Tag Archives: Alan Sheppard

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.

OTHTC 50K – 2018

December 2, 2018

As long as this race doesn’t happen on Thanksgiving Weekend, I would like to continue to run it.  This is a quality event put on by a quality volunteer running club organization.  They know what runners want and they deliver, and it’s reasonably priced.  Four of my ten best 50Ks (in terms of time) have been run here, and the race is centrally located to where many of my ultra-running friends live.  It’s a great introductory event and friends like Angela Holder, Stephanie Harris, and Dulce Barton ran their first ultras here, not to mention many hasher friends.

For the past several years, I have been fortunate to stay with Darrell Price and Megan Stone in their home so close to the race start/finish.  Angela has joined me as well as Alan a couple of times.  This year, we convinced speedy Peter Yeh to join us for his first ultra (no need for an early start with this one).  Also staying at the house is John Radich, an ultra runner whose name I have seen dozens of times, but had yet to put a name to a face.

After registering and enjoying a simple pasta dinner at St. Ann’s, we retire to Megan and  Darrell’s for minimal talking before an early bed.

I created pace sheets for all my friends that are running today, which also include Rumiko (aka Yoko) running her first ultra, Aamir (aka Dr. Strange Glove), possibly also his first, and Laura and Stephanie Harris (not her first).

I see many of my favorite people and jog with some in the first few miles but generally fade off as they push along at a good pace and I do a slog.  Alan and Peter are well ahead of me, and Laura took off early.

After the first aid station, we are dusted by a truck driving along the trail for a bit (and then pulling off to provide beer support to their runners (for Rumiko and Michelle in the 30K).

There is a really nice moment about 22 miles in when Aamir and I are going at about the same pace.  A sort of extra fun moment with this is that in the past week or so, I have been trying to write alternative lyrics to Christmas songs, so I test myself by singing them to Aamir (and writing a couple more on the fly).

When we get to Wagon Wheel at Mile 25, I avail myself of a beer (because I’m not running a PR here) and at this point, Aamir pushes his pace with the intent of breaking 7 hours.

At the last aid station, of course, I enjoy another beer proffered by Chris Rios and Ruth Carter (former RD and hash friend), but don’t waste too much time so that I can finish in around 7:10.

All of us have good times, ranging from 4:45 and change for Peter up to 8:30 for Laura and Stephanie.  We enjoy some pizza, soda, and beer before hopping in the car and driving back to Southern Cal.

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John, Alan, Peter, me, and Darrell at the finish line.

I look forward to 2019 when I can finish my 10th OTHTC and get my 10 time finisher’s jacket.

Boeing 5K (9) – 2018

October 8, 2018

I got my wrist cast off a couple of weeks ago, but I am still nervous and not quite back to normal.  A few days ago, I “paced” Alan at his 100K.  Pacing consisted of walk/running with him until it got dark and then slogging by myself the remaining 13 miles (because I was less sure in shoes than Alan was in sandals).

Woke up today feeling poorly, so I started out slowly and then picked it up the second half (where I had a couple of ~90 second quarter miles) to finish in 24:55.

Browne-Rice Kayak-Run Relay – 2018

July 14, 2018

Alan and I are teammates once again this year for the Kayak-Run Relay.  I know it’s fun for him (even though I am basically his kayak-run relay ball-and-chain).

As per my usual, I jogged down (and eventually back) from the start/finish line along the Peninsula.  Also, as per my usual, did not bring a shoulder cover (cuz I usually wear a tank top) and got a significant sunburn.

Nothing significant to report about the race this year, only that my times are getting slower (on both kayak and run alike), but I can still be easily satisfied running 25 and change for the 5K, given that several tenths of it are on not the hardest packed sand.

 

4 Days

February 26, 2019

4.  Darrell Price

I met Darrell at the High Desert 50K in 2014.  I believe it was his first ultra and he was struggling a bit on the downhills (not my favorite, either) so we ran together for a few miles and had a nice chit-chat.  It turned out that he was local to Ridgecrest, but… spent about half his time in Long Beach for his work as a Geriatric Life Coach.  We became Facebook friends and resolved to meet up for some runs in Long Beach in the next year.

But, that never transpired. (Boo, hiss.)  And so, in 2015, Darrell and his fiancée, Megan Stone, invited me (and Angela Holder driving up with me) to stay with them in their house the night before the race.  This was perfect because they live about a half mile from the start line.  This repeated itself in 2016 as well, and I have gotten to know Darrell and Megan a whole lot better because of it.

In 2017, Darrell reached out to me and said that he and Megan would be running Shadow of the Giants 50K in Fish Camp.  It would be Megan’s first 50K and wondered if I could provide any advice about the course.  At the race, we talk over some of the course and I provide them with a laminated pace sheet (which always works well for me).  Megan finishes within a few minutes of me and Darrell a little further back.

Later that year, back up to Ridgecrest again to stay, but Angela is working a race in Laughlin and decides not to go, so instead, Alan comes with me.  He just met Darrell but quickly becomes great friends.  This is a testament to the kind of person Darrell is, not just his Southern charm, but his gregariousness and inspirational qualities.  (Plus, a beer or two at the finish line goes a long way to ingratiate yourself to your host.)

For 2018, we make arrangements to do the Wild Wild West 50 mile race.  Alan and I think we will probably sleep in my car (partially due to Alan getting permission to go last minute), but once we are in Lone Pine, Darrell resolves to “make it work.”  At 9pm, we sneak over to his Airbnb rental and take up all available floor space.  In the morning, the three of us drive up to the Start, park Darrell’s truck wherever seems non-illegal in the dark at 3am, and then start the race early.

Even with three brilliant minds, we can’t find the start for 45 minutes, get lost in the first half mile, and I fall and cut myself in that same span.  We mostly stay together until the first few 50M runners pass us, around dawn, and encourage each other on the climb up and down to Whitney Portal.

Alan surges way ahead, but Darrell and I are back and forth all day, and the biggest part of the adventure comes when we are in the last 5 miles.  A lady we are with is saying that she cannot find the path back, that she keeps running in circles, and we end up doing that, too.  We decide we will find the road (even though it’s probably a longer run) and take that back into town, but we end up running into the race director in her car.  She is picking up aid station tables, and she tells us that she will drop us at the correct spot (someone had messed with the markings).  It was a short drive and Darrell got stuck in the back with the tables. By the time we get to the final stretch, we are a few extra miles in, but mostly keep one another in sight and finish close together.

Of course, in December, Alan and I are back in Ridgecrest for another night with our wonderful hosts, Megan and Darrell.

Probably what I like best about Darrell is that he is a younger version of me.  Well, except for the Southern part, the engaged part, the having a kid part, and the Geriatric Life Coach part. (Ha ha.)  But what I really mean is that he is a tall, consistent, and not overly speedy ultra runner.  He is there for the accomplishment of the feat, the adventure, and to meet all of the wonderful people that our sport offers.

6 Days

February 24, 2019

6.  Alan Sheppard

I met Alan at AREC in 2016.  We had never really run together but I often would end up at a table after the run with a few other guys and gals, and invariably we would get into a discussion about the Hash or Trail Running.  While I don’t think I converted him to either of these, per se, I am certain that I tilted the scales.

I got to know him better in January 2017, when he (or rather his mom and step-dad) offered to let me stay with him Saturday night after the Avalon 50M, so I could go to the banquet and pick up my 5-year finisher’s plaque.

After that weekend, we did a few Long Beach hashes together (along with young kids in the stroller), and a few trail runs.  We started to have a discussion about him trying his first 50 miler with the plan being to do Avalon the following year, but… the 2018 date would coincide too close to his wife’s due date (bad to be ’26 miles across the sea’ if something were to happen).

So, he decided that we would push up the date somewhat.  I suggested the Headlands 50M in Marin County in September, a race that I had done before (and struggled mightily), and to train for it, we would also do a few ultras together in the months prior.

We started with Mt. Disappointment 50K where I volunteered at Josephine and he ran.  To get an idea of the miserable conditions, it was 87 degrees at 5AM, and it was only my smiling visage that prevented him from dropping (but it is these struggles that inure you against future drop-outs and cement your endurance).

The following month, we both did Skyline 50K (together), and he stayed overnight at my folks’ place (so his fam could sleep in).  They met us at the finish line.

Finally, in September 2017, we drove up together (and stayed with my folks once more) and ran the Headlands 50M.  Even though I am too slow to run with him, the numerous out-and-backs enabled us to keep in contact and cheer one another on.

We had one more road trip in 2017, when we drove up to Ridgecrest for the Over the Hill Track Club 50K.  We stayed with my friend Darrell Price, as I had done the past year, and ingratiated ourselves further by providing Darrell with beer at the finish line.

Besides Alan joining me for trail training, hashes, Boeing 5Ks, and ultra road trips, I have gotten to know his family fairly well.  When we teamed up for the Browne-Rice Kayak Run Relay in 2017 and 2018, I spent the day on the beach with his two (then three) children.  They recognize me immediately, and sometimes recognize me even when it’s not me (any guy with long-ish legs in shorts?).  His family is as excited for him to run and finish and takes every (reasonable) opportunity to be there for him at the finish line.

In 2018, Alan and I had somewhat fewer opportunities to run together (or near each other), due to the birth of his daughter.  She is a good kid, but it is a high expectation to saddle his wife with three kids alone for the hours that it takes to finish an ultra.

Our great big adventure was in May 2018 at the Wild Wild West 50M, where we teamed up again with Darrell Price (surreptitiously staying with him again) and started (almost) an hour early together.  For the most part, the three of us stayed together until sunup, and then Alan cleaned our clocks, but we all finished.

Throughout last year, Alan and I began having discussions about running longer races.  He threw out a whole list of races to run with the intent of doing maybe the San Diego 100M in June 2019.  Part of that plan was to do the Cuyamaca 100K in October.

Six weeks before Cuyamaca, I tripped during a run and fell face first into the sidewalk and fractured my wrist, so, when it came time to pace Alan for the final 17 miles of his race, I had only had my cast off for a week (and was extremely nervous about falling in the dark).  I ended up “pacing” him for 6 miles and sort of pacing random runners for the last 11.  My best memory from that event was during the drive back when Alan called his wife to let her know how it had gone.  “The good news is I finished the race,” he told her.  “And the bad news is, I really liked it.”

2018 ended with another trip to Ridgecrest, staying with Darrell, and convincing several of our friends to run the 50K, as well as Alan signing up for the Way Too Cool 50K lottery in order to experience my 100th ultra with me.

Although I have known Alan just three years, we have run 7 ultras together (plus 4 I volunteered at), and I am glad that we have become good friends.  We always have good conversation (and not always about running), and he is always willing to entertain my spectacularly good (or bad) ideas.  He also has an extremely supportive family (who I like a lot as well, but don’t see quite as much) that he is loyal and committed to, which is a strong indication of the content of his character.  He is a good guy and I am lucky to have made his acquaintance.

Boeing 5K (4) – 2018

May 14, 2018

After a tough Wild Wild West 50M, I took a full week off to recover (meaning I walked a bunch but did not run).  Today, is essentially my first run back… and of course, Boeing (117 in a row), so want to do well.

It was extremely windy outbound.  Thought Alan was coming to run and he was a little late due to the fact that he ran from home (in Anaheim!).

I ran pretty well outbound (before I realized I went out too fast) in 13:00 and returned in 14:30.  Nowadays, I am pretty psyched anything under a 9:00 pace (especially a week after a 50 miler).

Wild Wild West 50M – 2018

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.

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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!

Boeing 5K (1) – 2018

February 12, 2018

First Boeing 5K of the year (due to January getting rained out).  I guess Mother Nature is trying to postpone the inevitable tying (and/or beating) of Peter Lew’s record of 120 consecutive Boeing 5Ks.  I keep getting slower but I am totally the AC Green or Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Boeing 5K (well, almost).

Since today is a holiday, Alan is available to participate and we run part of it together.  I don’t feel particularly great, so when I get overwhelmed in my breathing, I stop to regain breath control, and then go immediately back into my pace.

So, on the one hand, very disappointed to be walking, but on the other hand, running 27:24 (or sub-9:00 minute miles) AND walking is nothing to scoff at.

Ridgecrest High Desert 50K – 2017

December 3, 2017

If it’s the first weekend in December, then it’s Ridgecrest time!  Today is my 8th Ridgecrest 50K.  I had some of my best results here – actual 50K PR in 2004, and last year I did a personal best age grade time.  Besides the Over the Hill Track Club putting on a great event, it’s also a race with temperate hills and temperate weather.

For the past few years, I have been fortunate to be able to stay with my friends Darrell and Megan (who live less than a mile from the start).  I met Darrell and we ran together a few years ago at this race and forged a friendship.  (He also spends a fair amount in Long Beach, but we always seem to miss each other – and no, I’m not hanging out in Ridgecrest at those times.)

Angela was supposed to come up and stay as well, but she is working a race in Laughlin on Saturday and is not sure that she will make it.  I hope that she does not miss out just because she’s a little tired.

So, there’s an extra space for someone and that would be Alan.  We drove up together early afternoon on Saturday and arrived at the church in Ridgecrest where we check in pretty close to when they opened up packet pick-up.  Many of the usual suspects are there including a number of Foothill and Long Beach H3 folks.

One of my good ultra running buddies (we seem to travel in the same circles), Linda Dewees, is helping with check-in, and Karin Usko is selling her Happy Gaiters.  There is the usual nice tech shirt and a lot of available past year shirts and hats to clothe Alan and his family for years to come.

We decided to partake in the pasta feed at the church (the pizza place we always used to go to has had spotty service (new ownership?) the past couple years) to support the church or the high school or something.  It’s a chance to catch up with friends and wait for Darrell and/or Megan to come pick up their bibs, so we can head over to their house.

I have a nice extended talk with the former race director (who took over from Chris Rios) Terry Mitchell.  It was of the ilk that younger people need to step in to keep the races/clubs/running activities going.  I think it helps to have a good system in place, too.

By the time they arrive, Angela has said definitively that she is not coming, but we pretend that we never got that message and send her messages that we will see her in the morning.  I have my usual spot in my sleeping bag on the long couch and am awakened once or twice by the dog and/or cat sitting on me.  (Oh, well.)

In the morning, I feel OK, but I am fairly certain that I cannot duplicate my 6:05 from last year.  My knees and back feel one more year creakier (and not in a good way).  I am just hoping that Alan won’t finish 3 hours ahead of me (and not be able to call his wife because I have the car keys)!

We set off into the cold and as soon as we hit the hills, I don’t do my usual walking, just because it’s a shorter section and it’s probably better to get away from the crowds… so then a mile later, when the downhill starts, I can just relax, though I do a little walking when I get to the road, just because I can walk a little more briskly uphill on paved than on trails.  I get to the first aid in 50 minutes, so about 11 minutes a mile.

I don’t really stop, but make the turn and run as much as I can, kinda alternating between walking and running (isn’t every race that way?) but also using various people that pass me as pacers.

To a certain extent, it works.  The way I can tell that I am doing better is that people who I expect will pass me do not pass me until much later than usual.  I almost got through two aid stations before Yak (aka Ethan) passes me, so either I am doing better, or he is suffering from “aging,” too.

I even impress myself at the Highway Crossing because I was able to run a goodly portion of the washboard section (which is murder on the knees, by the way).

Once the Highway is crossed, the trail veers sort of off the beaten path.   You can see other runners going up a steep hill but it’s away from where you are (I think this adds on needed distance or something.).  It’s at this point that the wind really picks up.  It’s not like a few years ago where dust was swirling but it’s a preventative wind, so therefore, annoying.

Once I get to Gracie’s Mansion (Mile 25.7), it’s abundantly clear that I am not going to be very close to 6 hours this year since I am not at all confident that I can do 5.5 miles in 27 minutes.

What is more pleasing to me, however, is that I see some beers at the aid station.  What could be more pleasing (and full of needed carbohydrates) than beer.  I should tell you that technically, this is my second beer, because I did have a cupful at the previous aid station (maybe what prevented me from doing 6 hours – ha ha).

In this last section, I am joined by Linda Dewees.  The best part about running with her is that she’s endlessly upbeat (in the most delightful way).  We stayed together almost all the way to the final aid station at 29.4 miles.  (She was just leaving as I pulled in.)

The aforementioned past past race director Chris Rios is here (as usual) with his cooler of ice-cold beer.  Since I am not trying to break any records (and feel reasonably assured that Mrs. Sheppard will not get too P.O.’ed) I opt for an entire beer and just enjoy myself.

I enjoy the last mile and a half and even that dreaded trip around the parking lot and finish in 6:50, which is my best 50K time for the year (even including Shadow of the Giants which is at least a mile shorter).

Alan’s been done for less than an hour and Darrell comes in only about 10 minutes later.  We drink some beer, share some beer, and leave the rest of the beer with Darrell (since he has the shortest drive home).

That’s it on the ultras this year – 9 was an awful lot – but I really enjoy the trekking, the trails, and the camaraderie.  A week or so ago, I signed up for 3 ultras for next year (to save $) and all of them are 50 miles or longer, so I have my work cut out for me.