Bishop High Sierra 2014 Race Report

Me, at Overlook Aid Station, mile 20

Me, at Overlook Aid Station, mile 20

After a few miles of thick sand, the course begins what is an almost 18 mile continuous climb, from 4750 to 9,350 feet, a slow, steady 4,500 feet in elevation gain, to the highest point of the course, at Overlook. The change in terrain is stunning. Beginning in what is basically the Mohave Desert, things transition to Pinyon-Juniper Woodland, forest and then subalpine forest and alpine. The forest areas are often burned; there was a bad fire here in 2009.

The views of and from Overlook are stunning, and alone are enough to make the entire race worthwhile.

The next 20 miles of the race take place at elevations over 8,000 feet. It’s arid, exposed, and we had a hot dry wind. The course is mostly on rocky truck trails. It rolls a lot in those 20 miles – up, down, up, down – and this section seems to get to everybody just a little, although the women’s front-runners I saw – Sada Crawford, trailing Meghan Arbogast by less than a minute in the 100K, and Katie Desplinter, who would win the women’s 50 miler – both seemed to be having fun.

One of the nice things about this race is that there are so many aid stations: 22 for the 100K, 4.6 miles the longest distance between any two, and even that was broken up into two by an event (picking up the poker chip) in the middle. This meant it was a 1 – 2 bottle race – it could be pulled off on handhelds – and that food could be consumed regularly, in small quantities, without getting GU dependent.

The course recycles aid stations. There are a handful of out-and-backs and or loops that have us coming through the same station more than once. We first passed through Edison Loop at mile 17, on the way to Overlook. We returned from Overlook by a different route than we’d taken up, through burned forest, a beautiful trail with lots of obstacles, and hit Edison Loop a second time at 23.4 (We would hit it a third time at mile 35) From Edison Loop #2 came a steep climb on singletrack, and then down several miles of very rocky ATV road.

Temperatures had risen to the mid 90s. The course is exposed, elevation around 8,000 feet, and the wind was blowing hard, all of which meant I was getting parched. The stretch between Intake 2 (mile 26), Bishop Creek Lodge (mile 29) and back to Intake 2 (mile 32) was not fun.

Soon enough I was back at Edison Loop for the third time, and the course would run mostly downhill pretty much until the 100K turn at mile 48. I didn’t have a complicated strategy. I wasn’t racing. I’d decided to shoot for a good middle-of-the-pack finish, and wanted to do it with fairly even splits, as much as even splits are possible on uneven terrain.

Somewhere after Buttermilk – perhaps it was at Junction aid station, mile 42.5 – was a runner who had been there a while. He wasn’t looking so great. He asked the aid station volunteers what the cut-off was at Tungsten City. They didn’t know. Neither did I. We left the aid station together. I told him that I was on pace for a 16 hour finish, and the race had a 19 hour cut-off. I told him he’d have no trouble making the cut-off. He said he had no run left. I told him I reckoned he could walk it in.

I’d been taking it easy and really didn’t anticipate slowing down at all. I was absolutely not fighting cut-offs. There was no reason for his question to mess with my head, but it did. I started fearing cut-offs. “What if I miscalculated by 3 hours?” When it became clear that this irrational fear wasn’t going away on its own, I had to resort to a meditation.

This was a revelation about the peculiar workings of the mind, or at least of my mind.

Two years ago, miserable and struggling on a section near Buttermilk, I came upon another runner who bitterly complained about the course. His anger compounded my own anger (I’d gotten lost twice, and had run about 8 extra miles at that point), tipping the scales over to a DNF for me. Moral of the story: I have to be careful what I say. I have to monitor my thoughts. I have to pay attention to my reaction to the words of others, and know that others might not have the ability to monitor their reactions to my words. In Buddhism, this would be the precept of Right Speech, not exactly a big aspiration here in the West.

There is a cruelty to the 100K. For 48 miles, the 100K and the 50 mile race follow the same course, but at the Tungsten City aid station, 1.6 miles from the finish, 100K runners turn their back on the finish line and begin an uphill trudge through thick desert sand that after a half a mile or so becomes rocky and steep, and just seems to keep going. This section was hot and windy, not particularly scenic, just there, really, to add 12 unpleasant miles. After a point it leveled off and then headed gently downhill until it reached the Sage to Summit aid station. From there, a steep downhill for a mile to the desert floor, followed by a mile of rocky flat ugliness until we reach a blinking sign from which hung poker chips. We were to take a poker chip that might win us something at a post race raffle. I crossed paths yet again with my friend Marisol who had her chips and was on her way back up the hill, a steep climb into a hard headwind that made for slow going.

By this point, we were pretty spread out, and I didn’t see any sign of any other runners in the last 8 miles.

And then I was done. Waiting at the finish line were a bunch of friends, including Katie, who’d won the 50 miler, Chris Price, who set a new course record in the 100K, Howie Stern, who I was staying with in Mammoth, Dominic Grossman, and Chris’ wife Elisa, who had done the smart thing and run the 50K. And they had pizza, which was great. Being greeted by a bunch of friends was especially nice because the new race director had left the event, even though the race wouldn’t be over for a few more hours, and the finish line was self-service, not really ideal after you’ve run 62 miles. That complaint aside, Inside Trails had taken over a race that for 20 years had been run by Marie Boyd, as a fundraiser for the Inyo hospital. It’s a tough act to follow, and they did an otherwise wonderful job. I will happily return next year for #3.

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