Mixed Emotions at PCTR’s Sequoia Races

It’s been a while.  Over three months ago, I ran my last race, the Skyline to the Sea 50k.  Since then, I graduated from my grad program at Cal, went on my honeymoon, traveled to Utah and Colorado, climbed a bunch of mountains, took some time to run less and then took some time to run a lot.  Oh, and I started my new job this week, so I am in that awkward phase of trying to figure out my new routine.

I planned on running the Sequoia 50k to assess where I stood in terms of fitness.  I have been running lots but not really tested myself in a race situation.  Only 20 minutes from my house, Sequoia is an old friend frenemy.  I ran my first California ultra here and set a then-50k PR of 5:24.  Our frenemy relationship would grow even stronger this beautiful Saturday.

The Race

I woke up on Saturday to gastro-inestinal issues that start with “d”.  Well, it’s happened before without any issues.  Proper hydration and food in-take should take care of that, I hope.  Except more “d” once I got to the starting line.  Uh oh.  Curiously, my belly was really bloated and I felt awful from the start of the race.  Except my legs.  Those felt great.

There was a lead pack of 4-5 runners that darted ahead and I wouldn’t see until the turn-around.  A couple of them must have gotten lost, because I only saw three at the turn around.  I settled in 50-100 feet behind the leading 50k from the get-go.  He pushed the early uphills a bit more then me, but I didn’t want to expend too much energy at this point, as I was still trying to get my stomach under control.

My legs felt great on the French Trail, the first true test of the day.  I comfortably ran right behind the leader in what felt like an almost effortless pace.  Only my tummy continued to, well, ache.  We introduced ourselves on the final climb at the end of the French Trail.  I forget his name, but he was from Hawaii, so should be easy to find in the results (not up yet).  A third guy named Hugh, who was running the 30k, was there along with us.  Our split at the start of the orange spur was 58 and change.  Not too shabby.

Then it was time to descent to aid 2.  I ran like I always run downhills – with gravity’s help – and unintentionally found myself in a 45-60 second lead by the turn around (1:22 or 1:24…can’t remember). Three 30k-ers were a few minutes ahead.  However, three more guys were right behind Mr. Aloha.  The top five of the 50k were all within 3 minutes of each other at that point, I’d say.

So, I found myself in the lead with my legs feeling great and my stomach feeling like hell.  Nausea became an increasingly annoying companion, and it worried me that I couldn’t eat any food.  None.  Just the thought of it made me nauseous.  And then I threw up what little I had left in my stomach.  It was great fun.

Eventually, we joined the 20k runners.  It was uplifting to pass some people, but I was now seriously concerned that I would not be able to finish today.  How can you run a tough 50k without any calories?  Naturally, my step slowed and about a mile from Moon Gate Ron (Little?) caught me.  By that point, I had already thrown up twice and basically resigned myself that it would be better to stop at 30k, which I did.  I focused on enjoying the trail during the last 3 miles of the race.  I really like the course and feel lucky to run it every time I’m out there.

I caught Ron at start/finish, but I knew my day was over.  I finished the 30k in 2:43ish and 3rd overall, I believe.  Not bad for pacing for a longer race and feeling crappy.  I’d be lying though, if I said I wasn’t frustrated.  A 4:30ish finish (i.e. PR) and very high overall placement in the 50k were well within reach.  But you can’t drive a car without fuel, and I didn’t have any.  Tough luck.

The more I am removed from the race though, the more encouraged I am by the result.  I ran really well and just didn’t finish because my stomach said no.  That’s OK.  This wasn’t a goal race, but rather a test of my fitness, which is the best it’s ever been. As a matter of fact, I would say that this may have been my best race ever in terms of performance.  Strange, isn’t it?

My thanks to all the aid station volunteers as well as Becky and another runner, who lent me their phones, so that I could call my wife to pick me up early.

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5 Responses to Mixed Emotions at PCTR’s Sequoia Races

  1. Addy says:

    I think that that race has a bad aura, or something of that sort. My only time at it, I had a horrible time. When my husband, Ed, tried to do a 50k there, he similarly had stomach/throwing up trouble and had to drop at 20k. Its beautiful trail, but I can’t help thinking that that race spells trouble :).

    Besides the throwing up, though, it sounds like you were in a great place, fitness wise. I’m excited to see what you’ll be able to do with a happy stomach!

  2. Ron Little says:

    Thanks for writing up your race report. It’s fun to read about the same race from someone else’s perspective.

    That’s a bummer about your stomach and gastrointestinal issues, otherwise I would not have caught you.

    I evidently was running a bit too fast in the first 30K because I struggled a lot in the last 20K with borderline cramps. Plus I accidentally ran that loop in reverse which added another layer of difficulty because I kept on having indecision when I would come to a trail junction. I’ll try to write up my race report on my blog tonight.

  3. pureh2o says:

    Nice race report. A great read, especially considering how you’ve turned to the bright-side of the race. Way to stay strong and, as I’ve heard Erol “The Rocket” say to many runners on the trail, “Work With It!”
    What did you think caused your issue? Were you just getting sick?
    I was running the 50k puttering about 10 minutes behind you guys at the 30km mark.

  4. Karen Vollan says:

    I greatly enjoyed your report; and yes, you were right to stop. Like an idiot, I finished the course and greatly struggled with the last 20K. In fact, the last 1.7 miles from the aide station hurt the most; the hill seemed to grow from the previous loop.
    See you on another trail, on another day!

  5. Thanks for all the comments.

    @Addy – I’ve raced the course three times now. Once I did well. The trail leads 2-1. I’m determined to even the score!

    @Ron – How you blew by me was impressive. THANK YOU for taking some time to make sure I was ok and offering ginger. That was very gracious!

    @pureH2O – I never really figured out what happened. I had just started a new job (after grad school), which meant a whole new routine for the five days prior to the race. That’s my best guess of what happened.

    @Karen – You’re not an idiot. You’re t.o.u.g.h.!

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