The next afternoon I biked the course to take pictures
Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight,
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n, and strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.
I dreamed last night that the race actually started on top of La Cumbra, and I didn’t have enough time to bike up before the start. Biking up Gibraltar in the morning dark did not appeal, but I had to do it. I was not halfway up when I met Aaron coming down, and then Shiggy.
That brought me awake at 3am, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. Too excited.
I get to the (real, sea-level) start at about 6. It is pitchy black with marine layer cloud cover. Do my warmup jog. I realize I’ve completely forgotten sun-block. It’s hard to believe that it will matter, here in the pitch dark fog, but the marine layer is supposed to reach only to 700 feet, about the level of the Mission, less than a quarter of the race. So I scrabble through the backpack for the sun-block which lives there. Dark glasses? Probably a good idea too.
We start to line up. I say “Hi” to Brian, and Carrie says “Hi” to me. I don’t see Shiggy. Hmm. Then Drea shows up. I’d hoped she would be here.
Jake announces that the course has changed slightly, they found it was a little short (after 12 years? they only noticed it now?), so they’ve added a new out and back section going the other way on Camino Cielo.
Ready? … … … Go!
With my dark glasses on I can’t see who is out in front of me. Perhaps the shades were a mistake. There are four shapes ahead, but in the dimness I can’t even guess who they might be. Under the freeway and up. I’m breathing too hard, but that’s just excitement, calm down. On Haley street I catch up with one of the four shapes and pass it. Now I seem to be leading a little pack of my own, many footsteps right behind me.
At mile 1 I click my watch, but I can’t read it. Dark glasses were definitely a mistake. Someone else says 6:21. First mile is always fast, because it is relatively flat. But I slow a tiny bit and four more shapes get ahead of me (including one woman). 6:47 for the next mile (I can’t read it at the time, but that’s what the watch says later). and 7:21 up to the Mission.
As we climb up from the Mission I pass my friend Kat who is walking the course this year. And then footsteps are behind me, and someone passes me. (ninth place now) And then more footsteps behind me but these don’t pass. They just stay a few feet back. I wonder who it is, but I never turn to look.
I miss mile 4, but when I reach the old reservoir I’m about where I was two years ago. Now the real climb begins. Surprisingly we have not climbed out of the fog yet, instead we have climbed into it, and now it is real fog, much denser than below, I can dimly see the lead woman and the guy who passed me a mile back, but I can’t really tell where we are on Gibraltar. Doesn’t really matter, there’s a long way yet to go.
The footsteps are still behind me. She clears her throat and it sounds like a woman. Drea?
At mile 5 my watch reads 16:04, (or it does now) which sounds about right. It also claims my max heartrate for that stretch was 220. Um. I’ve never seen my HR above 198 before. Is there something wrong with the watch? or wrong with me? I feel tired, but I rather expect to. My quads think I’m giving them a hard time, but that’s not surprising either.
Hmm. The watch claims that my average HR for the entire run was 149. And my max 220. I don’t believe either of those numbers. I would expect an average of ~180 or so and a max of — oh, 190? I think something is wrong with the watch.
It gets foggier.
Two years ago I was looking at the view. This year there is nothing to see.
Drea speaks. It is she. We say a few words.
There’s a slow moving bike here. We pass it. “On the left.” It’s not often a runner gets to pass a cyclist.
8:23 at mile 6. That’s about right. 8:30 at mile 7.
We start to come out of the fog. The sky seems lighter and there’s a bright patch where the sun might be. And then the fog closes in again– and then it’s pretty well gone and the sun is starting to shine. We’re almost at the switchback. And now the sun is shining right into my eyes. Someone calls out to Drea, cheering her on. This seems most unfair to me, I’m here too after all. So I complain, but it makes no difference, the voice in front of the sun keeps cheering for his wife alone.
And then… and then… Drea starts to pull away from me. Drea who two weeks ago injured her calf and could barely run, Drea who last week did the long course triathlon, Drea pulls away. Maybe having a husband cheer you on helps? Oh well, I can’t keep up and have to let her go. 8:53 at mile 8 (ug).
I see Dennis out taking pictures and he cheers me on. I’m in tenth place. Yeah, I know, but for how long?
I miss seeing mile 9. I reach Flores Flat. I can’t help but think it’s a silly name. The steepest section of the course is right here. How dare they call it “flat”? 20:33 to mile 10. Ug. 10 minute miles? that’s really bad. But I don’t have any energy. I keep thinking “the road goes ever on and on” — a kind of mantra to keep me going.
More footsteps behind me. I keep expecting them to pass me, but they don’t. The road keeps twisting, but finally we come to Camino Cielo, and I see the first woman come running out of the out and back section. Hmm, maybe I’m not as far behind as I thought. Jake didn’t say how long the section was, but I’m assuming it can’t be very long. I turn on to it. Then Drea comes flying down it, good for her, she seems to be catching up with the lead. The road twists, and there is no end in sight. How much did they add to the course? And it’s steeply up hill too. It just keeps going and going. Finally I see the cone, turn around it and head down. And I feel like I’m flying as well. It feels amazing to go downhill! I can’t hear the footsteps behind me. And then someone else flies past me.
Back onto the traditional course. It’s still a bit of downhill but not so steep. Around the area the off-roaders like to destroy, and there’s mile 12: 18:29. And I thought I was going fast on the downhill:-) Oh well.
Up. “creeping like snail”, “the road goes ever on and on”, depressing quotes circulate through my head. There are footsteps behind me again. Again they seem to stay behind. I forget about them. On. I try to pick up the pace a bit, (surely it’s almost over), but after 10 seconds my legs can’t take it and I have to slow again. My fingers tingle. My scalp tingles. On. I’m sort of at the peak now, but I have to run all the way round it and come up the other side, and it’s surprising how long that takes. And the footsteps behind me pass me. I can’t race them. On. Here’s the final turn (it says “60” in chalk. What on earth does that mean?) Up. Oh so steep. Tamy cheers me on. Doesn’t help. Head down staring at the ground, I’m exhausted. I can see the line, the clock reads 1:52. I’m too tired to be disappointed.
On. And on. These last 50 feet are terrible. Finally I’m over the line. I head straight for the water and the food (I saw one woman who crossed the line and then collapsed in a little heap on the ground — I knew just how she felt).
After 2 bananas, 2 oranges and lots of water I feel almost human again. I congratulate Drea. Aaron congratulates me. 1:53:13 is the official time, 12th over all, and — good heavens — 1st in my age group. But then Eric Forte didn’t run and Shiggy didn’t run and Ted didn’t run. It sort of feels as though I cheated.
I’m a little disappointed, but I did OK, I guess. And everyone around is so excited and cheerful.
But when I leave the mountain, the high goes quickly. I generally get depressed after a race. All that effort, and no one cares but me — and then if I disappoint myself there isn’t even a “me” to care.
The addition to the course was (according to Jake’s measurements) .4 miles. At a nine minute mile pace (ug) that’s a bit more than three and a half minutes. So to compare that to past years I’d subtract ~3:30 from this year’s time. 1:49:40. Still not what I did two years ago.
What went wrong? I don’t know. Conditions were perfect. Great weather. A running partner who wanted to run with me and actually ran at the pace I wanted to run at. Dunno. Maybe I should have trained on Gibraltar rather than excusively on trails? Maybe I should have eaten more? Maybe I was just off.
Two weeks later. Hmm. Two years ago I had not be training to run fast — but I had been training for two 200 mile bike races. I bet that helped.
And I remind myself: it was OK — there’s always next year.
Montage of three photographs, photos (c) 2008 by Dennis Mihora
Me in foreground, Drea up near the pylons, around mile 8