Friday, March 27, 2009

A Winner Race -- the Inaugural Diablo Trail 50K

What a killer run! There were many ultras held in Northern California the 2nd and 3rd weekends of March, but I've concluded that signing up for the inaugural Diablo Trail 50K on Sunday the 22nd was the winning choice (regardless of how I finished).

As often happens, a transportation problem. When I had jotted down the following directions from the website the night before-- "After about three miles turn right on Walnut Avenue (NOT Walnut Boulevard!)" -- of course I got it backwards. Luckily I have a Triple A Walnut Creek map on me (the Navi I deliberately left for my wife at home) and make it to the Castle Rock parking lot for the bus (included with the entry fee) taking us all to the start.

Chau Pham and Mylinh Nguyen, fresh from 100 miles at Coyote Two Moon the previous weekend. Chihping Fu behind Mylinh.

The bus is full, so I head to the back and talk with Ernesto Matal Sol, who doesn't mention the 75 miles he ran the previous weekend at Coyote Two Moon and another guy who's name might be Eric.

Ernesto post-race

Luckily for me with an incipient urge, there is a working toilet in the back-- I love it so much that I use it twice during the trip! For some reason I thought it was going to be a loud, rowdy party bus, but it got quiet and some people closed their eyes-- maybe getting up at 5:30 or earlier on a Sunday really whacks people out. Near the end of the ride, David, one of the organizers (apparently there is no hierarchical race director) and runners, gives a talk. I miss most of it since his voice does not carry to the back of the bus. Then I figure he might be disclosing useful, if not essential, information about the race, so I make my way to the front, where I catch two points: the first aid station might not happen, and they hope to acquire the lands to complete a continuous 60 mile loop encircling Mount Diablo, the Grand Loop, which will make for the most awesome 100 km trail race, so please support Save Mount Diablo.

We arrive at Round Valley at 7:15.

The weather forecast even as late as 8pm the night before predicted a 60-70% chance of rain each morning hour, "thunder possible." As I went to bed around 9:30 pm it was pouring hard; I suspected hail might pounding our rooftop. Gusts of up to 30 miles an hour were also supposed to start late morning-- from the west, and the course starts east and heads west-- and as you know, wind usually blows higher atops hills.

I'm scared that the bus will leave right away and we'll all freeze for 45 minutes, but luckily, after picking up our numbers and a 4-page color course map on high quality glossy paper in a ziplock bag (these race organizers are awesome!), we're allowed back on. Even with the sun coming out, it's cold! I decide that even if it doesn't rain, the wind will keep things cold, so I switch out of my Sportiva shirt and put on a PolarMAX turtleneck, with my Sportiva jacket on top. Glad I overpacked! I'm told it didn't rain THAT much last night, so stick with my Sportiva Crosslites with wool socks for my feet.

Jennifer Ray (RD for this January's Epiphany Ultra) and Sarah Lavender Smith (whom I've just met) are near me at the start line, and we do our "it's freezing" dance.

I took this photo of Sarah & Jennifer on Sarah's camera. No, they just look like they have to pee...

Finally and none too soon at 7:59, one of the race organizers starts counting down from 10.

Here's me taking off. photo (and all course photos in this posting) by Chihping Fu-- you're the man-- thanks! Here is a link to his photo gallery (will also have the link at bottom)

...and crossing the bridge. The guy after me, John Mintz tends to go out fast, so I'm going way too fast....

I knew that the field was thinned since most really fast runners ran Way Too Cool the weekend before, and both Rucky Chucky and Pirates Cove were yesterday, but I had no intention of trying to run way ahead of everyone. However, I'm so cold, that I take off much faster than I normally would, in a desperate attempt to raise my body temperature. Honestly, this was my only intention, and not to lose everyone in the first mile.

But when I first look back 10 minutes into the race I don't see anyone behind me.

Even before looking back, my legs start feeling very, very heavy.

Because they were-- very, very heavy --from the sticky mud that was caking onto my otherwise light Crosslites on the sole and the sides. Quickly I realized that today was NOT going to be the 4:30 run that Ernesto kept quoting to me on the bus.

Sarah Lavender Smith's photo of similar mud on her shoes (thanks, Sarah!)

With all the rain this late winter, I had a fair amount of experience running in similar goopy, cakey mud. I know how to run in this stuff....I know you can't possibly run in this stuff. Resistance is futile! But I do my best trying to run on the sides of the muddy trail despite this generally adding distance and an even more uneven running surface. As usual I had deliberately tied my laces slightly loosely to help relax my ankles, but my shoes often felt like they might come off. The mud and uneven terrain of the trail shoulders were soon making my ankles sore and tired. (Sore and tired--can't have that!)

I'm still surprised that at the top of every small hill, I still don't see anyone behind me. More than a few times this gives me small but healthy pangs of anxiety-- am I off course? However, just when I'm about to consult the bag with the maps in my jacket pocket, I see the reassurance ribbon. In addition, chalk arrows on the ground appear to have survived the night's downpours. After the first few miles, I run the rest of the race confidently, despite many ribbons having been blown away. Thanks, all you marking volunteers!

The 5.4 mile minor aid station doesn't materialize, but I wasn't counting on it and am okay on the fluids so far. With another ascent I enter more lands I've never trodden before-- up Miwok trail into Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, with views of Los Vaqueros Reservoir to the left and sunny east.

Though still muddy, at the higher elevations the mud luckily isn't so sticky and doesn't cake inches to the sides and bottom of my Crosslites. However, the wind is stronger higher up, and more often blowing against, rather than with me. I'm glad I brought the gloves and 2 layers on my top-- I'm skinny and without insuation. At times the gusts are so strong, I'm barely moving.

The white cap of Diablo in the distance-- I would not be surprised if it snowed on the peak last night!

The first aid station at Morgan Territory Road comes none too early-- 9.8 miles officially, 10.2 per my Garmin Forerunner, and almost 1 hour 43 minutes is long going without a bottle refill or any gels (for this race, Cytomax drink and Hammer gels). I hadn't memorized my homework, so I ask how far the next aid station is, and one female volunteer answers, "well, look at the map, didn't they give you a map?" To my defense, if was largely downhill to the the aid station and I was flying, apart from a short cow detour (the disadvantage of being in first is that I have to deal with more cattle). Another volunteer says "I think about 5 miles." As I leave the area, this gets revised to "7 and a half." I think of going back to drink more since I only have 1 bottle, but figure the hill can't be that big and it's probably not going to get warm soon.
(By the way, I never expect the answer to the how far question, and appreciate ALL volunteers being out there.)

As I head up Highland Ridge Trail to.....the ridge, I look back several times at the trail descending to the aid station, and never see anyone. I'd feel lonely-- I run enough alone for training-- but it's such a beautiful day!

I then start to wonder if I shouldn't just mellow out since the next person isn't even close. However, the urge to slow down is overpowered by the realization that this is going to be the last time for a while I will be running fast (fast enough to breathe hard), with my 50 miler next weekend (slower) and 150 miler (even slower) in 3 weeks. Also to prepare for the latter, it might make sense to push it now. So I keep chugging, though well clear of a pace at which I might get nauseated (standard for my shorter races). I actually do a lot of looking around to enjoy the scenery, of which there is so much!

After 1.6 miles up, the remaining 6 miles turns out to be more downhill than up, so I make good time.

At the small house, I veer off the trail toward Finley Road (where I parked and entered 11 days earlier to do trail maintenance) for a half mile detour to the 2nd aid station.

Among the volunteers is Kap'n Kirk Boisseree, who had clipped overgrowth with me. He asks me what took me so long.

Another volunteer, seeing me scurrying to toss my gel wrapper, stash new ones, get an S! cap, tells me not to hurry. I ask how far back the next runner is, and he says, "Really, don't worry about it."
Running out I tell them, "Well, if I'm going to set the course record, I should at lest not make it too soft!"

I know the next 4 miles on Oyster Point Trail really well, but that doesn't stop me from almost falling on my face trying to climb the muddy incline from the first stream crossing. I admire the newly cleared trail and the pruning Kirk and I and other Trail Dog volunteers did the prior week. I also notice a lot of shiny-leaved poison oak popping out at the sides of the trail, and realize that my zealous hacking probably saved everyone on this race some itching. The stuff grows fast. Hopefully it won't grow into the trail before next month's PCTR Diablo 50 mile. Descending to another stream, I lose my balance slipping on slick mud. I catch myself, but not without tweaking my right shoulder. With my upcoming races so soon, I decide to SLOW DOWN on the slippery downhills.

This photo I actually took myself earlier, Knobcone Point with Mount Diablo in background.

It's warming up a bit, but I'm not sweltering, so perhaps in loyalty I don't take my jacket off.

A short while after crossing South Gate Road (heading to summit) at Curry Point, I get to the Rock City 24.0 mile aid station, where all the volunteers are wearing the same uniform.
Having not done my homework, I thought the trail would go right by the Smurfy formations of Rock City, but it turns on the Summit Trail and heads upwards.

Am we going up to Juniper Campground?! But then the course turns and heads down. Amazingly the trail is really dry, due to the bedrock on Wall Point Trail.

After a long winding, descent (back into some mud), I approach Macedo Ranch. Three women cloaked in blankets spot me and run down the final 1/2 mile out-and-back ahead of me to the aid station-- I can't catch up.
I've almost run 50 km, but it's another "2 or 3 miles" to the finish.

I job almost the whole 1/2 mile to the turn-off, then start to feel really sore in my legs. I decide at this point pushing it at all is STUPID. Signed up for the Lake Sonoma 50 (mile) in 6 days is last year's winner, Dan Barger, Ron Gutierrez, and a few other who race at bout my pace. I'm sure they will be disappointed if I am not able to mount a challenge, and I will be embarrassed if I can't keep within an hour of Jon Olsen.
Thus, I finally defer some speed-gratification, and opt to walk or really slowly jog up even the gentlest uphills.
I finish over 5:42, way over my estimate, but in addition to the mud and headwind, I notice it's more than 33.5 miles, and almost 54 km (probably over that, since the Garmin tends to undermeasure distance). Four bonus kilometers! They will need to change the name of this race.

After receiving my award (a coupon for North Face gear), I intend to walk to my car, get my towel and take a nice hot shower. However, I realize that my car is about a mile away (!)-- fearing I won't make it there and back alive, I decide to stay and start eating. The fare is first-rate-- chicken-apple sausages, greens salad with olice oil and balsamic vinegar, lots of other stuff donated by Whole Foods, much of it organic. Very nice healthy and tasty spread. Six minutes after 2 pm elite female master's runner Beth Vitalis sprints in. She takes longer to recover her breath, so I feel a little guilty that I had slowed down the last 3 miles. Beth has chicked me before, so don't think my victory was a foregone conclusion.

I took a good action photo of Beth, but am so impressed with this guy with her-- he's wheeled the whole course-- of course when it was dry.   (Since first publishing this post, I have learned his name is Bob Coomber, and he has done many other amazing things in his wheelchair.)

Three minutes later, Sarah Lavender Smith comes in. Apparently Beth and Sarah ran about 12 or so miles together and bonded. Sarah runs mostly shorter stuff, and is enthused she could run so long with the accomplished Beth,. Great job, both of you!

Sarah, me, Beth (I'm the ugly one in the middle.)

Finally another dude finishes in 6:21, evening the gender tally.

Jason Cooke, 4th overall, 2nd place male

My wife had told me I could hang out a couple of hours and not rush back since she might bring the kids to the park, but with the weather forecast, wasn't sure. I realized after I'd left the house that I left my cell phone at home, so have to keep borrowing a volunteer's phone to call and leave messages. Sarah leaves to see her son's first baseball game, and Beth leaves back out onto the course to find and run with her partner Joe MacDonald. Almost 2 hours after finishing, I figure it's time to leave.

Fortunately, a ranger comes by on a golf cart, since I'm not excited about the bonus mile, and I get a lift.
Thanks to all those at Save Mount Diablo, race sponsors, the many enthusiastic volunteers, the runners who helped mark the course, and everyone else. This race is a real winner-- fantastic race for an excellent cause. I want to see at least twice as many people run this next year... I'll be back!
(By the way, there is an epilogue-- I will soon lose big-- so keep reading....)


Catra Corbett
Sarah Lavender Smith

EPILOGUE (Kites & Keys)
Luckily, my younger son is still asleep when I arrive home, so I'm not holding up anything. After battling all that headwind I decide today would be the perfect day to try to fly that dragon kite I bought at Costco a year ago. For months I was missing a piece that my toddler had hidden, then the string got all tangled, and then it's never been windy enough..... so today would be the day.
We drive up to the nearby middle school, on a hill with a large field. Apparently my kite flying skills aren't as good as my running skills today, as I can't keep the kite up for than 10 seconds at a time. My wife takes over and demonstrates superior technique, hands it back, I get it up and keep it up-- my virility is restored! My kids are thrilled too.

We walk back to the car to find ourselves locked out. I was the one with the smart key for our Prius, but hadn't zipped closed the pocket of my Sportiva jacket (no-- hadn't showered or changed yet) so it must have fell out. Whoops. I walk-jog back the quarter mile on the other side of the school to the field and look on the ground, but the grass is tall in places and I soon realize this is sort of a needle-in-a-haystack situation. I return, apologizing to the wife and older son, and we walk the 3/4 mile down the hill and through our subdivision to our house, taking turns carrying our younger. It's past dinner time, so I offer to try to jog back up the hill, but my wife decides to drive me up with the remaining Prius key. I get dropped off and decide to give it a more thorough search, winding back and forth across the field for more than half an hour. In my bonus (I estimate 2) miles, I see lots of candy and gum wrappers and other random small objects-- but not the key. The wind is picking up as the sun descends-- I'm freezing.

The next morning at work, I call up the dealership. Soon I'm in a bad mood-- I had NO IDEA it would cost that much. I call the middle school and leave a long rambling message on the secretary's voice mail asking if the kids can look for it during PE.

The secretary calls me back a few hours later, informing me that a student has found it. I would be unqualifyingly ecstatic, but it's a horrendous Monday during which I had up to 5 patients waiting to see me at one point, most over 70 and with real complaints (I hate it when that happens), along with 7 other patients still vomiting/in pain/needing a disposition. I leave my shift 75 minutes late, commenting that the only thing good about today was that my key showed up.
Okay, okay, I'm HAPPY....

My first chance to make it up to the school is Wednesday, 3 days after Diablo Trails and 3 days before my next race:

Climbing the small hill to the school, my legs really feel it....

I am happy to give this fine Canyon Middle School student, Josh Hicken, a well deserved monetary reward. Nonethess, I am thinking of having the smart key implanted into my hip....

1st published 4 pm, Friday, March 27, 2009, less than 15 hours until the next race starts.


Addy said...

Glad you had a good time at the race! Congrats on the win.

I was actually the person who checked you in on race day :)

Oh, and the man in the wheelchair's name is Bob.

Good luck in your race this weekend!

Baldwyn said...

Nice job out there, looked like a great run, I hope to make it next year! Congrats on your win, and glad you got the key back! I highly recommend pink ribbons on the key ring!

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

congratulations on your win!!

Also, I feel your pain on the key. I JUST got back from the dealership where I dropped enough money to enter 3-4 races for just one key. ugh

Anonymous said...

Great race brother. Sounds like you had an awesome run. get recovered for the next one.

Sarah Lavender Smith said...

Great report, Mark, and a big congrats on following up your Diablo performance with 6th place at Sonoma. Do you ever take time to recover?! I guess your legs don't need it! Also, I loved your adjective for Rock City's rocks -- "Smurfy." Yes, that describes them well!

Paige said...

Great report! Ernesto is the angel that gave me and my friend a ride back to our cars (45 minutes away) after the NF 50 in San Fran last December...awesome dude!

CookRunBeer said...

I just cant stop reading your race reports!

i am new to ultras 2010 was my first season of 50k races and i am hooked. Now i am hooked on your reports. its making me want to leave through the window and put in 23 miles right now.

thanks for the inspiration.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Thanks, everyone, including CookRunBeer, and welcome to the sport! Incidentally I have a huge report backlog; with my kids getting older it's getting harder and harder to crank them out.