Monday, April 02, 2007

Round and Round the Pony Express 100k

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining 35 runners for the Pony Express 30k/50k/50m/100k in Cameron Park, CA. After a two year hiatus (to repair a bridge), this speedy loop course was back on the calendar to start the 2007 Fuel Belt Series. It was early in my season for such a long distance, but I was eager to try a short-loop format and see how my legs would hold up to a full day of running. It did not disappoint - beautiful weather, friends both old and new, and the welcoming neighborhood made for a spectacular day.

(Scenic Cameron Park Lake)

When I shared with my work friends that I was driving to a small town in central California to run 53 laps around a 1.2 mile loop, they naturally thought I was insane. It's crazy enough to run all day long, but it's a whole new level of crazy to run all day long in a circle. "If you survive dying from boredom, you will certainly die of exhaustion" was a common response. Were they right? Was I going to be "loopy" before this race was over?

It turns out there are many advantages to a loop course, and it's far less boring than one might guess. For starters, it's easy for your friends and family to check in on you as you run. Many supporting families at Pony Express had set up picnics, and would occasionally join their runners for a lap or two. Second, you can stack a cooler full of goodies and hit it every 10-15 minutes. Third, it would be very unlikely you would ever get lost (although you might forget to count a lap). Lastly (and most important), you would see every runner in the race throughout the day and be able to cheer them on. Long periods of solo miles are common in the point-to-point races, but it won't happen here. You will certainly meet people you haven't met before.

(Runners great the morning sun)

The sun warmed up the air to 55 degrees as Robert Mathis and crew gave us last minute instructions. It was going to be a warm day for sure, so sunscreen was mandatory. Runners for the "sprint" (30k), "jaunt" (50k), or "run" (50m/100k) all started together, and we quickly spread out along the course. I paced next to Peter Lubbers, winner of last year's Tahoe Super Triple (two marathons and one 72-mile loop of Lake Tahoe in three days), and we settled into a 9:50/lap, just under a 9 min/mile. Bev Abbs (who ran a 6:30 50-miler here in 2004) set a crazy pace for the 50k while Chris Fraser led the 30k, and the ladies began lapping us right off the bat. Carson Teasley, whom I had met at the Pacifica 50k, made chase after Bev and Chris.

After 12 laps, we were intimately familiar with the course. We knew every stone, patch of shade, breeze, and which of the attack geese were the most menacing. There was something calming about knowing exactly what was ahead of us, and the mileage ahead didn't seem quite as ominous. Peter and I had a long conversation about life, family, running and racing, and the ultra adventures we had ahead of us in 2007. We both had the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler on the agenda for July, but different ways to get there. While I was goofing off with triathlons and road marathons, Peter would be running the Gold Country Grand Prix, a short-course trail series near Reno, NV, with his two sons, 12-year old Sean and 9-year-old Rocky. His two boys are already trail running superstars, posting top age group finishes at last years Grand Prix, and both signed up for the Lake Tahoe Half Marathon. Peter is also hoping to return to defend his Tahoe Super Triple title in October.

Before we knew it, Peter and I had yapped our way through 24 miles. I didn't really know where we were in the standings since there were a handful of runners going faster, and any of them could have been in the 100k. The temperature had picked up to the low 60's, but the morning breeze was still keeping us cool. My legs seemed eager to go harder, so Peter wished me well and I picked up the pace to about an 8:30 mile.

I cranked up the tunes on the iPod (Sevendust, Army of Anyone, and of course, "Round and Round" by Ratt), and asked Norm Klein (today's lap counter) to let me know when I hit 26.2 miles, 50k, and 50 miles to get an idea of my speed. I carried water with me so I wouldn't forget to drink, and got a bite to eat every other lap. My legs seemed to be holding up well. I cheered on John Chappel, who at age 75, was cranking his way through the 50k. Fellow septegenarian Peter Fish was going for the 100k. They both looked great!

(Peter Fish cranks his way to a 50 mile finish)

I hit the marathon mark in 3:26, which seemed a tad fast. Although I didn't have a time objective for the day, I was hoping to find a pace that would leave me some energy at the end. Peter, the master long distance pacer, was only about a half a lap behind, so I figured I was still in the ballpark. I slapped on more sunscreen and kept pushing forward.

The 50k mark came in 4:24, which although comfortable, was definitely too fast for me to hold for the 100k. My guess was that if all went well, I might have a shot at a 9:15-9:30 finish time, but was likely looking at 10 hours. I had begun slowing down a bit due to the increasing heat (now low 70's, and the breeze was gone), and noticed many of the other runners were doing the same. In fact, every time the clouds parted I swore I could hear the collective groan from the circling runners. I stopped the music playlists and switched to "Coffee Break Spanish" for a while, sharing my newfound vocabulary with passerby's (Ola, amigos!). At noon, I had a PB&J for lunch and a delicious cup of flat Coke.

As I hit 44 miles, I caught up to Peter who had slowed down to give his stomach a rest. He was running with Jeremy Reynolds from Los Gatos, CA, who was making a stellar debut in his first 100k. I was having stomach issues too, but couldn't determine if that was due to heat, dehydration, or my "Coke habit" that was now up to 1/2 can per lap. I started dumping water on my head every lap, and vowed to go 50 miles before starting any walk breaks.

(The attack goose lurks around the corner for unsuspecting runners)

I made it to 50 miles in 7:26, not too far off my pace from the Helen Klein 50 miler last year. Helen, btw, was running the aid station at this race and making sure we were all taken care of. I took a bathroom break and reapplied sunscreen, and kept moving. With just 10 laps to go, it felt like the finish line was in sight. Well, I guess it had been in sight for quite some time, but you know what I mean. ;-)

As I closed in on the final laps, I saw Peter up ahead. I thought I might pass him again, but it donned on me that he was going faster than I was. Sure enough, he and Jeremy had passed me while I was in the bathroom, and true to his ultrarunner form, Peter had one more cruising gear to catch me. As I circled each lap, I looked over and saw Peter slowly gaining on me. At mile 55, he was about 7 minutes back. At mile 57, he was 6 minutes back. Although my walk breaks felt necessary, it was giving Peter enough room to catch me. As we circled the lake, many racers decided to stop at 50 miles, and the 100k race soon became a mano-y-mano duel. Estupendo!

The last few miles felt oddly comfortable, and I crossed the finish line in 9:30:57 for first place. Peter came sprinting in the last lap to finish second in 9:36, looking strong enough to easily go another 30 laps. We made our way right to the picnic and tried to catch up on the 5,000 calories we just burned through.

(The last two 100k survivors, Scott and Peter)

Bev Abbs won the 50k in 3:48, with Carson Teasley coming in 2nd in 4:28. Jeremy Reynolds had cut back to 50 miles, but still finished first in 7:54, just ahead of Kathy Welch, who finished in 8:19. Marianne Paulson and Diane Vlach went step for step the whole day to finish the 50-miler in 9:58, friends to the end. Everyone did a great job of putting up big points for the Series. (more results here)

I chugged down some coconut water, thinking there are few things I would rather be doing on a beautiful day than running, even in circles. But as Seal reminded me along the course, "we are never going to survive unless we get a little crazy". I noted down a few learnings for the day (my drinking slows naturally at mile 30, I forgot to apply sunscreen on my hands, learning Spanish is fun but distracting), and thanked the volunteers for putting on a great race.

Next stop, Boston!

- SD


  1. I check out your blog regularly and it amazes me. I'm in awe with runner's who run more than the marathon distance, and would love to eventually be running distances like that, even though it's hard being in the military. I'm slowly working at further distances, ran a 10 miler over the weekend, and my first half-marathon next month...but reading this entry was very neat. Congrats on first!

  2. Hi Scott,
    I really enjoyed running with you and was also pleasantly surprised with the advantages of the short loop course.

    Congratulations again on a well-deserved first place and good luck in Boston!

    If you want to see a funny GPS map (53 loops from my Garmin Forerunner 205), take a look:


  3. Oh, man! Awesome effort on 'round-n'round! That's mighty fast, and way to hold that pace for the last "circles"! Congrats on 100k finish, and a first place. Fantastic report too.

  4. Nice job to both Scott and Peter! You guys were looking strong out there. Those geese were starting worry me!

    Good luck at Boston and hopefully I'll see you both at the Sunsweet Wildflowers race.

  5. Nice report and race. I am always impressed with how well you run these long distances.

    I hear there aren't many geese in Boston.

  6. Adama - thanks for stopping by. If you're doing 10 milers, you are well on your way to ultras!

    Peter - love the GPS map! I tried to load it in the story, but Blogger didn't like it. Thanks for providing a link.

    Bev - I hear Wildflower is going to be great. I'm not sure if I can make it, but I'll try...

    Thx, SD

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  8. Excellent work, Scott and Peter! We missed you guys at Ruth Anderson.



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