Mt. Diablo 50K RR: An Epic Crash & Burn and No Man Left Behind

DW and I were really excited about this race. We knew from the elevation chart that it would be tough. Real tough. But it was the anticipation of such a huge challenge that put the spice in the thing! I knew that either it would be a stupendous obstacle to overcome or I would find the absolute limits of my endurance (as they stand currently). Either way, I’d know more about myself at the end of the day.


We got up at 4:30 and got ready, checking our hydration packs and making sure we had everything planned out and ready to go. We headed out at 5:45 for the 1 ½ hr drive down to the mountain. As soon as we turned onto 680S, DW pointed to a menacing mound in the distance and said “I bet $5 that’s it!” As it turns out, when you put a 3,800ft mountain in the middle of the plains, it tends to stand out. It loomed closer as we approached, getting larger and larger!


Before the start, we milled around and soaked up the pre-race atmosphere! There was a 4M, Pikermi, Marathon, and 50K, so every kind of runner was there. Some were warming up for a fast 13.1, while others (and us) were chilling, planning on warming on the go. In the restroom line, I met a guy who plans to run the same 50M as us next month to qualify for Western States!

Just before the horn, the RD went over course directions. As he asked who was running the ultra, some guy exclaimed, “The crazy people!” His wife gave him the funniest stare and motioned to us, raising our hands right next to him.


The horn sounded and we took off, yogging and walking where appropriate. The first 6 miles holds a 3,300ft elevation gain, so starting conservatively was an investment in the later miles. About 2 miles in, I notice DW is breathing kind of hard. You know, for her. She has the incredible trait of maintaining sweatless grace under high intensity running. A sinking feeling hits my stomach and I ask if she’d taken her meds. Nope. We had considered every gel, every S-cap, every liter of water but never thought of the most important thing. So we ditched the crowd and headed back toward the car. Poor girl felt so bad but I tried to nip that in the bud. There’s no worse time to get into a bad place mentally than the first 5 miles of an ultra, and I was still planning on having a fantastic training run with my baby! Besides, I was already thinking that by the time we retraced to the start, we’d put in 5mi, and if we ran the marathon course it’d be the big 31.2!


We headed back out on the course, but this time it was an hour later and we were trottin’ alone.  It was nice to not have to weave around people, but the company probably would have helped on those extreme climbs! They were ridiculous! When we got to the summit, we were rewarded with a view of the height we’d just climbed.


Then came the interesting part. The downhill. It started very technical and then smoothed out, easing onto fire road and basically heading straight down the mountain. I mean, some of the sections were around a 30% grade with loose dust and gravel. So steep you either had to fly and risk a tumble or step carefully and accept the occasional slide. Surprisingly, my quads held up stupendously! Unfortunately, I severely underestimated how important hamstrings are for climbing. I paid dearly for it.

Miles 7-15 were ok. Tired but cruising. Miles 16-21 uncovered the obvious holes in my training. It led down the mountain and back up. I began to feel phantom cramps in my inner thighs, calves and hamstrings. The calves I’ve felt before. I’ve actually been nursing a calf tear and was thrilled that I was able to bounce on my toes without it screaming at me! A little form adjustment and that was remedied. The hammies, though, whoa momma! I’ve NEVER felt anything like that! At one point they both cramped in mid stride and just DROPPED me! Holy Hamhocks! I hit the ground, and flipped onto my butt to sit up. I thought I’d relieve the stress by bending my legs, but contracting them only seized them up more! I asked DW to pull my legs straight, but sweet Turkish bazaar did that hurt! It felt like they’d been ripped in half! Another runner passed and said he’d send someone back if I didn’t hit the next station 10 min behind him.

I just sat there in a cloud of lameness and after a couple of failed attempts I was able to stand without setting off a cramp chain reaction again. I carefully walked and with the encouragement of my beautiful training partner, even ran a bit. I began to get these weird waves of breathlessness and nausea, though, which only increased as the race went on.


We hit the aid station as that guy was telling my horror story to a worker sporting a Javelina Jundred buckle; then he told me he was dropping. I took some salt and tried to eat some potatoes, and decided to go on. I figured if I could make it to the ridge again, I could ride the downhill to the finish.


The next 3 miles took an hour. It was straight up and I stopped every 200ft to catch my breath and wait for the world to stop spinning. My hammies and inner thighs were cramping badly and it was a ginger dance around setting them off. I suddenly lost those eaten potatoes and the water I was trying to keep down. This happened several more times, and the cramps became permanent. I just walked/ran through the cramps and stopped only to catch breath and hurl. It was a hard decision, but it was reaching this state that made me decide to drop. Pain is temporary, and one can play mind games to bear it. I was lightheaded, dizzy, unbalanced, and had no way to intake water to combat any of it. This was why I dropped. It sucked.

DW was amazing throughout the whole ordeal.  She stuck right with me and refused to leave when I urged her to go ahead and conquer the mountain! It really meant a lot to have her there, coaching me along and keeping me going. This run was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and DW gave me strength I wouldn’t have had on my own. I am truly grateful to be so lucky.


She finally agreed to go on her own to the finish when she knew I was safe at an aid station. DW trotted off and I made conversation with the station workers between chucking sessions, pondering the lessons those 26 brutal miles had to offer. I’d climbed a mountain twice and had my arse kicked once!

I was so proud when I saw her Finisher’s Coaster!  She done rocked another ultra!

Lessons learned:

1)      Pay attention to race weight. I usually hover around 140, but working so much I went into this at 136, and despite drinking 3L of water weighed in at 131 after dinner that night. No bueno; totally felt the strength difference.


2)      Avoid altitude changes? I’ve been spending weekends at sea level, workdays at 10,000ft, and weeknights at 4,000ft. A couple guys have come down with altitude sickness and I’ve had a touch of it. It felt the same as those waves during the race.

3)      More salt. My hydration pack and clothes were caked in salt. I obviously need to intake more salt. I took an S-Cap every 5 miles, but I think I need to double it.

4)      Pick scenic races. If you’re feeling poorly, a beautiful setting can keep you happy. This particular area was mostly exposed fire road and dry brambles.

5)      Know when to call it. I don’t feel an ounce of regret over dropping. It would have certainly done more harm than good. Now it’s 3 days later and I feel really good, ready to take on this high mileage week, and confident about the upcoming 50 miler. It IS longer, but it should be a lot more enjoyable.


6)      My wife is awesome. This isn’t exclusively running related, but it fits nicely into this story.


Thanks for hanging in there; I know this is a long one!




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