I think we are all bozos on this bus

I spent a long time on the fence about whether to do the Coyote Backbone trail race. I wasn’t sure I could do it. In the event, I could not. I have worried that a 50-miler is about my limit — not that I can’t run that far, but that my stomach shuts down and I can’t take in nutrition or water.

In a marathon, where I try to maintain the same pace, my heart rate goes up to an unsustainable level. In an ultra where I try to maintain heart rate I just go more and more slowly. In both cases I sometimes vomit at the end.

But I came up with some new ideas to try, so I thought Backbone might be worth risking:
  1. I was going to slow every now and then and hope that this would allow more blood flow to my stomach which would mean that it could actually process the water/food I put in it and so I wouldn’t get nauseous and could keep eating.

    My first idea was just to sit at an aid-station for 15 minutes, in the shade, reading a book (to keep my mind off things and reduce my excitement=stress), and drinking as I wished.

    Mike suggested that I keep walking so as not to cramp up (perhaps up a hill when I wouldn’t be going fast anyway?). Good point. He said the important thing was to get the HR below 100. He warned it might take longer than 15 minutes this way, but at least I’d be moving. I didn’t think I could get my HR below 100 going up a hill, but then I didn’t want to walk down a hill when I could normally zip along.

    Well, I tried this. I went slowly up a hill. I let some walkers pass me. At first I couldn’t even get my HR below 140 but after about an hour I got it down to 120 but not 100. I wasn’t willing to spend more time than that (and the hill was coming to an end). I felt a little better, but once I started moving again the nausea returned.

    If I do this again, I could try my original idea, but at the moment I have little expectation of it helping

  2. For years I’ve been told to put electrolytes into my water as I drink it. This is supposed to make absorption easier. For years I have resisted for no good reason (I didn’t want to have to wash out the bladder afterward?).

    This time I tried it. If it had any effect, it wasn’t enough. And by the end of the race I couldn’t drink water either because it tasted like sugar.

I tried these things. I had to drop out after ~12 hours because of my nausea. I had my last real food 6 hours in to the race. I stopped drinking after ~8 hours. When I tried to eat a little bit of food (3 orange eighths, and 1/32 of a cantaloupe) at Encinal aid station (mile 43, hour 9) I almost immediately had dry heaves, doubled over attempting to vomit. (Nothing came up, unfortunately).


I’ve never dropped out of a race before.

There were five of us, Brett, Jon, Stephanie, Mark and me. (oh and Jeff, but he didn’t train with us. And doubtless others).

The backbone trail of the Santa Monica mountains runs roughly east-west from Will Rodgers State Park in Santa Monica to just below Point Magu on the coast near the LA/Ventura county line. It’s about 65 (67? 68?) miles long.

It was supposed to be hot. The forecast was for temperatures in the mid-80s in the hill cities (and probably in the 90s in the enclosed canyons, but there’s no forecast for that). That would just make all my problems worse.

There were two different start times, the slower people started at 6am, the faster ones at 9. Mark and Stephanie and I were considered fast. Which meant we’d be starting when it was already hot and would run for 6~7 hours of brutal heat before things started cooling down. Then we’d have to run for who knew how long in the dark.

But the moon would be just before full which meant we’d have good moonlight from when the sun went down. And it would be cooler. Maybe running in the dark would be nice.

My friend Cynthia drove me down (and then met me at all the aid stations during the race). We left SB at 5 and got to the finish area at 6. There was a bus at 7:30 to take people to the start line, but I wasn’t sure where La Jolla Canyon actually was, and there were various things which needed to be done so I allowed extra time. We didn’t need it. So we sat around for an hour.

Stephanie showed up. She had car-camped there overnight and had somehow contrived to lose her car key. So we looked for that. It was something to do. We didn’t find it.

After a bit it got light enough to see, and I realized we were in the middle of the burn area for the Spring Fire (a huge wildfire in May of last year). I went wandering around through it to see what was regenerating. I’d be finishing sometime after midnight (probably) so this was my only chance to see it in the light.

Our goody bags were unusually heavy. It turned out they contained books. Mine was a huge hardcover detective novel. Last year someone had carried a book through the race and read at every aid station, so we were being given this option. Now I had thought I might carry a book, I was thinking more in terms of a paperback or ebook reader. No way I was going to carry this thing. So I gave the goody bag to Cynthia and ignored it.

One guy was carrying a banjo (and he did serenade the aid stations). Several people did carry their books (many had smaller books than mine). I thought that perhaps I’d just recite the Snark (or bits of it) when I got to a station.

I got thirsty, but there didn’t seem to be any water here (I was offered coffee, but — ug.) I didn’t want to drain my camelback already, I was going to have a 11+ mile run to the first aid station before I could get a refill.

Then off we went on the bus. The driver told us it was 34 miles by road. Hmmm. That sounds a lot easier (and will get to the same place).

There was water at the start, but no cups. Great. The air was still cool, but standing in the sun was already hot.

Le jour, déjà tout plein de soleil, m’a frappé comme une gifle.

When we got off the bus, Stephanie carefully wrote “Drink” on the inside of one of her arms, and “Eat” on the inside of the other. She has problems remembering to do both in a race.

Our bibs had chips, but there was no chip mat at the start. Odd. There were chip mats at some of the aid stations. I assume (though I never got there) there was a chip at the end.

We got off a little late, about 9:05 rather than 9. Somehow I was in second place; after about 20 feet we reached an unmarked intersection. I guess they didn’t bother to mark it because surely everyone would know where to go here? Anyway we didn’t. The guy in front of me and I went the wrong way. Not for long, of course. Everyone else knew what they were doing.

After a bit there were two fast guys in front, and then I was running with in a group of 3. One was telling me he ran Red Rock and was 50 minutes slower than Mike Swan. Oops. This guy’s too fast for me. And anyway my HR is approaching 80%, time to slow a bit.

Looking back to the city one can see sky-scrapers poking out of the haze, and there’s a taste of smog in the air. Not as bad as Bandit, but noticeable. This faded as we ran away from the city, but I still got smog-coughs from time to time.
Bridge View

I’m running alone now. There’s a guy about a quarter mile in front of me (you might be able to see him on the bridge photo if you look at a larger version).

The trail runs basically east-west. As do the mountains. So one side of the mountains faces south, this gets the full force of the sun, it is much drier and hotter here, so fewer things grow, so there is no shade so it is even hotter than it might otherwise be. The other side of the mountains faces north. The sun doesn’t reach here as much. It is cooler, there are creeks (well, there are creek-beds, there’s no water this year) and there are trees and shade. The trail moves from pleasant shade to burning heat as it meanders around the ridge line.
No Shade

BackboneBetween the start and the first aid station we climb from ~500ft to 2200ft in 8 miles and then drop down to 1200ft in the next 4. Compared to the SB hills this isn’t steep, and I average about 10 minute miles over it. I run out of water at 10 miles. I started with 2 liters, and I’m out of water after 1:40? Wow, maybe the electrolytes are helping me drink (or maybe it’s just hot).

Am I drinking too much? I never have worried that before. A liter an hour is good practice (and I rarely drink that much when racing). This is more than that, but not hugely. And it’s a hot day.

Rocks EagleRock
Eagle Rock
(but not the one I know)

I see a water fountain about half a mile from the aid station and I pause and get a drink.

Dead Grass

And here’s the aid station. The guy ahead of me is just leaving. I remove my camelback and ask them to fill it. The volunteer asks if I want ice in it. Oh, yeah, that’s as good idea. At one point I was planning to ask for that.

Arriving at Trippet Ranch AidStationNormally there are cups of water at aid stations. There are none here. I ask if I can have something to drink. A different volunteer says “Sure, where’s your cup?” They think I was given a floppy foldable plastic pouch which I’m supposed to use to get drinks at aid stations. I think I was not. Oh. Maybe it was in my goody bag, I didn’t look. But no one told me. I never saw it on the website. If they are going to make an unexpected (and important) change like this they’ve got to make it extremely obvious. It’s probably a good idea, cuts down on waste and so forth, but it’s unexpected and I really want to drink now. (Cynthia hears this and checks my goody bag later and tells me I did not get a cup-pouch. I check it later. There is no cup-pouch. There is a wine-cork. Perhaps they confused the two?)

Out of the station. Oops. I forgot to recite the Snark at them. It was all so busy. Oops. I had intended to splash water on my neck to cool me down.

About a mile down the trail there’s a stand-alone restroom by the side of the trail. I pop in and splash water on my neck, and then out again.

I can hear someone behind me. This turns out to be Dan, we go back and forth several times. At this point he is running faster than I but took a wrong turn and ended up at the wrong road crossing, and then had to run back to the backbone.

I’ve not had problems with the trail markings yet. Oh, I’m a bit annoyed that they use orange flagging (which doesn’t stand out to my color-blind eyes), but the background is brown this year rather than green so they are more visible than they might be if we weren’t in a drought.

We are in and out of the sun here. There’s no breeze. It gets really hot on the sunny side of the canyons.

Le soliel tombait presque d’aplomb sur le sable et son éclat sur la mer était insoutenable.

I notice that when I’m running in the sun my HR goes much higher than when I’m running in the shade. In the sun it gets up to 85% at what feels like a normal effort, while equivalent work in the shade is only 80%. I wonder if that is generally true? Mmm. Dan is just ahead of me in the sun, so maybe I’ve let him set the pace, but he pulls ahead and is out of sight by the time I’m in the shade).

It’s 6 miles to the next aid station. Now I’m on a shady hill. I pass a guy who says he has overheated. I suggest that he dump water on his head and neck or put ice in his cap at the next aid station. I’m feeling pretty good myself, it’s not bad in the shade.

I realize I’m having trouble remembering the Snark. Hard to think when racing. Maybe Jabberwocky? German Jabber is pretty impressive. And it’s much shorter. Let’s go for that.

At the top of this hill I come out onto what must be Stunt Rd. There’s a volunteer here to tell us what to do, and as I pop up the hill I begin “Just the place for a Snark.” But she’s talking to someone else and isn’t listening to me, so I don’t go any further with the poem.

I know the next aid station is on the road, so I don’t pay as much attention as I should. I cross the road to run against the traffic, and I miss the place where the trail takes off again on the right. Not a real problem, the two meet again at the aid station… but I come from an unexpected direction. No one there notices me. When I speak they startle and say “Where did you come from?” Howard, the race director, who happens to be there, tells me that I need to run back and do it right. Luckily it isn’t far (?half a mile? not sure) but he turns out to be joking.

They have to remind me about putting ice in my bladder. I forget about ice in my hair. I forget about reciting the Snark.

I’ve actually run the next 19 miles of trails before (I did one training run for this race), so I know this section. That is, I’m more familiar with it than the others.

I’ve now run for three hours. My initial plan was that I’d start walking now to get my HR down. But I’m feeling good, and I’m drinking enough. I hope this means that all I needed to do was add electrolytes to my drink. I’m feeling kind of stupid not to have tried it earlier. Anyway I don’t slow.
Nice Rock

When I ran this section last it was early morning. It was cool; the trail was in shadow. It’s not like that now. I keep thinking “Soon I’ll find the shade again” but it doesn’t happen, or not for long.

Pendant tout ce temps, il n’y a plus eu que le soleil et ce silence.

Here is the place where Jon fell and skinned his elbow a month or so ago…

But I’m still feeling good in spite of the heat. I go down for 6 miles and cross a little creek (which actually has water in it!) up onto the road and down to the aid station.

There Cynthia tells me that Mark told her at the last station that he might drop out at this one, if he does she’ll drive him back to the start and may miss me at the next station. I learned later that Mark did drop out here. And when Stephanie arrived she was so dehydrated that EMTs set to work to rehydrate her. After an hour of this she decided to continue. At this point Mark also decided he felt better, and tried to unDNF himself, but the timing people won’t let him.

My watch only has a battery with a ~9 hour charge. But I have two GPS watches. So I put a second watch in my drop bag for here. I’m only 4:30 hours into the run, but the next drop bag spot will (probably) be after 9 hours so I have to get it here. I also picked up some chewies (I was then out of gels and chewies, I calculated that precisely).

And I’m off. I turn the first bend in the trail, and there’s a horse blocking it. Stationary. But horses have the right of way even if they aren’t moving. There’s no way around it. Horses are big. But the rider moves it. And I’m off again!

This trail segment doesn’t last very long and debouches onto the fireroad that Mark told me was the Bulldog 50K course.

That is the sign we hail
Bulldog! Bulldog!
Bow, wow, wow

I’m starting to feel nauseous now (it’s about 5 hours into the run). I guess the electrolytes weren’t as helpful as I was hoping. OK, time to try Mike’s emendation of my idea. Walk really slowly.

I try this. I can’t seem to get my HR below 140 (70%). I slow down even more. One of the walkers (one of the slower people from the first wave) catches up with me and we go up together, chatting from time to time.



It’s a long hill. After about an hour my HR has dropped to 120 (when I’m lucky). I’m feeling less nauseous. But I stopped eating. I was eating 100 calories of sugar every half hour, but the thought of that now seems appalling. My last sugar was just before the walk started. I’m still drinking.

There’s a bush lupine blooming by the side of the road.

I stop by the side of the road to urinate. My water is very yellow. Not a good thing. I am definitely dehydrated in spite of all my efforts. Nothing seems to have worked.

I start running on the downhill, and a couple of miles later reach the next aid station. They fill up my water and give me ice. I eat some orange eighths. One of the volunteers has just cooked some quesadillas. She is offering them — to the other volunteers, not to the runner standing right in front of her. Odd. I ask for one and she’s happy to give it me. The guy who just filled my water bottle tells me I need more sun block on my shoulders and sprays some on. Seems like a good thought.

I eat the quesadilla slowly as I run away.

I’ve been going for about 6 hours now. 3PM. Isn’t that time for it to get cooler? Maybe? But no. We’re on daylight savings time. It’s only 2pm really. It’s quite hot for the next mile or two.

… la tête tetenissante de soleil…Mais la chaleur était telle qu’il m’était pénible aussi de rester immobile sous la pluie aveugante qui tombait du ceil

But then I pop into the shade. And suddenly the ground is covered with milk-maids. These weren’t blooming when I was last here. I think the rain last fortnight brought them out.

I keep seeing them.

I pass Jeff. He seems tired, but in good shape. For that matter, I’m footsore myself.

There’s a California Walnut blooming here. I’ve never seen that before.

Even drinking is starting to make me feel nauseous. Perhaps the electrolytes are a bad idea now. Sugar in the water is causing me problems? I won’t add any the next time I fill the bladder.

I come down to the Kanan aid station. I’m hoping for more quesadillas or at least orange slices, but they have nothing but water (they aren’t supposed to, I’m just hopeful.). Sigh. This is about mile 37 and about 7:30 into the race. Howard tells me it’ll be cool now as I run downhill — but he’s wrong on both counts — it’s hot and uphill. As I leave the aid station Brett says “Hi.” He appears to be in good spirits and is (I guess) just hanging out.

This is unknown trail again. I don’t pay much attention, I just keep going. I pass a few more people from the early start, but this is getting harder — the later in the race we go the better runners they will be. Two people from the second wave pass me. (One is Dan, of course), that’s the first time I’ve been passed in ages.

It’s ~6 miles to the next aid station, and near the end of that my first watch runs out of juice. I start up the second one. I’m not going to need the HR stuff any more, I’m not pressing my heart rate. I’ve slowed considerably on the uphills (but am still doing fine down). I think I’ve run out of muscle glycogen, it’s been 3 hours since that last quesadilla.

When I arrive at the aid station there has been a large influx of runners and none of the volunteers pay me any attention. Cynthia offers to fill my water. Hmm. No need for ice now. I haven’t drunk much since the last aid station anyway. I look around for food. No quesadillas. One volunteer offers to make another runner a burrito (but not me). A burrito does not sound appealing. There are 3 orange eighths left and I scarf them. There’s also a small bowl of cantaloupe bits, of which I eat two.

Then I’m off. As I leave the clearing I double over with dry heaves. Nothing comes out. I get up and to run again, and again I double over. That’s new. I’ve never vomited during a race before, only afterward. But that’s the worst of it and I finally leave.

It’s a 9+ mile uphill trek to the next aid station, and I’m really not feeling well. I consider turning back but we were told that once we left an aid station we had to push on to the next one. And anyway, maybe things will get better with the cooler night air? And stopping at 52 miles sounds so much more impressive than stopping at 43…

Again I’m moving very slowly. Again Dan passes me (I guess he spent more time in the aid station than I). A woman from the first wave is slowly catching up. She is talking on her cell-phone. Ug.

Time passes. So do more people. Lots of people. The sun goes down. I realize the moon is up. I’m moving very slowly. 2.5 miles an hour. It’s going to take 4 hours to get to the next aid station.

When people pass me they ask how I’m doing. I say “terrible.” Then they try to cheer me up. It doesn’t work.

It gets darker. But not dark enough yet to get out my flashlight. It gets cooler, but not cool enough yet to get out my long sleeve shirt.

After about 4 miles the trail flattens a bit, and I regain some energy. There are downhills to run.

Finally I reach an intersection where the trail marks are difficult to see and I get out my flashlight. I’m on a fireroad now. These are more confusing than trails, there seem to be lots of turn-arounds and each such looks in the dark like an intersection until I examine it carefully.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a very fat cat crouching in the road in front of me as if to pounce. But when I look again I see it’s only a stone from a rock-fall.

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
Descending from the ‘bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus.
‘If this should stay to dine,’ he said,
‘There won’t be much for us!’

Such tricks hath strong imagination,

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

And I remember that people start to hallucinate on long runs if they don’t get enough glucose to the brain. It’s been almost 5 hours since I had anything real to eat, maybe 3 since I had anything significant to drink. Perhaps I’m hallucinating? Nah, I think the Duke is right.

I come running down a hill to a road crossing at a pace which impresses the crossing guards (or they say it does), but running downhill is easy. Once I cross the road I walk slowly up the other side.

More people pass me, including the lead woman.

I’m not getting better. I rest and have a little spurt of activity and then I need to rest again. I still can’t eat. Or drink. I suppose I could probably walk the last twelve miles after the next aid station… but why would I want to? I’m nauseous, I’m slow. This isn’t fun. And Cynthia can pick me up. Had she not been there my decision would have been harder to make, but she will be there.

The moon is not really bright enough to show the trail markings (at least not to my eyes), but when it’s behind my back it is enough to make me think that someone is catching up and the moon is their flashlight.

I’ve got a mile and a half to go.

Half a league, half a league, half a league onward.

I can see headlights on a road above me, but no sign of an aid station.

There it is.

I walk through the chip detector and tell them that I’m stopping.


I still can’t drink, or eat. And suddenly I’m coughing violently. I think the smog has caught up with me. I’m just miserable.

During the ride home I slowly feel better.

When I get home I take a few sips of water. And then a few more. After I’ve drunk about a pint (and some salt with it), I figure I can go to bed.

Would anyone like a copy of Straight by Dick Francis?

Wildflowers blooming

Southern Tausia (1 plant)
Chickweed (lots)
California Buckwheat (lots)
Bay laurel (2 plants)
Chaparral Currant (1 plant)
Mulefat (several)
Elderberry (2 plants)
Prickly phlox (1 plant)
Periwinkle (2 plants)
Sticky Monkeyflower (1 plant)
Purple Nightshade (3 plants)
Milk Maids (lots)
Manroot (several)
Deerweed (several)
Bush lupine (2)
Chamise (1)
Two Color Cudweed (1)


3 Responses to “I think we are all bozos on this bus”

  1. marianshapiro Says:

    Wow! That would be enough to make most people not put themselves through this again! I”m so sorry to hear how sick you were, George.

  2. activeharmony Says:

    Holy crap – I was looking at this race really closely, and nearly pulled the trigger. In a sick way, you’ve made me want to for next year. Sounds like and absolute monster! Thanks for a great race report — what’s next for you?

    • georgeruns Says:

      Well, this year was unusually hot. We can hope next year will be cooler…

      As to what’s next for me: Maybe something in Alaska or Antarctica. Something a bit cooler 🙂

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