October 7, 2006
This is my second 50 miler, and I wanted to do it right. I don’t really have the confidence that I can improve upon my American River 50 mile time, because that had relatively little elevation change, and this course has considerably more and is more technical (meaning rockier and more straightforward trails).
As part of my training prep, I have tried to do some quality runs… usually this means doing a number of back-to-backs. Some of this has been achieved in racing (Distance Derby 10M/5M, Sunset in the park 2.8M/4.8M), but I have used the Nike training runs as pre-runs before longer runs.
On September 16th, I paced the 11:00/mile 5-mile group for Nike, went home, changed clothes (somewhat) and then ran a 26.2 mile loop around Long Beach (including the hardest hills in Signal Hill) in 5 hours and 48 minutes. I figured all of this to be good simulation for pushing through when I am extremely tired.
I flew up to the Bay area on Friday and I am staying with my folks in their Oakland condominium. This is the first time I have been up to the area after my parents sold the family home and (officially) moved to Dallas, Texas. Of course, they are still spending considerable time in the Bay Area, because that is where they have lived nearly 40 years. This weekend is also Dad’s reunion for law school, so he and Mom will be at a shindig tonight and cannot pick me up after the race (but they can drop me off (and I can’t take their car, because they won’t have a car to go to the event)). I make arrangements with my friend, Kevin (who I started running with in 1996) to meet me at Skyline Gate (Mile 35), run with me to the end and then drive me back to my folks’.
Sometimes in the longer races, runners are allowed to have pacers from a certain point on. If you are over a certain age, you may be allowed to have a pacer for the entire race. Skyline Gate is the first point that this will work. I have decided that I will carry my cell phone with me and call Kevin when I am getting close so that he knows how long he has to wait.
The race starts early, at 6am, and I recognize a few folks at the start – Ling Ru Chu from GVH, Eric (who I have run with (somewhat) with my sister on Christmas morning, and people who I recognize, but have never learned their names.
The start is the same as the Skyline 50K, by Lake Chabot. The direction of the run is in the opposite direction, so instead of the suspension bridge 2.5 miles from the end, it is 2.5 miles from the beginning. Basically, the path to the bridge is only wide enough for one person, so by the time I get to the bridge, there is a 2-minute wait to get on the bridge. It sort of lets you know your position in the pecking order of the race.
The course is somewhat similar to Skyline (in reverse), going to Bort Meadows, and then up to Skyline Gate at Mile 15. (This will be Mile 20 on the way back.)
After Skyline Gate, the course is unfamiliar to me, though growing up in the area, I know that somehow I have to cross over the Caldecott Tunnel (which connects Oakland to Walnut Creek). There is basically a lot of tricky ascent, but you never get the sense that just below you are hundreds of cars going through a mile-long tunnel… and yet, there it is.
This tricky ascent is rocky and steep and made more difficult by being tired from so much climbing and running. At the “top,” we start to see runners coming from the opposite direction. At first, I think it is the leaders heading back (though I don’t think that I am THAT slow!). Then I realize that it is the marathoners.
Associated with this race is the Golden Trail Marathon. They leave their car at the finish (Lake Chabot), get shuttled 26.2 miles away and then run back to the finish. Unfortunately for me, this is my least favorite part of the trail, because there are about 30 trees whose roots cross the trail, so you cannot just run through it… you must take your steps carefully… and avoid the other (fairly fresh) runners.
I am almost 22 miles in and I pass by a relic of my childhood – the Tilden Park Steam Trains. This was always a good memory – the family riding the trains around its circuit, through the tunnel, the smells of coal burning trains, the adults not quite fitting on the child seats…
From here, I head uphill on a paved road, heading to the Lone Oak Picnic area at mile 26. I am still feeling pretty good and have not suffered any of the problems I normally get at this point. I think that it is either my training or I am consuming just the right items at the aid stations (salt, yum.).
For the return trip, it is retracing my steps, past the Steam Trains, and along the rooted path, where I lose my concentration and trip into cramps. Cramps! I guess unavoidable. I don’t know what I need to do to fix the cramps, but it slows down my pace considerably.
It also makes the tricky uphill from earlier (now a tricky downhill) even more difficult. My balance is getting progressively worse and every time I hitch up my step to keep my balance, my legs start to seize again.
When I get out of the section, it’s time to try and call Kevin. Naturally, there is little cell coverage out here and I don’t have any bars until I am almost upon Skyline Gate… and of course, Kevin is not there. But there is coverage here, and when I get through, I just get his voicemail.
Of course now, now that I am thinking clearly, I realize that it’s probably for the best that Kevin did not come to Skyline Gate, because then his car would be at least 10 miles (or 15) from the start… and I don’t want to do another 15 miles to get a ride home!
From Skyline Gate, it is mostly downhill towards the finish. With the cramping, it’s slow going, but I am well ahead of the time limit at this point, so walking isn’t so bad for me. I’m hoping that I will at least find Kevin at the end…or that my cellphone will have enough charge left to call someone for a ride!
When I get to Bort Meadows (Mile 44.1), there is Kevin waiting for me. I am so relieved. He had turned off his phone… but at least was smart enough to know that he should leave his car at the finish and run out to meet me.
It was really nice to have someone to run with… er walk … er… slog slowly with. Plus, we had the opportunity to catch up. It wasn’t just the usual trail talk about how the race was going; it was a real conversation.
I know that I was relatively near to the back, because at the very last aid station they were packing everything up – I didn’t think I was THAT far back!
The last three miles were the first three miles of Skyline 50K, so very familiar to me, though seemed to go by very slowly as you can see the finish, but need to slowly work your way around the lake until you get there.
I finished in 12:17:25 (made the cutoff by 42 minutes and change). As a finisher, I get a tech shirt and a wine glass (and some food).
Part of our conversation had been about how little running Kevin had been doing in the past few years (time was, he would always kick my butt in a race)… so I told him, “You did great today. You ran 12 miles!”
His reply? “I ran 6 miles and I walked 6 miles VERY slowly with you.” Ha Ha.
Dick Collins Firetrails was definitely a challenging course, but it gave me the confidence that I would be able to complete any 50 miler, with the right kind of fitness, but mostly with the right stamina and full mental confidence.