May 5, 2018
Two years ago, I had planned on doing the 50 miler here in Lone Pine, but only a month earlier, I fell on a training run and fractured my elbow. My recovery was not such that I could pull that off.
Last year, I decided to do the 50K up here and see how good (or badly) it would go. Part of my reasoning also was due to the fact that Darrell Price (my buddy from Ridgecrest that I have stayed with the past few years) had done the 50M in 2016 and really struggled with it.
Anyway, the 50K went reasonably well. That is to say that I finished it and wasn’t maimed. I was pretty sure I would struggle with the 50M race, but I had also noted on the website that you could start whenever you wanted and let them know your time at the finish line. Maybe start 2 hours early and build up my confidence by not being at the back the entire race.
Meanwhile, Darrell said that he was interested in doing the 50M (and starting early) and Alan Sheppard (who had done his first 50M race in Marin County (somewhat with me))last September expressed interest as well (and could start early if that was the consensus of the people he carpooled with).
Whether Alan could run it or not was left until the last minute (at WWW, this means by the Tuesday before the event), so I didn’t make any hotel plans. Figured I would wing it as I usually do. Our tentative plan was to sleep in the car, especially since we would need to leave for the start around 2:00 or 2:30am. What kind of sleep would we get anyway?
Darrell was feeding me all sorts of AirBnB options, and said we might be able to stay with him at his if all 8 planets aligned. Both Alan and I felt we might be putting him out by doing this, so the plan was to wing it.
Alan and I left Anaheim around noon and immediately hit horrible traffic on the 5, all the way to the 5/14 interchange. That certainly didn’t bode well!
However, we made relatively good time and got up to the check-in at the school before it opened up and walked around a tad. It was pretty hot out (like 80s and 90s). Probably will be hot tomorrow as well.
We picked up our bibs and shirts and sat down to a pasta feed. Talked to a few folks. It’s the usual mix of first timers, old friends, and random people that recognize me (for some reason) that I do not know at all.
I had a short conversation with another tall guy (think he was 6’7″) but he was only doing the full marathon or the 10 miler. (It’s okay, tall people don’t really do ultramarathons.)
The Chamber of Commerce folks gave a talk and made some announcements. It was really the worst speaker system. I think that the teachers in the Peanuts movies spoke more clearly. The important part here was just making sure we could start early, where we might park, and if there were any cutoffs. (Answers: Yes, anywhere if you showed up well before the start, and probably not.)
We did meet up with Darrell at the check-in and he said that once he got settled in, he would text us to come over and stay. Alan and I were still ambivalent about stressing out Darrell, and drove over to the finish line parking lot to (possibly) settle in for the night. It was still pretty hot out (even with the doors open) so don’t know how comfortable it was gonna be.
Around 8:45, Darrell said, come over. It’s going to work out after all. I think the deal was that the unit was not supposed to sleep more than 3, but no one was around to double-check that. The other couple had the “master bedroom” and were settled in, and Darrell was on the couch. He blew up an air mattress for me and Alan was on the floor.
It was a tad more comfortable than the car. I mean, yeah, having a toilet, way better, but, I’m sure I groaned every time I rolled over and the air mattress made all sorts of squeaky noises and I nearly rolled off every time I moved. Okay, and the air conditioning made it comfy inside instead of hot.
I was hoping that we would leave at 2:00am, park, and then try and start by 3:00am, but I think I got up at 2:15am, and we were out the door by 3:15am. The plan had become caravanning to the finish line and leaving my car, and then driving in Darrell’s truck to the start (and then shuttling him back after the race).
At about 3:40, we got up to the campground, which is the start area for the race. Parking was severely limited, because, well, it’s a campground and we were not camping… but we did spot a non-campsite spot in between campsites that was off the campground road. We felt secure enough that his car would not get towed (after all, what a horrible inconvenience for some tow truck driver and the campground wouldn’t want to tow a legit car – they wouldn’t know since we snuck in under the cover of darkness).
There were a few people stirring, getting ready for their day (whether it was the race or not). We asked someone where the start line was and they pointed amorphously off to the left. Darrell kept saying that he recognized where we were, but I felt, from last year, that we had to come UP some road and that bathrooms were at the top and the start was near that. We parked at the top of the road we were on, so it didn’t make a lot of sense.
We walked for about 15 or 20 minutes before we realized that we were in a campsite loop that was next to the area where the race started, and sure enough, up a hill to bathrooms, and a sign indicating where the start line was.
So, 4:10am and we are finally on our way.
The very first intersection is maybe 20 yards after the start. Pink ribbon at the exact middle of the intersection, neither left nor right. Left looks like an offshoot and right looks like the main path, so, we go right.
I am looking askance (to the left), keeping track of where it goes and if we could shift over if our path is wrong (there are a few spots). After about 5 minutes, our road essentially dead ends, so we backtrack to where I saw we could cut over. I step to the left and my foot drops off about 3 feet and I fall forward onto my knees and hands. Great start, buddy!
I am lightly bleeding on my knees, but I feel okay (as okay as you can feel starting off a 50M with a fall in the first 5 minutes after getting lost).
We get to the first turnoff (where the full, 50K, and 50M split off from the 10 miler) of 3.9 miles in 1:18 – 20 minute miles! We need to be around 19 to finish, and not off to a good start, though it is super dark.
Our trail veers off into the bushes and it is a guessing game trying to figure out where it goes next. One of us spots a pink ribbon and heads towards that. Actually, it is pretty well marked, just hard to follow pre-sunrise.
A little bit later, we get to a spot I recognize, which is a single-track leading down to a water crossing. I fall a little behind Darrell and Alan at this point, just because I am nervous about falling again. When I get to the bottom, they have arranged some wooden boards so we can cross without getting wet.
Once we get to the other side, we are back onto a fire-road and we catch our first runner, Bill Dickey (78 years old) who started probably 30 minutes before us, in the 50K. The fire-road goes downhill and I watch Alan fade off into the distance, while I chat briefly with Bill. Darrell is also a bit ahead of me, but I have to do my own thing, can’t worry about those young short guys.
The next big intersection is where the marathon splits off from us. Last year, it was the everybody-but-the-50M split, but this year, the 50Kers get to suffer, too, and go up to Whitney Portal. I didn’t do this last year, so I don’t know what to expect, but I’m sure it will be tough. I am already struggling with the elevation and I think we will go up to 8600 feet at the top. Phew.
I have made up a little time getting to this point, but still well over the 19:00 pace I really need to finish this race. Guess what? Uphill ain’t going to help much.
The beginning of this section is a series of switchbacks at a slight incline, but there is a point after we do a big water crossing that the turns are more frequent and steeper (read: climbing up on rocks). This is super slow going for me. As people pass me and give me encouragement, I cannot even speak out a single coherent thought, other than “uh,” or “ugh.” (Almost a breathy “thanks” at one point.)
The trail gets a little easier, slope-wise as we get into the actual camping area, with a measured out path, replete with wooden cross-hatching and signposts. On the uphill, I am passed by David Binder and Rafael Covarrubias (dang, already made up the 50 minute stagger!).
And just after the confusing “tunnel,” Alan comes by on his way down, and says that Darrell is not that far ahead of me. This “tunnel” is a path between two large rocks and in my addled mind, it looks like the path dead-ends, so I didn’t head in that direction and tried to figure another way up. Once you get up to it, it’s clear that it goes through, but when you are spacey, you get paranoid.
The last bit up to the aid station is a step-bridge. By this I mean that there are literally steps in the bridge climbing up to the aid station – it’s not just a bridge. I can see Darrell on the other side cramming in whatever he can manage for the descent. As I come in, he departs. I know I’m in a time-crunch, so I eat a couple pieces of fruit and immediately turn around. My 1:44:26 for this 4-mile section has ballooned my time to over 21 minutes a mile. Hope I can make up some time on the path down (into thicker air).
On the walk down, both Kelly Motyka and John Hampton pass me heading up. They both got into Western States 100M and are using this race (the 50K) as a training run for elevation. Both look way better than me.
Some time later, Kelly passes me on the downhill section, which is slow going on the stepping-on-rocks part. Knees still feel a bit off and I don’t want to ruin them this early. At least when I get back onto the switchback portion, I can jog a little bit. The bad part is that although I came down the hill MUCH faster than I went up it, I have only reduced my total pace to 20:49/mile. Not fast enough, in other words. At this point, I really do have to think about maybe shifting to the 50K if I cannot get my pace up.
Just after the turn back to the marathon course, John Hampton passes me. He doesn’t look as good as Kelly, and he tells me that he threw up. (Hmm… not sure that I’ve ever thrown up on any race.)
Now there is a fire-road section where you can see some of the other runners on the other side of the river. There is a crossing point with a metal bridge. Last year, this bridge was 6 inches under water, but this year, it’s a good 2 to 3 feet above the water. Just crossing the bridge is Tam Premsrirath and Angela Holder, presumably in the marathon, because they didn’t pass me on the Whitney Portal section.
After cresting this hill on the other side, there is a beautiful (endless) downhill section. I like some downhill but not endless downhill because it’s hard on the joints. I run some of it, but mostly, I am walking or skipping or galloping to get it over with. Loads of people pass me, but they are probably in the 50K, so I’m not going to worry about it. As I am getting to the end of the section, I spot a flag with some writing on it, like Baobab or Bellydancer. I wonder what it says.
As I get closer, it’s the Mile 18 aid station, and the flag says “Badwater.” That makes the most sense, even if Badwater doesn’t make any sense to me. (Never want to walk/run 135 miles through Death Valley, nope.) My combo walk/run is at 15:03/mile, and drops my total average pace to 19:31. Hmm… that’s good news. Darrell is here ahead of me and he is taking a while with the refueling, so I end up passing him. I’m sure he’ll catch back up soon.
When the downhill ends, there’s more uphill, but not steep and not rocky, and thoroughly walkable. I am maintaining pace with a Las Vegas music teacher/violinist named Tig (Antigone). She walks and jogs while I walk briskly and I am enjoying the conversation. We have favorite early music in common, like Gesualdo and Josquin des Prez (names that my followers will look up online and still go, huh?). She has played in some shows and also teaches lessons. This is only her second 50K and she picked a doozy.
We hit Mile 20 together and I’ve pulled back another 30 seconds per mile with my walking. Around 22, I start to pull away as we get into the Alabama Hills and the wind. She is pulling into the aid station as I pull out and hit 19:00 net pace for the first time since my fall at 0.001 miles.
Out of this aid station, there is sizable downhill to the 50K/50M split spot. Looks like there is a wedding going on here today, or I am hallucinating a set of white folding chairs (or both). Linda Dewees catches up to me and we walk/jog/talk for a bit. I always love seeing her. She is always so positive and encouraging (and a cool lady).
As I get closer to the 50K/50M split, I spot some of the marks for the incoming route to here, which I always find confusing, but if I make a note of it, then maybe I won’t get lost.
As I pull into Mile 26, I managed the last section at a 12:36 pace, I think thanks to jogging with Linda and my pace is at 18:16. Now I don’t have to make that bad decision to drop back to a shorter distance!! I can continue on. Tig comes into the aid station as I am leaving and I wish her luck and head off on the 50M loop.
This is an extremely lonely section. It’s very sandy and no shade whatsoever and I do not see another racer for over 2 hours. I do see a number of mountain bikers and hikers who give me some encouragement.
The next aid station is at Mile 30 (or so) and my loping pace has brought me to 17:34 per mile. Literally, I have walked myself back into finishing! I spot some beers that the aid station guy has and ask for some. He drinks half and I drink half. It’s cold and refreshing. He’s an older guy (late 70s, I think) and tells me about some of the cute gals that have come by (I wonder what he thought of the lady in the booty shorts that Alan later said was twerking at the aid stations…) and how it makes it all worth it.
Leaving this aid station, I am immediately heading up a giant sand dune. The variety of two steps up, one step backwards. Yuck. Very draining, but at least I have a beer in me to make the pain go away somewhat. It descends down the other side and eventually into some single track, crosses a road, and then a very confusing section through some brambles.
I see Darrell behind me and when he crosses the road, he starts up the road (Alan did this, too, apparently), but I shout back where the ribbons are. I dropped back some of the pace here, but still under 18/mile. The aid station is manned by two black guys, one in a fancy BMX outfit. Think he might be a semipro BMX racer? Nice folk.
Leaving this aid station, it widens out and I see some rock climbers, people drinking beer, a few folks with unleashed dogs. One dog goes after me, wildly, and its owner does little to rein him in. I was prepared to kick the dog away, even though I don’t think I could outrun an angry owner at this point. Once I get to the fence area, the dog stops giving chase (and/or the owner gets him under control).
On the other side of the fence, it’s horse-shit heaven. There are piles and piles of the stuff all over here. I don’t know if it’s a depository or what, but there is a lot of it. A little past this point, I end up backtracking a bit, probably due to another vague marking into dense mustard plants (even though it looks cooler to go into the rock area).
By the next aid station, at Mile 36, Darrell (and his merry gang) have caught up to me. Matt and Mike have been with Darrell a bit. We stay together somewhat, but there are points where they stop to dip bandanas in cool water or retie shoes or whatever. I’m trying not to let that stuff slow me down, ’cause I know they’ll catch up (or not). I’m just worried about me and staving off blisters that are slowly forming on my foot pad.
Matt passes and soars off into the distance, while Mike and Darrell are only a bit ahead of me. They get further ahead on a section where the descent is gravelly and downhill. I don’t like this one bit. They are both heading out from the aid station as I am coming in. A nice man and girl who own a ranch or restaurant up the road and have a couple of vases full of lavender… and beer. As I am leaving the aid station, they mention that I am the first person to drink a cup of Skratch (like Gatorade), a cup of beer, and a cup of Coke at their stop!
From here, just a short 4 miles back to the 50K/50M cutoff (and then 5 to the end of the race).
There is a scramble up more of these Grape-Nuts and then a flat fire-road, then up over the hill, then down, then a jump (literally, scary!) over a creek onto a rock, and then a hairy section on seesawing shale somewhat along the highway, and zigzagging along the top of the cliff overlooking said highway. I keep spotting Mike and Darrell in the distance and it looks like one of them has stopped for the moment.
It turns out to be Mike. He’s 38 years old (though I thought he was older – Darrell said something later about “hard living”) and he tells me he’s never finished a 50 miler while in his 30s. (Today’s the day, Mike. You can do it.) I say we just have to walk briskly through this section and we will make it. I continue to be encouraging until I notice that he has slowed behind me. Ohhh….kay. Bye.
I pull into the Mile 45 aid station in 13:48. For the official cutoff, I have 1 hour and 12 minutes for 5 miles, but because of my early start, I have 2 hours, 2 minutes. Plenty of time (can average 24 minutes/mile and still make it; and my current overall average is at 18:25 – lost a little bit on the gravel).
Darrell is at the aid station, along with Denise, who says it is her second or third time back here, that she has been unable to find how to get to the finish, that the ribbons and arrows lead her back here again and again.
We are looking at the map (which is nothing more than a general elevation map with some mile markers on it, nothing that shows all the possible trails around here). I say that I remember that chalked section that we have to get to (no idea where it is, but I’ll know it when I see it), and from last year, I remember the goat trails to the large American flag. We should be okay.
So, we follow the ribbons and the arrows. I can totally see how she might have veered back to the aid station multiple times… but suddenly, we find ourselves, yep, heading back. Denise says she doesn’t want to go through this again. I don’t want to go through it once.
Darrell suggests that we just make a beeline for the highway and that will (eventually) get us back to the finish line. Sounds good to me, and we are directed towards the road by some people in a camper. A short while later, a car drives up, with “Wild Wild West Race Director” on it. We tell her that we are lost and we are just going to take the road back.
She says that she is going to figure out what went wrong (most of it was really well labeled, in my opinion). “Do you want to finish?” Yeah!
“Okay,” she says. I’ll drive the three of you back to the correct spot. By the way, it’s a small car and I have three aid station tables in it.
I try to fold myself over one of the tables, but I can’t even get my head inside the door, so, sorry, Ds, I will take the front seat. Denise somehow fits draped over the tables, and Darrell is lying on the tables.
It is not a long ride but there are little markings that would have led us here. Probably sabotage (since we have heard there were problems from multiple people). She says that she will let the people at Mile 48 know to leave stuff for us (even though it is only 5 miles to the finish).
Where she has dropped us is the start of the goat trails, which is a lot of single-track steep up and steep downhill sections. Both Darrell and Denise are in the mood of, “If there’s one more sucky hill, I’m going to quit,” but when I spot the giant American flag, those thoughts somewhat go away. Denise is lagging a bit behind us, but we all get into the aid station around the same time.
Because of the detour, 22 minutes a mile in this section, but still under 19/mile. There is a cooler here with a few Gatorades, ice water, and beer. I have some beer and Gatorade, and then begin immediately heading down the hill, just because it’s starting to get dark and I feel Darrell and Denise do not have the same downhill struggles I do.
Darrell comes by me at a pretty good clip. I know he was complaining earlier about something. I have been complaining for about 10 miles about blisters and the rockiness of the trail is just making it worse, but I amble/skip/gallop/walk down the hill, and try to keep Darrell in sight.
When I get to the highway (gosh, we might have done an extra 5 miles if we went this way), I know I am almost there. It’s a short section over a bridge and then back into the “wilderness,” and through the back of the park to the front of the park and Highway 395 and the finish!
I get into the park and I am singing patriotic songs to myself, like Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. I then notice up ahead a skunk. Hmm… Don’t want to get sprayed at this point. I start singing Battle Hymn of the Republic VERY LOUDLY and it starts to skitter away. A few verses of “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,” and it keeps its distance! Phew!
Finally, I can see the fence line and cheering/cowbell. I cross the finish in 15:41:06 (or 14:51:24 as the official results say, even though I told them my time at the finish). No medal or ceramic for me as they have run out, but they say they will mail one to me.
Darrell finished 7 minutes earlier and Alan, about an hour earlier.
At the finish, some of Darrell’s friends have bought us some Chinese and Thai food (spicy!) and beer. Great that they did this, but sucky that they don’t have sandwiches or pizza or something after 15 hours of activity.
As soon as I get myself together, we get in the car to drive up and get Darrell’s car. I make a few wrong turns, but eventually we find the start again. Darrell thinks he might have been towed, or at a minimum, a parking ticket or fine, but we get up there and absolutely nothing done to his truck.
We drive back down and treat Darrell to dinner at Carl’s Jr. I ate that Chinese food and wasn’t that hungry to begin with and Darrell isn’t as hungry as he thought, either.
We head back to the room, now just three of us. Darrell has the room, I have the couch, and Alan, well (sucks for you), the floor. My shoes stink so badly that I have to leave them outside. Hope they will be there in the morning! (They are.)
On our drive back on Sunday morning, Alan and I decide we will look in on the Randsburg Hash event. (This has been going on after Wild Wild West Marathon for years, but not last year, and previously, I have had other things to do that weekend.) We make the windy drive into hot Randsburg and most everything is closed and there are only a handful of hashers up there. Neither of us want to do the run (for obvious reasons) but we each enjoy a beer and celebrate our race completion – 2nd 50 miler for Alan and 25th for me!