Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Coyote Cohort Backbone Ultra

Running 68 miles is, in a word, an extreme thing to do.   It can bring about extreme physical and emotional responses. For the most part, my body responded well to the challenge. I employed the standard ultra strategy of hiking briskly uphill, jogging on flat ground and running downhill, trying to keep my effort constant and aerobic at all times.  My pace was more or less even throughout the event, and I was able to run passably well on flat ground, even at the end of the run.  

While it is very difficult to compare results, I am quite certain that my performance this past weekend was better than at the Avalon 50, and probably better than at the Zion 100 last year.  Progress.  Not satisfaction, but progress.

For the first time in my ultra running career, I experienced strange emotional extremes as I began to reach exhaustion after the Encinal aid station at 43 miles.  For a moment, I thought I might cry from joy near the finish line. Some of the other feelings that flashed through my mind are too personal to write about here.  But enough of the dramatics.  It was an incredible experience, as well as a heck of a lot of work.

The Backbone trail begins in Will Rogers Park in Pacific Palisades, then quickly climbs to the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains.  The trail then turns North West, passing through Temescal Canyon to reach Hub Junction above Topanga Canyon.  It crosses Topanga, rises up to Stunt road, then drops again towards Malibu State Creek Park.  

Will adjusting my Nathan at the Stunt Road Aid Station, Mile 17.8.  This aid station was staffed by the SoCal Coyotes, not be confused with the Coyote Cohorts who hosted the event
Photo Courtesy of Erin Chavin

The toughest portion of the course was from Piuma to Corral Canyon, a climb of about 1,500 feet in three miles.  I reached Piuma around 1pm, when the temperature was in the mid-80s.  I changed shoes at the aid station; the Newton trail shoes in which I started the run just were not cutting it on the technical downhill sections.  I ran comfortably in Saucony Kinvaras -- road shoes -- for the final 43 miles.

For a short period, I thought I might have overextended myself on the climb out of Piuma.  My right calf was cramping and twinging.  The cramps slowly dissipated after the Corral Canyon aid station.  I suspect that two factors played a role. 

First, I had not been taking salt pills, on theory that I get enough electrolytes from Sports Beans, and that additional salt would be counter productive.  But, around Corral Canyon, I just found myself asking the volunteers at the aid stations for salt pills.  I guess my body told me what it needed.  

Alternatively, or perhaps in addition, my cramps may have been caused by the heat and the long uphill hike, and thus dissipated shortly after I reached the top of the climb and the sun began to descend.  In the future, I plan to listen more carefully to my body, and take salt as soon as I feel any urge to do so. 

My memory of the portion of the course after Corral Canyon is not that sharp.  I do recall sitting briefly at Encinal, and telling Lauren that I felt like I was fading.  But that feeling went away as soon as I stood up.  The Mishe Mokwa aid station is a blur, although Lauren was there, too (Lauren, if you weren't really there, don't tell me.  I don't want to know!).  

Ryan and I ran together for the first 18 miles, through Stunt Road.  I was alone again until shortly before dark, when I caught up to Skye, who kept me company for about 10 miles before dropping me again.  We saw a small rattlesnake on the trail just before sunset.

There was nothing fancy at the Backbone Ultra, except perhaps for the espresso at Danielson Ranch.  But ultra running is not about fancy.  It is about challenging yourself, it is about being in nature, and it is about being among friends.  In addition to Ryan, Skye and Lauren, I saw David and Nicole at Will Rogers, perhaps a dozen SoCal Coyotes at Stunt Road, Erin and Pedro after Corral Canyon, Marshall (who came out to the course just to visit) at Mishe Mokwa, and I caught up to Kim, who had started with the 6am group, late in the race.

The Coyote Cohorts and their team of volunteers made this experience possible.  Much like races hosted by Luis Escobar, who is himself a member of the Coyote Cohorts, the Backbone has a uniquely quirky and friendly feel.  

But most importantly, I felt like I was safe and with friends at all times.  The course was expertly marked, and the aid stations staffed by caring volunteers who stayed up to all hours of the night to support the runners.  

Course Map with Aid Stations
Courtesy of Coyote Cohorts

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Snow Day on Mt. Baldy

On Wednesday, March 5, 2014, Marshall and I took the day off work and ran/hiked from Baldy Village to the top of Mt. Baldy via Bear Canyon.   There's not much of a story to tell.  We did not even see anyone else on the mountain the entire time, but it was so beautiful up there I thought I would at least post a few pictures:

Marshall does this every time anyone points a camera at him!