Monday, April 27, 2009
Race Report: Skyline to the Sea 50K
My girl Sara joked about how bad things usually happen in 3’s. So far this weekend, I suffered from a stroke on the flight into SF (not really, but don’t ask) and I got my first speeding ticket in over 15 years. What else could possibly go wrong? What me worry?
Boy, would I be in for a treat! (*warning: a ridiculously long race report follows)
After carbo-loading on some delicious deep dish pizza from Little Star and a couple of bottles of Hoegaarden with my cousin, I eventually went to bed around midnight but not without tossing and turning for awhile. Woke up at the 4:15am (!) to the sound of my alarm – and not a minute sooner, because I had one of the most macabre and perverse dreams I’ve had in ages. A sign of things to come?
Anyway, I had already laid everything out the previous night so it was just a matter of putting it on and doing my bathroom business. Thinking it was done, I headed out to the chilly San Francisco morning to make the approximately 1 ½ hour drive to the start. Before I knew it, I was flying down the 1 Highway which runs along the majestic Pacific Coast and even at just before dawn, the coastline was truly a sight to behold. But while my eyes were busy appreciating the scenery, my stomach was telling me that it wasn’t quite done yet. Luckily, I found an open bathroom at a state beach and took care of business a 2nd time.
Saw Wendell and other people on the 1 Highway shortly thereafter and we all huddled around exchanging small talk When the buses arrived a little after 7am, we boarded and took the hour+ ride to the starting point. I sat across from Rick (who I knew from previous PCTR events and who just ran Boston last Monday – his 15th) and we chatted for awhile and then I tried to sneak in a brief nap. We finally arrived to a throng of runners already there and I was the first one off the bus to go pee in a remote area. Apparently about 25+ men had the same idea. Poor gals though...the porta-pottie line was about 20-30 deep.
After a quick check-in for bibs and a meet and greet with Sarah and her son, we were quickly ushered to the start and promptly at 9am, off we went:
The faster guys went out first (since it’s mostly a single track) and us mere mortals followed suit. A mile in, I was passed by Rick and decided to have him serve as my pacer for awhile. We ended up behind a line of about 8 men and a couple of women and this train stuck together for a few miles, with me as the caboose. One big downfall to this position is that you get the brunt of any “crop dusting” and without grossing you guys out too much, let me just say that someone wasn’t digesting his/her breakfast too well.
The road, while a net downhill, rolled a plenty. Up and down, left and right…onward we went. I had a hard time putting my camera away, taking plenty of blurred pics and shaky video for the first hour or so. We ran under a beautiful canopy of gigantic trees and lush leaves for many miles and from an aesthetic standpoint, the course did not disappoint.
I hit the first aid station (around the 10K point), saw Sarah again, who told me I was looking good and continued marching on after a quick bite of some boiled potatoes – my favorite aid station treat. The downhills would come fast and furious and as the miles wore on, my left hip, quads and two big toes began screaming. Still, I managed to run at decent paces, picking off a couple of guys who charged a little too hard early.
I topped off my hydration pack at the 2nd aid station (roughly at the 20K mark), ate a couple more potatoes dipped in salt, and continued on. Yes Lori – you were in my head telling me to “hurry, get in, get out and leave within 30 seconds” - as much as I would've liked to hang out and eat pop tarts and M&M's.
We continued on down and came across some nice streams and still magnificent scenery. I also continued to Gu diligently at around every 10K (~6 miles) and popped in a Salt Stick every other time. A couple of the male elites ran by me and offered up encouragement like “looking good” and “keep it going” to which I returned the favor. The lead guy in particular was blazing. They were coming around a loop before continuing down to the finish.
Legs were definitely sore by the time the 3rd – and what would be my last – aid station came around. I opted not to refill my pack since I figured I would see them again on my 2nd go round (I was wrong) and marched up the fire trail behind a guy who I would pass shortly, and ended up running behind a pair of girls running together.
This is when I missed the road back.
I continued on up the fire road and down and this repeated a couple of times. I went on for awhile and it became eerily quiet. After the guy I passed and the 2 girls who passed me, I would not see another runner out there. I passed the 30K mark and started to feel really alone. I kept my mind occupied by running the tangents on the road the best I could and whenever I doubted that I took a wrong turn somewhere, I would see the pink/orange ribbons lining the brush or trees. So onward I went.
This section became taxing on the mind and I found my pace and mind wandering. I figured I would just pick it up on the final stretch. Another reason for concern came when I passed a mountain biker climbing the hill I was descending and asked him how far up the girls were. He told me he hadn’t seen any runners coming down. Uh oh.
When I FINALLY reached the base of the hill after climbing and descending the isolated fire road, it was a good 6+ miles since the last aid station. I was so glad that stretch was over with and continued down the road, running along some more gorgeous streams. This is when I wouldn’t see another ribbon period. Funny, I thought, I definitely didn’t see one indicated that there was a turn at the base of the road. Stupidly, I kept descending thinking/hoping I would see another ribbon. Nada. Zilch.
So after 2+ miles of steep descending, I finally decided to turn around and march back up the hill. This was around mile 22+. Turning around also meant that the slow hard truth was settling in: I was lost.
Going back up was a bitch and I hiked the entire way. A few minutes later, I spot a couple in an old SUV rolling down the hill. After waving them to stop, I tell them that I am lost and if they know of a road back. They tell me that the road that they’re going down eventually leads back to the 1 Highway (by eventually, we’re talking a good 8-9 miles). They also tell me they haven’t seen anyone on the road they’ve been going down. Great. I let them go, but immediately kick myself for not asking to hitch a ride. I just told them I’d try to hike back up to find a road back to the race.
When I walked back to the split in the road that I continued down, I just became more flummoxed. The ribbons were definitely there but no turn was indicated. There were about 3 or 4 road options and I must have tried each one. Hiked up one, came down after a few miles. Hiked up another, came down frustrated again. When I finally found a hill that had ribbons on it, I became overjoyed that I found the road back. I had also run out of liquids and was getting increasingly parched with each step.
With makeshift trekking poles (basically, a couple of long sticks), I climbed and climbed and followed the ribbons. It didn’t make sense though. The elites passed me awhile back and there was no way they passed me that fast with as far as I’ve been going and with hills this steep. I was growing increasing frustrated, thirsty and angry with myself. I yelled out occasionally and only heard the sounds of my echo reverberating back to me. The tall trees made it even more disorientating and I suddenly felt very, very alone.
The breaking point came when the ribbons led me to a thick brush with absolutely no passable and distinguishable trail. They were just hung up on random branches but in my desperation, I still dove in. Frustrated and trying not to panic, I started muttering to myself...what the hell is going on?? (the following video might capture the moment better)
It was becoming a nightmare – not unlike the one I had the night before, but with a touch of The Blair Witch Project added. At least they had company. I decided then and there to just go down the original road I was on in an attempt to find the main highway. Trying to find the right path to the race served to be futile and retracing my steps back up the bleak fire trail was very undesirable, to say the least. Especially in my current condition of dry mouth, lead legs and hamburger for feet.
I decided to harden the fuck up, and go down the 9 miles of descent in spite of being without a drop of water (with an already heavy thirst for ANYthing). I ran, I walked, and I ran some more. The nearby streams teased and taunted me, but not sure my thirst was worth sacrificing for hours of potential diarrhea and vomiting. Onward I went. The dirt path gave way to asphalt, causing my joints to ache that much more. Miles went by slowly...29...30...31...
Just when I was ready to compromise my health to have a drink from the cool stream below, I spot a pickup truck on a dirt road parked next to the water's edge. I scramble down but do not see the driver. Instead, I spot an open cab with a mini-cooler resting by the opening. I offered up a meek “hello?” before opening it up to find bottles of water and a couple of cans of Pepsi. Hallelujah!
Realizing I had nothing to leave in its place, I convince myself that he’d rather save a life than have that extra bottle of Kirkland’s water and can of Pepsi. I grab the two beverages and hurry back up the embankment. I opened the can of Pepsi first while continuing down the road to the main highway. I swear to god, that initial draw from the ice cold Pepsi was the best fucking drink I’ve ever had (and I’m a Coke guy). I down the can in seconds, relishing every drop and finally start to feel human again. If only the same can be said of my legs.
I urge myself on and continue down the desolate, seemingly endless road - especially since I had a flight to catch at 6:30pm. And after seemingly going forever, I finally reach my destination. The beach is once again in full view and I am so happy to be off that road. My happiness is short-lived however when I start to wonder which way do I go? I use some quick deductive reasoning and head south down the highway. With cars zooming down at 60-70 mph, there I was walking right next to it, doing something I never thought I’d have to resort to: I stick my thumb out and start hitching.
Now, here I am, hydration pack, visor, shorts with a bib pinned and arm-warmers. Nothing screams evil, creepy or perverted (well...maybe my little split shorts). But as I walked/waddled with my thumb out, not a nibble, no brake lights to indicate consideration...nothing. Dammit. To add insult to injury, a voice comes in my head asking me if I’m even going in the right direction to where we originally parked. I could have sworn I passed by the gas station off on the left on my drive this morning...but did I really?
Against better judgment, I crossed the road and start walking up north and try my luck there. Walking with my thumb out, I yielded the same results as the other side. Running out of options, I began searching my frazzled mental roladex to see if there was a number I could remember that would ultimately link me back to Sarah and Wendell.
It was then that a gold-colored compact pulled over on the road ahead of me about 50 yards ahead. I blink and wonder if that's actually for me. Sure enough, I see the reverse lights go on and I excitedly start running towards them. It was a couple around my age and they ask me what had happened. Where do I start? I then rattle off a list of events that preceded me ending up hitchhiking on the highway. Very sympathetic, they agree to give me a lift back to my car and offer me whatever they could, water, fruit, etc. I am so, so grateful for them - they were seriously a godsend. So after nearly 38 miles under me at almost exactly 8 hours of being on feet, I was finally able to take a load off.
While driving, we get to talking and they ask me about the race and trail running in general. It turns out they are here are vacation from Toronto, but actually plan on moving to LA in the summer. I tell them about the various running clubs in LA and since they would not take money from me for their troubles, I tell them that dinner's on me once they get to LA.
Finding the parking spot turns out to be no easy task either as we were initially heading down the wrong way (d'oh!). We figure it out, turn around and on the way back, spot a runner off on the left. We pulled in and asked him where the finish was and it turned out to be that dirt road he was standing on. So we pulled in, I see Sarah and Wendell and hurriedly tell them what happened. They are relieved to see me ok, I swipe a couple of cokes and jumped back into Robbie and Olivier's car (my hero couple) to make our way back to my car. I did the math in my head and realized that there was no way in hell I was going to make my flight, or be able to return my rental in time.
After exchanging contact info and bidding them adieu, I hop into my car expecting to see a flood of messages. Instead, I saw a 'no service' bar for several miles on my way back. Couldn't call to change my flight, couldn't call the rental car company. Finally, after several minutes of driving up north on the coast, I was able to get reception. Responded to everyone briefly via text what had happened, called to change my reservations (had to pay that much more...ugh) and decided to pull in to a McDonald's to have my first real meal of the day after 7pm.
So let's see...in closing, my first DNF, got lost on a trail, hitchhiked for the first time in my life, owe someone a water bottle and pepsi, missed my flight...definitely an epic day - nay, an epic weekend! I can totally laugh about it now but trust me ladies and gents when I say that it was a harrowing experience and that I would not wish it upon anyone. But I do think it was character building and despite the DNF, at least I got a PR in mileage!
Thanks for reading folks.