Tuesday, January 26, 2016

San Diego 50 - Race Day

I set the alarm for 4:30 am, but then laughed because my body was still on eastern time. Been getting up around 4 am all week without an alarm. Sure enough, got up around 4:15, ate some breakfast, got dressed and got on the road. Had a mild moment of panic when the hotel valet brought my car around and suddenly the GPS in my phone lost the address for the race start that I had pre-programmed in there. Ran back upstairs, got the paper with the address on it, and was off to find the starting line.

The San Diego 50 is a 50 mile trail race held in Escondido, CA on the north side of San Diego. It is an out and back course of 25 miles each way. There is lots of farmland, overall it is a pretty flat course but there are some challenging sections. There is a stream crossing in mile 23 (and returning mile 28), and the last 7+ miles of the course get very rocky and technical. So I was in for a lot of everything.

Cold but ready to run
West coast gets all of the extremes in the weather. It was only 27* when I left Raleigh NC on Wednesday, so arriving at the starting line and wearing shorts and a tank was a bit chilly, but it still let me make fun of the locals all bundled up in jackets, hats, and gloves. It was in the 40's, justified, but I was still pretty comfortable. The drive up took about 45 minutes from downtown SD, no problems with parking or anything. I was driving up this winding mountain road when suddenly I saw the early start runners bust out through an intersection with headlights on! That's how I knew I was heading in the right direction.

Right as the sun was coming up, we all got the starting gun and took off. It was kind of questionable if we would need headlamps at the start or not, but you would definitely need one if you were going to finish after 5 pm. We did not need it at the start, but they had drop bags waiting at the mile 20 aide station if you wanted to drop it there. I just ran with it the whole way.

At first we went out past some farmland, then about 100 yards down a road before picking up more trails. These were double track, wide dirt trails that were very well maintained.

farmland after that grassy part and before the mountains
Once the sun came out it started to warm up. They had aide stations every 5 miles or so. There was a huge climb and very rapid descent to get down to the first aide station. This very friendly mexican girl passed me on the climb and I followed her line on the downhill with leaps and bounds. My first thought when I hit the end of the descent was "that's going to be horrible to go back up with 46 miles already on my legs".

goofy - what do you mean we have to climb those mountains?
and yes, we absolutely did make it up and over those mountains. I took more pictures before the turn around, so they really show the course going out.

Farmland and mountains

Finally getting up to some elevation! starting to hurt here

Wide dirt trails and dreadlocks - Mike was a super cool guy to run with

I knew we were going to be running into that fog, and we did

Nice wide trail, runners in the distance
The shadows are starting to get a bit long there. I didn't get any good pictures of the lake that we ran around, but it was really pretty. There was a dam around mile 14, we ran through some parks, the trail system was very elaborate. It was a really cool course. It was also an open course, so there were other runners, mountain bikers, hikers, everyone was out there.

The creek crossing at mile 23 was a really nice relief. The cold water felt great on my feet, and my shoes were totally dry again by the time I hit the turnaround.

Eventually there was an aide station where my Garmin said mile 24.6, and they said from there the turn around point was .75 miles away. Didn't seem like 3/4 of a mile away to me, which was a relief. I hit the turnaround point strong and felt great. Ready to tackle the return trip.

Sun is getting low already

Still smiling

This is a cactus farm! Such cool sights on this trail.

You can see the trail turn up ahead, there are a few runners up there in the shot

The black shrubs were from a controlled burn - very interesting

The white part on the other side of the valley was a rope retaining system for erosion control.
 This photo shows a really challenging part of the course. The handrail kept us aligned on a series of switchbacks to get up a very steep mountain. Then we ran around the top of it and back down this side. The rope erosion control system on the other side of this valley actually shows the top of the course on that side (we ran at the very bottom of that ropemesh)

Houses on the hillside
I didn't even try to take any pictures after it got dark. I went into the pain cave to just hang out for a while. My marathon split time was 5:02, not my worst. Didn't notice the 50k split time, but when I hit 40 miles at 7:40, that was a pretty serious time. My only other time going 40 miles was in 2012 in Georgia in 9:47, so that's over a 2 hour PR and I got a distance PDR in the next mile. So that was pretty amazing.

Around mile 43 I knew my conditioning was catching up to me, and that huge hill was coming up in mile 46. I switched into walking mode and didn't even try to run any more. That hill was a total bastard, but after that it was just running around some farmland in the dark to make it to the finish.

I walked in at 11:35:57, got my medal and finishers glass, and hit wind down mode. This was my 3rd attempt at 50 miles and my first finish. Ah, happy day!

The finish line was really my only complaint about this race. It was freezing cold, temps well into the 30's then, and I couldn't stop shivering. They had heaters at the start, but those were gone. No mylar blankets or anything, it's a low key trail race. They had no chairs, just one picnic table in the dark. The food was good, but it was just a turkey or veggie sandwich and icewater. I normally take a bottle of water and a bottle of electrolytes at the finish, then a 3rd bottle of water for the drive home - got to prevent the dehydration. I was shivering as I ate my sandwich in the dark, then really didn't think I would be able to drive myself back to the hotel. After sitting in the car with the heater running I warmed up enough to stop shivering. Got into a sweatshirt that I brought along, and felt ok to drive after that. Had an easy time getting back to the hotel, and the shower was so nice. Went to the restaurant upstairs and got a giant burger to top off the tank!

Overall I would highly recommend this race if you're looking for a 50 miler. The course was incredibly beautiful, volunteers were very friendly, aide stations were well stocked, and the organization was outstanding. I am extremely happy with my finish, my time, and my overall experience. This was an incredible way to polish California off from my 50 state list.

Monday, January 25, 2016

San Diego - the Prequel

When I first started looking around at how to knock California off of my 50 state list, the first decision was to pick the city. Los Angeles is too big, no thanks. San Fransisco and the rest of northern california has a TON of marathons to choose from. Large, popular marathons that I may end up participating in anyway. But in the end, San Diego had that vibe that I really wanted to check out. Looking around some, I found plenty of road and trail marathons, and a few ultras, but the San Diego 50 really looked like the winner to me. I couldn't work out the logistics to go in 2015, but 2016 seemed like it might work. I thought it would be fun to take a whole week to really experience the SoCal scene, and I still can't believe that it all worked out as well as it did.

My plan was to take a day to fly out there, 2 days to play before the race, 2 days to play after the race and a day to fly back. I came up with this plan in the early fall of 2014, then actually registered for the race when it opened in July 2015, bought the plane tickets around September 2015, then procrastinated the rest of the details. Since Kelley doesn't fly I was planning to do the trip by myself, but Mom wanted to join me out there. Then Dad wanted to get in on the act too. I love travelling with my folks, so this was setting up to be a blast.

The Prequel is the first 3 days. Wednesday 1/13 was fly out there day. The flight was easy, everything happened on time.
Mississippi River

Snow covered Rocky Mountains
After landing, I got a couple of shots at the airport. It felt so amazing to be on pacific time!
Selfie at the airport

Palm trees!
I had a punch list of California things that I wanted to do while I was there that I couldn't get on the east coast. I was hungry after getting the rental car and getting checked into the hotel, so the first thing to come off of the punch list was a Double-Double from In-N-Out burger. That was totally worth the wait! Outstanding fast food. Mom & Dad got to the hotel while I was eating, they caught a later flight from SC and a cab from the airport.

Play Day 1
View from the hotel

We started out thursday with breakfast at the hotel then made our way to the San Diego Zoo! This is one of the nicest zoo's in the country, and one of the only zoos with Panda bears. This zoo is loaded down, and was a blast to walk through.

Me and Dad in front of the zoo

Koi - had a moment of zen there

Koalas in the tree

That polar bear was quite happy


The Panda playing in a tree! His momma was asleep in the next room

Hanging with some birds
After the zoo, we had to go up to the north side of town for the packet pickup at a local running store. It was empty, so we got to talk with the running store owner for quite a while, and he gave us some great local knowledge.

After that we ran some other errands, I had to stop by a Target to pick up a headlight I forgot to pack, but we ended up at La Jolla Cove for punch list item #2. I wanted to put my feet in the pacific ocean for the first time. The pacific beach ended up being beautiful. There was a hotel in the cove where we got some drinks and got to chill for a while. It was a pretty epic way to end the day.

The Cove! La Jolla (which I found out was pronounce la hoya) is really pretty

First time got my feet in the pacific ocean!

How many selfies can one man take?

Since our bodies were still on eastern time, we generally retired around 6:30 pm every night.
Mom in front of the palm trees in La Jolla

Play Day 2:
I wanted the play days before the race to involve more walking, and then after the race to involve more sitting around. So we started day 2 by getting out to the northern end of the San Diego Bay and hitting Cabrillo National Park, one of the punch list items for me. It was a beautiful cliff-side park with a military graveyard, overlooked the island in the middle of the bay, you could almost see Mexico from there. It turned out to be more beautiful than I expected.

Pacific ocean - the mountains bleed right into the sea there!

Sandstone cliff in the parking lot

Coronado Island - military side

Hanging with Cabrillo

the Old Point Loma Lighthouse

the military graveyard

After that we got lunch at Phil's BBQ, and that was amazing. In the Carolinas, we take our BBQ very seriously, and that stuff was on par or better than most of the BBQ places here (but Kelley still doesn't believe me). After lunch we went to visit the first Mission in California. It's still a practicing catholic church, but has been around since 1769. The 2' thick mud walls and ornate statues and gardens were just beautiful. We're southern baptists, not catholics, but Mom still lit a candle.

Daddy's home!

Inside the chappel

Bell tower

Mary & Jesus statue - notice the cactus and other plants around there. so neat!
After that we went to Mission Beach since it was close by. Where east coast beaches have street parking, then you walk a path to get onto the sand and everybody hangs out on the sand and in the water, west coast beaches seem to be more based around a concrete boardwalk. The sand is black, there were no seashells, and the shoreline was very soft. It's all coves, so there is no running miles on the beach like we can do on the Atlantic. Very different but I absolutely loved it.

This is kelp! Mom is standing next to it for scale

Beautiful soft sand, residential on the right
 Mission Beach was mostly residential/rental condos on this side of the beach, but there was a more tourist-y side that we eventually found and picked up some gifts for Kelley and the kids. It was your typical beachside amusement, with a roller coaster, arcade, and plenty of shops. The funniest part was that it rained while we were walking through there, and people had no idea how to handle it. Apparently it never rains there, so watching the locals scream like they were going to melt was hilarious to me.

My parents in the restaurant of the new hotel
Mom & Dad weren't thrilled with the hotel that I picked out on google maps so we switched from a best western in El Cajon to the Porto Vista downtown. This was a much nicer hotel. We got dinner in the bar and called it an early night. I had to wake up early (by Pacific Time standards) for the big race!