January 30, 2007

Adventures In San Diego

Last week we were down in San Diego again and we were able to get out to another one of Barrie’s Mini AR clinics to meet some new people and learn some new skills without getting too lost. The hardest part was getting ourselves out to Penasquitos Creek Park after a night out at the gas lamp district with dessert (Extraordinary Desserts-highly recommended) but since we were starting at noon we had plenty of time to sleep in, get Starbucks and pack some subway sandwiches for later in the day. This time there was no Kayak section but teams were able to pair up with some more experienced racers to learn the tricks of the trade first hand.

(racers get the final details for the day as maps and rules are handed out)

Our “team” grew to a large size of NINE when Monique and I joined up with Mike and Isaac from Carlsbad to be led by some of the crew from "Feed the Machine”. I have visited their website and read about them in some race reports before so I was glad to spend the day with such a talented group. I also read Bernice’s blog from time to time so it was nice to meet her in person after reading about her adventures. Christian and Melissa helped bring so much balance to a big group and Pablo who lives just a walk away from the park rounded out our team.

(Our team discovers our Northerly and Easterly cordinates)

The plotting and route choices were all on one map this time which made it easier for us (last time Monique and I plotted our first checkpoint on the wrong map!) and we were traversing some of the same trails for the bike and the trekking sections. This did not make for an easy day however because we were only given some of the checkpoints to start out with and the others would be discovered as we made our way through the course. We would also be spending time navigating at night which we have not done before.

(Christian demonstrates the "finger tool" for measuring Kilometers out on the map)

The bike portion of the course went by quickly for such a large crew and we often had more trouble "over thinking" the checkpoints as most of them were located right off of the trial. While we picked up our checkpoints we collected the letters for each one that should have spelled out something for us... I don’t recall if we ever completed a word? The first few checkpoints were AAAE so Im not sure what that would spell out anyways. AAAEEY YOU GUYS? (remember goonies?)

We were able to get to all of the bike checkpoints and our mentors were so patient with us. We had to stop several times where Christian would show Mike something on the compass only to repeat the same thing to me when he was done. Sometimes you have to hear things a few times before they sink in! Thinking back on the other adventure races I have done, I really started to appreciate how quickly Georgina could get us to a checkpoint. The stress of keeping everyone moving only compounds the decision process. One of the things I learned the most from this trip was to check the map often, even if you think you are on the correct trail. Sometimes it is easier to get to a checkpoint slower than to have to turn around. .. .and around. . .and around.

(lights out! Its time to run)

With the bike leg behind us and most racers calling it a day, our team of nine still had high energy levels when we headed out for the trek with our lights and trail shoes. For me, this was the most exciting part of our little adventure. We were entertained by songs from the girls while we learned about night navigation and we got to bush whack our way to some checkpoints!

(Bernice and Melissa sing us songs through the night!)

Barrie made a very interesting course with some climbs to keep us warm through the night. It is amazing how even a little moon light can help you determine so much of your surroundings and how much you can rely on the major land features. It was easier at night to look at the peak of the hills and not just the next trail. I also learned to keep an eye out for the vegetation and the deer trails that can make such a big difference in the route you choose.

After we searched around on all the major trails for checkpoint #4 and couldn’t find it we decided to head back and pickup the rest of the CP's on our way out. Of course, I had to sprain my ankle again the week before my ultra but it helped me focus on having a good time which is why we were out in the dark in the first place. I cannot remember what our finishing time was (somewhere around 8hrs) but I think we all had the last few cars in the parking lot when we arived back at the park. The last run to the cars warmed up everyone for the ride home and by then my ankle was already feeling better.

Looking back I learned so much more than navigating. . . I guess it is just the time on the trail that nothing else can replace. I Posted some more pictures from our adventure on my SmugMug site and hopefully we will have some good reports from the other racers on the Adventure Race Reports site.

Now I am off to rest my ankle and prepare for the ultra next weekend.

January 28, 2007

Ultra ?

I remember the first time that I heard about ultra running. I was just getting comfortable with the idea that someone could run 26.2 miles at the end of an Ironman event when I saw a link on a website for a 50 mile trail running race. FIFTY MILES!? I thought that I had reached a new level of fitness when I could run for over 30min without getting sick. I really didn’t like to run, especially when I was tired and could not imagine what it would be like to continue running that far or for that long. I would have dismissed it (like most people) under the assumption that these were super elite people who have spent their lives running and have nothing better to do than train all week or had a special genetic disposition to running. That is, however, until I found the book “running through the wall” in a book store and I couldn’t stop reading it! This book is extremely inspirational! It covers personal encounters of “everyday folk” and those “elite people” too on their journey through ultra running races. Some of these people have so much going on in their lives (personal and professional) and were still able to challenge themselves in this unique way. I believe it is the people and the stories they bring that are so much of the lure to ultra running for me.

I would not have considered myself a runner a year ago and if someone told me that I would run a marathon someday I would have put money on me not going through with it. I just could not see it in my mind... In my first triathlon the run was only four miles and it took me almost three months of training to be able to go that distance. I am also not a fast runner. My best personal mile time has never been less than 7min even after running for over a year now. However, I have learned that ultra running is not just about speed, it is more about pace, patients and perseverance! I started running more when I realized that if I slowed my pace down a bit I could run further and further. Soon I started mixing in walking/hiking in beautiful places and the miles just seamed to fly by. In November, I completed my first marathon with little training miles behind me but the ultra pace on my mind. I had the best time.

Now I am running my first ultra… How many miles should I put in to be able to complete an ultra without getting a dreaded DNF(did not finish) or suffering so much that I never want to run again? How will the extra miles feel and did I put in the right miles? Although I have done plenty of research, nothing beats personal experience so I will find out what my body and mind will do on Feb 4th at the inaugural TwinPeaks marathon in Orange County. I am signed up for the 50K (about 31miles) so hopefully it will not be too much harder than my marathon but I know that those last five miles will feel like.... well, I dont know what they will feel like but I will find out! ;-)

So, how much training do you have to put in to complete an Ultra? How many miles? How many hours per week? I guess that it would depend on what the total distance of the ultramarathon and how much pain you can withstand! I have read a lot about it and most people seam to agree that for the 50K distance you don’t need to train much more that “normal” marathon training. “Normal” here is the key word.

The question to me now is am I ready? Have I prepared for the distance mentally and physically? Looking back on my running training for the last 15months or so… Basically, since I have started running. I have run an average of two times a week and an average distance of 5.4 miles per week. I don’t think that that is "normal marathon training" but now I can at least look back at my marathon and have some experience to use. When I completed the marathon in November I had still been averaging twice a week runs but I was starting to get the long run in witch I think was so important looking back. I ended up finishing the marathon in just over 4hrs (4:04:40) and I really never felt like I was going to bonk or it was too much for me. Could I have gone an extra five miles that day...

(Running times per week and distance leading up to the Marathon)

I do realize that if I did put in more "training time" I could have run faster or perhaps had less of a recovery time after the race. I did not feel to bad after the marathon but I was so pumped to find another trail run that I ran the Santa Monica 30K the next weekend and realized I was not fully recovered. The heat and the fatigue I had going into that run had me walking more than I did during the marathon. Lesson learned - Run more before and less after a race. Duh!

(my last 3 months of running broken down per run and per week total)

Unfortunately, I have not added more mileage to my running since the marathon and I am still averaging about 20 miles per week total. I can tell myself that I am just "rested" for my first ultra or I can be scared that I didnt prepare... How much of the run is mental? I think that I am more excited about finding out how that feels and what I will do in that last five miles than anything else. Ultra running to me is also about personal challenge and exploration. Is it better to go into the ultra with more rest and be enthusiastic? How much will cross training help? How will my body handle food or my feet the pounding after that much time? There is only one way to find out.

January 22, 2007

Finding my way the day after

I usually feel much better when I can get out the next day after a race and get a light walk or swim in. I guess it has something to do with getting the blood moving and working out all of that lactic acid buildup. On Sunday, the LAOC (Los Angeles Orienteering Club) was having a meet at Schabarum park and the pace was just what I needed. I could get my legs moving again while I learn how not to get lost on(or off) of the trail.

(Schabarum park O-Meet - At least the group was easy to find!)

The LAOC has clinics for free before each meet and I was front and center to learn some new words and the use of some new tools. These clinics are a great way to get insight into orienteering and the cost for the rest of event is minimal.

The punches have even gone tech! Instead of the using punch cards like I have seen at adventure races at each checkpoint, the LAOC had high tech memory sticks that you would place into each checkpoint to record your visit. The punch was still at each checkpoint as a backup but the memory sticks recorded so much more information. After finishing each course you would receive a printout of your splits between each checkpoint and total time. Now I have proof that I suck at this!

(A view of the electronic punch at the top of the checkpoint flag)

I was able to run on some of the trails although my quads are still giving me trouble it was nice to be out in the air again. The “orienteering” group is a unique bunch of people and I see that it is going to take time and patience to develop this skill. However, the pace for me now was perfect… slow and easy on the legs and slow and easy on the mind.

January 21, 2007

Rio Bravo Rumble

Well it was Saturday and that only meant one thing this weekend. It was time to Rumble!!!

This was the second annual Rio Bravo Rumble Biathlon and my second time competing in it. It was interesting for me because I had never done the same race twice until this weekend. This year Monique was racing it too. If I had one word to describe it, it would have to be "surprise" because this day was full of them....

The “RUMBLE” starts with a 10K trail run through the rolling hills of the Rio Bravo Ranch followed by a 16 mile mountain bike leg. The trial run, consisting of a single loop, starts out through the orange groves with a gentle climb and soon heads to the hills for some steep trails and fast descents. The mountain bike leg heads deeper into the hills on the first loop, heads back through the transition area and then follows the 10K run loop for the remaining six miles. The SSFTA does a great job of putting on this race! This course also gives the supporting families and spectators a steady flow of racers passing through the transition area the entire race.

(Monique dials in her transition area)

After a check-in, Monique and I did a quick warm-up to check our bikes and get the blood pumping. Although my legs were feeling a bit better I felt my quads pulling every time I started taking longer strides. I just passed it off as me being “cold” and thought that I would stretch a little more before the start. Before I knew it we were at the starting line and I was in for a day of surprises.

The Run

As we started off with the run I had a strange feeling in my quads. Pain! I had never had pain like this in my quads before. It almost felt like there was a bar placed within my quads from my hip to my knee… What was going on? I felt like my quads were going to cramp up and roll off of my legs. I had only taken about 10 steps or less so I slowed my pace and tried not to lengthen my stride. I tried to talk myself out of the pain and just convince myself that I needed to warm up more. I started walking and really trying to feel out if the pain was from s

ore muscles or if I was damaging something. Why now?? I started running again at a slow pace and the pain was manageable as long as I took shorter steps. I though that as long as I can get a little more warmed up it wouldn’t hurt as bad. Then we started to get to some of the first downhill’s. Ahhggg!.. This sucks… I told myself that I was not going to complain and I would not have any excuses. I told myself that even if I was going into the race sore I would not “take it easy” because I knew myself better than that. I have never quit a race before but I felt like I may have been putting my first season of racing or my health at risk and for the first time I started to think about a DNF. Was I doing some permanent damage here? I have my first ultra in less than two weeks and I am already behind on my miles. Was I going to

continue on and put that race off too? I was battling back in forth in my mind about what I should do and then decided I would complete the first loop back to the transition area because I had to head back anyways and then I would re-evaluate. Maybe I could just go back and get the camera and take some pictures of Monique on the course? Maybe I would have to learn the hard way that you don’t do V02 max training sessions for the first time a week before a race.

(runners make their way over the last climb on the run)

As I slowed down I started to pray and refocus my racing strategy. Did I need to push myself so hard that I would cause damage or did I need to push to a new level and just learn to deal with the pain? It is always very important to know the difference in your own body between sore muscle pain and damage causing pain but this was a new one for me. What would I do if my quads were shot and I was at the Western States in the middle of nowhere? How would it feel to be running on tired legs on day three of an expedition length race? My mind would not stop. I could run slower without as much pain but watching people pass me was just as difficult to deal with as the pain in my quads. When did I get so competitive I thought? That thought brought my mind to ease. I was here to have fun. I just wanted to spend the day on the course and enjoy the trails. I wanted to talk about the course with Monique and meet new people. With my mindset changed it was easy to make the decision, when I made my way back around the first loop to continue on and enjoy the day on the course even if I felt I was not going as fast as I could.

As we made our way up the steady climb on the run I started to feel better. My quads did not hurt as much running uphill and I had been training in the hills almost exclusively for the last few months. I started to pass people but I was not focused on anyone else anymore. I found myself in such a focused tunnel that I was pushing just hard enough not to hurt myself but not enough that I couldn’t enjoy it. ;-P By the time we rounded the trail to the last downhill section for the run I started to get a burning in my quads again. At this point however, I knew that I could hold on for the last two miles or so and get to the bike. I also realized that my quads were just really tight and sore but I didn’t think I was causing any damage (or at least I convinced myself by now). As I ran into the transition area I heard them announcing that I was currently in seventh place overall. Although that meant little to me now it was encouraging and I was so happy to get the run over with.

The Bike

Riding out of the transition area on the first bike loop I continued in my “tunnel vision” pace. My quads felt so much better on the bike and it was a nice change from the pounding of the run. I pushed harder up the climbs and although my legs were burning it was a familiar pain and it didn’t feel like I was causing any permanent damage so I continued to push on. I started picking the next rider ahead me and one by one trying to close the gap between us. It felt so much better to be able to push through the pain when I didn’t have the mental war of deciding to stop or worry about causing damage. My focus was on target now and was right where I needed to be. . . I was in a race with myself and the mental decision had been made to push on.

Arriving at the transition from the first bike loop I heard the announcer once again, “Fletcher currently leading in first place overall”. WHAT?! WHAT? I shouted out as I rode through the transition in shock. The people watching were laughing because they must have seen the shock on my face. I was so focused on my leg turnover and pushing myself that I did not realized I was all alone out front. Could this be? I started looking as far as I could up the trail and I didn’t see anyone. I was starting to have a great time and was so focused but now I felt some pressure! I still had the 10K course to cover and I knew there were some serious hills ahead.

I was able to hold onto the lead and crossed the finish line in about 1hr 50min. What a great feeling! I finished in first place overall and dropped about 27 minutes off of my time from last year but I was most proud of the fact that I kept on the course and was able to enjoy the day while “safely” pushing and learning my limits. It was so nice to have the reality check and know that I wanted to be out on the trails on that beautiful day.

(Feeling good. . . Shortly after crossing the finish line)

As soon as I rode across the finish line I saw Monique already cleaning up her gear at the transition area. Did she beat me in? I was so happy to see her and quickly scanned her over for injuries as I rode up to her. She ran her fastest 10K to date (even with the hills!) and after a short distance on the bike, she (in her words) was “relieved” to get a flat tire. She went out fast on the run and we later looked at her heart rate monitor to discover she was pushing over 200 beats per minute on the run! Incredible! She didn’t have spares or wanted one at the time so she headed back as her cool down. I was so glad to see her safe and in good spirits.

We ended our day watching the the kids races and enjoying the stories from the of the racers and families. It is alwasy rewarding to learn something new and be suprised... Good or bad.

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly know how far they can go" T.S. Eliot

January 19, 2007

Tired Legs

In an attempt to “spice up” my training I tried a few new workout type sessions this last week and I am still really feeling it. I usually run at the same pace, ride at the same pace and you get the idea… I have just been building endurance for so long now but I need to start getting some speed too. Last weekend I tried to pull some new workouts out of a triathlon book and learned what V02 Max training really is all about!

Here were the workouts I went through

Run – 8 X 30sec max effort sprints / 1:30min active recovery

Bike – 6 x 60sec max effort hill climbs / 2min active recovery

I was so sore from the run Saturday I really couldn’t do much on Sunday except a light swim, I took Monday off as a rest day and when I was done on the bike Tuesday my legs were done! Last night I ran for the first time all week at Aliso Woods at a very easy pace just to get the blood going in my legs but I am still sore and I feel like I don’t have the power to push if I needed it. My body is really not use to this type of effort workouts but I’m glad that I started them now I am just worried I won’t have any juice for Rio Bravo Rumble tomorrow. I am going for a light swim today and I am going to work on my stretching!

January 09, 2007

Baldy and a Bike


My work took me out to Pasadena for an early meeting and it was close enough to sneak in a run in at Baldy. Mt. Baldy is a special place to me. Not only is it where my wife grew up snowboarding but where I lost my wedding ring (the first time) on my first snowboarding trip there. Maybe I was just giving back to the mountain for giving me such a wonderful woman. ;-) Mt Baldy is also the only place where I can run trails and be sore for days afterwards… You know that deep down pain that hurts where your muscle connects to your bones. Well that was not what I was looking for today but it felt great to get out on the trails there again.

I was still a little tired from our hill work on Sunday and I was alone so I choose to run up the service road from Maker Flats campground to the Baldy peak. This is a dirt road the entire way so I could listen to my IPod without having to worry about some animal jumping out of the bushes. At least it made me feel better. I was looking up the AC100 trails and wanted to run some of the finish line trails but I was unfamiliar with the area and scared to go out alone with my recent luck… Besides my ankle and shoulder coming out recently, I got in a car accident on the 405 last week. Better to play it safe for now!

So off I was up to Baldy Notch on my safe fire road. I think that this is one of the few trails on Baldy you can run the entire uphill portion. The service road trail from San Antonio Falls to Baldy Notch is just over 1,600ft gain in about 3 ½ miles. The majority of the other trails have a much steeper incline. For example, the route from the Bear Flat area to the top of Mt. Baldy is only 4.65 miles but climbs over 4,500 feet. I was also trying to keep my HR under 150bpm so I took the run/walk approach for most of the climb.

(looking back down to Manker flats campground)

The views are great from the start and at around 6,000 feet and when I got to the Notch restaurant at the top they were open with food and lots of cold drinks. If I knew that I wouldn’t have hoofed all this water up here! Oh well, that was enough for me to push on to the peak and drink it up on the way because I could fill up on the way back down.

(Mt. Baldy with the fire road trailing up to the Notch)

Most of the top had snow covering the majority of the trail and the wind was really picking up. This would have been a good place to try out my Kahtoola’s! I will have to remember to check it out after the next good snow storm.

(snow covers just enough of the trail to make it fun)

The way down was quick and a lot of fun. I love that feeling of just floating along down the trail. My mind just wanders and I almost forget I am running it is so effortless. Maybe that’s why I always sprain my ankle or get lost! Speaking of which, I needed to get back to work so I was off down the mountain. This time driving…slowly.

The bike

After a few con-calls from Starbucks (I love my job!) I got to finish up the day on MY NEW BIKE!! Last year I test road about seven to nine different triathlon specific bikes. I was ready to drop a few grand to gain a few minutes on my bike splits but it just didn’t work out. I guess that God was saving me some cash and teaching me some patience.

Just a few months back my brother (king of ebay and craigs list) found a great deal on a Felt Tri bike and picked it up as a training bike. He only used it on a trainer inside until he got in his new Mtn. bike which arrives next month. The funny thing is it fit me perfectly and had 90% of what I was looking for in a tri bike at a 3rd of the price. He needed money for his new bike so I paid him what he paid for it a few months back and I got to take it out today for a real test.

(My first real tri bike - no more clip on aero bars!)

I took it out around Bonelli Park because I wanted to see how it felt on the climbs and the fast descents. I also know that road well so I was hoping to get a comparison to my road bike but it has been months since I was on it. I have only read that tri bikes can be harder to control on steep down hills and harder to climb but I did not notice anything. It was definitely different than my mtn bike. I like it! I like it! Maybe it will get me those extra minutes I was looking for after all?

January 07, 2007

A weekend on the Hills

This weekend was anther great one. I had a full week with work and trying to build up my training hours early in the season but everything seemed to fall together this weekend.

Monique and I headed down to see some family because it was my nieces 7th birthday and we were able to drop off the puppies with them for a while. She is so cute!

(Kayla and Nacho on her 7th Birthday)

This freed us up from the beasts for a little, for a ride Saturday morning before the party. We planned on getting a look at some of the Vision Quest course. Marius had it mapped out on his GPS for directions so we were off for our ride. We planned on a quick two hour ride but we did not know what we were really in for… Marius had the trip recorded on his GPS and when we finished our ride was about five hours with 5166ft in elevation gain. Needless to say we were late for the Birthday party and we were hungry when we got there.

(Hills and the beautiful views all round)

We couldn’t have ask for a better day of weather... Clear skies and just under 80 degrees. The view was amazing too. We could see all of OC & some buildings in LA for most of the trip up and Catalina and Corona as we rode the ridge. I am still amazed at how much there is to explore only minutes from thousands of Starbucks.

(One of the few downhill sections)

I think that all but the last 6 miles of our ride was either uphill or rolling hills but we needed all the training we could get. The VQ will be an interesting race for me. I had never been on my mt. bike for 50 miles until the 50mileRide last weekend but it was not at race pace and the elevation was not even half of what the VQ will be. I believe the VQ has over 11,000ft of gain and is about 56 miles total.

(Monique and me with Corona in the background and Mt Baldy all the way back)

Sunday was another day of hills but this time it was just putting one foot in front of the other. After we spent the morning back at home cleaning up after our puppies again we headed for the foothills by our house for some hill repeats. Wow… Monique is getting faster with every run now and even our six mile hill repeats dont wear her out. What a girl.

(Monique working her way up our hill repeat trail)

I was not in any pain from our ride yesterday and I think that the big breakfast we had was really helping me out. It is amazing how much your diet comes in to play when you need the energy. We really had some help with our IPods today too. I have not run with it in a long time and I forgot how much it can pump you up and distract you from the pain in your quads! I was rockin some Muse and White Stripes and Monique was lost in space with Britney Spears.

On our way out of the hills Monique found a cool carcass so we did what we thought was best. Took some pictures with it and didn't eat meat for dinner. Poor guy.

This next week is a big training week for me. In fact, it is the highest number of hours in my "build" phase for the entire year so I have to plan out some unique workouts. We have an orienteering meet that we are going to this weekend so I will count some of that as general training but it is also our last week to get a long run in before we start to cut back for the twin peaks ultra so it should be interesting.

January 01, 2007

A look back at 2006

This year I turned thirty and just when I thought that I would not change anymore I found myself exploring new things for the first time. Last year, I did my first triathlon and did not know what I was in for... That set the stage for 2006 in more ways than one. This year, I had set my first tentative race schedule that changed more times than I did this year, but it allowed me to taste a bit of the trail in several different events and really see what I wanted to pursue. Too bad it turns out that I like everything! ;-P You can only fit so much into your weekend slots.

It was a year of first for me also. I ran my first 5k (that I know of), 10k, half marathon and ended the year with my first marathon. I also jumped into my first adventure race and ended up being lucky enough to complete three more by the years end. I tried out a few more triathlons and finally got to backpacking through Yosemite with Monique. A first that I have been waiting a long time for…

Here is a brief highlight of some of the races I completed

10/9/05 - Steamboat Sprint Triathlon2nd Place AG

1/21/06 - Rio Bravo (10K trail run/16mile mt. bike)2nd Place AG

4/1/06 - Kern Trail 10mile Run4th Place AG

4/29/06 – LA Championship Triathlon6th Place AG

5/20/06 - Bakersfield Triathlon2nd Place AG

8/5/06 - SqawValley Mt. Run 2nd Place AG

9/10/06 - LA International Sprint Triathlon2nd Place AG

10/1/06 - Bonelli Olympic Distance2nd Place AG

11/4/06 - Stinson Beach Marathon2nd Place AG

Adventure Races I got to race in with a great people - Scout Challenge, Big Blue San Francisco, Pumpkin Scramble and the mini AR down in San Diego

In all of my racing this last year I really did not have direction or a plan. I think that is what made it so fun and also such a great exploration. I really just wanted to try out as much as I could and try to keep on the trails as much as possible. Although I did read some books about periodization and general training concepts, I had a really hard time sticking to any schedule with my work travels and meetings. I guess that is part of the challenge for everyone. In 2007, I am trying to keep it simple and focus on the Xterra series triathlons as my primary events which should keep me in good enough shape to do as much trail running and adventure racing as I can fit into my schedule.

My main motivation is still the discovery of what can be accomplished or what I can challenge myself in exploring my limits in a new way. What is it like to run for one hundred miles at a time? What does it take to kayak, ride, trek and navigate through the unknown for days with little to no sleep? How do you encourage your teammates or take encouragement under those circumstances? How do you successfully peak for a shorter race that demands speed and power like an Xterra off-road triathlon without blowing up?

I would love to see how I get the answers to these as I explore what I can do. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” My motivation remains constant and curiosity leads me on…