Thursday, October 30, 2008

To Heaven and Back - Running over the Sandia's

It has been three months in the making, and we (Kris, Dana and I) finally ran the most Epic Adventure run of our lives.  Since the creation of our little 3 man group; which we call the Trifecta, it has been very interesting.  We have planned out races, mingled with Kenyan runners, met beautiful women, discovered insanity, and embraced this sport of distance running even more than ever!  Every month or so, we embark on some kind of epic run.  The first of which was up the Sandia Mountains to the Tram (18 miles-3:17:54).  The second was up La Luz trail to the Tram and back (22 miles-3:52:23).  Now it was time to test our limits and run something truly epic.  We have planned to accomplish this run together after the San Jose half marathon, and roughly 3 weeks out from our San Antonio half marathon.  This past sunday, October 26 was a perfect weekend to do it.  

Many friends soon learned we were doing this and wanted in on the action.  Running on the most iconic image in Albuquerque, a span of 28 miles starting from 5500' just at the base up to 10500' and back, something so epic as this was bound to gain allure, and who wouldn't want to be in on this?  We started to tally up, and soon reached a total of 8 runners by the week of the run.  The Trifecta would soon be eclipsed and a whole bunch of us would be doing something amazing...

As D-Day approached, we started to lose soldiers.  One by one, each runner had something come up and could not partake in the experience.  Just looking at the Mountains can be enough to detour anyone away.  But as Sunday finally came, the numbers were at 3.  We would start the run late in the morning, parking one car (my lovely truck) at the north end on the trail head, and take Dana's car to the south end.  The name of the trail where we start is called Three Gun Springs.  Ironic, that only 3 of us will be gunning up this mountain.  We have run this trail before to South Peak, so we know the terrain.  Once we reach South Peak in record time, we take a short break to absorb to view.  It is truly amazing up there, and has changed so much since the last time we ran it in August.  No picture can express the beauty and serenity up there.  But of course I have a few pictures:

Looking West over the City:

Group Picture:

Looking north from south peak.  The end of the run is still beyond that north peak:

After some quick R&R, we head back on the crest trail to the Tram and towards Goldilocks.  We are now within 2 miles of the Tram and I start to feel sluggish, tired and fatigued.  Dana and Kris are at a fork in the road and wait for me.  We now have 1.2 miles to the Tram and more water.  We already finished our fluids, and I have some Clif Blocks and a Bar, but at this point its too late, water is pretty much what I need.  We are also at around 10000' approaching the last assent to the Tram.  Kris took off and Dana stayed behind to make sure I didn't die or anything.  Which I guess thats how I looked, stumbling up the trail, bobbing my head around with my eyes and mouth wide open gasping for air.  All I hear is Dana chanting, "Don't worry man, we're there, we're there.  You can refuel at the Tram, just make it to the Tram!"  Holy shit! He must have said that a hundred times, because we weren't even close to the Tram.  
After what seems like forever; we reach the Tram house 30 minutes faster than the last time we ran this, and its just a few flights of old wooden stairs to the water fountain and some serious rest.  I lean up against the sheet metal of the Tram house, as tourist, again look at me like I'm an idiot.  I can't help but laugh about it now, but at the moment I felt pretty messed up laying there while family members all trying to enjoy their sunday afternoon on the Sandia.  Hell, I was enjoying myself laying there on the ground.  

Dana and Kris venture inside to get me some water, but I soon recoup and get up to follow them inside.  I grab a seat and try to focus on the Football game on the TV...Lo and behold, its my beloved San Diego Chargers playing the Saints.  About a minute 40 left and they are getting pounded on a crucial play to tie up the game.  At that moment Kris eagerly and comically asks if I'm ready to go.  "No...... let me just watch the Chargers tie up the game and win."  
At least, thats what I was hoping for.  Their fate of winning the game was as likely as me feeling like a champ at that moment.  So, as the Saints intercept the ball and totally make a mockery out of the Chargers, I'm ready to get the hell out of there.  We fill up our water bottles, finish up our Clif Bars and head out.  Now, it must be some kind of conspiracy or amazement or something, but someone always comments on how crazy we are right when we leave.  This time a gentlemen bluntly says, "You guys are crazy."  I can agree.

The last part of the run is about 10 miles and mostly downhill, or rather down-mountain.  It is beautiful, shady, rocky and a long 10 miles back.  Oh, did I mention it was rocky?!  Miles after miles and hours later we are in uncharted territory.  I feel much better and the sun has gone from the east side of the mountain to nearly the western horizon.  We approach another sheer cliff that curves its way far enough out that we can see the trail head where my truck is parked.  We are a couple thousand feet directly above the trail head and Goldilocks, but we don't know how the hell we are going to make it down there.  A little jump off would be the easiest way to finally rest and get off our feet, but we follow the trail further away.  We are still going down, just in far, far opposite direction.  
We kind of already knew this might happen, but we are pissed at how the trail can tease us.  As my watch creeps up to 5 hours, I start to pick it up, hoping that maybe we are close.  We are definitely at a lower altitude, and I can feel that we are almost there.  Dana and I turn a corner and I see Goldilocks parked all by herself.  "There it is!" I shout to Dana, and we start sprinting home.  

We finally made it to the Truck....... DEAD!  With a time of 5:02:18, we gather some food and discuss the odd muscles that are in pain, sore, or whatever term you want to use that describes that sensation after a 5 hour mountain run. 
 Even our heads were hurting, but it was a good feeling.  The whole experience was amazing, and I really believe that it was a life changing experience.  I always see those mountains everyday.  No matter where you are in Albuquerque you can always see the Sandia Mountains. We now know what it feels like to run on the edge of the earth and take a glimpse of heaven.  We have run point to point, end to end, and have touched the sky.  It is a feeling like no other and I still can't believe we did it.  Thanks for everything you guys.                 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Raining in New Mexico

It is now cold and wet in Albuquerque.  The weather has changed, and will be changing as the frigid winter approaches.  It should be fun, compared to California where the winters are a mild 60 degrees, layering up with only a long sleeve.  No, New Mexico shall bring snow, wind and I've been told hail.  Well, at least I have some winter gear. I may need to invest in some running gloves since my fingers are already freezing in October!

These next few months should be very interesting.  I have one more 1/2 marathon next month, then I will be preparing for the USA 1/2 Marathon Championships in Houston.  That race will be my first chance in qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon.  If I can run under 1:05:00 for the 1/2 then I will be in.  Another thing, if for some reason I am really fit and run under 1:04:00 then that puts me in contention to qualify for a US team. Most likely the World Half Marathon Team.  Its a long, long shot and possibly years of preparation, but anything is possible.  It would truly be a dream come true to represent my country at the international level.  Faith and Hope are what have been inspiring me throughout these past months and years.  And with these two gifts, I know I can accomplish something truly amazing.  Runners are breaking through some barriers that seemed impossible at first, but now tangible.  It is just a matter how much we believe, how much faith and dedication we have.  We are all inspired by something greater, we all have hope and we all have faith.  It is just a matter of how much.  So much support has been given to me from my parents, family members and friends, you guys are what inspire me and help me keep the faith.  I really want to thank everyone for all you've done.  Thanks for reading and your support.

This weekend is a marathon relay that 5 of us are doing for fun.  Next sunday will be another Epic Long run.  This long run will be 28 miles and will start from the South base of the Sandia mountains and continue up and over the Sandias to the North end.  I will try and bring a camera to post some truly Heavenly pictures.       

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

San Jose 1/2 Marathon - New PR

What a great experience, again!  The weather was amazing and it seemed like the weeks leading up to the event were quality workouts and miles.  I got into San Jose on saturday went for a second run,  had some dinner at Old Spaghetti Factory, hopped some fences to get into BevMo! for some water, relaxed and slept great on my buddy Chris O'Neal's couch.  Once I woke up at 5:30am, we went on a little shake out run to the local high school and back, just a mile or so, nothing crazy, but just enough to wake up the body.  We got ready, made a makeshift bib number for Chris and drove to the race. Once we parked I got a phone call from Kris Houghton asking us where we were so we could get a warm up in. I looked at my watch and saw that we only had an hour before the race. So we ran over to the VIP section to get my bib and warm up with Kris. But lo and behold he was gone with some of the Moroccans. Typical of Kris, so Chris O'Neal and I went for an easy run around the streets.

Its amazing seeing all these people walking around, warming up, chatting to friends and family. This sport is truly blowing up! I love it!  So, I get in about 17 minutes, its a lucky number of mine, and start stretching by the VIP tent. I didn't want to go in and get my stuff, since there were just too many runners and other elites in there. Adam Goucher, Josh Rohantinsky, Bolota Asmeron, and number of 1:01:00 Kenyans & Moroccans. I finally see Kris and we talk about race strategies. As we run over to the starting line with the other elites, Kris and I agree that we are going to go out conservative. I'm thinking 5:05-5:10 per mile, for at least the first 4 should be conservative.  So we get in a couple of strides and drills in, a brief chit-chat with fellow runners like Brooks-Hanson's Nick Arciniaga on what pace they are going to go out in. He was aiming for a sub 1:04 half marathon time. A little too quick for me.

So we are finally corralled over to the start. I was fortunate enough to find one photo thus far from the race. I am tucked away like a dear in headlights behind Rohantinsky and Bolota
was to his right.  Once the gun went off, everyone took off like a bat out of hell.  The first group already established themselves with about 15 guys including the 3 top Americans.  Kris and I were behind in another group of about 7 guys.  It seemed like a good place to be.  Three runners that come to mine in our chase pack were: Charlie Serrano (a McMillan elite runner), Miguel Nuci (a 2:15 marathoner) and Cristian Hesch.  All top caliber runners.  So I just figured I should stay with these guys and I might get a PR.  Our first mile was 4:57. Not bad, a little worried that we might have gone out too fast, but oh well, its too late to slow down now.  
As we come up to mile two I click off my watch and its 4:59. Ok, thats good. Now the first water station is coming up, not too many runners went for water or the Cytomax they had. But this being my third marathon I figure I better get some and "practice" my fuel intake...again.  So we come up to mile three and Hesch runs off the course and heads for the bathroom. That doesn't surprise me, since Hesch does all sorts of crazy things.  Three miles comes up pretty quick and we hit it in 4:56, and the 5k in 15:26.  Wow, if I keep this up I am sure to PR.  Now I just have to keep this pace, or I could even drop back to 5:10s and still PR. This is all going through my head as we pass tons of spectators and bands jamming at 8:15 in the morning.  The course now takes us back through the start and a whole crowd of people cheering their brains out.  Its really a great sensation, nothing like the previous two halves I've done.

So by mile four I hit 5:02, which is now expected of me to fade a little, as well as the other runners in our pack.  Its now myself, Nuci and Serrano pressing on.  Mile five comes in 4:55. Nuci holds pace while the next mile is hit in 5:10.  Serrano and I are trying to maintain pace and keep Nuci in our sights.  Now, Nuci runs 200 miles a week three times a day, and tapers down to 140 mpw.  I am told he doesn't have a job, except for running.  He is a 2:15 marathoner and I know I can stick with him!  But he is creeping away as I press forward. Mile six is hit in I know why and how he got away, we also go through the 10k in 30:51.  I like the pace we are at, it isn't the most comfortable pace in the world but it feels rhythmic.  Mile seven is hit in 4:54, the fastest mile yet. And now Serrano has a lead on me but starts to veer to his right and stops.  I pass by him calling his name to follow me, but he just looks at me with his hands on his head and a sign of pain from his side.  At this point in the neighborhood an older women cheers me on and comments on how she likes my shoes!  I immediately think to myself, "hell yeah! I love these shoes!".  They are the adidas adizero pro, but the significantly bright blue and red heel cup are what gets the attention. 

Mile eight comes up in 5:01, and within 800 meters there is one of many 90 degree turns. But this turn has a quaint little family on the corner and a small girl yells with her 9 year old voice "I love your shoes!"  As I turn the corner I look back to make eye contact and pump my fist with a smile in agreement. The whole family looks happy and cheerful at that point, and I will soon feel that way once I get to the finish line with hopefully a new PR.  Mile nine comes a little slower than the rest in 5:12, followed by ten miles in 5:10 (50:21).  Mile ten....just 5k to go. I seem to always think of it as a long 5k, which it tends to be.  No one is around me, and Kenyans and Moroccans are finally fading back due to the insanely fast pace they started off at. 

5k to go, 5k to go. Anything can happen in the next few miles.  My watch read 50:21 for ten miles. I need to run 15:38 or faster to break 1:06:00.  I never thought I would be in the vicinity of 1:06:00, but now its in my hands to push through the pain or stay at a comfortable pace.
Comfortable this point I didn't even know what that meant. Mile eleven was hit in 5:00. Ok, that's right on pace. It seems as if Nuci was coming back on me, but he wasn't.  Mile twelve comes up at the slowest time of the day - 5:14.  Oh man, "its over", thats what I was thinking.  But there was still hope, I was still pressing forward around the long turn.  Then as I make eye contact with one of the spectators, he yells at me, "COME ON! ADAM IS RIGHT THERE!"  Holy shit! Adam Goucher is right there?!?! I started pressing even more around that long turn and once it straighten out I saw Adam about 300 or 400 meters away. Dude, there is no way I can catch him, or is there? I just start breathing and start pumping my arms and legs. Thirteen miles comes up in 4:54, and Adam already finished. With about 100 meters to go I see the clock tick away from 1:05:55 inching its way closer to 1:06 and I finish in 1:06:06.

I could not be happier with that time and that performance. The crowds were amazing, and the bands helped out in soo many ways.  If anyone is considering doing an event like this, I highly suggest it!  And the medal was pretty cool too!
One last picture with all the Moroccans including Khalid Khannouchi.   

Splits: [4:57, 4:59, 4:56 (5k-15:26) 5:02, 4:55, 5:10 (10k-30:51) 4:54, 5:01, 5:12, 5:10 (10miles-50:21) 5:00, 5:14, 4:54 (.1-35sec)] Total time: 1:06:06