21 March 2010
Mt. Diablo Trails Challenge 50k
[caption id="attachment_22" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Hiding the happiness..."][/caption]
Leaving California on a high note.
To begin, I'll go over my structured and fastidious training regiment since last November... Ok, I can't remember exactly how many miles I ran last week let alone over the last five months. Heck I only wear my $12 Casio watch occasionally on a run. I do know that almost all those weeks were 25-30 miles with maybe 2 weeks getting up towards 40 miles, so, very little running since my last 50 miler in October. The runs themselves were typically productive, though short, like one of my favorites, a ten mile loop that starts at sea level, goes up a winding trail to the top of China Camp SP (over 1k elevation), wanders up there for a bit and then descends back down and return home. Another one was an abandoned road that climbs straight up for nearly two miles (takes me about 18 mins) then meanders through some trails before dropping back down to the route home. So, my climbing ability is there, some semblance of speed is there, just not the physical endurance for a pounding 4-5 hour run. At least that's what I thought.
Brazen Racing partnered up with Save Mt. Diablo to direct this year's Mt. Diablo Trail Challenge 50k (and several other distances). The minute I found out Brazen would be in charge I knew I had to run it. No detail is too small and I knew that at the very least I'd go home with a full tummy and a finishers medal that weighs 15lbs.
4:30am comes awfully early for me but I had to get to the race by 6:30am in order to catch the bus that takes the runners 32 miles away to the start (It's a point to point race). It was so early that I honestly can't even tell you where the start is located, not even the name of the town. So, while we're all waiting there in the dark for the bus to arrive a guy pulls up in a minivan and announces he has two seats available and would be happy to take a couple folks to the start line. Before he was finished with that sentence I was already lodged in the back seat of the cozy van pulling the sliding door shut. Once at the start, Randy drops us off. This would've been great but the start was a dirt parking lot in the dark with no shelter or lights. The milky light of morning was just seeping in but the cold night chill was still in effect. Soon, I was standing in the lot in my shorts shivering uncontrollably and finally squeezed into the back of an SUV for warmth. 8am was finally approaching and I was eager to get started. We gathered, listen about the cause - Save Mt. Diablo - (frankly, the whole state needs saving...from itself. Sorry, but the hit the parks take due to state mismanagement is repulsive to me), course directions and information (in one ear, out the other, as usual), and then "GO!". Twenty steps from the start I was about 10 feet in front of everyone, then 50 feet in front of them. After just one minute into the race I was alone in front and no one seemed to care, so I went with it.
Two weeks previous I ran the first half of the course with Sam, the Race Director, so I had a solid idea of what to expect. Now, being in front and gaining more ground by the minute I wanted to reach the first main climb fast enough so no one from behind could even see me. I just know from personal experience that when someone up front is out of sight I sort of just assume he/she is gone. I reached the start of the climb and the first aid station 3 miles into the race and saw no one behind me, not even way behind me. I ran past the aid station since I hadn't even started to drink yet and still had a full bottle, thanked the volunteers and began the long 2 mile ascent of the mountain. Having run this section before, I chose to back off and conserve energy up it. With 27 more miles and MANY feet of elevation left I had no interest in bursting a lung on this climb. Once at the top I settled back into a fast pace and dropped my over-shirt and $1 gloves at aid station 2 while they filled my hand held bottle.
[caption id="attachment_34" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Super aid station help!"][/caption]
The next section is probably the most fun I've had in a while. For the next 8-10 miles the course ungulates over rolling green mountains with views only found in Northern California and only in early spring. It was beautiful, 60s, sunny, light wind. Several, maybe 20, cows and calves were on the trail as I approached and instead of running to the side they chose to run with me, at first, looking back over their haunches at me, then just settling in around me like I was one of the herd. This lasted for what seemed like 10-15 minutes and was really sweet.
Soon, I was descending towards the half way point and the aid station at a short (.75 mile?) out and back. I hustled into there at about 2 hrs 28 mins. The next section was probably the most difficult for me of the day. It's a long climb up single track that is fairly new, so it's clumpy, bumpy and in some parts narrow like running in a roof gutter. I wasn't feeling well and was probably a little behind on energy. I kept picturing second place to come bounding up behind me and even looked back several times, something I don't like to do in races. No one was there and I was feeling better soon enough.
I got held up for a short time by a helicopter. Yes, helicopter. It was following me for a minute and at first I thought, "Wow, Sam has some connections. A helicopter news team is covering his race." Then I saw police SUVs with their lights flashing and didn't know what to think. Just then the helicopter descends in front of me and actually lands about 40 feet away from the trail I'm approaching. I just sort of stopped and through the hurricane force winds looked at it. Finally, I just started running but it was running at a deep angle, leaning into the wind created by the blades chopping away at the air just above my head. It was surreal. Apparently, a runner (1/2 marathoner) complained of chest pains at the next aid station. He turned out to be fine and didn't need to be airlifted. It was so weird that I didn't think of anything else for about 30 mins of my run.
Soon (finally), I'm at the penultimate aid station where they say, "Just 5 miles to the next aid station, then 3 more to the finish." I think I said, "Thank Christ!" And I'm not even religious (but I'll take help where I can get it). A couple of miles after that aid station was a steep final hill on single track. The most severe cramping in my legs began and got to the point where I just fell over and laid on the side of the trail with my leg muscles twitching and seizing in excruciating convulsions. At that point I didn't care how many people would pass me; I just wanted to be able to finish. The salt tablets I took in at the last AS and the gel with gulps of water began to help. I was able to start walking, then running a little until finally running comfortably.
[caption id="attachment_21" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Coming into the 28.1 mile aid station"][/caption]
The last three miles were fast and easy, mostly descents over rock and dirt trail much like the slickrock in Moab. There are about six no-staying-dry water crossings of icy water but otherwise a nice cruise to the finish. As I approached the finish arch I could see I wasn't going to break 5 hours (I'll blame that on the helicopter).
Finish: 1st place in 5:00:05 (course record)
The course was so well marked that I could follow it almost intuitively without having to concentrate on route searching. The volunteers along the way at the aid stations and afterward were tremendously helpful and nice. Big thanks to them!
I hung out afterward for quite a while, ate some good food, chatted with Sam and Jasmin from Brazen Racing, got a great massage from an entirely too attractive woman, and met some of the other runners, including Mark Gilligan, whom I've been hoping to meet. He was supposed to do a 41 mile run today; good luck with that. I puttered around the house and did some Sunday driving with the dog.
Overall, a great event! Over 600 people came out and ran in the events. The course was incredibly scenic and challenging. I came home with a lot of nice stuff and even better memories.