High Desert 50K – 2014

December 7, 2014

For several years, I have been encouraging a few of my AREC friends that they certainly could do a trail 50K race… and always I hear of interest in doing so.  However, it is much like posting an event on Facebook… people like it, seem interested, say they are going, but few actually show up.  I was hearing redoubled interest, but I wouldn’t actually believe it unless I actually saw them AT the race.

Eric Villalobostold me that he signed up for the race (but ended up not going because of a hip problem).  I had heard that Jesus Rodriguez (who had run it in 2013) would be going… though he tends to be one of those gung-ho, sign-up for everything types.

A couple of gals who had interest did a “see if we would be fast enough” test run at El Moro at the beginning of November in light rain. Maria Robinson, Stephanie Harris, and Dulce Barton joined me.  I said that we would do a 9.5 mile loop… and if we could get under 3 hours, then they could do 31 miles in 10 hours. (It doesn’t divide precisely evenly, but THIS 9.5 miles is WAY worse than anything that you find in Ridgecrest.)  This was a tall order on this particular day, especially because of the mud and hills, but it could be a confidence builder IF they made it out to Ridgecrest.

Despite the mud (and stopping to take pictures of several full rainbows and double rainbows), we finished in around 2:55.  The cheap entry deadline was a few days later, and Dulce and Stephanie both signed up (plus Angela Holder, who did not make the test run with us).

The following week, Stephanie and I ventured into the Open Space Preserve and took the wrong (up) hill back… but, in the spirit of “there is no bad training,” she took it in stride saying that it will just give her more confidence with hills.

As the date loomed closer, I had still not made my plans to drive out.  Eric wasn’t sure of when he would drive out and Laura was not going to go at all.  I thought I might do what I did about 10 years ago which is drive out, and then sleep in my car at the start.  However, I contacted Stephanie to see what her plans were (and offered to sleep on the floor of the hotel room) and the other gals were OK with me driving up with and staying with them.

Meanwhile, I was having some problems – TMI alert!!!

I was very constipated, to the point at which I could not sit down without pain.  I thought maybe it might be hemorrhoids.  The sitting pain was so much that I walked to and from the doctor’s office (2 miles each way) to avoid sitting.  The diagnosis was two hemorrhoids (one internal, one external) and perhaps an anal fissure.  The recommendation to fix the issue was an extremely high fiber diet AND exercise (though I am certain that probably didn’t mean 7 hours of exercise in one go).

I took medicine and had creams to apply, but the problem did not get much better.  (At press time, I am awaiting a surgical consult and I have been dealing with this issue upward of two months.)

END of TMI section!!

On Saturday morning (December 6), the three ladies and I met at Stephanie’s house to consolidate into Angela’s car for the drive up to Ridgecrest.  We left in the early afternoon to accommodate Dulce, who was running the Venice Marina Xmas 5K AND 10K!  (Is 50K not enough?)

My special gift to the ladies were personalized laminated pace sheets.  Since none of them had ever done this distance before, I gave each two goals – the first was to finish and the second was a faster goal, which I based upon their worst-marathon-time-plus-one-hour pace (since trails slow you down a bit).  On the back, I had something inspirational for each of them (Stephanie and her kids, Dulce and her mother, and Angela (who I don’t know well enough to pull the right photo from her Facebook)’s picture of the giant yellow rubber ducky.).  For myself, I had a picture of my two little sisters (dressed in the work outfits of each other).

The drive went pretty well (save some traffic from LAX to the Hwy. 5/Hwy. 14 intersection).  I had mapped out where we might go for dinner (this place we went to a couple of different times that served Peanut Butter pizza (not as gross as it sounds)), if not at the check-in location.  (In the past, the food looked kind of crappy, which is why we went elsewhere.)

We arrived before the packet pick-up time, so we checked into the hotel.  Angela had e-mailed us earlier in the week to tell us that we were so close to the start, we could just jump out of bed and walk to the start line.  Since I had run the race 4 times before (most recently in 2012), I didn’t remember there being any hotels within 4 miles of the start.  Turns out, our hotel, was within walking distance of the packet pick-up location.  (I guess within walking distance of the start, but no one wants to walk 4-5 miles leading up to a 50K…)

A little before 6, we headed over to St. Ann’s Parish to pick up our packets.  They were efficient and the shirts were really nice.  We decided to stay and have the $8 spaghetti dinner (because it looked OK this year). A bunch of my (older) hash friends were there, including Chris Spenker.

Suddenly, Jesus showed up and “forced” most of the people in the room to pose with their numbers.  Anyway… after dinner, the ladies took a look at some of the old race shirts on sale.  While I don’t need any more shirts, it was a pretty good deal for a first-time participant. (Cotton long-sleeved shirts are nice if it is cold and you want to toss the shirt away at some point.)

We went back to the hotel and got ready for the next day.  Lights were out at 9pm (so EARLY for me).  The race starts at 7am (6am early start), but I don’t think I’ve ever slept 9 hours the night before a race (especially when I am antsy).  I did end up lying in the dark and staring into space for a few hours.  The highlight of the night was each of the three ladies waking up around 2am in succession and using the bathroom.

I woke up earlier than I needed to (except that I had to drive to the early start with them anyway), so I could use the bathroom.  I usually try to evacuate my bowels completely, but with the issues, I didn’t want to have pain all day, so I let nature take its course, applied my Lidocaine ointment, and took two Advil.  My plan was also to carry the tube of Lidocaine with me, if the pain got really bad.

It was pretty cold at the start (but not the 32 degrees in past years, maybe 40s), so I stayed inside and chatted with friends for the hour preceding the regular start.  Angela, Stephanie, Dulce, Jesus and some others left at 6am, to give themselves every opportunity to finish (Jesus should have no problem, but he was pacing a newbie himself).

I chatted with some folks I knew from other ultras, plus a hash couple that ran here last year.  I tried to find a comfortable sitting position, but that didn’t really exist.

A little after 7, we headed off into the cold.  I ran on the flats and downhills and walked the uphills.  My friend Ethan passed me early, saying I would catch him momentarily (but I didn’t think I would).  I also saw Yen Darcy… figured we would be near each other most of the race.  She gave me a little grief for going so fast, but I said I would lose it on the uphills.  I had a good pace to the first aid station at Mile 5.5, in a 10:43 pace.  (Much of this is on paved road, so that helps with the pace.)

I maintained an even pace through the second aid station at Mile 8.5.  I kept hoping that I would not catch up to the ladies soon, because that would mean that they were well ahead of the pace needed to finish.h

However, when I got to the Mile 11.0 aid station, I got there at the same time as the ladies did.  I had said that at one point, I would run with them if I caught them with about 10 miles to go.  This was a little too early for me to drop my pace, but I calculated that they were still on par to go under 9 hours (and they had 10).  Stephanie and Dulce were together and Angela (with her tights that looked like blue jeans) was a few minutes ahead of them.  They seemed happy and were having fun (which is important, especially early on).  I ran and walked with Angela for a few minutes before continuing on.

This section is fairly short (only 2.6M) and mostly flat.  Of course, when I say flat, this does not include the washboard aspect of the trail.  Mountain bikers would (and probably do) like this section, because they could do lots of little jumps.  Although cool, it gets to be quite annoying because I cannot put on any kind of speed, unless I go a bit off trail to lessen the effect of all those dips. In the distance, I can see an occasional car split the landscape.  The aid station is just before the road crossing, and the moguls end at this point, too.  Because of the flat nature, I am still maintaining a nice pace (11:32/mile).

I refill my water bottles, grab some PB&J and chips and do not waste much time.  I had been running and talking with a couple of ladies – Madonna and Clancy, but on the washboard moguls, Madonna and Clancy had surged ahead of me.  While I have no aversion to getting “chicked,” I didn’t want to waste time just hanging around.

From here, I can see the hills coming up.  I know “my ladies” will be a little annoyed with me, since I termed this race as “flat.”  Just a note on the amount of climbing and difficulty of courses:  Ultra Magazine has a scale, both for amount of climbing and for difficulty of surface.  If a race is flat and paved, then the climbing rating = 1, and the technical rating = 1.  If the elevation gain exceeds, say, 10%, then the climbing rating would probably be a 5, and if the surface is full of rocks and not that runnable, then the technical value would also be rated a 5.  The High Desert 50K is rated at 2,2… so I also rate it as “flat.”

There is some cruelty to this section as well.  Clancy (who I caught up to again) and I head straight out on the trail, but when the trail itself veers right (where we can see runners going uphill in the distance), we stay straight to add a little distance (running the two sides of the triangle, rather than the hypotenuse).  At least it is flat to this point.

Now the longer hill begins.  I have found, today, that when I am running, my rear-end problem is less annoying, but when I am walking, it irritates me severely.  So… as I am climbing this hill, I am walking in a manner that is similar to running, hoping that it will lessen the issue.  When that fails, I look a ridiculous sight, punching myself in the ass… but hey, it makes it feel better… and there are not a lot of people out here anyway.

It is a long slog to the top of the hill… at least it is not windy, as it was two years ago, swirling dirt all the way up.  At the top, a turn to the right along the ridge and then some downhill into the Mile 16.9 aid station… which is decorated for Christmas.  Because of the hill, my pace slowed to 19 minutes per mile (not bad for uphill).

Now I have 3.7 miles with a general flat to downhill slant.  I just keep on maintaining until I reach the aid station.  I am back to my around 12 minutes/mile pace.  About a half mile out from the AS, I start seeing a plethora of stuffed animals (Snoopy, Bananas in Pajamas, etc.).  The 3′ long cougar made me jump a little, though.  (The aid station volunteer said next year he would put in a speaker and roar at people.)  When I get to the aid station, Jesus is there, along with the gal he is pacing. I am almost out of the aid station, when Jesus wants me to take pictures with him, so I have to stop, turn around, and get some pictures.  If it had been just a quick stop, that’s one thing, but it was about getting the light just right, making sure I’m in the frame, etc.  I’m up for mega-pictures at the end, but not wasting a lot of time on the course.

Out of this aid station, it’s an immediate turn uphill (nothing steep, as is the case on this course), and then once I get to the top, it’s a bunch of downhill and then mostly flat to the next aid station. I end up striking up a conversation with Darrell, a pretty beefy guy doing his first ultra.  He and his fiancee split their time between Long Beach and Ridgecrest, so maybe he will run with us at AREC when he is in (our) town.  He struggles on the downhill because he recently injured his leg.

So, now into Gracie’s Mansion aid station, where they are blasting music.  This is a few tenths short of a marathon.  My overall pace is right around 13 minutes per mile.  My “A” goal is 13 minutes per mile, but I will be happy with a time under 7 hours, since it would be my fastest 50K this year.  On the other hand, I am out here enjoying myself and so I get a cupful of beer…and I am not really worrying about my time.

Now there is about 3.7 miles to the last aid station… Last Gasp.  Flash back to last night and a conversation I had with former RD Chris Rios.  He promised me that he would have a beer for me here… so I was looking forward to it.  En route, Darrell took off.  I ran a bit with Clancy before she took off as well.  I ended up having another cup of beer (a Newcastle blonde) and a quick (maybe slightly drunk) conversation with Chris.

From here to the end, it’s a run around the school and a run around the parking lot.  For the first mile of the mile-and-a-half, I ran/walked with a heavily tattooed pierced dude, who had broken his foot a few weeks earlier.  (Tough people, these ultra folks.)

For the last half mile, which is downhill on paved and then a circling of the parking lot, I probably ran at a 8:00-9:00 / mile pace and finished in 6:48.

After finishing, I saw several of my friends finish; Yen was just a few minutes behind me. I also saw a few people that I didn’t even know were there (like Jakob Herrmann – we became so much closer friends after working the SB100 event).

The timing was particularly good because the award ceremony was at 2pm, not long after I finished.  I was able to get a piece of pizza and a soda and find out if I won a door prize (NEW Gaiters!!!) and then go in and hear how fast the leaders were.  Madonna got third place in her age group.

After the awards were handed out, they gave out participation awards for people who had completed 5 or 10 Ridgecrest events.  10-time finishers got a jacket and 5-time finishers got a zip-up collar sweatshirt.  Eleven years after my first High Desert 50K, I completed my 5th event.  It is a really nice giveaway.

Now for the ladies… based upon their pace at Mile 11, I figured they would be pretty close to 9 hours.  At about 7:40 on the finish clock (or 8:40 on the early clock), I headed out backwards on the course to find the ladies and run them in.  I had every confidence that they would finish under 10 hours, but would love them to finish under 9 hours.

I only got to about a half mile out, when… Stephanie appeared.  This was somewhat surprising given that she and Dulce were a bit back of Angela at Mile 11 (and Angela has the faster marathon time)… but more probably, they stayed together all day and then whoever was feeling it at the end took off.

Stephanie was in a state of euphoria; what I LO-OVE seeing at the end of a race.  She handed me her phone so I could go directly to the finish line and snap her photo… but en route, it somehow switched to video, so I videoed her finishing.

Two minutes later, Angela finished, and 90-seconds after that, Dulce finished.  8:51, 8:53 and 8:55, respectively. I was so proud.

The best part was that they genuinely had a good time and maybe wanted to do another.  All of the initial worries – no port-a-potties, getting lost, not finishing in time – never materialized.  (Technically, there WERE no port-a-potties, but a big rock and some T.P. was close enough.)

This was my 70th ultramarathon and I had a great time, and the gals I introduced to the sport of ultramarathoning had a great time, too.

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