Yesterday I had the privilege of running the PCTR Sycamore Canyon 50k. When I say privilege I really mean it, these are great events, low stress, well organized, friendly and fun…well as much fun as running 50kms can be; lots! I had ummed and ahhed about whether to enter this event as I wanted to go into Leona Divide on as much of a high as possible and after such a good run at Malibu Creek two weeks ago I didn’t want to spoil the feeling. I decided to go for it but have the low key and realistic goal of finishing it around the 6:30 mark, no pressure no stress, just a long supported run.
The one thing that had me concerned was the weather which was forecast to be 70f, not as warm as during the week but warm enough. I noticed, driving to the race that the weather was not living up to the forecast and that the cloud was low on the hills and while there was some blue sky inland the course was predominantly based on the coastal hills, it stayed this way most of the day.
I arrived, parked my car and went over to pick up my number; on duty were Billy and Sara from the TRC, they diligently handing out race numbers. We swapped some stories and I headed back to the car to grab my gear and stretch out etc before heading back to the start area to await the brief etc.
After the pre-race brief, a quick countdown and a woop the 18, 30 and 50km runners all set off. The first half a mile or so was along the valley bottom and I ran with Rachel and Emil who I had met at Malibu Creek who is running, Rachel is no slouch; she's Boston next month. We turned off to start the first of the five climbs. The course is basically a figure of 8 with an out and back and goes up and over 5 hills, each hill is about 1000’ in elevation gain and off course a subsequent 1000’ drop, in fact the vertical division is 41% ascent, 45% descent and a whopping 13% on the flat…woot! The first up and over was finished in around an hour and I was pleased with the pace of 10 min miles, a little faster than planned but I was feeling fine and so I carried on. At this point we dropped the 18km runners and so the 30km and 50km runners carried on. The next section took me deeper into the canyon and having run this several times before I was very aware of what was coming up; essentially the climb up from the valley floor takes you up the valley side up short, sharp, singletrack switchbacks most of which are steps, some natural some man made cut into the rockface; the real objectives here are to not do anything stupid, twist an ankle or fall off the path and to keep going as fast as you can, I ran where I could and hiked up the rest. Once you exit this section you continue on an easier path which traverses across the side of the hills gradually climbing until you reach just below the summit of Point Mugu. From here I was treated to some of the flatter sections and I wound my way through the meadows on the top plateau. The trail then closes a loop and you head back down the way you came up. Here’s some very bad video of coming down.
I reached the aid station which put me at around mile 13 and the bottom of the third climb. Two miles later I was at the half way point and my Forerunner showed 2:43:00; some half an hour ahead of my projected finish time. Putting that to back of my mind I pushed up the climb. This would be the first of two times I made this trip and the trail; Ray Miller is steep and long, although being intimate with it I knew where the flatter sections where and where exactly the real top was, there are several false summits. At this point I had been playing cat and mouse with 3 or 4 other runners and had finally shaken them off…or so I thought. Coming down the backside I noticed someone on my heels and I struck up a conversation with a 30km runner; this was her first trail race and she had been copying my walk/run strategy to the top compared to another runner who had tried to run all the way up and then ground to a halt. We chatted as we ran the three miles down, you can see from my splits that my pace picked up and a clocked in three quick miles: 8:38, 8:21 and 8:17. I hit the next aid station at Mile 20 and caught up with Billy and Sara who were manning the aid station, Billy ran out with me for the first quarter mile and we chatted. He turned back and I turned onto the single track for the forth climb…onwards and upwards. That was theme for the next three miles; really just trying to push on up the hill at the best pace possible. As I reached the top I felt the first twinges of cramp and I took an extra S-Cap, my pace was solid but not fast, my legs felt ok but the cramping was a bit worrying, from this point I took an S-Cap every 30 minutes and stuck to my gel intake of one every 30 minutes, other than a cup of Sprite I had only taken water from the aid stations and I was running a little low on gels, I had some minor gastic irritation but nothing major. I reached the final aid station refilled one bottle with water and the other with Perpetuem from a baggy that I was carrying. The final climb was best described a “mofo bitch” three miles up and my slowest three miles; 15:24, 15:30 and 15:10 I walked 95% of the way up. At this point my left ankle was starting to give me some real discomfort, I topped out and I picked up my pace, with one eye on the clock it was all about just keeping moving; steady, safe and not too fast and other than tripping, stubbing my toe and hoping about as my hamstring cramped and the air turned blue I hit the bottom of the valley with around 5:40 on the clock and less than a mile to go. I knew the PR was on and made steady progress. With a couple of hundred yards left I picked it up and I crossed the finish line in 5:49:53 a new PR by exactly 9 minutes! I finished 22/57 overall and 7/14 for my age group.
So another race and another PR, I am not getting older I am getting faster. Knocking out two 50ks in three weeks really has given me the confidence for the sub 11:00 finish that I want from LD50 in three weeks time. Looking back over my races I have now reduced my 50k time by over an hour in the last 16 months...let's see what another 16 months will bring. My ankle is still a bit sore and I am icing it, I’ll skip tonight’s scheduled 10 miler and see how it feels tomorrow.
Thanks to Billy for the photos of me, my camera wasn’t playing but there are some photos here and here is the MotionBased data.