May 24, 2011

Bishop 50 Mile Ultramarathon: Final Prep Race

Photo courtesy of Karen Stubkjaer
The final prep race for the San Diego 100 (in 3 weeks) was run yesterday outside Bishop in the foothills of the snow-choked mountains of the Sierra Nevada.  It was my second 50 miler and certainly the harder when you factor in elevation gain, altitude, and terrain.  Megan was joining me on the trip up while running her own 20 mile race, which she won (3rd overall) in a time of 2:53, 1 minute off the course record for women.
We camped the night before at the start and finish located at Millpond Recreation area which turned out to be a great car-camping spot with a strong-flowing stream right in the middle of it and the awesome peaks of the Sierra's looming close by.
We were joined by TheOnion, a fellow hiker and ultrarunner friend, who will also be running San Diego 100. He was running in the 100km (~62 miles) and this is coming off the PCT 50miler the previous Saturday. Tough dude.
There was a free dinner in the town of Bishop at the Whiskey Creek Restaurant that included delicious veggie lasagna, pasta, garlic bread, salad, and mouth-watering carrot cake; where TheOnion proceeded to  devour the final few bites of the cake before declaring, non-remorsefully, that veganism "has exceptions!"  The back patio was filled with chatting and hungry runners while the race director, Marie Boyd, talked about the course, the snow, and aid station situations.
The run started at 6am and I barely got to the starting line 30 seconds beforehand an unorganized mess; for whatever reason I assumed 6 meant 6ish. I was wrong.  I was still organizing things in my pack by the time we started and for the first hour I was still feeling the effects of the wolfed-down breakfast and lack of mental focus. On Thursday I created a little time and distance paper sheet that showed the mileage between aid stations and a very rough timeline of where I should stand at each one.  Of course it fell out of my pack pocket 30 minutes into the run and was never seen again.
Photo Courtesy of Andy Noise
TheOnion, Joe (a youngster we met and ran with the first 14 miles), and I were taking our sweet time the first several miles, just loping along at a very comfortable pace chatting about trail running and backpacking mostly.  When we reached Edison, 17.40 miles in, we started to go our own seperate ways. The next 3 miles would see about 1400ft of gain and the highest point on the course, 9400ft.  I had a simple strategy of hiking/running this steep and snowy climb at 1 minute intervals. The strategy paid off as I was able to pass at least 10 people without taxing myself. I had a fear that the altitude, seeing how I'm a sea-level baby, was going to be a major hurdle but it turned out to be a minor one surprisingly.  Maybe because of previous experiences and time spent at high altitude; I'm not exactly sure why. Because of the conditions, the race organizers decided to forego an aid station and place a hole puncher at the top where you would punch your bib number to verify you made it up to the top.  Since I folded my bib number several times and the fact that with windchill the hole puncher and my hands were completely numb it got stuck on my bib. I used all my strength to pry it off but suffered a fairly deep gash in my right index finger, a broken nail halfway down to the cuticle on my ring finger, and plenty of blood that didn't finally clot until 1 hour later.
The run so far had been reserved and I was happy where I was at. I told myself to conserve myself until I reached mile 37.5 where the final 12.5 miles was a well-graded decline.  With that said, I took the downhill portions of the course, up until that point, with great care: small strides and reduced speed. Typically in a 50km run I'll bomb the downhills but my legs are typically cooked for the uphill. By doing that I didn't gain much time but I also knew that I was saving for something in the end so when certain people I previously passed decide to run faster on the downhill I knew I had there number later on in the race.  I had a low point at around mile 26.5 to 30 where I was feeling a little out of it mentally and my legs were starting to feel it a little.  However, when I finally reached Bishop Lodge chowed on a handful of strawberries, took a gel, relieved myself, I started to feel a little better.  I saw TheOnion only 5-7 minutes behind me and started to the rolling ups and downs to "Intake2" Aid Station.  My legs were also starting to feel better as I made the climb back to Edison, mile 35.  There was one more climb until the final descent and I returned to my run/hike strategy.  When I finally splashed through McGee Creek and reached the aid station I knew that my conservation strategy was going to pay off. My legs felt as good as they can feel at mile 37.5 and I started to run with a little more gusto.  I started to pass a couple of people who were feeling the effects of a strong first half including a 3ft Garter Snake (I hope) sunbathing perpendicular to the trail which I didn't see until I was 6 inches away. Fortunately, I mustered a "Whoa!" as I lept over it. I started to pick up the speed as I reached the Buttermilk Road and Junction aid stations where another desert native, a rattlesnake, rattled at me from the adjacent fauna when I was 2 feet away from it. That got the juices flowing a little more and the last ~6 miles saw me in my longest and fastest stride of the day.  I was acutely aware about my right IT Band from mile 32 on because the only other 50 miler I did I injured it at mile 42 and I was incapacitated for the next 6 weeks. I attributed it to the lack of proper training with poor strength in my hips and in those last several miles I was very much hoping I was right.  I was feeling surprisingly good and so close to the finish that I started to run the last three miles at under 7min/mile.  At that point I knew I was going to cross the finish line uninjured and only a little worse for wear.  I sprinted under the line clocking in 9:25.30: I was very happy that I had made a successful run because it had been bearing down on me the last several weeks.  The training and race schedule program I stuck with seemed to be paying off and this was one very good sign it was working.  I consumed around 17 gels and more importantly, good 'ol plain water at regular intervals, which has been a major problem of mine in past races. I ended up carrying an extra bottle and 8 tablets of Nuun without ever needing them.  I got 7th overall and 2nd in my age group.  I got pretty emotional after the run as I hugged Megan because of the doubts that were constantly on the backburner: would I be able to complete it uninjured and successfully? Those questions have been answered and now it's time to rest up for the main running event of the year: San Diego 100.
PS: What's up with all the ipods on the run? These aren't noisy city roads, you're in a beautiful landscape. I don't get it.
Last .01 miles.

Finish: 9.25.31 (PR)

My favorite mountains

Post race dip 

Loving this (Photo courtesy of Mark Gaggia)

Photo Courtesy of Andy Noise

Photo Courtesy of Andy Noise

Photo Courtesy of Andy Noise

Very early stages: me and TheOnion (number on hat) (Photo courtest of Mark Gaggia)

Megan: 1st Female in the 20 mile run, 4th overall (Photo courtest of Mark Gaggia)

Morning of.


  1. Nice writeup. I saw one girl with two ipod shuffles attached to her shirt. Guess she wanted to have noise every second of her day.

  2. Ha! I guess they need more motivation?

  3. 17 gels? Gross. You really feel a need between aid stations or something? Scarfing fruit and potatoes at stations always works for me. I probably ate 4 or 5 gels this race, which is more than usual.

  4. And I believe my exact words were "I make freegan exceptions to veganism." No reason not to rescue dairy from the garbage :)

  5. I'm guessing a lot of people are quite frightened to be alone with their thoughts for 10 hours, hence the ipods. I've tried it hiking, and maybe about an hour in the middle of the day through a 12 hour desert stretch it's nice to have some mellow introspective music, but otherwise I'm quite happy with my inner monologue.


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