June 11, 2016
Two months and two days ago, I had emergency surgery on my left elbow. Just before I went into surgery, I talked with the Trauma Surgeon, Dr. Tran. He had done an Ironman Triathlon, so understood about the long training runs (but I had yet to convince him to run an ultramarathon). He asked me what my next big run was and I said that I hoped to do Shadow of the Giants 50K in two months time. He said that with the proper recovery I would probably have no problem being able to run the race.
Flash forward to two months and one day later, and Stephanie Harris and I are driving up from Long Beach to Fish Camp. In the car we talked about the possibility of staying an extra day and driving around Yosemite (since Stephanie had never been). I said that I was not interested, mostly because I had said that I would try to attend my friend’s 70th birthday party on Saturday evening. (If we went to Yosemite, I wouldn’t get back in time.) Maybe another trip.
We got up to Fish Camp a bit early. It’s not a big town, so there isn’t a lot to do to pass the time, and once we got to the Outdoor School/Race Start, it would just be reading, napping, and eventually sleeping. We picked up our bibs and then decided what we would do next. Stephanie suggested that we drive into Yosemite and that she would buy me dinner. I didn’t have a ton of gas in the car (and didn’t really want to pay the exorbitant prices within the park) but enough that we could probably see a few sites (it had been nearly 20 years since I had camped in the park with my college friends Kevin, Cecilia, and Josh just before I moved to Southern California).
She paid the entrance fee (and noted that it was good for a whole week) and coasted down into the park (saved gas). We stopped by a vista point to look at Bridal Veil Falls. Wow. What a beautiful time of day. It was a little busy because some TV cameras were there talking about President Obama flying in to survey the park later in the month (and if it would be disruptive (Yeah, I think so.)). We were nearly hit by a car going about 20 miles per hour over the speed limit (who zooms through Yosemite?), but my new car has great brakes!
We drove down a little further, and climbed up a path at the base of Bridal Veil Falls. Wet, but beautiful.
We tried to figure out where the old Ahwahnee Hotel was. The hotel is still there, but after a dispute with the old food vendor over trademarked names, the park renamed all the buildings, even though they had had the same names for 50+ years. So, the result for us was that we didn’t know if the Yosemite Lodge was what we were looking for. (Still not sure.)
Since we didn’t find what we wanted, I decided that we should drive back towards the entrance before it got too late (or dark), but we got caught up in a long line of cars trying to check in to their campsites, and we moved about one mile in 40 minutes. So frustrating.
There wasn’t much to stop at where we could eat on the route back, except for the General Store about five miles from the exit. We ended up getting cold sandwiches, plus Stephanie got some souvenirs for friends.
By the time we exited the park, it was getting dusky, so best for us to return to the Outdoor School in Fish Camp, find some bunk beds and get some sleep.
We found a nice cabin and got all settled. I had planned to read (using my headlamp) regardless if the lights were on or off. The lights ended up being on and off quite a bit, the primary offenders being a group of Japanese-American runners who didn’t seem to understand why the people trying to sleep in the dark would be upset with the lights coming on. They mostly countered with, “We were here first, so we should determine when everyone goes to sleep.” I guess, if you lack any common courtesy.
On perhaps the third time this happened, I said something like, “We’ve asked you about 20 times to not turn the lights on.” Now while I am not an 8:30pm asleep kind of person, I try to stay with what the crowd wants. (Back in 2011, at Javelina Jundred, my roommates went to bed at 7:00pm, so I went down to the hotel TV room and stayed there until I was ready to go to bed, rather than insisting that they follow MY sleep patterns.)
The “leader” of this group became quite irate with me (and the others in the cabin who agreed with me) and wanted us to get out of our sleeping bags and engage in fisticuffs with him. Seriously? He wanted us all thrown out. We are ALL here for a race. Why are you being such an a**hole? I suggested he get the race director, my buddy Baz Hawley, to settle the situation.
So, Baz comes into the cabin (the light having been on this entire time with antagonistic Japanese ladies glaring at us) and tries to quell the situation. The ringleader is being pretty unreasonable. Baz offers a separate cabin for them to stay up as late as they want, and he keeps insisting that the rest of us move (because, remember, they were there first!). Finally, they agree to move and start loudly getting their stuff out of the cabin.
I’m glad Baz did this. I didn’t want to get into a fight over sleeping arrangements. He and I have had a good rapport, and a funny memory from the 21K at Blue Jay Campground earlier this year. He did a shortcut about a mile out from the start so he could high-five all the runners as they went by. I offered a really high-five (so high he couldn’t jump up and hit it). It was a funny moment between us.
So, as Baz leaves, I say to him, “High-five, Baz, high-five.” The lead Japanese guy stops, turns to me, and says, “Had to have the last word, did you?” Dude, I wasn’t even talking to you. I’m talking to my buddy, Baz.
Finally, the lights go out, but it is a struggle for me to get to sleep now, because my adrenaline is thrumming, and I cannot relax. Probably, I got 2-3 hours of real sleep, if that.
In the morning, the plan is for Stephanie to take the one hour early start, even though I do not think she will need it (but it helps for confidence to make the aid stations and not be stressed out about cutoffs). A couple other gals in our cabin are also taking the early start so they can look out for each other. The Japanese folks are milling around the mess hall area, still glaring at me, but I don’t really care. I’m running my own race.
After Stephanie starts and I am waiting for my own start, I run into Rob McNair, from Huntington Beach, who I occasionally see at some ultras. He has run every single Shadow of the Giants (30+) and even won some of them. I always find the Legacy runners pretty cool. We chatted about the previous night’s situation. He was in the other cabin, but it was pretty loud, so everybody heard everything.
Baz made his usual ribald announcements and the bit (that I hate) where they make sure that everyone checked in and have their numbers and are on the course (why, why, why, do you not check in the 12 times they mentioned it prior to heading outside?). I stand at the back, because I know once we get going, I’m not going to be running up to the front.
The course is familiar (because I ran it last year), but for some reason, I am really struggling with the elevation for the first 7 to 10 miles. The hardest part was looking at my pace sheet and wondering WHY I am going so slowly? Particularly hard was the opening out-and-back section, with the technical downhill and the lo-o-ng climb out of that. I did see the same guy I ran with for a bit last year (with the wings tattoo across his back).
When I got to the water crossing (a little more substantive this year – feet had to get wet), I passed a couple of the Japanese ladies who left our cabin with the rest of our group. Of course, when I passed them, I said, “Looking good, good job, keep up the good work,” because I had already let the situation go, and I would rather be encouraging than rude. Hope they smiled back.
My second favorite section is from Mile 8.7 to 13.4, where we start out on a shady fire-road and then peel off into the single track that roams around all of the great sequoias (including the huge Grandfather tree). I got on to this section just behind 3 or 4 gals all going together. A couple of them struggled with the uphills and after a time, I achieved some separation from them. This is when I got onto the technical downhill (not as much rocky as woody and rocky). I was nervous about any technical downhill, because I didn’t want to reinjure my elbow with a fall.
Once I get out of this section, it’s a smooth fire-road through a camping area and a half mile or so to the Shadow of the Giants (a one-mile loop through trees). I don’t like this section because the mile goes by so slowly, and usually there are also a number of sightseers (slightly) blocking the path. I ran most of the section and it still took me 19 minutes.
From here, it’s the section that I walk 90%, because it is slightly uphill, and I can walk briskly faster than I can run. What I like is that no one passes me on this section, and I can see myself getting closer to some people who are jogging or walking ahead of me. The BEST part is that I have covered over 20 miles and still haven’t caught up to Stephanie (at Ridgecrest 50K, I caught the ladies after 10 miles). Maybe I won’t catch her!
However, just after I turn off onto a steeper section (which will hook back to where the trail veered off into the single-track), I do catch up with Stephanie. She is pretty proud, too, because she stayed ahead of me so long. We will come in pretty close together, because there are probably 6 miles or so to go. Once I pass Stephanie, I don’t see a lot of other runners. Good ol’ no-man’s-land.
Once I begin the first bit of downhill heading towards the finish, I lose motivation to keep running (feet hurt, I’m well ahead of the cutoff, so no worries) and just walk briskly down the hill.
I am caught up by a tall guy and a short gal (in rapt conversation). I slightly insert myself into the situation and we have a nice conversation about languages. The tall guy is a few years younger than me and originally from Hungary with the common name of Csaba. (While I never heard the name before, when I tried to find him on Facebook, man, there were a lot of Csabas!) The short gal was 10 years older than me (but looked 10 years younger) was Iranian and a friend of Tam Premsrirath (and had started with the early group).
The three of stayed together until almost the final mile, and then they both slowed down through the wooded section just before the bridge crossing and the finish line. I felt good and came in at 6:38:44. I couldn’t remember my time from last year, but I thought I was within 10 minutes of the time, and I was well satisfied with that, given that I was only two months out from elbow surgery.
Stephanie came in 30 minutes later in 8:04:04. With adjusting for the actual distance (29.2 rather than 31.0), her 50K time was improved by 20+ minutes.
Both of us took advantage of the showers at the finish and were well ready to head back to Long Beach not long after. Stephanie said to me in the car that she was happy we sightsaw yesterday because she was super-sleepy in the car on the way back.
Even with an emergency bathroom stop at a gas station near LAX, we were able to get back to Long Beach and I was able to get to the 70th birthday party (and not just make a token appearance in the last five minutes).
When I got home, I double-checked my time from 2015, and discovered that my 2016 time was one second FASTER! What a nice surprise.
A few weeks later, I had my final appointment with Dr. Tran and I reproduced a copy of my pace sheet, on which I dedicated my race to him, Dr. Glidewell (the Orthopaedic Surgeon), and Julie Oyanguren, my Occupational Therapist (who helped me with the rehab). I didn’t have a good picture FROM the race, so when Laura, Chuck, and I did the Monrovia Truck Trail, I wore my bib to get a good action shot.
One of the nurses briefly interrupted Dr. Glidewell’s consult so we could talk (since none of my follow-ups had been with her) so I could hand her a laminated picture of thanks. Probably not a lot of ultra-runners doing a tribute to their surgeons. Both she and Dr. Tran really liked it.
This race also marked the final RD job of Baz Hawley. One gal is taking over his Winter Trail Run Series and another is taking over this race. I hope that both can continue to put on good trail events in the same spirit with which Baz always infuses them.