July 19, 2014
Lauren Miertschin and I had talked about this race for a while. I completed it a few years ago and the weather sucked (HOT!!), but I finished. It was so-o hot that I actually walked DOWNHILL because heat was radiating from the road.
Lauren has good endurance but (like me) can tend to be a little on the slow side, and she was concerned about finishing under the 9:00 time limit. I corresponded with the RD, Jessica DeLine, and convinced her to let us start an hour early (or basically as soon as she arrived at the start). The extra hour was both for the extra time and for being out of the hot sun for one hour less. I was mildly concerned with my ability to finish under 9:00, but with an extra hour, I felt that I would not have to stress out over it (because I KNEW I could finish under 10 hours!).
On Friday, I rested most of the day and figured that I could go to bed early; however, I am having trouble falling asleep (maybe because it is summertime). I was IN bed, but just could not fall asleep. Around midnight, I finally turned the lights back ON and read until I dropped the book, which was at 2am… and woke up 75 minutes later to get ready. Yuck.
I left my house around 4am and drove to Modjeska Canyon. It was dark and foggy out and I was worried about finding the turnoff in the dark. It is a bit hard to find when it is not dark out – I always want to turn about 5 miles before the actual turnoff.
I arrived about 4:30am and parked a little down the road. In actuality, we were supposed to park offsite and get bused in, but buses weren’t running yet, and Jessica told us we could park along the road (just not at the actual start line where volunteers would be parking and staging vehicles to drive up to the aid stations along the Harding Truck Trail).
Lauren plus another gal, Natalia, arrived about the same time as I did, and both of them already had their numbers, whereas I had to wait until Jessica arrived to get mine, but I did have safety pins attached to my shirt in case the pins were in some unreachable container. I was also prepped with a “thank you” gift for Jessica, consisting of a nice can of IPA beer and a little loaf of bread I had made on Wednesday.
Lauren was antsy to get going and said she would start at 5am, EVEN if Jessica had not arrived, but Jessica arrived right around 5am, so Natalia and Lauren set off immediately. I still had to get signed in, get my number pinned, and then I could set off, so it was about 5:05 by the time I got going.
It was dark out but not enough that I needed a light to make my way up the hill. I tried to estimate how long it would take for me to make up a 5-minute stagger and go with or overtake two middle-aged ladies. I thought actually that it might take 30-40 minutes, because I was not going much faster than they were.
I passed Natalia in about 45 minutes and Lauren in just about another 5 minutes. Lauren was still really nervous about making cutoffs, but I said that she should refer to her pace sheet I created for her (necessary pace on the front, picture of her family on the back). She pointed out that we were already losing quite a bit of time off the necessary pace, but I pointed out that it did not take into account the grade of the course – it was straight time versus miles. If we were a little behind on the time, we could probably make up the difference when the downhill came.
I reached the first aid station at 4.6 miles in 78 minutes or about 17 minutes per mile. There wasn’t actually anybody AT the aid station, but there was a table with some boxes of water underneath it. I think I had beaten the volunteers to their aid station. When I made the switchback turn up the hill, however, I could see a little bit in the distance some trucks heading up the hill (presumably each of the aid stations’ staff). About 15 minutes later, two trucks passed me (the third presumably stopped at the first aid station.
The trucks knocked up a considerable amount of dust from the road, but fortunately, I had my Buff and covered up my mouth and nose before they drove by. It was still a little annoying because I didn’t have a lot of room to move over, or if I did, it was the very rocky section of the trail.
I was passed by a further two trucks about 20 minutes later. One truck was a little too close to me and bumped my elbow with its passenger side mirror. Fortunately, it was slow enough that it didn’t really hurt me.
At about 6.5 miles, the road makes a big turn to the left. In February, when AREC came out to do Harding Truck Trail, this was where I turned around to head back down the hill. A few years ago, when Laura and I did our training run, this was where the snow began. Today, no snow, and no turn around, but this is the approximate section where I can get an idea on how far I have to go… and I can also see far down the trail to see where the other runners are.
My guess is that I will be passed by the lead runners, who started at 6am, maybe around 7am… certainly before I get to the 2nd aid station at mile 9.1. But, when I look down the hill, I can’t see ANY runners heading up the hill… but I do get a good glance at Natalia and Lauren. Natalia is now ahead of Lauren, but still a bit behind me.
I can also glance ahead to see how far I have yet to go to get to the 9.1 mile aid station… it is basically where the radio towers are. The trail goes on and on and on, is a little rockier, and continues at a fairly steep rate.
Finally, I can see the locked gate ahead, which indicates the end of the Harding Truck Trail and the location of the aid station. I rather thought that the gate would be open (and was when I last did this race), but perhaps the folks doing the aid station didn’t know to leave it open for the runners. I cannot really climb under it (just a bit low for me), so it looks like I can go around it, but as I do that, I am on the outside of the railing along the path… so I still have to climb over or under something.
A minute or so later, I am at the top. I am amazed that I have still not been passed by the lead runners. I covered the 4.5 miles to this point in 82 minutes (about 18 minutes per mile). The aid station is still just setting up and all they can give me is water (I could really use some mix and I have drunk about everything that I have) and a gingerbread Stinger waffle. At least the ‘waffle’ hits the spot and gives me a little energy to continue. At least the next aid station is not as far away and maybe I can get some better liquid supplies there.
From this aid station, it is a tight hairpin turn up to the right. Pretty soon after I leave the aid station, I am overtaken by Natalia. I am surprised, because she didn’t look that good early on, but I guess she got a second wind after a slow start. About 5 minutes after that, I am (finally) passed by the lead runner, about 2 hours 45 minutes in. I can’t believe that their pace is so slow!
The lead runner is DRENCHED in sweat. His shirt is soaked and he is dripping everywhere. I am mildly wet, but not soaked like this guy is. John Hampton doesn’t even sweat this much (a friend of mine who weighed his shirts after a triathlon and they weighed 18 pounds)! There was a bit of a gap to second and then third place, but then a nice slew of people are continually passing me (not scads, but an additional runner every 4-5 minutes).
When I get up to the Modjeska Base Aid Station, they are finally all set up and I get another Stinger waffle, some potato chips, melon and a complete refill of Nuun in my water bottles. I am technically NOT at this aid station yet… I have to still make the climb to the top of Modjeska Peak. This is the section that I am least looking forward to, because it is extremely technical (read: rocky) AND steep. Also, I know that I have to do it twice in the race.
I have a brief conversation (as I am going up the hill) with a 50- or 60-something Korean runner who started 30 minutes early, who caught me at this point. It’s nice to have someone to talk to or at least to have someone around me after nearly 3 hours of walking by myself.
The additional bad part of this section is that the lead runners are speeding down the hill, so I have to continually move over into the rockier part of the trail. I have some muscle memory of this section, where it flattens out for a bit, and then turns sharply, with a steep scramble to the top. There are a couple of volunteers here directing us to see how the turn around works (literally, turn around and go back down the hill). It’s not that easy, either, because it is more bouldering than runnable. Mark Vishnevsky also passes me here (didn’t know he was doing the race).
Lauren is coming up the hill behind me and she is still nervous about making cutoffs. I remind her that we have 6 hours in total to make the summit of Santiago Peak, we are at 3-1/2 hours now, and the location is less than 4 miles away. I think she will be OK, and so much better WHEN she makes that cutoff. She is only about 15 minutes behind me at this point.
When I get back to the aid station, I have now done another 3.4 miles in 68 minutes (20 minutes per mile), and now will make my way to the top of Santiago Peak. I have 2 hours and 12 minutes to cover the 5K distance. I SHOULD make it.
The funny part about this section is that between the top of Modjeska Peak and Santiago Peak, the height difference is only about 100 feet; however, with the descent to Modjeska Base aid station, the descent along the Main Divide Road, and then the ensuing climb, it is about 700 feet of climbing. At least the trail is not technical, but just a steep uphill.
When I get to the top of the peak, my friend Jim Tello is there and a nice crowd. I covered the 5K in 56 minutes (back to 18:00/mile) and made the cutoff by 1 hour and 15 minutes (if I had started on time, I would be 15 minutes ahead of the time, so I am feeling good about myself). I don’t waste a lot of time hanging out because I would rather not spend much time in heat, once the sun comes out.
Heading down the hill, I run into Lauren, and she is totally making the cutoffs, and she seems pretty happy. I also see Laura Sohaskey; I was certain she was NOT doing this race, but here she is again. I assume she will pass me momentarily and I await our chance to run together.
As I head down the hill, I am a bit concerned for each person I see heading in the opposite direction, because when I am 45 minutes out from the top, that means 5-1/2 hours have passed for me (and 4-1/2 hours for the rest of them). Six hours is the cutoff, and I don’t have confidence that some of the slower runners can do in 30 minutes uphill what has taken me 45 minutes to do downhill. Hopefully, Jessica will give them the benefit of the doubt.
When I get back to Modjeska Base, I have to go to the top of the peak one more time (yuck) before I am truly at the aid station. It hurts my feet more the second time, even though I know where to run to try and avoid the rockiest parts. When I get back to the bottom, Lauren is just arriving (now about 25 minutes behind me), but she says to me that even though she is a bit behind the schedule, she now knows she can make it. I think the picture of her family gave her the little extra she needed to make it through the race.
As for me, I sometimes run the race in honor (or memory) of someone. At Skyline 50K last year, I was going to run in honor of my friend, Brian Kelly, but he died two days before the race. Today, I am running in honor of my sister, Riva, and my two nephews, Evan and Reagan. The three of them have had a bit of a trying summer. Riva should get some of the glory of my successful running, because she put the bug of it into my head 18 years ago. Just thinking of them gives me a little extra energy. It will probably help a bit when the sun comes out!
I show off my picture to the aid station folk, a bit of braggadocio. Now that I am back to Modjeska Base proper (Mile 20.5), I am at 6:07 (maintaining a net pace of 18:00/mile). Now there is a fair bit of downhill coming up. There is only about 1.5 miles back down to the radio towers and I cover that in 26 minutes.
The aid station here is now set up and I can get something other than water. Also, the gate is open, so I don’t have to climb under or over it! I should be really excited about all of the downhill, but I do still have over 9 miles to the finish. I am hoping to run some of it with Laura and am surprised that she hasn’t passed me yet.
Now I make it down to the last aid station. I need to tell the volunteers that I had passed the aid station before they set it up this morning. They said that they weren’t told about me and assumed that I was a “DNS.” No such luck. My pace had increased here to 15:00/mile, but the sun is starting to peek around corners, so I hope I can continue to accelerate and maybe even finish under the (real) 9 hour time limit.
With about 3.5 miles to go, I can finally spot some landmarks. I know from past runs on this trail that once you see a house by itself, that is basically where the finish line is. The bit of heat is starting to get to me but I know I am almost there. There is one last uphill about a mile from the finish, and I walk this and then run pretty strongly all the way down to the finish, coming in at 8 hours and 45 minutes.
Afterwards, I get my picture taken, eat some pasta salad, drink some soda, and then get a free massage (that REALLY hit the spot). Jessica did a drawing for some prizes and I won a nice coffee mug that said “Age Group Winner,” ironic, considering that I probably came in last in my age group.
About 45 minutes after I finished, Lauren came in, and then about 75 minutes after I finished, Laura finished. However, what I didn’t know (and this explains A LOT) was that the race started 15 minutes late, so Laura and I finished with nearly identical times. This also meant that all of those folks that I worried so ardently about DID all make the cutoff after all.