May 19, 2012
Having failed at Miwok, I felt like I had lost my goal for 2012, which was to run 12 ultras in 12 months (and I suppose, continue my streak of marathon distance races run in consecutive months). Other than getting my friend Mark to put on a special race just for me, there were not a lot of options for the second half of May.
Then Rafael Covarrubias mentioned that he and his friend, Martin Santos, were going up to Bishop (a place I’d never been) to run the Bishop High Sierra 100K. Wasn’t sure if I could float another $100-something cost for a race… but I got an intriguing offer from Jakob Hermann (who I had experienced the crazy rainy (at least first 7 miles) Santa Barbara race in April with). He had received a free entry for the 50K from the race director. He asked if he could transfer to me… and thereby lessen the cost (or I could just sign up for the 50K).
I felt like since I was destined to run 100K for Miwok, that I should also do the 100K here. When I went to register, I didn’t get a discount on the price… I got the entire race for free.
I threw my lot in with Rafael and Martin, even though they would be camping, which I wasn’t sure if that would be the best plan for me the night before a race (not sure if it matters unless I pull a muscle). At least the cost wouldn’t be too bad, but I don’t really have a lot of camping gear, so I would most probably be lying on the ground (much like Avalon 50 earlier in the year).
The drive to Bishop was about 5 hours. Basically, it’s Central California, only Central-East California. You drive towards Ridgecrest and then for another 2 hours. It’s a few miles past Lone Pine (and the entrance to Death Valley) and a little short of Mammoth (which I always thought was a few hours away… not 5). Not much to say about the scenic-ness of the drive… most of it was pretty blah, though we had some excitement, because when Martin drove, he was texting to a girlfriend in Mammoth and not entirely paying attention (not really that bad, though).
When we got to town, we picked up our bibs and shirts at Sage to Summit (which is a running store. In the drawing for free stuff (random amongst entrants), I won a Camelbak water system. Now I felt really bad that I had gotten a free entry. The shirts were something quite incredible… pink… and unisex. And by unisex, I mean form-fitting. It HAS made a great swim shirt, though.Next, we headed over to the campground. The one real advantage here is that it is a mere 1/4 mile away from where the race starts and, in fact, we will run through the campground to and from the trails. But… it’s just a patch of grass, next to running water, and presumably people who are not running the race. I do spot, however, Mark Drake, from GVH in Davis, who has driven down (probably about 5 hours south) for this event, a couple of spots down.
Around 5pm, we head back to town for the orientation and dinner. It’s at a restaurant called Whiskey Creek, and dinner is included with the race. (What a nice event.) This includes lasagna, vegetarian sauce pasta, Caesar salad, carrot cake, garlic bread, and beer. In terms of what was said at the orientation, I don’t really remember, but I believe it is the usual – don’t litter, thank your volunteers, follow the ribbons and don’t get lost.
After the dinner, we head back to the campground to settle in and get some sleep before an early start in the morning. Of course, the campers around us are talking and I cannot really get to sleep until they stop and also, it takes me a while to get settled, because it is really quite uncomfortable.
The race starts early – 6am – which means we are out before first light to walk on down to the race start (along with a few others in our campground). I am tempted to talk loudly as we pass the tent of our neighbors, but I don’t really waste my energy. I spot some folks I know and then pretty soon after we get there, the race starts, basically backtracking along the same road we followed to get to the start, through the campground and then out the back gate and onto the trails.
The trails are fairly soft and not a lot of rocks embedded in them. It’s not quite sand, but it can get a bit dusty. I know not to push the pace too much (after all, I have quite a ways to go), especially because the base elevation of the race is 4,000 feet and we have about 20 miles of a steady uphill climb ahead. Most of these first few miles, however, are flat and rolling hills, so I take advantage of any downhill section to try and stay ahead of the game.
The first aid station was at Mile 5.7, after a bit of an uphill increase. They just have water. I’m told by the volunteers that this spot is really close to the 100K turnaround point (around Mile 55 – more on that later). My split is 76 minutes (about 13:20/mile) and I am doing well and ahead of pace… which may be good OR bad.
For the next section, it continues uphill and gets rockier, to the point where I am essentially walking in the ruts formed by vehicles, and even then, it isn’t great. We stay on the road going mostly straight for a few miles, and then turn onto a different trail. It’s exciting for a bit because it goes through some dense plants – a welcome change from the vast desolate mountain road we have been on for some time. I strike up a conversation with Linda, who lives in Ridgecrest. I think she is recovering from an injury and probably shouldn’t be this far back in the race. We reach the next aid station at 9.7 miles, Junction.
This section takes me 75 minutes (though a mile and half shorter in distance). At the aid station, they offer my chocolate covered strawberries (POISON!!), but I do get some nice strawberries… and they are also making blueberry pancakes on a hot grill, but I am not at the point yet to eat anything substantial.
From Junction, I am heading a mere 1.5 miles up to Buttermilk. While the trail has been a sucky push up rocky roads, suddenly, it tapers off quite a bit and becomes a slightly marshy (wet, but not muddy) traipse through a wooded area… and shaded in spots. It is starting to get warmer.
Next is McGee Creek, which is the turnaround for the 20 miles (I believe) and I am starting to see a number of runners coming back towards me (and have been for several miles). I manage this section in 44 minutes (around the same pace as before) and head off towards Edison.
Looking ahead on the trail, it looks like a 5 foot deep water crossing (which I’d heard about), but there is a detour, which has us crossing the water on a 2×4. It’s not bad, but I wonder how it will be several tired miles from now.
Once across the “moat,” there is more uphill, followed by a screaming downhill and then more rolling hills. I am enjoying the scenery even if I am having more trouble breathing, as I am above 8000′ at this point. I see Aimee Fillipow (who I thought was in the 50 miler, but dropped back to the 50K) heading back to the finish.
At Edison, I have now covered 15 miles in 4:17… and inching towards 18 minutes per mile (where I think I need to be to finish under the time cutoffs). I have a drop bag at Edison, but as I am coming back here twice more, I save diving into my bag until after at least one more outing.
From Edison, I am heading up to Overlook, the highest point on the course, at 9385 feet. It is a steeper climb and I cannot push it at all. Darcie Olk told me several years ago that when she got to Overlook, the ground was covered in snow, and that on the way down, she slid on her butt… but no chance of that happening today. It’s in the 70s or 80s. Blech.
As I am climbing up this hill, I am passing a number of people. Later, I find out that it was the same couple that I ran with for a bit at Rocky Raccoon. As I have said in previous posts, you tend to see a lot of the same people in the races because you probably run at similar paces.
I am a bit concerned with my pace as I do not want to be rushed and want to finish (especially after DNFing at Miwok 2 weeks ago). I walk with some authority and do get up to the top. I am told that they are waiting for about 10 people behind me. At least I am not in last place. My total time is 6:10 for 20.4 miles, and still right at the 18 minute mile mark.
Now to head back down the hill. I give encouragement to the people behind me (I would want the encouragement myself), and work my way back down. It’s not an out-and-back section, though there is about a mile of overlap on the trek to the top and back. Then I make a turn and traverse along a hillside.
The best part here is that I occasionally look down at my watch, so I can hydrate myself approximately once every 10 minutes: On the uphills, time is shooting by; on the downhills, I can’t believe how slowly the time is going. This is because on downhills, I am covering more ground, hopefully making up time.
When I get back to Edison, I have covered the 3 miles at 17:00/mile pace (pulled back a little time, to an under 18:00/mile average). I decide to get some Advil from my bag and apply some more Vaseline to my sensitive areas. Well, due to (perhaps) someone rooting around in the bag, the Advil pills are all over the bottom of the bag… and due to the heat, the Vaseline is all but melted. I do what I can, but need to continue moving along.
The next section is heading over to Intake #2 Aid Station (though there is no Intake #1 station). The first part of this is a sketchy trail that goes to a metal pipe heading up a steep hill. There is no choice but to “climb” up the pipe, which is difficult (due to mileage and due to sun-heat on the pipe) because the pipe is rounded and not really a “trail.” At the top, I connect into a fire-road, which heads downhill, through a dead tree area and then up a very steep switchback section to cross over the ridge towards a campground area.
Although I cannot really determine the direction I will be going, I can see a number of runners on various switchback trails below me. My trail moves downhill pretty gently and then eventually pops out onto a paved road and then drops down again to a reservoir road and the aid station at Mile 26. The 2.5 miles take 49 minutes (average back over 18 minutes/mile).
Now I traverse the edge of the reservoir. It’s the first time I have seen groups of people in hours, and most of these are not runners, but families fishing or hanging out. When I get to the end of the reservoir, the trail turns to the left and heads down more of the switchbacks I had seen from the top of the ridge. The trail here is pretty rocky (basically a double-track filled with gravel) and I am passing a number of 50 milers and 100K people on their way back. When I am nearly at the bottom, I pass by Rafael (heading back).
At the bottom of the hill, I run through a campground on a paved road. At the far end, I cross a wooden bridge over a raging stream and then the paved road turns into a rougher road, eventually becoming a dirt road. I see more and more people coming back on this section, including Martin, probably 10-15 minutes behind Rafael (which is fine, since this is Martin’s first 100K and not Rafael’s).
At the end of this section, I cross the road and am on a single track paralleling a stream for about a half mile. When this trail ends, I am on the actual road, and heading toward the Bishop Creek Lodge. It is pretty lonely here; I don’t see a lot of people, but occasional speeding cars as well as intriguing purplish dirt.
When I get to the aid station at Mile 29 (and push my overall pace back under 18:00/mile), I tell the volunteers I am probably in last place at this point, but they reassure me (NOT!) that there are loads of people behind me. I thank them for the assurance, sing part of the Star-Spangled Banner as thanks and then speed off back for Intake #2 (which is sure to have a lot of uphill ahead).
Now I retrace my steps… down the road, along the single track, back to the crappy paved, bridge and paved road… and I don’t encounter a single soul. Not one person… not even a day camper. Not last, my ass.
I slog back up the switchbacks to the Reservoir Road, mindful that cutoff times are looming. I need to get back to Intake #2 by 10:15. I have given myself 90 minutes to do what took me 50 minutes on the way out… and I did it in 47 minutes. Plenty of time. (OK, not really, but a little misplaced confidence at this point is what I need to keep going.)
They also tell me I am not in last place, but I am continuing not to believe them and also not worry about it. Right now I have to worry about climbing up to the top of the ridge and then whatever the path back is (not back down the hot pipe trail).
As I passed by where the hot pipe trail popped out, there is clearly signage that indicates to pass right by it and continue on the fire-road trail (sort of the long way back)… and about a half mile out, there is some blue-and-yellow ribbons with a sign saying “Alternate Wrong Way turnaround.” Apparently, some folks ignore the signage, come back down the hot pipe route, and then have to do some extra distance to make up for their error (better than a DQ at Mile 35).
When I get back to Edison for the 3rd and final time, I spend a little time readjusting my shoes (the inserts often move around), re-oil my groin and enjoy a little hand-cranked vanilla ice cream (made at the aid station). Even though I have dairy issues, it really hits the spot (and I figure that I might be able to use the jet-propellant a little later on).
There is another runner at this aid station (also in the 100K) who was pondering dropping out. When I come by, he decides that he is going to continue in the race. I feel like this is serendipity, because another runner (and hence, company) is very motivating… though I don’t mind coming in last place.
We head through the marshy rolling hills back to McGee Creek. When we get there, they are in the process of pulling up stakes. Apparently, there is an interim cutoff (not published). I don’t think we would have been pulled, but there would have been no aid station. As I had said before, I did struggle a bit with the creek crossing.
Next is Buttermilk and Mile 41.2. It is mostly downhill for us, and we have a very interesting conversation, though I find him very annoying how he is touting how great the Canadian health system is, but is really only finishing up Medical School. (Also, this is his first ultra – 100K? Really? Not too bright, apparently.) I change the subject because I can’t waste energy on his annoying opinions. Buttermilk has something like a 13 hour cutoff, and we come in at 12:14, still about 45 minutes ahead (the same gap at Intake #2). With the downhill, I have increased my pace, but slowed a bit due to being tired (16:45/mile).
Now just a mile and a half to Junction, which we do in 23 minutes (downhill). My net pace (well, technically, OUR net pace) is now 17:43. Still feeling pretty good about finishing.
This next 3.5 miles is a different path than we’ve been on previously. We turn off the main road and work ourselves onto a WIDE unpaved road that goes on for MILES. The surface is nice, but it is fairly flat, so I am walking more than running, even though it isn’t difficult. In the distance (though it is getting dusky), I can see a Winnebago. This is the Highway 168 aid station. They have pizza and popsicles for us. The Popsicle really hits the spot, even though it is getting towards evening and not as hot out.
From here, it is about 2.1 miles to the next aid station and the next time cutoff on the 100K course. I need to be at the aid station in under 15 hours. For the most part, the trail is easy going… more of the same dusty dirt path, but just before the aid station is an ankle deep water crossing… and no way around it. Ah well… just go for it. When we get to the aid station, we have a decision to make… because we got here in 14:19, 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff. Essentially, there is 13.5 miles left and about 5 hours to finish (I don’t know how much leeway we will be given if we are over, but I would like to give it a go.). I convince my compatriot to continue, since we are almost an hour ahead of the cutoff.
It is uphill to the max, but at least it is not rocky; it is the same dusty trail. However, after about a half mile, the sun goes down completely and it gets really dark. I have my light, but it is still just pitch black out. Also, my feet really hurt. I have to stop on several occasions to readjust my inserts, which means stopping, and sitting down somewhere and taking care of them. We keep seeing a light ahead, but it is never the aid station.
What is left on the course is 3.6 miles to the aid station, 2.5 miles down to the turnaround (mentioned previously) (and 2.5 miles back up), 3.6 miles back down the hill, and 1.5 miles to the finish.
When we are about 20 minutes out of the aid station (but we don’t know that yet), my companion states that he is going to drop at the next aid station. This discourages me completely, because I had some confidence to finish with someone with me, and practically none to trudge another 10 miles in the dark on my own. I decide to ask if I could have credit for a 50 mile finish, if I drop at this aid station (Mile 52.1) and get to the finish.
So… when I arrive, I have the volunteers radio down and ask for a special dispensation. The race director agrees to give me a 50-mile finisher award and time WHEN I come in. However, we cannot leave the aid station (unless we walk back ourselves) until the people on the out-and-back return… so it is another 60 minutes (though 60 minutes off my feet) before they pack up and head down the hill.
Midway down the hill, my “buddy” gets out and gets a ride with his family. I never see him again (but assume he made it home safe). They drop me off just outside the park and I walk into the finish to get my award and turn in my timing chip. Despite reaching Mile 52.1 in 15 hours, 53 minutes, I am given an official time of 17:24… which is when I crossed the line with my chip. Ironically, I didn’t come in last. There was another runner out there the entire time, who finished about 30 minutes behind me.
After refueling a bit, I walked back to our tent. Martin had gone off to Mammoth to hang with his female friend, so I did get his air mattress. I tried to decompress with Rafael about the race, but the loudmouths from the night before didn’t appreciate me blabbing at 1:30am.
In the weeks following the race, I still felt bad that I had gotten a free entry (and free Camelbak), so I spent some time consolidating 19 years worth of results into an Access database and then producing consistent-looking result pages for each year along with statistics about frequent runners, PRs by distance and age group and the PR progression over time. I think it was well received.
And I will 100% (barring injury) be back next year to run the 50-miler!