Summary: Beautiful! Educational.
If you want to see all 116 pictures in my Picasa album look here.
For another report at Justine Tamaro's blog: EatRantRun.
This is the 6th race in my year of 8 marathons and my first ultra.
I did my first 'trail marathon' in December...so for some reason I decided that I wanted to do the 50k rather than the marathon for my first hilly trail race. Don't ask me why.
Recall that my plan for this race was to go slow ("Snaily" was my pacing parter 8) and shoot for a 7 hour finishing time. I'd not done much running since LA (3/20) due to the recovery week followed by a mild cold that was still clearing out but I felt good otherwise.
I got the pre-race newsletter via email on Thursday and studied it closely. I made some notes on a printed copy of the elevation profile on what 7hr splits should look like at the 5 aid stations on the course. (see below). The course is a marathon distance and to make it a 50k you add the "Gazos loop" which takes you to 50k. The race had an 8hr cutoff and if you were running the 50k but didn't make it to the Gazos aid station by 1pm (4 hrs) they would make you go straight and do the marathon rather than take the loop.
There was a special note: part of the trail was closed due to trees down and so there was a detour required that was going to add .5km and a bit of climbing. I found some online maps of the course and printed out the section that showed the Gazos loop as well as this detour and highlighted them...I was a bit worried that I'd get tired and zig when I should zag and end up on the wrong trail at some point.
Saturday I got my stuff together..the was a pretty big gap of 14km between to of the later aid stations so I wore my double bottle belt. This was a good idea as it turned out.
Before the Start
Sunday morning I woke up just before the alarm at 5am. I had laid everything out, as well as my checklist and put on my kit quickly as it was cold in the house...43F outside! I had a toasted Izzy's bagel with olive oil and a banana to eat and put on some long nylon pants and fleece pullover and gloves to keep me warm until the start.
In the car I decided to drive to the parking area (which is on the ocean about 1.5 miles south of the race finish) via Half Moon Bay. This is way out of the way vs the direct route but that route uses very windy narrow roads right through the back country and the time ends up being around the same: 1:15. I pulled into the parking lot which was already almost full at 6:30, even though the busses weren't due till 6:45. I took a few pics and got back in my nice warm car until the three school busses showed up.
On the bus I sat next to a guy named Ben. It was his first ultra as well and he'd driven up from Orange County the day before. We'd been in a lot of the same races in the last months: SF, Long Beach, Surf City, LA. He had a friend that had run it the year before and recommended this race to him..even though said friend got lost on the course (yikes!). There was a young girl across from us that had also run LA (very fast) and had run S2S the year before and was training for a race with almost 9000' of climbing..GAK...she mentioned "S2S is a tough course". Urk.
Finally!...we are at the starting area..we get our bib and a plastic garbage bag to put the fleece and pants in. I have to pee a bit but the line is very long to the 3 port-o-lets so I just figure I'll get a chance on the course behind a tree or something. We all mosey over to the official start which is down the actual trail about 15 meters and bunches of us hang back knowing there's no need to be up front. No chip timing here so you just lose the time...keep track of your real time yourself. The race director says a bunch of stuff into his megaphone but there's so much yakking going on in the back of the pack that we can't here a word. Hopefully it's not anything too important ;)
|Elevation Profile with important points shown|
Start to Waterman Gap aid station (6.2 miles)
Finally a horn sounds and there's a big cheer and we are off! There's lots of crowding so it's all walking for the first few minutes and gradually it opens up so we can run after 2-3 minutes. I know that it's going to be a long day so I'm not feeling any need to hurry. I also know that we are doing some massive downhill from here to the Waterman gap aid station.
There's a protocol for saying 'on your left' when you want to pass on single track trails and this gets used a lot in the beginning. At points I pass people only to get re-passed when I stop to take a picture. Already we are into the redwoods and the trail is very soft and easy to run on. there are little ups but mostly it is sustained downhill.
The track is padded with redwood needles...really soft and nice to run on..I remember thinking that if the entire trail is like this, it's going to be easy to make good time. The air under the redwoods is crisp, cool and fresh. I'm sure there's some extra oxygen around...
I started munching on my Cliff blocks..I really like thier tartness and they are more chewy than the GU chomps, which get really hard if they've been opened for any length of time. I don't eat either during a road race as you can't really chew very well and breath at fast paces, but these treats work ok during the uphills when you are walking. I probably ate about 12 of these during the day in 3 different flavors.
A one point there is an old car down in hill to my left, the road is up to my right and I guess it smashed through the guardrail? I'm suprised nobody removed it but perhaps it was so long ago that nobody cared?
I started wondering how I was going to remember where each picture was taken and had the idea of taking a picture of the Garmin.
I'm worried that the down so early on is going to leave me really toasted in the quads for later, so I try a trick I read about on an ultra site: If you have ever seen a dog or horse trotting semi-sideways rather than dead-straight-ahead you'll grok the concept. Basically you turn your body slightly to the left or right and then move your feet with a bit of sideways action to your body, rather than just straight ahead. I found that switching between right, center and left there were different quad/leg muscles being used. I used this trick for the rest of the run, especially on the downhills that are so very steep that you just can't run them normally at all.
Finally I get to the aid station, and I had about 6.4 on the Garmin which seemed typical overage for 6.2 miles actual. The aid station had the same kinds of foods I saw at the Bay Trail marathon...potato chips, little pretzels, gummy bears, P&J mini sandwiches, pastry things, cookes, MandMs etc. A nice person would fill up your water bottles for you but I had not drunk that much yet so didn't bother and left after half a minute or so.
Waterman Gap to China grade aid station (11 miles)
We started this leg knowing it was a big climb...probably 700' in 3 miles...then a small 'camel back' drop of 200' or so and back up to 2000' to the aid station.
The terrain starts changing here to chaparral and the trail becomes rocky in places..not rocky in the usual sense but large expanses of smooth rock. When it's a steep down, sometimes there are little steps carved into it, which is nice, but I don't feel comfortable barreling down at running speed. Rich had caught up and passed me after the aid station but now I caught up to him again. He was wearing a knee brace for a trick knee and I could see that he was being super uber careful on the rocky patches. I think it's best not to be behind somebody in this kind of situation as it adds pressure to go too fast so I passed him at that point. Later on I found out he did fall (but apparently not too badly) on this stretch and got some first aid at China grade.
At this point I was becoming kind of surprised how my muscles were feeling it even though we were so early in the race. After many ups and downs on the camelback.....
FINALLY we get to the China grade aid station. Here I had my water bottle refilled (posh service!) by the nice volunteers and chowed down. I saw Rich show up but left before him.
China Grade to Gazos aid station (16 miles)
Gazos has that pesky 1pm cutoff for 50km-ers...and I'm looking at my Garmin and getting concerned. Rich had told me that the Garmins under-read under the trees. Weird because usually they over read due to the noise of each reading making it look like you are bobbling around a bit, which adds distance ..I thought about this and realized that under-reading must be because it only gets a fix on you every couple of minutes and it then assumes you ran directly from fix-to-fix, instead of the wiggle path the trail actually took.
|3:19 to go 13.7?|
Our bib's yellow color showed we were a 50k-er and so they told me to take the right turn here..and marked the bib with a swipe so they wouldn't tell us to do it a second time after we showed up again from the first loop! Good idea as we might not be thinking too clearly.
Gazos loop to Gazos aid station (second time, 20.3 miles)
The loop starts by taking you up the paved fire road, which is uphill just enough to make you not want to run it..then you split off on to Dool trail which is fairly steep in places until you join up with a dirt fire road. It was at this point (4 hours into the race) I realized that I did still need to pee and there was really nobody around AND it was possible to even go off the trail (not on a slope). That felt pretty good ;).
Gobbled another PandJ mini sandwich things here, more salty potato chips, plus I took 1/3 of a peeled orange...really posh because you can take it on the trail with you and not have to carry any skins till the next stop.
|Banana slug..they keep the soil |
good for the trees
Gazos to Twin Redwoods aid station
Two miles of big climbing (the last big climb) and then it's all "mostly" downhill to the finish. Of course there are PLENTY of small uphills as you can see on the elevation profile.
|Are you ready to cross over grasshopper?|
I felt like Frodo or a very tired Ninja but I carefully placed each footfall and made it across ok.
Soon I came upon Rich again as he was pondering how to do the next crossing.
We ran together for a while after and eventually some people from his group caught up and while he was talking with them I decided to forge on ahead...I was getting worried we wouldn't make the cutoff.
The trail got flatter and easier to run on and I was able to keep up a steady run..as long as there were no uphills.
|Ilya Shafir and mystery tire.|
Eventually my Garmin died and I didn't even know what time it was. I did want to make it under the 8 hour limit because the Marathon Manics require any finish to be 'official' i.e. under the cutoff time. So even if the race listed my time, MM could not count it.
Finally, after what seemed like FOREVER, we got to the next aid station!
Twin Redwoods aid station to Finish (29.5 miles?)
I pulled away from Ilya because of my feeling of time pressure and at one point I remember him yelling to me I still had 5 minutes until 5pm. I heard some cowbells which spurred me on but coming around a corner discovered it was some spectators that had walked out on the course to cheer us on in, which was great and I thanked them, but secretly I was bummed it was not the finish!
FINALLY the finish was clearly around the next corner, I kept 'sprinting' (Snaily on my back) and saw 7:50 and change on the clock. Yes!!! Beat the cutoff!
While I was drinking a nice cold Coke, I heard the crowds start to cheer and saw my recent cohort, Ilya, for the last few miles approach the finish. His little boy..so excited to see his dad after waiting all day no doubt ran out to greet him as he approached. His dad just bent over (OUCH..I could not have done that!) and scooped him right up and proceeded to carry him to the finish in 7:51..the spectators cheering madly. It was very cute to see...but I think the boy wondered what all the fuss was about.
Soon Rich came in at 7:54 and I high fived him...he also made the cutoff!
The post race food was good...chicken noodle or tomato basil soup plus all the aid station stuff. Even though I was in the tail end of finishers there was still plenty of food.
The T-shirt was super (different for 50k vs marathon too)! I asked about the coaster we were supposed to get as a 50km finisher and was told everybody gets a medal this year..but..they ran out of them. Hmm? The race has been sold out for a long time. Then, when I was waiting for the shuttle a guy that finished early enough to get a medal pulls out a 'first time ultra' coaster that he got..(I remembered clicking a box "is this your first ultra" on the sign-up..this coaster was for those people?) Obviously the bling situation is not very well managed.
(UPDATE: they are sending these via mail)
Caught the shuttle back to the parking area and took a shot of the sea, now about 11 hours later. Drove the 1:15 back home and that was one loooong day!
The Day after..
Legs feel stiff and sore but in a more general all-over way than post-marathon. That's probably a good thing. I can go down steps without using the handrail (barely), this is a bit worse than my last marathon but not by too much. HR sitting at my desk is 50...pretty much back to normal.
Speaking of HR's, my average for the race was 124. That's a good long aerobic workout (max HR for the entire day only 145). My stride rate was very bimodal due to the walking/running:
While writing up this report the preliminary results came out and my name was not there!? Sigh. I sent an email and hopefully it will be fixed. If not, this race will be no good for Marathon Maniacs and I'll have to fit in another. (Update: this got fixed on the following Saturday)
Official result 7:50:01 clock time, 140/153 overall, 13/14 in 50-59 age group. Ultrarunners are ALL in very good shape.... Usually in a marathon there are a lot of walkers and such so I'm in the top half or third. But here, no such luck...here I'm one of the back of the packers making the rest of them all look good 8)
If you want to see all 116 pictures in my Picasa album look here.
Garmin data that stops 3 miles from the finish here: