It’s Sunday and I’m at Louis’ Restaurant at Land’s End eating breakfast. It’s become something of a tradition for me to eat here the morning after a local ultra. I can’t sleep, can’t eat (or eat much) after a race so I’m usually wide awake at the crack of dawn and starving so I hobble the few blocks over. It’s nice to enjoy the ocean views when it’s quiet before the hordes of tourists descend on the area.
The Lake Sonoma 50 is an out and back race that follows the Warm Springs Arm of Lake Sonoma. I’d heard that it was a race that can sneak up on you with its unrelenting up and down nature. It also had three significant climbs that were clustered around the turn around point at mile 25. All told, it had over 10,000 feet of elevation gain. It had plenty of creek crossings, it could be hot, and it was also beautiful. I’d wanted to run this one for a while and when registration opened last December I jumped at the chance. Good thing too because it sold out in 37 minutes, yet another race that will probably be going the way of the lottery next year.
How To Do a 43.5 Mile 50k
I am in the middle of a Mad Max inspired post apocalyptic hell … by choice. The only thing missing is full body armor and a shotgun. I can barely see in front of me and any attempts to look up is rewarded with more sand irritating my overworked, bloodshot eyes. Sand and debris swirls around me and it feels like the pin prick of hundreds of tiny needles as it slams against the exposed skin on my legs. It hurts. A large tumbleweed sails across my field of view only to disappear mid-air in a gritty fog of red and brown. I can’t even see it land on the ground.
What have I gotten myself into this time?
For me, some races are for personal best attempts, some serve as supported training runs and some are to have an adventure surrounded by spectacular scenery. Antelope Canyon fell into the third category. I’d fallen in love with the American Southwest after I did the Bryce 100k and I had wanted to go back to explore a new area. This was the inaugural running and the first time an organized race had been run through the canyons. In fact the first two legs of the race were on tribal land so I felt honored to be able to spend my day in these special places. About 30+ people had signed up for the 50 mile and an equal number for the 50k. It was going to be nice and cozy.
My 2013 race schedule ended with the North Face 50 Mile held in the Marin Headlands and Mt. Tamalpais. I had mixed feelings about signing up for it again. Last year’s waterlogged mud fest was epic and traumatic all at the same time. While it was memorable I didn’t want a repeat. On the other hand, I wanted the North Face 50 Mile experience I was expecting last year but didn’t get. So back into the breach I went.
Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop,” said the King to the White Rabbit. -Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The American River 50 Mile was my gateway ultra. It was the big goal race two years ago, the first 50 miler, the training for which took me to the edge and due to my inexperience, I eventually plunged right over it. Everything about it was huge and unknown and scary. I didn’t know anyone who ran ultras and it wasn’t even my idea to do one to begin with. I was tagging along on someone else’s bucket list ride.
I could have been drinking coffee and eating pancakes.
Instead I’m sitting in a school bus staying warm and dry while I count down the time to my 5:06am start. The elites are long gone. They were part of the first wave at 5:00am. Normally I would have been out there to cheer them on but nothing about today feels very normal. Storms have been hitting the Bay Area all week and there is more bad weather in store today. The course no longer extends past Stinson Beach into Mt. Tam. Instead, at the 11th hour, a mandatory re-route has us loop, loop, looping around the Headlands and going only as far north as Muir Beach.
What am I doing out here?