Sunday, May 18, 2008


According to my wife, she found me sleeping on my back, feet dipping into the pool, a glass of beer unfinished by my side and a big smile still on my face. The last thing I remembered was staring up at the sky, the twilight outlining a tree that peeked over from our neighbor's yard. I'd never noticed before how the leaves bunched together at the end of each branch, like a lollipop. It was quite beautiful and I was thinking I'd tell Zane about it...

20 min back
I'd just taken everything off the grill and the food was spread on plates across the counter as I called my wife and son down for dinner. I asked if we should set a table or just eat "barbarian style." No answer was necessary as we all just dug in. My salmon was incredible, but so was the steak I'd made for Freddy and Zane's grilled tofu. Finding no sauce in the house I threw something together using pineapple juice, catchup, soy sauce, some spices and "Bacos". It was surprisingly good. Of course, to me, everything tasted amazing as my taste buds where running on overdrive in order to satisfy my post-ultra, voracious appetite. I'd gotten the idea to fire up the BBQ after I dropped my older son off at the airport. I was thinking about his comment that I seemed to have an awful lot of energy for having just run so far.

1 hr back
Jefferson had come home from college for the weekend. He just finished finals, but would be staying in Tucson as he scored a summer internship there. His flight left at 7:30pm so I hadn't been able to hang out too long at the finish line after my race, but still had to wait a little while as my ride finished about an hour behind me. On the drive to the airport, Jefferson asked me a ton of questions about the race, about the heat, eating, drinking, sweating, etc. It was the first time he had shown that sort of detailed interest. I rattled on and on (as I'm want to do) before forcing myself to turn the conversation back to him and his upcoming "real job". He's very excited about the internship and we had gone out and bought him a bunch of dress clothes the day before since he will be working in an insurance office. While he just finished his third year of school and didn't live at home last summer, this is still the first time he will really be experiencing what his life might be like after he graduates. We talked the whole time and I felt a little regret that we didn't have more time together on the weekend, but he was happy to be heading back. Just before he left he told me I didn't seem like I'd just run 31 miles in the heat and that maybe I just go run some more. I always feel pretty wired after my races (except the 100 milers) and it was thinking about this that gave me the idea for doing some grilling

2 hrs back
As Beat and I drove out of Del Valle another police car and a second ambulance passed going the other direction. A runner had fallen. Beat and Brad had stopped to help her as they descended the final hill. They said she was a bit out of it and was bleeding from going down hard. The race medic came up to help and the first batch of emergency personnel arrived before we departed the park. We were surprised seeing that many more heading back in. Beat was quite worried that this might be a bad sign. We would later learn that another runner had collapsed further back on the course and had to be evacuated by helicopter. The woman Beat helped was apparently doing better even by the time the emergency crews arrived. The man further back had gone unconscious and had to be rushed to the hospital. Latest word is that he is recovering, but was in pretty bad shape early on. In fact, his life was likely saved by the quick action of the runners and hikers who came to his assistance out there in the heat.

Obviously, conditions in this race were tough. Temps over 100 were reported in the valleys. Quite frankly, I'm still not totally sure why I did as well as I did under the circumstances. There were many people out there, much faster than me whom I watched finish. I contemplated this fact as I sat in the cooling waters of the lake waiting for Beat to finish almost an hour after I had. The why still alluded me, but what made the difference were the two things that I managed to handle better than expected: the heat and my uphill pace. This is not to say that the heat did not take a toll on me and the swim really helped my legs as it stopped the twitching in my calves and made them feel better all over. I just expected that the heat would eventually reduce me to a very slow grind on the last section of the race and that my finish would be much more like it was when I did this race 2 years ago as my very first ultra (though for different reasons).

3:45 back
"Sorry for passing you so close to the finish. I really only have one speed on the downhills."
"It's all right," she replied with a sweet British accent.
"See you at the finish," I called back over my shoulder as I cruised down the final hill and finished in just over 6 hours and 47 minutes.

She looked familiar, but I couldn't really place her in my memory. I was just focused on finishin and letting gravity pull me through a final sub-8 minute mile. Later she reminded me that her name was Claire and we met at the Fremont Fat Ass 50K in January. Ah, that's it. My runner's amnesia tends to set in hard especially in the late miles of a race. It especially affects my recollection of names, faces and past conversations. Not so much the actual course or previous runs. Well, unless you ask me about an exact particular milestone.

6 hrs back
"The peak is just over this next hill."
"That's what you said before the last hill!"

Craig caught up with me on the long grind up to Rose Peak. I'd run a lot of the early miles with Beat as we are normally not too far off one another in these shorter ultras. We hit Mission Peak right around 65 minutes. Sooner than I expected given that we walked a lot more than I do in training runs and this is about the same time to the peak. I should probably consider that next time I am shuffling up the steep sections. I had a blast leaping down from the peak and then cruising down the fireroad after the Laurel Loop AS. Beat and I chatted the whole time down until I caught up with Brad just before the road crossing. We entered Sonol a little over 1:45 into the race. Almost the same time I did two years ago, though it was too fast a start for my fitness and experience back then. During the initial climb in Sonol there were a number of friends nearby including Beat, Craig, Brad and Chris. Somehow, though, I felt good on the climb and ended up dropping Beat as we wound up some exposed switchbacks before the first crest. I was trying my experiment of switching between power-hiking and shuffling. However, it turned out to work better to listen more to my body than the terrain to determine when to make the switch. If I found the fast walking pace driving me towards slightly labored breathing, I would try shuffling for a while to slow my breath. If the shuffling started making my calves feel like cramping then I would go back to walking. It seemed to be working as my pace and energy level both maintained.

At the Backpacker's AS, I think Craig was not far behind me, but I didn't really wait around. I grabbed what I needed took the offered sponge over my head and marched up that steep, steep climb. It didn't seem as bad as in past and I planned to dunk my head under the spigot again near the top of the climb. I actually passed two people on this climb which is unusual for me. After the steep stuff it is mostly gradual climbing on very exposed trail heading to the next aid station. This is where my other surprise of managing the heat well came into play. I really didn't do a lot of heat training other than getting in some nice short runs during the few really hot days we had the week before. The one thing I did do was some sort of mental preparation. When the heat arrived in the area I embraced it. I got excited about it and I tried to relax and enjoy it as much as possible whether I was running or not. I don't know if this attitude really helped, but I do know that, mentally, I was not worried about the heat going into Ohlone. I thought to myself, it will either get me or it won't. I also drew on my experiences at both Javelina and C2M and figured if the heat gets me then I just walk more and try to enjoy the day.

Through the Goat Rock AS, I still felt good and was ready for the long, though gradual climb to Rose Peak. This is where Craig caught up with me just as I was talking about him with another runner. I was looking forward to the upcoming downhill sections after the peak. This is my excuse for constantly telling Craig, "it's just over the next hill" as we approached false peak, after false peak. Craig was good about my mis-predictions and we ran together for about 2 1/2 hours, most of the rest of the race. I would leave him on the downhills and then he'd catch up on the next uphill. I would then use him to try to maintain my pace going up. It worked out well for me. I also remember that as I was approaching the peak, I was thinking about how 6-7 hours didn't seem all that long in ultra terms. This is where my experience since the last time running this course really came into play. I also knew exactly what to expect after Rose Peak as that part of the course was burned into my permanent memory as I "death marched" all of the final uphills last time.

After leaving Maggie's Half Acre AS, I knew what remained ahead, I knew what I had left in the tank and I knew what I needed to do to finish. I had mentally tried to "throw out" my sub-7 hour goal with the heat, but I still had it tethered in my mind in order to reel it back in on this final section. I upped my S!Cap intake to every 1/2 hour and switched my fuel intake to just gels for the remaining sections. I learned at Ruth Anderson that when my energy output increases ditching the solid food allows me to maintain a harder effort. So long as I could just keep the cramps out of my calves I would be good. I had one very close call as my right calf started to seize up on the first step out of William's Gulch (aka Satan's Pit). I let out a yelp, but managed to catch it in time. I took one more cap on that hellish climb knowing that there was just over 3 miles left and I wanted to be able to push to the finish. After the last big climb there is one more little hill before the downhill begins in earnest. This was the last I saw of Craig before the finish as I used up whatever I had left knowing that I could gain it all back on the final miles of firetrail descending to the lake.

10+ hrs back
I arrived at the race start early as it is only 4 miles from my house and I knew that parking would be an issue. Milling around, waiting for people to arrive, I thought back to 2006 when I stood here at the start of my first ultra. It had taken me a couple of years to really build up the courage to train for and run an ultra. It had taken me even longer before that to build up the fitness to run anything requiring real endurance. I'd known about and fantasized about ultras for a long time and I was nervous standing there at the start. I didn't know anybody and really didn't know what to expect past 4 1/2 hours. My first post after finishing was the typical "I'm an ultrarunner" statement. Getting to the start of my first ultra was a longer path for me than for many as I didn't go through the "typical" route of running lots of marathons nor did I "dive in" as soon as I first learned about these long trail races. It was something I wanted for a long time and it took a long time to finally achieve.

Now, I guess, I truly am an ultrarunner. It is an integral part of my life and the main source of my friendships outside of work. As more and more people arrived I greeted and chatted with everyone I knew and it seemed that there were more that knew than I didn't. I was relaxed, having fun and looking forward to a great day on the trail. I didn't care about the heat. I wasn't concerned about my time goals. I just wanted to keep moving, enjoy myself, maintain forward momentum. No matter what the day would bring, this would be one to remember.


miki said...

Nice. :)

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

The retro structure worked nicely. I think it was Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" but athletic. Good job.

olga said...

Steve, that's a great format, and an awesome recap! Yeah, man, you ARE an ultrarunner, and I am so glad for the meaning you're putting into this word! That's exactly what I mean. Running an ultra does not an ultrarunner make:)

angie's pink fuzzy said...

what a great report :)

Sarah said...

Great race, great recap - thanks, Steve.

Sarah (PCTR)

Jakob said...

Truly enjoyed reading your race report. Thanks for sharing.

See you out there on the trails.