Archive for June, 2009

A midsummer day’s run

June 20, 2009

Five weeks to White River.

Like many barbarians, the people of Santa Barbara celebrate the summer solstice. There is dancing in the streets, etc.

OBERON: But we are spirits of another sort.

And, like a forester, the groves we tread

Romero trailhead, all set about with sycamore trees

Romero trailhead, all set about with sycamore trees

I, on the other hand, was headed for a trail run. I was hoping for overcast skies, while most Barbarians wanted sun for their celebration. As it turned out, the weather cooperated: Overcast up in the mountains. Sun down below for the parade.

Mike had me out on Romero, going up the trail at a fairly easy pace (HR: 75-78%), then down the road hard, then up the trail again, hard (HR 85-88%), then down the trail easy. I didn’t like having the hard bit in the middle. That worried me. I like to get the hard work done when I’m fresh. Coaches, sadly, like to put the hard work later to see how I do when I’m tired. Makes sense when training for a long run. But just because it makes sense doesn’t mean it will be pleasant.

White sage

White sage

I’m going easily, so out comes the camera.

The white sage is starting to bloom. Hmm. Is it really a sage? I grew up believing that all members of the mint family had square stems, whereas white sage has a round stem. Its flower clusters, also, don’t look like other sage species, in white sage flowers just pop out along a flower spike while the other local sages have several spherical flower clusters spaced along a flower spike. I conclude that “white sage” isn’t really a sage.

Sigh. Wikipedia tells me I’m wrong. White sage is Salvia apiana — a sage. Oh, and not all members of the mint family have square stems.

On a steep hillside like this, I don’t have to think about a 75% heart rate, it just happens.

Banana slug As I run toward a stream crossing, I see a banana slug slowly (sluggishly) moving up the trail. Banana slugs are relatively rare in Santa Barbara (as opposed to Santa Cruz, for example, where I’m told they are common).

The trail and fire road do a little dance. The trail goes (relatively) straight up the mountain, while the road makes great loops — first it goes a long way to the east, then returns, crosses the trail and goes a long way to the west before they meet again at the top.

The trail goes ever up and upAfter the road, the trail has left the canyon with its little stream and heads up into chaparal. It goes through a tunnel of vegitation as it heads up and up.

Up to now I’ve been underneath the overcast, but I begin to move into fog as I climb further. It’s not a static layer, the fog is being blown up the mountain, and then inland.

Fog blown up the mountain side

Fog blown up the mountain side

Blue sky at saddleI reach the saddle, the wind is behind me, blowing the fog up and over the mountain, in front is — blue sky! but off to the left, in the direction I’m headed, there’s a mountain peak completely hidden in fog.

Up here, on the summit ridge line, I run into some friends. They appear to be doing the same thing I am, but in reverse (and probably not twice). They’ve come up the road and are heading down the trail. We stop and chat. They

Some random sage, that's all over the summit, but not anywhere else

Some random sage, that's all over the summit, but not anywhere else

will be doing Western States 100 next week, and are kind enough to complement me on running a 60K last week. Then Amy changes the subject and warns me that there is a large rattler in the middle of the road about halfway down to the trail. Gleep! But, continues Amy, it was in the process of eating a mouse and had no interest in anything else.

I reach the end of the ridge line trail and it’s time to stop dawdling, put away the camera and — watch out for the snake!

I head down. Pushing things. Mike didn’t give me a target, just said “hard”. When my alarm starts beeping (at 80% HR) I turn it off — that should do. The road is very foggy. Foggier than the trail was. It is also covered with sticks that look sort of snake-like when seen through fog. It’s a bit frightening, in fact. Here I am, hurtling down the mountain-side, knowing there’s a snake in front of me, unable to distinguish between an innocuous stick and a venomous snake.

THESEUS: And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination

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

I’m halfway to the trail now, and have seen no snake. I begin to wonder if it has moved off, or if I’ve passed it without noticing. I see two mountain bikers with a dog, they say nothing of a snake as they head up. My hopes of seeing a predation event dim. Two minutes later I meet two runners, and they immediately let me know they’ve just passed a snake. Shortly after that…


snakeSadly, the snake seems to have finished its meal. I just catch it as it moves off out of the road.

Shortly after that I cross the trail again. I still seem to be in fog. It lasts for a long time on the road.

Mountains in mist. Montecito below, Santa Barbara lost in the distant haze.

Mountains in mist. Montecito below, Santa Barbara lost in the distant haze.

I’m charging down the mountain now. Occasionally I see others. At the stream crossing there is actually a traffic jam. A party of two coming up is looking at a party of two going down. There’s a dog involved too. I resolve I’ll simply run through the stream and get wet feet, but the two groups wait for me to zoom past.

Finally, I’m at the bottom. First half is over. I move some GU to a more convenient pocket, and head back up. The group whom I passed at the stream crossing passes me again, and say, in perplexity: “But you’ve already been up?”, I explain I have to do it twice, “That’s ambitious.”, it’s my coach’s fault you see.

PUCK: Up and down, up and down,
I will lead them up and down.
I am feared in field and town.
Goblin lead them up and down.

Not really Mike’s fault, of course, I asked him to make me do this 🙂

This is the part I’m worried about. All the way up again at >85%.

It seems to go well though. I’m tired, which makes it easier to get the heart rate up. And the slope just asks for it. I get to the top faster than I did the first time. Good.

Less fogAnd now the camera can come out again.

Once again there is less fog on the ridge. I can look down on the valley below (away from SB) and see sunny spots…

No friends on the ridge this time. Then I plunge back down the road. Plunge back into the fog. After seeing blue sky at the top, it seems denser than ever.

FogI find the fog fascinating. It’s just streaming up the mountain sides. A still photograph doesn’t do it justice. Would video? I don’t have patience at the moment to stand here and take a video…

I keep hearing “PUCK: Night and shadows”. Well fog and shadows. Actually not much in the way of shadows. Why was Puck talking about shadows at night — unless there were a moon. “BOTTOM: A calendar, a calendar! Look in the almanac. Find out moonshine, find out moonshine. QUINCE: Yes, it doth shine that night.” I guess Shakespeare knew what he was doing.

Three YuccaMost of the time the fog has been blowing up from the ocean, and then down into the Santa Ynez valley. But here, this mountain on the left, seems to have fog blowing up on both sides of it. Perhaps it pokes out of the cloud cover and there’s a significant updraft there which sucks the fog up from all over?

Break in the cloudsA little further on, there’s another break in the clouds, and I can see down into the (partially) sunlit valley below.

Fog is neat

Fog is neat

Final stream crossing

Final stream crossing

The stream at the ford

The stream at the ford

The road at the bottom

The road at the bottom



PUCK: If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended–
That you have but slumb’red here,
While these visions did appear.



June 17, 2009

Last year, for my birthday, Jim Sloan gave me Running through the Wall, a book about ultra-running. Each chapter is a description of an ultra, each written by a different runner.

I had already decided I wanted to do a 50 miler for my 50th birthday, and this book helped me get a feel for it.

One thing that came up frequently was how running (and finishing) an ultra was a transforming experience for the runner and provided him/her with new confidence in his/her own life. The general feeling was “If I can run an ultra, something obviously impossible, then I can do anything.”

More confidence certainly sounds appealing.

I’d like some.

So I finished my first ultra. I even came in second. I’m more confident that I’ll do well in my next ultra, but as for the rest of my life — I don’t see any connection.


Maybe I need to run a 100 miler?

Friends, Runners and Countrymen…

June 16, 2009

‘And that’s the whole poem,’ he said. ‘Do you like it, Piglet?’ ‘All except the countrymen,’ said Piglet. ‘I don’t think they ought to be there.’ ‘They wanted to come in after the friends,’ explained Pooh, ‘so I let them. It is the best way to write poetry, letting things come.’ ‘Oh, I didn’t know,’ said Piglet.

Tigger comes to the forest — A.A. Milne

One year when I was following Hapalemur simus, my focal animal (a sub-adult male — think teenager) got kicked out of his troop by his father. One problem about being critically endangered (IUCN), is that when you are kicked out of your native troop there is probably no other troop to take you in. The poor guy was all alone, and forced to the outskirts of his range. One day his mother and brother snuck away from rest of the troop and found him. I have never seen him so happy. He went and played with his little brother, running and jumping all over.

Some might say I shouldn’t anthropomorphize emotions, and I wouldn’t for an insect, but he was a primate. De Waal points out that our emotions did not evolve ab nihil, they come from similar behavior patterns in our ancestors. He acted happy. It was a situation in which a human would be happy. I know he was happy.

Today I had a tempo run on More Mesa. 3 mile warmup (1 and a half laps around the mesa) 5 mile tempo (5 laps around Mike’s favorite hill), 3 mile cooldown.

As I brested the mesa I saw two kites hovering over the grass. Then I ran passed a blue heron who gave me some thought and then took off. The morning was lovely just then, little puffy clouds with just a hint of color left to them from the sunrise. I passed a woman running beside her dog-sized horse.

As I finished my first lap of the warmup, I saw the track workup. There was Rusty talking to Tony. Then Drea started running and Eric. Leif and Michelle were going to start soon. My group! I haven’t run with them since April. I picked up my pace, and came tearing round the corner, zipping passed Rusty. Michelle is roughly 50 meters ahead and I am intent on catching up. “Slow down!” yells Rusty. Sigh. OK, I won’t catch up. I see other friends heading back to the start line.

I jog back to the start, trying to chat. Rusty comes jogging up and reproves me: “You must have been going mile race pace!” (Not good for someone training to run 50 miles). “I just wanted to run with my group”, I reply. Sigh I guess I shouldn’t. I should go back to my warmup, and do my tempo. But Maggie is at the start, and I can run with her and not go too fast.

My tempo run passed uneventfully (OK, I saw a bunch of bunnies on the first three laps, but they had vanished by the last two).

Have shovel, will ravel

June 14, 2009

After the fire they closed the trails.

JesusitaTrail3-23May09-1600“Why?”, I wondered. The trails couldn’t burn.

If you go out and look, the trails are still very clear — light colored paths meandering amid a dark wasteland dotted with burned tree trunks.

The trails used to be demarkated by vegetation, but no longer. Still the route of the trail is very clear.

So why were the trails closed?

Scofield Park, meeting area

Scofield Park, meeting area

Yesterday they had a trail cleanup day, and about 110 volunteers went out to join the forest service (and the county and the city and various other organizations) to help make the trails usable. And this meant learning why they were not currently usable.

One reason is simple: Just as the proper route of the trails is clearly visible against the soot-dark dirt, so too improper routes that used to be hidden behind brush and with signage now are revealed and stand out against the dark dirt. Over the years our trails have shifted, they can get washed out or land-slid, and then rerouted, so an improper trail can lead to an abrupt cliff.

Many of our trails go through a belt of shale. Shale absorbs water. When water is heated it tends to evaporate and expand. When a rock is full of expanding steam it tends to shatter leading to lots of little bitty stones (called ravel) which tumble down the mountain and catch on the trails. Some of our trails were covered in great drifts of ravel. People don’t like walking in ravel drifts and will walk on the trail’s edge where there is little ravel, but the edge of the trail is fragile, and if enough people walk on it then it wears down and the trail becomes narrower.

So we needed to

  • put up signs to redirect hikers onto the correct routes
  • remove the build-up of ravel and relevel the trails
  • Perform normal train maintenance
    • Trim away any vegetation which was encroaching on the trail (much had burnt up, but not everywhere, or not completely)
    • Open any drainage channels which had filled with silt after the winter’s rains

TopOfWestForkI and my friend Nichol ended up going to the West Fork of Cold Spring Trail. This trail burned from Gibraltar road down to the (dry) stream bed that is one branch of Cold Spring creek.

The top of the trail was in pretty good shape, the mountain doesn’t slope steeply so no ravel accumulated. There is the problem that a lot of trash has been tossed into (what used to be) bushes here, and all that trash is now plainly visible.

DrainageDitch2No ravel to move here, but there were drainage ditches to clear out. These ditches went across the trail at a slight diagonal and directed any run-off down the hillside. (Normally the hillside is covered with vegetation and can absorb runoff better than the trail. Now…) We didn’t have to make new ditches, just take the silt out of the old ones and pile it up on the downslope side of the ditch.

Nichol, stamping on the berm of a ditch

Nichol, stamping on the berm of a ditch

The silt tended to be loose after being moved, while the trail itself was hard packed. The two did not merge well. We needed to stamp hard to compact the silt. Even so we felt much of our work would vanish before it could be useful.

The landscape is quite barren. A week ago, I had been up to the top of this trail and saw YuccaBloomYucca blooming. In spite of having all their leaves burnt, and the main stem cooked, they were still able to produce a flower spike.

At the time, it was an encouraging sight.

Usually there is no rain in June (or July, August, September …), but this year we had a steady slow rain which lasted about 6 hours. That was a week ago. This week we noticed — leaves! RegrowthGreen leaves huddled around the base of the burned out manzaneta stems.

I guess that means the trunks are dead above the ground but the roots are still alive. I had hoped leaves would come out on the old trunks, but that doesn’t seem likely any more. Still, it’s a start.

As we went further down we saw other greenery coming out. The next new growth we noticed was Brackenbracken ferns. This surprised me. I think of ferns as fragile things which require lots of moisture to become established. They have a very complex system of reproduction which requires lots of water (I thought), yet here they were on this barren dry ground.

Further on we found new shoots of grass, and shiny new leaves of poison oak.

I know I should be grateful that there is anything, that the natural plants are reestablishing themselves… but did one of them have to be poison oak?

Now we came upon ravel. We had a switchback completely inundated in these small stones. We tried to clear off the top part of the switchback (by dumping the stones onto the lower part), but more little stones rolled off the mountain making this a Sisyphian task. Mixed in with the ravel was a good deal of soot and ash. We got dirty and stinky. After much labor the top part was relatively clear, and we moved larger rocks and put them under the top edge, to stabilize the bank.

Remember how I said the fire shattered rocks? Well not always. Sometimes it just weakened them. I was picking up a large rock, had it about at hip level, when suddenly it cracked down the middle. I needed two hands for each sub-rock; but I only had two total. Both rocks fell, and I fell around them and slid down the hillside.

Then we cleaned out the bottom part of the switchback.

DownTheTrailAnd moved down the trail to the next spot that needed work.

As we worked down the trail we could see the end of the burn area. We started to see more dead stalks, from small forbs as well as the larger manzanita trunks, and then there were scorched trunks still with cooked (dead) leaves attached, and then finally normal, unburnt plants. But there we stopped.

horizontal rule

50 at 50? Not quite.

June 6, 2009

There’s a beauty in extreme old age–
Do you fancy I am elderly enough?
Am I old enough to run it do you think?
Should I wait until I’m 80 in the shade?
There’s a fascination frantic
In a ruin that’s romantic;
Do you think I am sufficiently decayed?

The Mikado — W. S. Gilbert

Well I’m 6 days short of 50, so 49.94. And despite being advertised as a 50K the course is actually 56K (and due do confusions, I actually ran 63K). So it isn’t really 50 at 50. Not quite. Not yet.

It’s still my first ultra. Mike said I should do it as a training run to see what running an ultra was like before I tried racing one in July… I was to keep my HR below 80% of maximum. I was to eat 200Calories/hour (a GU every half hour). I was to drink at least a pint of water an hour. I was to pop some electrolite pills (salt tablets) every now and then.

I got myself an enormous camelback which could hold 6 pints. I had lots of GUs. I had a few pills. I didn’t plan on stopping at any aid stations, except maybe about halfway through to refill my camelback.

At packet pickup the night before, Ken told me I needed gaiters. Then Ken gave me a pair of gaiters. I was expecting great heavy hot things, but these were little bits of brightly colored cloth that clipped on to my shoes (around the laces) and kept out fox tails and rocks. They worked quite well, but they weren’t so brightly colored when I finished.

A 50K. Hmm. I thought when I first signed up. Probably take me around 6 hours? Then I really looked at this one. It’s not really 50K, it’s 34.9 miles, and it’s got ~10,000ft of elevation gain. OK, we’re into 9 trails territory here. Seven, maybe eight hours. I’ll bring enough GU for 9 hours. Just in case.

It rained in Santa B the day before the race. It never rains in June, but we had about 6 hours of solid rain. At first I was happy — overcast weather for the race — but then someone pointed out the likelyhood of mud on the trails. Oh dear.

Misty, moisty morning

Misty, moisty morning

As it happened it didn’t rain much in the valley. And there was no mud. But it was overcast. Joy!

So I’m heading over the pass around 6am and then down the other side and off Paradise Rd. Get there about 6:30. Patty is already in the parking lot. The car in front contains Carrie Dent, and the car behind is Mark. Mark hasn’t brought tecnu. Nor has Carrie. I put some on me and then give them both some. I very carefully put sunscreen on my face and neck — and somehow forget that I’ve got arms and legs too. I felt very silly when I realized that about 30 minutes into the race.

There is only one bathroom. Things move rather slowly there. I get to the race start and hear that we’ll be starting in 3 minutes. Gleep! where did the time go? I had intended to have a GU before the start. Tough. My HR monitor is reading 00. Damn. Turn it off and on. Still 00. Fiddle with the strap: 62. That’s reasonable. We line up.

There are about 50 runners for the 50K here and 12 for the 50M. Not a huge crowd, but respectable.

Just follow the Glo-Sticks we are told. Well, Glo-Sticks were needed for the 5am start of the 100k, but for us 50Kers, they are a) dead b) invisible. Doesn’t really matter — we’re all lost. Someone sees the first, and we’re off. I’m about 4th place. Not that that matters much at this point in the game.

My camelback is leaking. It has wet my pants, just as with all the women bloggers. I pull off to the side and see that it has popped open. Sigh. I close it up and join the throng (I’m not 3rd any more). My camelback is leaking. Again, still. I pull off and fix it again. This time I do fix it.

Low overcast in the valley of the Santa Ynez river

Low overcast in the valley of the Santa Ynez river

I’m behind Ken and Mark now. They are chatting about Mark’s idea of a “5 trails” race now that we don’t have 9 trails left. Mark thinks we can get a 50K by running up Cold Spring, across on Camino Cielo, down San Ysidro, over to Ramero, up Ramero, down San Ysidro, across to Cold Spring and finish. Even more elevation than 9 trails, I suspect. Sounds tough.

And I realize how different this race is than any I’ve been in before. People are chatting. Oh, in a marathon I’ve had brief conversations, and in a 10miler I’ve gasped out a few sentences, but we’re all running very easily, we’ve got a long way to go, lots of hills, and we know we can’t run fast or hard now. So we’ve lots of breath. Which means we talk. It feels — friendly.

Ken lets me pass him (it’s single track) and then Mark does too; it really is friendly. I was perfectly happy to run with them, I’m in no rush at the moment, but I’m also perfectly happy to go a bit faster.

The guy ahead. Probably Yermal

The guy ahead. Probably Guillermo

I start gaining on the guys in front. Very slowly I’m passing people. It’s an odd feeling. I don’t want to run too fast. I have my HR monitor set up to beep if I go above 80%. I see people ahead, I know I could catch them easily, but only if I pushed myself harder than I should, this early.

Still, I do gain. And pass.

But it still feels very odd. We’re racing, for goodness sake, but we’re racing so slowly it feels ridiculous.

There are no mile markers. Weird.

There’s one guy (in sight) ahead of me when we reach the first aid station (about 3 miles). The road goes straight, but a trail takes off to our left. I don’t notice it. The route we are to take is marked with blue ribbons, and side-trails we aren’t to use are marked in red. Presumably the trail had a blue ribbon. I wasn’t looking. The guy ahead sees a red ribbon on the road. I don’t. Suddenly it occurs to me: I’m color blind, and a red ribbon tied to a green shrub isn’t going to be very noticeable to me. Thank goodness the main route is marked in blue. That I can see. And I try to be more alert to ribbons.

We’re on single track, overgrown, narrow singletrack. The grass reaches up to my waist, my chest. The trail is just grass beaten down. There’s a blue flag ahead to aim for. I might go faster swimming. Oh, here’s some poison oak. It, also, is up to my chest and reaches out to my arms. I had put tecnu on my legs, I didn’t expect to need it on my arms (or face), didn’t expect the oak to be this tall. Live and learn.

Taking pictures becomes problematic now. I’m not going to stop running. Light is dim. There’s a lot of camera jitter. I can’t look where I’m going, and I stumble several times, and fall once.

Runners behind

Runners behind

Still, it’s kind of amazing that I can take pictures at all. I would not attempt that on a road race.

I discover a new problem, one that had never occurred to me. The trail is somewhat overgrown. It’s quite visible (mostly), but there are shrubs that encroach at shoulder height. And these shrubs have tough branches which leave little micro cuts on my upper arms. No one cut is noticeable, but there is a cumulative effect. Other people, I see, have upper arm guards. They looked odd at first, but now I know why.

I’m in a clump of 3. We switch places from time to time. Guillermo, Dave and I. I’m  being kind of stupid. I’m trying to get ahead. I haven’t realized that it doesn’t matter yet.

I do pull ahead. Every now and then my monitor beeps at me (and keeps beeping until my HR drops below 80%) and I am anxious lest someone will overtake me. No one even tries.

On a long slow uphill Guillermo catches up with me. This worries me. I don’t want to be passed, but I don’t want to hold him up either. I ask if he wants to pass me, and he says “Not yet”, that he’ll wait to mile 30. (We’re now about mile 7? I’d guess). So we continue to hike up the hill together. Then run down. Then up.

After about an hour and a half I glance at my watch, which has mysteriously started showing Calories. I claims I have burnt about 900. And I’ve eaten 300. I guess I can’t run forever.

Sun comes out on Gibraltar dam

Sun comes out on Gibraltar dam

The sun starts to come out. Oh well, we had almost 2 hours of overcast. Guillermo points out Gibraltar dam, it is behind us and we are running away from it. Which is odd because we’ve got an aid station to get to near the dam.

Up some more. And we pop out onto the Angustora Road which leads from Camino Ciello to the dam. Dirt road now, with some remnants of pavement from decades ago. Guillermo pulls ahead of me here.

Another aid station is just around the corner. We’ve gone 9.6 miles in 1:51 minutes. Wow, we’re really zipping along. Guillermo stops at the aid station, and I do not. Downhill again, and a good running surface. I pick up the pace (I’m still trying to win, you see, and I’m not even a third of the way yet). I manage to get quite some distance down the road before Guillermo leaves.

Sun on the valley

Sun on the valley

The sun is really coming out now, and it is easier to take pictures from the road.



Odd rock formations

Odd rock formations

The guy ahead

The guy ahead

Then I began to see glimpses of the guy in front of me. I think there are 2 in front. I learned later that both were doing the 50 miler, but right now I am anxious to catch either. Wouldn’t it be neat to win this thing?

I’m slowly catching up to him — when my monitor starts beeping at me, and I have to slow down. He runs off.

Purple sage

Purple sage

There have been a fair number of wildflowers on this run. Yucca are quite obvious, of course. Purple sage is in full bloom (black sage is over, I can see the seed cases). White sage is just starting to come out. There’s lots of yellow yarrow, so common it is dull. Various flowers whose name I don’t know, of course. A few bush poppies still popping out. Clematis is well over, but their seed whirlagigs are still around. It’s hard to take flower shots when I’m unwilling to stop running. But I’m walking now and here’s a luxuriant stand of purple sage. I risk it.

14TheValley-1600 Hey! I’m catching up to the guy again!
15GibDam-1600Gibraltar Dam again, and now we’re heading toward it.

I do manage to catch the guy in front. He points out that we’ll have to run up this lovely downhill. I had worried about that myself. In the full sun. With no shade. Oh, yeah. Hadn’t thought of that. Then I pull ahead of him.

The next aid station is the 50K turn around. I don’t know that. Neither, it turns out, do they. I don’t bother to stop because I don’t need to, and run through. Another 200 yards and there’s an intersection. I can’t see a flag on either branch. One has a locked gate, and one is just the continuation of the road I’m on. No brainer, I take the obvious route. After two minutes or so downhill, some guy comes out of a house down near the dam and yells at me to go back and take the other route. Actually I can’t hear him very well, but I think that’s what he says. So back I go. Up hill. The guy I’ve just passed has followed me. He is grumbling that the aid station we just passed is the turn around. I’m convinced it’s the next one (how I got that idea, I can’t imagine), more oddly the volunteers at the aid station also think it is the next one. Dave has also followed me down. Finally Guillermo yells at us that he’s found the flag at the last intersection pointing to the other road. Sigh. So I’ve lost ~4 minutes and gone from being first in our group of 4 to being second. Then third. Dave and I run together for a bit. Dave turns out to be a friend of a friend (Kary). Then Dave passes me too. Fourth. Sigh.


Gibraltar reservoir

Gibraltar reservoir

It’s a pretty stretch of road, beside the reservoir. Lots of ups and downs. Dave and I switch places a couple of times. He goes up hills faster (I’m still not letting my heart rate get above 80%) but I come down them faster. This is weird. I think of myself as being a fast climber but slow on the downhills. Maybe I’m really becoming an ultra-runner.

I realize I haven’t seen anyone come back. Maybe my little clump is in the lead for the 50K.

Old mine building

Old mine building

We come to the old mercury mine, and the aid station is just around the corner. Guillermo and the guy I don’t know are there still. I fill up the camelback. The guy I don’t know says his GPS watch shows 17+ miles, and that’s too far for the 50K turn; he figures that as he’s started on the 50miler, he might as well run that now rather than the 50K. I take off. My camelback is leaking. I pause and fix it. And do fix it, but again I have wet shorts. Guillermo quickly catches me, and passes.

We start seeing  runners going the other way. One guy confirms to me that the turn-around is at the mine. I pass about 10 or 12 of them. After a bit a truck comes down the road, he’s got the drop bags for the 50K turn-around and is taking them to the mine. OK, I guess he was just late, and that’s where we were supposed to go.

Luckily I don’t have a drop bag.



Hmm. Some clouds are starting to pile up in the sky. Looks quite pretty from here.

I’m back at the aid station which really is the 50K turn around but which is terminally confused. I want to make sure they have my name because there was no one to take it at the place I did turn (thus they can check that I did get to the turn-around, and did do the whole course this way), they, on the other hand, want to offer me food and drink, which I don’t want. Takes a while to make sure they’ve got my name.

I take off, just behind Guillermo, but once again he is going faster than I. Then I begin to see that Dave is catching up with me. I know at this point that we are the top three 50K runners. That’s kind of exciting. This is my first 50K and I’m in second place! Dave’s first too, and he’s in third. Only Dave is catching me. I’m still trying to keep my HR below 80%. Then slowly I start to pull away from Dave. Equally slowly I start to gain on Guillermo.

The only shady section on the road. Even puddles here.

The only shady section on the road. Even puddles here.

I decide to let myself run up to 83%. I’ve passed the halfway point now (I think) and can expend a bit more energy. I can’t reset the point at which the alarm goes off, so I just live through the beeps. There aren’t as many as I expected. And slowly, slowly I gain on Guillermo.

I turn off my watch’s beeps so I won’t bother Guilermo, I figure I can risk going 85% now…

I catch Guillermo.

I don’t pass Guillermo, he picks up the pace.

We run together. We walk together. We chat again. Guillermo, it turns out, is quite an ultra-runner. He’s done 15 100mile races. He’s won Angeles Crest, he’s run it in under 19 hours (don’t know if that were the race he won). Here am I, with my measly 4 marathons, none of which I’ve won, and here’s Guillermo with 15 century runs. I’m a bit intimidated. He asks me about Mike Swan and Peter Park and Stu Sherman. Knows them all. Well, I do too, but I live in SB and he doesn’t.

Finally we get to the aid station at the top of the road. I don’t stop. Guillermo does. Ah ha! I think, I can get ahead of you again.


He catches right up, and then zips ahead of me when we hit the single track. I let him go, and then slowly catch up with him again. That surprises me. (Looking back, I think Guillermo was just running hard enough to insure he won. He’d keep up with the second place guy for company, and then at the end would sprint out ahead. It certainly was more pleasant for me, having him run with me.) So he let me catch up. Then he let me get ahead. He stopped in fact. Ah ha! I think again, I’ve got you now.


He catches right up. So we continue chatting. It’s getting harder to run up the hills, but Guillermo is quite content to walk when I do. I ask if he wants to pass. “Have we reached mile 30 yet?” Not by a long shot.

We’ve been running for 5:30. That makes this the longest run (in terms of time) I’ve ever done.

Finally we come out to the first aid station again. Maybe I’m learning the right attitude finally, maybe I’m just exhausted, but I wait for Guillermo here. We now leave the route we used on the way out, and go up the road I tried to follow at the beginning. It is now marked with blue flags, but there is no one to direct people in that direction. How many runners will turn the wrong way because they just assume the course is out and back?

More to the point, most to the point from my perspective, will Dave go the wrong way and steal first place from us?

Clouded up again

Clouded up again

Uphill. Very steep. We walk almost the whole way up. Together. Guillermo occasionally runs now. I can keep up with him, but it is hard. I never start running myself.

Clouds have now covered the sky. It’s actually chilly. I had not anticipated that. I was expecting heat. And we are walking. Hiking hard, but it’s not as warming as running.

Fog blowing across Camino Ciello

Fog blowing across Camino Ciello

We turn a corner and there is the ridge line and (presumably) Camino Cielo. I can see fog blowing over the ridge. There’s a stiff wind which is blowing us back and is actually cold!

We press on. The final aid station. I am sick and tired of GU. I take a banana. After we leave the station I realize I’ll be stuck with a banana skin all the way to the finish. Oh well.

Guillermo asks how far to go. We are now 3.3 miles to the finish. 6 hours, 21 minutes of running. Can we finish before 7 hours? Normally the thought of taking 39 minutes to finish a 5K would be ludicrous. I can do a 10K in that time. Not even pushing hard. And this is a downhill run (mostly); obviously we’ll finish before 7 hours. No doubt in my mind.

Unh hunh.

34miles minus 3 miles means we’ve passed 30 miles. Guillermo leaves me. I try to keep up, but I don’t expect to succeed, and I don’t. Still I’m going down at quite a clip.

Suddenly there’s a horse in front of me. Actually there are about 10 of them. Guillermo is hugging a tree off to one side of the trail, and I realize I must hug a tree on the other to get out of their way. They start to move. Very slowly. I ask if they can hurry, but this just annoys the leader. Share the trail she snaps at me. She, of course, is not sharing, she’s taking all of it. Still, I reflect, trail etiquette gives horses the right of way. I’m not sure what trail etiquette says when the hikers are racing, but it doesn’t matter. They plod on by. Guillermo gets to move before I do, and is out of sight before I can start.

Now, in addition to poison oak, I have to dodge horse dung.

How far behind me is Dave? Will he be slowed by horses? Will he catch me? I’m not going as fast as I would like…

I look at my watch 6:48. Oh no. Maybe I won’t make it in under 7 hours after all. I have no idea how far I’ve gone. No idea how far I have to go. The trail continues to wind among the trees. It’s a beautiful trail, but I’m not in a position to appreciate that just now. I pick up my pace. It’s really hard to do that now, but I do get my heart rate up to 90% and then I feel that was stupid; I’m light-headed and exhausted, but I have to keep trying. The trail has opened up, I see a building, and another. I must be getting close, I try to go faster. I brest a hill and… the trail keeps going winding in and out. Damn it! How much further? Damn again! I’m running in deep sand now, each footstep slides and slithers under me, and it’s up hill again. Brest another hill, and down, whew. I recognize this, I ran here this morning. There’s a glow stick. There’s a person cheering me. Round another corner, and now I can see the final turn. A long downhill, and then it’s only 50 feet to the finish. And now I can see the clock 6:50. I’m going to break 7 hours! I’m so happy. I put my thumbs up in the air to cheer, and people are at the finish line and they are cheering me… and I’m done!

And I’m second! 6:53:15. Longest run I’ve ever done.

Why did I care about 7 hours? We’ve run an arbitrary distance on a new course. But some how this round number seems important to me. More importantly I ran with an average HR of 78%. Now that’s something to be proud of!

Then I learn where the turn-around really was, and that we really should have turned back earlier. Who cares? It was a great race and no one got ahead of me who shouldn’t have, so it didn’t matter. Later I figure the extra bit to the next aid station added 4.6 miles, so I ran 39.5 miles (assuming their measurements of the distance to the aid stations are correct). Wow. 39.5 miles. That’s 63.5K. A tad more than a conventional 50K race.

A bit later Mark Warren comes in. He also added the 4.6 miles, but he didn’t do the final climb so he shaved off about 3 miles (and a long steep climb). Then Dave came in, he did what Guillermo and I did. Then the first woman finisher, only she didn’t do the 4.6 miles. Arg! This race is going to be a mess to score:-) Everybody ran a different distance. I’m glad I just ran it. That was fun. I’ll leave figuring out the scoring to others. Beautiful course, perfect weather, and a great first ultra. Who cares about the distance? It was an ultra. The longer my training run, the better for my 50 miler!

Did I mention I’m happy and pleased?

I’m happy and pleased.

Round and Round

June 2, 2009

Marsa God take ‘e ease in de gardin in de cool ob de eben. An’ wid his leedle gol’ scythe ‘e trim a leedle here, and ‘e snip a leedle there. Bum by ‘e come to ‘e own particular apple tree. An ‘e cound dem apples, but ‘e come up one shy. So ‘e cound dem again, but ‘e still one shy.

“Adam, Adam, where you is?”

But Adam ‘e don’ say nuddin, ‘e jus scrunch down under de ol’ fig bush.

“Where is da boy?” Den Marsa God see de apple coa. “Miss Eeb, Miss Eeb, where you is?”

But Miss Eeb, she don’ say nuddin,  she jus scrunch down under de bush.

Den Marsa God, ‘e start to look. Under dis tree, an’ in dat bush, and he come to dah fig bush.

An’ Adam, ‘e run, an’ Miss Eeb, she run, an’ Marsa God ‘e right behin’ ’em.

Roun, an’ roun de gardin. Roun’ an’ roun’ de gardin.

When dey come to de low place in de wall Adam say: “Miss Eeb, if you ever is jump, you bes jump now.” So Adam, ‘e jump, an’ Miss Eeb, she jump, an’ Marsa God ‘e right behin ’em, an’ ‘e teck ‘e leedle gol scythe an ‘e cut off all two bot dem tails ‘t’once.

An das how we is.

The expulsion from paradise
How come fuh man a’ lose ‘e tail
Traditional Gullah folktale
From the Charleston low country

Mike told me to run 3 times around the Wilcox as a warm up, then 4 times at 85%-90% heartrate, and then 3 times easy as a cool down. Each lap is a little under a mile.

Round and round the park.

Now the Wilcox (excuse me, the Douglas Family Preserve) is a nice place to run, but after 11 laps it’s almost as much fun as a track.

I start on my warmup. About halfway through the first lap my HR is at 82%. This is a warmup. I know I’m not pushing that hard. Why do I have such trouble with my monitor. Another lap and now it claims my HR is 97%. Uh, huh. Sure. I take the monitor strap off my chest with and try to fiddle with it, but the attempt to replace it, while running, with my shirt on, turns out to be impossible; I must remove my shirt. So now I need two hands to snap the monitor back on and one hand to hold the shirt. Eventually I get it settled. The monitor now reads 00.

Great. I’m dead.

After a few minutes of this the watch turns itself off. Sigh. I turn it back on, and suddenly it is working. 137 (69%), that I can believe.

Then the workout starts. I’m worried about getting my HR up on this relatively flat course, and I’m sleepy tired this morning; was up far too late last night. I push quite hard. Halfway through the first lap my HR is 80%, well, that’s OK, but Mike wants 85%. Sigh. I push harder. At the end of the first lap HR of 84%, that’s pretty good then, but still not quite there.

Then I notice the time: 5:41. Um what? Oh, yeah. It’s not a mile. What is it? I vaguely remember someone said .95 (or was it .93?) Let’s take .93, so that’s roughly 15/16 of a mile. So divide by 15, Um 22.5 or so. So a mile pace of 6:04? In a tempo run? Where I’m still not pushing hard enough?

Next “mile” in 5:32 at 89%. That’s better. But now I’m under 6 minutes. This is not tempo pace. Unless the loop is a lot shorter than I think.

Next “mile” in 5:26 at 91%. And I realize I can’t keep this up. I should not have looked at my watch. I know I’m going too fast.

Last “mile” 6:02 at 88%. I needed someone running after me with a golden knife to cut off my tail. I couldn’t keep it up by myself.

And now I can plod out 3 more laps. These don’t seem interesting after all the excitement of the tempo portion. Round and round.