Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mt. Diablo Race Report

The fog is back and so are my legs. I walked around in them for 2 hours Tuesday evening, up and over the hills of San Francisco and on the return trip with a backpack full of groceries. It was slow but they were fine. On the run this evening, my first since the race, they were also fine. They are good and now I give you the race report. It's almost as long as the race or you can just go to the picture page. Enjoy!

01. Initial after race thoughts
02. More Pictures
03. Official Results

The Start
It was all fun and games. Lots of talking and catching up. I finally got to meet Leslie (Sunshine Girl) and her husband Keith from Banff, Canada. Also met Theresa Hatch who was running the marathon with Toni Lambio. While I'm busy taking pictures Jon Gunderson leans over and says "it's already warm". It was only a few minutes past 7am and he was right. Last year, which was also a hot race, I remember being cold at the start. How thankful was I that I managed to get in some sauna heat training in preparation for this race. I almost didn't do it, they told us last year that it was unusual for it to be that hot in Mt. Diablo in April.

At the start; Erik Skaden, Erik Dube, Ted Knudsen (behind Brian), Brian Wyatt, Garret Christensen, Kevin Swisher and ultra relaxed Mark Gilligan.

My Goals
1) Don't get lost
2) Beat last year's time, minus the extra 30 mins I spent because I got lost
3) Save enuff energy for the last 20 miles
4) One more time - Don't get lost

The Race
I started in the front but didn't chase. I just didn't want to get stuck in the back like last year on the narrow single track trails of the first climb. My strategy was to keep my heart rate at 20-25 beats below it's maximum for the first 30 miles of the run then go all out for the last 20 miles if I still had it in me. I wanted to finish strong, to be in the chase and not just hating life and surviving.

Marathoners and 50-mile runners on the first climb

At the top of our first summit, 7.7 miles later, I came upon Erik Skaden and Graham Cooper, two phenomenal runners, champions really who were having a slow start because they rode 200 miles the day before. They were talking, joking and gritting their teeth through the soreness they were undoubtedly feeling. Those two are at a whole nother level. After leaving them I caught up with Donald, Jon and Erik Dube. Erik and I would end up running for a couple of hours together. Nice guy who will also be in San Diego this coming June for SD100. It was all going well. My strength would ebb and flow in the heat but overall I was moving well. I was fine with the heat, I wasn't comfortable but neither was I uncomfortable and wherever there was shade I was able to push harder. I was able to gain on people without over extending myself.

Speaking of which, on the way to Rock City around the 22 mile mark, I came upon two runners. One had developed blister problems and was slowing down while the other was moving fairly well and looked strong. I had been following them for awhile and had finally caught up to them. I passed the guy with the blister problems on a downhill but couldn't pass the other - he wouldn't let me. I came up behind him and he sped up. He looked strong so I hung back. Bridging to them left me tired even though I was well within my heart rate target zone so pulling back and recovering seemed like the wisest move. On the ensuing fire road I pulled up alongside for a friendly chat. We had met once before at another race where I was a volunteer. Soon as the conversation was over he was able to pull ahead and again I was content to run behind, at one time as far back as 30 yards or so. However my strength did return just as he started getting tired. I think he pushed his pace trying to stay in front which was unfortunate since we were not even at the halfway point and the hottest part of the day was yet to come. At the next downhill I took off and looked for the next runner. Hopefully he recovered. It wasn't my intention to push his pace but that's what happened. The next runner also did something similar. We were hiking up a hill, I can see he's tired but when he spots me he starts running up the hill. Haha please, please people, don't use up your reserves just on my account, we still have half a race to go. Save it for the second half of the race, oh nevermind. We arrived at the Rock City aid station shortly after that. Mark Gilligan and Harry Walther were there along with the runner I was chasing and another runner who was resting on the ground. The heat was starting to take it's toll and I noticed that runners were taking longer at the aid stations. They were taking the time to eat and drink more and to cool off. I don't blame them in fact it was quite smart of them to do so; however, since I was doing okay I didn't require the extended rest. I passed all four runners by leaving first. I would push through the aid stations all day, stopping just long enough to get my bottles filled with ice, drink and to take down some food. For the most part I only ate gels anyway. Solid food was unappetizing in that heat. It was so hot that my iced water would be warm within 30 minutes of leaving an aid station. Mmmm...warm water, to go with my warm energy gels and my tasty salt caps:)

Jo-Lynn on her way out of Rock City

The Best Part
From the Rock City aid station we make our way to the Finley Road aid station then back again to Rock City, a down and back section of about 12.5-miles. On this section I got to see most of the runners, from the leaders to the back of the pack. Lots of support, cheering and greetings on the trail. It was uplifting and since misery loves company it was good to see others suffering out there. At the Finley Road aid station I was greeted by volunteers Will Gotthardt and Caitlin Smith, phenomenal runners on their own right who listened to me rant at how tough the front pack looked. I was running 11th at this point but I thought I was 12th since I thought Kevin Swisher's pacer was another runner. This was where I wanted to "take it up a notch" all the way to the finish but I managed oh a quarter of a notch. I felt like I could go on for hours on my current pace but the slight increase was an incredible strain, the heat and hills had worn me down. Nevertheless, I left Finley Road with a spring in my step and cautiously optimistic about my chances of breaking into the top 10. On the way out I saw the runners who were right behind chasing and it gave me an extra kick in the butt. The countenance of Skaden and Cooper gave me pause however, the big cats were back on the hunt!

Will Gotthardt and Caitlin Smith manning the Finley Road aid station

My Least Favorite
The climb out of Rock City aid station was my lowest point in the race. I had caught up to Kevin and his pacer at the aid station and was eager to put some distance on him. It started well that degenerated into a slow death march. You climb, climb, climb out of Rock City and up towards the summit of Mt. Diablo. The first part is in the shade but it's a very short section and soon you are out on exposed trails, in the heat of the sun, on the hottest part of the day, up dusty single track and fire road. The heat was most oppressive here. Last year I followed Jon Burg up these trails, chasing but never closing. This time around it was Jady Palko. I could see he was exhausted. A voice in my head said "go for it, he's tired, chase him down!", unfortunately so was I. Haha, I was in the same boat. Close to the top we made a left turn to visit Juniper aid station one more time before the final push to the summit. This was where I got lost the year before, never making that left turn. This time Wendell put out an extra cone pointing the right way. There was clapping in my head and a weight lifted from my shoulders when I made that left turn. As the trail wrapped around the ridge I caught sight of Jady. He waved and asked for a piggy back ride to the finish. I laughed and ran after him. He started running as well and so the distance between us stayed the same.

Hard left, left!

The Beginning of the End
Of the last four runners that I would pass on the course, three of them I passed at the aid stations. I had my bottles filled quickly, downed some food and left the aid station before Jady. I felt better knowing we were close to the end however in my depleted state I started to get paranoid about missing turns and ribbons. Every mile or so I would become alarmed that I missed a turn or was going backwards on the course. I would ask hikers if they saw runners coming their way. Crazy I know. I started to lose my mind out there in the final miles!

At the last aid station on the summit I catch up to Brian Wyatt who was sitting down and conversing with the volunteers. I think he was fixing something in his shoe. After grabbing him by the head and gently shaking it side to side while exclaiming "you are so crazy" - for blazing away during the first half, I continued to the observation deck, had my picture taken then quickly came back down. I took my last energy gel and a pb&j square which was toasted from the heat. In my hurry to leave before Brian I forgot to pack extra food for the trip down.


The Last 8-Miles
I think it's the toughest of the race. I pass my final runner, Alan Abbs, who was not having a great day. He told me so when I greeted him. He was running second, right behind his wife after Finley Road. What caused his slow down I never found out. So these last 8 miles are not all downhill.
That's what they told us last year and I believed them. It is mostly downhill though and they are the painful kind after a long day in the mountain. I love downhills but these are dusty, slippery, twisty, narrow, scree filled, technical switchbacks. Evil on the quads, a scourge on the toes. If you have blisters God help you.

The last 2 miles or so is rolling terrain and a half mile from the finish I get caught by Skaden and Cooper. They were accompanied by Ben who had come out on the course to pace friends. They were talking and generally having a good time but moving very well and they shouted encouragement as they passed. I in turn catch Toni and Theresa who were finishing their marathon yards from the finish. Toni yells to Theresa who was about 30 yards ahead "quick, finish before Rick does!" Theresa didn't hear all of it so I tell her that Toni wants her to wait so they can finish together:) By the time I finished I was in a mini-bonk. The last 8 took a little over 1.5 hours and I had no food. I ran out of gels. I was going on fumes. Boy did that can of Coke at finish hit the spot.

With Theresa and Toni at the finish. Miki you were right, I do have a weird look on my face.

I clocked a 10:46 which is really not that much faster than the time I would have gotten last year had I not gotten lost. Good to be under 11 hours though. Hung out for awhile at the finish exchanging stories with the other runners and stuffing my face. Beverly Anderson-Abbs won the race with a 9:42. The top six were all in their 40s except for Ashland, Oregon's Rob Cain who is 55. The upper classmen are tough, tough, tough! Two other women would make the top 5, Suzanna Bon (10:07) and Beth Vitalis (10:20). Skaden and Cooper would bring up 7th and 8th and I was 9th, a little over a minute behind them. Much talking, laughing and grimacing at the end. Everyone of those folks at the front had a smile and a kind word to say when we encountered each other during the race.

Keith and Leslie, from Banff to the heat of the East Bay.

Well it was another great day of good competition and great camaraderie. Wendell, Sarah and Aaron put on another great event. The volunteers were incredible as usual. Ice in our bottles went a long way into making us a bit more comfortable out there. They must have been constantly re-supplying the aid stations. Would I go back again? Now that it's three days later and I can walk with out a limp my answer is "heck yeah!".

Till next time Mt. Diablo!


  1. How sick are we? We write these reports, tell people how difficult this run was and then say we'd be right back to do it again next year. Masochists is what we are. Sick-os.
    Again, congratulations on an outstanding performance Sunday. You just keep getting better and better, each race you do. ;)

  2. Dude, I gotta turn in for an early flight, but bow to you. Goody boy. Keep charging. Smart moves. Big calves. Cute smile. Fast future:)

  3. Nice report. Not long than I thought. The details seem still vivid in your mind.

    Above all, good performance! Top ten. It is cool. Congrats again!

  4. Good to see you as always Rick, yet another fine race for you...well done.

    Cheers, Will G.

  5. Great report Rick. Looking forward to seeing you next week at Miwok.

  6. Dude, this looks like an awesome race. I'm going to have to come out for it ! Great job, once again. Hope to see you soon.....maybe at Badwater........ :))

  7. Wow Rick, that was a very impressive race you ran! It's always good to see your smiling face out on the trail. Keep up the good work, my friend!

  8. I know we have talked since this report..but what a freaking I have a long way to go.

  9. You did the last 8 miles in 90 minutes?! Wow. You put at least 25 minutes on me through that stretch alone.

    I really admire the way you set out to race these distances as opposed to just surviving them. For the most part, you seem to be having very good results in doing so, so I know you must be working your tail off in training to get your body ready for those kinds of efforts.

    Congrats again for an outstanding race, and it's really great to see you climbing the ladder in those overall standings over the past couple of years. The faster you get, the more impressive it will be when I tell people that I used to beat you!

  10. Another great achievement Rick. Your report gives the reader a good look/view of all the excitement and drama of the race, coming from a runner who was in the thick of the fight for top 10 honors. How can a new runner like me stop at 30k when I read a great story like this?

  11. What a fantastic report and pictures as well!

    Rick, you are a running machine! I am thoroughly impressed at the things you have accomplished. That course looks fairly brutal, and I can't imagine running that distance, on that course, in that kind of heat. Way to go, and much continued success to you!

  12. Wow! You are an awesome runner. Nice work!!! I remember passing you. I was barely leaving Rock City when you were returning. So very awesome!!!

  13. I think your legs are almost as good as mine!!
    Good to meet ya! and way to run, boy!

  14. I am still in awe of your performance, especially on such a tough day. And 90 minutes to get down? I tried the descent leg a few weeks ago, and relatively fresh, it took me 2 hours. You must have been leaving screech marks on the trails!

    Way to go!


  15. Hahaha, let's turn that around Cynthia. Those trails left their marks on me, literally. Usually a decent downhiller, I was bouncing around the last descents, careening into bushes. I still have a little bit of poison oak even after washing up twice.

  16. Great Job Rick. Sorry I'm just now getting around to reading your race report.
    I am hoping that the aid stations have lots of ice during my next adventure.