Saturday, July 4, 2015

Double Dipsea REDEMPTION!

[Note: I apologize for how long this is. But it's mostly pictures so it's not as bad as it looks.]

Historically, the Double Dipsea race was held on Western States weekend, so I was unable to run it. That changed last year and I was thrilled to take a shot at the race.

And I failed.

I missed a cutoff with only about 3 miles to go. I decided then that I didn't need to run the race the next year. But when the registration opened up earlier this year, Mrs Notthat was really keen to run it for her third time in a row. I rolled my eyes and signed up too.

Ironically, Mrs Notthat ended up getting an injury and had to miss the race. This gave me an out - it really isn't as much fun for me to run these races without her, so it would have been easy to bow out. But there was a pretty big part of me that was ticked off with how the previous year went down. I reread my race report from last year and realized that I really should not have a problem finishing this race - it's just a slightly long and slightly tough Half Marathon and I would have 5:19 to finish.

But like Rocky Ridge, this is a race with a mystique that really gets in your head.

Above is a simplified course map. In this case though, just because it's an out-and-back doesn't mean you can't get lost - there are many places where you can wander off the course if you're not careful. To help avert that, there are MANY brave volunteers at this race, with a lot of them guiding the runners.

One thing that added to my confidence this year was that I was going into the race knowing what the cutoffs really were. (Last year they were adjusted out mid-race. I'm sadly not a guy that easily adapts to change - knowing the real cutoffs from the start was a big deal to me.)

A unique thing about this race are the wave starts. Based on your age and your knack for using a toilet seat, you got held back a bit. The race starts at 8 AM, but only for women over 80. There are 22 waves, and my advanced age put me in wave 15, with an 8:41 start time. (The youngest runners started at 9:01.) Note that you can start with a later wave, but you cannot start with an earlier wave.

There was also an option to start at 7 AM with the early start, but those runners do not get an official time, although they are official finishers with medals and such. I considered taking advantage of that, which would pretty much take the cutoffs out of the equation, but I really do get a kick out of the wave starts, so I decided to take the risk and stick with my assigned wave.

One of a number of road crossings early and late in the race.

When you think of "Dipsea," you usually think of stairs. This trail is infested with them. Some of the stairs are more useful than others. These early ones were pretty good, especially at getting the heart rate up and going.

The Dipsea trail is known for jaw-dropping views. For this race though, we had a thick marine layer at the start which meant we didn't have to worry about being distracted by a view. It also meant it was wonderfully cool.

The first aid station is on the top of Insult Hill. That name makes a lot more sense when you are coming the other direction, which we would be doing much later.

After coming down Insult, you enter a rain forrest that is so lush it's really hard to believe we're in the middle of a severe drought.

As we neared the top of that first big climb and the Cardiac aid station, we were above the marine layer and got a bit of sun.

The Cardiac aid station at the top of the climb. Such a great sight!
Irual (not her real name) stopped to freshen up in the porta-pottie.
Medical people with a fallen runner.
When you leave Cardiac, you start down a treacherous bit of trail that often takes runners out - they are so excited to get a bit of downhill that it's easy to go too fast and trip.

Look at those roots!
This downhill eventually becomes much more run-able after that initial bit of trail.

The downhill bottoms out at the entrance to Muir Woods with this creek crossing. If you look closely, you can see Nosaj (not his real name, in orange) taking pictures of us as we come through.

Picture by Nosaj. Bridge by the Minimalist Architects of America.
The Muir Woods aid station. And the start of another climb.
Dyoll (not his real name) heading back.
As we started up the hill out of Muir Woods, we started seeing more returning runners. Often the trail was wide enough, but there were a number of places where it was too narrow for runners to comfortably pass, which made this a real test at times.

"Hi Llib, which is not your real name!"
As we got closer to the town of Mill Valley, we started having more road crossings. All of them had volunteers to stop the cars for us.

Once you get to the top of the hill, you are pretty much in the town, so things start to get interesting.

And then you hit the infamous Dipsea staircase. 688 steps. Fortunately, they are broken into several flights to give you some breaks.

Eventually you get down all those steps and reach the turnaround aid station. This is also the first cutoff (11:25) - I showed up at 10:52 in great shape.

I'm not sure who took this shot, but I was really happy to be halfway done.
After refilling my water bottles, I headed back up those stairs.

They. Never. End.

Eventually, if you stick with it, you make it to the top of the stairs and that hill. It's an awesome feeling to get a bit of downhill for a bit.

The sweepers, Aynwat and Mas, not their real names.
As I was going down that hill, I met the sweepers coming up it, which meant they were well behind me. That was a good thing. Even better, it meant there would be no more two-way traffic (at least with runners).

ITR Mit (not his real name) protecting that car from me.

We had the trail to ourselves.

Next cutoff - Muir Woods (12:00). I got there are 11:40. It's all still good.

Coming out of that aid station though is a long, often tough climb back up to Cardiac. This is the stretch that ate my lunch last year.

Eventually you get back to that gnarly bit of trail that means the climb is nearly done. Cardiac aid station it near!

And just like that, it's here! This is the third cutoff (1:00). I got here at 12:37. Last year, this was the aid station that did me in - I missed that cutoff and was pretty trashed. This year I made the cutoff and was feeling OK. It was a really warm climb, so I took some time to cool off, and then practically skipped out of there.

There is still Insult Hill, but other than that, the climbing is all done.

These stairs were REALLY challenging on tired legs.
Duck under that tree and you start up Insult Hill, which actually was a nice break after all the downhill.

The last aid station, and the last cutoff (1:40). I got here at 1:13. I'm home free. Finally. It is one mile to the finish and it's on mostly gentle downhill. Unbelievably, I still had some legs, so I started moving fairly fast, all things considered.

A huge thing was that, as we got lower, we got back into the protection of the marine layer. It felt SO GOOD to hit this cool breeze.

A few more steps, a road crossing, and this gets real.

Picture by Nosaj, again. I'm getting air!
I completely forgot to take any pictures as I approached the finish. I threw my soaking wet hat much higher than I would have thought possible (thankfully it didn't land on anyone) and let out a yell.

Picture by Lechar, not her real name. One of the very few times you'll see me hatless in a race.
I cannot describe the feeling I felt as I came in. This was easily in the top three finishes for me.

This is a special race with a unique format. It's hard, with tough trails and all those steps, but it's also beautiful and often fun.

The hoodie was a bonus being sold by DSE. I liked its conservative use of colors.
The medal and the fun patch.
The shirt and hoodie backs.
One of the things that adds to the challenge of this race is that, until you get back to the Muir Woods aid station, you are dealing a lot with other runners. In my case, all the fast runners that I started ahead of have to pass me, then pass me again on their way back.

One thought I had was that, if I was a bit faster, I could wait and start with the last wave. That way I wouldn't have to deal with any runners trying to pass me and would only have the runners coming back at me. (I believe my finish time would also be penalized, but that would be fine - my concern would be the cutoffs. In this race, Muir Woods and Cardiac would have been really close if I had waited.)

And finally, a HUGE thanks to the MANY volunteers from both Brazen Racing and the Dolphin South End Runners that made this all possible - you all were rock stars!

And that's about it.


That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Quick Western States Thing

[I'll do a longer, picture-filled thing later about this weekend, but for now, I just wanted to get this out.]

The Western States weekend is a lot of fun - it's amazingly inspiring watching a huge variety of runners navigate a tough, 100.2 mile course under challenging conditions, all while battling their own personal battles with cramping muscles, ruined stomachs, and heat exhaustion.

And then the coolest thing I've ever seen at a trail race happened.

No woman aged 70 or over has ever finished the race. (And more than you would think possible have tried.) This year, 70-year-old Gunhild decided to take on the challenge. All through the night, we were given updates as to her progress. The race was having an abnormally high rate of DNFs, so it seemed likely that soon she would be added to the list.

But she wasn't.

She kept going.

She made it to Robie Point, 1.3 miles from the finish, with 17 minutes to go before the hard 30-hour cutoff. The spectators, mostly comprised of runners, their crew and pacers, and volunteers/groupies like me, all got nervous. 1.3 miles of mostly downhill pavement should be no problem in 17 minutes, but this was after going 98.9 miles in a bit over twenty-nine and a half hours. And the sun had returned to being ruthless.

Every time we saw some movement outside the gate we hoped it was her. A runner showed up and the place erupted, but it wasn't her. (For the record, a not-nearly 70-year-old John finished with 33 seconds to spare.)

The clock kept ticking down - now there was just a bit over a minute left.

And then she arrived, and the place REALLY erupted! She was moving well, but she still had to go about three-fourths the way around the high school track, and the clock was refusing to pause.

A large group of people ran across the football field to follow her progress. She hit the home stretch, where the clock was clearly visible, and picked up the pace a tiny bit - just enough to cross the finish with six seconds to spare.

There were many amazing stories this weekend - there always are at an event like this -  but Gunhild's finish is what will stick in my mind for a long time.

That's it - move along.

PS: I got so caught up in what was going on that I forgot to take any useful pictures. If you look under that finish arch, you'll see a couple of bright green specs. The one on the left is her. And you are right - she looks amazing!

PPS: This link should show you a short video of her finish.

PPPS: This is a link to an iRunFar interview of her after the race. A couple of wild bits:

  • She got off course at around mile 88 by following runners ahead of her, who turned out to not be in the race. This added distance and climbing and nearly derailed her race completely.
  • Rob Krar (among others), who won the race over 15 hours earlier, ran up to meet her and get that last bit done.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Drought or no drought - the creeks of Diablo were running!

The creeks were certainly running better than me!

The Brazen Diablo Challenge, a benefit for the Save Mount Diablo group, is also an excuse for Mr Brazen to seriously torture unsuspecting 50K runners. Due to some eagle nesting issues, the 50K course, which was already one of the toughest around, had to be wildly modified. Those modifications meant the runners would climb both Mt Diablo and the North Peak, which made this far more challenging than ever.

Proving that I'm not totally nuts, I chose to stick with the Half Marathon, which was not affected by any promiscuous birds.

Click to see a larger version.
The Half course isn't too complicated, but it is infested with creek crossings. I had never actually counted them before - if you had asked me before this race I would have said there were maybe 15, and that most would be dried up.

As it turns out, I'm not a good person to ask these sorts of things before a race - I was wrong on both accounts. There turned out to be 23 crossings (a lot of creeks are crossed twice) and they all had water. Not a lot of water in some cases, but enough that if you were determined to keep your feet dry, you were going to really have to work at it.

A picture of each crossing. It's possible I missed one towards the end as my brain was approaching toast.

Shortly after we started, Nahtanoj (not his real name), with Racso Jr (not his real name) providing security, was taking pictures.

Picture by Nahtanoj. I've gone maybe 200 feet and I'm getting ready to take my fifth picture. 

My goal was to start slow. This course has two small climbs followed by a big one that takes forever. My hope was to save something for the long, glorious downhill that follows the big climb.

I'm not the only runner taking pictures along the course.

This is the first of the 23 crossings. It's not huge and actually wasn't hard to get around. I was just surprised it was there at all.

The first aid station was at mile 1.1. As usual, I just thanked them and kept on moving since I've only gone 1.1 miles and there's another aid station in 1.7 miles.

The one odd thing though was that my right shin was bugging me a bit. I never have shin issues, and this was the second race in a row that it had acted up early on. This made me a bit nervous, but I knew that I had options with this course - the 5K turnaround was coming up, and worst case I could drop down to it, and later I could choose to drop to the 10K since it shares the same trails. The option I really wanted though was to be able to keep going.

I suspect this was the most photographed trail marking in history. It was impressive and horrifying at the same time.

I decided to keep going at the 5K turnaround since my favorite bit of trail was coming up. These volunteers had the task of making sure all the Half and 10K runners turned here and headed up the narrow, technical Sunset trail.

This trail's a blast. My first goal in this race is to make it to the top before getting passed by the fast 10K runners. Usually that goal is no problem since we are given a 30 minute head start, but I was moving pretty slow and was a bit nervous.

The one good thing though was that hiking up this hill made my shin issue go away.

Once you get to the top of that climb, you get a fairly smooth trail down to the second aid station, mile 2.8. My second goal is to try to get here before getting passed, and to my huge surprise, I had managed to do that. I was on fire!

Everyone loves a smiling aid station volunteer!
The next aid station was five miles away and would be near the top of the big climb - an exposed, relentless climb. So I filled my bottle - a bit alarming was that I realized I hadn't been drinking much. I've had issues with this next stretch when I was a bit dehydrated, and I really didn't want that happening this time, so this wasn't a great sign. I vowed to stay on top of my drinking.

The Blur charging up this hill. For the 10K, this was the last hill.
While heading up the second small climb, I was finally passed by a couple of 10K runners.

"Hi Lliw, not your real name!"
This is the top of the second small climb. A bit of downhill follows. This is a picture of my arrival taken by that volunteer:

Picture by a Brazen volunteer. I love that she made me look like I knew what I was doing - that's not easy.
I talked with Lliw a bit and got passed by Hcir, not his real name. I wouldn't catch back up to him until about mile nine or so.

That's Hcir passing me while getting passed by the eventual woman 10K winner.
I love this view. We head out on the trail disappearing in the trees (where the 10K turnaround is), and will eventually come back on that trail that heads to the bottom of the picture.
The 10K turnaround.
By this point, I was feeling pretty good and knew that I was going to keep on going.

One last creek crossing, then we turn right and start up the big hill.
Meb, not his real name, volunteering to make sure no Half runners mistakenly took the downhill trail to the right.

The big climb is long and exposed, but it does have a few breaks, and it is rarely steep. One thing that helped this climb in the past was that we would see the lead 50K runners coming towards us. The 50K course change removed that though, so we were all alone on our uphill slog.

ACK! A downed tree, and so close to the aid station!

Once I hurdled the downed tree, I was at the third aid station, mile 7.8.

It turned out that this aid station had a secret that the Half runners didn't know; there was a cutoff. Maybe.

This aid station was also mile 16.3 of the 50K course. And because it was about the half point for them, it had their first cutoff, at 11:30. That meant they had five hours to get here.

With the old 50K course, the Half Marathon had no cutoff time (well, actually you needed to finish in nine hours, which effectively is no cutoff, even for me), and Brazen did not need to offer an early start. This meant that the Half runners this year assumed that all of that was still the case, and it's possible it really was the case, but the search and rescue people decided that the cutoff applied to all runners, and as far as they were concerned, no runner should pass after 11:30. (For the record, this meant the Half runners had three hours to cover nearly eight miles, which seems pretty reasonable until you remember that they had just covered by far the toughest eight miles of the course. My suspicion is that it had not occurred to Mr Brazen that Half runners would show up here after 11:30.)

I had no idea about any of this, and flew through here after filling my bottles. At about 11:12. Others that came behind me weren't so lucky, and ended up needing to have a lively conversation before finally being allowed to continue on.

As I headed out of the aid station, I managed to pass, for about 30 seconds, these two - Aicirt and Acissej (not their real names). It turned out that Nosaj (not his real name either) was taking pictures at that aid station, and he got this proof that I was ahead of these two.

Picture by Nosaj.

After a bit more climbing (and getting passed by Aicirt and Acissej), I was finally at the top of the hill. There were a few more minor hills between here and the finish, but 95% of the climbing was done.

This is a very happy spot to be for the Half race.

Volunteer Nom (not his - surely you get this by now) making sure the runners didn't hurt any of the cars driving up to the summit.
The good news was that I had managed to mostly catch up on my hydration, and had managed to save something for this long downhill.

I was totally stunned that I ended up passing about a dozen runners on this downhill. (To be clear, I was not a blur, but was able to jog slightly faster than these other runners. It wasn't that impressive in real life.)

Some things that happen on the trail, stay on the trail. (They were just stretching, or so they claimed.)
Some things that happen on the trail, stay on the trail. (They were just cooling off, or so they claimed.)
"Hi Xela, not your real name!"
If you are following along on the simplified course map, this was at the point where we started going back to the finish and getting serious about crossing the creeks.

This is the bottom of that second little hill. It felt great to get to go straight ahead.

The fourth aid station, mile 12.4. A bit over a mile to the finish. Aicirt and Acissej were busy rehydrating so I waved and kept on going. There was still a chance I would beat them!

Sadly, my "sprint" past that aid station pretty much drained me, and Aicirt and Acissej easily beat me to the finish.

Picture by Nahtanoj. Again.
When I started this race, my realistic time goal was 4:15. My dream was something less than four hours. I ended up at 4:00:18.

I had a pretty rough finish, and it took me a bit to recover before I felt normal enough to drive home.

The shirt, bib, and medal, all proudly based on a really irritated sparrow.
I actually felt pretty good about this result, especially considering the previous week's result. What I didn't enjoy was running yet another race without Mrs Notthat. Her PF is still keeping her from running, and that reduces the amount of fun that I have at these races.

But this is still a great event that is a big fundraiser for the Save Mount Diablo group, and has some great trails and views.

And a monster of a 50K course.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

PPS: Mrs Notthat and I ran the Sasquatch Scramble 10K the following week, and her PF was still a big issue. Her next scheduled event is Bay to Breakers, and that's looking a bit dubious. Hopefully she will heal fast!