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.


Stephen Meier said...

Nice read, I was won of the wimpier marathon group and so nice to hear I wasn't the only sap suffering out there.

Big Johnny Burton said...

Hi Stephen. LOL. I was only kidding. I know the marathon must have been tough too. You guys had to do that same long 8 mile stretch in the heat between aid stations! Congrats on surviving! I hope your recovery is going well! Thanks for reading! ~ John

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