Tag Archives: Stephanie Harris

Avalon 50M – 2017

January 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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High Desert 50K – 2016

December 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadow of the Giants 50K – 2016

June 11, 2016

Two months and two days ago, I had emergency surgery on my left elbow.  Just before I went into surgery, I talked with the Trauma Surgeon, Dr. Tran.  He had done an Ironman Triathlon, so understood about the long training runs (but I had yet to convince him to run an ultramarathon).  He asked me what my next big run was and I said that I hoped to do Shadow of the Giants 50K in two months time.  He said that with the proper recovery I would probably have no problem being able to run the race.

Flash forward to two months and one day later, and Stephanie Harris and I are driving up from Long Beach to Fish Camp.  In the car we talked about the possibility of staying an extra day and driving around Yosemite (since Stephanie had never been).  I said that I was not interested, mostly because I had said that I would try to attend my friend’s 70th birthday party on Saturday evening.  (If we went to Yosemite, I wouldn’t get back in time.)  Maybe another trip.

We got up to Fish Camp a bit early.  It’s not a big town, so there isn’t a lot to do to pass the time, and once we got to the Outdoor School/Race Start, it would just be reading, napping, and eventually sleeping.  We picked up our bibs and then decided what we would do next. Stephanie suggested that we drive into Yosemite and that she would buy me dinner.  I didn’t have a ton of gas in the car (and didn’t really want to pay the exorbitant prices within the park) but enough that we could probably see a few sites (it had been nearly 20 years since I had camped in the park with my college friends Kevin, Cecilia, and Josh just before I moved to Southern California).

She paid the entrance fee (and noted that it was good for a whole week) and coasted down into the park (saved gas).  We stopped by a vista point to look at Bridal Veil Falls.  Wow.  What a beautiful time of day.  It was a little busy because some TV cameras were there talking about President Obama flying in to survey the park later in the month (and if it would be disruptive (Yeah, I think so.)).  We were nearly hit by a car going about 20 miles per hour over the speed limit (who zooms through Yosemite?), but my new car has great brakes!

We drove down a little further, and climbed up a path at the base of Bridal Veil Falls.  Wet, but beautiful.

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We tried to figure out where the old Ahwahnee Hotel was.  The hotel is still there, but after a dispute with the old food vendor over trademarked names, the park renamed all the buildings, even though they had had the same names for 50+ years.  So, the result for us was that we didn’t know if the Yosemite Lodge was what we were looking for.  (Still not sure.)

Since we didn’t find what we wanted, I decided that we should drive back towards the entrance before it got too late (or dark), but we got caught up in a long line of cars trying to check in to their campsites, and we moved about one mile in 40 minutes.  So frustrating.

There wasn’t much to stop at where we could eat on the route back, except for the General Store about five miles from the exit.  We ended up getting cold sandwiches, plus Stephanie got some souvenirs for friends.

By the time we exited the park, it was getting dusky, so best for us to return to the Outdoor School in Fish Camp, find some bunk beds and get some sleep.

We found a nice cabin and got all settled.  I had planned to read (using my headlamp) regardless if the lights were on or off.  The lights ended up being on and off quite a bit, the primary offenders being a group of Japanese-American runners who didn’t seem to understand why the people trying to sleep in the dark would be upset with the lights coming on.  They mostly countered with, “We were here first, so we should determine when everyone goes to sleep.”  I guess, if you lack any common courtesy.

On perhaps the third time this happened, I said something like, “We’ve asked you about 20 times to not turn the lights on.”  Now while I am not an 8:30pm asleep kind of person, I try to stay with what the crowd wants.  (Back in 2011, at Javelina Jundred, my roommates went to bed at 7:00pm, so I went down to the hotel TV room and stayed there until I was ready to go to bed, rather than insisting that they follow MY sleep patterns.)

The “leader” of this group became quite irate with me (and the others in the cabin who agreed with me) and wanted us to get out of our sleeping bags and engage in fisticuffs with him.  Seriously?  He wanted us all thrown out.  We are ALL here for a race.  Why are you being such an a**hole?  I suggested he get the race director, my buddy Baz Hawley, to settle the situation.

So, Baz comes into the cabin (the light having been on this entire time with antagonistic Japanese ladies glaring at us) and tries to quell the situation.  The ringleader is being pretty unreasonable.  Baz offers a separate cabin for them to stay up as late as they want, and he keeps insisting that the rest of us move (because, remember, they were there first!).  Finally, they agree to move and start loudly getting their stuff out of the cabin.

I’m glad Baz did this.  I didn’t want to get into a fight over sleeping arrangements.  He and I have had a good rapport, and a funny memory from the 21K at Blue Jay Campground earlier this year.  He did a shortcut about a mile out from the start so he could high-five all the runners as they went by.  I offered a really high-five (so high he couldn’t jump up and hit it).  It was a funny moment between us.

So, as Baz leaves, I say to him, “High-five, Baz, high-five.”  The lead Japanese guy stops, turns to me, and says, “Had to have the last word, did you?”  Dude, I wasn’t even talking to you.  I’m talking to my buddy, Baz.

Finally, the lights go out, but it is a struggle for me to get to sleep now, because my adrenaline is thrumming, and I cannot relax.  Probably, I got 2-3 hours of real sleep, if that.

In the morning, the plan is for Stephanie to take the one hour early start, even though I do not think she will need it (but it helps for confidence to make the aid stations and not be stressed out about cutoffs).  A couple other gals in our cabin are also taking the early start so they can look out for each other.  The Japanese folks are milling around the mess hall area, still glaring at me, but I don’t really care.  I’m running my own race.

After Stephanie starts and I am waiting for my own start, I run into Rob McNair, from Huntington Beach, who I occasionally see at some ultras.  He has run every single Shadow of the Giants (30+) and even won some of them.  I always find the Legacy runners pretty cool.  We chatted about the previous night’s situation.  He was in the other cabin, but it was pretty loud, so everybody heard everything.

Baz made his usual ribald announcements and the bit (that I hate) where they make sure that everyone checked in and have their numbers and are on the course (why, why, why, do you not check in the 12 times they mentioned it prior to heading outside?).  I stand at the back, because I know once we get going, I’m not going to be running up to the front.

The course is familiar (because I ran it last year), but for some reason, I am really struggling with the elevation for the first 7 to 10 miles.  The hardest part was looking at my pace sheet and wondering WHY I am going so slowly?  Particularly hard was the opening out-and-back section, with the technical downhill and the lo-o-ng climb out of that.  I did see the same guy I ran with for a bit last year (with the wings tattoo across his back).

When I got to the water crossing (a little more substantive this year – feet had to get wet), I passed a couple of the Japanese ladies who left our cabin with the rest of our group.  Of course, when I passed them, I said, “Looking good, good job, keep up the good work,” because I had already let the situation go, and I would rather be encouraging than rude.  Hope they smiled back.

My second favorite section is from Mile 8.7 to 13.4, where we start out on a shady fire-road and then peel off into the single track that roams around all of the great sequoias (including the huge Grandfather tree).  I got on to this section just behind 3 or 4 gals all going together.  A couple of them struggled with the uphills and after a time, I achieved some separation from them.  This is when I got onto the technical downhill (not as much rocky as woody and rocky).  I was nervous about any technical downhill, because I didn’t want to reinjure my elbow with a fall.

Once I get out of this section, it’s a smooth fire-road through a camping area and a half mile or so to the Shadow of the Giants (a one-mile loop through trees).  I don’t like this section because the mile goes by so slowly, and usually there are also a number of sightseers (slightly) blocking the path.  I ran most of the section and it still took me 19 minutes.

From here, it’s the section that I walk 90%, because it is slightly uphill, and I can walk briskly faster than I can run.  What I like is that no one passes me on this section, and I can see myself getting closer to some people who are jogging or walking ahead of me.  The BEST part is that I have covered over 20 miles and still haven’t caught up to Stephanie (at Ridgecrest 50K, I caught the ladies after 10 miles).  Maybe I won’t catch her!

However, just after I turn off onto a steeper section (which will hook back to where the trail veered off into the single-track), I do catch up with Stephanie.  She is pretty proud, too, because she stayed ahead of me so long.  We will come in pretty close together, because there are probably 6 miles or so to go.  Once I pass Stephanie, I don’t see a lot of other runners.  Good ol’ no-man’s-land.

Once I begin the first bit of downhill heading towards the finish, I lose motivation to keep running (feet hurt, I’m well ahead of the cutoff, so no worries) and just walk briskly down the hill.

I am caught up by a tall guy and a short gal (in rapt conversation).  I slightly insert myself into the situation and we have a nice conversation about languages.  The tall guy is a few years younger than me and originally from Hungary with the common name of Csaba.  (While I never heard the name before, when I tried to find him on Facebook, man, there were a lot of Csabas!)  The short gal was 10 years older than me (but looked 10 years younger) was Iranian and a friend of Tam Premsrirath (and had started with the early group).

The three of stayed together until almost the final mile, and then they both slowed down through the wooded section just before the bridge crossing and the finish line.  I felt good and came in at 6:38:44.  I couldn’t remember my time from last year, but I thought I was within 10 minutes of the time, and I was well satisfied with that, given that I was only two months out from elbow surgery.

Stephanie came in 30 minutes later in 8:04:04.  With adjusting for the actual distance (29.2 rather than 31.0), her 50K time was improved by 20+ minutes.

Both of us took advantage of the showers at the finish and were well ready to head back to Long Beach not long after.  Stephanie said to me in the car that she was happy we sightsaw yesterday because she was super-sleepy in the car on the way back.

Even with an emergency bathroom stop at a gas station near LAX, we were able to get back to Long Beach and I was able to get to the 70th birthday party (and not just make a token appearance in the last five minutes).

When I got home, I double-checked my time from 2015, and discovered that my 2016 time was one second FASTER!  What a nice surprise.

A few weeks later, I had my final appointment with Dr. Tran and I reproduced a copy of my pace sheet, on which I dedicated my race to him, Dr. Glidewell (the Orthopaedic Surgeon), and Julie Oyanguren, my Occupational Therapist (who helped me with the rehab).  I didn’t have a good picture FROM the race, so when Laura, Chuck, and I did the Monrovia Truck Trail, I wore my bib to get a good action shot.

One of the nurses briefly interrupted Dr. Glidewell’s consult so we could talk (since none of my follow-ups had been with her) so I could hand her a laminated picture of thanks.  Probably not a lot of ultra-runners doing a tribute to their surgeons.  Both she and Dr. Tran really liked it.

This race also marked the final RD job of Baz Hawley.  One gal is taking over his Winter Trail Run Series and another is taking over this race.  I hope that both can continue to put on good trail events in the same spirit with which Baz always infuses them.

Twin Peaks 50M – 2015

October 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coming towards Ben Gaetos on Holy Jim Trail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

High Desert 50K – 2014

December 7, 2014

For several years, I have been encouraging a few of my AREC friends that they certainly could do a trail 50K race… and always I hear of interest in doing so.  However, it is much like posting an event on Facebook… people like it, seem interested, say they are going, but few actually show up.  I was hearing redoubled interest, but I wouldn’t actually believe it unless I actually saw them AT the race.

Eric Villalobostold me that he signed up for the race (but ended up not going because of a hip problem).  I had heard that Jesus Rodriguez (who had run it in 2013) would be going… though he tends to be one of those gung-ho, sign-up for everything types.

A couple of gals who had interest did a “see if we would be fast enough” test run at El Moro at the beginning of November in light rain. Maria Robinson, Stephanie Harris, and Dulce Barton joined me.  I said that we would do a 9.5 mile loop… and if we could get under 3 hours, then they could do 31 miles in 10 hours. (It doesn’t divide precisely evenly, but THIS 9.5 miles is WAY worse than anything that you find in Ridgecrest.)  This was a tall order on this particular day, especially because of the mud and hills, but it could be a confidence builder IF they made it out to Ridgecrest.

Despite the mud (and stopping to take pictures of several full rainbows and double rainbows), we finished in around 2:55.  The cheap entry deadline was a few days later, and Dulce and Stephanie both signed up (plus Angela Holder, who did not make the test run with us).

The following week, Stephanie and I ventured into the Open Space Preserve and took the wrong (up) hill back… but, in the spirit of “there is no bad training,” she took it in stride saying that it will just give her more confidence with hills.

As the date loomed closer, I had still not made my plans to drive out.  Eric wasn’t sure of when he would drive out and Laura was not going to go at all.  I thought I might do what I did about 10 years ago which is drive out, and then sleep in my car at the start.  However, I contacted Stephanie to see what her plans were (and offered to sleep on the floor of the hotel room) and the other gals were OK with me driving up with and staying with them.

Meanwhile, I was having some problems – TMI alert!!!

I was very constipated, to the point at which I could not sit down without pain.  I thought maybe it might be hemorrhoids.  The sitting pain was so much that I walked to and from the doctor’s office (2 miles each way) to avoid sitting.  The diagnosis was two hemorrhoids (one internal, one external) and perhaps an anal fissure.  The recommendation to fix the issue was an extremely high fiber diet AND exercise (though I am certain that probably didn’t mean 7 hours of exercise in one go).

I took medicine and had creams to apply, but the problem did not get much better.  (At press time, I am awaiting a surgical consult and I have been dealing with this issue upward of two months.)

END of TMI section!!

On Saturday morning (December 6), the three ladies and I met at Stephanie’s house to consolidate into Angela’s car for the drive up to Ridgecrest.  We left in the early afternoon to accommodate Dulce, who was running the Venice Marina Xmas 5K AND 10K!  (Is 50K not enough?)

My special gift to the ladies were personalized laminated pace sheets.  Since none of them had ever done this distance before, I gave each two goals – the first was to finish and the second was a faster goal, which I based upon their worst-marathon-time-plus-one-hour pace (since trails slow you down a bit).  On the back, I had something inspirational for each of them (Stephanie and her kids, Dulce and her mother, and Angela (who I don’t know well enough to pull the right photo from her Facebook)’s picture of the giant yellow rubber ducky.).  For myself, I had a picture of my two little sisters (dressed in the work outfits of each other).

The drive went pretty well (save some traffic from LAX to the Hwy. 5/Hwy. 14 intersection).  I had mapped out where we might go for dinner (this place we went to a couple of different times that served Peanut Butter pizza (not as gross as it sounds)), if not at the check-in location.  (In the past, the food looked kind of crappy, which is why we went elsewhere.)

We arrived before the packet pick-up time, so we checked into the hotel.  Angela had e-mailed us earlier in the week to tell us that we were so close to the start, we could just jump out of bed and walk to the start line.  Since I had run the race 4 times before (most recently in 2012), I didn’t remember there being any hotels within 4 miles of the start.  Turns out, our hotel, was within walking distance of the packet pick-up location.  (I guess within walking distance of the start, but no one wants to walk 4-5 miles leading up to a 50K…)

A little before 6, we headed over to St. Ann’s Parish to pick up our packets.  They were efficient and the shirts were really nice.  We decided to stay and have the $8 spaghetti dinner (because it looked OK this year). A bunch of my (older) hash friends were there, including Chris Spenker.

Suddenly, Jesus showed up and “forced” most of the people in the room to pose with their numbers.  Anyway… after dinner, the ladies took a look at some of the old race shirts on sale.  While I don’t need any more shirts, it was a pretty good deal for a first-time participant. (Cotton long-sleeved shirts are nice if it is cold and you want to toss the shirt away at some point.)

We went back to the hotel and got ready for the next day.  Lights were out at 9pm (so EARLY for me).  The race starts at 7am (6am early start), but I don’t think I’ve ever slept 9 hours the night before a race (especially when I am antsy).  I did end up lying in the dark and staring into space for a few hours.  The highlight of the night was each of the three ladies waking up around 2am in succession and using the bathroom.

I woke up earlier than I needed to (except that I had to drive to the early start with them anyway), so I could use the bathroom.  I usually try to evacuate my bowels completely, but with the issues, I didn’t want to have pain all day, so I let nature take its course, applied my Lidocaine ointment, and took two Advil.  My plan was also to carry the tube of Lidocaine with me, if the pain got really bad.

It was pretty cold at the start (but not the 32 degrees in past years, maybe 40s), so I stayed inside and chatted with friends for the hour preceding the regular start.  Angela, Stephanie, Dulce, Jesus and some others left at 6am, to give themselves every opportunity to finish (Jesus should have no problem, but he was pacing a newbie himself).

I chatted with some folks I knew from other ultras, plus a hash couple that ran here last year.  I tried to find a comfortable sitting position, but that didn’t really exist.

A little after 7, we headed off into the cold.  I ran on the flats and downhills and walked the uphills.  My friend Ethan passed me early, saying I would catch him momentarily (but I didn’t think I would).  I also saw Yen Darcy… figured we would be near each other most of the race.  She gave me a little grief for going so fast, but I said I would lose it on the uphills.  I had a good pace to the first aid station at Mile 5.5, in a 10:43 pace.  (Much of this is on paved road, so that helps with the pace.)

I maintained an even pace through the second aid station at Mile 8.5.  I kept hoping that I would not catch up to the ladies soon, because that would mean that they were well ahead of the pace needed to finish.h

However, when I got to the Mile 11.0 aid station, I got there at the same time as the ladies did.  I had said that at one point, I would run with them if I caught them with about 10 miles to go.  This was a little too early for me to drop my pace, but I calculated that they were still on par to go under 9 hours (and they had 10).  Stephanie and Dulce were together and Angela (with her tights that looked like blue jeans) was a few minutes ahead of them.  They seemed happy and were having fun (which is important, especially early on).  I ran and walked with Angela for a few minutes before continuing on.

This section is fairly short (only 2.6M) and mostly flat.  Of course, when I say flat, this does not include the washboard aspect of the trail.  Mountain bikers would (and probably do) like this section, because they could do lots of little jumps.  Although cool, it gets to be quite annoying because I cannot put on any kind of speed, unless I go a bit off trail to lessen the effect of all those dips. In the distance, I can see an occasional car split the landscape.  The aid station is just before the road crossing, and the moguls end at this point, too.  Because of the flat nature, I am still maintaining a nice pace (11:32/mile).

I refill my water bottles, grab some PB&J and chips and do not waste much time.  I had been running and talking with a couple of ladies – Madonna and Clancy, but on the washboard moguls, Madonna and Clancy had surged ahead of me.  While I have no aversion to getting “chicked,” I didn’t want to waste time just hanging around.

From here, I can see the hills coming up.  I know “my ladies” will be a little annoyed with me, since I termed this race as “flat.”  Just a note on the amount of climbing and difficulty of courses:  Ultra Magazine has a scale, both for amount of climbing and for difficulty of surface.  If a race is flat and paved, then the climbing rating = 1, and the technical rating = 1.  If the elevation gain exceeds, say, 10%, then the climbing rating would probably be a 5, and if the surface is full of rocks and not that runnable, then the technical value would also be rated a 5.  The High Desert 50K is rated at 2,2… so I also rate it as “flat.”

There is some cruelty to this section as well.  Clancy (who I caught up to again) and I head straight out on the trail, but when the trail itself veers right (where we can see runners going uphill in the distance), we stay straight to add a little distance (running the two sides of the triangle, rather than the hypotenuse).  At least it is flat to this point.

Now the longer hill begins.  I have found, today, that when I am running, my rear-end problem is less annoying, but when I am walking, it irritates me severely.  So… as I am climbing this hill, I am walking in a manner that is similar to running, hoping that it will lessen the issue.  When that fails, I look a ridiculous sight, punching myself in the ass… but hey, it makes it feel better… and there are not a lot of people out here anyway.

It is a long slog to the top of the hill… at least it is not windy, as it was two years ago, swirling dirt all the way up.  At the top, a turn to the right along the ridge and then some downhill into the Mile 16.9 aid station… which is decorated for Christmas.  Because of the hill, my pace slowed to 19 minutes per mile (not bad for uphill).

Now I have 3.7 miles with a general flat to downhill slant.  I just keep on maintaining until I reach the aid station.  I am back to my around 12 minutes/mile pace.  About a half mile out from the AS, I start seeing a plethora of stuffed animals (Snoopy, Bananas in Pajamas, etc.).  The 3′ long cougar made me jump a little, though.  (The aid station volunteer said next year he would put in a speaker and roar at people.)  When I get to the aid station, Jesus is there, along with the gal he is pacing. I am almost out of the aid station, when Jesus wants me to take pictures with him, so I have to stop, turn around, and get some pictures.  If it had been just a quick stop, that’s one thing, but it was about getting the light just right, making sure I’m in the frame, etc.  I’m up for mega-pictures at the end, but not wasting a lot of time on the course.

Out of this aid station, it’s an immediate turn uphill (nothing steep, as is the case on this course), and then once I get to the top, it’s a bunch of downhill and then mostly flat to the next aid station. I end up striking up a conversation with Darrell, a pretty beefy guy doing his first ultra.  He and his fiancee split their time between Long Beach and Ridgecrest, so maybe he will run with us at AREC when he is in (our) town.  He struggles on the downhill because he recently injured his leg.

So, now into Gracie’s Mansion aid station, where they are blasting music.  This is a few tenths short of a marathon.  My overall pace is right around 13 minutes per mile.  My “A” goal is 13 minutes per mile, but I will be happy with a time under 7 hours, since it would be my fastest 50K this year.  On the other hand, I am out here enjoying myself and so I get a cupful of beer…and I am not really worrying about my time.

Now there is about 3.7 miles to the last aid station… Last Gasp.  Flash back to last night and a conversation I had with former RD Chris Rios.  He promised me that he would have a beer for me here… so I was looking forward to it.  En route, Darrell took off.  I ran a bit with Clancy before she took off as well.  I ended up having another cup of beer (a Newcastle blonde) and a quick (maybe slightly drunk) conversation with Chris.

From here to the end, it’s a run around the school and a run around the parking lot.  For the first mile of the mile-and-a-half, I ran/walked with a heavily tattooed pierced dude, who had broken his foot a few weeks earlier.  (Tough people, these ultra folks.)

For the last half mile, which is downhill on paved and then a circling of the parking lot, I probably ran at a 8:00-9:00 / mile pace and finished in 6:48.

After finishing, I saw several of my friends finish; Yen was just a few minutes behind me. I also saw a few people that I didn’t even know were there (like Jakob Herrmann – we became so much closer friends after working the SB100 event).

The timing was particularly good because the award ceremony was at 2pm, not long after I finished.  I was able to get a piece of pizza and a soda and find out if I won a door prize (NEW Gaiters!!!) and then go in and hear how fast the leaders were.  Madonna got third place in her age group.

After the awards were handed out, they gave out participation awards for people who had completed 5 or 10 Ridgecrest events.  10-time finishers got a jacket and 5-time finishers got a zip-up collar sweatshirt.  Eleven years after my first High Desert 50K, I completed my 5th event.  It is a really nice giveaway.

Now for the ladies… based upon their pace at Mile 11, I figured they would be pretty close to 9 hours.  At about 7:40 on the finish clock (or 8:40 on the early clock), I headed out backwards on the course to find the ladies and run them in.  I had every confidence that they would finish under 10 hours, but would love them to finish under 9 hours.

I only got to about a half mile out, when… Stephanie appeared.  This was somewhat surprising given that she and Dulce were a bit back of Angela at Mile 11 (and Angela has the faster marathon time)… but more probably, they stayed together all day and then whoever was feeling it at the end took off.

Stephanie was in a state of euphoria; what I LO-OVE seeing at the end of a race.  She handed me her phone so I could go directly to the finish line and snap her photo… but en route, it somehow switched to video, so I videoed her finishing.

Two minutes later, Angela finished, and 90-seconds after that, Dulce finished.  8:51, 8:53 and 8:55, respectively. I was so proud.

The best part was that they genuinely had a good time and maybe wanted to do another.  All of the initial worries – no port-a-potties, getting lost, not finishing in time – never materialized.  (Technically, there WERE no port-a-potties, but a big rock and some T.P. was close enough.)

This was my 70th ultramarathon and I had a great time, and the gals I introduced to the sport of ultramarathoning had a great time, too.

Conquer the Bridge 5.3M – 2014

September 1, 2014

The last few times I have done this race, I have carpooled with Inger and/or Zack, but I think they have lost interest in doing this race.  Instead, I have been talking with Stephanie Harris and Kristen Womersley about the 3 of us carpooling together (live relatively close to each other). THAT is the plan.  Late on Sunday, though, Stephanie e-mails that she will most probably NOT be going at all because she had a golf cart incident (don’t think Stephanie won).

I drove over to Kristen’s and it was just the two of us but we found a good parking spot (and basically every carpool group from AREC was there).  I was able to pick up my bib there (despite the website saying ‘no raceday pickup’), but I also had Stephanie’s number (which she said I could use in the event that I couldn’t get my own number).  I pinned them both on my AREC jersey.

I utilized my usual ‘big hill’ strategy, which is to walk most of the hills and then run hard on the downhills and fairly fast on the flats.

The first mile takes you to the base of the bridge (which includes an on-ramp UP to this point).  I ran the entire section in 7:38. The second mile is basically the entire bridge.  I walked almost all of this uphill and then soared down the other side… in 8:56.

Mile three takes you the last downhill bit connecting the road to the bridge, a (deceptive uphill but seemingly) flat stretch to the turnaround, and back up to the same parallel spot on the road – 9:12.

Mile four is the bridge again. I walked this entire section. 78 people passed me, including Ara.  I count, because I like to see how many people I can overtake heading to the finish line.  10 minute mile.  (I catch Ara before I get off the bridge.)

The last mile is the off-ramp and the straightaway all the way to the finish.  (I caught 60 people.)  Finished strong with 8:02 for this last 1.3 miles (about 6:15).  Since the age groups are 10 years, few from our group get medals.  The strangest thing that happens is that Stephanie ‘finishes’ 5 seconds before I do, even though both bibs were pinned to my shirt.

Afterwards, about 10 of us went to this great Omelet place in San Pedro and had breakfast together.