Still not too old for this shit at the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon

Let’s face it, 2016 was a bummer for me as far as running was concerned. I showed up to the starting lines at the Napa Valley Marathon and Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon with nagging injuries which led to both disappointing results in both races and bad hip injuries, which took a few months to fully recover from. Hobbling into 2017 at age 49, I began to hear the whispers of self-doubt that maybe I was just starting to get too old to be running races and handling all the day-to-day training grind.

Well, screw that! This year turned out to be a fun year for running. Starting from last March, every 4-6 weeks I raced a series of shorter 4 mile to 10k events as I gradually shook off the injuries and slowly upped the weekly mileage. By the end of the summer, I decided I was ready to give the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon a go.

I’ll do my best not to bore you with how the half-marathon training went. I opted for the tried and true “hard-day/easy-day” routine, but made the hard-days a little less intense than past years and also mixed in a greater variety of work-outs. Most hard days were some new challenge and it took away from the “if it’s Wednesday, I must be doing a six-mile tempo run” rut. Not only was this a more enjoyable way to train from previous years, this routine kept both my legs and mind fresh so I got the starting line last Sunday ready to go for 13.1 miles.

As for the race itself, my plan to start the early miles no faster than 6:45 per mile pace worked to my advantage as I maintained almost exact pacing throughout the whole race. I crossed the finish line in 1:29:00, a 6:47 per mile pace, good enough for 4th in the 50-54 age group. Without going into a tedious play by play of the whole half-marathon, let’s just say the musicians along the course and enthusiastic crowd gave me a lift for the first few miles, while the beautiful scenery along the ocean-side miles of 5 through 10 was inspiring, even if I could’ve done without the wind and rolling hills of those middle miles. I’m grateful a large pace group shooting for a final 1:30 time, which was actually running about 1:28:30 pace, caught me just before the 11 mile mark just as I really started struggling.  Holding on to this small pack for dear life the next couple miles provided a badly needed lift and I actually slightly picked up speed the last couple miles.

That concludes my last race for 2017. What’s in store for 2018? Haven’t decided what races to do yet, but where ever running takes me in 2018, I’m looking forward to it.

Finishing 2017
Yours truly in bib 441, looking at my watch at the finish, looking unimpressed.


Post race beers 11-12-2017
Post-race beers enjoyed at Spread in Campbell

Big Sur Half-Marathon at Monterey Bay: Not exactly what I had in mind

My running stuff ready to go Sunday morning

Well, it’s over.  After twelve weeks of work directed towards this race, it came and went in just under and hour and a half.  I could give you a blow by blow of how the race went, but I doubt you’d want to read it, and I can remember too much about it anyway.  I vaguely remember something about going out in 6:15-6:20 per mile pace for the first few mile as planned.  Then, around mile 8 on the rolling hills and fighting the slight breeze off the ocean, I seem to recall slowing to 6:30 pace and then it started getting worse.  I dragged my butt through the last couple miles to finish 1:26:11 which isn’t really that bad a time, since I finished 1:25:57 last year.  But obviously, I would have run a faster time with a slightly slower start and better pacing and

For the past couple years, I been training pretty seriously for a spring half-marathon and then a fall half-marathon and I’m ready for a break.  I’ll still be running, but I’m looking forward to running a few shorter races rather than one big one.

No more big deep thoughts today, I’m still pretty tired.

Six days to the Big Sur Monterey Bay Half-Marathon

“I’ve had as many doubts as everyone else.  Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.”

-Alberto Salazar, three-time New York City Marathon Champion

Every run I’ve done since August was motivated primarily for the race this coming Sunday, the Big Sur Half-Marathon in Monterey Bay. Despite eleven solid weeks of training with thankfully no injuries along the way, there will certainly be some doubt in my mind as I stand on the finish line.

However, doubt and confidence are not completely mutually exclusive.  I’ve put in a lot of work, and know I’m definitely ready to take on the 13.1 miles and run a faster pace than last year, when I ran 1:25:57.  Of course, in the final week before a half-marathon, there’s nothing you can do to make you faster, you can only screw things up.  This is the week for “active rest”, a tenuous balance between easy running to let the legs recover while avoiding taking so much rest that you lose your fitness.   Many weeks of hard training have been undermined by an ill-advised “one last hard workout” that saps all your energy just before the race when you need it most.  It’s a also a good time to watch my food intake and yes, go easy on the beer, as it can be easy to quickly pick up five pounds of “dead weight” this week from the reduced activity.

Even if I find the perfect taper, twelve weeks of hard work can go right down the drain on race day by simply tripping over a rock, getting sick the night before, tangling up with another runner at the starting line or some other random event.    You can be diligent and careful to avoid this stuff, but sometimes bad luck still finds you.  There’s no guarantees in running, just like with everything else. But most of the time, running rewards preparation.   Understanding this is the partial antidote to doubt.

The original goal when I started last August was to finish just under 1:22, which is 6:15 per mile pace.  I thought that would be possible thought pretty challenging when I first set this goal. Evaluating all my training since then, I still going to be pretty challenging, but possible.  So the plan is to go out the first four miles in 6:15-6:20 per mile per pace.  Faster than that and there becomes a real risk of crashing and burning, turning the last miles into a death march.  If everything comes together and that pace feels ridiculously easy, I can start pushing the pace in the middle miles. Otherwise, I’ll just hang onto that pace.  Sub-6:20 pace (which equates to a sub-1:23 half-marathon) would still be a pretty good performance.

Who knows what will happen on race day?  Finding out is the fun part, even if it is a little scary.

Five Weeks to the Big Sur Half-Marathon: Time to regroup a little?

The Glide Floss Bridge to Bridge 12k started at San Francisco’s
Ferry Building, as this contrived photo indicates

Wait a minute, didn’t I say I’d stop doing these posts.  OK, it’s five weeks to go before the Big Sur Half-Marathon and hitting a goal of sub 1:22, and like many situations, they could be better, but they could also be worse.

For example, last week, I ran the Glide Floss Bridge to Bridge 12k, which starts from San Francisco’s Ferry Building, near the Bay Bridge, and runs along the San Francisco coast to the Golden Gate Bridge, before doubling back and finishing in near Fort Mason.    I was hoping to finish in under 46 minutes, under 6:10 per mile pace for the 7.45 mile race but that just wasn’t in the cards. The first couple mile were around 6:10 pace, but a decent headwind off the San Francisco Bay and not feeling quite sharp despite a mini-taper turned things into one of those grind it out sort of races where you just have to keep working hard to maintain pace.  Complicating things was that plenty of Sunday morning runners crowded the running course so it got to be a bit of a challenge dodging all the different runners and figuring who was out for their Sunday morning run and who was racing.

There’s no better sight than an empty row of pristine
porta-potties on race morning

Fighting through the last couple miles, I reeled in this young whippersnapper in the 16 and under age group at mile seven, but he wouldn’t go away.  Extending a lead of maybe 30 yard, I could hear him charging back in hopes to catch me at the finish. I basically have no speed what so-ever so as he broke into a sprint to catch me, Lumbering towards the finish line a little faster, I just held him off  at the finish line, coming across in 46:52.    I may be 47, but I still have a few bullets left.  (Yeah right.)

The 46:52 time translates to an overall pace was 6:18 per mile for the relatively flat 7.45 mile course, suggesting my goal of 6:15 per mile pace for the 13.1 mile distance at the Big Sur Half-Marathon in six weeks is going to be a challenge.

Overall, the last couple weeks I’ve felt a bit worn out.  Work has gotten harder lately and a family trip to Yosemite was awesome, was another non-running friendly stress.  So it’s time to reevaluate, and maybe back off a little bit over the next four critical weeks of training leading up to the half-marathon.   The good news is that my legs are pretty intact, no soreness or injuries.   You have to work hard to run fast, but it’s also important to do all that hard work smartly.  Backing off a little to keep things fresh seems like the right thing to do.

Eight weeks to the Big Sur Half-Marathon

The Mine Hill Trail at Almaden Quicksilver Park

“In general, any form of exercise, if pursued continuously, will help to train us in perseverance. Long-distance running is particularly good training in perseverance.”
Mao Tse-Tung

Maybe a communist dictator is maybe not the ideal person to endorse the positive attributes of running, but then a guy who led a country of nearly a billion people and coerced his citizens to literally sing their praises to him is someone we ought to pay attention to.  Running does indeed train the mind in matters of perseverance.  I’ve found running helps me handle the set-backs life throws at me, as well as instilling a “stick to it-ness” to grind through difficult problems and situations.

On to week four…..Monday was a recovery day, due to a work activity that wasn’t going to allow me to put in any miles that morning.  I still did some foam roller and course exercises before heading out for work.  Tuesday was a six mile run to the Vasona Dam and back.

Wednesday was supposed to be a 7 mile tempo run.  I say supposed to be, because by 5 3/4 miles, I was completely fried.  The plan was to go out in 6:20-6:25 pace for the first couple miles, and I got carried away that morning and at one point, was screaming down the Los Gatos Creek trail in well under 6:00 per mile pace, if my Garmin watch is to be believed.  I settled down a bit to 6:15-6:20 pace, but the damage was done and shortly before six miles, I had nothing left to continue at even 6:45 per mile pace.

Running too fast is better than running too slow, but not that much better.  Pace sense is an important skill for running, and it takes a certain mental discipline to hold back and find the right pace automatically.  I set out to do a run of seven miles at 6:25 pace, and didn’t do that.  The first slight clunker of a workout so far on the road to Big Sur.  There will likely be a few others.

Thursday was an eight mile run to Vasona Park and back.  This was a slight mist in the air, that barely registered on meteorological instruments,  the first fall rain of what hopefully will be a torrent. We need rain here. I felt surprisingly good despite yesterday’s slight set-up.  Ditto for Friday’s six miler, minus the rain.

I was pretty focused for Saturday’s four mile tempo run on the Los Gatos High School track with my training group to get my pacing mojo back.  The plan was to go out in 6:00-6:04 pace.  Anything faster than 6:00 per mile pace was too fast.  I clicked through the four miles with the group in 6:01-6:02-6:04-5:58. Perfect!

Afterwards, we all did all warm down and Maria Trujillo, who’s part of the group, and I started chatting away since we hadn’t seen each other in a couple months, catching up on things.  Maria was a world class distance runner in the 80’s and 90’s, finishing third in the 1990 Boston Marathon in 2:28. When I was in graduate school at The Ohio State University, I watched her win the Columbus Marathon. I couldn’t have possibly imagined on that day that twenty years later and 2,000 miles away, we’d be talking about our autistic kids.

Maria and I often compare notes on our kids autistic behaviors.  Lot’s of my other friends are understanding about the challenges about raising an autistic kid, but Maria and I deal with it on a regular basis.  Sometimes just talking about the  unique difficulties and small successes of raising our kids on our runs helps us get through it.

Sunday was a sluggish and challenging twelve miles on the trails of Almaden Quicksilver Park.  The legs held up, but I felt pretty trained the whole time.  Still, this run was a good exercise in developing the persistence needed on race day.

Week 4
Miles completed:  49
Weight:  175 lbs.
Currently preferred carbohydrate replacement drink: Alaskan Brewing Pumpkin Porter 

Nine Weeks to the Big Sur Half-Marathon: A Just Putting in the Work Kind of Week

Vasona Lake from its dam at the northern edge,
a turn-around point for many of my runs.

No inspiring or thought provoking quote this week.  Sometimes there’s a time to look for inspiration and other times it’s good to contemplate what you are doing.  But sometimes it’s just time to put in the work.  This week was a “putting in the work” kind of week.

Monday was a sluggish 6 miles.  The double whammy of a 4 mile tempo run on Saturday and eleven miles on the trails taking its toll.  Tuesday, another 6 miles to the Vasona Dam and back.  It felt surprisingly easy and smooth running on the Los Gatos Creek Trail compared to the day before.  Pretty encouraging.

Wednesday was an eight mile fartlek run.  On the early warm-up miles, I ran by a bunch of cats standing at attention along the Los Gatos Creek Trail, eagerly awaiting The Cat Lady, for their morning breakfast.  After a couple warm up miles, it was time to run fast for 90 seconds, and then return to an easy running pace for another 90 seconds, and repeat that cycle ten times.  The fast sections seemed faster than this same work-out two weeks ago, but perhaps that was just my optimistic mind playing tricks on me.  The last 2-3 hard fartleks were definitely a struggle.

The next day was an easy eight miles along the Los Gatos trail to the southern border of Vasona Park and back.  On the way back, the runner I referred to as “Fast Grandma” whizzed by coming the other way.  You know, she doesn’t look quite that old enough to be a Grandma, so I’ll just cal her “Fast Masters Lady”.  That sounds better.  I also think she’d prefer this new moniker.

Friday was a day of some core exercises and foam roller routines to help the legs recover, with no running.

Saturday was another long distance tempo run of twelve miles.  Unlike the twelve mile tempo run  two weeks ago, the GPS watch had no trouble locating the distant satellites high above the earth. After an easy 7:07 mile, I settled into seven per mile pace through the six the turn-around point. Coming back home, I was hitting 6:40-6:50 miles for the last 3-4 miles. The GPS watch had me timed a 6:51 for 12.29 miles, but GPS watches tend to overestimate distance by about 2%, so I was likely just under 7:00 per mile pace for the twelve miles.

Sunday was a recovery run of 8 miles that felt surprisingly and encouragingly easy, coming the day after a hard tempo run.  Near the end, I encountered a middle aged couple walking their dogs who stood by the edge of the sidewalk to let me pass.  The guy called out,”Nice job at Wharf to Wharf”, which was odd, since I didn’t recognize him.  I don’t know if it was a case of mistaken identity on his part, or mistaken non-identity on my part but it was a slightly odd way to to end the week.

Week 3
Total miles run: 48
Weight: 174 lbs.
Currently preferred carbon replenishment drink:  North Coast Brewing’s Scrimshaw Pilsner

Ten Weeks to the Big Sur Half-Marathon : Too Much of a Good Thing?

The Los Gatos High School Track

“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

-Mae West

Mae West was assuredly referring to some hedonistic pleasure, not her weekly running mileage.  I can only hope cramming in an extra run here, tacking on an extra couple of miles there a couple times each week leads to ecstasy at the finish line in ten weeks.  The extra miles hopefully will add up to an increased resiliency during the last few critical miles of the half marathon.  Of course, too much of a good thing can also lead to a nagging tendinitis injury.

Recapping the week, Monday was a standard eight miler around my neighborhood.  I felt surprisingly fresh after a tired Sunday run.  Tuesday, more of the same with a short six miler heading south along the Los Gatos Creek Trail to Vasona Dam in Los Gatos and back.

Wednesday was the first big run of the week, a tempo run of six miles at sub-6:30 per mile per pace. This time, my Garmin GPS had no trouble finding the satellites unlike last Saturday’s tempo run. When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing those GPS watches work at all.  Somehow, that small collection of electronics strapped to my wrist communicates to satellites several thousand miles away, determining my location to within about 10 feet over the entire surface of the globe.   However it works, a GPS watch is great for providing the necessary feedback to developing “pace sense”, an underrated mental running skill.

After the accelerating during the first warm-up mile of the tempo run to 6:15 pace, I zip by the Cat Lady, a short, thin elderly lady who arrives promptly at 6:30 every morning to feed the stray cats along the Los Gatos Creek trail.  A few opportunistic raccoons also take advantage of her generosity. The first three miles go by surprisingly easy at 6:15 pace as I get to the turn-around point.  Heading back, thw brisk breeze hitting my face makes me suddenly realize why those early miles felt so easy. Working those last three miles against the wind, the pace slowed to 6:30-6:35 per mile.  Still the overall pace for the six miles balanced out to 6:25 per mile, under the target.

Thursday was a “recovery” day.  Normally, I take one day a week where I don’t run at all.  Instead, I usually do some foam roller exercises and core exercises like planks,  push-ups, and other various contortions involving an inflatable fitness ball.   Before I started taking a  weekly recovery day, I found myself wearing down and often got injured.  I’ve also found strengthening my core has really improved my form which not only allows me to run more efficiently, also helps avoid injuries.

Friday, it was back to an easy six miles to the Vasona Dam and back.

Saturday was a morning four mile tempo run at the Los Gatos High School Track.  I meet up with a training group of people I’ve been running with for ten years.  Some people socialize over beers, some people over dinner or walks in the park.   We socialize by waking up early Saturday morning and running fast for a few laps around an all-weather oval.  I was hoping to run at 6:04-6:08 pace for the sixteen laps around the track.

Our group of five runs tightly packed for four laps, coming through the first mile in 6:07.  The pace picks up and it’s a little too fast for my blood.   I let a couple of the leaders go as our tight group becomes spread out single file and come through the second mile at 6:01 pace.  Subsequent miles of 6:06 and 6:01 put me at 24:16 for the four mile run, exactly 6:04 pace at the lower end of my target. Encouraging.

During the cool down, we talk about one member of the training group who didn’t show up that morning, hasn’t been running much lately, and lately has gotten noticeably depressed.  Some of us are little worried over this development.  We talk about difficult times in our lives, and how running helped get us through those periods.    After the cool down, we head over to Peet’s for coffee and a scone and talk about our upcoming races and that plane flew for thousands of miles after the pilot lost consciousness and crashed into the Caribbean.

Sunday was an eleven miler through the hills of Almaden Quicksilver Park.  As I ascended the main hill in the center of the park, on my right looming through the light fog were the gentle outlines of the Santa Cruz Mountains.  On my left was the urban sprawl of San Jose, the downtown skyscrapers barely visible.  The rugged hills of Quicksilver are a great place to develop balance and leg strength, as each stride on the rugged hills and uneven footing is always different by necessity.  It’s also a great place to escape the city for a couple of hours.

Week 2
Miles Completed: 48
Current Weight: 183 lbs.
Currently Preferred Carbohydrate Replacement Drink:  Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock