Category Archives: 50M

Avalon 50M – 2018

January 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Headlands 50M – 2017

September 9, 2017

For the past several months, Alan has been talking to me about running his first 50 mile race.  The plan HAD been to do Avalon 50M in January, as this was the event where we got to know each other better (seemingly, it’s the event where I actually remember the people I meet).  However, he tells me that it’s not a good idea if he does Avalon because his wife’s due date is within 10 days of that event, and while he could probably manage being away on a run during that time, being an hour boat ride away is probably not the best idea.

I went through the options of events I have done that occur in the summer, fall, and winter time (semi-local), and other than Twin Peaks (not a great first timer event), there are not a lot of options… but I do remember having run the Headlands 50M in 2011.  (Go ahead, look up the post – I finished, but didn’t have the best time doing so.)

I take a look at their information; I know they are under different management than when I ran the event.  In fact, the lame race director actually died and the company was sold.  One of the great disadvantages of this race (for me, at least) was that as I finished in the dark, the ribbon was hard to see (in the fog) and I was totally by myself.  A possible advantage to running the race now is that there are two longer distances available (75 and 100 miles) which means there will be others still running the course when I struggle in.

I suggest to Alan this might be a good first 50 miler – not the easiest, but scenic and logistically easy to run… and if he decides to run it, I will run it “with” him.

On Friday, his wife drops him off at my place at some ungodly hour so that we can drive up to the Bay Area and miss most of the traffic at both ends.  When we hit some traffic coming into Livermore, we use the Express Lanes (not realizing that you need a transponder to avoid a ticket – and later I get a transponder to avoid that fine).  Unlike our last ultra in the Bay Area (last month), my folks are in town so he can spend some QT with my entire family (except Riva who is not visiting).  It’s the usual of resting before a hellacious day.

Saturday morning we take the exciting drive up to the Headlands.  The fastest way to go is via the Golden Gate Bridge, which means you go across the (new) Bay Bridge, through San Francisco (the 101 is on city streets there) and a bunch of turns.  I always hate this drive by myself, but it’s slightly better with a navigator.  Once you get to the other side of the Golden Gate (not particularly scenic at 4AM), you queue up for the one-way tunnel drive which pops us out into the short foggy coastal drive down to Rodeo Beach.

The area where I had parked in the past for Miwok and this event in 2011 is blocked off for volunteers and race staging, but they direct us to park along the side of the road and we are about a half mile down from the start.

Fortunately, because we are so early, we have the time to walk over, pick up our bibs (and applicable giveaways – I opted out of everything, but I still get a cool drop bag with compartments), and drop it all back in the car.  It’s a little on the chilly side but manageable.

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I spot a number of people I know that are running various distances – Megan Cheng, Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen, Dean Karnazes, running the 100 miler; Martin Sengo doing the 75 miler, and Ken Michal in the 50 with us.

As the race gets underway, I try and keep Alan in my sights, but honestly, I have to run my own race.   My semi-goal is to be at or close to my 14:43 time of 2011 (or if I apply the “age-grade” formula here, I need to beat 15:20 or so to do an equivalent).  I know that Alan should be considerably faster than that; hence why we would not run together.

The way the course is run is that we do 25 mile loops.  When the first loop is completed, then we run the loop in reverse.  (Note:  It’s not a true loop, but the direction you run on a certain stretch of trail is determined by the loop direction.)  This certainly means that we will encounter a number of runners coming towards us and passing us at any given moment.

This first section is 4.1 miles long and will also be the last 4.1 miles of the race (and was also the last few miles of Miwok in 2009 and 2010).  For the most part, it’s a long uphill slog, including a whole bunch of uneven stairs (a bit wet) which are a total dream in the dark, let me tell you.  At the top, it’s a traverse along the coast and then eventually down a (horse) switchback that ends at Tennessee Valley.

We will hit the Tennessee Valley aid station 4 times, so that is where my drop bag is located.  I generally do not need anything in my drop bag, but I have my small TRH duffel with a spare tube of Nuun, spare batteries for my headlamp, and a tube of glow sticks (from Dollar Tree) that I intend on breaking open in my final stretch to entertain myself in the dark.

I come through in 57:45, which is a tad faster than briskly walking.  Hooray!

The next stretch goes from Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach.  There is a length lightly downhill paved section towards the coast again, and then a number of annoying climbs to a double-track trail and a number of short wooden bridges.  I know this leads to the section that I fear most, which is hundreds of uneven downhill stairs that are apt to be slippery.

Fortunately, I am mostly by myself (meaning, I don’t have people bounding by me and making me lose my concentration), though once I get to the bottom and begin the gentle climb out, a lady passes me and mentions that she’s seen me at some other ultras.  The joke is always, “Gosh you remember me?” since I know it is because I am so tall.

She says, “Well, you are the Usain Bolt of Ultrarunning.”  A strange (but apt) sobriquet.

Once I get around a number of the curves hugging the shoreline, there is a bit of a descent on a wide fire road heading down into Muir Beach.  This is a double-up section, so I do get some encouragement from Meg near her turn-off at the top and from Alan somewhere nearer the bottom.

They have done some construction since the last time I was here.  Now there is a nice (but a bit slippery) metal bridge traversing the marshy area.  In my last Miwok, we had to detour around this quite a bit.

 

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I have been cautious on this section, especially because the stairs and the severe downhills have been tough on my knees, but I carry on through in just over an hour (at 15:52 pace).

Now I turn around, recross the bridge, and head back up the hills.  Not as much cross traffic (as I am towards the back) but the people around me are somewhat surprised at my technique of climbing the hills which is diagonal climbing.  It takes pressure off my knees and is mildly entertaining to me (I don’t listen to music so I have weird ways of keeping my mind occupied.).  There is also a trick to timing it just right so you can get around upcoming people.

This next section is another 4 miles back to Tennessee Valley but in a slightly different manner, along Coyote Ridge and not along the coast.  I kinda hate this section because it’s hard to visualize where you are heading, but once you complete the ridiculous climbing away from the coast, there is quite a bit of downhill to get back to the Valley (which is not to say I am maintaining a faster pace).

From Tennessee Valley, the course now heads out in a third different direction (first one inbound from the start, second one inbound from Muir Beach, third one outbound to the Golden Gate).  This is the second longest stretch of the course (been doing about 4 mile stretches for the first 3) at 5.9 miles and definitely has the most up-and-down of the sections.

It’s a long, long climb out of Tennessee Valley, but at the top, the view is pretty rewarding.  It’s not too foggy this year to see the Golden Gate Bridge, but it is still foggy and breezy.  The course is slightly confusing here, but I am good at following ribbons.  Because of the fog, it is more humid here and the trail is muddier.

 

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However, to me, muddier means softer.

When I emerge from the foggy wooded section, it’s back to single-track and gusty winds.  In a couple of sections, I hold my hat in my hand so that it doesn’t blow off.  I am almost walking on this downhill section and there are now runners sprinting by me on the uphills (to be expected).  I look for the familiar faces (feel like I should have seen Meg Cheng by now – she was running so well).

Probably midway down, I encounter Alan coming back up.  He tells me he hates this section because it is so rocky and he has to continually tilt his Luna sandals to keep the pebbles out (don’t suppose gaiters would work?).

When I get to the bottom, it’s now the paved road down, down, down to the water UNDER the Golden Gate Bridge.  I hate this section because you give up the hill  entirely, and then you have to climb back out (and we will be back here again soon – yuck).

I thought the aid station would be at the bottom of the hill, but we have to turn and run alongside the water for a quarter mile or so.  The aroma of marijuana smoke is pretty strong here – gag.  I pick up a couple of orange slices and make the turnaround.  Because of the downhill, I dropped my pace from 17:30 to 16:15 per mile, but know I will probably lose all that in a quick minute here.

Now for the longest stretch, 7.1 miles (feels like an eternity).  It starts with the reverse road climb, then the switchbacks on rocky dirt in the wind, back through the muddy wood, and then a turn onto the road heading back down to Rodeo Beach.

Once I am back on the fire-road, it’s a spot-fast-folks section, as they have finished their first loop and are heading in the reverse direction now.  First, I spot Dean Karnazes.  We talked for a quick second at the start and he vaguely remembers me from Santa Barbara 100 (I worked, he ran).  This is a MUCH easier course (the 100, I mean) by the way.

Next, I see Ed Ettinghausen.  I’ve known him for at least a decade so when he passes me, he gives me the ol’ toot on the railroad whistle (I’m struggling carrying two water bottles – I wouldn’t be carrying a large wooden whistle with me – I can cheer people on just as well with my voicebox.).  Great to see him.

Still looking for Meg.  Feel like at this point, maybe she dropped out. (Later, I find she was throwing up and had a touch of the flu, so maybe it was for the best… but I tend to run better when I am a little sick because I manage my expectations better.)

Quite a bit later, I spot Alan coming up the road.  I’ll time it, but I’m probably a good hour behind him at this point.  If he maintains a good pace, I’ll probably finish 2-3 hours behind him (hope he’s easily entertained!).

The fire road pops out on Conzelman (the road we drove in on) and crosses it to a small trail paralleling the cars for about a mile.  My feet really hurt at this point.  I am almost considering quitting, BUT I know that I could slowly slog on for another 7 hours (Yes, that sounds crazy, but I have 33 hours to finish (or, 26 and change at this point), and while I am hoping not to take 33 hours, my need to finish is strong enough to keep on.).

I come through the start/finish line, grab some vittles and head back out.  There are still some people behind me coming in (some to finish the marathon (who ran an additional 1.2 mile loop at the start)).  I overhear one guy say that he is going to stop and not do another loop.  I halfheartedly yell at him to continue since we still have so much time.

When I get back to the trail section, I spot Eldrith Gosney.  We “ran” together at Miwok 2009 (and she creamed me).  She is in her 70s and an ultra legend.  We chat really briefly (neither of us need to stop for too long).  I suggest that we are the weird “E”s (Eldrith and Emmett) and I flash her the “E” sign with my fingers.

So now up the dreaded hill.  Since I am now doing every section in reverse, I can compare times (probably a bad idea).  The sections aren’t identical (since down is up and vice versa) and I am now between 5 and 25 miles more tired than when I did the section earlier.

I continue my zigzag up the hill and try to maintain an even pace.  Still shooting for 14:43 or at least sub-15:00 but my feet are really hurting.

At the top, back into the muddy forest, a little less foggy at this hour, and then back into the wind and technical trail.

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Alan is almost off this section by the time we connect, meaning he is closer to 90 minutes ahead of me now.  Guess I won’t be catching up.  I don’t spot folks like Ed or Dean at this point because they have already turned off on the trail to Tennessee Valley.

When I get down to the paved section, that feels the absolute worst on my feet.  The best bet to get down the hill quickly is skipping or galloping.  Think about it, you cover a longer distance and it’s slightly less pounding.

When I get to the aid station, I have to sidle around a fire truck.  Someone had some issues and they called the paramedics.  By some miracle, I got through this section in 2:03:53 (only 4 minutes slower).  Now, although I still have the climb out, the distance between aid stations is only going to get shorter.  I got the two 7.1 mile stretches done.

The climb out is horrible and I am only gratified by the fact that there are still folks behind me (not many) and I am mostly around the same people I have seen all day (a gal here, and a couple there), though I am worried about the probability of some of them finishing… because they are entered in the 75 or 100 miler and while we are still on pace for a finish, the reality is that once it gets dark, the speed will drop considerably, the body will get even more tired, and the chances will fall precipitously.

Just after I turn out of the forested area and back onto the fire road that will take me back to Tennessee Valley, I spot someone not in a number, a volunteer that I think I saw at the last aid station.  She is looking for a particular runner – I think it is the wife of one of the couples I have been trading leads with all day.  The hard part is I don’t think we exchanged names, but I do remember some of the numbers.

Anyway, the second weirdest moment on an ultra for me (first was probably discussing hemorrhoids with Gordy Ainsleigh at Way Too Cool 50K) was the volunteer saying that she wanted to find the runner to give her medication for her UTI.  Seriously, too much information, there.

More zigzagging down the steep hill into Tennessee Valley.  No 4-5 minute slower on this section, no-sir-ee Bob.  13 minutes slower (basically 2 minutes PER mile slower).  I, too, am facing the dark dilemma.

At Tennessee Valley, I spot a few of my friends.  Martin Sengo is here, but heading out to finish his second loop and presumably start his third and final loop.  Good to see another tall-ish guy.  I also see my friend Errol “Rocket” Jones.  We never seem to meet when both of us are running – it’s always one or the other.  One of these days, I want to do his Quad Dipsea race, but I have to know my Thanksgiving plans several months in advance.

Less than a half marathon to go, but another dreaded climb out of Tennessee Valley and off to Muir Beach.  Because this section is so even (meaning an equal measure of up and down, I actually ran it only 30 seconds slower than the first time out (I wonder if that means that there was actually more downhill than up!).  Another two traverses of the full metal bridge.

Now the fun climb out, back along the ridge, downhill, and up the slippery wood stairs, back along the coast.  I am pretty much by myself most of the way here, with occasional reverse direction passes from 75 or 100 milers.

It is starting to get dusky and I am hoping to get back into Tennessee Valley before it gets dark, especially because I left my headlamp in my drop bag for a number of loops so I didn’t have to carry it with me.  It is almost dark when I slog into the aid station at a 24 minute per mile pace (lost 34 minutes off my first time through).

Before I take off, the one thing I am wondering is when the drop bags will be returned to the start.  Wondering if they will do the deal with some coming back earlier and the rest tomorrow afternoon, but they say that all of them are not coming back until tomorrow.

I make the decision that I will carry my bag back with me (so we don’t have to wait or come back tomorrow).  It’s a small duffel so I am able to strap it across my back in a way that isn’t uncomfortable (and as I mentioned earlier, there is some glow sticks, some Nuun, and some batteries inside – it probably weighs less than my car keys).

When I begin heading out on trail, they are only just putting out glow sticks and I am not even sure what direction to go (and I know this area) but someone orienteers me in the direction of the barn.  Think they dropped the ball and forgot to put markers out BEFORE dark, as they are putting them up now.

I know there’s a turn to head up the horse switchbacks, but I can’t see yellow ribbon in the dark unless I see the ribbon in the exact reflection point.  This results in me missing the turn and wandering back and forth until some 75/100 milers come in from the correct direction so I can head back out that way.

I’m feeling the nightmare from 6 years ago when I couldn’t find the blue ribbon (and no glow sticks), but am gratified at least that some people will be coming at me and it won’t be me by myself for the last 90 minutes to 2 hours.

For the most part, there aren’t any options for turns.  Just slow going in the dark (even with a headlamp, which only illuminates the 20 yards ahead of you).  Every so often, a runner or a large group of runners (probably from the Night Sweats Marathon which started a little while ago.  Mostly ladies who cheer me on. Nice!

There is a certain point when I have a vague idea where I am, even in the dark and you start to hear the voices of the finish line but you can’t just bound down the hill, you have to follow the course in correct manner (unless like 6 years ago, you can’t find any course and just guess your way down the hill).  Every turn is a hunt for the yellow ribbon and glow stick.  If it is a turn, it’s always hidden.  Probably they marked it in the daylight, not thinking of how it appears at night so it was a little hairy at times.

I did eventually get to the stone stairs (slippery and tough in the dark) and then a wooden railing from which I could see the lights of the finish line, and then finally through the gate back onto Conzelman Road for a short period before turning up through the parking lot and across the finishline in 15:10:14 (not under 15 hours or 14:43, but age-grade faster).

Alan finished under 12:00, which in the old days was a Western States Qualifier (11:53), so he has been making new friends for the past 3 hours (and freaking out his wife because the cell phone is in my car).

I get some food and unstrap my drop bag (throw my water bottles in there).  I pull out my glow sticks (which I never got around to) and hand them out to anyone hanging at the finish that is interested – which is a lot of people.  At this point I could probably hand out large pieces of coal and the people there would get excited (because we are off our feet).

A few of the people who finished near me, but are in the 75 or 100 are weighing their options.  A 75er can still finish, but does she want to go struggle around in the dark all night?  And someone in the 100 probably isn’t going to finish unless the sun suddenly rose in the next hour.  I think we convinced a few people to call it a day at 50 miles (which is a pretty pretty good accomplishment).

For me, it’s my 23rd completed 50 miler (can’t believe I’m coming upon 25 finishes) and for Alan, a very respectable first 50 miler on not the easiest of courses (I have three faster times and they were a lot flatter and less technical).

If I can figure out the feet thing (better padded shoes?  better feet?), I would be interested in returning and trying the 75 miler.  Don’t think I could do the 100.  I guess we will see what 2018 holds (and if Mrs. Sheppard can handle 3 kids while Alan runs 100 miles or if Alan can push 3 kids 100 trail miles in a stroller).

 

Avalon 50M – 2017

January 7, 2017

Excited to be heading to Catalina Island once more to run the Avalon 50M, my fifth time!

I’ve heard that if you complete the race 5 times, you get a special plaque, so I have made plans to stay an extra night for the banquet.  Most of my friends are not staying over, but an AREC guy that I have run with on a few occasions has said that I can stay at his mom and stepdad’s place on Saturday night.

Looking forward to seeing a bunch of my ultra friends, the beautiful island (hope the weather cooperates), and to be inspired by Legacy finisher Hal Winton (curious as to when he will be starting this year).  I also look forward to see who will be on my boat ride over.  Laura and Angela took an earlier boat over, but I don’t usually like to walk around a lot prior to running 50 miles.

I do my usual trick of riding the Long Beach bus from up the street all the way to Catalina Landing and packing super light (as in book to read, string backpack, lightweight jacket, and water bottles).  I think I definitely freak people out, especially when they have suitcases and I have not much.

Once at the terminal, I spot Kathryn Buchan-Varden, who I met last year, who is both a hasher and a 14-time Avalon finisher.  She is good friends with my friend, Darcie, who used to run with AREC and who I stayed with last year at her home in Utah when I attempted the disastrous North Face Challenge 50 miler.  She is hanging out in the restaurant with a couple of her Sacramento-area friends (she lives in Arizona now but did spend some time in Northern California).  Her friend Teresa will run the 50K tomorrow (a newly added distance to compel friends to run or old-timers to continue running) for her first 50K.  We are telling her all about the course (trying to set her mind at ease).

One thing that comes out in conversation is that Teresa did her Plastic Surgery residency at UC Davis in 1996.  I worked as an Administrative Assistant for Plastic Surgery Division at UC Davis Med School from October 1994 to December 1995. So… we weren’t there at the same time, but we do know a lot of the same people and she gave me some updates on doctors who were no longer there (left or died).  Small world!

Darcie, her sister, and son, Logan, showed up not longer afterwards.  Kathryn and Darcie’s family made arrangements to rent a house for the  weekend.  (Might be a good idea if I go again next year.)  I enjoy hanging with them, so we all ride the boat together.

When we get to Avalon,  I stick with them because I will be meeting up with Angela and Stephanie later, and we are just having some nice conversations.  Hanging with Kathryn and Darcie just means going and picking up the house key, getting stuff set up in the house, going to Vons to pick up some supplies (“Mini-Vons”), and just biding time until the site opens up for bib pick-up.

The usual suspects are handing out bibs and shirts and collecting money (pretty much all my old-timey hasher buddies) and I do notice, at this time, that my name is misspelled on the bib.  I hope that this doesn’t mean that they won’t have a plaque for me at the banquet!

I do hang around for a while just waiting for Stephanie and Angela to show up (after all, they are my roommates for tonight and I don’t want a repeat of last year’s sneaking into someone’s room because I couldn’t find someone).  I spot all sorts of friends in the queue, including Laura and Beth.  Lots of people recognize me… for some reason.

I do find the gals (phew) and Laura is with them as well.  Seems that her hotel fell through or closed, and so she is also staying with us.  Going to be a tight fit.  They have already eaten, and the restaurant that we like is currently closed, so I wander around a bit trying to find something to my liking that is reasonably priced.  Down the street from the bib pick-up at the Metropole Hotel is a new-ish Panini restaurant.  It’s deserted but the food inside looks good and the cook is juicing a zillion carrots so I get some dinner.

I hike up the street to the hotel and we have to go in staggered because really only 2 people are supposed to be in the room.  It’s a small room with a single twin bed inside.  I am 100% on the floor with Stephanie, and Laura and Angela are in the bed.

As we are settling in, Angela gets a call from Alan that he is on the last boat and will not make it in time for bib pick-up, so could I go down and pick it up for him?

Ugh.  So, I hike back down the hill, and explain that I am picking up a bib and shirt for another runner.  This turns out not to be a problem… except for the fact that I picked up a 50M shirt (and he’s doing the 50K) and I didn’t pick up his banquet ticket.  I cart his stuff back up the hill and leave it at the front desk for him to pick up when he arrives later.

Now finally we can settle in for a restive night’s sleep (Hope nobody has to go the bathroom as they will have to step over me to do so.).

I wake up before Angela and Laura’s alarm goes off at 1:30am (they are planning to start at 2) and they are a little sluggish to say the least, but do get out the door in time to meet Yen Darcy a little before 2am at the pier.

Since I am not starting until 4am and Stephanie until 5am (an early 50K start), we take the opportunity to utilize the bed for 2 hours.  Ah, blissful nap.

A little before 4am, I stumble down to the pier for the early start.  There is a good group of people here, including Kathryn.  I am surprised to see her, but like me, just likes to be on the safe side, in case there are any problems with the day, especially the expected rain.

As we start off down the street (or UP the street, since there is a slight incline), it does start to rain lightly, enough to blur my vision through my misty glasses.

We sidle around the locked turnstile into the Wrigley Gardens and then make sure that we go the correct direction at the crossroads (Dang!  Third year in a row where I went the wrong direction!)  14-time finisher Kathryn doesn’t go the right way, either.  We don’t waste a lot of time, but it’s just annoying.

Because it’s mostly uphill, slightly muddy, I am just walking and Kathryn takes off.  I don’t have any great expectation for the day, only to finish under 13 hours or close to it.  I would love to have another sub-12 hour finish, but I’ll just have to see how the day goes.

Once I get up by the radio towers, we turn and head downhill.  It’s late enough that the gate is open and I don’t have to climb through the awkward hole in the center.  The bad part is that the sun has not come up yet so it’s impossible to see that you are running through a mud puddle until you are in said puddle.  I do my best to look for brief reflections from the moon and my headlamp and avoid most of them.

When I get to Haypress, the aid station is pretty much set up.  I grab a couple orange slices and some water and continue moving.  The uphill section took me 98 minutes for 5.4 miles (18 minute pace) and if I want to finish under 12 hours, I need to be around 14:30 pace.

The course is pretty much back to normal this year; we are not doing an out-and-back course, but will run by the Airport again and by the houses with the vineyards that are just before Little Harbor.

I do a little better on the road up to the airport (even though there is still a lot of uphill and I am in the pre-dawn dusky light that is hard to run in without tripping), managing 11:13/mile (and a net pace of 14:27 – pretty close to the goal time).

From the airport, there is a lot of downhill (not in the dark this year).  It is runnable but pretty windy.  I do my best to keep running as much as possible.  At the bottom, you go through the small neighborhood.  This year, there is a bunch of construction, so the ground is harshly graded, and the little hill by the vineyards seems steeper than usual.

This is also one of the longer stretches of trail between aid stations (5.6 miles) and good or bad, you can see where you are headed, but it seems to take forever.  I pass by the 50K turnaround, which is just before you head down the hill into Little Harbor.  This is a bummer, because Little Harbor (and the Wacko Cafe) is one of the best aid stations you will ever reach.  (“It’s just over there, but I’m not going to do an extra mile downhill and back to go there.”)

From the point of the turn-around, you can start to spot Little Harbor Aid Station, but there is quite a bit of downhill on fire-roads that stretch out for quite a ways.  When you finally get to the Port-A-Potties, you are virtually there.

My Foothill Hasher friend, First to Go Down is doing the number check-in.  I am really excited to see her, because it’s always great to see a friend.  I am also excited because I am going to leave my string backpack here until I come back in several miles.  I am continuing on a good pace, maintaining 12:14/mile (netting 13:39, totally on pace for sub-12:00).

Leaving Little Harbor is a bit difficult because the entire trail is under water, meaning we have to off-road a bit to get around the super-puddle.  I’m hoping that the trail becomes more clay and that will be less muddy.  Otherwise, this upcoming uphill section is going to be awful.

Since the rain has been stopped for a few hours, some of the trail is drying out, but the footing is pretty limited because certain parts are more slippery.  Midway up the hill is a firefighter truck and the occupant is advising runners to walk or watch their steps because a mistake could end their races.  I concur.  The footing is treacherous, so I walk or lightly jog as flat-footed as possible.

Once I crest the top, it’s downhill into Two Harbors.  I am passed here by the lead female runner and 5 minutes later by Gisele Schaaf (in her first 50 miler).  Second overall would be pretty cool for Gisele in her debut.

This section is technically the longest section between aid stations, except that you do pass by the aid station on your first pass and then come back 2 miles later (so on the charts, it’s 7.4 miles between aid, but really it’s 5.4 and then 2.0).  My first year here I didn’t realize that and so thought was running really well, but actually, I clicked the split 3 miles too early!

I grab a cup of Coke, but don’t really stop outbound and then head to the out-and-back to the isthmus.  This is full of puddles as well, but also where I get to see almost everyone.  Laura, Angela, and Yen are headed back as I head out.  I spot Ben Gaetos (who I stayed with last year) and I stop for a picture.

I see Gisele again.  By my calculations, she is about 8 minutes behind the leader.  I tell her the time gap and she asks me, “How does she look?”  I want to say something encouraging like, “She’s falling apart!  You’ve got this!” but I am honest in saying that she looked really good and it will be quite a battle to catch up.

I finally get to the turn-around (I HATE this section – endless and slightly uphill.), and start heading back.  I see Beth (from the hash) and Linda Dewees (my buddy from Bishop and Ridgecrest).  I jog the best I can back to the aid station, but I am just feeling sluggish and not fast.  I get to Mile 26.0 in 6:30 (or a section pace of 18:14 and a net pace of 15:00 – darn!).

Now I start the climb back out of Two Harbors.  Even though the hill is steep, I prefer this kind of hill to the slow death inclines I just went through.  This is also the section where you don’t see a lot of people coming down the hill – these are the people that will struggle to make the cut-offs the rest of the way (and will possibly be leapfrogged forward by van).

I feel like I made good time going up the hill and passed a number of people who can’t walk as fast or have stubby little legs.  On the downhill, of course, I am being passed left and right by pretty much everyone.  Most folks have headphones on, so I can’t get in any decent conversations.

One gal just blows by me, though when she does, one of her gloves that is tucked into her Camelbak flies out.  I yell to her, but obviously, she can’t hear me; otherwise, we would have chatted.  I stop and pick up her glove and try to run it to her, but I cannot muster enough energy to run that fast.  I do get the next person to pass me to run it up to her.  (Hope she didn’t MEAN to do that.)

It’s quite windy on the downhill and I am not getting a lot of running in.  It’s quite annoying, because if I am just walking, that will definitely affect my ability to finish under 12 hours.  At least the ground is no longer slippery mud, but it is stiff adobe.  Each has their pros and cons.  Soft mud would feel good right about now, but I do have my Hokas for the extra padding at least.

I get back to Little Harbor in 1:43 (a 15:50 pace and now slowed back over 15 minutes per mile net pace).  Looks unlikely that I will break 12 hours now.

I edge around the puddle and go retrieve my string backpack so I will have it when I get back to the finish.  Since we are now into the latter half of the race (mileage here is 32.5), aid stations are offering various bonuses to the runners.

Here I get a nice mimosa (mostly orange juice per my request) and I decide that I would like to play one of their games this time.  The choices are cattle roping and horseshoes.  I don’t think I would be any good at (stationary plastic cow) roping, but I can throw stuff, so I do try the horseshoes.

I have to have them handed to me because I can’t bend all the way over, and the best I can muster is getting one within a horseshoe’s length of the post.  Still, it was fun to try.

Now I head out of Little Harbor, and it’s back on that aforementioned winding, endless fire-road (now uphill instead of downhill).  A bison has been spotted nearby the aid station – close enough to see, far away enough to not be dangerous.  Cool wilderness.

I spot Beth behind me but she hasn’t caught me yet.  She must be struggling a bit, too (though she did start an hour after me, so I can’t be too excited).  When I finally climb out of Little Harbor and get by the 50K turn-around Aid Station, we turn in a different direction and head downhill briefly, but pretty much immediately start heading uphill again.

When it finally flattens out (but it really is a slow uphill climb), that means that I am getting close to Eagle’s Nest Aid Station (and more fun?).  I pass Hal Winton just before I get into the aid station.  He looks pretty spry for an 85 year-old runner (but he did start about 12 hours before me) and he gives me a nice strong handshake.

I go back and forth between several people.  Someone runs past me, I walk past them when they fade.  I think it’s gratifying for me and annoying for them.  There are a few that I thought were far ahead of me that I essentially catch up to at Eagle’s Nest.

I managed a 14:06 average pace on this section, so I reward myself with half of a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a chunk of buffalo burger.  Mmm.

Now I got some more uphill to the Pumphouse Hill Aid Station.  My feet are really hurting, most notably on the tops of my feet.  I stop to try and adjust my shoes.  When I loosen the laces, I realize that I had tied them so tight, the tongue was pinching my foot (the Hoka tongue is flat and can pinch unlike most other shoe tongues).  Once I loosened it, it felt bad for a while because I have a blood blister on the tops of my feet and it hurts!  But it started to feel better after a while. (This may be my last go-round with the Hokas because they have caused me all types of problems.)

I just keep walking and walking, walking and walking.  Right around the Bald Eagle Preserve, I walk for a while with a Chinese guy who is walking also.  We have a nice conversation and the good news is that I may see him at other races because he is local – Jeff Liu.  Soon enough, he becomes bored with the pedantic pace and starts jogging.  Bye.  (I may well still catch him up later, though.)

Despite the uphill and all walking, I do get to the Pumphouse AS in a 15:38 pace and am maintaining a close to 15:00/mile pace for the race.  I know there is the paved downhill section coming up in a few miles, but I don’t feel like I have the same gumption to break 12:00 as I did a few years ago (when I thought I would get a non-finish if I didn’t finish under 12:00).

This last bit of trail up to the top is quite steep and it is all I can do to just maintain a comfortable walking pace.  I can see Jeff, but cannot catch him.

Now it is a mostly downhill section on paved road back to Haypress Aid Station (but no puddles and not in the dark).  As it has been in the past, the aid station is abandoned but there is still some water containers available for refilling water bottles if necessary.  I don’t really stop so I can continue any forward downhill momentum I have.

My first year here, I got to Haypress in 11:03 and felt I wouldn’t break 12:00 unless I really pushed the pace downhill, but I did manage to do the last 4 miles in 39 minutes.  Today, I am here in 11:22.  I don’t feel like I have 39 minutes in me, and even then, I would not break 12 hours.  I think I should just do what I can do.  (That’s always the best anyway.)

The part leading up to the downhill is uphill anyway and I don’t have anything left for that.  And, once I get onto the downhill, I simply don’t feel like running at all.  The angle’s gonna have to be more sufficiently downhill for me to do that.

I catch up with another runner who started earlier than me and we walk and talk together for a bit.  He pushes his pace a little bit so we can continue talking.  I guess I’m not going too slow.

But when I start getting a little momentum going, I do end up starting to run and leaving him in the dust.  I start recognizing landmarks and all of it is on a significant downhill slope, especially that last downhill before I run along the promenade to the finish.

I’m definitely not breaking 12 hours, but if I push it a bit, I can break 12:20, and I do so in 12:19:41, triumphantly holding up my open palm, signifying my 5th Avalon 50 miler finish.

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I waited around for awhile and watched people finish, but eventually, I walked with Alan down to his folks’ place and had a nice shower before we headed out to the Banquet.

So, Alan’s stepdad drove us to the banquet which was located on the other side of the Casino.  I guess it would have been a nice scenic walk, but I didn’t feel like a nice scenic walk anymore.

The banquet food was excellent, lots of good choices, and plentiful fruit and water.  They played a slide show that had pictures from THIS year, and then the various speakers talked about the history of the race and people that inspired them, plus announced the top fundraisers (who get free entries and boat rides and more).

Now, they announced, the five-year, the ten-year, and the fifteen-year award winners.  They said they had a lot of plaques that had not ever been distributed, so they were going to read all those names.  I heard names of people who died some time ago (of whom I had no idea that they ran 5 Avalon 50s) and people who are no longer running, but I didn’t hear my name.

As for Kathryn, finishing her 15th, they announced that she would receive her 10th plaque (which I think she received 4 years ago).  So, a bit of a mess.  I was told that I would receive my plaque by mail sometime in the future (a few weeks later), so I assume that she got her jacket then, also.  Although I enjoyed the banquet, I went specifically to receive my plaque, but no one received their plaque for 2017, so I was a bit annoyed.

Alan tried to call his stepdad for a ride back but there was no cellphone coverage, so we walked until we got back into range.  And it was a nice scenic walk until the truck-let found us and I was ready to sit down again.

I ended up sleeping in the recliner, a throwback to when I first moved to Long Beach and spent most nights sleeping in my recliner.  I was quite comfortable, because I am used to that kind of night’s rest.

In the morning, we managed to get up in time for the Photo.  I had seen the photo, but figured they took the picture before I could manage to finish.  Truth is, they take the photo on the following morning, and only once was I actually there the next day (but slept in or didn’t know about it).15875624_1250049418374881_5425234147263662081_o

Kathryn and I have plans to keep running Avalon 50M until I receive my 15th finish jacket.  By then, I will be 60 years old!  Here’s to hoping that my body will still be able to handle ultras until then!

The North Face Challenge Utah 50M (DNF) – 2016

September 24, 2016

The last time I ran a North Face race was in San Francisco in December 2010.  I had completed their 50 miler one year earlier, but due to changes in the course (and total distance), I had been pulled 13 miles from the finish, even though I was maintaining a pace fast enough to finish within the time limit (but you have to abide by the course rules).

Post-race, I pretty much vowed not to run another North Face event, just because they don’t seem to have their stuff together, so I was apprehensive about attempting this event, but I do like a challenge and I had never run a race in Utah (mostly had not been in Utah other than to the airport).  Also, this was a good opportunity to visit my friend Darcie Olk who lived in the outskirts of Salt Lake City (and we have the running and the ultrarunning in common).

On Thursday, I drove to Utah, stopping once in Vegas to refuel the car, and arriving in Utah in early evening (about a ten hour drive, plus the one hour time change).  By the time I got to the SLC outskirts, it had begun to rain, and Darcie had warned me that the weather was a little iffy.  When I picked up my bib at the North Face store, it was downright pouring.  (The good news was that the Sam’s Club gas station was really close to the North Face store.)

The check-in process seemed disjointed once again, although they did allow people to register at multiple sites, so numbers were not pre-assigned, but the person at the table seemed ill-equipped for any questions or concerns, and yet she told me that she works most all of the events.  I hope this isn’t a foreshadowing of what is to come.

Once I was all checked in, I then moved to find Darcie’s house.  I had some difficulty as the visibility was bad due to the rain, the roads were under construction and had changing lane positions, AND no raised bumps.  I fear I was driving erratically along the road (it was explained later that Utah roads can’t have the raised bumps because snowplows can’t work on those.)

After driving around and doing a bunch of U-turns, I eventually found Darcie’s house.  It is a beautiful multi-level house on a cul de sac, and a little bit mountainous (I believe the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon is run near here.)  The rain was coming down quite a bit and I was greeted by Darcie’s dog at the door (don’t think he was too excited about the rain, either).

It was pretty late and Darcie’s boy had already gone to bed, but he still woke up briefly to say, “Hi.”  I ate something light (leftovers from my drive and some soda) and tried to get a good night’s sleep – as I probably will not on Friday before the race.

On Friday I awoke with a headache and clogged sinuses – probably a combination of the altitude and the change in climate.  I stayed in bed for some time trying to overcome the headache, but eventually had to take some Ibuprofen to counteract it.  Darcie was away at work and I was going to watch some TV, but couldn’t find the remote and ended up watching some Netflix on my laptop

Had a nice early dinner with Darcie and Logan – some Orange Chicken in her new nonstick skillet, and I did my best for an early night to get ready for tomorrow.

Since the race starts at 5am, and Mapquest says the drive is 45 minutes, I decide I should allow at least 90 minutes, in case there is traffic (ha!) or I get lost.  The directions look straightforward, but you never know.

The cold weather indicator came on in the car and stayed on for the duration.  I think it is snowing lightly, but the road seems to be OK for now.   The exit for Park City is super clear and I just follow the roads as marked.  A little confusion at the end, but I do spot the huge parking lot that was indicated on the map.  Weird thing is, is that I don’t see anyone in running gear (yes, I am 45 minutes prior to the start, but I feel I should have seen someone by now).

I wander around the outside area by some hotels, by some (closed) shops, and I don’t see anything.  It is a bit concerning, as I would like to leave off my drop bag and just get settled.  Finally, on the complete other side of the buildings (no signs indicating anything by the way and pretty much totally silent) I spot some stuff set up.

I find a tent that says “drop bags,” but none of the tables are labeled and the person in charge is (of course) clueless as to what is going on.  I actually sort of take charge myself and say “Put on this table for this and that table for that.”  Someone else comes to explain what’s going on and we redirect some of the bags.

I head over to the start and about 15 minutes prior to the start, they make an announcement that the race will be delayed by 30 minutes (and no, we will not get an additional 30 minutes to finish – I am concerned).  If we want to drop to the 50K or marathon, we can do so “free of charge.”  Despite my concerns, I didn’t drive out here for some 50K or marathon, so I will take my chances.

The reason for the delay is that they have had quite a bit of snow and it has covered the flags at higher elevations and they are going to uncover them for us.  It’s not enough to cancel the race, however.

They also tell us that they have opened up one of the hotel lobbies so that people can hang out there (inside) for the additional 30 minutes and stay a bit warmer.  I am pretty much the only person wearing shorts, though I do have a Tyvek jacket on to keep a bit warmer.

I follow another (older) guy to what we think is a hotel lobby, but I think it was the office for a real estate firm.  No matter, because we have it to ourselves and it is inside.  I nap a little bit and try and gird myself to go at a faster pace so that I can still finish the race under the now 14.5 hour time limit.

At 5:25, I get back to the start to line up and head out.  It is snowing lightly now and pretty cold out.  It is pitch black out, so I hope it is well-marked.  And… go!

The first stretch is a light gravel road, with few undulations and not much elevation gain, but within a quarter mile, it heads steeply uphill and into a rocky, muddy, wooded single-track.

I am able to run for a bit, but I am not sure of my footing in the dark and do not want to break anything, so I let a number of people pass so that I can maintain a more suitable pace. At times I am hitting my head on pine tree branches and getting showered with snow.  I bet the scenery is beautiful, but in the dark you can’t really see anything.

I get to the first aid station (4.2 miles) in 72 minutes, clearly off the pace I need to be at (something like 15 minutes/mile) but I knew that dark running is going to be off pace.  As I leave the station, a volunteer says something to the effect of “follow the yellow ribbons instead of orange.”  (The one thing that I always liked about North Face was that the course markings matched the color of the bibs.)  There is no explanation given as to what this means, though.

For the two miles out of the aid station, I followed yellow AND orange markings.  It began to get lighter out and I could see the extent of the snowfall, which had blanketed the entire course.  A very pretty white.

I came out into a wide open space and began heading up a steep fire-road.  It was a bit slick, even in trail shoes and I could see everyone’s breath in the frozen environment.  As we turned left and began to traverse the hillside  on a narrow single-track, I noticed the orange trail to the right blocked off and a volunteer directing us along the yellow trail.

I looked at my pace sheet and figured that there was not going to be an aid station in a mile now, because I was on a different route.  What route remained to be seen.

Along with my regular Timex watch, I had the GPS watch.  I knew that it would not last the entire duration of the race, but it is useful to me so I can see my pace at any given moment and know whether I need to push it a bit more.  My pace sheet wasn’t going to be much help, because unless I knew the distance, it wouldn’t be of much use.

I got an eyeful of what I guessed was the 50K, marathon, half marathon, or shorter courses, because there were all sorts of ribbons out here (but I kept following the yellow).

Up ahead, I saw someone directing traffic.  He told me to continue to the right, up the hill, and I would see him again on the way down.  I was kinda hoping this was the next aid station, but he said it was close by.

It was close by, but you kept seeing people on the road above you and realized it was a bit of a climb.  When I did finally get there, the volunteers were a little out of it, because they had not planned on being at this aid station today.  They were friendly though, even though they did not have any further information about what the revised course was, though they thought that maybe this was the half marathon course.

This 6.4 mile section took me 97 minutes, which was a little closer to the needed pace.  I’m hoping for a little bit of downhill where I can make up some time.

I wound back down to the guy directing traffic.  He didn’t have any additional information for me, but did point me towards the downhill and said that the next aid station was less than 3 miles away this time.

The trail was rocky and dangerous, so most of it was not the type of downhill where I could make up a lot of time.  It was apparent, at this point, that I was heading back down towards the starting line, and if I did the math, I was indeed on the half marathon course.  Doing some quick math (13.1 x 4), it looked like 52.4 miles, unless we could skip something to make it shorter, since it did not seem particularly fair to shave off 30 minutes from the time limit AND add 2-1/2 miles.  Hopefully, they would tell me more at the next aid station.

So, we didn’t go all the way to the start, but to a trailer about a quarter mile from the start, where they had laid out all our drop bags.  I didn’t need anything from my drop bag, except information, of which I did not get anything.

The excitement, right now, however, was that the marathon was starting.  Right now!  So suddenly I went from basically by myself to surrounded by 80 enthusiastic runners.  I did chat with a few of them telling them how much better it was now that the sun had come up.

The downside at this point was that I was stuck behind the slowest of the marathoners and that the course had become super muddy as the snow melted into the dirt.  The plus, maybe, was that, since I now see, I could run some of the flatter sections.

Once back to Aid Station #1 (Part Deux), I was not much faster (79 minutes).  This was cause for concern, because you do get slower as you move through an event, and I didn’t even know what I needed to do to finish.  Volunteers still had no clue about what the course change meant (or whoever knew didn’t say).

Course continued being muddy and the narrow single-track cutting through the snow, was now a narrow single-track cutting through mud and a hillside.  Otherwise, it seems about the same as the first time.  Maybe my advantage is that I know what’s coming up and can modify my pace accordingly (or not).

Back to Aid Station 2 (2.0), and I am 11 minutes slower here as well.  Looking less likely that I can finish this race if indeed it is going to be MORE than 50 miles.  (No updates on the course still.)

I pushed as best I could down the hill and I did manage the same time as before.  At the bottom, I FINALLY got an update.  I have 3-1/2 hours to complete another loop and then an additional 3-1/2 hours to do a 4th loop PLUS the quarter mile to the finish.  While 3-1/2 hours for a half marathon is reasonable, I have just completed a marathon in 7:27.  I doubt I am going to get faster, but I am game to try.

I do my best to hustle up to the first aid station (dritte parte) and even without darkness and slower runners impeding me, I lose yet another 5 minutes from the last trip up.

Then, coming out of the aid station and in the section before the single-track, there are bikers coming down full speed on the trails – trails that are marked “no bikers.”  So, the resort limits where we can run but they are not enforcing their no bike rules today?  (Even if a miracle were to happen at this point, I don’t think I would ever come back to this God-forseken place.)

It is becoming clearer that I am not going to be able to finish the race, and getting hurt and missing the cutoff by 5 minutes isn’t worth it.  When I get to the penultimate aid station, I am already at the 3-1/2 hours.

The good news for me is that I can walk down the hill at my own pace and not hurt myself.  The bad news, yes, I’m not finishing this stupid race.  I am pretty peeved, because no one seemed to know what was going on until 7+ hours into the race.  Nobody!!

When I get to the trailer, they direct me to go to the finish line.  The lazy announcer says my name, people clap (despite me saying I didn’t finish the race), and they hand me a medal and a water bottle.

I ate my chicken leg, salad, and roll, plus “free” Sierra Nevada beer and then I got the heck outta there.  I probably would have punched the race director if I had a chance to talk to him, and gauging the response I got after the debacle in San Francisco 6 years ago, I wouldn’t be any more satisfied.  They cater these things to elite athletes and couldn’t give a shit about regular runners.  It’s apparent from the lack of effort – the first two years, I got nondescript shirts (no race information or dates) and a nondescript medal (at least the ribbon had the date of the race).  This year, it was the lowest quality tech shirt and an ugly design.

I drove back to Darcie’s and enjoyed a fun block party.  (Someone found her TV remote near one of the bounce houses down the street.)  Met some of the neighbors and watched everybody get really drunk.

In the morning, I drove back to California.  I decided to stop in Nevada for dinner, but ended up having a grody buffet in Stateline.

POSTSCRIPT: I badmouthed the race on Facebook and that earned me a personal call from the race director.  He said that he had race directed ALL TNF races for the entire duration of the series and that, in fact, he himself ran ultras.  Apparently, true, but hard to believe that he is so clueless about what runners need or want.  (I myself have assisted with ultra events, and stuff comes up and those people do their utmost to keep runners informed as soon as possible.)

The guy gave me all sorts of excuses about not having time to inform runners, but having informed aid station captains (but maybe not telling them to tell runners?).  The other junk about “the race could’ve been cancelled.”  (I understand the race can be cancelled, but if you are not cancelling the race, you still keep everybody informed.

If you do read all the way to the end of this, don’t do a North Face race.  I should have learned my lesson six years ago, but I thought people learn, people change, but North Face hasn’t.  They are probably a great mountaineering company, but they are just not right for runners.

 

Avalon 50M – 2016

January 9, 2016

After a one-year hiatus from this race (because I was told no early starts), I am back for my 4th attempt (3 finishes out of 3, to clarify).

As per my usual, I have vague plans about who I am going to stay with.  My tentative plan is to meet up with Greg W., who is new to AREC, and said that I could probably stay with him and his parents, once I meet up with him on the island.

My back-up plan is to hang around near the start until I am ready to go.  Like Year Two, I have a string backpack (with my water bottles, a small paperback, and headlamp), I am wearing all of my running clothes, plus my Tyvek jacket, hooded Nike running shirt, my Moeben sleeves, and my “racing” shirt.  I guess I can hang out in a bar until I leave.

This year, I am told, there is an official early start of 4am, but they don’t want anyone starting before that.  This has to do with liability and the fact that the Island Conservation doesn’t want people in the interior that they don’t know about.  I get it.  I am hoping to find Greg, but otherwise, I am going to sneak off with the midnight starters.

There is also some concern about the weather, because the forecast (for Long Beach, at least) is for torrential rains.  I am not sure how the island will be if it is raining torrentially, nor how awful the boat ride may be.  At least, when I leave at 2pm, it is not raining in Long Beach, so that bodes well for the ride out.

While I am waiting in line to get on the boat, I see some people I recognize, particularly Ben Gaetos, and his Filipino “gang:”  Deo, Rowell, and Del.  I know Deo tangentially (I mean, we have met before, but I usually hear more about his exploits than experience them with him… plus, we have the same birthday).  I have known Ben from the Hash for several years, and I always seem to see him in the local ultras (he’s usually several hours ahead of me and we pass on the out-and-backs).  They are all wearing “FURT” hats (Filipino Ultra Racing Team) and we all sit together on the boat ride.  I think Del and Rowell may be running their first Avalon.

I look for Greg on the boat, but maybe he told me that he is on a later boat; I don’t remember, but I am kind of hoping that I find him, because I may have to spend several hours in the cold if I do not.

I decide that once I get to Avalon, I am going straight to check-in, as that will be my best hope for finding Greg, as everyone needs to check-in first.

I am there before check-in starts, so I chat it up with my friends Mary Ann and Tom O’Hara (aka V8 and See More Buns) who are volunteering.  Also there is Gary Hilliard, the RD from Mt. Disappointment.  The race had been on hiatus a few years after Gary got into a motorcycle accident.  We had a nice chat about ultras and running in general while everything gets set up inside.

I get checked in and mention that I am going to take the 4am early start (but do not say anything about possibly starting earlier so as to not cause strife from the Avalon RD).  I am hoping to find my friend and not have any reason to start earlier.

Once I get my bib and pin it on, I plant myself in the drop bag drop off section with the hope that I find Greg.  This is a great spot as I get to chat it up with a number of folks who are worried about finishing.  I see some other ultratall humans (like a 6’6″ female and 6’9″ male) but they turn out to be the ultra-supportive grandkids of an older lady attempting the 50 miler.  I also chat with an Asian pair (of friends) who have really huge drop bags (like 10-gallon garbage bags full of stuff) – what they need is beyond me.  I think they are also taking the 4am start.

I think that I see Greg and walk up to him and say, “Hey, Greg. Greg!!” but I don’t get a response.  Maybe that wasn’t Greg, but I don’t spot anyone else that looks remotely like him.  Either it was Greg and he was oblivious (or going deaf), he is going to check in tomorrow morning, or he isn’t here after all.  Hmm.  What are my options (well, plan B, I guess)?

I wander around Avalon (boy, is it cold out!) hoping that I will find him at the restaurant that everyone always eats at, but it is closed for repairs.  I have also eaten nothing, so roam around looking for something that I might like.  When I peer in the window of the “fast food” version of the Italian place that is closed, I see Ben and gang.  I think that I might chat with them before I wander around to find my hangout for the night (or maybe eat there if the line goes down a bit).

They ask if I have seen my friend and I say, “No.”  They tell me that their place is super-small (two twin beds for four people) but they will sneak me in, if possible.  Such a nice offer.

As promised, it is a really small place, even for (relatively) small Filipino dudes.  There is a little space for me where I can lie on the floor between a dresser and the door.  The floor is hard and cold, but it is a fair bit warmer than being outside in 50-degree weather.  They even dig around in the dresser and find an extra pillow and bed cover, so I do have something a little softer to sleep on.  I just hope that I do not snore and keep them all awake (as I did with Mark, Michelle, and John 3 years ago).

I am not certain that I am sleeping at all.  I know that I have closed my eyes and it is dark in the room, and hopefully that will be enough.  Part of this is that I never sleep well before a race and the other part is that I think all four of them are snoring loudly.  At least that means that I am not keeping them awake (though it is possible that I wake them up with my 3:15 alarm, when I wake up to go the bathroom and sneak off for the starting line).

A few folks have started prior to the early start.  We had received notice that the Legacy runner (Hal Winton, age 87) and his “pacer,” Gary Hilliard started at 5pm on Friday.  The other Legacy runner, a fellow from Washington State is a no-show (something about his wife being very sick).  A few of my hash friends, including Chris Spenker and Bob Spears, took the midnight start.  Chris has told me that either he doesn’t display his race number or gets a permit so that there is no attached liability to the race.

There is a good-sized crowd for the 4am start.  I recognize a number of the people I talked with at the check-in, including the grandmother with the ultratall grandkids, the Asian friends (Blue Kusaka and Carly Wooster).

There is also a 50-something lady  from Foothill Ranch, named Wilma, who is concerned about finishing.  She has run both the Eco Marathon and Catalina Marathons, but the fastest of the two was 6-1/2 hours.  She fears that doesn’t translate to a sub-12:00 finish and thus is starting at 4am.

As we start out, even though I am not at the front of the people (because I am walking the uphills), people look to me because I have run the course before.  I am good until we get into the Wrigley Gardens and there is an unmarked fork in the road.  I guess that we go to the left, but when people start coming back from that direction saying that it ended in a fence, I decide that we probably should go the other way.

Wilma and I stay together for about 3 miles, but as the grade increases, I am struggling a bit with the climb.  Yes, I have long legs, and yes, I have more mass to carry up the hill.  I think she will do fine, as I am doing fine, and she is ahead of me.

I get up to Haypress in 1:48 (a 20 minute/mile pace) and the aid station is not set up yet, but they are working on it and I grab something and soldier on.

The next aid station should be the one by the airport, but there was some asbestos found on the road, so they have re-routed the course and it goes through Middle Ranch on the way out also.  So, where I would still be climbing, the course now drops down by the Pumphouse and into the unending monotony of Middle Ranch.  Of course, on the way out, I am fresher and there is a net downhill.  Also, the ground is softer than usual because it has soaked up rain (not wet, not muddy, just right).

The pace I need to maintain to finish under 12 hours (the REAL time limit) is 14:36, and the pace to finish under 13 hours is 15:48.  At the first aid station, I am a little concerned because, obviously, I just did 20 minute miles, but with this change in course (and also the total mileage dropped to 49.3 miles) and additional downhill and eliminated uphill section, I think I can pick up some time on this downhill section. I try to make sure I run when I can, even though at times, I still just want to walk, even on the downhill.

The Middle Ranch AS, at Mile 11.9, goes a bit better.  I cover that section at an 11:13 pace and bring my overall average down to 15:22, within the 13-hour pace.

Now there is a little climbing, as I leave Middle Ranch and curve around to Little Harbor.  The ground is a little wetter here, with actual puddles on the trail, but in most spots, it’s wide enough for everyone to run around them without having to get one’s shoes wet.

When I get to Little Harbor, I peel off my jacket, hooded shirt, and headlamp (and book), and leave them in my string backpack, which I have labeled with my number.  Now I have dropped a little weight and can pick this back up when I come by here again later.  I have another good paced section, getting to Mile 18.6 in 4:15, a 10:34 pace for the last section and my net pace is at 13:42, now under the 12:00 pace!

From Little Harbor to Two Harbors is one of the most difficult sections of the course.  While it is not technically difficult, it does involve a long climb out of Little Harbor (and an equally long descent), followed by a mile-and-a-half out-and-back section to the isthmus.  While I enjoy seeing just about everyone on this section (the people who have now passed me from the regular start, the people I ran with earlier (including Wilma), and the people behind me (heading OUT to the isthmus)), you do pass by the Two Harbors AS en route to the isthmus, giving you false hope that you are making good time, when in reality, you probably are not.  I try not to stop at the AS on the way out so I do not torture myself with this unreality.

I do end up losing some time on this section, with 18:22/mile and increasing my net pace to 15:02, but I am still doing well and now have reached the halfway point (well 26.0M) in 6:31.

Now I’ve got the long climb out of Two Harbors and the descent back to Little Harbor.  The good news is that this section seems shorter now that I’ve done that dumb out-and-back to the isthmus.  The bad news is that I’m pretty tired and don’t feel like running downhill.  I want to say that it means you’re in bad shape if you don’t want to run downhill, but I feel like I can at least stride at a decent pace.

I get back into Little Harbor at a 15:13/mile pace, basically leaving my overall pace the same (still on track to finish).  I pass on playing any of the games (horseshoe toss, for one), though one of these years I should give it a go if I am on track.  I do, however, take the proffered mimosa.  Maybe the alcohol will addle my mind just enough to have a great finish!

I pick up my string backpack (with shirt, jacket, book, and light (Feel like I need a Bell and Candle for a complete collection)) and begin the exciting journey back through Middle Ranch.  Even though it seems endless (as usual), I counted bridge crossings and landmarks on the way out to make the time pass more easily on the way back.

Probably about a mile out from the Eagle’s Nest AS, I encounter Gary and Hal.  They are not moving very fast (especially given that they started 11 hours before I did and I am not moving that fast, either), but I think Hal can get another finish, hopefully in time for Gary to catch the 7:30 ferry back to the mainland.

Eagle’s Nest is one of my favorite aid stations, as they usually have hot food and beer.  I have been looking forward to lobster, buffalo burger, and PBR for several hours now.  All the aid station folks are very friendly and have a gung-ho  attitude (and a lot of them are current or former ultra runners themselves).  I don’t stay too long (just enough to get my special treats) and also drink some Kern’s Peach Nectar (to wash down the beer) and continue on, since there is mostly uphills for the next 5 to 6 miles.

I did get through the Eagle’s Nest section at a 14:38 pace (at this point, it doesn’t drop my overall average pace that much).  I am still just over 15 minutes per mile.

Now I have another 5 or so miles continuing through the Middle Ranch section, passing by a few ranches, the Eagle Preserve, and even see a few cars and non-running people.  A small paved section, voices, and a small building signal that I am at Pumphouse AS, mile 43.3.  I enjoy some watermelon, garlic-roasted potatoes, and a half shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream (it’s supposed to be Irish Cream and Kahlua, but I think Kahlua has cocoa in it and that would really make me sick).  I drop back a little time here and take my average pace to 15:03, one second slower than at Eagle’s Nest.

From here, there is about a mile of uphill to the paved road and then a mile downhill back to Haypress AS.  As I begin going up the hill, it starts to mist a bit.  Not really full-fledged rain, but enough to have water droplets on my glasses.  It is also still sunny out, so there is part of a rainbow in the distance.

In the past, I have seen bison  around these parts, pretty close to the trail.  I actually do spot a couple of bison but maybe 500 yards off the trail.

When I get to the top of the trail and the road, I can see that it is raining quite a bit just offshore of Catalina Island and two beautiful complete rainbows.  Usually, when you spot a rainbow, you can see part of an arc, but here I can see both ends “touching down” completely in the Pacific Ocean.  What a rare and beautiful sight!

On the road, I pass a few people who were in my early start.  I am not accelerating, but I think I am not fading quite as much.  By Haypress AS, I have dropped 5 more net seconds per mile (15:07), and I do stop briefly to readjust my shoes.

I am wearing the Hoka Stinsons (which are OK on non-technical trails) and early on, I had tied the laces too tight and the tongue of the shoe had pinched the skin on the top of my foot.  I loosen that and also arrange the inserts back into the correct position.  My feet hurt quite a bit because of the too tight arrangement, so I basically am walking, even though this last section is a significant downhill.

During my first Avalon 50M, I was slightly over the pace needed to finish in under 12 hours, and finished in 11:43, because I was able to make up so much pace on the downhill, but I am not really feeling like running at this point.  I try to speedwalk as much as possible, hoping that I will feel like running soon.

I don’t encounter a lot of folks on the hill; I am neither catching people nor passing people.  Finally, about a mile-and-a-half in, I catch Chris.  He is in a mood.  Says he’s never doing this event again.  We’ll see.

A little bit later, I am passed by a cute gal.  I stay with her for a little bit, but I think she does not want to go at my pedestrian pace and takes off.  Today is her 14th Avalon, as compared to my 4th.

A couple of minutes later, finally, I feel like running!  The grade is enough that I don’t have to do much to really get going, and I start really bounding down the hill.  I catch up to the gal and pass her by.  I am surprised how good I feel, that my feet don’t hurt as much any more.  That NEVER happens!

Finally, I make the right-hand turn onto the main road that parallels the coast and know that I have 1/4 mile to the finish.  Fortunately, the finishing sign is now high above me (see my first Avalon where I cracked my head on a PFC pipe within the finishing banner) and I stride in with a 12:10:14 , exactly one hour slower than my buddy Ben.

The “cute gal” is Kathryn Buchan Varden, a hasher from Arizona who is friends with Darcie Olk.  She finishes about a minute behind me, followed by Beth Epstein a few minutes later.  (Dang!  We could’ve run together.)

Greg finished in 10:50 and Wilma 11:24 (so, really, no worries).

I hung around the finish line chatting with Mary Ann and Tom (plus some other hash/running friends who were helping at the finish line) while some more runners came in.  I had about 3 hours to kill before the boat ride home.

About 30 minutes after I finished, the gal with the ultra-tall grandkids finished.  She and her friends were pretty disappointed.  They were behind the cutoff, so they were shuttled up to the road, so that they could finish the race, albeit something a few miles less than 50 miles. I pointed out that A) they would be motivated to come back next year, and B) they still ran 40+ miles!

Blue and Carly came in about this same time (but without the shuttle forward) along with Chris.  His finish was interesting because he had in his hand… a milkshake.  That’s right.  Instead of going directly to the finish, he stopped in at the sweet shop and had them make him a quick milkshake (presumably so he didn’t have to walk back after finishing).

I made plans with Kathryn, who will get her 15-year finisher jacket next year (I would get a 5-year finish plaque) to possibly share accommodations for 2017… or I think I may have some other folks up to trying the new 50K course or the doable 50M course.

This was my 77th ultra overall, so I dedicated to TRH Coach Paul Browne (who is 77 years old).  This was also my 21st completed (since I have some DNFs) 50 miler.

I didn’t have any good pictures from the day, but I like to have a picture to include with the posting, so I’ll end this with a “fun” story:

Wilma Dibs, who I befriended at the 4am start (who kicked my butt), and I became Facebook friends.  (She’s probably another person who I could share accommodations with next year.)  She posted that she was having trouble getting all the oranges off the tree at her mother’s house in Fountain Valley.  I mentioned that I could probably reach more branches than anyone else she knew, and so on President’s Day, I went over and snipped branches for about an hour.  I took about half the oranges and it produced enough juice to fill 5 2-liter bottles.

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On the way home, I was rear-ended into another car, causing a total loss of my 17-year old Toyota Camry.  The accident was at about 5mph, I was not hurt, and my car was still driveable, but old.

So, this strange result of a new friendship eventually resulted in getting a new car (with ultra-long space in the front), and hopefully ending my streak of going to ultras with no accommodation plans.

 

Mt. Disappointment 50M (?) – 2007

August 11, 2007

Today is my big test for being able to do the 50 miler and marathon on back-to-back days.  Mt. Disappointment should prove to be WAY harder than the course I am doing in December (10-15 times the elevation change)… but I need to remember what it is to run 50 miles.

At the start, the conditions are not ideal… it’s already about 75 degrees out… and the race is not starting on time.  The RD says that he will give us some extra time at the end, but the problem is that we won’t get much in the way of cool temperatures to get ourselves going.

For the first section, which is the descent off Wilson, plus the crest over Mt. Disappointment itself, I take at a mild pace and feel OK.

On the second section, from Redbox to the bottom of Josephine, again, I am pacing conservatively and feel decent when I get to the base.  Of course, much of this section is shaded, so I am not yet feeling the “heat,” so to speak.

Once I start heading up Josephine, the temperature is in the mid-80s.  I remember how bad it had been 3 weeks earlier, so I decided that I would walk the entire hill and walk like it wasn’t important to get to the top – it was… but I was trying to keep cool and stay relaxed.  Unfortunately, I still felt overheated at the top of the hill and hurried into the shade for some protection.

The next part of this section is Strawberry Saddle.  It starts about 2 miles descent from the top of Josephine.  I felt OK on this transition section but really struggled up Strawberry.  It’s a red surface and it reflected a lot of heat back onto me.  I finally had to sit down, take off my hat and try to get myself back to a normal heart-rate and not feel like I was about to pass out.

A number of people I know passed by me and didn’t realize it was me.  Hwa-Ja said, “I have never seen the top of your head.”  A few people gave me Blox and Sharkees (?) and said they would let the Redbox aid station know that I was struggling and coming soon.  Once someone poured some water over my head, I felt a lot better and continued down to Redbox.

When I got there, they tagged me as “the guy who is going to drop out.”  I said, “What?  No.”  I just needed a break.  ‘Don’t feel bad about dropping,’ they said.  I said, “I don’t feel bad, because I am not dropping.  I am still pretty far ahead of the cutoff – 2 hours – and I am going to sit here and relax for a bit, drink a bunch of water and continue.”

They mentioned, as I left, that I could always opt for the 50K distance when I got to Westfork Station.  I said I would consider it, if I was falling behind the cutoff times… but when I got to Westfork, I was STILL 2 hours ahead of the cutoff, so I decided to forge ahead on the 50M course.

Just ahead of me was another 50 miler competitor.  I slowly caught up to her and we continued together for a bit.  Her name was Summer Wesson, and she had recently been in a car accident and was occasionally blacking out during her runs (I remembered some of the earlier single track and worried about her safety.).  Both of us vowed that we were going to finish this freaking race, ‘no matter what.’  (Basically they would have to drag our lifeless corpses from the course to stop us.  Dramatic, I know.)

The section out of Westfork is mostly shaded and a lot of uphill.  I just took it easy and reached the next aid station about 90 minutes ahead of cutoff.  There is a small out-and-back section here of about 1.5 miles (and you mark your bib with the pen at the turnaround to prove you were there).  On my way back, I suffered really severe cramps… and my shoe inserts had turned around inside my shoes.  Yow.

When I got back to the aid station, the cramps were gone, but I still needed my shoes adjusted.  I worried that if I sat down and tried to do it myself, I would cramp, so I asked the volunteer if he would assist me in sorting out my shoes… but the minute he touched my foot, I cramped up from the tips of my toes, to my waist.

I ended up spending around 45 minutes at the aid station, with a VERY nice volunteer cleaning, then massaging my feet (and I drank a lot of water and consumed a lot of salt to help with the cramping).  Then they said that I’d better get going because the cutoffs were going to be a whole lot closer.

The next section, to Shortcut, is 9 miles long.  Three miles downhill (with about 1000′ loss), and then six miles uphill (and 2000′ gain).  The downhill section is extremely technical, rocky as all get out.. and I worried about cramping if I stumbled too much… but I had to basically run down the hill to bank time for the uphill climb.

The uphill section was unbelievably difficult… not as technical, but there was no shade of any kind and by now, the temperature was close to 110 degrees.  I could not cool off at all.  And I was continuing to cramp.

Around this time, the sweeps caught up with me.  They were removing the ribbons and picking up any trash or planted water bottles.  They (Lonnie and Andrea (an Italian guy)) stayed with me and encouraged me to keep going.  I entertained them (when I could) by singing Italian folk songs that I knew.

The going was extremely slow and I feared I would not make the cutoff.  According to what I could remember, we had 11 hours and 30 minutes to get to Mile 41.  I estimated that I reached Mile 38 in 12-1/2 hours.  So… no good.

DNF (did not finish)-ing is one of the more devastating results in race.  I think there are people that are satisfied with making the attempt, and a DNF is an option always.  Then there are those of us who will finish at any cost (maybe even messing up one’s body by using a muscle, limb or body part that needs to recover) or find that umpteenth gear to push through and get there… but no amount of pleading was going to get me out of this one.

I had to accept it.   Summer had to accept it.  And the gal who collapsed on the trail (who Summer had stopped to help) unconsciously accepted it.  (I think that Summer would still have DNFed, even without helping the troubled runner.)

I got back to the start/finish and waited for my friend Ben Gaetos (to conserve parking spots, I had carpooled up with him from the 210 freeway) to finish, and also looked at the results of Laura, Chuck and Todd Fanady.

** Laura… well, her health was bad that day… and she didn’t start (so her result was equivalent to mine).

** Chuck finished 7:25.  That’s reasonable… but not great coming from a guy who had done a tough trail marathon in under 4 hours.

** Todd Fanady finished in 9:25.  My time in 2006 was 8:55 and Todd is a MUCH better runner than I am.

Ben came finished under the time limit.  Today… that was all that mattered.  However, he felt horrible – maybe worse than I felt because he had done the additional 12 miles.  He was fading in and out of consciousness… which was bad news for a hairpin turn-filled mountain drive… so I drove down, but my lanky legs kept hitting the nightlamps and plunging us into darkness… on the hairpin turns… as my legs were cramping.

There are lessons to be learned from this race.  I know that one is that I have to figure out how to deal with the cramping.  Eating a lot of Clif Shot or salt doesn’t totally do the trick, but I don’t know what does.

This leaves me more than a little concerned about my December adventure.  I am hoping that the weather is cooler and that I don’t cramp as much… but now I am less confident that I can even finish a 50-miler… much less a 50-miler AND a marathon in consecutive days.

Twin Peaks 50M – 2015

October 17, 2015

My history with Twin Peaks goes back a few years.  In my first attempt (2012), there was a fatality on the freeway, and I started 45 minutes late.  Even though the race director said that she would give me an extra 45 minutes to finish, it took me over 8 hours for the first 25 miles, and I was not confident that I could finish the second 25 (actually 27.5 miles) in 9 hours, especially with more tough hills.  Fortunately, the race has a “wimp-out” option and I finished the 50K in 10:50.

In 2013, the race was cancelled because of the government shutdown, but resurrected as a 50K “Fat Ass” a few days later.  I tried to do the 50K (regular 8am “hot” start) and fell apart really early on, like Mile 7, and when I got to the Holy Jim section, it was all I could do to get through the 4.5 miles in 3 hours, 7 minutes.  (No, that is not a typo.)  I had to get a ride back down because I was so tired.

In 2014, I tried again, and did a bit better, but still was not able to finish the full 50M (“only” the 50K), but my time was about an hour faster.  I joked with the race director, my buddy Jessica DeLine, that if I could start extra extra extra early, maybe I could finish.  She said she might be open to me starting earlier than the early start.

I don’t know if I intended on running Twin Peaks in 2015, but in early 2015, my friend Lauren Miertschin (who I met at the finish line of the 2012 Twin Peaks), was turning 50, and expressed a desire to finish the race for her 50th birthday year.  I said that I was in, if I could convince the RD to let us start at, say, midnight. (The official early start is at 5am.)

I also somehow convinced Angela Holder to enter the race as well.  I didn’t know if she was up for a super difficult 50 Mile course as her FIRST 50 mile course, but she was certainly game to give it a try, especially if she, Lauren, and I could start extra (to the third power) early.

One thing that we intended on doing to prepare ourselves for the race was to get super familiar with the course.  Over the years, in essence, I know the course pretty well, but the purpose was to get ourselves solidly familiar with every twist and turn and come up with a strategy to get through this race.

If you read my post about the Bun Run 3M in late August, I suffered a Grade 2 Ankle Sprain trying to familiarize myself with the course.  A few days earlier, I had maybe sprained my thumbs (I know it sounds weird, but I hyper-extended them on a fall.).

Three weeks ago, Angela and I did a 23-mile training run on part of the course, mostly to see if my ankle could handle the strain (wore my ankle brace) but was super nervous on some steep single-track trail on Upper Holy Jim (25 minute miles on the downhill!).

The upshot of all this training was that I was super familiar with the course, and could tell you every hairpin turn on each section of the trail.  One thing I find in many ultras is that parts of the trail all look alike, so knowing how many turns there are, helps you to know how close you are to the next aid station.  I guess it could also be demoralizing if you are not moving that fast, but I liked knowing where I was on a particularly tough section.

As the date of the race neared, I made sure that I negotiated the opportunity for an early start, and Angela was nervous that she would not be allowed to start with me.  By this time, Lauren had decided not to run the race after all, so it would just be the two of us.  Jessica had said, “Yes, you can start early,” but had not specified a time when we could start. (Give me an inch; I’ll take a mile.)

Angela and I talked it over, trying to figure out our best strategy.  More important than the starting time, was being able to finish by the finishing time.  On the front end, it is simply knowing the course, but on the back end, it’s not making volunteers stay beyond the end, and finishing before the course closes.  It’s easier to appeal to an early start rather than an extended finish.

On Friday afternoon, I wrapped my ankle with KT tape, but it was not sticking really well, so I also wore my Neoprene ankle brace over my sock, hoping it would hold it into place, but I decided to wear all these layers anyway, just to be on the safe side.  If anything, it will provide a little extra padding, because I won’t wear my Hokas (since I sprained my ankle on this exact trail wearing them).

At about 4pm, Angela met me at my condo and we headed out to Corona to pick up our race numbers.  Traffic was BAAAD (but no fatalities).  Had a little trouble finding the hotel, but we weren’t too late to pick up our numbers (that would have been bad, since we were starting way early).

They had some pizza at the check-in, so we each had a piece and chatted with Jessica and her check-in volunteer.  I reminded them we were starting early.  Jessica tried to pin us down on what time.  I kept saying, “Really early.  Really really really early.”  Jessica said, “Four?”  (Ha ha.)  “Um… probably 2am, but we considered starting at midnight.”

I was a little worried that she might balk, but she knew that I am familiar with the course (I even volunteered to carry a roll of ribbons with me in case the course had somehow been sabotaged) and that we would have enough supplies to get by until the aid stations got set up.

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Angela and Emmett a few hours before starting Twin Peaks 50M.

We took leave of them around 8:00pm, including almost a full large pizza (not a lot of people picked up their numbers early), and then drove over to try to decide where we would “hang out” until the start.  We opted for the parking lot behind Vons.  There were, of course, all of those warning signs that said, “Customers only,” and “No overnight parking.”  We decided to go into the store, and we certainly not parking “overnight.”

Angela bought a cupcake and something to drink; I think I bought a Powerade, and then we chatted in the car for a bit.  I “napped” for a bit, but I was just running over the course in my mind (which was exhausting).

I kept getting awakened by employees cleaning up or dumping trash.  I worried that a cop would come kick us out (we were steaming up the car a bit, probably because of nervous breathing).

Around 1am, we decided to head over to the start and begin prepping ourselves to go.  The drive from Vons to the start is less than a mile, and we got a good parking spot close to the start.  There were already a few cars there, presumably people camping out near the start.

It was pretty cold outside, so I had my jacket on, as well as gloves.  I also “overdid” it on the water side, with both water bottles AND my Camelbak.  I also put a piece of duct tape with my name and number on the Camelbak, so that I could leave it at the top of Santiago along with my jacket, headlamp, and anything else I didn’t want to carry with me all day.

We both made use of the port-a-potties, where I had a tough problem getting more than one square of toilet paper at a time.  By the time we had gotten all of our ducks in a row, we had made it all the way to 1:20am.  The question was, do we go back to the now cold car and sit for another 30 minutes, or say, to heck with it, and just get going?  (I’d definitely rather have the extra 30 minutes!)  So we started, even extra earlier than the extra (x3) early start.

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The first section of trail is 6.5 miles long and 3,800 feet of elevation gain.  This is the only section where I didn’t count turns, though honestly, this entire section was in the dark and I stumbled a lot… at least I had Angela’s brighter headlamp helping me in the dark.

We had an interesting episode not long after we passed by the Korean Church.  We heard all sort of screaming and howling.  It kind of felt like a scene from Deliverance.  It made us really nervous.  We decided that it either was loud Korean churchkids, and then sound was echoing, or it was some people camping up near the Main Divide and just making a lot of noise.  We never got close to or actually saw where this noise was coming from.  We saw a few lights, so maybe it was aliens.

Our goal to the top (and the theoretical aid stations) was 2 hours.  Our pacing was based upon a 17-hour finish (which is the real time limit if you start early (5am)) and then we have a margin of 3-1/2 extra hours.  If you divide that out, you can lose about 4 minutes per mile, but the goal is not to lose much time because it is harder to make up time at the end of the race, and also it is hard to translate a time change for each section of trail, because some are astoundingly harder than other sections.  We reached the top in 2:15 (2:00 + 4 x 6.5), so by an average accounting, within the margin of error and 7 minutes to tack onto the next section.

We could see (aided by headlamp) the skeleton of the aid station, basically a table or two and some boxes of water.  I took advantage of refilling my water bottles, even though I had not consumed a lot in the cold dark.

The next 4 miles has a net gain of 100 feet, but this is really misleading, because there is a long, technical climb out from the “top” of the hill, and then a scary descent.  Especially scary because this was where I sprained my ankle… during the day.  We were doing this in the dark.  It was just a bit before 4am, still an hour before the early start.

I needed quite a bit of assistance from Angela and her light.  Although we were on a wide fire road, it seemed more like being on a steep single-track.  Several times, she was nice enough to turn around and back light my way down.  I’m very grateful, because it made it a bit easier.

We reached the West Horsethief Aid Station in 1:18 (goal 1:20), and took advantage of refilling water bottles once more.

Now, we have 4.5 miles downhill with about 2,800 feet of elevation loss.  The first section is not that bad, pretty straightforward, not a lot of steep or slippery trail, but once we exit this section, there is a really rocky section, followed by 5 long switchbacks.  All of this is single-track trail, with lots of low branches (probably not as troubling for Angela), loose gravel, and sheer drop-offs to the side.  There isn’t a chance I will miss my footing, but it’s still slow going.

Once we get to the bottom of the steepest part, there’s a gentler descent through a number of creek beds.  Angela is doing better than I am on this section, so she surges ahead.  I figure I will catch up to her on the uphill, because I do a little better on that part.

When I get out to the fire-road section, I run into my friend Christopher Ferrier (who I met at the Santa Barbara races in July).  He’s taking pictures for the race, so he runs alongside and snaps some photos (which apparently don’t come out well in early morning light).  He gets my ultratall ultrarunning experience, because he is similarly ultratall.

I get down to the Holy Jim Aid Station location in 1:43 (goal 1:25).  I can hardly believe how slow a pace I managed in this section.  I obviously had to take it slowly because of my ankle, but 25 minutes per mile, downhill?  That’s so slow!

Now begins the “fun” trek up Holy Jim Trail – 4.5 miles, 2,800 feet of elevation gain.  This is a trail I know really well.  There are 17 switchbacks before the trail starts traversing the hillside in long swatches.  The trail is also marked with 0.5 mile signposts to keep you feeling like you are a slow-poke.

I catch Angela about a mile up and continue on past her, figuring we will meet up again at the top of Santiago Peak.  We trained together on these trails, so I have confidence that she will do well.  The good news for us is that it is still early, and if it gets hot, it will be later in the day.

I get to Bear Springs, the unmanned aid station in 1:55 (goal 1:25). Now maybe you can understand how you can’t make determinations on exact pace from section to section.  This part is obviously a much tougher section, and I expected to lose more time than on a downhill section.

Also, what is funny here is that I have now been out for 7 hours and 12 minutes, and it is now 8:45am.  But I don’t feel too tired… yet.

Now the climb gets more intense.  I know, I know.  If you’ve read this far, all of the hills seem tough, but in terms of elevation gain per mile, this WAS a difficult section.  There are two mile-and-a-half sections, each with 800 feet of elevation gain.  That’s 10% gain for 3 miles!

I just keep pushing forward and slogging up the hill.  I am passed by 3 guys who are running up the hill.  Running!  And the sad thing is that all of them started at 6am.  They’ve made up a 4-1/2 hour stagger in 3 hours (basically, they are twice as fast as I am).

When I get to the top of Santiago Peak, I am craving something that is not water.  I don’t necessarily need food, but I do need flavor (flavor in my water).  And guess what?  The aid station hasn’t arrived yet.  I guess I could deal with it, but the three leaders also wouldn’t get anything either.

The radio people are there, though, and give me a granola bar, and they point out the truck making progress towards the summit.  I wait the five or so minutes until the truck gets there, but I can’t get anything until the drop bags are all unpacked… so I helped with that, AND helped set up the table and pulled out all of the food, too.  I did get my Nuun tablet and the water tasted so-0 much better!  (By the way, my average pace up the hill was 28 minutes/mile!)

On the way down, I do finally encounter Angela.  She is cutting her losses.  Her knee feels off.  I try and convince her that she should just push through it, but not only doesn’t she want to push through it, she wants my car keys, because she’ll get to the finish before me (probably).  I don’t really want to give my keys up, but if I don’t, she will be stranded without a change of clothes until I finish or quit.

We discuss a few other things.  Both of us made plans to have pacers for the latter half of the race.  The earliest you can have a pacer is Mile 31.  Art Acebedo is planning on pacing Angela from that point, then back to the bottom of Upper Holy Jim at Mile 44.  This is the worst point to start pacing, as he cannot run with us to the end (well, he can, but then I would have to somehow drive him back to his car as the base of Holy Jim where his car would be parked and I don’t have four-wheel drive).  He’ll get in a good 18 mile “run,” but Angela would be on her own for the last 8 miles.

But Angela will not be running back down Holy Jim and we don’t know if she got a message to him in time not to show up.  He MAY be my pacer for 4-5 miles.

On the other hand, I made arrangements with Aaron Sorensen (who DNFed in the first third of Santa Barbara 100M like I did) to meet me at Mile 38.  I’ve given him a time range, since it is so difficult for me to figure out exactly when I get there.  His added difficulty is that Mile 38 is at the top of Indian Truck Trail (the initial 6.5 mile climb).  They are not really offering rides to pacers (well, they were, but we didn’t find out about that option until it was too late).  So, he will have to climb 6.5 miles to meet me, and then run an additional 14.5 miles with me, but at least he will be back at his car and not need a drive anywhere.  I hope that the timing will work out, but there are a lot of “ifs,” because it was already a big imposition for him to drive to Corona from Long Beach (about 50 miles) to pace me.

So, now I head back down the steep mile-and-a-half to Upper Holy Jim (or Upper Holy Jim Parking Lot, as I call it, because it kinda resembles a parking lot).  I am passed by a couple more of the top 10 folks, and I re-encounter my photographer buddy, Chris.  I do a little better on this section.  It is downhill, but it’s really rocky and ankle-turning, but I manage 19 minute miles down the hill, and now I am on the Upper Holy Jim Trail, which I have been dreading.

It’s another mile of downhill, but the recent rains have rutted the trail quite a bit.  At parts, the single-track is narrower than the width of my foot, so even in practice, I had to walk with both feet at different heights (one foot about 18 inches higher than the other).  There are other sections where there is scree and I have to climb down backwards, or I will fall… and I also don’t want to impede the forward progress of the fast runners behind me.  In practice, this mile-long section took me 25 minutes, so I am hoping to improve upon this.

It is a struggle, but I did go down at a 22:00/mile pace (which includes a half-mile of flat leading back to Bear Springs, which is the top of Holy Jim Trail).

So now I am basically “running” everything I did earlier, but in reverse.  I am going down the tough uphills and up the tough downhills, and then I will run past the initial downhill and climb up to the top of Santiago Peak again, before heading back down.  (I am not looking forward to that climb HOURS from now.)

When I get to Holy Jim, I start encountering a number of my friends who started early.  They are about 6 miles behind me, but have the horrible climb up Santiago Peak looming.  I see my friend, Cherry Cheng, who ran with me from mile 4 to 10 in the shortened year (when I did Holy Jim in 3 hours, and she turned around after 10 miles).

I also see my friend, Ben Gaetos.   The past couple years I always see him in the same spot.  I am about a mile from the top of Santiago and he is about a mile behind me (and then I don’t see him again because I dropped down to the shorter distance).  Because I started so freakin’ early, he is about 7 miles behind me (I don’t want to tell you how much better he is doing than me, but you can make the calculation… 7 miles, 4-1/2 hours.)

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Coming towards Ben Gaetos on Holy Jim Trail.

I feel pretty good on this section, because it is almost all downhill, and I know that once I do my last traverse along the hillside, I have 17 switchbacks, and then about a mile to the aid station.  I just bound down at a comfortable pace (13:00/mile).  I am pretty excited because I made up some of the major time that I’ve lost climbing up to Santiago, and maybe preserved some time that I will lose up West Horsethief Trail next.

My halfway split (midway down Holy Jim) is close to 10 hours, which would be well slower than the pace I would need to finish in under 17 hours (the normal early start time limit), but I have given myself 20.5 hours, so I am doing OK, but maybe cutting it close.  Art isn’t here, so he must have gotten Angela’s message.

Now I get to head up West Horsethief.  Remember, this was the section that I averaged 25 minutes per mile DOWNHILL.  I also will tell you that last year, the average pace on this section UPHILL for people who finished was 20 minutes per mile.  I hope I can do something acceptable to give myself every chance to finish.

The weather is still pretty overcast and moderate, so I am hoping that I can get through most of West Horsethief before the sun re-emerges.  I get through the fire-road section and through the creek bed section well enough, but I know I will have a difficult time on the switchbacks.  I just keep moving with authority and try to not let too many people pass me.

On the entire section, I do not hear or see another living soul.  It is weird, because I was passed a bunch of times on the downhill sections.  In fact, I make it all the way to the top of the trail without being passed.  This may be because the folks behind me were moving not much faster than I was.  Also, about 3 switchbacks from the top, the sun did come out (dang) and made it that much warmer.  I didn’t do any 20 minute miles, but (strangely enough) my average UPHILL pace was 15 seconds per mile FASTER than it was this morning.

Just after I filled my water bottle, the person behind me emerged.  It was the female race leader, Deysi Osegueda.  Maybe she couldn’t catch me up the hill, but she disappeared ahead pretty quickly once we got back onto the Main Divide Fire-Trail.

The volunteers are really cheery.  While I feel concerned about my pace, they let me know that I have 7 hours to complete the final 19 miles.  Twenty minute miles.  C’mon, you can WALK this!

In order to finish, I know that I have to just run whenever possible and walk with authority on the uphills.  I do slightly better on the section back to the top of Indian Truck Trail, averaging 17:15/mile.  (Everything faster than 20:00/mile will bank time towards finishing under the time limit.)

I get to Mile 38, and no sign of my pacer.  I ask if maybe he already showed up and went on ahead, but I guess not.  No worries, because I have never used a pacer before.  So, just as I am filling my water bottles, a truck drives up and out pops my pacer.

He tells me that I told him to arrive around 3pm.  It’s 3:01 now.  What a good (and fortunate) guesstimate.  He had gone partway up the hill and then got a ride the rest of the way.

I actually have two pacers, but only one is human. The other is one of those aliens we encountered on the way up earlier… no, actually, it’s Aaron’s training partner, Lacey, his dog.  I am not great with dogs, but Lacey is helpful and not annoying. When we are alone on trail, she runs at her pace, not too far ahead of us.  When there are other runners around, Aaron leashes her and he pretty much does not have to ask twice for her to accede to his commands.

Aaron ends up being a great pacer because he helps me forget how tired I am, and also I do not have to lead the conversation.  Aaron is telling me about how he did a few laps of Barkley (the hardest 100 miler ever) and his ideas for this crazy 20 mile loop near Mt. Baldy that he wanted to call Ridgecrest (there’s another race called Ridgecrest, though).

The weather has cooled off quite a bit, since we have passed the 3 o’clock hour, and so going up the Main Divide to the top of Santiago doesn’t seem as bad the second time around.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  (On the other hand, it might be that I haven’t been carting around my Camelbak for the past 6 hours, but will pick it up at the top.)  Anyway, instead of 28 minutes per mile, I have zoomed along at a super-speedy 24:45/mile!  Woot!

At the top, we refill our water bottles, get Lacey some water, pick up my Camelbak, which has my headlamp in it, and then start to head down.  My feet do hurt quite a bit now (especially with all of the technical trail poking into my thin-soled shoes (not padded like Hokas, but less apt to make my foot fold in half).

My jog-walk down the technical trail to the Upper Holy Jim Parking Lot is about 20 minutes a mile again (though back within the acceptable range), and another 20 minute mile down the treacherous Upper Holy Jim back to the final aid station at the top of Indian Truck Trail.  The excellent news at this point is that I have approximately 4 hours for the final 6.5 miles… almost all downhill.  It going to get dark out again, but I think I will be able to manage 45 minute miles and FINISH!

Once the dusk starts settling in, I turn on my headlamp.  It’s pretty insufficient.  The batteries may be a bit drained, but super-pacer to the rescue.  He has a second hand-held small flashlight for me to use.  It is a bit awkward with me also carrying my water bottles, but is small and powerful enough that it is WAY better than my headlamp.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know the ins and outs of this section.  I do remember from previous years (because you have to go down this hill to get to the 50K finish, too) that you head downhill forever, and there’s a zillion turns and you never seem to get any closer.

The one landmark I am looking for is the Korean church, because that is less than 2 miles from the finish.  When I get there, I am absolutely giddy because I know that after 3 failed attempts and a super-early start (which made me famous or infamous – “OMG!  You’re the guy who started at 1:30am!”), I WILL finish this race.

When I see the lights of the finisher’s tent, I am actually not clear on where the finish line is, so I almost run by it.  Stupid.  Many of the recent finishers are still there (not the winners, who finished 4-1/2 hours ago) and Angela.  Thank goodness I gave her my car keys because she would have spent 7+ plus waiting for me and freezing her ass off.

Besides my motivation to finally beat this difficult course (and the early start), I also had my inspirations from my pace sheet – Angela (who despite dropping down completed her 3rd ultramarathon, the beastiest 50K possible), Stephanie Harris (who had just donated a kidney to an ailing friend), and my buddy Gilbert Barragan, Jr., who had just completed his first marathon at Long Beach.  People that you find more inspirational than yourself give you that extra boost to achieve your own goals.

My 19 hours and 1 minute time was my 3rd longest race (by time), maybe my slowest pace, but with 30,000 feet of elevation change, probably appropriate.

Not sure that I will attempt this again (unless I do an early start to help a friend finish) or maybe volunteer-slash-pace someone through the race and pay it forward, but even though I am probably the slowest “official” finisher of this race ever, all that matters to me is that I finally finished this challenging event.