Sunday, October 17, 2010

McCarran loop (+ a lil' extra) 25.35 mi 10/2/10

For a little bit of background, for those who may not be familiar with Northern Nevada and the Reno - Sparks area, McCarran Avenue is a street that encircles the cities or Reno and Sparks. In a car, I'd guess that it would take 30-45 minutes to drive the whole loop, in regular traffic. On Saturday October 2, 2010, I ran the whole thing with a group of friends.

Running the McCarran loop was something I heard about shortly after joining up with Reno Running and Fitness last February. McCarran Boulevard circles the cities of Reno and Sparks, and is about 23.5 miles long. When i heard that people actually run the loop I thought to myself "Why that's crazy!... I must do that someday."

Well 10/2/10 was that day. At the end of session party the week before, I heard one of the group leaders, Michael, talking about the "McLoop" as it came to be known, and that he was taking a group of runners out the following Saturday. I'd been training with the marathon group for the past 16 weeks, I'd just done 2 twenty mile runs in the last month, one of them quite challenging, and it was on  Saturday - a day I can actually participate and not have to take a vacation day. I was sold. My wife tried to convince me with rationality - noting that on the previous Saturday I'd run the Tahoe 20 miler, and my knee was still sore, and the very nect day after the McLoop I was supposed to run a 5k. "Bah," I scoffed. "I'll recover this week, do the loop, get a good night's sleep, and be fine to walk the 5k, if I needed to. It was for charity, and I'll just go for fun."

During the week prior to the McLoop, I'd pretty much avoided running, and just focused on recovery and icing my knee. I got a decent night's sleep on Thurs, but of course, on Friday I didn't get to sleep until 10p - and I had to be up at 3am; the run start time was 4:30am! The maxim held true again - "The night *before* the night before an event is when you'll get your best night's sleep."

So there we were at Michael's house. At 4:30am. I was still slogging the sleep from my brain, and trying not to contemplate what I was about to embark upon. One foot in front of the other - that's all it really was. For whatever distance. I didn't *have* to run the entire thing if issues cropped up, and there was no penalty for taking it slow. Equipment checked, backpack loaded; we were off, starting on our warm-up to the park near Baring & McCarran.

Baring to Las Brisas - 8 miles. This first stretch starts flat, but then starts to climb. Over the next 7 miles it gains about 1000', but it's not too bad, and everybody was in great spirits and the miles went quickly. Amongst the discussions were my camelbak backpack, and my fondness for finding places to stuff things like band-aids, shot blox, energy cookies, etc. I even came up with another idea for my camelbak, but that surprise will have to wait for Bay to Breakers...
Onwards to Walmart, our first pit stop, just shy of mile 8. After a quick break, it was off to Caughlin, near mile 10, where I knew there was a support station near the Starbucks there.

Caughlin & McCarran - Mile 11. Pretzels! And then it was onward, to the next section, which promised to be a grind. The next 2 miles were steep, and we power walked it. It was amazing to see the other runners in our group just keep on going, like energizer bunnies, up & up that hill. It's 500' over 2 miles, and I felt every foot. But soon, it was time to descend again, and I knew after that, the rest of the trip was all flat. With 1 minor hill when I had to cross I80 again. Piece of cake. Some interesting conversations took place as well. I run with a number of teachers, and two were discussing rewarding students with prizes and such, and how it can be a mark of pride for even a high schooler to get a sticker for doing something well. I observed that I too was doing this for a sticker. Ever since I saw the "23.5" stickers that were created for those that had completed the McLoop, I knew I'd be getting one.

Lakeside & McCarran - approaching mile 16. Starbucks II! Wait... We were DFL, so that means everybody was waiting for us. That means, well,no break for us - let's keep on going. I knew that there was another aid station at Mira Loma, and that was another 3 miles. Easy peasy.

Mira Loma & McCarran - 19 miles. Potatoes! Boiled red potatoes & salt are like crack. That is all I can say. After a slightly longer respite here, it was onward - 7 more miles to go. Then, I lost my running parter. We'd been doing a run/walk for the last couple of miles, and that wasn't working out for her. She caught a ride at Mira Loma, and I started on again.

McCarran & Rock - Mile 20. Pain, and self doubt set in. The tops of my feet were killing me. My calf was a bit troublesome, and my knee was getting irritated. I started walking again, and met up with a couple of RRF runners that were hitching a ride back at Mill st. Their goal today was 7 miles, and they met it! I bid them farewell, and started running again. 1/4 mile later, I was back to walking. Then i got a phone call. It was  Michael, and he was waiting to run me in about a mile ahead. I told him I was run/walking, and that I'd see him in a little while. He assured me that was ok, and he'd hang out and wait. After about another 1/4 mile I started running again, and then before I approached the Glendale intersection, I could see him up on the overpass. Buoyed with a boost of energy, I ran (slowly) up the last little hill and got a little pep talk, before we started our descent, and the final approach. Michael had said on the phone that run/walking was ok, but we ended up running the whole way in. He took me from over 13 min/mile to under 10 in the last 2 and a half miles. That's what eliminating self doubt can do. Michael humming the Rocky theme after we passed Prater helped as well.

Back to Baring - Mile 22 and onward. I knew after we passed Prater, that I had this. D'oh! I forgot about Greenbrae. I was one stoplight off. No matter, I could see the intersection at Baring and knew the finish line was near. But we got to Baring, and we were still running... and I asked during the last few hundred yards "When do I stop?" and Michael said "keep going. You're almost there." I finished at the Park, where fellow "loopies" cheered me in. We congratulated each other, then someone suggested Slurpees. There was a 7-11 right across the street. Best.Idea.Ever. I opened the door to the 7-11, and in my ravenous state wanted to eat everything in sight. I settled on a Crystal Light slurpee, and a banana. I had an EAS AdvantEdge somewhere as well.

Back at Michael's house we enjoyed our slurpees, received our stickers, and then set about on the rest of our day. It wasn't even yet noon. Wow!

We are the few, the proud, the Loopies.

Facebook album here.
Flickr (originals) here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tahoe 20 miler 9/26/10

Michael was right. "The night before the night before a race is when you get your best sleep." Today I was running the Tahoe 20. A Twenty mile race along highway 28, from Homewood CA to Pope Beach, up at lake Tahoe. It was 4am when I got up, and I hadn't settled in to sleep until a short time after 11p, even though I'd been trying to get ready to sleep since 8. I had checked my bag and camelbak multiple times; my shoes, socks, shorts, shirt and bib were all in order; breakfast was prepped, and coffee was ready to be brewed. Why did I need to go through it all again?

I have this bad habit of procrastinating sleep if I don't want to deal with the next day. It's as if my thinking is, If I don't go to sleep, then I won't have to wake up, and then I won't have to deal with whatever it is I don't want to deal with. What's crazy is that I shouldn't be nervous. I've trained for this. I've run 20 miles. It's not even a race - It's a "power jog/walk"; I had 7 hours to complete it. I didn't even have to run, if I didn't want to. So why was I nervous?... Because I knew that even though it wasn't an official timed event, I'd be looking at my pace. Even though I'd run 20 miles 2 Saturdays prior, it was still a long way to run. Because I knew that many people were supporting me, and I'd feel like I'd let them down (even though they wouldn't be) if I couldn't do well.

So there it was, 4am on Saturday, and I was able to uncharacteristicaly able to get right out of bed and turn off the alarm, rather than just hit snooze. Coffee was made, gear & breakfast was loaded into the truck, and then a frantic search for my headband ensued. There I go, procrastinating again. After not being able to find it, I jumped into the truck and saw that according to the GPS I would still make my planned arrival time to the bus pickup spot in Tahoe City, @ 6:30a. I'd still have a buffer of 20 minutes or so, since the bus wasn't scheduled to leave until 6:55a. Time to fire up the ipod, and get into driving mode; it's a bit of a haul from Fernley to Tahoe City.

"I can't seem to face up to the facts. I'm tense and nervous and I can't relax.
I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire; Don't touch me I'm a real live wire."

I was a couple of blocks away when I got a phone call from my lovely wife, who'd found my headband. Even though I'm not supersticious in the least, I judged that there was still enough time to turn around and get it; it was worth my while to make up 2 minutes on the highway. I turned around, got my precious headband, and with a kiss from my wife, was sent off to have a great run.

"Whack for the daddy-o, Whack for the daddy-o, There's whiskey in the jar."

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and I got to the "Y" on Tahoe City with plenty of time to spare. It was extremely chilly at that time of the morning, so I donned my sweats, and looked around at the sparsely populated parking lot. There were a few cars with people sitting in them, so I assumed I was in the right place. I closed my eyes and tried to settle my mind, while comtenmplating my sanity. Soon a guy with a clipboard came by, rapped on my window, and asked "20 miler?" I nodded enthusiasticly and he gave me a thumbs up. 10 min to go before the bus was scheduled to arrive. I stepped out into the brisk morning air. Dang that air was biting. Back into the truck I went. A few minutes later, an Amador Stage Lines bus pulled into the parking lot, slowed a bit, turned around, then drove out. Wait, what? I heard the guy who rapped on everybody's window earlier call someone, have an animated conversation about what just happened, and then he came over and told us another bus was on its way; that wasn't our bus. Time to duck back into the warmth of the truck for a few more minutes.

"But i believe the world is burning to the ground; Oh well i guess we're gonna find out - Let's see how far we've come..."

The bus arrives. I turn off the music, grab my gear, and step on board. Yay! Familiar faces! I settle into a seat near the front, bid good morning to a lady who will soon pass me a few miles up the race course, and turn and say hello to my fellow Reno Running and Fitness comrades. The bus ride to the start was punctuated with conversation, and staring out the window as the sun started to rise over the rim of the lake. At times it was almost tortuous, though, because we were ascending and descending the same hills we'd be running on later, and the bus seemed to be driving laboriously slow. Eventually we got to Homewood, the designated starting line. There were a number of runners, but nowhere near the chaos I'd had been anticipating. I think RRF made up a large part of the field. I removed my sweats, stuffed them into my drop-back, put on my camelbak, adjusted my headband, had a pre-race Gu, and was ready to start.

Go! We enthusuiastically started our run. It was still cool, and the road was shaded. A perfect start. The first few miles were great. My running partner Meaghan and I had agreed that this would be a "training run", and we'd try to keep a good, consistent, non-race pace. We would pass, and then be passed by the same runners, and we chatted with them and amongst ourselves. There was a shirtless guy that always seemed to be ahead of us; he had strong, tree trunk legs, short red running shorts, and a bit of a belly; he was a strong runner, and consinstently ahead of us. Meaghan remarked "I know this is a training run, but that guy with the red shorts is in my sights." I agreed, and stated that we'd take him on the hills, even if we're power walking them. What we'd be saving in energy now, we'd expend at the latter stage of the run. Sure enough, we passed him on the first big hill we encountered.

A couple of miles further in, our path veered off of the road and into the trees. someone in our little group remarked something about "watch out for bears!" The rest of the group started to power up the incline, leaving Meaghan and I alone amongst the trees. We chatted a little. Then we became aware of a sound behind us.


It was "red shorts" catching up on us. A quick glance behind me confirmed my suspicion. I turned up our pace a bit, remarked that "we need to outrun the bear!" and we put some distance between us.


As the miles went on, I absorbed myself with the surroundings, and had one of those "Yeah, this is just what I'm supposed to be doing right now..." moments. Not quite Zen, not quite Runner's high, but a good feeling about running, and this run in particular - knowing that it's going to be hard, there's some rough stuff ahead, but I felt good and I knew I'd finish. Conversation was brief - the altitude was making a noticeable difference. I had imagined my pace somewhere around 11 min/mile; at least that's what it felt like, but Meaghan's Garmin showed us at a steady 12:30, give or take. I wasn't overly concerned though; I wasn't too fixated on time for this run anyway. I told Meaghan we had 7 hours to finish. But we both knew that was only partially true - we did want to meet a goal of around 4 hours. That meant 12 min/mile.

We approached a particularly steep incline nicknamed "Hell Hill". It was a gain of about 500' vertical feet over 2 miles. Every 100 VF or so there was another sign announcing our progress - I remember 6600' was "Purgatory". The top of the ascent was referred to as "Heaven". Needless to say, we power walked up most of this hill in what I'd deemed "Ultra mode"; referring to the UltraRunner strategy of walking the hills and running the descents. After "Hell Hill", we approached Emerald Bay, which was a welcome site. It was a welcome site, because in my head I'd deemed vikingsholm as my "halfway" point, even though it was further than that, course-wise. But to me, it made sense, because near the top of that last big ascent, there were striking views, and the start of the 10k, which meant only 6.2 miles to go; most of that downhill.

Going around Emerald Bay was spectacular, as expected. What was unexpected was how hard of a descent it was - 6800' to 6300' in about 3 miles, with several switchbacks. My quads were hurting near the end. At around mile 16 or 17, the aid stations were getting really cool - lots of kids, costumes, and humor - at one station these kids in costume were offering us "Water of the Gods", which I gratefully accepted and drank. The enthusiasm at all the aid stations was great - but these last few were particularly welcome. We were getting tired, my right knee was killing me, and Meaghan was having difficulties as well. We walked a lot, but ran every time we saw another course photographer. We sped back up at the last 3/4 mile or so, but stopped for a few moments to say hello to friends & their new baby, and Meaghan's husband too. As we approached the finish, the cheers of the crowd, and the shouts from several other Reno Running and Fitness members kept us going, and we ran in for a strong finish. The run was over, we'd finished smiling, and we were just slightly over our goal of 4 hours - finishing at 4:10:48. We finished 18 & 19 out of a field of 56. I am quite pleased with that.

Post run, our friend & coach Michael bought us each a beer - Coors Ultra to be exact. It was cold & delicious. We talked with a few other runners, and cheered some more in, and then i wandered off to find my drop bag, which had my post race gear.

I also found "the bear", whose real name was Marty. He was actually only 3 minutes behind us at the end - he was finisher #20! We chatted for a few minutes, and I found out he'd come all the way from Alabama along with his wife to run the Tahoe 20, and it had been the furthest distance he'd run since the 80's. They were great people.

I helped myself to a banana, and some hot dogs, found a nice spot on the beach, and proceeded to go jump in the lake, to cool of my legs. It was the best swim I'd had in a long time. Not too much longer after that, I met up with my Wife & daughter who'd travelled from another earlier event in Reno. They gave me hugs, and told me how proud they were of me... I thanked them for their patience at my running indulgence. We ate, I swam some more, we watched some award presentations, and then headed home.

I couldn't have asked for a better day.

Pics from the run can be found here(facebook); the originals here(flickr).