(The American River valley, photo courtesy of DerBilly)
The Overlook Run is casually organized, much like a local fun run. There are no race packets, no t-shirts, no starting/finish line, no maps, and race numbers are printed on plain paper. The aid stations, however, are fine-tuned machines fully stocked with food, water, and experienced volunteers. Although it may feel like there isn't much "support", it's there where you need it.
I arrived at the start around 6:15am, and it was already in the low 70's with the sun peeking over the hills through a clear sky. This was certainly going to be a warm day, particularly for those that would take 6-8 hours to finish. Some of the locals let me know it would "hit 90-95 degrees easy by 1 pm". Whoa! My coastal-trained body wasn't sure how to prepare for heat like that. I tossed a few extra sunscreen samplers, bandanas, and Endurolyte tablets in my fanny pack just in case.
Race Director Laurette Fox got our attention and briefly talked us through the course, and before we knew it, we were off! After a mile of downhill single track, the course opened up on a wide section of the Western States Trail. Brian Ashton, John Olsen, and Bev Abbs set the pace up front, and about a dozen of us spread out in small groups behind them.
About four miles in, we reached the first aid station. They let us know we were about to do a 7 mile loop and sent us down some single track under No Hands Bridge. The poison oak was rampant and unavoidable, reaching out at chest level in big, sweaty branches. We did our best to help each other through it, but as one runner said, "it's going to be hard to hide a break out at work on Monday". I know I've looked like a human creme brulee after many races, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
(No Hands Bridge, photo courtesy of TheOtherOne)
The single track was short-lived, and we soon found ourselves on a long, steady climb on a paved road. It took me a few minutes to realize we had just passed Clementine Resevoir, and that this was the same road as the bike section of the World's Toughest Half Ironman. Knowing this, I paced myself for the 2 mile climb, running along with Marty Hoffman and Troy Limb. The sun rose higher in the sky, raising the temperature quickly (my watch read 83 degrees), but the thick trees gave us a good amount of shade right to the top. We took a single track trail down the hill, and I saw Alan Abbs and a few others about 5-6 minutes ahead of us.
We completed the loop and came back to No Hands Bridge (mile 11.5). Ahead of us was a climb up to Cool, CA (similar to sections of Way Too Cool) and most of us began loading ice into our water bottles to cool our hands. Marty and Troy had a good pace going, but I was feeling strong enough to run the steeper uphills to try and catch Alan. Despite my faster pace, I ran solo to the Cool aid station (mile 15) and didn't see hide nor hare of anyone. They told me I was about 3.5 minutes behind Alan, so at least I was making ground.
The volunteers at Cool filled me up with ice and salted potatoes, and pointed me to the next loop across an exposed field. It was the same trail as the beginning of the Auburn Marathon, so I figured I knew where to go. Such fun to see familiar trails in a new way! The volunteers said "see you in an hour or so" and I headed out. Right as I hit the trail, another runner was coming in - boy, he was making good time! He called out to me and let me know that he hadn't see a single trail marking and suspected he had cut the loop short.
After running for a mile or so, I ran into Tim Twietmeyer who was out on a bike ride. He told me the toughest part of navigating this loop was to "stay left at the bog". Got it! Just as he mentioned, I ran into a big bog about two miles later. I looked around for a trail, but all I saw was one trail along the right side of the bog. I ran along it and it forked just after the bog, so I went left assuming that's what Tim meant. But 20 minutes later, I found myself coming down the same wrong path as the previous runner. Darn.
I walked up the aid station to a lot of "I know, I know....there seems to be a course marking problem" and they mentioned that short of the first three runners, everyone else had taken the same wrong turn. They sent me on a "make up loop" by telling me to run down a trail for a mile, then take a right and catch up to the others.
(Looking down on the American River, photo courtesy of DerBilly)
At this point, my mind started to turn on me. Does this mean I just DNF'd? If so, maybe I should just stop and have a beer and pizza at the Cool Pizzeria. No, I thought, at least finish the race. But even as I jogged down the "make up loop", I couldn't get my spirits up to go hard. I found a trail about a mile down the road and took a right, only to plop out on a trail right next to the three leaders. As glad as I was to be back on course, it was clear that I had cut the course by at least 2-3 miles. My heart sunk.
What to do now? Well, it certainly wasn't right to stick with the front pack, so I figured I would run the course backwards until I ran into Alan Abbs, Marty Hoffman, or some of the others I was close to. At least that way I wouldn't be cutting ahead of somebody else, even if my time was all messed up. I backtracked for about ten minutes, jogging with each runner I met to see if they had gotten lost...and they had all gotten lost. Before too long, Alan Abbs and Jeff Kolak came up the hill saying they had also done a "make up loop" as well. Jeff said, "it kinda sucks the wind out of ya, huh?" I agreed, and turned around and paced after them.
Alan was running strong (capping a 130 mile week), and put some distance between us. Jeff wasn't letting him out of his sight though. They gapped me, and I arrived at the Cool aid station as they were heading off. The volunteers told me that the order of runners at check-in had been consistent before and after the mix up, so at least the order was right. Some runners were still coming in the wrong way, so it was hard to say. I was determined to finish one way or the other, so I slapped on some sunscreen and headed back down to No Hands Bridge.
At my last crossing of No Hands, my watch read 92 degrees. It was HOT!!! I know this is somewhere around mile 70 for Western States, so the conditions would be similar. It's hard to imagine. The volunteers at the last aid station took great care of me, and were generous with the sponges. They pointed out a few waterfalls and streams along the last 3.7 miles that were good for head-dunking. With that, I headed off.
In the last few miles, the heat really started getting to me. I felt a little woozy, and my muscles began to twitch involuntarily (cramps coming on?). The stale air felt like a hot compress on my face, and I became disoriented, wondering why I hadn't seen anybody for the last half hour. I had trouble doing the math in my head about how much water I had drank. Gordy Ainsleigh ran by (or did he?) and hollered "Just a few more miles! Keep going!" I took some extra salt, gushed it down with some extra water, and slowed to a walk/run. But it was too little, too late. My toes cramped hard when I walked, and my quads cramped when I ran, so all I could do was alternate as the cramps traded off. The last mile felt like an eternity.
As I shuffled to the finish, every finisher ahead of me was laying out in the shade enjoying hot dogs, chips, and ice cold drinks. A nice breeze kept the heat at bay, and a man-made canal across the parking lot gave us a spot to soak our legs and get our core temp back to normal. Within 20 minutes of sitting, eating, and drinking, my cramping had receded to a minor annoyance. We all chatted about the race, and how everyone's Western States preparation was going. Apparently injury was taking out many competitors this year, including Andy Jones-Wilkins (IT band injury) and last years women's winner Annette Bednosky (hamstring injury). Most of the Overlook Run finishers preparing for States looked pretty good, and were excited to began their taper.
[6/12/06 Note - Andy Jones-Wilkins reports he is recovering nicely, and plans to race Western States this year. Awesome!]
John Olson had won the race after pacing with Bev Abbs up until the last two miles, then sprinting ahead to finish in 4:36. Bev Abbs got second overall in 4:40, handily winning the women's division and taking 14 minutes of last years time. Alan Abbs held strong to finish just under 5 hours. I finished in 7th place, coming in at 5:08, although with a questionable total race distance.
This was a good learning race for me. I had never experienced cramping in a race, and it gave me a newfound respect for those trying to get back on track when it hits. It's also clear to me why so many people want heat training before States - if you looked like me in a 100-miler, you most likely wouldn't make it to the end. Lastly, just because no maps are provided is not an excuse to not familiarize yourself with the course. Even with instructions from multiple parties and familiarity with many sections from previous races, I still managed to get lost. Worst of all, in the confusion and cramps, I had forgotten to take a single picture.
Still, it was great to see everyone and wish them well before States. My thanks to the RD's and volunteers for braving the heat to put on this race. I guess I'll just have to chalk this one up to character building. ;-)
[PS - Results haven't been posted yet; I will add a few more names once they are. I'm taking a few weeks break from racing, but if you have a race report you would like to post, let me know!]