Archive for the ‘ultra-marathon’ Category

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).

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.
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.

I think we are all bozos on this bus

March 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I’ve never dropped out of a race before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

I eat the quesadilla slowly as I run away.

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

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

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

I keep seeing them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such tricks hath strong imagination,

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

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

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

More people pass me, including the lead woman.

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

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

I’ve got a mile and a half to go.

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

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

There it is.

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


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

During the ride home I slowly feel better.

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

Would anyone like a copy of Straight by Dick Francis?

Wildflowers blooming

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

Ex[oe]rcising demons

March 12, 2014

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

Iolanthe — W. S. Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bandit 50K — Way too Hot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the watch stayed in the car.

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

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

Slowly it grew lighter. Slowly the moon set.

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

We started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haze over the city. It never got better.

Haze over the city. It never got better.

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

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

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

We reach the first aid station.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We might both be wrong.


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

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

The road climbs.

It seems to go up for ever.

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

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

It looks like a long way up.

It gets hotter.

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

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

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

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

Up I go.

It’s hot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The breeze is nice when it blows.

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

It’s steep, and technical.

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

But no one does pass me.

And eventually I pick my way to the valley floor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White River, again

July 30, 2012
You dream you are crossing,
The channel and tossing,
About in a steamer from Harwich,
Which is something between
A large bathing machine
And a very small second class carriage.
The night before the race I dreamed I had a thorn in my foot, and when I woke up the foot still ached from the memory. I dreamed I had misplaced one of my tentacles and kept trying to count them.
First your counterpane goes
And uncovers your toes
While your sheet slips demurely from under you.
I dreamed that John Loftus was about to start the race (in front of my childhood home) and I wasn’t dressed yet and couldn’t find my headband (I never even wear a headband). I dreamed that someone was lecturing me on the quality of my dreams and threatening to disqualify me from the race if they didn’t improve.
But the night has been long,
Ditto, ditto, my song,
and thank goodness they’re both of them over.
In other words, I didn’t sleep very well the night before. I got up before my alarms.

A race hotel is a strange place. Everything goes dead by about 10pm, and you start to hear people moving around at 4am. You’d think it would be easy to sleep early and get up early. But I couldn’t. Well the getting up early worked I guess.

I ran this race three years ago. I thought I’d made a couple mistakes in running strategy which I hoped to correct, and I hoped that I’d finally figured out how to eat and take electrolytes properly. That is, I hoped to do better.

On the other hand I didn’t think I was in very good shape. I didn’t feel that I’d ever fully recovered from Leona Divide back in April; I just felt tired all through training and couldn’t run very fast (not that speed is quite as important in a fifty mile trail race, still it is indicative of general fitness…). That is, I feared I’d do worse.

View of the White River, which is sort of white

The white river really is white (or at least grey).

I wrote the above before the race started, and that was about the last time I hoped to do well. Thirty seconds after the start I knew I wouldn’t.

The race starts with about three miles on the flat and people seemed to take it almost as a road race. Last time I went out too fast (my first mistake), got my heart rate up too high and had to slow down (relative to others) when we got to the first climb. This time I resolved not to make that mistake. I very deliberately kept my heart rate to ~80% — and people kept passing me. Far more people than I had expected. And then when the climb came, more people passed me.

Yes, they are probably going out too fast; yes, I will probably pass some of them later. But there are so many of them. I won’t pass enough.

Sigh. Oh well.

It’s still a beautiful course. The race starts in the valley of the white river. For about half a mile we run along a grassy airstrip (where there is plenty of room to pass people) and then dive into the forest and run on the river bank. The trees are massive and we are dancing around roots. Then we cross the river and continue on the other bank.

For some reason this side of the river is covered with wildflowers (and the other wasn’t). There are real buttercups here, willowherbs, and something that looks like a Clarkia (but which turned out to be another willowherb — though it doesn’t look like any willowherb I’ve seen before), lots of daisies (of course), some foamflowers… anyway it’s beautiful. (I went back the next day to get the picture)

Then we cross the big highway (WA 410, at this hour of the morning there’s no traffic) and head away from the river. Here in the deeper woods there are different wildflowers. Sasal, huckleberries. There’s a sweet little orchid that pops up now and then, and, there, under that bush, could that be a broomrape?

We have gentle rolling hills for another mile or so under the forest canopy, and then the first aid station, which I don’t bother with, so I pass a few people, but that’s irrelevant as they’ll pass me back all too soon. Then after another mile we begin to climb.

Last time I had to slow down and walk because I got my heart rate too high on the early part. This time I have to slow down and walk even though I kept my heartrate down. Does that mean that running fast early didn’t matter? Perhaps it wasn’t a mistake? Playing it safe doesn’t seem to have made things any better. Or maybe I’m just not in as good shape? Who knows.

As I trudge up the mountain, people keep passing me.

After a bit we come to an enormous rock face with water trickling down, and we head up beside it, then a switch-back and a real waterfall. It’s still too dark to take pictures, but I wish I could.

The hill just keeps going up.

After an hour we come to the first ridgeline. On a clearer morning (such as we had three years ago) you could see the mountains on the other side of the wilderness area, but today all I see is clouds. Rather nice clouds, but clouds.

Now we are running along the edge of this ridge, sometimes we get close enough to get a view, mostly we’re in the trees. As the race director puts it: “You are 3 feet away and 800 feet above a wilderness area.” There’s a sheer cliff to our right that drops down into a valley, and across the valley is Mt. Rainier. Only Rainier is hidden in clouds just now.

And then we run into fog ourselves.

It’s not dense enough to condense on my glasses, so I rather enjoy it. There’s something nice and — comforting? — about a blanket of fog (especially when you know there’s an 800ft drop just off to the right).

But we climb out of that and see some sunlight (not on us, but across the valley).

For the first time I pass someone. Of course this might just be one of the slower people who started early, still, it is encouraging.

Ah, but someone else passes me. A woman with a black pony tail comes up behind and I let her go ahead, but then a quarter mile later on a downhill stretch she lets me pass her. We leapfrog for a bit, and then she goes ahead. I don’t see her again until 7 miles from the finish.

And we’re back in the fog again. If you squint you can see the guy ahead of me.

We slow down to a walk on the steep climbs. And when we do that, we bunch up.

Here is the next aid station. I fill up with water (I’ve been trying to drink more water). This station has no food (and anyway I carry what I’m eating at this point); but it does have a fire. I realize my hands have gone numb and I can’t open my camelback (luckily the volunteer here can). A fire sounds nice, but I don’t have time.

Out of the aid station and then start running again when the slope levels out. We have been in and out of fog, and now we start to see bits of sunlight.

We have come into a new wildflower regime (we’re about 5000ft up now), and here are our first bunchberries. I like bunchberries. The idea of a dogwood flower on a tiny forb appeals to me. I know I can’t get a good picture of them without stopping, and I’m not willing to stop. So I take a bad picture instead.

Suddenly we are out of the fog and above the clouds. The view is spectacular.

But the guy ahead complains that he was hoping the fog would last longer so it would be cooler later. Oh. Yeah. That would be good. Still, there’s plenty of cloud cover, it’s just below us, we may get into it again.

Turning a corner we have our first view of Mt. Rainier

The woods look different in the sunlight.

And once again, different wildflowers. Hostas (Corn Lilies) and Indian Paintbrushes. The Hostas aren’t blooming yet, but their leaves are distinctive. A little further up are another species of Indian Paintbrushes, these with orange blooms.

And we start to see beargrass, a spectacular flower, on a stalk about 3 feet high.

Some cute little yellow violets, and small things I can’t make out as I go past.

Suddenly the first returning runner (this section is out and back). He’s a long way ahead of anyone else, but then we see a few more I count up to about 10, but then get back to my own concerns.

And then we move to the sunny side of the mountain again, and things get drier and the wildflowers go away.

Rainier again. It’s just spectacular, floating above the clouds like that.

I’m running behind a woman at the moment. She seems to be running slowly, but whenever I look at my watch my heartrate is about 80%. Sometimes higher. So I don’t pass her.

I guess I notice women more than men in these races, partly because there are fewer of them running at my pace, and partly because I just notice women more.

Graagh. I’ve got a small stone in my foot and it’s digging into my heel. Nothing I do seems to shift it. I’ll wait for the aid station and take my shoes off there.

Rainier again, the clouds below have mostly disappeared. I guess we won’t have much fog later.

I notice that my heartrate has calmed down a bit, and the woman ahead still seems to be running slowly. Then she mentions that she hasn’t had anything to eat since the start (why not?) and she’s running on empty. So I pass her.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Finally the aid station. I hand my camelback to a volunteer to fill up while I undo my shoe and get the stone out. Drat, the heel still hurts even though the stone is gone. The volunteer comes back and tells me (sternly) that I haven’t been drinking enough. I hope she’s assuming that I haven’t filled up since the start… but… she’s right. I haven’t been paying attention to drinking since the last aid station. I should do more.

Three years ago it took me 3:09 to get here, this year 3:10. Hunh. Maybe I’m not going as slowly as I thought. Oh. but we have a slightly different course this year, and we’ve run a half mile less. This is roughly a third of the way — (at least, they say it’s 16.7 miles, my watch says 15.5).

Oh well, I’m out.

Three years ago we just turned around and went back, now we climb a small hill, do a loop and avoid about a mile of returning runners. So this bit of trail is new to me.

I’ve been seeing a bush, about 3 or 4 feet high with large white flowers. Could this be a Cascade Azalea? I don’t have time to look closely. Oh yes, and lots of lupines, I’ve been seeing them ever since we got into the drier area. And phlox, and yarrow too.

The trail is kind of bouncy here with occasional views of Rainier.

The new trail really does provide good views as it edges from looking at Rainier on the left and another valley on the right. It’s pretty bumpy as it goes along the ridgeline. I’m encouraged to see that there is still some fog off to the right… I hope that’s the valley of the white river, to which I’ll be returning in another hour or two.

Hmm. I’m basically alone now. Every now and then I can see someone ahead, and doubtless people aren’t too far behind, but no one is in talking range.

And then I trot down off the ridgeline and rejoin the old route, and meet runners coming the other way again. Only now I’m the one returning.

As someone from the south I’m obliged to get excited when I see snow in July. I remember that there were patches of snow here three years ago too.

And then back to the second aid station where I again fill up with water. Someone passes me before the station, and heads out down the trail faster than I… but after a bit I find him massaging his calf. Cramp.

Mmm. I’ve been getting minor cramps in my right abdominals, but they aren’t bad, and go away. So far.

After the aid station we head down a different route from the one we used to go up, and it also returns us to the start. It’s a shorter route back, and so steeper.

After half an hour I come to a branch in the trail. It isn’t marked. I look harder. It still isn’t marked. Being color-blind I worry that I missed something other people have seen. I run back a little way because there was a smaller trail back there and it is possible it was marked. Someone passes me. He has no doubt and goes straight down. I dither a little longer. Someone else passes me. Oh well. I follow them.

Later I stop to piss and two people catch up and pass me, so I run behind them for a bit. One of them slows, and then the other guy and I catch up with someone else who speeds up when we come up behind him. There’s a huge tree down across the trail here, and as I scramble over it I have to stretch my legs out wide and they don’t like that. Ouch.

I notice that my watch says we have run 25 miles in about 5 hours. Oh dear. That makes for a 10 hour run? I was hoping for 9 (well, I’d have loved 8, but that seemed unlikely).

We catch up with another runner, who seems to be a friend of the guy in front. They start chatting and the other guy and I pass them both.

We run beside a little stream for a bit, but then turn away from it. The stream brings its own group of wildflowers: twinflower, pipsissewa — I thought that only grew on the east coast, but when I go back the next day it really is pipsissewa.

When we pull away from the stream we start to hear the road instead (the stream was nicer). There’s more traffic now, and I worry a little about getting across it. But when we come out of the woods it turns out not to be bad. We do need to wait a few seconds, but nothing substantial.

We cross the road at the same place we did earlier, and then head back along the river. We’ve returned to the start, where there is now an aid station. I left myself some figbars here and some trail mix. First time I’ve ever used a drop bag. I get my bag while someone fills my water. And I grab a bit of cooked potato too. I found at Leona that they seemed to work well. I started the race eating gels, but after a couple of hours I switched to chewy blocks, and now I’m moving toward more solid foods. Or that’s the plan.

I move out of the aid station, eating some of my figbars, and pass several people. We come out briefly on the road again and as I look for trail markings I notice a woman ahead of me, so I follow her, and then I see the marks. The woman turns out to be Dana and she and I will pass and repass each other many times over the next 23 miles (or however far it is).

But now I don’t know who she is and she pulls away from me.

I’m climbing now. And in the sun. I remember I have no sunscreen. Damn. I decided not to bring any so that I could carry my stuff on the airplane, and assumed I could a) buy some in Eumenclaw (which I forgot to do), b) find some at the race start (which I didn’t) c) pick some up on the course (which they said would be available but which I have as yet seen no sign).

I think the trail mix is too sweet. It makes me slightly nauseous so I can only eat small bites. I probably should eat more frequently because of that, but I can’t bring myself too.

I’m walking now. Fast hiking. I ignore my heartrate when I’m walking even though it climbs above 80%. Is that ok? Anyway I pass people. Every now and then I see Dana’s back.

I saw this little flower on the other hill too, but didn’t try to photograph it. Now, I’m moving so slowly that I don’t mind pausing briefly to take its picture. I assume it’s a lily. That is, I assume it is something that was called a lily twenty years ago. But that family is in sadly reduced circumstances now, and many species have moved to other families (and even orders). A little research suggests that this one is a Queen’s Cup.

And is that a sedum? I didn’t even know they grew on this continent.

Finally we come out to the next aid station. Still no sign of sunblock. This one is 50K from the start. I fill up with water, eat a potato and leave the station before Dana.

Something is wrong. Water is pouring down my back. It stops when I stop running, and I think the problem is solved, but no— more comes out when I start up again. Have I sprung a leak in the camelback (god, I hope not)? I’ve still got another third of the course to go, and this is the sunniest bit. I need water. I pull the camelback off my back (while still walking) and discover the answer is much simpler. The volunteer simply didn’t screw the lid on tight, and whenever the water in the bladder splashed up as high as the lid it would come out. So I screw it tight and all seems fine now.

Except… my shorts are now sopping wet and they are chafing my thighs. Arrgh!

And I wonder whether I now have enough water to get to the next aid station, well it could have been worse. And after a bit my shorts dry and stop chafing.

The trail just keeps going up. Sometimes in shade, sometimes not. Finally I come out on a somewhat level ridgeline with more beargrass and some tiger lilies.

And then there is a bit of downhill and three people come thundering past me. One of whom is Dana. After they pass there isn’t much downhill left, and I catch up with them again and we all go together for a while. Then one decides let me pass, with the other goes on faster, so now I’m running behind Dana. I could pass her, but if I did I think I’d just slow down and she’d pass me back. So for now I go at her pace and we chat a bit.

Actually she may be making me move faster than I would otherwise.

A bit more up, and then the false summit. Now there is a nice shady downhill area and Dana pulls away again. And the guy who just let me pass catches up and passes me again.

And then the final climb up to Sun Top. Walking again. I pass a number of people (including Dana, I think). About four of us reach the aid station at the top together. Someone fills up my water. I eat some potatoes, and — yes! Dana is spraying herself with sunscreen. Finally. I get in line to use it. When I pick it up, it turns out to be hers, not from the aid station at all, but she graciously lets me use it. Oops.

Sun Top is three quarters of the way done, and I’ve been running for 7 hours, 45 minutes. That means I’m on track for a 10:20 race. Ug. Still, the fastest bit is up ahead, I should be able to make up some time now.

Again I am out of the aid station before Dana and onto Sun Top Rd. I like this bit. A nice level fire road. Much nicer running that any fireroad in SB.  I can just zoom down this. (That’s speaking relatively. If I push I can get an 8 minute pace:-) I’m a little tired.

Anyway, I’m off. There’s a guy just ahead. I pass him. My watch says I’m running at a 9:20 pace. A little further down there are 3 people, and I pass them. (I’m now averaging about 8:30). And then Dana comes zipping by me. I’m surprised, no one passed last time… anyway, we cheer each other on as she goes by. The road goes down steeply for about 5 and a half miles and in that time I pass 11 people, and my watch tells me I’m averaging 7:48. The last two I pass are the guy who was ahead of Dana before Sun Top, and black pony tail whom I haven’t seen since about mile 10.

Then the slope levels out a bit for another mile or so. Last time I made the mistake of trying to keep going at the same pace and my heartrate zoomed up and I had to walk for much of the last six miles. This time I slow down a bit. I can see three people spaced out on the road ahead, and it is tempting to speed up and try to pass them. But I don’t speed up, even so I manage to pass one of them.

At the final aid station I see Dana again (I suspect she was one of the two whom I saw but didn’t pass on the road). Once again I fill up my water and get out of there before she does (if she hadn’t taken so much time in aid stations she’d have beaten me, but maybe she needed that time).

The third mistake I made was to think that I could run at 80% for the last 6 miles. And the fourth was to get lost. I go out of this station intending to go at about 75% and doing my damnest not to get lost. I don’t get lost.

I pass some people and some pass me.

We are once again beside the river, running through massive trees. Every now and then there are views through the trees of the white river. It should be lovely, but mostly I’m thinking how tired I am and how much I’d like to be done. I don’t really hurt. I’m just tired. I look at my watch. I’m a mile out from the last aid station and I’m running at a 13:40 pace, I’ve been going now for 8:45 hours and I’ve got about 5 and a half miles to go. I don’t think I’m going to break 10 hours even. Bleah. That’s pathetic.

Someone comes up behind me, but decides to run with me. We chat a bit. I can’t remember what about. Then someone else joins our group. He seems to know the other guy. Then the first guy drops back and the other runs with me. I try to get him to pass me, and he just encourages me to keep going. Says we’ll break 10 hours at this pace, so don’t worry. I think he’s wrong. I keep going. I wish he’d pass me. If he passed me maybe I could slow down a bit. But he doesn’t pass. I keep going.

I look at my watch. There’s a large banner on it Battery low, press enter. If I press enter the message goes away for about 2 seconds and then pops back up (the battery is still low, you see). Unfortunately this message means I can’t see the rest of the display. I don’t know my HR now, nor what time it is, nor how far I’ve gone or anything. Stupid. I don’t care that the battery is low, I care about my heart rate and other stuff. Don’t show me irrelevant information.

I ask the cheerful guy what the time is and he tells me we’ve been going for 9:15. So another 45 minutes by his estimate, another hour or so by mine.

I’d really like to stop now. Not in an hour. Now.

Someone else comes up behind and this person does want to pass. So the cheerful guy decides he wants to stay ahead of her and passes me before she does. Now there is no one to push me, but even so I don’t slow down.

Someone else passes me.

A little later I find him working on a cramp and pass him. Then he passes me back. And 20 feet after that he turns a corner too quickly, slips, and falls. I pass him. He passes me.

I see him disappear up a hill and—

There’s the road!

Almost done. Up the bank, onto the road, turn left, left again and then 200 meters flat straightaway. I pound down it as fast as I can. The faster to the finish line, the sooner I’ll be able to rest.

A final turn, the clock reads 0:54~~. What does that mean? Maybe after 10 hours it doesn’t show hours any more? I can’t have taken 10:54 to do this; it’s somewhere around 10 hours. Maybe 10:05? Thoughts tumble through my head.

And I’m done. Whatever the time was. I click my watch off, but it’s no help, all it says is Battery low, press enter.

As usual, people seem to think I’m in bad shape and keep asking if I’m OK, but all I need is some rest.

I get some cold water to drink (I hate cold water, I think it made me vomit the last time I did this race, but I need water). And wander over to the results board. There are a lot of people ahead of me. I start looking for my age group. Not many people in their fifties though. The first is about 8:40 hours, the next is not until 9:42 (here I start to get excited, maybe, just maybe I’ll be in third place in spite of everything). But then, right before the end is the third place guy. My name gets added to the list. I see I ran in 9:54:51 and the third place guy was just 2 minutes ahead with only two people between us. Surely I could have found two minutes somewhere? When I was wandering around looking for the unmarked trail maybe? And then I count. Three people ahead of me. One is a woman. Oh. He was the guy who ran with me along the last bit by the river and kept encouraging me. Um. Yeah. He deserves to be ahead.

But how on earth could I have broken 10? When I finally got back to the hotel and convinced the watch to cooperate, I found that according to it the last 6.6 miles were only 5.97. So either the course is shorter than they claim, or my watch was underreporting distance (and my pace). Or both. Anyway either would explain the result.

Just as I finish thinking that I see Dana finish about three minutes after me. And shortly after her comes black pony tail (whose name I never learned).

I am tired. I hobble over to the port-a-potties, and then look for a place to rest, to sit. There’s not much in the way of furniture out here. But I spy some lawn chairs laid out that no one seems to be using. There’s a guy watching them but not sitting on them, so I wander over and ask if I can sit for a bit and he says sure. He also asks if I’m OK. (what on earth do people see in me? All I need is some rest). Then suggests that I lie down. Sure. Why not. Oh. It turns out this is the first aid tent, and he’s some sort of medic. No wonder he’s worried about me. The wind picks up and I start to get chilly so I grab a nearby blanket and pull it over me. A nurse wanders over and suggests I drink a little more water, so I do, but it’s difficult lying down. So I struggle to sit up again, feel nauseous, grab a plastic bag and vomit. After a bit I feel better.  The nurse takes my pulse and says it is weak and high. Gets me to take another salt tablet, and drink some more water. I see they have some bananas and ask for one. I lie there for almost an hour before deciding it is time to get up. The nurse checks to make sure that my pulse has calmed (it has, some anyway), tells me I look better, asks me a few questions to make sure I’m not a blithering idiot, and lets me go to my car.

I go back to the hotel, shower and change. I had intended to go back to the race where they were serving food, but I don’t have the energy. I had intended to go back and at least retrieve my unused drop bag from Sun Top, but I don’t have the energy. I had intended to run an extra three miles (to get up to my age in miles), but there is no way that will happen.

All in all, pretty disappointing. Half an hour slower than three years ago, and I still don’t seem to have figured out how to eat/drink on the course. Or maybe I have figured it out but just don’t do it. I wasn’t paying as much attention after Sun Top as I should have. Maybe I should have drunk more? But how can I make myself do that? My attention wanders at that point in the race, I’m just not thinking about it. That is — assuming that’s the problem.

What could I have done differently? Given myself more time to recover from Leona, obviously. But I’ve got to figure out how to eat and drink if I want to do this again. It can’t be healthy to disrupt my osmotic balance until I want to vomit. Maybe if I had a smaller camelback and knew I had to empty it between aid stations… The large one I use gives a cushion against emergencies, but I have no idea how much I drink because I never drain it. Trailmix didn’t work. What can I use instead? Potatoes seem perfect, but how to carry enough? Would bread work? or is that too dry? Biscuits?

Awake to Run

May 19, 2012

I never sleep well before a race. This time I woke up about once an hour. Finally at 2:45 I gave up and got out of bed. My ride wasn’t till 4 though, so I baked bread.

After Leona I talked to Coach Mike about what went wrong. I wondered if he thought I’d be ready to run the White River 50M at the end of July. He thought I would. And then, to my surprise, he suggested I run Born to Run 50K as a way of fixing some the mistakes I made with fueling. I was surprised because B2R was only 3 weeks after Leona and I didn’t think I’d be recovered by then. Mike told me I wouldn’t and that I’d have to keep my heart rate even lower than I usually do in an ultra — and if I didn’t feel up for it I shouldn’t do it.

Well, I felt pretty good after about a week and a half, and Luis posted that B2R was almost full and encouraged people to sign up. So I did. And then I felt really tired again.

Of course.

Anyway, this was to be a test of eating and drinking, not of racing. I hoped it wouldn’t matter much. Mike wanted me to drink a quart (a liter) an hour. He wanted me to eat more salt (so I decided to double my intake from Leona, which was about 4 times what I’d done previously — on those rare occasions when I’d taken any salt previously). And he wanted me to try to eat real food rather than just gels, so I brought along some fig bars, and some trail mix.

I’m to keep my heart rate below 75%. Considerably below on the downhills. Normally I race ultras at about 80%. I’m not sure what this will mean.

Andreas and Heidi offered to come pick me up at 4am (true friends!). Andreas was also doing the 50K and like me he had done Leona three weeks before (but he did the 50K); Heidi was recovering from an injury and was only doing the 10mile race.

It was cool and pleasant outside in SB. The sky was clear and the stars were shining. I’d hoped for fog. Didn’t want to run in the valley’s heat (though Mike considered that something else I needed to work on; I felt I should seek out cool races instead).

Luis’s race, Born to Run, is, of course, named after the book, Luis being a friend of the protagonist. His race is not set in Mexico but on the East Creek Ranch, an 8000 acre cattle ranch outside of Los Olivos.

Once we got to the top of the coastal mountains we plunged into fog, and it stayed with us all the way to the Ranch. Yay! We got there at about 5am and showed three other cars how to open the ranch gate and where the race start was. Then we checked in and picked up our bibs.

At 5:45 Luis described the course: Two ~10 mile loops each returning to the start. One is marked with pink tags and one with yellow. Blue tags are on routes you should not choose. (Gleep. Colorblind me often finds pink and blue indistinguishable. “Tough” says Luis. Succinct.

At 6 Mr. Chamberlin (the owner of the ranch) fires his shotgun, and we are off.

I start out well back and (I think) fairly slowly, but after a bit I look down at my watch. I’m running at 76% already. So I slow way down.

After another 5 minutes I look down again. 65%. Ah. Frequently when I start running my heart rate jumps and then drops back. I guess it takes it a while to get used to working harder or something. OK. I can run a little faster.

I’m running behind a gentleman wearing a shirt from the Avalon 50; I am also wearing an avalon shirt so this pleases me. As we go up a hill I pass him, but then he pulls back ahead of me on the downhill. I’m trying to run 75% on the uphills, and I seem to be doing ~69% on the down. I’m not really thinking about it that just seems to be what comes out of me.

After about half an hour we reach the first aid station. It doesn’t appear to be functioning and anyway no one needs anything. We just continue.

I’ve been consciously trying to drink more than I usually do. Unfortunately I don’t really know how much I’ve drunk. I’ve got a 2 liter bladder on my back. It’s impossible to guess if I’ve drunk a pint in the last half hour or not.

We are now coming to an edge of the property and we can look across a fence into the neighbor’s vineyard. I ran this loop back in February when Luis held a training run on it; back then the vineyard looked like a bunch of sticks stuck in the ground, now there’s a green fuzz as the sticks turn into grape vines. (this picture was taken later in the day on a second pass through this loop, earlier it was too dim with fog for the green to show in a photo).

We’re now climbing a hill, and once again I pass the other guy with a avalon shirt. We have some chat on the way up, talking about our respective avalons. Of course on the way down he overtakes me again, but I don’t let him get far ahead and reel him in. And then I never see him again.

Back in February this area was full of common fiddlenecks (a type of wildflower, not a fern) but I’m disappointed to see that all of them appear finished and uncurled. No more flowers.

We’re now close to the paved road. I’m not paying to much attention. Suddenly I see people in front of me running toward me. They tell me they went the wrong way. Then I notice that right beside me there’s a obscure trail, and, yes, it is marked. I would have missed it too. So now at least 4 people who were ahead of me are behind me. I keep expecting them to pass me.

I hear turkeys gobbling across the paved road, but I can’t see them.

As we run beside the road we get a good view up the valley, and can see the hills across the way where the fog is lifting. We’re still in shadow, but there’s sunlight ahead.

And now we come to the second aid station; it’s a little after 7 and my friend Nancy is offering me a cup of water. I don’t need any additional water (but it does remind me to drink from my own supply), so I pass on through.

I realize I’ve gone about 6 miles in about an hour. In spite of the fact that I’m keeping my HR down to 75%. That’s faster than most ultras I’ve run. This must be an easy course.

There’s a fairly steep uphill grade here and I drop back to a walk as my HR climbs. But it drops again fairly quickly, so I’m doing a sort of jog/walk/jog/walk alternation up the hill. During this process I pass and repass a woman who turns out to be the 50K female winner (I don’t know that yet, of course), but when we get to a long downhill stretch she takes off ahead and I don’t see her again until the finish line (where she finishes behind me. I still don’t know how that happened).

There are some nice beds of Clarkias here. Some elegant clarkias are open and obvious, but the others are still tightly curled up in buds. I’ll have to wait until later in the day to identify them. There also appear to be some slender tarweeds (or are they miniature? I need to look closely at the flowers to distinguish).

And now we’re coming back to the start/finish area. They need to check me off a list when I arrive (they tell me I’m done, at first, thinking I’m only running 10M), and then I go over to the aid station to get some water. No one notices me. I’ve gotten spoiled :-) I’m used to volunteers filling my backpack for me, clearly that isn’t happening here. Silly George. I’m perfectly capable of doing that myself — only where’s the water I should be using? I ask and no one answers. Odd. Eventually I grab a bottle and pour it into my camelback. Ump. It looks as though I’ve drunk a little more than a pint in the last hour and a half. Not good. I must do better. Of course, it has been cold and foggy so I haven’t needed to drink much.

It still is cool, but I have a feeling that’s not going to last. Time to remove my long sleeve shirt. Good-bye Avalon. I drop it on top of Andreas & Heidi’s car as I leave the area. And as I do so I see Andreas, Karen and Brett coming into the area. I’m not as far ahead of them as I thought (of course I did take an unconscionably long time in the aid station).

Now I’m following the loop marked with yellow flags. I’ve never done this one before. There’s still some fog visible off in the distance, but it’s pretty sunny here.

Hmm. That fuzzy leaf looks like a milkweed plant.

We come to the second aid station first on this loop. Again I plow right through. We leave the station by a different route that on the first loop.

Suddenly we turn a corner and we are being stared at by a bunch of cattle. They don’t look happy to see us, but they aren’t doing anything about it, just staring to express their disapproval as we run by, 20 feet away.

We are running under oak trees now and it’s shady and nice. The pack has thinned out. No one is very close to me.

After a bit we run up another hill and come out onto a bit of trail that was on the other loop, so we get to see (and pass) some of the slower runners. We cheer each other on.

And then we turn away from them onto a stretch of single track trail. This is a little different from most trails. I don’t think there’s a year round trail here, it looks as though someone has come through with a long mower and shaved the grass and left it at that.

There’s nothing wrong with this; it isn’t hard to run or anything; it just looks a little odd. The views are nice though…. There’s still a bit of fog off toward the coast…

There’s someone not far behind me on this section, and about half-way though I pass someone who seems to have slowed down. But then he and the guy behind me start chatting together and start gaining on me. We talk a little. They bemoan the fact that the fog is off toward the sea and not over us.

I find I’m pushing things a little harder (or am I more tired?). My HR on the downhill sections has climbed to 72%.

The single track ends in a steep drop down to a road that leads to the first aid station. We take a different route out of it from any we used on the first loop. Hmm. the course is rather cleverly designed that way.

About half a mile beyond the aid station there is a strange dark lump in the road ahead. As I get closer I see a turkey vulture alight and I realize there is a dead cow in the road. This is a huge shock. Closer still and I see the eye is oozing blood — I wondered if someone had shot it, but realized the vultures have been after that.

(Other people say there was a dead calf too, and the cow died giving birth. I guess I didn’t look closely enough).

The first loop was only 9½ miles rather than 10, so I’m sort of assuming this one is also short and start figuring that I’m only two miles from its end. This is a cheering thought. But the loop just goes on and on. It turns out to be 10¼ miles instead.

Finally I get to the start/finish, get checked in as having finished the second loop, and refill my water. This time I use more than a quart (but I’m not sure how much more), so I came closer to or maybe even hit the amount I should have drunk.

And I’m out again. A repeat of loop 1.

The loop looks completely different in the sunshine. It’s starting to feel hot though.

I also notice that it’s getting harder to control my heart rate. I’m walking more than I was 3½ hours ago, and I have to spend more time looking at my watch to make sure I’m not pushing too hard. Even on the downhills I’m starting to approach 75%.

There aren’t many people around. I can’t see anyone ahead, and the guys behind are quite some distance back.

Then I turn a corner and suddenly people are scrambling down the steep slope where loop 2 approaches the first aid station. I think I recognize some of them from my previous view of slower runners — but I’m not sure.

The aid station is crowded. I can’t see any pink tags leading out of it. I chaif as I wait for one of the attendants (there are only two) to have time to answer which road I take out of there. But I’m finally off.

I’m feeling very slow now. Before a pace from a 75% HR felt reasonable, but it doesn’t any more. This may be because I’m tired, and so 75% HR does give me a slower pace. But it just feels wrong. It’s way too slow. I want to go faster. I know I can go faster (but maybe I’d get injured if I do). I don’t push it. I just complain to myself.

Somewhere along here is the place where people missed a turn. I keep looking for it, but can’t find it. There are large unflagged sections if Luis deemed that there were no alternate routes… but there are alternate routes. I don’t see any flagging on them either. Am I going the right way? I look down, and in the roadbed are the prints of many feet. I’m probably in the right place.

No one ahead. No one behind. Is that trouble?

Then finally I do find it. Much further along than I had thought. And now I’m running beside the paved road again. There’s no sign of fog now.

And now I’m coming into the second aid station, and there’s Nancy. They’ve put up signs in the road “You are NOT almost done.” Mmm. Thank you. I’m assuming my race ends after 3 laps which means I’ve less than 3 miles to go. That’s sort of “almost done”. Isn’t it?

I mostly walk up the uphills out of there. I still get a little running in, but not nearly as much as I did the first time round.

I’m trying to figure out how much 8000 acres (size of the ranch) is in square miles. I don’t know an acre to mile² conversion. But there are a bit more than 2 acres to the hectare, and a hectare is 100m to the side which means an acre is about 100yards/√2 to a side, so about (17*√2)² acres in a square mile = ~550 so a bit less than 16 square miles, or a square where each side is 4 miles long. (Now that I’m home I see that 8000 acres is actually 12.5 square miles, so a rectangle 3 miles by 4 miles. It’s still big).

And then finally the downhill. It’s pretty much all downhill from here to the finish line. A mile and a half or so. There’s still no one around me.

As I come down the hill I pass a few slow runners. I assume they are people who are a lap behind rather than people I’m catching up with, so they don’t count.

About a 100yds ahead a mule deer comes down the canyon on my right, crosses the road and disappears off to the left. When I get to the place s/he crossed I look left and wish I could bound up a slope that steep.

I realize I’m going to finish in under 5 hours. That’s kind of neat. My heart rate is now at 75% and above even on the downhill but I don’t have far to go.

I see the cars. I see the finish.

About 10 feet from the finish they announce the fourth place finisher. But it isn’t me. Hunh? Maybe they misread my bib. Anyway I cross the line. And turn off my watch. They check me off the list, and then want to send me out for another loop (they think I’m doing 100k or something.) I say I’m done. They tell me I’m not. Apparently I have to run another half mile to an old stump with a skellington hanging from it, and then back. Um. OK. I set off again.

Was that announced at the beginning? I certainly didn’t hear it. I’m a bit annoyed. I know I’ll be above 5 hours. Oh well. I pass some slow people, but I don’t see anyone else ahead of me. I pay no attention to my HR monitor. After a bit I recollect that I turned off my watch when I crossed the non-finish line. Damn. I turn it back on again. But now I shan’t know when half a mile is. I’ll just have to watch for the skeleton. And there it is. And I turn and run back.

As I cross the finish line again I hear them announce me as the sixth place finisher in 5:03. But… you announced the fourth place guy when I was here last and there wasn’t anyone between… I look at the results. I am in sixth place, and the guy who was announced earlier was fifth. Did I mis-remember? Did Luis mis-announce? I guess it doesn’t matter.

Oops. I see someone has prepared the finish area for Chrystee. Only she’s not running today. Maybe someone else…

I’m feeling in pretty good shape. I’m not nauseous. I pissed during the race. I’m even hungry! I eat a spam and cheese sandwich. The first one tastes wonderful, the second… not so much.

Now… did I feel better because of the nutritional changes I made… or because I only ran for 5 hours and most of the morning was pretty cool so there really wasn’t much of a problem anyway?

I chat with Heidi, (who ran ~20 miles instead of just the 10). And then Andreas and Karen come through. They know to go off to the skeleton. Then the first place woman finishes (how did she get behind me?), and then Karen and Andreas. Luis is so excited that Karen has finished second that he doesn’t even notice (or mention) Andreas.

Then Brett comes in.

I’m feeling pretty good. I realize I haven’t run my age yet this year. I decide to head back out and take a closer look at some of the wildflowers, and in addition run another 2K to get in 52K (actually, a bit more like 3K. My watch thinks I’ve only done about 49K).


Flowers on the trail

Papaveraceae (Poppy family)
Eschscholzia californica
California poppy



Ranunculaceae (Buttercup family)
Ranunculus californicus
California Buttercup



Caryophyllaceae (Pinks family)
Silene gallica
Windmill Pink



Polygonaceae (Buckwheat family)
Eriogonum sp.

Apiaceae (Parsley family)
Torilis arvensis-purpurea
Hedge parsley



Asteraceae (Asters, sunflowers family)
Achillea millefolium
Common yarrow


Erigeron foliosus
leafy fleabane


Hypochaeris glabra
Smooth Cat’s ear


Carduus tenuiflorus
Slender thistle


Silybum marianum
milk thistle

All year

Eriophyllum confertiflorum
golden yarrow

All year

Madia gracilis
slender tarweed


Pseudognaphalium californicum
California pearly everlasting



Boraginaceae (Borage family)
Amsinckia tessellata
bristly fiddleneck



Hydrophyllaceae (waterleaf family)
Phacelia ramosissima
Rambling Phacelia



Adoxaceae (Elder family)
Sambucus nigra-caerulea
Blue Elderberry

All year


Apocynaceae (Dogbane family)
Asclepias eriocarpa
Broad-leaved Milkweed



Lamiaceae (Mint family)
Marrubium vulgare


Salvia leucophylla
purple sage


Salvia spathacea



Orobanchaceae (Broomrape family)
Castilleja brevistyla
Shortstyle Indian paintbrush



Phrymaceae (Lopseed family)
Mimulus aurantiacus
sticky monkeyflower



Plantaginaceae (Plantain family)
Collinsia heterophylla
Chinese Houses



Verbenaceae (Verbena family)
Verbena lasiostachys
Western verbena



Convolvulaceae (Morning glory family)
Calystegia purpurata-purpurata
Pacific false bindweed



Brassicaceae (Mustard family)
Brassica nigra
black mustard

All year

Sisymbrium officinale
Hedge Mustard



Fabaceae (Legume family)
Acmispon glaber

All year

Lotus corniculatus
Birdsfoot Trefoil


Lupinus nanus
sky lupine



Geraniaceae (Geraniums family)
Erodium cicutarium
Red-stemmed storksbill



Onagraceae (Evening Primrose family)
Clarkia bottae
Punchbowl godetia


Clarkia purpurea-purpurea


Clarkia purpurea-quadrivulnera


Clarkia unguiculata
Elegant Clarkia




May 4, 2012

It always surprises me how much easier it is to recover from a trail ultra than from a road marathon. While it’s true I don’t run as hard, and I am running on a softer surface still I’m out there for three times as long…

True, after the race on Saturday I hobbled down to my car, and getting in and out was difficult. But Sunday I didn’t really hurt except for going down stairs; I did an easy 10 mile bike ride and went for a beach walk. By Monday I was running across streets and going downstairs with no problem.

Wednesday I went for a three hour (but very easy) hike, and Thursday I did a little run.

I still feel more tired than I should, but nothing hurts any more.

After a race I tend to get depressed. If I’ve run well then there’s a moment when I realize that nobody cares that I did well, it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I just did something utterly pointless that was really hard. If I haven’t run well, then I’ve done something utterly pointless and didn’t even succeed at that.

So when I went on my hike on Wednesday and found a little patch of stream orchids, I was greatly cheered

I guess orchids are pointless too. But they are pretty.

Leona Divide

April 30, 2012

I don’t really know where the divide is. The Leona Valley with its lakes is a rift created by the San Andreas fault. The race starts to the east of Lake Hughes and runs first south-east, then doubles back on itself to go west and then returns.

The weather people claimed that it was 39° in Lake Hughes Friday morning (day before) and that the high would be 56°. But when I got there it was about 70°. The prediction for the day of the race were equally wrong. It was 51° when I arrived at 5am and reached up into the 80s during the day (that’s at the start/finish area. it was hotter in the canyons).

Very windy though, but I figured that would calm.

We started at 6, in twilight, and ran up into the hills. Two women behind me were chatting: “We can go slow for the first half hour, after all we’ll be out here for seven or so.” At first I thought they might be slow 50K runners, but they had said they were going slowly and our current pace would not yield a 7 hour 50K. Nope they had to be fast 50milers and they were behind me. I should slow down. And they passed me.

I was hoping to break 8, but didn’t really expect to. Somewhere between 8 and 9. Every course is different and I can’t tell in advance…

The countryside is drier and barer than that of the SB mountains, much more open and smaller bushes. Not a problem this early in the morning but it doesn’t look as though there will be much in the way of shade later in the day.

I’ve been troubled with nausea in most of my ultra races (and some training runs too). Mike tells me this is because I haven’t been taking enough electrolytes (salt), so this time I take 100mg of sodium every half hour (and I’ll continue to take a gel pack every half hour). Of course I have a large camelback to drink from when I need it.

We are winding up a dirt road on a ridge line with canyons opening off to the west as the sun begins to rise above the mountains. Every now and then I stop running and walk for a bit until my heart rate drops. This early in the race that happens pretty quickly.

The course is well marked, but sometimes I don’t notice the markings. At an intersection the guy just ahead turns right to piss in the bushes and to avoid him I turn sharp left. The woman behind me yells at me that the correct route goes closer to straight ahead, and then I notice the little “do not go here” sign. Now we get to go downhill for a bit and we trundle along in slightly different order.

My hands are getting warm and I take off my gloves. Stuffing them in the backpack is too difficult so I just hold them. :-) I end up holding them for about an hour and a half…

I don’t bother to stop at the first aid station. I’ve only been running for about an hour; it’s still cool; I haven’t drunk that much water; no need for a refill. So I’m now running with a slightly different group of people. We go uphill again for another 20 minutes and then make a very sharp turn onto the Pacific Crest Trail (the west coast equivalent of the AT) — and it’s a bit harder to pass people, but there is an etiquette involved and people are willing to move over if they know you want to pass (and, similarly, I must move over when someone wants to pass me). We coalesce into a little clump of runners (different, yet again from any I’ve run with). I count about 6 people ahead and there are maybe 4 directly behind (harder to count people behind). I slowly move up the clump.

At one point when I move to the side to allow someone to pass I twist my ankle slightly. It’s fine on level trail, but on a slope I notice a little twinge. OK for now, but I worry that it may worsen. I feel it off and on for another three hours or so, and then it fades. Good.

It’s kind of odd, there’s our little group of about 10 people but no one in sight ahead. We wind in and out of canyons. It’s very dry. The trail is white sand with little scrubby bushes, only waist high, much lower than what I’m used to in SB. It is still chilly in the shade, but starting to be warm in the sun. Every now and then we turn a corner and the wind hits and then it’s chilly in the sun too.

I’m in fourth place (in our clump) when I realize that the reason we are a clump is that the woman in front isn’t going as fast as the people behind. The guy behind her passes, and then the woman ahead of me, and then a few minutes later I do. I stick with these two, they are going at a reasonable pace (for me) until we get to the next aid station.

Again I don’t need water so I just pass through.

Now we go steeply downhill for about 3 miles to the next aid station where the trail crosses a paved road. This section goes very quickly. My water is starting to run low but the station appears well before I run out. I do stop here, and get them to refill my water while I remove my long sleeved shirt and tie it to the backpack and then stuff the gloves inside (finally I get rid of them).

Of course immediately after removing my shirt I plunge into shade again and am a little chilly, but that doesn’t last.

And now for the longest climb of the course. I cross the road and head up. First we climb 1600ft in about 3 miles. Then there is about a mile of fairly level ground and then another 600ft. I go up.

There’s a guy behind me, slowly catching up. I offer to let him pass but he seems happy not to. We chat for a bit. When 16.7 miles rolls around on my watch I mention that we’re a third done and on track to break 8 hours. However he’s doing the 50K, so he’s more than half done and on track to break 5 hours. “Of course” he says. Finally he does pass me. But then he gets a stone in his shoe and I pass him back. We climb.

We start to see returning 50K runners. One guy. 10 minutes later another 2. Then a woman. Another man. The second woman (but she’s limping, oh dear).

At the top of the steep hill is another aid station, and this is the turn-around for the 50K race. I say good-bye to my friend and he turns back while I continue. This station claims to be about 20 miles from the start, but my watch thinks I’ve gone 19. Not sure what to make of that.

I start out with a couple of other people but they start to draw ahead, and pretty soon I’m by myself. This is a bit that looks flat on the elevation profile but really consists of lots of small ups and downs, twists and turns. It’s also exposed and in the sun. The ground is very white. The sun is very bright. The sun reflects off the white ground. Not really to my taste.

Off in the distance is a hill top with some pine trees on it.

Then I begin to climb again. There’s a little shade here. I think I’m on a north facing slope so there’s less direct sun. And there are masses of baby blue-eyes. These are fairly rare (or I think so) in SB, but they are all over here. Also some larkspurs. I guess it’s a bit damper here than it has been.

At 25 miles (by my watch) the time is 4:06, so I’ve dropped a little from the 8 hour pace. On the other hand, if the distance posted at the last aid station is correct I’ve probably run more like 26 miles and so I’m still OK…

And after a bit I start to see returning runners from my race. I sort of count these. That is to say… I try to count them, but I’m not at my most analytical after running for four hours and I keep forgetting to pay attention. (Was that runner 8? or 9?). Convention is that returning runners have the right of way, but the trail is narrow here and we’re on the side of a steep hill. Leaving the trail makes my foot twinge. Still, I do it.

As I crest this hill I’m in a stand of leafless trees, with a few just starting to put out buds. They look like oaks. I don’t think I’ve seen any oaks in Ca. which lose their leaves (Heidi thinks caterpillars ate them, but she wasn’t there; I think they were deciduous).

There was supposed to be a nice view of the valley below, but the camera didn’t catch it…

And now we leave the trail and head down (steeply down) a hot dusty dirt road. I pass some people and some pass me.

Two miles down the road (or a bit more) is the turn around (and an aid station). The woman who comes in with me (slightly ahead) turns out to be bib number 320, while I am 319. This amuses me. But not her. She turns around and zooms out of there like a rabbit, while I feel more like a tortoise. The road is uphill and steep and hot. I’m basically walking. There’s another guy who left the station at about the same time. He is also a tortoise and he and I trade places a couple of times. The rabbit is long gone, I never see her again. How does she do it?

I think I’m in about 40th place now. But I know I haven’t counted well. I’d could be 45th, or 35th

Off on the side of the road is a western wallflower. I noticed it on the way down, but I was running then. Now I’m walking. I can’t photograph flowers when I’m running, but at a walking pace, I can stop and it won’t slow me much. I’ve never seen a wallflower before.

The road is hot. I feel I’m crawling up. My fellow tortoise has now disappeared ahead.

I’m starting to balk at the thought of another gel, so I eat some blocks instead. For some reason they seem more palatable.

Eventually I reach the trail again. It’s cooler and sometimes shady and I can run again.

Now I’m the guy returning and people have to get out of my way. It’s kind of nice, but I’m feeling tired.

After ~3.5 miles from the turn-around I see Nichol and cheer her on. (well, sort of. I tell her she’s looking good, which she disputes saying she feels terrible to which I reply that I’m tired). A quarter mile after that I see Jennifer and say something to her too. It’s supposed to be cheering…

Hot. Lake Hughes in the distance.

There was maybe 3 miles of gentle shady downhill, but that is behind me now. I’m out in the sun on the bumpy flat section. I’m not doing very well. Several people pass me. I do see my fellow tortoise again, but I never catch up with him.

As I approach the next aid station there are inspirational quotes on signs. The only one that grabs me is one from Winston Churchill: “If you are going through hell, keep going.” It has a twinge of wit to it which the others lack.

At the 50K turn-around aid station again. In this direction the aid-station claims to be 35miles, my watch thinks it’s only 34 miles. In either case I’m more than ⅔rds done, but still with a long way to go. I eat a bit of banana and a potato. I grab a quarter peanut-butter sandwich while they fill my water.

The peanut butter proves a mistake. My mouth is dry and the peanut butter sticks to it. It’s very difficult to swallow. Funny. I don’t feel thirsty, but my mouth is dry. I thought there’d be some jelly in it, or less peanut butter… Eventually it goes down.

There’s an older woman walking with a stick (I mean a real stick, not a fancy pole). She’s a 50K walker and is in good humor. She asks for a tow as I head out. I wish I had enough energy to tow her :-) After this I assume that anyone I pass is likely to be a 50K runner, and anyone who passes me a 50M.

And I stumble out. Steeply downhill now, but very sunny and hot.

People pass me. I’ve given up on trying to eat even the blocks. I’ll just wait for the food at the next aid station. Mike told me that it was easier to eat real food at this point and he seems to be right.

I’m back at the paved road. It’s hot. It’s 1:30, about the hottest part of the day. People ask me if I’m OK. Well… not really, but I’ll manage. Someone pours water down my back. “Brormbgphmshqua”. Oranges! I eat 5 orange quarters! Yummy! And some soda. Mike told me to try drinking it. Bleah.

And now, the last steepest hill. Three miles of up to the next aid station. All in the direct sun in enclosed canyons with no breeze. I’m really dragging now. All slumped over walking up the hill. People pass me. I pass a few. The ridge line seems impossibly far above me. I realize I’ll probably be slower than 9 hours. I hadn’t expected that. Ug. It’s hot.

I think that funny little thing might be a broomrape flower.

It looks as though I’ve reached a ridge. There’s a bit of shade now and it’s not so steep. I can run again. Well… jog.

But I haven’t reached the ridge. I keep going up for another mile or so.

And there is the last aid station. More oranges! — these are covered with salt. Weird. Again they ask if I’m OK.

But this isn’t the end of the climb. There’s another mile to go up exposed fire road. At least it’s slightly cooler up here than it was down in the canyons. Slightly. It’s still hot. I’m walking again.

Someone looking far too cheerful comes running up from below. Only 2.9 more miles he tells me, and it’s almost all downhill.

Maybe. But it’s still uphill now.

And then it is down. And I’m running again. Not fast. But running.

I’m a quarter mile from the finish line when someone passes me. Damn. I haven’t seen anyone for half an hour couldn’t he have waited 2 minutes? And then someone else. And then I’m done too.

At the finish line they ask if I’m OK. Strangely I feel dizzy for about 30 seconds after stopping. And then… I’ll manage…

I really must look awful, they aren’t worrying about other finishers as they are about me…

John (who did the 50K) tells me it was “just over 80 at the finish line in the afternoon” (I finished at 3pm).

Official time: 9:06:47, 52nd overall, third place in my age group.

I want an orange. Or a banana. Or an apple. But they don’t have anything like that. I have a banana and an apple down in my car, but that seems so far to walk. Instead I go sit on the front porch for about half an hour and then go inside to eat a sit-down meal. I’m rather proud of myself. This is the first 50 miler where I’ve actually been able to eat after the race. I guess the extra salt was helpful.

Then I go back outside and wait for my friends to finish.

I did not piss during the race (I never have in an ultra). Nichol points out that means I was dehydrated. Um. I never felt thirsty. Maybe I need to force myself to drink more than I want to?

Other blogs

The race website

Avalon 50 miler

January 15, 2011

The race started at 5am. I had grumbled about that — I didn’t really want to run in the dark for an hour and a half — but given the heat of the day I later changed my mind.

The race started at 5. I couldn’t sleep well (or at all) and at 3 I gave up, got out of bed, stretched, had breakfast, got ready, and waited. At 4:40 I went down to the race start, checked in, and milled around. I noticed one woman had her headlight strapped around her midriff. It seemed much better than putting it on the head. Eventually we lined up. Someone said “Go”, but no one moved. Then there was some argument, and eventually a whole group of voices cried “Go”, and we went.

I was lined up in the second row at the start and there were about a dozen people in front of me, including one woman. That seemed about right. But soon another 10 people passed me, including another woman. Humpf.

Avalon crowds around the ocean at the mouth of a canyon, and we ran up this canyon. On city streets for the first mile or so, and then into the Wriggly Botanical reserve and onto dirt. It was pitch black and nothing was visible except the lights in front of me. Someone had placed glow sticks in the road to mark each turn (there weren’t many turns).

The road steepened and started to switchback. And now it was possible to look behind. There was a river of lights from runners behind down in the valley below. We climbed further. I passed the second woman. After a bit we got a view of Los Angeles. Lights across the water stretching from one horizon to the other. And down below, the tiny lights of Avalon.

It had already warmed up. It was chilly at the start, so I put on an extra layer. Now I take it off, and stuff it into my camelback.

We climbed out onto a ridge running parallel to the ocean, with LA across the water, ahead, the road turns inland and up and I can see a few lights sprinkled far ahead of me. Many lights behind.

A little after 3 miles I took my first gel pack. This is complicated by the fact that I have a flashlight in one hand and gloves on both. Luckily the flashlight has a wrist strap, so I just let it dangle for a bit. The process actually went fairly smoothly.

The road now turns downhill and I hear footsteps behind me, and Ray joins me. We run together for the next 2~3 miles, chatting (which is how I learned his name). Ray has done the race before.

Ray turns out to run faster downhill than I (at least in the dark he does) while I go slightly faster uphill, so we join and separate and rejoin depending on the terrain.

The road is actually in great shape, but I still am a little leery of plunging downhill in the dark (and some of the downhills are steep).

Around mile 5 we pass another guy (never got his name) and we all three run together now. There is a road sign up saying that the road will narrow, and we should slow down. We joke about that. The road is called “Fox Canyon Rd.” (or something like that) and we begin to see signs warning us of “fox-crossings” with cute little fox pictures on them. (The picture at right was taken much later in the day, of course, and at a different place, but the sign is the same).

The channel island fox is a species in its own right, smaller than the mainland variety, and only found on Catalina and the Channel Islands off SB.

I don’t see any.

The guy whose name I don’t know wonders where the first aid station is. Ray says it’s about mile 4 or 5. We are now at 5.75.

A car comes driving down the road at us. We were running three abreast, taking up the entire road, but we squinch down. Kind of intimidating meeting a car in the dark. They are so much bigger than we…

And there’s the aid station. I don’t need to stop, so I run through. Ray and the other guy do stop. Running by myself for a while. I click my watch at the station. It’s probably time for a gel, I look at the watch and realize I turned it off, rather than recording a lap. Twit. Turn it back on. Press the real lap button. And, yes, it is time for a gel.

The first time I ran on Catalina it was very foggy and I couldn’t see anything. Now it is dark, and I can’t see anything.

I pass a couple of women walking. Where did they come from? They don’t look as though they could have gotten here before me? I guess there was an early start for walkers.

A little beyond them is a clump of three runners I gain on them and then pass. One of them asks if I “took a late start?” To me it seems perfectly normal that I might run faster on the flat while they run faster uphill (or that they went out too fast and have slowed) but it seems to surprise them.

I experiment with turning off my flashlight. Yeah… I can see, but I still feel more comfortable with it on. If the road were perfectly smooth it would be a different matter. This road is smooth for a dirt fire track, but it has the occasional gully. The flashlight goes back on.

I glance behind me. The sun is starting to come up. It’s still very dark, and the camera’s exposure is so slow that the image is blurred (I don’t stop running, of course). Ten minutes later there is a bit more light, and the camera does a better job.

I round a bend and climb a slope, there, at the top, is the race photographer. I realize he is positioned perfectly to get a shot of us running against the sunrise. He takes one of me, and as I go past I yell “I want a copy of that.” “All right.”

I have a copy of it (by Roger Meadows of Avalon):

I take my camera out again at another open stretch for a sunrise view, but a truck is pulling up from behind. I don’t want to take a picture with the truck beside me (lest I stumble). But the truck doesn’t pass me, it stays beside me. I glance over at it. There’s a video camera and operator on the back of the truck and they are filming me. Finally they pull away, but the sunrise view has gone.

I see my first bird. A crow I think, but then realize it is probably a raven. Too big for a crow.

I start to see the countryside and am surprised by how dry everything looks. There are large stands of Opuntia. I was expecting countryside like that around SB, but this is much starker. No chaparral. Just dry grass and cactus. And then I pass a little rain pond where the cactus is right at the water’s edge. I don’t often think of cactus in a littoral situation. (It’s still dim, so the picture is very blurred).

The road has turned inland now, away from the coast, and the sun is rising behind the mountains instead of over the ocean. And then the sun actually rises. I glance at my watch and see it is a little before seven. This is a little perplexing as the sun isn’t supposed to rise until ~7:05. But I guess I’m at elevation so it will rise earlier…

I can see the terminal building for the airport. It’s a cute little thing. But round the corner is the next aid station. I fill up with water. The video crew are here and they film me filling up.

I’m running up toward the airport, and there are some walkers ahead. The video truck drives past again, but this time they don’t film me, they catch up with the walkers and film them, and then as I catch up they film me pass them.

The airport is on top of a hill, and from here there is a nice view of the route ahead, or would be if it were not still dark.

Every now and then I pass some walkers. I say “Good morning” as I go by. It’s odd to think that I’ve been running 2~2:30 hours now and it is barely after sunrise…

Now I’m running downhill, heading westish across the island. I’m going at a pretty good clip, sub-8 minute miles. There’s a ranch or something here, with a sign on the road: “Speed limit: 5 Mph.” I decide to break the law. It’s not often I can break a speed limit running, but I’m going about 7.5~8Mph.

I come upon a meadow holding two buffaloes. First buffaloes I’ve seen on Catalina. I try to take their picture, but the camera does not cooperate all I is a blurred image of a fence with some brown lumps behind it.

I’ve run pretty much NE-SW across the island, which is only about 6 miles here and now I’m looking west by south. It’s not so dry over here. A little bit later I start to see wildflowers. Coast sunflowers, manroot, locoweed of some nature, some little white flowers (probably Ceanothus), and a flowering plum which doesn’t make it up to SB.

I guess it makes sense. The storms come from the west off the Pacific, so the east side of the Island will be dry, while the west is wetter.

Then I turn north along the coast and head down into Little Harbor. This isn’t a village, just a harbor for boats and a place to picnic. Just to show how wet it is here, we have our first of two stream crossings. As far as most trail runs are concerned, this is nothing.

On the far side of Little Harbor is the next aid station. Again I fill up on water.

Generally it is a pretty hopeless idea to try to take a picture of a wildflower on a run, but coast sunflowers are pretty big, and the light is starting to be good, and I like them…

It isn’t hot yet. When I checked at 3 this morning, the forecast was for 77° in Avalon, and these exposed western canyons will probably be considerably hotter. Best to get as far as I can in the cool of the morning.

We’re in sun now as we climb out of Little Harbor and I can see people ahead of me. Some are walkers, and they don’t count, but some are runners (who occasionally walk, to make things confusing). I’m still running as I go uphill. I can keep my HR to about 80% by running slowly, so I’m doing that. But the runner ahead has started walking. I pass him. There’s another guy beyond him, with a hat with cloth round it. I’m slowly catching up to him on the uphill, but we head down again and he goes faster down than I.

I see that he is stopped in the road in front of me. At first I don’t see why. And then I round the bend.

Brian & the Buffalo

There’s a buffalo blocking the road. I stop and take his picture, before approaching to try and deal with the problem. It’s my road too. Do we get to deduct time spent waiting for buffaloes?

We try going off the road and circling behind him, but he turns and makes nasty noises at us. Then we try to go off road on the other side (on the left). He still watches us, and doesn’t seem completely happy about it, but we get past him. We look back. He’s watching us. Buffaloes can run faster than we can so we continue walking for a while. I suppose herbivores are unlikely to pursue running prey… but it seems more prudent not to test that. In Yellowstone they said “Stay back 50 yards.” We didn’t. But we did get lucky and survive.

Now we run together. He turns out to be named “Brian”. He runs faster than I downhill, but not so much faster that I can’t keep up. He’s a little disappointed in his performance, he was hoping to go faster. I don’t think he really understood what the hills were like. I’m actually pretty happy with my performance. I’m going about the right pace for an 8 hour time (which was sort of a goal), but it is early yet.

Down below is/are Two Harbors, so called because the island becomes very narrow here, less that a quarter mile across and there is a harbor on each side. We are on the east side of the island and approaching from the south. Two Harbors has a few dwellings, it’s a bit more of a settlement than Little Harbor.

Our route continues into Two Harbors and the beyond. If you click on the picture you’ll see the road on the far side of the bay as it follows the headlands. The turnaround is at the end of the second promontory.

I’ve been wondering when I’d see returning runners. If I’m running at an 8 hour pace and the winners will probably be somewhere under 7 (possible under 6 if they are really fast, but probably close to 7) that means they should be half an hour or so ahead… We see a guy heading back but he looks like a walker (I’m perplexed by this, because I think of there being a single separate start for walkers, but I learn later that was not the case, people started when they wanted. One man started at 11pm the day before).

After him comes a runner, who is first (just to make sure, we ask him). I make a rough note of where we are, and it takes me ~35 minutes to go from there to the turnaround and back. So that’s roughly where I thought the lead would be. A second guy follows him.

Brian and I wonder what place we are. Brian thinks probably the top 20. That sounds about right, judging by how many seemed ahead at the start and how many I’ve passed since (of course the walkers confuse things, I can’t always distinguish).

Brian tells me that we need to check off our bibs when we get to the turn-around. Apparently they announced that at the race overview last night (a gathering of which I was unaware).

We get down to Two Harbors. There’s an aid station here, which I don’t feel the need to stop at (but Brian does, so we separate for a bit). This is very close to 25 miles, about half-way.

Two Harbors actually has some streets, and the route is marked on them in flour. As I approach one flour arrow I notice a raven appears to be eating it. At the next arrow I have my camera out, and it really does look as though the ravens are eating the mark. I sometimes worry about arrows being scuffed out by runners, I’ve never thought they might be eaten up!

I’m now climbing out of Two Harbors, keeping track of the returning runners. There are two more coming down, and then the next one is a woman. Whee, she’s doing well (She finished even better, second place overall, and setting the woman’s record).

I round the first promontory, and beyond is another bay sprinkled with boats and buoys. I notice that my heart rate has gotten up to 83%, but I’m kind of excited by the turnaround so I don’t actually slow down as I should…

Back into this cove, and then up the other side. And then I see the guy ahead turn around. There does not appear to be anywhere to cross off our bib numbers. Good. Less to worry about. (It turns out there was a pen somewhere that we were to use to make a cross on our bib, but I didn’t notice it, and it didn’t matter.) The guy ahead looks tired, I bet I’ll pass him soon. Then I’m at the turnaround. I think I’m number 13. Brian isn’t far behind me.

I don’t care about the other people who are behind me.

I got to the turnaround (which was about 26.6) in under 4 hours, so I’m a bit ahead of the game for an 8 hour race, but doing a rather slow marathon.

Now it’s back to Two Harbors. I do pass the guy ahead. 12th. The Brian catches me and we run together again. We both stop at the aid station, but I get out of it faster than he.

And then I climb back out of the harbors, back the way I came. I’m getting tired now, so I start doing some walking on the uphills. The buffalo has gone (thank goodness). Someone passes me. Drat.

Lots of people are going the other way now. I try to guestimate their finishing times based on how far we are from the turnaround (of course this assumes none of us will slow, a ludicrous idea). I pass Michelle and we greet. I’m guessing she’ll finish in a bit more than 10 hours. Up, and up. The number of runners/walkers going the other way fades to a trickle, and then vaguely around the point where I start estimating 12 hour finishing times (the cutoff) it comes to a stop. (pretty much).

I’m going downhill now, and fairly fast again. Then someone comes zooming past me. This is obviously someone who has held back for the first part of the race and is now going for it. I don’t think I could do that (not the holding back part, but speeding up after running for 5 hours). Anyway, I’m 14th again. But ahead of me I can watch the guy who just passed me overtaking someone else, and I expect I’ll catch him too…

I happen to glance at my watch, mile 31.4 in 4:48. That’s a 50K PR!

A little further and I reach 33.4, in 5 hours. That’s 2/3rds. And is 20 minutes faster than 2/3rds of 8 hours. Hmm. Of course, I know I’ll slow, but I do have some cushion…

Then back down to Little Harbor and its aid station. I zip in to fill up with water, and I grab a slice of orange and a bit of banana too. I think the guy I’m expecting to pass is still in the station as I go out the other side. So 13th.

I climb out of Little Harbor again, across the stream again, but the course takes a different route when I get to the top of the hill. I follow the coast a little longer, and then plunge into the interior.

And now it is getting hot. And unpleasant. The canyon walls have closed in and reflect the heat back at me. And, of course, I’m getting tired.

I go deeper into the backcountry. There’s no one else around. No one to chat with, no one to pass, no one to pass me.

A little before the next aid station I come to the 3/4 mark. And I’m at 5:45. So I’m still on the good side of making 8 hours… but I’m now only 15 minutes ahead. I’m going more slowly than an 8 hour pace now.

And then the next aid station. Just water.

I see someone ahead of me. Walking. Running. Walking. He’s got his hand on his back as if his hip pained him. I ask if he’s OK. Says he’s got stomach issues because of the heat. (not what I would have guessed). “Yeah”, I agree, “the heat is nasty.” Actually I’m having stomach issues too. Each gel pack gets harder to swallow and I feel closer to nausea. But I can still run. So I push on.

Another stream crossing. At this one I have to get one foot wet.

I walk across the stream, and it’s hard to start running again on the far side. My quads are shot. I guess I’m not used to running this fast downhill. Oh I ran down Romero, and that was similar terrain, but there has been a lot more downhill than once down Romero.

It’s hot. I’m coughing too. I’ve had a bad cough for most of the last two weeks. Yesterday it was clearing up, but today I’ve been subjected to occasional coughing fits. Now one doubles me up.

As Shakespeare says “Take comfort, and endure.”

I’m walking again. It’s not really steep, but I’m walking. The guy with stomach issues (I learned later his name was Jimmy-Dean) passes me. He seems in great shape now. I wish I were doing as well. I look at my watch. Then I start watching my watch, I’m close to, now I’m at 43.75. That’s 7/8ths of the course and the time is… 6:59:40. That means I’m still ahead of the 8 hour average pace. By a whole 20 seconds. Or more usefully, it took me 1:14:00 to do the last 1/8th, and I’m not going to speed up on the next 1/8. There’s a really tough hill yet to come. Time to accept that I’m not going to break 8.

Oh well.

The guy ahead stops, turns and asks me: “How far have we gone?”. He could not have asked at a better time. I tell him 43.7, in just under 7 hours and that if he keeps to that pace he’ll break 8. Just. At least he looks like he has a chance, I don’t. He thanks me, and is gone.

I’m doing very little running.

The next aid station is coming up. It’s at the bottom of a really steep hill. I remember this hill from the marathon. I had thought it would be earlier on the route, but that’s because the marathon takes a longer course into town from the top (It finishes the way we started). I really pushed to get up this hill before, and that proved a mistake. I can’t push now.

More water. I linger a little in the aid station, in hopes of miracles, but none comes. So up the hill, at a walk.

At least no one is behind me.

It just keeps going.

Eventually it looks as though I am reaching the top. But I remember this from before. This is a snare and a delusion designed to make me hopeful and then dash those hopes. It goes up again just round the bend. But right here we have some good views. Unfortunately they are too hazy to see in the thumbnail, but if you click on the image the snow covered mountains above LA are visible on the horizon. Roger Meadows got a better image than I.

At least there is a breeze up here, it has cooled down a bit because of that.

A little bit of downhill before it goes up again. I trot down and walk up. Again and again.

It’s time for my last gel pack. I take it out and look at it. My gorge rises. I put it back. I’m going so slowly now, I may not need it. I hope I don’t, because I’m not eating it.

Now real downhill. And here’s the last aid station. My watch says mile 46, so four more to go. I take some gatorade here, there’s no point in filling my camelback now. It’s still got water in it and I don’t need more weight. The first person to talk to me tells me I’ve only got 4 miles to go. Which is what I thought. The next person tells me I’ve got 2~3, and the last person says 5~6. Um hum. It would be nice if they had their story straight. (it turned out to be ~4 as I expected). They tell me it’s all downhill from here. (It ain’t) As I leave someone yells to me that I’m in 12th place. Well that’s nice. I thought I was in 13th. I might have miscounted at the turnaround, or I might have missed someone in an aid station. Kind of neat.

I shamble off.

The road goes up again. Damn, damn, damn. I walk. Footsteps behind. He’s running. He passes me. I trot behind for a little, but can’t keep going. He asks me if I believe what the volunteers said about it being 6 miles to the finish? I tell him they told me every number between 2 and 6. He laughs. I think it’s 4 miles.

And he’s gone. So 13th again.

Round the bend and I can see Avalon. And now it really is all downhill. But oh, I’m going slowly. My watch says 47 miles and 7:48. Nope. Even at my best I can’t run 3 miles in 12 minutes. Even downhill miles. I hope I can manage 10 minute miles.

My legs hurt. I’m not really running, more sort of… I don’t know what.

There is traffic on this road. By normal standards there is very little traffic. But I’m not in a normal frame of mind. There’s too much. 4 cars every 10 minutes is unconscionable. I keep looking at my watch. Neither time nor distance is passing very rapidly.

After about 10 minutes I hit 48 miles. The road would be quite nice, tree-lined with views of the ocean and occasionally Avalon (and the two little odd bits of suburbia that seem to have grown up in the coves adjacent to Avalon). It would be nice if I were in a better frame of mind.

At least I’m sticking to my 10 minute miles. I feel that I’m hobbling along. I might go faster on the flat? Will anyone else pass me?

I round a bend — and I’m in Avalon. It’s 49.3 miles so I’ve got a ways to go yet, but here is the village. I’m not lost.

I hear a bell ringing and cheers, and I know that someone has just finished.

I come down the road, and come to an unmarked intersection (no race markings I mean). Well I’ll go downhill rather than up. And then that road hits the waterfront. Again, no race markings. So I turn toward where I know the finish line is.

Flat. I’m now running through tourists, who don’t care about the race. I manage to go a little faster as I avoid the tourists.

I thought…

I thought the finish line was at the start. But it’s not. Have I gotten lost somehow? Where should I be? I keep running.

And then I hear a shout “Runner coming!” and the bell rings and there they are! Only a block beyond the start. They stretch a tape across for me to run through (a nice touch, I don’t think I’ve ever run through a tape before). And I’m done!

My watch says 4:17:48, but I know it’s short because I turned it off for a little bit by mistake. So probably 4:18:??

I wonder if I’m in 14th place or not. I’m pretty sure I’ll win my age group because last year the winner finished in 8:49, so I’m about half an hour ahead of that.

Jimmy-Dean comes up to congratulate me and to thank me. I gave him just the encouragement he needed, and he finished under 8. :-)!

It’s odd to think that it’s not yet 1:30. Most of the afternoon is still to come, but it feels as though it should be the end of the day to me.

They seem to post results roughly every hour. At the moment only the people who finished under 8 hours are up. I’ll come back in a bit. When I do come back I find my time was 4:18:34. I was in 15th place (so nothing from the volunteers at the last aid station was correct). And I’m second in my age group. The winner was an hour ahead of me. (Wow. Good for him!)

So. 8 hours was a goal to shoot for. I didn’t really expect to break it, but I got my hopes up as the race progressed. I’m glad I tried. And I came close enough that I’m pleased!

(Hmm. I didn’t break 8 hours, but I did break 500 minutes. That’s an even nicer number).

Age-group placers get terra-cota tiles


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