Advice to new trail racers

July 8, 2014

The new 9 trails race approaches and I realize that many people running it have never done a trail race before. These are some things that I have learned over the years. Some things learned are just what the problems are (without good solutions), while others are more useful. Not everything will apply to everyone. So these are more things to consider than precepts set in stone.

Things marked with a * are things my coach, Mike, has told me (and therefore should carry more weight than things I’ve learned myself).

There is a different vibe in a trail race than a road race. The pace is much slower, and this seems to make people take it less seriously. But to me it is still a race. I may be running more slowly, but I’m just as focused on winning my age-group (at my age winning the race is out of the question) as I am in a road race. These notes assume that you want to do your best, but if all you want is to have a good time, then you can ignore some of them.

  • Dehydration — This is my biggest unsolved problem. It seems to be a common problem, though it doesn’t happen at the same time to everyone. Somewhere around 4 hours I will notice that my heart rate starts to climb. Somewhere around 5 hours the thought of more food because nausea-inducing. Somewhere around 9 hours the nausea becomes incapacitating. This problem is made worse by heat and altitude (and effort level).
  • Heartrate — Mike tells me that I should keep my heart-rate below 80% during the race.* The longer the race, the more important this is. For a 50K (which is over in ~5 hours) I’ll hold to that for the first half of the race and then allow it to climb, for a 50 miler (8+ hours) I don’t have that luxury. 9T is somewhere between the two, but closer to most 50milers.
  • Water — 1 liter/hour (1 quart/hour)*
  • Salt — 100mg sodium/hour* There are two common salt tablets in running stores. For “S-Caps” this corresponds to 1 tablet/hour, while for Endurolytes it’s about 2.5 tablets/hour. Salt is supposed to help you retain water, so the taking of these tablets should reduce dehydration. In my case it doesn’t seem to make a piece of difference — but I usually do it anyway once it starts to get hot.
  • Food — 200g carbs/hour.* Or a GU every half hour. (That’s in a long race, when doing a 5 hour training run I’m more likely to take a GU every 45 minutes). Gels are easy to deal with, and are light and can be carried in pockets (so I don’t need to stop at aid-stations for them) but after 3~4 hours I find the sight of a GU makes me nauseous and I switch to chewy blocks. After ~5 hours blocks make me nauseous too so I’ll try to eat whatever is at aid stations. I like orange slices, bananas, potatoes. Sometimes quesadillas. Whatever I can stomach. At that point my mouth tends to be too dry for peanut butter. A bit longer I find I can’t eat anything. Other people tend to start out eating from aid stations and then switch to GUs later in the race. See what your body does.
  • Nausea — I start feeling nauseous after about 5~6 hours. More time if it is cool and at low elevation, sooner if it is hot or at altitude. Different people respond differently. A few are lucky and don’t seem to get nauseous. Others will have it happen sooner (I have sometimes become nauseous at the end of a marathon, but there the higher effort level makes me dehydrate faster). I frequently vomit about 20 minutes after I have finished a 50 miler (which doesn’t make sense to me). Mike has told me that if I start to feel nauseous then I should try walking with my HR below 60% for 20 minutes. Sadly, once I’m feeling nauseous, I can’t seem to get my HR that low. Maybe I could on a cool day, in the shade going downhill, but I’ve never had a chance to test that. Something I mean to try someday is to take a ~15 minute break sitting in the shade at an aid-station, perhaps pouring water on my head to cool down. I think it might also help bring along a book (e-book?) to read to take my mind off the race and get my HR down.
  • Aid Stations — You can waste a lot of time in aid-stations. There is a presumption in a trail race: “If I’m going to take 8 hours to run then why worry about 2 extra minutes in an aid station?” — well because there might be 10 aid-stations in your 50 mile race and wasting 2 minutes in each comes to 20 minutes total, or more. Now part of your racing plan might be that you need a rest to prevent nausea, and an aid-station often provides a nice shady cool(ish) place to rest — that’s not a waste, but all too often I see people just hanging out. If possible I try to come into an aid-station alone. There is often only one water jug, so if you enter with a group of people, someone has to wait to refill their water. I usually carry a 2liter pack, and at the start of the race I can often skip an aid-station because I don’t need to refill yet. This can save a lot of time.
  • Passing — There’s an etiquette here. If you hear someone coming up behind you, it’s polite to offer to let them pass you when running on single track. If the race is an out and back race (9T) and you are still going out, then it is polite to give way to the person coming back. Now there are exceptions. I have failed to offer to let someone pass me when I knew the downhill which sped them was ending in just 200 yards and after that I’d be faster. But mostly I’ll offer to let someone behind pass. (Often they won’t pass, they may think the pace is close enough to theirs that it isn’t worth worrying about, at least not until the trail opens up again, and they may like the company. But if you offer, you look good :-).
  • Hills — Don’t be afraid to walk up hills. But equally if you find a non-technical downhill then try to push the pace. But then again on some races you may wear out your quads… Races tend to be won by the person who can run downhill fastest at the end. Some people can go sub-6 at the end of a 50 miler… (I tend to go about 8min/mile myself on a downhill dirt road at the end, and even with that I pass people). For 9T this means pushing hard from Inspiration (if the technical nature of Tunnel doesn’t bother you then starting from the top of the Connector is even better).
  • Training — Mike has often said that in trail running what matters is time on your feet rather than distance.* He often gives me things like 40 minutes at 85% HR uphill (or go up Cold Spring or San Ysidro for ~20 minutes to warm up and then push hard the rest of the way to Camino Cielo). At some point it is a good idea to try to drink/consume/eat water/salt/food at the same rate you intend to do it in the race. Salt and GU you can carry with you, but water you need to stash (don’t try to carry 4liters!). If you do ½ 9T as a training run then placing an additional 2 liters at the Gibraltar hairpin is about right (and is relatively easy).
  • Tapering — I find that trail running isn’t as hard on my body as road running, so I tend to do my longest run 2~1 weeks out rather than the 3 weeks that marathon training suggests.
  • Gaiters — Often on the trails small stones, (and at this time of year) fox-tails, burrs, etc. will creep into your shoes or socks. These can be painful, forcing you to stop and shake out your shoe (or pull nasty needles out of your socks). Gaiters are a solution to this. Dirty Girl makes gaiters designed for trail racers.
  • Camera — I usually take a light-weight camera with me. I can take a picture of a nice view without slowing down, and it may be a view I’ll never see again. (Now a flower is another matter. I need to be still to photograph something close, so I rarely do that).

The decline of Chardonnay

May 23, 2014

I have run Chardonnay four times over the last decade. I ran my slowest time this year — but my place in the race was highest. This made me look at where I would have placed in other years if I ran as slowly as I did this year. Over the years there has been less and less competition. Some of this is explained by the decrease in the number of runners, but even if I correct for that factor there is still a large decrease — by a factor of 2.

Year Time Place Place of
1:05:00
# Runners Adjusted
Place of
1:05:00
2003 1:04:15 33 40 604 25
2008 1:02:09 19 31 444 26
2011 1:03:56 13 17 540 13
2014 1:05:00 12 12 377 12

Chardonnay has been run yearly since 1978, and the course has always been along the waterfront though there have been differences in how far the race goes into Montecito or the Mesa. It has changed its name a couple of times. But basically it has remained the same race.

In 1978 the race was won with a time of 52:01, and there were 15 runners under an hour (that’s out of 134 runners total, so more than 11%). In 2014 the race was won with 57:50 and there were 3 runners under an hour (out of 377, so less than 1%).

I took the Chardonnay winning times over the years and fit a line to them (using a least squares fit). Then men’s winning time has increased by about 6.8 seconds a year (or about 4:10 over the full 37 years), while the women’s winning time has increased by about 1.7 seconds (or about a minute over 37 years).

Chardonnay Winning Times

So the winning times, especially the men’s have gotten significantly worse over the years, but perhaps this is misleading. As we age we slow. And women are slower than men. Maybe there are more women running now (there are) and more older people (also true). Age grading the results (expressing them as a percentage of world record times for a given age and sex) should account for both of those.
Chardonnay Average Age Graded
The above graph shows the average age graded percentage of runners over the years (men in blue, women red, combined black), and even accounting for the above two factors people are just running less well than they used to.

Now if this were a problem of Chardonnay alone I wouldn’t be worried. But it isn’t. It’s a general problem, both here in Santa Barbara, and in the US in general.

I looked at Nite/Night Moves 5K as well. Now Nite Moves started in 1989 and currently has 18 races over the course of the summer. The course has always been the same. The following is a graph of its finishing times

NM

Here I have fit the results with two lines for each sex, the full line shows the trend for all the winning times, while the dashed line shows the trend for the best winning time for each year. Here the men’s winning times increase by 5 seconds a year, while the best winning time increases by only .8 seconds per year. With the women, their winning times increase by 3.5 seconds a year while the best times actually decrease by .8 seconds.

Again, probably the best thing to look at is the age-graded percentage

NM Age GradedAnd here again there is a decline (The blank areas of the graph represent years for which I have no data).

The only conclusion I can draw is that we (as a population) are not trying as hard as we were. I don’t think we train as hard as we used to.

This is not simply a matter of numbers. Chardonnay started with 95 runners in 1977, climbed up to 1080 in 1992 and then decreased to 377 in 2014, yet through-out this period there has been a steady decline in speed.

Some people have objected that it’s not that people aren’t trying, we are just doing other things. To me that is an explanation for why we are not trying, but not a counter-argument. Nor is it that people have now do more races out of town — we’ve always done out of town races. People have always gone off to do Boston, etc. Others have suggested that we aren’t as fit as we were 40 years ago, and this, I fear, may be true…


†Actually the first running of Chardonnay (or Winter Runs as it then was) was in 1977, but it was an 8.5 mile race. Everything since then has been 10 miles so I’m ignoring that first year.


Correction 25 May: When I first wrote the post I assumed that the run in 1977 was the same distance as all subsequent runs; going back to the original documents I see that was not the case. The current post reflects this. The conclusions are unchanged.

Sunny with a chance of Rattlesnakes

May 18, 2014

Born to Run 50K, 2014

Two days before the race it was 102°F in Santa Barbara, breaking the record for that date. It was 108°F in Los Olivos near where the race was held. I had read that California Poison Control was warning that rattlesnakes were coming out of hibernation early because of the heat.

The weather people had been predicting that it would cool down a bit by race day, but as their predictions were usually about 5-10°F below the actual temperature I wasn’t sure that would be meaningful…

I was up at 2:30AM and the morning was lovely and cool. We headed out to Los Olivos at 4, reached the race driveway when all was pitch black. I was a little worried about not recognizing it, but there were people out there with flashlights directing traffic so that was OK. Still dark when we got to the race site where the runners who had camped were starting to wake up. I got my bib and then stood in line for the port-a-potty. There weren’t many potties and the line was long and moved slowly. By the time I reached it there was light. And when I got out they were calling us to line up.

It was actually chilly at the race start and I was wearing the long sleeve shirt I brought with me and the shirt the race gave me.

I had seen Joe DeVreese and Kevin Cody, Andrea and Simone, but not Ken, Karen, Mark, Stephanie, Brett, Jon, Heidi. Not any of the people I normally ran with. They were supposed to have camped here but I couldn’t see them in the crowd.

Luis explained the course. There were two big loops of about 10 miles each which met here at the start/finish area. He called it a figure 8. This is a gross simplification. There’s a fair amount of overlap between the two loops (and not just near the start/finish. The second loop itself even doubles back on itself so that at two miles into the loop you are running one direction on the road, and at 7 miles in you run the other. When I got home and looked at the GPS track it looked more like crochetwork than a figure 8.
B2R_route
Providing a course map would just be confusing. Probably best to pretend it’s a figure 8. Doesn’t really matter, the loops are well marked.

Luis organizes usLuis continued. One loop (the first) is marked with pink flags, the other loop with yellow flags. It’s important to know which loop you are on and follow the appropriate flagging. White chalk lines mean “Do not cross this line, nor take the road behind it.” Loops alternate. First pink, then yellow, then pink, then (for the 100K and 100M runs) yellow, pink, yellow… The 50K does 3 loops and then a little out and back section to make up for the fact that 3*10 miles is a little under 50K, so we need to run a little more. People doing the 10 mile race will only run the yellow loop (and they’ll start 5 minutes after the rest of us).

Then Luis made us take his oath: “If I get lost, or injured, or dead, it’s my own damn fault.”

I take off my shirts and give them to Cynthia. It’s still chilly, but I’m going to warm up soon.

Luis counts down: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2… Suddenly Nancy runs up to me to say “Hi” and to hug me. Please Nancy, now is not the time, not 2 seconds from the race start. “Oh, it doesn’t matter” says she. Luis fires the gun — only it doesn’t go off. We all hang back, unsure if the race has started or not. “Go on, go!” says he, and we’re off.

Suddenly someone starts backing an RV into the mass of oncoming runners. Why can’t he wait? This is a race damn it. All cars here should be associated with the race and should be giving priority to runners. I get past him unscathed. A little later we realize the RV is following us and seems to want to overtake us. This makes no sense. Why did this driver wait until he could cause the most disruption to the race? If he needs to be somewhere then he should start before the race, or after it. Not during. Sigh.

If I get run over by an RV driven by an idiot, is that my own damn fault too?

StartIt’s a straight, slightly downhill section on a wide dirt road here and it seems to me that we’re running at a ferocious pace. But I’m running with Kevin Cody who is usually a little faster than I, but has a potential hamstring issue (so I figure we should be running about the same pace). It’s not really that fast, it’s just I’m used to a more leisurely pace in an ultra, and, I now realize, I didn’t warm up. Didn’t have time.

There’s a woman running near who is explaining to any one who happens to be listening that she’s not speedy, but she doesn’t want to run in the dust kicked up by other runners so she’s pushing herself now. (This does not seem like a good plan to me).

After a bit she drops back.

Kevin Cody and MoonI’m not noticing any dust myself and there are plenty of people ahead of me. I haven’t bothered to count.

Then the road turns left and climbs the side of a hill. I drop back a little from Cody and the couple he’s talking to. A woman comes running up from behind and races ahead of me. Then things level off again. We climb another hill and drop down into the valley on the other side. DownUp the valley and then and abrupt right turn and back down the valley. I’m still running with the same chump of people. Kevin just a little ahead. Behind me I hear someone tell his girlfriend: “7:16 for that last mile”. Am I running at ~7:20 pace? That’s pretty fast on trails. Of course these are really dirt roads, but there are gopher holes and such; it’s not the easiest footing.

We pass the first aid station (which isn’t operating yet)

There’s fog! There’s actually light fog here! I haven’t seen fog in ages, and normally this is the time of year for fog. Whew! This suggests that it really will be cooler — at least in the morning, which is all I care about.

UpNow we come to a steep hill. Various people are debating whether we should walk, but no one seems to actually do it. We do slow down, of course, but mostly we keep running. Down the other side. We must be running basically north now in a little valley between steep hills. As we trot along the sun Dawnstarts to rise through mist and the trees on the hill to the east.

Down the valleyThe fog is fickle and soon we are running along the valley with the sun lighting up the hills on the left while we run in darkness.

I’ve been running in a little clump of runners, maybe 10 of us or so. There are perhaps 5 people just ahead of me (and no one in sight in front of them) and another 3 or 4 behind me. The composition of the group hasn’t really changed for several miles now (though the relative positions have) and I’m beginning to think that these may be the people I’m going to be running the rest of the race with.

FogWe come out of the valleys on the west side of the ranch and run along the ridge line above Figueroa Mountain Rd. We can see the fog from the sea as it reaches up the valley.

Kevin, who has been ahead of me drops back a bit and is now running behind me.

ValleyNow we run parallel to the road and have nice views of the valley.

We are approaching the second aid station (at about mile 7), and this one is working. Two people drop out of our little clump now and I never see them again.

The rest of us continue on. I don’t need to stop myself. It’s still cool, I haven’t been drinking much, no need to get more. But I should probably eat a Gu.

Skeleton HillOn the other side of the aid station we turn and climb a steep hill (beside the cattle graveyard). On this hill I pass two of the people who have been ahead of me. At the top of the hill is a skeleton hanging from its neck. Thanks Luis. Just the encouragement we need on this hill.

Far AheadThere are only two people ahead of me now (in my little clump I mean) and they seem to have gotten fairly far ahead. We are continuing to climb, though less steeply than on Skeleton Hill. It’s sunny here.

After a bit a lone runner comes barreling down the hill we are climbing. Hmm. Either he’s about 4~5 miles ahead of us, has completed loop 1 and started on loop 2 which seems unlikely to me — I really doubt my group is that far behind the leaders — or it’s one of the 10 mile runners who has gotten lost.

Far aheadWe turn left and are now heading back to the start finish area. The two guys ahead are still far ahead.

I see some of the 10 mile runners now. Their course (loop 2) matches mine for a bit. Andrea says “Hi.”

Then we come to a nice long straight downhill stretch that leads all the way to the start/finish. I’m able to speed up here and slowly gain on the two ahead of me. We cross the chip mat pretty much together. Then one guy pauses at the aid station here, and the other stops to use the port-a-potty…

And I’m on my own. The group of 10 runners that I was in the middle of has completely dissolved. There’s no one around. It turns out that I’ll be alone for the rest of the race. This is a little disturbing. Before this I didn’t have to pay attention to the course markings, I could just follow the people in front. Now there is no one in sight. No one to follow, no one behind to yell if I make a wrong turn.

Wait a minute… I ran the first loop in 1:16. That’s faster than an 8 minute mile… on a trail course? OK, it’s an easy trail race, but it’s would be a really hard road race. There have been a lot of hills… Oh, yes. The first loop isn’t a full 10 miles, it’s only 9.6. Um 1:16 divided by 9.6… No I’m not going to bother doing that in my head. It’s still probably under 8. I wonder if I can keep this pace up?

17 Start of LoopOh well, nothing for it. Loop 2 starts by doubling back on loop 1. I charge up the hillside I just ran down (well, up a road parallel to the one I came down).

Agoseris heterophylla flowerI haven’t seen many wildflowers this year. In years past there have been fields of sky lupine, but this year there are none. Drought. But another part of the reason I haven’t seen much of anything is that many flowers don’t open up until it is sunny. At the top of the hill I find some Mountain Dandelions blooming in the grass.

18 ValleyNow I head back to the second aid station and the road’s valley has brightened up. In spite of the rising sun it is still cool and pleasant for running.

Through the aid station (I still have plenty water, and GU) and now the route diverges again from the first loop and I am running down a dry creek bed. Full of crushed gravel. Which gives no traction to the foot.

Ah, but there’s some mulefat blooming. Anything to take my mind off my footing.

Fortunately I climb out of the creek, and then… Sunny TreeBack up hill! Who’d have thought it? There is someone ahead now. I’m gaining on him. He stops to walk and I catch up with him. I try to chat but he says “No speak English.” I guess I should have said “No habla Español” but I was to tired to think. So I pass him without talking.

Hmm. Luis brought in some Tarahumara runners. They wouldn’t speak English. I wonder if he might be one? But I passed him. So that seems unlikely. Maybe there are some guys from other parts of Mexico here?

There are some Clarkias by the side of the route.

I climb up a final hill and am now running into the slower 50K runners who are still on loop 1. Also some even slower 10 mile runners (whom I have now lapped, I’ve gone ~13 miles in the time they have gone 3).

Then I diverge from Loop 1 again, but now I’m on a section where loop 2 doubles back on itself. There are some faster 10 mile runners here, coming at me. And Daniel Scarberry comes gliding down the trail toward me. He’s probably in the lead (when I get back to this point I realize he was probably about 5 miles ahead of me).

I also see Heidi and her daughter. I’m glad to know she exists. I hope the others do (I hadn’t realized she was only doing 10 miles).

I’m just running down the road when suddenly I bump into white chalk lines across the route. Oops. I haven’t been paying attention, there must have been a turn. And, yup there is. I need to turn sharp right onto that bit of single track and run straight up the mountain.

21 HillsideThis is probably the area where rattlesnakes are most likely. But the views are good. I think this is the highest part of the ranch and the course. You can look down and see most of the ranch below you, while off to the left are the Santa Ynez mountains and straight ahead Sea Fog(West) there’s still sea fog. Which is doubtless why it’s still reasonably pleasant.

I pass two 10 mile runners who have stopped. I encourage them to keep moving. “Oh, it’s OK,” one tells me “There’s good cell-phone reception here.”

Santa Ynez MountainsDifferent worlds.

Why come to the middle of nowhere by 5am then hike for ~5 miles just to get cell-phone reception? You’d think there would be easier ways to accomplish that.

23 RidgelineI keep climbing and keep passing people. I assume they are 10 milers, but I suppose some might be 50K or more runners.

But all good things come to an end and the steep climb turns into a steep drop. Whee. Skidding on my heels.

Calochortus clavatus flower top-viewAnd there, off to my right is a Pale Yellow Mariposa. I think. Two minutes later I see another plant. Now I could stop and take a closer look and a photograph, but I’m running so well today. I’m almost certain… I suppose it might have been a Yellow Mariposa, but they are rare here. Er. Rarer.

Anyway neat!

I continue to slide down the hillside.

And then I’m back on the road again, merging again with Loop 1. Now I trundle down the hill to the first aid station (which is now open). After the Aid StationI turn left and leave Loop 1 and start climbing another hill :-)

Denmark ManFor a while I run through a sunny valley, but after a bit the trees close in. There is a couple ahead of me, walking, one of whom appears to be wearing a Danish flag. Interesting choice of attire.

I’m about half way done now…

Dead Cow HillOut into the sun again as we climb up what I can’t help but think of as Dead Cow hill from a rather gruesome event 2 years ago. But there are no dead beasts this year, just a tired 10 miler who starts running again as I pass him.

OthersAt the top of the hill we turn left into the shade and into oncoming runners. I’m now about 5 miles ahead of them (just as Daniel was ahead of me 40 minutes ago). I wonder if I’ll see anyone I know — I wonder if they are even here…

And now I’m back on the nice long downhill stretch that leads to the start finish line. I’m close to the end of my second loop.

I’m through the chip mat once again (I wish they had a clock there. I keep forgetting to look at my watch). Somewhere around 2:43. Mmm. Took me 9 minutes longer to do the second lap. I think it’s a bit longer and it’s certainly more technical. And I didn’t have anyone to run with/against. No one passed me in that lap, and while I passed many people I expect that all (except for the guy who didn’t speak English) were 10 milers most of whom were just walking. Let’s see if I can do better on the next lap.

Now I had been planning to take a 15 minute break after the second lap to see if I could avoid dehydration by getting my HR down and allowing my stomach to absorb water… but I’m running too well, and I don’t want to pause. Anyway today isn’t a day I’m likely to get dehydration on, not on a 50K where the first 2/3rds were in cool temperatures…

A little later the watch clicks over to 20 miles at 2:50:??. So I’m now averaging 8:30s rather than sub-8:00s. So I ran the last lap at about a 9 minute pace… Um, that’s quite a bit slower.

Catching UpI’m back on loop 1 now. I can see two guys ahead. The three of us are all starting Loop 1. Now they can’t be 10 milers (who don’t do this loop at all), they can’t be anyone starting their first lap (the race started 3 hours ago), they can’t be anyone starting their fifth lap (no one has lapped me once, let alone twice), so these guys must be people who started with me. There’s actually someone ahead of me again!

I pass them.

There isn’t anyone ahead.

No more competition.

After a bit I come to the place where loop 2 joins loop 1 and I start seeing people again. These are 50Kers who are about 7 miles behind me.

Off to the side of the road I pass some morning glory vines. Now in the front country, morning glories are common and almost all of one species. In the back country they are uncommon and I’ve never seen the front country species here at all. But it is always good to check. As I run past I snag a bloom and look at the bracts under the flower. Yup. It’s what I expected.

ValleyAs I pound down toward the first aid station I’m thinking that I should pause here to fill up with water. I’m almost out. Or grab a bottle if they have any. That would be better. But there’s a small crowd of runners and the aid station volunteers all seem to be occupied with them. It’s going to take forever to get anything out of this station. So I run through it and out.

Ahead of me I see someone walking. He doesn’t look like someone who could have run faster than I for 20+ miles. My guess is that he took a wrong turn at the last aid station. But I’m not sure… so I don’t tell him he’s going the wrong way.

VineyardI’m running along the property line now and ahead and to the left is the neighbor’s vineyard.Some Trees It’s rather pretty here.

After a while I hit the hills again. There’s a guy ahead of me. I’m catching him, but slowly. I pass him after this set of hills is over, there’s a turn just ahead and he asks me where the 50K runners go. The route seems to me well flagged, so I point them out to him. ValleyOnly later does it occur to me that he might be another confused runner who should actually be on loop 2, and the pink flags which reassure me are not what he’s looking for. If so he should have asked a better question. I don’t know what loop he’s on. 50K runners do go the way I pointed out (I do for one). Luis told everyone to keep track of what loop he was on… (“If I get lost … it’s my own damn fault”) But I don’t realize this until he’s vanished into the distance behind me.

37 DryI’m running through dry hills now and it’s starting to get hotter than I’d like. I don’t have much water left.

Then I hear the report of a shot. Hmm. Perhaps Luis fixed the gun and that marks the winner crossing the line? It was then 3:21 from the race start (I learned later that the winner finished closer to 3:17 but I didn’t know it then).

And I’ve run 24 miles and have ~7 left to go. So if I can maintain a 9 minute pace then I should be able to break 4:30. That would be a nice 50K PR!

ValleyI do like the oaks scattered amid the grassland.

ValleyOnce again, I pull out of the western valleys and approach the paved road. As I run parallel to the road I hear more shots, but they are coming from across the road (outside the ranch) on someone’s else land. Maybe the gun shot I heard earlier did not mark the winner…

I happen to glance down at my watch and see it says I’ve run 26 miles. So now as I run I keep looking at it. It clicks over to 26.2 miles at 3:35:50. :-) That means that if this course were certified I’d have qualified for Boston with 4 minutes to spare. Kind of neat to do that on the trails.

And, let’s see. I’ve got about 5 miles left so at 9 minute pace that means I finish at 4:21 or so. Not bad.

As I approach the turn toward the second aid station I notice someone blundering around on the road ahead of me. At first he seems to be running as if he were on loop 2, but then he turns around and runs back to the aid station. Great. He’ll get there 5 seconds before I do and I’ll have to wait.

They don’t have any bottles I can carry off, so I resign myself to filling up my pack (which takes longer than I would like). Then I realize they have cups full of something. So I drink it. Brrr. It’s freezing cold. I did not expect that. I fill the cup up with water, drink that off too, grab an orange slice and I’m out.

SkelingtonBack up the hill with the hung skeleton.

I walk in a couple of places this time.

There are some Clarkias here.

The way just keeps going up.

Finally I reach the summit. And I run along the ridge until I join loop 2 again.

And there, are some people seated in the middle of an intersection with a box of water bottles beside them. I grab one. It’s a little harder to bend down than it should be, I’m pretty stiff, but I don’t fall and I do get a bottle.

I take a swig of water.

Now again I’m on the nice long downhill stretch that leads to the start finish. There are people around again. These are people who are just completing their second lap. In the time they have run ~20 miles I have run ~30. It’s harder to pass them than it should be, but I keep telling myself that I have to pass them. And I do.

As I near the camp site I see Liz. I divest myself of my camelback and water bottle. I won’t need them for the mile I’ve got left, and I give them to her. Lighter I proceed onward.

And so through the chip mat and down the road for the final little bit. I’m still in a crowd of people who are just starting their third lap. They don’t know I’m finishing, but they do see I’m running faster than they, so I get a few cheers. When I spin around the flag the guy behind me is impressed “Didn’t realize you were finishing,” he shouts. Someone else tells me I’m going the wrong way.

But now I’ve got half a mile of uphill running to do. Ug.

And no one to race.

There’s the finish line. I click my watch as I cross (only I click the wrong button and I don’t know when I finished). About 4:12.

Later I see that I was 4:12:18, in 11th place and first runner over 47 and second master.

Last time I ran this course I ran 5:03 (and that was my fastest 50K before today). That doesn’t really count since Mike told me to keep my HR below 75% that year, so I couldn’t really race. This year I did race and knocked 51 minutes off my time.

For once I’m not feeling badly. Oh, I’m tired, right enough, but no nausea. So if I had paused after the second lap I wouldn’t have proved anything. The day was too cool, and the race too short for me to have any problems.

Chardonnay 2014

April 19, 2014

Last Saturday everyone in my pace group seemed to be doing Chardonnay. I hadn’t considered it before, but after that I started thinking “Hmmm.” It would be more fun to race than to do a tempo with no one in the my group.

Well, let’s see. I’ve been running my tempos and 6:25~6:30 pace — according to my watch, which has a tendency to overestimate my speed by a few seconds per mile. Let’s just say 6:30. Now in theory my tempo pace and my 10 mile pace should be similar. So I trundle over to the age graded tables and ask how fast an 80% 54 year-old can run 10 miles and the tables say: 6:31 pace. So that sounds like the right ballpark.

OK. I’ve never quite reached 80% on Chardonnay in the past, my best was 79.76% but the difference isn’t worth quibbling over.

Then I talk to Rusty about it. Always a mistake. I tell him I expect to be somewhere between 65-66 minutes. He thinks I should be between 64-65. 64 minutes is a 6:24 pace, so, yeah, that’s possible, but it’s also 81.2% which seems less likely.

Race day dawns, bright and sunny. It’s been foggy all week, why do we get sun today?

I bike down to the start and get there an hour before race start. They offer me a map at registration, but I wave it away. “I’m not going to be first” I say, and I know the course, it hasn’t changed significantly in 30 odd years.

I do a warm up jog, out to State St. and back, and there the 1 mile marker is, right where it always is.

But when I get back Matt tells me the course has changed. He takes me over to the map, and damn it, he’s right. We start out with a steep uphill climb for the first mile going the wrong way, and then turn around and come back and head out to Montecito as we normally do — only not as far this time.

The 1 mile mark I saw was for the concurrent 5K race, which uses its old course.

My first thought is that now I have an extra mile and a half of concrete sidewalk to run on. I hate that. It splints my shins. My second thought is that we’ve got an extra hill in the route now and that’ll slow us down. Matt points out that this route avoids crossing the train tracks (so no one will get stopped by a train). I guess that’s to the good. I’ve never been stopped, but I know others have.

I see Fred Mellon. OK, no chance of first place in our age group then.

We line up. I say “Hi” to Jeff and Kent, and hey, Martin. Haven’t seen him since the marathon. Not many people seem to think they are fast so I stand in front. We have 2 lanes of the road so there’s no lack of space.

We’re off.

Up the hill and onto the sidewalk. There are about 13 people in front of me. I haven’t counted accurately but that’s about right. Doesn’t seem like a very fast field where a 54 year old who plans to run about 65 minutes can be in ~14th place.

As we are herded off the road and onto the sidewalk I hear the volunteer runnerherd shouting “Good job guys” and then “Oh, and ladies!” so I know the lead woman is close behind me. At the ½ mile mark she passes me. Another sign of the lack of depth to the field. There should be a woman or two ahead of a 54 year old male runner (65 minutes is only 76% for a young woman — 54 year-old men are comparable to 42 year old women as far as world records go). Oh well, one is ahead of me now.

For a while she draws further ahead but by the time I’m at the top of the park and at the turn-around I’m right behind her again. On the downhill she pulls away again. I pass the guy who was right behind her though. So I’m once again around 14th. There’s a long comet tail of runners going up the other sidewalk. The timing seems well thought out and by the time our two walks merge almost all of the slower runners have gone past and there are few human obstacles as we go down.

At the one mile mark (the real one), my watch reads 6:32. Ump. I had intended to go out a little slowly, and 6:32 is not slow (any more, for me) up that hill. Ah well. I tend to run what feels right…

Then the final short steep downhill and we’re back by the beach where we started. I hear noisy foot falls behind me, Martin, and there’s Jeff too, and probably Kent. I don’t look back but you learn people’s breathing, or something and can often tell who’s around. I was wondering when Jeff and Kent would catch me. I hadn’t really expected Martin to do so — he used to run with me, but he hasn’t been training of late — last I heard anyway.

And now my little group starts to catch up on the lead woman, and pull ahead. Jeff and I trade off for the lead, each drafting off the other, and then Martin and Kent drafting off us.

At the two mile mark my watch reads 6:13. After downloading my watch… If my watch be accurate, then the mile markers weren’t. The first one was at 1.02 miles (so my 6:32 was actually 6:28, even worse), and the second one was .97 after that (so my 6:13 was really 6:24). Having inaccurate markings gives one a false idea of what’s going on in the race. I thought I should slow down at this point (I didn’t because I was running with Jeff now), but if I’d known I did 6:24 instead I’d have thought that reasonable for a downhill mile.

At State St. some people shout my name. I’m not sure who, the voices are familiar, but my mind isn’t working well and doesn’t know who. But they don’t call Jeff’s name, which seems unfair. I mention this to Jeff, who says “That’s OK, the last group called just my name.” Perhaps they did. I didn’t notice I guess.

At the three mile mark my watch says 6:25. This is kind of nice. I could almost believe that Rusty was right and I’ll go below 65 minutes. But I know, I know, I’m going to slow down on the last two miles. I always do on this race.

Not much seems to change in the next mile or two. I’m running with my pack of runners, sometimes in the lead, sometimes not. We all seem to be hanging together.

At the 4 mile mark my watch says 6:30 exactly and I mention this. Jeff replies “This is hard.” :-) Yes, it is, but we’re doing it.

Hmm. I haven’t seen an aid station yet. Seems like a long way to go on a road race without an aid station. Not that I’m really planning to drink. The race is only an hour or so, I shan’t dehydrate significantly and drinking would just slow me down.

Jeff points to the guy (green shirt) about 50 feet in front and says that he’s going to catch him and draft off him. I’m not feeling that I can go faster than I’m already going so I say something like “Go ahead” only probably less coherent than that. So Jeff and Kent slowly pull away from me.

There is an aid station, oddly far from my path. I don’t detour to visit it, though I do wave at Ken who is manning it.

We come to the end of Cemetery Rd — and there are no course markings there, nor any runnerherd. The guy in the green shirt looks back to get confirmation as to which way to go, and Jeff and Kent point right. I’m not far behind, nor is Martin.

At the 5 mile mark 6:29. Not bad.

But now the hill. This one grinds on for about half a mile. Martin starts to drop back. Jeff and Kent catch up with and pass green shirt. I do too. Then I catch Jeff and Kent and the three of us run together again. Down to butterfly beach, and there is the 6 mile mark. I look at my watch and see 6:31. Excellent, even with the hill I’m still on pace.

We start to see the lead runners coming back. There really aren’t that many.

Then we reach the turn around, all three together, and can look behind us. Green shirt isn’t far back, nor is Martin or yellow shirt or the lead woman. We climb up out of butterfly beach, a short but steep climb. I start out greeting friends by name but when I reach the top I’m greeting people by grunts.

I even pull away from Jeff and Kent slightly here, but that doesn’t last long, soon they both are ahead of me. We pass the aid station, and again I don’t drink.

There’s the 7 mile mark. And when I look down at my watch I get a bit of a shock, it reads 7:39. Now I know I’m not running that slowly. I might have slowed down a bit, because it was a hilly mile, but not a whole minute. I am confused.

Now that I’m home I see that the time for the sixth mile was 5:31, not 6:31. Presumably I didn’t bother to check the lead digit because I knew it was a 6. I suspect that the mile marker should have been read on the return journey, rather than the outbound one. I think it was oriented incorrectly, but perhaps I just didn’t notice that either and my mind glossed over the way the “6″ was written, because I knew what it had to be. Just as I knew I had to be running 6:30s. (In actually fact my pace for mile 6 was 6:33, and for mile 7 6:29, both reasonable).

I puzzle over this as Jeff and Kent pull further and further away. They are really leaving me behind, so clearly I must be slowing. This worries me, but I can’t go any faster. My legs feel tired. And we are now come to the stretch where traditionally I slow down. I must be going slowly.

Mile 8 comes up. 6:36… but my total time is 52 minutes and if you subtract 13=(2*6:30) you get 65 minutes, so I haven’t lost a minute after all. I’m confused.

Jeff looks as if he’s about a quarter mile ahead. That’s about a minute and a half…

State St. comes up and with it mile 9, 6:31. Well, I seem to be holding the pace pretty well in spite of being tired, and elapsed time is 58 something. Which is on track for something close to 65 minutes.

The last mile now. I can’t speed up. The swimming pool. This is taking forever. The harbor. I just want to rest. The penultimate parking lot. The bathroom. The last parking lot. The shoot. It twists, I still can’t see the clock. Now I can 64:51. Wow! I still have a chance. I try to speed up. A bit anyway. The first chip mat, but the clock is over the next one. 64:55. 64:56. I’m trying to sprint. As I get ready to pass underneath I see 64:59 slipping away…

Done. Official time 65:00. That is precisely 6:30s. My watch reads 64:58. I like that number even better, but it’s not the one that counts.

And it means I ran at 80.23%. Which is higher than I’ve achieved for this distance before.

:-) So Rusty and I were both right. He said 64-65, and I said 65-66 and it was exactly 65 :-)

Grunions

April 17, 2014

When the gruns come running,
None can turn them back,
None on the seashore,
None in the wrack.

Since moving to Santa Barbara I’ve heard about grunion runs — times when the grunion come out onto the beach to spawn. There are supposed to be thousands of them at once. Apparently these runs occur all up and down the California Coast from Baja to SF, though the tables I’ve seen only give times for San Diego-Santa Barbara section. But they only happen around midnight (and only on a high tide right after a full or new moon — according to Ca. Dept. of Fish and Game‘s grunion schedule), and being someone who goes to sleep at 9:30 I’ve never been interested in waking up at midnight to bike down to the beach to look for fish that may not show.

It was Cynthia’s idea. She suggested we do it. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the whole thing, but I felt I should at least try once to see them. So I went along.

We went to the East Beach grill and parked our bikes and walked down to the beach. We got there about 11:20, and wandered east along the surfline.

No fish.

The beach here was somewhat peculiar. It looked as if a temporary dune were forming. The sand reached a small peak right above the surfline, and then dropped slightly as you headed to the land. The result was that there were puddles of slowly draining seawater behind the mini-dune.

After walking for about 20 minutes we found one fish. It wasn’t doing much of anything, just lying there beside a diminishing puddle. It looked stranded. There didn’t seem any way it could get back to the sea. So I picked it up and carried it to the ocean and threw it back in. I think technically this may have been illegal. It’s off season for grunion at the moment and people aren’t supposed to touch them, but I couldn’t leave it to die…
Grunion just lying there

I’d assumed it would be all or nothing, either we’d see an extraordinary mass of swarming spawning fish, or we’d see nothing. Most likely nothing. The internet was clear that they usually don’t show. It hadn’t occurred to me that we might see one or two. After seeing one fish I felt the trip had been worth while.

A little later we saw a Night Heron right at the surfline. Was it looking for grunion too? Wikipedia says that herons do prey upon grunion, so perhaps it was. But we saw no other birds on the beach, not even later when the run picked up a bit.
NightHeron

We’d been walking east along the beach and hadn’t seen much of anything so we decided to turn around and walk west.

It was now getting on toward midnight. We realized that the place to see the fish was right at the surfline after a big wave broke. We started to notice a fish here and there wriggling back to the water.

It seemed odd. Weren’t they coming to the beach to spawn? Why go to all the work to get yourself stranded on the beach out of the water — and then wriggle back to the water without doing anything.

But that’s what seemed to be happening.
Grunion Squirming Grunion Squirming
You can see the marks the fish has left in the wet sand as it jumps and squirms down the beach.

And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more —
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

A little later we started seeing two or three together stranded by a wave. This looked a bit more interesting. We walked over to one such spot and stood there watching as the fish squirmed back to the sea — and then — right in front of us — a fish popped out of the sand and then followed its own path down.

Looking back at it I think several males and a female swam up in the wave together. The female dug herself down in the sand while the wave was breaking and we probably didn’t even see her, what we saw were the males stranded by the retreating wave, presumably depositing milt in the female’s hole. Then they left, and a little later the female popped out of the sand herself and followed them.
Grunion Fish in Hole
Fish’s nose poking out of hole

Grunion Leaping out of sand Grunion Leaving Hole
Grunion Hole
The hole left by a fish

We noticed several of these events up close. But after a time there seemed fewer and fewer fish in the waves. Three big waves would come and leave no fish behind. And then a wave would deposit one or two… And most of the waves weren’t big now. The tide must have started receding.

We left about 12:30. I’d guess we saw about 50 fish. At first we counted diligently, but after I got up to about 12 it didn’t seem worth it. I’m glad I went. I’ve seen grunion spawning. Not the huge writhing masses I was expecting, but some, and it’s still pretty cool to see a fish pop out of the sand right at your feet.

A little more web-searching this morning found an online form to fill out if you’ve had a gunion sighting. So I did.

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).

Sigh.

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.
BackboneMap

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.
SpringFire-LaJollaCanyon

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
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
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.

Catalina

Catalina

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.

DNF.


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.

2013
<table>
 <tr>
  <td>2013</td>
  <td>
   <table style="background-image:url('http://sbwildflowers.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/cal115-116x19.png');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></td>
     <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></td>
     <td style="background-color:rgba(255,0,0,0.5);padding:0;"></td>
     <td></td>
     <td style="background-color:rgba(255,0,0,0.5);padding:0;"></td>
     <td></td>
    </tr>
    <tr style="height:7px;">
     <td colspan="8"></td>
    </tr>
   </table>
  </td>
 </tr>
</table>
</table>

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
2013
-
2014
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>
<tr>
 <td>2013<br />-<br />2014</td>
 <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>
   ...
  </table>
  </td>
 </tr>
</table>

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 );
    else
	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,
			rbase+rspan*byte_width,
			byte_width)!=0 )
	break;
	}
	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,
			    rbase+(c+cspan)*3,
			    3)!=0 )
	    break;
	    }
	    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 );
	    else
		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) {
    ImageToTable(stdout);
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.


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