I had my misgivings about the Ohlone 50k on Sunday, for which I'd registered. I wasn't sure how I was going to get there. I'd tried going down the entry list for other runners who live in San Francisco, checking for them on Strava to see if they lived close, and none did. So I tried to send messages to those I could find on facebook to see if we could coordinate somehow a ride out. But I got only one response, in the negative. He was staying in Pleasanton the night before, relatively close to the "finish" in Del Valle where we were to meet for a shuttle ride to the start of the point-to-point run. Maybe I should try to get a hotel as well, I thought. Then I could ride to the finish on my bike. Or, more fun, I could try camping out in Del Valle. But that involved carrying a tent and sleeping bag and making reservations which probably weren't available still.
It all became irrelvant when I checked the event website to see that the run had in fact been canceled. My first reaction, I have to admit, was relief. It freed me from working out the start line logistics.
But even though I'd been feeling less than excellent from allergies and the after-effects of a steep ramp up in my cycling, I knew I wanted to follow through and do a race during the weeked. The first place I checked, Inside Trail Racing, was hosting the Reservoir Dogs 35k on Saturday. Saturday was a day sooner than I'd planned to run, but the race was 15 km shorter (actually 17 km), and one less day recovery since my hilly ride on Thursday would be compensated by the shorter distance. I'd be okay.
I was by now very comfortable with this distance since I'd done rather well at the Woodside Crossover 35k five weeks prior, and presumably my fitness was a bit higher now. I just needed to treat the race with respect. And that meant eating and drinking far more than I do on training runs, which is none (for eating) and little (for water). I just needed to run a steady, sustainable pace and I should get to the finish.
Logistics were simple: BART to Orinda than an 8 km ride to the boat launch area where registration was held. If anything, it was a suitable warmup for the run. I got there nice and early, right near the opening of registration, and I had no problem getting in.
It was damp, overcast, and cool but these are fine conditions for running. They'd take some of the pressure off hydration and electrolyte consumption. Of course the heat affects everyone and I like to think I take it better than a lot of other runners for a given amount of acclimation but in San Francisco that acclimation is very limited. It's been colder in May than it was any month of the so-called winter.
This was going to be fun. The trails around Briones Reservoir are apparently restricted access so there wouldn't be much opportunity to run these otherwise. And given how nice the bike ride is around the nearby "three bears loop" I expected it to be scenic. And in an understated way this turned out to be accurate.
Being early gave me plenty of time to check out the approach to the finish. There was a gravelly fire road leading to a right turn, then a short steep drop to a very short flat run to the finishing arch. No problems. But I was glad to have seen the turn because under the pressure of a race finish it can be easy to miss something which may be by any reasonable standard completely obvious.
Scenic view from Reservoir Dogs (Lets Wander photography)
A key today was going to be to know what I wanted going into rest stops, get what I wanted, and leave with minimal delay. But this would generally include drinking from cups, getting a few salt pills, and eating something like some fruit or some chews. With the rushed plans I didn't have anything on my own. In fact despite including it on my pre-race checklist I recently posted to this blog I'd forgotten to bring Enduralytes, which are a good idea since finding them at the aid station tables can be a time sink. So the focus was on these three things: 1. if I am out of water, hand my water bottle to a volunteer, 2. drink cups of sports drink, 3. get a gel or some chews, maybe with a piece of fruit, 4. take 2 salt pills, 5. get back my water bottle, 6. get out of there.
I was amazed by how few people were there: there had been around 60 for the 35k on the reg list. But in the minutes before the start people showed up. And soon enough it was the usual Inside Trail Racing scene by the start arch.
After a nice speech warning us about a potential cattle drive but saying nothing about bees, it was time to move forward to the start line. I positioned myself in my favorite spot: around 3rd row. This turned out to be good placing. The lead guys shot out quickly, people behind seemed to stay behind, and I was fine running my own pace.
When things had sorted themselves out, my race became a race of 3. First I overtook Madison McCarthy, who, it turned out, was the lead woman, visiting family here from her home in Ashland Oregon. She said she was here with her boyfriend Brett Hornig, who works at Hal Koerner's famous running store there. Brett had signed up for the Ohlone 50k, as had I, and like me had signed up day-of for this race instead. Madison told me they both hoped to win. That was a bit bold, I thought, as I thought perhaps she was slightly underestimating the local runners. But they succeeded: Madison by a comfortable margin, Brett by only 19 seconds.
I followed her for awhile, as her pace was good, but on a climb I felt I could go faster and so went past. I thought maybe that would be the end of it but then I reached the first rest stop.
I like to do quick stops and I felt I succeeded here, but even a quick stop is slower than none, and Madison trotted on by as if the stop weren't there. That was a game I wasn't going to play. So she was gone.
Leaving the first stop, which was the 10 km turn-around, the course did a loop around Briones Reservoir. The half-marathoners would turn around at rest stop 2, but the "35k" runners would circumnavigate the reservoir with a little out-and-back to reach stop 3. So here I was, just running along, trying to not dig myself into any sort of hole, but of course not letting myself slack off enough to get caught from behind,
But after not too long I heard footsteps approaching from behind. Damn. But as the runner passed we started to chat. It was Ron Poggi, who'd just recently run the Boston Marathon. I have a thing for the Boston Marathon and so we talked about that race, about CIM which I've run, and about trail running. This was great because it kept my mind off the distance. It was fun just running and chatting, something I rarely do.
We finally overtook Madison again, and then reached the second stop, the half-marathon turnaround.
Now one thing I didn't mention about this leg was anything about bees. I never saw any bees, never heard any bees, and wasn't stung by any bees. However, the half-marathoners, starting a half hour later, were not so lucky: a hive located right on the trail attacked a substantial number of runners, causing at least one to choose an alternate route back to the start/finish. I later apologized to a finisher from that race for angering the bees.
Reaching the half stop, I again made a decently quick stop, but once again Madison skipped it. Ron was faster than I was, having stopped but only very briefly, but I was able to recatch him. Together we once again reached Madison.
"Are you going to skip all the stops?" I asked?
She confirmed that in fact that was her plan, that she does unsupported 3 hour runs at home, and that she hoped to do the same in this race.
"How much water are you carrying?" I asked. She had a hydration vest, but it didn't look very full.
"24 ounces," she said. 24 ounces? I contemplated the water bottle at my belt. That was probably 18 ounces. But I was supplementing that with cups of Tailwind I drank at the stops -- typically 2-3 per stop, and that bottle was close to empty. I'd refill it at stop 3, then finish that as well.
As I noted, I'm a fan of training on less water than I race. If nothing else it teaches me I can get by without water so when in a race I run out I don't suffer a mental melt-down. The same with food. I know I don't need calories to run 3 hours, but if I do have the calories, that's bonus. So I want to be consuming more in a race than I do in training. And given that, if I'm able to carry enough to last me 3 hours, then I'm carrying too much weight.
Slight digression here. Consider that running is around 1 kcal per kg of total mass. The more the total mass, the more the energy cost of running. But it's not really that simple. Weight affects running's energy cost in multiple ways (see blog post here for analysis). One is the center of mass bouncing up and down, which is affected by the full body weight and all the weight carried on the body (although technically if you carry it in your hand you can isolate it from up-and-down motion). Another source of energy cost is the cost of accelerating your legs and feet each footfall. Weight which is on the feet, for example shoes, is more relevant here. The total energy cost has to be proportional to weight assuming all weight is increased proportionally. But if you increase weight on the upper back, for example, where water is stored, that's going to affect the center of mass motion, but that weight is not being accelerated as the feet are. It will have a reduced effect relative to the average of all mass, which includes the feet. So a 1% increase in mass, if that mass increase is in a relatively inert position, then it will slow less than 1%. I did some calculations on this matter and I concluded that the faster the running cadence, the greater the fraction of energy going into leg accelerations, the lower the fraction going into center-of-mass bouncings. The lowest energy cost came where these were equal. So I'm going to assume a 1% increase in weight is going to slow you 0.5% if it's on the upper back.
She was carrying 24 ounces of water plus a pack which probably had a mass around 200 grams. That's a total of 900 grams. An alternate is a smaller belt pack with half the water but to stop at a rest stop along the way. I'll assume that's 450 grams saved peak. But when running on average the water will be half-full. Instead of 900 grams her pack on average has a mass of 550 grams. So the savings is 275 grams. I'll further assume her mass was around 55 kg. Then the time cost of that extra mass over 3 hours is 27 seconds.
27 seconds is plenty of time to refill a bottle at a rest stop. It might be cutting it close, though. But a key consideration is that there is recovery during this rest. It's what I call "the elasticity of rest". If I hold you up 27 seconds you'll be able to run the rest of the race faster than if you'd not rested for those 27 seconds. But physiologically, at least, it seems unlikely that 27 second stop will result in gaining more than 27 seconds on the rest of the run. You get only a fraction of it back. But you definitely do get a significant fraction because I find I always regain some of the distance I lost in stopping when I leave an aid station relative to runners who run on through. So I suspect you could spend significantly longer, for example up to 45 seconds, at that stop and still do better than running through and carrying the extra water.
But there's an additional effect: which is fatigue. Carrying extra mass causes added fatigue on muscles, both to the legs which need to work harder, and to the shoulders which must support the weight isometrically.
So the end result is: carrying the added weight is worth at least 27 seconds total. When you consider the benefits of the rest gained at the stop and the lower muscular effort associated with running less encumbered, I view the aid station stop a big win. But even more, if I stop at the aid station I'll probably consume more than if I try to do it all while running. That's probably good, too.
So back to the race...
I managed to recatch both Madison and Ron approaching the third stop, which came around kilometer 20. I was first to this stop but then things went terribly wrong. After handing my bottle to the volunteer for refilling, I wanted salt. I looked at various plates with items laid out and didn't see the salt pills. "They're right there!" the volunteer said. I looked and still didn't see them. "There -- in the bottle!" Sure enough the bottle was there, the lid closed off. Okay -- I opened the lid and tried to pour some into my hand. A bunch spilled into my open palm. I put them into my pocket, withdrew my hand, and closed the bottle.
Next I got a slice of watermelon which is always a good option. But I needed to drink.
"Water!" I said to the volunteer, then found the water cups. I grabbed a Tailwind cup, then another, then a third, drinking all of them. The volunteer seemed concerned I was drinking Tailwind rather than water. I'd changed my mind, so assured him Tailwind was fine.
Off I went, Madison and Ron long gone, and to make things work at first I tried to exit in the wrong place, and lost a few more seconds going out through the proper gate. I need to check my data for how long all this took, and in truth it was probably only 2 minutes max, but given I just did an analysis justifying 27 second water stops, 2 minutes is an eternity.
But I was done, and as I ran I decided to try some of those salt pills. But then I noticed my pocket was inverted and the salt pills were nowhere to be seen. My hand had inverted the pocket when I'd withdrawn it. I should have put the pills in the pouch attached to my water belt instead. That's more secure.
Anyway, all I could do was run at my pace, and I hoped to recatch Ron at least, since I suspected Madison was the stronger runner.
On the plus side I was feeling fairly good and could see Ron up ahead when the sight lines were sufficient. At one point I estimated he was 40 seconds ahead and if we were running approximately 300 second kilometers than that put him 130 meters ahead of me. If there were 13 km remaining then I had to go 1% faster, 3 seconds per km, to catch him. I could do that, right?
But rather than close the gap grew. We came to one sweeping open section with long line of sight and ahead I saw a few runners on the trail. I wasn't sure if one was Ron. But I was sure that was a lot more than 130 meters.
On I went, passing close to a cow (fortunately he was a friendly cow). Then reaching a gate which I tried for a few seconds to open, only to realize I was supposed to go around the gate, not through it. If this and the turn-around aid station snafu were the worst navigational issues I had all race, it was navigationally a very successful race.
I knew the last rest stop was the 10 km turn-around, which means 5 km from the finish. So I expected to see it at 30 km on my TomTom watch. But approaching the intersection I approached a runner coming the opposite direction. "A quarter mile to the stop!" he said. Wait... this was less than 28 km.
I ran on. Approaching the stop, I saw first Madison ("go, Dan!") and Ron ("go, Dan!") returning on a trail which paralleled the dirt road I was on. They had a big lead. I wasn't going to catch them.
But that didn't mean I could slack off. I approached the aid station with two things in mind: 1. drink coke, 2. get 2 salt pills. And there I was.
It didn't go as smoothly as I wanted as there was some congestion with a slower half-marathon runner and a volunteer helping him, but I managed to get out there relatively quickly having accomplished my two goals. My water bottle was empty, so I briefly contemplated putting some water in it, but dismissed that due to the congestion. It was only 5 km, and I was well hydrated. Further I didn't drink any Tailwind here. I've learned the hard way sports drink + Coke makes a frothy mix which doesn't sit well.
The Coke kicked in and I was in end game. I passed several slower half marathoners along the way here. The distance passed a lot faster here than it had on the outward leg, when we covered the same trail in the reverse direction. I figured the finish was around 33 km on my watch based on hitting the aid station at around 28, but just in case I was wrong, I held a little back. I looked for the "mile to go" chalk mark I'd seen on the outward leg to be sure.
I never saw that chalk mark, but I reached what I recognized as a grassy trail I'd run on the way out. And then I saw him. It was Ron, up ahead, going slowly.
He heard me coming and picked up the pace. Okay, so this was going to come down to the finish. It's at this point in the race I try to detach myself from my body, to ignore pain. The resolution to pain is to finish sooner, not run slower. So I kept the intensity up.
Then Ron slowed to a walk. I quickly reached him, and as I passed, I shouted "Go, Ron! You're almost there!!!" He mumbled something and I didn't slow down to ask more.
I was on the gravel road now: the finish wasn't far. Then there it was, the right to the short steep descent to the finish. I came upon the rear of a fit-looking guy at the top of the little descent, but he slightly gapped me there. I followed him soon over the line.
Then, all the goodness I was feeling in the end game, all the Coke-and-adrenaline induced rush, left me and I was a quivering mess. But that feeling passes soon enough. I sat down, I ate a few salty-nutty-bars, I ate a few more salty-nutty-bars. Gradually I regained my humanity.
I got a chance to talk to Ron and he said he'd had stomach problems. I smiled a bit at this, not because I like to see other rivals have difficulty, but instead because it justified my approach at stopping at all the aid stations to make sure I had what I needed. The gap to Madison was several minutes, the gap to the runner behind me was 12 minutes. Both of these gaps were significantly larger than even the time I squandered at aid station 3. But in the end it paid off that I never experienced weakness the whole race. And my result was good: 10th out of 60, 1st in age group. Ron was in the next age group up, winning that.
One thing, though, is I probably took too much salt. Enduralytes are low on sodium chloride, but the salt pills they use here are high. This caused me to bloat up a bit in the day after the race. It was cool and I probably didn't need the salt at all, especially since Tailwind has electrolytes. Next time I'll bring Enduralytes to avoid any issues.
Next race: I'm not sure. Maybe the Rodeo Beach Inside Trail racing four weeks after this one. That borders on racing too often but my recovery from this one is going a lot better than from my preceding two races.