Bishop High Sierra 50M – 2013

May 18, 2013

After last year’s difficulty in completing the 100K here, I decided I would go again, but “just” run the 50 mile race because that’s what I ended up running anyway.  Once again, Martin Santos and Rafael Covarrubias were along, plus Laura came up to try the 50 miler as well.

The additional drive to come do this race was due to the fact that the 20-year Race Director, Marie Boyd, was “retiring” from putting on the race after this year.

We enjoyed the ‘usual’ pre-race dinner at Whiskey Creek, with spaghetti, Caesar salad, garlic bread, beer, and carrot cake.  It was nice seeing a bunch of old friends and meeting new ones.  I saw my buddy Linda Dewees (who ran with me a bit last year) and Beiyi and Dan Wilson (who I met at Rocky Raccoon 100M two years ago, but live more local to me than Texas).

Laura found a discounted motel in town while I camped out on the floor of Martin and Rafael’s room.  It was a sight better than camping, but I still didn’t sleep particularly well.  In general, I have a hard time getting to sleep if there are any distractions (while camping there shouldn’t be any, except being around noisy neighbors).

The temperature at the start was a tiny bit chilly (necessary) but not cold.  I would prefer it be downright cold, but generally, a May race doesn’t have arctic temperatures.  My plan for the race was just to keep my own pace and improve upon my time from last year (given that the time limit is 15 hours and my time last year was 17:24, as long as I finish, it should be a sure thing).

One of the great things about this race is that the longest you go without an aid station is 4.1 miles.  So, technically, I probably only need one water bottle (except I use the carrier on them to store Advil, electrolyte pills and rock salt), but it is always nice to have two.

The first section of the trail is a mere 1.4 miles, where we run on a paved road for part and then enter into the deep sand trail and heading uphill.  There’s probably nothing I like less than running on deep sand, because I sink into it, the sand pours into my shoes (despite having gaiters on), and I can’t get any traction. (Later:  Why I LOVE running in deep sand)

For the most part, I am doing my power walking (not that over-exaggerated crap you see novices doing; just quick turnover and utilizing my long legs) and trying not to overexert myself at elevation.  Immediately, Laura, Martin and Rafael disappear into the distance.

Secreted into my hand-held water bottle (Basically, I have a strap around it that allows me to hold onto the bottle without gripping it tightly the entire time, and the strap “mechanism” has a zip-up pouch on it.  By “secreted,” I mean that there is a gap between the strap material and the bottle itself.) is my laminated pace sheet.  On it, I have the name of the aid stations, their distance along the course, the elevation change from the last aid station, my goal time, my “To Finish” (under the time limit) time, and any time cut-offs.  If I start falling behind on my “to finish time,” I can accelerate (a bit) before it is too late.

Aid station 1 is Tungsten, and as I said, 1.4 miles in.  I come in around 23 minutes, which is 4 minutes ahead of my “to finish” time.  Ideally, if I can pack on 1-2 minutes per mile, then I will never be up against the time cutoffs… ideally.

Tungsten aid station is not a typical aid station.  I state this because what they supply is extremely limited, and also because I do not need to stop.  No point to waste time when both of my water bottles are still full and we have only just started the run!

The next section takes us to the Junction aid station.  The climb starts in earnest now.  We started at about 4400 feet elevation, and every section from here to Mile 20 has a net elevation gain of at least 400 feet, up to 1400 feet.

The beginning of this section is still in semi-loose sand.  On the plus side, there is a little bit of downhill.  Trails can have a net elevation gain, but still have a bit of descent, which is the case here.  Since it is still early going, I let loose and run comfortably down the hill.  As the race moves on, I will probably not run down hills with as much abandon as I do here.  I briefly catch up to Laura on this section.

Once the downhill ends, the uphill is pretty relentless. I am also out of the deep sand, and the ground is more hard-packed dirt and also has a number of large rocks jutting out on the fire-road.  I need to watch out and make sure that I do not trip and do not walk excessively on those surfaces, because it will accelerate my foot soreness.

CDF Camp aid station is mid-hill and also marks the approximate spot where the 100K runners will turn-around after climbing over the hill next to us.  This is the spot (on the latter stages of the 100K) that I did not reach last year.  I certainly will not reach this spot THIS year because I am doing the shorter distance and do not have to come to this point half a day from now.  Yay!  Only 50 miles today!

The total distance is now about 5.7 miles and I am still maintaining a slight advantage over my “to finish” time.  My “goal” time is fading fast.  To put this in perspective, I set my goal time as finishing in around 12 hours, or about 15 minutes per mile.  So, succinctly, while I am still slightly ahead of 15 minutes per mile overall, I just did a section with half of it downhill in a 14:30 pace. I will lose all of that gain with 14.5 more miles of solid uphill.

This next section is the longest section without aid, as I mentioned, 4.1 miles.  Ideally, I would like to do this section in an hour, but that is probably not realistic.  The ground is getting harder, the grade steeper, and the elevation higher.  I do a lot of this section with Marilyn, a young-looking gal who is close in pace to me.  I am surprised to learn that she has college-aged kids.  (Technically, I am old enough to have college-aged kids even though I do not feel I am THAT old.)  It is nice to have someone to have a breathy (due to lack of air, not titillation) conversation with.

As I reach Junction aid station (Mile 9.8), I have come to the end of this one-way section.  From now on, I will see runners coming towards me almost the entire time (unless I fall into last place).  My overall pace has dropped to about 16 minute miles with this long and uphill rocky section.  From this aid station, I can also see where I will be returning later today.  Some of the people are coming into the aid station and heading out in a different direction – the 20-miler race leaders.

Following this longest section without aid is now the shortest section between aid stations – 1.5 miles.

Lots of fun uphill!

Lots of fun uphill!

I have probably mentioned in earlier posts about what sort of fare one finds at aid stations.  Generally, I do not find myself eating a whole lot during any ultras.  While this may seem surprising, for the most part, it is best not to introduce any kind of sustenance that upsets your stomach or produces adverse effects on your body.

In some earlier events (before I discovered the wonder of Succeed! S Caps (electrolyte pills taken every hour)), I ‘liked’ to eat potatoes that had been dipped in salt, or delicious Coke with a spoonful of salt.  You probably cannot tell, but I do not ingest much salt on a regular basis, so finding ways to ingest more during the race (yecch) was my only recourse.

For the most part, I like some fruit – like watermelon, pineapple, mango, cantaloupe, sometimes oranges – occasionally Clif Blox, a PB&J quarter, some kind of chewy candy (Jelly Bellies or Gummis), and occasionally more substantial food.

One of the offerings at Junction AS (aid station) was chocolate-covered strawberries.  While that may seem a wonderful treat – the combination of fruit AND something sweet – I am allergic to chocolate.  However, plain strawberries DID hit the spot!

Anyway, back to the race.

This 1.5 miles was a little bit more of the rocky fire-road (two-way traffic as previously stated), with a off-road turn-off by a fenced off septic treatment area (basically just a fenced off section with signage – bizarro).  This next AS is called Buttermilk and will later be the 3rd intermediary cutoff during the race.  It is also where they have a timing mat and my friend Jean Ho is maintaining the timing system.

At this aid station, they are making fresh blueberry pancakes.  While that seems pretty cool and it is somewhat ‘breakfast time,’ I don’t think I can ingest anything so solid now or at any point in the event.

Despite the shortness of the section, I have not accelerated up the hill and am still losing time towards my goal time, but am still 5-10 minutes ahead of “to finish” time.  I would be contented with maintaining between 18 and 20 minutes per mile which is my approximate pace at this point.

This next section is 3.7 miles between aid stations.  I am starting to see the 50K race leaders heading back, which is pretty impressive.  Translated, I have completed 12 miles, and they have covered 22.5 miles.  Hmm… maybe that is just a sad statement on my part.

I am continuing on more rocky fire road uphill at around a 7% gradient.  However, I am extremely pleased when the ground surface changes to a more forgiving surface – fewer rocks, more dirt and even a few large puddle crossings – and an abundance of shade provided by beautiful birch trees.  I remember from last year that once I get into the trees, it is less than a mile to the McGee AS and the stream crossing.  Also, at 15.0 miles, I am just about 1/3 done, but with the toughest part of the race because from now until I get back to this aid station, the race will be above 8000 feet elevation!  I continue to maintain at a reasonable rate, just over 20 minutes per mile.

The “stream crossing,” as I remember the warning from last year has a ‘secret’ bridge to the side.  I suspect that in the past, runners had to wade through knee-deep water, but instead we cross two attached boards across a narrower section of the creek.  While it is better than wading through water, after 15 miles of uphill hiking, my balance is a little off and I feel nervous that I might topple off into the water.  I make it across, though.

From here to Edison AS, there is 2.4 miles.  Probably a half mile of this is solid uphill in the sun, followed by 3/4 mile of downhill on an extremely rocky technical fire road.  I would like to run with abandon like I did earlier, but there are two many sharp rocks in the middle of the trail (and I am struggling with the elevation).

At the bottom of this hill, I get more of the softer dirt (with puddle/stream crossings).  The last part of this section is a 1.5 mile up-and-down.  Of all of the hills, it is probably the least unpleasant so far.  (Trust me, this is high praise.)

Edison AS is where my drop bag is because we hit this location three times, and if there is anything that I might want, I will have access to it three times.  Because of the couple of downhill parts in the last section, I accelerate to 18:20/mile.

What I also like about this aid station is that they are renowned for their hand-cranked vanilla ice cream.  This is something I would not normally indulge in during a race (because it will most likely cause flatulence), but it is hand-made and hits the spot on a hot day.  They are working on it, so I will most likely partake on my second or third trip here.

The other item of significance at this point is that the first pass-through at Edison is the first time cutoff of the day.  We have 6-1/2 hours to cover 17.4 miles.  In terms of finishing the 50 miler, the time is fairly excessive (because the other cutoffs are at a faster net pace), but understand that this location is also the turnaround for the 50K, so it reflects THEIR finishing time.

My goal for cutoffs in general is not to miss them, but I would like to be well ahead of each cutoff, so that I do not have to overexert when I am super-tired.  For the record, I am 1 hour and 25 minutes ahead of the cutoff!

Now for the absolute most difficult section of the trail – the steepest slope and the highest location.  It is a staggering 3 miles to the Overlook AS at 9400 feet, with almost 500 feet of gain PER mile (close to 10% grade).  Complicating things further is that there are fallen trees blocking the trail (to either go around or climb over).  On the plus side, the scenery is amazing!  There is a 360 degree view of the snow-capped mountains.  I wonder (as I did last year) if I will get high enough where there will be snow on the trail.  Last year, the permafrost was probably another 500 feet above us, but I have heard stories of people sloshing through snow at this point or sliding down on their butt (I probably wouldn’t do that knowing how rocky this trail is).

I have low-ish expectations on this section given the difficulty, but when I reach the top, I have maintained 21 minutes per mile.  At the top, I run into Laura.  She is just a bit ahead of me and is having some stomach issues (as she tends to do at ultras, elevation or no).  There is no permafrost to enjoy.

Now I have 3 miles downhill back to Edison AS.  There is a half mile of out-and-back and then the downhill route is slightly different than the uphill route (though both are the same distance).

On this section, I experience an interesting “time dilation.”  For the last 4-5 years, I have made it a practice to take a swig from my water bottle every 10 minutes without fail (sometimes 5 minutes if it is very hot or very hilly).  This ensures that I stay at least moderately hydrated.  When I am walking uphill, the 10-minute time frame shoots by very quickly.  It seems that every time I look down at my watch, another 10 minutes have passed by.

However, now that I am jogging downhill, I feel like I am looking at my watch just as much, but only 1-2 minutes pass with each glance.  So, in conclusion, when I am walking (or running) slowly, time goes by quickly; and when I am running (or jogging) faster, time goes by slowly.  Weird.

Back at Edison AS, I have done a “speedy” 3 miles at 16:00/mile pace.  I take the opportunity to put on another layer of Vaseline on my nether regions (I think it dried out and I don’t want to get more chafed.) and slurp down a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Now I head off in a different direction, which is a steep uphill along a pipe.  Literally, the trail is on top of the pipe.  Once at the top of this hill, there is a very short steep drop to the main trail, which moves flat for a few hundred yards and then a gentle downhill for a quarter mile.

I remember this section from last year for being totally unshaded and also for having some miserable uphill sections.  After the downhill, there is a half-mile of very slight uphill through a bunch of burned out trees, but then it turns to the left and begins climbing.  As I begin my climb, I am seeing several of the 100K and 50M racers on their way back.  Right here is David Binder, my hash friend formerly of LA and now of Oakland.  He is looking strong and he also offers me some encouragement.  (Dang!  He is 8 miles ahead of me at this point.)

Once I get to the top of this horrible hill, it is about a mile of steep and super-technical (nowhere to step but on rocks) to the bottom, followed by a short flat section with a sign that says “No Dumping.”  (Makes me think about finding a Port-a-Potty, even though I don’t need it.)

This dumps me out to a road, a dart across, and then a steep (but loose dirt, yay!) drop to the Intake 2 AS, which is located at 26.0 miles.  With the elevation and some more steep uphill, I am still doing about 19 minutes per mile.

Intake 2 is basically alongside a man-made lake, where I find several groups fishing.  This is one of the totally flat sections of the course, and also where I have just passed halfway and also where I am going to reach the marathon point on the course.

There is some significance here.  If you figure that for every 3.6 days (or 3.65) that 1% of the year has passed, or 0.01, then since my birthday on March 7, 72 days have passed.  So, today I am 42.2 years old.  A marathon is 42.2 Kilometers.  I have just covered my exact age in kilometers (in the past 8 hours).  Hopefully, later today, I will cover my age in miles (plus 7.8 to grow on).

Once I pass the marathon point, the trail begins to descend again.  At first, it is on pavement.  Later, it is more of that awful rocky surface.  Looking up above me, I can see the trail I was on earlier and looking down, I can see the campground that seemed so far away.  (Dang.  I am going to have to climb back up that hill!)  Coming up in the other direction is Rafael.  I think that I would see Martin just behind him (because I saw them practically together on an earlier crossover section).  Martin was about 10 minutes behind.  (Later, he said he stopped for a bathroom break.)

Through the campground, there is more pavement and then a bridge crossing over a stream.  An actual bridge with handrails, not some planks.  Now some more uphill.  First, it is the rocky trail, and then it is “paved” trail.  I put the paved in quotes because it is the worst kind of paved.  It’s like the construction company started to pave the path and then didn’t have enough cement, so they grabbed a bunch of rocks and threw it into the mix.  All I can think is ‘Thank Goodness I am not barefoot or in those toe shoes,’ ‘cuz that would hurt.

The trail eventually becomes dirt (and rocks) again and pops out on a road.  I cross the road and head uphill on the opposite side of the street (facing traffic).  It hurts because pavement doesn’t feel great in trail shoes (or after covering 28+ miles).  About halfway up this road, the trail turns to the left and follows a single-track trail for a half mile before reconnecting to the road and continuing uphill.

Finally, I spot an American flag on the opposite side of the street and know that I have reached the Bishop Creek Lodge AS and Mile 29.  The last section I averaged 18 minutes per mile, and also my net average pace is 18 minutes per mile.  This bodes a bit poorly because if I can maintain this pace (and I am barely over halfway), then I will finish in 14 hours.  This means I only have an additional 2 minutes per mile spare time to finish in under 15 hours.

I grab some light sustenance and head out immediately back down the road, back on the single-track, back on the road (again), cross the road and begin heading up the hill.  Near the top I encounter Laura, putting her about 20 minutes behind me (while we were virtually together about 5 miles ago).  I encourage her to keep keeping on, but I am concerned about her pace (especially because I am concerned about my own pace).

My paranoia pays off and I cover the same section back to Intake 2 AS 5 minutes faster than outbound.  This also means that I have made the second intermediary time cutoff.  I had needed to reach this point in 10 hours and 15 minutes and my time is 9:31 (or 44 minutes ahead).  While I was almost 90 minutes ahead before, remember that the first cutoff was overly generous to cover the 50K runners, so I guess I am doing OK.

Laura continues to struggle, and in the end, she comes in a little behind the cutoff time and does not finish… and unlike me last year, she is unable to convince the RD that in completing 32 miles of the course, she could get a 50K finishing time (since she technically finished 50K).

I head out of the aid station, up across the road, and up the hellish, rocky hill.  The full heat of the day is upon me and I am struggling to get any kind of pace up the hill.

To make matters worse, it is not a out-and-back section. When I get back to the point where the top of the pipe connected, the trail continues straight and circles around back to Edison AS.  In fact, I come across a spot where there is a sign that says “Wrong Way Runner Out-and-Back Point.”  This is a “penalty” lap for runners who disregard the signage and run back down the pipe path.  I think you would have to be pretty dense to ignore the signs, but according to the volunteers, several people have run the penalty lap.  (Technically, it is not a penalty, but just enough distance to get the runner back to the correct distance.)

With the heat and the hills, I lose back some of the advantage I regained from Bishop Creek Lodge to Intake 2.  Twenty-one minutes per mile!  I grab some more ice cream (more like soft serve in this heat) and begin the trek back to McGee.  On the plus side, every section from this point to the end has a net elevation loss, and I will be below 8000 feet soon.

I am at the point in the race where I am not doing much running at all, mostly because my feet hurt a lot and running is not as controlled as walking.  If I run, I can inadvertently step on a sharp rock and make my feet hurt even more.  So I make the most of my long legs and racewalk (ish) through this entire section.

When I get to McGee AS, I’ve covered the section in 17:12, and my net pace is just a little over 18 minute miles.  They are in the process of packing up the aid station.  That always makes me nervous, especially because this is not a cutoff point, and they shouldn’t be truly working on packing up until probably an hour before the cutoff (which would be 19 minutes per mile to cover the next section of 3.7 miles).  They are doing it TWO hours before the cutoff time.

Now, as I’ve alluded to, from McGee AS to Buttermilk, it’s 3.7 miles, and the cutoff time is 13 hours.  I’m not terribly worried about the time at this point, but the message from the McGee folks put an extra hitch in my step to make sure I don’t miss that cutoff.

This is, again, the reverse trail I covered earlier, through the birch trails and then back to the rocky steep downhill surface (1400’ drop).  My feet are sore, but good enough that I am able to skip/gallop down the hill.  This allows me to push the pace a bit without causing extra pain.  I arrive at the aid station in 12 hours 13 minutes (or 47 minutes ahead of the cutoff).  I am still not in the mood for blueberry pancakes.

From McGee AS to Junction, it is a mere 1.5 miles.  The first section is that lovely deep soft sand that I have come to love.  It’s like walking on a pillow.  I love soft sand.  (See earlier in the post about my so-called hatred of deep sand.)  The surface (coupled with a little bit of downhill) allows me to maintain around a 15-minute per mile pace and push my overall pace down to .under 17:45/mile.

At Junction AS, I have now reached the point where I depart from the out-and-back section and begin to head back on the “new” part of the trail.  This section is another long section (relatively… 3.7 miles), with another net loss of about 800 feet, putting me below 6000 feet.  Based upon the difficulty in breathing at high elevation, the air should be dense and thick at this point… OK, not so much.

On the plus side, the temperature has dropped a bit and there is more mountain shade as I am nearing the 7 o’clock hour.  The surface is less rocky and less technical, and thus is easier to navigate on sore feet.

Eventually, the trail pops out on to a HUGE wide fire-road (maybe twice as wide as anything I have been on previously).  It is a little on the “bumpy” side.  I think some kind of NASA tractor left divots on it (just kidding).  At the end of this fire road is Highway 168 and the next aid station at Mile 46.4.  Almost there!  I’m still maintaining around 15 minute miles and reducing my net pace.  I’m feeling better and better about finishing under the time limit.  I have one more time cutoff – the finish line – and I have almost 90 minutes to cover 3.7 miles.

There is one more aid station before the end called Tungsten 2.  This is basically the same aid station we passed by at Mile 1.5, but a little further up the hill, for the reason that the 100K runners will turn left and go up the mountain, and the rest of us turn right and go to the finish (instead of having the 100K runners backtrack 200 yards down the hill so that they don’t have to move the AS).

Most of the trail between Highway 168 and Tungsten 2 is a double-track EXTREMELY technical downhill section.  I try to do my gallop/skip technique as best I can.  Other than bettering my time from last year, I don’t need to overdo it.

When I get almost to the aid station, I realize I have forgotten about the water crossing.  There is no bridge here to avoid getting my feet wet.  It is about 10 feet across and ankle deep.  On the plus side, I am almost at the finish line.  Better yet, as I shout out loud, “I am in the 50 miler, and I am not doing that damn left hand turn uphill!!!”  I am really excited about that.  Maybe if I am in better shape one day, I will attempt the 100K, but I think I need to be much faster in order to have plenty of time to finish the last 12 miles (mostly in the dark).

In continuing to maintain around 15 minutes per mile, I now have 57 minutes to cover 1.5 miles.  No more rocky technical trail to deal with, just deep sand and a paved road.  It is a little after 8pm, but not yet dark enough to require a headlamp.  Of course, I have carried my headlamp with me all day in my back pocket.  Nice, though, to not need it!

I finish strong, with yet another 15 minute/mile section and finish in 14:27:42, almost 3 hours faster than last year (which included 2 hours at the aid station and a harrowing truck ride down the mountain).

Rafael has finished the 100K about 20 minutes BEFORE I came in, and Martin finishes about 20 minutes after I did.  Laura is already there, nursing her ego (because it is always hard to miss a cutoff and not finish the race).

I got a semi-hot hamburger, a beer and maybe 5 flavored coconut waters as my post-race “meal.”  We headed back to our hotels and then tried to sleep.  Everyone was pretty sore and restless.  It is hard to be tired, yet not able to sleep.  Basically, every time I rolled over, I woke up.

In the morning, we went for breakfast and then stopped by Schat’s Bakkery [sic], a Dutch landmark bakery in Bishop.  I think Rafael had promised someone that he was going to pick up something there.  Since I bake stuff on my own, I generally don’t buy (or eat) a lot of bread.

While it was a long drive (5 hours) back, we rehashed our respective days.  Once again, all had a good time (relatively speaking) and I would like to come back again if someone new takes over the race.  I suspect that Rafael and Martin will do the Born to Run Ultra which will probably be held the same weekend (but I have never been that wild about loop courses).

After 11 years of doing ultras, I have completed seventeen (17) 50 mile races… and that’s quite an accomplishment!

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