Tag Archives: Lauren

Skyline 50K – 2016

August 7, 2016

The race is back to Sunday again.  I liked last year when the race was on Saturday.  On the one hand, I had to run the day after I drove up, but conversely, I had a day to recover and hang out with my family on the way back.

Then again, Mom and Dad aren’t around this weekend because of Dad’s HS reunion this weekend in Southern California.  I suspect that we are passing each other in Central California.  I did, however, get to have a nice BFT dinner with my sister Marisa and our friend Shauna and watched some of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (though not exactly conducive to getting a good night’s sleep before a long race).

The course this year is a bit different, having to do with some construction going on around the dam area (dam it), so we will start out in the same direction as at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50M and work our way over to Bort Meadow from a different direction.  On the map, you cannot really tell how different it will be or if it will be tougher, but if we are heading in the direction that the original Skyline Course used to end, there are some dramatic uphills that I don’t necessarily want to tackle.

For the past few years, starting with Skyline 50K 2013, I create a laminated pace sheet to carry with me and on the back side, I do some kind of dedication (starting with an inspiration to my HS friend, Brian Kelly, who unfortunately died at 42 the day before the race).  Last year, Skyline was my 100th marathon or ultra (27 mararathons, 73 ultras) so I dedicated it to the 10 people who most influenced me getting into running.

Today, I am at a different milestone – my 80th ultramarathon, so I have decided to dedicate it to eight people I met while running ultras that made a difference in my life.  (See attached PDF for the pictures.)skylinepace16

First is Ken Michal.  I met him as we passed in the dark during the Santa Barbara 100M/100K.  Later, I learned he had spent 8 hours in a port-a-pottie because the aid station blew off the mountain and it was the warmest spot available.  We have since met at many other events, and he is a pretty amazing (All Day!) athlete.

Next is Amy Dodson, who I first met at American River 50M in 2010.  She had a lung and leg removed as a teenager, so she is hard to miss.  I thought she was another one-legged athlete, Amy Palmeiro-Winters, who had run the North Face Challenge a year prior, and when I asked her if her name was Amy, who knew that there was more than one Amy with a prosthetic leg running an ultra?  We ran a few miles together, but our real great experience was at Miwok the following year when we ran together for several hours.  I received the “brunt” of good wishes as fellow competitors cheered us (her mostly) on.

Next, a pair together, Dave McCaghren and Jerry Hollingsworth, who I met perchance at the Sunmart 50M pre-race dinner.  Pretty much I sat down at a lonely table because I didn’t really know anyone from the Texas location of the race.  We ended up on the same race shuttle to, and from the race, had cocktails at the hotel post-race, and ended up breakfasting the next morning, too.  A few years later, I stayed with Jerry and a friend the night before my first (and so far, only) 100 miler, the Rocky Raccoon.

At the Santa Barbara 100M (attempt #2 where the race didn’t actually get cancelled), I got lost and then fell apart by Mile 29 (though more than 30 miles for me at that point).  When I got back to the finish (to then help out and cheer people in), I met a guy from Long Beach (that I never knew before) who had some ultra experience (including Barkley).  I haven’t (yet) given into some of his insanity, but he (and dog Lacey) were invaluable in pacing me at Twin Peaks 50M last year (my first and only pacer to date).

A few years ago at Skyline, I ran a few miles with another early starter.  She was no slow runner, just starting early because her friend was.  We are not really alike and follow different tracks in life, but I have always enjoying running and talking with her (and reading about her various trail and ultra adventures).  Meg Deverin Cheng and I met up again at the start (and finish) line today.

Two years ago, at the High Desert 50K in Ridgecrest, I ran cumulatively a few hours with Darrell Price, ten years my junior and local to Ridgecrest (and occasionally works in Long Beach, too).  Both of us are big guys (I’m taller, naturally.) so we had that to commiserate about.  Last year, I stayed with him at his house less than a mile from the Start Line, and hope to do so again this year.

Finally, Laurin Miertschin, who I met at Twin Peaks 50M my first year.  Both of us ended up doing the 50K drop down.  She has also ventured out on my hash events, and convinced me to run a number of tough local races.  I hope she gets back out there soon since she seems to be injured a lot these days.

Besides, my eight ultrabuddies motivating me to do well, I did a countdown of my 8th most favorite ultramarathons and the 8th hardest ones.  (If you are on FB, you can revisit my posts from July 29 to August 6th.)

Something different that I am doing today is wearing my GPS watch to both see where I am on the course and also, it shows me my best pace on each section.  I always have a vague idea of where I am on the course, but I also enjoy knowing EXACTLY where I am at.

The race starts out on time and they recognize the folks who have done 10+ Skylines.  This year is my 9th.  Hoping for some special giveaway next year.

As mentioned above, the course is different and we are heading towards the suspension bridge.  I wonder if it will be crowded when we get there as for Dick Collins I had to wait 2-3 minutes to cross, so I hung back a bit… but when I get there, we go, not over the bridge, but around it.  That’s kind of disappointing.  I hope to cross it en route to the finish, just because I feel like that makes the whole race for me.

After the bridge, we go to the right (in the final miles, we come from the left) and begin heading up a fairly steep road.  I have to walk this.  At the first aid station (a mere 5K from the start), I’ve done 38:37, so a pretty slow start.  GPS says that my fastest pace was 6:30 (probably a short downhill stretch).

The course continues paralleling a paved road, and crossing it a couple times.  After about 3 miles, the terrain becomes familiar and I know I am on the path to Bort Meadows.  I don’t like the trail leading there, because it is single-track and rutted, which is not great to run on.  At least it is still overcast.  Four miles more, 50-odd minutes, a much better average pace.  If I want to break 7 hours, I will need to get a better pace in soon.

From Bort to Big Bear (basically the Fish Ranch Road crossing) is around 3 miles, a mile-and-a-half of gentle uphill and a mile-and-a-half of decently steep downhill.  I am always reminded that we have to do this in reverse.  Another 38 minutes here (but that does include stopping just before the aid station to put my inserts facing forward again (they slip because my shoes don’t fit perfectly)).

Once I cross Fish Ranch Road, it’s a bunch of single-track, uphill, mostly familiar trail, but then we do take a slightly different route to get up to Skyline Gate, a more circuitous route.  It just makes the long uphill suck more.  Four more miles, 63 minutes.  It’s looking less likely that I can break 7 hours.  Yes, my total time is 3:11 and I am just about halfway there, but I know there are some sections ahead where I will definitely lose more time.

Marisa and Shauna meet me at Skyline Gate and I convince them to at least walk with me to the French Trail turn-off.  It’s nice having some familiar company.

French Trail is a steep downhill and there were a bunch of people hiking on it.  This is my best chance to make up a little bit of time, before I lose a bunch of time later (as my feet hurt more and more as the event goes on – last year, I wore the better cushioned Hokas, this year, the shoes aren’t as soft).

Unfortunately, it isn’t ALL downhill, and on the really steep uphill, I got a bit gassed out and then my feet started to hurt more than usual.  (Might be a recurrence of my plantar fasciitis.)  According to the GPS, 5.7 miles in 100 minutes (so not really picking up any time).

Now, I have the 3 mile segment, in reverse, with the steep uphill and the gentle downhill.  I am struggling more than usual on the uphill portion.  Typically, my times in either direction are comparable (within 5 minutes of each other), but I was 10 minutes off in the reverse direction.  Even on the downhill, I don’t feel like running.

From Bort Meadows, I now have over 5 miles to Honker Bay, and if I remember this section correctly, it seems like a whole lot more than 5 miles.  You essentially parallel some of the earlier trail and then there are a number of long switchbacks uphill and then a slight drop, and then more and more uphill.  I know that when I get to the treeline, well, I’m not getting any closer.  Feels closer, but never is exactly.

I am watching my GPS overall time, and at this point, I am just hoping to get to Honker Bay in under 7 hours… but officially, 7:00:09.

Now there is about 2.3 miles to the finish, and hopefully I get to have the soothing bounce of the suspension bridge to carry me through to the end.  Now I am in the sun of the day and my feet are really sore.  I am just trying to get through the last bit.  (I mean, I WILL, but it is a struggle.)

When I get to the bridge, it is disappointing that we are going around it again; I will talk to the race director.  We should be going across it at least once… that’s the best part that I look forward to.

Once across the bridge, it is paved to the finish.  I try and walk briskly on the uphills and flats and shuffle/soar on the downhill sections.  I am able to pass a few stragglers in this part, and get to the finish in 7:46:38.  Definitely one of my slowest times, though, given that it was a different course, it is a personal best on this particular course!

I can’t hang out very long at the finish line as I need to drive back to Southern California afterwards (stopping first to shower and pack up at my folks’).

Looking forward to at least 20 more ultras and to reach 100!






Twin Peaks 50M – 2015

October 17, 2015

My history with Twin Peaks goes back a few years.  In my first attempt (2012), there was a fatality on the freeway, and I started 45 minutes late.  Even though the race director said that she would give me an extra 45 minutes to finish, it took me over 8 hours for the first 25 miles, and I was not confident that I could finish the second 25 (actually 27.5 miles) in 9 hours, especially with more tough hills.  Fortunately, the race has a “wimp-out” option and I finished the 50K in 10:50.

In 2013, the race was cancelled because of the government shutdown, but resurrected as a 50K “Fat Ass” a few days later.  I tried to do the 50K (regular 8am “hot” start) and fell apart really early on, like Mile 7, and when I got to the Holy Jim section, it was all I could do to get through the 4.5 miles in 3 hours, 7 minutes.  (No, that is not a typo.)  I had to get a ride back down because I was so tired.

In 2014, I tried again, and did a bit better, but still was not able to finish the full 50M (“only” the 50K), but my time was about an hour faster.  I joked with the race director, my buddy Jessica DeLine, that if I could start extra extra extra early, maybe I could finish.  She said she might be open to me starting earlier than the early start.

I don’t know if I intended on running Twin Peaks in 2015, but in early 2015, my friend Lauren Miertschin (who I met at the finish line of the 2012 Twin Peaks), was turning 50, and expressed a desire to finish the race for her 50th birthday year.  I said that I was in, if I could convince the RD to let us start at, say, midnight. (The official early start is at 5am.)

I also somehow convinced Angela Holder to enter the race as well.  I didn’t know if she was up for a super difficult 50 Mile course as her FIRST 50 mile course, but she was certainly game to give it a try, especially if she, Lauren, and I could start extra (to the third power) early.

One thing that we intended on doing to prepare ourselves for the race was to get super familiar with the course.  Over the years, in essence, I know the course pretty well, but the purpose was to get ourselves solidly familiar with every twist and turn and come up with a strategy to get through this race.

If you read my post about the Bun Run 3M in late August, I suffered a Grade 2 Ankle Sprain trying to familiarize myself with the course.  A few days earlier, I had maybe sprained my thumbs (I know it sounds weird, but I hyper-extended them on a fall.).

Three weeks ago, Angela and I did a 23-mile training run on part of the course, mostly to see if my ankle could handle the strain (wore my ankle brace) but was super nervous on some steep single-track trail on Upper Holy Jim (25 minute miles on the downhill!).

The upshot of all this training was that I was super familiar with the course, and could tell you every hairpin turn on each section of the trail.  One thing I find in many ultras is that parts of the trail all look alike, so knowing how many turns there are, helps you to know how close you are to the next aid station.  I guess it could also be demoralizing if you are not moving that fast, but I liked knowing where I was on a particularly tough section.

As the date of the race neared, I made sure that I negotiated the opportunity for an early start, and Angela was nervous that she would not be allowed to start with me.  By this time, Lauren had decided not to run the race after all, so it would just be the two of us.  Jessica had said, “Yes, you can start early,” but had not specified a time when we could start. (Give me an inch; I’ll take a mile.)

Angela and I talked it over, trying to figure out our best strategy.  More important than the starting time, was being able to finish by the finishing time.  On the front end, it is simply knowing the course, but on the back end, it’s not making volunteers stay beyond the end, and finishing before the course closes.  It’s easier to appeal to an early start rather than an extended finish.

On Friday afternoon, I wrapped my ankle with KT tape, but it was not sticking really well, so I also wore my Neoprene ankle brace over my sock, hoping it would hold it into place, but I decided to wear all these layers anyway, just to be on the safe side.  If anything, it will provide a little extra padding, because I won’t wear my Hokas (since I sprained my ankle on this exact trail wearing them).

At about 4pm, Angela met me at my condo and we headed out to Corona to pick up our race numbers.  Traffic was BAAAD (but no fatalities).  Had a little trouble finding the hotel, but we weren’t too late to pick up our numbers (that would have been bad, since we were starting way early).

They had some pizza at the check-in, so we each had a piece and chatted with Jessica and her check-in volunteer.  I reminded them we were starting early.  Jessica tried to pin us down on what time.  I kept saying, “Really early.  Really really really early.”  Jessica said, “Four?”  (Ha ha.)  “Um… probably 2am, but we considered starting at midnight.”

I was a little worried that she might balk, but she knew that I am familiar with the course (I even volunteered to carry a roll of ribbons with me in case the course had somehow been sabotaged) and that we would have enough supplies to get by until the aid stations got set up.


Angela and Emmett a few hours before starting Twin Peaks 50M.

We took leave of them around 8:00pm, including almost a full large pizza (not a lot of people picked up their numbers early), and then drove over to try to decide where we would “hang out” until the start.  We opted for the parking lot behind Vons.  There were, of course, all of those warning signs that said, “Customers only,” and “No overnight parking.”  We decided to go into the store, and we certainly not parking “overnight.”

Angela bought a cupcake and something to drink; I think I bought a Powerade, and then we chatted in the car for a bit.  I “napped” for a bit, but I was just running over the course in my mind (which was exhausting).

I kept getting awakened by employees cleaning up or dumping trash.  I worried that a cop would come kick us out (we were steaming up the car a bit, probably because of nervous breathing).

Around 1am, we decided to head over to the start and begin prepping ourselves to go.  The drive from Vons to the start is less than a mile, and we got a good parking spot close to the start.  There were already a few cars there, presumably people camping out near the start.

It was pretty cold outside, so I had my jacket on, as well as gloves.  I also “overdid” it on the water side, with both water bottles AND my Camelbak.  I also put a piece of duct tape with my name and number on the Camelbak, so that I could leave it at the top of Santiago along with my jacket, headlamp, and anything else I didn’t want to carry with me all day.

We both made use of the port-a-potties, where I had a tough problem getting more than one square of toilet paper at a time.  By the time we had gotten all of our ducks in a row, we had made it all the way to 1:20am.  The question was, do we go back to the now cold car and sit for another 30 minutes, or say, to heck with it, and just get going?  (I’d definitely rather have the extra 30 minutes!)  So we started, even extra earlier than the extra (x3) early start.


The first section of trail is 6.5 miles long and 3,800 feet of elevation gain.  This is the only section where I didn’t count turns, though honestly, this entire section was in the dark and I stumbled a lot… at least I had Angela’s brighter headlamp helping me in the dark.

We had an interesting episode not long after we passed by the Korean Church.  We heard all sort of screaming and howling.  It kind of felt like a scene from Deliverance.  It made us really nervous.  We decided that it either was loud Korean churchkids, and then sound was echoing, or it was some people camping up near the Main Divide and just making a lot of noise.  We never got close to or actually saw where this noise was coming from.  We saw a few lights, so maybe it was aliens.

Our goal to the top (and the theoretical aid stations) was 2 hours.  Our pacing was based upon a 17-hour finish (which is the real time limit if you start early (5am)) and then we have a margin of 3-1/2 extra hours.  If you divide that out, you can lose about 4 minutes per mile, but the goal is not to lose much time because it is harder to make up time at the end of the race, and also it is hard to translate a time change for each section of trail, because some are astoundingly harder than other sections.  We reached the top in 2:15 (2:00 + 4 x 6.5), so by an average accounting, within the margin of error and 7 minutes to tack onto the next section.

We could see (aided by headlamp) the skeleton of the aid station, basically a table or two and some boxes of water.  I took advantage of refilling my water bottles, even though I had not consumed a lot in the cold dark.

The next 4 miles has a net gain of 100 feet, but this is really misleading, because there is a long, technical climb out from the “top” of the hill, and then a scary descent.  Especially scary because this was where I sprained my ankle… during the day.  We were doing this in the dark.  It was just a bit before 4am, still an hour before the early start.

I needed quite a bit of assistance from Angela and her light.  Although we were on a wide fire road, it seemed more like being on a steep single-track.  Several times, she was nice enough to turn around and back light my way down.  I’m very grateful, because it made it a bit easier.

We reached the West Horsethief Aid Station in 1:18 (goal 1:20), and took advantage of refilling water bottles once more.

Now, we have 4.5 miles downhill with about 2,800 feet of elevation loss.  The first section is not that bad, pretty straightforward, not a lot of steep or slippery trail, but once we exit this section, there is a really rocky section, followed by 5 long switchbacks.  All of this is single-track trail, with lots of low branches (probably not as troubling for Angela), loose gravel, and sheer drop-offs to the side.  There isn’t a chance I will miss my footing, but it’s still slow going.

Once we get to the bottom of the steepest part, there’s a gentler descent through a number of creek beds.  Angela is doing better than I am on this section, so she surges ahead.  I figure I will catch up to her on the uphill, because I do a little better on that part.

When I get out to the fire-road section, I run into my friend Christopher Ferrier (who I met at the Santa Barbara races in July).  He’s taking pictures for the race, so he runs alongside and snaps some photos (which apparently don’t come out well in early morning light).  He gets my ultratall ultrarunning experience, because he is similarly ultratall.

I get down to the Holy Jim Aid Station location in 1:43 (goal 1:25).  I can hardly believe how slow a pace I managed in this section.  I obviously had to take it slowly because of my ankle, but 25 minutes per mile, downhill?  That’s so slow!

Now begins the “fun” trek up Holy Jim Trail – 4.5 miles, 2,800 feet of elevation gain.  This is a trail I know really well.  There are 17 switchbacks before the trail starts traversing the hillside in long swatches.  The trail is also marked with 0.5 mile signposts to keep you feeling like you are a slow-poke.

I catch Angela about a mile up and continue on past her, figuring we will meet up again at the top of Santiago Peak.  We trained together on these trails, so I have confidence that she will do well.  The good news for us is that it is still early, and if it gets hot, it will be later in the day.

I get to Bear Springs, the unmanned aid station in 1:55 (goal 1:25). Now maybe you can understand how you can’t make determinations on exact pace from section to section.  This part is obviously a much tougher section, and I expected to lose more time than on a downhill section.

Also, what is funny here is that I have now been out for 7 hours and 12 minutes, and it is now 8:45am.  But I don’t feel too tired… yet.

Now the climb gets more intense.  I know, I know.  If you’ve read this far, all of the hills seem tough, but in terms of elevation gain per mile, this WAS a difficult section.  There are two mile-and-a-half sections, each with 800 feet of elevation gain.  That’s 10% gain for 3 miles!

I just keep pushing forward and slogging up the hill.  I am passed by 3 guys who are running up the hill.  Running!  And the sad thing is that all of them started at 6am.  They’ve made up a 4-1/2 hour stagger in 3 hours (basically, they are twice as fast as I am).

When I get to the top of Santiago Peak, I am craving something that is not water.  I don’t necessarily need food, but I do need flavor (flavor in my water).  And guess what?  The aid station hasn’t arrived yet.  I guess I could deal with it, but the three leaders also wouldn’t get anything either.

The radio people are there, though, and give me a granola bar, and they point out the truck making progress towards the summit.  I wait the five or so minutes until the truck gets there, but I can’t get anything until the drop bags are all unpacked… so I helped with that, AND helped set up the table and pulled out all of the food, too.  I did get my Nuun tablet and the water tasted so-0 much better!  (By the way, my average pace up the hill was 28 minutes/mile!)

On the way down, I do finally encounter Angela.  She is cutting her losses.  Her knee feels off.  I try and convince her that she should just push through it, but not only doesn’t she want to push through it, she wants my car keys, because she’ll get to the finish before me (probably).  I don’t really want to give my keys up, but if I don’t, she will be stranded without a change of clothes until I finish or quit.

We discuss a few other things.  Both of us made plans to have pacers for the latter half of the race.  The earliest you can have a pacer is Mile 31.  Art Acebedo is planning on pacing Angela from that point, then back to the bottom of Upper Holy Jim at Mile 44.  This is the worst point to start pacing, as he cannot run with us to the end (well, he can, but then I would have to somehow drive him back to his car as the base of Holy Jim where his car would be parked and I don’t have four-wheel drive).  He’ll get in a good 18 mile “run,” but Angela would be on her own for the last 8 miles.

But Angela will not be running back down Holy Jim and we don’t know if she got a message to him in time not to show up.  He MAY be my pacer for 4-5 miles.

On the other hand, I made arrangements with Aaron Sorensen (who DNFed in the first third of Santa Barbara 100M like I did) to meet me at Mile 38.  I’ve given him a time range, since it is so difficult for me to figure out exactly when I get there.  His added difficulty is that Mile 38 is at the top of Indian Truck Trail (the initial 6.5 mile climb).  They are not really offering rides to pacers (well, they were, but we didn’t find out about that option until it was too late).  So, he will have to climb 6.5 miles to meet me, and then run an additional 14.5 miles with me, but at least he will be back at his car and not need a drive anywhere.  I hope that the timing will work out, but there are a lot of “ifs,” because it was already a big imposition for him to drive to Corona from Long Beach (about 50 miles) to pace me.

So, now I head back down the steep mile-and-a-half to Upper Holy Jim (or Upper Holy Jim Parking Lot, as I call it, because it kinda resembles a parking lot).  I am passed by a couple more of the top 10 folks, and I re-encounter my photographer buddy, Chris.  I do a little better on this section.  It is downhill, but it’s really rocky and ankle-turning, but I manage 19 minute miles down the hill, and now I am on the Upper Holy Jim Trail, which I have been dreading.

It’s another mile of downhill, but the recent rains have rutted the trail quite a bit.  At parts, the single-track is narrower than the width of my foot, so even in practice, I had to walk with both feet at different heights (one foot about 18 inches higher than the other).  There are other sections where there is scree and I have to climb down backwards, or I will fall… and I also don’t want to impede the forward progress of the fast runners behind me.  In practice, this mile-long section took me 25 minutes, so I am hoping to improve upon this.

It is a struggle, but I did go down at a 22:00/mile pace (which includes a half-mile of flat leading back to Bear Springs, which is the top of Holy Jim Trail).

So now I am basically “running” everything I did earlier, but in reverse.  I am going down the tough uphills and up the tough downhills, and then I will run past the initial downhill and climb up to the top of Santiago Peak again, before heading back down.  (I am not looking forward to that climb HOURS from now.)

When I get to Holy Jim, I start encountering a number of my friends who started early.  They are about 6 miles behind me, but have the horrible climb up Santiago Peak looming.  I see my friend, Cherry Cheng, who ran with me from mile 4 to 10 in the shortened year (when I did Holy Jim in 3 hours, and she turned around after 10 miles).

I also see my friend, Ben Gaetos.   The past couple years I always see him in the same spot.  I am about a mile from the top of Santiago and he is about a mile behind me (and then I don’t see him again because I dropped down to the shorter distance).  Because I started so freakin’ early, he is about 7 miles behind me (I don’t want to tell you how much better he is doing than me, but you can make the calculation… 7 miles, 4-1/2 hours.)

Coming towards Ben Gaetos on Holy Jim Trail.

I feel pretty good on this section, because it is almost all downhill, and I know that once I do my last traverse along the hillside, I have 17 switchbacks, and then about a mile to the aid station.  I just bound down at a comfortable pace (13:00/mile).  I am pretty excited because I made up some of the major time that I’ve lost climbing up to Santiago, and maybe preserved some time that I will lose up West Horsethief Trail next.

My halfway split (midway down Holy Jim) is close to 10 hours, which would be well slower than the pace I would need to finish in under 17 hours (the normal early start time limit), but I have given myself 20.5 hours, so I am doing OK, but maybe cutting it close.  Art isn’t here, so he must have gotten Angela’s message.

Now I get to head up West Horsethief.  Remember, this was the section that I averaged 25 minutes per mile DOWNHILL.  I also will tell you that last year, the average pace on this section UPHILL for people who finished was 20 minutes per mile.  I hope I can do something acceptable to give myself every chance to finish.

The weather is still pretty overcast and moderate, so I am hoping that I can get through most of West Horsethief before the sun re-emerges.  I get through the fire-road section and through the creek bed section well enough, but I know I will have a difficult time on the switchbacks.  I just keep moving with authority and try to not let too many people pass me.

On the entire section, I do not hear or see another living soul.  It is weird, because I was passed a bunch of times on the downhill sections.  In fact, I make it all the way to the top of the trail without being passed.  This may be because the folks behind me were moving not much faster than I was.  Also, about 3 switchbacks from the top, the sun did come out (dang) and made it that much warmer.  I didn’t do any 20 minute miles, but (strangely enough) my average UPHILL pace was 15 seconds per mile FASTER than it was this morning.

Just after I filled my water bottle, the person behind me emerged.  It was the female race leader, Deysi Osegueda.  Maybe she couldn’t catch me up the hill, but she disappeared ahead pretty quickly once we got back onto the Main Divide Fire-Trail.

The volunteers are really cheery.  While I feel concerned about my pace, they let me know that I have 7 hours to complete the final 19 miles.  Twenty minute miles.  C’mon, you can WALK this!

In order to finish, I know that I have to just run whenever possible and walk with authority on the uphills.  I do slightly better on the section back to the top of Indian Truck Trail, averaging 17:15/mile.  (Everything faster than 20:00/mile will bank time towards finishing under the time limit.)

I get to Mile 38, and no sign of my pacer.  I ask if maybe he already showed up and went on ahead, but I guess not.  No worries, because I have never used a pacer before.  So, just as I am filling my water bottles, a truck drives up and out pops my pacer.

He tells me that I told him to arrive around 3pm.  It’s 3:01 now.  What a good (and fortunate) guesstimate.  He had gone partway up the hill and then got a ride the rest of the way.

I actually have two pacers, but only one is human. The other is one of those aliens we encountered on the way up earlier… no, actually, it’s Aaron’s training partner, Lacey, his dog.  I am not great with dogs, but Lacey is helpful and not annoying. When we are alone on trail, she runs at her pace, not too far ahead of us.  When there are other runners around, Aaron leashes her and he pretty much does not have to ask twice for her to accede to his commands.

Aaron ends up being a great pacer because he helps me forget how tired I am, and also I do not have to lead the conversation.  Aaron is telling me about how he did a few laps of Barkley (the hardest 100 miler ever) and his ideas for this crazy 20 mile loop near Mt. Baldy that he wanted to call Ridgecrest (there’s another race called Ridgecrest, though).

The weather has cooled off quite a bit, since we have passed the 3 o’clock hour, and so going up the Main Divide to the top of Santiago doesn’t seem as bad the second time around.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  (On the other hand, it might be that I haven’t been carting around my Camelbak for the past 6 hours, but will pick it up at the top.)  Anyway, instead of 28 minutes per mile, I have zoomed along at a super-speedy 24:45/mile!  Woot!

At the top, we refill our water bottles, get Lacey some water, pick up my Camelbak, which has my headlamp in it, and then start to head down.  My feet do hurt quite a bit now (especially with all of the technical trail poking into my thin-soled shoes (not padded like Hokas, but less apt to make my foot fold in half).

My jog-walk down the technical trail to the Upper Holy Jim Parking Lot is about 20 minutes a mile again (though back within the acceptable range), and another 20 minute mile down the treacherous Upper Holy Jim back to the final aid station at the top of Indian Truck Trail.  The excellent news at this point is that I have approximately 4 hours for the final 6.5 miles… almost all downhill.  It going to get dark out again, but I think I will be able to manage 45 minute miles and FINISH!

Once the dusk starts settling in, I turn on my headlamp.  It’s pretty insufficient.  The batteries may be a bit drained, but super-pacer to the rescue.  He has a second hand-held small flashlight for me to use.  It is a bit awkward with me also carrying my water bottles, but is small and powerful enough that it is WAY better than my headlamp.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know the ins and outs of this section.  I do remember from previous years (because you have to go down this hill to get to the 50K finish, too) that you head downhill forever, and there’s a zillion turns and you never seem to get any closer.

The one landmark I am looking for is the Korean church, because that is less than 2 miles from the finish.  When I get there, I am absolutely giddy because I know that after 3 failed attempts and a super-early start (which made me famous or infamous – “OMG!  You’re the guy who started at 1:30am!”), I WILL finish this race.

When I see the lights of the finisher’s tent, I am actually not clear on where the finish line is, so I almost run by it.  Stupid.  Many of the recent finishers are still there (not the winners, who finished 4-1/2 hours ago) and Angela.  Thank goodness I gave her my car keys because she would have spent 7+ plus waiting for me and freezing her ass off.

Besides my motivation to finally beat this difficult course (and the early start), I also had my inspirations from my pace sheet – Angela (who despite dropping down completed her 3rd ultramarathon, the beastiest 50K possible), Stephanie Harris (who had just donated a kidney to an ailing friend), and my buddy Gilbert Barragan, Jr., who had just completed his first marathon at Long Beach.  People that you find more inspirational than yourself give you that extra boost to achieve your own goals.

My 19 hours and 1 minute time was my 3rd longest race (by time), maybe my slowest pace, but with 30,000 feet of elevation change, probably appropriate.

Not sure that I will attempt this again (unless I do an early start to help a friend finish) or maybe volunteer-slash-pace someone through the race and pay it forward, but even though I am probably the slowest “official” finisher of this race ever, all that matters to me is that I finally finished this challenging event.

Twin Peaks 50K – 2014

October 18, 2014

The plan for today’s run is to make this my 20th 50 mile finish.  (In another month or so, I plan to run my 40th 50K race, so it is important NOT to drop down to the shorter distance here.)  I know this will be a tall order.  In fact, I joked to Race Director Jessica DeLine that Lauren and I would like to start at midnight to give ourselves every advantage to finish (knowing my body and the course).  She laughed, but probably didn’t realize that I was being serious.

I didn’t sleep very well on Friday night (no surprise, I never do) and then I left EXTRA early.  (See post from 2012 where there was a fatality on the freeway and I was 45 minutes late to the start.)  I used the Garmin GPS tool Marisa gave me… just in case there were any issues (also, they had posted a change in directions, which turned out to be a lot easier than the original winding through the neighborhood).

It was nice and cold at the start.  I hoped that the coldness would last as long as possible, knowing that when the temperature warmed up, I would struggle in the heat.  I greeted a few of my friends who were also starting early, including Lauren (who I made a special pace sheet for with her kids on the back) and Cherry Cheng (who I met here last year when they did a Fat Ass).

I also have a pace sheet (with Mom and Dad on the back for inspiration), but I know that even with an hour early start, it may be unrealistic for me to finish the race under the posted time limit (especially a month after my fall (though my scars are finally gone)), but I will do my best.

About 20 of us toe the line for the early start and off we go… up the hill.  It’s slow going, like the past 2 years, but at least it’s nice to have some company part of the way (or at least hear voices).  At the top, there may or may not be an aid station set up.  Fortunately, because this entire section is mostly in the dark, I haven’t needed to drink a lot of liquid and will not be out of drink until at least mile 11.

The people are there, but they are not set up yet.  I reach the top in 2:06, a little slower than in the past (just a few minutes).  This is almost 20 minutes per mile, but there was over 3000 feet of elevation gain in these 6.5 miles.

The next section moves along a fire-road on the Main Divide.  The net elevation gain is 100 feet, but I already know from experience that it is more like 1500 up and 1400 down, so I am not surprised by the hills.  I just keep on keepin’ on and reach Mile 10.5 in 57 minutes (under 15 minute miles… to finish I have to maintain about a 17:30 pace, which my net pace is now slightly under).  I say my greetings to Steve Harvey, but do not hang out long (other than refilling my water bottle) to stay on pace as long as possible.

This next section is West Horsethief and covers nearly all of the ascent I have so far covered… but mostly in the form of single-track (some of it Grape-Nut consistency)… and I believe I will have the (regular start) course leaders overtaking me on this section.

I am finding on some of the steeper downhill, that my sore foot feels even sorer, so I favor it a bit.

Fortunately, the race leader doesn’t overtake me until I get out of the hardest section and move to the double-track section, where there is more room for them to pass me. I note that a bunch of them are running shirtless (I would not run shirtless unless it was so hot that my shirt burned off!).  The terrain is not such that people could run freely without hooking skin on trees (and there is poison oak, too).

This double-track section is going on forever.  I am just waiting for the road by all the cabins; I know that the Holy Jim Aid Station is less than a mile away at that point.  Finally, I see it.  Yay!

When I get to the aid station, I assess where I am at:  The past 4 miles took me 1:17 (and downhill, argh) and I am a few minutes slower than I was each of the past 2 years. Unless I can have a real good run (pun) at the Holy Jim Trail (3000′ climbing in 4 miles), I am headed for a DNF or 50K finish.  Gisele gets here at about the same time and she looks really good.  She is the 50K women’s leader and running with her is the 50M women’s leader.  Maybe I will see them again on the next out-and-back section.

Now it’s time to head up the hill.  The first part of the Holy Jim Trail is a very gentle uphill by some cabins… leading to the endless switchbacks and single-track trail.  I am fortunate that the sun has not peeked through the clouds yet and it is relatively cool out.  I am just trying to maintain an even keel.

I can remember from last year, when I averaged 45 minutes PER mile on this section.  While I don’t have GPS, there are some 1/2 mile and mile markers on the course, so I can get a relative measurement on how I am doing on certain sections.  (Any mile under 25 minutes seems pretty good at this point… earlier this year, I did Holy Jim Trail with AREC in about 2:07, about 28-30 minutes per mile.)  I am getting passed periodically by regular start folks, but not at blazing speed; this hill is difficult for everyone.

After 1:44, I get to the unmanned aid station at the top of the hill.  I am so-o happy with the time.  What I thought at the bottom of the hill is coming to fruition.  I think I can totally finish the 50 miler… but now I have to get to the top of Santiago Peak.  There are two sections ahead that are super steep, both 1.5 miles and 800′ of elevation gain!

As soon as I emerge into the unshaded section, the sun DOES come out and my energy is instantly sapped and I am shuffling up the hill and drinking a lot of water to keep hydrated.  When I get to Upper Holy Jim (listed as another unmanned aid station), there is no water to be found.  At least I still have half a water bottle left… but if I continue to struggle, I will have to really ration water to make it to the top… I continue to struggle even having to stop a couple of times in the shaded sections and sit.  On the way up, I see Ben Gaetos heading down. We stop and take some pictures.  I also see Gisele.  She feels pretty bad; she doesn’t think she will finish.

When I get to the top of Santiago Peak, I have just done 3 miles in 98 minutes, negating all of my good work.  My average is over 20-1/2 minute miles.  I am not confident that I will be able to accelerate, especially given the increase in heat.  I decide that I will take the turn to do the 50K instead of the 50M; I have to be realistic.

I drink a lot of liquid at the top to rehydrate myself.  I feel a lot better than I did before and can jog a bit down the hill.  I make it back to the non aid station much faster than on the way up, but from here we take the Upper Holy Jim Trail back to the Main Divide rather than on the fire-road we came up.  I am just behind a 50-miler who is dropping to the 50K as well.  He brought his whole family out, but in the morning the car broke down and he is concerned that it may not have been fixed or that his family would have much of a fun day until it was fixed.  I think he would have struggled in trying to do the 50M in enough time (since we are at the same point in the day, though he technically reached it an hour faster).  We end up staying together on the trail until about 4 miles from the bottom (where he has either heard all of my stories or is bored of going so slow).

I finally reach the bottom in 10:24:30, which is 50 minutes faster than last time (last year I didn’t finish).  I also get to the end before the winning 50M runner (but not by much).  It is exciting to see the finishers.  Turns out that Gisele did finish and was the fastest female finisher.  I think she may have had the second fastest female time in the history of the course, too.

I got to see Lauren finish (always great to see a friend) and I also thought I saw the first female 50M finisher, but it turned out that she did not go all the way to the top of Santiago Peak (saving herself about 6 difficult miles).

I went over the day in my head and was maybe regretting my decision to drop down to the 50K (my 40th by the way), but then I looked at some of the splits.  Had I continued on, I would have covered the same sections but in reverse (down Holy Jim, up West Horsethief, etc.).  Even the best of the best averaged over 20 minutes a mile on that section.  Now I know that I would have DNFed.  I’ll find a different 50M (a flatter one, perhaps) for my 20th.


Harding Hustle 50K – 2014

July 19, 2014

Lauren Miertschin and I had talked about this race for a while.  I completed it a few years ago and the weather sucked (HOT!!), but I finished.  It was so-o hot that I actually walked DOWNHILL because heat was radiating from the road.

Lauren has good endurance but (like me) can tend to be a little on the slow side, and she was concerned about finishing under the 9:00 time limit.  I corresponded with the RD, Jessica DeLine, and convinced her to let us start an hour early (or basically as soon as she arrived at the start).  The extra hour was both for the extra time and for being out of the hot sun for one hour less.  I was mildly concerned with my ability to finish under 9:00, but with an extra hour, I felt that I would not have to stress out over it (because I KNEW I could finish under 10 hours!).

On Friday, I rested most of the day and figured that I could go to bed early; however, I am having trouble falling asleep (maybe because it is summertime).  I was IN bed, but just could not fall asleep.  Around midnight, I finally turned the lights back ON and read until I dropped the book, which was at 2am… and woke up 75 minutes later to get ready.  Yuck.

I left my house around 4am and drove to Modjeska Canyon.  It was dark and foggy out and I was worried about finding the turnoff in the dark.  It is a bit hard to find when it is not dark out – I always want to turn about 5 miles before the actual turnoff.

I arrived about 4:30am and parked a little down the road.  In actuality, we were supposed to park offsite and get bused in, but buses weren’t running yet, and Jessica told us we could park along the road (just not at the actual start line where volunteers would be parking and staging vehicles to drive up to the aid stations along the Harding Truck Trail).

Lauren plus another gal, Natalia, arrived about the same time as I did, and both of them already had their numbers, whereas I had to wait until Jessica arrived to get mine, but I did have safety pins attached to my shirt in case the pins were in some unreachable container.  I was also prepped with a “thank you” gift for Jessica, consisting of a nice can of IPA beer and a little loaf of bread I had made on Wednesday.

Lauren was antsy to get going and said she would start at 5am, EVEN if Jessica had not arrived, but Jessica arrived right around 5am, so Natalia and Lauren set off immediately.  I still had to get signed in, get my number pinned, and then I could set off, so it was about 5:05 by the time I got going.

It was dark out but not enough that I needed a light to make my way up the hill.  I tried to estimate how long it would take for me to make up a 5-minute stagger and go with or overtake two middle-aged ladies.  I thought actually that it might take 30-40 minutes, because I was not going much faster than they were.

I passed Natalia in about 45 minutes and Lauren in just about another 5 minutes.  Lauren was still really nervous about making cutoffs, but I said that she should refer to her pace sheet I created for her (necessary pace on the front, picture of her family on the back).  She pointed out that we were already losing quite a bit of time off the necessary pace, but I pointed out that it did not take into account the grade of the course – it was straight time versus miles.  If we were a little behind on the time, we could probably make up the difference when the downhill came.

I reached the first aid station at 4.6 miles in 78 minutes or about 17 minutes per mile.  There wasn’t actually anybody AT the aid station, but there was a table with some boxes of water underneath it.  I think I had beaten the volunteers to their aid station.  When I made the switchback turn up the hill, however, I could see a little bit in the distance some trucks heading up the hill (presumably each of the aid stations’ staff).  About 15 minutes later, two trucks passed me (the third presumably stopped at the first aid station.

The trucks knocked up a considerable amount of dust from the road, but fortunately, I had my Buff and covered up my mouth and nose before they drove by.  It was still a little annoying because I didn’t have a lot of room to move over, or if I did, it was the very rocky section of the trail.

I was passed by a further two trucks about 20 minutes later.  One truck was a little too close to me and bumped my elbow with its passenger side mirror.  Fortunately, it was slow enough that it didn’t really hurt me.

At about 6.5 miles, the road makes a big turn to the left.  In February, when AREC came out to do Harding Truck Trail, this was where I turned around to head back down the hill.  A few years ago, when Laura and I did our training run, this was where the snow began.  Today, no snow, and no turn around, but this is the approximate section where I can get an idea on how far I have to go… and I can also see far down the trail to see where the other runners are.

My guess is that I will be passed by the lead runners, who started at 6am, maybe around 7am… certainly before I get to the 2nd aid station at mile 9.1.  But, when I look down the hill, I can’t see ANY runners heading up the hill… but I do get a good glance at Natalia and Lauren.  Natalia is now ahead of Lauren, but still a bit behind me.

I can also glance ahead to see how far I have yet to go to get to the 9.1 mile aid station… it is basically where the radio towers are.  The trail goes on and on and on, is a little rockier, and continues at a fairly steep rate.

Finally, I can see the locked gate ahead, which indicates the end of the Harding Truck Trail and the location of the aid station.  I rather thought that the gate would be open (and was when I last did this race), but perhaps the folks doing the aid station didn’t know to leave it open for the runners.  I cannot really climb under it (just a bit low for me), so it looks like I can go around it, but as I do that, I am on the outside of the railing along the path… so I still have to climb over or under something.

A minute or so later, I am at the top.  I am amazed that I have still not been passed by the lead runners.  I covered the 4.5 miles to this point in 82 minutes (about 18 minutes per mile).  The aid station is still just setting up and all they can give me is water (I could really use some mix and I have drunk about everything that I have) and a gingerbread Stinger waffle.  At least the ‘waffle’ hits the spot and gives me a little energy to continue.  At least the next aid station is not as far away and maybe I can get some better liquid supplies there.

From this aid station, it is a tight hairpin turn up to the right.  Pretty soon after I leave the aid station, I am overtaken by Natalia.  I am surprised, because she didn’t look that good early on, but I guess she got a second wind after a slow start.  About 5 minutes after that, I am (finally) passed by the lead runner, about 2 hours 45 minutes in.  I can’t believe that their pace is so slow!

The lead runner is DRENCHED in sweat.  His shirt is soaked and he is dripping everywhere.  I am mildly wet, but not soaked like this guy is.  John Hampton doesn’t even sweat this much (a friend of mine who weighed his shirts after a triathlon and they weighed 18 pounds)!  There was a bit of a gap to second and then third place, but then a nice slew of people are continually passing me (not scads, but an additional runner every 4-5 minutes).

When I get up to the Modjeska Base Aid Station, they are finally all set up and I get another Stinger waffle, some potato chips, melon and a complete refill of Nuun in my water bottles.  I am technically NOT at this aid station yet…  I have to still make the climb to the top of Modjeska Peak.  This is the section that I am least looking forward to, because it is extremely technical (read: rocky) AND steep.  Also, I know that I have to do it twice in the race.

I have a brief conversation (as I am going up the hill) with a 50- or 60-something Korean runner who started 30 minutes early, who caught me at this point.  It’s nice to have someone to talk to or at least to have someone around me after nearly 3 hours of walking by myself.

The additional bad part of this section is that the lead runners are speeding down the hill, so I have to continually move over into the rockier part of the trail.  I have some muscle memory of this section, where it flattens out for a bit, and then turns sharply, with a steep scramble to the top.  There are a couple of volunteers here directing us to see how the turn around works (literally, turn around and go back down the hill).  It’s not that easy, either, because it is more bouldering than runnable. Mark Vishnevsky also passes me here (didn’t know he was doing the race).

Lauren is coming up the hill behind me and she is still nervous about making cutoffs.  I remind her that we have 6 hours in total to make the summit of Santiago Peak, we are at 3-1/2 hours now, and the location is less than 4 miles away.  I think she will be OK, and so much better WHEN she makes that cutoff.  She is only about 15 minutes behind me at this point.

When I get back to the aid station, I have now done another 3.4 miles in 68 minutes (20 minutes per mile), and now will make my way to the top of Santiago Peak.  I have 2 hours and 12 minutes to cover the 5K distance.  I SHOULD make it.

The funny part about this section is that between the top of Modjeska Peak and Santiago Peak, the height difference is only about 100 feet; however, with the descent to Modjeska Base aid station, the descent along the Main Divide Road, and then the ensuing climb, it is about 700 feet of climbing.  At least the trail is not technical, but just a steep uphill.

When I get to the top of the peak, my friend Jim Tello is there and a nice crowd.  I covered the 5K in 56 minutes (back to 18:00/mile) and made the cutoff by 1 hour and 15 minutes (if I had started on time, I would be 15 minutes ahead of the time, so I am feeling good about myself).  I don’t waste a lot of time hanging out because I would rather not spend much time in heat, once the sun comes out.

Heading down the hill, I run into Lauren, and she is totally making the cutoffs, and she seems pretty happy.  I also see Laura Sohaskey; I was certain she was NOT doing this race, but here she is again.  I assume she will pass me momentarily and I await our chance to run together.

As I head down the hill, I am a bit concerned for each person I see heading in the opposite direction, because when I am 45 minutes out from the top, that means 5-1/2 hours have passed for me (and 4-1/2 hours for the rest of them).  Six hours is the cutoff, and I don’t have confidence that some of the slower runners can do in 30 minutes uphill what has taken me 45 minutes to do downhill.  Hopefully, Jessica will give them the benefit of the doubt.

When I get back to Modjeska Base, I have to go to the top of the peak one more time (yuck) before I am truly at the aid station.  It hurts my feet more the second time, even though I know where to run to try and avoid the rockiest parts.  When I get back to the bottom, Lauren is just arriving (now about 25 minutes behind me), but she says to me that even though she is a bit behind the schedule, she now knows she can make it.  I think the picture of her family gave her the little extra she needed to make it through the race.

As for me, I sometimes run the race in honor (or memory) of someone. At Skyline 50K last year, I was going to run in honor of my friend, Brian Kelly, but he died two days before the race.  Today, I am running in honor of my sister, Riva, and my two nephews, Evan and Reagan.  The three of them have had a bit of a trying summer.  Riva should get some of the glory of my successful running, because she put the bug of it into my head 18 years ago.  Just thinking of them gives me a little extra energy.  It will probably help a bit when the sun comes out!

I show off my picture to the aid station folk, a bit of braggadocio.  Now that I am back to Modjeska Base proper (Mile 20.5), I am at 6:07 (maintaining a net pace of 18:00/mile).  Now there is a fair bit of downhill coming up.  There is only about 1.5 miles back down to the radio towers and I cover that in 26 minutes.

The aid station here is now set up and I can get something other than water.  Also, the gate is open, so I don’t have to climb under or over it!  I should be really excited about all of the downhill, but I do still have over 9 miles to the finish.  I am hoping to run some of it with Laura and am surprised that she hasn’t passed me yet.

Now I make it down to the last aid station.  I need to tell the volunteers that I had passed the aid station before they set it up this morning.  They said that they weren’t told about me and assumed that I was a “DNS.”  No such luck.  My pace had increased here to 15:00/mile, but the sun is starting to peek around corners, so I hope I can continue to accelerate and maybe even finish under the (real) 9 hour time limit.

With about 3.5 miles to go, I can finally spot some landmarks.  I know from past runs on this trail that once you see a house by itself, that is basically where the finish line is.  The bit of heat is starting to get to me but I know I am almost there.  There is one last uphill about a mile from the finish, and I walk this and then run pretty strongly all the way down to the finish, coming in at 8 hours and 45 minutes.

Afterwards, I get my picture taken, eat some pasta salad, drink some soda, and then get a free massage (that REALLY hit the spot).  Jessica did a drawing for some prizes and I won a nice coffee mug that said “Age Group Winner,” ironic, considering that I probably came in last in my age group.

About 45 minutes after I finished, Lauren came in, and then about 75 minutes after I finished, Laura finished.  However, what I didn’t know (and this explains A LOT) was that the race started 15 minutes late, so Laura and I finished with nearly identical times.  This also meant that all of those folks that I worried so ardently about DID all make the cutoff after all.

My next ultramarathon is in just 2 weeks, so I am happy that I did take it relatively easily today.10498280_10152219449492055_7394725569015028691_o


Old Goats 50M – 2013

March 23, 2013

Since the Twin Peaks 50K (drop down from 50M) last year, I had maintained a FB correspondence with Lauren Miertschin, my partner-in-crime (from her including me in her race video to hanging out at the finish waiting for our bags) – us slow folk got to stick together!  She had noted in February that some spots on the Old Goats 50M waiting list were opening up and suggested (rather, ASKED on HER birthday) that we see if we could get in.  I got on the waiting list, and 10 minutes later, was in the race.

Additionally, I would note that I really wanted to run Way Too Cool, but had been on the waiting list as #160… but by the week before the race ended at #2… and did not get in.

Lauren gave me some advice about the course (which I had mostly never done, though parts of it were parts of Twin Peaks), especially the “Candy Store loop,” which was the first 21.0 miles of the course and had the first cutoff of 6 hours (or 6-1/2 hours if started early).  She lives somewhat near to the course and said that she had never gone faster than 6-1/2 hours in any of her training runs, so was somewhat concerned that she would not be able to continue.

My further correspondence with Lauren was the possibility of carpooling together to the race.  She lives in Dana Point (close to the start as I said), so I said that I might drive down on Friday night, camp out in my car near her house and then we could drive up together in the morning (there was some instruction from the RD that if you carpooled, the driver would get a $10 refund and the passenger $5… to cut down on cars parked in the park).  She said that I could sleep on her sofa.

So, I drove down Friday and timed it so I would arrive close to the time she would be home (rather than freaking out neighbors by “stalking her”).  It’s a nice neighbor a bit right off the main drag, so I did drive around the block a few times trying to find the place.

I got to meet her family – 3 sons and a husband – and ate a spaghetti dinner with them… plus she made them be quiet early.  I felt bad, but at the same time, we probably needed sufficient rest for a tough next day.

The early start on the race is an hour before everyone else, but you only have an additional 30 minutes for the first 21 miles.  This was foreshadowing on the confusion that I encountered during the race.

As I have been doing the last couple of events, to give myself a better idea of where I am at in the general scheme of things, I created a pace sheet, mostly for where I wanted to be, and where I had to be… especially to make it through the first 21 miles in under 6-1/2 hours.  Usually, the cutoffs on these races correspond pretty closely with the time needed to complete the race.  In a few instances, you will see a tougher-than-needed cutoff to account for darkness.  Rarely do you see a more generous cut-off, only because runners do not tend to accelerate in the latter stages of the race.

I noted that I needed to be at the Bear Springs aid station (a couple of miles after climbing up the Holy Jim Trail) by 3:00pm in order to maintain pace and finish by 8:00pm.  The website, however, indicated that if you made it through by 5:00pm, you would not get pulled.  While generous, this would mean that I would need to do the last 16 miles (not all downhill) in 3 hours, or about 12 minutes per mile, even though the pace to get to this aid station by 5:00pm was approximately TWENTY minutes per mile!!  I hoped that I would come through in the 3:00pm range.

There were not a ton of early starters, and that also meant that the volunteers at the start were not necessarily ready for us yet.  Jean Ho was still trying to get all of the race bibs together.  But everything came together and we started on time.

The first part of the course was an ascent out of the start/finish area.  I immediately slowed to a walk to get myself going at an easy pace.  Once we cleared the hills, the course went into a single-track heading out of the campground area.  It was EXTREMELY technical (rocky) and it was not easy going in the dark.  If I had run this trail a few times, I might be more familiar with it, but I stopped several times to let more familiar folks pass by, because I was not willing to fall down early on just to go a bit faster.

The elevation on this section was not significant.  I would say ‘rolling hills,’ if I ever got myself completely oriented.  There was a bit of descent, but for the most part, it was traversing a hillside with little view of the rest of the trail (large bushes/shrubs on either side of the single-track).  Once the sun came up, it was really quite pleasant and cool.  The first aid station was in the middle of this part (6.7M) and I came through in about 15 minutes per mile – I need to maintain a little over 18 minute miles to complete the 21 mile section in under 6-1/2 hours.

If you have run a marathon slowly, 6-1/2 hours for TWENTY-SIX miles seems excessive, and for 21 miles, over the top, but understand, this is a tough trail course.  It’s slow, but not ludicrous, in terms of time.

Soon after the aid station, we left the shrubby ridge trail and headed down into more marshy, riverside climes.  There was a point where I saw arrows coming from another direction, and figured that this is where the inbound trail would loop back towards the start.  It was also around this point that the on-time starters started passing me, a few at a time.  I was expecting Dave Binder to be among the front-runners, but he did not pass me until about 3 miles short of mile 21 – he had arrived late and so was behind early.

A little later, I reached the halfway point on this trail… and the Candy Store Aid station at Mile 11.  I had lost a little of my pace, but was still under 17 minute miles and thereby, on pace.  I had not seen Lauren.  She had passed me on the uphill section and I caught her a few miles later.  I hoped that she was slightly behind me, because I really wanted both of us to make the cutoff.

From this point, the trail continued straight, paralleling the Ortega Highway (not reversing direction).  There was a cool section where we were going down a rock stairway of sorts.  I maintained a jogging pace, knowing that when I got back into the shrub single-track section, I would need to push it slightly and there was quite a bit of uphill.

About 15 minutes before I got back to the point where I had seen arrows on the outbound part of the course, I came upon a runner coming towards me on the trail.  He asked me where he might have missed the turn-off.  I felt bad, because I knew that it might be quite a ways (tried to describe about ‘crossing a creek’ and something).  I suggested maybe he might continue and then run the rest of the section backwards, but he followed me back to the intersection.  I assume he was not an early starter, so might still have enough time to make the cutoff.

I got back to the Chiquita Falls aid station (the first, and now third), and had dropped another 30 seconds per mile aggregate.  I now had 1 hour, 57 minutes to complete 5.2 miles.  I felt pretty good… but then again, it could be close depending on how I tackled the terrain.

Towards the end of the single-track, I became a bit despondent, because I thought maybe I won’t make it after all (and because it all looked somewhat the same and every time I thought I was getting close, I would turn another corner and it looked the same, AGAIN), but soon after, I reached the campground road, and knew I could do the mile or so in under 30 minutes, and I even pushed the pace a bit, knowing that I would probably need every bit of time to finish the entire race.

When I arrived at the Mile 21 aid station, I was at 6 hours and 8 minutes.  Laura and Chuck were helping man the station, and I also saw Dave Binder (still) there.  He had decided to call it a day.  Sometimes, I guess, it just isn’t your day, though I think he would have had no problem finishing.  He offered me a beer, and I took him up on the offer, even though I did really need to get going.

Dave giving me a well-deserved beer.

Dave giving me a well-deserved beer.

I “wasted” about 10 minutes before continuing.  I hadn’t seen Lauren, but held out hope that she was just behind me.

The trail continued further into the campground, but eventually came out and got into some of the back-country fire roads (some partially paved).  Once I was on this road, it began a fairly steep upgrade that continued for well over a mile to the next aid station, resulting in a slow pace of 21 minutes per mile.  I haven’t even completed a marathon distance and I’m already over 7 hours!

The next section is a 3.2 mile descent down West Horsethief to the base of Holy Jim.  I know that once I get near to the bottom, the course will seem “slightly” familiar (because I have done this section as part of the Twin Peaks race last year).  The downhill leading to that point, however, is somewhat steep and rocky (read: slippery) – somewhat treacherous – and made more treacherous by the fact that I have done 20 miles of trails in 7 hours and am pretty tired to boot.

Familiarity with a section, however, does not make that section any easier.  The trail through the “familiar” section is flat and mostly downhill, but I am both hot… and worried about how bad Holy Jim could be.  I SHOULD be at the top by 3pm, but it’s already 12:30pm, and it’s 6 miles of substantial uphill.

I spend little time at the Holy Jim aid station, knowing I need to get a move on.

The beginning part of Holy Jim is not that bad – a minor ascent out from the aid station, and then a flat, slightly uphill section through some houses/cabins.  About a mile in, you reach the trail, and another half mile from here, you start hitting the steep switchbacks.  The approximately elevation gain is 4,000 feet in 4 miles!   It is TOUGH.  I am just walking, and not even walking with any pace.  It is about surviving and hoping that I am close to that 3:00pm time.

Once I get to the top of the switchbacks and on to the Main Divide, it is still another mile-plus to the aid station.  When I get there, I look down at my watch – 4:07pm – nearly an hour slower than where I need to be, BUT the aid station captain tells me, “Good news.  We have extended the cutoff at this aid station by 30 minutes, due to the heat.”  I ask about whether the overall time cutoff has been extended, because, well, I already made this cutoff, but I could use another 30 minutes (or 2 hours) to get to the finish.

I again waste little time and begin heading up more hills.

The trail here is less steep than on Holy Jim, but no less exhausting.  There are longer stretches but basically it is still switchbacks.  There is a unmanned water drop at Upper Holy Jim, and this is probably the worst section, because it is steep, rocky, and unshaded.  At least I am on a fire road, but it is tough.

About 3/4 of the way up, I do finally get into the shade.   It cools me off a bit.  It is also nice seeing folks, since I have had some sections where I have not seen anyone (especially going up Holy Jim for 40 minutes or longer – this includes physically seeing ANYONE off in the distance).  It is nice to have conversation consisting of “Hi.”

The top of the hill is the highest point on the course, Santiago Peak.  In pushing the pace, I have done 23 minute miles, but I am increasingly concerned about the overall time cutoff.  The people at the aid station seem to think that I will be OK.

As I head back down the hill, I see Lauren (she DID make the cutoff by about 8 minutes – must have just missed her) and she is not in last.  Cris Francisco, the sweep, and I have a brief conversation.  He tells me that “they’ll let me finish” because I easily made the Bear Springs time cutoff.  That makes me happy, but I still try to push the pace as much as I can downhill, and manage 16 minute miles (not the 12 I think I need to finish by 8pm).

Now I am about 10 miles from the finish, and there is no more tough climbing, but my feet hurt quite a bit from the hard surface of the roads and trails, so I am reduced to jog/walking along the Main Divide, at around an 18:00/mile pace.  I stop briefly at the next aid station (Mile 42.0), just to refill my water bottle and then keep on going.

I run a bit of the next section with Kristen Trujillo, and her friend, who apparently hosts the Nanny Goat 24 hour race (1 mile loops, boring!) later this year.  It is nice to have someone with you on the trail.  As I come into the West Horsethief Aid station, the captain tells me that I am done.  What?!?!  They told me I could continue.

We argue about it for a bit, and someone suggests that they ask the Race Director for clarification.  I would rather have been pulled at Bear Springs for being an hour too slow (I KNEW I was too slow) than 5 miles from the finish after being told I could finish!

There is some trouble in getting ahold of the RD (bad reception).  I suggest that I continue and if they drive by me and say I am done, I will abide by it, but no, I have to stand there for 15 minutes while they confirm that I cannot continue.

Although it is not yet 8pm (it’s like 7:30), there was some confusion because they apparently told the ham radio operators that the race ended at 7pm, so when they wanted to extend the time limit by 30 minutes, it was 90 minutes for those folks, and they balked.  I mean, I understand about keeping everyone safe, but I know I could have finished by 9pm.

Lauren got swept up just behind me, but she was not as perturbed.  I am more upset about how it transpired (giving me false hope) than not finishing.  I mean, I did almost 45 miles of an extremely tough course!

This is one of those situations where one would normally say, “I will be back and I will finish,” but I say that with a caveat, “I MIGHT be back (if I could get some clarity on the cutoffs) and (then) I WILL finish.”

And thus ends my streak of 20 consecutive months finishing an ultramarathon, and I will soon end my streak of 37 consecutive months of completing at least a marathon distance in race (which includes a few DNFs), because, honestly, my body needs a break.


Twin Peaks 50M/50K – 2012

October 13, 2012

Decided I would do the Twin Peaks 50 miler.  Part of my decision was that it was another race by Dirty Feet Productions and that my friend (and sweep pacer) Jim Tello had promised he would keep me company on the second half of the course.

Other features of this event that were appealing were an option for an earlier start (90 minutes before the rest of the group) and a drop-down option – if i wasn’t “feeling it,” I could still do a 50K (around 32-33 miles) and still get an official credit.  This would be a better option than in some previous events this year where it is THE distance or nothing.  I created my usual pace sheet, which shows 3 sets of times:

1.  Where I would be ecstatic to be
2.  Where I should be
3.  Where I MUST be

Theoretically, I should be pretty close to the middle set of times, but needed to be ahead of the slowest set of times.  I had also included on my pace sheet a “drop-down” time.  I wasn’t intending on dropping down, but needed to give myself a time where I wouldn’t convince myself that I might still make it (even if I probably couldn’t).  I set that time at 9 hours – 9 hours for around 26 miles.  I joked to myself when I typed it that there was NO WAY I would be that slow.

In picking the early start time, I needed to figure out how to get adequate sleep, have the time I needed in the morning to get ready, and drive the one hour (minimum) to the race start (between Corona and Lake Elsinore) at 4:30AM!!  To do so, I ended up going to bed around 7pm (“going to bed” meant turning out the lights in my living room and semi-sleeping in my La-Z-boy chair).  I didn’t eat before I went to bed, figuring I would eat when I woke up.

I woke up at 12:30am and had a small dinner.  I figured I should leave by 2:45am, so I would arrive 30-45 minutes early and not be stressed (also, the directions were a little confusing, and I wanted to allow a little extra time).  There was minimal traffic on the road at that hour, so I thought I would have no trouble getting there with plenty of time.

However, about 10 miles out of Corona, I noted on the freeway sign that the “Freeway was closed at Main Street.”  Since my directions had me staying on the 91 Freeway to the 15 Freeway (and the intersection was in the middle of Corona), I was hoping beyond hope that the exit might be beyond the 15, while at the same time I was working my way over towards the exit lane, just in case it wasn’t.

But before I could get off the freeway (probably 0.5 mile from an exit), traffic came to a dead halt… not a slow-moving slog, but totally stopped.  Good thing I allowed extra time!  I pulled out the only map I had in the car, which was the Thomas Guide map of California, which only has limited local exits.  I was able to determine that once I made my way to the exit, I would be able to use city streets and cut over to the 15.

However, we were not moving… at… all.  Very frustrating.  I basically turned off the engine and waited until there was any sign of moving, which was close to an hour later.  (Learned later that someone had died on the freeway (jumped off a bridge or something) and they were doing the investigation and shut down the freeway (but didn’t do a great job of getting people off the freeway).)

At least, fortunately, I had been in the far right lane, so I was able to get off the freeway faster than some other people (but of course, every one was trying to get into my lane).  By the time I got off the freeway, it was after 4am, and I was just making my way over to the 15 freeway.  Obviously, I had little chance of getting to the start in time, especially with all of the local street traffic.

Even after getting to the 15 Freeway, it was still 10 miles down the road to the exit and then a few confusing turns on local streets to get to the trail-head.  It was a little after 5am when I finally got to the location, and I still had to get my stuff together, check-in, etc.

I rushed to get my stuff together and while I picked up my race number, a nice volunteer filled my water bottles.  The race director, Jessica DeLine, told me that if I needed an additional 45 minutes at the end of the race, that she wouldn’t stop me on the course.  What a nice offer!

I immediately got going on the course, because I wanted as much time as possible in the cold and dark before it got light and warm (or hot).  It was probably the loneliest start of a race ever because I was totally by myself.  On the plus side, there was nowhere to get lost because it was a fire-road heading STRAIGHT uphill for 6-1/2 miles.

After about 90 minutes, I started hearing voices (ACTUAL voices; I wasn’t delirious) and wondered when the race leaders would overtake me on the hill.  I hoped that I was relatively near to the top and not SUPER-slow.  Probably a dozen folks passed me before the first aid station at 6-1/2 miles, which I reached in just over 2 hours.

According to my pace sheet, it was 4 miles to the next aid station and had a ‘minor’ elevation gain of 100 feet. This was quite exciting, as the initial climb had been around 2000 feet; I could use a break.  The trail flattened out for about a mile, and then just around the next corner, it steepened up pretty severely, and the trail got somewhat technical.  It was like climbing up obsidian chunks, slippery and steep.  What about the 100′ gain???  I was already gassed from the first 6 miles.

At the top of this hill, the trail flattened out once again and then there was a longish downhill, followed by some more uphill to the aid station.  In other words, LOTS of up and down, but a NET gain of 100 feet. I covered this section in just under an hour, so was able to pick up my pace a bit.  I did see 5 or 6 folks on the course (who passed me, naturally).

This aid station was entitled West Horsethief, and if all went well, I would be back here again in several hours.  The course is essentially a horseshoe, so I climbed up the Indian Truck Trail to this here road, and then I will go down Horsethief to Holy Jim, up Holy Jim to Santiago Peak, back down Holy Jim, back up Horsethief, back to the Indian Truck Trail (ITT), back up to the top of Santiago (somewhat completing the circle) and then back and back down the ITT.

This next section is going to lose almost the entire elevation gained to this point, and mostly on single-track trail.  It IS runnable, but I am not the most steady on my feet, so I do a modified gallop.  There are a number of turns on this section, and a couple of times I overrun a turn or two (not by much).  The trail goes on and on and on – it always seems like I should be accelerating down the hill, but once the steepness of the downhill dissipates, the relative flatness (especially in the heat) seems to be nearly as bad as running uphill.

Probably about a mile out from the aid station, the trail widens back to fire-road and then there are a number of cabins on the right side.  Civilization!  Despite this section being downhill, it takes me about 70 minutes (slower than the 100′ elevation gain section of the same distance).  It may be the heat.

The next section will prove to be very difficult.  It’s 6 miles long and there is over 3000 feet of elevation gain in that distance (there is an interim water-only aid station about 4 miles up).  The trail continues much like the previous downhill section, with cabins on the right.  Once I pass the cabins, then there are a few creek crossings (nothing to get wet on, though), and then the single-track switchbacks begin in earnest.  They are unrelenting, all uphill (not horribly steep, but tough nonetheless), and in looking up, the top never seems to get any closer.

At the top elevation on this section, I am about 200′ ABOVE the connecting road, so of course, the trail goes back downhill and then an uphill climb to the road.  I briefly refill my water bottles and head left up the fire-road to the aid station.  This section took me just under 3 hours – I am at 20.5 miles and around 7 hours.  That 9 hours for 26 miles isn’t seeming so outrageous at this point.  I guess I will have to make a decision soon, depending on the heat and my pace.

From here, it’s a “mere” 1.5 miles to Santiago Peak, the high point on the course (the high point I will have to seek again if I decide to continue).  It’s pretty lonely (and steep) and I don’t really see anyone, except for people coming down.  I have a brief conversation with a gal I had seen at another race (who recognized me) while she is heading down and I am heading up.  The mile-and-a-half takes me 58 minutes!  The likelihood of continuing is dissipating by the minute!

Now I head back down to the aid station (1.5 miles) in 25 minutes (easier because it’s downhill), and then turn onto the fire-road in the opposite direction 2.5 miles to the turn-off.  I am trying to high-tail it, but I am struggling with the heat and sore feet.  When I get to the aid station, Jim is there waiting for me, but I have decided not to continue – I really think this is the best decision for me today.  I’m disappointed, but knowing how the day has been going, it’s for the best.  AND, I got to 26 miles in 9:24, WELL over my 9 hour personal cutoff.

From this aid station, it’s just a few more miles to the top of Indian Truck Trail and then 6.5 miles downhill to the finish.  I am able to jog a bit down the hill (galloping, really) and engage in conversation with a few of the medium-pace 50-mile finishers.  I cross the line in 11:14, one of my slower 50Ks… but it is STILL a finish.

I finished about 30 minutes behind Lauren (though she started on time at 4:30, so I am a tad ahead of her) and we have some nice conversation at the finish while we are waiting for our drop bags.  The wait ends up being several hours, because a runner collapsed on the Main Divide and had to be airlifted out.  This blocked all traffic on the road (drop bag truck) until they could get him out.  The irony of the situation was that everyone trying to finish behind this guy were held up by the helicopter and did not finish the race.  Had I tried to continue, I would have gotten a DNF.

In the end, I got what I wanted – a finishing time – and completed my 10th ultra marathon in 10 months.  It was lonely during the race and I got the social part in at the end of the race, while we all commiserated about how long it took to get our bags.