Saturday, August 25, 2012

Race Report from 1998 - PCT 50 - A Cautionary Tale

The Start of the PCT 50

It's never too late for a good old fashioned race report.  Why do today what you can put off for fourteen years?

Back at the tender age of thirty eight - you do the math - I decided that it would be a wonderful idea to run my first fifty mile trail race.  I had a few road marathons under my belt.  I'd spent some time alone to the tune of five or six hours at a stretch traversing Saddleback Mountain.  I had my Power Bars, a hydration fanny pack, determination, grit and many friends in the Ultrarunning community.

I started asking all these wonderful people - both of them - what would be a good first fifty?  Marty piped up immediately with the name of a race in San Diego.

I'm not going to tell you that the race is called the PCT 50.  I'm not going to tell you that it has a fun reputation of being jinxed.  I'm not going to tell you that I've run that race amidst an active forest fire, that it got cancelled half way through one year for an impassable snow storm when Ben Hian was in first place at the turnaround.  No, I won't tell you any of those things.  Instead, I'll tell you about my experience that fine day in November of 1998.

My best, and only training partner at the time was my buddy, Bartender Bob.   One night, Bob was at the Hare Krishna Temple in Laguna Beach having dinner.  The Temple had a tasty vegetarian feast that was only six bucks - all you can eat.  Plus, the Krishna devotees are really nice folks, they don't try to convert you.  Bob was minding his own business when a likeable young man, who also happens to be a top ten finisher at Western States 100 - the grandaddy of all Ultramarathons - saw Bob's race t-shirt.  It bore the name of some triathlon that Bob had completed.  This nice young man saw the t-shirt, raised his eyebrows and announced "I've got something you might be interested in"  Bob mentally steeled himself for this poor guys' sales presentation for Amway.  But no!  It turned out to be even more of a scam.  Ultrarunning.

Bartender Bob was introduced to the world of long distance running.  He then introduced me to the joy of sweat, hard work, dehydration, laughter and pushing your body to extremes.  And the endorphin high.  That's what gets you hooked.  I decided right then and there, that if there was a way I could get a morphine-like substance into my body without having to meet those dudes in the back alley - I was gonna do it!

The PCT 50 - which stands for Pacific Crest Trail 50 was to be my first 50.  I tried to talk Bob into doing it with me, but it was not to be.  He was suffering from some injury or another at the time.  He did, however,  accompany me to the weekend we had planned in the fine town of Pine Valley.  The motel was a cheap little affair but it featured a nice swimming pool.  There are not many restaurants to pick from.  Directly across the parking lot from our motel was a place called Steph's Donut Hole.  What more does a carbo loading ultrarunner need?

The race start was 6am at the local High School.  It's an out and back course which features a downhill finish.  How wonderful, thought I.  My trail running claim to fame is hill running.  Downhill.  The morning was chilly and I was nervous.  The field of eighty runners huddled together as the race director shouted "Go"!  Talk about fanfare.

My run was going along swimmingly.  Vast amounts of time in Ultra Marathons are spent blissfully alone, unless you have a running partner with you.  I didn't.  I did have a disposable camera with me to capture the scenery.  Forget about church on Sunday.  This is my sanctuary:

At the turnaround, I shed my warm running tights and long sleeved shirt in favor of some cute little peach colored silky running shorts and a tank top.  Halfway there!  On the way back, inexperienced I, started following some pretty pink trail ribbons.  Now let me explain that trail races are marked by colorful ribbons at what is usually very large intervals.  It's always helpful, during the race briefing, to pay attention to the Race Director when they tell you what color the ribbon markings will be.  Did I pay attention?  I think you know the answer to that one.

I had a really good pace going when suddenly I realized that I was not in Kansas anymore.  The pink trail ribbons led me into a remote area that succeeded in resulting in lots of scratches on my sexy bare legs.  I ended up standing on top of a boulder, looking like a sailor on a ship, hand held up to cover the sun from my eyes, surveying where in the heck I was.  Pranksters had put up phony trail markings.  Buyer beware.  It happens more often than you think.

Up until this point, I had been concerned with the normal concerns of a healthy Ultra Runner; what I was eating, how much my electrolyte intake was, how warm or cool my body was staying.  Now I was only concerned with one thing.  Will I ever see my children again?

Now about this time, the next aid station that I was to have run through, was closing down.  The aid station captain glanced worriedly at his clipboard wondering what happened to number 153 - Jennifer Evans.  It was also about this time that Bartender Bob, who was waiting for me at the finish line got the message that number 153 was missing.

Jennifer Evans was worried about other things besides the aid station and whether or not I'd see my children again.  I was judiciously looking at the sun to see how much time I had left before it set.  Being a back-of-the-packer, I was prepared for nightfall with a flashlight, but it was waiting for me in a drop back at the now closed aid station.

As the sun slowly made its way to the horizon, this lost runner slowly made her way to the Miracle of all Miracles: The Sunrise Highway and what meant a chance of civilization!

After crossing the Sunrise Highway, I made my way to the next fortuitous chance of salvation.  The Sunrise Highway General Store and the gentleman who was to be my, ahem - Savior:

Disclaimer: I have no idea who the person in this photo is.  This story is not a work of fiction but any reference made to persons real is purely accidental.

The photo above may not be the real Sunrise Highway General Store, but it's close enough.  It was the kind of a place where you could get yourself a Big Gulp, a pack of Winstons and a Girlie Magazine, if that's what you're partial to.  As you can see, they also accept not only every major credit card, but some I've never heard of.  The total number of credit cards I carried that day equaled exactly zero.

I walked in with my bloodied up legs asking if anyone knew where the High School was as I needed a ride.  A hardy young gentleman wearing a plaid shirt and a torn pair of jeans proclaimed "I know where that is.  When I was in high school, I played football and we used to kick their ass"!

Well allrighty then.  I figured he was as good a man as any to give me a ride back to the Start/Finish.

Folks, if you take no other advice in your life from this tattered Ultra Runner, please heed this word of warning: If you can't tell if a car is a Pinto or a Gremlin....... do not get in it!

The real Pinto/Gremlin was more of a puke colored green.  My host and driver - I never quite got his name, but I'll call him Jethro - proudly escorted me to his sun faded car.

"I was in a fifty mile race and got lost" Said I.

Jethro eyed the race number pinned to the front of my running shorts and said "Where's your bike"?

"No, no, you don't understand.  This is a running race"

When I sat in the passenger seat, my gaze fell on the floorboard of the Pinto/Gremlin.  Or what I could see of it underneath all the trash.  Let's see, discarded Slim Jim wrapper, a few cigarette butts, fast food wrappers - a regular back country buffet!

We sped along the Sunrise Highway with the sky slowly turning multicolored, Jethro telling me that he planned on spending the night out in the desert and doin' him a little quail hunting.

Okay - so that means there's a firearm of some sort in this jalopy.  Lovely.

Suddenly Jethro made a sharp left hand turn onto a back country road and announced "I know a shortcut"!

Up until this point in my life, I'd never been that big on prayer - Catholic school cured me of that one - but I figured now would be as good a time as any to get my affairs in order.

"Bless me Father, for I have sinned.  It's been thirty eight years since my last confession, and these are my sins".

My prayer was abruptly cut short by the screeching of worn tires as Jethro slammed the car to a stop in the middle of BFE.

"What the"?  At this point I was wondering -  First: how bad do I smell after running all day long?  The worst I've ever smelled in my life.  One point for my team.  Second:  How fast could I run?  Faster than Jethro, for sure.

There were two reasons for Jethro's abrupt stop.  One reason was to hop out of the car and pop himself a cool one from his twelve pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon which was in the back storage area of the Pinto/Gremlin.  Said vehicle did not have a trunk, which is good because that way, no dead bodies can be found in the trunk.  The other reason was for what is politely referred to as a pit stop.

Now I may be blond, but I'm not....okay, yes I must have been dumb that day.  I decided to stay in the car and see this thing out.  Heck, I might be able to blog about it one day.  How cool would that be?

"You know, this race is closely followed by the latest in walkie talkies.  I didn't make it to the last check point.  It's just a matter of time before a search party is sent out to look for me" I said, in my best Joe Friday voice.  Jethro seemed unimpressed as he drove on.

Finally, after what was only ten minutes, but seemed like ten hours, we spotted the last aid station.  "There they are"!  I yelled.

Jethro pulled over as I clamored out of the Pinto/Gremlin as fast as I could.  The aid station volunteers were all over me with alcohol swabs and band-aids to fix up my badly scratched legs.  But I wouldn't let them help.  No.  I wanted my war wounds to go with the story.  I had earned them.

I'm happy to report that I went on to cross the finish line at numerous fifty mile races.

I will end with a note of caution to my daughters who are now aged twenty four and twenty five.  If you ever do any of the things that your Mother did and live to tell about it - you are grounded!