Back to the shadows again

April 4, 2014

Sigh. So once again I am asking myself: “What could I do differently (if anything)?”

  1. Race somewhere cooler, more humid, at low elevation. It probably won’t make a huge difference, but it can’t hurt.
  2. Try resting to get my HR down so I can digest what’s in my stomach.
  3. Try eating less?
  4. Try running more slowly?
  5. After 3 or 4 hours I’m generally sick of sugar. Would switching to protein or fat be better? Cliff/Balance bars? Hunks of cheese?
  6. Accept that I can’t run for more than 9 hours? And give up.

(And that’s important!)

I think we are all bozos on this bus

March 16, 2014

I spent a long time on the fence about whether to do the Coyote Backbone trail race. I wasn’t sure I could do it. In the event, I could not. I have worried that a 50-miler is about my limit — not that I can’t run that far, but that my stomach shuts down and I can’t take in nutrition or water.

In a marathon, where I try to maintain the same pace, my heart rate goes up to an unsustainable level. In an ultra where I try to maintain heart rate I just go more and more slowly. In both cases I sometimes vomit at the end.

But I came up with some new ideas to try, so I thought Backbone might be worth risking:
  1. I was going to slow every now and then and hope that this would allow more blood flow to my stomach which would mean that it could actually process the water/food I put in it and so I wouldn’t get nauseous and could keep eating.

    My first idea was just to sit at an aid-station for 15 minutes, in the shade, reading a book (to keep my mind off things and reduce my excitement=stress), and drinking as I wished.

    Mike suggested that I keep walking so as not to cramp up (perhaps up a hill when I wouldn’t be going fast anyway?). Good point. He said the important thing was to get the HR below 100. He warned it might take longer than 15 minutes this way, but at least I’d be moving. I didn’t think I could get my HR below 100 going up a hill, but then I didn’t want to walk down a hill when I could normally zip along.

    Well, I tried this. I went slowly up a hill. I let some walkers pass me. At first I couldn’t even get my HR below 140 but after about an hour I got it down to 120 but not 100. I wasn’t willing to spend more time than that (and the hill was coming to an end). I felt a little better, but once I started moving again the nausea returned.

    If I do this again, I could try my original idea, but at the moment I have little expectation of it helping

  2. For years I’ve been told to put electrolytes into my water as I drink it. This is supposed to make absorption easier. For years I have resisted for no good reason (I didn’t want to have to wash out the bladder afterward?).

    This time I tried it. If it had any effect, it wasn’t enough. And by the end of the race I couldn’t drink water either because it tasted like sugar.

I tried these things. I had to drop out after ~12 hours because of my nausea. I had my last real food 6 hours in to the race. I stopped drinking after ~8 hours. When I tried to eat a little bit of food (3 orange eighths, and 1/32 of a cantaloupe) at Encinal aid station (mile 43, hour 9) I almost immediately had dry heaves, doubled over attempting to vomit. (Nothing came up, unfortunately).


I’ve never dropped out of a race before.

There were five of us, Brett, Jon, Stephanie, Mark and me. (oh and Jeff, but he didn’t train with us. And doubtless others).

The backbone trail of the Santa Monica mountains runs roughly east-west from Will Rodgers State Park in Santa Monica to just below Point Magu on the coast near the LA/Ventura county line. It’s about 65 (67? 68?) miles long.

It was supposed to be hot. The forecast was for temperatures in the mid-80s in the hill cities (and probably in the 90s in the enclosed canyons, but there’s no forecast for that). That would just make all my problems worse.

There were two different start times, the slower people started at 6am, the faster ones at 9. Mark and Stephanie and I were considered fast. Which meant we’d be starting when it was already hot and would run for 6~7 hours of brutal heat before things started cooling down. Then we’d have to run for who knew how long in the dark.

But the moon would be just before full which meant we’d have good moonlight from when the sun went down. And it would be cooler. Maybe running in the dark would be nice.

My friend Cynthia drove me down (and then met me at all the aid stations during the race). We left SB at 5 and got to the finish area at 6. There was a bus at 7:30 to take people to the start line, but I wasn’t sure where La Jolla Canyon actually was, and there were various things which needed to be done so I allowed extra time. We didn’t need it. So we sat around for an hour.

Stephanie showed up. She had car-camped there overnight and had somehow contrived to lose her car key. So we looked for that. It was something to do. We didn’t find it.

After a bit it got light enough to see, and I realized we were in the middle of the burn area for the Spring Fire (a huge wildfire in May of last year). I went wandering around through it to see what was regenerating. I’d be finishing sometime after midnight (probably) so this was my only chance to see it in the light.

Our goody bags were unusually heavy. It turned out they contained books. Mine was a huge hardcover detective novel. Last year someone had carried a book through the race and read at every aid station, so we were being given this option. Now I had thought I might carry a book, I was thinking more in terms of a paperback or ebook reader. No way I was going to carry this thing. So I gave the goody bag to Cynthia and ignored it.

One guy was carrying a banjo (and he did serenade the aid stations). Several people did carry their books (many had smaller books than mine). I thought that perhaps I’d just recite the Snark (or bits of it) when I got to a station.

I got thirsty, but there didn’t seem to be any water here (I was offered coffee, but — ug.) I didn’t want to drain my camelback already, I was going to have a 11+ mile run to the first aid station before I could get a refill.

Then off we went on the bus. The driver told us it was 34 miles by road. Hmmm. That sounds a lot easier (and will get to the same place).

There was water at the start, but no cups. Great. The air was still cool, but standing in the sun was already hot.

Le jour, déjà tout plein de soleil, m’a frappé comme une gifle.

When we got off the bus, Stephanie carefully wrote “Drink” on the inside of one of her arms, and “Eat” on the inside of the other. She has problems remembering to do both in a race.

Our bibs had chips, but there was no chip mat at the start. Odd. There were chip mats at some of the aid stations. I assume (though I never got there) there was a chip at the end.

We got off a little late, about 9:05 rather than 9. Somehow I was in second place; after about 20 feet we reached an unmarked intersection. I guess they didn’t bother to mark it because surely everyone would know where to go here? Anyway we didn’t. The guy in front of me and I went the wrong way. Not for long, of course. Everyone else knew what they were doing.

After a bit there were two fast guys in front, and then I was running with in a group of 3. One was telling me he ran Red Rock and was 50 minutes slower than Mike Swan. Oops. This guy’s too fast for me. And anyway my HR is approaching 80%, time to slow a bit.

Looking back to the city one can see sky-scrapers poking out of the haze, and there’s a taste of smog in the air. Not as bad as Bandit, but noticeable. This faded as we ran away from the city, but I still got smog-coughs from time to time.
Bridge View

I’m running alone now. There’s a guy about a quarter mile in front of me (you might be able to see him on the bridge photo if you look at a larger version).

The trail runs basically east-west. As do the mountains. So one side of the mountains faces south, this gets the full force of the sun, it is much drier and hotter here, so fewer things grow, so there is no shade so it is even hotter than it might otherwise be. The other side of the mountains faces north. The sun doesn’t reach here as much. It is cooler, there are creeks (well, there are creek-beds, there’s no water this year) and there are trees and shade. The trail moves from pleasant shade to burning heat as it meanders around the ridge line.
No Shade

BackboneBetween the start and the first aid station we climb from ~500ft to 2200ft in 8 miles and then drop down to 1200ft in the next 4. Compared to the SB hills this isn’t steep, and I average about 10 minute miles over it. I run out of water at 10 miles. I started with 2 liters, and I’m out of water after 1:40? Wow, maybe the electrolytes are helping me drink (or maybe it’s just hot).

Am I drinking too much? I never have worried that before. A liter an hour is good practice (and I rarely drink that much when racing). This is more than that, but not hugely. And it’s a hot day.

Rocks EagleRock
Eagle Rock
(but not the one I know)

I see a water fountain about half a mile from the aid station and I pause and get a drink.

Dead Grass

And here’s the aid station. The guy ahead of me is just leaving. I remove my camelback and ask them to fill it. The volunteer asks if I want ice in it. Oh, yeah, that’s as good idea. At one point I was planning to ask for that.

Arriving at Trippet Ranch AidStationNormally there are cups of water at aid stations. There are none here. I ask if I can have something to drink. A different volunteer says “Sure, where’s your cup?” They think I was given a floppy foldable plastic pouch which I’m supposed to use to get drinks at aid stations. I think I was not. Oh. Maybe it was in my goody bag, I didn’t look. But no one told me. I never saw it on the website. If they are going to make an unexpected (and important) change like this they’ve got to make it extremely obvious. It’s probably a good idea, cuts down on waste and so forth, but it’s unexpected and I really want to drink now. (Cynthia hears this and checks my goody bag later and tells me I did not get a cup-pouch. I check it later. There is no cup-pouch. There is a wine-cork. Perhaps they confused the two?)

Out of the station. Oops. I forgot to recite the Snark at them. It was all so busy. Oops. I had intended to splash water on my neck to cool me down.

About a mile down the trail there’s a stand-alone restroom by the side of the trail. I pop in and splash water on my neck, and then out again.

I can hear someone behind me. This turns out to be Dan, we go back and forth several times. At this point he is running faster than I but took a wrong turn and ended up at the wrong road crossing, and then had to run back to the backbone.

I’ve not had problems with the trail markings yet. Oh, I’m a bit annoyed that they use orange flagging (which doesn’t stand out to my color-blind eyes), but the background is brown this year rather than green so they are more visible than they might be if we weren’t in a drought.

We are in and out of the sun here. There’s no breeze. It gets really hot on the sunny side of the canyons.

Le soliel tombait presque d’aplomb sur le sable et son éclat sur la mer était insoutenable.

I notice that when I’m running in the sun my HR goes much higher than when I’m running in the shade. In the sun it gets up to 85% at what feels like a normal effort, while equivalent work in the shade is only 80%. I wonder if that is generally true? Mmm. Dan is just ahead of me in the sun, so maybe I’ve let him set the pace, but he pulls ahead and is out of sight by the time I’m in the shade).

It’s 6 miles to the next aid station. Now I’m on a shady hill. I pass a guy who says he has overheated. I suggest that he dump water on his head and neck or put ice in his cap at the next aid station. I’m feeling pretty good myself, it’s not bad in the shade.

I realize I’m having trouble remembering the Snark. Hard to think when racing. Maybe Jabberwocky? German Jabber is pretty impressive. And it’s much shorter. Let’s go for that.

At the top of this hill I come out onto what must be Stunt Rd. There’s a volunteer here to tell us what to do, and as I pop up the hill I begin “Just the place for a Snark.” But she’s talking to someone else and isn’t listening to me, so I don’t go any further with the poem.

I know the next aid station is on the road, so I don’t pay as much attention as I should. I cross the road to run against the traffic, and I miss the place where the trail takes off again on the right. Not a real problem, the two meet again at the aid station… but I come from an unexpected direction. No one there notices me. When I speak they startle and say “Where did you come from?” Howard, the race director, who happens to be there, tells me that I need to run back and do it right. Luckily it isn’t far (?half a mile? not sure) but he turns out to be joking.

They have to remind me about putting ice in my bladder. I forget about ice in my hair. I forget about reciting the Snark.

I’ve actually run the next 19 miles of trails before (I did one training run for this race), so I know this section. That is, I’m more familiar with it than the others.

I’ve now run for three hours. My initial plan was that I’d start walking now to get my HR down. But I’m feeling good, and I’m drinking enough. I hope this means that all I needed to do was add electrolytes to my drink. I’m feeling kind of stupid not to have tried it earlier. Anyway I don’t slow.
Nice Rock

When I ran this section last it was early morning. It was cool; the trail was in shadow. It’s not like that now. I keep thinking “Soon I’ll find the shade again” but it doesn’t happen, or not for long.

Pendant tout ce temps, il n’y a plus eu que le soleil et ce silence.

Here is the place where Jon fell and skinned his elbow a month or so ago…

But I’m still feeling good in spite of the heat. I go down for 6 miles and cross a little creek (which actually has water in it!) up onto the road and down to the aid station.

There Cynthia tells me that Mark told her at the last station that he might drop out at this one, if he does she’ll drive him back to the start and may miss me at the next station. I learned later that Mark did drop out here. And when Stephanie arrived she was so dehydrated that EMTs set to work to rehydrate her. After an hour of this she decided to continue. At this point Mark also decided he felt better, and tried to unDNF himself, but the timing people won’t let him.

My watch only has a battery with a ~9 hour charge. But I have two GPS watches. So I put a second watch in my drop bag for here. I’m only 4:30 hours into the run, but the next drop bag spot will (probably) be after 9 hours so I have to get it here. I also picked up some chewies (I was then out of gels and chewies, I calculated that precisely).

And I’m off. I turn the first bend in the trail, and there’s a horse blocking it. Stationary. But horses have the right of way even if they aren’t moving. There’s no way around it. Horses are big. But the rider moves it. And I’m off again!

This trail segment doesn’t last very long and debouches onto the fireroad that Mark told me was the Bulldog 50K course.

That is the sign we hail
Bulldog! Bulldog!
Bow, wow, wow

I’m starting to feel nauseous now (it’s about 5 hours into the run). I guess the electrolytes weren’t as helpful as I was hoping. OK, time to try Mike’s emendation of my idea. Walk really slowly.

I try this. I can’t seem to get my HR below 140 (70%). I slow down even more. One of the walkers (one of the slower people from the first wave) catches up with me and we go up together, chatting from time to time.



It’s a long hill. After about an hour my HR has dropped to 120 (when I’m lucky). I’m feeling less nauseous. But I stopped eating. I was eating 100 calories of sugar every half hour, but the thought of that now seems appalling. My last sugar was just before the walk started. I’m still drinking.

There’s a bush lupine blooming by the side of the road.

I stop by the side of the road to urinate. My water is very yellow. Not a good thing. I am definitely dehydrated in spite of all my efforts. Nothing seems to have worked.

I start running on the downhill, and a couple of miles later reach the next aid station. They fill up my water and give me ice. I eat some orange eighths. One of the volunteers has just cooked some quesadillas. She is offering them — to the other volunteers, not to the runner standing right in front of her. Odd. I ask for one and she’s happy to give it me. The guy who just filled my water bottle tells me I need more sun block on my shoulders and sprays some on. Seems like a good thought.

I eat the quesadilla slowly as I run away.

I’ve been going for about 6 hours now. 3PM. Isn’t that time for it to get cooler? Maybe? But no. We’re on daylight savings time. It’s only 2pm really. It’s quite hot for the next mile or two.

… la tête tetenissante de soleil…Mais la chaleur était telle qu’il m’était pénible aussi de rester immobile sous la pluie aveugante qui tombait du ceil

But then I pop into the shade. And suddenly the ground is covered with milk-maids. These weren’t blooming when I was last here. I think the rain last fortnight brought them out.

I keep seeing them.

I pass Jeff. He seems tired, but in good shape. For that matter, I’m footsore myself.

There’s a California Walnut blooming here. I’ve never seen that before.

Even drinking is starting to make me feel nauseous. Perhaps the electrolytes are a bad idea now. Sugar in the water is causing me problems? I won’t add any the next time I fill the bladder.

I come down to the Kanan aid station. I’m hoping for more quesadillas or at least orange slices, but they have nothing but water (they aren’t supposed to, I’m just hopeful.). Sigh. This is about mile 37 and about 7:30 into the race. Howard tells me it’ll be cool now as I run downhill — but he’s wrong on both counts — it’s hot and uphill. As I leave the aid station Brett says “Hi.” He appears to be in good spirits and is (I guess) just hanging out.

This is unknown trail again. I don’t pay much attention, I just keep going. I pass a few more people from the early start, but this is getting harder — the later in the race we go the better runners they will be. Two people from the second wave pass me. (One is Dan, of course), that’s the first time I’ve been passed in ages.

It’s ~6 miles to the next aid station, and near the end of that my first watch runs out of juice. I start up the second one. I’m not going to need the HR stuff any more, I’m not pressing my heart rate. I’ve slowed considerably on the uphills (but am still doing fine down). I think I’ve run out of muscle glycogen, it’s been 3 hours since that last quesadilla.

When I arrive at the aid station there has been a large influx of runners and none of the volunteers pay me any attention. Cynthia offers to fill my water. Hmm. No need for ice now. I haven’t drunk much since the last aid station anyway. I look around for food. No quesadillas. One volunteer offers to make another runner a burrito (but not me). A burrito does not sound appealing. There are 3 orange eighths left and I scarf them. There’s also a small bowl of cantaloupe bits, of which I eat two.

Then I’m off. As I leave the clearing I double over with dry heaves. Nothing comes out. I get up and to run again, and again I double over. That’s new. I’ve never vomited during a race before, only afterward. But that’s the worst of it and I finally leave.

It’s a 9+ mile uphill trek to the next aid station, and I’m really not feeling well. I consider turning back but we were told that once we left an aid station we had to push on to the next one. And anyway, maybe things will get better with the cooler night air? And stopping at 52 miles sounds so much more impressive than stopping at 43…

Again I’m moving very slowly. Again Dan passes me (I guess he spent more time in the aid station than I). A woman from the first wave is slowly catching up. She is talking on her cell-phone. Ug.

Time passes. So do more people. Lots of people. The sun goes down. I realize the moon is up. I’m moving very slowly. 2.5 miles an hour. It’s going to take 4 hours to get to the next aid station.

When people pass me they ask how I’m doing. I say “terrible.” Then they try to cheer me up. It doesn’t work.

It gets darker. But not dark enough yet to get out my flashlight. It gets cooler, but not cool enough yet to get out my long sleeve shirt.

After about 4 miles the trail flattens a bit, and I regain some energy. There are downhills to run.

Finally I reach an intersection where the trail marks are difficult to see and I get out my flashlight. I’m on a fireroad now. These are more confusing than trails, there seem to be lots of turn-arounds and each such looks in the dark like an intersection until I examine it carefully.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a very fat cat crouching in the road in front of me as if to pounce. But when I look again I see it’s only a stone from a rock-fall.

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
Descending from the ‘bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus.
‘If this should stay to dine,’ he said,
‘There won’t be much for us!’

Such tricks hath strong imagination,

Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

And I remember that people start to hallucinate on long runs if they don’t get enough glucose to the brain. It’s been almost 5 hours since I had anything real to eat, maybe 3 since I had anything significant to drink. Perhaps I’m hallucinating? Nah, I think the Duke is right.

I come running down a hill to a road crossing at a pace which impresses the crossing guards (or they say it does), but running downhill is easy. Once I cross the road I walk slowly up the other side.

More people pass me, including the lead woman.

I’m not getting better. I rest and have a little spurt of activity and then I need to rest again. I still can’t eat. Or drink. I suppose I could probably walk the last twelve miles after the next aid station… but why would I want to? I’m nauseous, I’m slow. This isn’t fun. And Cynthia can pick me up. Had she not been there my decision would have been harder to make, but she will be there.

The moon is not really bright enough to show the trail markings (at least not to my eyes), but when it’s behind my back it is enough to make me think that someone is catching up and the moon is their flashlight.

I’ve got a mile and a half to go.

Half a league, half a league, half a league onward.

I can see headlights on a road above me, but no sign of an aid station.

There it is.

I walk through the chip detector and tell them that I’m stopping.


I still can’t drink, or eat. And suddenly I’m coughing violently. I think the smog has caught up with me. I’m just miserable.

During the ride home I slowly feel better.

When I get home I take a few sips of water. And then a few more. After I’ve drunk about a pint (and some salt with it), I figure I can go to bed.

Would anyone like a copy of Straight by Dick Francis?

Wildflowers blooming

Southern Tausia (1 plant)
Chickweed (lots)
California Buckwheat (lots)
Bay laurel (2 plants)
Chaparral Currant (1 plant)
Mulefat (several)
Elderberry (2 plants)
Prickly phlox (1 plant)
Periwinkle (2 plants)
Sticky Monkeyflower (1 plant)
Purple Nightshade (3 plants)
Milk Maids (lots)
Manroot (several)
Deerweed (several)
Bush lupine (2)
Chamise (1)
Two Color Cudweed (1)

Ex[oe]rcising demons

March 12, 2014

When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache, and repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in without impropriety;
For your brain is on fire – the bedclothes conspire of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counterpane goes and uncovers your toes, and your cat tries demurely to sunder you;

Iolanthe — W. S. Gilbert

I didn’t sleep well last night, or the night before. I was too busy worrying.

When I signed up for a 68 (or is it 65?) mile race I thought “Well, that’s a 50 miler with a third more distance.” So… even my slowest 50 miler was under 10 hours, so I should be done somewhere around 13 hours, probably a bit faster.

Then I looked at last year’s results (too late to change my mind) and Mike Swan finished in 13:15. Now Mike is considerably faster, and a much better trail runner than I. Thirteen hours no longer looked feasible for me. 15? 16? I have no idea… Worrying.

They told me last week I was to start at 9am. So I’ll finish ¿around midnight? Sun sets a little after 7, civil twilight ends around 7:30. Four or five hours of running in the dark. How well are the trails marked? Will I be able to find my way? I don’t know these trails. The one section I have run is the second quarter of the race, which I’ll do in the light…

Even when I race in the light there are usually questionable intersections where the trail marker failed to notice a small side trail…

Ah. The moon will be a day before full that night. That’s some consolation. Not sure how much difference it makes, but it will make some.

Actually, as long as I don’t get lost the thought of running in the moonlight is kind of cool.

But the real worry is the heat of the day. The rain of a few weeks ago cooled things down, but only briefly. It’s hot again. The odd kind of heat which is pleasant in the shade but extreme when the sun beats down. The current forecast has the temperature well up in the 80s in the hills. That is not good running weather.

I think I’m looking forward to the night now.

Drawing with tables

March 3, 2014

WordPress (which runs this blog) is very useful, but it does have its limitations. It would be really nice to be able to specify real styles sheets and scripts. Well, they let you do that if you pay them, which I’m not willing to do, so I shouldn’t complain. But the WordPress system doesn’t allow me to update an image. This is something I want to do frequently — perhaps I’ve found a better shot, or perhaps I have a graph of something that changes with time.

If I upload an image with the same name as a previous image then WordPress appends a “2″ (“3″, “4″, etc.) to the internal filename. WordPress does this even if I delete the old version of the file first. So If I have an image that is shared by several pages and I want to update it I must change each and every page to reference the new version.

I haven’t figured out a way to get around that.

I have lots of graphs that change with time. When flowers bloom, when it rains, etc. Potentially every day adds a new datapoint. Often I’ll have one page with many such graphs, such as my record of all the blooms I’ve seen in Santa Barbara where I have a set of graphs for each species. What I want is to embed an image into the page. But WordPress removes embedded <svg> elements, so that doesn’t work.

But I realized I could draw my little calendar graphs with HTML table elements. I could make one image with a yearly calendar showing the months in a linear fashion, use that as a background image for a table, and then divide the year up into table cells representing time when a) the flower was blooming, b) it wasn’t, c) transition between.

   <table style="background-image:url('');border-spacing:0;padding:0;width:116px;">
    <colgroup> <col style="width: 18px;"> <col style="width: 5px;"> <col style="width: 15px;"> <col style="width: 5px;"> <col style="width: 1px;"> <col style="width: 2px;"> <col style="width: 1px;"> <col style="width: 69px;"> </colgroup>
    <tr style="height:12px;">
     <td style="background-image:linear-gradient(to right,rgba(0,0,0,0.0),rgba(255,0,0,0.5));"></td>
     <td style="background-color:rgba(255,0,0,0.5);"></td>
     <td style="background-color:rgba(255,0,0,0.5);padding:0;"></td>
     <td style="background-color:rgba(255,0,0,0.5);padding:0;"></td>
    <tr style="height:7px;">
     <td colspan="8"></td>

But I was surprised to discover, fairly quickly, that it didn’t work. The reason being that the default padding for table cells is 1 pixel (in most browsers anyway, though not in the CSS spec). This means that you can’t have a table cell with a width (or height) of 1 pixel; there’s a padding component on each side of the cell, so 2 pixels is the minimum width. So I must set style="padding 0;" on each table cell.

Even that didn’t work. Ah, careful reading of the CSS table spec reveals that there’s something called border-spacing which is placed around cells even if you’ve already said you don’t want borders. OK, so I must set that to 0 too (on the <table> element).

That doesn’t work either. It turns out that the browser doesn’t always use the widths I specify on table cells. I must use <col> as well.

But if I do all those non-obvious things then FireFox displays my little graph the way I want it to be.

Then I wanted to draw a more complicated graph: the total number of species living and blooming on any given day in the recovery zone of a fire.

Number of taxa identifiably alive or blooming
Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
<table style="text-align:center;">
<caption>Number of taxa identifiably alive or blooming</caption>
 <td>2013<br />-<br />2014</td>
  <table style="border:none;border-spacing:0;width:365px;">
   <col span="365" style="width:1px;"/>
   <tr style="height: 13px; padding: 0px;"><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=27 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=31 style=""></td></tr>
   <tr style="height: 5px; padding: 0px;"><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=27 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #66f;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=31 style=""></td></tr>
   <tr style="height: 1px; padding: 0px;"><td colspan=29 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=17 style="padding: 0; "></td><td colspan=4 style="padding: 0; background-color: #0f0;"></td><td colspan=9 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=27 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #66f;"></td><td colspan=30 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=31 style="padding: 0; "></td></tr>

This works in Firefox, but Safari still makes some table rows have a width of 2 pixels. I think it’s just wrong. (I have only tested in Firefox and Safari).

Of course, once you see that each table cell can be a pixel then you can output any image. It takes about 50 bytes to specify a pixels (instead of 3~4 for an uncompressed binary format, and far fewer for jpeg), but some savings can be made with run length encoding (using colspan when adjacent cells share the same color).

So it should be possible to use this method to draw a full color image

Lilium humboltii flower
Normal image
8K png
Table image
392K text

So here is a little routine which takes an array of pixels and produces a table image. It works in Firefox :-)

#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>

typedef unsigned int	guint;
typedef unsigned char	guint8;

/* This file is in the format produced by gimp for C RGB output */
/* It contains one variable, gimp_image, which is a structure */
/* containing width, height, and pixel_data fields. Pixel_data are */
/* stored as a sequence of bytes, 3 per pixel, the first being the */
/* red value of the first pixel, the second the green value, ... */
#include "Lilium-humboltii-flower2.c"

static char *PixelColor(const guint8 *pixel, char *space) {

    if ( memcmp(pixel,"\ff\ff\ff",3)==0 )
return( "" );
    else if ( memcmp(pixel,"\ff00",3)==0 )
return( "background-color: red;" );

    if ( (pixel[0]&0xf)==((pixel[0]>>4)&0xf) &&
	 (pixel[1]&0xf)==((pixel[1]>>4)&0xf) &&
	 (pixel[2]&0xf)==((pixel[2]>>4)&0xf) )
	sprintf( space, "background-color: #%x%x%x;", pixel[0]&0xf, pixel[1]&0xf, pixel[2]&0xf );
	sprintf( space, "background-color: #%02x%02x%02x;", pixel[0], pixel[1], pixel[2] );
return( space );

static void ImageToTable(FILE *file) {
    int r,c, rspan, cspan;
    int byte_width = 3*gimp_image.width;
    const guint8 *rbase;
    char buffer[40], *color;

    fprintf( file, "<table style=\"border: none; border-spacing:0;width: %dpx;\">\n", gimp_image.width );
    fprintf( file,  " <colgroup><col span=%d style=\"width: 1px ! important;\"/></colgroup>\n", gimp_image.width );
    for ( r=0; r<gimp_image.height; r += rspan ) {
	rbase = gimp_image.pixel_data + r*byte_width;
	for ( rspan=1; r+rspan<gimp_image.height; ++rspan ) {
	    if ( memcmp(rbase,
			byte_width)!=0 )
	fprintf( file, " <tr style=\"height: %dpx;\">\n", rspan );
	for ( c=0; c<gimp_image.width; c+=cspan ) {
	    for ( cspan=0; c+cspan<gimp_image.width; ++cspan ) {
		if ( memcmp(rbase+c*3,
			    3)!=0 )
	    color = PixelColor(rbase+c*3,buffer);
	    if ( cspan==1 )
		fprintf( file, "  <td style=\"padding: 0px;%s\"></td>\n", color );
	    else if ( rspan!=1 && *color=='' )
		fprintf( file, "  <td colspan=%d></td>\n", cspan );
		fprintf( file, "  <td colspan=%d style=\"%s%s\"></td>\n",
			cspan, color, rspan==1? "padding: 0px;": "" );
	fprintf( file, " </tr>\n" );
    fprintf( file, "</table>\n" );

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
return 0;

Chasing orcs up Mt. Whitney

February 28, 2014

I am rereading “The Lord of the Rings” for the first time since I became an ultra-runner, and was struck by a passage in the “Two Towers” where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli chase Orcs down from the Emyn Muil to the borders of Fangorn. Éomir says:
“This deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall. Forty leagues and five have you measured ere the fourth day is ended!”

Tolkien’s leagues are 3 miles, so that’s 135 miles in four days. But the 135 mile Badwater course (and a far more challenging route) has been run in under a day. Taking 4 days doesn’t sound very impressive…

The real runners, in Tolkien’s tale, are the Orcs who do the same route in only 2½ days (and carrying hobbits too); but somehow they don’t get mentioned. (“Legolas, it is thrice twelve hours, I guess, since the Orcs stood where we stand now.”)

Badwater has an elevation gain of 8,600ft, while Aragorn climbs down from the Emyn Muil. We aren’t told how tall they are, but definitely he has a net drop to contend with.

Aragorn and his friends carry lembas. Now one cake of lembas can feed “one of the tall men of Minas Tirith for a day of hard labor”, but I need to eat a GU every half hour or so. Lembas wins.

Nor does Aragorn have to face the fearsome heat (and cold) of the desert.

On the other hand Aragorn is unsupported. He must carry all his food (but that appears to be easy as they don’t need many cakes of lembas) and must carry or find all the water he needs. However, this does not seem to be as much of an issue as I think it should be and isn’t really mentioned.

Aragorn and friends are armed. He has a sword, Legolas a bow (and arrows), and Gimli an ax and chain mail.

Aragorn is tracking, though this doesn’t seem to slow them much.

Finally the will of Saruman pushes them back; I’m not sure what that entails, but there is nothing like it at Badwater.

Chasing Orcs Badwater
135 miles 135 miles
8,600feet net elevation gain net drop
lembas GU
Good running condtions Extreme heat and cold
Carry or find water Water provided
Weapons Special anti-heat suits
Route not clearly marked Route supposed to be clearly marked
Will of Saruman ?
4 days 1 day

Another thing that bugs me: on the run Legolas says he can see: “It is a great company on foot, but I cannot say more, nor see what kind of folk they may be. They are many leagues away: twelve, I would guess; but the flatness of the plane makes it hard to measure.”

Now for a person of normal height, standing on level ground, the horizon is about 3 miles (or one league) away. Legolas was standing on an escarpment, but to get a sight distance of 12 leagues the escarpment would need to be almost 1000 feet high which seems unlikely considering how quickly they descend from it. Maybe the radius of Middle Earth is considerably bigger than that of our own world.

½ Nine Trails

February 22, 2014
Spotted Hideseed
Poison Oak
Canyon Sunflower bud
Lemonade Berry
California Blackberry
White Nightshade
Pacific Pea
Sticky Snakeroot
Coastal Morning Glory
Bay Laurel
Purple Nightshade
Common Rush-Rose
Jesusita Connector
Cliff Aster
Common Manroot
Rattlesnake Connector
Common Manroot
Common Manroot
California Dodder
Greenbark Ceanothus
Bush Sunflower
Cold Spring West
Bush Poppy
Common Manroot
Purple Nightshade
Cold Spring East
Sticky Snakeroot
Hot Spring Connector
CS<->SY Fireroad
Bermuda Buttercup
Black Mustard
Tall Stephanomeria
Coastal Morning Glory
The Wall
Buena Vista Connector
Hillside gooseberry fruit (gooseberries)
Buena Vista
BV<->Romero Fireroad
Red-Stemmed Storksbill
Romero Connector
Bermuda Buttercup
Sticky Snakeroot
Canyon Sunflower
Brass Buttons

Mike told Brett he should run ½ Nine Trails (that is, from the start to the turnaround but not back) today, with the first part easy, the second part hard. The rest of the Backbone contingent decided to join him. As did Karen and Ken.

It takes me about 3½ hours when not pushing things. Going in a group would mean the first half would be slower (because I’d wait for people), but the last half faster (because I wouldn’t wait and I’d push). Ideally I want to drink a liter per hour, but my biggest camelback only holds three and I didn’t want to run with it because I’m going to do the race with the 2 liter one (and 3 liters is heavy). If I don’t pay attention to my drinking (drink when I feel like it) then 2 liters will last about that long — depending on the temperature. Anyway I chose the 2 liter one.

Two days ago it was 81 when I biked through Goleta at 4. Yesterday was cooler. I hoped today wouldn’t be too hot.

We gathered at Cater at 6:30. It was chilly. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but it was definitely thinking about it. There was light. I turned on my watch. It immediately turned itself off. Damn it! What’s wrong with those batteries? It worked fine on Thursday (and I recharged it then). Sigh. Another run without a watch.

We don’t seem anxious to start, but eventually we move toward the trailhead. Jon and I seem to be the only ones running at first and we pull ahead of the others. After a bit Mark joins us. We wait for everyone at that water fountain (and I drink a fair amount because I’m worried about water). We wait again at the top (Inspiration).

I go off in the bushes to piss, and two little birds come out to watch me. Perhaps they are thirsty and hope it is raining? Anyway they don’t seem to be afraid.

When all have assembled save Ken I wonder if he’s OK. Karen tells me that he broke his leg so she had to shoot him. But after a bit he comes back from the dead.

Then we head down towards Tunnel. Mark and Jon quickly pass me, but I catch up with them once we start going up Tunnel. And then pull away. I don’t wait for them at the Rattlesnake Connector, thinking they’ll catch me going down it, and they do — just as I am reaching the bottom. So I don’t let them pass but head up Rattlesnake, and pull away again.

I trot down Gibraltar, and pause at the little thicket of fennel near the powerlines. One of them has dodder growing on it (and blooming of course). It’s been blooming at least since December. Dodder isn’t supposed to bloom in the winter…

Jon catches up with me, and we run together to the hairpin where we wait for Mark (who has been having trouble with his shoe and keeps stopping to fiddle with it).  Then Jon and Mark take off down the trail at what looks to me a dangerous pace… But I’ve almost caught up by the bottom.

But now it is time to run hard, and I charge up Cold Spring and don’t see them again.

They don’t catch up with me on the downhill on the other side.

Charging up the Wall isn’t as easy…

And charging up Buena Vista is practically impossible.

I get to the bottom of Romero. My camelback is empty. No one is here. I consider pulling out the book I brought with me (partly as a test to see if I could carry a book with me).

Enh. I turn around and go back. After maybe ⅔ of a mile I see Mark. A bit later I see Brett and Jon. I had thought I might run back until I met everyone, but somehow it seems better to return with these two.

So we all go back.
Romero Gate

Then we wait. And wait.

Eventually we decide to leave. Ken has a car, so he can carry the others home.

And I have promises to keep.
And miles to go before I sleep.

Something to try to avoid dehydration?

February 18, 2014

I dehydrate during long races. Even during marathons. It seems to be a combination of time on my feet and effort and, to a lesser extent temperature and elevation. I usually slow down about mile 18 in a marathon, considerably later in an ultra.

I shall soon be running a ~68 mile race and I’m concerned that if I run it as I’ve run 50 mile races then I’ll end up very sick somewhere around mile 55.

The obvious solution is to drink more. Well, I really can’t in a marathon I already drink at every aid station. But I’ve been trying to do so in my ultras and that hasn’t seemed to help.

Conventional wisdom then says to take salt tablets which are supposed both to increase absorption of water and to help one retain it later. I do that in my ultras. It doesn’t seem to make any difference, except that I get a much denser layer of salt on my skin from sweating.

I’ve been stymied at this point for a while now. But I noticed the other day that just sitting in the shade after the race made me feel better. I drank a little water, but not much (I have vomited after drinking water in the past, so I am cautious), and I don’t think that was what made the difference.

Maybe I overheat and need to cool down? Maybe I’ve got enough water in my stomach but for some reason it doesn’t go into the blood unless I rest.

So I went looking on the web and found an article on problems people have doing Western States 100M. Some people have no problems, but I doubt I’d be one of them. Buried in the midst of problems is the statement:

As you know, running an ultra is stressful on the body….way more stressful than many even think they know it to be. When you place demands on your muscles to keep moving you forward, the blood in your body gets “shunted” to those muscles to fuel them with the oxygen they need to work. And if the muscles are hogging the blood, then some other parts of the body must be sacrificed at the expense of the muscles. Unfortunately, the gut is often sacrificed. And if you keep shoving precious fluids and calories into a gut that cannot absorb them…

and later

Decreasing stress at WS may seem impossible, but there are definitely things you can do. Slowing down or walking is a good place to start. Cooling down if hot is also helpful.

One year when I was in Madagascar a friend of mine was trying to figure out if dominant or subordinate animals were under more stress in a troupe. He did this by collecting feces, storing them in little vials, and taking them back to the States to test for cortisol levels. (Sadly I never got to watch him go through customs.)

So I guess I’m not going to take fecal samples in the middle of a race to test for stress hormones. But let’s presume that I might be getting stressed out and unable to absorb water efficiently.

“Slowing down or walking is a good place to start.” Humph. It was after walking for 3 miles up a steep mountainside in the blazing heat that I started to feel nausea. I was already going slowly or walking. Perhaps sitting down would be even better? (especially in the shade). I think I’ll continue to stress out over the race if I sit/walk/run slowly and see other people passing me. So I think if I truly want to destress I need to take something to distract me from the race — hence the idea of sitting down and pulling out a book for a bit.

Of course sitting down might have its own problems. My legs might stiffen up, so after sitting down for a bit I’d want to start out by walking before I went back to running.

It probably takes a while to relax. Not sure how long, but after my 5:25 run the other day I felt better when Stephanie showed up, which was 16 minutes later. Pausing at an aid station where there’s plenty of water to use for cooling and drinking while I relax is probably a good idea, but I don’t want to waste 15 minutes at every station. Maybe every three hours or so I should take a 15 minute break.

Hoping, of course, that I’d be able to run faster after the break and be able to make up some of the time I lost because of that.

If this works for an ultra, then I wonder if I could do something similar in a marathon? A 15 minute break would be too long… but maybe I could try a 5 minute break somewhere after the halfway point but before mile 18…

Galloway recommends walking during a marathon, but
a) his website doesn’t talk about people who run faster than 8min/mile,
b) he talks of running for 4 minutes and walking for 30 secs which doesn’t seem as if it would address my problems; I think I need a longer rest than that.

I wonder if I might end up taking less time in spite of the break? I wonder if I might avoid feeling nausea?

It’s worth a try.

The idea of racing with a book in my pack is rather appealing.

I feel a bit more motivated now.

(1 March) I finally had a chance to talk to Mike who seemed to feel the general idea of taking a rest was reasonable but questioned the specifics. He said the important thing was to get the heart rate below 100 — at that level blood would flow back to the gut. But he didn’t like the idea of sitting to rest; mostly because it would be hard to start back up again once I stopped. Muscles stiffen, etc. He recommends walking very slowly. Which is actually what everyone else says too, but I did so like the thought of reading a book at an aid station. Ah well.

I wonder where the heart rate of 100 comes from, I haven’t seen that elsewhere… Does that depend on my body or is that really a number that works for everyone?

Bandit 50K — Way too Hot

February 17, 2014
I’m running in the heat
Just running in the heat
What a horrible feeling
I’m crappy

Yesterday as we were doing our cooldown from the 8 mile tempo someone asked me what I was doing next. Well I was training for a 68 mile trail run through the Santa Monica Mountains. Oh yeah, and I was planning to do a 50K the next day (today) — I’d sort of forgotten — as a training run. They pointed out we’d already run 17, so why do that the day before a race? Well the point was to be racing on tired legs — to simulate the longer race.

Then Ethan asked me what motivated me. This question surprised me because I haven’t been feeling very motivated recently. It was only this week that I committed to either these races, I’ve been fence sitting. Feeling terribly unmotivated. But when I got home it occurred to me that Ethan might have meant “What motivated me to run at all.” And this thought was equally surprising. I don’t need to be motivated to run. I like to run. Why would I need motivation to do something I enjoy? It’s hard to imagine not running.

Anyway we met this morning (Jon, Stephanie, Mark, Brett and I) at 4:30 to carpool over to Simi Valley. I’m not sure that any of us had been to Simi before; it’s about 75 miles east and a little south from SB. Inland, so hotter than SB, but the weather people were predicting a high in the mid 70s (which didn’t sound bad).

We arrived. And found a locked gate where we thought we should find our parking area. Someone else drew up behind us (so we weren’t the only ones to be confused). But Brett found the right email and we set off again to another entrance, which was crowded with people (well, crowded by the standards of 6am).

It was pitch black and chilly. I decided against a long sleeve shirt over my singlet (they are too hard to take off mid-race), and opted instead for a pair of long socks with the toes cut off which I drew up over my arms. Then I turned on my watch, which told me LOW BATTERY and then turned itself off. Great. No watch. I was already annoyed at my watch because a couple of days earlier I found the HR monitor wasn’t working. So I replaced the battery (my generic fix for that problem), but the HR monitor still didn’t work and I was flummoxed. So I’d already given up on the HR monitor, and now I had to give up on the whole thing.

I don’t think I’ve ever raced an ultra without an HR monitor. It tells me when I try too hard and prevents me from going too fast at the start. And it’s been ages since I did anything without a GPS watch to tell me how far I’ve gone, how long I’ve been running and how far to the finish. But with tired legs I probably wouldn’t be able to try too hard (so I wouldn’t need to look at a HR), and it would be good for me to run by feel again.

So the watch stayed in the car.

Everyone else was discussing how to hydrate. I was planning on my two liter camelbak and had no other option so I stayed silent. Mark had two water bottles with him but decided that “It’s only a 50K, one bottle will be fine.” So I think everyone else ran with a single ~1 pint waterbottle (about a quarter of what I had). One thing I wanted to train myself on was to drink frequently in hopes that would keep me from dehydrating.

We picked up our bibs (with embedded chips!) and still had almost an hour to kill before the race start.

Slowly it grew lighter. Slowly the moon set.

Then we lined up. The Race Director gave us the two rules of the course: “1) Don’t litter. 2) If you wear earbuds only wear one (because it’s rude to cut yourself off from others by wearing two).”. They seemed like pretty good rules.

We started.

We made a big loop around a large hill in the middle of the valley, eventually climbing up the hill, and down and back to the start. I guess the race needed a little bit extra to make it 50K. We started at a pretty good clip. Faster than I thought appropriate and I slowly dropped back in the pack as more and more people went out too fast. I like to count the number of people ahead to know where I am in the race, but there were just too many.

Oh well. It was a training run. I wasn’t really supposed to be racing. And, yeah my legs did feel stiff from yesterday; I probably wasn’t going as fast as I could, nor should I.

Then we set out across the valley toward the mountains. And then we started climbing up to the ridge. The trail switchbacked up and very soon there was a line of people walking up the steep mountain side. Normally I might have been temped to try to run up, but my legs were tired and I was happy to walk behind people. Though I did end up passing a couple.

Then the trail led into a tunnel which ran underneath a freeway that crossed the park. The tunnel was level and we ran for a bit, but all too soon we were back to creeping up the hillside.

I realized we were going to have to run down this when we returned, and I didn’t like the looks of it. It was steep and technical — the kind of downhill I hate and have to slow way down for in order to feel safe. But there was no point in dreading the future.

Going at this slow pace gave me ample opportunity to remind myself to drink (I had intended to time myself and drink every 10 minutes or so, but, watchless, I simply took a mouthful when I thought about it. Which was pretty often.

On the rare occasions when I breathed through my nose the air stank. I have forgotten the joys of LA smog, but today Simi Valley seemed to be encased with a blanket. Oh, not really bad; I’ve certainly seen much worse; but I’m not used to it any more. The air stank and there was a haze coating the opposite mountains which was not mist.

Haze over the city. It never got better.

Haze over the city. It never got better.

Finally we crested the hill and turned onto a fireroad which ran along a ridgeline, and continued to climb, though not as steeply. We entered a weird countryside with great (natural) piles of rocks higgledy-piggledy on top of the peaks. The hillsides we could see across the way wear very sere. Far, far less vegetation than the SB hills have. And we’re in a bad drought, so what little there is is shrunken further.
Rock Jumbles
Sere Hills

I pass a guy from New Zealand. He and I spend a lot of time passing and repassing each other over the next ~17 miles. He’s faster than I on the uphills, and I’m faster than the downhills (well, mostly). We also spend some time running together here and there.

And then we started to descend — a stretch more technical that I like, and before long Mark has caught up and passed me. He’s a much better technical downhill runner than I.

We reach the first aid station.

The first significant endurance event I did was a 200 mile bike race, and when I was preparing the guy at the bike store gave me this warning: “You can lose a lot of time at the aid stations, slip in and slip out.” At the time I didn’t pay attention — all I really wanted to do then was finish, and I was riding with a friend who was in no hurry. But when I’m running an ultra I really do try to get through the aid stations as quickly as possible. Mark does not. So although I arrived at the station slightly behind him; I left it before him. Mostly this was because I was nowhere near done with my water so I didn’t need a refill, and I didn’t need food (I carried the GUs I needed for the race). All I needed to do was make sure they got my bib number.

The race has an out and back course— but not completely— there are several places where the out route takes a different track than the return. Then they rejoin and rebranch. The aid stations are at the junction points. So far we had been running on a section that was common to both, but now we diverged.

After the station I was ahead of a number of people now who had been ahead of me before (including the Kiwi). We started to descend fairly steeply and I offer to let people pass, but no one takes me up on it.

Then we come to a place where another trail crosses ours, and our trail appears to proceed a few tens of feet further and then stop at a cliff face. I presume it is just a dead end and turn left onto the larger of the branches of the other trail. The intersection is not marked (as all intersections are supposed to be) so I’m uncertain that this is the correct choice.

After going 100 yards, the people behind me start to worry that this is wrong, and someone further back yells “I know the way, follow me.” It turns out that the cliff I imagined is not quite a cliff, just a very steep slope down which the trail plunges. And we should follow it. I’ve gone from being in front of about 5 people to being last of them. And Mark is right behind me again.

I skitter down the hillside (steep, technical, not to my liking) expecting Mark to pass me at any moment (but he doesn’t) and watching the people ahead draw further and further away. Down below us is a large field of dead grass and then beyond that a cluster of houses.

We cross the field and run out onto a suburban street.
Trail race?

Humph. This is supposed to be a trail race. Still, this works to my advantage and I manage to pass one of the people ahead of me.

The street turns a corner and heads down quite steeply. There’s a traffic sign “Watch downhill speed.” I caution the guy beside me not to go too fast.

Then we turn left off the street and head back into the park. Of course we’re running up again. And up.

After a few miles we come to the second aid-station (and the point we the out and back routes rejoin). I once again breeze through the station. But after I’ve run another quarter mile I begin to think this was stupid. My water is pretty low. But to go back now would waste a lot of time. As I recall this station is about at mile 9 and the next is around 14 (I was wrong in that, the next is closer to 15, but I didn’t know that at the time) and the elevation map didn’t show any bad hills… I risk it.

We climb. There’s some prickly phlox blooming here. This is only the second bloom I’ve seen in about 10 miles of running. Partly this rarity is because of the drought, but I think (from looking at the hillsides) that this area is just much drier that SB (which seems very dry to me).

We climb beside a dry river (it should be wet at this time of year) and there are lots of blooming mulefat plants on the banks. A bit later I find one California Aster.

Then the route diverges again and we climb higher, and rejoins at the top of the hill. And now I start to see the first of the returning runners. I assume the first guy I see is the leader, but I quickly realize that the real leader was probably on the section of trail where the returning route was different. So I don’t bother to count people to see what place I’m in.

River RdWe are now going down a lovely road which descends to a (dry) stream bed. The stream may be dry, but it and the road are lined with oaks. So far the only shade we’ve had has come from mountains, not trees. The road is also in good shape, mildly downhill and easy to run. I find I am catching up on the two guys ahead of me (one being the perennial Kiwi).

Another trick to getting in and out of an aid-station quickly is to get there in front of other people. If you are first you get served first. If you are second you may have to wait until the first guy is done. That’s another reason for passing these two.

I’m out of water now. I ran about 14 miles on 2 liters. The aid-station had better be close.

It is. I get there ahead of the other two guys and someone takes my camelbak and fills it while I eat bananas and oranges.

And I’m out, before the other two.
River Rd

I haven’t gone far before I see Mark coming in the other direction. And then Stephanie a little behind him. They are probably less than 5 minutes behind me. Then Jon, and then Brett. Probably less than 10 minutes back.

The Kiwi passes me again as we climb up the hill which isn’t quite as nice as it was coming down it.

At the top of the hill he’s maybe 30 meters ahead, and we go down a new trail which also proves to be a good trail for me and I pass him again.
Another Valley

But at the bottom of the hill I miss a turn. This time I realize it myself, but when I get back on track the Kiwi is again ahead. And now we are climbing and he pulls away, and then descending and I start to catch up.
New Zealand Guy

(and now my camera’s battery dies. But I charged it all night. It’s not my day)

When we get to the middle aid-station I’m only a few feet behind him.

He gets to the aid station first, but there are enough volunteers that I don’t need to wait. I’ve drunk a lot more water in the last 5 miles than I did in the comparable section on the way out, so I need to refill my water. It has started to get hot.

But again I’m out of the aid station ahead of him and ahead of another guy who had been ahead of both of us.

I’m a little disconcerted as I see no route markings, but eventually I pass a woman who is running the 30K race, so I feel better.

We might both be wrong.


The trail goes uphill, but not steeply. I can still run it. I’m in another stream valley with oaks for shade and mulefat by the stream. But after a mile or so it gets abruptly steep, and I slow to a walk. I walk fast though. The road climbs out of the valley, and into the heat and the sere landscape.

There’s a goldenbush blooming by the side of the road. I think these are finished in SB this year, but here is one in a harsh landscape.

The road climbs.

It seems to go up for ever.

Every now and then I pass someone. More 30K runners. I want to be passing 50K runners, but I haven’t seen any yet.

We come round a bend and I can see switchbacks leading up into the sky, each switchback with a few human figures on it, all toiling upward.

It looks like a long way up.

It gets hotter.

The weather man said mid-70s for Simi Valley, but it’s far hotter here. The sun beats on me from above and reflects off the road below.

I’m drinking a lot of water (and salt tablets, I haven’t forgotten them).

I pass a 30K runner who asks how far we have to go. He doesn’t have a watch either. I tell him I think that after the next (final, first) aid station there will be another 6 miles, but I’ve no idea how far to it.

Finally I crest the hill. I passed one 50K runner (walker) and lots of 30K walkers. As I reach the top the trail turns right and there… is another hill, crossed with switchbacks, each switchback with a scattering of walkers toiling up.

Up I go.

It’s hot.

I’m starting to worry that I’ll run out of water.

This section is only 5~6 miles, but it is so hot and I’m moving so slowly.

Finally I reach the top of this hill. And there is an unmanned table with WATER!. I fill up my camelbak again and see that I still probably had half a liter left. Not quite the dire straights I feared.

And off in the distance I can see the last/first aid station. About a mile. I trot down the hill, but it’s too steep and technical for my liking so I’m not really moving fast. And then I realize I have another hill to climb before I reach the aid station. It’s not as long, but it’s too long.

I have enough water. I get some bananas bits and orange quarters and push on. (they tell me that I’m the 14th male, I know there’s at least one woman ahead of me so maybe 15th place)

Surprise. I’m still going uphill. I’m back in the odd country of piles of rock. There’s a 50K runner ahead of me, and I’m slowly catching him up. But when I get close the trail turns downhill, and he takes off and leaves me.

There’s a bit of breeze now, but it’s still hot.

The breeze is nice when it blows.

Eventually I reach the place where the last trail takes off from the dirt road and descends to the finish line.

It’s steep, and technical.

I don’t like it. I’m not going fast even though it is downhill. I keep passing 30K runners though. I start to worry that Mark, or even Jon will come up behind me and pass me. Both can just barrel sure-footedly down hills whilst I stumble desperately to find my way. I suppose it might be anyone really. The guy ahead of me, for instance, had no trouble…

But no one does pass me.

And eventually I pick my way to the valley floor.

Now I pick up the pace (or so it feels, I’m probably going fairly slowly), and come running toward the line. I can hear people cheering in the distance.

They seem to have chosen the curviest route they could. It does not head straight to the line, but wanders around, and eventually approaches it from the back side.

But I get there, and plow across the line, and am done.

I want to go sit in the shade under the trees, but one of race staffers insists that I go sit under the shade of a tent. Now the tent is surrounded by a lot of hot sun beating off the ground all around it. It is actually a lot warmer there than the shade under the trees, but she lets me know that they want to keep there eye on me. Sigh. I can understand being worried about runners in this heat, but do something better than insist they stay in the heat.

I must look really bad, because they don’t do that to anyone else who finishes.

Oh, I finally remember to check the clock: 5:25:46, so I finished somewhere around 5:25. (Official results say 5:24:35, 16th overall, 1st in age group)

They ask me if I want anything. Well, yeah, I’d like to go sit under the trees, but that’s not an option. Eventually they stop pestering me, and I cool down. I drink some water, and take some more electrolyte pills.

I sit there, and eventually Stephanie crosses the line (5:41), and the race staffers converge on her and carry her off to the tent too. She’s the first person they’ve done that to since did it to me. I look at her to see if I can figure out what they see in us, but she looks much as she always does, except her eyes seem a little wider and she looks a bit dazed.

I’m impressed that Stephanie is ahead of Mark. I would have expected him next. Stephanie turns out to be the second woman finisher.

We sit there and recover. After a bit we decide to make our escape. There’s food at another tent (boy, it’s really hot walking from tent to tent). I get some more fruit and a slice of pizza. Then we walk over to the shade where we can look for our friends.

Mark crosses the line at 6:01, and he seems untroubled by the heat. He comes to sit with us.

Then we wait. I start to get worried. Where are Brett and Jon? Dehydration? Broken legs?

But eventually they show up, running together at 6:43.

At the ~15 mile turnaround we were all fairly close together, I think less than 10 minutes separated me from Brett, the slowest. But here at the ~31 mile finish we’re all spread out.

On the drive back we were all coughing. I think the smog irritated our lungs…

So I feel I did a pretty good job of drinking water and taking electolytes. I’m sure I could have done more… but I tend to think something else is going on. I see two other things to try, neither of which is appealing:

  1. Slow down. Perhaps try to keep my HR below 75% and see if an easier pace will allow me to absorb water better?
  2. Stop and rest at every aid station. Take a book and force myself to sit and read for 5 minutes? Or take 20 minutes every three hours? By the time Stephanie finished I was actually feeling pretty recovered and that was only 16 minutes.

Neither of these sounds very competitive, and unfortunately. I’m not feeling very motivated.

Drought in Santa Barbara

January 31, 2014

It hasn’t really rained since 7 Dec. Oh we got .01 inches last Sunday (that’s the smallest amount they will measure), and a little sprinkle yesterday, but the total monthly rainfall is .01 and we average 4 inches in January. January is normally our wettest month.
The last 12 months have been the driest consecutive 12 months on record (back to 1868). The next smallest amount was 3.37 inches from Feb 1947 to Jan 1948, and then 3.74 inches from May of 1897 to April of 1898.

San Roque Creek, which is usually full of water in January as it runs beside Jesusita Trail, is currently almost dry. Oddly, it was even drier back in November — perhaps once the sycamores lost their leaves there was more water to flow?

Rainfall in Santa Barbara has always been very erratic. We rarely get the “average” amount of rain, in fact in 62% of years we get less than the average amount. We tend to think that we should get less than the average amount 50% of the time, but that’s because we assume that things are symmetrical, but the distribution of rainfall is not symmetrical — we don’t often get wet years, but when we do, they can be very wet — and that makes up for the fact that most years are dry.
RainFrequencyA graph like the one above represents a poisson distribution, rather than the more familiar normal distribution. More years get about 14 inches of rain than any other amount. So the average rainfall is 18 inches, the median rainfall is 15.5, and the most frequent amount of rainfall is 14 inches. Santa Barbara expects to be dry.

But over the last 12 months we have had 2.9 inches.

That’s extreme.

The wildflowers are dying. Annuals came popping up after the November rains. Yes, it didn’t rain much in November, or December, but our wildflowers are used to dry conditions. It rained enough for them… But there was no rain in January and as the month progressed I watched annual seedlings wither and die. Popcorn flower, stinging lupine, storksbill, phacelias, shooting stars were all recognizable from their leaves in December, but all those leaves are gone or dead now.

Some of the perennials and small shrubs have done better… The plants that were ready in November and December put out shoots or blooms, but those which normally started in January didn’t bother. Manroot (wild cucumber) is usually one of our earliest bloomers starting with the coming of the winter rains, and vines have sprung up and are blooming, but not as many as in years past, and many vines quickly wither and die. Chaparral current is another early bloomer; I saw three plants blooming in December, but none in January; generally there will be plants blooming into March. In one area the late blooming mariposa lilies put out their basal leaves in December; this area is always about a month ahead of other areas; the other areas have not put out any basal leaves.

Hillside Gooseberry normally starts to bloom in late December/early January, but this year I have seen no blooms — until yesterday. Yesterday I found a plant with one dessicated (dead) bloom.

Dry Gooseberry

Normally by now Canyon Sunflowers are showing their large yellow blooms all along Jesusita trail. This year the new leaves they put out in December have shriveled in the drought and there are no blooms. Similarly the hummingbird sage has put out leaves only to have them die. The black sage hasn’t even bothered to produce leaves this year.

Canyon Sunflower

The Bay Laurel is blooming, but only on a few plants, and even some of the ones in bloom have some dessicated buds showing they had to struggle to open. The Ceanothuses are starting to bloom a month later than normal, and I’ve only seen a few blooming (instead of hillsides covered with white or blue). The Holly Leaved Cherries have not bloomed. The Manzanitas have not bloomed.

The saddest comparison I have is of the field of lupines which often grows beside Jesusita. On the left is the field in 2014, on the right in 2010.

Field Of Lupines

Christmas run 2013

December 25, 2013

I do a long run every Christmas morning. I started doing this when I lived down near Hendry’s beach, so my first run was from Hendry’s to Ellwood and back. I no longer live there, but somehow I still do that run, more or less.

I checked the tide table yesterday and noticed there was a lowish tide at 10:11AM (2ft above Mean Lower Low water), and with a very low high tide at 3PM (3ft above MLLW). So if I ran between 7AM and 9PM the tide would be below 3ft.

So I thought I might try running the whole way along the beach. I’ve never done that before, the tide has always prevented me…

The weather man said it was 60°. I don’t know where he keeps his thermometer, but it was more like 50° at my house. He also claimed the high for the day would be 71°, but yesterday he was off by 10°, so I was expecting it would be hotter than that…

I set out a little before dawn and trotted down Los Positas to Hendry’s. When I started from my old house Christmas morning seemed very quiet, but running down Los Positas isn’t quiet. Well, it’s quiet for Los Positas…

It is chilly though. Los Positas is considerably colder than my house.

Christmas Sunrise
When I got to Hendry’s the sun was just peeking over the horizon.

It was also considerably warmer on the beach. Perhaps this is where the weatherman measures…

Suddenly the beach was sunlit.

Pelicans Santa Cruz
A flight of pelicans flew past, with Santa Cruz Island in the background.

Seagull On Rock

Sand Cliff
I find these sand cliffs peculiar. The beach I grew up visiting (in SC) never had cliffs. I used to think the winter storms carved them out, but we have had no winter storms yet this year.

More Mesa
More Mesa

Petro olium

About a mile beyond More Mesa I start to see “rocks” which appear to be made of petrified oil. The oil seems to have oozed out of the ground and then solidified in great lumps. I’ve never seen anything like this elsewhere, and I don’t come here often, so it always surprises me…

Just beyond one of these lumps of petrified olium is a rock which extends far out into the surf and which I can’t climb over. Drat. I have to go back.

More Mesa Steps
This entails running back to the More Mesa stairs (about a mile) and then about 4 miles around to Goleta Beach, and then about a mile and a quarter down the beach until I come to the other side of the large rock. (there are lumps of petrified olium here too). Then finally I turn around and continue my run along the beach.

Goleta Slough Blocked
I was pleased to discover that the Goleta Slough is blocked up. Most of our creeks have so little flow through them over the summer that the high tides leave a dam of sand across the mouth of the creek. What little water does come down can seep through the sand of the dam without disturbing its structure. Then when the winter rains come, the flow increases and the sand all washes away. This year, so far, the rains have not come. The dams are intact. This makes it much easier to run along the beach, but is otherwise disturbing.

Stilts in the Goleta Slough.

And then a nice long uninterrupted run down the beach. Past UCSB. Past Coal Oil Point. Until finally I can see Ellwood Mesa.
Ellwood Mesa
(if you click on the image to look at it in full resolution you can see the signs for the Snowy Plover Reserve)

But when I get to Ellwood, I don’t want to stop. The beach keeps going, why can’t I? So I proceed.

There’s the Bacara (I guess). I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before.

No TrespassingAnd beyond the Bacara is a long pier. At first I assume it is attached to the Bacara, but then decide it may have something to do with (Oil) Platform Holly. Two of the Platform Holly tugs are anchored nearby. The pier has a nasty notice attached to it, and, being in a contrary mood, I run under the pier and into the semi-proscribed, after all I do know what the tides are doing and Good heavens I’ve been running for 3:30 hours and it really is past time to turn back. (which means it is just past low tide) Well… I go a little further (to prove I can) and then turn back.

On the way back I make a detour to visit the Monarch reserve. It’s a warm sunny day and they are happily flying around. There are still some butterfly clumps, but they are more active than I usually see them. As always the light and distance conspire to make photographs unsatisfying.

I seem to have run out of water. Oh well, I can fill up at Goleta Beach. Which is only another hour away.

Snowy Egrets in the UCSB Lagoon
Snowy egrets at the UCSB Lagoon.

At Goleta Beach I do fill up my camelback, and get an immediate drink of water. I’m feeling tired now, and I’m not running very fast. I’ve got another ~7 miles to go. I’ve been running for about 5 hours. At least another hour to go.

I run out of water again about a mile from home. I didn’t realize I was this thirsty… I’m hot and sweaty, I guess that’s why. That might be why I’m running so slowly too.

Home. ~36 miles in 6:15 hours. The weatherman says the current temperature is 79° (I knew he was lying this morning). Time for food, and a shower.


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