Monday, December 03, 2007

High Desert 50K at Ridgecrest

Executive Summary :)

Initially I planned on writing up a pretty quick recap from this race. But as it all happened just yesterday and I am still overwhelmed with it (and a part of me is still running on those trails unwilling to come back to the reality), the whole thing turned into something bigger than I expected. Here is a quick summary for those folks that value their personal time high enough not to go through the whole story:

High Desert 50K, December 2, 2007: Link
Place: 66 (out of 226) - Overall results
Bib: # 83
Distance: 31.1 miles / 50 km
Net Time: 5:27:49
Average Pace: 10:32 minutes/mile
Elevation Gain: about 2200 feet
Blisters: 0
Black toe nails: 0
Running Shoes: my old Asics Gel-Trail Attack II with 550 miles on them

1. The Road to Ridgecrest

Ridgecrest was supposed to become my second ultra. At least I hoped so despite all the odds. I developed a terrible cold just a week before the race. I guess these were those chilly streams in O’Neal Park, and running in wet shoes to blame for it. Feeling all sick and congested I started to contemplate whether it is reasonable at all to go to Ridgecrest feeling like that. And all of a sudden I am getting that sad email from Jess that Twin Peaks is cancelled this February. So I was thinking if I DNS Ridgecrest and will not have Twin Peaks – the two races I had been anticipating since my first ultra in August – it would leave me with just Leona Divide in April... Long story short, despite my cold I decided to go to Ridgecrest and see on the spot what it looks like, crossing my fingers and toes I will feel better.

As Ridgecrest is an over-three-hour drive from OC, we booked a hotel there. The official race hotel – Heritage Inn – was already completely booked – and I had to pursue other options. The only other 3-star hotel at Ridgecrest was Econo Lodge with some spotty reviews and low rating on Travelocity. How bad can it be if it got those three stars, – I asked myself when booking it? Well, I should have trusted those reviews in the first place and consider some of the 2-star options! The receptionist was totally unfriendly, inflexible about delaying check out for a couple of hours as they did in other places (despite the fact that the hotel was mostly empty), the lobby and the room had a look and feel of a cheap motel… The only advantage of this place was that the room was spacious and clean.

Ridgecrest looked pretty huge when we approached it and saw the city lights spread all over considerable territory. But it turned out to be mostly one-street type of a city: all the shops, hotels and restaurants are located around the China Lake Blvd, while all the other streets seem to be residential. After we (that is my dear support team – Irina and Sonya – and myself) checked in we easily found the race HQ at St. Ann’s school, where we got my bib, a goodies bag with a very cool long-sleeve race shirt with a cool tarantula picture on it, and had a carbo-load dinner over there kindly organized for the runners by the St. Ann’s perish. After that we paid a visit to the local Starbucks (we are all Starbucks addicts including Sonya) and local K-Mart where Sonya got herself a new winter jacket.

Did I mention that it was dead cold at Ridgecrest – something around 30-35F – and pretty windy too? I was really wondering back then whether I was doing the right thing participating in the race. It’s definitely my coldest run so far :)

2. The Start

Next morning at 6am sharp Stephanie and Thomas picked me up at our hotel’s lobby. I was really happy I did not have to wake up my wife and daughter that early to drive me to the start. If I were Karnazes I would probably just run up there as it is only 6 miles from the hotel, but last time I checked I had a different last name, and 50K still was a big deal for me as it is – without adding an additional 10K to it :)

The start/finish area is located at the sports complex of the local college at the city’s south foothill boundary. The morning was less windy than the evening before, but very cold. After we took the-last-still-alive pre-race pictures, I put on my headphones and listened to Apocalyptica for a while to charge myself before the race. I could not take my iPod mini with me as its battery does not last any longer than 4 hours anymore.

The race started in the morning dusk at 7am. I was wearing shorts, two technical long-sleeve shirts and gloves. It was very cold but I was hoping it should get warmer after the sunrise. Most of the runners were wearing long-sleeve shirts, jackets and/or sweaters. A lot of folks were also having on long tights under (or instead of) their shorts. There was just one tall long-haired guy (no, it was not Greg) who did not have any shirt at all. I was getting extra cold just looking at him :)

3. The First Half of the Race

I caught up Stephanie within the first 5 minutes into the race, and ran with her for quite a while. She was wearing the same brick-red race shirt as I did, black shorts and Asics shoes – again just like me. I guess we looked like twins in our matching outfits, although when I said it aloud a couple of guys noticed the Steph is a much more good-looking twin of two of us :)

We were running at an average pace of about 10:50 minutes/mile. I felt very comfortable, almost like ready for the second 50K lap after we finish the first one. The view was as spectacular as it gets. We were running through the hills in a mostly-flat valley surrounded by distant mountains lit up by morning sun.

The air was crisp and clear: no smog, no fog, almost no clouds. We could see pretty distant mountains up to hundred miles away from us. I started to get a weird feeling that we were not running but flying though those hills: if I had seen anything like that before, it was always from an airplane window.

Between the 1st and 2nd aid stations we caught up a runner who twisted her ankle just 6 miles into the race. She could barely walk and told us she was planning to DNF at the next aid station. As I was on the peak of my race excitement I felt especially sorry for her. Unfortunately I did not ask her name and do not remember her bib number – so I cannot say if she managed to continue or had to drop out from the race. There were only 4 DNFs out 351 runners, which is incredibly low!

4. The Second Half of the Race

Almost every time I am running a race I tend to perform well and burn out during the first half of it and really struggle painfully crawling to the finish line during the second half. This time I decided to really keep myself under control and run the first 15 miles conservatively. I constantly felt that urge to run faster but succeeded in ignoring it for the first half of the race reminding myself of my crippled OC Marathon and Mt. Disappointment experience :)

Around mile 14 when we hit another long uphill and everyone switched to walking, it became more difficult to trick Steph into running with me. At first it was enough to run uphill in front of her and get my camera out. Once she saw that camera she always was starting to run fast towards me either to look nice on my photos or to really beat me up for fooling around. However at some point this thing stopped working and I had to continue the rest of the way on my own – as it turned out later just a little bit ahead of Steph.

Half into the race I still felt full of energy. Although I had a couple of big up-hills to go, there was nothing you could call a “climb” in front of me. Once I imagined that it was little different than just an ordinary half marathon going forward, my fun flying-over-the-hills run ended. I got kinda competitive and started to count runners I was passing by, which kept me both entertained and motivated. By the time I crossed the finish line I counted 64 of those. I was ready to subtract from my sum anyone who would pass by me but it somehow never happened.

One of the most challenging of the runners I was chasing there turned out to be … Shelli! I was running after her on a long ascent for good 15 minutes before I managed to catch up. She looked very strong as if she were running just a 10K trot or something like that.

At some point I managed to catch that tall long-haired guy who was running without a shirt. He was #56 on my list as far as I remember. He is a much faster runner than I am but got injured and it slowed him down.

Somewhere 20 miles into the race we noticed huge puffs of black smoke in the valley. It looked like a big intense chemical fire that was put out and started again, then put out again, and so on. It was pretty far from us – at least 30 miles – but we could clearly see it. The only logical explanation I could come up with was Martian invasion – I recall similar puffs of black smoke in Wells’ War of the Worlds. But in reality it turned out to be just a bunch of tests of the local firefighters that were trying different fire retardants over different types of fuel.

5. Aid Stations

The course was extremely well marked with blue-yellow ribbons and huge white arrows. There were absolutely no crossroads or side trails where it would not be evident straight away where to go next.

The aid stations where located almost every 3 miles – there where 9 of those along the 50k course. I guess I could easily survive it not carrying any water with me at all (I had one 20oz hand bottle with Gatorade) – just like most of the folks do during road marathons.

All the aid stations where perfectly packed with drinks, food and extremely friendly volunteers. Are not volunteers always friendly during those trail races, by the way? – I bet they are, but I was so knocked out by heat and crazy climbs at Mt. Disappointment that I did not have a chance to notice that :-)

This was also the first time when I could easily eat solid food during a race. I had a bunch of salty potatoes on most of the aid stations. Plus I was using those Clif Shot Bloks too. Usually I have a problem even with gels and after mile 15 into a race (or even a long training run) I cannot eat anything anymore…

Three last aid stations had a lot of Christmas decorations and ornaments all over the bushes. One of them had a sign “Sorry, No Beer!” Another station had a couple of beer bottles on the table, but I am not completely sure they where actually serving it to runners :)

6. The Finish

The finish line was a bit confusing. You can see it and almost touch it as the sports complex is in front of you. You pull yourself together, run as fast as you can thinking it is the finish line, but then you get diverted around a stadium. All right, now you recognize the road and know exactly where the finish line is, but you are diverted again and need to run around a huge parking lot with all the cars to get to it.

Usually it gets easier if you have a GPS and know how far you might be from the finish. But it did not work for me this time – my Garmin switched off about 10 times during the race and lost about 3 miles of the course overall…

On the last stretch of the course – right before I found out I need to go around the darn parking lot – I met Irina and Sonya. Irina was happy seeing me as one piece and much earlier than expected. Sonya did not even recognize her dad at first – probably did not really come as one piece after all :)

I was not sure about my time but I knew I broke 5:30!
As it turned out afterwards my final time was 5:27:49.
Oh, did I mention that it is my PR? I was destined to PR in Ridgecrest. It was the second 50K in my life. And as my previous 50K time was a snail-like 7:55, it was not that difficult to improve it – especially at Ridgecrest.

Shelli and Steph both broke 6 hours too and finished in 05:37:16 and 05:52:53 respectively. Evidently Steph picked up too and set a new PR as well.

The race was won by Jorge Pacheco who came in 3:31:41, and there were 6 other guys after him that did the race under 4 hours.

Another great thing about the finish line was … that hot shower at the college gym. It was the first race in my life I drove away from dry and clean :)

7. The Aftermath

In terms of the aftermath this race is pretty unique too. I was running in my new Injinji socks (thanks for the great advise, Jess!). Plus I covered my feet with Bodyglide in every spot I have or used to have blisters. Whether it is the former or the latter the result is incredible. The first race I got neither black toe nails nor blisters.

In a word I had a bunch of first-ever race experiences including this longest race recap ever - and I should say you are totally nuts if you had enough patience to get up to this paragraph :)

Another thing is that I can walk today – even down stars. I am pretty sure I was running as fast as can during the second half of the race. Does it mean I am getting used to this thing and I will not be crippled for over a week after each race as I used to?

How painful an average after-race recovery should really be in order not to feel like a slacker after a race?

8. My Goals

I had three goals for this race: the secret one, which was 5h; the real one = 5:30h (I managed to beat this one); and a conservative one just in case something goes wrong = 6:30h.

Another “bonus goal” I had was to run all the up-hills and completely refrain from walking. Apart for a couple of minutes when I was sipping Gatorade from my hand bottle, I was running all the time. This is certainly not a big deal as there were no steep climbs, but still feels like an achievement.

As a conclusion I would like to add a quote I proudly stole from Sarah’s blog the other day:

"The tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach." -- Benjamin E. Mays

More pictures from the race:
High Desert 50K, 2-Dec-07


Stephanie said...


what a great race recap and congratulations. I had a lot of fun running with you the first half (even if I said I didn't!) you are a great entertainer!

I love the pics - except of the first one of both of us - I look mad! I will steal some and post on my blog if you don't mind. It was cool to read how your journey continued after you took off. The more miles I ran the better I liked the race. Usually I get an uplift after the half point.

Wasn't it so sweet of the volunteers to decorate the desert bushes with christmas glitter? A true warming feeling out in the freezing desert.

You know what? I had the same visions...after the race I still pictures the sandy trails in my head. I mean I totally saw them infront of me - I was still running.

You did fantastic. Now I am hoping you will change your mind and run Catalina:-)

Jessica Deline said...

great job and great recap!! Sounds like it was a lot of fun despite the cold.

Anonymous said...


Congrads on your race! I was looking for some familiar faces but, being that I haven't met you in person that was close to impossible. Look forward to running with you one of these days.
Mike Kennedy