March 2, 2019
Finally I have come to the running of my 100th ultramarathon. It seems quite crazy that I have done 100. If the races were all marathons, that would be 2,620 miles of runs (but some have been 50, 62, and 100 miles).
When the lottery opened up, I appealed to friends that might be interested in running “with” me. (I certainly don’t expect anyone to slog with me, but enjoy them being there.) I had two takers – Eddie Hahn, my hasher friend who had never done a non-loop ultra; and Alan Sheppard (special thanks to his wife for letting him come). Anthony Fagundes is also here but not because of me.
Also leading up to today, I had done 100 shout-outs to people who I met or helped me during my ultra running career (essentially one a day, but got started a little late, so not 100 separate posts). It’s nice to think back and reflect on all the wonderful people who have supported me over the past 17 years.
Alan drove up with me Friday to Oakland. We tried to get Ed to come with us, but he has one of his kids with him and it’s just not practical to come with us. We have a nice dinner at my sister’s house – a nice homemade lasagna.
Mini E and cake topper
Alan and I left really early Saturday morning (before 5am) to get up to Cool with plenty of time (and not a horrible parking spot – doesn’t matter in the morning, but sucks to limp a mile back to the car afterwards). The weather looks like it’s going to dump lots of rain on us and it’s already rained a lot, so I expect the trails to be super muddy.
We made pretty good time and got an okay parking spot (about a 1/4 mile away). We go to pick up our bibs. I’m expecting to get my usual number in the low 600s (alphabetically assigned), but to my surprise, they gave number 100! (I had sent an e-mail to the RD telling them that I was excited that Cool would be my 100th ultra, but didn’t ask for any special treatment.)
Once we had our numbers, commemorative black WTC buffs and soft green shirts, we head back to the car to drop off our loot and figure out a way for Alan to access his stuff should he finish before me. We then head back to hang by the start line, get some pictures, and prepare to run. Ed has made it and is super chatty about our differences in number of marathons (he has 200) and number of ultras (he has one), and other stuff.
Alan, Ed, me, and Alan (mostly) bundled up.
For the first section of the race, it’s a 8 mile loop away and back to Cool, starting with 1.5 miles of downhill on a paved road (by the car). Alan and Ed stay with me initially and then Alan takes off, leaving me with the talkative Ed. There is a funny moment when he is rambling on about some race story and I slowed up a bit, leaving him to talk to nobody, I thought, but then the gal next to him engaged in the conversation. (With all the single-track coming up, I do need to concentrate a little bit.
As soon as we get off the road, it’s a steep downhill path to the first big water crossing. It’s not really raining hard, but there is a bit of a line to get across because the water is fairly deep. I’m expecting the standard 100+ water crossings and probably 20-25 in the first eight miles. The weather is clearing up a little bit, but the cloud cover is convincing me that I don’t want to spend any time pulling off my windbreaker only to have to put it back on if and when it starts raining.
It’s pretty muddy out here but I am keeping under the necessary pace of 16:00/mile, and I usually do my best in the first section regardless of the water levels. Just as we get back to the Cool Fire Station (probably in the last mile), the rain starts coming down harder (glad I kept my windbreaker on).
Now we head out of Cool, down long muddy switchbacks, heading towards the first Highway 49 crossing. In this second, I am passed by loads of people, because downhill mud running with lots of roots and rocks, and running water, is not my forte. My goal is to finish AND remain upright. Falling is not a good option for me.
After a couple of years of this new course, I finally am not expecting an aid station right after the highway crossing. It’s about 20 minutes further down the road. In this section, I am doing a combination of walking and running. This is less about being tired and more about preparing to summit some of the upcoming hills (and keeping my heart rate lower).
I keep going back and forth with a few people. One person that stands out to me is another tall runner, and Quintin and I spend a few miles walk/jogging and talking with each other. He’s a decade older than I am (and only a few inches shorter). It’s nice to do the distance with someone who has similar stride and a similar ultra running history. (He seems a little crazier than I am.) We do get to a point where he wants to run a little faster (or get away from my rambling) and he ends up finishing 10 minutes ahead of me.
I lose quite a bit of time in the section leading up to A.L.T. Probably the toughest part is one of the water crossings where I try to follow someone crossing (at probably the deepest point) and only later notice flags marking the best way across (focused too deeply on the ground and not tripping, I guess).
The downhill leading to the aid station is EXTREMELY muddy and slippery. I have to take it slowly, but the person right behind me just comes down the hill at full speed, slips, and has to grab onto a small pine tree to keep from overshooting the aid station. Hey, buddy, we still have 10+ miles to go. Don’t hurt yourself!
I am still slightly ahead of pace to finish the race, but don’t want to miss that overall cutoff and get a DNF, so I grab a few food snacks and head out immediately. From my memory banks, this is the section that seems to go on forever and culminates with the Goat Hill climb (which is tough).
First, the big water crossing and then the zigzag of single-track back and forth, up and down, out of the tree cover, and finally across the bridge. At this point, I have counted nearly 100 water crossings and my feet have been wet since Mile 2.
Once you cross the wooden bridge, it’s a short muddy slog uphill to the fire road. I am gratified that they’ve done the repairs to this road so that we don’t climb up to Goat Hill twice like we did one year. Nonetheless, it’s still a tough climb at this stage in the race. At least it’s not muddy; the red dirt seems to absorb more of the rain than the other surfaces.
Unfortunately, the solid surface ends just after the Goat Hill aid station and the endless mud continues on the (mostly) downhill trail on the way back to the second Highway 49 crossing. I want to make up some time on this section but need to take it easy. My sort-of favorite section is here where the trail travels in between blackberry bushes and the trail is always under water. While this seems like a strange favorite, hey, my feet are already wet, and it’s always more interesting for something non-standard (even though this is my 16th time through here).
Now I’m getting close. Certain landmarks stick out to me, like hearing a few cars on the Highway, seeing the quarry, and spotting the aid station tent across the road from a distance. Once I know I’m on the homestretch, I feel much more assured that I can finish under the time limit. I hit Mile 30 in 7:49, which means I have 41 minutes to finish the last 1.4 miles. Pretty sure I have that in me.
I never stop at the last aid station, but do offer my thanks to the volunteers that are there. Now it’s a long slog up a gentle waterfall through mud back into Cool.
As I get to the final two straightaways, it is a muddy mess. It hearkens back to a few years ago where my friend lost her shoe in the last 100 yards of this race. While today it isn’t shoe-sucking, it is extremely slippery and treacherous.
I end up finishing about 16 minutes under the time limit in 8:13:49. Anthony could have run the course twice (and then some) in the time it took me. Alan finished a skosh under 6 hours and Ed finished in 7:02. We have a brief celebration at the finish line, but it’s best to hurry back to Oakland to enjoy a rib dinner and early (birthday) cake with Alan and Marisa’s German chorus homestays.
Alan and I finish off the weekend with a trip to Oakland Chinatown and take out dim sum at Tao Yuen.
Moving forward, ultra-wise, I don’t have milestones to hit, but my plan is not to stop at 100 or cut back in any manner. I have already signed up for Wild Wild West 50M in a couple months and hope to run Skyline 50K again in August and do my 10th High Desert (aka Ridgecrest) 50K in December.
I think I read somewhere that most ultra athletes only do races for about 2 years before getting burned out. I haven’t reached that stage yet, but I am cognizant that I am hitting a bit of a slowdown in terms of pace, and I also realize that to avoid long-lasting injury, I need to embrace this slower pace.
I look forward to getting caught up and doing run posts in real-time (and not a year in the past), and thus be able to tell stories about both the trails and the people I meet during this sport that I have enjoyed for 100 completed races.