(Contributed by Chuck Amital. Chuck joined Pamakids in 2009, when he started running ultras. After a 2½-year hiatus, in 2013, he started running 50ks again.)
Truth be told, going into this race, I was thinking more about the one that would be coming 5 weeks later – the Quad Dipsea, with a total elevation gain of 9200 feet over 28.4 miles. Somehow, even though it was right there on the website, I missed that the elevation gain for Whiskeytown was going to be 6120 feet. I was aware, however, that most of the running was at 2000 feet. For some reason (call it denial if you want), my pre-race assessment of Whiskeytown was “not too shabby,” although not quite as impressive as some of the other 50ks that my teammates and I had already tackled this season. (Can anyone say, “Headlands 50k,” with 7300 feet of gain?!)
And so, with the race set for Saturday morning near Redding, John (G.), Kelly and Lavy piled into my car on Friday around noon and headed north. One of the things that I enjoy so much about hanging out with other runners is the common language and shared love of running that enables us to establish a sense of camaraderie so easily. Most of all, I enjoy the ever-so-dry sense of humor that so many of our teammates possess in spades! Suffice it to say that the four of us quickly fell into an easy rhythm of discussion, question and answer, call and response, banter, etc., about running and a host of other topics.
We arrived in Redding, picked up our bibs, checked in to the Thunderbird, and headed over to Black Bear Diner, where my companions’ orders roundly disabused me of the notion that runners dine on pasta the night before a race! After a series of errands, we found ourselves back at the motel at 7 p.m. with some time on our hands, so we decided to head out to the movies to take our minds off the race. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, in Gravity, were just the ticket.
Arriving back at the motel after the movie, each of us organized our gear before settling in to get a good night’s sleep before the race. Not that I ever sleep well the night before a race. Thankfully, morning eventually arrived, and a more serious mood took over, as we all went through our final pre-race rituals, before loading up on caffeine on the way to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Time compressed in the last hour before the race as we made our last-minute preparations and connected up with Noriko (who had driven up with her husband), for a pre-race team photo. Then, off we went.
Ultras are just my speed because it usually takes me 4 to 5 miles just to warm up and begin to find my sense of rhythm. Being out on the trails for 5½ to 8 hours means that a race is comprised of lots of moments. Some of those moments seem unforgettable at the time, but they become a blur, even during the course of the same race. One recurring moment that I’ve learned to embrace is my “Forrest Gump” moment – that inevitable point (or points!) in the race when I wonder what the hell I’m doing there, who the hell I think I am that I can pull this off, and on and on and on. Although that “moment” sometimes lasts longer than I’d like – for example, the length of that god-awful climb up to who-knows-where – it, too, often becomes a fond memory. I enjoy both the solitude of the trail – this race had lots of that – and the companionship of other runners (misery loves company after all) – which this race also had.
A few moments, however, do stick out in my mind:
Coming upon Lavy and Noriko, who were having way too much fun chatting (personally, I’m in it for the suffering!), as we were contouring along a tricky section of the trail that was covered in shale.
Running through scrub oaks in glorious fall color.
Exchanging shout-outs with Kelly at an unexpected overlapping point in the trail.
Crossing Mill Creek multiple times. (I stopped counting after 7.) It doesn’t sound like much, but try rock-hopping across a stream after 18 miles of trail running. I took the RD’s advice, and waded through most of them, cooling my paws in the process.
Tripping and falling around mile 26, only to have my left calf seize up, picking myself up and running on (“running” being a relative thing 5 hours into a 50k), although my calf kept telling me who was boss.
True confession: I was relieved to cross the finish line. With both of my calves wrapped in ice, John and I waited for the rest of our group, who arrived in dribs and drabs shortly thereafter. We relaxed for a bit, and Noriko’s husband took an “after” shot of the group.
We folded ourselves in the car for the ride back to SF, and more enjoyable conversation. We all agreed that Whiskeytown was harder than we thought it would be. Although we all swore that we won’t be back again next year, I don’t believe it for a minute.