I had started the Diablo 50 Mile Endurance Run three times, including the inaugural race in September 2003, which almost ended my ultrarunning career before it began. (One day I'll blog that story-- the skinny was that I ended up with my only DNF in the "ER" as a patient and not the physician.) The last time I ran it was 2007, so I was long overdue, but after last year's hiatus the longer distance (paired with the shorter marathon race) was shortened from 50 miles to 60 kilometers, about 37.2 miles. Would the new, shortened Diablo be too light? Well, it was there on the PCTR calendar. Like when I don't have time to train as long as I'd like on a given day, I figured if were shorter, I would just run it harder.
Sunday May 1st was going to be warmer than the days preceding, but before the start at 7 it was cold. I was shivering in my short- sleeve Sportiva jersey and yellow Moeben sleeves. Relatively fewer familiar faces in the start pack. I figured there might be some fast guys I didn't know. A guy with long hair and a beard with Where the Wild Things Are monsters tatooed on his legs. He kind of reminded me of Tony Krupicka, as in, if you divide everyone on the planet into 30 groups by appearance, they are in the same corral. See the guy on the right catching his breath, later ID'd as Connor Curley.
photo by Karen May
He and another guy (later ID'd as Jacob Rydman), at left in the finish area photo above) sped up the hill, and I settled behind another couple of guys who were chatting and occasionally tripping, while I was out of breath but at least not tripping. Perhaps the week before that I spent running nothing but flat terrain on a beach resort island in South Carolina atrophied my climbing muscles. Eventually I passed runners #3 and 4.
taken with my old phone on a training run in February
Approaching Eagle Peak (not even halfway up the Diablo Summit, but with astounding views), a guy who knew me from this blog, chatted it up with me. His name was Jorge, so I was thinking not only Krupicka's double, but Jorge Pacheco's alter-ego was running this race.
same guy as the one seated center two photos back
So experienced veteran me then led relative rookie Maravilla (two years running ultras) off the course, though he questioned the move (straight rather than sharply left). I had gone much farther, so had to back up much more. By the time I was back on the trail Jorge was way ahead, along with another guy in a red shirt.
The guy in the red shirt's name is Rich Conder, I found out when I passed him heading up the hill to the final stretch to the first aid station at Juniper campground. Rich said he knew my name from seeing it so many race results. Say what? Do I really race that often?
half a decade earlier
First aid station at Juniper (mile 6.2)-- pretzels and some Cliff Shots in my back pocket, bottle fill up, then up the straighter Juniper trail to the summit. Starting the final short trail to the summit I saw Jorge had just about caught up with the leaders coming back down; I had the same short gap on Rich.
Juniper trail emerges at that radio tower on left. After traversing the parking lot at center,
runners come up the short trail stretch to where I was standing when I shot this photo,
then maybe another 50 feet to the final summit parking lot.
We then ran back to Juniper (mile 10.4) by the more gentle Summit trail.
one of many views from Juniper, late February
A continuous descent for several miles, during which two Gu gels I'd brought and several Cliff Shots bounced out of my back pockets. :( It seems the pockets on those Race Ready pocketed shorts get loose over time.
The next aid station (North Gate, mile 14.6) hadn't been set up yet. PCTR had put out a distress call for more volunteers a few days before the race, so I figured this was a result of that. I passed two volunteers and race director Michael Popov lugging various supplies up the trail right across the road. I got my bottle filled up with water, opened the pretzel jar and stuffed several into my back pocket. But no gels. Mike ran up to me to ask what I needed, then said he would run back and catch up with me to bring me some Cliff Blocks, which work just as well for me. I assumed he wouldn't really catch up, but half a minute later, he had delivered on his promise. I was probably running faster than 8 minutes per mile on the relatively flat trail. Not a lot of race directors who can pull a sprint-stunt like that!
RD Popov running fast in the La Sportiva Crossover GTX, lifted from his facebook profile
Down at these lower elevations, much of the single track went through tall grass, sometime above the chest, probably from the record rains we had in March. I got paranoid about ticks, and would check my legs to see if any were crawling on me if I felt anything, which I did often because of an unseasonably large amount of mud splattering on my legs.
The trail I was on T-boned into another trail. The striped ribbon (indicated a turn and which way to turn) was on the right, so I turned right, but I didn't see another pink ribbon to the right, or to the left. Still I turned right, and crossed several streams (or the same stream several times). After several minutes, not seeing another ribbon, I got paranoid. FORTUNATELY I had a copy of the turn-by-turn split chart / course description in my pocket, which I pulled out, but UNFORTUNATELY I had already missed a short-cut (turn LEFT onto Falcon Rd.) and had added more than an extra mile (something I only figured out the next day looking at the map of my GPS recorded run up close), so I mistakenly thought I must be farther down the chart on it than I was, and thus misinterpreted where I was, and backtracked, went past the intersection, then started following the chart incorrectly, until I figured out that I was headed back to the North Gate on Burma Road and would hit it before 4 miles for the split, which was 5.0 miles. So then I headed back, and only then did I notice the pink ribbon around the corner, which I somehow missed twice before.
(If you read that last paragraph, but it made no sense, in brief-- I got lost and confused and more lost and went back and forth for bonus miles.)
While doing my bonus miles, red-shirted Rich had caught up with me, so I passed him again.
I kept running, saw another striped ribbon on the left, but no additional pink ribbon (and this time I really slowed down to look), so spent 1-2 minutes deliberating, until some mountain bikers pointed me the way to Burma Road, which led back to the aid station.
Total distance for the split-- 7.7 miles, so at least 2.7 miles added with all the snafus and stops, at least 25 minutes.
I'd learned my lesson, and started referring to the split chart religiously for the rest of the race, folding the chart over every other line so that the current trail was either at the top or bottom of the fold, and this paid off. Actually, I'd learned this lesson before, but need to be more consistent.
- If a map is provided, bring it (though this can prove impractical for 100-mile runs that don't involve repeated loops)
- If a split chart is available (PCTR provides these with almost all of their races), bring it and use it.
- Slow down at intersections unless it is 100% clear where you are supposed to go.
- When you think you have messed up, take even more time to figure out where you are.
Rock City's Sentinel Rock and the rocky and treacherous "trail" leading out to it,
which I finally let my kids climb three weeks earlier (not part of the course)
In the 50-mile course, there was a 12+ mile total out-and-back from the Rock City aid station east to Finley Road that was cut. After leaving Rock City, we went up this trail towards Juniper.
I encountered many in the marathon, running in both directions. That shorter race would be won overall by a fast 40+ female Caren Spore, whom I met hiking with my family near the summit just two weeks earlier.
Then I ran back up to Juniper for the third and final visit.
Juniper and the rest of the mountain was much warmer on race day than 10 weeks prior when lots of kids got to make snowpeople and throw snowballs. But luckily it didn't get too hot race day-- I never needed to put ice in my cap as I'd anticipated.
On the second trip to the summit, there was an aid station in the parking lot. Though just 1.6 miles from Juniper, it was a long 8 miles to the finish, so quite needed. We were instructed to touch the door. In other years, we had to go onto the observation deck, but due to extensive leaking and presumably budget cuts (it's a state park), it's been closed for months.
After going most of the way up North Peak (below), we hit some really gnarly, technical single track-- steep at times with lots of loose dirt and gravel.
I had three near misses from totally wiping out. On one, I managed to stay on my feet, but my shin almost got impaled by a branch stump jutting from the trunk of a downed dead tree hanging just off the trail at a turn I could not make due loss of my footing. I continued running, but I could not dare to look down at my leg, lest the site of blood make me faint. Later, using the green-tinted glasses that I always wear at work to allow me to do my job in the often gorey "ER," I saw neither stitches nor amputation would be necessary, though my wife made me cover it up that night lest I "ooze all the bed."
Jorge, who's name means "marvel" or "wonder" in Spanish, ended up winning. Connor Curley, one of the two who had taken the lead at the start had been passed, but inadvertently finished before them without passing them, so obviously had unintentionally cut the course and so his result was disqualified. I'm wondering if he missed the North Gate to North Gate 5-mile loop, since there wasn't an aid station when he got there at mile 14.6. If this is the case, maybe he should get official results for 32.2 miles.
So I ended up finishing 3rd overall, and 1st masters, and so far behind 2nd place Jacob Rydman that getting lost had no impact on my place. Therefore, I was GLAD that I was so STUPID, because I got more training miles out of the day's run. (Of course, had I not added those miles, I would have been closer to them and probably more inspired to try to catch up. But that would've hurt! I can't take pain! Ugh!)
I hung out at the finish grazing and taking pictures until I spotted a tick crawling up my leg and then a fly trying to feed or lay eggs in my open wound. My feeling that bugs were crawling all over me was not merely psychotic delusion, as the shrinks keep telling me. I became convinced this guy was trying to poison me with the chicken-vegetable soup and chili he poisoned. It was time to leave!
Volunteer Steve (and NOT Tim like I wrote last post-- big whoops, I am truly a dork.)
I met Steve on the bus to the Skyline to the Sea 50k start three weeks earlier.
I must have called Steve "Tim" but he didn't correct me.
I need to do a google image search for Tim Roush.
I also had to get home to make a play that night, originally by that good doctor Chekhov, in honor of race director Mike, who also hails from Russia.
Since I've digressed, the best play I saw this season though was a monologue by this guy:
preview trailer for Mike Daisey's "The Last Cargo Cult"
Garmin Forerunner 305 recorded run -- as always, short-changed on the distance though not as much as a more wooded course. I'm pretty sure I ran over both 65 kilometers and 40 miles
Mount Diablo State Park website
Jacob Rydman's report
Thanks to PCTR and all the wonderful volunteers, who optimized enjoyment of a most beautiful spring day. "Diablo Light" wasn't too light.