Tag Archives: Bishop

Bishop High Sierra 50M – 2019

June 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Days

February 25, 2019

5.  Linda Dewees

I met Linda in 2012 at the Bishop High Sierra Ultras.  This was serendipity because the only reason I ran Bishop was my DNF earlier that month at Miwok.  Linda was hanging back of the pack (due to injury) and once I found out she was from Ridgecrest (or nearby Inyokern), I felt like I had met someone who ran in the same circles as I did.

Later that year, I encountered her at the High Desert 50K and we got to run most of the last few miles together, a happy reunion at a much shorter race.

Probably our best two encounters occurred last year in two races in two consecutive months in the California High Sierras, Wild Wild West 50M and Bishop High Sierra 50M.

At Wild Wild West, Linda caught up to me in the Alabama Hills section (I started early) and stayed with me for a few miles.  What I like about running with Linda is that she is very upbeat and positive (but in a subtle, rather than rah-rah, way) and always really excited to see me.  I ended up jogging for a bit with her (I had been walking) just because I like hanging out with her, before she turned it up (and went on to finish the 50K, while I slogged out the 50M).

At Bishop, we met up at the late check-in at the Start/Finish line.  I was biding my time, hoping no one would say anything about me sleeping in my car here.  I said something to the effect of, don’t tell on me, and then Linda mentioned that she and her husband were sleeping in their truck camper (so we could “hang” together).  Great minds think alike!

In the actual race, we also did get to run together a little bit and finished within an hour of each other (in the scheme of a 50M, that’s about a minute a mile difference), and then spent another night hanging out in the parking lot before parting early Sunday morning and heading back south.

I always love seeing Linda at races because I know that her infectious positive attitude will motivate me to run with her.  I know this isn’t anything special specific to me, because I also see the camaraderie and joy she brings to lots of my ultra running friends.  I’m glad that there are people like Linda to make the ultra running experience that much better.

8 Days

February 22, 2019

8.  Rafael Covarrubias

I met Rafael in 2008 through AREC Trail Running.  I ended up carpooling with him in his mini Cooper, and we had some conversations about ultras.

Later that year, we carpooled together to the Mt. Disappointment 50M race (we both finished), and I started noticing that we were both doing a lot of the same races (and he was doing a lot more ultras than I was).

In 2009, when I ran my first 100K at Miwok, we carpooled, sort of.  (He drove to Northern CA and I flew and met up at my folks’ place).  That year, the weather forecast was for torrential rains, and Rafael (jokingly?) said he didn’t know if he would go if it were raining (Uh, we’re going!).  But due to the weather, there were close to 100 no shows.  The weather was BAD.  I can remember Rafael putting down newspaper in his car so that I could scrape off the mud that layered my legs from my ankles to my shorts.

We continued with the bad weather theme with the Santa Barbara 100M race in 2012 (no carpool this race) where it rained torrentially and lightning was striking around us.  There was a “great” moment captured on video when Rafael is saying the mud isn’t so bad and then goes careening down the hill, slipping on mud.  (Unfortunately, the race got “relocated” due to the extreme weather.)

A couple of months later, after DNF’ing at Miwok, I drove up with Rafael (and Martin Santos #21) to do the Bishop 100K.  This was the first and last time I went camping before and after doing an ultra (though I have slept in my car).  We repeated our Bishop adventure (but stayed in a motel) the following year.

Our final carpooling adventure was for the 2015 Shadow of the Giants 50K up by Yosemite.  I met Rafael near where he taught at an elementary school in Florence (near downtown LA) and drove up together.  The race was somewhat near where he grew up in Tulare, and we had an extra adventure when he got pulled over for expired plates.  This was another pseudo-camping trip, as we stayed in bunk beds in cabins by the start line.

About a year later, Rafael got a bit burned out on ultra running and went from monthly races to periodic races, and then he moved back to his hometown and now teaches there.

I see Rafael periodically in races (last year at Bishop and Cool) and I think back fondly on our road trips together.  There are lots of people that I run into at this race or that race, but few that I carpooled/traveled with to multiple races over nearly a ten year period.  I hope to see him at some more events in 2019 and beyond.

14 Days

February 16, 2019

14.  Marie Boyd

I got to know Marie quite by accident.  If it hadn’t been for my failure at Miwok in 2012, I would have never gone up to Bishop to attempt the 100K there a few weeks later.

As it worked out, my friend Jakob Herrmann had a free race entry to this event, and Marie graciously allowed me to use it (and trade up to the 100K).  To add to this serendipity, I won a Camelbak hydration system when I checked in.  I felt super bad because I felt undeserving of all this largesse.

After doing the race (dropped down to “only” the 50 miler), I decided to do what I do best and organize the online results in a thoughtful manner.  In 2012, they were in several different formats (PDF of a newspaper article, Word, Excel) and no age group stats or historical stats.  I entered everything into a database and then ran statistical reports (also to coincide with the race’s 20th anniversary in 2013).

I came back again in 2013 for Marie’s last year as race director, and again in 2014 for the relaunch with Inside Racing (which went OK, but then they had difficulty with getting permitting), and once more in June 2018.

Other than some brief encounters on out-and-back sections during Bishop 2014, I have mostly not seen Marie in races, but did get to volunteer while she ran at Boundiful this past November.

Like Robert Gilcrest, Marie is a running race director, who knows what runners need and want.  After my first year doing Bishop, I had to come back for the great scenery, great volunteers, and great aid station food (hand-cranked ice cream!).  Like Robert, she put on the event with a secondary goal in mind, to benefit the local hospital.

I am not a big fan of charity runs, mostly because they tend to put on a crap event and excuse it away by saying, “It’s for charity.”  Marie always put on an event that was great, and it ALSO benefitted a great cause.  It makes you appreciate the cause even more so.

21 Days

February 9, 2019

21.  Martin Santos

I met Martin in 2012 when I drove up with him and Rafael Covarrubias to do the Bishop 100K.  I had never met him but found out he and Rafael grew up in the same town (and in looking at his Ultrasignup results, Rafael may have convinced him to just jump into ultras).

On the drive up, there wasn’t a whit of nervousness (we were a bit with texting while driving) since this was his first 100K and only his 5th ultra.  (I had done 6 50M before trying Miwok 100K and I was over-the-top nervous.)

To make matters even more interesting, we camped out near the starting line.  I essentially got no sleep because our “neighbors” were up late chatting and I didn’t have an air mattress.  Fortunately, after the race, he went to visit a female friend in Mammoth and I got to use his air mattress.

We have never run together per se, but have had brief conversations on out-and-backs, and he ran very occasionally with AREC as well.  What impressed me the most about Martin was that he went from marathon to 100M in a period of about 6 months (a month after Bishop 100K).  Ultras are scary unless you are fast to begin with.  Going confidently from marathon distance (which is LO-ONG) to nearly four times that distance is impressive.

45 Days

January 14, 2019

54.  Amy Fillipow

I have known Amy for nearly 20 years through Team Runners High.  We often run the same races but rarely see each other.  Probably my most memorable encounter was at Bishop High Sierra when I saw her just outside the 50K turnaround at Edison Aid Station.  I couldn’t believe how far ahead she was of me… until I realized that she was not running the 50 miler.  She is also really modest.  She is a fantastic runner but doesn’t crow about it.  The best story that I heard was when she ran San Diego 100 miler, had a tumble early, finished the race, and then was airlifted out because she had a collarbone (?) fracture.

53.  Ramona Vogt

In 2012, when I ran an ultra a month, I went up to the Bay Area to run the Diablo 50K.  Early on in the race, I walked and ran with Ramona. She was a local so knew these trails pretty well.  When we were coming up on a steep downhill, she gave me advanced notice.  Later, at the next aid station, she was telling me all about where the various offshoots go… when we realized we hadn’t seen any ribbons for 20 minutes.  We backtracked to the aid station and the volunteer said, “Thank God you came back, I sent you in the wrong direction!”  Through some luck and great volunteers, I was still able to finish the race (Ramona dropped to the marathon.).  I still see her name in the results (near mine) at Skyline 50K, but I wonder if she “avoids” me so she won’t get lost again.

52.  Tsehay Villeza

Tsehay is an interesting character.  She came to the US 34 years ago, she beat cancer 5 years ago, and is extremely determined.  I first encountered her when she and her friends were always running trail races (non-ultras) and then they all signed up for Way Too Cool 50K and American River 50M.  Tsehay got pulled in the 50K, but still managed to finish the 50M a month later.  We ran (aka walked) together quite a bit at the 2017 Twin Peaks 50K (33 miles).  To me, she embodies ultrarunning, to keep pushing through until they tell you that you have to stop.  For back of the pack runners, sometimes you won’t get to finish, but you will be more motivated to get there next time or to go a bit farther.

51.  Kevin Krajewski

I’ve known Kevin since my freshman year in college.  In 1996, we trained (somewhat) together to do the California International Marathon.  We also ran a bunch of shorter races and he always beat me!  In 2006, when I ran my 2nd 50 mile race in Oakland (Dick Collins Firetrails), he agreed to pace me the last six miles, so he parked at the finish and ran 6 miles out to meet me (for the REAL story, read my blog post).  It was really the first time I had a friend (not in the race) pace me to the finish.  The best part was that he got in a 12 mile run (because he had not been running much at that time).  “No,” he corrected me, “I ran six miles and then I slowly WALKED six miles with you.”

60 Days

December 31, 2018

63.  Ann Trason

Like Joe Schieffer, I had heard about Ann Trason’ accomplishments long before I ever got into ultrarunning.  I had a brief encounter with Ann in 2010 when I last ran the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 miler in the Oakland Hills.  Coincidentally, that was also her final year as Race Director, and I remember that she was going to make sure that every runner (within reason) that wanted to finish would get to the finish line.  In more recent history, we were both at Bishop High Sierra Ultras and I got to listen to her humorous and informative interviews on the Running Stupid Podcast.

62.  Chris Rios

The first few times I ran Ridgecrest High Desert 50K, Chris Rios was the race director.  I don’t really remember meeting him.  When I came back to the race in the 2010s and he was just a volunteer, I always found him at Last Gasp aid station (Mile 29.3) with a great attitude AND a cooler full of beer. (I always look forward to this.)  Last year, at Wild Wild West 50K, I got to know him better as I hung out at the finish line for about 5 hours after I finished chatting about ultras and beer.

Bishop 50M – 2014

May 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lucy and I finishing together.

Lucy and I finishing together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop High Sierra 50M – 2013

May 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of fun uphill!

Lots of fun uphill!

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to the race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop High Sierra 100K (50M) – 2012

May 19, 2012

Having failed at Miwok, I felt like I had lost my goal for 2012, which was to run 12 ultras in 12 months (and I suppose, continue my streak of marathon distance races run in consecutive months).  Other than getting my friend Mark to put on a special race just for me, there were not a lot of options for the second half of May.

Then Rafael Covarrubias mentioned that he and his friend, Martin Santos, were going up to Bishop (a place I’d never been) to run the Bishop High Sierra 100K.  Wasn’t sure if I could float another $100-something cost for a race… but I got an intriguing offer from Jakob Hermann (who I had experienced the crazy rainy (at least first 7 miles) Santa Barbara race in April with).  He had received a free entry for the 50K from the race director.  He asked if he could transfer to me… and thereby lessen the cost (or I could just sign up for the 50K).

I felt like since I was destined to run 100K for Miwok, that I should also do the 100K here.  When I went to register, I didn’t get a discount on the price… I got the entire race for free.

I threw my lot in with Rafael and Martin, even though they would be camping, which I wasn’t sure if that would be the best plan for me the night before a race (not sure if it matters unless I pull a muscle).  At least the cost wouldn’t be too bad, but I don’t really have a lot of camping gear, so I would most probably be lying on the ground (much like Avalon 50 earlier in the year).

The drive to Bishop was about 5 hours.  Basically, it’s Central California, only Central-East California.  You drive towards Ridgecrest and then for another 2 hours.  It’s a few miles past Lone Pine (and the entrance to Death Valley) and a little short of Mammoth (which I always thought was a few hours away… not 5).  Not much to say about the scenic-ness of the drive… most of it was pretty blah, though we had some excitement, because when Martin drove, he was texting to a girlfriend in Mammoth and not entirely paying attention (not really that bad, though).

When we got to town, we picked up our bibs and shirts at Sage to Summit (which is a running store.  In the drawing for free stuff (random amongst entrants), I won a Camelbak water system.  Now I felt really bad that I had gotten a free entry.  The shirts were something quite incredible… pink… and unisex.  And by unisex, I mean form-fitting.  It HAS made a great swim shirt, though.bishop12shirtNext, we headed over to the campground.  The one real advantage here is that it is a mere 1/4 mile away from where the race starts and, in fact, we will run through the campground to and from the trails.  But… it’s just a patch of grass, next to running water, and presumably people who are not running the race.  I do spot, however, Mark Drake, from GVH in Davis, who has driven down (probably about 5 hours south) for this event, a couple of spots down.

Around 5pm, we head back to town for the orientation and dinner.  It’s at a restaurant called Whiskey Creek, and dinner is included with the race. (What a nice event.)  This includes lasagna, vegetarian sauce pasta, Caesar salad, carrot cake, garlic bread, and beer.  In terms of what was said at the orientation, I don’t really remember, but I believe it is the usual – don’t litter, thank your volunteers, follow the ribbons and don’t get lost.

After the dinner, we head back to the campground to settle in and get some sleep before an early start in the morning.  Of course, the campers around us are talking and I cannot really get to sleep until they stop and also, it takes me a while to get settled, because it is really quite uncomfortable.

The race starts early – 6am – which means we are out before first light to walk on down to the race start (along with a few others in our campground).  I am tempted to talk loudly as we pass the tent of our neighbors, but I don’t really waste my energy.  I spot some folks I know and then pretty soon after we get there, the race starts, basically backtracking along the same road we followed to get to the start, through the campground and then out the back gate and onto the trails.

The trails are fairly soft and not a lot of rocks embedded in them.  It’s not quite sand, but it can get a bit dusty.  I know not to push the pace too much (after all, I have quite a ways to go), especially because the base elevation of the race is 4,000 feet and we have about 20 miles of a steady uphill climb ahead.  Most of these first few miles, however, are flat and rolling hills, so I take advantage of any downhill section to try and stay ahead of the game.

The first aid station was at Mile 5.7, after a bit of an uphill increase.  They just have water.  I’m told by the volunteers that this spot is really close to the 100K turnaround point (around Mile 55 – more on that later).  My split is 76 minutes (about 13:20/mile) and I am doing well and ahead of pace… which may be good OR bad.

For the next section, it continues uphill and gets rockier, to the point where I am essentially walking in the ruts formed by vehicles, and even then, it isn’t great.  We stay on the road going mostly straight for a few miles, and then turn onto a different trail.  It’s exciting for a bit because it goes through some dense plants – a welcome change from the vast desolate mountain road we have been on for some time.  I strike up a conversation with Linda, who lives in Ridgecrest.  I think she is recovering from an injury and probably shouldn’t be this far back in the race.  We reach the next aid station at 9.7 miles, Junction.

This section takes me 75 minutes (though a mile and half shorter in distance).   At the aid station, they offer my chocolate covered strawberries (POISON!!), but I do get some nice strawberries… and they are also making blueberry pancakes on a hot grill, but I am not at the point yet to eat anything substantial.

From Junction, I am heading a mere 1.5 miles up to Buttermilk.  While the trail has been a sucky push up rocky roads, suddenly, it tapers off quite a bit and becomes a slightly marshy (wet, but not muddy) traipse through a wooded area… and shaded in spots.  It is starting to get warmer.

Next is McGee Creek, which is the turnaround for the 20 miles (I believe) and I am starting to see a number of runners coming back towards me (and have been for several miles).  I manage this section in 44 minutes (around the same pace as before) and head off towards Edison.

Looking ahead on the trail, it looks like a 5 foot deep water crossing (which I’d heard about), but there is a detour, which has us crossing the water on a 2×4.  It’s not bad, but I wonder how it will be several tired miles from now.

Once across the “moat,” there is more uphill, followed by a screaming downhill and then more rolling hills.  I am enjoying the scenery even if I am having more trouble breathing, as I am above 8000′ at this point.  I see Aimee Fillipow (who I thought was in the 50 miler, but dropped back to the 50K) heading back to the finish.

At Edison, I have now covered 15 miles in 4:17… and inching towards 18 minutes per mile (where I think I need to be to finish under the time cutoffs).  I have a drop bag at Edison, but as I am coming back here twice more, I save diving into my bag until after at least one more outing.

From Edison, I am heading up to Overlook, the highest point on the course, at 9385 feet.  It is a steeper climb and I cannot push it at all.  Darcie Olk told me several years ago that when she got to Overlook, the ground was covered in snow, and that on the way down, she slid on her butt… but no chance of that happening today.  It’s in the 70s or 80s.  Blech.

As I am climbing up this hill, I am passing a number of people.  Later, I find out that it was the same couple that I ran with for a bit at Rocky Raccoon.  As I have said in previous posts, you tend to see a lot of the same people in the races because you probably run at similar paces.

I am a bit concerned with my pace as I do not want to be rushed and want to finish (especially after DNFing at Miwok 2 weeks ago).  I walk with some authority and do get up to the top.  I am told that they are waiting for about 10 people behind me.  At least I am not in last place.  My total time is 6:10 for 20.4 miles, and still right at the 18 minute mile mark.

Now to head back down the hill.  I give encouragement to the people behind me (I would want the encouragement myself), and work my way back down.  It’s not an out-and-back section, though there is about a mile of overlap on the trek to the top and back.  Then I make a turn and traverse along a hillside.

The best part here is that I occasionally look down at my watch, so I can hydrate myself approximately once every 10 minutes:  On the uphills, time is shooting by; on the downhills, I can’t believe how slowly the time is going.  This is because on downhills, I am covering more ground, hopefully making up time.

When I get back to Edison, I have covered the 3 miles at 17:00/mile pace (pulled back a little time, to an under 18:00/mile average).  I decide to get some Advil from my bag and apply some more Vaseline to my sensitive areas.  Well, due to (perhaps) someone rooting around in the bag, the Advil pills are all over the bottom of the bag… and due to the heat, the Vaseline is all but melted.  I do what I can, but need to continue moving along.

The next section is heading over to Intake #2 Aid Station (though there is no Intake #1 station).  The first part of this is a sketchy trail that goes to a metal pipe heading up a steep hill.  There is no choice but to “climb” up the pipe, which is difficult (due to mileage and due to sun-heat on the pipe) because the pipe is rounded and not really a “trail.”  At the top, I connect into a fire-road, which heads downhill, through a dead tree area and then up a very steep switchback section to cross over the ridge towards a campground area.

Although I cannot really determine the direction I will be going, I can see a number of runners on various switchback trails below me.  My trail moves downhill pretty gently and then eventually pops out onto a paved road and then drops down again to a reservoir road and the aid station at Mile 26.  The 2.5 miles take 49 minutes (average back over 18 minutes/mile).

Now I traverse the edge of the reservoir.  It’s the first time I have seen groups of people in hours, and most of these are not runners, but families fishing or hanging out.  When I get to the end of the reservoir, the trail turns to the left and heads down more of the switchbacks I had seen from the top of the ridge.  The trail here is pretty rocky (basically a double-track filled with gravel) and I am passing a number of 50 milers and 100K people on their way back.  When I am nearly at the bottom, I pass by Rafael (heading back).

At the bottom of the hill, I run through a campground on a paved road.  At the far end, I cross a wooden bridge over a raging stream and then the paved road turns into a rougher road, eventually becoming a dirt road.  I see more and more people coming back on this section, including Martin, probably 10-15 minutes behind Rafael (which is fine, since this is Martin’s first 100K and not Rafael’s).

At the end of this section, I cross the road and am on a single track paralleling a stream for about a half mile.  When this trail ends, I am on the actual road, and heading toward the Bishop Creek Lodge.  It is pretty lonely here; I don’t see a lot of people, but occasional speeding cars as well as intriguing purplish dirt.

When I get to the aid station at Mile 29 (and push my overall pace back under 18:00/mile), I tell the volunteers I am probably in last place at this point, but they reassure me (NOT!) that there are loads of people behind me.  I thank them for the assurance, sing part of the Star-Spangled Banner as thanks and then speed off back for Intake #2 (which is sure to have a lot of uphill ahead).

Now I retrace my steps… down the road, along the single track, back to the crappy paved, bridge and paved road… and I don’t encounter a single soul.  Not one person… not even a day camper.  Not last, my ass.

I slog back up the switchbacks to the Reservoir Road, mindful that cutoff times are looming.  I need to get back to Intake #2 by 10:15.  I have given myself 90 minutes to do what took me 50 minutes on the way out… and I did it in 47 minutes.  Plenty of time.  (OK, not really, but a little misplaced confidence at this point is what I need to keep going.)

They also tell me I am not in last place, but I am continuing not to believe them and also not worry about it.  Right now I have to worry about climbing up to the top of the ridge and then whatever the path back is (not back down the hot pipe trail).

As I passed by where the hot pipe trail popped out, there is clearly signage that indicates to pass right by it and continue on the fire-road trail (sort of the long way back)… and about a half mile out, there is some blue-and-yellow ribbons with a sign saying “Alternate Wrong Way turnaround.”  Apparently, some folks ignore the signage, come back down the hot pipe route, and then have to do some extra distance to make up for their error (better than a DQ at Mile 35).

When I get back to Edison for the 3rd and final time, I spend a little time readjusting my shoes (the inserts often move around), re-oil my groin and enjoy a little hand-cranked vanilla ice cream (made at the aid station).  Even though I have dairy issues, it really hits the spot (and I figure that I might be able to use the jet-propellant a little later on).

There is another runner at this aid station (also in the 100K) who was pondering dropping out.  When I come by, he decides that he is going to continue in the race.  I feel like this is serendipity, because another runner (and hence, company) is very motivating… though I don’t mind coming in last place.

We head through the marshy rolling hills back to McGee Creek.  When we get there, they are in the process of pulling up stakes.  Apparently, there is an interim cutoff (not published).  I don’t think we would have been pulled, but there would have been no aid station.  As I had said before, I did struggle a bit with the creek crossing.

Next is Buttermilk and Mile 41.2.  It is mostly downhill for us, and we have a very interesting conversation, though I find him very annoying how he is touting how great the Canadian health system is, but is really only finishing up Medical School.  (Also, this is his first ultra – 100K?  Really?  Not too bright, apparently.)  I change the subject because I can’t waste energy on his annoying opinions.  Buttermilk has something like a 13 hour cutoff, and we come in at 12:14, still about 45 minutes ahead (the same gap at Intake #2).  With the downhill, I have increased my pace, but slowed a bit due to being tired (16:45/mile).

Now just a mile and a half to Junction, which we do in 23 minutes (downhill).  My net pace (well, technically, OUR net pace) is now 17:43.  Still feeling pretty good about finishing.

This next 3.5 miles is a different path than we’ve been on previously.  We turn off the main road and work ourselves onto a WIDE unpaved road that goes on for MILES.  The surface is nice, but it is fairly flat, so I am walking more than running, even though it isn’t difficult.  In the distance (though it is getting dusky), I can see a Winnebago.  This is the Highway 168 aid station.  They have pizza and popsicles for us.  The Popsicle really hits the spot, even though it is getting towards evening and not as hot out.

From here, it is about 2.1 miles to the next aid station and the next time cutoff on the 100K course.  I need to be at the aid station in under 15 hours.  For the most part, the trail is easy going… more of the same dusty dirt path, but just before the aid station is an ankle deep water crossing… and no way around it.  Ah well… just go for it.  When we get to the aid station, we have a decision to make… because we got here in 14:19, 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  Essentially, there is 13.5 miles left and about 5 hours to finish (I don’t know how much leeway we will be given if we are over, but I would like to give it a go.).  I convince my compatriot to continue, since we are almost an hour ahead of the cutoff.

It is uphill to the max, but at least it is not rocky; it is the same dusty trail.  However, after about a half mile, the sun goes down completely and it gets really dark.  I have my light, but it is still just pitch black out.  Also, my feet really hurt.  I have to stop on several occasions to readjust my inserts, which means stopping, and sitting down somewhere and taking care of them.  We keep seeing a light ahead, but it is never the aid station.

What is left on the course is 3.6 miles to the aid station, 2.5 miles down to the turnaround (mentioned previously) (and 2.5 miles back up), 3.6 miles back down the hill, and 1.5 miles to the finish.

When we are about 20 minutes out of the aid station (but we don’t know that yet), my companion states that he is going to drop at the next aid station.  This discourages me completely, because I had some confidence to finish with someone with me, and practically none to trudge another 10 miles in the dark on my own.  I decide to ask if I could have credit for a 50 mile finish, if I drop at this aid station (Mile 52.1) and get to the finish.

So… when I arrive, I have the volunteers radio down and ask for a special dispensation.  The race director agrees to give me a 50-mile finisher award and time WHEN I come in.  However, we cannot leave the aid station (unless we walk back ourselves) until the people on the out-and-back return… so it is another 60 minutes (though 60 minutes off my feet) before they pack up and head down the hill.

Midway down the hill, my “buddy” gets out and gets a ride with his family.  I never see him again (but assume he made it home safe).  They drop me off just outside the park and I walk into the finish to get my award and turn in my timing chip.  Despite reaching Mile 52.1 in 15 hours, 53 minutes, I am given an official time of 17:24… which is when I crossed the line with my chip.  Ironically, I didn’t come in last.  There was another runner out there the entire time, who finished about 30 minutes behind me.

After refueling a bit, I walked back to our tent.  Martin had gone off to Mammoth to hang with his female friend, so I did get his air mattress.  I tried to decompress with Rafael about the race, but the loudmouths from the night before didn’t appreciate me blabbing at 1:30am.

In the weeks following the race, I still felt bad that I had gotten a free entry (and free Camelbak), so I spent some time consolidating 19 years worth of results into an Access database and then producing consistent-looking result pages for each year along with statistics about frequent runners, PRs by distance and age group and the PR progression over time.  I think it was well received.

And I will 100% (barring injury) be back next year to run the 50-miler!