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Bishop High Sierra 50M – 2019

June 1, 2019

Ever since last year’s finish (which involved hustling through the course and then having 7 hours for the final 2 miles), I have been corresponding with Bishop Race Director Todd Vogel about coming up with a better set of time cutoffs for the 50M race.

I came up with my own ideas about what would be the best.  The choices included totally even splits (which don’t hold up in the dark) or more stringent cutoffs to allow for stumbling around in the dark (when one would be most tired).  I submitted a suggestion in the realm of the latter and RD Todd mostly took my time estimations (rounding up or down for more round numbers).

I was reticent about doing this race this year only because my last race (supposed to be 50M) was only a few weeks ago.  I would like to help with the race, but Bishop is a 5 hour drive, so a long way to drive to help out.  Maybe if some of my friends were interested in running the race, I could tag along… but I’m not getting many takers.  It’s funny.  I’ll say, “Hey, you will have 19 hours to finish a 50K, totally doable,” and they say, “19 hours?  Oh, No, sounds like a hard race,” even though I tell them it’s also 19 hours for the 100K.  19 hours could be hard for 100K but not for 50K, and besides, it’s a very scenic race.

Just after Wild Wild West (though I did not see the e-mail for a few weeks), Todd offered a free entry in exchange for the help I gave.  (Note:  I would like to point out that I also had cleaned up and compiled records for the entire history race, so it wasn’t just because I made a pace sheet.)  So, I was in.

On Friday, I left decently early (after morning commute) and arrived in Bishop in early afternoon.  I stopped in town for a bit and then headed over to Millpond Park to help out with packet pick-up and registration.  Mostly this involved sorting T-shirts into piles by size and gender and sort the other giveaways, as well as a fail-safe number check-in system.  Shirts are nice (maroon and gold) and the other giveaway is socks.  (There was some initial confusion.  We thought there was only two sizes, so some people turned them down, and then we found the larger sizes.  Oops.)

As I did last year, I handed out bibs and shirts until an hour past the posted time, and then worked my way over to my car for a short and uncomfortable sleep.  Millpond isn’t a campground, but I have gotten away with sleeping in my car most of the times I have done this race because I am also volunteering.  However, before I get too comfortable, Todd offers to let me sleep on a cot in one of the trailers. Since I have my own sleeping bag, this is a better option, because I can stretch out.  It’s a little cold and the cot is squeaky, but it’s much better than being in my car.

Darrell Price is there, too, volunteering.  I let him nab one of the extra sleeping bags from the trailer, because he is going up to one of the remote aid stations and it is COLD!

Even though another three weeks have passed since Wild Wild West, the snow hasn’t melted completely.  Rain (or snow) isn’t expected today but the conditions are such that part of the trail will be snowy and is not accessible by car.  This eliminates one aid station (the one at 9500′).

At 5:30am, we set off on the course, up out of Millpond, through the campground, and out the back gate into the wilds of Bishop.  My goal is only to finish.  I have stopped using the brace in the last couple of weeks and I feel okay, but don’t want to overdo it.  With a 19 hour cutoff, I can do 20 minute miles and still finish (though am hoping not to be doing 20 minute miles).

I am not by myself at this point, though I am mostly surrounded by mostly 20 milers and 50K runners who are doing their first race of this distance.

The first 20 miles of the race is a long uphill slog, and especially the first 6-7 miles are not particularly scenic, other than wondering if the path goes high enough to see snow.  I have yet to see snow on the course, but feel there is a good chance given the fact that one of the aid stations is inaccessible by car.

After about six miles, there are some interesting turns, climbing through a more green area, winding through cacti and rocks to the Junction aid station.  At this point, I am maintaining 16 minutes a mile (not bad given the climbing and elevation – ~6000′).  But it also here that the 20 milers turn off and head back down to the finish, so I am seeing fewer souls on the roads.

From Junction to McGee, an unending climb up to almost 8000′, but you know you’re getting close to the aid station when the terrain changes from unforgiving rocks and boulders to a more forested area and the trail gets a bit damp.  This is another slow section for me (due to climbing and the elevation, still).

There are three nice volunteers at this aid station and I notice that the woman there has a European accent.  I asked if she was of German descent and she said Yes.  I said, if you are still here when I get back, I will serenade you in German.  She said, “I look forward to it.”

I leave McGee and a few more 50K runners who turn around here to head back to the finish.  The far end of the aid station is a flowing river.  It’s particularly high this year due to the above normal snowfall.  There is a plank bridge in the bushes to get across.  It’s not bad, but I worry how I will fare when I start to get more tired on the way back.

The trail continues up a hill (but forested) and then down a technical fire-road into a nice valley, with stream flowing through the trail.  When I climb back out of the valley, I am close to the Edison Aid Station which I will hit three times.  I am greeted by the Ham Radio operator who I know personally (maybe has worked for NSR?).

I stop briefly here because this next section is a lot more uphill (but the top is Mile 20, the high point of the course).  I head up the trail and onto the single-track through a sort of fallen timber area.  The trail gets steeper and steeper (not runnable but easy to slowly walk up) ’til it flattens a bit at the top loop.  (This is the area where I always see people confused about the course, even though it is clearly marked.)

Even though I have categorized the trail as “flat,” I am still heading uphill.  Probably in about a half mile, the trail is blocked by a football field length section of snow.  I’m not that confident in tromping through snow for 100 yards (I struggled with 10 yards at Wild Wild West.).  In this first section, at least, it’s possible to have minimal contact with the snow, and you can see from the footprints that most people have taken this option.

Trail continues another quarter mile and then a much more unavoidable 100 yards of snow field.  I try my best to put my feet in the footsteps of those who have traversed this section before me (of course, my feet are bigger so sometimes I sink down a few feet and get cold feet).  The worst part of this section is a slight downhill part.  I hold onto a small pine as I slide down the five or so feet before continuing on to the end of this section.

In the last little bit before the top, I pass a couple of runners on their way down.  At the summit and the (former) aid station, the whole area is covered with snow (but some rocky spots where the footing is better).  It’s so weird to see all this snow, when in my four past runs here, I could see snow in the distance but there wasn’t a drop of permafrost in the actual area.

So, I have to prove that I actually climbed all the way up here, because there is no radio guy to vouch for me.  (“Yeah, trust me, I didn’t turn around at the easy earlier spot…”)  They have a plastic coffee container (like Folgers) that has a supply of animal stickers inside.  Unfortunately, it is on the ground, and also unfortunately, I am tall.  Just bending over to get the sticker causes my legs to cramp, but I do manage to get a sticker out and mount it on my bib.  To avoid further cramps, I just drop the container on the ground (plus I don’t think there’s many people behind me that will get upset that it wasn’t perfectly placed).

Now I have to turn around and cross those horrible snow fields again.  I would just like to mention here that I would rather climb up a super steep hill (like K2 in Rio del Lago 100K) than tromp across a snow field.  It’s almost as bad as running through two foot deep standing water.  It’s exhausting.

The first of the fields was the one with the short downhill section, but now I am going uphill and the tree I held onto is on the other side of the slope (and it’s not helpfully bending down to assist me).  I try to make a run for it, but end up tipping forward and landing (softly) on my knees.  Basically, I have to claw myself up the short hill and then somehow pull myself back up.

On the second field, I avoid the snow as much as possible and hug the side of the trail without getting too close to the edge.

When I get to the end of the top loop, I turn right and head along the ridge.  I always like this section because no matter how slow I feel, I always am going much faster because it is not uphill.  The one downside this time is that something is falling from the sky.  It’s not rain.  It’s not snow, I don’t think.  I can feel it, but it still is wafting down a bit.  My jacket sleeve looks like I dipped it in some risotto, and that’s what the ground looks like as well.  I am told that this is sleet.  It’s not painful or uncomfortable but slows me down a little bit.

Towards the bottom of the hill (probably a half mile from Edison Aid Station), there is another snow field, but this time, it’s on the down slope of the hill.  I take a few cautious steps on the snow, but decide it’s in my best interests to go well out of my way and go around the snow field.  I think I made the correct decision, because I didn’t fall.

The snow/rain/sleet fall begins to intensify and that pushes my pace a bit more (though my pace ends up being about the same going up the hill as going down – boo hiss).   The folks at the aid station are hunkering down.  I grab a couple of supplies and then continue on.

Out of Edison for the second time, the trail now goes up what used to be a large pipe up the hill.  At the top, the trail winds around a gated area (which smells, so probably sewer or septic-related, in the middle of nowhere) and then down onto a wide untechnical fire-road.  Downhill from here for a bit before the uphill begins again and before the trail gets more technical.

I meet a few people in this section (a large out-and-back).  It’s nice to see people again after being mostly alone for the past 5-6 miles.  At least I can see clearly now, the sleet has gone and the weather is clearing up a bit.

At the top, I can see my path downhill in the future and a few runners on the trail, but first I need to descend down to the Intake #2 aid station for the first pass.  It’s another slow-going section but I am there with plenty of time to spare with the new time guidelines.  My marathon time is around 8:40!

Now the trail passes by the lake, with a few people out fishing, and then the turn down (to the trail I saw earlier) onto the technical double-trail.  I meet a few more people returning from Bishop Creek Lodge heading back.

When I get to the bottom, I work my way over to the road and to the entrance to the campground, paved road here.  Now I cross over a small bridge and head up the “reflexology” road which connects to the paved road that goes to the Bishop Creek Lodge.  Seeing lots more people (like 5) once I get onto the road.

It would be nice if the trail just climbed up the road straight to the Lodge, but I know from experience that it goes back into the brush with very low overhanging branches so it’s a lot of ducking and staring at the ground.

When I hook back onto the road, I catch up with another runner.  Victor is in the 100K and struggling a bit, but I think he still has time to finish the 100K or at least can drop to the 50M.   We chat a little bit and walk a bit together heading up to the aid station.  When we get there, his wife and young child are there.  I hope it is for support and not for a ride back.

I refill my water bottles, grab a few bites, thank the volunteers, and head out.  Hope Victor is right behind me.  (He stops and gets a ride back.  Boo.)

Now I retrace my steps, back down the road, back into the bushes, back on the reflexology path, back across the bridge, back up the technical trail, back to the lake, and back to the Intake #2 aid station.  I tell them there might be 1-2 people behind me, but they say all those people have quit, so they are probably quite excited to pack up and go.

Now I head back up the rocky hill, back down the less rocky hill, back up to the septic acre, and back down the pipe to Edison and my third and final pass.  I am moving at about 20 minute pace and net at about 20 minute pace.  I have a nice send off from the radio guy and thank the volunteers.

Now back up the hill, back through the stream valley, back up the rocky hill, down the other side, and the careful recrossing of the stream to McGee Aid Station.

Sorry for such a terse description (you can read more detailed descriptions on prior posts) but I am totally by myself since Mile 29 at the turnaround.  The only folks I see are at the aid stations, so it is a bit lonely.

The aid station is staffed by the same folks, including the German-speaking lady.  I say they are excited to see me because they can pack up, and they nicely say they were prepared to stay the additional two hours to cutoff and they are in no hurry.  I tell the nice volunteer I am ready to live up to my promise and serenade her.  I sing one of my Mozart lieder called “An Chloe.”

The translation is something like, “When I look into your beautiful blue eyes, I see my love for you and it makes my heart beat faster.  And I hold and kiss your warm red lips.  Beautiful lady, I hold you in my arms.  My dear, I press you to my chest.  And when a dark storm is on the horizon, I sit, satisfied, next to you.”

Sort of apropos for the day.  Yes, a romantic song, but charming.  Her co-workers at the aid station don’t understand German, but she liked it.  (They liked it, too, but only because I can sing in tune.)

Just singing and having someone appreciate it helped me get through the next section all alone, back through the forested area, back into the more desolate area and back to the Buttermilk Aid Station.

Out of Buttermilk, it’s a short 1.5 miles back to the Junction Aid Station.  Even though it’s mostly downhill, it seems like I am moving slower and slower.

At Junction, the trail changes (finally) and I start to follow the path of the shorter distance runners as I am heading down to the finish.  In this section last year, we were trailed by a dune buggy/sweep along this section, which is a fire-road and a nice smattering of light sand on the top (feels good on the feet for once).  It is starting to get a little dusky here, but it’s not dark yet.  I do have my headlamp in my pocket for when it does get dark.

The light dirt path turns to a rutty trail through some insect-filled bushes (especially at night) and then eventually turns onto a washboard road.  It’s not hard going for me, but there are occasional campers’ cars passing by and I have to pull my buff over my nose to avoid the dirt.  Eventually, I see the lights of the camper demarcating the Hwy. 168 Aid Station.  (It’s about 3.5 miles to the end now, but it is extremely dark.)

They hand me a popsicle and direct me down the road.  I put on my headlamp so I can see where to go.  The first mile or so of this section is horrible as I remember, basically reflexology and feels horrible on my already blistered ground up feet.

As it gets darker and darker, the trail is increasingly more difficult to follow.  The problem is that the ribbons are not reflective and not appearing with regularity.  It’s fine when it’s light out, but it’s super difficult to know where to go.  Basically, every single intersection involves me wandering around trying to find ribbons, and then guessing which way the trail goes.  I can see where the aid station is, but it’s impossible to see which direction to go to get to that location.

When I start to hear voices (other than the usual weird ones in my head), I start to see more ribbons, so, phew, every time I see a ribbon, I know that I am still on the right path.  There is two or three plywood sections to get across the stream (bad balance but I make it).  So happy to see these folks, especially because I now have only 1.5 miles to get to the end, mostly downhill and not too confusing where to go.

The last few miles aren’t too bad, though slightly confusing for about half a mile until I get back into the campground gate.  Now I know where to go!

I get to the finish line in 16:35:01, one of my slowest 50 mile races.  (Seems weird to type that.)  With this finish, I have completed at least one 50 miler every year for 14 years.  Pretty amazing.

I watch a couple of people finish and then go over to the food area to see what they have.  They serve me a cheeseburger with fixin’s and a beer, with the burger on a real plate and the beer in a glass mug.  It tastes really good and hits the spot.

I chat for a bit with the volunteers, watch a couple runners come in, but I do need to get some sleep because I am volunteering tomorrow morning before my drive home.

At about 8am, I roust myself and get dressed, and start helping with cleaning out coolers, water jugs, plates, silverware, pots, pans, whatever got dirty and needs to be cleaned.  Then we work on packing up all the supplies.  I end up with some food items, like packages of strawberries, chips, soda, various grub that won’t last.  The remainder of the unopened leftover food is to be donated to a food bank.

I chatted a bit with the RD of ways that the race could be improved for next year, but that I think for the most part everything went extremely well.  My major contention is that there should be plentiful reflective markers from the cutoff points where the weather would be dark.  Todd agrees, so I hope to run this race again next year with less snow and more markers, but I would run through snow again.

If you have a chance to come up and try one of these races, the scenery is amazing, the cutoffs are generous (maybe even for the 100K), and the race benefits local outdoor education programs and local search and rescue.  Truly worth it.

Boeing 5K (4) – 2019

May 13, 2019

A few weeks post Wild Wild West and my first run pushing it at Boeing.  I still have on the knee brace (for my calf muscle strain).  I’m not feeling as much of the sore pull on the muscle, but I think the brace is definitely affecting my gait.

As usual, it’s hard to get started from scratch after a week’s layoff, so I have to stop and walk on 8 separate occasions.  However, when I am running, I go at a decent speed and manage a finish in 28:27.

Boeing 5K (4) – 2019

May 13, 2019

A few weeks post Wild Wild West and my first run pushing it at Boeing.  I still have on the knee brace (for my calf muscle strain).  I’m not feeling as much of the sore pull on the muscle, but I think the brace is definitely affecting my gait.

As usual, it’s hard to get started from scratch after a week’s layoff, so I have to stop and walk on 8 separate occasions.  However, when I am running, I go at a decent speed and manage a finish in 28:27.

Wild Wild West 50K – 2019

May 4, 2019

After finishing the 50 miler last year in Lone Pine (including an hour early start with Alan and Darrell), I decided to take advantage of the early entry fee and see if I couldn’t get in another completion on this beautiful and challenging course.

Alan isn’t in this year.  He has the PCT 50 miler next weekend and I don’t think his wife would look kindly on being away all day two weekends in a row.  Darrell is running also but I was unable to make arrangements vis-a-vis a formal place to stay.  I’ll probably nap in my car until the first bus drives up (last year, we drove up to the campground and started on our own).  While the race starts at 5am, there is a bus to the start at 3:45am, and the website does say you can keep your own time.  That’s our plan.

I arrive in Lone Pine super early on Friday.  Bib pickup is at 5pm, so I have 2-3 hours to kill.  I read the newspaper in the car and try to take some catnaps.  At five, I wander inside and talk with my many ultra-friends who are here, like Kim and Beth, Linda, and even Tam P. and Angela are up for the marathon.

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Tam, me, and Angela at the info meeting on Friday.

At the bib pick-up, it’s the usual confusing pre-race briefing.  I guess it gives the race some characters, but it confuses the hell out of first-timers.  They make a big deal about the fact that they are doing a different start this year so there won’t be any issues with the Tuttle Creek campground.  (Though, I guess if you are staying at the campground, you have to figure out how to get to the new start.)

After the meeting, I drive over to the parking lot across the street from the finish line, and try to get comfortable in my car for a short sleep.  It’s a little cold outside but I have my sleeping bag and I sleep diagonally across in the driver’s rear seat to the passenger front seat.  Not sure if I am actually sleeping.  I am having vivid dreams about the course.  Even though I have run this course before, I am sure that the dreams are just a generalized course (and I don’t need to wake up exhausted from previewing it).

I wake up well before 3:45am (!) and I made special sure yesterday to avoid eating much the night before because I will not have the opportunity to utilize a toilet (unless I want to squat on course).

The bus pulls into my lot around 3:35 and I grab a good seat.  The bus isn’t particularly full (maybe 1/2 to 3/4) and it is mostly first-timers who are nervous about finishing the race (though I don’t think there are many starting early).   I chat with a few people who are first-time marathoners (and one or two 50Kers).  Scary that they pick a race like this for their first.  It’s so hard.

As opposed to 2 years ago (because last year we drove ourselves to the start), the drive is a lot shorter, because we are not starting at the campground, but off the road.  It’s dark, windy, and a little cold.  This isn’t the best starting spot, because there is little space for us to congregate.  Darrell is there; I think he camped or stayed nearby and just drove to the start.  We start almost immediately.  No way we’re waiting for the 5am start.  I’ll definitely need all the time I can get, especially because I am still wearing the knee brace.

57451100_2252201981698891_9127245720967970816_nDarrell, Emmett, and John Radich at the start

So, we head off on a trail that goes off at a slight angle from the road, maybe double-track, and pitch black (dark even with headlamps).  After about 45 minutes on this trail, it pops out in the Tuttle Creek Campground (?!?).  I hope they’re cutting off a portion of the trail because they just added 5K to the course!

As usual, the path isn’t marked that well within the campground, so we wander for a little bit trying to remember which side of the campgrounds leads to the trails.  Nothing like getting lost at Mile 3 of 53.  Our misfortunes from last year helped a little bit here, including taking the left-ward path once we figured out where the trail continued.  I wish they would be clearer on the markings in this section.

Even though it’s dark, the trail seems a little more familiar, that is to say, we wander through the bushes and work our way over to the main trail and get to the first aid station.  According to the map, this is Mile 4, and look, it took me over 4 hours!  (Probably really 7.1 miles.)

We’re starting to get caught up by other runners.  This is a good opportunity for Darrell to push the pace a bit and I let a couple of runners surge by me on the water crossing section because it is slippery, hair-pin turns, and my leg is bound up a bit.  Once on the other side, a little bit of uphill, but then a long downhill fire-road run.  This second aid station is run by the Badwater race folks.  I saw the sign for 20 minutes and kept trying to guess what it said (Bad Mother?  Mar weather?).  It’s a little mosquito-y around here, as we are by a short water crossing.  I fared much better in this section, around 10-11 minutes per mile (so ACTUALLY 4 miles this time).

A change to the course this year for the marathoners (50K and 50M course still the same) is that everyone climbs up to Whitney Portal.  (The marathon course avoided that in the past.)

So now begins the long uphill slog.  This section has always been trouble for me in the past and nothing really changes this year.  It begins with a steep fire-road, leading to single-track switchbacks (gentle rises), and then a single-track hugging the hillside (with drop offs on the right).

About 5 minutes into this section, I come upon a large tree blocking the path.  I wish I had a picture to show how troubling this was (maybe three feet in diameter).  It wasn’t the case that I could throw my legs over it or climb under it.  You couldn’t edge to the right because of the drop-off.  The only choice is to use the tree to climb up the left part of the hillside, climb around the top part of the tree, and then carefully descend back down to the single-track.  This is even more difficult with the brace and my two hand-helds.  I carefully balance myself up, over the tree, throw my water bottles carefully down, and edge back onto the trail, mindful that I will have to do this again on my way back down in a few hours.

Also, I am now very out of breath and not able to move very fast up the trail.  (I mean, I am climbing up to 8400 feet.)  It’s slow going, especially on the sections where I am sorta climbing up stairs because my knees hurt.  Some people passing me, luckily not that crowded.  On this section, I see Kim Gimenez coming down.  We exchange some niceties.  Always great to see her.

When I get up to the beginning of the campground area, there is the appearance of some permafrost or snow, luckily not across the trail… yet.  Even though I am struggling with the thin air, I like this section of the trail because it is nicely built evenly spaced wooden stairs.

Now we get into the heart of the snow.  First, there is a narrow section curving around a rock and all tromping through deep snow.  Then there is a flat section that is nothing but snow.  It’s not too slippery (it’s kinda cool, though) but I do need to concentrate on where I place my feet so I don’t get cold AND wet feet.

A few minutes before I get to the aid station, the top, and the turn-around, I see Darrell.  I joke I will catch up with him soon.  This 3 mile section took me over 2 hours. Hope I do better on the way down.

On the way down, I see Linda Dewees.  She WILL catch up to me soon.  I spot a few other people who are struggling up the hill.  I started about an hour early and I see people who started on time two miles behind me and having just as much trouble summitting.

I do what I can to manage a faster speed heading down the hill, knowing that it’s going to take me a while to climb back over that tree on the way down.  It seems to be worse coming down the hill, and I am just as out of breath, even though I am heading downhill, but I do clear it and continue to the easier part of the trail (switchbacks, steep downhill), and the turn off to the back half of the trail and another mile to the aid station.

A nice comparison coming down to going up, with 1:26 for 4 miles downhill versus 2:05 for 3 miles uphill.

From here, it’s rolling hills through the Alabama Hills section.  I use my long legs to “power up” the hills as much as I can.  It’s usually pretty windy through this section.  I see few runners here and manage a sluggish 23 minutes per mile through Mile 18.

From here, it’s 4 miles to the next aid station and where I will make a decision on whether to continue on to run the 50 miler or drop to the 50K if I am not fast enough to finish under 16 hours.  Given that I am at 7 and a half hours now, it doesn’t look like a good option to continue (and I am okay with that).

I try to hustle a bit to give myself every opportunity to continue, but I reach Mile 22 in 9 hours.  There’s just no chance to run 28 MORE miles in 7 hours.  I did the math, 15 minute miles, but a lot of that would be in the dark.

So I take the turn off for the 50K, maybe a little forlorn, but I know it’s the right decision.

The trail is better marked than last year (or people didn’t mess with it) so I have fewer problems and don’t wander around in a circle coming back to the aid station and not finding the inbound trail.  I mean, now I have 7 hours left to do 9 miles.  I can get lost a little bit.

It’s fairly lonely here, because I am towards the back of the 50K runners and mostly ahead of the 50M runners.  Also, this section is a narrow single-track (here called a sheep trail) that drops down low and climbs steeply out on-and-on.  A nice lady catches up to me on this section, named Andrea Lehr.  She is feeling the same way I am on this section – it’s endless, it’s difficult, and it sucks!

As I reach each rise, it’s kinda like “Are we there yet?” and the answer continues to be, “Not yet.”  But it’s nice to have someone to get through the end of this race with.

As soon as we spot the giant American flag, I know we are getting towards the home stretch, because the flag marks the location of the final aid station.  This year, there are people here (because it’s not the tail end of the 50M) and we can chat with them a little bit.

From here, 3 miles to the end of the course, mostly downhill.  In fact, steep downhill, a little gravelly.  My feet are slipping heavily in the shoes, so my toes hurt quite a bit slamming into the front of the toe box after 9+ hours.

Now we veer over to the Whitney Portal Road and run down the road for half a mile, and then turn back onto the trail and into the back of the finishing park.  I’ve gotten a little ahead of Andrea.  I’m modified speed walking to get in as soon as possible and finish in 10 hours and 59 minutes (one of my worst 50K times, but my best 55K!).  Andrea comes in a few minutes later, but she started on time (so maybe 10:06).

The finish line is a little better than last year.  A Grocery Outlet opened up in town (which I had visited during the time between arriving and packet pick-up) and she brought some give-aways – weird flavors of Gatorade and prunes, some crackers – the usual G.O. stuff.

I hang out for a little while, but I cannot wait until the 8pm end time to see when Darrell comes across the finish line (15:09) because I am driving home afterwards and don’t want to get home too late.

Not sure if I will do this race again.  I need to find out if they are doing that extra 3 mile start, if they will mark it better, or maybe when the long-time RDs of the Chamber of Commerce retire, get new management and do things a little differently.  No slight to CoC, but after 40 years, maybe try something different.

This is my 101st ultra and I hope my slow time isn’t indicative of not being able to do ultras any more.   I’m thinking about doing Bishop in a few weeks.  I think I could do the extra 16 miles (to reach 50) in under 8 hours, so hope to give it a try.

Boeing 5K (3) – 2019

April 8, 2019

Marisa and I are headed off to Asia tomorrow (somewhat planned the trip around the Boeing run).  On Saturday, I did one final hash run and something weird happened… I slipped on a downhill section and while I didn’t fall, I felt a strong pull on a muscle behind my left leg.  I think the shock of it made my blood pressure drop because I got super dizzy and could not stand up for about 20 minutes (people stayed with me and got me water and helped me get back to the start).

Yesterday, I went early to Kaiser Urgent Care and they determined that I may have pulled, strained, sprained, or tore a muscle in my leg, but that I didn’t break anything… so they gave me a knee brace, even though I didn’t do anything to my knee, but it gives me support at the spot of soreness, so I will use it as a crutch until I feel totally comfortable without it.

This month, I get to run with the group (albeit slowly with the brace).  I finished in 38:39 which was a combination of jogging and running.

Boeing 5K (2) – 2019

March 10, 2019

Wasn’t sure if the Dave Fier timing was a sure thing or not, so I went ahead and ran early for the 5K to make sure.  My knees are still sore, but I ran pretty well, nearly negative splits (13:00 out, and 12:56 back).

When I got back, Dave Fier was there and said he would continue to come time us moving forward.  It’s a really generous move.

Way Too Cool 50K – 2019

March 2, 2019

Finally I have come to the running of my 100th ultramarathon.  It seems quite crazy that I have done 100.  If the races were all marathons, that would be 2,620 miles of runs (but some have been 50, 62, and 100 miles).

When the lottery opened up, I appealed to friends that might be interested in running “with” me.  (I certainly don’t expect anyone to slog with me, but enjoy them being there.)  I had two takers – Eddie Hahn, my hasher friend who had never done a non-loop ultra; and Alan Sheppard (special thanks to his wife for letting him come).  Anthony Fagundes is also here but not because of me.

Also leading up to today, I had done 100 shout-outs to people who I met or helped me during my ultra running career (essentially one a day, but got started a little late, so not 100 separate posts).  It’s nice to think back and reflect on all the wonderful people who have supported me over the past 17 years.

Alan drove up with me Friday to Oakland.  We tried to get Ed to come with us, but he has one of his kids with him and it’s just not practical to come with us.  We have a nice dinner at my sister’s house – a nice homemade lasagna.52945522_10218046064203920_1515880094051074048_o
Mini E and cake topper

Alan and I left really early Saturday morning (before 5am) to get up to Cool with plenty of time (and not a horrible parking spot – doesn’t matter in the morning, but sucks to limp a mile back to the car afterwards).  The weather looks like it’s going to dump lots of rain on us and it’s already rained a lot, so I expect the trails to be super muddy.

We made pretty good time and got an okay parking spot (about a 1/4 mile away).  We go to pick up our bibs.  I’m expecting to get my usual number in the low 600s (alphabetically assigned), but to my surprise, they gave number 100!  (I had sent an e-mail to the RD telling them that I was excited that Cool would be my 100th ultra, but didn’t ask for any special treatment.)

Once we had our numbers, commemorative black WTC buffs and soft green shirts, we head back to the car to drop off our loot and figure out a way for Alan to access his stuff should he finish before me.  We then head back to hang by the start line, get some pictures, and prepare to run.  Ed has made it and is super chatty about our differences in number of marathons (he has 200) and number of ultras (he has one), and other stuff.

51729458_2440185632658340_3345374143095767040_n (1)Alan, Ed, me, and Alan (mostly) bundled up.

For the first section of the race, it’s a 8 mile loop away and back to Cool, starting with 1.5 miles of downhill on a paved road (by the car).  Alan and Ed stay with me initially and then Alan takes off, leaving me with the talkative Ed.  There is a funny moment when he is rambling on about some race story and I slowed up a bit, leaving him to talk to nobody, I thought, but then the gal next to him engaged in the conversation.  (With all the single-track coming up, I do need to concentrate a little bit.

As soon as we get off the road, it’s a steep downhill path to the first big water crossing.  It’s not really raining hard, but there is a bit of a line to get across because the water is fairly deep.  I’m expecting the standard 100+ water crossings and probably 20-25 in the first eight miles.  The weather is clearing up a little bit, but the cloud cover is convincing me that I don’t want to spend any time pulling off my windbreaker only to have to put it back on if and when it starts raining.

It’s pretty muddy out here but I am keeping under the necessary pace of 16:00/mile, and I usually do my best in the first section regardless of the water levels.  Just as we get back to the Cool Fire Station (probably in the last mile), the rain starts coming down harder (glad I kept my windbreaker on).

Now we head out of Cool, down long muddy switchbacks, heading towards the first Highway 49 crossing.  In this second, I am passed by loads of people, because downhill mud running with lots of roots and rocks, and running water, is not my forte.  My goal is to finish AND remain upright.  Falling is not a good option for me.

After a couple of years of this new course, I finally am not expecting an aid station right after the highway crossing.  It’s about 20 minutes further down the road.  In this section, I am doing a combination of walking and running.  This is less about being tired and more about preparing to summit some of the upcoming hills (and keeping my heart rate lower).

I keep going back and forth with a few people.  One person that stands out to me is another tall runner, and Quintin and I spend a few miles walk/jogging and talking with each other.  He’s a decade older than I am (and only a few inches shorter).  It’s nice to do the distance with someone who has similar stride and a similar ultra running history.  (He seems a little crazier than I am.)  We do get to a point where he wants to run a little faster (or get away from my rambling) and he ends up finishing 10 minutes ahead of me.

I lose quite a bit of time in the section leading up to A.L.T.  Probably the toughest part is one of the water crossings where I try to follow someone crossing (at probably the deepest point) and only later notice flags marking the best way across (focused too deeply on the ground and not tripping, I guess).

The downhill leading to the aid station is EXTREMELY muddy and slippery.  I have to take it slowly, but the person right behind me just comes down the hill at full speed, slips, and has to grab onto a small pine tree to keep from overshooting the aid station.  Hey, buddy, we still have 10+ miles to go.  Don’t hurt yourself!

I am still slightly ahead of pace to finish the race, but don’t want to miss that overall cutoff and get a DNF, so I grab a few food snacks and head out immediately.  From my memory banks, this is the section that seems to go on forever and culminates with the Goat Hill climb (which is tough).

First, the big water crossing and then the zigzag of single-track back and forth, up and down, out of the tree cover, and finally across the bridge.  At this point, I have counted nearly 100 water crossings and my feet have been wet since Mile 2.

Once you cross the wooden bridge, it’s a short muddy slog uphill to the fire road.  I am gratified that they’ve done the repairs to this road so that we don’t climb up to Goat Hill twice like we did one year.  Nonetheless, it’s still a tough climb at this stage in the race.  At least it’s not muddy; the red dirt seems to absorb more of the rain than the other surfaces.

Unfortunately, the solid surface ends just after the Goat Hill aid station and the endless mud continues on the (mostly) downhill trail on the way back to the second Highway 49 crossing.  I want to make up some time on this section but need to take it easy.  My sort-of favorite section is here where the trail travels in between blackberry bushes and the trail is always under water.  While this seems like a strange favorite, hey, my feet are already wet, and it’s always more interesting for something non-standard (even though this is my 16th time through here).

Now I’m getting close.  Certain landmarks stick out to me, like hearing a few cars on the Highway, seeing the quarry, and spotting the aid station tent across the road from a distance.  Once I know I’m on the homestretch, I feel much more assured that I can finish under the time limit.  I hit Mile 30 in 7:49, which means I have 41 minutes to finish the last 1.4 miles.  Pretty sure I have that in me.

I never stop at the last aid station, but do offer my thanks to the volunteers that are there.  Now it’s a long slog up a gentle waterfall through mud back into Cool.

As I get to the final two straightaways, it is a muddy mess.  It hearkens back to a few years ago where my friend lost her shoe in the last 100 yards of this race.  While today it isn’t shoe-sucking, it is extremely slippery and treacherous.

I end up finishing about 16 minutes under the time limit in 8:13:49.  Anthony could have run the course twice (and then some) in the time it took me.  Alan finished a skosh under 6 hours and Ed finished in 7:02.  We have a brief celebration at the finish line, but it’s best to hurry back to Oakland to enjoy a rib dinner and early (birthday) cake with Alan and Marisa’s German chorus homestays.

Alan and I finish off the weekend with a trip to Oakland Chinatown and take out dim sum at Tao Yuen.

Moving forward, ultra-wise, I don’t have milestones to hit, but my plan is not to stop at 100 or cut back in any manner.  I have already signed up for Wild Wild West 50M in a couple months and hope to run Skyline 50K again in August and do my 10th High Desert (aka Ridgecrest) 50K in December.

I think I read somewhere that most ultra athletes only do races for about 2 years before getting burned out.   I haven’t reached that stage yet, but I am cognizant that I am hitting a bit of a slowdown in terms of pace, and I also realize that to avoid long-lasting injury, I need to embrace this slower pace.

I look forward to getting caught up and doing run posts in real-time (and not a year in the past), and thus be able to tell stories about both the trails and the people I meet during this sport that I have enjoyed for 100 completed races.

Boeing 5K (1) – 2019

February 11, 2019

Two days after my rainy ultra and one day after a snowy drive through the Grapevine, another Boeing 5K.  It’s a ponderous race today for me, both because I am by myself (didn’t hear from Dave Parsel) and because I am basically walking.  I finished in 47:57.

When I came back, Dave was there (sorry, I didn’t call, pal) and a guy was setting up a time clock and signing people in.  I know this guy, Dave Fier.  He says that moving forward he is planning to time the race for us.  People only need to enter in their information, and he will assign numbers in order and we’ll keep our number until he stops timing.  Dave Parsel is number one and I am number two.

Hopefully this works out, because I would rather run a 5K with people than run it and time it for everyone else.

Golden Gate 50K – 2019

February 9, 2019

As I mentioned on the Chino Hills 50K post, I had to make some substitutions on my ultras in order to hit #100 at Way Too Cool next month.  I took the opportunity to get a discounted entry to the Coastal Trail Runs Golden Gate 50K on Black Friday (I think 20% off and opted out of the shirt to save $5).  Normally I would be running the Avalon 50M in January, but it hit on my parents’ 50th anniversary weekend (not feasible to run 50 miles in SoCal and still make the anniversary party on the same day).

Even though I am doing an alternative, I am pretty familiar with these trails, which have been part of the Headlands 50M, NorthFace 50M, and the Miwok 100K.

The weather forecast isn’t great and it rained quite a bit last night, so I gave myself a little extra time to get to the start and I am one of the first ones to arrive,even before the bib distribution people.  The area where they’ve set up the bib pick-up is somewhat flooded and since the race doesn’t start for another 45 minutes, I jump in and help them get everything set up.  This includes hanging signage (I think I have an advantage) and helping them get pins and bibs in order by race (they have 5M, half, 30K, full, and 50K).

The 30K and 50K courses start together at 8am, and then the half and full at 8:15, and the 5M at 8:30.  The 50K course is the 30K course (which is the half marathon course plus an extra loop), followed by the half marathon loop again.  (It makes sense to start the 30K and 50K together so that both groups get directed down the extra loop and the full and half do not.)

I start towards the back because the initial course is mostly uphill and I am planning on walking the hills and don’t want people to be annoyed by passes on single track.  There are a number of paved switchbacks until we get on the single-track, and the weather is overcast, but not too cold, though I do have my blue windbreaker on in the event it starts raining.

Trail meanders for a while around until the switchbacks into Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 4.1.  This is probably my favorite part of the course because it’s graded for horses (not too steep or rocky) and the stable is a visible landmark.  I’m doing well on overall pace (under 14/mile), and know I will lose some time on the extra loop (aka Pirates Cove).

I don’t spend a lot of time at the aid station and head down the road towards the water.  At a certain point, you get within about 100 yards of the Cove, where the water is calm.  Later, when the trail is higher up, you can see the bigger breakers in the Pacific.

The course today is the reverse of the way I’ve run Pirates Cove before, so it begins with winding around, heading down on single-track, and then climbing back out on the uneven wooden stairs.  I’m just grateful that it’s not raining because the wood and the mud can get quite slick.  It’s already bad enough from yesterday’s rain.

The end of this section pops back down by the serene cove I mentioned before and I head back up the paved road to Tennessee Valley aid station (Part Deux) and will head off now towards the Golden Gate Bridge and the third aid station.  This section is similar to part of the Headlands 50M course, especially the windy section with stairs and rope handrails.  When I get to this third aid station (Conzelman), I will have a better idea of how much time I have to get back to the start to make the 5 hour, ~19 mile cutoff.

The trail continues down to the road, crosses over, and continues on a trail that parallels the road, and goes up, up, up.  By now, it’s started to rain lightly and I keep trying to push the pace so that I have enough time, but getting to the point where I am questioning my pace.  I thought I was at least going the pace through Pirates Cove (about 17 minutes/mile), so for 4.5 miles, I should be there around 75 miles and 90 minutes have passed.  Also, I don’t remember from the map that the trail paralleled the road or went as close as we did to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Finally!  I get to the aid station, but now I have 59 minutes for 4.5 miles.  Granted, there is a lot of downhill, but I’d have to go at the fastest pace I’ve managed all day (around 13:15/mile).  I’m definitely gonna give it my best shot.

So the trail is now a wide fire-trail and heading downhill and is a bit muddy with water streaming down the side.  I just keep shuffle-jogging down the hill hoping that it will be enough.  But, to make matters worse, just when I think I’m getting to the final stretch, the course turns and heads up a small switch-back.  On any other day, this would not be a problem, but the small descent hill is super muddy, and the last thing I want is falling and then having to run another 13 miles!

So I try and take easy and start to slip and dig my feet into the side of the hill causing ankle and foot cramps.  Yack!!  But I do safely make it to the bottom.  But the cramping doesn’t help my attempt to make the cutoff.

Now the home stretch, which is mostly straight and flat.  I know it’s going to be close and I am already rehearsing my sob story in case I don’t make it.  You know, ‘four hours, 13 miles, I can do that, easy,’ but will also understand if I am not allowed to continue.  Dang it.

Despite my hustling, I come in at 5:01:47, and still ask if I continue.  To my surprise, the RD says yes, and then explains that they marked the course incorrectly.  At the spot with the ropes and the wind, the course should have gone straight over the hill and not down and then up the road.  In fact, it added a mile to the course, so I have made the cutoff after all (in a sense).

There are 3 or 4 people behind me that make it through the cutoff as well, and so, we all begin heading up the hill once more.  I am struggling quite a bit because of the cramps from the muddy hill and also because I really pushed the pace to come close to this cutoff (13:20) and I don’t have a lot left.

So, once again up the hill, around the coast, and down to Tennessee Valley Aid station.  My pace was almost 20 minutes per mile, and I am sorta back on pace (Pirates Cove loop took me 93 minutes, minus the hour less I have, minus the 26 minutes I lost on the last section, equals 7 spare minutes).

Now back through the same section, though when I get to the ropes section, the trail turns left and crosses over the hill and I get to the aid station so much more quickly.  Rain is starting to come down again.  I have 72 minutes to get to the end this time (which sounds like a lot of time, but not at the end of 30+ miles).

So, in this last section, I was totally by myself, but when I get to the aid station, there is another guy there. Can’t believe I caught up to anyone.  I mean, this whole race I have been talking or singing to myself because there is no one to talk to.

But he is really hurting and apparently has been at the aid station for 20 minutes or so, talking about quitting.  Quitting?  After 27 miles?  I talk to him for a few minutes while I am refilling my water bottle, sheltering from the rain, and grabbing some potato chips… and convince him to continue.

I set off down the hill and I can see him ambling 100 yards behind me.  Good, but I gotta concentrate on myself and getting to the end.

After a few miles, I turn back and he is much further back, but seems to be moving a lot faster.  Guess he will catch up to me soon.

When he does catch up, it isn’t the same guy at all, it’s the sweeper-slash-ribbon remover.  Finally, a bit of company.  We talk and jog down the hill to the road.  He spins off and heads towards the finish while I take my second gander at the uphill and down on the slick mud.  I feel like I do a little bit better the second time around, kind of skiing down in an effort to avoid cramping and also because I need to get going.

Finally, I make it back onto the road and hustle as much as I can to make it under that 9 hour final cutoff.  Honestly, I am not really running, but my version of speed-walking.  I am certain I can do it… but I end up coming in at 9 hours and 47 seconds.

As I come in, the race director congratulates me by name and the other volunteers say thank you for helping out (10 hours ago!).  Kind of a crazy race with the rain, the mud, the extra mile, and still finishing, slightly over the (normal distance) cutoffs.  And thus, ultra #99 is in the books.  On to Way Too Cool in three weeks and number 100.

Boeing 5K (11) – 2018

December 10, 2018

Today is the first Boeing 5K that is not being timed by the Boeing Rec Center (now shuttered).  Last month, the group was saying my record is secure because there won’t be any other runs, but Dave Parsel and I decided that we could keep the event going if the two of us met an hour early to do the run and then time everyone else (or take turns running first).

It wasn’t my best run (I had to stop and walk 5 times), especially because I am trailing only Dave Parsel, who is pretty fast even when he is hurting, but 28:16 is an okay time without the motivation of others.