Category Archives: races

Kodiak 50K 2019

Runners on the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail during the 2019 Kodiak Ultra Marathons.
Runners on the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail

Working up the rocky trail, I looked to my left across the broad valley to San Gorgonio Mountain. There was still a narrow strip of snow near its summit, bright white in the morning sun.

I was about 5.5 miles into the Kodiak 50K and nearing the top of 9952′ Sugarloaf Mountain. There wasn’t any snow here, but the morning had been cool — at least by Southern California summer standards.

San Gorgonio Mountain from the Sugarloaf Trail.
San Gorgonio Mountain from the Sugarloaf Trail.

This was my sixth time running Kodiak. The first four times were at the 50M distance, and this year and last, I’d opted for the 50K. There have been a lot of changes in the Kodiak Ultra Marathons since the first 100M & 50M were run in 2013.

Initially held in late September, the event moved to an August date in 2017. 50K options were added in 2015. For the first three years the Kodiak courses were run in the counterclockwise direction. In 2016 the direction switched to clockwise and then alternated direction each year through 2018. This year the direction was the same as in 2018 — clockwise.

The general idea has remained the same. The 100 milers run a loop around Big Bear Lake. On the way, they ascend Sugarloaf Mountain, and also descend thousands of feet into the dank depths of Bear Canyon. The 50 milers run from the north side of the lake to the Finish, climbing either the Siberia Creek Trail if the course direction is counterclockwise, or Sugarloaf Mountain if the course is run clockwise. The options for 50Kers have varied from year to year.

Big Bear SAR volunteers on the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. during the Kodiak Ultra Marathons.
Big Bear SAR volunteers helped out on the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

This year the 100M start time was moved to 6:00 p.m. This put 100M runners beginning the descent into Bear Canyon between about 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. — a much cooler time of day. The trade-off was that they would be doing the 3000′ climb up Sugarloaf Mountain with about 67 miles on their legs, and many of the runners would run into a second night.

There were two notable changes in the Kodiak 50K this year. One adjustment is that it started two hours earlier — at 6:00 a.m. The other is that it was a couple of rocky miles longer than last year. The mileage was added on the descent of Sugarloaf — with runners looping down Wildhorse Meadow Road instead of retracing their route on the Sugarloaf Trail. My watch recorded a distance of about 34.5 miles and corrected elevation gain of about 6800′.

Because of the change in the 100M and 50K start time, we were ahead of many of the 100M and 50M runners, but we did get to see the 100M leaders flying down Sugarloaf.

2019 Kodiak 50K Elevation Profile
2019 Kodiak 50K Elevation Profile

The weather was cool in the morning and warm in the afternoon. At Big Bear Airport the overnight low Friday night was 37°F and the high on Saturday was 77°F. With the clear skies, it was hot on exposed, south-facing trails. The Converse RAWS (5618′) recorded a high (inside a ventilated instrument housing) of 84°F; however the “fuel temperature” of a pine dowel in direct sun hit 106°F. In my experience, the fuel temperature is a better indicator of the temperature runners might encounter on sun-baked sections of trail.

My run went well. There was no repeat of the leg cramps I experienced near the end of this year’s ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K. This 50K was longer, had more elevation gain, was at higher elevation, and was generally more technical, but my legs behaved the entire time. That’s the riddle of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC). Sometimes you get leg cramps and sometimes you don’t. In this race I made sure that I stayed well-hydrated and fueled. I also used poles on the steeper climbs.

San Gorgonio Mountain from Radford Road.
Near the top of the four mile Radford Road descent, with San Gorgonio in the background.

This was one of those races that I could just run and enjoy. It was great to talk with Diana, Gloria and Greg along the way. The runners you meet during races are often very accomplished and usually have some unique stories to share!

Many thanks to Kodiak Race Director Susie Schmelzer, Course Director Harald Zundel, and Communications Director John Emig and to Team Kodiak, all the volunteers, sponsors, Bear Valley SAR, HAM operators, medical personnel, City of Big Bear Lake, US Forest Service, Big Bear Trails Foundation, RIM Nordic and Open Air Big Bear, and everyone that helped put on the event.

See the Kodiak Ultra Marathons web site and Facebook page for more info, results and photos. All the results for the Kodiak Ultra Marathons since 2013 can be found on Ultrasignup.com.

Some related posts: Kodiak 50K 2018, San Gorgonio Mountain Snow, Kodiak 50 Mile 2017 – Smiling at the Finish

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ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 2019 and the Riddle of EAMC

Runners working up Josephine Fire Road during the 2019 Angeles National Forest Trail Races.
Runners working up Josephine Fire Road from the Clear Creek Aid Station.

The race was going well. We’d made the 3:05 p.m. cutoff at West Fork (Mile 26.5 of the 50K) with an hour to spare and I was feeling good. One reason was that temps for the race were not nearly as hot as in 2017 and 2018. For the most part heat had not been an issue. Even so, with the clear sky and strong sun, it had still been toasty on the climb up to Lawlor Saddle and descent from Red Box.

High at Clear Creek for the 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races.
High at Clear Creek for the 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races. Click to enlarge.

On the way down from Red Box, I’d started running with German, who was running the Angeles National Forest Trail Race (ANFTR) as his first 50K. He’d run the Los Angeles Marathon a few months before and was curious to see what ultras were all about. He knew he’d picked a good one. I told him the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K was a favorite, and one of the best organized races that I had run.

Born in the ingenious mind of RD Gary Hilliard in 2005, the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races are unique. Most mountain ultras start low, climb to one or more high points, and eventually descend to the finish. The ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment courses do the opposite. They start on top of Mt. Wilson, and many miles later, finish with a grueling 5.5 mile, 2600′ climb from West Fork back to the top of Mt. Wilson.

We’d refilled at West Fork, taken a couple of minutes to cool down, and then had continued west on the Gabrielino Trail, jogging the level stretches and avoiding the poison oak prevalent on that section of trail. Reaching the Kenyon Devore Trail, I said something like, “The fun begins!” and we headed up the steepening trail. Both of us had done Kenyon Devore recently in training, and I’d done it many times in previous ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races.

60K, 50K and 25K runners at the Starting line for the 2019 Angeles National Forest Trail Races
60K, 50K and 25K runners at the Starting line for the 2019 Angeles National Forest Trail Races.

I felt the first twinge around mile 29. Just a little flicker in an adductor. I’m used to this. Although I’ve not had any chronic mechanical issues with my knees and feet, in about two-thirds of my 50K and longer races I’ve been hit with leg cramps. Researchers refer to this type of cramping as Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC).

EAMC is no fun at all. The cramps, usually in the active leg muscles, can be intense and painful. They often occur late in a race — right around the time you’re getting excited about finishing and want to pick up the pace on the final few miles of the course. They are disconcerting and frustrating.

Working up the San Gabriel Peak Trail on the first uphill of the ANFTR course.
Working up the San Gabriel Peak Trail on the first uphill of the ANFTR course.

I’ve researched EAMC for many years, followed the science, and tried many remedies and solutions. Everyone has their favorites. Two of mine are pickle juice and jalapeño chips. Nothing I’ve tried has worked reliably and the research I’ve reviewed suggests there is no magic bullet for dependably preventing this type of cramping.

Much has been written about EAMC. Following are links to a couple of papers that summarize some of the research:

A Narrative Review of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps: Factors that Contribute to Neuromuscular Fatigue and Management Implications

Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps – A Current Perspective

This VeloNews Fast Talk podcast from August 2017 discusses the physiology, prevention and treatment of cramps with experts in the field:

Fast Talk podcast, ep. 26: Cramping myths debunked

Like many who experience EAMC, I seldom get cramps in training runs — even very long and difficult training runs. For those of us that are prone to cramping, there are a multitude of interrelated factors that determine if cramping occurs, and if it does, how severe the cramps will be.

Strawberry Peak looms in the background as a runner works up Josephine Fire Road during the 2019 ANFTR.
Strawberry Peak looms in the background as a runner works up Josephine Fire Road.

The most common scenario for me is that somewhere in the last few miles of a race I will feel a twinge in an adductor or hamstring. I’ll stretch; drink more water; maybe take an electrolyte tab or two and continue. Sometimes that will be that, but more often than not, the twinges develop into a familiar cycle of disruptive cramping — a sequence of the adductor and hamstring muscles in one leg cramping, followed sometime later by the adductor and hamstring in the other leg.

Once cramping starts, I walk. In my experience, walking usually helps to alleviate the cramping, particularly on level and downhill sections. If I can keep moving the cramps will often resolve in a few minutes. Then I can continue more or less normally, and can go back to running. Once the cramps have cycled through both legs, they usually don’t reoccur.

This time around I’d continued to feel various twinges, and then around mile 30, WHAM! It felt like every muscle in both legs cramped at once. I had no choice, but to sit down in the middle of the trail.

2019 ANFTR Josephine Aid Station
Josephine Aid Station

I’d been telling German about my cramping woes, so he wasn’t caught totally off guard. In the middle of all the drama, I kept saying I had to get up and get moving — not because I was worried about the time — but because I thought it would help resolve the cramps. At one point the cramping started to subside, but just trying to stand up was enough to trigger them again.

Eventually I was able to stand and slowly start hobbling up the trail. It seemed like I had been sitting for a long time, but according to my GPS track, we were only stopped for about 5 minutes.

At first, I had to be very careful about re-triggering the cramps. There were a few places where the trail steepened, and I could feel I was on the brink of cramping again. Keeping a constant, easy pace that didn’t overtax any individual muscle group was key. Gradually, I was able to resume a more normal gait. Not wanting to cramp again, I kept the pace slow.

German and me at the Finish. It was German’s first 50K.

My legs behaved for the remainder of the climb, and German and I happily reached the top of Mt. Wilson and crossed the finish line with a smile. We even jogged the last few steps! I congratulated him on finishing his first 50K and thanked him for hanging with me through the cramping episode. After finishing, I walked around for about 10 minutes. In my experience this helps to keep the post-race cramps at bay, and they didn’t reoccur.

As in every race in which I’ve cramped, I’ve asked myself what I might have done differently. I was heat-acclimated. I did several ANFTR-specific training runs starting and finishing at the top of Mt. Wilson. Maybe these runs could have been longer, done at a faster pace, or in combination with another strenuous run — with the idea of being more fatigued on the climb back up the peak. My fueling and hydration seemed to be pretty good, but maybe I need more carbohydrates and fluids than I think. I tapered normally, but have noticed in other races that less of a taper may help with cramping. One thing that might have really helped on this course is the use of trekking poles.

Elevation profile of the 2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K.
Elevation profile of the 2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K.

This was my twelfth finish of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K. It is a challenging, superbly organized race on a spectacular course. Many, many thanks to RDs Gary & Pam Hilliard; the aid station and ham radio volunteers; Sierra Madre SAR; Angeles National Forest; the race sponsors; and all those that make this such an outstanding event.

See the ANFTR web site, Facebook page and Facebook group for more info. All the results for the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races since 2005 can be found on Ultrasignup.com.

Some related posts: Warming Up for the ANFTR Trail Races, Another Scorching Angeles National Forest/Mt. Disappointment Trail Race

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Warming Up for the ANFTR Trail Races

Stratus in the San Gabriel River drainage from Mt. Wilson road.

Was back on Mt. Wilson this morning, enjoying the mountains, and getting in a little more training for the upcoming Angeles National Forest Trail Run races.

There were already two cars parked in the loop road turnout when I got there, and another car pulled in behind me. All were runners.

The turnout is near the start of the ANFTR course and most of the runners were planning to do the ANFTR 25K loop or a variation. One runner — training for the ANFTR 60K and AC100 — was doing the 50K course.

The extensive layer of low clouds in the canyons of the West Fork and East Fork San Gabriel River at the start of the run was indicative of a cool onshore flow. Too cool and comfortable, really. Anticipating warmer temperatures for the ANFTR race, I wore an extra layer for the run, and probably should have worn more.

The last two years the ANFTR races have been run during record-setting heatwaves. We’ve had a lot of cool weather this year and for a while it looked like the pleasant weather might carry over to race day, July 6. But following the finest of ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment traditions, it now looks like temps will probably be warming up for the race. Maybe not quite as hot as the last two years, but still on the toasty side. We’ll see!

The highest temperature recorded at Clear Creek on the day of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races for 2005-2019.
High at Clear Creek for the 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races. Click to enlarge.
Average hourly Clear Creek temperatures on the day of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races for 2005-2019.
Average hourly Clear Creek temperatures for 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races. Click to enlarge.

Update Thursday, July 11, 2019. As it turned out, temperatures for the 2019 edition of the Angeles National Forest Trail Run were in the “middle of the pack” compared to other years. The high temperature recorded at the Clear Creek RAWS on July 6 was 80°F. This was down 25°F from 2018. Averaged hourly fuel temperatures at Clear Creek ranged from 101°F to 104°F between noon and 5:00 pm. The high at the Mt. Wilson RAWS on July 6 was 75°F, down 20°F from 2018.

Average hourly Clear Creek fuel temperatures on the day of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races for 2005-2019.
Average hourly Clear Creek fuel temperatures for the 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races. Click to enlarge.

Note: The temperature in a commercial weather station is measured inside a white, ventilated instrument housing, several feet off the ground. Mid-day temperatures in the sun, in the summer, with a cloudless sky will be much warmer than this. Some stations, such as Clear Creek, also measure the fuel temperature — the temperature of a pine dowel in direct sun about a foot off the ground. According to the NWS (and common sense) exposure to full sunshine can increase heat index values by up to 15°F. In my experience the fuel temp gives a better indication of the actual temperature a runner can experience in the sun, especially on exposed mountain slopes facing the sun.

Update Monday, July 1, 2019. Last week the GFS weather model was forecasting temps on race day to be near 100 at the lower elevations and over 90 on Mt. Wilson. This morning’s GFS max temperature forecasts are down about 10 degrees from that. Basically highs in the low 90s (in the shade) for the lower elevations and around 80 at Mt. Wilson. Temps in the sun, especially on exposed sun-facing slopes, could still top 100. If the forecast holds, the temperatures today should be similar to those on race day. We’ll see! Here are links to the Clear Creek RAWS and Mt. Wilson RAWS.

Some related posts: ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 2019, Another Scorching Angeles National Forest/Mt. Disappointment Trail Race, Record Heat for the 2017 Mt. Disappointment 50K & 25K

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Rocky Peak 50K 2018

Runner ascending Hot Dog Hill during the 2018 Rocky Peak 50K.

I had the date wrong! I thought the Rocky Peak 50K was the Saturday following the Skyline to the Sea trail marathon and had decided I wouldn’t be able to run it. When I got back from Santa Cruz, I checked some upcoming races on UltraSignup and discovered Rocky Peak was on October 20th, rather than the 13th. That meant there would be 12 days between the races, instead of 5.

Five days or 12, my legs weren’t quite on board with the idea, and they had a point. With about 6000′ of elevation gain/loss, steep ups and downs, and rocky roads and trails, Rocky Peak is not an easy 50K. I had a few more days to convince them, and hoped my legs would come around.

It did help that the Start line is about 10 minutes from my front door. I’ve hiked, run and explored the Rocky Peak area for more years than I care to admit, and was very excited when Randy & Sarita Shoemaker organized the first Bandit Trail Run in 2009. The 50K was added in 2011 — the additional mileage gained by doing the Chumash – Las Llajas loop twice! The out and back to Tapo Canyon was substituted for the second loop in 2013. The Rocky Peak 50K course is essentially the same as the 2013 – 2016 Bandit 50K courses.

The week before the race, I still had to go through the pretense of not knowing if I was going to enter. My legs continued to complain during training runs, and it looked like yet another heatwave was going to peak on Friday or Saturday. None of that really mattered because I’d already decided I was going to run. Thursday, I signed up; and at dawn on Saturday, I toed the Start line in Corriganville, hoping that Rin Tin Tin might come to my rescue.

I encountered no valiant German Shepherds on the “warm-up loop” around Corriganville, and much to my leg’s chagrin soon faced the mile-long, 860 foot climb up the Corridor Trail to Rocky Peak Road. One of my main takeaways from doing this course many times is that you can go up the Corridor Trail climb too fast, but it’s almost impossible to do it too slow. At least that’s what my legs tell me. It’s been my experience that going a little slower on this first steep climb pays significant dividends later in the run. That seemed to be the case again this year.

The weather was nearly identical to last year’s race with moderate Santa Ana winds and warm temps. (The high at the bottom of the Chumash Trail was 88 °F.) Like last year, the low humidity and wind kept the “feels like” temperature relatively comfortable for most of the race. But somewhere around mile 27, near Rocky Peak, the wind stopped and things got toasty. Maybe not middle of the summer hot, but warm enough to notice it.

All in all, the run went well. For sure, my legs were a little tired from Skyline to the Sea. I was a bit slower running back up the canyon from the Tapo turnaround and also going up Las Llajas Canyon. But I can’t complain. I had no cramping (yahoo!) and felt good nearly all of the run.

Many thanks to Trail Run Events, LLC and New Basin Blues Running Club who co-managed the race, all the volunteers, and to Ventura County SAR. For more information see the Trail Run Events web site and Facebook page. All the 50K and 30K results are posted on UltraSignup.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Bandit 50K 2014, Bandit 50K 2013, Bandit 50K 2011, Bandit 30K 2009

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Skyline to the Sea – Fall 2018

Skyline to the Sea Trail

There’s a reason that Skyline to the Sea is Pacific Coast Trail Run’s biggest event. Close your eyes and picture your ideal trail. The trail of your dreams might be hard-pressed to match the appeal of the Skyline to Sea Trail.

There is something magical about running in an old-growth redwood forest. Established in 1902, Big Basin Redwoods State Park was the first state park in California. It’s redwoods reach 2000 years in age, 328 feet in height and 18.5 feet in width!

The Skyline to the Sea Trail has a net elevation loss, but enough uphill to get your attention. Many miles of the trail are as smooth as a carpet, but some are rocky, root-strewn and technical. It is often cool under the dense forest canopy, but it can also be warm and humid. I was surprised to see an “Emergency Water” stash a mile before the last aid station. In some years it is well-used and much appreciated.

The Park supports a vast variety of animal and plant life. Some plant species can only be found in the Park and a seabird (Marbled Murrelet) nests in its old-growth conifers.

In some years one park species can add extra adrenaline to the race. This year Brett (my son) and I were counting down the miles to mile 4.0 of the Marathon. The R.D. had reported encounters with the beasts at that point of the 50K on Saturday. About 20 yards before mile 4.0 Brett saw what looked like a “cloud of dust” and shortly after that we heard agitated voices from the runners ahead.

In it for the full experience, we — and several other runners — plowed headlong into the cloud. The yellowjackets didn’t like that. A number of us were stung; some several times. The day before a runner in the 50K was stung 18 times.

Yellowjackets or not, running the Skyline to the Sea Marathon was like running a 26 mile nature trail and one of the finest courses I’ve done.

Many thanks to R.D. Greg Lanctot and Team PCTR and all the volunteers that helped with the event. For all the results and more info see the Ultrasignup event page, PCTR’s web site and Facebook page.

Here are a few photos taken along the way. Mileages specified are from my fenix 3 and are approximate.

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Kodiak 50K 2018

Runner at about 9800' on Sugarloaf Mountain during the Kodiak Ultramarathons.

I already had my camera out and paused briefly to take the picture above. We were at about 9800′ on the rocky trail up Sugarloaf Mountain (9952′) and a little less than a half-mile from the summit. At the time, I wasn’t sure how far it was to the top. I thought we were getting close, but I’d thought that before.

Although I’ve done the Kodiak 50M a few times, I’ve always run the Siberia Creek (counterclockwise) course, so the ascent of Sugarloaf was totally new to me. The top of the peak is a stout six mile, 3000′ climb from the Sugarloaf Aid station, and for the uninitiated, there are many false summits along the way.

It was good to be feeling good. I’d run at altitude a lot this summer and it was helping. Running along the summit ridge didn’t feel much different than running on Lasky Mesa. And the weather was nearly ideal. No crazy 100 degree temps — just a few puffy, postcard clouds to dress up the day.

A five-minute jog along the crest ended on the summit. Bear Valley SAR was on top, checking runners in. Before the race they had lugged 1500 lbs. of water two-thirds of the way up the mountain. (Thank you!)

Participation in the 100M, 50M & 50K Kodiak Ultra Marathons has been increasing every year, and really jumped up this year. In 2016 the Sugarloaf Back 50K had 27 finishers and last year the Siberia Creek Back 50K had 57. This year there were 148 finishers in the Back 50K. With an average elevation of 7777′, a high point just shy of 10,000′, and around 6500′ of elevation gain, it’s one of the more challenging 50Ks in California.

It’s one thing to run the last 32 miles of a course, and quite another to run those last miles after running 70 other miles. The  Kodiak 100 milers (and 50 milers) were impressive. One trait all seemed to share was a laser-sharp focus on the task at hand. That was certainly the case for veteran Army Ranger Ben Brown, who was running his first 100M in support of 9 Week Warrior — a nonprofit started by Ben and his wife to help veterans, police officers and firefighters. Ben finished the race strong, cruising past me (again) on the dirt road down to the village.

Not all races end the way we want them to. Part way up Sugarloaf I talked to a friend of Ruperto Romero’s and was disappointed to hear that Ruperto, Tony Torres and Mario Martinez missed a turn before the Dump Aid Station (Mile 56). The three had been leading the 100M Prize Purse race since the Champion Aid Station (Mile 20.5). Ruperto won the 100M event last year.

Elan Lieber was the eventual winner in the 100M Prize Purse division in a time of 22:02:08. Daniela Seyler won The Kodiak 100M and was the fastest woman overall in the 100M with a time of 24:09:59. Robby Haas (9:31:09) and Rachel Hallummontes (10:52:48) won their respective divisions in the 50M; and Andrew Cassano (5:49:14) and Emma Delira (6:46:44) topped their divisions in the 50K. All the results are posted on Ultrasignup.

Many thanks to new Kodiak RDs Susie Schmelzer and Harald Zundel, and to Team Kodiak, all the volunteers, Bear Valley SAR, HAM operators, medical personnel, and everyone that helped put on the event.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Related post: Kodiak 50 Mile 2017 – Smiling at the Finish

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