Saturday, August 28, 2004

Back in the L.A. Sun – Bulldog 30k, August, 2004

For race #11 in the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series (, I returned to Malibu Creek State Park, the same location as the Malibu Creek Challenge ( , see this page for hotel and travel info) just a few months ago. One would think it would be the exact same race, but since the Bulldog Run ( is put on by Nancy Shura and Ultraladies, it had a very different vibe to it. These ladies are fun, kicked back, and DEADLY FAST. Nancy also puts on the Valley Crest Half Marathon earlier in the summer, and many runners were saying it was epic.

The Bulldog had two options, a 30k and 50k. The crowd seemed more like an “ultra” crowd, and you could tell by the more relaxed pre-race conversation and the abundance of Camelbaks, gators, and head to toe SPF 50 gear. These folks were ready to make a day of it! There were about half as many racers in the 30k as the Malibu Creek Challenge Half Marathon, and a few familiar faces. Weather was similar, and the view was one of a kind – gorgeous fog on the right, smog on the left. ;oP The 50k folks had already left in the wee hours of the morning on an out-and-back course, so as we did a modified one-loop course (it was the Malibu Creek Challenge Course, with a couple of miles of hills added to the beginning, an extra mile trail loop about half way through, and some extra creek hopping at the end), we would see them coming and going.

Within a mile of the start, three of us pulled off the front with Dale Reicheneder (who placed at the Malibu Creek Challenge as well) and Alan Goldstein setting a furious pace off the front. Once those two hit the hills, they were gone for good. Jesse Haynes (of OLN “Everest Challenge” fame) passed me as we hit the Bulldog Trail, still able to hold a conversation as the incline steepened. We started running into a few of the 50k folks, and some of them told us how the trail had been sabotaged (even going as far as remarking the chalk) and had forced the front pack to go an extra couple of miles before turning around. That’s bad news on a 13 mile run…can’t imagine what that means on a 50k. Still, they all took it in stride and smiled their way through the pack again.

I had seen the Malibu sunrise over the clouds before, but it was so breathtaking I had to look again as we crossed the highest peak. But this time I looked a little too long and stepped right off the trail, falling down the side of the hill. As I got my bearings, some of the 50k runners helped me up and pointed out that I was bleeding from my head, shoulder, and hip. One of them said “but no broken bones, so catch your breath and get back on the trail” (the ease with which this rolled off his tongue made me wonder what kind of hell these ultra folks put themselves through on a regular basis). He was right though – it was four miles to the next aid station, and sitting on a trail bleeding from my melon wasn’t going to get me any closer. So I brushed myself off and found a comfortable pace.

Within a mile, I had caught the two who helped me up and he said “you’re running pretty fast, are you okay?”. I said I felt comfortable….but in fact I couldn’t feel much at all, as the adrenaline was still fresh in my bloodstream. I looked at my watch, but couldn’t do the math to figure out my pace. As I worked down the hill, the leaders of the 50k were on their way back up. It looked like a race in slow motion – they were just a few hundred feet apart, but going slightly faster than a “fast walk” pace. But clearly they knew their limits. Jorge Pacheco (last year’s winner) was leading, with a few guys within a 1000 yards of him, and JulieAnne White was working her way through the top 5 (I told you these ultraladies were fast). JulieAnne ended up getting 2nd overall behind Jorge ( I cruised down the hill, but not fast enough to outrun Alan Zarembo who went flying by me. I ended up placing 5th (, running the last 8 miles at a sub-7 pace! Apparently I should crack my skull more often.

The volunteers at the first aid tent were more than happy to patch me up, and sent me on my way with some ibuprofen. Christi, now a pro at being a spectator/coach/paramedic, hosed me down to stay cool. As the results were read off I realized I got 5th overall, but 4th in my age group. As I said before, you gotta bring your A game to beat folks like Dale (who got 1st), Alan (2nd), and Jesse (3rd). Karen Kelly came in a few minutes after me, looking strong right to the end.

Nancy Shura apologized profusely for the sabotaged trail, and as she explained what lengths they went to in order to prevent it, I realized that this is a recurring problem. It’s such a shame that people who go that far out of their way – this would have had to have occurred around 3am. But in the end, nobody was angry and everyone had fun. As Nancy proved, success can be as much about getting the right group of people in the first place.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

When Poor Directing Kills A Good Run - Mtn Man 1/2 Marathon, Aug, 2004

You know what really makes you appreciate a well-organized trail race? Going to one that sucks. And I don't mean suck as in "the snacks weren't good", I mean sucks as in "trail marked so poorly that every single runner got lost", "took your money and didn't give t-shirts", as well as "the snacks weren't good". That's what we found at XDogEvents Mountain Man Half Marathon in Hood River, OR, on August 8th, the 9th race in my Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series ( pursuit.

The race aside, a trip to Hood River is a fine thing. We spent a night at the Columbia Gorge Inn, which was romantic and scenic and had a five course breakfast that was to die for. They even helped us with a snafu in our reservation - when we checked in, we didn't have enough nights reserved and the hotel was full. They arranged a great room for us at the Hood River Inn, and even stopped by to drop off more breakfast coupons and snacks! The Hood River Inn is also a great place, and about half the price. You get a great big room, complete with a 1950's neon sign just outside your window for the whole "Old Town" vibe. Every lunch and dinner we had was great, and Christi enjoyed cruising the shops in downtown.

The race was out in the boondocks at a remote reservoir, so we had to rent a car to get out there. XDogEvents prides themselves in small, community events and this one was probably about right for them. An off-road triathlon hosted about forty racers, and the half marathon had about 30 more. My dad came from Eugene to join us on this one and signed up for the full 13.1 miles. It looked like it was going to be an epic race with a small group of fun people.

Epic it was, but not in a good way. In retrospect, I should have seen the signs. First sign of a problem - no maps were issued, and none were available. Second sign - "there are some areas that aren't necessarily trails, and you'll have to go cross-country without volunteers to guide you". Third bad sign - "trails were marked late last night with pink ribbon"...only later to find out it's the same pink ribbon the Forest Service uses to mark their trails. It's a lot easier to see that mistake in daylight. Lastly, "the last aid station doesn't have any people so don't drink all the water". The smiles slowly waned from the starting line...

Within the first 1000 yards, everyone was lost (and I mean EVERYONE) and we had to stop the race and backtrack to the beginning. The second start wasn't much better, as people started losing trail markers within the first couple of miles. At about mile 4, the course started going along more recognizable trails so I took the opportunity to pull from the front of the pack. Big mistake. My dad was smart - he hung back with the others.

About an hour later, I was stopped by some hikers who said, "unless you're planning on swimming across the Columbia Gorge, I think you took a wrong turn". I pointed out the pink ribbons and they said those ribbons are what the Forest Service uses to mark dead trees that need to be cut (uh, oh). They helped me assess my whereabouts, and I was about five miles off course, that is, if we could figure out where the course was. One young hiker ran up to the top of a hill with his binoculars to look for other runners and quickly relplied "they are all over the place...and going in every direction". We studied the map and found a quick two mile connection back, so I would only be 6-7 miles off overall. At this point I was less worried about my finishing time, and more about if I was ever going to find the rental car again. They filled my water bottle and handed me some trail mix (aren't hikers great?), and I was back on the road.

About 20 minutes later, I passed another runner who said she thought she was about 25th place. She said "some people have passed me two or three times and aren't real happy about it". I looked at my watch - 1:55:20 - and understood their frustration. I passed the last aid station (which was empty) and just followed the most trampled trail I could. After a mile or so, I followed the smell of the BBQ. Miraculously, I crossed the finish line in 2:12:30, and into the arms of a very worried Christi. Then they said I got third place...excusez-moi?

My dad had crossed the finish line nearly 40 minutes earlier ("my fastest 1/2 marathon ever! Hmmm...maybe I didn't do the full distance"), and we learned an important lesson. If you're going to get lost, do so in a way that you CUT mileage, not ADD mileage. ;oP

So I asked if my dad got first or second, and they said "Who is he? We don't have record of him". Later when they posted the results ( they had me down for fifth, and my dad for first. I sent a dozen e-mails about the wrong award, the missing t-shirt they charged me for, and getting results to Trail Runner Magazine, but they never were responded to.

If you ever wonder why you have to sign those liability forms, it's for hacks like Kevin at xDogEvents that can't get their act together. This race was beyond embarassing - it was life-threatening. If you're ever going to race in a new area, try to at least bring your own map to avoid a scenario like this. Race directors, take note.