Archive for May 11th, 2008

Running a 50-miler

I repeated my 50-miler experience over at Quicksilver Almaden State Park in San Jose, CA. This ultra has 25K, 50K, and 50 mile races. It has a gain of 8400 feet over 50 miles, with significant climbs and some steep descents.

It was a straightforward thing I thought. Just repeat what I did the last time and it will take care of itself. Last year, I was just coming off a multi-day relay which prepared me for lengthy ordeals and hill climbs. This year, I thought my multiple marathons and some serious tri training would do the same.

A 50-miler is the only distance where I take two Advils at mile 30. Repeated foot strikes can wear heavy on the will. Anyway, zoning out on the access road portions help out too. I did repeat doing something that made me nauseated from mile 30 onward. I ingested cups of Coke, the carbonation interfering with movement–all that slushing in my tummy. It made for slow progress after.

This race makes you work for your medal. The 50K alone has some steep ascents and descents in the very end. Enough to make you question sanity even if you keep repeating it (aka self-inflicted punishment). And I talked to a few runners who do Quicksilver every year.

Last year I slipped in a downhill portion of the 6-mile single-track trail. The ground was wet and the leaves were everywhere. This year, I found a well-constructed bridge over that same spot. It still smelled of cedar, and everyone celebrated its presence with loud taps. The only significant thing to report is me bonking my head on a tree limb, when I was talking to Rajeev (rajeevtherunner at fotki.com). Plus the exposed limbs on the trails also made for some serious near slips that plagues runners on these trails.

I had gloves, and a long-sleeved tech T over another another short-sleeved tech T. By mile 30, I was down to the short-sleeved tech T. It was warmer than last year. The 4-mile climb after mile 30 proved slow and laborious. I was using my 42 ounce bladder of water to cool my head and arms off in the mid-day heat. Boy it was hot especially in the exposed sections. Plenty of shade around, but you really can’t get anywhere if you went from shade to shade can you? At the aid stations, they had buckets with ice water and sponges. I took advantage, cooling my head and appendages. The volunteers smiled as I walked around as if I just had a shower, dripping from all the water.

The only bad thing I can think of reporting is me getting antsy about where the 40 mile turnoff was. I found it at mile 40.5. I guess I couldn’t wait for the return trip to civilization, especially after such a long day of running. The best thing I can report is how well I ran the steep descents (yes I ran). Your heels are your brakes, and you have to plant them with authority while keeping your back body leaned in towards the hill. There were sections that you had to run sideways; not too bad.

Here is more breakdown:

miles 1-8. Initial climb from Mockingbird Lane. Everyone had to walk up the hill at miles 1-2 so it resembled a march. Miles 2-8 is single-track trail. I have no problems with running these things at all, no matter how narrow or the fact that most had significant chasms that anyone would have to battle through if there was an accident. Bonk my head because I wasn’t paying attention; got me to focus after that though. Water stop at mile 6.4 (Webb Canyon).

miles 8-13. Going through established trails. Mostly going uphill. Went through the Dam Overlook aid station at mile 10. Encountered a grouchy volunteer (reminder that aid stations are manned by runners who would rather be out there running with you).

miles 13-18. Plenty of shade through most established trails. You have to keep yourself moving, run-walking up the hills as much as you can. Miles 15-18 is a significant downhill portion ending up at the Dam Overlook aid station. I ran most of it with this runner who insisted on slow-running up the hills. He slowed down significantly after mile 18.

mile 18-23. Loop in front of the dam and back to the Dam Overlook aid station. Talked to a nice volunteer this time. The first two miles are nice downhills, but the next three are up. You see a lot of people out for a stroll, as there is a park lot close by. Plenty said Hi and cheered for us.

mile 23-26. The first two miles is back up most of the prior miles 15-18. I run-walked up this hill knowing that the 50K distance was about to close. Miles 25-26 are fast downhills into the Englishtown aid station (miles 26, 34, and 47). At this aid station, I ingested two cups of stale Coke.

miles 26-30. The first two miles are downhill. Unfortunately miles 28-30 is the section with at least 4 significant ascents and descents. This is the bad part of the 50K. Plenty of sliding and looks of fear from first-time Quicksilver runners. I got this steep downhill thing down pat. Mile 30 ends at the Mockingbird Lane parking lot.

mile 30-34. Went back to my car and changed into another short tech T. Having a new shirt makes you feel better. I refilled my water bladder from my own stores. Took two Advils as planned. I washed my face and limbs to take away the salt and grime (there was plenty of it). Went back to the check-in station where they recorded me entering at 6:15 instead of 6:05. It doesn’t really matter anyway. The trip back up was slow-going. I cooled myself off with the water I was packing; really really hot day. I would see this lady on a horse sharing miles 32-34. No other runners until the WS aid station. What was remarkable is the way this horse went up one significant hill. Would make any runner proud. Miles 30-34 is the hardest portion of the 50 mile race because of the midday heat and the unending ascent. You walk up and up and up!

miles 34-37. After using the ice water bucket at the Englishtown aid station, I followed some runners into Yellow Kid trail. This is a run from Englishtown aid station to Hicks Rd. aid station (miles 37, 45). You are at the top of the mountain so the ascents and descents weren’t too bad. I don’t mind this section, because there is much to see. The coke with ice was particularly satisfying at the latter aid station.

miles 37-40.5. Run up to Sierra Azul turnoff. Slow ascent, but all the sections are runnable either going up or down. I found that particularly weird. Shaded access roads mostly. The view is spectacular–wooded mountainside and blue sky. This late in the race, the mind place tricks on you. I had no problems except for the fact that I anticipated the turnoff at mile 40 and found it at 40.5. You would think that I was ready to call customer service! Found two laid-back 20-somethings running the Sierra Azul turn-around aid station. The shade and cool location makes this a fun station to run.

miles 40.5-45. Run from the turn-around back to the Hicks Rd. aid station at mile 37. Ran most of the way, since this is actually going downhill. Like I said earlier–it plays tricks on the mind. How could I have run this section earlier and then run it again? Running uphill and downhill? Passed a runner who smiled a lot–found out later it was Chihping Fu, a well-known ultra guy who takes great pictures. At mile 43, I passed by Rajeev who was running with a friend. He made the cutoff for the 50 miler. At the aid station, I saw two runners who sat forlorn since they couldn’t continue after making mile 37 after the cutoff time. They had to be transported back to the finish. Drank two cups of coke again. Nausea started to set in (same thing happened here last year).

miles 45-50. miles 45-46.5 were quiet, except for me being nauseated. Some uphill, but not too bad. A group of three runners (one male and two females) caught up with me and we would run this final section as a group. I followed them into Yellow Kid trail and then to the Englishtown aid station. After a quick stop, we all headed downhill. At a turnoff point, they couldn’t make heads or tails of the markings so we all decided to head down the road. Another trail marking two hundred feet later made them question their choice so I offered them my map. After reviewing the point-to-point direction, we all decided we were headed in the right direction. The road actually did turn in 3/4 of the way into that 50K hell section. I only remembered one steep ascent and most were descents at that point. I looked for the sign that said “Fin 0.2 miles”. What a welcome that was after such a long day. The finish line beckoned and I made it in at 10:38, a few seconds after the guy and the two women.

At the finish line party, I spoke to this guy who was always a few minutes in front of me. He came in at 10:29, after finishing the 50 miler in 2005 with a time of 9:30. He was having a rough day. I found out he is going to Western States (grandfathered into the two-time loser rule being phased out in 2009). He recommended that I keep applying as long as I keep getting these qualifying times. He also suggested that I attend the training runs that cover sections of the WS course over several days. He even suggested that I show up in person for the lottery; apparently, the WS committee hold a small lottery for those that show up which does lower the odds significantly. But this WS thing is for another day.

Chihping Fu finished in 10:44. The next runner would come in at 11:00. I didn’t wait for Rajeev to come in (anticipated 11:30-12:00 finish) since I was ready to turn in for the day. I went back to the hotel and dozed off after taking a shower and partaking in a meal ordered through room service. Serious food but cheap!

I will post what I learned in a separate post. It will take a few days to digest. Good show though–another WS qualifier!

Note: there is probably a disparity between the milepost in the profile versus my GPS unit.  The covered single-track trail always messes up the mileage.

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