Tag Archives: Miwok

Golden Gate 50K – 2019

February 9, 2019

As I mentioned on the Chino Hills 50K post, I had to make some substitutions on my ultras in order to hit #100 at Way Too Cool next month.  I took the opportunity to get a discounted entry to the Coastal Trail Runs Golden Gate 50K on Black Friday (I think 20% off and opted out of the shirt to save $5).  Normally I would be running the Avalon 50M in January, but it hit on my parents’ 50th anniversary weekend (not feasible to run 50 miles in SoCal and still make the anniversary party on the same day).

Even though I am doing an alternative, I am pretty familiar with these trails, which have been part of the Headlands 50M, NorthFace 50M, and the Miwok 100K.

The weather forecast isn’t great and it rained quite a bit last night, so I gave myself a little extra time to get to the start and I am one of the first ones to arrive,even before the bib distribution people.  The area where they’ve set up the bib pick-up is somewhat flooded and since the race doesn’t start for another 45 minutes, I jump in and help them get everything set up.  This includes hanging signage (I think I have an advantage) and helping them get pins and bibs in order by race (they have 5M, half, 30K, full, and 50K).

The 30K and 50K courses start together at 8am, and then the half and full at 8:15, and the 5M at 8:30.  The 50K course is the 30K course (which is the half marathon course plus an extra loop), followed by the half marathon loop again.  (It makes sense to start the 30K and 50K together so that both groups get directed down the extra loop and the full and half do not.)

I start towards the back because the initial course is mostly uphill and I am planning on walking the hills and don’t want people to be annoyed by passes on single track.  There are a number of paved switchbacks until we get on the single-track, and the weather is overcast, but not too cold, though I do have my blue windbreaker on in the event it starts raining.

Trail meanders for a while around until the switchbacks into Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 4.1.  This is probably my favorite part of the course because it’s graded for horses (not too steep or rocky) and the stable is a visible landmark.  I’m doing well on overall pace (under 14/mile), and know I will lose some time on the extra loop (aka Pirates Cove).

I don’t spend a lot of time at the aid station and head down the road towards the water.  At a certain point, you get within about 100 yards of the Cove, where the water is calm.  Later, when the trail is higher up, you can see the bigger breakers in the Pacific.

The course today is the reverse of the way I’ve run Pirates Cove before, so it begins with winding around, heading down on single-track, and then climbing back out on the uneven wooden stairs.  I’m just grateful that it’s not raining because the wood and the mud can get quite slick.  It’s already bad enough from yesterday’s rain.

The end of this section pops back down by the serene cove I mentioned before and I head back up the paved road to Tennessee Valley aid station (Part Deux) and will head off now towards the Golden Gate Bridge and the third aid station.  This section is similar to part of the Headlands 50M course, especially the windy section with stairs and rope handrails.  When I get to this third aid station (Conzelman), I will have a better idea of how much time I have to get back to the start to make the 5 hour, ~19 mile cutoff.

The trail continues down to the road, crosses over, and continues on a trail that parallels the road, and goes up, up, up.  By now, it’s started to rain lightly and I keep trying to push the pace so that I have enough time, but getting to the point where I am questioning my pace.  I thought I was at least going the pace through Pirates Cove (about 17 minutes/mile), so for 4.5 miles, I should be there around 75 miles and 90 minutes have passed.  Also, I don’t remember from the map that the trail paralleled the road or went as close as we did to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Finally!  I get to the aid station, but now I have 59 minutes for 4.5 miles.  Granted, there is a lot of downhill, but I’d have to go at the fastest pace I’ve managed all day (around 13:15/mile).  I’m definitely gonna give it my best shot.

So the trail is now a wide fire-trail and heading downhill and is a bit muddy with water streaming down the side.  I just keep shuffle-jogging down the hill hoping that it will be enough.  But, to make matters worse, just when I think I’m getting to the final stretch, the course turns and heads up a small switch-back.  On any other day, this would not be a problem, but the small descent hill is super muddy, and the last thing I want is falling and then having to run another 13 miles!

So I try and take easy and start to slip and dig my feet into the side of the hill causing ankle and foot cramps.  Yack!!  But I do safely make it to the bottom.  But the cramping doesn’t help my attempt to make the cutoff.

Now the home stretch, which is mostly straight and flat.  I know it’s going to be close and I am already rehearsing my sob story in case I don’t make it.  You know, ‘four hours, 13 miles, I can do that, easy,’ but will also understand if I am not allowed to continue.  Dang it.

Despite my hustling, I come in at 5:01:47, and still ask if I continue.  To my surprise, the RD says yes, and then explains that they marked the course incorrectly.  At the spot with the ropes and the wind, the course should have gone straight over the hill and not down and then up the road.  In fact, it added a mile to the course, so I have made the cutoff after all (in a sense).

There are 3 or 4 people behind me that make it through the cutoff as well, and so, we all begin heading up the hill once more.  I am struggling quite a bit because of the cramps from the muddy hill and also because I really pushed the pace to come close to this cutoff (13:20) and I don’t have a lot left.

So, once again up the hill, around the coast, and down to Tennessee Valley Aid station.  My pace was almost 20 minutes per mile, and I am sorta back on pace (Pirates Cove loop took me 93 minutes, minus the hour less I have, minus the 26 minutes I lost on the last section, equals 7 spare minutes).

Now back through the same section, though when I get to the ropes section, the trail turns left and crosses over the hill and I get to the aid station so much more quickly.  Rain is starting to come down again.  I have 72 minutes to get to the end this time (which sounds like a lot of time, but not at the end of 30+ miles).

So, in this last section, I was totally by myself, but when I get to the aid station, there is another guy there. Can’t believe I caught up to anyone.  I mean, this whole race I have been talking or singing to myself because there is no one to talk to.

But he is really hurting and apparently has been at the aid station for 20 minutes or so, talking about quitting.  Quitting?  After 27 miles?  I talk to him for a few minutes while I am refilling my water bottle, sheltering from the rain, and grabbing some potato chips… and convince him to continue.

I set off down the hill and I can see him ambling 100 yards behind me.  Good, but I gotta concentrate on myself and getting to the end.

After a few miles, I turn back and he is much further back, but seems to be moving a lot faster.  Guess he will catch up to me soon.

When he does catch up, it isn’t the same guy at all, it’s the sweeper-slash-ribbon remover.  Finally, a bit of company.  We talk and jog down the hill to the road.  He spins off and heads towards the finish while I take my second gander at the uphill and down on the slick mud.  I feel like I do a little bit better the second time around, kind of skiing down in an effort to avoid cramping and also because I need to get going.

Finally, I make it back onto the road and hustle as much as I can to make it under that 9 hour final cutoff.  Honestly, I am not really running, but my version of speed-walking.  I am certain I can do it… but I end up coming in at 9 hours and 47 seconds.

As I come in, the race director congratulates me by name and the other volunteers say thank you for helping out (10 hours ago!).  Kind of a crazy race with the rain, the mud, the extra mile, and still finishing, slightly over the (normal distance) cutoffs.  And thus, ultra #99 is in the books.  On to Way Too Cool in three weeks and number 100.

8 Days

February 22, 2019

8.  Rafael Covarrubias

I met Rafael in 2008 through AREC Trail Running.  I ended up carpooling with him in his mini Cooper, and we had some conversations about ultras.

Later that year, we carpooled together to the Mt. Disappointment 50M race (we both finished), and I started noticing that we were both doing a lot of the same races (and he was doing a lot more ultras than I was).

In 2009, when I ran my first 100K at Miwok, we carpooled, sort of.  (He drove to Northern CA and I flew and met up at my folks’ place).  That year, the weather forecast was for torrential rains, and Rafael (jokingly?) said he didn’t know if he would go if it were raining (Uh, we’re going!).  But due to the weather, there were close to 100 no shows.  The weather was BAD.  I can remember Rafael putting down newspaper in his car so that I could scrape off the mud that layered my legs from my ankles to my shorts.

We continued with the bad weather theme with the Santa Barbara 100M race in 2012 (no carpool this race) where it rained torrentially and lightning was striking around us.  There was a “great” moment captured on video when Rafael is saying the mud isn’t so bad and then goes careening down the hill, slipping on mud.  (Unfortunately, the race got “relocated” due to the extreme weather.)

A couple of months later, after DNF’ing at Miwok, I drove up with Rafael (and Martin Santos #21) to do the Bishop 100K.  This was the first and last time I went camping before and after doing an ultra (though I have slept in my car).  We repeated our Bishop adventure (but stayed in a motel) the following year.

Our final carpooling adventure was for the 2015 Shadow of the Giants 50K up by Yosemite.  I met Rafael near where he taught at an elementary school in Florence (near downtown LA) and drove up together.  The race was somewhat near where he grew up in Tulare, and we had an extra adventure when he got pulled over for expired plates.  This was another pseudo-camping trip, as we stayed in bunk beds in cabins by the start line.

About a year later, Rafael got a bit burned out on ultra running and went from monthly races to periodic races, and then he moved back to his hometown and now teaches there.

I see Rafael periodically in races (last year at Bishop and Cool) and I think back fondly on our road trips together.  There are lots of people that I run into at this race or that race, but few that I carpooled/traveled with to multiple races over nearly a ten year period.  I hope to see him at some more events in 2019 and beyond.

16 Days

February 14, 2019

16.  Amy Dodson

I met Amy 9 years ago at American River 50 and we had just two runs together in two months, but the memory has really stuck with me ever since.

I can remember a few months earlier at the North Face Endurance 50M in San Francisco that they touted a woman with a prosthetic leg finishing in 11-1/2 hours (3 hours faster than me), although I never saw her.

There was a gal three years ahead of me in high school who had prosthetic arms AND legs (and this was a time when the quality was not great) and she let nothing stop her (still doesn’t).

So fast forward to April 2010, when I first hear the plonk-plonk of the carbon steel prosthetic and then see it, I KNOW that I have to have a bit of a conversation.  I had remembered the name, so I asked her, “Are you Amy?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Oh, well, you kicked my butt at North Face last year!”

“I didn’t do North Face.”

It turned out that there are two Amys that run ultramarathons (Palmiero-Winters and Dodson).  Strange world.

Amy Palmiero-Winters lost her leg due to a motorcycle accident in 1994, but Amy Dodson lost her leg and part of her lung due to sarcoma in 1983 when she was a teenager.  Each hold (or held) World Records for Paralympians.

I ran with Amy for probably an hour at American River and then she finished 30 minutes ahead of me.  So inspirational!

About a month later, I was at the Miwok 100K, and I heard the familiar plonk-plonk (yep, sounds the same on the trails), and in looking at her face, I knew which Amy this time.  Ironic that we were on some of the same trails from North Face Challenge (that the other Amy ran).  We traded passing each other until the dreaded Pantoll hill.  Both of us were under some difficulty at this point, so we stayed together to encourage one another up the hill.

Once at the top, we decided it was in our best interest to stay together.  It was particularly helpful to me, in that as faster runners came towards us from the (miles away) turnaround, they would say, “You guys are so inspirational,” even though the ‘you guys’ was essentially directed to Amy.

At a certain point, though, Amy was having trouble because her prosthetic was hooking on little logs, branches, and impeding her progress, and a hard cutoff was coming up.  “I’ll try and catch up,” she said.

I did turn it on and make the cutoff (and Amy did, too, about 10 minutes behind me), but that 10 minutes; difference prevented her from making the next cutoff, whereas I was able to finish, and I KNOW that running with her enabled me to do so (and is still my 100K PR).

Postscript:  In 2011, Amy attempted to be the first below-the-knee (and missing part of her lung) athlete to finish Western States, but an overzealous aid station volunteer pulled her at a non-cutoff point because it was thought she wouldn’t make the next cutoff.  (She says she could’ve.)  In July of 2011, she was featured on the cover of Runners World.

Running ultras or not, she continues to be a source of inspiration for me.

34 Days

January 27, 2019

34.  Janette Maas

I met Janette at my first (and so far only) 100M finish, at Rocky Raccoon.  We paired up in the latter stages of the 4th loop (somewhat between 76 and 80 miles).  We basically tried to motivate one another to make the 80 mile cutoff (24 hours) and the 100 mile cutoff (30 hours).  I ended making both with a little time to spare (23:15 and 29:42), but she ended up dropping at 80.  A little over a year later, we ended up meeting again at Miwok where we both DNF’ed.  (Hmm… maybe I am bad for her results…)  Even though she is way out in Georgia, I hope we will meet up at an ultra again some time soon.