultaneously preventing crap from filling the aforementioned blank pages.

In March I traveled across the country to conduct research in an effort to understand the aforementioned crap that would fill the aforementioned pages.

In April I spent a significant amount of time filling said pages with what I hope is NOT the aforementioned crap I feared.

Then a ran a marathon.

In May I began coping with the mental anguish that accompanies the reality of moving away from California.

In June I will leave this place.  At the behest of the Army I will dutifully pack my bags, ask my children to pack theirs, and apologize to my wife for once again making her leave the coast that she loves for a place that is much hotter, stickier and flatter.

I'm bummed.  And with every run I take to the Harbor Seals it gets more difficult to deal with.  Every walk with my wife to the beach with Jeff the Super-mutt makes me hurt a bit inside.

I'm going to miss this place so much.

The list of what makes that statement so . . . is simply too daunting to construct.

So, if you'll pardon me, I had a few things happening, and I suppose this is me not really apologizing for it.

I'm not upset I dropped off the Daily Mile, stopped scrolling down my Twitter timeline every morning and quit racking my brain for interesting blog ideas.  Because when I did, I found myself a little more connected to what I really care about; or at least, more connected to the fact that I might have been disconnected.

I'd like to think I'm back on my blogging horse, but I know I'm here with caveats.  There are things in front of me that are going to keep me from being the greatest blogger on the face of the Earth.  I'm okay with that.  If everyone else is, that's fine too . . .


By Marcus with 2 comments

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Appreciating the Awesome

I've noticed a recent trend among the bloggers I follow.  We haven't been doing it much.  Whether it's the holidays, work or in my case, grad school, everyone seems to be a little preoccupied.

I was in the unfortunate position of having to crank out four final projects within the last three weeks of school and still try and keep my mind on the 50 miles that so dutifully kicked my ass in the Marin Headlands two weeks ago.

I'm not really sure how I managed to make all of that happen to be honest.

Oh wait.  No, I totally do.

She was right there to hug my smelly behind when I crossed the finish line.



My wife is amazing.  Awesome in the totally non-colloquial (and often overused) sense of the word.  I really mean it.

Here's the trouble with awesome.  When awesome is the habit, awesome becomes the expectation.  It's always there, that awesomeness, and why shouldn't it always be there?

Then you take it for granted.

And then if you are very, very, VERY lucky, you are given a gentle reminder not to do such things.  A reminder of that awesome that allows you to do so many things, and do them well.

Ten days ago my source of awesome slipped while I was taking the kids to school, and sprained her tailbone.  She soldier'ed up and put herself back in bed, and I was only alerted to her pain when she couldn't take it anymore and started sobbing.  This is a woman that never cried through three childbirths, yet here she is, climbing the Mt. Whitney of pain-mountains.

Walking was a chore.  Sitting was miserable.  Driving was impossible.  Cooking wasn't going to happen.

Healing was going to be slow.

It was pretty clear Mr. Mom needed to get his ass in gear.

Now, don't misunderstand, I do my fair share of cooking and child chauffeuring (probably more than most) but this was different.

My wife needed me to be awesome.  I mean, getting her shoes on was not a solo activity.

I wasn't sure I would be good enough.  Wasn't sure that I could be all that helpful.

I just ran 50 miles like you read about, never considered quitting, and now wondered if I had what was needed to be the dude she needed.  She worried if her needs were becoming overwhelming.  Worried that I might be getting tired of it.

And then a funny thing happened.

I started to enjoy it.  I didn't enjoy watching the woman I love endure this crap of course, but I enjoyed being relied upon.  I enjoyed being the neck she put her arms around to sit up.

I started to feel like I was paying back the awesome, if not just a little at a time.

I also started to feel like someone was kicking my mental-ass.

Focusing on school was a challenge, and writing without being distracted was tougher than I thought it was going to be.  In short, I was getting a little taste of what it was like for her to get her degree while I was deployed.

It's slow.  It can be plodding.  There are highs and lows.  Hmm, sounds familiar.

And here I thought maybe she didn't know what I was going through during those 11 hours in the mountains.  But I should have known better.

I should have known better because she was the first to congratulate me.  The first to look into my eyes and tell me she was proud.  The first to ask me what I needed to be drinking or eating.  And of course she was the one to make sure I had a cold beer when I got home.

She may not be an ultra-runner, but she damn sure knows relentless forward progress and what it takes to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

And if there is one thing I learned during my ultra's, it's that you can't do it alone  . . . despite spending a whole bunch of time by yourself.

So it was clear to me that spending a week focused on something other than myself was the least I could do for someone that knew exactly what it was like to donate a little piece of themselves to someone else's goal.

I'm lucky.

Lucky that she's going to be able to recover fully and no serious damage was done.

Lucky to be able to care for her when she needed it.

Lucky to have an opportunity to appreciate what I have, what I need . . . and what I need to appreciate.

Just.  Really.  Lucky.











By Marcus with 2 comments

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Race Report: The 2011 North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championship, San Francisco

Act Two:  The Doing It Part

Before I start, and just to get you into the mood, you should watch this video brought to you by the badasses at the Endurables running club in the Bay Area.  It's amazing footage of the leaders and the eventual winners Mike Wolfe, and will help you envision the brutality of this course.  Really amazing footage and great music.



Over the last couple of days I've tried to reflect on a couple of themes that sort of summarize the experience of running my first 50 mile race.  I was able to come up a couple that will be recurring throughout the next few hundred words.


  • I knew this thing would be hard; turns out it was harder.
  • It seemed like there was someone turning a dial from challenging to "you've got to be kidding me" all damn day

A perfect example of the second came almost immediately in the form of howling winds from the start to the Tennessee Valley aid station.  The winds were fairly ridiculous, at one point forcing me almost upright as I climbed up the first hill which is upon you almost immediately.  This wasn't a huge shock to my body as Laguna Seca does almost the exact same thing.  Solid jogging combined with a power-hike was keeping me up with the first half of the field.  When I started the first descent, I realized that my head-lamp wasn't nearly as bright as it could be and that I was going to sacrifice some time for not practicing night-time trail running.  This was totally surprising and really didn't bother me that much mentally.  I was trucking anyway and likely didn't need to be moving much faster.


When I arrived at the TV aid station, I realized that some of the aid stations were not exactly as advertised.  I was expecting GU gels, not chomps (which cause me some gastric distress) and they were nowhere to be found.  This was a bit of an issue given that I only brought three gels with me, and had expected to refuel at each station with gels.  Whoops.  Not totally my fault, but it would have been smarter to just hedge my bets and carry enough with me to get me to Cardiac, where my drop bag was located.  I reluctantly took two packages of Chomps for the road and moved out.


From Tennesee Valley I headed out to Muir Beach which includes some fairly ridiculous switchbacks followed by a nasty little descent into Muir Beach.  The grade is simply ridiculous and it became apparent pretty quickly that this type of grade and my crappy mechanics was eventually going to take a toll, I just wasn't sure when. 


After this, I headed up to the  Cardiac Aid station where I knew my drop bag was located.  The chomps were now doing their thing on my stomach and I wondered if I would have been better off just bonking and reloading at the aid station than dealing with the fact that my stomach felt like someone stepped on it. Ultimately I stuck with my "don't get behind" nutrition strategy and I think it was the right one, it just wasn't comfortable.  When I got to Cardiac, I swapped out the long sleeve shirt for a fresh clean one and jammed my back pocket full of gels, not wanting to deal with any more stomach cramping.


From Cardiac to Stinson Beach you have a tricky section of single track that has some incredible views, if you can catch a glimpse and not get hip-checked off of the path by runners coming the other way.  If I'm being honest, this was the first time I really started to get bummed out by my conservative pace, even though I knew that it was right for me.  Runners were already coming back, so about every 50 meters I was having to step to the right and get out of the way.  By the way, returning runners on an "out and back" have the right of way, so don't be a jackass here.  I didn't enjoy the experience of being lapped here, even if it was by people I will likely never catch.


Stinson Beach back up to Cardiac is where the misery really starts.  At this point you are at mile 28 (approximately) and are staring into the pain and agony that is the Dipsea trail and its 2k feet of stairs and climb.  For me, this is where I started to question whether I was even going to finish in 11 hours, given the pace of my ascent.  It was pretty clear that I hadn't done enough hiking during my preparation and my legs were starting to skim the stairs out of sheer fatigue.


Once I hit Cardiac again though, I felt like a new man.  I refueled with some chicken soup, some endurolyte caps, and re-lubed all of my moving parts for the final push back down to the beach.  Initially I bolted out of the aid station, really stoked to be hitting some gradual switchbacks and some flat terrain.  Eventually though, these trails got tougher and more technical and my pace slowed to a crawl and I was mentally begging for the aid station that was placed slightly further out than many of the rest.  Finally I got there, after watching (and hearing) a spanish kid snap his ankle like a twig right in front of me.  We were so close to the end I felt horrible watching this unfold, but there wasn't anything to do but get to the EMTs and let them know that they needed to head up the trail.  I was actually helping him by running away from him.  Who'da thunk?


After this I headed back down to Muir Beach where things start to flatten out and you can actually get some speed going.  I was totally jazzed to hit some terrain that felt comfortable and rattle off some decent times where I could.  At this point 9 min miles seemed like light speed.


I reloaded at Muir Beach and got out of there as quickly as I could, knowing there were just a few more hills to go before the finish line.  A dude dressed as Buzz Lightyear was there to cheer folks on and I tapped his "talky" button before I moved on.


Yeah, just a couple.  Of gigantic ones.  With smoked legs.  Awesome.


I won't belabor the point here, but these final mountains were simply soul crushing for me.  At this point, my legs were destroyed and running up them was just not an option.  Running down them was miserable as well.  I don't know what else to say besides everything hurt and I couldn't work up any kind of speed without some fairly intense pain, which was a completely new experience for me.


I was buoyed at the end by the sight of an athlete fromt the Challenged Athlete Foundation, a lady with two prosthetic legs, totally gutting out 6 miles of a marathon relay.  It was clear I didn't have shit to complain about and ran faster than I had in over 6 hours toward the finish line.






I didn't finish as fast as I wanted (I wanted to qualify for States, just to have a goal, not because I think I'm capable of it right now) but luckily when you have a wife as awesome as mine, you don't have to worry about hearing anything other than congratulations or getting anything other than a smile.  She's been nothing short of amazing to me while I trained for this and frankly, when I train for anything.  She even busted out her own running PR just before she came up to see me finish!


And my three daughters, that are always encouraging and there to give me a hug despite the stink.  What a beautiful group!



Probably the coolest part of running Ultras is the on-course camaraderie you develop with dudes you don't even know.  Jose and I met a guy with probably the coolest moustache on earth and had to get a picture:


I honestly wasn't too stoked on my time until I bumped into Mr. Ultramarathon Man, Dean Karnazes and he offered his congratulations.  I told him my deal, that I hadn't run a marathon until a year ago and that this was my first 50 miler and second Ultra.  What happened next shocked the hell out of me.  His eyes got wide, his jaw dropped and he said, "Brother, you picked one HELL of a first 50 miler! Wow."  Said the guy that just finished running across the country.

So I got that going for me.


I've got a few more general reflections but I'll save them for later, they're a bit more pensive (likely the post-race blues kicking in).  For now, I'll setting for knowing I got it done despite not having my best day or my best coach and training buddy Mike there to make sure I didn't do anything stupid.  I will say that although it was an amazing day, things were a bit bittersweet without him there.  Next time, next time . . .

For now, I'm going to put my feet up and have a cold one.





By Marcus with 9 comments

Monday, December 5, 2011

The 2011 North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile Championship, San Francisco

When I signed up for this way back in March, I'm not quite sure what I was thinking.  When I thought about this over Thanksgiving, I'm not sure I knew any more than I did then.  When I think about it now, I realize that thinking about it isn't nearly as important as feeling it.

And believe me, by the time it was all said and done, I definitely felt it.

There is so much to tell really, I'm not sure how I'll get all of my thoughts into a couple of posts, but I will do my best.  I'll start with the logistics and work my way to the actual race itself and I promise I will keep brevity as a theme . . .maybe.

As an aside, and for what it's worth, throughout these two race-recaps, I've highlighted and bolded things that:

  • I wish I would have known
  • I wish I hadn't overlooked
  • Benefitted me a great deal
  • Generally might be helpful  
And so with that in mind . . .

On Friday, my neighbor and friend J and I headed up to San Francisco to the North Face store to pick up our race schwag, listen to a panel discussion and have ourselves a little pre-race dinner.


The packet pickup was not exactly what I would describe as smooth, if I'm being honest.  To be fair, my attitude might have been tainted by the fact that we had just endured 3 hours of San Francisco traffic in an effort to get to the shop 15 minutes before they shut down pickup.  That being said, the JV cheerleader they had checking people off of the list wasn't exactly surpassing my expectations, asking really helpful questions such as "What is your last name?" after I had handed her my ID, and providing me with wonderful nuggets of information such as "I'm hungry and I lost my scrunchy" while she initially ignored me.  She was an annoying anomaly though, as everyone else was all over it.  I have great luck with these sorts of things . . .

One important note here:  They allow you to drop off your drop-bags right there at the store.  DO IT.  There were many people that were scrambling like crazy right before the race and I know for a fact that there were still folks standing in line to drop off when the gun went off.  This is not the stress you need right before you start running up a mountain.

We wandered over to the panel, hosted by the race director and featuring Dean Karnazes and Mike Wardian, the dude that won the San Francisco Marathon despite food poisoning from eating some bad tacos.

I wasn't a huge fan before, but Dean (with the microphone) was a great ambassador and Mike Wardian (white shirt) was simply funny as hell.


The panel was a nice touch as the setting was really intimate (basically just the second floor of the store) and they took plenty of questions followed by some autographs.  I honestly don't think many folks had a clue who Mike Wardian was and what he has accomplished but he really entertained the crowd.  Dean also spent a great deal of time signing autographs and chatting with everyone as well, post-panel.  We didn't have much time though, as we needed to check into our Hostel in less than two hours and still hadn't  eaten yet.

Somehow, someway, J and I managed to find a Thai noodle place with bowls for under 8 bucks a piece, a  relative bargain in San Francisco.

Salty and Carbo-ey.  Come to Papa.

If you're wondering, the name of the place is King of Thai Noodle, on O'Farrell St  and it's only a 10 minute walk from the North Face store.  Great place to get some nice salty fixings that won't drive your stomach crazy.  The duck soup and papaya salad were just what I needed.  Your mileage may vary.

Once we got the hunger pains taken care of, J and I headed over to our Four Star Hotel accommodations. J, being an absolute genius, alerted me to the fact that the Marin Headlands Hostel is located, get this, AT THE START LINE.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that I could have thrown a football from the front porch and hit the big inflatable North Face arch.  And guess how much?  26 bucks.  Yeah, you have to sleep in a bunk bed with 7 other dudes in the same room and make your own bed, but come on, you can't beat this.  No shuttles, no worries (80% of the customers were runners) and if you're lucky, you can start the day having coffee with one of the best ultra-marathoners in the world, such as Ellie Greenwood (who has only accomplished a few minor things, such as winning Western States this year).  

The one big downside to staying here is that there is no cellphone or wireless reception whatsoever.  Which means that any good-byes, good lucks, I love you's, and prior coordinations need to be done before you enter the giant cell-phone black-hole that is known as the Marin Headlands.  Of course, you can always do what I did, which is use the pay-phone to call your wife collect and listen / chuckle as she scrambled for a credit card to pay for the call.  She's awesome and despite the inconvenience, was nothing but happy to talk.  She wished me good luck, told me she was proud of me, and off to bed I went, happy as hell and eager to tackle these mountains.

As cool as our place was though, it didn't help me get to sleep.  I was pumped and I had the added nervosa of wondering if my cell-phone was going to work as an alarm clock given its low charge.  I finally passed out around midnight and woke up around 3:15 to a dead cellphone.  No way was I risking oversleeping for a mere 45 minutes of additional sleep.

I bumbled into the community kitchen, sparked up some water for my Starbucks Via and found J, who couldn't sleep for shizzle either.

As a last minute audible, I decided to go with the North Face E50 water bottle they gave me instead of my hydration pack.  This turned out to be both good, and bad.  On the upside, I think the lack of additional weight helped me out.  On the downside, that water bottle is a joke and I would have been better off with my duct-taped self-modified mountain-biking bottle that I had as a spare in my car.  Yes, it was that sucky.  I violated the rule of "go with what you know".  Thankfully it didn't crush me, though it did irritate me.  More on that later.

After we got our stuff together, we wandered down to the start line, about a hundred meters away, to hang out and cuddle underneath some giant heaters with everyone else.  This is when I realized that some of these poor saps weren't going to make the starting gun because they were waiting in line to drop off their bags.  

In short order, Dean Karnazes came up, said a few inspirational words that I couldn't hear because of the crappy PA system, and we all awaited the sound of the gun.  Or in this case, the sound of the guy saying "Go".  I did spot Geoff Roes and Mike Wardian before we bolted out of there, and I was absolutely positive this was the last time I would see them, even at turnaround points.  

Turns out I was right.  Shocker.

With headlamps on and spirits high, we took off like a herd of either gazelles or turtles depending on your persuasion, and plunged into the 5 a.m. darkness for what was surely going to be a long day.


By Marcus with 3 comments

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This is how I'm preparing for my first 50 miler

Me: No likey early mornings.

After having spent nearly ten years in the Army you would think I would be used to this kind of thing by now.

Eh, not so much.

Truth is, I've really only had a few jobs where it was absolutely imperative that I get up so damn early.  I think that "Platoon Leader" was the last job I had where a 5:30 a.m. wake-up was considered normalcy.  

After that, I was pretty much on my own to do my job (whatever it happened to be) in whatever way I saw fit.  Many of my friends cite an "internal alarm clock" as the reason that they get up so early, saying that they "just got used to it."

Yeah, not me.  I'll sleep until 10 a.m. every damn day regardless of bedtime absent an alarm clock.

Don't get me wrong, I can operate on zero sleep and mini-power-naps for days, but it isn't my preferred method.

So when races like the San Francisco Marathon ask you to get your happy-ass running at 0600 I'm not exactly acclimated to the morning awesome.  I honestly think that issue messed with me during that race as I had a headache almost the entire time that was basically just masked with adrenaline.  I hadn't gotten up that early in months, and I think I paid for it.

In an effort to make things less painful for the 5 a.m. start of the North Face Endurance Championship San Francisco 50 miler (Christ Almighty that's a long name), I'm waking up early this week.

It sucks.

But all of a sudden I have crap-loads of time for things.

Such as observing the cats bugging the hell out me, unencumbered by irritants such as the dog who is far too intelligent to be up at this hour.  The cats, particularly the pimp-of-the-couch kitty George, are under the mistaken impression that I have arisen to feed them earlier than normal.  

So he sits in front of me, staring me down and purposefully pushing random things off of the table until I oblige his needs.  It took me three crayons, a power adapter doo-hicky, and a half-cup of water before I got his drift . . . but I digress.

At the end of the day (the Glorious Time, as it is referenced now) I'm quite sure this is helping.  It's getting easier to wake up and shake the cotton out of my head.  If nothing else it will help get me to bed on Friday evening for the holy-sparkling-unicorn-crap alarm of 3:30 a.m. on Saturday.

As far as the rest of the tapering goes, I'm really just trying to take it easy this week.  I've done two runs and played one hockey game so I think I've struck a decent balance.  I know my body well enough to know that two days off before the race is optimum (I felt great on the 50k) and honestly, no amount of running is going to 1) help me this week and 2) keep me from going a little nuts.  With that in mind I've really just decided to lay-off, and get my mind right for Saturday.

By Marcus with 7 comments

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Forced Taper

There are a couple of ways to taper before a big 50 mile race.

The first is to do things intelligently.

You do some Yoga.

I know it looks like I'm praying, shutup.

You do a recovery run or two.

Maybe you work in some stretching.

Or you can go play a hockey game and get splattered at the blue line by a jerk the size of a tundra Yeti, resulting in "ass over tea kettle" style acrobats rivaled only by cirque du soleil.  You know, whichever.

Horrible back pain or Al Pacino impression . . . you decide.

Sweet Skating Jesus that was not a nice feeling.  The adrenaline carried me through the rest of the game but once I got home, I could barely get my bag into the garage and getting my own shoes off was decidedly out of the question.  (Hat tip to my daughters for helping out with that one.)

This was not good.

I hoped that hitting the pain and inflammation head-on with some Naproxen would help out, and it did, thankfully.  This left me with about two days of limited mobility and a big giant question mark where running was concerned.  Luckily, by Wednesday I was able to run, but by the six mile mark, I was tightening up a little.  Long story short, I wasn't going to push it and needed to be chilling anyway, so I took it easy.  Just in time for . . .

A big bowl of Head Cold.

The taper cold.  I'm not a huge believer in "I always get sick when I taper" and this didn't make me any more skeptical.  This thing was going around and it was bound to happen.  Unfortunately my wife got it with an EXPONENT attached to it, making it absolutely brutal.  While I only felt like crap, she was absolutely down for the count.  That being said, running sounded like a fairly miserable proposition and I was only able to muster 17 miles or so.

Listen, before everyone launches into lecture mode on hockey, let me just say that I believe that hockey is exactly the type of cross training that has gotten me into great shape, rather than just running shape.  My back muscles are stronger, my core feels great, and I think my results in the 50k and how I felt afterwards speak to this.  So yeah, it's risky.  I got it.  But the juice has been worth the squeeze in my opinion.

And if you're wondering, I did play again during our game this week.  

And I got two assists.

Must have been the lack of mythological beasts looking to decapitate me this week.

By Marcus with 1 comment

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