Archive for November, 2013


November 29, 2013

When someone asked Nash what he thought of Red Rock he said that it was lonely. Heidi said that the best part of the race was the running with friends.


I didn’t feel lonely. Nor did I miss my friends.

I ran with random people for the first two miles (give or take) and then with Sara from around 9 to 15. So I was by myself for about two thirds of the run. But I didn’t think about whether I was alone or not. I just ran. And looked at the trail.

I don’t feel lonely when I go out for a 16 mile training run through the back country. I can feel lonely when I’m sitting at home, but not really on the trails.

There’s always something to see: a view, a flower, or just the trail in front.

Nothing wrong with running in a group. That’s fun too. But I tend to miss the flowers that way. It’s easier to see nature when I’m alone.

I look at pictures of myself over the years when I’m running alone in races. I look happy.

Big Sur Marathon 2005 White River 50M 2009 Red Rock Mar 2013

What’s Nash talking about?


How long was the Red Rock Marathon

November 26, 2013

I don’t trust my GPS watch to be accurate. More often than not it tells me I’ve run about 1% further than an accurately measured course on the road (I assume this is an inaccuracy in the GPS (or how the watch interprets the GPS over time), but maybe I run zig-zags).

Anyway I didn’t trust my watch to give an accurate reading for the actual distance of the red rock marathon. So I thought I’d collect the readings from some friends’ watches to see how they compared.

They gave me altitude readings too, which were even more different (distances in miles, cumulative elevation gain in feet, “Fr” stands for Garmin ForeRunner):

Name Watch type Website
Distance Elevation
Nash Fr 10 25.24mi 9715ft
Andreas Fr 10 25.2mi 9854ft
Monica Fr 10 25.3mi 9920ft
George Fr 305 GTC 25.54mi 9263ft
Brett Fr 310 Plus 3 25.89mi 6085ft
Garmin Connect 7094ft
Strava 7413ft
Heidi Fr 310xt 25.61mi 7065ft
Andrejs Fr 910xt Strava 24.9mi 6050ft

Everyone ran essentially the same course, and so essentially the same distance (and elevation). We all started within seconds of one another so atmospheric conditions should have been comparable.

Watches do not calculate elevation gain (just current elevation), that is done by the website/application which processes the data. I used “Garmin Training Center”, GTC, a stand alone App from Garmin myself.

Jon Zaid tells me the 310 watches use a barometric altimeter as well as GPS, this would be more accurate.

Red Rock marathon

November 24, 2013

Rockses are red, dilly dilly, Canyons are blue,
When I am done, dilly dilly, You shall be too.

I’ve never run Red Rock. Nor did I run Nine Trails, the race which turned into Red Rock after the Jesusita fire closed half the front country trails. It’s always been the weekend after Thanksgiving, and I’m always visiting my parents then.

But this year it was the weekend before. So I had to sign up.

Except that it was 2 weeks after SBIM, which I was pacing, so my training was, of necessity, at a much slower pace than I would chose if I were really racing. And then the week after the marathon was going to be pretty much shot — yes, I ran the race more slowly than I’d do if I were racing, but it was still a marathon and at a reasonable clip…

So I decided I was running Red Rock for fun, and not racing it. I’d take it easy and make detours to check flowers. Just have a pleasant long run.

red rock map

I got on my bike a little before 6 and biked over to San Ysidro trailhead where the marathon started. That might have been stupid if I were taking the marathon seriously (a 45 minute bike ride before a long race?) but I wasn’t so it didn’t matter.

We started on the road, about 200 meters below the trailhead — this allowed a much wider start than the single track trail and gave the faster people a chance to race ahead and pass people before the narrow trail made that difficult.

We recited the Micah True’s oath: “I solemnly swear that if I get hurt, lost or die it’s my own damn fault. Amen.” And we were off.

I found I was in about 12th place when we got to the single track. Seemed a reasonable position. I was a little surprised that I was ahead of Nash, maybe he was racing conservatively…

As we went up the single track I decided that the people ahead of me were going too slowly, so I passed a few, and then when the trail widened into road passed a few more.

I was running with a group of about 4 others, including the first woman, and ahead of us was no one. (Not that we were in the lead, but the leaders were so much faster than we that they were out of sight).

Perhaps I was going out too fast? I hadn’t brought my HR monitor so I was running this race by feel. I hadn’t expected to be racing it…

Over the steep climbs and dips of the fireroad between San Ysidro and Cold Spring I pulled into the lead of our little clump. When I got to the turn off for Hot Spring there was someone not far behind me, and two women (Martha and someone?) were chatting out of sight but close enough to hear their voices.

As I neared the top of Hot Springs I heard voices ahead (Ah ha! I’m catching up on the leaders perhaps). But when I reached them they turned into a party of hikers. They told me there were four people ahead of me.

It isn’t easy to be interested in flowers at the end of November. There just aren’t any. The only interesting thing I’d seen so far was a wild cucumber vine blooming on Hot Spring.

It had rained about a third of an inch on Thursday night (first significant rain of the season) and I was wondering if that might make things start to grow — but not yet.

Cold FireI passed through the burn area of the cold fire. I was intending to check the blooming status of the three things blooming here, but I forgot to look at the first plant (luckily it’s likely to be blooming when I get back). Eriogonum baileyi flowerBut the odd little buckwheat that sprang up after the fire is still going, as is the wirelettuce.

I don’t hear anyone behind me now. I don’t see anyone ahead.

As we approach Montecito Peak I start looking out for the route up to the top. An oddity of this race is that we don’t have to go to the top, but if we want a finisher’s medal (or rather finisher’s ceramic thingy) then we must take the diversion. I don’t feel the need of a medal, but it seems like cheating to cut the race short (even though we were explicitly told we could…

Anyway I go up. A quarter of the way up I meet someone coming down. OK, he’s about 4~5 minutes ahead of me. Then I meet Mark Warren coming down. What’s he doing? I thought he was supposed to be handing out medals at the top? He walks up with me and tells me that two of the people ahead of me just zipped by without getting medals. (Hurumph!)

I get to the top, and they place the thingy round my neck and I head down.

On the way down I see — everyone. They are closer to me than I was to the guy ahead of me… Martha, and Nash and Monica…

The entire excursion took me 7 and a half minutes. So at the finish line if one of those two zippy people was less than 7:30 ahead of me…

There’s another mile to go before Camino Cielo and the first aid station.

Elongated buckwheat is still blooming. Not surprising.

I’m pondering whether I should remove my outer shirt at the aid station. Before Montecito Peak I was running in the sun and was quite warm, now I’m in the shade and it’s chilly. It will probably be even chillier when I go down the far side. And I’ve got the damn medal around my neck, I might lose that if I take off the shirt. I think I’ll just ignore it.

Just below Camino Cielo aid station Photo by Jonathan Stewart

Just below Camino Cielo aid station
Photo by Jonathan Stewart


As I approach the top I see I’m catching up on the guy ahead. He’s very distinctive, he’s not wearing any shirt (isn’t he chilly?) and is wearing sandals (what about stones?). I’m about 20 feet behind him when he reaches the aid station. So he gets to refill his water first, and there’s only one water jug, so I must wait. By the time I leave he’s far ahead again.

Just a little way along Camino Ciello is a threadleaf ragwort, and I’ve been watching it over the last few months. I head over to it to see if it is still in bloom. But it’s in the opposite direction (by 10 feet or so) from the way I’m supposed to go, and the people at the aid station are having conniptions telling me I’m going the wrong way. I calm them by saying I’m just looking at a flower (which is still blooming), and then turn back and go the right way.

And now I zoom down to Forbush. This trail is fun to run. It’s downhill and not technical. And I’m feeling good.

I had another excursion in mind, at the end of Forbush meadow there might be some Elegant Madia still in bloom, and I had thought to check on them. But… well… I’m in 5th place. I’m running well, maybe I’ll race this thing after all… Maybe I’ll catch the guy in 4th place again…

At the start Brett and I were wondering where we’d start seeing the 50 milers coming at us. My guess was Forbush, Brett suggested the shale slide after the grotto (because that would be the nastiest place to meet them).

As it turns out, I see the first about 10 feet before Forbush. And right behind him is Rusty (who signed up for the race with no training two days ago), and behind him is Mike. Zip, zip, zip.

I don’t go look for the Madia. I’m feeling pretty good. Of course I’ve only run about a quarter of the race, but hey I thought I’d be more tired. The last few times I’ve run here I’ve felt tired when I got here — but I guess the last few days of rest has helped me.

And then the climb out of Blue Canyon (the hummingbird trumpets aren’t blooming here any more). Just beyond the top I meet and pass the guy ahead. I’m now in fourth place. And now down toward the grotto.

This is a bit more technical than the trail down to Forbush, and after a bit I hear footsteps behind. Oh dear. I try to pick up the pace. But they keep coming. Finally they they are close enough that I see their owner when the trail twists. It isn’t the guy I just passed it’s the first woman.

We race down the hill. I remain (or she lets me remain) a little ahead.

Fallen treeJust before the grotto a large tree trunk has fallen across the path. This was not here the last time I came this way. Grump. We manage to skirt it.

The maples here have some nice red leaves and they carpet the trail.

Um. I think they are red?

Sara at the GrottoThere’s water in the stream here (which was also not true the last time I came this way), but not enough that the waterfall looks like a waterfall.

UphillThe woman has fallen back a bit, what with the tree, and the stream crossings, and then the scree slopes. And then after that there’s some more uphill. I hope maybe that she’ll be slower on the uphill than I (after all I got up Cold Spring faster than she).

Things level out, and pretty soon I hear her behind me again.

More ColorI realize that I’m not going to shake her off. So I stop trying. She doesn’t seem to want to pass me though. I guess that if you are unfamiliar with the trails it’s probably comforting to have someone ahead who seems to know where he’s going…

All this while we are randomly seeing 50 mile runners going the other way. They are all much more excited to see her than me. She’s the first woman; I’m the fourth man; that’s not nearly as interesting. “But,” I feel like saying, “I’m 54, that means it is more impressive for me to run this fast than it is for a young woman, you really should be more impressed by me.” Silly me.

After a bit I start chatting with the woman behind. She’s Sara and has just moved to Ventura. I offer to let her pass but she says she’s fine for now.

River ColorShe wants to know when the next climb is. I explain that there are no more climbs like Cold Spring, it’s just rolling hills now. (steep rolling hills, but they aren’t long). “Good.” she says.

Gibraltar reservoir comes into view. Or rather the sand banks that used to be the reservoir. It didn’t rain much last winter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this low (not that I come out here much).

Mine in shadowed foreground, empty reservoir behind.

Mine in shadowed foreground, empty reservoir behind.

And then we get to the old mercury mine. I’m always slightly worried that an old mercury mine is about 50 feet from the reservoir that holds my drinking water… but there it is.

I try to get Sara interested in flowers: “There’s a coyote bush blooming”. “What?”

Ah well. Not to everyone’s taste I guess.

As we come to the end of this trail there’s a huge switch back and we can look behind us. There is a figure, all in black, which might be Martha, or might not, maybe half a mile back? Sara says “That’s too close” and takes off. I’m starting to feel tired and I don’t try to keep up with her. This is a fairly steep bit, and I no longer have the energy I did when I went up Cold Spring.

Sara leaves meWe get to the top, through the gate. Someone has left lots of water bottles here. I wasn’t expecting that, so I don’t need any, but it’s nice to see them. Sara slows and I almost catch up to her again.

Gibraltar DamThen we run down toward the dam. I’ve never actually run this section. Sara speeds up again, and pulls away.

I look back, but these switchbacks aren’t nearly as big and I can’t see anyone behind me.

I’ve never had this view of the dam before. It’s impressive.

I go down, and then steeply up for about a mile (see? much shorter than Cold Spring — but it feels harder).

Hunh. We’re taking a tiny little trail here that I didn’t know existed. It cuts off a loop of the road from the look of things.

Nice RoadBack on the road. Then there’s a gate, and I think this is Paradise Rd. Must be. Red Rock is probably off to my left? I don’t know this area well.

Sara comes running back to me. She thinks she’s lost. Hasn’t seen any trail markers since the ones here. Um. I’m pretty sure we just go down the road. So we do.

Sara seems consoled and again goes a little faster than I. After a bit someone runs up to her from on ahead and starts talking to her. I can’t hear but I presume things are OK again.

After a bit he drops back and runs with me. He says Sara was too fast for him (for me too!). He’s the greeter for the next aid station (which I know is coming soon) and we’re going the right way. He’s very chatty. I don’t have too much to say, but I forget that I’m tired with him beside me.

He’s doing a marathon next week he tells me. Why on earth is he out running now, I wonder? Taper man. “Oh, no.” he replies, “I have a 9 miler on Thanksgiving. You want to come?”

Not how I’d train for a marathon. Well, I guess, maybe that is how I trained for this one.

As we approach the aid station I see Sara leaving it and heading up the trail that takes off here. And that’s the last I see of her (until I cross the finish line).

Ug. The trail is steep. I do my first walking since Montecito Peak. (trail isn’t nearly that steep, but I’m a lot more tired).

Nice ValleyAfter a mile of mostly uphills I come out on Mathias trail. I know this trail of old. I’m not too fond of it at the end of a race. It seems to have an interminable number of little hills (well they each seem unending at the end of a race, but they aren’t really that long). As I approach the top of each one I think “Ah, this is the last and I’ll be on the road soon” and then I look down on the other side — and there’s just another valley and another hill beyond it.

I also start to feel nauseous. I thought I was doing pretty well, my camelback has been almost empty when I reach each aid station, but I guess I need more than water. I take two salt tablets and another GU. (Ug, the GU isn’t much fun), but after a bit I feel better.

These hillsides are always sparse, but there was a fire here last year and they are barer than usual.

These hillsides are always sparse, but there was a fire here last year and they are barer than usual.

And finally I do hit the road. It’s all downhill for about a mile and I barrel down it.

Well — I think I’m going fast. Looking back I see I was going at an 8:20 pace (I paced an entire marathon faster than that and it felt slow.)

Nice OaksAnd then the Rancho Oso trail. When I get to it I think “Oh, almost done”, but it’s almost a mile an a half of some nasty uphills. It seems to take forever.

Finally the last downhill. There’s the shed, but where’s the damn finish line. No one pays me any attention. I get closer. Still no sign of a line. Finally someone starts to cheer and points me toward the shed. Well I sort of knew that much, but where is the damn line? I still can’t see it. There’s Cynthia. I run past the shed and people call me back. Oh. The line is inside the shed.

4:36:03 for 25.5 miles (by my watch). The shortest (in terms of distance) and longest (in terms of time) marathon I’ve ever run. Fifth place. And I didn’t vomit. Not even once.

The official results have me running 4:35:30 (They failed to record the start time accurately and claim we started at 7:15:00) and have me in third place (the two fast guys who didn’t climb Montecito Peak aren’t in the official results for the marathon).

Marathon Moments

November 9, 2013

3:25I helped out at the pacer desk yesterday before the marathon. That was fun. I got to answer questions about the course, and I know the course really well. But there was one conversation that was different. A woman came up to me and asked if I was one of the organizers. I said no, that I was a volunteer. This did not seem to disturb her and she started her complaint. Last year there were only two port-a-potties at mile 2 of the HM course, and the lines were terrible. Also one of the water stations was out of water right at the start. Therefore this was the worst organized race she’d ever been to (so why, I wondered, had she returned) and she represented 800 runners. She’d already sent hate mail (her words) to the organizers but she wanted to say it in person. — I was rather floored by this. I have never even used a port-a-potty during a race (though in a long trail race I will use the side of the trail as there are usually no port-a-potties there), and the thought that you’d need one at mile 2 just seemed laughable. Lacking water can be more series, I admit. But in a half-marathon? Where there are water stands every mile or two? That’s a short enough race that I can run it without water at all; if one station were out of water especially one near the start, I’d just drink at the next. Clearly I was the wrong person for her to talk to. But having vented her complaint she was content to walk off. Whew. I could not tell her that these things had been fixed since I had no idea they had happened (if they did) nor what had been done about them. —And I didn’t think anything needed to be done about the first one.

I took the shuttle bus from UCSB to the race start. At the round-about on Los Carneros the bus driver announced that she was lost. Luckily I was in the seat directly behind her and could give her directions. Still it was a weird feeling.

I sat around in the High School gym near the start with my sign on display. People slowly started coagulating around me. I had about 4 runners (and one runner’s friend) by the time we were kicked out. One runner was Steve who had run with me last year (the only person who ran with me the whole way). I warned him that I was going a little faster this year (3:25 rather than 3:30) and he warned me that he wasn’t in as good shape, but he was going to try anyway. I think we call this willing suspension of disbelief.

I took them outside to warm up, and bumped into a couple of my friends who were also warming up, and then one more… A very short warmup.

We got back to the start, divested ourselves of warm clothing and went over closer to the line. More and more people introduced themselves to me as part of my group. It seemed a very large group, more people than I had had last year — though I wasn’t entirely sure how many were running with me, and how many just happened to be nearby…

It was also a very chatty group and once we were off one guy explained that he’d read Craig’s blurb about me on the website and was expecting a plant identification talk. The problem is that in SB in November there just aren’t many plants to identify. They are all awaiting the winter rains (which haven’t come yet). Oops there’s telegraph weed.

I kept having to tell people to slow down (or to be more accurate, I kept running a bit too fast and they kept up with me, I was the one at fault most of the time). Still, by the time we got to the next mile mark almost all of my splits were between 7:43 and 7:48 and I was happy with that. (Shooting for 7:45 pace)

Big Pace Group, probably about mile 10. Photo by Elda Rudd

Big Pace Group, probably about mile 10.
Photo by Elda Rudd

At the halfway mark my watch read 1:41:18 which was about a minute faster than half of 3:25 and right where I wanted to be to bank some time for the hill.

But once we got to mile 16 or 17 I noticed people started to fade back. I never looked behind me (too much chance of falling) so I never knew how big the group was to start with, but there seemed fewer people around to chat with. By about mile 20~21 there was only Martin (A guy I used to hike with every Wednesday, but he got married and we drifted apart; I hadn’t seen him for years).

On the hill I slowed down to about 10 minute miles (I’d actually planned to do 9:30s but… I was getting tired too), and Martin slowed down even more. Now I was running all alone. And then the little bouncy small hills on top of the big hill — and then oh blessed relief — the long downhill stretch to the finish line.

Alone on the hill

Alone on the hill
Photo by Simon Ibsen

I was running alone. But I was supposed to be helping people. I reminded myself that my job was to run the pace. I can’t control what others can do, I can’t force anyone to run with me. It would be nice if they did, but that’s out of my control. I told them my race plan beforehand and I stuck to it pretty closely; that was all I could do. I can’t blame myself if I’m alone. It was a hot dry day, and there was a nasty headwind; it’s understandable that someone who could run 3:25 in optimal conditions can’t quite do it today. Of course, I don’t know who is behind me. I’m visible. (the race has thinned out now and there aren’t many other people around) I may be inspiring people 100 feet back that I don’t know about. My job was to keep going though, not to wait for them.

I was feeling fairly bad. Worse than I had last year, at this point. OK, last year I was running 5 minutes slower and was a year younger, but I don’t think that was the problem. I think it was hot and dry in Goleta and I just dehydrated, the way I always do, though I thought I’d be OK at this pace. Last year I picked up the pace here because the one guy who was with me then wanted to. This year I was trying to talk myself into slowing down since no one was running with me.

Then I passed someone who did start running with me. Damn it. OK, I can’t take it easy.

As we came up to the 25 mile mark I did some quick figuring and decided that if I were near 3:15 there, then I’d be on pace for 3:25 (3:15 would mean I could run an ~8min pace to finish on time, and I was going every so slightly faster). I was about four seconds faster than 3:15 so I should finish very close to the right time.

On the final downhill stretch Martin came running up behind me (Hey! he caught up!) and then he and the someone sprinted off to the finish.

All alone for the last half mile. Photo by Kathleen Formidoni

All alone for the last half mile.
Photo by Kathleen Formidoni

I didn’t want to sprint, and I had the excuse that I really wanted to finish on pace this year (rather than 3 minutes too fast as I did last) so I let them go and continued.

I finished 26 seconds ahead of 3:25 (by my watch). So I was off by one second per mile . That seemed pretty good to me.



And suddenly I felt terrible. I bent down to take my chip out of my shoe and when I stood up my vision went too bright and sort of constricted. Dehydration again, I guess. Depressing that it’s happening on what should be an easy run. People kept asking if I were all right. And all I wanted was a place to sit. Oh and a bottle of water. I got that, and tottered off. I found a parking lot tombstone to sit on, and felt better. But when I stood up again to get more water I was just as bad; so I got my water and sat back down. After another bit I stood up again and felt better. So I went over to get my bag — and vomited on the parking lot. Luckily all that came up was water. If you are going to vomit, I recommend vomiting water. It also makes less of a mess. Now I felt better.

Very many years ago, when I was about as old as some of you are now, I went mountain climbing in Scotland with a very dear friend of mine. There was this mountain, you see, and we decided to climb it. And so, very early one morning, we arose and began to climb. All day we climbed. Up and up and up, higher and higher and higher. Until the valley lay very small below us, and the mists of the evening began to come down, and the sun to set. And when we reached the summit we sat back to watch this magnificent sight of the sun going down behind the mountain. And as he watched, my friend, very suddenly and very violently vomited.

Some of us think life is a bit like that.

— Alan Bennett, Beyond the Fringe