I am going to try to keep this one short because: a) I never truly treated this as a "race" and b) it was literally nothing to write home about. My performance anyway.
As I indicated in my previous post, I scrapped my plans of running a road half-marathon in favor of the Blue Canyon 50K to get some extended time on hilly trails and dial in my nutrition for upcoming races. The main test for this race?: maltodextrin. The idea initially came from Willis, a marathon-turned-triathlete friend who used this stuff as a cheaper alternative on his longer bike rides to some of the more expensive liquid fuels out there. More on that later.
The morning started off with a 3am wakeup call and after taking care of the usual pre-race prep, I left my place at 4am to pick up my buddy Evan in Thousand Oaks which is on the way towards Santa Barbara. He would go on to win the 50K while smashing the course record by 1 hour 20+ minutes as his last long run before the San Diego 100 next weekend. Damn gifted mountain runner that guy.
From his place, it was about another 1+ hour plus to the race start and after hitting a couple of patches of fog along the way, a part of me entertained the possibility of having a cool race day (contrary to forecasts). I was wrong. It was as advertised and more. Once the sun came up, it warmed up quickly and I knew we would be in a world of hurt.
Evan "spritzing" himself down before the start.
We met up with my gal Lori and her "male friend" Nick who would be running his first ultra. Her (bad/good?) influence, no doubt. Finally around 7am, the relatively small group of us crazies going out for either the 50K/50 Mile races huddled up and we were off.
Me, Lori and Evan before the race.
The race started by snaking through a narrow and at times sandy, single-track through the lush base of the mountain before it started climbing. Evan and a 2:30 marathon guy led the charge while I hung back about 5 runners back. Then I started running with the 1st female right on my heels and kept insisting she move up since I wasn't going for time. It took her about another mile of running that it really would benefit her to pass me. And that was the case for most of today - since it wasn't a goal race, when I heard someone coming up behind I'd step aside on the trail and let them pass. Hard at times for the ego, but definitely the right thing to do.
The elevation profile for the 50K.
The ascent peaked at 3,000+ ft and about 3.5 miles before we wound down a fire road with beautiful vista views of the Santa Ynez mountain ranges. Since I would be running in my New Balance MT100s until the turnaround point (a pretty minimalist shoe), I kept my stride length short and kept it to an easy trot down the mountain. Probably got passed by about 5 runners here. Hit aid station #1 where I refilled my 26 oz water bottle (the other contained the maltodextrin) and I was in and out of there in <1 minute. Then we jumped back on to a single track that ran through a series of grassy hillsides before beginning our next major climb a few miles later.
Los Padres National Forest (photo courtesy of Luis Escobar).
This time, it was steeper and gnarlier than the first and I don't recall running a single step of it. It was an agonizing, booty-busting steep climb up a narrow sandy ridge before cresting out at 3,000+ ft. Thankfully, aid station #2 awaited us and this time, I took a bit of time to get myself together. Topped off one of my handhelds with ice water, pulled out a baggy containing a cup of maltodextrin + 1 1/2 Nuun tablets to mix into the other bottle (which was extremely messy) and downed 3/4 of a Gatorade bottle they had in the ice chest. From here, it was about a <5 mile run down a fire road to the 50K turnaround point and then back up.
Around mile 15 or so, I saw the first runners heading back up and wouldn't you know it, it's Evan and the fast marathon guy. After giving him a shout out and exchanging some words of encouragement I kept my pace steady down the road until I finally hit the turnaround at around mile 17 and a half. One of the volunteers (Scott) recognized me from this blog and we exchange some pleasantries while he helps out with my bottles and I look for my drop bag. I'm still feeling relatively good while changing out of my MT100s and into my beefier Cascadias for the last stretch. I also grab my last ziploc bag containing the 3rd and last malto/Nuun mix before thanking the volunteers and leaving for the brutal stretch back up the fire road.
I hike a good portion of this before getting sick of it and start running again. It is roasting pretty good by now and I have to keep dumping the occasional water on my now bandana covered head to stay cool. Somewhere into this climb, I hear a "Billy Burger!!" and I see that it's my friend Lori running down with Nick flanking her. They still look good and in good spirits when we pass each other.
By the way - the worst part of today besides the weather? The flies. They were constantly buzzing and circling my melon from the get-go and had it not been for my bandana to shade/cover me from both the sun and the flies, I would have seriously lost it.
Anyway, I finally reach the top at around mile 22+, refill my bottles, dunk my bandana into some cold water before climbing back down the steep ridge. This is when the wheels would come apart. Several mistakes were made on my end, not the least of which being: 1) somehow, I had it in my head that the next aid station would come at 4+ miles 2) I had no idea just how hot this next stretch would be and 3) I forced myself to pee shortly after leaving this aid station when I should have tried to have gone before.
You see, I hadn't had to pee since before the start of the race in spite of what I thought was adequate hydrating up to this point. But when I finally went (and just a few ounces at that), the color of my urine was a very dark color, like watered down coffee. So what did I do? I started to drink from my water bottle more frequently as I descended down. I even used some of it to douse my head with as the temperatures began rising the further I ran into the heart of the exposed valley. To make matters worse, there was no aid station where I thought I'd see one and pretty soon the running stopped and the stumbling started.
By that point, it was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other - especially when I passed through one of the few shady spots along the trails. I kept telling myself the more you move, the quicker you can get some much-needed water to pass your lips. But alas, no aid station in sight and by now, the sun was at its apex and the full force of the heat just radiated off the ground with only an occasional breeze to cool you off.
Fortunately for me, I came upon a gal who was sitting on the side of the trail. I figured she was out too, but she told me she was merely trying to regroup. When I explained my plight to her, she graciously offered me a small water bottle she was carrying in her hydration pack. I was beyond grateful and thanked her profusely before continuing on and pulled from it as I kept willing myself to march forward.
Not too long after, I was out of water and still feeling dehydrated and weak. But I did spot the blue tent of the aid station finally. Only problem was a large ascent separated me from getting my hands on some more much-needed liquids there. However, I caught another break when a pair of gals volunteering at the station saw how much runners coming through were suffering during that brutal 6-7 mile stretch between aid stations where the temps were in the 90-100s. Once they realized I was out of fluids, they reached into their pack and produced a 16 ounce Gatorade bottle for me to have. If I was at full strength (and smelled a little better), I probably would have bear-hugged the two of them on the spot. Instead, I thanked them for their generous and giving spirit and was able to muster the final half mile or so to the top where the last aid station was. I was prepared to DNF once I got there even though from that point, the finish was a "mere" 2.5 miles away.
When I got to the tent, I slumped into a chair (something I've never done before during a race) and grabbed another bottle of Gatorade out of an ice chest, dunked my bandana into some cold water and put it on my roasting head. I sat this way for like 15-20 minutes to regroup and talk myself into finishing. Told myself the only way I would DNF is if I was seriously injured or unable to go on due to a medical reason. And I was neither of those things. So I thanked the volunteers and marched on.
On a couple of occasions, I tried running but the legs were officially dead. By sitting for several minutes, my legs must have thought we were done so they just shut down. So I ended up walking in the last 2.5 miles as well as the 2-3 miles leading up to it. Any hope of finishing at a decent time went out the window a long time ago. A couple of folks cheered me in and all I could offer up was a meek smile and hand wave of appreciation after about 7 hours and 40+ minutes on that hot, hilly course.
Evan had gotten picked up by his wife a couple of hours before so I just went back to my truck, grabbed a cold coke out of my mini-cooler, changed and propped myself by the finish to cheer in other runners. I overheard many folks were suffering and/or had DNF'd out there as word was slowly trickling into the race officials nearby. I held out hope that Lori and her friend Nick weren't among the casualties. But I started to have my doubts the longer I waited.
Lori coming down the final stretch.
Finally, I saw Nick running into the finish followed closely by Lori. The look on her face said it all and she just made a beeline into race headquarters after crossing the finish and sat on a chair with a thousand yard stare looking absolutely spent. It took her a few minutes before she could tell me what a rough go of it she had out there. Surprisingly so since she's such a strong runner, usually placing among the top 3 females at these ultra distances. Unfortunately, the heat and the course got the better of her that day, along with a lot of other folks out there (including yours truly).
Last note on the maltodextrin: it worked to pretty decent success. I mixed in 1 cup/serving of it into one of my 26 ounce bottles (approx 300-400 calories), mixing in about a tablet and a half for electrolytes. The flavor was a little too overwhelming at times (think about a single tablet of Nuun will suffice next time) and the drink mix did make me feel a little bloated at times. However, I was able to get through the 50K on 3 servings with just a single gel taken at the 2 hour mark and a couple of chips/cookies at aid stations. Also took in about 4-6 Salt Stick capsules.
Anyway, when it was all said and done, it was a challenging course and a real test to put myself through those rough conditions. But I was able to finish on my own two feet which always makes for a good day. And the volunteers were tremendous with a couple of them going above and beyond the call of duty. My eternal thanks to them and to the race organizers.
Major congrats to Evan also for winning and setting the course record at the 50K, Lori for HTFU and finishing her (and my) most difficult ultra to date, and to all the other fearless souls for braving the hot conditions to tackle the 15K/25K/50K/50Mile/100K distances out there.
Next up: pacing duties at the San Diego 100.
So much for keeping this report short, huh? Thanks for reading.