Category Archives: 50K

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.

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Chino Hills 50K – 2017

November 11, 2017

A few weeks earlier, at the AREC Pre-Marathon Awards party, I put all my raffle tickets in for the Chino Hills 50K (you get a certain number of tickets and you put in for one or more drawings for prizes – I only put in for ones I know I might attend).  Surprisingly, I won (or not surprisingly, maybe no one else really likes trail running as much as I do).

Just as a precursor, I should mention that Chino Hills is not one of the places where I like to run.  There isn’t a ton of shade, the ground surface is hard, and there are a lot of hills.  Probably the last time I ran here was a memorial run for my late friend, Hwa-Ja Andrade.  Even for a memorial run, I wasn’t terribly jazzed about running there, but, free is free.

The race is put on another good friend (and similar pace runner) Yen Darcy, so at least I knew that she would have our best interests at heart (despite making us run in this unforgiving landscape).

Alan was running, too, and we made a plan to carpool (but I also suspected he would kick my ass) and also new-ish AREC runner, Janadel Harris, who said that she would just be “jogging” it. (Note:  Maybe not her precise words, but she was nonchalant, almost self-deprecating, when she said it.).

We arrived extra early and got a decent parking spot (not too far a walk from the start/finish).  Check-in was a little chaotic and besides the numbers, there were items on the table you could take (or not).  I ended up just taking the pair of fancy white gloves, a Chino Hills plastic bag, and the included long-sleeved turquoise tech shirt.

There is really only one ingress/egress into Chino Hills Park, so of course, this was the start of the event, across the gravel parking lot, around to the right and up the paved/dirt trail that hugs the edge of the park.  After it began to ascend more than I was comfortable running on, I began to walk and everyone passed me.  I watched Alan and Jan soar off ahead.

I tried to make sure that periodically (if it flattened out), that I would run a little bit to make sure I would stay ahead of the cutoffs (generous, by the way).  The first aid station was 4.5 miles in and I got there in 53:12 (a decent, if a bit “fast” pace).

Then, we turned to the right (a direction I had not run within the park) and it went endlessly uphill.  I set my goals as trying to catch people WAY ahead of me (walking briskly, of course) and I ended up catching a skimpily dressed woman with a cast on one arm (who looked a bit familiar).  Turns out, I had made her acquaintance at some A Better World Running Events.  She was doing this event as a precursor to the Revel Marathon tomorrow!  Thank goodness I was able to pass her!

When we finished climbing the hills (more like rolling hills with an uphill tendency), there was a quick descent on an awkward single track down to Four Corners (a section familiar to me).  Even though I was towards the back, lots of people passed me on this section – the 30K runners who started a bit later.  Bad timing.  I covered this 3 mile section in 47 minutes or about 15:00/mile.

Now for the bulk of the course – the double loop section.  First, a short 2.7 mile section, mostly downhill to the aid station we would hit three times.  I accelerated to a 12:30 mile for this section, knowing I would probably lose the majority of that going forward.

The first loop was the worst, though the good part was being able to see other runners (in our own race) at various stages.  When they were above me, I could see the horrible trail ahead, and when they were below me, I realized that there were still some folks behind me (yay!).  This was definitely the longest gap between aid stations at 6.2 miles (an eternity in any race, but especially on trails) and harder yet as the temperature climbs along with the grade.  Nearly 90 minutes passed (still around 15:00/mile) on this section alone.

The second loop I enjoyed more, but it also had its pros and cons.  There was a brief section on paved road where I was around a number of other people (most in the 30K who turned around just before this aid station).  I was a bit confused and almost turned around with them until I saw the station a little further down the road.

I saw some people coming from a dirt trail to the left (and discovered that would be the inbound trail and I was still heading outbound).

For the opening part of this section, I began on a mesa of sorts by some farm equipment, a bathroom (!), and then worked over to a single-track which gently undulated for a small section, but then it swooped up extremely steeply, to the point where I walked up it sideways (too narrow to zigzag).  When I got to the top (pretty exhausted now, more than 10 miles to go), I looked back to see someone far behind me just spotting the horrible hill.

From the top, a bit of a turnaround and then somewhat paralleling the outbound trail but more downhill and very overgrown with weeds and plants.  I did get passed by one guy on this section, but it was a relief to see another human being after 40 minutes of run/walking by myself.

Also came across some people looking for the Rolling M Ranch.  I had seen signs for it throughout my run, but didn’t want to direct them in the wrong direction.

After all this descent, I felt like I was just about to the road and the aid station, but alas, another turn, another annoying uphill single-track (not as steep) and back up to the aforementioned mesa with a slightly different return path, down a dirt trail and back to the aid station.  4.5 miserable miles in 80 minutes, but at least now I am on the way back to the end.

Now I head back on the paved road, back down to the dirt road, by a whole bunch of people on horseback, and then finally make the right turn to head back to Four Corners.  Only 3 miles this time, but another 50 minutes (slow-going).

Now a “fun” route over the top of the hill (a section I am familiar with; we went up here for Hwa-Ja’s memorial).  I just keep on soldiering on and cover the 3 miles in 63 minutes, but finally I am back onto the outer road and just have 4 miles (mostly) down to the finish.

It’s pretty excruciating.  Not that I don’t enjoy a good downhill, but my feet are really sore and the ground is just rock hard (and lately, my knees have really been bugging me, so downhill feels horrible).  I do some galloping and skipping to ease the difficulty of the downhill (I am a great galloper!).

A lot of the path looks familiar, but then I turn another corner and I don’t feel much closer.  Then I see the turn for the first uphill section, then I see the paved sections.  Less than a mile now, then the left-hand turn into the parking lot and cross the finish line in 7:50:00.

At the finish, my good friends Linda and Jakob Herrmann are there (volunteering, of course).  I did manage to get the last of the food (pulled pork sandwich) and some soda.

“Just Joggin’ Jan” finished in under 5-1/2 hours, and was the second female.  Alan finished in 6:21 and just left with his family (wife and sons drove out a few miles to see him finish).

I wouldn’t recommend this as a great first 50K but it is a tough local course that makes for a good challenge.  Looking forward to Ridgecrest in a month or so for an easier time.

 

Twin Peaks 50K (33M) – 2017

October 14, 2017

Back again for another Twin Peaks 50K.  I got a deep discount because I volunteered all day for the Harding Hustle this summer, but I also like to help out as much as I can for this event as well, which means showing up early to help with the set-up, checking in, and all that fun stuff, before I myself go out and strive for a good result.

Laura and Angela show up fairly early, too.  There are a number of starts for this event:  early 50 milers go out at 5:00am, regular 50 milers off at 6:00am, 50 kilometers off at 7:00am, and 30 kilometers, probably off at 8:00am (I’m not sure, because I am always long gone by now.).

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There were probably 8 early starters on the 50 miler, and Laura and Angela get special consent to leave with the regular 50 miler crowd.  (Good idea, because it’s supposed to be hot today.)

While I am hanging out, I go to adjust my glasses and pull my hat off, forgetting that my headlamp is still on there.  When it falls to the ground, the plastic casing breaks and the light won’t come on any more.  (Thank goodness I’m not in the 50 miler, because I would really need the light.)  (Afterwards, at home, I try to fix it, but it hit so hard that I can’t remove the batteries and once I am finally able to do so, I have to completely break it.  Time for a new headlamp.)

Tsehay and I leave with the regular group and keep hoping beyond hope that the shadows continue to stay over the course (because once they lift, the heat will increase).

If you read previous posts of this event, you will note that I usually walk the entire first 6.5 miles of this section, because there is just so much climbing.  My goal is usually to do sub 2:05.  This is just a time I came up with that’s mildly faster than 20 minutes per mile, and usually around the range that I usually run.

I strike up a conversation with another guy towards the back.  I think this is his first ultramarathon (why’d ya pick such a hard one?) and he says that he does not like uphills… but he will definitely catch me on the downhills… a downhill specialist, he says.  I will keep an eye out for him passing me.

I would like to break 2 hours, but that has yet to happen.  2:03 makes me pretty happy, and when I get to the top, Tsehay is there.  She runs some of the uphill, but she loses a bunch of time at the aid stations, so that’s where I can catch her.

Now over to West Horsethief, which is indicated as fairly flat, but is really about a thousand feet up and down, the up section being very technical (loose gravel or tephra surface).  Four miles, one hour, and I don’t sprain my ankle!

Down West Horsethief is the section I do not like, very technical, makes me nervous.  I set out ahead of Tsehay (gabbing at the aid station) and get through the “easy” part of the trail, though some of it has washed out, making for a precipitous downhill section early on.  (Some runners slide on their butt.)

I just try and maintain a smooth descent and not trip and not bang my head (do both of those several times but moderately).  A number of folks pass me by as downhill isn’t my thing.

By the time Horsethief connects with the trail at the bottom, the sun has really come out and upped the heat, and even when I have a whole fire-trail to myself, I am just modified race walking, moving forward.  4.2 miles, 1:24… an even slower pace than that last extreme uphill/downhill section.

Now onto the dreaded Holy Jim (or Holy! expletive!).  This sucks.

My one advantage this year is that I am so familiar with this trail that I know how many turns, I recognize “checkpoints,” and so I can manage my pace more comfortably.

I may have talked about the dual water bottle situation in the past, where I always carry two, but rarely use both.  One is usually totally full the whole time… but not always.  I have been able to milk one water bottle for an eight-mile section (I guess that means two bottles will get me through 16?), but today?  Too hot for that.

I do end up going through both water bottles in this 4.5 mile section.  I am hoping that the “unmanned” water station will still be here.  Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t, but I could certainly use a refill before the 3 miles to the top.

When I get up to the road, it is water station-mageddon.  There are/were cases and cases of gallon jugs (you know, the boxes with 6 one-gallon jugs inside?).  I have a spare Nuun tablet in one of my water bottle pouches and I drop this into one of the unopened gallon jugs.  I use it to refill both of my water bottles.

Then, I grab one of the bottles that is probably 1/4 full and down the whole thing.  Then I find a completely full box and sit down on it (ahhh) and find another partially filled bottle and drink that.  I was probably there 20 minutes and drank AT LEAST one gallon of water. I must’ve been pretty pretty dehydrated. 2 hours and 16 minutes to this point.  I am excited about doing 20 minute miles on this section (especially when my personal worst one year was 45 minutes per mile).

Tsehay catches up to me here and we set off on the long slog (3 miles, 1600′ climbing) to the summit of Santiago Peak.  It is steep at the beginning, but when it levels off, we are into the sun and out of the shade.  Just keep moving forward is what’s important.  We stay together for a bit but I am a little faster on the uphills.

The first 1.5 miles takes 46 minutes and then onto the steeper section (and more technical) for another 51 minutes.  When I get to the top, a couple of the leaders in the 50 miler are coming up for their second summit (somewhat sad realizing that I am going to run 20 fewer miles and slower than these guys).

I open up my drop bag (in which I have stored spare Nuun, duct tape, and a ice-cold beer).  I have been looking forward to this cold beer for miles now, but don’t hold out a lot of hope that it will still be cold 8 hours later.  Sure enough, it’s warm to the touch.  I have a bottle opener in my water bottle pocket (just useful to have and doesn’t take up much space).

It’s pretty foamy when I open it (maybe the elevation?) and the beer is extremely hot – not room temperature hot, but hot soup hot!  Nevertheless, I am going to drink this well-earned beer.  Neither Angela nor Tsehay are particularly interested.

Time to head down.  I have about 10.5 miles to go, and pretty confident that I am not going to cover the distance in under an hour, so not going to break my PR on this course.  It’s 90% downhill from here, though a lot of it is technical, so it won’t be fast going.  I am also mindful of the “downhill specialist” overtaking me, so I am not going to pussyfoot it.

I take the initial 1.5 miles (to the “parking lot”) easily.  The “downhill specialist” is still on his way up, so I can use this opportunity to stay ahead.  It takes me about half the time (but this does include my beer stop) in 27 minutes.

Now to head down Upper Holy Jim.  This section has its pluses and minuses.  What I like about the trail is that it’s mostly single track and not terribly technical.  What I don’t like is the sections where I have to bend in half to get through, the couple of gravely downhill hairpins, and the “quarter-track” sections where I have to walk single-file, because I cannot fit both feet on the path (my balance isn’t THAT great).  But what I also like is that this covers essentially the same distance as the uphill from (regular) Holy Jim to the “parking lot” and this is WA-A-A-Y easier – 25 minutes versus 46 minutes.

Once I reach the Main Divide (and the radio folks, there’s a little over a mile to get to the top of Indian Truck Trail and the 6.5 miles downhill to the finish.  It’s rolling hills.  I struggle on the ups and shuffle on the downs (’cause my feet hurt now) and it takes me about 20 minutes.  Tsehay is there and chatting and just about to take off for the last stretch.  (She’s the “real” downhill specialist and my only chance to beat her is to leave her chatting there.)

The last stretch isn’t purely downhill (a half-mile uphill stretch about a mile out) but it is pretty endless.  I run when I feel OK and I walk briskly the rest of the time.

The whole way down I spot these carved out hearts in the middle of the road (with a stick, presumably).  I want to preserve for whoever these were carved for, but most encompass the entire fire-road and I’m not going to run off a cliff for something so fleeting (more on this later).

I manage to cross the finish line in 11:16:39, less than 10 minutes behind Tsehay and about 3 hours behind Laura (started early AND beat me by an hour).  Angela’s not far behind us, though she did have that hour head-start.  And the “downhill specialist?”  He finished about 15 minutes behind me, but he said that all he thought about was catching me.  Well, this “uphill specialist” beat ya!

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After I get myself rehydrated and fed, I continue to help out with finishers and with packing stuff up.

As it gets dark, there is some concern about the final straggler in the 50 miler.  His wife has been pacing back and forth at the finish line (she ran the 30K and carved out all those road messages) wondering why he hasn’t finished yet.  It’s the usual, “But he left the last aid station 2 hours ago.”  I can tell you that when I did the 50 miler, it was a haul when you are so tired and even harder in the dark.

When the time limit came and went, we packed up most of everything just to be prepared, but left the finish line up (and the timing’s just on computers).  Suddenly, we spot a headlamp bobbing down the trail – the final finisher.  (Unlike some races, here if the RD lets you continue, you get a finish and a time, even if you are over the limit.)

His wife was beside herself, but couldn’t help asking him if he saw all her little love messages.  His answer, “Nope.  It was pitch black out there and it was all I could do to stay on the road.”

2017 marks 5 total Twin Peaks finishes for me (4 50Ks, 1 50M) and I can still say that this race, this trail, this wilderness is still a total challenge for me.  I would recommend any trail enthusiast to try it but not expect to run your best.

Skyline 50K – 2017

August 6, 2017

Today I am doing my 10th Skyline 50K.  Who knew that when I started doing LONG distance racing that I would have two 50Ks that I would reach double digits on?

As per my usual, I drive up early on Friday morning, even though Skyline is on Sunday.  This, at least, allows me to have a day of recovery from the drive before I do the race.  Mom and Dad are out of town, but I still have Marisa to hang with.

We spend part of Friday hiking the French and Stream trails (not last-minute training, I swear) and the evening watching South Pacific at Woodminster.  (36 years ago, I appeared in South Pacific as Jerome with Piedmont Light Opera Theatre.  Apparently, this production couldn’t get a male youth who could sing so they just had two girls (who can’t really sing anyway).)

On Saturday, I mostly just hung out, did some laundry, etc.

My new (ish) ultra buddy, Alan Sheppard, is going to run the race as well.  We had talked about driving up together, but he ended up doing a road trip with his family and are staying with his wife’s relatives in Alameda.  However, since we have an early start tomorrow, we have co.ordinated for Alan to be dropped off here.  He will spend the night (slumber party!) and then we will drive together to the race in the morning.  His family will probably meet him at the finish line (after they are awake).  I have no illusions that we will run together, since he seems to be much faster without heavy shoes weighing him down.

As with last year, a slightly different course than in the past.  I was a little disappointed last year when we took the suspension bridge route and bypassed it… twice.  It does look like (from the course map) that we are going to go through there again, and I hope that we go across the actual bridge at least once.

A nice drive in the morning and we get a pretty good parking space on the street and walk down and check in.  I see a lot of the usual suspects, like Meg Cheng (neither of us starting early) and just a number of random folks that I see here every year (or random people that recognize me from somewhere).

At the start, I am kinda hoping that they will acknowledge my 10th running, but at least when I was running my 100th marathon or ultra a few years back, they did give me Bib #100.

The opening section is around 2 miles of undulating paved road and I try to maintain a decent pace throughout this section (as I know I will slow off-road).  There is a line when I get to the suspension bridge (which means we’re going over it), a little bit of a bottleneck.  I don’t mind waiting because I get to run over the bouncy bridge.

On the other side, we begin the uphills (the new course from last year that I didn’t really like that much), and I just continue to maintain until the aid station at the top.  Happy with my 12:05 pace, but know that I can’t hope to maintain that pace.

The trail continues to follow the same route as last year, with single track traverses and crossing the road a few times.  I have a few jostling stumbles here (kicking my foot into a few big rocks in the trail) but I do not fall.

Having climbed the big hill, we don’t have the same downhill that used to go by Golf Links Road, nor the ascent on the other side, but sort of top accessing route to Bort Meadow, with some rough-ish single track, through a couple of cattle gates, and up a paved hill to the aid station.  Still maintaining a sub-15:00 pace (aka walking) with a good-sized hill to come.

This section has never changed in the course, basically 1.5 miles of steady uphill, about a mile of steep downhill, and a half mile of medium-flat single track through berry bushes over a minor stream to the road crossing and aid station at Big Bear.  I always take a look at my watch here to see how much time I lose on the way back, when the now-mile uphill is in the sun and I’m a dozen miles more tired.  I’ll see if the 40:29 holds up. (I did have one minor stop just before the aid station to re-adjust the inserts in my shoes, which always seem to slip in my shoes when there is significant downhill.)

Now for the run single-track section.  Lots of up-and-downs, watching my step (and a few stumbles on roots), and working our way up to another paved (in park) section.  Like last year, the course continues until the road ends at the Stream Trail and then follow the dirt trail up, up, up to Skyline Gate.  (I miss the old Ridge Trail route through the fog.)

It is here that I have a big drop off in pace (largely due to the uphill) to about 16:30 per mile… but to a certain extent, we are now on the downhill swing towards the finish.  But note that hills aren’t over and Skyline Gate isn’t the halfway point (but I am psychologically halfway).

We are doing a different route from this point, too.  We used to go about a half mile and then down the French Trail, but we go past this to Tres Sendas, which is a treacherous downhill.  There are a ton of roots and it is STEEP.  I end up not running down the hill, and I slow down even more when the guy just in front of me careens out of control and skids on his knees.  I do stop to help him up.  (I am a human redwood and can easily help people up, though I wonder if he could have just grabbed onto a redwood here.)  He is bloodied but not injured too badly (but if I fall, that may just be it).

We do work our way back to French Trail, which has a lot of climbing and descending.  I am in a long section by myself, wending my way around the hillside, at each moment thinking I am just about on the section that connects to the wider fire-road, but each bend seems to get to another uphill section.

Eventually, I do get to the fire-road, which, as I remember only goes for a half mile or so before veering off onto the single track that will take me back to the Big Bear aid station.  I figure that I won’t see another soul, but a few runners overtake me at a decent rate of speed (each overshot the turn-off – my God, it was so obvious!).  This is another section where you can hear the road but never seem to get any closer.  Despite being mostly downhill, my pace is a sluggish 18:42 per mile.  At least I have some pace to spare to make the 8:30 time limit (and I am now over halfway – 20.2 miles).

Now time to do the big hill in reverse (in the sun) with the hope that I will not lose too much time from the 40 minutes on the way out.  En route to the hill, a number of people pass me, but I pass a few of them back with a steady walking pace up the hill.  I spot a fairly tall lady up ahead of me, but she is doing the same thing I am – using her long legs to quickly walk/run up the hill.  I get back to Bort Meadow in 45:43 (so only a small loss of time).

Now to the revised route back… a bit similar the route I ran in 2002 and 2003, mostly fire roads and lots of long climbs and short descents.  Don’t know if I miss the Honker Bay route, though.  That was always endless (much like the last section I was on).

Midway through this section, I catch up to the tall lady.  She hasn’t really got running clothes on and she isn’t carrying a water bottle… but she does have a Dixie cup that she is sipping from.  She is pretty desperate for water, and I pour her a few cupfuls to tide her over to the next aid station.  (I don’t like to part with my own water, but I always carry two water bottles, and one is a buffer against really struggling, so I rarely dig into the second bottle… I can spare the water.

We chat for a little bit.  This is her first ultra and didn’t really know what to expect (and at the next aid station, one of the volunteers loans her a water bottle to get her through the last section).  She IS going to make it, after all.

Another struggle section for me, with around 18:00/mile, but it really is downhill to the finish and one more span of the suspension bridge.  From this top aid station, there is a significant downhill (almost too steep to run) working down to the bridge… and of course, once I am over the bridge, it is less than 2 miles to the finish.

My knee is bugging me and if I run, I cramp.  Yuck.  So I am basically speed walking on the flats and downhills and regular walking on the uphills.  The good news is that I have over an hour to finish the race, and the bad news is that I am already slower than my time from last year (with 3.6 miles to go).

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I do have a nice shuffle finish and am greeted by Alan and family.  7:53:13, about 45 minutes slower than last year (but I am also a year older).  I will probably be back again for #11.

Shadow of the Giants 50K (29.2M) – 2017

June 3, 2017

Decided to travel up for a third year and run Shadow of the Giants 50K again because it is a nice drive, nice run, and beautiful terrain.  Stephanie Harris accompanied me once again and this time, we brought a parks pass with us so we didn’t have to pay the fee to drive around Yosemite Park (Jessica Centeno was to come with us but got sick at the last moment, but thanks for the pass (and dinner!).).

We did much of what we did last year, which was look at Half Dome (more crowded), and go view Bridalveil Falls (really crowded, but we did get a parking spot where all the wheels of my car were submerged).  We couldn’t even really go up to the Falls because there was so much water coming down.

Instead, we ended up hiking a bit away from the falls, hoping to get a better view.  We kept saying, “We’ll go to the Capitan Bridge, but we never found a Capitan Bridge.”  (Hmm…)

We texted briefly with Laura and Chuck.  Thought they might join us in the park but they may have left too late to do so (and I think, planned to go afterwards).

When we got back to the Outdoor School (the staging area for the race and where we spend the night), Laura and Chuck were just arriving.  We staked out a claim in one of the cabins (don’t see the Japanese folks this year, so maybe no drama) and then headed over to the mess hall for dinner.

I had not paid for dinner but ended up with Jessica C’s dinner ticket.  The cook made two huge lasagnas (one vegetarian, one meat) and both were really good, plus some salad (which I ate a ton of).

They were showing footage of Western States stuff on the screen (something about the guy that DNF’ed (while leading at Mile 99.9) and then coming back and completing the race 10 years later with his son watching.  Then Baz talked about the race and the new race director talked about the course. Nothing special different.

At the dinner, we also saw Megan Stone and Darrell Price (from Ridgecrest).  They are running tomorrow but not staying here (nearby, though).  Tomorrow will be Megan’s first ultramarathon, so we talk the usual strategy (walk hills, drink plenty, etc.).

We go to bed relatively early (say, 9pm) and an older (55) Asian lady in our cabin is talking about starting early with Bill Dickey.  There is an early start at 6am, but they are planning to go out at 5am.  Even though Stephanie would probably be fine starting out with everyone else, it IS easier not to be at the back from the get-go and all the way to the finish.  I guess I’ll find out when they leave whether she went early or EXTRA-early!

I sleep OK, at least not stressfully and dreaming of being punched by some Japanese jerk (like last year).  I am able to roll out of bed and utilize the toilet without having to wait.  When I get back into the room, someone’s alarm is going off (for over 20 minutes).  When Laura gets back from the bathroom, we realize it’s her alarm (what alarm continues to go off for 20 minutes?!?).

We go and hang out in the mess hall awaiting the start.  I see several familiar faces – the aforementioned Megan and Darrell, Rob McNair (Legacy of this race and my buddy from HB), Tricia Keane (LAH3), and Karin Usko (Ridgecrest).  It is pretty seldom now that I go to a race without recognizing at least one person (or someone recognizing me).

Looks like it is going to be a hot day!  I am not concentrating on improving my time (by 1 second last year) but just finishing and not falling and breaking another limb.

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Race starts out and we immediately start climbing the paved road and then onto the dirt road.  Everyone passes me (pretty much) except those like me who are walking.  Running uphill is  not the answer (especially if you’ve started out at 5,000 feet already!), people!

At the top of the hill, the 20K folks veer away (pretty much everyone around me) and we start running downhill to the turnaround, where we are sometimes greeted by Baz.  I finish this 3.3M section in 49:51 (or around 15 minutes per mile).  For an added stat, I am wearing my Garmin and after the fact, it tells me what my fastest per mile pace was on any part of this section (and it says I was doing 5:24/mile at one point – maybe for a nanosecond!).

At the turnaround, we.. turn around and head back up the hill, so I am walking until I get to the top.  I have forgotten how this section goes.  Feel like you get to the top of the original hill and then it flattens out, but really, it continues climbing, and there are endless turns to the aid station (which I have marked as 3 miles away, but it is really 4.6, which is somewhat aggravating).

Because there is so much uphill, I average 15:50 per mile (8:50 fastest pace for another millisecond).

Now it does flatten out and there is a lengthy downhill section, both on paved surface and on somewhat technical surface.  At the bottom of the hill is a campground, and a water crossing.  In the past two years (of drought), this has been a mild crossing, almost possible to get across without getting your shoes wet, but this year it is considerably deeper.

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I arrive about the same time as Laura so we hold hands as we go across (more balance for her as it is waist-deep on her).  It’s super COLD!  At the other side, we are greeted by Baz, who has his usual colorful language (both by mouth and by signage) – something about ladies can cool off if they remove clothing.  His buddy, at the aid station sees me and remembers my high five with Baz at his Bluejay Campground run a few years back.

I spy the back of a truck bed and suggest that Baz can stand on that if he wants to do another high five with me.  (He scoffs at me and lovingly calls me a love-making term.)  This is a short 2 mile section which takes around 30 minutes.

Now we ascend out of the area, the uphill serving as a method of shoe draining.  Laura and I are briefly together, but I forge ahead with the knowledge that she will catch up to me at any time.

At the top of the hill, you head back down for a time, and then turn right onto a fire road and climb until you get to the aid station – a long four miles (again around 15/mile).

Here it is where we turn onto the single-track and into the woods.  I keep going back and forth with a kid in odd running clothing.  It is the sort of back and forth where I catch up and then he takes off.

Eventually, we have some conversation and he is 18 years old and when his mom decided to do this race, he and his siblings wanted to run as well (but only he was allowed to go).  Think this is his first race ever.  And his name is Zenyn, so of course, the two weirdly named guys get along.

It’s nice because neither of us is changing our own pace in order to run with the other; we just catch up, slow down, whatever is needed for our own run, and if we are together, we have a nice talk.

This section is the part where I do have to watch my step particularly, because in the past (and this year is no exception), it is technical and covered with small twigs, low-hanging branches, and varying up- and down-hill sections.

When I enter the soft dirt of the fire road, and pass by a number of parked cars and campers, I know that I am getting close to the next aid station.  This is the longest section, with 5.6 miles between aid.

I catch up to a female runner, Debbie Sexton.  She recognizes me from the Sunmart 50M. (See?)  She is also FB friends with my buddies from Sunmart (Dave, Jerry, and Gary).  We walk/run together for a while, almost until we get to the Shadow of the Giants Aid Station (another ~15 minute/mile section).

This the aid station where you can leave your stuff behind for a mile, if you want, because it is only 1.1 miles for the Shadow of the Giants loop.

I kind of hate this section because it has a lot of up and down, usually a bunch of tourists and seems to take forever, and sure enough, I do have to stop twice for tourists for photos (of the real sequoias, not me).

When I get back (16:49 per mile, see?), the aid station is totally out of water.  To rehydrate in this hot weather, at least I have some pieces of watermelon to keep me sane.  Megan is just coming into the aid station for the first time as I am leaving.

Now I exit out of this section and begin the long slow ascent back to the aid station we encountered before the turn-off into the single-track.  I catch up to an elegant black lady in a pink LASAA shirt named Egzine, but she later passes me when the angle is more to her liking.

Again, this section seems endless (4.6 miles, mostly uphill) but when I hear Russian-sounding music in the distance, I feel like I must be almost there, and I’ve maintained a 15:52/mile pace (pretty consistent on the 14-17/mile pace I have to say).

Now all that remains is 3.6 miles to the finish, with my favorite section (not just because it is at the end) which is single-track, lots of turns, climbing over logs, slipping on pine needles, and crossing a bridge.  It is also mostly downhill and most of the previous finishers will be there to applaud me in when I arrive.

Zenyn and Egzine beat me by two minutes (which is not much in the scheme of things), and I finish in 7:19:55 (about 40 minutes slower than last year), but in running downhill in the last section, I do get my total average time under 15:00/mile (14:57/mile).

Megan comes in about 5 minutes later, followed by Laura 30 minutes later.  Laura had some difficulty because there was no water at the Shadow aid station.  She ended up drinking water from a stream flowing across the road (and by stream, I mean, lightly flowing puddles). Wow, bad.

We wait basically until the last finisher comes across and that is Zenyn’s mom, 90 minutes after me.

I am pretty happy with my time given that I ran at almost identical pace to what I did one month ago at Wild Wild West 50K.  I did run 12 ultras in 12 months, but it does take its toll.

My next race should be Skyline 50K in August (but I am planning to volunteer at Harding Hustle next month).

Wild Wild West 50K – 2017

May 6, 2017

About a week before the race, I got an offer for some (paid) race work.  Somewhat disappointed to turn it down, but excited to run the Wild Wild West race, finally, after having to skip it after breaking my elbow a month prior to this race last year.

I got a clarification on the race work and it turned out that it was going to be the following day, in Santa Clarita, which is somewhat on the way home from WWW.  It was going to be a long weekend.

It worked out for the best, then, that I hadn’t convinced anyone to carpool with me, since I don’t think they would be too keen on sleeping in my car before the race and in a Santa Clarita Mall parking lot.

This race has been going on for some time (this year is the 39th running) and yet, it still felt very fly-by-night to me.  There is little posted on their website about locations of aid stations, intermediate cutoffs, though there is a map.  They also cut off registration 4 days before the race.  I could understand wanting to order the right amount of shirts, but on the other hand, you could tell late registrations that there’s no guarantee of a medal or a t-shirt if you register after a certain date.

I called the Chamber of Commerce (who puts on the race) to try and get more details about the race before I came up.  They weren’t very helpful at all and seemed almost mad that I wanted more details.  The most I got was that a couple of the stream crossings would probably be 4-5 FEET deep because of snowmelt.  I assured them that a 5 foot water crossing would hardly concern me (though other might drown).

I tried to time my drive up on Friday so that I would arrive around the time that bibs were available (and also not hit excessive LA traffic), so I did get in around 4pm (an hour early) and it was pretty hot in Lone Pine, and I kept periodically opening the car door to let some cool air in as I napped for about an hour.

At 5pm, I went inside and picked up my bib and shirt.  Shirt was nothing to write home about, white (maybe technical, not sure).  Maybe you do an event for nearly 40 years, you don’t mess with what works for you.

I opted for their pasta feed, which involved some middle schoolers serving us some spaghetti and salad.  I chatted with various people that I may have met previously, including Karin Usko (from Ridgecrest, maker of Happy Gaiters), the Central American-slash-German gal.

I also saw that David Binder was there along with one of his kids.  We chatted briefly.  He had decided to come up last minute and try to run the race, but registration was already closed and they wouldn’t budge on that, so he was going to volunteer and then maybe spend an extra day doing some recreational stuff with his son.

When I said that I was probably going to drive to the finish and just sleep in my car, he offered to let me share his motel room.  I figured the floor was a better option than the car (having done that a few times before), but I ended up with my own bed and David and his son shared the other bed.

Even though they didn’t have to get up as early as I did, they did go to bed fairly early.  The bus to the start leaves at 4:10am! (for a 5:00am start)

I woke up at 3am, took care of my duties and then drove myself to the bus pick-up, which is a city parking lot on the right-side of Hwy. 395 (the finish will be on the left-side, pretty much across the street).  It is pitch-black and no bus here, but there are other folks here, including Chris Spenker, who is doing either the marathon or the 10M race but opting to get up to the start early (or to just start early).

We sit together on the bus and the conversation is mostly about what to expect.  I have not done this race before but I have done 1 or 2 ultras so have some advice for a guy sitting near me that is running the race with his little brother and fiancee (first ultra for all of them).

The ride is pretty much a straight uphill drive, and then a short drive on a dirt and pothole-filled road – kind of slow-going.  We arrive fairly quickly and are given the option to stay on the bus or head outside.  We stay on the bus for a bit, but can’t wait too long, as we do have about a half-mile walk to the start and don’t want a “running” start.

As I start, my general goal is to finish around 7:30 (which would be 15 minute pace), which is not too bad at elevation, either.

The beginning of the course is on a fire road and uphill, so I am not doing a lot of running, but within a few miles, we are on a single-track in sandy gravel, somewhat precipitous downhill, heading for the first water crossing.  I don’t see any ribbon marking the course around here, but there is a wooden board in the water, so this is probably where we cross.

When you step on the board, it goes under the water, but only a few inches (not waist-deep as promised), but I do have wet shoes.  The path up the other side is not clearly marked, so I do wander a bit off course before I notice people who were behind me on a marked course.

At the first aid station (4.2M), I have managed 14:14 per mile, so I am currently under my goal pace.  Sort of meager pickin’s here – some pretzels, candy, potatoes – I end up having a red vine.

The 10 miler veers off from us and there is some more climbing, and more water crossings.  Some are “risky,” but none are deep, and at least one of them had a metal bridge going across, though part of the bridge was submerged (but only a few inches).  By the next aid station 3.7 miles along the course, we split off from the 50-mile course, which is heading up to Whitney Portal.  I slowed down a bit in this section to an 18:06 pace and just slightly behind the 15:00/mile average.

At this point, we get onto a wide fire-road which is heading downhill pretty significantly.  It’s not too technical, so I can actually run, gallop, and amble down.  It is a long, long downhill.

Now you may be asking why I would comment on how long the downhill was.  No doubt most people would be ecstatic about a long downhill, but so early on, it is a bit of a detriment to my running health in this race.  I don’t want to overextend myself, get my heart-rate too high, or blow out my quads.

Yes, dear reader, there are actually points on the downhill where I am stopping and walking downhill.  It helps me readjust my pace and not go down too fast.  I am back-and-forth with the brothers and fiancee on this section.  I am a pretty good downhill runner (long legs, you know), but just try to run as consistently as possible.

It’s mostly non-technical, though the ground is pretty wet in some sections, somewhat softer, somewhat muddy.

The next aid station is at the bottom of this hill, 4.5 more miles on, and I do an average of 10:47/mile.  (If you read enough of these, that’s fairly fast in an ultra.)  I am back to being under the 15:00/mile threshold.

From this aid station, we are now entering the Alabama Hills (where apparently a number of TV and movies have been filmed).  There is some climbing (not a ton) and then a descent , and then a turn onto a single-track.  A guy just ahead of me misses that turn and has to come back up the hill to turn.  This is the shortest section between aid stations, 2.2 miles and the combo of up and down enables me to do a 13:36 pace through here.

The wind has begun to pick up a bit and I do have to hold onto my hat at points.

Now back to the fire-road, but it is getting sandier by the minute (not that fond of sand), but I’ll take sand over really technical rocky stuff any day.  In the distance, I can see a trailer with radio antennae and an aid station and a number of signs.  I think this must be the split off from the marathon.  Sure enough, that’s the case.  A somewhat slower pace section here (3.2M in 53 minutes) but most of the upcoming trail looks flat, so maybe I’ll be able to jog it.

We head off towards some rock faces.  They look like cliffs, replete with people climbing them, except they are stand=alone, probably a great place for training to rock climb.

Then a left-hand turn away from that section.  It sort of seems like we are meandering around the area of the aid station, but when I see some folks that I haven’t seen since the start, I realize this is going to be a lo-ong loop.

The heat has increased, too, so I am not really running even though it is mostly flat, because I am getting hot.  The next aid station is a mere 2.3 miles off, so I am not going super slow (not uphill pace), but another 13:45/mile section.

Ooh, another left-hand turn… maybe we are heading back to the aid station, but no, back to the right and I can see the incoming trail back to the original aid station (and again, people I haven’t seen for some time).  We actually now go out to a paved road and follow that downhill for at least a half mile.  I can see where I am going for the next aid station, but it is close to enough to “touch,” but no way to jump off the road and into where it is located.

This section seems to go on forever, but I am rewarded by the sight of Dave Binder and his son. The son is doing what I want to be doing soon, which is lounging in a chair.  It is great to see a familiar face and we chat for a little bit, but I need to keep moving if I am to stay under the 15:00/mile pace.

Now it is a short jaunt back to the original aid station.  They seem to be packing up for the day, which is weird, because there are still 50-milers out there and there is another 9 hours left in the time limit.  OK, whatever.  They are still there for me, and I am headed on the homestretch, about 4 miles from here and just about an hour to make the 7:30 time.

It’s fire-road for part of the stretch, but then we move onto a horse-trail single-track that is really substantial “rolling” hills.  I will get something going on the downhill, and that is immediately negated by the ensuing uphill.  Also, the wind picked up markedly and I have to take off my hat or it will blow away (it almost blew off twice, but I have good reflexes).  This continues for about 2 sucky miles until the final aid station next to a giant American flag (waving like crazy).

I bust out into a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as I near and chat it up with the two “elderly” gentlemen manning the station (both are my age but gray-haired).  They have limited aid, but I can taste the finish line, just over 2.5 miles away.

Out of this aid station, steep downhill and out of the wind.  My pedantic pace in the wind and hills gives me just 18 minutes to do 2.5 miles (maybe possible if it was a road race and I was fresh).  Oh, well, at least I will be close to that goal.

I know we are finishing in the park across the street from the bus pick-up (where my car is parked) and I can see the Tuttle Creek Road to my right-hand side.  I thought I had heard in the past that you ran down the road to Hwy. 395, ran a little loop around the street area to make sure you got to 31.1 miles and then finished in the park, but I think they mentioned that we are going to finish through the park (maybe along the road and then into the park?).

There is a brief point when we do get onto the paved road, but I think this is so we can cross a bridge (easier than fording every stream), because immediately after, we go right back into the dirt and then get into a wooded area (by wooded, I mostly mean twigs all over the ground) which wends its way back and forth.

The highlight is an impassable water crossing.  The most direct route is straight through, but you can avoid it entirely and I do that, not wanting to finish in totally soaked shoes (I don’t think anyone went through the water.).

It’s very sudden, but you turn a couple of corners and then pop between a gap in a fence and I’m done.  7:45:45

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There are a few people hanging out here sitting on a small gazebo stage, two people at a timing/result table, and a small food table, which has peanuts, Red Vines, and cookies (basically the same food at the aid stations) – not exactly what I have a hankering for right now.  The medal is a ceramic piece with a hole for a rope or ribbon, but they don’t actually have a rope or ribbon (later, I loop fishing line through it so I can wear it).

My plan, because of the whole working at a race tomorrow, is to try and leave by 7pm and get into Santa Clarita by 10pm (to get a few hours of sleep but not have to hang out in my car for HOURS).  It’s around 1pm now, so why not hang out and watch people finish for a while?

There is one guy sitting in a camp chair (former Ridgecrest RD Chris Rios), so I go across the street and get my chair, and he gives me some of his beer and we hang out and watch people finish.

The first people I recognize are Rafael Covarrubias (formerly of LB, now back home in Tulare) and Thomas Kuerten (a German guy I have met on a few occasions).  They are in the 50 miler and have stories how they got to the Mile 45 aid station and no one was there and there was no signage, but that they knew the course decently enough to find their way to the finish (well, not directly, but close enough – maybe 2 extra miles).

A little later, another guy comes in from the wrong direction, running south on Hwy. 395.  He says he missed a turn, ran back by the Boy Scout aid station (probably Mile 10 on the 50K course) and then ended up on Hwy. 395 at some point.  His GPS says 62 miles, so Chris and I raise a toast to the first (ever) 100K finisher.

No one is really mad, per se, but it is frustrating that a major aid station disappeared with 8+ hours to go in the race. (And I almost feel like the CoC ladies would tell us, you should have run faster, to avoid that problem.)

As it starts to get dusky, I decide to leave for Santa Clarita.  I end up not eating anything (certainly not Red Vines) and have a nice drive back  (not too much traffic, don’t get too lost).  I pull into the Santa Clarita Mall around 10:30, right next to the staging area for the race.

I double-check with a security guard who tells me I am in the right location.  I tell him I will see him in a few hours and nap lightly in my car until my call time of 1:15am.

Turns out, I am working with Stacy Embretson, former AREC member, LA Marathon RD, and ultra-runner herself.  We set up signage in the first six miles, zip-tying vinyl signs to bike racks.  Once runners go through (race starts at 4am), we remove the signs and also remove the kilometer markers until we get passed by the other support vehicle (which turns out to be around 25 kilometers).  It is a very upper-body heavy workout after a very lower-body workout yesterday, but I earned some good money and got a nice hat (and shirt) to boot.

I get home by 10:30am on Sunday and don’t know whether to sleep or what.  (I just watch TV and try to relax.)

Will I run Wild Wild West again in 2018?  Thinking about it, thinking about maybe the 50 miler, especially as 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of this race, but if I had to choose between WWW and Bishop, I would opt for Bishop because it was better run, and a bit more scenic.

Way Too Cool 50K – 2017

March 4, 2017

Drove up to Oakland yesterday and hung with my parents and sister, including going out (sort of for my birthday) to Bay Fung Tong with them.  Maybe the noodle and rice dishes serve as carbo-loading.

This morning, I have an early drive up to Cool.  I have my new car (one year old on Tuesday) instead of the rental and the weather is a bit better (though it did rain the past couple of days and I have heard that there is damage to the course and there may be detours).

I get an earlier start than last year, when I was the 10th to last car to park and had to walk 3/4 of a mile to the start (and then back afterwards).  There is the usual chaos in the parking where people can’t listen to directions.  (They have you drive the entire length of the paved road, turn around at the end and then park facing the exit direction.  There is always someone who tries a three-point turn and holds up the whole situation, because they know better.)  But anyway, I am probably less than a quarter-mile from the start line, so that makes the day a little less stressful.

At the start, I am looking for people I might recognize.  I see a few GVH folks, including Martin Sengo.  I also see Tsehay Villeza from AREC.  Last year, she got pulled from the race even though she was moving well enough to finish under the time limit (so they got her in again).  Also from AREC (though local to the Sacramento area) is Anthony Fagundes.  He is attempting his first 50K, but he has had good success with shorter trail races (the overall winner of all Xterra races he’s run this season).  I hang out a bit with his parents who have driven up to watch him run.

Today my goal is just to finish (I am not really worried about the time limit, but my fitness is not the same as it was last year.).  The importance of finishing is to reach my goal of 14 Way Too Cool finishes, on this the 28th year of competitions (I will have run half of all races.)

The fast pack take off at 8:00am and then the slower field goes off at 8:10am.  I do put myself in the front of this group so that I can get away on the trail before the crowds behind me make me nervous.  (I can get over the roots and rocks better if someone isn’t breathing down my neck.)

I make better time on the road portion and force myself to run the little uphills, though once I get to the trail, I immediately feel the need to walk and get passed by about 20 people before I reach the steeper downhill part.

The trail seems more technical than last year.  I am guessing this is due to heavier rains which expose rocks and roots more readily.  The water crossings don’t seem any more heinous, though, but there is also more standing water on the trail than the past few years.

The last mile before completing the 8-mile loop is super-wet.  It is almost all puddles and super slippery (but I do not fall).  I am happy to finish this section in 95 minutes (11:52/mile pace).

From the Start/Finish at the Cool Firehouse, we now parallel Highway 49 for a bit (this will also be the same stretch for the finish) and then work our way over to the steep, muddy, wet downhill to the crossing before the aid station on the other side of Highway 49.  Lots of people pass me here because I am nervous about falling and do not have supreme confidence on technical downhill trails.

This section is only a 5K and I am not guzzling water, but I do remember an aid station a little past the highway crossing, but… hmm…, there doesn’t seem to be an aid station here.  A port-a-potty, yes, but that generally doesn’t offer the same treats as an aid station.  Hopefully, they have not eliminated too many aid stations because it’s tough to balance water consumption if you have no idea how far you are going.  I do click off a lap on my watch so I can compare with previous years or get an idea on my (mostly) downhill pace (13:07/mile).

After going through the non-aid station, the wide fire-road parallels the American River and is fairly flat and well-graded (with a rash of puddles, of course).  I am alternating between light jogging and brisk walking for most of this section.  It’s less about being tired and more about the upcoming hills that I want to be prepared for.

As we get to the end of the fire-road section and into the more single-track route along the river, it is clear that the trail is pretty much completely washed out.  I can envision what the trail WAS, but now there is no real trail here and we wander out into the riverbed a bit and just sort of stumble through uneven sand and boulders until a semblance of a trail reappears.

A few more tough rolling hills and the next aid station materializes.  The distance was almost as much as the 8 miles on the opening loop but it seems far worse as I am 8 miles less fresh.  I guess my pace based upon what the course map says, though a 10:27/mile pace seems to have been unrealistic at this point (and my GPS says something else).

According to my pace sheet, the next aid station is in 1.5 miles, but again, there is nothing there, so another split that is a bit useless (only for comparing to last year).  The location of the aid stations also don’t exactly match up with the web page, either…

Until I get to ALT (Auburn Lake Trail) at the river crossing.  Finally, what I have and what the website has, and what my GPS states all match up.  Here’s to hoping that the rest of the aid stations are not 6 or 7 miles apart!  These first 21 miles have taken me 4:43 (or 13:24/mile).  This would put me on pace for 6:40, which would be comparable to last year, but I don’t think I am going to maintain that pace on the last few sections, especially not Goat Hill.

The trail crosses the water and then winds around the hillside forever.  In previous years, I count the number of water crossings (anything that has running water and isn’t a puddle).  In a “dry” year, there are about 50 water crossings and today, there are over 80.  Most I can easily step over (though I am cautious so that I don’t slip, fall, and break my elbow).

The key to the end of this trail is a wooden bridge water crossing that takes us to the fire-road.  There is a bit of steep uphill here before turning onto the steeper single-track up to Goat Hill.

But that was BEFORE the trail got washed out.  I can see in the distance that there is a bunch of trees and branches blocking the trail and a turn-off earlier than usual heading up the hill.  This trail is very steep (much like the old Goat Hill trail) and I am really struggling to get up the hill and getting some calf cramps which are not helping.

Alas, absolute torture awaits.  Instead of traversing the hillside and continuing up to Goat Hill Aid Station, we basically are hooking around the obstruction in the most difficult manner possible, and then going back onto the fire-road, DOWN to the fire-road, and THEN going up the Goat Hill trail.  In essence, we are climbing the horrible hill TWICE!  My pace slows to a crawl, both because of cramping and being more out of shape.

The Burma-Shave style signs don’t help my mood.  It would have been nice to warn about this change or come up with something more reasonable.  I don’t think there was any reason to carve out a steep trail.  I would as soon climb over the obstruction than climb that hill twice.

The top of the hill takes me to 26 miles in 6:22 (which is slower than I ran WTC in 2002 and I still have 5 miles to go).  Unless I can cover the last 5 miles in 25 minutes (ha!), I will have a slower time than last year.

From Goat Hill, we now proceed to the (upper) Highway 49 crossing.  This is mostly rolling hills with a net downhill, but VERY wet and several sections that are completely puddles.  On the flatter sections, I am reduced to lots of walking and I seem to go back and forth with an older gentleman (70, I think he said) who is going for his 9th finish (and of course, there are folks going for their 28th finishes).  When I cannot run, he takes off on me and I figure I will not see him again until after I finish.

I get pretty excited once I get to the highway crossing because I know I can muddle through a mile-and-a-half to the finish in under 1 hour, 15 minutes (the 8:30 time limit).  After crossing the road, I don’t stop at the aid station because the end is so close and I would rather have the time to power up the muddy waterfalls that is the trail back up to the trail paralleling Highway 49.

I walk/run for a bit with a gal who finishing her first 50K (doing great, I might add) and then shuffle/jog past a number of slowing competitors and I catch back up to my 70 year-old friend on the last stretch.  We come across the finish together (though he may have started an hour early) and I proclaim that between us we have 23 Way Too Cool finishes!

Tsehay gets her finish (yay!) – knew she could do it.  Anthony beats me by almost 4 hours (he is also 20 years younger), coming in 7th overall, but not placing in his age group! My time is 7:38:26, almost an hour slower than last year.  I’ll attribute it to my lack of running this winter and the incessant rain preventing me from getting out on the trails.

I hope to be back out at Cool next year, and I really hope that they are able to repair some of my favorite trails and eliminate the run-arounds.  I hope they also continue to be sponsored by Sufferfest beer, so I can bring a can home and split with my dad (like I have the past two years).