Sunday, April 13, 2008

Old Goat 50M Race Report - 2nd Billy Goat

... At a few miles down the Trabuco, the 50K and 50M racers finally parted company; the 50K course went right and the 50M course went left. Now, the dust has cleared, all you see are your competitors. Shortly after the split, the defining moment of this race happened for me. I was coming down a single track into a small ravine, getting ready for a creek crossing. The photographer (who I later learned was Doug Malewicki, Michelle Barton's dad) told me, "you are 4th overall." I replied, "no way, you are kidding me." However, he was serious. I could hardly believe it. ...

Picture taken by Doug Malewicki

The day started all wrong. Well, actually, even during the days prior to the race, I was just brain dead. I was very disorganized and just couldn't focus my mind on preparing for the race. This is very uncharacteristic of me, normally, I prepare meticulously and leave nothing to chance.

I packed my stuff the night before the race, I just kind of threw everything in a bag. When I awoke the next morning at 3:30 am and was going through my pre-race ritual, I suddenly remembered that I needed to bring duct tape and pen to mark my drop bag. I was looking for my duct tape and couldn't find it. I kept looking through my house and still couldn't find it. I was distressed and ended up leaving about 10 minutes later than I wanted to. I later found out, after I got back home and unpacked, that I had packed the duct tape in the bottom of my backpack the night before.

I got on the road for the 1 hour and 15 minutes drive to the race site and found out that the connector to Freeway 71 South from the 57 South was closed. Being already stressed, I though, "oh no, I'm gonna be late to the race." Having no other option, I continued down the 57, hoping to find an alternate route to the 71. Just then, the freeway traffic totally stopped. I was just sitting there in my car on the freeway, with the engine off, and really starting to have a bad feeling. Fortunately, the traffic started flowing again in about 5 minutes; it just happened that there was an early morning accident. Continuing, I took the 60 East from the 57 and was hoping it would connect to the 71; it did. I was back on track.

I drove quickly and got to the race site at about 5:30 am; the race was starting at 6:00 am. I took the first parking spot I could find. By then, the line of cars was already well formed and it was a nice long walk to the starting line. Normally, I'd get to the race site nice and early and be the first few cars; which is how I like it. I still needed to register and get my number, and then put on my number, fill my bottles, go to the restroom, and mark my drop bag. I normally would do most of that at the car. I proceeded to the registration tables, hoping to find some duct tape. At about half way there, I though that I better just bring the drop bag, pen, number belt and everything with me so I didn't have to walk back to the car. So, I turned around and went back to the car. I was scrambling and stressed, I grabbed what I needed and started for the registration tables again. After walking for a few minutes, I realized that I forgot my hat and to apply vaseline; this time I ran back to the car and got the hat and put on the vaseline. Then, I quickly made my way to the registration tables - finally.

Most of the 50 milers were already checked in when I got there. In fact, they were calling the names of those who haven't shown up. I checked in, and did find duct tape at the registration area. I made my pre-race preparations and put all the race goodies, a nice Old Goat tech T-shirt, a blue Old Goat hat, and an Old Goat coffee mug into my drop bag. I realized that I forgot one thing, my spare shoes. But I wasn't about to go back to the car.

I was wearing my New Balance 790 to start the race. Those shoes were the ultra light weight trail racers. I thought that they were a little too thin and flimsy for the long stretches of rocky trails and fireroads on this course. I have used them for 50k races, and my feet were just about at the limit of my pain threshold when I was done. I had planned to put my trusty Vasque Blurr in my drop bag at Bear Springs AS (mile 32.5/38) so I could change out the NB 790 if I needed to. The course would hit Bear Springs twice, once on the way up to the highest point on the course, and once on the way down. So, I had an option of when to put on the spare shoes. The light weight shoes would help the climb up to Santiago Peak if my feet were still okay.

The temperature was starting to soar even at 6:00 am. I wore arm warmers to the starting line, but they came off quickly and went into my drop bag. Now, I was in a full front zippered sleeveless jersey and shorts. The jersey zippers really came in handy later on in the race to help regulate my body core temperature. I later learned that the temperature would soar into the low 90's during the day.

I've never ran this course, and I didn't know any of the trails, place names, or landmarks in the surrounding area. I really didn't study the map, instead I just showed up and planned to follow the ribbons. I guess even having a detailed elevation profile and map doesn't fully tell the story of the trail. I have spent most of my life in the Southland, but haven't ever been in this part of So. Cal. This just goes to show how blessed we are to have so many trails to enjoy. In hind sight, it would have been better If I had done some trail runs in this area; as Baz holds the WTRS (Winter Trail Run Series) in this same region. I have heard good things about these runs.

The race organizers had decided to delay the start time for 15 minutes to allow for more day light on the first stretch of a downhill rocky trail many racers would try to squeeze through. I thought that was a good call; no complaints from me. We weren't really freezing or anything. However, instead of going back to the car, I just stayed at the starting line and tried to relax as I was all stressed out from the morning scramble. By the way, Baz and Doc (Steve) Harvey, the 50 Mile RD, are very friendly and personable; and Doc is really a class act as he was willing to go out of his way to help me after the race with getting my drop bag back.

The 50K and 50M runners started together, so it was kinda hard to know who your competitors are. I decided to just kept my pace and not worry about the other people. I really had no expectations of any time goals. Coming into the race, I was just intent on making it a good training run, and using it as a stepping stone to my big goal of the year, AC100. Plus, I was racing Leona Divide the following weekend, and I wanted to not get too wasted. This was to be the second race of a triple header. I had read on the Old Goats 50 website that the elevation change was about 12,500 ft. gain/loss. I really thought that 12,500 feet of gain/loss meant that gain and loss combined were 12,500; so that the gain was 6,250 and the loss was 6,250. I surmised that 6,250 ft. of climbing was no big deal for a 50 mile race.

The starter gave the signal and we were off. Right away, some fast people took off up the asphalt road leading to the trail head. I didn't take the bait and just kept to a comfortable pace. My legs felt good immediately, I though, "may be my day will turn out okay after all." I guess I had fully recovered from the intense efforts of the Chesebro 1/2 marathon last weekend. I didn't need any warm up at all. I had not taken any rest days during the week; in fact, I ran twice a day. But Friday night I ran only 3 miles and kept it very easy. Counting the race mileage, I would end up with a 100 mile week.

I didn't know if the people in front of me were 50K or 50M; I didn't really care. I just kept to a conservative pace. It almost felt like last year's AC100 pace. Soon after we entered the trails and got down into the canyon, I caught a whole string of people about 20 deep. We were on a single track and I had to squeeze through. Everyone was very cordial and friendly as the passing went on. Trail runners are great people. As the trails were narrow and technical, I didn't bother to look for numbers to find out if people I passed were 50K or 50M. As we got out of the canyon and approached the Candy Store (10 miles), the sun was already out and shinning and getting very much warmer.

The first part of the course went from Blue Jay to the Candy Store and back. The way out was a fast rolling descent and the climbs begin on the way back. We would climb back up to Blue Jay (20 miles) and continue the climb up Main Divide Rd. The trail going out terminates as a circular loop, with the Candy Store at the mid point of the loop. So, as I went past the Candy Store AS, it felt like we were continuing and hadn't turned back. This confused me because I had not studied the map. We continued on the loop and when we reached the point where we got back on the out-and-back portion, I got very much directionally challenged. I though we were still heading out when in fact we were heading back in. Fortunately, I was running with someone and he knew where to go. To show just how lost I was; at one point, when we were seeing runners heading the other direction, I thought that they were ahead of us and coming back. But, in fact, they were slower runners still heading out to the Candy Store.

I started power walking early on with the climbs coming back to Blue Jay. I thought, "man, that's a lot of climbing." The guy I was running with took off and I let him go. A couple other people passed me, I wasn't sure if they were 50k or 50M. I let them go as well and just kept a conservative pace. I was taken a little off-guard by the amount of climbing going back to Blue Jay. The temperature had soared and I definitely felt the heat; so, I zipped down my jersey for air-conditioning. The jersey would remain zipped down for the rest of the race.

Mentally, I broke the race up into three parts. The first part was going out to the Candy Store and back to Blue Jay; this was the warm up. The second part was an uphill race to Santiago Peak. And the third part was a mostly downhill survival run back to Blue Jay.

Once we got back to Blue Jay (20 miles), the course went right down the asphalt road where our cars were parked. I stopped at the car and made it an aid station. I could of changed shoes then, and I though about doing so. But, with so much more climbing left, I really wanted the lighter weight shoes. So, I decided to bite the bullet and go with the NB 790 for the duration of the race. I still felt very fresh. I thought to myself, "now, the race begins."

After leaving Blue Jay, the course went up Main Divide Rd., and it just kept going up. I thought, "there can't be that much climbing;" it was then, at that point, I realized that 12,500 ft gain/loss meant 12,500 up and 12,500 down. But, undaunted, nothing was going to stop me. Feeling good and strong at the time, I said, "bring it on." One of the keys of successfully running these ultras is to be able to adjust your mental attitude as problems and/or surprises come up.

There were six of us leaving Blue Jay at about the same time. So we were strung out on the climb, I was in third position. I power walked and slowly reeled in the second guy and passed him, he was a 50 miler. I could not catch the guy in front; since I didn't know he was 50K or 50M, I didn't really care. At the top of the climb, the Trabuco Trail AS (22.6 miles), my watch read 3:55. Not too bad, I thought, given that I've walked a lot of the climbs.

The Trabuco Trail headed down into Holy Jim, which is a nice 5 mile descent on a combination of single tracks and fireroads. I welcomed the descent as we've been climbing for quite a while. At a few miles down the Trabuco, the 50K and 50M racers finally parted company; the 50K course went right and the 50M course went left. Now, the dust has cleared, all you see are your competitors. Shortly after the split, the defining moment of this race happened for me. I was coming down a single track into a small ravine, getting ready for a creek crossing. The photographer (who I later learned was Doug Malewicki, Michelle Barton's dad) told me, "you are 4th overall." I replied, "no way, you are kidding me." However, he was serious. I could hardly believe it.

On the one hand, I still didn't really believe that I was in 4th; but on the other hand, I kept playing the scenario in my head. I knew that Akos Konya must be ahead, unless something happened to him, which was unlikely. Also, I knew that Michelle would be ahead (later, I learned that she switched to the 50k due to injury). I didn't know Keira Henninger was even in the race (until I saw her later coming off Santiago Peak). Suffice it to say that I knew some runners with high credentials were in the race. How could I be in fourth, that means I'm at least 3rd male and 1st or 2nd in my age group. On and on it went, I kept re-playing the scenario. At times, I was overjoyed; but, at times, I was thinking that it must be a mistake. For, it was too good to be true.

I kept up the pace going downhill, making up much slow progress on the climbs. By the time I reached Holy Jim (27.5 miles), I immediately asked the Aid Station captain nicely, without really looking around first, "how many people are ahead of me?" I was expecting the worst answer, as I still had doubts that I was fourth. He said, "you are fourth." And then said, "and you are third," but pointing to the guy standing next to me at the water cooler. He was the guy that was in front of me on the Main Divide Road climb. I later learned that his name was Jonas Hansen. I was surprised that I had caught the third place guy, as he looked pretty far ahead of me on that climb.

Jonas, upon seeing me, immediately took off. I then took off after him. However, I could not match his pace going uphill. The climb out of Holy Jim up to Bear Springs Aid was another brutal ascent. This long and sun-exposed ascent would continue past Bear Springs and go all the way up to Santiago Peak, about a 3,800 ft. continuous climb. At the Holy Jim Aid, I had run out of NUNN tablets. Due to my disorganization and lack of focus prior to the race; I had not checked my supply and found out on race morning that I hadn't enough to last through the race. So, since the stores do not open that early, I took what NUNN I had left and also brought along some table salt and put them in a small vial for ease of carrying and dispensing. Since I had not practiced dispensing salt into my water bottle, on my first attempt, I put too much salt into it. This made my water taste like salty soup. When I took a sip, I got more thirsty because of the saltiness. Yikes, that's not good, especially on this climb. The trail crossed the stream several times before heading out of Holy Jim and the climb started in earnest. I decided to dip my water bottle into the stream to dilute the water. This was risky, because I didn't know if the water was safe for drinking or not. But, I had not much choice. At least the water looked clean and I picked a spot with flowing water. I reasoned, if I get sick from giardia, the symptoms won't manifest itself until a few days later; but at least I will be okay for the duration of the race. Even with the diluted water bottle, I still was fighting slight dehydration and lack of energy due to heat exhaustion while climbing out of Holy Jim. I had cut short my aid station time because of Jonas, and had not hydrated enough before I took on the climb. I now regret it. I probably would have saved more time if I took an extra minute to drink a few cups of gatorade or water.

I finally reached Bear Springs (32.5 miles), I asked about Jonas. Bill Ramsey was manning the AS, he was very nice to me and knew my name. Thank you very much, Bill; you are awesome. I guess the ham radio operators were keeping track of the front runners. I was totally not used to that, I even asked Bill, "how do you know my name?" I just wasn't used to that kind of treatment. Bill told me that Jonas was about two to three minutes ahead. I took some time at Bear Springs to re-hydrate and downed some Mt. Dew which really hit the spot. I figure, now, that Jonas was well ahead.

Feeling much better and having my energy returned, I power walked up to Santiago. On the way up, just before the tent and truck, I saw Keira coming down. So, now I know the lone women ahead was not Michelle, but Keira. Keira looked fast going down. I never saw Akos. Some hikers I passed said I was a mile down the road from Jonas. Keeping my quick walking pace, I saw Jonas running back down a little ways before the turnaround sign. He didn't look like he was going that fast. I knew I had closed in some of the time gap. I went straight up to the turnaround sign and touched it and turned around and started the downhill race. Mentally, I shifted gear and now I was in a chase mode.

Coming down, I saw Andy Kumeda and a few others. Andy had made up some ground and passed a few of the people I passed earlier. I was careful about my steps and was picking my way around the rocks, as the rocky trail was starting to take its toll on my feet with thin soled trail racing flats. I kept going as fast as I was comfortable; however, I definitely could have gone faster if I had on my Vasque Blurrs. I hit the single track leading back down to Bear Springs with some vengeance. I knew the fifth place guy was well behind and didn't really worry about him catching me. As long as I kept my pace, I was okay. Near the bottom of the trail, right before the set of switch backs going back down to Bear Springs (38 miles), I caught Jonas. He politely let me go by and pulled in to the AS just behind me. I had made up a mile in about three miles of racing. When I caught Jonas, I was all pumped up, I remembered saying to myself, "now, I have my sights set on Keira." But, that was not to be, she was way too far ahead of me.

This was the second time I caught Jonas, and both time on the downhill. So, I knew I had an advantage on the downhill. He would pull away from me on the uphill, but the question is if he could pull away enough to stay away on the final 3 miles down to Blue Jay. The game was on. From this point on, it was all about strategy and calculated risks. On the remaining 9 miles of rolling terrain and a final uphill, I purposely saved all my energy for the last three miles. My risks were if I let Jonas get too much of a lead, I would not have enough space at the end to catch him.

I was feeling very good, no cramps of any kind, no signs of dehydration, my feet were holding up, and had no aches and pains. My hydration and nutrition was working perfectly. I used my own Ultraholic Power Mix, a combination of carbohydrate and protein powders and ground almonds, as my main nutrition for the whole race. I've really got my hydration and nutrition nailed in the last few races. On those 9 miles when I tried to saved energy; occasionally, I glanced back to see if anyone was coming. But, I didn't see anyone; I knew I had a good lead. I was comfortable, I even pulled over for a pit stop at the side of the road.

At the Trabuco AS (47 miles), after a quick final stop, I turned on the after burners. I got into a great rhythm and soon saw a runner way ahead. I though it was Jonas; excited, I got even faster. As I approached from behind, It turned out that he was a slower 50K guy trying to finish. Undaunted, I kept going and passed a few more 50K finishers. I got on to the asphalt road leading into the Blue Jay campground and still did not see Jonas. I thought that I would not catch him. I was willing to settle for fourth overall and third men. That still would have been the best I have ever done in a race. I slowed down a little, and even took a few steps walking. At that moment, something (I think it was the Holy Spirit) inside me said to keep going and give it all I have. So, I resumed my charge to the finish. I came to what looked like a turn into a trail, and I was about to take the trail when out of the corner of my eye I saw Jonas ahead on the asphalt road. I was not sure I saw the turn correctly, so I took off down the asphalt road in full pursuit of Jonas. I caught Jonas and ended up with him together in someone's campsite. He looked pretty spent. It was evident that we had gone off course.

Thoughts of panic flooded my mind. I thought, "oh no, what if someone sneaks in while we were on our untimely detour." That would have been very unfortunate and erased all my hard work. I quickly sprinted back on the asphalt road and rejoined the trail that I saw previously. I was running as fast as I could, Jonas had nothing left to keep up with me. It felt really good to have such a kick at the end of a 50 mile race. I sprinted across the line and asked how I did. Someone said, "you are second men." Relieved, I was overjoyed. I guess a good story doesn't end without some drama. Finishing only behind Akos and Keira is not too shabby. Since It was my first medal, I get to brag at least once. :)

Picture taken by Anne Harvey

Lessons learned: Don't assume that other competitors know what they are doing. Pack drop bags the night before. Learn the course as much as possible.

My legs still felt good even after I crossed the line, I guess I could have gone faster and pushed harder. Good lesson learned. I liked the challenging course very much, thanks to Doc for designing it. Something funny happened after the Awards Ceremony. I was just hanging around waiting for my drop bag to show up; suddenly, people whom I have never meet before were asking me training questions. It was weird.

This was my first medal, I still can't believe it.

15 comments:

Elijah said...

Ted - that is just awesome. You obviously got the good athletic Liao genes. I'll see you at Leona with a T-shirt that says, "I'm not related to the guy that finished 3rd at the OG 50m."

Ted said...

Elijah - That's so funny. The guy at the OG registration table also asked if I was related to you. Happy trails!

The Old Goat said...

Okay - how often do you run into two guys named Liao let alone two California Ultra-runners? Now, if you had been named Smith or Jones you could rightly assume that the 'guy at the registration table' was a complete idiot.... which I am of course, but not because I thought two Liaos might be related.

Ted, if you post the latest picture I sent, the photographers name is Claudette Poole

Ted said...

Thanks for the pictures, Doc.

Yeah, Liao is not really a common name. I think i've known two Liaos', including Elijah, in my whole life who is not related to me.

Of course, you would assume that we are related.

Dan said...

Great job Ted. Your race report has inspired me to ramp up my running. Wishing you continued success.

Ted said...

Dan, buddy! Let's get together for some nice, long, and steep training runs. :)

Jimmy Dean Freeman said...

Ted!
Outstanding job and congratulations! I didn't have that kind of FIGHT in me towards the end, and the funny thing is I was battling for 3rd/4th/5th overall in the 50k. Your hard work, in spite of some night-before and morning-of challenges, paid off.

I look forward to seeing your SUCCESS at Leona, and toeing the starting line with you either at AC100 or sooner.

Kudos, my man!

Jimmy Dean

Ted said...

Jimmy Dean - Good to hear from you. Yeah, I saw you at Old Goat, but didn't know if you remember me from AC last year or not. Anyway, I'm sure I'll see you at the races.

Jeffrey said...

Hey Ted. Great race log and summary! Thanks for capturing all the drama and triumph of your race, and congrats on the strong showing! As a non-runner, it's inspiring to see the focus and discipline that you've obviously developed in order to compete like this.

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