May 17, 2014
Two years ago, I attempted the Bishop 100K as a substitute for my failed Miwok 100K a few weeks earlier. I drove up with Martin Santos and Rafael Covarrubias and we camped out near the start. (I finished 50 miles of it (52, actually).)
Last year, I drove up again with Martin and Rafael, but this time we stayed in a motel; Laura also drove up and ran the race. This time, I did the 50 miler and completed it.
For this year, I really wanted to try the 100K again. I felt like if I paced myself properly, I would probably do OK, but I am another year older and dealing with patellar issues, so I will see.
I tried for a few weeks to convince my old compatriots to join me in this venture, but Laura wasn’t interested, and the guys were doing Born to Run in Los Olivos. I even tried to convince Dulce Barton to come up and do the 50K or the 20M. She was on the fence for a while, but was not able to swing getting off work early enough for us to arrive in Bishop before dark. (Even up until an hour before I left, she was still trying to make it work.)
I ended up driving by myself and listening to a book on tape in the car. It was a nice drive, though Highways 14 and 395 do not have many Rest Areas. I ended up stopping on a side road so I could get out and stretch.
I got into Bishop around 4:00 and went straight to the Sage to Summit running store to pick up my bib. I decided to stay in the store and help out, especially because it was air conditioned inside and pretty hot outside. The forecast for tomorrow is 95 degrees, and that makes me a bit worried, as I don’t do well in heat.
I ended up helping out with bib and T-shirt distribution; I am pretty good at the organizational side of things anyway. I developed a nice rapport with the two gals that were helping out, Dr. Carolyn Tiernan (ER doctor at the Community Hospital this race benefits) and Tina Borcherding, a runner from the Sacramento area.
Around 6:30, I walked the 15 minutes from the store to the Community Park where they are holding the free dinner. The cafe where the dinner had been held for the past 2 years went out of business. The downside is that there is no beer, because you can’t drink beer in the park.
I looked around to see if I recognize anyone. Basically, I am trolling for floor space, because otherwise, I plan to park at the start and camp out. Tina (the volunteer at the store) has a space at the camping area and says that I could park my car there. I would rather sleep on a floor, but I will take what I can get.
I see Chris Spenker, my hash friend, who came up a few days ago and briefly considered doing the 50M. He is on the slow side and the time limit is not super generous (unless he started at midnight or something). He tells about how things have changed since he used to come up here to visit his grandparents (a while ago, given that he is over 70 years old!). I also run into my “buddy” Sabine Gillert, who I met at Way Too Cool a few years ago (German, but raised elsewhere in Europe). We enjoy some nice spaghetti, salad and garlic bread. Sabine tells me to call her if I can find anything else and maybe I can sleep on her floor.
They also have a drawing for prizes, though there is some confusion over what is a raffle ticket (we got a blue one at the store, but the caterers took it as a food ticket). Most of the prizes are things I don’t need (like women’s socks and tech t-shirts).
Afterwards, I walk back to my car and also help Tina and Carolyn pack up the remaining bibs and shirts to take to the race director, who should still be in the park. Carolyn is local and we drive all sorts of back streets to the back end of the park, but by the time we get there, he had already departed for the start line. I follow Tina over there and once again, help her unload her car. I am going to follow her to her camping space, but she suggests (and I agree) that I should just park at the start line (since I will be sleeping in my car in either case).
I hang out briefly with the Ham Radio operators (who are also camping at the start) and then show the RD the stuff we brought over. However, I do need to get a good night’s sleep (or the best I can manage, so I avail myself of the public restroom. I can change into my clothes for tomorrow (well, what I haven’t already put on – basically shirt and trail shoes).
I have a great opportunity to test out my new flashlight that I bought today at Target. It is 10 times stronger than my current light (which I have to use to put the batteries in the new one!) and so much easier to operate (turn the switch rather than push-button).
Once I am all set to go, I take off my shoes and try to settle into a comfortable position. The last time I slept in my car was at the Ridgecrest 50K about 10 years ago.. and it was a different car (smaller, probably). I started out in the passenger seat fully reclined, but I was not able to move around. I finally moved over to the driver’s side rear seat, with my feet draped over the passenger side. It was really quite comfortable.
I read for a bit before falling asleep, and I didn’t get a lot of sleep, because I was essentially awakened when people started driving up and parking next to me (and shining headlamps all over the place). There wasn’t a strong necessity for me to hurry and get up because I only needed to put my shoes on and fill my water bottles (though I suppose I could have done that last night).
It’s not particularly chilly at the start (wish it were) even though it’s only 6am. Sabine and I take some pictures… and I also take pictures with some short ladies (later, I figure out it’s Patty DeVita and Liz Hodges). I place myself at the back as I am not going to contend for a title and do not want to be “trampled.”
The first bit of the course is the paved road through the park and campground, which eventually turns to dirt and then deep sand. This is the point where I am gratified that I am towards the back, because then I am not impeding others’ progress and not feeling like I need to hustle along at the pace of the ones I am with. This first section to the first aid station is only about 1-1/2 miles. However, this station is not set up and unmanned. (I heard some murmurings yesterday about a volunteer falling through… but we don’t really need aid after 1.5 miles; they will have someone when the 20-mile race folks come through here in another 90 minutes or so.) I have mostly walked this section, both because deep sand is draining and it’s mostly uphill.
Now we take a turn to the right and begin to circumvent the mountains that I will be climbing a half day from now. I am able to run a bit more, because the trail is now a wide dirt road with rolling hills. Some folks are peeling off and utilizing the landscape as a giant toilet. I am surprised that quite a few ladies are stripping down and squatting, as there will probably be better spots or at least portable toilets at upcoming aid stations.
I strike up a couple of conversations with people I pass and as people pass me. I have a slightly longer conversation with an average-heighted blonde lady who has a Russian accent. She has run one or more 50 mile races before, but this is her first 100K race. I show her my pace sheet and how I have a speed goal and a finishing goal. I know that I will be at the speed goal early on, but really only want to maintain the finisher’s pace. She asks if I wouldn’t mind if we would run together. I am OK with that, because it helps pass the time. She offered that I could sleep on her floor IF we finish the 100K.
Her name is Lucy and she lives in the Bay Area, but is Russian. I remember from last year when I did an 8-mile section with a gal from Stanislaus County. This gal was 48 years old, but looked younger (at least, in my mind)… but for the most part, the younger gals are not gallumphing along at my pedestrian pace… but the late-40s and 50s (and MORE) ladies usually are. Lucy and I get into a conversation about age… people usually guess 10 years younger than I am – I don’t remember what she guessed… but on the young side.
THEN, Lucy asked me to guess her age (never a good idea to answer), but she persisted. So I tried to formulate a guess based upon her face (eyes shrouded by sunglasses, so I didn’t get a great look), her garb and how she wore her hair… and then subtracted 7-10 years… and guessed 45. WRONG ANSWER! I guessed younger, and then I thought she said, “No, Way Off, Older!” and I guessed 59 (!!!). (She didn’t say “Older,” but I also really didn’t think she was 59!) She said she was 39. Whoops! (Later, though, when I looked at the results, it said she was 40, so I wasn’t too far off, especially given that I felt she dressed somewhat old school or classically. (But yes, I know, I erred.)
Fortunately, this didn’t spoil our time together. We had a similar sense of humor and had a nice talk all day. At times I sensed that she wanted to run on ahead, and at other times, I think she was struggling with the thin air at elevation. You have to take elevation into consideration here, especially if you live at sea level. The base elevation (at the start) is about 4500 feet and climbs 5000 feet over the first 20 miles.
Lucy and I reached the second (but first staffed) aid station in 75 minutes (a net pace of 13:10 per mile). It’s early on, so I don’t want to waste a lot of time and just grab some melon and pretzels and continue on. There is some cloud cover and it is keeping it from getting too hot; also, I think the higher we go, the cooler it will stay.
We continue to circumvent the hills (though we are also steadily climbing alongside them). The trail, though wide, is fairly technical and hurts my feet a bit. There is an interesting section here where we climb a steep non-trail cut-through that connects a lower trail to an upper trail. It is well-marked, but a runner just ahead of us is not watching where she is going (AND wearing headphones). I shout at her as best I can (but my throat is dry from the thin air), but she doesn’t hear me until she is almost out of sight. She is pretty appreciative (and continues to tell me each time we see each other on the trail). We continue on this upper road to Junction Aid Station. When we pass through here on the way back, we will head back to the first aid station in a different way. This is also the spot where the 20-milers are heading back to finish the race. Our pace has dropped off a bit (but it is a steady climb) to a net pace of 15 minutes per mile.
From here, we continue to head uphill. If I were to do a 360-degree turn, I would see a few competitors coming up the hill behind us and a bunch of competitors high, high above us. It is disheartening to see how much climbing is still ahead. The section here is short, only about 1-1/2 miles to Buttermilk, which come after a 2-3 tenths section of off-trail connector. The aid station is offering blueberry pancakes and fruit skewers (strawberry, grape, pineapple and watermelon). The fruit is cold and refreshing. I am not interested in pancakes especially in warm weather. The slow pace continues.
From here, we continue with more uphill, more rocky trail. However, after about a mile more of this, the trail leaves the unshaded section and enters a forested section. The trail becomes less rocky, spongier (wet in spots), and breezy. We are also starting to see a number of runners coming back in our direction, as the 50K turnaround comes at this next station. As soon as I hear voices, I know we are on the verge of getting to McGee Creek Aid station. We are able to maintain a slightly faster pace in this section (less endless uphill), but have slowed to almost a net 16:40/mile pace. In order to finish, we have to stay under 18:00/mile, so with each slowdown, I am nervous that we might miss some cutoffs.
In leaving McGee Creek, you can see ahead on the road, the deep creek. I believe that in past races, runners went through the water, but there is a bridge at the side (and by bridge, I mean a couple of narrow planks across the water). It is tough for me to keep my balance (and I know it will be worse on the way back when I am more tired). After the water crossing, there is a half-mile uphill section… back into the hot sun, but once we get to the top of the hill, there is a considerable descent – quite technical – down to a valley with water running along and through the trail (a thin rivulet, nothing to LEAP across). Once we climb back out of this valley, we are almost to Edison… where my drop bag is, and a spot that we hit 3 times during the course. We drop a little more pace (to 17:00/mile), but we are nearly to the high point on the course.
Lucy and I don’t spend a lot of time at the aid station as we need to really get going on this tough uphill section (and especially not waste any time the closer we get to the cutoff times). Now we have 3 miles of substantial uphill to the overlook. There is a small overlap section (SMALL) that we will come down when we get back to Edison 6 miles from now.
The trail is steep, rocky and technical… and narrow… and once again in a mostly unshaded portion of trail. In fact, there was probably shade here at some point, but there are a lot of blackened trees. After about 1.5 miles of climbing, we leave the burned-out trees and get into a more barren section (less shrubbery the higher we get). I am starting to notice that at some point we MIGHT get into an area with permafrost – I can see it higher up. I also notice some people coming back down the trail at us – IMPOSSIBLE – because we are not yet to the out-and-back section… they must have missed a turn-off.
As they are coming down towards us, I shout at them that they are going the wrong way, that there is a turn on the ridge, the ridge we can see from here… where we can see runners running along. I SWEAR there is a turn on the ridge… and that we have not encountered any other runners… but they continue down towards us. When they reach us, I explain where the turn was. In all probability, they could probably run down this section and not shortcut the course at all, but I always like to do the actual course… also this section would be difficult to run down because of the rocky aspect of it.
They decide to hike BACK up the hill (so, so, sorry) and then turn off at the correct spot. We encounter them again and THEY thank me for keeping them on the trail. I hope this is not becoming a theme.
Ourselves, we pass the turn-off and continue on up the hill to the Overlook Aid Station. It’s as far away as I remember, as I think we’ve reached the top on about 12 different occasions… but we do finally get here. The view is tremendous as always and I would love to stay awhile… but we need to keep moving. We are now at the highest elevation on the course – 9500 feet – and about 1/3 done (20.4 miles)… and it’s taken us 6 hours (19 hour time limit), so we are just about right on pace… or even about 20 minutes ahead of pace. On this last section, we averaged 22 minutes per mile and have soared to a 17:41 net pace.
Now we head back down the hill to the ridgeline and run down along the ridge. We are able to run much of this because it is easier and the air is “getting thicker.” The trail is considerably steeper and there is a lot of wood obstructions to trip on. Time seems to pass more slowly the faster I run, so we get to the short overlap section quite quickly and back to Edison Station. I take the opportunity to stop briefly and empty out my shoes – I have my gaiters on, but stuff still gets into my shoes. We’ve dropped our pace back to 17:28 (phew), which is why I figured I had time to empty them out.
Now we ascend out of Edison up an unusual trail which basically goes atop a large corrugated iron pipe to the top of the hill, followed by a cut-through connecting to the fire-road. I remember this section from last year, because there is a lot of signage that says, “Do not go this way,” and yet people do go the wrong way and have to run penalty distance.
The fire-road descends for a bit, runs through some more flat burned out tree sections, and then begins a steep climb out of this valley. Just walking, we pass a number of people… and see quite a few people returning from the far end turnaround.
When we get to the top of the hill, you can see how far down it is to the road. I mention to Lucy that we are going ALL THE WAY to the bottom, but we will traverse about 3 miles to get down there. From the top, there is a double-track trail (VERY technical) that takes us downhill (about halfway down the total height), across a paved road, down another cut-across to the Intake #2 aid station (there is no Intake #1 on this race course. Our net pace is back up over 17:30. I grab some watermelon and pretzels and we soldier on.
About 5 minutes out of the aid station (along a flat thin gravel road paralleling a dammed lake), there is a sign indicating that we’ve now covered 26.2 miles. I look at my watch and it says 7 hours and 50 minutes… almost a personal worst (I think my worst in any course is around 9 hours).
From here, we leave the pretty lake area (replete with fishermen) and get onto another double-track technical trail heading downhill until we reach the bottom, which pops out onto a paved road into a campground. We stay on the paved road for a bit (not a lot of cars, though) and then cross a creek on a nice wooden bridge (with handrails, even). Now we head up a (triple-wide?) trail that is at times paved in the worst way possible. It is like they took all of the sharpest rocks and gravel, spread it over the ground and then spastically laid cement over it. It is only a sight better than the technical trail.
This trail descends again to a paved road, which we traverse on the shoulders. We see quite a few cars (spaced pretty widely, though). I don’t like being on paved roads when I am wearing trail shoes because it hurts a little bit, so I am excited about the small section where we go off-roading onto a single-track. We pass a number of people coming back on this section (there isn’t a lot of room for us to let each other pass, though), and then back onto the road.
We encounter a family of fishermen (maybe 3 generations worth). They offer to give us a ride; Lucy says to ask again when we come back this way in a bit. We continue up the road… another section where the aid station seems to be further away. It feels like we’ve done so much more than a mere 3 miles… but that’s the crazy trick of trail running…it always seems longer than it is.
Finally, I recognize the Bishop Creek Lodge aid station by the American Flags flying across the street. One lady is just leaving the aid station as we arrive and she recommends that we have some soup (which doesn’t sound appealing right now), so instead I opt for a couple of fruit cups. I don’t really like canned fruit, but the few orange slices they have left have completely dessicated in the dry air (they look like those candied orange slices).
Lucy and I have done this 3 mile section at an 18:02/mile pace, so haven’t lost appreciable time, though the trail back is mostly uphill. The first cutoff is at the next aid station (Intake #2) and we need to be back through there by 10 hours and 15 minutes in the race. We have about 1 hour and 45 minutes to do 3 miles… but we better not take 1 hour and 45 minutes to do 3 miles!
So now we head back down the paved road, by the fishermen’s car (they’ve taken off, so no ride), back on the single-track, back along the road and back up the technical trail towards Intake #2. We see a few people still behind us (struggling), including the RD of the past 20 years, Marie Boyd, who is finally getting a chance to do her own course. This year’s RD has said that the race ends when she finishes (which at this point looks to be over the time limit) – so as long as we are ahead of her, we are good.
We get back up to the Intake #2 aid station in 9:21, almost 45 minutes faster than the cutoff. Strangely, even with net uphill, we did this section at a 16:14 pace and dropped our net pace.
As we are leaving the aid station, Lucy doesn’t seem to notice the cut-across to the paved road. I carefully guide her in the correct direction. She still isn’t seeing what I am seeing (the course is marked with pink ribbons), so I quip something like, “OMG. We are doing the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk, following the pink ribbons, and I think we missed the campsite… my Garmin says over 30 miles!” This really got her laughing. Of course, we kept seeing pink ribbons and chuckling about it the whole rest of the way.
We now head back up the steep double-track technical trail up to the top of the hill. We pass the woman we saw leaving Bishop Creek Lodge AS ahead of us. She is suffering some intestinal difficulty, presumably from drinking the soup. Glad I didn’t have any.
When we get to the top of the hill, there is a sign warning about the steep grade. Oh, really? Gosh, I didn’t notice how steep it was. We take one last look at how far we’ve descended and then reclimbed before heading down the hill, heading back towards Edison for a final stop.
About the time when I get to the flat part of the trail, I have some pretty severe pain in the front of my left foot. It feels like a rock is rolling around in my shoe. I tell Lucy I have to stop and get the debris out of my shoes… and also to look at my foot. I don’t WANT to, but I have to. I get my gaiters and shoes off, and then my socks, being extra careful not to get my foot any dirtier than need be. I look at my left big toe and there is a huge popped blister. It’s not helpful that my feet are super dirty, but I will just have to deal with it.
I end up having to walk with my foot angled, so as not to have to put pressure on it. This makes the going slow, especially on the downhills because that is when I put the most pressure on my foot. I am hoping that the blister will dry out and ease off a bit, so that I don’t have to do the entire course this way.
When we get to the top of the hill, we obey the signage and head down the other side back to Edison AS. I need to lean against the table to ease off my back and also take pressure off my foot. This section took 20 minutes per mile and we have dropped back to 17:44/mile… so we cannot hang out here very long.
From here, the course seems more familiar, because we are doing everything in reverse… and descending (mostly) to a lower elevation all the way. Out of Edison, there is a climb up, then a drop to the ‘rivulet valley,’ followed by the technical climb, the short descent, and the harrowing balance beam bridge across McGee Creek. We are with another runner for a bit, but when we get to the crossing, she disappears ahead of us… did she go through the water instead of using the bridge? Who knows? We shaved a few seconds of our net pace here and are hovering at 17:42/mile. Still OK.
Now out of McGee Creek, we go through the sylvan marshy setting and back into the unshaded area again. As we descend, the air gets thicker, but the heat gets more oppressive. We jog when we can and try to avoid touching the really rocky sections (because they hurt the feet and annoy the blistered big toe). We get down to Buttermilk in under 17:00/mile and increase our net pace back to 17:37/mile.
I am a little groin chafed at this point and spend about 3 minutes unceremoniously with my hand down my pants greasing up as much as possible (even though it will probably dry out again). I have some nice watermelon and then we continue on.
Now we have just 1.5 miles to Junction AS at mile 42.7. When we get here, we will be below 7000 feet elevation for the first time after nearly 30 miles above that elevation (25 miles above 8000 feet). The trail is less technical here, so we are able to run more. Lucy has a freak-out moment when I implore her to run on my side of the trail in order to avoid the snake covering half the trail! HUGE!
At Junction AS, we covered the last 1.5 miles at a 15:50 pace (our fastest pace since the first 5 miles) and increased our pace to 17:33 (not a huge gain, but it was ONLY 1.5 miles). From here, we take the different turn-off and are heading towards Tungsten Aid Station and the turn to do the 100K.
For the most part, this section was a lightly sandy trail, mostly descending. Lucy stopped for a bathroom break; I continued walking but not fast, so she could catch up. After 2 miles, we reached a heavily washboarded road. At least it was downhill, but fairly uncomfortable to run on… and it extended on forever. We did have a scary moment when a “rabid” dog got off its leash at a camping area and the dog came after us… but its owner got the dog back under control. I was not seeing myself running rapidly at this point.
We got to the Highway 168 aid station at a 16:47 pace and reduced our net pace to 17:30 even. I was looking forward to this aid station because in the past they had had popsicles… but no such luck this year. Too bad. It would have really hit the spot.
From here, we had a 2.1 mile section and needed to cover the distance in 1:28 (or 44 minutes per mile). It was mostly downhill, so I was not worried, but I was getting to the point where my feet REALLY REALLY hurt and I was trying to convince myself that I would not opt out of the 100K at the next aid station. I know Lucy really wanted to finish and I would use that motivation to motivate myself. The complete hell of this section, however, was that the trail was 100% technical. By that, I mean that there was really nowhere to place my feet that wasn’t spiky rocks that dug into the bottom of my shoes (not puncturing my shoes, but it still really hurts). I moved across the the trail as best I could to find the smoothest path down.
I complained loudly about my foot pain but did not indicate that I really hoped Lucy would decide on her own not to continue. I knew we would come in well ahead of the time cutoff (15 hours) and would have close to 5 hours to cover 12 miles (mostly in the dark) – very doable… but also painful.
I remembered from the past two years that there is a creek crossing just before the aid station and that there isn’t any wood plank bridge option; however, this year there was a plank bridge and my feet didn’t have to get wet. We got to the aid station in about 30 minutes and I needed to sit down for a bit to gather my wits.
After 8 miles of telling myself that I wouldn’t continue, I found myself trying to convince Lucy that we were GOING to continue; she wanted to stop. This seemed super ironic, because she stuck by me so that we could finish together… and we were doing well on pace. I thought to myself that my feet could really get into bad shape if I continued, but also remembered that I think it always feels this way.
I could sense that Lucy REALLY wanted to stop, but I convinced her that we would go at least a half mile up the hill and then if she wanted to turn around, well, it would be downhill at least. She acquiesced to this, but before we took even 3 steps, she said, “Forget it. Let’s take a 50-mile finish.” I was OK with this, even though my intent was to finish the 100K no matter what. Hey, FIFTY miles is no slouch distance.
From Tungsten Aid station, it was the deep sand downhill to the gate, campground, paved road and finish line. Since I had done this race twice before, I knew where the little turns were, but mylar and pink ribbon was virtually invisible in the dark, even with a powerful headlamp.
When we hit the final stretch on the park road, we decided to not try and outsprint each other and run in together to the finish and we finished in 14 hours 46 minutes and some change (because I started further back at the start, I finished a tad ahead of her).
Lucy and I finishing together.
After the race, Lucy did not want to hang around very long, so we gathered up our ceramic medals and pint glasses, and then I was going to follow her back to her motel. There was some confusion with this as she drove the wrong way out of the park area and we ended up in some weird neighborhood in the wrong direction. Eventually, we got back to her motel.
Her boyfriend was staying there and she said that his room had two beds so it would be better if I stayed with him. Only… he didn’t have two beds, but I was fine with sleeping in the recliner with my feet up on the bed… plus he was not there much of the night (I didn’t realize they were dating until he stayed out of the room until 4:30am… so he had to be a (boy) friend.)
I had a long drive back to Long Beach in the morning (including a stop on a side road to stretch my feet).
On Monday, they had posted the results and Lucy and I were the last two finishers. As I mentioned before, despite finishing together, I had started a few seconds behind her, so she was last. I e-mailed something on Facebook about maybe finishing last, but we did finish… and boy, was it a great adventure!
She responded with quite a bit of vitriol, saying that she shouldn’t have stayed with my because I was too slow and ruined her chances to finish the race (not how I remember mile 48.5). Then I got a message from the boyfriend not to engage her in discussion, especially because they were on vacation and it was ruining their vacation. I respected his wishes.
I understand too well about disappointment in a race – not having the result you were looking for… either by dropping back to a shorter distance or getting pulled. The worst of this was at Mt. Disappointment 50M when I missed a cutoff by two hours. For me, every “failure” is a learning experience… and it is all relative. Some folks will tell you that they are impressed with any distance. Completing 38 of 50 miles is failure to me, but an AWESOME feat to others… and then I reevaluate and figure out that it is a semi-success… either by learning a valuable lesson about myself or succeeding next time.
Later, I saw a posting about how disappointed she was with her result but that running at elevation was a different animal. Sounds like another tough 100K will be in the offing at some point and a little elevation training is warranted.
I may try and do this 100K again… or I may either “just” do the 50 miler or get some friends to come up and just complete the 50K as a new adventure for them.