Monthly Archives: December 2013

Miwok 100K – 2012

May 5, 2012

Attempting my 5th ultra in 5 months, and it’s a tough one, but one that I have finished twice.  However, the course has been changed a bit from the past… something to do with complaints about people crossing the road (I don’t know who complains, since I never saw any cars while running down the road)… and the RD says that it’s a better course because the parking is more plentiful.

Maybe the parking was more plentiful but it was a hairy drive in the morning on a very twisty road in the fog.  It feels like the race started earlier in the morning as well.

So… on the old course, you start out along the coast on the sand, do a loop by the barracks and then work your way over to Tennessee Valley, then Muir Beach, then up to Pantoll, across to Bolinas Ridge Trail, down to Highway 1, back up, back down from Pantoll, up the Miwok Trail, and then work your way back from Muir Beach and Tennessee Valley.

Today, we start from Stinson Beach and head straight uphill to the start of the Bolinas Ridge Trail.  It is extremely slow going and I am thinking that I can hopefully make up some of this lost time when I go back down the hill.  The first 6.3 miles take me 1 hour and 48 minutes, for an average of 17:08/mile.  I need to average 16:20 to finish under the time limit.

From the top, we follow Bolinas Ridge across and then down to Highway 1 (like before, except that the turnaround is Mile 10 here and Mile 29 on the old course.  I know that I have to run this section harder because of all of the time lost on the initial climb.  This 6.4 mile section takes me 1:23 (or 13:00/mile), and then I turn right around and do the 6.4 miles back in 1:55 (or 17:58) – yow!  I am losing time!

Now, it’s time for the downhill and “making up time.”  Unfortunately, it’s the Matt Davis Trail, which takes a bit longer to get down the hill (7.1 miles instead of 6.3) and it is full of root staircases, stones and low lying branches.  For the most part, unrunnable.  I meet up with a gal who is having similar difficulty to me, Donna Braswell.  I guess we will get there when we get there!  By the time I get to the aid station by the Fire Station, I have covered the downhill miles in 18:00/mile.  Downhill miles!  The aid station is low on water and completely out of soda (which I am craving now)… this is because the temperature is unseasonably warm and they didn’t count on that.  Quite a few people have dropped here because of the weather and the fact that they will probably be unable to make any of the cutoffs.  I think I can still make it, but I cannot lollygag at any of the aid stations.

From Stinson Beach, I head up the Miwok Trail (steps galore… steps galore that you cannot really run up because they are steep and also spread out).  It is rolling hills and it is getting to be on the HOT side.  I am really struggling, but I catch back up to Donna just as we reach the Muir Beach aid station.  We covered another 7 miles at 23:00/mile pace.  It dawns on us that we have ZERO chance at finishing this race under the cutoff… but we would still like to get to 50 miles, just to say we did it.  The captain of the aid station says that we have to move straight through right now if we want to continue.  We tell her that we will continue, but we realize how slowly we are proceeding and that we know we will probably (definitely) not finish.

It’s just 4.3 miles to Tennessee Valley, but of course, it is steep uphill out of the Beach and then rolling hills down to the farm.  If we can cover it in an hour, we could still be ahead of the cutoff – that’s a laugh, given that I only was under 15:00 pace on the mostly downhill section.  About halfway up the hill, I have to stop completely, sit down and try to regain my breath.  I know it’s all over at this point.  It’s going to be a DNF (did not finish).

I do manage to get to Tennessee Valley Aid Station (38 miles).  The 4.3 miles from Muir Beach takes me almost 2 hours (26:30 per mile!).  Now the trick is that we need to get back to the start where our cars are.  The volunteers look around for someone who is cheering on their loved ones that can drive us back sooner than when the aid station closes up.  We find a lady cheering on her husband, but she says she is going to stop by Muir Beach on the way back.  Fine with us.

So, we drive to Muir Beach and wait in the car while she awaits her husband.  After about 15 minutes, she comes back to the car and asks if I can drive the car back to the start, because she is going to pace her husband in to the finish (7.1 miles from that point, Tennessee Valley was not quite the turnaround).  She tells me to leave her keys at the finish line and hopefully she’ll get them back.  Uh… OK.

So I drive back the car.  Donna is in the back seat and pretty miserable.  The car is small, so my legs are cramping quite a bit.  I am steering on narrow roads with my left hand and pushing on the cramps with my right… but we do make it back and then drop the keys off.

I see a bunch of friends (mostly drops – like Jan Maas, the Georgian gal who dropped at Rocky Raccoon just behind me when she missed the 80 mile cutoff) and get a report on the racers.  The winner is a repeat winner, but his time is 1 hour and 40 minutes slower than the year before.  When I ran this race (twice), both times I finished less than 30 minutes under the time limit, so if the winner is 100 minutes slower, there’s NO WAY I would have finished.

Later, when I reviewed all of the finishers, I saw that they let anyone who made the final course cutoff finish the race (even if they were over the 16.5 hour time limit).  Several of the finishers were close to 2 hours over the total time limit – that is, EVERYONE struggled.

Although I was not disappointed with how I did, given a hot day and a difficult course, I was now in the unenviable position of not being able to complete my goal of 12 ultras in 12 months.  I suppose I could double-up, but it’s tough enough having only 2-3 weeks in between long races as it was.  On the other hand, it was STILL early May… maybe I could find a race at the end of the month…

LMJS 10K – 2012

April 22, 2012

First run post-SBER 100M attempt-slash-50M actual run.

I am up in Northern California for the Piedmont Choirs annual Gala, and before I drive back to Long Beach, I decided to get in a race… because, well, after reading 500+ odd posts, you know that I like to do smallish local races.

The Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders put on a 5K/10K/15K on every 4th Sunday of the month.  As I found out, they don’t have all three distances EVERY month (which was probably for the best).  I prefer to run the 15K (slightly unusual distance) because I don’t run a lot of them, though 15K is 3 5K loops, so it is slightly boring.  Today, I opt for the 10K, instead.

Since this is my first post-50 Mile run, period, I am a bit out of shape for ‘speed racing.’ I had a decent first half of 25 minutes.  On the second loop, I feel winded and walk quite a bit, running about a minute slower per mile, around 28 minutes.

In the past, I was able to garner an age group ribbon, but today, I am 5th in my division (freakin’ tough Masters’ group!).

Santa Barbara Endurance Race – 2012

April 13, 2012

This was to be the epitome of my Santa Barbara ultra racing career.  Particularly with Endurancesmith Racing, because I had previously completed the 50K (2010), 50M (2009), and 100K (2011).  Now I was going to finish the 100-miler.

However, RD Robert Gilcrest called me on Tuesday, asking what I thought should happen, since torrential rains were forecast for the entire weekend.  Probably this should have been decided long before Tuesday night, since people flying out for the race probably may have already arrived or could no longer cancel their hotel reservations.  I told him that he should NOT cancel this race at this point, but come up with a viable alternative course if the original course was impossible to run.  Although it would not be what he wanted, I suggested to find some kind of 5 mile loop course on a mostly paved surface that would not be affected by torrential rains.  Robert did come up with a plan “B,” but it was far from ideal and nothing like what I had suggested.

On Thursday night, Robert bought us all dinner and we went over the revised course.  The major difference in the course were certain sections that were all but certain to wash away in any kind of rain.  For the most part, the course was intact.  The other change was that we were starting an hour later than proposed, hoping that most of the worst rain would have already passed.  Who knows if this would make any difference?

So at 5:45am on Friday the 13th, I headed out from my cousin’s house in Santa Barbara and headed for the Los Padres National Forest and the Sage Campground race start.  It was raining a little bit, and it seemed as if everything would be OK.  Our instructions at the start mostly related to what the ribbons looked like and also that there was one section that was mostly unmarked but that when we got to the bottom of the hill, we would turn right, cross the small creek and then take the paved road for a few miles until we reached Red Rock and the start of the uphill.

A little after 7am, we set out.  There were only about 20 of us, including Jakob Hermann and Rafael Covarrubias (the latter who I had roped into last year (but was unable to participate) and then at a deeply discounted rate this year (since he missed last year).  We ran through the campground (paved) to the start of the dirt trail.  It was still raining lightly.

The trail portion was actually a nature trail that extended for about 3/4 of a mile before hooking into the upward slant of the local trail.  About as soon as this started, the rain became more intense and the trail was getting muddier and muddier.

Soon, I began hearing thunder and counted the seconds from the lightning to the thunder.  On my right side, it was 5-7 seconds delay, but on my left, it was nearly simultaneous.  That alarmed me (but not those around me) as I was the tallest structure on this hill.  I did not really want to be struck by lightning!

At the top of the hill I was with Jakob and Rafael.  I am not great with downhill and particularly not with muddy downhill.  I was looking for sufficient footing, and finding none, I was looking for the least steep “ski” route down.  Jakob shot a video with his camera, where basically Rafael says, “It’s not so bad, as he goes careening down the trail out of control.”

My slow, deliberate pace put me quite a bit behind these two and soon they were completely out of my view.  The trail was single-track and completely underwater (if you can be underwater heading downhill on a mountain).  Each and every time I put my hand down for balance, my hand and arm would emerge muddy to the elbow.  It was quite a challenge.

When I got to the bottom of the hill, I could not recall whether I was supposed to go to the right or the left (or whether this was the trail intersection) as there were no marks of any kind (as previously stated).  I called out to anyone around me, but there wasn’t anyone around me.  I finally decided that I would go right.  It was then that I spotted a cone and a raging river crossing (the dry creek, apparently).  I didn’t think that was right, so I figured out a way around the crossing and got onto the paved road.

I started to go to the left onto the OHV, but remembered from my webwork on this event that we would not be on the OHV (something like Off Highway Vehicle) until after Mile 50, so I kept on the paved path.  I spotted another runner behind me and he followed (whether he knew which way to go or was following me because I picked a direction, well, who knows?).  I continued not to see anyone, but I worried less because I was on a paved road.  After another 20 minutes, I started seeing people heading back towards me.  They all said that the race had been called, for now, because the roads were impassable and no one would be able to assist us if we got into any bit of trouble.

Robert drove by in his truck with a trailer attached and said to run back to the start (but not the way we came) and we would discuss options (the same options that should have been set out on Tuesday).

The rain was still sheeting down and the road had to cross the Santa Ynez River twice to get back to the campground.  When I say that the road was crossing the river, I am not talking about a bridge, but rather the road went THROUGH the river.  For most of the year, this was a minor issue – either 1-2 inches to as much as 8 inches deep.  Today, well, it was really deep.  We started to see why the rangers didn’t think it was safe or doable for the race to continue.

Stream crossing

Stream crossing

The water was knee deep in some sections (knee deep on ME!).

When we got back to the campground, we estimated that we had run about 7.4 miles.  Robert came up with a suggestion that the race would be on hold until 7 tomorrow morning; however, if we wanted to (on the trust system) run more of the distance somewhere around Santa Barbara today (since most of us had planned on running all day and all night), we could run with one of the other distance races tomorrow (since we would only have 24 hours to finish a difficult 100-mile course otherwise) – 100K, 50M, 50K, 30K or 10K (though if you only spared 10K to go… might as well just keep going).

I thought about driving into Santa Barbara and running along the beach road… but felt a little nervous about driving my car over the river crossing (not the one in the picture, but the 6″ one we had driven to get to the campground in the first place).  Also, our only female runner had suggested that we run one complete loop of the campground path and see if we could do loops of THAT.  Andi Ramer and I ran up through the far end of one parking lot, down around to another section of the campground, down to the edge of the river and then back to our camp space.  Her GPS said 1.05 miles.  Andi sent her husband, Don, into town to pick up supplies and away we went, doing basically one mile loops in the cold, wet rain.

For the first 20-odd miles, including the initial 7.4 miles of mud and river road, I averaged about 13:20/mile, and then it bumped up to about 14:00/mile for the next 10 miles, and kept slowing the longer I stayed on the pavement, because quite simply, my feet hurt.

After about 2 hours of doing loops, a runner formerly in the race came to see what we were doing.  He had been staying at Rancho Oso and had gone and taken a shower.  He decided to go back and get his running shoes and join us.

After about 4 hours, about 5 guys showed up out of the blue.  They had taken the left hand turn onto the OHV road and slogged for hours, without seeing a single mark (THAT would drive me crazy, since I freak out after only a few hundred yards of not seeing anything).  They had probably covered 50K, and decided NOT to join us.

Rafael and Jakob made an early decision not to do loops.

Basically, it was Andi, me, and Drake Tollenaar (who was “celebrating” his 43rd birthday), plus Jim Harrison (who had joined us late).  It was nice on the smallish loop, because occasionally, I would get into sync with one or more of them, and we would have a brief conversation… and then they would surge ahead.

After about 33 miles (for me, at least), the rain had mostly stopped and the nature trail was usable.  It was about a half-mile of soft dirt/sand and was a welcome change from the hard paved road.  Most of us started doing an extended loop of running a half-mile out and then a half-mile back to each loop.  My pace was at 16:00 miles now.

Around 6:00pm, Robert showed up to let us know that the race was not going to continue.  We told him of our plan and he said, “Fine.”  He had to get back and try and contact all of the other racers to tell them not to show up.

Andi’s pacer showed up and began running with her, and Jim’s wife ran a few laps with Jim.  After 42 miles, my feet were really starting to hurt and I decided that I was going to call it quits after 50 miles, seeing as that I was running the Miwok 100K in 3 weeks time and didn’t want to ruin my chances of finishing.

Besides, in the dark, I was not making much forward progress.  My last 8.1 miles I averaged about 19 minutes per mile – slow going.

When I stopped at just over 50 miles, I estimated my time at somewhere between 13 and 14 hours (13:11 of what I recorded, but I had stopped my watch from the stop point to the walk back to the start).  Since it was totally dark out, I decided that I would sleep in my car, because I was too nervous to drive across the narrow river crossing in the dark.

This was a huge mistake because, A) I had no dry clothes (having run with my jacket on); and B) people were continuing to run and make noise and shine their light into my car.

After an hour of shivering, I scampered into the front seat, started my engine and ran the heat at full blast for about 10 minutes, and turned off the car and tried to sleep in the dissipating heat for an hour or so (and then repeated until it was light enough to leave).

At about 3:30 (I think), Drake finished, with Andi finishing a little before I left to drive back to Santa Barbara.  Jim, who had started several hours back and was also not as fast as either Andi or Drake, finished several hours later.

The aftermath of the race was that the volunteers who had been able to drive in to support us, never really saw any runners.  There was one 100K runner who showed up in the evening and Robert gave him a map and the location of the aid stations so that he could run the race and be somewhat supported.  Some of the volunteers were “rescued” out of their area and the vehicles were rescued a week later when the ground absorbed the rest of the water.

Next year’s race is going to be in June.  It could possibly still rain, or it could be seasonably hot.  No matter what, it’s going to be an adventure!

Boeing 5K (4) – 2012

April 9, 2012

A week or so ago I put on a hash in the same area near Boeing and scraped the hell out of my back when I popped up after a bridge overcrossing (but hadn’t quite cleared it).  While it did draw minor blood, I did get a bit of a scar and it occasionally bugged me.  Today, in particular.

Today was super windy, but the path was pretty much perfect, because it has been recently repaved.  The downside to this is that the original mile markers are now gone, and I can’t remember precisely where they were.  Not sure if I (or anyone else) turned around at the appropriate spot, but I ran 24:03, which was nearly identical to my time yesterday.

Boeing 5K (3) – 2012

March 12, 2012

This will be my fastest 5K (so far) at age 41 (given that my birthday was 5 days ago).

I have had a bad-ish week post Malibu Creek 50K.  My Plantar Fasciitis is bugging me and one week ago today I stubbed my toe really hard (may have broken it).  This wonderful combination is making my running a little off… and of course, I have not done a lot of running since Malibu Creek.

I started out conservatively at 7:40 pace, ran the middle 1.1 in 9:12 (like 8:18), and then the last mile in 7:00 flat.  Not bad considering how I felt at the start of the run… and not bad considering that nowadays I am quite satisfied with finishing under a net 8:00 minute/mile pace.

Malibu Creek (PCT) 50K – 2012

March 3, 2012

Another year when I didn’t get into Way Too Cool 50K.  Looking back at my other posts, it was pretty much a tradition from 2002 to 2011 to run it for my birthday weekend.  Now the race is so popular that there is a lottery and I can no longer get in (well, I mean, I have the same chance as anyone, but there are so many more people wanting to participate).

Last year, I did this event with Pacific Coast Trails, but did just the 25K (the day before my 40th birthday), and there was a diverse group of AREC folk doing the various distances.  But this year, it’s just me doing the 50K.  I am familiar with the course because it is most of the Bulldog 50K course (except two loops rather than some variety like they used to have), in the reverse direction.

The first mile and a half is through the parking lot, up some hairpin switchbacks and then back down to the level of Los Virgenes to the first aid station.  I run very modestly (walk the hills) and finish in about 20 minutes.

The next section is the creek crossing and then the start of the uphills.  The creek is fairly dry, though there is still water in it, so I do have to watch my step so I don’t get wet OR twist my ankle.  On the uphill section (which goes on and on and on), I just try and maintain a consistent pace without tweaking my back or pooping myself out (since I will be back here in a few hours).  I do the 6.4 mile section in 1:39 (right around 15:30 pace) and greet the volunteers at the top of the course.

Now I have 7.6 miles (the longest section without aid) all the way back to the start.  There is a sizable uphill climb out of the aid station (even though I am at the top) of about a mile, then about 2 or 3 miles of screaming downhill (!).

At the bottom of the hill, I make a right turn and head through the M*A*S*H site (they filmed part of the series here), along the dry creek bed (rocky), parallel the Malibu Creek, and then head back up the main park road to the end of the loop and halfway.  My halfway split is 3:44 (managed about 12.5 minutes per mile with the downhill assist).  That means I have a little over 5 hours to finish under the time limit.  I will probably need the extra time on the second loop (hopefully, not all of it).

On the second loop, the initial 1.5 miles takes me 27 minutes (lost 7 minutes, but probably walked all of it AND I included some of my aid station hanging out time).

The creek bed this time is all but dry.  Someone said something about releasing less water in the afternoon.  It’s also warmer and drier out (maybe it dried out the creek).

There isn’t a lot of shade on the uphill section and with more heat (especially as I move into the afternoon), it slows me down considerably.  I get to the top aid station in 1 hour, 57 minutes (another 18 minutes lost) and now I have the final 7.5 miles (mostly down) to the finish.

The last section takes me 1:45 (10 minutes slower) and I finish in 8:08:30, good enough for 34th overall (probably out of 40).

More importantly, I finished, I didn’t injure myself and this makes 8 consecutive months running an ultramarathon, and 3 consecutive months in 2012 where I have completed an ultramarathon.  Nine to go!

Bandit 50K – 2012

February 19, 2012

I don’t feel like I am physically ready for this tough race.  Laura ran it last year and really struggled (but finished).  Robert Gilcrest, RD, from Santa Barbara, decided to run this race and paid for an entry for me, so I am somewhat obligated to give it a go (plus it will be race #2) in the quest for 12 ultras in 12 months.

It’s a bit of a drive to the start in Simi Valley, but we arrived with a little time to spare.  There are several races, and 50K is the longest of these, so we start first.

They do one of the things I hate in some ultra courses, which is when you do an extra loop somewhere to make up for missing distance; in this case, we are doing a mile-long loop around the base level… though it is not completely flat and I know that there is a big hill to climb soon.

I see a few friends at the start, but immediately fall back to my usual position near the back.

After the loop, the course heads uphill.  It’s STEEP (and I don’t say that lightly).  I am a bit out of breath, but happy when I reach the midpoint (a tunnel under the 134 Freeway.  It is a nice flat section, before we start climbing again.  At the secondary top, the course turns to the right and we do another out-and-back section (bleh) which is downhill and then back up.  I note all of the folks ahead of me – Laura, Taffy Tingley, and Tricia Keane (the latter two from the LA hash).

After this horrible out-and-back, it’s a climb along a ridge to the first aid station at 6.8 miles.  It’s taken me a shade under 2 hours for an average pace of 17 minutes per mile.

From the aid station, it is mostly downhill on single track.  At times, it is steep, but mostly it meanders downhill.  At the bottom, it opens out onto a wide open field and I run through the grass and wildflowers to a gap in the fence… into the neighborhood.  About a half mile through the neighborhood (streets!) takes me to the second aid station, another 3.4 miles.  I covered the distance at about a 11 minute pace.

However, I am told by the volunteers that I am outside the cutoff window (at TEN miles?).  They let me continue, but tell me that I need to come through this aid station again by 12:00 noon.  While this is about 10 miles at 15 minute pace… I now have to climb up an equivalent distance to what I came down and I am not certain I have the speed… but I will try.

Leaving the aid station, I am back on dirt trails and it is mostly flat.  While this is a godsend at this point, I would prefer a gradual uphill to a lot of flat followed by a steep uphill.  Of course, I don’t get what I want… it is a steep ascent out of the valley.  I am walking, but I am walking with AUTHORITY (not speed-walking, but close).  I pass a few people (not many because I am so far back) but do see my friend Guru Khalsa (who was either in the 30K or dropped down to the 30K from the 50K).  We walk and talk for a bit, but it is important for me to continue pushing the pace.

I reach the top aid station moving at a 17 minute/mile pace… not what I wanted at all… but close to what I need and I do have downhill ahead of me… but it is going to be close!

I grab a little sustenance, but I need to get going and I really push the pace going down the hill, so much so that my legs are cramping.  I don’t have the time to stop!  It is pretty painful to push forward with the cramps, but I figure once I make the cutoff (thinking positive here) that I can take the next part of course easier.

When the reach the bottom and am in the field heading to the aid station, I figure I might be able to get in the aid station by noon, but not out that quickly.  I’m hoping they give me the benefit of the doubt, given that I rushed and passed a number of people.  When I reach the aid station, my watch says that it is a minute past noon, but I am hoping to convince them that it is really 13 minutes fast (and not 10 minutes like it really is).  I proclaim, “I made it, but barely!”

They tell me, “Oh, you made it by almost 30 minutes!”

“What?!!?”

Apparently, there is some confusion as to what the actual cutoffs are.  I know that the website said a number of different things, in particular in referencing the overall cutoff.  One page said 9 hours to reach the last aid station and another said it was 9 hours to finish the whole thing.  I’m hoping the former but planning for the latter.

My legs are a bit trashed from rushing to get here, but at least I can take it a bit easier on the upswing.

It is a lonely slog; there is no one around, though I do spot a gal in the distance.  I decide to try and catch her, though it is not a fast catch.  It takes me a good hour but at least I can concentrate on something concrete.  She is having some trouble with her legs and I believe this is her first ultramarathon (what a horrible choice!).  Her husband and 3 boys are waiting at the finish line.  We stay together for a bit, but she resurges ahead on the downhill sections.  This section takes me 23 minutes longer the second time around, and I pass the aid station for the final time.  I have a little under 2 hours for the last 6 miles (if I believe the less generous time split)… and I think it is mostly downhill to the finish.

Actually, there is a bit more along the ridge, which is rolling hills and one more aid station at Mile 29.4… just before the STEEP drop down to the end.  Those four miles take me about an hour.

As I get to the downhill, I am starting to move slower because I have a massive blister on my toes and cannot put any pressure on them while running downhill… but the better news is that I will be able to finish.

So, despite being downhill, I finished the last 1.7 miles in 33 minutes, finishing in 8:34 (one of my slowest 50Ks).

When Tricia got to the finish, her boyfriend was waiting there, wearing a tux and proposed to her at the finish line.  Laura finished about 30 minutes ahead of me and Robert about 20 (it was tough for everyone).

There was one final finisher BEHIND me who finished an hour behind me… so either they let her finish despite being over the time or she got to the last aid station within the 9 hour limitation.

Don’t think I will try this one again; there are so many other challenging courses, perhaps without extra mile loops!

Boeing 5K (2) – 2012

February 12, 2012

Following the Avalon 50M, I had a tough comeback to feeling normal.  First, my back was sore and then my knees have felt sore as well.  (This is not that unusual, post ultra, though.)

Prior to today’s run, my left knee felt off, but by the time the race started, it felt more normal and I was able to run 24:03 (slightly sub-8;00 pace).  It felt fast, which means I am either older or more out of shape than usual (or in “ultra-shape”).

I have a tentative plan for 2012.  I am still continuing my streak of consecutive months in running at least a marathon distance in a race (that includes my DNF where I completed 37 miles of 50), but I think I would like to do an ultra-marathon EVERY month – currently, I have done an ultra every month since August of 2011… but I really want them to be in a calendar year.  Hope my knees hold up!

Avalon 50M – 2012

January 14, 2012

Laura and I decided we would do Avalon 50 miler.  I had heard lots of good stuff about this race for the past few years, but had never attempted it.  More than anything else, it was the additional expense of getting to the island and staying there (most other ultras I have stayed with friends or family and driven myself there).

Laura had already made arrangements (a bit on the pricey side), and had said that I could camp out on her hotel room floor.  The hotel was very nice, but the arrangements did not work out all that well, because the inflatable mattress I was given had a hole in it and completely deflated by the time I woke up.  And so, I started out the race with a stiff neck.

The other “down”-side to the hotel was that it was located on the last stretch of the finish line.  In other situations this would be good, but here it was a problem, because the last stretch of the course is steep downhill.  We were at the top of the hill!

The night before the event, we opted to eat out at a local Italian restaurant.  I saw a lot of my hash and ultra friends there.  Nothing special, except for Laura getting confused and ordering two main courses by accident!

At the start line (5AM!), we met up with a few of our friends, including Ben Gaetos, Rafael Covarrubias and Martin Santos.

Avalon 50 Start

Avalon 50 Start

It was a little on the cold side (and dark)… but pretty much ideal weather for running a 50 miler.  Hopefully, it would stay cool.

The first stretch of the course is mostly flat and runs through Avalon backstreets, wending its way to the Wrigley Botanical Gardens (basically where the city ends).  We go through a gate and then the road turns to dirt and we work our way into the trails.

Once we cleared the Gardens, it was an unrelenting uphill for about 2 miles.  I walked and watched Laura and the others recede into the distance.  Once we reached the top of the trail (where the radio towers were, the sun was on its way up and we were heading down, back to the paved road and through the first aid station.  The first 5.4 miles took me 1 hour and 31 minutes (17:00/mile pace).

Out of the aid station, the course continued on a paved road for a bit, narrowing slightly and eventually turning back into a dirt trail.  We continued uphill for a longer section, passing by vineyards and in between various properties until we went past the Catalina Airport – one of the weirdest airports I have ever seen, with a short runway at an angle (basically on top of a mountain).

Just past the airport, the course makes a right-hand turn and a bit later, I reach the second aid station on the course at 11.9 miles.  I have accelerated a little bit, mostly because the course flattened out and I could run a bit more.  I averaged 11 minutes a mile on this section.

Now the course heads down towards Little Harbor.  For the most part, we are in the interior of the island and on a large fire-road.  When I am about 2-1/2 miles from the aid station, I start to see people returning from the turnaround (not passing by me en route, but I am descending into the aid station, and I can see people below me).

As I arrive in the aid station area (a welcome sight of grass after miles of barren terrain), I spot a familiar face – Chris Spenker (aka Undercover), from the hash.  He has recently completed his first marathon a few months ago (at age 70), and is trying a 50-miler.  I know, from a previous conversation, that he was planning on starting at midnight (5 hours early) to try and give himself every chance to finish.  But now, he is sitting around at Mile 19 or so, with bloodied legs from a fall in the dark, deciding whether to continue or quit.

I also see Summer Wesson (who DNFed with me at Mt. Disappointment 50M in 2007) who is having a bad day as well.  I hope SHE continues (she is NOT 70, closer to half that), but sometimes the day gets the better of you.

This particular section has a lot of ups along with the downs (in the trail and not just mentally), so I am able to maintain my course average of 13:00/mile.

From Little Harbor, the course is now heading towards its destiny with the turnaround at Two Harbors.  Out of the aid station, it winds around a mostly flat section, but then begins to ascend once more, eventually flattening out through a desolate landscape (the most exciting part was some backhoes – the construction variety).

When I finally crested the top of the hill, I began encountering more and more runners coming back from the turn-around, struggling up a long uphill (Shoot!  I am going to have to climb that hill, too!).

I run (not too fast, though) down the hill and into Two Harbors.  When I get to the aid station, I think that, WOW, I have really run about 6 miles at about 10 minute/mile pace, not realizing that I have to run past the aid station, to the turn-around and then come back.  (Though I am welcome to stop and enjoy some beverages before setting off for the turnaround.  I have a cup of coke in a melted “corn”-cup (a plastic cup made out of corn products, and therefore bio-degradable).

I like part of this section.  It’s flat and through a small town area (dirt road) passing by a kids’ play area and heading up behind some houses onto a dirt road.  The trail hairpins around a cove (and some yacht club) before heading upwards to the turnaround.  A couple of volunteers direct me to draw an “X” on a bib as proof I made it out here.  My halfway split is 5:42:22, slightly ahead of the 6 hour split needed for a 12 hour finish.

Now I head back down the hill, around the hairpin curve by the yacht club, around the kids’ play area to the aid station at Mile 26.7.  When I arrive, they are completely out of cups (even the melted ones), but someone has gone to replenish them from a local store (limited options, here).  I basically refill my water bottles, because I can’t really waste any time, being up against the time limit and all.

Now it’s my turn to head up the hill.  It’s much harder heading up then going down, for some reason.  At the top of the hill, I get a special treat – a buffalo in the wild!  It isn’t ON the trail, but rather off to the side.  It’s not really large and a cool treat (especially having heard of people’s encounters with the beasts in the middle of the race course).

The course is now a reversal of the outbound trail, past the backhoes, fire-road and eventually downhill back to Little Harbor.  The 7-mile stretch takes me 90 minutes, so I again cannot waste a lot of time here (though I do get an offer to toss a horseshoe for a prize).  According to my pace sheet, I am only a few minutes ahead of where I need to be in order to finish under 12 hours.

There is more annoying ascent out of Little Harbor (for the most part, I have to climb back out to where I saw runners heading back from the turnaround), though I do not climb to the same point on the outbound trail.  There is a turn where I head off in a different direction – I will not pass the airport again.  Once again, I have rolling hills – up and down, up and down – but finally make my way to a wooded area, with a few stream crossings (either bridges or very little water).  The scenery doesn’t change much, though my favorite part was going by a “Zoo,” where there is a Bald Eagle in a cage… and also where I passed Hal Winton (a guy who has run every race… but now needs to start at 10pm on Friday in order to do so (he is over 80 years old, though)).

Eventually, I hear some music and chattering, and that means I have covered another 5 miles and am at The Eagle’s Nest.  There are more offerings here than at other aid stations.  I could have a beer, but I feel a bit off, so I have a can of peach nectar and a bite of buffalo burger.  I have not eaten much all day, but that really hit the spot.  I am continuing to maintain a pace close to what I need to finish, though I am now only about 6 minutes ahead of the pace I need to be at… and there are still several significant hills to climb.

The trail begins to ascend quite a bit (not super steeply, but enough to affect my average pace).  I am mostly on my own; I haven’t encountered a lot of other runners (or walkers).  This next section is about the same length as the prior section, but I am feeling antsy, both because of how sore my feet and legs are and also because of how close I have been cutting it to the overall time limit.

I keep expecting I will reach the Pumphouse Hill aid station in any minute, and then when I have finally given up hope, well, there it is.  I am still going at the same pace (about 14:20/mile) and am still 6 minutes ahead of pace… so I have to keep on going.

The trail steepens a bit towards the top and it is a paved road, now.  (That doesn’t necessarily help me go any faster.)  I have a brief conversation with a barefoot guy who is REALLY struggling.  He tells me that this is his first race, ever!  (You did a 50-miler barefoot for your first race?  REALLY????)  I want to encourage him more, but I need to save my own strength if I want to finish under 12 hours.

Near the top of the hill is a Sheriff’s vehicle.  I assume this is to cart people who are pulled from the course.  (Crossing my fingers that that isn’t going to be me.)  I think I look like I am moving with some authority and look OK, so maybe they will give me the benefit of the doubt, if I am close.

From Pumphouse Aid to Haypress (which was also the first aid station) is only about 2 miles.  It takes me around 30 minutes and my net time is now 11:03.  I am 3 minutes SLOWER than I need to be to finish under 12 hours.  Now I am really concerned (though several people have said that as long as you are out of the park (which I am), they will let you finish.  I have also heard that as long as you are ahead of Hal Winton, they let you finish (I passed him a few hours ago.)… but still, I don’t want to leave that to rumor.  I don’t even bother to refill my water bottles, hoping that the time saved will allow me to finish under 12 hours.

Leaving the aid station, the trail is still on a paved road, and still a bit of uphill, still.  Yuck.  This is not helping me accelerate when I need to.  After about 15 minutes, I turn a corner and spot the road heading down the hill into Avalon.  It is basically lots of switchbacks and a cruddy paved road (lots of potholes, lots of repair “bumps”)… but it IS downhill, significant downhill… and I feel OK… meaning, I CAN run.

I do a combination of running and galloping to get myself down the hill.  I find myself passing several people in this stretch.  The downhill seems to go forever, though the faster I am able to go, the slower the overall time seems to go.

Near the bottom of the hill, I pass through a gate and I am starting to see how close the ocean is (and thus, the end, which is at the sea level).  A few more turns, and then I pop out of a side road and onto the same road as our hotel… now I KNOW I am close.  One glance down at my watch and I KNOW that I will finish under 12 hours.

At the bottom of the hill, I turn onto the main oceanfront drag and high-tail it for the finish line.  The finish is under a hanging sign, which I clip with the top of my head (it is too low for me to really duck).  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, the edges of the sign are hiding reinforced PVC pipe and I almost go down just short of the finish line.  OW!!!

Avalon 50M finish

Avalon 50M finish

With my skill on the downhill, I manage to finish in 11:43:24… surviving the stated cutoff by 17 minutes (and averaging 10 minutes/mile… my fastest pace on the entire course).  Also, my splits were decently close – 5:42 for the first half and 6:01 for the second half.  Good consistency.

Laura, despite finishing 15 minutes ahead of me, did not feel so great, and opted to catch an earlier ferry back.  I ended up riding back with Rafael and Martin, and getting a ride home from Martin – those guys finished 2 HOURS ahead of me.  (The last official finish came in about 2 hours after me, so I guess I didn’t have anything to worry about.)

This was a really fun event… if a 50-miler can be fun!  I would totally do it again next year!