Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dancin' with Wasps at the Skyline to the Sea 50k

Nothing gets your adrenaline going like wasps. I've never ran into them before, literally, and wasn't prepared for it when I ran through all 3 nests. Although distracted momentarily, I certainly was still able to enjoy my long and gruelling run through the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Skyline to the Sea 50k - 6:45:15 (13:09 pace; 122/178)

This was an unbelievably picturesque trail. The start was at Saratoga Gap at the intersections of Highways 9 and 35. We ran up and down valleys with huge panoramic views of unending tree after tree. One minute you are running through towering trees and the next you break around a bend and the whole hidden valley opens up. Absolutely beautiful. Then you drop down into the valley floor and run and cross over streams until you finally come out from under the cover of leaves and branches and, voila, there is the ocean right there in front of you. Words do not suffice. All in all, there was 3,000 feet of elevation gain with 5,580 feet of elevation loss.

The race started at the great time of 9. This, to me, is the most ideal time to start running. Unfortunately, in order to get to the start, where there is no parking, you have to drive to where the race will end since it is a point to point race. Yup, that meant driving the 1 hour and 20 minutes to where the buses would pick us up. Which meant getting up at 4:45. Not so much fun. Since I couldn't fall asleep until a little after 3 it meant I would be really tired with only 2 hours of sleep.

Oh, and the bus ride. We were all crammed into these school buses where we had to sit sideways in order to fit in the seats. Imagine a 1 hour and 20 minute bus ride, bouncing you back and forth. Not a good way to start your day. I was so sick by the time we got there that I couldn't enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Add that to being tired and with loud people practically yelling in the seat behind me, and I was not in the right frame of mind. That being said, standing in the cold for an hour in the fresh mountain air certainly freshened my mood.

The race started and after a bathroom break I didn't get to the start line until the race began, which meant I was behind every runner at the beginning. The race was virtually all single track, with some fire roads, so the beginning was very slow going as I slowly moved carefully past runners. 2 miles in and all hell broke loose. I saw one runner stop and scratch his leg and someone else asked if he had been stung. I thought nothing of it until a a couple hundred feet in front of me a woman slaps her neck and yells. I just started thinking, "I hope I don't get stu-" "Ouchhhh" as I did the mad, banshee yelling and arm waving jumping as I surged forward and adrenaline pumped in. I had been stung a couple of times. And I was worried. I had only been stung by a wasp once before and my hand swelled to over 3 times as big. I had an allergic reaction then, what would happen now?

Luckily the race director showed up and gave me an antihistamine. I soldiered on. 5 minutes later we started to hear yelling and a lot of commotion on the trail ahead. We knew what we were getting into and dreaded every step forward. Then the lead runner in our group started yelling and waving their arms and then, almost instantly, everyone started jumping, yelling, screaming and waving their arms. And you get stung by 3 different wasps at the same exact time. Adrenaline surged through me as I lost all focus on running and pushed it on harder to get away from wasps.

Luckily we were in the clear and hit our first hill, since the course is a net downhill, and trudged on. I was out of shape so I walked most of the hill, which was a long gruelling one. We get to the top and come to our first panoramic view, which, of course, came along with its own wasps' nest. This time I was stung in the arm and, uh, the back of my head? The upside was I wasn't having a reaction, the downside was that I had been stung 8 times by wasps. Not fun, and my arm and head throbbed for the whole race.

A plus was that this course was mostly downhill, the downside was that the hills, when they came, were some really tough ones. About mile 15 was another hill that went on for almost 2 miles and was really steep. Not fun. I was moving slowly. After I got back to the 19 mile aid station I walked all the flats until, yup, another long and gruelling hill. I was not in good shape. I couldn't figure it out. I was drinking a lot of water, was taking electrolyte pills and was eating Cliff Shot Bloks. What happened besides being out of shape? As I pondered this I ate more, drank more, and swallowed some more electrolyte pills. And, just in time, it all clicked back into place at the top of the hill.

This was the first that this had happened. I went from nauseous, dizzy and cramping in my calves, hamstrings, quads and groin to flying so fast down the hill feeling more fresh than I did at the beginning of the race. Unbelievable, and it felt so good to open up my stride and literally fly down the single track trails with huge trees and running creeks. I assumed it was endorphins kicking in and giving me such a great feeling. I was wrong.

A few miles later I felt all the same cramps and was dizzy again. What was it? Ah ha, that has to be it. Even though I had ate a lot, it wasn't enough. I needed to eat more regularly. So I ate and drank again and waited for it to kick in while I hobbled along hating life. 15 minutes later I noticed the cramping was gone. I opened up my stride again and was soaring so fast that I was catching runners left and right. I lost count. Where they were all fading I was flying past them as though I hadn't run at all. I was amazed at the huge difference. Granted, I couldn't keep it up continuously, so I worked in a run walk routine in order to not run out of fuel. And it worked.

Even when I was in the best of shape I have never felt this great at the end of a race and could open up not only on the downhills but on the flats as well. So this is what if feels like to have the right nutrition and hydration? Nice, I will have to remember this. And just as I came down the mountain and could see the wind gliders' sails on the ocean, my energy collapsed. I couldn't see eating again, so I drank a lot and pushed through the slowly building cramps until I came to the finish line, which surprised me as I weaved in and out of bushes to suddenly have the finish line literally right in front of me. Apparently we were originally going to end with the ocean in sight, but a wasps nest had found a home there and it would have been cruel to congratulate our finish with a few more stings.

All in all, a truly enjoyable race, despite hating life at mile 14 and wondering why I continue to torture myself with running marathons and ultramarathons. The wasps were a unique experience, one I would never wish upon anyone else, and hope to certainly never have to experience again, even though I know I probably will.

Post script: I went to bed last night with nothing more than a slight stinging on my right arm and a dull throb on the back of my head. I had taken an antihistamine pill and I think that held things at bay. This morning I woke up and after showering and eating I scratched my arm, having completely forgot about the wasp stings, and looked down to find my right forearm a slight red and splotchy color as well as being swollen. I was having a reaction to the stings. All in all my right forearm was stung 4 times within the same square inch surface by three wasps (one got me twice before I was able to swat him off), so it wasn't a surprise that it was reacting the worst there. I guess I have a little memento, eh, one I will keep with me when I run. Along with some antihistamine pills.

1 comment:

Julianne said...

hi brian, i stumbled onto your website as i was searching on google for the almaden 10k race. it's always nice to find other runner blogs from the bay area. wow, you're an ultra runner. awesome! one day... i'd like to do one. maybe start with a 50k. keep up the good work and great race report!