October 13, 2012
Decided I would do the Twin Peaks 50 miler. Part of my decision was that it was another race by Dirty Feet Productions and that my friend (and sweep pacer) Jim Tello had promised he would keep me company on the second half of the course.
Other features of this event that were appealing were an option for an earlier start (90 minutes before the rest of the group) and a drop-down option – if i wasn’t “feeling it,” I could still do a 50K (around 32-33 miles) and still get an official credit. This would be a better option than in some previous events this year where it is THE distance or nothing. I created my usual pace sheet, which shows 3 sets of times:
1. Where I would be ecstatic to be
2. Where I should be
3. Where I MUST be
Theoretically, I should be pretty close to the middle set of times, but needed to be ahead of the slowest set of times. I had also included on my pace sheet a “drop-down” time. I wasn’t intending on dropping down, but needed to give myself a time where I wouldn’t convince myself that I might still make it (even if I probably couldn’t). I set that time at 9 hours – 9 hours for around 26 miles. I joked to myself when I typed it that there was NO WAY I would be that slow.
In picking the early start time, I needed to figure out how to get adequate sleep, have the time I needed in the morning to get ready, and drive the one hour (minimum) to the race start (between Corona and Lake Elsinore) at 4:30AM!! To do so, I ended up going to bed around 7pm (“going to bed” meant turning out the lights in my living room and semi-sleeping in my La-Z-boy chair). I didn’t eat before I went to bed, figuring I would eat when I woke up.
I woke up at 12:30am and had a small dinner. I figured I should leave by 2:45am, so I would arrive 30-45 minutes early and not be stressed (also, the directions were a little confusing, and I wanted to allow a little extra time). There was minimal traffic on the road at that hour, so I thought I would have no trouble getting there with plenty of time.
However, about 10 miles out of Corona, I noted on the freeway sign that the “Freeway was closed at Main Street.” Since my directions had me staying on the 91 Freeway to the 15 Freeway (and the intersection was in the middle of Corona), I was hoping beyond hope that the exit might be beyond the 15, while at the same time I was working my way over towards the exit lane, just in case it wasn’t.
But before I could get off the freeway (probably 0.5 mile from an exit), traffic came to a dead halt… not a slow-moving slog, but totally stopped. Good thing I allowed extra time! I pulled out the only map I had in the car, which was the Thomas Guide map of California, which only has limited local exits. I was able to determine that once I made my way to the exit, I would be able to use city streets and cut over to the 15.
However, we were not moving… at… all. Very frustrating. I basically turned off the engine and waited until there was any sign of moving, which was close to an hour later. (Learned later that someone had died on the freeway (jumped off a bridge or something) and they were doing the investigation and shut down the freeway (but didn’t do a great job of getting people off the freeway).)
At least, fortunately, I had been in the far right lane, so I was able to get off the freeway faster than some other people (but of course, every one was trying to get into my lane). By the time I got off the freeway, it was after 4am, and I was just making my way over to the 15 freeway. Obviously, I had little chance of getting to the start in time, especially with all of the local street traffic.
Even after getting to the 15 Freeway, it was still 10 miles down the road to the exit and then a few confusing turns on local streets to get to the trail-head. It was a little after 5am when I finally got to the location, and I still had to get my stuff together, check-in, etc.
I rushed to get my stuff together and while I picked up my race number, a nice volunteer filled my water bottles. The race director, Jessica DeLine, told me that if I needed an additional 45 minutes at the end of the race, that she wouldn’t stop me on the course. What a nice offer!
I immediately got going on the course, because I wanted as much time as possible in the cold and dark before it got light and warm (or hot). It was probably the loneliest start of a race ever because I was totally by myself. On the plus side, there was nowhere to get lost because it was a fire-road heading STRAIGHT uphill for 6-1/2 miles.
After about 90 minutes, I started hearing voices (ACTUAL voices; I wasn’t delirious) and wondered when the race leaders would overtake me on the hill. I hoped that I was relatively near to the top and not SUPER-slow. Probably a dozen folks passed me before the first aid station at 6-1/2 miles, which I reached in just over 2 hours.
According to my pace sheet, it was 4 miles to the next aid station and had a ‘minor’ elevation gain of 100 feet. This was quite exciting, as the initial climb had been around 2000 feet; I could use a break. The trail flattened out for about a mile, and then just around the next corner, it steepened up pretty severely, and the trail got somewhat technical. It was like climbing up obsidian chunks, slippery and steep. What about the 100′ gain??? I was already gassed from the first 6 miles.
At the top of this hill, the trail flattened out once again and then there was a longish downhill, followed by some more uphill to the aid station. In other words, LOTS of up and down, but a NET gain of 100 feet. I covered this section in just under an hour, so was able to pick up my pace a bit. I did see 5 or 6 folks on the course (who passed me, naturally).
This aid station was entitled West Horsethief, and if all went well, I would be back here again in several hours. The course is essentially a horseshoe, so I climbed up the Indian Truck Trail to this here road, and then I will go down Horsethief to Holy Jim, up Holy Jim to Santiago Peak, back down Holy Jim, back up Horsethief, back to the Indian Truck Trail (ITT), back up to the top of Santiago (somewhat completing the circle) and then back and back down the ITT.
This next section is going to lose almost the entire elevation gained to this point, and mostly on single-track trail. It IS runnable, but I am not the most steady on my feet, so I do a modified gallop. There are a number of turns on this section, and a couple of times I overrun a turn or two (not by much). The trail goes on and on and on – it always seems like I should be accelerating down the hill, but once the steepness of the downhill dissipates, the relative flatness (especially in the heat) seems to be nearly as bad as running uphill.
Probably about a mile out from the aid station, the trail widens back to fire-road and then there are a number of cabins on the right side. Civilization! Despite this section being downhill, it takes me about 70 minutes (slower than the 100′ elevation gain section of the same distance). It may be the heat.
The next section will prove to be very difficult. It’s 6 miles long and there is over 3000 feet of elevation gain in that distance (there is an interim water-only aid station about 4 miles up). The trail continues much like the previous downhill section, with cabins on the right. Once I pass the cabins, then there are a few creek crossings (nothing to get wet on, though), and then the single-track switchbacks begin in earnest. They are unrelenting, all uphill (not horribly steep, but tough nonetheless), and in looking up, the top never seems to get any closer.
At the top elevation on this section, I am about 200′ ABOVE the connecting road, so of course, the trail goes back downhill and then an uphill climb to the road. I briefly refill my water bottles and head left up the fire-road to the aid station. This section took me just under 3 hours – I am at 20.5 miles and around 7 hours. That 9 hours for 26 miles isn’t seeming so outrageous at this point. I guess I will have to make a decision soon, depending on the heat and my pace.
From here, it’s a “mere” 1.5 miles to Santiago Peak, the high point on the course (the high point I will have to seek again if I decide to continue). It’s pretty lonely (and steep) and I don’t really see anyone, except for people coming down. I have a brief conversation with a gal I had seen at another race (who recognized me) while she is heading down and I am heading up. The mile-and-a-half takes me 58 minutes! The likelihood of continuing is dissipating by the minute!
Now I head back down to the aid station (1.5 miles) in 25 minutes (easier because it’s downhill), and then turn onto the fire-road in the opposite direction 2.5 miles to the turn-off. I am trying to high-tail it, but I am struggling with the heat and sore feet. When I get to the aid station, Jim is there waiting for me, but I have decided not to continue – I really think this is the best decision for me today. I’m disappointed, but knowing how the day has been going, it’s for the best. AND, I got to 26 miles in 9:24, WELL over my 9 hour personal cutoff.
From this aid station, it’s just a few more miles to the top of Indian Truck Trail and then 6.5 miles downhill to the finish. I am able to jog a bit down the hill (galloping, really) and engage in conversation with a few of the medium-pace 50-mile finishers. I cross the line in 11:14, one of my slower 50Ks… but it is STILL a finish.
I finished about 30 minutes behind Lauren (though she started on time at 4:30, so I am a tad ahead of her) and we have some nice conversation at the finish while we are waiting for our drop bags. The wait ends up being several hours, because a runner collapsed on the Main Divide and had to be airlifted out. This blocked all traffic on the road (drop bag truck) until they could get him out. The irony of the situation was that everyone trying to finish behind this guy were held up by the helicopter and did not finish the race. Had I tried to continue, I would have gotten a DNF.
In the end, I got what I wanted – a finishing time – and completed my 10th ultra marathon in 10 months. It was lonely during the race and I got the social part in at the end of the race, while we all commiserated about how long it took to get our bags.