Red Rock 50 Mile endurance run

(Photos in this post come from the race’s facebook page)

I “prepared” very quickly for this race. I decided to do it about 8 weeks before race day, and signed up a couple of weeks later (after “checking” if I could manage to find the time and ramp up quickly enough). So not ideal preparation once again, but it’s fine, it’s just for fun, I made it work.

I tried to make up for the lack of training by getting ready for this race. I looked for previous performances on Strava, mapped out the course in Google Earth, and even wrote a program that given a list of {time,location} would give me the predicted temperature, rain, and wind from It looked like this (temperatures are in degree Fahrenheit)

So temperatures expected to be between 27 and low 50s (-3 to 10C) (the 3h window in the middle column is a fixed 3h window. Same for 12h rain prediction)

Regarding the route however, it changed a bit this year due to the Santa Barbara fires this summer. So previous performances were not that useful, and I did not use this data much. This year’s had maybe 2000ft of extra elevation.

I was mentally ready for the ~13,000ft (4000m) of positive elevation, and for the cold. In the last couple weeks of preparation I bought and experimented with warm running gear (I am not used to running in such cold weather), and on race day decided to go with warm gear: long running tights, warm polyester shirt, wind breaker, and another puffy sleeveless jacket. Plus gloves and hat. I usually get cold, and I had a bad experience at Chimera 100 last year during the night. I’ll discuss later what I would change next time.

Nutrition wise, I packed some KIND bars (They are mostly nuts, but I took the ones with the most carbs), some e-Gels, a coke bottle and a water bottle. My goal was to zoom by at aid stations, only refilling coke/water and grab a handful of potato chips or something else, but not having to eat on the spot.

Race weekend

We drove Saturday to Santa Barbara for the weekend, I raced Sunday while Polina hung out with the girls in SB, and we drove back on Monday. Maybe a bit too short of a trip, next time plan for another day or two (especially since it was Thanksgiving, we could have stayed a couple of more nights). But it was our first time far from the house with the babies too.


I drove Sunday to the start, at the Red Rock Day Use Area at the end of Paradise Road. Picked up my bib number and had a good breakfast: a banana, and nutella!

I geared up and lined up at the start for the fun speech from race director Luis Escobar. After raising our right hand and swearing “if I get lost, if I get hurt, if I die, it’s my own damn fault”, we were out.

6:00 am

The first part (first 12mi/20km or so) was the first out and back. All 3 courses (half, marathon and 50 mile) started at the same time, going west on Paradise Road. So inevitably, everyone started fast.

I tried hard to stay easy and keep heart rate low. At the turn around at mile 6 or so, I counted about 25 people ahead of me. Ok, not too bad, it’s going to be a long day, trying to keep it steady.

By the first aid station, mile 12 I had already passed a few people. I refilled my coke bottle and was on my way.

At this point starts a long climb. Not much interesting. Passed a couple more people, but I wasn’t really counting.

Now is a good time to have a look at the elevation chart. Below the elevation is my heart rate (HR) because I’ll talk about it later. I also annotated every aid station (but they are not repeated for the out-and-backs.) Also note that the horizontal axis is in km.

Around mile 20 (~33km) starts that long climb to El Camino Cielo. Around the middle of that climb is where things started to be rough for me. And I still had a long way to go. I’m still not sure why. I had eaten a fair amount - maybe a bit less than planned - and I thought I was still ok with my hydration. I just walked the climb, slower than most people around me I would say.

It could be that I started getting too hot, without noticing it much though. Like I said, I started with a lot of clothes. It was amazingly comfy the first 20 miles (I tend to be really cold - I don’t have much fat on me to help here), but I think this is when I started getting too hot. And I probably waited too long to take most layers off.

Until the top, everything was on the north side of the hill, in the shade of the mountain. After reaching El Camino Cielo, we descend on the north side of the ridge. The views there are amazing. You can see Santa Barbara, the beach, the islands (Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island) and a bunch of oil drilling platforms in the ocean. I was running with my camera in my backpack, but I wasn’t feeling good enough to stop and take a picture apparently.

The descent is a nice trail against the mountain. Half way, it becomes quite technical and follow a stream. The trail was technical enough that for the first time ever, I passed two mountain bikes going downhill…

Reaching the bottom of this gigantic hill (3.7mi of downhill), I reached a small aid station. One of the volunteer there announced me I was number “5th or 6th”! Wooaaa. That was a good and a bad news at the same time. Bad mostly because I was in bad shape at this point. I still wasn’t sure why. Half way into the race, I’d rather be mid-pack and in ok-ish shape, than front-of-the-pack and in bad shape…

I kept monitoring my heart rate, but since the start it was quite elevated. I could not get it to settle down. At aid stations after a few seconds break it would drop as expected, but as soon as I started running it would immediately jump back up. I had ran so far 45km with my HR between 160 and 170, which is pretty high.

Next started probably the hardest section of the whole race. An out-and-back succession of 20+% grade climbs and -20+% grade downhills. I was really having a bad time. I took a bit more time at the turn around aid station to try to eat a bit more. Then was that same crazy section backwards. I walked all of the uphills, and my HR finally went down a little. You can definitely tell from the HR graph that I ran this section (km 45 to 55 ish) much easier.

I think I counted 3 people passing me on my way out since “5th or 6th” (after that I had to count), so that would put me 9th. No one passed me on the way back, and actually when I saw Luis running out (he was also running the race), he confirmed I was 9th. Ok cool, still top-10, and I only have one monster 3.7 (6km) mile climb. After that, it’s all downhill baby (well… kind of, still about 1500ft/500m of elevation). And I can hammer downhills pretty well. But in the shape I was, I was sure that tons of other runners would pass me on the way back.

I almost puked during that climb back to El Camino Cielo. I was really feeling bad, and it was hot. I think the temperature went all the way up to 82F (28C). After starting in the 28F (-2C), it’s quite a temperature range to handle. Especially gear wise.

I was still expecting to be passed by tens of people, but only 2 guys and the leading girl (Deysi) passed me towards the top. At this point I started reciting a mantra I made up on the spot “it’s not over until it’s over”. The good news was that they only caught me near the top. If I’m lucky and they don’t descend as well as me, I can catch them. I took again my time at the El Camino Cielo aid station at the top. Had some chicken broth, some delicious avocado cracker toast thing, and potato chips. I felt better.

Since now it was time to go back on the north side of the mountain, it was also time to say goodbye to the sun and warmth. I put my shirt back on and headed down, chasing the trio who left the aid station ahead of me.

I quickly caught up and passed one guy, and later Deysi the first female, but not the other guy (I think it’s Ken, from the results). So doing the math, I should now be 10th. But… Remember it’s not over until it’s over…

I started feeling much much better on the way down and afterwards. I also figured out what was probably wrong with me earlier: I was dehydrated. Most likely wearing too much clothes messed up my hydration plan early on, as I was losing more water to sweat. You can also see that my HR stayed lower and for the rest of the race, between 140 and 160. Part of it is probably because I was more tired, but also I started feeling better by catching up on hydration.

So things kept going ok from there on. I was walking most uphills, running downhill. I never really saw Ken again unfortunately.

As I reached the last aid station (a couple of volunteers who camped in their trailer overnight to man a pretty remote aid station!) I saw another Canadian runner about 30-45 seconds ahead. He used to be way ahead at the previous turn around, so I thought he was fading fast. And with 4.5 miles left I tried to make a move thinking it was really all downhill from there. I passed him like he was not moving, I said “hello”, I only heard “fuck” back (I think).

Unfortunately, I forgot there was one big uphill left. Even though I was maybe 1 minute ahead at the bottom of the hill, when he saw me walk he gave everything he had left and caught up, basically sprinting past me (we chatted at the finish line later). At this point I decided to keep it safe, maintain my effort, and see what I can do downhill, as my calves were starting to cramp up. I hoped the hill would end soon, and I’d catch up, but there was too much left. I could see his headlamp disappearing slowly ahead (but never trust head lamps, people can try to play tricks by lowering or turning it off ;) I wonder if he did this too actually)

I did not manage to catch him. And funny enough, he seemed to have caught Ken as well (the guy I was originally chasing).

I finished in 11h32, Ken was 1.5 min ahead, and Amos (the Canadian guy) 1 minute ahead of Ken, in 11:29:25. That’s actually a pretty good gap for the last 3 miles. Unfortunately my calculations on the way were wrong, and I finished 11th, not 10th. I was not aiming for that at the start either, so I’m still satisfied.

Here’s my race on Strava:

TL;DR for next time

On Comparing Ultras

Now, on my finish time: I did not beat my 50 mile time from last year at Old Goats, but this course was much more difficult. I plotted both elevations, as well as cumulated positive elevations (D+). Red Rock is in blue, and as you can see, elevation profiles are quite different and Red Rock tops at about 4200m (13,800ft) of positive elevation, vs under 3500m for Old Goat’s (Note that this was the Red Rock 2015 course, which also had more elevation than previous years as well). Note that the data comes from my Garmin, so take those numbers with a grain of salt.

Here are the results.

Apparently, there were 43 finishers, 6 DNF, 12 people “downgraded” to the 50k. There was no official 50km, so they all signed up for 50 mi, but either decided to cut it “short”, or did not make the cut off in time. So total about 43+6+12=61 people started the race.


2015 in review » « Chimera 100 mile trail race