I signed up for this race last spring. It seemed to be so far into the future then, and I am always surprised when race day dawns. Where did all the time go? A book that I read for an intro to trail running was, “Relentless Forward Progress.” In addition to being a primer for ultra races, the title serves as a metaphor for the passage of time. So how’d the day go?
Not surprisingly I didn’t sleep well Friday night. The plan was to get up at 4:00am. I tossed and turned from 11:00pm on… and at 2:45am, I decided that I’d get up at 3:00. Thankfully I actually went to sleep after that decision and was awakened by my alarm at 4:00. I had already put my kit together so the first half hour upon waking was to relax with a cup of coffee and eat a banana muffin made with Kodiak Cakes protein flour. Megan arrived at around 4:30. Time to get moving!
The first part of getting dressed is to roll Sports Shield everywhere! This is the best stuff for preventing chafing. Then sunscreen. I use ThinkSport. It goes on very thick and thus lasts a long time. After leaving home I realized that I forgot to put sunscreen on my face. Thankfully I wore a hat. Both products worked well…but I did chaff badly where my bra hooks. I even used my portable sheet of Sports Shield when I felt it happening, but I think it’s time to retire the bra I wore on race day as the hook is what moved and was digging into my back.. Taking that post race shower sure hurt when the water hit my back.
We left home at 5:00am and arrived at La Jolla Canyon at 5:20. Nice to live that close! After getting our bibs we went back to the car to stay warm. I was admiring the stars while commenting sadly, “we were supposed to have clouds today.”
At about 6:10 we used the porta potties, did a little muscle warmup and went to the starting line. The race started at 6:34 (I think).
First Segment, Ray Miller Trail
The race starts with the first major climb and the plan here was to walk/run at an easy pace. It was easy to accomplish because there were so many of us on the trail. With that we ascended a bit faster than we had in our training runs. I had to keep reminding myself to slow down…it was going to be a long day. We made it to the Hell Hill aid station feeling pretty good. I didn’t need anything so I just turned left and headed to the first loop.La Jolla Valley Loop
The first mile of this segment was my fasted for two reasons: it was downhill, and there were so many people coming up behind us that there was a psychological need to push ahead of those coming up behind. At about 5.5 miles Megan (my daughter) fell…her first ever trail running fall. She was back up almost as fast as she went down…adrenaline at work!
We made sure not to start at the beginning of the pack, but we still had faster people behind us. I made sure to allow those coming up behind me to pass. Once though a guy came up behind me yelling, “on your left,” the problem was I had nowhere to go and almost fell off the trail trying to accommodate him. That was a bit scary.
The second major climb was towards Mugu Peak. This was a hard climb that I had already planned to walk. I realized that lots of people can walk uphill faster than I can. Once we hit the top I had a very nice run back down and through the La Jolla Valley, back to the Hell Hill aid station. This time I ate two pieces of watermelon…but they were warm and didn’t taste good. I took two pieces of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my next food break and then headed to the next loop, Guadalasco Trail. Megan and I had separated and I was expecting her to catch me at any time.
The loop started with the third (and easiest) climb of the race. A few people passed me who’d passed me previously, they must have stopped at the aid station for a longer time. I encountered a few bicyclists on this trail…I had encountered them in training too, but had been hoping they wouldn’t be on the trail today…on this section they weren’t a problem and one guy was shouting encouragement at everyone. The descent on this trail is a hard one for me. The trail is rocky and uneven and I am very tentative. Megan passed me on the descent. I made it down to the bottom unscathed…and ran with another woman for awhile. She was from San Diego and running her second 50K. The fire road at the bottom of Guadalasco (Wood Canyon Fireroad) was a welcome site and I enjoyed this little respite while I mentally prepared for Hell Hill.
Hell Hill was a hard walk…once again people were easily passing me while walking. I even did it a bit faster than in training. Impressively one woman ran up this hill! How’d she do that? Getting to the top meant that we were now a bit over halfway done. Yeah! This time I refilled my water and even had some water dumped on my back. Megan walked up slower than I did so when she arrived at the aid station, I told here I was taking off, knowing that she would catch me on a downhill.
Backbone Trail to Danielson Ranch Interlude
This little section took us to the last loop. Going down the Backbone Trail was the most frustrating because of bicyclists. One guy was going so fast that, thankfully, another runner behind me yelled, “bike” so I could scamper out of his way. She then told me that he whistled to warn her…whistle? Megan later said he whistled as he came up her too. Then later on the trail, three men came flying down on bikes. Thankfully I saw them on a switchback before they got to me. The trail was narrow and I had to climb up the side to avoid being hit. Megan saw me here and yelled, “Mom, are you ok?” I responded, “Yes, just frustrated.” One of these three guys was repairing a flat tire down at the bottom. All the drops in pace while going downhill were the pauses needed for the bikes.
The Sycamore Canyon Fireroad then took us to Danielson Ranch. This was a very gradual climb and I ran an easy 12:00-12:30 pace, enjoying the respite from the single track trails and mentally preparing myself for what was to come. I was approaching 20 miles and very happy with my performance thus far. I was also looking forward to seeing my friend Brenda at the Danielson Ranch aid station. After getting a hug, some more water, and two more pieces of peanut butter and jelly sandwich I was off… and thankful that bicycles were not permitted on these trails.
Boney Mountain – Serrano Canyon Loop
This is were I struggled the most. I guess this is also where such a struggle would be expected, and I did expect it. The climbs here were so hard. And by this stage of the race the runners were very spread out so for most if my time in this loop I was alone. If I hadn’t known the trail (and they marked it well) I would have suspected a wrong turn. But then people did occasionally pass me…walking faster than I can walk. I really need to get better at hill climbing! It was at this section that my thinking change from, “I’m doing pretty well” to “I hope I can finish.”
Once I made it to the top of the second peak, the downhill portion was glorious! It was long, it was not too steep (mostly) and the trail was nice and even. I’d have to say this was my favorite part of the race and I plan to go back and run this portion again soon! Towards the bottom of this segment we were alongside a dry creek. I’d remembered in the training run that we’d cross this creek numerous times. So I decided to count…for entertainment purposes! By the time I got to 16 crossings, I was no longer sure of the correct number…but at least 16 crossings. Thankfully it hadn’t rained and there was no water!
The last aid station was at the end of this segment. They asked me what I needed and thinking about what was to come I replied, “an elevator.” I took 4 peanut butter filled pretzels and kept going. My mouth was so dry that these were hard to chew and swallow… I had to keep adding water, just to eat. But by this point I’d already run farther than ever before. WooHoo!
Fireline Trail and Back to the Beginning
Prior to the race Megan and I had run Fireline one time (actually true of much of the course). We remembered that it was a hard, hard climb. On the switchback portion at the bottom I was able to manage a few jogs and was hopeful for a good finish. But the more I climbed the harder it was. There is a picnic table at the top of this trail and I was thinking that I just needed to get to the picnic table where I could put my head down and rest. I also knew that if I were to do this, I’d probably not finish the race. Thankfully there were two men sitting at that picnic table when I arrived and they were so encouraging. They told me what I already knew – that I was almost done. But sometimes in life we need to hear this from others. And we need others to help us know that we can indeed find the strength to continue. With their encouragement I did the last little climb that was now on the Overlook Fireroad. It was uphill but not steep like the trail.
On nutrition: When I run a road race (or train long distance on the roads) I usually aim to consume calories every 2 miles, as this is a common interval in races. While training for this race I was keeping the same intervals and getting VERY hungry. One day after 11 miles I ate an entire Superhero Muffin and then suffered a stomach ache from eating too much. My coach recommended that I plan to consume about 50 calories every 20 minutes. So I set a timer on my watch and did this. I ate Cliff Shot Block; Sport Beans; Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich; and peanut filled pretzels. This all worked until the last hour or so. By then my stomach hurt…and strangely felt hungry at the same time. I couldn’t eat anything more…and unfortunately water wasn’t feeling too good either. I drank water because I knew I needed it but my stomach felt awful.
Once I hit the Ray Miller Trail I knew the rest was downhill. I wasn’t sure if I could run it, but I decided to try…mostly because that was the fastest way to be done. I encountered a few hikers. One couple asked, “how long is this race?” They were impressed with my response. Other hikers knew about the race and every one of them was so incredibly encouraging to me as I encountered them. Most people are truly wonderful!
On one of the bottom switchbacks, I heard Megan yell, “Mom!” She was finally catching up to me…and she did catch up when we had about a quarter mile to go. Here’s a little side note: she has a habit of passing me and beating me at the end of races. We laugh about it. As she caught me Saturday, I said,”you stinker, you’re gonna beat me again!” She replied, “I just want to finish with you.” We held hands as we crossed the finish line. I have a wonderful daughter!
At the Finish
I was completely spent and close to fainting. I was hungry but at the same time my stomach still hurt. I got some cold water and half a Subway sandwich…ate a few bites and it tasted awful. The taste was a problem with me rather than the sandwich. Matt (my son) then went and got me a bowl of chili. This was a bit better and I was able to eat a few bites. Between trying to eat, and drinking I was dropping my head down between my legs because I felt so faint. After eating I just put my head on the table (like I imagined doing at the top of Fireline). My husband was concerned, but I knew I’d eventually feel ok. Finally I recovered enough to go home!
The next day, I was still a bit tired, as expected. But surprisingly my legs were not fried like they are after a marathon. I can even walk normal… something not possible after a hard marathon. Hmmm.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this race. I’d had a hard time training for it. I was seriously thinking of dropping out (or moving down to the 30K a couple weeks ago. But decided to go for it. My goal was to finish. A second goal was to finish within 8 hours. I met the first goal and came within two minutes on the second. I’ll take that!
Will I do another one? Probably…because I know that if I don’t overload myself like I did this year I could possibly do better. I’m not sure when I’ll try again.
Meanwhile I have a couple weeks to recover and then I get to start training for Boston…because my really big accomplishment this year was to qualify for that race!
For more on the training for Ray Miller
Concentration – Training on Trails
Ray Miller Training Run #2
Hell Hill – Ray Miller Training Run #3
O My! – Ray Miller Training Run #4
Road & Trail Running Not the Same. Duh! Ray Miller Training Run #5
Okay! Ray Miller Training Run #6
Last One – Ray Miller Training Run #7