Ultras: 50Ks, 50K+, 50 Milers, 100K, 100 Milers, 12-Hour & 24-Hour Events, Others
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50Ks & 50K+
61. June 8, 2013: Fish Camp, CA; Shadow of the Giants 50K (29.6 miles). My time: 7:17:18. I signed up for this run because the previous two times I ran it, alternate courses were used due to deep snow-pack. Since it was a low-snow year in the Sierras, I knew this time I could finely run the original course. While the courses weren't terribly different, the weather certainly was. It was nearly 30 degrees above the normal high, likely an all-time record for Fish Camp, on the southern edge of Yosemite Park. By noon, the temps were in the 90s and by the time I got to my car after the race at 1PM, my car's thermometer registered 103 degrees. With few exceptions, this year has been nothing but runs in blistering heat, the one factor that will take me out of a run faster than anything. Because of the extreme heat, I (and about 25 other runners) opted for any early start time, kicking off 2 hours early (at 5AM). It really helped to be able to run 4 or so hours in relatively pleasant weather. By 9:30AM, it started to get quite hot, comforted only by intermittent shae from the tall Sequoia trees. I was quite slow (an hour and 15 minutes slower than 2 years earlier, when it was nice and cool) however for me, my goal was to simply finish. I had been sick all the prior week, suffering a bad chest cold, picked up when flying back from a one-day trip to Jinan, China a week earlier. I was coughing up flem much of the run and was operating with perhaps three-quarters normal lung capacity, which wasn't easy given the high altitude (up to 6200 feet). Just a day before the race I wasn't sure I'd be able to run it and was even considering the 20K option however having been bailed on a 100K a month earlier (again extreme heat) and not wanting to have to do this run again to (finally) get in the original course, I opted to stick it out. This ended up being another milestone -- my 150th ultra or marathon. Despite the heat and my subpar health and performance, it is a nice trail run, especially the one-mile loop through towering old Sequioa trees (> 3000 years old). The race director, foul-mouthed Bas, was up to his usual nasty self during the pre-race spaghetti dinner, however Sophia and I knew we had to suffer through his antics having done this twice before. Glad I did the race however this is the last time I'll do the Shadow of the Giants, scheduled for its last (and 25th run) next year. Notable memories: Towering trees, heavy breathing running up the hills with bronchial congestion in high altitude, steadily rising heat, running with bib # 100, and driving home where the outside air along the freeway was 108 degrees in Merced, Modesto, Tracy, and Livermore.
60. April 20, 2013: Mount Diablo, CA; Diablo Trail Challenge 50K (31.8 miles). My time: 8:03:20. I forgot how tough this course is. While it was nowhere near the mudfest when I ran it 2 years earlier (held during a very rainy March), a very demanding course it is nonetheless. Run on the foothills of Mount Diablo, that sits near where I live, and doing a three-quarter circle from the east side to the north side at Castle Rock, there's little other than up-and-down throughout (with 8+ miles between aid stations), totaling more than 7K feet in elevation gain and a similar amount of bone crushing drop. While I didn't slide on my butt as last time, it was the afternoon heat -- in the mid-80s and fully exposed to the elements -- that did me in this time. The morning was actually pleasant, thanks to an early 7AM start and some cool breezes, however by midday things began to heat up. I don't handle lots of climbing well in the heat which showed by the time I got to the Burma Road aid station (mile 28.5). I was nauseated from drinking warm water and couldn't keep liquids or food down. And despite popping salt pills, my quads were toasted from jamming the downhills. Some park ranger guy who is obviously no ultra-runner was encouraging me to accept a ride down to the finish -- pretty much downhill and just 3 miles away. He told me “don't try to be a hero”. I should have retorted I just ran a 100 miler 2 weeks earlier thus I should be able to walk in 3 miles with some 3 hours left till cut-off time. What I'm always impressed by this run, organized by Brazen Racing, is the quality of the event: great pre- and post-race activities (including frozen drinks and gourmet pizza at the the finish line), runner-friendly aid stations (though more ice would have been welcomed), good vibes all-around, and even time-lapse photos of all finishers, per below. Still, I felt more beat up after this run than the 100 miler I did 2 weeks earlier. I was the second oldest finisher thus while I placed just 112 out of 158 finishers, most folks I outran were considerably younger, which as I age I readily admit becomes increasingly satisfying. Notable memories: Early 45-minute bus ride to the start on the east-side of Mount Diablo, sitting in a black plastic garbage bag waiting for the race to start, enjoying the morning breeze that was quickly followed by mercifulless afternoon heat, and sucking down 2 smoothies after the race and still feeling parched.
Bagman at start (3 left photos) and photo sequence crossing the finish line some 32 miles later.
59. February 9, 2013; Auburn, CA; American Canyon Ultramarathon and Trail Run 50K. My time: 7:01:30. A chilly start (temps in low 30s) that by midday became a pleasant sunny run. Some one hundred 50Kers ran a linear loop mostly along the Middle Fork of the American River, greeted by several steep climbs, including the run's namesake, American Canyon. I ran with a long-sleeve shirt and full length running tights, a rarity for me, and was mostly comfortable, though by early afternoon I was overdressed. The gloves that I ran with the first 4 hours came in handy but I was able to shed them by the Upper Main Bar aid station (mile 18). The course itself was in fairly good shape, with a few muddy sections, helped out by frozen ground in the morning. There were quite a few stream crossings but because things have been pretty dry the past month, they were fairly easy to cross. Runners were in mostly good spirits the entire day due to the elements -- cool sunny day with great canyon and river vistas. I ran with several chatty folks part of the time. Mid-race, I had a guy running on my heels (run-walk) for a good 5-6 miles that got a bit grating. I was hoping to break 7 hours but just missed. The course, however, was evidently long -- 31.7 miles according to the Gramin GPS of the guy who finished before me. At 50K, I guess I broke 7 hours...slow but enough to place second in my age group. Notable memories: Very cold morning start, lengthy runs (as much as 10 miles) between several aid stations, the always-tough final climb to the Auburb Overlook, and enjoying a day with the dedicated community of runners from the Auburn area.
58. December 16, 2012: Woodside, CA; Woodside Ramble 50K (31.1 miles). My time: 7:17:13. This was my third and (by a half hour) slowest run of this course. It's the first time I ran a race by this new race company, Inside Trail Racing, which did an OK job organizing the run. It was quite a bit colder (<40 degree F) and wetter than previous versions of this race, also run in December. It's a nice challenging course regardless, and there was mostly good holiday cheer, despite the sadness of the prior-day's rampage of an elementary school in Connecticut. I felt wet and chilly the last half the race and evidently picked up a stomach bug somewhere along the course for I was laid out for a few days following the run. For a good coverage of the race, see local Woodside resident Scott Dunlap's blog. Notable memories: Feeling quite cold and wet pre- and post-run and surprised by how much slower I was than in the past as well as a few months earlier on a much tougher course.
57. September 1, 2012: Marin County, CA; Coyote Ridge Trail Run 50K. My time: 7:01:12. This is one of the tougher 50K's around, with some 7200 of elevation gain. I did the same run more than 3 years ago (then sponsored by Pacific Trail Runs) and also ran this Coastal Trail Runs sponsored race 2 years ago but I dropped after the first 20+ mile loop of that race because of a torn hamstring. I did fairly well this time around, running some 20 minutes faster than 3+ years ago and faster than my run on part of the same course a month and a half ago (Golden Gate Trail Run) even though this course had some 800 additional feet of climbing. I finished in the top 50% of runners (7 of 16), which is rare for me these days, at least for a fixed-distance ultra. I won the men's 50+ age group (partly because there were only 3 of us) and took some pride that all the folks who were faster were 15-35 years younger. The race involves two marches from Muir Beach to the Coyote Ridge line, two hikes up the steep Pirate's Cove flight of stairs, and lots and lots of hills everywhere else. For late summer, the weather was perfect -- 50s and 60s. Notable memories: Running much of the same hills I did a month and a half ago but this time being able to handle some of the steep inclines and hammer the downhills at a faster clip.
56. July 14, 2012: Marin County, CA; Golden Gate Trail Run 50K (31.8 miles). My time: 7:22:00. I was more than a half-hour slower than when running the exact same course 5 months earlier -- perhaps a product of still being jet-lagged from having flown in a few days earlier from Singapore and also having picked up a chest cold on the plane. I also ran with two knee braces, not for support but rather to try to cover a bad knee scrape I suffered on my final training run before the race. (I opted for 2 braces since a single brace gives me an asymmetrical feel.) Regardless, it's a beautfiul but tough course, with 6400 feet of elevation rise, including 7 different flights of steep stairs. Most unique was running through two pockets of the Coastal Trail where the fog was so dense that raindrops were dripping from the grove of redwood trees, creating muddy patches -- one of the few places in the Bay Area where one can find rain in mid-July. A quarter mile later it was bone dry. It was cool enough throughout the day that I ended up wearing a long-sleeve shirt over a short-sleeve one. There are very few places in North America where one can comfortably run with a long-sleeve shirt in mid-July. Notable memories: Lots of up and down, experiencing Marin County's micro-climate, the always beautiful glimpses of the crashing waves of the rocky Pacific Coast below Pirate's Cove, and stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge while running the Coastal Trail en route to the finish at Rodeo Beach.
55. May 20, 2011: Fremont-Livermore CA; Ohlone Wilderness Run 50K. My time: 8:31:52. My fourth and by far slowest time on this brutal point-to-point run along the Ohlone Wilderness trail. I was an hour and 21 minutes slower than when I first did this run 5 years earlier and even 33 minutes slower than last year when I was injured. However it was a tougher run this year because it was hot (high 80s) with absolutely no cloud cover. Most everyone's times suffered as a result -- 39% of the field had slower times than my tortoise-like pace and somehow I managed to snag 3rd place in my age group, winning an inscribed thick block of wood. This was the 25th running of the race thus all finisher received a tie-dyed hoodie. I grabbed a small purple one for my 15-year-old daughter, Kristen. Sophia and Kristen met me at the finish line for some tasty chow. Tough but enjoyable day nonetheless. Notable memories: Lots of power hiking, a constant blaring sun, getting taken out by the heat and reduced to a shuffle the last 5 miles, and enjoying the post-race barbeque with fellow Bay Area trail runners and my family.
Post-Race: Rubbing my neck with the 3rd place Men's 60-69 block-of-wood trophy, chatting with a very tired and fully proned Chuck Wilson
54. May 12, 2012: San Jose, CA; Quicksilver 50K Endurance Run (31.5 miles). My time: 7:00:12. A blazenly hot day it was running in the rolling hills of Almaden Park in San Jose. I set out to run the 50 mile version of this course for a third time however it was too damn hot -- in the 90s and without a cloud in the sky -- thus I bailed at the 50K mark. Runners who signed up for the 50 miler had the option of stopping at 50K, which not only I but a bunch of other runners did as well. I was simply too parched to motor on for another 19 miles, knowing from past experiences the grueling uphills I still had left to run. Having done two 50 milers in the prior three weeks, this was probably the right choice. I left home at 2:45AM, arriving at the Park around 4:45PM, well in time for the 6AM start. Lots of local runners enjoyed the sometimes shaded but often exposed hills of the South Bay. Seeing the old Quicksilver mine is always a highlight of this run. Iwish the race had been scheduled a day later, when the weather turned cool. One has to be prepared for anything when running spring ultras in the Bay Area. Notable memories: Great post-race munchies (peeled shrimp, baby back ribs, sizzling cheeseburgers, Greek salads, and assortment of delicious cakes and pies), food that I wasn't able to enjoy when I ran the 50 mile versions of the race because the food was always gone when I crossed the finish line. There are benefits to shorter races!
53. April 6, 2012: Berkeley, CA; Grizzly Peak 50K (31.3 miles). My time: 7:36:32. I was 2 hours slower than the 50K I ran the prior weekend, albeit on a much tougher course -- 6800 feet of elevation gain and drop plus lots of mud and ankle-twisting rocky trails. This run was practically in my "backyward" -- Tilden Park, behind UC Berkeley where I teach and train after work on many spring and summer days. While I know the trails well, around half the couse was on trails I never run thus the course seemed fresh. It's two half-marathon loops to Grizzly Peak and Vollmer Peak followed by a 10K loop, beginning and ending at Lake Anza. I had just returned from the University of Vermont, where I gave a university of lecture and managed to pick up a cold running along chilly Lake Champlain, thus I ran this trail run with upper respiratory congestion and a stuffy nose. The weather, however, was ideal, mainly in the low 60s and lots of sun. I originally signed up for the marathon however Coastal Trail Runs let me upgrade to the 50K (which was added after I had registered). Only 10 of 19 original runners completed the 50K -- the vast majority ran the marathon, half marathon, or 10K. It was nice being able to shower at Oakwood Athletic Club near where I live in the morning, run some nice Berkeley trails during the day, and return to Oakwood late afternoon for another hot shower and jucuzzi. Notable memories: Tough course, despite being my stomping grounds, running across a slithering snake the third and final loop, and returning to Lafayette within a half hour of the run.
52. March 31, 2012: Chicago, Illinois; Chicago Lakefront 50K. My time: 5:37:37. This was a much different ultra than I'm used to -- urban, along Chicago's Lake Michigan waterfront, and pancake flat. I sandwiched this run between a trip I made to the east coast -- first to a business meeting in Washington DC, followed by a drive to Virginia Beach to join my dad and sister for my dad's 90th birthday party. Since I was a flying back via Chicago, I decided to hang around an extra day and run a 50K. Chicago's got a great downtown thus spending a Friday before the race walking the city was fun. I was OK with my time given I had just run a 100 miler at altitude in Utah the week before. The run is 3 out-and-backs along Chicago's Lakeshore Park, totally a tad over 5.2 miles in each direction -- thus there was some monotony to contend with. I took it easy, enjoying the city's towering skyline, the stiff breeze coming off the lake, and hoards of weekend joggers, walkers, and cyclists along the course. About a third of the course is run on a crushed limestone dirt path, with the other two-thirds mainly along a bike path, with intermittent dirt paths on the shoulder. It was pretty cold due to the on-shore wind from the lake -- I had on 3 layers and gloves and still was cold. The prior weekend was in the 80s so go figure. Part of the course hugs a golf course and along this section there are several markings warning "FORE". The first time I saw a marking, I looked up only to see a golf ball bouncing in front of me. No doubt some folks have been binged in the past. I took Chicago's L train to the Brywn station, walked about 15 minutes to the start, ran the 50K, partaked in some great post-race spicey rice-and-beans, took the L train back to downtown, paid $20 to use the XTerra Health Club where I took a nice hot shower and enjoyed the steam room and a light workout, had a nice dinner downtown, took the Blue Line train to O'Hare, and then flew home to San Fran that evening, arriving around midnight. While the course was flat, I was fairly stiff from running a slope-less course, hitting the same pressure points throughout the run, mostly on pavement -- more sore, in fact, than after the 100 miler I ran a week earlier! Notable memories: Taking in a flat urban ultra, spending the day with midwest runners, getting lots of cheers from the joggers and hikers along the Lakefront Park, enjoying Chicago's great cuisine (eating Chicago hot dogs and beef sandwiches, guilt free), and riding the L train to and from the race.
51.February 18, 2012: Folsom Southside Trail Run 38 Miler. My time: 7:59:14. This is the first time I've run this rather odd distance -- a 50K plus 7 miles. It's also the first time I've run the south side of Folsom Lake, which was the draw for me. I've run the north shore of the lake plenty of times (e.g., AR50) but the south shore remained unchartered territory. I'm glad I did. It's a lovely route. Lots of rolling hills -- nothing steep however there were few flat sections either (other than the Folsom levee at the beginning and end of the run). It's mostly single track with some technical sections and a number of stream crossings. It was also a small event -- only 9 ran the 38 miler with most others running shorter distances, including a 50K. This was the third week in a row of running a 50K or more, part of my effort to build endurance for upcoming very long runs. This race was organized by Troy, evidently an ex-military guy -- he gives discounts to military folks and ran the event like a drill sergeant. I also found it interesting that he names the trail run series after himself. Regardless, the course was well marked and fun to run. Notable memories: Small, old-school feel of the run, new trails, a nice 3 1/2 mile out-and-back that extended the 50K to a 38 miler, running with some devoted Sacto/Auburn area ultrarunners, and a nice prior evening at the Folsom Hilton with Sophia.
50. February 11, 2012: Marin County, CA; Golden Gate Trail Run 50K (31.8 miles). My time: 6:49:22.Two 50Ks in two weeks, however this was much different than last week's run -- lots of up and down, with some 6400 feet of elevation gain and comparable loss. I've run versions of this 50K in the Marin Headlands numerous times however I never tire of the beauty -- sweeping panaramas of the rocky Pacific coast, Pirate's Cove, and vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco's northern skyline when dropping back down to Rodeo Beach. Nice run, though sections of the course were a bit muddy from rain earlier in the week. I was OK with my time, winning my age group. Setting the course record, in well under 4 hours, was the amazing Dave Mackey, last year's Ultrarunner of the Year. It was a privilege to be on the same course as this speedster. Notable memories: Power hiking the steep uphills, hammering the downs as best I could, and floating into the finish for some nice hot soup.
Beginning and End of run at the Rodeo Beach parking lot
49. February 4, 2012: Sacramento, CA; Jed Smith Ultra Classic 50K. My time: 5:31:09. Six elongated loops along the American River in Sacramento on a fairly flat thus fast course made for fast times -- in my case, my second speediest 50K to date. The day was gorgeous and it was nice to see some of northern California's fastest ultra-runners hammering the course. It's not a trail run -- about half the course is on a bikeway and the other half is on a slightly rutted dirt road, plus two bridge crossings. Notable memories: fast runners (looping me several times), running at a steady clip of 10 to 11 minute miles, getting to drink a cold lemonade every hour or so when I swung by my ice chest, and enjoying one on those bright sunny winter days that reminds me why I live in northern California.
48. December 17, 2011: Virginia Beach, VA; Seaside Nature Trail 50K. My time: 5:43.42. This was a repeat of one year ago, once again returning to my roots to visit my dad and sister (with my two youngest kids in tow) as well as put in a pre-Xmas ultra on a lovely coastly trail. And the results were markedly better -- I cut more than an hour (and over 2 minutes per mile) off my time, albeit the year before I had serious lower back pain and wasn't even sure I could finish the race. Still, I ran faster than all males age 60 and above, and was first among the nine graybeards in the 60 to 64 age gorup. The weather was nippy at first but warmed as the day wore on. It was a nice way to cap off a fairly productive running year -- 19 ultras and 2 marathons. Notable memories: Redemption for a lousy run the year before, good vibes on sandy trails with east coast runners, and a nice week spent with my dad, sister, and kids, including a side trip to Washington DC with Chris and Kristen to take in the nation's capital.
47. November 5, 2011: Castro Valley, CA: Lake Chabot Trail Run (31.2 miles). My time: 6:01:22. Two loops around glistening Lake Chabot on the mostly upper trail, making for a marathon, supplemented by a 5 mile loop of the lake's southeast end, making for a 50K. For me, the run came 6 days after a marathon and constituted five straight weekends of ultras/marathon running and 6 marathon-and-beyond races in 6 weeks, for a totla of 280 miles of trail racing in a month and a half. This was the most intensive stretch of long-distance running I've ever done and fortunately came out unscathed, sustaining no injuries. I guess I'll keep doing this fora while. Notable memories: Nice crispy day of trail running, doing a back-and-forth with speedy 67-year-old Buzz Higgins of Benecia whom I've run three 50Ks with in the past month and a half (he usually beats me, as on this day), and seeing Mark and Nicole of Lafayette several times who were there cheering on their daughter, who completed her first marathon.
Hiking up the hill to the Honkers Bay aid station for loop 1 (left) and loop 2 (middle) and crossing the finish line (right) at the Lake Chabot south-end picnic tables.
46. October 22, 2011: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, CA; Whiskeytown Trail Runs 50K. My time: 7:18:20. Gorgeous run on mostly single track in the nicely shaded Whiskeytown Rec area, around 10 miles west of Redding. It's a fairly challenging run, not so much for the climbing (around a mile elevation gain and drop) but mostly because of the tricky footing wading across some 15 thigh-high stream crossings. While the cold mountain water was refreshing (especially on a fairly warm day), the moss-covered rocks and granite boulders were slippery, thus runners had to carefully navigate their ways. I enjoyed a steady run, winning a second-place medal for my age group. Took one bad fall and had to side-step a long snake slithering across the trail at mile 25. Good comraderie among the runners, well marked course (with people strategically placed at major turns to tell runners which way to go), and overall a good vibe for the day. Only bad thing was a woman running the 30K broke her ankle in a hard-to-reach section, thus she had to be medi-vacuated out by helicopter. Days like this are the reason I do long runs -- in his case, the third weekend in a row of an ultra: a 100 miler and two 50Ks. Notable memories: Lovely, shaded single-track trails, mixed terrain, seeing Danny the boxer dog and my aid-station helper midway in the race, dipping into the cold Whiskeytown reservior post-race, and stopping at an Indian casino en route home.
45. October 16, 2011: Cobb, CA; Boggs Mountain Boogie 50K++ (38+ miles). My time: 8:56:00. Miserable experience!! The second year in a row I ran a slighty different version of what has the makings of a great trail run -- lots of single track on winding, up-and-down mountain trails in the Boggs Mountain Demonstration Forest, nestled midway between Calistoga and Clear Lake. Last year's race was organized by seasoned pros, two of the fastest runners in the Bay Area. This year's was organized by a rookie. To his credit, when last year's organizers decided they didn't want to mount the race again, he tried to keep this fine race going. However he so poorly marked the trail that nearly everyone got lost. It's a hard course to mark in the first place, with two loops intermingling among numerous trails and junctures. This year, there were flags missing, multiple options for turning at junctures, confusing flag placements, and far too few flags. I missed turns four times, ending up adding some 7+ miles to my run and doing one 3+ mile loop section twice. I also probably added 2000 feet of elevation gain to what was already a hilly course. I ran much of the way with a black guy, running his first endurance event (...he hadn't even run a marathon before this). He got lost with me, thus he too ended up running over 38 miles. He must have been local because there were lots of middle school students from nearby cheering him on. I apologized to him for the poorly marked course, mentioning I hope this experience didn't dissuade him from trying ultras again and noting the poor course markings wasn't the norm. He took it all in good stride. Having flags confusingly placed is one thing, however having them missing altogether for miles at a time is another. At one location, there was a tiny piece of paper with a message written in ballpoint ink saying this was the way for lap two; I missed this sign and ran a mile downhill before realizing I was on the wrong course, having to hike back uphill and figure out where to go. I then followed this unmarked single-track trail for 2 miles before seeing a pink flag at the next juncture. Unpardonable! Throughout the long day, I was constantly wondering whether I was lost -- a miserable way to spend 9 hours. I feared being stuck in these mountains at night when it would get cold. There were a number of runners behind me, so hopefully they took short-cuts back (which weren't easy to find) to reach the finish and avoid the dark. Otherwise, search and rescue would be needed. I ran this race this mainly to get more miles on my feet, one week after having run a 100 miler in Kansas (and within 3 weeks of a tough 50 miler). The only good thing about the day was the race director, evidently feeling so bad, let me and other runners choose an item out of a box full of racing goodies at the end of the run -- I chose a really nice double-bottle camelback water belt, one I had been looking for quite a while. When I ran this race last year, I recall telling myself I didn't want to do it again because of all the confusing turns and twists (even though I didn't get lost last year). I should have listened to myself. Notable memories: Constantly wondering whether I was lost, the frustration of finding out I was on four occasions, falling hard while clipping a rock five different times (though only once scrapping a knee, thanks to the pine needles), hearing buck shot from nearby hunters toward the end of the running (and praying to myself that they could distinguish me from a deer), and immediately driving home once crossing the finishing line as I wanted to get away as fast as I could from the frustrating memories of the day.
44. September 18, 2011: Mount Diablo State Park, CA; Diablo 50K. My time: 8:01:38. Killer run -- you summit Mount Diablo twice, making for a gnarly 8K feet of elevation gain and most painfuly a similar amount of drop...16K feet of total elevation change in 30+ miles. It was also hot, in the 80s, however what makes this run so tough is runners are so exposed to the elements. There's little shade thus by midday you're feeling baked. The final aid station ran out of ice, thus I suffered the last 5 miles of downhill. Being so overheated, I was nauseated. What should have been a speedy downhill to the finish ended up being a slow shuffle/walk just to keep from upchucking the few remaining liquids in my body. Having run races on this mountain (that I see nearly every morning when I drive my daughter to school) twice earlier in the year and having trained on it a fair amount, I knew what I was in for. I (and others in the race) was suppose to have run a totally different race on Saturday the 18th -- the San Francisco All-Day, a flat 1.061 mile loop course around Chrissy Field in cool, foggy San Francisco. I had already run the 12- and 24-hour versions of that event, and wanted to get in a long run prior to Heartland 100 in 3 weeks. However a day before the race, Pacific Coast Trail Runs announced that race had been cancelled due to "an emergency". The only other race around was the Mount Diablo run, about as sharp of a contrast to running flat circles near the cool Bay as one could find. The week before I had been training on fairly flat terrain in preparation for Chrissy field and ended up running about as rough-and-tumble 50K as one can find. Interestingly, the Diablo 50K is sponsored by Coast Trail Runs, run by Wendall Dorman who use to run the PCTR events before his split with Sarah. Wendall was aware I had signed up to run the flat San Fran 12-hour event, and teased me a bit when I crossed the finished line of his much tougher run, some 8 hours after the start gun, noting I had chosen a dozzy as an alternative to the San Fran event. A tough run it is. Notable memories: Pain at the bottom of my left heel, something I felt a few days prior to the race and it only got worse as the day wore on, especially on the steep downhills. Toward the end of the run I developed a painful blister on the bottom of the same heel. What most gets registered in the memory bank is the seemingly endless climbing and dropping on this course as the sun mercifulessly beat down on runners.
43. August 27, 2011: Marin County, CA; Tamalpas Headlands 50K (31.5 miles). My time: 6:53:20. I liked this run because it was organized by a group of dedicated trail runners -- the Tamalpas Running Club of Marin County, CA. It's a nice circuit of the Marin Headlands, starting inland from Muir Beach, and then with near constant up-and-down, hitting all the highlights -- rocky ledges along Pirate's Cove (above the crashing Pacific waves), Rodeo Beach, Tennessee Valley, redwoods near Muir Grove, a steep drop from Pantoll to Stinson Beach, the grueling climb along the Dipsea trail back to Pantoll, and the final drop back to Muir Beach. Overall, some 7500 feet of climbing and similar amounts of dropping. At times, the race had more the makings of an obstacle course than a trail run -- one stretch along Steep Rivine has runners on all fours climbing a ladder. The course is quite varied, not only in terms of views but also running terrain -- single track, fire trails, smooth surfaces, and rocks & roots. The weather was perfect, generally foggy and cool, so much so that parts of the trail was actually muddy from the fog drippings, even though the rest of the Bay Area has been bone-dry for months. There were lots of dedicated local ultra-runners. With only one bad four-point fall, I was fine with my performance -- top third of my age group and top two-thirds overall. Notable memories: Lots of climbing and dropping, the solitude of running the Miwok trail, teaming with a guy from Toronto the last third of the course who was running his first ultra and cussing the whole way about how tough it was and continually asking how far was the finish, stepping in a mud patch along the final switchbacks to the finish, and having a hearty enough appetite at the end to down two hot sausages.
42. June 12, 2011: Big Bear Lake, CA; Holcomb Valley 33 Mile Trail Race. My time: 8:57:40. Everything went wrong on this run. I'm lucky I finished. First, I forgot my salt and electrolyte tablets. By mid race, I suffered the consequences. Hot weather and high altitudes conspired to drain me of salt and minerals. Dizziness and nausea set in. Even before, I hit my head on an overhanging tree limb, producing a good-size lump and a swirling noggin. Mid-race, I twisted my right ankle. The pain wasn't too bad thus I continued to run, however the day after I paid the price. And then altitude sickness set in -- the course between Big Bear Lake and Holcomb Valley is run in the 6500 to 8200 foot range. By mile 21, I was nauseated, dizzy, and had a hard time walking straight. Several aid station captains enocouraged me to drop (they're not suppost to do this!). Stubborn me, I pretty much walked the last 12 miles in, stumbling cross the finish line in just under 9 hours. This was actually faster than last year, when I got lost and wasted 45 minutes finding my way back. I perhaps was also overtrained, having run over 120 miles this week (including the race), just 2 weeks before Western States 100. I hope my sub-par performance doesn't leave lingering doubts in my mind about the big race in 2 weeks. This was to be a final warm-up...a means to an end. Notable memories: Lots of rocks on the Pacific Coast Trail, problems breathing courtesy of a chest cold, sinus inflamation, and high altitudes, and briefly chatting with the woman I got lost with last year on the same run.
41. June 4, 2011: Fish Camp, CA; Shadow of the Giants 50K (29.5 miles). My time: 6:01:20. A sizable snow-pack forced a change in course to "Plan C" -- a 5-mile out/back connection across Highway 41, followed by a 11.5-mile loop of the Miami peak fireroad (used by motorcyclists), and a final 8-mile out-and-back. It actually snowed in the area four days earlier -- I knew we were in for a change when driving up to Fish Camp, south of Yosemite, and seeing cabins surrounded by snow. Much more snow than last year, when the course also had to be altered because of conditions. At least with last year's "Plan B", we got to run the Shadow of the Giants loop. Without running through the fat redwood grove, as pretty as the area is, it isn't the same spectacular course. The re-routed course was short, under 30 miles, thus it wasn't a true 50K (a bummer for the substantial number of entrants who were running their first ultra). I pleaded with the RD, the venerable gray-bearded, foul-mouthed Kiwi, "Baz", to add a mile out-and-back section to make it a 50K, however he didn't seem to care. Last year's course and the normal one exceed 50K, thus I guess it balances out. I was 1 1/2 hours faster than last year, though last year's course was not only longer but also tougher. Weatherwise, it wasn't the best. A slight morning drizzle hastened into a downpour by midday (in June...in California...go figure?), prompting many runners to pick up the speed. The highlight for Sophia and I was the delicious pre-race meal (great lasange and home-made sour-dough bread) in the enclosed school building, and post-race, coming in from the soggy weather to an assortment of tasty soups, salads, and other goodies. Notable memories: Pretty pine-needle strewn firetrails most of the way, climbing over, through, and around downed trees, a nice middle-elevation course (3500 to 5500 feet), running with a group of 20-somethings most of the way (including a guy teathered to his lady friend), running a fast final 2 miles of downhill, taking a nice, hot shower after the race in the school facility, having a hearty appetite after the race (I'm usually not hungry), and feeling no soreness the next morning, so much so I was able to put in a 2 hour run.
Approaching and crossing the rain-soaked finish line at Fish Camp
40. May 23, 2011: Fremont-Livermore CA; Ohlone Wilderness Run 50K. My time: 7:58:14.Three-peat of this tough run. I was slower than the past, partly age but also some ailments -- arthritic right shoulder that made carrying a hand bottle painful, tight right hamstring, and a painful (and blackened) big right toe. Running conditions were great -- cool and foggy. I had my usual nausea problems. I also picked up a big blister on my left heal with all the downhill, forcing me to run the last downhills on the balls of my upper left foot. Good seeing all the die-hard Bay Area ultra-runners at this toughest of 50Ks. Notable memories: Power hiking, great views, and hobbling the last 2 miles of straight downhill.
39. May 14, 2011: Lake Sonoma, CA; Warm Springs Trail Run 50K. My time: 8:01:15.Eight hours of tough slogging through the up-and-down hills surrounding Lake Sonoma. There were few flat sections on this one. Just 9 runners tried the 50K and only 4 finished -- I came in 2nd, by attrition. With the prospect of three tough loops of the Liberty Glen trail, most runners bailed at the marathon or 20K distances. Still feeling the pain of 2 blackened big toes from Mount Diablo marathon 2 weeks earlier, I wasn't sure I could do the run. My feet held up and having just turned 60, I was pleased with my slow, steady performance. Beautiful scenery with views of the sparkling lake and lots of solitary running...my kind of affair. Only problem is I got lost twice, running an extra mile or so. The course wasn't well-marked, a problem I've had with the race sponsors, Sierra Nevada Trail Runs, in the past. Notable memories: Standing next to the fire in the freezing cold prior to the race, the long out-and-back to Warm Springs, almost stepping on a snake, and completing the race to a loud applause of appreciative 20-something runners who bailed at the shorter distance, a good feeling for a 60-year old dude.
38. April 23, 2011: San Francisco, CA; Ruth Anderson 50K. My time: 5:38:15.My fourth tour of running loops around Lake Merced. Was my fastest time for the 50K version of this race to date, though admittedly twice before I was a gimp, suffering all sorts of ailments. I was later told by the poem-scribing race director, Rajeev Patel, that I won my age group. He griped I left too early, failing to pick up my prize -- a sticker...whippee! Notable memories: Stepping over a dead bird at the same spot 7 times, not hearing the shooting range till my final lap (prior races they started shooting much earlier), and driving back to San Fran later that evening for a fantastic show of John Wetton and Eddie Jobson in their UK Reunion tour.
37. March 19, 2011; Mount Diablo, CA; Diablo Trail Challenge 50K. My time: 8:42:50.A challenge it was. Nine hours of misery and agony. A true mudfest. This was the nastiest, most painful run I’ve ever done. The weather and footing were punishing. The forecast said it’d be in the high 40s/low 50s however on the side of Mount Diablo, up to the 3000 foot mark, it was a good 10 to 15 degrees colder. Much of the day runners were also pummeled by a mix of high winds, sleet and rain, much of it moving horizontally. I and many runners were way too underdressed. I should have had at least 2 more layers. The solution was to keep moving. Just as bad were the muddy, sloppy trails throughout. It’s a tough enough course in good trail conditions, with some 7200 feet of elevation gain, however in ankle-deep mud it felt like twice the elevation gain. Nearly the entire 31 miles involved studying the ground, trying to figure out where to make each footstrike. In many stretches, there was no good footing, requiring runners to slosh through the mud or run on the rutted grass knolls along the trail. Much of the time, my foot was totally immersed in mud and several times my running shoe came off. l, for every step forward, you slid back a half step or more. Both the wind and zigzagging in search of decent footing meant a lot of horizontal movement, which together probably added another mile or so to the run. Worst, however, was going downhill. Many times it meant slipping and sliding and for me falling at least 20 times during the run. Several times my legs hit the ground in a contorted pretzel-like manner and I feared I had seriously tore my knee cartilage. Luckily I didn’t however I sure was sore and a muddy mess, from top to bottom. Crossing the knee-deep swollen streams was a relief because it cleaned the thick mud of the shoes – which seemed to add several pounds of weight to the run. The only way to get down several steep muddy sections was to ski down, sometimes on one’s buttock. It also meant grapping for tree limbs to slow the fall and to avoid falling off steep inclines. The single-track trails were the worst because the U-shaped pathways were transformed into fast-moving streams. I’m also lucky I didn’t badly sprain an ankle from running on the rutted rims of trails. Once I stepped in a deep divit that if I had hit it at a slightly different angle, my foot would have surely badly twisted. Hobbling out of these remote sites would have been hard because aid stations were far apart. At the aid stations, one saw runners who were hanging it up, calling it a day. Others were nursing injuries from the fall. Slow runners were pulled from the course because they would not be able to make the 10-hour cut-off. The DNF rate of 28%, high for a 50K, suggests how tough the going was. The format of this course – point to point from the southeast corner to the northwest corner of Mount Diablo – is great. The race is sponsored by the Save Mount Diablo foundation and they put on a good show. Having the race nearly in my backyard was also a plus. However it couldn’t have been worst running conditions and if it weren’t for my stubbornness, I wouldn’t have finished the run. Notable Memories. Slipping, sliding, and falling throughout the day in a rain-soaked windbreaker, constantly figuring out how to minimize the likelihood of falling or twisting an angle, feeling exhausted at the end from the effort it took to get up and down the seeming non-stop hills of the course, and the satisfaction of sitting in the hot-tub at Oakwood Athletic Club, 15 minutes from the finish, after the race.
36. February 20, 2011; San Leandro, CA; Chabot Trail Run
50K. My time: 6:23:55. It rained and poured the prior week thus this was a muddy affair. Fortunately for the run itself, the skies cleared and it was perfect running weather, in the low 50s. I signed up for this at the last minute, still nursing pain from my sciatic nerve, though I had done 5+ hour weekend runs the prior three weeks thus I felt ready to go. I knew the course quite well, having run along Lake Chabot for the Skyline 50K and Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler several times. It's a nice pair of trails -- one 30K loop (to muddy Bork Meadows) and a 20K inner loop. I kept a slow steady pace throughout. I was the oldest person running the 50K thus while finishing toward the bottom, I didn't come in last. It's a fairly fast course, with the winner clocking an amazing 3:37 time, however with 4,250 feet of elevation gain and given the muddy conditions, it wasn't exactly a stroll in the park. Upon crossing the finish line, my shoes were caked in mud and my socks were totally drenched -- a badge of honor for those who finished the race. Notable memories: Pretty vistas of Lake Chabot, sliding backwards on several steep uphill sections, grabbing onto bushes to pull myself up a few steep inclines, and hearing loud gunblasts at a nearby shooting range the two times we ran along Brandon trail north of the lake.
35. December 18, 2010: Virginia Beach, VA; Seaside Nature Trail 50K. My time: 6:47:35. I planned this pre-Xmas run as part of a visit to see my 88-year old dad, who is in an Assisted Living Facility in Virginia Beach, and my sister, Louise. My 13-year old daughter, Kristen, accompanied me on the cross-country trip. The morning of the race, I had doubts I could run more than a half-hour much less a 31-mile run. I had been suffering from lower-back pain following my 50K run of 2 weeks earlier. I hadn't run for 2 weeks leading up to the race and was prepared for anything -- the possibility of running for 5 minutes, 8 1/2 hours (the race cut-off time), and everything in between. It was brutally cold at the onset of the race, though things warmed up some as the day wore on. It had snowed several days before the run and some of the trails and wooden bridges were iced over. Indeed, the day before the run, the race director (Mel Williams, a prof at Old Dominion University in Norfolk who is a phenomenal marathon runner for his age) sent out an email warning that the race might be canceled because of conditions. As it turned out, the course conditions weren't too bad except for a few ice patches along the first mile stretch of paved road and some iced-over bridges on the gorgeous Bald Cypress and Osmanthus trails. The course follows two loops of First Landing State Park on the northern shores of Virginia Beach. I had hiked and biked the trails of this park with my dad since a little kid. Over the past few years, I've run it regularly when visiting my dad, getting to know many of the beautiful and gently rolling, tree-lined trails, most being a mix of hard-packed sand and dirt. With the swamps frozen over, it was an absolutely gorgeous run, despite the near constant sensation that alternated between discomfort and numbing pain in my lower right back. I had to take a number of stretching and walking breaks to get through the run, however to my surprise I was able to complete it in under 7 hours. Notable memories: Wearing multiple layers of bright gear (yellow shirt and orange vest) and still being cold at times, gorgeous trails with stunning views of iced-over swamps and moss hanging from trees, tripping three times (including once when walking), and power-hiking over parts of the last 5 miles of the run.
34. December 4, 2010: Woodside, CA; Woodside 50K Trail Run. My time: 6:45:22. My second time running this race, and as with 2 years ago, a near-perfect day for running -- a bit cooler and rainier (and thus mudier) than before, but good trail conditions just the same. I'm still mighty slow but only 4 minutes slower than 2 years earlier, plus everyone who beat me was at least 4 years younger in age. As before, I took a bad spill on the straight-away, this time picking up a bloody war wound to show for it. And as before, nausea set in on the last 5 miles of mostly downhill. Still, with fairly gently rolling hills, this course is generally to my liking, though with 4500 feet of elevation gain, it's not exactly a cakewalk. Notable memories: Coffee and pastries at the Woodside bakery before the race, nice undulating hills along the skyline ridge with a few glimpses of the peninsula's flatlands to the east, and the solitude of running canopied trails in another beautiful slice of the Bay Area.
33. October 30, 2010: Cobb, CA; Boggs Mountain Trail Race. My time: 7:23:30. A beautiful run in Boggs Mountain Demonstration Forest outside of Cobb, 2 hours north of San Francisco (between Calistoga and Clear Lake). The race is noteworthy for its race directors being among the fastest trail runners around, notably the blazingly speedy Leor Pantilat. It started with a cold morning huddle around a campfire. While over-cast, the temps warmed by mid-morning, prompting me to shed my long-sleeve at the half-way mark (the race's start/finish area). By early afternoon, however, it began to rain and by then I regreatted not having more substantial clothing. The course consisted mainly of single-track, highly runnable trails -- not too hilly, but just enough ups and downs to keep it interesting. The total elevation gain for the 50K (an outer loop followed by an inner loop) was 4,400 feet, run between 2,500 and 4,500 feet of elevation. In sections, there were a fair amount of rocks to negotiate and parts of the jeep trails were rutted in mud. I found the course a bit dizzying, with more zigs and zags than I'm used to. The race directors are to be credited for mixing things up, making sure runners rarely repeated a path, however at times it made for confusion. Often I wasn't sure whether I was on the right trail or not. There were no flags for course markings; just arrows and chalk at trail heads and turns. This meant running as much as 1-2 miles without any markings. The RDs said the course was "idiot proof" -- call me an idiot, but I'd have preferred more intermediate signs to provide peace of mind I wasn't heading off to never-never land on a remote trail in a remote forest. Another slow time, however given I was just 6 days off a 24-hour run, I was OK with my outing. This was the inaugural event. Given the beauty of the surroundings and prowess of the RDs, my guess is this will become a popular event fairly soon. Notable memories: Starting and ending in damp cold weather huddled around a campfire, seemingly endless single-track trails (especially between the 4th and 5th aid stations -- the longest 4.5 miles I've ever run), and the sight of spent shell casing along some trail sections with the uncomforting sound of shot-gun blasts in the background -- glad I was wearing a bright orange (Pemberton Trail) running shirt, partly in the spirit of Halloween weekend but also my tribute to the orange-and-black colors of the San Francisco Giants, who were about to play their 3rd game of the World Series.
Pre-race huddling around the campfire, in my bright-orange Halloween running shirt.
32. September 26, 2010: Santa Cruz, CA; Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Run (50.4K). My time: 7:36:30. Two out-and-backs, plus a side loop, on a toasty "Indian Summer" day in the Santa Cruz Mountains -- with around a mile elevation gain. Four waist-level cool-water river crossings provided welcomed relief from the heat but also meant running on soggy shoes in stretches. I again chaffed my inner-thighs badly partly because the vasoline I applied washed off when crossing the river. The oddest thing about this race was running on beach-like sand for several kilometers at the highest point of the course -- around 1,000 feet above sea level. It's as if many millineal ago the mountains were underwater and the mountain top is an ancient beach. This was my first Pacific Coast Trail run since Wendell left -- Sarah did a good job of keeping the tradition with some German guy evidently her new partner. Only complaint about the course was four 11Km stretches without an aid station -- more frequent access to ice would have helped. I think is the first time I was the oldest person running the race. I was slow but at least I beat 5 dudes younger than me. One other note: this was my 100th run of a formal race where I ran a marathon distance or longer (though in cases I DNFed after having run an ultra distance and in 1 case I was a safety patrol; it's my 94th completed run of a maraton distance or longer. Notable memories: Pretty shaded course with stretches along a stream, several sweeping panoramas of the Monterrey Bay, rapid heart beat in several stretches that required me to shut down for minutes at a time, and post-race, rushing to Berkeley's Shattuck Hotel for dinner with Ed Blakely and a group of 22 visiting Australians to discuss TOD -- transit oriented development.
31. August 14, 2010: Oakland, CA; Cinderella Trail Run. My time: 7:38:45. Two loops of the notorious French trail in Oakland's Redwood Park can take a lot out of you. This was my first run of an event sponsored by Coastal Trail Runs, a spin-off of Pacific Trail Runs. Pretty much the same formula...and same tough 50K. I wedged this in between a hectic summer travel schedule, thus I wasn't as trained as I would have preferred. Lots of up-and-down on this course, with some 5600 feet of elevation gain and drop. It's always nice running a race on a course that I train a fair amount on. As only 22 folks ran the 50K (versus 235 on shorter distance runs), much of the afternoon involved solo running -- my favorite type of run. Notable memories: Jellowjacket stung many runners (though I was fortunately spared, perhaps because I know where they swarm on this trail), some bad hamstring craps (despite taking lots of salt pills), and nice cool Bay Area summer weather.
Crossing the finish line (left) and post-race relaxing
30. June 13, 2010: Big Bear Lake, CA; Holcomb Valley 33 Mile Trail Race (course: 33 miles; I ran: ~ 35 miles). My time: 9:03:14. For the second week in a row, I took a wrong turn right after an aid station and got lost. Three of us made the same mistake, running as a pack through a meadow after the 15 mile marker. I suspected something was awry because I saw no orange ribbons (though it was an open field with few things to hang a ribbon on). I finally found a ribbon however it was a marker for the returning leg of the run. Running wizard Michelle Barton was hammering down the course en route to the finish, thus I knew we were way off mark. (Oddly, I saw Michelle in a similar position in the prior week at the Shadow of the Giants run when I then too took a wrong turn.) I felt sorry for the woman with us because this was her first ultra and she followed me down the wrong path. After standing around and reading a map, we were lucky that a safety patrol in a golf cart came by and gave us a lift back to the aid station where we made the wrong turn. Enough drama for the day, I thought, by no...When heading back to the aid station, there was a car in the middle of the fire trail road with an open door that blocked our passage. All of a sudden, a woman jumped out of the car and accused her husband of hitting her. She was in a stage of semi-shock, with cell phone in hand trying to call for help. One of the guys in the safety patrol was a police officer for San Bernardino County and he proceeded to arrest the husband while the three of us runners watched in dis-belief. Anyway, after running 2 extra miles and some 45 minutes later, we finally made it back to the aid station. This episode made for a very slow run on my part, however so did the course itself. This run is brutal, owing mainly to the altitutde. It starts at a picnic grounds off of Big Bear Lake, at 6750 feet and reaches a height of more than 8200 feet. It's pretty much constant up and down, with around half the course run on a very rocky, ankle-twisting section of the Pacific Coast Trail. By the second half of the run, I was feeling the effects of altitude and had a hard time running up even the gentlest uphills. Even downhill running became taxing. I thus was reduced to a fast-paced walk for much of the later part of the course. While tough, this was exactly the kind of course I was looking for as a training run for up-and-coming Western States. I was on my feet at high altitude for over 9 hours, thus it was a very good workout. I really didn't care about my time -- good thing given the detour I took -- as long as I was on my feet for a fairly long period, which indeed was the case. I seem to be jinxed when it comes to running 50K++ courses. This is the third I've run in the 32-35 mile range and in each instance I missed a turn off, adding to my mileage. Notable memories: Panting for air throughout this up-and-down course, having chatting yuppy runners on my heels on single-track trails thoughout the first half of the race, avoiding tumbles and falls despite a very rock course, and completing my last two months of tough "training runs" for Western States without suffering an injury.
29. June 5, 2010: Fish Camp, CA; Shadow of the Giants 50K+ (32+ miles). My time: 7:31:15. I knew I was in for an interesting day when I checked into Room 213 of my hotel in Oakhurst and later picked up my bib, #13, at the check-in for the run, held at Green Meadows Outdoor School in Fish Camp, a mile south of Yosemite National Park. For me, this was another training run in preparation for Western States, thus I opted to take it easy. Run at 5000 to 6000 feet elevation with some 6000 feet of elevation gain and loss -- plus the fact there was snow and downed trees on parts of the course -- this run is hardly a piece of cake. It's a gorgeous course, run along fire trails and single track, surrounded by tall pines and big fat sequioas. The race is organized by a former resident of Fish Camp, a foul-mouth, swaggering former Brit named Baz. He pulls the ropes to get special permission to mount this course, certainly one of the visually attractive ones I've run. The course was altered (and shortened, from 34 to 32 miles) from prior years due to snowed-in trails. The altered course is said to have more elevation gain and loss than the original one, including a long four-mile out (down) and back (up) to Sugar Pine. Where I got apparently got jinxed (i.e., number 13) is I missed a left turn right after an aid station on a big loop some 12 miles into the run. I ran some 30 minutes without seeing another runner, wondering whether I was lost but noticing nonetheless the orange market ribbons. Only when I reached the next aid station did I discover I was running the loop in the opposite direction of the others! No big deal. I simply did the Sugar Pine 8-mile out-and-back before most of the other runners (though the very leaders were already in this section), and proceeded to run the rest of the loop in reverse, ending up covering every foot of the course. Lots of runners told me "you're running the wrong way"...after a while, I tired of explaining to them what was going on. I enjoyed the solitude of running alone the last part of the course. I met up with the other runners 4 miles from the finished and ended as everyone else at Green Meadows, met by Sophia who had a much-welcomed iced towell and diet coke waiting at the finish. Notable memories: Running mainly with LA-area runners, seeing a bushy tailed fox dashing in front of me, the antics of the race director (Baz), and the cold shower in the barracks near the finish line.
28. May 23, 2010: Fremont-Livermore CA; Ohlone Wilderness Run 50K. My time: 7:36:12. Having run this course 3 years earlier, I knew I was in for a tough outing though the amount of seemingly non-stop uphill still took me by surprise. I was 26 minutes slower than last time, despite nearly ideal weather conditions (an unusually cool May for the Bay Area this year), however I was OK with my run -- lots of folks struggled. Summiting Mission Peak followed by Mount Rose, with lots of in-between ups-and-downs, means there really are no flat sections on this coure. I picked up a blister on the bottom of my heel on the final steep downhill to De Valle Park in Livermonre. Notable memories: A stiff wind atop Mount Rose, power-hiking the steep slopes, and the fine barbeque at the picnic area at the end of the race.
27. April 17, 2010: San Francisco, CA; Ruth Anderson 50K. My time: 6:46:01. My third running of this course, the experience matched two years earlier -- running the course hardly at 100% with doubts I would even finish. This time around I had a really sore left bumm/hip from having run the American River 50 miler the previous weekend. For some reason, I ended up with a really sore butt cheek after that run. I didn't run the entire week leading up to Ruth Anderson and frankly was resigned to simply walking one or two laps of Lake Merced just to spend some time on my feet. I ended up doing a slow trot and before I knew it, I was into my routine. While very slow, as two years earlier, I was surprised I even finished. In hindsight, I shouldn't have done the run because I'm paying the price with a really sore rear two days after. I'm frankly worried that the down time will take me out of WS100 in late June. I'm scheduled to run a marathon next weekend...we'll see if I recover in time. Notable memories: The monotony of the course, which I'm well familiar with now having done 21 laps (93 miles) over the past 3 years, not ever having gone on to do the 50 mile version of this run (which I was resigned to given my injury, but was planning to do prior to the injury), and the familiar sound of loud gun blasts near the shooting range at the southern end of Lake Merced.
Struggling toward the finish on a bad left bumm.
26. January 23, 2010: Pacifica, CA; Pacifica Trail Run. My time: 8:03:10. This was my second running of this tough course and boy have I slowed -- it took me 1 hour and 13 minutes more time than three years earlier, despite the course having been shortened by a half kilometer with 400 feet less elevation gain. However there were some extenuating circumstances: the Bay Area had almost non-stop rain much of the week before, thus despite the weather for the run being ideal (low 50s with clouds and at times only a light sprinkle), the course itself was a mess -- muddy and sloppy. I and others were "a slippin and a slidin" throughout the day. Also, I might have been suffering a bit of jet lag -- I arrived from Abu Dhabi, exactly 12 time zones and some 20+ hours away, just 2 days previously. I had little training -- partly because of the flying (almost as much time getting to and from the middle East as the 3 days I was there) but also because I had sprained my right ankle doing an evening run on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi (I heavily taped the ankle and it generally held up fine). Last, I thought trail shoes would do the trick; while they provided much-needed grip, my toe box was evidently too short for I was slamming by big toe on the steep downhills throughout the day and as time wore on, I was hobbling with a bright-red, bloated big toe and a black toenail to boot. My toe became infected (from the nail jamming into the inner toe) which required a week of antibiotics to heal. Even in ideal conditions this is a tough run and while I wasn't surprised by my time (I was looking for 7-8 hours on my feet as a training run for an upcoming 100 miler), I thought I could have done better than next-to-last place in the 50K. The two steep climbs to North Peak (each around 2000 feet rises) took their toll, followed by the 3 switchback-laden loops of the the Hazelnut trail which wore me down by the end of the day. I got in my training run but boy was it painful. Notable memories: a mudfest wherein I did several face plants and was a filthy mess by the end of the race and several times sliding down backwards on a steep downhill part of the Hazelnut trail, the last-time wherein my hamstring locked up and I could barely move for several minutes.
25. December 19, 2009: Marin County, CA; Rodeo Beach Trail Run. My time: 6:44:14. This was my third running of a slightly altered course -- because one of the trails was washed out, the run out of Rodeo Beach followed a northeasterly fire trail that eventually dropped into Tennessee Valley aid station. The altered course shaved around 200 feet in elevation, though it's still a fairly demanding run of some 5800 feet of elevation gain. The weather was a bit brisk and windy. Most folks ran with windbreakers -- I was one of the few in a short-sleeved shirt. While I was considerably slower than my run of the somewhat tougher course three years ago, I was 15 minutes faster than when I ran the course two years yonder. This year, the run sold out, quite a change from three years ago when there were only 40 runners. Notable memories: breezy weather, the steep stairs at Pirate Cove, and running with four colorfully dressed elfen, all of whom beat me!
24. August 2, 2009: Castro Valley, CA; Skyline 50K (51K - 31.65 miles). My time: 7:13:17. At around mile 13 on the east ridge of Redwood Park, I was attacked by a white mini schnauzer who snipped some skin off the back of my right leg, that delicate section behind the petella. The dog wasn't on a leash, and of course the owner had the typical response: "That's the first time he's ever done that". I could have dabbled around getting information on the dog; instead I asked the owner to report the incident to the volunteers at the aid station (Skyline Gate), which she fortunately did, and continue along. I called the owner back that evening and fortunately it was verified the dog has all his vaccinations. Yippee...no painful anti-rabies shots in the stomach! I've been approached by aggressive dogs while running in the past though this is the first time I've ever been bitten. That's why we have leash laws...to prevent dogs from doing things their owners never would have expected...it's a primal instinct. Otherwise, the race was uneventful notwithstanding my tortoise-like speed. When I ran this race 2 years earlier, I was nearly 80 minute -- or 2 1/2 minutes per mile -- faster... and that was after running the San Francisco marathon the previous weekend and the Vermont 100 miler 2 weeks before! I could blame the lethargic pace on the dog bite as well as the fact my ankle from a bad sprain 2 weeks earlier was only about 70% healed (it was heavily taped) and I was thus pretty undertrained. I had no illusions I was going to have fast times and indeed did the run mainly to get some 6-7 hours of sweat-time in...but I didn't realize I'd be that slow...my second slowest 50K ever on one of the easier trail courses -- moderately hilly, with 4750 feet of elevation gain. I'm accepting the fact that age and years of pounding are taking their toll on my speed and at this point am just out there trying to move the body more than hitting any time target. Regardless, Skyline 50 is a nice, small local race on a lovely course thus I still enjoyed my slow and measured run. Notable memories: The not so friendly encounter with a snippy dog, vistas of Lake Chabot, the always-challenging French trail in Redwood Park, seeing all the local ultra speedsters, and the sumptuous post-race barbeque near the Lake Chabot marina.
23. June 6, 2009: Auburn, CA; Auburn Trail 50K+ (course: 34 miles; I ran > 35 miles). My time: 8:14:44. Challenging trail run with all kinds of twists and turns. It's a lollipop course, with a short out-and-back "stick" and two big counter-clockwise loops from Auburn (partly on the Western States trail) to the town of Cool and back. On the second loop, I took a wrong turn on the sporadically marked trail, began running what turned out to be the wrong direction, and ended up on Highway 49. I couldn't find my way back to the trail thus I had no choice but to follow Highway 49 down to No Hands Bridge. This was quite scary because there was no place to run other than on the edge of the road (usually squeezed between the white line and a granite wall). I had to constantly dodge streams of cars and trucks that were barreling down the road, coming around blind turns. At a number of points, I had to stop on the edge of the road and wait minutes till the traffic cleared. Drivers must have thought I was an escaped convict of something -- this ragged looking guy running a stretches of road that no one in their right mind would venture. I finally linked back to the trail but lost a lot of time and ended up running several extra miles. Without question, this was the most poorly organized race I've ever participated in. I registered the morning of the race -- in part because I had not trained and having been in Asia the previous week wasn't sure I could do it. I paid $70, plus $7 for my son, Chris (who turned 18 this very day!), to enjoy the post-race barbeque. After paying, I was told there were no more tee-shirts, thus the $75 registration fee was dropped to $70 (big deal). After busting my butt on a tough up-and-down course, it was frustrating to finally cross the finish line and to have nothing to show for my efforts -- no tee-shirt, no memento, no nothing! I should have known this would be a poorly organized affair -- the web site had no map of the course and no information on elevation gain. I thought it would be a fairly manageable run, however I under-estimated the amount of elevation gain going in and out of the American River canyons. The footing was also bad in many spots. Twice, 50Kers had to get up the Olmstead Grade, a steep hike that had to be over 60% slope in a number of places. All that the runners knew about the course was the race director's description 5 minutes before the run, which meant nothing to me and others not from the area since I was clueless about particular landmarks that were mentioned. Many runners were complaining about how poorly this race was organized and documented. I assume I wasn't the only one to get lost -- I heard later that the front-runner went the wrong way, forcing him to give up the lead; after the race, he demanded a refund! This was by far my slowest 50K to date, although I ended up running more than 50K and expected a slow time since I really had not done any long runs since my 50K a month-and-a-half previously. I simply wanted to spend around 8 hours on my feet to get a good sweat and work out. The day started out with great conditions -- cool and overcast -- but quickly warmed up; by early afternoon, the canyons had to be in the 80s. The last 4+ miles of the course was also no treat -- mainly uphill from No Hands Bridge to Auburn Lookout. I was de-hydrated, dizzy, and reduced largely to a walk/slow shuffle. The only good thing I have to say about this run was a nice post-race barbeque, even though I was too drained to eat much. Notable memories: Getting up at 3:30AM for the several hour drive to Auburn, spending the morning, post-race time, and drive home with my son, Chris, who celebrated his 18th birthday, getting served by the legendary ultrarunner, Helen Klein, twice at one of the Cool aid stations (she cheerfully filled my bottle with ice and water), and just missing stepping on a rattlesnake that slithered across the trail in front of me along the long uphill trek back to the Auburn Overlook.
Post-Race, with Chris on his 18th birthday!
22. April 18, 2009: San Francisco, CA; Ruth Anderson 50K. My time: 6:08:25. A disappointing day in good part because I was aiming to run the 50 mile version of this race in hopes of going under 11 hours in order to run Western States 100 in 2010 (which I'm eligible for due to the two-time loser rule). However after 7 laps, I really didn't have it in me to run 4 more, thus I dropped at the 50K mark...as did most runners. It was a bit on the warm side and by seven laps, I was feeling dizzy and de-hydrated. I was probably smart to stop at the 50K point...the same run I did a year before (albeit on a really bad hamstring, and 53 minutes slower)...however it's no fun running 31 miles yet feeling disappointed at the end. Notable memories: Training for the mental boredom of looping a 4.5 mile lake multiple times by running numerous loops around Oakland's Lake Merritt the previous two weekends and while running Lake Merced in San Fran, passing a dead duck, an active firing range, and the same two aid stations on seven occasions.
21. March 21, 2009: Marin Headlands, CA; Pirates Cove 50K Trail Run. My time: 7:13:40. Wet, cold, and blustery. With 6,000 feet of elevation gain, this was a tough run. By the 2nd loop, a storm had passed through, producing driving rain and chilly winds off the Pacific. This became a death march making it to the finish. I've run various versions on this course on a number of occasions, thus I knew what I was in for -- lots of elevation gain and drop. Still, the sweeping vistas of the Pacific and occasional glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco's skyline makes this a special run, not withstanding all the huffing and puffing. Notable memories: Feeling damp and cold.
20. March 7, 2009:De Soto National Forest, MI; Mississippi 50 Trail Run (31.9 miles). My time: 7:08:40. A hot, sweaty day running through the gently rolling hills along the Longleaf Horse Trail of southeast Mississippi. I had intended to run the 50 mile version of this race, however runners had the option of dropping down to the shorter 50K+ distance -- something that I, and indeed many of the 50 milers, did because of the grueling heat. It got into the low 80s by midday and absent much in the way shade, the bright sun and stickiness began to punish runners. The race organizers modified the course this year because of a controlled forest burn, which had runners doing some out-and-back sections. They also said it would be fairly dry. In Mississippi, I guess dry is relative -- there was lots of mud and some creek crossings, which meant running in soaking wet shoes most of the time. I linked this run to a business trip back east, trying to get a long run in, but the elements did me and many other runners in. This was the first hot day of the year in the deep south -- if the race had been the prior week, it would have been in the 50s. Regardless, I enjoyed spending a bright, sunny Saturday with a bunch of good ole trail-running southern boys and gals. Notable memories: Feeling cooked from the bright sun after the first loop, the friendliness of southerners, barely missing a dog crossing a rural road en route to the race early Saturday morning and nearly flipping my rental car over, and seeing all the Dixie flags waiving in the front yards of Mississippi rural homesteads when driving back to Mobile, Alabama to catch my flight home.
19. December 13, 2008: Muir Beach, CA; Muir Beach 50K Trail Run. My time: 7:20:38. Challenging run, with 7130 feet of elevation gain and loss, in the Marin Headlands. My slowest 50K to date, partly because I ran a 50K the prior weekend, but also lots of climbing, plus I lost my water bottle, thus I slowed down the last half of the race to stave off dehydration. It was suppose to be a nasty day, however except for a brief shower and cooling temps in afternoon, it was actually quite nice. The course has some great vistas: the Pacific Ocean, Sausalito and the Bay, the San Francisco skyline, and lots of rolling hills. The first 3 miles were crowded, with hundreds of runners doing the shorter distances however the last half was mainly solo running. Notable memories: Seeing a bobcat cross the trail in front of me heading into Tennessee Valley, getting beaten by Santa Claus (ultrarunner Fred Eks, who ran dressed as Santa), seeing one of my Berkeley students at the start who ran a fast 33K, and once again, ending the day with a hot tub soak at Oakwood fitness center in Lafayette.
18. December 6, 2008: Woodside, CA; Woodside 50K Trail Run. My time: 6:41:01. Perfect day for running -- bright skies in the 60s, shaded by a canopy of redwoods along (and below) Skyline Drive in the Bay Area's peninsula. I continue to plod along slowly, though I cut more than a half hour off my previous 50K despite a tougher course (over 4500 feet of elevation gain). I lost some time by making a wrong turn on the mostly out-and-back course (with two long and mostly up-and-down loops on both ends). The mostly single track trail was runable throughout, though I clipped roots and took three bad downhill falls, two of which were face plants. I also twisted my ankle twice, though not badly. I continue to have stomach problems on these long runs, despite taking salt pills and drinking a lot. Notable memories: Nice winter day gliding atop the hilly peninsula punctuated by relaxing in the hot tub following the run at Oakwood, my local fitness center.
17. September 20, 2008: Big Basin, Santa Cruz, CA; Skyline to the Sea Trail Run. My time: 7:12:20. This was the inaugural run of a beautiful, mostly single-track trail from the top of northwestern Santa Cruz County, along the Skyline, to the Pacific Ocean, run substantially through Big Basin Park. While mainly downhill (5600 foot drop), there were plenty of uphills (3000 foot rise) -- mostly an up-and-down course on a declining slope to the sea. Many runners PR'ed; for me, it was a PW (personal worst). Why so slow? The simple answer -- I'm a shadow of my former running self. This has been a bad running year; I've been saddled with injuries throughout. While I've mostly overcome my nagging hamstring problems, I still have a bone spur in my left heel and tendinitis in my right knee. I can no long sustain a steady gate -- I sort of wobble side-to-side and can't follow a straight line. With a 5 month hiatus from long-distance trail running, I'm also not in the shape I once was. A big problem is caloric deficit -- I can no longer keep food down, thus four hours into a run, my strength is pretty much zapped. In this run, as with other recent ones, I threw up and after discharging what I had eaten at the aid stations, I had dry heaves -- on what two years ago would have been an easy run, likely a personal best. Heck, I even ran faster on a bad leg five months earlier, per the blog below. It's probably time to hang up this ultra stuff -- doesn't seem to be in the cards for me. That notwithstanding, the trail itself is quite nice. The first part of the course was a bit crowded -- runners in front and behind. Also, as with my Big Basin 50K a year earlier, there were yellow-jacket problems -- I got tagged in the back of the head and in the back. At points, the footing was tough. A nice run to recommend, though I'd do it again only if I were in much better shape. Notable memories: Bonking around two-thirds through the run, the 14K it took to get to the last aid station, and trying to dodge angry yellow-jackets when there was no choice but to try to run through them, as fast as one could.
16. April 19, 2008: San Francisco, CA; Ruth Anderson 50K. My time: 7:01:45. While a very slow run on a fast, easy course that encircles San Francisco's Lake Merced 7 times, I was as proud of this run as any. It wasn't suppose to be. Three weeks earlier, I tore a hamstring muscle on the tough (and inaugural) Terrapin Trail Marathon in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I caught a rock on a steep downhill section at mile 11, taking a bad spill that tore my left hamstring. I hobbled to mile 17 in excruciating pain before I was could exit the course, getting a ride back to the start. I was thus out of commission, not able to run the 3 weeks leading up to the Ruth Anderson 50K/50M/100K race. Before my injury, I was planning to run 50 miles around Lake Merced. The night before the race, feeling bummed that I wouldn't be able to run this race, I told myself I'd head on over to Lake Merced and cheer the other runners on and perhaps even walk one or two laps. The race director, Rajeev Patel, kindly gave me the option of rolling my registration over to next year's race. When I arrived at the lake early Saturday morning, with the winds kicking up at 40+ mph and an unusual chill in the air for late April, I was fairly bundled up, prepared to start the race with the other runners. When the gun went off at the start line, I began walking while everyone else took off. After about a quarter mile, I decided to try a slow jog. Some 50 minutes later, with a bouts of pain in my left leg, I was amazed I had managed to complete one lap. By then the sun had broken out but it was still quite nippy; I was wearing a long-sleeve and a short sleeve tee-shirt, plus a sleeve-less windbreaker and gloves, yet I was still cold, in part because I was walking part of the way. After one lap, I told myself, "quit while your ahead", but a little voice inside me said it's a nice, sunny morning, if not a bit nippy, so why not walk another lap to be in the elements with fellow runners, enjoy the moment, and perhaps even loosen up the hamstring some. Thus I started the second lap, and as before, began alternating between walking and a slow shuffle. Some of the faster runners had already passed me early into my second lap. After lap two, my hamstring was protesting and I told Rajeev and the lap counters that I was done for the day. However for whatever reason, I mentioned I might try to walk one more lap just to "keep moving" and burn off some calories. One of the lap counters told me to hold on to my number; you never know, he noted -- perhaps you'll want to do another lap after that. Anyway, some 55 minutes later I had completed another lap, and the rational, left hemisphere of my brain told me to not go overboard and jeopardize long-term injury -- quit while you're ahead and save yourself for the possibility of running two other much tougher 50K trail runs I had signed up for the next month. Just when I was ready to throw in the towel after a half-marathon distance, an older woman mentioned to me that "you're almost halfway done". Some 3 hours into the race, I rationalized that the cut-off time was 11 hours and even if I did nothing but walk the remaining 18 miles, it'd be better than sitting. Thus I set a goal of basically being on my feet for 7+ hours, sharing the path with top-flight ultra-runners doing the 50 miler and 100K. Mentally, the toughest loop was the 5th one, when cumulative effects of running on a bum leg were starting be felt. By that point, however, I determined to test my mental toughness and for better or worse, soldiered on. By lap 6, I actually started to pass some runners and psychologically was in a better state because I knew I was going to finish a ultra-run I thought earlier that day was impossible. Lap 7 turned out to be the most enjoyable because the end was in sight. When I crossed the 50K mark, cheered on by Rajeev and others, I was on cloud nine. While an incredibly slow and arduous journey, I actually finished ahead of three other runners. The blustery winds prompted some runners to drop out early and many folks who planned to run farther opted to stop at 50K. While my hamstring recovery no doubt suffered a setback, it didn't feel too much worse the day after the run than it had the day before. Overall, a crazy outing for me, and while I might have been foolish to try this with an unhealed injury, I had a sense of accomplishment unlike any run I've done before. Notable memories: Notwithstanding the monotony of staring at the same scenery at a slow pace and battling continuous bouts of discomfort and pain over 7 hours, this was indeed an event for the memory books. I was happier spending that Saturday morning walking/jogging and marveling at some of the fast athletes who passed me on numerous occasions than sitting at home, sulking over not being able to do the run. Also memorable was passing gun blasts on seven different occasions -- a firing range lies at the south end of Lake Merced, with rifle-wielding shooters blasting away at targets in the water as runners passed by. Thank God for my ipod, that help muffle what otherwise would have been ear-piercing gun blasts over a half mile stretch of the course.
15. January 20, 2008: Calico, CA; Calico Trail Run (53 Km). My time: 7:02:41. Pleasant though fairly tough trail run that loops the rocky slopes outside of Calico, a resurrected ghost town in California's Mojave desert. Weather was ideal -- sunny, in the 50s and 60s. Should have worn trail shoes -- lots of rocks and scree had me slipping and a sliding on the hilly slopes. Was also quite windy. The gusting Santa Ana winds blew my runner's cap into a mountain wash. Ran a slow, conservative race in preparation for an upcoming long run. The course added a 2 mile out-and-back section that not everyone ran, making it 32 miles for those who did, myself included. Notable memories: Dodging around a dozen brand-new Hummers filled with what looked to be very attractive models, evidently heading for some kind of advertising shoot in the desert and seeing the Calico name etched into the hillside upon the return, running through the town's dusty main street to the finish line.
14. December 22, 2007: Marin County, CA; Rodeo Beach Trail Run (50.3 Km). My time: 6:59:58. Second time I've run this race, much slower than the first. The revised course is a bit shorter and has 600 feet less elevation gain, however it took me around 54 minutes longer to complete the run than last year. Having just flown in from Beijing, China the prior day might have had something to do with the sluggish performance however I've no doubt slowed -- the proverbial tortoise. Notable memories: Views of the Golden Gate Bridge, both times on the Marin Headlands ridge line heading toward the start/finish line.
13. September 16, 2007: Big Basin, CA; Big Basin Redwood Trails Run 50K. My time: 7:02:26. Ouch! This one will go down in the memory bank as fighting off the yellow jackets from hell and losing. Tough course run through the the towering redwoods of Big Basin state park in the mountains of Santa Cruz county. It's two continuously up-and-down loops, each run twice, with a total elevation gain of 6300 feet. At around the half-way juncture of the first loop, I and every other runner got tagged by a swarming band of angry yellow jackets. At the first attack, I got stung at least 7 times -- on the head, ear, neck, legs, hands, and back. Two miles later there was another hive. This time, I thought I'd try to run around them, off-trail. Mistake! I got stuck in the middle of the hive, on a steep slope, and with no footing. This time, I got hit at least 10 times. Approaching and leaving each yellow jacket juncture, you could hear the screams of runners echoing through the canyons. A number of people bailed, simply turning around and ending their race. I was about to do the same and sure wasn't going to do this same loop a second time. Pacific Coast Trail Runs opted to change the course for the second loop, having runners do an out-and-back along a section without yellow jackets. The other loop, a 10K, fortunately was bee-free. I failed to bust 7 hours, however it was a very tough and long course (over 50k). Yes slow, however I still finished finished in 20th place out of 60 who registered for the 50K -- a number of folks bailed mid-race. Oh, the trials and tribulation of trail ultras -- so many things can get you, including nasty little flying critters. Notable memories: Running for 6 hours feeling like a pin cushion, with piercing bee stings all over my body.
12. September 2, 2007: Pollock Pines, CA; Run on the Sly 50K. My time: 6:48:21. Hot and dusty -- with temps in the 90s-100s and clouds of dust along the trails, this one was grueling at times. It's a scenic course, run along the Sly River, around Jenninson Lake, and through the pine trees of the Sierra foothills. The tall pines provided welcome shade in the morning, however by midday, the overhead sun began to beat down mercilessly. The race started at 8AM, which meant for mid-pack runners like myself, we got the full brunt of the sun in the early afternoon. Patches of trails in open fields invited early afternoon temps near 100. At times, I had a baggie of ice on my head, which provided brief relief before the rapid melt. The race organizers really should start the run earlier to avoid the hard-hitting Labor Day weekend sun -- pretty much a guarantee in this part of Northern California. Running through the creek at the spillover was nice. With elevations in the 4000 ft. range, I was relieved that there was also no poison oak. Spent the Labor Day weekend with my family in Placerville. Sophia and the kids greeted me at the 19-mile Mormon Emigrant aid station with a cold, wet towel, change of shirt, and a vanilla shake. Notable memories: Heat and dust, gently rolling terrain around gleaming Jennison Lake, and a refreshing cold shower followed by a chicken burrito at the finish line.
11. August 26, 2007: Oakland, CA; Redwood Park 50K. My time: 6:32:24. Three loops around Redwood Park. First loop was overcast but things heated up for the 2nd and 3rd. Some steep sections. I trained on the course the week before thus I knew what was in store. Notable memories: Variety of terrain, canopy of redwood trees, and taking three falls that removed skin.
10. August 5, 2007: Castro Valley, CA; Skyline 50K (51K - 31.65 miles). My time: 5:54:53. I've always wanted to run this race but in the past I've been away on vacation the first week of August. I was able to cancel a scheduled trip to China, allowing me to finally run this race. Running in "my own back yard" is always enjoyable...and convenient. The course covers roughly the first three-fifths of October's Firetrail 50 miler, running from the marina in Lake Chabot along the ridgelines to Skyline Gate and back -- in the opposite (clockwise) direction and with more single track. A pleasant run, with some 4750 feet of elevation gain. Conditions were perfect -- in the 60s, and at the end of the race, actually a light drizzle. Rain, in the Bay Area, in August? Who would have thunk? It's days like these I'm reminded how privileged I am to live in the Bay Area. While the rest of the country is sizzling in sticky heat, it's a cool, overcast running day in the East Bay. Notable memories: Cloudy skies, running along ridgelines as well as through canopies of tall trees, seeing pretty much the same ole Bay Area ultra crowd, and the hearty post-race barbeque.
9. May 20, 2007: Fremont-Livermore CA; Ohlone Wilderness Run 50K. My time: 7:10:21. This certainly lived up to its billing as one of the toughest 50K's around. With two steady climbs to the peaks of Mission Peak in Fremont and Mount Rose west of Livermore and some 8000 feet of elevation gain, this one's a constant grind. Quite a month of trail running it's been, marked by my toughest 50K, 50 miler, and marathon. The Sunol aid station at mile 9 is the point of no return -- it's pure wilderness till the finish at Del Valle park; with no interior roads, the only way out is to press onward. As the 20th anniversary of this race, the race directors pulled out all the stops on this one, starting with transporting the runners from the finish to the start in stretch limos. Though my slowest 50K, I finished in the middle of the pack; for some, it took over 11 hours to negotiate the non-stop hills and drops. With few shade trees and the sun beating down, one's constantly fighting the elements from start to finish. Ohlone's only for the hardiest of souls. Notable memories: Besides getting to the start via limousine, chatting with the legendary Ann Trayson and Carl Anderson who were manning the aid station at mile 14 and enjoying a lavish barbeque at the finish, a welcomed feast for a tough day of trail running.
8. March 10, 2007: Cool, CA; Way Too Cool 50K. My time: 6:13:34. Billed as the most popular 50K in the U.S., the 2007 race filled the 450 available slots within 7 minutes! And they all came to run the mostly single-track trails. While a beautiful course, for me, Way Too Cool was Way Too Crowded. Pretty much the entire way, people were on my heels and in front. When it comes to trials, I'm into solitude, thus it really wasn't my thing. The race draws all the serious runners from the Auburn area, which bills itself as "the endurance running capital of the world". Many were training for Western States 100 and probably half will run the American River 50 next month. The skies were sunny and the weather was balmy -- in the high 70s in the river canyons. The course has lots of gently rolling sections and 3 fairly steep climbs that required me to crawl on all fours in parts. And it has all the trappings of a good trail run -- rocks, roots, stream crossings, mud, and lots of elevation gain and downhills. I felt sluggish most of the run, mostly likely due to having just flown in from Brisbane, Australia less than 2 days before. Notable memories: Hearing croaking sounds from the race's mascot, the frog, along the stream beds, passing a memorial to a woman killed by a mountain lion while training for the race in 1984, and having my family greet me when I turned the bend to the straightaway finish.
7. January 20, 2007: Pacifica, CA; Pacifica Trail Run (50.5 K). My time: 6:50:17. Tough run, this one was: 7100 feet of elevation gain involving three up-and-down loops and two climbs to the top of North Peak and back down. There were really no flat sections to this course -- just a series of rises and drops. Some of the sections were steep, thus I did a fair amount of power hiking by the latter loops. Rocks and roots made the run all the more challenging. The weather was gorgeous however -- low 60s and blue skies. The field was a bit crowded, with the vast majority of runners doing the 9K, 21K, or 30K. Thus traffic on the mostly single-track trails for the first loop and out-and-back was bumper-to-bumper. While I was bone tired, I enjoyed the solitariness of the latter part of the run the most. This was my slowest but also the toughest 50K to date. Notable memories: meeting true-blue ultra-runners before and after the race (including a guy who had run the tough HURT 100 the week before) and hopping on a red-eye to Washington DC several hours after finishing the race.
6. December 23, 2006: Marin County, CA; Rodeo Beach Trail Run (50.3 Km). My time: 6:06:41.This one had all the elements: beautiful vistas (Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, Sausalito), steep single-track trails, fire roads, rocks, mud, running on sand, and sharing narrow ledges with horses. Starting at Rodeo Beach near the Golden Gate and running through the Marin Headlands, 6200 feet of elevation gain spread over five steep slopes made this a tough one. Though parts of the trail were muddy, otherwise the conditions were near perfect: temps in the 60s, somewhat cloudy with breaks of sunshine, and a gorgeous day all around. I was happy with my time given all the trail climbing. Having put in a 100+ mile week while in Hong Kong a week earlier evidently paid off -- except for sore quads on the last steep downhill, I generally felt fine throughout. 2006 was quite a running year for me: 17 "marathons and beyond": 9 ultras (three 50 milers, six 50Ks) & 8 marathons. While I slowed down some, I extended my distances, jumping into the world of ultras. I enjoy ultra-running mainly because the edge is off: it's less competitive, there's less hype, courses are varied and surprises always lie ahead, and the low-keyed culture of ultras suits my taste. I plan to continue running road marathons, though trail ultras are what excite me, at least for now. Notable memories: Catching the sunrise over San Francisco from the Golden Gate lookout, enjoying the sweeping panoramic views of the Pacific and San Francisco Bay from the top of the Marin Headlands, and reflecting on the contrast of ultra-running versus what I would be doing the next day: spending Christmas Eve in Kauai with my family!
5. November 4, 2006: Granite Bay-Folsom, CA; Helen Klein Ultra Classic - 50K. My time: 5:19:42. Beautiful day for a Saturday morning run on the long bike-path that hugs the American River east of Sacramento. It's an out-and-back along a flat to gently rolling course from Granite Bay to beyond Folsom and back. Still, the gentle uphill on the return was noticeable after some 40k of running. The bike-path was quite busy, with cyclists whizzing by, joined by strollers, joggers and day-trippers. It was supposed to be overcast, but turned out a bright, sunny day -- so warm, in fact, I took my shirt off most the run. I used this as a training run for an upcoming 50 miler. I didn't push it and was reasonably happy with my time -- all 50Kers ahead of me were two or more years younger. Most people did the full 50 mile course. It's a loyal group of ultrarunners who populate this part of the country -- many knew each other and were quite chummy. The run is a great tribute to Helen Klein, the matriarch of ultrarunning, with her husband, Norm, as RD. Notable memories: A gently rolling terrain, a break from the ups-and-downs of my past ultras, plus having some cranky cyclist yell at me as he came flying by: "put your shirt on!", as if running shirtless somehow offended him; my inner response was what's your problem, man! I'm sweating bullets in this hot sun, so why should you or anyone else care if I'm running topless. Geez!
4. September 17, 2006: Salt Point State Park, Sonoma Coast, CA; Salt Point Trail Run (50.5 Km). My time: 6:36:51. Lots of up and down on this one, with the only reasonably flat sections along the shoreline. One of the most spectacular runs I've ever done, notwithstanding being one of the toughest (5000 feet elevation gain). It's four loops (15K, 11K, 9K, 15K) through the coastal hills of Sonoma County, treating runners to tall redwoods, pigmy forests, and great seashore vistas. It was also one of the my most solitary runs -- most of the time, I was by my lonesome. Footing was tricky in many spots; getting into and out of Stump Beach required dropping and climbing on all fours. I took four hard spills on downhill sections. At the 30K mark, I badly sprained my left ankle. I thought I'd have to drop. I took it easy and gingerly negotiated the last 20K on a really sore ankle -- good enough to finish 4th out of 10 finishers (three 50Kers dropped out). Elevation changes and bright sunny weather (mid-80s) made this a "measured" run for most. I used it as a training run for upcoming 50 milers but continuing on a twisted ankle could end up backfiring. Was proud my 15-year old, Chris, did the 11K. Also nice: dropping into the start/finish area on 3 occasions to greet my family. Notable memories: Sore quads from the downhill pounding and an even sorer left ankle, beautiful but challenging course with lots of variety, and the peacefulness of running solo most of the time, surrounded by redwoods, birds, ocean cliffs, and stunning vistas of the Sonoma coast.
Kristen meeting up with her dad after the first loop (left) and final loop (right) toward the finish line.
3. July 15, 2006: Mt. Ashland, OR; Siskiyou Out Back (S.O.B.). My time: 6:30:15. Four things conspired to make this one of the toughest runs I've ever done: altitude, elevation gain, weather, and bugs. This lollipop course (out-and-back with a loop) was between 6000 and 7200 feet, starting at the Mt. Ashland ski lodge. Second, there were no flat sections -- constant up-and-down, with 4200 feet of elevation gain. Third, temps were in the high-80s -- a cloudless day with bright scorching skies. Last, throughout the run, nasty dragonflies, bees, and other critters buzzed around my head. Despite the hardships, it's a beautiful course along the single-track Pacific Coast Trail in the Siskiyou mountains of far southern Oregon, close to the California border. The altitude drained me -- I (and most others) walked the uphills. Despite my best efforts, every time I faced an uphill, the tank was empty. While my time wasn't great, I managed to finish in the top half of my age group. Having done a tough 50K just 2 weeks earlier, I wasn't sure if I had recovered in time. I was also dealing with a nasty bout of poison oak that had swollen my arm and hand, making training hard; I wasn't sure I could do this run till a few days before when the swelling finally went down. My goal on this one was to simply finish, regardless of time. The first 8 kms of the run was like a conga line as runners ran lock-stock along the narrow trail. By the time we hit a steep fire road, things spread out. The footing was treacherous at times -- a few folks took nasty spills. I lost my sunglasses while running at around 5 kms. I wasted 5 minutes searching all over for them as some 20 runners passed me, all asking "you lose something?". Fortunately I had a visor cap, though I still squinted for much of the remaining 6 yours. Hitting the last aid station at mile 26.2, I was asked if I needed anything. My response, "yeah, oxygen", drew some consenting chuckles from other weary contenders. Notable memories: Gasping for air, tricky footing along scree-strewn mountainsides, and running past snow in mid-July.
2. July 1, 2006: Angel Island, CA; Angel Island Trail Run (50.6 Km). My time: 5:59:14. This was a challenging set of loops around hilly Angel Island, which sits in the San Francisco Bay between Alcatraz and the Tiburon peninsula. Runners do two sets of 3 loops: a perimeter, a middle, and upper one. The perimeter is part road and part fire trail; the middle loop is mainly single-track trail; and the upper (and steepest) one takes you to the summit (850' Mount Livermore) and back on single tracks. Each loop was in the 5+ mile range and brought runners back to the start (and one aid station) at Ayala Cove, the only really flat place on the island where boats dock. The run is organized by Pacific Coast Trail Runs whose motto is "serious fun" and approach is low-keyed -- no medals or hype. Most participants did the 16K or 25K, and some (including my son, Chris) did the 8K. After completing three up-and-down loops, it became clear that few runners were going to do another round. Among the 400+ participants, fewer than 35 did the 50K+. While I enjoyed the solitude of the last set of runs, I was sapped by the continuous up-and-down and struggled to finish the last two loops. My aim was to break 6 hours, which I did, barely. Most enjoyable were the wonderful 360o vistas of the Bay, catching peripheral glimpses of the bridges -- Bay Bridge, Gold Gate Bridge, and Richmond Bridge -- plus the skyline of San Fran and the aquatic coves of southeastern Marin. The trails themselves were spectacular and varied -- lush oak trees on the leeward (eastern) side and wind-brushed sculpted hillsides on the west. I enjoyed seeing my family the six times I dropped into Ayala Cove, taking a break to stretch the legs and hydrate. The ferry ride to and from Angel Island was also nice. Most difficult was the psychology of race -- having to do the same loops twice and to contend with a steep set of stairs that led out of Ayala Cove on six occasions. Also, by the 2nd loop, boatloads of tourists had populated the island and the trails -- including the steep stairs, which made navigating around folks hauling up baby carriages and ice chests challenging. With some 4500 feet of elevation gain, this was a hardy way to spend a Saturday morning. Notable memories: Changing weather -- from morning fog to bright early-afternoon sunshine, various course obstacles (including a fallen tree that required 50K runners to navigate through a thicket of branches on 4 occasions), tricky footing (I took 2 hard falls after tripping on roots), a venomous snake that I almost stepped on crossing the road on the second pass of the perimeter loop, suffering the post-race "poison-oak blues", and having my youngest daughter, Kristen, egg me to get going every time I finished a loop and sought a brief respite, concerned that other runners were going to pass her dad!
1. May 13, 2006: LaGrange, WI; Ice Age Trail 50K. My time: 5:32:20. The race's web site described this as a "cool, wet, wild, and muddy affair". That it was. A nasty low pressure cell hung over the Great Lakes region, creating a dreary morning with temps some 25 degrees below average, prompting me and others to wear gloves...in mid-May! Despite mushy footing, I enjoyed this run through the rolling hills of the Kettle Moraine in southeast Wisconsin. It was an out-and-back for 13 miles followed by two 9 mile loops around a Nordic cross-country ski trail. I was on business in nearby Madison, WI, thus I opted to hang around an extra day and do my first 50K. I wasn't sure how I'd fare having run a road marathon 6 days earlier, however things went fine -- I finished 7 out of 32 in my age group. Lots of friendly folks and vibes on these wet, up-and-down yet fun trails. Notable memories: Watching temps drop from the 70s to the low 40s between the time I arrived in Madison on Wednesday and Saturday morning of the race, chatting with friendly mid-westerners along the course, and taking a great warm shower at an RV camp an hour after the race en route to the Madison airport.
17. March 16, 2013: Pathfinders Ranch, Garner Valley, California; BeyondLimits Ultra 50 Mile. My time: 11:06:13. This was another inaugural ultra event of many distances and of runners of many stripes and persuasion. The event was staged by a new company, BeyondLimits, whose co-owners are fairly recent indoctrinees to ultra-running who poured their hearts-and-souls into the event. The personal story of Stephanie Kundrin and her boyfriend and co-director, Ken Rubeli, is nothing short of inspiring, chronicled on their web page, "Push Beyond: Our Story". Stephanie suffered severe renal problems from a life of insulin dependence and took up running to improve her fitness. Her time on this planet was fast ending unless she received organ transplants. She was on a long waiting list when her boyfriend received the news at an aid station in an ultra that a kidney for Stephanie was ready for transplant in Phoenix. He promptly dropped from the race, the transplant surgery was a success, and ever since, the two are devoted to putting on first-rate ultra-events that encourage particpates to go "beyond their limits". A frog is the company's mascot -- an animal who can jump 50 times its body length. They are to be applauded for mostly pulling off the first-class event they strived for. There were 5 distances -- marathon, 50K, 50 miler, 100 miler, and 24 hour -- run on Pathfinders Ranch in a high valley (around 4500 foot elevation) in southern Riverside County. All races follow a 1.78 mile loop, which for 50 miles was 28 circles, surrounded by corrals of horses and cows as well as fenced-in pins full of hogs, turkeys, and chickens. Several people were running back-to-back 100s, which gave them 200 mile buckles -- including the inimitable Ed ("The Jester") Eglington who was gunning for 200 miles that weekend (plus a woman from Idaho running 45 hours on her 45th birthday). Ed, who I've run several 100s with in the past, only took up ultra-running a few years ago (his first was the "Big Cat Challenge" 12 hour event in Orange County in 2009, which I also did). He was hooked and pretty much has done nothing but 100s ever since. (Ed's aiming to break the world record for 100 milers in one year, currently 36 held by Liz Bauer of Georgia, who I ran with in the wee morning at the Arkansas Traveler last October.) At the pre-race dinner on Friday night, Ed (after having already run 70+ miles) mentioned he has become addicted to ultras because they've become "his family", sharing the fact that he was raised in a foster home and never had a real family of his own; the ultra-running community has become his. Ed then kicked off the race Saturday morning, just before 8AM, by playing an absolutely gorgeous rendition of the national anthem on trumphet, along with another ultra-runner (who has done Badwater 135) who accompanied him on trumphet. Played after a group photo on an island in the middle of the ranch, it was simply the best race kick-off I've ever experienced. Also of note at the Friday night sphagetti feast (one of the worst meals to date) was an inspiring talk by a 16 year young man from nearby Big Bear Lake who, at age 13, beat the record for the youngest person to ever climb Mout Everest -- and who went on to summit the highest peaks of all 7 continents, becoming the youngest to achieve this as well. He gave a great powerpoint presentation of his treks (noting that Alaska's Mount McKinley was technically the toughest climb of all). As an inspiration for us all to go "beyond our limits", he ran the marathon with only modest training. Besides the ambience of running with a bunch of ultra enthusiasts (nuts?), what made this event also different was that 100 milers and 50 milers were given cabin sleeping accommodations on site. I was assigned a co-ed cabin with some 30 bunkbeds (with hard backs and thin plastic mattresses) and one shared bathroom. For me, this was a bit of rough duty, sharing an open sleeping area with other ultrarunners (and enduring loud snoring at night, despite having ear-plus and an eye mask). I actually got the best bed (with no bunk above) since I was the first to check into the first-come-first-serve dormitory. While I'm perhaps getting on age to be roughing it, there were some folks who were older than I, including a couple (75 year old Greek guy who at an earlier age was an ultra-champion and his 60+ year old Asian wife who has been an age-group women's ultra champion) who came from Dallas. I hung around mostly with them, joining them for dinner and breakfast (the morning of the race). She was running the 100 miler and he the 50 miler (despite not having run in years...he was planning to go on "memory" but struggled as the day wore on and DNFed). Also there was a guy, Bill (from San Francisco), age 64 who had run the Razorback 100 in Arkansas the prior weekend and was running a 100 miler again, shooting for a 200 mile belt. Bill knew who I was, asking me at around mile 25 ("Aren't you Robert Cervero") when facing off at an out-and-back section -- I was surprised he knew my name from the 24 New Years Eve run over a year earlier in San Fran, in which I won the 60+ age group. The runners I chatted with amazed me throughout the day -- a guy with a bit of a gut who ran a 100 miler the prior weekend, who is the only guy to finish a 126.2 miler between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and who said he only runs 100s because he's able to "get 'em done"; another dude, a bearded and burly mountain man who professed he's not a runner but rather a hiker, and only does 100 milers because he can't make the cut-offs of 50 milers (though he was doing fine on this race, making 50 miles in 11 1/2 hours). The guy who won the 50 milers came from England with his son and was running his first ultra -- fast he was but by the end of the race, he could barely walk. Another guy came all the way from Tasmania for the event. My own race was so-so. As has been the case of late, the weather got me down. It wasn't too hot but the sun was relentless. There was little shade and by the afternoon, partly due to the high elevation, I was feeling the effects. I was fortunate to have my own personal aid station (right next to my bunkbed) every 1.78 miles, which meant I could dip into my collapsable ice cooler for a cold drink and icey face-cloth, both of which helped a lot. The altitude also slowed me a bit. Finishing the race in a tad over 11 hours, just before sunset, placed me 7th among 50 mile finishers, placing in the third. As notable as the race itself was the drive getting to and from Pathfinders Ranch. It was a windy 2 1/2 hour drive from Ontario Airport to Garner Valley, which on the way was supplemented by a 2-hour stop in Idyllwild, a mountain-perched get-away of weekend homes and full-time societal drop-outs. I went to Idyllwild a number of times in the late 1970s when I was a PhD student at UCLA, staying with my good friend Joe Ollinghouse who had a place in Idyllwild, to study planning theory and enjoy the environs. Joe, who sadly passed away a few years ago, was a gifted jazz guitarist who used to play gigs around Idyllwild and at least once I accompanied him on guitar. It was a pleasant deja vu kicking around Idyllwild some 35 years later, plus I had one of the best Mexican combo plates ever at a local haunt for lunch. All and all, this weekend was a bit of a "what a wild, strange trip it's been". Notable memories: Great inaugural event put on by energetic, ready-to-please race directors, spending a weekend with a devoted if not a bit whacky group of fellow ultra-runners, taking in all the barnyard critters (and their smells) while doing the fairly monotonous 1.78 loops around the ranch, and bunking down with fellow ultra-runners the night before the race, getting re-live sharing a bunkhouse, as I did several times in my youth.
16. January 19, 2013: San Diego, California; San Diego 50 Mile. My time: 12:25:39. This was the inaugural run of the San Diego 50 -- an out-and-back course along the San Dieguito River Park and Black Mountain Open Space in central San Diego County. I suspected I was in for an interesting day when I registered and picked up my race bib that cold Saturday morning -- lucky # 13 (...throughout the day, folks at aid stations greeted me as "lucky 13", which perhaps was befitting given this was near the beginning of year 2013). What I thought would be a pleasant weekday run through the river plain and mostly desert-like hillsides of San Diego turned out to be hardly that, mainly due to the bright open skies and relentless exposure to the sun. I took a beating from the sun -- over-heated, de-hydrated, and nausea. Who would have figured in mid-January? The morning of the race was frigid (mid-30s) however things quickly heated up. Several hours in the race it started getting toasty and by mid-day the sun was merciless. The problem with this course is there is little vegetation and virtually no shade to hide from the sun. Runners were fully exposed to the bright and cloudless skies for a good 8 hours. As several aid station workers noted to me as I dragged my butt into the last few aid stations, it would have been much easier if the race had been scheduled the prior weekend when the temps were in the 30s and 40s. Weather notwithstanding, the course itself was enjoyable -- a few steep climbs, some fast flat sections, lots of vast desert views, cresting Lake Hughes, running past the Bing Crosby Golf Course, climbing several sets of switchbacks, and enjoying the howls of coyotes as day turned to dusk. What I particularly appreciated were the fantastic aid station workers, who really bailed me out the last part of the course. They helped me relax, iced me down, and gave me encouragement as I sat in a chair and tried to cool my soaring body temperature. Several workers doubted I would make it to the end and in one case, they asked me my name, to make sure I had some mental faculties in place. When I finished the race, several noted I looked much better than I did 15 miles earlier. Most appreciated was the captain of the last aid station, at mile 44.5. Besides sitting me on a big flat rock, he gave me a magic elixir -- what he called "power rice balls", which were sticky rice with some egg rolled into balls. He assured me my stomach could handle the intake and he was right. The rice balls helped me get over Raptor Ridge, the steepest climb of the course (mile 45) and actually pick up some speed as I passed several runners to the finish line, running the last 4-5 miles in the dark, with a flashlight. By then, the temps had dropped and despite some leg cramps from de-hydration, I managed to keep a decent pace. I was prepared for a tough day as I had kept track of the weather during the week and knew it would not be to my liking. I ran a fairly smart race plan -- I took it out fairly fast (for me, least) the first part of the course when the temperatures were reasonably cool, making it to the turn around (mile 25) in a little less than 5 hours. I then slowed down in the midday heat, taking a fair amount of walk breaks, and according to plan, picked up the pace again toward the end. There was a lot of pain and agony in between, however I was happy I ran my race, as planned. My time was a bit slower than I had hoped, partly because I went off-course at around mile 17 when following a buff Asian lady runner, losing about 10 minutes of time (and adding about 200 feet of climb). I also took a good 20+ minutes lounging around aid stations, trying to get my body temperature down, longer than I would have liked but necessary nonetheless. I finished 51st out of 70 finishers and quite a few more starters who dropped during the race. All and all, a draining but satisfying run. Notable memories: Fantastic aid station workers (a testament to the San Diego having probably more triatheletes and endurance atheletes per capita than any city in the world), running past a rusted old car that had tumbled down a cliff, feeling much better after barfing a few times, a river crossing that refreshingly soaked my running shoes, and passing a bench toward the finish, knowing I'd be completing a run that I wasn't sure I'd be able to do a few hours earlier.
15. April 29, 2012: Lake Waramaug, Connecticut; Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug Ultras - 50 Miler. My time: 10:14:12. This was another first -- back-to-back 50 milers, two weekends in a row. Indeed, it was pretty much the same format as the prior weekend -- running circles around a lake. However, there were also notable differences. This run was on the opposite side of the country, in western Connecticut, and unlike the prior week's San Francisco run, we ran around a mostly rural, bucolic lake (dotted mainly by second homes for wealthy New Yorkers). Besides running in a counter-clockwise direction, what also made it different is we ran entirely on roads, hugging the edge facing opposing traffic. Most of the 7.6 mile loop around the lake had light traffic however the 1.25 mile stretch on the lake's east side had fast moving cars. And while the prior weekend was hot, this one was a bit nippy, albeit also sunny. The temps were in the 40s and 50s, which would have been nice except for the stiff winds, with gusts exceeding 30 mph. Coming off the lake, the headwinds were bone-chilling at times. The race involved a 4.4 mile out-and-back stretch followed by six loops of the lake. The pavement tooks its toll on my legs by the end of the fourth lap, reducing me largely to a fast walk and occasional run. Still, I managed to finish in the middle of the pack and all but one person who ran faster was younger than I, most considerably so. Like last week there was a 50K and 100K option. I originally wanted to try the 100K but there was a 12-hour cut-off and I couldn't have made that. This is the second oldest ultra in the U.S., named after a long-haired, bearded runner who lived off the lake and ran it often some 40 years ago. Jack Bristol won the race several times, running at speeds that most accomplished ultrarunners today couldn't touch. He sadly passed away 19 years ago, thus the race was named in his honor. Lots of venerable ultrarunners entered this race, including Ray Krolewicz of South Carolina, who has done over 1000 miles of loops around the lake, starting in the mid 1970s. He's a legend in ultra running -- actually a few years younger than myself. He shouted "good job" when I passed him on the 3rd loop of the lake. All and all, it was a beautiful weekend in rural Connecticut with mostly east-coast ultra-runners. Notable memories: Great aid stations (four in 7.6 miles, one of which served great egg burritos), chatting with fellow runners including Jeffry Vieyra, age 65 from my hometown of Lafayette (a veteran ultra-runner who did the 50K), seeing all sorts of small cottages and artist lofts on the lake, and enjoying a nice weekend with Sophia in New York City prior to the run.
14. April 21, 2012: San Francisco, CA; Ruth Anderson Ultramarathons - 50 Miler. My time: 9:48:48. This made for 5 straight years of running circles around San Francisco's Lake Merced however unlike the previous runs, this time around I decided to stretch it out to 11+ loops, making for a 50 miler. To my surprise, it was my fastest 50 miler to date (just 2 weeks away from my 61st birthday). I won the 60-69 age bracket, receiving a Bay Area Ultrarunner's plaque (with an image of a kicking donkey) from always-cheerie race director, Rajeev Patel. For my previous 50K outings, I was twice injured or so bored I stopped after 7 loops. Having done some repetitive 12 and 24 hour loop runs psychologically conditioned me for the monotony, even though I wasn't sure I wanted to run that distance given I have another 50 miler (with the same format -- loops around a lake) scheduled in Connecticut the next week. The weather was hot, bright, and sunny, especially for San Francisco. It never, however, got overbearingly hot and there were at time cool breezes, though one had to stay plenty hydrated, which I managed to do. I also sunburned fairly badly on my neck and upper torso, leaving a distinct post-run red and white pattern. The name of this game is zoning in and keeping it steady. All and all, it was a nice sunny Saturday spent with fellow Bay Area ultrarunners of all stripes, persuasions, and speeds. Notable memories: Matching my recent marathon and 50K times, which gave me the confidence I could come in around 10 hours, seeing the same sights on the course over-and-over (including a flowered memorial set up by someone to a friend), catching glimpses of a high-school rowing event in the early morning, hearing the gun shot blast at the firing range on the southside of the lake between loops 5 and 11, and having my set-up of a folding chair, ice cold drinks, and a welcoming wet towel to stave off the heat every four and a half-miles.
13. September 24, 2011: Granite Bay-Auburn, CA; Sierra Nevada Endurance Run. My time: 12:56:45. A scorcher, this one was. With the temperatures reaching the 90s and a blaring sun much of the way, this was a tough 50-miler. I harbored doubts of even trying this run given the weather forecasts however because I was signed for a 100 miler in Kansas in two weeks, I figured it was best to be on my feet for a long stretch during the weekend, even if it meant walking much of the way and getting pulled from the race. While I was slow, particularly the second half when things heated up, I did finish the race, and in fact won my age division...by default since everyone else in my age group had dropped out or bailed out at the 25-mile halfway mark. The course covers much of the 2nd half of the American River 50 mile run (in an out-and-back format), except the climb to Auburn is tougher (Cardiac Hill), plus there's a dropping-and-climbing out-and-back section to No Hands Bridge. It's a considerably tougher run than AR50, especially given the Indian Summers of northern and inland California. What saved me was drinking a lot (for the first time ever, I carried two water bottles) plus icing down at aid stations. Sophia helped refreshen and cool down my overheated body at Auburn Overlook (miles 21 and 28) and Rattlesnake Bar (miles 11 and 39) aid stations, with ice cold beverages and cold, icy towels. Despite the heat, it's a scenic run, with gorgeous vistas of the glistening American River. Animals were on full display during the day. At around mile 43, I saw what appeared to be two young cougar cubs on the trail. This meant the mom was nearby. This is the worst possible scenario for meeting up with a cougar, when they're most likely to attack. I stopped, made lots of loud noises as the cubs scampered away, and prayed the mom wasn't nearby, ready to pounce on me. I regularly looked over my shoulder the next 5 minutes of running to make sure she didn't. One woman came across a black bear, prompting her to drop from the race. Along a return section of the single-track trail along the American River, the fir of what appeared to be a skunk was scattered all over the place, which wasn't the case when I ran the stretch earlier on the outbound section. The poor skunk obviously had a run-in with a larger, hungry animal. Despite a slow time, I was happy I manuveured the course well, not falling or tripping once, despite lots of roots, rocks, and boulders along the way. Notable memories: Suffocating heat, lots of sweating, some dizziness (though not enough to puke, which I almost always do in hot weather), the refreshing feel of putting a ice-cold towel on my face and neck, and taking a nice cool shower in the gym at the Cavitt junior high school where the race finishes, just as the sun set.
A long, hot 13-hour day it was: Left to right - Mile 10 (Rattlesnake Bar), Mile 23 (after hauling my butt up Cardiac Hill), Mile 39 (back to Rattlesnake Bar), Mile 47 (Granite Bay), and Mile 50, in the gym at Cavitt junior high school in Granite Bay.
9, 2011: Sacramento-Auburn, CA; American
River 50 Mile Endurance Run. My time: 10:51:57. My third run of this venerable ultra from Sacto State University to the bluffs of Auburn. Conditions were great except for some muddy patches along single track trails. It heated up by mid-afternoon, thus as in the past, having Sophia meet me with an ice-cold drink at Rattlesnake Bar, mile 40, was a relief. I was OK with my time -- broke 11 hours, some 15 minutes faster than last year. In my prior runs, I tanked the last 3 miles, called Last Gasp, trying to carry my butt up the steep incline to the finish. While tired, this time I managed to keep up with the pack and indeed passed a number of folks. With over 600 starters, it's crowded in the beginning but quickly thins out over the bike trail. In sections of single-track trail near Granite Bay, it was an elephant train of runners. For a change, I didn't trip or fall along the course and crossed the finish line relatively unscathed. Notable memories: Catching glimpses of Bay Area runners along the trail (including two Team Diablo runners), chatting with Tim Tweitmeyer (of WS100 fame) at Fleet Feet in Fair Oaks while registering (he ran his 31st AR10), and for a change handling the Last Gasp stretch to the finish line relatively well.
Left: My fan club -- two cutties cheer me on arriving into Rattlesnake Bar, mile 40; Right: Crossing the finish at Auburn Overlook.
11. January 15, 2011: Avalon-Catalina Island, CA; Avalon Benefit 50 Miler. My time: 13:53:57. This was a run that was not meant to be. When I arrive on the boat in Avalon with Sophia and Kristen, I had no intention of running the race. I'd been harboring a painful sciatic nerve injury since trying to run the tough Cyote Ridge 50K in Marin County three weeks earlier, where I finished 20 miles but had to drop because of extreme nerve pain. A trip to the doctor and therapist showed I've been suffering from stenosis, a degenerative arthritic condition in the lower spine that had pinched my sciatic nerve, causing an intense pain along the outer thigh of my right leg. I hadn't run in 3 weeks since the 50K attempt (except for some lame shuffling of the feet on a treadmill) and prior to that had not really run for several weeks since the 50K in mid-December in Virginia Beach. I've been suffering this problem probably for a good two years, dragging my right leg in an asymmetrical gait and during races spawning other runners to ask "are you OK"? I suspect a lingering left groin injury that has taken a year or so to heal led to over-compensating on my right side leading to an awkward gait. I've started seeing a physical therapist and getting massages but the problem persists. I was of the mind to cancel the run, however everything (boat ride to Catalina, hotel, race fee) was prepaid, and besides, it was a chance to enjoy the weekend in a beautiful setting with my family, including celebrating Kristen's 14th birthday. The only reason I ended up running is I met some older, long-time ultrarunners who noted they were leaving at 1AM, instead of the normal start time of 5AM, to give enough time to complete the course. I decided to leave with them, prepared to go one mile, five miles, 10 miles, or whatever. The most likely scenario I thought would be to go to the first aid station and then head back. The other option was to make it to Two Harbors and get a ride back. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could complete the course. Anyway, I and five other guys in their 60's headed out in a bible-black star-lit sky from the pier in Avalon at 1AM. It's good I joined the group for I could have never found the first few miles of the course in the pitch dark, which involved, among other things, hopping over a locked gate. We covered the first 10 mostly uphill miles at a fast walk pace in 3 hours, reaching aid stations before they were open. Since this is a modified out-and-back course, it was actually nice seeing two complexions of the course -- the first 6 hours in the dark and the rest of the course in the day. Besides the brilliant skies and shining stars and planets (particularly Venus), I enjoyed seeing the eyes of wild foxes along dirt trails and chatting with two tough former ultra guys in their mid-60s, both of whom had Silver-buckled Western States and run numerous 100 milers. One guy, Jim Glinn, now a physical therapist from Bakersfield, had completed the Grand Slam of ultra-running (Western States, Vermont, Leadville, Wasatch) in the 80s but had not run an ultra since 1993. Another guy, Gary, a lawyer from LA, had completed Western States and Vermont 100s four times each as well as other tough runs. Plus he had finished the Avalon 50 miler over 20 times. It would have been impossible to leave early without him along because he knew all the twists and turns of the course which at this time in the early morning was still unmarked. Anyway, we reached Twin Harbor, at roughly the 19 mile mark, at sun-up, a bit before 7AM. At that point, the group began to split up and I ended up doing the rest of the course on my own. The temperatures quickly heated up and by mid-day were well in the 80s, quite unusual for mid-January when the rest of the nation was freezing. It got uncomfortably hot, partly because there are virtually no trees in the island's interior to provide shade. Runners were exposed to the blazing sun much of the day and to my disappointment, some of the key aid stations had no ice. I ended up fast-walking probably two-thirds of the course and shuffle-foot running the rest. It's a gorgeous course, with stunning vistas of emerald-blue bays and the shining Pacific Ocean. Perhaps most spectacular was seeing the snow-capped mountains of the Angeles forest some 100 miles away from atop Catalina Island. The contrast of palm trees and island heat versus snow-caps, separated by the Pacific, was wonderful. A good portion of the return follows the same course as the Catlina marathon, which I had run 3 years earlier, thus I knew what was in store the last half of the course. I was the second to arrive at the Isthmus aid station, some 26 miles into the course. I got there before it had been set up. I proceeded to go to the turn-around a mile and a half beyond, and upon my return back to Isthmus saw the lead runner, a guy from San Diego, and the lead woman, who ended up setting the woman's course record in sub-7 hours (a phenomenal time given the heat). I saw Lucy, a woman with huge forearms who ended up carrying a large American flag on a pole the entire race. She did the same at the San Francisco One-Day event I had run 4 months early. Amazingly she completed the Avalon 50 miler in 16 hours. On the way back, I saw a buffalo. By the time I got to the 40 mile mark, I knew I was going to make it, but I was feeling the effects of relentless heat. Fortunately, a guy in a truck gave me a frozen bottle of water. This saved me. I put it in my pants and every 5 minutes took it out to pour melted water on my head. I was feeling quite dehydrated the last few hours but after several rest breaks and some struggles, made it to the peak of the last rise and dropped in for the final 4 miles back to the pretty resort town of Avalon. Seeing the town's harbor and casino, knowing there was only 2 miles to go, was quite a relief, even though pounding the downhill on pavement was painful at times. I dropped back to the main street in central Avalon to the applause of hundreds of onlookers. It's one of the best highs I've ever experienced as a runner. They put up a ribbon for everyone crossing the finish line, a nice touch (even though I was confused, thinking this was for the winners and initially didn't run across the ribbon, to the chuckle of some on-lookers). I never thought I could have finished this run a day earlier. While my time was very slow, I was as proud for completing this run as any. It's not exactly a cake-walk -- some 7400 feet of elevation gain, made all the tougher by the unusual heat. The race director's letter notes: "This race is known as one of the country's most challenging and scenic 50-milers". I agree with this statement. I'm glad I ran/walked the course smartly -- never pushing or over-extending myself, but keeping the kind of steady pace necessary to cover the distance. For me, this was a special event. I completed my 50th ultra run, which along with the 50 marathons I've finished means I successfully completed 100 "marathons and beyond". Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I could hit the 100-race mark. I recall distinctly early in my long-distance running going to a race where a woman was celebrating her 100th marathon, thinking how unimaginably difficult this must be. Little did I ever believe I could achieve this myself, and then some ... given that half my runs were beyond the marathon distance. It's a nice milestone to have behind me. All and all, an enjoyable, successful weekend with my family, one I never thought would be possible. Notable memories: Power-walking in the dark with veteran ultrarunners, expecting sharp nerve pain to set in my right leg which would force me to quit the run (which fortunately never happened), seeing striking vistas of snow capped mountains on the mainland with the Pacific Ocean in between, seeing a grazing buffalo along the course at the 37 mile mark, having a great post-race banquet with the other runners at the Avalon Cafe, and, of course, completing my 50th ultra and 100th race of a marathon distance or longer.
10. October 9, 2010: San Leandro-Berkeley, CA; Dick Collins Firetrails 50. My time: 12:39:16. My second run of this out-and-back course that first piqued my interest in doing an ultra (at a time this was in the realm of possibilities given I had by then run some thirty-plus marathons). I was happy to have finished the run, though I was disappointed in my time and felt I could have done better. I was more than 2 hours slower than when I first ran this run 4 years ago. On the other hand, I completed the course, something I failed to do when I last tried it 3 years ago and was pulled at Steam Train for exhaustion (despite having done a 100-miler less than 3 months earlier). The heat took me out of this run. I had to stop a number of times to lower my body temperature. I put ice cubes under my hat, which helped. I went out a bit fast among the early starters and a third into the run began to get passed by lots of folks. I walked probably half of the last 10 miles. I was hoping for a better time in part because my last 50 miler, 5 months earlier, was an hour and 25 minutes faster on a tougher course. I've clearly got a lot of work to do in order to get into Western States shape. Still, 50 miles is 50 miles, and with 7800 feet of elevation gain on a hot day and at 59 years of age, I'll take it. This was also a day notable for records -- Dave Mackey shattered Carl Anderson (the race director's) former record in an incredible time of 6 hours and 16 minutes. Several other top runners also beat the previous course record. Sophia met me at the Lone Pine turnaround in Tilden Park with a much-welcomed ice-cold coconut water drink. Saw some of the Bay Area's finest ultra-runners, including Jean Pommier (whose first 50 miler was mine as well -- this same race 4 years earlier), who wanted to take the edge off the run by snapping more than 300 photos, including several below -- he still managed to finish 9th overall! Notable memories: Going out (probably too) fast at the start, enjoying the first 10 miles in solitude among the early starters while it was dark and cool, being the first runner in at Bork Meadows and arriving with the leaders at Bear Creek, taking in sections of Tilden I trained a lot on, and seeing the always-welcomed Lake Chabot boat marina making the last bend of the lake, knowing the finish line was near.
1. Golden Spike Trail (photo: J. Pommier); 2. SeaView Trail, Tilden Park, Berkeley (photo: J. Pommier); 3. 26-mile turn-around, Lone Oak, Tilden Park; 4. Treak back up Meadow Canyon Trail from Lone Oak; 5. Finish Line, Lake Chabot, San Leandro; 6. Savoring the finish, with speedster Joe Swenson behind me (in blue shirt, already cleaned and rested from the run).
9. May 8, 2010: San Jose, CA; Quicksilver 50 Mile Endurance Run. My time: 11:15:08. My 59th birthday was spent challenging the tough hills of Almaden Quicksilver County Park in Santa Clara County. I had run this course 3 years earlier thus I knew what I was in for. While I was 27 minutes slower this time around, I was OK with that given I had significant lower back pain over the last month (since running American River 50 miler and Ruth Anderson 50K the prior month) and did relatively little training up to a week and a half before the run. But my training was lots of tough hills in Berkeley's Tilden Park, thus it paid off. My family joined me as my support crew, giving me refreshing cold drinks and digestible munchies at miles 21, 31, 38, and 45. The weather was nice -- low 70s and at time a cool breeze, though it was a full sun and little shade thus it felt hotter. It's a gorgeous course, with over 8500 feet of elevation gain and great vistas. Seeing the old quicksilver mines alongside the trails was a treat. Had a nice post-race barbeque with my family. Notable memories: Seeing Sophia and kids every 2-3 hours, keeping a steady pace as I train for Western States, and the satisfaction of knocking off a tough 50 miler on my 59th birthday.
Left: 1. Downhill toward reservior; 2. Returning uphill; 3. Nice ice towell at 50K mark; 4. Uphill at 35 miles; 5. More uphill; 6. Finish line; 7. Sophia & I enjoying post-race barbeque
8. April 10, 2010: Sacramento-Auburn, CA; American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. My time: 11:06:45. A repeat of my first ultra, four years earlier. I was slower but perservered. As before, it was the last 3 1/2 miles -- up the steep incline from the American River to Overlook Park in Auburn -- that did me in. It took me an hour and 10 minutes to cover this final stretch...lots of slow steps. The course probably was a little longer and a tad tougher as they rerouted it off the Folsom levee onto an interior set of trails -- as with the past two Helen Klein 50 milers I ran. The weather conditions couldn't have been nicer -- cool and cloudy. Having run a trail marathon the week before probably slowed me down, however for me this was all about being on my feet for 11+ hours as I train for WS100. Notable memories: Running what is effectively a dual course -- the first half being predominantly bikepaths and the second half being mostly trails. The quiet pristine lake at mile 42 stands out in my memory bank. So does the ice-cold diet coke I got at Horseshoe Bar -- mile 38 -- from my support crew (Sophia, who diligently followed me along the parallel Auburn-Folsom highway the last half of the course).
Left: 5:50AM in Sacramento, before the race; Middle: along the American River; Right: 5:07PM in Auburn, nearing the finish line...50 miles later.
7. October 31, 2009: Granite Bay-Folsom, CA; Helen Klein Ultra Classic - 50 Mile (51.1 miles). My time: 11:01:17. A repeat of the run I did one year earlier, albeit in totally different weather conditions (fairly hot, sunny, and exposed) and one week after I ran the 12-hour run in San Fran (54.1 miles). I wasn't sure how I'd respond thus despite failing to break 11 hours, I was happy I was some 27 minutes faster than last year (wet messy weather then, though more runable than the sunny afternoon on this particular Halloween day). And as last year, because of construction work on the levee, there was a detour at the beginning and end (really the only hilly single-track trails on the course) that added a little more than a mile to the race. For this reason, Norm Klein -- the race director, husband of the run's namesake, and of course the long-time director of Western States 100, wrote a note for me and a few others asking Greg Soderlund (the current director of Western States) to use this run as a qualifier for Western States 2010 (which I've been given a slot under the 2-time loser rule). In truth, I didn't need this since I broke 50 miles in less than 11 hours the previous weekend (plus I met another qualifer of 3 sub-12 hour 50 milers in one year), however it never hurts to have more proof. As of now, my official training for Western States in June 2010 begins. Notable memories: As last year, waking up a 3AM for the drive to Granite Bay matched by the weary drive home 16 hours later, seeing two coyotes cross the bike trail at around mile 20, listening to a classic rock Sacramento station on my Ipod Nano for 8 hours, and receiving a "see you next year" from a heavy-set mustachioed guy inside the school gym (at the finish) when leaving to drive home (evidently I've become a regular, this being my 3rd time running the race -- one 50K and two 50 milers).
6. November 1, 2008: Granite Bay-Folsom, CA; Helen Klein Ultra Classic - 50 Mile (51.1 miles). My time: 11:28:11. Tough day, this one was. My first 50 miler in over a year, and frankly I wasn't sure I could do it. It's been a rough year of nagging injuries that have slowed me down considerably and cut into my conditioning. In truth, I ran this to continue to qualify for Western States (I'm a two-time loser), which I failed to do, however I did finish the race, which was a secondary goal. The weather was miserable -- rainy with bouts of downpours about 80% of the time -- matched by strong winds. I ran the entire race wearing a trash bag and still was soaking wet within the first few miles. While this by far was the easiest 50 mile course I've ever run, the weather was a neutralizing factor and for all who endured the day, it took a gutsy performance. I ran the 50K version of this race two years earlier, scoring a 50K PR. This, on the other hand, was my slowest 50 mile time. I wasn't last, but close to it -- 28% of starters failed to finish the run. For the last 10 miles, I was reduced to a walk and occasional shuffle. My hamstrings and calf muscles had pretty much locked up by then. It's an out-and-back course along the American River between the Roseville area and Sacramento along a bikepath; portions can be run on the shoulder. One positive aspect of the rain was it kept the number of cyclists down, who I recall from two years earlier didn't like sharing the path with ultrarunners. This year, the course was lengthened because of work on the Folsom levee (for security reasons), adding a touch section of switchbacks and mud. I probably won't venture this distance again unless I can fully overcome my injuries and get back to my old speed. Otherwise, I'll stick with the shorter stuff. Notable memories: Feeling fairly miserable in the midst of driving rains, though at times enjoying the tranquility of pattering rains and solitude of running by myself at the end, driving 100 miles to home in pouring rain with a stop-off at a Carl's Juniors and having all of these Saturday workers staring at my limp and wet body with pity, and crossing the finish line with 3 others who I shared the last two hours with, each passing each other from time to time.
5. May 12, 2007: San Jose, CA; Quicksilver 50 Mile Endurance Run. My time: 10:48:30. Another tough 50 miler, 3 weeks after Leona Divide and 2 weeks after my toughest marathon to date. With over 8500 feet of elevation gain, Quicksilver tests one meddle. I liked the course -- after some 5 miles of rolling single-track trails, it's mostly fire trails that wind through Quicksilver county park, nestled between San Jose and Morgan Hill. Graham Cooper broke his course record -- I chatted with him at my local fitness club, Oakwood, the week before, and he was taking the run in stride. At about the 20 mile mark, we crossed paths and Graham cheerfully greeted me, "hi Rob". He was already a good hour and a half ahead of me and ended up beating me by more than 4 hours. Of course, he's 20 years my junior but still a remarkable athlete (he ran two Wildwood triatholons the prior week). Having just turned 56 four days earlier and just arrived the previous evening from a talk I gave in Raleigh NC, I was content with my performance -- I came in 56th on about my 56th birthday. There were 93 starters and nearly one in five dropped. I chatted with a 15 year old kid (my son's age) some 8 hours into the run. He was struggling but persevered, eventually finishing in a little over eleven hours. Amazing for a young teen. I struggled with keeping food down. My stomach stopped cooperating at mile 40. By afternoon, the weather was pretty toasty but still a great way to spend a Saturday in May. Notable memories: Arriving in the cold chill of the morning from my hotel near downtown San Jose without a coat, I ended up wearing my suit jacket I had on hand from a business meeting the previous day in Raleigh; the woman at the registration desk saw me with a suit jacket adorning my tee-shirt and shorts, declaring me the best dressed runner ever at Quicksilver!
4. April 21, 2007: Lake Hughes, CA; Leona Divide 50 Mile Run. My time: 11:06:51. Toughest run I've done to date. While the ~9000 feet of elevation gain was challenging, what did me in was the altitude, with most of the run above 4000 feet. With a stuffy nose from spring allergies, there just wasn't enough oxygen in the windpipes to keep me going. I bonked toward the end, reduced to a walk-shuffle. Still, it's a nice course, with around 34 miles on the scenic Pacific Coast Trail in the Angeles national forest in far-north LA county and the rest on dirt roads. It's up-and-down throughout -- no flat sections on this one. The weather was fantastic -- cool in the early morning and sunny, in the high 60s, most of the afternoon. It snowed in the mountains the previous night and at around 4500 feet and higher, there were patches of snow on the side of the trail -- in Southern California, in late April...who woulda thunk? I stepped in a divot dug out by a horse's hoof on a steep downhill at around mile-28, twisting my ankle and taking a pretty bad spill that stripped the skin from my right elbow and knee. At the next aid station volunteers cleaned me up with water and peroxide. I was considering dropping but managed to hobble-run the remaining 22 miles on a mildly troubled ankle. While my time suffered, overall it was an enjoyable run, save for the final 5 miles over which I bonked. I clearly need to acclimate to altitude if I'm to run more ultras a mile or so above sea level. Notable memories: Running on narrow single-track trails of the Pacific Coast Trail with fairly steep drop offs, lots and lots of uphill, rubbing snowballs on my neck to cool off in the afternoon sun, and seeing Sophia and Kristen a half-mile from the finish in a zombie-like state, knowing I could soon sit and rest.
3. November 18, 2006: Boonsboro-Williamsport, Maryland; JFK 50 Mile (50.2 miles). My time: 9:58:07. While I cut off exactly 40 minutes from my 50 miler the previous month, this was no cake walk. This is the oldest and largest ultramarathon in the world. It's really three races. After a 500 foot rise from downtown Boonsboro (named after Daniel Boone's brothers) to the Appalachian ridge, it's a 13 mile trot along the Appalachian trail, which involved mainly side-stepping and dodging ankle-twisting rocks, roots, and boulders. I figured I added at least a mile to my run by zig-zagging around the many obstacles. While the trail was gorgeous in the bright morning light, I found this a very difficult part of the run. The rocks were endless. It took me around 3 hours to get through this part of the course, and by the second hour, I was mentally zoned out from constantly watching my foot plants to avoid the jutting rocks. Plus there were all these younger runners in rock-gripping trail shoes (I opted for regular road flats...mistake) whizzing by and nudging me out of the way on the mostly single-track trail. Not having great balance in the first place and still nursing a not totally healed left ankle, I took it easy on this part of the run, fearing a single twist would take me out of the game (with some 40 miles still to go). Regardless, I still took two hard falls (one a face plant, the other a good bounce), though fortunately I didn' t land on any jagged rocks. Some folks did and got pretty messed up. Dropping down the switchbacks to the C&O canal was a welcome relief. This second part of the course is along the mostly flat (though slightly uphill) tow path that hugs a canal paralleling the Potomac. Runners with support teams changed from trail shoes to regular running shoes at this point. This part of the course is steeped in history, passing Harper's Ferry on the left and Antietam and other civil war sites up the steep cliff to the right. Some find this 26.3 mile stretch (a tad over a marathon) monotonous, however I loved it -- beautiful and relatively fast. The final part of the course is an 8.5 mile stroll through rolling farmland to the town of Williamsport, where many residents turn out to greet the runners at the finish line. I was satisfied with my run, breaking my goal of 10 hours, coming in 381 of some 1350 starters, and in the top 28% of my age group's finishers. My sister, Louise, and I drove up from my hometown of Norfolk, VA (where, by the way, the winner of the race hails from), spending a couple nice days together; she and her dog Amber were my support team. It's a well organized ultra, though the head honchos are a bit of control freaks (compared to most laid-back ultras): many strictures, such as no listening to music while running and requiring all race numbers to be pinned to one's torso (I prefer to pin to my running shorts). Still, it was nifty to be part of history -- in terms of both ultrarunning and Americana. The race is in honor of JFK, first having been run in 1963 (the year of his assassination) and taking place the weekend before the November assassination date itself. Notable memories: Great weather (in 40s but bright), the course's varied running-scape, lots of people (including some 500 early-starters who left 2 hours before I, some of whom, as runner-hikers, I ended up passing along the course), a miserable trip getting to the race (four hour flight delay plus sitting in traffic for 2 hours outside of Norfolk while driving to Hagerstown MD), enjoying time with my sister, and the seemingly never-ending stream of granite rocks strewn along the Appalachian trial.
3 races in 1: Appalachian Trail (left), marathon-length C&O towpath (middle), and nearing the finish line (at dusk, right)
2. October 7, 2006: San Leandro-Berkeley, CA; Dick Collins Firetrails 50. My time: 10:38:07. Fun but challenging run in one of the most beautiful courses that's also my home turf. With 8,000 feet of elevation gain (more than usual because a steeper section was added to get around a bridge closure) and bright sunny skies, the Firetrails 50 made for a good Saturday workout. Having badly sprung my ankle less than 3 weeks earlier on a 50K and having done little training since (interspersed by a trip to Korea), I had doubts about this one. Despite taping my ankle and adding two layers of bandage wraps, I still felt a numb pain much of the race. By taking it easy (power-hiking the steep uphills and keeping a steady pace on the downhills and flats), I got through the race just fine. My only goal was to make the 13-hour cut-off time, thus finishing in the top half of my age group with two and a half hours to spare was great. It's the variety of this out-and-back course between Lake Chabot in San Leandro and Berkeley's Tilden Park that makes it so wonderful (I had run the second half of the course last year in Golden Hills marathon): the beauty of Lake Chabot in the pre-dawn moonlight and late-afternoon setting sun; Oakland's lush redwoods stands; great vistas of the Bay and Mount Diablo; and everything one could want on fire trails and single track (roots, rocks, stream crossings, and lots of up-and-down). Sophia dropped me off at Lake Chabot at 5:30 in the morning; was great to see her and Kristen a mile from the finish along Lake Chabot later in the afternoon. The tasty treats of barbeque, burgers, and other scrumptious goodies at the Firetrails Cafe is hands-down the best post-race meal I've ever had. Ultrarunners are hardy and know how to party. Notable memories: Since I opted for an early start because of my bad ankle, I ended up running solo in the pitch dark around Lake Chabot for the first two miles, occasionally with the full moon breaking through the tree canopies. I was way in front of the other early starters, all whom had headlamps, because their pace was simply too slow. I was the first runner to reach the first two aid stations with lots of fanfare, though I candidly admitted I had an early jump on the fastest runners; still, it was neat to baste in the applause of aid station workers upon being first to arrive (and hear that in past years early-starters had been passed by the lead runners by those points). And the thrill of seeing the boat ramp toward the very end of the run, with my daughter Kristen running by my side, knowing I had less than a minute to the finish line. I was pleased I had enough left in the tank to sprint to the end, appreciating the hearty applause as I broke the finish line and was greeted by the race directors: the legendary Ann Trason (who owns the women's record for the course not to mention her 12 first places at Western States 100) and her husband, Carl Andersen (who happens to have the fastest time ever on the course). What an ending!
Downhill at turnaround (mile 26)...Kristen joining dad a mile from the finish.
1. April 1, 2006: Sacramento-Auburn, CA; American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. My time: 10:39:36. Finally, I've made the leap into the Ultra world -- a muddy, lengthy one, but enjoyable nonetheless. Wasn't sure if I was the April Fool to attempt this following a month of non-stop rain that left the ground saturated and the single-track trail a bog of ankle-deep mud. I knew what I was getting into for I had done a practice run on the last 23 (and steepest) miles of the course two weeks before. While I was caked in mud following the practice run (plus I had a brush with poison oak), the ensuing two weeks of incessant rain made the trail all the more muddy. The practice run took 4 1/2 hours, thus I figured I could crack 9 hours on the full course. Notwithstanding the muddier footing, I discovered there's a big difference in running 23 single-track miles on fresh legs versus having just run a marathon-plus distance. Northern California's Spring 2006 has been miserable -- the rain from the Napa Valley marathon a month earlier never let up, resulting in more days of rainfall than ever. The day of the Ultra itself was pleasant with only a few sprinkles and even times of sunshine. This is one of the largest and longest-running 50-milers in the U.S. The first half of the course follows a winding bike-path with a graveled shoulder along the American River. It's pretty flat. The last half is largely horse trails over an undulating landscape, with a net gain of some 2500 feet. It's the last 2 1/2 miles (after the "Last Gasp" aid station) that's the killer -- some 1500 feet of steady rise. I and others pretty much had to power walk it in. I, however, had little power. I bonked by mile 47. It took me 1 1/2 hours to do the last 2 1/2 miles. I was on a pace to break 9 hours, my target, up to around mile 40 and then started falling apart. As they say, forget about time -- the challenge of your first 50 miler is to simply finish! What I like most about Ultras is the culture -- everything's low keyed (less competitive than a marathon, little corporate sponsorship and thus tee-shirts that aren't plastered with corporate logos, a help-thy-neighbor ethos among runners, and the overall laid-back feel of things). So much so that I've penciled in more Ultras on my calendar. I'll do some 50Ks as more or less training runs ("stepping stones") to future 50 milers. It's a new adventure and I have lots to learn. Notable memories: Mud! Enjoying classic rock tunes the first 8 hours (while my IPod Nano still had juice), having spirited folks cheer me and the other runners on during the difficult 40-50 mile stretch of the run, and seeing my kids 10-plus hours later at the finish line. Chris joined me across the finish and Kristen obliged me by tenderly wiping the mud off her tired dad's battered ankles and soggy feet.
Along the bike trail ... wading through the mud ... approaching the finish with my son, Chris ... at the finish line ... Chris, Kristen & me after 50 miles ... Kristen cleans dad's yucky feet.
2. September 7-8: Pinckney State Park, Hells Ranch, Michigan; Run Woodstock -- Long Slow Distance (LSD) 100K (64+ miles). My time: 18:34:38. What a long slow (and painful) trip it's been...man! This hippie-themed run in the rolling hills of Pinckney State Park, around 30 miles north of Ann Arbor, turned into a mudfest, befitting its Woodstock title. The 100K is four 16 mile loops of mostly single track trail. The 100K and 100 milers started at 4PM, Friday afternoon, under a bright sunny sky with temps around 80 degrees. With hundreds of tents and campers, Woodstock-style, occupying an open field, lots of tie-dye, bellbottoms, and flower power, and psychodelic music pumping in the background, it was nothing short of a groovy experience. A skimply clad young woman sporting a State of Liberty head dress kicked things off with a wonderful fuzz-guitar rendition of Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangle Banner. With the blast of the starting pistol, runners were off to do the first loop, passing by Grace Slick and Ritchie Havens aid stations before returning to the start. The first loop was quite hot and because of a wrong turn, I ended up doing the slightly longer 100 miler loop of 16.6 miles. Upon completing the first loop, 3 hours and 40 minutes after the start, I was greeted by a fantastic live band playing Rolling Stones. I freshened up, put on my headlamp, and proceeded with the second run. Then all hell broke loose. It started to rain and steadily built up to a full-blow mid-western thunderstorm, with heavy downpours that lasted through the night, all throughout the second and third loop and much of the final one. What were dry (albeit rooted and rutted) mostly single-track trails quickly turned into little streams and ankle-deep mud. The next 15 hours were pretty much non-stop slipping, sliding, and falling. I must have tripped on tree roots and rocks 20 times throughout the race, having to pull myself out of the mud. Along some of the steeper sections, I ended up pulling myself up the slopes by grabbing onto tree roots. A number of times I fell on my fanny and proceeded to slide back down the hill -- in pelting rain and pitch-dark surroundings, illuminated only by the circular glow of my headlamp. What was a fun run quickly turned into a miserable experience. After the second loop, runners began dropping out of the run in droves. For me, the worst thing was the extreme chafing I endured. Despite covering my body with thick wads of petroleum jelly, my inner thighs, buttocks, balls, lower torso, and upper leg turned into hamburger meat, chafed by the constant rubbing of wet clothing. I took off one layer of underwear and things only got worse. It was one of the most painful experiences ever -- from mile 20 to mile 62, experiencing biting, raw pain with every step. A saner person would have dropped however I came all the way to Michigan to prep for a 100 miler a month later, thus I was determined to run this one all the way through. Besides being wet and raw, it also got nippy outside. The only way to prevent hypothermia was to keep running. Otherwise, shivers set in. Midway through the fourth and final loop, the sun came up Saturday morning and the rain ended. However the trails were full of mud and the 100K and 100 miler runners were joined by fresh legged runners what started their 50 mile, 50K, marathon, half-marathon, 10K, and 5K runs that morning. Thus the trails got crowded and my chafing was worse than ever. With less than a half mile to the finish, I took a wrong turn. The course was easy to follow at night with glow-flags but in the daylight with numerous runners going different distances on different trails, I got confused and took a wrong turn. I could hear the live band at the finish line but could never seem to cross it because I started running the opposite direction. After running a few extra miles, I finally got directed to the right trail and crossed the finish line covered in mud and in extreme pain on my underside. The very worse pain was to come when I took a hot shower at the campgrounds, my raw and chafed skin screaming with pain from the impact of water. For the drive back to the Detroit airport and for the next two days (involving a brief stoppover in San Francisco to celebrate Sophia's birthway with my kids, at delicious Scoma's restaurant on the Fisherman's Wharf waterfront, followed by a 18 hour flight to Seoul and then on to Harbin, China), I could only walk with an extreme bow-legged gait...and lots of pain. I wish I could have enjoyed the post race festivities, including a great young band from Ana Arbor that did amazing covers of the Kinks and the Beatles. Right when I was driving out of Hells Ranch to head to the airport, the band played my very favorite Beatles song -- I am the Walrus. Despite the extreme pain, the performance gave me a hippie high. All and all, a fun weekend experience, mud, cold rain, and exterme chafing notwithstanding. While my time was painfully slow, so was the time of othe runners, putting me in the middle of the pack of finishers, despite spending a half hour or more of extra running. Notable memories: The solitude of running by my lonesome at night, pelted by heavy raindrops and squishing along in mud, enjoying warm soup and comraderie at the hippy-themed, heated, and canopied aid stations, the wooden bench atop one of the hills, and once again getting lost in a long ultra run within a mile of the finish line.
1. June 2, 2012: Kettle Morraine State Park Southern Unit, Wisconsin; Kettle Morraine 100 Endurance Run (63.1 miles). My time: 17:11:55. I had hoped to run the 100 mile version of this race however the race directors gave runners the option of stopping at about a mile over the 100K distance (a 50 miler + half marathon distance, or 63.1 miles, to be precise) and getting "credit" for a 100K run, which feeling very tired and not sure I could make the 100 mile cut-offs, I opted to do. A number of other runners did likewise. It wasn't my day (probably over-trained) and felt it'd be better to grab my first official 100K finish than to risk DNFing on the 100 miler, or bodily harm (which I felt was a possibility feeling as lousy as I did). While the weather was fairly cooperative (much better than the past few years but still a bit hot to my liking during the middle of the day), the constancy of hills took its toll on me. Who would have thought Wisconsin could be so hilly? I actually had run my first 50K on the middle part of this course 6 years earlier (Ice Age 50). I was pretty fast on that run and thought I could handle the longer distance, but age and other things seem to have conspired against me. I lost a fair amount of time at aid stations, including twice when Sophia was suppose to meet me with my salt pills, nutrition, etc, but never arrived because she got lost finding the stations. I did enjoy running with hearty midwest runners and the Kettle Morraine trails are generally interesting -- lots of up and down, with a fair amount of single-track and technical sections (lots of roots and rocks). Despite not going the 100 mile distance, I also enjoyed sleeping in a nice bed Saturday night in nearby Whitewater, Wisconsin. Notable memories: A full Saturday, from sun up to sun set (and then some) running the rolling hills of Wisconsin, finally adding a 100K to my repetoire of running accomplishments, the nice bright copper kettle I received as a finisher, and spending a pleasant post-race Sunday in downtown Chicago with Sophia before flying home and arriving in San Fran past midnight, Monday morning -- a long, full weekend it was.
5. April 6-7, 2013: Raleigh; Umstead 100. My time: 27:23:40. Billed as one of the easier 100 milers (if there is such a thing), "a walk in the park" it is not. Run in the gently rolling hills of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill "Research Triangle" of central North Carolina, this course has a fairly high attrition rate for two reasons: the repetitive nature of running eight 12.5 mile loops and the hard-pack running surface, akin to running 100 miles on concrete. The web site describes this as a course meant for first-time 100 milers looking for something to bridge a 50 miler and the tougher 100 milers run on mountain trails in the west, without the fear of getting lost (courtesy of a well-marked loop trail), the gentler slopes of trails, and a very pro-runner format. Psychologically, however, it's a tough run. This is partly because runners have the option of dropping after four loops and getting credit for a 50 mile run. After four loops and with darkness about to set in and the weather getting cold, there's a lot of temptation to call it a day and head back to the hotel, take a hot bath, and nestle into a warm bed. Only around 60% of starters finish the 100 miler, primarily for this reason. It's a mental game, forcing one to soldier on and let the heart take over from the mind. For me, the toughest loop was number 6. Earlier loops were fine because the course was new. Loop 4 started to get tiring however the half-way mark was symbolic. I ran loop 5 in the dark which created a different ambience. By loop 6, however, many runners had already dropped at 50 miles, it's wee hours of the morning (dark and lonely), and there's the thought to two more darn loops to run (at a time the faster runners have already finished the course, some telling you they are finishing up when they pass you). Loop 7 is better because you know you're nearing the end, and for me, loop 8 was fairly enjoyable, partly because it's getting light again and you're on the final lap, about to bring this thing to an end. For a reason I still can't understand, I seem to gain strength toward the end of 100 milers -- in this case, I ran the downhills and flats of the final loop well, passing lot of folks the final 5 or so miles. I was particularly delighted I ran the last mile as fast as any, including running the final several 100 feet up a fairly steep hill toward the finish line -- something the race director mentions on the web site that a fair number of runners muster the ability to do even when exhausted. I set a goal of running up this final slope and was pleased I was able to, with a fairly amount of strength and energy to keep going, to the applause of a welcoming group of on-lookers at the finish line. In fact, I ran the last loop so fast that my crew (wife Sophia and 16-year old daughter, Kristen) wasn't there to greet me because based on my previous loop from the web site times, I wasn't expected to get to the finish line till some 40 minutes later. My faithful crew was particularly helpful during the daylight laps in the afternoon, when temperatures started to rise, giving me much-welcomed smoothies that provided much-needed calories. While I was okay with my time (123 out of 162 finishers), I remain in awe of my running buddy, 69-year-old Wally Hasseltine of my hometown, Lafayette, who broke 24 hours (as he did when we ran the Heartland 100 together in 2011). Wally ran Umstead 100 in 2012, just missing the 24 hour mark and was determined to run it again below 24 hours. That he did, and then some. Also impressive was 72-year-old Dan Pieroni, a retired eye surgeon from Kodiak, Alaska, who fast walks (at a nearly 4 miles per hour during the first half of the run), having now completed Umstead 100 four times (including last year when he had the fastest 100 mile time among 70+ year olders worldwide). Dan and I moved at a similar pace through much of the day and night, thus I got a chance to talk to him a fair amount. He was greeted by his family, who walked the final 12.5 mile loop with him. I passed he and his family 4 miles to the finish line and shared with them how awestruck I am by Dan's performance. Amazing! Besides a hard running surface that beats up the legs (prompting a large number of runners to use Hokas), the hills also take a toll on some runners. While billed an easy run, by the third loop, the many hilly sections wear folks down. All and all, there's 8000 feet of elevation gain and an an equal amount of drop -- again no cake walk. Part of the challenge of this run is simply getting in -- the race fills up within 5 minutes of open registration, requiring one to almost instantaneous fill in the registration on-line; the prior year, I wasn't fast enough to get in. (This time I was because my 16-year-old daughter, Kristen, registered for me while I was abroad.) The upside of this race is the superb organization (among the very best aid station workers, food fare, and overall pro-runner atmosphere one will find in any race). We also lucked out with weather -- in the cool lower 60s during much of the day (though by afternoon the open skies got a bit hot, requiring me to douse myself in cold compresses). At night, it got downright chilly, in the high 30s, which I began to feel because I (and others) were reduced to a fast walk, generating less body heat. I had to put multiple layers on throughout the night to stay warm, which I peeled off toward the end of the final loop when things warmed up again. For me, this race was also a bit of a homecoming. The day before, Sophia and I took Kristen (who was on Spring break), to visit UNC Chapel Hill (my undergraduate alma mater) and nearby Duke University (probably the most physically gorgeous college campus anywhere). I'd be delighted if my very-smart daughter went to my alma mater. At Chapel Hill, I showed Kristen my former dorm (Manly Hall, now a coed dorm) and where I use to bus tables (the Carolina Inn). All and all, a great weekend taking in my former college haunts and enjoying a wonderful ultra-run in a part of the country where I spent my formative years. Notable memories: Monotonous course (partly offset by having one's own personal aid station every 12.5 miles), re-experiencing life in North Carolina, being around some great ultra-runners and fans from the south, spending the weekend with my two favorite girls, and enjoying the ambience of a very runner-friendly organization in a very attractive (and convenient, next to the airport and the hotel where we stayed) slice of North Carolina, Umstead Park.
Note: Left 2 images -- me passing Wally Hasseltine (69-year old of Lafayette, CA) for the first loop; Wally went on to crush my time (and most other runners), finishing under 24 hours -- amazing! My loop times progressively slowed as the day (and night) wore on.
4. October 6-7, 2012: Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas; Arkansas Travller 100 (100.5 miles). My time: 28:13:08. Nice autumn run in the rolling (and rather rocky) hills of the Oauchita National Forest in Arkansas, some 40 miles west of Little Rock. The weather turned dramatically the morning of the run. Temps had been in the mid-80s the prior week and right when the race started, a cold front came through, dropping the temperatures into the 40s (which I like). However with cooler temperatures came cold rain, thunder, and lightening. The first 17-mile figure-8 loop is quite nice, with around 10 miles of gorgeous single track trail in the Ouachita National Forest. This brought runners to Sylvia Lake, near the race start, where I hooked up with my support team -- Sophia and Kristen. The rest of the run is mostly on jeep trails and while the trails were fairly wide, they were hardly passable. There were some very rutted and rocky sections along the forty-plus mile out-and-back. Just an hour out of Syvia Lake, the skies opened up and for the next four to five hours, we ran in downpours, thunder, and most frightening for me, lightening bolts. There were sections of the trial to Pumpkin Patch and then on to the Lake Winona aid station where I could feel the electricity of the nearby lightening, with my hair literally standing from the static electricity. I tried to avoid getting struck by running along the edge of the trees so I wasn't the highest object on the trail. I ran most of the race in a black trash bag I picked up at the Pumpkin Patch aid station, which was a god-send since it kept me fairly dry and protected. By nightfall, temps got fairly chilly. Multiple layers kept me pretty warm. I took a few tumbles that drew some blood during the day on rocky sections of the course but surprisingly stayed erect and tumble-free during the night, when I slowed my gait and spent much of the time dodging rocks and mud puddles. I conversed with quite a few folks during the night, including an incredible woman in her early 50s from Georgia who was running her 27th 100 miler of the year, already having broken the world's womens record for this feat. While I was fairly slow, I ended up in the middle of the pack, finishing 46th out of 80 finishers (and more than 100 starters), and second in my age group (on an age-graded basis, I ended up 28th out of 80 finishers). I got some wind the last 3 miles, managing to pass quite a few younger folks than I. I arrived at the finish line at the beautiful Oauchita Lodge early morning, to be greeted by my female crew of Sophia and Kristen. I had only a small amount of chafing and felt pretty good after the run, which was important since I was about to hop on a plane to Chicago and then Barcelona. For me, this race was memorbable as much for what followed -- a 10 day marathon trip to give talks at a World Bank event in Barcelona and then for the metrorail project in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, followed by a one-day layover in Frankfurt, and finally home. Having finished a 100 miler gave me some positive energy to do all this post-race stuff. Notable memories: Lots of rocks, cool but wet running, spending the day in Little Rock with my family after the race, and overall good vibes hanging around with this group of friendly, dedicated long-distance runners, mostly from Arkansas.
Click here for YouTube clip of me crossing the finish line.
Left: Enjoying refreshments at Powerline Aid Station (mile 48); Right: approaching the finish line with daughter Kristen videoing the stiff-legged conclusion to the 100.5 mile trek
3. March 23-24, 2012: Antelope Island, Utah; Antelope Island Buffalo 100 Mile Run (~101 miles). My time: 28:36:26. This was a challenging course of two 50+ mile loops, making for a hundred and then some (everyone with GPS's said the course was long). Because of the altitude (4200 to 5000 feet) and as a guy who lives at sea level, I decided to take it easy -- basically run/walk the first loop and pretty much fast-walk the second. 100-milers are essentially about finishing thus that was my sole goal given I don't handle altitude well. Antelope Island sits in the Great Salt Lake, north of Salt Lake City. It's the lake's largest island and is pretty much barren, save for buffalos, a few antelopes, lots of birds, and day-trippers. The course was a bit of a grind -- two loops of twin peaks on the island's west side, some out-and-back sections, and a long mostly flat section on the island's east side. Several things conspired to make things tough. The race started at noon on Friday (a concession, no doubt, to the Mormons who I'm guessing don't run on Sundays). The southerly wind was blistering, up to 35 mph. Unfortunately it hit us as headwinds during the daylight hours when we were mostly running south, adding resistance to the already thin air. And by the time we started running northbound in the evening, the wind had largely stopped thus we didn't get the advantage of a compensating tailwind. And the next day, Saturday, was the hottest on record for March 24, in the upper 70s with no clouds. And with no trees on the island, there was no shade, leaving runners totally exposed. I sunburned my neck and a despite a runner's cap, my face. I apparently over-hydrated because I had badly swollen hands, which prompted me to not take in many liquids. And consistent with my prior 100s, once again I ran off trail. On the first 50 mile loop, past midnight and with no other runners around (only around 45 started, meaning everyone was spread out), I missed a turn at mile 46 and proceeded to waddle through huge boulders near the lake. It was pitch-black and I was totally disoriented. The boulders were towering and I get tripping and falling, even with a headlamp. I was worried I'd break a leg and twice took really bad falls on my hip. Finally I saw a headlamp way above and started scrambling across the boulders back to the trail, a few hundred feet higher. I spent around a half hour wading in this sea of boulders, fearing I'd take myself out of the race. Once back to the huge tent at the start/finish line, I recouped and proceeded to make the grueling second loop. Despite such trials and tribulations, I mostly enjoyed the run. There were beautiful vistas of the lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the serinity of running by myself -- surrounded by buffalo and a barren landscape -- at the wee-hours of the morning with a bible-black, start-lit night, and some great comraderie among the runners. What also made the run neat was getting cheered on by the 50-mile runners who started Saturday morning and met up with the slower 100 milers like myself the last 25 miles of the run. They were really uplifting, giving us encouragement and all sorts of flattering remarks -- "your my hero", "you're awesome", "great job", etc. The race was won by the local speed demon, Karl Meltzer, who was well into the second loop when I was struggling to finish my first. Sophia was my support team, helping me tremendously at several aid stations on the island's east side (the ice-cold Jamba Juice gave me a badly needed energy boost). The course took its toll, with a goodly share of runners dropping. Many went out too fast and with the time, the conditions took their toll. I was slow but I was continually mindful of the risks of blowing up, thus a steady pace brought me to the finish in one piece, just a few blisters, and ahead of a few folks 20+ years younger than I. All and all, a great weekend emersing myself in a semi-mountainous desert landscape on an island in Utah. Notable memories: Antelope island's wildlife and beauty, connecting with some dedicated runners (including Reiko, from New York), falling on big boulders off the lake, the cheery aid-station workers, the uplifting spirit of the 50 mile runners, and chowing down a potpourri of buffalo stew post-race.
2. October 8-9, 2011: Cassoday/Flint Hills, Kansas; Heartland 100 (100.5 miles). My time: 26:49:03. It was a four-plus year hiatus but after several failed attempts, I finally finished my second century. Not sure why because surprisingly I had a fair amount of wind left at the end. I zeroed in on the Heartland 100 "Spirit of the Prarie" race precisely because of its fairly low altitude and elevation gain and supposedly tolerable climate. A walk in the park, it was not. While not as tough as the steep and technical 100 milers of the mountain west, this race had plenty to dish out. First, the weather was not cooperative. The first 25 miles involved battling strong headwinds, up to 45 mph, and much of the next 25 miles were spent being tossed about by equally strong cross-winds -- so much so I guess I ran an extra mile sideways. And in true Kansas tradition, the weather was seemingly ever changing, with an incredible amount of contrast in the span of one day. The forecast was for temps in the mid-80s, something I was dreading. For a few hours in the midday, it did get toasty, though the winds helped to some degree. By evening, however, it started raining and then got downright cold, albeit the winds had by then died down. At several aid stations, I was shivering, prompting the helpers to put a blanket on me. Overall, I ran with 3 different jackets (including a heavier freebie a guy gave me at Ridgeline, mile 38) and four changes of tee-shirts -- never before have I changed my wardrobe so much in a run. The course ain't exactly flat either, with 6,200 feet of elevation gain and the same amount of drop. It's often gentle change that only over time gets noticed. For some, the hard part was figuring out when you were running up or down hill, particularly at night. The extra energy spent on running some of the gentle but continuous uphills got to some runners. Then there's the psychological piece -- without much definition to the skyline, hardly any trees, and a horizon that spanned 50 plus miles when running the gentle downhills, it was had to gauge distance. The worst mistake for many runners was to fix their mind on a point in the horizon and aim to get there -- seemingly one never got any closer. For some, it broke their spirit. A non-stop rocky surface (that pounded the bottom of your feet regardless of running shoe strength) also took its toll. With the strongest winds ever in the 12 years of the event, the drop rate was around 40%. It's an out-and-back course, which meant at the 50 mile turnaound (Lone Tree), you had to mentally deal with retracing your path of the past 50 miles. That said, the Lone Tree aid station was the highlight of the course. By far, the best food fare ever -- delicious hot chicken wings, gourmet seasoned fries, warm tocquitos with salsa, and much more. It was an oasis in the middle of nowhere, and for some, too hard to leave. A stray dog who hooked up with runners at Teterville (mile 25) followed a group of us all the way to Lone Tree -- 25 miles in total (they should have given him a medal). The dog ran in the heat of the day when conditions were the hardest, seemingly without water. But at Lone Tree, he had a feast, munching the chicken wing bones and all the other leftovers he could scrounge. It was the middle of the day when the heat was blasting and the cross-winds were taking their toll that I most struggled. I had to stop for 25 minutes at Ridgeline to try to re-build my energy and get my pulse beat down. I struggled to get to Matfield Green (mile 43), where Sophia and Kristen (my support team, enjoying their first trip ever to America's heartland) provided nourishment. I proceeded to barf it all up at that point. They (and I) didn't think I could go on. I perservered and by the time the temps cooled at bit and I made it to the Lone Tree oasis, things started turning around for me. As the temps cooled and my nutrition improved (what saved me also was the flavorless "just plain" Gu), I gained strength. By the time I got back to Teterville (mile 75) and was greeted by Sophia and Kristen (at approximately 3am), I started to rally (thanks in part to two delicious smoothies the girls passed on to me). The last 25 miles I was running a lot, when most others were reduced to a slow shuffle. I probably passed 20 folks over the final marathon distance, some of whom ended up dropping. My support team, who had to deal with deeply rutted roads to get to the aid stations, deserve part of the credit for me completing this run. The quaintness of this race is an attraction. Ran in and around the small town (population 80) of Cassoday, Kansas, some 40 miles northeast of Wichita, it's got a warm, friendly feel to it -- the spirit of the praries was evident in abundance. Cassoday itself is the Prarie Chicken Capital of the World, albeit no prarie chickens were to be seen along the course. Also neat was the fact that three runners from Team Diablo ran the race. Dave Messman of Walnut Creek came in 8th and Tamara Johnson of Pleasant Hill was fifth among women. But top honors go to Wally Hasseltine, a 68 year old lawyer from my hometown of Lafayette, who ran the course in just under 24 hours. I came in second among those 60 and older -- there must be something in that Lafayette water that us old codgers thrive by. Here were four folks living within a 10 mile radius of each other in the East Bay who were running 100 miles in the middle of nowhere in Kansas, taking the the top 43 slots (with myself being the slowest). A good showing, I'd say, for Team Diablo. The only bummer for me was losing about 10 minutes by backtracking the course. Some 85 miles into the race, I ran a good 15 minutes and 2 miles without seeing any glow sticks, headlamps, or orange tape markings. Pre-race, the race directors said if you run more than a quarter mile or 5 minutes without seeing any of these, it means you're lost. Thus I assumed I was and started retracing my steps, only to be met some 5 minutes later by runners behind me. If I hadn't lost these 10 minutes, I would have actually beaten one of the top women ultrarunners -- Anita Fromm of Colorado (although she must have had a bad day because she's a lot faster than I). I was reminded of the same experience of the Vermont 100 four years earlier, getting lost toward the end. Perhaps a combination of sleep deprivation and being in a semi-hallucinegic stage took effect and I didn't make the best choices. Oh well, it meant an extra mile of running, which once you've done 100 miles isn't such a big deal. Notable memories: Changing weather, the distant sounds of howling coyotes, running alone in the high praries near Texaco Hill at 2 am while thinking it'd be an excellent spot for an alien abduction, a mostly full moon, seeing a shooting star in the night sky, the peacefulness of the high plains at night, running the last mostly uphill quarter mile to the finish, finally getting a 100-mile buckle at the award ceremony in the Cassoday Community Center (and a beautiful silver and gold buckle it is), and a great post-run lunch with Sophia and Kristen at a local drewery in downtown Wichita. Click here for a YouTube video of me shuffle-footing across the finish line.
A Day in Cassoday Kansas: Pre-race with sub-24 hour finisher, 68-year old Wally Hasseltine -- 2 dudes from Lafayette CA take the top-two 60+ age group finishes; reaching aid stations at miles 17 (Lapland), 25 (Teterville - stretching and hiking), 43 (Matsfield Green), and 100 (approaching finish line); post-race on a chair, trying to keep warm; getting my Heartland buckle at the post-race award ceremony; and with my crew captain and partner in downtown Cassoday.
Morning to midday during the run -- first 25 miles. Change in garb reflects changing weather. Later I was drapped in long-sleeve raincoat!
1. July 21-22, 2007: West Windsor, VT; Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run (100.9 miles). My time: 25:50:32. My first "century" was a blast. I honestly wasn't sure I could keep going for 100 miles however all and all, it was a very enjoyable experience. To my surprise, I didn't feel beaten up at the end -- less so than with many road marathons. The course is cloverleaf-shaped, traversing the gently rolling hillsides of spectacularly gorgeous east-central Vermont. Around 60% of the run is on dirt carriage-roads (with mostly the soil consistency of modeling clay), 30% on single-track trails (mud, roots, rocks, and all), and the remainder on the open fields of farm estates, with a mile or so running on the shoulders of highways. I decided to start slowly which paid off. By mile 60, I began passing lots of runners, mostly on the down hills. The course isn't a piece of cake -- some 15,000+ feet of uphill and a comparable amount of down. It's also 3 miles longer than the previous years; a GPS re-check showed this year's redrawn course to be nearly 101 miles in length. I generally power-walked the uphills (around a quarter of the course), ran the downs, and jogged most of the flats and gently rolling terrain. I drove up from Virginia with my sister and 16-year old son, Chris, who were my crew. They provided much-appreciated vanilla milkshakes at some key junctures of the course -- a great thirst-quincher and calorie-injector. At the Margaritaville aid station (mile 65), the 2nd crossing of 10 Bear (mile 70.5), and Bill's (mile 85), the body toll and carnage were noticeable. I got out of those places as fast as I could since much of running a 100-miler is mental. I lost 3 pounds at the first weigh in (mile 47) but managed to maintain my weight the rest of the check points. Given I felt nauseated mid-race and had a hard time keeping down solids, I was concerned of weight loss and being pulled. The milk shakes helped a lot -- not only neutralizing the acid build-up in my stomach but also injecting some much-needed calories. I was also plagued by blisters on the bottom of my feet, though not painful enough to keep my feet from moving. Particularly enjoyable was headlamp-running at night -- mainly single-track trails with tricky footing, generally by myself, and amidst all sorts of critters. The bible-black skies and brilliant stars were breathtaking. At several junctures, I stopped for a few minutes, soaking in the elements and enjoying the solitude. Also, I experienced 2 sunrises. The race started at 4 AM on Saturday, thus running with a flashlight, I was in the dark till the sun rose that morning; and some 5 miles before I crossed the finish line, I witnessed a brilliant sunrise again over the eastern Vermont hillsides. It's actually a "ride and run" -- some 30 folks rode horses the 100 miles; I enjoyed running besides these beautiful steeds during the early parts of the course. The weather was pretty cooperative with relative low humidity -- though in the afternoon, the cloudless sun beat down mercilessly; many started dropping at this point. All and all, I did far better than I expected -- they say the goal of your first 100 miler is to simply finish (in this case, within the 30 hour cutoff time). Out of 225 folks who started the run, I came in 82nd; nearly 40% of the runners did not finish (DNF'd). The last mile of the course was wacky -- all kinds of unexpected twists and turns. I got lost around 1/4 mile from the finish, ending up at a garbage dump -- not what I had in mind as a close-out to the run. I lost some 10 minutes of time retracing my steps and ended up logging over 102 miles...all part of the century experience. Notable memories: Fabulous scenery including crossing two rivers in covered bridges, the eerie quietness of the midnight/early-morning run, and the euphoria of crossing the finish line yet feeling like I could keep going.
Fixed Time: 12-Hour Events
5. February 25, 2011; North Las Vegas, Nevada; Tule Springs 12 Peacock Run . My distance: 58 miles. Finally, I broke the 54-mile mark on a 12 hour run. I did fifty 1.16 mile loops in an oasis in the desert northwest of Vegas -- Tule Springs. The course was a winding mix of asphalt, concrete, and dirt, looping around a lake. The highlight of the course was the peacocks who would occasionally squack and spread their colorful foliage to the peahens. At the beginning, the course seemed flat but as the day wore on, what were gentle inclines became mountains. There was probably 30 to 40 feet of elevation gain per loop which over 50 loops meant several thousand feet of rise. The weather started cold, got to the mid 70s in mid-afternoon, and by the 6 PM nightfall (when we were distributed headlamps), it was cold again. There was also a 6 hour run plus relays of 4-member teams. What this meant was being passed during much of the day by fresh legs -- people who had been sitting things out, hours at a time, only to start running again. I did fine, placing fifth out of 15 runners who did the 12 hour individual run. Sophia was my support team, providing drinks after some loops and walking the course herself over the 12 hour day. Notable memories: Vistas of desert mountains, squacking peacocks, running and then power walking, and having a nice weekend on the Vegas strip with Sophia.
Left: Early morning running on fresh legs; Middle: Peacock flirting with peahen; Right: slowing down as the day wore on.
4. July 16-17, 2011; Auburn State Recreational Area, Cool, CA; Cool Moon 12 Hour Night Run . My distance: 45 miles (11:29 hours). This was my second 12 hour run within a week however in all other respects it was quite different. First, it's a much tougher course -- some steep inclines with rutted, rocky footing netting around 1000 feet of elevation gain/drop per 9-mile loop. I did five loops meaning there was almost a mile of elevation rise. Second, it was a night run, starting at 8 PM Saturday night and finishing 8 AM Sunday morning. The combination of pitch darkness and tricky footing meant I fell a lot. I probably did 3-4 face plants and as many bad tumbles. I tore up my left palm several times and had all other sorts of nicks and bruises. I had a head lamp and I also used a flashlight but even then it was hard to figure out where to plant your foot, particularly the first half of the loop, which by far was the toughest. I signed up for this because I wanted something a bit different, running all night. Fearful I'd twist an ankle that would take me out of the run, I tried to take it slow and easy going down the steep, rutted downhill sections. Aside from all the tumbling, it was otherwise an enjoyable run -- running mostly by myself (the runners were spread over 9 miles) in the still of the night, with bright stars and a nearly full moon above. One heard lots of animals stirring around in the background. Most memorable were the howling coyotes. My most serious problem was horrendous chaffing -- something that's plagued me two weeks in a row. Despite having over-lubricated my bottom with Vasoline, by the second loop I started suffering from a raw scrotum. It got painfully worse, to the point I removed my cotton underwear. This provided little relief because my tight nylon layer of underwear started further chaffing my balls. The pain was so intense I thought I'd have to drop after 2 loops. I then removed this second underwear layer and proceeded to run the last half of the second loop with my running shorts at the knee level. I was running butt-naked, something I could do since it was pitch-black with no one else within eye sight. Once reaching the start-finish area, I walked a quarter-mile to my car to get a baggy pair of cotton shorts. I re-pinned my running bib, swabbed tons of Vasoline on my balls and rear, and proceeded on for the next loop. This helped but the pain was still there despite saturating my shorts and skin with Vasoline. By the time I finished 5 loops, I was a mess -- totally raw, with blood down my legs, and all sorts of scrapes and bruises from hard falls. Despite the rough time and struggling to walk, I have to say I enjoyed the peacefulness of running all-night by my lonesome. It was a tough but memorable 12-hour run. I came in 5th out of 21 runners who started the 12-hour night run -- and the four dudes who finished before me (3 with the same number of miles) were between 14 and 33 years younger -- thus, all and all, my performance wasn't too bad for an old guy. There were actually 3 other events going on -- a 100 miler, a 24-hour run, and a 12-hour day run (that was ending when the night run began). Having stayed up all night, I was quite sleepy making the nearly 3 hour drive back from Cool to Lafayette Sunday morning. I pulled my Saab over for a half-hour nap when I caught myself nodding off, which helped considerably. A few slaps to the face plus some loud music allowed me to make it home safe and sound, where after cleaning up at Oakwood Health Club, I proceeded to crash in my bed for a long, deep sleep. While running 12 hours in the night might seem mind-numbingly boring, I found myself constantly pre-occupied -- staring at my feet in the headlamp glow, hoping I wouldn't make a wrong step, interspersed by looking ahead for the sight of glow sticks and yellow ribbons to make sure I was on course. Bored, I was not! Notable memories: The pitch-black stillness of the night, with animal sounds providing an ambient background, was a highlight of the evening, the nearly constant raw pain from chaffing below combined with a bloodied left palm and scraped body parts will be the lingering memory of this run.
3. July 9, 2011; Point Pinole Regional Shoreline Park; Pinole, CA; Dirty Dozen 12 Hour Endurance Run . My distance: 54.1 miles (11:53 hours). I'm nothing if not consistent when it comes to 12 hour runs -- I've logged distances of 54.0 to 54.11 miles the three times I've run them. This one was tougher, however, than the previous two which had mostly flat terrains. This course's 3.1 mile loop on mostly firetrails of the secluded Point Pinole Shoreline Park had nice rolling terrain with supposedly around 150 feet of elevation gain per loop. I ended up doing 17 of these big loops plus 2 smaller loops (0.7 miles per loop) which opened up after 11 hours of running to allow runners to log more miles without taking on the bigger loop (which we all were beginning to tire of). It's a pretty course in a slice of the Bay Area I've never seen -- nice unqiue vistas of Marin County and Mount Tam from this ithumus that juts out at the tip of the northeast San Francisco Bay. Brazen Races organized this run and they did an absolutely superb job -- much better than the other commercial ventures that sponsor endurance events in the Bay Area. Everything -- organization, aid station refreshments, start-finish line, course markings, goody bags, loudspeaker music, after-race barbeque -- was first-rate. Kudos to the race director, Sam, for putting on such a top-notch event. They actually were able to give 12-hour runners finishing medals with their names and mileage engraved on the back. The only gripe might be that the course could be long. Sam insists each loop is 3.1 miles, calibrated by bike, however a few runners were coming up with 3.2 to 3.22 miles per loop on their Garmin GPSs. Perhaps not a big measurement error but over 12 hours it adds up. Also, after running 11 1/2 hours, I got lost switching to the shorter 0.7 mile loop. I was pointed in the wrong direction and ended up running a quarter mile out of the way before managing to connect up with the correct route (which I could tell by seeing other runners some distance away). Otherwise, it was a splendid race. The weather was perfect -- actually cool in the morning (I did the first loop with a jacket; the morning loops with Moeben sleeves; only by the early afternoon did it warm up enough to run with a short sleeve shirt). There was a stiff breeze at times, but fortunately it was mostly to our backs and when we did face it head on, the Eucalyptus trees helped block the wind. Some pretty fast runners blazed this course, with the winner logging 74 miles. There were also 6-hour, 5K, and 10K events going on throughout the day, which meant the 12-hour runners were at times being passed by fresh legs. Overall, I was happy with my time, finishing in the top third of runs and logging the most ore miles in the 60+ age group. The only set-back I had was a badly chafed buttock, to the point I had a hard time sitting and walking after the race. I recovered quickly, however, able to put in a 2 hour run two days after the 12-hour event. Notable memories: Seeing Sophia every 35 to 50 minutes (the range of time for my loops), the comraderie of ultra-runners logging seemingly endless miles while keeping an upbeat attitude, the friendly aid station workers at the half-way point, and the great post-race food and festivities.
Approaching the start/finish line of each 3.1+ mile loop in Point Pinole Shoreline Park
2. December 27, 2009: Huntington Beach, CA; Big Cat Challenge -- 12 Hour Event . My distance: 54.0 miles (11:51 hours). After Xmas, my family and I drove to Orange County -- so the kids could go to Disneyland, my wife could get in a Bikkram Yoga session at a new venue, and I could run circles around a 2-mile loop course in a 12 hour event. Held at Central Park in Huntington Beach, this was a quaint, homespun event with only some 40+ runners and an interesting format. Over a 12+ hour period, runners could choose any event they'd like -- short (1/2 marathon or shorter), marathon, 50K, 50 mile, 12 hour, or whatever. I set my sights on running for up to 12 hours and seeing how many miles I could log. Runners could actually run beyond 12 hours as long as they started their final loop before the 12 hour mark, allowing them to get in the maximum miles over a 12+ hour time period. I knew this was going to be a different event when we assembled at the shart in the chill of the morning only to discover the race director had yet to fully mark the course, meaning the planned 7AM start was delayed to 7:37AM. We were told the course -- a mostly flat somewhat figure-8 loop on mostly paved trails with one slight hill followed by a steep drop and one section of tree roots and sloped dirt around a lake -- was 2 miles in length. To me, it seemed slighty longer. I did this run mainly to build up my mental toughness through repetitive running but also in hopes of breaking 50 miles within 11 hours, which I did -- 10:55, to be precise. Indeed, my performance almost exactly matched my San Francisco 12-hour run two months earlier. When it began to get dark at 5PM, over half the runners were already done and the race director instructed runners to switch to running the 1st loop only (to cut out the rooted section with tricky footing), recording this as a one-mile loop. The problem is, this loop was more than a mile; according to a runner's GPS, it was more than 1 1/4 miles. At this time, I had already run 46 miles and wasn't too pleased about having to run "long" miles without getting the distance credit -- a big deal on a fixed-time event where you're trying to maximize mileage. I and other runners complained after having run the 1++ mile loop. The race director then tried to shorten the loop however no one really knew whether it was precisely a mile, a little under, or a little over. I thus ran 2 supposedly one-mile loops, however I reckoned I had logged something closer to 2 3/8 miles, instead of 2. I (and several other serious runners) asked to return to the original 2-mile double-loop course, which the race director agreed to, thus I finished out my run with 3 more double-loopers, hitting the 50, 52, and 54 mile marks. When I hit 54 miles (more likely 54 3/8 miles) at 11:51 hours, I was asked whether I wanted to run another 2-mile loop, however I declined because I was treating this as a fixed-time 12-hour event. I ran the 5th most miles among 49 runners (about half of whom ran ultra distances) and I took 1st place among males 55 and older. What I didn't like about this run was the lax nature of course measurement -- I really want to know precisely what I'm running (...yes, I'm a bit anal about these things). What I did like was: the great weather (low 60s with partly cloudy skies), the low-key nature of the event, and the ability to eat my own food (Subway turkey sandwiches), drink my own liquids (ice tea and cold sprite soft drinks) without hauling a water bottle around, and take salt pills every 2 miles at my nicely set up personal aid station (complete with a folding chair, towels, etc.). Despite the repetitiveness of 12 hour events, this aspect I like: having access to creature comforts on a regular basis. Consequently, I had absolutely no stomach problems, something that has plagued me in numerous past ultras. I stayed fully hydrated and was able to consume calories. Thus despite having run a tough 50K the prior weekend in Marin County, I had few problems running 50+ miles in this event. Overall, a good long-run training event which despite some of the organizational issues, I enjoyed. Notable memories: Spending time with Southern California ultra-runners I had never seen or met before, watching and hearing these guys run their noisy radio-antennaed miniature race cars up a steep hill near the one-mile mark of the first loop, running by a launching pad for a frisbee throwing event at the lake entrance, and having my wife, Sophia, meet me some 8 hours into the run with a cold vanilla milkshare from Jack-in-the Box and urge me on the final loops of the run.
Left: Pre-race with my 3 kids who are about to head to Disneyland; right 2 photos -- me, 12 hours and 54+ miles later.
1. October 25, 2009: San Francisco, CA; San Francisco One Day -- 12 Hour Event . My distance: 54.11 miles (11:49 hours). My first fixed-time event -- running circles around the 1.061 mile loop of Chrissy Field off the waterfront of San Francisco -- was more enjoyable than I feared. I wasn't sure, psychologically speaking, how I would react to a fixed-time event. Boredom was a concern. However I found I actually liked the format. It was a series of one-mile runs with the option of taking a break at the aid station and if need be, resting at the spot I set up with a lounge chair, ice chest, and other niceties. For me, it meant avoiding what has plagued me a number of times with recent ultras -- de-hydration. Having just flown in the day before from China, I wasn't sure how I'd perform, still feeling the effects of jet lag. I was pretty happy -- notably, I managed to break the 50 mile mark in less than 11 hours, which qualifies me for 2010 Western States 100 (the "Boston Marathon" of ultra-running) and guarantees me a slot (under the 2-time loser rule)... stay tuned as to whether I end up doing this run or not because I have a lot of training to do if I'm to get in 100 mile shape. Overall, I placed 9th out of the 59 runners who did the 12-Hour -- the 8 runners who logged miles were all 8 or more years younger. The San Francisco 12-Hour event also features a 24-hour event for those who really want to log the miles. When we gathered at Chrissy Field Saturday morning, many veteran Bay Area ultra-runners were in attendance. The gun went off at 9AM sharp and soon thereafter the sun began to break through. It was a fairly sunny day throughout -- a bit on the warm side for San Francisco, with temps getting into the low 70s. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the entire bay waterfront were spectacular...however I have to admit that after 10 or so laps, it all became a bit monotonous. During the day, parts of the course got crowded with various tourists and day-trippers. However when things started cooling off in the afternoon and then darkness set in, it was a totally different experience, and overall the most enjoyable part of the race (despite already having run for some 10 hours). By around 5PM, I was joined by my family, who settled at my rest spot to cheer me on every 1.061 miles. My 12-year old daughter, Kristen, ran one lap with me (in daylight) and walked one with me (at night). My son, Chris, also joined me as I walked the 50th lap. By then, I already had run 50-miles within 11 hours -- my goal of the race -- thus I decided to take the last few laps easy. Actually, there was a bit of drama in making the 50-mile mark. I thought 47 laps would give me 50 miles, however when I brought this up to the Race Director, Wendell Dorman, as a qualifier for Western States, he told me it was actually 49.9 miles. I thus had less than 20 minutes to do 1.061 miles to qualify for Western States. I probably could have walked this in time, however I set off running and probably ran my faster lap as number 48 -- coming in with 50.9 miles in 10:49 minutes. I thus walked the next two laps with my kids and ran the very last lap -- number 51 -- solo, for a total of 54.1 miles. Notable memories: Chatting with fellow runners while looping the lagoon at Chrissy Field, catching splendid vistas of the sparkling bay, taking frequent rest breaks at my little rest station near the finish line, and having my family around the last 3 hours of the race to cheer me on.
Fixed Time: 24-Hour Event
2. December 31 2011-January 1, 2012: San Francisco, CA; New Year's One Day -- 24 Hour Event . My distance: 94.43 miles. What a wonderful way to ring in the New Year -- with a group of fellow running maniacs. This was my 3rd running (two 24 hour runs and a 12 hour run) of circles around San Francisco's Crissy Field, a lagoon near the bay with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and San Francisco's northend skyline. Thus on 3 occasions over a 26 month stretch, I've run 213 circles and 226 miles around this 1.061 mile track. I bettered my previous 24 hour run (see below) by 17 miles (albeit the weather for that run was awful), and was but 5 1/2 miles short of breaking 100 miles. I won the 60-and-over age division. And I pretty much hit my pace targets: 10K in around one hour (and change); marathon -- 4:50, 50 miles in under 11 hours (10:52); and my consistent 12 hour mark (54.1 miles). I've learned to enter into a different mental zone for dealing with the mind-numbing monotony of running circles for a day, and I enjoy the convenience of having my own personal aid station (a tent, icey drinks, turkey sandwiches, change-of-clothes -- and my cheering wife, Sophia) every mile. The weather was ideal though it did get nippy and windy around 2-5AM. The 24-hour runners started at 9AM on New Year's Eve while the 12-hour runners started at noon and the 6-hour runners at 6PM (so they could finish at the strike of midnight, collectively celebrating the New Year). Thus the others began when us 24-hour blokes were well into our runs and perhaps most painful, were done (and celebrating the New Year) when the rest of us still had 9 hours to run! Still, the comraderie was great. I talked a lot with fellow Lafayette resident and ultra phenom, 68-year old Wally Hasseltine, who I ran Heartland 100 with months earlier. Wally did the 12 hour run. In my case, I rang in the New Year while on the opposite end of the track from most other runners celebrating near the finish line, by my lonesome -- though enjoying stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and a certain stillness and tranquility in the air, while fireworks lit up the San Francisco skyline and cheering could be heard in the background. Sophia was suppose to join me for the lap at the the New Year moment but failed to connect up, though I saw her soon thereafter for an only slightly belated New Years celebration. My favorite time of the run actually was the 3AM to 5AM window when it was dark, quiet, and relatively few people were left -- the 6 and 12 hour runners were gone and some 24 hour runners had stopped or taken a nap. By 22 hours, I was pretty much reduced to a fast walk. As the 24 hour mark neared, I finished my 88th lap and had 20 minutes left on the clock. Based on having just done a 17 minute lap, everyone encouraged me to go on (even though I was prepared to stop then). I went for it and began to run the final lap. I pretty much ran/hobbled for 3/4 of a mile and knowing I'd be able to easily finish the 89th lap within the remaining time, I tried to walk it in. Strangely, I couldn't. This has never happened before however my body (or mind) seemed to be forcing me to run. I uncontrollably began to lean forward while running to the point I took a fall with less than a quarter mile to the finish line. A man out for a leisurely morning walk helped me off the ground. I brushed myself off and proceeded to walk toward the finish line but the same darn thing happened -- I uncontrollably began to run, leaning excessively forward. I made the final bend to the finish line with spectators and other 24 hour runners cheering me on and just some 10 feet from the finish line, I did another face plant, falling hard to the ground in full view of everyone. People gasped. Undeterred, I picked myself up and with bloody palms from the fall proceeded to cross the finish line with some 4 minutes to spare. A bit embarassing, yes, though I got the job done, putting in far more miles within a day's time then I thought I would. All and all, I can't think of a better way to ring in the New Year than with a bunch of fellow ultrarunners in a good-vibe setting like San Fran's Crissy Field. Notable memories: Fireworks lighting up the skies of San Francisco after midnight, eying the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge and the brightly lit Palace of Fine Arts in the wee morning hours, hearing ducks quack from the pond at 4AM, the uplifting feeling of sunrise, chatting with Dan Gallo, a really nice guy with whom I've run other fixed-hour events with who logged 115 miles finishing in second place, and spending a great post-race January 1st dinner with my family.
1. October 23-24, 2010: San Francisco, CA; San Francisco One Day -- 24 Hour Event . My distance: 77.5 miles (23:40 hours). I stretched the 12-Hour version of this event that I ran last year -- doing 1.061 mile loops around San Francisco's Crissy Field -- to the 24-Hour version. While last year was a picture-postcard perfect day for the north coast of San Francisco, this race ended up being a mostly wet, soggy, and blustery day and night. The extremes in weather were note-worthy. While I started Saturday morning running in shorts and a tank-top, by midnight I had on full-length running tights plus two sweatshirts and a water-proof wind-breaker, and still was cold. The loop-course was mired in mud and ankle-deep puddles, meaning everyone ran in soggy shoes and socks. The nice thing about this format, however, is you're never more than a half-mile from the finish/aid station, and in my case, the comforts of a tent. I changed my shoes and socks 3 times and running clothes many more times and still was wet and soggy most of the day/night. For some, running loops is painfully monotonous, which indeed can be the case, however after a while you get accustomed to the monotony. I did 73 loops this time, plus 51 last year, or 124 loops of Crissy field within a year, thus I know every bend, marking, and imbedded rock on the loop. However there's a certain comraderie that goes with this kind of run that's hard to beat. I'll keep doing fixed-time events for this reason. I was hoping to cover at least 80 miles, thus I wasn't thrilled by my performance, however I gave it my best and placed OK -- 18th out of 52 runners who started the 24-hour event (with a number bailing out early due to the elements). What did me in the most was the fact that nearly half the course involves running on pavement. The steady jarring on the skeletal system begins to take its toll. In my case, I suffered terrible lower-back pains, forcing me to crawl into the rain-soaked tent on 3 different occasions to lay down and stretch my back. I took 15-20 minute naps each time and generally felt better upon re-joining the race. I did manage to eat and drink most of the run, meaning I never felt depleted, but it also meant taking a lot ... and I mean a lot ... of pee breaks. The girls -- Sophia, Kristen, and Alexandria -- were my support team. While Sophia dutifully cheered me on during the times when the skies broke and it only sprinkled, the girls largely cuddled and slept in the tent. They returned home to Lafayette during the afternoon, and returned with a much-appreciated vanilla milkshake (an instant energy-booster for me) and hamburger (which also revived my protein-depeleted body). Running along the coast of San Francisco, with the glorious Golden Gate Bridge and often mystical-looking Alcatraz island in the background at wee hours of the morning when no one was around was a Zen-like experience, however sleep deprivation and the grind of an all-day/all-night event also began to set in. Notwithstanding the nasty weather, all-and-all I enjoyed my one-day weekend experience looping the Crissy Field pond. Notable memories: Watching the fast runners, like Mark Tanaka, continue to run at a steady clip some 20 hours into the race while most of us mortals were reduced to walking the course, catching glimpses of the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge in the wee morning hours, hearing geese and ducks quack from the pond at 4AM, and chatting with the fastest runners toward the end of the race, something us back-of-the-pack runners don't get to do with fixed-distance events.
May 11, 2013: Gold Rush 100 K (43 miles). The inaugural point-to-point run that follows the '49ers route used to haul gold from Coloma to Sutters Fort in Sacramento, this was a bit of a disaster. Billed as "a very fast course", that it was not. Only 81 of the 230+ entrants finished the run (no one in my age group of 60+ finished despite a dozen-plus entrants), partly because the organizers set tight cut-off times and went out of their way to make the course tough (lots of zig-zaggy, poorly marked, over-grown single-track trails laced with poison-oak, including portions that paralleled perfectly groomed bikepaths along the American River). However the main reason for so many DNFs was the unbearable heat -- it got over 100 degrees near Lake Folsom. I made it to the Fish Hatchery -- 43 miles -- whereupon I (and many others) was unceremoniously pulled for missing the cut-off time. I entered this race knowing given the weather forecast and tight cut-off times, there was virtually no chance I'd finish. I was prepared to run anywhere between a 50K and 50 miler, which is what I ended up doing. I and a number of runners were ticked by the experience-- why set up a run, given the conditions, where the majority of entracts will end the day highly disappointed, after suffering in unbearable heat?
Bloodied & Muddied -- after tumble down rocky slope
June 25, 2011: Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (30 miles). Disappointment. Everything went wrong: stomach problems meant I couldn't keep food down (despite hydrating a lot -- maybe too much), splitting headache from altitude sickness (the M.D. at the Mosquito Ridge aid station said my cranium was inflated and recommended coming up a week early to allow my body to adjust to altitude), wounded body from falling on the icy snow, etc. But enough excuses. Despite getting a reprieve from incorrectly being pulled last year and gaining free entry into the difficult-to-get-in venerable run, Western States 100, and lots of training, I didn't have the ability to get through more than a third of the course. My body was depleted and I couldn't re-fuel. Stomach problems evidently are the number-one reason for DNFing at States and that certainly has been the case with me. I'm going to have to stick to lower elevations and shorter stuff.
June 26, 2010: Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (35 miles). Western States was not meant to be. I had been laser-focused on this race for a good year, ever since I got in the lottery under the extended 2-time loser rule. Pretty much all of my running and training for the past year was focused on this one run -- the big kahuna, the big dance, the Boston Marthon of ultra-running. What firrst captured my interest in endurance running was stumbling upon the Western States run by accident in the mid-80s. In my mid-30s, I was stunned people could run those kind of distances. Then Wide World of Sports had TV coverage of Western States for a few years, which I recall watching religiously. Never did I dream that one day I would actually attempt to run the race, certainly not at age 59. Anyway, my spring training went well and up to a week and a half before the race, I was feeling fit, prepared, and confident. I had told myself that what mattered most was arriving at Squaw Valley fit, well trained, and knowing I had done my best to prepare for the run. Completing the race wasn't as important as knowing I did all I could. Well, unfortunately I fell short of this. Eight and half days before the run, on my last tough training run before the taper, and after the toughest part of the training run was done, I did the unpardonable -- I stepped in a hole and badly twisted my ankle. Some nine months of training and all it took was a split second to take me out of my game. It should have never happened. I was feeling good at the top of Steam Train in Berkeley's Tilden Park. For some reason, I decided to stretch my run a little further by running a not terribly interesting single-track trail alongside a road. Because of the heavy spring rains, overgrown grass hid the trail from view. I saw a pile of horse maneur and then seconds later, I stepped into this big divit, evidently caused by a horse hoof that pulled a wad of mud from the ground. Once my ankle twisted, I knew instantly my Western States 100 dream had been dashed. I was some 5 miles away and 1500 feet above my car, and with a badly swollen and painful ankle, I started limping back to my car. I soon realized getting back to my car would be impossible and nighttime approaching, thus I wisely opted to turn back looking for a ride. I luckly stumbled upon the park service headquarters and although the rangers had all gone home, there were two mechanics working on vehicles. The first guy, to my amazement, was wearing a Western States 100 tee-shirt. Turns out he wasn't a runner but after pleading, I convinced his boss to give me a ride back to my car. I then embarked on an all-out effort to heal my ankle within 8 and 1/2 days, when the race would begin. The next morning, Sophia and I drove to the Mendocino coast, where we booked a Bed and Breakfast to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. This weekend prior to Western States was to be an anniversary celebration. Although we enjoyed the trip, I was in pain much of the time, laying in the bed with my elevated foot on ice. I practiced RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) the entire week and went so far as to get two acupuncture treatments from a practitioner in Oakland's Chinatown. Two mornings before the race I ran two miles on a treadmill at my fitness center and while the ankle was sore, I was somewhat encouraged. My family (Sophia and the three kids), who were to be my crew, and I drove up to Squaw Valley (site of the 1960 Olympics) that morning, checked into our two studio rooms at Squaw Valley village, and proceeded to join in all the pre-race activities and revelry. The atmosphere surrounding the race is electric. Just being around some of the best endurance atheletes in the world was a real treat. The morning before the fun I did another practice run -- some 5 miles along a golf course (and substantially boarded) trail path in Squaw Valley -- I knew I was in trouble, for I started feeling pain in the still swollen ankle. I knew then and there that it'd be highly unlikely I could run 100 miles on a bum foot. I had to at least attempt the run just to partake in the Western States "experience". The morning of the run, I woke at 3AM, proceeded to prepare for the run with a fairly care-free attitude. It's not the kind of mood I was hoping for several weeks earlier, but given the circumstances, I had little choice but to give it one step at a time and see what unfolded. My family and I enjoyed a pre-race breakfast and all the comraderie that goes with a run like this. Then the guy who first ran the race (when his horse refused to at the Tevis Cup trial run in the early 70s) -- Gordy Ainsleigh -- pronounced over the loudspeaker: "You are about to experience the Holy Grail of Ultrarunning". The countdown began, there was a shotgun blast, and we were off. The first few steps I started feeling pain and unfortunately the pain never subsided the entire day. At the outset, it's a slow grueling upward trek, some 2700 feet up from the floor of Squaw Valley to Emigrant Pass, however it's also beautiful, with the sun rising on the eastern horizon. We quickly started hitting patches of snow and before long, prior to the highest point on the course, we were marching into deep, heavy snow. From around mile 2 to mile 32, there were numerous sections of soft, sloshy snow. This wasn't the best conditions for a sprained ankle, as I was twisting and sliding much of the way. I fell on my butt at least 10 times and sometimes skiing down hills on my rear-end was faster than trying to hike down. My gait was slow and I soon was toward the back of the pack. Indeed, I spent much of the day running alone, which was a peaceful and memorial experience, the pain in my foot notwithstanding. The course was altered to avoid some of the snowpack, dropping runners along a reservior. While faster in the beginning, it also meant a stepper rise to Duncan Canyon and eventually to Robinson's Flat (mile 29.7). The elevation -- 6000 to 8700 feet -- also took a toll on me. I hobbled along at a slow pace throughout the day, slodging through over-swollen creeks and atop snowpack. I barely missed stepping on a black and yellow (and no doubt poisonous) snake which slithered in front of me on a narrow single track. I finally cruised into Robinson's Flat at around 1PM where my "crew" was waiting with a chair, iced towells, and refreshments. I was only a bit ahead of the cut-off time and certainly one of the last runners because Robinson's was unusually quiet and pretty vacated. I proceeded on to Miller's Defeat, some 35 miles into the race, whereupon I was unceremoniously "pulled" for failing to make the cut-off time. It's best this happened because by this time my ankle was very painful and swollen. I was stubborn enough to keep on going since, after all this was Western States, thus I also could have set myself up for permanent damage. Sitting in a lounge chair at Miller's Defeat (which is overseen by a nice running group from Redding CA), several women came in after me (including an amputee accompanied by a pacer) and strenuously protested being pulled (since there was no published cut-off time for this aid station), but to know avail. I and the ladies were later driven to Foresthill where I met my family. After cleaning up, we went to the finish line at the oval track at Auburn High School, and watched the men's winner, Geoff Roes of Alaska, cross the finish line and smash the course record in an amazing time of 15 hours and 7 minutes. Soon after came Anton Krupicka, who also beat the former course record. The strongest men's field ever assembled ran this race and despite snow conditions, they didn't disappoint. I got to see the last quarter mile of the two faster runs ever at Western States. For me, this was the highlight of the day. Also memorable were two fellow "ole running dudes" from my little hometown of Lafayette (which boasted 4 runners, myself included, in the race, no doubt the highest per capita number of entrants anywhere) who completed the race: Dan Williams, age 61, earned his 20th buckle, running 27+ hours, placing him in the Pantheon of accomplished Western States runners, and Wally Hasseltine, age 66, who was also a repeat finisher and actually ran faster than Dan. It's guys like these who inspire me to keep plugging along the trails. I will enter the lottery for next year's race (which I've already qualified for) and if I'm lucky enough to get in, I'll do my best to run it in tip-top shape -- plus train harder and smarter. Postscript: Four days after the race, I received a telephone call from Greg Soderlund, Race Director of Western States 100, whereby he proceeded to apologize for the Aid Station Captain at Millers Defeat for pulling me from the race for missing the cut-off time. It turns out there is no cut-off time for Millers Defeat and in the past when they did have a cut-off time (in snow years, which was when I ran the race), I arrived at this aid station some 25 minutes before this time. Anyway, Greg proceeded to offer me a free and guaranteed slot for the 2011 race. I don't even have to qualify (which I've already done) or meet the service requirement on trail maintenance, plus WS100 will pay for my two nights of lodging at the Squaw Valley Lodge before the race. Thus I'll be at the start-line of WS100 at 5AM, Saturday, June 25, 2011. Redemption!
Left: early in the race; Next three -- in and out of Robinson's Flat with a change in running gear (hat included)
February 6, 2010: Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler (60 miles). Another DNF on a 100 miler, though in truth I didn't expect to complete the full 100 miles and was looking at this as a long training run. Because of injuries (twisted ankle and then an infected big toe from a 50K two weeks eariler), I had trained little the month before this run. Rocky Raccoon (which I had registered to run but couldn't because of an injury 2 years earlier) is five 20 mile loops around the very-rooted, largely single-track trail in Huntsville State Park, around an hour north of Houston. I did 3 loops, or 60 miles (14 hours, 40 minutes), then called it a day. Some 50 miles into the run, it turned dark, and at that point I couldn't run without tripping on the roots. I literally walked the last 10 miles and even then I tripped 3-4 times (and once fell into a deep bog and was lucky I didn't snap my leg). During the daylight hours, seems I was tripping more than anyone -- I probably fell face-first at least a dozen times. Because I have a low gait, exposed roots aren't my thing, thus I reasoned it's better to hang it up than risk a serious injury. I set out on this as a long training run for WS100 in June, thus I was OK with logging 60 miles, even if it meant walking significant portions. I was also way under-dressed and because the temps dipped into the 30s, I would have risked hypothermia is I did the full 5 loops. On a less rooty path and with proper clothing, I might have been willing to go for the full 100. The day before the race was unfortunately filled with high drama -- Sophia, my wife, had her purse stolen from our Houston hotel and lost everything ($400, credit cards, ids, jewelry, cell phone, etc.); a gang of international thieves proceeded to run up bills on credit card purchases thus we spent the entire day dealing with that gargantuum headache. Accordingly, we slept little the night before the race from all the day's stress thus I'm not certain I could have even stayed awake for a 26 to 30 hour run. One novelty of this race is a sign that warns there are alligators in the park. Presumably they're in hybernation in the winter though kind of fun knowing they're around regardless. Hearing all the critters creaking at night was a nice part of this otherwise trail-surface-unfriendly 100 miler.
Day & Night
October 27, 2008: Javelina Jundred (45 miles). Cleary outside of my comfort zone with this one ... 100 miler in the blasting heat of the Arizona desert. By midday the temps were in the mid-90s. I and many other runners started dropping like flies -- over half ended up dropping from the race, including some ultrarunning elites (some who hung it up at 15 & 30 miles). I finished 3 loops (45 miles) and opted to call it a day. Couldn't keep food down thus no fuel in the tank. I was parched at the end...extreme dehydration and liquids wouldn't stay down...the body's way of saying "hang it up". The course itself is quite runable however the temps were brutal. I might have stuck around for the nighttime coolness and kept running, but really wasn't enjoying myself ...so why bother? Bad luck of the draw -- the week before, temps were in the 70s. No more extreme desert running for me...definitely won't sign up for Badwater.
October 13, 2007: Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile Run (30.3 miles). I seem to have lost the ability to do moderate distance ultras -- I again bonked on a 50 miler, twice in 2 months. I made it to Steam Train (30.3 miles) and dropped -- couldn't even run downhill with leg cramps and was fairly wasted. Disappointing since I handled this race a year earlier with no problem. Age? Over-running? Under-training? Losing my touch? We'll see.
August 11, 2007: Headlands Hundred 50 Mile Endurance Run (35.3 miles). I bonked on this one -- trying 4 long runs (including a 100-miler) in the span of 3 weeks proved too much. At the return to the Pantoll Aid Station (mile 35.3) on this inaugural run, there was nothing left in the tank, thus I dropped. My first DNF not related to an injury. Bit bummed but it was the right thing to do. Hopefully I learned a bit about my limits.
June 23, 2007: Western States Endurance Run (32.5 miles). Ran Robinson's Flat to Foresthill on the Safety Patrol -- 32.5 miles -- dealing with some of the carnage roughly mid-race.. Didn't get selected to run the race in the WS100 lottery thus this was the next best thing.