Monday, December 15, 2008

Twin Peaks 50/50

And so before you start to read, get a drink, or two, find a comfy chair and kick of you shoes.

I’ll spare you the preamble about leaving work at 4:00pm to find the pre-race packet pickup, Google maps were determined to send me down a No Through Street! After half an hour of driving around in circles I called the RD and we couldn’t figure it out so I gave up and headed off to my hotel.

I checked in and then headed straight to the start point so as not to get lost the next morning, it was about a 15 minute drive from my hotel, from there I popped into Dennys for some last minute fuel, with my tanks topped up I returned to my hotel, packed my drop back and sorted out my stuff, setting the alarm for 3:35am I turned the light out; it was 11:45pm, not quite the early night I had planned.

I woke at 3:30 and found myself in a timewarp where every minute seemed to be two on the face of the clock finally realizing I was possibly going to be late I jumped in my car and headed to the start line. Upon arriving I ran to collect my race number ran back to car, pinned it on my shorts, grabbed my UD vest, bottles, drop bag and other assorted bits and pieces jogged back to start line, dumped my bag, caught the last minute of the brief and with a muted whoop from the 20 or so 5:00am runners we were off. Fortunately it was an immediate uphill, I say fortunately because this allowed me to shake out and generally get my stuff together. I put my headtorch on the right way up, put my arm warmers on, I had just a Capilene shirt on and while it wasn’t warm it wasn’t cold. The previous night had had the brightest full moon of the year and while the cloud was quite thick it was also quite high and when it broke the moon threw shadows onto the trail. With my kit sorted out I passed by some runners and pushed on up the hill. The trail wound itself with multiple switchbacks and I was able to see the line of runners behind and it front of me as the headtorches bobbed up and down. I used my Fenix torch only when I ran, as rolling my ankle within the first few miles would have been annoying to say the least. I reached the first Aid Station which was still be set up and passed straight by it, I had no need to stop. Determined to not be a victim of cramps a’la last month, my race regimen would be a S-Cap, Hammer Anti Fatigue Cap and Energy Surge every hour and a gel or blocs etc every half hour; I had Hammer Gels for the first half and E-Crank for the second. I had two bottle of Ensure in my drop bag; my vest had Perpetuem and my bottles Amino Vital.

Around 6:30am it was light enough to run without a torch and I stashed them away. I reached the second Aid Station around 7:00am, my Garmin said mile 9 but the sign said mile 10 (in fact all the Aid Station/Garmin mileages were slightly off) The higher up I had gone the lower the cloud had become and at this point I was at 4500’, having started at 1250’ I was directed onto a single track path. Annoyingly despite having put it on the list I had forgotten to change the batteries in my camera and they gave out around Mile 4 so unfortunately I have no photos but it is trails like this one that reinforce my desire to be a trail runner and when the cloud lifted I was treated to views of pine and fir covered valley and mountainside. Of course the flip side is that I knew I would be walking up this trail later in the day.

I had been calculating my pace and knew that I was already behind schedule but I also knew that I would make up some of the deficit on the way down I was aiming to be at the next aid station at the three hour mark which would put me back on track for a just over 5mph pace which would give me a little less than an hours cushion for later in the day. The trail bottomed out around mile 13 and I wound my way along a riverbank, not unpleasant running the path was littered with rocks, from higher tides I assumed, and I seemed to be constantly rolling my right ankle, I was nothing to slow me down but was annoying to say the least. It was here that I passed my first 4:00am starters. I reached the 14 mile Aid Station which also had my drop bag after 2:45 minutes not a super fast pace but fast enough. I grabbed my first bottle of Ensure and consolidated my handhelds into one bottle, I had been drinking from both the even the load, I hadn’t really touched the Perpetuem at this point; something that I was going to regret in the not too distant future. With a wave and shout of thanks I left the Aid Station and started up Holy Jim Trail.

Holy Jim Trail, 4500’ of uphill to Santiago Peak. I passed a few more runners as I wound my way up the hillside, the cloud seemed to be lifting off the higher slopes and the temperature was fine. I started to drink my Perpertuem and discovered that it tasted decidedly funky! I had washed out the bladder previously with bicarbonate of soda and figured maybe I had not rinsed it enough, working on the basis that it was not going to kill me I drank from it for the next 14 miles chasing it with handheld. I plodded up the hill knowing that I was bleeding off time at every step but also knowing that I had to come down again and that I would regain some of the loss. The trail entered a gloomy wooded section and I passed some hikers and saw Catra Corbet and Andy Kumeda who were making solid progress, Catra would go on to take second place. I left the woods and came to next Aid Station, here I was told it was three mile up and three mile down loop and then back the way we had come. I turned up the trail and headed onwards. I saw the downhill turnoff on the way up. Out of the cloud I saw the masts and a downward runner told me the turnaround was just past them. A few minutes later I finally reached the summit. I took some Coke and pretzels and headed back down, on the way a mountain biker I had been playing cat’n’mouse with offered to take some photos of me and I gladly took him up the offer, unfortunately the lens was a bit misty! Six miles later I was back at the bag drop which was a planned mile 28 and according to my Garmin; mile 30, elapsed time 6:37.

I decided to ditch my UD vest, there was no point carrying what I wasn’t going to use. I had packed my Nathan vest in my bag and so I stashed my gel, baggies of Perpetuem and camera into it. I downed a bottle of Ensure to top up the tanks The weather at this point, while being a cool was not cold and the cloud was lifting, or at least it seemed to be lifting off the higher peaks, I kept my arm warmers on as I had most of the day and kept my gloves clipped to the vest but I paid no attention to picking up my North Face jacket; this was my fatal flaw.

A quick cup of coke and a bio break and I was on my way back up to Trabuco Peak, this section was hard going with one mile gaining 1250’ of elevation (a 1:4 gradient) and many of my slowest miles were here, mile 31 was sinful at 22:34. As I gained back the altitude I noticed the earlier lifting cloud has reversed and was coming down fast, along with it the wind was picking up; and the wind was cold: some video. I exited out of the single track and found the next Aid Station, grabbing the usual cups of Coke, I was directed to the next one some five miles away which would signal the start of the climb back up to Santiago Peak. There was a little more climbing and some nice downhill sections that I could run at a moderate pace. However it wasn’t until I was half in between I realized I had forgotten to refill my handheld, I carried on and when I got the next one I refilled my bottle and headed back up Santiago Peak.

And so the slog began. Several pickup trucks coming down the hill and asked if I was ok and in fairness I felt fine, I had no sign of bonking or cramps and while I had a slow pace I was making headway, I slowly climbed up the final section to the peak and was surprised to see the Hummer that had served as the Aid Station coming down. I was told that they were closing it, it was 30 degrees at the top and wasn’t safe. They wanted runners to turnaround here and follow the route back to the Start/Finish. I duly complied and it wasn’t until later when I looked at my Garmin data that I saw that I was only a 100-150 vertical feet short. I about faced and plodded back down what I just walked up. As I was going down so was the sun and the temperature by the time I reached the single track section the wind was whistling a gale and it was cold, really cold. I met two support runners sweeping up the trail and they asked me did I want a poncho…did I! Oh yeah! Never have I been so grateful for a $1.00 item of clothing! I was freezing, my teeth were chattering and I had a knot in my abdomen from clenching my muscles against the cold. I pulled it over my head, tied it around in a’la diaper fashion, pulled the hood up and pulled my visor down to stop it from blowing away, pulled my arms in and with my head down I gingerly made my way down, without any lights (because I had expected to have had finished before it got dark) in the wind and dark, doing my best not to go apex over tip of the edge!

I finally dropped onto the fireroad and headed back down breaking into the occasionally run but that just seemed to circulate the cold more, I was starting to freak myself out over back gnarly roots that took on the appearance of snakes! Not that a snake would be out in this weather! But you never know I guess! I met the Race Director Jessica who was driving up and she asked if I was ok, I said yes and continued on for another mile or so.

I rounded a bend and saw the bright headlights of a Jeep coming up the hill, the driver pulled over and with a quiet whir the electric window rolled down, she asked if I was ok, did I want a ride? I could feel the warmth pour out of the interior of the Jeep, how much further I asked, about 8 miles she said…I paused and got in.

There is some more to write about waiting to see if we found the drivers friend but she had been picked up earlier and taken down. We saw someone who seemed to be the last runners on the course and who were running in trying to get in under the cut off time; 15 hours

After a bumpy ride back down we arrived at the Start/Finish line which was being broken down and I wandered over to someone holding a clipboard. “#32 DNF” I said, he checked my off his list, I thanked him for his efforts as I had everyone at the Aid Stations during the day; it is a tough job on the best of days at this was far from one those. I grabbed my drop bag and with a cry of “see you in February” I headed for my car and the 100 mile drive home.

And so the aftermath; first the stats (all Garmin driven) I covered 44.38 miles, in 11:52, there was in fact 8 miles to go as the course was measured out at 52.5 according to the RDs race report published today and so conservativly it would have been another 90 minutes at best but probably closer to 2 hours. The elevation gain was 17,304, the loss 13,881 (the discrepancy is due to not making it all the way down). There were 51 starters, 22 finishers, a 57% drop rate.

The lessons learned. Well my hydration and nutrition plan worked well, as mentioned no cramps and no bonking, my fitness level; the required 11 hour finish started to fall off around mile 28 and by mile 34 it was irretrievable had I been stronger and ergo faster on the second climb of Santiago Peak I could have made better timing and with the last 10 miles of the course being downhill time would have been made up. The biggest mistake was simply a lost gamble against the weather and being caught in the open underdressed.

All in all and with reflection it was a great race, I got to see, albeit in parts, some new scenery and despite appalling conditions the organizers ensured everyone got down safe and sound and had as good a time as was possible. What was controllable they had under their control. Looking forward my legs feel tired but fine and I have succumbed to the usual maelstrom of germs that circulate in a household with children and have a cold coming on. Once shaken off I am back on the training circuit. It’s 11 weeks to Twin Peaks 2009 I am signed up for the 100k so I have some work to do and some things to think about gear wise as from speaking to some locals I can expect the weather to be more of the same!

I have got some more video that I will stitch together one day and here are some photos and the MotionBased data:


  1. Yikes Stuart - a great, riveting read. I'm sorry things did not go down as planned but it sounds like the conditions were very harsh (a 57% DNF rate!)...I got the shivers just watching that video clip of cold winds blowing every which way.

    Way to grind out 44+ miles on a less than optimal running day. Get 'er back in February - I'll most likely be there for my first ultra, the 50K (half the distance you'll be covering, but still). Great job again Stuart!

  2. Oh man... :-( You gave it a valiant effort. It stinks to run in the cold! But you ran a lot more than most people can. I know, I can't do 44 miles! You should be proud of yourself for doing the 44 miles, no matter how you slice it!!! Ok, onto the 100k. You are seriously craaazy. Can't wait to see how your training goes! :-)

  3. Love those $1 see-through ponchos! Was able to quickly put them on over my backpack at 11K in driving rain on one of my training hikes for TR. Gets real scary high up there when a storm comes in!

    BTW, you're doing great with this ultra stuff. Had my fill with TR. No more for me.


  4. wow... sounds like a helluva race, and if the weather would have been kinder, you would have had a different day. Well done with hydration and nutrition! The trail will see you again in Feb. :)

  5. great recap, stuart. it was a rough day out there for everyone. i'm seriously considering manning an aid station in feb and you bet i'll be there hours before the first runners come through and fully stocked with as much junk as the car can hold.

    recover well and see you in feb.

  6. And just as you suggested I fixed myself a cup of hot cocoa for your report.

    I continue to be amazed at how we can train so hard and plan for almost everything. What is out of our control is just that and nasty, cold weather can send even the strongest body into new pain.

    You are an amzing Ultra Runner and if I know ANYTHING I know that you will kick ass at the 100k.

    Cheers to a race well done!!!

  7. Sorry things didn't go as planned, but it was a great read and I was happy to read your good attitude about the whole. You'll be kicking butt in 11 weeks!

  8. Stuart, way to get out there and push through the cold! I couldn't even imagine running out there and you worked your tail off and felt great but just cold! At least you are well trained and ready to go!

    Good luck on getting over your cold and congrats on griding out so many miles in one day. You're the next Karno!

  9. Sorry for the DNF, but WOW! What an amazing race! I'm totally impressed by what you managed!

  10. I have no doubt you did your best.

    You are tough, and were prepared for the race, but sometimes the weather can throw you a curveball that will stop you in your tracks.

    I think I would have done exactly what you did. Being out there longer could have cause hypothermia or worse.

    Look forward to seeing you beat this 100k in February.

    This was simply a training run for T.P. 2009.

  11. Still impressive. 44 miles? Who cares if you didn't finish? You wrote a great report there.

  12. Stuart,

    Wow that report scares me. But I am impressed with how far you pushed on. Fortunately for me my first 50 mile attempt in February will be on a lot tamer terrain.

    Good job and great report.

  13. Great job out there Stuart! You'll get it done next time :) As you know by the course it won't have a double loop of Holy Jim / Horsethief this time. The 100K will be about 63.5 miles and I'm working out an accurate elevation gain soon :)

  14. Congratulations! You had a spectacular race. I am sorry that it wasn't in the cards to finish.

    That's the hard thing about racing... you always hope that conditions/ nutrition/ health/ mental state will be optimal. But there are no guarantees!

    Great report!

  15. Sorry to hear about the weather and how it didn't go as planned. You did great by knocking out that many miles.

  16. Dude great report!! Yeah it was a bit cold. I am so happy I had my bomber rain jacket on or else I would of froze out there.
    I think I will do the 100k too.

  17. Stuart, finally got the chance to read your report. WOW!

    You are AMAZING! Sounds as though you learned an awful lot and really, you did really well considering the elements you faced..Good JOB!!

    You'll own that race in 2009!! You are such an inspiration...

  18. Sorry to hear about the DNF, but you seem to have the right attitude: You did the best you could in a really difficult race, and just because you didn't finish it doesn't mean you're not a great athlete. You did a great job dude! Running 44+ miles is nothing to sneeze at!

  19. Wow that race sounded absolutely brutal. More than half DNF?!? You did a FANTASTIC job, especially given the circumstances! Dude you totally rock ;D ;D

  20. siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh. what a tough road to travel on that day. i'm sorry SLB. you'll get 'em next time i've no doubt...

  21. That's an incredible amount of ascending - really truly out of this world. Congrats on making it that far - next time you'll knock it out of the park.

  22. Thanks for sharing your Twin Peaks experience. What a journey, but that's what it's all about, right?

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