I’ll be honest – nervousness left me with a messy head during the week leading up to the race. I had to work hard to stay focused on my work, the stress of which didn’t help my pre-race emotional state, and not think about the upcoming Saturday. Despite being nervous, I felt confident that weeks of high mileage, hills, two big training weekends, and mental strength work would all serve me well on February 3.
Unfortunately, race “weekend” didn’t start well – I was in a minor car accident on Thursday. Nobody was injured and my car was fix-able, but I went into the weekend feeling even heavier with worry. Annalise, Ben and I headed toward her parent’s house, conveniently located close to the start/finish line, on Friday morning, shlepped around, went to Stacked for dinner, and then visited packet pickup. We closed my birthday with Billy Yang’s The Why which served as a great pre-race boost. The film follows Billy as he completes the famed 100-mile Leadville race and explores the reasons for running ultra-marathons. “Sure, on the surface you can cite self-improvement, challenging yourself, so on and so forth. But the longer I do this, the more I started to explore answers beyond the surface. How we relate to discomfort, uncertainty and pain. Do we have it too easy and thus, we’re drawn to the opposite end of the spectrum where we’re reduced to “survival” mode and drinking/eating/moving forward? Are we in our more natural state when this is what our world is reduced down to? I find myself pondering that often, especially when I’m enduring non-ideal weather conditions or dragging lead-filled legs through a run. I think that a part of me… embraces the discomfort. Whether it’s a result of me having it too easy in other areas of my life or because I’m a masochist, I don’t know.
I turned 50K years old!
Race morning began with a shower, breakfast and a triple drop bag check. This race allowed two drop bags, one of which I would have access to twice (bag #1 @ mile 13 and 31.3, bag #2 at mile 22.7). Since I wouldn’t have to carry any of this during the race, I basically stuffed them both full of crap like at Avalon. The most important items were 1) an extra handheld water bottle, which was required for a hot and difficult section of the course, and 2) chamois cream. Spoiler: the only things I touched in the bags were the water bottle, a towel, and a bottle of Coca Cola.
Facing only a 10-15 minute drive to the start line, we left at 4:45am for a 6:00am race start. We all commented that it was “warm” while packing items into the car, as it was in the 50s, then watched A’s car temperature gauge plummet into the high 20s as we drove into the mountains. We hid in the warm car, leaving only to dump our drop bags and use the loo. At about 5:45am, it was time to depart the comfort zone. I felt calm, nervous, excited, curious, but mostly ready to do the damn thing. The start line for the 50 mile race felt small, but electric. I said hi to Carrie, who had seen her husband off for the 100K race. That was the “premier” event as it offered 4 golden tickets. There were also 50K and marathon distance races, which started later.
Keira, the race director, laid down some instructions, imparted some wisdom, and then sent us off into the darkness of the Santa Monica mountains. For the first 5 miles or so, I happily chatted with the surrounding (all female! runners). I was extremely cold and not enjoying the rocky, single track trail, but just trying to settle in. I’m still very much a “road runner” who dabbles in trail, but I especially struggle with rocks and narrow paths. I felt better as the sun rose, rockiness subsided, and path widened. Of course, nature began to loudly call after I forwent a porta-potty stop (there was a line, what the heck) at the mile 6ish aid station. I answered that call at, what I later referred to as, “Poo Rock” and continued on my way.
Jump attempt #15 @ bib pickup.
Annalise and I ended up running into the mile 13 aid station together and I realized that we’d been there before, just a few weeks prior. It had been a back-to-back weekend of 25 Saturday miles and 15 Sunday miles. When we’d finished the 15-miler, I laid down in the parking lot and basked in the fatigue. I reflected back on training runs often during the race, reminding myself that I’d put in the work to be there. The moment of reminiscence was cut short when my foot slammed into a rock and I slammed into a bush. Annalise kindly pulled me out and I pulled myself together over the next few miles, which ticked by quickly and without any noteworthy events.
By mile 15 or so, the temperature had increased significantly. I’d shed my long sleeve shirt, beanie and gloves at mile 13 and felt good in a tank top and hat. I’d decided to leave my hydration pack at home, carrying a single hand-held until picking up a second one at mile 22.7. Miles 15 – 22.7 included running uphill, running downhill, single track trails, gorgeous views of Malibu, salted potatoes, Coca Cola, various other snacks, and a growing sense of gratitude. My body was responding well to the arduous task of running 50 (very hilly) miles, the brilliant blue of the ocean was staring at me from below, and I was playing in the mountains. How could I not be thankful?
I gladly picked up my second water bottle at mile 22.7 and filled both bottles to the brim with ice and water. All of the aid station volunteers were extremely helpful and lightning quick with assistance! The aid station fare was tasty and I left this aid station feeling like perhaps I’d overeaten, but was glad that I’d indulged because the next section required a lot of energy. I was the only person running the 4 mile climb, likely receiving a few unspoken “you’re stupid”s along with the audible “good job”s. I remembered something that Anton Krupicka had said in The Why – “I guess I try and remind myself that this is the reason that I signed up for this event… to be challenged, to get to a point where it’s not easy anymore, where I don’t feel like I will be able to finish.” I reminded myself that this was the reason that I’d chosen this race as my second 50 miler, to be challenged.
Jump attempt #6 @ bib pickup.
The short descent which followed didn’t offer the relief that one might believe it would after so much up-ness. I waffled between handing the reigns to gravity and keeping one foot on the brakes, but it hurt either way. I passed my friend Vanessa, who was running the 100K, and we chatted briefly. Finally, I reached the bottom and started to climb again. I knew I’d prepared well for the race because my legs were totally on-board for all of this vert. I was met with a blast of icy cold water upon arrival at the mile 31.3 aid station. That + cold sponges felt so refreshing. I re-filled my bottles again, shoveled potatoes and ginger chews in my mouth, chugged a mango smoothie and continued on. I still felt great, mentally and physically.
The course is an out, loop, and back, so the last 18.7 miles felt familiar. I certainly felt different during the return trip – more tired, hot, probably dehydrated, but happy. I had no idea where I was time-wise, but believed that I was the 4th or 5th female 50-miler. As I left the last aid station at mile 42.9, I felt a small pang of sadness that this would be over soon. Months of training and forward looking to these hours would wrap up in a little over 60 minutes. I savored these miles and the rode the race high all the way into the finish line. I completed my second 50-miler in 9:40 and as the 3rd overall female. Annalise rolled in a few minutes later, followed by Ben.
I felt slightly star struck being so close to a few of the big-name runners chasing the golden ticket. I saw badass Courtney DeWaulter, female winner of the 100K, in the finish line area. Not only did Courtney win the 100K and earn her golden ticket, she ran it faster than I completed the 50-miler! I also passed Billy Yang and told him that I’d really enjoyed The Why, feeling like a total fan-girl. Annalise, Ben and I hung out with a group of new and old friends for close to 2 hours before heading to the car. The rest of the evening included a warm shower, pizza, and many Zs!
My legs definitely felt sore on Sunday, but not as tired as I’d expected. We all slept in and then set out for breakfast burritos. Sloth mode ensued for the rest of the day, with the exception of a walk to Trader Joes. At 3:00pm, we settled in to watch the Super Bowl and before I knew it, we were packing up to leave. Annalise’s parents were wonderful hosts and I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality! The departure was bittersweet – I was happy to return home, but sad that such a great weekend was ending.