50 miles run in and out of gorges, pass numerous waterfalls, negotiate creek crossings, and climb/descend roughly 10,000 feet over variable terrain.
I might have underestimated this race. I thought after I finished the Bear Mountain 50 miles race with ankle injury from the previous month, and I felt 90% recovered on my Dirty German 50K race 2 weeks earlier, I thought would nail this race and would make a PR. Unfortunately it was not the story in this tale.
The Best Running Peeps
Jessica, Maria, Violet and I drove to Itacha on Saturday morning from NY with my MonkeyCart. We were off schedule because I had trouble with my roof-rack setup, so we arrived at the BIB pickup pretty late in the afternoon. After I dropped my tent and bags in the campsite, we went to Agava restaurant to have our last supper with the other runners.
There were a bunch of runners from NY, some I had known from previous race and few I just met at the restaurant. That evening was also Rick Thiounn birthday, so we gave him a beer toast. It was the best day to celebrate a b’day. Later on the week he posted a quote that got into my head, which was so true; “When I turned 25, I partied almost until my legs could no longer move. This year upon turning 35 I ran through some difficult beautiful trails, until my legs could no longer move.”
The next day would be also a special day for a few of us, Kenneth Tom and Evy Gonzalez, who would do their first 50 miles trail race.
The Escalators Are Broken
In the morning, I woke up late, I arrived at the North Pavilion where the start and finish area located. It was probably about 5 minutes before the drop bag station close. I saw more familiar faces, I tried to socialize while trying to fill up my mouth as much as I could. I was so happy that I saw so many faces that morning, I had never done any race with these many friends.
Suddenly everyone started to move to starting line, and my tail wiggled furiously. I started the race on the very back of the pack with Rick Thiounn and Chang. We ran thru the park and made a sharp right where the trail started to get into the uphill dirt road. It was not that steep and it was run-able. I tried to stick with Chang as long as I could. I know he is a strong runner who has a steady pace. So I hoped I could learn how to tame my inner devil thru him.
After a mile or so, the hill started to get relenting and more technical, and now it was our turned to pass the other runner. I think we ran pretty steady at the same speed on uphill, downhill or flat. And I was trying hard not to get too excited on the technical trail. When we got our first section of the stairs, the line became a bottleneck, so Chang and I started to run on the out skirt of the stairs, which was better anyway. We could determine our own step, distance and pace. After a few section of stairs, I just realized that I was talking to myself, and I lost Chang. It was a bit an upset and my inner devil started to overcome me.
The course was an out and back of 12.5 miles, with the elevation gain about 2500 feet, and there were 3 aid stations in between. After a 3,1 miles of rolling hills and stairs, I got into the first aid station. It was pretty big and it had a restroom facility too. “It is a fancy aid station”, I told myself. I was using Nuun in my water flasks, so I got my water from the aid station. After grabbing a handful of fig newtons, I started to have my breakfast while hiking the small hill that run on the right side of the restroom. The next section was a fun single trail that swirling around like the last strand of pasta on my dinner plate. After a few small creeks crossing and a few more sections of stairs, I ran into a good stretch of downhill.
Before the sharp turn to the right, there was an amazing few that facing a stunning waterfall scenic. I thought in any minutes there would be a blue flying creatures from Avatar come out and swirling around the waterfall. After a few rolling hills, there was the stairs. They were pretty steep small steps and seems like endless. I thought if I made one mistake and slipped, I would be done. Tho, at least I was running down, not the other way around.
The next section was another cool section. It was a path that was running along the cliff wall on the right side and stream on the left side. And if I am not wrong, on the next section there was a pathway over the dam wall. It was astounding to look how deep was the wall to the water surface. Though I love any high places in the world, I have a height phobia, that it always gives me a chill to look down. So I kept myself at the very center of the pathway.
I continued to run into a short single trail before I turned left and went down to under the bridge. When we went back up, there was the aid station number 2. Despite of its location, this aid station have everything. From many varieties of meal like in a high school cafeteria to any kind of drinks that I could ask for.
After this aid station, the route started with a short single trail, and there was a train track crossing, then followed by a refreshing stream crossing. It was pretty refreshing.
Somewhere before I got into the second aid station, I saw a sign that was saying iron heart path or trail or something like that.
And I kept wondering, what was that about. BAM! Out of no where there was a humongous pile of dirt, rocks and roots appeared in front of me. I took me a moment to scale it, from having a fun power hike to hill-nausea at the end. Better yet, the hills kept rolling like a line of camel-back on the silk road.
Then the trail became a little calm where I could pick up my pace. Then I crossed a few dry streams and got out into a single trail on an open field that was decorated with tall grasses. It s a good place for me to gather myself and tried to do my engine check. At this point I still felt great, I realized that I didn’t eat enough tho.
After crossing a couple of roads, the upcoming section was the best feature of this race. Not because of the scenery. It was still gnarly rolling hill with plenty of roots and rocks that were ready to knock me down any second. But it was the opportunity for me to see the elite, front-runners and some of my awesome friends in action. I could see how they run, their foot placement, and how they ran the hills or stairs as fast as I was running down.
When I got out from the trail, there was the outpost of the trail. Like the first aid station, it was massive with any refreshments, fuel, sport drinks and on my second time visited there, they had beers. There were a few buildings near by the aid station, I believe one of them must have been a restroom.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
After refueled myself and filled up my flasks, I continued my run. What it came next was a nice humor from Ian Golden the race director. It was a hell of stairs to run, yet I had an astounding natural water park on my left. If I hadn’t seen the course map the day before, I would think that the course would be like this till the end of the 1st loop. When I crossed the road at the end of the stairs, I was the happiest kid on earth.
Then this time, I got a chance to meet all my other friends from New York on the trail. It was amazing. This was my first time to run in the races with so many familiar faces. It was so cool that we could cheer on each other and it gave me more energy to keep moving. Those happy moment made time flew by pretty quick, and suddenly I was in aid station 2. Out of nowhere, someone called my name, it was Joe Del Conte. We started to leave aid station together and tagging for a while. He ran pretty awkward and I found out that he had not healed properly from TNF Bear Mountain 50 miles injury a month ago. After a few minutes, he asked me to kept moving. About a mile or two from the aid station, there was the stairs as high as the waterfall, standing tall and might in front of me. It was steep and it never ended. I found out that moment that I dislike climbing stairs. When I got to the top my hip flexor started to twitch, I had to stop and stretch for a minute.
It was incredible that I started to see the 1st pack of runners again not far from there. They must had, at least, 4 miles ahead of me. They kept devour those hills as fast as they did at the first time I saw them a couple of hours before. And some of them were actually smiling, having fun and cheering on me too. They were awesome. For a moment, I forgot my twitching hip flexor that had been flaring on and off.
Close to the end of the loop, on the downhill, I saw Joe was behind me again. We ran together to the first loop check point. I saw the clock and it was 4:30 I believe.
Bad Apple Never Tastes Good
It was way too fast from my schedule, and I knew I would pay the price soon or later. I decided to get some food, change my socks and refilled my flask.
Not long after, I saw Chang came into the check in aid station. And I told him lets run together. Before I left I asked Joe to catch up with us after he tended his ankles.
I ran with Chang for a few minutes while eating my brunch from the aid station. Then on the long uphill, my right hip refused to move faster to match Chang pace. So I asked him to go ahead. Once again me myself and the trail.
It was kinda funny that every obstacles were started to feel harder and longer to run. Though seeing my friends on the trail for the second time, helped to remedy my struggle with my whimmpy hip.
When I got to the first aid station, I grab some foods and bananas, then started on the move again. Unfortunately my stomach didn’t want to except the food, included bananas, I knew that I had a big problem now. I just kept going while sipping on the water and try to flushed them out. I thought I might have too much electrolyte or salt.
When I got into the aid station two, I tried to eat again and still it didn’t go down well.
Maybe I should stay there for a few minutes to calm down my system, but I didn’t and just kept moving. I just wanted to be done.
On the iron heart hill, it took me forever, I felt I was depleted. I tried to eat my cliff bar a little by a little, still didn’t go well. I started to feel pain on my lower back on the right side, but suddenly the first runner came out from the upcoming turn. I was in awe and got energized because of this awesome runner, and I forgot all my pain for a few minutes. On the open field section, Maggie passed me strong and steady like a Japanese heart surgeon. And then I started to see my fast runner friends from the other direction. Stephen England, Nobu, Harald, Keila, and Chang. Looking at how did they run strong, it gave me a boost to keep going.
When I arrived at Buttermilk aid station, I was barely able to eat anything. I took a 10 mins sit down and rest my hip with a thought that I might able to calm down my system. Unfortunately when I started to walk up the stairs, my hip went cuckoo again. I felt like I was there for hours. When I got back to the trail I met Ryan and Brittany, they looked like they own the trail. On the next turn I saw Roy Pirung the American Legend, I wished I could be like him when I grow up. Then I saw Maria from far away, and she was actually smiling and had a blast , simply crazy. And then one of my idol runner came up, Michelle Mason, she gave me an encouragement with her lovely smile and words of wisdom.
On the open field grass section I met Thunder Lee and Jess, who was running really strong. Scott and Lucy, the ultra awesome couple, they gave me a huge smile as big as always.
Then on the next trail section Evy showed up as happy as she was in the morning. And before I ran down the iron heart hill, there was Violet just finished with her climbed.
Meeting all of my friends on these sections were really kept me on the move, and kept me away from the dark place. Too bad it didn’t last long. Just a few minutes before the second aid station, I was that close to vomit for multiple times.
Even though there were plenty angels in the aid station who tried to help me to kept going but I could not focus anymore and kept feeling nausea, and I was delirious. After a good 10 minutes of keep changing my mind, I decided that I had to swallow a bitter end, second DNF.