Santa Monica Mountains 50K – 2012

November 18, 2012

I had previously run this race two years ago with the same racing company, Pacific Coast Trails.  This was the company that gave me food poisoning on the Headlands 50 miler.  However, the group had been bought out by a Northern California company and were going to put on the race (hopefully better).

Two years ago, it rained (a little) and I finished in 7:43… but this year I am 2 years older, and 10 ultramarathons in for 2012.  I’m not sure how it will go.

With any PC Trails run, the course consists of loops.  In this case, it is a 7.5 mile loop, then an 11.1 mile loop (with an aid station in the middle), the 7.5 mile loop again, and then a 5-mile portion of the second loop (2.5 up and 2.5 down).

The 7.5 mile loop is very technical.  At times it is rocky, and an early section involves stepping up narrow rock steps along the hillside.  About 3 miles in, there is a steep climb with an outstanding view of the coast, a turn onto a fire-road (very rough because it got muddy and dried out in a bad way), eventually working back to the rock step descent and the start.

I run when I can, but a lot of it, in my estimation, is unrunnable, at least for me.  I finish the section in 1:46, about a 14-minute-per-mile pace.

With the section being so rocky, the plantar fasciitis in my right foot is acting up.  I grit my teeth and work through it.

I don’t stop very long at the aid station, because I know the day could be close.  There is a time-limit of 8:30 (whereas the year I did 7:43, the limit was 9:00).

The first half of the second loop is a lo-ong uphill route.  It’s not super steep, but it’s hard to get anything going run-wise.  It is around 3 miles to the top.  At least it is not overly technical, but once to the top, there is a bit more climbing, and then it flattens out and then begins to go downhill steeply.  I’m not fond of this either, but I push a bit because I will probably need the time.

I pass a few people on the downhill, but don’t see a lot of people, probably indicating that I am towards the back.  At the bottom of the hill, there is still another mile or so to the aid station, but at least it is flat.  I cover the 5.3 miles in 1:32, about 17-minute-per-mile pace.

The second half of the loop backtracks to the base of the hill, but then it takes a different single-track course back up to the fire-road.  This trail is pretty technical and super-steep and unshaded.  To boot, I am starting to feel some hotspots in my heels.  Hopefully not blisters.

At the top of the single-track, it’s another mile to the top and then back down the 3 miles to the start.  I flew down the hill (hurts, but again, I am trying to make up time), and get through this 5.8 mile section in 1:35 (mildly faster than the pace on the first half section).

There were a couple of gals that I had been trailing that I caught near the bottom.  I am hoping to convince them to continue on the course, because otherwise, I am off by myself.  Yuck.  I am pretty close to 5 hours, which is the cutoff point, and it gives me 3-1/2 hours to do the last half marathon, but there is so much climbing! (and I’m tired)

In the end, the gals decide to quit, and I decide to continue… by myself.  I am mostly walking this section and hoping that I will catch up to someone else, to break up the boredom of going it alone.  It is now the heat of the day and the steep uphill section is taking a lot out of me and I just cannot move very rapidly.  I am also definitely getting heel blisters and dealing with my PF.

When I get back to the start, having taken 2 hours and 25 minutes to get through this section, I now have a scant hour and 18 minutes for the last 5 miles.

If this were a 5-mile race, I would say ‘no problem.’  But the reality is that I have already been up this hill once and if I go 2 minutes per mile FASTER than on the previous section, it will take me 85 minutes… too much time.  I should also mention that according to the map, the loop is 11K (but I have already done 40K).

In the brief time I am at the aid station, I am asking for a little leeway, but I am told that their permit requires that everyone be off the trail at 8-1/2 hours.  I plea again mentioning the discrepancy in the distance.  The RD says that I can turn around 0.5 kilometer early to make sure that I cover the 50K… but also adds, “Hey, we can’t really see the turnaround or enforce it.”

I would like to go to the correct turnaround, but I have a good idea how quickly I can descend, so decide that I will turn around when I have 28 minutes to get back to the finish.  Since I do not have a GPS, I will really have no idea how far I went.  I push the pace as best I can going up the hill (about 18:00/mile pace) and go as far as I feel I can still make it in on time – they’ve already said I can’t finish a few seconds over.

On the way down, I halve my pace, and finish in 8:27:41… guess I could have gone a few more minutes uphill, but it would have been even closer!

When I got to the finish, they saved me some lentil soup.  It was cold, but at least they didn’t try to assuage me with 8 cans of soda.

They also gave me a race shirt and PC Trails socks. This was unusual, because when you register for the race, you have an option to forgo the shirt (to save $5) and to order additional items like socks.  I didn’t order anything… but they gave me the shirt and socks because they said that I was inspirational for persevering, essentially by myself for the last 12.5 miles.  That was pretty cool, and now I have just one more ultra and I will have 12 for the year.  Hope my body will hold up.

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