Saturday, March 28, 2009

Coffee Talk: Toe the Line With Joe

Seems everyone's looking for some sort of performance advantage in these harrowing days of economic meltdown and early season races. The most emailed story this week on the New York Times website is Gina Kolata's piece on the athletic benefits of caffeine (story). Of course, caffeine's ability to boost performance isn't news to runners, and by now most of us have chosen one camp or the other: Double Shot or Double Not. Still, the piece is an interesting read and like most Times articles provides a lot of info delivered from some interesting angles.

Other posts on coffee/caffeine.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My 2009 Coyote Two Moon 100k

It was a long, long winter of running on icy roads and snowy trails that brought me to the sunny and warm starting line of the Coyote Two Moon 100k in Ojai, CA last weekend. And although I was quietly confident that the miles I'd put it in would be enough to get me to the finish line, there were still a lot of open questions in my mind as there would be a lot of firsts ahead of me: first 100k; first ultra-elevation gain race; first time running over ten hours; first time running at night. Add to this the staggered start and my placement in the last start group (3pm Saturday) with such speedsters as Brian Krogmann and 2009 Rocky Raccoon 50 winners Kevin Sullivan and Meredith Terranova, and there was plenty to occupy my thoughts in the final days leading up the starting gun. But, I finally decided to take my wife's sage advice (given after tiring hours of my pre-race analysis (read jitters)): "just shut up, and run"

And that's just what I did, and things couldn't have gone better.

Our 3:00pm start group consisted of eight preordained subjects and two who had missed their noon start. Things quickly spread out on the first 3400 foot climb to Ridge Junction, with Brian, Kevin, and Dan Waddle leading the charge. Trying to keep to my pre-race watchwords of "sodium, fluids, and patience," I took the first climb very easy, eating and drinking and talking with Kona triathlete, Andi Ramer. About halfway up, we crossed into some coastal low-clouds/fog, which we'd contend with on and off through the race. Nearing the ridge, we burst back into the sun, above the fog, and I found myself alone. Andi had dropped back a bit, and Meredith and Jonathon Stewart had gapped me.

Along the ridge and down the steep decent to the Rose Valley aid station (mile 12) I padded out the miles in the warm afternoon sun. About halfway down the decent, Brian and Kevin were hiking fast up the climb, both looking good. At the AS, I quickly filled bottles and started up the climb for the trip over to the Howard Creek AS (mile 18). Aside from passing Jonathon near the top (who'd been having stomach issues from early on), it was pretty much a solo venture. I hit the top of the ridge and made my way over to the singletrack down to Howard Creek. Although I'd been eating and drinking regularly, my stomach wasn't too interested in food on the decent, but I popped an extra S-Cap, and from there on out, my stomach could not have felt better.

I hit Howard Creek in about 4:15 in the twilight, saw my dad (who was volunteering), grabbed some food and my headlamp, and headed up the climb not too far behind Dan and Meredith. We climbed together for a while, then Meredith gapped up us. Near the top, I passed Dan (who would make a strong reappearance in the wee hours) and made my way to the first of three visits to the Gridley Top AS. The fog was pretty thick at times, making white out conditions with my headlamp, but the flashlight worked fine.

At Gridley Top, RD, Chris Scott, was in full Holstein Cow costume, lifting spirits and holding court. Since I wasn't lagging too far behind, Meredith waited a bit for me so that together we could find the tricky left turn on the foggy ridge that led down to the Cozy Dell AS (mile 30). We'd run together from here to the finish.

As we made our way over to the long decent to Cozy Dell, we began to cross paths with the 100m/100k runners from other start groups, which lifted the spirits. To that point, it'd been a pretty lonely affair.

Meredith seemed to be feeling a bit more spry than I, so I was happy to follow her lead down the decent, which wasn't too technical, save the bottom part which was pretty rocky. As we would for the next nine hours, we had a great time talking about pretty much anything that came to mind. We saw Kevin once more looking strong on the climb, as we made our way down.

Into Cozy Dell

It was then back up to Gridley Top (mile 38), then down to the Gridley Bottom AS (mile 44) to get fueled up for the final climb up to Gridley Top (mile 50) and the top of the ridge. Now many hours into things, I was feeling really good. My stomach felt better than it had at mile 12; I'd been eating regularly (PB&J, Cliff Bars for the first half; gels and water here on out), taking 1 - 2 S-Caps per hour, and I really never had any dips in energy.

After catching up to Meredith on the Gridley Bottom climb (she always blazed out of the aids faster than I did), I took the lead. Her gluts and hamstrings had started to tighten up on the second half and things in that late hour just became a bit tedious, so we had periods of silent slogging up to our final visit to Gridley Top . Near the top, Dan reappeared looking fresh as he blazed by us for a really strong finish.

At Gridley Top (mile 50), we had some broth, put on our jackets and gloves to tackle the cold, windy ridge, and made our way to the last aid station seven miles away. Knowing the end was in sight, we kept chatting, walking the ups, jogging the levels and downs and passing a lot of our fellow runners from earlier start groups. At the final AS with only five miles of down left, we picked things up a bit, then picked our way down the four mile, steep and rocky decent to the finish at Thacher School. After losing the trail a couple times near the creek crossings at the bottom, we came in to the start/finish area in first light and, in an unexpectedly cruel and unusual gift from the RD, had to do an unannounced lap around the lacrosse field before being allowed to finish. Meredith picked things up. Luckily I could respond, and, as agreed, we crossed the line together, tied for 4th in 15:47, with Meredith top woman. Kevin, already sleeping, had come through first in 13:10.

Of course, with "bonus" and "boner" minutes applied by the RD, "official" results differ from the clock time and placings (official results). Meredith, with her spirited entrance into aid stations, running prowess, and general great character, vaulted into third place overall, while my meager bonus minutes dropped me two places to sixth.

It's hard to imagine things going any better for me at Coyote, especially with all the unknowns at the outset. I ate well; drank well (peed four times); and just generally felt great throughout, even if the last downs were a bit tiring.

Chris Scott does an unparalleled job of suffusing such difficult races with a sense of camaraderie and fun, and he truly does put together one hell of an ultra under the warm So Cal sun.

See my other C2M postings.

(Start, Finish, and Cozy Dell photos courtesy of Bob MacGillivray/DryMax)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The 2009 Coyote Two Moon Schwag Bag

Now a couple days on from the finish of the Coyote Two Moon 100k, I finally feel able take a hard look at the chock-full and esoteric schwag bags put together by RD Chris Scott and his merry band of accomplices. In no particular order with no implications, my bag, with its own unique qualities, included:
  • Patagonia Cap2 race shirt
  • Patagonia Slopestyle Hoodie finisher's jacket
  • Black Diamond SpaceShot2 headlamp
  • Zombie Runner goodie bag
  • DryMax socks
  • 1 pair United Airlines headphones
  • 1 Centurion Armored Transport patch
  • 1 toothbrush (soft)
  • 1 old but still informative copy of The Week magazine
  • 1 travel guide to the Grand Canyon
  • 1 brochure for the Intercourse Canning Co. in Intercourse PA
  • Various other brochures for random roadside attractions across the US
  • 1 romance novel ("And the winner gets...married")
  • 1 microwave popcorn bag from a Residence Inn
  • 1 what appears to be an old Iron Curtain beer coaster
  • 1 Starbucks gift card (likely empty)
  • Other random gift cards and hotel room keys
  • 1 vinyl wallet from Shapiro & Leventhal "motorcycle attorneys"
  • 1 "Test Pilot" dog tag
  • 1 nylon belt
  • 2 hotel soaps
  • 1 poker chip
  • 4 USA Today golf tees
  • Select other items hard to describe
See my other C2M postings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Results and Report: 2009 Coyote Two Moon 100

The 2009 edition of the Coyote Two Moon 100 festival of running and unrelated activities finished up Sunday as runners weary from putt-putt golf, bowling, and general frivolity actually tackled the challenging 100m and 100k courses. In the 100k, it was an exact replay of this year's Rocky Raccoon 50, as Rocky winners Kevin Sullivan and Meredith Tarranova took top honors in times of 13:10 and 15:47, respectively. 100 mile results pending.

Of course, any results to date are unofficial, as race director Chris Scott assigns "bonus" and "boner" minutes, which can significantly affect official finishing times. Do things that anger the director -- don't answer emails, don't show up at the awards breakfast, don't wear your leader's beanie -- and you'll see your winning time slip down to mid-pack. Do things that please the director -- send him a pound of coffee each week, participate in pre-event festivities -- and you can launch from the bottom of the pack to the winner's circle. Final results will be posted when they're available.

Unlike most events, runners at Coyote leave at staggered starts based on projected finishing times, with the goal of bringing everyone home in a four hour window Sunday morning. This means things group together toward the end of the race (rather than becoming mind-numbingly bleak), and the 100k runners, often free from running in the dark, spend most of their run-time with their headlamps and flashlights.

A few photos from 2009.

On the start line with the last 100k start group--leader beanies donned

From the front

Race director, Chris Scott, reminding folks who's in charge at the pre-event briefing

Above the clouds on the climb up from from Rose Valley

The sign to Gridley Top out of Rose Valley in waning light

Meredith Tarranova (and I) into Cozy Dell AS (mile 30)

See my other C2M postings.

(Start (front view) and Cozy Dell photos courtesy of Bob MacGillivray/DryMax)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Science Wire: Overthink, Underperform

As relaxed as we ultrarunners like to think we are, one doesn't have to scratch too far below the surface to reveal the empirical, detail driven core that powers the machine. It's this side of us that memorizes course profiles, calculates energy needs down to the kilojoule, and plans drop bags like NASA does lunar missions. And while it's good to be prepared, some new research out this week suggests that at a certain point all the obsessing over such details could actually hamper performance.

The study, out of Bangor University in the UK (study), found that athletes who performed a taxing mental exercise for 90 minutes before a timed cycling test performed much worse than those who did 90 minutes of a more mentally "neutral" activity (watching a documentary) before the test. Interestingly, the difference came down to simple head games. No physiological differences were actually seen between the two groups.

While the study was quite small -- as most endurance studies are -- it does help bolster the importance of coming into an event as mentally relaxed as possible. So rather than checking the contents of our drop bags for a fourth time, maybe we all should pop in that DVD of Napoleon Dynamite instead.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

They're Watching You:

You know they're out there. You know they're watching you. And this, in a nutshell, is what makes such a great training log.

After using the site ritually since September 2008, including a hard winter's training block ahead of next Saturday's Coyote Two Moon 100k, I've found that what really makes the site standout isn't its ease of use, isn't its objective look at weekly miles and vertical feet, it is its social networking.

Attackpoint allows you to follow the logs of any other athlete who uses the site, whether it's a training partner, a standout athlete, or old high school sweetheart. And some of these people do the same for you: watching your weekly miles, what routes you've been choosing, how you've been feeling.

What this effectively does is surround you with training partners 24/7. And this is a good thing, at least for those like me who work off a rich mixture of internal and external motivation. Although you may only physically run once a week with your training partners, you can all keep tabs on each other on the off days, which can be quite motivating. No one wants to be the one showing up at the trailhead with a string of zero days or a number of 30 mile weeks. It's basic pack behavior, and it can work wonders.

The past three months, I've run more than I ever have in any period of my athletic career -- both in number of days and in mileage. While a lot of this has to do with my fairly new move to ultra running and a big early season goal, I have to credit much of it to Attackpoint as well. It's simply a great site, with a lot to offer.

Feel like giving it a try? Remember: They're out there and they're watching. You better go run.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ultra Rx: Shin Splints Massage

Looking to supplement the ice and ibuprofen therapy for your shin splints? Well, here's a nice video on massage tips from It focuses largely on lateral shin splints (pain on the outside of the shin), but should offer something for everyone with a good case of aching shins.

How to Massage Shin Splints -- powered by

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Race Prep Milestone: The 10-Day Forecast

There are many waypoints and milestones on the way to a big race: the first double, the first 6 x 1200, the last long run, the beginning of the taper. For me, one of the best milestones is the posting of the 10-day weather forecast for race day. Coming as it does in the middle of the first taper week, when you're a bit burnt out but still have to get some decent miles, it not only tells you you're getting pretty close to toeing the line, but it also provides a welcome distraction and (false?) sense of empowerment as you begin to pull together the race day quiver and drop bags.

Coming off a long winter of snowy runs in the Rockies, things are looking great in Ojai, CA for the start of the Coyote Two Moon 100 ten days' hence: Sunny. Hi 72. Low 45.