What will I remember months from now when the memory of this race has subsided? Will it be the majestic Sequoias that towered over the course as if they were some sentinel and witness to ancient history? Will I remember the lush green meadows that appeared through the trees like a woman whose beauty I could only admire from a distance? (yeah, yeah, yeah...I'm trying to be poetic here) Or the babbling brook (yes, it's a cliché, but it really WAS babbling) that serenaded the runners who weren't too preoccupied with their iPods?
Whatever it will be, this run will be etched in my memory for years to come.
The Shadow of the Giants “50K” is set in Fish Camp just a mile from the south entrance of Yosemite National Park. Did someone say “Yosemite?” How could I resist when I knew that these “Giants” are the 3,000 year-old Sierra redwood trees, the largest living things in the world? Besides the 50K, this year's event also included a non-competitive 20K fun run which drew a handful of participants.
The weekend started on Friday in OC when OCTR mates Paul, Pete, Jennifer and I loaded up our rental SUV and headed up north. Paul was at the helm for the approximately 5-and-a-half-hour drive. We arrived at Green Meadows Outdoor School (GMOS) where we were greeted by our foul-mouthed (though he makes it sound lyrical with his English accent), but friendly race director, Baz Hawley. We settled into our primitive albeit comfortable accommodations that we shared with Chaz, his kids, iMichelle, and her daughter.
A few minutes past 7am on Saturday, the participants were off for the chilly start of the 18th running of the Shadow. The trail immediately climbs out of the GMOS parking lot for the next 5 to 6 miles til we get to the first aid station. Spectacular views and soft dirt trails made this uphill section of the course a lot more bearable. I also enjoyed the company of the other runners. Along the way, I met Maribelle who was visiting from Dallas, Sharon from L.A., and Scott, a 2006 Badwater finisher from Fresno. I also periodically ran with Pete and Paul who I was yoyoing with through various parts of the course. Jennifer was already long gone at this point.
Before the 2nd aid station we had to cross a 40-foot wide stream that was about knee high at its deepest. It was refreshing to put my feet in there, but it was weird to run with wet shoes on. And I was worried about blisters too. Less than a couple of miles later, my shoes were dry. We would dip our feet on this same stream again on our way back.
I was rejuvenated when I reached the halfway aid station where I was greeted by Chaz, Reese, Tage, and Sierra. A few gulps of various drinks (water, some sort of diluted Gatorade, and Red Bull), some munchies, a quick dash around the one-mile loop which happens to be pure nirvana in terms of beauty (giant Sequioas, lush vegetation, and yet another babbling brook) and runnability (soft single track with just enough dips, twists and turns to make it interesting), and I was off to tackle the 2nd half of the course.
It was getting warm at this point. Since the sun was above us now, we've lost some of the shade we got from the giant trees earlier. What was a very pleasurable run earlier was slowly turning into a grind. Seven or so miles later, I got to the 22.8(?) mile aid station. Things were really cookin’ by then. The temps were in the 70s, and I'm such a wimp when running in anything higher than 65 deg. I plodded on, reached the stream crossing again, and “oooh, what a refreshing feeling it was to get my tired feet wet.”
Although it was hot and my pace has slowed, things were still going swimmingly, or so I thought. I was still feeling strong, and I was passing several runners especially on the uphills where I was able to power walk. I was looking forward to the finish, but boy oh boy, was I ever gonna get there?
Somehow when a race has 50K attached to the end of its name, I expect to run just that--50K. Why not call it the Shadow of the Giants 33-Miles or 35-Miles or whatever it is? Does anyone really know? Ok, granted fellow OCTR member Jon warned me about the added miles, and when we arrived on Friday, someone informed us that the route is actually 33.5 miles, but still. At the end of the race, some racers speculated that the distance was somewhere between 34.5 to 35 miles. You would think that tacking on a couple of extra miles after 31 shouldn't matter a whole lot. That's what I thought too.
Anyway enough about my ranting...
Well, one more...I was running on fumes with about a mile-and-a-half or so to go; my knees were killing me and the top of my left foot hurt like hell. To make matters worse, four runners passed me at this stretch. That was a bit deflating, but my spirits were once again lifted when I saw a couple of cheerleaders (Sharon's friends, I think) right where the pavement starts up again. That meant that the finish was just a little over a quarter mile away. I was hoping to get in under 7 hours or at least better than my SJT50K time (7:12:50), but with the added mileage and the way-too-numerous photo stops, that wasn’t going to happen today.
I ran as fast as my aching knees and foot could take me and crossed the line to cheers from spectators and fellow runners. Seven hours and 22-something minutes later, it sure felt good to be done. I dipped my legs in the ice-cold stream next to the GMOS and emerged to see a freshly-showered Jennifer who finished about 40 minutes ahead of me.
Apparently hours before, there was a battle at the end between the shirtless speedster Oswaldo Lopez and 18-year Shadow veteran Rob McNair. The two were going all out through the whole race, with Lopez just barely edging out the older McNair literally by a split-second. Wow, that would've been a sight to see.
Even after being off-course for about 15 minutes, iMichelle Barton aka Red Blur still took the women’s field and finished 11th overall. Jennifer, who only does a couple of 6-mile training runs during the week due to family responsibilities, placed 2nd in the 30-39 women's division. Amazing these two are.
I think that the Shadow, even with the heat and the added miles, was not as difficult as the SJT50K. There were really no insurmountable climbs (i.e. W. Horsethief Trail), and the picturesque course kept the runners company. I have to say that I loved this race and will run it again. I'll just prepare myself mentally for a 35-miler next time. If anything, I'll come just to try my luck with Baz's post-race world-famous raffle.
A few hours later, Paul was driving us all back home. What a great weekend!
Special thanks to my family and OCTR friends who wished us well and thought of us during the race, to my partners in crime, Paul, Pete, and Jennifer and to Chaz, his kids, and Sierra for supporting us out on the trail. Salamat also to Baz and his volunteers for putting this event together, year after year.
For a comprehensive race report, check out Charlie's blog.
Click here to see the photos that cost me my race goal :)
Cheers, and thanks for reading.