Sunday, October 11, 2015

2015 Skyline to the Sea 50K Race Report

I hope they don't drug test

As I stood at the start line of the race -- disoriented, dizzy and sweating -- I immediately regretted taking those drugs earlier that morning. No, not the performance-enhancing kind of drugs that fall out of the back of Lance Armstrong's jersey pocket when he rides over a pothole. And no, not even the hey-that-cloud-looks-like-a-cat-riding-on-a-unicorn recreational kind of drugs that I "accidentally" ingested, quite frequently, back in college. No, I'm talking about the hardcore kind of drug that will put you on your ass... grape flavored Dramamine for kids.

Why would I intentionally ingest a handful of children's motion sickness pills hours before a big race you ask? Other than the fact that I really like the grape flavor. Fair question. Well, it has to do with the time I ended up swallowing a mouthful of my own vomit after getting sick on a twisty mountain bus ride to Stinson Beach. Basically, there's a reason why I'm not a jet fighter pilot. Or a high-seas pirate captain. Or why, even now as an adult, I'm still not allowed to ride a merry-go-round.

So, knowing that I'm more prone to motion sickness that even young children and pregnant women, I was dreading the morning bus ride from the parking lot at Waddell Creek Beach up the winding mountain road to the race start on Skyline Boulevard. Rather than risk getting sick, I decided to pop a few of the children's Dramamine pills I keep in my car for my son.

But having no idea how many of the children's pill I would need as an adult, I ate the whole box. That should do it, right? The warning label cautioned about "possible drowsiness." It  should have said, "Ha. Good luck keeping your eyes open."

The bus ride was supposed to be about an hour-and-a-half long, but I only remember the first few seconds. And then I woke up, groggy and befuddled, when my pants around my ankles. How had I gotten off the bus and into the port-o-potty? How long had I been here. Had I already used the bathroom, and had I (hopefully) remembered to wipe? And then I I fell back asleep again for who knows how long.

Nice views from the mountain top
photo by Thomas Neubert

Off and running... way too f'ing fast

Eventually, after my impromptu port-o-potty power nap, I made my over way to the start line and said hello to my friends and Quicksilver Running Club teammates -- some of whom were running the marathon and others of whom were doing the 50K. Familiar faces included Andy Belk, Jill Cole, Loren Crannel, Will Gotthardt, Keith Lubliner, Jeff Pace, Jamey Slaton, Zack Steinkamp, and probably a few others who I am forgetting. I even got a chance to catch up with "Australian ultra-running legend" Marty Hack, with whom I'd run Tahoe 200 last year.

The race started and everyone immediately took off flying down the trail. One of the tricky things about this race is that both the marathon and the 50K start at the same time and essentially run the exact same course (except that the 50K runners do an extra five mile loop in the middle of the race before rejoining the marathon course). So it's not always easy to ascertain whether a runner ahead of you is in your race or not. Also, it's easy, as a 50K runner, to get drawn into going out at the slightly faster marathon pace.

So there I was, tucked in behind Marty, cranking out sub 7 minute miles for the first 10K. [Note: I would later regret this]. At some point I decided that the pace was probably a bit too aggressive for me, and I dialed it back a bit. Nonetheless, I was still moving fairly well and I caught up to a couple of other runners who had gone out faster than me including down-hill phenom Andy Belk who seemed to be paying for his early efforts as he was already power hiking the first gentle uphill section.

Andy and leapfrogged a bit for the next few miles until we reached the turnoff at mile 13 where Andy and the other marathon runners got to proceed straight ahead while myself and the other 50K runners had to turn right and run a grueling hot and hilly 5 mile loop. I want to complain about how much that loop sucked and how much of it I was forced to hike instead of run. But I think I might have actually caught a couple other runners during that loop, so maybe I should just be grateful.

Practicing my corpse pose... just in case
Photo by Thomas Neubert

Hiking and playing in the river

After I finished the hot, hilly five mile loop, the aid station volunteer mentioned something about it getting hotter and being a long eight miles to the next aid station. I should have paid more attention. I should have panicked and asked if anyone had a second water bottle I could borrow. What I should NOT have done is just run out of the aid station as quickly as possible trying to chase down the next guy ahead of me. But of course that's what I did.

Several miles later, completely out of water and struggling to even swallow my own spit because my mouth was so dry, I began eyeing stagnant pools of green brackish water. I even had a few Mad Max type fantasies about catching another runner and then mugging them for their water. But unfortunately every other runner I caught up to was also out of water. Finally I came to a river where I jumped and started lapping water up with my tongue like a dog.

For whatever reason though, it never occurred to me to also refill my empty bottle in the river. So, things went OK for the next couple miles. I caught and passed a few other runners, most of whom like my teammate Thomas Anderson Zack Steinkamp were running the marathon. But then I started getting thirsty and overheating again, and with no water to drink, my pace slowed.

I knew that there were probably only 2 or 3 more miles left in the race, but I wasn't sure if there would be another aid station before the finish or not. Finally I saw a little trickle of water coming down off the hillside and flowing out of a metal drainage pipe. I climbed down through the blackberry bushes (that upon closer inspection looked suspiciously like poison oak) and refilled my bottle from the natural-spring (sewage drain?) pipe.

Two hundreds yards later I turned the corner and saw an aid station. So I dumped my water of questionable potability over my head and refilled with some presumably clean water (though who knows, maybe they got it from the same pipe). Unfortunately, the dehydration had already set in and I was suffering. It was right about this point that I got re-passed by another runner, Stewart Ellis, who I had passed about a mile before.

I had no idea what place I was in at this point, but I assumed probably somewhere between 4th and 6th. Though honestly I didn't care. I was way behind my A-goal and B-goal finish times of 3:59:59 and 4:15:00 respectively. At this point I wasn't interested in killing myself trying to chase anybody down for 4th or 5th place, or whatever. So I jogged it in and crossed the line in 4:33:32 in what turned out to be 6th place overall. Live to fight another day.

Marathon runner Hongjing Du
photo by Thomas Neubert

A few beers later

After the race I caught up with my Australian mate, Marty Hack, who had finished half an hour ahead of me in 3rd place, less than a minute behind 2nd place runner, Ryan Woodhouse. I guess, like myself, Marty was also running on fumes for those last few kilometers. Finishing about 10 minutes ahead of Ryan and Marty was the men's 50K winner, Erik Sorenson, who was the only runner to break 4 hours today.

The women's 50K race was won by Jennie Yeaman who finished 8th overall in 4:47:28. Second place went to Raelene Bendall of Australia who finished 9th overall -- and who claimed family bragging rights by "chick'ing" her husband Gavin Bendall who finished a bit later in a respectable 19th place overall. I hung out with Marty, Raelene and Gavin after the race and was happy to introduce them to a few West coast IPAs.

I guess some people also ran the shorter, wimpier marathon race instead of the 50K. But since those bastards skipped the hardest part of the course (the hilly 5 mile loop of doom) they get no love from me. LOL.

Here's the official 50K results, and here's my Strava data, which is obviously not completely accurate unless you believe that I am capable of throwing down a few 3:00 minute miles in the middle of a 50K.

Friday, October 2, 2015

2015 Dances With Dirt 50K Race Report

A Speedo and a Bow Tie?

Dirty Brides relay team

You know that nightmare where your friends invite you to a costume party and you show up in a Speedo and a bow tie... only to discover it's not actually a costume party and you're the only one dressed up? That happened to me this past weekend at the Dances with Dirt 50K in Hell, Michigan.

I decided to run this race at the last minute, just a couple of days beforehand. I was initially considering running the 100K relay with some friends. However, I had some work commitments later that afternoon so I figured it was wiser to just run the shorter, individual 50K race, which started earlier in the morning so that I could be done in time to get back to work.

My friends had talked about how crazy this race was, how everyone dressed up in wild costumes, and (perhaps most importantly) how much beer everyone drank during the event. If you know me, you know there are three things I love: running, drinking beer, and running while drinking beer (in my underwear). So this race seemed like the perfect storm!

Standing in the dark before the 6:15 am race start, I slipped out of my sweatsuit and stripped down to my stars-and-stripes Speedo and matching American-flag arm warmers and bow tie. Feeling a little self-conscious, I glanced around at my compatriots, to see what other crazy costumes people were wearing. You know, maybe some sexy nurses or sexy cops. Perhaps a Chippendale's dancer or two. My heart immediately sank into my stomach.

"Oh fuck. I'm the only one dressed up," I gasped as I glanced around at all the serious-looking runners in their serious-looking singlets and actual running shorts. No one else is dressed like a jack ass. "What the hell is going on," I wondered. Well, as I would later find out... While the relay race, which starts later in the day, is basically a drunken costume party, the 50K is a serious race for the more serious runner. Well, fuck me.

"Allow myself to introduce... myself."
And then I was in last place.

So the race starts and I immediately find myself in a pack of three other, much more seriously dressed, runners. We're moving pretty fast, flying through the first mile or two of technical single track in the dark with our headlamps and flashlights. Then suddenly the lead runner comes to an abrupt halt and we four all crash into each other. We look down at a sign in the middle of the trail that says, "Wrong Way". Shit, we're off course already?

We all immediately start shining our lights into the woods, wondering if perhaps this is the start of one of the infamous off-trail sections through the forest that we'd been warned about? Suddenly the other runners behind us start arriving and everyone is trying to figure out where to go. It's starting to become a real cluster fuck. Panicking a bit, I make an executive decision and start running down the trail to my right, which though unmarked, seems like it must be the right direction. [Spoiler alert: it was the completely wrong fucking direction].

Jim Harbaugh and staff are everywhere these days!
Several minutes later I come to an unmarked intersection where the trail diverges into three different, equally unmarked directions. Fuck me (again). Defeated, I turn around and run back to the intersection with the "Wrong Way" sign. Apparently the wrong way was actually the right way. What the fuck? Anyway, I'm now in dead last place with about a hundred runners in front of me on the narrow single track. My race is over. I decide to turn around and head back to the car.

On my way back to the car, something occurs to me: I'm acting like a whiny little bitch. Sure, I've lost any chance at winning. But so what? It's a long race. We've still got four or five hours of running. That's a lot of time to make up a lot of ground. If I put in a hard effort, who knows how many people I can reel back in. Maybe I can even end up winning my age group!

So... I step on the gas and start flying down the narrow trail at break-neck speed, catching up to some other runners. I feel like a bit of an ass sprinting around people through the bushes in my tight little shorts with my butt checks hanging out. I'm sure I look like an ass. And I'm pretty sure at least one other runner must have muttered, "what an ass!" Though I guess that comment could be taken a couple of different ways ;)

Anyway, I continue flying down the trails in my tight little bun-huggers, occasionally catching up with another runner or two. However by now things are really starting to get spread out. As I reach the little out and back turn-around at mile 17, I realize that everyone else ahead of me must have a pretty good lead since I didn't see anyone running back on the inbound section of my out-and-back. Oh well. I guess I'm just going to finish in whatever place I'm currently in. What place am I currently in anyway I wonder???

Oddly, this is one running costume I don't own... yet!
Running through the woods drunk

Things got relatively uneventful after that. Well except for the beers I chugged at the aid station. And running through the forest, completely off trail while slightly buzzed. Oh, and the "stripper pole". And also that section of the course where, after crossing back and forth over a river a few times, we then had to run waist-deep down the middle of the river for a quarter mile. You know, just your typical run-of-the-mill lunchtime run for Big Johnny.

One minute I was running along on a well-maintained trail day-dreaming about who-knows-what (probably my upcoming PowerPoint presentation at work) when suddenly the course markings went off into the woods and down a steep game trail. Then, the next thing I know, we're not even on an established trail anymore, but just following ribbons hanging from branches as we weave through the forest.

I like that they're running with bottles of beer :)
photo courtesy Shane Angove
At some point we came to a ridiculously steep nearly-vertical hill which has apparently been dubbed "the stripper pole". I was somewhat disappointed to learn that there weren't any actual strippers here. I guess 9 am on a Saturday morning is considered off-peak hours. Anyway, after the stripper pole we continued meandering aimless through the woods. There seemed to be only one rule-of-thumb guiding whoever marked the course: when in doubt, go uphill; if there is no nearby hill, go over any fallen tree you can find.

Oh wait, I take it back, there seemed to actually be two rules-of-thumb guiding whoever marked the course. The other rule was: why just run along next to the river on a the trail when instead you can crisscross pointlessly back-and-forth across the river... and then run straight up the middle of the river for a quarter mile for good measure.

OK,  but enough whining about the course. Let's talk about beer! Imagine my surprise and delight when I arrived at an aid station where the volunteers asked me, "What can I get you... whiskey or beer?" Several minutes (and several beers) later, I stumbled out of the aid station with a decent buzz.

That bitch is wearing my outfit!
Ugh, I can't believe I forgot my body glitter!

The last few miles after that were all a blur. I may have passed another runner or two. I may have taken a nap. Who can say really? Finally I emerged out of the forest and sprinted across the grassy field towards the finishing line... past Jim Harbaugh and Michigan coaching staff, past the sexy nurses and the dirty brides, past the Chippendale dancers and the American presidents and first ladies waving their huge three-pound floppy polyurethane penis.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I'd finished 3rd overall in the 50K and first in my age group! Though, full disclosure, there were at least one or two 50 Mile runners who came through the 50K checkpoint ahead of me on their way to running the full 50 miles. #Badass #Gangsta

After the race I got a chance to briefly catch up with some old friends including a few of my old high-school training buddies: Jesse Sweeney, Marty McLaughlin, and Ramon Hernandez. Sadly none of them were in costumes of any kind. Would it have really killed them to put on a wedding dress or some leather S&M gear? Come on! Luckily I met some folks from the Motown Ann Arbor Hash House Harriers who were wearing kilts and drinking beer. My kind of peeps.

And then, inconceivably, I ran into not one, but five other dudes also wearing matching American flag Speedos and bow ties. And their Speedos were even smaller and tighter than mine. And they were covered in red, white, and blue body glitter. And they had a giant rubber penis. I've never felt so inadequate or emasculated in my life. Immediately I vowed to return one day -- with a tighter Speedo and enough body glitter to make Lady Gaga and Ke$ha jealous!

photo courtesy Shane Angove

Here's a link to the official results. And here's my Strava data (note: my GPS inexplicably turned itself off about a mile or so before the finish line).

Congrats to Andrew Bucci, who won the men's 50K race, as well as second place Matthew Zigich. And kudos to the women's 50K winner Melissa Davies who finished only 15 minutes behind me in 4th place overall!

Big ups to Jonathan Hastings and Steve Barber who finished 1st and 2nd in the 50 Miler, and who, as mentioned, both came through the 50K checkpoint ahead of me. And congratulations to Michele Magagna, who won the women's 50 Miler, finishing 5th overall!

And of course, props to everyone who ran; everyone who finished; and everyone who crossed the line carrying a bottle of beer ;)