Runners slowly began to gather around the start (pictured to the left) but overall it was fairly quiet. I was a little suprised as I am used to typical marathons with 20,000 people running in them. Since this was my first ultra, I was curious as to how people behaved or prepared so mostly I just people watched and tried to stay warm. The tempurature was in the mid 40's and it felt cold as my hands were beginning to get numb. At this time I was very glad I grabbed my arm warmers. A quick check of the camel pack and and a gu, 30 secs to say hi to a freind, Pauls pre race speech, and off we went. With less than 200 running this race, I was really looking forward to enjoying it, cruising but still trying to push a little and seeing what I could maintain, and finishing my first ultra. The first 4 miles to aide station one was stunning. Mile 1 zig zags around the lake and then heads to the bridge. Turn left , cross the stream by stepping on the rocks, and continue west in a line with the others. The sun was rising slowly from behind and the lake looked like glass. The only sound was feet hitting the dirt and the occasional rock kick followed by a stutter step hopefully without the crash. I found myself smiling at this point and thinking a couple different things. One, how lucky am I to be here and have the ability to do this cool race with other running fools like myslef. A quick thanks to God and my family and kept moving.
Next, a friends advice who has done other ultras popped in my head... 'Go out slow, you'll need your legs at 27'. Looking at the watch, high 8's, and low 9's for the mile splits. Right where I want to be for 5 hour finish. This is when I began to notice & look at what other people wear when they run. There are typical outfits, and some that stand out. One was a guy in a button down shirt. That was odd to me at first, then I decided, maybe its his lucky shirt, maybe a friend or family members who is no longer around gave it too him? Either way, likely means something special for him and I thought that was cool. There is that ultra runner Antone Kirpitchka (spelling?) that runs in those. Maybe theres something there I don't know? Maybe thats him?! Not likely at my 9 minute pace. Right about here at 3.5 to 4 miles in, is when the leader went by. Are you kidding me? His pace was unreal.... Saw my buddy Eli and he was still in the front group playing chase.
Aide station #1, came and went with a slight climb away from it. I saw a lady who unfortunetly had taken a pretty good fall and had a figher escort taking her to the aide station. Approaching the stream I found a cell phone on the ground. I grabbed it and thought I should take a photo of myself running and post it to their Facebook account with "I have your phone, I'm the person running at Lake Hodges!". This is when things got a little wierd. There was a guy crossing the stream with a sled (only with wheels) being pulled by 4 or 6 (can't recall) sled dogs like he was training for the Ididerod. Buddy, it is supposed to be int he low 90's today? The lady I was running with at that point saw it too. I wasn't dreaming. Continuing on, passed the bridge, handed the cell phone to a volunteer and off under the freeway and around to aide #2. Let me point out that all the aide station volunteers were incredible. A little run up next to the highway by the mall, and then off across the valley and up toward Raptor Ridge. It was beginning to be real clear that the cool temperatures weren't going to last long so I ditched the arm warmers and through in some fueling and salt. The camel pack was mostly water with gatorade mixed in and I continued to just sip away. We switched back into the shade for a while around mile 11 and it felt great. At the bottom of Raptor Ridge, aide #3, a quick snack, some electolites and up I went starting mile 13. Watch check.. 1 hour 54 mins - 8:45 pace, right on track. Mental note, 'it's your first 50k, its not about the watch, enjoy it and finish it'.
|Climb headed east up Raptor Ridge|
I knew I would walk most of the hill accept the flat & rolling parts and that was the plan. Short story is I hate hills. I am not good at them. They cause my back to lock up as I am sure I lean over too far. But since I completely threw out my back 4 days before Noble Canyon 50k 1 month ago and had to scratch that race,... and had done hardly any distance training (only 12 miles for long runs since), I was concerned my back would lock up on me again. So slow and steady. Actually what stood out was the temperature change you could feel on the way up. A little foreshadowing from what was coming. I actually planned on taking more photos during the race but this was the only one I took. What also stood out was this guy in front of me and his socks. Would drive me nuts to have one up and one down on the ankle. Yes I have a littel OCD. The hill climb went quicker than I thought it would, and I continued to use any hills/walking as a good time to fuel and take in salt. Anyone else notice all the stink bugs on the trails (little black bugs with rumps up in the air, no?)
The run down the backside was excellent but I was trying not to look at my watch and simply run a 'comfortable' pace instead of a 'specific' pace as this was my first ultra and didn't want to fall apart. I kept looking across the valley for any movement and could see some specks way out on the trail. I tried to picture where the leaders were at this point. This is about the time I noticed the temperature and the sun, along with my hip flexors. The muscles felt sore. Brief thought, 'that's odd, and really gonna suck later if they are hurting now', and I pushed it out of my mind. The trail from mile 14 to 18.75 was mostly flat with little rollers here or there. They are the kind you sprint down for 20 steps and then slow jog up the otherside (but nothing steep)... then back to normal pacing on the flatter sections. Again, and at around 17 the leader went by in the opposite direction. I encouraged him out loud and then commented internally, "He is 22 or something rediculous! I could do that pace if I was 22! (BTW, the winner, James Walsh is 34 and finished in 3:47. Nice work James). Not to long after that right at the cattle farm/dairy Eli went by again in 3rd and looked strong. It was clear to me at this point my planned insults after the race for my freind of how Army is better than Navy weren't going to work against him, again.
Aide #4 was the turn around at 18.75 miles and a very nice aide station lady in a dark shirt offered to refill my camel pack for me. Thank you so much whoever you were! 3 mins at the station, salt, pb and j, coke, ice cold water on my head and off I went on the return route. Again, reminded myself mental note. 'it's your first 50k, its not about the watch, enjoy it and finish it'. This was a huge turning point for me as one of my own rules is, 'I have to walk back to my vehicle now no matter what so I am good to go on finishing even if I have to walk the entire way'. 19-23 went back through the orange grove and up next to the high way again. Lots of sun and warm temps at this point but I was in the zone and it went by quickly.
At 20 miles, watch check..., 3:05 which translated to a 9:15 pace so far. I needed a 9:43 or better pace to break the 5 hour mark. Right on track and felt good looking at the 30 second gap that I knew I would fill on the hill and with fatiguge in the later miles. This is where my mental note changed, 'It's about the watch! Break 5 hours!' My Garmin watch doesn't show a pace increase, but man I felt incredible from 19 through 23 and to the base of Raptor Ridge starting 24. And then the wheels came off. Walking up Raptor Ridge was brutal. I'm not sure what happened other than it was 90 degrees with no breeze and I was cooking. When I didn't start running the down hill right away due to my stomach, I knew I was done running. Aide #5 was a blessing and ice cold water felt amazing. When a Search and Rescue volunteer comes over and says, "Buddy you look hot, you feeling ok?' thas probably not a good sign. He added ice in my hat, I took some gu's, salt and water and off I went. Figured it would be a slow jog from here with occasional walking and it was. Watch check... 5 hour mark is history. Mental note to myslef again... 'it's your first 50k, its not about the watch, enjoy it and finish it'. I was dissappointed when there was no marathon marker on the course. Will definetly recommend next year they chalk that mark on the trail. Passed the same two guys a couple times back and forth coming across the valley. Good job SD Tri club.
Aide #6 was back by the freeway and I knew I was almost done. Again, incredible volunteers. Ice sponges and something like carrot cake (with frosting) they had was amazing. Back under the freeway and the shade and breeze felt so good. I was then passed by a running Ninja? Runner in all black with crossed swords on her back, about 5 ft. tall? Anyone else see that or is that in my head with the Ididerod race crew? After the bridge, the last mile hurt, the hip flexors I mentioned earlier, it was a lot harder to ignore them now. Right ankle felt like it was sprained all of the sudden and walking and jogging was just painfull on my left knee. This is where the no distance training for 6-7 weeks and nursing a back injury to be well enough to run at all was a huge factor. But I was completing the race. Crossing mile 30 and the bridge again, I was thinnking 'this is really cool. I have never run this far... it's your first 50k, its not about the watch, enjoy it and finish it'. And then I realized, I can break 5:30 if I push it! New mental note to myslef . ''It's about the watch! Break 5 and 1/2 hours!'. I started laughing really hard at my own mental issues about this point in the run.
With a 1/2 mile to go, a young lady who was singing out loud when she passed me told me to 'keep going' as we zig zagged around the lake so I tried to stay with her. When she saw the last hill and yelled "OH COME ON!!!" really loud, it was classic and made me laugh. This is when I noticed I had laughed out loud several times and truely enjoyed the entire day. I pushed and finished in 5:29:11 , 17th in my AG, 53rd Overall. That same singer passed me again with 10 feet to go. Results show her (I think) as Marla Hernandez 1 second faster and in 52nd place. Well done and thanks for the encouragement!!!
Race course was well marked, well aided, and was a great time. Thank you to all sponsors and volunteers as well as Off Road Pursuits for hosting. I will be back next year and for the off road marathon in January.