Archive for September, 2010

Flagline 50K

September 25, 2010

Stepping off the plane at the Bend/ Redmond airport I see snow covered mountains. If I’m properly oriented, the snow covered ones are the three sisters (South Sister being the one in the center, the other sisters being behind the airport roof), with Mt. Bachelor over the airplane.

There is no snow in Santa B at the moment and so much in Sept. impressed me.

I must admit this race has proven the least organized race I’ve ever done. At least as far as advance planning goes. It was listed as the USATF 50k championship last year, but there was essentially no information on it. Finally in May or June there was a post saying they didn’t know what the route was because it would be under snow until mid-August. I found this disconcerting. If it’s under snow in mid-August, generally the hottest time of the year, won’t it be under snow again by the end of September? Oh well. I signed up anyway. They didn’t ask me for my USATF membership number (required for a championship race — or so I thought). They didn’t provide even a rough idea of altitude, elevation gain/loss, nor such simple things as where/when bib pickup would be. In mid-August a preliminary map appeared, so I made travel arrangements. Still no idea when/where bib pickup was, but I assumed (hoped) if I arrived the day before everything would work. On 13 Sept. they posted a new route for the course (less than 2 weeks before the race). On 23 Sept (two days before the race) I got an email with yet another route for the race.

An almost right course map. The start and finish were a little different. (click on it to make it bigger).

At the end of August, a friend who lives in Bend, told me it had snowed the night before and the route was under snow yet again.

So I stopped worrying and started laughing. I assumed it would all work out.

Everyone seemed to sign up for this race at the last minute (perhaps they were waiting for the map?). When I checked the site the week-end before the race there were only 34 entrants. But the ones whose names I knew were all good runners (really good). This woman beat me on the White River race last year by about 2 hours, and this 52 year-old guy is the one who beat me last year by an hour, and… Then when online registration closed on Wednesday there were 50 entrants, and all the new-comers were really fast. When I went to pick up my bib I heard there were more than 100 entrants, and on the race day I heard that some people signed up after that…

I was nervous about the competition.

Pickup was at the local running store Friday afternoon before the race. There I met up with an internet/college? friend. Dave went to CalTech (another darb), but he was 4 years ahead of me, so was gone before I arrived. When I started running, and writing about running he found me on the ‘net. Somehow. Since then we’ve been emailing. He lives in Bend, and although he wasn’t signed up for this race, he had offered to show me around the area.

He showed me how to get to the start (about half an hour out of town) at the foot of Mt. Bachelor (I presume that Mt. Bachelor is so named because it is right across from the
South Sister
Three Sisters, the snow capped mountains I saw upon arrival. Bachelor has some glaciers but is mostly snow free at the moment). Thence he drove me on a dirt road which in places paralleled the route, and then, further up, was the route.

He points out little red flags beside the road. I hadn’t noticed them, but they are the course markers. I hate it when people mark things with red. I can’t see it. Colorblind monkeys can’t find ripe fruit and die; colorblind humans can’t find their way and lose.


Bend itself looks dry (except that (by Barbarian standards) it has a river running through it); it’s in the rainshadow of the mountains; so as we climbed up to the top of those mountains it got damper, and I started to see the moss that covers the trees on the coast (not to the same profusion, of course).

I looked for Poison Oak to see if I would need to apply Teknu, but saw none. Nice.

Then we took a quick sight-seeing excursion. There is an extraordinary mountain called Broken Top which looks like a volcano with half of its crater blown off (which is, indeed, what it is). I found it impressive from the valley floor, so we drove over to a neighboring ridge which had a good view and looked across at it.

That night I slept well until 2. Then I started tossing and turning and looked at the clock every 2 minutes. At 4 or so I managed to get to sleep again, but at 4:30 I awoke to a car horn honking, thinking it was my alarm. Then at 4:50 my normal Saturday alarm went off. I’d forgotten about it. At this point, I gave up. I had three alarms set for 5, but I got up at 4:50 anyway (and then 10 minutes later started turning off alarms as they went off).

I drove to the race start; I had plenty of time and was in no hurry, so I stopped a couple of times to take pictures of the mountains. The (almost) full moon was setting right behind Mt. Bachelor. When I turned around I realized there was a
Lupinus lepidus
Dwarf lupine
tiny little lupine growing in profusion on the road’s shoulder.

Today is the equilux in Bend (or as close to it as Bend will come). On the equilux the day and night have equal lengths. It happens a few days after the autumnal equinox and a few days before the vernal one.

My car’s thermometer said it was 39° at the race start-line, so I bundled up, with two technical shirts over my racing garb and a windbreaker on top of that, gloves and one of those ear warmer straps. Chilly. Last trip to the port-a-potties. Then I went back to the (warm) car and stayed there until 20 minutes before the race start. Ate some Gu. When I got out of the car I found the sun had risen and it felt warmer, so I put the wind breaker back in the car.

I went to the organizer’s tent to see if they had any route maps (no), but they told me that the race start was actually .9 miles down the road. So I set off down the road. Someone very kindly offered me a lift. There was one guy at the official start. He came up and shook my hand (I guess he was getting worried about being at the wrong place — there was no mark anywhere to show it).

We waited.

More people trickled down. This spot was still in the shade and it was chilly; there was frost on the ground. I was shivering. I noticed one young woman in bra and shorts who looked much warmer than I, in spite of all my layers. I was impressed.

But now we were all lining up at the invisible line on the road. A woman beside me turned to her partner and said “What are we doing in the front?” and moved back. I sort of felt that way too, but no one seemed to want to be at the front, so I figured I might as well stay.

The RD said a few words. The course was marked with little orange flags`(Dave and I had figured that out yesterday), but that wasn’t all. There were some little blue signs too at tricky places, and a mountain biker was going ahead to draw arrows in the dirt (forest service didn’t let him use chalk or flour). Suddenly I felt a lot better about the markings. Even I can see arrows scratched in the dirt.

And really the course was well marked. There was only one place where I wasn’t sure which trail to take, but doing the obvious thing (stay on the main trail which I’m already on) worked. Oh, yes, there was one other place but as the two forks rejoined later it turned out not to matter.

The RD put on a good race. Not so good at pre-race stuff, but the important thing was the race, and that, I thought, was great.

The RD adds that we should watch out for mountain bikers on Flagline Trail, as the course is not closed. He also mentions that this is bow-and-arrow deer-hunting season, and that might be an issue on Forest Route 370 (the road Dave took me up the day before). He encourages us not to annoy the car-drivers on that road because they might be armed.

And then we started. We poured across the road (no traffic at 8am Sat. on a road leading mostly to closed ski areas), up it for a little bit, and then ducked onto a trail. It’s good to start on a road because it’s easier to pass on the wide spaces roads provide and there’s a lot of passing going on at first. Oops, not a trail, but a forest service road. Not nearly as wide as the paved road, but easily space to pass. It was a nice surface and we almost immediately started going downhill.

I started to worry. My breath felt constricted, my legs stiff. I reminded myself: This happens sometimes, especially if I don’t warm up. Don’t panic. But still my breath wouldn’t come…

I tucked in behind two women. I have enough hubris to think that I can keep up with most women. But that was ignoring the fact that I knew there were lots of fast people (of both sexes) in this race. I wasn’t foolish enough to try to run with the leaders, but these two seemed to be setting a pretty comfortable pace. When I glanced at my HR after a while it was reading 77%, which was fine. And it was (mostly) downhill.

Lupinus polyphyllus
Though fir trees. Not very dense. Pretty, when the sun wasn’t in my eyes, though it often was. I didn’t try to take pictures because of the sun. Down below the trees there is another, much larger, lupine blooming. But it’s almost finished, more seedpods than blooms.

For the moment it was enough just to run. It felt good now.

After a bit I glanced down at my watch. We’d been running for 20 minutes and were averaging 7:47min/mile. To me that seems really fast for a trail run. But it was (mostly) downhill, on a forest road with a good surface.

Whoever was running behind me had very loud breath. I wondered if he might be running too fast and whether he’d drop back in a bit. Then the two women passed someone, and after a bit, I passed him too. Stentorian breath didn’t pass him immediately. Then the woman who was behind passed the leader, and suddenly I was running with them. I was thinking I should pass the former leader too.

But I glanced at my watch. Oops. I’d let my HR climb to 85%. Normally on ultras I try to keep it at 80%, so, regretfully, I slow and drop back.

The morning had (of course) warmed up now that we’d started running and after a bit I thought about taking off one of my layers. This was a complex operation. I had to remove the camelback from my back; unclip the camera, store it inside the camelback so it wouldn’t fall; take off my cap; take off my ear warmer (which I also decided to remove) and stuff it in the camelback; then remove the shirt (all the while holding the camelback in one hand and running fast enough that no one behind will catch me, and avoiding any trees that I might want to bump into while the shirt was over the head); move the camelback to the other hand to get the final sleeve off; open the camelback, and stuff the shirt inside; realize that it was time for a GU too, take that out; eat it (the GU gel is cold and stiff this morning and harder to extract from the package than usual); stuff the wrapper in the camelback (because these shorts have no pockets, I just now remember); extract the camera; put the camelback back on; clip on the camera.

No one passed me but the women are some distance off now.

There are two guys running ahead of the women, and the women slowly overtake one of them. He has a white shirt. I run behind him now—sometimes closer to him, sometimes further as our speeds dictate. The women disappear into the distance.

From behind I notice that he is examining a fork in the trail. It is not marked with orange tags, or a blue sign, or an arrow. It is marked with little pink bits of flagging tape. Hmm. We weren’t told about pink flagging tape, but it appears recent, so he takes the fork. This gives me a chance to get closer to him (which isn’t really fair. I don’t need to stop to look at the route).

We’ve been running for 7 miles now (my watch beeps every mile. Sometimes I hear it, sometimes I don’t. I heard it just now). We’ve maintained an average pace of 8min/mile. Silly slow for a road race, but quite good for a trail.

Then I hear a dog bark. Hmm. Most likely that means we’re coming up on the first aid station. Then loud music. Then people. I think someone checks my number off as I run past. I don’t bother to stop. I’ve barely touched my water. Oh… But it is time for another GU. So I go through a second, but slightly less involved, wrestle with the camelback to extract a GU and then store its wrapper.

The trail is now mostly uphill. I slow. And take a picture.

After a bit white shirt (I think it’s he) catches up again. I offer to let him pass, and after a long pause he says “No, I’m good.”

I had intended to run this race at 80% as I normally do. But I’m thinking. Why don’t I try to run at a pace that seems comfortable? I don’t want to push too hard, but why not try to keep my HR between 80 and 85%? I seems to be what I’ve been doing. My HR is currently about 82%. I know! It’s an experiment. Mike told me to keep my HR at 80% when I was training for that 50M last year, but he didn’t really give me a target when I was training for a 50K. It’s shorter, obviously the HR should be a bit higher.

Later, when looking at a HR graph from the race, I see that by trying to run between 80 and 85 percent I actually averaged about 80%. Interesting to see the connection between HR and altitude change.

A little further on I glance down at my watch. We’ve been running for 10.7 miles, which is a bit more than ⅓ of the way. I mention this to whoever is behind me but I get no response. Not very talkative. Hmm. And we’ve been going for 1:20 or so. Wow. This looks like a PR. If I can keep up this pace I’m set for a 4 hour 50K. Of course I know that is silly, we had 7 miles of blasting fast downhill. Now the trail is climbing and I’m know I’m going more slowly. Still… it’s nice to think about.

Since I’m going fast, that means there’s less time to get tired from an elevated HR, so even more reason to try to push a bit harder.

Um. That sounds awfully like a rationalization, doesn’t it?

Anyway here is some yarrow blooming still, and a little further on is a blue aster and then a white. And that’s about all the wildflowers I’ll see.

Around 12 miles I glance back (when going round a hairpin turn) and see there are now 4 people stuck behind me, so I once again ask if anyone wants to pass. A little pause and then someone new says “No, I think we’re all hurting.”

Someone with a bib comes running down the trail toward us (reverse direction). We ask if he’s ok, and he tells us he took a wrong turn. Then he’s gone. Erp. “Have we taken a wrong turn?” I yell at his retreating back. “No, you’re good.” he responds in the distance.

Odd. I speculate a bit. Did he give up because the wrong turn meant he wouldn’t win? or wouldn’t PR? I’m not likely to learn. I don’t think I’d give up… but who knows?

Someone now passes me.

Some mountain bikers pass us (going the other direction, thank goodness) and it all goes very easily. They cheer us on.

Ah, the loud breather is behind me again. Or a loud breather is. We chat a bit. This guy is talkative, or as talkative as anyone is in a race. He’s Kevin, from Seattle. After I say I’m from SB he tells me his first ultra was in the Santa Monica mountains. Not one I’ve done, but then my first real ultra was White River up near Seattle. So there’s a sort of parallel. I ask if he was behind me near the start. He was. The altitude is affecting him (I guess that’s why he’s breathing so loudly, but it doesn’t seem to be slowing him). He asks if I have a goal time. Not really. I’ve never run this race before so I don’t know what to expect. Um, I’d kind of like to break 6 hours. Kevin tells me he always runs in 5 something. Then he says he likes to take the middle part of an ultra easy (we’re now in the middle third, so I’d call that the middle), then he passes me.

Oops. He takes the middle easy, but he’s passing me in the middle. I guess the pace of someone trying to break 6 hours is too slow even for “easy”.

He’s got a red shirt on, I see, as he disappears ahead of me.

Some other people pass me too.

When there were 4 people running behind me, I felt I couldn’t slow down and my HR was about 85%. Now there’s no one there. I lose my motivation a bit. I do one of my first walks.

We’re coming up on the highest point of the race (at least by my watch). I don’t realize this at the time but mile 13 reaches a peak of almost 7000ft. Then we drop precipitously down. I’m a little dismayed by this; I don’t realize how high we’ve climbed, and it seems to me that we’re spending a awful lot of time going down, and we’re not halfway through yet.

I begin to catch up to people ahead. There’s a guy with a red shirt on, and I assume it is Kevin, so when I reach him I complain about the amount of downhill. He seems surprised, so perhaps it isn’t Kevin? I don’t really know what he looks like, and being colorblind I might confuse his shirt… Looking at the course now, I realize that it doesn’t look like that much downhill to someone who realizes how high we just climbed, so perhaps that was what generated the surprise…

Bink. We’re at a small aid station with just water. I’ve still got plenty so I don’t stop, and I pass some more people who do. But we start climbing again, and they all seem to pass me back. The guy in red says “See you on the next downhill.” as he passes me.

A guy in a black shirt passes me as if I were standing still. Just powering up this steep slope.

I find it very strange. I think of myself as a good uphill runner and a bad downhill runner. At least in SB. But in races the reverse seems to be true. I take the uphills a bit conservatively, and then I can go fast on the downhills. And I do pass people on the downs… Of course I don’t dare run fast on the SB downhills, I’m too worried about trail conditions and breaking my neck…

I’m walking again. A guy in a blue shirt passes me. This is the first guy I’ve worried about passing me. He looks like he’s older than I. I fear he’s in my age group. I know that Patrick (guy who beat me last year at White River) is ahead of me, but I was still hoping to get second…

However that hope isn’t enough to push me ahead of blue shirt.

I turn a corner and there is Broken Top. Ah. I know where I am now. I just go a little north (right) of Broken Top and I’ll be going in the right direction. Of course, really, I’ll just follow the trail.

Another corner and there is South Sister. My first view of her from the trail. My mind wanders. When I was 5 my family rented a canal boat and spent a month on the waterways of the Netherlands. Our boat was called “De Vier Zusters” (the four sisters). And now there are three sisters in front of me.

The third aid station has a lot of hype going on before it. Lots of little signs on the trail. These get my hopes up long before the station is actually in sight. This time I do stop. I could have passed blue shirt if I’d run through, but I think I should refill my water. This takes longer than it should, and blue shirt is out of sight by the time I’m ready to go again.

As I leave the station, I realize this is one of the spots Dave showed me yesterday. He thought it it might be the highest point on the run, but my watch says its about 50ft lower than the spot at mile 13. Still I remember Dave’s words and feel a little better about how tired I was climbing up to it. Of course! It’s the altitude. (That begs the question why mile 13 wasn’t quite as bad, but since I don’t realize how high it was, I don’t worry about it now).

I’ve also been running 17+ miles. I’m more than half way! And it has only taken 2 and a quarter hours to get this far.

Now I’m on the road, Forest Route 370. No one has tried to shoot me with a bow yet. The road goes downhill. There’s someone ahead and I’m catching up! I’m hopeful it is blue shirt, but it turns out to be a woman. Now where did she come from? She’s not someone I’ve been passing and repassing. She doesn’t seem tired, she’s going at a reasonable clip. Slower than I, but not a pace I’d associate with exhaustion. I just wonder why she’s letting me pass her. But I don’t ask, and cheer her on.

I’m catching up with red shirt (is it Kevin’s red shirt?). Slowly. He yells something I can’t make out, and when I do pass him I ask what he said: “Oh, I was just saying ‘Hi!'”. 🙂 Probably Kevin.

I realize I haven’t been paying attention. I haven’t noticed any trail flagging… but I haven’t been looking for it. Could I have missed a turn off? I’ve sort of spaced out in a tired daze. I mean I’m running pretty fast downhill (that is, somewhere between 8 and 9 min/mile) but my focus has been internal, not checking for flagging on the roadside.

Small, nagging worry.

The road now runs above a noisy stream. I can hear it, but it’s a long way down and I can’t see it. Yet. But then the road comes down and crosses it.

Ug. Uphill again.

But not for long.

Then, off in the distance I see blue shirt. (I’m not lost! Yay!) He’s running with black shirt (another person I’ve played leapfrog with). I slowly gain on them. Slowly. Then blue shirt passes black shirt. Then I pass black shirt. A truck comes roaring up the road, and we crowd over to one side (it doesn’t shoot us, but it does go by awfully fast). “Well that was exciting,” say I. “Wonder what his hurry was,” responds black shirt. I pull away from him. But I don’t pass blue shirt. Disappointing that.

And blue shirt finds the flagging I’d been wondering about (and I follow him) and we’re off the road and on a trail and going up. Damn. Lost my chance. I’m unlikely to pass him going uphill. We pass a couple of runners who are walking. I push. I try to run when blue shirt does and walk when he does. I don’t catch him up, but I don’t lose him. We climb the hill. I see someone running slowly ahead of me. Ah ha, I think! But it isn’t blue shirt, it is some woman who stops to let me pass. Then down into a valley. There’s another woman whom blue shirt has just passed. (Why am I passing so many women and almost no men? Weird. Doesn’t usually happen). This woman hops across a little stream and then lets me pass her. Of course, crossing a stream means an uphill on the other side, and blue shirt pulls away again.

Then I trip and fall headlong. Not a bad fall. I’ve skinned my knee and that’s about it. But when I start to run again I get tired very quickly. I have to slow down and walk. Not sure what that fall did to my body (or mind), but it’s not going to let me go fast for a while. My HR has dropped to about 77%, as well.

Oh well. I make the best of it.

I feel better after a bit and start to run again.

I can see blue shirt again. And there’s yet another woman ahead whom he is passing. There are also two mountain bikers waiting for us to go by. I pass the woman, then the bikers. She tells them to go on ahead of her. Oh. I probably should have done that too. I’m not going fast. But they aren’t close enough to tell any more. I keep hearing a bike bell, but when I look back I see their dog has a bell and is wandering all over the place. Now ahead, now behind me. A couple of times I fear he’ll get in my way, but he never does.

The trail steepens, and blue shirt vanishes again.

After a couple more miles the bikers suddenly zip past me. Which means I have to run outside the trail which is harder and slower. After 200 yds I crest a hill and find them stopped. So why on earth did they bother to pass? I’m not sure why they stopped, but they now seem annoyed with me and complain “Why didn’t you guys post a notice at the trail head?” Um. That’s a good point. Why didn’t the RD? I will suggest it for next year. All I can say to the bikers now is “Sorry.”

It’s getting harder and harder to eat my GU every half hour. At the start of a race GU doesn’t taste bad, but by the end it is just awful. I make a face with each swallow.

Now I’ve looped back and am coming up on the previous aid station. I don’t need aid. So I zip through. Blue shirt isn’t there. They tell me to turn left when I get to the road (so they’ve figured out I’ve been through before); the course sort of does a figure 8 here, and this is the cross over point. They tell me the next turn is in 2 miles.

I’m at ~24.5 miles now. So the next station is roughly a marathon.

On the road again, and down in the other direction. I crest a slight rise, and on the other side of the next dip I see blue shirt. Walking! Ah ha! I am not walking. Maybe I’ll catch him. But as I come down the dip, he stops walking and starts running again. And disappears. Again.

Sigh. Looks like I won’t catch him.

First view of Mt. Bachelor. I’m getting close to the finish…

I’m going “fast” again. I average a 9 minute pace on this 2 mile section. I’m starting to check at my watch (to see if I’m at 26.5 miles) and look uneasily for flagging on the road. Yesterday Dave and I couldn’t figure out where the race left the road. It’s got to be near here… I come to something called “big meadow”. And at the very bottom of the meadow is another aid station, and the route crosses a small bridge and then heads south. Dave had looked at this bridge and dismissed it for two reasons: 1) It wasn’t flagged (it wasn’t yesterday, but is today) and 2) it was going in the wrong direction. But it only goes the wrong way for a little bit, then loops back and heads up the other side of big meadow before turning and climbing the hill above it.

A nasty uphill and then a downhill. But this downhill trail isn’t fun to run on. It’s the only trail we’ve been on so far that is the “technical” (or difficult) to run on. But it’s a short stretch, only .8 miles and I’m at the final aid station.

I don’t realize it at the time, but I’ve been here before too, this is the second aid station I came to. But my recollection of the map has faded with my increasing tiredness. My watch says I’ve run ~27 miles, so only 4 more to go. But “Oh, methinks, how slow these old miles go./They linger my desires…”

A little further on there are three people guarding an intersection to keep me from the wrong route. And they cheer me. I thank them. Only three miles they say. I look at my watch and I realize they are right. Then I look back at the watch. I’ve been running for 4:35:–. Only — only three miles! Wow. I try to guess what my body can do. Ten minute miles? that’s 5:05. Whee… I’m actually close to breaking 5 hours. Forget about 6. Lets see. I’d need to do the next 3 miles in ~24 minutes, or 8 min/mile pace. I feel my body again. I might be able to push to a 9 min pace, but I think 8 is out of the question. They say it’s all downhill, but I don’t believe them. In fact it is starting to climb right now.

I think breaking 5 is a pipe dream. Still, I do have a bit more umph as I leave that little group.

There’s another woman up ahead. Walking. I promise myself that I’ll catch up to her and then walk behind her (it’s uphill). But as I come up, she pulls over to the side and stops. So I have no choice but to run by. I’m a little resentful. I wanted to rest. I run a little further and then I, too, start to walk. She doesn’t pass me. Then it starts going downhill again, and I run along.

Finally I get to pass a man. Sadly it isn’t blue shirt. This guy looks very tired. I feel tired too, of course, but not that tired.

Now I’m at the bottom of the downhill, and, despite past assurances, there is a slight net uphill from here on. Around a bend is Mt. Bachelor. That is encouraging. I start to hear the noise of the main road we crossed at the start (I have to cross it again, and then run up the side road to where I parked). Unfortunately the main road doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. I’m going parallel to it.

There’s a downed tree across the trail, I hop on top and down the other side. Suddenly my right hip seizes up. Damn it! I’ve only got ¿1.5? miles to go. I’m so close. I don’t want to collapse now. But I have to slow. A bit. Whew. I can still run. Slowly it improves, and then I forget about it.

And the road is very loud, and I’m out. No cars coming, so I cross. Oops. I wasn’t supposed to cross here, because there’s a short cut on the this side of the road. So I ignore the short cut (which means I must cross another road). And then there’s the start line. (this is where I should have crossed, there are two crossing guards to help me here).

I’ve been thinking. I don’t need any more GU, or water. It’s only .9 miles now. I can dump my camelback here by the side of the road and come back and pick it up later. I also want to finish in my SBRR shirt, but I’ve still got on the Flagline technical shirt I put on for warmth early this morning. I don’t need the warmth now. I’ve thought about removing the shirt before but it would mean doing that dance with the camelback so I never tried. I dump the camelback. And now removing the shirt is easy. It also falls by the wayside.

A lighter man, I run up the final stretch. And there is blue shirt. Maybe a quarter mile ahead. I don’t think I’ll catch him; he has too far a lead for this final stretch. But I try. On this section I was able to get my pace up to 8:35, even though it is uphill. But it isn’t enough. I hear a cowbell sound as blue shirt crosses the line. A little later I cross behind him.

5:04:08 by my watch (official time is 5:04:12). Well, I didn’t break 5 hours, but it’s a huge PR for a 50K. I guess Blue Canyon really is a hard course (that being the only other 50K I’ve run).

I am 51.

I promised myself I’d run 51K. And anyway I have to retrieve my camelback. I get some water, and then head back down. I run on the other side of the road from the racers. Very, very slowly. It takes me 11 minutes to run (downhill) what took less than 6 on the way up. I find I dropped my camelback almost exactly 1K from the top (.63 miles), perfect! I cross the road, grab the camelback, then the shirt, and get out of the way again.

As I was running down I saw Kevin coming up. He shouts at me “Did you break 4… I mean …”. “No,” I yell back, “I just missed it.”

I walk back up the hill. This takes a long time. I cheer people on as they come up.

I sort of collapse at the top. I don’t think I’m safe to drive a car. The thought of food is nauseating. I just want to sit. I force myself to drink. And I have some watermelon. I sit in the shade. I get some more to drink. Kevin comes up. He asks me “You said 6 hours… did you really mean 5 hours?” I laugh. “No, the only 50K I’ve done before this had a lot more elevation, and I really never have broken 6 hours. I hadn’t realized how hard that race must be.” I ask how he did and he finished in 5:11 (so 5 hours and something, as he said; he knew better than I what to expect).

Eventually I leave my shady spot and I find the official results. I finished in 5:04:12, according to them. Rats. I’d kind of gotten attached to 5:04:08, it sounds so much faster. I turn away. I turn back. I was 25th overall (of 70) and second in my age group (of 4). Blue shirt (Larry) was not in my age group after all, he’s in his 60s. That’s a little demoralizing too. I turn away. I turn back. Patrick was first in my age group, and was only half an hour faster than I this year. An improvement!

And now it feels safe to drive.

My car’s thermometer which had been sitting in the sun for 6 hours says the outside temperature was 72°. But when I got back to Bend the temperature was 86°. Whewf.


  • Footzone race wrap up (they put it on)
  • Bend Bulletin (local newspaper)

    The top 5-10 runners took a wrong turn 3 miles from the finish. The guy who arrived at the finish line first stopped and waited before crossing it until the other 4 leaders caught up with him. Then they all crossed the line, one after the other, in the order they had been in at the 28.1 mile mark (where the bad turn happened).

  • Scott Dunlap (won masters men)
  • Stephanie Howe (2nd woman)
  • Wildflowers

Running with people

September 14, 2010

A fortnight ago I tried to explain my objections to running to music:

  • It isn’t functional (It only helps when you don’t need help).
  • I’m philosophically opposed to it (I think it closes the runner off from the natural world).

But is there anything which will help people run faster? The answer that popped into my head this morning was: running with people.

This helps at all levels of effort. World records are set in races, not (or rarely) by people going round tracks by themselves. At the other end of the scale just getting out the door is easier if you know you’ll be running with a friend.

George Williams has died

September 13, 2010

It’s kind of odd to see one’s own name in an obituary.

Oh, I know my name is moderately common. For one thing I’m the fifth of that name in my family so I’ve shared my name with my father all my life. When I was a child my father occasionally got his mail mixed up with another “George Williams” who worked at the other university in town.

But it’s one thing to get one’s name confused with someone else, it’s quite another to be told one is dead.

I’ve known of this gentleman (the other GW), and been amused by his name whenever I ran across it. He provided the best explanation of why old age and death have evolved.

He, also, I learned in the obituary, ran. When he was 52 (roughly my age) he started running 1700m (roughly a mile) and recording his time each year to watch his own ability decline with age.

It makes me wonder what I will be remembered for. I can’t really think of anything. I’m good at a number of things, but I’m not great. I’m not best at anything. In my work… well, I work in a field of transience. I wrote an html-editor once that had hundred of thousands of users. For a while. But the technology moved on, and development on my program was stopped, and now no one uses it.

Sigh. I‘m not dead yet.


September 11, 2010

A week later I’m feeling pretty good.

Often I’ll come out of a race feeling trashed. Last year my shin splints were very insistent that they had not enjoyed Pier to Peak. But this year there weren’t any problems.

I suppose starting a race a little tired means I can’t push myself quite as hard and so come out of the race feeling better?

I felt very hungry, and very sleepy for several days.

Tuesday I had a 2 hour trail run, and Mike had told me to keep my HR below 85%. Normally, getting my HR up to 85% is extremely easy — I just go up a hill at what seems a reasonable pace and bang! there I am. But this day it wasn’t going up, it seemed stuck at 80%. Given the workout, that wasn’t a problem, just interesting. (Once I got home, and uploaded the watch to the computer I saw the HR did climb to 85%, but only briefly). I ran fairly fast though — I don’t understand that.

Today was (probably) my last hard road work-out before the race. Rusty said 6:35 for 4 miles, 10 min jog, 4 more miles 15secs faster/mile. That sounded hard to me (to everyone in my group), but I tried it. I was a little fast (6:30 pace) for the first 4 miles. So I could do that, but it was the last four which were worrying… However they popped right out at a 6:15 pace. Today my HR was a little above 85% for the first set, and a slow ramp from 85 to 90% for the second.

So if I can do that I think 1) I’ve recovered from P2P 2) I’m ready for the 50K.


Pier to Peak, 2010

September 5, 2010

Thirteen miles up Gibraltar Road
We’ve run some races in our day
Filled with laughter, fun and play
And we know every inch of the way
From waterfront to La Cumbra.

Low bridge, everybody down,
Low bridge, cause we’re running into town.
And you’ll always know your teammate
And you’ll always know your place
Once you reach the final turn on the Pier to Peak race.

The day before the race, Mike told me he didn’t want to me to race it. By which he meant I was to run it, just not as hard as I might otherwise. This was not really a surprise, my real race is in 20 days so it would be silly to tire myself out now. Also the schedule he gave me for the week was a hard training week, there was no rest before this race, so I knew I wouldn’t do well.

None-the-less, it’s always disappointing to hear, even when you agree with it.

Mike just wanted me to get my heartrate up for a long time.

Pier to Peak will do that.

Usually I set myself a goal and often hope to better the previous year. That didn’t seem likely. I thought I’d probably come in around 1:50. But the most coherent idea that floated in my head was “Will this be the year that Ricky beats me at P2P?”

It’s been cool and foggy all summer, but the day before the race it was unpleasantly warm on Mtn. Dr. at 7:00, which is roughly when I’d get to that point during the race. And P2P is almost always too hot, so I worried.

I expected it to be chilly in the fog (which would probably last to the Mission), and hot out of it. What to wear? Rusty and Mike had recently given us new shirts, so I wanted to wear mine — but the new shirts looked hot to me, not singlets but technical tee-shirts. Um. — I decided to wear it anyway.

I thought about sun screen. I’ve gotten more leery of sun screen since I read a study that the vitamin A in most sun blocks will mutate under harsh sunlight and turn into something as carcinogenic as the sun it is blocking. Much of the run is in the shade. Some of the run is in the fog. The sun won’t be very high (so less intense) and I won’t really be out in it for long. I decided against sun screen.

I don’t really like putting it on anyway.

It was dark and very foggy at the race start. I chat a little with Shiggy, then go to warm up. But there is Sara, so I chat a little with her (she promises not to get lost this time. I know I should be happy for her, but that just means she’ll beat me. Again.) and then I do my warmup. Then I say “Hi” to Fred as he zips past. Sigh. They are all faster than I.

Back at the start. I hear someone say there are 500 entrants this year (I think it is usually ~300. There were 419 finishers this year.). More chatting. Tim Smith had told me that he intended to run right behind me (grabbing onto my shirt if necessary), but he sees Shiggy, and tells him the same thing.

We line up, and Jake says a few words. I’ve heard them before. Then he checks to make sure that Eric and Sara have picked up their bibs. I find that kind of touching, both are semi-out-of-towners now and they couldn’t make it to the bib pickup last night (and both won last year). Sara has picked up hers, I know. I haven’t seen Eric.1

At the last minute there he is, and we’re off!

There are more people in front of me than there usually are in this race. In the past I have counted how many are ahead and keep track during the race as I pass people and they pass me, but this time it’s hopeless. Perhaps some will slow? But they don’t. Or they don’t before the leaders are lost in the fog, and by then it’s too late to count.

Tim, Ricky and Sara are all ahead. Shiggy passes me. Shiggy always seems to start behind me and then catch me in the first quarter mile or so.

Maybe the reason there are so many people ahead this year is because I am going slowly? But no. When I get to the first mile mark my time is 6:25, which is considerably faster than I wanted to be running.

Ricky is now running beside me. He explains to me why he doesn’t do well in this race 1) it’s uphill, 2) he’s done a lot of racing recently. I point out that he also insisted on doing a tempo workout yesterday, maybe if he didn’t tire himself out the day before he’d do better. He says he’s not going to do well, so why miss the tempo workout? This race is just for fun.

Which is true enough.

Mike wanted me to get my HR up, so I check. It’s currently at 86% which is a reasonable value for “up”. Each mile averages between 85% and 91%, which is what I expect. I hope that’ll make Mike happy.

We run together for the next mile (6:57, that’s what I was shooting for). Then Ricky lets me ease ahead of him.

Plenty of friends are volunteering today. Joe was at a corner, Eric (a different Eric) at another. Carrie is at the water station up by the Mission, which we have just passed. Tammy’s way up at the top. It’s nice of them to turn up so early on a Sunday morning.

Now we turn onto Mountain Dr. and the way gets steep. I pass a big clump of people, including Tim.

Mile 3 was 7:07. A little slow, but not bad.

A guy in a blue cap is now ahead. I inch up on him, and pass. And then he passes me back. I decide I’ll let him stay ahead for a bit. No rush. He’s running at a reasonable pace.

When 192 pours into Mountain, traffic happens, so I remind the guy in blue that this road is dangerous and he moves over to the right edge of the road.

There are footsteps behind me. Tim perhaps. Maybe he is sticking with me. I don’t turn to look, of course. Might trip.

Mile 4 is unmarked, as usual. I always wonder why. It’s about where we cross 192 and head up the hill. Perhaps it’s in the middle of the intersection and so a dangerous place to mark? Who knows. At any rate I pretend it’s in the middle of the intersection. 7:12.

I’m starting to feel hot now. We left the fog behind at the Mission. My HR is at 90%. I’m working. A technical shirt is not a good choice for the rest of this race. So I take it off (and then untangle it from my hat — to which it has velcroed itself) and stash it in the fork of a small tree on the side of the road. Tim’s voice from behind “That shirt is a collector’s item!” So he is there.

(OK, the real reason for leaving it is, of course, so Tim can’t grab on to it to stick with me:-) )

Somewhere along here I pass the guy in the blue cap. He would slow, and then I’d catch up with him, and then he’d speed up, and then slow, and… Eventually I pass him permanently.

Hmm. The blue witch is still in full bloom here.

At the 5 mile mark (8:40) two people behind me are surprised that it is mile 5. I explain that mile 4 is never marked (though I don’t know why).

They pass me. Drat. This isn’t supposed to be happening, everyone else was supposed to have gone out too fast, not me. Oh well.

One of them asks “Are you getting married today too?”. Not a question I expect in a race. “Um, No, I’m not. I take it you are?” “Yes”, and his friend says “And I’m marrying him.” I had thought (though I might have missed something) that that decision was put on hold and homosexual marriages were still not possible in Ca. The friend continues, “I mean, I’m performing the ceremony.” All I can think of is Leonarto in Much Ado: “To be married to her: Friar, you come to marry her.”

The groom and his celebrant (The groom is Ben, I think) pull slowly away from me. It is rather impressive that both of them are capable of running so well. I learn later that the bride, Katie, ran too, and was 4th among the women (Ben was 8th). Now that’s how I’d like to get married when I grow up — in a race.

The sun is still low and looking down on the fog-wrapped city below, I see the tops of the clouds take on sunrise colors.

I had intended to take a GU at mile 4, but all was confusion what with removing my shirt and so forth. So I haven’t eaten one. I pull one out of my belt pouch. But then I just keep it in my hand. My mouth is dry enough that I don’t want to eat anything. As I recall, there’s a water stop around mile six, so as we get close I eat my GU. Only this year there isn’t water here. And mile six isn’t where I thought it was. But it happens eventually: 8:39.

There’s someone behind me who lets out “Whoop”ing noises every now and then. I wouldn’t choose to do that, I need my breath for other things.

Around a bend is a woman handing out ice. And water bottles. I take a water bottle. They are easier to drink from than cups. I squeeze water into my mouth. After a bit Tim comes up beside me and asks if he can have some, so I lend him the bottle and he takes a drink. When he gives it back he pulls away from me. Just not my day.

Mile 7 approaches (7:58 hunh? Is this marker in the right place?) and then the hairpin. Tim Strand said he’d probably be here, but I don’t see him. There is a water station, but I have a water bottle in my hand and don’t need more, I try to drop my empty GU packet toward a trash can, but miss.

Shadows. Tim Smith’s is in front. The guy who went “whoop” is behind, and Julio is behind him
Photo by SB Pix

OK, now I slowly start to pass people. Tim passes them first, and then I do. Tim isn’t that far ahead, maybe I’ll be able to pass him too?

Mile 8 (8:35), and just beyond are Drea and Tim (Strand). Drea is taking pictures, and Tim is handing out water bottles. But I’m still clutching mine. They both cheer us on. And then they cheer Ricky on. So he’s close.

The whooper passes me.

Mile 9 (9:13) really was at a different spot last year. This is a little worrisome.

Hmm. Flannelbush is still blooming. A bit.

And down into Flores Flats. No one is awake in the Flats as we pound through. A couple of runners pass me on the downhill, and then I pass them back on the up. I think of this as the steepest part of the race, and glance down. Sure enough the HR has climbed back to 90%.

As I look at the line of runners ahead of me, they all appear to be jogging very slowly. You’d hardly think it was a race.

OK, I guess the purple nightshade really is blooming still.

I pass the whooper.

Mile 10 (9:17) comes and goes. And then we pop onto the other side of this ridge and I know Camino Ciello is close. (But it’s not as close as I want it to be.)

Finally the intersection appears and we head right. Tim really isn’t that far ahead. I pass one person between us. And finally the turn around. Mile 11 (11:49). Oh, god. Ricky is right behind me. And there’s the whooper too (James). Now downhill for a bit. Everyone tries to go as fast as he can now. And I just know Ricky’s going to pass me.

Julio, a guy from Ventura (whom I’ve also played leapfrog with), passes me, but not the whooper nor Ricky.

When I get to the intersection I see Sara starting to come up.

Hunh? When did I get ahead of her? I thought she was way in front of me — as she has been in the past. No energy to ask, I simply cheer her on.

Tim has pulled far ahead now. I can’t even see him.

Now I know that mile 12 was in a different place last year. My time (6:17) makes me think this year’s position is wrong. I don’t think I can go that fast so far into this race (even a downhill mile).

I guess it doesn’t really matter. In other races I am much more concerned about pace, here pace is an afterthought, it’s whatever comes out of the interaction between my body and the terrain.

And now it’s up again. The transition from fast downhill running to slower uphill running is difficult for me. I think my HR drops on the downhill, and when I’m tired it takes a while for it to wind its way up again. Anyway I find I am pushing too hard and have to slow down. And now Ricky passes me. Sigh.

It’s the final stretch.

No shadows mingle with mine now.
Photo by Ralph Philbrick

There are suddenly a lot of cars on the road, which is annoying. The cars aren’t moving quickly, probably because the runners aren’t sticking to the right so the cars have to wait until they can pass. The result is that I get to smell their exhaust for a long time. (I’m tired and cranky now and want to complain.).

And finally here’s the turn toward the peak. In the past this point has been marked as mile 13. It is not marked so this year. I click my watch anyway (11:22). And then up the final steep bit. Twist, turn and I bump over a rise and can see the finish line far above me. The clock reads 1:49:??. Sigh. I’m not going to break 1:50 this year. Oh well.

I try to go a little faster, but I don’t think I do. Final time 1:51:11.

Not my best time. Not my worst time. Given that I started the race tired, I’m reasonably happy.

I end up 13th overall. I guess I passed more people than I thought. There were more than 12 people ahead at the start. A lot more.

Neither Shiggy nor Sara got lost this year. Shiggy beat me by 6 minutes. Sigh. So, as always, I was second in my age group.

After I got back to the bottom. And after I had showered, I biked back and pulled my shirt off its tree. It was still there. Despite Tim’s warning, no one had collected it.


  • 1Eric told me he did pick up his bib on Saturday. So I don’t know why Jake checked to make sure he had done so. Eric did arrive at the start with “90 seconds to spare”.


September 3, 2010

I have ten.

I had a great aunt with only nine (one had be amputated, I no longer recall why). My aunt insisted that we call her “nine-toes” and whenever she came to visit would remove her shoes to prove that she did, indeed, have only nine. This made a huge impression on a small child brought up in a somewhat straight-lace family — I could not imagine my grandmother removing her shoes.

But I have ten.

Two nights ago I tripped on an extension cord, and in the confusion manage to land on the middle toe of the other foot.

It didn’t like it.

It still doesn’t.

It’s gone all black and it hurts. It doesn’t want to bend. I have a race in two days, I wonder if I’ll be able to run it well?

I keep thinking that my aunt was right. I should just cut it off and be done with it. I’ve got nine others.

First trail run of September

September 2, 2010

In addition to trying to identify the wildflowers I have seen this year, I’ve also been trying to keep track of their blooming times. This means that on the first few runs of every month I’m paying even closer attention to the flowers than I usually do. Of course months are kind of arbitrary and month boundaries have very little to do with when a particular flower will start or stop blooming, but it provides a rough idea of what is out there.

I expect that 2010 has not been a representative year because we had a fair amount of rain in the winter/spring and lots of cool cloudy days in the summer. We have had very little of the really hot weather which might kill the plants (or at least stop them blooming). Although I don’t have hard data from years past, there are certain flowers I look for every year. Last year I saw no Humboldt lily blooms at all, ever (while this year they bloomed for a month) and last year I only saw Weed’s Mariposa lilies blooming for about 2 weeks, and only 3 blooms all in one place, while this year they were out for six weeks, and were in great profusion all over the place.

So this year is probably unusual. But it happened. Next year will doubtless be different, and maybe I’ll collect flowering times for it too, and compare them. And perhaps the year after that…

But today was the first trail run of September, so I was out there this morning looking and trying to remember what I saw. I’ve stopped carrying a camera because the flowers that are left now aren’t nearly as impressive as what we had in April, and it hardly seems worth it to photograph them… And there aren’t many new ones to document.

First thing I saw on Jesusita was bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis). In April this blanketed mountainsides that had been burned last year; now it is simply more prevalent than anything else. It’s an invader from Europe and the California Department of Food and Agriculture calls it a NOXIOUS WEED. So, it’s not something I’m that happy to see.

Next flower is mustard (Brassica rapa). Much reduced from its display in May. Another European import. The California Invasive Plant Council says this plant causes serious problems in native ecosystems (limited). Sigh.

I run through a patch of periwinkle (Vinca major). It was blooming in August, but seems to have stopped now. Yet another European import. The California Invasive Plant Council says this plant causes serious problems in native ecosystems (moderate).

There’s a lot of fennel here (Foeniculum vulgare). As I run past, I’m not sure if it is blooming or not. To my color-blind eyes the flowers and the young seeds look very similar in color. I’m pretty sure I’m just seeing seeds now, so it’s probably also over. The California Invasive Plant Council says this plant causes serious problems in native ecosystems (high).

Then I see some tree tobacco (Nicotinana glauca), still blooming. These scrubby trees are invaders from South America. The California Invasive Plant Council says this plant causes serious problems in native ecosystems (moderate).

It’s kind of sad how many invaders there are. And how prevalent they are. Of course this is the start of the trail where there are more likely to be invaders. But the bindweed and the mustard go right up to the top.

The first native bloom I see is mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana), it’s not a beautiful flower by any means, but at least it is real. It belongs here.

When I come out into the first meadow the clustered tarweed (Hemizonia fasciculata) is still going. I’m rather fond of this plant, it’s such a cheerfully bright yellow.

A little bit later I see a single canyon sunflower (Venegasia carpesioides). Hmm. I had thought these were over now. I’m not sure that seeing just one counts. But when I turn a corner there are a whole bunch of them, so I guess they aren’t over.

I’ve sort of given up on many of the aster family, there are just so many of them and the differences between species are often so slight and my books are so unhelpful that I just can’t identify them (Yes, the previous three plants were all asters, but they were identifiable). There are some dandelion-like blooms which I can’t place. Ah, and a California chickory (Rafinesquia californica), which I think I do know how to identify).

Ah:-) The late blooming wild clematis — virgin’s bower (Clematis ligusticifolia) seems to be in full bloom still. Indeed some of the vines seem to be just reaching their peak. I rather like clematis, we used it as an ornamental when I was growing up. This species has tiny little flowers and quite surprised me when I first saw it blooming, I wasn’t expecting a clematis to bloom this late in the year.

And here’s some pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea). I thought this was finished by in April, but then in July I saw more blooms, and it has been blooming ever since. So now I am wondering: Was I blind in May and June? Or does it bloom twice? Or are there two species which look very much alike but bloom at different times? I’ll have to pay more attention to it next year.

The white nightshade (Solanum douglasii, or perhaps Solanum niger var. douglasii). It has been blooming since March and now every plant is covered with little tomatoes as well as little white blooms. I haven’t seen any purple nightshades blooming since July.

Except I turn a corner and there is one plant, a purple nightshade, blooming. But it is only one plant, and I don’t see any others so I decide to ignore it.

The trail has become steeper now and I’ve climbed out of the canyon and away from the creek. There are a few rock phacelias blooming (Phacelia imbricata). I worry for a bit about the identification, this late in the season the phacelia flowers can fade and some of the distinguishing marks aren’t quite as apparent. But as I see more of them, I convince myself that it is the rock phacelia and not the tansy.

I see some golden yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum); another plant I had thought was finished. So I decide to ignore it. But I turn the corner and there are a few more. So… I guess it’s still going. At least here.

And a bush monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus)? Come on. These are done everywhere else. I see no more of them and conclude this is a rogue bloom.

Some fleabane (Erigeron foliosus). Not too surprising.

I come out onto the fireroad, and here is something which looks like goldenrod. Except it’s a lot heavier than the California goldenrod I’ve seen before. Perhaps a different species? (I regret not having brought a camera today. I just didn’t think I’d see anything new). I’m not sure what to make of this.

And here is some deerweed (Lotus scoparius), looking quite bedraggled and long past its prime, but still blooming. I realize I’ve seen several earlier, but as I zipped past, I just thought they were mustard.

And up here on the fireroad is another species of tarweed, the coast tarweed (Madia sativa), tall plants with large branching flower heads.

And good heavens! here are some large-flowered phacelias (Phacelia grandiflora) still blooming. I thought they were long gone, but, no, here’s another. Back in March they covered the hillside here and were stunning. Now they are somewhat blackened with very few blooms. Not nearly as impressive.

Down at the edge of the road are lots of peak rock roses (Helianthemum scoparium). These aren’t a surprise.

When I reach the top I find one chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) still blooming. I don’t see any Toyon up here. There are some laurel sumac but they are finished. No more blooms.

As I run back down I wonder about elderberries. They’ve been blooming well into August, but all the elderberry bushes I see on the way down are covered with berries and not with blooms.

I notice a California goldenrod (Solidago velutina), and it really is different from what I saw near the top. Much more gracile, and the leaves are green and not silvery grey.

I bike home, and on the side of Los Positas I see some elderberry blooms (Sambucus mexicana). Not done yet, after all, I think. I get off the bike for a closer look (just in case I’ve got it wrong), and I as walk toward them I see a wild radish in bloom too.


September 1, 2010

Last year almost everyone in front of me got lost.

It’s kind of fun being in second place.

Of course it would have been even more fun to be first.

What can I do this year to get that to repeat?

Obviously I can’t win fairly.

The first thing that occurred to me is just to tell all the fast people that if they stick behind me, I’ll make sure they don’t get lost. Unfortunately there are still two miles to go after the point they got lost last year, so even if they agreed they’d all pass me in those two miles.

Mark Twain suggests getting racers to swallow lead pellets until they are too heavy to move… but I can’t see that working.

Could I sneak up behind the course marker, and put an arrow onto Foothill that will send people running off to Montecito?

There’s not much time left. I need to think of something soon…