Category Archives: 50K

Twin Peaks 50K – 2016

October 15, 2016

Prior to committing to running the North Face Challenge Race in Utah, I committed to volunteering for the Twin Peaks race, as there is no race director I respect more than Jessica DeLine.  She always does her best to put on a great event, tries to get anyone who wants to get to the finish to the finish, and charges a reasonable amount for her events.

However, once I was unable to finish North Face, I still wanted to do an ultra for this time period.  I told Jessica I would like to run the 50K (and I had already volunteered earlier in the year for Harding Hustle and obtained a 50% discount), but that I would also like to volunteer before and after the event.

So, instead of just rolling up a little bit before my start at 7am, I arrived at the start at 4:30am.  I helped to set up EZ-Ups, tables, and then began checking everyone in.  I think I handed out almost every number for the 50M and 50K.

I also helped getting together supplies for the aid stations and loading them, and then I got myself ready to go.  Also joining me at the start line was Tsehay (who I helped convince drop down to the 50K), Jeffrey McKinney and Yen Darcy.  Angela Holder and Laura started earlier (for more time and to beat the heat).  I would prefer to start earlier, too, because I like to avoid the heat, too.

If we flash back to a few years ago, when the race was cancelled and then reinstated, I did a post-dawn start and only made 19 miles before I got severely overheated.

The very first hill is 6.5 miles and 2000’+ climbing.  I know I have to take it really easy.  In the beginning, I am with Yen and Tsehay, but they are actually running up the hill.  I know this course too well to be running up the hill.  If I can get to the top between 1:45 and 2:15, I will be very happy.  (1:54, awesome.)

The next section is the flattest section, with about 1000′ of climbing and 900′ of descent.  This is also the section last year where I severely twisted my ankle, so I just want to move at a respectable pace (anything under an hour for four miles).  (58 minutes, good).  I am still behind Tsehay and have not caught up to Angela (go, Angela!).

Now, the “fun” part.  This is the West Horsethief section.  I am super-familiar with this and can tell you each of the twists and turns.  Although it is significantly downhill, I know that much of it is not that run-able (more so for me because of low-hanging branches), but at least it is downhill.  My 1:16 on this section is considerably slower than the last hillier section but I make it through safely.

If you compare  my times on these first three sections to how I ran the first three sections last year, I have picked up a bit of time and am about one hour net gain at this point.

On the beginning part of Holy Jim, which is “relatively” flat, I do finally catch up with Tsehay.  She is so surprised about the difficulty of the downhill section of W. Horsethief.  She thought she would pick up all sorts of time running down the hill, but it was quite the opposite.

I told her she would have a very special celebration when she finishes the race (which is really 32.5 miles and not 31.0), because 2016 marks 32 years in the USA.  She really liked that idea.

So, now to the tough part of Holy Jim.  Three years ago, it took me 3:07 to do the 4.5 miles.  Stand alone, I have completed this section in under 2 hours.  Today, I do 1:53, but on the last scramble up to the road, I am pretty tired, and not at all ready for the next 3 miles.

I hear a familiar voice.  “C’mon, Emmett, I’m waiting for you.”  I don’t think Angela was very pleased with the expletives that ensued from my mouth, but I was in a bad mood and didn’t need encouragement.  I just wanted to get through it.  I sat down on the water bottles, drank a bunch of water, refilled my bottles and endured flies dive bombing me.  I was in the shade and they don’t venture as much into the sun, but I wasn’t about to sit in the sun.

Now, up the endless 3 miles to the summit of Santiago Peak, almost all in the sun, and almost all steep and steeper on difficult terrain.  One hour, 37 minutes.  A loss of about 10 minutes over my time last year.  (Net gain, though.)  We did get to see Laura briefly, but she is way ahead of us (because she is faster and started early).

Angela and I are still sticking together and encouraging one another.  She is going faster than I am down Upper Holy Jim, but the downhill single-track is not my greatest skill.  Still, I do better on the 3 mile section downhill than uphill (54 minutes versus 97).

On the last 6.5 miles, Angela and I mostly stay together.  I do wait with her while she takes a potty break (can’t believe they didn’t cart a port-a-potty right up to where she needed it mid-course), but after a while, her pace is a bit too slow for me, and I take off on my own.  (I do have a chance to improve upon my best course time from 4 years ago, if I press my pace a bit.)

My final time ends up being a bit slower than my up pace (surprisingly) – 1:59 – to finish in 10:34, only 10 minutes slower than my best.  (I know 10 minutes sounds like a lot, but it’s 20 seconds/mile.)

Once I am a bit more recovered, I head back a bit to meet Angela and “shepherd” her in.  I grab her hand and run in with her.  It’s a really nice moment.

For the next couple hours, I assist finishers with food and drinks, and I perform some gopher duties.  One of the most exciting moments was the finish of Randall Tolosa, who gets his first finish after 5 tries (and he didn’t start early).

Once the last finisher comes through and the drop bags come down, now I start helping with the packing up of everything – dismantling EZ-ups, tables, packing up food, etc.  As a treat, I get one of the In-N-Out Burgers they bought for the volunteers.  Even though it’s cold, it’s really good.

I get home at about midnight, so I had almost a 24-hour day.

Looking forward to next year’s event, whether I run it, volunteer at it, or both.

Skyline 50K – 2016

August 7, 2016

The race is back to Sunday again.  I liked last year when the race was on Saturday.  On the one hand, I had to run the day after I drove up, but conversely, I had a day to recover and hang out with my family on the way back.

Then again, Mom and Dad aren’t around this weekend because of Dad’s HS reunion this weekend in Southern California.  I suspect that we are passing each other in Central California.  I did, however, get to have a nice BFT dinner with my sister Marisa and our friend Shauna and watched some of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (though not exactly conducive to getting a good night’s sleep before a long race).

The course this year is a bit different, having to do with some construction going on around the dam area (dam it), so we will start out in the same direction as at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50M and work our way over to Bort Meadow from a different direction.  On the map, you cannot really tell how different it will be or if it will be tougher, but if we are heading in the direction that the original Skyline Course used to end, there are some dramatic uphills that I don’t necessarily want to tackle.

For the past few years, starting with Skyline 50K 2013, I create a laminated pace sheet to carry with me and on the back side, I do some kind of dedication (starting with an inspiration to my HS friend, Brian Kelly, who unfortunately died at 42 the day before the race).  Last year, Skyline was my 100th marathon or ultra (27 mararathons, 73 ultras) so I dedicated it to the 10 people who most influenced me getting into running.

Today, I am at a different milestone – my 80th ultramarathon, so I have decided to dedicate it to eight people I met while running ultras that made a difference in my life.  (See attached PDF for the pictures.)skylinepace16

First is Ken Michal.  I met him as we passed in the dark during the Santa Barbara 100M/100K.  Later, I learned he had spent 8 hours in a port-a-pottie because the aid station blew off the mountain and it was the warmest spot available.  We have since met at many other events, and he is a pretty amazing (All Day!) athlete.

Next is Amy Dodson, who I first met at American River 50M in 2010.  She had a lung and leg removed as a teenager, so she is hard to miss.  I thought she was another one-legged athlete, Amy Palmeiro-Winters, who had run the North Face Challenge a year prior, and when I asked her if her name was Amy, who knew that there was more than one Amy with a prosthetic leg running an ultra?  We ran a few miles together, but our real great experience was at Miwok the following year when we ran together for several hours.  I received the “brunt” of good wishes as fellow competitors cheered us (her mostly) on.

Next, a pair together, Dave McCaghren and Jerry Hollingsworth, who I met perchance at the Sunmart 50M pre-race dinner.  Pretty much I sat down at a lonely table because I didn’t really know anyone from the Texas location of the race.  We ended up on the same race shuttle to, and from the race, had cocktails at the hotel post-race, and ended up breakfasting the next morning, too.  A few years later, I stayed with Jerry and a friend the night before my first (and so far, only) 100 miler, the Rocky Raccoon.

At the Santa Barbara 100M (attempt #2 where the race didn’t actually get cancelled), I got lost and then fell apart by Mile 29 (though more than 30 miles for me at that point).  When I got back to the finish (to then help out and cheer people in), I met a guy from Long Beach (that I never knew before) who had some ultra experience (including Barkley).  I haven’t (yet) given into some of his insanity, but he (and dog Lacey) were invaluable in pacing me at Twin Peaks 50M last year (my first and only pacer to date).

A few years ago at Skyline, I ran a few miles with another early starter.  She was no slow runner, just starting early because her friend was.  We are not really alike and follow different tracks in life, but I have always enjoying running and talking with her (and reading about her various trail and ultra adventures).  Meg Deverin Cheng and I met up again at the start (and finish) line today.

Two years ago, at the High Desert 50K in Ridgecrest, I ran cumulatively a few hours with Darrell Price, ten years my junior and local to Ridgecrest (and occasionally works in Long Beach, too).  Both of us are big guys (I’m taller, naturally.) so we had that to commiserate about.  Last year, I stayed with him at his house less than a mile from the Start Line, and hope to do so again this year.

Finally, Laurin Miertschin, who I met at Twin Peaks 50M my first year.  Both of us ended up doing the 50K drop down.  She has also ventured out on my hash events, and convinced me to run a number of tough local races.  I hope she gets back out there soon since she seems to be injured a lot these days.

Besides, my eight ultrabuddies motivating me to do well, I did a countdown of my 8th most favorite ultramarathons and the 8th hardest ones.  (If you are on FB, you can revisit my posts from July 29 to August 6th.)

Something different that I am doing today is wearing my GPS watch to both see where I am on the course and also, it shows me my best pace on each section.  I always have a vague idea of where I am on the course, but I also enjoy knowing EXACTLY where I am at.

The race starts out on time and they recognize the folks who have done 10+ Skylines.  This year is my 9th.  Hoping for some special giveaway next year.

As mentioned above, the course is different and we are heading towards the suspension bridge.  I wonder if it will be crowded when we get there as for Dick Collins I had to wait 2-3 minutes to cross, so I hung back a bit… but when I get there, we go, not over the bridge, but around it.  That’s kind of disappointing.  I hope to cross it en route to the finish, just because I feel like that makes the whole race for me.

After the bridge, we go to the right (in the final miles, we come from the left) and begin heading up a fairly steep road.  I have to walk this.  At the first aid station (a mere 5K from the start), I’ve done 38:37, so a pretty slow start.  GPS says that my fastest pace was 6:30 (probably a short downhill stretch).

The course continues paralleling a paved road, and crossing it a couple times.  After about 3 miles, the terrain becomes familiar and I know I am on the path to Bort Meadows.  I don’t like the trail leading there, because it is single-track and rutted, which is not great to run on.  At least it is still overcast.  Four miles more, 50-odd minutes, a much better average pace.  If I want to break 7 hours, I will need to get a better pace in soon.

From Bort to Big Bear (basically the Fish Ranch Road crossing) is around 3 miles, a mile-and-a-half of gentle uphill and a mile-and-a-half of decently steep downhill.  I am always reminded that we have to do this in reverse.  Another 38 minutes here (but that does include stopping just before the aid station to put my inserts facing forward again (they slip because my shoes don’t fit perfectly)).

Once I cross Fish Ranch Road, it’s a bunch of single-track, uphill, mostly familiar trail, but then we do take a slightly different route to get up to Skyline Gate, a more circuitous route.  It just makes the long uphill suck more.  Four more miles, 63 minutes.  It’s looking less likely that I can break 7 hours.  Yes, my total time is 3:11 and I am just about halfway there, but I know there are some sections ahead where I will definitely lose more time.

Marisa and Shauna meet me at Skyline Gate and I convince them to at least walk with me to the French Trail turn-off.  It’s nice having some familiar company.

French Trail is a steep downhill and there were a bunch of people hiking on it.  This is my best chance to make up a little bit of time, before I lose a bunch of time later (as my feet hurt more and more as the event goes on – last year, I wore the better cushioned Hokas, this year, the shoes aren’t as soft).

Unfortunately, it isn’t ALL downhill, and on the really steep uphill, I got a bit gassed out and then my feet started to hurt more than usual.  (Might be a recurrence of my plantar fasciitis.)  According to the GPS, 5.7 miles in 100 minutes (so not really picking up any time).

Now, I have the 3 mile segment, in reverse, with the steep uphill and the gentle downhill.  I am struggling more than usual on the uphill portion.  Typically, my times in either direction are comparable (within 5 minutes of each other), but I was 10 minutes off in the reverse direction.  Even on the downhill, I don’t feel like running.

From Bort Meadows, I now have over 5 miles to Honker Bay, and if I remember this section correctly, it seems like a whole lot more than 5 miles.  You essentially parallel some of the earlier trail and then there are a number of long switchbacks uphill and then a slight drop, and then more and more uphill.  I know that when I get to the treeline, well, I’m not getting any closer.  Feels closer, but never is exactly.

I am watching my GPS overall time, and at this point, I am just hoping to get to Honker Bay in under 7 hours… but officially, 7:00:09.

Now there is about 2.3 miles to the finish, and hopefully I get to have the soothing bounce of the suspension bridge to carry me through to the end.  Now I am in the sun of the day and my feet are really sore.  I am just trying to get through the last bit.  (I mean, I WILL, but it is a struggle.)

When I get to the bridge, it is disappointing that we are going around it again; I will talk to the race director.  We should be going across it at least once… that’s the best part that I look forward to.

Once across the bridge, it is paved to the finish.  I try and walk briskly on the uphills and flats and shuffle/soar on the downhill sections.  I am able to pass a few stragglers in this part, and get to the finish in 7:46:38.  Definitely one of my slowest times, though, given that it was a different course, it is a personal best on this particular course!

I can’t hang out very long at the finish line as I need to drive back to Southern California afterwards (stopping first to shower and pack up at my folks’).

Looking forward to at least 20 more ultras and to reach 100!

 

 

 

 

Shadow of the Giants 50K – 2016

June 11, 2016

Two months and two days ago, I had emergency surgery on my left elbow.  Just before I went into surgery, I talked with the Trauma Surgeon, Dr. Tran.  He had done an Ironman Triathlon, so understood about the long training runs (but I had yet to convince him to run an ultramarathon).  He asked me what my next big run was and I said that I hoped to do Shadow of the Giants 50K in two months time.  He said that with the proper recovery I would probably have no problem being able to run the race.

Flash forward to two months and one day later, and Stephanie Harris and I are driving up from Long Beach to Fish Camp.  In the car we talked about the possibility of staying an extra day and driving around Yosemite (since Stephanie had never been).  I said that I was not interested, mostly because I had said that I would try to attend my friend’s 70th birthday party on Saturday evening.  (If we went to Yosemite, I wouldn’t get back in time.)  Maybe another trip.

We got up to Fish Camp a bit early.  It’s not a big town, so there isn’t a lot to do to pass the time, and once we got to the Outdoor School/Race Start, it would just be reading, napping, and eventually sleeping.  We picked up our bibs and then decided what we would do next. Stephanie suggested that we drive into Yosemite and that she would buy me dinner.  I didn’t have a ton of gas in the car (and didn’t really want to pay the exorbitant prices within the park) but enough that we could probably see a few sites (it had been nearly 20 years since I had camped in the park with my college friends Kevin, Cecilia, and Josh just before I moved to Southern California).

She paid the entrance fee (and noted that it was good for a whole week) and coasted down into the park (saved gas).  We stopped by a vista point to look at Bridal Veil Falls.  Wow.  What a beautiful time of day.  It was a little busy because some TV cameras were there talking about President Obama flying in to survey the park later in the month (and if it would be disruptive (Yeah, I think so.)).  We were nearly hit by a car going about 20 miles per hour over the speed limit (who zooms through Yosemite?), but my new car has great brakes!

We drove down a little further, and climbed up a path at the base of Bridal Veil Falls.  Wet, but beautiful.

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We tried to figure out where the old Ahwahnee Hotel was.  The hotel is still there, but after a dispute with the old food vendor over trademarked names, the park renamed all the buildings, even though they had had the same names for 50+ years.  So, the result for us was that we didn’t know if the Yosemite Lodge was what we were looking for.  (Still not sure.)

Since we didn’t find what we wanted, I decided that we should drive back towards the entrance before it got too late (or dark), but we got caught up in a long line of cars trying to check in to their campsites, and we moved about one mile in 40 minutes.  So frustrating.

There wasn’t much to stop at where we could eat on the route back, except for the General Store about five miles from the exit.  We ended up getting cold sandwiches, plus Stephanie got some souvenirs for friends.

By the time we exited the park, it was getting dusky, so best for us to return to the Outdoor School in Fish Camp, find some bunk beds and get some sleep.

We found a nice cabin and got all settled.  I had planned to read (using my headlamp) regardless if the lights were on or off.  The lights ended up being on and off quite a bit, the primary offenders being a group of Japanese-American runners who didn’t seem to understand why the people trying to sleep in the dark would be upset with the lights coming on.  They mostly countered with, “We were here first, so we should determine when everyone goes to sleep.”  I guess, if you lack any common courtesy.

On perhaps the third time this happened, I said something like, “We’ve asked you about 20 times to not turn the lights on.”  Now while I am not an 8:30pm asleep kind of person, I try to stay with what the crowd wants.  (Back in 2011, at Javelina Jundred, my roommates went to bed at 7:00pm, so I went down to the hotel TV room and stayed there until I was ready to go to bed, rather than insisting that they follow MY sleep patterns.)

The “leader” of this group became quite irate with me (and the others in the cabin who agreed with me) and wanted us to get out of our sleeping bags and engage in fisticuffs with him.  Seriously?  He wanted us all thrown out.  We are ALL here for a race.  Why are you being such an a**hole?  I suggested he get the race director, my buddy Baz Hawley, to settle the situation.

So, Baz comes into the cabin (the light having been on this entire time with antagonistic Japanese ladies glaring at us) and tries to quell the situation.  The ringleader is being pretty unreasonable.  Baz offers a separate cabin for them to stay up as late as they want, and he keeps insisting that the rest of us move (because, remember, they were there first!).  Finally, they agree to move and start loudly getting their stuff out of the cabin.

I’m glad Baz did this.  I didn’t want to get into a fight over sleeping arrangements.  He and I have had a good rapport, and a funny memory from the 21K at Blue Jay Campground earlier this year.  He did a shortcut about a mile out from the start so he could high-five all the runners as they went by.  I offered a really high-five (so high he couldn’t jump up and hit it).  It was a funny moment between us.

So, as Baz leaves, I say to him, “High-five, Baz, high-five.”  The lead Japanese guy stops, turns to me, and says, “Had to have the last word, did you?”  Dude, I wasn’t even talking to you.  I’m talking to my buddy, Baz.

Finally, the lights go out, but it is a struggle for me to get to sleep now, because my adrenaline is thrumming, and I cannot relax.  Probably, I got 2-3 hours of real sleep, if that.

In the morning, the plan is for Stephanie to take the one hour early start, even though I do not think she will need it (but it helps for confidence to make the aid stations and not be stressed out about cutoffs).  A couple other gals in our cabin are also taking the early start so they can look out for each other.  The Japanese folks are milling around the mess hall area, still glaring at me, but I don’t really care.  I’m running my own race.

After Stephanie starts and I am waiting for my own start, I run into Rob McNair, from Huntington Beach, who I occasionally see at some ultras.  He has run every single Shadow of the Giants (30+) and even won some of them.  I always find the Legacy runners pretty cool.  We chatted about the previous night’s situation.  He was in the other cabin, but it was pretty loud, so everybody heard everything.

Baz made his usual ribald announcements and the bit (that I hate) where they make sure that everyone checked in and have their numbers and are on the course (why, why, why, do you not check in the 12 times they mentioned it prior to heading outside?).  I stand at the back, because I know once we get going, I’m not going to be running up to the front.

The course is familiar (because I ran it last year), but for some reason, I am really struggling with the elevation for the first 7 to 10 miles.  The hardest part was looking at my pace sheet and wondering WHY I am going so slowly?  Particularly hard was the opening out-and-back section, with the technical downhill and the lo-o-ng climb out of that.  I did see the same guy I ran with for a bit last year (with the wings tattoo across his back).

When I got to the water crossing (a little more substantive this year – feet had to get wet), I passed a couple of the Japanese ladies who left our cabin with the rest of our group.  Of course, when I passed them, I said, “Looking good, good job, keep up the good work,” because I had already let the situation go, and I would rather be encouraging than rude.  Hope they smiled back.

My second favorite section is from Mile 8.7 to 13.4, where we start out on a shady fire-road and then peel off into the single track that roams around all of the great sequoias (including the huge Grandfather tree).  I got on to this section just behind 3 or 4 gals all going together.  A couple of them struggled with the uphills and after a time, I achieved some separation from them.  This is when I got onto the technical downhill (not as much rocky as woody and rocky).  I was nervous about any technical downhill, because I didn’t want to reinjure my elbow with a fall.

Once I get out of this section, it’s a smooth fire-road through a camping area and a half mile or so to the Shadow of the Giants (a one-mile loop through trees).  I don’t like this section because the mile goes by so slowly, and usually there are also a number of sightseers (slightly) blocking the path.  I ran most of the section and it still took me 19 minutes.

From here, it’s the section that I walk 90%, because it is slightly uphill, and I can walk briskly faster than I can run.  What I like is that no one passes me on this section, and I can see myself getting closer to some people who are jogging or walking ahead of me.  The BEST part is that I have covered over 20 miles and still haven’t caught up to Stephanie (at Ridgecrest 50K, I caught the ladies after 10 miles).  Maybe I won’t catch her!

However, just after I turn off onto a steeper section (which will hook back to where the trail veered off into the single-track), I do catch up with Stephanie.  She is pretty proud, too, because she stayed ahead of me so long.  We will come in pretty close together, because there are probably 6 miles or so to go.  Once I pass Stephanie, I don’t see a lot of other runners.  Good ol’ no-man’s-land.

Once I begin the first bit of downhill heading towards the finish, I lose motivation to keep running (feet hurt, I’m well ahead of the cutoff, so no worries) and just walk briskly down the hill.

I am caught up by a tall guy and a short gal (in rapt conversation).  I slightly insert myself into the situation and we have a nice conversation about languages.  The tall guy is a few years younger than me and originally from Hungary with the common name of Csaba.  (While I never heard the name before, when I tried to find him on Facebook, man, there were a lot of Csabas!)  The short gal was 10 years older than me (but looked 10 years younger) was Iranian and a friend of Tam Premsrirath (and had started with the early group).

The three of stayed together until almost the final mile, and then they both slowed down through the wooded section just before the bridge crossing and the finish line.  I felt good and came in at 6:38:44.  I couldn’t remember my time from last year, but I thought I was within 10 minutes of the time, and I was well satisfied with that, given that I was only two months out from elbow surgery.

Stephanie came in 30 minutes later in 8:04:04.  With adjusting for the actual distance (29.2 rather than 31.0), her 50K time was improved by 20+ minutes.

Both of us took advantage of the showers at the finish and were well ready to head back to Long Beach not long after.  Stephanie said to me in the car that she was happy we sightsaw yesterday because she was super-sleepy in the car on the way back.

Even with an emergency bathroom stop at a gas station near LAX, we were able to get back to Long Beach and I was able to get to the 70th birthday party (and not just make a token appearance in the last five minutes).

When I got home, I double-checked my time from 2015, and discovered that my 2016 time was one second FASTER!  What a nice surprise.

A few weeks later, I had my final appointment with Dr. Tran and I reproduced a copy of my pace sheet, on which I dedicated my race to him, Dr. Glidewell (the Orthopaedic Surgeon), and Julie Oyanguren, my Occupational Therapist (who helped me with the rehab).  I didn’t have a good picture FROM the race, so when Laura, Chuck, and I did the Monrovia Truck Trail, I wore my bib to get a good action shot.

One of the nurses briefly interrupted Dr. Glidewell’s consult so we could talk (since none of my follow-ups had been with her) so I could hand her a laminated picture of thanks.  Probably not a lot of ultra-runners doing a tribute to their surgeons.  Both she and Dr. Tran really liked it.

This race also marked the final RD job of Baz Hawley.  One gal is taking over his Winter Trail Run Series and another is taking over this race.  I hope that both can continue to put on good trail events in the same spirit with which Baz always infuses them.

Way Too Cool 50K – 2016

March 5, 2016

Last week I tried to do some car shopping (or least car comparisons). I think I have narrowed it down to five car models – Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Altima, Kia Optima, and Hyundai Sonata.

First, I walked to the (now moved) Traffic Circle Toyota.  I had a heck of time getting someone to show me cars.  I got to sit in two types of Priuses, but no offer of a test drive was to be had.

From there, I walked to Signal Hill to find the sister Hooman Nissan place, but I got turned around and never found it.  Long walk for nothing.  Though… I did get a pizza slice at Costco.

Once I picked up a rental car on Monday, I decided to drive over to Cerritos Auto Square and see if I could look at and/or drive some of the models I was interested in.

Once I found a salesman at the Kia place, we got in for a test drive, no questions asked, only requested my driver’s license to make sure I was licensed.  I liked the Kia Optima.  It has 45″ of driver leg space, which is important to an ultra tall, ultra runner.

I walked down to the Nissan place, which apparently had no main office and had a hard time finding someone to talk to me (hanging out by cars didn’t help).  After I had to fill out a bunch of forms, we went for a test drive.  The roominess was OK, and the salesman wanted me to make a decision on the spot.  I said I would get back to him (he pestered me by phone for 2 months afterwards even after I told him NOT to call me).

Finally, I went to the Hyundai shop.  They didn’t have any models I could drive, but I did sit in the cheapest model of the Sonata.  It was OK, but nothing special.

So, my mom said, “Come up a day early, and I will go shopping/test driving with you.”  I think that would help.

Meanwhile, I was getting used to and enjoying the Chevy Malibu rental, which had pretty decent leg room, and a weird feature where the engine would shut off on a complete stop (and restart when you took your foot off the brake).  It was getting about 30-35 mpg on the drive up to Northern California, so I was happy about that as well.

In the afternoon on Thursday, Mom and I went down to each of the four car dealerships that matched the models I was interested in.

At the Toyota place on Broadway, the salesman was very helpful, although none of the models had working batteries, so seats couldn’t really be adjusted, and in both Toyota cases, I found the cars to be a little on the tight side (though similar to my former car situation).

At the Nissan dealership, we sat in a few cars, and I didn’t really like any of them, and no one came to talk to us.  Guess they were not really interested in selling cars.

The Kia dealership was dark, but then we found the actual location across the street.  A portly, but very knowledgeable Black salesman got me into a Kia Optima (with mom in the backseat), gave me all the features, explained the difference between Kia and Hyundai (not a lot), and I was fairly poised to purchase that model of car (but I will wait until I am back in So. Cal.).

As a whim, we went over to the Hyundai dealership, which was just about to close, but a nice salesman took me around and seated me in several versions of the Hyundai Sonata, and said that he was also the TrueCar representative and that they wouldn’t dick around with the price.

So, I think when I get back, I will select one of these two models.  (More on this for my birthday post in a few days.)

On Friday, I mostly rested and went for birthday dinner at Bay Fung Tong with the family.

I tried to sleep well on Friday, because I have to leave by 5:00am to have time to park, get my number, etc., tomorrow morning.  Also, it is forecast to rain, so that could cause some havoc on the roads.

Unfortunately, I woke up at 4:45am, giving myself little time to get myself all ready.  Putting on my running clothes is one thing, but using the toilet, maybe eating something small and waking myself up enough to drive safely is another.

It was raining lightly when I left.  Even though there were few people on the roads, one driver did get too close to me and I nearly swerved off the road.  THAT woke me up!

The drive mostly went without any more problems, though when I did finally get up into Auburn, the car ahead of me on Highway 49 was driving about 15 miles per hour. It’s windy, but that was ridiculous.

The reason that a super-slow driver made me anxious was that all cars had to be across the starting line and going to park by a certain time, and that time was coming up quickly.  I didn’t want to have to figure out whatever Plan B would be, but I did get through just under the gun.

As with last year, this involved driving down the road to the end, turning around and then parking heading out.  Of course, the cars in front don’t seem to get that action.  I wanted them to just follow the directions, so that I can get myself parked, walk to the packet pick-up, walk back to the car, and get ready to go.

I am probably the 10th car from the bottom of the hill and the car is at least 3/4 of a mile from the start line.

It’s not raining at this point, but I can see parts of the course, and it looks to be very muddy.  But, I’ve done muddy here before.  I think I can handle it.

I have just enough time to get my bib, go back to the rental car, drop off my packet (shirt and crap in the bag), and get back before the “elite” start at 8:00am.

What do you know?  Hanging around at the start is Sandy Binder, which means that her husband Dave must be running.  I always enjoy seeing them (one year at Skyline 50K, I ran into him mid-course, on a training run, and then they met me at the finish, with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale).

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Ten minutes later, I was off (with the non-elites), working towards completing my 13th Way Too Cool.

A few months earlier… we spent Christmas Eve dinner with Mom’s closest college buddy and her family.  I have known Diane (Albracht) Benson probably my whole life, and my Mom has known her for over 50 years since they attended Stanford together (and their birthdays are just two days apart).  Diane has been battling various tumors and cancers off-and-on for several years.

At Christmas, Diane seemed more tired than usual and Mom thought that she might be on her last legs.  I thought that I should make sure to dedicate Cool to her and let her know I was thinking of her BEFORE she passed away (see Skyline 50K post from 2012 when I missed notifying my friend by hours).

I made up a special pace sheet with pictures and a poem and I mailed a copy to her about six weeks prior, especially when I heard that she was bedridden and too weak to do much.  As it turned out, she was suffering from a particularly bad case of sciatica, and it wasn’t the cancer that was causing the problems.  Still, I wanted to let her know I was thinking of her.

Now it’s time to head out on the Cool trails and see how well (or poorly) I can do.

At the start and also as I head down the paved hill, I see a few friends, including Martin Sengo (of GVH), and Kelly Dent and Tsehay Villeza (both running their first ever ultra, from AREC).

This paved portion of the first eight miles has somewhat rolling hills, but I decide instead of walking each hill, I am going to run the entire two miles to get out ahead of the bulk of the slow runners in my corral.  Once I get onto the unpaved trails and the single track, being free of slower runners will make the going slightly faster (not uncomfortable, but not a “settling for whatever” pace).

I am probably one of the first 20 people to reach the trailhead, which means both that I achieved my goal of getting out ahead, but also that I won’t have loads of people to trip into me on this rocky and mildly muddy downhill.  When I get to the bottom, the first water crossing is pretty substantial.  Nothing I can’t handle, but last year, I may not have had to get my feet wet because it was a dry year.

The water is about 2-1/2 feet deep and it is moving a little bit, enough to make someone not as tall as I am feel apprehensive.  About midway across (it’s maybe 15 feet across), I offer my arm to a struggling older lady.  It helps. We encounter one another a few other times and she refers to me as her “River Angel.”

When I get to the single track section, I get caught up in a “train” of quickly moving folks, but not so close that I am stumbling over rocks or roots.  At the tail end of it, as it heads uphill, I can go off the main part of the single-track to walk and let others pass.

Before I get back to Cool (to finish the first eight miles), there are three more substantial water crossings.  The first, which was completely dry last year, is essentially a 6′ puddle (deep enough to get the shoes wet).  The second is a foot deep, rushing stream with an awkward angle to step through.  (“River Angel” to the rescue here again.)  And the last crossing, just before the aid station, is another 1-1/2 foot deep slowly moving stream.

The past few years I have done this eight-mile stretch in about 90 minutes, and I am close to that time, finishing in 1:27:20.

The next section is a 5K, 90% downhill, and then across Highway 49 and onto the fire-road that parallels the American River for a spell.  The first bit of the trail is the reverse of the finish and it is fairly muddy (something to look forward to), but then the downhill starts.  It is not as muddy as in a past year (where it was like skiing on mud), but I have never been great with technical downhills, especially when there are faster people on your tail.  It is slower going than in drier years as the mud is sticking to my shoes and impairing my forward progress.

After you cross the 49, there is still a bit to go before you reach the actual aid station.  (It feels like it is further away each year, though.)  I get there in 39 minutes (slower than my first section, strangely) and refill my water bottles and adjust the inserts in my shoes.

The first couple miles of this next section are mostly flat, with some rolling hills.  The surface is dirt with gravel (but not a ton and not slippery), and there are a few avoidable puddles.  I run and walk intermittently here, because up ahead is a substantial uphill and I would like to be not already in distress when I hit the hills.  It has also started to rain a bit again, though the occasional tree cover prevents most of it from drenching my glasses.

I feel like I am making good progress here.  People pass me when I walk, but then I pass them back when I run and I permanently overtake them when I power-walk the hills.  I keep coming in-and-out of contact with a younger runner who is essentially running shirtless, but has on a transparent raincoat.  An odd look to be sure.  There are times when I pass him and don’t see him for a while, and then later, he passes me and I forget about him until I catch up again.

The aid station is in an unexpected spot.  Given my time – 44 minutes – I feel like it might be earl, especially because the volunteers say something like, “Just 6-1/2 miles to the next aid,” even though my pace sheet says it should be a mile less.  I guess we can say that I did 11 minute miles here and then be disappointed when I get to the next AS.

Whatever the distance, it weaves around the woods, past Ball “Buster” Hill, more paralleling of the American River (though it is more off in the distance now), mostly double-track (where people can pass without having to ask).  I am mostly by myself, but occasionally catch up with a “train” or two and get repassed by the “trains” when I stop once again to readjust my shoe inserts.

So, sure enough, when I get through the supposed 6.5 miles (5.6 on my sheet), I have dropped to a 14 minute pace, but I think from here on in, the mileages should match with what I have.

Now I follow a section of course that is super-familiar to me, having run it now 13 times (and probably another 9-10 times in the opposite direction).  However, despite the familiarity, it is hard to tell exactly where you are.  I try and count the approximate number of water crossings.  In the past, it was around 40-50 from the aid station to the wooden bridge.  This helps me because after the wooden bridge, there is one more feet-wet water crossing and then a whole bunch of uphill – Goat Hill.

Most of this 5.3.mile section is gentle rolling hills, but after the aforementioned water crossing, it turns left onto a wide fire road, steady uphill, and then turns onto the steep portion of Goat Hill.  I used to be able to power past people just walking up this hill, but it is definitely a struggle, especially with it being muddy.  I figure if I can get through this section at around a 15:00/mile pace, I am doing excellent.

Last year at this time, I began to abandon my dream of finishing in under 7 hours.  I have finished several times under 7 hours, but not recently.  Last year, I missed it by 7 minutes, but I feel like I am doing better this year.

When I start to see the “Burma Shave” signs:  “Almost,” “To,” “The Top,” etc., and can hear cowbells, I know I am almost there and the last of the hand-to-knee motion is over.  I have surprisingly covered the distance in 1:16, which is a 14:30 pace, better than I could have expected.

Now I have about 3.5 miles to the Highway 49 Crossing aid station, and I have always liked this section, but I KNOW it is going to be very wet and muddy.  There is yet a little more forested fire road, but then it pops out onto a single track with water flowing down it.  My right knee hurts a little bit with this downhill, so I don’t overdo it.  There are not a whole lot of people around me, which is nice, because as I’ve said, I don’t like people running downhills behind me.  It makes me nervous.

At the bottom of the hill is the berry bushes “water crossing.”  It isn’t really a water crossing, but the water all spills into a convenient hole that covers the entirety of the trail and is splashy for another 150 yards.  It doesn’t really matter at this point, as I am already muddy up to my shorts line and my shoes have been mostly wet the whole way.

I am just biding my time before I get into the quarry area and will soon be escorted across the Highway.

I get there in about 46 minutes and my total time (with 1.4 to go) is 6:12:50.  I am pretty excited because last year I got to this point in 6:47 and was pretty certain that I could not cover the last distance in just 13 minutes.  I should be able to break 7 hours this year unless I cannot go 1.4 miles in 47:10.  That would be, as they say, “sad.”

As with last year, I do not stop at the last AS because I am around 20 minutes from the end.  It is mostly uphill and then I will hit the last muddy stretch.  I go back and forth with a few guys and gals.  Most are better at the uphills than I am.

On the last stretch, I duel it out with an older gentleman.  This isn’t your typical “duel” it out you have in a 5K.  This is trying to run 9 or 10 minutes a mile and not stop.

Astoundingly, I come in at 6:31:52, which is my 3rd fastest (of 14) on this course, and my fastest on the new course – the first time under 7 hours on the new course.  The only two times I ran faster here was in 2002 and 2003, when it was my first and fourth ultra, and even then, those times were 6:24 and 6:28.

I have a little time after the race to socialize, but I do need to get going soon.  I get some minestrone soup and my cupcake and then go over to the beer tent.  There is this SF beer called Sufferfest, apparently gluten-free.  They give you a commemorative Way Too Cool 50K glass with the beer of your choice.  It’s not too bad.  I talk briefly with the brewer and convince him to give me a can of the beer so I can take it to my dad.  Think he might like it.

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Now the 0.75 jaunt back to the car to put some drier clothes on and then drive back to the Bay Area so I can attend the Piedmont Choirs’ Fundraising Gala.  It starts at 6pm and I am able to get out of Cool by 3:15pm.  That should be plenty of time.

Unfortunately, when I get back down into Sacramento, the rain just comes down with a vengeance.  On the Causeway (basically a bridge between Sacramento and Davis), traffic is at a near standstill, but also, my windshield wipers are on full throttle and not doing much.

Once I get through Davis, the weather clears up a little bit, but it’s now 4:30 and I still have 70 miles to drive, I need to shower, get dressed, and drive 5 miles to the event.

I essentially get to my folks’ house at 5:45, just as they are all leaving themselves.  It pours and pours and pours, and during the event, we saw lightning strikes through the windows.  Glad to be inside at this point in the storm.

Next year I hope to get in at least one more time, as it will be my 14th Cool, and the 28th running of the event.  What an honor to have run at least half of them.

High Desert 50K – 2015

December 6, 2015

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Last year, I ran part of the High Desert (Ridgecrest) 50K with Darrell Price, both from Ridgecrest and Long Beach.  We became Facebook friends (as commonly happens when I run any extended portion of an ultra with someone) and communicated throughout the year.  We meant to connect when he was in Long Beach, but it never really happened.

Last year, I also was able to motivate some other AREC runners to participate in their first ultras, but only Angela Holder was back for a second go-round (at Ridgecrest, at least).  We had made tentative plans to share a motel room again, when I got a nice invitation from Darrell and his fiancee, Megan, “Come stay with us at our house, about 1 mile from the start.”  That’s the kind of offer I definitely won’t pass up!

Angela and I drove up on Saturday afternoon, checked in, got our bibs, and “dinnered” at John’s Pizza.  Of course, neither of had pizza or pasta, but opted for sandwiches and salad.

Afterwards, we drove to Darrell and Megan’s, and found out that they live about a kilometer from the start, which is just about perfect, though Angela is still concerned about the time limit and wants to start an hour early (which means, as co-carpool/conspirator, I have to drive to the start with her).

I let Angela have the bed, both because I am a gentleman, and also because the couch is probably longer and more comfortable for me.  I slept OK, though the dog was not particularly happy with me in his space.  For free accommodations, though, I can deal with it.

Early morning came far too quickly and I was off, chauffeuring Angela to the start.  I utilized the extra hour to chat it up with people that I recognized (though most of the older folk also started early).  The weather was nice and cold, and not supposed to be windy like a few years ago.  I didn’t have any particular goal in mind, other than to finish, and have a good time.

My hope for Angela was for her to improve her time and in doing so, not get caught by me at Mile 10, like last year.

Race started promptly and immediately I started walking the initial uphill and then motored as best I could on the nice downhill sections.  I briefly caught up with Ethan “Yak” Dietrich, an H3 friend, who always does quite well here.  Our banter (which doesn’t seem to change year to year) involves him taking off when I start to walk and saying, “You’ll catch up to me,” but I never do.

A few miles in, I bid farewell to the 30K runners, who set off on their own loop, and we head over to the long (but not particularly steep) climb paralleling the telephone poles.  My first 5.5 miles I covered in 55 minutes (which is 4 minutes faster than last year).  No rush, just have fun.

As I turn along the “pole-run,” I start up a conversation with a nice gal named Diana Daves.  She is friends with Andy Noise, who I met a few years ago at the Santa Barbara Endurance Race (maybe the 100K?).  He is a coach in Bakersfield, particularly for Long Distance runners.

I always enjoy run-walking with someone in an ultra, because we can motivate one another.  There are times when she takes off, because she doesn’t like to walk the uphills, and there are times when I am walking that she has to run to keep up.  We don’t stay together the whole way constantly, but we keep maintaining contact and it makes the day pass quicker (or maybe we are running faster?).

I feel a lot better than last year, but that may have to do with not having hemorrhoids (which I tell you is very unpleasant).  My early pace is very comparable to last year, with each section either a few minutes faster or slower (or exactly the same).

The one thing I am looking forward to is a swig of beer at the last aid station (Last Gasp) as promised to me pre-run by former RD Chris Rios.

What I don’t expect is a couple of swigs of beer at the Mile22.5 aid station (Boddington’s Ale) and also at Mile 25.7 (Guinness!).

By the time I get to Last Gasp, Diana and I kinda want to get to the end, but I prod her along, knowing I can catch up quickly (and knowing that I certainly will not be drinking a full beer anyway), especially seeing as it’s Sierra Nevada Christmas Ale (and the Sierra beers always do a number on me).

I do catch up with Diana.  This is the last annoying section where you run ALL the way around Cerro Coso CC, and then do a big loop around the parking lot.  I am feeling good and not cramp-y at all, and finish strong in 6:35:21, my best time of the year, by over 30 minutes, and 12 minutes better than last year.

Diana achieves a 15 minute PR!

I barely have time to go out and bring Angela in.  With the hour early start, she is only 25 minutes behind me and runs an astounding 55 minute PR.  (My guess is that excessive selfies didn’t slow her down!)

What a good way to end the year, with Ultra #76, which I dedicated to my entire family (the meaning of “76” had to do with having Thanksgiving dinner at the Spring Deer Restaurant in Hong Kong, a place I had first eaten at in 1976).

Skyline 50K – 2015

August 8, 2015

A special milestone event for me.

I started running in April 1996, and ran my first marathon about 8 months later.  It took me about 5 years to get to 10 marathons, but once I started doing ultramarathons, the amount of long races I did each year started to jump, including a streak of 30-something months where I ran at least 26 miles in a race EACH month (a few were DNFs, but I still covered at least 26 miles of the race).

I had known for a while that this milestone was upcoming, so of course, I used Skyline 50K as my goal event and was able to contact the Race Director, Adam Ray (an acquaintance of mine), and get the #100 bib to help commemorate my 100th marathon or longer distance race.

It turned out to be a very busy weekend.

Usually, Skyline is run on a Sunday and then I end up driving back to Southern California a few hours later.  This year, because of scheduling issues, the race is run on a Saturday, and additionally, pretty much my entire family is in town, including my two nephews who live in Dallas (though Evan is at choir camp and we will pick him up on Sunday).

So, this means that I do not have a bed.  Not a problem, because the upstairs couch is a bit longer and more comfortable.  It’s fine.

Last year, I started an hour early, mostly due to the fact that I had run Harding Hustle a couple of weeks before and was not entirely recovered.  This year, I wanted to have a regular “official” start.  I know that I will have little problem in finishing under the time limit, but in certain circumstances, it makes me feel more confident when I am not at the back at all times… but starting on time, you do get the excitement of  the crowds at the start.

I happened to spot the gal I ran with for about 5 miles last year, Meg Cheng (who definitely didn’t need to start early last year, but did so because she was AT the start early with some early-starting friends).  I ended up catching up to her around 2 miles in and staying with her for about 5 miles again.  It’s always nice to have some company of people that you know.

On the other hand, I create some conversation with other runners, as well as with volunteers when I show off my pace sheet (which since this race 2 years ago, I have dedicated the race to someone special – 2 years ago was supposed to be my high school friend, Brian Kelly, in his honor, but he died two days before the race, so it was in his memory).

Because this is my 100th, I wanted to do something special and honor 10 people who influenced or helped me in some way.IMG_0146

First, I give a lot of credit to my sister, Riva Rahl, who famously told me that if I put my mind to it, I could run a marathon.  I thought she was crazy at the time.

Second, my college buddy, Kevin Krajewski, with whom I “trained” with to run our first marathon.  We didn’t do a lot of runs together, but he always motivated me to do better (until I finally bested him).

Next, Habib Torfi, who I knew from my first full-time job.  He worked at the Epithelial Autograft Facility and he got me into running with running groups.

Fourth, my running club buddy, Jennifer Aguilar.  We DID train together a lot and she was always positive and helpful.

Fifth, another running club buddy, “Tahoe Bob” Gilbert, who was known as the ‘crazy ultramarathoner.’ We are similar… not really fast, but persistent.  I always felt if he could do it, I could do it, and we did a number of trail runs together.

Sixth and seventh, Chuck and Laura Sohaskey.  Laura was always my training partner and I got HER into ultramarathoning.  Chuck has done a few ultras as well, and brings a certain je sais ne quois to our adventures, humor-wise.

Eighth is my running club buddy, Mitsuye Morrissey, who convinced me to run my first ultramarathon at Way Too Cool, a distance that I would have never considered.  We also had a fun adventure at Javelina Jundred (Miler) where we both finished the 100K.

Ninth is my ultrarunning buddy, Rafael Covarrubias, who has motivated me to a number of ultra adventures, including Mt. Disappointment 50M, Miwok 100K, Bishop 50M, and Shadow of the Giants 50K.  He is a better runner than I, and I try to run better so that he doesn’t have to wait too long at the finishline.

And lastly, but not leastly, my family, who support me and motivate me in all of my adventures.  After 100 marathon-plus races, they KNOW I am probably insane!

The weather was on the foggy side and I want to take advantage because I know that once it clears, it could get quite warm, especially in the hilly sections.  This next section is pretty flat, so I try to maintain a decent running and walking pace to get through.  All of the cattle gates are open, so I don’t have to stop and unlatch them (coming to a complete stop).

At the end of this section, there is a sharp turn, a short (but steep) road to a dirt parking lot and the 2nd aid station.  I am greeted by my Cool buddy, Sabine Gillert, who is volunteering/cheering.  Always great to see someone you know cheering you on at the race.

One of the volunteers says she recognizes me.  Says I look great.  Way better than when I was so FAT!  What?  I don’t ever remember being fat.  In fact, I weigh more now than I did when I started running, so maybe you remember me from the future?

I will make my way back to this aid station in about 11 miles, but for now, it’s a mile-and-a-half uphill and the same downhill.  My hope is to finish this section in about the same time that I finish it, in reverse, on the way back (even though the downhill section (uphill on the return) seems so much harder on the return trip).

I get into the 3rd aid station after completing the 3.1 miles in 36 minutes.  Now I cross the road and get into the single-track section, which is some uphill and some downhill, winding around to the hardest uphill section (steep and about a mile long) and then a continuous uphill fire road section up to the Skyline Gate aid station (aka Halfway, but really 14.5 miles) and where I may see some members of my family, depending upon if they time it right and can find a parking spot.

I somewhat exceed my goals on this section.  Usually on an uphill, I maintain 16-18 minutes per mile, but I was brisker and managed 14:20s.

When I get to the top, I don’t see anybody, but just as I am getting ready to take off, Riva, Marisa, and nephew Reagan show up.  The gals take off to park the car, leaving almost-8 year-old Reagan with me.  Now I cannot leave until they come back.

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I considered, briefly, having him walk with me, and hope that my sisters would realize where I had gone, but it was probably only 6 or 7 minutes total waiting.  I ate some food and we chatted for a bit.  I also got to chat with Errol “Rocket” Jones, working the aid station, who I had met at the Santa Barbara 100K last month (he was volunteering).  He is the co-race director of the Quad Dipsea, which I would like to run someday.

Now I head off to the right, which is mostly flat until it gets to the French Trail downhill single-track, on which I make good time, but have to be watchful, as it is rock-y and root-y and I am loathe to trip.  The general path of the trail is downhill, downhill, downhill, with occasional rocks and roots.

When I get almost to the bottom, it turns and takes a steep uphill turn.  I almost wanted to have not run the last bit to the bottom, if only to arrest my heart rate a bit and help out with the climb back up, but I just have to persevere.

This is the absolutely longest section (5.9 miles) and it’s often hard to tell how close you are getting to the end of the section, because you hear the road, but keep winding around and then, suddenly, you are there.  My pace on this section is about the same as the long uphill.  In other words, I am doing better because it is downhill, but worse, because I am getting tired.

Now I am back to the 3.1 mile section, where I would like to do something similar to the 36 minutes I did outbound.  (I don’t really have that expectation, but would like to.)  This is the first ultra that I have done in my new Size 14 Hoka Stinson shoes.  I am feeling less of the rocks, but it isn’t necessarily the ‘running on a cloud’ feeling that everyone talks about.  Maybe ‘running on a rocky cloud?’

I struggle on the inbound uphill section, as the sun is coming out and my feet are starting to hurt quite a bit.  I end up losing about 8-1/2 minutes on this section and make it back to the aid station where they told me I used to be fat.

From here, there is one more aid station before I get to the end.  It is mostly flat, but once you cross the Stone Bridge, you get back into the single-track and another part where you don’t have a clue of how far you have before you get to the aid station.

Part of this section I run with Julie Nye, for which this is her 15th Skyline run (this is my 6th).  Most of the people I talk with today are doing their first ultramarathon (it IS a really good beginner race because it is not insanely difficult and there are enough runners that you won’t have many sections where you don’t see anyone (unless you are at the very very back).

I am hoping to get through this section at a faster than 14:00/mile pace because then I will have a chance to finish the race under 7 hours (which I don’t seem to do as often nowadays).  I think the delay at Skyline Gate may prevent me from doing so, but I am not going to worry about it.

When I do finally make it into the aid station, I have left myself with about 35 minutes for the last 3 miles.  While this seems doable in a regular road 5K, it will be close.

I do what I can.  The first 1.4 miles of this is mostly flat and dirt, so I do a combo of running and walking.  I get excited when I get to the suspension bridge (truly my favorite part, because it means that I am close to the finish and it is bouncy!), and then it is about 1.5 miles to the finish and it is paved.

I am passed here by my friend, Clement Choi.  He and I ran together in the last few miles of the 2010 Dick Collins Firetrails 50M (with the same start and finish, but coming in from the other direction).  Great guy.  Today seems like a flashback of a bunch of my ultras.  But it seems like that happens at every race.  That’s what I love about ultras.  It’s like running a beautiful adventure with friends you see every so often.  You don’t get that with a big city marathon.  You may even know a bunch of people at the race, but you may not see them at all, maybe not at the end, either.  Bummer.

I make the turn across the little wooden bridge and suddenly remember that I still have another 50 yards to the “new” finish line.  I come in at 7:06:27, which is 40 seconds faster than Cool (or, in other words, virtually the same pace as Cool)..

There is no roasted pig this year (I think the roaster is sick, so no one stepped up.).

I got my shirt, a couple of cans of this Yerba Mate Mint Tea.  They also have a bunch of leftover items from previous Skylines (probably tired of putting them into storage year after year).  They are giving them away for free, but if they don’t have the right sizes, then what would I do with them?

I end up with a pair of socks (besides the ones from this year), another tank top from 2010, and a woman’s shirt from a previous year (for Riva).  I also pick up my shirt and then head back to my folks’ house.  When I get back, I realize that they have given me a WOMEN’s Extra-Large shirt, with the V-neck and the tighter cut.

I contact the race director and he says they are all out of Extra-Large shirts.  Crap.  They gave all of the rest out to volunteers… but then later, he tells me that he has one for me next time I am in town.  I will be in the Bay Area next for 2 days at Christmastime and again in March.  Hope he still has a shirt for me then!

All in all, I am really happy with how my 100th marathon or longer race went.  It took me 19 years.  I wonder how many years it will take me to get to 100 ultramarathons (I am at 74 now) and how many years to get to 200 marathon-pluses?

 

Shadow of the Giants 50K (29.2M) – 2015

June 6, 2015

I had heard about the Shadow of the Giants event for several years from a number of people.  I had had an interest in participating, but because the race is basically outside Yosemite, I had not driven up by myself (though from past postings, you will note that I have driven to Bishop by myself with no specific overnight plans), and with the current price of gas, it was always best to drive up with someone else.

I determined that Rafael Covarrubias was planning on going, and perhaps another gal from AREC, Zelda Ramos, might be going and doing the “Fun Run.”  We negotiated for a bit about the carpooling possibilities – Zelda had to leave by 1:30pm, but I did not have the confidence that I would finish in 6-1/2 hours, since that would be close to my best 50K… and although this course is slightly short, the elevation would probably be a factor.  Zelda decided to drive up on her own, though I believed that I could start 2 hours early to make it work.

I met Rafael near his elementary school which is near Florence off the Blue Line (not a great area).  Had a decent drive up, including going through McFarland (impressive HS cross country town) and then up through a bunch of foothill towns en route to one of the Yosemite entrances.  Rafael and I had a multitude of conversations, including what one does when pulled over by the police (act polite, try not to appear nervous, don’t run)… when we were pulled over by the police.  Expired tags.  Oops!  He had moved recently and didn’t get that taken care of.  Rafael was polite and the officer was nice enough and wrote a fix-it ticket.

Zelda had arrived a little bit earlier and we met her at the race start location – an outdoor school in Fish Camp – so we could settle in and also pick up our race numbers.  I got number 66 (which of course, upside down is 99, same as the number of ultras and marathons I will have completed by the end of this race), but they had some confusion with Rafael’s, even though I think he registered before I did.

We laid claim to our beds – for $15/night, we get a padded mattress on a springy bunk bed in a coed cabin.  Fairly comfortable (in a sleeping bag) and 100 feet from the starting line.  You could literally roll out of bed and be at the starting line in under a minute.

The town of Fish Camp doesn’t have a lot of amenities.  Zelda and Rafael decided we should go over to the nearby Tenaya Lodge for dinner.  I have essentially already eaten; I brought bell pepper and cucumber “salad” with spicy peanut sauce, served over black rice.  But I go with them for the camaraderie and for a beer.

The lodge is really nice.  If I was well-off and had business in the area, I would definitely stay there.  While we waited for a table in the restaurant, there was a nice piano player in the lobby, playing 80s and 90s songs (and singing).  I had a nice local beer while they had their dinner.  I also ended up eating the rest of Zelda’s dinner – a black bean burger – the serving being more than she wanted to eat.

By the time we got back to the school, some of our cabin-mates were already out, so we tried to be as quiet as possible.  I read for a bit, using my headlamp, but being so dark and quiet, I knew I would fall asleep pretty quickly.

I woke two or three times, having to go to the bathroom.  Fortunately, my bunk is right by the door, and the men’s bathroom is 5 feet away.  Hopefully, the squeaky door is not noisy enough to wake everyone up.  It is mildly cold out, but not unpleasant.  Hope the weather (later) today will be about the same.

Around 6am, I heard an announcement about the early start, but since the driving issue was moot, I stayed in bed for another 15 minutes.  I got up and used the facilities since the opportunities on the trails would not be as good.

We wandered over to the dining hall to re-check in and to get coffee (well, not me, but everyone else probably).  Big Baz (the RD) kept making announcements about how everyone needed to check-in, even if they had checked in yesterday, and then 10 minutes before the race was to start, we all headed outside to line up.

When we got outside, they began calling out all of the number of people who hadn’t re-checked in – basically 75% of the field, delaying the start – can you believe it? Did only 10 of us listen?  One of the names I heard was Elizabeth Epstein, my good friend “Dutch” from the Hash.  It was cool to see her.  She was by herself, having been in the area; Kim was back in Long Beach.

When it was finally settled who was actually running the race and who wasn’t actually there, we got underway.  There was the usual silliness from the RD, with a bunch of “Shut the F up” to excited runners who were chatting with their friends during the announcements.

The first bit of the race is through the parking lot of the school, up the road towards the highway, and then a sharp turn to what becomes a rocky trail.  All along the road are cars, the cars of the competitors.  Some are not parked properly, and it bottlenecks the race, somewhat.  Somewhat, because there are under 100 runners in both the 50K and the 20K untimed fun run.  Also, I am towards the back, so I am not that affected.

At the top of this hill is the first split with the 20K runners.  We turn left and head down the hill to our first aid station.  I get a little bit of what I lost on the uphill running down the hill because it is not too technical.  Big Baz himself is at the first aid station, Mile 3.7 and I get in at about 45 minutes, or 12:00/mile.

Now we turn around and head back up the hill and head in the same direction as the 20Kers (who have long since left us behind).  For part of the uphill section, I chat with a 20-something (28?) guy running his first 50K.  It looks like he has wings tattooed on his shoulders, and he tells me that he has a huge tattoo of a dragon across his entire back (so I guess those are dragon wings).

Once we reconnect, we continue uphill to the highest point on the course (6286 feet) and Mile 6.7.  I talk with another first-timer (in my age group, though), Kristopher, and we stay together for awhile (either to where he is feeling faster than me… or bored with the conversation).  This 3 mile (thin-air) section takes me 69:42 (23 minutes per mile) dropping my overall pace to 17:00/mile.  I need to regain some of my speed soon, otherwise I will miss the cutoffs.

We have 2 miles on the next section, and it is mostly downhill!  Right before the aid station, is a water crossing.  I have heard that in the past, your only choice is to tromp through the water, but because of the drought, it is possible to get across without getting your feet wet.  I take this option, much to the chagrin of the photographer.  Although the water is not deep, it is rocky, and I do not want to risk hurting myself.  I get through this 2-mile section in 27 minutes, and thus reduce my pace per mile by about a minute (to 16:00).

Coming up is the first of 4 5-mile sections.  Most of this part is flat, or slightly uphill and there is a lot of stepping over fallen trees and twigs/branches.  There was some pre-race talk about 2 trees to go under, but in both cases, it is easier for me to go over because it is hard on my back to bend over that far.  I do help another runner step over or go around.  The trees ARE big enough that I cannot just step over.  With the biggest ones, it would take 3 to 5 of me to wrap arms all the way around.  These are HUGE sequoias!

After a long section of what passes for single-track, I emerge onto a wide dirt road and come through a campground.  Some people call out to me that it is not far now.  I catch up and walk a bit with a woman who was part of the early start.  This is HER first 50K as well.  Her friend died earlier this year and she and a few other gals are running it in her memory. I tell her about Brian Kelly and the tribute I did for him in 2013.  Because this is a mostly downhill section, I end up covering the 4.7 miles in 42:44, or about 9:05/mile.  Don’t know that I have run that fast in an ultra, except maybe at North Face Challenge, when I just missed the Mile 37 cutoff.  My overall pace is down to 13:42/mile… much better than the 17:00 7 miles ago.

The next five miles is a gradual uphill to Nelder Grove, the location of the Shadow of the Giants loop, for which this race is named.  I walk the majority of the trail, because at this elevation, I walk and breathe better than if I run, especially on the uphill.  I manage to keep my pace a little over 16:30, which some people would find acceptable on a road stroll.

At this aid station, I get the offer that I can leave my hand-helds for a while, because the loop is only a mile; I will be back momentarily.  I would rather hang on to my bottles because it is comfortable, and I would rather have the freedom to drink whenever I need it.

The Shadow of the Giants trail is a definite highlight, though it is the busiest of the entire race because there are beaucoup hikers on the trail.  Not crowded per se, but the extra people are oblivious.  It is educational to boot, though I do not really have time to read all of the signage and watch my step.  The trail is a half-mile of meandering uphill. and then a half-mile of rollercoaster downhill (a true loop, though).  My enjoyment of the trail probably led to my 18:10 pace, but I am glad to have gone through that section, because it was so fabulously pretty.

I refill my water bottles and grab some salty chips.  Coming up is 5.3 miles of gradual uphill, back to the earlier aid station at Mile 13.4.  I do not feel like running at all, so I am brisk walking (almost speed-walking).  The road isn’t terribly technical and I keep seeing signs for a Christian Camp. There are some cool zip-lines and elevated ropes course on either side of the road.  It keeps what is a pretty quiet (not many encounters with other people) section entertaining for me.  In the last 2 miles or so of the section, I walked past at least 3 runners (!) en route to the aid station.  Astoundingly, my walking pace is 12:56/mile. I am pretty pleased with that pace.

Now I have just 5.5 miles left to the end.  For the most part, it is downhill and I run when I can and walk fast when I am tired or it turns slightly uphill.  The trail is also not too technical so I am not stumbling (always a benefit when you are tall).

In the last mile or so, there is a slightly confusing section.  I say ‘slightly’ because I was able to figure it out but I did catch up to a runner who was standing around trying to figure it out.  I said, “I think that outline of rocks is the outline of the path, even though there are no arrows indicating as such.”  After being on a dirt road for 3.5 miles, a spongy pine-needle single-track was a welcome change (although there was a lot of low-branch ducking for me).

After a fashion, I could hear some loud talking and figured I must be close to the finish line. Two ladies passed me just before I crossed the bridge and got to the paved parking lot in the school just before the finish.  I got a nice loud cheer because everyone was gathered for the awards ceremony.  My time was 6:38:48 (a PR, since I’ve never done 29.2 miles in a race before; this was technically a 47K).  I was happy with this time, considering that I was trying to figure out how to do 6:30 so that Zelda could carpool with us.  (She had left a few hours before and was the unofficial female winner of the “Fun Run.”)

I went back to the awards ceremony and they were also starting up on the prize drawing-slash-trivia contest.  (I missed this at my last Baz race because I was too slow.)  The way this works is that they ask trivia questions and whoever blurts out the answer first wins.  I won a cotton t-shirt by shouting out the first question correctly.  (Yes, my mind still works after 29+ miles of trail running.)

Before taking a shower, I wanted to get a picture of me standing on my head to commemorate the 99th ultra/marathon (since, if you remember, my number was 66).  I found the two gals (who had passed me at the end) with an I-Phone and tried to stand on my head.  I mean, are you kidding?  Do you really think I would be able to stand on my head without a lot of special help?  They decided that I should pose against a tree with a pose like I am standing on my head, and then just flip the picture over; that at least is manageable.

I headed over to take a shower and made the mistake of utilizing the kids shower (I thought all showers were for kids, this being a outdoor school.), where the nozzle almost came up to my waist.  It wasn’t unpleasant, seeing as I was mostly trying to wash the dirt off of my extremities and was able to splash water on my face with my arms.  I saw the adult showers after I was pretty much done; I’ll know better for next time.

I think I could do better on this course with a little more uphill practice and I would like to convince some other ultra neophytes to give this beautiful course a try.  Of course, it is a bit of a drive from LA (5 hours or so), but so majestic and beautiful.