Bishop High Sierra 50K Report
The trip started at around 7PM on Friday night, heading out after having dinner and hanging out with family. With my bed made in the back of the car, I left for Bishop and the start of the race, hoping to find a place to sleep near the course. Unfortunately, darkness obscured my view of Mount Whitney and all of the Eastern Sierra while driving there. Peering out the window into the darkness, I could barely make out black monoliths and peaks with the stars above. Four hours later I found myself pulling into Millpond County Park, the starting point, and found a place to get fitful sleep at the edge of a parking lot. First light brought amazing views of the country I was in, seeing the peaks above for the first time since last summer.
I dressed, had some coffee from the thermos, ate a bagel and a banana, and headed over to pick up my bib and timing chip by about 5:30 AM. Excitement built in the parking lot around me, runners milling about in anxious wait, warming up, making last minute gear adjustments, all periodically looking to the peaks above not entirely certain of what sort of beauty, pain, and work awaited us. Some were running a 20 mile, others the 50K, some a 50 mile, still others a 100K, all sharing a mass start.
Alas the countdown began, nervous energy relieved, and we’re off towards the hills. As I wasn’t too confident in my training coming in to this race, I kept the pace super-easy, focusing not on any time standard, but simply enjoying the day. An easy task as the race energy was some of the most positive I’ve been around. The aid stations and volunteers were well-stocked and embarrassingly helpful; I was not allowed to fill my own water bottle once all day. At about 6 miles in I felt great, still holding an easy pace and power hiking anything that got steep. I met Faye somewhere around this point, our paces identical, we settled in and talked for a while. A far more experienced distance runner than I, it certainly helped to have an ultra-positive person to pace me. I was promptly invited to join her and some friends on a Grand Canyon R2R2R this coming September/October which I’ll likely take her up on. I was pretty certain I was in good company when I realized her tattoo sleeves included a portrait of John Muir as well as Bigfoot cruising on what appeared to be the JMT/PCT.
I pulled ahead of her and went my own way at about mile 10, still feeling great, and now beginning the climb into the higher reaches of the course. The climb was not particularly steep, but long and slow, compounded by thinner and thinner air. Snow covered peaks and clouds looming overhead, desert scrub and boulders soon gave way to aspen groves and frequent stream crossings. Upon reaching the mile 15 aid station, at approximately 7’800 feet, I was getting a bit fuzzy in the head, as were many other runners. I remember pulling into the station and a volunteer excitedly greeting me:
“Hey! How are you! We’ve got water here, HEED, Gatorade over there, soda, what’dya need?”
“Ummmm…” and a spacey look was about all I could manage when forced to make a decision so quickly. Another guy threw up in the bushes next to me.
“I’m sorry.” said the volunteer. “I’ll slow down. Water…(pointing her finger) Gatorade…(pointing her finger) HEED….”
I snapped out of it pretty quickly, had my bottle filled, and pushed on. The turnaround for the 50K was another 3 miles of climbing ahead, at roughly 8,500 feet. At this point the aspen gave way to conifer and the clouds broke for a while. Idyllic, typical High Sierra flora; meadows and trees, snow, rock, and blue sky above. At the turnaround I got off my feet for a few minutes, stopping to empty rocks from my shoes and eat some potato chips. Halfway, it was time to go home. A pivotal psychological point of a run, knowing that it’s halfway done- from now on my steps bring me back towards the finish and more miles lay behind than ahead. I was never concerned that I couldn’t finish, but at this point I knew for certain it was done, everything remaining downhill from here. I was feeling great, my easy pace working fine.
And how quickly things can change! No real physical issues other than sore feet, but somewhere around mile 24 my motivation was somehow slipping away…I’ve always marveled at how this happens during long events, how the other voice can begin in one’s head, the voice of doubt, uncertainty, a voice that can pop up without warning or reason. I walked for a little while to see if it would help. Mistake- only making it more painful to start again. The constant downhill was beginning to take a toll on my joints, not painful, just increasingly uncomfortable. Not feeling like you can’t do it, but beginning to question why you’re doing it, and certainly not enjoying it.
And just as quickly as it began to fall apart, it all came back together when Faye and her friend caught me. Buoyed by conversation and two pacers, I was right back in it, feeling good again. With about 9 miles to go, we all stayed together for the remainder of the race. Sharing backpacking stories, adventures, races tales (OUCH! Faye had something like a 30+ hour DNF on a 100 mile, missing the final cutoff by 3 minutes and not being allowed to continue). The miles rolled by as we descended back into the desert. The only real issue left was a bad stomach at one of the last aid stations, about 5 miles from the finish. Coming out of a long, hot stretch, I gulped two cups of icewater, as did Faye. It seems that was a mistake, as both of our stomachs were screwed for the remainder of the race. I’m certain that anything would’ve made me puke at that point, but thankfully, not much running was left.
Soon we found the finish in sight- it’s always amazing how the pain seems to intensify yet the pace quickens as you get closer to the end.
“I’ll tie you!” Faye said as the cheers and finish line approached.
And the run was over.
Everything- the snow, the rocks, the hurting toes, the sky, they all now become the stuff of dream and memory.
Despite what I considered to be poor preparation and bad motivation coming in to this, I’m very happy I did it. This race certainly taught me the power of the mental game, that so long as a base level of conditioning exists, the rest is in your mind so long as you commit.
OR Sunrunner hat
cylcling arm warmers…love running in sleeves now, great gear.
Injinji toe socks
New Balance MT101
REI Double Shot waist pack/bottle holder w/one bottle
Montbell Tachyon Anorak (never used)
liner gloves (never used)
Things I’d do again:
Run. Remember that it will be good out there, that there is nothing to be gained by missing an opportunity like this.
Be confident in oneself. It’s too easy to slip into apathy and uncertainty, especially when faced with runs/trips you know will be difficult or make you dig deep.
Get out and run with other people. As I spend so much time running alone, I completely forgot how good it is to be able to pace someone or simply talk to pass the miles or get out of a low spot.
I ate and drank perfectly on this run; no post-race dehydration issues.
Things I’d do different:
Stay away from ice water. Faye and I both agreed that it was what seemed to do a number on our stomachs.
Carry my camera! I just figured I’d be too preoccupied…but I missed a lot of cool shots. (Everything here was taken before and after)
I’m thinking a shoe more substantial than the MT101 would’ve been good. I’ve hiked 50K+ in them, but the pounding of running is worse. The toe box also started feeling cramped, especially on the downhill at mile 24 and beyond. Perhaps it was foot swelling. I also think my feet have been slowly getting wider from going barefoot so much/using minimal footwear.
Train better. While I’m still very content with my day out there, I feel I let myself down through poor training in the prior weeks. I won’t say why I failed or make any justifications; I only know this race would’ve been even better if I headed into it with less anxiety over a lack of training. My time was over an hour slower from paces I’ve held when in better condition.
Doing well so far. Sore quads and calves, but zero foot issues or blisters. I’m having a weird burning/tendinitis feeling in my left knee (inner side of kneecap), but it comes and goes. Too early to tell if it’s a legit injury or only irritation. Other than that, I feel I could run again tomorrow.
Distance: 33 miles
Elevation: +/- ~9,000′
Time: 8:09 (Not fast, but a hell of a lot better than not being there!)