Leona Divide 50/50
I ran and completed the Leona Divide 50k trail race.
To get there, I…
ran 31.20 miles
burned 4,360 calories
lost 9 pounds
forged through 90 degrees heat
realized a valuable lesson
burned 4,360 calories
lost 9 pounds
forged through 90 degrees heat
realized a valuable lesson
I’ve never had a finisher’s medal that meant so little, yet meant so much.
Here are my accounts.
It is only fair to bring you up to speed since my last post because it has been one bumpy ride. The training for Leona was not what I had planned. As you’ve read below, I’ve had a nagging injury to my ankle and recent ITBS (IT Band Syndrome). I have wrestled back and forth with, “Do I DNS (Did Not Start)? Or DNF (Did Not Finish)? One week, I was set on not completing the race since I had not put forth the respective mileage, the next I said “Let’s give it a go”.
The more I analyzed the situation the more I thought a DNF beats a DNS. At the least, give it a go and see how far I get. With that in mind, I departed for my vacation to Scotland. I’m not going to say the race wasn’t still weighing on my mind but the distraction of being out of town helped tremendously. To be honest, I didn’t really think of the race while I was out there since we were constantly doing things and had such a great time.
However, when I arrived back in the states, the pressure built again. I was at odds with my last run of 4 miles the morning before I left to Scotland. I did though, continuously remind myself of the hiking/walking we did in Scotland the prior week and all the consecutive runs before. In the back of my mind I knew I was stupid for still thinking I could do the race with only running 4 miles in the last 23 days! And! My longest run in the training was a painful 22 miles. Now, I know you’re supposed to taper before a race but this was SUPER tapering.
The week before the race is when I decided 100% I was going to race and stop flip-flopping back and forth. Well, not actually race, but run the event with the intentions of a possible DNF. By deciding this, I had this immense pressure on my shoulders. I remember vivid moments of when I would think about the upcoming race and get that drop in my stomach, the type of anxiousness you get when you’re about to give a public speech, or presentation. It was almost as if I would get shortness of breath. I do not know how to describe it but pure anxiety. I would spend moments every single day visualizing my strategy and visualizing the feeling of crossing the finish line. This visualization technique would subside the anxiety and give me a bit of confidence that there is an ounce of possibility of finishing the race.
Now during this week, I also decided to go back to my doctor and have my left ankle checked out AGAIN. The doctor advised me I had microscopic tears in my tendons and prescribed physical therapy. I advised the doctor I’m running 31 miles this weekend…
He didn’t have a response.
The very next day, I had a prior scheduled appointment with a physical therapist who gave me a boot camp routine of feet/ankle strengthening exercises. When I told her what I had planned for the weekend, I imagined she too thought it was a bit stupid. However, she said “I could never tell you to not run the race, but I would strongly rethink your decision.” She gave me some great tips on how to prepare before the race but as I left her office, my confidence slipped and I felt down again, doubting my abilities, and if I was making the right decision.
If it isn’t clear by now, I wanted this race bad! It was a constant up and down battle for me. I sacrificed a lot for this race, trained hard, and by god, I was going to finish it.
Which now brings me to the starting line…
The race was located in Lake Hughes, CA, a small mountain town in the Angeles National Forest just outside Los Angeles. The night before, I prepared my bag and race essentials. I had my race shorts, shirt, gels, salt pills, pack, water bottles, aid station cut off times, visor, body glide, all laid out with a check list to make sure I didn’t forget anything. Basically, I needed to roll out of bed, grab my gear and go.
Here is how I had it prepared.
I knew it was going to be early since the start time of the race was 6:00AM sharp. The race was about 2.5 hours from my house so I hit the sack at about 9:00PM. As I lay in bed, I remember thinking, “This is it. There isn’t anything I can do now. Trust your training.” I dozed off to sleep with anxiousness and a bit of relief that it was finally near. What felt like 10 minutes later, my alarm went off at 1:45AM. I sprung out of bed, grabbed my gear and breakfast and was out the door at 2:15AM.
I arrived at Lake Hughes community center around 4:30AM. I wanted to make sure I was early just in case I got lost (I’m horrible with directions). When I got there, I had to take care of some business in the bathroom, if you know what I mean. It was the nerves!! After waiting around for about an hour or so, I joined up with my running group. It was nice to see everyone again since I hadn’t seen them in over a month!
As 6:00AM approached, we all toed the starting line. Here is a brief clip.
The first few miles were along a fire road up a steady climb. I was running with a buddy who was also battling an injury. Our mission was to ‘Run with the Mayor’. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, the Mayor often appears at big races and will see people off at the starting line, so if you ‘Run With the Mayor’, you’re usually running in the back of the pack, or the last one. We also decided to run with a couple of women in our running group who would keep us on pace, so we did not start out the gate super-fast and burn ourselves out.
The scenery of the lake was nice as we started the initial climb up the fire road. I remember the first few miles flying by from the pre-race excitement and conversation. If I’m not mistaken, the fire road stretched for roughly 4 miles until you entered the Pacific Crest Trail, aka the PCT. The PCT is what drew me to this race. I’ve read numerous books on the PCT of people through hiking the enter length of the PCT that stretches from Canada to Washington. I was also anxious to jump on the PCT since it was a single-track trail instead of the open boring fire road we had been running on. After a few pictures of the PCT trailhead sign, we were on it.
My goal was to run a relaxed 10 – 12 minute pace until the halfway point at mile 16. I was vigilant about sticking to the pace and remembered to keep telling myself to live in the moment. I was running without pain. I was running on the Pacific Crest Trail. I was just running! At this point, I couldn’t be happier. I was running along the single-track which was moderately technical and beautiful scenery all around. Due to the sandy, technical terrain on the moderate downhill, I twisted my ankle but caught it right in time to ‘run it off’. I remember thinking, not too fast… scan the ground in front of me and pick the best line.
Here is a picture of the single-track trail that I primarily ran on.
At this point, I was pulling from the group a bit as I was getting in my groove. In running, you find these times where you zone everything out and you focus on your footfalls , breathing, and sounds of your surroundings. I only picked up my pace a little but was conscious about checking my Garmin to make sure my heart rate stayed in the appropriate zone. As I ran, I started to watch the miles tick off and anticipated the mile 16 aid station. It is at this aid station where runners can pick up their ‘drop bags’ and see their crew for the first time. I didn’t find it necessary to have a drop bag since I was mostly carrying everything I needed. If I was doing the 50 miler, I would have included extra nutrition, salt, and possibly a change of shoes/socks. I was also looking forward to seeing Pete at this aid station. Pete is the coach in our running group.
As I powered forward, I could hear the distant cheers and cowbells ringing.
I knew I was close and it was getting hot!
Just when I thought I had another quarter mile to go, the aid station appeared as I rounded a corner. When I pulled in, I was instantly greeted by some friends in my running group. The first person I spotted was my buddy Dave. Dave was with me in the beginning but was feeling strong (well, strong as he could with also a nagging ankle issue) and split off from the group. He seemed in high spirit and informed me he had DNF’d. I was shocked! I remember all month envying his running and hearing about how the miles were going. Dave’s a very strong runner so if he DNF’d, he must have been in some pain. I felt awful for him. I knew how hard he had trained and how bad he wanted to finish.
Next, I turned my attention to Pete. The first thing Pete told me was, “Man, am I stoked to see you here!” Those words really lifted my spirits as most people in the group didn’t expect me to:
A.) Start the race
B.) Make it to the halfway point
C.) Be running with virtually no issues!
B.) Make it to the halfway point
C.) Be running with virtually no issues!
Pete and the aid station crew were more than accommodating. Well, let me stop first and say ALL aid stations were amazing. You are treated like royalty at these things. They all but eat your food for you. When you run into an aid station, you are always greeted with someone jotting down your bib number and instantly someone asking “What can I get you?” “Want me to fill up your bottles?” “How’s your nutrition?”
So back at aid station 16, Pete and I discussed how I was at that present time. I remember telling him I was 100% and it’s now time to start picking up the pace. I promised to take it easy the first half and dependent upon how I felt, pick it up the second half, which is exactly what I did. I didn’t waste any time at any of the aid stations. At each one I would follow the steps below:
- Dunk my visor in ice cold water
- Dunk my bandana that was around my neck in water
- Refill both my hand held bottles. One bottle I would pop a Hammer Fizz (turns your bottle into an electrolyte drink), the other would be water
- Try to eat some solid food (PB&J, chips, pretzels, etc.)
- Say my thank you’s to the volunteers
- Roll out
As I departed the aid station, Pete told me “You have a bitch of a climb ahead of you, how’s your nutrition?” I let him know I was taking a Gel every 45 minutes and a salt pill (S!CAPS) every hour. He gave me a fist bump and I left.
Now, let me elaborate more on the ‘bitch of a climb ahead of me’ comment. That was more than accurate. It was nasty. I’m not sure the elevation gain on the next 4 miles (to aid station mile 20) but it was steep. It was also hot. At this point, my best guess would be high 80’s with zero tree coverage. We were all definitely exposed.
One of my loves of trail running is the climbs. I love ascending mountains. I would take a nasty ascent over a fast descent any day. So, when Pete made that comment, I was just thinking – Let’s get it! I remember putting my head down, turning up my music, and getting in my groove. The problem was, I don’t remember this steep of a climb at any point in my training, so it seemed as if it went on for forever. I remember vividly passing a few people who looked like they were dying. I passed one person laying in a little shade patch, white as a ghost. I saw another person emptying their stomach on the side of the trail. It was glorious! Ha!
When I would be running I would look at my Garmin quite frequently to see where I was mileage wise. This seemed to help me and piss me off at the same time. It’s like watching the clock at work; time (or mileage in this case) goes by very slowly when you’re watching it. The heat is starting to get to me a bit and I probably should have been doubling up my salt intake from 1 an hour to 2 an hour due to the heat. On a few sections, the inside of my quad (groin area) would cramp up, which usually indicates electrolyte/salt depletion/imbalance. I figured since I was taking salt pills and drinking an electrolyte drink I was ok. However, I wasn’t factoring the heat and my sweat rate.
Nonetheless, I made it to the top of the ‘bitch of a climb’ and was greeted by the wonderful volunteers at the mile 20 aid station. Here is where I saw the worst of the runners. Many of the runners were sitting under the easy-up-tent for shade. In my mind, the faster I got out of there, the faster I would finish and could sit down. I followed my strict procedures and was on my way. Now it was time to turn around and head back the way I came!
What comes up must come down! I knew going back down would be a heck of a lot faster than going up. Unfortunately, since the downhill’s aren’t my strong suite, I was careful. The last thing I wanted to do was injure my ankle and hobble back down the mountain for 4 miles. The way back down was tough. Downhill’s usually beat up your quads pretty bad from the constant pounding and unevenness of the terrain. However, it was pretty motivating passing people on their way up to the aid station, knowing you had just completed that climb. All I would say when I passed people was “Aid station right around the corner! Keep it up!”
On the way down, I looked forward again to seeing Pete and the crew at now aid station 24. If you’re confused, this is the aid station I first saw them at (mile 16) but now I’m coming back down the giant climb to return back to this aid station. As I got there, I started to feel the fatigue and heat. Pete and the others however, were nowhere to be found. I knew instantly, they must be at the finish line watching runners come in. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit bummed to not see anyone.
“Oh well,” I said to myself and headed out.
On my way to mile 16 aid station, I never stopped to think about the descent to that aid station. As I headed out of mile 24 I was introduced to the ascent very abruptly.
This is when I hit my low point.
I was getting tired. It was around mile 27 when I started questioning why I was doing this. I never thought about quitting, but I did want it to be over with. This is when I learned a valuable lesson.
One foot in front of the other… Relentless forward motion…
That was my mantra and that is what got me to the end. I think it takes a certain mental fortitude to keep pushing through and that is one of the lessons running has taught me. No matter how tough it gets, you can still always put one foot in front of the other. I started to think about the hard work it took to get there. The sacrifices I made personally and in my relationships. I thought about how Cait has been such a big help and supporter. I knew she, no matter what, would be my biggest fan. I started to think about the people of Boston and all the injured spectators/runners. Cait understood how hard that hit me and why I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I couldn’t help but think of all the people who would give anything to be able to have the ‘gift’ of running, people who physically couldn’t run due to physical limitations.
While I reflected on the above, I was continuing to move. The heat was blaring down on the exposed trail and I could feel my feet starting to get a bit raw and sore. The heat was at its highest at about 89-90 degrees. My cramping was starting to get to me but I still continued to power up the hill thinking, almost there… almost there…
Then, my Garmin died.
I think I let out a loud obscenity since I had 3 miles to go, yet had no idea how fast I was ticking away those final 3 miles. The final 3 miles weren’t as bad as I had anticipated. When I got to an aid station at around mile 28, I was informed I had a small climb to go, and then it was all downhill from there. At this point, I was jogging down the fire road in excitement and eagerness to finish. I was overflowing with joy that I was finishing my first ultra-marathon. I was doing this. I had it in the bag.
I pointed my head down and slogged away those final 3 miles.
As the distant cheers and kettle bells in the background grew louder and louder, so did my excitement. I knew I was close and I knew that all my worry, doubt, and fear were closing to an end. I freaking did this. Those four words I just kept repeating. I was ecstatic! When I made it to the bottom of the fire road, I could see the community center below. I rounded a corner, put my head down and hobbled through the finishing line.
I DID IT.
I was greeted by the race director Keira who put a medal around my neck and told me congratulations. I remember my legs feeling like jello. It almost felt as if I was still running, yet I was just standing. It was weird.I made my way to where a few others from my group had finished and shared congratulations all around. We were done.
We had completed the Leona Divide 50k trail run.
Reflecting back on that day, I realize personally how big of an accomplishment it was for me. There is this allure of running and the fact that your body does not lie and will show you humility in an instant, which keeps me coming back for more. The 50k accomplishment is just the beginning. I already have my eyes set on a few more 50k’s. Hopefully, another before the year ends.
My ultimate goal is to run a 100 miler. I know I have a long ways to go before that happens but each race will be a lesson learned, all leading up to that final 100 mile endurance run.
I have now discovered lessons found in running that spill over to my professional and personal life. Lessons that I will always reflect back on which make me a better person today. It wasn’t necessarily about the final race; the training that got me to that race is what mattered. That was the most enjoyable. The race was merely a celebration and culmination of all the hard work and dedication it took to get to that starting line.
I’m thankful for my friends and family for all their love, support, and words of encouragement. I’m most thankful for my beautiful wife Cait who stuck by me the entire time and always picked me up when I was feeling down, doubting myself, or talking constantly about running. I’m fortunate to have a wife who understands why I do what I do and that when I put my mind to something, there is no stopping me. I’ll achieve that goal. Cait may not think she had that big of an impact on this race for me but she did and I’m thankful for her. I know one day she too will accomplish the same goal and I’ll be there with her one step at a time.