Monday, December 19, 2011

Closing the Year - High Desert 50K

I was already up at 4AM race day trying to keep myself busy for the High Desert Ultra 50K in Ridgecrest. The temperature at Mojave Desert was extremely cold at 30 degrees but this was expected especially when it’s this close to winter. What concerns me more was the high wind that swept through the Southland a few days ago. I left home Saturday afternoon for this race and the severe weather alert was still up. This morning, however, the wind was relatively calm. I hope it stays this way for the rest of the day because the open desert is not the best place to be in the middle of a windstorm.

Typical course terrain (photo by Rowell Ramos)
Ridgecrest is about 3 hours drive from Los Angeles. It is not that far but far enough to drive for a race that the best option is to stay overnight. I was invited to this event by a co-worker. Joel did it last year but this will be my first. I did my research and found out that this race has been around for many years. Despite it’s out-of-nowhere location in the middle of the desert, runners from all over the country go here to compete each year.

One thing I like about out-of town races is the chance to travel and explore places I’ve never been to. Desert to me is the hot and desolate place we pass-by when going to Las Vegas during summer. Doing this race however has given me a new perspective and appreciation of the place. The unobstructed view of the desert valleys and barren mountains lined with seemingly endless trails were simply amazing. I will definitely go back to this place again.

We arrived at Ridgecrest Saturday evening and went directly to the local church for the pre-registration. Like any ultra event, this was low-key but what it lacks in flare, it makes up for the feeling of belongingness and a sense of community. I saw many familiar faces and met new ones as well. 

Richard, who has been consistently placing in a lot of local races in our area was there together with the course record holder, Roberto Leonardo. These two eventually will placed 1st and 2nd over-all. There was also Rowell, who opted to do the one-hour early start at 6AM so he can return home early. Ultra runners are generally friendly and down to earth people - one will never feel lost among their company. 

We carpool to this event and shared the cost of the hotel. With the few bucks I saved, I treated myself to a hooded sweatshirt and bought a few one-dollar worth of raffle tickets for the local charities. The carbo-load dinner also costs only $8.00.

50K Elevation Profile (grabbed from the event website)

At our table, we chatted with the race director of the Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run, John Bozung, who invited us to attend his race in Utah. This is something I might consider since I haven’t done any out-of-state ultra event. We stayed for a couple of hours before we head back to our hotel to close the day.

Race day. There's no denying to the popularity of this event. Close to about 300 runners for the 30K and 50K at the start line. The race also hosts to a number of highly recognized events such as the USATF So Cal 50K trail championships, so I expect this to be a pretty deep field.

I put on my arm warmers and gloves, the temp was still at low 30s. This will be my coldest race to date. I decided against wearing a shell or a light jacket because the race has no option for a drop-off bag.

Despite the absence of huge cheering crowds, the race took off with high spirit. Short to say, we were cheering each other since there were only a number of spectators around, mostly organizers. True, in ultra races, there are usually more runners than spectators (haha).

As we enter the trailhead, I saw Jack Chen who was alternating between running and walking. I decided to stick with him even for a brief while because he’s always friendly and chatty. I met him while spectating/running the last few miles of this year’s AC100 as they descend the Brown Mountain. He reminded me that pushing to gain a few minutes advance in the beginning could cost you huge time deficit later in the race. He took off ahead of me after a few miles, I tried to target his shirt but I lost sight of him eventually. His advice however became my mantra throughout the race.

The ground is mostly sandy but what makes it challenging were the series of small motorbike jumps along the course (no kidding!). The gaps are about three to four steps in distance. Joel warned me of this but I played too much with it enjoying the roll-down-propel-up motion that my left hip started to hurt later in the race.

We were chatting a lot I didn’t notice the distance we covered until we arrive at the first aid-station, Hub Cap at 5.5 mile. The sun was already up around this time. I rolled down my arm warmers, enjoyed the scenery and just bask in the glory of the sun. I could not imagine myself anywhere else.

I pick-up the pace as we go downhill for one mile and onto a gradual uphill until the next aid station at Haystack Turn. Ahead was the first of the three uphill. My plan was to average a pace of 14 min/mi uphill, basically run-walk, and speed-up going down hill.

The excitement began at the Saddle turn-off after about mile 11. I rolled down the hill and started to play catch-up with other runners. But I wasn't alone. There were about six of us who were pushing it and none wanted to give up position. When we finally reached the valley at the highway crossing, we all stopped at the aid station, made quick introduction, and thank each other for the group effort made.

Climbing up the second hill, I felt a slight discomfort on my left hip. Still, I paced myself evenly until the Wagon Wheel station at mile 17. It was when the course became relatively flat that my hip really started to hurt. This time around, it was a struggle to run the motorbike jumps so I decided to avoid it. If I had fun with it earlier, I now despised it. I walked a good portion of this course and stopped a lot to stretch. The pain eventually subsided as the course transitioned to a gradual uphill. I hardly even noticed it going to the last and highest peak of the course (3699 feet).

It was all downhill afterwards. I am usually more concentrated towards the end of a race. Sheer exhaustion sometimes bring out your basic instincts. You began to focus on what's important when there's little left on the tank.

With 6 more miles to go, I checked the time and I was right on target, maybe better. I was exhausted but I felt strong. I didn’t have a problem cranking up the speed again. I eventually slowed down at the sight of the college thinking I was close to the finish. The route however didn’t go straight but weaves around the college so it took me probably another half an hour to finish. I crossed the finish line at 5:32:21. See complete race result.

Overall, I was satisfied with my result. Although, I must admit I was a little bit anxious going into this race. Lately, the monotony of training had me a little bit drained, mentally and physically.

Doing this race however, I felt more relaxed. In fact, this probably was the most comfortable I've ever been in any race. No pressure to compete, no worry about the time. I simply just ran.

It dawn on me that I’ve done my part. This was my third 50K race this year, I trained throughout the summer heat, and I’ve been knocking some of my personal best lately. Best of all, I survived the year with no serious injuries that require long term recovery. With this in mind, although I still have a long way to go, I felt that I’ve finally measured up myself to this distance. Maybe it’s time to work on another challenge. A different trail route maybe, in a totally different place, or maybe a new distance. Hmmm… something to think about, my stinky feet are now excited for the prospect of next year.


Alejandro Mares said...

looks brutal. solid report

smeltedfeet said...

Thanks, Alex. I'm planning to pick-up a 50mi race this year. We'll see how it goes.