Sunday, June 6, 2010

Skyline to the Sea: a day to the beach

Yes, you have read it right, there is no typo in the title. Whereas many people must have spent a day "at" the beach this Saturday with this magnificent weather, I did spend a day on the trails going "to" the beach. I was looking for a long run, a point to point run to make sure I was not tempted to cut it short by repeatedly passing by the car or the house and though the Ocean would be a great destination if I could get a ride back. On Friday, Max told me about a birthday party one of his friends was having at the beach in Santa Cruz and that they were planning on driving back around 7 PM which was perfect timing.

In terms of itinerary it meant that I had to run up to Saratoga Gap (12 miles), follow the entire Skyline to the Sea trail through Waterman Gap, Big Basin and to Waddell Beach (Rancho Del Oro visitor center) for a total of 36-38 miles, then hop on the scenic Highway 1 or Cabrillo Highway, South to Santa Cruz for another 20 miles. 58-60 miles, that was surely going to be a long run in a self-support setting. And, as you can see on this map highlighted in red, definitely not the most direct route, but this is what ultra is about sometimes...
I left the house around 9 AM after a longer-than-usual 8-hour sleep. The sun was already very bright but the temperature still quite nice, in the 70s. The five flat miles to Saratoga were easy and I forced myself to keep my pace around 8 min/mile knowing what was ahead. Sean saw me on De Anza and honked; he was probably driving to DACA. After going through the wealthy village, it was time to go up for the major climb of the day, 7 miles up to Saratoga Gap on Highway 9. This is surely not the best part of the run, all asphalt and more importantly winding road quite busy with bikes, motorcycles and cars. Among the three, the bikes are actually the most dangerous because you don't hear them coming and I almost hit one biker who was cutting a turn and yelled at me after being scared himself. On the bright side, I got to pass and be passed by several bikers from Team in Training who were on a 100-mile training run to prepare for upcoming ultra man races. One of them, Jeff, had a leg prosthesis and we chatted for a few hundreds yards then wishing each of us good luck for the rest of this long day. Jeff is preparing for the Sonoma Ironman whose 112 miles bike ride will not be as strenuous as the 10,000 feet of climb of this training ride.
Team in Training had set a nice aid station at the top of the hill but I didn't feel like begging for food at this point. Among the 10 or so bikers who were taking advantage of the station was Christina Brownson, an ultra runner from our Stevens Creek Striders Club. After saying hello and good luck, I crossed Skyline to get on the Skyline to the Sea trail which I will run in its entirety today (here is a panorama from Sempervirens Point).
Our Club has a special connection with this trail as we have a yearly event called the Clambake run which consists in running from Saratoga Gap down to Waddel Beach and have lunch, including a clam chowder, at the beach before driving back. It is usually held around mid August, please check the website if you are interested in joining the fun (and leveraging the aid stations along the way). Speaking of aid stations, I didn't have any today. I knew I could find water at Waterman Gap, then the Big Basin State Park Headquarters, then I believed the end of the trail at Wadell Beach. I did not carry any other feed than 4 GU gels, counting on finding Coke, banana and chips at the Headquarters. The stop at Waterman Gap after 18 miles or so was much appreciated to refill my three bottles.
I was having a blast running on such a perfect trail and in the shade of the trees. I saw a handful of hikers before the Headquarters and no runner at all. It was really a solo run... I stopped once at a creek before the Headquarters to cool my head and legs down with the wonderfully fresh water. So nice water that I wanted to drink it but know that it isn't safe in the area (I always experienced Giardia...). I stopped for about 30' at the Headquarters to do some shopping (no luck for the banana), get more water and a few pictures.
I was on my way out when someone called me by my name. It was national ultra legend Mark Williams from our Striders Club. He was with his two daughters who keep him so busy that he doesn't run much anymore. I'm saying "national legend" not because Mark is mostly known as the first to have completed the grueling Barkley Marathons 100-mile, something which seemed like impossible for years. But the race is so confidential (limited to less than 50 participants), that it isn't much known outside the country. Abroad, Mark has completed 6 Spartathlons which is also an amazing fate, not to mention 6 Western States of course and even more Ironman events!
I was still feeling really good and ran all the uphill to leave Big Basin before flying down the 3-mile canyon to Berry Creek Falls. I saw more hikers in this section and it was definitely worth the hike because the falls are real;y gorgeous this days, with a powerful stream thanks to all the water we got this winter and spring for the El Nino year.
From there I started suffering from the heat and stopped at every stream crossing to cool-down and splash myself, but running most of the miles down (or up in some sections...) to Waddell Beach. The views of the beach from 2 mile away were stunning and, as one of the hiker was pointing out, so unusual as there is is fog here most of the time.
Did a long stop at the Rancho Del Oro visitor center (trail head) to refill my bottles. I also asked the volunteer the distance to Santa Cruz and, between her and a visitor, got something vague between 25 and 35 miles (including 9 miles to Davenport). It was almost 3 PM when I hit Highway 1 and I started wondering if I'd make it before 7 PM in Santa Cruz especially if it was indeed 35 miles, knowing that I had slown considerably, having ran on very little fuel since the start (1 small pouch of chips, 1 Coke, 2 gels and 1 bottle of GU2O for almost 40 miles).
Although Highway 1 is along the Ocean, it is never flat as it keeps oscillating between sea level and 200ft-high cliffs. But the views are wonderful and the road large enough to feel safe despite the heavy traffic. I was able to still run all the flat and downhill sections of this rolling profile but had to walk some sections of the long uphills, not because of the grade but the physical and mental fatigue. It took me almost 2 hours to cover the 9 miles to Davenport where I stopped at the little drugstore next to the bus stop. When I mentions to the cashier that I had run almost 50 miles he was not surprised and thought I was coming from San Francisco, so that must be not so unique to run along Highway 1 finally. I got another bag of chips and Coke and called Agnès and Max to tell them I might be running late in Santa Cruz (it was already 5 PM). The good news though is that there were only 11 miles to Santa Cruz, making it 20 from Waddell Beach, not 25 or 35 miles fortunately. Agnès told me that Max had changed his plans anyway and will drive back later and that she was keen on picking me up, with my Mom, Alex and Greg, that she did not mind the round trip since the weather was so good on the coast (phew!). We agreed to meet at Natural Bridges State Beach, shortening the run by 2-3 miles according to her map.
The final 9-mile stretch felt even longer as I was walking more and it took me almost another 2 hours. I reached the beach by 7 PM, happy to conclude this 57-mile run after 10 hours and 6 minutes on my feet since leaving the house. Not all this time running, but a good training for the Big Dance ahead and the long day of June 26. And, since I'm writing this post on June 6, hopefully not as long and painful as the D Day of 6/6/1944... We did not stay for too long at the beach, just enough for me to get my legs in the cold water for a sort of ice bath (brr...).
More pictures of this long and solo run on my Picasa photo album. Enjoy the day "to" the beach!


Unknown said...

If I knew you were doing such an inspiring run, maybe I would of ditched work!

Runningmyspace said...

What a great accomplishment...I want to do a 50K in the next couple of years and you are an inspirtation!

Runningmyspace said...

I put you as a link on my blog!