Saturday, February 06, 2016

Fort Ord 50K -- 4:43:46

Happy to finish! (Photo credit: my friend Margaret)
What a great first race for 2016! I had the challenging pleasure of running Fort Ord 50K (30.8 miles officially), put on by Inside Trail Racing, in this beautiful area just east of Monterey. The weather was gorgeous, being nice and cool in the morning and never really getting too hot (mid 70s perhaps). The official elevation gain was 3,500' but my Garmin's altimeter reported 4,560'. I had a solid run, finishing in 4 hours 43 minutes, which was good for 4th place out of 79 finishers and 2nd place in the 40 to 49 age group. I'm happy and uninjured!

I woke to my alarm at 4:30am and I rushed to meet Paula nearby in Half Moon Bay for the two hour drive to the race start. I was sleepy, but the good conversation and breakfast on the road (home made biscuits) made the time go by quickly.

We arrived at the park entrance shortly after 7am. There was some confusion about how to pay for parking and it turns out that we just needed to ignore the state park's self-pay station and go to the race's parking lot where attendants (from the Laguna Seca Speedway, I think) took our $8. Lesson learned.

Parked at about 7:15am, we had plenty of time to get our bibs, use the restrooms, meet up with friends, and do final preparations for our races. There ended up being seven of us from the Coastside Running Club. Pictured below (left to right) are Norm, myself, Margaret, Paula, Mor, and Chris. Gary surprised us on the course by running the 100K which started two hours before the rest of us.
The restroom situation was truly glorious -- there were maybe 10 porta-potties in the parking lot with plenty to choose from. The men's restroom at the top of the nearby hill, where the race started, was empty when I entered. Unheard of!

8am came around, and we listened to the instructions for how to follow the course, and then we were off! I had positioned myself just a couple rows back from the start. The 25K runners bolted out of there and I quickly got passed by many 25K runners and plenty of 50K runners. (Oops, perhaps I started a bit too close to the start, although I don't think I was in anyone's way.)

I kept on reminding myself to take it easy early on, and that 10 minute miles would be just fine, although I was getting closer to 8 minute miles. I settled into a good rhythm and kept an eye out for the first big turn, where the 50K splits from the 25K. The first few miles went by easily on the wide dirt road and then I made the sharp left on to single track trail.

The trails tended to be rutted and steep. Although listed as having 3,500' of elevation gain, which would make the course quite mild as far as a 50K trail race is concerned, it felt more difficult than Lake Chabot 50K (4,200' of elevation gain) for example. Interesting.

Around mile 4 I encountered the front runners of the 100K. Cool! They were flying towards me on the downhill. Amazing. The first place woman was wearing a green tutu. Awesome!

Soon, the first aid station came up. They had non-caffeinated energy gels! Nice! (Caffeine causes heart palpitations for me and I've given it up.) This spot was a three-way intersection, with 100K runners returning from ahead, I think, but we in the 50K had to make a sharp right to get on to the red-checkered loop.

I started to slowly pass people for the first time. I was enjoying the morning and the experience. I passed a guy who was not carrying any water bottles, which surprised me and seemed very ill-advised.

I was looking out for where the 50K and the 100K diverge. When I saw the sign that indicates a left turn for the 50K, I looked to my left and all I saw was the side of the mountain. I slowed down and carefully examined the 100K sign which points straight ahead. Hmm... I guess I'll continue straight for a bit. As I ran down the steep hill, doubts started creeping in. I subconsciously realized there must be a problem since I haven't seen an intersection. I stopped and looked back up the hill, seeing a runner pause and looking at the signs. "50K?" I yell. "Yeah! This way!" he yells back and disappears from view. Oops. I had only gone off course by about 100 meters, but I was mad at myself for making a stupid mistake. When I got back up to the signs, there was a single red-checkered flag which I had missed and the chalk arrow was nearly rubbed out. The trail was so steep that I had mistaken it for the side of the mountain! (Well, I guess it was both!)

Looking back at my Garmin data later, I only lost about 90 seconds due to going off course, but it felt about twice as long. It took me 15 or 20 minutes of passing people before I regained my spot.

As I was slowly passing No-Water-Guy for the second time, I said "Hello, again. I missed a turn back there." "I thought I saw you before," he replied, and then added, "Have you seen the course profile? There's a huge climb at the end of the race, and I'm saving my legs for that." I said, "Yeah, the whole race is nothing but hills. Good luck!" I slowly pulled away.

Time passed easily and I gradually increased my effort a bit. I occasionally passed other 50K and 100K runners. The last two gaps between aid stations are the longest -- 6.6 miles and 6.4 miles. At the 2nd-to-last aid station, I had my empty water bottle filled with sports drink and I immediately drank about half of it, knowing that I was likely to run out before the next aid station. I filled up again and got going.

Somewhere along the way I noted the passing of the marathon milestone -- 26.2 miles. I'm feeling spent and I think that this would be a fine time to stop! I did run out of water, as expected, as I neared the final aid station. I was gradually getting more sore. My feet were getting tender and I was getting some hotspots where blisters were forming.

I arrived at the last aid station along with Yellow Shirt Guy who I had been gradually gaining ground on. I grabbed a couple of energy gels and then looked at them closely -- caffeinated. Doh! I really wanted to avoid caffeine. I looked through other piles of energy gels and energy blocks, but they were all caffeinated. I grabbed some chips and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich square instead. I knew I would likely run out of water, so I drank about 10 ounces (half my bottle) on the spot and refilled and got going. I walked for a bit to get my food down. Yellow Shirt Guy was a good ways in front of me already and I saw the long long uphill climb that lay ahead of me.

I attempted to run every step uphill. I was going slowly but I could still run pretty well uphill. On the occasional flatter parts, I felt sluggish and sore and low on energy. My stomach was a bit upset at the large amount of food that I had shoved down my throat.

Yellow Shirt Guy was having a strong finish and was pulling ahead of me. We both passed other 50K runners who had slowed down even more than I had. "Good job", "Good work", we would say to each other as I passed people.

I came to a washed out section of trail that had exposed a large black drainage pipe. It was covered with thick mud. I briefly contemplated leaping across the five or six foot chasm, but I didn't trust my legs to not cramp up at such a sudden violent action. I gingerly stepped down on to the pipe and my right foot submerged in the mud. I was glad I had worn gaiters that covered the tops of my shoes -- no mud or rocks got in.

Time seemed to be passing much more slowly now. I was getting desperate to finish. I was getting very low on water and I still had about 3 miles to go. "OK, when you get to mile 29, you get a reward of having a sip of water" I told myself. I couldn't quite wait that long. I ran out of water. I was thirsty. The sun was bright and overhead and I felt warm. I really needed to finish this thing.

I was approaching a slower runner who I guessed was in the 100K. He pulled off to pee in the woods and as I was passing he called out "Ron! I thought that was you!" I turned and looked. "Gary! I can't believe you're here! Are you running the 100K?" Indeed he was. Gary was in the running club and hadn't told anyone he was running the race. It was mile 38 for him and he said he was having a rough time but he picked up the pace and joined me for a bit. Awesome! I figured I had less than a mile left and I pushed harder and started pulling away. "Sorry, but I'm getting desperate and I've got to finish this thing soon. Good luck!"

I approached another aid station, much to my surprise. Apparently it was just for the 100K runners. I asked how far it was to the finish. "200 meters!" someone said. "Wow, awesome!" I recognized this part of the course as the starting area, and I poured on the speed. One last short steep climb and I heard some cheers, Mandy (Mor's wife) snapped the photo up on top. Yay!

I was glad to be done! I cleaned myself up a bit, put on some dry clothes, battled a couple of leg cramps, put on sunscreen, and relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful day while waiting for my friends to finish.

Mor was the next to come in, at 5:41:08. He battled blood-sugar levels, nausea, and light-headedness and had a difficult time towards the end. He gave his all. Good job, Mor!

Margaret finished (6:41:49) strong and happy. Good job, Margaret!

The 100K winners came in and they were super-human. Apparently the top man and woman were sponsored runners. The 2nd place guy probably was, too. The first two men, Ryan Neely and Daniel Metzger, had battled each other all day and came in at 7:45 and 7:47 which meant that they averaged each 50K in about 3 hours 53 minutes! Unbelievable! I took a photo of the first place woman (and third overall), Kimberly O'Donnell, who came in at 9 hour 26 minutes.

Norm finished! 8:08:19. He looked good and was smiling but he reported that he had had a rough time with the race and had gone off course twice, getting in a couple of extra miles, and that he almost dropped at mile 18.

Paula finished! 8:14:48. She looked great and was happy. She also had gone off course, being misdirected by an aid station volunteer, and tacked on at least two extra miles.
We got some text messages from Chris H. who had run the 25K. After everyone cleaned up and recovered enough, we headed out in our carpools. Well done, everyone!

What went well
  • I basically ran strong and well most of the race.
  • No injuries.
  • No trips or falls.
  • No cramps.
  • I think carrying one water bottle was the best option, but I'm not completely sure.
Things to improve
  • The last long climb was difficult and I was getting low on energy and sore for about the last six miles. Maybe I could have paced myself just a bit better.
  • I think I spent too long at the last two aid stations looking for energy gels that didn't have caffeine. Maybe I can tolerate some caffeine in that case or I just need to grab some other kind of food if I can't immediately find caffeine-free energy gels.
  • I've struggled to find Hoka One One shoes that fit perfectly. I like how lightweight they are while providing plenty of cushioning for hard downhills, but they're too narrow for my feet or if I go for a much larger size, they cause too much chafing in weird places. I wore their Challenger ATR model and got some painful blisters and chafing in unusual spots (like my arch) and on the top of my foot near my ankle.
  • I forgot to pack ibuprofen or some kind of pain relief and anti-inflammatory. That might have helped me run faster towards the end when I was getting quite sore.
Random data
  • Going off course cost me about 90 seconds, which isn't bad as far as this kind of mistake is concerned.
  • By my Garmin's barimetric altimeter, there was 4,560' of elevation gain. Wow.
  • Garmin data
  • Exact location of where to drive to
  • Weight: about 169 lbs. Ouch. :-(