Big Basin (50K)

So Sunday was the Big Basin 50 day; a race that I was so much looking forward to. Because of my cold I wasn't even sure whether I'll be able to participate. I was trying my best to recover until Sunday and I did feel a bit better but not completely healthy. Still, I decided to go.

I learned with those long trail races that making pre-race plans is a tricky business at best. This time things were even worse because of the cold. Of course ideal goal would be to improve my personal best by topping my Horseshoe Lake result from only three weeks before (5:18:51). In principle that should be possible, especially that the race was featuring only 972m (3,190') of elevation gain and as much as 1,765m (5,790') of elevation loss. However, given my cold I knew better than to make overly ambitious plans.

Apart from the course being point-to-point, instead of the usual loop, another novelty was the fact that on this day it was only marathon and 50K, with all shortest distances taking place on Saturday. That meant less of the half-marathon runners milling around, but also more participants; with 150 people participating in 50K my usual hopes of finishing in the top 10 were completely unrealistic, but I was secretly hoping to finish in the top 10%, meaning making it into top 15.

Things are not up to a great start on Sunday morning. My cold is not completely gone and I sleep terribly -- hardly a surprise given that I had to get up at 5. I quickly get ready and hop in the car; one hour drive is awaiting me and I'm running late. When I'm on my way I realize I forgot my gels. Moreover, weather is terrible, when I'm crossing the Santa Cruz mountains it's very foggy and it starts to rain. My mood gets foul.

At least I make it on time to the parking lot. From there it's a 1.5h bus ride to the start. I was hoping to get some sleep on the way but no such luck. Registration, usual pre-race ritual and off we go.

After I start running things improve considerably. The weather is perfect. It's not raining but it's fairly cool and the route is not exposed, which makes for great running conditions.

For a long time the race is business as usual. This time I'm running with two water bottles and because of the weather I don't drink much, so I hardly even stop at checkpoints. Also, I realize that I already did some runs on some of those trails so at times I do feel at home.

Around 25K my right calf starts to hurt considerably. It feels as if it was to cramp at any moment. I sense serious trouble. It's far too early for this kind of problems. But what can I do. I go on.

Around 28K there is a nice, long descent and I get into a racing game with a guy with whom we were passing each other for a while. It's a nice descent, something I feel strong at, so I'm confident that I'll shake him loose in no time. Nah ah. He's right behind me. I'm not sure how long exactly we continue this racing but it's a good few kilometers. I'm really pushing hard and hearing his breath right behind me works like a whip on me. I'm not sure exactly what's the pace we're going at, but I know that without him I wouldn't be going that fast. It feels like proper racing. Eventually I manage to gain a small gap over him and I slow down a bit. I'm worried about my calf, but surprisingly so far it didn't get any worse.

Real crisis hits me when I'm almost 40K into the race. But I'm lucky. For a long time I was running alone with no one in sight, but now that I'm running very low on energy I start seeing people, sometimes behind me, mostly in front of me. In both cases it gives me the much needed motivation to go faster. I pass a couple of people, mostly marathon runners over whom I have 8km advantage (50K course had an 8K loop around the middle).

Things get tougher and tougher. I don't know exactly how much I have until the end. I have a suspicion that my GPS readings are somewhat off and that the race will be around 2 kilometers shorter than what my watch says -- I pray for it to be true but I have no way of knowing and I'm angry with myself for not studying properly the checkpoint locations, which would give me some reference point.

Moreover I run out of water. I keep on thinking that the checkpoint must be around the corner but it's not coming... finally, with 45K on my GPS, I see it right ahead. I get there, refill my bottle and get going. Before I leave I learn that it's only 2 more miles until the finish, meaning that my prayers were heard.

During my short stop at the checkpoint a bunch of people catches up with me but I'm determined not to let them overtake me. The realization that it's only a bit over 3 kilometers until the finish gives me wings. I fly. They stay behind.

In fact in those last few kilometers I even manage to pass few people. Some of them put up a fight but I'm not having any of this and just fly past them. I'm not sure whether they're doing a marathon or 50K. It doesn't matter. I push on and soon enough I'm crossing the finish line.

I hardly believe my finish time: 4:49:52 -- 29 minutes faster than 3 weeks ago! Now, sure, due to elevation difference it was a much easier race, but hey, 29 minutes?!! I'm in heaven. In my wildest dreams I was hoping to run in under 5 hours; as it turns out I even have 10 minutes to spare. I'm super happy.

This time gives me 16th place, so almost as planned :). In fact that means that I was in the top 11% -- the best I ever did on Coastal Trail runs.

So, yet another perfect race, on par with Montara Mountain, I think. It's also very easy to see what those two races had in common -- apart from the dark outlook that I had on both races beforehand ;). What I mean is the proper competition. In those crucial moments of weakness, having people either on my back or in front of me, which was giving me the so very much needed motivation to push on. Funny thing is, I'm not running those races to compete against other people. I compete with myself. With my abilities. And my weaknesses. And yet having other people around, kind of as unsuspecting pacers, helps tremendously.

Bottom line: great race. One of the best so far, I think. I did well beyond expectations and certainly won myself the privilege to take things easy in the San Francisco marathon next week :).

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