Top 10 Marin Strava Segments #7 (Fox Trail Descent)

#10 (Rodeo to Wolf Ridge)

#9 (Coastal – Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

#8 (Pirates Cove)

#7 Fox Trail (Down)

FoxTrail

Location:  Coastal above Tennesse Valley to the North, heading back down into Tennessee Valley
Distance: 1 mile (but probably closer to 1.1 miles)
Elevation Gain:  718ft of LOSS (-13% grade).
Overall Runs: 36161 Attempts By 1856 People
CR:  Jorge Maravilla in 4:06 and Larisa Dannis in 5:30.
My place: 70th, 6:26
Why:  This is the first segment that is squarely within the “oh-my-god-what-am-I-doing” category.  1 mile and steep.  While the climb up on this route is a test piece of it’s own its downhill is fire road, pretty straight, and all fast.  This is the perfect place for a mile PR and might just be Jorge’s mile PR.  Jorge’s time of 4:06 is STOUT and nearly a minute faster than Strava second, but what is more impressive is that the average pace is 3:51!!!! suggesting a slightly longer than 1 mile route and a SUB 4 mile.  It might be the only sub 4 anywhere on the trails of Marin.  I was there to witness it just over 2 minutes behind.
Fox Trail

Okay lets call it more than a mile

Insider Tip:  Not really an insider tip, but running downhill takes confidence and practice.  Ian Sharman, one of the best, has some great tips on how to improve your own downhill running on his blog.  Take a look and practice before really going after it.

Jorge Maravilla

Preparing for a super human downhill effort undoubtedly. Jorge has some wheels, no hands and all.

 

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Top 10 Marin Strava Segments #8 (Pirates Cove, North)

#8 Pirates Cove (North)

See #10 (Rodeo to Wolf Ridge)

See #9 (Coastal – Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

PiratesCove-Northbound

Location:  Starting at the top of Coastal – go left
Distance: 1.4 miles
Elevation Gain:  417 ft of climbing (-2% grade).
Overall Runs: 6,413 Attempts By 2,553 People
CR:  Alex Varner in 10:34 and Chessa Adsit-Morris in 12:04.
My place: 5th, 11:21
Why:  Another of the most fun, iconic stretches of trail in all of Marin.  While not typically raced for speed (similar to Coastal above Stinson), this segment placing in the top 10 because it has one of the best views and it one of the most fun stretches of trail along the coast.  While the descent down to almost the ocean is filled with stairs, rocks, you are rewarded with a steady climb and some rolling single track that you can really pick up speed on.  Its one of the more fun stretches along the coast.   This stretch of trails is part of the TNF50 and Marin Ultra Challenge Races.
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Rob Krar early in the TNF50

Insider Tip:  Once you finish this segment….STOP.  Turn around and take in the views.  It can be quite foggy and cold, so don’t be too surprised if you don’t get a view at all.  During the TNF50 this is a great first spot to watch the race as you get to see the bobbing headlamps descend and ascend the single track trails of Pirates Cove.
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Turn around, enjoy the view.

Marin Strava Segments #9 (Costal Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

#10 (Rodeo Beach to Wolf Ridge)

#9 Coastal: Matt Davis to Willow Camp

MattDavisToCoastal

Location:  Starting where Matt Davis Diverges to where Willow Camp intersects
Distance: 1.6 miles
Elevation Gain:  370 ft of climbing (4% grade).
Overall Runs:  1868 by 1140 people
CR:  Max King in 12:02 and Keely Henniger in 13:39.  Max set the CR in route in the middle of the TNF50 race.
My place: 14, 12:30
Why:  To me this is one of the most fun and most scenic stretches of trail in all of Marin, weaving along the hill ~1500ft up from the ocean on single track trail.  On a clear day the view to Stinson below and out to Pt Reyes is fantastic.  Plus it serves as part of the TNF50 race (in both directions).  While Max’s time is impressive, I think that this is one of the segments that could (should?) go down.  So who will it be? Dybo? Varner? Roche?
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The Golden State

Insider info:  In the spring the grass is like a green that you have never seen before.  Wildflowers in the summer.  Plus look out for that old car on the trail.

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Varner cruising the return route during TNF50

Marin Strava Segment Top 10 List (#10 Rodeo Beach to Wolf Ridge)

I think Strava is swell.  While I agree with the premise that Strava has killed the loneliness of a long distance runner (see Sam’s Blog post here), for those that run alone most days it can provide a motivation and connection to our peers and history not previously readily available.  It also provides some pretty epic segment battles which have produced some incredible performances normally reserved for races.  No need to worry about nailing a taper and having the perfect conditions.  When you are ready you can challenge the best any day of the year.

Recently I put out a query on twitter about what the most iconic Strava segments in the Southern Marin/Mt Tam are of Marin county are.  I got some great responses (here, here, and here) which I totally agreed with.  They all made the list.  Now the order is something entirely else.

My rationale for choosing a segment was based on the following simple criteria.  How impressive is the CR performance?  How iconic is the bit of trail it is on?  How many people have run it before?

So starting with #10 and working back to #1 I will post one segment a day for the next ten days.  Feel free to argue, agree, or offer your alternatives and insights as well!  Eventually I will post a similar list of the Boise Foothills, but for now, I will reminisce about my old neighborhood trails.


#10 Rodeo Beach to Wolf Ridge

RodeoToWolf
Location:  Starting at Rodeo Beach, climb up along the road and then take the trail and continue up to the trail junction of Coastal and Wolf Ridge.
Distance: 1.6 miles
Elevation Gain:  833 ft of climbing (10% grade).
Overall Runs:  1775 by 1093
CR:  David Roche in 12:48, 7:52 pace.  Maria Dalzot, 15:20 (both were set during this year’s ITR Marin Ultra Challenge 25k)
My place: 21, 15:31
Why:  This is a standard climb for many trail races in the Headlands.  It also might be the only one of my top 10 that super speedster David Roche has the CR for.  The views from the top are second to none in the headlands.  SF in one direction Mt Tam in the other.  Its a classic climb, in a classic location.
Insider info:  Get ready for stairs!  You think the pavement is tough, wait until you hit the stairs that force all expect the fittest to drop into a power hike.  Be sure to save a little for the section that flattens off after the stairs.
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Looking back towards Rodeo Beach and SF.

 

Science of Ultrarunning Column for UltraRunning Mag

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I’ve been quite on the blog front.  It’s not because I don’t have ideas to write about, I just lack the time.  Teaching has been busy.  Getting some research up and running has been busy.  Trying to get back in shape has been keeping me busy.

When I do have the time to write I have focused on my column for UltraRunning Magazine, called the Science of Ultrarunning which debuted in the January issue and can be read for free here.  However, to check out my latest article “Going Mental” in order to up your psychological training you will need to pick up a print version.

About the same time that I agreed to start writing the column I found out that another Professor in Idaho was also interested in bringing sports science to the ultra community.  Science of Ultra Podcast by Dr. Shawn Bearden is an excellent resource for any looking to see how scientific research can be put into practice.  His guests are second to none in the scientific community, really the best of the best when it comes to the field they are discussing.  A few of my favorites thus far have been Psychological Fatigue with Dr. Marcora and Alistar McCormick (which lines up nicely with my article in UltraRunning Magazine), Hydration Physiology withDr. Sam Cheuvront and Dr. Robert Kenefick, and Fatigue with Dr. Joyner.

With all of these different sources coming together now more than ever is the time to learn about how to use both existing and new science to optimize your ultra performances. So read, listen, and learn to perform.

 

My First Week at School

I’m not one to get sentimental about moving.  Since finishing undergrad at Davis I have been in Missouri (5 years), Copenhagen (2.5 years), and back in the Bay Area (Oakland and Marin, 3.5 years).  Such is the life of a scientist in search of training and funding to progress in ones career.  My mindset in each case was “well if I don’t like it I can always leave”.  Inevitably, while adjustment can take time each place I have settled in, found a wonderful group of friends, and really enjoyed my new normal.  Sure, the lifestyle is certainly different in Copenhagen versus mid-Missouri as our the people, but if to pick one that I preferred is difficult, if not impossible.  Its apples and oranges.  Very different, each with their own plusses and minuses.  Or maybe I’m just easy to please.  Regardless moving is mostly a pain and saying goodbye is always difficult.  Still I know that the next adventure will bring new experiences, new people, and enrich my life and perspective in entirely new ways.  Thats always exciting and whether you stay in the same place for your entire life or not, its a worthy goal.

That is the setting upon which I found myself in Caldwell, ID at the front of a classroom of mostly freshman, mostly athletes, explaining why I was going to be giving them quizzes (its because it enhances retrieval learning).  The College of Idaho was not on my radar.  In fact I don’t think I even knew that it existed.  But last December I somehow found myself hoping on a plane to go interview for a tenure track position.   The interview went well and soon there after it was a drive back to Boise for a snowy weekend and frequently uttering “Can we live here?”.  We (Bridget and I) choose yes.  Bridget has secured an awesome Graduate Assistant position working in the new department of Innovation and Design at Boise State.  Her MBA will be completely paid for.  I on the otherhand landed in the newly formed Health and Human Performance Department at the small liberal arts school College of Idaho.  Yes, its mostly teaching, and yes the research is limited by resources, but I am inspired.  Instead of chasing big NIH money I work on projects that are driven by intelligent, motivated undergraduates.  Best of all I get to that in a human performance lab instead of flipping vials and counting dead flies.  I may still be in the honeymoon period, but my initial impressions of the school are overwhelming positive and I feel extremely lucky to have landed the position that I did.  The faculty seem truly invested in educating and transforming the students here into intelligent thinking professionals.  Not only that, but they all seem to enjoy it and are legitimately excited to be here as well as evidenced by an extremely low turnover!  Sure I recognize that its a self selecting crowd, but from the top down the College of Idaho sets high standards for their faculty and higher standards for the students that choose to come here.  And while past success of the students at College of Idaho it certainly doesn’t guarantee future success, but the culture is here and thats incredibly important, encouraging, and exciting.

In a way my position at College of Idaho is the completion of me coming full cycle.  When I entered my PhD I thought, teach at a small school, maybe even do some coaching.  During my PhD at Missouri I was inspired by the research my colleagues and I completed.  It was successful, it was fun, and it was what I trained for.  I was all aboard the R1 train.  My experience in Copenhagen did little to damper that enthusiasm.  Some great colleagues and the opportunity to mentor a fantastic PhD student seemed to have me on track for that tenure track lifestyle at an R1.  While not really finished with my time in Copenhagen the opportunity to move back to the Bay Area came up and we jumped at it.  The Buck Institute seemed like a place I could thrive and reach that goal of a “high-impact” paper that would pave the way for me to an R1.  However something happened along the way.  Instead of more inspired by moving to more basic and supposedly high impact I became less inspired.  I saw the papers in the top journals more a product of politics, reductionist approaches to biology.  The science could be exciting, but was at times seemed far away from the translational science I was doing before.  I missed the work I was doing in Copenhagen and Missouri, but also realized that those projects, while important to me, probably would not land me at an R1 school in a location that I wanted to be.  In a way my research interests had become too broad to fit into the R1 world of academia and I felt stuck.  Still I don’t regret my prior research choices.  Those choices led to a breadth experiences which will certainly make me a better teacher, a better mentor, a better member of the College of Idaho faculty.

In Boise we have 100’s of miles of trails from our door and beautiful mountains a few hours away.  At the College of Idaho I have student-athletes interested in science of sport that I get to interact with personally on a weekly basis and watch grow during their 4 years at school.  It seems like a perfect personal and professional match.  As such I am truly grateful and excited to now start that life I had envisioned 11 years ago when I finished my degree in Exercise Biology at Davis.  Plus I get 3 months off in the summer and thats pretty cool.

More than a Fling

Loch Lomond and the entry to the Highlands

Loch Lomond and the entry to the Highlands

My “A” race is the wedding was my response to Dbo assertion that I either win or don’t bother coming back.  For me, often the race is secondary.  Its about the journey, the people, the landscape, and experiences surrounding the race more so than the performance itself.  My exposure into the culture surrounding trail running, outdoor adventures, and the Scottish highlands was well beyond the 7 hours and 4 minutes it took me to run from Milngavie to Tyndram, the first 53 miles of the well traveled West Highland Way.  It was dancing Ceilidh (pronounced “Kay-lay”) at the finish line, sharing beers with locals at the finish line, dinner in Glasgow with other trail runners, offers of accommodations during my travels, adventure advice, kayaking in Loch Lomond, and having my expectations for the beauty and wildness of the Highlands exceeded in every possible way.

Scottish traditional dancing is sort of like square dancing, but in a kilt.

Scottish traditional dancing is sort of like square dancing, but in a kilt.

I received the wedding invitation at a time when I was just starting to run again after my hamstring injury.  My hamstring was uncooperative, my disappointment from a DNS at Western sorely lingering, and my last race more than 6 months prior.  Still, when I travel I run.  Of course I was going to my friends Charlotte and Craig’s wedding in Scotland (especially since it was in a castle) and of course I immediately searched for races the weekend prior or after the celebrations.

Blair Castle - site of the wedding of Mr and Mrs Anderson.

Blair Castle – site of the wedding of Mr and Mrs Anderson.

Finding the HOKA Highland Fling one week prior to the wedding was just the first bit of the luck on my journey.  Soon I would learn that race director John Duncan was a coaching client of Ian Sharman.  I had my entry into not only the race, but also the local trail/ultra scene.  John graciously arranged my entire race weekend from pre-race hotel, finish line accommodations, and post-race hosts in nearby Glasgow with enough knowledge of the Scottish Highlands to create a lifetime of adventure itineraries.  I was excited about the race sure, but equally excited about the opportunities to interact with the local scene.

The West Highland Way, completed in 1980, is 96 miles in total and annually hosts more than 30,000 backpackers who walk the entire route.  The HOKA Highland Fling (Facebook page) covers the first 53 miles of it and contains a relatively tame ~5400 ft of climbing.  With the exception of a 4 mile stretch along Loch Lomond (the largest fresh water lake in the UK by surface area) the terrain is pretty runnable and lines up well with my strengths.  Still runners are treated to stunning views of the Highlands as various Munros and lower hills rise above the waters of Loch Lomond to the north.  In good weather it is stunningly beautiful, it bad weather it can be unbelievably miserable.

West Highland Way Route

West Highland Way Route

One problem with traveling for non running related reasons meant the inability to take much time to adjust to the 8 hour time zone difference between the West Coast and UK.  More accurately I had about 24 hours from when I landed to race time.  My strategy of going to bed earlier and waking up earlier (peaking at a 3:30 AM wake up) each day of the prior week clearly payed dividends as I had a full night of sleep and arrived on the raining starting line feeling relatively good.  My fitness was off from my ago, but I had managed several months of increasing training including a number of solid long runs and a strong 10 mile road effort to give me confidence to race rather than merely survive the 53 mile journey.

The rain that had saw us off the start line gave way to blue skies in the early miles in a prophetic manner that would parallel how my race would unfold for me.  Casey Morgan and Paul Navesey (of former 50k treadmill World Record fame), two strong UK based runners, took out the first quarter of the race quick and by mile 12 they had put 6 minutes into our chase pack of 3, a time I thought they would likely only extend all the way to the finish.  I spent those early miles in a group of 3 one of whom was Donnie Campbell who had just won the 130k Iznik Ultra Race in Turkey the week prior and was undoubtedly running on some tired legs. As I went to the front of our group up the only major climb of the day, Conic Hill, I was treated to increasing sunshine, my first views of Loch Lomond, and the southern Highlands “hills”.

The running from the bottom of Conic hill at Balmaha (19.8 miles) to Inversnaid (34.3 miles) was right in my wheelhouse; mostly flat, mostly wide, and insanely not technical.  I managed to establish a gap on Donnie and moved up into second when Casey had to unfortunately drop due to injury.  To my surprise the gap to Paul at first stayed at minutes (mile 27.2) and then decreased to 4 minutes by Inversnaid.  I briefly allowed myself to think, “huh, thats interesting”, but quickly turned my focus to how I was feeling and how to take care of myself.  15 miles out is still early to think about racing especially when stated time gaps are notoriously unreliable.  From Inversnaid you have a wonderfully technical, but not hilly section of trail along the lake which requires your full attention and any remaining athletic skill that road running and track hadn’t sucked out of your body years prior.  At several points I would look up in bemusement to how I got 10 feet below the trail and 3 miles later I was over rock hopping and grateful for the trail opening up to some more runnable trail as I reached the final checkpoint.

Hitting the final checkpoint, Bein Glas Farm (mile 40.9), I was starting to feel the effort and getting to the point of just wanting to be done.  Mile 40 was sticking my mind because of what Alex had said prior to Lake Sonoma 50, “after mile 40 everybody hurts” and hurting I was.  But apparently so was Paul as the time check was down to 2 minutes and within a mile of leaving Bein Glas I caught my first glimpse of Paul since I spotted him as a dot at the top of Conic Hill some 20 miles earlier.  As I ever so slowly caught Paul I realized that cruising in for second was not in the cards today.  It was race time and I was going to have to hurt.  I let that notion settle in over the a few miles as the gap ever so slowly closed, saving my energy for a big move rather than just catching him.  I didn’t want Paul fighting me for the final 7 miles to the finish line.  So when I eventually caught and passed him I tried to do so with ambition and did so for about 800m or until the route turned up a steep hill of unknown length.  Ugh, “You can walk when you are in the trees” I told myself.  For the first time all day I ran scared hoping to extend my lead and stay out of sight.  With 5k to go and an open field ahead I relaxed, it likely cost me the course record (by Sondre Amdahl), but it also ensured I did not blow up.  A mere two minutes after I finished Paul would come in to finish off a very strong effort of his own, one which actually saw him run a faster last 2.7 miles than me.

Before and after the race nearly every person I talked to about The Fling mentioned either how it was their favorite ultra race or it was the best ultra race in Scotland, if not the entire UK.  I don’t have that frame of reference, but I can say that on every level The Fling competes favorably with the best races in North America I’ve done.  Beautiful course, check. Amazing (and happy) volunteers, check.  Flawless organization, check.  Finish line fun, checkmate.  What happened after the race in many regards was more important for me than what happened during the race.  A large (heated) tent with beer, soup, music, massage, and of course a traditional Ceilidh dance.  I chatted with many a Scotman, Englishman, and occasional American.  All friendly and all having a great time.  I partook in their beverage buying generosity and patience to teach me a dance or two (that I put to good use at the wedding a week later to the surprise of many).  Knowing the history of the race its clear that race director John Duncan is largely responsible for this.  With infectious amounts of positive energy, time for everyone, and a constant smile on his face, its not hard to see why this race is more than a “fling” for the ultra community here and a great race to travel to.

Great trading card

Great trading card

Just waiting for the beer sponsorships to roll in...

Just waiting for the beer sponsorships to roll in…

 

Additional Links:

Strava Data

A great little video by Summit Fever Media about the 2015 edition of the race.

Race Recap by Scottish Athletics

Photo Album from my trip: Coming soon.

One hundred years young: Frank Booth’s vision for a healthier America

What can say other than I am extremely lucky to have trained with this extremely generous man. If only all mentors could be as good. His influence on exercise science in second to none. Glad to have him on my side.

Unearthed

By Rachel Zamzow

DSC_0027 Frank Booth, 71, takes a break from running on the treadmill in his office. Inspired by his research on the effects of exercise, Booth runs several miles each day. Photo by Rachel Zamzow.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Frank Booth wants people to live to be 100. And then be told they have 48 hours to live. Only at the very end of life should people succumb to conditions such as cancer or heart disease, he says. Then, a serious illness wouldn’t be a tragedy; it’d be cause for throwing one last giant party.

Booth, an exercise physiology professor at the University of Missouri, figures that we should thrive until the end of our lives instead of gradually declining into sickness. Our lifespan should not outlast our healthspan. Otherwise, he wonders, what’s the point of sticking around for so long?

Unfortunately, a large proportion of the U.S. population is chronically…

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My (Failed) High Fat Low Carb Diet Experiment

There I was in my general physician’s examination room trying to explain why I was eating copious amount of bacon, cheese, and avocado and wanting a more a more advanced cholesterol test to show that it wasn’t really doing me harm. It wasn’t going well to say the least. I think the word “moderation” make more appearances that standing ovations at a State of the Union address.   How did I get here I thought to myself? Continue reading