Monday, December 12, 2016

Ultra 2017

2017 is shaping up to be a year. Bold typeface indicates I've already registered.
  • February 4, 2017 Rocky Racoon 100
  • March 4, 2017 Way Too Cool 50k 
  • March 11, 2017 Marin Ultra Challenge 50-Miler
  • April 1, 2017 Barkley Marathons 
  • Backup: April 1, 2017 Bone Tempest 
  • April 15, 2017 Lake Sonoma 50M (Dec 1-15 lottery) 
  • Backup: April 15, 2017 Grizzly Peak 50K 
  • May 14, 2017 Quicksilver 100K 
  • June 24, 2017 San Juan Solstice 50 (lottery Jan 15-22)
  • July 14-16, 2017 Hardrock 100 
  • August 11-15, 2017 Bigfoot 200 
  • October 14(?), 2017 Euchre Bar Massacre
That's about it. Rocky Racoon isn't really my style, but it's an excuse to visit friends in Houston, and I think I can wedge it into a multi-destination work trip. Barkley I'm not sure about, and I never am, but why not go balls out the same year I finally get into Hardrock and have already signed up for a 200-miler?

That's right. I got into Hardrock on my fifth application. To be exact I'm fourth on the waitlist, and the waitlist has never gone fewer than four spots, so I'm almost guaranteed entry. I'm pretty excited about that. And since I am unable to keep my big mouth shut and I'm supposed to be some sort of expert on research transparency and reproducibility, I will say regarding the lottery kerfuffle that running a lottery on a computer is exactly  how you leave an audit trail. Write the code, put it on the Internet beforehand, hundreds of us will inspect it, then you livestream a few people rolling dice to set the seed for the psuedo-random number generator, or use atmospheric variation from if that's not good enough for you. Cutting up strips of paper introduces a far greater possibility of human error, and if you're not livestreaming the whole paper-cutting and name-picking process, forget it.

Also, I keep making (lowball) offers on houses, I've got a few papers in the hopper, I plan to go on the job market again (contradicts point one, I know), and the world is going to Hell in a handbasket. So there's that.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

A Month Part 2

I also:
Enjoyed vegan ramen with friends.
Then I went up to the Sierras.

Got into Emigrant Wilderness one last time before serious snow closed the trailhead.

Ran on the lower Tuolumne River canyone

San Francisco's Water Supply

That's a nice canyon you got there.

I was a little cold and wet so I just came back to the East Bay and hit a far flung park I hadn't been to yet.
 Brushy Peak

I also rode bikes with friends.

Pt. Reyes

And now you're caught up. Oh wait, did I mentioned that I'm pretty sure I cracked a rib falling while climbing into the back of my truck in the middle of the night while camping? And that I'm number four on the waitlist for Hardrock next year? Both those things happened, too.

A Month

What have I done lately?

I went to DC.


Let's hope so.
I attended a conference on open science and visited a friend working for the Council of Economic Advisers in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Truman Bowling Alley: I'm gonna miss you, Barry.

GZA and I saw Lucius at the Fillmore. They rock.

I acquired some emergency earthquake/fascism supplies.

I went for a long bike ride.

Monday, November 07, 2016

I went places and did things

I went to a conference in Budapest, and spent a day in the mountains in Slovakia. Slovakia was cloudy, but I stumbled across a fun English speaking wine tasting. The conference in Budapest was disappointing, but the city itself is beautiful.

Slovakia photos
Budapest photos

I went from Budapest to a conference at Mohonk Mountain House in the 'Gunks, and afterwards spent a day at NYU. The service at the high end hotel was absurdly bad, but it is one of the most beautiful natural hotel settings in the world, especially during peak leaf season.

Mohonk photos

Then I took a train to Florida and tried to preserve democracy. We'll see how that goes.

Florida photos

I'll leave you with this Brooklyn racoon.

Euchre Bar Massacre

After missing it last year with a cold, I was able to run my favorite race again this October: the Euchre Bar Massacre. I love it. I'm not supposed to share the exact route with you, but it's up and down the steep and deep canyon of the North Fork of the American River eight times, following written directions to a series of books hidden in the woods to act as checkpoints. Most of the downs are on trail, most of the ups are off trail. I love it. Even if it's 40-45 degrees and raining the entire day. I missed the cutoff at 1AM so I did not finish.

I love it.

 Photo by Sean Ranney

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Just Plain Tough

I ran the Plain 100. It was difficult.

Plain may be the first 100-miler I had ever heard of in the sense that I actually knew anyone who ran it. My ultra/grad school mentor ZG ran it back in '04 or '05 and not only did he win it, he was the first person to finish it in several years. Plain runs quite a bit under the radar due to its length (108 miles) and absence of any course markings or aid stations. That's right, no aid stations, and no course markings. Less than a month after running a 24-hour rogaine that has the same conditions, that might not seem like a huge deal, but compared to standard hundred mile races, it is. Also note that in my rogaine, I covered a whopping 44 miles without aid or course markings.

The other major issue with Plain is that it a very high percentage of the course is on motorbike trails. Motorbike trails are unpleasant to run on for several reasons:
  • Pavement. To prevent erosion, trail maintainers lay concrete paving stones. So you're basically running on a concrete sidewalk instead of a regularly cushioned trail. 
  • Waves. Motorcycles create waves in the trail. Irregular 2-3 foot undulating waves in the trail as often as every dozen yards. I bet on a dirtbike it feels like pure joy, but running the waves, it's painful on the knees and impossible to find a rhythm.
  • Ditches. When the trail isn't paved, the dirtbikes carve a narrow ditch in the trail, somewhat similar to horses or stock in muddy season. The ditch can get to be waste deep, and the sides can be banked. Running it, you have to try and put each foot directly in front of the other in the dead center of the ditch, which is not at all normal running form.
  • Circuitous. Motorbikes love lazy 'S' turns that don't go anywhere. Runners don't.
Anyway, the course is essentially a figure eight, with a 62-mile loop and a 45 mile loop. There are no aid stations, so you need to carry all your food and get water from natural sources, except that you can get whatever assistance you like at the dropbag station (i.e. your car, the start/finish, also the center of the figure eight). There are no course markings, so unless you've done it before, you need to carry a map and course directions. This isn't Barkley, so there's nothing off trail, and trail junctions are generally well-marked, but it's by the Forest Service for general use unrelated to the course.

I enjoyed the first loop. I started out in the back of the pack because I ran back a few minutes after the start to grab extra rain gear (a trash bag for emergency extra warmth) from the car, but I caught up with the mid-packers after 7-10 miles. A surprising number of us hung together for the next 10-20 miles. This year there were fewer than 30 runners who started the 100 mile race (there's also a 100K race that consists of just the first loop), but there were 5 of us running together briefly. Compare this to one of the guys I carpooled with who ran for 24 hours in the latter portion of the race without seeing a single other runner, which is more the norm for Plain.

The reward for a 4,400 foot climb in the wind and rain

The weather was rainy, windy, and quite cold during most of the day Saturday, but the course was pretty, and it started to mellow out Saturday night. I got back to the car at 11:30PM, cooked some ramen, and left at midnight.

The second loop was brutal. The motorcycle waves made me pretty miserable, and I started doing under 3mph. I was running on empty. I'd listened to all the podcasts I was excited about, and when Terry Gross started talking about how to train your cat, I had had enough. But as soon as I turned it off, my mind started getting loopy, I started imagining weird house-warming party scenarios on repeat in my brain, and I slowed way down. I found a dry spot under a tree and took a dirtnap by the side of the trail, but another runner came up behind me and woke me up with some sort of comment about hypothermia. I popped up, said "No, I won't!" and left him behind on the rest of the climb. I finally remembered I hadn't caffeinated, so I took a pill and started to come back to life.

The morning was still rough, however. I was doing 23-minute miles, and kept doing the math to try and figure out if 3mph would get me in under the 36-hour cutoff. I was 80 to 90 miles in, with 20-30 to go, and that 7-10 hours remaining was not sounding good. Mostly I thought of how I had better finish so that I would never have to come back to this race.

It was a bit hard to appreciate how pretty it was on Sunday
Finally, after learning how to train a cat and having the bejeezus scared out of me by a Forest Service guy minding his own business standing by the trail while some weirdo in a trance staring at the ground trudged by him, the last climb ended and the trail dropped steeply down the mountain at mile 92. I was able to make up time with some 4-5 mph stretches set to the tunes of Ratatat.

I reached the bottom with about 2.5 hours left and seven annoying motorcycle miles to go, and finally shuffled across the finish line in 35 hours and 16 minutes. [Results]
In retrospect I'm glad I did it, and of course glad I toughed it out. I think I might recommend people do the 100K instead of the 100-miler, since the course is quite pretty, and the organizers are quite nice. However, the second loop and all the concrete really just seemed like I lucked out not getting a stress fracture in my foot or some sort of IT band issue like happened at Zion last year. Or maybe I'm just saying that because it may have been the hardest race I've ever run.

If you want to watch how my whining increased and pace decreased, I filmed a little bit every 10 miles or so:

Friday, September 09, 2016


Modoc. I went to Modoc. I don't have any time to tell you about it.

Fine. Very briefly, Amy worked there for the Forest Service fifteen years ago, and she loves it. For her birthday and Labor Day weekend we airbnb'd a place across the border in Nevada, practiced the banjo, watched Stranger Things, hiked in the Warner Mountains, and got frustrated with George for ignoring us and chasing rabbits until he decided he was thirsty.

If you're in the area, I highly recommend an end-to-end hike of the Summit Trail in the South Warner Wilderness.
View from the cabin
Just enough clearance
Lassen across Lake Almaden