October 19, 2013
Despite not having done a long run of any kind (recently), I was making a decision whether to try the Twin Peaks 50M or 50K. However, my decision was waylaid for a bit because of the government shutdown. Yes, they apparently decided to close all of the National Parks because that takes a lot of work to keep the trees green. Lots of manpower.
I ultimately did not sign up because they did not know if the race would go on or not. Five days before the race, it was cancelled, and then the next day, the government shutdown ended, and so the race was (partially) reinstated. Once the race had been cancelled, the Race Director freed her volunteers from their commitment, so once she reinstated it, most had made other plans.
Therefore, she decided to put on a “Fat Ass.” Usually, a “Fat Ass” is when runners do their own unsupported race for fun. In this case, they invited anyone to come out and do the event, but that the trails would not be marked and there would be minimal aid stations, and the total distance would be “only” 50K.
Against my better judgment, I decided to give the 50K a try. Lauren and I were going to maybe run together, but when I got there, Lauren had decided to go straight to the top of Santiago. I thought if I am going to drive all the way to Indian Truck Trail, I might as well go for the whole thing, even if it was an 8:00am start (it could get hot).
Probably a couple of dozen people set out. I remember from last year that the first 6 miles uphill is pretty endless… so I just walk that entire section. About two miles from the top, I think that I am hearing classical music. I mean, I often hear it in my head, but not usually in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.
Around the next corner, is a Chinese girl with classical music coming from her backpack. She is also attempting the 50K, but is a bit surprised about how endless the uphill is. I give her an update about what is coming up on the course (hills, hills, hills) and we go together for a bit and chat.
When we get to the top (where last year there was an aid station), there is no aid station and I am pretty gassed. Unofficially, about 2 hours to cover 6.5 miles. From my notes, I see I have about 4 miles to the next aid station, and there is a net gain of 100 feet. I already know about this section – there is another HUGE hill and then a bit of a descent, resulting in a net gain of 100 feet, but this is no flat section.
A little less than two miles into this section and the Chinese girl (Cherry) tells me that she has other plans today and has decided to head back (since it will probably take a while, despite there being a bunch of downhill). I get a little further and I feel really off.
I am feeling, especially because there is no negativity associated with not finishing this event, that I should not continue, but I decide to sit down and try and regain myself (and possibly wait for the next runners to pass by). I know that Jim Tello is sweeping and is still behind me.
I sit for about 15 minutes and eat 3 Clif Blox (of the package of 6 in my back pocket). I feel a bit better, but continue to sit and recuperate.
After a few more minutes, I see Jim and a couple of other people a half mile back. This reconstitutes me a bit and I decide to move on towards the next check-point and make a further decision there.
Turns out, that aid station was not that far around the corner, and is staffed by Steve Harvey, who puts on several trail events from Blue Jay Campground (notably my DNF’ed Old Goats 50 this year). I gulp down a lot of water and set for a while. I think that I am going to quit here, but Steve reminds me that it is all downhill to the next aid station (and yes, there will be an aid station). At worst, this is a long, tough trail run. (10.5 miles in 3 hours and 15 minutes!)
I begin heading down the hill. There are a couple of gals behind me (plus the sweep), but they are not THAT close. Because the course is not marked, there are a couple of spots where I have to make a decision as to where the trail goes. This is all from memory from last year. I chose… wisely. But it is slow going, despite being downhill (REAL downhill, not just perceived or net downhill). The temperature is going up, too, which is not helping one bit.
When I get to the bottom of the hill, there is a mile-long slog through a cabin area (it’s flat, but HOT). I am going about the same pace as some hikers (who I have a brief conversation with – they can’t believe I am planning on doing 31 miles).
Finally, I reach the aid station. Unbelievably, it is at a slower pace (98 minutes for 4 miles) than the last section, though I think it may have to do with guessing which way to go. This AS is staffed by Chris Harrison (only celebrity names on this run!) and I fill up on lemonade and sugar cookies.
I feel, again, like I want to quit, but Chris tells me that it is a LONG drive out of here and I will have to wait for her to pack up the aid station. I figure that I may as well continue, but just take it slow. I fill my water bottles full and begin my slog up the hill.
This hill is Holy Jim. This is THE toughest trail out here. It is 4.5 miles long and about 4000′ of elevation gain.
I did OK on the first bit of slope (which is part of the worst and in the direct sunlight), but as soon as I got to the (Endless) switchbacks, I started to fall apart. Every time I emerged from the shade into sunlight, I got overwhelmed with the heat. To combat this, when I got back into the shade, I would sit down and recuperate.
Unfortunately, these breaks averaged 10-15 minutes each. I kept waiting for the 2 gals behind me to catch up. I had been about 10 minutes behind the guy in front of me, but with each additional break, I was guessing he was getting an HOUR ahead of me.
I felt HORRIBLE. At this point, I just wanted to get to the top and STOP. (And hope that I could get a ride back down to my car at the start.) I figured, once I get to the top, I would just wait for the sweep (Jim) and then he presumably had a walkie-talkie to radio a ride (or he could run up and ask for a ride).
At about 2 hours in (2 hours on a 4.5 mile trail!), I could see the top of the trail, but it wasn’t getting closer very fast. Walk 100 yards, and stop for 5 minutes (and try to cool off). Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
At about 2-1/2 hours, Jim finally caught up to me, sans 2 other runners. He said that they had started out on the Holy Jim Trail, but were suffering in the heat and hills. He persuaded them to turn around and backtrack 3/4 mile to the last aid station and get a ride out with Chris… then he trekked back up the hill himself to continue sweeping. (I could not have gone up the hill a second time – bleh.)
Jim was very patient and stopped with me (but what can he do? He’s the sweep.). Just as we reached the downhill section… you basically get to the level of the top road and then descend into a shaded area (and then climb back out to the road)… Jim saw a runner he recognized and chatted with him for a bit while I continued up.
I finally reached the road (not an aid station, though), after 3 hours and 9 minutes. THREE HOURS and 9 minutes for 4-1/2 miles!!! Waiting up there was the guy who had been 10 minutes ahead of me at the last aid station… and he had been there about 10 minutes. So, I was not the only one to struggle up the hill. Jim joined us a few minutes later.
I asked if he would go on ahead and get a ride for us back. I had nothing left. Well, neither did Jim. We all lazed there (“lazed” in the sense that we had all been on our feet for 7+ hours), while Jim tried to radio up to the aid station. It was a bit frustrating because we could hear them talking about the sweep, but they could not hear us. Eventually, he got through, and about 20 minutes later, a truck came down the road and picked us up. Relief, at last!
When we got to the bottom, I hung out for a while with RD Jessica, Jim, and the finishers. Those who finished did struggle a bit, so I wasn’t the only one.
I appreciated that despite the fact that the race was cancelled and then reinstated, the race director still put together a good event (albeit scaled down). She has also told me she would give runners the benefit of the doubt if they were in good shape and could finish the race (a little) over the time limit. (She also likes a good beer, and that’s an excellent person in my book.)
I will have to give this event another try (maybe with a 5-hour headstart!) to see if I can get through this difficult course. Not having hot weather would help.