Date: April 29, 2007
Race: Diablo 50M
Location: Mt. Diablo State Park
Distance: 50 miles
Profile: 13,400ft gain/loss, highest: 3840 ft, lowest: 500ft, start/finish: 520ft (image/data courtesy of PCTR)
Result: 11hr 39min 31sec (pause 39 min), 21/66 overall, Complete Results
Photo: 070429 Mt Diablo 50M/Marathon
After running the Marathon course in 2005 and a few other ultra's, I decided to try the 50 miles last year. Unfortunately, the race date was changed to be the same weekend as Miwok 100K. Therefore, I think I have to do it this year. And it's at good timing - two weeks after American River 50M. This gives me enough time to tune my condition for the intense ultra season starting with Diablo 50M.
At the PCTR message board, there was a thread written by Zach Grossman to find a ride. I was thinking the same because I could not think of a way to get there without driving. I always want to find out if I can get to somewhere without driving. I was grateful that Norbet Leinfellner generously offered me a ride.
Norbert picked me up at 5:30am. On our way, we had wonderful time talking about ultra experience. We excitedly found out we'll meet in other races in future. It happens that I'll run most of his monthly ultra.
Like other ultra events this year, there are record number of runners today. Norbert was right to get there early. The parking area is overly full. It took us some time to pay the park entrance fee and park the car. It is funny that my only time to socialize is the long line in front of the restroom, where I meet Karyn Hoffman, Kermit Curt Jr, Jonathan Kimura, Mark Tanaka. We soon have to hurry to the race start when Wendell gives us a brief of today's run.
Mitchell Canyon (Start) => Juniper Campground: 5.88 miles , 1:22:13, 13:59 min/mile
With excitement, We start with a long climb immediately. First we need to get to Eagle Peak at 2500ft. Everyone has fresh legs to push hard on the climb.
Before we get to our first peak, we are already above the cloud. It's all single technical trail, so it's not easy to control the pace. I have to follow the flow. One runner even stops at side to let others behind pass by saying that he is running 50 miles. So am I, but I pass him and keep pushing myself hard and up.
Once we get to Eagle Peak, it follows a long steep technical rocky downhill. I speed up a lot as a revenge of the strenuous climb earlier. I pass everyone and develope a quarter mile ahead. I feel totally satisfied by speeding at such a technical downhill. Although I have doen only one Mission Peak trainingso far this year, I still have the techniques of tackling such a difficult downhill similar to the one near the top of Mission Peak.
This is also a test for my Vasque Lightspeed. I was worried that it might be too heavy compared with my other Saucony road-trail hybrid shoes. It turns out the solid design provides firm grip on the rocky trail for me to speed up safely. It also provides better support than Inov 315. I never get any twist on my ankles.
At the end of the downhill, the trail goes slowly up for a half mile until it connects to a fire road. I power walk on the climb and take a break for the previous speeding. At the fire road, I run with a few runners come forth from behind. The fire road first goes down a bit and then starts with a steep wide switch back all the way to the Juniper Campground aid station. The view is awesome when we crest to the top.
Juniper Campground => Summit => Juniper Campground: 4.21/10.09 miles , 48:03/2:10:16, 11:24 min/mile
Mike Hoffman with another runner are at the Juniper Campground aid station, while Harry Walther are busy at grabbing food. Leaving the aid station, I run with Harry on the 1.6 mile technical trail straight up toward the summit. On our way up, I see Kermit run down and so is Oliver Chan. They are fast enough and have already visited the summit.
We finally get to the summit and walk on the stair to the observation deck. There used to be someone taking picture for us, but today I'll do this myself at the observation deck.
It's great to get to the summit after over an hour climb. I go down and switch to a steep downhill trail. I speed up a lot until the paved road at the end of the dirt trail. There is a photographer. I hope he makes a good shot on me while I am running strong.
I then speed up on another steep downhill trail. I pass Oliver in minutes. I also spot Keith Blom ahead running fast. I gradually catch up and stay close behind. I start our first conversation. I have known his name for long time since he is always at the top runners in the results. I met his wife at Michigan Bluff in the Western States 100M last year, so he knew about me. I tell him that I use his 8 hr splits for my American River 50M reference, but I could not make it.
I can not maintain his pace for too long, so I slow down at my own pace. I keep going down on the steep trail until a place we need to make a right turn for the 50 miler. I remember I made this turn when I did the Marathon distance two years ago. I turned out run extra miles. Being a 50 mile runner, now I feel comfortable to make this turn. It starts with a small switch back climb, but becomes slow rolling uphill until the aid station. I come back to the Juniper Campground again.
Juniper Campground => North Gate: 4.34/14.43 miles , 38:37/2:48:53, 8:54 min/mile
I quickly refill my bottle and leave the aid station with Keith and Harry. It happens that we know each other a bit although we have not met in person before. Harry knows the Poetic Runner Rajeev Patel and his wife is a coach for Asha. This is really a small world in the ultra community. I run ahead and ask them keep running to take a picture for Keith and Harry.
Keith kindly stays with us for a while to show us the route. We begin with the route we came from the start, but need to take a left trail after half mile. This is the way to get to the North Gate otherwise we'll go back to the start. Then Keith flies away.
From the course profile, this section is a welcome downhill. Harry and I run together and enjoy the grand view facing the Bay and Oakland area below and far away. The downhill is acceptable and pleasant so far. At one place, we somehow have not seen the ribbon for a while. We fear we might have missed a turn until we spot Keith far away at this trail.
Following the scenic downhill for about two miles, it becomes a rolling trail. I somehow feel a little tired at such early mileage. Some runners approach from behind and maybe pass me.
There is a killing brutal downhill half mile all the way to the aid station. I never saw such a beast. It seems designed for animals instead of us and so steep that there is no way to stop or brake. Although my half size larger shoes worked pretty well at the previous downhills, my toes keep hitting the rocks inside my shoes here. My heels are rubbing the sole, too. I'm afraid there could be some blisters developing under the heels. When I finish the slide, I take a picture when Harry runs down the same trail behind me.
With the aid station in sight within 50 yard, I somehow miss a trail head for a while. I run extra but still able to come back with Karyn Hoffman greeting me there.
North Gate => North Gate: 4.96/19.39 miles ,1:00:37/3:49:30, 12:14 min/mile
I am wondering why Karyn is at the North Gate aid station because I thought she is a runner as well. Actually she is here to crew and pace her husband Mike Hoffman. I first met Karyn in Miwok 100K last year when we ran together for a while. I was worrying about the longest distance I'd never run before. I then met her again two weeks after at the Ohlone Wilderness 50K finish where she had her family and I met Mike.
Harry Walther and Betsy Nye also come in. Karyn is very busy helping me and other runners with full energy that she has in her speedy ultrarunning, remembering she did a sub-8hr in AR50 two weeks ago!
I stay a little longer, while Harry and Betsy are already gone. This seems to be the begininng of a bad sign to me. I leave and will see Karyn later when I finish the North Gate loop.
It begins with a small uphill until we get to the beginning of the loop. It becomes a half mile of rolling hills. Steep and single track downhill comes ahead. I am trying to find the returning connection of the loop or the beginning of the loop but do not find any. I have no problem at the downhill, but start to feel soreness from my legs. The trail seems to go down to a pretty valley where I can see a couple of visitors taking leisure walk. There are a few water crossing, but they are not difficult. I am able to run through without getting wet feet.
There are a few runners passing me as I feel my legs heavy. At the end of the valley, it is a slow uphill. There are two mountain bikers with me. They are at lowest gear pushing up on the hill. All of us happen to be at the same pace, while I pass them after a few minutes. This is why I personally like running better than biking. Not a good biker, I normally suffer a lot at uphill with my 80lb family (read: grocery) mountain bike. To me, it's better to be a runner carrying nearly nothing extra in this situation.
At the end of the half mile slow uphill, the course turns right to a very steep half mile climb. A young gal wearing Hammer Gel shirt easily passes me. She looks like a front runner, so I don't want to push myself hard to race with her.
The course completes the loop at the top of the hill. I feel better in hoping that the aid station is not far, only half mile away. Here come other runners toward me, including the Dirt Diva Catra Corbett, looking comfortable and positive as usual.
It's a welcome downhill to the aid station. I am glad to see Karyn again over there. I seem dehydrated a bit, so I stay longer to drink more.
North Gate => Rock City: 5.16/24.55 miles , 1:17:57/5:07:27, 15:07 min/mile
Leaving the aid station in my deteriorating condition - sore legs, low eneregy, and tired body, I have difficulty in pickinig up my pace. It's about mile 20, but I feel like having run 50 miles and start to run the rest mentally, as we used to describe the second half of a 100 miler. I think it's my lowest right now. I start to suspect how I can finish Wasatch 100M, which is twice of this run.
A few other runners pass me, including Dawn Inferna-Bean. When I sense her to approach me from 30 yards behind, I slow down. She is very nice and willing to chat with me for a while. I try to take a picture for her as I promised my kids that I'll talk and take a picture for the "school teacher" in "Race for the Soul".
Dawn looks strong, so she passes me and so are a few other runners. I move slowly and met Joseph Swensen later. He looks fine but seems to start to have issues about the salty sticks given by the race packet. He goes ahead at faster pace.
The view is also great here. I try to distract myself to enjoy the scene. There is a huge rock towering quater mile away on the right down in the valley. There are some people at the top of the rock. There seem to be some rock climbing activities on the rock. I think the Rock City aid station should not be far.
Mike and another runner catch up. It is exposed here and becomes warm, so we do not say much but work hard on the trail. The course then turns right to a steep technical downhill. I think it's the trail to the aid station. It turns out we have to go on a climb on a paved road at the of the quarter mile long trail. I think all of us, including Mike, have no motivation to run any more. I only wish to walk over it and get to the aid station sooner. Yes, it is the Rock City aid station at the end of half mile paved road.
I have been thinking about quit at the Rock City because I don't know how I can continue and finish the second half of the 50 miles. It's time to make decision.
Rock City => Finley Road: 6.65/31.20 miles , 1:25:18/6:32:44, 12:49 min/mile
There are a couple of runners at the aid station. They were all ahead of me ealier. It looks like they either have some problems or want to have long break here. Joseph Swensen has issues about the salt sticks provided at the aid station. Karyn Hoffman is here again. She comes over to help Mike Hoffman and busily prepares his supplies. Karyn will pace him from here. I jokingly say I will stay close to them to get a little of service leftout from Karyn.
Almost all the runners are gone. I had troubles earlier and thought about quitting here, now it becomes a question as I am inspired by those runners who are in troubles but still keep going. How can I just drop without trying any more? Also without strong mentality by giving up the effort, how can I get back because I still need to climb up the summit one more time before finish. If I can get to the summit, why not just keep trying without giving up on this out-and-back stretch. I decide to go.
Karyn is waiting for Mike, so I go ahead with some hope but a lot of stress, sore, and pain. I enter the shady gently downhill single track trail. A gal (Vicki Hunter?) passes me. I get to the lowest, where there is a small bridge crossing a creek. This is the Marathon turnaround.
The thought of turning around comes up because I think I am too tired to continue. The trail ahead starts with a climb, which is unknown to me. My GPS watch reads only less than 1 mile of progress. I suspect I can continue on the entire 6.5 miles to the next aid station. Even if I can, I am not sure if I can come back for another 6.5 miles.
I don't know what drives me forward to keep going, but I slowly walk up the trail. It's nice and shady, but my body is in bad condition. I can see and hear Karyn and Mike pushing up 100 yards behind. I would like to take a picture for them, so it becomes an excuse for me to slow down and take a break. As I get to the top or the end of the single track, I wait for them to come over. Here is a fire road and we take pictures.
I tell them that I would like to turn around and quit. They encourage me, while I suspect if I have any energy left to go back with such a distress. I still don't know how I start to keep going with them, but this is the place I have no place to go but move forward. Karyn keeps encouraging us with me dragging dozens yards behind.
Somehow I slowly get better. The situation is similar to what I was in my first 100 miler Tahoe Rim Trail 100M last year. I was at very and extremely lowest, but got better after long time of struggle and fight. Perhaps it's like what Gordy Ainsleigh said in the "Race for the Soul", "..through the devastatingly low, things would normally get better...". I catch up with Mike and encourage him. I also get to know how important it is to have an excellent pacer like Karyn.
Out of sudden, we see the front runner Jasper Halekas coming, but I am not prepared to take a picture. He must be at course record pace, set by Scott Jurek two years ago. Immediately, we get to a wire fence. We have to crawl under to get through. This is so tough because our quads are hurting after the long way covering so much elevation changes.
I gradually pick up my pace and move away on my own. Beth Vitalis comes strong next after some time. She kindly tell me and runners behind about the tricky right turn ahead. I leave the partly shady fire road and get to a wide open area. Yes, it's really tricky because runners can easily make the first wrong right turn since we can see runners ahead near it. We should take the second right turn. It's not obvious becasue the small ribbon fixed at the ground can be easily overlooked.
Here I need to climb a small hill. There come Bev Anderson-Abbs and some other front runners. I also need to climb over a fence and start the brutal downhill. Starting the downhill, I spot Mark Tanaka work hard on the climb. This is a rare chance that I can take a picture for him because he used to be too fast for me to see him in a race. Not far behind him is Alan Abbs.
Then I see Kermit. He looks good, but have some injuries on his legs. He later says he had a roll-over accident on the brutal downhill in front of the North Gate aid station. He had to roll to the side on the grass to stop it. It is amazing he can still run that far and fast here. Then there are three other gals running (or competing) closely in a group. On my way to the aid station, I see a couple of runners over the 1.5 mile shady fire road. I can tell the distance of the aid station by finding how fresh those runners look. There is also an abanden (or historic) house on the trail. A good distraction to me.
Finley Road => Rock City: 16.47/37.67 miles , 1:28:41/8:01:26, 13:42 min/mile
At the Finley Road aid station, I'm busy at talking with volunteers, including Will Gotthardt from my town Fremont. He has performed wonderful in the past few PCTR runs and will be ready for his debut at Ohlone Wilderness 50K. He looks in execllent shape as a speedy trail runner. I explain to Will how I struggled in the beginning due to lack of hill work this year.
Joseph Swensen is there, too. I thanks him for the advice he gave me at Rock City. I drank more Sprite there and never felt naucious. He has got similar issues about the salt intake, which I had at the early mileage.
Runners behind me keep coming in and leave after refuel. I stay at the aid station longer and try to drink more. I become the last one to leave. Coming back, I have the same long 6.5 miles to go. I'd rather to prepare myself better and don't want to have some mistakes on this long stretch.
Time to go and I guess I have stayed for nearly 10 min. I begin to pick up my pace at the first half mile shady fireroad. I take a few shots on the runners coming toward to me, but find out my camera is very low in battery power. I should have charged it full the day before. There are not many runners coming and it seems that I am at the tail of the group. Since the brutal climb is coming, I think I'd like to have my camera rest for a while and focus on running.
I pass a few runners at this shady half mile, the course around the "house", and the climb. On the climb, I catch up Joseph Swensen. He has some heel issue as well and plans to save a few miles to the finish by skipping the final 8 mile technical downhill. I encourage him to go for the 8 miles to make it finish. And I tell him that if I still with him at the summit, I'd like to go with him on the stretch. Later from the results, I am happy to know he made the finish. Hopefully he was not injured from that and get recovered fast as he has Miwok 100K this Saturday (same with me). I keep pushing hard and pass Joseph Swensen.
Before getting to the top of the hill, I pass another runner. I regret for being too focused and not having a chance to talk to him because we run back and forth with each other within some short distance for the next 7 miles. He should be the one that I'd love to know about.
I climb over the fence and find the sign reading like "Private Property". Looking back, I enjoy the view of being at the top. Within a second, I have to go for the amazing fireroad ahead. It's rolling, but I now feel like it's mostly downhill and that was the place I rose from dead and came back with my trail legs revived. With such an optimism, I run mostly all the way. I meet Catra Corbett and her friend. They are having fun. I also meet Mylinh Nguyen and Chau Pham. I feel very glad to see all these friends.
The fire road is exposed, so the view is nice and wide open. I can see how far I need to go on the fire road but it seems forever. No problem as I have recovered from my worst and ready to finish this run although there will be hours away. I try to grab everything at any moment until next year - scenic view, suffering, joy, and thoughts. This is wonderful.
I get back to the shady single track, which leads to the bottom. I pretty much stay with 10 min pace or so until the bottom. Crossing the bridge, which is the Marathon turnaround, it's a little over 1 mile uphill all the way to the aid station. I power walk and run whenever I can. On one side, I spot a huge rock, which I did not notice at the first time going out to the Finley Road. It is comparable with those in the Pinacle National Monument. I guess there must be some rock climbing activities. That's why this area is called Rock City. I love this name - a city in such a hidden natural place.
However, I somehow trip on a rooted rock and fall down flat. I can not get up after a minute. Under the dust all over on one side of my body, I have a big bruise on my right shoulder, peeled skin on my knees, hands, and fingers. Fortunately, my Forerunner 305 looks OK but dusty. I have to run right away, so I simply ignore them. It's only a quarter mile to the aid station.
Rock City => Juniper Campground: 2.77/40.44 miles , 49:07/8:50:33, 17:43 min/mile
Now the Rock City aid station is like a party. Clem Choy is there greeting me. He must have been awakened by our fun activities from his house nearby, but he has good time meeting with all ultrarunning friends. I (and Yuki Negoro) recommend that he must watch "Race for the Soul" about Western States 100M in 2001 because he is in the film.
I take it easy and spend some time drinking a lot and preparing my bottle. The Runner comes in as well and leaves quickly. I have no chance to chat with him.
When leaving, I spot the "Race for the Soul" stars Terry/John Rhodes. I am impressed with their way to tackle and finish Western States 100M amazingly in 2001. I am eager to have a picture with them so that I can show my kids, who have known them very well from watching the film.
I am asked if I want to quit. I say "Never quit!" Off I go. From the profile and my experience in doing this as the Marathon course two years ago, I know it's a steep climb to the Juniper Campground aid station near the summit. It will be tough, but I have full spirit to go for it. I patiently walk up the trail with all might. I meet Jerry Roninger coming down to pace or crew Catra Corbett. A few minutes later, I catch up the runner I have run with for the past 7 miles but did not chat more.
I keep pushing myself on the steep climb until a left turn to a section of rolling slow hill. It leads to the aid station. I meet a few hikers, but can produce only smile out of pain and soreness. I finally make it to the aid station and run towards.
Juniper Campground => Summit: 1.49/41.93 miles , 28:56/9:20:11, 19:22 min/mile
Here at the aid station, Terry and John again. We chat more. I even rehearse their dialog in the film. Matt Keyes also comes in. He must be at very fast pace as I did not see anyone behind earlier.
A lady at the aid station tries to speak to me in different language - Japanese, Korean, etc. Then I tell her I am from Taiwan and know only Mandarin and Taiwanese. She is from Singapore. She nicely helps me fill up the bottle. She says "加油" ("way to go"?) to me when I leave. I am too tired to start any more conversation. Thank you lady!
There is still 1.6 miles uphill to the summit, mostly technical trails. Matt Keyes from Auburn soon catches up with some power to spare and we chat a little. At the observation deck, Matt just comes down for the final section. I send my congratulations to him because he looks great for the finish.
Summit => Mitchell Canyon (Finish): 7.92/49.85 miles , 1:40:58/11:01:09, 12:45 min/mile
When I come down from the observation deck at the summit, the small aid station nearby seems ready to close. I wonder why it is closed so early since there are other runners on the trail. I can not get any gel, so I just quickly leave, thinking what I have in my pouch should be enough for the downhill to the finish.
Like the first time, I fly down on the technical trail for a mile or two leaving the summit until a short flat trail. A runner runs toward me saying he missed a turn. I don't knwo why it happens here. He probably could have just run down to the finish, but he needs to prepare for this long section.
This is a great view where we can see a vast range of Mt. Diablo. I soon get to a swtich back deep down. There used to be wild flowers everywhere when I ran the Marathon two years ago. However, it's too late in the day for 50 mile runners. All the flowers are close right now near 6pm. Far away, I spot a runner moving on the final long climb. It must be Matt Keyes.
A runner and his pacer stop 20 yards ahead to let me pass. He calls me "Mr. downhill". Perhaps he saw me how I was speeding on soem technical downhills at early miles. Within minutes, I catch up with Keith Blom and run behind him for a while. This reminds me how I was racing with him ealier at one downhill for a mile. But he lets me pass this time.
Now it's my turn to walk on the climb at the end of the fast switch back. It goes to the North Peak. I knew it before and knew it's the last significant climb, so I patiently put one foot in front of the other. I feel relaxed as I get to the top. It becomes a technical steep single track downhill. This is welcome, but my quads are very sore from the climb. I carefully run down it and gradually increase my pace. It's tough but full of fun to hop around the rocks without slipping over my foot at the very narrow trail. I pass a runner, who looks like a triathlet. He seems to suffer at the downhill, so he slowly walks and lets me pass.
Three weeks ago, I did the trail work and went to Mt. Olympia (see Trail Work at Mt. Diablo - Knowing Ultrarunning Friends and Poison Oaks). I noticed the trail goes up to Mt. Olympia from North Peak. With this in mind, I feel comfortable to run up slowly on the last part of the trail to Mt. Olympia.
When I get there, I figure I have nothing left to summit the Mt. Olympia even it's only 20 yards away. I quickly follow down and the trail becomes even more technical. It's very steep, slippery, and loss of any traction because of the sand. It's difficult to walk on it under such a gravity pull. I have to keep running without getting tripped. This section ends at a fireroad, but in no time, I have to make a left turn to stay on another single track trail. It's time to examine the trail condition after we did the trail work three weeks ago. It looks great and the poison oak are still away from the trail.
With about 5 miles to go, I start to take one gel every two miles in order to sustain the energy to finish strong. I think it works. My quads hurt, but I am able to run at full speed. I pass Vicki Hunter and let her know there is only 3 mile to go. It's a good thing with a GPS watch. I know how far I am in the course.
Along the way, there are some small climbs, but I just patiently power walk and run whenever I can. Thanks to the trail work, I am family with the trail coming back. This helps me a lot mentally. I know how close I am to the finish (But, yes, I have Forerunner 305 telling me the mileage). At the last half mile, I spot Jeff Huff 30 yards away walking. He seems to sense my approaching, so he picks up running. My legs are working very well, so I pass him after telling him we are ready to finish in less half mile. At this moment, I seem to be doing a speedwork and sprint to the finish. Kermit and other friends are there greeting me. I am so glad to finish this tough run with the trophy on my body from a fall.
Norbert Leinfellner could not wait for me after 6pm and he had to leave. Kermit generously provides me a ride. I am happy to stay more with this nice and respectful runner. I clean myself. It's partly because I might get some objection in future ultra's when my wife sees me dusted with wounds.
"The toughest footrace you'll ever love". This is used to describe Wasatch Front 100M. Diablo 50M is only half of it in terms of distance and climb. With over 13000 ft climb on 50 miles, it is definitely the toughest footrace I've ever run before. I loving this challenge and embrace the scenic course. This is a test before I experience the great Wasatch Front 100M this year.
Addy - The Race! (With a report as long as the course)
Terry - Mount Diablo Marathon