I’m running in the heat
Just running in the heat
What a horrible feeling
I’m crappy again.
Yesterday as we were doing our cooldown from the 8 mile tempo someone asked me what I was doing next. Well I was training for a 68 mile trail run through the Santa Monica Mountains. Oh yeah, and I was planning to do a 50K the next day (today) — I’d sort of forgotten — as a training run. They pointed out we’d already run 17, so why do that the day before a race? Well the point was to be racing on tired legs — to simulate the longer race.
Then Ethan asked me what motivated me. This question surprised me because I haven’t been feeling very motivated recently. It was only this week that I committed to either these races, I’ve been fence sitting. Feeling terribly unmotivated. But when I got home it occurred to me that Ethan might have meant “What motivated me to run at all.” And this thought was equally surprising. I don’t need to be motivated to run. I like to run. Why would I need motivation to do something I enjoy? It’s hard to imagine not running.
Anyway we met this morning (Jon, Stephanie, Mark, Brett and I) at 4:30 to carpool over to Simi Valley. I’m not sure that any of us had been to Simi before; it’s about 75 miles east and a little south from SB. Inland, so hotter than SB, but the weather people were predicting a high in the mid 70s (which didn’t sound bad).
We arrived. And found a locked gate where we thought we should find our parking area. Someone else drew up behind us (so we weren’t the only ones to be confused). But Brett found the right email and we set off again to another entrance, which was crowded with people (well, crowded by the standards of 6am).
It was pitch black and chilly. I decided against a long sleeve shirt over my singlet (they are too hard to take off mid-race), and opted instead for a pair of long socks with the toes cut off which I drew up over my arms. Then I turned on my watch, which told me LOW BATTERY and then turned itself off. Great. No watch. I was already annoyed at my watch because a couple of days earlier I found the HR monitor wasn’t working. So I replaced the battery (my generic fix for that problem), but the HR monitor still didn’t work and I was flummoxed. So I’d already given up on the HR monitor, and now I had to give up on the whole thing.
I don’t think I’ve ever raced an ultra without an HR monitor. It tells me when I try too hard and prevents me from going too fast at the start. And it’s been ages since I did anything without a GPS watch to tell me how far I’ve gone, how long I’ve been running and how far to the finish. But with tired legs I probably wouldn’t be able to try too hard (so I wouldn’t need to look at a HR), and it would be good for me to run by feel again.
So the watch stayed in the car.
Everyone else was discussing how to hydrate. I was planning on my two liter camelbak and had no other option so I stayed silent. Mark had two water bottles with him but decided that “It’s only a 50K, one bottle will be fine.” So I think everyone else ran with a single ~1 pint waterbottle (about a quarter of what I had). One thing I wanted to train myself on was to drink frequently in hopes that would keep me from dehydrating.
We picked up our bibs (with embedded chips!) and still had almost an hour to kill before the race start.
Slowly it grew lighter. Slowly the moon set.
Then we lined up. The Race Director gave us the two rules of the course: “1) Don’t litter. 2) If you wear earbuds only wear one (because it’s rude to cut yourself off from others by wearing two).”. They seemed like pretty good rules.
We made a big loop around a large hill in the middle of the valley, eventually climbing up the hill, and down and back to the start. I guess the race needed a little bit extra to make it 50K. We started at a pretty good clip. Faster than I thought appropriate and I slowly dropped back in the pack as more and more people went out too fast. I like to count the number of people ahead to know where I am in the race, but there were just too many.
Oh well. It was a training run. I wasn’t really supposed to be racing. And, yeah my legs did feel stiff from yesterday; I probably wasn’t going as fast as I could, nor should I.
Then we set out across the valley toward the mountains. And then we started climbing up to the ridge. The trail switchbacked up and very soon there was a line of people walking up the steep mountain side. Normally I might have been temped to try to run up, but my legs were tired and I was happy to walk behind people. Though I did end up passing a couple.
Then the trail led into a tunnel which ran underneath a freeway that crossed the park. The tunnel was level and we ran for a bit, but all too soon we were back to creeping up the hillside.
I realized we were going to have to run down this when we returned, and I didn’t like the looks of it. It was steep and technical — the kind of downhill I hate and have to slow way down for in order to feel safe. But there was no point in dreading the future.
Going at this slow pace gave me ample opportunity to remind myself to drink (I had intended to time myself and drink every 10 minutes or so, but, watchless, I simply took a mouthful when I thought about it. Which was pretty often.
On the rare occasions when I breathed through my nose the air stank. I have forgotten the joys of LA smog, but today Simi Valley seemed to be encased with a blanket. Oh, not really bad; I’ve certainly seen much worse; but I’m not used to it any more. The air stank and there was a haze coating the opposite mountains which was not mist.
Haze over the city. It never got better.
Finally we crested the hill and turned onto a fireroad which ran along a ridgeline, and continued to climb, though not as steeply. We entered a weird countryside with great (natural) piles of rocks higgledy-piggledy on top of the peaks. The hillsides we could see across the way wear very sere. Far, far less vegetation than the SB hills have. And we’re in a bad drought, so what little there is is shrunken further.
I pass a guy from New Zealand. He and I spend a lot of time passing and repassing each other over the next ~17 miles. He’s faster than I on the uphills, and I’m faster than the downhills (well, mostly). We also spend some time running together here and there.
And then we started to descend — a stretch more technical that I like, and before long Mark has caught up and passed me. He’s a much better technical downhill runner than I.
We reach the first aid station.
The first significant endurance event I did was a 200 mile bike race, and when I was preparing the guy at the bike store gave me this warning: “You can lose a lot of time at the aid stations, slip in and slip out.” At the time I didn’t pay attention — all I really wanted to do then was finish, and I was riding with a friend who was in no hurry. But when I’m running an ultra I really do try to get through the aid stations as quickly as possible. Mark does not. So although I arrived at the station slightly behind him; I left it before him. Mostly this was because I was nowhere near done with my water so I didn’t need a refill, and I didn’t need food (I carried the GUs I needed for the race). All I needed to do was make sure they got my bib number.
The race has an out and back course— but not completely— there are several places where the out route takes a different track than the return. Then they rejoin and rebranch. The aid stations are at the junction points. So far we had been running on a section that was common to both, but now we diverged.
After the station I was ahead of a number of people now who had been ahead of me before (including the Kiwi). We started to descend fairly steeply and I offer to let people pass, but no one takes me up on it.
Then we come to a place where another trail crosses ours, and our trail appears to proceed a few tens of feet further and then stop at a cliff face. I presume it is just a dead end and turn left onto the larger of the branches of the other trail. The intersection is not marked (as all intersections are supposed to be) so I’m uncertain that this is the correct choice.
After going 100 yards, the people behind me start to worry that this is wrong, and someone further back yells “I know the way, follow me.” It turns out that the cliff I imagined is not quite a cliff, just a very steep slope down which the trail plunges. And we should follow it. I’ve gone from being in front of about 5 people to being last of them. And Mark is right behind me again.
I skitter down the hillside (steep, technical, not to my liking) expecting Mark to pass me at any moment (but he doesn’t) and watching the people ahead draw further and further away. Down below us is a large field of dead grass and then beyond that a cluster of houses.
We cross the field and run out onto a suburban street.
Humph. This is supposed to be a trail race. Still, this works to my advantage and I manage to pass one of the people ahead of me.
The street turns a corner and heads down quite steeply. There’s a traffic sign “Watch downhill speed.” I caution the guy beside me not to go too fast.
Then we turn left off the street and head back into the park. Of course we’re running up again. And up.
After a few miles we come to the second aid-station (and the point we the out and back routes rejoin). I once again breeze through the station. But after I’ve run another quarter mile I begin to think this was stupid. My water is pretty low. But to go back now would waste a lot of time. As I recall this station is about at mile 9 and the next is around 14 (I was wrong in that, the next is closer to 15, but I didn’t know that at the time) and the elevation map didn’t show any bad hills… I risk it.
We climb. There’s some prickly phlox blooming here. This is only the second bloom I’ve seen in about 10 miles of running. Partly this rarity is because of the drought, but I think (from looking at the hillsides) that this area is just much drier that SB (which seems very dry to me).
We climb beside a dry river (it should be wet at this time of year) and there are lots of blooming mulefat plants on the banks. A bit later I find one California Aster.
Then the route diverges again and we climb higher, and rejoins at the top of the hill. And now I start to see the first of the returning runners. I assume the first guy I see is the leader, but I quickly realize that the real leader was probably on the section of trail where the returning route was different. So I don’t bother to count people to see what place I’m in.
We are now going down a lovely road which descends to a (dry) stream bed. The stream may be dry, but it and the road are lined with oaks. So far the only shade we’ve had has come from mountains, not trees. The road is also in good shape, mildly downhill and easy to run. I find I am catching up on the two guys ahead of me (one being the perennial Kiwi).
Another trick to getting in and out of an aid-station quickly is to get there in front of other people. If you are first you get served first. If you are second you may have to wait until the first guy is done. That’s another reason for passing these two.
I’m out of water now. I ran about 14 miles on 2 liters. The aid-station had better be close.
It is. I get there ahead of the other two guys and someone takes my camelbak and fills it while I eat bananas and oranges.
And I’m out, before the other two.
I haven’t gone far before I see Mark coming in the other direction. And then Stephanie a little behind him. They are probably less than 5 minutes behind me. Then Jon, and then Brett. Probably less than 10 minutes back.
The Kiwi passes me again as we climb up the hill which isn’t quite as nice as it was coming down it.
At the top of the hill he’s maybe 30 meters ahead, and we go down a new trail which also proves to be a good trail for me and I pass him again.
But at the bottom of the hill I miss a turn. This time I realize it myself, but when I get back on track the Kiwi is again ahead. And now we are climbing and he pulls away, and then descending and I start to catch up.
(and now my camera’s battery dies. But I charged it all night. It’s not my day)
When we get to the middle aid-station I’m only a few feet behind him.
He gets to the aid station first, but there are enough volunteers that I don’t need to wait. I’ve drunk a lot more water in the last 5 miles than I did in the comparable section on the way out, so I need to refill my water. It has started to get hot.
But again I’m out of the aid station ahead of him and ahead of another guy who had been ahead of both of us.
I’m a little disconcerted as I see no route markings, but eventually I pass a woman who is running the 30K race, so I feel better.
We might both be wrong.
The trail goes uphill, but not steeply. I can still run it. I’m in another stream valley with oaks for shade and mulefat by the stream. But after a mile or so it gets abruptly steep, and I slow to a walk. I walk fast though. The road climbs out of the valley, and into the heat and the sere landscape.
There’s a goldenbush blooming by the side of the road. I think these are finished in SB this year, but here is one in a harsh landscape.
The road climbs.
It seems to go up for ever.
Every now and then I pass someone. More 30K runners. I want to be passing 50K runners, but I haven’t seen any yet.
We come round a bend and I can see switchbacks leading up into the sky, each switchback with a few human figures on it, all toiling upward.
It looks like a long way up.
It gets hotter.
The weather man said mid-70s for Simi Valley, but it’s far hotter here. The sun beats on me from above and reflects off the road below.
I’m drinking a lot of water (and salt tablets, I haven’t forgotten them).
I pass a 30K runner who asks how far we have to go. He doesn’t have a watch either. I tell him I think that after the next (final, first) aid station there will be another 6 miles, but I’ve no idea how far to it.
Finally I crest the hill. I passed one 50K runner (walker) and lots of 30K walkers. As I reach the top the trail turns right and there… is another hill, crossed with switchbacks, each switchback with a scattering of walkers toiling up.
Up I go.
I’m starting to worry that I’ll run out of water.
This section is only 5~6 miles, but it is so hot and I’m moving so slowly.
Finally I reach the top of this hill. And there is an unmanned table with WATER!. I fill up my camelbak again and see that I still probably had half a liter left. Not quite the dire straights I feared.
And off in the distance I can see the last/first aid station. About a mile. I trot down the hill, but it’s too steep and technical for my liking so I’m not really moving fast. And then I realize I have another hill to climb before I reach the aid station. It’s not as long, but it’s too long.
I have enough water. I get some bananas bits and orange quarters and push on. (they tell me that I’m the 14th male, I know there’s at least one woman ahead of me so maybe 15th place)
Surprise. I’m still going uphill. I’m back in the odd country of piles of rock. There’s a 50K runner ahead of me, and I’m slowly catching him up. But when I get close the trail turns downhill, and he takes off and leaves me.
There’s a bit of breeze now, but it’s still hot.
The breeze is nice when it blows.
Eventually I reach the place where the last trail takes off from the dirt road and descends to the finish line.
It’s steep, and technical.
I don’t like it. I’m not going fast even though it is downhill. I keep passing 30K runners though. I start to worry that Mark, or even Jon will come up behind me and pass me. Both can just barrel sure-footedly down hills whilst I stumble desperately to find my way. I suppose it might be anyone really. The guy ahead of me, for instance, had no trouble…
But no one does pass me.
And eventually I pick my way to the valley floor.
Now I pick up the pace (or so it feels, I’m probably going fairly slowly), and come running toward the line. I can hear people cheering in the distance.
They seem to have chosen the curviest route they could. It does not head straight to the line, but wanders around, and eventually approaches it from the back side.
But I get there, and plow across the line, and am done.
I want to go sit in the shade under the trees, but one of race staffers insists that I go sit under the shade of a tent. Now the tent is surrounded by a lot of hot sun beating off the ground all around it. It is actually a lot warmer there than the shade under the trees, but she lets me know that they want to keep there eye on me. Sigh. I can understand being worried about runners in this heat, but do something better than insist they stay in the heat.
I must look really bad, because they don’t do that to anyone else who finishes.
Oh, I finally remember to check the clock: 5:25:46, so I finished somewhere around 5:25. (Official results say 5:24:35, 16th overall, 1st in age group)
They ask me if I want anything. Well, yeah, I’d like to go sit under the trees, but that’s not an option. Eventually they stop pestering me, and I cool down. I drink some water, and take some more electrolyte pills.
I sit there, and eventually Stephanie crosses the line (5:41), and the race staffers converge on her and carry her off to the tent too. She’s the first person they’ve done that to since did it to me. I look at her to see if I can figure out what they see in us, but she looks much as she always does, except her eyes seem a little wider and she looks a bit dazed.
I’m impressed that Stephanie is ahead of Mark. I would have expected him next. Stephanie turns out to be the second woman finisher.
We sit there and recover. After a bit we decide to make our escape. There’s food at another tent (boy, it’s really hot walking from tent to tent). I get some more fruit and a slice of pizza. Then we walk over to the shade where we can look for our friends.
Mark crosses the line at 6:01, and he seems untroubled by the heat. He comes to sit with us.
Then we wait. I start to get worried. Where are Brett and Jon? Dehydration? Broken legs?
But eventually they show up, running together at 6:43.
At the ~15 mile turnaround we were all fairly close together, I think less than 10 minutes separated me from Brett, the slowest. But here at the ~31 mile finish we’re all spread out.
On the drive back we were all coughing. I think the smog irritated our lungs…
So I feel I did a pretty good job of drinking water and taking electolytes. I’m sure I could have done more… but I tend to think something else is going on. I see two other things to try, neither of which is appealing:
- Slow down. Perhaps try to keep my HR below 75% and see if an easier pace will allow me to absorb water better?
- Stop and rest at every aid station. Take a book and force myself to sit and read for 5 minutes? Or take 20 minutes every three hours? By the time Stephanie finished I was actually feeling pretty recovered and that was only 16 minutes.
Neither of these sounds very competitive, and unfortunately. I’m not feeling very motivated.