Sunday, July 31, 2016

Siskiyou Out Back 50 Mile -- 9:05

Rachael and I were happy to finish!
It was a rather long 50 miles. :-)  The scenery was gorgeous and the race organization was superb. The weather was cool in the morning, but I felt quite warm for many miles in the second half, and I had to power-hike many of the uphills. No one passed me in the last 28-30 miles, but some runners were closing in. I finished in 9 hours 5 minutes 12 seconds.

I heard about this 50 mile race from my good friend Rachael from the Coastside Running Club, and I checked my schedule and I thought I could fit it in between the 69 mile Wall race in June and Mountain Lakes 100 in September. Adventure calls!

The course is a (mostly) out-and-back trail race that starts at a ski resort on Mount Ashland and heads southwest, mostly on the Pacific Crest Trail. The elevation varies from 5,500' to 7,000'.
Rachael and her husband Bob and I drove up to Ashland, Oregon, on the Friday before the race. The temperatures were warm in the valley, with a predicted high of 90 on race day, but the prediction for the summit where we start and finish was much cooler, with a high of 70.

We picked up our race shirts and did a bit of shopping at the Rogue Valley Runners store and we even got to meet the famous ultrarunner, Hal Koerner, who owns that store.

We had a delicious pre-race meal of veggie burgers and fries in the super-cute downtown area.

We set our alarms for 3:45am and I struggled to really sleep. I felt tired when the alarm went off, but it was time to get going! I normally like to eat breakfast about 2.5 hours to 3 hours before the race start, but I wanted every minute of sleep I could get. But perhaps I didn't give myself enough time to digest breakfast? I had two servings of instant oatmeal (thanks, Rachael!) and a Clif Bar.

Bob drove us to the start as the sun was rising. It was looking like a beautiful day. The thinner air at 5,500' feet was noticeable, but I felt good. They had plenty of porta-potties and fun music and we got our bibs and did our final preparations.

At 6am sharp, we were off!
Photo courtesy of the race
I tried to take it easy, but with the gentle downhill, cool temperatures, and general excitement, it was hard to go slower than 8 minutes a mile. I felt good! Soon, we made a sharp right turn on to single-track trail and I found myself at the front of a fairly large group. That wasn't where I wanted to be, since I prefer to start slower and speed up. I tried not to feel rushed, but I worried about my now 8:22 average pace for the first mile. I gradually slowed down as the trail headed uphill. I noticed the first place woman was right in front of me and I estimated there were about 20 runners in front of me, in total. At about the two mile mark, she pulled aside and let us pass. Maybe she thought we were going too fast? I worried that I was!
Photo courtesy of the race
 A few runners passed me in the next easy miles. I chatted with a couple of guys who were right behind me. One was from Palo Alto and the other, Elliott, was from a small city on the border of Oregon and Washington. The first place woman, Stephanie, joined us and said that this was her first 50 miler and she was from the Bay Area. Cool!
Photo courtesy of the race
The scenery was gorgeous and the miles slipped by easily. I was so absorbed in the conversations and the scenery that I forgot to eat until 40 minutes had passed. Oops. I normally eat about 100 calories every 20 minutes in an ultramarathon.

So, it was Stephanie and Elliott and myself for many miles. Elliott had run the course before but he thought he might be injured from a hike a few days prior. Stephanie was a fast marathoner and had done some 50Ks, but this was a big step up, and she said she expected to be passed by women behind her as the race progressed.

We descended about 1300' from mile 5 to 7. I kept on thinking that we have run up this again!

Then we had our first big climb, from 5700' to 7000'. I think I ran almost all of this. What was more on my mind was the impending feeling of needing a bowel movement. Damn it! But when I arrived at the Jackson Gap aid station at mile 14.5, there was this most wondrous sight -- a porta-potty! And no one was in it! It took a couple minutes, but then I felt much better. Stephanie spent time with her drop bag, so I was still ahead of her. Elliott was behind as well, so I was alone again for a bit.

I noticed this barrier of trees and branches on the road, as the runners were directed to a trail that started going uphill. Unfortunately, I didn't notice a rock or root or something, and I instantly did a Superman on to the ground. It was a fairly soft fall, since I was heading uphill. No blood spilled. Onward.

In the next bunch of miles, I started feeling this groin/inner-thigh problem, especially on the downhills. I guess it was a minor injury from shortly before The Wall race. It was a mild pain on many strides, but it would be tolerable if it didn't get much worse.

Eventually, Stephanie and Elliott caught up to me again. I chatted with Stephanie who seemed to prefer to run behind me. She was two years away from getting her PhD in climate science at UC Berkeley; she was doing work on measuring CO2 in the atmosphere using satellites. Nice! I told her that I would love for my 14 year old daughter to follow in her footsteps.

Somewhere along here the first-place runners passed me, going in the opposite direction on their way back to the start/finish on Mount Ashland. They looked great! I tried to count how many were in front of me, but I lost track. I figured I was somewhere in the top 20.

We happily cruised along when we started seeing large playing cards along the side of the trail -- 8 of spades, 4 of diamonds, etc., in no particular order as far as we could tell. I thought we must be coming to an aid station. Yes! Wards Fork Gap had an Alice in Wonderland theme -- cute! It was the farthest aid station from the start and the turn-around was a mere three miles ahead. This was also going to be the longest section between aid stations, so I completely filled my two 20oz water bottles (with energy drink in one, and water in the other), and quickly got going.

I got through that aid station quickly and left Stephanie and Elliott behind. I ended up running alone for the rest of the race.

I briefly had fantasies of hitting the turn-around in under four hours, but that notion was quickly dispelled. The uphill was steep! I ran nearly every step, though. Then we were directed off trail, to head strait up the side of the mountain to the "big rock" where we were to retrieve a "token" that proved we reached the turn-around. That was a tough hike. There was a woman dressed as a mad hatter who handed me an old-fashioned key.
Proof of reaching the turn-around
The view was amazing, but I was in too much of a hurry to soak it in. She said, "there's a 360 degree view!". "Do I have to run around anything?" I replied. "No, this is it" she said. "Thanks!" And I headed back down. I was on a mission and that mission didn't include much time for sight-seeing!

25 miles and four hours eleven minutes had passed. I was half-way done in terms of mileage, but I was feeling beat-up. I still had a long ways to go.

At the bottom of the steep off-trail hill, I came across Elliott. "Good job!" I said, "And how's Stephanie doing?" "She's right behind me. Have a good race and I hope I don't see you again until the finish" he said. What a nice guy! Sure enough, Stephanie and I passed each other a few seconds later. "Good job!" She seemed strong.

I think I drank all of my water shortly before reaching the Wards Fork Gap aid station again. I partially filled up and was soon on my way.

I was encountering lots of two-way traffic now and we almost always gave words of encouragement to each other.

Rachael! She was running and was smiling and looking good. We stopped briefly to chat. She said she was having "stomach problems" and that she had had to pull off the trail. I interpreted that as meaning bowel problems. Bummer. She seemed in good spirits, though, and we wished each other luck. I think I was nearing mile 29 and so she was a bit past mile 21.

There was a pretty good climb over the next 7+ miles of about 1700'. I felt OK on the whole, except for this inner-thigh problem. I took my first ibuprofen around mile 31. At Jackson Gap again, at mile 35.5, I was directed down a dirt road. Funny, I could have sworn I had arrived at the aid station by coming up the hill on the side of the road. I didn't realize it until I looked at my Garmin data later,  that the race is not a true out-and-back! Funny! It's got a couple of loops where the return is not on the same path, but rejoins the original path later on. I thought I was having memory problems out there!

We had a nice long downhill to the Siskiyou Gap aid station at mile 40.9. I guess the ibuprofen kicked in because my inner-thigh pain went away. I came across a runner who had previously been in the front of the race, but who was walking this gentle downhill. I stopped after passing him and asked if he needed anything. "No thanks, I've got water and I'll drop at the next aid station." Poor guy.

There was a "slasher" aid station...
Photo courtesy of the race
The next four miles felt brutal and were the hardest of the race. We had to climb from about 5,800' elevation to 7,000'. The temperature was ratcheting up. I started dripping water on my head to cool myself down. There was no wind and when there was no shade, I felt very hot. I couldn't seem to catch my breath, between the heat and the altitude and the exhaustion. I still had a ways to go and so wanted to pace myself so that I didn't deteriorate much more, so I walked a lot of this long uphill. For a while, time seemed to stand still. I checked the distance on my watch. I looked at the mountains to my side -- beautiful. I checked my watch -- damn it, not even a tenth of a mile had passed. I took my second ibuprofen. There were the hugest dandelions next to me and I thought about Claire and how when she three years old she said she wanted to be a dandelion picker when she grew up. I checked my watch -- barely a tenth of a mile had passed. I tried silently singing to myself and I couldn't get into it. Another tenth of a mile. It just went on and on and on. I passed some of the back-of-the-pack 50K runners, some of whom were just hiking but others who were struggling worse than me. Finally, finally, I saw signs of the last aid station and heard a bell ringing.

Williamette Meridian aid station, the last aid station, at mile 45.1, meant I was truly close to finishing. By my imperfect memory and lack of studying, I thought I had more of a huge climb ahead. I practically pleaded with the volunteer -- "Do we still have a lot of uphill?" "No, it's pretty much flat and downhill from here." Woo hoo! "And there's one more aid station." What? I thanked them and got on my way, but by my cheat sheet on my water bottle, there was not one more aid station. There wasn't.

Mileage chart that was taped to one of my water bottles
Not long after I left, I heard the bell ring. Someone was catching up! No one had passed me since around mile 18 and I didn't want to be passed!

Thankfully, the terrain was relatively flat or downhill, and I made good speed. I passed more 50K runners. 3 miles to go. 2 miles to go. I recognized the road we had turned off from that morning! Less than a mile left! I made a concerted effort to run every step up this final hill. I wanted a strong finish and I didn't want to be passed in the race to the finish line! Cheers! Applause! I smiled. Bob! He was waiting in the shade with his dog Gossamer. High-five! I felt like I was running strong and moving fast. I ran hard through the last two long parking lots and up to the ski lodge where the finish line was. Woo hoo!
Photo courtesy of the race
I got an awesome mug and a fun beer cozy.

Shortly after, some guy finished. Then Stephanie! Cool! First place woman! I thought about Elliott but I didn't see him finish. (Turns out he finished an hour behind me, so he apparently had much worse troubles than I did.)
Photo courtesy of the race
I felt dehydrated and a bit light-headed for a bit, as I slowly walked around with Bob and Gossamer to the car. We chatted about the race and about my brief chat with Rachael. After an hour or so, I started feeling better. We had lunch with Stephanie and her boyfriend, who works for Google on the Google Wallet project in San Francisco. (Smart couple!)

Rachael's Story
With a yummy veggie burger in my belly and a cup of cold beer in my hand, we walked back down towards where the runners turn off from the single-track Pacific Crest Trail on to the road, to wait for Rachael. I chatted with other spectators. I let Jennifer know that I had finished and checked in on Facebook. We cheered on the other finishers.

Bob and I made a rough estimate of how long it might take Rachael to finish. I looked up the cut-off time for the race -- 7pm which is 13 hours after the start. We were about 0.75 miles from the finish line, but with one short steep hill. If she was walking everything, it could take 15 or 20 minutes to finish by the time she reached that point. It was about 6:20pm. Time was running out.

There she was! Woo hoo! Bob and I cheered and I took some pictures. She was jogging along slowly. At the road, she continued running up the hill for a bit, but then the exertion got to be too much and we all walked together. After the top of the hill, she started running again and the three of us ran together. There were cheers from the spectators who had been camping in the parking lot. She was going to make it!

She reached the finish line and there were tears of happiness and relief and gratitude. Congratulations, Rachael!
She reported that she started having bowel troubles early in the race, and from mile 15 onward, eating and drinking immediately gave her diarrhea. Some kind of calories and water must have been getting in her, but it is absolutely astounding to me that she persevered through this race. She also fell twice during the race. You're tough, Rachael, much tougher than me.

What Went Well
  • The race was really well-organized and the course was well-marked. It's a beautiful area and I love the city of Ashland. Thank you, race organizers and volunteers!
  • I finished!
  • I appeared to be uninjured.
  • I didn't get lost.
  • I basically had a solid race, although I suspect I could have paced myself better so that I didn't slow down so much in the second half.
  • I enjoyed the trip and especially enjoyed the first half of the race.
Things to Improve On
  • I should have studied the elevation profile more, so that I could anticipate correctly what was coming up.
  • I probably should have not been so aggressive on the hill at the turn-around, and maybe some of the earliest miles were run too fast. It would have been better if I could have run harder for the last 10 miles.
  • I tripped and fell once, but it was a light fall.
  • I did not need my sunglasses; it was waste to carry them.
Random Data
  • Weighed 164.0 lbs two days before the race. Weighed 164.0 lbs two days after the race.
  • Garmin data
  • Results
  • Race photos
  • I ate a salt pill every hour.
  • I tried to consume about 300 calories of food plus plenty of sports drink every hour.
  • I took two ibuprofen in the second half, which apparently helped a lot with some kind of muscle pull.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Nice race report, and nice race! I enjoy that the clock says 8 hours behind me at the finish (maybe one day I'll be that fast!) I really enjoyed running with you!