With every downhill step, following the first of eighteen water crossings, my insole slides forwards on gel heel-lifts lubricated by water that’s failing to drain from my Altra Lone Peak “trail” runners. With every footfall, the inserts squish their way to escape, the insoles bunch up further under my toes, and the shoes squelch out a bit more water. So bright side, at least the shoes are losing a little water-weight. Despite the shin deep streams with no rock-to-rock-keep-dry paths, my Anderson Redwoods Trail run 50k is not going swimmingly. Resentfully, I stop to reset the entire mess with puffy and swollen hands.
Earlier, at cresting the major climb to Bullfrog Pond Campground on the first loop, a prescription medication whose side-effect is a susceptibility to heatstroke unleashed its full wrath on my system. My hands are swollen, my arms flushed red and covered in goosebumps. It was shortly thereafter that I received a good shot of adrenaline, as I move over to let by a faster 20-something fleet-footing it through the 30k run on a fire road descent, I hear “Mr. Rattles”.
During the pre-race announcements, hazards were listed as ticks and rattlesnakes. I’ve brushed a few of the former off my shins and calves on the grassland climbs up to Bullfrog that are as utterly spectacular as they are sadistic. And now at a maraca shake, I channel a runner I’ve never been, jump like a startled gazelle across the wash-out cleaving the fire-road’s middle. Motivated by Mr. Rattles, my stately 9 minute 30 seconds per kilometer average pace, plummets to a 4m15s/km. Splashing into another stream, I stop, soak my hair and face, and conclude that adrenaline obviously didn’t make for a maintainable pace on this beast of a course.
I’m given up on the heel inserts; having placed them in the Altras to help me transition to “zero-drop” shoes, I fish the slippery gels out and have a very un-ultra moment of wanting to chuck them into the bush. Zero-drop, essentially means a natural footfall and gate, which offers a number of bio-mechanical benefits when running. However, a majority of us have spent most of our lives with our heels in the air, so to speak, lifted by shoes with impact absorption mechanisms, springs, cushions, gels, air-sacks, and what-have-you. Over the course of 40-plus years of being shod, that leads to physiological adaptation. Everything in the back of your leg shortens, everything in the front lengthens, ushering the path for muscular imbalances and injuries. The problem is you can’t go cold turkey on raised heels, because your body needs time to re-adapt. I stuff the gels-lifts into the front pocket of my “suffer-vest”; I’m going cold turkey.
In reality this isn’t my biggest worry, nor is Mr. Rattles. It’s that the lightheadedness accompanying my “it’s just a nice day out” heatstroke is keeping me from getting into my “out in awesome scenery” happy place. And, this Pacific Coast Tail Runs event is a stunning smorgasbord of quintessentially Californian settings; spires of redwoods, wide open “rolling” pastoral grassland hills, and tree tunneled creek crossings… with a soupcon of hard to avoid poison oak. The race is a stunner, but great looks can’t hide the overall sadism course’s topography; some 1,483m of elevation gain over the 33km course.
Yes, 33km course, I broke down and dropped out of the ultra to the 30k run. Gut feeling; had any one thing gone a little more right, I could have finished. I even made the 4-hour cut-off for the first loop, which I was dubious about achieving, but after some general organizational confusion in the finish/transition area, I ultra-shuffled out onto one of the most aggressive 5k routes I’ve ever experienced to avoid a total DNF.
I do not feel bad about this. On the 5km course I catch a fellow drop-down, who early this year had run a 100km race in Texas, “That race was way easier than this 30k!”
In the finish area, I meet a 75-year-old female veteran of over 75 ultras who also opted out, “This is a true trail run course. It’s also one of the hardest I’ve ever tried.” Perhaps, this explains the small field of ultra-runners in attendance, and in future I’ll watch for this as a “sign” in further races.
Generally, this is the conclusion point in a write-up where one goes on about “unfinished business”, and plotting to return to the race to settle the score. I’m not so sure; this is a beast… Ok, who am kidding, I’m totally going to fit-up and settle the score. For one, I’m zero-drop now baby! So that’s one less thing to go wrong. Plus, I’ve a year to find some trail shoes that drain better.