Thursday, May 28, 2009


This is my 4th year of running ultras, but I don't have any streaks going. It's not as though I've tried particularly hard, favoring new experiences over repeated events. However, of the 4 races I entered that first year, I have returned to 3. Firetrails, being my birthday run, is the only one where I actually made the effort to return each year. I generally try to balance my obsession with those other activities often collectively referred to as "having a life." Even for those races I've tried to repeat don't always make it into the final schedule.

Big Basin wasn't on my schedule this year, but it is one of my favorite places to run. With the weekend after Quicksilver open, I jumped at the opportunity to sign up for this race. It would also the first race where to which I would be returning for a 3rd time. However, some trail closures required Sarah and Wendell to modify the course. So, for the 3rd time it would also be a different route. On paper it looked like it might actually be a course improvement, shortening the 17K loop to 15 and running the other loop in the alternate direction putting the single track on the downhill. The shortened loop would be especially nice given the heat that was expected.

There's not that much to say about this race that I haven't said before. It's beautiful running through between the excellent trails, the redwoods and, of course, Berry Creak Falls. The new course was definitely an improvement and, best of all, there were absolutely no yellow-jackets! The heat, however, was there in droves. The first 25K wasn't too bad and I was definitely not trying to beat my previous sub-6 hour finish. I hit the half way point around 3:10. Given that I had run 3-1/2 hours in the heat the day before along with the fact that the new course had more climbing and measured a little long, I was moving pretty well.

The second half did not start off quite so well. Felling like I know these trails, I was on auto-pilot heading down the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail towards the creek. I knew there wasn't supposed to be much uphill on this section so as I cruised along the gradual grade, I became a bit suspicious. However, there was another runner up ahead in front of me so I assuaged my fears and just focused on catching him. I came upon him just as the trail dumped out onto a broad fireroad. I knew this was wrong. He was ready to keep going up the fireroad, but I insisted that we were off course.

Heading back down seemed like forever. Questions and doubts entering my mind every few yards. Eventually I arrived at the well-marked intersection we had both missed. As I ran back up trail to let my fellow wanderer know I had found it, I noticed what had probably lead us both astray. There was a yellow flag marking a downed tree that looked just like a course marking. It seemed like much longer, but in the end I had probably only added an extra 1/2 mile. However, given the heat and the nearly 10-mile loop, I really didn't need any bonus miles. I ended up draining both my water bottles before I had even finished 2/3 of the loop making this one very painful trip.

I came back into the aid station dehydrated and more than a bit off balance. While the volunteer filled my water bottles, I drank about 4 cups of sports drink and ate. I took a little time, but was not about to drop. Apparently, there were quite a few who had. Not only had the heat gotten to a lot of people, but heading out with the 15K and 25K runners always gets some people burning too much too soon in this race. The final loop was tough, but I had plenty to drink so it wasn't horrible. I just put my head down and focused on getting through the uphills. Once I made it to meteor, I knew I could cruise the rest of the course. I passed one person on the downhill and then caught another running in the final rolling miles.

This last guy was surprised to see me behind him as I had been in front of him the last time we met. I explained about getting off course and after a little conversation he decided he was motivated to kick it in. I opted not to give chase as I was already going to finish well over an hour above my PR for this race. I let him go and just took it easy on the final mile. I came into the finish in just over 7 hours and 20 minutes after the start. Its wasn't a PW (personal worst), but it was close. Given that I was actually the 6th finisher it was obvious that the race had taken quite a toll on many. In the end only 15 of the 37 starters finished the race. Some times a brutal race is just as rewarding as a fast one.

In the end, this race was an excellent training run as it was intended to be. My 3rd running of this event was as unique as the first. In my schedule there are two more potential 3rds coming up in my schedule. This weekend is the Ohlone 50K which was my first ultra ever. Next weekend is the Mt. Diablo 50K which would be my first 3-in-a-row race. As with Big Basin, I will try to keep each of these at the "training run" effort level. Diablo will be my last long run before tapering for Western States.

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