Shadow of the Giants 2014

Giant Sequoia

Giant Sequoia

Tuni the Mexican Wonderdog was living outside a seafood restaurant in Mexico when Heather found him. He’s 11 now, and just about the most contented dog on the planet.

Green Meadows Outdoor Education School

Green Meadows Outdoor Education School

Heather parked her car next to Larry’s in the back corner of the lot. The race begins (and ends) at Green Meadows Outdoor Education School. Howie and I planned to sleep in the bunkhouses. Larry intended to sleep alone in a remote corner of the lot, hidden from view. Heather apparently had the same idea.

She’d run Bishop 50K a few weekends before, and recognized Howie. She arrived just after the dinner. Baz made his usual profanity laced speech in which half the room, at some point or another, were called assholes, a comedy routine that is always a joy.

Gary Curry has finished AC100 25 times – every year that the race has been run. He also has 26 Leadville 100 finishes, although he’d said he was done with that race; since it was taken over by Lifetime Fitness it’s become a mega event to the detriment of the race, the runners, and the environment. Two weekends ago, after a training run with some friends, Gary laid down for a nap. He never woke up. He was 60 years old. Gary was signed up for Shadow, and a number of people ran the race in his honor.

Race morning. A moment of silence for Gary. Baz insulted us all one last time, and we were off.

Me, crossing stream

Me, crossing stream

The race begins with an uphill climb. I wasn’t at all warmed up, and this quickly caused a problem. I dropped back to a gentle walk to let my breathing improve and my heart rate drop and steady. Not a great start, but everything leveled off in the body and as things flattened out I started running again. Downhill to the first aid station, and then back the same way, and uphill to the next. A river crossing, and this year the water was especially low.

A gentle climb out, if I remember right, and, eventually, another aid station and a turn onto single-track. This stretch would begin with a steep climb – one of the only climbs not runnable – and we’d see the first glimpses of giant sequoias before emerging onto road in the Nelder Grove campground. Coming through this stretch I kicked a rock, hard. The rock was mostly buried underground and did not budge. My foot started swelling almost immediately and I was worried that I might have broken a toe.

Then came the Shadow of the Giants loop, the race’s namesake, a one mile trail through giant sequoias. I slowed it to a walk to soak it all in.

The last 10 miles were mostly just to get us back to the start/finish. A slow, gentle, runnable, and seemingly endless climb. I spend most of my time running in the San Gabriels, up and down, lots of steep mountain climbs. Runnable courses like Shadow of the Giants are difficult for me. I do better on the steep, technical stuff. Still, I managed to get up this hill pretty well, passing a few people on the way.

The run down was not so pleasant. The field goal attempt on the rock left my foot swollen and sore and it wasn’t enjoying the extra pounding a downhill delivers. I had no desire to create any injury drama for myself this close to AC100, so I slowed it down to a shuffle and crossed the line at just about 6 hours.

I talked to a friend after the race. His performance was not so hot, he thought. Nowhere near a PR. The last section with the long, slow climb did him in. Up until that point…and so on. “But did you have fun?” I asked him. From the length of the pause, it seemed like he was considering this for the first time. He decided that he did. Good, because that’s all that matters. We don’t do this to win, at least I hope not, because that’s not gonna happen, not unless we find some stunningly obscure race running for the first time, with nobody under the age of 65 competing. And if we ran every race to PR, we should be running on flat roads, which are fast. Instead, it is my belief that we should be running to have fun, to enjoy the sensation of pushing our bodies to something a bit extreme, to enjoy the smells of the forest, the views, the clean air, maybe the technical challenges of parts of the course, and the friends we make along the way. I so stopped caring about PRs that I couldn’t tell you what mine is at any distance.

My race pretty much sucked. I had fun. That counts as a win.

Howie knew Gary well, and ran the race in his name. He PR’ed. Dominic Grossman took 2nd to Oswaldo Lopez, whose race it is to lose. Katie DeSplinter overcame a hurt foot that had her thinking she might need to drop, and finished 5th female. Heather came in shortly after I did, and Larry a while later. Baz did his awards, and then we all went and soaked in a nearby stream.

Off to the campground, just a mile or so away, tucked in a meadow along a stream. Heather hadn’t a place to stay and joined us. We set up and then headed off to a swimming hole. The water cool but not cold – I expected snow melt temperatures – and there was a little waterfall. We soaked up sun on the rocks.

Larry and I headed back to camp to get the fire going and start dinner: sausage, corn-on-the-cob, baby potatoes, and we found some vegetarian stuff for Heather. A feast at sundown, and then everyone retired to their tents soon after. It’s kind of amazing how in the absence of big city artificial light the onset of darkness immediately brings sleepiness. Our circadian rhythms are tight and wholly linked to the light-dark cycle.

The following day, Yosemite. A wonderful way to kick off summer.

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