August 2, 2014
Last year at this same race, I made a pace sheet and put a picture of my friend Brian Kelly on the back. I was hoping to inspire him to fight through (and beat) his terminal cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately, before I was able to arrive, he passed away… and I ran the race in his memory.
Since then, I have been putting a picture of someone who inspires me on the back of my pace sheet. It gives me extra focus and it also is a really nice gesture.
A few months ago, another friend of mine passed away. Hwa-Ja Andrade. She hadn’t been a long time sick, but she went in to get surgery and didn’t survive the surgery. At her memorial service, her son mentioned that she had completed 68 ultramarathons (to which most folks gave an audible gasp). Myself, at that time, was fairly close to this number, so I wrote in her Memories book that I would dedicate my 68th ultramarathon to Hwa-Ja.
While I wasn’t concerned about being able to finish; I feel I have endurance and sufficient drive to get to the end (but of course, there are cut-off times); I felt like an hour early start would be helpful. Also, Harding Hustle 50K had only been 2 weeks prior and I had only had a week of recovery and a week of “build-up.”
I had my typical lead-up to the race… drive up from SoCal on Friday, having a nice dinner at Bay Fung Tong with my parents (plus Shauna), a relaxing day on Saturday (though I had to work on the AREC newsletter).
Sunday morning, bright and early, I found myself toeing the line with probably 4 dozen other early starters. I was very happy to see my buddy, Sabine Gillert (who I had met at Way Too Cool a few years ago, and more recently, at Bishop). She was not doing great (hence the early start).
About 2 miles in, I struck up a conversation with a female runner, Megan Cheng. She was a faster runner, but had carpooled with an early starter, so rather than hang out for an hour, she decided to start. I ran with her for a few miles (faster than I wanted to go) and it was a nice way to pass the time since relatively few runners were on the course.
I got to the first aid station in 48 minutes (11 minute pace). I didn’t stop and pressed on, since I had banked some quality time and it was a mere 2 miles to the next aid station. Since it was still early on, gates were not propped open and a few seconds were wasted working the complicated mechanism. However, this section is mostly double-track and flat, so I was able to maintain a similar pace to the first 4.3 miles (12:46 pace).
This next section is a love-hate section. There is about a mile-and-a-half uphill section (HATE) followed by a mile-and-a-half of steady downhill (LOVE). Also, you get to run this same part in reverse later in the race (really HATE). The last part of this section is a short single-track section in between berry bushes and across a few minor streams before popping out at an aid station along the road.
I should mention, at this point, that although I have been mentioning my splits at the various aid stations, I have not actually reached ANY aid stations (due to my early start). At the first station, a car had just pulled up the same time I pulled up. At the second aid station, there were a few other cars in the lot, but no table or anything really set up… so, by the time I reached this third checkpoint, well, they are still not really set up. However, I was TOTALLY out of fluids and prefer not to go 5 miles on fumes. A nice volunteer (working on setting up the aid station) refilled one of my water bottles using a personal bottle of water out of his own car. Nice.
Anyway, at this point, despite the up-and-down bit, I do another section in under 12 minute pace. This is boding quite well. With the early start, I have 9-1/2 hours to finish, but I am on pace for a time well under that (though I will probably slow down a bit on the second half).
On this next section, there are two parts. The first is a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs on single-track trail. The second is a steady 3+ miles of uphill on fire-road to Skyline Gate (the “turnaround” (14.5 miles, not quite halfway)).
On this first half, I am in my element – not necessarily fast, but I enjoy the variety. As I am nearing the paved road that connects the first half to the second half, I come across a fallen runner. There is another runner and the mobile radio operator (read: guy on a bike with a walkie-talkie) are tending to her. In carefully stepping around her, I see that the other runner is my friend David Binder (who I had tried to reach to no avail for a week or so prior). He is out on his own training run, but nicely stays with me for a few miles (especially because I’m sure he doesn’t want to walk up ALL the hills).
It is really nice to have the company, though (this is what it must be like to have a pacer) and it helps some of the time on this long uphill. I tell Dave I will text him when I get home and maybe we can get together afterwards.
I reach Skyline Gate maintaining an average pace of a little over 15 minutes per mile. There is a fully operational aid station here!! I get some snacks and refill both of my water bottles with Gatorade before heading back towards the starting line.
This section has a net downhill (but is not all downhill) and heads back to the same aid station we just came from. A few years ago, though, the race leader didn’t go in this direction but retraced his steps (and saved about a mile of distance) and was disqualified.
The road out of the aid station is still the fire-road and is mostly flat. I use the opportunity to eat some of the food I garnered at the aid station and gird myself for the uphill section a little further down the road. Soon enough I turn off and head down a steep-ish single-track trail through the redwoods. I know that before I reach the bottom, there will be that mentioned ascension, which will eventually reconnect to the single-track, then across the road to the aid station.
While I am able to run at a moderate pace on the downhill parts, I negate much of this with my uphill section pace, reaching the aid station (now open!) in a 15:23 pace (similar to my all uphill pace).
Now I return to the LOVE-HATE hill. What I am loving this time around is that the sun has not yet peeked through the clouds and it is still cool. This section can be difficult with the sun beaming down. I get up and down in under 15:00/mile pace and am now on the homestretch.
From here on in, the trail is heading towards the opposite side of Lake Chabot. I think I may mentioned before the LOVE-HATE HATE-LOVE sections, but this section is mostly all hate. This has less to do with uphills and downhills and is more about the endless quality of this section (one of the sections that are over 5 miles) and how every turn seems familiar, but the aid station never seems to appear. Despite feeling like I am not moving that well, my pace is a skosh faster than my overall average pace. Looks like I will have an hour for the last 3 miles – and that will get me under my time of 7:33 from last year (when I had accelerated heart rate in hot situations).
The sun IS out at this point and I am struggling a bit in the heat. Most of this last section is fire-road and about half of it is paved. I figure I can speed-walk the uphill and flats and run the downhills. I am just biding my time and looking forward to the suspension bridge at Mile 29 or so (for the free foot massage effect).
I am able to run hard the last 200 yards and finish strong, though I ran almost exactly my overall pace (13:40 for the section; 13:38 for the race). My time of 7:13 is 20 minutes faster than last year (the early start probably contributed by letting me stay cool further into the race).
In the food area, I strike up a few conversations. I see Megan Cheng, who finished under 6 hours (someone who totally didn’t need the early start) and her friends. I talk with an older lady who “didn’t need another shirt.” (The women’s shirt was pink so I gave it to Mom.) The food is good; I have grilled salmon on a bun and some salad.
I am debating what else or how long I would stay and hang out, when up rolls Dave and Sandy Binder, their two boys (and a friend). They came to see me finish, but I was a little faster than they expected. Dave has a 6-pack of Sierra Nevada IPA. I can only manage one but we make the people hanging out with us happy (because they each get a beer).
I am happy with my result, both because I managed to complete two 50Ks in a span of 15 days and also because I did myself proud in a race where I was honoring my late friend Hwa-Ja.