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Montana de Oro (The 50K that did not happen)

November 23, 2011

Yep, signed up for the 50K at Spooner’s Cove as a training run before Northface 50 Miles next weekend, but the day didn’t pan out as I hoped for. My first DNF (did not finish). The three letter word that no runner ever wants to see next to their name. It just wasn’t my day and that’s it. I wish I had a more legit excuse like my legs were cramping or something, but honestly, I just wasn’t feeling it. I knew physically I could tough out another 16.5 miles, but mentally I wasn’t there. Especially when trail running, 90% of it is mental and if you’re not feeling it and you can’t dig yourself out, you’re in for a pretty miserable day. And that’s exactly how I felt and why I decided to drop.

The race was on Sunday morning so we drove up Saturday afternoon and stayed at this cute bed and breakfast place. Too bad we never made it to the breakfast part since we had to leave early in the morning.

Me and three other friends were checking the weather forecast religiously throughout the week. One day it would be 20% chance rain, the next day it would be 90%. We didn’t know what to believe until we got to Los Osos. We all came prepared for the rain with wind breakers, arm warmers, gloves and tights. Rain or not, it would be a chilly day. I’ve never been on the trails at Montana de Oro so I was pretty excited to check out some new scenery.

It dumped throughout the night and even woke us up at 3 in the morning since the rain was so loud. When we actually got up in the morning, the rain had stopped and it looked like it would be a clear day. We headed to the State Park for check-in and to pick up our bibs. Actually surprised to see other crazy runners out there braving the weather. Love low key races. We huddled together while the race director made some announcements about the course. All I had to remember was the follow the Orange flags then the Pink. The 50K was the 25K course times 2. The 25K course was a figure eight so after the first 7 miles to Valencia Peak we would end up back at the Start/Finish line where the one and only aid station was. We would then go out on another trail for a 4 mile out and back on Hazard Peak. And then repeat the entire course again. The elevation on the 50K was close to 6,000 ft gain which is quite a lot for a 50K race. However, I knew going into this that the elevation would be perfect training for Northface which is a little over 10,000 over 50 miles. I was ready for my last long run and go into hibernation until Northface.

Cloudy before the rain

Right when we took off, the rain started coming in. It wasn’t so bad, light rain, no big deal. We started out on a coastal trail that hugged the rugged cliffs. It was beautiful to listen to the huge waves crashing up against the side of the cliff and running right alongside. The first 3 miles were relatively “flat” and we were cruising. Once we hit 3 miles, we started the gradual climb up to Valencia Peak. This would be a tough climb to the top  at 1,347-foot. I took it slow, hiking a lot of it and watching all the little runners on the switchbacks. Would have been really nice if it wasn’t rainy because I couldn’t see that far out. Most of the course was on single track, making it difficult when runners are doing an out and back. It actually started hailing on the way to the top. When we hit an exposed area on the mountain, the wind was pretty gusty. Surprised no one blew off the course. The rocks were also very slippery, I wouldn’t have known it was a trail unless it was marked. The trail consisted of many loose rocks, not a dirt path. I got pretty nervous going up the mountain because of all the mud, rain and slippery rocks. I was feeling pretty miserable at this point. Being such a small race, there aren’t that many people around you. There were barely anyone signed up for the 50K so you were alone most of the time. Once I got up to the top, we had to grab a rubber band to prove that we made it before we turned around. Going down was worse than going up, I found myself grabbing onto any branches or plants I could to balance myself down the hill. There was no way I was going to attempt running down the slippery rocks. With my track record for falls, I could see myself doing a face plant and sliding off the mountain. By the time I reached the bottom, the mud had gotten so bad it was almost like running through a small stream. There was no way of avoiding the mud and water since the trail was so narrow. Shoes heavy full of mud and water, I trudged along often thinking I was on the wrong trail since I didn’t see a single person. I finally made it out of the trail and back to the aid station. I almost wanted to drop there only 7 miles in, but knew I could do another 9.5 miles on the Hazard Peak trail. And since my friends were running the 25K and 50K, I would be waiting a while if I dropped out then.

A whole pumpkin pie at the aid station!

Clear blue skies...before it started pouring again

Turned out to be a beautiful day right when I finished

I left the aid station feeling pretty defeated and hooked onto a runner who was also using this as a training run for the Northface 50. I could tell he was struggling on the ups so our conversation was cut short when I pulled ahead. The 4 miles out and back wasn’t as steep as climbing to Valencia Peak, but it was a gradual climb that I had to walk part of it. A mile and a half from the turn around, I ran into my friend who I also carpooled with. I told him I was going to drop after this loop and he asked if I wanted to turn around right now and go down with him. It sounded tempting, but I knew I wasn’t so far from the turn around. I wanted to grab that last rubberband dammit. Unfortunately, I probably should have turned around with him because I was further from the turn around point than I thought. We had a nice little downhill before it flattened out. This part was really scenic as we ran through forested areas and into open grasslands. Would be a beautiful place just to hike around someday. I finally made it to the turn around and headed back to the Start. I started counting the number of people who were behind me and only counted 5! I rode the downhill as much as I could on the way back, but still energy wise I was feeling miserable. I don’t know what it was, the weather had a big part to do with it, but also my mind wasn’t in the race. Some days you have it and some days you don’t. That day just wasn’t my race to run. Since I ended up running the 25K course, the race director was kind enough to drop me to that category and I actually ended up placing first in age group with a time of 3:30:38. It was bittersweet getting the medal because I knew it was really a DNF in the 50K. I am disappointed I didn’t just suck it up, but maybe it was too much too soon after Santa Barbara.

Legs (not mine) after a day in the mud

I am nervous about Northface now, as that was suppose to be my training run leading up to the race. I am contemplating dropping down to the 50K even though I am way more prepared this year than I was last year for the 50 Miles. I honestly don’t know how I finished that race with the little amount of training I put into it and lack of proper fueling on the trail. I know this time will be different, and I so desperately want revenge on that course (come in under 12 hours) and be able to actually enjoy the second half of the race. I just don’t know if I have the “mental strength” in me to power through it again. I am not giving up on ultra running, but I have lost the spark and love I once had for spending countless hours on the trails. I really need a mental break so I can focus on completing my first 100 next year.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2011 10:03 am

    You’ll have to remind yourself that MdO is one tough course! At least you were smart enough to quit after 25k… I went out for more and got myself stuck somewhere right before the climb up to Valencia Peak. When I ran it, we had to deal with warm weather. But yeah, some days you try and dig deep and you come up empty.

  2. Dan permalink
    November 23, 2011 10:30 am

    You know Andee, even the best (Jurek, Roes, Koerner, Jornet) take a month, if not longer from structured running every year. Shoot, Jornet, take a whole season off. Your mind needs as much of a break as your body does, sometimes even more. You have been a machine and done some amazing things, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Check out this link from Jurek, I hope it helps. (Looke like you will have to paste this in to a browser to get it to pull up, wouldn’t allow a hyper link or maybe I am just not techie enough. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  3. November 23, 2011 12:18 pm

    Hey-o, I met Emil after he DNF’d MDO because he was marathoning so much! 🙂 You’re nutso for attempting such a tough 50K the week after a marathon PR. Don’t worry chica, you are incredibly well prepared for TNF50(MILE), and I’m confident that you’ll get your revenge on the course. If I made it through Mountain Masochist 50M (which was remarkably uninspiring and not scenic) with about 1/4 the training you’ve been doing, then you’ll be a-ok. Take a break from the trails after TNF, enjoy the holidays, and avoid the cold, muddy trails – you earned it.

  4. November 30, 2011 3:34 pm

    Again, another beautiful read.
    I can’t imagine doing that course in that weather.
    I love the heat so I didn’t mind too much when I did the 25k while it was 78 degress.
    I did the 18k once when it was super foggy and windy and I about had a heart attack…getting up to Valencia when it’s blowing is a creep-fest! I didn’t like that one bit.
    You were a smart girl to bow out and save yourself for NF.
    You will do well. I know you will be smart and do what you have to do to stay fueled this time, even it means you set an alarm to remind yourself to eat whether you want to or not.
    Cant wait to read all about it!

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