It’s too darn hot!

The forecast was for 92°F in Santa Ynez.

The 50K started at 7am, so I’d probably finish between 1pm and 2pm.

It would be hot.

I considered not doing the race, but not very seriously.


Just before sunrise at
Rancho Oso.

But at 6:30am it wasn’t bad. Karen, and Brian and Michael all drove in together and we waited for the start.

It was basically the same course as last year, an out and back run toward Gibraltar reservoir with one additional excursion up Arroyo Burro. Last year the excursion happened at the end of the race, this year at the start.

Last year I had come in second. I didn’t really expect to do that again, but… well… I hoped. Actually, since the first place finisher from last year wasn’t around, I wondered…

I didn’t think I was in as good shape as last year. But… well… I hoped.

We started. Up a dirt road and then onto a trail.

Wildflowers! lots of them. I don’t remember such a display last year. Fourspot clarkias, and punchbowl godetia.

There’s also a lot of purple sage. Now purple sage is almost non-existent on the front country trails, but here purple seems to have replaced the black sage.

(only one of the flower pictures here was actually taken on the course, and it is out of focus. It’s hard to take closeups of flowers when running past them. The others were all taken in more relaxed conditions and other places).

I’ve been running behind the top three runners, but I quickly realize that they are too fast for me to run with so I slow down a bit.

I’m planning to run this much the way I did it last year, trying to keep my HR at 80% (and slowing, or walking if it goes above). I have the HR monitor set to beep at me if I exceed that threshold. I’ve also got a large camelback holding 3 quarts of water and my intent is to run through aid stations until I need to refill. Last year I didn’t refill until halfway through the race. Finally I plan to eat a GU every half hour.

And now we start seeing fairy lanterns. A beautiful flower in the lily family. Another flower I haven’t seen in the front country. Just beyond are some butterfly Mariposa lilies (I know the name is redundant, I didn’t make it up).

I’m not doing as well this year as last. My monitor is already beeping at me to slow down. Sigh. Last year I ran for several miles and didn’t have to slow until I got halfway up a real hill. A man comes up behind me and I let him pass. Then a woman does, and I let her pass. (as she goes by she comments on my gators which have little puppy dog paw prints on them. Not what I actually ordered, but they fit so I’m using them. Glad someone likes them).

I think I see an owl clover out of the corner of my eye. These like to live in grassy meadows so I’m a little surprised to see it under trees. I decide I have mis-identified it. But on the return, when I’m going more slowly, I can verify that it is indeed an owl clover (or at least in that genus — even then there’s no time for a good look).

Hmm. Here is a pink honeysuckle vine which I’ve only (before) seen blooming on the west fork of Cold Spring trail. It took me forever to figure it out.

And now I see a yellow lupine. I’ve never seen a yellow lupine in SB before (I saw them in Humboldt county, but those were 6 foot tall woody shrubs, while this is just a small forb). I’m all excited about it, but of course I can’t stop. I decide that after the race is over I’ll come back up the trail and take its picture (it’s only a mile from the start). When I get home I identify it as a butter lupine (that proved wrong once I got a better picture. Actually a “Chick lupine”).

Another woman comes up behind, and I let her pass. Now there are 6 people ahead of me. So much for being in second place.

Of course some of them are probably doing the 50mile run? I can hope anyway.

Now we leave the area around Rancho Oso and head up toward Camino Ciello on a little trail that bumps into Arroyo Burro Rd. just before the top. There are actually some stream crossings on this trail, nothing significantly wet, but I don’t remember any water last year. And down near one stream crossing are some elegant clarkia.

There are a few fiesta flowers still blooming, but these are almost over now. And the woodmint seems to bloom forever. Oh, and here are a few blackberry blooms, haven’t seen any of them in the front country for more than a month. Purple larkspurs are really lovely and there are a some of them here too. Chinese houses are another bloom that seems to like woods and the dampness around streams.

Even though I’m running under trees, in the early morning, I’m already sweating. I can feel it running off my face. Worrisome. Each time I turn a switch back I can hear people behind me, I wish I were further ahead of them. I wish I were closer to the people who have passed me…

And, of course, there are the Phacelias. These were more visible two months ago, but they are still going. In fact the imbricate phacelia has just started blooming. But the tansy phacelia is almost over.

As we climb we move slowly into a drier climate. Canyon sunflower are quite visible with their yellow blooms. And a little higher are a few Indian pinks. They started blooming back in March and are almost over now. The Indian paintbrushes pop up here and there, an interesting genus where the plants are root parasites (they extract nutrients from someone else’s roots). Some verbena (I thought these were a sage when I first ran across them, but they are actually in a different family).

As we go even higher we come out of the woods and into the true chaparral. The chamise, a large shrub, is now in full bloom. Underneath them are the ubiquitous yellow yarrow.

Now we are coming up to Arroyo Burro road, and I can see a runner going down it, probably the guy who passed me. A little further and I reach the road myself, head down, and then someone (probably Michael?) shows “Go George!”. 🙂 Thank you! And I glance sideways and see a long line of people struggling up the trail.

The road is much wider than the trail, more open, which means we see different wildflowers. At the moment it is about half in shade, and half out (as the road switchbacks in and out of the early morning sun.


There is still a lot of chamise, and purple sage. The clumps of yellow yarrow are intermixed with blue dicks and popcorn flower. But not all the yellow here is from yarrow, we also see deerweed and a cute little aster I can’t identify.

The road runs roughly parallel to the trail we’ve been on, and goes back to very close to the place we started from. This means downhill on a good surface. I increase my speed, maybe I can catch some of the people who passed me. Almost immediately my HR monitor starts beeping at me. I decide I don’t care. My HR is at 81% and I need to get speed now. It’s sort of a trade off against the heat. If I go too fast then I tire later, but if I don’t go fast enough then the sun will catch me and I’ll slow down anyway. Luckily, the monitor calms down after a bit.

There’s still a bit of pearly everlasting on the sides of the road. It’s a opalescent aster which can be dried (hence “everlasting”). Sigh. Here’s a patch of bindweed; there’s just no escaping it, a European invader which is all over the front country. But there are a lot more bush poppies — a member of the poppy family which is a woody shrub rather than the herbaceous plants we are used to. And one greatflowered phacelia. These are all over the front country where the fires burned, but they’ll grow in the disturbed earth here on the side of a road as well.

I start to see the back of the number two woman, who passed me going up. This is encouraging. I’m gaining on her (albeit slowly).

Then, round the bend, I see my first chaparral yucca; these spectacular plants only began blooming a week or two ago and are not in full display yet. As a contrast in almost every way, the foothill dudleyas are short, reddish and have been blooming for months. Moreover, they never seem to open more than a few blooms out of a cluster at a time, so their umbrels aren’t very impressive. Another May bloomer, the withered snapdragons, also have a rather self-effacing bloom which never seems to open fully.

And now I’ve caught up with the number two woman and we run together for a bit. I learn that her name is Shannon and she’s from Orange County. I ask her if she’s interested in wild flowers, whereupon she points out bush monkeyflower to me, and mentions some other flowers we have passed. But she tells me that woolly bluecurls is a sage (both are in the mint family, but it isn’t a true sage). So, in return, I point out the prickly phlox, a plant that’s in the same family as the phlox, but isn’t a true phlox.

However, at this point, I am moving faster than Shannon, and I pass her. Doubtless we’ll intersect later. After a bit I hear a shout behind me, and I wonder… have I missed the turn-off? and is someone shouting to me to come back up? I try to remember the course from last year (in reverse), and I’m pretty sure the turn-off doesn’t look like this, and is much further down. Still, it worries me.

There are footprints in the road in front of me, so that’s consoling.

I continue downwards, hoping that I’m right. There are lots of yerba santa on this stretch. I tumble down the hill, and there is the first aid station and the turn-off. The aid station is about 50ft below the turn-off, and even though I don’t need any aid I have to run down, to check in, and then run back up. I see Shannon on the way up, and she also doesn’t want any aid.


Shannonbehind me
(if you click on the image to
make it bigger others are
visible further back)

Now we are on a little side trail which winds along the edge of the valley (up and down hill as it cuts across water channels), but which eventually, shakes itself and starts back up the mountains again heading for Gibraltar Rd (the back side of it) and Camino Ciello.

The wildflowers here are similar to what I’ve seen before, butterfly mariposas, fourspot clarkias, a few punchbowl godetia. Some of those butter lupine I got so excited about earlier, and a few arroyo lupine — which rather surprises me, I’d thought they had finished blooming (they have in the front country). As we crest a little ridge I see a strange member of the mint family, pitcher sage, which I’ve only seen once before.

After a bit Shannon and somebody else pass me again, and again we have a bit of chat before she moves out of sight. Then, when I’m walking uphill and see a butter lupine I pause to take its picture and Brian catches up with me. I offer to let him pass me, but he is content to go at my pace for a bit. Then we both catch up with Shannon and she lets us pass, and then she once again passes us.

There are some little blue flowers at my feet, I can’t figure out what they are at first but then I decide that they must be small blue-eyed grasses (which are not grasses, but members of the iris family). The locoweeds have pretty well finished blooming, but they are now producing little rattling seedpods which whisper as I run through them.

As we start to climb again we leave the grassy, valley floor and climb up into chaparral again. This gives us a little shade, at least at times. I’m walking up this slope. Last year I ran up the slope (with occasional walk breaks), this year I’m walking, and even walking my HR monitor is beeping at me that I’m going too fast. I don’t feel that tired, I think it must be the heat starting to affect me.

I try to interest Brian in the wildflowers, and point out the chaparral pea to him, and then the common monkeyflower. But that isn’t what he wants to talk about. I don’t even engage his attention when I point out that the common monkeyflower is less common than the bush monkeyflower:-)

Ah well. There’s a little bit of chia still blooming here, a small sage which seems to consist almost entirely of bloom. There’s also a small (indigenous) member of the parsley family here, southern tauscia.

Earlier in the day my face had sweat rolling off it. Now there just seems to be a crust of salt. Should I be worried?

There are also thistles. Most of the thistles that afflict our trails are European imports, and these are no exception, the yellow star thistle, with a rather pretty little yellow bloom. I’ve only found one native thistle, the venus thistle, and it isn’t quite blooming yet.

The white sage has started putting up flowerspikes, and at the bottom of the hill there were no blooms, but further up there are flowers on the spikes.

I’m getting a little concerned because my 3 quart water supply is almost empty. Last year it lasted far longer than this. Oh, even if I run out, I’ll be fine because I’m almost to the next aid station, but I didn’t expect to need that station. It’s the heat. I also worry about Brian who only has two water bottles.

There’s a little bit of purple nightshade off on the left. Most of the nightshades have stopped blooming and turned to producing little tomato-like fruit, but a few are still flowering. And every now and then we run over the fruit of the California manroot, a spiny gourd thing that something seems to like and to tear open and leave scattered on the trail.

In the final stages of the climb up Gibraltar there are some holly-leaved cherries still in bloom. These are botanically real cherries, but they have such huge seeds compared to the cherry that the amount of edible flesh within is tiny. They don’t have much flavor either, as I recall.

Finally we get to Gibraltar Rd, and the aid station. I fill up my water, and now there’s a long downhill stretch. Once again I’m going to try to push the pace here, hoping to catch up with Shannon again (I did notice that the guy who was ahead of Shannon was still hanging out at the aid station when I left it, so once again there are 6 people ahead of me).

The vegetation on Gibraltar is similar to that on Arroyo Burro Rd., but it’s a bit lusher in places. This year there are several places where streams cross the road, and often at each stream (or damp spot) there’s a small thicket of trees (mostly bay laurel) which shade the road. The shade is welcome, it is hot.

There are some cardinal larkspurs just opening their buds off on the left side of the road.

I do not see Shannon ahead of me. I do see two guys running strongly back up the hill, judging by how far we have yet to go, I’m guessing they are about 45 minutes ahead of me. Twenty minutes later, or so, I see the lead woman going up hill. And then I get to the aid station, which is the 50K turn-around. Shannon is there, but she leaves as I arrive and that proves the last I will see of her. I fill up my water and then head out after her, but she’s already out of sight.

I’m running strongly for a bit, and I see Brian coming down, perhaps ¼mile after the aid station, but I can’t keep running strongly. My HR monitor starts beeping at me to slow down. So I walk and run, but it turns into more walking, and then a lot more walking. I wasn’t doing this badly last year, in fact, this was where I caught up with Guillermo. But today, this is where Bill catches up with me. He is able to run more than I, and he fades off into the distance ahead. So that means there are now 5 people ahead of me… hmm, I suppose two of the six I thought were ahead have gone on the 50 mile route.

I find my new glasses are too tight. So I take them off and hold them in my hand for a while to let my temples rest.

I realize that I haven’t taken any salt tablets. And I know I’ve got dried salt from sweat all over me. I take one now, and some more water too.

It seems to take forever to climb that hill. My camelback is starting to feel empty again. This is disconcerting because when it gets empty it flaps on my back as I run, and the flapping sound is like footsteps behind me, so I keep looking back to see if anyone else is catching up. I’m not going fast.

Finally I reach the aid station at the top, and I fill up my water. I have managed to catch up with the guy who last passed me, and we head out together. We’ve been running for a total of 4:30 hours and gone 22.5 miles, or 5 miles/hour. As a road racer this seems a very slow pace, but as a trail racer it’s what I was hoping for. It means I’ll finish in just a little over six hours.

Or so I tell myself. But even on this downhill trail I’m moving slowly. I don’t really feel tired, I just can’t move. I do feel a little nauseous, perhaps taking that salt tablet was not a good idea.

The guy ahead of me fades into the distance again.

At the bottom of the hill is a long section of rolling (unshaded) hills. I’m still feeling ill, and I forgo taking my next GU. I see a woman in front, moving slowly, and for a moment think (hope) I’ve caught up with one of the two lead women ahead of me. But it is neither of them and is instead someone running the 25K. She tells me she can’t remember coming through this section on the way out. I reassure her that we did. Or at least the 50K route came this way — I don’t know what the route is for the 25K.

And so I pass her. At least I’m moving faster than someone. I pass another woman from the 25K who moves aside to let me pass just as I’m about to start walking myself. However I walk faster than she does.

It’s hot.

I find I can no longer run downhill. I’m just plodding along.

Maybe I need food. The thought of eating is nauseating, but I force myself to eat half a GU. I don’t vomit.

I crest a hill, and I can see the final aid station on the top of the next hill, but I must descend into a valley and then climb up again in order to get there.

I still can’t run down hill. Plod. Hot.

I eat the other half of the GU. I still don’t vomit.

My water sack is flapping and I keep thinking there are people behind me. There aren’t, but given how slowly I am going, there should be.

I’m climbing the next hill, and there at the top I can see the final aid station at the top of the next hill. Again. Frustrating. I guess there was a small hill in between which I’m now on, but which was invisible before. But now I’m feeling a bit perkier, and I can run down this slope. I guess the GU helped. I’m feeling less nauseous too.

It’s very hot. When I get to the aid station the volunteers seem a little concerned about me. But it’s only 2.5 miles to go; I’m sure I’ll manage. So I fill up my water and press on.

I really am feeling better, and it’s a nice downhill slope on fire road; I feel like I’m really moving again (according to my GPS watch I’m doing ~9 minute miles, but it feels fast).

But it is hot. The sun bakes down. The sun reflects off the road surface and bakes up.

I turn a corner and there are some yellow mariposa lilies. I have never seen them before. So I don’t have any pictures to show, and I’m not going to stop to take any, not when I’m moving this “fast”. I promise myself that I’ll come back after the race and look at them again. I’ve been running for 30 miles that means there’s only a mile and a quarter to come back.

Downward.

And then there’s the turn-off to head back toward the finish line. And it starts to go up hill again. Now you would think that with only ¾ of a mile to go I’d be able to tough it out and run uphill. Last year I did. But not this year. I just don’t have the energy, the heat has really sapped me.

So I walk up and run down. It seems like forever. I pass Kevin (doing the 25K) who seems in worse shape than I (later he tells me he’d sprained his ankle). This final section seems to take forever. There’s a place where there are lots of RVs parked, so I must be near the parking lots at the finish … but I am not.

I pass the 50K point (according to my watch — which isn’t all that accurate). But the trail keeps going.

Up and down.

Oh neat. It really is owl clover.

Up.

And finally the last section, and it’s all downhill and to the finish line. At least I get to run in.

They tell me I’m seventh overall. Some how I lost track of a runner. Hunh.

I’m exhausted. I stand in the shade at the finish tent and just … stand.

Sandra wonders if I’m OK. “Yeah, I’m alright.” But I just stand.

Finally I screw up my courage and walk out into the hot sun and go the 50 yards to the food building. Shade there. Benches. Water. Ice. Food. I go in the door and collapse on a bench. All I can do is just sit. Someone hands me a bottle of water. I’m not ready for it. I’m feeling nauseous again. I just sit.

Shannon hands me some ice in a tin foil sack, and I let it rest on various parts of my body which are too hot (all of them). Someone else hands me a cold wet towel. Heaven! I drape it over my shoulders. I ask for some watermelon and someone cuts me two large slices. I eat it. I start to feel human again.

It turns out that Shannon won the woman’s race, passing the woman who was ahead of her for the first half. Good for her!

Someone asks me why I have tinfoil resting on my thighs and I explain that I don’t want aliens examining my knees.

People start to come in, and now I’m the one passing out ice and slicing watermelon.

I think about the promises I have made to myself: That I’d run 51K to celebrate my birthday. That I’d go back up the trail to take pictures of the flowers. I think about the heat and how exhausted I feel. I do not move.

I should go home. But that means walking out the door, into the sun going another 50yards through the heat, opening my car up which has been roasting in the heat for the last 8~9 hours. It seems too hard.

So I stay and chat with my friends.

It gets hotter.

Someone says 95°. Someone else says 103°.

There are showers. I summon up my resolution and walk over to the shower. I have no change of clothes, nor a towel, but that doesn’t matter, being wet will cool me down. Walking back under the trees to the main hut it is almost pleasant. But then I’m out in the sun again, and it isn’t pleasant any more. But I’m now cool enough to face opening my car and driving off. It remains hot until I reach the pass in the mountains, and then, ah, then, the blesséd coolness of the ocean rushes into the car.


Now that the results are finally in, I see that I really was in sixth place as I thought. I wonder who they thought was the extra runner?


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8 Responses to “It’s too darn hot!”

  1. Karen Says:

    Thanks for the run down on the wildflowers, George. I can now recall seeing many of them on the trail, which gives me better memories of the course. Thanks for the watermelon too!

  2. Nirmal Says:

    Congrats George.

    I think the most interesting point of the essay was right at the end – “But I’m now cool enough to face opening my car and driving off.” Since when do you drive to a race?

    • georgeruns Says:

      It’s sad isn’t it? But biking up 154 terrifies me. For that matter biking up Gibraltar and then down stagecoach would exhaust me. Someone else asked if I’d biked — sad to have to disappoint so many people…

  3. kevin young Says:

    when you passed me i was massaging out another muscle cramp. The muscle connecting knee to groin. my ankle survived, was not sprained.

  4. Nirmal Says:

    Just noticed that you did 12sec/mile at Blue Canyon. Very impressive

  5. Nirmal Says:

    🙂 Actually I did mean 12 sec/mile – look at http://sbrunning.org/resultsTop.php

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