Tag Archives: Chris Spenker

Wild Wild West 50K – 2017

May 6, 2017

About a week before the race, I got an offer for some (paid) race work.  Somewhat disappointed to turn it down, but excited to run the Wild Wild West race, finally, after having to skip it after breaking my elbow a month prior to this race last year.

I got a clarification on the race work and it turned out that it was going to be the following day, in Santa Clarita, which is somewhat on the way home from WWW.  It was going to be a long weekend.

It worked out for the best, then, that I hadn’t convinced anyone to carpool with me, since I don’t think they would be too keen on sleeping in my car before the race and in a Santa Clarita Mall parking lot.

This race has been going on for some time (this year is the 39th running) and yet, it still felt very fly-by-night to me.  There is little posted on their website about locations of aid stations, intermediate cutoffs, though there is a map.  They also cut off registration 4 days before the race.  I could understand wanting to order the right amount of shirts, but on the other hand, you could tell late registrations that there’s no guarantee of a medal or a t-shirt if you register after a certain date.

I called the Chamber of Commerce (who puts on the race) to try and get more details about the race before I came up.  They weren’t very helpful at all and seemed almost mad that I wanted more details.  The most I got was that a couple of the stream crossings would probably be 4-5 FEET deep because of snowmelt.  I assured them that a 5 foot water crossing would hardly concern me (though other might drown).

I tried to time my drive up on Friday so that I would arrive around the time that bibs were available (and also not hit excessive LA traffic), so I did get in around 4pm (an hour early) and it was pretty hot in Lone Pine, and I kept periodically opening the car door to let some cool air in as I napped for about an hour.

At 5pm, I went inside and picked up my bib and shirt.  Shirt was nothing to write home about, white (maybe technical, not sure).  Maybe you do an event for nearly 40 years, you don’t mess with what works for you.

I opted for their pasta feed, which involved some middle schoolers serving us some spaghetti and salad.  I chatted with various people that I may have met previously, including Karin Usko (from Ridgecrest, maker of Happy Gaiters), the Central American-slash-German gal.

I also saw that David Binder was there along with one of his kids.  We chatted briefly.  He had decided to come up last minute and try to run the race, but registration was already closed and they wouldn’t budge on that, so he was going to volunteer and then maybe spend an extra day doing some recreational stuff with his son.

When I said that I was probably going to drive to the finish and just sleep in my car, he offered to let me share his motel room.  I figured the floor was a better option than the car (having done that a few times before), but I ended up with my own bed and David and his son shared the other bed.

Even though they didn’t have to get up as early as I did, they did go to bed fairly early.  The bus to the start leaves at 4:10am! (for a 5:00am start)

I woke up at 3am, took care of my duties and then drove myself to the bus pick-up, which is a city parking lot on the right-side of Hwy. 395 (the finish will be on the left-side, pretty much across the street).  It is pitch-black and no bus here, but there are other folks here, including Chris Spenker, who is doing either the marathon or the 10M race but opting to get up to the start early (or to just start early).

We sit together on the bus and the conversation is mostly about what to expect.  I have not done this race before but I have done 1 or 2 ultras so have some advice for a guy sitting near me that is running the race with his little brother and fiancee (first ultra for all of them).

The ride is pretty much a straight uphill drive, and then a short drive on a dirt and pothole-filled road – kind of slow-going.  We arrive fairly quickly and are given the option to stay on the bus or head outside.  We stay on the bus for a bit, but can’t wait too long, as we do have about a half-mile walk to the start and don’t want a “running” start.

As I start, my general goal is to finish around 7:30 (which would be 15 minute pace), which is not too bad at elevation, either.

The beginning of the course is on a fire road and uphill, so I am not doing a lot of running, but within a few miles, we are on a single-track in sandy gravel, somewhat precipitous downhill, heading for the first water crossing.  I don’t see any ribbon marking the course around here, but there is a wooden board in the water, so this is probably where we cross.

When you step on the board, it goes under the water, but only a few inches (not waist-deep as promised), but I do have wet shoes.  The path up the other side is not clearly marked, so I do wander a bit off course before I notice people who were behind me on a marked course.

At the first aid station (4.2M), I have managed 14:14 per mile, so I am currently under my goal pace.  Sort of meager pickin’s here – some pretzels, candy, potatoes – I end up having a red vine.

The 10 miler veers off from us and there is some more climbing, and more water crossings.  Some are “risky,” but none are deep, and at least one of them had a metal bridge going across, though part of the bridge was submerged (but only a few inches).  By the next aid station 3.7 miles along the course, we split off from the 50-mile course, which is heading up to Whitney Portal.  I slowed down a bit in this section to an 18:06 pace and just slightly behind the 15:00/mile average.

At this point, we get onto a wide fire-road which is heading downhill pretty significantly.  It’s not too technical, so I can actually run, gallop, and amble down.  It is a long, long downhill.

Now you may be asking why I would comment on how long the downhill was.  No doubt most people would be ecstatic about a long downhill, but so early on, it is a bit of a detriment to my running health in this race.  I don’t want to overextend myself, get my heart-rate too high, or blow out my quads.

Yes, dear reader, there are actually points on the downhill where I am stopping and walking downhill.  It helps me readjust my pace and not go down too fast.  I am back-and-forth with the brothers and fiancee on this section.  I am a pretty good downhill runner (long legs, you know), but just try to run as consistently as possible.

It’s mostly non-technical, though the ground is pretty wet in some sections, somewhat softer, somewhat muddy.

The next aid station is at the bottom of this hill, 4.5 more miles on, and I do an average of 10:47/mile.  (If you read enough of these, that’s fairly fast in an ultra.)  I am back to being under the 15:00/mile threshold.

From this aid station, we are now entering the Alabama Hills (where apparently a number of TV and movies have been filmed).  There is some climbing (not a ton) and then a descent , and then a turn onto a single-track.  A guy just ahead of me misses that turn and has to come back up the hill to turn.  This is the shortest section between aid stations, 2.2 miles and the combo of up and down enables me to do a 13:36 pace through here.

The wind has begun to pick up a bit and I do have to hold onto my hat at points.

Now back to the fire-road, but it is getting sandier by the minute (not that fond of sand), but I’ll take sand over really technical rocky stuff any day.  In the distance, I can see a trailer with radio antennae and an aid station and a number of signs.  I think this must be the split off from the marathon.  Sure enough, that’s the case.  A somewhat slower pace section here (3.2M in 53 minutes) but most of the upcoming trail looks flat, so maybe I’ll be able to jog it.

We head off towards some rock faces.  They look like cliffs, replete with people climbing them, except they are stand=alone, probably a great place for training to rock climb.

Then a left-hand turn away from that section.  It sort of seems like we are meandering around the area of the aid station, but when I see some folks that I haven’t seen since the start, I realize this is going to be a lo-ong loop.

The heat has increased, too, so I am not really running even though it is mostly flat, because I am getting hot.  The next aid station is a mere 2.3 miles off, so I am not going super slow (not uphill pace), but another 13:45/mile section.

Ooh, another left-hand turn… maybe we are heading back to the aid station, but no, back to the right and I can see the incoming trail back to the original aid station (and again, people I haven’t seen for some time).  We actually now go out to a paved road and follow that downhill for at least a half mile.  I can see where I am going for the next aid station, but it is close to enough to “touch,” but no way to jump off the road and into where it is located.

This section seems to go on forever, but I am rewarded by the sight of Dave Binder and his son. The son is doing what I want to be doing soon, which is lounging in a chair.  It is great to see a familiar face and we chat for a little bit, but I need to keep moving if I am to stay under the 15:00/mile pace.

Now it is a short jaunt back to the original aid station.  They seem to be packing up for the day, which is weird, because there are still 50-milers out there and there is another 9 hours left in the time limit.  OK, whatever.  They are still there for me, and I am headed on the homestretch, about 4 miles from here and just about an hour to make the 7:30 time.

It’s fire-road for part of the stretch, but then we move onto a horse-trail single-track that is really substantial “rolling” hills.  I will get something going on the downhill, and that is immediately negated by the ensuing uphill.  Also, the wind picked up markedly and I have to take off my hat or it will blow away (it almost blew off twice, but I have good reflexes).  This continues for about 2 sucky miles until the final aid station next to a giant American flag (waving like crazy).

I bust out into a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as I near and chat it up with the two “elderly” gentlemen manning the station (both are my age but gray-haired).  They have limited aid, but I can taste the finish line, just over 2.5 miles away.

Out of this aid station, steep downhill and out of the wind.  My pedantic pace in the wind and hills gives me just 18 minutes to do 2.5 miles (maybe possible if it was a road race and I was fresh).  Oh, well, at least I will be close to that goal.

I know we are finishing in the park across the street from the bus pick-up (where my car is parked) and I can see the Tuttle Creek Road to my right-hand side.  I thought I had heard in the past that you ran down the road to Hwy. 395, ran a little loop around the street area to make sure you got to 31.1 miles and then finished in the park, but I think they mentioned that we are going to finish through the park (maybe along the road and then into the park?).

There is a brief point when we do get onto the paved road, but I think this is so we can cross a bridge (easier than fording every stream), because immediately after, we go right back into the dirt and then get into a wooded area (by wooded, I mostly mean twigs all over the ground) which wends its way back and forth.

The highlight is an impassable water crossing.  The most direct route is straight through, but you can avoid it entirely and I do that, not wanting to finish in totally soaked shoes (I don’t think anyone went through the water.).

It’s very sudden, but you turn a couple of corners and then pop between a gap in a fence and I’m done.  7:45:45

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There are a few people hanging out here sitting on a small gazebo stage, two people at a timing/result table, and a small food table, which has peanuts, Red Vines, and cookies (basically the same food at the aid stations) – not exactly what I have a hankering for right now.  The medal is a ceramic piece with a hole for a rope or ribbon, but they don’t actually have a rope or ribbon (later, I loop fishing line through it so I can wear it).

My plan, because of the whole working at a race tomorrow, is to try and leave by 7pm and get into Santa Clarita by 10pm (to get a few hours of sleep but not have to hang out in my car for HOURS).  It’s around 1pm now, so why not hang out and watch people finish for a while?

There is one guy sitting in a camp chair (former Ridgecrest RD Chris Rios), so I go across the street and get my chair, and he gives me some of his beer and we hang out and watch people finish.

The first people I recognize are Rafael Covarrubias (formerly of LB, now back home in Tulare) and Thomas Kuerten (a German guy I have met on a few occasions).  They are in the 50 miler and have stories how they got to the Mile 45 aid station and no one was there and there was no signage, but that they knew the course decently enough to find their way to the finish (well, not directly, but close enough – maybe 2 extra miles).

A little later, another guy comes in from the wrong direction, running south on Hwy. 395.  He says he missed a turn, ran back by the Boy Scout aid station (probably Mile 10 on the 50K course) and then ended up on Hwy. 395 at some point.  His GPS says 62 miles, so Chris and I raise a toast to the first (ever) 100K finisher.

No one is really mad, per se, but it is frustrating that a major aid station disappeared with 8+ hours to go in the race. (And I almost feel like the CoC ladies would tell us, you should have run faster, to avoid that problem.)

As it starts to get dusky, I decide to leave for Santa Clarita.  I end up not eating anything (certainly not Red Vines) and have a nice drive back  (not too much traffic, don’t get too lost).  I pull into the Santa Clarita Mall around 10:30, right next to the staging area for the race.

I double-check with a security guard who tells me I am in the right location.  I tell him I will see him in a few hours and nap lightly in my car until my call time of 1:15am.

Turns out, I am working with Stacy Embretson, former AREC member, LA Marathon RD, and ultra-runner herself.  We set up signage in the first six miles, zip-tying vinyl signs to bike racks.  Once runners go through (race starts at 4am), we remove the signs and also remove the kilometer markers until we get passed by the other support vehicle (which turns out to be around 25 kilometers).  It is a very upper-body heavy workout after a very lower-body workout yesterday, but I earned some good money and got a nice hat (and shirt) to boot.

I get home by 10:30am on Sunday and don’t know whether to sleep or what.  (I just watch TV and try to relax.)

Will I run Wild Wild West again in 2018?  Thinking about it, thinking about maybe the 50 miler, especially as 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of this race, but if I had to choose between WWW and Bishop, I would opt for Bishop because it was better run, and a bit more scenic.

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Avalon 50M – 2016

January 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Holcomb Valley Trail Race 33M – 2012

June 10, 2012

I had heard some information about the Holcomb Valley Trail Race, and I had clarified whether it was on the same side of the lake as the Endure the Bear 50K I had done a few years earlier.  It did not.

My friend, Chris (aka Undercover, from the Hash), had mentioned he was interested in doing the 15M race (recently, he ran his first marathon, at age 69, and was really enjoying trail races).  Since the drive to Big Bear is sort of long, he proposed that we go up together and split a room.  We always have had nice conversation at the Hash, and I may have convinced him he could do a marathon, I thought it might be a fun adventure, and a good (different distance) ultra to continue my streak.

We drove up on Saturday morning and decided to take a look at the course beforehand.  I think we intended just to hike up to where the trail became dirt.  However, we ended up hiking up to the start of the Pacific Crest Trail, which was about 2.5 miles away, at elevation, without water, and in my non-running shoes (tennis shoes, but I don’t use them on trail).  We ended up exhausting ourselves somewhat.

When we picked up our bibs, they told us all about the staggered start.  To me, it makes little or no sense.  We start in two-minute increments, based upon race, gender and age group.  While that makes sense for race leaders, this is a small race and also, it separates me from people that I might actually run with (i.e. women who run a similar pace… but will start 18-20 minutes behind me).  I wonder if they thought that a staggered start would be better for the trail?  (The answer is they are bike racers and that’s something they do in those events, but it doesn’t translate well to running.)  We also got our shirts, which are Dri-Fit, gray, and say “HOLOCOMB Valley Trail Race” on them (no year, either).  How much effort did you put into this?

Afterwards, we had an early dinner at an Italian restaurant somewhere along the lake.  Chris’s phone indicated a number of interesting restaurants, but most of them were closed or non-existent.  The Italian place was good, food-wise, if not service-wise.

In the morning, we headed over to the race.  I think Chris started a good 40 minutes behind me (because he was in a shorter race), so I hoped that the timing would work out that he wouldn’t have to wait extraordinarily long for me to finish.  (We are both slow.)

The first few miles were the same miles we covered in our long practice hike yesterday.  The paved part is a lot longer, because we start all the way at the bottom of the road (and will finish that way, as well).  It is kind of nice to have an idea of the trail, but it still sucks, because it’s a lot of uphill, at elevation.

Near the Pacific Crest Trail

Near the Pacific Crest Trail

Since it is mostly uphill, I manage a little better than a 15-minute pace, and therefore am running near no one, because the other 4 people in my division are shorter, younger and faster!

After 3.8 miles up to the Pacific Crest Trail, I head downhill (mostly) on a nice wide fire road, without too much gravel or rocks along the way.  This is very comfortable to run and walk down, because it is not technical in the least.  The trail is not particularly scenic, but there are a lot of nice trees around.  By the next aid station, I have covered 8.6 miles in just under 2 hours.

Now I head uphill for a few miles.  It is pretty exhausting, but I have heard that I will encounter some people I know either at the aid station or en route.  About a mile out of the aid station, I come across my friend Richard (aka Hozer) from the Hash.  He is hiking backwards from the aid station.  I know he always wants to do the entire trail, but he has had some health issues (aka “getting older”) and has reasonably cut back.

The aid station is nicely set up and has a bunch of American flags.  I am offered and kindly accept a cup of champagne (!).  At this point, I am just working on finishing and obviously not going to win anything (as stated previously, those in my division are LONG gone), so why not enjoy it?  I managed a reasonable pace to this station, still managing about 13 minutes per mile.  An AREC friend, Paul Epperson, reaches the AS at about the same time (but he is in the 15 miler).

From here, I leave the fire road and am on a parallel single-track above the fire-road.  I like this quite a bit, because it is more interesting.  At this point, I am essentially heading back to where I started on the Pacific Crest Trail (and the 15-milers are heading back to the finish).  When I reach that point, I have another mile or so to the next aid station.

From this point, however, the make-up of the trail changes from light-packed dirt to a really rocky path.  While it was not difficult up and down, I had to step very carefully, and that markedly restricted my speed.   A little bit of downhill kept me under 16 minute pace, however.  At the aid station, they had limited water (and gosh, we were coming through here again – makes me nervous), and mostly only orange slices.  It was getting pretty hot and I was already struggling with the elevation.

A couple of girls caught up with me and we stayed together for a bit.  Unfortunately, they were (obviously, if they caught up) much faster with me, so we didn’t stay together for long.

This next section was rolling hills at the start, but ended up being a 6.5 mile slow descent to approximately the same level as where we started the race.  The trail was single-track and cut long stretches across the hillside – maybe 3 to 4 tenths of a mile each time.  The biggest challenge (though I enjoyed it, strangely) was this gigantic rock field.  If I thought that the previous trail section was rocky, well, this section was pure rocks.  The only way you could tell that there was a trail was that there was a bit of flattening through it, but walking on the rocks, well, it sounded like walking on broken glass, and it was disorientating to have that loss of balance.  This is hard to describe.  The rocks were all the size of a slice of bread (maybe a bit thicker) and it covered all of the hill in that section and was probably a tenth of a mile long.

So… I would work my way across the rock field, continue another 2 tenths, hairpin turn down, 2 tenths of a mile, tiptoe across the rock field, another tenth, another hairpin, and so on.  The rock field didn’t extend throughout the entire descent, but I crossed it at least 4 times.  I should have been accelerating down the hill, but this thwarted most of my forward progress.

holcombrockfield

At the bottom, there was still about a mile of flat, wide road to the aid station.  While this was welcome after the rock fields, there was no shelter from the sun.  It was probably close to 80 degrees at this point.  The aid station was situated at the end of a road… or rather, at the end of where we were ALLOWED to go.  There was a guard gate of sorts.  We were at the far edge of the park.  Going was slow, nearly 20 minutes per mile… and it was downhill!

I didn’t waste much time (other than refilling my water bottles) and headed up the hill.  At least it was not too technical… but it was hot!

Usually, I sing to myself, but I was too tired and too out of breath to keep myself occupied that way.  I started thinking of puns.  First, I came up with the runners’ favorite rock group – The I.T. Band.  Then I began fixating on something offered at a previous aid station – Iced Heed (Heed is like Gatorade, but fairly yucky tasting and sugar-free.).  And so, I came up with the following story:

Haley Joel Osment (of Sixth Sense fame) is running an ultra.  He gets to an aid station that is run by co-captains.  He needs electrolytes, now!  So, he says, “Iced Heed, Head People.”  (Bad, I know, but I did get a bit delirious in the heat.)

Strangely enough, despite an unsheltered and hot uphill trail, I maintained the same (slow) pace (according to my calculations, 1 second faster per mile) on this uphill slog.

From this location, I knew I would be heading back to the understocked aid station and be that much closer to the end.  I figured it would be mostly downhill, because of the HUGE hill I had just climbed.  It ended up being mostly rolling hills, but untechnical, so I could walk relatively fast and covered the 3.3 miles in about 55 minutes.  When I got to the aid station, they had no more soda, no more Heed, pretzels and a little water, but only enough to fill one water bottle.  Luckily, I usually don’t drink ALL of my water… one bottle is ‘just in case.’

This last section was really hard to bear.  My feet hurt quite a bit, and I had to traverse that same rocky single-track (but uphill this time) back to the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail and then down the hill to the paved path and the end.  I wasted quite a bit of my time getting through the rocky section, but was able to gallop and speed walk down most of the hill.  The couple of times that I ran, I stumbled on roots… and if I fall, that’s probably IT.  Finito.  Game over.

Once I got to the road (despite not liking to run on the road), I was able to open up and get done in a reasonable time (8:56:00).  I was particularly pleased (technically a PR, since I have never run 33 miles before) because my time was 5 minutes faster than the Endure the Bear 50K, and this race was nearly 2 miles further.

As I crossed the finish line, they handed me a water bottle (?).  A water bottle is really great at the finish line especially when your hands are already full holding… water bottles.  The one plus was that they made some delicious strawberry smoothies.  It was refreshing and hit the spot, but there wasn’t much food of any kind… or if there was, the 8- and 15-mile finishers had taken it all.

I was happy to see my friend, Yolanda Holder, at the finish.  She came in around 9:11.  We could have run together, but she finished about 30 minutes after I did because of the staggered start.  I am including this photo of us (although she cut me out, you can still see me to the left, and Yolanda is no shrimp).

Yolanda (and me hiding)

Yolanda (and me hiding)

Afterwards, I heard about Chris’s adventure.  There was some confusion on the course.  The volunteers sent him the wrong way (to the 8-mile finish).  He got about a mile down, and then turned around and came back to the course and actually do the 15-miler… so he didn’t have to wait as long.

I don’t know about him, but I would NEVER do this race again… unless some major changes occurred, because it was a bit of a disaster.

 

LA Cancer Challenge 10K – 2010

October 31, 2010

Ever since my friend Heather Stevens was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I have made it a priority to run this event and to get others to run this event, too.  However, because it hits on a Sunday in the fall, the tradition is that the Long Beach Hash has their Halloween run on the same day and people don’t like to do the long drive and do both (but I’ll do it).  Back when Heather was still alive, we made a concerted effort to either have the hash be closer to West L.A. or have a late start.  Since I am the Trailmaster for the Long Beach Hash, I worked it out to have the start be around 2 miles away from the Los Angeles VA (where the race takes place).

Leading up to the race, I have not had a good time of it… my back has been hurting and maybe I tried to come back too soon from the trying No. Cal. 50 miler.

The LACC course is a 5K loop, with an uphill (but gentle) slope for the first half mile, then a roaring downhill (with a few dipsy-doodles) to the Wilshire Blvd. undercrossing.  When you emerge from the tunnel, there is a mile-long loop around the hospital end of the VA.  It is a gentle downhill for the first half and a gentle (read: annoying) uphill for the second half.  Then you recross under Wilshire, head uphill for about a block, and then a quarter-mile flat dash to complete the loop.  The 10K is two loops.

On the first loop, I feel OK… or at least I think I feel OK.  I run the initial uphill, but I have to walk a bit on the subsequent uphill sections around Mile 2.  My first loop is a respectable 23 minutes and change.

On the second loop, I walk the entire beginning hill, and every subsequent hill, and I feel terrible, and my back hurts a lot (so best not to run the hills).  My second loop is around 28 minutes.

While 51 minutes is a decent time (about 8:30/mile), I am disappointed that 3 weeks after my race, I am performing sub-par.

After the race, I head over to the hash.  Since it is Halloween, I am hoping it is the usual short trail, with numerous beer stops… but it turns out to be the complete opposite.  There are no stops (not even for water) and the trail is 9.79 miles long.  I think a lot of people turned around early because they were wearing costumes!

I walked most of the way with Dulce Barton (who had also run the 10K) and Chris “Undercover” Spenker.  What is notable about doing this hash is that we three had an in-depth conversation about feasibility of doing half marathons (Dulce and I both had done halves and Chris had not.).  Chris had walked/jogged a few 5Ks and wondered if he could do 10Ks or longer.  Of course, by the time we got to the conversation, we had already covered 7 or 8 miles (which is longer than a 10K), and after doing 10 miles… well, what’s another 5K, right?

Chris was just short of his 70th birthday and here he was, thinking about doing half marathons.  It’s like I always tell people… it’s never too late to start running!