VIRILE TO RISK AND FIND; KINDLY WITHAL AND A READY HELP. FACING THE BRUNT OF FATE; INDOMITABLE,—UNAFRAID.
That was us. 130 Ultrarunners, banding together to conquer the new 2016 Castle Peak 100k course.
As I made the final preparations with my pack, loading gels, etc, I couldn’t help but think of Matt Hooper’s line from Jaws – “I got no spit.”, as he was getting ready to go into the shark cage. I was nervous, but confident about what lay ahead. I headed to the start at the Prosser Hill OHV area, and had the welcome opportunity to see some friends before the race started all too quickly.
The first few miles I was very familiar with. Rather than having a 12 mile easy warm up run, we started almost immediately climbing up “The Animal”, a climb of a thousand feet or so over the course of about 6 miles. Because of my familiarity with this part of the course, I was able to manage my pacing pretty well, and was feeling good when I hit the first aid station. Then it was a bit of a descent before another 1300 feet or so of climbing, on the way to Moondance. A funny thing happened around mile eleven. I was with 2 other runners, and we saw a porta-potty out in the middle of (seemingly) nowhere, and almost took a wrong turn because we were so distracted by it. We all had a good laugh. I’ll have to check my tracks, but I think the route to Moondance was slightly easier this year. At least, that’s how it felt.
A new vista for me, Euer Valley:
After Moondance, there was a slight descent again, then another climb of around 1300 feet over the next 6 miles or so, And I really enjoyed the Euer Valley loop. Then a nice cruising descent to Johnson Canyon at mile 20ish. I ran in smiling and met my crew. I was right on track with my race plan, so I didn’t dally. Some quick nutrition and an equipment check, and I was off. I knew the next 4 or so miles were going to be tough, with 1000 feet or so of ascent over about 4 miles, but I’ve done this stretch a few times so I knew that the best strategy for me was a well-balanced run/walk, and lots of water. It’s a lot of exposed trail, and it was approaching midday, so proper hydration was crucial.
I hit the Summit Lake aid station feeling good, and avoided the temptation to jump in the water. I started the ascent up the Warren Lake trail, and soon realized that this was going to be rough. Thankfully most of the trail is shaded, but it’s all climbing. 1000 feet or so over about 2-3 miles. It just kept going up. And up. And up. Along the way to the top I passed a group of kids that were hanging around off to the sides of the trail, and one young boy was clapping and he told me “Good Job!” I smiled and said “Thanks, you too! This trail is not easy!” That little interaction lifted my spirits and I kept on heading towards the summit. The area that trail covered is beautiful. But that trail was… terribly difficult. The descent is 1300 feet or so over 2 miles give or take, and it’s basically down a dry, rocky stream bed. Very difficult to run, so it slowed me down quite a bit. Then, it’s 700 or so feet back up to Devil’s Oven, and it’s just a meat grinder, plain and simple.
Castle Peak, slightly less than a Half Marathon away:
The approach to Castle Peak from Warren Lake was yet more climbing, but was far easier than approaching it from the Castle Pass side. The scenery is also positively stellar, with good views everywhere you could see.
Top of the Meat Grinder, looking towards Castle Peak:
I was pretty decimated at this point:
Ascending to the top of Castle Peak felt good, and the perilous descent down to Castle Pass was well managed, with me losing my footing only a few times, with no major spills. At the Castle Pass Aid station, at mile 33ish, I grabbed a quesadilla, which I was thinking about for the last 20 miles. So good! I should have asked for another… The only odd thing that happened there was as I left the aid station and started the climb up to the trail turnoff, I was stopped by two hikers who asked me for directions. They were very chatty and kept asking for more information after I answered each question and showed them the various trails in their guidebook. After I answered each question I stepped back towards my turn on the trail, and then the next question would come. They were so nice but I really should have said something like “Ladies, see this number on my shorts? Means I’m in a race… slightly pressed for time.” Hopefully though I steered them on the right path and their not still out lost in the Sierras.
The next 10 miles to Hole in the Ground then Van Norden, I remembered from last year. I did not like that stretch at all. Maybe because I knew what to expect this time it was better, but my experience this time around was actually pleasant. I managed my pacing well, got some ice and a cold soak at the Hole in the Ground aid station, and kept on at a good pace. My goal was to hit Van Norden at 5pm, but I knew I wouldn’t make it, so I shot for 5:30, then 6, then 6:30. I was still managing a decent pace but that Warren Lake trail really took it out of me. I got in to Van Norden at 6:20pm, and was able to set up everything I’d need for the next section of the race, and got some soup. Then it was off to the Palisades.
This section was also different from last year. Rather than running on the dirt road out to the ascent to Crow’s Nest, we ran a different way to the ascent to Razorback Ridge. Along the way, I missed a flag and failed to take a turn. I realized my error after a few minutes and while backtracking, I saw the flag, and shouted at another runner and his pacer who were following my incorrect path, and steered them in the right direction. We leapfrogged each other over the next 6 miles, going up and up, to the top of Razorback. I still felt good, even though I didn’t like that this time around the way up was a couple of miles longer than last year, especially since my legs were decimated from Warren Lake, but I still was able to manage my pacing. Coming out of Van Norden my goal was hit the summit before sunset, but at mile 47 or so I realized that it wasn’t going to happen. I’d have to do that section in the dark, again. At least this year there were no butts or fog. I got to the top of Razorback and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
Looking back at Castle Peak, now 15 miles or so behind me:
Then the nausea hit.
I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I thought maybe it was because of what I knew lay ahead, but I’d done that section of trail 3 times. Once in the dark. I knew it was tough, and challenging, but manageable. Maybe I’d just had enough of gels? Maybe not enough solid food? Didn’t matter why though, I just had to contend with it. Every time I tried to run it would well up, then subside slightly as I slowed down. Ok then, speed walking it is.
Right before I hit the turn towards the Palisades, I met up with a friend. That took me by surprise because he’s a strong runner, and fast. We both didn’t have pacers, so we decided to go together. I lost him on the first rough ascent though, because I had to actually stop and sit on a rock, I was so nauseous. It was at that time some sort of insect crawled onto my chest and decided to sting me. It may have been attracted to the empty gel packets I kept stashed in my left front vest pocket. Well, at least that took my mind off my nausea for a few minutes. The next few miles was one slipper slog after another, being aided by all the awesome volunteers making sure we ascended safely. I am so grateful for their attentiveness and their cheerful attitude. Towards the top, I had to sit again and recover. A pacer and his runner paused, and he told me “C’mon, we will go up together!” I smiled and thanked him, but told him I was really nauseous and would be here a few more minutes. I started up again after a couple more minutes, and started up again. It was hilarious – I was literally 10 feet from the top and didn’t see it! I laughed and felt so good! I was able to start running again, until the steep, slippery descent down to Mt Lincoln aid station. What was funny was that I was taking this descent sloooooooowly… My quads were locking, I was slipping and sliding all over the place, and just taking my sweet time. The whole way down, the aid station volunteers were whistling and cheering, which was great, but I felt badly that they had to cheer for soooo long. I declined all the offerings at the aid station, except for some Tums which were very much appreciated.
Descending to the cold stream aid station was uneventful, except for a couple of tumbles I took. One was extremely bad, where I landed head-first on the trail, abrading my face and bending up my glasses. At least I could still see, and getting started like that took my mind off the ever present nausea, which the Tums failed to abate. With the cheers from the Cold Stream aid station fading in the distance, I kept on going, knowing there was no way I’d make the last 5.5 miles in the next 40 minutes. I knew I wasn’t going to make the cutoff. I’d figured that was the case from the top of Donner Peak, but I was determined to do the distance, no matter what. I chatted briefly with one other runner as we made our way to the finish, but after the second set of Tums I’d taken, I started feeling better, so I started running again. My GPS had died after Cold Stream, so I didn’t know how far I had left. It was tough to gauge distance in the dark out there, without any real landmarks. I passed through the train tunnel, and I knew I was getting close. I then saw the line of flags directing runners to the finish, after a bit, and kept going. Soon I saw the lights and the canopies of the finish area. I ran in, and it was done. An hour and 14 minutes after the cutoff.
As it’s been said, “Some days you eat the bear, and some days, well, the bear, she eats you.” But it doesn’t matter. I faced the brunt of fate, and emerged Unafraid, yet again.
Thank you to Helen and Peter, The Donner Party Mountain Runners, and all the incredible Volunteers and Safety Personnel that made this event World-Class! The phenomenal support from everyone involved is what every race event should strive for.
I’m going to get some sleep now.