Category Archives: 50M

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.


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.


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.


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.)

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.

Bishop 50M – 2014

May 17, 2014

Two years ago, I attempted the Bishop 100K as a substitute for my failed Miwok 100K a few weeks earlier.  I drove up with Martin Santos and Rafael Covarrubias and we camped out near the start.  (I finished 50 miles of it (52, actually).)

Last year, I drove up again with Martin and Rafael, but this time we stayed in a motel; Laura also drove up and ran the race.  This time, I did the 50 miler and completed it.

For this year, I really wanted to try the 100K again.  I felt like if I paced myself properly, I would probably do OK, but I am another year older and dealing with patellar issues, so I will see.

I tried for a few weeks to convince my old compatriots to join me in this venture, but Laura wasn’t interested, and the guys were doing Born to Run in Los Olivos.  I even tried to convince Dulce Barton to come up and do the 50K or the 20M.  She was on the fence for a while, but was not able to swing getting off work early enough for us to arrive in Bishop before dark.  (Even up until an hour before I left, she was still trying to make it work.)

I ended up driving by myself and listening to a book on tape in the car.  It was a nice drive, though Highways 14 and 395 do not have many Rest Areas.  I ended up stopping on a side road so I could get out and stretch.

I got into Bishop around 4:00 and went straight to the Sage to Summit running store to pick up my bib.  I decided to stay in the store and help out, especially because it was air conditioned inside and pretty hot outside.  The forecast for tomorrow is 95 degrees, and that makes me a bit worried, as I don’t do well in heat.

I ended up helping out with bib and T-shirt distribution; I am pretty good at the organizational side of things anyway.  I developed a nice rapport with the two gals that were helping out, Dr. Carolyn Tiernan (ER doctor at the Community Hospital this race benefits) and Tina Borcherding, a runner from the Sacramento area.

Around 6:30, I walked the 15 minutes from the store to the Community Park where they are holding the free dinner.  The cafe where the dinner had been held for the past 2 years went out of business.  The downside is that there is no beer, because you can’t drink beer in the park.

I looked around to see if I recognize anyone.  Basically, I am trolling for floor space, because otherwise, I plan to park at the start and camp out.  Tina (the volunteer at the store) has a space at the camping area and says that I could park my car there.  I would rather sleep on a floor, but I will take what I can get.

I see Chris Spenker, my hash friend, who came up a few days ago and briefly considered doing the 50M.  He is on the slow side and the time limit is not super generous (unless he started at midnight or something).  He tells about how things have changed since he used to come up here to visit his grandparents (a while ago, given that he is over 70 years old!).  I also run into my “buddy” Sabine Gillert, who I met at Way Too Cool a few years ago (German, but raised elsewhere in Europe).  We enjoy some nice spaghetti, salad and garlic bread.  Sabine tells me to call her if I can find anything else and maybe I can sleep on her floor.

They also have a drawing for prizes, though there is some confusion over what is a raffle ticket (we got a blue one at the store, but the caterers took it as a food ticket).  Most of the prizes are things I don’t need (like women’s socks and tech t-shirts).

Afterwards, I walk back to my car and also help Tina and Carolyn pack up the remaining bibs and shirts to take to the race director, who should still be in the park.  Carolyn is local and we drive all sorts of back streets to the back end of the park, but by the time we get there, he had already departed for the start line.  I follow Tina over there and once again, help her unload her car.  I am going to follow her to her camping space, but she suggests (and I agree) that I should just park at the start line (since I will be sleeping in my car in either case).

I hang out briefly with the Ham Radio operators (who are also camping at the start) and then show the RD the stuff we brought over.  However, I do need to get a good night’s sleep (or the best I can manage, so I avail myself of the public restroom.  I can change into my clothes for tomorrow (well, what I haven’t already put on – basically shirt and trail shoes).

I have a great opportunity to test out my new flashlight that I bought today at Target.  It is 10 times stronger than my current light (which I have to use to put the batteries in the new one!) and so much easier to operate (turn the switch rather than push-button).

Once I am all set to go, I take off my shoes and try to settle into a comfortable position.  The last time I slept in my car was at the Ridgecrest 50K about 10 years ago.. and it was a different car (smaller, probably).  I started out in the passenger seat fully reclined, but I was not able to move around.  I finally moved over to the driver’s side rear seat, with my feet draped over the passenger side.  It was really quite comfortable.

I read for a bit before falling asleep, and I didn’t get a lot of sleep, because I was essentially awakened when people started driving up and parking next to me (and shining headlamps all over the place).  There wasn’t a strong necessity for me to hurry and get up because I only needed to put my shoes on and fill my water bottles (though I suppose I could have done that last night).

It’s not particularly chilly at the start (wish it were) even though it’s only 6am.  Sabine and I take some pictures… and I also take pictures with some short ladies (later, I figure out it’s Patty DeVita and Liz Hodges).  I place myself at the back as I am not going to contend for a title and do not want to be “trampled.”

The first bit of the course is the paved road through the park and campground, which eventually turns to dirt and then deep sand.  This is the point where I am gratified that I am towards the back, because then I am not impeding others’ progress and not feeling like I need to hustle along at the pace of the ones I am with.  This first section to the first aid station is only about 1-1/2 miles.  However, this station is not set up and unmanned.  (I heard some murmurings yesterday about a volunteer falling through… but we don’t really need aid after 1.5 miles; they will have someone when the 20-mile race folks come through here in another 90 minutes or so.)  I have mostly walked this section, both because deep sand is draining and it’s mostly uphill.

Now we take a turn to the right and begin to circumvent the mountains that I will be climbing a half day from now.  I am able to run a bit more, because the trail is now a wide dirt road with rolling hills. Some folks are peeling off and utilizing the landscape as a giant toilet.  I am surprised that quite a few ladies are stripping down and squatting, as there will probably be better spots or at least portable toilets at upcoming aid stations.

I strike up a couple of conversations with people I pass and as people pass me.  I have a slightly longer conversation with an average-heighted blonde lady who has a Russian accent.  She has run one or more 50 mile races before, but this is her first 100K race.  I show her my pace sheet and how I have a speed goal and a finishing goal. I know that I will be at the speed goal early on, but really only want to maintain the finisher’s pace.  She asks if I wouldn’t mind if we would run together. I am OK with that, because it helps pass the time.  She offered that I could sleep on her floor IF we finish the 100K.

Her name is Lucy and she lives in the Bay Area, but is Russian.  I remember from last year when I did an 8-mile section with a gal from Stanislaus County.  This gal was 48 years old, but looked younger (at least, in my mind)… but for the most part, the younger gals are not gallumphing along at my pedestrian pace… but the late-40s and 50s (and MORE) ladies usually are.  Lucy and I get into a conversation about age… people usually guess 10 years younger than I am – I don’t remember what she guessed… but on the young side.

THEN, Lucy asked me to guess her age (never a good idea to answer), but she persisted.  So I tried to formulate a guess based upon her face (eyes shrouded by sunglasses, so I didn’t get a great look), her garb and how she wore her hair… and then subtracted 7-10 years… and guessed 45.  WRONG ANSWER!  I guessed younger, and then I thought she said, “No, Way Off, Older!” and I guessed 59 (!!!).  (She didn’t say “Older,” but I also really didn’t think she was 59!)  She said she was 39.  Whoops!  (Later, though, when I looked at the results, it said she was 40, so I wasn’t too far off, especially given that I felt she dressed somewhat old school or classically.  (But yes, I know, I erred.)

Fortunately, this didn’t spoil our time together.  We had a similar sense of humor and had a nice talk all day.  At times I sensed that she wanted to run on ahead, and at other times, I think she was struggling with the thin air at elevation.  You have to take elevation into consideration here, especially if you live at sea level. The base elevation (at the start) is about 4500 feet and climbs 5000 feet over the first 20 miles.

Lucy and I reached the second (but first staffed) aid station in 75 minutes (a net pace of 13:10 per mile).  It’s early on, so I don’t want to waste a lot of time and just grab some melon and pretzels and continue on.  There is some cloud cover and it is keeping it from getting too hot; also, I think the higher we go, the cooler it will stay.

We continue to circumvent the hills (though we are also steadily climbing alongside them).  The trail, though wide, is fairly technical and hurts my feet a bit.  There is an interesting section here where we climb a steep non-trail cut-through that connects a lower trail to an upper trail.  It is well-marked, but a runner just ahead of us is not watching where she is going (AND wearing headphones).  I shout at her as best I can (but my throat is dry from the thin air), but she doesn’t hear me until she is almost out of sight.  She is pretty appreciative (and continues to tell me each time we see each other on the trail).  We continue on this upper road to Junction Aid Station.  When we pass through here on the way back, we will head back to the first aid station in a different way. This is also the spot where the 20-milers are heading back to finish the race. Our pace has dropped off a bit (but it is a steady climb) to a net pace of 15 minutes per mile.

From here, we continue to head uphill.  If I were to do a 360-degree turn, I would see a few competitors coming up the hill behind us and a bunch of competitors high, high above us.  It is disheartening to see how much climbing is still ahead. The section here is short, only about 1-1/2 miles to Buttermilk, which come after a 2-3 tenths section of off-trail connector.  The aid station is offering blueberry pancakes and fruit skewers (strawberry, grape, pineapple and watermelon).  The fruit is cold and refreshing.  I am not interested in pancakes especially in warm weather.  The slow pace continues.

From here, we continue with more uphill, more rocky trail.  However, after about a mile more of this, the trail leaves the unshaded section and enters a forested section.  The trail becomes less rocky, spongier (wet in spots), and breezy.  We are also starting to see a number of runners coming back in our direction, as the 50K turnaround comes at this next station.  As soon as I hear voices, I know we are on the verge of getting to McGee Creek Aid station.  We are able to maintain a slightly faster pace in this section (less endless uphill), but have slowed to almost a net 16:40/mile pace.  In order to finish, we have to stay under 18:00/mile, so with each slowdown, I am nervous that we might miss some cutoffs.

In leaving McGee Creek, you can see ahead on the road, the deep creek.  I believe that in past races, runners went through the water, but there is a bridge at the side (and by bridge, I mean a couple of narrow planks across the water).  It is tough for me to keep my balance (and I know it will be worse on the way back when I am more tired).  After the water crossing, there is a half-mile uphill section… back into the hot sun, but once we get to the top of the hill, there is a considerable descent – quite technical – down to a valley with water running along and through the trail (a thin rivulet, nothing to LEAP across).  Once we climb back out of this valley, we are almost to Edison… where my drop bag is, and a spot that we hit 3 times during the course.  We drop a little more pace (to 17:00/mile), but we are nearly to the high point on the course.

Lucy and I don’t spend a lot of time at the aid station as we need to really get going on this tough uphill section (and especially not waste any time the closer we get to the cutoff times).  Now we have 3 miles of substantial uphill to the overlook.  There is a small overlap section (SMALL) that we will come down when we get back to Edison 6 miles from now.

The trail is steep, rocky and technical… and narrow… and once again in a mostly unshaded portion of trail.  In fact, there was probably shade here at some point, but there are a lot of blackened trees.  After about 1.5 miles of climbing, we leave the burned-out trees and get into a more barren section (less shrubbery the higher we get).  I am starting to notice that at some point we MIGHT get into an area with permafrost – I can see it higher up.  I also notice some people coming back down the trail at us – IMPOSSIBLE – because we are not yet to the out-and-back section… they must have missed a turn-off.

As they are coming down towards us, I shout at them that they are going the wrong way, that there is a turn on the ridge, the ridge we can see from here… where we can see runners running along.  I SWEAR there is a turn on the ridge… and that we have not encountered any other runners… but they continue down towards us.  When they reach us, I explain where the turn was.  In all probability, they could probably run down this section and not shortcut the course at all, but I always like to do the actual course… also this section would be difficult to run down because of the rocky aspect of it.

They decide to hike BACK up the hill (so, so, sorry) and then turn off at the correct spot.  We encounter them again and THEY thank me for keeping them on the trail.  I hope this is not becoming a theme.

Ourselves, we pass the turn-off and continue on up the hill to the Overlook Aid Station.  It’s as far away as I remember, as I think we’ve reached the top on about 12 different occasions… but we do finally get here.  The view is tremendous as always and I would love to stay awhile… but we need to keep moving.  We are now at the highest elevation on the course – 9500 feet – and about 1/3 done (20.4 miles)… and it’s taken us 6 hours (19 hour time limit), so we are just about right on pace… or even about 20 minutes ahead of pace.  On this last section, we averaged 22 minutes per mile and have soared to a 17:41 net pace.

Now we head back down the hill to the ridgeline and run down along the ridge.  We are able to run much of this because it is easier and the air is “getting thicker.”  The trail is considerably steeper and there is a lot of wood obstructions to trip on.  Time seems to pass more slowly the faster I run, so we get to the short overlap section quite quickly and back to Edison Station.  I take the opportunity to stop briefly and empty out my shoes – I have my gaiters on, but stuff still gets into my shoes.  We’ve dropped our pace back to 17:28 (phew), which is why I figured I had time to empty them out.

Now we ascend out of Edison up an unusual trail which basically goes atop a large corrugated iron pipe to the top of the hill, followed by a cut-through connecting to the fire-road.  I remember this section from last year, because there is a lot of signage that says, “Do not go this way,” and yet people do go the wrong way and have to run penalty distance.

The fire-road descends for a bit, runs through some more flat burned out tree sections, and then begins a steep climb out of this valley.  Just walking, we pass a number of people… and see quite a few people returning from the far end turnaround.

When we get to the top of the hill, you can see how far down it is to the road.  I mention to Lucy that we are going ALL THE WAY to the bottom, but we will traverse about 3 miles to get down there.  From the top, there is a double-track trail (VERY technical) that takes us downhill (about halfway down the total height), across a paved road, down another cut-across to the Intake #2 aid station (there is no Intake #1 on this race course.  Our net pace is back up over 17:30. I grab some watermelon and pretzels and we soldier on.

About 5 minutes out of the aid station (along a flat thin gravel road paralleling a dammed lake), there is a sign indicating that we’ve now covered 26.2 miles.  I look at my watch and it says 7 hours and 50 minutes… almost a personal worst (I think my worst in any course is around 9 hours).

From here, we leave the pretty lake area (replete with fishermen) and get onto another double-track technical trail heading downhill until we reach the bottom, which pops out onto a paved road into a campground.  We stay on the paved road for a bit (not a lot of cars, though) and then cross a creek on a nice wooden bridge (with handrails, even).  Now we head up a (triple-wide?) trail that is at times paved in the worst way possible.  It is like they took all of the sharpest rocks and gravel, spread it over the ground and then spastically laid cement over it.  It is only a sight better than the technical trail.

This trail descends again to a paved road, which we traverse on the shoulders.  We see quite a few cars (spaced pretty widely, though).  I don’t like being on paved roads when I am wearing trail shoes because it hurts a little bit, so I am excited about the small section where we go off-roading onto a single-track.  We pass a number of people coming back on this section (there isn’t a lot of room for us to let each other pass, though), and then back onto the road.

We encounter a family of fishermen (maybe 3 generations worth).  They offer to give us a ride; Lucy says to ask again when we come back this way in a bit.  We continue up the road… another section where the aid station seems to be further away.  It feels like we’ve done so much more than a mere 3 miles… but that’s the crazy trick of trail running…it always seems longer than it is.

Finally, I recognize the Bishop Creek Lodge aid station by the American Flags flying across the street.  One lady is just leaving the aid station as we arrive and she recommends that we have some soup (which doesn’t sound appealing right now), so instead I opt for a couple of fruit cups.  I don’t really like canned fruit, but the few orange slices they have left have completely dessicated in the dry air (they look like those candied orange slices).

Lucy and I have done this 3 mile section at an 18:02/mile pace, so haven’t lost appreciable time, though the trail back is mostly uphill.  The first cutoff is at the next aid station (Intake #2) and we need to be back through there by 10 hours and 15 minutes in the race.  We have about 1 hour and 45 minutes to do 3 miles… but we better not take 1 hour and 45 minutes to do 3 miles!

So now we head back down the paved road, by the fishermen’s car (they’ve taken off, so no ride), back on the single-track, back along the road and back up the technical trail towards Intake #2.  We see a few people still behind us (struggling), including the RD of the past 20 years, Marie Boyd, who is finally getting a chance to do her own course.  This year’s RD has said that the race ends when she finishes (which at this point looks to be over the time limit) – so as long as we are ahead of her, we are good.

We get back up to the Intake #2 aid station in 9:21, almost 45 minutes faster than the cutoff.  Strangely, even with net uphill, we did this section at a 16:14 pace and dropped our net pace.

As we are leaving the aid station, Lucy doesn’t seem to notice the cut-across to the paved road.  I carefully guide her in the correct direction.  She still isn’t seeing what I am seeing (the course is marked with pink ribbons), so I quip something like, “OMG.  We are doing the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk, following the pink ribbons, and I think we missed the campsite… my Garmin says over 30 miles!”  This really got her laughing.  Of course, we kept seeing pink ribbons and chuckling about it the whole rest of the way.

We now head back up the steep double-track technical trail up to the top of the hill.  We pass the woman we saw leaving Bishop Creek Lodge AS ahead of us.  She is suffering some intestinal difficulty, presumably from drinking the soup.  Glad I didn’t have any.

When we get to the top of the hill, there is a sign warning about the steep grade.  Oh, really?  Gosh, I didn’t notice how steep it was.  We take one last look at how far we’ve descended and then reclimbed before heading down the hill, heading back towards Edison for a final stop.

About the time when I get to the flat part of the trail, I have some pretty severe pain in the front of my left foot.  It feels like a rock is rolling around in my shoe.  I tell Lucy I have to stop and get the debris out of my shoes… and also to look at my foot.  I don’t WANT to, but I have to. I get my gaiters and shoes off, and then my socks, being extra careful not to get my foot any dirtier than need be.  I look at my left big toe and there is a huge popped blister.  It’s not helpful that my feet are super dirty, but I will just have to deal with it.

I end up having to walk with my foot angled, so as not to have to put pressure on it.  This makes the going slow, especially on the downhills because that is when I put the most pressure on my foot.  I am hoping that the blister will dry out and ease off a bit, so that I don’t have to do the entire course this way.

When we get to the top of the hill, we obey the signage and head down the other side back to Edison AS.  I need to lean against the table to ease off my back and also take pressure off my foot.  This section took 20 minutes per mile and we have dropped back to 17:44/mile… so we cannot hang out here very long.

From here, the course seems more familiar, because we are doing everything in reverse… and descending (mostly) to a lower elevation all the way.  Out of Edison, there is a climb up, then a drop to the ‘rivulet valley,’ followed by the technical climb, the short descent, and the harrowing balance beam bridge across McGee Creek.  We are with another runner for a bit, but when we get to the crossing, she disappears ahead of us… did she go through the water instead of using the bridge?  Who knows?  We shaved a few seconds of our net pace here and are hovering at 17:42/mile.  Still OK.

Now out of McGee Creek, we go through the sylvan marshy setting and back into the unshaded area again.  As we descend, the air gets thicker, but the heat gets more oppressive.  We jog when we can and try to avoid touching the really rocky sections (because they hurt the feet and annoy the blistered big toe).  We get down to Buttermilk in under 17:00/mile and increase our net pace back to 17:37/mile.

I am a little groin chafed at this point and spend about 3 minutes unceremoniously with my hand down my pants greasing up as much as possible (even though it will probably dry out again).  I have some nice watermelon and then we continue on.

Now we have just 1.5 miles to Junction AS at mile 42.7.  When we get here, we will be below 7000 feet elevation for the first time after nearly 30 miles above that elevation (25 miles above 8000 feet).  The trail is less technical here, so we are able to run more.  Lucy has a freak-out moment when I implore her to run on my side of the trail in order to avoid the snake covering half the trail!  HUGE!

At Junction AS, we covered the last 1.5 miles at a 15:50 pace (our fastest pace since the first 5 miles) and increased our pace to 17:33 (not a huge gain, but it was ONLY 1.5 miles).  From here, we take the different turn-off and are heading towards Tungsten Aid Station and the turn to do the 100K.

For the most part, this section was a lightly sandy trail, mostly descending.  Lucy stopped for a bathroom break; I continued walking but not fast, so she could catch up.  After 2 miles, we reached a heavily washboarded road.  At least it was downhill, but fairly uncomfortable to run on… and it extended on forever.  We did have a scary moment when a “rabid” dog got off its leash at a camping area and the dog came after us… but its owner got the dog back under control.  I was not seeing myself running rapidly at this point.

We got to the Highway 168 aid station at a 16:47 pace and reduced our net pace to 17:30 even.  I was looking forward to this aid station because in the past they had had popsicles… but no such luck this year.  Too bad.  It would have really hit the spot.

From here, we had a 2.1 mile section and needed to cover the distance in 1:28 (or 44 minutes per mile).  It was mostly downhill, so I was not worried, but I was getting to the point where my feet REALLY REALLY hurt and I was trying to convince myself that I would not opt out of the 100K at the next aid station.  I know Lucy really wanted to finish and I would use that motivation to motivate myself.  The complete hell of this section, however, was that the trail was 100% technical.  By that, I mean that there was really nowhere to place my feet that wasn’t spiky rocks that dug into the bottom of my shoes (not puncturing my shoes, but it still really hurts).  I moved across the the trail as best I could to find the smoothest path down.

I complained loudly about my foot pain but did not indicate that I really hoped Lucy would decide on her own not to continue.  I knew we would come in well ahead of the time cutoff (15 hours) and would have close to 5 hours to cover 12 miles (mostly in the dark) – very doable… but also painful.

I remembered from the past two years that there is a creek crossing just before the aid station and that there isn’t any wood plank bridge option; however, this year there was a plank bridge and my feet didn’t have to get wet.  We got to the aid station in about 30 minutes and I needed to sit down for a bit to gather my wits.

After 8 miles of telling myself that I wouldn’t continue, I found myself trying to convince Lucy that we were GOING to continue; she wanted to stop.  This seemed super ironic, because she stuck by me so that we could finish together… and we were doing well on pace.  I thought to myself that my feet could really get into bad shape if I continued, but also remembered that I think it always feels this way.

I could sense that Lucy REALLY wanted to stop, but I convinced her that we would go at least a half mile up the hill and then if she wanted to turn around, well, it would be downhill at least.  She acquiesced to this, but before we took even 3 steps, she said, “Forget it.  Let’s take a 50-mile finish.”  I was OK with this, even though my intent was to finish the 100K no matter what.  Hey, FIFTY miles is no slouch distance.

From Tungsten Aid station, it was the deep sand downhill to the gate, campground, paved road and finish line.  Since I had done this race twice before, I knew where the little turns were, but mylar and pink ribbon was virtually invisible in the dark, even with a powerful headlamp.

When we hit the final stretch on the park road, we decided to not try and outsprint each other and run in together to the finish and we finished in 14 hours 46 minutes and some change (because I started further back at the start, I finished a tad ahead of her).


Lucy and I finishing together.

Lucy and I finishing together.

After the race, Lucy did not want to hang around very long, so we gathered up our ceramic medals and pint glasses, and then I was going to follow her back to her motel.  There was some confusion with this as she drove the wrong way out of the park area and we ended up in some weird neighborhood in the wrong direction.  Eventually, we got back to her motel.

Her boyfriend was staying there and she said that his room had two beds so it would be better if I stayed with him.  Only… he didn’t have two beds, but I was fine with sleeping in the recliner with my feet up on the bed… plus he was not there much of the night (I didn’t realize they were dating until he stayed out of the room until 4:30am… so he had to be a (boy) friend.)

I had a long drive back to Long Beach in the morning (including a stop on a side road to stretch my feet).

On Monday, they had posted the results and Lucy and I were the last two finishers.  As I mentioned before, despite finishing together, I had started a few seconds behind her, so she was last.  I e-mailed something on Facebook about maybe finishing last, but we did finish… and boy, was it a great adventure!

She responded with quite a bit of vitriol, saying that she shouldn’t have stayed with my because I was too slow and ruined her chances to finish the race (not how I remember mile 48.5).  Then I got a message from the boyfriend not to engage her in discussion, especially because they were on vacation and it was ruining their vacation.  I respected his wishes.

I understand too well about disappointment in a race – not having the result you were looking for… either by dropping back to a shorter distance or getting pulled.  The worst of this was at Mt. Disappointment 50M when I missed a cutoff by two hours.  For me, every “failure” is a learning experience… and it is all relative.  Some folks will tell you that they are impressed with any distance.  Completing 38 of 50 miles is failure to me, but an AWESOME feat to others… and then I reevaluate and figure out that it is a semi-success… either by learning a valuable lesson about myself or succeeding next time.

Later, I saw a posting about how disappointed she was with her result but that running at elevation was a different animal.  Sounds like another tough 100K will be in the offing at some point and a little elevation training is warranted.

I may try and do this 100K again… or I may either “just” do the 50 miler or get some friends to come up and just complete the 50K as a new adventure for them.

Avalon 50M – 2014

January 11, 2014

About 3 months ago, I was blogging about running the Avalon 50M in January 2012.  Even though I had already completed the event again in 2013, I included something in my posting about how I would be willing to go back and run the event again in the future if I had the opportunity.

One of the comments I received on my post was from a Hash acquaintance who casually mentioned that if I needed a place to stay (if I ran the 2014 race), she could probably help me out.  At Thanksgiving time, however, I had tentatively arranged a floor to sleep on with some other Hash friends, Dave Binder and Jasper Mueller.  A few weeks out, however, Dave told me that they actually did not have floor space for me, and so I went ahead and contacted the other acquaintance, Sharon Lange.

She said that her boyfriend was managing a construction project on the island and had rented a cottage on the island.  They had either a couch or bed for me to sleep on.  Also, the cottage was located about 3 blocks from the start. Excellent!

On Friday, I made arrangements to meet Sharon at Catalina Landing to take the same ferry over.  I saw a bunch of people I knew there (this ALWAYS happens), including Xy Weiss and a number of other folks in the local ultrarunning community.  Unlike the past two times, I made my return ticket for Sunday, since I had a free place to stay.

I had a really nice visit with Sharon on the boat; we had not seen each other (other than FB) since my Hashtravaganza event in 2009.  I kept a wide berth from her friendly dog, Graham, however (allergic to dander).  We talked briefly with a nice family who was going out for the mother’s birthday (but really only staying 3 hours – hardly seems worth it).

Once we got to the island, Sharon’s boyfriend, Phil, met us with his truck (well, mini-truck, since everybody has those electric golf cart cars) at the pier and we rode back the short distance to his place.  We had an interesting conversation about how you have to live on the island for at least 6 months before you can get a permit to park your vehicle in front of your own abode overnight.  Phil has to move his car to another location every night and then drive it back in the morning.  There’s enough space for the cars, but rules are rules.

I opted for the couch, because it’s a little longer than the bed, and I won’t have to make as much noise when I leave in the morning.

Around 5pm, I wandered down to the packet pick-up location to get my stuff and find out what my options are vis-a-vis starting early.  Last year, I started at 3am, with 2 other people, and the race took me 1 hour, 40 minutes longer than the official time limit (so the 2 extra hours were just about right).  3am would be ideal, but I had heard that they would have very limited early starting hours.  I was told that I could start on any even-numbered hour (12, 2, or 4).  Given that I needed almost 2 extra hours last year, 4am would probably not be enough time, but 2am would be too much, but what could I do?  2am (yuck) it is.

I chatted briefly with Kim Gimenez and Beth Epstein in line before heading back to Sharon and Phil’s so we could have an early dinner and I could figure out how to get to bed at a reasonable hour and still start at 2am. We had a nice dinner of salad, chicken and pasta prepared at the cottage, and I got to sleep around 8:30pm… though I didn’t really sleep.

I set my watch alarm to go off at 1:15, to have enough time to use the bathroom and walk down to the start, but I woke before that (ugh).

It was a very short walk to the start, and I chatted briefly with the 2 dozen folks there that were starting early (though probably another dozen had left at midnight… or before).  At 2am, Tom O’Hara (another Hash friend) started us off into the dark.

Pretty immediately, I was behind the majority of the folks I started with, as I was walking any kind of uphill, to save my energy.  There was a little confusion for those of us at the back where the turns were since not all spots were marked yet, but I had a better idea on the turn-offs having started in the dark last year as well.  One runner I was with was concerned about another (slower) friend of mine, Hwa Ja Andrade.  She worried that Hwa Ja would get lost.  Even though Hwa Ja has done as many ultras as I have, she is 74 and sometimes concentrates so much that she blocks out everything else.  I kept trying to swing my headlamp behind me to show her where we were going.

At the entrance to the Wrigley Gardens, there was a little confusion with the gate (closed), and how to get in (less straightforward than in the past), but we did edge our way in around the fencing and onto the path that would take us up the hill.

On this section, I began passing some of the runners who were previously ahead of me… not by running, but by walking with authority.  I caught up with Xy Weiss, who stands out with her leopard-print skirt and gaiters.  I started to introduce myself to her, but she already knew me (by name!).

We stayed together until around the electric towers at the top of the hill (where I mistakenly turned around last year, thinking I was lost) and then headed downhill towards the first aid station.  It was rather cold out, but in running, I was never really cold (though I did have a Tyvek jacket on).

About a half-mile out from the aid station, we encountered a closed gate, which had a “edge-through” hole in it.  I think this is to allow people on the trail to go through, while disallowing vehicles.  The hole is in the middle of the fence and is pretty easy for ‘normal’ people to go through, whereas I have to put a leg through, telescope my body, and shimmy through quite awkwardly.

When I got to the aid station, unlike last year, there is no one here and no pre-set-up.  However, it doesn’t really matter, because I am not needing to consume as much liquid in the dark and do not need a refill yet.  My initial split is 1:39 for 5.4 miles, or about 18:20/mile.  Slow, but it is dark.

The next section was extremely dark.  While I do have a decent headlamp, I can only see a few feet in front of me, so cannot plan for any awkwardness in the dark.  There are all sorts of mysterious noises that I cannot account for.  Maybe it’s birds or some kind of vibrating poles.  My light isn’t strong enough to make that sort of thing out.

There’s quite a bit of more (not really steep, though) uphill in this section, and I know I am getting close when I see the Airport in the Sky.  Apparently, this is another aid station not yet set up.  This next 6.5 miles takes me 1:34 and I get my pace under 15:00/mile.

Out of the airport area, the trail goes downhill through a large number of switchback turns.  It is not difficult to maneuver as I am on a wide fire road, but because it is so dark, it is difficult to tell where I am going.  I am starting to get to the point where I am looking forward to the sun coming up and I am tired of running in the dark.  When I started 2 hours early, people had started to catch me by now.  Three hours early is very lonely.

The end of the switchbacks is demarcated by the vineyards and yards of a few houses that we are running by, followed by another steep uphill and then a downhill descent into Little Harbor.  There is a confusing turn here, but at the moment I arrive at it, there is a bag truck heading to the upcoming aid station and they mark the turn.

The good news is that by the time I get to Little Harbor, there will be a semblance of an aid station here.  This 7-mile section takes me around the same time as the previous two sections – 1:39, another sub-15:00 section.

This next section is one of the toughest early sections, starting first with a long, slow climb out of Little Harbor (about 3 miles), followed by a steeper downhill section into Two Harbors.  The evil trick here is that you pass by the aid station, making you think you have speedily reached the 26.7 mark, but in reality, you have to do a 1.5 mile out-and-back section, which is another annoying slow uphill winding section to the course turn-around (where I mark my bib with a smiley face to prove I reached this point).

By this point, about a dozen normal start folks have passed me, and on my way back to the aid station, I see more people I know, including Dave Binder, and William Lawrence (hmm… he should be ahead of me).  I get to the marathon point (well, 26.7 miles) in 7:14 (around 16:15/mile aggregate).

As I begin to head out of Two Harbors, the fog starts rolling in.  I could have really used shady weather throughout the race, but now the fog is filling in behind me.  I take the uphill easily. At least, it is much cooler on this section than last year… maybe because I am an hour earlier than last year.

Climbing the hill out of Two Harbors with the fog rollin' in.

Climbing the hill out of Two Harbors with the fog rollin’ in.

This section is the exact reverse (except that I have already done the out-and-back section) of the previous section.  Except for the 3 fewer miles to traverse, this section sucks, because I am a few hours more tired than before, it’s hotter, and the uphill goes on and on.  The nice part (at least during my last two jaunts) is that I am not at the back, and I am still seeing runners coming down the hill.

I still haven’t seen Hwa Ja (who started at the same time as I did).  I can’t imagine how she is so far behind me, as I am not going all that fast.  I see her about the time that I got to the top of the hill, and she tells me how she went off course a couple of times, but now that the sun is up, she is OK (though, in my estimation, she will struggle to finish the course under the time limit).

Now I have the gentle descent back into Little Harbor, only at this point, I am not running all of the downhills as I had previously in the race.  I run until I feel off, and then I walk a bit.  It is at this point that I am passed by Tushar (boyfriend of a hasher friend) on his bicycle and then eventually by Taffy.  She caught me an hour sooner last year (and guess what?  I started an hour earlier today!).

When I do finally get into Little Harbor, the aid station is in full swing (remember that they were only just setting up when I arrived before) and runners are actually participating in “Western” games, like horseshoe tossing, etc.  I am hard-pressed to maintain my pace and be able to finish in a reasonable time and so don’t play any games.  This 6.5 miles has taken me about 100 minutes (a 16 minute pace).

There is just a bit more double-up on the trail (an ascent out of Little Harbor), before the trail heads down by the coast (downhill!) for a bit, followed by a climb into Middle Ranch, what most people consider the hardest part of the course (and I agree).

Once you get into this section, it’s a mild uphill section, but with few landmarks to focus on and figure out what comes next.  I am just struggling along (boldly walking, but not able to do much else).  Still, I catch up with a few people, who are in the same boat as myself but whose legs aren’t nearly as long.

After too many turns where I think I am almost there, I begin hearing music and voices.  Now I KNOW I am almost there, and soon after I see the Eagle’s Roost Aid Station.  (5.5 miles in 90 minutes.)

It is an overly festive atmosphere here and strangely enough, it’s what I needed to get going.  I had been looking forward to drinking a can of Peach Nectar (a different taste from what you tend to experience in these races) and having a chunk of buffalo burger.  I also got a swig of beer and a chunk of lobster meat.

If I wanted to, there is a cold shower and metal bathtub to immerse myself in, but I want to keep going and get to the end of this beautiful event.

This next section is more of the same with occasional breaks beside a few homes and the Eagle Sanctuary.  It is super lonely out here, even though people do infrequently pass by me.  Soon, I see a few cars parked on the road and know I am almost to the penultimate aid station by the Power Station.  (Another 5.2 miles in 90 minutes.)

Now there is just a short (but pretty much all uphill) section back to the original aid station at Haypress.  Because it is uphill, I am super-focused on keeping my footing and am not looking up much… until some folks around me are oohing and aahing over some wildlife.  I do look up and above the trail (but only about 10 feet away) is a buffalo.  It is holding sway over the path, and it is a nice reminder of the beautiful nature all around me.

At the top of the hill is a paved road and I am able to run or jog/walk a bit to carry myself a little faster through the rest of this section.  When I get down to Haypress, the nice Australian volunteers refill my water bottles and send me on my way.  Hopefully, I will manage faster than the 20-minute / mile pace to get here… but this is all downhill.  Hopefully, I can fall all the way down the hill!

I don’t necessarily like running down this hill, because it is all paved, but I like that it is not a struggle.  I keep setting my sights on folks in front of me and then trying to (easily) catch up to them.

My favorite part on this section is when I get off the worst part of the road, go through a lift-gate and you can see much of the city of Avalon.  There are people hiking around (not in the race) and some of them cheer you on.  Finally, I pop out onto a steep downhill road that takes me to the water front… and the finish.

I cross the finish line in 13:34:28… about 20 minutes faster than last year, but almost 90 minutes earlier due to the 3 hour early start.

I hang out at the finish line for about  20 minutes before I head back over to Sharon and Phil’s.  We hang out and talk for a bit and then have a delicious salad and steak dinner.  We talk, watch a little TV (football playoffs), and I am asleep a lot earlier than usual.

I have an easy morning before walking over and taking the boat ride back.

I am happy with how my race went, but wish I was fast enough to finish once again under the official time limit.  I don’t know if this is because I am older and taking it easier or I just don’t have the capacity for the speed any more.  In either case, I will keep doing ultras as long as I can, but I will never do the sheer volume of runs as I did from 2010 to 2012.

I will be back.

Bishop High Sierra 50M – 2013

May 18, 2013

After last year’s difficulty in completing the 100K here, I decided I would go again, but “just” run the 50 mile race because that’s what I ended up running anyway.  Once again, Martin Santos and Rafael Covarrubias were along, plus Laura came up to try the 50 miler as well.

The additional drive to come do this race was due to the fact that the 20-year Race Director, Marie Boyd, was “retiring” from putting on the race after this year.

We enjoyed the ‘usual’ pre-race dinner at Whiskey Creek, with spaghetti, Caesar salad, garlic bread, beer, and carrot cake.  It was nice seeing a bunch of old friends and meeting new ones.  I saw my buddy Linda Dewees (who ran with me a bit last year) and Beiyi and Dan Wilson (who I met at Rocky Raccoon 100M two years ago, but live more local to me than Texas).

Laura found a discounted motel in town while I camped out on the floor of Martin and Rafael’s room.  It was a sight better than camping, but I still didn’t sleep particularly well.  In general, I have a hard time getting to sleep if there are any distractions (while camping there shouldn’t be any, except being around noisy neighbors).

The temperature at the start was a tiny bit chilly (necessary) but not cold.  I would prefer it be downright cold, but generally, a May race doesn’t have arctic temperatures.  My plan for the race was just to keep my own pace and improve upon my time from last year (given that the time limit is 15 hours and my time last year was 17:24, as long as I finish, it should be a sure thing).

One of the great things about this race is that the longest you go without an aid station is 4.1 miles.  So, technically, I probably only need one water bottle (except I use the carrier on them to store Advil, electrolyte pills and rock salt), but it is always nice to have two.

The first section of the trail is a mere 1.4 miles, where we run on a paved road for part and then enter into the deep sand trail and heading uphill.  There’s probably nothing I like less than running on deep sand, because I sink into it, the sand pours into my shoes (despite having gaiters on), and I can’t get any traction. (Later:  Why I LOVE running in deep sand)

For the most part, I am doing my power walking (not that over-exaggerated crap you see novices doing; just quick turnover and utilizing my long legs) and trying not to overexert myself at elevation.  Immediately, Laura, Martin and Rafael disappear into the distance.

Secreted into my hand-held water bottle (Basically, I have a strap around it that allows me to hold onto the bottle without gripping it tightly the entire time, and the strap “mechanism” has a zip-up pouch on it.  By “secreted,” I mean that there is a gap between the strap material and the bottle itself.) is my laminated pace sheet.  On it, I have the name of the aid stations, their distance along the course, the elevation change from the last aid station, my goal time, my “To Finish” (under the time limit) time, and any time cut-offs.  If I start falling behind on my “to finish time,” I can accelerate (a bit) before it is too late.

Aid station 1 is Tungsten, and as I said, 1.4 miles in.  I come in around 23 minutes, which is 4 minutes ahead of my “to finish” time.  Ideally, if I can pack on 1-2 minutes per mile, then I will never be up against the time cutoffs… ideally.

Tungsten aid station is not a typical aid station.  I state this because what they supply is extremely limited, and also because I do not need to stop.  No point to waste time when both of my water bottles are still full and we have only just started the run!

The next section takes us to the Junction aid station.  The climb starts in earnest now.  We started at about 4400 feet elevation, and every section from here to Mile 20 has a net elevation gain of at least 400 feet, up to 1400 feet.

The beginning of this section is still in semi-loose sand.  On the plus side, there is a little bit of downhill.  Trails can have a net elevation gain, but still have a bit of descent, which is the case here.  Since it is still early going, I let loose and run comfortably down the hill.  As the race moves on, I will probably not run down hills with as much abandon as I do here.  I briefly catch up to Laura on this section.

Once the downhill ends, the uphill is pretty relentless. I am also out of the deep sand, and the ground is more hard-packed dirt and also has a number of large rocks jutting out on the fire-road.  I need to watch out and make sure that I do not trip and do not walk excessively on those surfaces, because it will accelerate my foot soreness.

CDF Camp aid station is mid-hill and also marks the approximate spot where the 100K runners will turn-around after climbing over the hill next to us.  This is the spot (on the latter stages of the 100K) that I did not reach last year.  I certainly will not reach this spot THIS year because I am doing the shorter distance and do not have to come to this point half a day from now.  Yay!  Only 50 miles today!

The total distance is now about 5.7 miles and I am still maintaining a slight advantage over my “to finish” time.  My “goal” time is fading fast.  To put this in perspective, I set my goal time as finishing in around 12 hours, or about 15 minutes per mile.  So, succinctly, while I am still slightly ahead of 15 minutes per mile overall, I just did a section with half of it downhill in a 14:30 pace. I will lose all of that gain with 14.5 more miles of solid uphill.

This next section is the longest section without aid, as I mentioned, 4.1 miles.  Ideally, I would like to do this section in an hour, but that is probably not realistic.  The ground is getting harder, the grade steeper, and the elevation higher.  I do a lot of this section with Marilyn, a young-looking gal who is close in pace to me.  I am surprised to learn that she has college-aged kids.  (Technically, I am old enough to have college-aged kids even though I do not feel I am THAT old.)  It is nice to have someone to have a breathy (due to lack of air, not titillation) conversation with.

As I reach Junction aid station (Mile 9.8), I have come to the end of this one-way section.  From now on, I will see runners coming towards me almost the entire time (unless I fall into last place).  My overall pace has dropped to about 16 minute miles with this long and uphill rocky section.  From this aid station, I can also see where I will be returning later today.  Some of the people are coming into the aid station and heading out in a different direction – the 20-miler race leaders.

Following this longest section without aid is now the shortest section between aid stations – 1.5 miles.

Lots of fun uphill!

Lots of fun uphill!

I have probably mentioned in earlier posts about what sort of fare one finds at aid stations.  Generally, I do not find myself eating a whole lot during any ultras.  While this may seem surprising, for the most part, it is best not to introduce any kind of sustenance that upsets your stomach or produces adverse effects on your body.

In some earlier events (before I discovered the wonder of Succeed! S Caps (electrolyte pills taken every hour)), I ‘liked’ to eat potatoes that had been dipped in salt, or delicious Coke with a spoonful of salt.  You probably cannot tell, but I do not ingest much salt on a regular basis, so finding ways to ingest more during the race (yecch) was my only recourse.

For the most part, I like some fruit – like watermelon, pineapple, mango, cantaloupe, sometimes oranges – occasionally Clif Blox, a PB&J quarter, some kind of chewy candy (Jelly Bellies or Gummis), and occasionally more substantial food.

One of the offerings at Junction AS (aid station) was chocolate-covered strawberries.  While that may seem a wonderful treat – the combination of fruit AND something sweet – I am allergic to chocolate.  However, plain strawberries DID hit the spot!

Anyway, back to the race.

This 1.5 miles was a little bit more of the rocky fire-road (two-way traffic as previously stated), with a off-road turn-off by a fenced off septic treatment area (basically just a fenced off section with signage – bizarro).  This next AS is called Buttermilk and will later be the 3rd intermediary cutoff during the race.  It is also where they have a timing mat and my friend Jean Ho is maintaining the timing system.

At this aid station, they are making fresh blueberry pancakes.  While that seems pretty cool and it is somewhat ‘breakfast time,’ I don’t think I can ingest anything so solid now or at any point in the event.

Despite the shortness of the section, I have not accelerated up the hill and am still losing time towards my goal time, but am still 5-10 minutes ahead of “to finish” time.  I would be contented with maintaining between 18 and 20 minutes per mile which is my approximate pace at this point.

This next section is 3.7 miles between aid stations.  I am starting to see the 50K race leaders heading back, which is pretty impressive.  Translated, I have completed 12 miles, and they have covered 22.5 miles.  Hmm… maybe that is just a sad statement on my part.

I am continuing on more rocky fire road uphill at around a 7% gradient.  However, I am extremely pleased when the ground surface changes to a more forgiving surface – fewer rocks, more dirt and even a few large puddle crossings – and an abundance of shade provided by beautiful birch trees.  I remember from last year that once I get into the trees, it is less than a mile to the McGee AS and the stream crossing.  Also, at 15.0 miles, I am just about 1/3 done, but with the toughest part of the race because from now until I get back to this aid station, the race will be above 8000 feet elevation!  I continue to maintain at a reasonable rate, just over 20 minutes per mile.

The “stream crossing,” as I remember the warning from last year has a ‘secret’ bridge to the side.  I suspect that in the past, runners had to wade through knee-deep water, but instead we cross two attached boards across a narrower section of the creek.  While it is better than wading through water, after 15 miles of uphill hiking, my balance is a little off and I feel nervous that I might topple off into the water.  I make it across, though.

From here to Edison AS, there is 2.4 miles.  Probably a half mile of this is solid uphill in the sun, followed by 3/4 mile of downhill on an extremely rocky technical fire road.  I would like to run with abandon like I did earlier, but there are two many sharp rocks in the middle of the trail (and I am struggling with the elevation).

At the bottom of this hill, I get more of the softer dirt (with puddle/stream crossings).  The last part of this section is a 1.5 mile up-and-down.  Of all of the hills, it is probably the least unpleasant so far.  (Trust me, this is high praise.)

Edison AS is where my drop bag is because we hit this location three times, and if there is anything that I might want, I will have access to it three times.  Because of the couple of downhill parts in the last section, I accelerate to 18:20/mile.

What I also like about this aid station is that they are renowned for their hand-cranked vanilla ice cream.  This is something I would not normally indulge in during a race (because it will most likely cause flatulence), but it is hand-made and hits the spot on a hot day.  They are working on it, so I will most likely partake on my second or third trip here.

The other item of significance at this point is that the first pass-through at Edison is the first time cutoff of the day.  We have 6-1/2 hours to cover 17.4 miles.  In terms of finishing the 50 miler, the time is fairly excessive (because the other cutoffs are at a faster net pace), but understand that this location is also the turnaround for the 50K, so it reflects THEIR finishing time.

My goal for cutoffs in general is not to miss them, but I would like to be well ahead of each cutoff, so that I do not have to overexert when I am super-tired.  For the record, I am 1 hour and 25 minutes ahead of the cutoff!

Now for the absolute most difficult section of the trail – the steepest slope and the highest location.  It is a staggering 3 miles to the Overlook AS at 9400 feet, with almost 500 feet of gain PER mile (close to 10% grade).  Complicating things further is that there are fallen trees blocking the trail (to either go around or climb over).  On the plus side, the scenery is amazing!  There is a 360 degree view of the snow-capped mountains.  I wonder (as I did last year) if I will get high enough where there will be snow on the trail.  Last year, the permafrost was probably another 500 feet above us, but I have heard stories of people sloshing through snow at this point or sliding down on their butt (I probably wouldn’t do that knowing how rocky this trail is).

I have low-ish expectations on this section given the difficulty, but when I reach the top, I have maintained 21 minutes per mile.  At the top, I run into Laura.  She is just a bit ahead of me and is having some stomach issues (as she tends to do at ultras, elevation or no).  There is no permafrost to enjoy.

Now I have 3 miles downhill back to Edison AS.  There is a half mile of out-and-back and then the downhill route is slightly different than the uphill route (though both are the same distance).

On this section, I experience an interesting “time dilation.”  For the last 4-5 years, I have made it a practice to take a swig from my water bottle every 10 minutes without fail (sometimes 5 minutes if it is very hot or very hilly).  This ensures that I stay at least moderately hydrated.  When I am walking uphill, the 10-minute time frame shoots by very quickly.  It seems that every time I look down at my watch, another 10 minutes have passed by.

However, now that I am jogging downhill, I feel like I am looking at my watch just as much, but only 1-2 minutes pass with each glance.  So, in conclusion, when I am walking (or running) slowly, time goes by quickly; and when I am running (or jogging) faster, time goes by slowly.  Weird.

Back at Edison AS, I have done a “speedy” 3 miles at 16:00/mile pace.  I take the opportunity to put on another layer of Vaseline on my nether regions (I think it dried out and I don’t want to get more chafed.) and slurp down a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Now I head off in a different direction, which is a steep uphill along a pipe.  Literally, the trail is on top of the pipe.  Once at the top of this hill, there is a very short steep drop to the main trail, which moves flat for a few hundred yards and then a gentle downhill for a quarter mile.

I remember this section from last year for being totally unshaded and also for having some miserable uphill sections.  After the downhill, there is a half-mile of very slight uphill through a bunch of burned out trees, but then it turns to the left and begins climbing.  As I begin my climb, I am seeing several of the 100K and 50M racers on their way back.  Right here is David Binder, my hash friend formerly of LA and now of Oakland.  He is looking strong and he also offers me some encouragement.  (Dang!  He is 8 miles ahead of me at this point.)

Once I get to the top of this horrible hill, it is about a mile of steep and super-technical (nowhere to step but on rocks) to the bottom, followed by a short flat section with a sign that says “No Dumping.”  (Makes me think about finding a Port-a-Potty, even though I don’t need it.)

This dumps me out to a road, a dart across, and then a steep (but loose dirt, yay!) drop to the Intake 2 AS, which is located at 26.0 miles.  With the elevation and some more steep uphill, I am still doing about 19 minutes per mile.

Intake 2 is basically alongside a man-made lake, where I find several groups fishing.  This is one of the totally flat sections of the course, and also where I have just passed halfway and also where I am going to reach the marathon point on the course.

There is some significance here.  If you figure that for every 3.6 days (or 3.65) that 1% of the year has passed, or 0.01, then since my birthday on March 7, 72 days have passed.  So, today I am 42.2 years old.  A marathon is 42.2 Kilometers.  I have just covered my exact age in kilometers (in the past 8 hours).  Hopefully, later today, I will cover my age in miles (plus 7.8 to grow on).

Once I pass the marathon point, the trail begins to descend again.  At first, it is on pavement.  Later, it is more of that awful rocky surface.  Looking up above me, I can see the trail I was on earlier and looking down, I can see the campground that seemed so far away.  (Dang.  I am going to have to climb back up that hill!)  Coming up in the other direction is Rafael.  I think that I would see Martin just behind him (because I saw them practically together on an earlier crossover section).  Martin was about 10 minutes behind.  (Later, he said he stopped for a bathroom break.)

Through the campground, there is more pavement and then a bridge crossing over a stream.  An actual bridge with handrails, not some planks.  Now some more uphill.  First, it is the rocky trail, and then it is “paved” trail.  I put the paved in quotes because it is the worst kind of paved.  It’s like the construction company started to pave the path and then didn’t have enough cement, so they grabbed a bunch of rocks and threw it into the mix.  All I can think is ‘Thank Goodness I am not barefoot or in those toe shoes,’ ‘cuz that would hurt.

The trail eventually becomes dirt (and rocks) again and pops out on a road.  I cross the road and head uphill on the opposite side of the street (facing traffic).  It hurts because pavement doesn’t feel great in trail shoes (or after covering 28+ miles).  About halfway up this road, the trail turns to the left and follows a single-track trail for a half mile before reconnecting to the road and continuing uphill.

Finally, I spot an American flag on the opposite side of the street and know that I have reached the Bishop Creek Lodge AS and Mile 29.  The last section I averaged 18 minutes per mile, and also my net average pace is 18 minutes per mile.  This bodes a bit poorly because if I can maintain this pace (and I am barely over halfway), then I will finish in 14 hours.  This means I only have an additional 2 minutes per mile spare time to finish in under 15 hours.

I grab some light sustenance and head out immediately back down the road, back on the single-track, back on the road (again), cross the road and begin heading up the hill.  Near the top I encounter Laura, putting her about 20 minutes behind me (while we were virtually together about 5 miles ago).  I encourage her to keep keeping on, but I am concerned about her pace (especially because I am concerned about my own pace).

My paranoia pays off and I cover the same section back to Intake 2 AS 5 minutes faster than outbound.  This also means that I have made the second intermediary time cutoff.  I had needed to reach this point in 10 hours and 15 minutes and my time is 9:31 (or 44 minutes ahead).  While I was almost 90 minutes ahead before, remember that the first cutoff was overly generous to cover the 50K runners, so I guess I am doing OK.

Laura continues to struggle, and in the end, she comes in a little behind the cutoff time and does not finish… and unlike me last year, she is unable to convince the RD that in completing 32 miles of the course, she could get a 50K finishing time (since she technically finished 50K).

I head out of the aid station, up across the road, and up the hellish, rocky hill.  The full heat of the day is upon me and I am struggling to get any kind of pace up the hill.

To make matters worse, it is not a out-and-back section. When I get back to the point where the top of the pipe connected, the trail continues straight and circles around back to Edison AS.  In fact, I come across a spot where there is a sign that says “Wrong Way Runner Out-and-Back Point.”  This is a “penalty” lap for runners who disregard the signage and run back down the pipe path.  I think you would have to be pretty dense to ignore the signs, but according to the volunteers, several people have run the penalty lap.  (Technically, it is not a penalty, but just enough distance to get the runner back to the correct distance.)

With the heat and the hills, I lose back some of the advantage I regained from Bishop Creek Lodge to Intake 2.  Twenty-one minutes per mile!  I grab some more ice cream (more like soft serve in this heat) and begin the trek back to McGee.  On the plus side, every section from this point to the end has a net elevation loss, and I will be below 8000 feet soon.

I am at the point in the race where I am not doing much running at all, mostly because my feet hurt a lot and running is not as controlled as walking.  If I run, I can inadvertently step on a sharp rock and make my feet hurt even more.  So I make the most of my long legs and racewalk (ish) through this entire section.

When I get to McGee AS, I’ve covered the section in 17:12, and my net pace is just a little over 18 minute miles.  They are in the process of packing up the aid station.  That always makes me nervous, especially because this is not a cutoff point, and they shouldn’t be truly working on packing up until probably an hour before the cutoff (which would be 19 minutes per mile to cover the next section of 3.7 miles).  They are doing it TWO hours before the cutoff time.

Now, as I’ve alluded to, from McGee AS to Buttermilk, it’s 3.7 miles, and the cutoff time is 13 hours.  I’m not terribly worried about the time at this point, but the message from the McGee folks put an extra hitch in my step to make sure I don’t miss that cutoff.

This is, again, the reverse trail I covered earlier, through the birch trails and then back to the rocky steep downhill surface (1400’ drop).  My feet are sore, but good enough that I am able to skip/gallop down the hill.  This allows me to push the pace a bit without causing extra pain.  I arrive at the aid station in 12 hours 13 minutes (or 47 minutes ahead of the cutoff).  I am still not in the mood for blueberry pancakes.

From McGee AS to Junction, it is a mere 1.5 miles.  The first section is that lovely deep soft sand that I have come to love.  It’s like walking on a pillow.  I love soft sand.  (See earlier in the post about my so-called hatred of deep sand.)  The surface (coupled with a little bit of downhill) allows me to maintain around a 15-minute per mile pace and push my overall pace down to .under 17:45/mile.

At Junction AS, I have now reached the point where I depart from the out-and-back section and begin to head back on the “new” part of the trail.  This section is another long section (relatively… 3.7 miles), with another net loss of about 800 feet, putting me below 6000 feet.  Based upon the difficulty in breathing at high elevation, the air should be dense and thick at this point… OK, not so much.

On the plus side, the temperature has dropped a bit and there is more mountain shade as I am nearing the 7 o’clock hour.  The surface is less rocky and less technical, and thus is easier to navigate on sore feet.

Eventually, the trail pops out on to a HUGE wide fire-road (maybe twice as wide as anything I have been on previously).  It is a little on the “bumpy” side.  I think some kind of NASA tractor left divots on it (just kidding).  At the end of this fire road is Highway 168 and the next aid station at Mile 46.4.  Almost there!  I’m still maintaining around 15 minute miles and reducing my net pace.  I’m feeling better and better about finishing under the time limit.  I have one more time cutoff – the finish line – and I have almost 90 minutes to cover 3.7 miles.

There is one more aid station before the end called Tungsten 2.  This is basically the same aid station we passed by at Mile 1.5, but a little further up the hill, for the reason that the 100K runners will turn left and go up the mountain, and the rest of us turn right and go to the finish (instead of having the 100K runners backtrack 200 yards down the hill so that they don’t have to move the AS).

Most of the trail between Highway 168 and Tungsten 2 is a double-track EXTREMELY technical downhill section.  I try to do my gallop/skip technique as best I can.  Other than bettering my time from last year, I don’t need to overdo it.

When I get almost to the aid station, I realize I have forgotten about the water crossing.  There is no bridge here to avoid getting my feet wet.  It is about 10 feet across and ankle deep.  On the plus side, I am almost at the finish line.  Better yet, as I shout out loud, “I am in the 50 miler, and I am not doing that damn left hand turn uphill!!!”  I am really excited about that.  Maybe if I am in better shape one day, I will attempt the 100K, but I think I need to be much faster in order to have plenty of time to finish the last 12 miles (mostly in the dark).

In continuing to maintain around 15 minutes per mile, I now have 57 minutes to cover 1.5 miles.  No more rocky technical trail to deal with, just deep sand and a paved road.  It is a little after 8pm, but not yet dark enough to require a headlamp.  Of course, I have carried my headlamp with me all day in my back pocket.  Nice, though, to not need it!

I finish strong, with yet another 15 minute/mile section and finish in 14:27:42, almost 3 hours faster than last year (which included 2 hours at the aid station and a harrowing truck ride down the mountain).

Rafael has finished the 100K about 20 minutes BEFORE I came in, and Martin finishes about 20 minutes after I did.  Laura is already there, nursing her ego (because it is always hard to miss a cutoff and not finish the race).

I got a semi-hot hamburger, a beer and maybe 5 flavored coconut waters as my post-race “meal.”  We headed back to our hotels and then tried to sleep.  Everyone was pretty sore and restless.  It is hard to be tired, yet not able to sleep.  Basically, every time I rolled over, I woke up.

In the morning, we went for breakfast and then stopped by Schat’s Bakkery [sic], a Dutch landmark bakery in Bishop.  I think Rafael had promised someone that he was going to pick up something there.  Since I bake stuff on my own, I generally don’t buy (or eat) a lot of bread.

While it was a long drive (5 hours) back, we rehashed our respective days.  Once again, all had a good time (relatively speaking) and I would like to come back again if someone new takes over the race.  I suspect that Rafael and Martin will do the Born to Run Ultra which will probably be held the same weekend (but I have never been that wild about loop courses).

After 11 years of doing ultras, I have completed seventeen (17) 50 mile races… and that’s quite an accomplishment!