“Lost AF in the forest” aka Yuba Gold 50k
|October 6, 2019||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
Seven runners get into a shuttle van to get to a race start. How do you tell whether they are road or trail runners?
Answer: Unwrap a McMuffin.
I went from being embarrassed that yours truly was going to chow down on a McMuffin 45 minutes before race start, to thinking I was going to have to beat them off with a stick as everyone proclaimed that McDonalds was the BEST pre-race food.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I’m a trail runner instead of a road runner now. Permission to eat what works.
That shuttle ride was the last I saw of my fellow runners for the rest of the day, and that’s not even counting the hour I spent wandering around lost AF in the Tahoe National Forest. I’m either really annoying (valid possibility) or I really am that good at running in a bubble that’s not quite back-of-the-pack, but not mid-pack either.
I don’t usually run inaugural races. Best to let them get the kinks out and run on the other side of the lessons learned the next year. But, here’s the thing. When I’ve always wanted to see an ultra on a particular set of trails, and someone is brave enough to put one on, then I GIVE THEM MY MONEY. A 50k unsupported in that area is more than I can pull off. When I signed up for the race I figured that even if everything went to hell in a handbasket I could still meet my goals of miles and time on my feet. And just maybe with one more entry of support people will keep putting ultras on in this particular neck of the woods.
This race was awesome. I could tell you about running through the most beautiful single-track I’ve ever seen, which includes my time in Tahoe. I could spend a small-novel’s amount of words on this hill that was inserted about 2/3 of the way into the race. It looked like this. It was *&^%% awful.
Now’s the time to warn you that there is some profanity in this post. Mostly bleeped through the use of strategic asterisks. But if recognizable swear words offend you, this may not be the post for you.
But I know that YOU, my Dear Reader, are waiting with bated breath to find out just how I managed to wander for an hour, lost as f*ck, in the middle of the Tahoe Forest.
Where were we again? Oh that’s right. Getting lost. I climbed that big-ass hill. I crossed the highway. I was finally on trails that I knew. Well, as good as you know trails that you are able to run on 2-3 times year. Which is to say that I do not know them like the back of my hand. More like…the back of my neck. That thing that you see occasionally because you do the two mirror thing to check a hairstyle, but not something you stare at while you sit on a tree stump next to a steep-ass trail contemplating your poor life decisions in taking up running in the first place.
My point being that the trails were familiar. Not home.
I got to an intersection just over a mile from the highway crossing and saw no ribbons and a scrubbed out arrow on the ground. There are a lot of events in this area so it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibilities that the race director had to obliterate a ground marking from a previous event so that it didn’t add to the confusion. What I needed was a ribbon.
This intersection is INFAMOUS for other trail users deciding that some official event offends them because it takes place on THEIR trails, or maybe they just enjoy the image of lost souls wandering about. Whatever the motive is it ends with them doing their best to remove ribbons and other markers. There’s a lot of different directions that you can go from this trail staging area. I had to pick one. There were only about 18 people or less running this race and I was in sixth place. I hadn’t seen anyone else on the trail for over 21 miles. I made a decision. A bit down the trail I saw a blue ribbon that looked like this event’s ribbon. Great. I continued some more. Saw another blue ribbon. OK then. I think I know how he’s routing us. Another intersection. No more ribbons. Run down the widest trail that looks the most travelled, hoping that it intersects with something else. It did. Are you keeping track? I tried to, but after another couple intersections I can’t recall. I was out far enough that I was now on trails that I might have been on once before while unmarking a course for a different event? Eventually I came to a nice big jeep road.
At this point I knew I was both lost and off-course.
I had two choices. Run up or down the road.
My plan was to run towards Bear Valley and/or the Hwy knowing that the trail I wanted parelleled the highway and/or if I showed up on the highway (which eventually led to Bear Valley, finish line, and my car), someone would see me and notify the race director.
I chose to believe all those things existed if I took the road downhill. So I ran downhill.
It was the wrong way.
In my defense I had already run 23 hard miles. I had climbed up that hill. Remember that hill? I didn’t want to run uphill some more. I wanted it to be down hill.
Why didn’t I just turn around and go back to that troublesome intersection? Because by that time I wasn’t absolutely sure I could find my way back there either.
Eventually I waved down a very skeptical truck who convinced me that the highway was the other direction but he didn’t know the name of the road he was on, and told me it was “about a mile.” It wasn’t a mile. I knew that much. Here’s a hint I learned a long time ago. Multiply the figure given to you by someone from the comfort of their vehicle by at least a factor of three.
I decided to believe him about the highway direction and turned around to trudge up the hill.
Then I saw a single track. While I didn’t recognize it specifically I did recognized the name, and it parelleled the road and went the right direction. So I decided to get on that instead.
Now, those of you paying attention are screaming into your computers, “STOP, what the *&^^%^& are you doing????”
Ok. For those of you that don’t read as many survival books as me, let me count my sins.
- I realized I was lost. If I had any illusion that I knew where I was going, it was dissipated when I was told that the highway was the opposite direction than what I thought. I was REALLY turned around.
- Instead of stopping, I continued to move forward. Moving people are much more difficult to find.
- Now, instead of staying a main road, I was choosing to leave it for a single track that would be much harder to search.
Here’s the thing. The road was really exposed. Once I had realized that I had selected the wrong choose-your-own-adventure option I had started conserving water and food, but I didn’t have a lot. The single track was shaded and not as mentally draining to travel on. I had information that I trusted that I was headed in the right direction, and although all the survival books will tell you to stay put after doing dumb shit, if I did that it was going to take an hour for them to realize I wasn’t on course, and at least another couple of hours to find me. I didn’t want to spend what was likely going to be a couple of very cold hours in the dark at 5,000 feet of elevation depleted, cold, and hungry without cover or water, and with your choice of the North American top predators on the prowl. No thanks.
As the single track veered away from the road and I lost sight of it for a while, I briefly contemplated leaving the single track going across country towards the road’s direction. The road led to the highway I had been told. The road was important.
I decided that leaving an established trail to crash through underbrush was a level of dumbass stupidity that even I wasn’t capable of. The single track was still headed in the right direction. Just be patient. And if it didn’t, I knew I could back track this singletrack that hadn’t had a single intersection right back to the road.
I was wearing a GPS watch and watched the miles tick by (it’s old school and doesn’t have a map function. Just time and distance). One way or another this was going to be a 50k weekend, I just suspected it just wouldn’t come with a finish line.
It was at this point I started to tear up. Now, after the decisions had all been made and there was nothing else to occupy my mind as I waited for either the highway to show itself, or evidence I had screwed up and would have to back track to the road again.
As the trail became blurry I asked myself why I was crying. Was I scared? No. Was I hurt? No. Ah! Self pity then. Self pity that I was out here and faced with either getting myself out of this predicament, or waiting several hours for rescue. That I was going to have yet another DNF on my record. Although “DNF-got lost AF” would be a first.
I couldn’t afford self-pity. I couldn’t afford the water loss, the electrolyte loss, or the amount of mental energy it would take to wallow in self-pity. I shoved it down and ran forward.
It is my policy to always (which isn’t quite true, there are exceptions but mostly in road races where the odds of being stranded is quite low) completely refuel at aid stations before continuing. Even if the next aidstation is only three miles down the road. So, I had started this adventure with two full water bottles and enough food to get me through six miles.
As a back-of-the-pack runner, it’s a safety thing. I have gotten to the next aid station and they’ve been out of water. Or food. As much as possible I try to take responsibility for my own race and my own safety. Being in a race provides a margin of safety that I don’t have on my own, and yes there is an expectation that the race will provide the things it says it will provide…but when I choose to go into a rugged wilderness area with limited communication and do something hard it’s on me too.
I should point out that race management spelled out very clearly that runners should be familiar with the route, carry a map, and/or carry a GPS track in some sort of electronic device in case deliberate trail sabotage occurred, or if animals decided to eat the ribbons (don’t laugh. Totally happens). I chose not carry my phone since I had serious doubts on its ability to survive the duration of the race with either it’s life or battery intact, and my map had fallen out of my pocket at some point in the preceding 20 miles. I had studied the course, but had made a wrong decision and then had been led astray by likely unrelated ribbons. Race management corrected the trail sabotage as soon as they found out, which was ironically just after I went through I later found out. I take full responsibility for what happened. Now, it was my job to make good decisions that did not add even further stress to the RD’s life. Which an after-dark search in the Tahoe National Forest probably would contribute to.
When I popped out at a certain staging area at the end of the singletrack, I knew EXACTLY where I was and how to get back to the highway.I’m not sure I can convey just how relieved I was. I had un-lost-ified myself. It had not been a comfortable hour. Now I was less than a mile from the highway and I knew exactly how to get there. In fact, now that I was in familiar country I had a suspicion that this road out of the staging area was the same one I was on before taking the single track, but ah well. Hindsight’s a b*tch, I mean 20-20.
Current Goal: get to highway. Follow highway to my car or until race management found and I got to tap out. Excellent plan. Except for the DNF of course, but these things happen.
And then the most awful thing happened.
The marked trail crossed the road. The road that led to the highway and to the end of my race, which I wasn’t entirely sad about ending.
For f*ck’s sakes.
I felt obligated to get back on that trail. I had found the trail (or rather it had found me) and now there was no choice but onwards and forwards.
Based on what I knew of the trail I should have taken, and where I was now, I “knew” I had five miles This damn 6 mile section was going to be 10.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the aid station was closer than I thought.
Two miles later I asked a biker who was coming my direction if he knew where my aid station was. “Yep, 3 miles.”
Damn it all to hell. I had been right.
I wasn’t going to make it. With a race cut off of 10 hours, I needed to be into that aid station by 4:30p or I didn’t have a real chance of making the last 6 miles into the finish by 6pm.
When I had left the previous aid station I had a comfortable 45 minutes between me and the cut off, and had calculated I would arrive at the aid station at 4pm. After my detour, three more miles at this point meant 5pm.
At 4:55p I rolled into the aid station knowing my race was done. My legs had done 50K and I tried to be happy with that.
“You are in sixth place!” They shouted at me.
No way. I was in sixth place when I got lost for an hour. Do you mean NO ONE passed me while I wandered lost in the forest?
“Well. Six people came in ahead of you, but one of them had to pull and was carted off, so now you are in sixth again! And get this. YOU ARE SECOND OVERALL FEMALE.”
That’s nice. I can’t do 6 more miles of this trail in an hour. Just can’t. And that’s how much time there is, so where’s my ride outta here again?
“We extended the cut off an hour because everyone got lost and some people started late. You have 2 hours.”
And so I took off. Running. And yes. That verb gets its own sentence because that’s how miraculous it felt.
It shouldn’t surprise me any more. The way you can be done, so so so done. And then you are off running again on nothing more than renewed hope. Ultras are like life. It’s not over until they cart the body away, so just keep going.
It took me just 1 hour 10 minutes to run my way to the finish. Sixth and last finisher (I believe, haven’t checked official results) out of 18 or 20 starters, second female to finish. I told the RD that I ran the bonus 55k that he wasn’t aware he was offering.
In the end it felt more like 50 miles than 50k. The technical-ness of the trail, the elevation, the mental stress of being lost, and that giant-ass hill – it all added up. I did the middle of the night wake-up last night to eat because I was STARVING at 1:45am, and my electrolytes, hydration, and GI have been wonky all day today (day after the race).
I was feeling apprehensive about how beat up I felt after **only** 50k when I’m supposed to be in 100 mile shape. Even though I told myself not to have any expectations about this race, or make any assumptions about Rio100 based on what happened at it since this course is Rio’s complete opposite in almost every way, and my training has focused on specific Rio elements. But it’s hard not to start thinking about how I felt after a mere 30 miles, no matter how tough, compared to 100 miles in 4 short weeks.
But, I also kind of feel like a bad ass for finishing.
So, I’m making a choice. I’m holding onto the positive feeling and discarding the other anxious feeling that tells me I’m not good enough. The other voice sort of sounds like that pesky imposter syndrome that keeps coming to dinner uninvited.
When I got home I awarded my medal to Fig, as it my tradition.
She’s been going with me on my speed walking laps around the neighborhood block, which is about 1 mile per lap. She usually goes 2-3 laps with me, running up ahead and jumping in the stroller when she’s tired and needs a break. Today with the medal around her neck and after clarifying I had to run all day to earn it, she looked up at me and asked, “How many laps did you have to run?”
“Thirty-five, Honey. Thirty-five laps.”
She seemed properly impressed. Maybe I’m a bad ass after all.