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Saddleback Trail Marathon

December 6, 2012

After the Vegas half marathon the weekend before, I thought this might be a good training run on somewhat tired legs. Apparently, this race is rated the ‘toughest marathon in California‘. With more than 5,000 ft elevation gain, the marathon was nothing short of challenging. Excuse the outdated elevation chart.

I’ve never been on these trails before, but I’ve heard so much about them from other races that I tend to shy away from (Chimera, Old Goat, etc. aka hard as hell races). Also, I’m a big fan of Big Baz’s races from Shadow of the Giants. The man is hysterical and makes every race fun and “full of magic”. How can you not love an Aussie guy who cracks jokes right before the race start about writing a book about his sexual relations and calling everyone a dickhead? And 72 years young to boot too.

Thomas came all the way down from NorCal just to run with us

The Saddleback Mountains are located off the Ortega highway, 30 miles inland from Orange County in the Cleveland National Forest. The race started at Bluejay camp where we warmed up the first mile on the road with an uphill climb before we hit the trail. By mile two, the trail was already so steep and rocky, I had to resort to a fast hike/run-shuffle. This was the first 1,000 ft of uphill we had to tackle. It would be a long day ahead. Since my hiking is pathetically slow, even on fresh legs, I knew I had to try to run/shuffle the majority of the hills just to keep up with the others. At the top was the first aid station, but since I was wearing a Camelback, I had all the fuel and water I needed to get through the day so I breezed right through and took off down the Trabuco trail. I was eating a GU every 45 minutes with lots of water/Gatorade at the aid stations and a salt stick every 2 hours.

Running down the Trabuco trail was a complete change of scenery and terrain from the trail we were just on. Suddenly, the trail turned into a single track, shaded with trees and leaves covering the entire trail. This is my favorite kind of trail, technical, single track with a steep steep downhill grade. I let my legs cruise down this trail and soon caught up to another runner, but he seemed to be going pretty fast so I stayed right behind him. We caught up to another guy, an 18 year old boy, who was running his first ever marathon. He stayed right behind me, so I was sandwiched in between two guys flying down the trail. It was 2,5000 ft of intense downhill with loose, sharp rocks scattered all over the trail, one misstep and you could easily wipe out. The miles were ticking away and before I knew it, we were at the bottom of the trail around Mile 9. I knew what was coming, I had been anticipating the infamous ‘Holy Jim’ climb for weeks now. It looked bad on the elevation chart, so I expected the worst. Holy Jim would be about a 5 mile uphill climb to the next aid. I started jogging slowly up the trail, waiting for it to turn really steep so I would have to walk. Surprisingly, the trail was fairly runnable with gradual switchbacks. I was able to run 95% of the trail up, only stopping to walk a few feet when the trail suddenly turned really steep.

I almost never pass anyone on the uphills, but I was able to catch up to a few runners who were hiking. I knew if I were to hike the entire way up, a lot of people would be catching up to me, so I kept on shuffling/jogging the ups. No matter how slow my jog was, it would be faster than me trying to hike it. The views were gorgeous as we made our way up. Lush, green mountains were scattered all over. It was really breathtaking and I was glad to have come out here to explore these trails.

Finally I heard cheering from the top of the trail and knew I had made it. I drank a couple cups of water and Gatorade and the aid station volunteers told me I was 2nd female. I asked how far ahead the first place was and one runner who had started earlier in the day told me to not even think about catching her. The volunteer told me when she came to this aid she was 11th overall and I was around 20. I figured she was too far ahead I didn’t really stand a chance of catching her so I didn’t have to beat myself up trying to chase someone who I would never catch.

I thanked the volunteers and made my way on the Main Divide Trail. These next 13 miles would be the roughest for me. I thought once I got to the top of Holy Jim, it would be a couple rollers here and there but mostly downhill. I probably should have studied the elevation chart a little more as Holy Jim wasn’t even the highest point of the race. Even though I anticipated the worst for Holy Jim and was pleasantly surprised by how runnable it was, the Main Divide Trail was the exact opposite. The hills seemed never ending and it was all on wide open fireroad with no shade. I ran what I could, but had to resort to fast hiking sometimes. At Mile 17 we reached the second to last aid station and I asked for some Gatorade but they had run out. Instead the volunteer looked in his car and found a nice cold can of coke. There is nothing better than drinking a icy cold beverage full of sugar after you’ve been running for a while on a warm day. Pure bliss and carbonation.

The runners were pretty spread out by now so it was hard catching up to anyone. I only caught up to one runner the last section of the race, but another guy caught me, so I guess I net zero. At the last aid, the volunteer said it would be all downhill from here and he was right. We ran down the same fire road we climbed up in the beginning of the race. The campground was near, but we still had a couple miles to go. Once we reached the campground, we ran on this short trail section before heading towards the finish line.

I ended up finishing in 4:22, 2nd place female. It was a fun day out in the mountains with old and new friends. I love small trail races like these, the support and camaraderie from the running community is awesome. Thomas and Matt did great, Matt placed 3rd in his age group with a 4:01 and Thomas came in a couple minutes right after me. We hung around for a bit for the awards ceremony before heading back to L.A. I’m glad I came to check out these trails, the hills were tough, but it was a good training run for me. It felt really good to run strong and finish strong.

“Give me a hug and a kiss!”-Baz

Fun day playing on the trails with friends

The year is quickly coming to an end, and I’ve had an amazing year full of adventure, fun and friendships built on the trail. I also learned a lot about myself this year, through disappointments and successes. 2013 is already looking promising with more races and new trails.

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