Sunday, December 16, 2012

50K of Trails

Woodside Ramble 50K Trail Run
(Event #6 of 10)

Arrived at Huddart County Park in Woodside in the early morning light of Saturday, December 15th. It was frigid outside and cloudy. After parking at the lower end of a big meadow, I crossed the ~400 yards of lush green open fields to the registration in a sheltered picnic area to pick up my number.

After doing so, I noticed another parking lot maybe 50 yards from the finish line and 'almost' went to move the car, anticipating the shorter distance from the finish line to the car. Fortunately I knew that was absurd, as I was there to run 31+ miles,  and what difference could a few hundred yards make (even if my legs were cramped)? Just pre-race jitters.

Probably 150 runners assembled on the lawn for the last-minute instructions. They were there for 4 events, with the 50K the longest and first to start. Excited chatter, with every strategy visible for dressing (tights, pants, shorts; long-sleeves, short-sleeves, vests, jackets; caps and thermal hats), as it was likely to start raining during the run.  My car was like a running closet of choices, but I decided to wear Nike compression shorts, a long sleeved shirt, a thin shell jacket, my woolen running socks, a pair of cotton gloves and a cotton cap.  Fortunately, given the changing weather, I had chosen well.

At 8:30, we took off beginning the 50K run.

I had set my Garmin GPS watch to alert me at each 3.1 miles (5K), so I had automated splits -- and more importantly, easy 'math' as I progressed. The alerts vibrated, made an audible sound, and displayed each lap's time for several seconds -- perfect for monitoring each 5K. Better yet, each split was 10% of the run. Easy math, easy progress noted.

From Crystal Springs Trail, the ascent to the top of the mountain began nearly immediately. Up and up and up, with innumerable switchbacks --  but all under a magnificent canopy of 2nd and 3rd generation redwoods. The trails were covered with the needle-like leaves of the huge redwoods.  Great running surface, spectacular scenery. Silence except for the winds, swaying giants and running water we crossed over or saw.

Around 5 miles, we were nearing the top, and then ran along Summit Trail for around 7 miles, with additional elevation gain. By then over 3 hours of running. A beautiful, wonderfully 'surfaced'  and meandering trail -- with also some sections washed out by heavy rains and some muddy, slippery crossings, but on the whole, great running.

Given minor muscle pulls of the prior months and my therefore limited running training leading up to the 50K, I ran conservatively, both in speed and keeping my stride short. My initial 5K splits going up the first summit were around 40 minutes. This was going to be a l-o-n-g day of running, and pulls would have reduced the chances of my finishing.

At around 6.2 miles (just after my 2nd 5K alert), I saw several pink Pelicans (plastic) on the trail ahead. Yes, plastic Pelicans, but a cute and welcome marker for an aid station up ahead. Water bottle refills, and choice of M&Ms, Oreo cookies, Peanut butter & jelly quarter sandwiches, salted pretzels, and lots more. In and out in minutes, but a very nice refresher. Lots of helpful volunteers and runners re-charging.

Just before our descent from the first summit began (mile 11), we arrived at another aid station. By then my water bottle was empty and the food choices seemed even tastier. The decent was on beautiful running trails. Easier running downward, but more risky, so again I reigned in the usual impulse to go faster and controlled my run downward.

By mile 16, after some 3 1/2 hours of running, we were again climbing the next summit, up and up and up. A 3rd aid station was mid-way up -- and oh-so welcome. By then, already just over 20 miles, P&J sandwiches never tasted so good -- with Oreo cookies as desert.

I had worn my regular watch also, so I'd get an alarm every hour to remind me to take a salt pill and drink. Cramping can be race-ending, but fortunately, the salt intake and constant drinking helped.

Still heading down from the second summit's ascent (entering Wunderlich County Park) the rains began. Light at first, then heavy -- but as we were mainly under an old growth canopy, it was more misty than a downpour. My shell and gloves which I had taken off prior, went back on -- and I stayed warm.

After the third aid station and having crested the summit at 20+ miles -- and with less than 11 miles to go -- I felt good and started picking up the pace.

Once I heard the 7th 5K beep/alert, with less than 10 miles to go, I extended my stride and let it rip. Anyone and everyone ahead of me, when they first came into sight became 'prey' and each and every one I reeled in and passed. Several, as though they were standing still.

One guy who I came up upon and saw my hat from 'The Relay' race that I had run 4 years ago (a 24-hour+ team race from Calistoga to Santa Cruz) started chatting about it (as he had participated with a team for the last 3 years). He mentioned he had only started running 5 years ago, later in life. I mentioned I had more than a few years on him, and he looked over and said 'not that many'. He was 52.  When I mentioned my age, I heard a 'wow'. Then I said 'good luck' and left him behind.

After the last aid station, I passed a runner my age who I had met on a Saturday run. He was walking. Coincidently, my watch had just alerted me to completing the 8th of the 10 5K's. He didn't know who was behind him, but heard me coming and asked if I knew how much farther until the end. When runners ask that, usually it's because they are hurting. Exactly 10K (6.2 miles) to go.

My 9th split was faster than most prior. Just after that next to last split,  I came to a fork in the trail -- and there were no visible markings (yellow plastic strips hung from trees), and alone at the time,  I went left. Big mistake. I should have doubled back, but didn't, and a few miles later, finally came across an unknown meadow.

Fortunately, in it was a public information display.  Unfortunately, the plastic on the display case was 'clouded' from age and condensation, and I couldn't read it. I ran after a biker that went by, stopped him and after 5 minutes wasted of describing where I wanted to get to, we both concluded he could be of no help. My luck I meet a guy clueless where he was biking.

I guessed the direction I needed to go and saw a jogger in the distance. Chased her down, and she fortunately knew exactly how to direct me back to where I was heading. Finally I found the trail. By coincidence the distance to the end was the same.

Had I not made the wrong turn, I might have finished just under 7 hours. As it was, my time was 7:17 (7 hours, 17 minutes) on my watch. The runner I had passed with just 10K remaining won 3rd in our age group -- 'almost' mine. No matter -- I wasn't running for ribbons.

The 50K was a great experience. As the end was approaching, I felt even stronger and more confident, and I was able to up my pace. Nice feeling!

More important than any finish time, I had yesterday made it to 6 starts of my 10 planned Events -- and crossed every finish line.  Yesterday's 31.1 miles, 4,500 feet of climbing, 7 hours of constant running was a challenge.

Imagine covering over 30 miles of amazing trails in the redwoods, spanning 2 parks, in a day. What a treat -- and much for which to be grateful.

                               What's Next

Next up, training for the Ironman, with a time trial check of a Half Marathon a month prior. It is the full Ironman that is my giant reach for the unknown.

So if any of you reading this are still just 'thinking' about getting fit via exercise, what's your excuse? Time to get going -- you owe it to yourself!

P.S. McKinsey & Company (for whom I worked as a management consultant many years ago) recently ran an article about my 'journey' -- between more usual alumni announcements such as one becoming CEO of a company and another Chairman of a bank