Back on June 15th, I ran Coastal Trail Runs’ Big Basin 50K. Yeah, this report is a late – I just haven’t been motivated to blog lately…plus, I wanted to get this posted before my SF Marathon report…which will be out sometime next week! really.
The Big Basin Marathon/50K is actually the second day of a two-day series of trail runs put on by Coastal Trail Runs. The day before the marathon and 50K, Coastal holds the Berry Creek Falls Trial Run, which is a three-distance event (10K, 15K, and 25K) held in Big Basin. The marathon and 50K event travels the popular Skyline to the Sea Trail that runs from the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, through Big Basin, and ends near the Pacific Ocean at Waddell Beach. I had never hiked Skyline to the Sea, only visiting Big Basin proper, so running through the tall redwoods and high chaparral was an awesome treat.
Since this is a point-to-point run, they bus runners from a parking lot near the finish line to the start area. That made for a later than normal start (0900) to account for travel time to the start. I prefer starting at or before 0800; but, oh well. The ride to the start was a nice way to take some of the edge and nerves off by talking with fellow runners for the ride to Saratoga Gap.
Weather. The weather was on the warm side, 68 degrees at the start and I’m positive that it warmed up to at least the low 80s over the course of the day. It was foggy at the coast-side parking lot where we all parked though…meaning no picturesque views of the Pacific!
Course. The course was along the Skyline to the Sea Trail, starting at Saratoga Gap. Start to finish, the course/trail is a marathon. To make it 50K, they add a loop, which takes runners up to some rocky sections that are not as shaded with sequoias. On a hot day, that made for a long run. It is a beautiful course none the less – rich, green vegetation, amongst towering sequoia trees. It’s a net downhill, though that doesn’t mean easy! In fact, I was chatting with a guy before we boarded the buses from the finish area parking and he commented how many people saw the “net downhill” and selected this as their first 50K – only to be outsmarted and often miss the cutoff. I finished the extra loop at the cutoff and there were quite a few who were being told to go straight (and opt for the marathon distance) vs. taking a right turn to complete the 50K. There were others who were simply dropping – mostly because of the heat that day.
Management/Support. As with all Coastal events, they have awesome course management, marking, and support. Each aid station is well stocked and staffed by awesome volunteers. Management and support is a HUGE reason why they attract so many people to their events. We are spoiled in the SF Bay Area – we have at least five high quality race directors…if I wanted to (and physically and mentally could), I could run an event almost every weekend year round – LOVE IT!
Finishers. Again, there were actually two distances for the event: a marathon and the 50K. I do know there were some drops at the Gazos Creek aid station when I came through the second time (you hit it at 25.5km and 32.7km), but there ended up being 112 marathon and 127 50K finishers. I’d say a pretty decent showing by all!
Post-Race. The post race area was fantastic – great food and in a large area just perfect to chill and recover. There were quite a few families there waiting for runners to finish. They had the usual assortment of finger foods, as well as burgers and hot dogs. I passed on the meats and stuck with a bunch of watermelon slices – they just hit the spot…plus I had my Picky Bar waiting for me in the car!
Medal/Shirt. Each finisher received a medal with the event logo and all 50K finishers also received a event coaster – as is the standard at Coastal events. As for the event shirt, with this report, I am implementing what I’ll call the “Wife’s Event Shirt Rating” or WESR. Here’s the deal: most event logos are pretty cool, creative, and unique; but, according to my wife, are often displayed on a black or dull colored shirt (read, “the shirt must “POP!”.) Thus the WESR. In practice, I’ll go with a scale of one to five (one being meh, five being “it pops“. The WESR for the Big Basin event shirt was a 3/5: the logo was great, but the shirt color was so close to the logo color on the mens shirt that it is almost lost in the shirt.
This was my second 50K (my first was Horseshoe Lake in 2013), so I did set some goals:
- Set a new PR
- Aim for a 6:15 finish time
- Have fun, of course
In the end, I accomplished two of the three: I did PR (by 2:51!) and had a great time (though not without some challenges.) I didn’t make 6:15 (I too fell for the “net downhill, I got this” mindset that the “veteran Skyline-to-the-Sea/Big Basin” runner mentioned that morning.) Oh well – live and learn.
Because of the lateness in writing this report, my detailed recollection of the Big Basin 50K is sketchy now…so no mile-by-mile recount of the day (which is probably a good thing anyway.) Still, here are a few thoughts/experiences from the run:
- The curse of the last song listened to. You probably have had this happen to you – you’re driving somewhere, listening to some great music, and get to your destination. Inevitably, the last song you were listening to sticks in your head and that is all you hum, sing, whistle, hear in your head for hours or, in my case, 31 miles. For me, it was Coldplay’s Ink. OK, I don’t’ know the lyrics completely, but the lines “Got a tattoo said ‘together thru life'”, “Got a tattoo and the pain’s alright”, and “All I know, Is that I love you so, So much that it hurts” – along with the main, catchy, underlying riff being repeatedly hummed – kept my entertained. For. 31. miles.
- With a pacing goal of an average of ~12:00/mi, I ran the first six miles way too fast. I don’t know if this factored into missing my time goal, but it probably burned some energy too soon in the overall run…certainly energy that was needed later in the day. I wasn’t too far off goal, but still, managing pace is something I’m learning.
- I tried something different for carrying my Tailwind Nutrition fuel on this run. Carrying multiple bags of powder fuel is fine, but can be a challenge – I’ve done it and it works OK, but it can be bulky and also messy. On Facebook, I saw where a guy had mixed his Tailwind with a small amount of water and created a syrup that he carried in a 10oz bottle. He had marked out the portions to squirt in his empty handheld and then topped it off with water. This seemed like a great idea, so I tested on a few training runs and went with it for Big Basin. It actually worked pretty well and I will be using this method moving forward for trail runs where I wear my running vest. One key is remembering to close the valve on the bottle after you dispense the syrup – which I forgot to do at the last aid station. I had unused Tailwind syrup in the back pocket of my running vest – which I did not realize until I got home and discovered it also all over the trunk area of my car. DOOH!
- I think I mentioned above that it was HOT that day – from a northern California, SF Bay Area standpoint. At the mile 20 aid station, I can honestly say that I came the closest to “bonking” as I ever have. It’s weird, but after 20+ half marathons, 4 marathons, and a 50K, I have yet to bonk. Call it luck, call it proper nutrition and race economy planning – I have avoided the dreaded “bonk.” When I got to the mile 20 aid, I was pretty tired and hot. OK, exhausted was a better description – just look at the comparison of my first pass through the Gazos Aid (red) vs. my second (blue)! I pretty much hydrated, wandered around, put ice in my Buff, talked with a few people, ate some pretzels, and basically assessed how I was doing. There wasn’t really any place to sit, since most of the “sitable” spots were taken by others in a similar or worse condition (there were a number of people who were dropping that really needed to sit.) Actually, I didn’t want to sit, since I knew that if I did, I would stay longer and may not want to get up! Eventually, I felt better (hydrated, somewhat rested, and cooler,) grabbed a PB&J quarter, and plodded onward. I felt better about two miles later…
- This run solidified my love of a number of products:
- Buff Headwear: I have a growing collection of Buffs – Original, Half-Buff, UV Buffs, Visor Buff, and Polar Reversible Buff. I think I am up to about eight in my drawer now. For Big Basin, I wore the Visor Buff – knowing that it would be sunny and hot. Over the course of the run, I wore the visor in four different modes: cap (with visor flipped up and down), headband, saharine, & neckerchief. At the tough mile 20 aid station, I even tucked a handful of ice cubes in the saharine to stay cool as I left (it felt soooo good.) This is such a versatile product – I actually have not worn a running hat in months…
- Tailwind Nutrition: Similar to not wearing a cap in months, I also have not eaten a gel or chew for run fuel since April. I’ve converted to using Tailwind exclusively and have used it on a marathon, a 12K, this 50K and all runs longer than 10 miles – with no GI issues, no hunger on long runs, no cramping, and no major bonking, etc. I have settled on the Mandarin Orange flavor and a mix of 1.5 to 1.75 scoops per handheld seems to be the right mix for me. Bottom line: this stuff works – I actually have given away the gels and chews I had on the shelf!
- Altra Shoes: I’ve pretty much switched to Altra shoes now – road and trail. I have a few other brands in my closet, but have not worn them a a while… I was planning on wearing my Altra Lone Peak 1.0s for Big Basin, but found that after about 15-20 miles, my feet started hurting near the big toe area. I picked up a pair of Altra Olympus about a week before Big Basin, thought I’d give them a test to see if they would be OK to wear for the 50K. I put about 20 miles on them and was sold…and, against the “no new equipment” rule, wore them without any run over 10 miles. Having worn maximalist shoes before (Hoka Stinson EVO Trail) and already adjusted to Altra’s zero drop made the choice low risk. The shoes rocked! My feet felt great at the end and I really didn’t notice any real “grip” issue, which some have said was a difference between the Olympus and the Lone Peaks. Great shoe!
Some photos from the day:
Fueling. I did my usual, pre-race, carb loading/regimen: 36 hours of >80% carbs and +1000 calories above my normal day. Race-day fueling: Bagel with 2T peanut butter at -3 hours. During the race, I drank about 108 ounces of Tailwind Nutrition’s Mandarin Orange mix, plus a few chips, PBJ quarters, and some Coke at various aid stations.
Equipment/Kit [head to toe]: Buff Visor, tech shirt from the 2012 Big Sur Half Marathon, Armpocket armband, Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Ultra Vest (with 2 Hydrapak soft flasks,) Ultimate Direction 10oz bottle (for Tailwind solution,) SPOT 3 GPS Tracker, Garmin 910XT, Road ID (Slim), ASCIS 55 Shorts, CEP Compression Sleeves, Road Runner Sports Dryroad socks, Altra Olympus shoes.
- Bottom line: Second ultra completed, new PR, ready for the next one – which will be the toughest one I’ve done so far!
- Post-race meal: I got home late afternoon because of traffic on highway 17, so we went to Denny’s for dinner and I devoured a bacon cheeseburger and fries!