I spent the second half of this week driving with Jocelyn back to San Diego. We decided to take the long way in order to check out some of the Western States course and then enjoy a roadtrip together taking our time cruising down the coast on (mostly) Highway 1. First, the week of training:
PM: 4 miles (:33) Monument Loops easy w/ Jocelyn
Tue-AM: 30 miles (4:00) Jones Park-7 Bridges-Buckhorn Loop+barefoot. Almost the exact same run as yesterday---ran fairly hard up 666 in 34:40.
Wed-PM: 8 miles (1:07) Canyon trails in Fruita, CO. Driving all day.
Thu-AM: 15 miles (2:01) Double tracks right out of Austin, NV. A few 1000' climbs.
Fri-AM: 50 miles (7:26) Western States course: Michigan Bluff to Last Chance and back then to Cal-1...with bailing out of Robinson Flat early in the morning and getting lost for miles between MB and Foresthill.
Sat-AM: 48 miles (6:00) WS course: Placer High School to Rucky Chucky and back
Sun-AM: 15 miles (2:15) Big Basin Redwoods State Park w/ Jocelyn: Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail out and back.
Total: 200 miles (27:22)
I had a very good start to the week with back to back 30 milers, but then packing up the apartment/traveling got in the way mid-week, which just meant that I was well-rested for the WS Course baptism on the weekend.
Jocelyn and I pulled into Auburn, CA on Thursday evening more than a bit frazzled from the I-80 traffic: Jocelyn commented more than once that driving on I-80 from Squaw Valley to Auburn was going to be the most stressful part of crewing for me at Western. I hope she's right.
We bumbled onto the Auburn Running Company while looking for someplace to poach some internet and buy some groceries and the fellows there were quite helpful and friendly. I picked up a map of the Auburn Lake area that covered the WS course (but, of course, the actual race route wasn't marked on it) from Michigan Bluff to the finish, but I ended up not ever using it for anything.
Jocelyn and I were much relieved to finally hop onto the Foresthill Divide Road with plans of heading up towards Robinson Flat to camp for the evening. We stopped at the General Store in Foresthill in order to dine on the picnic tables there with an excellent view of the American River Canyon.
We then spent a considerable amount of time in and around Foresthill trying to acquaint ourselves with various landmarks of the race course: California Street, Michigan Bluff Road, Bath Road. Because of all this driving around we spent the rest of the drive up the Foresthill Divide in darkness, thereby setting us up for a nice surprise the next morning when all the big views from up there unveiled themselves to us.
However, about 2 miles from Robinson Flat the road was blocked by a couple good-sized snow/ice banks that we decided to not mess with, so we just pulled over near the Sailor Flat sign and threw our sleeping bags down on the luxuriously loamy forest floor.
Friday morning we awoke early with the sun and decided we'd just run the couple of miles to Robinson Flat and hope to pick up the WS route there. My plan was to run the route the whole way to Rucky Chucky and then run/walk/crawl out to the Divide Road where Jocelyn would be waiting for me.
My legs felt great on the road climb up to RF, but once we got there Jocelyn and I were ultimately completely frustrated by no course markings (the training weekend contingent clearly hadn't made it up there), still quite a bit of snow, and barely any signage. We did manage to find a single WS Trail marker but had no idea about which of the many possible (largely snow-covered) forest roads there were to choose from.
The only option was to run back down to the car and drive to a different access point on the trail. I initially thought we could drive up Mosquito Ridge Rd to N-44 and Dusty Corners but decided that was a whole lot of driving for comparatively little more WS trail so I settled on doing an out and back from Michigan Bluff to Last Chance and then planning on continuing from MB all the way down to Rucky Chucky.
So, with 37 minutes of running already in our legs, we set out up the WS trail from Michigan Bluff. Jocelyn instantly fell in love with the perfect singletrack, horse trail, canopy vegetation nature of the path and my spirits were instantly lifted too: FINALLY, I was on the Western States Trail!
I left Jocelyn behind (she would do a double-crossing of Eldorado Canyon) and cruised down to El Dorado Creek in 22 minutes. Immediately on the climb out the other side I could tell that life was different down here at the lower elevations: all the extra oxygen on the climb made it feel as if I was cheating.
It was on this initial climb out of Eldorado that I began thinking about how ridiculously perfect and benign the trails of Northern California were. These were not the usual Rocky Mountain fare. Running in Colorado, to me, has a feel of rugged adventure brought on by rough-hewn, often ill-maintained gravelly/rocky trails, thin air, and an underlying sense that the margin of error is always slim. Coming out of Eldorado Canyon everything felt too perfect and controlled, like a gated community. NorCal trail running was polo and fox-hunting while Colorado trail running is steer wrestling and buffalo hunting.
Of course, that's all a bit ridiculous and I even think I'm pretty much wrong; the thing to remember is that it's not a value-judgement--for me there was just a different feel on the trail.
Anyways, I popped out of the canyon at the "Danger: Hazardous Trail Ahead" sign (or, something like that) at 1:00 even and then traversed my way over the ridge to Devil's Thumb (or, at least the sign that signals the descent into Deadwood Canyon) in 1:21. It took me 13 minutes to get to the river (is this the "Swinging Bridge"?) and then another 22 minutes to climb to the more road-like section of the route (right by the old mine site) that leads up the hill to what I guessed to be Last Chance (there was a big clearing in the road and a nearby placard recounting the history of the WS Trail saying that I was at Last Chance), which I reached in 2:10. Right before Last Chance I was super-psyched to see a big bear lumber off the edge of the trail and into the woods.
After a gel, I turned around and cruised back the exact way I had just come. I loved the 22 minute descent from Last Chance to the Swinging Bridge and then cruised up the 34 (by my count) switchbacks to Devil's Thumb in 23 minutes. The section of trail through this canyon is simply wonderful. Extremely enjoyable running.
I noted on the way back how it's actually ALL downhill from DT to Eldorado Creek, which I covered in 38 minutes and then grunted up the final climb into Michigan Bluff in 31 minutes for a total split from LC to MB of 1:55. Maybe I was just hungry, but it seemed to me the last little bit of the climb up to MB drug on a bit.
After meeting Jocelyn at MB and having her point me in the right direction, we agreed to meet again in an hour or so at California Street in Foresthill. I followed flagging for a good ways on first a gravel road and then a right turn onto a more logging-type road, but I must've missed something because soon I T-boned with a paved road that--through a solid 20 minutes or so of running back and forth on--I determined to be the Michigan Bluff Road (the "1/2 mile to Michigan Bluff" sign was a good tip).
So, I decided to just run that back to Foresthill because I knew it would get me there. That sucked. All pavement (duh) and much further than I remembered from driving it. When I finally met up with Jocelyn in Foresthill I'd added an extra 4-5 miles onto the route. With the 4 more from running up to Robinson Flat early in the morning, I decided to bag running all the way to the River (I sort of wanted to avoid a 9 hour day). Instead, I just did an out and back down to five minutes past Cal-1, which revealed still more beautiful trail. All in all, it was an excellent day of running.
After sleeping on the Placer High School Track Friday night (lots of folks were finishing up a night training run from Green Gate to the finish) I did a much simpler run to Rucky Chuck and back from the Finish.
I spent the first hour or so with Jocelyn shaking the crap out of my legs from the previous day's run, but after she turned around at Highway 49 I gradually got in my groove and actually felt quite good. Surprising, the day after a 7 1/2 hour run. Maybe extra oxygen helps you recover faster, too. Twice between Highway 49 and the quarry I got sidetracked onto other trails where I would run out 5-10 minutes or so before realizing that I hadn't seen a flag in a while. But, from there all the way to the River things were fairly straightforward; I seemed to bumble my way down the right trail, and even with the 25-30 minutes of off-course time I got to the River in 3:15 flat.
I took a break to swim across the river and back just to check its depth and swiftness (not nearly as bad as I thought it would be---I can't imagine what it was like the year they used a raft to get across during the race), and then turned around and started running back to Auburn, finally completely confident in my route.
The run back to the high school was really quite uneventful and I just took pleasure in a beautiful day and what seemed to be an overall slight downhill to the course profile. I climbed up to Green Gate in 17 minutes, was surprised at the ~10min climb up past the rock quarry, but hit the Highway in 1:39, and then enjoyed the very long downhill to No Hands Bridge (2:05) before the final climb up to Robie Pt which I reached in 2:24. I cursed that final little climb (surely not as much as I will in the race), but cruised back to the track in a total of 2:35 and then jogged 10 minutes barefoot to round out the 6 hours.
I'm not sure what to take away from these training runs except that I am surely pleased with how they went. Of course, there are still parts of the route that are unknown to me (the Duncan Canyon climb is the only one I haven't seen), but I guess that'll just make it a little more interesting on race day. A couple more weeks of big training, a nice taper, and I'll be making a trip back out to Cali in no time.