Last October I decided to run the Ohlone Wilderness Trail 50K. Leading up to that decision was a few years of hiking in the East Bay hills, a newfound enjoyment in running, and daily trips to Zombie Runner where I learned about the race.
After 6 months of training covering 435 miles and climbing more than 80,000 feet, the race is now in the bag.
It wasn't all so easy though. In February I got over-exuberant with my training and ended up with a knee injury that took me off the trails for two weeks. The guys at Score Clinic got me back out there though. Armed with a better plan, and a healthy respect for caring for my muscles and joints I got back in the training groove again. Building up from 12 mile runs to a 28 mile run didn't end up being as difficult as it seemed when first laying out the plan. Taking deliberate, small increases in the training runs is the key, as is daily foam-rolling and stretching and building knowledge of what my body needs nutrition- and hydration-wise when "out there" for hours at a time.
After my last long training run I was feeling great. A couple weeks after that run, I was well in the taper portion of the plan, and my legs felt super energized. They were like springs coiled up, ready to explode. I let that feeling get the best of me by going for an overly intense 10 miler on Mission Peak and Mt. Allison where I set several personal bests -- but afterward I started to get some knee pain again.
My plan called for a 16 mile heat training run two days later -- a week before the race -- which turned into a hot mess. I developed blisters on my feet from the new, different, racier shoes than what I had trained in and significant knee pain running on slight downhill grades. After 20 weeks of training, I had totally screwed it up in the final week!
A visit to Dr. Tomo at Score on Monday had my knee feeling pretty good. I did a 6mi checkout run the day before the race, and the knee pain returned in a fairly severe way. Back to Score for an emergency visit with Dr. Brandon, who hooked me up with a light ART release, a chiropractic adjustment to my spine and ankles, and some rock tape to support the over-tight aductor muscles that were causing the pain. His sendoff of "well, good luck!" made me think tomorrow's race would be a crap shoot.
I was hemming and hawing to Arti the night before about how I thought the race would be a disaster. She told me not to worry about it -- athletes run with pain all the time. This kind of pain wasn't something that would be a long term injury, so she said just run with it Sunday and deal with it Monday. Well, OK!
She and Naomi dropped me off at the Mission Peak trailhead at 7:15a on Sunday. Arti gave me another encouraging pep talk in the parking lot, then I was off to pick up my number bib and wait for the 8:00a start.
Most runners will drive to the race finish at Lake Del Valle early in the morning and hop on one of a few busses booked by the race organizers to transport them to Mission Peak. The busses arrived at around 7:30, and the lot really started filling up with crazy runners. I hadn't ever seen so many people in one place who look like they could kick a mountain's ass -- it was great!
At the start of the race, most people took off running.
Zombie Don had been pounding the race strategy into my head for months -- walk up the Peak, nice and easy down to Sunol. I felt like I was dead last on the initial climb, but I knew this was how I was going to be able to finish the race.
I ended up passing a few people on the steep slopes of Mission Peak, but for the most part the race was way out in front of me. Despite feeling like I was going tortoise-slow up the Peak, it ended up being my 2nd fastest time ever on the extra-mile O50K route to the top (1h12m @ 4.1mi). The energy of the race is a real factor.
We went over the top of the peak (2500ft), then down the relatively gentle descent to Sunol. I took it really easy on this part, since this was where my knee was giving me trouble the prior weekend.
It felt a bit tight, but never very painful. I stuck with a slow pace and short strides and it stayed just fine. At about mile 8 I realized that the race was totally possible. A euphoric feeling swept through me, and I let out a few yelps in celebration.
There were aid stations every 4-5 miles, which was great. In my practice runs I'd go 9-15 miles between refilling my water, so being able to carry less water and chat with the helpful and friendly folks at the aid stations was nice. They also had a great selection of potatoes, pb&j sandwiches, candy, gels, etc. I had brought all my food for the most part, but I did grab a few potatoes and pb&j along the way.
With the long race and all of the aid stations to keep track of, this mile-by-mile printout was handy to stay on top of my nutrition, water, and salt/electrolytes. I ended up eating all the food, but only taking 4 salt capsules. I think the heat training from the prior weekend helped out there. Acclimation to heat doesn't reduce the quantity of sweat, but it does decrease the amount of salt in a person's sweat -- salt that needs to be replenished. I had my 60oz hydration bladder, and filled it up at every aid station.
At Sunol (mile 9, 400ft), things were all warmed up, and it was time for the long climb to Rose Peak. All the way up, I'd pass and get passed by pretty much the same people. Overall we were evenly matched on pace, but some people are faster on the downhill sections, and some faster on uphill. My strength is in the climbs, so I'd usually catch people on the steep uphills. Everyone around was very friendly -- much more camaraderie than competition.
The course goes up and over Rose Peak, then loops around on itself. There were a couple of people at the peak handing out bracelets that showed that we didn't cut the loop. Everything was still feeling great at the top of Rose Peak (mile 19, 3800ft) and now I really knew that I'd be able to finish the race.
From mile 20 to 27 I ran and chatted with another first-timer Steve. We had a lot to talk about and a similar pace so it worked out. He had run in several races before, but nothing this long. We ran through the Tahoe-like sections a few miles after Rose Peak, with the heat, red dust, and smell of pine trees. The terrain changed to a lush poison oak forest, with steep shaded single track slopes. There was then a pretty good uphill climb at Stewart's Camp / Murietta Falls, a big descent, then another steep uphill at William's Gulch. Steve and I kept each others' spirits up in this tough, hot, steep section.
At Rocky Ridge (mile 27, 2400ft), I stopped to stretch, and Steve continued. He had been feeling some pain in his knee, but it ended up not stopping him. Here were the first views of Lake Del Valle (750ft), so now I had more of a sense of how much was left.
I ran the last steep downhill starting at around mile 29, then started to hear the sounds of the finish line. This was really really encouraging. A couple of people walking up the hill pointed at the next crest, and told me "that's the last hill, from there it's just a half mile easy downhill". Oh yes! I can do this!!!
The sound of the finish line got louder and louder. The pain in my feet and legs totally disappeared. I really wanted to get to that finish line! I kicked up my pace, knowing that I didn't need to conserve any more. As I dropped out of the trees, I saw Arti and the girls get up and run along the finish chute. The girls were holding up a sign they had made that said "GO DADA GO". I was in full sprint, wearing a huge smile, tears welling up, and the finish line dead ahead.
I crossed the line after 8h15m, 31 miles, and 8500ft of climbing.
Larry England the race director was there congratulating each finisher. It's clear he loves this race.
Arti brought a blanket, flip-flops, some warm raviolis, and other snacks with her and the girls. We spent the next 45 minutes relaxing on the soft grass and warm sun, cheering on the rest of the people who were finishing the race.
I've never invested this much time and energy into anything before in my life. It's been a great lesson in planning, learning, and understanding what a person is capable of. I'm not sure what will come next, but I'm certainly not finished running.
Results have been posted! 119th place!
Bursting with gratitude for...
Arti -- So encouraging, so patient, so practical, and so accommodating of my nutty training regimin. Her zeal for fitness and personal betterment has been contagious.
Don (and Gillian and Zac) at Zombie Runner -- Thanks for all the advice, encouragement, and for selling only the good stuff in your store. From shoes, to running food, to clothes, and the Cool Off bandana (my unfair advantage!). All the good stuff -- not to mention my daily Zombie Chai. I know I wouldn't have signed up for the race, or even considered getting into running back in August, if you didn't exist.
Tomo and Brandon at Score Clinic in San Jose -- Experts in fixing broken athletes. Thanks for getting me back on my feet -- twice!
Peter, Franck, Beat, Joey, and Steve -- Runners I've known or met out on the trails. The camaraderie of this sport is such a nice bonus on top of all of its other good attributes. Thanks guys for the teaching and encouragement.
Race Organizers (Larry, Rajeev, Helmut) and Aid Station Volunteers -- Thanks for giving up your free time to help make sure it was a great race. It wouldn't happen without you!