Lets me break a little secret. When I worked on my pace chart a couple of weeks ago, I figured that this course should be a 11:00-11:30 finish for me on a good day. So, as I was working my profile and pace from start through the sections, I ended up with 11:35. Not because it’s 5 min over a “good day”, but because it’s just happened. I did remember that it is my training run, and wasn’t going to be adhered to this pace chart. In fact, the night before, at the race meeting, when RD said that due to the snow condition the first few aid stations will be floating (a.k.a. don’t know the exact mileage, whenever it’s convenient), I made a call to run strictly by heart rate.
I made it to the Host Hotel by 3 pm, and, thanks to the RD, had a roommate to split the cost of the room. Celeste is a local woman who’s done SP50 a few times, and, if you can believe it, much more talkative than I am. We had a grand time telling stories, and then, since I was new to the local scene, she introduced me to a bunch of people. The meeting was as usual, and I won a prize in a raffle (I think over 50% of us did). RD talked a lot about where the snow will be, and how NOT to take the red flagging turn ob the last section - our flagging is orange. I also finally met my Coach Lisa and her family and crew – all great people, not to mention that George from her crew offered to help me at AC100 this September! He’s run the race 10 times and knows the course like his own hands – what a help to my pacer Gail!!
Race starts at 5 am in Vivian park, and proceeds for 2 miles on a flat bike path. It was warm even that early, 60F, and I didn’t even bother with long sleeve shirt. After about a mile Lisa come from behind and told me I have a perfect running gate, very efficient, like I can go on forever. Funny thing - that was a point when my compartment syndrome was at its peak and I didn’t even feel my feet. A thought about “shuffling” this economical way Badwater course crossed my mind, but evaporated rather quickly. After all, I am not Lisa. People were passing us like crazy, and I was smiling inside, knowing for sure I’ll pass 90% of them back (those who are faster started ahead of me and those who blast by me in a first 5M are usually my “testosterone driven” targets for the second half of the race). At the end of the bike path we hit the first climb, steep and single track. At first it was rolling, and then turned into real climb. I stuck behind a train of people, but by mid-climb it was just way too slow for me, and I started to go around. My watch displayed only my heart rate, and it’s never went over 170 (my max is 186) on climbs, 160 on “flats” and 155 on downhill. My injured calf felt lots of stress on the climb, but I had it tightly wrapped and kept on moving, hoping for the best.
First AS was actually as described, at 5.6M, and I took a first puff of my inhaler – the climb to 7600 feet and next to 8300 feet was ahead of us. I really enjoy hiking! At some point I took a little detour by accident, leading a few people the wrong way, but it didn’t add more than a 0.2M. I could have missed next trail entrance as well, had I not bumped into runners coming off the short cut. My fault – the course was marked wonderfully. On this section a lot of it was on a dirt road, and at some points there were shortcuts through the woods, kind of “animal path”, or I called them “an RD path”, because it seemed like volunteers made this trail specifically for us – no-one else has ever been on this rugged rooted bushwhack.
We were going along the ridge, and the views were absolutely stunning! All the green mountains around, deep valleys with lake down below, rocky snow-capped mountains far behind… It was close to 8 am, but still a bit overcast, although once in awhile a heat wave would swing by and make a warning for the day. Here the pain from my diagnosis struck me suddenly and after battling it for may be 20 min I took 3 pain pills. The effect came another 30 min down the road.
Somewhere around mile 15 we started on a long downhill, the whole 7-8 miles of it. All together it was a long section, the one we got a word from an RD, and I ran out of water some 20 min before AS. A quick refill at mile 19 and change, more downhill – and I am at the first AS that’s located by the book. I was a bit surprised when I looked at my watch and saw that I am 10 min ahead of pace without even pushing it. I also met Jay (Lisa’s husband) there, and it was nice to see someone you know – I always appreciate some personal cheering. I mentioned my “under-the-liver” pain and took off.
Next section went for about 4-5 miles on rolling road, and this is where it became really HOT. The whether man said it was 90F, and the road been open to the sun we all felt it. However, I had fun on this section, and amazingly ran all of it pretty well. This is where I started to pass people, and the pattern hadn’t stopped.
Next AS was a Heaven – they had ice and an RD John himself had a cold wet washcloth for each of us that he put on our necks! This is why I participate in ultras.
We moved onto some dirt road, slight incline, but again, open and hot. I’ve been going for over 5 hrs and realized I am almost half done. It’s nice to run by time and not by miles, seriously! I kept plugging to my music in a pretty good mood, nothing hurt, passing some folks and catching up on others. I passed one woman, and she drafted off me all the way into the main AS at mile 33. I had a drop bag with a change of gels and Carbo-Pro packets. I was running with a pack, carrying all my supply for the first half of the race, and then refreshed it there. I also set down on a chair for a couple of minutes to damp all the dirt out of my shoes and socks – there are a lot of creek-crossing on this course, tiny, but with running in a dusty trails it takes toll on your feet. Not to mention my blisters from Miwok ( on the balls of my feet) decided to come off only 3 days prior the race. My feet looked quite disgusting, but nothing to be troubled by. I also took a second puff of my inhaler. That woman left a minute before me, and as I went on, I tried to keep a sight of her.
Next section was the one to fear. It included a climb of 1200 feet in 2 miles, some traverse running on rolling terrain for 2 miles, then a “I-hate-RD-whose-f*-idea-was-that” climb of 1300 feet in 1 mile. The woman was really strong on the traverse section, but once we came to the bottom of the climb (that would end up at 9300 feet), she let me go first. I picked up a few guys on the way up before we hit the snow. Picture a slope of about 18% covered with wet snow, every step you have to make sideways, and you still slide, and every time you slide, your tired muscles cramp. Yikes! But, honestly, despite the warning of an RD that everyone calls him names on this section, I didn’t. We knew this, didn’t we? This mile took us – you guessed it – the whole 35 min! As we thought we peaked, we moved along the ridge on rolling ragged terrain for another 20 min or so, looking for a downhill start. When – bam, surprise! – another climb come upon us! That wasn’t in a course description! As it turned out, due to snow condition, the course was rerouted through and we had to go all the way up to the Windy Peak (not the Pass). More snow, though not as steep, and the peak presented us with absolutely magnificent 360 degrees views! A few guys were sitting and enjoying it, but I ran out of water back on the ridge and needed to get to an AS. Only 0.3 miles, you’d think after the climb I can relax on the way there? Well, there was trail markings through the tall grass, small bushes, loose rocks and all this on the same 18% slope! I don’t think I was any faster that on the way up. Finally, volunteers filled the bottles with fresh creek water and pointed to the snow through the woods. Hmm, very entertaining! I lost count how many times I fell on my butt, how many times my legs locked in “Charlie Horse” pain, my feet were wet, but I had a blast! It lasted some 25 min, what I estimated as another 2 miles of snow on top of the previous mile. Finally, it cleared out, and the downhill to the finish began.
Actually, I was surprised by the fact how good I felt and how quickly time passed. I also figured that I am actually on my goal pace – unbelievable, considering the fact I never looked at the watch! Follow your heart, and it won’t disappoint you. I thrive on downhill, so I took advantage of it, passing a few more guys (there were sparse now, not much of a “roadkill”). Finally we came to a turn to the road – and what do you know, I was so lost in my own world (and followed two guys a few hundred feet ahead of me) – I made that famous turn an RD warned us about! The three of us got to the road and knowing it’s only 3.5 miles to the finish started clicking minutes away. After about 20 min, when I almost relaxed that I am exactly finishing in 11:35 and smiling about it, suddenly runners started streaming from the left turn onto the road, and those I passed on the way UP to the Windy Peak!! Darn! We stopped, ventured inside to find the last AS, decided we’ve done enough extra mileage (we estimated at least 2) and continued on to the finish. But it was quite disheartening – I don’t mind logging bonus miles at the beginning, but at the end, when you’re ready to be done, when you worked to pass people and keep them behind, and on top of it all on road?! I started to walk, but quickly got angry at myself. Didn’t I promise a finishing kick? So I collected myself together and, albeit slowed down somewhat, ran on. I re-passed all but 3 guys (who were surprised to see me finishing 5 min after they did) and got to the park in 11:50:55. It put me 8th in girl’s field (which was won by Darcy Africa, who else, and men’s division was taken by Karl Meltzer, obviously).
I am really pleased with this race, absolutely no regrets. I felt relaxed about the race and about the outcome, ran guided by HR, had lots of fun, met lots of new friends, and have no soreness anywhere (but my pour feet and a bit in the shoulders from carrying a pack – I am used to only have bottles). Next morning was spent with Lisa and her family, and she is all I thought she would be. This race is a must and I plan to come back. Tough, beautiful and well organized, what more a trail junkie needs?