The Grand Ridge 50k – Racing to Win

With a week’s distance to catch my breath, it’s time to reflect back on last weekend’s Grand Ridge 50k, organized by Evergreen Trail Runs. It was going to be a special day regardless of the result, signaling a major milestone: a return to racing after my longest break ever.

For years I’d raced frequently. During a twelve month stretch in 2011-2012 I raced three 5- to 11-mile trail races, 8 road races of 5k to 10k, a 24-hour team relay, a marathon, my first four 50ks, and my first two 50-milers. It was exciting. That stretch of racing continued on even after that, but the drive within me started to fade. I’ve written about this before, but in review, I would still get “up” for every race, but with the constant tapering and recovering, I hadn’t put together a solid training block in years. My fitness was surprisingly low, and so I’d turn up to a race, put out a disappointing performance, and then start getting ready for my next race.

It came to a head in January, 2013, at the Bridle Trails 50k. I was running a 31-mile race after training a total of 14 miles in the previous month. I was suffering, and I realized that this just wasn’t worth it. At that point I decided that, with the exception of that summer’s White River 50, I was done racing until the drive was undeniably back.

Finishing the 2013 White River 50-mile Endurance Run. Photo by Gordon Naylor.

Finishing the 2013 White River 50-mile Endurance Run. Photo by Gordon Naylor.

Fast forward to Summer, 2014, and I’m in the middle of my longest racing drought ever…and my best training ever. I was having so much fun, motivated beyond measure by Jordan, my roommate at “The Summit House.” Not only was I getting out for long trail miles, but I was also finding opportunities to redline, pushing that VO2Max for the first time in years. We spent the Summer racing each other and the clock up and down all the mountains Seattle has to offer. With a previous personal record of 22,000’ vertical climbing in a month, I racked up totals from May to October of 33, 23, 23, 46 (46!!!), 22, and 36 thousand feet. I broke personal records on every single trail I attempted, up and down. We were having so much fun pushing each other, and my competitive juices were pumping hard again, dueling with Jordan and trying to climb the Strava leaderboards.

At the summit of McClellan Butte with Jordan.

At the summit of McClellan Butte with Jordan.

I was ready to race.

I hadn’t run more than 23 miles in over a year, but I decided on the Grand Ridge 50k. The timing was perfect, a week after my coaching duties with the high school cross country team ended. I knew I wouldn’t be specifically trained, but I was fitter and stronger than ever in my life.

Now of course I take to heart the oft-lauded ethos of trail running. Everyone out there on the trails is a friend, and everyone deserves respect, especially at the ultra distance. I’d never want to succeed at the expense of a competitor. That being said, trail running media and social media can at times be a bit saccharine. Sunshine and rainbows, everybody wins. There’s a place for that. I’m friendly on the trails, and everyone’s family at the finish line, but a race is a race.

I’m being honest about it. I came to race. I’m racing to win.

Before the race, I’d looked through the 42 pre-registered entrants. Gaming. Some were nowhere to be found online, others were unlikely to pose a threat. But I knew there would be at least one name likely favored over mine. Richard Kresser: not many results at the 50k distance, but some damn respectable times at 100 miles, and a recent speed record unsupported on the Wonderland Trail. Okay, this won’t be a cake walk; I’m gonna have to show up.

Grand Ridge 50k Course Map from Evergreen Trail Runs.

Grand Ridge 50k Course Map from Evergreen Trail Runs.

Grand Ridge 50k Elevation Profile, from my Suunto Ambit Altimeter.

Grand Ridge 50k Elevation Profile, from my Suunto Ambit Altimeter.

The course was almost entirely out-and-back. Maybe 7.5ish miles out, 5.5ish miles back. That’s the half marathon. Repeat. Then after finishing that marathon, with the finish line and its hot food and warm clothing beckoning, turn around and run the 5 mile race course. A mental challenge for sure, but opportunities at every turn-around to gauge gaps in front and behind to competitors. Interesting.

Race morning arrives and it. is. cold. I’m bundled in layer upon layer at the starting area, hands tucked deep inside mittens, breath frosting in front of my face, frozen ground crunching underfoot. 30º? Sounds about right. I get in a 10-minute warm-up run, doff my layers, and await the shared marathon-50k start.

3…2…1…GO!

I take off at a slow, comfortable jog. Nobody goes with me. The first half-mile follows a broad gravel bike trail. We hit the single track and up I go, cautioning covert glances only at switchbacks. Gaming. A mile in and I probably have 30 or 45 seconds, but slowing down won’t really save any energy, so I keep rolling. A few miles in and I can see across some drainages that nobody is within a minute or two. I’m running alone the whole way, but I usually do in training anyway, so no sweat. I hit the first aid station in 42 minutes, 10 minutes ahead of my pace from the course preview a few weeks earlier. I know that the northern turnaround has some self-service water and nothing else, but stopping there would be a waste of time, so I top off my water bottle, grab some Clif Shot gels, and move on. 19 seconds, in-and-out: not bad.

On-course at the Grand Ridge 50k. Photo by Takao Suzuki.

On-course at the Grand Ridge 50k. Photo by Takao Suzuki.

I keep trucking interminably northbound, when I think I see a flash of white behind me. Nah. A biker passes me headed southbound, and shortly afterwards I hear voices behind me. He must be talking to another runner. A quick glance over my should and sure enough, there’s that white shirt. We’re headed downhill, and although I can bomb the steeps with the best of ‘em, I’m preserving myself on this long, gentle grade. He comes up behind me absolutely flying on the downs. That’s when I look back to read his bib. 944.

“YES!” I think. When I checked in to get my bib I was able to read the entrants list. Bibs 915-956 are in the marathon, 957-998 in the 50k. Gaming. No worries. He’s a marathoner. We share a few words of pleasantry and encouragement, he confirms he’s in the marathon, I wish him well on the descent, he compliments my climbing and promises to see me on the uphill, and then he flies off ahead.

I hit the turnaround and am only 15-30 seconds back, but overtake him almost immediately as we begin the climb back up what we just descended. He’s hiking and I’m running. Wait. Am I really running? What’s the longest I’ve ever run on trails without hiking, even for a few steps? 8 miles? Maybe less. And this trail isn’t flat. Somehow the douche-grade* is just coming easy today.

(*Douche-grade: trail at a grade flat enough that every step of it is runnable taken alone, but added up over time eventually forces you to hike. That trail is a douche. That trail makes you feel like a douche for needing to hike what you know you should be running. The guy who goes running by you when you’re hiking is such a douche.)

3.5 minutes after the turnaround I see a pack of four guys. That means they’re 6-7 minutes behind me. Solid gap. I read three of their bibs: marathoners. The other bib is obscured. He’s a burly dude with a big beard, looks like a hundo-man. Is that Kresser? Maybe. I see the next runners 8 minutes after the turnaround, giving me a 15 minute lead, and they’re definitely in the 50k, but for now not worth worrying over. Just run my own race, stay comfortable, and see what happens. It’s far too early to get uncomfortable.

I blow right through the aid station on the return, knowing that it’s only about 20 minutes back to the start-finish, and there’s no sense wasting time now to top off my water bottle. I hit the bike trail and reach the half marathon turnaround aid station. Another quick top-off, some more gels, and I’m out. 22 seconds. Perfect.

I’m feeling smooth and strong. The cold weather is really feeling perfect now. The trail is firm and not muddy, I’m barely sweating: absolutely ideal conditions. I’ve sucked down a gel every 25 minutes like clockwork and my stomach’s still feeling good. Holy crap, I just ran that entire half marathon course, over 2000’ vert, and I literally ran every step with not a hint of a hike break. That’s definitely a PR right there! And I’m still rolling.

I see Jean-Gael, the white-shirt marathoner and I’ve probably got 3 minutes on him, plus any time he takes at the table. I hit the single-track again, switchbacking up the climb and finally see the bearded guy’s bib: 973. Should’ve looked his number up at registration, but that’s gotta be Kresser. Well that’s about 7 minutes after I left the table, giving me about 13 minutes of a lead in the 50k race. Gotta love that.

Onward and upward, I’m now retracing my earlier steps. I finally hit the one significantly steep climb on the course and start hiking. 2 hours, 30 minutes in and I take my first hiking step. Holy shit. 30 seconds later, I’m running again and won’t hike again for another hour+. This day is unreal. Can I seriously keep feeling this good?! 15 seconds at the aid station and I’m out again.

The course is crowded with half-marathoners now, going both directions. The leaders are flying south towards me with just a few miles to their finish, and I’m constantly passing the back-of-the-packers northbound. Their encouragement propels me onwards, and my well-wishes to them take my mind away from my own efforts. I’m still all alone in my race.

After I hit the northern turnaround for the last time, I see I have a 3-minute gap on Jean-Gael, still comfortably the marathon leader, and about 15 minutes on Kresser, with no other 50k runners challenging the two of us. Still far too early to celebrate.

Memories flood back of the 2012 Horseshoe Lake 50k in the Bay Area. I went out hard, leading the marathon and 50k early. It was also a half marathon + half marathon + 5 mile course. After 15 miles the marathon leader passed me. Then at 18 miles my calves started cramping up on me, my energy faded, and my body started to give way. Two runners passed me, and although I rallied to close gaps in the last 5 miles, the race was lost and I finished third. With the growth in the sport in recent years, I thought that would be the only shot I’d ever have at winning an ultra.

Don’t let that happen again. No lead is safe.

I hit the aid station southbound and top off for the first time with Nuun electrolyte drink instead of water. I take the first sip and, for whatever reason, get super light-headed. Fight it off. Don’t fade. I roll down and just as I’m hitting the bike trail with a half-mile to the marathon finish and my final turnaround, Jean-Gael catches me. He’s clearly hurting, but motivated to finish strong. The two of us run in together before I congratulate him and make my turn.

With my bottle still nearly full and plenty of gels on-board, I make the turn without even a glance at the aid table. My appetite for gels has waned, but I’ve still forced them down every 25 minutes. After my twelfth at 4:35, I’m done with them. Maybe that was a mistake.

After making the turn, I see Kresser and realize I’ve probably still got 13-15 minutes on him. I’m starting to hurt. I make sure to look strong when we pass each other. Gaming. He looks strong. With hundred-milers in his legs, I know he won’t fade. I’ve just got less than 5 miles to go now, but I’m hiking the climbs. I want to hike the flats. I want to hike the downs. But I will myself to run the downhills fast. Too much time to lose there. In 5 miles, a 15-minute lead can disappear in a heartbeat. If I’m hiking fast at 15 minutes per mile, all he’d need is a pedestrian 12 minutes per mile to catch me. And I’m not hiking 15 minutes per mile. Gotta keep running.

My hamstrings are getting those faint spasms, the early signs that at a moment’s notice, they’ll go into full tetany. The sun’s out now and I’m starting to feel hot. The hat’s come off, and now so do the gloves. I’m thirsty but rationing my drink. I don’t want another gel without enough drink to wash it down. Is this race really unraveling now? The mental anguish is even worse knowing that I so easily could have won the marathon had that been my finish line. Instead I kept going and now may win nothing.

Just. Keep. Running.

I hike when I have to, which is quite a bit, but I know that I have to keep running. There are a few spots on this bit of course with a good 2- or 3-minute view across drainages and switchbacks. I know that if Kresser sees me for even a second, I’ll lose. Not only does that mean he’s closed over 10 minutes on me, but it means that he knows it and can start pushing even harder. I don’t have the strength to answer any move he could throw at me. Every time I hit one of those sections, I push myself extra hard, just to get out of view as quickly as possible so he won’t be motivated to find that extra gear. Plus, on the offchance that he does see me, I’ll be running fast, looking good. Gaming. Racing to win.

I finally hit the high point and begin the descent. My tired legs can barely pick my feed up off the ground, but I’ve gotta keep running. Gotta keep running. Gotta keep ru–OOFFF!!! I’m on the ground. Caught my toe on a rock. The wind’s knocked out of me and the sudden loss of rhythm sends my hamstrings into full cramps as I’m sprawled on the trail.

Get up.

I’m going again. Gingerly running down the trail, fighting the cramps and I finally hit the bike trail. I’ll be furious to lose now, with half a mile to go after leading the 50k from the gun. I start running on the bike trail, but it’s ever so slightly graded uphill. Can’t hike, gotta keep running. I mentally prepare myself to kick and outsprint Kresser to the finish if necessary. I dare to send a few glances back over my shoulder and see nobody coming. I’m gonna do it. I see the line and run through it.

Finishing the Grand Ridge 50k. Photo by Gordon Naylor.

Finishing the Grand Ridge 50k. Photo by Gordon Naylor.

Wire-to-wire, I got the win. The last 5 miles took 1:10, and Kresser closed the gap considerably, but I held on just enough, a 5.5-minute gap. It’s my first ever competitive* win, but all I can think about after crossing that line is sitting down, drinking some Gatorade, and hugging my dad, waiting there at the finish.

(*Not counting team relays, high school JV races, and a 5-miler when I was behind four 10-mile racers.)

Once I catch my breath, layer up, and recover enough to get moving, I grab some of the amazing, hot chili at the finish, take a seat, and get to know Kresser. What an awesome guy and super fun to chat with at the finish. I’ll hang my hat on the win, but it’s obvious just how strong he is, finishing looking easy and comfortable. We talked a bit about the race and other things ahead. We’re fairly convinced the course was 33-34 miles. After all, at 5:48:41 this was by far my slowest 50k ever, but despite the late-stage blow-up, I doubt I’ve ever run the distance faster, especially with only 1:25 spent at aid stations total (I’m particularly proud of my aid time). I probably hiked a total of less than a mile, and that should definitely translate to a sub-5 finish. Nevertheless, if I wanted a perfectly-measured 50k, I’d head to a track. Trail running’s all about more miles more fun. 29 or 35 miles, the race is what the race is. Everybody covers the same course, and the first one to the finish wins.

On this day, that happened to be me.

Thank you so much to race director Jerry and all the fantastic volunteers; to my dad for being there; to Richard, Jean-Gael, and all the racers for the extra push; to Jordan, the SMRG, and all my friendly Strava rivals for the motivation all year; to the MI cross country team athletes and coaches for endless inspiration; and to all my friends and family that support me in this crazy sport.

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White River 50 Training Update (and 2013 first half review)

(If you want to skip all the training talk, just read the last paragraph. Boy am I excited!)

Today marks the end of a big training weekend and my last major effort before July 27’s White River 50. This morning I joined a crew of well over 20 other runners to preview the second loop of the WR50 course, a 22.8-mile route with over 4000′ of elevation gain, some hot dusty trails, and more stunning views than I can count. I felt quite sluggish and actually ran a few segments slower than in 2012’s race, but considering my Saturday (5.2-mile fairly quick morning run followed immediately by a 12 mile hike on the PCT to Kendall’s Katwalk) and all that that took out of my legs (hiking really does work your body differently than running and I’m not used to it), I’ll take it…somewhat.

I’m not sandbagging when I say that I’m worried. This has been among my favorite six months of running ever (more on that below in my 2013-so-far review), and I’ve done more technical trails and more vertical than ever. However, I’m worried that my fundamental engine isn’t what it was last year. Entering last year’s WR50 I’d done very little specific training, but I had well over 12 months of solid, consistent training over 100 miles every month and occasionally over 200, my longest months ever, with lots of faster road running with the Stanford Running Club. Despite record vertical month-in-and-month-out, last month, June, was my first over 100 since last July. Over a six month span from early August to early February, I ran a TOTAL of 300 miles, struggling for many months with injury and subsequent lack of fitness. My training from February on has been very fun and enjoyable, my main goal over that time, but it’s also been very slow. Spending so many hours on Cableline, Chirico, Si, Mailbox, Rattlesnake, etc. means that I’m doing most of my miles at 12-20 minute/mile pace, and when I do get a chance to cruise on the roads, I find myself really pushing hard to hit 7:30/mile, a pace that just a year ago was my comfortable, go-to junk mile pace. All that said, barring injury, I’m confident that I’ll complete White River this year, and that I’ll probably feel better through the middle miles than last year. However, I doubt I’ll finish with as much energy, and I’m not so sure I can improve my time despite thinking over that past year, “if my knees didn’t hurt I could’ve taken at least 30 minutes off.”

Hopefully I’m unknowing sandbagging and on race day I’ll come out and kill it with a 9:30 or something, but my running’s been about enjoyment not “training” all year and I’ll deal with however that manifests in my first race in six months. Enough whining, on to the positive!

2013 so far has been fantastic. Since January’s Bridle Trails 50k, when I went into a dark place emotionally, I readjusted my priorities and my outlook and started just getting out and enjoying running for its own sake. What did this mean? TRAILS! Technical trails, snowy trails, steep trails, long trails, and many many new trails. Despite a January still plagued by injury with only 44 miles and 2400 vertical feet, I ended up by June’s end with a half-year tally of 433 miles and 89,500 vertical feet. That mileage comes nowhere close to first-half-2012’s 800 miles, but the vert is insane, averaging over 200 feet/mile including ALL runs, not just trail runs. Trails runs total 249 miles with 82,000 vertical feet, 330 feet/mile, up AND down! Yeah this isn’t humble-bragging, it’s just bragging, but it’s truly because I’ve enjoyed it so much. Like I said, I’ve gotten slower and slower, but getting out on these steep techy trails has been so much fun and has reinvigorated my love of running.

I’ve explored Tiger for the first time ever (beyond the hugely popular T3 route that MIXC does), finding some of my favorite trails around. My six repeats on the Chirico Trail set a new personal record for vert in a day, racking up 10,300′ over 21 miles. My descents of Cableline allowed me to really hone my ability and mostly improve my confidence and recklessness descending steep technical trails, improving my PR from 28 minutes the first time to a near-suicidal 16:40. I explored the winding rolling trails of the eastern flanks, seen bear tracks in virgin snow, slip-slided down Poo-Top in the snow, and tagged four peaks for the first time.

I ran Mt. Si for the first time…and second and third in a relaxed double. I “ran” Mailbox Peak, which quickly and unquestionably surpased Cableline as the most challenging trail I’ve ever run. 4000′ in 2.5 miles and high technical, so much so that my descent, which I thought felt pretty darn fast and impressive, ended up averaging something like 18 minutes/mile…for the descent! Beautiful views greeted me atop both. Oh, and of course there was my Stanford to the Sea run; I literally almost forgot to mention that! You can read all about that here.

Now as I look forward to the rest of the year ahead, I’ve got three weeks to White River. I’m sure I’ll be happy to run it, but at this point I’m regretting my return to racing. Stanford to the Sea was a major interruption to my mountain adventures for a couple weeks on either end, and White River certainly means no more challenging trails for the next three weeks. Unless I REALLY enjoy the race and that whole atmosphere, I foresee myself returning to an indefinite racing hiatus. I’m hoping that August can be a month unlike any other. I’ve been exploring the trails of the I-90 corridor (Cougar, Squak, Tiger, Rattlesnake, Si, and Mailbox; still never been up Teneriffe). All I want to do right now is get into the Cascades and enjoy some trails through passes and lakes and cirques and glaciers and with no views of towns and cities anywhere. The PCT; The Alipine Lakes Wilderness, The Enchantments, The Wonderland: all await me with their rugged wildness. I got a taste yesterday on the PCT and I cannot wait to answer the call!

Summit of West Tiger #1, February

Summit of West Tiger #1, February

Summit of East Tiger, Early March

Summit of East Tiger, Early March

Bear tracks near Middle Tiger, late March. My footprint's there for scale and there were NO other prints around.

Bear tracks near Middle Tiger, late March. My footprint’s there for scale and there were NO other prints around.

Descending the Chirico Trail during the Chirico Tenpeat (I did six repeats).

Descending the Chirico Trail during the Chirico Tenpeat (I did six repeats). Photo from UphillRunning.com

Descending the Chirico Trail during the Chirico Tenpeat again, a little later this time.

Descending the Chirico Trail during the Chirico Tenpeat again, a little later this time. Photo by Jerry Gamez.

Second summit of Si on the day.

Second summit of Si on the day.

View from Rattlesnake Mountain's upper ledge during my misty, previously-torrentially-rainy double-traverse.

View from Rattlesnake Mountain’s upper ledge during my misty, previously-torrentially-rainy double-traverse.

Summit of Mailbox Peak for the first time.

Summit of Mailbox Peak for the first time.

The namesake mailbox on a gorgeous day.

The namesake mailbox on a gorgeous day.

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Stanford to the Sea

Take 2. I just got three long paragraphs into my run report and hadn’t even delivered my drop bags yet. Wow, nobody’s going to read that tome. If anybody actually wants to know about the details in planning or the struggles and triumphs experienced at every mile along the route, talk to me! Instead, I’ll rely mainly on the photos I took before, during, and after the run and their captions, with a bit of text sprinkled throughout, especially as photos became more and more sparse through the later miles.

My friend Ben has had this idea for years: travel from Stanford across the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific, as much on trails as possible, linking together the region’s parks, and all in one day. Well it finally happened, and when I heard about it five weeks out, I just had to book my flights immediately and get down and join him. Ben, David, Matt, Tommy, and I gave ourselves a goal time of 15 hours to cover an estimated 45 miles. I was confident I could handle that, but was a bit nervous about us as a group trying to maintain a single pace and stay together. I knew that the other four are all stronger, fitter, and faster than I, but none had experience beyond the marathon and none but Ben had even put in long hours on their feet in recent months or practiced eating and drinking on the run (or practiced going slowly!). This would be a great test for them of the power of talent, base fitness, and group support, and a great test for me of my experience and training. Enough introduction. Enjoy the story as it unfolds below!

Everything all laid out in advance. Everything for the start on the left, drop bag for mile 16 in the middle, change of clothes/shoes and drop bag for Tom to bring at mile 25.

You know it’s going to be a great adventure when your alarm wakes you up at 1:55 in the morning. Er, night. Whatever.

Excited to get started  at 2am!

Ben grabbing some breakfast at 2am.

Our starting point, "The Claw," a fountain in the middle of campus and the regular meeting point for the Stanford Running Club.

Our starting point, “The Claw,” a fountain in the middle of campus and the regular meeting point for the Stanford Running Club.

As we waited at The Claw for Tommy to arrive, we were greeted by a very suspicious cop, seeing four guys dressed in silly clothes loitering in the center of campus at 3am Saturday night. He asked what we were doing, Ben said “going on an adventure run.” Unsure what that meant, and assuming it involved trespassing and/or disturbing the peace, he probed, “what kind of adventure run?” “We’re running to the ocean,” I said. “How far is that?” “About 45 miles.” “Oh, so you’re actually running to the ocean?” “Yeah!” Actually a very friendly guy, and a runner himself. He wished us luck and that was that.

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

Hey lock, we're actually getting started a few minutes early!

Hey look, we’re actually getting started a few minutes early!

Quickly superseding the conversation with the cop as a great moment, one minute into the run we passed in front of Sigma Chi. Of course two bros are out front having a loud 3am conversation about how they’re going to pay the stripper…and then heckling us. We sure enjoyed that!

Quickly topping off water at mile 6, the corner of Alpine and Portola.

Quickly topping off water at mile 6, the corner of Alpine and Portola.

Matt powering up Alpine in the dark. Despite the elevation gain, we cranked through those nine miles of pavement in about 90 minutes, including water and bathroom stops.

Matt powering up Alpine in the dark. Despite the elevation gain, we cranked through those nine miles of pavement in about 90 minutes, including water and bathroom stops.

A surprise barricade on the Alpine Trail. I will neither confirm nor deny here in public that we climbed over the barricade and carried on.

A surprise barricade on the Alpine Trail. I will neither confirm nor deny here in public that we climbed over the barricade and carried on.

Finally into the Mid-Peninsula Open Space network, my old stomping grounds.

Finally into the Mid-Peninsula Open Space network, my old stomping grounds.

Ben climbing the signpost at "his favorite intersection in the world," Alpine and Page Mill. Roughly 12 miles and 1500' in and dawn just creeping over the horizon.

Ben climbing the signpost at “his favorite intersection in the world,” Alpine and Page Mill. Roughly 12 miles and 1500′ in and dawn just creeping over the horizon.

Sunrise in Monte Bello, a park that perfectly epitomizes Bay Area trail running with ribbons of buffed single-track winding along grass hills.

Sunrise in Monte Bello, a park that perfectly epitomizes Bay Area trail running with ribbons of buffed single-track winding along grass hills.

The gang (Tommy with camera) at Sunrise.

The gang (Tommy with camera) at Sunrise.

Running into the sunrise through Monte Bello. This is one of my favorite pictures ever!

Running into the sunrise through Monte Bello. This is one of my favorite pictures ever!

David crossing Skyline Boulevard as we exit Monte Bello and enter Skyline Ridge Open Space.

David crossing Skyline Boulevard as we exit Monte Bello and enter Skyline Ridge Open Space.

Enjoying a nice fog hanging over Horseshoe Lake around 6 or 6:30.

Enjoying a nice fog hanging over Horseshoe Lake around 6 or 6:30.

Climbing a hill as the Sun finally hits us. Another one of my favorite pictures ever!

Climbing a hill as the Sun finally hits us. Another one of my favorite pictures ever!

Digging into the box we'd dropped at mile 16 on Saturday. Food and water refills aplenty!

Digging into the box we’d dropped at mile 16 on Saturday. Food and water refills aplenty!

TIME TO SLOW DOWN. Sure it's a speed limit sign, and sure it was at mile 16 not 15, but that's close enough for me and I'll take that advice!

TIME TO SLOW DOWN. Sure it’s a speed limit sign, and sure it was at mile 16 not 15, but that’s close enough for me and I’ll take that advice!

Windy and cool at our mile 16 drop. I'm glad I decided to bring along my Buff as I started to chill quite a bit. I'm definitely accustomed to being in and out of a stop in a minute or two, because time not moving is time not moving, but the other guys were enjoying the break and we ended up at our drop for 16 minutes.

Windy and cool at our mile 16 drop. I’m glad I decided to bring along my Buff as I started to chill quite a bit. I’m definitely accustomed to being in and out of a stop in a minute or two, because time not moving is time not moving, but the other guys were enjoying the break and we ended up at our drop for 16 minutes.

Matt hiking up one of the steeper climbs of the route, in Long Ridge Open Space, one of the most brutal stretches of the Horseshoe Lake 50k I ran in 2012.

Matt hiking up one of the steeper climbs of the route, in Long Ridge Open Space, one of the most brutal stretches of the Horseshoe Lake 50k I ran in 2012.

We're going that-a-way! ...beautiful.

We’re going that-a-way! …beautiful.

Enjoying the view from Long Ridge.

Enjoying the view from Long Ridge.

Ben, seeing the miles all laid out ahead.

Ben, seeing the miles all laid out ahead.

Hiking as we check the map and make sure we hit the right turns on forest roads.

Hiking as we check the map and make sure we hit the right turns on forest roads.

Making the long, grueling descent into Portola Redwoods State Park.

Making the long, grueling descent into Portola Redwoods State Park.

Crossing Slate Creek, the only unbridged stream crossing of the day, and not a drop of water on us. That was a bit disappointing if you ask me.

Crossing Slate Creek, the only unbridged stream crossing of the day, and not a drop of water on us. That was a bit disappointing if you ask me.

Entering Portola Redwoods State Park Headquarters. We expected this to be about 23 miles based on some approximate mapping. With no better measurements to go by, we defaulted to my watch, placing headquarters at 25.5 miles.

Entering Portola Redwoods State Park Headquarters. We expected this to be about 23 miles based on some approximate mapping. With no better measurements to go by, we defaulted to my watch, placing headquarters at 25.5 miles.

Amazing friend Tom, up early on his Sunday to meet us at HQ with plenty of food and drink. It was such a thrill rounding the bend a few miles earlier and seeing Tom running towards us to then guide us into the park and to his car. We were right on schedule at about 5.5 hours...making it 25.5 miles before 8:30am!

Amazing friend Tom, up early on his Sunday to meet us at HQ with plenty of food and drink. It was such a thrill rounding the bend a few miles earlier and seeing Tom running towards us to then guide us into the park and to his car. We were right on schedule at about 5.5 hours…making it 25.5 miles before 8:30am!

I was definitely frustrated by some lollygagging at Tom’s car, a whopping 26 minutes of wasted time not covering ground, but we eventually got going again and took it easy with a big 2000′ climb to greet us as we left the park. From here on I was definitely taking fewer pictures as I wasn’t feeling quite so comfortable closing down the gaps that the other guys would put on me when I’d stop for shots.

Beginning to slow slog up and out of Portola Redwoods State Park.

Beginning the slow slog up and out of Portola Redwoods State Park.

Soaking in our first taste of hot sunshine at the top of China Grade after an hour of climbing, ready to descend down the other side into Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Soaking in our first taste of hot sunshine at the top of China Grade after an hour of climbing, ready to descend down the other side into Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

We finally join the iconic Skyline to the Sea Trail. No more turns from here on, just 15-odd miles along the S2S.

We finally join the iconic Skyline to the Sea Trail. No more turns from here on, just 15-odd miles along the S2S.

And we definitely weren't getting lost. I was thrilled when I realized a couple weeks earlier that Coastal Trail Runs, Wendell's wonderful company and organizers of many of my favorite races, would be holding their Skyline to the Sea Marathon and 50k on the same day. The course was marked for us and we got a big lift from cheering on all the awesome runners passing us by, and the very few that we were able to pass.

And we definitely weren’t getting lost. I was thrilled when I realized a couple weeks earlier that Coastal Trail Runs, Wendell’s wonderful company and organizers of many of my favorite races, would be holding their Skyline to the Sea Marathon and 50k on the same day. The course was marked for us and we got a big lift from cheering on all the awesome runners passing us by, and the very few that we were able to pass.

Somewhere in the miles leading up to the Big Basin Headquarters, my feet started to hurt. Not blisters, not cramps, not fasciitis, but just aching soles. It felt like I’d been running on pavement in Fivefingers, that kind of hurt. I was worried it was my new Cascadia 8s, perhaps less cushioned than the Cascadia 7s that never gave me trouble. Only after the run did I realize the likely culprit: California trails! It hadn’t rained in ages, they don’t have thick leaf and needle coverage,  and the trails are all so well-buffed that this run was pretty much 50 miles on pavement. Wearing trail shoes or not, that’ll take a toll after a year of acclimating to the cushion of Washington’s soft single-track. Well, lesson learned. For terrain like that, I better start getting comfortable with long miles in my Hoka One Ones!

David enjoying his turkey sandwich at Big Basin Headquarters.

David enjoying his turkey sandwich at Big Basin Headquarters.

I'd had no appetite since pretty much mile 16 and had probably choked down only 700 calories in the preview 6 hours. Walking into the snack shop at Big Basin Headquarters, I saw a hummus wrap and it beckoned. Nothing but hummus in a tortilla, but boy was it exactly what I wanted, and I washed that down with a couple good pickles, refilled my water, and we were off. 23 minutes for the stop.

I’d had no appetite since pretty much mile 16 and had probably choked down only 700 calories in the previous 6 hours. Walking into the snack shop at Big Basin Headquarters, I saw a hummus wrap and it beckoned. Nothing but hummus in a tortilla, but boy was it exactly what I wanted, and I washed that down with a couple good pickles, refilled my water, and we were off. 23 minutes for the stop.

Berry Creek Falls. Just wonderful.

Berry Creek Falls. Just wonderful.

My feet were really killing me by this point. I couldn’t decide if running or walking was worse and all I wanted to do was sit down and kick my feet up, so I did. I had the guys give me two short breaks, but honestly those didn’t make any difference once I stood up again and it just slowed us all down. That’s when I decided we’d all be better off if I broke from the rest of them and built a bit of a gap. I had energy to burn and was otherwise feeling great. I ran ahead a ways and then sat and waited for them to catch up a few times.

Ben making his way down the Skyline to the Sea Trail, so close to his long-awaited goal!

Ben making his way down the Skyline to the Sea Trail, so close to his long-awaited goal!

With about 1.5 miles to go until the race’s finish line, I just took off running and didn’t stop, except to take the picture below. I knew I’d wait for the other guys and the finish line before heading to the beach, but all my feet wanted to do was get this run done!

Hey look! The ocean!

Hey look! The ocean!

Approaching the marathon/50k finish, we were greeted by some extra motivation.

Approaching the marathon/50k finish, we were greeted by some extra motivation.

...and some more.

…and some more.

...and a whole gauntlet of friends and family (of racers) cheering, ringing cowbells, offering high-fives, and admonishing me as I stopped to take pictures just seconds from the finish line. "I'm not racing, but thanks for the support!"

…and a whole gauntlet of friends and family (of racers) cheering, ringing cowbells, offering high-fives, and admonishing me as I stopped to take pictures just seconds from the finish line. “I’m not racing, but thanks for the support!”

...and more supporters!

…and more supporters!

...and the turn towards the finish line I didn't dare approach. Here I sat down for five or ten minutes and cheered on the finishers as I took the load off of my feet and waited for the other guys so we could cover the quarter mile or so to the beach together.

…and the turn towards the finish line I didn’t dare approach. Here I sat down for five or ten minutes and cheered on the finishers as I took the load off of my feet and waited for the other guys so we could cover the quarter mile or so to the beach together.

Despite being so close to the end, people were pooped and we hiked it all the way in from the finish area to the beach. Crossing Highway 1 was our last obstacle.

Despite being so close to the end, people were pooped and we hiked it all the way in from the finish area to the beach. Crossing Highway 1 was our last obstacle.

Action shot as I run through the sand towards the water!

Action shot as I run through the sand towards the water!

Running towards the Pacific, just seconds away!

Running towards the Pacific, just seconds away!

Done!

Done!

Enjoying icing our feet for a minute or two, before starting to absolutely freeze.

Icing our feet for a minute or two before starting to absolutely freeze.

Ben, conqueror of one of his greatest goals! Thanks so much for having this vision and making it happen, and inviting me along for the ride! This was a tremendous accomplishment you'll always remember.

Ben, conqueror of one of his greatest goals! Thanks so much for having this vision, making it happen, and inviting me along for the ride! This was a tremendous accomplishment you’ll always remember.

Enjoying the finish with Ben.

Enjoying the finish with Ben.

The Gang at the beach. We made it, all five of us, all together, and without real incident. Incredibly impressive performance by these other guys, accomplishing so nonchalantly such an impressive feat. Well done to all, and especially to Ben for putting this all together.

The Gang at the beach. We made it, all five of us, all together, and without real incident. Incredibly impressive performance by these other guys, accomplishing so nonchalantly such an impressive feat. Well done to all, and especially to Ben for putting this all together.

My GPS track of the run. 47.2 miles in 12:35:39 (including all stops).

My GPS track of the run. 47.2 miles in 12:35:39 (including all stops).

Altitude profile of the run based on my watch's barometric altimeter. 7200' gain.

Altitude profile of the run based on my watch’s barometric altimeter. 7200′ gain.

 

All cleaned up back at Ben's house, I figured it was as good a time as any to bust out one of my favorite and most prized shirts, the MIXC "Proud to be Awesome" shirt.

All cleaned up back at Ben’s house, I figured it was as good a time as any to bust out one of my favorite and most prized shirts, the MIXC “Proud to be Awesome” shirt.

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