Wednesday, May 17, 2017

PCT 50 - 2017

I'm going to make these race reports a little shorter because I have a lot of races this month and I don't have the time to keep writing novels for each one. For those who don't like reading let me give you the highlights:

No Falls!!!
10:21 Finish :/ eh
Ultra Slam - COMPLETE
2 Rattle Snake sightings (yikes)
1 Asshole Runner (a Race Director no less!) who ran into me at the end when I was having trouble walking and yelled "GET OFF THE TRAIL, I SAID MOVE!"
1 Rubik's Cube Solve!
No snake bites!!
Hyponatremia and Dehydration 

I signed up for this race when it first opened up on New Year's Day 2017 for 2 reason: 1) It was the final race I needed to do to round out my SD "Ultra Slam", and 2) It sells out usually that same day. I don't ever sign up for races that far in advance, mainly because I can never be sure what my future will look like in the next 5 months. I could get injured, causing me to waste $150 by DNS-ing, or another race could pop up that I might want to do that is scheduled to happen the week or 2 before that race. Well, that happened with Lost Boys. I signed up for Lost Boys 50 knowing that I had PCT 50 two weeks after but I thought "fuck it", I'll just take one of the races easier. I was slightly concerned that it might not be enough recovery time but it turned out that, like last year, I recovered really REALLY well from Lost Boys so much so that I was able to knock out a 1:45-ish half marathon the Monday after. I feel like my recovery had a lot to do with how easily I approached the first half of the race and how relatively slow (10:00) my finishing time was. Also, the soft sand for the first 20 miles of the race helped ease the impact on my body. Combine all this with the Cryotherapy and Normatec I did the day before and the day after the race, I felt like Lost Boys was just another training run. So, going into PCT 50 I felt fresh, both physically and mentally ready. I could tell my recovery was going to be good because the day after Lost Boys I had already started fantasizing about PCT 50 and visualizing what that race would look like. Usually I don't want anything to do with running for the following week, but I knew mentally I guess, that my body would be okay. 

A good amount of the Trail Crashers were doing this race, even some (Julieanne) who had done Lost Boys with me 2 weeks ago, so I knew this would be a fun race. My concern with this race was just to finish out my Ultra Slam and whatever time that happened to be was okay with me. That being said, I figured a 9-hour or even sub-9-hour time would be possible to shoot for so I mentally hung that carrot in front of myself. Packet pickup was done last weekend at Milestone Running Store in North Park so Whitney and I, who I had convinced to sign up for the race the same time as I did because it would be a good training race for her SD100, were able to arrive a little closer to start time (6:00am) than we usually do. We arrived with about 15 minutes to the start which turned out to be barely enough time. It was approaching the mid-30's on the ride over so I was looking forward to how cold it would be. It was projected to be in the 40's in the morning and reach maybe a high of 65. It was a beautiful day with an inversion layer that we would rise up and over as we make our way towards the first Aid Station. I'd much prefer a high of 55 with lots of cloud coverage for performance sake but you cant beat how beautiful it was outside all day. Anything over 60 degrees F though, I melt. Today would turn out to be no different. 

As it got closer to 6am, we started gathering towards the start. I remembered my watch this time and was also going to run Strava on my phone simultaneously as a backup and put it in my pack. I asked the person behind me to kindly put my phone in the back pouch of my hydration pack, when I heard the RD counting down "5...4...3..." and I told the guy "Nevermind, thanks though" as I brought it forward to put into my handheld pouch. Ugh, I dropped it right on the blacktop face-down right before the dirt started. I picked it up, the screen was mainly black. "Great..." I thought. That turned out to be the last encounter I would have with that phone, unfortunately, as it turned out that the LCD had cracked and that would make repairs cost more than what the phone was worth to begin with. Regardless, time to go! Or... time to Conga... 

Mile 4.5-ish

I made the mistake of getting stuck in the middle of the pack when I know I'm a more.. audacious runner, even when I'm taking it easy. I was planning on doing 10 to 11-minute pace going uphill but because I got behind 55 people, it was looking to be more like 14-15-minute pace and walking. It probably did me better to walk a lot of that first half anyway but I should've been smarter and got at least in the top 20 if not top 10 at the start. Silly me. We got to Kitchen Creek Road and I started making moves to pass people and as we got to the first Aid Station I ran into "Boy Blue" Miguel Osuna who is planning on finishing SD 100 this year after getting swept last year. I pulled into the first Aid Station, took 3 salt pills, filled up on CarboPro and took off for the 7.8 mile climb up to Dale's Kitchen. I started catching some more people and eventually ran into Deb who was trucking along just fine. She always ends up catching me towards the end of races so I knew it wouldn't be the last time I would see her. Pulled into Dale's Kitchen and started to see some of the Early Starters who started the race at 5am. If you feel like you'll need more time than the 13.5 hour cutoff allows, you can start an hour earlier and relieve some of the pressure of having to chase cutoffs. I wasn't pushing too hard at this point and actually had the feeling that this could be a really easy finish if I keep it at this pace. I made my way through the woodsy Laguna single-track part of the PCT, my personal favorite, towards Todd's Cabin about 3.8 miles away.

As I was pulling towards Todd's Cabin, which I was familiar with because of SD 100, I saw someone run past the sign accidentally and hooted at them to come back as we had to go down to check-in to Todd's Cabin (about 0.10 miles down) and then come back up to continue. It seems like it would be easy to miss though as though there was a sign saying "Todd's Cabin", it wasn't readily apparent via flags or anything else that you had to turn there if you were running the race. Maybe some more runners missed this turn? Who knows. Anyways, I was in and out like a robbery at a California burger joint and onto the next Aid Station, Penny Pines, about 5.8 miles away. 

As I started the little 1-2 mile descent towards Penny Pines, I started running behind Tracy Dimino, who is a kickass runner. She kept saying I could pass but I was fine sticking with her at the pace she was doing downhill. We stuck together as we closed in towards Penny Pines and started seeing the front runners Igor Campos and the eventual winner Fern Blanco, who was having trouble with his hydration pack at that time. They were about 5.5 miles ahead of us at that point and they both seemed to be moving strong. I ended up losing Tracy at Penny Pines as she was literally in and out while I stayed and filled up some bottles and get some electrolyte pills. I saw Gloria (hi Gloria!), Matt Carol, Robert, Ricky, Becca, Anthony; it was a party! But, unfortunately couldn't stay long at that party so I took off toward the turnaround about 2.25 miles away. I asked Karen how many people had passed so far and she told me about 15, which put me in good position as I was feeling pretty strong. 

Heading towards Penny Pines 1

Headed towards turnaround

I took off towards the turn around and I swear to god, I saw this kid playing with a Rubik's Cube on the trail! He was hiking with some friends as they were backpacking and it seemed like he knew how to move it. I don't recommend cubing while on the trail as you could easily trip but it was pretty cool and random to see a cuber out there cubing on the trail. As I caught him on the way back, I was going to just pass him and keep going but I turned around and asked him if he could solve it, to which he replied "Yeah, in about 15 seconds or less," to which I was like "Can I see that cube?". I started walking with him and solving it, with my gloves still on from the morning, as he asked "Are you doing cross on left?" I knew at this point that this kid was actually a cuber and not just some kid with a Rubik's Cube and so I told him a little bit more about myself and as I finished it I handed it to him and continued to run on while also yelling back "I used to hold NAR (North American Record)" and he was like "What? Really? What's your name?" "Phillip Espinoza!" "I think I know that name". It's kinda funny that my two worlds happened to collide as they usually don't. It's funny, I used to be a name in the cubing world, kinda like a Sage Canaday, or Rob Krar, but these days I was more like a Timothy Olson or Anton Kupricka. My World Championship days of speedcubing were over and I had moved on, but I still try to incorporate it into my running occasionally. How funny that there just happened to be a cube on the trail for me to solve.

I continued on to Penny Pines as more people started making their way towards the turnaround. I had almost managed to catch up to Tracy when I saw her darting out of the Penny Pines Aid Station as I was coming in. I saw Eli, my buddy and pacer from SD 100, who was out there spectating and I had asked him on the way out if he wanted to pace me for the last 22 miles. He was tempted, really tempted I'm sure, but unfortunately he had other places to be that day. It was all good though as I quickly grabbed more CarboPro from my drop bags and tried to drink more and more water. I took off after a couple of minutes and made my way up the last little climb back towards Todd's Cabin.

Heading towards Todd's Cabin 2

This was mainly a walk, as the very, very beginnings of dehydration were starting to kick in and I started to feel a little tired. On the way back up I saw Julieann, Nartaya, then Whitney (who apparently wasn't have the best day) and then Nell, who looked like she was running with the sweeper (Jeri Ginsburg) behind her. As I topped the climb, I decided to pull over and finally pee, which took a good 60 seconds straight (boy, must've been holding back the whole day). I continued on, always saying hello and thank you to the many hikers we kept seeing throughout the day. I pulled into Todd's Cabin and at this point, people were starting to catch me for the first time of the day. I was starting to feel it and made attempts to keep drinking and took some electrolyte pills. Someone commented how much salt was on my clothes and asked if I was taking salt pills as it looked like I was losing a bunch of salt. "Yeah, it happens all the time to me, I'm a really salty sweater". I filled up some more and headed out, this time palpably drained as I started walking even the most gentle of climbs. Well, as soon as I made it to Dale's Kitchen, that would just be about 13 miles left until the finish. So I run-walked my way towards Dale's Kitchen as I pulled up to someone who I thought was Tracy. Was she having a bad day too? She said she didn't taper much for this race, could that be her? No, it was someone else, ah well. I pulled into Dale's, visible drained, but with only 13 miles to go, manly downhill, I knew I just had to get stuff in me and bite the bullet. I wasn't too responsive to the volunteers unfortunately, but I think they could tell I was having a hard time. Deb pulled into Dale's a little after I did, as I knew she would catch up to me. I grabbed some more stuff, a little caffeine from soda and the little coffee bars and headed out for the descent. She started out in front of me but then forgot to throw some stuff away so she turned around and ended up behind me, but only for a little while before I decided to let her pass. She was looking really strong at that point and I knew, if she stayed like that, she would finish really well.

As I was making the descent, people started passing me left and right. About 23 people would eventually pass me from Todd's Cabin to the finish. I started cramping up in my left hamstrings, but fortunately these cramps wouldn't stay for too long. It wasn't quite as bad as my Old Goat 50 experience but the cramps kept happening. As I made my way towards the final Aid Station at Fred's Canyon, I was relieved to know that there was only roughly 6 miles to the finish. I ate 2 hammer gels here and filled up on some Tailwind they had at the Aid Station and continued to drink water. More and more people were pulling up on me, but I continued on. A little after making the final tiny climb up to the ridgeline single-track, I started to run a little as it was gradually descending when all of a sudden I heard a large hiss and a loud rattle coming from the edge of the trail. Quicky, I slammed on the breaks almost inducing cramping all over my legs as I saw a rattle snake coiled up positioned to defend itself. "Shit-shit-shit!". I backed away, slowly. Rattle snakes aren't aggressive, but they will defend themselves, especially if you surprise them and catch them off-guard, as it seemed like I had. "Look, I don't want any trouble," I told the snake, backing away. There wasn't enough room for me to safely pass without coming within striking distance so I decided to wait a little. I looked at the right side of the trail and it seemed like there was enough embankment for me to climb up and over without disturbing the snake, who had all eyes on me like 2pac in the mid-90's. I also decided to wait until someone else pulled up as I remember hearing that it's the first person who wakes them up and the second person is the one that gets bit. Sean Nakamura was pulling up, running comfortably with a smile on his face when I tried to wave him down. He must've thought I was just waving for support like a spectator because he seemed to just keep smiling and running until he was just about in front of me. He took out a headphone (I think he had headphones) and I warned him of the rattle snake just ahead. We both climbed on the right side of the embankment as it still had all eyes on both of us now. We escaped and he thanked me for the warning as he ran ahead.

About a quarter mile further I was thinking, thank God that snake didn't bite me and thank God I still had enough energy to react appropriately instead of cramping up and falling over like a dweeb. Then, another loud rattle and a hiss as I saw another rattler on the side of the trail. "Fuck, are you serious?". I just decided to wait this one out, he didn't look too scared but I thought it best to just let him do his thangg. You do you, boo, I'll just be here chillin' until another runner comes along or until you move on like an Adele song. I waited 5 minutes, no runners were coming up. Meanwhile, Jake the Snake over here decides to cross the trail and go up the side of the embankment. I'm like cool, I'm just gonna... scootch... on... byy.... don't mind me... and I got away. Phew! 2 snake sightings is more than enough for me! I hope I don't see anymore before the finish. Onwards I go, as I make the mistake of trying the Muir Energy "Cashew Lemon" for the first time. Oh my god, I'm lucky I didn't puke everything up right then and there. Crikey, and that was only a taste!

I cross Kitchen Creek Road and make the final 3.7 mile descent towards the finish, at this point in a good amount of pain, barely walking it in. I thought, "Okay Phillip, this is going to be embarrassing, but you can walk this one in. You *might* be able to walk." At this point I was clearly struggling. This was supposed to be a fast finish as it was downhill from this point but I was barely able to walk without seizing up. Oh well, just, keep, walking. People kept passing me, as I stayed to the right of the trail as much as possible. Some people were nice and gave me pats on the back, telling me to keep going, some even stopped and asked if I needed anything. That's what I love about this sport; when someone is not having a good day, or is clearly in distress, we lend a helping hand when we can. The sportsmanship of the trail is one that is second to none in my opinion. As people kept pulling up and passing me, I would kindly let them. All was going okay, cramping was still happening, but I knew that barring a fall, I would be able to walk this one in at a 20-minute pace.
I hear a runner coming up behind me, running a decent pace, and I heard him mumbling something. I'm not sure if it was to himself or if I was supposed to hear. Either way, I knew he was coming so I moved to the right of the trail like I had for the other runners. Then, BOOM, he runs right into me, almost knocking me off the trail. "What the fuck!" I yell out of reaction "GET OFF THE TRAIL!" he yells back "I SAID MOVE!" as he continues to run on un-remorsefully. This was really upsetting and disappointing. This guy was part of the race. In trail running, especially on single track, the right of way is something that should be agreed upon. You do not assume someone else on the trail is supposed to give you the right of way, no matter what, that is my understanding. If there is a hiker in the way, you do NOT have the right to just plow through them. If there is a runner who is walking, you do NOT have the right to run over them. Race Directors always make a point to strongly encourage courteous attitudes towards everyone on the trail and to remember that we are SHARING the trail, that we do not own it just because we signed up for this race. This runner, seemed to have forgotten about that. He seemed to be unaware of how we're supposed to treat each other on the trail. And I get it, things happen on the trail, we might run into each other, I actually did on the way back, but we immediately apologized, asked if we were both good, and moved on. This guy was not apologetic in the least. You know the worst part about this? Apparently he's a race director himself. I can't imagine any of the Race Directors I know to EVER treat ANY one like this. Scott Mills? Scott Crellin? Brian Gonzales? Jennifer Henderson? Never. This guy is a race director. The extent to which I am disappointed is incredible. Regardless, I move on, hoping to catch him after I finish. He seemed to be nowhere in sight when I finished.

Shortly after that incident, my faith in the trail running community was restored when Jonathon Hunter came up behind me, stopped in front of me and asked if there was anything that I needed. I insisted that we were almost done and that I should be fine. I was really appreciative of him, and all the others who passed me up in that final mile who offered support or words of encouragement as they passed, or stopped to see if they could pull something out of their own pack that would help me. "I'm okay, thanks though, I really appreciate it", I would tell them.

As I pulled into the final 0.5 miles, I was just going to walk it in, and with the finish line in sight, I was going to do just that until Jamie Chatham pulled up behind me with his friends as they encouraged me to run it in. So I jogged it in, happy to have finished this race, in a time of 10:21. 

After the Finish. I was done son.

The cool part about these races is hanging out with the Trail Crashers and talking about the race as we wait for the rest of the Crashers and the rest of the finishers to pull in. I got some pizza, an ice cold pop, and relaxed. As I was talking to Tracy about how her race went, I started to get cramping in my abs, which is never a good sign. I went to go look for salt pills where they were serving pizza, and they didn't have any, but thought the EMT might have some. While they were getting the EMT over to where I was, my cramps were getting worse and starting to spread all over my body. I recognized this and knew what to do. I knew I needed to drink water and get salt pills in me. Someone who was serving food picked up a bottle of Endurolytes, unsure of what it was, as she tried to read the label, I said "Yes.. that's it..". The EMT however decided to withhold the pills from me and give me a full-length exam to make sure that giving me the pills wasn't going to make things worse. In between gasps of breaths, I tried to tell them I knew what I needed and that they needed to give me the salt pills, but they were still reluctant to give me them. When I get to this point, I'm hard to communicate with and not really that responsive, so it makes it seem as if there might be something more serious when in reality I'm just in a large amount of pain and trying to mitigate it. They finally gave me the salt pills as I snatched them and shoved 3 in my mouth washing it down with some water and coke. Within 30 seconds, I started breathing easier and "coming to". I proceeded to tell them how this happens to me usually and it's because I lose a great amount of salt in my sweat, which I really need to get checked out and have studies done on me. I thanked them for their help, and continued to relax as we waited for the rest of the Trail Crashers to come in. 

Salt Stains on Shirt

Not Normal, it was only in the 60's

Whitney came in just under the cutoff, and I was beyond happy to hear that she got the honorable DFL (Dead Fuckin' Last) spot. Most people wouldn't consider that a good thing but I consider the DFL person to be the most awesome as they were out there longer than anyone else that day, and they stuck with is, likely chasing cutoffs, to finish despite the challenges of the day.

All in all, it was another awesome day on the trails. Up next, Nanny Goat 24 hour in about 10 days! 


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  2. You left out the part where you came to a dead stop in the middle of the trail after I yelled at you three times "coming around", you also left out the part where you yelled out calling me "fucking asshole". I do share the trail you should try it yourself sometime. By the way what do you think you were going to do if you found me after the race?

    1. Lmao. What, Steve P not speaking up loud enough on the trail? That's a first!