Monday, December 19, 2011

Closing the Year - High Desert 50K

I was already up at 4AM race day trying to keep myself busy for the High Desert Ultra 50K in Ridgecrest. The temperature at Mojave Desert was extremely cold at 30 degrees but this was expected especially when it’s this close to winter. What concerns me more was the high wind that swept through the Southland a few days ago. I left home Saturday afternoon for this race and the severe weather alert was still up. This morning, however, the wind was relatively calm. I hope it stays this way for the rest of the day because the open desert is not the best place to be in the middle of a windstorm.

Typical course terrain (photo by Rowell Ramos)
Ridgecrest is about 3 hours drive from Los Angeles. It is not that far but far enough to drive for a race that the best option is to stay overnight. I was invited to this event by a co-worker. Joel did it last year but this will be my first. I did my research and found out that this race has been around for many years. Despite it’s out-of-nowhere location in the middle of the desert, runners from all over the country go here to compete each year.

One thing I like about out-of town races is the chance to travel and explore places I’ve never been to. Desert to me is the hot and desolate place we pass-by when going to Las Vegas during summer. Doing this race however has given me a new perspective and appreciation of the place. The unobstructed view of the desert valleys and barren mountains lined with seemingly endless trails were simply amazing. I will definitely go back to this place again.

We arrived at Ridgecrest Saturday evening and went directly to the local church for the pre-registration. Like any ultra event, this was low-key but what it lacks in flare, it makes up for the feeling of belongingness and a sense of community. I saw many familiar faces and met new ones as well. 

Richard, who has been consistently placing in a lot of local races in our area was there together with the course record holder, Roberto Leonardo. These two eventually will placed 1st and 2nd over-all. There was also Rowell, who opted to do the one-hour early start at 6AM so he can return home early. Ultra runners are generally friendly and down to earth people - one will never feel lost among their company. 

We carpool to this event and shared the cost of the hotel. With the few bucks I saved, I treated myself to a hooded sweatshirt and bought a few one-dollar worth of raffle tickets for the local charities. The carbo-load dinner also costs only $8.00.

50K Elevation Profile (grabbed from the event website)

At our table, we chatted with the race director of the Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run, John Bozung, who invited us to attend his race in Utah. This is something I might consider since I haven’t done any out-of-state ultra event. We stayed for a couple of hours before we head back to our hotel to close the day.

Race day. There's no denying to the popularity of this event. Close to about 300 runners for the 30K and 50K at the start line. The race also hosts to a number of highly recognized events such as the USATF So Cal 50K trail championships, so I expect this to be a pretty deep field.

I put on my arm warmers and gloves, the temp was still at low 30s. This will be my coldest race to date. I decided against wearing a shell or a light jacket because the race has no option for a drop-off bag.

Despite the absence of huge cheering crowds, the race took off with high spirit. Short to say, we were cheering each other since there were only a number of spectators around, mostly organizers. True, in ultra races, there are usually more runners than spectators (haha).

As we enter the trailhead, I saw Jack Chen who was alternating between running and walking. I decided to stick with him even for a brief while because he’s always friendly and chatty. I met him while spectating/running the last few miles of this year’s AC100 as they descend the Brown Mountain. He reminded me that pushing to gain a few minutes advance in the beginning could cost you huge time deficit later in the race. He took off ahead of me after a few miles, I tried to target his shirt but I lost sight of him eventually. His advice however became my mantra throughout the race.

The ground is mostly sandy but what makes it challenging were the series of small motorbike jumps along the course (no kidding!). The gaps are about three to four steps in distance. Joel warned me of this but I played too much with it enjoying the roll-down-propel-up motion that my left hip started to hurt later in the race.

We were chatting a lot I didn’t notice the distance we covered until we arrive at the first aid-station, Hub Cap at 5.5 mile. The sun was already up around this time. I rolled down my arm warmers, enjoyed the scenery and just bask in the glory of the sun. I could not imagine myself anywhere else.

I pick-up the pace as we go downhill for one mile and onto a gradual uphill until the next aid station at Haystack Turn. Ahead was the first of the three uphill. My plan was to average a pace of 14 min/mi uphill, basically run-walk, and speed-up going down hill.

The excitement began at the Saddle turn-off after about mile 11. I rolled down the hill and started to play catch-up with other runners. But I wasn't alone. There were about six of us who were pushing it and none wanted to give up position. When we finally reached the valley at the highway crossing, we all stopped at the aid station, made quick introduction, and thank each other for the group effort made.

Climbing up the second hill, I felt a slight discomfort on my left hip. Still, I paced myself evenly until the Wagon Wheel station at mile 17. It was when the course became relatively flat that my hip really started to hurt. This time around, it was a struggle to run the motorbike jumps so I decided to avoid it. If I had fun with it earlier, I now despised it. I walked a good portion of this course and stopped a lot to stretch. The pain eventually subsided as the course transitioned to a gradual uphill. I hardly even noticed it going to the last and highest peak of the course (3699 feet).

It was all downhill afterwards. I am usually more concentrated towards the end of a race. Sheer exhaustion sometimes bring out your basic instincts. You began to focus on what's important when there's little left on the tank.

With 6 more miles to go, I checked the time and I was right on target, maybe better. I was exhausted but I felt strong. I didn’t have a problem cranking up the speed again. I eventually slowed down at the sight of the college thinking I was close to the finish. The route however didn’t go straight but weaves around the college so it took me probably another half an hour to finish. I crossed the finish line at 5:32:21. See complete race result.

Overall, I was satisfied with my result. Although, I must admit I was a little bit anxious going into this race. Lately, the monotony of training had me a little bit drained, mentally and physically.

Doing this race however, I felt more relaxed. In fact, this probably was the most comfortable I've ever been in any race. No pressure to compete, no worry about the time. I simply just ran.

It dawn on me that I’ve done my part. This was my third 50K race this year, I trained throughout the summer heat, and I’ve been knocking some of my personal best lately. Best of all, I survived the year with no serious injuries that require long term recovery. With this in mind, although I still have a long way to go, I felt that I’ve finally measured up myself to this distance. Maybe it’s time to work on another challenge. A different trail route maybe, in a totally different place, or maybe a new distance. Hmmm… something to think about, my stinky feet are now excited for the prospect of next year.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

BEARS at the National Championships!

Seven kids from the North Valley Golden Bears (NVBG) Cross-Country team qualified to the Nationals and will be going to Florida for the AAU Junior Olympics Cross Country National Championship on December 3, 2011.

We are doing a raffle ticket / fund raising event to help the expenses of our Florida delegation. All funds raised will go directly to NVBG delegation to Florida AAU.

Ticket cost is $5 each or $20 for five tickets for a chance to win an Ipod nano. Raffle will be drawn on November 26, 2011 4PM to 6PM at El Cariso Park in Sylmar, CA. You do not have to be present to win.

For details or to buy tickets, contact

Here are the stats* of the NVBG Florida delegation:

Best Time
Date  /  Location
Julietta Huerta
Gremlin Girls 5-8 yr old
2K  09:30.47
10/22 Central Park, Sta Clarita
Dolly Baltazar
Bantam Girls 9-10 yr old
3K  13:10.97
10/22 Central Park, Sta Clarita
Adriana Beltran
Bantam Girls 9-10 yr old
3K  13:17.97
09/24 Corriganville, Simi Valley
Mariah Moro
Midget Girls 11-12 yr old
3K  11:31.88
10/22 Central Park, Sta Clarita
Joshua Espinoza
Midget Boys 11-12 yr old
3K  13:03.12
10/22 Central Park, Sta Clarita
Mayra Huerta
Youth Girls 13-14 yr old
4K  17:09.59
09/10 O’Melveny, Granada Hills
James Hernandez
Youth Boys 13-14 yr old
4K  16:08.44
10/22 Central Park, Sta Clarita

*data from

Friday, November 4, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

No more excuses

Sorry blogger if we haven’t talked lately, uhm, OK, it’s been three months but believe me when I say that there are lots of stories I wanted to share but like always, time is the enemy. Between family, kids, work, past summer activities, and training, it’s been difficult to find time to spend with you especially now that the kids are back to school.

I know you would understand, you always did, and come to think of it the less time we spend together, the more time I get to do things that I am passionate about – those stories you like to hear. Not that I totally abandoned blogging, in fact, I’ve been reading many of my favorites, if only to amuse and inspire myself. It’s good to know by reading other people’s blog that I am not alone in this struggle to find a better meaning of life.

So, though we may have missed each other on many occasions, rest assured that I was busy - working hard to simplify my life, celebrating life’s every waking moment, advocating on issues close to my heart, and, of course, ever continuing to explore what nature has to offer by running the trails.

Okay, enough with the excuses, I’ve been bad and I owe one big apology to you, blogger, and more so, to myself for always falling short on projects I started. And of course, to the very few that valiantly subscribed to my blog, who I’m sure were mostly my relatives, ha, ha. Truth is, I’ve been sick the past week and the running downtime has opened free time to pick-up on old projects I’ve neglected like spring cleaning, organizing the cluttered garage, and, uhm, blogging ;)

I did a write-up on a recent ultra race that I did but didn’t finish it. When I opened the file, I didn’t realize a month has already passed since I started it. I’m not so sure now if I should post it since its too old a story. Talk about stale news - that is so "me". 

To recap some events that transpired since my last post - summer was busy compared to the previous years. Kids went to swimming class and cross-country. My little Gabu is now at the so-called “terrible two” stage where curiosity always gets the better of her. I trained throughout the season for an ultra trail event that was held August in a horrible triple digit temp. Lean, my eldest, did his first official short distance race, Filipinotown 5K, we both did it not just for the event but also in some way to connect with our roots and to represent - proud Pinoy! 

Lazy summer day
I also got hooked to dailymile where I spend more time than any other Internet sites lately. We had small trips in between but mainly stayed local except for a couple of times - in San Francisco where I introduced the kids to see the mural of Lean Alejandro; and to Vegas where we met some HS friends.

Summer is now gone and the kids are back to school. My eldest has transitioned to middle school, a big adjustment on a lot of things mainly on schoolwork approach and methodology. We’re still in the process of adjustment. As for me, I haven’t adjusted yet to the routine of dropping off the kids to two different schools every morning. No matter how early we head out the door, I always arrive late at work.

As a trail runner, I will miss summer for its long daylight hours. I enjoyed the many solo trail runs I did after work that took me sometimes as far as 18 mi and as late as 9 PM. With the change of season, it’s not safe anymore to run trails this late since it gets dark early past 6PM. So, I guess I’ll be home more early now. I'm running low on excuses now not to see you blogger but I’m getting the hang of it, hopefully this lasts long-er. I'll see you soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Literally that’s the word – barely. With only a few seconds left, I barely made it under 4 hours last Sunday at the Pasadena Marathon, my official time 3:59:01s. I could not tell you how happy I was as I crossed the finish line. The thing is, I have given up on the attempt to break 4 hours long time ago. Instead of doing time, I now focus my energy in enjoying the experience of each race. So, it feels good to know when you bagged a better race time along the way.

Carlos Larios leading the pack
I haven't blog for quite a while so let me update first on some affairs that have transpired the past weeks. I have fully recovered from the foot injury and I’m now back to my normal running routine. I’ve been logging miles in the trails as usual and since there’s more daylight this time of the year, I’m now able to do more trails after work. In fact last week, we worked the trails until past 8 PM, there was still daylight but towards the end of our run we were like chasing the last trail of the sun as it slowly disappear behind the mountain. Oh, the beauty of spring!

I also did the Verdugo Mountains 10K in Glendale last week of April. This inaugural trail race not only drew a big crowd of about 500 runners and hikers alike but it also attracted local star athletes that made the event pretty exciting with the winner pulling only a 4 second lead, amazing! It was Daniel Geiman of LA, who won the first place at 00:43:27s, followed by last year’s winner of Pasadena Marathon, Mike Davies at 00:43:31s. I saw the two of them as they descend the trail (I was still struggling to go up the turn around), their downward momentum was so fast that everybody either stopped or slowed down to give them enough elbow room to battle it out downhill to the finish. 

It may be too early to say but it can’t be deny that trail running is now slowly gaining popularity. Especially with the introduction of shorter race distances, and not necessarily ultra races which for years have dominated trail running, we could be seeing a lot more trail races and an influx of runners doing trails in the future. Even Runners World magazine recently released a special issue exclusively on trail running. Whatever impact this will do to the trail running community and to our beloved parks, only time will tell. 

Now going back to the Pasadena Marathon. I like that the race starts at 6:30 AM but like last year, although it was held in different month, it rained at the beginning of the course. I ran with three other Wild Mountain Runner (WMR), Betty, Abel and Harry, but many other gatos were there providing different kind of support along the course. 

I wanted to give a shout out to Jose and Yani for organizing our transportation. Although we had a hard time getting through the street closure we managed to get there with a few minutes left. The runners were already lined up and the divider closed when we got there so we jumped to the first opening we saw which was the start line, yikes! I know I don't belong in this elite group but before I could move back to my pace group, the race ceremony started, so I just stood there and pretended I was a 7:30 runner (ha,ha). 

Wild Mountain Runner - SF Valley
The rain wasn't as bad as last year and it only lasted for 30 minutes so we were all dry halfway through the race. Approximately at mile 18, I saw one member of our running group, Felipe, who wasn't supposed to be in the race, running side-by-side with Abel and I thought was he trying to bandit the race. Then I realized that he was pacing Abel in the most difficult portion of the course. Seeing this made me regret turning down Yani's offer to pace me. I really have no experience on this type of support and when Yani mentioned it I thought he's just going to position himself somewhere along the course and take pictures of me so I told him don't bother. Silly me. 

In the end it was a very good race for all of us. Betty, Abel and Harry were able to make their Boston qualifying time (BQ) with Betty placing 1st and Abel 2nd on their respective age division. We capped the day with a post race celebration at my place with a little barbeque and some well deserved drinks. Below are the top finishers of the race, click on the link for the complete list: Pasadena Marathon Race Results. Congrats to Richard for placing 2nd overall!

  Men's Marathon                               Women's Marathon 
          1st Justin Johnson, 2:34:31                 1st Mandy Grantz, 2:45:53
          2nd Ricardo Ramirez, 2:43:13              2nd Bonnie Axman, 3:05:42
          3rd Andrew Chandler, 2:44:09             3rd Natalie Kintz, 3:14:59

            Men's Half Marathon                  Women's Half Marathon             
          1st Mark Batres, 1:12:55                    1st Rosario Castaneda, 1:27:22
          2nd Bartolome Sequin, 1:13:21           2nd Claudia Garcia, 1:28:43
          3rd Ray Castillo, 1:15:34                    3rd Kate Martini-Freeman, 1:29:03

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

recovery and extras

Feels good to be back on the trails after three weeks of no running. The condition of my foot seems to have improved and so far, after logging 25 miles last week I hardly felt any problem on the injured area. I am still taking it easy knowing my body needs time to adjust before I can completely go back to my normal running routine.

The hardest part of the recovery was how to stay put. When you are used to running outdoors one of the worst things that could happen is to be stuck at home for weeks. I tried to distract myself by doing small projects at home but my injury prevents me from doing anything else. To make the best out of the situation, I took this as an opportunity to spend more time with my family. Having this mind set makes the recovery process a lot easier and the wait time more productive. Kids kept me preoccupied the whole time especially my little baby daughter Gabu. We watched countless of Korean sub-titled movies at home thanks to the ingenuity of my brother-in-law in hooking us up with online movies.

All the while I was doing my own rehab: lots of rest, stretch and ice. To help speed up my recovery I've been using the Go Fit Stretch Rope, and I bought a new pair of casual shoes from Crocs. The stretch rope is a simple yet effective tool that enables me to stretch muscle groups I wouldn't normally be able to do on my own, it worked especially well in bringing flexibility to my injured foot. The shoes was a no-brainer, when I found out that Crocs also carry casual dress shoes with the same material as their comfy sandals, I immediately got one. 

Of course I was counting the days when I can go back running. Since my last run was the LA Marathon, I pegged the date in my calendar - first week of April, in between will be three weeks of complete rest. Coincidentally, that same weekend falls exactly on my birthday. And what better way to celebrate than go out on the trails. I'll welcome my one-year-the-wiser (i hope), and my first run coming from an injury to the place where I always find comfort. Couldn't wait, that's all in my mind.

Rock Pool, empty, just us
So finally it came, me and Janet were up early and headed to Malibu Creek on my birthday. I chose this trail because it is not too technical, good for easy and recovery run; and the place also has more foliage this time of the year, just visually captivating. 

The fog just lifted when we got there, it was chilly but the forecast was warm in the afternoon - a perfect day to hit the trails. The plan was to take the M*A*S*H site and Century Lake route but we did a detour because Janet wanted to see the Rock Pool. I was trying to avoid going there because it is   usually packed with college students but surprisingly it was empty when we arrived at the pool. I was tempted to swim but the water was just too cold. We walked most of the time (which was good for me), still, we covered about 8 miles that day and a lot of quality time together. 

Coming home, my 9-year-old daughter gave me a book as a present: Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer, a story about Sir Mallory's climb to the Mount Everest. She said she purchased it with her own money at their school's book fair weeks before (so sweet of her). I've been eyeing a minimalist shoe for quite sometime now but can't seem to save enough but that's exactly what I got from Janet, a pair of Brooks Green Silence (we went back to the store for the proper fit). Top it off with a generous gift from my brother-in-law,  a Garmin GPS watch, the reason for my new widget I put on this blog that tracks my runs and race schedules. I couldn't have asked for more. I am so grateful for being around wonderful and supportive family members.

My goal was to simply get over with this injury and go back to running again. I'm there but not yet completely, but making my first run on the trails, coming back from an injury, on my birthday, surrounded by people close to me, plus all the other extras I got, I felt like the day has given me more than what I want, my spirit completely healed.

On a side note, I was planning to do the 50K Leona Divide on the end of the month but decided against it for obvious reason. I will concentrate instead on the upcoming Pasadena Marathon on the second week of May. If I still cannot make it because of my injury, I'll wait, I know there'll always be races for me to join (see, I'm a year wiser now, ha, ha).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rain... Pain... Go Away...

"Rain... pain... go away!"
I’ve been laying low the past days since I was pretty messed up after the Los Angeles Marathon. The sore in my foot I tried to downplay as manageable caused me a lot of pain during the race. Despite my condition and the heavy rain, I was still able to hit my goal of beating my time last year; and PR at the same time setting my new marathon best at 4:19:45s.

This however did not come without a price. I could hardly walk after race and the pain in my foot got worse the days that followed. I was limping so bad my back was starting to hurt.

So, Thursday I went to see a local podiatrist here in Glendale. Right off the bat he told me I was a runner (the smell was a giveaway). What impressed me the most was to learn he was part of this year's LA Marathon medical team, and has done so on and off every year. As expected, the consultation turned into a lot of discussion about running. In the end, his report wasn't as grim as I though it would be – the x-ray showed no broken bone (whew!), no stress fracture (good!), no significant muscle tear (boo ya!); I was all ears when he said no running until I get better. He prescribed me an anti-inflammatory med to help with the swelling and was instructed to continue to ice the affected area.

The podiatrist told me however that I have a genetic foot disorder called, calcenous varus (nyah!). My heel is narrow compared to normal so most of the impact of running is transferred to the midfoot section, hence the source of my pain. I was advised to get a shoe with a higher heel or to use an orthotic heel insert. This is apparently common to many people but since it is not a disability, the condition is generally insignificant to affect physical activities - that made me feel better. Overall, it's still good news for me. As soon as I stepped out of the doctor's office, I felt I was whole again. My stinky feet were bouncing happy ready to sprint that very moment.

at the LA Expo, trying to look tough before the race
I feel much better now although I haven't run since. I'll allow myself two more weeks of complete rest before starting any serious training. I'm contemplating doing cross-training while recovering - swimming, maybe, we'll see. But definitely, I am not looking forward to seeing the podiatrist anytime soon.

This year’s LA Marathon will be memorable to many due to the unforgiving weather - the rain was relentless from beginning to the end. I know many people got sick as a result. This I have to mention - the sight of hundreds of young students from the SRLA program running the course in this weather were inspiring to witness. Running alongside them made my worries that day seem so small. I also give big credit to the volunteers and families that cheered and supported the runners throughout the course despite the freezing temperature. My only comment was distance of the reunion area that seemed unreasonably far from the finish line. I know this will be addressed next year.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rest day before LA

We wrapped up our training for the LA Marathon with a 9-mile run around Hansen Dam Park last Sunday. I should be glad I made it through the end of training but I came home that day with a sore on the bottom of my right foot. The discomfort is similar to plantar fasciitis when you make your first step in the morning. In my case, what hurts is the muscle along the border of my foot. I could only guess what it is but I might have pushed myself a little too hard Friday during my last scheduled speed workout. I'm icing it on and off, so far I'm able to manage it; hopefully, it gets better before Sunday's race.

It's essential to plan ahead if you are driving to the marathon since the point-to-point nature of the course will start and end at two different locations. You can park at the start line, Dodger Stadium, and double back after the race. I will do the opposite and park my car at the finish line in Santa Monica then commute to the start line. It's a bit stretch but I'd rather do this than worry about the commute after the race which by then I'll probably be wasted. I just have to be on the road as early as 4am to do this.

Here's the image of the medal that runners are talking about. After reading the design context on their blog, sorry to dispute the naysayer but I gave this one a thumbs-up:

Many in our running group are aiming to better their personal record (PR) in this race. I wish I could say the same of me but I will settle on a much simpler goal of beating my last year's time of 5:29:22. A sub 4 hour is still a long way for me, someday maybe; we'll see. You can track the live result of the race at

On a side note, I went to traffic court last week to settle my speeding ticket. The judgment was - not-guilty;) With all the bad news happening around the world I'll take it as a blessing. This one though I will give credit to my baby daughter who tagged along with me because the sitter called in the day before my appearance in court. OK, I won't deny her prescence might have influenced the judge's decision but, hey, that wasn't my intention.

With just a few days left before the race there's nothing to do but rest. For me, that means cleaning the garage, car wash, yard work, laundry, play with kids and, uhm, probably malling with my wife since it's her weekend off. Rest time for distance runners simply means time-off from running - no more, no less. We are not special people. Work, and chores at home are still on schedule, and yes, even at rest day before the LA Marathon, there's no break for me and my stinky feet.

Monday, February 21, 2011

My First 50K Ultra

The first thing I did when I woke up Monday morning was count my toes. After the brutal race I did the day before, I was relieved to find myself still in one piece, nothing missing – toes complete. It was my first ultra after all – a 50K trail race, distance I never imagine I could finish.

Described in their website as one of the most grueling race in Southern California, the 3rd annual Bandit Trail run was held last Sunday, February 22nd in Simi Valley. The course wound through the steep terrains of the Santa Susana Mountains where 50K runners will climb the 2700 feet elevation three separate times, a backbreaking task for anyone, especially for me - a first timer in this sport of ultra running.

The idea of doing an ultra occurred to me last year when I helped crew a member of our running group at the AC100. Since then, the thought of running beyond the marathon distance intrigued me. I wanted to try an ultra of my own, test myself if I could go the distance beyond 26.2 miles. I figured out that 50K (or 31 mi) was a perfect rookie distance to begin with. Besides, I was training consistently for different marathon races year-round; all I need to do was tweak my training a little bit to accommodate the 50K distance.

All were going smooth until I caught an infection three weeks before the race. A bit concerned that I might not make it, I decided to concentrate on getting well and taper my training early than planned. It became more challenging as the race day near because the rain hasn’t stopped for days, and a 3.2 magnitude earthquake hit Simi Valley Saturday afternoon, one day before the race.

A good number of people still showed up for the race. I guess no threat of rain, snow, or landslide could stop them from beating this course (crazy ultras!). Temperature was at low 40’s so I put on an extra layer and my gloves to keep me warm, I anticipated the weather to play a big factor in this race. 

There were about 50 of us huddled at the start line. I could immediately tell that most of them are seasoned runners for this type of race. It's still winter and yet you cannot mistake that their sunburned faces were the result of long hours spent on running outdoors. For a moment I felt insecure – did I train hard enough, run long enough, dang, I’ll probably be the last person to finish the race. Took a deep breath and reminded myself that I am here not to compete but to experience it. Since this is my first ultra, my goal was simply to enjoy the race and finish it… and take whatever the day gives.

As the race started, the surge of adrenaline was overwhelming. I was trying to control myself from going too fast to avoid bonking early in the race. I stayed at the back of the pack to help maintain a steady pace and to conserve energy. Around the 2nd mile, I could see from a distance some runners down on all fours climbing up a very steep and rocky trail. This I think is the most technical and dangerous portion of the course - one slip and you’re out.

What follows next is a gradual ascent to the first summit, Rocky Peak, which also provided runners a spectacular view of the valley and the surrounding communities. The course then goes on a downhill slope past mile 7 at the Chumash Trail junction. One definite incentive of running uphill is downhill, and this I enjoyed very much. Although the narrow trails here are strewn with roots, boulders and splintered rocks, the ground held and felt solid in each step. So, I loosen up and rolled down the trail without stopping, never mind the cliff just a few inches to my right, I let gravity picked up my pace.

I made mental notes of the terrains from here on because mile 16 will later connect back here to start the second loop of the race.

Many portion of trails were still muddy because of the previous days rain. My shoes by this time were 2 inch thicker and 5 pounds heavier. I veered on the grassy side if I can, and run right through the mud if there’s no other way. The course now briefly cut through a residential community at Mile 10, location of the Marr Aid Station where the drop bags are held. After refilling my water supply, I immediately went back running in an attempt to advance my time and to avoid lagging behind.

The next part of the course (Las Llajas Canyon) is a long gradual ascent to the second peak. I could see the faces of other runners by this time because the trail has become wider and the pace more relaxed. I caught up with the only two people I knew, but as soon as they saw me coming, they surged forward and left me behind. Geez, running friends in the literal sense.

Half-way up, as the trail started to get steeper, I began to gas out. I couldn't catch my breath, so I shifted from run-walk to power walking to “simply just” walking ;). This 3 mile stretch to reach the summit is nearly impossible to walk much less run without stopping. And that’s just what I did, sort of in a way - I walked a little bit and stopped a lot. There were times when I felt like my lungs were ready to explode, and yes, in those moments I could picture everyone’s faces telling me how stubborn I am for doing this.

After reaching the second peak, the course connected back to the Chumash Trail junction for the start of the second loop. I ran the next three miles without stopping until I reach the Marr Aid station where I took a breather and decided to rest. It's been more than 4 hours since the race began, and I barely covered half of the course. I haven’t felt this tired and exhausted from running before. I ate a bit, replenished my gels and forced myself back to the trail. I walked the ascent of Las Llajas Canyon like a zombie and runners were just passing me one by one.

As I reached the last and final summit, I caught my second wind and hell it felt good! I found myself back to a comfortable running pace, so, I dug deep and hit the trail like I never did before. I ran downhill with intensity of a desperate man being chased by a mountain lion, I’m a Gato, remember – a Wild Mountain Runner (ha, ha).

My last push towards the end was pure adrenaline. About a mile or so to the finish line, I felt a vibration at the back of my legs, my calves were starting to cramp. I knew this would result to injury if I didn’t slow down. The pain eventually dissipated when I saw my 10-year-old son among the cheering crowd urging me on. My wife, Janet, was there too snapping pictures of me. I made it finally to the end and crossed the finish line at 6 hours 44 min and 33 sec. See Race Result.

The medal was small in size compared to the ones I collected over the few years since I started running. I certainly didn’t ran an ideal time for my first ultra. Still, without a question, Bandit Trail run was my best race ever. The medal, the most meaningful award I got so far.

For a local race, Bandit Trail run is a very well organized event. The course and the trails were well thought of by the organizers. The aid stations were fully stocked from food, gels, electrolyte tablets, water and power drinks. The volunteers were well oriented on the needs of long distance runners. I wouldn't be surprised if this event will catapult to a major ultra destination event in the west coast the coming years. Thanks, guys!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Trails for LA Marathon!


One would think that the best way to prepare for a race is to simulate the actual race course. If the race is on city streets that are mostly flat with few hills, then you train on city streets that have more or less the same course description.

Last month, one of the head honcos of our running group, Freddie Perez, showed me the group’s training plan for this year’s LA Marathon. It is a 10-week training program handwritten on a piece of paper that shows the location and distance of our weekend long runs.

What caught my attention were the training locations: Condor Peak, Mysterious Mountains, Chantry Flats and Green Valley. This looks more like a series of weekend outdoor expedition than a marathon-training program for one of the most urban places of the world. Instead of simulating the city streets of Los Angeles, the plan was to hit the backcountry, canyons, fire roads, and go farther up in the mountains. The only allusion to “city” location is the Hollywood Sign at the Griffith Park, which by the way is also located on a steep hill.

Freddie told me that while it is not wrong to simulate the “physical” race course, the key really is to simulate the marathon distance and marathon pace. The same with any other training program, we slowly increase our mileage and taper as the race near. Long runs on ¼ reserve effort; and speed work on weekdays. The location is the only difference – trails. In fact, done correctly, this provide significant advantage in road racing because your stride becomes more efficient as your body is forced to adjust to the constantly changing course of the trail. Come marathon day, paved road will not be as difficult anymore. Amen!

A recent convert to trail running, I am willing to give it a try. I’ve come to appreciate trail running for the simple joy of being outdoors, and I credit it for PR's I did in recent races ;) On a personal level, I have a score to settle - my last year's 2010 LA Marathon was one of my worst marathon time, it wouldn't hurt if this training plan would help me even the score. I took the paper from Freddie and told him, "I'll type it and distribute it to the group." Bring it on, Gatos!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

One step at a time...

New year comes with many resolutions, one of mine is to join the world of blogging. I've been fascinated by it for a long time, I am a big reader of blogs but never really had one. I attempted it last year but never made past the drawing board. Spent too much time on layout and settings 'till I got tired even before I made any post. This time around I'll make it simple as I can and do things ... one step at a time.

My only expectation is to enjoy the process and hopefully along the way, like any of my endeavors, it'll help me open more doors to discover and celebrate life. Here goes...