There was never any question in my mind that for this ultra-marathon that I should be running ultra-conservatively with nary a thought of time goals or personal records. After all, my longest run this year was only 20 miles, I had only averaged 11 miles/week in the last three weeks, and recently my running has been more off than Britney Spears’ singing. Clearly, this race was should have been approached as just an opportunity to do a “very fast hike” while taking in the views of oak and golden hills in the South Bay of California.
Don’t ask me why, then, was I chugging along the course from Miles 10-25 at an intensity I’d run a marathon, passing several dozen people while completely discarding the pre-race strategy of walking up each uphill and jogging like a weekend dog-walker the rest of the time. Maybe it was to release some pent-up frustration that for the first 1.5 hours of the race I was virtually forced to walk half the time behind all of the other participants who were doing so on narrow, no-passing-possible singletrack. During those first eight miles, I felt like part of a trail of ants all while being subjected to the occasional whiff of sunscreen, the loud banter of other runners chatting about the races they had just done, or the injuries they had recently suffered.
“This is really unbelievable,” I thought at Mile 27 or so, “just how good I’m feeling right now…”
Alas—quite predictably—my pace began to falter after about 50 kilometers (31 miles), but unlike my last 50+ miler, it was a steady, gradual decline in performance instead of a sudden crash-and-burn.
A couple of times per hour, I’d land on a straight right leg instead of a bent one, resulting in a very sharp pain underneath the kneecap. Despite the infrequency of this, it had the effect of goading me into running even slower, a message effectively communicated in tandem with my sore quads.
By Mile 37 I had another concern. “I have not gone to the bathroom even one time during this race,” I remarked to an aid station gal while chucking down a few cups of Cytomax, “and I’ve been drinking A LOT!”
The next four miles were almost all uphill followed by four miles of downhill on the exact same stretch, and it turned out I was actually faster going up than down (15:00/mile pace vs. 16:08).
Despite the slow and steady signs of running out of gas, with three miles to go I exhibited something similar to “horse barn syndrome,” like a horse picking up speed as he returns to his barn. But in my case the sudden speedup was actually attributable to “girl chasing syndrome,” as at that point not one but two very pretty women passed me, breaking stride as if they were just doing a 5k trail run, not a 50-miler.
I couldn’t pick up the pace enough to keep them in sight for more than five minutes, but eventually, my legs came back and I was running eight-minute-miles again instead of 16:00 ones. With the finish line in sight and the race clock reading 10 hours 30 minutes, I sprinted in as if all soreness in my legs was gone.
Twenty minutes later, I stopped by a toilet for the first time since five minutes before the race began. This means I went nearly 11 hours without taking a leak despite imbibing something between 8-10 pounds of fluids during that time.
Hmmm, so I did set a PR after all, just in respect to bladder control during awake hours!
- My “training” the week before the race consisted of 1-3 mile walks with Bue (Adrian and Evelyn’s dog) and rock climbing with Alyssa and Stacey at Planet Granite for about three hours. Not sure if that helped any, but it was fun at least.
- During the race I was stopping for about three minutes at each aid station, eating and drinking as much as I could. Considering that I never felt dehydrated or bonked, this may have been worth the ~30 minutes it consumed in total.
- It was really great to see my former co-worker Chau “Joe” Pham at the event, who ended up running 50 kilometers. Joe is an interesting case study because he’s in his 50s, has three or four kids, smokes (or at least used to when we worked together), and is not particularly fast. In fact, if you look at his build, you wouldn’t even guess he was a runner. Yet, he has done an incredible number of these runs, including several 100-milers. This upcoming weekend he will be running 64 miles and in August, the Mont Blanc Ultra—a 100-mile run that has 38,000 feet of climbing through France, Switzerland, and Italy.
- Joe’s wife, Mylinh, participates in ultra-marathons too, was running in this race, and even finished the 50 Mile course about one hour after I did. I think it’s so great both of them can share the same passion for such hardcore events.
- Kristina, my climbing partner from many years ago, informed me a couple of weeks before the race that she actually did the 50-mile course as a training run last year. She’s amazing!
- Later on in the race, a number of people were asking me about the Puma H-Streets I was wearing, which are 5.8-ounce, slipper-like racing flats—a glaring contrast to the bulkier trail-running shoes everyone else was wearing. The H-Streets are favorites of PoseTech runners due to their extreme flexibility and light weight, allowing one to run as naturally as possible (all while preventing cuts to the bottom of one’s foot). I am happy to attest that during the entire 50 miles, the shoes were very comfortable and did not give me a single blister—even though I had holes in my socks! Granted, my feet are very tough, but the H-Streets have now become my all-time favorite shoes.
- Unlike my last 50+ miler, I did not have to resort to taking Advil, other pain-killers, or even Coca-cola. This is progress!
- Race support and organization was outstanding, with frequent aid stations (every 2-4 miles) and a course so well-marked with chalked arrows and orange flags that it was impossible to get lost. Aside from one minor street crossing there were virtually no encounters with pavement or automobiles.
- Other than the first seven or so miles and Miles 35-37, the route gets away from narrow singletrack on goes on wide, well-groomed fire- and service roads, and very little was very technical or rocky.
- I was wearing a singlet, shorts, and a visor, and thought that the temperatures were either a tad on the chilly side or just right most of the day.
- Later that night and the next morning, I still managed to walk my buddy Bue. They were probably the slowest walks Bue has ever gone on, but it was encouraging that I was not a complete invalid after the race.
- 50 miles, 8530 feet of climbing
- Elapsed time: 10:30:46
- Place: 46/93
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