I taped my knees as is all the fashion for us ITB sufferers and headed over to the start line to get the brief. We were told that the aid stations would be located at the Start/Finish; which we would go through three times; 12.2km, 29.8km and 42km and one at the parking lot at the PCH end of Sycamore Canyon a turn around point; 20.9km. The stations would be stocked with the usual goodies, PB&J sandwiches, M&Ms, Trail Mix, Cookies, baked potatoes with dipping salt (these sound pretty bad but actually taste really good after a long day and the salt is much needed), Coke, Water, Conquest sports drink and a ton of other stuff that you really wouldn’t associate with running; trust me when I say that learning to run with food in you mouth and hand is a much needed skill for the longer distances.
Runners were divided into two groups per their distances 9 & 18kms on the right, 30 & 50kms on the left, 55 runners has signed up for the 50k and of them there were 4 or 5 myself included attempting their first Ultra and we sheepishly waved our hands when asked to identify ourselves. The gun, well the shout, “GO” went off at 8:30 and we were underway, this was the last I saw of the right hand group, many if not all would be at home in time for tea and medals long before I had finished. The 30 & 50ers headed out along the blacktop which soon ended and became trail winding it's way along the canyon bottom. There was little or no improvement in the weather and therefore no sign of what was to come although I was somewhat prepared from my XTerra run, however, we were heading along a different path. Slim breaks in the clouds provided ominous glimpses of what looked like nearly vertical canyon sides. During this time I had running through my mind the mantra; “pace; run your own race” and I did my best to run at an easy pace.
I was determined that I would have no reason for not finishing based on nutrition and/or hydration issues and to that end I was stocked up with 64oz of strong Accelerade (650 calories), 7 CarbBOOM gels (700 calories) that I had squeezed into a Fuel Belt bottle, a packet of SaltStick Tablets and a protein bar (250 calories, totaling 1600 calories “on board”), this would be in addition to anything that I picked up at the aid stations along the way, my plan was to ‘swig’ a gel every 45 minutes, drink as required, eat the bar around the end of hour 3 and finish around 6 hours, a 7:11km pace.
The course comprised of three loops and an out ‘n’ back for the final stretch. The first loop was 12.2km, the fog was still swirling and visibility was at times down to 30 or so meters, we climbed in single file up the first set of switchbacks, some of the path seemed cut from the stone face and we stepped up until the trail became well a trail! Onward and upward we climbed until finally reaching what felt like to top only to have to go up some more, the series of false summits continued for the first 6km until we broke through out into the pasture on the plateau. I had steadily been overtaking runners and walkers during the first hour and once out in the pasture I found myself on my own. The route had been marked by colored ribbons and at times I found myself wondering if I had missed a turn then out of the gloom a ribbon pegged to a bush would appear reassuring me I was heading in the right direction. I continued across the rolling pasture finally taking a sharp right hand turn along the side of a dried pond shortly after I started to head downhill, finally, after 1:15, I closed the loop and continued down the path I had come up. I exited out the valley mouth (1:35) running past the aid station feeling strong and heading towards the second loop that would take me over the ridgeline into Sycamore Canyon.
It took another hour to reach the second aid station, which according to my Garmin was at 21.2km, I spent too long here as I was searching through my pack for my Aleve tablets which were a last minute thought and I shoved them in somewhere instead of putting them in the pouches on the front of my vest, I finally found them and popped a couple, at this point I dropped my pack and buried the mouthpiece in the dirt! So having washed it off and put it back on I availed myself of some of the goodies on offer, a handful of pretzels and a mini protein bar washed down with some plain old water, which never tasted so fresh. I also switched out my hat for a visor as the sweat that was dripping off the brim was becoming a little distracting. I turned around and started to retrace my path. At the 22km we tracked left and headed up a long sweeping climb that gave us a pretty good view, when the fog broke, across and along the valley, which on a clear day would be a great sight, personally at this point I was becoming increasingly glad for the dull conditions and the low temperatures. At the 25km point the second loop was closed and it was at this point I was asked for directions. The runner, who I had seen stop at the junction had been in front of me for most of the way and was just about to head off back down the loop when he saw me and asked which way should he go, I pointed up and he sighed, thanked me for saving him an extra 6.5km and shot off up the hill.
Another 35 minutes later (3:40) I was back at the Start/Finish line for the second time having covered 30.4km (18.9 miles). It was here that I could bow out having run a good race but the scent of the fifty filled my nostrils and I pressed on only stopping briefly at the aid station for a PB&J sandwich, some more pretzels and a couple of cups of full caffeine and full sugar Coke (oh the things you can eat) I pushed on again with a distinct sense of deja-vou as the third loop was a repeat of the first. This time the fog was lifting and there was a glint of sun coming over the ridgeline, along with it an increase in the temperature. I pushed on up through the rocky section and was overtaken by a couple of runners who shot by me so fast that I was surprised that they were not in front of me already. At 34.5km I stopped to actually take some video footage of the views, you can just see the surf (after about 10 seconds) as and when it appeared through the haze, there was still an immense amount of cloud and mist loitering just on the shoreline, which rolled in to my defense a little while later cooling things down again. I broke out of the climb and trekked across the pasture which without the fog you can see on this video looked completely different. At 39km I stopped to take a stone out of my shoe and and adjust my socks which were pretty gunky by this time (I actually ended the day with one small blister that I didn’t even realize I had until I took my shoe off at home; not bad for C9 socks from Target) retying my shoes I headed back round the loop and had a distinct feeling of "what am I doing here" running through my mind, to be honest a lot of this loop was either walked; all of the uphills were, or run/walked where I would run 30-40 or so paces and walk 10; this was actually quite efficient. I had at this stage taken another 2 Aleve, and while they took the edge off, my hips felt like they were having broken bottles jammed in them at every step, however I had at least to get back to the Start/Finish line, that was, after all where my car was! During the final stretch the fog lifted some and I could see down the valley. Here's some video of the trail and view.
I was overtaken again around the 40km overtaken by someone who I can only assume took the wrong turning as I would have sworn that he had been in front of me earlier in the day. At 42.56 I was back at the Start/Finish line and I realized that I had it in the bag. The final stretch was an out ‘n’ back 8km up a partial way of the original second loop. Much of the climb was spent employing the walk and run/walk method and that allowed me to pull ahead of several runners who I had bumped into during the last and final aid station stop. The fog was coming in again and as I reached the top and the final ridgeline before the turnaround it was impossible to see who was where. At this point I was on the homeward and downward leg and I knew that anyone who I saw coming up would be behind me, I counted six runners then seven, then eight, I finally pulled around the last major turn and I could see the path virtually all the way back the Finish. I rounded the last corner and saw the Finish line crossing in 6:54:07, my Garmin moving time was 6:37:26 which eliminates the time stopped; aid stations, shoes etc with a final distance of 51.08km (31.93 miles).
Of the 55 runners that started, 41 finished and of those I was 27th. I hung around the Finish line talking to the organizers and other runners and after a cup of chicken noodle soup (when doesn’t that taste good?) and some snacks I headed back to my car to stretch off, gulp down some Endurox and head home for that ever inviting ice bath!
Having had time to reflect I am glad I completed the run, rather then ducking out at 30k, it now gives me the mental security that I can cover the distance and be on my feet for that length of time, it was not an easy run with 9,762’ of elevation gain (and loss; as my quads will testify to) over five major hills and while my time wasn’t great it really wasn’t that bad, the winner finished in 4:28:37, a new course record and there were plenty of people considerably slower with times extending out to 11:07:00. My next 50k the Calico Trail in January presents a considerably flatter course with an elevation gain of 3,893’ but the temperature will come into play more as it is located inland in the desert of Barstow. My hydration plan worked well as I still had some Accelerade left although it was less than 5oz, I had consumed most of my gel, my stomach held out well against the solid food, in fact I could/should have probably taken on some more as my total calories expended was 3845, fractionally beyond what I was carrying and my glycogen stores of around 2000. Despite an average pace of 12:23 my average heart rate of 168 was too high for the caloric burn to have been predominantly fat based so my nutrition and hydration meant that I would not bonk but I was pretty close, at least on paper.
Looking forward I have to finalize my training plan for the next 5 months to allow me to peak during the weekend of Leona Divide, mid April, my targeted 50 miler for next season.
Postscript. As I was running I was listening to several Podcasts that I subscribe to, one of them; The Dump Runners Club announced that on November 17th runners would run 5.5 miles in memoriam to Ryan Shay who collapsed at that distance during the US Olympic Trials two weeks prior, it seemed more than coincidental that my number today was 505, so, albeit a day late, I dedicate this race to Ryan and his family.
I have a bunch of photos, a few good ones and a lot of bad ones here, the blue hat is the first 25km and the red visor the last 25km. For some reason they loaded backwards, that is the start is the last picture?
Here's the Motion Based data: