Kingsnake Predation

August 28, 2014

Posted on EdHat

Two weeks ago someone running Nine Trails found a king snake eating a rattler on the route.

Today, as I was running up Jesusita I passed Heidi and Brett and others coming down. They told me to watch for a King Snake eating a lizard further up the trail.

Taken by Heidi Heitkamp at ~5:30AM.

Taken by Heidi Heitkamp at ~5:30AM.

Sure enough, right before the trail gets really steep, right in the middle of the trail was a small king snake eating a western fence lizard. But I didn’t have a camera. I debated turning around to get a camera, but instead kept going — there was a flower I wanted to see further up.

I found my flower and turned back, but I ran a little faster than I usually do. When I got back to the steep spot the snake was exactly where I’d seen it before and seemed to have made no progress on eating the lizard. It appeared stuck on the front legs.

I wondered if the snake could actually eat it? The lizard appeared bigger around than the snake, and the legs were even bigger…

Predation events are rare…

Anyway it seemed that the snake wasn’t going anywhere and I figured I might actually have a chance to get back home; grab camera; return. So I sped up. It took me 20 minutes to get back to the bike, 13 minutes to get home (downhill), 3 minutes to get the camera, 15 minutes to get back to the trailhead (uphill), 20 minutes to get back to the snake.

On the way down I passed a woman taking her dogs up the trail. Perhaps the dogs would disturb it.

On the way up it was starting to get hot. Perhaps the snake’s metabolism would speed up and it would finish and move away.

And when I got there it was gone.

I swore.

That was a long way to go for nothing.

Then I searched more carefully.

The snake had moved. It was not gone, but it was no longer in the middle of the trail, being instead some distance off to the side. Whew.

KingsnakePredation1

KingsnakePredationCloseup

KingsnakePredationScale
It’s not a large snake…

KingsnakePredationSide


The only other time I can remember running back so far to get a camera was one day when I stumbled on two snails mating in Ranomafana (Madagascar). The snails there are enormous, about 3 inches long, but like all snails they are slow. I figured I’d have time to run back and return before they were done (In fact they seemed to spend more than 8 hours together — I kept checking them throughout the day.)

Helicophanta ibaraoensis mating Jan 1999

Helicophanta ibaraoensis mating Jan 1999

Rounding errors in Running Foods

August 26, 2014

Rusty gave me a enormous bag of cliff blocks the other day, so I’ve been eating those on long trail runs rather than GU gels as I usually do. I think it takes me longer to get nauseous when eating these blocks than when eating gels. I also seem to notice that I am hungrier when eating the blocks than when eating gels. This might be part of not being nauseous (if I’m nauseous then I don’t notice hunger, and if I’m not then I do; or maybe I don’t feel nauseous so I run harder and get hungrier?). Or maybe the blocks and the gels have a different number of Calories?

So I came home and checked. The blocks are said to have 100 Calories/serving of 3 blocks, and the GU gels claim 100 Calories/serving of one packet. That was what I thought. So I should be consuming at the same rate…

But then I looked a little closer. A “Mountain Berry Cliff Block” is said to have: No Fat, No Protein and 24g Carbs. A “Salted Watermelon GU gel” is said to have: No Fat, No Protein and 22g Carbs. Now Carbohydrates burn at at rate of about 3.8 Calories/gram.
3.81*24=91.5 Calories/3block serving
3.81*22=83.8 Calories/gel serving
So you’d think I’d get more hungry from eating GU than blocks? But I don’t…

Ah! Not all GU flavors are the same. “Chocolate Outrage GU” has 15Cal from Fat, No Protein and 21g Carb=80Cal. So that one has 95 Calories/serving.

Flavor Cal Fat Cal Carbs Tot Cal Claimed
Salted Watermelon GU 0 84 84 100
Chocolate Outrage GU 15 80 95 100
Salted Caramel GU 0 84 84 100
Strawberry Banana GU 0 95 95 100
Peanut Butter GU 15 76 91 100
Mountain Berry Cliff 0 92 92 100
Chocolate Cherry Cliff 0 88 88 100
Citrus Cliff 0 92 92 100
Margarita Cliff 0 92 92 100
Mountain Huckle Hammer Gel 0 84 84 90
Orange Hammer Gel 0 80 80 90
Raspberry Gel 0 80 80 90
Apple-Cinanamon Hammer Gel 0 88 88 90

Those were all the flavors I had on hand to test. And, of course, I have no idea how accurate the carbohydrate/fat readings are. Could there be something else in these concoctions which would increase the Calorie content? (Alcohol is the only other thing I know of that can be metabolized but there are probably others, and I guess it doesn’t need to be metabolizeable to count toward the Calorie content).

Still it does seem to me that there is likely to be significant error in the Calorie labeling of these products.


Different carbohydrates have slightly different heats of combustion in a bomb calorimeter.

Glucose 3.81 Cal/gram
Fructose 3.79 Cal/gram
Sucrose 3.94 Cal/gram

However maltodextrin (the primary component of GU, and a component in cliff blocks) is a variable length polysaccharide, so heat of combustion is going to be variable too. At any rate I can’t find any data for it. I used 3.81 as a factor in my calculations above (but even had I used 3.94 none of the totals would reach 100 Calories).

Now within the body the energy currency is glucose so all carbohydrates are converted to glucose before being used. Within the cell the energy currency is ATP and one mole of glucose is converted into theoretically 38 (but in the real world about 30~32) ATP molecules. In the theoretical case only about 50% of the glucose energy is captured in ATP (in the real world it’s even less).

To use a molecule of fructose it must first be converted to glucose which takes up 2ATP molecules, so fructose is less efficient.

To use a molecule of sucrose it must first be broken into a glucose and a fructose (the energy released in this break down is too small to make an ATP molecule — I think). Then the two simple sugars would be oxidized as above. So the efficiency here is again slightly less than 50%.

Nine Trails by Night

August 16, 2014

Nine Trails started out as Patsy Dorsey’s training route for long ultras. Then she turned it into a race, and that first race was run in 1991, the year before I moved to town. So it’s been in the background of my mind since I moved here. But I’ve never run it. At first I didn’t race, but Nine Trails has always been the week-end after Thanksgiving — and I went back East for Thanksgiving. One year I persuaded my parents to allow me to skip the family party so I could do the race — but I got injured and went back to them anyway.

Nine Trails starts at the flagpole of Cater Water treatment plant, goes up San Roque road for about 100ft and then heads off onto Jesusita trail, up to Inspiration and down to Tunnel trail. Up Tunnel trail to the Rattlesnake connector, and down that to the Rattlesnake meadow. Up Rattlesnake trail to Gibraltar Rd. and down that to the west fork of Cold Spring. Down the west fork to the east fork, and up that to the Hot Springs connector. Out the connector, past the hot springs and the old hotel site to the Edison catway that leads to San Ysidro trail. Then up The Wall, a very steep catway, and down Buena Vista connector to Buena Vista trail. Up the trail to the Romero catway, out that to the Romero connector, down that to Romero trail, and finally down the trail to the trailhead. At which point we turn round and run the whole thing back to the start. About 35 miles total they say…

Nine Trails Map

In 1994 the west fork of Cold Spring was washed out by the flood and the race was not held until 1997 when west fork trail was finally rebuilt. In 2008 the Tea Fire happened two weeks before the race (and made the trails unusable) and in a mad scramble Luis moved it to Ojai at the last minute. In 2009 the Jesusita Fire burned most of the rest of the trails and Luis gave up and created Red Rock to replace Nine Trails. In 2012 and 2013 he has organized fun runs along the course in August, and this year he announced he was going to put on the race again — but in August.

Now I think running on our trails in August is too hot. So when he made his announcement I suggested a night run instead. Of course by the time I learned about the race it was far too late for Luis to change his plans. But it occurred to me that there was no reason I couldn’t do the run on my own. At night. I am hoping to do a night race next May, so it would be good training. I wouldn’t need much support, just a couple of water bottles hidden in the bushes.

I tried to persuade others to join me, but no one seemed to want to. Some wanted to race, others were worried about running in the dark (and most, of course, had no interest in Nine Trails in the first place). Ah well.

When August finally arrived it turned out to be relatively cool with nice early morning fogs. I was tempted to run the race after all. Of course the fog doesn’t reach as high as the trails, and if it’s the high 70s in town it’s probably high 80s on the trails. And that would be hotter than I’d like (even though not as hot as I feared).

The moon would rise at 11:10pm on the night before the race, and it would be waning gibbous so there would be some light out there once it got above the mountains. I decided to start at midnight. Civil twilight starts at 5:54am. So I need to be prepared for ~6 hours of darkness.

Thursday night (30 hours before my start time) I placed a gallon jug of water at the hairpin on Gibraltar, and another at the Romero turnaround (hidden in the bushes, of course).

That night I had a strange dream. I was trying to drive my parents to the Earthling bookstore (long closed now) through a snow storm (never happens in SB) and somehow I got lost when crossing the river (there isn’t one in SB). I ended up wandering in a part of the city I’d never seen before. I hoped that didn’t mean I’d get lost on the trails. I used to do them in the dark when I hiked with the Sierra Club. This would just be longer… and later… and just me.

Dangers:

  • Getting Lost — not unlikely, but I’d probably realize it fairly quickly and find myself again
  • Falling — possible. At worst I’d have a broken leg and be unable to run, but of course a whole bunch of people would be running those same trails in a few hours. This would be the best time to do that.
  • Mountain Lion — Highly unlikely, I’m not going to worry about it.

    (However someone else saw a lion at Romero just a few hours before I ran)

I had no idea how long it would take me. I had run from Romero to Cater in ~3:25 so I figured that if I were racing in the daylight then a 7 hour run was conceivable but highly unlikely, while shooting for 7:30 would perhaps be reasonable. But by night? with no one to run against? Getting lost? Fumbling for waterbottles in the dark? I’d be lucky to break 8 hours.

Well I’d see…

I tried to sleep from 2pm until 10. Not very successfully, but I did rest even if I didn’t sleep much.

It was about 60°F when I set off from home at ~11:30pm. I had a couple of long sleeve shirts with me in case it got chilly and a cap in case it got sunny in the morning.


In the dead vast and middle of the night,

Am thus encount’red. A figure like myself

Cloth’d at all points exactly, cap-a-pie,

Appears before you, and with solemn run

Goes fast and stately by.

Cater flagpole, about midnight. (I thought flags came down at sunset?)

Cater flagpole, about midnight. (I thought flags came down at sunset?)

I got to the trailhead a little before midnight, but I spent some time frumphering around with my gear and locking the bike so I actually started at 12:04am. And I had to trot down the tenth of a mile to the flagpole. In the real race this time on the road means the fast people get to pull ahead of the slower ones so they don’t have to pass on the single-track. But it’s part of the course even if I have no one to pass (or be passed by).

So many people had told me that they were worried about my running in the dark that I was actually starting to worry myself — not about anything particular, but more that I was overlooking something.

But when I started it just felt natural and all my worries vanished. The only real concern I had had was that my light would not be bright enough and I’d slip and fall. But my light was actually quite bright (125 lumens) and I did not feel that my foot placement was a problem (it wasn’t quite so bright when looking ahead and I did once charge off on a side-trail when the main trail bent sharply, but I quickly realized something was wrong and backtracked 10ft).

The insects were singing nicely with their legs (or wings, or whatever) and I was surrounded with their quiet chirping (until it started to get light).

My light was quite bright, right in front of my feet, but several times I felt myself wondering where exactly I was on the trail. I know that trail backwards and forwards and can usually tell precisely where I am on it. But this evening I kept finding myself disoriented until one of my usual landmarks came into view.

I had expected that I might perhaps run faster because I wouldn’t be distracted by flowers, but I found I was. I kept looking for them in places I expected them and sometimes I would see them, and sometimes I would not. I’ve only recently started wondering about at what times of day the various flowers bloom. I now know for instance that Clematis blooms at night. On the other hand Coastal Morning Glory folds up its flowers and doesn’t open them up again until about 5 (which is still well before twilight). But the flowers were certainly less distracting than usual.

Goleta At NightAs I climbed up above the traverse there were some nice views of the city of Goleta all lit up. But I couldn’t hold the camera still enough, and after this one attempt I decided it would be pointless to try more pictures until the sun came up. Yet another distraction gone.

I was glad to see that Luis had routed the race onto the trail rather than the catway/fireroad. That’s where it’s supposed to go.

I got up to Inspiration in 43 minutes. Not fast, but not slow either. It seemed like a reasonable pace when these 3.4 miles are the start of something 10 times longer…

There were some nice views of the SB city lights here, but I would have needed a tripod. I’d vaguely thought I might get a shot of the gibbous moon rising over the ocean, but that happens in the winter (or maybe never up here). The moon was too far north, over the mountains.

Then down the other side. If it had been lighter, and I’d had someone to run with I’d have gone down this bit faster. I’m not sure which effect would be more important — light or company.

Up Tunnel. I do my first walking up some of the more technical rockfaces. When I get up to the flat section I look down on the lights of SB spread out below me. This is probably the best place on 9T to see that. Maybe someday I’ll climb up with a tripod and good camera at midnight…

I’ve been eating 3 Cliff blocks every half-hour (Cliff gave Joe gave Rusty gave me an enormous back of blocks the other day, so I figure why not use some up today). At the one hour mark I was planning to take a salt tablet, but I can’t find the salt tablets in their pocket. I know I put them in, but there’s a bunch of other stuff in there too which is hiding them. Oh well, when I get to the hairpin I’ll need to stop to refill my water and I’ll find them then.

Rusty warned me that he thought going down the Rattlesnake connector would be bad at night, but it turns out to be fairly easy. Perhaps because I can’t see far in front of me and so don’t worry. Perhaps because when he last did it the trail was full of star thistle or something.

When I get down to the meadow it’s time for more food, and I decide to take a salty GU instead. I feel nauseous almost at once. Hmm. I wonder if GUs have been causing my nausea in the past? Could it be that switching to blocks would solve all my problems (Sadly, no, I learn later).

Up Rattlesnake and then pounding down Gibraltar. I thought I might try turning off my light once I got to the road and just run with the moon. But the moon is very dim compared to the light and I don’t feel safe. So on goes the light again.

As I approach the hairpin I see there’s quite a collection of vehicles already here. And a camper and a large pickup truck, and the aid station tent is all set up. As I come nearer I realize there is someone standing in the aid station just looking at me. He (or she) doesn’t move. It’s kind of creepy. As I get even nearer I realize it’s a skeleton, and that gives me a start. And then I remember Luis’s habit of placing a skeleton on the Born to Run course. It’s never bothered me there, but then I’ve never approached it in the dead of night before.

A dog from within the camper starts to bark, and I quickly run past so as not to wake any sleepers. The dog quiets.

Now somewhere off to the left here, I hid a gallon of water. There’s my marker tree. I click my watch and remove the camelback and start to search. (My watch says that I got here in just under 2 hours, and this is as close to 1/4 of the course as can be, so I’m on track for an 8 hour run). But I can’t find my bottle. I run down into the brush and rummage around down there. I start to get quite worried. Finally I give up. It’s gone. I still have some water left, I’ll fill up at Romero. Then it occurs to me to look on the other of my marker tree. And there it is. Yay!

I fill up my camelback, find my salt tablets (take 2), hide the bottle again (but in a much more obvious place — no one else will come by before I return). Oh, and I can leave my cap here too. I haven’t needed it so far, and shan’t until the sun comes up high enough to reach the trail. And onward.

That whole process took just under 5 minutes. I guess that’s one advantage of a real aid station — you don’t need to look for your water bottle’s hiding spot.

Onward and downward. When I ran this with Gene and Tyler the other week we just bombed down this trail. It takes me about two minutes longer to get to the bottom than it did then (and we were running in the dark that morning too), so I’m thinking that I respond more to company than to light. Of course they’d both be ~30 minutes in front of me if I had done the race so I won’t have had them to chase anyway…

Then up Cold Spring east fork. Somehow I miss the turn at the final stream crossing. I guess there’s a (short) trail that just goes straight ahead, which I usually don’t notice because I see the rocks in the stream, but tonight my puddle of light doesn’t extend to the rocks and I just see the trail continuing — until 10 feet later it doesn’t. Hunh? Oh. I go back, and find the normal route.

Up to the Hot Springs Connector. And now for the first time I can see out east to — well probably — to Summerland. SB and Goleta have been crystal clear with no sign of fog, but there is a haze gathering over these lights.

Down to the catway/fireroad. Occasionally the road twists enough that I see the lights of SB, still clear of fog.

And then The Wall. This is a really steep, half-mile section of catway. It can be a killer. But tonight it doesn’t seem that bad. Oh, I have to work at it, but I keep running and don’t feel too tired. Maybe it’s an advantage that I can only see a small circle of light right in front of me, and not the wall of road rising steeply up into the distance. I don’t get downhearted.

Down and up Buena Vista. Along the Romero catway to the Romero Connector, then down Romero Trail to the gate. This is the turnaround and again, just under two hours. And there is Cynthia. She said she actually wanted to drive here at ~4am and wait here till I showed up. I tried to dissuade her (I wouldn’t want to do that and I didn’t think she should have to either). But she did it anyway. Then she found a weasel to watch (I’ve never seen a weasel) which wanted to watch her, and the two of them entertained each other.

Somewhere off in the bushes I stashed another gallon of water. But it isn’t where I remember putting it. I crash around. Still nothing. I wander around again. Eventually I give up. I have some water, I just need to ration it. I’ll make it to the hairpin where I do have water (And boy am I glad I found that one).

Bye to Cynthia and off I go.

(I went back the next day to look for the bottle — to avoid littering — but I couldn’t find it in the daylight either)

Back over the trails I’ve just run. But the catway feels very steep in this direction and I have to walk it. I walk fast, of course, but it’s still slower than running. I’m not pleased about this.

But the steep bit ends and I run down to Buena Vista, and up Buena Vista Connector and down The Wall.

And then the Catway to Hot Springs gets steep, and I’m walking again. This has a much longer steep section. It occurs to me that I’m getting hungry, perhaps 3 blocks/half-hour isn’t enough. I eat another. After a bit I’m eating two blocks every ten minutes or so.

Halfway up Hot Springs I run out of water. I’ve still got about an hour to go. I’m walking up bits of Hot Springs too.

I remind myself that every mouthful of carbs (blocks) turns into ~half a mouthful of water after it has been metabolized. Can I eat myself unthirsty?

No.

Then down Cold Spring and up the West Fork (I keep eating). I think eating all those blocks has helped. I run up the West Fork. But I’m getting very thirsty.

My light dims. This happens when the battery has only 10% of its juice left and it switches to a low power mode. But I realize that I don’t need it much. It’s starting to get light enough to see without it. But not quite completely, but I don’t need full strength.

TwilightThen I cross the west fork of the creek and start to climb out of the canyon, and as I do, I see the first signs of the sunrise. There’s a little color over the ocean off east. I turn off my light.

TwilightAs I climb higher the views get better.

And when I reach the top of the trail there’s my water, and my cap and good heavens Cynthia (This time she is watching bats, which I do see). I fill up my camelback. She offers to take back what I don’t need. Well I shan’t need the near empty waterbottle. Nor these two long-sleeve shirts, nor the light. I probably won’t use the cap either. But I don’t give her the waterbottle quite yet, I drink most of what’s left in it. I’m thirsty.

SkeletonSomehow the skeleton doesn’t look as creepy now as it did in the dark… (the bats aren’t creepy either)

This quarter has been slow. I’m no longer on track to break 8 hours. All that walking. I should have started eating more earlier. Well, I’ve learned. It might also have helped if I had had more water.

I’m beginning to feel nauseous. I guess I drank too much too quickly. On the other hand this is the first time I’ve felt nausea from drinking water. Maybe my normal nausea is catching up with me? I hope not. It’s worth trying to do another cool run again, only without misplacing a water bottle…

I am able to eat, just not as much as I would like. I had hoped that this final quarter would be my fastest (because it’s mostly downhill and I don’t need to hold anything in reserve, and I have run it fast before). But that’s not going to happen today. I’m able to get back to my 8 hour pace, but that’s not fast enough to make up for the extra 16 minutes on the last section.

It’s now after 6, so the real race has started. I’ve been wondering where I’ll meet the first runners. I’m guessing near the junction of Rattlesnake and Tunnel. Maybe on the Rattlesnake Connector itself (though I hope not, it twists so much that if someone comes bombing down that trail there won’t be time to get out the way). I keep my eyes and ears open as I go up the connector, but I see no one.

Just down from the Connector on Tunnel I do see someone, but he’s hiking, not running. Not him. But he’s the first person (except Cynthia) I’ve seen since I started my run.

And then I see Nash, he’s sitting on a rock waiting for the race to pass. Not him either.

And two more hikers. Not them.

Finally about halfway down Tunnel I see a guy, head down, pounding up the trail. I can’t see his face, nor guess who it is, but he’s clearly the first runner. A little way behind him comes Tyler, walking easily. And then more and more. When I get to the bottom of Tunnel, the flood has turned back into the occasional trickle.

Jesusita FogUp to Inspiration. I plod along, running, but not fast. Not fast enough. Although Inspiration is bright and sunny, the city below is covered in fog. It looks as if it will be hot today (it got up to 85 in the city, and much hotter on the trails); I’m glad I started at midnight. I would probably have done much worse in the coming heat.

Flagpole MorningI try to sprint down the remaining 3.5 miles, but it’s not really a sprint. I’m not really sure where the finish line is. Is it the trailhead? or the flagpole? I’m hoping that when I get to the trailhead it will be obvious. But it isn’t. No one is around. There’s no indication anywhere. So I click my watch at the trailhead and again at the flagpole. It’s probably the flagpole.

Cater to Hairpin 1:54:24 + 4:45(looking for water)
Hairpin to Romero 1:50:23 + ~4:00(looking for water)
Romero to Hairpin 2:16:40 + 2:27(repacking)
Hairpin to Cater 1:58:33
Cater to Cater 8:10:50
Very Dirty Toes

Very Dirty Toes
Trail shoes are designed to “breath”. On a dusty trail they breath mostly dust

Methane

August 5, 2014

Methane is in the news at the moment for many reasons. Perhaps first is Obama’s plan to reduce CO2 output by 30% by 2030 by reducing coal consumption and increasing the use of natural gas at our power plants. When natural gas burns it produces about half the CO2 that coal does when it burns (for the same amount of heat/power output) so this seems like a big win. Unfortunately it has several problems:

  1. Natural gas is a gas. It leaks. It leaks everywhere. At wells, in pipelines, in processing facilities. No one knows how much it leaks. You might wonder why this matters, but over 100 years a given amount of natural gas will trap 20 times as much heat (cause 20 times as much global warming) as the equivalent amount of CO2. So seemingly small leaks can spell disasters. A recent article by Scientific American concludes that even if fully implemented Obama’s plan would not achieve its goal of a 30% reduction by 2030.
  2. Although we currently have a glut of natural gas that is likely to be temporary. Current projections say that shale gas production in the US will probably peak around 2015 (next year!) and decline steeply thereafter. Relying on it is stupid.
  3. Switching to natural gas will not be cheap. And that infrastructure will still be here in 20, 30, 40 years time. Unfortunately in 40 years time we cannot use it. Natural gas still produces far too much carbon. We need to get our carbon consumption down by more like 80% by 2050, and if we invest heavily in natural gas we will have a bunch of useless expensive junk in 40 years time.

A far better solution would have been to invest heavily in renewables, but that seems to be politically infeasible. Of course even reducing coal usage also seems politically infeasible so perhaps it would have been better to bite the bullet and try for something that might ultimately work…

Another interesting new story is about the recent discovery of mysterious new craters in the Siberian tundra. Three large craters have recently been found. The one which has been examined most closely was probably caused last summer (2013) when the underground methane hydrates heated up to the point where the methane came out of solution, expanded and exploded the ground above it. But there are only three craters, and that was last year.

At approximately the same time as that discovery a Swedish research vessel in the Arctic Ocean found plumes of methane gas bubbling up from 500m subsurface. This should not be happening in the Arctic, the water should be cold enough to trap the gas in hydrates. Even if it were happening the gas should be eaten by microbes before it reached the surface. But it appears that an underwater warm current is now melting the methane hydrates and releasing the gas.

One of the great imponderables (or “tipping points”) in climate sciences was if or when the methane hydrates in the tundra and oceans would release their methane. The problem is that there is an awful lot of methane trapped in these hydrates. Remember methane is a very potent greenhouse gas? The fear is that once methane starts leaking it will cause the earth to get warmer, which will cause more methane to leak, leading to a positive feedback loop where there is exponential heating as all the methane hydrates disappear.

The terrifying thing about passing a tipping point is that once passed there is absolutely nothing that can be done (on a human timescale) to return the world to its prior state. Even if we stopped burning any coal or oil or methane it would not be enough. If this is happening, we are screwed.

No one really knows how much hotter it will get. Nor how fast it will happen. The IPCC has not included this in their estimates.

But the process now seems to have begun. We will find out. Perhaps quickly (where “quickly” may mean decades or even years rather than the centuries that the IPCC has assumed we have).

Some Thoughts on the Western Toad.

August 4, 2014

It rained today, long but not hard, and that rain brought out the toads.

It doesn’t often rain significantly in August, and I had never wandered down the trail to Mono in a rainstorm before. I’ve never seen toads there before. But today they were all over that river bed.

The western toad Bufo boreas halophilus

The western toad
Bufo boreas halophilus

After a couple of hours of running in the rain my glasses tend to fog over, so at first all I saw was something small moving away from me. I stopped, removed my glasses and peered closely at the whatever-it-was as it moved away.

Toad2It was a toad. The first toad I have seen here after living in Santa Barbara for 20+ years. I soon realized it was not the only toad, there were lots of them — once I knew what to look for. They would sit quietly, until I approached, and then would hop off. Once they moved they were easy to see and follow.

This is not the breeding season, and the toads were not breeding. Normally, at this time of year here, these toads would be nocturnal. Today they appeared to be out enjoying the unusual rain, as I was.

I do not mean to imply that the only way to enjoy the rain is to watch toads. I was not intending to watch toads today, that was pure happenstance. MariposaI intended to find out if there were any Late-Blooming Mariposas still blooming (yes), if Biglow’s Monkeyflowers were blooming (monkeyfloweryes) and if the Scalebroom were blooming here or only in the White Fire area (only in the White Fire area).

But it is often the things I do not expect that are the most interesting. When I take to the trail I try to see what is there, rather than only what I expect.

The rain itself was what fascinated me at first. After twenty minutes of running (and maybe half an hour of raining) I realized that the ground was still not wet. Oh, I could see where the raindrops had fallen — but that was just it, I could see the wet splotches in the trail; surely by now the dirt should be completely damp? Well maybe:

  1. There really had not been enough rain to cover the ground
  2. The rain evaporated almost as fast as it hit.
  3. The rain was somehow absorbed into the lower dirt while redrying the superficial layer.

A little higher up I found some rocks scattered in the dirt, and the rocks were all slick with rain. So there had been enough rain to coat the surface. And, assuming the rocks and dirt were the same temperature, the water was not evaporating…

Eventually the soil became completely wet.
CloudsAndForbushCanyon

I walked my transects in the Cold Fire. Two weeks ago there were 13 species blooming, now there are 10; most of them represented by a single plant. Two months ago the whole area was covered with blooming morning glories, now there is one.

On the other hand the Tall Stephanomeria is enjoying the rain. Even though it only blooms during the driest time of the year, today it is putting out more blooms than usual. The Elegant Madia that covers Forbush is also producing more flowers today than it did two weeks ago.

A Whiptail Lizard lies in the trail. It is not enjoying the cool rain and its movements are more more sluggish than I expect.

The little Lobelia (I used to think Tolkien had made that name up, but it really is a type of flower) that covers the creek down by the Grotto is happy.

Today was an uncommon day which I was lucky enough to seize. Yet a grey, rainy day does not leap out as one that might be fascinating.

Cold Spring Trail is here, every day; as is the national forest through which it runs.

Every day has its sunset or sunrise. The Pelicans soar over the waves, every day. Dolphins leap, every day. Whales breach. Grunions run. Egrets search for food in Atascadero Creek, every day. On Coal Oil Point a rare fiddleneck blooms. The wonders of nature are always there.

I like to look at them.

WSolstice2006PelicansBeforeSunrise

Advice to new trail racers

July 8, 2014

The new 9 trails race approaches and I realize that many people running it have never done a trail race before. These are some things that I have learned over the years. Some things learned are just what the problems are (without good solutions), while others are more useful. Not everything will apply to everyone. So these are more things to consider than precepts set in stone.

Things marked with a * are things my coach, Mike, has told me (and therefore should carry more weight than things I’ve learned myself).

There is a different vibe in a trail race than a road race. The pace is much slower, and this seems to make people take it less seriously. But to me it is still a race. I may be running more slowly, but I’m just as focused on winning my age-group (at my age winning the race is out of the question) as I am in a road race. These notes assume that you want to do your best, but if all you want is to have a good time, then you can ignore some of them.

  • Dehydration — This is my biggest unsolved problem. It seems to be a common problem, though it doesn’t happen at the same time to everyone. Somewhere around 4 hours I will notice that my heart rate starts to climb. Somewhere around 5 hours the thought of more food because nausea-inducing. Somewhere around 9 hours the nausea becomes incapacitating. This problem is made worse by heat and altitude (and effort level).
  • Heartrate — Mike tells me that I should keep my heart-rate below 80% during the race.* The longer the race, the more important this is. For a 50K (which is over in ~5 hours) I’ll hold to that for the first half of the race and then allow it to climb, for a 50 miler (8+ hours) I don’t have that luxury. 9T is somewhere between the two, but closer to most 50milers.
  • Water — 1 liter/hour (1 quart/hour)*
  • Salt — 100mg sodium/hour* There are two common salt tablets in running stores. For “S-Caps” this corresponds to 1 tablet/hour, while for Endurolytes it’s about 2.5 tablets/hour. Salt is supposed to help you retain water, so the taking of these tablets should reduce dehydration. In my case it doesn’t seem to make a piece of difference — but I usually do it anyway once it starts to get hot.
  • Food — 200g carbs/hour.* Or a GU every half hour. (That’s in a long race, when doing a 5 hour training run I’m more likely to take a GU every 45 minutes). Gels are easy to deal with, and are light and can be carried in pockets (so I don’t need to stop at aid-stations for them) but after 3~4 hours I find the sight of a GU makes me nauseous and I switch to chewy blocks. After ~5 hours blocks make me nauseous too so I’ll try to eat whatever is at aid stations. I like orange slices, bananas, potatoes. Sometimes quesadillas. Whatever I can stomach. At that point my mouth tends to be too dry for peanut butter. A bit longer I find I can’t eat anything. Other people tend to start out eating from aid stations and then switch to GUs later in the race. See what your body does.
  • Nausea — I start feeling nauseous after about 5~6 hours. More time if it is cool and at low elevation, sooner if it is hot or at altitude. Different people respond differently. A few are lucky and don’t seem to get nauseous. Others will have it happen sooner (I have sometimes become nauseous at the end of a marathon, but there the higher effort level makes me dehydrate faster). I frequently vomit about 20 minutes after I have finished a 50 miler (which doesn’t make sense to me). Mike has told me that if I start to feel nauseous then I should try walking with my HR below 60% for 20 minutes. Sadly, once I’m feeling nauseous, I can’t seem to get my HR that low. Maybe I could on a cool day, in the shade going downhill, but I’ve never had a chance to test that. Something I mean to try someday is to take a ~15 minute break sitting in the shade at an aid-station, perhaps pouring water on my head to cool down. I think it might also help bring along a book (e-book?) to read to take my mind off the race and get my HR down.
  • Aid Stations — You can waste a lot of time in aid-stations. There is a presumption in a trail race: “If I’m going to take 8 hours to run then why worry about 2 extra minutes in an aid station?” — well because there might be 10 aid-stations in your 50 mile race and wasting 2 minutes in each comes to 20 minutes total, or more. Now part of your racing plan might be that you need a rest to prevent nausea, and an aid-station often provides a nice shady cool(ish) place to rest — that’s not a waste, but all too often I see people just hanging out. If possible I try to come into an aid-station alone. There is often only one water jug, so if you enter with a group of people, someone has to wait to refill their water. I usually carry a 2liter pack, and at the start of the race I can often skip an aid-station because I don’t need to refill yet. This can save a lot of time.
  • Passing — There’s an etiquette here. If you hear someone coming up behind you, it’s polite to offer to let them pass you when running on single track. If the race is an out and back race (9T) and you are still going out, then it is polite to give way to the person coming back. Now there are exceptions. I have failed to offer to let someone pass me when I knew the downhill which sped them was ending in just 200 yards and after that I’d be faster. But mostly I’ll offer to let someone behind pass. (Often they won’t pass, they may think the pace is close enough to theirs that it isn’t worth worrying about, at least not until the trail opens up again, and they may like the company. But if you offer, you look good :-).
  • Hills — Don’t be afraid to walk up hills. But equally if you find a non-technical downhill then try to push the pace. But then again on some races you may wear out your quads… Races tend to be won by the person who can run downhill fastest at the end. Some people can go sub-6 at the end of a 50 miler… (I tend to go about 8min/mile myself on a downhill dirt road at the end, and even with that I pass people). For 9T this means pushing hard from Inspiration (if the technical nature of Tunnel doesn’t bother you then starting from the top of the Connector is even better).
  • Training — Mike has often said that in trail running what matters is time on your feet rather than distance.* He often gives me things like 40 minutes at 85% HR uphill (or go up Cold Spring or San Ysidro for ~20 minutes to warm up and then push hard the rest of the way to Camino Cielo). At some point it is a good idea to try to drink/consume/eat water/salt/food at the same rate you intend to do it in the race. Salt and GU you can carry with you, but water you need to stash (don’t try to carry 4liters!). If you do ½ 9T as a training run then placing an additional 2 liters at the Gibraltar hairpin is about right (and is relatively easy).
  • Tapering — I find that trail running isn’t as hard on my body as road running, so I tend to do my longest run 2~1 weeks out rather than the 3 weeks that marathon training suggests.
  • Gaiters — Often on the trails small stones, (and at this time of year) fox-tails, burrs, etc. will creep into your shoes or socks. These can be painful, forcing you to stop and shake out your shoe (or pull nasty needles out of your socks). Gaiters are a solution to this. Dirty Girl makes gaiters designed for trail racers.
  • Camera — I usually take a light-weight camera with me. I can take a picture of a nice view without slowing down, and it may be a view I’ll never see again. (Now a flower is another matter. I need to be still to photograph something close, so I rarely do that).

The decline of Chardonnay

May 23, 2014

I have run Chardonnay four times over the last decade. I ran my slowest time this year — but my place in the race was highest. This made me look at where I would have placed in other years if I ran as slowly as I did this year. Over the years there has been less and less competition. Some of this is explained by the decrease in the number of runners, but even if I correct for that factor there is still a large decrease — by a factor of 2.

Year Time Place Place of
1:05:00
# Runners Adjusted
Place of
1:05:00
2003 1:04:15 33 40 604 25
2008 1:02:09 19 31 444 26
2011 1:03:56 13 17 540 13
2014 1:05:00 12 12 377 12

Chardonnay has been run yearly since 1978, and the course has always been along the waterfront though there have been differences in how far the race goes into Montecito or the Mesa. It has changed its name a couple of times. But basically it has remained the same race.

In 1978 the race was won with a time of 52:01, and there were 15 runners under an hour (that’s out of 134 runners total, so more than 11%). In 2014 the race was won with 57:50 and there were 3 runners under an hour (out of 377, so less than 1%).

I took the Chardonnay winning times over the years and fit a line to them (using a least squares fit). Then men’s winning time has increased by about 6.8 seconds a year (or about 4:10 over the full 37 years), while the women’s winning time has increased by about 1.7 seconds (or about a minute over 37 years).

Chardonnay Winning Times

So the winning times, especially the men’s have gotten significantly worse over the years, but perhaps this is misleading. As we age we slow. And women are slower than men. Maybe there are more women running now (there are) and more older people (also true). Age grading the results (expressing them as a percentage of world record times for a given age and sex) should account for both of those.
Chardonnay Average Age Graded
The above graph shows the average age graded percentage of runners over the years (men in blue, women red, combined black), and even accounting for the above two factors people are just running less well than they used to.

Now if this were a problem of Chardonnay alone I wouldn’t be worried. But it isn’t. It’s a general problem, both here in Santa Barbara, and in the US in general.

I looked at Nite/Night Moves 5K as well. Now Nite Moves started in 1989 and currently has 18 races over the course of the summer. The course has always been the same. The following is a graph of its finishing times

NM

Here I have fit the results with two lines for each sex, the full line shows the trend for all the winning times, while the dashed line shows the trend for the best winning time for each year. Here the men’s winning times increase by 5 seconds a year, while the best winning time increases by only .8 seconds per year. With the women, their winning times increase by 3.5 seconds a year while the best times actually decrease by .8 seconds.

Again, probably the best thing to look at is the age-graded percentage

NM Age GradedAnd here again there is a decline (The blank areas of the graph represent years for which I have no data).

The only conclusion I can draw is that we (as a population) are not trying as hard as we were. I don’t think we train as hard as we used to.

This is not simply a matter of numbers. Chardonnay started with 95 runners in 1977, climbed up to 1080 in 1992 and then decreased to 377 in 2014, yet through-out this period there has been a steady decline in speed.

Some people have objected that it’s not that people aren’t trying, we are just doing other things. To me that is an explanation for why we are not trying, but not a counter-argument. Nor is it that people have now do more races out of town — we’ve always done out of town races. People have always gone off to do Boston, etc. Others have suggested that we aren’t as fit as we were 40 years ago, and this, I fear, may be true…


†Actually the first running of Chardonnay (or Winter Runs as it then was) was in 1977, but it was an 8.5 mile race. Everything since then has been 10 miles so I’m ignoring that first year.


Correction 25 May: When I first wrote the post I assumed that the run in 1977 was the same distance as all subsequent runs; going back to the original documents I see that was not the case. The current post reflects this. The conclusions are unchanged.

Sunny with a chance of Rattlesnakes

May 18, 2014

Born to Run 50K, 2014

Two days before the race it was 102°F in Santa Barbara, breaking the record for that date. It was 108°F in Los Olivos near where the race was held. I had read that California Poison Control was warning that rattlesnakes were coming out of hibernation early because of the heat.

The weather people had been predicting that it would cool down a bit by race day, but as their predictions were usually about 5-10°F below the actual temperature I wasn’t sure that would be meaningful…

I was up at 2:30AM and the morning was lovely and cool. We headed out to Los Olivos at 4, reached the race driveway when all was pitch black. I was a little worried about not recognizing it, but there were people out there with flashlights directing traffic so that was OK. Still dark when we got to the race site where the runners who had camped were starting to wake up. I got my bib and then stood in line for the port-a-potty. There weren’t many potties and the line was long and moved slowly. By the time I reached it there was light. And when I got out they were calling us to line up.

It was actually chilly at the race start and I was wearing the long sleeve shirt I brought with me and the shirt the race gave me.

I had seen Joe DeVreese and Kevin Cody, Andrea and Simone, but not Ken, Karen, Mark, Stephanie, Brett, Jon, Heidi. Not any of the people I normally ran with. They were supposed to have camped here but I couldn’t see them in the crowd.

Luis explained the course. There were two big loops of about 10 miles each which met here at the start/finish area. He called it a figure 8. This is a gross simplification. There’s a fair amount of overlap between the two loops (and not just near the start/finish. The second loop itself even doubles back on itself so that at two miles into the loop you are running one direction on the road, and at 7 miles in you run the other. When I got home and looked at the GPS track it looked more like crochetwork than a figure 8.
B2R_route
Providing a course map would just be confusing. Probably best to pretend it’s a figure 8. Doesn’t really matter, the loops are well marked.

Luis organizes usLuis continued. One loop (the first) is marked with pink flags, the other loop with yellow flags. It’s important to know which loop you are on and follow the appropriate flagging. White chalk lines mean “Do not cross this line, nor take the road behind it.” Loops alternate. First pink, then yellow, then pink, then (for the 100K and 100M runs) yellow, pink, yellow… The 50K does 3 loops and then a little out and back section to make up for the fact that 3*10 miles is a little under 50K, so we need to run a little more. People doing the 10 mile race will only run the yellow loop (and they’ll start 5 minutes after the rest of us).

Then Luis made us take his oath: “If I get lost, or injured, or dead, it’s my own damn fault.”

I take off my shirts and give them to Cynthia. It’s still chilly, but I’m going to warm up soon.

Luis counts down: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2… Suddenly Nancy runs up to me to say “Hi” and to hug me. Please Nancy, now is not the time, not 2 seconds from the race start. “Oh, it doesn’t matter” says she. Luis fires the gun — only it doesn’t go off. We all hang back, unsure if the race has started or not. “Go on, go!” says he, and we’re off.

Suddenly someone starts backing an RV into the mass of oncoming runners. Why can’t he wait? This is a race damn it. All cars here should be associated with the race and should be giving priority to runners. I get past him unscathed. A little later we realize the RV is following us and seems to want to overtake us. This makes no sense. Why did this driver wait until he could cause the most disruption to the race? If he needs to be somewhere then he should start before the race, or after it. Not during. Sigh.

If I get run over by an RV driven by an idiot, is that my own damn fault too?

StartIt’s a straight, slightly downhill section on a wide dirt road here and it seems to me that we’re running at a ferocious pace. But I’m running with Kevin Cody who is usually a little faster than I, but has a potential hamstring issue (so I figure we should be running about the same pace). It’s not really that fast, it’s just I’m used to a more leisurely pace in an ultra, and, I now realize, I didn’t warm up. Didn’t have time.

There’s a woman running near who is explaining to any one who happens to be listening that she’s not speedy, but she doesn’t want to run in the dust kicked up by other runners so she’s pushing herself now. (This does not seem like a good plan to me).

After a bit she drops back.

Kevin Cody and MoonI’m not noticing any dust myself and there are plenty of people ahead of me. I haven’t bothered to count.

Then the road turns left and climbs the side of a hill. I drop back a little from Cody and the couple he’s talking to. A woman comes running up from behind and races ahead of me. Then things level off again. We climb another hill and drop down into the valley on the other side. DownUp the valley and then and abrupt right turn and back down the valley. I’m still running with the same chump of people. Kevin just a little ahead. Behind me I hear someone tell his girlfriend: “7:16 for that last mile”. Am I running at ~7:20 pace? That’s pretty fast on trails. Of course these are really dirt roads, but there are gopher holes and such; it’s not the easiest footing.

We pass the first aid station (which isn’t operating yet)

There’s fog! There’s actually light fog here! I haven’t seen fog in ages, and normally this is the time of year for fog. Whew! This suggests that it really will be cooler — at least in the morning, which is all I care about.

UpNow we come to a steep hill. Various people are debating whether we should walk, but no one seems to actually do it. We do slow down, of course, but mostly we keep running. Down the other side. We must be running basically north now in a little valley between steep hills. As we trot along the sun Dawnstarts to rise through mist and the trees on the hill to the east.

Down the valleyThe fog is fickle and soon we are running along the valley with the sun lighting up the hills on the left while we run in darkness.

I’ve been running in a little clump of runners, maybe 10 of us or so. There are perhaps 5 people just ahead of me (and no one in sight in front of them) and another 3 or 4 behind me. The composition of the group hasn’t really changed for several miles now (though the relative positions have) and I’m beginning to think that these may be the people I’m going to be running the rest of the race with.

FogWe come out of the valleys on the west side of the ranch and run along the ridge line above Figueroa Mountain Rd. We can see the fog from the sea as it reaches up the valley.

Kevin, who has been ahead of me drops back a bit and is now running behind me.

ValleyNow we run parallel to the road and have nice views of the valley.

We are approaching the second aid station (at about mile 7), and this one is working. Two people drop out of our little clump now and I never see them again.

The rest of us continue on. I don’t need to stop myself. It’s still cool, I haven’t been drinking much, no need to get more. But I should probably eat a Gu.

Skeleton HillOn the other side of the aid station we turn and climb a steep hill (beside the cattle graveyard). On this hill I pass two of the people who have been ahead of me. At the top of the hill is a skeleton hanging from its neck. Thanks Luis. Just the encouragement we need on this hill.

Far AheadThere are only two people ahead of me now (in my little clump I mean) and they seem to have gotten fairly far ahead. We are continuing to climb, though less steeply than on Skeleton Hill. It’s sunny here.

After a bit a lone runner comes barreling down the hill we are climbing. Hmm. Either he’s about 4~5 miles ahead of us, has completed loop 1 and started on loop 2 which seems unlikely to me — I really doubt my group is that far behind the leaders — or it’s one of the 10 mile runners who has gotten lost.

Far aheadWe turn left and are now heading back to the start finish area. The two guys ahead are still far ahead.

I see some of the 10 mile runners now. Their course (loop 2) matches mine for a bit. Andrea says “Hi.”

Then we come to a nice long straight downhill stretch that leads all the way to the start/finish. I’m able to speed up here and slowly gain on the two ahead of me. We cross the chip mat pretty much together. Then one guy pauses at the aid station here, and the other stops to use the port-a-potty…

And I’m on my own. The group of 10 runners that I was in the middle of has completely dissolved. There’s no one around. It turns out that I’ll be alone for the rest of the race. This is a little disturbing. Before this I didn’t have to pay attention to the course markings, I could just follow the people in front. Now there is no one in sight. No one to follow, no one behind to yell if I make a wrong turn.

Wait a minute… I ran the first loop in 1:16. That’s faster than an 8 minute mile… on a trail course? OK, it’s an easy trail race, but it’s would be a really hard road race. There have been a lot of hills… Oh, yes. The first loop isn’t a full 10 miles, it’s only 9.6. Um 1:16 divided by 9.6… No I’m not going to bother doing that in my head. It’s still probably under 8. I wonder if I can keep this pace up?

17 Start of LoopOh well, nothing for it. Loop 2 starts by doubling back on loop 1. I charge up the hillside I just ran down (well, up a road parallel to the one I came down).

Agoseris heterophylla flowerI haven’t seen many wildflowers this year. In years past there have been fields of sky lupine, but this year there are none. Drought. But another part of the reason I haven’t seen much of anything is that many flowers don’t open up until it is sunny. At the top of the hill I find some Mountain Dandelions blooming in the grass.

18 ValleyNow I head back to the second aid station and the road’s valley has brightened up. In spite of the rising sun it is still cool and pleasant for running.

Through the aid station (I still have plenty water, and GU) and now the route diverges again from the first loop and I am running down a dry creek bed. Full of crushed gravel. Which gives no traction to the foot.

Ah, but there’s some mulefat blooming. Anything to take my mind off my footing.

Fortunately I climb out of the creek, and then… Sunny TreeBack up hill! Who’d have thought it? There is someone ahead now. I’m gaining on him. He stops to walk and I catch up with him. I try to chat but he says “No speak English.” I guess I should have said “No habla Español” but I was to tired to think. So I pass him without talking.

Hmm. Luis brought in some Tarahumara runners. They wouldn’t speak English. I wonder if he might be one? But I passed him. So that seems unlikely. Maybe there are some guys from other parts of Mexico here?

There are some Clarkias by the side of the route.

I climb up a final hill and am now running into the slower 50K runners who are still on loop 1. Also some even slower 10 mile runners (whom I have now lapped, I’ve gone ~13 miles in the time they have gone 3).

Then I diverge from Loop 1 again, but now I’m on a section where loop 2 doubles back on itself. There are some faster 10 mile runners here, coming at me. And Daniel Scarberry comes gliding down the trail toward me. He’s probably in the lead (when I get back to this point I realize he was probably about 5 miles ahead of me).

I also see Heidi and her daughter. I’m glad to know she exists. I hope the others do (I hadn’t realized she was only doing 10 miles).

I’m just running down the road when suddenly I bump into white chalk lines across the route. Oops. I haven’t been paying attention, there must have been a turn. And, yup there is. I need to turn sharp right onto that bit of single track and run straight up the mountain.

21 HillsideThis is probably the area where rattlesnakes are most likely. But the views are good. I think this is the highest part of the ranch and the course. You can look down and see most of the ranch below you, while off to the left are the Santa Ynez mountains and straight ahead Sea Fog(West) there’s still sea fog. Which is doubtless why it’s still reasonably pleasant.

I pass two 10 mile runners who have stopped. I encourage them to keep moving. “Oh, it’s OK,” one tells me “There’s good cell-phone reception here.”

Santa Ynez MountainsDifferent worlds.

Why come to the middle of nowhere by 5am then hike for ~5 miles just to get cell-phone reception? You’d think there would be easier ways to accomplish that.

23 RidgelineI keep climbing and keep passing people. I assume they are 10 milers, but I suppose some might be 50K or more runners.

But all good things come to an end and the steep climb turns into a steep drop. Whee. Skidding on my heels.

Calochortus clavatus flower top-viewAnd there, off to my right is a Pale Yellow Mariposa. I think. Two minutes later I see another plant. Now I could stop and take a closer look and a photograph, but I’m running so well today. I’m almost certain… I suppose it might have been a Yellow Mariposa, but they are rare here. Er. Rarer.

Anyway neat!

I continue to slide down the hillside.

And then I’m back on the road again, merging again with Loop 1. Now I trundle down the hill to the first aid station (which is now open). After the Aid StationI turn left and leave Loop 1 and start climbing another hill :-)

Denmark ManFor a while I run through a sunny valley, but after a bit the trees close in. There is a couple ahead of me, walking, one of whom appears to be wearing a Danish flag. Interesting choice of attire.

I’m about half way done now…

Dead Cow HillOut into the sun again as we climb up what I can’t help but think of as Dead Cow hill from a rather gruesome event 2 years ago. But there are no dead beasts this year, just a tired 10 miler who starts running again as I pass him.

OthersAt the top of the hill we turn left into the shade and into oncoming runners. I’m now about 5 miles ahead of them (just as Daniel was ahead of me 40 minutes ago). I wonder if I’ll see anyone I know — I wonder if they are even here…

And now I’m back on the nice long downhill stretch that leads to the start finish line. I’m close to the end of my second loop.

I’m through the chip mat once again (I wish they had a clock there. I keep forgetting to look at my watch). Somewhere around 2:43. Mmm. Took me 9 minutes longer to do the second lap. I think it’s a bit longer and it’s certainly more technical. And I didn’t have anyone to run with/against. No one passed me in that lap, and while I passed many people I expect that all (except for the guy who didn’t speak English) were 10 milers most of whom were just walking. Let’s see if I can do better on the next lap.

Now I had been planning to take a 15 minute break after the second lap to see if I could avoid dehydration by getting my HR down and allowing my stomach to absorb water… but I’m running too well, and I don’t want to pause. Anyway today isn’t a day I’m likely to get dehydration on, not on a 50K where the first 2/3rds were in cool temperatures…

A little later the watch clicks over to 20 miles at 2:50:??. So I’m now averaging 8:30s rather than sub-8:00s. So I ran the last lap at about a 9 minute pace… Um, that’s quite a bit slower.

Catching UpI’m back on loop 1 now. I can see two guys ahead. The three of us are all starting Loop 1. Now they can’t be 10 milers (who don’t do this loop at all), they can’t be anyone starting their first lap (the race started 3 hours ago), they can’t be anyone starting their fifth lap (no one has lapped me once, let alone twice), so these guys must be people who started with me. There’s actually someone ahead of me again!

I pass them.

There isn’t anyone ahead.

No more competition.

After a bit I come to the place where loop 2 joins loop 1 and I start seeing people again. These are 50Kers who are about 7 miles behind me.

Off to the side of the road I pass some morning glory vines. Now in the front country, morning glories are common and almost all of one species. In the back country they are uncommon and I’ve never seen the front country species here at all. But it is always good to check. As I run past I snag a bloom and look at the bracts under the flower. Yup. It’s what I expected.

ValleyAs I pound down toward the first aid station I’m thinking that I should pause here to fill up with water. I’m almost out. Or grab a bottle if they have any. That would be better. But there’s a small crowd of runners and the aid station volunteers all seem to be occupied with them. It’s going to take forever to get anything out of this station. So I run through it and out.

Ahead of me I see someone walking. He doesn’t look like someone who could have run faster than I for 20+ miles. My guess is that he took a wrong turn at the last aid station. But I’m not sure… so I don’t tell him he’s going the wrong way.

VineyardI’m running along the property line now and ahead and to the left is the neighbor’s vineyard.Some Trees It’s rather pretty here.

After a while I hit the hills again. There’s a guy ahead of me. I’m catching him, but slowly. I pass him after this set of hills is over, there’s a turn just ahead and he asks me where the 50K runners go. The route seems to me well flagged, so I point them out to him. ValleyOnly later does it occur to me that he might be another confused runner who should actually be on loop 2, and the pink flags which reassure me are not what he’s looking for. If so he should have asked a better question. I don’t know what loop he’s on. 50K runners do go the way I pointed out (I do for one). Luis told everyone to keep track of what loop he was on… (“If I get lost … it’s my own damn fault”) But I don’t realize this until he’s vanished into the distance behind me.

37 DryI’m running through dry hills now and it’s starting to get hotter than I’d like. I don’t have much water left.

Then I hear the report of a shot. Hmm. Perhaps Luis fixed the gun and that marks the winner crossing the line? It was then 3:21 from the race start (I learned later that the winner finished closer to 3:17 but I didn’t know it then).

And I’ve run 24 miles and have ~7 left to go. So if I can maintain a 9 minute pace then I should be able to break 4:30. That would be a nice 50K PR!

ValleyI do like the oaks scattered amid the grassland.

ValleyOnce again, I pull out of the western valleys and approach the paved road. As I run parallel to the road I hear more shots, but they are coming from across the road (outside the ranch) on someone’s else land. Maybe the gun shot I heard earlier did not mark the winner…

I happen to glance down at my watch and see it says I’ve run 26 miles. So now as I run I keep looking at it. It clicks over to 26.2 miles at 3:35:50. :-) That means that if this course were certified I’d have qualified for Boston with 4 minutes to spare. Kind of neat to do that on the trails.

And, let’s see. I’ve got about 5 miles left so at 9 minute pace that means I finish at 4:21 or so. Not bad.

As I approach the turn toward the second aid station I notice someone blundering around on the road ahead of me. At first he seems to be running as if he were on loop 2, but then he turns around and runs back to the aid station. Great. He’ll get there 5 seconds before I do and I’ll have to wait.

They don’t have any bottles I can carry off, so I resign myself to filling up my pack (which takes longer than I would like). Then I realize they have cups full of something. So I drink it. Brrr. It’s freezing cold. I did not expect that. I fill the cup up with water, drink that off too, grab an orange slice and I’m out.

SkelingtonBack up the hill with the hung skeleton.

I walk in a couple of places this time.

There are some Clarkias here.

The way just keeps going up.

Finally I reach the summit. And I run along the ridge until I join loop 2 again.

And there, are some people seated in the middle of an intersection with a box of water bottles beside them. I grab one. It’s a little harder to bend down than it should be, I’m pretty stiff, but I don’t fall and I do get a bottle.

I take a swig of water.

Now again I’m on the nice long downhill stretch that leads to the start finish. There are people around again. These are people who are just completing their second lap. In the time they have run ~20 miles I have run ~30. It’s harder to pass them than it should be, but I keep telling myself that I have to pass them. And I do.

As I near the camp site I see Liz. I divest myself of my camelback and water bottle. I won’t need them for the mile I’ve got left, and I give them to her. Lighter I proceed onward.

And so through the chip mat and down the road for the final little bit. I’m still in a crowd of people who are just starting their third lap. They don’t know I’m finishing, but they do see I’m running faster than they, so I get a few cheers. When I spin around the flag the guy behind me is impressed “Didn’t realize you were finishing,” he shouts. Someone else tells me I’m going the wrong way.

But now I’ve got half a mile of uphill running to do. Ug.

And no one to race.

There’s the finish line. I click my watch as I cross (only I click the wrong button and I don’t know when I finished). About 4:12.

Later I see that I was 4:12:18, in 11th place and first runner over 47 and second master.

Last time I ran this course I ran 5:03 (and that was my fastest 50K before today). That doesn’t really count since Mike told me to keep my HR below 75% that year, so I couldn’t really race. This year I did race and knocked 51 minutes off my time.

For once I’m not feeling badly. Oh, I’m tired, right enough, but no nausea. So if I had paused after the second lap I wouldn’t have proved anything. The day was too cool, and the race too short for me to have any problems.

Chardonnay 2014

April 19, 2014

Last Saturday everyone in my pace group seemed to be doing Chardonnay. I hadn’t considered it before, but after that I started thinking “Hmmm.” It would be more fun to race than to do a tempo with no one in the my group.

Well, let’s see. I’ve been running my tempos and 6:25~6:30 pace — according to my watch, which has a tendency to overestimate my speed by a few seconds per mile. Let’s just say 6:30. Now in theory my tempo pace and my 10 mile pace should be similar. So I trundle over to the age graded tables and ask how fast an 80% 54 year-old can run 10 miles and the tables say: 6:31 pace. So that sounds like the right ballpark.

OK. I’ve never quite reached 80% on Chardonnay in the past, my best was 79.76% but the difference isn’t worth quibbling over.

Then I talk to Rusty about it. Always a mistake. I tell him I expect to be somewhere between 65-66 minutes. He thinks I should be between 64-65. 64 minutes is a 6:24 pace, so, yeah, that’s possible, but it’s also 81.2% which seems less likely.

Race day dawns, bright and sunny. It’s been foggy all week, why do we get sun today?

I bike down to the start and get there an hour before race start. They offer me a map at registration, but I wave it away. “I’m not going to be first” I say, and I know the course, it hasn’t changed significantly in 30 odd years.

I do a warm up jog, out to State St. and back, and there the 1 mile marker is, right where it always is.

But when I get back Matt tells me the course has changed. He takes me over to the map, and damn it, he’s right. We start out with a steep uphill climb for the first mile going the wrong way, and then turn around and come back and head out to Montecito as we normally do — only not as far this time.

The 1 mile mark I saw was for the concurrent 5K race, which uses its old course.

My first thought is that now I have an extra mile and a half of concrete sidewalk to run on. I hate that. It splints my shins. My second thought is that we’ve got an extra hill in the route now and that’ll slow us down. Matt points out that this route avoids crossing the train tracks (so no one will get stopped by a train). I guess that’s to the good. I’ve never been stopped, but I know others have.

I see Fred Mellon. OK, no chance of first place in our age group then.

We line up. I say “Hi” to Jeff and Kent, and hey, Martin. Haven’t seen him since the marathon. Not many people seem to think they are fast so I stand in front. We have 2 lanes of the road so there’s no lack of space.

We’re off.

Up the hill and onto the sidewalk. There are about 13 people in front of me. I haven’t counted accurately but that’s about right. Doesn’t seem like a very fast field where a 54 year old who plans to run about 65 minutes can be in ~14th place.

As we are herded off the road and onto the sidewalk I hear the volunteer runnerherd shouting “Good job guys” and then “Oh, and ladies!” so I know the lead woman is close behind me. At the ½ mile mark she passes me. Another sign of the lack of depth to the field. There should be a woman or two ahead of a 54 year old male runner (65 minutes is only 76% for a young woman — 54 year-old men are comparable to 42 year old women as far as world records go). Oh well, one is ahead of me now.

For a while she draws further ahead but by the time I’m at the top of the park and at the turn-around I’m right behind her again. On the downhill she pulls away again. I pass the guy who was right behind her though. So I’m once again around 14th. There’s a long comet tail of runners going up the other sidewalk. The timing seems well thought out and by the time our two walks merge almost all of the slower runners have gone past and there are few human obstacles as we go down.

At the one mile mark (the real one), my watch reads 6:32. Ump. I had intended to go out a little slowly, and 6:32 is not slow (any more, for me) up that hill. Ah well. I tend to run what feels right…

Then the final short steep downhill and we’re back by the beach where we started. I hear noisy foot falls behind me, Martin, and there’s Jeff too, and probably Kent. I don’t look back but you learn people’s breathing, or something and can often tell who’s around. I was wondering when Jeff and Kent would catch me. I hadn’t really expected Martin to do so — he used to run with me, but he hasn’t been training of late — last I heard anyway.

And now my little group starts to catch up on the lead woman, and pull ahead. Jeff and I trade off for the lead, each drafting off the other, and then Martin and Kent drafting off us.

At the two mile mark my watch reads 6:13. After downloading my watch… If my watch be accurate, then the mile markers weren’t. The first one was at 1.02 miles (so my 6:32 was actually 6:28, even worse), and the second one was .97 after that (so my 6:13 was really 6:24). Having inaccurate markings gives one a false idea of what’s going on in the race. I thought I should slow down at this point (I didn’t because I was running with Jeff now), but if I’d known I did 6:24 instead I’d have thought that reasonable for a downhill mile.

At State St. some people shout my name. I’m not sure who, the voices are familiar, but my mind isn’t working well and doesn’t know who. But they don’t call Jeff’s name, which seems unfair. I mention this to Jeff, who says “That’s OK, the last group called just my name.” Perhaps they did. I didn’t notice I guess.

At the three mile mark my watch says 6:25. This is kind of nice. I could almost believe that Rusty was right and I’ll go below 65 minutes. But I know, I know, I’m going to slow down on the last two miles. I always do on this race.

Not much seems to change in the next mile or two. I’m running with my pack of runners, sometimes in the lead, sometimes not. We all seem to be hanging together.

At the 4 mile mark my watch says 6:30 exactly and I mention this. Jeff replies “This is hard.” :-) Yes, it is, but we’re doing it.

Hmm. I haven’t seen an aid station yet. Seems like a long way to go on a road race without an aid station. Not that I’m really planning to drink. The race is only an hour or so, I shan’t dehydrate significantly and drinking would just slow me down.

Jeff points to the guy (green shirt) about 50 feet in front and says that he’s going to catch him and draft off him. I’m not feeling that I can go faster than I’m already going so I say something like “Go ahead” only probably less coherent than that. So Jeff and Kent slowly pull away from me.

There is an aid station, oddly far from my path. I don’t detour to visit it, though I do wave at Ken who is manning it.

We come to the end of Cemetery Rd — and there are no course markings there, nor any runnerherd. The guy in the green shirt looks back to get confirmation as to which way to go, and Jeff and Kent point right. I’m not far behind, nor is Martin.

At the 5 mile mark 6:29. Not bad.

But now the hill. This one grinds on for about half a mile. Martin starts to drop back. Jeff and Kent catch up with and pass green shirt. I do too. Then I catch Jeff and Kent and the three of us run together again. Down to butterfly beach, and there is the 6 mile mark. I look at my watch and see 6:31. Excellent, even with the hill I’m still on pace.

We start to see the lead runners coming back. There really aren’t that many.

Then we reach the turn around, all three together, and can look behind us. Green shirt isn’t far back, nor is Martin or yellow shirt or the lead woman. We climb up out of butterfly beach, a short but steep climb. I start out greeting friends by name but when I reach the top I’m greeting people by grunts.

I even pull away from Jeff and Kent slightly here, but that doesn’t last long, soon they both are ahead of me. We pass the aid station, and again I don’t drink.

There’s the 7 mile mark. And when I look down at my watch I get a bit of a shock, it reads 7:39. Now I know I’m not running that slowly. I might have slowed down a bit, because it was a hilly mile, but not a whole minute. I am confused.

Now that I’m home I see that the time for the sixth mile was 5:31, not 6:31. Presumably I didn’t bother to check the lead digit because I knew it was a 6. I suspect that the mile marker should have been read on the return journey, rather than the outbound one. I think it was oriented incorrectly, but perhaps I just didn’t notice that either and my mind glossed over the way the “6” was written, because I knew what it had to be. Just as I knew I had to be running 6:30s. (In actually fact my pace for mile 6 was 6:33, and for mile 7 6:29, both reasonable).

I puzzle over this as Jeff and Kent pull further and further away. They are really leaving me behind, so clearly I must be slowing. This worries me, but I can’t go any faster. My legs feel tired. And we are now come to the stretch where traditionally I slow down. I must be going slowly.

Mile 8 comes up. 6:36… but my total time is 52 minutes and if you subtract 13=(2*6:30) you get 65 minutes, so I haven’t lost a minute after all. I’m confused.

Jeff looks as if he’s about a quarter mile ahead. That’s about a minute and a half…

State St. comes up and with it mile 9, 6:31. Well, I seem to be holding the pace pretty well in spite of being tired, and elapsed time is 58 something. Which is on track for something close to 65 minutes.

The last mile now. I can’t speed up. The swimming pool. This is taking forever. The harbor. I just want to rest. The penultimate parking lot. The bathroom. The last parking lot. The shoot. It twists, I still can’t see the clock. Now I can 64:51. Wow! I still have a chance. I try to speed up. A bit anyway. The first chip mat, but the clock is over the next one. 64:55. 64:56. I’m trying to sprint. As I get ready to pass underneath I see 64:59 slipping away…

Done. Official time 65:00. That is precisely 6:30s. My watch reads 64:58. I like that number even better, but it’s not the one that counts.

And it means I ran at 80.23%. Which is higher than I’ve achieved for this distance before.

:-) So Rusty and I were both right. He said 64-65, and I said 65-66 and it was exactly 65 :-)

Grunions

April 17, 2014

When the gruns come running,
None can turn them back,
None on the seashore,
None in the wrack.

Since moving to Santa Barbara I’ve heard about grunion runs — times when the grunion come out onto the beach to spawn. There are supposed to be thousands of them at once. Apparently these runs occur all up and down the California Coast from Baja to SF, though the tables I’ve seen only give times for San Diego-Santa Barbara section. But they only happen around midnight (and only on a high tide right after a full or new moon — according to Ca. Dept. of Fish and Game‘s grunion schedule), and being someone who goes to sleep at 9:30 I’ve never been interested in waking up at midnight to bike down to the beach to look for fish that may not show.

It was Cynthia’s idea. She suggested we do it. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the whole thing, but I felt I should at least try once to see them. So I went along.

We went to the East Beach grill and parked our bikes and walked down to the beach. We got there about 11:20, and wandered east along the surfline.

No fish.

The beach here was somewhat peculiar. It looked as if a temporary dune were forming. The sand reached a small peak right above the surfline, and then dropped slightly as you headed to the land. The result was that there were puddles of slowly draining seawater behind the mini-dune.

After walking for about 20 minutes we found one fish. It wasn’t doing much of anything, just lying there beside a diminishing puddle. It looked stranded. There didn’t seem any way it could get back to the sea. So I picked it up and carried it to the ocean and threw it back in. I think technically this may have been illegal. It’s off season for grunion at the moment and people aren’t supposed to touch them, but I couldn’t leave it to die…
Grunion just lying there

I’d assumed it would be all or nothing, either we’d see an extraordinary mass of swarming spawning fish, or we’d see nothing. Most likely nothing. The internet was clear that they usually don’t show. It hadn’t occurred to me that we might see one or two. After seeing one fish I felt the trip had been worth while.

A little later we saw a Night Heron right at the surfline. Was it looking for grunion too? Wikipedia says that herons do prey upon grunion, so perhaps it was. But we saw no other birds on the beach, not even later when the run picked up a bit.
NightHeron

We’d been walking east along the beach and hadn’t seen much of anything so we decided to turn around and walk west.

It was now getting on toward midnight. We realized that the place to see the fish was right at the surfline after a big wave broke. We started to notice a fish here and there wriggling back to the water.

It seemed odd. Weren’t they coming to the beach to spawn? Why go to all the work to get yourself stranded on the beach out of the water — and then wriggle back to the water without doing anything.

But that’s what seemed to be happening.
Grunion Squirming Grunion Squirming
You can see the marks the fish has left in the wet sand as it jumps and squirms down the beach.

And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more —
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

A little later we started seeing two or three together stranded by a wave. This looked a bit more interesting. We walked over to one such spot and stood there watching as the fish squirmed back to the sea — and then — right in front of us — a fish popped out of the sand and then followed its own path down.

Looking back at it I think several males and a female swam up in the wave together. The female dug herself down in the sand while the wave was breaking and we probably didn’t even see her, what we saw were the males stranded by the retreating wave, presumably depositing milt in the female’s hole. Then they left, and a little later the female popped out of the sand herself and followed them.
Grunion Fish in Hole
Fish’s nose poking out of hole

Grunion Leaping out of sand Grunion Leaving Hole
Grunion Hole
The hole left by a fish

We noticed several of these events up close. But after a time there seemed fewer and fewer fish in the waves. Three big waves would come and leave no fish behind. And then a wave would deposit one or two… And most of the waves weren’t big now. The tide must have started receding.

We left about 12:30. I’d guess we saw about 50 fish. At first we counted diligently, but after I got up to about 12 it didn’t seem worth it. I’m glad I went. I’ve seen grunion spawning. Not the huge writhing masses I was expecting, but some, and it’s still pretty cool to see a fish pop out of the sand right at your feet.

A little more web-searching this morning found an online form to fill out if you’ve had a gunion sighting. So I did.


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