So the dust has settled or at least been washed away and normal life resumes. With that in mind it’s time to put down my thoughts on what became a very long day.
For Reference here is the data;
As a reminder, (regular readers can skip this), after Vineman 70.3 the goal was to step up the running, focus more on the trails and work up to the 50 mile distance. The Leona Divide 50 Mile Run was the end goal. Along the way I clicked on several interim races including a couple of 50ks (Calico and Bandit) and the Santa Barbara Nine Trails 35 Mile Run. Some went well (Calico and Nine Trails) and others less so (Bandit). But throughout the 40 weeks of training the focus was on Leona Divide.
Before I get into the race report a word on logistics.
- I divided the race up into sections between Aid Stations at Mile 8, 17, 26 and 39. The route was a T shape with two out and backs across the horizontal and the vertical was the from/to the Start/Finish
- In the same way as I did at Nine Trails I had created ZipLoc bags which were a full replen of everything that I needed
- I was wearing my new Garmin Fenix 3 as well as my 910xt and Vivofit. My Fenix3 was programmed with a 30 minutes time alert to remind me to eat something twice an hour and each item was between 120-150 calories
- Each bag contained variation on; Raspberry Rice Cakes, Quick Crusts, Banana bread portions, PowerBar smoothies and 4 servings of Skratch Lemon and Lime. There was slightly less in the first two bags as the distances were shorter. I also had a full replen in my pack in case I missed Becca, and yes I was a Boy Scout
- I wore my Ultimate Direction Wasp Pack full of ice/water and carried a UD Fastdraw Handheld that I would top up with water from my pack and add the Skratch too, this keeps my pack bladder clean. I also carried some Chapstick, Bodyglide, ibuprofen, SCaps and Ricola lozengers…oh and some TP, ‘cos well you know, I like my socks!
- I was wearing Saucony Inferno shorts and matching Tshirt; the shorts are short and I like that. On my feet I wore Saucony Peregrine 5 shoes. On my head my Headsweats Loudmouth Trucker cap and a pair of Oakley sunnies.
Ok so with that said here we go. As the race was relatively local (approx. 75 minutes’ drive) I decided to stay at home the night before, trading off that a shorter sleep in a familiar bed is better than a longer sleep in an unfamiliar one. The previous day I had taken off work and spent time prepping my nutrition for the race. Primarily these were Skratch Portables as noted above. I opt for the sweeter side of the palette as that suits my taste. I had a reasonably easy day and managed a relatively early night.
Race Day morning Becca drove us out. The drive was uneventful, the best kind, and I finished up breakfast, rice pudding and coffee. We made it in perfect timing, I checked in and got my number. There was a lot of runners, over 400 had signed up although it transpired after that there were a fair amount of DNS’s. The field was made up of 50k and 50m runners and we were all scheduled to start at the same time; 6:00am. While some guy droned on the underpowered PA I shrugged off my sweatshirt and kissed Becca bye saying I would see her at the first Aid Station, around mile 8. The announcement ended and with a woot we were off.
The last time I raced this race was in 2009 (before that in 2008) and since then the Race Director has changed and so has the course. I hadn’t had a chance to run on the new course but I figured the Pacific Crest Trail was a fairly known concept and the elevation was significantly less than Nine Trails 8000’ vs. 11,000’. Of course there was the additional 15 miles to contend with.
From the start the first couple of miles were on Spunky Canyon Road out of Green Valley and up to Spunky Edison fire road. From here we turned right and were on the PCT. As there were so many runners I, along with most of the field, ended up in a convoy. There were a few places to pass but I was happy to sit in and follow. It was going to be a long day and there was nothing to be gained by going out too fast. The trail contoured the sides of canyons so you got a good view of the number of runners on the course. While I felt good I wasn’t having much of a fun time, someone behind me was constantly shouting “Ironman” as he caught sight of my MDot tattoo and generally yucking it up. I am all for having a good time and not taking things to seriously this guy was just pushing my buttons. I did my best to put him out my head. We topped out the first climb and then started the 4 mile descent into Bouquet Canyon to get to the first Aid2 Station. Here I would meet Becca who was running my Nutrition and Hydration program for me. Around mile 7 I stepped off the trail for a bio break and literally counted 25 runners run by me including Mr Annoying.
As mentioned in the same way as Nine Trails I had created Ziploc bags that contained enough nutrition to keep me going between the Stations, the idea was that I could get to a Station, dump all my “empties”, pick up a new bag from Becca and go. Becca would also give me a new iced handheld which was full of Skratch and as needed I could add water from the Ultimate Direction Wasp pack. This was so I could avoid stopping at the Aid Station buffet and I was more in control of my own destiny.
Bouquet Canyon Aid Station was a zoo! 50K runners were turning around, 50m runners were being marshaled across the road to avoid creating an accident. It reminded me of my days commuting on the Tube (Subway) in London. I spied Becca and grabbed my handheld and didn’t stop. I had plenty of food still on me from the start and it was enough to get through the next Aid Station at mile 18ish.
After crossing the road I started on the 3 mile climb out of Bouquet Canyon. This was followed by a 6 mile and 1800’ drop to the first turnaround.
I was making good progress and I entered the Aid Station with an average 12 minute mile pace which had been my underlying goal and would net me a 10 hour finish. Same routine as before, new bottle new bag, emptied the dust out of my shoes and I was off again. In case you missed it the key words in the last paragraph; “6 miles”, “1800’ drop” and “turnaround”…so what goes down has to go back up. This was a long slog taking over 1:40 to get back up, I wasn’t the only one struggling but I was definitely going backwards in the field. I was passed by a lot of folks who I had either passed previously or who were just coming up from behind. I got to the top and I felt pretty crappy. My legs were starting to tap out and my energy levels seemed to be surprisingly low. My appetite had started to wane and despite having the time alert on my Fenix3 set to 30 minutes as a reminder I was ignoring it too many times and this was putting me more into the red.
I was fast approaching six hours on the course and was into the heat of the day, although it would get hotter still. The temperatures were well into the 80s and would top out at in the upper 90s around 1:00pm.
I reached Becca who had zipped around from the turnaround back to Bouquet Canyon. I plonked down into the chair and was feeling pretty crappy at this point, I was overheating and had lost my appetite.
I chugged down some go-to Mexican coke (real sugar) and tried to cool off in the shade. I hung out as long as was polite and was off again. I wondered to myself did I really have another 20 miles or more in my legs. I had passed the half-way point and the next stopping point was in my mind at mile 39 some 13 miles away. Somehow I had missed an Aid Station at mile 33 in my planning!
So I hiked some and I jogged some. It was hot. It was uphill. It was unshaded and it was nearly 100f. Eventually the trail turned downwards and into some shade which made it all a bit more bearable. I was passed by a couple of people and as you often experience with ultras the runners were spread out everywhere. There was one out front that I would gain on and then I stopped to catch my breath and he would move on. Finally I saw him talking to Becca on the trail. She was telling him and then me that there was an Aid Station a mile or so away at around 33 miles…this totally threw my math. I was expecting it to be another 5-6 miles.
Becca ran on and I plodded on some way behind her. I finally got to the Aid Station. It was around 2:15pm and the cutoff was 2:30pm. Coke. Handheld. Kiss. Leaving. I had 7 miles to the second turnaround and had to be out of that Aid Station by 4:30pm. My focus changed to leaving the Aid Stations not getting to them. This combined with moving forward meant that I had to keep going. The bottom line is if you sit on the side of the trail no one is coming to get you. You have to get your ass out of there yourself.
The next seven miles were mostly rolling and mostly walked. Fortunately I can walk pretty fast and despite the ups and downs on the trails. I was averaging around 16 minute miles, somewhat down on my 12 minute goal but forward is forward. By my math and Garmin the turnaround was going to be at 39.5 miles…and it was! Becca was there and I actually felt in better shape here than I had the 7 miles prior, more Coke and this time Ginger Ale. I had to be out by 4:30pm and I was with 5-6 minutes to spare. Back along the rolling trail, the sun was waning and it was cooling off and while I was in no real shape to run I made my way along at a pretty brisk hike. The rest was all downhill, unfortunately not literally I still had the final 500’ of gain over the last 10 miles.
By this point I figured I was pretty much last or at least in the last few but DFL is better than DNF! The last miles rolled by and then I was finally passed by the last two runners who were making steady progress. I plodded along and was within the last mile when I came across one of the two who was trying to shake off a cramp or limping. I reached the turning onto the road, the same one I had turned off over 13 hours prior and walked the last mile down to the finish line, making sure to record my 100,000th step for the day!
At the finish, which was pretty empty, Becca was waiting patiently for me and was very happy to see me as I was her. Keira the RD gave me my medal and I was done. 13 hours and something. The next 15 minutes were spent walking around the parking lot to get to 50 miles or closer to it.
So that’s the facts. Clearly not the race I planned. I am left feeling that I don’t really know what went wrong, I do think the heat was an underlying issue and was the thing that knocked my appetite sideways. As for the lack of go in my legs? Well I had a pretty short taper and think that was enough, was being on my feet a lot in the kitchen the day before but really could this be it? Who knows?
The bottom line is; I finished and that was what I set out to do. I’m no elite, I hold down a full time job and drive over 100 miles a day on my commute. I have a fantastic wife (who’s also a badass triathlete) and who supports my adventures, four crazy boys and three crazier dogs. There’s no point wallowing in the past. Like race day the best thing is to keep moving forward!