Thursday, October 29, 2015

Overlook 50K Race Report

The motivation to run and the motivation to write are similar. Writing, like running, is therapeutic. Writing is a form of artistic expression. When we are comfortable with who we are, we are more willing to express ourselves through writing, or other forms of art. When we lose faith in ourselves, we retreat to our windowless corners and hide away from the world. When my motivation to run flew south for a lengthy winter, the motivation to write went with it. After having such an amazing journey and falling short at Western States, my running has been mostly uninspiring. It is difficult to share race reports laced with struggles and poor planning. Wouldn't you rather read about a great race, perfect planning, and flawless execution? I've been winging 50Ks all year, in the hopes that being around great people and runners would somehow help me find my mojo or my lost passion for running. I've started 6 50Ks this year, and finished 4. I have not finished the race reports for the 3rd, 4th and 5th 50K races, mainly because I sucked at them. Big Basin 50K (AKA Skyline to the Sea) in July was okay for about 20 miles. The last 10 miles there were miserable, but I finished. The Cinderella 50K ended prematurely, as the heat, the hills, and the smoky air left me gasping for breath. The 50K became a half marathon finish, but might as well be a DNF. The Ohlone 50K in September, was insanely hot, with temps reaching 107 degrees on the course! I bailed on that one too, after about 13 miles. I was on a losing streak. I talked to Ann Trason at the Ohlone 50K, and knew her Overlook 50K race was coming up. I was just going to volunteer at the race, partly because I feel like I owe my coach some support. Western States may have ended poorly, but I was really glad to have such a wonderful coach on that crazy journey. My confidence was still at an all-time low. Another DNF might kill my running for good. The Overlook 50K was on the Western States course and the sections that I never got to, during my Western States race.  Ann Trason told me that I should run the race. So that's what I planned to do.

I procrastinated, and missed the deadline to sign up for the race online. But as luck would have it, they were accepting race day sign-ups. I just needed to drive 3 hours to the starting line, run the race, and then find a ride back to my car, at the start (it being a point to point race, starting in Foresthill and ending in Auburn). I told very few people that I was planning to run, just in case the weather forecast gave me a good reason to bail. Luckily the weather forecast for that Sunday morning was perfect. When I got up at 3 in the morning, I still hesitated. I could crawl back in bed, and no one would have to know that I chickened out on a 50K. I remembered Ann's email after Western States, telling me not to quit. Coaches that care about you, believe in you. They believe in your potential and they sincerely want you to reach your goals and achieve your dreams. I will not quit today.

I left my house at 4AM, stopped by the ATM for my cash registration fee (150 bones), and headed up to Foresthill. I got there in 3 hours, saw Ann and a bunch of friends (including Endorphin Dude, who just hired Ann Trason as his coach and was coming off two DNFs of his own). We made a pact to get to that finish line to break our losing streak. 

The race started promptly at 8AM. The weather was chilly, but not cold - just the way I like it. I only brought one handheld and planned to rely on the aid stations for everything I needed. I brought about 40 dollars, just in case I needed a taxi back to my car. 

The first section of the race has a lot of downhill. And it's the longest stretch between aid stations. There were 8.7 miles between the start and the first aid station. I brought no electronic devices, so had no idea what my pace was, but I took it very easy. Congo lines formed often during the first 8 miles. At one point, someone behind me made a joke about farting after I asked him if he wanted to pass me. Playing along, I said, "I swear it wasn't me!" We had a good laugh. Mother Nature/ God/ Fate has a sense of humor. Be careful what you joke about. Not long after the fart joke, the runner in front of me lets out an audible fart! (his/her identity will be concealed for his/her own good). My sense of smell is pretty bad, so smells rarely bother me, but this was a real stinker! Wow! That was an epic fart! I had to turn my head a bit to breathe! 

The miles melted away in the cool morning air. The running felt effortless and blissful. It reminded me of my Born to Run 30 miler back in May. The views were absolutely stunning at times. I wished I had a camera with me, like I used to carry during all my races, so long ago. Maybe it would make writing these race reports easier. A picture can relay what a thousand words fail to impart. And sometimes no words or pictures can do an experience justice (or perhaps we lack the eloquence of a seasoned writer). I turned a corner and heard the wings beating of a large bird, no more than 20 feet away. I looked up half expecting to see a giant vulture. Instead, I saw a large brown bird flying around a corner. It's tail was white as snow. I did not see the head, but the tail suggested it was a majestic bald eagle. I was stunned. I felt like I had just encounter a super rare pokemon!. Were there really bald eagles on the Western States course? A friend later confirmed that there are bald eagles in the area, but normally higher up in elevation. 

The eagle reminded me of something I saw during my Western States race. I saw so many different varieties of butterflies on that warm, summer day. I let the different varieties of butterflies represent people in my life. Friends and family that inspired me and gave me strength were assigned butterflies. Caballo Blanco, inspired me as a runner, and each time I saw a plain, white butterfly, I thought of him. It was his spirit, cheering me on from the afterlife. Tom Kaisersatt, an inspirational runner from my workplace, was a orange, speckled variety. When I saw a large white swallowtail, for the first time in my life, the only friend/spirit that came to mind was God himself. It was a spiritual moment for me. I cried. I laughed. It was so emotional. I felt so blessed to be out there, chasing my dreams. I felt powerful. It was a flood of emotion. God was with me, manifesting himself through a butterfly that I never knew existed. Later in the race, when my body was failing, and I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, I felt forsaken and abandoned. It was the exact opposite of the life I felt, only a half a day earlier.  

Anyway, after seeing the bald eagle, I felt like God was with me again. I felt peace. At mile 21.5, at an aid station, I sat down and felt nauseous. I drank some ginger ale, lingered a bit, then got up and started running again. I was not planning on quitting today. I focused in on another friend in the distance. Martin doesn't wear a watch, but he is an amazing pacer. He is always kind and positive. He was one of the safety runners that helped me at Western States! I ran when he ran. Walked when he walked. He didn't even know he was pacing me! I got some good running in, thanks to you, buddy! I stopped eating and drinking though. I knew I was running on fumes. And it was getting warmer. I downed a cup of coke at the last aid station (4.3 miles to go), and just kept moving. I was running well and I didn't want to break the momentum. The last three miles were tough. With lots of uphill, I ran out of gas. I slowed to a crawl, but knew that I would finish. One by one, many runners passed me. But I didn't care. I was going to finish. After 7 hours and 4 minutes, I finished the race. And I was met at the finish with a big hug from Ann Trason herself. It meant a lot to me. It was the hug I never got at Western States. 

Thank you, Ann. For being a caring, kind, and all-round amazing coach. Thank you for believing in me. I'm not quitting. Not today. Not anytime soon. 

I wasn't the only one that got a hug from Ann at the finish. But mine was still special! 

And yes, that wild growth on my chin is a beard. It isn't as impressive as the European variety, but it's still a beard. The reason for it is tied to running... and maybe Forest Gump...

A lot more pictures can be found here:


  1. Great work John! I got to get in some trail races sometime. Family life sometimes gets in the way. Minh Truong likes to encourage me to do an ultra.

  2. Your first paragraph - Oh so very true!!
    The epic fart…hahahahahhaaaa!!! Awesome. =D

    CONGRATULATIONS on your finish, and in excellent time!
    I’m struggling with injuries, finding it difficult to run even 45 mins very slowly - your posts of your struggles, and yet such amazing accomplishments, as well as your faith, inspire me. =)
    Keep on keepin’ on! <3