Monday, June 23, 2008

Tough Decisions at the Pacifica 30k

Let's start with this right up front: I have never struggled during any physical activity as much as I did during the Pacifica 30k. Hands down. Here is my account of what happened.

The Day Before - Do You Have Soul(ja Boy)?
After having spent a magnificent week in Sequoia NP, which will be covered in my next post (it was unbelievable!), I was headed to the Bay Area to run my first race as a Californian. Two G.U.T.S.-ies, Jason and Steve, were going to be out there along with one of their friends. Quite frankly, that was the sole reason I went out there. It won't be often that my old running friends will out here competing on the West Coast.

As my overnight accommodations, Ichose Big Basin Redwoods Sate Park, which was unlike Google Map's prediction a two hour (not a one hour) drive from Pacifica. That meant I would have to rise pretty early. Of course, I got lucky and had 20 high school kids camping right next to me. Naturally, they would not go to bed early. At about 12.30, I got sick of hearing Soulja Boy (click here, if you don't know what I'm talking about) and got up to tell them to turn it off. To my surprise, it was the campers to the other side of me, two late thirty-somethings, who were blasting music that was cool in '07. Guilty as charged, for pre-maturely judging people.

Race Morning - An ATL Reunion
After about four hours of sleep, I broke down my campsite faster than lightning. My goal was to get to Pacifica as soon as possible and to hang out with the boys from the South. Sure enough, they were there early, too. It was great to reunite three time zones to the left.

G.U.T.S.ies representin' out West

At check-in, I found out about the option to change race distances. Everybody else in the group was running the 50k, and I quickly peer-pressured myself into running that distance as well. That was an easy decision. Reversing that decision and making the walk-of-shame back to the check-in table was a lot harder. But my feet were hurting from some serious blisters I had acquired in Sequoia and something was telling me to back off. To my surprise, everybody was real supportive and called that decision "mature" and "smart". I guess, that made my earlier decision "immature" and "stupid" :)

The Race - The First 12k
Promptly at 8:30, we were off with about 200 other people running in four different races: 9k, 21k, 30k and 50k. I was amazed at the flawless execution of four (!) consecutive race by the PCTR crew. Those guys are good.

The 30k assignment

Competitors from the three longer distances started out together, immediately tackling the biggest hill of the day up Montara Mountain. Climbing is normally not my forte. The descends is where I excel using gravity to my full advantage (thanks, Newton!). However, I was feeling strong and cruised up the hill. We were treated to sweeping views of the Pacific (ocean) and Pacfica (town). Wildflowers were growing everywhere and the sweet scent of eucalyptus was engulfing the beautiful trail. Could I be running in heaven? (yup!)

At the start, looking up Montara Mountain, our first challenge of the day

Jason caught me at the top and I saw the rest of the gang soon after on the way down. Out and backs during races are always fun that way. But something was off. Isn't running downhill usually easy for me? Isn't that where I recover from going up and usually catch tons of people? Not this time. My stomach began turning and nausea set in quickly. What was going on?

Little white spots running up to take in some breathtaking views

I quickly realized that I had run out of water near the top and dehydration was setting in. Uh oh! The trail was exposed for the most part and we had about 3.5 miles until the bottom and the next aid station. Ok, relax, and just make it to Aid 1 in one piece. I joined a group of about eight runners and we descended steadily. Water couldn't come soon enough and going down seemed to take forever, but finally we made it down. A nice volunteer filled my bottle and with three orange slices I was off on the shorter 9k loop which only has two smallish hills. Perfect for recovery. Or so I thought.

The First 9k Loop
Jason and I were running together again, but soon enough he dusted me. No problem. This is just a long run for me, I thought, a social race more than a goal race. But I quickly ran out of water again and that was not good. Ok, 9k is not that far. However, it quickly became harder and harder to move. Even on the short flat section between the two hills.

My goal was quickly focused on just making it to Aid 2. But that got increasingly difficult. Steve passed me. He seemed to be flying by. A headache set in. Oh no! Then cotton mouth. I mean, serious cotton mouth. The kind where I thought the state of North Carolina was growing inside my mouth. And it got out of control quickly. Way too quick. I began to hit up other runners for water but everyone seemed to be out. Just make it to the crest of the hill, I thought. You can always run downhill. Where was the top? How far can 9k really be?

Far, let me tell you. Dizzy-spells started setting in. Not good. There was nothing left in my tank. I couldn't even shuffle. Things had deteriorated fast. Where was the aid station?

Some guy, whom I recognized as a front-runner guy from pictures on many West Coast blogs, came down the hill fast and yelled "Are you ok?" I couldn't have looked good. "Yeah, I'm fine", I lied. I was walking the downhill and just thinking about how I could recover and refuel at the next aid.

Aid 2 - The Toughest Call of All
Finally, there it was. The aid station. I inhaled 40 oz of water and sat down. Chills kept giving me continuous goose bumps. Wtf? It's 90+ degrees. Why am I cold? Am I really in that bad shape? I was. It took 25 minutes of back and forth in my head until I made the call to add the three ugliest latter to my running resume: DNF. I was shivering, dizzy and couldn't imagine running 9 yards, let alone 9k. Safely.

DNF - The Aftermath
Believe me, nothing is harder than to make the call to drop out of a race. Had my lady been there, she would have pulled me immediately, I'm sure, but in my delirious state it was hard to make a such a difficult decision. But my body clearly said "No, dude. Not today. You put us through a lot of crap, but it ain't happenin' today".
Off in the distance you can make out my future adversary: Mount Diablo

I love running, because it's an honest sport. You get out of it what you put in. What you did seven weeks ago (SweetH20, in my case) doesn't matter today.

And you can't really buy nicer equipment to speed up your times. You only do well if you train hard enough. I wasn't ready that day. I wasn't ready for the heat and, especially, the dehydration. I made many mistakes. Decisions I regret. Until the last one.

I'll be back, Pacifica. Look forward to squaring off again!

My thanks go out to the whole PCTR crew and all the volunteers for putting on a superbly organized race. I'll see you guys again soon!


Anonymous said...

You made the extremely difficult but right decision. You are not weaker for that. Be proud of your efforts and keep on charging!!

willgotthardt said...

Excellent recap/pics, good stuff (funny)...I think I may have been the one you lied about your condition to. ;-)

Welcome to CA, see you around.

Will G.

*Ultra*Rockstar* said...

You made a hard but smart decision.One I had to make just one agao at Ohlone 50k trail run where I was in the same state as you at mile 15. I ran this past Saturday 30k at pacifica and it was unusually hot. I respect you muchly for your SMART decision and have no doubt you shall return!

David Ray said...

Good call. Nothing wrong with a Did Nothing Foolish.

We run and we learn.

Beautiful pics too. Looking forward to more from the West.

runningtwig said...

Sounds like you made the right decision, albeit a hard one. I'm sure you will have many more chances to finish some amazing races out there! I'm jealous!

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for coming out to run in Pacifica, Dave - it was great to meet you and your Atlanta compadres! It was fun to read your post and look at the photos from your day.

Hope to see you again soon - and I think I owe you $10, don't I, for your temporary upgrade?

Sarah (PCTR)

Unknown said...

Hey Dave, It was great seeing you out at Pacifica, thanks for coming out. I hope to see you at more races out west.


Adelyn said...

I've heard tough things about Pacifica, it sounds like you definitely made the right call.

Looking forward to hearing about Sequoia :)

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

No more shame than losing my rook yesterday... You'll have some nice hills close by to work on your uphills.

It's drier out here. I remember traveling to the west when I lived in humid Cincy and my lips being all chapped.