First of all let me just say that the volunteers and other runners made this a really special race. But, the fact that my parents were able to go to this one meant the world to me. I would have preferred their first race be a 5k where I did not look like a train wreck after, but they came out and that was really cool.
This race is a 50k, 2 loop course in Malibu Creek State Park. I am a mid to back of the pack runner so I knew that it was going to be a longer day. So here goes:
GPS Data - LINK
Patagonia Long Hauler Shorts - shorter than my reg shorts, more roadie style but they felt good on long runs so why mess with a good thing.
Brooks Tech Tee - it was red. I was hoping to be one of the few runners to be in that color, but my buddy Berto rocked the same colors, I guess we were both going to Tiger Woods this run.
Salomon XT Advanced Skin 5Pack ( Review ) - done my long runs with this pack and it distributed the weight well, no complaints except that I lost my salt. But the pack kept water cool for hours, as advertised, and that was a blessing.
Moeben Sleeves - in the morning kept me warm, with the sun they blocked the rays, helped me cool down because they held moisture well
PRS FIT Visor (red) - Loop 1
Buff - Loop 2
Hoka OneOne Bondi B - went with these instead of my Newtons because my hip had been off for about a week and I knew I maybe heel striking a little so I wanted a little more cushion.
Newton Low Cut Sox - standard, been with me and feel good.
Hammer Gels - Can take without water and can still eat even in the heat.
Hydrapak 5 oz Softflask - saving the planet by creating less trash, but after the first loop chocolate just did not taste good to me so I switched to alternating flavors.
There was a nervousness in the air. You could just feel that everyone was getting ready to embark on a unique experience. I took off a touch faster than I wanted. The first hills were coming and runners were charging. My thoughts were (1) hold back (2) why is there no marine layer today? (3) I have to pee.
So, I stopped for a bathroom break before we got to the first climb. My calves started complaining right from the get go. It was a little hill but I stopped for two reasons. The first being obviously that I had to go, but the second was that I knew if i stayed in the same place in the pack I would not run my own race. I wanted to dictate my efforts for the day so I let that group go off and joined the back 30% where I expected would run much more conservatively.
I had done a training run with my friend Berto and we made it to the top of bulldog and could see the mist barely rolling out. This was not going to be that kind of day. On that first hill my race plan changed. Originally I wanted to roughly even split. I had chatted with Coach Jeff ( link ) and would go extremely conservative on the first loop and then charge downhill on the second loop. But the temperatures were not at all what I expected. After the first hour I could really feel the heat and the day would reach triple digits before the day was done. So plan was to endure and if I could pick people off in the last 5 miles that is where I would give it a go, if it was safe.
I stuck to the plan of listening to my iPod for the first few miles while the race spread out. It throws me off when people are breathing at a different rhythm than I am and honestly I was not in the chatting mood. My plan had been turned on a dime and I just wanted to buckle down and crank out the first loop and have it in the tank for the second.
After the first little hill we passed the MASH section of the trail and then a single track. It was awesome running and I held back a little. Then the climb. It started steep and would flatten out at times. If the flat or down was longer than 70 yards I would jog it, if not I was hiking it. There was no sense in spending the energy to simply be halted immediately. I focused on hiking strong. I passed quite a few people on the way up.
I also felt my hands getting puffy. This was really strange for me because that never happens. I began to worry that maybe I was over hydrating so I changed to taking a salt cap every 1.5 hours instead of every 50 minutes. After some time my hands felt better and we were back in business.
At the top of bulldog I hit the downhills and tried to run the whole back section. Immediately after the Bulldog rocks there is a downhill then two more uphills to conquer before the longer downhill section. I took these deliberately holding back. I knew I would need my quads for the second loop. We then headed to the backbone trail section of the race.
Loved this because I could feel a breeze and the single track is always my preference. Made it out. By this point I was still feeling pretty good. I had not used the first aid station and was not wasting much time at the stations at all, just a refill and go. After the backbone trail there is a section of single track that leads near a small detention/jail area. This was a furnace. The air was stale and it was truly miserable. I tried to stay on the tail of a runner with a Camelbak but every time I got close enough to draft they picked up the pace. I did not catch them until the turn around.
The end of the first loop was pretty solid. I still felt strong and mentally having held back gave me an edge. I saw my parents and Sam at the turn. That was a huge mental boost for me not only to keep going but to run smart. On the first loop there had already been a few people taken away by ambulances. Sam told me my mom started crying when the first ambulance passed by because it was the approx time I estimated for my first loop. I promised I would be careful. So I lost the visor and changed to a buff and sunglasses set up. I had heat trained with the buff and knew that it could hold water and keep my head cool much longer than the visor. The sunglasses because I know my form goes to trash when I get tired. I start hunching over too much and the glasses would have sweat drip on them if I leaned to far forward and that would be my indicator to straighten up and rest my shoulders. I refilled and off for the second loop.
I had an energy boost seeing everyone at the turn so I sprinted off into the distance. My GPS was getting close to the 4 hour mark so I knew I would need to take a salt pill soon. I look in the pack and my salt cap dispenser is gone. Oh crap.
I panicked and was ready to call it a day right there. I knew that my legs would not take the beating and the thermostat kept going up. A couple who were running together caught up to me as I attempted to look back hoping to see my salt. I asked if they had any extra and they said no. I made the decision to again change the plan. I would not be charging the second loop. I would conserve energy and try and keep my heart rate as low as possible. I figured if I could do that I would be able to process more fluids than if my body was fighting to keep cool. So I drenched the buff and picked up the pace through the MASH site and the single track. Then the uphill started.
This part was pretty depressing. There was no pack to follow because everyone was pretty spread out. I was trying to power hike it just like the first loop but when I did I felt my pulse shoot up, and it was barely .25 miles into the uphill. I kept making status checks on my body to remind myself to keep sipping water and to stay on the gel every 30 minutes.
Got the the first aid station. Volunteer was so nice. He said he was not John the Baptist but that I would feel reborn. That was the truth. He poured icy water on my head and back and it was heavenly. Filled my pack up with ice water, drenched the buff and arm sleeves, grabbed a few gels and kept going. I knew that if I stayed to long at any station my day was done.
I kept asking every runner I passed if they were okay. Many of them just nodded unable to speak or said yes and thanked me for asking. My follow up question was to ask for salt caps, no one had any extras. This part of the race was very sad. Leaving that aid station I saw 4 people start heading down the hill saying their day was done about every half mile. These runners were ahead of me and were now turning around and calling it a day. They were doing the smart thing, I began to question if I was.
I started thinking about my parents and Sam... I really wanted to finish this race because it was the first time they had ever come out to one of my events. I knew that finishing with an IV stuck to my arm would definitely not inspire them to ever come back. So as I said sorry to the last runner coming down the hill. I swore that if it was too much I would sit and wait for the sweeper to take me in, no shame in DNF, doing nothing foolish.
I reached the second false summit of bulldog and I saw a pack of 4 runners together. They were sitting under the shade of a small tree helping another runner who looked like he was in real bad shape. He said he was feeling the heat and could not go on. The other runners helped him get back on his feet and we all continued together up the hill. At this point I removed my iPod. The music beat was not matching my crawling pace and was just making me feel anxious about my conservative race gone ultra conservative. Still no salt.
As the group of four is walking up we see 2 volunteers tending to a runner grabbing his leg. I hear a helicopter circling above. His day was done and the rangers were on the way to bring him down to the start line. I did not stick around for very long because the temptation to jump in the back of the approaching truck and bag it was getting stronger by the minute. I knew that we had a little downhill but that the steep ascent to Bulldog was still a few miles away. So I began running.
I managed a trot down hill and then I would speed up for a few seconds then stop. My calfs tightened and began to tremble. You know that trembling that comes right before the cramp, yeah that one. Got to the bottom of that downhill and began the ascent to the rocks. At this point I asked another guy for salt, he said he barely had enough for himself, that he was sorry. Finally on the uphill after the rock top I asked another runner for salt. He said he ran out and just got some from another runner but offered me the 1 salt cap she had given him. That was legit, that is the ultra community I know, he was runner #284. I said no, it was fine and thanked him for the gesture. The runner who gave him salt overheard I needed some and offered me some. I quickly accepted and thanked her generosity. She was bib #142.
I stayed with her for most of the up and downhill after the bulldog rocks at the top. She was really nice and we chatted about ultras, the running community and the joy of being out on the trail. Her feet started to hurt and would tell me to go ahead. I waited for her to catch up a few times. But toward the bottom of the hill I started to feel a little ill and she started walking downhill. At this point I was hurting pretty bad and just wanted to be done. I knew that it was easier to finish than to wait for the sweeper so I ran/walked. Got to the backbone trail again. A good section, passed a few runners. Towards then end of this section I came up to a runner who graciously moved aside so I could pass. I asked him how he was doing. He said fine, but that he had run out of water then added that the next aid station was coming up. I started to leave him behind then...
I checked my pack. I felt that I had maybe 10-15 oz of water. So I stopped and offered him some of my water. He asked if it was ok. I told him we were all friends here and that I would feel bad if he died. He smiled took two sips from my pack and thanked me. We shook hands told me his name was Kam and I said my name is Alex. He said he owed me one. I told him that he would have done the same for me and headed off down the trail.
A little further I caught two ladies on that section who were very frustrated. They kept saying that the aid station was supposed to be there. Just as they were speaking a volunteer was walking up the trail with a gallon of water, winning! They took some water. I asked him how far it was and he said about .5 miles. I let him know a runner behind me with a pack was totally out and took off. I got to the aid station took of my pack and asked for a full refill. It was only 2.2 miles to the end but that furnace section near the jail/prison thing was up and I expected a suck-fest.
I then took off my arm sleeves and my buff and asked the aid station volunteer to please soak them in water. He was like, man I was going to ask you why you were wearing black sleeves today. I told him the sleeves held water like champs and helped keep me cool. I drank a few cups, made sure not to sit down, to close to the end for a break. I grabbed my pack and sleeves (heavenly) and headed out. Another runner came with. I cannot remember his bib but he was super cool. He was an EMT from Wyoming who was struggling on the second loop. He was training for a 100 miler and this was supposed to be a training run/speed work but the heat got him, yup heard that story all day. He set the pace to help me get out of the furnace. A few times he asked if I wanted to go ahead but I knew I was not in shape to lead it out so I def owe him for the help. He dropped me in the last .25 miles of trail before the parking lot and stretch home.
This final section I passed a guy I had been trying to run down the whole time off the rocks at the top of bulldog. He had a long pony tail and was going super consistent. I passed him on the long dirt stretch home. I asked him if he was okay and said yes so I stepped on it. My stepping on it at this point was an aggressive shuffle. I got to the point where the second loop started and my parents and Sam were there. They kept encouraging me and I tried to surge but my calf cramped. Less than a freaking half mile and my legs were wanting to tap out. A guy my parents had been chatting with, who was crewing for Jorge Pacheco (yeah the amazing runner who won Badwater and a bunch of other stuff), drenched me with water and a sponge. It felt perfect and gave me some pep. Pedro, Coyote Running, came over to help me run it in. I had seen him twice on the course...they were volunteering and were really helpful and encouraging to all the runners. I managed a shuffle. But suddenly seeing the line I was able to surge at to end for about 60/70 yards. I had finished and my family and Sam were there to see it, it was a good day. A special thanks to my buddy Berto for inviting/tricking me to sign up for this, and to Pedro for the help at the end. Also to all the runners and volunteers...they really saved all of us out there in the heat.