Crash and Burn at the 2013 Berkeley Trail Adventure 50K

I almost DNS’d (did-not-show) the Berkeley Trail Adventure ultra marathon, what with a broken Luna Sandal strap, a couple of blisters and a stubbed toe. But things got reasonably better that I decided to take the chance. With a 6,800 foot elevation gain, this was my toughest ultra marathon yet. As I usually do before the race, I broke down the run on paper into segments between aid stations that I could manage and tried to plan my food intake. Still, this run was unique and surprised me in more than one way. The purple zones in the chart below? Monster verticals that left me empty, hot and wanting to go home.

Berkeley Trail Adventure Elevation

Berkeley Trail Adventure Elevation Profile

Berkeley Trail Adventure

Bombing a Downhill with Luna Sandals

Bombing down a hill with Luna Sandals

The expected max was around 73°F, though I didn’t account for the heat trapped inside Wildcat Canyon. Took about an hour drive to get there from, saw a few familiar faces and tried to stay warm on a chilly morning. We took off at 8:30am and after a few tentative yards, I broke into a smile realizing that my stubbed toe wasn’t bothering me. The initial climb from Lake Anza towards Vollmer Peak was nice and easy, shaded with eucalyptus groves and I kept up a steady pace. I was hooting and hollering on the downhill and made the 4.8 miles to the Big Springs aid station in 50 minutes.

Stripped a layer, downed a Clif Shot and a Succeed Cap, went back up the hill and then a long downhill towards Inspiration Point. Definitely the most fun I’ve had going downhill. The Mono’s held on to my feet while I danced between rocks, feeling strong and confident and suddenly I came across a switchback where I had to decide between a poodle and a root. Wham! I went down hard, tumbled, rolled, stood up dazed and felt stupid. My left knee was bleeding, but I felt okay for the most part. The 6 miles had taken me just over 50 minutes. Nice pace, though the worst was up ahead.

By the time I reached Rifle Range aid station down the Conlon Trail, Wildcat Canyon was getting warm with no shade in sight. More gels, s caps, refill of water and out again on a 5.7 mile loop. The monster hills had started. For a while, PG&E trail at Rancho San Antonio, next to my home was the biggest accessible hill out there with the 0.25 mile before the summit being the steepest. The climb up to San Pablo Ridge, however, was about the same grade of steepness, only 6 or 7 times longer. My calves were screaming as I hiked my way up to the top of the summit. With Mt. Diablo on one side and the Bay on the other side, the vistas were spectacular and all around me. It was hard to take it all in.

Smiling into the Last Aid Station

Smiling into the Last Aid Station

I dug into my Onigiri back at the Rifle Range and realized that the climb out of Wildcat Canyon was the first purple zone. The 4.1 mile stretch back to the Inspiration Point took me over an hour. I was half walking, half running on the asphalt, struggling in the heat while splashing my face with water every so often. By this time, I could feel chaffing in my inner thighs. The volunteers at the aid station helped me re-orient a bit and also told me that only about a dozen or so 50K runners had passed in front of me. Got some vaseline on my thighs, loaded up on s caps, more gels and headed out.

  • First Summit
    First Summit
  • San Pablo Reservoir
    San Pablo Reservoir
  • Vistas of the Bay
    Vistas of the Bay
  • Who let the cows out
    Who let the cows out?
  • Down Into Wildcat Canyon
    Down Into Wildcat Canyon
  • Belgum Trail
    Belgum Trail
  • San Pablo Ridge
    San Pablo Ridge
  • Vollmer Peak
    Vollmer Peak
Berkeley Trail Adventure

Berkeley Trail Adventure

Didn’t spend much time at the last aid station, but the last hill (purple zone again) back up to Vollmer Peak sucked everything out of me. By this time I was getting delirious, talking to myself, cursing, laughing and wondering WTF I was doing up here. My brain went from, just a little bit more to who the (@!# called for that hill to my, what an amazing view to dang, it’s hot to am I there yet? When I summited Vollmer Peak, my Timex read 5:30 and I still had 3 or 4 more miles to go. At least the eucalyptus groves were back and it was a little shaded. This last bit is a blur and I don’t really remember how I got through it. I found the energy to sprint the last 20 yards and crossed the finish line at 6:16 placing 2nd in my age group. Mark Tanaka, a veteran ultra runner (with over 100+ ultras) placed 1st in my age group, almost an hour ahead of me!

Berkeley Trail Adventure was definitely my toughest 50K so far and I have much to learn. This was also the most I consumed in a race, with 7 Clif Shots, 5 Succeed Caps, 2 Onigiri’s and a gazillion ounces of water. I didn’t bonk, nor did I throw up which were all amazing things considering the elevation profile and the heat.

How do you train for these monster hills and more importantly how do you deal with the heat?


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  • Bill Dyer

    You’re nuts. That’s way too far for me. My runs are 5 miles at the longest. All the power to you though.

    • http://freeradical.me/ kowsik

      Thanks Bill :)