June 5, 2010
I decided to come back and try the Blue Canyon Trail Race again, even after a semi-disastrous event in 2009. If you remember from my previous posting, it was a first-time event, the volunteers were awful, the course was super-difficult (including a 15% grade bushwhacking section) and the time limits were unbelievable. (Plus tons of poison oak!)
All of these problems were addressed by the RD, Robert Gilcrest. He took the problems into consideration and tried to work with each of them to improve the event. He promised better volunteers, more well-stocked aid stations, easier-to-see-at-night course markings, and most importantly, trail work removed about 4 metric tons of brush from the most impassable section.
For me, taking the steps to improve your event is an important step and convinces me to come back again (whereas I know a few race directors that are defiant and don’t give a crap – so I won’t be doing their races).
Once again, I visited my cousin Daniel. I met him for lunch and then drove up to pick up my bib at the race site. When I got up there at 3pm, the bibs weren’t there yet and there were a few people waiting around (waiting for someone to show up at the listed time of 1pm). One of the co-directors, Sandra Sanger, was there (but didn’t have the bibs), but said she had heard Robert would be around in the next 45 minutes (or so). She was going to mark the lower course, so I joined her on a mile-and-a-half walk (and attached some ribbons to branches beyond her reach).
When Robert did finally show up, he decided NOT to hand out bibs (!). The reasoning (which makes sense, but they should have thought of it ahead of time) was that everyone had to check in, in the morning, so giving out bibs now would be stupid. I chatted for a bit with Robert, as I was one of his more (constructive) critical opponents of how the race went in 2009. He convinced me to stay for the 5pm free dinner (even though I was going to have dinner with my cousin and his husband Henri).
Well, at 5pm, the food hadn’t shown up. I somewhat wanted to leave (especially because the phone service is so spotty in that area that you cannot make ANY calls and I wanted to meet my family), but Robert said that his mother had been slaving away getting the food ready. So, I waited ANOTHER hour, and it showed up – cooked spaghetti somewhat cold and congealed, store-bought marinara, and bread rolls with tub margarine. I ate a little bit (to be nice) and then high-tailed it back to Santa Barbara for a nice dinner at a “trendy” Italian restaurant. It was REALLY good, but maybe I didn’t appreciate it as much since I needed to not drink and get to bed early.
I looked at the registration to see if I knew anyone from the previous year or in general. In 2009, I convinced a couple of friends to run the 50K (34 or 38 miles), but they didn’t come back, despite the changes. I did recognize one name, from last month’s Miwok 100K.
I mentioned in my 2010 Miwok 100K post that I had been ranked 10th to last… and finished the race in 10th to last place. The name just behind me was Donn Ozaki… and he finished 9th to last. That was a signal to me that we were probably compatible in terms of relative speed in races. I introduced myself to him at the start and thought that we might run some of it together.
At the start, we did initially start up the hill together, but at a certain point, people don’t want to walk in the initial steps of a race (whereas I feel like I should NEVER overdo it in an ultramarathon). I managed a rather slow pace for the first 10K of the event, at about 15 minutes per mile. I was trying to save myself for the section I knew was coming up – the 18% grade, 4 mile section (last year’s bushwhacking section).
This was the section of trail where the RD had promised that he had cleared 4 metric tons of brush. While it was great that there was no bushwhacking, there was also ZERO shade and at this point, the temperature was somewhat north of 90 degrees. I couldn’t manage any kind of speed and I felt like warm deathed over [sic].
When I reached the top of the hill (the half marathon point in the race), I was over 4 hours (and had done the last section at 22:15 pace). The aid station volunteer was suggesting that maybe I drop back to the 25K instead, but I didn’t feel THAT horrible, and felt that I would be able to continue at a reasonable pace (but I would welcome sitting down for a bit). Donn had reached the aid station a bit ahead of me and was taking a sit, as well.
Donn and I decided to jog down the hill. It was VERY hot out and the wide fire road was radiating heat at times. Donn is a better downhill runner than I am, so he got ahead a bit until I got to the flats. We made it to the turnaround (Mile 17.7) in 5:23 (about a 17:00/mile pace), and then immediately headed back up the hill.
Now the reverse happened – Donn was a bit slower than I was on the uphill. Strangely enough, my total time up the hill was only 1 minute per mile slower than the trip down. At the top, I was excited about the prospect of traversing down the steep (18%) downhill section.
However, it was not that great. It was so hot that I didn’t want to touch (or hold, but I did) my water bottles, I didn’t want to put my hands on my hips, or touch anything. Everything was hot and made me feel hotter. Any spot with even the smallest bit of shade was an opportunity for me to stop and rest and get out of the heat. About 7 hours in, it was in the mid-110s and just miserable. It was all I could do to conserve my water enough to hopefully be close to the next aid station before I ran out.
About 2 miles out, I encountered some other competitors who were “bathing” in a mountain stream. I sat on a small rock in the middle of the stream and splashed water wherever I could. It was ice cold and felt fantastic! I was there for 10 or 15 minutes before I got up to continue. The first thought when I stood up was “Why is my ass so hot?” That was because it wasn’t in the water. Gosh, it is SO-O hot out! I kept slogging along and about a mile-and-a-half from the aid station, I encountered a volunteer lugging a 2-1/2 gallon water jug. I was all but out of water and she refilled one of my water bottles (I figured I could make the last 1.5 miles and other people needed some water, too) – what a great and dedicated volunteer!
When I was almost to the aid station, I found a few runners splayed out on the ground in the shade. One of these guys’ eyes were rolling back into his head (I later learned he was evacuated from the course.). This seven-mile section took me 3 hours and 20 minutes! Downhill!
Donn arrived a little later and we convinced the volunteers at the aid station that we were good to go, despite the head. There were just 2.5 miles to the finish (mostly downhill and some of it shaded) and we were going to walk… and sit down and rest if we got too hot. A third guy joined us for the slow slog back to the start/finish. Strangely, we averaged about 11 minutes / mile, so we did jog a little when we were out of the heat.
Our time was 10 hours and 40 minutes (a personal worst) and we finished in a three-way tie for 30th place.
Despite the awful day, I would like to come back next year (or whenever the next event is) and try the 100K course, as long as it is not as hot!