Yesterday I ran the Whoo’s in El Moro 50k for my fourth year in a row. Going into the race, I had no intention of racing it. I just started running again about three weeks ago now after having foot surgery and my longest run in months was 12 miles, which I did last week. So I was honestly kind of nervous about just being able to complete the distance, let alone try and push the pace and be competitive. My goal was basically to just go out to enjoy some good trail running and be able to finish the distance. Coach Lisa’s goal for me was pretty much the same… complete the distance, walk if I felt like I needed to, but NO hard running.
Mark and I got to the race about 30 minutes prior to the start, picked up our bibs and all our stuff together for the race start. I also met up with my friend, Gisele right before the race as well. I had convinced her to run the 25k event about a week before. A couple minutes before the start, we toed the starting line and I was talking to a couple of runners who I use to run with right when I started getting back into trail running when I was 19. They were laughing (but not in a mean way) about how I could barely do a 6 mile trail run without dying. Ha, so funny…
Anyways, so the race started at 6:30am. The course consists of two 25k loops, with the second loop just being the reverse loop of the first. Since this was my fourth year running the race and I have helped mark the course for the past two years and I run El Moro a lot in my own training, I know the course well. I know where all the hills are and which ones to push and which ones to walk. I know that it always gets pretty hot during the second loop and also that people always go out way too hard during the first half (pretty much like any other race).
The first big hill comes into the race after the first mile and it lasts for 1.2 miles I think. People always run this hill pretty hard, which I think is kind of dumb. It starts off a bit gradual, but steepens towards the top, so after maybe the first third of it, I power walked the rest of the way up. As we were going up though I realized that there were only guys ahead of me, which was weird. I didn’t feel like I was going fast at all and I am not use to leading races. However at about the 3 mile mark, a woman came flying past me. I let her go happily and just continued on doing my own thing.
During that first 25k loop, I was really surprised at how great my legs were feeling. I kept power walking all the big climbs and running at my own pace on the flats and downs, which I guess didn’t end up being that slow, but it felt good for me. I went back and forth with a couple of the men but never felt the urge to try and keep up with them if they did pass me. I had my music on and was just having a really good time. Right before the mile 11 aid station, I caught back up with Mark and we ran for a few minutes together, but then he took off again. When I hit the aid station, the volunteers told me that the first place woman was probably only about 4 minutes ahead of me. Even though I was still feeling great at this point, it was still fairly early in the race and I didn’t want to push too hard with 20 miles left to go still. Plus I had to remind myself I wasn’t racing this and I knew that I would need to save energy for the second loop. So I just left the aid station and went on my merry way.
I love that this race runs the second 25k loop in the opposite direction because you can see exactly who is in front of you and by how much and also who is close behind you. As I was coming into the aid station, I saw the first place female who had just left and gone back out. She couldn’t have been more than 2-3 minutes ahead of me. I came into the half way aid station in a little over 2:20 and dumped a pre-made bottle of Vitargo with Mila into my hand held bottle and then went back out in less than a minute. On my way back out I also saw a few other women that were pretty close behind.
So I know that I said that I went into this race without the intention of racing, but I 100% did not expect to feel good at all. I thought my legs would pretty much be aching from basically no long runs in months, but they weren’t. I felt great so my strategy kind of changed a bit. Since first place was only a couple minutes ahead of me and there were several women only a few minutes behind, I picked up the pace a bit. The way back up to the previous aid station was primarily all up hill, so although I wanted to run faster, I still didn’t want to run too hard on the up and then blow up. I ended up alternating running and walking, but at a good pace. When I got to the aid station, the volunteers now said that I was maybe only 1-2 minutes behind first. I knew that from that aid station to the next was only 3 miles of mostly flat and downhill and so I started running hard. With maybe a quarter mile until the mile 22 aid station, I saw Mark again and then right in front of Mark, I saw the first place woman. I ran with Mark for a minute or two and strategized in my head what I was going to do for the last few miles of the race.
I ended up passing the first female maybe about a quarter mile after the aid station. The three mile section to the last aid station I knew was going to be hot and very hilly, but I reminded myself that I train in heat and hills all the time and this was where a lot of other people would fade. If I could get a bit lead during this section, I probably could win. When I got to the big hills, instead of power walking the entire hill, I started to run hard a minute and then I would power walk a minute and try and control my breathing. I was still kind of afraid of being passed again and every couple minutes I would look back to see if anyone was behind me (even though I HATE doing that!). The first two times I did, I could see Mark and her, but after that I didn’t see anyone.
I got to the last aid station in 4:05 and knew I only had 5 miles left of some slightly uphill single track, some slight rolling hills, a long downhill and then flat to the finish. There were no more major climbs and so I ran as hard as I could those last 5 miles and even passed a few of the men. At this point not only was I still trying to keep a hold of my first place, but I wanted to beat my time from last year (4:49). With about 3 miles to go though, I could feel my calves and my left quad were on the verge of majorly cramping up. On any slight incline I could feel them starting to tighten up. However, luckily, when they started to get really bad, which was fortunately only a mile left in the race, Mark caught back up with me and he had some salt. He told me that there was no way any women were going to catch back up to me and that I could take it easy the last mile, but I told him I still wanted to break 4:49. So we ran the last mile in together and I ended up with my first 50k win in a time of 4:44.
I was seriously so happy. I felt like I ran a super smart race, which paid off. I realized at the finish that I even ran exactly even splits, which I was very proud of. This was a huge confidence booster for me knowing that I still am in good shape, maybe even better than I was last year at this point in Badwater training. Looks like not only did the foot surgery pay off (knock on wood) but the down time from running allowed by body to recover as well. I also must say that all the crossfit that I have been doing helped to keep me super strong.
To make a perfect race day even better, I saw my friend, Gisele at the finish line and turned out that she won the 25k! Since Oakley is the major sponsor of the race, we both got hooked up with some Oakley gear including some RadarLock Edge sun glasses, which are my FAVORITE! I already have them in white and now I have black/pink!
If you live in So Cal runner, I would definitely encourage you to try out this race. The race director, Molly, now is having the race 2x a year in May and October. She does an incredible job with it and has very well stocked aid stations, which are perfectly spaced out from each other and she has TK burgers at the finish line. The volunteers are also great, the whole atmosphere of the race is super fun and the proceeds of the race go towards the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. Also, if you are a road racer trying to get into trail racing, I think this is the perfect race. Although there is a good amount of climbing, its not too technical at all.
Thank you always to all my sponsors… Injinji and Hoka for super happy feet (no blisters!!) and Vitargo and Mila for fueling me! And Chica bands for making the best non slip head bands 🙂