Tuesday, May 24, 2011


On Sunday I ran the Bishop High Sierra 100K. This race consists of a 20 mile, 50k, 50 mile, and 100k distance. Looking for a 50, this was the race that fit my schedule. However, given my rule that you have to run the longest distance offered at any race, it was 100k or bust.

Erica had once again agreed to crew me, so we got to Bishop on Thursday evening and settled in. One great thing about the race is that it is the focus of the town for the week. Everyone knows about the races, and I was told that this is the second biggest event in Bishop behind Mule Days, which as everyone knows is THE thing to do in the Eastern Sierra. I found that the people fell all over themselves to help you and make you feel welcome. For that reason alone, I would suggest the run to anyone thinking about it. It made you feel pretty special.

After scouting the course on Friday and throwing down a couple of Erict Schat turkey sandwiches (don't miss this place if you go) it was off to the briefing dinner. As I sat down, I started chatting with the people at my table. Through the course of the conversation, I found out that two of them knew Scotty Railton. Of course they did. I swear to God . . . Then it was off for a good night's sleep before a 5 AM wakeup.

At the race start

The race course started at 4500 feet, climbed to 9500 feet, doodled around 8000 feet or so for a while, then dropped back down to 4500 feet at the 48.5 mile mark, where you could turn right down the downhill 1.5 miles for home and a 50 mile finish, or make "THE LEFT" which brought you on a 12 mile out and back over a 900 foot climb each way before the 1.5 mile home stretch to earn the 100k finish. It was fear of THE LEFT that motivated me throughout the race.

At 6 AM sharp, we were off. The race started out easy enough with sandy rollers around the base of the Tungsten Hills for about 5 miles before the climbing started in earnest. It was hard to set a good rhythm as with all the different racers out there, it was hard to settle in with a pack traveling at your speed. Coming out of the CDF aid station, where the serious climbing started, I settled into an easy rhythm of running for 2 minutes, hiking for a minute on the sustained but gentle uphill. The climb would be about 5,000 feet over the next 15 miles, so it was largely mellow, but hard to figure out whether I should be running or walking. In the end, I think I paced it pretty well for me.

View of the climb after the 5 mile mark. This grade was fairly consistent from mile 5 to mile 20. The goal of the climb is the left shoulder of the snow covered mountain to the left.

Another view of the climb, but from further up. Again, the goal can be seen in the lefthand side of the picture, just beneath the snowfield.

An unusually steep section of the climb. Most of the first 10 miles of the climb was fairly mellow, if rocky and consistent.

Here I am running out of the Buttermilk aid station, about mile 11 or so.

Another view of Mt. Tom, I believe, with dead tree for visual oomph.

Still climbing . . .

Finally, after climbing for a number of hours through open exposed scrub, we came into some trees where the trail kicked up a notch from the Edison Loop aid station to the turnaround. This out and back (semi-loop) section of the overall out and back climbed up from about 8000 to 95oo feet in 3 miles and then turned around, coming back to the aid station on a different trail. At the aid station, instead of doing the big climb, the 50K folks turned around, leaving only the 50 and 100 milers. Unfortunately, this is where my stomach started to go south. I lost everything I tried to put in at the aid station only steps up the trail. Uh oh. Temps were still cool, probably in the 50's, but I knew I was sweating and losing salt, and I couldn't get anything to go down. Welcome to running at altitude. I started to put it into good hiking gear here, as this was the steepest of the climbing yet, and passed a few people on the way up. From this point forward, I would pass 7 or 8 people and only get passed by 1, so that tells me my pacing was pretty good. At the top of the climb, we punched a hole in our number and turned around for our first significant downhill of the race. WHEW! I was ready for some steady running, and glad that we skipped this climb on the way back.

On top, at the turnaround! Finally!
On the way back down. You can see where the 11 mile aid station is at the left-hand side of the fin of rock. The 5 mile aid station is close to the green fields you can see in the valley. That's a long way up!

On the way up, we had navigated 4 or 5 significant snow fields, and those were a lot more difficult on the way down. There was one especially difficult one that had a steep descent where I fell and slid down on my butt. The lady running the small aid station at the bottom of the snowfield had no problem believing I was a Florida native transplanted to San Diego. The rest of the descent was fairly uneventful. Back down at 8,000 feet, there was now a 6 mile out to the farthest part of the course and then 6 miles straight back. This section would turn out to have 4 significant steep climbs and 4 descents, broken up by an aid station halfway in between. Good thing Erica was there to crew in the middle. I was feeling pretty tuckered and nice to see a friendly face. Off I went through the final 2 outward climbs out with spaghetti o's in hand. Erica waved me a fond farewell. And there was a new member of the crew this year. Erica brought her dog, Killer, along. His contribution, from as far as I can tell, was eating items that other runners dropped on the ground. For a team to be successful, everyone has to know their role . . .

Finally I got to the Bishop Creek Lodge turn around. That meant, being an out and back, that I had to go back over those same 4 climbs. But they were much easier on the way back, not only because they were less steep, but you also knew you were working your way back down.

Headed into Bishop Creek Lodge. There was about a half mile of pavement to run . . .

One of the climbs going back towards the base of Edison Loop. A rare piece of singletrack trail.
Killer is overseeing the proceedings. Thanks for the help, buddy!

The run back to Edison Loop went well and after a few miles of rollers, it was off on the downhill. This section went as well as I could have hoped, and I was able to keep a relatively high speed (high for me) as I ticked off the aid stations heading back down towards THE LEFT. One thing I would change was my choice of shoes. I had essentially road shoes on thinking the road would be a lot like California fire roads down near San Diego. Nope. Very rocky and should have had real trail shoes, as the rocks slowed me up in some sections. Live and learn.

Finally, several miles past Edison, at what had been the 9 mile aid station on the way up, the course split off for a different trail down to the finish. The only major problem on the way down was another round of vomitting in response to some coke. So, no liquids for a while then either. Also, temps were increasing into the low 80's as we descended, and I was sweating profusely. I could feel the salt caked on my face, but couldn't muster the oomph to take any real food or drink for a good 10 miles or so. And my energy level suffered for it as I started to slow significantly towards the bottom of the descent. Fortunately, Erica was there at several of the aid stations with a kind word and a frozen water bottle. With nutrition problems developing and sore feet and tired legs, I started thinking about THE LEFT. Make the turn for a respectable 50 mile finish and be done with it, or suck it up and get up and over the 12 mile out and back. I came into the 48.5 mile aid station at about 12 and half hours. Here was the crux. Do I drop down or stay out for another 4 hours, 13 miles, and 2000 feet of climbing?

View up from the 168 aid station, approximately mile 46.

Coming into the aid station. You can see the white flap from my french foreign legion hat flapping in the breeze . . .

Coming into the Mile 48.5 mile aid station. Will I have the courage/stupidity to make THE LEFT?

Yes! After a very brief stop, off I trudged, having made a deal with myself earlier that I could walk the whole out and back if I needed to, just so long as I sucked it up to do the distance. The climb up to the Sage Summit aid station was a bear, much longer and steeper than I expected just because I didn't know where I was going. There were a few steep long pitches, and some flats and short downs that I should have ran but didn't because I was mentally low. Finally, I saw the Sage Summit aid station down a short hill and down I went. Those guys got me picked up, filled me up with some broth and pudding (perfect!) and down I went through the infamous switchbacks to go down into the valley to pick up my poker chip. That 2 mile section went well and then another mile back to the base of the switchbacks. I ran almost all of that and was picking up momentum. So far so good.

Now the other section I had heard about and dreaded . . . THE CLIMB. I have to tell you that it wasn't that bad. I had heard terrible things about the climb back to the Sage Summit aid station, but while the first part was steep and sandy, once the switchbacks started, it wasn't bad at all. Coming out of the aid station, night had finally and firmly settled, and I took out my light. The stars were brilliant overhead and in the distance, I watched lightning illuminate the clouds over the White Mountains. An unbelievable sight that made the next 1/2 hour of rollers along the crest fly by until I started my descent back to the finish. All in all, while I was slow going out to the poker chip, I ran fairly strongly coming back. And the image of the tranquil yet turbulent night sky over the Sierras is one that I will keep close for a long time.

Not even stopping at what had been the aid station at THE TURN, I kept on going through the camp and got my 100k finish at 16:23 or so, which was almost exactly what my training had predicted. I would have liked to have been a little faster, but I'm not sure I could have broken 16 for the race on that day, so I was pretty happy. I had a great time visiting with the RD after the race. You cannot ask for a better director. She genuinely loves her race, loves her racers, and loves her town. Her energy is contagious.

Chatting with the RD after the race. All the white on my chest and face is dried salt from sweating way too much.

Whew! Glad to be done!

I haven't seen the final statistics, but my understanding is about half the 100k runners either didn't finish or didn't make THE TURN and instead took a 50 mile finish. I think I finished like 30 out of 40 or something like that. I'll check the results when they are posted. All in all, glad I did it, and it was a great challenge. If you are looking for an ass-kicker of a 100k, this is the race for you.

As a post-script, I piled into the car still in my race clothes and race number, dirty, salt covered and utterly exhausted. As Erica was driving us back to town, we got pulled over by a police officer because the left tail light was out. He came to my side of the window and the following exchange occurred:

Officer: License and registration.

Me: Here is the registration. Its my car and the light is my fault.

Officer (Looking me up and down with his light): Sir, are you one of the crazy people that just ran 62 miles?

Me: Why, yes sir, I am.

Officer: Have a nice night sir, and get some rest.

So being an ultra runner does have its advantages . . .

Thanks as always to Erica and Killer for crewing, to the great volunteers for staying out there for us, to the RD for putting on a great race, and to the city of Bishop for all of their hospitality. And to Officer Smith for having a little mercy on a very tired runner.


  1. Great pictures BJ! I was thinking of you and Scotty last weekend since it was Jemez 50 time. Glad to see you got a kickass race in. Are you still planning to do Bear?

  2. Great race report! As a sea-level runner (and another one of those who actually took the turn and spent those extra hours on that gorgeous section of course - and probably even said hi to you out there!), I hear you on the tummy issues at altitude. I survived on a few bottles of Ensure :s

  3. Congrats BJ! Sold--I want to do this now! 16 horus with altitude cannot be easy--very inspiring--but for those views, I want it! It's actually going to be a little hard next year to pick the right race, with so many spectacular events right around this time.