Shadow of the Giants 50K, Yosemite
The Shadow of the Giants is held over scenic historic trails through the Sierra National Forest. I knew I wanted to do this race when I first read about it. 30+ miles on beautiful trails in Yosemite? What’s not to love? Even after 30 miles through the rain and snow and I still had the biggest grin on my face after passing through the hand-drawn finish line. I signed up for this race fairly last minute after the Big Sur Marathon, when I realized this would be a good training run to kick off my training for Mt. Hood 50 next month. I also didn’t have to worry about putting down too many miles since I had just run Boston and Big Sur. A group of us headed up to Yosemite for the weekend and stayed at one of the staff cabins at Green Meadows. The best part? The start line was literally 100 ft from our cabin.
Due to the heavy snowfall this year, the course was re-routed last minute. It wasn’t the usual 34 miles the race is known for, and we weren’t able to run through the 1 mile loop of “Shadow of the Giants”. The run is named after the 3000 year old Giant Sequoias in the famous Nelder Grove.We had a 7AM start, met up with a few other SoCal runners before heading out to the start. Love the low key nature of small trail races. No gun just a simple “GO” and off we went!
We weren’t even .5 miles into the race when everyone came to a dead halt. I couldn’t see what was ahead since everyone was mostly lined up in single file. Slowly I inched my way up and caught my first sighting of snow on the ground!
Then we hit a fallen tree that we had to get on our hands to climb over. It was an interesting start to say the least. There were a couple other trees that had fallen, but we could easily jump on the trunk and over to the other side. The same can’t be said on the way back when we had 20 miles underneath us and every ‘jumping’ movement just irritated the legs more. The first 5 miles were pretty fast for me, average 8:30 splits. I was kind of scared to be going ‘that’ fast as I had a long ways ahead, and like Big Sur, I couldn’t help myself and was feeling great. I caught up to my friend, Matt, at the aid station and we ran together for a bit before my legs started to cramp up from the fast start (I told you so). Took a couple walking breaks then picked it back up again. Ran with a runner and we passed time talking about previous races. There was a fairly steep downhill for 2 miles going into the 11 mile aid station where I took in my first fuel. I decided to just go with a handheld that day since the aid stations were only 5 miles apart so I relied heavily on Gatorade to get me through. Ate a couple pretzels and salty chips and started the steep ascent up. Someone told me it was a 1,700 ft gain in 0.50 miles. Either way, it was a climb and mostly a hike for me. My strategy for most ultras is to run what you can, and walk the rest. No point killing yourself by running uphill when you still have a ways to go. I started to feel really sick from a combination of the high altitude and stomach problems from miles 13-18 where it was mostly a slow run/hike. A lot of people that I had passed earlier passed me during these miles. Since there wasn’t a bathroom until Mile 21, I couldn’t do much about my stomach problems but to trek on and take in the scenery.
I always think of ultrarunning as more of a mental sport than a physical one and there always comes a point for me, where something just clicks. I stop thinking about every ache I have and how many more miles I have to go and how this and that hurts. I just keep my head down, put on some tunes, and just go. My body is already exhausted from all the climbing and miles so I just let my legs do it’s thing. It’s kind of meditative in a way where I remove myself from the actual race and let my body function on its own. Hard to explain, but I manged to pick up my pace and pass the same people that just passed me until I reached the next aid station at Mile 21. My absolute favorite part of the race was the one mile single track dirt trail down to the aid station. We ran in between trees, over tress, through snow and it felt so good. Actually, my feet felt great the whole race, the trail was super soft from the pine needles and rain and the only technical section was the last 8 miles. The 21 mile aid station was back at Fish Camp, so I fueled up on some PB&J, pretzels, a sip of Coke and more Gatorade. I knew there was a long 4 mile uphill awaiting before the next aid station where we would turn around to the finish. It turned out to be a 2 mile steep uphill climb before descending 1.5 miles to the turnaround point. The whole time I was flying down the hill I was just thinking about how we would have to climb up this same hill shortly. At least it would be a downhill finish. Passed by my friends which was a nice mental boost to finish the race strong. Everyone looked great despite the rain which had become steadily heavier as the race went on. Got to the turnaround, filled up my water bottle and took off to the final climb, which actually didn’t feel that long before I saw the downhill. At Mile 27 a guy that I had been running with commented how I was charging up the uphills. Right when he said that, I stepped the wrong way and twisted my left ankle. The pain had me on my hands as I tried to hold it in and balance myself with my good standing leg. He stopped to help, but I kept motioning him to keep going and that I was fine. I took a breather and told myself there was only 1-2 miles left of the race and it was a straight downhill shot. I put my big girl pants on and pounded it out until the end with a finish of 5:30. Great race overall with stocked aid stations and super well marked course. I would definitely come back next year to hopefully run the regular course, all 34 miles and all.