Saturday, May 10th I did my first 50 mile run - the Quicksilver 50 Mile Endurance Run in south San Jose, California. I grew up in the area and spent a lot of time hiking with friends, catching snakes, and later, in high school, doing things our parents just wouldn't want to hear about. ;-) So when my brother told me a friend of his had signed up for it, and he was thinking about it and wanted to know if I would run it too, I said sure, let's do it. Unfortunately, due to injury, both of them couldn't do the run.
I trained pretty well for this run, logging quite a few training runs in the high 20 to low 30 mile range, along with a couple 50k races in the previous two months as well - the final one two weeks before the big day. My taper week went well too, logging just two fairly short distance runs with the last one an "easy" tempo run the Wednesday before the race. I was feeling prepared, and excited to push myself running a new distance. I had set 3 goals for myself: 1. finish; 2. finish in under 11 hours for a Western States qualifier; and 3. my "stretch" goal - finish in under 10 hours. I was pretty confident of meeting the first two goals; as for the third - well, that's why it's a stretch goal. I figured if I ran a smart run, and things went well, I had a chance of meeting the under 10 hour goal.
The race started at 6am, which meant my wife, Lori, and I had to leave the house by 4:15am in order to get there with enough time to for me to check in, get my number and have some time to all the little things necessary to get myself ready to run (for longer than I have ever run at one time). That meant waking up around 3:30am. Uggg! I'm not one to go to bed early, but with that kind of wake up time, I knew it was either that, or a really crappy night of (non) sleep. Funny, though, I awoke just a bit before my alarm went off, so getting out of bed was no problem. Coffee was already made (whoever first put an alarm mechanism on a coffee maker should be hailed as one of the greatest human beings of all time), and I jumped in the shower for a quick rinse to help with the waking process. I wolfed down my typical pre-race breakfast of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, raisins and a banana, and put the dog out back (poor girl had to endure a whole day - darkness to darkness - all alone). We were out the door in time and on our way.
Arriving at the Mockingbird Entrance to Quicksilver County Park at a little after 5am, the parking lot was busy and almost full. We parked and went to the check in area. The air was cool, but not cold and people were dressed in a wide variety of layers from shorts and singlets to full fleece coverage complete with stocking caps and gloves.
While in line I heard a familiar voice go by in the dark and Carol Cuminale - a member of the track club I belong to (Santa Cruz Track Club) - walked by. I said hi, introduced her to Lori, and we chatted for a couple minutes. Carol has been doing ultras for a while, and she does a lot of them. The weekend before she ran the Miwok 100k, sustaining a bit of a knee injury when she fell around mile 5. She was signed up for the 50 mile race, but changed that morning to the 50k. She had also signed up for the Ohlone 50k the weekend after. Talk about tough! Her picture should be next to the word in the Oxford Dictionary, if you were to ask my opinion (and even if you weren't to ask, it should still be there). We wished each other well, and went our ways. I got my bib and we returned to the car.
There was still about 40 minutes to start time, and as it was just a bit chilly, we climbed back in the car and got the heater going. I continued to fiddle with my gear, pinned my bib to my shorts, drank more water, and went to the bathroom a couple more times (a good sign I was hydrated well at least for the beginning of the race!). I also just stared out the window a bit, imagining my day, picturing the scenery I would run by and how I would feel. I wasn't nervous, just excited about this new venture. I wanted it to begin. I wanted to be running.
I got out once again to hit the bathroom (I typically go a LOT in the mornings anyway, and fortunately this morning was no exception, at least until the race started). After getting back to the car, I did a stretching routine making sure to hit all the major spots that have ever given me grief, then stretching them again. It was about time, so I grabbed my gear, and Lori and I walked to the start area where everyone was
gathering. It was about to begin.
All the runners crowded onto the dirt fire road behind the start line, and after a few words, and a minute to wait until the "official" start time, the go signal was given and we were off. I was on the road beginning my first 50 mile run! I was happy, and had a big grin on my face. I was also trying my best to not get caught up in the early adrenalin rush which often causes me to start fast (said as though I'm the only one that happens too - yeah right). The first couple miles are generally uphill, though not too steep. I did walk a couple sections, but ran most of it. The first turn came around 3 miles in, at a point only a couple tenths of a mile from the starting area, which allowed some friends, family and supporters to make a short walk to cheer us on. Passing by, I made an offhand comment asking "What place am I in" which drew some good laughs, as I certainly was in no way close to the front.
We turned onto single track, which we would be on for about 6 miles. The early morning light was beautiful, and the hillsides still had a fair amount of green grass, and plenty of wildflowers. Sunlight streamed through oak trees in places to create a warm, soft light that was magical. We wound our way along, and I passed the first aid station at about an hour in. After the single track, we turned onto fire road, which we would be on for almost the entire rest of the run (only one other short section of single track remained, run twice, in the final 19 mile stretch).
The next 10 or so miles had a fair amount of uphill to it. Passing through another aid station, I paused briefly to grab a little food. I had already been drinking some Cytomax energy drink that had been working well for me in training, and of which I had brought two bottles with me. I had also eaten a GU. I really wanted to make sure I was eating and drinking well, and had even started in on electrolyte supplements. On the way out of the aid station, I struck up a conversation with another runner, and he and I ran together for some time. He had run quite a few ultras, including a number of 100's, and was regaling me with an aid-station-by-aid-station description of the Western States 100 course. It was entertaining, but he was also running a little faster than I wanted to, so after he finished his description, I took the opportunity to "relieve" myself in two important ways, if you get the drift.
I finished the long uphill, and while on the way down I "ran" into a guy who had been kind enough to run part of a training run on the course a month earlier with one of the other guys who was supposed to be running that day (but had hurt his back) and myself, giving us valuable course info and guiding. His name was Mike, and we ran together for a while, all the way down, around some old Quicksilver mines (a site I was well familiar with as friends and I had spent a lot of time in that particular area as kids hunting for snakes and lizards, and drinking beer later in high school), and then back up the hill. Again, I could tell that Mike could run faster than I, so I told him I needed to walk at one point and he should go ahead. Mike went ahead, and I walked for a few minutes before picking up the pace to a run.
After my third trip through the Dam Overlook aid station, I felt a twinge in my right calf. Uh oh, I thought. I know what that is, and immediately popped a couple electrolyte pills, and drank some water. Cramps are not fun, and I was hoping I could head them off at the pass, but apparently, cramps had a plan of their own - one well thought out and executed.
The course at that point was heading up a long uphill section, after which a fairly good downhill section then a "nice" section of ups and downs into the finish of the 50k section of the race. The last two miles are really quite brutal, with some short but really steep ascents followed by equally steep descents. On fresh legs they are difficult; on tired legs they are many other things. I saw a number of people with cuts and scrapes on their legs, arms, hands, and a few on their heads from falls on these downhills. I made sure to be careful, and didn't push the pace through there. Partly because I had been getting some good cramps in both calves, but mostly my right one. In fact, coming into the 50k finish area aid station, my calves were really cramping up, so I decided to take a few minutes to take care of myself.
Coming into the aid station I saw a photographer on the side of the trail, and as I passed I noticed him taking quite a few pictures of me. Cool, I thought, I should have at least one decent pic of me at the race! A moment later, I noticed him running after me and just off my right shoulder. That, I thought, was pretty odd - I had never had a photographer run after me to take another photo. What the hell was this?!? As I looked over, I then realized why...it was my brother (guess I get a little tunnel vision when I run, apparently)! I laughed, said hi, and explained my initial confusion and failure to say hi to him, which gave him a good laugh too.
I got to the aid station in about 5:15 or so, which was a bit faster than I thought I would be able to do, but besides the cramping calves, I felt fairly good. At the aid station, my wife Lori, my parents, and my brother all helped me out. It was obvious I was having some issues with my legs, and Lori started to massage them a bit. My parents and brother got me some food and filled my water bladder with ice and water. We chatted a bit as I took some time to recharge and let my calves settle. I ended up taking about a 20 minute rest. Heading back out for the final 19 miles, my dad walked a bit with me and gave me some wonderful encouragement - telling me how proud he and my mom were of me and how impressed they were of what I was doing. Great things to hear at that point and I was glad to have them all there, it really helped my spirits.
I was now getting to new running territory. Heading out for the final 19 we followed the same initial route as the start then veered off to follow a part of the course we had run nearing the end of the 50k, which was mostly uphill for a number of miles. I had to walk some sections I had run earlier, and it seemed my calves were on a 20 or so minute schedule of cramping. I would pop a couple electrolyte pills and drink some water, and in a minute or so I could resume running or power walking. This continued through the rest of the race.
At one point I came across another runner who was in obvious pain and distress, which I immediately recognized as cramping. I asked if he had any electrolytes, and he said no. I quickly pulled out my supply (I brought way more than I would need, just in case) and got him a couple and told him to keep up with some fluid. He was doing the 50k, and wasn't too far from the finish, so I think he was able to make it in ok.
At the next aid station I pulled in to refill my water bladder. There was a runner there who was off to the side really puking his guts out. He looked pretty bad, and the aid station volunteers were talking amongst themselves saying this guy shouldn't be allowed to go on. One of them pulled him aside after he emptied him stomach, saying he should seriously consider dropping. The guy said he had never DNF'ed, and wasn't about to today. He left just before I finished my stuff, and I passed him on the trail and offered encouragement.
The next aid station came quickly, and I passed right through and headed into the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve section of the course to the turnaround. As I was running on this section, I kept expecting to hit the turnaround after rounding every corner. It seemed as though it would never come! I kept an eye on my watch, and with each passing minute I felt my chances of a sub-10 hour finish slipping by, thinking that there would be no way I could retrace the path back to the finish area in the time I had remaining.
Finally, thankfully, I got to the turnaround. I took a few minutes to grab some food and drink some water, and get some ice in my water bladder for the trip back out of Sierra Azul. While there, one of the volunteers happened to mention that there was a net elevation loss of about 1000 feet back to the finish. It had taken me about 2:20 to get out to the turnaround, and I had about 2 hours left to make a sub 10 hour finish. I just found my motivation. I told my cramps that I had a new weapon against them - motivation to finish in sub 10, to which they replied "Bring it on, buddy!"
I hit the trail, and picked up my pace considerably. It felt good to stretch my stride out, at times. At others it was really tough, but manageable. When the cramps would hit, I would have to slow down or walk, get some electrolytes and water, and pick it back up as soon as possible. I also started to just take electrolytes every 15 minutes, and that helped keep them in check a lot better. I even managed to pass a couple people in this section!
I stopped at the next aid station to refill my water and grab a little food. A few people I had earlier passed now passed me as they didn't stop. I headed back out, and pushed through the next section to the last aid station. I struggled a few times, having to walk a couple sections that I really wanted to run, but with full sun exposure heating me up, I didn't want to risk really overheating myself at that point.
Coming up to the final aid station I started to veer to the right, thinking we were heading back the same way we came out and not sure I could finish this last section in the time I had left in order to get in under 10 hours. Part of me was already letting go of that goal, and I was alright with it. This was my first 50 miler and finishing was a big accomplishment. And, I was pretty certain that, barring any major mishap, I would come in under 11 hours which would give me a qualifying time to apply for Western States in 2009! I was happy with that, certainly.
Just as I was starting to head to the right, a volunteer noticed and redirected me and another runner to the trail to the left of the aid station. She informed us both that the way to the finish was on the left trail, and the finish line was only 2.5 miles away! I couldn't believe it. At no other time have I been happier of my lack of course knowledge. Looking at my watch I quickly realized that I could crawl from there and pretty much finish in under 10 hours! Needless to say, I was quite elated, excited, ecstatic...not only would I finish in under 10 hours, I would finish in substantially less than 10 hours. I picked up the pace a bit.
Another runner and I were playing a bit of yo-yo the last few miles, and I had just passed her. We still had the dreaded, fun Ups and downs that we had coming in at the 50k finish to go. Heading up one of the steep sections, she passed me and I had to comment to her about how strong she was going up these hills. She said she just wanted to get into the finish and get it over with. We ended up chatting for the rest of the way in, keeping each other company and helping to keep our minds off the steep ups, downs, and pain in our legs. As we hit the final flat section coming in to the finish, she kept looking at her watch then said "If we push it, we can finish in under 9:15," to which I replied "Lead the way!"
As we neared the finish corral, my parents were waiting about 200 yards out and when they saw me coming, my dad literally sprinted out in front to alert Lori and my brother. I think they were all a bit surprised at me coming in at that point, not expecting me for a little while longer.
My new friend and I ran through the chute, and I finished a pace behind her not wanting to finish before someone who had helped me push through that last section and really had pulled me in to the finish with a great time. We high-fived and congratulated each other, and then my family came up, congratulated me and were very excited. Carol Cuminale came over too, and she was just great, saying she was really impressed with how well I did, and that she thought I looked good coming in. I was really happy, and proud of what I had been able to accomplish. And my calves had their last parting shot, too, cramping just 15 yards from the finish line and continuing for a couple minutes until I had a chance to settle in to a chair and get myself taken care of.
We hung around for a while, talking with some other people, cheering other runners as they came in, and I just soaked it all in and let the day sink in. I had just run the furthest distance I had ever done, and exceeded all my goals! I had some struggles, some ups and downs, but had persevered and accomplished something I had trained quite some time for, and had looked forward to for some time as well. After a half hour or so, I even got hungry and got some of the famous Quicksilver BBQ. They don't lie when they say it's good BBQ. I didn't have any ice cream or strawberry shortcake, as we had plans at my parents house for an early mother's day celebration, but it looked good.
And remember the guy I mentioned who was puking and looking pretty bad, and the aid station volunteers were encouraging to drop? Well, he finished, and looked pretty good, too. I went over to offer him my congratulations on persevering and finishing. The guy is tough, no doubt about that.
The next couple days I was sore, as would be expected, particularly my right calf which was cramping the worst of the two. My quads weren't too bad, and by the Tuesday after my legs were feeling pretty good, with only minor soreness in my right calf. I went to my track club workout Wednesday evening, as I didn't want to miss my chance to share my race results with the club. And I did my first recovery run, too. I managed to run a nice easy 4.5 miles around the track, including a half mile barefoot (I started running some barefoot a month ago to help strengthen my feet).
I'm back to running a fairly normal schedule this week, and feel great. There is no doubt I still have things to work out in training - I need to hydrate better on long runs, and I also need to do a better job of managing my electrolyte balance. The cramping calves really sucked big time, and had I not had that problem I most likely would have finished in under 9 hours. Something to shoot for next time, I guess. I think I could have also done a better job eating, though I never felt like I was bonking.
But all that aside, I am very, very happy with my first 50 mile race and the results. I am also looking forward to the next one, and the next one...and eventually, a 100k and 100 mile run. I really love running long distances, the challenges, the struggles, and what you can learn about yourself and what you can share with other people.
Thanks to the Quicksilver Running Club for putting on a great event in a beautiful place. Thanks to all the great volunteers who took time out of their lives to help all the runners - you are what makes these events happen and no runner could do it without your generosity. Thanks to my wife Lori, who was my crew chief and helped me get ready, helped me get through the 50k aid station, and helped me for the next couple days as I recovered. I KNOW I couldn't have done it without her and owe her a lot. And thanks to my brother and parents who came out to support me and help out - your assistance and encouragement meant a lot and lifted my spirits immeasurably.