Archive for the ‘ultra-marathon’ Category

One hundred miles of solitude

May 6, 2015

Many years later, I would remember when I dropped out of my first 100 mile race.

I have been reluctant to try really long races because of my tendency to become nauseous, but I’d had 3 good races in a row. Last year I had no problems on the Born to Run 50K, nor in the SB marathon (in spite of high heat), nor in this year’s Nine Trails race.

I thought maybe it was just a hydration issue. I hoped that running in the evening and through the night would make it go away. Perhaps if I’d drunk more I’d have been OK? Who knows. I thought I was drinking enough. Something went wrong on this race, early and badly.

Last year when Luis announced that B2R 100M would start at 6pm so the first bit of it ran through the night, I thought it might be a race I could do. It’s an easy course (for a 100, I mean). It comes back to the start every 10 miles, so it might be boring (but in the dark, who cares?), but it’s easy to provide everything I need. And… if the worst came to the worst I’d be back at my car and could just leave.

I looked at last year’s 50K race and tried to guess what I could do. I was fairly sure I could do a sub-8 hour 50M on that course. Wasn’t sure how to pace a 100M though, but I figured trying to start out at a 16 hour pace (9:36min/mile) and then gradually slowing as I tired seemed reasonable.

It turned out that I couldn’t hold 9:36 even for the first 20 miles (and last year I’d held 8:18 for ~31). I didn’t even feel nauseous then just slow. So something else was going on. I also think I trained badly, trying to do too much about a month before the race, I got really tired and really slow on my training runs, and I don’t think I completely recovered from that either.

Anyway. In the week before the race I tried to adjust my sleep schedule so that I went to bed later and later (in hopes that by Friday I’d be waking up at about 3pm)

“Its habit of getting up late you’ll agree
That it carries too far, when I say
That it frequently breakfasts at five-o’clock tea,
And dines on the following day.

I’m not sure that was a good idea either. On the one hand, I just felt tired during the week, but on the other sleepiness was not an issue during the run (at least the bit I did do) so maybe it did work after all. Dunno.

Over the course of the last year I’ve been experimenting with various foods that I thought might reduce nausea. I brought an ice-chest (not to keep things cold, just to keep wild animals from nibbling on my food while I was doing a 10 mile loop). Monica recommended tailwind. Melons and oranges have worked in the past. On Coyote Backbone, a quesadilla was the last thing I could eat. Blocks seemed to work better than gels for me. Cliff bars better than either, up to a point. So I brought 6 pre-peeled oranges, one cut-up honeydew. 12 quesadillas (one per lap plus two spares), more than enough cliff bars and blocks to see me through the race if I were only to subsist on me. Some gels (just in case). A bag of home made cookies. salt tablets. 2 gallons of water and a mug. It seemed like an enormous amount of food, but I hoped that if I had enough choice something would work.

And now I have to deal with all the uneaten food somehow.

I also brought four long-sleeved technical shirts (to put on as the evening got progressively cooler. Gloves (which I seem to have left somewhere on the course. Drat it). Two different caps, just in case. A wind breaker. A spare pair of shoes… Three bike lights (each is supposed to last 6 hours before needing a recharge).

Oh, and I brought a scale too, so I could see if I were losing too much water. I checked it before I started, but never again. Which was silly.

I resolved to visit the port-a-potties at the end of each lap. I did this, but it didn’t help. It wasn’t until about 5 minutes after I gave up that I had any desire to use one. By then it was far too late. Maybe I should stash an enema next time?

Sigh. Tilting at windmills.

The weather looked perfect. It had actually rained the day before (more in SB than Los Olivos though) and this brought the temperatures down, though it did not make the ground any softer. The rain had gone, leaving blustery weather with intermittent cloud cover.

Ken Hughes offered to pace me. I don’t see the point of pacers in an ultra. If I can’t motivate myself, no one is going to change my mind, I’ll just get angry with them. Besides I kind of like running alone.

We lined up. I didn’t pay too much attention to this, there were only 35 of us, but when the gun went off I found the person ahead of me was just walking, a novel concept, but understandable in a 100m race. So I had to dodge to get around her. I seemed to be in second place. The guy Luis said would win the race was ahead, but no one else was near. Then Kevin caught up. And we ran together for a bit. Kevin complained that we were going too fast, 7:30s. I felt, well, why not? we’ve got a nice easy bit of road here for about half a mile, a 7:30 pace for half a mile isn’t going to be a problem, we’ll slow when we get to the hill. Kevin said he planned to walk up the hill (but he didn’t when we eventually got to it).

I wondered where Brian Toro was. He’s faster than both Kevin or I. Kevin said he was being smart and not going out too fast — unlike us. Then someone else joined us (Ben Holmes, I later learned). This was my little clump for the next 15 miles. We kept parting and rejoining. I slowed when we got to the hill, but the others didn’t and soon I was alone.

Oh, the others weren’t far ahead, I could see them most of the time.
Brian Kevin Ben

I had never seen the ranch in the evening light before. A bit different from early morning…
B2R evening

After a bit we came to a closed gate. The others were far enough ahead that I didn’t notice how they navigated it. There was a road off to the right. I couldn’t remember a closed gate. I worrited for a bit, until I realized the gate was decorated with flagging tape. We were supposed to go through it. Still, it meant stopping, opening the gate, stepping through, closing, restarting. I don’t like wasting seconds in a race.

On the other side of the gate were horses. I guess that’s why the gate was closed this year.

I climbed the hill at mile 4 or 5 and half-way up met a couple walking their dog. Normally when I do B2R, the first people I pass are the slow 10M runners, but the only people on the course now were those doing the 200 mile race, who’ve been on it for a day already. It was kind of weird, at the starting line, when chatting with people to say “No, I’m only doing 100 miles, not 200.”

It turned out the dog was a bandit and didn’t have a bib.

At one point the group in front of me started a (small) cattle stampede with the cows running down the hill on the left to hide under the tree on the right. This was over when I reached them.
Cattle Stampeed

Then the course twists me back to the entrance road and the registration tent. Luis is there and asks me if the course is well enough marked, he’s been told it’s a bit sketchy. Seemed fine to me though. Of course I know lap 1 pretty well.

I’m running along the edge of the ranch, next to Figuroa Mtn Rd., then inward again to the second aid station. I don’t need anything so I run through it, and catch up with Kevin, Brian and Ben who are just leaving it. Kevin and I run together for a bit, and then Ben joins us.

Normally there are wildflowers on this race, but this year the only blooms I’ve seen are from purple sage. The drought has hit pretty hard.

Up a last hill, and the long downhill stretch to the start line again.

An 1:24 for the first lap. That’s slower than the first lap last year on the 50K. Might be about right for what I want this year (the first lap is shorter and easier than the second, closer to 9 miles than 10, while the second is closer to 11). Sigh. It’s hard to judge pace in a trail race when you essentially never run at the average pace…

At the start area, first Kevin, then Ben, Brian and finally I, peel off to our various cars and aid stations, but we regroup fairly quickly and start on lap 2.

I do have an ulterior motive for going fast. I want to do as much of lap 2 in the light as I can. Lap 2 is trickier, and I know it less well (the 50K does lap 1 twice and lap 2 once).

Up a hill and down to the second aid-station, and then out along a dry creek bed. There’s some mulefat blooming here, at least something is even though mulefat isn’t very impressive.

Then up another hill. And here I slow and lose Kevin, never to catch up to him again.

At the top of the hill we meet with Lap 1 briefly, and suddenly, behind me I hear footsteps catching up. There’s a 200miler zooming down the hill. He’s gone ~140 miles and I’ve gone ~14. And he’s running faster than I. Impressive.

(It doesn’t last though, he has to slow and I catch up with him again)

Then off the main road and on a smaller route, which eventually dwindles down into single track. There’s a peculiar thing hanging from a tree off to my right and I’m trying to figure out if it is a course marking or not when someone catches me up. It’s Ben. I have no idea how he got behind me, but now he’s ahead of me again. I realize later that the “peculiar thing” was a glow stick attached to a wind chime (why the wind chime you ask? I have no idea). At the moment there is too much light for the glow stick to glow, so it just looked odd. It is a trail marking, but not a turn indication as I had feared.

I’m on the look-out now for a pale-yellow mariposa lily (there was one here last year) but I see none. The trail is marked with yellow flags, and they catch at the corner of my eye and make me think I’m seeing something. For a moment…

The light is going now, but that’s OK, the rest of lap 2 isn’t tricky.
evening light
I turn on my flashlight as I plunge down the precipitous drop at the end of the ridge trail and head to the first aid-station where I ask them to fill my camelback. But the water just trickles out of their container and it seems to take forever, so I just get them to fill it enough to take me back to the main station.

Up dead cow hill. Hard to recognize anything in the dark. The glow sticks are glowing now.

The second lap took 1:48 hours. Well so much for any hope of an 8 hour 50M. The second lap is longer and trickier than the first, but not that much. I didn’t intend to slow that much, but I don’t feel I can go any faster. Things are not going well.

Also, and more worrying: I wasn’t able to finish the cliff bar I started. So this time I’m taking blocks.

Anyway, out on the first lap again. It’s dark. I see the occasional light ahead. My own light is so bright that only the brightest stars are visible. The moon is nearly new and isn’t up yet.

The people at the first aid station are looking bored and seem disappointed when I just run by.

The horses mill about when I run through them. The cattle are invisible.

When I’m at the bottom of the ~4 mile hill I hear a whoop! from above. It sounds like a Kevin whoop, and I whoop back.

At about mile 25 I pass Jon Zaid. He’s already done 125 miles of his 200. So we both have 75 miles to go, but he’s 5/8ths done when I’m only a quarter. And he’ll probably finish.

Somewhere around the second aid station I am once again passed by Ben Holmes. How does he keep getting behind me? And he zooms off into the distance again.

Every now I greet people on the course. I’m not sure what to say. I said “Good morning.” once by mistake. “Good night” isn’t really a greeting. It isn’t evening any more.

Third lap: 1:41. Considerably slower than the first.

I couldn’t finish the quesidilla I started the lap with, and didn’t even try the cliff blocks.

I start out on the fourth lap.

Near the second aid station I am again passed by Ben Holmes who says “I guess I’ll be seeing a lot of you this evening.” I hope so, but I’m starting to doubt it. He disappears ahead. Haven’t seen Kevin or Brian in ages.

Someone passes me. I guess I’ve slowed a lot. The odd thing is how few people have passed me so far (except for Ben Holmes whom I’m no longer counting).

As I struggle along the ridgeline trail I know I’m not going to finish. I’d like to run until dawn at least so I can see the 50K start. After a while that seems a bit far-fetched. I’d like to finish 60M so I could at least say I’ve run a longer race than ever before. — Then I’d like to finish 50M… Or I could just stop at 40 when I get back to the start line…

I still don’t see a mariposa lily.

When I get to the first aid station the people there tell me how well I’m doing. I know they are trying to be encouraging, but I find this annoying. I’m not doing well. I’m ready to quit. Just because I’m still ahead of most people doesn’t mean I’ll stay there…

I try a cup of soup. This brings an immediate sense of nausea, but it fades and I feel I have more energy as I plow up dead cow hill, actually running (sometimes it is easier to run up a hill when you can’t see how steep it is). Maybe I can do 50M if I subsist on soup? Soup is not something I’ve experimented with on my training runs, too hard to carry.

Also… if I do one more lap then I can tell Stephanie at the second aid station that I’m dropping out. So at least one of my friends will know…

Fourth Lap: 2:30

I have another cup of soup at the aid station at the start. As I’m eating it two guys come in, they are cheerful and in much better shape than I. I head out before them, but with the nagging feeling that they’ll catch me soon.

It’s dark.

I come to the aid station and get another cup of soup. I tell them they won’t see me again, that I’m giving up after this lap. Then a wave of dizziness hits me, and I decide I’m not going any further. The quickest way back to the start is they way I have come. So I trudge back that way. One of the guys at the station sees me going the wrong way and tries to tell me where I should go. I know where I should go. But I can’t. I’m going back.

I don’t even try to run. It’s pretty cold. My hands are cold. I realize I’ve left my gloves somewhere. At the aid station? Did I take them off to hold the soup? A port-a-potty? I don’t know and they are gone and my hands are cold.

The walk back seems to take forever. I pass several groups. How odd. Other people run in clumps, I don’t. No one seems to notice I’m going the wrong way.

I’m not sure how to DNF. I need to tell someone. But whom? Everyone seemed to be asleep, except for the person running the aid station, and I’m pretty sure she’s not the right person to tell. I decide to pin my bib to the timing tent. But when I (finally) get there I find there is actually someone inside who is sort of awake. She tries to convince me not to give up. Grrrr. If there were any way I could go on I would, but everything has fallen apart.

I load up my car (sans gloves) and drive back to SB.

At least I got to go to the farmers’ market this morning…

You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.

May 4, 2015

I made the mistake of answering the telephone the other day.

It was my sister and I hadn’t spoken to her in ages. I told her that I was planning to run my first 100 mile race soon. Then she told my mother.

My mother doesn’t like me to run long distances. It worries her. I don’t understand her worry, and she doesn’t understand why I’d want to run. So I prefer to present her with faits accompli rather than let her worry about what might happen.

But I didn’t tell my sister not to talk to my mother… so when I next called my parents my mother let me know she was unhappy.

“You are old,” said my mom, “And your legs are too slight
For any course over an hour;
Yet you’re running a race through the dead of the night—
Can you see why I’m acting so dour?”

And it’s true that in some sense I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish. But that’s why I choose this particular race, one consisting of 10 mile loops, so I’ll be back at the start and able to go home whenever I want… It’s also an easy course…

Perhaps I should have mentioned that to my mother, it might have made a difference, instead I just changed the subject when I could.

The first chunk of the race will be in the dark and cool. I view the cool part as an advantage. My mother might view the dark part as a disadvantage. So I didn’t mention that either.

I don’t know what I’m doing. Last year I did a 50K race on the same loops in 4:12:18 which was an 8:15 pace for 30 miles. How much slower should I go? I don’t know. I’m thinking to try averaging a 9~10 minute place (starting out at 9 and slowing as the race continues).

I don’t know what I’m doing.

But one never does the first time one tries to do something.

Nine Trails at last

March 29, 2015

Luis (the race director) moved Nine Trails from August to March because of the heat. And I figured a cool March race was one I could sign up for. So I did.

Forgetting that last year my March race was infernally hot.

Of course we had sundowners and a heat wave this week. Temperatures at my house were 92 two days before the race. I thought about doing another midnight run, but the weather people said the weekend would be cooler.

Not cool, but cooler.

The day before the race I volunteered to help mark trail. Luis gave me a 4.5 mile section to mark. Once I got there I realized that meant hiking 4.5 miles of mountainous trails to do the marking, and then 4.5 miles back to get out. Or a nine mile, strenuous hike the day before a 35 mile strenuous race. That didn’t seem wise, but it was too late to back out. I hiked slowly. As I got to the end I realized I could walk back on the road (rather than trail) which would be easier, and might be shorter. So I ended up only doing an 7.5 mile hike. It took about 3 hours, which meant that I had a late supper and wouldn’t get as much sleep as I wanted. Grump.

I left home around 5am and biked up to Cater to check in.

It was dark.

It seemed a small race. Only about 50 would finish.

Luis told us he was going to start early (and if anyone wasn’t here they could lump it) — this seemed a good idea to me, being frightened of the heat — but by the time he finished giving the course briefing, etc. we started about a minute late.

He also wanted to start at the wrong place, at the top of Cater, rather than the bottom. Oh well. The nine trails route has changed far more over the years due to trail washouts and reroutings, I guess 200ft doesn’t matter much…

When we did start, I glanced at my watch and found I had not reset it from my last effort. So I had to do that, before I started the watch. So my watch was about 10 seconds late.

There was a large pack of runners in front of me, more than I would have liked. Some were running without lights. Which seemed foolish to me. It was dark and would be for another half hour, the moon had long set, and Jesusita is in a tree shaded canyon. It really is dark there.

At one of the stream crossing there was a huge cottonwood down, and in the dark it was kind of hard to see how to get around it.

I bopped along behind some slower runners for a bit, and when the trail widened out I passed a few. And then a few more. And suddenly I realized I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me. Every now and then I’d see a flash of light up the trail, but mostly there was just me and the darkness.

I kind of like running alone in the dark.

Slowly I caught up with the light ahead, and then passed it.

A dim light crept over the world as I climbed up the switchbacks.

And as I popped out onto the fireroad I turned off my light. There is a guy ahead of me whom I don’t know, and then Kevin Cody.

We take the trail over to Inspiration, and then head down toward Tunnel trail. I leap around the guy ahead and zoom downhill. Kevin, however, zooms faster and I lose sight of him again.

I’ve been trying to drink frequently from my camelback, but even so I don’t need to refill with water at the Tunnel aid drop. Then up Tunnel. I see Kevin every now and then, but mostly it’s just me.

About half way up Tunnel I see sunlight shining on the top of some of the taller mountains, but I’m still in shadow.

Near the top of Tunnel someone catches up with me, and we run together for a while. But I know I’ll go slowly down Rattlesnake Connector so I tell him to go ahead, and he does. He’s far faster than I on that downhill.

Up the other side of Rattlesnake, and here I see Charity and Annie who are out doing a little run of their own. I say hi, and zip past. Not long afterward I hear someone else greeting them, so I know there is someone not far behind.

Then barreling down Gibraltar Rd. to the aid station. 1:46. Not bad. On track for a 7 hour run. Ha. I know I’ll slow down later on.

Gibraltar is, I think, the first time I’ve been in the sun.

As I pull out of the aid station the guy behind me pulls in.

I’ve been looking at poppies. On Tunnel trail at about 7am, in the shade the poppies were all furled into buds. But here at the top West Fork in full sun (getting hot) the poppies are in full bloom. Further down the canyon the poppies are only half open.

Poppies at the top of West Fork

Poppies at the top of West Fork

Down by the Cold Spring tunnel there is another downed tree. A large bay laurel. It doesn’t look too bad at first, but there are three separate trunks down (bay laurels do that) and it just gets worse and worse. I exclaim in disgust, but eventually I am through. Then I hear the guy behind me go through the same process.

He catches up and we run together. His name is Glenn, and he is from Atascadero. He ran the race last August, in the heat. Down at the bottom of the trail Nancy is ringing a bell to cheer us on, and then up the other side. Damn it. I shouldn’t be feeling this tired. But I am. I think yesterday’s 7.5 mile hike was a bad idea. As probably was the 10K last weekend which tightened up my calves… Glenn passes me.

Then down the Hot Spring connector and onto the fire road. I’m expecting this to be hot, but it really isn’t bad yet.

Then up the Wall. There are Globe Gilia blooming here. Never seen them here before.

On Buena Vista there is one area where there are about 3 albino figworts. Never seen them anywhere else, but they’ve been here pretty much every year since 2011 (at least, that’s as long as I’ve been checking. I missed them last year, but I think that was simply that I didn’t take Buena Vista trail at the right time)

I’m walking all the uphills now.

As I come up to the fireroad I wonder when I’ll start seeing returning runners. It’s only about 2~3 miles to the turn-around. The first guy is about a mile and a quarter out from the turn, and he is running up a steep uphill. Sigh. Brian isn’t far behind (hadn’t realized he was that fast) and is also running up. The next runner is a woman. I didn’t know there were any women in front of me, and impressed that she’s in third place.

I’m keeping track. I want to know what place I’m in. Once I get to Romero fireroad I’ve only seen 5 runners. Where is everyone? There are lots of people on the fireroad, but they aren’t racers, just obstacles. Most of them are kind obstacles and get out of the way. Finally I see a clump of racers, Kevin and Glenn and some others.

Once I get to the aid station I have counted 9 people ahead, so I’m 10th place. Lisa tries to talk to me, but I’m not coherent. 3:38. If only I could keep that up.

I try to eat up all their cut up oranges.

Then I’m out, and up Romero.

I see Stephanie about half a mile from the aid station. Which means she’s about 15 minutes behind me. (and the leaders were about 40 minutes ahead of me).

After another mile I see Jon and then Karen a bit later. There aren’t very many I know out today.

In this direction it is hot. I realize, this race is mostly in the morning (for me anyway). We start out running west to east, so that on the way out all the uphills are in the shade of the slope. Coming back all the uphills are in the sun. And that makes it hotter. I’m walking the uphills too, so I’m stuck there longer. These fireroads have no shade. And, of course, it is later in the day, so it is hotter.

There are two guys behind me. Chatting. How do they have the energy to chat? I don’t.

I’m continuing to be diligent on drinking water, and it may be helping. I haven’t had any bouts of nausea yet. I also haven’t wanted to use a toilet (and as there are no port-a-potties out, I suppose that is just as well). I guess I won’t see if that makes a difference in a race. However it is becoming more difficult to eat the food I brought. My mouth is getting dry, and that doesn’t help. Today I brought some home-made cookies, cliff bars and cliff shots. The cookies turned out to be too dry. I had one right at the beginning and it was just too difficult to get down. So I switched to cliff bars, now I’m switching to shots. Unfortunately I only brought enough shots for about two hours…

When I get to Buena Vista I see Luis, neat that he can run in his own race.

The two guys are still chatting behind me. Damn it, go away.

Out beyond San Ysidro I see Simone.

As I go along the fireroad I catch occasional glimpses of the guy ahead of me. He’s got a white cap and white shirt so I assume it is Kevin. The Hot Springs Connector brings some welcome shade. As I reach the top I see that the guy in front of me is right there (and isn’t Kevin). I pass him before we get back to the fireroad. So now I’m in ninth place.

It’s quite pleasant running down to the Cold Stream.

After I’ve been running down for a while I find running uphill really hard. Basically I can’t. I have to slow to a walk for a bit, and then after a bit I can start running again (if it isn’t too steep).

Drat. The guy behind me has almost caught up again. His name is Daniel. We are both exhausted. I explain to him why he should pass me, and he explains to me why I should stay in front. An odd kind of race.

Someone has cleared away most of the smaller branches from the fallen bay laurel and it is much easier to get past from this direction.

Then I pull away from him again. And now I start to see Kevin ahead.

When I pull into the Gibraltar aid station I find the lead woman is there (hunh? She was about half an hour ahead at the turn around, what’s she doing here?), Kevin is crashed out in a chair, and some other runner is also there. And Sean is here. Oh, but he’s part of the aid crew and fills up my water for me. They ask me what they can do for me. “Do you have any electrolytes?” “Yes” (pause) “Where are they?” “Oh, right here.”

5:56. Ok, I suppose there is some chance I could still break 8 hours, but I know I’m slowing and I really doubt it. Still we’ll see.

Daniel has come in to the aid station. The lead woman has left. And the runner I don’t recognize. And then I follow. By the time I’m out the lead woman has vanished, while the other runner is clearly visible. At first I assume I can catch him, because he’s walking, but I walk more slowly and he pulls away bit by bit. I never see the lead woman again.

Behind me Kevin and Daniel have also left and are walking up together. We must present a rather odd sight. A race, in which four people are slowly walking up a hill.

Kevin catches up and passes me.

Down Rattlesnake, and ahead of me Kevin pulls up. His adductors are spasming, he says. I almost catch up with him, but they aren’t spasming that badly and he takes off again. I catch up with him again, and he again takes off.

Up the connector. Hottest it has been, I think. Ahead of me I see Kevin stuck behind the nameless runner (who doesn’t seem to be letting him pass, which seems rude), while behind me Daniel is visible. I can’t even walk fast. I’m sure Daniel will catch me. But he doesn’t.

Finally I reach Tunnel (there’s a soapplant blooming here). Some shade and lots of tricky downhill.

I’ve run out of shot blocks, so I start on my dry cookies. I need something. They are hard to get down, so I only take small bites.

I figure that if I can get to the bottom of Tunnel by 7 hours then I have a chance to get to the finish in another hour (normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m tired).

I get to the bottom of Tunnel at 7:09.

There, at the aid station, I see Kevin again. I’m beginning to think this is some subtle form of torture on his part. He keeps letting me think I’m about to catch up… and then doesn’t let me.

Up to Inspiration. 7:29. OK, if I weren’t tired I could get back by 8:09, but 8:20 seems more likely.

I try to run quickly. But I’m really beat. The road goes ever on and on. Pursuing it with weary feet. As with Gloucester the even ground now seems “horrible steep.” It takes forever.

There are lots of obstacles here, but they are pretty good about getting out of the way. Still, when the obstacles are going in my direction I have to warn them, and simply shouting out “Good afternoon” leaves me very tired.

There are some steep little hills right at the end. I try to run up them but end up walking. Pride wants me to run up the last one where people will see me, but I walk up that too. People do see me. Lisa, Stuart. They all want to congratulate me. I just want to finish. Now I can run. 100ft down to the finish line.

8:12:44, 9th place. I never caught Kevin. But then Daniel never caught me.

I arrived at the finish line a happy, healthy man. I crawled away a decrepit wreck. I collapsed in a shady corner and didn’t move for another half hour. I started coughing (there was a lot of trail dust out there) and people got worried. I wasn’t worried. I just needed rest.

Daniel came in, and then Stephanie. But I didn’t move. Eventually, after sitting there for about 45 minutes I went over and congratulated Stephanie — but then I had to go and sit back down again.

Finally I felt recovered enough to roll down the hill to get a shower and some food.

It was faster than the run I did in the dark

Pros Cons
midnight Cool Can’t see well
Lost water bottle
today People to race
Good aid
Can’t get lost
fallen trees

Red Rock Wannabe

December 7, 2014
  1. I wanted to run Red Rock 50m (but the race was last week)
  2. I wanted to see what it was like to do a 50m run alone
  3. I wanted to test certain ideas I had that might make running 100m possible for me.

I have problems that show up after I’ve run a long time (where “long time” is dependent on effort level, temperature, altitude, water consumption). Unfortunately it is practically impossible to test solutions for this since the “long-time” tends to be much longer than I achieve on any training run.

I noticed last month that if I stashed extra water and ran the marathon at a slower pace then I didn’t have problems even given the extra heat. Well it’s hard to stash water for the Red Rock course, so I thought I’d just try running it at a slower pace. I had also noticed that eating cliff bars seemed better for me than eating GU.

OK. I wasn’t going to race, just try to average 4mph. I’d pause to take pictures of wildflowers to get little breaks (well, not many wildflowers now. Ferns!). I’d carry 12 cliff bars (that proved difficult, but I didn’t want to stash them outside overnight) and no GU.

I posted an event on FaceBook. Even though I wanted to run it alone, I was also a bit nervous of being out there for 12 hours alone. Almost immediately 2 people I’d never heard of said “Maybe” to the event. This disturbed me. You need to plan for a 50 miler, you can’t just show up on the day — at the very least you need to stash water. I tried to make it clear that this would be difficult and either they needed to tell me, or stash their own water. But the night before a third unknown person said “Maybe”. I’d already stashed my water, and there was no way they’d be able to. I was worried.

I stashed some water at Camino Cielo and Cold Spring (mile 6) — Heidi told me there was plenty of water there from last week, but I’ve had water disappear up there and didn’t trust that info (It was there). Then I thought to put a gallon near the end of Paradise Rd (or FS 5N18, or Gibraltar, or whatever it’s called there) at Red Rock (which is about mile 17) and another at the start of Mattias Connector (about mile 19).

Clearly that leaves a long gap between Camino Ciello and Paradise, but there are no other easily accessible points in between.

Unfortunately when I got to Lower Oso there was a large sign ROAD CLOSED.

I should have brought a bike.

There was no way I was going to walk the 6 or 7 miles out to Red Rock (and the same back). Even Mattias was 5 miles or so. I really didn’t want to do this the day before trying to 50 miles. But I could go up Arroyo Burro Rd. and stash some water at mile ~24. Not great. But better than nothing.

So now I had an 18 mile run without a water stop. Not good. I was going to have to carry handheld water bottles as well as my 2liter camelback. I hate handhelds. I never drink enough from them and they make it much harder to stop and take pictures. I wouldn’t need them until after Camino Cielo, so I could run up with them empty…

The next morning I got to San Ysidro trailhead a little early (I was running the race inside out, because San Ysidro is easier to get to than Rancho Oso. Cheaper too). And I decided I would not wait for any “Maybe”s. I didn’t want to encourage people to run 50miles with no preparation.

I set out. My camelback felt light. I realized I had forgotten to fill it with water at home. Great. Just great. I’ve never done that before.

Well it’s only 6 miles (albeit straight up) to Camino Cielo and there was lots of water there. I’d make it.

I started a little before 6 and it was pitch dark.

As I ran up beside San Ysidro creek it chattered noisily, but when the road actually forded it, the roadbed was dry. Our creeks are odd.

On the climb up to Girard trail the sky began to lighten
And the full moon set.

I got a little lost at the hot springs in the dark and ran up the wrong trail for a minute…

When I got to Cold Spring the sunrise was nice…

There are some great-berry manzanita blooming further up Cold Spring (first I’ve seen this year) and then another on Montecito Peak, and more all along the course.

I did climb up Montecito Peak, even though no one gave me a medal.

But what I wanted to see up there was a little patch of ferns I had noticed back in October. Back then they were all shriveled up from the summer’s heat or drought, or something. Now where I grew up the only ferns that shriveled and revived were call Resurrection Ferns and were Polypodys so I assumed these were too. But when the rains came I realized that California Polypody doesn’t do that, but Goldback Fern does, so I assumed these were that. But when I went and looked at them they weren’t a bit like either. They are some sort of Lipfern, probably Colville’s

As I trotted on up to Camino Cielo, I realized I hadn’t taken the oath. So I yelled it out to the uninterested sky: “If I get lost, or injured, or dead, it’s my own damn fault!” Perhaps more appropriate today than usual…

The threadleaf ragwort on Camino Cielo still has one bloom. I saw no others alive anywhere else.


Brrr. It is freezing!

I hadn’t realized how cold the water would be. I can barely force myself to drink, and when I fill my handheld bottles they numb my hands. There’s not much left of my gallon jug after I’ve taken three liters out of it so I decide I’ll carry it down to Forbush and stash it there. That way, on the return journey, it will be two miles closer and that may be important.

There’s a currant blooming on the trail down to Forbush, and the last hummingbird trumpet blooming just after Forbush. The Barberry down near the grotto has buds but isn’t blooming yet.

There is less water in Gibraltar Reservoir than there was in June.
Hmm. This is about a quarter of the race (or half way to Rancho Oso).

First glimpse of Red Rock, about 1/3 into the race

Even though there is no (car) access to Red Rock the pit toilet was unlocked. Which was nice.

Then there’s the run along Paradise Rd. with all the fords. After a bit I was convinced I’d missed the trail — but then I remembered the year before I had this same conversation with myself and the lead woman, and we hadn’t missed it. So I kept going.

It’s kind of nice to know there will be no vehicles on the road as you run down it.

Then Mattias Connector climbs straight up for a bit. I walked, and after a mile connects to Mattias Trail.
No matter how many times I run it (in this direction) I always have the same reaction to this trail. Each time I see a ridge in front of me I am convinced that will be the last ridge, once I get there I’ll find the road. Instead I find another dip and another ridge (which surely is the last ridge — but it isn’t either).

Eventually the last ridge takes me by surprise and I run down Arroyo Burro Rd. After a mile or two I finally reach my water bottle, artfully concealed behind a rock (no one cleaned it up! Yay!).

And then Arroyo Burro trail, and then the Rancho Oso trail. There is a no trespassing sign, but I ignore it. I want to do the full course. I doubt anyone will care. No one does. I don’t see anyone at all. I run down to the finish line, switch watches and head back.
Rancho Oso

There’s a nice little goldback fern fiddlehead just opening…

I get back to my aidstation, fill up again. There’s not much left in the water bottle so I decide to carry it with me, again. Oh, and I might as well take a salt tablet.

Suddenly I’m a lot thirstier and I drink a fair amount of water.

It is hot now. Most of the course has been in the shade, but now it is noon and the sun is high. When I get back home I check and see that the day’s temperature in SB is 9°F higher than it should be for this time of year. I wonder if I’ll ever see (what used to be) normal weather again?

I should be OK, I've been going about 4MPH.

I should be OK, I’ve been going about 4MPH.

When I get back to Red Rock I put all the cliff bar wrappers I’ve generated in the dumpster there. I also pick up about 5 GU packets that someone left outside the pit toilet.

I climb out of Red Rock up the trail and onto the road. I’ve been eating half a cliff bar every half hour, and when the time comes for the next bar I get the dry heaves. Damn. I was hoping that if I went slowly that wouldn’t happen. It took longer to happen (8 hours instead of 6), but it still happened and far too soon for a 100 miler. I was also hoping that cliff bars wouldn’t do that to me, but they do. So the test was a failure. I still don’t know how to run long.

I walk for a bit and am able to finish my half cliff bar.

Actually I walk for about 20 minutes (downhill) in hopes that will settle my stomach, but it doesn’t. So I start running again.

I’m alternately running walking now (and not eating) until I get to the Grotto. I’m still averaging 4 mph.

But from the Grotto up to Camino Cielo we have 3 miles of straight uphill and I’m dead beat. I hate not being able to eat and feeling nauseous. There is no way I can run. So I walk. Slowly.

I reach my stashed water bottle. I simple pour out its contents. I haven’t been drinking much either, and there’s more in 2 miles if I need it then.

CampfireAtForbushSomeone is camping at Forbush and has lit a fire. I smell it as I trudge past.

I have a few blocks. The thought of a cliff bar is revolting, but I try one of the blocks. It goes down easily, so 5 minutes later I try another, and a third.

I begin to feel better (but I keep walking, not running). And I wonder if maybe all I need to do is walk for two hours? (It hasn’t worked in the past, but I ignore that).

I can see the top of the ridge line with the pine trees on Camino Cielo
I was hoping I’d get there in time to see the sunset, but my body has rebelled.

Still there is a nice afterglow when I reach the top.

And as I turn the bend there is the whole city spread out below

I find I can run downhill again, and I feel much better than I did.

I’m glad I don’t need to climb Montecito Peak in the dark.

In the half-hour it takes me to get down to the trees, it has become much darker.

I eat a couple more blocks, but my stomach objects to any more. Sigh.

I get to the bottom. About 13 hours. Pleased to have done it, but I wish I knew how to run more than 8 hours… Somehow I need to drink more.

Nine Trails by Night

August 16, 2014

Nine Trails started out as Patsy Dorsey’s training route for long ultras. Then she turned it into a race, and that first race was run in 1991, the year before I moved to town. So it’s been in the background of my mind since I moved here. But I’ve never run it. At first I didn’t race, but Nine Trails has always been the week-end after Thanksgiving — and I went back East for Thanksgiving. One year I persuaded my parents to allow me to skip the family party so I could do the race — but I got injured and went back to them anyway.

Nine Trails starts at the flagpole of Cater Water treatment plant, goes up San Roque road for about 100ft and then heads off onto Jesusita trail, up to Inspiration and down to Tunnel trail. Up Tunnel trail to the Rattlesnake connector, and down that to the Rattlesnake meadow. Up Rattlesnake trail to Gibraltar Rd. and down that to the west fork of Cold Spring. Down the west fork to the east fork, and up that to the Hot Springs connector. Out the connector, past the hot springs and the old hotel site to the Edison catway that leads to San Ysidro trail. Then up The Wall, a very steep catway, and down Buena Vista connector to Buena Vista trail. Up the trail to the Romero catway, out that to the Romero connector, down that to Romero trail, and finally down the trail to the trailhead. At which point we turn round and run the whole thing back to the start. About 35 miles total they say…

Nine Trails Map

In 1994 the west fork of Cold Spring was washed out by the flood and the race was not held until 1997 when west fork trail was finally rebuilt. In 2008 the Tea Fire happened two weeks before the race (and made the trails unusable) and in a mad scramble Luis moved it to Ojai at the last minute. In 2009 the Jesusita Fire burned most of the rest of the trails and Luis gave up and created Red Rock to replace Nine Trails. In 2012 and 2013 he has organized fun runs along the course in August, and this year he announced he was going to put on the race again — but in August.

Now I think running on our trails in August is too hot. So when he made his announcement I suggested a night run instead. Of course by the time I learned about the race it was far too late for Luis to change his plans. But it occurred to me that there was no reason I couldn’t do the run on my own. At night. I am hoping to do a night race next May, so it would be good training. I wouldn’t need much support, just a couple of water bottles hidden in the bushes.

I tried to persuade others to join me, but no one seemed to want to. Some wanted to race, others were worried about running in the dark (and most, of course, had no interest in Nine Trails in the first place). Ah well.

When August finally arrived it turned out to be relatively cool with nice early morning fogs. I was tempted to run the race after all. Of course the fog doesn’t reach as high as the trails, and if it’s the high 70s in town it’s probably high 80s on the trails. And that would be hotter than I’d like (even though not as hot as I feared).

The moon would rise at 11:10pm on the night before the race, and it would be waning gibbous so there would be some light out there once it got above the mountains. I decided to start at midnight. Civil twilight starts at 5:54am. So I need to be prepared for ~6 hours of darkness.

Thursday night (30 hours before my start time) I placed a gallon jug of water at the hairpin on Gibraltar, and another at the Romero turnaround (hidden in the bushes, of course).

That night I had a strange dream. I was trying to drive my parents to the Earthling bookstore (long closed now) through a snow storm (never happens in SB) and somehow I got lost when crossing the river (there isn’t one in SB). I ended up wandering in a part of the city I’d never seen before. I hoped that didn’t mean I’d get lost on the trails. I used to do them in the dark when I hiked with the Sierra Club. This would just be longer… and later… and just me.


  • Getting Lost — not unlikely, but I’d probably realize it fairly quickly and find myself again
  • Falling — possible. At worst I’d have a broken leg and be unable to run, but of course a whole bunch of people would be running those same trails in a few hours. This would be the best time to do that.
  • Mountain Lion — Highly unlikely, I’m not going to worry about it.

    (However someone else saw a lion at Romero just a few hours before I ran)

I had no idea how long it would take me. I had run from Romero to Cater in ~3:25 so I figured that if I were racing in the daylight then a 7 hour run was conceivable but highly unlikely, while shooting for 7:30 would perhaps be reasonable. But by night? with no one to run against? Getting lost? Fumbling for waterbottles in the dark? I’d be lucky to break 8 hours.

Well I’d see…

I tried to sleep from 2pm until 10. Not very successfully, but I did rest even if I didn’t sleep much.

It was about 60°F when I set off from home at ~11:30pm. I had a couple of long sleeve shirts with me in case it got chilly and a cap in case it got sunny in the morning.

In the dead vast and middle of the night,

Am thus encount’red. A figure like myself

Cloth’d at all points exactly, cap-a-pie,

Appears before you, and with solemn run

Goes fast and stately by.

Cater flagpole, about midnight. (I thought flags came down at sunset?)

Cater flagpole, about midnight. (I thought flags came down at sunset?)

I got to the trailhead a little before midnight, but I spent some time frumphering around with my gear and locking the bike so I actually started at 12:04am. And I had to trot down the tenth of a mile to the flagpole. In the real race this time on the road means the fast people get to pull ahead of the slower ones so they don’t have to pass on the single-track. But it’s part of the course even if I have no one to pass (or be passed by).

So many people had told me that they were worried about my running in the dark that I was actually starting to worry myself — not about anything particular, but more that I was overlooking something.

But when I started it just felt natural and all my worries vanished. The only real concern I had had was that my light would not be bright enough and I’d slip and fall. But my light was actually quite bright (125 lumens) and I did not feel that my foot placement was a problem (it wasn’t quite so bright when looking ahead and I did once charge off on a side-trail when the main trail bent sharply, but I quickly realized something was wrong and backtracked 10ft).

The insects were singing nicely with their legs (or wings, or whatever) and I was surrounded with their quiet chirping (until it started to get light).

My light was quite bright, right in front of my feet, but several times I felt myself wondering where exactly I was on the trail. I know that trail backwards and forwards and can usually tell precisely where I am on it. But this evening I kept finding myself disoriented until one of my usual landmarks came into view.

I had expected that I might perhaps run faster because I wouldn’t be distracted by flowers, but I found I was. I kept looking for them in places I expected them and sometimes I would see them, and sometimes I would not. I’ve only recently started wondering about at what times of day the various flowers bloom. I now know for instance that Clematis blooms at night. On the other hand Coastal Morning Glory folds up its flowers and doesn’t open them up again until about 5 (which is still well before twilight). But the flowers were certainly less distracting than usual.

Goleta At NightAs I climbed up above the traverse there were some nice views of the city of Goleta all lit up. But I couldn’t hold the camera still enough, and after this one attempt I decided it would be pointless to try more pictures until the sun came up. Yet another distraction gone.

I was glad to see that Luis had routed the race onto the trail rather than the catway/fireroad. That’s where it’s supposed to go.

I got up to Inspiration in 43 minutes. Not fast, but not slow either. It seemed like a reasonable pace when these 3.4 miles are the start of something 10 times longer…

There were some nice views of the SB city lights here, but I would have needed a tripod. I’d vaguely thought I might get a shot of the gibbous moon rising over the ocean, but that happens in the winter (or maybe never up here). The moon was too far north, over the mountains.

Then down the other side. If it had been lighter, and I’d had someone to run with I’d have gone down this bit faster. I’m not sure which effect would be more important — light or company.

Up Tunnel. I do my first walking up some of the more technical rockfaces. When I get up to the flat section I look down on the lights of SB spread out below me. This is probably the best place on 9T to see that. Maybe someday I’ll climb up with a tripod and good camera at midnight…

I’ve been eating 3 Cliff blocks every half-hour (Cliff gave Joe gave Rusty gave me an enormous back of blocks the other day, so I figure why not use some up today). At the one hour mark I was planning to take a salt tablet, but I can’t find the salt tablets in their pocket. I know I put them in, but there’s a bunch of other stuff in there too which is hiding them. Oh well, when I get to the hairpin I’ll need to stop to refill my water and I’ll find them then.

Rusty warned me that he thought going down the Rattlesnake connector would be bad at night, but it turns out to be fairly easy. Perhaps because I can’t see far in front of me and so don’t worry. Perhaps because when he last did it the trail was full of star thistle or something.

When I get down to the meadow it’s time for more food, and I decide to take a salty GU instead. I feel nauseous almost at once. Hmm. I wonder if GUs have been causing my nausea in the past? Could it be that switching to blocks would solve all my problems (Sadly, no, I learn later).

Up Rattlesnake and then pounding down Gibraltar. I thought I might try turning off my light once I got to the road and just run with the moon. But the moon is very dim compared to the light and I don’t feel safe. So on goes the light again.

As I approach the hairpin I see there’s quite a collection of vehicles already here. And a camper and a large pickup truck, and the aid station tent is all set up. As I come nearer I realize there is someone standing in the aid station just looking at me. He (or she) doesn’t move. It’s kind of creepy. As I get even nearer I realize it’s a skeleton, and that gives me a start. And then I remember Luis’s habit of placing a skeleton on the Born to Run course. It’s never bothered me there, but then I’ve never approached it in the dead of night before.

A dog from within the camper starts to bark, and I quickly run past so as not to wake any sleepers. The dog quiets.

Now somewhere off to the left here, I hid a gallon of water. There’s my marker tree. I click my watch and remove the camelback and start to search. (My watch says that I got here in just under 2 hours, and this is as close to 1/4 of the course as can be, so I’m on track for an 8 hour run). But I can’t find my bottle. I run down into the brush and rummage around down there. I start to get quite worried. Finally I give up. It’s gone. I still have some water left, I’ll fill up at Romero. Then it occurs to me to look on the other of my marker tree. And there it is. Yay!

I fill up my camelback, find my salt tablets (take 2), hide the bottle again (but in a much more obvious place — no one else will come by before I return). Oh, and I can leave my cap here too. I haven’t needed it so far, and shan’t until the sun comes up high enough to reach the trail. And onward.

That whole process took just under 5 minutes. I guess that’s one advantage of a real aid station — you don’t need to look for your water bottle’s hiding spot.

Onward and downward. When I ran this with Gene and Tyler the other week we just bombed down this trail. It takes me about two minutes longer to get to the bottom than it did then (and we were running in the dark that morning too), so I’m thinking that I respond more to company than to light. Of course they’d both be ~30 minutes in front of me if I had done the race so I won’t have had them to chase anyway…

Then up Cold Spring east fork. Somehow I miss the turn at the final stream crossing. I guess there’s a (short) trail that just goes straight ahead, which I usually don’t notice because I see the rocks in the stream, but tonight my puddle of light doesn’t extend to the rocks and I just see the trail continuing — until 10 feet later it doesn’t. Hunh? Oh. I go back, and find the normal route.

Up to the Hot Springs Connector. And now for the first time I can see out east to — well probably — to Summerland. SB and Goleta have been crystal clear with no sign of fog, but there is a haze gathering over these lights.

Down to the catway/fireroad. Occasionally the road twists enough that I see the lights of SB, still clear of fog.

And then The Wall. This is a really steep, half-mile section of catway. It can be a killer. But tonight it doesn’t seem that bad. Oh, I have to work at it, but I keep running and don’t feel too tired. Maybe it’s an advantage that I can only see a small circle of light right in front of me, and not the wall of road rising steeply up into the distance. I don’t get downhearted.

Down and up Buena Vista. Along the Romero catway to the Romero Connector, then down Romero Trail to the gate. This is the turnaround and again, just under two hours. And there is Cynthia. She said she actually wanted to drive here at ~4am and wait here till I showed up. I tried to dissuade her (I wouldn’t want to do that and I didn’t think she should have to either). But she did it anyway. Then she found a weasel to watch (I’ve never seen a weasel) which wanted to watch her, and the two of them entertained each other.

Somewhere off in the bushes I stashed another gallon of water. But it isn’t where I remember putting it. I crash around. Still nothing. I wander around again. Eventually I give up. I have some water, I just need to ration it. I’ll make it to the hairpin where I do have water (And boy am I glad I found that one).

Bye to Cynthia and off I go.

(I went back the next day to look for the bottle — to avoid littering — but I couldn’t find it in the daylight either)

Back over the trails I’ve just run. But the catway feels very steep in this direction and I have to walk it. I walk fast, of course, but it’s still slower than running. I’m not pleased about this.

But the steep bit ends and I run down to Buena Vista, and up Buena Vista Connector and down The Wall.

And then the Catway to Hot Springs gets steep, and I’m walking again. This has a much longer steep section. It occurs to me that I’m getting hungry, perhaps 3 blocks/half-hour isn’t enough. I eat another. After a bit I’m eating two blocks every ten minutes or so.

Halfway up Hot Springs I run out of water. I’ve still got about an hour to go. I’m walking up bits of Hot Springs too.

I remind myself that every mouthful of carbs (blocks) turns into ~half a mouthful of water after it has been metabolized. Can I eat myself unthirsty?


Then down Cold Spring and up the West Fork (I keep eating). I think eating all those blocks has helped. I run up the West Fork. But I’m getting very thirsty.

My light dims. This happens when the battery has only 10% of its juice left and it switches to a low power mode. But I realize that I don’t need it much. It’s starting to get light enough to see without it. But not quite completely, but I don’t need full strength.

TwilightThen I cross the west fork of the creek and start to climb out of the canyon, and as I do, I see the first signs of the sunrise. There’s a little color over the ocean off east. I turn off my light.

TwilightAs I climb higher the views get better.

And when I reach the top of the trail there’s my water, and my cap and good heavens Cynthia (This time she is watching bats, which I do see). I fill up my camelback. She offers to take back what I don’t need. Well I shan’t need the near empty waterbottle. Nor these two long-sleeve shirts, nor the light. I probably won’t use the cap either. But I don’t give her the waterbottle quite yet, I drink most of what’s left in it. I’m thirsty.

SkeletonSomehow the skeleton doesn’t look as creepy now as it did in the dark… (the bats aren’t creepy either)

This quarter has been slow. I’m no longer on track to break 8 hours. All that walking. I should have started eating more earlier. Well, I’ve learned. It might also have helped if I had had more water.

I’m beginning to feel nauseous. I guess I drank too much too quickly. On the other hand this is the first time I’ve felt nausea from drinking water. Maybe my normal nausea is catching up with me? I hope not. It’s worth trying to do another cool run again, only without misplacing a water bottle…

I am able to eat, just not as much as I would like. I had hoped that this final quarter would be my fastest (because it’s mostly downhill and I don’t need to hold anything in reserve, and I have run it fast before). But that’s not going to happen today. I’m able to get back to my 8 hour pace, but that’s not fast enough to make up for the extra 16 minutes on the last section.

It’s now after 6, so the real race has started. I’ve been wondering where I’ll meet the first runners. I’m guessing near the junction of Rattlesnake and Tunnel. Maybe on the Rattlesnake Connector itself (though I hope not, it twists so much that if someone comes bombing down that trail there won’t be time to get out the way). I keep my eyes and ears open as I go up the connector, but I see no one.

Just down from the Connector on Tunnel I do see someone, but he’s hiking, not running. Not him. But he’s the first person (except Cynthia) I’ve seen since I started my run.

And then I see Nash, he’s sitting on a rock waiting for the race to pass. Not him either.

And two more hikers. Not them.

Finally about halfway down Tunnel I see a guy, head down, pounding up the trail. I can’t see his face, nor guess who it is, but he’s clearly the first runner. A little way behind him comes Tyler, walking easily. And then more and more. When I get to the bottom of Tunnel, the flood has turned back into the occasional trickle.

Jesusita FogUp to Inspiration. I plod along, running, but not fast. Not fast enough. Although Inspiration is bright and sunny, the city below is covered in fog. It looks as if it will be hot today (it got up to 85 in the city, and much hotter on the trails); I’m glad I started at midnight. I would probably have done much worse in the coming heat.

Flagpole MorningI try to sprint down the remaining 3.5 miles, but it’s not really a sprint. I’m not really sure where the finish line is. Is it the trailhead? or the flagpole? I’m hoping that when I get to the trailhead it will be obvious. But it isn’t. No one is around. There’s no indication anywhere. So I click my watch at the trailhead and again at the flagpole. It’s probably the flagpole.

Cater to Hairpin 1:54:24 + 4:45(looking for water)
Hairpin to Romero 1:50:23 + ~4:00(looking for water)
Romero to Hairpin 2:16:40 + 2:27(repacking)
Hairpin to Cater 1:58:33
Cater to Cater 8:10:50
Very Dirty Toes

Very Dirty Toes
Trail shoes are designed to “breath”. On a dusty trail they breath mostly dust

Advice to new trail racers

July 8, 2014

The new 9 trails race approaches and I realize that many people running it have never done a trail race before. These are some things that I have learned over the years. Some things learned are just what the problems are (without good solutions), while others are more useful. Not everything will apply to everyone. So these are more things to consider than precepts set in stone.

Things marked with a * are things my coach, Mike, has told me (and therefore should carry more weight than things I’ve learned myself).

There is a different vibe in a trail race than a road race. The pace is much slower, and this seems to make people take it less seriously. But to me it is still a race. I may be running more slowly, but I’m just as focused on winning my age-group (at my age winning the race is out of the question) as I am in a road race. These notes assume that you want to do your best, but if all you want is to have a good time, then you can ignore some of them.

  • Dehydration — This is my biggest unsolved problem. It seems to be a common problem, though it doesn’t happen at the same time to everyone. Somewhere around 4 hours I will notice that my heart rate starts to climb. Somewhere around 5 hours the thought of more food because nausea-inducing. Somewhere around 9 hours the nausea becomes incapacitating. This problem is made worse by heat and altitude (and effort level).
  • Heartrate — Mike tells me that I should keep my heart-rate below 80% during the race.* The longer the race, the more important this is. For a 50K (which is over in ~5 hours) I’ll hold to that for the first half of the race and then allow it to climb, for a 50 miler (8+ hours) I don’t have that luxury. 9T is somewhere between the two, but closer to most 50milers.
  • Water — 1 liter/hour (1 quart/hour)*
  • Salt — 100mg sodium/hour* There are two common salt tablets in running stores. For “S-Caps” this corresponds to 1 tablet/hour, while for Endurolytes it’s about 2.5 tablets/hour. Salt is supposed to help you retain water, so the taking of these tablets should reduce dehydration. In my case it doesn’t seem to make a piece of difference — but I usually do it anyway once it starts to get hot.
  • Food — 200g carbs/hour.* Or a GU every half hour. (That’s in a long race, when doing a 5 hour training run I’m more likely to take a GU every 45 minutes). Gels are easy to deal with, and are light and can be carried in pockets (so I don’t need to stop at aid-stations for them) but after 3~4 hours I find the sight of a GU makes me nauseous and I switch to chewy blocks. After ~5 hours blocks make me nauseous too so I’ll try to eat whatever is at aid stations. I like orange slices, bananas, potatoes. Sometimes quesadillas. Whatever I can stomach. At that point my mouth tends to be too dry for peanut butter. A bit longer I find I can’t eat anything. Other people tend to start out eating from aid stations and then switch to GUs later in the race. See what your body does.
  • Nausea — I start feeling nauseous after about 5~6 hours. More time if it is cool and at low elevation, sooner if it is hot or at altitude. Different people respond differently. A few are lucky and don’t seem to get nauseous. Others will have it happen sooner (I have sometimes become nauseous at the end of a marathon, but there the higher effort level makes me dehydrate faster). I frequently vomit about 20 minutes after I have finished a 50 miler (which doesn’t make sense to me). Mike has told me that if I start to feel nauseous then I should try walking with my HR below 60% for 20 minutes. Sadly, once I’m feeling nauseous, I can’t seem to get my HR that low. Maybe I could on a cool day, in the shade going downhill, but I’ve never had a chance to test that. Something I mean to try someday is to take a ~15 minute break sitting in the shade at an aid-station, perhaps pouring water on my head to cool down. I think it might also help bring along a book (e-book?) to read to take my mind off the race and get my HR down.
  • Aid Stations — You can waste a lot of time in aid-stations. There is a presumption in a trail race: “If I’m going to take 8 hours to run then why worry about 2 extra minutes in an aid station?” — well because there might be 10 aid-stations in your 50 mile race and wasting 2 minutes in each comes to 20 minutes total, or more. Now part of your racing plan might be that you need a rest to prevent nausea, and an aid-station often provides a nice shady cool(ish) place to rest — that’s not a waste, but all too often I see people just hanging out. If possible I try to come into an aid-station alone. There is often only one water jug, so if you enter with a group of people, someone has to wait to refill their water. I usually carry a 2liter pack, and at the start of the race I can often skip an aid-station because I don’t need to refill yet. This can save a lot of time.
  • Passing — There’s an etiquette here. If you hear someone coming up behind you, it’s polite to offer to let them pass you when running on single track. If the race is an out and back race (9T) and you are still going out, then it is polite to give way to the person coming back. Now there are exceptions. I have failed to offer to let someone pass me when I knew the downhill which sped them was ending in just 200 yards and after that I’d be faster. But mostly I’ll offer to let someone behind pass. (Often they won’t pass, they may think the pace is close enough to theirs that it isn’t worth worrying about, at least not until the trail opens up again, and they may like the company. But if you offer, you look good :-).
  • Hills — Don’t be afraid to walk up hills. But equally if you find a non-technical downhill then try to push the pace. But then again on some races you may wear out your quads… Races tend to be won by the person who can run downhill fastest at the end. Some people can go sub-6 at the end of a 50 miler… (I tend to go about 8min/mile myself on a downhill dirt road at the end, and even with that I pass people). For 9T this means pushing hard from Inspiration (if the technical nature of Tunnel doesn’t bother you then starting from the top of the Connector is even better).
  • Training — Mike has often said that in trail running what matters is time on your feet rather than distance.* He often gives me things like 40 minutes at 85% HR uphill (or go up Cold Spring or San Ysidro for ~20 minutes to warm up and then push hard the rest of the way to Camino Cielo). At some point it is a good idea to try to drink/consume/eat water/salt/food at the same rate you intend to do it in the race. Salt and GU you can carry with you, but water you need to stash (don’t try to carry 4liters!). If you do ½ 9T as a training run then placing an additional 2 liters at the Gibraltar hairpin is about right (and is relatively easy).
  • Tapering — I find that trail running isn’t as hard on my body as road running, so I tend to do my longest run 2~1 weeks out rather than the 3 weeks that marathon training suggests.
  • Gaiters — Often on the trails small stones, (and at this time of year) fox-tails, burrs, etc. will creep into your shoes or socks. These can be painful, forcing you to stop and shake out your shoe (or pull nasty needles out of your socks). Gaiters are a solution to this. Dirty Girl makes gaiters designed for trail racers.
  • Camera — I usually take a light-weight camera with me. I can take a picture of a nice view without slowing down, and it may be a view I’ll never see again. (Now a flower is another matter. I need to be still to photograph something close, so I rarely do that).

Sunny with a chance of Rattlesnakes

May 18, 2014

Born to Run 50K, 2014

Two days before the race it was 102°F in Santa Barbara, breaking the record for that date. It was 108°F in Los Olivos near where the race was held. I had read that California Poison Control was warning that rattlesnakes were coming out of hibernation early because of the heat.

The weather people had been predicting that it would cool down a bit by race day, but as their predictions were usually about 5-10°F below the actual temperature I wasn’t sure that would be meaningful…

I was up at 2:30AM and the morning was lovely and cool. We headed out to Los Olivos at 4, reached the race driveway when all was pitch black. I was a little worried about not recognizing it, but there were people out there with flashlights directing traffic so that was OK. Still dark when we got to the race site where the runners who had camped were starting to wake up. I got my bib and then stood in line for the port-a-potty. There weren’t many potties and the line was long and moved slowly. By the time I reached it there was light. And when I got out they were calling us to line up.

It was actually chilly at the race start and I was wearing the long sleeve shirt I brought with me and the shirt the race gave me.

I had seen Joe DeVreese and Kevin Cody, Andrea and Simone, but not Ken, Karen, Mark, Stephanie, Brett, Jon, Heidi. Not any of the people I normally ran with. They were supposed to have camped here but I couldn’t see them in the crowd.

Luis explained the course. There were two big loops of about 10 miles each which met here at the start/finish area. He called it a figure 8. This is a gross simplification. There’s a fair amount of overlap between the two loops (and not just near the start/finish. The second loop itself even doubles back on itself so that at two miles into the loop you are running one direction on the road, and at 7 miles in you run the other. When I got home and looked at the GPS track it looked more like crochetwork than a figure 8.
Providing a course map would just be confusing. Probably best to pretend it’s a figure 8. Doesn’t really matter, the loops are well marked.

Luis organizes usLuis continued. One loop (the first) is marked with pink flags, the other loop with yellow flags. It’s important to know which loop you are on and follow the appropriate flagging. White chalk lines mean “Do not cross this line, nor take the road behind it.” Loops alternate. First pink, then yellow, then pink, then (for the 100K and 100M runs) yellow, pink, yellow… The 50K does 3 loops and then a little out and back section to make up for the fact that 3*10 miles is a little under 50K, so we need to run a little more. People doing the 10 mile race will only run the yellow loop (and they’ll start 5 minutes after the rest of us).

Then Luis made us take his oath: “If I get lost, or injured, or dead, it’s my own damn fault.”

I take off my shirts and give them to Cynthia. It’s still chilly, but I’m going to warm up soon.

Luis counts down: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2… Suddenly Nancy runs up to me to say “Hi” and to hug me. Please Nancy, now is not the time, not 2 seconds from the race start. “Oh, it doesn’t matter” says she. Luis fires the gun — only it doesn’t go off. We all hang back, unsure if the race has started or not. “Go on, go!” says he, and we’re off.

Suddenly someone starts backing an RV into the mass of oncoming runners. Why can’t he wait? This is a race damn it. All cars here should be associated with the race and should be giving priority to runners. I get past him unscathed. A little later we realize the RV is following us and seems to want to overtake us. This makes no sense. Why did this driver wait until he could cause the most disruption to the race? If he needs to be somewhere then he should start before the race, or after it. Not during. Sigh.

If I get run over by an RV driven by an idiot, is that my own damn fault too?

StartIt’s a straight, slightly downhill section on a wide dirt road here and it seems to me that we’re running at a ferocious pace. But I’m running with Kevin Cody who is usually a little faster than I, but has a potential hamstring issue (so I figure we should be running about the same pace). It’s not really that fast, it’s just I’m used to a more leisurely pace in an ultra, and, I now realize, I didn’t warm up. Didn’t have time.

There’s a woman running near who is explaining to any one who happens to be listening that she’s not speedy, but she doesn’t want to run in the dust kicked up by other runners so she’s pushing herself now. (This does not seem like a good plan to me).

After a bit she drops back.

Kevin Cody and MoonI’m not noticing any dust myself and there are plenty of people ahead of me. I haven’t bothered to count.

Then the road turns left and climbs the side of a hill. I drop back a little from Cody and the couple he’s talking to. A woman comes running up from behind and races ahead of me. Then things level off again. We climb another hill and drop down into the valley on the other side. DownUp the valley and then and abrupt right turn and back down the valley. I’m still running with the same chump of people. Kevin just a little ahead. Behind me I hear someone tell his girlfriend: “7:16 for that last mile”. Am I running at ~7:20 pace? That’s pretty fast on trails. Of course these are really dirt roads, but there are gopher holes and such; it’s not the easiest footing.

We pass the first aid station (which isn’t operating yet)

There’s fog! There’s actually light fog here! I haven’t seen fog in ages, and normally this is the time of year for fog. Whew! This suggests that it really will be cooler — at least in the morning, which is all I care about.

UpNow we come to a steep hill. Various people are debating whether we should walk, but no one seems to actually do it. We do slow down, of course, but mostly we keep running. Down the other side. We must be running basically north now in a little valley between steep hills. As we trot along the sun Dawnstarts to rise through mist and the trees on the hill to the east.

Down the valleyThe fog is fickle and soon we are running along the valley with the sun lighting up the hills on the left while we run in darkness.

I’ve been running in a little clump of runners, maybe 10 of us or so. There are perhaps 5 people just ahead of me (and no one in sight in front of them) and another 3 or 4 behind me. The composition of the group hasn’t really changed for several miles now (though the relative positions have) and I’m beginning to think that these may be the people I’m going to be running the rest of the race with.

FogWe come out of the valleys on the west side of the ranch and run along the ridge line above Figueroa Mountain Rd. We can see the fog from the sea as it reaches up the valley.

Kevin, who has been ahead of me drops back a bit and is now running behind me.

ValleyNow we run parallel to the road and have nice views of the valley.

We are approaching the second aid station (at about mile 7), and this one is working. Two people drop out of our little clump now and I never see them again.

The rest of us continue on. I don’t need to stop myself. It’s still cool, I haven’t been drinking much, no need to get more. But I should probably eat a Gu.

Skeleton HillOn the other side of the aid station we turn and climb a steep hill (beside the cattle graveyard). On this hill I pass two of the people who have been ahead of me. At the top of the hill is a skeleton hanging from its neck. Thanks Luis. Just the encouragement we need on this hill.

Far AheadThere are only two people ahead of me now (in my little clump I mean) and they seem to have gotten fairly far ahead. We are continuing to climb, though less steeply than on Skeleton Hill. It’s sunny here.

After a bit a lone runner comes barreling down the hill we are climbing. Hmm. Either he’s about 4~5 miles ahead of us, has completed loop 1 and started on loop 2 which seems unlikely to me — I really doubt my group is that far behind the leaders — or it’s one of the 10 mile runners who has gotten lost.

Far aheadWe turn left and are now heading back to the start finish area. The two guys ahead are still far ahead.

I see some of the 10 mile runners now. Their course (loop 2) matches mine for a bit. Andrea says “Hi.”

Then we come to a nice long straight downhill stretch that leads all the way to the start/finish. I’m able to speed up here and slowly gain on the two ahead of me. We cross the chip mat pretty much together. Then one guy pauses at the aid station here, and the other stops to use the port-a-potty…

And I’m on my own. The group of 10 runners that I was in the middle of has completely dissolved. There’s no one around. It turns out that I’ll be alone for the rest of the race. This is a little disturbing. Before this I didn’t have to pay attention to the course markings, I could just follow the people in front. Now there is no one in sight. No one to follow, no one behind to yell if I make a wrong turn.

Wait a minute… I ran the first loop in 1:16. That’s faster than an 8 minute mile… on a trail course? OK, it’s an easy trail race, but it’s would be a really hard road race. There have been a lot of hills… Oh, yes. The first loop isn’t a full 10 miles, it’s only 9.6. Um 1:16 divided by 9.6… No I’m not going to bother doing that in my head. It’s still probably under 8. I wonder if I can keep this pace up?

17 Start of LoopOh well, nothing for it. Loop 2 starts by doubling back on loop 1. I charge up the hillside I just ran down (well, up a road parallel to the one I came down).

Agoseris heterophylla flowerI haven’t seen many wildflowers this year. In years past there have been fields of sky lupine, but this year there are none. Drought. But another part of the reason I haven’t seen much of anything is that many flowers don’t open up until it is sunny. At the top of the hill I find some Mountain Dandelions blooming in the grass.

18 ValleyNow I head back to the second aid station and the road’s valley has brightened up. In spite of the rising sun it is still cool and pleasant for running.

Through the aid station (I still have plenty water, and GU) and now the route diverges again from the first loop and I am running down a dry creek bed. Full of crushed gravel. Which gives no traction to the foot.

Ah, but there’s some mulefat blooming. Anything to take my mind off my footing.

Fortunately I climb out of the creek, and then… Sunny TreeBack up hill! Who’d have thought it? There is someone ahead now. I’m gaining on him. He stops to walk and I catch up with him. I try to chat but he says “No speak English.” I guess I should have said “No habla Español” but I was to tired to think. So I pass him without talking.

Hmm. Luis brought in some Tarahumara runners. They wouldn’t speak English. I wonder if he might be one? But I passed him. So that seems unlikely. Maybe there are some guys from other parts of Mexico here?

There are some Clarkias by the side of the route.

I climb up a final hill and am now running into the slower 50K runners who are still on loop 1. Also some even slower 10 mile runners (whom I have now lapped, I’ve gone ~13 miles in the time they have gone 3).

Then I diverge from Loop 1 again, but now I’m on a section where loop 2 doubles back on itself. There are some faster 10 mile runners here, coming at me. And Daniel Scarberry comes gliding down the trail toward me. He’s probably in the lead (when I get back to this point I realize he was probably about 5 miles ahead of me).

I also see Heidi and her daughter. I’m glad to know she exists. I hope the others do (I hadn’t realized she was only doing 10 miles).

I’m just running down the road when suddenly I bump into white chalk lines across the route. Oops. I haven’t been paying attention, there must have been a turn. And, yup there is. I need to turn sharp right onto that bit of single track and run straight up the mountain.

21 HillsideThis is probably the area where rattlesnakes are most likely. But the views are good. I think this is the highest part of the ranch and the course. You can look down and see most of the ranch below you, while off to the left are the Santa Ynez mountains and straight ahead Sea Fog(West) there’s still sea fog. Which is doubtless why it’s still reasonably pleasant.

I pass two 10 mile runners who have stopped. I encourage them to keep moving. “Oh, it’s OK,” one tells me “There’s good cell-phone reception here.”

Santa Ynez MountainsDifferent worlds.

Why come to the middle of nowhere by 5am then hike for ~5 miles just to get cell-phone reception? You’d think there would be easier ways to accomplish that.

23 RidgelineI keep climbing and keep passing people. I assume they are 10 milers, but I suppose some might be 50K or more runners.

But all good things come to an end and the steep climb turns into a steep drop. Whee. Skidding on my heels.

Calochortus clavatus flower top-viewAnd there, off to my right is a Pale Yellow Mariposa. I think. Two minutes later I see another plant. Now I could stop and take a closer look and a photograph, but I’m running so well today. I’m almost certain… I suppose it might have been a Yellow Mariposa, but they are rare here. Er. Rarer.

Anyway neat!

I continue to slide down the hillside.

And then I’m back on the road again, merging again with Loop 1. Now I trundle down the hill to the first aid station (which is now open). After the Aid StationI turn left and leave Loop 1 and start climbing another hill :-)

Denmark ManFor a while I run through a sunny valley, but after a bit the trees close in. There is a couple ahead of me, walking, one of whom appears to be wearing a Danish flag. Interesting choice of attire.

I’m about half way done now…

Dead Cow HillOut into the sun again as we climb up what I can’t help but think of as Dead Cow hill from a rather gruesome event 2 years ago. But there are no dead beasts this year, just a tired 10 miler who starts running again as I pass him.

OthersAt the top of the hill we turn left into the shade and into oncoming runners. I’m now about 5 miles ahead of them (just as Daniel was ahead of me 40 minutes ago). I wonder if I’ll see anyone I know — I wonder if they are even here…

And now I’m back on the nice long downhill stretch that leads to the start finish line. I’m close to the end of my second loop.

I’m through the chip mat once again (I wish they had a clock there. I keep forgetting to look at my watch). Somewhere around 2:43. Mmm. Took me 9 minutes longer to do the second lap. I think it’s a bit longer and it’s certainly more technical. And I didn’t have anyone to run with/against. No one passed me in that lap, and while I passed many people I expect that all (except for the guy who didn’t speak English) were 10 milers most of whom were just walking. Let’s see if I can do better on the next lap.

Now I had been planning to take a 15 minute break after the second lap to see if I could avoid dehydration by getting my HR down and allowing my stomach to absorb water… but I’m running too well, and I don’t want to pause. Anyway today isn’t a day I’m likely to get dehydration on, not on a 50K where the first 2/3rds were in cool temperatures…

A little later the watch clicks over to 20 miles at 2:50:??. So I’m now averaging 8:30s rather than sub-8:00s. So I ran the last lap at about a 9 minute pace… Um, that’s quite a bit slower.

Catching UpI’m back on loop 1 now. I can see two guys ahead. The three of us are all starting Loop 1. Now they can’t be 10 milers (who don’t do this loop at all), they can’t be anyone starting their first lap (the race started 3 hours ago), they can’t be anyone starting their fifth lap (no one has lapped me once, let alone twice), so these guys must be people who started with me. There’s actually someone ahead of me again!

I pass them.

There isn’t anyone ahead.

No more competition.

After a bit I come to the place where loop 2 joins loop 1 and I start seeing people again. These are 50Kers who are about 7 miles behind me.

Off to the side of the road I pass some morning glory vines. Now in the front country, morning glories are common and almost all of one species. In the back country they are uncommon and I’ve never seen the front country species here at all. But it is always good to check. As I run past I snag a bloom and look at the bracts under the flower. Yup. It’s what I expected.

ValleyAs I pound down toward the first aid station I’m thinking that I should pause here to fill up with water. I’m almost out. Or grab a bottle if they have any. That would be better. But there’s a small crowd of runners and the aid station volunteers all seem to be occupied with them. It’s going to take forever to get anything out of this station. So I run through it and out.

Ahead of me I see someone walking. He doesn’t look like someone who could have run faster than I for 20+ miles. My guess is that he took a wrong turn at the last aid station. But I’m not sure… so I don’t tell him he’s going the wrong way.

VineyardI’m running along the property line now and ahead and to the left is the neighbor’s vineyard.Some Trees It’s rather pretty here.

After a while I hit the hills again. There’s a guy ahead of me. I’m catching him, but slowly. I pass him after this set of hills is over, there’s a turn just ahead and he asks me where the 50K runners go. The route seems to me well flagged, so I point them out to him. ValleyOnly later does it occur to me that he might be another confused runner who should actually be on loop 2, and the pink flags which reassure me are not what he’s looking for. If so he should have asked a better question. I don’t know what loop he’s on. 50K runners do go the way I pointed out (I do for one). Luis told everyone to keep track of what loop he was on… (“If I get lost … it’s my own damn fault”) But I don’t realize this until he’s vanished into the distance behind me.

37 DryI’m running through dry hills now and it’s starting to get hotter than I’d like. I don’t have much water left.

Then I hear the report of a shot. Hmm. Perhaps Luis fixed the gun and that marks the winner crossing the line? It was then 3:21 from the race start (I learned later that the winner finished closer to 3:17 but I didn’t know it then).

And I’ve run 24 miles and have ~7 left to go. So if I can maintain a 9 minute pace then I should be able to break 4:30. That would be a nice 50K PR!

ValleyI do like the oaks scattered amid the grassland.

ValleyOnce again, I pull out of the western valleys and approach the paved road. As I run parallel to the road I hear more shots, but they are coming from across the road (outside the ranch) on someone’s else land. Maybe the gun shot I heard earlier did not mark the winner…

I happen to glance down at my watch and see it says I’ve run 26 miles. So now as I run I keep looking at it. It clicks over to 26.2 miles at 3:35:50. :-) That means that if this course were certified I’d have qualified for Boston with 4 minutes to spare. Kind of neat to do that on the trails.

And, let’s see. I’ve got about 5 miles left so at 9 minute pace that means I finish at 4:21 or so. Not bad.

As I approach the turn toward the second aid station I notice someone blundering around on the road ahead of me. At first he seems to be running as if he were on loop 2, but then he turns around and runs back to the aid station. Great. He’ll get there 5 seconds before I do and I’ll have to wait.

They don’t have any bottles I can carry off, so I resign myself to filling up my pack (which takes longer than I would like). Then I realize they have cups full of something. So I drink it. Brrr. It’s freezing cold. I did not expect that. I fill the cup up with water, drink that off too, grab an orange slice and I’m out.

SkelingtonBack up the hill with the hung skeleton.

I walk in a couple of places this time.

There are some Clarkias here.

The way just keeps going up.

Finally I reach the summit. And I run along the ridge until I join loop 2 again.

And there, are some people seated in the middle of an intersection with a box of water bottles beside them. I grab one. It’s a little harder to bend down than it should be, I’m pretty stiff, but I don’t fall and I do get a bottle.

I take a swig of water.

Now again I’m on the nice long downhill stretch that leads to the start finish. There are people around again. These are people who are just completing their second lap. In the time they have run ~20 miles I have run ~30. It’s harder to pass them than it should be, but I keep telling myself that I have to pass them. And I do.

As I near the camp site I see Liz. I divest myself of my camelback and water bottle. I won’t need them for the mile I’ve got left, and I give them to her. Lighter I proceed onward.

And so through the chip mat and down the road for the final little bit. I’m still in a crowd of people who are just starting their third lap. They don’t know I’m finishing, but they do see I’m running faster than they, so I get a few cheers. When I spin around the flag the guy behind me is impressed “Didn’t realize you were finishing,” he shouts. Someone else tells me I’m going the wrong way.

But now I’ve got half a mile of uphill running to do. Ug.

And no one to race.

There’s the finish line. I click my watch as I cross (only I click the wrong button and I don’t know when I finished). About 4:12.

Later I see that I was 4:12:18, in 11th place and first runner over 47 and second master.

Last time I ran this course I ran 5:03 (and that was my fastest 50K before today). That doesn’t really count since Mike told me to keep my HR below 75% that year, so I couldn’t really race. This year I did race and knocked 51 minutes off my time.

For once I’m not feeling badly. Oh, I’m tired, right enough, but no nausea. So if I had paused after the second lap I wouldn’t have proved anything. The day was too cool, and the race too short for me to have any problems.

I think we are all bozos on this bus

March 16, 2014

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)

Ex[oe]rcising demons

March 12, 2014

When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache, and repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in without impropriety;
For your brain is on fire – the bedclothes conspire of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counterpane goes and uncovers your toes, and your cat tries demurely to sunder you;

Iolanthe — W. S. Gilbert

I didn’t sleep well last night, or the night before. I was too busy worrying.

When I signed up for a 68 (or is it 65?) mile race I thought “Well, that’s a 50 miler with a third more distance.” So… even my slowest 50 miler was under 10 hours, so I should be done somewhere around 13 hours, probably a bit faster.

Then I looked at last year’s results (too late to change my mind) and Mike Swan finished in 13:15. Now Mike is considerably faster, and a much better trail runner than I. Thirteen hours no longer looked feasible for me. 15? 16? I have no idea… Worrying.

They told me last week I was to start at 9am. So I’ll finish ¿around midnight? Sun sets a little after 7, civil twilight ends around 7:30. Four or five hours of running in the dark. How well are the trails marked? Will I be able to find my way? I don’t know these trails. The one section I have run is the second quarter of the race, which I’ll do in the light…

Even when I race in the light there are usually questionable intersections where the trail marker failed to notice a small side trail…

Ah. The moon will be a day before full that night. That’s some consolation. Not sure how much difference it makes, but it will make some.

Actually, as long as I don’t get lost the thought of running in the moonlight is kind of cool.

But the real worry is the heat of the day. The rain of a few weeks ago cooled things down, but only briefly. It’s hot again. The odd kind of heat which is pleasant in the shade but extreme when the sun beats down. The current forecast has the temperature well up in the 80s in the hills. That is not good running weather.

I think I’m looking forward to the night now.

Bandit 50K — Way too Hot

February 17, 2014
I’m running in the heat
Just running in the heat
What a horrible feeling
I’m crappy

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 started.

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.

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.
Rock Jumbles
Sere Hills

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.
Trail race?

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.

River RdWe 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.
River Rd

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.
Another Valley

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.
New Zealand Guy

(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.

It’s hot.

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:

  1. Slow down. Perhaps try to keep my HR below 75% and see if an easier pace will allow me to absorb water better?
  2. 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.


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