Photo courtesy of Gary Wang. Not only did Gary kill it out there with 7:44 and 3rd place but he also took about 600 photos from the event. He would fly by, camera in hand with his finger on the trigger as he ran by. I love this photo because it partly communicates the dusty, hot conditions on the race.
The First Half
As I mentioned the first half started well. However the seeds of trouble was sown around mile 11 when my gps watch was about a mile short of the actual mileage that I ran (it would get worse as the race went on) . I didn't know it at the time and thinking I was way behind on my goal times I pushed the pace a bit. I wanted to finish the first 50k around 5 hours to get a shot at finishing around the 8 - 8.5 hour mark. By the time I figured it out I had already ran a good amount of miles at a faster pace than I should have. I was feeling so good then I decided to just roll with it and see how long I could keep up the unsustainable pace. Of course, too fast too soon always feels good in my experience. If it hurt I wouldn't do it.
Things got hard where they usually did the last three times I've run the race, the climb from the start/finish at mile 31.5 to 35.4. 50k and 50-milers start together and we all loop back to the start/finish at mile 31 for the 50k finish. Some say it's a bit cruel to see all the 25k and 50k'ers kicking back enjoying the food and beers at the finish line while we the 50 milers have to keep going. I've never had a problem with it but the climb out of the start/finish line aid station always gets me, it's usually hot, dusty and long. I polish off the first 31 miles around 5:13 or so, similar to last year. I was pretty tired at this point having pushed the pace early and really feeling the effects of the heat. Thankfully they had ice there and buckets with cold water to sponge and douse ourselves off. I got to wipe away most of the nasty salt on my face and shirt. Larissa was there waiting to pace Amy but she left with me and kept me company for a mile before turning back. I had carpooled up with the both of them and Amy was going for her second 50-mile finish. Her husband and mother in-law even came out to cheer her on. Larissa was welcome company but I couldn't keep up with her even she was walking. I felt so sapped. She said "walk with a purpose!" but I walked like I was going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Runners started passing me and I didn't have anything in the tank to chase back.
Getting it Back Together
Eventually the rolling and mostly uphill journey back to the Englishtown AS at mile 35.4 was over and I came in bedraggled and a mess - much like last year too actually. Grant Sisler asked if I had gotten lost probably because I looked like how I felt. I told him the heat had just really gotten to me. Thoughts of finishing in the low 8 hours, similar to my previous finishes, evaporated with the heat. At this point I just wanted to finish well, sub-9 preferably but not mandatory and my first order of business was to figure out a way to restart my sputtering engine. While the good stretches never last forever neither do the bad patches. I knew at this point that I was going to finish, how was the mystery.
I believe in getting out of aid stations as fast as possible but when things are not going smoothly I also believe in getting a little extra lovin' for however long it takes as the extra time hydrating, eating, addressing issues could be a lifesaver in the end. I drank cold iced soda, took a gel, sponged myself with cold water that they had available in buckets and left with ice in my bottle. Feeling much better I was able to focus on getting things rolling again. I wouldn't take as long at the aid stations for the remainder of the race but I made sure to sponge myself with the cold water they had available as it was doing remarkable job of cooling myself. Some runners, Steve Ansell and Amy Burton to name two, carried two water bottles, one with iced water for a portable shower on the go and the other for drinking - so smart. Steve shared with me his cooling strategy at the start but I forgot to pick up my second bottle at mile 31.
My Favorite Part
From 35.4 to 47.5 is a down and back section. We leave Englishtown AS, hit Hicks Road AS at mile 37.4, turnaround at Sierra Azul AS at mile 41.4 then back to Englishtown at 47.5. I love this section as I get to see the front pack coming back from Sierra Azul. The way out is mostly uphill and it was killing my groove as I found it tough to get any kind of rhythm going. My running was constantly punctuated by walks. I did my best to keep going however knowing the return trip would be easier. I was either going to punch through my funk or crawl trying. Never say Die!
Turning Things Around
So as I mentioned, from Sierra Azul back to Englishtown the course is mostly downhill. The last 2.5 miles from Englishtown is also mostly downhhill punctuated by several steep but short hills. It was great but not so great for folks who had trashed quads. On the first half I met Emilia, a graduate student at Stanford who was running her first ultra ever. She was leading the race until Sierra Azul where the eventual female winner, Johanna took over the lead. She left Sierra Azul hobbling and when I caught up to her minutes later she was gingerly walking a downhill because of trashed quads. She told me later she walked some of the downhills backwards.
Anyway I love downhills, especially the subtle kind that makes you feel like you are running with the wind at your back or being on the moving walkways at the airport. I cruised and my new motivation to run was external. When I left Sierra Azul a runner came in looking strong. At first I conceded that he would eventually pass me and in my mind I had already moved myself back a spot. However as I got some rhythm back I made up my mind to fight, to haul ass as much as possible and see if I could keep him off for as long as I could. I figured he would either catch me eventually but not before lighting a fire under me or I successfully keep him off by succeeding in maintaining a decent pace all the way to the finish – a win-win scenario. I ran and ran and ran and he remained right behind me. There was a couple of short inclines which I walked to catch my breath and instead of being passed I noticed that he walked too so I ran up all the other uphills from that point forward in an attempt to drop him - he remained on my tail. The last 2.5 miles has some steep downhills and I poured it on testing his quads, still couldn't shake him. It wasn't until I was in sight of the finish did I let up - 9:10:59 for 13th.
Turned out the guy behind me was a runner who started running with my Thursday morning run group. He joined while I was in the UK. Nice guy. I went over, introduced myself and told him what a difference he made on my race. Maybe he was racing after me, maybe he wasn't but his presence helped my run tremendously. I rested a bit, downed more fluids and continued socializing. I made new friends and caught up with old ones. I also introduced myself to the female winner as we passed each other a couple of times during the race. When my appetite came back I ate, the food at Quicksilver is not to be missed. The post race food at Quicksilver is always good! I had just polished off a plate of ribs, salad and pasta when Emilia finally came through. It was great to see that she had stuck it out and finished. She had walked all the way back to the finish. Her resolve was put to the test and she came through. Love stories like this especially since I've walked in several races myself. It's not fun but neither is a dnf.
Jonathan Gunderson, he ran Miwok the weekend before and had a spectacular 7:48 for 4th place. He was running second until he got lost and ran an extra 3 miles. He wasn't too broken up about it. He laughed about it on the trail and again recounting the tale post race.
I need to remember the gps watch is a great tool but not infallible. I need to remember not to go out too hard too early and lastly I need some heat training before the San Diego 100 in three weeks. I've already started using Quicksilver as my start point but I need more.
I would reconnect with Greg and Emilia the following Thursday on our group's morning trail run. Emilia came all the way from Stanford to hang out and behind the camera was Gary. Another great time at Quicksilver. Miwok 100k the weekend before is a great race, I've completed it 4 times and I'm tempted to test myself on the new course but with the price increase and the lottery I may just stick to Quicksilver. The race sells out but its entry fee is reasonable, there is no lotter and the post race food is one of the best.