Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Javelina Jundred 2010

Date: October 23, 2010
Where: McDowell State Park (near Fountain Hills), Arizona
What: Javelina Jundred 100M race
Time: 29:11

This race was almost a repeat of the previous year. Loops 5 was slow. Loop 6 was slow for the first half and, almost to the second, around 6:55 a.m. I picked up the pace and flew to the end of the loop.

The only difference from last year was Loop 7. I ran pretty much all of it last year. This year I walked all but the last mile.

Last year I had, kind of, fought the course in my mind. After the race I had mixed emotions about the race. This year I fell in love with both the course and the race as a whole. I will go back there every year if I can. That's how much I like the race now. :-)

All I am going to do is post pictures of my race. No race report other than the fact that I had a blast running this superbly organized race. Thanks to the Coury brothers, Dave Combs and all the volunteers who spent hours and hours supporting us. Thanks also to Rick Gaston who was there to pace a friend. Congratulations to my friend Bradley Fenner who ran 19 hours and change for his 6th place finish. What a stud! Scott Verwolf is another one I want to mention - he is my latest running friend!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS to you all!

(San Jose airport; waiting for the flight to arrive)

(Early morning hug from Ling-ru Chu)

(Beautiful desert sunrise)

(With Rick Gaston. He is a wonderful person)

(Scott Verwolf)

(With beautiful Sandy Baker)


(Replenishing muscle glycogen right after the finish! :-)) )

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

South Downs Way 100M

Date: September 11, 2010
Where: Eastbourne, United Kingdom
What: South Downs Way 100M race
Time: Got lost before the 56M checkpoint and missed the cutoff

Tossing and turning in a jet-lagged bed,
Sound of far waves crashing onto the beach;
Thoughts already in a race in my head;
Hours ticking by, sleep still out of reach.
Then we are off into the constant rain
And the rolling hills above Beachy Head.
Legs awake that week long dormant had lain;
Of missing tight cutoffs a constant dread.
On the high ridge eyes taking in the views,
Sending them to the Soul of this Being.
Blessed! Want not to be in another's shoes.
Bliss it is to be with Life communing!
Alas! All good things must come to an end.
This one came early - feet took a wrong bend.

Getting closer and closer to this race there was just one worry I had especially after going through the pictures that Jen Jackson, the Race Director, had posted on the race Web site - getting lost. Some parts of the trail hardly looked like a trail i.e. it was barely discernable. My plan was to see if I could keep pace with Javed or Keith and try and hang with them.

I landed in London on Thursday, September 9 and checked into the Best Western Victoria Palace, a hotel that was less than half a mile from Victoria Station. After taking a shower I walked to Piccadilly Circus and from there to Woodlands, an Indian restaurants. The food was awesome. After picking up some water from a Tesco I took the Tube to near my hotel and walked the half mile back.

The next morning I woke up, ate breakfast and hit the road to the Victoria Station and the train to Eastbourne. I had booked myself into the Best Western York House hotel. It was a mile or more away from the station. I lugged my luggage to the hotel, left it there (the room was not ready) and went out to eat lunch. Lunch was in an Italian restaurant. It was OK. After lunch I decided to walk off the meal and went up the hill to the start of the South Downs Way trail. It was a very steep trail leading up the hill and beyond.

I made my way back to the hotel and checked in. After an hour or so I went to a Chinese accupuncture place for a really nice massage. The relaxed feeling persisted all evening. I came back to the hotel and laid out my race stuff for the next morning. While doing so I realized that I must have forgotten my lube spray back in the US (I had not - I found the spray many days later when in Barcelona). I set out again to look for Vaseline. I finally found a couple of small containers in a store. It really came in handy during the race and after in Barcelona.

Saturday, September 11
I checked out of the hotel around 8:45 a.m. and walked to the race start which was on the Bandstand along the waterfront. It looked like it would rain but the rain held off while I was pulling my bag behind me.

I soon found the SDW starting area. Javed Bhatti was there as was Keith Godden. I recorded their interview on my portable video recorder. I took a few pictures of the start area.

(L to R: Javed Bhatti, who finished in 29:45, and Keith Godden before the Start)

(In the race Start area)

At 9:45 a.m. we were given a race briefing. The heavens finally opened up. I made the wise choice of putting on my Dick Collins rain shell. That truly, like in the GUCR back in May, was a good choice. I had my camera out when the race started.

(The Start)

I was one of the last people running towards the SDW trail since I was too busy taking pictures.

The trail started at a pretty steep angle. It soon levelled off and then changed to rolling up and down. It must have been a couple of miles later, probably going over Beachy Head, that the SDW trail REALLY changed into long and steep rollers that went down for ever and up for equally long. This lasted for almost 5 miles before we got to a long, long downhill. This downhill eventually led to a small climb and then to a road crossing which was around the 8 or 9 mile point in the race. I had caught up with Keith Godden somewhere after the long descent and we crossed the road together.

It was here that I decided to readjust my backpack. I stopped for almost 5 minutes and then continued alone. Keith had continued on. I was alone once again and had a great time running on a small downhill trail. I soon spotted Keith up ahead along with 2 other women we would end up playing tag with on and off for the next 40 miles.

Keith had come up with an ingenious way to carry the plastic, foldable map of the SOuth Downs Way trail - he had put it into a shoulder loop (picture below) of his hydration pack.

Around 10 miles we came into a little village. Javed had told us about a pub close to the SDW and I decided to go in to have my water bottles topped up. I also downed a beer (carbs!) in the process.

We started up SDW once again. It was a bit of a climb to the ridge. The views were gorgeous! The race was, like the Coyote Two Moon 100M, on a ridge (the SDW) and the Aid Stations were off ridge i.e. a descent to get to one and then an ascent out of it. Keith and I were constantly fighting cutoffs! The first AS, at 19 miles, had a cutoff of 3 p.m. or 5 hours into the race. We made it out of there at 2:22 p.m. or 4:22 into the race.

(Checkpoint #1)

It had been raining all day and the rain started up once again once we were out of the AS. We were getting used to the rain, the wind and the occasional fog banks on the ridge which mysteriously disappeared at lower elevations!

I felt so much gratitude that Life had given me this opportunity to run in a beautiful part of the world (actually every part of our planet is gorgeous!) .

So onwards we trudged, Keith and I. The next cutoff was 8.5 hours at 34 miles in Pyecombe i.e. by 6:30 p.m. We had 4 hours and 8 minutes to cover that distance. We did fill up our bottles midway through that stretch and (I can't remember all that much bout the course today) made it there and were out 8h and 12 minutes into the race i.e. at 6:12 p.m. An 18 minute buffer to help us in the next section.

I remember walking out of that AS, crossing a road and walking a flat section past a farm before which we started a long uphill section designed to get us back on the ridge. It was starting to cool down now so I got into my jacket again. Keith and I looked back and we spotted the 2 ladies we had been playing tag with all race long. Before long they caught up with us and the fours of us ran pretty much together along the ridge to the next section where we had to get off the ridge. It was at the bottom of a long hill, after crossing a "busy" road, that I asked Keith if I could make a quick foray into the bushes to answer Mother Nature's call. That probably took me 5 minutes or so and we were soon on our way.

We made it into the next checkpoint, in the Washington Car Park (49 miles), 12 hours and 6 minutes into the race (10:06 p.m.). They had some pretty good soup there and I helped myself to a couple of cups of it.

We left around 10:15 p.m., crossed a busy road and were on the other side along the SDW. We soon saw a sign that told us that we had 6 miles to go and about 100 minutes to cover them in. Since the section was supposed to be flat and runnable were looking forward to making the 56 mile cutoff before 12 midnight. The cutoffs after the 56 mile checkpoint (The Bridge Inn in Amberley) were a bit more lenient. The initial section climbed a tiny bit before becoming flat. Very soon a couple of runners, who said that they had been sitting for a long time in the 49M AS, passed us going at a pretty good clip. Soon after that we came upon a person who was waiting by the side of the trail for his runner to come through.

It must have been after we passed this person that we veered off to the left instead of staying on the SDW which went off to the right. We kept looking at the watch expecting the checkpoint to soon swim into view. It must have been around 10 minutes or so to midnight when we neared what seemed to be homes. Very soon we were on a road. We went to the right and came to a sort of junction. We chose to go straight and started running hoping that we were close to The Bridge Inn. We must have run for 10 minutes when Keith remarked that something was off. We tried to look at the map and orient ourselves. A car filled with people came up. We asked them if they knew if we were in Amberley. They were unfamiliar with the area and their car GPS showed nothing. I took out my iPhone to check its GPS and it showed us to be somewhere near Arundel.

By now it was 12:15 a.m. We knew we were lost. We ran back the way we had come and then up another road for at least 5 minutes. This too lead nowhere. I even knocked on a couple of doors and one of them looked at me incredulously while informing me that Amberley was 3 miles away as the crow flies. I knew we were done!

We were finally able to determine that the little village we were in was called Burpham. Keith called Jen Jackson, the Race DIrector, who eventually showed up with Dick Kearn to pick up up about 40 minutes later. We made it to the race hotel (Mercure) in Winchester a few hours later where I promptly lay down and went to sleep for a few hours in the conference room that had been emptied for the race.

I woke up around after 8:00 a.m. and cleaned myself up a bit before going into the breakfast room for some much needed food. I had reserved a room in the Mercure for after the race and the front desk let me have the key around 10:00 a.m. I was happy to lug my bag upstairs, take a much needed shower and get into clean clothes. I lugged my bag downstairs again to the front of the hotel.

I was expecting Javed to show up around 3 p.m. After walking around Winchester for a bit I found myself in a Thai restaurant. The food was simply superb! I strolled back to the Mercure and it was not long before Javed and Stephen Thomson finished together around 3:45 p.m. It was fantastic to see them.

(Javed and Stephen yards from the Finish)

(Talking to Javed and Stephen after their finish)

I have a lot of respect for Javed's abilities and mental strength and I had no doubt that he would finish in under 30 hours. Congratulations to him, Stephen and all the others who reached Winchester.

Was I disappointed? I looked deep down inside me and realized that I had fought hard in this race from the very first step. Running close to cutoffs does not leave much room for any errors and it was an error that put paid to my dream of reaching Winchester. I could have been more careful about the signs but it's not like Keith and I had not been so before. We just missed one sign and that made all the difference.

Keith is a wonderful companion to run with. Calm, strong and very motivated. I thoroughly enjoyed his company for the 49 miles I ran with him. Hopefully we will bot be lucky enough to get into next year's GUCR.

A big vote of thanks to Jen Jackson and her band of volunteers. Special thanks to Dick Kearn. You people totally rock. You made me feel so very welcome. I love running in the UK and will try and squeeze in at least one race there every year if I can.

Race Web site (Results, etc.) http://www.southdownswayrace.org

Monday, May 31, 2010

Running Far in the GUCR

Race: Grand Union Canal 145M Race
Date: May 29, 2010
Location: Birmingham to London, United Kingdom
Time: 43:22

There they waited at the Start in Gas Street,
Some eager, some filled with trepidation.
Would it end in Nike's grace or defeat,
This race from
Birmingham to far London?
The Gods of Rain came first to the party
And from a few soles their resolve they stole.
Few more yielded around mile seventy,
Unprepared to pay this long race's toll.
Forty odd rode out the storm and the night
And strode to the Finish like Colossi.
Better equipped they had been for this fight
And had too this thought as their main ally:
Look within you for courage and you'll find
It's limitless, much though it may be mined.

Wed, May 26 & Thu, May 27
Anu, Anju and I flew from SFO to London the evening of Wednesday, May 26. We landed in Heathrow at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 27. We took the Heathrow to Paddington express and quickly checked into our hotel rooms before heading out for lunch. We had planned to walk to Paddington later in the evening to pick up Indu, who was landing at 6:30 p.m. from India, and take her to the hotel. Indu arrived on schedule too and we headed to an Indian restaurant for dinner. The food was passable.

Fri, May 28
Indu and I headed to Hertz to pick up the rental car I had reserved. We were given a brand new Audi. It had less than 10 miles on it! I decided to drive the major part of the way to Birmingham and it was astonishing how my brain instantly switched everything over to the left side. How amazing the brain is! The four of us ate lunch in the same Italian restaurant where Anu, Anju and I had eaten lunch the day before. We then piled into the car and headed up M4 to Birmingham. The plan was to get to the Red Lion Inn by 5 p.m. to pick up my bib# etc.

We reached a bit early and got to meet Christian Hottas and his friend Christine Schroeder both of whom were running the race. I also met a few people who had started the Thames Ring 250M race in June, 2009. Pat Robbins, the eventual winner of this year's GUCR in 26 hours and change, was one of them.

Dick Kearn, the RD, eventually showed up along with the volunteers. I picked up my bib#, paid the race fee and also picked up T-shirts I had ordered for Anju, Anu and Indu. These were crew T-shirts.

It was off to the hotel after that for some much needed sleep. On the way there the girls picked up some Indian food to go.

Sleep was hard to come by. Not because I was nervous about the race (in all honesty I was not even a little bit nervous) but because I was worried about the 3 women and whether they would be able to find the meeting points we had decided on in advance. Dick Kearn had sent out UK Postcodes for possible crew meeting points and I had taken a lot of those codes and created a document with Google map screenshots. Even though the car had a GPS unit I was still worried.

Sat, May 29
I finally fell asleep at 2:30 a.m. only to wake up at 4:00 a.m. in order to get ready for the race. My breakfast was chocolate milk and a croissant.

(Taping my feet in the hotel room on race morning)

I spent the good part of 30 minutes taping up my big and little toes in addition to the heel and the ball of each foot. One more trip to the toilet and I was ready to roll.

Around my waist I had the rain shell I had been given at the end of the 2009 Dick Collins 50M and it proved to be the most wonderful piece of clothing for the first 7 hours or so.

(Just before the Start)

Anu and Anju accompanied me to the Start. I reached there around 5:30 a.m. Gas Street was a hive of activity with runners and their crew members all working feverishly to get the runners ready. I met a few friends, from the Thames Ring race, including the Thames Ring winner, Jon Kinder, who went on to finish second 27 hours later.

(Pre-Start interview. Keith Godden and Jon Kinder in leading roles!)

Dick said a few words and we were off!

Miles 0-31
The canal on the right separated us from the tall buildings of downtown Birmingham. I must have been over hydrated for I stopped to pee at least 4-5 times in the first hour. About 6:20 a.m. the drizzle began and turned to rain off and on for the next 9 hours or so. That's exactly what the weather forecast had said would happen.

Around 6:35 a.m. the phone rang. It was Arun Simha asking for an update! I told him I was doing great!! :-)) The buildings started to get sparser as we headed out of the city center and into the countryside. A church here, tropical looking trees there all made for almost idyllic vistas that did not change much during the rest of the race.

(The early miles along the canal)

My backpack had 3 small cartons of chocolate milk. I had lugged the milk all the way from the US. Since the girls were meeting me for the first time around mile 31, I intended to spread those 3 cartons across those miles. The heavens had opened up even more by the time I got to the first Feed Station (as they call Aid Stations in the UK - how cute!). I had my chocolate milk, had them top up the bottle that had Pocari in it along with the water bottle and I was out of there in a flash. As far as the Feed Stations went in the first 70 miles, I was in and out within a minute or two. I did not linger long and managed to socialize even in those few minutes, something I am wont to do and like to do in races.

Keith Godden and I played leapfrog for most of the first 30 miles. He had sent me an e-mail last year, in November or so, with the offer to mail me a copy of the Trail Running Association's newsletter that had coverage of last year's Thames Ring 250M race. The article had a picture of me running into the mile 82 Checkpoint (CP# 3). I eventually received the copy in December and was grateful to him for his kindness and I was looking forward to meeting him. It was indeed wonderful connecting with him and running those 30 odd miles "together". I took a few pictures of him and he reciprocated by taking some of me.

(Keith Godden)


We actually ran up and through Shrewley Tunnel together and then for a bit beyond. I had to stop to pee so he kept going.

I then found myself running with a few other runners on and off. I remember talking to one runner who had run the London to Brighton 56 mile race. Another runner had started the GUCR the year before but stopped at mile 70 because he had gone out too fast. This was only the second time he was attempting a race longer than a Half marathon! Amazing!!

The second Feed station came and went by again. I refilled my Pocari bottle with more Pocari powder and left the aid station soon. I wanted to meet up with the girls as soon as I could.

(One of the users of the canal)

I ran a lot, a lot, of those first 30 miles. In fact, I ran a huge portion of the first 70 miles. I would hazard a guess and say it must have been around 60 miles.

The bridge under which I was to meet up with the ladies came soon enough and I was very happy to see their cheerful faces.

(Coming into the 31 mile meeting point)

I quickly replenished my supply of chocolate milk and gels and headed out as soon as I could. The ladies were looking to go and check on the phone I had purchased the day before for use in the UK.

Miles 31-70
I continued to run for many long miles before walking 5-6 minutes every hour. I wanted to get to mile 70 as soon as I could. One of the places I had been looking forward to revisiting was the Braunston Tunnel. This is where I had spent 20-30 long, really long, minutes looking for the path to the other end in last year's Thames Ring 250M race. This time around the path was crystal clear in my mind. It was wonderful to exorcise my Thames Ring ghosts.

I was with 3 other runners when we went over the tunnel. On the other side 2 of them stopped to get some food from one of their crew members who rode up on a bike. I continued on and the phone rang. It was Anju asking me where I was. I knew I was within a mile or so of the 48.5 miles bridge. This is exactly where they were! I soon came to the bridge and was very happy to see the 3 beautiful ladies.

(Coming to the 48.5 mile meeting point)

(Mile 48.5 meeting point)

I asked them to meet me again, for the last time until mile 70.5, in the very next meeting location which also happened to be a race Feed Station. This was in Weedon a.k.a the Heart of England.

I met up with them again in Weedon.

(Coming into the 53.1 mile Feed Station - Weedon, Heart of England)

(The 53.1 mile Feed Station)

I was in and out of that Feed Station and on my way to get to mile 70.5 i.e. the Navigation Bridge. Another place I was looking forward to revisiting was the Blisworth Tunnel. Right at the top of the climb, I realized that darkness was setting in and so I spent a few minutes putting in fresh batteries in my hand torch as well as my headlamp.

I was soon back running along the canal. It was around here that my blood sugar plummeted. I popped a gel but suddenly my ability to run was gone. So be it. I power walked most of the way to the 70.5 Checkpoint i.e. the Navigation Bridge. I finally reached and was very happy to do so. I sat on the bridge and enjoyed Anu and Indu's pampering. I wolfed down 3 hot soups and 2 cheese sandwiches.

(Putting in lots of calories in the 70.5 mile Feed Station)

I then headed to the car to change into warmer clothes and replenish my supply of chocolate milk. Anju was my pacer for the next 10 miles. I had changed into Tevas for, hopefully, the rest of the way. I had used the Tevas during a 26 mile stretch in last year's Thames Ring 250M and also for the last 36 miles of last year's Lean Horse 100M and they were the best thing I could have done.

Miles 70-120
Anju was wonderful. She was very supportive and inquired after me all along. Those 10 miles took what seemed like long, really long hours. This included passing many bridges whose numbers would increase infinitesimally i.e. Bridge 74A, 74B, 74C, 74D and then it would start all over again a few bridges later. Anu and Indu called us a few times to ask where we were and we would give them the bridge number and not be able to tell them how close we were to them!

The Peartree Inn Bridge, at mile 80.4, came eventually. This is where Anu was to take over pacing duties for the next 16 miles. Anu and Anju swapped places and soon we were off. Anu has placed me in many races before and she knows how to get me going. By now my nausea, which had reared its head during Anju's pacing stint, had achieved full blown status. I could only walk fast not run. So be it again. Anu would shuffle ahead and come back to encourage me. I kept plodding on steadily.

The mile 84.5 Feed Station came eventually around dawn. I ate a bit here, drank my chocolate milk and, at Anu's insistence, was soon out of there. The sky had a lot of light by now and the Sun's rise was imminent. The rains of the previous day had been replaced by loads of sunshine on Sunday. The day started to get warmer by the hour. I was still only able to walk so walk I did. The miles went by slowly but went by they did. It must have been around mile 95 or so that we spotted the familiar figures of Christian Hottas and Christine Schroeder ahead. We soon passed them and were also upon the Ivinghoe Bridge where Anu would swap places with Anju. I ate some more food here including some much needed coffee.

Anu, like Anju before her, had done a superb job of not only taking care of me but also motivating me to push now and then as best as I could.

Anju and I set out from the Ivinghoe Bridge at around 9 a.m. or so. My desire to answer Mother Nature's call had now become a pressing problem. It must have been within a mile or so that we came upon an opportunity to use the restroom. I was lucky that the Inn, closed at that time, had the owner in the backyard about to leave. He was kind enough to open up the restroom to me. I spent a good 10 minutes in the toilet. It was like I had been given a fresh lease on life!

We soon came to the Grand Junction Arms, the 99.8 mile AS. One of the 3 runners who had been with me going over the Braunston Tunnel was here and seriously contemplating dropping out of the race. His feet were killing him (he did drop there). Anju shepherded me out of that AS as soon as she could and we started the journey to the next meeting point with Indu and Anu which was under Bridge 140, mile 104.3, in Berkhamsted. This is where Indu was to take over pacing duties for the next 4 miles i.e. until the next meeting point at Bridge 149 and mile 108.5.

I was power walking now and Anju had to shuffle or jog to keep up with me. That was a good sign. The nausea was hanging around but I was determined to make good time. The phone rang again and we told the girls to meet us under the bridge. Once we got close, I changed my mind and decided to go to the car. It was a wonderfully warm afternoon. The sky was dappled with clouds, none of them rain-bearing. People were walking the tow path and enjoying the lovely day. I reached the car and sat down for a couple of minutes to enjoy a chocolate milk. Despite the nausea, I was able to drink chocolate milk at will.

(Do swans preen?)

Indu and I started by running the first mile or mile and a half as and when the nausea permitted me to do so. I then slowed it down to a fast walk and those 4 miles went by in a flash. Anu took over pacing duties again from mile 108.5. This is where things got interesting.

Anu's foot had not been doing too well. Anju's ankle, twisted weeks before this UK trip, was in bad shape too - hats off to these ladies for pacing me despite their aches and pains.

It was with Anu that I turned up the walking into real power walking. I set off at a blazing walking pace and Anu, finding it easier to run than to walk, would go ahead and come back for me only to do it all over again. We passed a lot of bridges here and Dick Kearn's detailed notes gave us mileage numbers for many of these. I was thus able to calculate my pace - it was between 13 and 13:30 min/mile. The phone rang once more. It was the girls asking if I would like French fries. Would I ever!! So we met up under Bridge 165. The French fries and the ketchup were manna from Heaven!!!

It was here that Anu asked Anju and Indu to meet up with us in the Springwell locks race Feed Station at mile 120.3. In all the confusion, Anju and Indu understood that we would meet again at mile 118.0. Anu and I soon covered the next 5 mile at the same rapid clip that we had started off her pacing stint at. To our surprise Anju and Indu were nowhere to be seen. Anu was hoping that they were held up and still on their way there to pick her up. I quickly ate some food and while doing so had an idea. Steve, another runner, had been with me on and off for the past many miles. He and I reached this Feed Station together. He had gone off to the side to his crew car. I went over there with Anu and asked his wife if she would be kind enough to ferry Anu to the 133 mile Feed Station in Southall. She mentioned that they would be making a stop, to help Steve, around the mile 126 or 127 mark. That was fine with Anu.

I left with a bit of concern for Anu and the girls. Where were they? It was just past 5:00 p.m. now and even though sunset was not for another 4-5 hours, it was starting to get a tad chilly. A mile or so after the Feed Station I asked Christian Hottas, who I caught up with, if he had a spare flashlight. He said he did and that it was in his drop bag in the 133 mile Feed Station. That took care of the flashlight/headlamp problem for the night. I now had to make arrangements for warmer clothing just in case I was not able to meet the girls.

The phone rang a couple of times. It was the girls! It got cut off each time. What was going on? I had another great idea. I took Steve's wife's phone number from him and called her to find out about Anu. They were fine and making their way to the 127 mile meeting point. I started to run. I was in Urgency mode by now - I had to get to Christian's drop bag as soon as possible so that I could head on to the Finish and, maybe, not need the light or warmer clothing. I flew down the path at 8:00-8:30 min/mile pace. Before I knew it I was at the Cowley Lock Bridge (#188). Steve's wife and his other crew members were outside an inn. Anu had run to their car to get warm clothes for me. She had found a sweatshirt and sweatpants. Seeing her running towards me with all those clothes made me choke up - I could understand how worried she must feel not only for herself and the girls but also for me knowing that it was going to get colder.

I tried to call the girls on their phone. Dark thought were going through my mind. What if something had happened to them? I had even called Vandi and Vasudha to confirm their phone number. Finally the phone rang and it was Anju asking me where we were. She and Anju were waiting back at the 118.0 mile meeting point. I quickly told them to head off to the 133.0 mile Feed Station and that Anu would be there. I then called Steve's wife to have her inform Anu that the girls were OK and that they would meet her in the last Checkpoint. This took a huge load off my mind. I was free to run without worrying now.


I flew. Flew is truly the right word. It was as if every muscle and tendon in my body came together in those 6 miles to the last Checkpoint. I passed many runners who had been at least an hour ahead of me. I finally made it into the Southall Feed Station sometime around 9 p.m. Mission accomplished. The lovely ladies, reunited now, were waiting for me. This feed station, unfortunately, had no hot food. Neither did the pub in whose parking lot our car was parked.

(Southall Feed Station, mile 133, interview)

(After having changed into warmer clothes)

I quickly changed into warmer clothes, put on my headlamp and started off with a few gels in my fanny pack. I had left the backpack behind. I did carry 2 bottle, both filled with water.

The Grand Union Canal for the next 2 miles was pretty sad. Booze bottles here and there. Signs of nighttime fires. It was obviously a section used by homeless people. British Waterways, working on a section of the canal, had closed it off 2 miles into it and Dick had given us detailed turn-by-turn direction to reconnect to the canal further up by taking a detour through an urban neighborhood. Carr Road to Rothesay Ave to Currey Road to Oldfield Lane. Oldfield Lane led to the Black Horse pub which was on the canal. I promptly went into the pub to use their restroom facilities. That took about 15 minutes and the little bit of rest did me a lot of good.

Upon joining the canal, I saw a signpost that told me that Paddington was 7.75 miles away. I had been along the canal for about 2 miles after leaving the 133.0 mile Checkpoint. That meant that the urban diversion had been approximately a couple of miles long. I was pretty much alone here at this point. Sleep was starting to make its presence felt but I was able to keep it at bay by singing Hindi songs loudly. Looking back with around 6.5 miles to go I noticed lights. They soon caught up with me. It was Steve, his friend and his wife. We walked together in companionable silence. The rest of their crew was meeting up with them with approximately 6 miles to go. We soon spotted them and Steve stopped to eat and drink while I pushed on.

Sleep was coming on in waves now. I would have periods of intense sleepiness followed by spells of clear vision and thought. Across the canal on the left I was passing factories and manufacturing plants that had people in them for the parking lots were full of cars. There were similar companies on my side with the occasional aroma of foodstuff wafting across my nostrils.

Out of the darkness ahead I saw a light coming towards me. My alertness went up just in case it was someone I would not like to meet in a dark alley (or canal path!) at night. It turned out to be Christian Hottas's friend, Hartmut, who was supposed to run the race but had dropped out a few weeks ago. He had walked the 3-4 miles from the Finish and I was the first runner he met. He promptly reversed direction and started to walk with me. He was a boon. I could not have asked for a better pacer. He kept me regaled with stories of running in Germany and his other exploits. Sleep came in waves still but I was better able to control it. I did ask him to wake me up in 5 minutes while I sat down on a little bench for my one and only stop in those last 12 miles. That 5 minute nap helped. I kept asking him about how far the Finish was because I knew that the girls would be waiting anxiously for me. The phone even rang a few times and I gave them a best guess of where I was.

Finally Hartmut pointed to a very distant light and told me that the Finish was kind of near there! That perked me up tremendously and I called the girls to let them know I was close. It must have been about 300-400 yards to go to the Finish when the phone rang again. It was Rajeev Char asking me how I was doing. I told him I was 300 yards from the end and that it was the most beautiful experience ever. It was! I had gone further in the Thames Ring 250M (183 miles) but had failed to reach the Finish line. This was, now, the longest successful race finish I had achieved.

The 3 ladies were waiting for me. With a few hundred feet to go, one of the race volunteers came out to warn me not to get too exuberant with my celebrations as someone was sleeping. I kept that in mind when I crossed the Finish line! Anu, Anju and Indu were there to hug me, take pictures and even record an interview of me.

(A blurry picture of me post-finish)

What an epic race it had been. Never for once, during those 43 hours and 22 minutes, did I ever doubt that I would not make it. I pushed hard when I needed to. My past 100M races had shown me that I could turn it up as and when I had to so I was confident of that ability even during those few times that I was a bit close to cutoffs.

A big Thank You to Dick Kearn and his amazing band of volunteers. They kept me alive with their hot soups and good cheer. I am looking forward to next year's Thames Ring 250M (June 22). Anthony Taylor and Dick Kearn have already confirmed that I can start to get excited about my participation.

Anu, Indu and Anju were the best crew members and pacers ever. Always loving, always helpful they fill my memories of the race with a golden glow that is not about to fade for a very long time. I love you three!!

This 145 mile (233K) race finish means that I have qualified to apply for the 153 mile Spartathlon (from Athens to Sparta) run annually in Greece every September. I will send in my application one of these months for the 2011 race.

Race Reports

Paul Ali http://earley-gunners.blogspot.com/2010/06/2010-grand-union-canal-race-report.html


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Monday, April 12, 2010


Race: American River 50M
Date: April 10, 2010
Location: Sacramento, CA
Time: 10:10

I do not remember ever running the last miles of any ultra marathon as fast as I ran the miles from 31 to 47 in the 2010 edition of the iconic American River 50-mile race.

I'm putting down numbers (approximate ones at that - my memory is, at best, suspect) just so I can look back, years hence, and get an idea of how much knowing AND coming to love the course helped in each subsequent AR race I have run.

Year 1-31M 31-50M
2006 6:00 5:34
2007 5:56 5:13
2008 6:31 4:51
2009 6:16 4:23
2010 6:14 3:56

The first thing that leaps out is that the last 19 miles have gotten faster every year. This year's section from 31 to 47 was something that amazed me a lot. I was on fire and it only let up some once I got to the final climb up from the river.

I have grown to love those last 19 miles. Rewind to 2006, my first AR50, and I remember running that race in lots of mud, fast flowing rivulets and streams and mid-shin deep water crossings once or twice. I detested those 19 miles. I then encountered them twice in the 2006 Rio Del Lago 100M 5 months later. A portion of that section, going south, made me lose a huge chunk of the 45 minutes buffer I had built up. You get the picture. Those 19 miles were my bete noire until 2008. During that (2008) race I told myself that there was nothing I could do about the course. What had to be done had to be done in my mind. I have come to love them now. They are so different from the first 27 miles, to Beals Point, that they add a lot of character to AR50.

My first 27 miles were uneventful.

(The early miles. Photo courtesy of Brian Harvey)

They were pretty much a copy of 2009 i.e. marathon in around 4:55, Beals Point just past the 5 hour mark, slow down between Beals Point and the next AS at mile 31 and then a resurgence/renaissance in the last 19 miles.

(Coming into the first AS. Photo courtesy of Daniel Fabun)

(Second AS. Photo courtesy of Daniel Fabun)

(A few miles after the Nimbus Overlook AS. Photo courtesy of Brian Recore)

The only difference is that I ran those last 19 miles way, way faster than I did last year.

The first 27 miles to Beals Point were largely uneventful save for the fact that for 3-4 miles before Beals Point my blood sugar was lower than I liked and that led to my slowing down quite a bit. It did not recover until I switched to Coke in the 31 mile AS.

I have been in the zone before in races (2008 AR50, 2009 AR50, 2007 Miwok 100K) but this time around it felt like there was no Rajeev, just a body moving along doing what it loves doing most. I never looked at my watch after leaving the 31 mile AS and it was only an accidental glance at a volunteer's watch in the Manhattan Bar AS (mile 43.92) told me that it was 2:46 p.m. I was in shock! I knew I had run fast, the miles between Aid Stations were passing by in a comfortable and fast blur, but this was ridiculous.

Now I was on fire! The goal had become a sub-10 hour 50M (finish before 4:00 p.m.). I picked up the pace even more. I fell in behind a lady and her pacer who were moving at the same pace as I was. We blew by so many runners that I lost count. We finally reached the left turn from the river that starts climbing to Last Gasp. This is where I backed off a bit. I walked most of that hill. I ran/walked to the Last Gasp AS and went through. The final 2.8 miles were a run+walk that saw me finish in 10:10. Probably the best race I have ever run.

I wonder what next year will be like.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Howling at the Coyote Two Moon 100M

Race: Coyote Two Moon 100M
Date: Mar 5 - Mar 7, 2010
Location: Ojai, CA
Time: 38:25

Trail or I:who would first relent?
Up we went into the dark night.
On finishing I was hellbent.

Then it came, the first long ascent:
The start of a long drawn out fight.
Trail or I:who would first relent?

Last year, up Topa, I was spent.
This year I made it there upright.
On finishing I was hellbent.

Down to Rose Valley, then ascent
Up to Topa; end of first night.
Trail or I:who would first relent?

Rain, snow: of chill a grim portent.
Fought hard to stay in the spotlight.
On finishing I was hellbent.

Sleep and cold tried to make a dent:
Fought them I did with all my might.
Trail or I:who would first relent?

On finishing I was hellbent.

What an epic race this one was. Having traversed almost the entire course except for the descent to Gridley Bottom and the subsequent ascent to Gridley Top in 2009, I was confident of being able to finish the race this year. The inclement weather from noon on Saturday until almost 3 a.m. on Sunday made the race that much more epic.

Thursday, Mar 4
Anil and I flew into Burbank airport and made our way to the Ventura Bowling Center in Ventura for the 6 p.m. bowling festivities. The alley was filled with familiar faces - Catra, Andy Kumeda, DC, Gillian, Georgeanna Quarles, Dave Combs, Deb Clem, Chris Scott, Nancy Warren, Dean Dyatt, Diane Vlach and a host of others. It was like coming home and like a year had not gone by.

Anil and I were on a team that also had DC, Gillian and Andy and Marie Boyd. Marie is the RD of the Bishop 50M race. I was probably the worst bowler on show in the alley and our team finished dead last.

We checked into the Capri Hotel later that evening and fell asleep after making a few drop bags.

Friday, March 6
We woke up late Friday morning and spent at least 30-40 minutes making the drop bags. Race briefing cum lunch was at 11:30 so we did not eat a heavy breakfast. We drove a few blocks down the road to an electronics store to buy a charger from my iPhone and then to a grocery store for water and a few last minute things. On then to the race briefing.

People were already in line for the food when we got there. We sat at a table with Glenn Tachiyama, DC, Gillian and Dave Combs. Chris Scott soon started talking about the race and we listened as carefully as we could. It looked like the rest of Friday was going to be clear but the rain could roll in on Saturday.

Anil and I went back to the room and got our drop bags etc. for drop off to the Thacher School. We picked up our bib numbers along with our goodie bags and got a free pair of Drymax socks from the company.

Back to the room it was to rest a bit, tape our feet and return for the 6 p.m. Start. Anil and I had gone to Boccali's to pick up pasta and a sandwich. We finished taping our feet, ate our respective dinners and drove to the Start. I had decided to run the entire race in compression shorts over which I had on thick tights. A short-sleeved base layer T-shirt was covered with my favorite Brooks long-sleeved orange shirt over which I had on a green rain jacket that had a hood. Injinji gloves on my hands, feet (sans socks) in Brooks Cascadias and gaiters around the ankles completed my running outfit for the next 40 hours.

(Anil and I before the Start. Photo:Andy Kumeda)

The Start area was a hive of activity. Even people who were starting hours later were there just to flag off our group. It felt great to see the camaraderie and the banter between these amazing runners. Catra even remarked that my bib number 33 had been her bib number the past few years and that I was going to finish for sure. Prophetic words!

(Catra pointing to my bib# 33. Photo:Andy Kumeda)

Thacher School ===>Sisar

(The 6 p.m. start group. Photo:Stan Jensen)

We started promptly at 6 p.m. Soon we were in a long line of runners snaking up the Horn Canyon trail. Thacher School is at 1500 feet while the top of the climb was at 4500 feet i.e. we had a 3000 foot climb in 4 miles which meant an average gradient of 13-14%. Great way to warm up!

The copious rains this year meant that the 3 stream crossings we made were done so with a lot of water flowing past. My shoes got wet while crossing the last one. The runners started to spread out soon. Pretty soon we could see just one light up above us, that of Levi Rizk, which meant that Anil and I were in "second" place. We soon reached the top and began the long 7-mile downhill that would lead us into the first Aid Station, Sisar, at 11 miles. Anil and I enjoyed this long section since it gave us a chance to open out our legs. There were a few streams in the last few miles before the AS and my feet got soaked again in one of them.

The AS finally arrived. I quickly downed a chocolate milk and put the other one in my backpack for the long climb up to the next AS, Topa. Anil and I were out of there in less than 7-8 minutes.

Sisar ===> Topa
It was about a half mile from the Sisar AS that we met Dean Dyatt and Andy Boyd. Dean had found Anil's cell phone along the trail while Andy had found Anil's blue bandana. How amazing that they had spotted these objects in the dark! Anil and I thanked them and resumed our climb, marveling at how amazing it was that they had found them.

This climb is interminably long and it gets steeper the further up one goes. We soon passed the point where we had made a right turn to go down to the Sisar AS. Now the trail got steeper and narrower. We kept plugging away at the slope relentlessly. Up above us we could see the occasional flash of Levi's headlamp. He looked like he was way up high and we wondered about how far the AS really was!

I started remembering parts of the trail from last year and came to the section where George Ruiz had passed me on the trail in 2009. I remembered that the AS had come up quite soon after George had gone past. Sure enough we reached the AS a scant 15-20 minutes later.

(In the Topa AS)

It was cold up here. The volunteers, however, were so warm and helpful that it took our minds off the cold. I had a chocolate milk here again and Anil and I left almost right away to begin the short but very steep climb to the top of Topa. The entire trail had been covered with snow in 2008 (Steve Ansell told me this last year) while only the top of Topa showed snow in 2009. This year we hardly saw any snow. The steepness was unchanged but the absence of the snow let us follow the narrow trail that switchbacked its way up the cliff. On the way up I noticed something glinting iff to the side of the trail. It was 3 spent 30-06 cartridges! Anil promptly put them safely in his pocket.

Saturday, Mar 6
The top had a little bench on the side of which there was a talking head and a deck of cards. As instructed, I pressed the button to activate the talking head. "My head hurts ..." came the nasal voice, marring the idyllic silence atop the 6800 foot Topa cliff. Anil and I switched off our lights and sat on the bench for 45 seconds enjoying the expansive view below us and taking in the beauty of our lovely planet. Then it was time to get back to the race.

Our descent was done relatively fast. We met a bunch of our fellow starters on the climb. We met Wendell Doman in the AS. He was about to tackle the Topa climb. That meant that he was just 3-4 miles behind us. He had started a full 2 hours after us! These people are so talented!!

We did not linger too long here again. We ate some solid food (cheese quesadillas) and set off for the long 6.3 mile trek down to Rose Valley.

Topa ==> Rose Valley
This stretch is actually the one I like the least in C2M. It has unsure footing along the way added to a pronounced camber in some sections. Nonetheless Anil and I made good time reaching the bottom of the descent. The next couple of miles wound their way uphill and then past a few stream crossings to the Rose Valley AS. This was the first of 2 visits to this AS (at mile 21). The next one would be around mile 45 or so.

Marie Boyd (Andy Boyd's wife), the RD of the Bishop 50M race, was here waiting for Andy to show up. She was so very helpful! In fact, she was there at every AS I went to after Rose Valley and it was sheer pleasure to interact with her. Her calm and very helpful demeanor made for a very comforting experience all through the race. The tape on my toes had started to come off because of all the stream crossing. I spent 5 minutes sitting in a chair getting rid of all the tape. Mari was kind enough to offer me some Hydropel. After drinking my usual chocolate milk, Anil and I set out to begin the climb back up to the Topa AS. It was starting to get cold the further up we went. I was looking forward to the night ending and the Sun making its appearance.

We reached Topa around 6:30 a.m. It was very, very cold up there on the summit and I was in awe of the volunteers who had braved the cold all night helping runners with their race. Anil and I ate some more food, warmed up a bit by the fire and then left the fire to make the long trek down and then up to the Ridge on the way to the Ridge Junction AS.

Topa ==> Ridge Junction AS
The Sun's appearance had chased away Hypnos (Roman God was Somnus) and his hordes. We were eager to press on and get to Ridge Junction as early as possible. It would be great, as I told Anil, to start the long descent to Cozy Dell, with some light left.

(Coming into the Ridge Junction AS)

I remember passing the point where the Horn Canyon trail meets the Ridge (the 4 mile point at the beginning of our race; many hours ago!) at 8:18 a.m. We soon reached the Ridge Junction AS around 8:45 a.m. Andy Kumeda and Fred Ecks were there along with a few other volunteers. Nattu rolled in here right behind us. I was very impressed - he had started 2 hours behind us and caught up around mile 42.

Anil and I ate a quesadilla each and left after thanking the amazing volunteers.

Ridge Junction AS ==> Rose Valley
A couple of miles after the AS, Anil had to answer the call of Nature (I had gone around 6:45 a.m.). It was while I was waiting for him to finish that I spotted a familiar figure - Martin Casado. He, Anil and I now formed a triumvirate that made our way along the ridge. It started to rain now. The rain soon turned to sleet and soft snow. It was so beautiful. Before we knew it, we were at the turnoff that went down to the Rose Valley AS.

This is one of the steepest descents, and ascents, in the C2M 100M race. Martin had problems descending. The top of his foot, where the ankle meets the leg, was tight and hurting badly. Anil, who is a very strong runner, took off here like a hare and disappeared from sight. Martin and I gingerly made our way down the fire road. Soon Martin was a few hundred yards behind me. It had started to rain by now. I rolled into the AS and promptly sat down to eat a quesadilla and drink my chocolate milk. Martin came in and one of the volunteers was kind enough to offer him the use of her Stick. Diane Vlach, Peggy Davidson and Diane Vlach came in soon after. The 3 of us left very soon after.

Rose Valley ==> Howard Creek
It was on the climb out of the Rose Valley AS that Martin flirted with the idea of dropping out of the race. His plan was to get to the Howard Creek AS but he was not sure if his sister would be there to give him a ride back. Being an ultra runner (= nutty, like all of us) he decided that he wanted to get at least 60 miles in that day before quitting. His plan now changed to traveling the 9 miles back to school from the top of the climb. We soon parted ways - he went off to the left while we took the right turn towards Gridley Top. It was here that the rain, which had caressed our skin until now, became a horizontal force transformed into sleet and snow. Anil and I were now walking along the ridge, hunkered up against the cold and the driving sleet but still enjoying this adventure of adventures, looking for the turnoff to Howard Creek. After a long descent the turnoff finally showed up.

(Running down to the Howard Creek AS. Photo:Glenn Tachiyama)

The 3 mile trail down to the Howard Creek As is the best trail in the entire C2M race. Eminently runnable with soft earth and a thin carpet of leaves, it was a pleasure to finally open up the legs and let them fly. It was on this descent that Diane, Nancy and Peggy caught up with us. Soon there were 5 of us making our way into the Howard Creek AS.

(With Anil, Diane Vlach and her parents in the Howard Creek AS)

Somehow our drop bag was missing here. I settled for a quesadilla and some water. Marie Boyd, who was helping Andy in a tent, was kind enough, once again, to give me some Hydropel for my toes. We must have spent about 10 minutes here. I met Diane Vlach's parents. Her friend, Jose, was at all the aid stations and he took a picture of us together.

It was time to get back on the ridge to start the last two descents, one of which was the longest at 7.7 miles.

Howard Creek ==> Gridley Top
The trudge up the trail from the Howard Creek AS went by smoothly. It was not a very steep trail and the footing was secure. The rain hit us a bit once we got to the top but it looked like the worst of it might have passed. We followed the ridge a mile or so down to the Gridley Top AS.

My initial calculations had us leaving this AS at 4:30 p.m. To our surprise, we reached at 3:40 p.m. and were out of there at 3:51 p.m. I had been telling Anil stories about my battle with the Cozy Dell ascent from last year and he was kind of prepared for this long descent and climb back up to Gridley Top.

Gridley Top ==> Cozy Dell
The initial 0.75 miles is a climb and Anil and I manfully trudged up the slope. Then began a mile long descent, we could see the trail forking off from the ridge below and to our left, down the ridge. The views at just past 4 p.m. were sublime. A left turn put us on the trail down to Cozy Dell. I had to stop a half mile down the trail to empty my shoes of the gravel that had gotten in. I could hear the voices of the 3 girls, Nancy, Peggy and Diane, above us as they too joined the descent.

The next few miles were along a narrow trail that had a few places where the drop off was precipitous. We made our way through those sections gingerly. Very soon we were off the narrow trail and a right turn put us on a broad trail that led to a right turn onto a narrow trail a mile or so later.

This trail started to get slick underfoot. Very soon we were battling clay mud. This is a surface that is hard to run on. One feels like one is skiing. Mark Swanson, a 2010 C2M 100K finisher, described clay mud as Vaseline on steel.

(Mud near Cozy Dell Photo: Doone Watson)

The closer we got to the Cozy Dell AS the worse the clay mud got. Numerous were the times when both of us almost overbalanced. I had been telling Anil horror stories of the absolute last section of this trail, the part of the trail that was covered with a lot of rocks and poor footing. In reality, this year, it did not seem as bad.

We ran into the Cozy Dell AS at around 6:25 p.m. i.e. a 2 hours and 35 minutes after leaving Gridley Top. That was pretty good going I reckoned.

A couple of the volunteers spent 5 minutes looking for our drop bag which was finally found. Anil, whose heel was hurting, changed into his extra-wide Brooks Addictions and we departed after eating a bit and drinking our respective race drinks (Chocolate milk for me and Ensure for Anil).

What an ordeal the climb up turned out to be. We soon found out that going UP clay mud was infinitely harder than "skiing" down. I fell at least 3 times as did Anil. My hand bottles were mud covered as were my legs and my hands. We knew that we would have to endure this discomfort for 2 miles, a distance that was sure to take us at least 40 minutes if not more.

We sucked it up and kept moving forward, all the while warning runners who were going into the AS about the clay mud. Finally the left turn came. We were glad to get out of the muddy section and onto firmer ground albeit one that sloped upwards a tad steeply for a mile. I was a bit ahead of Anil at this time and I would wait for him to catch up. We eventually reached the narrow trail that would take us to the ridge. It was a little bit up this trail, around 8:16 p.m., that Anil urged me to go ahead. He asked me to let Chris Scott know that he was on his way up and would not be very far behind me.

I felt terrible leaving my buddy behind and did it only because I felt like I could put the hammer down in the next 15-20 miles and ensure my finish since I did not see myself returning next year.

I left Anil behind and settled into a fast pace up the hill. I reached the ridge at 9:00 p.m. or so. It was very cold up there. A half mile into the mile long climb and my right hand was feeling intensely cold. I decided to put my hand bottle in my open jacket pocket, the flashlight in my mouth and run with my fists pressed into my butt to keep them warm. I only managed this for a half mile but I lost my bottle in the process. Never mind.

It was an extremely cold, hypothermic and wet Rajeev who reached the Gridley Top AS at 9:45 p.m. I promptly asked Chris and Luis Escobar if they had spare gloves.

(Talking to Chris Scott and Luis Escobar in the Gridley Top AS)

I took off my jacket, my T-shirt and my base layer to put on a fresh base layer that had been in my backpack. To my disappointment, that base layer was wet too. I decided to put on my wet clothes and get out of the AS as soon as I could. Sue Johnston, Chris Scott's wife, was a darling! She loaned me a pair of her dry gloves. They made the last 25 miles of the race so easy for me. Thank you, Sue. A big hug to you too. :-)

Gridley Top ==> Gridley Bottom
The descent got warmer the lower I went but I also got sleepier. So much so that, 38 minutes into my descent (10:38 p.m.) I sat down in the middle of the trail and dozed for 5 minutes. I got up, swallowed a caffeine tablet and started the descent again. The caffeine kicked in in about 10 minutes and the rest of the descent was uneventful. Negotiating the crazy rocks during the last 0.75 miles of this descent was not pretty. My whole body jarred with every step from rock to trail or onto another rock.

Sunday, Mar 7
The Rajeev caravan rolled into the Gridley Bottom AS at around 12:30 a.m.

I had someone call Chris to find out about Anil. I was glad to learn that he had left Gridley Top at 11:09 p.m. to make his way down to Gridley Bottom. I was very happy to hear that.

I drank a chocolate milk, took out Anil's Lake Sonoma 50M jacket from the drop bag and put it on under my T-shirt and sat down by the big, warm fire to doze for 15 minutes. Sleep was not easy to come by so I finally got up and left that AS around 12:55 a.m.

Gridley Bottom ==> Gridley Top
The 3 NorCal girls soon passed me on their way into the AS. 5 minutes later I felt an intense urge to answer the call of Mother Nature. That took me a good 10 minutes and I remember starting the journey up around 1:25 a.m. Feeling infinitely better, I settled down into a fair pace and a good rhythm. I came to the point during my descent where the trail had taken a sharp right turn. It was a left turn on the way up. I was not more than 50 minutes from the top. With about a mile or a mile and a half to the AS, it came into view. It kept showing up every now and then, getting closer but at a terribly slow pace! Sleep was starting to crowd my brain once more.

It was such a relief to stroll into the AS and promptly lie down on a sleeping bag provided by Luis Escobar. He was kind enough to cover me with his blanket. It was 3:27 a.m. when I closed my eyes to try and sleep. It was 3:50 a.m. when I got my butt off the floor and it was 3:54 a.m. when I began the long 8 mile hike to the Ridge Junction AS.

Gridley Top ==> Ridge Junction AS
I was cold though not as much as last year when I had started at pretty much the same time (3:55 a.m. this year compared to 3:30 a.m. last year). It had been bitterly cold last year but this year was just perfect. The snow covered the entire ridge. I could see a long ling of footsteps snaking their way up into the darkness. Walking on fresh snow is slow so I opted to step in the footsteps of those who had gone by earlier. Time and again I would use my flashlight to scan the ridge ahead and would still find it climbing up.

(Wintry conditions Photo: Doone Watson)

A few times I stopped, bent over because breathing was a bit hard for me, like it had been many times in the past 87+ miles. The beautiful views to the right of me, of Ojai and beyond, acted as a palliative for my struggles with the snow. I thought of my Dad, orphaned when he was 8 or 9, struggling to make it in this world (make it he did - big time!!). This struggle was nothing compared to what he had faced. My spirits lightened and I came back into the moment, as I had been through much of the race. I stopped wondering about how much more I had to climb and focused instead on finding the right footsteps to put my feet into.

(The beautiful views that greeted the early morning mind)

Before I knew it, I had crested the 1.5 mile long climb up from the Gridley Top AS and now faced a rolling course back to Ridge Junction. The sky was getting a bit more blue and the snow covered ridge was beautiful. I had been seeing lights behind me the past 0.5 mile and they belonged to a male and female runner who passed me on the rolling section. I stopped to pee and had a bit of fun making an interesting pattern on the pristine snow.

I soon caught up with the two runners again. The lady was kind enough to give me a Honey Stinger chew. It tasted pretty good at 6:00 a.m. I fell in step behind them and, looking around me, realized that we must be pretty close to the AS. So close that I was truly shocked when it suddenly showed up in front of me.

It was 6:30 a.m. It had taken me 2 hours and 35 minutes to cover the 8 miles from Grifley Top to Ridge Junction, a pace of just under 20 minutes a mile. Not bad I thought to myself.

Incredibly enough, Fred Ecks and Andy Kumeda and another volunteer were still up and smiling when I came in. I had my water bottle filled, grabbed a chocolate covered macadamia and headed for the Finish after thanking them.

(In the Ridge Junction AS at 6:30 a.m.)

Ridge Junction ==> Thacher School a.k.a Finish
The right turn onto the Horn Canyon trail came up at about 6:50 a.m. There was snow for the first 0.7 miles and the going was slow. The snow soon disappeared but the rocks and the steepness did not! I had to step this way and that just to get good footing. It was here that the top part of my foot, where it meets the leg, started hurting. I had to be careful now - I did not want to worsen it. I kept plugging away and eventually reached the point in the trail where I could hear a stream below me. A few 100M/100K runners passed me here making the descent look easy compared to my labored one.

I was finally at the bottom I clearly remembered this section from last year. Andi Ramer and I had made it to the Finish line around the same time and that memory was crystal clear in my mind while the realization was also there that I was making a new one today.

Beat Jegerlehner passed me with two stream crossings and 0.7 miles to go to the Finish. I too started running once I got past the 2 streams and found myself chucking my backpack and green jacket on the grass as I made the obligatory run around the soccer field to finally reach the "Finish" at around 8:25 a.m. for a race time of 38:25.

(Finish at last! Photo: Stan Jensen)

(Hugging Anil after the finish)

I was happy. I had finally completed this brute of a race. Funnily enough, it had not seemed as hard this time around as it had last year.

Will I go back next year to run it? As of today, the answer is No. I want to volunteer instead. As many hours as I can physically manage. It will be wonderful to help someone else achieve their dream of finishing this hard, hard race.

I was bummed to find out, after the race, that Anil had stopped at mile 81 (Gridley Bottom). Nonetheless, he knew best what he had to do and if stopping was the decision, so be it. Good luck to him the next time he does this race. I am very confident that he WILL finish.

Chris Scott is a fantastic RD. I love his sense of humor and the approach he has to running. His volunteers must love him a lot to brave the blizzard conditions atop the ridge for hours and hours while helping us. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You folks ROCK!!!