Monday, February 16, 2009

Montana De Oro 50K - Saturday, February 15th 2009

All men should strive
to learn before they die
what they are running from,
and to, and why.
~James Thurber

My first Ultra in California the Montana De Oro 50K...What does that mean anyway? It was the first over 26.2 mile race that I've completed in California, a 50K / 31.5 miles... make that errr 34ish... Well I got lost a few times, but that's only the beginning.

Why do I do this to myself? Do I like the pain, the exhaustion, the planning? Sometimes I ask myself these things when I get to the 'let's dig deep for motivation' moments. And honestly, I feel like one of my reasons is for bragging rights. But who cares? I shouldn't be doing this for anyone other than myself.

Saturday was a difficult day my friends. Well, the weather turned out in my favor... cool (about 45 degrees at the start), sunny, BUT windy as hell (up to 60mph winds at Valencia Peak - the highest elevation point in the race... literally it was like being in a wind tunnel, doing everything you can not to fly off just to touch the hand painted sign that says I MADE IT now turn around). At 8:30 I went out with what looked to be about 75 or 100 others to go for a quick run in Montana De Oro state park, just northwest of San Luis Obispo right along the Pacific ocean. The race comprised of 2 X 15.5 miles loops with a cumulative elevation gain of 6400 ft.

Going into this, I'm thinking 'hey it's just a 31 mile training run'.... this time I have support, not like my usual weekend escapades in the Santa Monica Mtns, where I've been logging many 20+ miles weekend runs. I'm happy to find myself here, but know it's going to be tough, like my Bandera coach Robert Henyen told me 'this is not a feel good sport'. As Caitlin (with Dolly and Tosca in the car) sent me off I started to feel the nerves. 'Hell, I've done a 100K before and in Bandera nonetheless, I CAN run a 50K anywhere!'... What an ego, jeez.

I start at a gentle pace. Letting others pass, I pass, we pass each other.... then we all climb. I hit Valencia Peak for the first time (about 4.5 miles in) and let loose on the way down. Now if there is one thing I can say that enjoy it's fast, technical downhill trail. I enjoy it thoroughly. The nastier, the more twisted, the better. I scoot down and it's near mile 7. I stop at the first (and only aid station) to get some water eat some fresh orange slices and quickly after, I pull out and I'm back on the trail. Then the trail turns to sand. I think, 'oh fuck, they expect us to run on this' and I jump up the ridge of the trail and bushwhack my own route through the weeds instead. At some moment I make it to a 3-way unmarked turn. This my friends is the moment I should have turned around, but instead in the heat of the race I looked at the next person over and followed them, only to burn about 15 minutes on a 1.5 detour.

Ok, back on track. The second half of the first loop climbs you up to another ridge line with amazing views. But the wind was so harsh I kept on bracing myself, and having to put my jacket / gloves back on due to the cool chills. Once atop the first ridge you get a prospective of where you are headed.... very far away from where you started. Along the crest of the trail, from top to top, then back into the canyon where you have a nice, flat, yet boring 2.5 mile fire road run.

I get back to the aid station and grab some different socks in my drop bag. Sit down to change, get water, and eat some food. By this time, doubt sets in. Doubt or hesitance? Confusion or just exhaustion? I've run for 3.5 hours, endured the sickest winds and I'm feeling tapped out. Well, I have too much pride, so I get back on my feet and say 'see you in a few miles' to the aid station volunteers as I hear back up to Valencia peak. Now I'm getting pathetic. I'm saying to myself, you might as well just run the peak then quit, that way you're at least already getting in a 20+ mile run.

I make it to the peak. But this time I almost can't get down due to the hard gusts of wind pushing me upward. I have to nearly sit and wobble down, but I make a few big steps pushing my body unnaturally forward and I make it off the highest part. As I twist around the corner, I pick up speed. About that same time I see a woman and her son hiking to the top, and take note as I rush to pass by them going down. Then BAM! I slip going AS FAST AS I CAN down hill along the edge of a VERY SCARY ridge. My left foot hugs the edge, then it gives way. My right foot struggles to get a grip against the trail, but by this time I've already hit the ground and rolled.... OVER THE EDGE. I do one more roll and grab hold to the shrubs that touch the edge. The woman and her son hurry close, she gets down to the ground and offers me a leg to grab and pull myself up with. All I can think is how stupid this is, and right when I try to move I look at my right leg and I can't move it I have a HORRIBLE charlie horse. What the fuck is a charlie horse anyway??? Ugh. I grab another shrub, then another and help myself up. I get to my feet and whelp with a nice growl of pain from my leg, and all the razor looking scrapes I've received from my fall. A fellow runner comes by to let me know how graceful it looked as I tell him,
'hey did you see me fall off the cliff?'

I make it around a corner, and start to wince with pain from my leg. Now it's time to quit. DNF = DID NOT FINISH. Is that how it's going to be? Now I have to quit? Nope. I keep on. Making it to the aid station yet again for my last 8 mile trek. Now I'm a zombie, I've lost time by getting lost, had the worst running-related fall ever, and I'm on the verge of a mental breakdown. I push past this, and try to zone out. Not think about anything. Just listen. CCR, Tribe Called Quest, Guns and Roses... Whatever was on my ipod, I went to. I didn't care anymore. I had to run far enough away to give myself no choice but to run back. I make it ALL the way out and start my way back. I'm toast, but I've decided with about 4 miles to go that even if I have a steep climb, I'm running. I've been out for over 6.5 hours and run 30 miles. FUCK IT..... I can run another 4 miles.

I make it to the finish to yell 'THANK YOU GOD' and make a few more screams for myself, only to look at one shy volunteer and say 'hey that was pretty anticlimactic', and she smiled. And so did Caitlin, Dolly and Tosca. My crew, all there with smiles to bring me warm clothes, hot soup, and relief.

7:13:48, and I told Caitlin.... I'll be done in 6 hours FOR SURE.... 5.5 if I'm having a good day.

Now, I don't mean to be coy or abrupt, but these races can be hard. Hard on your feet and head. I'm going to take this week to rest both my body and mind. I need to rediscover my motivation. Maybe it's time to bench the Miwok 100K dream for a bit, and live my own life. What am I afraid of, judgement? Hell, half of you reading this would be glad to see me pick up another fun pass time, rather than continuing down this dark path. I guess once you get a taste, you want more, but to be smart you have to know your limits and be empowered to choose your own path, despite what your ego may want.


Hashi said...

Thanks for sharing. You're a stubborn bugger, aren't ya?

yusuke said...

The story was an interesting mix of masochism, humor, and triumph. I would have probably been one of those "DNF" people. Glad you lived to tell the experience.