Last year I noticed this Skyline to the Sea trail race and got a bit excited, until I noticed it was already sold out. So this year, two months before the race, I signed up for the Marathon. I had my doubts I could finish the 50K in the 8 hours allowed, and anyway, the 50K people had to go up a bonus hill, so the Marathon sounded about right.
Last month I attempted my first Ultra, the Brazen Mt Diablo 50K, and failed spectacularly. Which made me feel even wiser for having signed up for the Marathon.
Peer pressure is an extremely powerful thing though.
This is a point-to-point race, and since very few people can manage driving two cars to the race, most of us parked near the finish line and rode busses up to the start line. It took 75 minutes to get up to the starting area - there aren't any direct routes through here (other than the trail, and these busses have no chance going up that).
After I checked in I found Eiram, Nimsaj, and Mas (not their real names) keeping warn in their car. They had an even better way to beat the bus ride; use Mas as a Mobile Support Station. (Mas had just run a 50 mile race the day before - he said he was sore, but man, he certainly hid it better than I ever have.)
So what was the very first thing out of Nimsaj's mouth when she saw me? Not, "nice weather" or "nice shirt" - it was "I asked and you can upgrade to the 50K still." Of course both Eiram and Mas agreed that would be the wise thing to do, and I started to waver a bit (the weather was ideal and I was feeling perky, so maybe...) but then baby Speed Racer mouthed the word "wuss" and I knew it had to happen.
$15 later and I had now added five miles and about 600 feet of climbing to my day.
The thing that helped make this seem right was that this would also be Nimsaj's first 50K (Eiram probably couldn't even tell you how many she's done - I think she looks at these as training for her real runs). Here we are, waiting for the race to start. According to the finisher's list there were 219 runners - 69 Marathoners and 150 50K.
The first six and a half or so miles are a gentle downhill on gorgeous single-track trails. It was a bit congested at first, but being slow, I didn't mind. An hour into the race and Eiram was probably already 30 minutes ahead of me. I lost track of Nimsaj and assumed she was drafting off of Eiram.
Running through the redwoods is about as good as it can get.
Me, still feeling perky and moving quite well.
The first aid station, at about mile 6.5. All of the aid stations were great with lots of helpful volunteers, food, and hydration stuff. (The woman in green was trying to take my picture, but I took hers first.)
From here we had our first real climb. Nothing steep, but it did slow me down a fair amount.
Eventually I pulled into the second aid station, at about mile 11. I filled my bottles and was about to take off on a nice long downhill section when I heard someone calling my name.
Completely unexpectedly, Nimsaj had been a bit behind me and not way out in front as I had expected. She had had a few issues with gravity (the trails often had these small but incredibly tough roots that looked like innocent twigs - I later slipped on one and fell into a muddy area), but was doing great otherwise.
The two of us headed down the hill and I managed to keep up with her for a couple of miles or so before she took off over this odd rocky area and was never to be seen again. (All I could think of was that falling on this rocky area would NOT feel good, and then I'd probably get eaten by a snake since snakes like sunny rocky areas. I don't like snakes.)
There were a number of creek crossings to deal with - each a little different than the other.
This is the third aid station - the station that separates the Marathoners from the 50K people. I still had my Marathon bib on, and it wouldn't take much to just keep going down the trail and do what I had set out to do when I got up this morning. I had a minor excuse too - my calves had started cramping up a bit, especially if I tried anything other than going straight ahead.
This was at mile 16, and 50K people had to be here within four hours of the start or end up just doing the Marathon. I cruised in with 15 minutes to spare, so I didn't have that excuse.
But then I saw Mas the Mobile Support System and knew I really had no option. (Again, the kid mouthed "wuss," this time with a mouth full of what looked like Sweet Potato GU. Once he gets the hang of walking, I give him six months before he's whipping me.) So I took a salt capsule for the cramping and went on my way, up the hill that defined the five mile loop.
A lot of the trail in Big Basin was like this; those are all evil tree roots doing their best to bring you down. The legs were still having periodic fits of cramping, but I would stop and stretch them a bit and that seemed to help.
At the end of the loop you are back at that same aid station, only this time you get to keep going down the trail. There's another hill, but it's not much compared to the others, and the finish line and pot of chili is sounding really good about now. For those keeping track, I am now up to mile 21 - 10 more to go. I'm now 5:15 into the race; 10 miles of mostly downhill in 2:45 (there was an 8 hour limit) seemed like it should be a breeze (It should have been).
We had been warned that there were a few trees down across the trail. These were BIG trees - there was a reason someone hadn't just shoved them out of the way. I crawled under this on on my hands and knees.
We had also been warned that there had been a rock slide and there was a small bit of the trail closed. This meant we had to take a detour that would add about 0.5 KM to the race (is there such a thing as an Ultra 50K?). Naturally, the first thing the detour did was take you up a bonus hill. I'm not good at converting KM to miles, but I'm pretty sure this 0.5 KM was equal to about 2 miles. At least.
After a bit we saw these conflicting signs. The white one whimsically says "It's all downhill from here" (which turned out to be true for me, since it was at about this time I started feeling bad) and the brown sign which says "Warning: strenuous trail ahead. You probably won't survive."
We had been warned that a bridge had washed out. When we came to this one, we marveled at their ingenuity at getting the bridge back up and working right before the race.
And then we made it to Berry Creek Falls. They were running like crazy and were a blast. The guy in blue is a fellow runner, and even better, just like me he takes a LOT of pictures at these events. The guy in green was just trying to figure out what that smell was. (There is a link to a better picture of the falls, and a lot more pictures, at the end of this post.)
So much for marveling at the State Park System's bridge building ingenuity. I don't know what this was supposed to be - I really hope the winter storms or a trail prankster messed these up and this was not intentional - but I had the hardest time walking on these. (That runner is taking a picture and not falling in, as it appears.)
And then the last creek crossing, and finally, the washed out bridge. Normally this would have not been a problem to cross, but with my cramping legs and general yucky feeling, it took me a bit to scramble across.
With about five miles to go, I realized two things: I would already be finished if I had stuck with the Marathon; and I was pretty much done running. The trail was perfect at this point - downhill, no tree roots or rocks, but every time I tried to run I would get nauseous and have to stop. So I settled for walking.
And then a vision from the heavens appeared. OK, maybe my heavenly visions need work, but at this moment, Einre (not his real name either) appeared. I knew he was supposed to be working an aid station, but hadn't seen him and wondered whether he had made it. And then there he was, walking out to find out where I was.
And Einre being Einre, he was perky and positive and exactly what I needed. I still felt awful and wasn't going to be doing any running, but there was no doubt I was going to finish now. He'd drag me if he had to.
He walked with me to the last aid station, which was only a mile and a half from the finish, and from there walked me to heavenly visions number two and three, Eiram and her husband, who were also out wondering where I was. Einre headed back to his aid station (they knew of two other runners at least that were behind me, so he needed to go back and get them taken care of).
As I was walking with Eiram and her squeeze, we heard runners coming up from behind - it was the two women (with a husband that had already finished and went out for some bonus mileage to find them) running in. Smiling. Almost laughing. Eiram said "You can still take 'em" but I knew that wasn't happening.
She did manage to get me to run the last 100 yards or so to the finish line, where I joyfully stopped.
Not only had Eiram stuck around (she had finished the race in under six hours - more than two and a half hours before me), but Mas and Nimsaj (who had finished in less than seven and half hours) were still there as well. (And I swear that kid winked at me and mouthed "not a wuss.")
My final time was 8:42:02, significantly longer than the allowed eight hours. And I knew I was the last one in after being passed by the perky women. But then three more people came in. And the title for this blog post was ruined.
The shirts for this event were spectacular. And as an added bonus, since this was my first Ultra, I got a coaster commemorating the event.
There was a point, about five miles out, that if a leprechaun had appeared and gave me the option of being done but settling for a Marathon, I would have done it. But leprechauns are not real (probably) and I had no option but to keep going. There was a van at that last aid station, and if Einre hadn't been there to keep shoving me along, I might have called it quits there.
And then there were the others; Eiram (how could she possibly still have so much energy???) and Nimsaj and Mas and the kids - no way any of this would have happened without their support and encouragement.
And of course, all the people with PCTR and the volunteers were great. There was a mother/daughter that flew out from Georgia to do this race, and I can see why. The trail was awesome, and together with very good weather (I even got a bit of a sunburn!), this was a stunning day.
My first day as an ultrarunner.
That's it - move along...
PS: Oh, the link to more pictures.
PPS: So, why did I end up feeling so badly? I have a theory. (Runners always have a theory for when things go wrong, since the alternative is to just not run anymore. And that's not much of an alternative.) For the first half of the race, I was sweating a lot, as normal. And I was drinking a lot of fluids - some water and some sports drink. When I took the salt capsule, it made me even more thirsty. On that five mile loop I drank both of my 20 oz bottles. I filled them before heading out for the final 10 miles, but was stunned to notice after about two miles one of the bottles was nearly empty - I was drinking a lot, but weirdly, was not sweating so much anymore.
My theory is that I should not have been drinking the sports drink after taking the salt capsule - I should have just stuck to water since the sports drinks just added to my salt level, and I just ended up retaining the water. And feeling awful.
This might not be right at all, but it's what I'm going with for now. I had been eating well so I don't think that was an issue. But I've never gone through so much fluid in such a short time.