Nickie and I, along with our car pool buddy Nattie left from our house at about 4:20AM arriving at Holcomb in plenty of time to get ready for our big race. Neither Nattie or I had run in ultra in a quite a while so we both had a goal to just finish. Her last time running this race in 2004 resulted in about a 9:15 time. Me? My goal time was 8 hours if I achieved my first goal of finishing.
I was nervous. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, even in those first few minutes of the race where we ran through the parking lot. Nattie thought I would finish a bit ahead of her so told me to go run my own race and I pulled away. To my surprise I wasn’t sucking for air like I thought I would be. I felt the altitude (about 6800 feet here) but it more just seemed like YAHC (Yet Another Hill Climb). The first 3.8 miles went up the Cougar Crest Trail to the first aid station. Despite it being mainly uphill and peaking around 7600 feet I average a 14 minute per mile pace. That’s good for me at sea level on a hill like this. What happened? I wasn’t complaining.
Running at Altitude
I was doing some reading before the race about running at altitude. A few interesting things happen. Of course the air is less dense, so first you don’t get as much oxygen in your lungs for each breath you take. Second, the air is lighter so running efficiency slightly improves. The second doesn’t make up for the first but I did notice that effect to some extent.
15 Milers & Running buddies
Even the wide fireroad up here are beautiful. I filled my bottles at mile 3.8 and was off on a section of fireroad. I was feeling pretty good and taking it aid station by aid station at this point. I was beginning to feel much better about my finishing prospects as well. On this stretch of fireroad the 15 mile lead runners caught up to us and passed us in full speed. Most of them didn’t even carry any water. Maniacs. I met up with a couple different guys here running 33 mile. I forget both their names. I think one was Robert. They both had run the race before in around 8 hours so that made me feel better about my secondary goal. I kept up with them for quite some time.
The First Hill & the Race Begins
We had our first big climb going into the mile 8.6 aid station. It wasn’t all that bad compared to what I had been doing. Just happened to take place at 7500′. My Running buddies got slightly ahead of me here but I soon caught up with them. While I was filling my water bottles I heard someone say "Jessica?" It was 15 mile runner Julie Vuksic whom I had met a while back running at the Nike Run Club and who is good friends with Pete. Hey where was Pete? Julie looked great. Considering she caught me at mile 8.6 and started about 25 minutes after me I’d say she’s a strong runner!
The route from mile 8.6 to 11.5 was wonderful (and on the PCT). I ran with Robert most of the way and we kept
up a decent pace for a while on the slightly downhill section. I
estimated our overall pace would put as at a 7:30 finish if we kept up
the way we were running. I still felt good but also knew anything
could happen in the second half of the race. And it did…
I pulled away from Robert after we left the
mile 11.5 aid station and he caught up to me about a mile later about
where the 15 mile runners split off to the finish. We ran together
again for a couple miles.
Around mile 14 I lost him when I had to stop for a bathroom break
(he and the other guy finished around 8:20). It wasn’t your normal
bathroom break and I was starting to feel sick if you know what I
mean! I got back on the trail and was running again. I was starting
to feel a little nauseous so I popped a ginger chew which helped a
bit. I made a mental note to get more toilet paper at mile 21 when I
saw Nickie. I had a feeling I might need it.
I pulled into mile 15 feeling good and around 3:24. Considering I
recently ran trail half marathons in 3:10 I was pretty happy with
that. 2 miles further, lots more altitude and only 14 minutes longer.
Not bad. Mile 15 to 21 seemed like an eternity. I went back and forth
from I’m not going to finish to I have to finish and was feeling even
more sick. The PCT was a rolling gradual uphill at this point from
about mile 15 to 19. I was just hoping we could go below 7200′ once.
Can we please? Even points where the trail dropped a bit we were still
above the 7200′ mark according to my Nokia N82 and most of it was
around 7500′. Runners were starting to pass me like crazy at this
point. I was getting a bit of a headache and was starting to feel
dizzy. Not good signs. I was hoping I’d feel better by mile 21. Plus
my amazing girlfriend and wonderful support crew, Nickie, was waiting
for me there. One step at a time.
On the way to that aid station I passed a group of 3 llamas with 2
handlers. The guy in the back didn’t have a sense of humor (not sure
where he was from – maybe didn’t understand my joke). He said I could
pass at any time and I said "can I get on one for a while?" He said
"No. you can pass!". Geesh. Okay. I passed and the llamas sort of
freaked me out because they stop and stare at your. I was worried
about being kicked or spit on or something. I got by unscathed.
My pace had slowed considerably and I could barely run the
downhills. My dizziness and disorientation was starting to really
concern me. I told myself if I didn’t get to mile 21 before 5:30 I
would drop. 5:30 would mean just over 2 hours for the last 6 miles and
with 12 to go it could take me 9.5 to finish if things didn’t improve.
My main concern was training for Lake Tahoe.
At about mile 19 or 20 I heard more runners catching up to me. This
was a group of 4 and Nattie was with them! I though I was a bit ahead
of her and maybe I was at one point but she was also having a good
day. This group was running and walking in a train and I joined them
for a while for an extra boost. The boost didn’t last long and by mile
20.5 I had lost them as they pulled into the aid station. I came out
onto that pavement and I was done. I walked over to Nickie who was
waiting for me in the car and said I was dropping. She came to the aid
station with me while I sat and fueled and told them I was done. It
was 5:30 into the race. The last 6 miles had me going at a 20 minute
per mile average pace and I was pretty sure I was suffering from some
elevation sickness (which I looked up later and I’m pretty sure I was).
I could have gone on but at what cost? Would I have gotten worse?
Fallen down and hurt myself? What then about my Tahoe training and
race? I was disappointed but also felt I made the right decision.
When I dropped of my bib at the finish line I saw Keira who also
dropped at mile 21. I didn’t feel so bad that she was having a not so
good day either (not sure of all the details). She is an amazing runner
and sometimes we all just have those days.
The aftermath & Salomon XT Challenge
Nickie and I
waited for Nattie and I continued to feel like crap, further telling me
I had made the right decision. Nattie came rolling in all smiles at
about 8:45! She was very happy with her time and knocking 30 minutes
of her previous best here.
We made the trek home and I realized I needed to get in some more
training runs at altitude before Lake Tahoe. (I have two planned now -
one at Big Bear and one at Mt. Baldy). We drove up the same day as the
race and historically I feel like crap the first day I get to
altitude. In Tahoe we’ll be up there a couple days before the race.
I was sore yesterday but not too bad today. Just some lingering
stuff. My eyes feel heavy and are a bit puffy. It may take me a few
days to get over this feeling and I’m taking it easy this week for sure.
I have some training ahead of me the next 5 weeks to get prepared
for my Tahoe Challenge. My Salomon XT Wings were awesome out at
Holcomb and some of the best shoes I’ve ever ran in (and I’m not sure
saying that because they were free!). My Nokia N82 battery lasted for
5.5 hours of running and would have gone more. I’m guessing 7 or 8
hours. I’ll need an external battery pack in order to use it at Lake
Tahoe. The GPS took 15 minutes to lock at the beginning of the race
and was 2 miles off when I finished. Most people had probably with the
GPS watches as there was lots of tree cover on sections of the course.
Congrats to Nattie and all who finished the race at Holcomb. That lack of oxygen can really suck!
Next up: Tahoe Rim 50 Mile Race (39 more days!)
Happy Running & Dirty Feet,