Tag Archives: Ben Gaetos

Avalon 50M – 2017

January 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Avalon 50M – 2016

January 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mt. Disappointment 50M (?) – 2007

August 11, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twin Peaks 50M – 2015

October 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coming towards Ben Gaetos on Holy Jim Trail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twin Peaks 50K – 2014

October 18, 2014

The plan for today’s run is to make this my 20th 50 mile finish.  (In another month or so, I plan to run my 40th 50K race, so it is important NOT to drop down to the shorter distance here.)  I know this will be a tall order.  In fact, I joked to Race Director Jessica DeLine that Lauren and I would like to start at midnight to give ourselves every advantage to finish (knowing my body and the course).  She laughed, but probably didn’t realize that I was being serious.

I didn’t sleep very well on Friday night (no surprise, I never do) and then I left EXTRA early.  (See post from 2012 where there was a fatality on the freeway and I was 45 minutes late to the start.)  I used the Garmin GPS tool Marisa gave me… just in case there were any issues (also, they had posted a change in directions, which turned out to be a lot easier than the original winding through the neighborhood).

It was nice and cold at the start.  I hoped that the coldness would last as long as possible, knowing that when the temperature warmed up, I would struggle in the heat.  I greeted a few of my friends who were also starting early, including Lauren (who I made a special pace sheet for with her kids on the back) and Cherry Cheng (who I met here last year when they did a Fat Ass).

I also have a pace sheet (with Mom and Dad on the back for inspiration), but I know that even with an hour early start, it may be unrealistic for me to finish the race under the posted time limit (especially a month after my fall (though my scars are finally gone)), but I will do my best.

About 20 of us toe the line for the early start and off we go… up the hill.  It’s slow going, like the past 2 years, but at least it’s nice to have some company part of the way (or at least hear voices).  At the top, there may or may not be an aid station set up.  Fortunately, because this entire section is mostly in the dark, I haven’t needed to drink a lot of liquid and will not be out of drink until at least mile 11.

The people are there, but they are not set up yet.  I reach the top in 2:06, a little slower than in the past (just a few minutes).  This is almost 20 minutes per mile, but there was over 3000 feet of elevation gain in these 6.5 miles.

The next section moves along a fire-road on the Main Divide.  The net elevation gain is 100 feet, but I already know from experience that it is more like 1500 up and 1400 down, so I am not surprised by the hills.  I just keep on keepin’ on and reach Mile 10.5 in 57 minutes (under 15 minute miles… to finish I have to maintain about a 17:30 pace, which my net pace is now slightly under).  I say my greetings to Steve Harvey, but do not hang out long (other than refilling my water bottle) to stay on pace as long as possible.

This next section is West Horsethief and covers nearly all of the ascent I have so far covered… but mostly in the form of single-track (some of it Grape-Nut consistency)… and I believe I will have the (regular start) course leaders overtaking me on this section.

I am finding on some of the steeper downhill, that my sore foot feels even sorer, so I favor it a bit.

Fortunately, the race leader doesn’t overtake me until I get out of the hardest section and move to the double-track section, where there is more room for them to pass me. I note that a bunch of them are running shirtless (I would not run shirtless unless it was so hot that my shirt burned off!).  The terrain is not such that people could run freely without hooking skin on trees (and there is poison oak, too).

This double-track section is going on forever.  I am just waiting for the road by all the cabins; I know that the Holy Jim Aid Station is less than a mile away at that point.  Finally, I see it.  Yay!

When I get to the aid station, I assess where I am at:  The past 4 miles took me 1:17 (and downhill, argh) and I am a few minutes slower than I was each of the past 2 years. Unless I can have a real good run (pun) at the Holy Jim Trail (3000′ climbing in 4 miles), I am headed for a DNF or 50K finish.  Gisele gets here at about the same time and she looks really good.  She is the 50K women’s leader and running with her is the 50M women’s leader.  Maybe I will see them again on the next out-and-back section.

Now it’s time to head up the hill.  The first part of the Holy Jim Trail is a very gentle uphill by some cabins… leading to the endless switchbacks and single-track trail.  I am fortunate that the sun has not peeked through the clouds yet and it is relatively cool out.  I am just trying to maintain an even keel.

I can remember from last year, when I averaged 45 minutes PER mile on this section.  While I don’t have GPS, there are some 1/2 mile and mile markers on the course, so I can get a relative measurement on how I am doing on certain sections.  (Any mile under 25 minutes seems pretty good at this point… earlier this year, I did Holy Jim Trail with AREC in about 2:07, about 28-30 minutes per mile.)  I am getting passed periodically by regular start folks, but not at blazing speed; this hill is difficult for everyone.

After 1:44, I get to the unmanned aid station at the top of the hill.  I am so-o happy with the time.  What I thought at the bottom of the hill is coming to fruition.  I think I can totally finish the 50 miler… but now I have to get to the top of Santiago Peak.  There are two sections ahead that are super steep, both 1.5 miles and 800′ of elevation gain!

As soon as I emerge into the unshaded section, the sun DOES come out and my energy is instantly sapped and I am shuffling up the hill and drinking a lot of water to keep hydrated.  When I get to Upper Holy Jim (listed as another unmanned aid station), there is no water to be found.  At least I still have half a water bottle left… but if I continue to struggle, I will have to really ration water to make it to the top… I continue to struggle even having to stop a couple of times in the shaded sections and sit.  On the way up, I see Ben Gaetos heading down. We stop and take some pictures.  I also see Gisele.  She feels pretty bad; she doesn’t think she will finish.

When I get to the top of Santiago Peak, I have just done 3 miles in 98 minutes, negating all of my good work.  My average is over 20-1/2 minute miles.  I am not confident that I will be able to accelerate, especially given the increase in heat.  I decide that I will take the turn to do the 50K instead of the 50M; I have to be realistic.

I drink a lot of liquid at the top to rehydrate myself.  I feel a lot better than I did before and can jog a bit down the hill.  I make it back to the non aid station much faster than on the way up, but from here we take the Upper Holy Jim Trail back to the Main Divide rather than on the fire-road we came up.  I am just behind a 50-miler who is dropping to the 50K as well.  He brought his whole family out, but in the morning the car broke down and he is concerned that it may not have been fixed or that his family would have much of a fun day until it was fixed.  I think he would have struggled in trying to do the 50M in enough time (since we are at the same point in the day, though he technically reached it an hour faster).  We end up staying together on the trail until about 4 miles from the bottom (where he has either heard all of my stories or is bored of going so slow).

I finally reach the bottom in 10:24:30, which is 50 minutes faster than last time (last year I didn’t finish).  I also get to the end before the winning 50M runner (but not by much).  It is exciting to see the finishers.  Turns out that Gisele did finish and was the fastest female finisher.  I think she may have had the second fastest female time in the history of the course, too.

I got to see Lauren finish (always great to see a friend) and I also thought I saw the first female 50M finisher, but it turned out that she did not go all the way to the top of Santiago Peak (saving herself about 6 difficult miles).

I went over the day in my head and was maybe regretting my decision to drop down to the 50K (my 40th by the way), but then I looked at some of the splits.  Had I continued on, I would have covered the same sections but in reverse (down Holy Jim, up West Horsethief, etc.).  Even the best of the best averaged over 20 minutes a mile on that section.  Now I know that I would have DNFed.  I’ll find a different 50M (a flatter one, perhaps) for my 20th.

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Avalon 50M – 2012

January 14, 2012

Laura and I decided we would do Avalon 50 miler.  I had heard lots of good stuff about this race for the past few years, but had never attempted it.  More than anything else, it was the additional expense of getting to the island and staying there (most other ultras I have stayed with friends or family and driven myself there).

Laura had already made arrangements (a bit on the pricey side), and had said that I could camp out on her hotel room floor.  The hotel was very nice, but the arrangements did not work out all that well, because the inflatable mattress I was given had a hole in it and completely deflated by the time I woke up.  And so, I started out the race with a stiff neck.

The other “down”-side to the hotel was that it was located on the last stretch of the finish line.  In other situations this would be good, but here it was a problem, because the last stretch of the course is steep downhill.  We were at the top of the hill!

The night before the event, we opted to eat out at a local Italian restaurant.  I saw a lot of my hash and ultra friends there.  Nothing special, except for Laura getting confused and ordering two main courses by accident!

At the start line (5AM!), we met up with a few of our friends, including Ben Gaetos, Rafael Covarrubias and Martin Santos.

Avalon 50 Start

Avalon 50 Start

It was a little on the cold side (and dark)… but pretty much ideal weather for running a 50 miler.  Hopefully, it would stay cool.

The first stretch of the course is mostly flat and runs through Avalon backstreets, wending its way to the Wrigley Botanical Gardens (basically where the city ends).  We go through a gate and then the road turns to dirt and we work our way into the trails.

Once we cleared the Gardens, it was an unrelenting uphill for about 2 miles.  I walked and watched Laura and the others recede into the distance.  Once we reached the top of the trail (where the radio towers were, the sun was on its way up and we were heading down, back to the paved road and through the first aid station.  The first 5.4 miles took me 1 hour and 31 minutes (17:00/mile pace).

Out of the aid station, the course continued on a paved road for a bit, narrowing slightly and eventually turning back into a dirt trail.  We continued uphill for a longer section, passing by vineyards and in between various properties until we went past the Catalina Airport – one of the weirdest airports I have ever seen, with a short runway at an angle (basically on top of a mountain).

Just past the airport, the course makes a right-hand turn and a bit later, I reach the second aid station on the course at 11.9 miles.  I have accelerated a little bit, mostly because the course flattened out and I could run a bit more.  I averaged 11 minutes a mile on this section.

Now the course heads down towards Little Harbor.  For the most part, we are in the interior of the island and on a large fire-road.  When I am about 2-1/2 miles from the aid station, I start to see people returning from the turnaround (not passing by me en route, but I am descending into the aid station, and I can see people below me).

As I arrive in the aid station area (a welcome sight of grass after miles of barren terrain), I spot a familiar face – Chris Spenker (aka Undercover), from the hash.  He has recently completed his first marathon a few months ago (at age 70), and is trying a 50-miler.  I know, from a previous conversation, that he was planning on starting at midnight (5 hours early) to try and give himself every chance to finish.  But now, he is sitting around at Mile 19 or so, with bloodied legs from a fall in the dark, deciding whether to continue or quit.

I also see Summer Wesson (who DNFed with me at Mt. Disappointment 50M in 2007) who is having a bad day as well.  I hope SHE continues (she is NOT 70, closer to half that), but sometimes the day gets the better of you.

This particular section has a lot of ups along with the downs (in the trail and not just mentally), so I am able to maintain my course average of 13:00/mile.

From Little Harbor, the course is now heading towards its destiny with the turnaround at Two Harbors.  Out of the aid station, it winds around a mostly flat section, but then begins to ascend once more, eventually flattening out through a desolate landscape (the most exciting part was some backhoes – the construction variety).

When I finally crested the top of the hill, I began encountering more and more runners coming back from the turn-around, struggling up a long uphill (Shoot!  I am going to have to climb that hill, too!).

I run (not too fast, though) down the hill and into Two Harbors.  When I get to the aid station, I think that, WOW, I have really run about 6 miles at about 10 minute/mile pace, not realizing that I have to run past the aid station, to the turn-around and then come back.  (Though I am welcome to stop and enjoy some beverages before setting off for the turnaround.  I have a cup of coke in a melted “corn”-cup (a plastic cup made out of corn products, and therefore bio-degradable).

I like part of this section.  It’s flat and through a small town area (dirt road) passing by a kids’ play area and heading up behind some houses onto a dirt road.  The trail hairpins around a cove (and some yacht club) before heading upwards to the turnaround.  A couple of volunteers direct me to draw an “X” on a bib as proof I made it out here.  My halfway split is 5:42:22, slightly ahead of the 6 hour split needed for a 12 hour finish.

Now I head back down the hill, around the hairpin curve by the yacht club, around the kids’ play area to the aid station at Mile 26.7.  When I arrive, they are completely out of cups (even the melted ones), but someone has gone to replenish them from a local store (limited options, here).  I basically refill my water bottles, because I can’t really waste any time, being up against the time limit and all.

Now it’s my turn to head up the hill.  It’s much harder heading up then going down, for some reason.  At the top of the hill, I get a special treat – a buffalo in the wild!  It isn’t ON the trail, but rather off to the side.  It’s not really large and a cool treat (especially having heard of people’s encounters with the beasts in the middle of the race course).

The course is now a reversal of the outbound trail, past the backhoes, fire-road and eventually downhill back to Little Harbor.  The 7-mile stretch takes me 90 minutes, so I again cannot waste a lot of time here (though I do get an offer to toss a horseshoe for a prize).  According to my pace sheet, I am only a few minutes ahead of where I need to be in order to finish under 12 hours.

There is more annoying ascent out of Little Harbor (for the most part, I have to climb back out to where I saw runners heading back from the turnaround), though I do not climb to the same point on the outbound trail.  There is a turn where I head off in a different direction – I will not pass the airport again.  Once again, I have rolling hills – up and down, up and down – but finally make my way to a wooded area, with a few stream crossings (either bridges or very little water).  The scenery doesn’t change much, though my favorite part was going by a “Zoo,” where there is a Bald Eagle in a cage… and also where I passed Hal Winton (a guy who has run every race… but now needs to start at 10pm on Friday in order to do so (he is over 80 years old, though)).

Eventually, I hear some music and chattering, and that means I have covered another 5 miles and am at The Eagle’s Nest.  There are more offerings here than at other aid stations.  I could have a beer, but I feel a bit off, so I have a can of peach nectar and a bite of buffalo burger.  I have not eaten much all day, but that really hit the spot.  I am continuing to maintain a pace close to what I need to finish, though I am now only about 6 minutes ahead of the pace I need to be at… and there are still several significant hills to climb.

The trail begins to ascend quite a bit (not super steeply, but enough to affect my average pace).  I am mostly on my own; I haven’t encountered a lot of other runners (or walkers).  This next section is about the same length as the prior section, but I am feeling antsy, both because of how sore my feet and legs are and also because of how close I have been cutting it to the overall time limit.

I keep expecting I will reach the Pumphouse Hill aid station in any minute, and then when I have finally given up hope, well, there it is.  I am still going at the same pace (about 14:20/mile) and am still 6 minutes ahead of pace… so I have to keep on going.

The trail steepens a bit towards the top and it is a paved road, now.  (That doesn’t necessarily help me go any faster.)  I have a brief conversation with a barefoot guy who is REALLY struggling.  He tells me that this is his first race, ever!  (You did a 50-miler barefoot for your first race?  REALLY????)  I want to encourage him more, but I need to save my own strength if I want to finish under 12 hours.

Near the top of the hill is a Sheriff’s vehicle.  I assume this is to cart people who are pulled from the course.  (Crossing my fingers that that isn’t going to be me.)  I think I look like I am moving with some authority and look OK, so maybe they will give me the benefit of the doubt, if I am close.

From Pumphouse Aid to Haypress (which was also the first aid station) is only about 2 miles.  It takes me around 30 minutes and my net time is now 11:03.  I am 3 minutes SLOWER than I need to be to finish under 12 hours.  Now I am really concerned (though several people have said that as long as you are out of the park (which I am), they will let you finish.  I have also heard that as long as you are ahead of Hal Winton, they let you finish (I passed him a few hours ago.)… but still, I don’t want to leave that to rumor.  I don’t even bother to refill my water bottles, hoping that the time saved will allow me to finish under 12 hours.

Leaving the aid station, the trail is still on a paved road, and still a bit of uphill, still.  Yuck.  This is not helping me accelerate when I need to.  After about 15 minutes, I turn a corner and spot the road heading down the hill into Avalon.  It is basically lots of switchbacks and a cruddy paved road (lots of potholes, lots of repair “bumps”)… but it IS downhill, significant downhill… and I feel OK… meaning, I CAN run.

I do a combination of running and galloping to get myself down the hill.  I find myself passing several people in this stretch.  The downhill seems to go forever, though the faster I am able to go, the slower the overall time seems to go.

Near the bottom of the hill, I pass through a gate and I am starting to see how close the ocean is (and thus, the end, which is at the sea level).  A few more turns, and then I pop out of a side road and onto the same road as our hotel… now I KNOW I am close.  One glance down at my watch and I KNOW that I will finish under 12 hours.

At the bottom of the hill, I turn onto the main oceanfront drag and high-tail it for the finish line.  The finish is under a hanging sign, which I clip with the top of my head (it is too low for me to really duck).  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, the edges of the sign are hiding reinforced PVC pipe and I almost go down just short of the finish line.  OW!!!

Avalon 50M finish

Avalon 50M finish

With my skill on the downhill, I manage to finish in 11:43:24… surviving the stated cutoff by 17 minutes (and averaging 10 minutes/mile… my fastest pace on the entire course).  Also, my splits were decently close – 5:42 for the first half and 6:01 for the second half.  Good consistency.

Laura, despite finishing 15 minutes ahead of me, did not feel so great, and opted to catch an earlier ferry back.  I ended up riding back with Rafael and Martin, and getting a ride home from Martin – those guys finished 2 HOURS ahead of me.  (The last official finish came in about 2 hours after me, so I guess I didn’t have anything to worry about.)

This was a really fun event… if a 50-miler can be fun!  I would totally do it again next year!