Tag Archives: Martin Sengo

Headlands 50M – 2017

September 9, 2017

For the past several months, Alan has been talking to me about running his first 50 mile race.  The plan HAD been to do Avalon 50M in January, as this was the event where we got to know each other better (seemingly, it’s the event where I actually remember the people I meet).  However, he tells me that it’s not a good idea if he does Avalon because his wife’s due date is within 10 days of that event, and while he could probably manage being away on a run during that time, being an hour boat ride away is probably not the best idea.

I went through the options of events I have done that occur in the summer, fall, and winter time (semi-local), and other than Twin Peaks (not a great first timer event), there are not a lot of options… but I do remember having run the Headlands 50M in 2011.  (Go ahead, look up the post – I finished, but didn’t have the best time doing so.)

I take a look at their information; I know they are under different management than when I ran the event.  In fact, the lame race director actually died and the company was sold.  One of the great disadvantages of this race (for me, at least) was that as I finished in the dark, the ribbon was hard to see (in the fog) and I was totally by myself.  A possible advantage to running the race now is that there are two longer distances available (75 and 100 miles) which means there will be others still running the course when I struggle in.

I suggest to Alan this might be a good first 50 miler – not the easiest, but scenic and logistically easy to run… and if he decides to run it, I will run it “with” him.

On Friday, his wife drops him off at my place at some ungodly hour so that we can drive up to the Bay Area and miss most of the traffic at both ends.  When we hit some traffic coming into Livermore, we use the Express Lanes (not realizing that you need a transponder to avoid a ticket – and later I get a transponder to avoid that fine).  Unlike our last ultra in the Bay Area (last month), my folks are in town so he can spend some QT with my entire family (except Riva who is not visiting).  It’s the usual of resting before a hellacious day.

Saturday morning we take the exciting drive up to the Headlands.  The fastest way to go is via the Golden Gate Bridge, which means you go across the (new) Bay Bridge, through San Francisco (the 101 is on city streets there) and a bunch of turns.  I always hate this drive by myself, but it’s slightly better with a navigator.  Once you get to the other side of the Golden Gate (not particularly scenic at 4AM), you queue up for the one-way tunnel drive which pops us out into the short foggy coastal drive down to Rodeo Beach.

The area where I had parked in the past for Miwok and this event in 2011 is blocked off for volunteers and race staging, but they direct us to park along the side of the road and we are about a half mile down from the start.

Fortunately, because we are so early, we have the time to walk over, pick up our bibs (and applicable giveaways – I opted out of everything, but I still get a cool drop bag with compartments), and drop it all back in the car.  It’s a little on the chilly side but manageable.

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I spot a number of people I know that are running various distances – Megan Cheng, Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen, Dean Karnazes, running the 100 miler; Martin Sengo doing the 75 miler, and Ken Michal in the 50 with us.

As the race gets underway, I try and keep Alan in my sights, but honestly, I have to run my own race.   My semi-goal is to be at or close to my 14:43 time of 2011 (or if I apply the “age-grade” formula here, I need to beat 15:20 or so to do an equivalent).  I know that Alan should be considerably faster than that; hence why we would not run together.

The way the course is run is that we do 25 mile loops.  When the first loop is completed, then we run the loop in reverse.  (Note:  It’s not a true loop, but the direction you run on a certain stretch of trail is determined by the loop direction.)  This certainly means that we will encounter a number of runners coming towards us and passing us at any given moment.

This first section is 4.1 miles long and will also be the last 4.1 miles of the race (and was also the last few miles of Miwok in 2009 and 2010).  For the most part, it’s a long uphill slog, including a whole bunch of uneven stairs (a bit wet) which are a total dream in the dark, let me tell you.  At the top, it’s a traverse along the coast and then eventually down a (horse) switchback that ends at Tennessee Valley.

We will hit the Tennessee Valley aid station 4 times, so that is where my drop bag is located.  I generally do not need anything in my drop bag, but I have my small TRH duffel with a spare tube of Nuun, spare batteries for my headlamp, and a tube of glow sticks (from Dollar Tree) that I intend on breaking open in my final stretch to entertain myself in the dark.

I come through in 57:45, which is a tad faster than briskly walking.  Hooray!

The next stretch goes from Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach.  There is a length lightly downhill paved section towards the coast again, and then a number of annoying climbs to a double-track trail and a number of short wooden bridges.  I know this leads to the section that I fear most, which is hundreds of uneven downhill stairs that are apt to be slippery.

Fortunately, I am mostly by myself (meaning, I don’t have people bounding by me and making me lose my concentration), though once I get to the bottom and begin the gentle climb out, a lady passes me and mentions that she’s seen me at some other ultras.  The joke is always, “Gosh you remember me?” since I know it is because I am so tall.

She says, “Well, you are the Usain Bolt of Ultrarunning.”  A strange (but apt) sobriquet.

Once I get around a number of the curves hugging the shoreline, there is a bit of a descent on a wide fire road heading down into Muir Beach.  This is a double-up section, so I do get some encouragement from Meg near her turn-off at the top and from Alan somewhere nearer the bottom.

They have done some construction since the last time I was here.  Now there is a nice (but a bit slippery) metal bridge traversing the marshy area.  In my last Miwok, we had to detour around this quite a bit.

 

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I have been cautious on this section, especially because the stairs and the severe downhills have been tough on my knees, but I carry on through in just over an hour (at 15:52 pace).

Now I turn around, recross the bridge, and head back up the hills.  Not as much cross traffic (as I am towards the back) but the people around me are somewhat surprised at my technique of climbing the hills which is diagonal climbing.  It takes pressure off my knees and is mildly entertaining to me (I don’t listen to music so I have weird ways of keeping my mind occupied.).  There is also a trick to timing it just right so you can get around upcoming people.

This next section is another 4 miles back to Tennessee Valley but in a slightly different manner, along Coyote Ridge and not along the coast.  I kinda hate this section because it’s hard to visualize where you are heading, but once you complete the ridiculous climbing away from the coast, there is quite a bit of downhill to get back to the Valley (which is not to say I am maintaining a faster pace).

From Tennessee Valley, the course now heads out in a third different direction (first one inbound from the start, second one inbound from Muir Beach, third one outbound to the Golden Gate).  This is the second longest stretch of the course (been doing about 4 mile stretches for the first 3) at 5.9 miles and definitely has the most up-and-down of the sections.

It’s a long, long climb out of Tennessee Valley, but at the top, the view is pretty rewarding.  It’s not too foggy this year to see the Golden Gate Bridge, but it is still foggy and breezy.  The course is slightly confusing here, but I am good at following ribbons.  Because of the fog, it is more humid here and the trail is muddier.

 

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However, to me, muddier means softer.

When I emerge from the foggy wooded section, it’s back to single-track and gusty winds.  In a couple of sections, I hold my hat in my hand so that it doesn’t blow off.  I am almost walking on this downhill section and there are now runners sprinting by me on the uphills (to be expected).  I look for the familiar faces (feel like I should have seen Meg Cheng by now – she was running so well).

Probably midway down, I encounter Alan coming back up.  He tells me he hates this section because it is so rocky and he has to continually tilt his Luna sandals to keep the pebbles out (don’t suppose gaiters would work?).

When I get to the bottom, it’s now the paved road down, down, down to the water UNDER the Golden Gate Bridge.  I hate this section because you give up the hill  entirely, and then you have to climb back out (and we will be back here again soon – yuck).

I thought the aid station would be at the bottom of the hill, but we have to turn and run alongside the water for a quarter mile or so.  The aroma of marijuana smoke is pretty strong here – gag.  I pick up a couple of orange slices and make the turnaround.  Because of the downhill, I dropped my pace from 17:30 to 16:15 per mile, but know I will probably lose all that in a quick minute here.

Now for the longest stretch, 7.1 miles (feels like an eternity).  It starts with the reverse road climb, then the switchbacks on rocky dirt in the wind, back through the muddy wood, and then a turn onto the road heading back down to Rodeo Beach.

Once I am back on the fire-road, it’s a spot-fast-folks section, as they have finished their first loop and are heading in the reverse direction now.  First, I spot Dean Karnazes.  We talked for a quick second at the start and he vaguely remembers me from Santa Barbara 100 (I worked, he ran).  This is a MUCH easier course (the 100, I mean) by the way.

Next, I see Ed Ettinghausen.  I’ve known him for at least a decade so when he passes me, he gives me the ol’ toot on the railroad whistle (I’m struggling carrying two water bottles – I wouldn’t be carrying a large wooden whistle with me – I can cheer people on just as well with my voicebox.).  Great to see him.

Still looking for Meg.  Feel like at this point, maybe she dropped out. (Later, I find she was throwing up and had a touch of the flu, so maybe it was for the best… but I tend to run better when I am a little sick because I manage my expectations better.)

Quite a bit later, I spot Alan coming up the road.  I’ll time it, but I’m probably a good hour behind him at this point.  If he maintains a good pace, I’ll probably finish 2-3 hours behind him (hope he’s easily entertained!).

The fire road pops out on Conzelman (the road we drove in on) and crosses it to a small trail paralleling the cars for about a mile.  My feet really hurt at this point.  I am almost considering quitting, BUT I know that I could slowly slog on for another 7 hours (Yes, that sounds crazy, but I have 33 hours to finish (or, 26 and change at this point), and while I am hoping not to take 33 hours, my need to finish is strong enough to keep on.).

I come through the start/finish line, grab some vittles and head back out.  There are still some people behind me coming in (some to finish the marathon (who ran an additional 1.2 mile loop at the start)).  I overhear one guy say that he is going to stop and not do another loop.  I halfheartedly yell at him to continue since we still have so much time.

When I get back to the trail section, I spot Eldrith Gosney.  We “ran” together at Miwok 2009 (and she creamed me).  She is in her 70s and an ultra legend.  We chat really briefly (neither of us need to stop for too long).  I suggest that we are the weird “E”s (Eldrith and Emmett) and I flash her the “E” sign with my fingers.

So now up the dreaded hill.  Since I am now doing every section in reverse, I can compare times (probably a bad idea).  The sections aren’t identical (since down is up and vice versa) and I am now between 5 and 25 miles more tired than when I did the section earlier.

I continue my zigzag up the hill and try to maintain an even pace.  Still shooting for 14:43 or at least sub-15:00 but my feet are really hurting.

At the top, back into the muddy forest, a little less foggy at this hour, and then back into the wind and technical trail.

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Alan is almost off this section by the time we connect, meaning he is closer to 90 minutes ahead of me now.  Guess I won’t be catching up.  I don’t spot folks like Ed or Dean at this point because they have already turned off on the trail to Tennessee Valley.

When I get down to the paved section, that feels the absolute worst on my feet.  The best bet to get down the hill quickly is skipping or galloping.  Think about it, you cover a longer distance and it’s slightly less pounding.

When I get to the aid station, I have to sidle around a fire truck.  Someone had some issues and they called the paramedics.  By some miracle, I got through this section in 2:03:53 (only 4 minutes slower).  Now, although I still have the climb out, the distance between aid stations is only going to get shorter.  I got the two 7.1 mile stretches done.

The climb out is horrible and I am only gratified by the fact that there are still folks behind me (not many) and I am mostly around the same people I have seen all day (a gal here, and a couple there), though I am worried about the probability of some of them finishing… because they are entered in the 75 or 100 miler and while we are still on pace for a finish, the reality is that once it gets dark, the speed will drop considerably, the body will get even more tired, and the chances will fall precipitously.

Just after I turn out of the forested area and back onto the fire road that will take me back to Tennessee Valley, I spot someone not in a number, a volunteer that I think I saw at the last aid station.  She is looking for a particular runner – I think it is the wife of one of the couples I have been trading leads with all day.  The hard part is I don’t think we exchanged names, but I do remember some of the numbers.

Anyway, the second weirdest moment on an ultra for me (first was probably discussing hemorrhoids with Gordy Ainsleigh at Way Too Cool 50K) was the volunteer saying that she wanted to find the runner to give her medication for her UTI.  Seriously, too much information, there.

More zigzagging down the steep hill into Tennessee Valley.  No 4-5 minute slower on this section, no-sir-ee Bob.  13 minutes slower (basically 2 minutes PER mile slower).  I, too, am facing the dark dilemma.

At Tennessee Valley, I spot a few of my friends.  Martin Sengo is here, but heading out to finish his second loop and presumably start his third and final loop.  Good to see another tall-ish guy.  I also see my friend Errol “Rocket” Jones.  We never seem to meet when both of us are running – it’s always one or the other.  One of these days, I want to do his Quad Dipsea race, but I have to know my Thanksgiving plans several months in advance.

Less than a half marathon to go, but another dreaded climb out of Tennessee Valley and off to Muir Beach.  Because this section is so even (meaning an equal measure of up and down, I actually ran it only 30 seconds slower than the first time out (I wonder if that means that there was actually more downhill than up!).  Another two traverses of the full metal bridge.

Now the fun climb out, back along the ridge, downhill, and up the slippery wood stairs, back along the coast.  I am pretty much by myself most of the way here, with occasional reverse direction passes from 75 or 100 milers.

It is starting to get dusky and I am hoping to get back into Tennessee Valley before it gets dark, especially because I left my headlamp in my drop bag for a number of loops so I didn’t have to carry it with me.  It is almost dark when I slog into the aid station at a 24 minute per mile pace (lost 34 minutes off my first time through).

Before I take off, the one thing I am wondering is when the drop bags will be returned to the start.  Wondering if they will do the deal with some coming back earlier and the rest tomorrow afternoon, but they say that all of them are not coming back until tomorrow.

I make the decision that I will carry my bag back with me (so we don’t have to wait or come back tomorrow).  It’s a small duffel so I am able to strap it across my back in a way that isn’t uncomfortable (and as I mentioned earlier, there is some glow sticks, some Nuun, and some batteries inside – it probably weighs less than my car keys).

When I begin heading out on trail, they are only just putting out glow sticks and I am not even sure what direction to go (and I know this area) but someone orienteers me in the direction of the barn.  Think they dropped the ball and forgot to put markers out BEFORE dark, as they are putting them up now.

I know there’s a turn to head up the horse switchbacks, but I can’t see yellow ribbon in the dark unless I see the ribbon in the exact reflection point.  This results in me missing the turn and wandering back and forth until some 75/100 milers come in from the correct direction so I can head back out that way.

I’m feeling the nightmare from 6 years ago when I couldn’t find the blue ribbon (and no glow sticks), but am gratified at least that some people will be coming at me and it won’t be me by myself for the last 90 minutes to 2 hours.

For the most part, there aren’t any options for turns.  Just slow going in the dark (even with a headlamp, which only illuminates the 20 yards ahead of you).  Every so often, a runner or a large group of runners (probably from the Night Sweats Marathon which started a little while ago.  Mostly ladies who cheer me on. Nice!

There is a certain point when I have a vague idea where I am, even in the dark and you start to hear the voices of the finish line but you can’t just bound down the hill, you have to follow the course in correct manner (unless like 6 years ago, you can’t find any course and just guess your way down the hill).  Every turn is a hunt for the yellow ribbon and glow stick.  If it is a turn, it’s always hidden.  Probably they marked it in the daylight, not thinking of how it appears at night so it was a little hairy at times.

I did eventually get to the stone stairs (slippery and tough in the dark) and then a wooden railing from which I could see the lights of the finish line, and then finally through the gate back onto Conzelman Road for a short period before turning up through the parking lot and across the finishline in 15:10:14 (not under 15 hours or 14:43, but age-grade faster).

Alan finished under 12:00, which in the old days was a Western States Qualifier (11:53), so he has been making new friends for the past 3 hours (and freaking out his wife because the cell phone is in my car).

I get some food and unstrap my drop bag (throw my water bottles in there).  I pull out my glow sticks (which I never got around to) and hand them out to anyone hanging at the finish that is interested – which is a lot of people.  At this point I could probably hand out large pieces of coal and the people there would get excited (because we are off our feet).

A few of the people who finished near me, but are in the 75 or 100 are weighing their options.  A 75er can still finish, but does she want to go struggle around in the dark all night?  And someone in the 100 probably isn’t going to finish unless the sun suddenly rose in the next hour.  I think we convinced a few people to call it a day at 50 miles (which is a pretty pretty good accomplishment).

For me, it’s my 23rd completed 50 miler (can’t believe I’m coming upon 25 finishes) and for Alan, a very respectable first 50 miler on not the easiest of courses (I have three faster times and they were a lot flatter and less technical).

If I can figure out the feet thing (better padded shoes?  better feet?), I would be interested in returning and trying the 75 miler.  Don’t think I could do the 100.  I guess we will see what 2018 holds (and if Mrs. Sheppard can handle 3 kids while Alan runs 100 miles or if Alan can push 3 kids 100 trail miles in a stroller).

 

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Way Too Cool 50K – 2017

March 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Way Too Cool 50K – 2016

March 5, 2016

Last week I tried to do some car shopping (or least car comparisons). I think I have narrowed it down to five car models – Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Altima, Kia Optima, and Hyundai Sonata.

First, I walked to the (now moved) Traffic Circle Toyota.  I had a heck of time getting someone to show me cars.  I got to sit in two types of Priuses, but no offer of a test drive was to be had.

From there, I walked to Signal Hill to find the sister Hooman Nissan place, but I got turned around and never found it.  Long walk for nothing.  Though… I did get a pizza slice at Costco.

Once I picked up a rental car on Monday, I decided to drive over to Cerritos Auto Square and see if I could look at and/or drive some of the models I was interested in.

Once I found a salesman at the Kia place, we got in for a test drive, no questions asked, only requested my driver’s license to make sure I was licensed.  I liked the Kia Optima.  It has 45″ of driver leg space, which is important to an ultra tall, ultra runner.

I walked down to the Nissan place, which apparently had no main office and had a hard time finding someone to talk to me (hanging out by cars didn’t help).  After I had to fill out a bunch of forms, we went for a test drive.  The roominess was OK, and the salesman wanted me to make a decision on the spot.  I said I would get back to him (he pestered me by phone for 2 months afterwards even after I told him NOT to call me).

Finally, I went to the Hyundai shop.  They didn’t have any models I could drive, but I did sit in the cheapest model of the Sonata.  It was OK, but nothing special.

So, my mom said, “Come up a day early, and I will go shopping/test driving with you.”  I think that would help.

Meanwhile, I was getting used to and enjoying the Chevy Malibu rental, which had pretty decent leg room, and a weird feature where the engine would shut off on a complete stop (and restart when you took your foot off the brake).  It was getting about 30-35 mpg on the drive up to Northern California, so I was happy about that as well.

In the afternoon on Thursday, Mom and I went down to each of the four car dealerships that matched the models I was interested in.

At the Toyota place on Broadway, the salesman was very helpful, although none of the models had working batteries, so seats couldn’t really be adjusted, and in both Toyota cases, I found the cars to be a little on the tight side (though similar to my former car situation).

At the Nissan dealership, we sat in a few cars, and I didn’t really like any of them, and no one came to talk to us.  Guess they were not really interested in selling cars.

The Kia dealership was dark, but then we found the actual location across the street.  A portly, but very knowledgeable Black salesman got me into a Kia Optima (with mom in the backseat), gave me all the features, explained the difference between Kia and Hyundai (not a lot), and I was fairly poised to purchase that model of car (but I will wait until I am back in So. Cal.).

As a whim, we went over to the Hyundai dealership, which was just about to close, but a nice salesman took me around and seated me in several versions of the Hyundai Sonata, and said that he was also the TrueCar representative and that they wouldn’t dick around with the price.

So, I think when I get back, I will select one of these two models.  (More on this for my birthday post in a few days.)

On Friday, I mostly rested and went for birthday dinner at Bay Fung Tong with the family.

I tried to sleep well on Friday, because I have to leave by 5:00am to have time to park, get my number, etc., tomorrow morning.  Also, it is forecast to rain, so that could cause some havoc on the roads.

Unfortunately, I woke up at 4:45am, giving myself little time to get myself all ready.  Putting on my running clothes is one thing, but using the toilet, maybe eating something small and waking myself up enough to drive safely is another.

It was raining lightly when I left.  Even though there were few people on the roads, one driver did get too close to me and I nearly swerved off the road.  THAT woke me up!

The drive mostly went without any more problems, though when I did finally get up into Auburn, the car ahead of me on Highway 49 was driving about 15 miles per hour. It’s windy, but that was ridiculous.

The reason that a super-slow driver made me anxious was that all cars had to be across the starting line and going to park by a certain time, and that time was coming up quickly.  I didn’t want to have to figure out whatever Plan B would be, but I did get through just under the gun.

As with last year, this involved driving down the road to the end, turning around and then parking heading out.  Of course, the cars in front don’t seem to get that action.  I wanted them to just follow the directions, so that I can get myself parked, walk to the packet pick-up, walk back to the car, and get ready to go.

I am probably the 10th car from the bottom of the hill and the car is at least 3/4 of a mile from the start line.

It’s not raining at this point, but I can see parts of the course, and it looks to be very muddy.  But, I’ve done muddy here before.  I think I can handle it.

I have just enough time to get my bib, go back to the rental car, drop off my packet (shirt and crap in the bag), and get back before the “elite” start at 8:00am.

What do you know?  Hanging around at the start is Sandy Binder, which means that her husband Dave must be running.  I always enjoy seeing them (one year at Skyline 50K, I ran into him mid-course, on a training run, and then they met me at the finish, with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale).

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Ten minutes later, I was off (with the non-elites), working towards completing my 13th Way Too Cool.

A few months earlier… we spent Christmas Eve dinner with Mom’s closest college buddy and her family.  I have known Diane (Albracht) Benson probably my whole life, and my Mom has known her for over 50 years since they attended Stanford together (and their birthdays are just two days apart).  Diane has been battling various tumors and cancers off-and-on for several years.

At Christmas, Diane seemed more tired than usual and Mom thought that she might be on her last legs.  I thought that I should make sure to dedicate Cool to her and let her know I was thinking of her BEFORE she passed away (see Skyline 50K post from 2012 when I missed notifying my friend by hours).

I made up a special pace sheet with pictures and a poem and I mailed a copy to her about six weeks prior, especially when I heard that she was bedridden and too weak to do much.  As it turned out, she was suffering from a particularly bad case of sciatica, and it wasn’t the cancer that was causing the problems.  Still, I wanted to let her know I was thinking of her.

Now it’s time to head out on the Cool trails and see how well (or poorly) I can do.

At the start and also as I head down the paved hill, I see a few friends, including Martin Sengo (of GVH), and Kelly Dent and Tsehay Villeza (both running their first ever ultra, from AREC).

This paved portion of the first eight miles has somewhat rolling hills, but I decide instead of walking each hill, I am going to run the entire two miles to get out ahead of the bulk of the slow runners in my corral.  Once I get onto the unpaved trails and the single track, being free of slower runners will make the going slightly faster (not uncomfortable, but not a “settling for whatever” pace).

I am probably one of the first 20 people to reach the trailhead, which means both that I achieved my goal of getting out ahead, but also that I won’t have loads of people to trip into me on this rocky and mildly muddy downhill.  When I get to the bottom, the first water crossing is pretty substantial.  Nothing I can’t handle, but last year, I may not have had to get my feet wet because it was a dry year.

The water is about 2-1/2 feet deep and it is moving a little bit, enough to make someone not as tall as I am feel apprehensive.  About midway across (it’s maybe 15 feet across), I offer my arm to a struggling older lady.  It helps. We encounter one another a few other times and she refers to me as her “River Angel.”

When I get to the single track section, I get caught up in a “train” of quickly moving folks, but not so close that I am stumbling over rocks or roots.  At the tail end of it, as it heads uphill, I can go off the main part of the single-track to walk and let others pass.

Before I get back to Cool (to finish the first eight miles), there are three more substantial water crossings.  The first, which was completely dry last year, is essentially a 6′ puddle (deep enough to get the shoes wet).  The second is a foot deep, rushing stream with an awkward angle to step through.  (“River Angel” to the rescue here again.)  And the last crossing, just before the aid station, is another 1-1/2 foot deep slowly moving stream.

The past few years I have done this eight-mile stretch in about 90 minutes, and I am close to that time, finishing in 1:27:20.

The next section is a 5K, 90% downhill, and then across Highway 49 and onto the fire-road that parallels the American River for a spell.  The first bit of the trail is the reverse of the finish and it is fairly muddy (something to look forward to), but then the downhill starts.  It is not as muddy as in a past year (where it was like skiing on mud), but I have never been great with technical downhills, especially when there are faster people on your tail.  It is slower going than in drier years as the mud is sticking to my shoes and impairing my forward progress.

After you cross the 49, there is still a bit to go before you reach the actual aid station.  (It feels like it is further away each year, though.)  I get there in 39 minutes (slower than my first section, strangely) and refill my water bottles and adjust the inserts in my shoes.

The first couple miles of this next section are mostly flat, with some rolling hills.  The surface is dirt with gravel (but not a ton and not slippery), and there are a few avoidable puddles.  I run and walk intermittently here, because up ahead is a substantial uphill and I would like to be not already in distress when I hit the hills.  It has also started to rain a bit again, though the occasional tree cover prevents most of it from drenching my glasses.

I feel like I am making good progress here.  People pass me when I walk, but then I pass them back when I run and I permanently overtake them when I power-walk the hills.  I keep coming in-and-out of contact with a younger runner who is essentially running shirtless, but has on a transparent raincoat.  An odd look to be sure.  There are times when I pass him and don’t see him for a while, and then later, he passes me and I forget about him until I catch up again.

The aid station is in an unexpected spot.  Given my time – 44 minutes – I feel like it might be earl, especially because the volunteers say something like, “Just 6-1/2 miles to the next aid,” even though my pace sheet says it should be a mile less.  I guess we can say that I did 11 minute miles here and then be disappointed when I get to the next AS.

Whatever the distance, it weaves around the woods, past Ball “Buster” Hill, more paralleling of the American River (though it is more off in the distance now), mostly double-track (where people can pass without having to ask).  I am mostly by myself, but occasionally catch up with a “train” or two and get repassed by the “trains” when I stop once again to readjust my shoe inserts.

So, sure enough, when I get through the supposed 6.5 miles (5.6 on my sheet), I have dropped to a 14 minute pace, but I think from here on in, the mileages should match with what I have.

Now I follow a section of course that is super-familiar to me, having run it now 13 times (and probably another 9-10 times in the opposite direction).  However, despite the familiarity, it is hard to tell exactly where you are.  I try and count the approximate number of water crossings.  In the past, it was around 40-50 from the aid station to the wooden bridge.  This helps me because after the wooden bridge, there is one more feet-wet water crossing and then a whole bunch of uphill – Goat Hill.

Most of this 5.3.mile section is gentle rolling hills, but after the aforementioned water crossing, it turns left onto a wide fire road, steady uphill, and then turns onto the steep portion of Goat Hill.  I used to be able to power past people just walking up this hill, but it is definitely a struggle, especially with it being muddy.  I figure if I can get through this section at around a 15:00/mile pace, I am doing excellent.

Last year at this time, I began to abandon my dream of finishing in under 7 hours.  I have finished several times under 7 hours, but not recently.  Last year, I missed it by 7 minutes, but I feel like I am doing better this year.

When I start to see the “Burma Shave” signs:  “Almost,” “To,” “The Top,” etc., and can hear cowbells, I know I am almost there and the last of the hand-to-knee motion is over.  I have surprisingly covered the distance in 1:16, which is a 14:30 pace, better than I could have expected.

Now I have about 3.5 miles to the Highway 49 Crossing aid station, and I have always liked this section, but I KNOW it is going to be very wet and muddy.  There is yet a little more forested fire road, but then it pops out onto a single track with water flowing down it.  My right knee hurts a little bit with this downhill, so I don’t overdo it.  There are not a whole lot of people around me, which is nice, because as I’ve said, I don’t like people running downhills behind me.  It makes me nervous.

At the bottom of the hill is the berry bushes “water crossing.”  It isn’t really a water crossing, but the water all spills into a convenient hole that covers the entirety of the trail and is splashy for another 150 yards.  It doesn’t really matter at this point, as I am already muddy up to my shorts line and my shoes have been mostly wet the whole way.

I am just biding my time before I get into the quarry area and will soon be escorted across the Highway.

I get there in about 46 minutes and my total time (with 1.4 to go) is 6:12:50.  I am pretty excited because last year I got to this point in 6:47 and was pretty certain that I could not cover the last distance in just 13 minutes.  I should be able to break 7 hours this year unless I cannot go 1.4 miles in 47:10.  That would be, as they say, “sad.”

As with last year, I do not stop at the last AS because I am around 20 minutes from the end.  It is mostly uphill and then I will hit the last muddy stretch.  I go back and forth with a few guys and gals.  Most are better at the uphills than I am.

On the last stretch, I duel it out with an older gentleman.  This isn’t your typical “duel” it out you have in a 5K.  This is trying to run 9 or 10 minutes a mile and not stop.

Astoundingly, I come in at 6:31:52, which is my 3rd fastest (of 14) on this course, and my fastest on the new course – the first time under 7 hours on the new course.  The only two times I ran faster here was in 2002 and 2003, when it was my first and fourth ultra, and even then, those times were 6:24 and 6:28.

I have a little time after the race to socialize, but I do need to get going soon.  I get some minestrone soup and my cupcake and then go over to the beer tent.  There is this SF beer called Sufferfest, apparently gluten-free.  They give you a commemorative Way Too Cool 50K glass with the beer of your choice.  It’s not too bad.  I talk briefly with the brewer and convince him to give me a can of the beer so I can take it to my dad.  Think he might like it.

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Now the 0.75 jaunt back to the car to put some drier clothes on and then drive back to the Bay Area so I can attend the Piedmont Choirs’ Fundraising Gala.  It starts at 6pm and I am able to get out of Cool by 3:15pm.  That should be plenty of time.

Unfortunately, when I get back down into Sacramento, the rain just comes down with a vengeance.  On the Causeway (basically a bridge between Sacramento and Davis), traffic is at a near standstill, but also, my windshield wipers are on full throttle and not doing much.

Once I get through Davis, the weather clears up a little bit, but it’s now 4:30 and I still have 70 miles to drive, I need to shower, get dressed, and drive 5 miles to the event.

I essentially get to my folks’ house at 5:45, just as they are all leaving themselves.  It pours and pours and pours, and during the event, we saw lightning strikes through the windows.  Glad to be inside at this point in the storm.

Next year I hope to get in at least one more time, as it will be my 14th Cool, and the 28th running of the event.  What an honor to have run at least half of them.