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.
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 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?
It’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.
I’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. Up 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.
Now 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 starts to rise through mist and the trees on the hill to the east.
The 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.
We 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.
Now 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.
On 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.
There 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.
We 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?
Oh 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).
I 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.
Now 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… Back 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.
This 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 (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.”
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.
I 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.
And 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.
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). I turn left and leave Loop 1 and start climbing another hill :-)
For 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…
Out 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.
At 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.
I’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.
As 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.
I’m running along the property line now and ahead and to the left is the neighbor’s vineyard. 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. Only 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.
I’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!
I do like the oaks scattered amid the grassland.
Once 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.
Back 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.