Tag Archives: Oakland

LMJS 4th Sunday 15K – 2016

November 27, 2016

Since it works out that I am in the Bay Area for the 4th Sunday 15K, I should definitely run it.  The last time I wanted to do a 4th Sunday run, my flight got cancelled and the rebook was during the race, so I couldn’t go.

As a reminder, this course is a 5K loop, so in the 15K, you run it three times.  The effect is that you run with a bunch of people in the first lap, a few people in the second, and no one in the third lap.  (Technically, that’s not true, because there is a lot of pedestrian dodging on all the laps.)

I ran the entire race without walking (though felt like it a bit).  My first two 5K times were each a little slower than the last – 25:24 and 25:29.

On the third 5K, I pushed it a bit more in the last 1.1 miles and finished in 25:17.  My total time was 1:17:18, my best 15K in some time (since last year).  I came in 7th overall (out of 9) and 2nd in my division (out of 2).

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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.

Skyline 50K – 2015

August 8, 2015

A special milestone event for me.

I started running in April 1996, and ran my first marathon about 8 months later.  It took me about 5 years to get to 10 marathons, but once I started doing ultramarathons, the amount of long races I did each year started to jump, including a streak of 30-something months where I ran at least 26 miles in a race EACH month (a few were DNFs, but I still covered at least 26 miles of the race).

I had known for a while that this milestone was upcoming, so of course, I used Skyline 50K as my goal event and was able to contact the Race Director, Adam Ray (an acquaintance of mine), and get the #100 bib to help commemorate my 100th marathon or longer distance race.

It turned out to be a very busy weekend.

Usually, Skyline is run on a Sunday and then I end up driving back to Southern California a few hours later.  This year, because of scheduling issues, the race is run on a Saturday, and additionally, pretty much my entire family is in town, including my two nephews who live in Dallas (though Evan is at choir camp and we will pick him up on Sunday).

So, this means that I do not have a bed.  Not a problem, because the upstairs couch is a bit longer and more comfortable.  It’s fine.

Last year, I started an hour early, mostly due to the fact that I had run Harding Hustle a couple of weeks before and was not entirely recovered.  This year, I wanted to have a regular “official” start.  I know that I will have little problem in finishing under the time limit, but in certain circumstances, it makes me feel more confident when I am not at the back at all times… but starting on time, you do get the excitement of  the crowds at the start.

I happened to spot the gal I ran with for about 5 miles last year, Meg Cheng (who definitely didn’t need to start early last year, but did so because she was AT the start early with some early-starting friends).  I ended up catching up to her around 2 miles in and staying with her for about 5 miles again.  It’s always nice to have some company of people that you know.

On the other hand, I create some conversation with other runners, as well as with volunteers when I show off my pace sheet (which since this race 2 years ago, I have dedicated the race to someone special – 2 years ago was supposed to be my high school friend, Brian Kelly, in his honor, but he died two days before the race, so it was in his memory).

Because this is my 100th, I wanted to do something special and honor 10 people who influenced or helped me in some way.IMG_0146

First, I give a lot of credit to my sister, Riva Rahl, who famously told me that if I put my mind to it, I could run a marathon.  I thought she was crazy at the time.

Second, my college buddy, Kevin Krajewski, with whom I “trained” with to run our first marathon.  We didn’t do a lot of runs together, but he always motivated me to do better (until I finally bested him).

Next, Habib Torfi, who I knew from my first full-time job.  He worked at the Epithelial Autograft Facility and he got me into running with running groups.

Fourth, my running club buddy, Jennifer Aguilar.  We DID train together a lot and she was always positive and helpful.

Fifth, another running club buddy, “Tahoe Bob” Gilbert, who was known as the ‘crazy ultramarathoner.’ We are similar… not really fast, but persistent.  I always felt if he could do it, I could do it, and we did a number of trail runs together.

Sixth and seventh, Chuck and Laura Sohaskey.  Laura was always my training partner and I got HER into ultramarathoning.  Chuck has done a few ultras as well, and brings a certain je sais ne quois to our adventures, humor-wise.

Eighth is my running club buddy, Mitsuye Morrissey, who convinced me to run my first ultramarathon at Way Too Cool, a distance that I would have never considered.  We also had a fun adventure at Javelina Jundred (Miler) where we both finished the 100K.

Ninth is my ultrarunning buddy, Rafael Covarrubias, who has motivated me to a number of ultra adventures, including Mt. Disappointment 50M, Miwok 100K, Bishop 50M, and Shadow of the Giants 50K.  He is a better runner than I, and I try to run better so that he doesn’t have to wait too long at the finishline.

And lastly, but not leastly, my family, who support me and motivate me in all of my adventures.  After 100 marathon-plus races, they KNOW I am probably insane!

The weather was on the foggy side and I want to take advantage because I know that once it clears, it could get quite warm, especially in the hilly sections.  This next section is pretty flat, so I try to maintain a decent running and walking pace to get through.  All of the cattle gates are open, so I don’t have to stop and unlatch them (coming to a complete stop).

At the end of this section, there is a sharp turn, a short (but steep) road to a dirt parking lot and the 2nd aid station.  I am greeted by my Cool buddy, Sabine Gillert, who is volunteering/cheering.  Always great to see someone you know cheering you on at the race.

One of the volunteers says she recognizes me.  Says I look great.  Way better than when I was so FAT!  What?  I don’t ever remember being fat.  In fact, I weigh more now than I did when I started running, so maybe you remember me from the future?

I will make my way back to this aid station in about 11 miles, but for now, it’s a mile-and-a-half uphill and the same downhill.  My hope is to finish this section in about the same time that I finish it, in reverse, on the way back (even though the downhill section (uphill on the return) seems so much harder on the return trip).

I get into the 3rd aid station after completing the 3.1 miles in 36 minutes.  Now I cross the road and get into the single-track section, which is some uphill and some downhill, winding around to the hardest uphill section (steep and about a mile long) and then a continuous uphill fire road section up to the Skyline Gate aid station (aka Halfway, but really 14.5 miles) and where I may see some members of my family, depending upon if they time it right and can find a parking spot.

I somewhat exceed my goals on this section.  Usually on an uphill, I maintain 16-18 minutes per mile, but I was brisker and managed 14:20s.

When I get to the top, I don’t see anybody, but just as I am getting ready to take off, Riva, Marisa, and nephew Reagan show up.  The gals take off to park the car, leaving almost-8 year-old Reagan with me.  Now I cannot leave until they come back.

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I considered, briefly, having him walk with me, and hope that my sisters would realize where I had gone, but it was probably only 6 or 7 minutes total waiting.  I ate some food and we chatted for a bit.  I also got to chat with Errol “Rocket” Jones, working the aid station, who I had met at the Santa Barbara 100K last month (he was volunteering).  He is the co-race director of the Quad Dipsea, which I would like to run someday.

Now I head off to the right, which is mostly flat until it gets to the French Trail downhill single-track, on which I make good time, but have to be watchful, as it is rock-y and root-y and I am loathe to trip.  The general path of the trail is downhill, downhill, downhill, with occasional rocks and roots.

When I get almost to the bottom, it turns and takes a steep uphill turn.  I almost wanted to have not run the last bit to the bottom, if only to arrest my heart rate a bit and help out with the climb back up, but I just have to persevere.

This is the absolutely longest section (5.9 miles) and it’s often hard to tell how close you are getting to the end of the section, because you hear the road, but keep winding around and then, suddenly, you are there.  My pace on this section is about the same as the long uphill.  In other words, I am doing better because it is downhill, but worse, because I am getting tired.

Now I am back to the 3.1 mile section, where I would like to do something similar to the 36 minutes I did outbound.  (I don’t really have that expectation, but would like to.)  This is the first ultra that I have done in my new Size 14 Hoka Stinson shoes.  I am feeling less of the rocks, but it isn’t necessarily the ‘running on a cloud’ feeling that everyone talks about.  Maybe ‘running on a rocky cloud?’

I struggle on the inbound uphill section, as the sun is coming out and my feet are starting to hurt quite a bit.  I end up losing about 8-1/2 minutes on this section and make it back to the aid station where they told me I used to be fat.

From here, there is one more aid station before I get to the end.  It is mostly flat, but once you cross the Stone Bridge, you get back into the single-track and another part where you don’t have a clue of how far you have before you get to the aid station.

Part of this section I run with Julie Nye, for which this is her 15th Skyline run (this is my 6th).  Most of the people I talk with today are doing their first ultramarathon (it IS a really good beginner race because it is not insanely difficult and there are enough runners that you won’t have many sections where you don’t see anyone (unless you are at the very very back).

I am hoping to get through this section at a faster than 14:00/mile pace because then I will have a chance to finish the race under 7 hours (which I don’t seem to do as often nowadays).  I think the delay at Skyline Gate may prevent me from doing so, but I am not going to worry about it.

When I do finally make it into the aid station, I have left myself with about 35 minutes for the last 3 miles.  While this seems doable in a regular road 5K, it will be close.

I do what I can.  The first 1.4 miles of this is mostly flat and dirt, so I do a combo of running and walking.  I get excited when I get to the suspension bridge (truly my favorite part, because it means that I am close to the finish and it is bouncy!), and then it is about 1.5 miles to the finish and it is paved.

I am passed here by my friend, Clement Choi.  He and I ran together in the last few miles of the 2010 Dick Collins Firetrails 50M (with the same start and finish, but coming in from the other direction).  Great guy.  Today seems like a flashback of a bunch of my ultras.  But it seems like that happens at every race.  That’s what I love about ultras.  It’s like running a beautiful adventure with friends you see every so often.  You don’t get that with a big city marathon.  You may even know a bunch of people at the race, but you may not see them at all, maybe not at the end, either.  Bummer.

I make the turn across the little wooden bridge and suddenly remember that I still have another 50 yards to the “new” finish line.  I come in at 7:06:27, which is 40 seconds faster than Cool (or, in other words, virtually the same pace as Cool)..

There is no roasted pig this year (I think the roaster is sick, so no one stepped up.).

I got my shirt, a couple of cans of this Yerba Mate Mint Tea.  They also have a bunch of leftover items from previous Skylines (probably tired of putting them into storage year after year).  They are giving them away for free, but if they don’t have the right sizes, then what would I do with them?

I end up with a pair of socks (besides the ones from this year), another tank top from 2010, and a woman’s shirt from a previous year (for Riva).  I also pick up my shirt and then head back to my folks’ house.  When I get back, I realize that they have given me a WOMEN’s Extra-Large shirt, with the V-neck and the tighter cut.

I contact the race director and he says they are all out of Extra-Large shirts.  Crap.  They gave all of the rest out to volunteers… but then later, he tells me that he has one for me next time I am in town.  I will be in the Bay Area next for 2 days at Christmastime and again in March.  Hope he still has a shirt for me then!

All in all, I am really happy with how my 100th marathon or longer race went.  It took me 19 years.  I wonder how many years it will take me to get to 100 ultramarathons (I am at 74 now) and how many years to get to 200 marathon-pluses?

 

LMJS 4th Sunday Run 15K – 2015

May 24, 2015

My visit with my sister is coming to an end.  I didn’t get in a lot of runs this week, but we did do a fair amount of hiking:

**Last Saturday (before my semi-competitive 15K on Sunday), we did the 10-mile loop around Lake Chabot.

**On Monday, we walked around the neighborhood. Normally (at least in MY neighborhood), this would be junk walking, but Hiller Highlands is lots of STEEP hills everywhere.  Even 2.7 miles gets your blood pumping!

**On Tuesday, we drove out to the Aid Station #1 location (where Golf Links Road ends) and did part of Big Bear and Golden Spike Trails.  Seemingly, I am showing Marisa most of the Skyline 50K (which I am planning on running as my 100th marathon or longer race).

**On Wednesday, we met some of Marisa’s Texan friends (who now live in Alaska) and did the Mission Peak route near Ohlone College.

**On Thursday, we did the Sibley Loop, which is 1.5 miles of steep technical wooded downhill trail, a mile of paved uphill, and another half-mile up downhill back to the car.  It was pleasantly overcast.

**On Saturday, Shauna joined us for a Marin County trip.  We drove out to Stinson Beach and did the Matt Davis Trail, part of the Coastal Trail (Matt Davis was tough for Shauna, so I did 25 minutes out-and-back so they could rest), down Steep Ravine (which includes the ‘infamous’ backwards log-ladder), and finally, the countless stairs on the Dipsea Trail.  Four-and-a-half hours!

So… for Sunday, I am doing the 15K, after around 35 miles of hiking over the past week!

The route is the same as always: 3 5K loops around Lake Merritt.  There are two other races – a 5K and 10K, so it is often difficult to tell if you are competitive… until you get to the final lap.  Years ago, I ran 67:36 (14 years ago), which works out to around 22:20 per lap.  I am hoping to be at around 24:48 per lap (translating to 8:00/mile), but I am not all that confident after all that hiking.

My first lap is semi-crowded (both because of the multiple races and also because there are a number of civilians on the course to avoid) and I go out a bit fast to get around some of the slower 5Kers.  I hit my goal pace for the first loop – 24:05, giving me about 43 seconds towards a slower lap, because I am not sure that I can maintain this pace today.

The second lap is less crowded (most people run the 5K) and I am within sight of a couple of people that I feel are in the 15K, but I am not sure that I can catch up.  There is a little extra running on this loop, because by the Kaiser Convention Center, they are dismantling a temporary stage right in the middle of the course; the best course is “cross country” on the small swath of grass alongside the paved path.  My time is 25:07 on this lap, and my margin of error for hitting 8:00 pace is down to 24 seconds.

I am trying to maintain my pace for my third loop, but I can feel I am losing some of my pace, especially on the minor uphills (course is essentially flat).  I am losing contact with the two guys who had been just ahead of me, and just past the 10K point, I get passed by an older gent.

Although I push on the downhills, I come up a bit short on my goal and finish my final loop in 25:23, just 11 seconds slower than my goal (So, I did 8:01/mile.)  I am the 5th finisher (of 6), the slowest male finisher, and last in my age group (the only one with more than 1 finisher), but am still happy with my time.  I ran the 15K back in 2010, and today’s time is a minute faster.

A few hours after the race, I drive back to Los Angeles and air out my fumigated condo.  It was a nice week, hiking and visiting with my little sister.

Way Too Cool 50K – 2015

March 7, 2015

Way Too Cool has become a special tradition for me, starting with the 2002 presentation, which was my 1st ever ultra-marathon.  The race always hits right around my birthday, but had never actually hit ON my birthday (One year, my birthday was on a Saturday, but the race was a week later.).  This year, I would have the treat of running it on my ACTUAL birthday.

Three days following my last race (Big Baz 21K), I had a hospital procedure (colonoscopy).  I’m not sure I have addressed this previously in my posts, but I had been suffering from hemorrhoids and a fissure since mid-November last year and it was determined that I should have the procedure done to rule out any internal problems.  The procedure went off without a hitch (if you call the prep (36 hours of liquid diet and 6 hours of toilet blowouts the night before), due, I believe to a great anesthesiologist, Dr. Choi… who also happened to be a protege of my good friend, Kim Gimenez.  We had a nice talk about running as the propofol took its effect.

The unfortunate side effect of the procedure was that my hemorrhoid issue was just about resolved, but the prep for the procedure re-aggravated the issue and it will probably be another 2-3 months of dealing with it.  The good news (for me, at least) is that exercise improves it, and sitting a lot doesn’t help.  Most hospital procedures keep you AWAY from the exercise.  I was able to resume training runs only one day later without any additional issues, even mounting an ascent of Holy Jim Trail with AREC 4 days later.

Way Too Cool was 3 weeks after the procedure and my biggest concern was the drive up north, since sitting in the car for 6 hours hardly feels great.  (Though I have my “butt pillow” for a little relief.)  I did my usual bit where I leave before 6am (to avoid traffic on the So. Cal. side) with the goal of arriving around noonish.

I had made a different arrangement than last year, where I had stayed with Mark & Joann Helmus (the latter who ran Cool last year on HER birthday).  They had made an offer of a stay, even though they were in the process of moving AND were not running the race.  I did get a last-minute offer from a new-ish GVH guy, who took me up on my offer of a ride to-and-from the race, especially because he is MUCH faster than me and would utilize the time waiting for me to down a few beers.  After the race, however, the plan was to drive down to the Bay Area and spend the rest of my birthday with my family in Oakland.

The drive up was fairly uneventful, except a little traffic through Santa Clarita (even at 6-something a.m.).  When I got just outside of Sacramento, I called my friend Lori so that we could meet for lunch.  I have known Lori since our freshman (and sophomore) dorm days in the Fall of 1990 (25 years ago this year).

We met at Dos Coyotes, a somewhat former haunt of mine, a place that has definitely stood the test of time (as have the two places I lived (other than dorms) – still look pretty hovel-y).  I had a paella burrito.  Pretty freakin’ delicious!  It was really nice to catch up with Lori.  To me, it feels like little time has passed, partly because we are friends on Facebook and partly because I still feel like I am that college guy still trying to figure out his life.

After a nice long lunch, I still had a couple of hours to kill before I could meet up with Travis.  I went down and parked in the Whole Foods parking lot, sat and read for a bit and then walked around town a little bit, stopping in the used bookstore that is at the old Fleet Feet location (and buying a couple good finds) as well as at the Helmus’ Optometry business so I could wish Joann a happy birthday and also drop off a little bread treat I baked for her.  Mark, Joann and I chatted for a little bit.  She had just returned from Arkansas, having run the Little Rock Marathon last Sunday.

I drove over to Travis’ house a little after 4pm (a little before he was getting off work) and sat outside and read until he arrived.  He is in his early 30s and has done a handful of trail ultras, mostly in Colorado, where he lived before Davis… and he is much faster than I am, more like a 3 hour marathoner.  He lives in a house with a roommates, one of which is heading out for pizza, but we end up opting for Chipotle (I am getting my fill of burritos today for sure!)

Afterwards, we watch Unbreakable, a documentary about the 2010 Western States 100.  It is pretty incredible to see these crazy athletes and how fast they can run difficult trails, accelerate in the end stages, and succeed mentally.  (Hint:  None of them is 6’6″ or over 200 pounds.)

Afterwards, we watch some movies about Anton Krupicka.  Some pretty terrain, but a little too hippy-dippy for me.  I had my encounter with Krupicka at the 2011 Rocky Raccoon 100M, where I think he volunteered at an aid station after finishing 2nd overall in the race (more than 16 hours before I did).

In the morning (my birthday!), Travis and I meet Annie Vogel-Ciernia (another GVH member running Cool) and then drive to Stephen Andrews’ house (his family will pick him up from the finish, but don’t want to drive up to Cool at 6am).  The drive is uneventful, but once we arrive in Cool, I realize that the increase in participation has caused an increase in parking as well (I’m guessing that most folks did not carpool.).  Last year, I drove up with someone not running the race, and in previous years, I never had to park more than a quarter mile from the start.  This year, however, we are parked at least 6/10 mile from the start. This means that I walk to pick up my bib, THEN take my stuff back to the car, THEN hike back up to the start.  I’m around 2 miles in before we actually get going.

My pace sheet has a picture of me on my 40th birthday, wearing a party hat.  I tell as many people as possible that today is my 44th birthday and I am running my 43rd 50K.  Also, on the back of my pace sheet is the weird fact I came up with, that along with this being my 43rd 50K, it is also my 72nd ultramarathon, so I included 4 of my friends who are 43 years old AND born in 1972.  Seeing as that it is only March, there are not a lot of candidates (a number of friends wondered why they hadn’t been included… “I’m born in ’72.”  “But you’re not 43 yet!”  “I will be!”  They’re missing my weird point.).  Anyway, my inspirations were Stephanie Harris, Kristen Womersley, Scott Casey, and Cynthia Mar (3 running friends and a college friend).  I think it is cool that I came up with this; it works ONLY for this race (for example, my 44th 50K, will be my 73rd ultra, and unless I wait until 2017, the numbers won’t work out); and the race IS Way Too Cool!

The “faster folks” are off at 8:00am and I am with the “slowpokes” at 8:10.  Even were I to run at the pace I ran my first Cool back in 2002, I would still be with the slower folks.  Anyway, I should have some folks to meet and to run with.

The longest stretch is the first loop, which leaves Cool, runs around 2 miles on the paved road (by my car) and eventually comes back through the start.  It includes 2 big water crossings – the kind that you can’t avoid getting wet on – and a few smaller ones… though for the most part, the course is drier than it has been in the past, due to the drought, but my feet do still get wet.

Early on in the course, I am having some difficulty with my posterior (still issues from the hemorrhoids and colonoscopy.  Runners can talk about anything, so I have been chatting with the person nearest me, but from the side, I get (as often happens) response from another runner who has been hearing the conversation.  It is further advice about colonoscopies as you get older.  I won’t repeat the conversation, but it is a bit surreal, because it is the Original Western States competitor, Gordy Ainsleigh.

I maintain a comfortable pace on this section; I will say largely due to the number of people on the single-track sections… once you are in a train of people, you cannot really stop and walk, you need to keep moving.  I manage around 11:15/mile, and then set off 3.1 miles to the Highway 49 crossing at the Quarry.

Lots of people are passing me in this section; it is mostly downhill and my footing is not particularly solid, plus downhill is not my thing.  The best part of this section is that it is 75% shaded, so the effects of the heat to come is muted a bit.  I cross the road and reach the 2nd aid station in about 38 minutes (or 12:25/mile).  It is decorated in a beachy, luau-y style and welcoming.  I make sure that I refill my water bottles at each stop so I can stay as dehydrated as possible.

This third leg runs mostly along the American River on a gravel fire-road.  It is rolling hills but not a lot of up for the first 2.5 miles.  On this section, I meet John and Jeff – one experienced ultramarathoner and his friend.  On the flats, we trade leading.  I mention that I would like to finish under 7 hours, so I have to maintain a certain pace.  They stay with me for quite some time… but then we reach a couple of extended hills (in the sun).  The motivating cry (fading into the distance) is “Stay with Emmett; he’ll get us to the pace we need to finish strong.”  I didn’t see them again after I ‘power-walked’ up the hill and beyond.

On part of this section, I also engaged with an older woman who was close to my pace.  Yes, I tend to end up with the older folks.  My pace is usually equivalent to the 55+ crowd (for women, maybe 70+ for men).  More importantly, most of these ‘older’ folks are not so preoccupied with music or other distractions and we can have a real conversation that is not tending back to “You’ll catch up with me,” which is said with the intent of stopping talking and getting back to the music.  Claudia and I trade leading throughout the race.  We reach the aid station around the same time, running 4.4 miles in around 52 minutes (12 minute/mile pace), but after this stretch, she disappears for quite a while.  I figure I won’t see her again until maybe the end.

This next section is about 5.6 miles of double-track.  It passes by my old nemesis/success Ball Bearing (0.7 miles; 700′ elevation gain) and continues fairly flat and then hooks into the old course return single track.   Some of this is runnable (even for me).  Sometimes I am in a train with a bunch of folks and sometimes I am by myself and antsy runners want to get by me. Though, invariably, not long after they pass, I recatch them tying shoelaces or slowing down (“Tag.  You’re it.”).  I do end up walking a lot of this trail, more due to a warm day than due to difficulty of trail, but still manage around 15 minutes/mile.  The wheels are starting to fall off, and I may not make my goal of sub-7:00.

This next section will take me up Goat Hill, continuing along the old course and up this dreaded steep hill at a particularly bad time.  Part of my “train” is an Asian gal.  I inquire about her ethnicity, so I can impress with my Chinese, Japanese, or Korean folk song… so of course, she is Indonesian.  Besides impressing her that I know two dozen words in Bahasa Indonesia, I sing for her on trail, saying basically that I can sing at whatever pace is necessary for her running speed (and I have a more eclectic selection of music than can be found on one’s I-Pod – Inspirational, Classical, and Oldies).  Unfortunately, Jenny is faster than I am, so eventually she pushes on a bit ahead of me and I lose contact before the bridge and uphill to Goat Hill.

The top of Goat Hill is really close to the marathon point.  I remember from my first Cool how flummoxed I was at my time… but really, it was about par with how it should be.  You cannot compare road marathon times to trail ultra times.  My nearly-marathon split is a shade under 6 hours.  Feel like I will be hard-pressed to get under 7 hours.  (And at a 16:00/mile pace, probably not.)

The next section is a lot of downhill, some wet (though, as previously noted, not as wet as in previous years), some slippery gravel, and a few short uphills.  I re-encounter Claudia in this section and pass her (she finishes about 5 minutes behind me).  I feel pretty good, and when I get to the road crossing JUST before the last aid station, I am at 6 hours 47 minutes, which means I have 13 minutes to do 1.4 miles.  Normally, not a tall order, but seeing as half of this is uphill and all of it is trails, odds are I will not break 7 hours, but I will be really close.

I don’t stop at all at the last station (it’s 1.4 miles to the finish, so hardly seems worth it unless I was all out of water on the last 3.4 mile section).  I go as fast as I can manage on the technical uphill, but it certainly isn’t sub-10:00s.  I do what I can and I will be really satisfied with my finishing time (at least it is well under the 8-1/2 hour time limit).

At the finish, the strangest thing happens (I swear I did not look at my watch and try to make it possible!) – my finishing time is 7:07:07 and there are 7 splits.  Seven is my lucky number and today is the 7th.  43-50Ks (4+3 = 7).  73rd ultra (3/7 is my birthday).  The “official” time comes out as 7:07:06 (stupid timing chips!).

Travis and Annie have been done for 2+ hours and are getting their drink on.  I do the finish line thing (get my frog cupcake, too hot soup, and pulled pork sandwich (and a couple of Cokes).  I am not particularly hungry, even though I probably only consumed half a banana, some potato chips and half of a Payday bar.  I carefully carry my cupcake and sandwich to the car (another 0.6 miles) and seal them inside a plastic container (formerly held Sprouts Gummi Coke Bottles) to eat on Sunday morning.

Annie and Travis drive back with me to Davis and then I continue on down to Oakland.  I am trying to work the timing out so that I have time for a shower before we go for dinner at Bay Fung Tong.  We are joined by Tom and Margaret (Tom’s birthday is Tuesday), Diane and John, Marisa, Mom and Dad, Bari, and Shauna (whose birthday was 6 days ago).  Marisa and Margaret are the odd women out as their birthdays are not in January or March.  We get our usual complement of dishes, including Black Bean and Jalapeno deep fried squid.  Yum.  I get some funny gifts from Diane and John (including yellow caution tape saying “Warning – Man in Kitchen” and a few other kitchen doo-hickeys).  A great way to spend my birthday!

On Sunday, after a trip to Chinatown for Dim Sum at Tao Yuen, I drive back to Long Beach, so I can continue my 80+ consecutive month Boeing 5K streak.

Skyline 50K – 2013

August 11, 2013

In the 24 years since I have graduated high school, I have lost one classmate to electrocution (Tim C.) and one to cancer (Carrie Y.).  Additionally, two more of my classmates have had and survived cancer.  I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, as time passes, people suffer freak accidents, die of cancer, etc., and this will only increase as time goes on.

It seems more significant to me because of the close connection I had with many of my classmates in our years of school together.  The size of my hometown, Piedmont, is only about 10,000, so there were 5 schools – 3 elementary, 1 middle and 1 high school.  A majority of my graduating class went through school with me from 6th grade through 12th grade.  Another third of them I have known 10-12 years, because we all attended the same elementary school.  Additionally, some who I only went through 7 years with, I knew through a youth church group or children’s choir.

There were only 163 of us to begin with, so losing someone is a major blow, even when, as adults, we do not see each other as much as we did as kids.

Earlier this year in March, at the Piedmont Choirs Gala (a fundraiser for the choir my mom founded in 1982 that my entire family attends), I learned that one of my classmates who had previously beaten cancer, Brian Kelly, had cancer once again.  He had had a persistent headache and a cold that would not go away (I think you would have to be a hypochondriac to go to the doctor with that condition!) and it turned out to be a brain tumor and lung cancer!

I was super-concerned because usually with people who have cancer, it gets worse the second (or third) time around.  Brian was cautiously optimistic, having been through treatment before.  Of course, there were some issues with how to treat the lung cancer while also dealing with the brain tumor.  The chemotherapy (as always) was extremely debilitating, but Brian at least had Facebook as a virtual visit from all of his friends.

On August 1st, Brian’s wife posted on CaringBridge that Brian had been accepted into a study where he would receive a new medication that had had good results with certain kinds of patients (read: it might work really well… or not).  He received his first dose and would find out within a few weeks if there was any progress.

However, only a few days later, she posted that the treatment had not had a chance to work and that his doctors had decided that the best course was for him to enter hospice (so many ups and downs within a few days!), and that he might only have weeks of life left.

A dozen years ago when classmate Tim Cutler was electrocuted the day before his wedding, I scanned his senior picture and pinned it to my back in a race, so I could run in his memory.

Now, this week, I thought, I shouldn’t wait until Brian is dead to run for him.  Even though I didn’t know the extent of his decline (obviously, going to hospice is pretty dire), I felt that maybe from his home bed, if he read about that I was running for him, he might fight that little bit more. I thought a lot about the wording and thought my run would be an allegory for his struggle (ups and downs, slowing down at the end, but NEVER stopping).

I created my pace sheet for the race, and on the back was a picture of Brian and his wife (in better days).  I would be thinking about him during the race, and I would have him with me to inspire me.

I left to drive up to Oakland at 4:45am, and I figured I would post to Facebook just as soon as I arrived.

But when I got to my folks’ place at 9:00am, my mom relayed a message from Brian’s sister, that he had passed away an hour or so before.  I had not yet posted my message and he would never get to see it.

Once I knew that the news was “official” (we found out before a lot of other people so I didn’t want to be the first person posting R.I.P.),I  posted that I had planned to run in his HONOR, but would be running in his MEMORY.  I would enjoy my sojourn with nature and just think about the good and bad times we had.

At the start, I ran into a few old friends that I see at all of these races, but for the most part, I told people that I was running for my friend and showed them the picture.  I used a pen to write in the dates of birth and death (he was 2 weeks shy of his 43rd birthday) and tucked my laminated pace sheet between my water bottle and the hand-grip.

As per my usual, I managed my expectations for the day by walking all the hills and running when I could.  The first section, which circumscribes Lake Chabot is mostly flat, and the rush of the crowd pulls you along at a faster pace than you want to go.  I did 11 minute miles (FAST!).  For pace comparison, if I averaged TWELVE minute miles, I would do 6:18 (my PR on this course from 10 years ago is 6:05).

However, I figured that if the morning fog lifted halfway along the course, I would need some banked time to make up for the time lost to heat-induced high heart rate.  Cardiology had wanted me to come in this past Friday to get fitted for my Holter monitor, but I am glad that I did not have to deal with it in this ultra.

I stayed under a 12 minute per mile pace through 9.5 miles, but then got to the long hill up to Skyline Gate and the turnaround at 14.2 miles (longer on the way back).  The fog continued and kept the temperature cool.

Despite walking much of the hill, I kept my pace under 15 minute per mile.  I was kinda hoping to see Shauna Revelli (friend of my sister Marisa and now me), but she didn’t come to cheer me on.

Once I passed the “halfway” point, it was mostly downhill, though the clouds were parting and it started to get warmer, evidenced by the fact that I averaged 16 minutes mile going downhill!

The sun truly was out and hot on the hardest section of the trail, which is a mile-long ascent with limited shade, followed by a gentle downhill but on a hard rock surface.  At this point, I was essentially by myself and had some more time to think about how Brian impacted my life.

I don’t remember precisely when I met Brian, whether it was in church or in Piedmont Choirs.  Brian was a bit of a troublemaker, and we were never “besties,” but we toured together to Canada for the Kathaumixw music festival (where I won the Under 16 Solo Competition).  On this section of trail, I was singing some of our favorite choir songs to myself.

Once I cleared the hilly section (surprisingly at a faster pace than the downhill section – must have been the singing), there is the second-longest section – 5.3 miles – that in my estimation, goes on and on and on and on.  It is hard for me to tell how close I am getting to the aid station because everything looks the same.

On this next section, I reminisced about high school.  Brian and I sang in A Capella (the choir class) which did a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta each year and 3 big concerts a year (including the Messiah sophomore year).  Our senior year, we acted together in The Music Man, and were both part of the Barbershop Quartet.  Mark McDonald was the bass, Brian was the baritone, Phil Kim was the first tenor and I was the lead (because my voice still hadn’t changed).  It was different because we had to blend with each other (not just blast out as the chorus) and we worked separately.  Also, it was special for Brian because his dad sang in a barbershop quartet.

During this long section, I sang through the various Music Man songs we did – Rock Island (the train song – “Cash for the Merchandise, Cash for the Hogshead… Whaddya talk Whaddya talk Whaddaya talk!”), Lida Rose, and How Can There Be Any Sin in Sincere?

That last song was especially poignant because of the words:  How can there be any sin in sincere?  Where is the good in goodbye?  I got a little emotional on this section because the words rang true.  This was my goodbye to Brian.  I would never see him again and never sing with him again.

When I got to the aid station, my time was already slower than my time from 2012, but I didn’t really care.  I just wanted to get to the end, battle to the finish, and do it for Brian.

It was super hot at this point and most of the last 3 miles are exposed to the sun.  The beginning of the section is a steep downhill on dirt.  When I got to the bottom, a familiar runner came blasting by me – Kat – and took a tumble.  I stopped and helped her up.  She thanked me and continued on.

I was reduced to a walk at this point.  Each time I tried to take a running step, the heat and my heart rate forced me to walk again.  After the suspension bridge about 1.5 miles from the end, I got onto the paved and was able to shuffle to the end.

Although I was 50 minutes slower than last year, in a way, this year was equally as satisfying, though sadder.

I needed to get on the road to drive back to Long Beach by 6pm, so I could continue my Boeing 5K streak the next day, but I returned to my folks for an early dinner, to post my finishing time of 7:32:53, and to snap a photo commemorating my memorial run.  Rest in Peace, Brian.

Post Skyline 50K with Brian in my hand.

Post Skyline 50K with Brian in my hand.

Skyline 50K – 2012

August 12, 2012

I returned to the Bay Area once again for the Skyline 50K.  I feel like this is a must-do, both for the relative ease of the course, the beauty, and the chance to either visit with my folks or with friends when I visit.

On this particular iteration of Skyline, I felt like my fitness was at the best it had been for a while, or at least I felt that I wasn’t going to really struggle into the end, but rather be able to finish in under 7 hours (possibly a tall order seeing as my best 50K of the year was 8:08 at Malibu Creek in March).  The plan is to be consistent, try and run some of the hills and finish in a satisfying matter.  Ideally, that means to finish close to my time from last year (which was 6:57).

The first 4.3 miles are mostly paved, running around the left side of Lake Chabot (left of the dock by the boathouse), and it is rolling hills.  I would prefer to walk all the hills, but I am trying to be more practical from the get-go because most of these hills are not horrible.  Once we leave the “friendly environs” of paved-ness, there is a bunch of uphill, leading to the first aid station, consisting of a water cooler.  It takes me 44:06 (10 minute pace!!) and I don’t really stop at the aid station.  [I am about 3 minutes ahead of last year’s pace.]

Now there is about 3 miles to the next aid station and the first stretch is considerable downhill.  I run conservatively – there is a tendency to overdo it, and then tire out the quads for several ensuing climbs.  Most of this section is a double-rutted fire road through a flat valley (some rolling hills), through a couple of gates (mostly open this year), then up a paved road to a parking lot aid station.  I keep maintaining a consistent pace, and have covered the first 6.3 miles in 66 minutes… still maintaining the 10-11 minute miles [and pick up a few more minutes on my last year’s pace].

Out of this aid station, there is a gentle uphill for about a mile and a half.  While it is not steep, it goes on and on and on and on… better to walk… but with authority.  At the top of the hill, it flattens out for a few hundred yards and then begins to descend precipitously.  Again, I try to run conservatively, since the 5 miles after this are 75% uphill.  For the third straight section, I manage under 11 minute miles (11 minute miles x 31 = 5:41 – that’s under 7 hours!).

Now I have a little over 5 miles to Skyline Gate.  The weather is almost ideal – chilly and a little foggy.  Certainly, I do not want heat on this uphill.  I am not just walking up the hill; I am doing modified racewalking (modified, in that my knees are bending a bit, but I am still moving well).  Not all of the 5 miles is uphill.  The first section is single-track switchbacks up and down on the other side of what is probably Fish Ranch Road, followed by a mile of paved road on the level.  Then the uphill is BA-A-A-D for at least a mile before it becomes a series of slopes and flat sections all the way to the top.  I slowed considerably on this section, covering it in 66 minutes (about 13:00/mile).  [I am now 16 minutes ahead of last year’s pace – about a minute per mile.]

Even though I am not quite halfway (14.5 miles), Skyline Gate is the de facto halfway point of the race.  Last year, the DQ’ed winner turned around and headed back the same way and came up a few miles short on the total distance.  The course on the way back heads out the opposite direction from the aid station, but goes back to the same aid station we originated from.  Instead of 5.1 miles, however, it is 5.9 miles.  Also conversely, it is not all downhill.  There is an awful section about 2 miles from the aid station, where I am climbing on a steep single-track out of the redwood forest.  This eventually deposits me above the road.  It is extremely frustrating to hear cars driving on the road, and have the trail seem to go on forever and not reach the aid station.

Once I start hearing cars, see, I think I am close… so I start calculating just how great I am doing… but then I realize, no, I am not doing that great… and soon I am thinking, I wonder if I will make the cutoff.  This 6-mile section takes me 87 minutes… and now I have slowed to a 15 minute per mile pace, despite it being mostly downhill, and lost a few minutes of my banked time I had been gaining from last year’s race.

Now I get to backtrack on the section with 1.5 miles STEEP uphill and 1.5 miles gentle downhill.  The fog has cleared and the temperature is skyrocketing.  The heat is rising from the road a bit and this hill doesn’t feel great.  Just keeping moving forward, I keep saying to myself.  I cover the section in 40 minutes, and have about 8 miles to go.  If I can maintain 15 minute miles, I will finish under 7 hours.

From this location, there is a small bit of backtracking, but mostly on the opposite side of the (fairly flat) valley.  I have found that this particular section is demoralizing, because it is 5 miles without much of a viewpoint toward where I am headed.   There is just a lot of up and down through a wooded area.  I know that when I crest the hilltop (which is not particularly high above me) that the aid station is right around the next bend… but even with a bunch of uphill, the progress towards the treeline is pretty slow.  The 5-mile section takes me a little over an hour, and my total time to a little over 6 hours (no 5:41 this time).  [And a loss of 3 more minutes on my banked time.]

To the end of the course is now less than a 5K… and I can see where I am going.  The first few tenths is a unshaded steep downhill to the level of Lake Chabot.  You can just about see the dock at the finish.  The road along the lake is flat and unpaved (maybe a little bit rocky).  I would like to finish strong, so I am convincing myself to do fartleks because it is motivating.  Fartleks in this particular case are not brilliant bursts of running, but more alternating running and walking spells.  (More walking than running, but at least speedwalking.)

At the far end of the path, I turn on to my favorite section – the suspension bridge – which always feels good… just the right bit of jouncing and bouncing and gives me a little bit of extra joy towards finishing.  At the far end of the bridge, there are about 10 steps up to the paved path, which has some really substantial ebbs and falls in its movement.  Here, I am certainly running the downhills and flats, and walking the uphills.

I push the last bit of distance (across a small wooden bridge) to the finish, and come in just under 6:40 (6:39:32).  I am really pleased, especially because I have some discomfort on my heel (which will prove to be a blister).

100% (short of major injury) I will be back again next year.  Not sure if I can match my result, but love the course, the volunteers and the camaraderie.