My self-imposed time limit for this race: 4 hours. Did I make it? We’ll see.
My running buddy, Karen, and I took off about 8:15 Saturday morning for the 4-hour or so drive to Santa Rosa, stopped for the obligatory coffee and bagel before heading out of town, one restroom break down the road, and didn’t stop again until we hit Hank’s Creekside Café in Santa Rosa sometime after 12:00, where we ate like little pigs. I guess we were hungry! BTW - If you’re ever in Santa Rosa, you have to check this place out. I heard about them on FoodTV. Fantastic cinnamon walnut French toast! YUM-MEE! And Karen’s pancakes were quite edible, too.
With full tummies and some cash burning holes in our wallets, we set out to find Fleet Feet. I was curious about how a gait analysis was done. Well, the sales guy (young and quite a cutie) had me run on this short "track" in the store, told me which shoes he thought would be best (not as scientific and engrossing as I had imagined), and, a couple of other items and $125 lighter, I left the store with a new pair of trail shoes that are an entire size larger than what I’ve been wearing. (Side Note: Needed the larger size ‘cause I have a pair of custom orthotics that I had resurfaced with thicker padding, and they and my feet won’t fit in my old shoes. I must say, the extra cush feels good!)
After Fleet Feet, we did some more "necessary shopping," (you just gotta love Trader Joe’s!), headed west toward Jenner, then north to Fort Ross. The drive from Santa Rosa to Jenner is nice, and the drive up 101 on the coast is always beautiful; however, when I’m a passenger on windy roads, I’m prone to car sickness. I think I may have turned a little green at one point, ‘cause Karen rolled my window down and appeared to have a look of "You’re not gonna throw up in my car." Of course not! It’s just that the French toast, coffee, bagel, chips, carrots - they’re a little unhappy at the moment . . . but do you have a barf bag, just in case??
Once we got to Fort Ross, we went looking for the starting point of the race, which was Gerstle Campground. We got out of the car and WHAM! The wind was blowing so hard, you felt like it was going to lift you off the ground. But what a sight! Spread out before us was a totally unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean, complete with a rock full of sea lions . . . who we couldn’t hear barking
because the wind was blowing the sound away from us. Little did we know how much inspiration that sight would bring us the next day.
After finding our hotel (Fort Ross Lodge - very nice proprietors), we settled down to plates full of my rice goulash, Karen’s refreshing fruit salad, and chunks French bread, followed by PJ’s and a bizarre - but very good - movie, "Requiem for a Dream." (For the record, Ellen Bernstyn is fantastic in this movie.) Alas, we had to forego the wine that would have been a perfect compliment to the meal and settled for what else but refreshing water!
At bedtime, there was some debate about when we should get to the campground the next morning. I preferred to err on the side of caution and get there early so we’d be assured of close parking. As it turns out, by the time we got there around 7:30, the lot was more than half full. Karen, bless her little heart, has graciously agreed to listen to me on this point in the future . . . . now if only I could get my husband to listen to me . . . but I digress. Before leaving for the run Sunday morning, we did the obligatory wait-around-and-pray-for-movement scene. And just in case you’re waitin’ with bated breath of over this - things moved along quite well, thank you very much!
(My running buddy, Karen) Once we checked in at the run site, there was little else to do but hang out and wait for the start. We did, however, meet one other lady from our area, and I hope we meet up again at future runs. Wendell (he and his wife, Sarah, run the PCTRs) gave everyone a pre-starting gun pep talk and reminded us about following the correct color of ribbons (lest you 26k and 11k people want to do the 50k!) and watching for turn indicators. He also announced that of the 150 participants, 9 were doing the 50k, about half of whom were attempting their first ultra. How exciting! The countdown began and we were off!
Karen and I had decided to start toward the back of the pack so as not to get carried away with ourselves and the excitement and expend too much energy at the beginning. We had only gone a few steps, however, when a guy in front of us stepped in a hole in the road and appeared to twist his ankle pretty bad. I have no idea if he continued, but an injury right out of the chute - not the best way to start one’s day. Not far up the paved/graveled road, we took left-hand turn and hooray! Trail! (Me!)
Soon we were on single path trails, pushing through low bushes, stepping over roots and rocks, gingerly climbing over a downed tree (which, on the second go-around, would add insult to tired bodies), then facing the treaded climb. Looking back, I wished I had thought to time our climb up this monster ‘cause it seemed never-ending. However, we did our best to slog/walk the thing with Karen commenting, "You realize we have to climb this again." Ugh!
Suffice to say, we were oh so happy when we popped out at the top onto a prairie. And we knew it was a prairie ‘cause not only had Wendell mentioned the prairie as the marker where the respective "K’s" split, but there was a sign that said, "Prairie." See, we may just be smarter than we look!
From this point almost until we started the second half of the run, Karen and I were pretty much by ourselves, and we had a blast! For the past 8-10 weeks, we had been training on the same group of trails over and over and over and over and . . . well, you get the picture. It was exhilarating to experience different terrain, different scenery! We fairly flew down the hills, taking turns at the lead, calling out "Rock!" "Root!" "Big freakin’ hole!" and at one point, "DITCH!" We monitored each other on fluid and fuel intake and, depending on how we were feeling at the moment, sprinted away from one another, and then wait for the other to catch up. At one point, Karen had to take a bathroom break. There she was in all her glory, I casually looked up the trail and, "Oh, hi!" There was nobody there, but the look on her face was priceless. I’ll probably pay for that at some point, but it will have been worth it.
We finally reached at our first aid station, gulped down some HEED, loaded our ziplock baggies with pieces of PBJ, potatoes, and some candy (thanks for the suggestion, Kate! a.k.a. "katemd" and Karen’s sister), and took off again. I started feeling a hot spot on my left foot, so I slowed down. Karen was doing really well and asked if I minded if she took off down the trail. Heck, no! Go for it! See ya at the bottom! She fairly flew away from me and graciously waited at the bottom where we crossed the road and were blessed with a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. I parked my butt on a log and quickly addressed my foot with moleskin (aaaah!), then we were off for a couple of miles of bluff running. Being as there can be anywhere from a 10-20 degree difference between up on the mountain/hill and down on the bluff, the breeze and coolness was a blessed relief.
After twisting and turning, avoiding rocks, climbing into and out a ditch, greeting other participants and regular trail walkers, and trying to avoid over-exuberant dogs who wanted to run with us, we reached the starting point, the second aid station, loaded our baggies, and took off for another round. Remember the downed tree we had to climb over the first time? Well, this time it was pretty much sit and try to swing your leg over without getting splinters you-know-where.
From this point on, we had off and on contact with other runners, including a few 50kers who were only halfway through their run. We met up with a gentleman named Ken from Livermore who was with us for most of the hike up the Monster Hill. To paraphrase him and how we were feeling at the time, "I’m in my 40's but my brain thinks I’m still 25. My body is winning the argument."
By the time we crested the top and the prairie again, I knew this last leg was going to be hard for me.
I had been trying very hard to monitor my fluid and fuel intake throughout the run. However, due to a misunderstanding on my part of recommendations by my coach, I was getting depleted of electrolytes, etc. My legs, especially my thighs and hamstrings, were really beginning to ache and were h-e-a-v-y, but it was easier to run than walk. Karen was getting tired, but was still feeling good. We wound our way around the Prairie, headed back into the forest, and then down the hill with Karen leading the way. At points where the trail steepened, I would zig-zag my way from side-to-side, trying to alleviate some of the pressure on my quads. At one point, Karen stopped at a trail sign and said, "It’s the pygmy forest!" I told her if I stopped, I’d never get going again. Let’s keep on movin’!
She slowly pulled away from me at this point (good for her!), and I pretty much concentrated on keeping a forward momentum going.
When I finally popped out at the bottom and reached the bluffs again, there was no question in my mind that I would make it. I was slogging along through the high grasses toward the edge of the bluff when I looked up and there was Karen, waiting for me. What a gal! She asked how I was doing, and I think my comment was, "I just want to get this over with." She stayed with me almost the entire rest of the way, but pulled ahead of me once we reached the parking lot, which was "within spitting distance" of the finish line. It was at this point that I looked at my Garmin and realized that I had about two minutes if I wanted to reach the finish within my self-imposed time limit. I tried to pick up the pace, had to walk a few feet up the last climb, then ran as fast as my legs would go, finishing in . . . . . 4:00:06.
Tired, but happy, we had our picture taken at the finish line, trudged back to the parking lot, hit the lodge for a quick shower, then started on the 5+ hour drive home.
Salt Point was my longest run to date, and what a time we had! Both of us were sore and stiff the next day, but agreed that we definitely want to do this run again. As for me, for the first time in my life I’m pushing myself past my comfort zones, relishing the sense of accomplishment, and looking forward with great anticipation to my next milestone.