PROLOGUE: Last year I was expecting to be speaking at a conference on March 16, so although I have wanted to do the Crawl this wasn't to be the year. Then at Christmas I quit my job and started working full-time at Stevens Creek Software. Almost immediately the CCC light bulb lit up over my head and I sent in my application, but a few weeks later my spirits fell when my check was returned - entry denied, race full. Bummer. I don't mean to belittle the Boston Marathon, which I had with an enormous stretch of my abilities managed to qualify for the previous month, and I am very very much looking forward to April 15, but the Cool rejection almost brought me down from that Boston qualifying high. Definitely bummed.
Then, barely a week ago, I got a call to let me know that a last minute place had opened up and was I still interested? Was I ever! Fortunately I'm always in training, and I had just done a 22.5-miler just a few days before on March 5, really perfect timing for a 50K on March 16. Cool Canyon, here I come!
OPENING ACT: Thanks to Tracey C.'s memory, my Northern California Handbook (part of the excellent Moon series of guidebooks), and George and Shelley Black's volunteering to help get us a table, a large group of us met at Pasquale T.'s the night before - the aforementioned (including the party of the first part), plus the party of the second part (that would be my wife, Debi Jamison :-) plus Jane Colman & Don Watson, Benny Yih (who I had recently seen at Walt Disney World, and will see again first at Boston and then at Big Sur!), Skip & Diane Eastman, Stan Jensen, Jon Webber, Tracey's crew-guy Don, and, much later, Dave Combs, Lauren Lechner, and Evelyn Rodriguez as well. It was Evelyn who, during dinner after an encounter run with the Bay Area Dead Runners two years ago, happened to mention that she was doing the Skyline 50K a few days later and would anyone like to pace her and I said "what the hey" or something like that and with less than a week's notice did my first 50K. Hmmm, guess these last minute 50K's are getting to be a habit. Anyway, it was a great dinner group, and a great dinner too.
FEATURED ATTRACTION: The next morning dawned and it was a great day for a run. Clear as a bell and perfect running temperature. Unfortunately it was too warm to even think about wearing my long- sleeve shirt and long tights (a.k.a. poison oak protectors), so I donned shorts and my DRS singlet and planned on splashing on Tecnu post-race. Debi and I and our Welsh Terriers Nicky and Jody wandered around saying hello to everyone; I took particular notice of the number of people wearing gators on their shoes...
Awaiting the start of the 1996 Cool Canyon Crawl
(left to right): Steve Patt, Benny Yih, Tracey Chmielewski, Skip Eastman, Diane Eastman
At 8:00 a.m. (civilized!) the race started and off we went. I tried to start conservatively but was somewhat surprised that after a half mile there were probably a hundred people ahead of me. I was even more surprised when I hit the first aid station, allegedly 6.1M, in 48:52 (8:01 pace). I don't think it's possible that I could have been running that fast; but I guess I'll have to see what others say.
Cross over Rt. 49 and before too long you're running along a bluff high above the American River and the views are truly spectacular. Then up away from the river and I hit the 14.6M aid station at 2:11 (9:41 pace for that 8.5M section, that's more like it). At this point I'm thinking "almost half way and well under 2 1/2 hours, I actually may break 5:00" which is a goal or a dream.
Somewhere in here I finally lost track of Benny, with whom I'd been leapfrogging for the first half of the race. Benny would pull ahead (substantially) on the flats and downhills, but my aggressive uphill style (i.e., running) let me catch up with Benny (and many others) who were walking the uphills. Some people like to run ultras with other people, but I'm very much a loner (in races; training with others is different) and prefer to keep my own metronome going, so I made no attempt to stay with Benny.
The course at this point does a big loop, heads back to the river, and then up the famous Ball Bearing Hill. I was still feeling good, and even managed to run about 1/3 of the hill, which was 1/3 more than anyone else in my section of the pack. At the top was 21.3 miles in 3:24 which is still sub-5 pace (just barely) but now I started thinking about my 5:09 P.R. which seemed a more realistic goal.
I kept on keeping on and kept on sucking down one GU every 30 minutes and even ate a little of the aid station food (bananas, salt, potatoes) and I didn't really feel bad but the next 5.4M took 59:36 (11:02 pace). Maybe it was my physical state but it seemed to me that there was quite a bit more "unrunnable" course in this and the next sections - mud a little too gooey and extensive, hills too steep to even consider running, even for me.
Coming out of the 26.7M aid station I got out ahead of a women with whom I'd been leapfrogging all day, but sensed her on my heels and let her pass. I thought she was in "cruise mode" and was she ever - I couldn't believe how quickly I lost sight of her. Or perhaps my own physical state was deteriorating more than my mind thought because it took by just under 40 minutes to go the next 3.1M which was pathetic but again, a lot of that was due to what was for me unrunnable sections.
All the mud and stream crossings were taking their toll though. For the first 2/3 of the race, I was really careful to avoid the worst mud, but now I was starting to be a little less cautious. The result - one of my shoes (elastic-laced, of course!) got sucked off by a giant mud hole. I was able (with considerable effort, mind you, and not without completely immersing my sock in mud) retrieve the shoe, but when I went to put it on I knew I was in trouble. My hip flexors are VERY prone to cramping, and as I tried to contort my body in various ways to get my shoe on, I was imminent danger of a major cramp seizing me and leaving my whole body writhing in the mud. I stood there helpless until the next runner appeared, and graciously consented to stick his fingers in the heel of my shoe while I pushed down. Fortunately he wasn't the cramping type. Thank you, whoever you were!
Shortly after (I think) the lost shoe I ran into (almost!) Karen Wells and Rick Shaefer, heading the other way. Karen told me I was looking strong which I must say I felt I was but my collapsing times certainly wouldn't indicate that. At the final aid station (29.8) I got a boost from the effervescent George Parrott who told me I was doing great, gave me a DRS patch (!), and said - "just 1.4 miles to go, only 20 more minutes." For the next few minutes I tried to figure out how on earth it was going to take me 20 minutes to run 1.4 miles. I mean I know I was slowing but I didn't think I looked that pathetic. Thanks to some nasty uphills it did take me just under 16 minutes, not quite what George predicted but still pretty darn slow. But I finished the last 1/2 mile in view of the "crowds" with a good long stride and feeling strong, so that was a pleasant experience. 5:20:37 overall (no P.R. after all), 107th place.
Finishing in style!
EPILOGUE I - THOUGHTS ON POST-RACE FOOD: Cool Canyon was not the first race I have done where, when I went for a drink after the race, the soda bin was filled with DIET Pepsi! Geez! Don't I deserve a regular soda with actual calories after running 50K? [Note added in proof: they did actually have regular soda, but there sure seemed to be a heck of a lot of diet when I looked!]
EPILOGUE II - COOL CANYON CRAWL: This race had excellent organization and logistics, reasonable post-race food (except see above!), nice tee shirt, and a course with some fabulous views and lots of interesting running. Unfortunately (I'm about to prove myself not a "real ultrarunner, I'm afraid) it had a little too much "unrunnable" for my taste. I have yet to run every step of a 50K, but on the other courses I've done (Skyline, Pt. Reyes) I know that I *could* have run every step if I were in proper condition. This course has probably 3 or 4 uphills that are really too steep for running, some downhills in the same category, and (at least this year, but I suspect this is typical) quite a few sections unrunnable due to mud (I cannot even *imagine* what this race was like last year). So without wanting to run down the race (it's a great race, no doubt about it), I personally will have to think long and hard about doing this again. If I do it again it will be without elastic laces!
EPILOGUE III - RECOVERY: Remarkable how much easier this race was than Cal. Intl. Marathon. At night I was fairly easily walking up and down stairs, the next day (today) virtually no aches and pains (though I wasn't ready to head up Black Mountain like Dave Combs and Lauren Lechner!).
Well, this report has crawled on long enough, probably nearing 50K (bytes) by now, so I'll sign off...
Steve "I do believe I'm ready for Boston now" Patt
in Cupertino, CA where summer arrived today, shortly
before my birthday which is the first day of spring