On May 10, 2009, my friend Dom sent me an email suggesting that I run the Shadow of the Giants 50k. I said, "okay." On May 29th, I was in a car enroute to Fish Camp, CA. Yes. That is a real place.
I wish there was a more epic story of how I got into ultrarunning. But really, that's it. Arguably, I had been interested in ultras for years. And arguably, I had already done the 50k distance on a training run/birthday present to myself. But I had yet to enter an official ultramarathon. As you will soon learn, I can be very easily talked into just about anything. Just take a look at my "training schedule."
So anyway, one fateful Friday morning I hopped in a Volvo and cruised up to the southernmost tip of Yosemite to lose my ultra virginity. (There are way too many 'that's what she saids' in that sentence to even comment.) It was an absolutely beautiful drive and I was completely overwhelmed by the majesty that is northern California. Arriving with the hot late afternoon sun, we headed straight to Fish Camp to pick up our race numbers and meet the most awesome guy ever - Baz Hawley. Big Baz is the RD for Shadow and all the other "magic" races. He is what my grandpa would call "quite the character." How fortuitious, because I LOVE characters. I also love huge ass pinecones that I find on shake-out runs.
FYI: posing for this picture = irrevocable sap hand.
To get the true "ultra" experience, Dom and I stayed at the Miner's Inn in Mariposa. So, the thing about Mariposa is that it looks really close to Fish Camp on the map. It is not, in fact, actually close to Fish Camp. It is not even in the vicinity of Fish Camp if you decide to drive the opposite direction on race morning.
Yeeeaaahh... so that happened. I probably should have known when I asked where the sun would be rising, and Dom pointed behind us. Hmmmm... that's weird, I thought as I laid my head back against the window and closed my eyes. See, I didn't get much sleep the night prior. And by 'not much,' I mean 'zero.' So in lieu of paying attention, I tried to doze off for the hour ride to the starting line. And by 'hour,' I mean 'two hours.'
Anyway, at some point Dom realized that we were in the middle of the great fucking plains rather than the mountains and made an executive decision to stop the car. Good idea because the mountains were behind us. This race was at 5-6,000 feet elevation. We were at, like 2. And so began the 90 mile an hour race to Fish Camp. Thank goodness we had our food and bottles all organized and ready to go.
Regardless, we arrived at Green Meadows Outdoor School about 10 minutes before the start. There was a mad dash to mix bottles, stash food and pee. I left the trunk with 2 amphipod handhelds - one full of gatorade and one of water and a back pocket full of cola gel blasts and salt stick. Good. Enough. Really, I was just glad we made it in time to hear Big Baz's pep-talk/calling everyone a dickhead.
We are the two people that are not 57. (Photo: Mark Haymond)
The start was pretty anti-climactic. We lined up behind some hopscotch chalk on the blacktop. I think someone blew a whistle. And then I started running up a giant fucking hill. Said hill went on for about 5.5 miles, and honestly I started getting a little concerned. No sleep, no coffee, no preparation, nothing but gel blasts and some nondescript bar i found in the trunk of Dom's car for breakfast, no race directions, no idea where i was or where i was going or how long this race even was. I heard it was 50k-ish.
And then I saw a waterfall. Apparently, large amounts of cascading water = me being the happiest person ever, because my day took a turn for the awesome. From that moment on, a smile never left my face. When it started to hurt, I only smiled bigger. Well... maybe this isn't exactly a smile...
Quite possibly the best picture of me ever taken. (Photo: Mark Haymond)
In my defense, this stream was like negative 90 degrees. My feet felt like someone was jabbing a goddamn shiv through the tops of my somewhat impervious shoes. Regardless, I rocked climb after dusty climb - passing many folks who did not take the initial ascent as conservatively as I. I learned that I kind of suck at hiking, so I figured I should just keep running.
This proved to be an excellent idea, as my legs started to burn like hell around mile 16ish. Actually, more than that - my arms were really tired from carrying two 16oz handhelds. I usually only carry one and alternate arms (much to the chagrin of my training comrades who love to scold me for not eating/drinking enough). On this day however, I was fueling properly - bag of unmarked pills (salt stick) every hour, food every 45 minutes and the water and gatorade was flowing like wine. At one of the aid stations, I ate a graham cracker. Do not for any reason eat a graham cracker when you are above 6500 feet altitude. Dry air + lack of oxygen = three miles of trying to get the graham-gatorade paste off your tongue. Delicious.
So like I said, I was just over the halfway point, I was hurting and my little positivity parade was just about to be disbanded. But then... THEN I hit the Big Trees aid station and decided to taste the real thing. Ice cold Coca-Cola Classic. Fuck yeah. Feeling inspired* I prepared to roll out, but an angel appeared and told me these words: "The next loop is only about a mile sweetie. You can leave your bottles here." After briefly considering adopting a life of bisexuality, I headed into the trees for the namesake loop. Yep. I literally ran in the Shadow of the Giants. It was all prehistoric and shit.
From there, I totally zoned out and accidentally abandoned walk breaks for well over an hour. This just happened to be during a long gradual climb for about 10 miles and next thing I knew I had dusted everyone and was completely alone. I also realized I hadn't seen a course marker in about a half hour and began doubting that I was still on track. See, by showing up to the starting line with only 10 minutes to spare I not only missed coffee and Baz's legendary cookies, but also the course briefing. i.e. when I would have been informed what the difference between an orange piece of tape and a blue piece of tape means. Five miles prior, I had chosen orange, mainly because I thought orange looked like a more fierce color and reasoned that since the 50k-ish distance was more hardcore, it would obviously follow the more fierce color. I completely made all of this up. An hour later I was pretty sure I was a liar. Actually, I started to get a little scared... and then HOLY SHIT I saw a bear. Oh wait. No, that is actually a tree stump. Then I saw miniature ponies pulling old ladies in hats. Oh wait. No, that is actually miniature ponies pulling old ladies in hats.
You SO wish i had a picture of that don't you? Yeah. i don't. You know why? Because shetland ponies are fucking weird. You are not a horse. You are a horse-type item and you creep me the fuck out.
Whether or not I went the right way, I eventually ended back at the hypothermic stream crossing. At the aid station, I caught up to the next group of runners and shared some cola gel blasts. Subsequently, I became this one dude's instant BFF. It was kind of funny. And then it was really creepy. So I ran until I hit some giganto random concrete hill. Gross. I actually hiked a good portion up backwards to give the ole quads a break and this was probably the most excellent idea I had all day or ever in life. This super nice and totally legit old man told me I looked strong. I felt strong. So then I started running up a big hill again.
Jackson Road. Mile 27.5. Nature is a total MILF. (Photo: Mark Haymond)
The sun was shining and life was grand. I was in my element. Ahh nature... the trees, the air... the shiny silver Corvette in the middle of the trail. Yep, I'm confused too. Additionally, I am confused that I am quite sure there are about 3 miles to go and out of nowhere, the sky turns black. And I'm not talking a couple clouds in the sky. I'm talking some seriously ominous shit. In a mile, I get to the last aid station and am informed that I actually have 5 additional miles to go... give or take... because no one seems to be too sure how long this race is. They heard it was 50k-ish. Whatever. All I know is that the sky looks like it is about to crack the fuck open. So I cracked open an ice cold Bud Light, and.... no... no, it was a Coke. But that would have been cool though.
And with that, I took off on a mad dash for the finish. And with that, the sky really did crack open and I found myself in a grand old thunderstorm of epic proportions. The thing about thunderstorms in Yosemite is that you don't just see them or get caught in them. You feel them. Big drops exploded in my face as I cruised at an average 7:30 clip down a technical descent and felt the thunder rumble up through the ground. At the risk of sounding like a total douche, I felt that thunder in my soul. Each crash only ignited the fire inside of me even more and I pushed myself harder and harder and my smile grew wider and wider. I felt like I was in some Jurassic Park shit and I was velociraptoring the crap out of that hill. And I counted my prey. In that last section I passed over 15 people. The weird thing was that 3 of said people I had passed around mile 16 and never saw again until now. I figured they missed a time cutoff, but later I looked at the results and they were listed as 50k finishers. Maybe I did take a wrong turn somewhere? Who the hell knows.
All I knew is that I flew out of that forest at a dead sprint and have never felt more alive.
After the race, Dom and I headed into the cafeteria a bit for some food. Dom ate. I, on the other hand, chose to stare at a plate of potato salad and a Bud Light for about 10 minutes. Then I began to cry into said potato salad. I maintain that I was just trying to salt my food. We stretched for a bit, thanked Big Baz for a wonderful experience, and then decided to roll out back to Mariposa. After 20 minutes in the car, we made the executive decision to stop at Bass Lake and make me sit in a stream for a bit to get some lactic out of my legs. See, the Adventures! (I use punctuation wherever I please) were only half over at this point and there were still a lot of miles and a lot of climbing to be done the next day. Dom had sat in a stream at the finish, but when I rolled in about an hour later - sitting in a stream meant possible electrocution. Sounds like the jam, but that shit is for Benjamin Franklin; not for Katie deSplinter. By now, the skies had started to clear so we blindly hiked down some random trail in the middle of nowhere and found a random stream. It was really cold and I got bitten by roughly 211 mosquitoes. See how happy (and gnome-like) I look...
Chilling in a stream after my first official Ultra. No, literally. CHILLING.
Back in Mariposa, we found a pizza place with the tagline "we toss 'em, they're awesome" and obviously ordered a delicious pineapple pizza to go with our large Arrogant Bastard Ales. We also found a stuffed cat attacking a stuffed bird in a store window. Mariposa is awesome.
We are in Hawaiiiiiiiiii! Watch this.
Mr. Garmin has aggregate climb at 13,053 ft
Elevation: low-4,940; high-6,422
This was the longest I have ever run. I may have went out a little conservatively, and probably could have run faster. But that was not the goal. The goal was to finish and have a fucking epic time. And that I definitely did. Baz thinks it was epic too... check out his race recap here.