Sunday, August 10, 2008

Headlands 50 - Feeling Good and Breaking 11 Hours

In an amazing conclusion to a set of back-to-back races for me, this Saturday I completed my first 50 mile race in the Marin Headlands - Headlands Hundred (the 1/2 way version). My goal going in was simply to come in within 12 hours. I would be ecstatic to complete the course in a Western States qualifying time of 11 hours. However, mentally I was completely set to finish in 12 hours - primarily because my legs HAD to be tired from last weekend's 45 mile race! Right?

Jumping forward a bit, I completely took myself by surprise finishing with a VERY strong 10 hours 37 minutes! I exceeded my "pie in the sky" dream of 11 hours by 23 minutes. I couldn't have been happier especially considering how much fun I had out on the trail. Go figure, it was fun this time. Not grueling mindless plodding, but genuine fun - a runner's high start to finish.

My wife, Jen, and I drove into Rodeo Beach at 6:15 from Hayward. Note to self: If you're privileged enough to have your wife crew at least pick up coffee in the AM! Right off the bat we met a gentleman parking next to us with a wonderful laugh whom I'd cross paths with a few times throughout the race: Ernesto Matal Sol. Great guy, guaranteed to bring a smile to your face! It wasn't long before I spotted Ron and Eric. I finished my race prep. work then said "hi" and posed for a pre-race picture. I missed Mike Weston at the start though :-( but I'd see him on the trail later.

Shortly before 7 AM Wendell assembled everyone at the start-line. He gave us the normal PCTR run-down of ribbon colors, stripped, turns to look for, etc. 57 people lined up for the 100 mile course and 117 for the 50 miler. Eric, Ron, Mike, and I all lined up for the 50 mile race of which we would all finish but overall only 86% of the field completed. The race was on and although I really wanted to chat with Eric and Ron a bit the 2 of them blasted out of the gate much faster than I had planned to go so I settled back into various groups of fellow runners - chatting here and there.

The Race Begins:

I quickly started to work on my hydration and fueling plan which was rather simple: drink approx. 20 oz. - 28 oz. of water between aid stations and consume 1 Cliff Block every 15 minutes. I would do this to Pantoll. Then I'd switch to a 20 oz. 2x bottle of Perpetuem and a 28 oz. bottle of water. Electrolyte wise I took 1 Salt Stick cap on the hour (230mg. of Sodium) and if there was any hint of cramping I'd take another right then - it never exceeded 2 per hour though. I'd also partially bite the tablets when taken, just enough to taste a little salt. Mixed in with all my caloric intake and electrolytes I'd eat potatoes, fruit, trail mix, and drink 1 cup of Coke at every aid station. And, I took GUs when feeling just a hint of a low energy or needed a boost to power up a hill. In total I took about 6 GUs.

The trip up to Pantoll was relatively uneventful - although the flats out of Muir Beach did drain my legs a bit. Honestly I was expecting the climb up to Pantoll to be much worse; it really wasn't that bad. I emerged at Pantoll with my beautiful wife, Jen, there to greet me. She had my bag out and I quickly did some very poor blister control and re-powdered my feet. The aid station was soooo chaotic at this point - the ranger was out threatening people to move cars or else and to pay their parking permits. Needless to say many were pre-occupied. I stayed a bit longer than I would have liked but Jen was wonderful throughout - even racing back to the car to get a 20 oz. water bottle.

I started the run out to Bolinas Ridge, a phenomenal view with a trail that just doesn't quit: long, narrow, and horrible footing at times. It was here that I began seeing the front-runners. My spirits were way up and I gladly bounced to the side, yielding to others and throwing out a "looking good". Off in the distance I saw my first CRC shirted runner. I exclaimed "RON LITTLE! Looking good. Nice Pace" Although Ron looked good, he casually mentioned his low energy level or something to the effect of not feeling well. I pressed forward a bit weary that Ron had a 6 mile lead on me, suddenly feeling a tad slow. Then 1 mile later another CRC shirt in the distance. I yelled out, "Eric, looking good!" Eric said he'd recognize that yellow hat anywhere - we shook hands and pressed on. Eric was 4 miles ahead of me. What a boost seeing those guys on the trail and they were hauling butt!

I finally made it to Bolinas Ridge, the mental halfway point, and got a good boost of energy. I was ecstatic to see that Jen was there after she mentioned she might not have the gas to make it. She hooked me up with ice in my bandanna another Perpetuem and water then I was off. The trip back was made so much easier with the ice on my neck. That was fabulous and a must do for all races. I caught a lot of runners on this section and can contribute that to the ice that kept my body temp down and solid fueling. A lot of runners were being sapped of energy here - it's a long exposed section and mentally difficult to tackle. I felt good, really good throughout.

I passed Mike Weston on his way out to Bolinas Ridge, cheered him on, and shook hands. He looked kind-of-spent but still strong... immediately rattling off my mileage lead over him. Great job out there Mike.

I made it back to Pantoll, finally catching up to female ultra phenom Roberta Mcgraw (she's a solid hill climber). Jen was there to greet me, prep. another ice bandanna, and swap water / Perpetuem bottles. I ate some fresh fruit and grabbed a few Paydays for the road and was off. Close by was a gentleman I nicknamed mini-Dean. I don't know his real name but he had the build of Dean K. even wearing the visor. He had been trailing me for sometime, making runs at me then fading back. It was here that I finally left him behind for good :-) with Roberta just ahead.

It was a mile out of Pantoll that things got emotional for me. At the return cut-off to the right at Old Mine road was a huge commotion: 2-3 fire trucks, and a park ranger. As I approached I asked a fireman, "Is everything okay?". His response would hang with me for more than a few miles.

"It is now. An older gentleman just had a heart attack and died."

"It happens here almost everyday. Watch out, there's another truck coming up."

I hit a mental wall at that very moment. I continued on following those silly pink ribbons while my mind flashed scenes of 2 weeks past. You see, on July 22nd something horrible happened and what I saw and heard on that hill brought it blazing back to the forefront of my mind. The founder of our small 30 man company, a good friend to all, and a wonderful mentor in engineering and life Jack Anderson died here at work of a heart attack. On August 9th, I saw him again laying in the parking lot while co-workers James, Ed, and Dean started CPR - everyone else looked on, with hope. I shed a few tears re-living the moment at mile 37. And reached out to an old-time ultrarunner that was just ahead. I chased him down, I told him of the incident on the hill above and his response was EXACTLY what I needed.

"Well, if he was a older runner that's how I'd want to die - running the trails."

I responded, "Wow, I didn't think of it that way. Thank you." He then charged down the descending fire road and forward into the Heather Cutoff switchbacks. It was then that I snapped to and felt my left leg seemingly cramping up. I caught up on my salt and hit the water in hopes of fixing things. It waned a little but still persisted. The images soon faded but none were forgotten. I was almost done.

Muir Beach arrived and I spoke with Will Gotthart and Fred Ecks about the heart attack and asked if all the runners were okay. They knew nothing of it, meaning it's likely not a runner. Jen wasn't there; I fueled up and sped off eager to see her at Tennessee Valley. I caught up to another ultrarunner on the climb who was a 5x veteran of the 50 miler. He encouraged my goal of 11 hours and said you have it in the bag. In fact if you bomb these hills you could break 10! So I tried, but not knowing the course that wasn't going to happen. I did however pass 3-4 people who where just beat.

Tennessee Valley finally! Jen was there and it was awesome. She told me I looked great and passed a friendly reminder that I was only 4 miles away. I told her and the aid station volunteers that my left was cramping. They grilled me on my salt intake (I passed - 3 pills in the last 1.5 hours and lots of water). They told me to eat a banana. I did and it didn't help. I got a partial water bottle fill then took off.

Only 4 miles to the finish. I've got this done right? Holy crap that's not "just 4 miles!" That 4 miles contained the steepest grade hills yet! Ohhhh and then just to toast your feet and quads you'll have you run downhill on pavement! And better yet how about dropping down a few hundred feet of stairs! Ohhh yea, then some more pavement! Ouch!

Fortunately my quads were okay today. No problem. I passed 2 guys on the downhill 1/2 mile stretch into the Finish clocking in 7 min/miles. The cheering was phenomenal. Everyone was yelling go Franz. I heard Jen cheering. I saw Eric standing at the finish and Ron setting up for a finishing photo. What a terrific ending to a great race! I LOVED this one!

I'd like to especially thank Jen for her fabulous job and crewing for the first-time. She even stepped up and took care of Ron in Tennessee Valley. She's so wonderful!

Because I like Ron's Good Thing / Bad Thing summerization, I'm going to follow suit:

Good Things:
--- Pace - Excellent
--- Hydration - Good. Could have been improved on Muir Beach - Pantoll (Only had 28 oz. bottle of water for exposed biggest climb of the day). Also at last Tennessee Valley stop get a full fill of water; I only had 1/2 bottle.
--- Fueling - Excellent.
--- I had a GOOD time! I had such a fun time out there and never once felt like I was suffering!
--- I got an interesting life lesson bundled up in an ultra package.
--- It's so great running with other CRC members. That really personalizes the experience.
--- My wife, Jen. Excellent first-time crewing, hopefully with many more races to come.
--- Not running the course before. Really, this one is better left to the unknown :-)

Bad Things:
--- That leg cramping turned out to be a strained muscle. The next day I had visible bruising in the area of my left shin and left calf. This explains why the "cramping" was only in one leg and not both and not responding to electrolytes. I did take 200 mg of Motrin at mile 37 then again at mile 42. I was very hesitant to take pain killers on a run. By doing this I'm risking short-term relief for potential longer-term injury. Two days later I'm okay but am still following rest, ice, compression, and Ibuprofen. I hope all is well!
--- My shoes were a 1/2 size too large causing my feet to slide around slightly.
--- That's it. Really.



Ron Little said...

Inspiring, Franz! You've given me hope that I can do better next time.

So that was your Jen at Tennessee Valley! She called out my name and helped me with my water bottles, but maybe because I wasn't expecting her and her hair was down, I just didn't make the connection. I even asked, stupidly, "How do you know my name?" Thank her for me!

I saw that ambulance and firetrucks too. Poor guy. I've had that same conversation with other runners, and we agreed that dying suddenly while running is a good way to go, albeit somewhat traumatic for those around us. Sorry to hear about your boss.

Franz said...

Yea Ron that was Jen. She commented to me after the race that you were so delirious you didn't even recognize her! Very funny in retrospect.

RunRevRunners said...


this is hao. i saw your blog from the hh 50/100 site. man, you did an amazing job for your first 50. there's no turning back now, brother. :) very well written report as well. i really enjoyed reading it. hope you are recovering well. and yeah, what were you thinking doing 12 hours at cool the weekend before your first 50? :) i'd say you would've broken 10 easily if you didn't have the 45 miles on your legs.



Franz said...

Hey Hao! It was great seeing a familiar name pop-up on my comments. You're sooo right about not turning back. With an experience like I had at Headlands and 12 Hours in Cool, 50 miles really does seem that far. It's amazing how that mental barrier fades.

Thanks for the kinds words in the ability to break 10 hours. :-) That means a lot!


RunRevRunners said...

franz, it's hao. thanks for all your encourangement. it was an absolute blast at cascade. i just posted the pictures. hope you will enjoy them. what's your next race?