Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bonking at the Crystal Springs 50k

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining 250 runners for the Crystal Springs 5-mile/11-mile/Marathon/50k in my hometown of Woodside, CA. The weather was brisk, the trails were ideal, and the volunteers were fantastic. Short of bonking at mile 22 like a complete rookie, it was a perfect run!

The Crystal Springs 50k takes place on my backyard trails, climbing up Huddart Park to intersect with the Skyline Trail (at my driveway!) and heading along the ridge to Wunderlich Park, where we do a big loop before coming back. I run these trails solo 300+ times a year, so it's always a pleasure to have some company who appreciate this hilly tour through second growth redwoods, creeks and canyons. If you're interested in checking it out, there will be six - count 'em six! - 50k's in Woodside this year between Pacific Coast Trail Runs and Coastal Trail Runs. I would love to see you out here!

The start line was socked with fog, and the other runners were pleased to hear that the temp would rise to a balmy 45 degrees once you broke through the clouds at mile 5. I got a chance to catch up with the trail running regulars, most of whom thought two weeks was plenty of off-time before jumping back in. So much better than me! I had been taking lots of time off, regrouping after a great and busy year. RD Wendell Doman gave us our instructions, and at 8:30am we were off!

(And we're off! This and many photos courtesy of Coastal Trail Runs)
The marathon and 50k started together, creating an abnormally fast pace. Racing madman Jason Reed, known to enter 40+ events a year, was taking the marathoners out quickly. I settled in with Ray Sanchez (getting ready for the Brazil 135, the first of four 135-milers he will tackle this year...again!), marathoner Penny Macphall (complete with rubber chicken strapped on her backpack), John Burton (barefootin' in his Vibrams), and Elliot Wright (not in the race, but happened to be headed in this direction). We hiked up Richards Road and began the long ascent to the top.

(Into the heavens)
Ray and I buddied up for most of the climb, trading off lead duties and sharing stories of our 2010 season. It wasn't hard to keep sight of Ray with his bright orange jacket...then again, my gloves glowed even more! The pace was aggressive, but comfortable. After all my short course racing in the previous two months, it was fun to have the "long haul" pace again.

(Ray leads us up the Crystal Springs Trail)
 We crested the top, stopping briefly at the aid station (mile 6) to drop off my camera (broken again, oy) and get a few goodies. I started cruising fast again, my legs unable to keep a conservative pace when they found the trails that host our weekly tempo runs. Soon Elliot and I were running together, and he told me all about and his work planting and protecting urban forests. What success they have had! Very cool. Somehow in there he managed to fit in the Leadville 100 too.

(Elliot helps me climb up the final pitch)
At the Clara Lazarus bench (mile 9.2), Elliot gave me his best and headed back. I turned up the tunes (Black Keys, Taproot, and Toots and the Maytals) and got to Wunderlich far too quickly. The volunteers gave me a cheer, saying I was in first, with Ray, John Burton, Jed Tukman, and Kevin Rumon all within sight by the time I exited. It was a close race! I was a few calories short, but didn't worry too much about it.

Wait a minute, am I racing? This wasn't supposed to be a race day, but it's so hard to hold back when we're in the mix! I didn't see anyone behind me as I plunged into Wunderlich, but Jed Tukman, Ray Sanchez and Kevin Rumon were in sight on the climb back up. Jed and Kevin went by me soon after the aid station (mile 21), and I got on their tail to pace quickly.

(Self portrait as we get above the fog line again)
 At mile 22, I found my energy waining and heart rate unable to do anything but rest or redline. Sure, I was out of peak shape, but come on! Mile 22? I took a few walk breaks, but couldn't seem to shake the dizziness. Hmm, what was this all about? It felt familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I hooked onto marathoner Lina Arakat, doing her first trail marathon at age 21, and her even pace made for a good barometer. I would pass her, but soon be reduced to a walk and she would pass me back. If she got out of sight, I picked it up again.

(Gene Weddle finishes the final climb)
(Rebecca Yi takes 3rd Woman in the marathon)
Then it dawned on me - I'm bonking! Ah, that zombie state reached when your glycogen bottoms out and you just stop caring. I was short on calories for sure, but also hadn't been running aerobically and training my body correctly for months. This was a rude awakening about how important that is! I paced behind Lina, assuming I would either stop or drop at my driveway (mile 26) to end the suffering. I just hate this naseous energy void. Ray passed me up, offering an array of goodies to help out like a total gentleman. I did my best to just smile at the others and cheer them on.

(Sophie helps me with the Pop-Tarts and gets a smile back on my face)
Christi, Sophie, and our dog Martha were at the aid station with plenty of hugs, so I took a moment to catch my breath. I told the aid station volunteers I was likely going to drop, but they reminded me of the ultrarunning golden rule - just eat, drink, and take a 5-minute rest to see what happens. Sophie helped me down some Pop-Tarts, M&M's, Coke, and PB&J, and I hung out and watched the other runners go by. Sure enough, within 5 minutes I was feeling much better. Phew! Ah, the golden rule. Never give up.

I cruised down the hill until Lina was in sight again, then stepped off the trail to relieve myself, only to have her turn around and ask if we're on the right trail. Oops! A little embarrassing. I felt good enough to pick up the pace, and trucked it into the finish in 4:37:33 for 5th place. Jed Tukman (4:19) had held on for the win, and John Burton (4:22) finished a few seconds ahead of Kevin Rumon (4:22), with Ray Sanchez (4:37) getting 4th. Jill Homer (6:17) would come in behind us to win the Womens division. Jason Reed (3:47) won the marathon, and was kind enough to ease up enough to leave my squishy-soft 3:36 course record standing. Penny Macphall (3:49) had a killer close, setting a Womens course record with her marathon win.
(Yi Chang has a great finish in the 22 mile)
(Jed Tukman wins the 50k)
(Marathon winners Jason Reed and Penny Macphall with rubber chicken)
I gorged on the sandwiches left behind from the Coastal Trail Run Blazer Awards (and picked up 2nd for the Marathon category behind Mr. Golden Trails). We shared our favorite parts of the run, and agreed that the volunteers were the true champs to hang out for so long on in the chilly weather. It was great way to break in the new season, but I clearly have some work to do on my training! My thanks to Wendell and all the great volunteers for a fun race. Looking forward to seeing you again in my neighborhood (Woodside 50k on March 26th is the next one)!

Hope y'all are having a great weekend.


  1. Did you use your Vespa? I haven't bonked on it so far.

  2. I did, but it was too little too late. Rook!

  3. Bonking or not (new term for me!) 50km is an impressive distance. Great recap :)

  4. Really enjoyed reading this! I'm thinking of running my first 50K in Woodside. Right now I'm thinking of Dec 3rd. Long way off but I have it in my goals for the year. The other one I was thinking of is Coyote Ridge but I that might be more than I can handle for my first.

  5. Bonking means something soooo different here in the UK, ha, ha!! Looks like a fantastic place to run :)

  6. The female marathon winner Penny is a good friend of mine. A year ago she would have sworn up and down that she couldn't, wouldn't EVER run a marathon. Finally convinced her to run one last spring and she has run 8 or 9 since winning most of them quite handily. She is a rockstar. I may or may not have just convinced her to run her first 50k!
    Good job Scott (well not the bonking part)

  7. Hey Scott, I never realized that you live right next to Huddart Park. Man, am I jealous! Talk about home course advantage. LOL.

    Sorry to hear that you bonked so hard. Crystal Springs was my first time ever using Vespa (I took one a few minutes before the start) and although I was skeptical of all the hype, I definitely had one of my best races ever! Not sure if it was the Vespa, my Vibrams, or my smart race strategy (of not going out too hard like I normally do). But whatever, I had a great race. And I'm definitely hooked on Vespa now.

    Anyway, I signed up for the next PCTR event at Woodside in March, so I will see you out there!


  8. hey Scott, it's nice to know that even the really experienced runners are human after all, thanks for sharing your bonk! Say, I am looking to get into trail running for 2012 and these Coastal Trail Runs look great (as do also the Pacific Coast group). I've done 3 half marathons in 2011...but prefer 5K and 10K's so am looking at the 5 miler for January 7. Any suggestions? I live in Fremont and have Mission Peak in my backyard, which I've hiked but not run.


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