Monthly Archives: July 2018

Wild Wild West 50M – 2018

May 5, 2018

Two years ago, I had planned on doing the 50 miler here in Lone Pine, but only a month earlier, I fell on a training run and fractured my elbow.  My recovery was not such that I could pull that off.

Last year, I decided to do the 50K up here and see how good (or badly) it would go.  Part of my reasoning also was due to the fact that Darrell Price (my buddy from Ridgecrest that I have stayed with the past few years) had done the 50M in 2016 and really struggled with it.

Anyway, the 50K went reasonably well.  That is to say that I finished it and wasn’t maimed.  I was pretty sure I would struggle with the 50M race, but I had also noted on the website that you could start whenever you wanted and let them know your time at the finish line.  Maybe start 2 hours early and build up my confidence by not being at the back the entire race.

Meanwhile, Darrell said that he was interested in doing the 50M (and starting early) and Alan Sheppard (who had done his first 50M race in Marin County (somewhat with me))last September expressed interest as well (and could start early if that was the consensus of the people he carpooled with).

Whether Alan could run it or not was left until the last minute (at WWW, this means by the Tuesday before the event), so I didn’t make any hotel plans.  Figured I would wing it as I usually do.  Our tentative plan was to sleep in the car, especially since we would need to leave for the start around 2:00 or 2:30am.  What kind of sleep would we get anyway?

Darrell was feeding me all sorts of AirBnB options, and said we might be able to stay with him at his if all 8 planets aligned.  Both Alan and I felt we might be putting him out by doing this, so the plan was to wing it.

Alan and I left Anaheim around noon and immediately hit horrible traffic on the 5, all the way to the 5/14 interchange.  That certainly didn’t bode well!

However, we made relatively good time and got up to the check-in at the school before it opened up and walked around a tad.  It was pretty hot out (like 80s and 90s).  Probably will be hot tomorrow as well.

We picked up our bibs and shirts and sat down to a pasta feed.  Talked to a few folks.  It’s the usual mix of first timers, old friends, and random people that recognize me (for some reason) that I do not know at all.

I had a short conversation with another tall guy (think he was 6’7″) but he was only doing the full marathon or the 10 miler.  (It’s okay, tall people don’t really do ultramarathons.)

The Chamber of Commerce folks gave a talk and made some announcements.  It was really the worst speaker system.  I think that the teachers in the Peanuts movies spoke more clearly.  The important part here was just making sure we could start early, where we might park, and if there were any cutoffs.  (Answers:  Yes, anywhere if you showed up well before the start, and probably not.)

We did meet up with Darrell at the check-in and he said that once he got settled in, he would text us to come over and stay.  Alan and I were still ambivalent about stressing out Darrell, and drove over to the finish line parking lot to (possibly) settle in for the night.  It was still pretty hot out (even with the doors open) so don’t know how comfortable it was gonna be.

Around 8:45, Darrell said, come over.  It’s going to work out after all.  I think the deal was that the unit was not supposed to sleep more than 3, but no one was around to double-check that.  The other couple had the “master bedroom” and were settled in, and Darrell was on the couch.  He blew up an air mattress for me and Alan was on the floor.

It was a tad more comfortable than the car.  I mean, yeah, having a toilet, way better, but, I’m sure I groaned every time I rolled over and the air mattress made all sorts of squeaky noises and I nearly rolled off every time I moved.  Okay, and the air conditioning made it comfy inside instead of hot.

I was hoping that we would leave at 2:00am, park, and then try and start by 3:00am, but I think I got up at 2:15am, and we were out the door by 3:15am.  The plan had become caravanning to the finish line and leaving my car, and then driving in Darrell’s truck to the start (and then shuttling him back after the race).

At about 3:40, we got up to the campground, which is the start area for the race.  Parking was severely limited, because, well, it’s a campground and we were not camping… but we did spot a non-campsite spot in between campsites that was off the campground road.  We felt secure enough that his car would not get towed (after all, what a horrible inconvenience for some tow truck driver and the campground wouldn’t want to tow a legit car – they wouldn’t know since we snuck in under the cover of darkness).

There were a few people stirring, getting ready for their day (whether it was the race or not).  We asked someone where the start line was and they pointed amorphously off to the left.  Darrell kept saying that he recognized where we were, but I felt, from last year, that we had to come UP some road and that bathrooms were at the top and the start was near that.  We parked at the top of the road we were on, so it didn’t make a lot of sense.

We walked for about 15 or 20 minutes before we realized that we were in a campsite loop that was next to the area where the race started, and sure enough, up a hill to bathrooms, and a sign indicating where the start line was.

So, 4:10am and we are finally on our way.

The very first intersection is maybe 20 yards after the start.  Pink ribbon at the exact middle of the intersection, neither left nor right.  Left looks like an offshoot and right looks like the main path, so, we go right.

I am looking askance (to the left), keeping track of where it goes and if we could shift over if our path is wrong (there are a few spots).  After about 5 minutes, our road essentially dead ends, so we backtrack to where I saw we could cut over.  I step to the left and my foot drops off about 3 feet and I fall forward onto my knees and hands.  Great start, buddy!

I am lightly bleeding on my knees, but I feel okay (as okay as you can feel starting off a 50M with a fall in the first 5 minutes after getting lost).

We get to the first turnoff (where the full, 50K, and 50M split off from the 10 miler) of 3.9 miles in 1:18 – 20 minute miles!  We need to be around 19 to finish, and not off to a good start, though it is super dark.

Our trail veers off into the bushes and it is a guessing game trying to figure out where it goes next.  One of us spots a pink ribbon and heads towards that.  Actually, it is pretty well marked, just hard to follow pre-sunrise.

A little bit later, we get to a spot I recognize, which is a single-track leading down to a water crossing.  I fall a little behind Darrell and Alan at this point, just because I am nervous about falling again.  When I get to the bottom, they have arranged some wooden boards so we can cross without getting wet.

Once we get to the other side, we are back onto a fire-road and we catch our first runner, Bill Dickey (78 years old) who started probably 30 minutes before us, in the 50K.  The fire-road goes downhill and I watch Alan fade off into the distance, while I chat briefly with Bill.  Darrell is also a bit ahead of me, but I have to do my own thing, can’t worry about those young short guys.

The next big intersection is where the marathon splits off from us.  Last year, it was the everybody-but-the-50M split, but this year, the 50Kers get to suffer, too, and go up to Whitney Portal.  I didn’t do this last year, so I don’t know what to expect, but I’m sure it will be tough.  I am already struggling with the elevation and I think we will go up to 8600 feet at the top.  Phew.

I have made up a little time getting to this point, but still well over the 19:00 pace I really need to finish this race.  Guess what?   Uphill ain’t going to help much.

The beginning of this section is a series of switchbacks at a slight incline, but there is a point after we do a big water crossing that the turns are more frequent and steeper (read:  climbing up on rocks).  This is super slow going for me.  As people pass me and give me encouragement, I cannot even speak out a single coherent thought, other than “uh,” or “ugh.” (Almost a breathy “thanks” at one point.)

The trail gets a little easier, slope-wise as we get into the actual camping area, with a measured out path, replete with wooden cross-hatching and signposts.   On the uphill, I am passed by David Binder and Rafael Covarrubias (dang, already made up the 50 minute stagger!).

And just after the confusing “tunnel,” Alan comes by on his way down, and says that Darrell is not that far ahead of me.  This “tunnel” is a path between two large rocks and in my addled mind, it looks like the path dead-ends, so I didn’t head in that direction and tried to figure another way up.  Once you get up to it, it’s clear that it goes through, but when you are spacey, you get paranoid.

The last bit up to the aid station is a step-bridge.  By this I mean that there are literally steps in the bridge climbing up to the aid station – it’s not just a bridge.  I can see Darrell on the other side cramming in whatever he can manage for the descent.  As I come in, he departs.  I know I’m in a time-crunch, so I eat a couple pieces of fruit and immediately turn around.  My 1:44:26 for this 4-mile section has ballooned my time to over 21 minutes a mile.  Hope I can make up some time on the path down (into thicker air).

On the walk down, both Kelly Motyka and John Hampton pass me heading up.  They both got into Western States 100M and are using this race (the 50K) as a training run for elevation.  Both look way better than me.

Some time later, Kelly passes me on the downhill section, which is slow going on the stepping-on-rocks part.  Knees still feel a bit off and I don’t want to ruin them this early.  At least when I get back onto the switchback portion, I can jog a little bit.  The bad part is that although I came down the hill MUCH faster than I went up it, I have only reduced my total pace to 20:49/mile.  Not fast enough, in other words.  At this point, I really do have to think about maybe shifting to the 50K if I cannot get my pace up.

Just after the turn back to the marathon course, John Hampton passes me.  He doesn’t look as good as Kelly, and he tells me that he threw up.  (Hmm… not sure that I’ve ever thrown up on any race.)

Now there is a fire-road section where you can see some of the other runners on the other side of the river.  There is a crossing point with a metal bridge.  Last year, this bridge was 6 inches under water, but this year, it’s a good 2 to 3 feet above the water.  Just crossing the bridge is Tam Premsrirath and Angela Holder, presumably in the marathon, because they didn’t pass me on the Whitney Portal section.

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After cresting this hill on the other side, there is a beautiful (endless) downhill section.  I like some downhill but not endless downhill because it’s hard on the joints.  I run some of it, but mostly, I am walking or skipping or galloping to get it over with.  Loads of people pass me, but they are probably in the 50K, so I’m not going to worry about it.  As I am getting to the end of the section, I spot a flag with some writing on it, like Baobab or Bellydancer.  I wonder what it says.

As I get closer, it’s the Mile 18 aid station, and the flag says “Badwater.”  That makes the most sense, even if Badwater doesn’t make any sense to me.  (Never want to walk/run 135 miles through Death Valley, nope.)  My combo walk/run is at 15:03/mile, and drops my total average pace to 19:31.  Hmm… that’s good news.  Darrell is here ahead of me and he is taking a while with the refueling, so I end up passing him.  I’m sure he’ll catch back up soon.

When the downhill ends, there’s more uphill, but not steep and not rocky, and thoroughly walkable.  I am maintaining pace with a Las Vegas music teacher/violinist named Tig (Antigone).  She walks and jogs while I walk briskly and I am enjoying the conversation.  We have favorite early music in common, like Gesualdo and Josquin des Prez (names that my followers will look up online and still go, huh?).  She has played in some shows and also teaches lessons.  This is only her second 50K and she picked a doozy.

We hit Mile 20 together and I’ve pulled back another 30 seconds per mile with my walking.  Around 22, I start to pull away as we get into the Alabama Hills and the wind.  She is pulling into the aid station as I pull out and hit 19:00 net pace for the first time since my fall at 0.001 miles.

Out of this aid station, there is sizable downhill to the 50K/50M split spot.  Looks like there is a wedding going on here today, or I am hallucinating a set of white folding chairs (or both).  Linda Dewees catches up to me and we walk/jog/talk for a bit.  I always love seeing her.  She is always so positive and encouraging (and a cool lady).

As I get closer to the 50K/50M split, I spot some of the marks for the incoming route to here, which I always find confusing, but if I make a note of it, then maybe I won’t get lost.

As I pull into Mile 26, I managed the last section at a 12:36 pace, I think thanks to jogging with Linda and my pace is at 18:16.  Now I don’t have to make that bad decision to drop back to a shorter distance!!  I can continue on.  Tig comes into the aid station as I am leaving and I wish her luck and head off on the 50M loop.

This is an extremely lonely section.  It’s very sandy and no shade whatsoever and I do not see another racer for over 2 hours.  I do see a number of mountain bikers and hikers who give me some encouragement.

The next aid station is at Mile 30 (or so) and my loping pace has brought me to 17:34 per mile.  Literally, I have walked myself back into finishing!  I spot some beers that the aid station guy has and ask for some.  He drinks half and I drink half.  It’s cold and refreshing.  He’s an older guy (late 70s, I think) and tells me about some of the cute gals that have come by (I wonder what he thought of the lady in the booty shorts that Alan later said was twerking at the aid stations…) and how it makes it all worth it.

Leaving this aid station, I am immediately heading up a giant sand dune.  The variety of two steps up, one step backwards.  Yuck.  Very draining, but at least I have a beer in me to make the pain go away somewhat.  It descends down the other side and eventually into some single track, crosses a road, and then a very confusing section through some brambles.

I see Darrell behind me and when he crosses the road, he starts up the road (Alan did this, too, apparently), but I shout back where the ribbons are.  I dropped back some of the pace here, but still under 18/mile.  The aid station is manned by two black guys, one in a fancy BMX outfit.  Think he might be a semipro BMX racer?  Nice folk.

Leaving this aid station, it widens out and I see some rock climbers, people drinking beer, a few folks with unleashed dogs.  One dog goes after me, wildly, and its owner does little to rein him in.  I was prepared to kick the dog away, even though I don’t think I could outrun an angry owner at this point.  Once I get to the fence area, the dog stops giving chase (and/or the owner gets him under control).

On the other side of the fence, it’s horse-shit heaven.  There are piles and piles of the stuff all over here.  I don’t know if it’s a depository or what, but there is a lot of it.  A little past this point, I end up backtracking a bit, probably due to another vague marking into dense mustard plants (even though it looks cooler to go into the rock area).

By the next aid station, at Mile 36, Darrell (and his merry gang) have caught up to me.  Matt and Mike have been with Darrell a bit.  We stay together somewhat, but there are points where they stop to dip bandanas in cool water or retie shoes or whatever.  I’m trying not to let that stuff slow me down, ’cause I know they’ll catch up (or not).  I’m just worried about me and staving off blisters that are slowly forming on my foot pad.

Matt passes and soars off into the distance, while Mike and Darrell are only a bit ahead of me.  They get further ahead on a section where the descent is gravelly and downhill.  I don’t like this one bit.  They are both heading out from the aid station as I am coming in.  A nice man and girl who own a ranch or restaurant up the road and have a couple of vases full of lavender… and beer.  As I am leaving the aid station, they mention that I am the first person to drink a cup of Skratch (like Gatorade), a cup of beer, and a cup of Coke at their stop!

From here, just a short 4 miles back to the 50K/50M cutoff (and then 5 to the end of the race).

There is a scramble up more of these Grape-Nuts and then a flat fire-road, then up over the hill, then down, then a jump (literally, scary!) over a creek onto a rock, and then a hairy section on seesawing shale somewhat along the highway, and zigzagging along the top of the cliff overlooking said highway.  I keep spotting Mike and Darrell in the distance and it looks like one of them has stopped for the moment.

It turns out to be Mike.  He’s 38 years old (though I thought he was older – Darrell said something later about “hard living”) and he tells me he’s never finished a 50 miler while in his 30s.  (Today’s the day, Mike.  You can do it.)  I say we just have to walk briskly through this section and we will make it.  I continue to be encouraging until I notice that he has slowed behind me.  Ohhh….kay.  Bye.

I pull into the Mile 45 aid station in 13:48.  For the official cutoff, I have 1 hour and 12 minutes for 5 miles, but because of my early start, I have 2 hours, 2 minutes.  Plenty of time (can average 24 minutes/mile and still make it; and my current overall average is at 18:25 – lost a little bit on the gravel).

Darrell is at the aid station, along with Denise, who says it is her second or third time back here, that she has been unable to find how to get to the finish, that the ribbons and arrows lead her back here again and again.

We are looking at the map (which is nothing more than a general elevation map with some mile markers on it, nothing that shows all the possible trails around here).  I say that I remember that chalked section that we have to get to (no idea where it is, but I’ll know it when I see it), and from last year, I remember the goat trails to the large American flag. We should be okay.

So, we follow the ribbons and the arrows.  I can totally see how she might have veered back to the aid station multiple times… but suddenly, we find ourselves, yep, heading back.  Denise says she doesn’t want to go through this again.  I don’t want to go through it once.

Darrell suggests that we just make a beeline for the highway and that will (eventually) get us back to the finish line.  Sounds good to me, and we are directed towards the road by some people in a camper.  A short while later, a car drives up, with “Wild Wild West Race Director” on it.  We tell her that we are lost and we are just going to take the road back.

She says that she is going to figure out what went wrong (most of it was really well labeled, in my opinion).  “Do you want to finish?”  Yeah!

“Okay,” she says.  I’ll drive the three of you back to the correct spot.  By the way, it’s a small car and I have three aid station tables in it.

I try to fold myself over one of the tables, but I can’t even get my head inside the door, so, sorry, Ds, I will take the front seat.  Denise somehow fits draped over the tables, and Darrell is lying on the tables.

It is not a long ride but there are little markings that would have led us here.  Probably sabotage (since we have heard there were problems from multiple people).  She says that she will let the people at Mile 48 know to leave stuff for us (even though it is only 5 miles to the finish).

Where she has dropped us is the start of the goat trails, which is a lot of single-track steep up and steep downhill sections.  Both Darrell and Denise are in the mood of, “If there’s one more sucky hill, I’m going to quit,” but when I spot the giant American flag, those thoughts somewhat go away.  Denise is lagging a bit behind us, but we all get into the aid station around the same time.

Because of the detour, 22 minutes a mile in this section, but still under 19/mile.  There is a cooler here with a few Gatorades, ice water, and beer.  I have some beer and Gatorade, and then begin immediately heading down the hill, just because it’s starting to get dark and I feel Darrell and Denise do not have the same downhill struggles I do.

Darrell comes by me at a pretty good clip.  I know he was complaining earlier about something.  I have been complaining for about 10 miles about blisters and the rockiness of the trail is just making it worse, but I amble/skip/gallop/walk down the hill, and try to keep Darrell in sight.

When I get to the highway (gosh, we might have done an extra 5 miles if we went this way), I know I am almost there.  It’s a short section over a bridge and then back into the “wilderness,” and through the back of the park to the front of the park and Highway 395 and the finish!

I get into the park and I am singing patriotic songs to myself, like Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful.  I then notice up ahead a skunk.  Hmm…  Don’t want to get sprayed at this point.  I start singing Battle Hymn of the Republic VERY LOUDLY and it starts to skitter away.  A few verses of “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,” and it keeps its distance!  Phew!

Finally, I can see the fence line and cheering/cowbell.  I cross the finish in 15:41:06 (or 14:51:24 as the official results say, even though I told them my time at the finish).  No medal or ceramic for me as they have run out, but they say they will mail one to me.

Darrell finished 7 minutes earlier and Alan, about an hour earlier.

At the finish, some of Darrell’s friends have bought us some Chinese and Thai food (spicy!) and beer.  Great that they did this, but sucky that they don’t have sandwiches or pizza or something after 15 hours of activity.

As soon as I get myself together, we get in the car to drive up and get Darrell’s car.  I make a few wrong turns, but eventually we find the start again.  Darrell thinks he might have been towed, or at a minimum, a parking ticket or fine, but we get up there and absolutely nothing done to his truck.

We drive back down and treat Darrell to dinner at Carl’s Jr.  I ate that Chinese food and wasn’t that hungry to begin with and Darrell isn’t as hungry as he thought, either.

We head back to the room, now just three of us.  Darrell has the room, I have the couch, and Alan, well (sucks for you), the floor.  My shoes stink so badly that I have to leave them outside.  Hope they will be there in the morning!  (They are.)

On our drive back on Sunday morning, Alan and I decide we will look in on the Randsburg Hash event.  (This has been going on after Wild Wild West Marathon for years, but not last year, and previously, I have had other things to do that weekend.)  We make the windy drive into hot Randsburg and most everything is closed and there are only a handful of hashers up there.  Neither of us want to do the run (for obvious reasons) but we each enjoy a beer and celebrate our race completion – 2nd 50 miler for Alan and 25th for me!

Boeing 5K (3) – 2018

April 9, 2018

My 116th consecutive Boeing 5K.

I am having the same issues as last month – having to stop multiple times to regain breath and soreness in my left knee.

My time is 27:11, which is slightly faster than last month, but you could also read it as being basically an identical time.  Hope this is not the new normal.

Boeing 5K (2) – 2018

March 12, 2018

Tried to start up as if I hadn’t just done an ultramarathon 8 days ago, but my knees are still bugging me and I am going out too fast (read:  I have to stop numerous times and re-pace myself).

I have a decent outbound time of 13:03.  This puts me slightly behind Ironboeing Peter Lew and Tim Hickok.  Inbound, however, I slow to 14:19, still finishing under 27:54 (which is 9:00/mile pace), but 7 minutes off my personal best (ravages of age?).

Today is my 115th consecutive Boeing.  My old goal had been to reach 100 consecutive until Peter Lew told me to try and surpass his record of 120.  Getting there, despite all these race postponements and cancellations.

Way Too Cool 50K – 2018

March 3, 2018

I’m back once again in Northern California for Way Too Cool.  In case you haven’t read all my posts, my first ultramarathon was Cool (slightly different course) in 2002, just after my 31st birthday.  Today marks my 15th Cool.  (I missed a couple due to there being a lottery that I didn’t win.)

Since the beginning of the year, I have started to feel some back and knee issues, so I have had to moderate my training and also moderate the way I run (more stiffly is a way I’d describe it).

I drove up on Thursday to stay with my folks in Oakland.  Not only was the drive super rainy, but there was a HUGE accident on 580 between Livermore and Oakland (like it took 90 minutes to drive 3 miles) and that caused even more distress to my legs (being trapped in the car that whole time).

I did get a better start on Saturday (in driving up to Cool).  Last year, I can recall being one of the last people let in to park and being at least a mile down the road from the start.  This year, I was more like 40 cars down from the start, so I didn’t feel bad about walking my shirt and stuff back after picking it up and feeling like I would be wasting energy.

I saw some familiar faces at the start, including Rafael Covarrubias (returning after being a bit burnt out on Ultrarunning), Linda McFadden (from Modesto who I see at a lot of these), and “Tahoe Bob” Gilbert.  Bob is from my original GVH running club and always did a lot of the ultras and over the years got to be a lot better than I did.  He has just returned to ultrarunning after battling lymph node cancer.  Wow, these ultrarunners are strong!

Once again, I am in the second wave, though the waves seem to be a little smaller.  (I think everyone got in through the lottery that wanted to run, so there are maybe 1000 competitors this year rather than 1200.)

Last year, I fairly went all out on the paved portion, but this year I moderate my pace but try and maintain an even pace both uphill and downhill.  The result is that when I get to the trail portion, I am roughly in between the really fast folks and the really slow ones.  This is for the best as I don’t want people tripping me up down the rocky downhills and also want to avoid getting stuck in long lines through the water crossings.

It hasn’t started to rain yet, but I do have my AREC windbreaker on, because rain is definitely threatening.  The course is certainly on the muddy side (but not treacherously muddy) and the usual water crossings are shin to knee deep, but not rushing water.

I do pretty well on the single track portion, somewhat in the front of a long line (better so that I don’t trip) and continue in the front until it widens out somewhat and I can easily pull to the side and keep walking uphill.  There are a few muddy sections here and even moving off the trail to get better traction, I am still slipping on the grass.

Just as we get to the section where we are paralleling the road back to the firehouse at the start, it starts to rain.  I am pretty happy that I kept my windbreaker on (lots of people pulled their outer coats off because they got hot – I figured I could wait for a bit).  It rains pretty substantially, but it didn’t really make the course wetter or muddier than it already was.

As I am coming through the chute at Mile 8, I am cheered on by Anthony Fagundes.  (Cool was HIS first ultramarathon last year, but he is not able to run right now.  Some young fast person’s ailment probably.)  It is nice to hear your name in a sea of runners (where most all are friendly, but no one knows your name).

I come through in 1:40, or about 12:30 per mile.  Already I am feeling some discomfort in my knee, but I can push on in the flat sections and modify my stride to make it work in the uphill and downhill sections.

Next is the section I am somewhat dreading, because it is lots of muddy, rocky, technical downhill.  Downhill is not my strength and also doesn’t feel great on a sore knee.  Lots of the folks who were behind me and struggling on the earlier section are busting by me on this section.  The rain has let up and I can see some rays of sunlight peeking through the clouds, but I don’t think I’ll take off my jacket, yet.

This is a short section (3.1 miles is what my pace sheet says) but after crossing the Highway, there is really only a Port-A-Potty here.  I think they removed one of the aid stations!

So, there is another 4.4 miles on a mostly flat, lightly graveled path along the river.  I am doing some running and some brisk walking.  There is also a bit of sunshine and a bit of hail.  (Yes, hail in the sunshine.)

When the steep uphill section does come, I do my zigzag approach to lessen the strain on my knee.  I think it helps and probably also annoys the people around me, but I am not crashing into them on a definitive path, but moderating to hit the edges when they are not there (I am faster so it’s easier to avoid them.).

According to my watch, I went 7.4 miles in 70 minutes.  Hmm… I don’t think so, so either the map was off or I am secretly running at a 5K pace and I just don’t feel it.  I mean, I am amazing, but not THAT amazing.

Now, there is a lot of single track, hills, and other fun stuff.  My knee is really bugging me, and my feet, too.  Just really sore and I am feeling every rock that seems to puncture my shoe (but I must be descended from the title character in The Princess and the Pea… I think I even stepped on a pea and it was excruciating!).

When I get to the aid station at 21 miles, now my watch says I did 5.5 miles in 2 hours (Hmm… that’s not right either, but I am thinking that I did 13 miles in 3 hours.  That COULD make sense.)

Just as I am descending the hill into the aid station here, an older guy comes tearing down the hill (not a hill to be tearing down unless you are leading the race, and none of us are).  He flies through the air, tries to grab onto a tree for balance, flips off the trail, and rolls down the hill and lands somewhat at my feet.  (Ow.)    By the way, I came down the hill fairly gingerly so as not to do that.

But, I stopped in my tracks, leaned over and helped him to his feet.  Courtesy wins every time here.

From this aid station, it’s now back onto what used to be the old course, with the deep water crossing, lots of winding single track, maybe 20 water crossings (most less than 3 feet across), with the final one being the wooden bridge.

I am dreading this next section as last year, the road was washed out, and we essentially had to climb Goat Hill twice (once to bypass the road and once to climb the actual trail).  Fortunately, it looks like the road is still there, so only one climb of the dreaded Goat Hill.  Sadly, no Helen or Norm Klein at the top, but there are the usual “Burma Shave” signs to annoy me as I get closer and my knee bugs me more and more.

16 years ago, I got here in 5:30 or so, lamenting my worst marathon ever.  And today, I am at 6:30:41, which is certainly not my worst marathon split, but an hour slower a decade-and-a-half later (worst marathon split is around 10 hours, if you’re wondering (in a 35 miler not long after the 5:30 marathon split)).

From the top of Goat Hill, it is some single-track and some double-track, but mostly downhill on treacherous terrain and some of it muddy and some of it running water muddy… and some of it through treacherous running muddy water.  While this is hard on my knees, I really love this section.

When I get to the road, I’ve covered it in 58 minutes (3.6 miles) or a little over 16 minutes a mile.  Now I have a little over an hour to complete the last mile and a half and finish under the 8:30 time limit (ha ha).

I almost never stop at this final aid station because it’s so close to the end (also, they are almost always cleaning up by the time I get there).

I pass a few people on the uphill despite not feeling my best, tromp through all the puddles, talk with a few people doing their first ultramarathon (good choice).

I run into the wind through the mud and finish in 7:50:12, probably my worst finish here, but you know what, a finish is a finish.

No Sufferfest Beer this year, but I did have a glass of SLO beer with a mango taste to it.  Also got my requisite Frog cupcake and minestrone soup and a couple of Subway sandwiches, including a few to eat later in Oakland.

The next day, Sunday, Myrrh and I prepared some of the dishes that we learned in Asia last month while we watched the Oscar telecast with the family.

And then I drove back to Southern California on Monday.

You know, since I have now finished 93 ultramarathons, I wonder if I could time it so that I run my 100th at Way Too Cool next year.  Maybe I’ll make that my plan.

Boeing 5K (1) – 2018

February 12, 2018

First Boeing 5K of the year (due to January getting rained out).  I guess Mother Nature is trying to postpone the inevitable tying (and/or beating) of Peter Lew’s record of 120 consecutive Boeing 5Ks.  I keep getting slower but I am totally the AC Green or Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Boeing 5K (well, almost).

Since today is a holiday, Alan is available to participate and we run part of it together.  I don’t feel particularly great, so when I get overwhelmed in my breathing, I stop to regain breath control, and then go immediately back into my pace.

So, on the one hand, very disappointed to be walking, but on the other hand, running 27:24 (or sub-9:00 minute miles) AND walking is nothing to scoff at.

Avalon 50M – 2018

January 20, 2018

Headed off to Catalina Island for the sixth time to (hopefully) complete the Avalon Island Benefit 50 miler.  Last year, I had a discussion with my Avalon buddy, Kathryn Buchan Varden, that if I do this race every year (if my knees hold up), I will be 55 years old when I get my 15 finishes jacket.  Let’s just worry about number six.

As usual, I see many of my good friends on the boat and end up walking around with many of them until the check-in opens up (and until I can meet up with Tiffany and Walter, who are letting me sleep on their floor).  My friend Chris is staying at a really nice boardwalk hotel and I sit inside with him while they eat complimentary wine and cheese (probably for the best that I am not staying here!).

Check-in goes fine, though it’s sad not to see Avalon 50 Ironman Hal Winton who passed away last year (though this year, he may have had to start at noon on Friday).

I guess the one bit of good news is that the Italian waterfront restaurant has reopened and I join a big table with Chris, Nancy, and a number of my hash friends (most of which are volunteering tomorrow).  I am able to connect with Walter and Tiffany and we make the mile-long hike up to the Holiday Inn (next door to some animated high schoolers on a fishing trip who are unaware that I have to get up in a few hours).

Slept okay and then snuck out around 3:30am to head down to the pier for the 4:00am early start.  Tom O’Hara is down there with his clipboard checking everyone in, including myself and Rob Cimorelli who I met a couple of weeks ago at an AREC trail run that Laura and Chuck put on up to Inspiration Point via Echo Mountain.  He is doing his first 50 miler and running with his good friend Chris.  They are distinguishable because Rob has a short red beard and Chris has a big beard.  Kathryn is also in this group.

It is windy and pretty cold out so I have a jacket on and I am also running with a small string backpack which has Vaseline and my reading book (I do pack light.).

Something different about this year, course-wise, is that they are removing the awful out-and-back section along the isthmus, so to make up for it, they are adding that same distance onto the beginning.  I am told that this is the “original” course.  (Also heard that the original course had an extra out-and-back at the end, too.)

So, instead of immediately heading up the hill towards the Wrigley Gardens and Haypress, we are first taking a 3.5 mile run along the coast, in fact, heading towards the ferry terminal (and more).

At first, I hang back, because I am not a great runner in the dark, but the surface is fairly stable and not too many potholes.  As we get to the far end, I am probably in 3rd or 4th place among the early starters.  My pacing here is similar to my strategy at the now-defunct Palos Verdes Marathon… if you can bank some  time, do it.  (Though to be honest, it was more like 10 minute miles rather than 6 minute miles.)

Once we re-pass the start, then it’s the usual course, heading up the hill past the golf course to the Wrigley Gardens (and I am relegated from first to mid-pack when I walk up the hill to conserve energy).  Kathryn surges to the lead at this point.  The gates are still as yet unlocked, but we do the usual slip-around-the-turnstile tango.

This year, I REALLY know the course and so know definitively that the trail goes to the right at the junction and through the gate (probably only the second time that I didn’t make the wrong turn).

The uphill is pretty relentless as usual and it is still windy and cold, so I am glad that I kept my jacket on (most people pulled theirs off on the flat).  I plan to leave it, my headlamp and “book bag” behind once I get to Little Harbor (and pick it up on the way back).

When I arrive at Haypress, the aid station is pretty well set up (because we ran a good 45 minutes more before arriving).  I am immediately passed by the front-runner from the regular start, running close to twice as fast as I am (about 15 minutes per mile because of the hill at this point).

In the next few miles, I am able to do a very creative ballet of removing my windbreaker and headlamp, and to stuff them in my string backpack, and hold onto my water bottles, without breaking my rapid walking pace.  (In all honesty, I don’t think I save any time by stopping.)

Assorted and sundry folks are surging by me on the hill up to the airport even though I am getting into a better rhythm.  It is nice to be already a half marathon done (1/4) when in the past, I would be only 9 miles in at this point.  Because the hill is less steep, I am able to subtract about a minute per mile off my pace.

Once I get past the airport, the fire-road begins its long downhill stretch.  In a sense, this is good, but in another sense, it is a bit hard on my knees, so I gallop or skip to help with that.  I am basically by myself (with the occasional passes, as I said) and so I sing to myself or come up with some kind of mantra.

Sometimes I make up jokes or talk things through, but for some reason I came up with a tongue-twister, which is “Blue Pole, Loophole.”  I don’t know what got that in my head (maybe I saw a loophole?).

When the downhill ends, then you run by a vineyard (uphill), and sort of rolling hills until the 50K/50M split off.  50K turns to go finish (like another 13 miles) and 50M heads down a series of slopes to get to the Little Harbor Aid Station.  No big puddles this year, but I am always excited to see Sue at the aid station, and to drop off my stuff for a few miles.  It is also here that my friend Selina Nordberg passes me.

Even though I have maintained my net 14:00/mile pace, I try to waste little time and get a move on, since there is a lot of uphill coming up.  It begins with some gentle rolling hills to warm you up and then it just seems relentless, so by the time you get to the top, the downhill into Two Harbors sucks just as much.  (And of course, not only are people passing me from behind, but lots of the front-runners in the race are returning from Two Harbors.)

The second female runner I see is former AREC member Diane Burgin running her first 50 miler (really good runner) and the fourth is my very good hash buddy, Kim Gimenez (who is probably just taking it easy).  Beth isn’t doing the 50 miler this year, which is a bummer.  Always love seeing her.

I also see Kathryn pretty much as I am on the downhill (meaning she is a good hour ahead of me now).  I skip, run, and gallop down the hill, as I am now over halfway (halfway always used to be on the isthmus AFTER the aid station).  On the fun uphill section, I lost that minute per mile, and now I get to turn right around and head right back up the hill.

This is an interesting position from which to see how folks are doing.  If they started early with me, I somewhat recognize them and they are not too far back (and I can see how far back they are based upon my time since leaving the aid station).  You can really tell those that started with the regular start that are struggling because they are REALLY far behind (some people are 90 minutes behind me (45 minutes down and 45 minutes up)) and you know they will struggle to make the cutoffs… and that is why I start early, to try and not stress about that.

The reason why I am focusing so much on the people coming downhill is because there are not a lot of people I am passing (or passing me) on the walk up.  I catch a couple of people (walking past walkers) and surprisingly, at the very top of the hill, I pass Deo Jaravata (a better runner than me) who is really struggling.  I know he will get out of his funk at some point, but just exciting to be “ahead” of him (even though I started early).

As usual, the downhill into Little Harbor feels awful and goes on forever.  I had, however, done a rough timing of the course outbound to give myself an idea of the timing inbound… that really helps to know if you are close or not.

The real good news is that the time differential between GOING to Two Harbors and RETURNING to Little Harbor is only 3 minutes (1:41 versus 1:44) so I can be pretty satisfied with that.

Since my timing seems to be okay (meaning that I am still 20-30 minutes ahead of the actual cutoff and more if you include being able to run on the paved portion of the course outside of the cutoff), I decide I will have time again to participate in a competition and have a mimosa (heavy on the O.J.).  Like last year, I go for the horseshoe throwing (though I wonder if there are fewer participants in the roping contest – better chance to win).  Like last year, I don’t do very well.  I think I got 1.5 points for 3 horseshoes being within a length of hitting the pole.

I regain my string backpack and head off up the hill back to the 50K/50M split point and then head down the hill towards the Middle Gulch section.  I get repassed by some of the uphill walkers when I head down the hill (of course) and have a few talks with some people that are moving approximately the same pace as I am when I can.  The uphill is tough but I know that I am on the homestretch.

This section through Middle Gulch is always hard to deal with because there are no real landmarks and every turn seems to turn you into the same looking landscape.  (I need to look and see on a satellite image how many little bridge crossings there are to give me some incentive.

I do have a nice walk and talk with a young guy named John who is doing his second 50 miler (second Avalon) but I know he gets bored with my pedantic pace.  It is also here that Rob and his bearded friend pass me.

Pretty soon, though, I can hear the twang of the Eagle’s Nest aid station, with its showers, buffalo burgers, (occasionally lobster), and PBR.  I don’t really need a shower, but partake of everything else.  John, Rob, and the Beard are still there, when I do some grab-and-go.

John catches back up to me somewhat amazed at the speed of my aid station stops.  I mean, you wanna stop long enough to refuel but not long enough to rethink being out there or slow up your pace too much.  We mostly stay together or near one another by the ranches, the bald eagle preserve, and up to the Pumphouse Hill Aid Station at Mile 44.  (I am basically walking at this point but maintaining 15 minute miles is excellent.)

Since I still have 6 miles to go, I am doubtful that I can run them in 45 minutes and break 12 hours, but certain that I can do them in under 1:45 and break 13, and the 5:00pm time limit.

We now have 3/4 mile up to the road, which eventually becomes paved, and then another 1-1/4 miles back to Haypress Aid Station (which is pretty much abandoned when we get there).  A tough climb slows my pace to 17:21 per mile, but keeps me right around the 15:20 range overall.

This last section is where I can make up some time if I feel okay.  My feet hurt a bit but I am going back and forth between John, as well as with an early starter guy, Les Martisko.  (Feel that I have to beat him being 73 years old.)  My knees are getting twingy and I don’t really feel like running downhill, so I let both of the guys go and just maintain a fast walk.

However, once I get to the guard gate exit and onto the real roads, I feel a second wind and start to pick it up, and by the time I get to the final big downhill onto the main drag, I am bounding really well and finish in 12:42:10, which is close to my average.

I finish about 30 seconds ahead of John (aka 59:30 BEHIND John) and a minute or so ahead of Les.  Rob and the Beard are another 10 minutes back, and I do hang at the finish line for some time watching the last stragglers come in.

I decide to try and catch the earlier boat ride back and pay the $5 change fee and it turns out that because of inclement weather, there is no fee to change the ticket.  Bonanza!  The ride is a little bit rough, but as in years past, they broadcast the NFL playoff game on the TV screens.

Even better, I have a short wait for the bus ride back and few people on the bus for a nice quiet jaunt back to my condo.

Afterword 1:  About a week prior to the race, I had packed my duffel for a two week trip to Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, because I didn’t know how tired I would be post-race to deal with that.  I ended up getting an extra day because my flight was delayed 20 hours.  Despite being a bit tired, my sister and I estimated we walked 100 miles during the two week trip.

Afterword 2:  In late June, I was doing a hash run with Kim and Beth in Monrovia and Beth said she had something for me.  Turns out, I took third place in the Horseshoe contest.

Carrollton Runners 5K/1M – 2017

December 31, 2017

Last races of the year in Carrollton, TX.  It is loads colder than yesterday, 26 degrees is what the car says AFTER the race.  It was pretty darned miserable.  Can’t catch your breath, and no one wants to hang outside and chat prior to the race.  Everyone is hanging in their cars waiting for the signal.

This event starts with a 1 mile race, decent warm-up, but you don’t want to ruin your 5K by going out too fast.

I start out at the back and work my way up to second place overall with a 7:55 mile.

About 10 minutes later (5 minutes after the last finisher in the miler because no one wants to wait), we start the 5K.  I struggled a little bit and couldn’t stay up with the main group around that 7:55 pace, though I did manage to hold off a 53 year old at the finish and run 26:30, which was also 2nd in my division this time.

Looking forward to returning to temperate California next week (next year).

Plano Pacers 5M – 2017

December 30, 2017

I’m back in Texas again visiting my family for Christmas.

The past week, I did not do much running, because we drove down to San Antonio to watch Stanford in the Alamo Bowl.  Also, it has been super cold here.  Like 20s and 30s, even in San Antonio.

But, I can’t pass up the opportunity to pay $10 to run a 5M and possibly score a medal or trophy in the “fat” category.

I have run this race in the past.  It runs 3/4 around a pond (not frozen this year), out into the woods (on a paved path), under a road crossing, up a steep path (short, though) and parallels a street for about a block, then turns around essentially back the way we came.

For the most part, you have a good idea on where you are in the pack, because you can count when people are coming back.

It’s always extremely fast paced in the beginning because there is a 3K that goes out with us for the first mile or so and they are high-tailing it.  I try and remember to not worry about anyone else but myself.

I am super consistent with my miles and don’t stop to walk, though I feel like it.  The first four miles are 8:21, 8:21, 8:28, and 8:16, and then I throw a 7:39 in at the end, which isn’t quite fast enough to  break 40 minutes, but still good enough to place in my division.

I love when they have the Clydesdale categories because it does give me a real chance.  In my actual age group, I am 10 minutes off of placing, but here I am competing with people of similar weight (but maybe not height).

Boeing 5K (10) – 2017

December 11, 2017

First real run since the Ridgecrest 50K 8 days ago.  Today is a special run because my friend Tim Hickok is being inducted into the Boeing Fun Run Hall of Fame today.  He does deserve it; he actually won the race once (I never did).  A lot of the inductees (myself included) have to do with longevity.  I was inducted several years ago, when I had over 100 runs (the highest total NOT in the HoF).  Today is my 114th CONSECUTIVE run (in a previous post, when I hit 100 consecutive, the record holder told me I should go for his record, which is 120 – I’m pretty close.).

The start was good, considering, but because of the drop in fitness, I slow to a walk on five (!) separate occasions, clocking a 12:45 outbound and 14:01 inbound, or 26:46, which is still a sub-9:00 pace (which is what I run these days).

Ridgecrest High Desert 50K – 2017

December 3, 2017

If it’s the first weekend in December, then it’s Ridgecrest time!  Today is my 8th Ridgecrest 50K.  I had some of my best results here – actual 50K PR in 2004, and last year I did a personal best age grade time.  Besides the Over the Hill Track Club putting on a great event, it’s also a race with temperate hills and temperate weather.

For the past few years, I have been fortunate to be able to stay with my friends Darrell and Megan (who live less than a mile from the start).  I met Darrell and we ran together a few years ago at this race and forged a friendship.  (He also spends a fair amount in Long Beach, but we always seem to miss each other – and no, I’m not hanging out in Ridgecrest at those times.)

Angela was supposed to come up and stay as well, but she is working a race in Laughlin on Saturday and is not sure that she will make it.  I hope that she does not miss out just because she’s a little tired.

So, there’s an extra space for someone and that would be Alan.  We drove up together early afternoon on Saturday and arrived at the church in Ridgecrest where we check in pretty close to when they opened up packet pick-up.  Many of the usual suspects are there including a number of Foothill and Long Beach H3 folks.

One of my good ultra running buddies (we seem to travel in the same circles), Linda Dewees, is helping with check-in, and Karin Usko is selling her Happy Gaiters.  There is the usual nice tech shirt and a lot of available past year shirts and hats to clothe Alan and his family for years to come.

We decided to partake in the pasta feed at the church (the pizza place we always used to go to has had spotty service (new ownership?) the past couple years) to support the church or the high school or something.  It’s a chance to catch up with friends and wait for Darrell and/or Megan to come pick up their bibs, so we can head over to their house.

I have a nice extended talk with the former race director (who took over from Chris Rios) Terry Mitchell.  It was of the ilk that younger people need to step in to keep the races/clubs/running activities going.  I think it helps to have a good system in place, too.

By the time they arrive, Angela has said definitively that she is not coming, but we pretend that we never got that message and send her messages that we will see her in the morning.  I have my usual spot in my sleeping bag on the long couch and am awakened once or twice by the dog and/or cat sitting on me.  (Oh, well.)

In the morning, I feel OK, but I am fairly certain that I cannot duplicate my 6:05 from last year.  My knees and back feel one more year creakier (and not in a good way).  I am just hoping that Alan won’t finish 3 hours ahead of me (and not be able to call his wife because I have the car keys)!

We set off into the cold and as soon as we hit the hills, I don’t do my usual walking, just because it’s a shorter section and it’s probably better to get away from the crowds… so then a mile later, when the downhill starts, I can just relax, though I do a little walking when I get to the road, just because I can walk a little more briskly uphill on paved than on trails.  I get to the first aid in 50 minutes, so about 11 minutes a mile.

I don’t really stop, but make the turn and run as much as I can, kinda alternating between walking and running (isn’t every race that way?) but also using various people that pass me as pacers.

To a certain extent, it works.  The way I can tell that I am doing better is that people who I expect will pass me do not pass me until much later than usual.  I almost got through two aid stations before Yak (aka Ethan) passes me, so either I am doing better, or he is suffering from “aging,” too.

I even impress myself at the Highway Crossing because I was able to run a goodly portion of the washboard section (which is murder on the knees, by the way).

Once the Highway is crossed, the trail veers sort of off the beaten path.   You can see other runners going up a steep hill but it’s away from where you are (I think this adds on needed distance or something.).  It’s at this point that the wind really picks up.  It’s not like a few years ago where dust was swirling but it’s a preventative wind, so therefore, annoying.

Once I get to Gracie’s Mansion (Mile 25.7), it’s abundantly clear that I am not going to be very close to 6 hours this year since I am not at all confident that I can do 5.5 miles in 27 minutes.

What is more pleasing to me, however, is that I see some beers at the aid station.  What could be more pleasing (and full of needed carbohydrates) than beer.  I should tell you that technically, this is my second beer, because I did have a cupful at the previous aid station (maybe what prevented me from doing 6 hours – ha ha).

In this last section, I am joined by Linda Dewees.  The best part about running with her is that she’s endlessly upbeat (in the most delightful way).  We stayed together almost all the way to the final aid station at 29.4 miles.  (She was just leaving as I pulled in.)

The aforementioned past past race director Chris Rios is here (as usual) with his cooler of ice-cold beer.  Since I am not trying to break any records (and feel reasonably assured that Mrs. Sheppard will not get too P.O.’ed) I opt for an entire beer and just enjoy myself.

I enjoy the last mile and a half and even that dreaded trip around the parking lot and finish in 6:50, which is my best 50K time for the year (even including Shadow of the Giants which is at least a mile shorter).

Alan’s been done for less than an hour and Darrell comes in only about 10 minutes later.  We drink some beer, share some beer, and leave the rest of the beer with Darrell (since he has the shortest drive home).

That’s it on the ultras this year – 9 was an awful lot – but I really enjoy the trekking, the trails, and the camaraderie.  A week or so ago, I signed up for 3 ultras for next year (to save $) and all of them are 50 miles or longer, so I have my work cut out for me.