As I mentioned last time, my approach to consumption of resources can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. In prior columns, I discussed reduce and reuse. This time, I’d like to talk about renew.
When I think about renew, I think about the use of renewable resources. We need to reduce our usage of non-renewable resources such as oil, coal, and gas, and move in the direction of renewable resources. Making use of renewable resources is not something that is easy, but it can and must be done. When purchasing your next car, will you consider an electric or hybrid automobile? How about installing solar panels on your roof? Yes, I realize that this is a bit more of an investment than purchasing a steel water bottle. Nonetheless, these are viable options for some of us.
As I mentioned last time, my approach to consumption of resources can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. Last time I discussed reduce. This time, I’d like to talk about reuse.
something multiple times is always a better alternative to the use of single
use items, even if those items are recyclable since there is a cost to
recycling an item. After years of using plastic utensils at work, I recently
realized that a better approach would be to bring in a set of stainless steel
utensils from home. At my office, I also keep a steel mug for coffee and tea,
and a steel water bottle.
Reuse can also mean reusing someone else’s things. Instead of purchasing a new car, book, dress, laptop, children’s clothing, or mobile phone, have you considered purchasing a used version of the same?
The other side of this, of course, is to sell or donate used items when you no longer need them.
You can donate used baby items in the back of many churches and Goodwill, the St Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, and other thrift stores will gladly take most other used items.
What items in your life can you reuse that you are not currently reusing? What items can you donate?
It is up to each of us to change our lifestyles, and reduce both production and consumption. Will it be a challenge? Absolutely, but don’t we want to preserve this beautiful planet for our children and grandchildren?
My approach to resource consumption can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. Let me explain.
Reduce: Try asking yourself these sorts of questions to help you reduce your consumption: Do I need to turn the heat on or can I put a sweater on? Do I need to drive to the store or can I walk there? Or maybe it can wait until tomorrow? Batching up your needs and reducing the number of times you drive to the store is another good way to reduce your use of fossil fuels. Do I turn the lights off when I leave the room? How about shortening my showers? When I use the dishwasher or washing machine can I reduce the amount of soap I use? Anytime I can reduce my usage of consumables, it will also reduce my carbon footprint.
What one thing can you reduce your use of starting today?
In a prior post, I introduced Project Drawdown and the Drawdown book, edited by Paul Hawken. Drawdown represents a carefully researched and curated list of the top 100 “climate solutions that had the greatest potential to reduce emissions or sequester carbon from the atmosphere.”
Many feel that in order to avert climate disaster, the big push must be for systemic change at the national and global level and that this means political change at the top. There’s no doubt that true leadership at the top is sorely needed and that many of us, including myself, will lobby, protest, and vote for change. But alas, we can’t sit on our hands while we wait for a favorable set of leaders to be voted in and make the sustained systemic changes that are so desperately needed.
Politics is what it is: warts and all. A lot of sound-bite-driven, short-sighted leadership that moves at a snail’s pace. (That does not mean your vote is not important; by all means vote in every election at all levels of government and always vote your values.)
But the world is burning and we need to act now, and act on all four levels as prescribed by Will Grant (see his excellent video below):
family and friends
community and local institution
the economy and policy change and changing laws
Drawdown is not about waiting for change to happen at the top. Rather, Paul Hawken and his esteemed group of scientists, researchers, and students have done the hard work to research the top 100 solutions for stopping and reversing climate change. This represents a path forward; a recipe for the change that is needed.
But it’s not just for our leaders and the IPCC. Project Drawdown is also for each of us to get started working on climate change at the first three levels: personal, household, and community. We can drive the change that is needed and drive it all the way to the top, while also pressuring those at the top (or replacing those at the top), to do the right thing, the sane thing, the thing that is needed to save the planet.
Additional resources to learn more about drawdown:
PachaMama Alliance Drawdown initiative (The Drawdown Initiative is a series of workshops that supports you in finding your unique contribution to reversing global warming.): https://www.pachamama.org/engage/drawdown
Paul Hawken was tired of the naysayers who said nothing could be done about climate change, so he he founded Project Drawdown, assembling a coalition of researchers, scientists, students, and scholars who put together a list of “climate solutions that had the greatest potential to reduce emissions or sequester carbon from the atmosphere.” The group also published a book entitled “Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming” in 2017.
In both the Project Drawdown book and the website, you will find 100 comprehensive solutions, grouped by broad area (e.g., energy, food, etc.) and ranked according to their ability to reduce or sequester carbon. Each “solution” includes the facts and references to back up their projections, including the number of Gigatons of reduced or sequestered carbon dioxide (or equivalent reduction in other greenhouse gases) between 2020 and 2050, the net cost, and the net savings.
Project Drawdown represents hope in a sea of despair; a blueprint for solving the climate crisis and reversing global warming. Yes, reversing! I encourage you to buy or borrow the book or checkout the website which contains plenty of information for free. And, by all means, join us on February 9th, when Kathy Dawson will talk about Project Drawdown. Hope to see you there.
Pope Francis talks about a “throwaway culture” in his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si:
These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish…We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them.
How can we move away from a throwaway culture of convenience towards a culture of renewal and sustainability?
Here’s one idea to start with; expect more suggestions in future posts: Do you visit coffee shops like Stumptown, Blue Bottle, Caribou, Costa, or Starbucks, or the espresso stand at work?
Are you bringing your own reusable coffee mug to your coffee shop? If not, why not purchase a steel coffee mug and bring that with you. Just think of how much paper cups and plastic lids you will save by doing this.
Suzanna and I have been using double-walled steel coffee mugs that we bought over 10 years ago at Starbucks. Okay, I may have lost one of them and replaced it, and we may have a spare, but you get the idea. I estimate we have saved over 6,000 single-use cups and lids over the past 10 years. Bonus: many coffee shops give you a discount when you bring your own mug since it also saves them money. This can be a good first step away from a throwaway culture.
I somehow faked a smile for Glenn’s photo of me summiting the final climb of the race: Sun Top. That is, right after my true self was revealed to the camera in a less flattering shot.
A few hundred feet later, I saw the white tent that indicated I had reached the Sun Top aid station. I stumbled ahead and located a green Rubbermaid container with nothing piled on top of it and quickly claimed it as my own. Thankfully, it didn’t give way when I sat down on it, nor did anyone chase me off it. My head sank low. For the second time in the race, I was wrecked; there was nothing left.
What can I get you?
Quickly, an aid station volunteer descended upon me, asking me “what can I get you?” as she avoided telling me I looked like death (but I am pretty sure she thought it). “I don’t know,” I quipped. Really, all I wanted at that moment was to stop moving for a few minutes and gather myself up.
After a few minutes, I raised my head and asked for water and watermelon. She offered to fill my hat with ice. I agreed to it. “Can I get you your drop bag?” Yes, I answered, not moving an inch off my perch. “It’s number 151 and it’s big and black.” Within seconds it appeared, but all I wanted out of it was the bottle of Coke. The volunteer told me that she had fresh Coke but I insisted on mine; I didn’t want to take someone else’s chance to energize. “Do you want a cup?” Sure. I opened the bottle and poured some in the cup. It was warm. “How about some ice?” “That would be great.” I sucked that Coke down and slowly I came back to life. At the previous aid station at Fawn Ridge, I could no longer stand my warmed over Tailwind nutrition sports drink so I had them replace it with water and ice but that too had warmed and wasn’t exactly something to look forward to.
I have no love for Coke and Pepsi and all these companies stand for, which is basically the need to make billions while sending millions — maybe billions — to an early grave by pushing gallon after gallon of diabetes and heart disease to the masses. But during a 50-mile race, I have to admit that Coke (or any caffeinated soda for that matter), is the magic elixir I so desperately needed.
Another volunteer made his way over (I wish I remembered their names) and asked me how he could help me. What a wonderful thing that these volunteers were so helpful when I was at my lowest. Just as if they were a sales rep at Nordstroms and I was one of their top customers with a fist full of credit cards ready to purchase thousands of dollars of clothes. But there was really nothing in it to motivate this awesome crew of volunteers other than the good feeling in their hearts, knowing they helped another runner achieve their goal. (I hope to pay that back a little volunteering again at Cascade Crest 100 in a couple of weeks.) Speaking of Nordstroms, I mentioned that I wanted to change my shoes, and suddenly the shoe salesman in my volunteer came to life. I muttered something about being able to do it myself, but before I knew it my Topo Terradventures had been untied and removed, and my Salomon Sense Rides were securely on my feet. Talk about service! I next mentioned that I wanted to put my poles in my bag since I had little use for them on the remaining 13 miles. I collapsed them and he carefully placed them into my drop bag with my dusty pair of Topos.
After a few more pieces of watermelon and some fresh water added to my Nathan bladder, I rose to my feet and headed out, shouting a big thank you to those tireless volunteers, as I started to move again. It was 6.5 miles straight down to the next aid station along a dusty gravelly Sun Top road.
A long way to run
50 miles is a long way to run. I realize that many others have run much further, but prior to July 28th, I had not. I have been wanting to move up to 50 miles since I did my first 50K back in 2015 at Chuckanut. Fast forward 3 years: I have now completed 5 x 50K’s and have been able to get past my reoccurring ankle injury to finally make it to the starting line of the White River 50 Mile Endurance Run.
The race director, Scott McCoubrey, was yelling something around 5:45 AM. I couldn’t hear anything but a few bits here and there. Something like “it was going to be hot” and “hydrate a lot” plus he was detailing every turn of the race. But I had already run the second half of the course in training, and since I was going to be in the middle (back) of the pack, I wasn’t too worried about getting lost. Not to mention, that I was carrying a map of the course and, as it turned out, the course was well marked.
We lined up around 5:50. I walked to the back. At 6:03, the race started. There was no gun or bell. At least I don’t think there was; it was hard to hear since Scott was not using a megaphone. I believe it was just Scott counting down to zero and we were off. Anyway, I started my watch when I detected runners in the front of the pack moving. And we were off.
The days leading up to the race were quite hot for the Seattle area, topping 90 degrees fahrenheit for days. I was worried about the heat and its effect on us runners but it was cool enough at the start. However, within the first half hour, I noticed that my shirt and shorts were soaked in sweat. So much for the cool weather.
We started on a gravel road. Someone behind me called my name and I turned around to see Alison Gillespie, my friend and physical therapist. We chatted a bit before moving into single file as we made a u-turn onto the single-track Skookum Flats trail and headed across the river and highway 410 towards the first aid station at Camp Sheppard.
As we passed the aid station, Alison mentioned that her watch was 1.5 miles behind the purported distance of the aid station: 3.9 miles. I looked at my wrist, and replied “mine too” as we started to slowly climb for the next 8 miles to Ranger Creek. My watch continued to be off the remainder of the race between 0.6 and 1.5 miles. In reality, the only distances that mattered were the posted course distances, not what my watch told me. That said, it was useful to have a rough idea where one was on the course and how long it was to the next aid station.
The trail up to Ranger Creek was a whole-lot-of-up, single-track, lots of switch backs, sort of trail. At one point, I passed an old friend, Daisy Clark who was shepherding a group up the trail. At mile 12, I arrived at the aid station at Ranger Creek. Ten-time Seattle Marathon winner and Mount Rainier FKT record holder, Uli Steidl, was working the aid station. I stopped to adjust my socks.
Alison came in a few minutes after me, but headed out before I left. I leap frogged her a few minutes later and settled in with a group of runners for the bulk of the run to Corral Pass.
The forest service had only opened up this the portion of the trail a few weeks prior to the race. Now I knew why. The landscape was heavily blackened by last year’s fires. The trail was very dark in places, with lots of soot mixed in with the dirt. This made the footing a little tricky in places, even a little dangerous in places along some steep fall offs.
Besides the fire damage, I was surprised at the amount of ups and downs on the way to the next aid station. For some reason, I thought it would be flatter.
A lot of the trail during this stretch of the race was exposed and it was getting hot.
The trail between Ranger Creek and Corral Pass was the sole out-and-back section of the course. This was a good chance to see the leaders of the men’s and women’s races, including a few runners that I recognized, which included locals Keith Laverty, who placed 3rd in the men’s race, and Western States Superstar, Katlyn Gerbin, who also ended up finishing 2nd at White River.
At mile 17, we reached the Corral Pass aid station. I grabbed my first drop bag and attempted to eat a sweet potato burrito I had packed but ended up throwing most of it out. My stomach just didn’t feel like it. I switched to PB&J, which seemed to go down better and added some Tailwind sports drink to my hydration bladder.
The music at the aid station was some sort of country blues. I have to say it was quite depressing which I guess was a good thing, because I soon hurried out of the station after re-applying some sunscreen.
The aid station, at 5670 feet, was supposed to be the highest point of the race, but I soon discovered that would not be the case, since the way out of the aid station was up a steep hill that must have been another 50-100 feet higher before dropping back down to meet the trail we had cruised into the aid station on. After another mile or so of sometimes steep uphills, the bulk of the return to Ranger Creek was flat or down.
I adjusted my socks again at Ranger Creek, mile 22, paused for a few seconds, and then headed down the 5 miles of switch backs towards Buck Creek. One runner must have been having a hard time on the downs because at every switch back he moaned. I quickened my pace to get him out of earshot. The moaning soon faded into the distance. On the way down, I came across Jaclyn whom I had met on the White River training run several weeks ago. She was having some IT band problems and was trying to stretch it out on the side of the trail. That brought back memories of my IT band issues; fortunately, my IT band hasn’t bothered me for a while. I was loving the down hill, even though the footing was sketchy in places due to the fire damage.
Buck Creek festival
At mile 27, I reached the Buck Creek aid station, which was right next to the start/finish, and had an almost festival-like atmosphere, with lots of volunteers, runners, and spectators talking, yelling, sitting, standing, and moving about.
A good (and fast) ultrarunner friend, Sean Micheal, was standing there looking pretty nonchalant. Mind you, Sean should have been about an hour or two ahead of me, crushing the second half of the course. I quickly realized that he had dropped due to his nagging knee injury. It’s kind of funny, but here I was 27 miles into a grueling race, with the worst still to come, and I was chatting up Sean, letting him know that he made a wise decision to drop.
Another ultrarunner friend Christie, who was actively spectating at White River, was asking what she could get me. “How about some ice in your hat?” I said yes, but after about two seconds, I could not tolerate the ice directly on my head, especially since I have no hair up there to buffer the cold. I lingered a few more minutes, eating a few items at the aid station and then decided I better get going.
A few steps later, another familiar but encouraging face was calling my name but, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t place the face. She was imploring me to look up at the mountain I was about to climb. It wasn’t until a day or two later, after a Facebook comment, that I realized it was Holly, who I had run with the summer of 2017, the week before she was about to run White River. After a quick look up, I followed the trail out of the aid station. The trail meandered a bit alongside campsites and parking lots. For some reason, I stopped to stow my poles, and then passed a few runners on the flats.
The second half
The trail starting climbing 1700 feet over about 4 miles of switchbacks and I pulled my poles out only minutes after stowing them. I had run this half of the race three weeks earlier on “fresh legs”, thinking at the time that it wasn’t too bad. This time, however, the experience was quite different after 28 or so miles under my belt. In fact, this was some of the darkest moments in the race for me, even as the sun was beating down pretty hard. The real race had finally begun. A coupe of runners passed me. The course was alternately shaded and exposed. The temperature was in the high 80s or low 90s. I was struggling.
We continued to climb. More runners passed. Finally, I reached the Fawn Ridge aid station. A worker called out “151” and suddenly, several people yelled out “Paul”, including my hard-working aid station volunteer and wife, Suzanna.
“What can I get you?” I quickly made a bee line for a camp chair in the shade. (In fact, it was one of the camp chairs I had loaded into our car the day before, when we left our house heading for White River.) I was wrecked. Suzanna fetched some cold water. There were 4 or 5 camp chairs there and they were all filled by tired runners. I asked Suzanna to dump out my Tailwind — I could no longer tolerate the sports drink (probably because it was hot and I had been drinking it for 8 hours now). Suzanna refilled my bladder with cold water.
Suzanna also fetched a chilled bottle of Coke from my drop bag and dunked my hat in cold water. My stomach had just rejected one type of sugar water but here I was craving and enjoying a much more pedestrian sugared beverage. And it helped to revive me. I drank all 16 ounces, and then it was time to go so I headed up and and onward towards Sun Top, another 5 miles away and about 750 feet higher in elevation.
While I “wasted” about 15-20 minutes at Fawn Ridge, I left a new man. And for the next hour or so, I felt much better. I soon came up upon Daisy (who must have snuck by at the aid station while I was sitting) and her entourage as we climbed our way up. It was good to settle in with a pack and listen and occasionally converse. Daisy mentioned that a nice downhill section was coming soon. After about 3 miles of up, we came upon the cushioned downhill section. I scrambled ahead of the group and took off. Another runner, Mary, went with me. I started to slow a bit and Mary passed me. After a mile of the downhill, we passed a gravel road and begun the final climb to Sun Top. By this point, the Coke had worn off, and I was again struggling as I walked that final mile to the aid station.
Finally, I came upon Glenn Tackiyama, who was taking photos of the runners. Sun Top was just around the corner.
As I left the aid station at mile 37, I began a slow walk down the forest road, which for the first few hundred feet was quite rough with lots of rocks and pot holes. Still, it was downhill, I was feeling better since the aid station, and after a little hazy math and dispensing with my idea of finishing in around 12 hours, I came up with a new, though unlikely goal: finish under 13 hours.
After walking about 50 feet, I started to jog around the giant rocks and potholes. Soon the road made a u-turn and the rocks were gone. I settled into a comfortable pace, put some earbuds in, cranked up some Silversun Pickups, and started passing the slower runners. I made a point of saying hi or “nice work” as I passed each one. Most of the runners looked familiar since we had played leap frog for the past 10+ hours. I was feeling good; my pace quickened. My watch called out some fast splits: 9:18, 8:08, 8:09, and 7:48. I was cruising and when no one was around singing along to the music and practicing diaphragmatic breathing. I must have passed a dozen people down Sun Top road.
Not so Flats
The road flattened out at the bottom and after another half mile the Skookum Flats aid station appeared at mile 43.5. I grabbed a bit of watermelon and a few ounces of Coke and was off: no time for dawdling. There was 6 and 1/2 miles to go and I was determined to run as much of “the flats” as I could. It’s worth mentioning that the Skookum Flats trail is pretty technical. Lots and lots of roots, oh and it isn’t exactly flat. But the name Skookum Rooty Rolling Hills Trail didn’t make the cut when naming the trail.
I had read and heard many comments from prior runners complaining bitterly about “the flats” which I had run on “fresh legs” three weeks previously. Fortunately, I more or less knew what to expect. I was also determined to finish the race strong and had a deep desire to break 13 hours so I dug down deep and started running. Within the first 20 feet out of the aid station, I passed two runners who were walking. Over the next 6 1/2 miles I would pass another 20 or so runners, almost all walking that last 6 and 1/2 miles. I mean after 45 or so miles, who wouldn’t want to walk?
How much of Skookum Flats did I run? I probably ran 2/3 of it, walking the up hills and occasionally a few flat portions. But every time I caught myself walking an easy portion, I told myself to pull it together and get running. Running would make the pain go away sooner. Running would help me achieve my goal of breaking 13 hours.
With a couple miles left, I turned off the music and put my earphones away. I wanted to fully experience the end of the race. Then in the distance, I could see the light break where there was a road. I climbed the trail to the road and turned to the right. Just then, two runners I had recently passed shot up ahead of me with one final burst of life. I let them go. Too young and with too much energy left in their tanks, I thought.
As I saw the finish line in the distance there was lots of much appreciated cheering. I made final push to try and catch the closer of the two runners but she was going too fast for me.
As I rounded the last corner of the race, I could see Suzanna. Twenty yards later I was over the finish line. A volunteer handed me my White River 50 Mile Endurance Run souvenir glass filled with some water, mentioning that I could swap it for some beer after I finished drinking the water.
I slumped into a chair as Suzanna doted over me. To say I was exhausted was an incredible understatement; every muscle in my body seemed to hurt. At the same time, what an incredible feeling: I had just completed my first 50 mile race, and I made it under 13 hours.
Me and a few running friends decided to run around Mt St Helens as a training run for White River on Saturday, June 30, 2018. Here are a few photos from our 33 mile counter-clockwise circumnavigation on the Loowit Trail around Helens. My group took 12 and a half hours. (Others finished faster.)
This past April was my birthday and one of the few advantages of aging is that every 5 years you enter a new age qualification bracket for entry into the Boston Marathon. Suffice it to say, I have been wanting to qualify for Boston since forever. I missed qualifying by a mere 15 seconds 10 years ago in 2008 at the Eugene marathon with a time of 3:36:14. And, in fat, I actually qualified (again at Eugene) in 2013 with a time of 3:39:23. However, there was a huge upsurge of qualifiers that year (2013 was the year the bombing occurred, so many people were inspired to qualify for the 2014 event) and when I was ready to register in September, the Boston Marathon Association reduced the qualifying times for each age bracket by over a minute so I no longer qualified.
After a few more attempts to qualify and repeated bouts of IT band syndrome, I discovered trail running and the fact that my IT band was much happier when I was running my long runs on trails. Fast forward to the time of my birthday this year, and I decided to give the marathon another go and searched for a marathon to squeeze in between the Mendocino Coast 50K in April and the White River 50 Mile Endurance Run in July. The North Olympic Discovery Marathon (NODM) scheduled for June 3rd fit the bill.
So…I started training for the marathon a few days after Mendocino, following my coach David’s training plan to the “t”. And David’s suggested race plan was pretty simple: Go out in 8:45-50 first half. Quicken to <=8:40 pace for 2nd half (or perhaps post-mile 16).
The race started at 7:30 AM and I quickly settled into a comfortable pace, letting my friend Laura go ahead. My first mile was 8:49.9; right on pace. The 4 hour pacer passed me before the first mile marker, which was a bit disconcerting (since my goal was to run a 3:50 race), but I told myself “run my race; not anyone else’s” and eventually, I caught and passed his pace group at mile 3. They must have been “banking” miles.
I also caught up to Laura briefly at the top of a hill, but then let her go again after a brief chat. The miles ticked off and I continued to feel good except for some right foot pain (oddly, not the foot that usually caused me trouble) that bothered me between miles 8 and 18 or so. Around mile 12, I came up to Suzanna, who had started at 6:00 AM and was walking the marathon. It was so nice to run into her (literally); we kissed, checked in with each other, and I was off, wishing each other a great race.
The course was about 80% asphalt and about 20% concrete, but with my foot bothering me, I took every chance to run on the grass or dirt to the right of the path. This seemed to help a bit. I wore a Nathan hydration vest, which obviated the need to stop at aid stations but I did make one quick stop to pee sometime after the half way point.
After the first half, there were around 7 or 8 stream crossings which meant a steep descent to the stream followed by a steep climb back up. These stream crossings were tough, especially one of the later ones where I had to walk up the hill because of its steepness.
Around mile 21, the course headed down a hill to the water front and remained flat the rest of the race. This was great, except for the fact that the wind had picked up, meaning that for the last 5 miles we were headed straight into a head wind. Around mile 22, I caught up to Laura, tapping her on the shoulder to say hi. I thought we would run the rest of the race together, but as soon as I caught up to her, she dropped right behind me. Funny thing, I never looked back, and assumed that she drifted back as I pressed hard during those last few windy miles.
It took everything in me to push harder and harder to the finish and I finally crossed in a respectable 3:50:42, more than 4 minutes under my Boston qualifying time!
I soon discovered that Laura had not faded after all. In fact, Laura finished just 5 seconds behind me.
After some food and drink and a quick shower (our hotel was right across from the finish), I came out to cheer for Suzanna’s triumphant arrival at the finish. I was so proud of her.
Suzanna, Laura, and I all achieved our goals! Plus, Laura finished 1st in her age/gender group and I finished 3rd in my age/gender group. What a day.
After a good night’s sleep, I awoke feeling okay. I ate my bagel with peanut butter, took a hot bath, and got dressed. We then headed off to the start which was less than 5 minutes by car. The weather was a little cool but it was expected to warm up a bit so I ran in shorts and a long-sleeve tech t-shirt. The race started at 7:30 and we were off.
The fact that I started pain-free was a small miracle of itself. Three days before the race, I awoke to a nasty ache in the lower left side of my back. Great, I thought: we have to drive about 830 miles over the next two days and I have a bad back. Suffice it to say, Wednesday was quite painful in the car, even though I only drove for an hour or two. (Thank you, Suzanna, for doing the bulk of the driving.) Nothing made the pain go away and quite almost everything I did made it feel worse.
We got to the hotel in Ashland in the late afternoon and I finally found something that took the pain away: a hot bath. Unfortunately, the bath had to end and the bed was a bit too soft. I tossed and turned most of the night. In the morning, after another hot bath, and a quick breakfast and coffee, we took off again. The back was a better for sure but still pretty painful. Again, Suzanna did the bulk of driving, but I was able to contribute more since my back was feeling better.
Once we got to our destination and checked into our B&B, I again took a hot bath and experienced relief while I worried what was in store for me on Saturday. Thursday night’s sleep was definitely better and I awoke with a more positive outlook on Friday.
That morning, I emailed my coach, David Roche, and David suggested that I not race if I was in pain. I agreed and told him I would check in again after a 3-mile shakeout run. Packet pickup was only about a mile away from our B&B at the Stanford Inn, so I suited up and headed out the door uncertain how it would feel. While not quite perfect, I held up pretty well. (Great swag, by the way.) The run back along the beach was fun and I was starting to think that I might make it to the starting line after all.
Friday night we had a fabulous pre-race dinner at the Stanford Inn’s Ravens restaurant and I did my usual pre-race ritual (lots of gathering way too much gear and food and assembling it before ditching half of it) and then I took another hot bath.
Big River Trail
Sometimes things just work their way out. And man was I pleased Saturday morning to make it to the starting line with only the slightest niggle of back pain. For the first 10 miles we headed due east on the very flat and soft Big River Trail, which winded alongside the, you guessed it, Big River. The plan was to go out nice and easy and I executed that pretty well. After about a mile, I met another runner, Nicolette, who seemed to be running at the same pace and we struck up a conversation for a number of miles. Anytime you can run with someone else, even if it’s for a few miles, is a bonus in an ultra because, for me anyway, unless I am struggling to keep up with the other runner, it helps you to relax and take your mind off the long trail ahead. And that’s exactly what happened, the miles ticked by effortlessly as we chatted about our jobs, loved ones, and recent races.
A little after mile 10, and a brief hug from Suzanna at aid station 2 (who I was pleasantly surprised to see), we turned away from the river onto the Big Tree Trail, and climbed we did for the next two miles. About half way up this climb, I looked back and Nicolette had dropped back behind another group and I never saw her again. I continued up the climb, walking the steeper parts, and made it to the top at about mile 12. The wooded trail leveled off for about a half mile before it dropped most of the elevation we had just climbed. I ran the downhill moderately fast, passing a number of other runners who were more timid on their approach.
At mile 14 we bottomed out and came upon a stream. Not thinking much about it — I guess I assumed we would soon come to a bridge upon which we would cross the stream — I suddenly saw a pair of runners ahead wading across. So after a quick survey of my options (there was only one), I waded on in. And after a few strides I reached the other side with some very wet shoes and socks.
At this point, I realized that my shoes were too loose on my feet, which exacerbated the sloshy feeling, but I decided I would wait until the next aid station at the top of the next hill before adjusting things. At the top the hill, I reached the aid station just shy of mile 17. I sat down in a chair, took off my shoes, removed the debris from them, secured the laces, and I put them back on. As I looked up from the chair, I realized that my drop bag was right in front of me. Nice coincidence. I grabbed the bottle of premixed Tailwinds, and emptied it into my hydration bladder, neglecting to bleed the air out (which I regretted for the remaining miles as I kept thinking the noise from the bladder was someone right behind me). I grabbed a few food items from my drop bag (most which I never ate), adjusted my pack, drank some aid station water and ate some aid station chips, and headed back out.
After another relatively flat mile, I came to a “rogue” aid station run by Healdsburg Running Company where the guy manning it, told me to take a hard left (which was good because the aid station was blocking the straight-ahead option), and head down for 5 miles. The next five miles was indeed all down, and during that stretch I never saw another soul. During one long portion of the down that went for miles, there were drainage dips in the trail every 50 feet or so, sometimes filled with rocks, which made the running difficult since there would be a steep down followed quickly by a steep up, which unfortunately aggravated an old abdominal strain I had on my left side.
I bottomed out at mile 23, had to jump across a few small streams and then head up the steepest of the three climbs, ascending about 600 feet over about a mile. While I did encounter a volunteer at the bottom, making sure I was headed the right way, still no other runners. At the top, just before aid station 4, I was happy to encounter a volunteer who was yelling “runner coming; number 100.” Even better, Suzanna was at the aid station asking me what I needed. I just grabbed some water, and we started walking while I finished my cup. I said goodbye with a kiss and headed off down the gravel path a couple of hundred feet before I turned right onto the trail and started down a two-mile descent.
The next stretch of trail was part of the Pacific Coast Trail. As I descended, I finally encountered and passed a few runners as the trail became the Waterfall Trail, which passed by the Russian Gulch waterfall.
As I got lower, I also encountered numerous hikers. The miles continued to tick off: mile 26, 27, 28. This race was coming together and I was in the moment. The dirt trail morphed into an asphalt and dirt trail and soon I was at the beginning of a parking lot, where I again encountered my sweet wife who informed me that the aid station was just ahead at the end of the parking lot. There was no stopping now, as I continued to cruise along at a good clip.
4.4 Miles to Go?!
Mile 29 ticked off on my watch as I arrived at the last aid station. Only 2 miles to go! Woo-hoo!
But wait, the sign hanging from the aid station table boldly stated 4.4 miles to the finish. Incredulous, I asked the aid station volunteer if that was correct – my watch said I only had 2 miles to go. He confirmed the bad news and intimated that others had complained too and that he suspected that the course was a couple of miles long.
I have to admit that the realization that I had an additional 4+ miles, was like a gut punch and really broke my spirit. Still, I gathered myself up and forged ahead. After the aid station, I had to scramble up a brief but steep and muddy incline before heading under the road onto the coastal trail. Pretty soon, some spectacular views of the coast started to open up.
The miles started to crawl along and I finally came to the infamous rope-assisted descent. Volunteers were there to guide me, as I repelled down some slick rocks for about 40 feet. Around a turn and then I repelled down another section of rope. That was kind of fun but at the bottom, I had to scamper up another steep incline and head up alongside Highway 1. Amazingly, Suzanna was there yet again, having just pulled over to see if she could spot me one more time before the finish. For the second time, Suzanna offered to grab my hydration pack so I wouldn’t have to haul if for the last couple of miles. This time I said yes, and suddenly I was a little lighter and, incidentally, now without a phone.
In a little bit, I turned off Highway 1 onto Lansing Street as we headed into Mendocino and up a slight incline. I walked a stretch on Lansing Street. After another half mile, or perhaps a bit more, I turned into Mendocino Headlands State Park as a runner caught up to me. The path was narrow, no more than 1.5 to 2 feet wide in many places, and the wind picked up. After a couple of minutes, I let the runner pass me and then promptly started to walk as I silently whined to myself about the never-ending race and the wind whined by my ears.
We had walked in this same park on Friday, so I more or less knew what to expect here and for the remainder of the race, but even with that information, the trail through the park seemed to go on forever. At this point I did a lot of walking, intermixed with a little running. Another couple of runners passed me, and I tried to console myself with the fabulous views but they were mostly wasted on me. After what seemed a short eternity, we turned and came to a set of stairs that led down to the beach.
The beach sand was soft and my shoes quickly filled with sand as I proceeded to walk (again). We crossed under Highway 1 and another 2 or 3 runners passed me. Soon we came to an asphalt parking lot and I could now see the finish line. I started to run again, quickly picking up my pace as I passed Suzanna and headed hard into the finish.
The race director shook my hand as I crossed the finish line. Another 50K was completed. My time: 6:49:37. A 50K, as you know, is supposed to be 31 miles long, but my watch said I had run 33.3 miles (and incidentally, never went off course). Now I understand that GPS watches can be wrong, and perhaps mine was wrong, but man, that race seemed long and my finish time, even with a mile or so of walking in that last few miles, seems high for a 31 mile race.
But it was a good race. In fact, most of the race went flawlessly. Yes, I shall declare it was a good race.
Hopefully, every race is a learning experience as much as a racing experience. And Mendocino taught me a few things:
The Mendocino Coast 50K is a beautiful and moderately easy course as far as 50Ks go (except for the fact that it might be a couple of miles long).
Going out slow is the key for me to having a good race and not bonking. If we ignore, for now, the last 4 miles, I nailed this race!
I became too caught up in the miles left as told to me by my Garmin Fenix 5x watch. This was a critical end-of-race mistake and when reality came crashing through at the last aid station, I let it get to me and let myself get “psyched out”.
Stop looking at your watch! and stay conservative on all “miles to go” estimates!
Don’t get ahead of yourself and don’t get cocky! Mile 28 (or was it mile 26?) was way too fast. My Garmin says it was 7:32. Even if the split is off by a minute, that mile was way too fast with 4 miles to go. I got ahead of myself and the race, and this combined with the aid station reckoning led to a somewhat less-than-satisfying finish.