Back to School


Fun week last week! Started back to school on Tuesday, in my 9th year teaching math-n-science to sixth graders at Windsor Middle School. Learning names, establishing routines, and basically just getting back into the swing of things with teaching. I was looking for the time between Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and this race at Headlands 50k as a major transition phase in the year. When I signed up earlier in the year, I’d anticipated being motivated to jump back into training a bit earlier and with more gusto than I actually had since TRT in July. Still, just listening to my body allowed me to run well at Headlands, all things considered.

So, this C-priority race represented the official breaking-the seal-on-the-fall-trail-running-season. After having the same old problems in training this month with my Garmin 910XT’s heart-rate monitor, I just decided to ditch it and go down to Headlands and just run by feel, and keep this one simply relaxed and fun, since I was basically going off fitness I’d established in June and July. So, no HRM, and also, no water bottle, which was a first for me in a 50k. I’ve always wanted to run a hard 50k trail-run with no bottle. So, looking at the weather forecast, I figured what the hay, I’ll do it. And, as it turns out, it wasn’t a big deal at all. I love running unencumbered and the time I took to drink at aid stations was about the same time it took for guys around me to fill their bottles. I was getting down about two cups of water at each aid station. Toward the end, one of those cups was sports drink, and then cola. A successful experiment. I’ll definitely do it again for 50k, when the temps cooperate of course. Now, I’m still trying to figure out if I have the cojones to try it for a cool 50-miler… Maybe not…

After the start of Headlands, enthusiastic speedster Alex Varner, was soon out of sight and it seemed a race for 2nd. There were a lot of us together for quite a while over the first half of the race. I felt I could easily end up in 5th or 6th. Since I had zero idea where my fitness was but knew I was likely not going to be as fast as I was earlier in the year when I last went under four hours for 50k, I had looked up Leigh Schmitt’s winning time from last year and found it was 4:12—about 8:07/mi pace. Thus, I set my Garmin’s Virtual Pacer to 8:07 and went to work, stayed smooth, and really tried to enjoy the ride.

I guess I felt as expected, neither superhuman nor too terribly out of shape. The climbs felt a little harder than I’d like but the downs were really coming easy and I was bombing them in my trusty Hokas. I continue to love these shoes for all the protection they offer on rocky courses with a lot of descending. I’d save heart-beats on the climbs and just motor on the downhills. Good, good fun!

Somewhere around 2:30 in, I’d been concentrating on keeping the power on and basically just working my ass off to put a gap between me and whoever was behind—due diligence. As we were getting back north on the Dipsea Trail, I was surprised and not too happy to hear someone coming up from behind. I pushed a bit harder. Still there. Who IS that?, I thought. Finally, I turn around to see Jon Olsen, who was running a smart race and would soon overtake me. Anyway, I have a lot of respect for Jon and was pleased to have someone to now work with a bit. That is, before he would inevitably drop me.

I probably kept Jon in sight for some 20min or so and it was sweet running just working hard and giving chase on those delightful trails. I stayed with him to Stinson Beach where I was about even with virtual Leigh Schmitt. But, by the time the stairs and ladder climbs had had their way with me, I was some 10min down on virtual Leigh. Back to work to the finish. Since I wasn’t looking at distance at all during the race, and just virtual pacer and race-time, the miles seemed to go by quick. The sensation also likely inspired by the lingering effects of a long day running 100mi just a month ago. Anyway, it was nice to have the miles not weigh heavily upon my mind. But, they ran out before I could get all my time back, and by the finish, I was about 5min back on virtual Leigh. Had I just kept up with him I may have stayed in front of Olsen for 2nd.

Varner, with a new course record at 3:41, was in another zip-code by the finish. I’ve since read he was 26th at the Boston Marathon this year with a time of 2:21. So, with my best at Boston being 2:39, back in 2000, I didn’t feel so bad. Over beers, post-race, Alex was psyched about the event and his CR though I urged him to return promptly to racing exclusively on the road.  😉


My hamstrings started really protesting with about a mile to go, which I was quite pleased did not happen earlier in the run. I was then immediately impressed to see how strong Jean Pommier ran, coming across the line just a minute later in 4th. Good times of course hanging out after, basking in the afterglow of day’s honest and taxing effort, drinking a few Sierra Nevadas, eating great pizza, while chatting up my ultrarunning brethren. This is what it’s all about. After than, it was over San Francisco Running Co. for a visit before heading back up the road to Windsor. Sunday was fun, cheering on runners at the Santa Rosa Marathon/Half-Marathon/5k. Good to just limp around and hoot-n-holler. After that, got my athletes’ plans done, spent some quality time in the classroom before my wife brought home our new French Bulldog, “Sam Axe,” named after a character on one of our favorite shows, Burn Notice. Hello puppy training! >>> 😀