Monday, June 09, 2008

Mt. Diablo 50K -- Run, Walk, Crawl

About a week and a half ago, I decided to go for this 50K race as a training run. (I was prodded by my friend Prudence who then bailed on me. Doh!) This event is put on by the Pacific Coast Trail Runs company and they do an excellent job organizing races around the Bay Area and they're expanding to other areas of California, too. I'm building up for my first 50 miler sometime this year, I hope. I've been real careful about increasing my mileage and I'm doing almost no speedwork, because I've been concerned about my left knee which gets tight and sore and uncomfortable at times since last November or so.

The weather was predicted to be warm -- 86 degrees F. The elevation gain is severe -- 4450' on each of the two 15.7 mile round-trips to the summit. The total mileage was around 31.4.

The race started at 8:30am and things felt easy at first. All 175 or so runners of the 25K and 50K races were soon on a single track trail. I think I was about in the top third of the pack. The trail was so steep and narrow that I was forced to walk behind those in front of me. In hindsight, I'm grateful that I was forced to walk because otherwise I would have run the first half even faster and been in worse trouble later. The trail was so steep for these first 3 or 4 miles that running was practically impossible and would have been very inefficient anyway. Finally when we hit a fire road I started passing some people and running more. It took me one hour to run the first 5 miles. At the time I thought, "how slow!", but if I only knew....

I breezed through the first aid station, having gotten some food (PB&J sandwich, Cliff shots) and my two 20oz bottles re-filled with sports drink. I drank all 40 oz in that first hour. I was running faster on the flatter portions and even many of the uphills. The views were spectacular and I wish I could have carried my camera to the summit. We had to climb all the way to the top of the observation tower where there was a sign with a message, proving that we had reached the summit. ("I made it!" it said.)

Now the real mistakes began. There was this very powerful looking guy running around my pace. He looked like a younger Dean Karnazes and was very friendly, greeting everyone and thanking them for stepping aside as he charged down the hill. I stuck with him. We clocked many 7 minute miles going down hills that required constant braking. We had one 6:49 mile. My right toe was jamming up against the front of my shoe, making me consider the possibility of losing yet another toenail. (I think I've lost 4 in my running career so far.) Towards the bottom of the trail as we are nearing the start/finish line and with the first loop nearly complete, I take a bathroom break and slow down a bit, and DK, Jr. disappears. As I get to the aid station at what is now my half-way point, I pass one of the 25K runners who is struggling. 2 hours 40 minutes have gone by. Time to refuel and head out. Sweat and salt start streaming into my eyes causing me to put my face under a faucet. More time wasted. I head out at 2:44 on the clock.

Disaster strikes within about 25 minutes. Tinges of cramps around my hamstrings start to lock up my legs. I'm feeling very hot and my breathing is fast and heavy. I slow down my uphill walking. I start stopping in the shade at regular intervals. I look at my GPS watch -- I've only done a little more than 18 miles. I have over 13 miles to go and I'm getting bad cramps. This sucks. I decide to continue on to the next aid station which is about two miles away. It takes me almost an hour. At one point, I feel the overwhelming urge to sit down because the cramps, now in my quads, are so bad. I plop down in the dirt, not even able to get completely in the shade. My right leg is frozen with my quads clenched painfully tight. This isn't fun; I plan on calling it quits when I reach the aid station. The spasms pass and I clamber up on to my feet and start walking again.

My watch beeps at the mile markers, giving me my time since the last mile. 22 minutes for one of these miles. 28 minutes for another. Other runners are trickling by me. This sucks so bad. By the time I got to the aid station around mile 20 or 21 and I got some food and the cool wind was blowing over the top of the mountain, I felt much better and thoughts of dropping out disappear. I think I can do this and I and jogged / walked onward to the summit.

Deja vu. Except now it's warmer, there are swarms of thousands of pincher bugs who must have hatched (?) in the last couple of hours and their squished bodies are everywhere. Some apparently are falling on me from trees. Or do they fly and then lose their wings? Don't know! I reach the summit. Finally I'm able to jog slowly on the downhills. I guess my uphill muscles are fried, but I can move somewhat downhill at least. I still have to stop and walk regularly and I still freeze up completely a few times, but I manage to clock a 13 minute mile here and maybe a 11 minute mile there. That makes me 4 to 6 minutes slower per mile on this second loop. Argh.

Finally, finally, finally I get closer and closer and closer and the feeling that the finish line is getting farther away as I'm slowing down gives way to the feeling that I'm really going to finish. The finish line comes into view. There are a smattering of claps and cheers. Various random muscles start freezing up again, giving me a good painful-looking stagger as I hobble across the finish line.

The results are in. I finished 19th of 62, taking a whopping 6 hours 55 minutes. My worst race ever, by far. Or, a really good training run! A bit of both?

It was fun chatting with these elite runners afterwards -- very friendly folks.
Here are Jean Pommier, left, and Jasper Halekas. I saw Jean recently at the Miwok 100K and he's training for the Western States 100. He ran the first half of today's race in 2 hours 13 minutes, almost setting a course record for the 25km loop. Whoops! He had to slow down significantly on the 2nd half, finishing in 5:11:21. (Nothing compared to my disastrous positive split of 2:40 versus about 4:11.) Jasper did incredibly well, winning the race in 4:48:48, with an average pace better than that of the winner of the 25K!

I got to chat with the talented and prolific runner and blogger, Scott Dunlap. He's a really nice guy and he's training for the Western States 100. This week ended the highest mileage week ever for him -- 140 miles! Way to go, Scott!

Other random notes:
  • I ate a lot of whole wheat pasta and drank plenty of water the night before. On the morning of the race I weighed 169.2 lbs. Wow, that's high, but maybe OK since it must be mostly water gain from my more normal 165-166. The morning after the race, I weighed 162.0. Hmm...
  • I ate a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with a banana, 2 hours 45 minutes before the 8:30am race start.
  • My left knee felt great during the race. Yay! I seem to be injury free. I didn't have any pain or signs of injury.
  • No blisters. There may have been the beginnings of blisters but there's nothing now. Thank goodness for Body Glide.
  • My right big toenail feels a little funny. We'll see if I can hang on to it after these repeated abuses.
  • I used two packets of this Vespa supplement that is supposed to allow a person to metabolize fat better. I didn't feel like I was suffering from fatigue so much as battling cramps, heat, and high heart rate. So, maybe it's working? Maybe it's a placebo effect? I mean, I certainly didn't have a miracle run, so the effects must be somewhat subtle if any. The only way I can think to really prove that it works is to have a large double-blind study. Let's put it this way, I'm confident that Vespa is not a substitute for proper training! My 40-55 miles just didn't cut it given the way I ran that first half. I really should have run that first big downhill at more reasonable slower pace.
My feet actually came out pretty well, looking about as bad afterwards as they did before! Did I mention I got a little dirty out there? :-)