Friday, October 12, 2012

Mount Disappointment 50K – August 11, 2012

Mount Disappointment was my first ever California trail race.  It didn’t come under ideal conditions, but I was really excited to experience first hand what all the buzz is about.  I signed up for it because I couldn’t resist.  In the mountains just east of Los Angeles, it was close enough to drive to the night before and then be able to drive home after the race on Saturday.  And it would be my first taste of a California mountain race!

So there were lots of great reasons to do this race, and I couldn’t resist.  Due to a largely inactive summer trying to shake injuries, I was not in great shape.  This would also be my first attempt at a race of any distance since dropping out of TNF50 in early June.  My only concern, then, was to have fun and finish without re-aggravating my knee.  Only in mid-July had I begun to experience gradual progress toward being able to run normally again, so I was a little nervous and planned on paying close attention to how my knee felt throughout the race.

It ended up being an outstanding experience and a ton of fun.  I drove to the top of Mount Wilson, where the race starts and finishes, on Friday evening and was greeted by the RD and a group of volunteers still working hard to make all the necessary preparations for the race.  The vollies were all spending the night there under the pavilion on their cots.  I found a little secluded spot in the woods near the parking lot and set up my tent.  It was a nice relaxing evening, hanging out with the volunteers, who shared s’mores and wine with me, and enjoying a beautiful sunset. 

It was pretty warm sleeping in my tent that night…even in just my underwear and outside my sleeping bag, I woke up several times feeling a bit clammy and uncomfortable….

Early to rise the next morning, I rolled out of the tent and walked up to the pavilion to register, as other runners had already begun to do.  There was a lot of talk about how hot it had been in that area lately and how hot it was supposed to be that day.

Probably taken by Fausto, the friendly race photographer!
The race began with about two or three miles down the road that leads to the Mt. Wilson summit.  During this descent, we got a nice view of Los Angeles to the west, with the sunrise from the east casting it’s light over the mountains and on to the shiny buildings.

I was very uncertain about this race.  It had been so long, it seemed, since I had done a race, that I didn’t remember how I should pace myself.  On top of that, this was likely going to be the most difficult course I’d ever run.  And on top of that, I wasn’t really sure what kind of shape I was in – whether or not I had retained some of my pre-injury fitness, and if so, how much? 

So because of all that uncertainty, and the fact that I was excited to be in a race again, I think I went out at a bit too high of an effort level.  However, I think the biggest detriment to my performance was indeed the heat.

Two weeks prior, I think, I had gone to a training run on the second half of the Cuyamaca 100K course.  It got extremely hot (like 100F+) and I, along with several other runners, had insufficient water/fuel.  After that run was finally over, I felt some pretty serious effects of heat exhaustion.  I was dizzy, nauseous and light-headed.  After about a half hour of sipping fluids and sitting in my car with a bag of ice on my head, I started feeling better.  But it was enough to make me realize that I am not very acclimated to running for a long time in bad heat.

In the middle of the Mount Disappointment 50K, there is a 5 or 6 mile climb which ends at I think mile 22…or 24.  I forget, exactly.  The point is, it’s 5 or 6 miles of consistent uphill on a narrow dirt road that is completely exposed to the sun, which was a’blazin’.  I had been feeling great for the whole race, climbing quite well and descending smoothly, until about halfway up that climb.  There was then a quite precise moment when I just crashed.  My legs felt no different, but my energy level simply dropped through the floor.  And it never returned.  I walked basically the entire remainder of the race.  It was incredibly hot and my body just couldn’t handle it.  After that long exposed climb, there was a few miles of downhill in a canyon.  I even walked much of that, as it often felt like I was baking in an oven.  I was actually happy when I got to the final aid station after that and they told me the 5 miles of the race that remained were all uphill, because that meant I didn’t have to feel bad about walking the whole way :D  And they were, and I did. 

More thanks to Fausto for the finish line photo
When I finally did finish, in over six and a half hours, I was perfectly happy.  While it was extremely uncomfortable for the last few hours, I still loved the fact that I was taking part in my first California mountain race, where the volunteers were great and the climbs were serious.  It was definitely the hardest race I have participated in, mile for mile.  This particular experience was probably more difficult for me than any race I’ve done 50 miles or less.  Hell, it took me about the same amount of time to cover these 33 miles as it did to cover 50 at JFK last year.  Granted, I was not exactly prepared for this race, so this isn’t exactly an objective portrayal.  But the course is indeed very difficult.  I really don’t think there is any more than a half-mile or mile total of flat terrain in the whole race.  The entire course is either taking you downhill for anywhere from 2-6 miles, or uphill for 2-6 miles.  It’s awesome.  And I love it.  And I’d love to take another crack at it. 

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