Sunday, May 02, 2010


The days until my first 100-miler of 2010 ticking down and I hadn't a single run over 50K. I generally like to peak with a 50 miler in the final month leading up to a 100. Poor scheduling conspired with a bit of bad luck to have me facing April without opportunity to cover such distance in an organized event. I skipped the Miwok lottery altogether this year, but was excited about finally being able to fit the Diablo 50 in my schedule. Unfortunately, by the time I learned that the event had been cancelled due to state budget cuts, my scramble to find another local 50 miler of substance was too late. The Lake Sonoma 50 had filled both race and wait-list before I even checked the website. I briefly considered either American River or Ruth Anderson, but all that road left me feeling uninspired. That's when I hit on the idea of a Skyline-to-the-Sea double.

My original idea was to drive out to the race-finish at Waddell Beach in the wee hours of the morning and then make my way up to the start following the main trail. When I tried to recruit friends Harry and Beat to join along in my little adventure, they suggested another idea. Beat lives in Los Altos a couple of miles from a trailhead that could easily be used as a starting point to link a series of trails and bring us to the race start. It wasn't long before a route was devised and plans were firmed up. We settled on the goal of completing a full 50K in advance of the race start. Harry wasn't quite "all in" for this plan, but with three people, only two have to really agree on the route if everyone is going to stick together. While I agree that hitting the big, round 100K number was ultimately arbitrary and offered no significant training effect over slightly shorter mileage, it did offer a bit of field leveling amongst the three of us. Harry is definitely faster than Beat and I, but the difference tends to diminish over greater distances. Besides, we thought it would be funny to be able to answer anyone who asked one of us during the race whether we were running our first 50K with: "no, it's my!"

Roll forward to the night before the race when Harry and I show up early at Beat's with the ill thought out plan to try and catch a few hours sleep before our agreed upon 1:30am start. I'm pretty sure that I almost, sort of, dozed off for at least a couple of minutes before it was time to get up. With the addition of sleep deprivation, it appeared that this might offer some additional training effect for a 100 miler beyond just the miles. Beat brewed up a couple of rounds of double-espresso laden cappuccinos for each of us before heading out. The wisdom of that particular choice would be questioned shortly after hitting the trails, but nothing about this little stunt of ours had anything to do with wisdom in the first place. Add jitters and frequent bio-breaks to the list of the evening's festivities. 

We had a couple of offers from other local ultrarunners to join our party, but we opted to keep it small both for logistic reasons and due to the fact that the first park through which we would travel was technically not open at the time of our entrance. Now some may question the morality and/or legality of traipsing through a county park in the middle the night that has signs clearly posted that it closes at sunset. I really don't want to dwell on this point, but you need to understand that I had the powerful tool of rationalization on my side. Sure one could point out that the intent of the posting clearly implied that the park was not actually open again until after the next sunrise. But the sign we ran past contained no mention of any sort of rising, it only said "sunset" and 2:00 in the morning is long, long before the sun would set on Sunday; it wouldn't even rise for another 4 hours.

We kept the flashlights off and nearly tip-toed along the first couple miles of fire-road. Not only were the trails of this park the closest we would be to civilization, but we intended to get a good portion of our miles done here by traversing a particularly non-linear route and even including an extra loop in the mix. By the time we passed out of this park, topped out over our highest point and hit the water stop, we had already covered nearly 17 miles. Not much longer and the sun came up, Shortly thereafter we acquired the ridge, crossing the Skyline Blvd. with about 10 miles to remaining of our planned distance. We were still feeling relatively good, but I think the lure of having the first part of our run complete and getting a little rest was starting to hit us. There were many options for cutting it short or making the run longer on the trails through the Skyline Ridge, Long Ridge and Saratoga Gap preserves. It became a sort of game that consisted of pitting our waning motivation against our best estimates of time and distance remaining. In the end we settled on one extra detour of about 3/4 mile and finished at the race just about a klick over 30 miles. Close enough to 50K for commercial grade GPS.

Timing-wise, our arrival at the check-in couldn't have been better. It took us just under 7 hours for the run which gave us a 1/2 hour before race start--just enough for a rest, but not too much. We even beat the bus by a few minutes so we didn't have to stand in line to get our numbers. Harry's girlfriend Martina was kind enough to bring us some extra snacks and we even convinced Sarah, the RD, to allow us each a can of coke before they headed off to the aid station. Standing around, socializing before the race we all felt good. Heck, we even looked pretty good considering.

(picture courtesy of Rick Gaston)

The hardest part was actually the last few minutes before "go" as legs were begging to stiffen. We lined further back than would normally have us, but didn't have to try too hard to take it out easy the first few miles. I focused on relaxing and just accept the slow moving "conga line" even on the downhills. However, about 3 miles in, on a steep section, I couldn't take it any more and shot past a row of people in my normal, nearly out-of-control fashion. I figured I would pay for it later. However, for most of the first half of the race, I still felt pretty good. I walked more uphills than I might have were I fresh, but I was having a great day.

Coming through the first section of the infamous Gazos Loop, I was a little less happy. The constant rollers combined with a lot of mud in this section added to my mental psych-out of knowing that I would be repeating it after another 5 miles or so. However, once I made it through the aid station and joked with all the friendly faces about how this "seemed like a good idea last night," I actually felt better. The big climb actually went fine as a just put my head down and resigned myself to just walk it at my own pace after Harry went ahead. Neither of us had seen Beat in some time, though he was chatting with some woman last I saw so he didn't seem in a major hurry.

The climb was not as bad as I expected, and before I knew it, I was heading down the steep descent to catch back up with Harry. We entered the aid station around the same time, but I wanted to get back out and up the last climb before the long descent to the Berry Creek Falls. I figured Harry would catch me going up, but I somehow mad it to the crossover first. From there, it was trails I know and love leading down, down, down to the creek. Over the creek, I knew a slog lay in wait. The final miles, while still downhill overall, were all on fireroad that was basically flat with some little ups-and-downs. I remembered how this section seemed to take a long time when I ran the race two years before so I tried to stay in the right mindset. The toughest part was about 5 miles out when I realized that, by this time two years ago, I was just finishing the race.

In an attempt to distract, I started a few conversations during those final miles, but most people were focused on the finish. It was hard to motivate myself with a time goal given that I was over 55 miles into a 31 mile race. After the final aid station they told me it was only a mile and a half. I saw that I could finish the official race in under 6 hours and that gave me just enough of a target to push through to the finish. I was especially happy to discover that the finish line had been moved a bit closer this year in order to have a nicer locale. I came in at 5:56, finishing the two runs in 12:54. Even with the total a mile or so short, I was more than satisfied.

In the end, I think it was a great training run. Starting at night and running through sunrise helped simulate the mental challenge faced in a 100 miler. Dozing off in the back of Martina's car (thank you for making the whole thing possible!), I definitely felt like I'd finished a one. Even though we often say that 100K--and not 50miles--is actually half of a 100 miler, this run with nearly 12,000ft of climbing and more than that of descent, certainly felt like more than half way.


olga said...

I think with your official 50k race time sub-6 you did absolutely great and are more than ready to kick M-ass-anutten. Be nice to me, don't push me off the edge when screaming downhill:)

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meredith said...

Wow!! Awesome training day. I can't believe I have had 3 races in California without a Steve sighting. I guess I just have to run harder :)

Eudemus said...

Meredith. I think you are running plenty fact, too hard for me! The fact is that I have just been focused more on training and less on racing early this year. It's not like I could keep up with you anyway!

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