I really had no expectations going into this race. It would be a new personal race distance for me and I would just be glad to finish it in one piece. It was also the first real race back from Zion 100. I took the summer mentally off from running, Zion was a pretty hard blow to my self esteem and confidence. Gradually, I started working my way back up to decent mileage again and enjoying the trails I love so much. The week leading up to the race, I studied the course a little more and realized that I could try to run well and set some goals for myself other than just finishing. The elevation was not too crazy, 10,942, for the entire 100K with three distinct loops which would all wind up back at Camp Cuyamaca, the Start/Finish line. I had a solid September training, averaging 50 miles/week, which may not seem like adequate mileage for this kind of distance, but I also incorporated a lot of pilates and TRX into my weekly workouts. I wanted to test out this theory of doing strength/core 4-5 days a week with lower mileage vs. the usual 70-80 miles/week. In return, I felt strong, mentally prepared, not burnt out and legs were in good shape from not running as much. All that was left was up to luck and fate how the rest of the day went.
Loop 1 (Miles 0-31.5 miles)
We started right on time at 6:30AM, of course Meg and I got there literally 5 minutes before the race started, frantically jumping out of the car with Scott Mills screaming at us why we were so late and running to check-in and drop off my bags. It was a good warm up to say the least. I lined up in the middle of the pack knowing that the course would soon turn into a single track. The first 8 miles to the aid station were all very runnable and I was enjoying this comfortable pace on these beautiful single track trails. One of my goals for this race was to really stay on top of my nutrition and hydration, so I stuck to a mostly liquid calorie diet of GUs, water, mountain dew, ginger ale and coconut water. As much as I love aid station food and am known for staying at aid stations for far too long, I knew this would ultimately be the best option for my stomach with not feeling too weighed down, but getting the same amount of calories in.
I met a few local runners who told me more about the course and how this loop was the hardest in terms of elevation and distance, but it was really the 2nd loop that would be quote a “psychological fuck” for us. Not wanting to think about the 2nd loop yet, I focused on getting from one aid to another, staying present in the moment and fine tuning how I was feeling. I never looked at the total distance on my watch until I was sure I was past the Mile 60 mark. Looking at the total elapsed time gave me a sense of where I was at and actually made the miles go by faster (or maybe that was all in my head).
The next aid was at a campground where I re-filled my Nathan pack, grabbed some more GU’s and got ready for the 9 mile uphill stretch to Cuyamaca peak at 6500′. One volunteer took my pack and told me it better be empty by the time I hit the next aid. Shortly after leaving this aid, my friend Billy caught up to me during the climb.No better time than to take a picture with this backdrop!
We chatted for a bit, hiking the ups and running the downs before hitting a single track where I let him go since I knew he was a faster hiker than me. Since I started walking, it seemed like people were passing me left and right. With 5 miles to go to the peak, I decided to run the hills since my slow running is pretty much equivalent to everyone else’s fast hiking. I found that running wasn’t too difficult and the trail wasn’t incredibly steep. The song Turbulence came on and I remember feeling so fucking good at that moment with 20 something miles on my legs. I took in the beautiful surroundings and kept saying to myself how lucky I was to be out here today enjoying these trails and views. Even though I had this brief lapse of runner’s high, I knew to embrace this high, but also knew that I needed to manage the lows that will inevitably come during the race. I sucked down gu after gu whether I wanted to or not, no way I was going to let myself bonk because my nutrition was low. We finally hit a paved road with 1/2 mile to go to the aid. I told myself there was no reason to walk on a paved road even though it was a pretty steep incline. I ran all the way to the top still feeling pretty good knowing there would be a nice decent after this. I clocked in at the top at 4:29 mile 22.6, refilled my pack, took a quick picture and bombed the road down to the next aid.
As I was coming down, to my surprise, I came up behind ultra legend Keira herself who I briefly chatted with. Unfortunately, she would be dropping at the next aid due to her achilles. To my dismay, the next few downhill miles were so technical! I was counting on these being fast miles on singletrack but I could barely run it because it was covered in rocks and boulders. I took it easy scrambling down these rocks, letting some runners go by. Once the trail became more runnable and widened out a bit, I was able to catch the same runners who had passed me. We came into Paso Picacho aid station at mile 27.5 with only 4 rolling miles to go until back at the campground.
I chugged some Mountain dew and ginger ale and quickly headed towards the campground. The trail was fairly runnable with a couple rollers thrown in, the sun was shining brightly down on us and it was getting a little warm. I pulled into the campground at 6:15, a fairly decent time for a 50K and still feeling pretty good. Thomas had tweeted me that I was 5th woman at the Mile 23 aid, which revved my competitive side. I was greeted by Meg, who was ready with all my stuff as I handed off my pack to the volunteers to get it re-filled. I chugged a can of coconut water, re-applied more sunscreen and took more gus with me before heading out for the 2nd loop. She insisted I take some real solid food with me, but I couldn’t even bear the thought of trying to choke down dry PB&J sandwiches. The volunteers gave me a brief description of what was to come in the next 8 miles until the next aid. All I heard was hot, dry, exposed, it’s going to suck. Great.
Loop 2: Mile 31.5-44.1
The second loop would be the shortest of the loops and on paper, it looked pretty easy compared to the other two loops. It would take us to the southeast corner of the park near Oakzanita Peak. A volunteer walked with me showing me which trail to follow. After every loop, we would be handed a different colored wristband. This is a pretty great idea because after 10+ hours on your feet, you can’t really think straight and remember which color to follow. Whatever wristband you were wearing at that moment was the color flag you should be following. Genius, right? Though I heard some people still got lost from following the wrong flag! That volunteer also told me the hard part was over and it would be easy from here on out. Famous last words. Not even a mile in, we started up a steep ascent, WTF? Feeling the miles on my legs and the heat from the sun, I stared miserably at the ground while slowly making my way up. I heard a runner whom I had met on the first loop below me and shouted to him that this part wasn’t so runnable as he said it would be. He laughed and said the way I was running up the first loop, I could run it. These next 13 miles would feel like one big gradual uphill with a couple places where the trail would level out. No wonder it was the hardest loop mentally for most runners.
At the top of the climb, the single track dumped us into a huge golden meadow. Pretty in hindsight, but I was feeling like crap during this time. It was only Mile 34 and I was having a major bonkfest. During this trudge, I contemplated curling up into a ball and going to sleep. I hadn’t seen anyone in almost an hour and time was going by so slowly. I wondered if anyone would even notice.
Finally a couple runners came up from behind and ended up passing me. Tempted to beg them to keep me company for a little bit, I let them pass knowing my 5th place was probably moot now. I tried not to think comforting thoughts (my couch, my bed, sleeping, sitting down) and kept my mind in a state of misery. Usually when my mind wanders to comfort, I feel even worse knowing that I am so far away from those things. I did send a few text messages to B when I had service, though he didn’t realize I would have my phone on me, so he didn’t respond right away. I made it a reward to turn on my phone and check for messages after every mile I was able to run. Knowing that he was at home cheering for me virtually made me feel better. Mumford & Sons on repeat also helped. I don’t remember how long I walked for, shuffling was even hard to do and it seemed like the trail was never ending. It’s frustrating bonking on a fairly flat part of the trail, knowing you could full on run it. I just kept telling myself that this was just a bonk, I’ll get over it. Maybe not in the next 10 minutes, but I will get over it.
Anyways, it was a pretty miserable trek up to the next aid station which happened to be a Florida Gators theme. I have never been so happy seeing so many people at once! I asked for some Technu because of the enormous amount of poison oak out on the course, but they didn’t have any. Did a quick re-fill in my pack, more gu and took off for the last 4 miles before getting back to camp. Shortly after leaving this aid, my back started to really hurt and suddenly my hydration pack felt like it was 20 lbs. I felt guilty for dumping out half of my water on the trail, but it felt so much better once I was only down to 30 ounces of water. I started running a bit, feeling much better and ran with another runner who said this course was harder than Leadville. Hm, really? I finally got into the campground at Mile 44.1 in 9:37, thrilled to be back and having one more loop to go.
Loop 3: Mile 44.1-62.3
I grabbed my drop bag, scrubbed my arms and legs down with Technu and reapplied IvyBlock, though the third loop barely had any poison oak! Meg grabbed more gu for me (even though the thought of eating another one had me gagging), chugged some fruit+protein drink I brought from home, swapped out my sunglasses for a headlamp and handheld flashlight and rolled out. Just as I was leaving, the first place guy was finishing. Yeah, that wasn’t super motivating.
The final loop of 18.3 miles brought us through the northern section of the park, and entering Anza Borrego, and traveling along the PCT overlooking spectacular desert views. I broke this 18 mile section down into 2 parts: 7 miles until I pick up Meg to pace me and 11 miles to the finish. Feeling relieved that I was most likely going to finish, I had high hopes for making up a lot of time during this loop. The same volunteer who told me that the course was easy after the first 50K now told me again this last loop was by far the easiest. I retorted back that he told me this last time, which had me cursing him under my breath the entire climb up the second loop. He also told me I was 15 minutes ahead of cut off. Whaaaat?! How did I go from 5th female to now chasing cut offs? Sure my second loop was ridiculously slow for 13 miles, but no way could I have fallen that much behind. Not that many people passed me, or did they? I panicked for a split second thinking I would have to pretty much run this entire next loop. Just as I was leaving his sight, he yelled at me that he was mistaken, that I was beginning my third loop not my second. Maybe it wasn’t a good thing he realized his mistake because I felt crummy again beginning this third loop. As if all the excitement to get to an aid station, finally getting there, and now having to restart the count again to the next aid was finally taking a toll on me mentally. Enter epic bonk #2 for the day.
The guy was right however, this section was pretty easy. Wide open flat fire roads, and I barely shuffled along, trying to pump my arms faster because my legs decided to go to sleep for the moment. Runners were passing left and right which left me feeling even more unmotivated to finish strong. The trail turned into a single track as we winded our way up the rocky ridge to Sunrise aid station. I felt like I was hiking at a pretty decent pace, but I was so paranoid about getting passed I kept hearing runners behind me even though there wouldn’t be anyone.
Fact: ultrarunning makes you crazy.
2 miles away from the aid, I actually did hear runners come up from behind. I let a couple people go by, there goes another girl….and another girl.. soon I had enough of being passed all day! I really made an effort to start running and once I did, I actually felt pretty good. I ran into Sunrise at Mile 50.9 in 11:40 and picked up Meg. I didn’t even stop at the aid, Meg gave me my coconut water which I chugged in 5 seconds flat and ran out like a bat out of hell.
There was going to be a lot of catching up to do these next 11 miles. I was excited to be on a somewhat familiar trail, where I had paced Helen for San Diego 100. It was a rolling technical downhill, I was happily chatting away to Meg about my day and feeling great that I wouldn’t be alone through the night. The winds were picking up and it was blowing like crazy, yet it never felt too cold. We watched the sun set on the trail before darkness enveloped us. I always remember these moments the most in races, especially when I am able to share it with a friend, it makes it all that much more special to me. My chattiness became more of a grunt and ‘uh huh’ as we got closer to the next aid. Honestly, I couldn’t even hear what Meg was saying from up ahead. Whenever I would detect some sort of excitement in her voice, I would just assume something great was about to happen, like the aid station was close. By now my eating schedule was completely thrown out the window. I couldn’t remember the last time I took a GU or ate, so I just started sucking one down every time I even thought about it, which was probably every 20 minutes. I refused to bonk these last few miles to the aid station.
I came into Pedro Fages Mile 55.5 at 12:45. I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. No one had passed in the last stretch and I was intent on making sure it stayed that way to the end. Runners were more spread out now so it was hard to catch up to a lot of people. These last few hours on the course I focused on just putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping until the finish. The rocky trail was starting to annoy me, especially at night.
Imagine this, but pitch black.
For some reason, I thought it would be a pretty steep downhill grade to the finish so I was really counting on bombing these last few miles. So why did it feel like we were going uphill the whole time?! I kept telling Meg that I was still waiting for the downhill…she said this was the downhill. With less than 2 miles to go, I finally caught up to two runner, one being a girl (yay!). Yes, I’m that asshole who takes glee in passing people the last few miles of an ultra. I knew I had it in me to pick up my pace all the way to the very end. I grew very frantic and paranoid, constantly looking back behind me searching for any sign of headlamps approaching (refer to the crazy part from above). I ran all the ups even though I didn’t want to, and when the trail finally emptied out onto the road, I knew I was home. I ran as hard as I could, I didn’t even care about the bumps in the road or falling, I just wanted to finish. I had spent all day on the trails and this was it, the day was finally over.
Finish in 14:22:21, 38th overall, 7th female. First 100K done.
Many thanks to Meg who drove me there and home, spent the entire day waiting at the campground, crewing, and pacing me to the finish. Even with all the lows, this race was one of my favorites. Exploring new trails and running in nature’s beauty all day, there really is nothing better than that.