Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Sinister 7 -- 26:39:44

I finished! It took me 26 hours 39 minutes and 44 seconds to cover the 99.4 miles of this very difficult race course. I also got a bonus of about 0.6 miles when I went off course along with two other runners in the middle of the night. What made this race so especially difficult was the steepness of the trails combined with so much mud and water. I have to rank this as the toughest race I've ever been in, more so than Tahoe Rim Trail 100. Only 69 of the 208 starters finished the race; that's only 33%! I finished 17th male (out of 164 male starters) and 19th place overall.

The weather was much better than expected, and the predicted thunderstorm came in the evening and I only experienced a few minutes of intense downpour. On the other hand, I experienced more heat than expected, with a high of 86F in the afternoon.

The race organization and the course markings and the volunteers were superb. The Canadian Rockies are just gorgeous and the locals are just so polite and friendly and upbeat. "You betcha!"

I think I'm going to lose five toenails, but otherwise I'm happy and uninjured, and I'm grateful to have been able to participate in this event.

My friends Rebekah and Alan told me about this race, and it seemed like a good worthy challenge, running in a gorgeous area in a well-organized race. My family wasn't able to go with me, and I thought it would be fun to travel with friends.

Only two days before I was due to fly out, I realized what a low finish rate this race had, of like 36% for 2018. Was the race culture different in Canada, with maybe a more casual approach to finishing? Or was the race just incredibly difficult? The answer is, both! Plenty of very experienced people are forced to drop each year and there are some who were just not prepared.

This race is not a Western States qualifier, but Miwok 100K already served that purpose for me. I still very much wanted to finish, and I told myself to not be too concerned about being fast and to earn that belt buckle!

The race starts and finishes in Crowsnest Pass and it's in the mountains and has some stunningly beautiful views, but almost no hotels or house rentals. I was able to find an affordable apartment on Airbnb in Pincher Creek which is 35 minutes away.

Sinister 7 has a large relay race that goes on the same course at the same time. The relay is broken up into 7 legs. With 220 relay teams and 208 "soloists", that's a lot of people! So, the expo for picking up our bibs and dropping off our drop-bags was fairly large and busy on the Friday afternoon.

I thought it was cool that each drop-bag was tagged with the right Transition Area, too, just to make sure nothing was misplaced.

They served us a dinner of pasta and salad and sweets as well, which was included in the race admission. The race director gave us some more details about the race, like describing what the course markers look like and talking about large wild animals. He said that every year a bear or cougar is sighted, and that only one encounter with a bear was "negative". What does that mean?!?

Getting some good sleep is really important before a race of this length, since we'll be running and hiking all night long. On Thursday night, I took one melatonin and one Gaba supplement (thanks, Rebekah!) and I slept really well. On Friday night, the night before the race, I took one melatonin and one Benadryl. I didn't sleep quite as well, but I think I still got 6+ hours of sleep before my 4:30am alarm woke me up.

The three of us had a quick breakfast. For me, I had an 'everything' bagel with peanut butter and honey, two slices of raisin bread with butter, and a cup of black coffee. On the drive to the race, I checked the weather and there was still a thunderstorm predicted for Crowsnest Pass, from noon to 7pm.

We met the race shuttle at the Crowsnest Sports Complex and there was plenty of parking, and indoor bathrooms. This is where we would finish the race many hours later. At 6:15am, I think there were only 20 of us in the bus, and we drove a little ways (15 minutes?) to the start line. Apparently all of the other soloists and relay runners had crews to drop them off at the start and pick them up at the finish.

We milled about on the cute main street. Excitement was in the air!

Rebekah wanted to use a bathroom one last time, but the porta-potties were no match for the crowds. I could have gone one more time, too, but with this being such a long race, I wasn't concerned with having to stop during the race.

As the start time drew near, the race director warned us to stay off the railroad tracks. Hmm.
Photo courtesy of the race.
And we were off! Woo hoo!

I took it really easy and enjoyed the scenery. We started off on a road before getting over to a trail that runs along a railroad track. At one point, the trail basically merges with the tracks and we were forced to at least run on crushed rocks underneath the tracks. A few runners ran on the tracks. Maybe 30 minutes later, I heard a train come down those tracks, so it was definitely a live track!

I chatted with Rebekah while Alan ran a short ways in front of us. We jogged through a residential area and then eventually got on to a dirt road. I tried to be at ease and walk the uphills, to conserve my legs for the second half of the race. I had a long long ways to go.
Running with Rebekah on Leg 1 and trying to keep our feet dry. Photo courtesy of the race.
At some point I was feeling good and I turned up my effort just a notch and pulled ahead of Rebekah. I wouldn't see her for the remainder of the race.

Alan and I traded places back and forth, going up the steep hills, sliding in the mud, and rock hopping on the descents. At one point I looked up and saw Alan far ahead in mid-leap, like an acrobat. "Careful, Alan!" I thought to myself.
Alan and I, a few hours into the race, on Leg 2. Photo courtesy of the race.
The race has two types of aid stations -- "check points" and "transition areas". The check points are smaller and offer fewer services and fewer food and drink choices. The transition areas are much larger and are where our drop bags are, and where crews can meet their runners, and where the relay team members hand-off. All the aid stations were staffed by friendly helpful Canadians, from the 1-person mini-station at mile 95.7 to the giant TA5/TA6 campground station.

One thing about the course started to really hit home -- most of the ascent and descent was being done by directly running up and down mountains on straight steep trails or rutted dirt roads. There were not a lot of switchbacks. With the frequent long mud patches, this meant that that we were spending a lot of energy to deal with slipping and sliding. The descents were rough on my toes, too, as my feet were repeatedly jarred with hard braking. I started to feel a hot spot on my left foot's toes, and around mile 12 I decided to address this problem early before it got serious, and I sat down on the side of the trail and applied some Nut Butter anti-chafing cream. A relay runner stopped and asked me if I needed help, in that friendly lovely upbeat Canadian accent. She offered to take a look at my foot, so I thought she might have been a nurse. So sweet! I thanked her but declined her offer. I got going again and my toes immediately felt better, so it was worth the stop.

There were frequent gorgeous views in the late morning.

Photo by Rebekah

Photo by Rebekah

Photo by Rebekah

Photo by Rebekah
Photo courtesy of the race.
Somewhere around mile 17, I'm guessing, on a steep muddy downhill road, I thought I was going to step on firm dirt, but instead my left foot plunged past the ankle and slipped forward and I landed on my butt and right side. At least it was a soft landing!

TA2! It was 11:30am. I rolled in and there were dozens of cheering spectators. I stopped briefly to resupply. A helpful volunteer asked if I had a drop bag (no) and I was quickly out of there, to climb back up the mountain.

I was ahead of my optimistic 25 hour pace goal by about an hour, but I knew I would slow down at night. Even with careful pacing and staying hydrated and well-fed, just navigating the rocks and puddles at night is slower for me. Maybe I need a better headlamp or light source?

In the early afternoon, I started to wonder, where is the thunderstorm? I sometimes felt an increase in humidity or something, which I thought was a sign of an impending storm, and there were some dark clouds nearby, but still no rain. Hmmm. Instead, Leg 3 was fairly bright and exposed and I was getting warm. I miscalculated my water needs for one section and went 20 or 30 minutes without water.
On Leg 3, with a huge wad of licorice stuffed in my cheek. Photo courtesy of the race.
Around mile 30, I came across a man, maybe in his mid-50s, bent over and throwing up on the side of the trail, with another runner by his side. He was a relay runner and said his name was Darcy and that he was dehydrated and over-heated and wanted help. I said I would tell the next aid station. I soon forgot his bib number (765? 752?) but I remembered his name and I tried to remember the mile mark. I got moving again and a couple minutes later, I glanced back to check on him and he was walking, so I didn't think it was an emergency. Maybe 1.5 miles later I arrived at the next checkpoint (CP3b?) and told the aid station volunteers what was going on.

My watch recorded a temperature of 86F. I was getting dehydrated. My urine was a pretty dark yellow. Damn. I was feeling weaker, too. I was getting an abdomen cramp that I interpreted as being from the candy, since the smaller checkpoint aid stations didn't typically have energy gels. I knew I needed to keep eating, at least every 30 minutes, plus drink plenty of sports drink, in order to get about 300 calories an hour. I started taking an S-Cap salt pill every hour, to help me drink more water and to hopefully keep cramps at bay.

TA3 at mile 41.2! I had finally finished this difficult leg 3 loop. I'm at the same physical aid station as TA2, and coincidentally I was with the same relay runner I had departed with so many hours ago.

I heard my name being called. Pete Briggs! Sweet! He's a member of my running club and I knew he had contemplated running this race, too, and that he was vacationing in Montana I think, but it was a total surprise to see a familiar face here. I asked him if Alan had already come through and he said "no". I probably had passed Alan without realizing it at TA2. Thank you so much, Pete! That was a real uplifting moment!
Arriving at TA3, mile 41.2. Photo by Pete.

At TA3. Photo by Pete.

Alan at TA3. Photo by Pete.

Rebekah at TA3. Photo by Pete.
On to Leg 4. A light misty rain started falling as I was leaving the aid station. Is the thunderstorm near? I think I started hearing thunder and got some rain in the next couple of hours. There were more big climbs, with another 3200' of gain and 2900' of loss over the next 14.6 miles. A young relay runner matched paces with me and he seemed to want some company. He was a University student, studying drama, and we chatted about life in Canada and politics and health care. We came across a barbed wire fence with three orange pool noodles covering the strands of barbed wire. Yes, we were supposed to squeeze through it. I went first and held the wires apart for him. We laughed. It reminded me of all the ladders I had to climb to get over fences in my race across England. T?here were two more barbed wire fence crossings like that.
Leg 4. Photo courtesy of the race.
We finally arrived at the next transition area, TA4, and we thanked each other for the company. I think his name was Nathan.

TA4 -- this is my one drop-bag stop.

The volunteers were super helpful. There was a whole tent section for "solo runners", although I plopped down in a chair next to the cooking station. I probably had a small bowl of soup, but I can't remember for sure now.

I got my two headlamps, nighttime clothes (wind breaker, pants, thermal shirt, gloves), and applied bug spray. I also planned on switching GPS watches. Coincidentally, the low battery warning came on for my main Garmin watch just then.

It was time to get moving again. On to Leg 5. 

The start of this leg is a gentle uphill on paved roads and dirt trails. In theory, this should have been easy running, yet my energy level seemed to be steadily dropping. I was walking more and getting passed by more relay runners and probably a soloist or two, too.
Leg 5. Photo courtesy of the race.
I was going over in my mind the logistics and equipment, and it occurred to me that I had really jammed my pack tightly, and that there was a chance that I had accidentally turned on one of my headlamps. I mulled whether or not to stop and check and finally I did, and wow, good call, Ron. My main headlamp was on, shining brightly in the late afternoon. Whew. My backup headlamp isn't as bright. I repacked and moved on.

The hills were green and pretty and eventually I was back into a forest and I started using my headlamp for the first time.

There was plenty of climbing and descents and a lot of muddy rutted puddle-filled dirt roads. I tried to keep my feet dry by walking around the puddles when possible.

At one point, while delicately walking on the rim of a giant lengthy puddle (or small pond?) the muddy slick clay just gave way and my left foot plunged up to my knee and my chest slammed into a jagged broken branch. "#$@!" That hurt. I pulled up my shirt to check for blood and I didn't see any. Damn, that could have been bad. I regrouped and carried on.

Sometimes I couldn't see a way around one of these road ponds, so I just plowed through.

A while later I arrived at a big T-intersection where my muddy pond filled road merged into a wider road. There were no course markings. "#$%&**@!" The course was so well marked that there was no way that this intersection would not be marked. I was off course. I looked back and there was a runner not far behind. I waited a bit. The runner ahead had chosen one of the directions and he came back. We all agreed that we had gone off course. We worked our way back and it turns out that there was a smaller road intersection that we had all completely missed. All of the course markings had been on our left side and there had been no "wrong way" sign. In daylight, there would have been no way to miss it, but when focused on these huge puddles at night, I had not even realized that there had been an intersection. I estimate this added 0.6 miles. Maybe if I had had a brighter light source with a wider beam, I would have caught it.

I finally got to the second and final checkpoint for this leg, CP5b. They had some thumping music going on and flashing lights. Thank you, volunteers! While there, the first place solo runner came through on his leg 6. Wow. He was moving well, and had a super-bright chest light and head light, and was using hiking poles, too. I was only at mile 68.2 and he was at 88.0. I got moving again and he soon got ahead of me and was out of sight.

I finally slowly arrived at TA5. This is a huge campground with lots of tents and services. It was time to do a "reset". I was telling myself that I really needed to get on top of my hydration and energy levels. I thought maybe warm food would help. I asked what they have. "Meatballs and potatoes." "Both, please!" I replied! I normally don't eat beef, but I was getting desperate to feel better and warm "real" food sounded good. Yum. Those meatballs were so good.

I also was getting chafing with my shorts, so I wanted to take care of that before it got worse. I asked around and a medic had a tube of some kind of anti-chafing cream. I walked behind the tent to get some privacy, but a car's headlamps were shining my silhouette on the tent. I didn't expose myself, but we all had a chuckle, like I was giving a burlesque show.

Onward, to the most difficult leg, Leg 6. This leg has the highest elevation on the course, at 7500', and 4600' of elevation gain and 4600' of decent.

All that sitting around chilled me and I had to stop and bundle up. Slow moving relay runners with their hiking poles passed me. People asked how I was doing, and I sometimes replied "Slow, but I'm hanging in there." I still had about a marathon remaining, and I was tired, sore, and low on energy.
Leg 6. Photo courtesy of the race.
I think it was CP6a, at mile 77.7, that was staffed by two people, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the night. I was very grateful for them being there. I was maybe a little too chatty because I forgot to fill up one of my water bottles. I realized the mistake a bit later, but I wasn't going to go back. It worked out OK, and my one water bottle lasted until the next aid station. I had stopped getting sweets from aid stations, but potato chips tasted pretty good, and my supply of energy gels from TA5 were lasting.

I was trudging uphill and I got to a long section that, as usual, shot straight up the mountain. The muddy dirt was slick with small plants scattered about. I could take about 10 steps at a time before I had to catch my breath. Other runners with their trekking poles passed me regularly. I would typically slide back a little bit on every step. At one point, I had to get on all fours to keep myself from slipping, by using my hands to grasp the plants so that I could keep my feet in place. It was ridiculous. I was hating it. "Why on earth did I sign up for this race?" "I don't want to run the Santa Rosa Marathon in August." "I wish I were in my comfortable home." "Wouldn't it be great if the race were cancelled and I was forced to drop?" These were some of the many negative thoughts I had.

Finally, finally, finally, the trail leveled out a bit. The descent was steep and hard on my feet as usual, but it felt good knowing that the worst was probably over and the pink glow on the horizon meant the dawn of a new day and that I could see better. I thought back to my first hundred miler, Headlands 100, and I was grateful that I had not become desperately sleepy. The combination of good nights' sleep and some caffeine was keeping me in a decent mental state, and I hadn't had any hallucinations.

I finally rolled around to the same physical checkpoint that I was at so long before, CP5b/CP6c, at mile 88, with the music still pumping. I asked if I was in last place. "No!" they laughed. "There are lots of people behind you. You're doing great!" Well, I didn't feel great, but I felt better now. I was finally well-hydrated and my urine was relatively clear.

I was passing familiar territory on this shared section between legs 5 and 6 and I rolled into TA6 (physically the same as TA5). Wow, I was getting actually sort of close to finishing. Someone asked if I was finishing leg 5 or 6. Definitely 6! I guess there may still have been poor souls out there on leg 5.

I got resupplied quickly and was on my way. Yay!!! The last leg!!! Only 6.8 miles to the finish!!!

Boom. Another steep incline. Someone was running downhill towards me. I asked her if she was in the race. "No, I was just escorting one of the boys." There was a relay team composed of middle schoolers, if you can believe it. I had passed one of them early on, and another had passed me later. So, as a team, they were still ahead of me, and they finished ahead of me, too. Impressive!

I slowly hiked up the steep rutty dirt road. I noticed that some of the mud had dried up a bit. Nice. I looked back and I saw one of the soloists that I had switched places with a couple times already. This was his second attempt at the solo race, he had told me. He had tried it last year and it was his first trail race ever! Not surprisingly, he had to drop last year. But this year, although he said he wasn't able to run, he was a steady hiker and he hadn't gone off course on leg 5, but I probably passed him at this last aid station. I yelled out, "Great job! We're almost there!". And then I privately told myself to grit down and push hard to the finish.

As soon as the trail leveled out and I could run, I started to really move. I didn't want to be passed by the hiker. I let my heart rate rise and I took more risks with jumping over rocks. "Careful!", I warned myself, "You still have a ways to go and you don't want to twist an ankle." I wondered if there was going to be another steep downhill to match the steep uphill we just had. Yes. I was moving much faster and my toes and feet were complaining. My little toe on my right foot suddenly had a sharp pain around the toenail. "I'm so sorry toes. Just hang in there.", I told myself.

I was red-lining. I took another energy gel. I still had 4 miles to go which was plenty long enough to bonk or get cramps.

I saw another soloist on an incline. I kept running while he was hiking and I slowly caught up. I was breathing hard. I congratulated him as I passed and I tried to push a little extra. There was one last checkpoint, CP7, at mile 95.7, and I decided that I didn't need to stop.

There was just one volunteer at this last checkpoint and I waved and said I had enough supplies. She dutifully entered my bib number into her phone and told me to cross the river, go uphill, and make a right. OK! The river had no way to cross without getting wet. It wasn't too bad -- a couple inches past my ankles. What's one last foot soaking after everything? No big deal!

3.7 miles to go. There was some sweet single track trail for once, with a gentle downhill. I was moving well but getting desperate. I passed two relay runners. 

At mile 97, I came to a connector "trail". Standing above it and looking down, it looked a lot like a cliff. It wasn't very long fortunately, maybe 30 feet. I aimed for a tree and lept down one section at a time and placed a hand on a tree trunk to stop myself. I repeated this a few more times to get to the bottom. No problem! In San Mateo County, where I live, a trail like this would be shut down and closed off!

Finally, I saw signs of civilization. The end was getting near. I knew we had to run on city streets for a bit to get to the Crowsnest Sports Complex. I glanced behind to see if anyone was getting close; I didn't want to be passed! Finally, finally, finally, hands in the air!
Finished! Photo courtesy of the race.
Then I saw Alan. Oh, no! He must have dropped. We hugged. Someone asked for my timing chip and I dug it out of my pack and handed it over. Rebekah came over; she had dropped, too. No!
Photo by Alan.
The race director, Brian Gallant, came over and handed me a belt buckle and a bottle of beer. "That was soooo difficult," I cheerfully blurted out. Brian seemed pleased. We chatted about the course a bit and he mentioned the crazy connector trail at mile 97; he said it had a 30% slope.

The swag! I bought the mug.

The bottle not only had the Sinister 7 label, but a custom printing that was done at the finish line, with my name, bib #, and finishing time! Nice! The beer wasn't bad, either!

I'll let Rebekah and Alan tell their own stories, if they want to share their experiences publicly. I just want to say that I'm very proud of them and they tried very hard. Lessons were learned.

What went well
  • I finished!
  • I never got particularly sleepy. It's so important to get some good sleep before the race.
  • My legs, core, and muscles generally stayed strong enough. I didn't have to slow down due to extreme soreness. Maybe the weight-training class I took this year helped.
  • Carrying two 20oz bottles worked great.

Things to improve
  • Hiking poles would have been super-useful.
  • I needed a bigger running pack.
  • I went the farthest off course that I've ever gone in a trail race -- around 0.6 miles in total. I could have used more light at night, and then maybe I wouldn't have missed that left turn on Leg 5. I noticed that the first-place soloist had a super-bright chest light and headlamp, along with hiking poles, too.
  • I needed more anti-chafing cream. I should have started with at least a half-stick of the small trial-size Nut Butter.
  • I don't know how to avoid blisters on these longest runs. Maybe I should try Injini toe socks.
  • I wish I had a GPS watch with a longer battery life than my Garmin Fenix 3 HR. I got the low-battery warning after just 13 hours.

Random data
  • My weight on the Thursday before the race: 171.2 lbs
  • GPS watch data for the first 55.8 miles.
  • GPS watch data for the second half of the race, except a big chunk of location data seems to be missing.
  • I took 3 ibuprofen, all in the second half of the race.
  • I took one S-Cap salt pills about every 2 hours in the cooler temperatures and every hour for the hottest part of the afternoon, which was 86F according to my watch.
  • Official results.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Miwok 100K -- 12:49:58

I had a solid run at Miwok 100K. The weather was great and mostly things went well. I was just kind of slow and felt sluggish with heavy legs for most of the race. I ran and hiked the 62 hilly miles (11,800' of elevation gain) in about 12 hours 50 minutes. It was great seeing so many friends volunteering or in the race. I'm especially grateful that my wife and daughter volunteered all day for the race and then surprised me at the finish line!

This race was important to me because I needed a qualifying race for Western States 100 and also I felt ready to revisit this challenging but beautiful and well-supported local race. I ran it previously in 2010, 2011, and in the partially cancelled version of 2013. If I'm not running it, I'm volunteering there, with my friends and family at my running club's aid station at Bolinas Ridge.

Leading up to the race, my training was light on the miles -- I'm not sure I ran more than 55 miles in a week. Fortunately, I had three consecutive weekend runs of 26 miles or longer and I had a bunch of mid-week 12-20 mile days which rounded out my training. Meeting friends on Tuesday and Thursday helped motivate me to get some more hilly miles. Also, I have been taking a weight-training class at the local community college on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I have gotten measurably stronger.

The race was due to start on Saturday, May 4, at 5am. So, my last chance for a good night's sleep before the race was on Thursday night. I fell asleep easily shortly after 10pm, but I woke up around 3:30am and I'm not sure I ever quite fell into a deep sleep. I probably should have taken a melatonin and/or an antihistamine to make sure that I slept through the night. I got out of bed feeling sleepy on Friday morning. Doh!

On Friday night, I took one Benadryl capsule, but I still tossed and turned a lot. I thought about my finish-line drop-bag and how I had not written my bib # on it. I finally got up around midnight and got duct tape and a marker, and wrote my bib # on it. My alarm woke me up at 2:20am. I was sleepy.

Saturday morning: it's Go Time! I tried to be efficient with making breakfast (2 English muffins with peanut butter and jelly) but I was still about 3 minutes late out the door. I met my friends Rebekah and Alan in their car at the Colma SamTrans Park and Ride shortly after 3am. Soon, we were off! Rebekah handed me some homemade doughnut holes. Mmm. Thank you, you two! It was nice catching up with them, but I was still kind of sleepy.

We got to the Stinson Beach parking lot just after 4am, and we had plenty of time to do last minute preparations, get our bibs, see some unexpected friends (Eric Vaughan, Jr.! Bryan!) and expected friends (Rachael! Mike!). I had enough time for one last porta-potty visit, took some photos, ate an energy gel (15 minutes before the 5am start time), and then we were off! Woo hoo! I was positioned about in the middle of us 444 starters.

A bunch of us laughed as we ran around the corner and then had to stop in about 20 seconds, due to the back-up of getting on to the Dipsea Trail. "Was that the race?", "Are we done yet?", people joked. Even though the trail was wide enough for 2 people side-by-side, there were so many of us that it must have taken a few minutes for the back of the pack to get on the trail. I jogged ahead of people when I got the chance, to try to reduce the crowding behind me. At one hill crest I could see the long snake of bright lights and colored clothes of all the runners in front of me, against the black of the night. It was a beautiful serene scene. Fun!

It was only 2.8 miles to the first aid station, Cardiac, which was at the top of the Dipsea trail, and as dawn slowly broke, I heard a bagpipe player! Cool! I thought he must be at the aid station. I looked around as we all started descending again and as time went on, I wondered where the aid station was. I finally checked the distance on my watch -- 4.2 miles. Doh! I had unknowingly run right past the aid station! I wondered if those around me had intentionally or accidentally done the same thing. There was no pop-up tent or any obvious indication to me that there was actually an aid station back there. It turned out fine. In the cool air, I wasn't drinking much and my 35 oz or so that I had at the start lasted until the Muir Beach aid station at mile 8.

Another runner noticed my Boston Marathon branded shorts. (They're really comfortable and they're my favorite long-distance running shorts now.) She said she had run the Boston Marathon this year and that this was her first 100K. I thought later, "Wow, that's impressive because I would not want to run these two races so close in time." The two races are less than three weeks apart.

At Muir Beach, I mentioned to a volunteer that I was going to use the restroom and someone said "to go in the woods" because the rangers hadn't unlocked it yet. I had to pee! Onward!

Shortly after leaving the aid station, I wanted to check my aid station mileage and timing chart, but it was no longer in my vest pocket. It had my predicted times for an 11 hour and 12 hour finish. Apparently, it had either fallen out along the trail or maybe I had accidentally thrown it away at Muir Beach. Well, it wasn't a critical error. I knew I could ask at aid stations how long it was to the next aid station.

Heading back out, on my way to Tennessee Valley, I crossed paths with those entering Muir Beach. Rebekah! Rachael! Mike! Chihping! They all looked good! I turned off, heading up for another big climb. I pushed a little harder on this climb and ran long stretches of uphill. Then we descended into Tennessee Valley and I arrived at the aid station at mile 13. I felt good. Janeth! Stan Jenson! Kelly Haston! I knew several people volunteering. Janeth handed me my drop bag as I arrived. Wow, what service! I stashed my headlamp and grabbed my 6 energy gels in a zip lock bag. This would be my only drop bag stop. I hung on to my arm warmers because I was enjoying having them around my wrists so that I could mop my face. Onward!

After another big climb, we were on our way to Bridge View. True to its name, there were sights of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sweet! Then we came across the front runners heading towards us! Wow, they were moving fast. I didn't feel very energetic. My legs felt heavy. Somewhere along the way, I stepped funny and an old hip / groin / thigh tightness problem surfaced in my right leg. It slowed me down further. Annoying.

Bridge View (mile 18.6) came finally and the crossing guards at the street were dressed up in costumes. That was fun. I quickly refueled, filling both 20oz bottles completely, because I knew this next leg was a long one, at 7.4 miles, with a big climb.

A quick note on food -- the race wasn't allowed to provide energy gels or energy blocks (Shot Bloks) due to trash problems of the past. My plan was to bring my own for about 100 calories per hour, and then have an additional 200 calories per hour of aid station food and sports drink. I brought along a ziplock bag to carry aid station food with me.

Heading back to Tennessee Valley was a slog. It was interesting to be asked by a polite volunteer that I needed to walk through the ranch, in case horses came by. OK. There were no horses near me. A tenth of a mile later another volunteer said I could resume running. I did. Finally, I arrived back at Tennessee Valley aid station. Kelly! Janeth! Stan! Thanks, everyone!

I hit the marathon distance (26.2 miles) right around the 5 hour mark, which felt good psychologically. I tried not to think about how far I had to go. Just get to the next aid station.

I sometimes felt like I was on the verge of cramps in my thighs, in the same place that hit me in the Woodside Crossover 50K that I ran recently. I slowed down.

The bluffs above Pirates Cove and Muir Beach were just gorgeous. I was grateful to be there and able to be running this race. I was grateful for the relatively cool weather with gentle winds and no rain.

The course dropped down into Muir Beach for the second and last time, at mile 30.3. I quickly refueled and was on my way again, munching on yummy potato chips.

Although it was only 5.2 miles, the climb into Cardiac (mile 35.5) was a slog. I was on borderline cramps again. I kept on eating and drinking. I tried to remember to take a salt pill every hour now, as I was getting warmer and sweating more. I think I took my first ibuprofen around here, to try to help with my right leg. A short while later (5 minutes? 10?), my hip tightness disappeared for the rest of the race. Nice!

There was more climbing and I was feeling warmer. I ran out of water and sports drink for maybe 20-25 minutes. I saw the front runner coming up the hill. Nice! He was about 14 miles ahead of me. Amazing. Finally, I heard some cheers from my friends at Bolinas Ridge! I was close! I descended into the aid station. Paula! Franz! They were working as crossing guards. Jen! Jennifer! Claire! They quickly took my bottles and got me refueled. I was so thirsty that I drank about 15oz of water on the spot and got refueled again by my daughter. Thank you, Claire! My wife handed me a stack of BBQ Pringles. Yummy! I said "Goodbye" and started jogging away when Jen Dill shouted that she still had my other water bottle. Oops! That's important. OK, with 40oz on me, it was time to go! Michaela! She was tracking the runners and she recorded my bib #.

I felt sluggish again. I think three runners passed me on the next section. I saw more of the front runners coming towards me. Finally, we made our left turn off of the Bolinas Ridge trail and on to Randall. There was a volunteer sitting at this left turn all day, to make sure we didn't miss the turn, even though the gate was heavily marked with pink ribbons. "Thank you! You're a saint!" I told him.

I still had a long ways to go, so I tried to hold back and preserve my legs. This was a steep 1.6 mile descent to the Randall Trailhead aid station. Someone shouted my name. Loren! Cool! I refueled. A growing sensation became too much, and I decided it was time for a longer porta-potty visit. Oh well, it happens. So, this was my longest aid station break. Time to go back up that huge hill. I remembered that the distance from here to the finish was exactly 13 miles. I'm getting close to finishing! I walked almost all of this steep uphill and drank a lot.

Jill Cole! She was making the left turn onto Randall. A short while later... Rebekah! She looked great and was running well. Rachael! She was running well and was far ahead of the cutoffs which caught her last year at the finish line. Mike! Looking good! Chihping! He was bringing up the tail of the race. He was in good spirits, but I wondered if he was going to finish in time. (He didn't, unfortunately.) I slogged along. I ran out of water for 25-30 minutes and wondered if I should stop eating if I didn't have any fluids; I continued eating. I did appreciate the shade and the lushness of the redwood trees here. It's a beautiful forest. It's so beautiful and the trails are so clean, that when I saw a piece of litter that could have come from a runner, I picked it up. I picked up 6 or 7 pieces of trash throughout the race. I enjoyed seeing my running club's inspirational signs as I neared the aid station; ours is the only aid station with signs like this. Somewhere around here, I took my second ibuprofen.

Finally, on a bit of a downhill into the aid station, I put on a good show and was moving well and was greeted by cheers. Yay! More BBQ Pringles! More water and sports drink! Ana! Jennifer! Claire! Jen! Franz! Paula! Bob and Jaymes! (I know others were there, too, but I'm forgetting who I greeted.) Thank you, my friends, for being there! I had forgotten that it was 6.2 miles to the finish line. When Franz told me, "It's just 10K to the finish", that was actually a let down; somehow I thought it was more like 5.5. Onward!

Maybe it was the Pringles, or maybe it was ibuprofen kicking in, or getting more fluids, or getting closer to the finish, but I started having more energy and was running the gentle downhills much faster and was generally running all of the uphills, too. I was catching up to another runner. I passed him. And then another. And another. I felt pretty good. My legs were fine and my limit was more about my heartrate. I didn't want to blow up and I still had a little ways to go. I passed another runner and another. I was starting to get desperate for that final right turn on to the Matt Davis Trail, which is a very steep technical trail with lots of roots, rocks, and steps. Finally, finally, I saw the flags marking it. "Holy $@#! It's the Matt Davis Trail!" I exclaimed to myself. I was so happy to see that.

I knew I had about two miles to go. I felt great. I ate my last energy gel. I passed another runner. And another. I hopped over roots, skipped down stairs, and raced along any smooth trail there was. I felt fast. It's moments like these that are such a huge reward, to be running strong and easily at mile 60. I caught up to another runner. Being on a single track trail can make it difficult to pass someone. "Hi there", I said. She said her knee was hurting and that she couldn't stop. She waved me by, but there wasn't enough room. Another bend in the trail came up and she waved me by again. I skipped past her, thanked her, and poured on the speed again. I was so close to finishing! I recognized the last bridge! Pavement! Cheering! I made the sharp left and got in a good sprint to the finish line. Woo hoo!

Tia Bodington! The race director put a finishers medal around my neck. I thanked her for putting on such a great event.

Jennifer! Claire! I was *not* expecting my family to be here. Nice! My muscles started stiffening up and they walked around with me as I hobbled. I got my finish-line drop bag that had my clothes and phone in it. I got some food -- a plate of fruit and some mac 'n cheese. Yum. I got my finishers shirt. I was expecting to stay there and wait for Rebekah to finish, so that I could get a ride back to my car, but I was grateful to get a ride from my wife and daughter and to talk about our day. Thank you, you two!

What went well

  • I had a solid run, albeit not as fast as I used to be able to do.
  • I didn't fall or get lost. Had a couple of stumbles on rocks, but it wasn't too bad.
  • I didn't become too dehydrated or too low on glycogen. I didn't "bonk".
  • I never became too sore. My feet were getting tender, but my legs stayed strong until the end.
  • Carrying two 20oz water bottles worked well.
  • I didn't wear gaiters on my shoes and I didn't need them.
  • No real chafing. I was forming a blister in one place that I felt on the final descent with about 2 miles to go. It wasn't bad; I ignored it.

Things to improve

  • I may have done a Thursday night work-out too hard -- I ran 5 slow hilly miles and then did an hour-long strength-training workout. I didn't feel "fresh" for the Saturday morning start.
  • I lost my aid station and mileage chart at some point during the race. I should have taped it to a water bottle rather than tucking it in a pocket in my running vest.

Random data

  • Friday morning weight: 170.4 lbs.
  • Saturday night weight: 166.4 lbs.
  • For food, I consumed 12 energy gels, 1 package of energy chews, lots of potato chips, and some quesadilla quarters.
  • I took 2 ibuprofen and about 8 S-cap salt pills.
  • I drank about 2/3rds Tailwind sports drink and about 1/3 water.
  • Garmin watch data
  • Preliminary results

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Woodside Crossover 50K -- 80% Racing

Today's race was supposed to be a training run, to see some friends and get in about 31 miles of trails and 5750' of elevation gain. My main upcoming goal is Miwok 100K (62 miles), four weeks away on May 4, which is a beautiful challenging race and also a Western States 100 qualifier. I did not taper for today's race, having done a long slow 27 mile run the previous Sunday and a 10 mile tempo run on Thursday.

However, with the excitement of all the other runners, I knew that I would push the pace a bit, so in the end, I'm going to say that today was 80% race and 20% taking-it-easy. I successfully finished, without tripping or getting lost or struggling too much. The weather was great, the course was fun and interesting and well-marked, and the trails were great for running except for the frequent mud patches, but those were fun, too, in their own way. I covered the 30.8 miles in 5 hours 21 minutes. I started getting cramps with about 2 miles remaining, but I just slowed down and didn't have to walk. It was fun seeing a few running friends and so many other runners on the two out-and-backs.

I had one very sweet unexpected encounter. When I went to pick up my bib at the check-in tent, I gave the volunteer my last name and then when she saw my first name on the list, she looked me in the eyes and said "Ron Little?". I said "Hi?" but I didn't recognize her. "You wrote a comment on my blog." She grasped my hand. "You are such a special wonderful person and I love the ultra community so much." She started crying. I remembered her blog post being a loving race or run report, but with a very sad mention of the loss of a good friend of hers, so I think I reminded her of her friend. She wasn't there when I finished the race, so I didn't get a chance to really talk with her. I do agree, though, that we have a wonderfully supportive community amongst ultrarunners.

A short while later, I saw my friend Margaret from the Coastside Running Club. She was going to run the half-marathon and she was volunteering, too. Nice!

Shortly before the race to begin, my friend Rachael, also from my running club, ran up to me and gave me a hug. She was in the 50K, too, and it was fun seeing her along the course on the two out-and-backs.

The race started right at 8:30am and my allergies kicked in, and my nose was like a leaky faucet for the next 5+ hours.

I pushed a bit too hard heading up out of Purisima to Skyline Blvd, running nearly every step of the way uphill on the Purisima Creek Trail. Shortly after the aid station at mile 16.2, I felt extra fatigued, and I slowed down, and two runners passed me.

The first place woman passed me a bit later, around mile 20, but I was faster at the aid station at mile 21.6 even though I chatted with another friend there (Chihping!) and so I got in front of her. Then she passed me on one of the flatter sections, but I was more confident on the steeper muddier downhills, so I passed her again. I was feeling much better (having eaten a couple of energy gels and drank a lot of Tailwind sports drink and taken a salt pill and an ibuprofen) and so I really picked up the pace with about 5 miles to go. But then I started getting cramps in my calves and thighs. I was very close to not being able to run at all, so I slowed down and kept eating and drinking. The last two miles seemed to take forever and there was one final climb to the finish line, which I had to walk.

Finally, finally, I hobbled towards the end and crossed the finish line in 9th place overall, out of 71 runners, having taken 5 hours 21 minutes 4 seconds. Whew!

Random Notes

  • Woke up before my alarm, at 6am.
  • Arrived about an hour before the 8:30am race time, which was great for finding parking in Huddart Park and doing some stretches and chatting with other runners.
  • I got some chafing on my thighs and nipples. I was drenched in sweat for almost all the race.
  • I weighed around 171 lbs. Too much. :(
  • There was quite a bit of mud, but I plowed through it with confidence in my Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 shoes, which worked great.
  • I didn't trip or fall or get lost.
  • Results

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Rio Del Lago 100 Mile -- 23:01:20

I had a good run! I successfully completed this 100.5 mile race in 23 hours 1 minute 20 seconds. I enjoyed seeing lots of friends from my running club and I especially enjoyed running and hiking 13 miles with my 16 year old daughter and 17 miles with my friend Mor. This was my 6th attempted and 4th completed 100 miler. I didn't fall apart and I stayed reasonably strong throughout. I set a personal record for this distance, by about 17 minutes. I didn't fall, get lost, or get injured, and I had fairly consistent energy levels, and I didn't get too dehydrated in the heat of the day.

I wanted to run this race in order to stay qualified for Western States Endurance Run, and to try to get better at this distance, and because I liked what I saw as a pacer from the previous two years. I had run the last 55 miles two years ago and about 25 miles last year. This race had great support and some pretty scenery and a good "vibe" from the other runners and aid station volunteers. Plus, this race was only about a 2.5 hour drive from my home, which makes the logistics easier and cheaper.

Of my three previous completed 100 milers (Headlands 100, Mountain Lakes 100, TRT 100), I significantly slowed down in the last 25 miles due to soreness. I hoped to get in longer training runs this time and to be sure to stay well-hydrated and to take it easy early on.

Leading up to the race, I was still regaining my fitness from injuries from the previous year, but I was basically healthy and running well. I completed the following key long runs leading up to Rio Del Lago:

  • 10/16 -- 20 miles
  • 10/7 -- 31 miles
  • 9/30 -- 35 miles
  • 9/23 -- 35 miles
  • 9/20 -- 20 miles
  • 9/13 -- 29 miles
  • 9/6 -- 29 miles

However, my total mileage was quite a bit lower than in previous years, with my top week being just 66 miles, 6 weeks before the race. I had trouble being motivated to run any more. On three days a week, I commute to San Francisco, which makes for long days, and I want to spend the remainder of those days with family or sleeping!

The Plan
I wanted to be quick and efficient at aid stations and to rely as little as possible on drop bags or crew. So, I had just one drop bag that I would visit at Overlook #1 (mile 44.5), where I would pick up my good headlamp and a 3rd 20oz water bottle for the longest leg (10.5 miles between No Hands Bridge #1 and Auburn Lake Trails). I would meet my daughter at No Hands Bridge #2 (mile 70.5) and she would run 13 miles with me. I would then meet my friend Mor who would drag me the final 17 miles to the finish. My wonderful wife would be a driver and supporter.

After some research and some predictive spreadsheet work, I thought I could finish somewhere between 23 and 24 hours. I made a plan for 22.5 hours, just in case, so that my pacers could be sure to be waiting for me.

Day Before
As to not have two cars in the Folsom area, I carpooled with my friend Suki from my running club. Speaking of which, shockingly, in our little running club of about 70 active members, we had six members in this race! A bunch of other club members were either pacers or crew or volunteering at aid stations. The runners were: Paula, Alan, Rebekah, Suki, Norm, and myself. For Paula and Suki, this was their first hundred miler. Suki was super-prepared while I took more of a minimalist approach:

Suki's stuff (left) vs my stuff

Suki and I got our bibs and had a late lunch at around 2pm. (I had snacked on the drive, finishing off a can of Pringles. Mmm.)

We checked into our rooms at Natoma Lake Inn, which is a great location, with lots of runners coming and going. We saw Alan, Rebekah, and Paula! Our eating schedules didn't quite match up, so Suki and I ate a bit later (pasta with marinara sauce).

I often have a hard time sleeping the night before a race, but for a hundred miler, it's really useful to get a good night's sleep because for almost everyone, we'll be running for around 24 hours, and being sleepy on the trails is miserable and leads to making more mistakes. I took half a melatonin and then Rebekah gave me two Benadryl (diphenhydramine) capsules.

I realized that I had somehow lost my daughter's pacer bib. (I had to pick it up and sign the waiver for her, since she's a minor.) I left a message for my wife about this, and tried not to worry about it.

Fortunately, I had a great night's sleep except at 1am, my stupid phone woke me up with a stupid Google Calendar alert, unhelpfully letting me know that one of my nephews' birthdays (hi, Owen!) was 10 days from now. I had forgotten to silence everything except for alarms. I used the restroom and promptly fell asleep again, waking up with my alarm at 3am.

The Race!
I felt pretty full after eating a bagel with peanut butter, so I didn't try to stuff myself, even though this is a couple hundred calories fewer than I would typically eat. I think I might have been full from dinner and the late lunch the day before. That's OK. I did my usual skin care protection and got to the lobby. They had two carafes of coffee and one of them was decaf! Sweet! (I'm sensitive to caffeine.)

By 3:45am, I was in the lobby, waiting a bit for Suki. I saw my friend George from the Coastside Running Club! He was crewing for Norm. What a guy! I saw Norm and some other friends and acquaintances. A guy I was talking with (from Seattle) thought I must be a local since I knew so many people there. No, it's just my crazy running club from Half Moon Bay!

We did the short drive to Beals Point. Excitement was in the air with lots of strong-looking runners walking around.
There was supposed to be a briefing that started at 4:30am, but by the time the real meat of the briefing was beginning, I wanted to use the restroom one last time, so I missed the briefing, got through a 10 minute line at the restroom, took off my warm clothes, dropped off my finish-line drop-bag and lined up towards the back of the starting chute just a few minutes before 5am.

Soon, we were off! Woo hoo!

Early in the morning, on the gentle paved bicycle path, I just tried to take it easy. I even walked some of the gentle uphills, taking a cue from others. I was chatting with one woman who walked the gentlest of uphills and after she said she was "pushing 60" and was "hoping for a 26 and a half hour finish", I thought maybe I should be running a little bit faster. So, on the next gentle incline when she began to walk, I wished her luck and continued running.

The Willow Creek (mile 6.5) aid station came and went. At some point, maybe after 10 or 12 miles, I felt a bit of chafing in my shorts. I also had to pee, so I took the opportunity to apply some Nut Butter anti-chafing cream. I'm so glad I carried this small stick of critical skin protection cream, in a small pocket in my running vest. No chafing down there!

At the Negro Bar (mile 14) aid station, I caught up briefly with club member Alan. I would have loved to chat, but I was quick through the aid station and on my way. I was averaging around 10 minutes a mile which feels really slow, but I was feeling good and at ease. Patience is the key at this point in the race, for me. Sometimes I felt transitory pains in one ankle. Weird. But I figured I'm just warming up.
photo credit: Suki

The sun was rising. It was a beautiful morning, but I didn't want the cool temperatures to end! I stowed away my very lightweight headlamp in my pack, and I wouldn't retrieve it again until nighttime.
photo credit: Suki
I chatted with Jeff from San Ramon. He wanted to finish in 22:30 which sounded great to me! We ran a bunch of miles together. As much as I enjoyed his company, I didn't want to wait for him at aid stations (or anywhere else, basically). I was on a mission! Arriving back to Beals Point (mile 18.5), I felt the growing urge for a longer bathroom stop. Oh well, no big deal. The first set of public restrooms was locked, but the second set (where I had gone right before the race) was open. Business quickly taken care of, I ran into Alan again! Hey Alan! Goodbye, Alan! I didn't wait and was quickly through the aid station. I was in 147th place, out of 252 at this point.

The trails to Granite Beach (mile 23) and Horseshoe Bar (mile 32.5) are a lot more hilly and rocky, and the day was getting warmer. I was keeping up an easy effort, but moving more slowly. All's well.  I was in 116th place.

Somewhere around here, there was a three-way trail junction that was clearly marked for the direction we were going, but had just some chalk on the ground to indicate the left turn for the return. I knew we had to go back on this trail, many hours later, at night. I made a mental note to not miss this intersection on the way back. I commented about this to the runner behind me, but she had ear buds in and didn't hear me.

Rattlesnake Bar #1 (mile 35.5) comes. The temperatures are climbing towards the projected high of about 80F. I was quick, in-and-out of the aid station. Maybe a little too quick, because I forgot to ask for ice for my bandanna.

Shortly after exiting, I saw a big tall older shirtless man with leathered skin and a huge white beard running towards me. "Is that Gordy Ainsleigh?!" I called out. "Not the same Gordy that I used to be" I think he said. We high-fived as we ran by each other. Gordy basically started Western States 100 as a foot race in 1974 by being the only runner when everyone else was on horse. He's a living legend!
photo credit: Suki
Coming to Cardiac #1 (mile 41), I was getting a lot warmer. I got my bandanna out and tied it around my neck, to help me be sure to remember to get ice. I was comfortable, though. I think all the running in the San Mateo, Foster City, Belmont area had helped me adapt to the heat. I was occasionally feeling some hot spots on my feet. I ran out of water for about 10 minutes. I recognized this course from American River 50 Mile and I knew I was getting close to the aid station. "Ron!" some guy shouts. "Loren!" I called back. Cool! He was in my running club but was also in the Quicksilver running club, and was volunteering here. Another volunteer behind a table and wearing aviator glasses, calls me by name and offers to help. This was probably Jill Cole, but I wasn't sure. I handed her my bandanna that was sewn together to form a triangle with two openings on either side, and she quickly stuffed lots of ice in. Thank you, Jill! Fueled up and cooled down, I was on my way up this very steep hill.

Coming into Overlook #1 (mile 44.5), I ran some of the steep road and passed a couple more runners. I felt some hot spots on my toes, and I was looking forward to patching up my feet. Overlook is a major aid station where pacers are first allowed to join their runners. It's quite a circus with tons of people and support. Dan Rhodes! My friend from the Coastside Running Club who had moved to Bend, OR, was there! He said he was pacing someone. I said that I wished I could run with him, and he said I should join them. That'd be fun, but I was on a mission, on my own schedule. I needed my drop bag.

I walked over to where they were laid out, and they were in rows, sorted by our bib #. I'm looking for #187. I get to the area where it should be. Hmm. It's not there. I looked over at a dozen bags before and after. I search the whole row. I'm starting to mildly panic, because I have two critical items in there -- another 20oz water bottle for the longest leg of the race that was coming up, and my good headlamp, to help me run the rougher trails at night. "Can anyone please help me find my bag?", I called out randomly to some crew people and spectators sitting around. Two people quickly started to help me. (Thank you!) She found my bag in a different row. Whew! I plopped down on the grass, with my legs spread out before me, and I felt twinges of cramps. Oh oh. I made a mental note to get more salt and water in me. Sunscreen. Lip balm. Anti-chafing cream on my toes. There were the beginnings of blisters. Oh oh. Got my headlamp and water bottle and arm sleeves. Just as I was leaving, there was Alan! Cool! We greeted each other briefly, but I was on my way out. I wouldn't see him again for the remainder of the race. Onward! I'm in 103rd place.

I was almost half-way done! In just 5.5 miles I would be at the halfway point. Then it would be just 20 miles to Claire! After 13 miles with her, I'd have a final 17 miles with Mor. I have a long ways to go, but I'm feeling pretty good and am getting this done. Jeff caught up to me at some point and it was good to run with him again.

No Hands Bridge #1 (mile 48.5). It was time to fuel up for the longest leg of 10.5 miles. With all three 20oz bottles filled, and plenty of food, I was on my way. I remembered that this next section is a big clockwise loop. I walked straight past a trailhead and past some porta-potties and then a guy carrying a bunch of ice said "You're going the wrong way!" Oops. I had't gone far, thankfully, but yeah, sure enough, I was supposed to take that trailhead. It was the exit and 22 miles later, I would re-enter this aid station from that same trailhead.

We had a big uphill hike, then a descent, then we crossed Hwy 49, with the protection of the police and volunteers. Thank you! I was running well and feeling good. I caught up to Jeff and we started chatting again. He then said he needed to charge his cellphone (?! or did I mis-hear?). He pulled aside and I continued on. I wouldn't see him again for the rest of the race.

I occasionally passed struggling runners. With the heat, it's common to have stomach problems and cramps. Also, injuries are fairly common. The miles trickled by, and I was drinking a lot. Worryingly, I was getting through my water quite a bit faster than I was getting through the miles. I had been eating an energy gel every 30 minutes plus taking a salt pill (S-Cap) every 2 hours, in addition to about 100 calories of solid food at each aid station and lots of Tailwind sports drink. At some point, all three bottles were dry. I might have 2.5 miles to the next aid station. I slowly caught up to another runner. I asked her if she had any idea how far it was to the next aid station. (Although my GPS watch tracks distance, it gets farther and farther off the official distance over time, and I hadn't carefully kept track of the drift.) She wasn't really sure, either, although she had run these trails many times she said. She had run out of water, too. We chatted about training techniques and she had a fascinating theory involving lots of cross-fit types of exercise plus track workouts. If that worked, that would save so much time! She claimed that this kept her healthy and led to faster times, too. (Jennifer Hemmen was the runner; maybe I can get more info about this from her some day.)

We passed a little sign on the side of the trail that said "Barb's Place". Jennifer said that this was a memorial to Barbara who had been running on this trail alone early in the morning, and had stopped to change a tampon, and was killed by a mountain lion. Wow. Intense. I looked this up. The attack happened in 1994; Barbara Schoener was 40 years old and that was the first direct killing of a person in California by a mountain lion in the 20th century.

Finally, finally, we rolled into the Auburn Lake Trails aid station (mile 59). This was familiar ground, where I had volunteered many times with my running club, for the Western States Endurance Run. Someone asked me if I had a drop bag. "Nope!" I quickly went through my routine -- I had my trash in my hand before I even arrived, and got rid of that. I got one bottle filled with water and one with sports drink. I grabbed some boiled potatoes, dipped them in salt, thanked the volunteers and I was on my way. I said goodbye to Jennifer and she shouted out something like "I'll catch you soon!"

In this next section, I felt really good. At some point, all the annoying pains with blisters disappeared, I had no soreness, and I just cruised along. I was passing a lot of runners. I felt so good, that I had to keep reminding myself that I had a long ways to go, and to not get carried away. And then shockingly, I heard some runners catching up to me. They weren't on my heels yet, but I sped up a bit. And then more. The sunlight was fading, but I was rock hopping. "Wait, this is crazy," I thought to myself. They were still catching up. "Would you like to pass?" I called out? "Yes, please", she answered. I pulled aside and the two of them raced past. "No way is that sustainable," I thought to myself. I felt a bit dejected at being passed for the first time in many hours, but I tried to stay focused.

I caught up to another pair of runners and I recognized Dan! "Is that Dan Rhodes?!" I called out. I would have liked to run with them for a while, but I was still moving quite a bit faster and I passed them on an uphill.

Twilight was upon us. I had been running for about 13 hours. I tried to pull my headlamp out of my pack while running, but it was in too deep. I quickly stopped and then was on my way again.

Finally, the smooth running ended abruptly. The course made a hard right turn straight up the side of the mountain. Wow. It was a tough hike. Almost immediately, I saw the guy who had raced past me earlier, doubled-over, as if he had puked. I felt bad for him; he had pushed too hard for some reason, like maybe to impress his pacer. "What is up with this trail?" I commented. "Yeah, it's a bitch" the pacer said. I continued hiking up the steep hill.

The trail got much rockier and much harder to run on. I started counting the seconds that I could run consecutively. "1, 2, 3, 4, 5". Step over some rocks. "1, 2, 3 ... 10, 11". Stop and walk up a big step. And on and on. Sometimes I could count up to 120 and then I stopped counting. This was really draining. I once solidly kicked a rock with my left foot, and all the force seemed to go into my big toe. I didn't fall, but my big toe throbbed and the toe nail hurt. That did some damage. I had to walk a bit to regain my breath and cadence. Onward.

I got to the Hwy 49 aid station (mile 67.5). Every aid station has been awesome. Thank you so much, volunteers! Just 3 miles to Claire! I was about on track for a 22:30 finish, although I knew that 23 hours was more realistic, because of the nighttime running plus likely worsening condition of my legs and feet. I was happy and feeling pretty good overall. Sometimes my little toe on my right foot hurt with a blister and I had other hot spots on my toes, but I decided I could make it to the finish without addressing these problems.

Finally, I descended on the same trail that I had hiked up hours ago and I entered No Hands Bridge #2 (mile 70.5). Mor!!! They had made it! Jennifer! Claire!!! Claire was bundled up in a jacket and gloves, while I was still in short sleeves and shorts. I quickly got refueled, grabbed a bite to eat, and we were on our way! (This was a no-crew aid station, so they couldn't give me anything, but pacers were allowed to meet their runners here.) I was in 60th place.

Claire and I started to catch up on the day as we crossed No Hands Bridge for the last time. The running was pretty easy and we cruised along. The stars were out on this clear night and we just enjoyed the scene and some nighttime running. We ran side-by-side on the fire roads and I ran in front on the single-track trail. By her standards, we were running slow, like 11 minutes a mile on the easy parts and hiking the steeper uphills. She had never run more than 9 miles at once, but we figured that with my slow pace, that she would be fine with 13 miles. Her mom would meet us at the next aid station to check in on us. Claire quickly warmed up and tied her jacket around her waist and took off her gloves.

My watch died.

As an aside, here's a mini-review of the Garmin Fenix 3 HR. It works well except for three major problems or shortcomings:
  • On a full charge, with the default settings, the battery lasted just over 16 hours. I need more! To be fair, this is exactly what is advertised for the normal setting. There's apparently a setting for trading off GPS sampling rate for battery life, but I don't really want to sacrifice accuracy. In forests, the GPS is already off by too much.
  • The wrist-based heart-rate detector is 100% useless for me. I've tried both wrists, on the inside and outside. When I can get any reading at all, it's impossibly low or impossibly high.
  • Getting gpx files into the watch, so that you can follow a course, is difficult or impossible. I guess Garmin wants a closed data ecosystem, and they don't want you to use data that came from other sources, like Google Maps or Strava. It's not easy, but I once got a 30 mile course copied over to the watch. I could not get a 100 mile Strava course copied over. (It would always fail, with the first 6MB copying over and then my computer reporting "0 bytes remaining", and just freeze there.)
Back to the race... 4 miles go by quickly and we arrived at Overlook #2 (mile 74.5). Jennifer handed me a delicious cold Starbucks mocha drink. Mmm.... I gave her my now useless watch and stuffed my mouth with something while Jennifer took a picture.

We're soon on our way. I was in 52nd place.

We cruised along well. I was running this faster than I had with my friends in previous years. At some point, I kicked a rock and stumbled and Claire instinctively put out an arm to help me. I wasn't going to fall, but that was sweet of her. We passed some more runners, some of who were really struggling. I've been there before. We wished them well. (The ones who were struggling had pacers and they were safe.)

Claire said that I seemed very coherent and that I was running well. That was nice to hear. I had been worried that I might be in really bad shape and that it would be kind of frightening for a 16 year old to see her dad like that.

At some point, I urinated again. It had been many hours and the urine was a somewhat dark yellow, but at least the volume was OK. I took another ibuprofen at some point, to try to stave off the soreness. In the cooler air, I prolonged the time between salt pills to be more like 3 hours.

This stretch seemed really long, until I consulted my laminated pace chart and realized that this leg was 5.5 miles, and not 4 miles like I had mis-remembered. A runner and his pacer roared past us. "Good job!" We finally cruised into Rattlesnake Bar #2 (mile 83.5). I gulped down some more delicious cold Starbucks cold drink (vanilla latte), gave Claire a hug goodbye, thanked my wife, refueled, and Mor and I began the steep hike up out of the aid station. I was in 46th place.

We immediately passed the runner who had passed me minutes ago, laying on the ground. Mor asked if he was OK and he said he was stretching his IT band out. His pacer was standing over him. I wouldn't see them again.

The trails got much tougher and rockier. This section is known as The Meatgrinder. I didn't think so much of it so many hours previously, but now, it was hard (and maybe more uphill?). It always felt like we were going uphill! I didn't feel like talking much. Mor stayed in front and I just mentally hunkered down and tried to keep moving and eating and drinking.

We got to Horseshoe Bar (mile 86.5). The next leg is the last long leg, of 9.5 miles. I filled all 3 water bottles and got out of there quickly.

This part was hard. I was breathing lots of dust being kicked up by Mor ahead of me. But he was scouting out the trail and alternating between shouting encouragement and compliments. I was very grateful you were there, Mor! Thank you! So, I breathed in through my nose, which I imagined filtered out some of the dust. I never coughed or developed breathing problems.

We occasionally passed other runners. When I was trudging up a hill, I would catch a glimpse of a headlamp behind me and I thought someone was going to pass, and I said so to Mor, but they never quite caught me.

At every intersection, I was on the lookout for that unmarked left turn. We crossed an intersection and Mor continued straight, but I caught a glimpse of a flag to the left. I turned left and called out to Mor. That was a close call. This was probably the same intersection that I had recognized as a problem spot so many hours earlier in the day.

The terrain flattened out and I saw signs of civilization. We were getting close to the last aid station. We greatly sped up, which was a bit premature, since we still had at least 5 miles remaining. We cruised into Granite Bay #2 (mile 96). Their decorations were awesome and they were super-cheerful and helpful at this early hour of around 2:40am. With only 4.5 miles remaining, Mor offered to fill my bottles and I asked that each be half-way filled, one with water and one with sports drink. I grabbed a bite to eat and then was on my way. I think we passed a runner at the aid station. Mor handed me the bottles. They were both completely full. I poured off a bunch of water into some bushes as we started running again.

We occasionally heard cheering and the announcer at the finish line!

We ran too quickly on the easy terrain. I misremembered what this part of the course was like. We soon hit some big hills and I was back to hiking. I was really really ready to finish this thing. A runner up ahead was slowly walking along. I asked Mor that we pass him together, so as to not ask him to step aside twice. We ran past him and wished him luck. "We're almost there. Good job."

We got to the top of this huge long retaining wall! It was flat and the finish line was in sight, probably less than a half mile away! We poured on the speed. Faster and faster. Sprinted across the field to the finish line! Wow!!! 23 hours 1 minutes 20 seconds! I got my beautiful silver belt buckle and a finisher's medal. Thank you, race organizers and volunteers! I was in 41st place.

I felt unsettled and quickly got the chills and started shivering. Mor handed me a cheese quesadilla, but I didn't feel like eating it. I would normally have preferred to wait and see friends finish, but I really wanted to get out of there and lay down. We needed a ride. I didn't want to wake Jennifer and Claire up at the hotel, so we scheduled an Uber but then a crew member for someone offered us a ride. Thank you!

Jennifer took a quick photo of my feet before I took a shower and went to sleep:

What went well
  • I didn't get injured, or fall, or go significantly off course. (I started going the wrong way at No Hands Bridge the first time, but a volunteer turned me around.)
  • I had a good night's sleep the night before, with some help from half a melatonin and two Benadryl (diphenhydramine).
  • I paced myself well and I never fell into a deep slump. I think it helped that I took the first 18 miles so easy.
  • Although I got tired after about 20 hours, I never became deeply sleepy.
  • I ran 13 miles with my daughter! That was so cool. I was reasonably coherent and we had a good time from miles 70.5 to 83.5.
  • My good friend Mor led the way for the final 17 miles, and I finished with a sprint to the finish!
  • My equipment and clothes did well enough on the whole. Carrying a small stick of anti-chafing cream was great.
  • My hydration went pretty well and I did OK with the heat.
Things to improve
  • My toes didn't quite agree with my shoes, and I got a few nasty blisters. I want to try the Injini toe socks again and maybe a different brand of shoes for the longest runs.
  • I wish I had a good headlamp that could last for about 10 hours. My Petzl lasted about 7 hours.
  • I wish my Garmin Fenix 3 HR watch had lasted longer. It only lasted to about 16 hours, to mile 71. I was in a good rhythm, but it still would have been comforting to know more accurately how far I was from the next aid station, for example.
  • I forgot to bring gaiters (to cover the top of my shoes around my ankles) but I didn't seem to need them. I got two small pebbles in my shoes, but then I didn't feel them any more. Not having gaiters made getting my shoes off and on easier and faster that one time. Hmm. Still, it's probably overall better to wear them.
Other data
  • Official results. It appears there were 354 starters, 251 official finishers, 1 unofficial finisher (my friend Paula!) who missed the final cut-off, and 102 runners who dropped somewhere along the course. I finished in 41st place (39th male).
  • My Garmin results, which go until mile 71 when my watch died.
  • Took 4 ibuprofens, spread evenly over the 2nd half.
  • I lost track of how many S-Cap salt pills I took, but it was probably around 10.
  • I lost my notes, but I weighed about 168 lbs before the race, and 167 when I got back home.
I liked the swag. There was a short-sleeve tech t-shirt, too.

Thank you
I want to thank my wife for being so supportive. I'm super grateful to my daughter for actually wanting to run with me. I'm grateful to Mor for helping me again, in one of these crazy ultramarathons. I'm grateful to all of the volunteers and to race management for putting on such a superb event. Thank you, all!