June 6, 2015
I had heard about the Shadow of the Giants event for several years from a number of people. I had had an interest in participating, but because the race is basically outside Yosemite, I had not driven up by myself (though from past postings, you will note that I have driven to Bishop by myself with no specific overnight plans), and with the current price of gas, it was always best to drive up with someone else.
I determined that Rafael Covarrubias was planning on going, and perhaps another gal from AREC, Zelda Ramos, might be going and doing the “Fun Run.” We negotiated for a bit about the carpooling possibilities – Zelda had to leave by 1:30pm, but I did not have the confidence that I would finish in 6-1/2 hours, since that would be close to my best 50K… and although this course is slightly short, the elevation would probably be a factor. Zelda decided to drive up on her own, though I believed that I could start 2 hours early to make it work.
I met Rafael near his elementary school which is near Florence off the Blue Line (not a great area). Had a decent drive up, including going through McFarland (impressive HS cross country town) and then up through a bunch of foothill towns en route to one of the Yosemite entrances. Rafael and I had a multitude of conversations, including what one does when pulled over by the police (act polite, try not to appear nervous, don’t run)… when we were pulled over by the police. Expired tags. Oops! He had moved recently and didn’t get that taken care of. Rafael was polite and the officer was nice enough and wrote a fix-it ticket.
Zelda had arrived a little bit earlier and we met her at the race start location – an outdoor school in Fish Camp – so we could settle in and also pick up our race numbers. I got number 66 (which of course, upside down is 99, same as the number of ultras and marathons I will have completed by the end of this race), but they had some confusion with Rafael’s, even though I think he registered before I did.
We laid claim to our beds – for $15/night, we get a padded mattress on a springy bunk bed in a coed cabin. Fairly comfortable (in a sleeping bag) and 100 feet from the starting line. You could literally roll out of bed and be at the starting line in under a minute.
The town of Fish Camp doesn’t have a lot of amenities. Zelda and Rafael decided we should go over to the nearby Tenaya Lodge for dinner. I have essentially already eaten; I brought bell pepper and cucumber “salad” with spicy peanut sauce, served over black rice. But I go with them for the camaraderie and for a beer.
The lodge is really nice. If I was well-off and had business in the area, I would definitely stay there. While we waited for a table in the restaurant, there was a nice piano player in the lobby, playing 80s and 90s songs (and singing). I had a nice local beer while they had their dinner. I also ended up eating the rest of Zelda’s dinner – a black bean burger – the serving being more than she wanted to eat.
By the time we got back to the school, some of our cabin-mates were already out, so we tried to be as quiet as possible. I read for a bit, using my headlamp, but being so dark and quiet, I knew I would fall asleep pretty quickly.
I woke two or three times, having to go to the bathroom. Fortunately, my bunk is right by the door, and the men’s bathroom is 5 feet away. Hopefully, the squeaky door is not noisy enough to wake everyone up. It is mildly cold out, but not unpleasant. Hope the weather (later) today will be about the same.
Around 6am, I heard an announcement about the early start, but since the driving issue was moot, I stayed in bed for another 15 minutes. I got up and used the facilities since the opportunities on the trails would not be as good.
We wandered over to the dining hall to re-check in and to get coffee (well, not me, but everyone else probably). Big Baz (the RD) kept making announcements about how everyone needed to check-in, even if they had checked in yesterday, and then 10 minutes before the race was to start, we all headed outside to line up.
When we got outside, they began calling out all of the number of people who hadn’t re-checked in – basically 75% of the field, delaying the start – can you believe it? Did only 10 of us listen? One of the names I heard was Elizabeth Epstein, my good friend “Dutch” from the Hash. It was cool to see her. She was by herself, having been in the area; Kim was back in Long Beach.
When it was finally settled who was actually running the race and who wasn’t actually there, we got underway. There was the usual silliness from the RD, with a bunch of “Shut the F up” to excited runners who were chatting with their friends during the announcements.
The first bit of the race is through the parking lot of the school, up the road towards the highway, and then a sharp turn to what becomes a rocky trail. All along the road are cars, the cars of the competitors. Some are not parked properly, and it bottlenecks the race, somewhat. Somewhat, because there are under 100 runners in both the 50K and the 20K untimed fun run. Also, I am towards the back, so I am not that affected.
At the top of this hill is the first split with the 20K runners. We turn left and head down the hill to our first aid station. I get a little bit of what I lost on the uphill running down the hill because it is not too technical. Big Baz himself is at the first aid station, Mile 3.7 and I get in at about 45 minutes, or 12:00/mile.
Now we turn around and head back up the hill and head in the same direction as the 20Kers (who have long since left us behind). For part of the uphill section, I chat with a 20-something (28?) guy running his first 50K. It looks like he has wings tattooed on his shoulders, and he tells me that he has a huge tattoo of a dragon across his entire back (so I guess those are dragon wings).
Once we reconnect, we continue uphill to the highest point on the course (6286 feet) and Mile 6.7. I talk with another first-timer (in my age group, though), Kristopher, and we stay together for awhile (either to where he is feeling faster than me… or bored with the conversation). This 3 mile (thin-air) section takes me 69:42 (23 minutes per mile) dropping my overall pace to 17:00/mile. I need to regain some of my speed soon, otherwise I will miss the cutoffs.
We have 2 miles on the next section, and it is mostly downhill! Right before the aid station, is a water crossing. I have heard that in the past, your only choice is to tromp through the water, but because of the drought, it is possible to get across without getting your feet wet. I take this option, much to the chagrin of the photographer. Although the water is not deep, it is rocky, and I do not want to risk hurting myself. I get through this 2-mile section in 27 minutes, and thus reduce my pace per mile by about a minute (to 16:00).
Coming up is the first of 4 5-mile sections. Most of this part is flat, or slightly uphill and there is a lot of stepping over fallen trees and twigs/branches. There was some pre-race talk about 2 trees to go under, but in both cases, it is easier for me to go over because it is hard on my back to bend over that far. I do help another runner step over or go around. The trees ARE big enough that I cannot just step over. With the biggest ones, it would take 3 to 5 of me to wrap arms all the way around. These are HUGE sequoias!
After a long section of what passes for single-track, I emerge onto a wide dirt road and come through a campground. Some people call out to me that it is not far now. I catch up and walk a bit with a woman who was part of the early start. This is HER first 50K as well. Her friend died earlier this year and she and a few other gals are running it in her memory. I tell her about Brian Kelly and the tribute I did for him in 2013. Because this is a mostly downhill section, I end up covering the 4.7 miles in 42:44, or about 9:05/mile. Don’t know that I have run that fast in an ultra, except maybe at North Face Challenge, when I just missed the Mile 37 cutoff. My overall pace is down to 13:42/mile… much better than the 17:00 7 miles ago.
The next five miles is a gradual uphill to Nelder Grove, the location of the Shadow of the Giants loop, for which this race is named. I walk the majority of the trail, because at this elevation, I walk and breathe better than if I run, especially on the uphill. I manage to keep my pace a little over 16:30, which some people would find acceptable on a road stroll.
At this aid station, I get the offer that I can leave my hand-helds for a while, because the loop is only a mile; I will be back momentarily. I would rather hang on to my bottles because it is comfortable, and I would rather have the freedom to drink whenever I need it.
The Shadow of the Giants trail is a definite highlight, though it is the busiest of the entire race because there are beaucoup hikers on the trail. Not crowded per se, but the extra people are oblivious. It is educational to boot, though I do not really have time to read all of the signage and watch my step. The trail is a half-mile of meandering uphill. and then a half-mile of rollercoaster downhill (a true loop, though). My enjoyment of the trail probably led to my 18:10 pace, but I am glad to have gone through that section, because it was so fabulously pretty.
I refill my water bottles and grab some salty chips. Coming up is 5.3 miles of gradual uphill, back to the earlier aid station at Mile 13.4. I do not feel like running at all, so I am brisk walking (almost speed-walking). The road isn’t terribly technical and I keep seeing signs for a Christian Camp. There are some cool zip-lines and elevated ropes course on either side of the road. It keeps what is a pretty quiet (not many encounters with other people) section entertaining for me. In the last 2 miles or so of the section, I walked past at least 3 runners (!) en route to the aid station. Astoundingly, my walking pace is 12:56/mile. I am pretty pleased with that pace.
Now I have just 5.5 miles left to the end. For the most part, it is downhill and I run when I can and walk fast when I am tired or it turns slightly uphill. The trail is also not too technical so I am not stumbling (always a benefit when you are tall).
In the last mile or so, there is a slightly confusing section. I say ‘slightly’ because I was able to figure it out but I did catch up to a runner who was standing around trying to figure it out. I said, “I think that outline of rocks is the outline of the path, even though there are no arrows indicating as such.” After being on a dirt road for 3.5 miles, a spongy pine-needle single-track was a welcome change (although there was a lot of low-branch ducking for me).
After a fashion, I could hear some loud talking and figured I must be close to the finish line. Two ladies passed me just before I crossed the bridge and got to the paved parking lot in the school just before the finish. I got a nice loud cheer because everyone was gathered for the awards ceremony. My time was 6:38:48 (a PR, since I’ve never done 29.2 miles in a race before; this was technically a 47K). I was happy with this time, considering that I was trying to figure out how to do 6:30 so that Zelda could carpool with us. (She had left a few hours before and was the unofficial female winner of the “Fun Run.”)
I went back to the awards ceremony and they were also starting up on the prize drawing-slash-trivia contest. (I missed this at my last Baz race because I was too slow.) The way this works is that they ask trivia questions and whoever blurts out the answer first wins. I won a cotton t-shirt by shouting out the first question correctly. (Yes, my mind still works after 29+ miles of trail running.)
Before taking a shower, I wanted to get a picture of me standing on my head to commemorate the 99th ultra/marathon (since, if you remember, my number was 66). I found the two gals (who had passed me at the end) with an I-Phone and tried to stand on my head. I mean, are you kidding? Do you really think I would be able to stand on my head without a lot of special help? They decided that I should pose against a tree with a pose like I am standing on my head, and then just flip the picture over; that at least is manageable.
I headed over to take a shower and made the mistake of utilizing the kids shower (I thought all showers were for kids, this being a outdoor school.), where the nozzle almost came up to my waist. It wasn’t unpleasant, seeing as I was mostly trying to wash the dirt off of my extremities and was able to splash water on my face with my arms. I saw the adult showers after I was pretty much done; I’ll know better for next time.
I think I could do better on this course with a little more uphill practice and I would like to convince some other ultra neophytes to give this beautiful course a try. Of course, it is a bit of a drive from LA (5 hours or so), but so majestic and beautiful.