Saturday, June 22, 2019

Broken Arrow 52K Sky Race: June 22, 2019

Pre-Race, the calm before the pain!
Sky race trail running events are popular in Europe and have gained  a lot of attention in the United States within the last five or six years.  They are unique and challenging due to taking place in mountains at high altitude and also involve a lot of elevation gain / loss throughout the races.  I have followed the sky races in the US but I never thought I would sign up for one.  That is until Shaun peer pressured me into signing up for Broken Arrow 52K.  The timing of the event actually lined up nicely with my training plan for Kodiak 100 so I agreed to do it.  Broken Arrow starts around 6,000 feet above sea level and tops out at almost 10,000 feet.  There is over 10,000 feet of total elevation gain throughout the two loop race which starts and ends in Squaw Valley ski resort.  From certain vantage points on the course you can even see lake Tahoe in the distance.  Leading up to this race I was in pretty good shape from all my training over the last few months so I was excited to see how I would handle the difficulty of the course.  I was also interested in seeing how my body would handle the higher altitude since my goal race in August, Kodiak 100, was also going to be in the mountains at a higher altitude.

The First Climb
High enough for leftover snow in late June

The super steep rope climb!
We arrived to Olympic Village in Squaw Valley and got our bibs and all the great race schwag.  The race started in the cool mountain air and after parading down the main brick street of the ski resort we hit the first climb.  Then the next few miles of the course are rolling hills through a wooded section and you come out into a big opening.  That's when you face the first really tough climb, basically a very steep grade up to the top.  Then there is a big decent down to the first aid station.  This is followed by a few more long steep climbs.  Then you get to the steepest climb of the day, in fact, it's so steep they installed a rope to assist the ascent.  There was snow here making it even more difficult.  On the rope section on my first loop I used all upper body strength to get myself to the top.  In hindsight that was not a great idea because my shoulder and arms felt like they were going to fall off.  There were a lot of other people on the rope at the same time since it was the first loop so we had to keep moving in order to not break everyone's flow.  It was super hard and I had never experienced anything like it in a race.  I can't explain how happy I was to make it to the top of the rope climb.  This was my least favorite part of the race however it's all part of the challenge so I have learned to embrace it.  The next hard part was a steep climb up to the highest point on the course where we had to scale some rocks and climb up a shady ladder.  I'm not gonna lie it was kind of terrifying but the views from the top were incredible.  We could even see Lake Tahoe in the distance and that mental reward makes all the difficult aspects worth while.

Shaun on top of the world

Lake Tahoe in the background

Climbing up to the shady ladder

Then we started descending and came to a huge steep downhill.  The hill was covered in snow and going down was treacherous.  Some runners were sitting and sliding down the snow hill on their ass, including Shaun!  There were some complaints of burning skin after that because the snow was flying all up in there!  Climbing back up this hill was very difficult as well because the snow provided slippery footing and it was so steep that we could only do slow steps.  Luckily Shaun and I both had shoe traction for the snow which really helped with this section.  After this climb it was mostly all downhill back to the start finish area to end the first loop.  I had to reapply some sun screen after that loop because the sun was blazing down and it's easy to get burnt on an exposed snow covered mountain.  The second loop was the same route as the first loop.  Towards the end of the race I made it a priority to beat another runner who was playing music out loud on the course.  I don't mind if people listen to headphones during a race but it's disrespectful to play the music out loud.  Anyway this person was really gaining on us and I took off down the service road running as fast as I could ffor the last mile and a half or so.  I ended up accomplishing my goal but some older guy passed me right at the finish line.  I was a little deflated by that however it did not ruin the fact that I had a great time and I truly enjoyed the sky race!  It was super rewarding and this particular race is put on by Salomon so it was a very well run event.  After the race we smashed some pizza at the ski village and then headed back to the AirBnb in North Lake Tahoe for some beer and TV wind down. 

Strava Data:

A hard fought finish but got it done

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Ridge 60K: June 1st, 2019

45 minute bus ride back to my neighborhood
Shaun mentioned his friend Pancho was coming into town from Charlotte, SC to run this trail race, another one put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs.  It lined up perfectly with my training plan for Kodiak 100 which was only a little over two months away!  It was going to be Pancho's longest run to date.  He is much faster then Shaun and I and he was planning on giving it his best shot.  The logistics of this race were not ideal.  It starts at Baker Beach and ends in Stinson Beach.  Baker Beach is only a mile from my apartment but Stinson Beach is a 45 minute drive.  We had to take a shuttle from Stinson to Baker early in the morning before race start.  Shaun already had rented an AirBnB in Stinson for the weekend so Jess and I decided on chipping in for the place and staying there instead of gettting up super early to drive all the way to Stinson just to catch a shuttle all the way back home for the race start.  Plus that way we could hang out and have a few beers after the race instead of driving all the way back home.  Jess signed up for the 23K which started later and from Stinson Beach so she got to sleep in while Shaun, Pancho, and myself had to get up super early to catch a 45 minute shuttle ride to Baker Beach.  There were two buses with hardly any room on them (had to sit 2 people in each single seat) transporting runners and the bus in front of our even pulled over on the windy Panoramic highway so one of the runners could get out and throw up!

Baker Beach Pre-Race
We finally arrived to Baker Beach and it was nice to get out and stretch our legs.  We took some pre race photos and wished Pancho good luck since we would not being seeing him very much during the race.  We thought maybe we might catch him later if he goes out to fast and blows up but it never really happened.  The weather today was going to be cool and very foggy but at least there was no rain in the forecast, finally!  We got started and as suspected Pancho was off to the races.  Shaun was mentally struggling a bit at the beginning since he does not like running on roads and we had to go over the Golden Gate Bridge before getting to the trails.  Once we climbed up into the Marin Headlands and got out of sight from the highway he felt better.  We followed the single track ridge across the headlands but it was so foggy that we had zero views of the valley below.  Then we took the Marincello trail which is a smooth downhill to our first aid station at Tennessee Valley.  From there we climbed up the Miwok trail and then descended the other side.  At the bottom of the descent we ran into Shaun's friend Ram (who is now a freind of mine as well) who was out on a training run.  I heard a lot about Ram from Shaun and it was nice to finally meet him and also good to make another running friend in the Bay Area.  After chatting with Ram for a minute we then jumped on the Dias Ridge Trail which is a nice long downhill to Muir Beach.

Really foggy and cool, my favorite conditions
Once we finished the downhill then we had to briefly run along a road and get on another trail which led us to a river crossing.  I don't mind getting my feet wet once in awhile so I jumped right in!  We went to the aid station which was in a big open field right after the river crossing.  Then we had another long climb ahead of us.  The first trail on this climb is Heather Cutoff which is a very windy section of trail that has been dubbed "Donkey Kong" because of all the switch backs.  From the ground level looking up at the trail and all the runners zig zagging it looks just like the video game Donkey Kong and I thought that was pretty funny.  Then we got on the coastal trail which is a really long gradual climb up to Cardiac Hill where the next aid station is.  Then we started a long out and back section and went along Bolinas Ridge which has some of the best views off Mt. Tamalpais.  As we were about a mile or two from the next aid station we saw Pancho coming back towards us on his out and back return.  He actually looked like he was in pretty good shape.  He said he started out strong but had since eased up however he was doing well.  Shaun and I were both feeling the burn at that aid station but we only had 5 miles back to Cardiac Hill and then 3 downhill miles to the finish and that thought was enough to keep us going.
Shaun and I navigating some single track

On the return to Cardiac Hill Shaun had a steady pace going for a few miles on the really light uphill grade.  I was doing my best to keep up with him and this destroyed my calves!  About a half mile from Cardiac Hill Aid Station we realized that we were going to have about 30 minutes to beat 8 hours for the 60K (37 mile).  Shaun's strategy was to check in at the aid station but not get any food or water.  I was completely out of water and figured I better at least get some in one of my water bottles to hold me over for the next three miles.  We made quick work at the aid station and started our sprint to the finish.  We were cruising at a pretty high speed on a slight downhill when I tripped and completely launched myself into the rocks and rough vegetation on the side of the trail.  It was pretty rough getting up from that and with my leg bleeding I had to wash it out with some of my water, good thing I filled up the water bottle!  The fall ate up a few valuable minutes in our quest to beat 8 hours.  We ended up finishing a few minutes after our goal but that's ok, we had a great time and we were finished which is all that really matters.  Jess was at the finish line hanging out with Pancho.  It was great to see her and hear about how well she did in her race and that she met a new friend.  We also got the breakdown from Pancho on how his race went which sounds like he did really well especially for his first ultra!  We ate some post race tacos and had a few post race beers provided by Pacific Coast Trail Runs and that was a nice post race celebration.  The climb back up to the AirBnB was pretty rough but it was nice to get showered, ordered some pizza, drink beers and hang out with everyone.

Strava Data:

Finished and ready for beer!
My knee a few days later, healing