Monday, December 17, 2012

Return to the Diablo 60k

Saturday 2 June 2012, Mount Diablo State Park

photo of Mount Diablo from the PCTR website

in case the race is never held again, this year's and last's year course map
I was really excited to return to PCTR's 2nd running of their Diablo 60k.  After a few wrong turns last year, I knew I could cut half an hour of bonus time by running a clean race.  And in any case, I always love running Diablo.   The Diablo Trails Challenge I ran in March is an awesome point-to-point run, but doesn't summit the mountain.  This race (as well as the Marathon course held the same day) has you summit twice.

I woke up at 4 am.  Six hours is enough sleep but not enough to recover from about 3.5 the night before (thanks to my kids, long story-- I think their room got too hot).  Before leaving my house at 5:45, I had this strong urge to go back to sleep.

I was still in the process of moving stuff.   The day before I made my 8th and final load from my friend Baldwyn Chieh's truck.

Probably due to the race being in June rather than April, there were fewer registered runners this year, and so not a bunch of young guys shooting ahead and no temptation to try to keep up.  I found myself leading the way, talking with frequent PCTR runner Kermit Cuff.

Before long up the ascent, a young woman I'd never seen before caught up with us, asking is she can run with us.  She was able to converse with Kermit, without any work to breathe.  "Holly or Polly?" I ask her when I didn't quite catch her name.  "Polly with an H," is what I heard her tell me; the most frequent ear worm for the rest of the race would be "Polly" by Nirvana.

Since I really didn't have the lyrics memorized, it was mostly Kurt Cobain singing "Polly wants a cracker" and the melody to the rest of the song over and over again.

Anyway, I thought Holly was likely elite female ultrarunner material.  I end up meeting and chatting some with a lot of really fast runners during these races. Last year I met the winner Jorge Maravilla early.  This was the first of several wins or otherwise great performances the rest of last year into this year-- he's now pretty widely known and well respected.  I met Devon Crosby Helms while running Jed Smith 50k in 2007, and Nathan Yanko on the course at Lake Sonoma 50 mile, before each of these left me behind and got married.  I should compile a list.

I got to Juniper aid station to find no aid station set up.  "Aid station? Aid station?!" I shouted, lacking the time or brilliant insight to come up with anything else.  A volunteer was there talking on his cell phone, I guess with base headquarters.  He didn't come up to me or say anything to me, probably more panicked at the situation than I.  I knew I needed to take in calories, having downed only a gel I brought from home up the strenuous climb.

I saw some bags on the picnic table that always gets used to lay out the food.  Assuming they were unloaded aid station supplies (I swear this is what I was thinking), I opened one up, pulled out a Cliff bar and then moved on, knowing that I could fill up my empty bottle at one of several spigots on the trail, including one right at the turn left up Juniper Trail to the summit.

After eating about half of some trail mix fruit bar, I realized that I had opened up someone's drop bag.  Drop bags aren't really on my radar at these shorter races, since I only use them at 100 mile races.  This half ruined the taste, but I realized it was too late-- what was I going to do, put the rest of it back into the bag when I returned?

So, whoever's bar I ended up eating, my sincere apologies, please comment to let me know who you are; I promise to make this up to you!

After many months closed, the outside observation deck at the summit was recently opened, so we were supposed to climb the extra steps and read a sign placed there.  I got up there to find no sign.  As I descended the steps, a volunteer was running it up: "GIRAFFE BONES."

Finishing the loop to the Summit on Summit Trail close to Juniper, I saw Steve Crane coming the other way. "You're going the wrong way," I think he told me, and soon explained one of the volunteers directed him that way.

I got him to head back with me, but then he told me he had already visited the summit, and that he had passed me.  Not recalling him passing me (I never saw him behind me on the ascent), I told him he didn't, but then he told me he did, so I conceded, "Uh, okay maybe you did."  Finally he explained he went down (Juniper Trail) the same way he went up, which I explained to him was not what you were supposed to do.

I am not sure what he did then, but since he is not on the finishers list, at some point he dropped.

race tip:  If the race website gives you turn-by-turn direction and a printable map, print them up and carry them with you.  Always.  Even if you know the course.

I really enjoyed the loop at the bottom, since this included trails that I previously didn't know that well before, but now knew them really well.  This was the section on which I second-guessed myself last year and ended up adding 2-3 bonus miles.  This year the course was very well marked with arrow signs and ribbon.  The signs didn't match the course directions I was carrying or the map (which I couldn't print), but did match last year's course.

Since the markings were not ambiguous, I went with them.

race tip:  If there is a discrepancy between the obvious and the theoretical, go with the obvious.

I especially enjoyed this section because I took my family hiking here earlier this year, on Little Yosemite Trail.

a view of "Little Yosemite"
Good times, and was proud of my 4-year-old son's ability to go the distance (five hilly miles) without whining.

my younger son charging up the steep Buckeye Ravine Trail (not part of the race course, but I need a graphic)
Sleepies started hitting me more than the heat.

After Rock City, I started seeing marathoners coming in the opposite direction.

The malaise of needing more sleep kept increasing.  I still tried to enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery, as well as the fact that I was winning a race, but when it came down to it, I felt crappier than I should have.

I did finally remember to ask the volunteer at the Rock City aid station for ice cubes to put under my cap and in the pockets of my Moeben sleeves.  I thought the mocha flavored Clif Shot I picked up there was caffeinated, but despite the flavor being mocha, it was caffeine free.  Should that be legal?  Confusing, huh?

On the way out I saw a group of volunteers I assumed were working as part of National Trails Day.  Hmm, maybe trail races should be held on a different day?  I thanked them profusely, maybe incoherently; a few looked at me like I was crazy.

I drank half a can of Coke at the Summit and filled up my 24 ounce bottle with water (no sports drink), but grabbed 4 caffeinated Clif Bloks.  I figured I would be okay.

I got back to the parking lot before the turn to the left 10 minutes after going by on the ascent, so figured it was highly unlikely Holly would catch up with me.  I decided I should probably save myself for Bighorn 100 mile in just 13 days, so not kill myself.  I looked at my watch, and realized it would be impossible to cut that half hour and break 7 hours, my other goal.  Still, I thought I should try to break last year's time.

I knew that the initial ascent off the turn off after ascending almost to the summit of North Peak (about 1.5 miles from the summit) was the most treacherous-- very steep, lots of loose dirt and gravel.  It truly is a place you can seriously hurt yourself, even going slowly.  It was especially more dangerous today than it was running it several time during the winter because of the dense of overgrowth obscuring the trail.

At about 4.3 miles I saw a gate on the fire road straight ahead, which I recognized as an entrance to private property.  There was no ribbon on the sharp turn to the left, but recalled running on it last year.  I took it, a little nervous, but eventually saw a pink ribbon.  I figured the wind had blown away the ribbon, but per the ED, someone had vandalized it.  Several runners doing the marathon distance ended up taking the road, including Charles Lantz, who got there before me.  This added more bonus mileage to an already long split.

At about mile 5 (on only a minimally technical part of single track), I tripped hard, caught myself with a few steps, almost spasming my left calf, posterior shoulder and side.  Apparently my "relaxed" pace down the hill wasn't enough.  I reminded myself of my nonrefundable plane ticket and race entry fee, and one of two hotel stays for Bighorn 100 in less than two weeks.  Hurting myself would not only be a bummer, be a stupid waste of lots of non-refundable hard-earned money. I decided to screw the PR, and slow the pace further.

At about mile 6, there was a stream crossing.  Without the wind higher up, it was hot again.  Crouching to dip my sleeves in the stream, my hamstrings almost went into spasm.

The last two miles, I could feel my energy levels dropping.  I had several Clif Bloks and two gels in my pockets, but my water had run out about a mile ago, so I couldn't eat them.  I had that dizzy feeling that I was going to pass out, or at least completely hit the wall and literally have to lie down on the trail, as I did at another race in 2009. ("Saved by the Gel: Overcoming the Wall at the Lake Sonoma 50")

But I held it together, finished (and oh yeah, I gues I won!)

Thanks, volunteers, you were all awesome!

I also got a winner's mug.

(Some of the following links may not work in the future, if not already.)

GPS recording of my run
report of last year's (2011) race
race website

A few days after the run, owner Sarah Spelt informed the world (was it through Facebook?-- can't remember) that Pacific Coast Trail Runs would be ending.  I thus concluded that I happened to win the longer distance of the last PCTR race ever.

However, PCTR has since assumed by new management, so maybe not.  But for sure, it was the last race directed by Michael Popov, who, among many other accomplishments, holds the fastest known time (FKT) record for a totally self-supported running of the Tahoe Rim Trail.

I would never see him in person again.

"Misha" Popov with volunteer Jill Homer

This is because later that summer, Michael Popov, tragically died while running in Death Valley.  We in the ultrarunning community will continue to miss your smile, laid-back attitude and amiable demeanor.  Rest in peace, Michael!

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