Finally, after a 9 month hiatus, I am an ultra runner again. This past Saturday, I ran the Leona Divide 50 mile. Although I was completely stoked to get to get to run an ultra again and get to run all day in the mountains, I was also pretty nervous in the days leading up to the race, which is a bit unusual for me. Normally I go into these things pretty relaxed and just focus on things one mile at a time. I probably get more nervous before marathons or shorter races because if I screw up a couple miles, then my whole race is pretty much going to be crap, whereas in ultras, if you screw up and have a few crappy miles, you can still make a comeback. However, this was going to be the longest distance I’d run by far since plantar surgery in September. My foot was still giving me some issues leading up to the race and I was a bit worried about it. Its not so much that my foot is injured still, but I just have some scar tissue that is built up in it and it gets aggravated from all the pounding on it sometimes. I also was nervous about whether or not I was really in shape for 50 miles. I had put in a few 60+ mile weeks, but my longest run leading up to the race was only 24 miles. I had wanted to do at least one 30 miler before, but got sick a few weeks before the race when I had planned on doing it. There was nothing I could really do to fix that though, so tried not to stress about it too much and just focused on trying to keep my foot as healthy as could be. As long as my foot held up, I was pretty sure I could make it through.
I drove up to the race the night before with my friend Joe who was also running the race. We were going to camp, but luckily his girlfriend’s parents offered to let us stay at their house in Valencia the night before and they only lived about 30 minutes from the race start. It started raining as we drove up and so I was extra thankful that I was gonna get a bed to sleep in and not have to deal with setting up camp in the rain. We ended up getting in around 9pm, then pretty much crashed and then were out the door by 4:45 the next morning. We got to the race site with about 40 minutes till the start, but scrambled to check in, get our drop bags organized, fill our packs, use the bathroom, etc and I jumped into the start line with maybe a minute to spare.
The first 2.5 miles of the race started out on pavement and fire road and then switched to single track pretty much the rest of the race. We had a steady climb uphill until the mile 8 aid station at Boquet Canyon and I felt like crap the whole way. I’m not sure if it was because it was so cold out or what (it was actually lightly snowing!), but my legs just did not want to climb at all. I hate the feeling of having people right on my heels when running on single track, so I pulled off to the side several times to let people pass. When I got to the aid station, I had a drop bag with some Vitargo, so I quickly drank a serving of that hoping it would make me feel somewhat better.
After leaving the aid station, we had maybe 2-3 miles of more climbing, which I pretty much hiked. Then finally, we had a nice long stretch of downhill and some really gorgeous views. I was super stoked to be running downhill and actually being able to move at a faster pace, but then when I was maybe 2/3 of the way down, the leader of the race passed me going back up and I got super bummed at the thought of having to go back up the mountain. I was really hoping we would do a loop that would take us back to the previous aid station, with maybe just some rolling hills… not down the mountain and back up it, but that clearly wasn’t the case.
I made it to the mile 18 aid station in about 3.5 hours, grabbed some yogurt covered pretzels, chocolate espresso beans and peanut butter cups (paleo fail!) and then started on my way back towards the Boquet Canyon Aid station. I knew I had a good amount of climbing ahead of me and if I didn’t at least try and run part of it, it was going to take me a long time to get up. My legs still felt pretty horrible but I forced myself to at least try and run 1 min and then walk a minute. Some portions weren’t as steep in the beginning of the way back up so I was actually able to run for a few minutes non stop, but then the farther up we climbed, it was harder to stick to my run/walk system because I would keep getting stuck behind people on the single track and also my run wasn’t really much of a run anymore anyways and even just hiking was kicking my butt pretty bad. As I was going up the mountain I kept going back and forth in my head and contemplating dropping at the next aid station or dropping down to the 50k race. My legs weren’t feeling any better at all. Once I made it to the top and then only had that 2-3 miles of downhill left to the aid station, I became more and more convinced that I was going to drop. My legs were not only tired, but were aching so bad. The thought of another 24 more miles after the aid station didn’t sound fun at all.
I got back to the Boquet Aid Station, which was now mile 26 in the race in about 5.5 hours. My friends, Victoria and Sally were there helping out and it made me feel better to see them. I still definitely felt really crappy, but once I got into the aid station my out look kind of changed on things. See, this happens in just about every 50 miler I do… I feel like absolute crap for 20-30 miles and then all of a sudden I feel awesome. So I decided to try and stick it out a bit longer. I knew that even though I was hurting and tired, if I dropped out, I would have been really mad at myself. While I was at the aid station, I drank another serving of Vitargo, changed out my shoes into my Hokas and took some Tylenol and caffeine. Once I left the aid station, I almost instantly felt a bit better. Still not great, but better. I tried doing my run/walk intervals again and just tried to force myself to get in some more calories over the next few miles.
Then just as I thought would happen, around mile 30 or so, my legs felt FANTASTIC. I was so pumped to be able to run and not feel crappy anymore. I came into the mile 32 aid station in about 7 hours. I had one more 15 mile out and back section to do from the aid station and then 2.5 miles to the finish. I still had a bit of climbing to do on the next section, but luckily it wasn’t anything too terrible. It was mainly just annoying because the trail was super slanted and kind of sandy in some sections. I kept moving at a decent pace until maybe 2 miles until the turn around. It just seemed like the longest 7 miles ever. My energy levels were starting to fade a bit and I was starting to get really hungry again, but was at the point where nothing sounded good and if I ate a gel, I would probably barf it back up. I started to slow down a bit again until the trail started to descend downhill and finally I could see the aid station. I sat for a brief moment and sipped on some coke, then grabbed some animal crackers and headed back out. I only had about 10 miles until the finish and I just wanted to get it over with. Maria Lemus headed back out with me and it was good to have someone to chat with for a a little bit as we hiked back up the hill. Once we reached the top and it was more runable again, we caught up to some other runners and we all ran together for a good couple miles at a good pace. I was so tired but just kept trying to focus on Maria in front of me and following her lead. The group started to slow down a bit and so Maria and I took off ahead of them and paced off each other for a little while longer. Eventually I sped up a little bit and was all by myself again. I started to recognize some of the parts that I saw on the way out and so knew that I was getting close to the end of the section. My feet ached pretty bad and my legs were tired but I knew the faster I moved, the faster it would be over. I ended up reaching the last aid station in a little over 10 hours. I had 2.5 miles to the finish of mainly downhill and just one short section of up. I had some electrolyte drink and then blasted my ipod and hauled ass as fast as I could. When I got to the climb, I power hiked the crap out of that hill and then ran as hard as I could down the last downhill stretch to the finish. I was flying.. maybe doing 7 minute miles and it was such a cool feeling to be able to run so hard at the end of a long race!
I ended up finishing in 10:29, which is an hour off my 50 mile PR, but was about a 45 min PR on that course from when I ran it back in 2009 and I also got 3rd in my agree group, so I was more than happy. And even though I finished, the race was a big wake up call on areas that I need to improve on. I have been running a lot of roads lately (since Im training for Badwater), but if I plan on doing more trail ultras, then I need to do more trails (duh). My ankles just didn’t have the stability for the unevenness of the trail and so became a bit more sore than they should have been. I also need to start hiking a ton more. I feel slow at hiking and also I felt my legs fatigue a lot from when I was hiking the hills so I could definitely be more efficient at that. However, on the plus side… my foot probably felt the best its felt since surgery. It was my biggest concern going into the race and it turned out to be the least of my worries. And normally its more sore after I run and almost a week later, I am having no issues with it, which makes me SO HAPPY! Chris has been working on my foot and ankle a lot and I have also been taking this new supplement called NeoCell, which is a collagen supplement that helps with inflammation and circulation in connective tissue and also helps with joint repair.
So all in all it was a great day and I am just so happy to be back running and racing again, even though I am incredibly sore from it! This coming weekend I will be running the OC marathon (for my 5th time!) with the WE ROCK kids and then am thinking about doing the Born to Run 100k two weeks later. Then Bryce 100 in June and then Badwater in July. It will be a busy busy summer, but I am definitely looking forward to it!
Gear I used for the race:
Hair band/buff: Chica Bands
Socks: Injinji Trail 2.0
Shoes: Brooks Adrenaline/ Hoka One One Bondi B
Hydration Pack: UltrAspire
Fuel: Vitargo + Honey Stinger Chews