So I decided last minute to squeeze in another Skyline ascent right before the route got the first major snow of the season. One reason was to study the time impact of the route variations, which surfaced with Nick’s recent run. The other reason was to give myself a chance at redemption. About a month prior I was disappointed when I unexpectedly failed to break my previous time and this was weighing on me. For the results of the run yesterday, in summary I took about 11 minutes off my previous time and I now think the variation in the routes is relatively inconsequential. Details follow.
t-shirt, shorts, legs
credit card, $20 (I needed both!)
cell phone, car keys
5 gels (consumed 3)
1 handheld (drank ~2/3)
I got a late start and began roughly at dawn at 6:44AM and the starting temperature was nearly ideal and in the upper 40s. The beginning up to the picnic tables went well and I saved ~30 s by not getting lost like I did in the previous two attempts. I arrived at the picnic tables a minute or so ahead of my previous pace, which was a good omen for the day. All went well in the beginning as I just resolved to consistently push hard.
At ~50 minutes (2/3 of the way from first rescue station to the 4300 ft marker) I somehow got off the trail and found myself going cross country for a short stretch. I boulder hopped over a false summit and then saw the trail in front of me crossing a saddle. I didn’t know which way to go since the trail descended off the saddle in both directions. I chose left. After a bit I could see the trail kept going down and so I turned around back towards the saddle. As I neared the saddle I was running at a good clip and looking around to try and spot where the trail was ahead. I completely failed to see a spiny bush on the side of the trail and my upper right leg smacked right into it. It’s probably not hard to envision the outcome of such an encounter. There’s a lot of pain. There’s a lot of blood. There’s a lot of spines. The pain was irrelevant and didn’t slow me down, but I didn’t know what to do with all the spines embedded in my leg. There were ~50 or so sticking out, which somewhat amusingly made my leg resemble a porcupine. It was clear that stopping to remove the spines would take way too long and probably end the FKT attempt. So, for lack of a compelling reason to do otherwise I just kept running.
All was fine for about a minute or so until my quad started to cramp. I later learned that some of the spines had penetrated deeply and I guess impaled the quad muscle. I think that the fact the muscle cramped due to the impalement by many needles is an interesting response. Anyway, the cramping steadily worsened to the point that it limited how fast I could run (which I think can be seen in the decreased average bpm below). Besides impacting my speed I was concerned about the damage I was doing to the quad. I didn’t know if I should stop or not but began to think the run was doomed. After ~15 minutes the cramping luckily abated and I don’t think the incident impacted my speed beyond that. Though, I would occasionally look down at the leg and laugh at the absurdity of the situation.
I trudged up the steep terrain after Flat Rock and somehow got off route again just below the rock outcropping. I made the same mistake about a month ago and so this time knew where to go after the little boulder hopping. I continued pushing hard up the “switchbacks of doom” as Nick called them and topped out at Grubbs Notch in 2:16:39 and the first tram door in 2:21:18—finally achieving my sub 2:30 goal.
Lastly, I had a pleasant surprise when I discovered the tram building was open despite the fact I arrived about an hour before the first tram. Instead of running back down I decided to stay and wait for the tram. I was drenched in sweat though and quickly froze. The employees at the tram station were very kind and even made me hot tea despite the fact everything was still closed. That was much appreciated!
Here are the splits as well as the average heart bpm (I took a heart rate monitor for the routing issue)
11:15 169 Picnic tables
19:35 176 houses seen to north
29:54 175 First rescue station
59:50 171 4300 ft elevation—cactus incident/cramping
1:25:32 168 Second rescue station—cramping still present
1:36:49 169 Flat Rock
1:57:19 168 Rock outcropping
2:01:03 167 Beginning of traverse
2:07:49 167 Coffman's Crag
2:16:39 167 Grubbs Notch
2:21:18 163 First door
total bpm avg 169
Route info for those interested: So one of the reasons for the run was to estimate the time difference between the route I took and the route taken if someone follows the “dominant trail”. While running I tried to estimate the impact of each route variation and was surprised at how inconsequential they appeared versus my expectations based on my memory. This time around I probably took 3 or 4 less of the small shortcuts as compared with my previous runs. I think this was because I was trying to push hard and wasn’t looking up as much and so I didn’t see the alternate routes until I passed the junctions.
The specifics: I think I took 5 or 6 of the smaller shortcuts and 1 big one. For the smaller variations, 1 was between the “houses seen to north” point and the first rescue station. 3 or 4 between first rescue station and 4300 ft mark. 1 between 4300 ft and the second rescue station. For time impact I thought 2 of the variations saved no time. The others were maybe a handful of seconds. The largest one was perhaps 15 seconds and this is the one I stated in the previous post as being where “the trail goes right but I went left and is at a saddle”. I previously thought that was a big one but upon seeing it again yesterday it didn’t seem to be that big. So I would say that the time savings for all the short variations are less than a minute, which was more than offset by getting lost and going cross country at the “cactus incident”. For the remaining big shortcut where I go straight up the gully instead of taking the switchbacks, it took me 2:10-2:20 to do this shortcut. If the trail has a reasonable gradient of say at least 10% (which I guess it would though I don’t know for sure) then I would think the time savings of the shortcut could be at most a third of this which is ~45 seconds. So 45 seconds is my estimate for the maximum deviation between the route I did yesterday and the one taken if someone followed the dominant trail the entire way. Given this small discrepancy I don’t plan on redoing the run a second time as I mentioned in the previous post.