Tuesday, June 10, 2008
A Certain Symmetry
By many standards, Mt. Diablo isn't a particularly large mountain standing a little under 3900ft. However, the 7 mile course from that Sarah and Wendell have plotted from the bottom to the peak entails well over 4000ft of climbing with more than 1600 of it coming in one relentless 2 mile stretch of single-track that encountered before you are even warmed up. After that you have only a very short, but extremely steep respite downhill on firetrail that leads to a more moderate climb to the first aid station. After that you get to enjoy the short tease of the only rolling section of the course before the final 1000ft grind to the in a little over 1.5 miles, much of it on loose gravely trail that you get to share with those faster folks charging towards you on their way down. The return trip to the start avoids the bottom single-track and opts for the more bone-jarring, hard-packed firetrail.
On most courses that have multiple loops there is a familiarity aspect that makes the second trip seem a little bit easier than the first. This is definitely not the case here. Everyone I know who does this 50K for the first time absolutely swears that the hills are longer, steeper and more technical on the second trip to the top. In fact, I think it is almost a tradition to go out too hard thinking "this isn't so bad" on your first leg only to pay for it dearly on the second as the heat of the day sets in. This was certainly the case for me last year when I did this race. This year I was smarter. I knew what to expect. I also wasn't entering this after a stomach virus like last year. So, I took it easier on the first loop. I did more power-hiking. I monitored any potential cramping closely and also used my recent Ohlone experience to make sure I handled the growing heat well and stayed hydrated. Even being more conservative on the first loop, I returned to the start more than 5 minutes faster than the previous year.
Of course, I didn't take a nasty fall this time during that first loop. I actually made it a goal. Last year I was focused on getting close to a 7 hour finish (before I got ill). This year, I stated my goal as to "just not draw blood." Of course, anyone who knows me realized there was a time goal in the back of my mind, but I wanted a stated goal of a different type in order to avoid the dreaded overconfidence of a good first loop. The second loop was definitely harder, especially the top part of Back Creek. But, I was mentally ready for it. I powered through and made it past that typical 4-hour low. The heat was definitely raising and I popped an extra S!Cap and drained both my bottled before the aid station, but not too far back. Things went well and I found myself back at the peak at just over 5:30 race time.
An hour and a half for the final stretch of less than 8 miles.
All I had to do was 10 min/mi average and I had a sub-7 hour in the bag.
This was SO going to happen.
I flew down the steep single track from the peak. Focused and cruising, huffing out "thanks" and "good job" to those coming up.
It levels out a little and there's a face I recognize.
What was her name again? Darn it, can never remember. Check the list when I get to the bottom. Man, I'm moving. Wonder what time I'll make it in. Can I break 6:50? 6:45? Maybe...
I get up from the dirt as quickly as possible and hope awkwardly around the trail trying hard to keep my left calf from seizing up. I manage, but just barely. It is going to be an issue the whole way down. Beautiful! Nice job, Steve! Patting myself on the back before I'm even half way down the mountain. Isn't hubris one of the seven deadly sins? The devil strikes again!
My penance came shortly as about 2 minutes further down trail, I come upon the runner in front of me, a young triathlete doing his first ultra, lying on his back in the dirt. I stop and offer a hand up. He looks up for a few seconds in confusion before accepting the assistance. I ask if he's OK and give him the once over. He seems fine with just a minor cut on his palm. I think he was maybe confused by the very different competitive ethic between triathlons and ultras. I stick near him for most of the rest of the way to the aid station and have a bit of conversation. When I know he is being taken care of I make haste out of there. It is about 6:05 and I have some business to finish here. I know it took me a bit over 40 minutes from here the last time and I am figuring 45 for this trip so long as my calf behaves.
I am very familiar with this fireroad down having run and/or biked it more times than almost any trail other than Mission Peak. I am even prepared for the last mile and a half which just doesn't seem to be downhill even though the elevation profile assures you it is. I roll into the finish in a little under 6:51, dirty, scrapped and bloody, having once again paid my dues to the Devil's Mountain.
Despite the fall, it was a very good race overall. I finished on the other side of the 7-hour mark than I did the previous year. I should now have a nice scar on my left thigh to match the one I acquired on the right side last year. And, just to complete the symmetry of the repeated event, to go along with last years pre-race stomach virus, I managed to acquire a nasty little case of food poisoning or something the day after the race this year. Luckily, it was nothing that lasted, but my defenses do feel a bit more weakened. With Bighorn just a week and a couple of days to come, I think that my taper is going to look a lot more like a cliff. No worries here, a week of rest will be good.