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!”
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!