Date : June 10, 2006
Location : Mt. Diablo State Park, Walnut Creek
Race : Mt. Diablo Summer 50K
Finish Time : 10:40
Ah! What an aptly named mountain it is!
Climbs that go on and on, never ending;
Runners, twice its summit trying to kiss,
Heat induced exhaustion all day fending.
Ah! What an imposing mountain it is!
Taller than all the others around it;
It’s a beast: nearly everyone agrees.
A hike up its sides only for the fit.
Ah! What views on this mountain every mile!
The crowded valley spread out at its feet;
Runners reluctantly forced to stare while
The race devil they struggle to defeat.
A glorious day! A brutal course! The mind,
The body, pain so closely intertwined.
Just the thought of climbing this beast twice is enough to make one want to throw up one’s arms in surrender. The trick to doing hard runs on courses that loop more than once over the same route is to take it one section at a time. At 3849 feet Mt. Diablo is the highest mountain in the Bay area.
Anil and I had decided to start early partly because Anil wanted the extra time in order to start his drive, in the evening, down to Santa Barbara. So we started off at 8 am on the dot, 30 minutes earlier than the others. The first loop was up the Back Creek Trail. This is the first climb in the chart above. It gets to ~ 2400 feet before dipping slightly. Was this section narrow and slippery! Loose rocks made for treacherous footing in places.
I had flown in from New Zealand the evening before and had hit the sack around 10 pm with the alarm set to wake me up at 5:15 am. Anil had promised to pick me up at 6:30. I woke up at 2 pm. I tried to sleep but to no avail. Finally I got out of bed, showered and went out at 4:15 am looking for an open grocery store for bread and peanut butter. My pantry at home was empty of any kind of food. What grocery store? They were all closed. I settled for Carrows, right next to my apartment. I ate a hearty omelet with toast and coffee and was back home by 5:10 am. Woke up Anil to tell him that I would pick him up from his place instead of the other way round.
We set off from his place at 6:40 am and were in the Mitchell Canyon entrance parking (Walnut Creek) lot by 7:30 am. Enough time for us to pick up our race numbers and get everything ready to start at 8 am. As usual I was busy socializing and made friends with a girl named Sarah Dillingham. Introduced myself to her friend, a person named Nancy Warren, whose Rio Del Lago 100 mile race report I remembered reading a few months ago.
My breathing was a bit awry to start with and the body was probably hovering somewhere over the Pacific, between New Zealand and the US. It took a few hours for it to realize that I was in the middle of a race. :)
I knew that this particular section would cause me trouble the second time up and I was right. Anyway, I had my trusted Nikon Coolpix 3200 and stopped often to take pictures of the breathtaking views along the course. I was drinking often from the hand bottle (Gatorade to begin with, Conquest later). We reached the top of the climb (around 2400 feet) right after negotiating wooden steps laid down on a few switchbacks on the trail.
The fire road soon starting sloping down and went thus for just under a mile. It started up again soon after Deer Flat (at 2120 feet). Anil had become separated from me about a third of the way up the first climb. He probably had not recovered from the Nisene Marks marathon the weekend before and was taking it slow. I kept looking back for him but could not spot him. I was also expecting the first of the fast runners to be coming through right about then. I was not disappointed. The eventual winner of the 25K was the first one to pass me. He was followed by the first 2 for the 50K (Garrett Graubins and Rod Bien). I took pictures of all these frontrunners.
My body had finally caught up with me and I was actually running some of the hills. The day was getting warmer with every passing minute and the views were getting even more beautiful. I soon spotted Anil about 0.2 miles behind me. I walked back down the hill towards him and realized that he had been chatting with Dean Karnazes.
He and I talked with Dean for another minute before he took off up the hill.
The Juniper Campground aid station was not far off and we happily traipsed into it. I for one was glad to see it show up. I wanted to top up my bottle with Conquest and wanted the first taste of aid station goodies for the day. I was soon wolfing down PBJ sandwich quarters, potatoes with salt, potato chips and anything else I could lay my hands on.
We soon headed out of the aid station and onto the ridge for just over a mile. After that it was climb, climb and climb to the summit. We finally crested at 10:28 am (2:28 for 8 miles). Picture of Anil in the Observation Deck below.
We did not linger long and started the journey back down. We were soon at the Juniper Campground aid station. We were in and out of the aid station in no time at all, on our way back down the trail.
I soon heard footsteps behind me and instinctively knew that it would be Sarah. She said she loved running downhill and it showed in the way she took off bounding down the slope after talking with us for a minute or so. We followed her down Mitchell Canyon. This is where my first serious pain of the day surfaced. Both my big toes started hitting the front of the shoe on the steep descent into the Canyon. After gritting my teeth and hanging on for dear life, I was relieved to see the slope level off to become a mile and a half of flat running all the way to the Start/Finish. We returned at 12:30 p.m. i.e. 4.5 hours for the first 25K.
I was eagerly looking forward to a bottle of Ensure which I promptly dispatched along with some PBJ quarters and the usual ultra delicacies. I probably spent 5-7 minutes here, refueling and readjusting my gaiters.
For the second loop we had a choice of going up either the Back Creek trail (the one we had done in the start of the race) or Mitchell Canyon with the stipulation that we had to come down the other way. Wendell Doman, the Race Director, convinced us to repeat our trip of the morning. In hindsight that was wonderful advice. I could not imagine descending the steeper Back Creek Canyon with fried toes.
This leg was, as I had predicted 4.5 hours earlier, extremely tough. Not so much on the body as on the mind. I was ahead of Anil again, constantly calling out to him and asking after his well-being. Tough nut that he is, he would stop, bent over or just resting but he refused to give up. I was so inspired by his courage that I decided not to give up on my race either. Once that decision had been made, I felt fine and the mind took over, dragging the body with it. Quads and legs that had felt fatigued now were revitalized (research by Dr. Timothy Noakes, of The Lore Of Running fame, and his research partner has shown that there is a “central governor” in the brain that influences the body and how it feels. If the governor feels daunted, the body will feel fatigued etc.) I had first hand proof of this theory in action.
Anil and I made it to the top of the first climb and then started downhill again without waiting to recover. This is where we ran into the first of our many problems. By now it was close to 2 pm and it was hotter than Hades. We were constantly drinking and were now down to the last few gulps each and another 1.5-1.7 miles to go before the aid station. We “rationed” those sips and somehow made it to the aid station. I was parched and Anil was in worse shape. The cold water we each drank 2 cups of was the sweetest liquid ever. I had the volunteers fill my bottle with water instead of Conquest and added a Succeed (salt) capsule to it. That was pretty much what I drank for the rest of the day.
The second trip along the ridge and up to the summit was very slow going for both of us.
We struggled and struggled and made it to the top at about 4:15 pm. It had taken us 3:45 this time around (compare that to 2:30 the first time). Anil doused his head with cold water from a water fountain there as did I.
Michael (picture above), a volunteer from the JC aid station, gave Anil an energy bar to eat and that seemed to help Anil a bit. I filled his bottle with cold water along with mine and we finally started our trek back to the JC aid station, 2.5 miles away.
The picture below shows a view from the summit.
We finally reached it and spent 6-7 minutes there refueling. I took pictures of the 3 volunteers - Steve, Deanna and Michael.
I was dreading the descent down Mitchell Canyon. I did not mind the toe pain as much as the pain in other muscles I knew I would experience from an altered foot strike. Sure enough the insides of my knees and the ITB in both legs started complaining. The right hamstring muscles joined in the cacophony! I gutted it out behind Anil who was setting a fine pace down the mountain. We finally reached the flat section where Anil and I started on a 10 step run and 20 step walk sequence all the way to within sight of the finish.
We were finally glad to collapse on a picnic table in the Finish area at 6:40 pm, a full 10:40 after we had started.
The race took a lot of determination. I realized that the 100 mile Rio Del Lago run in September would be a million times harder and that I would need to take my mental toughness to another level entirely if I was to finish it.
More pictures of this run at