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.
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!