Friday, April 27, 2018

FKT - Skyline to the Sea roundtrip

Playing with Fastest Known Times again!  I'm enjoying these as great motivators for long training days, run faster than I normally would for training but not as hard as during a race.  Well, I haven't been pushed for time yet during an FKT because I keep finding interesting routes without a female benchmark.  Just finishing it is an accomplishment, plus I like to try to set a "reasonable" time.  Something that someone will surely beat whenever another woman sets her mind to it.  But not too much of a gimme  :)

This would be my 2nd FKT run in California.  I enjoyed the East Bay Skyline Trail quite a lot.  This time I was happy to find something a bit longer but still runnable in a day.  Plus it would be a day in the trees - lots of redwoods!  The Skyline to the Sea Trail starts near the Pacific Ocean and climbs up through Big Basin park, through Castle Rock park, and ends at Saratoga Gap.  I had seen much of the trail with Kip when he trekked from the ocean back to the house a few months ago, and I was looking forward to seeing it again plus exploring a few new (to me) miles.

There's a new FKT website now:

It's a lot easier to use, thank you to Peter Bakwin and his team for converting over to it.

To read a couple previous stories about this FKT you can click on the "Out and Back" tab and see the first two times for the men, along with links to their reports.  Adam ran it in just over 12 hours and Robert has the current FKT at 10:29.  I was thinking 16 hours for me would be something to shoot for.  It's a 48-50 mile route and various places report different elevation gain, but I recorded 5900 ft in my logbook.

OK, on to my report.  I drove to Waddell Beach really early last Thursday morning and walked 0.4 miles to the start/finish spot at the horse camp parking lot.  I wondered at the time whether I might have been able to park the car there but didn't take the time to go back and find out.  Later I learned that you can park there only if you have a camping reservation or a horse, so the beach was the right place for the vehicle.

What follows is sort of a ridiculous number of photos for documentation of my run.  I'll try to balance that with a limited (for me) amount of text this time.

It was dark:

The gate where I started my watch:

It's stupid early:

The sign at the trailhead:

(how am I doing so far on number of words?)

One of the nature trail guide posts:

One of the slowest lizards I've ever seen.  None of them were in a hurry to get out from underfoot.  It's like it just woke up.  Which is entirely possible.  I've learned that it's actually a newt.  Is a newt a lizard?  No idea.  I tried not to step on any of them.  Sorry, getting wordy again.

Experimenting with one of John's selfie methods of looking at the object of the photo:

The creek crossing - yeah, I know you can't see it.  Kip and I had been able to mostly ford it without getting our feet too wet in December.  It was higher this time, and without any obvious hopping rocks or logs.  I debated for a few seconds about running with wet feet and decided that the rocks looked nice and smooth, so I took off my socks and shoes to wade across (ankle deep).

It took a few minutes to wipe off my feet and re-shoe myself, but my feet were very happy about it.

In the middle of all that, I was wondering whether there was poison oak hidden amid the vegetation along the trail.  The trail is rather overgrown around the creek and it was hard to avoid the plants.  Hmm, just try to be careful.

Fun fish photo:

No wet feet on this creek crossing:

Making progress in the darkness:

Starting to see daylight above the trees:

This crossing might have been created with bikes in mind:

Berry Creek Falls, barely visible in a dark zoomed picture:

Still not much light available for my camera, but I think this is a large tree leaning over the trail.  Hello big tree!

That's better, now you can see the trail.  Climbing, climbing, up along a nice creek:

It was a very lovely morning, simply beautiful weather:

The closed section of the trail, nearing Big Basin headquarters.  This would require a short detour compared to previous FKT runs here:

Jogging over to Sunset Trail:

An excellent bench and a walking stick if anyone needs it:

Ah, the trails here are wonderful:

I took Middle Ridge Road to cut back to the S2S trail, and found an unexpected hill.  I think the hills you don't expect are way harder than the ones you know are there.  I had been climbing all morning, and yet that short little thing caused this face:

The other end of the closed section:

Running down the other side of the ridge (yay, downhill running!) and immensely enjoying the giant trees:

I made to the park store in 2:52 (~10 miles).  Hey, a Jucy, cool!  We loved our Jucy campervan in Australia, quite fond of them.

The store wasn't open yet, and I expected it would be closed again when I came back through, which was fine.  I was planning to do this run self-supported anyway (carrying everything I needed except water refills at permanent sources).

The water fountain outside the store, very helpful:

A real bathroom, there are many times in my life of roaming when I do appreciate these, even though it was even further out of the way than the water fountain:

Back on the trail, passing a nice picnic grove:

Redwoods make me happy:

The "MB" and "JB" benches we found last time:

But this time with a smiley face!

More beautiful trail through the woods:

Climbing up along a small creek and admiring the interesting shapes:

And the trees that grow on top of rocks:

And the little water slides:

A bit of rootiness, notable only because most of the trail is not this:

Working my way up the steeper sections, feeling so much better than in December when I was under the weather on the hike with Kip:

Pretty creek:

Climbing up the steep haul to Loving Parents Woodland Grove:

This seems like a good place for a snack (sesame bar with a bit of chocolate):

A view!

Aaaaaaaah!  Evil poison oak...  at least I could avoid most of the PO plants alongside the trail (but I was very, very careful where I peed).

I like the bare rock sections of the trail - and the weather was so good that I was still wearing my jacket and buff at this point:

China Grade crossing, pretty much the top-out point of the long climb:

Beautiful greens and reds:

One of many "shelters" at the base of large trees:

Running on the trail that parallels the paved road:

Quite a lovely trail it is, and it's about to get even better, with a long downhill grade:

Somewhere in here I met the first hikers of the day, a couple large groups of young people.  And right after that, a couple dogs that were rather upset about all these people in "their" woods.  I talked to them (the dogs, that is), coaxed them down to the road, and used that opportunity to climb back up to the trail and do an end-run around the dogs.  Hmm, I wonder if they will still be here in a few hours?  (They weren't, thankfully)

Unofficial trail markings:

Must have been a fun trail work day creating this:

I wonder how much the toll is:

I soon reached Waterman Gap Trail Camp (total time of 5:36, about 19 miles in) and I guess I was trying to be a bit more efficient with my break because I didn't take any pictures there.  For info - there's a pit toilet and a water spigot, just downhill from where the trail passes through.  Very useful location for water.  I filled the hand bottle plus a 20 oz Nalgene, plus filled a 20 oz Spiz (to drink half and carry half) at each water stop.

Back on the move...into new territory for me, yay!

I guess this came from the road above, many years ago:

Trail signage is mostly quite excellent:

Hmm, it happened again:

An occasional view:

Tree shapes:

One of several little road crossings as the trail climbs from Waterman Gap, uphill for several long miles:

An older trail marker, nice:

Flaccid tree:

Bunny rabbit:

At the overlook there's an indistinct (and unmarked) cutover from the trail to the next marker at the road crossing - I detoured over to the bathroom anyway so it wasn't a big deal that I missed it, but good to know if you're trying to shave a few seconds:

At the bottom of the next little road I finally had to pull out the map for the first time.  I'll show you why on the way back.

Other than that, the markings seemed pretty good.  It helped that I had seen most of the trail before when Kip was leading the way with the map, so I'm probably not the best judge of marking quality.  Another older post next to a more modern one:

Shady trail intersection:

Still smiling!  My legs were feeling happy, which is good because I was still trekking away from the car:

But not for much longer!  Coming upon Saratoga Gap:

Nice shady spot to sit for a minute at the turnaround:

My time to the turnaround = 7:37:02 (24-25 miles depending on how you measure it).  With all the downhill on the way back, I started wondering if I might be able to break 15 hours.

There's no water at the parking lot, good to know for stocking up back at Waterman camp.  The next goal is to get back there.

Happy to be heading in the other direction:

It's like a parking lot down here:

It was so nice to be running in the shade almost all day:

Starting a gentle downhill run:

The occasional view is worth a bench:

Ah, OK, here's the spot where I used the map.  The gate on the left has signage that includes the note "No through trail".  The S2S trail goes to the right, but without a sign:

I think this is supposed to be vertical and in a slightly different location:

Crossing the road near the overlook - it's a nice place to park a car to check out the view:

Quite lovely:

The "John selfie method" is working well today:

It was a nice long downhill run to start the return journey:

I'm hoping they installed guardrails on the road eventually...

Back at Waterman Gap in 9:05, psyching myself up for the biggest uphill of the return trip.

First a little climb up to this interesting set of trees surrounding a large old stump:

Back to the toll road intersection:

Climb, climb, climb.  That went OK.

Lovely moss:

I had seen this jacket lying on the trail earlier - someone hung it on a trail post next to the road, that was nice of them:

Double burned-out trees:

Dam it.

A bit more uphill and I was back at the China Grade road.  Now for some downhill, yay!  Well, OK, it does trend downhill, and there are some definite drops, but the trail isn't quite as runnable through here.  Actually, maybe it was my legs that were getting less "runnable".

Dropping back down to the Loving Parents grove:

Whee, downhill!

Big Basin redwoods, it's good to see you again:

The trail along the Escape Road:

This section starts the trend of lots of little ups and downs.  Many more than were there earlier in the day.  Where is the park HQ?  It's here somewhere... after one more little hill.  Oh wait, another one.

Finally back to the water fountain next to the Big Basin store, at 11:51 total time (yep, the store was closed again).  I couldn't resist walking over to a sit-down toilet, justified by the fact that I could also wash my hands.  There are plenty of places I could have saved a few seconds if I focused.

Let's finish this thing up!  10 miles to go, mostly downhill (I think?).

The sign says 12 more miles but I don't think it's quite that much:

Wonderful footbridge and log cut:

One last real climb, up to Middle Ridge Road.  Looks like a nice place to take a break on the way up:

Back to the trail detour, ready to tackle the steep little climb over the ridge:

You can do it...

I did it!


Slightly more daylight for a photo of the falls this time, but still a fuzzy picture:

And I have no idea what I'm posing with - oh wait!  It's the bike rack, sure:

Happy to still have daylight where it was dark earlier:

I thought I'd be able to push the pace down these last few miles, but my right ankle had a twinge going.  I remembered turning it slightly earlier in the day (one of those "ankle strengthening exercises" that I do occasionally, not on purpose).  Hours later it started talking to me.  Hmm, I hope that's not actually my Achilles.  No, I think it's just the ankle.

Well, I didn't want to overdo it and end up injured, so I took it easy.  No pressing the pace, just fast-walking and light running.  I think my legs were fine with this tactic anyway, they seemed tired.

How do I know?  Because I kept having to go uphill!  What's up with that?  Many little climbs.  Most I had no idea were there, even though I've come the other direction twice now.  40+ miles on the legs magnified the effect, I'm sure.

Would I still be able to break 15 hours?  Was it important?  Unlikely and not really.

I was, however, motivated not to waste time taking off my shoes/socks for the creek crossing.  Walked right across, so there was that.

Poison oak all over the place along the creek bottom, ew.  With the overgrown trail it was unavoidable.  I must have hit it for sure in the morning (yep, and the oil sat on my legs for so many hours that the Zanfel wash that evening couldn't counteract all of it).  Argh.  I hate that plant., this one goes on for a while.  I alternated between "if I run now I can break 15 hours" and "this hill never ends".

Finally I could see the finish area over yonder.

One bit of traverse to go:

Hey, there's the end of the trail all of a sudden.  I got closer to 15 hours than I thought I might.  I'll take it.

Total round trip time = 15:01:11 (one way back down = 7:24:09)

Just after 8 pm and there's a tiny bit of daylight left:

The finish gate:

You are here, and you are happy about it:

Back at the beach I hurried to throw on clothes before I got cold.  I almost got a picture of the ocean surf but I don't think it really came out:

Super fun trail and a neat idea for an FKT!