Sunday, May 04, 2008

Wild Wild West 50K Race Report

The occasional but persistent wind was rustling the tent as I slept lightly through the night. I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag as I tried to get some good sleep, but could not. I had gone to bed just before dusk, at around 8:00 pm, in anticipation of a 3:30 am wake up time. The race was to kick off about a mile away from my campsite at 6:00 am, and I wanted to have plenty of time to make coffee, eat, and get over to the starting line. This was going to become one of my more memorable races...

I made the trip alone and drove the 4 hours from my house to Lone Pine, CA, on Friday afternoon for the Saturday morning race. Lone Pine is famous for being the gateway to Mt. Whitney, the highest point of the continental United States. And, if you are a movie buff, you will recognize the Alabama Hills, in which many Western movies were shot. One of the roads on the course was called, you guess it, "Movie Road." If you frequent Mammoth Lakes, CA, from So. Cal. you will also recognize Lone Pine as a way point along Hwy 395.

The Wild Wild West Marathon is the third oldest trail marathon in the United States; in recent years, they added the 50k, which shares almost the entire Marathon course plus an extra loop. The very non-technical course was from point to point, starting at the Tuttle Creek Campground and ending in Lone Pine Park, just at the North end of town. The net elevation loss was a boon to those who like to run downhill; the climbs, which happened mostly in the beginning 7-8 miles, were gradual and entirely runnable. Some parts of the course were covered with soft sand and made the going a little tougher; but, I didn't think it was too bad. The 5+ mile run down Hogback Road, which was all downhill on a perfectly groomed dirt road, was a nice reprieve after the climbs. My favorite part of the course was the section through the Alabama Hills. Those oblong rock formations were extremely interesting and I would have loved to spend an entire day there to explore the area; it was definitely an outdoor photographer's paradise.

I got into Lone Pine just before 5:00 pm and picked up my race bib and goodie bag and proceeded up to the campsite. I erected my tent and unpacked the car and went for a walk to look for the starting line. The wind was starting to really pick up; I heard the people in town say that it had been very windy during the week. I found out that the starting line was about a mile away from my campsite; so, I decided to drive to the starting line in the morning because I didn't want to walk that far in the cold morning air. Plus, it was nice to have a car near the start to sit in to stay warm until just before the horn went off.

I woke up as scheduled, made my coffee, and went through my pre-race routine. My camping stove didn't work for some reason; luckily, I had a spare, or else I would not have been able to have coffee. I broke camp and packed up the car in the dark and drove over to the starting line at about 5:15 am. When I got there, no one was directing parking or anything; so, I sat in the car until some race staff showed up at 5:30 am. When I finally stepped out of the car, the temperature had risen considerably; so, I knew that it would get hot very quickly. There was no wind, the temperature was about 48 degrees and would warm up into the high 70's. There was not a cloud in the sky, we were about to enjoy a gorgeous day in the mountains with blue skies and snow capped Mt. Whitney in the back ground. I had on a sleeveless full zippered jersey, shorts, lots of SPF 45, and my trail racing flats. The sun-exposed course would offer absolutely no shade from the UV radiation.

At the starting area, where we congregated, there was not much fanfare. No banners, no tents, no mats, and not even a line was drawn in the dirt. I guess, after putting on the race for so many year, they figured out how to get it the simplest they can. I think they had a hand held blast horn and that's it. Some racer dragged his feet across the sandy dirt and made a line. I didn't see many of the So. Cal. ultra regulars. I guess this was more of the first time ultra crowd; I talked to many of them and most seemed to be doing their first 50k after completing a marathon.

The horn sounded and off goes a group of charging runners. The 10 mile, 15 mile, marathon, and 50k races all started together. I figure the front runners were probably the 10 milers and didn't care to chase them down. I kept to a steady pace and remembered to keep drinking and took care not to eat too much at the beginning. I think I'm beginning to learn how to pace and have more consistent race results. One thing good about this race is that the aid stations were about 2-3 miles apart; however, I still carried a hand bottle and skipped aid stations to save time. The climb from the starting line was on a consistent gradual grade with loose sand in many spots. We had a mile of downhill at about mile 2 for a bit of a break and kept climbing until mile 8 to the highest point of the course. My pace would vary according to the steepness of the grade; but I tried to kept my energy exertion at the same level. I kept from putting out bursts of acceleration, as that's a waste of energy.

I caught up to a 50k runner at about 6 miles into the climb. I found out later that his name was Ray. Ray and I would end up 5th and 6th overall and we would pass each other back and forth all the way to the finish. The 10 milers and 15 milers had split off at about mile 8 and now we were pretty much alone. I think I saw very few runners, except for Ray, until the last few miles or so when the slower marathoners were finishing up. Ray is faster than me on the downhill, but I was faster on the uphill. I was first to reach the top and started the descent down Hogback, Ray then passed me at about two miles into the downhill. Later I passed him on Moffat Road, a section of 5 miles or so of rolling uphill. We ended up right together at mile 20, where the 50k course split from the marathon.

Ray was behind me as we came up the initial climbs

Ray and I ran together until mile 24, when we caught up to another 50ker, (Doug, as I later found out). Doug, Ray, and I were running together in a close pack; and it turned out that we were 1st place, 2nd place, and 3rd place in our age group. There we were, battling it out at mile 24 with about 10k to go; this was the most competitive race I've yet to have. Ray skipped an aid station and surged ahead of Doug. I got right behind Doug but was never able to pass him. I was beginning to tire and trailed Ray and Doug about a 100 feet. I kept them close until we rejoined the marathon course at about mile 27, at which point they disappeared behind the rolling hills. It was hard to keep chasing when you don't see the "rabbit." I never saw them again until the finish line. It turned out that Doug passed Ray back, and Ray only finished about 30 seconds in front of me. The last few miles of rolling downhill into Lone Pine was very hard as I was fighting fatigue, but mentally I was strong and kept pushing as hard as I could have.

I was very content with the race I had; as I ran almost the whole way, with very little walking. It was a good consistent effort, and a great training day as I'm trying to dial in my pacing skills. I have to say something about the course markers. They seemed to get more scarce as the course went on; I got off course three times! I'm normally pretty good at following ribbons, but they used yellow ribbons which didn't stand out much among a sea of yellow wild flowers. Why did they use yellow, go figure; you would think they'd have this figured out after so many years. Anyway, my GPS read 31.93 miles at the finish; I definitely ran some extra mileage. But I'm still happy, as I ended up 6th overall, 3rd in my AG, and PR'd by over 20 minutes with a course time of 5:04:46.

As I finished early, I took the shuttle back to get my car at the starting line, washed up, and then went back to Lone Pine for the award ceremony. I saw Gary Hilliard, Gabor, and Steve and Annie Harvey. Gary did the 10 miler, Gabor, Annie and Steve did the 50k. It was good to see some people I knew.

Until the next adventure, happy trails!

UPDATE: It has been almost a week since the race and the results haven't been posted. It don't know what's holding it up. Most other races I do posts their results one or two days after, or at the most three days. So, if you plan to do this race in the future, figure that you are gonna have to wait to see the full results.


Charlie Nickell said...

Great Re-Cap Ted and congratulations on a strong finish. See you at the PCT50.

Ted said...

thanks charlie,

i read your blog all the time. i enjoy it very much.

Carmela said...

Phenomenal race performance!! You get better all the time and the best is yet to come.....I truly enjoy reading your race reports. Keep 'em coming. Good luck at PCT this weekend. Recover well.


Elijah said...

Dude, you are a beast! Another great recap and performance. See you on Saturday!

Ted said...

Elijah, waiting to hear your Miwok report! You guys rocked.

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