Saturday, June 20, 2015

2015 Silver State 50K Race Report

The EBRPD cancels Ohlone 50K due to a few raindrops
photo credit Jean Pommier
They cancelled my birthday???

"Those bastards cancelled my birthday this year?" I ask incredulously. "I can't believe those fuckers cancelled my birthday." By "bastard-fuckers" I am of course referring to the board of directors of the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). And no, they didn't cancel my actual birthday itself. It's not like they issued a decree or proclamation stating that all birthdays falling on or near May 19 this year would be rendered null and void.

No, those infidels did something far worse and insidious. For reasons that still baffle me, this group of desk jockeys decided to cancel the Ohlone 50K -- a race that falls on or near my birthday every May, and one of my favorite races of the year. And they cancelled it just two days beforehand because... wait for it... because it rained a little?  California is in the middle of a drought mind you.

But apparently these over-zealous politicians were worried that people might get wet. Or that shoes might get muddy? I still don't quite understand what exactly they were thinking.

Meanwhile Silver State 50 proceeds in snow and mud!
photo credit JenelleP @JPChronicles
I think I've made a terrible mistake (part 1)

Anyway, there I was, several hours and several litters of beer later, fairly drunk and pissed off. And then I hatched a plan. "What if...," I asked my wife Amy, "we drop John Paul off at your mom's and hop in the car and start driving North to Reno? If we leave now we might be able to make it there in 5 hours, plenty of time to get a few hours of sleep before Silver State 50K starts in the morning!"

I'd never run Silver State before. I'd never even considered running it as it always falls the day before Ohlone. But hell, I was drunk. And I was on the Internet with my credit hard in my hand. Minutes later Amy and I were both signed up! What could go wrong, we thought? How could this not end well?

Several hours later I was driving through the winding Sierra Nevada mountains, in the dark at night, in the middle of a snowy blizzard. I can't read the road signs because they are covered with sticky white snow. "Fuck. I think I've made a terrible mistake," I mumble. Luckily Amy is asleep in the passenger seat completely oblivious to the fact that we are hydroplaning slowly down the mountain.

[Spoiler alert: We didn't slide off the mountain and explode in a spectacular fireball]. No, while that might have been preferable, we instead found ourselves in a smoke-filled run-down casino in Reno at 1:30 am with the realization that we have to wake up in 4 hours. Fuck, I think we've made a terrible mistake.

Lots and lots of hills
photo credit Drew Cortright
I think I've made a terrible mistake (part 2)

I probably should mention another small-but-important detail. I was a bit under the weather at the time of the race, fighting off some kind of terrible viral infection. I think it was a combination of swine flu, bird flu, Ebola, SARS, and tuberculosis. Whenever I would start coughing on the trail, parents would grab their children and dive off into the poison oak for shelter.

As I stood on the starting line, I didn't necessarily have any aspirations of winning the race. Amy and I had just done a hard time-trial workout the day before (I was planning to take a rest day Saturday and go into Ohlone with a one-day taper). And then there was this Bubonic plague thing I was dealing with. Still, I thought, I should be able to crack the top 10 without really running hard or getting my heart rate up too high.

"Fuck, I think I've made a terrible mistake," I mumbled to no one in particular as at least twenty or so runners charged off the starting line ahead of me, leaving me behind, and gasping for air. We were only at 5,000 ft., elevation at this point with a long climb up to 8,000 ft., ahead of us and I was already out of breath. Which is odd... because I sleep in a Hypoxico altitude tent set at 11,000 ft. each night. And I felt fine climbing over Handies Peak at Hardrock last year at over 14,000 feet. So that the fact that I was out of breath at only 5,000 ft., definitely had me concerned.

I decided to take it easy for a while and I settled into a nice rhythm beside fellow Bay Area runner Jason Reed. We were also joined by ultra-running legend Nikki Kimbal (3-time Western States champion, multi-time US 50 Mile road/trail national championship, 2014 Marathon Des Sable champion, etc., etc., etc.,) and local female standout Roxanne Woodhouse (2015 Zion 100 Mile winner, 2014 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile winner, etc.).

The four of us gradually made our way up the mountain to the snow-frosted peak, which was very cool looking. It was also very cool in general. I thought about stopping to take the lightweight jacket out of my pack. But I decided against it for two reasons: 1) It seemed like a lot of hassle and I figured/hoped it would get warmer again as descended to lower elevation, and more importantly, 2) I didn't want to look like a wimp in front of Nikki Kimbal.

Nikki and I eventually pulled away from Jason and Roxanne on a long descent and found ourselves running together and chatting for a few miles. We shared some great stories. We talked about our dogs, past and present (mine had just passed away weeks before). I told Nikki how much my wife Amy and I had enjoyed her film project, Finding Traction, documenting Nikki's FKT (fastest know time) attempt on Vermont's 273 mile Long Trail. Things were going well. We  This isn't so bad, I thought...

Post-race beers and BBQ
photo credit Drew Cortright
The mud pit of despair! The mud pit of joy?

"This is terrible," I yelled, as I tried to navigate my way through a long stretch of deep sticky mud. Every time I lifted my foot up, several pounds of heavy mud came up with it, weighing me down like I was wearing concrete shoes. Nikki, who now looked several inches taller than she had a minute ago thanks to the mud caked to the bottom of her Hoka shoes, made a joke about not having much experience running in high heels.

That last point is critical. This is where I gave up mentally on the race. And this is where Nikki made her move, dropping me and beginning a strong push that would see her catch several more runners over the last 10 miles. Nikki would go on to finish 11th, while I would drop back to 15th. Nikki made the conscious decision to embrace the suckiness of the mud pit and to let it energize her. I made the subconscious decision to feel sorry for myself and give up.

I guess this is what they call a "teachable moment". The takeaway for me is that, while some things are out of your control (like the weather and/or the course conditions), you are in control of how you choose to respond. You can get depressed and give up. Or you can accept the conditions, embrace them, and use them to motivate yourself.

3rd place woman Amy Burton
photo credit Big Johnny Burton
Time to grab a burger and a beer!

While I wasn't necessarily happy with my performance at Silver State, I was glad that fate (i.e., the complete ineptitude of the East Bay Regional Park District board of directors) presented me with the opportunity to run this race. If you've never run Silver State before, definitely consider giving it a shot. They have both a 50K and 50 Mile option. And it's a really fun, laid-back, old school style race. For more information check out this article, "The Legacy of the Silver State 50/50" by race director John Trent. It's a great read!

Also, kudos to the men's and women's winners of the 50K: Quicksilver Running Club teammate Stephen Wassather for the men, and the legend herself, Nikki Kimbal for the women. Also, a shout out to my wife Amy Burton who finished 3rd woman and 22nd overall, just 10 minutes behind second place women Roxanne Woodhouse. It's worth noting that all three of the women's podium are master's runners in their 40s and 50s. Way to go ladies!

Here's a link to the official results. And here's my Strava data including course map and elevation profile.

And last but not least, the post-race BBQ at Silver State is not to be missed. They've got soups (lots of them). They've got burgers and hot dogs. They've got "shitty tacos", which reportedly are actually quite delicious; full disclosure, I erred on the side of caution and abstained. They probably even have some green leafy stuff if you're one of those vegetarian/vegan/fruitarian wackos. And they even have people walking around handing out ice-cream Twix bars! Yum.

The only thing they don't have is beer (WTF, I know!) so remember to BYOB! I certainly did :)