Archive for August, 2008

Fifty Miles!

August 14, 2008

Fifty miles is a long distance. It’s farther than most people’s daily commute by car. It’s definitely a long bike ride. On foot, well, that’s insane, right? Add in about 8000′ of climbing for good measure, and you might be surprised to hear my conclusion: Most people could do this if they really wanted to. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I woke up at 3:30 am so I could put on sunscreen, start eating bagels, and still get to the start of the Headlands Hundred 50 Mile Endurance Run in plenty of time for the 5:30-6:30 am packet pickup. It was foggy and cold, at least for August in California. I met up with a few people, including Ron Little of the Coastside Running Club, and Kate Morejohn and her daughter Keturah, who I had exchanged some e-mails with and who had a pace similar to mine for the Diablo Marathon. I also finally met Marrissa Walker, one of my online coaches, in person.

The first leg, starting at 7 am, was 8.6 miles from Rodeo Beach to Rodeo Valley, starting with a short stretch through the sand that, thankfully, was not repeated later in the day (some parts of the route were out-and-back). The weather was perfect for running, at least for me. It started foggy, and was never really hot (officially the high was 66°F in nearby Sausalito). At the Rodeo Valley aid station I grabbed some potato pieces and was back out quickly. Even though I had been good about not pushing too hard, I was ahead of my rough predicted schedule by 22 minutes.

The next segment was the shortest, with only 3.1 miles to the Tennessee Valley aid station. By the time I got there I had used enough energy drink to have to refill that, so the aid station stop was somewhat longer than the first one. But I gained another 4 minutes on my schedule, and an insane thought came to me: should I have upgraded to the 100-mile distance? Luckily that was only allowed before the start, so my temporary insanity had no real downside.

Next it was 5.4 miles to the Muir Beach aid station. I only gained another 3 minutes on this section, but it was still cool and I was feeling good. The following section, to the Pantoll aid station, was one I was worried about since it had 1490′ of climbing in 5.1 miles, but that turned out to be a gentler climb than I feared, and I arrived 44 minutes ahead of my schedule (15 minutes of that on this segment). By now I had gone about 22 miles and it was about 12:30 pm.

Here’s where things got interesting. This was where I was first expecting to see my wife Connie, but she wasn’t there. Shortly after leaving Muir Beach I had managed to find a pocket of cell phone coverage to warn her that I was ahead of schedule, but between traffic and parking issues it had taken her far longer to get to Pantoll than planned. So I left a note with a volunteer at the aid station and reluctantly headed out.

And now my brain started getting in my way. I had planned my drop bags so that I could do the whole race without Connie except for one thing: I didn’t want to leave my second GPS watch in a drop bag, so Connie had it. This meant that I had at most two more aid station stops before I would run out of battery power on the first GPS. Having distance, pace, and heart rate data all the time is something I am very used to (it gives me something to obsess over), and accepting the possibility that I might have to finish the race without that was very hard for me to do.

Plus, the current 6.5 mile section of the course out of Pantoll was way harder than I expected. It’s relatively flat or rolling, but what I didn’t know is that it is mostly exposed, and that the trail is frequently cambered (tilted) and crumbly, such that you often need to slow down to a very careful walk. Plus this section is an out-and-back, so the faster runners were coming back the other way, which meant stepping off of the trail to let them pass (these faster runners included Ron Little, who I had met at the start, and also Franz Dill, who had introduced me to the Coastside Running Club they both belong to, as well as my other online coach Brian Wyatt, who was doing the 100-mile run). The exposure combined with the time of day meant that this was the hottest part of the run. Throw in my loss of focus due to the GPS uncertainty, and the result was that I slowed way down, often walking flat sections that I would have run earlier.

Eventually I made it to the Bolinas Ridge aid station. I was thrilled to see Connie there, and not only because she had my GPS. I was less thrilled to hear that the aid station was very low on water, and while they expected more to arrive any minute, they were definitely rationing what they had. Given the heat, I wanted as much as I could get. Luckily more water did arrive around the time I got the new GPS running, so I left with my pack pretty much full (64 ounces) of energy drink and some ice.

The 6.5 miles back to Pantoll felt about as hard as the way out, though I did it 8 minutes faster. I saw a few people still heading out to Bolinas, and I figured they had little chance of making the 4:30 pm cutoff back at Pantoll since I was going to have less than half an hour to spare myself. So it could definitely be worse. By this point I was only about 6 minutes ahead of schedule, meaning that I had lost almost all of the 44 minutes I had previously been ahead. Oh, and I finished the whole 64 ounces a mile or two before getting to the aid station.

Fortunately Pantoll was well stocked. Next it was 5.4 miles back down to the Muir Beach aid station, though by a different route than we had gone up. Since there is a lot of descent on this section and I hadn’t predicted going all that fast, I hoped to pick up some time on my schedule, but I was having some difficulty even downhill, sometimes having to walk when I would have expected to at least be able to manage a light jog. The mild cramp in my side wasn’t helping either. In the end I lost about 7 minutes on this section, so I was now within a minute of my scheduled time (around 5:30 pm at Muir Beach).

I think it was leaving the Muir Beach aid station that Connie walked a bit with me. I was pretty tired, but she commented that I was walking fast. That was a good sign.

It was another 5.4 miles to the Tennessee Valley aid station, the last one before the finish. Again I nailed my estimated time, arriving exactly when my pre-race wild guess said I would (7:09 pm). That meant I was very likely to finish before dark, but I took my flashlight with me anyway, just in case. It’s only 4.1 more miles to the finish. I can do this.

I met up with Tom, whom I don’t think I had met before. We talked, and it turned out that we had quite a bit in commonwe’d even both spent time flying small planes. He seemed more inclined to run than I did, saying that he always seemed to end races feeling good, and if that was not the case he probably wouldn’t keep doing them. He really pulled me along, and I got more and more energetic as we got closer and closer to the end.

By now we were in a group with Kate and Keturah and some of their family encouraging us along. We weren’t sprinting, but it was definitely more than a jog. The people at the finish area seemed to have seen us all coming down the hill, and there was yelling from there too.

As we turned off the road for the final maybe 50 yards through the parking lot to the finish, I started sprinting (the GPS data shows a peak pace of 7:51/mile right then, which is pretty fast for me). I felt a little guilty passing Kate and Keturah since I had been behind them for many miles, but it was as if my body had this burst of energy that it needed to express. It didn’t feel like it was about competition. Whatever it was, it felt great, and I was done in 13:13:17, 6 minutes ahead of my schedule.

It’s been a few days, but I’m still jazzed. I’m sure I’ll do more 50 milers, and a 100 miler seems more likely than not. I can imagine doing 50Ks two weekends in a row, and I even reached my goal of making a marathon seem relatively short. I’m still slow, but I can keep going.

I do believe what I said in the first paragraph: most people could do this if they really wanted to. My time was almost 16 minutes per mile, which means on average I was just walking briskly. If a 67-year-old woman can finish almost an hour faster than I did, what’s the problem?

Here are a bunch of photos that people took, but if you only click on one, look at the first one, which I believe is a Google Earth image that someone superimposed the route on top of.

Next up, after a vacation in Japan, are…