Santa Barbara Endurance Race 100K – 2011

April 30, 2011

Part 3 in the quest to finish all 4 ultra distances in this series.  Part 1 and Part 2 were called “Blue Canyon Trail Race.”  This was supposed to be called the DRTE (Dirt Road Trail Enthusiast) but Santa Barbara didn’t like being called “dirty.”

I have established some rapport with the RD, Robert Gilcrest.  We have e-mailed back and forth a bit following the first race (pretty much organized badly and a horrifically difficult trail with no maintenance) and talked a bit more after the second.  I definitely wanted to be back here doing the 100K, but earlier in the year, I noted that the costs had gone WAY up… and no, I wasn’t expecting to run a 100K for $25 like in the first year.

I also noted that the website was a mess and hard to get through (grammatically, for example).  He agreed and offered to give me a free race (or two) in exchange for assisting him with the website and other writing.  Sounds good to me!  The “or two” allowed me to get Laura a free entry as well.

From looking at the course, Laura (running the 50 miler) and I would be on the same trail for about 10 miles, then I would head up to Divide Peak… and she would head down to Gibraltar Dam.  I would be on that same trail, albeit later in the race, later in the day… so we would not really see each other except for the first couple hours (and if she waited for me at the end).

There was also the inaugural 100 miler this weekend, but they were starting Friday morning at 6am.  Presumably some of them would finish BEFORE we started, and some we would see finishing while we were running the course.  They had a time cutoff of 48 hours, so it was possible that both of us could finish before the last place person came in as well.

When we arrived at the start, there was some news:  First, the overall 100 miler finisher had finished.  Second, the wind on top of the hill was super intense.  Several volunteers had had to abandon their aid station posts because the EZ Ups blew off the mountain and they were exposed.

Later, I heard a story of a runner who was freezing in the wind, and when he got to the aid station to get his jacket, there was no one there (his jacket locked up in someone’s car, I guess).  He spent 6-8 hours “camping out” in a Port-a-Potty.  No joke.

So… because of these high winds, the decision had been made to modify the 100K course.  Instead of going up towards Divide Peak, we would also head down to Gibraltar Dam, and back up… and back down… and back up again.  The good part about this was that Laura and I would be on the same course for about 37 miles… so we could run together if we wanted.  We wanted.

The first 6 miles of the course were somewhat familiar to me, though it was modified somewhat to head up to the top paved road from the get-go (rather than staying just below it).  This was due to heavy rains earlier in the month that washed away the evil, steep trail.  (So sad.  Just kidding.)

On the way up, we saw a few Marathon Maniac friends of Laura’s – Troy Lesovsky among others – who were coming in to finish a little over 24 hours.  About 2 miles up the trail, we were passed from below by a runner who showed up late.  I think he was running the 50K or 50M – Sean.  He was taking video footage and seemed to be having a blast (also, like 25 years old).  Later, we found him on Facebook – Sean “Run Bum” Cienfuegos Blanton (a mouthful).

Laura and I continued to trudge uphill and reached the first aid station in 98 minutes (yes, we were slower than 15:00/mile – it was uphill, after all).

About a quarter mile from the aid station, we found ourselves on a paved road with gentle undulations (aka rolling hills).  I wasn’t too excited to be on paved, only because it is a little harder on the feet.  We basically had 4.3 miles on this paved surface to the top of the road heading down to Gibraltar Dam.  We were able to run on this a bit… it was pretty windy up here, but I guess, had calmed down quite a bit from the night before.  We reached the aid station in just over an hour (yay?  we’re getting faster?).

Now we were back on the dirt fire road.  Much better.  It wound way around the hill, passing by where we should have popped out on the evil steep single-track.  There was an aid station here and also a staging area for reaching some of the other aid stations.  We reached this aid station in 68 minutes, covering 4.8 miles (about 13:00/mile).

From here, the trail continued downhill, quite a bit steeper to the bottom, and then a brief uphill and steep downhill to the aid station. This particular aid station was familiar to me, as it was the turnaround for the 50K two years ago.  It was also special because it was where a pen pal I had found through one of Robert’s volunteers would be working.  We talked briefly and, well, we did not hit it off at all.  We never corresponded (I’m talkin’ e-mail here) ever again.  Oh well.  I don’t think she understood my mentality especially once she saw me out there.  Laura and I managed about 8 minute miles for this section.  It felt good to be able to just stride out down the hill and maybe bank some time for later.  At this point, we also began to see people in our own race who were returning from the turnaround.

The next section was wholly unknown to me, because in the 50-miler two years prior, we turned right and ran around the lake.  Today, we went left and zigged and zagged around the properties and storage areas. The crappiest part of this trail was you would get to the aid station, and then I had to do a half-mile out-and-back section which was basically downhill on gravel and then back up… supposedly to make the course long enough.  We covered this 5-mile section in 1:18 (back to around 14:00/mile).  This is the turnaround and we can begin to head back.

The temperature began to get a bit hotter on this next section, slowing me down.  I still have to climb back up a long hill and come back down here.  =(   On the return trip, I encountered the last-place runner in the 100 miler.  I made note of my time, because I wanted to calculate how far I was behind him (he was doing his one-and-only trip down, so when I reached the top, I would know if I could catch him before he reached the end!).  It turned out he was about 80 minutes ahead of me at this point.  Our return trip to Gibraltar Dam was quite a bit slower, and then we headed up the dreaded hill.  Progress was interminable.  I knew there was no way I would catch up to that 100-miler (and I already knew I was FAR back in the 100K… and no one in the 50-miler was going to do 13 miles fewer AND finish behind me (unless Laura waited)).

The trek back to the ‘halfway up the hill point’ was super-slow, taking about 26 minutes per mile… and then the last chunk of change to the paved road averaged another 16:00/mile.

And thus I took my leave of Laura, and she headed back up over the hill to finish (well, several hours later).  I headed BACK down the hill.  My second time down, well, I just wasn’t as motivated, and averaged about 12:00/mile (rather than 8:00).  It was pretty lonely, because I only saw the 4 or 5 100K runners who were still on the course.  I was excited to see my friend Juliet Morgan (who ran the inaugural 100K two years prior, and got lost a lot), and she informed me that the course was a bit long, so I should remind the people at the aid station that I didn’t need to run the gravel course and I didn’t have to do the out-and-back where the paved met the in-trail.  Good news, thanks!

I did waste a little bit of time at the “gravel” aid station getting confirmation that I did not need to do this extra distance.  Trust me, it was plenty far!

I also spotted the last place 100-miler again and this time calculated, I was about 35 minutes back… maybe I CAN catch him!

I felt a little bit better up the hilly fire road the second time around – the temperature had cooled off a little bit, too – and managed around 24:00/mile.  Smokin’!

By the time I got back to the paved road, the wind had all but died down completely.  I had finished just over 50 miles in 13 hours and 44 minutes… but still had a half marathon to go.

It was starting to get dark and I tried to hasten my pace a bit so that I would not be on the toughest part of trail at the darkest part of the day.  My feet were really killing me because I had on trail shoes and they were not well suited for the paved road.

Up ahead, I could see a bouncing light.  I wondered if it was the last-place 100-miler.  It was.  He was really struggling, but the good news was that he had about 7 miles to go, and around 11 hours to do it.  (If he couldn’t finish, that would be sad – in the sense of pitiful AND lacrimosal.)  I wished him luck and headed for the final aid station.  I was still managing 15 minute miles on the paved section, but now I was bound for more difficult trail… and IN THE DARK.

For the most part, I was on a wide firetrail.  The problem, however, was that I had no depth perception and stumbled quite a bit.

About halfway down the hill, a vehicle with the drop bags was passing me.  This provided me with blinding light for part of the time and then sporadic light help the rest of the time… and then once it passed me… no light.

Towards the bottom of the hill, the trail has some stream crossings and more confusing twists and turns that don’t work out really well when there are no glow sticks and only periodic reflective tape trail markings.  Finishing at a 23:00/mile clip was not that bad, considering.

I finished in 16 hours and 53 minutes.  I really felt like I didn’t even do that well… because my two times at Miwok were both over 16 hours (but faster), and this course had 33,000 feet of climbing and descent (which is a lot – like climbing Everest and going back down a bit).

When I got to the end, I had to get the attention of someone, since no one was manning the finish line.  I was the 7th of 7th finishers, and I finished around 3 hours behind 6th place (Laura finished in just over 12 hours.).

I was not able to get my medal right away because it was in the radio guys’ truck and they were asleep.

Postscript:  The last-place 100-miler finished a little after midnight.  He finished in around 42 hours.  That’s a freakin’ tough course!  Next year, I want to attempt (and complete the 100 mile course and complete my collection.

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