Tag Archives: Laura

LA Cancer Challenge 15K – 2017

October 29, 2017

The Cancer Challenge returned to the UCLA campus for the second year in a row.  One year it was randomly in Woodland Hills after the L.A. VA told them they would not hold it after at least 8 years at that location, and I ran at UCLA the first LACC I ran.

Last year, I carpooled and we paid beaucoup bucks for parking.  Since I am driving by myself, I don’t want to pay $15 for parking and I’m going to figure out a cheaper option – I don’t mind walking in a bit.

The other change for this year is that they offered a 15K option.  I have done a 15K option (of sorts) the past few years, because I’ll run the 10K and then the 5K, but this is an actual 15K race (aka 3 loops).

I mapped out where to park and gave myself a lot of extra time to navigate around that area and also to walk in to the race start.  Where I thought I would park was too close to dorms and there was pretty impacted parking and a number of permit signs to prevent parking.

Another 3 blocks away, I found lots of parking in the neighborhood (and no signs!).  It was probably about a 15 minute walk (as compared to the 10 minute walk from the paid parking lot).

The weather is quite a bit better this year (last year, ran in a torrential downpour), but it is a bit chilly.  There is a decent crowd from AREC doing the 15K – Laura, Chuck, john Ellis, Stephanie, and Jessica Centeno (in matching outfits).

My thought is that I want to run a decent first 5K, a slower next 5K, and a horrifically slow third 5K (or just run decently).  It’s certainly not a flat course, with one long uphill in the first mile, and a steep uphill at about 2.5 miles.

First loop – 24:56 (decent first 5K!)

Second loop – 25:56 (slower, but decent)

On my third loop, I stumbled on the speed bump when I got distracted by a driver wanting to drive on the course (but stopped by course monitors).  This caused my inserts to turn completely around (and wrenched my back).  So then I stopped completely to readjust the inserts and Laura passed me.

Third loop – 32:12 (horrifically slow 3rd 5K – but I did trip AND stop to fix my shoes).

Total time was 1:23:27 (way off my best) but good enough for 4th in my division and 46th overall (any time you overall your age, it’s a good day).

On the walk back to my car, I ended up meeting a UCLA alum who placed in his division in the 5K – under 18:00 for the race.  He was either a PT or in training to be so we talked about rehabbing injuries and running, etc.  Helped to pass the time on the walk back to the car.

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Twin Peaks 50K (33M) – 2017

October 14, 2017

Back again for another Twin Peaks 50K.  I got a deep discount because I volunteered all day for the Harding Hustle this summer, but I also like to help out as much as I can for this event as well, which means showing up early to help with the set-up, checking in, and all that fun stuff, before I myself go out and strive for a good result.

Laura and Angela show up fairly early, too.  There are a number of starts for this event:  early 50 milers go out at 5:00am, regular 50 milers off at 6:00am, 50 kilometers off at 7:00am, and 30 kilometers, probably off at 8:00am (I’m not sure, because I am always long gone by now.).

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There were probably 8 early starters on the 50 miler, and Laura and Angela get special consent to leave with the regular 50 miler crowd.  (Good idea, because it’s supposed to be hot today.)

While I am hanging out, I go to adjust my glasses and pull my hat off, forgetting that my headlamp is still on there.  When it falls to the ground, the plastic casing breaks and the light won’t come on any more.  (Thank goodness I’m not in the 50 miler, because I would really need the light.)  (Afterwards, at home, I try to fix it, but it hit so hard that I can’t remove the batteries and once I am finally able to do so, I have to completely break it.  Time for a new headlamp.)

Tsehay and I leave with the regular group and keep hoping beyond hope that the shadows continue to stay over the course (because once they lift, the heat will increase).

If you read previous posts of this event, you will note that I usually walk the entire first 6.5 miles of this section, because there is just so much climbing.  My goal is usually to do sub 2:05.  This is just a time I came up with that’s mildly faster than 20 minutes per mile, and usually around the range that I usually run.

I strike up a conversation with another guy towards the back.  I think this is his first ultramarathon (why’d ya pick such a hard one?) and he says that he does not like uphills… but he will definitely catch me on the downhills… a downhill specialist, he says.  I will keep an eye out for him passing me.

I would like to break 2 hours, but that has yet to happen.  2:03 makes me pretty happy, and when I get to the top, Tsehay is there.  She runs some of the uphill, but she loses a bunch of time at the aid stations, so that’s where I can catch her.

Now over to West Horsethief, which is indicated as fairly flat, but is really about a thousand feet up and down, the up section being very technical (loose gravel or tephra surface).  Four miles, one hour, and I don’t sprain my ankle!

Down West Horsethief is the section I do not like, very technical, makes me nervous.  I set out ahead of Tsehay (gabbing at the aid station) and get through the “easy” part of the trail, though some of it has washed out, making for a precipitous downhill section early on.  (Some runners slide on their butt.)

I just try and maintain a smooth descent and not trip and not bang my head (do both of those several times but moderately).  A number of folks pass me by as downhill isn’t my thing.

By the time Horsethief connects with the trail at the bottom, the sun has really come out and upped the heat, and even when I have a whole fire-trail to myself, I am just modified race walking, moving forward.  4.2 miles, 1:24… an even slower pace than that last extreme uphill/downhill section.

Now onto the dreaded Holy Jim (or Holy! expletive!).  This sucks.

My one advantage this year is that I am so familiar with this trail that I know how many turns, I recognize “checkpoints,” and so I can manage my pace more comfortably.

I may have talked about the dual water bottle situation in the past, where I always carry two, but rarely use both.  One is usually totally full the whole time… but not always.  I have been able to milk one water bottle for an eight-mile section (I guess that means two bottles will get me through 16?), but today?  Too hot for that.

I do end up going through both water bottles in this 4.5 mile section.  I am hoping that the “unmanned” water station will still be here.  Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t, but I could certainly use a refill before the 3 miles to the top.

When I get up to the road, it is water station-mageddon.  There are/were cases and cases of gallon jugs (you know, the boxes with 6 one-gallon jugs inside?).  I have a spare Nuun tablet in one of my water bottle pouches and I drop this into one of the unopened gallon jugs.  I use it to refill both of my water bottles.

Then, I grab one of the bottles that is probably 1/4 full and down the whole thing.  Then I find a completely full box and sit down on it (ahhh) and find another partially filled bottle and drink that.  I was probably there 20 minutes and drank AT LEAST one gallon of water. I must’ve been pretty pretty dehydrated. 2 hours and 16 minutes to this point.  I am excited about doing 20 minute miles on this section (especially when my personal worst one year was 45 minutes per mile).

Tsehay catches up to me here and we set off on the long slog (3 miles, 1600′ climbing) to the summit of Santiago Peak.  It is steep at the beginning, but when it levels off, we are into the sun and out of the shade.  Just keep moving forward is what’s important.  We stay together for a bit but I am a little faster on the uphills.

The first 1.5 miles takes 46 minutes and then onto the steeper section (and more technical) for another 51 minutes.  When I get to the top, a couple of the leaders in the 50 miler are coming up for their second summit (somewhat sad realizing that I am going to run 20 fewer miles and slower than these guys).

I open up my drop bag (in which I have stored spare Nuun, duct tape, and a ice-cold beer).  I have been looking forward to this cold beer for miles now, but don’t hold out a lot of hope that it will still be cold 8 hours later.  Sure enough, it’s warm to the touch.  I have a bottle opener in my water bottle pocket (just useful to have and doesn’t take up much space).

It’s pretty foamy when I open it (maybe the elevation?) and the beer is extremely hot – not room temperature hot, but hot soup hot!  Nevertheless, I am going to drink this well-earned beer.  Neither Angela nor Tsehay are particularly interested.

Time to head down.  I have about 10.5 miles to go, and pretty confident that I am not going to cover the distance in under an hour, so not going to break my PR on this course.  It’s 90% downhill from here, though a lot of it is technical, so it won’t be fast going.  I am also mindful of the “downhill specialist” overtaking me, so I am not going to pussyfoot it.

I take the initial 1.5 miles (to the “parking lot”) easily.  The “downhill specialist” is still on his way up, so I can use this opportunity to stay ahead.  It takes me about half the time (but this does include my beer stop) in 27 minutes.

Now to head down Upper Holy Jim.  This section has its pluses and minuses.  What I like about the trail is that it’s mostly single track and not terribly technical.  What I don’t like is the sections where I have to bend in half to get through, the couple of gravely downhill hairpins, and the “quarter-track” sections where I have to walk single-file, because I cannot fit both feet on the path (my balance isn’t THAT great).  But what I also like is that this covers essentially the same distance as the uphill from (regular) Holy Jim to the “parking lot” and this is WA-A-A-Y easier – 25 minutes versus 46 minutes.

Once I reach the Main Divide (and the radio folks, there’s a little over a mile to get to the top of Indian Truck Trail and the 6.5 miles downhill to the finish.  It’s rolling hills.  I struggle on the ups and shuffle on the downs (’cause my feet hurt now) and it takes me about 20 minutes.  Tsehay is there and chatting and just about to take off for the last stretch.  (She’s the “real” downhill specialist and my only chance to beat her is to leave her chatting there.)

The last stretch isn’t purely downhill (a half-mile uphill stretch about a mile out) but it is pretty endless.  I run when I feel OK and I walk briskly the rest of the time.

The whole way down I spot these carved out hearts in the middle of the road (with a stick, presumably).  I want to preserve for whoever these were carved for, but most encompass the entire fire-road and I’m not going to run off a cliff for something so fleeting (more on this later).

I manage to cross the finish line in 11:16:39, less than 10 minutes behind Tsehay and about 3 hours behind Laura (started early AND beat me by an hour).  Angela’s not far behind us, though she did have that hour head-start.  And the “downhill specialist?”  He finished about 15 minutes behind me, but he said that all he thought about was catching me.  Well, this “uphill specialist” beat ya!

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After I get myself rehydrated and fed, I continue to help out with finishers and with packing stuff up.

As it gets dark, there is some concern about the final straggler in the 50 miler.  His wife has been pacing back and forth at the finish line (she ran the 30K and carved out all those road messages) wondering why he hasn’t finished yet.  It’s the usual, “But he left the last aid station 2 hours ago.”  I can tell you that when I did the 50 miler, it was a haul when you are so tired and even harder in the dark.

When the time limit came and went, we packed up most of everything just to be prepared, but left the finish line up (and the timing’s just on computers).  Suddenly, we spot a headlamp bobbing down the trail – the final finisher.  (Unlike some races, here if the RD lets you continue, you get a finish and a time, even if you are over the limit.)

His wife was beside herself, but couldn’t help asking him if he saw all her little love messages.  His answer, “Nope.  It was pitch black out there and it was all I could do to stay on the road.”

2017 marks 5 total Twin Peaks finishes for me (4 50Ks, 1 50M) and I can still say that this race, this trail, this wilderness is still a total challenge for me.  I would recommend any trail enthusiast to try it but not expect to run your best.

Shadow of the Giants 50K (29.2M) – 2017

June 3, 2017

Decided to travel up for a third year and run Shadow of the Giants 50K again because it is a nice drive, nice run, and beautiful terrain.  Stephanie Harris accompanied me once again and this time, we brought a parks pass with us so we didn’t have to pay the fee to drive around Yosemite Park (Jessica Centeno was to come with us but got sick at the last moment, but thanks for the pass (and dinner!).).

We did much of what we did last year, which was look at Half Dome (more crowded), and go view Bridalveil Falls (really crowded, but we did get a parking spot where all the wheels of my car were submerged).  We couldn’t even really go up to the Falls because there was so much water coming down.

Instead, we ended up hiking a bit away from the falls, hoping to get a better view.  We kept saying, “We’ll go to the Capitan Bridge, but we never found a Capitan Bridge.”  (Hmm…)

We texted briefly with Laura and Chuck.  Thought they might join us in the park but they may have left too late to do so (and I think, planned to go afterwards).

When we got back to the Outdoor School (the staging area for the race and where we spend the night), Laura and Chuck were just arriving.  We staked out a claim in one of the cabins (don’t see the Japanese folks this year, so maybe no drama) and then headed over to the mess hall for dinner.

I had not paid for dinner but ended up with Jessica C’s dinner ticket.  The cook made two huge lasagnas (one vegetarian, one meat) and both were really good, plus some salad (which I ate a ton of).

They were showing footage of Western States stuff on the screen (something about the guy that DNF’ed (while leading at Mile 99.9) and then coming back and completing the race 10 years later with his son watching.  Then Baz talked about the race and the new race director talked about the course. Nothing special different.

At the dinner, we also saw Megan Stone and Darrell Price (from Ridgecrest).  They are running tomorrow but not staying here (nearby, though).  Tomorrow will be Megan’s first ultramarathon, so we talk the usual strategy (walk hills, drink plenty, etc.).

We go to bed relatively early (say, 9pm) and an older (55) Asian lady in our cabin is talking about starting early with Bill Dickey.  There is an early start at 6am, but they are planning to go out at 5am.  Even though Stephanie would probably be fine starting out with everyone else, it IS easier not to be at the back from the get-go and all the way to the finish.  I guess I’ll find out when they leave whether she went early or EXTRA-early!

I sleep OK, at least not stressfully and dreaming of being punched by some Japanese jerk (like last year).  I am able to roll out of bed and utilize the toilet without having to wait.  When I get back into the room, someone’s alarm is going off (for over 20 minutes).  When Laura gets back from the bathroom, we realize it’s her alarm (what alarm continues to go off for 20 minutes?!?).

We go and hang out in the mess hall awaiting the start.  I see several familiar faces – the aforementioned Megan and Darrell, Rob McNair (Legacy of this race and my buddy from HB), Tricia Keane (LAH3), and Karin Usko (Ridgecrest).  It is pretty seldom now that I go to a race without recognizing at least one person (or someone recognizing me).

Looks like it is going to be a hot day!  I am not concentrating on improving my time (by 1 second last year) but just finishing and not falling and breaking another limb.

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Race starts out and we immediately start climbing the paved road and then onto the dirt road.  Everyone passes me (pretty much) except those like me who are walking.  Running uphill is  not the answer (especially if you’ve started out at 5,000 feet already!), people!

At the top of the hill, the 20K folks veer away (pretty much everyone around me) and we start running downhill to the turnaround, where we are sometimes greeted by Baz.  I finish this 3.3M section in 49:51 (or around 15 minutes per mile).  For an added stat, I am wearing my Garmin and after the fact, it tells me what my fastest per mile pace was on any part of this section (and it says I was doing 5:24/mile at one point – maybe for a nanosecond!).

At the turnaround, we.. turn around and head back up the hill, so I am walking until I get to the top.  I have forgotten how this section goes.  Feel like you get to the top of the original hill and then it flattens out, but really, it continues climbing, and there are endless turns to the aid station (which I have marked as 3 miles away, but it is really 4.6, which is somewhat aggravating).

Because there is so much uphill, I average 15:50 per mile (8:50 fastest pace for another millisecond).

Now it does flatten out and there is a lengthy downhill section, both on paved surface and on somewhat technical surface.  At the bottom of the hill is a campground, and a water crossing.  In the past two years (of drought), this has been a mild crossing, almost possible to get across without getting your shoes wet, but this year it is considerably deeper.

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I arrive about the same time as Laura so we hold hands as we go across (more balance for her as it is waist-deep on her).  It’s super COLD!  At the other side, we are greeted by Baz, who has his usual colorful language (both by mouth and by signage) – something about ladies can cool off if they remove clothing.  His buddy, at the aid station sees me and remembers my high five with Baz at his Bluejay Campground run a few years back.

I spy the back of a truck bed and suggest that Baz can stand on that if he wants to do another high five with me.  (He scoffs at me and lovingly calls me a love-making term.)  This is a short 2 mile section which takes around 30 minutes.

Now we ascend out of the area, the uphill serving as a method of shoe draining.  Laura and I are briefly together, but I forge ahead with the knowledge that she will catch up to me at any time.

At the top of the hill, you head back down for a time, and then turn right onto a fire road and climb until you get to the aid station – a long four miles (again around 15/mile).

Here it is where we turn onto the single-track and into the woods.  I keep going back and forth with a kid in odd running clothing.  It is the sort of back and forth where I catch up and then he takes off.

Eventually, we have some conversation and he is 18 years old and when his mom decided to do this race, he and his siblings wanted to run as well (but only he was allowed to go).  Think this is his first race ever.  And his name is Zenyn, so of course, the two weirdly named guys get along.

It’s nice because neither of us is changing our own pace in order to run with the other; we just catch up, slow down, whatever is needed for our own run, and if we are together, we have a nice talk.

This section is the part where I do have to watch my step particularly, because in the past (and this year is no exception), it is technical and covered with small twigs, low-hanging branches, and varying up- and down-hill sections.

When I enter the soft dirt of the fire road, and pass by a number of parked cars and campers, I know that I am getting close to the next aid station.  This is the longest section, with 5.6 miles between aid.

I catch up to a female runner, Debbie Sexton.  She recognizes me from the Sunmart 50M. (See?)  She is also FB friends with my buddies from Sunmart (Dave, Jerry, and Gary).  We walk/run together for a while, almost until we get to the Shadow of the Giants Aid Station (another ~15 minute/mile section).

This the aid station where you can leave your stuff behind for a mile, if you want, because it is only 1.1 miles for the Shadow of the Giants loop.

I kind of hate this section because it has a lot of up and down, usually a bunch of tourists and seems to take forever, and sure enough, I do have to stop twice for tourists for photos (of the real sequoias, not me).

When I get back (16:49 per mile, see?), the aid station is totally out of water.  To rehydrate in this hot weather, at least I have some pieces of watermelon to keep me sane.  Megan is just coming into the aid station for the first time as I am leaving.

Now I exit out of this section and begin the long slow ascent back to the aid station we encountered before the turn-off into the single-track.  I catch up to an elegant black lady in a pink LASAA shirt named Egzine, but she later passes me when the angle is more to her liking.

Again, this section seems endless (4.6 miles, mostly uphill) but when I hear Russian-sounding music in the distance, I feel like I must be almost there, and I’ve maintained a 15:52/mile pace (pretty consistent on the 14-17/mile pace I have to say).

Now all that remains is 3.6 miles to the finish, with my favorite section (not just because it is at the end) which is single-track, lots of turns, climbing over logs, slipping on pine needles, and crossing a bridge.  It is also mostly downhill and most of the previous finishers will be there to applaud me in when I arrive.

Zenyn and Egzine beat me by two minutes (which is not much in the scheme of things), and I finish in 7:19:55 (about 40 minutes slower than last year), but in running downhill in the last section, I do get my total average time under 15:00/mile (14:57/mile).

Megan comes in about 5 minutes later, followed by Laura 30 minutes later.  Laura had some difficulty because there was no water at the Shadow aid station.  She ended up drinking water from a stream flowing across the road (and by stream, I mean, lightly flowing puddles). Wow, bad.

We wait basically until the last finisher comes across and that is Zenyn’s mom, 90 minutes after me.

I am pretty happy with my time given that I ran at almost identical pace to what I did one month ago at Wild Wild West 50K.  I did run 12 ultras in 12 months, but it does take its toll.

My next race should be Skyline 50K in August (but I am planning to volunteer at Harding Hustle next month).

Avalon 50M – 2017

January 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High Desert 50K – 2016

December 4, 2016

Angela and I drove up to Ridgecrest yesterday.  We made arrangements again with Darrell and Megan to stay at their place which is only about a mile from the start.  Laura, Dulce, and Stephanie are coming up, too, but I felt bad that we couldn’t offer them a place to stay (we just need to ask Darrell and Megan ahead of time or offer something nice).  They are in a different house than last year, but it is in the same housing tract.

We did all meet to eat together, though, which was nice.  It’s particularly cold here, so that seems to bode well that it should be colder for the race.

At the start, I have a special gift for my friend Ethan.  I cut out a laminated “5” for him to pin on, since today is his 5th Ridgecrest High Desert 50K and will get the special pullover when he finishes.

Also present Ethan’s wife, a few other hashers, and Sandy Binder (whose husband runs ultras, but I haven’t known her to do so).  I jokingly ask Sandy if she is running to win, and she enigmatically says, “Maybe.

My goals today are to try and push it harder on the flat and downhill sections and not walk as much on the uphill sections (but listen to my body).

I start by running a little bit more on the initial paved hill and up into the rolling hills section.  Once you get to this part, it tends downhill so there isn’t a reason to walk as much.  At the first aid station (soon after which the 30K and 50K part ways), I manage 50:44, a 9:12 pace.  (Extrapolating out, 9:12/mile for 31 miles would be an hour PR on the distance!)

Once the 30K diverges, there is a long section of a slight uphill.  I have had the tendency to walk all of this, so I force myself to run stretches of it.  (Note:  Forcing myself to run and running slowly are different.  Here, I am pushing the pace and not running uphill slower than I can walk.)

I go a little slower on this section, a 9:48/mile pace, but still maintain an overall sub 10:00/mile pace (5:10 still would be a big PR, but it’s way early.)

The next 2.5 miles go up a considerably longer hill, which is also more technical and it’s not practical to run much of this at all, but once I get to the top of the hill, I can start jogging/running again.  This aid station is the famous “We Love the 49ers and Christmas” aid station, except no one is wearing Niners garb.  I ask if it is because they are so bad this year, and a gal surreptitiously whispers, “Yes.”  My pace in this section is 14:00/mile (a brisk walk) and drops my overall pace to 10:27/mile (In order to PR, I would need to average 11 and change.)

Now a mostly downhill, but dense dirt section for two-and-a-half miles and I maintain the 10-and-change pace.  I have been going back and forth with a lot of the same people.  I haven’t seen Angela yet (she started early, but I am hoping not to catch her until the end, if at all) and Darrell is behind me.  I saw Laura at the beginning, but I assume she is still behind and I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Ethan or Sandy (who is MAYBE in front).

The one gal that I strike up a nice conversation with is Karin Usko, who used to live in El Salvador, but she is also German, so we can speak in Spanish, English, AND German (my first three languages).  She is local to Ridgecrest and I later learn that she makes Happy Gaiters.  (I also ran really briefly with Shannon Farar-Griefer, who is the founder of the Moeben sleeves (named after her sons).)

On now to another 3-odd miles with a mostly uphill bent.  I’m not running as much on these sections.  Feeling like I will not run a PR, but I would like to at least run a comparable 50K (to Cool rather than Twin Peaks), something in the sub-6:30 range.  This is another 14:00/mile section, ballooning my average to 11:12/mile.

Leading into the penultimate aid station at Gracie’s Mansion, where I have my first half beer, the sections seem to swing between generally uphill section, or generally downhill section and I am either doing about 11-12 minutes per mile OR 15-16 minutes per mile, but at least I am keeping my overall average under 12 minutes (which equals 6:24).  I would be happy to finish with that average.

From Gracie’s to Last Gasp is 3.7 miles, with mostly downhill.  I start to press the pace again, because it IS downhill and I can run downhills (when I am not cramping… and I’m not cramping).  Former race director Christopher Rios is there and I get my second beer, though I cannot hang out there too long.  I have pulled my interim pace to 11:06 and brought my overall average down six seconds, ending an inexorable slide to worse and worse times.

If I can finish the last 1.7 miles in 15 minutes (doable, but tough at this point), I would break 6 hours for the first time in over 10 years.

Alas, it is not to be.  I finished in 6:05:14, which is my best time in 12 years, so that’s pretty awesome.  Someone mentions that I should utilize Age Grade to compare this time with my best here (5:47:06) back in 2004.  Age Grade is a comparison tool that figures out what your equivalent time is if compared to the ideal age (which I think is 25).

So, if you run a 5:47 50K at age 34, it is like running a 5:44 50K at 25 (since your ability probably doesn’t drop off that much from 25 to 34).  But, if you run a 6:05 at age 45, the Age Grade equivalent is 5:43.  So in essence, given that I have aged, my High Desert 50K is my best ever (just not my PR).  Pretty remarkable that I did so well in a year when I fractured my elbow.

Angela came in about an hour after I did (2 hours, technically), Ethan got his 5-run pullover, and Sandy did not win the race… she was the second female, though.

Hoka One One Postal 2M – 2016

November 10, 2016

A special event at Chittick Field was posted for tonight, so I met Laura at the field so we could participate in the rare 2 mile event.  It looks like most of the participants are high school students and they are breaking the race apart into heats based upon likely finishing time.

We aren’t put in the first race since that race is for students that are attending a dance and need to get going.  Our race is the second race and it is Laura, me, a 9 year-old girl, and three high school freshman (probably the “slow” ones).

Two miles is an odd distance and given that I have a hard time pacing in a 5K, I will now have one fewer mile to figure out pacing here.

On the first lap, the three boys went out fast through the first turn, and my immediate thought was that I need to stay with them, but by the end of the first lap, I had not only stayed with them, but pulled ahead and put some distance between us (too fast!).

My goal now was to hold on (not accelerate) for as long as I could.  Even if the boys caught up to me, I had still done well (as long as I didn’t have to stop and walk or fall over).

I came through my first mile in 6:55, but knew I could not maintain that pace for the final 4 laps.  I had also noticed that 2 of the 3 boys had made up some of the initial gap I established in the first two laps. Must… hold… on.

Laura was just a bit behind me (well, behind the boys, but in no danger of being lapped).  All of us had lapped the girl, but unless she was a star, it would be embarrassing if we didn’t lap her at least once.

My energy was flagging on that last lap.  The nearest of the boys was coming on strong and blew by me in the final 100 yards, but it was close, as I came in 14:12.  Laura was only 30 seconds back.  (The little girl came in under 18 minutes.)

The timer/LB Poly coach said to me that he couldn’t believe I had a sub-7 mile in me (my PR is 5:56 and all of my half marathon on down PRs are at sub-7 pace).  I smiled and hoped that he meant, “at age 45,” rather than he couldn’t believe I could break 7 minutes.

Laura got a trucker cap for her time or something about winning her age group (but honestly, we were the only Masters there).

We stayed and watched the other heats.  The best was the final one where they had a ringer (I think the only other one over 21.) who came through (by a bunch) under 10 minutes.  Fast!  (I wonder how he would do in a trail 50K…)

Twin Peaks 50K – 2016

October 15, 2016

Prior to committing to running the North Face Challenge Race in Utah, I committed to volunteering for the Twin Peaks race, as there is no race director I respect more than Jessica DeLine.  She always does her best to put on a great event, tries to get anyone who wants to get to the finish to the finish, and charges a reasonable amount for her events.

However, once I was unable to finish North Face, I still wanted to do an ultra for this time period.  I told Jessica I would like to run the 50K (and I had already volunteered earlier in the year for Harding Hustle and obtained a 50% discount), but that I would also like to volunteer before and after the event.

So, instead of just rolling up a little bit before my start at 7am, I arrived at the start at 4:30am.  I helped to set up EZ-Ups, tables, and then began checking everyone in.  I think I handed out almost every number for the 50M and 50K.

I also helped getting together supplies for the aid stations and loading them, and then I got myself ready to go.  Also joining me at the start line was Tsehay (who I helped convince drop down to the 50K), Jeffrey McKinney and Yen Darcy.  Angela Holder and Laura started earlier (for more time and to beat the heat).  I would prefer to start earlier, too, because I like to avoid the heat, too.

If we flash back to a few years ago, when the race was cancelled and then reinstated, I did a post-dawn start and only made 19 miles before I got severely overheated.

The very first hill is 6.5 miles and 2000’+ climbing.  I know I have to take it really easy.  In the beginning, I am with Yen and Tsehay, but they are actually running up the hill.  I know this course too well to be running up the hill.  If I can get to the top between 1:45 and 2:15, I will be very happy.  (1:54, awesome.)

The next section is the flattest section, with about 1000′ of climbing and 900′ of descent.  This is also the section last year where I severely twisted my ankle, so I just want to move at a respectable pace (anything under an hour for four miles).  (58 minutes, good).  I am still behind Tsehay and have not caught up to Angela (go, Angela!).

Now, the “fun” part.  This is the West Horsethief section.  I am super-familiar with this and can tell you each of the twists and turns.  Although it is significantly downhill, I know that much of it is not that run-able (more so for me because of low-hanging branches), but at least it is downhill.  My 1:16 on this section is considerably slower than the last hillier section but I make it through safely.

If you compare  my times on these first three sections to how I ran the first three sections last year, I have picked up a bit of time and am about one hour net gain at this point.

On the beginning part of Holy Jim, which is “relatively” flat, I do finally catch up with Tsehay.  She is so surprised about the difficulty of the downhill section of W. Horsethief.  She thought she would pick up all sorts of time running down the hill, but it was quite the opposite.

I told her she would have a very special celebration when she finishes the race (which is really 32.5 miles and not 31.0), because 2016 marks 32 years in the USA.  She really liked that idea.

So, now to the tough part of Holy Jim.  Three years ago, it took me 3:07 to do the 4.5 miles.  Stand alone, I have completed this section in under 2 hours.  Today, I do 1:53, but on the last scramble up to the road, I am pretty tired, and not at all ready for the next 3 miles.

I hear a familiar voice.  “C’mon, Emmett, I’m waiting for you.”  I don’t think Angela was very pleased with the expletives that ensued from my mouth, but I was in a bad mood and didn’t need encouragement.  I just wanted to get through it.  I sat down on the water bottles, drank a bunch of water, refilled my bottles and endured flies dive bombing me.  I was in the shade and they don’t venture as much into the sun, but I wasn’t about to sit in the sun.

Now, up the endless 3 miles to the summit of Santiago Peak, almost all in the sun, and almost all steep and steeper on difficult terrain.  One hour, 37 minutes.  A loss of about 10 minutes over my time last year.  (Net gain, though.)  We did get to see Laura briefly, but she is way ahead of us (because she is faster and started early).

Angela and I are still sticking together and encouraging one another.  She is going faster than I am down Upper Holy Jim, but the downhill single-track is not my greatest skill.  Still, I do better on the 3 mile section downhill than uphill (54 minutes versus 97).

On the last 6.5 miles, Angela and I mostly stay together.  I do wait with her while she takes a potty break (can’t believe they didn’t cart a port-a-potty right up to where she needed it mid-course), but after a while, her pace is a bit too slow for me, and I take off on my own.  (I do have a chance to improve upon my best course time from 4 years ago, if I press my pace a bit.)

My final time ends up being a bit slower than my up pace (surprisingly) – 1:59 – to finish in 10:34, only 10 minutes slower than my best.  (I know 10 minutes sounds like a lot, but it’s 20 seconds/mile.)

Once I am a bit more recovered, I head back a bit to meet Angela and “shepherd” her in.  I grab her hand and run in with her.  It’s a really nice moment.

For the next couple hours, I assist finishers with food and drinks, and I perform some gopher duties.  One of the most exciting moments was the finish of Randall Tolosa, who gets his first finish after 5 tries (and he didn’t start early).

Once the last finisher comes through and the drop bags come down, now I start helping with the packing up of everything – dismantling EZ-ups, tables, packing up food, etc.  As a treat, I get one of the In-N-Out Burgers they bought for the volunteers.  Even though it’s cold, it’s really good.

I get home at about midnight, so I had almost a 24-hour day.

Looking forward to next year’s event, whether I run it, volunteer at it, or both.