The Big Basin 50K was my first ultra marathon and I have great memories of running and finishing it strong. The Big Basin 50K also happens to be my fastest 50K so far with a 5:29 finish. Yeah, yeah, net downhill, yada, yada. Anyways, after a year of running all sorts of trail, I was kinda hoping to out do my time again. But as is always the case, mountains have a way of humbling you. Two weeks before the race, I pulled my calf muscle on a 20-miler in Los Trancos and I hadn’t run until I paced my 13yo on his first 10K the day before. I didn’t feel any pain on my calf and was hopeful. This run was an experiment too. Just a 22oz handheld with diluted Clif Shot Gels (4 chocolate + 6 strawberry). No hand-drawn maps, no SJ Ultra vest and no Onigirir’s.
2014 Big Basin 50K
Things were off from the get go. Woke up early to drive to the finish line to take the bus only to find out that one of the driver’s didn’t report to to work. So everyone had to sardine into two buses. Had a great chat with Dave who had just run a fun 50 miler the week before. Pulled up to the starting line and it was already getting warm. A few familiar faces at the starting line- Miguel Vivaldo (14yo!), Nate Dunn, Bala.
I kept a pretty good pace taking one sip from my handheld every 15 minutes (works up to ~200 calories/hour) and to my surprise (and a little disappointment) got to Waterman Gap aid station exactly the same time as last year. Grabbed some potato chips and headed on the climb up to China Grade. It was warm, very different from last year where I wrote about ferns glistening with moisture. Nope, just dry and warm. There were about 4 of us together in a pack working our way up to the aid station. Felt my first calf cramp half way up. Not a good sign. When I got to the aid station, I could feel the heat already. More potato chips, some coke, a bio break and down to Gazos Creek aid station. The rocks were radiating with the heat and the cramps were getting worse. Shortened my strides to minimize the cramping (seems to help) and by the time I reached Gazos Creek, I knew I was going to downgrade the 50K to the Marathon. Later on I heard from the other runners that the Gazos Creek loop was exposed, 95+°F and evil!
Everyone that came into the Gazos Creek aid stations looked spent. We were lingering around longer than we had to, catching our breath, cooling off. Added a couple of more gels, water and ice into my handheld and started the climb out of Big Basin. When I got to the top, I felt my quads cramp up. Now that’s new! On hindsight, I should’ve popped a salt pill while I had a chance. I’ve never really had my legs completely cramp up. It was weird. Stretched it out, massaged it a bit, felt better and starting heading down. I was mostly by myself on this 8 mile stretch. Maybe 6 or 7 runners passed me, even though I was walking a fair bit. Jose Cruz (placed 5th in the 50K) passed me on a downhill and we chatted for a little while. I met him at the Morgan Hill Marathon last year. He was out of water and took a sip from mine. At the finish line I learned that he managed to snag a bottle of water from some generous hikers further down.
Had a brief stop at the last aid station and finally felt the fog and the drop in temperature. Last year that fog had moved in at least 9 or 10 miles keeping the home stretch nice and cool. It was a tough day out there and apparently they ran out of water at the Aid Stations #1 and #2. A sold out race and super hot weather don’t mix well I suppose. I was happy to have finished in 5:11, 25th overall and 8th in age group in the Marathon. I do admire the tenacity of those that stuck it out on the 50K, what with the exposed hot trails and all.
Did you run the Big Basin 50K or the Marathon? What was your experience?