Tag Archives: Cool

Way Too Cool 50K – 2019

March 2, 2019

Finally I have come to the running of my 100th ultramarathon.  It seems quite crazy that I have done 100.  If the races were all marathons, that would be 2,620 miles of runs (but some have been 50, 62, and 100 miles).

When the lottery opened up, I appealed to friends that might be interested in running “with” me.  (I certainly don’t expect anyone to slog with me, but enjoy them being there.)  I had two takers – Eddie Hahn, my hasher friend who had never done a non-loop ultra; and Alan Sheppard (special thanks to his wife for letting him come).  Anthony Fagundes is also here but not because of me.

Also leading up to today, I had done 100 shout-outs to people who I met or helped me during my ultra running career (essentially one a day, but got started a little late, so not 100 separate posts).  It’s nice to think back and reflect on all the wonderful people who have supported me over the past 17 years.

Alan drove up with me Friday to Oakland.  We tried to get Ed to come with us, but he has one of his kids with him and it’s just not practical to come with us.  We have a nice dinner at my sister’s house – a nice homemade lasagna.52945522_10218046064203920_1515880094051074048_o
Mini E and cake topper

Alan and I left really early Saturday morning (before 5am) to get up to Cool with plenty of time (and not a horrible parking spot – doesn’t matter in the morning, but sucks to limp a mile back to the car afterwards).  The weather looks like it’s going to dump lots of rain on us and it’s already rained a lot, so I expect the trails to be super muddy.

We made pretty good time and got an okay parking spot (about a 1/4 mile away).  We go to pick up our bibs.  I’m expecting to get my usual number in the low 600s (alphabetically assigned), but to my surprise, they gave number 100!  (I had sent an e-mail to the RD telling them that I was excited that Cool would be my 100th ultra, but didn’t ask for any special treatment.)

Once we had our numbers, commemorative black WTC buffs and soft green shirts, we head back to the car to drop off our loot and figure out a way for Alan to access his stuff should he finish before me.  We then head back to hang by the start line, get some pictures, and prepare to run.  Ed has made it and is super chatty about our differences in number of marathons (he has 200) and number of ultras (he has one), and other stuff.

51729458_2440185632658340_3345374143095767040_n (1)Alan, Ed, me, and Alan (mostly) bundled up.

For the first section of the race, it’s a 8 mile loop away and back to Cool, starting with 1.5 miles of downhill on a paved road (by the car).  Alan and Ed stay with me initially and then Alan takes off, leaving me with the talkative Ed.  There is a funny moment when he is rambling on about some race story and I slowed up a bit, leaving him to talk to nobody, I thought, but then the gal next to him engaged in the conversation.  (With all the single-track coming up, I do need to concentrate a little bit.

As soon as we get off the road, it’s a steep downhill path to the first big water crossing.  It’s not really raining hard, but there is a bit of a line to get across because the water is fairly deep.  I’m expecting the standard 100+ water crossings and probably 20-25 in the first eight miles.  The weather is clearing up a little bit, but the cloud cover is convincing me that I don’t want to spend any time pulling off my windbreaker only to have to put it back on if and when it starts raining.

It’s pretty muddy out here but I am keeping under the necessary pace of 16:00/mile, and I usually do my best in the first section regardless of the water levels.  Just as we get back to the Cool Fire Station (probably in the last mile), the rain starts coming down harder (glad I kept my windbreaker on).

Now we head out of Cool, down long muddy switchbacks, heading towards the first Highway 49 crossing.  In this second, I am passed by loads of people, because downhill mud running with lots of roots and rocks, and running water, is not my forte.  My goal is to finish AND remain upright.  Falling is not a good option for me.

After a couple of years of this new course, I finally am not expecting an aid station right after the highway crossing.  It’s about 20 minutes further down the road.  In this section, I am doing a combination of walking and running.  This is less about being tired and more about preparing to summit some of the upcoming hills (and keeping my heart rate lower).

I keep going back and forth with a few people.  One person that stands out to me is another tall runner, and Quintin and I spend a few miles walk/jogging and talking with each other.  He’s a decade older than I am (and only a few inches shorter).  It’s nice to do the distance with someone who has similar stride and a similar ultra running history.  (He seems a little crazier than I am.)  We do get to a point where he wants to run a little faster (or get away from my rambling) and he ends up finishing 10 minutes ahead of me.

I lose quite a bit of time in the section leading up to A.L.T.  Probably the toughest part is one of the water crossings where I try to follow someone crossing (at probably the deepest point) and only later notice flags marking the best way across (focused too deeply on the ground and not tripping, I guess).

The downhill leading to the aid station is EXTREMELY muddy and slippery.  I have to take it slowly, but the person right behind me just comes down the hill at full speed, slips, and has to grab onto a small pine tree to keep from overshooting the aid station.  Hey, buddy, we still have 10+ miles to go.  Don’t hurt yourself!

I am still slightly ahead of pace to finish the race, but don’t want to miss that overall cutoff and get a DNF, so I grab a few food snacks and head out immediately.  From my memory banks, this is the section that seems to go on forever and culminates with the Goat Hill climb (which is tough).

First, the big water crossing and then the zigzag of single-track back and forth, up and down, out of the tree cover, and finally across the bridge.  At this point, I have counted nearly 100 water crossings and my feet have been wet since Mile 2.

Once you cross the wooden bridge, it’s a short muddy slog uphill to the fire road.  I am gratified that they’ve done the repairs to this road so that we don’t climb up to Goat Hill twice like we did one year.  Nonetheless, it’s still a tough climb at this stage in the race.  At least it’s not muddy; the red dirt seems to absorb more of the rain than the other surfaces.

Unfortunately, the solid surface ends just after the Goat Hill aid station and the endless mud continues on the (mostly) downhill trail on the way back to the second Highway 49 crossing.  I want to make up some time on this section but need to take it easy.  My sort-of favorite section is here where the trail travels in between blackberry bushes and the trail is always under water.  While this seems like a strange favorite, hey, my feet are already wet, and it’s always more interesting for something non-standard (even though this is my 16th time through here).

Now I’m getting close.  Certain landmarks stick out to me, like hearing a few cars on the Highway, seeing the quarry, and spotting the aid station tent across the road from a distance.  Once I know I’m on the homestretch, I feel much more assured that I can finish under the time limit.  I hit Mile 30 in 7:49, which means I have 41 minutes to finish the last 1.4 miles.  Pretty sure I have that in me.

I never stop at the last aid station, but do offer my thanks to the volunteers that are there.  Now it’s a long slog up a gentle waterfall through mud back into Cool.

As I get to the final two straightaways, it is a muddy mess.  It hearkens back to a few years ago where my friend lost her shoe in the last 100 yards of this race.  While today it isn’t shoe-sucking, it is extremely slippery and treacherous.

I end up finishing about 16 minutes under the time limit in 8:13:49.  Anthony could have run the course twice (and then some) in the time it took me.  Alan finished a skosh under 6 hours and Ed finished in 7:02.  We have a brief celebration at the finish line, but it’s best to hurry back to Oakland to enjoy a rib dinner and early (birthday) cake with Alan and Marisa’s German chorus homestays.

Alan and I finish off the weekend with a trip to Oakland Chinatown and take out dim sum at Tao Yuen.

Moving forward, ultra-wise, I don’t have milestones to hit, but my plan is not to stop at 100 or cut back in any manner.  I have already signed up for Wild Wild West 50M in a couple months and hope to run Skyline 50K again in August and do my 10th High Desert (aka Ridgecrest) 50K in December.

I think I read somewhere that most ultra athletes only do races for about 2 years before getting burned out.   I haven’t reached that stage yet, but I am cognizant that I am hitting a bit of a slowdown in terms of pace, and I also realize that to avoid long-lasting injury, I need to embrace this slower pace.

I look forward to getting caught up and doing run posts in real-time (and not a year in the past), and thus be able to tell stories about both the trails and the people I meet during this sport that I have enjoyed for 100 completed races.

63 Days to 100

December 28, 2018

68.  Xy Weiss

Although I have been acquainted with Xy for several years (and wear her Dirty Girl Gaiters), my special encounter occurred at the 2014 Avalon 50M.  This particular year, I took the 2AM early start with a dozen or so people.  About midway up the initial hill, I caught her, bedecked in her usual leopard print top, skirt, and gaiters.  I said, “Hi, Xy, I’m…”  She interrupted, “Emmett, yeah, I know.  Good morning.”  I guess you can always pick both of us out of a crowd (but I haven’t seen her around much lately).

67.  Martin Sengo

At Way Too Cool in 2010, there was a large contingent of Golden Valley Harriers runners, most wearing the signature yellow tank top.  (I have it, but chafes me too much in an ultra.)  I introduced myself to a few of them, and even a few that I didn’t really know knew me at the “So Cal GVH representative.”  One of these was a tall guy, about 10 years younger than me, Martin Sengo.  One month later, I saw him again, at American River 50M in his first 50.  (Back then, I beat him by over an hour.  He’s since gotten faster.)  Over the years, we alternatively see one another at Cool or volunteering in the Sacramento or Bay Area.  I’ll look for him at a So Cal ultra one of these days.

66.  Errol “Rocket” Jones

In 2015, I volunteered at the Santa Barbara 100M and became acquainted with Errol.  We met again a month or so later when I was running the Skyline 50K and he was volunteering at the Skyline Gate Aid Station.  And the past two years at Skyline 50K, we have both been running, so we get a chance to chat at the start (or finish, if he hasn’t left by then).  He’s a charming fellow (and a good writer, too), and one of these days, I want to run his Quad Dipsea (when it’s not the weekend before Ridgecrest 50K).



Way Too Cool 50K – 2018

March 3, 2018

I’m back once again in Northern California for Way Too Cool.  In case you haven’t read all my posts, my first ultramarathon was Cool (slightly different course) in 2002, just after my 31st birthday.  Today marks my 15th Cool.  (I missed a couple due to there being a lottery that I didn’t win.)

Since the beginning of the year, I have started to feel some back and knee issues, so I have had to moderate my training and also moderate the way I run (more stiffly is a way I’d describe it).

I drove up on Thursday to stay with my folks in Oakland.  Not only was the drive super rainy, but there was a HUGE accident on 580 between Livermore and Oakland (like it took 90 minutes to drive 3 miles) and that caused even more distress to my legs (being trapped in the car that whole time).

I did get a better start on Saturday (in driving up to Cool).  Last year, I can recall being one of the last people let in to park and being at least a mile down the road from the start.  This year, I was more like 40 cars down from the start, so I didn’t feel bad about walking my shirt and stuff back after picking it up and feeling like I would be wasting energy.

I saw some familiar faces at the start, including Rafael Covarrubias (returning after being a bit burnt out on Ultrarunning), Linda McFadden (from Modesto who I see at a lot of these), and “Tahoe Bob” Gilbert.  Bob is from my original GVH running club and always did a lot of the ultras and over the years got to be a lot better than I did.  He has just returned to ultrarunning after battling lymph node cancer.  Wow, these ultrarunners are strong!

Once again, I am in the second wave, though the waves seem to be a little smaller.  (I think everyone got in through the lottery that wanted to run, so there are maybe 1000 competitors this year rather than 1200.)

Last year, I fairly went all out on the paved portion, but this year I moderate my pace but try and maintain an even pace both uphill and downhill.  The result is that when I get to the trail portion, I am roughly in between the really fast folks and the really slow ones.  This is for the best as I don’t want people tripping me up down the rocky downhills and also want to avoid getting stuck in long lines through the water crossings.

It hasn’t started to rain yet, but I do have my AREC windbreaker on, because rain is definitely threatening.  The course is certainly on the muddy side (but not treacherously muddy) and the usual water crossings are shin to knee deep, but not rushing water.

I do pretty well on the single track portion, somewhat in the front of a long line (better so that I don’t trip) and continue in the front until it widens out somewhat and I can easily pull to the side and keep walking uphill.  There are a few muddy sections here and even moving off the trail to get better traction, I am still slipping on the grass.

Just as we get to the section where we are paralleling the road back to the firehouse at the start, it starts to rain.  I am pretty happy that I kept my windbreaker on (lots of people pulled their outer coats off because they got hot – I figured I could wait for a bit).  It rains pretty substantially, but it didn’t really make the course wetter or muddier than it already was.

As I am coming through the chute at Mile 8, I am cheered on by Anthony Fagundes.  (Cool was HIS first ultramarathon last year, but he is not able to run right now.  Some young fast person’s ailment probably.)  It is nice to hear your name in a sea of runners (where most all are friendly, but no one knows your name).

I come through in 1:40, or about 12:30 per mile.  Already I am feeling some discomfort in my knee, but I can push on in the flat sections and modify my stride to make it work in the uphill and downhill sections.

Next is the section I am somewhat dreading, because it is lots of muddy, rocky, technical downhill.  Downhill is not my strength and also doesn’t feel great on a sore knee.  Lots of the folks who were behind me and struggling on the earlier section are busting by me on this section.  The rain has let up and I can see some rays of sunlight peeking through the clouds, but I don’t think I’ll take off my jacket, yet.

This is a short section (3.1 miles is what my pace sheet says) but after crossing the Highway, there is really only a Port-A-Potty here.  I think they removed one of the aid stations!

So, there is another 4.4 miles on a mostly flat, lightly graveled path along the river.  I am doing some running and some brisk walking.  There is also a bit of sunshine and a bit of hail.  (Yes, hail in the sunshine.)

When the steep uphill section does come, I do my zigzag approach to lessen the strain on my knee.  I think it helps and probably also annoys the people around me, but I am not crashing into them on a definitive path, but moderating to hit the edges when they are not there (I am faster so it’s easier to avoid them.).

According to my watch, I went 7.4 miles in 70 minutes.  Hmm… I don’t think so, so either the map was off or I am secretly running at a 5K pace and I just don’t feel it.  I mean, I am amazing, but not THAT amazing.

Now, there is a lot of single track, hills, and other fun stuff.  My knee is really bugging me, and my feet, too.  Just really sore and I am feeling every rock that seems to puncture my shoe (but I must be descended from the title character in The Princess and the Pea… I think I even stepped on a pea and it was excruciating!).

When I get to the aid station at 21 miles, now my watch says I did 5.5 miles in 2 hours (Hmm… that’s not right either, but I am thinking that I did 13 miles in 3 hours.  That COULD make sense.)

Just as I am descending the hill into the aid station here, an older guy comes tearing down the hill (not a hill to be tearing down unless you are leading the race, and none of us are).  He flies through the air, tries to grab onto a tree for balance, flips off the trail, and rolls down the hill and lands somewhat at my feet.  (Ow.)    By the way, I came down the hill fairly gingerly so as not to do that.

But, I stopped in my tracks, leaned over and helped him to his feet.  Courtesy wins every time here.

From this aid station, it’s now back onto what used to be the old course, with the deep water crossing, lots of winding single track, maybe 20 water crossings (most less than 3 feet across), with the final one being the wooden bridge.

I am dreading this next section as last year, the road was washed out, and we essentially had to climb Goat Hill twice (once to bypass the road and once to climb the actual trail).  Fortunately, it looks like the road is still there, so only one climb of the dreaded Goat Hill.  Sadly, no Helen or Norm Klein at the top, but there are the usual “Burma Shave” signs to annoy me as I get closer and my knee bugs me more and more.

16 years ago, I got here in 5:30 or so, lamenting my worst marathon ever.  And today, I am at 6:30:41, which is certainly not my worst marathon split, but an hour slower a decade-and-a-half later (worst marathon split is around 10 hours, if you’re wondering (in a 35 miler not long after the 5:30 marathon split)).

From the top of Goat Hill, it is some single-track and some double-track, but mostly downhill on treacherous terrain and some of it muddy and some of it running water muddy… and some of it through treacherous running muddy water.  While this is hard on my knees, I really love this section.

When I get to the road, I’ve covered it in 58 minutes (3.6 miles) or a little over 16 minutes a mile.  Now I have a little over an hour to complete the last mile and a half and finish under the 8:30 time limit (ha ha).

I almost never stop at this final aid station because it’s so close to the end (also, they are almost always cleaning up by the time I get there).

I pass a few people on the uphill despite not feeling my best, tromp through all the puddles, talk with a few people doing their first ultramarathon (good choice).

I run into the wind through the mud and finish in 7:50:12, probably my worst finish here, but you know what, a finish is a finish.

No Sufferfest Beer this year, but I did have a glass of SLO beer with a mango taste to it.  Also got my requisite Frog cupcake and minestrone soup and a couple of Subway sandwiches, including a few to eat later in Oakland.

The next day, Sunday, Myrrh and I prepared some of the dishes that we learned in Asia last month while we watched the Oscar telecast with the family.

And then I drove back to Southern California on Monday.

You know, since I have now finished 93 ultramarathons, I wonder if I could time it so that I run my 100th at Way Too Cool next year.  Maybe I’ll make that my plan.

Way Too Cool 50K – 2017

March 4, 2017

Drove up to Oakland yesterday and hung with my parents and sister, including going out (sort of for my birthday) to Bay Fung Tong with them.  Maybe the noodle and rice dishes serve as carbo-loading.

This morning, I have an early drive up to Cool.  I have my new car (one year old on Tuesday) instead of the rental and the weather is a bit better (though it did rain the past couple of days and I have heard that there is damage to the course and there may be detours).

I get an earlier start than last year, when I was the 10th to last car to park and had to walk 3/4 of a mile to the start (and then back afterwards).  There is the usual chaos in the parking where people can’t listen to directions.  (They have you drive the entire length of the paved road, turn around at the end and then park facing the exit direction.  There is always someone who tries a three-point turn and holds up the whole situation, because they know better.)  But anyway, I am probably less than a quarter-mile from the start line, so that makes the day a little less stressful.

At the start, I am looking for people I might recognize.  I see a few GVH folks, including Martin Sengo.  I also see Tsehay Villeza from AREC.  Last year, she got pulled from the race even though she was moving well enough to finish under the time limit (so they got her in again).  Also from AREC (though local to the Sacramento area) is Anthony Fagundes.  He is attempting his first 50K, but he has had good success with shorter trail races (the overall winner of all Xterra races he’s run this season).  I hang out a bit with his parents who have driven up to watch him run.

Today my goal is just to finish (I am not really worried about the time limit, but my fitness is not the same as it was last year.).  The importance of finishing is to reach my goal of 14 Way Too Cool finishes, on this the 28th year of competitions (I will have run half of all races.)

The fast pack take off at 8:00am and then the slower field goes off at 8:10am.  I do put myself in the front of this group so that I can get away on the trail before the crowds behind me make me nervous.  (I can get over the roots and rocks better if someone isn’t breathing down my neck.)

I make better time on the road portion and force myself to run the little uphills, though once I get to the trail, I immediately feel the need to walk and get passed by about 20 people before I reach the steeper downhill part.

The trail seems more technical than last year.  I am guessing this is due to heavier rains which expose rocks and roots more readily.  The water crossings don’t seem any more heinous, though, but there is also more standing water on the trail than the past few years.

The last mile before completing the 8-mile loop is super-wet.  It is almost all puddles and super slippery (but I do not fall).  I am happy to finish this section in 95 minutes (11:52/mile pace).

From the Start/Finish at the Cool Firehouse, we now parallel Highway 49 for a bit (this will also be the same stretch for the finish) and then work our way over to the steep, muddy, wet downhill to the crossing before the aid station on the other side of Highway 49.  Lots of people pass me here because I am nervous about falling and do not have supreme confidence on technical downhill trails.

This section is only a 5K and I am not guzzling water, but I do remember an aid station a little past the highway crossing, but… hmm…, there doesn’t seem to be an aid station here.  A port-a-potty, yes, but that generally doesn’t offer the same treats as an aid station.  Hopefully, they have not eliminated too many aid stations because it’s tough to balance water consumption if you have no idea how far you are going.  I do click off a lap on my watch so I can compare with previous years or get an idea on my (mostly) downhill pace (13:07/mile).

After going through the non-aid station, the wide fire-road parallels the American River and is fairly flat and well-graded (with a rash of puddles, of course).  I am alternating between light jogging and brisk walking for most of this section.  It’s less about being tired and more about the upcoming hills that I want to be prepared for.

As we get to the end of the fire-road section and into the more single-track route along the river, it is clear that the trail is pretty much completely washed out.  I can envision what the trail WAS, but now there is no real trail here and we wander out into the riverbed a bit and just sort of stumble through uneven sand and boulders until a semblance of a trail reappears.

A few more tough rolling hills and the next aid station materializes.  The distance was almost as much as the 8 miles on the opening loop but it seems far worse as I am 8 miles less fresh.  I guess my pace based upon what the course map says, though a 10:27/mile pace seems to have been unrealistic at this point (and my GPS says something else).

According to my pace sheet, the next aid station is in 1.5 miles, but again, there is nothing there, so another split that is a bit useless (only for comparing to last year).  The location of the aid stations also don’t exactly match up with the web page, either…

Until I get to ALT (Auburn Lake Trail) at the river crossing.  Finally, what I have and what the website has, and what my GPS states all match up.  Here’s to hoping that the rest of the aid stations are not 6 or 7 miles apart!  These first 21 miles have taken me 4:43 (or 13:24/mile).  This would put me on pace for 6:40, which would be comparable to last year, but I don’t think I am going to maintain that pace on the last few sections, especially not Goat Hill.

The trail crosses the water and then winds around the hillside forever.  In previous years, I count the number of water crossings (anything that has running water and isn’t a puddle).  In a “dry” year, there are about 50 water crossings and today, there are over 80.  Most I can easily step over (though I am cautious so that I don’t slip, fall, and break my elbow).

The key to the end of this trail is a wooden bridge water crossing that takes us to the fire-road.  There is a bit of steep uphill here before turning onto the steeper single-track up to Goat Hill.

But that was BEFORE the trail got washed out.  I can see in the distance that there is a bunch of trees and branches blocking the trail and a turn-off earlier than usual heading up the hill.  This trail is very steep (much like the old Goat Hill trail) and I am really struggling to get up the hill and getting some calf cramps which are not helping.

Alas, absolute torture awaits.  Instead of traversing the hillside and continuing up to Goat Hill Aid Station, we basically are hooking around the obstruction in the most difficult manner possible, and then going back onto the fire-road, DOWN to the fire-road, and THEN going up the Goat Hill trail.  In essence, we are climbing the horrible hill TWICE!  My pace slows to a crawl, both because of cramping and being more out of shape.

The Burma-Shave style signs don’t help my mood.  It would have been nice to warn about this change or come up with something more reasonable.  I don’t think there was any reason to carve out a steep trail.  I would as soon climb over the obstruction than climb that hill twice.

The top of the hill takes me to 26 miles in 6:22 (which is slower than I ran WTC in 2002 and I still have 5 miles to go).  Unless I can cover the last 5 miles in 25 minutes (ha!), I will have a slower time than last year.

From Goat Hill, we now proceed to the (upper) Highway 49 crossing.  This is mostly rolling hills with a net downhill, but VERY wet and several sections that are completely puddles.  On the flatter sections, I am reduced to lots of walking and I seem to go back and forth with an older gentleman (70, I think he said) who is going for his 9th finish (and of course, there are folks going for their 28th finishes).  When I cannot run, he takes off on me and I figure I will not see him again until after I finish.

I get pretty excited once I get to the highway crossing because I know I can muddle through a mile-and-a-half to the finish in under 1 hour, 15 minutes (the 8:30 time limit).  After crossing the road, I don’t stop at the aid station because the end is so close and I would rather have the time to power up the muddy waterfalls that is the trail back up to the trail paralleling Highway 49.

I walk/run for a bit with a gal who finishing her first 50K (doing great, I might add) and then shuffle/jog past a number of slowing competitors and I catch back up to my 70 year-old friend on the last stretch.  We come across the finish together (though he may have started an hour early) and I proclaim that between us we have 23 Way Too Cool finishes!

Tsehay gets her finish (yay!) – knew she could do it.  Anthony beats me by almost 4 hours (he is also 20 years younger), coming in 7th overall, but not placing in his age group! My time is 7:38:26, almost an hour slower than last year.  I’ll attribute it to my lack of running this winter and the incessant rain preventing me from getting out on the trails.

I hope to be back out at Cool next year, and I really hope that they are able to repair some of my favorite trails and eliminate the run-arounds.  I hope they also continue to be sponsored by Sufferfest beer, so I can bring a can home and split with my dad (like I have the past two years).

Avalon 50M – 2017

January 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Nights 5K (2) – 2016

July 21, 2016

Weather has been in the 80s in the evenings and humid (for S. California).  There is a larger crowd today at Summer Nights, probably because the high schoolers either have started Cross Country training or are not out of town for 4th of July weekend.

I don’t mind running with a lot of teenagers, though it makes you feel somewhat slow because most of them have endless energy and also have trained to go hard for 3+ miles (whereas I can do decently fast for 3+ miles but can go consistently (or at least, ponderously) for 31+ miles).

I held my own for the first mile or so (that’s never a problem), clocking in at 7:35, but then I mixed in some walking.  This is when I got passed by Kevin McKee (who said, “Lookin’ good!” – Love the enthusiasm; I try to do that, too, but I don’t think I was ‘lookin’ good.’).

I tried to make sure I stayed ahead of the speedy AREC ladies and I did that, even though my 2nd mile was 9:41 and my third mile (1.1) was 10:18 (probably around 9:41 for the mile).

With my fast early mile, I was able to keep my overall pace under 9:00/mile and finish in 27:44 (5th in the 45-49 age group – the winner of which also went to Piedmont High School, Class of 1989, Drew Sells).

After I chugged a half liter of water, I doubled back to find Kathy Massanet (about a half-mile back) and walk-jogged in with her.

Boeing 5K (6) – 2016

June 13, 2016

Today is another recovery 5K after an ultra.  In case you are new to these posts, I am currently in the middle of a streak with these runs.  The runs are held once a month on the second Monday of the month at 11:50am.  If there is rain, the run is postponed for a week.  If there is rain the following week, it can get cancelled (or postponed to the following month).

I previously had a streak of 57 consecutive runs.  This was roughly six years (because there was a year where 3/4 of the runs were cancelled due to construction).  I was able to maintain that streak even through getting called to Jury Duty because I ended up with an extended lunch.

On my current streak, I was able to continue despite being released from the hospital a few hours earlier, as well as a few times where I was not going to be in town, but it rained and postponed the event.

There are two people who (currently) have longer streaks than I have – Peter Lew, with 120 consecutive runs (10 years!) and Nelson Slagle with 101 consecutive runs.  If all goes well, I should reach 100 consecutive 5Ks in September of this year (pretty much 8+ years).  Peter thinks I can reach his record, but it really depends upon what my life has in store in the next couple of years.

So, today, even though I am going to fully walk the course (and not really be competitive), I will continue my streak.  For the record, it took me 23 minutes to halfway and 19 minutes coming back.  SLOW.

Way Too Cool 50K – 2014

March 8, 2014

For the past few years, I have entered the lottery for the Way Too Cool 50K and not gotten in.  In 2013, I started at 167th on the wait list and moved up to 2nd by the week before the race… but did not get in.  I guess that I cannot be too upset about missing out a few times because I have already had the opportunity to complete this event 10 times (10 years in a row!), but I still like doing the race because it always occurs right around my birthday.

I entered the lottery once in again back in December and was pleasantly surprised that I got in… but I did note that twice as many folks got in as in the past and that there would be staggered starts… so I wondered if there was a lottery at all, really?

One of the significant differences between 2014 the first few years that I did the race was that some of my friends had moved out of the area and some of my other friends had started a family.  This changed some of my options vis-a-vis where I could stay, but I still had a few options from some running club friends in Davis.

I looked at the list of those who were participating and I had one friend where the logistics might work out… and my fairly-inconvenient back-up plan, which was to stay with my parents in Oakland and drive up (about 3-1/2 hours one way).  The friend (also running the race) had in-laws staying and said it would be too inconvenient, but he also suggested I send a group e-mail seeing if I could sleep on someone’s floor.

I did end up getting a response from a name I recognized (but did not actually know), who said that she was running Cool (possibly close to my slow speed) and that I could sleep at their place.  I offered to drive her to and from the race, but she said that her husband was going up as well (for a tempo or long run) and that I could probably drive up with them.  Pretty generous for someone I have never met.

The drive up from Long Beach to Davis would be on Friday, March 7th, my 43rd birthday. Being as that it was a regular Friday and I wouldn’t be able to go to their house until after work… and also traffic would be a circumstance… which is why I did my usual leave-at-the-crack-of-dawn drive.

Unfortunately for getting ready for the race, I had a hard time falling asleep on Thursday and only slept a couple of hours.  It was hard to get up and drive for 6 or 7 hours, especially leaving in the dark.

The drive was fairly uneventful until I stopped at the rest stop.  I used to be able to drive non-stop but my knees cannot handle being stuck in one position for that long.  When I get to the rest stop, I lock my valuables and computer in the trunk.  My trunk stuck a bit (usually happens when I don’t open it for a few days) and it slightly bent my key.  When I tried to restart the car, the key would not turn. The key still fit in the lock, but would not turn at all.  I started to freak out, but realized I needed to try and bend the key back to the correct position.

I didn’t have much success with trying to bend it with my hand or hitting against something, but I did get it to bend back by reinserting it into the trunk and carefully bending it the other way.  The key was still bent (and this is no little key), but I got it back far enough to start the car, and I did not turn the car off until I got to Davis.

It was early when I got to Davis (around 11am), so I had to find something to do for several hours.  I parked in the Whole Foods lot and then sat for a few hours and read a book (and stretched out my legs).  I also called my folks to let them know my schedule, as I will drive down after Cool tomorrow and celebrate the rest of my birthday weekend with them.

While I was sitting and reading, my friend Josh Eichhorn walked by (apparently heading to a music rehearsal).  Feels like old times.

Around 2pm, I walked over to the business place of the people I will stay with.  Both of them are optometrists and operate a store/office pretty close to where I parked.  I asked for Joann just to see what the schedule is.  She came to the front and we chatted briefly.  She said that it would probably be around 5 before we could go anywhere, but if I wanted, she would give me the key to the house… but I said I would move my car closer (also, I had to move my car out of the Whole Foods lot) and walk around for a few more hours.

I ended up going to a new used bookstore (bought a Thursday Next novel), an off-campus UCD store (talked at length with one of the employees who is my age but has college-aged kids), and the Fleet Feet Running store.  There is a half marathon in town tomorrow, so there is a little bit of chaos around here.

Around 4, I came back to their storefront and read my book until they were ready to leave.

Joann’s husband, Mark, who is quite the accomplished runner, biked or ran to the office.  Joann wanted to stop by the store, and Mark would ride with me to a friend’s house who had picked up our bibs and shirts.

Mark and Joann live in the Wildhorse area of Davis.  This area was not built when I was in college and in fact, they were still talking about developing it when I left 15 years ago.  It used to be fields.

The Helmus’ have a beautiful house and I was staying in the rec room (with piano (!) and many of Mark’s medals from marathons.  I have a bit of a headache, so I laid down for a bit before joining them for dinner – wild rice, chicken and asparagus.

I got to sleep at a decent hour (no surprise, because I didn’t sleep well last night).  All in all, I didn’t celebrate my birthday in the most exciting manner, but I did meet some great people.

I woke up early and got myself all prepped and ready.  Mark and I wished Joann a happy birthday (that’s right, our birthdays are back-to-back!) and then Mark drove us up to Cool.  We parked in a different spot than I have ever parked before (the firehouse lot was full and we were just off the road instead of a MILE down the road).  I already had my bib, so I didn’t have to check in and could just relax until our start.

There was a little bit of an area set aside for some vendors, including Patagonia. We plopped down on the Patagonia couch and tried to relax until it was time for us to run.  I am in the second wave at 8:10.  The “elites” start at 8:00am.

There are a lot of people here.  The crowd at the starting line is equal to the crowd I have seen in past races… and this is just the first wave.  I’m certain that our group will be just as big.

It is the usual start, down the paved road for about a mile.  I do my usual bit of running easy and then walking up the minor hills.  Of course, this puts me in the back immediately, which is fine.

When I get to the end of the paved road, we turn onto the dirt… or mud, as most of it seems to be.  When it is single-track, I try and stay with a pack, but do not like to be too close to anyone since I have a significantly wider stride than most others.

Early on, on the trail.

Early on, on the trail.

This first section of the trail is the longest between aid stations – 8 miles!  This also has what has to be the most annoying water crossing… one where there is a back-up on trail… though there is not much one can do to avoid getting wet.  Basically, it is a lot of standing water in between a couple of hedges.  You cannot go around it and there are no stones to step across.  It is ankle deep and 10 feet across.  Hope no one tried to jump it!

The first aid station is back at the start – we just made a large circle.  I had a pretty good start, in my estimation, doing about 12 minutes per mile.  I know I will be reduced to a walk later, so it is good to save a little time now.

Now I head out towards Highway 49.  In past years, the road crossing is pretty close to the start (about 1.5 miles), but they have utilized this new course in the past few years to avoid a lot of two-way traffic on narrow trails.  I liked the old trail, but usually had to share a trail (read: step off the path to let them pass) with about 30 faster runners.

On the “new” trail, we virtually parallel the highway to a point further down, safely cross and then have another aid station in just 3.1 miles.  I continue to maintain around 12 minutes per mile on this section, but there are some hills up ahead.

I continue downhill and am paralleling the American River.  It is mostly flat, but have some hills which I walk.  About midway through this section is the point where the old trail connects, so some of this feels familiar.  The aid station isn’t precisely where it should be, the base of Ball Bearing Hill – the site of many triumphs and struggles.  We don’t climb this hill any more, though.  I thought this was an awkward spot for an aid station, so well, it’s not here.  Better in a better spot.

This aid station is at about 15 miles, pretty close to halfway.  I am at 3:10.  If I could maintain my pace (riiiight…) I would have a personal best.  It’s a good feeling, though.

Shoes have dried out.

Shoes have dried out.

About a mile past this point, I am now back on the original course, but doing it in reverse.  This is the section that I always struggle with at the beginning… and now I am 18 miles in… and a few years older.  I walked a whole lot on this section and slowed to about 21 minutes per mile (at least my pace is still under 15:00).

The race continues on the same section (now forward) of the old course.  I KNOW what is ahead.  Goat Hill (which sounds a little like “Go to Hell,” which is apt).  It’s not as bad as Ball Bearing Hill, but it is tough for a steep climb when you are tired.  I am moving forward still, but I am not moving forward very fast.

The one saving grace is the Burma Shave signs going up the hill. I can barely raise my head to look at the signs.  When I get to the top of the hill and the aid station (a little over a marathon distance), I am at 6 hours and 4 minutes.  I am not going to run a PR… unless I can cover the last 5 miles or so in 16 minutes.  Wouldn’t THAT be exciting?  (… but not practical)

From Goat Hill back to the Highway 49 crossing (the original one) is one of my favorite sections, and not just because it’s a lot of downhill.  The best part is that once my shoes have dried out, there is ANOTHER unavoidable water crossing, with prickly blackberry bushes on both sides.  I am not being sarcastic; I really like this section.  The trail itself is cool.  (Way too cool!)  I never carry a camera, but I wish I had some pictures of this section.

Once I get out of the wet and muddy section, then there is about 30 minutes of thinking that I am almost to the road crossing, but never quite getting there.  However, when I do finally cross the road, I am back at a better pace (around 14:30/mile).  The best news here is that I have 1 hour and 40 minutes to finish the final 1.6 miles… so I will make the cutoff.  I was a bit concerned about this in the beginning, but not so now.

This last section is lots of uphill and muddy.  In fact, there is water running down this trail (not cascades, but enough to make it slow going).  The last bit of the trail parallels the road into Cool and is mercifully flat.

Trying to catch some ladies on the final stretch.

Trying to catch some ladies on the final stretch.

My final time was 7:14 (well, 7:13:59, but 7:14 contains multiples of 7, my favorite number), which was about 20 minutes slower than 3 years ago, but I was very satisfied with my time, given the few issues I have had recently with my heart, back, and knees.

After the race, I rode back with Mark and Joann (birthday girl finished about a half an hour ahead of me) to Davis, and I left pretty quickly to drive down to the Bay Area, where I met up with my parents and we celebrated my birthday again.

If I get the opportunity, I will totally run Cool again.  Always a great birthday present to myself.

Rio del Lago 100K – 2011

September 10-11, 2011

I had known Mark Vishnevsky for some time through both AREC and Team Runner High, but we had never been particularly close… but in the past year or so, we had the ultramarathoning in common.  He had gone up to the Bay Area and run the Headlands 50M in under 9 hours (I ran it a year later in 13 hours.).  We kept having conversations about him running his first 100 mile race, and narrowing down what would and wouldn’t work for him.  50K seemed like a good distance for him, and we had a pretty good time doing the Skyline 50K one month prior, but… I wasn’t sure about what would be best, 100-mile-wise.

I think there is a certain mentality (could be read as “insanity) in doing 100-milers.  You have to gird yourself up to being out WAAAY longer than you are used to being out there.  I don’t think it changes for a faster or slower runner.  Whether you average 15 minute miles on a 50K or 9 minutes a mile, 100 miles will still be a long, tough slog.

I think I went about it in the right away, going so far as to pick a race that was considered to be “easy,” but also finding a race where I would not get bored (mine had loops, albeit 20-mile loops – familiar, but not too repetitive).  The surface was also not too technical, meaning that I would not have to over-concentrate at night.

Mark mentioned to me that he had an interest in running the Rio del Lago 100K.  I felt like that would be a good jumping off point, vis-a-vis getting acclimatized to running 100 miles sometime in the future.  I was interested in doing the 100K as well, both because it had a generous time limit (18 hours), but because it was some of the same trails I had done at American River 50 miler.

Normally, when I do a race in the Sacramento area, I will stay with friends in Davis… but because the race started and ended in Folsom (about 40 miles away), I would be with Mark (and not on my own) and that I would definitely finish at some ridiculous hour; it would not be practical to stay with a friend and inconvenience them so much.

We decided that we would stay at the host hotel (about 5 miles from the race start).  At the same time, I got an offer from my friend, Doug, who had previously offered me his hotel points to utilize a room at one of my races.  He offered a free room at a nice hotel in Sacramento (but unfortunately 25 miles from the start).  It was a dilemma… until Doug offered to cover the costs of the room at the host hotel (which had really reasonable prices – we could afford it, sure, but I could not pass up this incredibly generous offer).

A week or so before the race, Mark decided to upgrade to run the 100 miler…. I wasn’t sure if he should do this, but if it seems right, then you should do it.  The plus of this situation is that our finishing times would probably be closer to one another, rather than Mark waiting for me 6 hours plus after he finished.

On Friday, September 9th, Mark, his girlfriend Michelle, and I drove up to Sacramento.  Mark and I took turns driving (since Michelle would probably have the lion’s share of driving on the way back).  We left a little later than we wanted, as Michelle was doing a personal training session that ran a little long… but we still arrived in time for the mandatory directions and packet pick-up.

I recognized a few folks there, including Donn Ozaki (I had been holding his drop bag from the Santa Barbara Blue Canyon Trail Race several months prior.), and Gordy Ainsleigh (who famously did the first Western States, when he raced horses (he was on foot against the horses)).  The instructions were not particularly helpful… just a lot of lecturing about following the course, and not cutting it short, etc.

We had some dinner, and then made sure we made an early night of it (early start and a long day).

On Saturday, we got to the start around 5:00am and began getting our stuff together.  I have a couple of drop bags… though for the most part, I usually don’t use much of the stuff, since races usually have everything I need.  The one thing I had in my bags was “Hornet Juice,” a product that Mark said was similar to Vespa (something some ultra folks take which allows them to maintain an even keel without inputting a lot of sugar).  Even though I don’t try new products for the first time at a race, I am doing that here.  If it doesn’t do what it should do, I can still ingress the usual crap.

There are 3 races today and all start at different times.  The 100-miler starts at 5:15am, the 100K (inaugural) starts at 5:30am, and the 50K starts at 7:00am.  I will get to see Mark set out and then set out myself.  There is a small out-and-back at the beginning, but not enough that we will see each other on the course.  We have some tentative plans to maybe meet up on the course (either on his way back or for Michelle and me to meet up when Mark is in between spots where she can give him support), but essentially, I will call Michelle when I finish, and we will either go assist Mark together or she will drop me back at the hotel (or something).


It is pitch black when I set off and the out-and-back is down a hill and I pretty quickly lose touch with the other runners in the 100K.  There are a dozen runners in the 100K, 50 in the 100 miler, and 30 in the 50K.

Once I get through the out-and-back, the course becomes familiar to me, because it is mostly the same course from Mile 26 to 31 on American River.  Most of this, however, is in the dark, whereas at American River, I am hitting this section around noon… not dawn.  I joke to myself that I just need to remember the course in reverse… because going forward, it is a little confusing… and it will probably be dark when I finish.

The first aid station is Granite Bay, and it takes me a little over an hour, so I made pretty good time (about 11:15/mile).  I am hoping to get a little further before the heat of the day hits, because I generally don’t do that well in extreme heat.

Next, I am heading to Horseshoe Bar.  Most of this section is shaded and has a lot of “stairs.”  All of these stairs are comprised of stones, tightly wound roots, and layer of roots (in other words, some are like actual stairs, and some are ascending or descending sections of short drop-offs).  This section is quite difficult because of the uneven paths and I slow to a more ‘walk’ pace (14:45/mile).

Next stop is Rattlesnake Bar (14.6 miles) which is at about the same pace as the last section, and more of the same.  My half marathon split is around 4-1/2 hours!  (Tough trails, though.)

The next section is some of my favorite parts.  It’s less technical, more fire road-like, and takes me by Power Plant (hydroelectric), Avery Pond (a pond area ABOVE the river – my FAVORITE section), and to the base of Cardiac Hill.  This is just before where the course diverges from the AR course.  The hill to the end of AR50 is steep but not as steep as Cardiac Hill.  I am maintaining a similar pace to the last few sections (15:48/mile).

Now… up Cardiac Hill.  It’s slippery in sections, and SUPER STEEP!  I am really hoping that I am not having to traverse this downhill in the dark (especially if I want to make the time cutoffs).  I am, for the most part, still totally by myself.

When I get to the top of the hill, I spot something very cool.  A flume.  (Wish I had a photograph.)  When I say a flume, I hope that you picture an amusement park log ride.  Basically, it’s a cement stream with downhill flowing water.  The trail path travels alongside it.  It’s about 2 feet lower than the path and about 3 feet wide.  So… it’s not as big as an amusement park log ride, but you get the general idea.  It gives me something to concentrate on, because it isn’t just staring at a river you’re following; it twists and turns (some hairpins).  It’s almost completely flat, as well, so it makes for a good recovery from Cardiac Hill.

When the flume disappears under a paved road (or the actual circumstance, APPEARS from under the road (because I am following the flume uphill at this point)), there is an unmanned aid station.  I covered this 1.5 mile section (to Mile 22.2) at a 26:00/mile pace.

Now I have 1-1/2 miles to the Auburn Dam Overlook (near the AR50 race end).  Some of it parallels more of the flume, and some is roads, and some is trails.  I do about 17 minute miles… but the temperature at this point is in the 90s, seeing as it is nearly noon.

The next section is totally unfamiliar to me, because it is past the end of the AR50 course.  For the most part, I am on a wide fire-road, and it is paralleling the American River, though I can mostly NOT see the river.  I saw some skinny dippers in the river, but too far away for me to gawk too much.  In the far distance, I can see my ultimate goal – No Hands Bridge.

I am actually somewhat familiar with this location, only because you can spot it from Highway 49 en route to the Way Too Cool course.  It looks like an “Aqueduct” Bridge and has railings.  (I guess I should learn the origin of the name – probably interesting.)  At the far end of the bridge is the aid station (Mile 28.2).  My marathon split is around 6:44.  I take a bit of a longer rest here as I am hot, and there is another big hill looming.

This next section is referred to as “K2.”  I am told that there are 7 false tops on this hill and that it climbs over 1000 feet in 0.9 miles.  It doesn’t help that there is not much shade and now the temperature is over 100 degrees.

I try and take this section slowly, but I am not doing very well.  I make it through probably 4 or 5 of the false tops, but struggle in the last section.  Some runners who are (yes) actually behind me, give me a better idea of when the false tops end.  I fade behind them, but it is actually pretty alarming how much trouble I have with this hill.  I will climb to some shaded section and then I will sit and try to cool myself down.  The 0.9 mile section took me approximately 37 minutes.  The other 3 miles took me 20 minutes each.  The next aid station (and the turnaround at 31.4 miles) is at the Cool Fire Station (the start of the Way Too Cool 50K, my first ultra).  My 50K split is 8:33… one of my worst times.  I am still on track to finish under the 18 hour time limit, but pushing it.

The course isn’t a true turnaround, because I am not going back down K2 (that might take as long!), but I am following some of the same course as the Way Too Cool course.  The one plus at this point is that at Cool is where the 100M runners do an additional 9 mile loop around the area (called the Olmstead loop).  I encounter a number of runners who are 9 miles ahead of me, but our pace is pretty similar.  The 100 mile course gets within about 5 miles of the end, and then they do 2 loops back to Cardiac Hill on the roots and stone staircase section… but for now, it is nice to see some other people.

One gal that I run with for some time is Cheryl Yanek, who tells me she is the RD for the Burning Man 50K (sort of a joke, but they do do a 50K AT Burning Man).  She is really struggling, and says repeatedly that she is going to drop at Cardiac because she knows she cannot finish.  I am assuaging her fears, and at least I get her to agree to continue on, so I will have a little company.  (She is cute, but a little too Progressive and set in her ways for me – especially at 32.)

This 3.4 mile section connects back to No Hands Bridge.  I accelerate to 15:44/mile pace!  My feet hurt quite a bit, and I KNOW I am getting blisters. =(

Now we follow the fire road back to the Auburn Dam Overlook.  When I get there, I ask about Mark’s whereabouts (to get an idea where I might encounter him).  He is 3 hours ahead of me.  I feel pretty good, but am concerned how bad it will feel going down Cardiac Hill and also how long I will have before Cherie gives up (or accelerates past me).

Just out of Auburn Dam Overlook, Cherie says that she wants to get to Cardiac soon, so she can drop and takes off.  I yell after her that when I get there, we should rediscuss the situation.  I don’t know that she hears me.

When I get to Maidu, the unmanned station (which is out of water), I have done the last 5.5 miles in about 18:00/mile pace… but now I am to the flume section.  Even though I enjoy the flume section, I really want to jump in and let the water take me to the summit of Cardiac Hill.  It would be refreshing and also get me there more rapidly.

Going DOWN Cardiac Hill is a struggle.  The steepness of the downhill is really hard on my knees, and I can only walk a certain way on my feet to prevent the blisters from getting worse.  At the bottom, I covered this section at 23:00/mile pace.  Yuck.  Cherie’s at the aid station, trying to decide.  I told her, unequivocally, that she should continue, because she is doing OK, and she would regret not following through if she had the opportunity.  She acquieses.  (She ends up being the last 100 mile finisher!)

Between the base of Cardiac and Rattlesnake Bar, I really have to go the bathrooom.  I know this will sound unusual, but I try and avoid urinating during an ultra.  I try to keep my balance of fluids and electrolytes just at the perfect point.  Part of the reason I don’t like to urinate is that I will lose my protection from chafing because I will be slightly wet afterwards and it will spread slightly… and then the chafing begins.   So, just past Power Plant, I accede to my needs… and then begin to chafe slightly.

I get to Horseshoe Bar (2.5 miles past Rattlesnake, 9 miles past Cardiac) around 8pm… and it is starting to get dark out.  I have my flashlight, but it is not the brightest.  That usually works pretty well for me, but on the root staircases, it is quite treacherous.  As I am making my way through this section, another runner comes through and suggests that I avail myself of her extra flashlight.  While I didn’t really want to carry a light in addition to my water bottles, the extra light helps out quite a bit.  I am grateful for the use of the light, especially in this section.

I get to Granite Bay in 17 hours, 27 minutes (26:00/mile in the last section, net 18:20/mile).  There is ZERO chance I can finish the last 4.9 miles in 33 minutes (even if I was ONLY running 4.9 miles).  No one gives me any grief, but I am ready to point out that the aid stations don’t need to close because the 100 milers will still be out there for an additional 13 hours.  I am pretty surprised at this point that I have not seen Mark (because I have encountered nearly all the continuing 100 milers in the dark, rooty section).  At Granite Bay, they tell me that he dropped down to the 100K and is done with the race.  (See, you should have picked an “easier” race!)

From Granite Bay back to the Start/Finish, it is the section that I had said at the beginning that I needed to remember backwards.  Too bad that was 3/4 of a day ago and everything looks different from the opposite direction.  Also, too bad that locals decided that they should take it upon themselves to remove the markers.  Look, if you want us out of your area, removing the markers isn’t going to hasten the process!  I do a lot of backtracking, because I do know that I have to find my way to the Folsom Lake Dam area, and if I can find the Dam road, I will know I am at the right location.  It is very frustrating, because I am tired, chafed in the ‘groinal’ area, it’s still hot (over 100 degrees despite being dark out), and my feet are blistered and hurt.  I did eventually find the Dam Road.

Once I get to this road, you can see where the finish line is.  I am walking like John Wayne after getting off a horse.  I am also stopping anywhere I can legimately sit to take the pressure off my feet and thighs.  About 3 miles out, I get passed by a 100 mile runner, Jimmy Dean Freeman (2nd overall).  It’s nice to see someone, though.

I finally finish a little before 1:00am, with a time of 19:23:09, in 11th place (plus the 24 people who dropped to the 100K distance).  I was almost 2 hours over the time limit, but I still got my finisher’s belt buckle.

Mark and Emmett at RDL start

Mark and Emmett at RDL start

What I am really craving at this point, is real food.  Attached to my race number the entire time was my coupon for a post-race meal.  Unbeknownst to me, this coupon was only good for the snack bar, which had closed at 9pm.  They could, however, offer me a PB&J sandwich (yuck, that’s what I’ve been eating ALL day along with rotten fruit, pretzels and peanuts).  So, I didn’t get anything to eat after the race.

The next bit was that I needed to get back to the hotel.  I called Michelle, and they had JUST gone to bed (so were asleep but not totally asleep) and she rallied long enough to drive out and pick me up.  I totally crashed out when I got back.

In the morning, Mark and I both needed to utilize the elevator to get down to the car for the drive back… neither of us could walk very well.  Michelle did the majority of the drive back, since both of us were useless.

The post-race annoyance for this event was that the results were not posted for over a month… a CHIP-TIMED race.  The excuse was that the webmaster was out of town running his own race – like we care – we paid for the race, so post our results in a timely manner.  This inefficiency, coupled with the high cost of the race and the relatively low value for the entry fee, convinced Mark and Michelle to start their own timing company and put on low-cost races, where the results would be posted immediately and accurately.  (The timing company that did this race, Desert Sky Adventures, is no longer affiliated with this event, and they only do a 100M event now.)

Despite having a tough time and a cruddy experience, I LOVE the belt buckle and wear it on top of my belt 95% of the time.  I would go back and run in this area again, but maybe not this race (certainly not the 100 miler).

Way Too Cool 50K – 2011

March 12, 2011

My 10th consecutive year of Way Too Cool.

I think I have been extremely lucky in that I have been able to run this race.  The first year, I got in by mail, and each year after that, the window to get in the race was smaller and smaller (2 hours, 1 hour, 15 minutes, 90 seconds…) until they finally instituted a lottery.  I worked my way in off the waiting list!

They’ve changed the course this year somewhat.  Gone is my “favorite” – Ball Bearing Hill.  There is also a longer loop at the beginning and some different water crossings and we cross Highway 49 and two different spots.

I guess also different this year is that I am not staying in Davis.  For years, I have either stayed with Jessica and Erik or once with another friend.  Jessica and Erik are getting a divorce, so staying with them… not really an option.  So, instead I stay with my good friend, Cynthia, who lives in Stockton (a bit further drive from Davis).  Cynthia and I were in the same Honors dorm together Freshman year.  It is nice to reminisce, and actually, a few years ago, she drove up and watched me finish (a really nice friend to do that).

At the start of the race, my left knee is bugging me a little bit, but as I go about the run, I feel better and better.

The first section is similar and also quite different.  As before, the run starts out down the paved road by the fire station into the wilderness area, but we take the road a lot further before connecting to the trails.  Also, there are a few substantial water crossings – substantial in that you are unable to just jump across and NOT get wet.

This section is also notable in that it is much longer than before.  The original course was about 4.7 miles to the first aid station, but here it is around 8 miles.   I get through this in 96 minutes (about 12:00/mile).  We have basically run a big loop and are very close to where we started.

This next section is mostly unfamiliar.  We are heading to a different Highway 49 crossing than before.  I guess I have been told that the advantage is that there will not be any two-way traffic on this course. It is only about a 5K to the next aid station, and I continue to run slightly faster than 12:00/mile.

After crossing Highway 49, we are immediately on the Middle Fork of the American River.  Usually, we hit this point about 3 miles after the OTHER Highway 49 crossing.  I strike up a conversation with a 50K newbie.  Her name is Sabine Gillert.  She’s tall, grew up in South Africa, but is of Germany descent.  We converse in German a bit, and I tell her that we are in the same boat, because I don’t recognize the course (well, not all of it), either.  This section is 3.6 miles and I do it in 45:37, or about 12:40/mile.

The next section will start to look familiar again as it is basically the old out-and-back section of the previous 9 (plus) years.  This is the endless single-track section and lots of little stream crossings.  This is the longest section without aid – 6.1 miles and I finish this in about 97 minutes (nearly 16:00/mile).

Now we continue on this same section, but use the same heading back as in previous years, which means we head up to Goat Hill, which is essentially the marathon point (about 26.4 miles) and it is at the end of a long uphill (with Burma Shave style signs encouraging me up).   I reduce my pace to just under 14:00/mile.

From Goat Hill, we head to the Highway 49 crossing and one of my favorite sections, which is sort of like skiing on mud downhill and tromping through a stream (not deep, but no choice).  When I get to the Highway 49 crossing, there is only about 1.4 miles to go, so I don’t even stop, because I have a chance to finish in under 7 hours (for the first time in a few years).  The last section took me about 15:00/mile, and I will need to do about the same to achieve the sub-7:00 finishing time.

I am super proud of myself in the last section because I averaged 12:11/mile… the fastest on any section except the first section, and I finished in 6:55!

Afterwards, I enjoy some pizza and a frog cupcake and then drive down 2-1/2 hours to the Bay Area for the Piedmont Choirs Gala and Auction in Oakland.  What a long long day!

Pizza and frog cupcake post-run

Pizza and frog cupcake post-run

Death to Frog Cupcake

Death to Frog Cupcake