Tag Archives: Hash

81 days to go

December 11, 2018

As you can see from my race blog posts, I am not very good at posting something every day.  Certain things come up, and I just say, I can wait another day.  At least the good news today is that I survived the lottery and am into the Way Too Cool 50K, so my dream becomes reality (as long as I finish #99 on 2/6/19).

90.  Ellen Engelke

I met Ellen through the Hash House Harriers.  I found that we share March birthdays, classical music performance, and trail running as loves.  Ellen has quite the ultra running career but it mostly ends as I am getting started (she ran Cool the same year I did in 2002!).

I probably am repeating the story wrong, but Ellen met her husband through pacing, something to the effect that she was going to get him to the end, no matter what, and she was relentless, taking no excuses (even if he was having some health problems).  While he didn’t get to the finish of the race, they got each other.

89.  Mark and Joann Helmus

For the vast majority of my ultras, I stay with family and friends.  I can sorta treat it as a runcation (even though my non-running family and friends mostly find that part of my visit annoying).  In a few instances, I stay in a hotel, and for several Way Too Cools (yeah, it often comes back to that event (since I have done 15 of them)), I got to stay with people in my Davis running club, GVH.

Mark and Joann replied to an e-mail request for a place to stay.  Joann was also running Cool and even offered to drive me to the start (and Mark was doing a tempo while we were out there).  An especially Cool part of this weekend was that I celebrated my birthday the day before and Joann celebrated hers on race day.  It was extra nice that we finished within 30 minutes of each other.

88.  Lori Leong/Jessica Tapper/Cynthia Mar

Here are three ladies who have very limited racing (and certainly not ultra experience), but all are my long-time college friends who live or lived in the Stockton/Sacramento area during my entire ultra career.  Both Lori and Cynthia I met in my Freshman Honors dorm at UC Davis (so I have known them both since 1990), and Jessica I knew from interactions with Lori probably from junior year on, but got to know more personally as we had a number of restaurant adventures together starting in 1995 and continuing until I moved to Southern California.

At the time of my first ultramarathon, I was able to stay with Jessica in Davis for the weekend, and that continued for several Cools and an American River 50 (or 2).  On the rare occasion that Jessica could not host, I took advantage of Lori and Cynthia’s hospitality as well.

The extra added bonus on multiple occasions is that Jessica often had a bonus event planned (not necessarily for my birthday, but something fun nonetheless).  I can remember a particular year when she was hosting an awards show (like Oscar/Emmy/Grammy/Pritzker but that we voted on) and all my friends were there.  I think I was scheduled to present a couple of awards… and I had just completed my first 50 miler and could hardly walk.  On my third presentation, I had them bring the microphone to me.  Anyway, great to have friends who think you’re crazy still support you.

87.  Jill Toepfer

Every once in a while, you spot something at an ultra that you find unusual.  One year, at Skyline, I was passed by an older gentleman who was running the race in Topsiders and in jeans (and he climbed over a gate that opened).  I was told that that guy always does that at races.  Hmm.

In 2017, at Skyline 50K, I kept seeing a tall lady in sorta non-trail gear running unevenly and without any kind of water support.  We were similarly paced so I kept seeing her.  It sorta didn’t work out to have much of a conversation (that really only happens if you walk together or move around the same pace for a consistent period of time).

Around Mile 22, I catch up to the tall lady again.  NOW she has water… a Dixie cup.  And she is really struggling.  Even though I don’t like to part with water, I give her a few cupfuls and we walk and talk to the next aid station.  As I suspected, her first ultra and she didn’t know what to expect.  She gets a loaner water bottle from a volunteer at the next aid station and finishes a few minutes behind me.  Just another example of figuring out how to get to the finish line, or how ultrarunners will help you get there.


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.


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.


Fort Worth Resolution 5K – 2016

January 1, 2016

My stay in Dallas was an unusual one.  For the past few years (except in December 2011 when I went on a Christmas cruise), I have spent Christmas in Dallas and participated in runs with Carrollton Running Club, Plano Pacers, and done the New Year’s Day White Rock Lake run.

This year, after taking a special trip with my entire extended family to Hong Kong for Thanksgiving, we spent Christmas in the Bay Area.  However, I did end up going to Dallas after all, two days after Christmas to spend a week with my sister and (sort of) babysitting my nephews while my sister worked and they were out of school.

We were to have a late flight out of San Francisco on the 27th, so I would be able to run the Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders 15K in the morning (I even pre-registered for it – $5.).  Unfortunately, there was torrential rain and thunderstorms in Dallas and our flight out of SFO got cancelled.  Because my sister has traveled pretty extensively on AA, we were able to rebook onto another flight (that hadn’t yet been cancelled) earlier in the day, albeit out of San Jose Airport and at 10am, making it impossible for me to do my race.  (The other downside was that I was to be upgraded to business class, but now I was back in coach.  Alas.)

Marisa drove us down to the airport and just before we boarded the plane, they announced that the flight was  over-heavy and would anyone be amenable to giving up their seats.? Although Riva really needed to get back before 8am Monday morning, she negotiated that both of us would give up our seats (and take a slightly later flight), plus each of us would get a voucher for $600, because Riva was giving up a business class seat.

It was a moot point, because the weight issue resolved and we were able to get on the plane.  Also, had we ended up taking that later flight, well, it ended up getting cancelled as well.

As we got closer to Dallas, they announced that DFW and DAL (Love Field) were closed due to storms, and we were being re-routed to Houston-Hobby.  In all probability, it looked like we would have to rent a car and drive the 4 hours to Dallas to make it back in time, but after a couple of hours on the plane in a heavy rain storm, DFW opened for a small window and we were able to get into Dallas.

Because of the timing of the visit, I had missed the Plano and Carrollton runs (which are usually the fourth weekend of the month) – I arrived Sunday night, but I hoped to do the White Rock New Year’s Day Race, which strangely enough, I could not find any information about.  After several years of having this fun 10am New Year’s Day race (with mimosas, beer, and spiked egg nog post race, plus champagne flutes as prizes), it was defunct.

I looked around and found a Resolution Run in Fort Worth (about a 45-minute drive).  It was a 5K, it was timed, and had a 10am start, so I wouldn’t have to get up super early (kind of like leaving at 7am for an 8am race), and there wasn’t too much traffic at that hour on New Year’s Day.

The race was in Trinity Park, which was part of the Fort Worth Cowtown Marathon course, except that the year I ran it, the Trinity River overflowed and we were routed an extra half mile to get around the flooding, so it is kind of cool that I get to run in an area that I should have run in nearly 11 years ago.

The registration is pretty  easy-going and there are not a lot of people in line (maybe bodes well for placing in the race, though there is no Clydesdale category for me to dominate).  I also got a decent parking spot, since I arrived with 30-plus minutes to spare.

By the way, it is January in Texas, which should be read as COLD!!  I have two shirts on plus gloves, plus my Buff, and I am still cold.

The race is an out-and-back past the start, then further around the park, under a railway trestle and then back around part of the original course again.  I try to run in a controlled manner.

My first mile is in 7:26, and I get myself out of the crowd (especially because we are mostly on a pedestrian path and there are 200+ runners here).  I catch up and pass my Carrollton Runners friend Kim Andres.  I always see her and chat up briefly.  She and Riva have run with the same groups in the distant past, I think.

I slow down a little on the second mile, trying to get myself into a comfortable pace and stay ahead of whomever I think might be in my age group.  (I am a terrible gauge of this, because it seems to be the salt-and-pepper guys, but heck, if I can stay ahead of those who I think are in my age group (aka the young guns), then I may place in my own group.)  My second mile is 7:45, and I pass Frances McKissick, someone who I have seen in a few Dallas races in the past.

The last mile takes me under the railway trestle which is probably less than an inch taller than me.  I duck under the entire thing just to be safe.  There is also a bit of a hill leading up to the final 1/4 mile, and I am struggling trying to catch up to some kids and stay ahead of Frances.  I manage the final mile (and 0.1) in 7:44 (so probably around 7:00 even) and finish in 23:10.

Afterwards, I head over to the covered picnic area to get some post-run snacks and champagne.  They have fruit, and some crackers and Frito-Lay chip bags.  There is one lady over there pouring champagne (and sparkling cider, Cold Duck, and Rose).  She can hardly get glasses poured before people snatch them up, and I am in the first quarter of finishers, so can imagine how bad it will get as the crowds come in.

I park myself behind her and start opening bottles.  This involves scraping off the foil cover, pulling off the metal band, and then popping the cork.  It’s pretty much impossible to do with gloves on, but I continue so that she can just pour, and I go until all of the bottles are opened and poured (at least 25 bottles).

This volunteer turns out to also be one of the award presenters, so when I pick up my award for 2nd place in my age group (out of 15, it wasn’t that small), she also announces to the crowd that I pretty much opened all of the bottles for them after I ran my race.  Starting out the New Year on a pseudo-good deed (and running a good time).  I did also get a glass of champagne (and try out a sip of the other “flavors”).

In the afternoon, I went to the Pretty in Pink DFWH3 event – I wore yellow and had a fun run around Dallas with a bunch of hashers dressed in pink, so I got to start my year out with nearly 8 miles of runs.

I was sad to miss the White Rock run, especially because it is so much closer to my folks and sister’s houses, but this was a nice replacement.

Avalon 50M – 2013

January 12, 2013

Despite saying that I was not going to continue running ultras in consecutive months (after doing 12 in 12 months), I ended up signing up for the Avalon 50M.

Since I signed up pretty last minute, I didn’t make any particular plans for where I was going to stay… so I decided to take a chance and hope that I find a friend to stay with, but otherwise, my plan was to hang out at the start line until I started… in other words, not stay anywhere.

To do so, I packed extremely light.  I had my running clothes on, with a credit card and $40 cash in my shorts’ zip-up pocket, a High Desert 50K string backpack with my two water bottles in it (filled with powder, but not water… yet), and my Sunmart lightweight jacket (with a plastic bag with enough change to get a bus ride to and from LB port).  My house keys (as usual) were on a lanyard around my neck.

I got on LB Transit and rode one stop before realizing that I had not taken my AAA Card (which would save me $7.50 on my Catalina Flyer rate), so I got off, jogged back home, got the card, and another $1.25 for the bus (which I had basically wasted on my first partial ride).  At least I didn’t get there without my discount!

When I got to the boat terminal, I looked around to see if I recognized anybody.  (Basically 50% of the boat were Avalon 50 competitors, and I knew 1/3 of them.)  I saw Mark and Michelle, plus John Hampton, who said I could sleep on their floor.  Problem solved.

My other concern about the race was that I felt I would struggle with finishing under the 12-hour limit.  However, I remembered from last year, that there were people who started early.  I thought I would explore that option.  I felt like I might need two extra hours, just to be safe.

When I went to check in, I asked about this option, and they said I just needed to say what I wanted to do and that there would be someone at the start to see me off.  The past few years the starter had been “Darth Vader,” a good friend of mine from the Hash, but I knew that he wasn’t there this year.

For dinner, I thought we might go to the same Italian place that Laura and I went to last time, but Mark felt that carbohydrates were not the appropriate fuel for his kind of race, so we went to a mediocre Mexican place on the waterfront, and I had a burrito.  Not sure if that will be good for me.

We opted for an early night, because Mark and John will be starting at 5am, and I will be starting at 3am.  The plus is that the hotel is less than a mile from the start, but of course, the bad news is that it is again up a hill.  (The good news is that I am not leaving anything at the hotel!)

I am sleeping on the floor and they toss me the bed cover from both beds to use as a mattress-slash-cover.  It’s not that comfortable, but I am only going to be here for a few hours.  I woke up a whole bunch of times, and apparently, I also woke everyone up a bunch of times with my snoring.  Sorry.

I got up about 2am and used the facilities, but essentially I am already ready to go.  At 2:40, I jog down to the start, but there is no starter there.  I guess they are going on the trust issue, but I will be true to what I said and start at 3am.  There is one other runner here, but he leaves a few minutes before 3, and then just before 3am, two more female runners show up and we all start together.

Neither of these ladies have run this race before, so it is up to me to show them the way to go.  Ironically, I barely know this course, having run it once last year and I was following a lot of people.

For the most part, I remember how to get out of Avalon.  There are no chalk marks, but most of the intersections are self-explanatory – it is just a main road.  About a mile in, we reach the Wrigley Botanical Garden and sidle around the closed gate and continue to follow the main (now unpaved) road through and up.  It is quite serene in the darkness to see the lights of Avalon disappear behind us.

It is a little unsettling being on a trail in the dark and not really having any idea if we are on the right path. I remember from last year heading uphill for some time, without any significant downhill, but now, after passing by some radio towers, the trail seems to head downhill in a significant way.  I am convinced that we are on the wrong path.  There are a few single-track options, but I honestly do not remember ANY single-track.

The three of us discuss what to do, and we decide to back-track until we see a mark.  After about 20 minutes of back-tracking, a truck is driving on the road and tossing glow sticks out the window.  I ask whether we are on the right path (it’s pretty clear that we are), and he says that the road DOES head downhill and that we were going the right way… so now we must continue on and have wasted 40 minutes.

After the downhill section ends, it hooks back onto a paved road, and we can see the aid station that is set up, but not staffed.  Since it is still dark, none of us really needs anything except to notate that we have now covered 5.4 miles (or rather, 7.4 miles) in 2-1/2 hours.  Somewhat the advantage of starting two hours early has been eaten up by the confusion on the route.

The paved road eventually ends and becomes dirt again and there is more uphill climbing. This takes me by the Catalina Airport (perhaps the weirdest airport you’ll ever see, both remote and a weird angle on a hillside), and to Mile 12 (a staffed aid station!).  My pace is slightly better here, if only because I am not running in the dark any more, and also because I did not get lost in this section (about 15 minutes PER MILE faster).

The next section of trail goes by a few houses, a vineyard and then eventually drops into Little Harbor (basically a campsite).  This is the site of where drop bags can be put.  I am planning on leaving my jacket, blue over-shirt, and gloves here, until I return here again at Mile 33.

The road out of Little Harbor is initially flat, but then climbs for about 3 miles, and then descends for 3 miles steeply into Two Harbors.  It is in this section that I am beginning to be passed by the front-runners.  I am counting them to see the position of my friends in the scheme of things.  Mark comes through in 9th place, Dave Binder is 15th, and John Hampton is about 70th.  Mark looks like he’s in pretty good shape, but I wonder if he went out too fast.

The aid station at Two Harbors is unusual, in that you pass by it, do a LONG out-and-back to the peninsula and THEN back into the aid station.  This is probably my least favorite section because it is boring, but at least, I get to see my fellow competitors, most of which are 2 hours ahead of me.

Just past the turnaround on the peninsula (where I mark my bib with a purple “X” to prove I went all the way out (Note to self:  Carry a colored pen and turn around early.  Just kidding!).  On the way back, I see hasher Shannon (aka “First Period”) doing her first 50 miler and looking pretty fresh.

Once back through Two Harbors, now I head back, reversing course and heading back up the awful hill out of Two Harbors.  It’s hot and steep, but I try to move with authority and I end up covering the distance back to Little Harbor around 3-1/2 minutes per mile faster than on the outbound route.

At the Little Harbor aid station, I pick up my drop bag.  I have my blue cover shirt in the bag and my black jacket tied around my waist (I have to keep tabs particularly on my jacket as it has my return boat ticket in it.).  I have to keep moving because I am somewhat up against the time limit AGAIN.

From Little Harbor, the course changes and I am no longer back-tracking, but heading back in a slightly different way (if it was an identical route back, the course would be 3 or 4 miles further than 50).  Instead of a long climb out of Two Harbors, it is another descent, followed by an annoyingly difficult longer climb, with little shade.

Remember how I said that the Two Harbors peninsular section was probably my least favorite?  I take that back; the worst section is now, Middle Gulch.  There is little scenery except hills on both sides.  The general slope is uphill, but it’s hard to tell that I am going uphill except that it is tiring and hot.  The worst part is that when I think I am getting to the aid station or the turn up the hill, the road turns slightly and continues.  It’s like that nightmare where you get to the end of the hallway and realize you are at the beginning of the hallway again.

Finally, I hear some music and see signs of civilization.  It’s the Eagle’s Nest aid station.  I have a bite of buffalo burger and a can of peach nectar.  I can’t stay long because I have less than 3 hours to finish and around 12 miles to go (but have been averaging slower than 15 minutes/mile).

The course continues through more of Middle Gulch and then goes through a slightly populated section, a bald eagle sanctuary, and eventually to a paved road heading back to the ridge road.  There is a small (but welcome) aid station about a mile from the top.  I do a quick refill of my   water bottles and continue up.  I have made up a little time on the past two sections so I have 1 hour and 33 minutes to finish.

The uphill road is step but at least it is paved, which means I can get some traction and use my long legs to get to the top of the hill.  Then it is about a mile to the Haypress Aid Station (the original aid station which was not yet open when I passed it this morning).

Even though I am pressed to make the final cutoff, I have had a pretty good day.  One of the big pluses was I have just gotten my new pair of glasses, which have Transitions Lenses (which means they shade out when it’s light out.  So, instead of dealing with glare and brightness all day, it is a comfortable shade.  There is a little issue in dealing with the change in vision, but it isn’t making my dizzy, so I am good.

I don’t really need to stop at Haypress, but just continue on down the hill and run 4 miles in under 57 minutes.  My legs are pretty tight, but if I can jog or lightly gallop down the hill, I think I will be fine (considering last year I was able to cover the same distance in 41 minutes, but I felt better then).

I keep saying, ‘at least it’s downhill,’ and I maintain a decent pace.  At the same time, I am afraid that I will have to really hoof it in the last stretch if I go too slowly.

Finally, though, I get off the main part of the hill and begin heading towards the pier.  Once I get to the bottom of the hill and am on the straightaway along the water, I know I can cover the 500 yards in under 4 minutes!

I am happy to see this year that the PVC-pipe reinforced finishing sign is a good 10 feet over my head.  So, unless someone launches me across the finish line, I am certain not to clock my head on it as I finish.  I come across the finish line in 13:57:02, almost 3 minutes under the time limit.  (Of course, people continue to come in for a few more hours, including Chris Spenker, who I passed (mysteriously) twice on the course (shortcut?) and Hal Winton, 82, one of two guys who have finished every Avalon 50 save the first one (that few people ran) between 7pm and 8pm (a few hours behind me)).

Dave Binder finished in the top 20, John finished in 9:17, and Mark finished in 10:30 (faded a little bit in the second half). They are hanging out at the same Mexican restaurant, eating a burrito or something (that doesn’t appeal to me right now).  My ferry ride back is at 9pm, but since I have finished, Mark and company convince me to change my ride to the earlier ferry ($5 change fee), so I can get a car ride back with them (save the bus fare).  In the line, I run into Yen Darcy (who finished close to me, and does so in most races).

Avalon 50 has turned out to be such a boon for me, a nice 50 miler that I can finish (not necessarily easily) that’s relatively close by and with a bunch of my friends.  I wish I had done this race earlier in my ultra career, but as long as I am able, I would like to keep doing this race.

High Desert 50K – 2012

December 2, 2012

For my 12 ultramarathon in 12 months, I decided to do an old fall-back, the (Ridgecrest) High Desert 50K.  I was hoping to do this race with a few AREC friends, but two of them were not planning on driving up until after the Belmont Shore Christmas parade (late Saturday night), so my plan was to drive up by myself and spend the night in the parking lot of the start in my car (as I had done 8 years earlier – and run my 50K PR).

Fortunately, Laura called me Saturday morning (about 4 hours before I was thinking about leaving) and offered to drive.  Yes!!!

After our three hour drive up, we went and picked up our bibs and also went to eat dinner at the local Italian place (somewhat of a tradition for most of the people, since the spaghetti dinner provided by the race is EH).  We ran into a few of Laura’s friends from the Charlie Alewine races and had dinner with them.

After dinner, we made a trip to a few pharmacies to see if we could get a partial prescription refill for some medication Laura left at home.  After a bunch of promises that went nowhere (no computer connection or something), she finally gave up and we went back to the hotel.

In the morning, we drove up to the start.  The weather was chilly, but not too cold, but nonetheless, everyone was hanging out in the gymnasium rather than outside.  We saw several of our hash buddies, including Taffy Tingley, Katie Crowder, Dave Binder, Shannon, and Ethan.

The race started on time and of course, the run goes immediately uphill.  That means that I am walking up the hill (and falling behind) and then running the flats and downhills.  At the first aid station (5.5M), I am doing about a 9:55/mile pace, which I know I will not continue (otherwise, a HUGE PR for me).

For the next 5.5 miles, I see a lot of Katie (doing her first 50K) and Taffy.  They pass me numerous times on the uphills (when I am walking) and I pass them back on the other parts, but I eventually stop seeing them as they fade off behind me.  Likewise, I am ahead of Ethan for a while and then he surges ahead of me for good as well.

By Mile 11 (after a slow ascent of about 2 miles), I have dropped my pace to about 11:25/mile, and I lose an additional minute per mile in the next 5.5 miles.  I do 3 of those miles at about a 20 minute/mile pace at one point.

From 16.9 to 20.5 miles, I run mostly with a couple of different gals.  One is Tiffany Henness (from HB) who I met last night.  This might be her first 50K as well.  She is doing pretty well (and is also 10 years younger than me), but more importantly, we are having a nice conversation about ultrarunning.  She is very interested, but also has stories herself.

The other gal is Linda Dewees, a local to Ridgecrest, with whom I ran a little bit at the Bishop 50M.  She is probably 15 years older than me, a little odd (read: my kind of person).

In the "wilds" of Ridgecrest

In the “wilds” of Ridgecrest

Mile 22.5 is Grace Mansion, where I usually see Tom O’Hara (aka “See More Buns”). I have seen a few other hashers along the way, including Chris Spenker (“Undercover”) and William Lawrence (“Black & Blood”) who both started an hour early.  At this point, I deserve a beer (or more) and have a nice slug of Guinness.

As I continue, the course is very windy.  It is a bit like Big Sur in 1997, where I encountered 40-70 mph headwinds for most of the course.  Today, the winds are not that strong, but they ARE blowing the dusty trail up into my face.  Fortunately, I have my Buff and I am able to pull it up over my nose and mouth (and over my hat to keep it from blowing away).

A teensy bit windy

A teensy bit windy

From Gracie Mansion, it’s about a 5K to the next aid station, mostly uphill, and mostly windy.  I stagger (not being blown over, but it’s just awkward and not helpful) at a 15 minute/mile pace.  At the next aid station, I enjoy another beer (Waddington’s or something).  At least I am getting a little buzz on!

Now begins the downhill part (and also the psycho part) of heading back.  I keep seeing the college (where the finish line is), but it never gets particularly close.  You run behind it, around it, basically the longest possible route to get back.  There is one final aid station at Mile 29.4 (where hardly anyone stops), but of course, I stop, because I want one more beer!

I decide at this point that I am going to go for breaking 6:40 (6:30 is right out as generally I cannot run 1.7 miles in 7 minutes), and I try to press the pace.  Unfortunately, too much running and I get a few cramps… mostly due to stumbling on the downhill.

I think if it were not for the jog around the parking lot that makes up the final mileage, I might have had that time, but I finish in a respectable 6:40:17, less than a minute slower than Skyline a few months earlier… and given that I have done 12 ultramarathons this year, having a slightly slower time is totally in the realm of possibility.

Afterwards, we would normally hang out and maybe even have a beer with our hasher friends, but there is an unfortunate incident – Laura left her long-sleeved shirt and Smart Phone in the gymnasium.  One of the two items is stolen.  That effectively crushes the opportunity of doing anything but going directly back to Long Beach.  If only she had left the phone in the car (which was less than 100 yards away from the gymnasium)… Live and learn.

After 12 ultras in 12 months, my body is ready for a break.  Actually, it is something like 26 consecutive months with at least a marathon distance covered in a race (which includes a couple of DNFs).  I enjoy the ultras, but I need to be cognizant of the wear and tear on my knees.

The lottery for Way too Cool is later this month, and I might be interested still in doing the Avalon 50 miler next month.  We’ll see how I feel.

LA Cancer Challenge 10K – 2012

October 28, 2012

LA Cancer Challenge 10K is my 30th race of the year, and guess what number I got?  #3030!  Very weird.

Yesterday, Laura, Chuck and I did a 12-mile trail run near Azusa and it was pretty exhausting… and then afterwards, I am headed off to Long Beach Hash to do a Halloween run… so do not want to overdo it… and it’s not as if I am going to place in the top 3 in my age group anyway…

The course is two loops, starting with around a mile of up- and downhill, about a mile of flat, slightly downhill, and then a mile-plus of flat, with one quick uphill.

I did pretty well on the first mile or so.  Although I do try and avoid running hills in general, these hills aren’t horrible (after all, it is ‘just’ a 10K).  8:23.  The downhill-flat takes me 7:46, and I finish off with 9:06 for a first 5K of 25:12.

For the second half, I try and power-walk up the hill, because I am not feeling like running as hard and know I will not break 50 minutes.

The second time up the hill, I drop to a 9:26 mile, then follow that with 8:02 for the flat/downhill section, and finish off the last 1.1 in 10:55, for a net second half of 28:33.

In essence, it is a 8-minute/mile 5K followed by a 9-minute/mile 5K.  Nowadays I am good with that.

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.


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.