OC Fair Fun Run 5K

After 2.5 years of missing the burn of a hard 5K race (not), I registered for one per a friend’s suggestion. Promises of a post-race OC Fair visit and lunch with said friend were my motivations to sign up. I wondered whether my legs remembered how to run fast and was curiously excited to find out.

In the weeks leading up to the 5K, I logged two workouts: 12 x 400 and 5 x 1K. The 12 x 400 was basically a wake-up call for the small amount of fast twice muscle fibers that I possess. It certainly wasn’t the fastest speed workout I’ve ever done, but I met my goal of completing all 12. The biggest win there was that I did it solo! I decided on 5 x 1K for the Tuesday before the race and though my pace crept up with each 1K (not ideal), I successfully completed all five. Again, I ran alone and am pretty darn proud of that.

Before heading to packet pickup on Saturday, I knocked a 15-mile long run out. As I re-build my base, weekly mileage and tired leg efforts take priority over speed. I’m very excited to feel my fitness returning and legs responding well! With the two “fast” workouts + a day-before 15 mile run, I thought that I would run 20 – 21 minutes on Sunday.

I arrived at the OC Fairgrounds with plenty of time to relax and warm up before the 8:00 AM start. Bob and I jogged around on the course for 2 miles and I predicted that the middle mile would be my slowest. While the first mile is straightforward, mile 2 would take us inside of the fairgrounds and weave through fried-food stands and fair rides. I did a few strides, said hi to Rudy, and then waited for the (delayed) race start. We finally took off and I settled into an effort which felt hard, but sustainable. I began to worry that I’d started too quickly when I could still see Bob and the leading ladies up ahead, but just continued to run by feel. A younger runner fell into pace next to me right around the mile 1 marker and we entered the fairgrounds together.

I focused on staying in the rhythm during the second mile, but there were a few seconds of slowing as I rounded a sharp curve or got stuck behind runners. I was concerned about navigating all of the turns, but Book That Event did a phenomenal job of posting directional arrows. I never felt lost or confused as to where the course went. There were a few workers and spectators sprinkled through the grounds cheering us on, but it was otherwise quiet and peaceful. I came through the mile 2 marker feeling pleasantly surprised at how well my legs were holding up. “Just one mile to go!” I thought.

I checked my watch for the first time a few minutes later, expecting to be right around 2.5 miles, and was at 2.4. I was starting to feel the burn of a 5K effort and ready to see a finish line.

I remembered the gate that we would pass through before turning into the final stretch of the race and decided that I would attempt to pick it up after that, on the final straightaway. There was a male racer around me during this final mile who would repeatedly surge and then settle. I’m not sure if he was trying to drop me or force some pep back into his step, but it was a bit disconcerting. The last .3 miles run opposite-ways of the second mile of the course, so we were met with cheers and encouragement as we exited the gate and turned left onto the final straightaway. Thank you Ulyses / Paksit Photos for the quality race pictures!

I’m normally not the type to squawk about a long course, but since I rarely race 5Ks, I wanted to record my time for exactly 3.1 miles. I mashed the Stop button on my Garmin down at exactly 3.1 miles and continued about .1 miles to the finish line. Unfortunately, I couldn’t catch Mr. Surge-and-Settle and he crossed the line a few seconds ahead of me. I was delighted to see that I’d reached the finish line in sub-20 minutes!

Garmin

Garmin time for 3.1 miles: 19:31 Chip time for the race: 19:58

I found Bob and we started our cool down, which would follow the final two miles of the course. We stopped and played a few of the on-course fair games, and I became the proud owner of two new plush toys, both of which were hard-earned. We made it back to the festival just in time for the awards ceremony.

One of the major perks of this race is that the race bib = a free entry into the fair (plus an additional free ticket in the goodie bag!) After a quick parking-lot towel change, we explored the OC Fair for a few hours and then enjoyed a belated birthday lunch at Wendy’s – happy birthday Bob!

I’ll admit that I enjoyed running hard for 3.1 miles. It was refreshing and I didn’t feel completely wiped out afterwards. My legs were tired the next day, but back to normal by Tuesday. In fact, I ran fast again on Wednesday at run club. Perhaps I do have some fast twitch muscle fibers hiding in my legs!

AREC

Always shenanigans with this crew.

Summer Running

I decided that today was the appropriate day to pen an update on my running, as I was able to complete my longest run since February’s DNF. My heart spilled over with gratitude this morning while I followed the running routes that I’ve missed so much these last few months. To recap, I essentially took the months of February & March off, though I did begin to hit the elliptical and weights more regularly sometime in late March. Many hours were spent on the eliptical during the month of April and I dilligently completed twice-weekly strength sessions. I also logged a few pavement miles, but was relegated to running once every other day. Unfortunately, I was still experiencing a fair amount of pain. I also spent more time than I’d like to admit thinking about missing the Boston Marathon for the first time since 2013, and also missing out on the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. I look forward to those two events all year long, but I killed the pity party and began to focus on moving forward.

May was an off-and-on month and I missed another one of my usual races, the OC Marathon. I did register for the half marathon, but decided that I wasn’t ready and skipped it. I was indifferent at this point. I didn’t even care about ever doing a race again or ever running “fast” again;  I just wanted to be able to head out for a few 4-6 milers during the week. The monotony of the elliptical was becoming unbearable. I deeply craved the freeing feeling of running, ocean air and sound tickling my senses while traversing the beach path, and of course the runner’s high.

Regarding the actual injury: my knee (which was the issue leading up to and during the Surf City Marathon) was healed by mid-April. The new injury was a very “achy” feeling in my right anterior shin. I’m still not entirely of the origin of pain, but noticed that a very specific stretch combined with a leg swing drill helped tremendously. I started to figure it out when I would set out for a run with pain, stop to stretch + drill, and continue the run with significantly less pain. Based on the stretch + drill, I deduced that there was some sort of tightness or muscle knots on or around my iliotibial band (IT band). I never chased a diagnosis from a medical professional, but the injury seems to be improving based on trial-and-error experimentation.

The stretch

The drill

As May turned into June, I was able to run longer and more often, but I still wasn’t out of the woods. Some runs would be mostly pain-free with other runs being extremely difficult. The leg pain + being out of running shape = the difficult ones sucked. Having survived the injury/healing cycle a few times, I know that the first few weeks of re-building running fitness involve a lot of labored breathing and mental games. I am delighted to report that I am currently running every single day and feeling better with each mile. As long as I stretch thoroughly and complete the leg swing drill before each run, the pain is minimal (though still present). I really hope that I am 100% pain-free by July.

I’ve theorized on why my body was falling apart February through May and believe that stress was a large factor. My family recently experienced a big change: my dad retired and moved from Brawley to Long Beach. The transition required a lot of work on both my sister and I’s parts. She traveled from the bay area to Brawley many times to help him clean, pack and prepare while I secured an apartment and set everything up for him here in Long Beach. It’s weighed heavily on my mind for the last few months, but my dad is finally here and settling into his new environment. I think that eliminating that stressor has played a part in my expedited healing.

Though I enjoy a year-round summer in Long Beach, Wednesday marked the first official day of summer. I’m looking forward to some great summer running and flag football playing. Yes, I’m trying a non-running sport! It comes as no surprise that I am supremely terrible at football, but the league, my team, and learning the sport has been very fun. Up next is the 4th of July and then… who knows what summer magic awaits!

An Update

Yesterday marked 5 weeks since I added another DNF to my race history. While I would love to simply erase the last 5 weeks, I can’t and am hoping to close that chapter after a bit of reflection. Since I could hardly walk for a few days after the race, I decided to take the week entirely off from any exercise. For the 4 weeks following, I exercised off-and-on, but was overall horribly inconsistent and took far too many days off. I attempted to run on the treadmill exactly twice (in a row), but gave up after the second run because of the still-present pain. While I had every intention of adding strength training back into my routine, I picked up weights exactly twice. I foam rolled and stretched here and there, but I feel like I’ve been sitting around for 5 weeks. I feel lethargic, out of shape, and blob-like.

I always struggle emotionally with running setbacks, but this go-round has definitely been the worst. An injury + a professional life full of challenges, stress, and disappointments left me feeling very depressed. *Gasp* I used the D-word! It is shocking how dismissive people are about it. Leg pain hasn’t been the sole cause of my emotional low, but running help(ed?)(s?) me remain mentally buoyed. I felt like I’ve been sinking under the weight of different stressors. “Do something else? Find a different hobby?” friends suggest. Despite attempts, the craving for my runner’s high becomes stealthily stronger until I find myself growling under my breath at runners that I see out and about.

The positive: 5 weeks ago, my pain level was 9/10. Discomfort and general aching pain disrupted my sleep and darkened my mood for that first week. I would rate my current level of pain or discomfort at a 6/10 and I am walking with no limp. I ran very slowly on the treadmill this morning and did experience pain, but it wasn’t as bad as during the earlier attempt to run.

The negative: I am registered for the LA Marathon (6 days from today), the Boston Marathon (about a month from today), and the Big Sur Marathon (2 weeks after Boston). The LA Marathon is definitely a no-go, and the probability of my running Boston 2 Big Sur is very low. Even if I were fully healed and running by the end of March, I don’t think that I could be physically prepared to run 26.2 miles in 2 weeks. I missed out on the Griffith Park Trail Half Marathon and 2 other smaller races that I was registered for. I’m not one of those “I have to run it fast or I’m not going to run it at all” athletes, but I prefer not to suffer through races that I am not adequately trained for.

I did feel a pleasant tickle of hope after today’s run, but I’m being realistic about this healing process. Some days my mindset is that I’m going to “retire” from racing and just run for pleasure and fitness. Other days, I fantasize about once again pinning a bib on and trying not to trip over timing mats. At this point, I would genuinely just like to run for an hour pain free. However, I know that after 2 weeks of post-injury easy running, the itch to train for a race will set in and I’ll scratch it if I can. For now, I need to work toward healing this injury, regaining my mental and emotional balance, learning to enjoy non-running activities, and overhauling my mindset.

First marathon finish.

 

DNF

The signs were there, but again, I chose to ignore them. I didn’t experience any knee pain until 12-14 days ago, and it started out mildly enough. As I continued to train, the pain became progressively worse into early last week (5-6 days out from the race). I was dreading every run and I think that the pain was contributing to my sustained dark mood. I usually don’t take the day off before any race, but I did this time. A short jog across the parking lot while working at the expo reminded me of my knee pain.

Yet, I showed up to the start line at 6:30am on Sunday!

I showed up, ran ~16 miles at a respectable pace, stopped at a porta potty and realized how terrible I felt, slowed down and took a few walking breaks until mile ~19, then removed my bib and began to jog/walk back to my car. Having reflected on the race, I think that I didn’t feel the knee pain as much while running faster, but it came out in full force when I finally slowed down. My pace definitely slowed after mile 16, but I think that I could’ve finished in 3:10-3:15 with a healthy knee. I don’t often speak of what I “could’ve run” because I believe that one can always claim they “could’ve run” this or that time, but I felt decent fitness-wise. The weather was good for running, it was a pretty flat course, and I felt like my energy reserves would’ve held up. I didn’t finish though, I earned a DNF and left with my tail between my legs.

As for the injury itself, it is incredibly painful, which is to be expected after running 20 miles on a bum knee. The pain is in the lower, right corner of my knee cap and radiates about halfway down my shin. It is a very grating pain and feels more bone or joint-oriented than tendon or muscle. I’m not sure if the origin is the knee cap or where my knee meets my shin, but I’m hoping to get an x-ray or MRI this week. In the meantime, I’m icing it when possible and resting. While incredibly frustrated and sad, I’m aware that this is 100% my own doing.

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Before.

After.

After.

Avalon Benefit 50 Mile Run Race Recap

My legs took me further than they ever have before, so I give them full credit for this race. My heart, lungs, brain, feet and eyes certainly helped out, but my legs really surprised me.

Lori, Laura and I boarded the ferry to Catalina Island on Friday afternoon. I was full of nervous energy, but excited for a weekend getaway. We arrived without fanfare, but the hotel check-in procedure was mildly interesting. With four people expected to sleep in our room, we absolutely needed the roll-away bed that was offered as an option during booking.

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“A roll-away won’t fit in that room” – front desk worker

“Why was it offered during booking then?” – Lori

The front desk worker shrugged. There were no rooms left at this hotel, and only one hotel with a (very expensive) vacancy left on the island. We decided that we would make a queen bed, a tiny amount of floor space, and a lot of blankets work. There was a heater in the room and a booklet with instructions on how to turn it on, but we couldn’t get it to work.

“The heaters in the rooms don’t work. We haven’t updated the booklet, sorry” – front desk worker

In the end, we stole the roll-away bed which was sitting in the hall next to our room just asking to be taken, the fourth person booked a last-minute room at another hotel, and we cocooned ourselves in all of the blankets. It worked out.

I was living in the moment of “I’m about to pick my race bib up for a 50 mile run” while waiting in the long packet pickup line. We stood around and got to know a few other runners and before I knew it, the 50K and 50M line split. I was one step closer to the start line. Bibs and shirts in hand, we found a sushi restaurant nearby and sat down for a relaxing pre-race meal and glass of wine. We stopped at a VONS and ran into a group of Laura’s friends. I realized this weekend how much I truly love the local running community – everyone is positive, encouraging and slightly crazy. After VONS, we finished preparing drop bags, ensured race outfits were ready, and set alarm clocks. One aspect of ultramarathon running that I am not keen on is the amount of stuff required. Perhaps I over-prepared, but my drop bag and hydration pack felt overloaded. Regardless, I felt confident that I had everything that I would need to run 50 miles.

I slept fitfully, but was really excited to run when my alarm clock sounded at 3:30am. I ate oatmeal with peanut butter and drank 2 cups of instant coffee. I was going to run almost 2x my standard race distance so why not have 2x the amount of coffee that I usually have? Worries of dehydration or an upset stomach fluttered around my brain, but neither ended up happening. At 4:30am, we walked outside into a light drizzle. The weather forecast had been waffling earlier in the week and everyone was nervous for rain. During the 2015 Avalon Benefit 50 Miler, Laura had run the entire race in a downpour. We hoped that the drizzle stayed light and would eventually stop. As a precaution, I wore a rain jacket over my long-sleeve shirt.

50m-map

50m-elevation

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We all began our trip around Catalina island at 5:00am. I knew that it was going to be a long day, I would feel pain and be uncomfortable, I would deal with one or more low points, but that I would to fight to the finish. After about a mile on city streets, we begin the 2 mile climb up the Trans Catalina Trail. I kept my effort level very low (2-10) as I wanted to save my legs for the latter miles. Around mile 2.5, I started to run with John who provided great company for the next 18 miles. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise at the crest of the first climb (photo credit: John). We ran right through the first two aid stations (Haypress @ 5.4, Empire road @ 11.9) both feeling great. I bypassed my drop bag and ran through the third aid station (Little Harbor/Wacko Cafe @ 18.9). When John told me what mile we were at, I was elated that we were almost 20 miles in and I still felt fresh.

Photo cred: John

I knew that we had two small-looking “bumps” between miles 20 and 35. John and I separated coming down one of the “bumps” and I continued on solo, enjoying gorgeous views and sounds of sea lions. During my long descent into the city of Two Harbors, I crossed paths with a few of the race leaders and cheered them on. Having only had a few pieces of chocolate at mile 17ish, I decided that I would eat something more substantial at the next aid station. I feasted on salted potatoes and Coca-Cola at the Isthmus (25.4) aid station and then began the 1.3 mile climb toward the turnaround. I was shocked to learn that I was sitting in 2nd place amongst female runners. Knowing that there were still 20+ miles for something to go wrong, I continued to keep myself in check.

This fox can only be found on Catalina Island.

This fox can only be found on Catalina Island.

I drank another cup of Coca-Cola at Isthmus (now @ mile 26.7) and climbed out of Two Harbors. During a long run a few months ago, I randomly experimented with Coca-Cola for fueling and found that it works really well for me. It sits well in my stomach and I seem to absorb the sugars and/or caffeine quickly, with burping being the only side effect. I was glad that every single aid station offered this sugary elixir.

After coming up out of the city of Two Harbors, we descended and I locked into step with Joe from Arizona for a few miles. The downhill seemed to jostle my GI system, because I ran straight into a porta potty at the next aid station (Little Harbor/Wacko Cafe @ 33.2). After the bathroom stop and finally removing my rain jacket, I felt 2 pounds lighter. Joe and I separated at this point and I began to feel not-so-great. Miles 33 – 40 presented winding trails, rolling hills, warmer temperatures, and sightings of the current first place overall woman. I took a few brief walking breaks up the hills and tried hard to keep doubt from creeping into my thoughts. I broke the rest of the race up into manageable pieces: 7 miles to mile 40, which was further than I’d ever run, 7 miles until the 3 mile downhill. I simply had to complete each section.

View of Two Harbors

View of Two Harbors… I think

Somewhere between the aid stations, a jeep full of course rovers pulled up and asked how I was doing. I was surprised to see my friend Bino in the jeep! He provided me with a much needed boost of spirit and a bonus selfie. “You have about 1.2 miles until the next aid station, a 1-mile climb, a few miles of rollers, and then let ‘er rip for the last 3 miles downhill. You’re also pretty close to the first place woman so… lock that up.” he advised. I thanked him and focused on getting to the last major aid station.

I struggled the most during this 1.2 mile stretch, which felt like 12 miles. I passed the lead woman right before stuffing my face with more potatoes and Coca-Cola at the last major aid station (Pumphouse Hill @ mile 44). I wish I could write a Yelp! review for that aid station. Not only did they season their boiled potatoes with Montreal steak seasoning (heavenly), they were also a very encouraging and high-spirited group. The combination of the well-seasoned potatoes and power walking the entire 1-mile climb left me with a second wind for the last 5 miles. I moved well through 2 miles of rolling hills and, per Dino’s instructions, let ‘er rip for the last 3 miles. It certainly helped that it was downhill, on road, and I could see the city of Avalon down below. I had a massive smile on my face when I finished my first 50 mile in 8 hours and 11 minutes, good enough for 13th overall and 1st female overall.

I walked around for a few minutes, congratulating other runners and assessing my physical state. My legs felt tired and I felt nauseated, but everything seemed to be in working order otherwise. I sat down to take off my shoes and realized that I actually felt really nauseated, either as a result of running for almost 8 hours straight or because it was just really sick of potatoes and soda. I stuck around talking to new and old friends, patiently waiting for my stomach to settle. I finally made my way back to the hotel, showered and dressed, and then walked with Laura (who placed 3rd overall female and earned a huge course PR!) back to the finish line to wait for Lori, who finished strong and also earned a 50 mile PR. The rest of the evening included nachos, margaritas, Bloody Marys, a 4+ hour hot tub session, rum, and pizza (in that order). Recovering can be just as fun as running.

A ferry full of runners comparing race stories and blister sizes made the return trip fun. I felt sad to leave the island and part ways with my friends on Sunday, but so full-hearted and content. Aside from a huge wad of prize money cash, I can’t think of anything that would’ve made the weekend better.

I took Sunday completely off, but have run every day since with no issues. I was quite sore on Monday and Tuesday and kept my effort very easy. Not surprisingly, I started to feel antsy by Wednesday and ran the AREC loop at a decent pace. I threw some speedier miles into today’s run and while I didn’t feel as bouncy as pre-50 miler, I was pleased with the effort.

 

Paramount Ranch 50K Race Recap

“It gives your life focus and purpose on a daily basis and it’s really that context of living with intention that I find the most fulfilling and rewarding. If I didn’t have that burning desire to be doing something all the time, like, life would just seem sort of dull and even keel.” – Anton Krupicka in this video.

Watching Anton smile through a grueling and self-supported triathlon to the top of Longs Peak, successful in his goal to set the FKT (Fastest Known Time) for the route, was truly inspiring and relatable. I can’t imagine a life without movement.

Unfortunately, my legs weren’t keen on moving last weekend. They felt heavy, which I suppose I should’ve expected having done a harder-than-planned hill workout with Rufus two days prior. While it’s never fun to run on non-responsive legs, it simulated what it might feel like to run a lot of miles on tired legs. I set 3 goals for this race:

  1. Run 32 miles as a long training run for Avalon 50 and finish feeling like I could run 18 more miles.
  2. Practice running with my hydration backpack and experiment more with fueling.
  3. Suffer through a loop course. I’m not a masochist, but I believe that the mental training is just as important as the physical training.

I ran the Paramount Ranch Trail Runs half marathon last year, so I knew that it would be a fun morning. I left at about 4:45am, stopped for my standard 7-11 coffee and Quest bar, and arrived early enough to score an excellent parking spot (= shorter distance to walk post-race). The race goodie bag included a Trail Runner magazine, which I read while relaxing in my car with the heater going full blast. It was sub-30 degrees! After a bathroom visit, I began the race preparation process and checking: 2 long sleeve shirts, gloves, deodorant, hydration backpack, snacks, phone with podcast ready to go, chapstick, and a hat stowed away in the pack. The sun was up and I was ready to run!

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Tam!

We started at 7:00am and I tried to settle into my run, but the course was much more up and down than I remembered. The inclines and declines are short and sweet, but relentless. Loop #1 didn’t feel great, especially with semi-frozen hands and face, but I figured I would warm up into 2 and 3. I came through the start/finish line after the first 2 rounds questioning whether or not the 50K was a good idea. Thankfully, I started talking to Grant during the third loop and it served as a nice distraction. He was running the “marathon” in his bid to complete 41 marathons before his 41st birthday! We ran through the start/finish line together absorbed in conversation and I felt better, but still heavy and not settled. We separated somewhere during our fourth loop and I noticed that there were definitely less people on the race course.

Up and down and up and down x 5.

Up and down and up and down x 5.

One element of the course that I did enjoy was that it doubles back often, which means passing by other runners at multiple points. It was fun to see the same people on each of the loops and enjoy many opportunities to encourage and be encouraged. However, it was hard to gauge which loops other runners were on since our bibs were the same color. I saw Rachel a few times and wondered whether she was running the “half marathon” or 30K. She was running hard and strong and placed first for the women and second overall for the 50K!

loooops

Thoughts of dropping to the 40K “marathon” formed after the third time of passing through the finish line. Each time I passed the emptying parking lot, I thought about the dry clothing and face wipes which were waiting for my in my car. I was feeling tired and slightly bored, but I knew that I would be really disappointed with myself if I chopped 10K off of my race. Plus, once I started loop #5, there would be no turning back. Double plus, I felt semi-decent for having run 40K on lead legs. I was intimately familiar with the course profile by this point and just moved through each of my designated “sections.” There was a woman sitting in a chair and a man in a Christmas sweater, both of which we passed twice at two different intersections. I just focused on each of those 4 passings, knowing that the 2nd time by Christmas sweater-guy was close to the finish line. I felt very strong coming into the finish and crossed the line in 4:46:26.

Standard post-50K fatigue set in, but I felt really good. I didn’t walk or stop at all during this 50K, but I predict there will be walk breaks during the 50 miler, especially since there will be more sustained climbing. In regards to my 3 pre-race goals:

  1. Run 32 miles as a long training run for Avalon 50 and finish feeling like I could run 18 more miles: I feel more confident that I will finish the 50 miler intact, but it will be painful. I recovered very quickly from this 50K.
  2. Practice running with my hydration backpack and further experiment with fueling: I still don’t like it, but I can do it. For this race, I had one Honey Stinger gel, one Warrior bar, and one green tea Kit Kat. My stomach didn’t get upset and my energy levels were good, but the Warrior bar was tough to eat while running.
  3. Suffer through a loop course. I’m not a masochist, but I believe that the mental training is just as important as the physical training: I’m still not a fan of loop courses, especially since it makes it much easier to drop, but I got it done. I can’t imagine running a 1-mile loop course for 50+ miles!

I can’t leave the always-important race swag review out. Kierra, the race director, does a seriously fantastic job choosing and designing her event shirts. Last year’s Paramount Ranch Trail Runs shirt and her Griffith Park Trail Runs top are items that I wear often. Not only are the designs tasteful, but they fit well. Her events are just all-around high quality and worth running.

 

Santa Barbara “Marathon” Race Recap

Another friend suggesting a random race, another random race to add to my completion list.

I ran the Santa Barbara Red Rock Marathon last Saturday, deciding and convincing Chris to tag along only a few days prior. We left at 2:30am on race morning and arrived to a dark, extremely cold, but lively camping area. I was nervous – the participant email billed the event a “no frills trail race” and advised us to bring our own water and food supply. Though there would be aid stations, they weren’t close together and would provide minimal offerings. However, I grew less nervous and more excited as I listened to the bathroom-line chatter. Past participants reminisced on past year’s races and said that it was a great course and a lot of fun. I caught up with Lori at the pre-race meeting who would be running her first 50 miler!

At 6:00am, about 200 of us left the start line area. There was a “half marathon,” “full marathon,” and “50 miler.” I use quotation marks because the distances ended up being 14 miles, 29 miles, and 52(?) miles. Before my hands and feet even had a chance to de-frost, we arrived at our first water crossing. I paused and watched a dozen people stop to remove their shoes, deciding whether or not I wanted to do the same. I couldn’t really feel anything anyway, so I just ran through the ice water. I passed birthday boy Sean (running the 50 miler) a few minutes later and began to settle into the race. After about 5 miles, I finally started to warm up.

This was my first race using a hydration pack and I am so happy that I won a VaporAiress Hydration Backpack back at Whoo’s in El Moro – it was perfection. I was worried that it would bounce around, feel heavy, or chafe, but I completely forgot that I was wearing it. I’ve never been a fan of carrying a lot of things while I run, but it was nice to know that I had water, nutrition, a visor, and my phone should I have needed any of it. I was able to bypass aid stations without worrying about finding myself thirsty or hungry in the middle of the race. I loaded my phone up with a podcast for the later miles, but I didn’t end up using it.

elevation

The first 7 miles included a water crossing, technical terrain, ups, downs, and a big downhill into the first aid station. Miles 7-8.5ish were on a road, followed by a big up and big down on a fire road. I fell into step with a runner from Switzerland for a few miles and we chatted. I was sustaining my pace on the climbs, but he was taking them a bit slower as he would be running 50 miles, so I wished him good luck and we parted ways right before the second aid station. I continued toward the turnaround after throwing a few M&Ms into my mouth. I passed about 10 people between the first and second pass at this aid station. The turnaround was further down than I’d expected, but I was moving really well. I saw the first female running really well on the other side and started to fish my half-eaten package of Cracker Jacks out. This isn’t standard race fuel for me, but I wanted to finish the package that I’d started before the race.

Miles 15-20 were uneventful; I was basically re-tracing my steps back toward the start/finish line. During the race, I didn’t know what mile I was at at any point (and didn’t know that the course was 29 miles/turnaround was 14.5), but I asked the last aid station volunteers how many miles remained. I was still feeling good, but knew that we had a steep and technical climb out of the aid station which would require a fair amount of my energy. I was surprised to learn that there were still 7 miles to go.

The next 4 miles were very technical, with a lot of short ups and downs. Parts of the trail were narrow and rocky, which always feels more difficult on fatigued legs. I focused on not tripping and continuing to drink water. I really wanted to put my visor on, but I didn’t want to stop and get it out of my pack. The sun had come out and it had warmed up, but not overwhelmingly so. I was living in that moment of “I’m out here in the sunshine, on the trails, doing what I love, feeling so good.” I couldn’t hear anyone behind or in front of me. Those miles were so peaceful.

Upon starting a longer downhill segment, an on-course bike rover passed me and said that I was looking good at mile 20. “I don’t think this is mile 20?” I thought to myself. I had estimated it to be mile 17 or 18. I thanked him and kept going, speeding up slightly with the knowledge that a majority of the last few miles were downhill. About 1.5 miles later, I was shocked to see the first woman up ahead of me. Had I sped up or had she slowed down? I didn’t feel like I’d picked it up that much. I’m not sure what came over me, but I cranked the pace down at this point. I mean, I really cranked it down. I felt like I was running sub-6 minute miles, aided by the decline. Fully believing that she would chase, I ran as fast as physically possible down the hill.

After what felt like 5 miles of running hard (probably 2 miles max), I felt tired and wondered what would happen once the course flattened out. The second-to-last water crossing was waist high (!), with a photographer staged on the other side. I can’t wait for those pictures. After a section of flat fire road, there was one last water crossing, but it was shallow and run-able. Shortly after that, I came too close to the edge of the road and rolled my left ankle. Perfect. Never looking back, I continued toward the finish line and was the second runner and first female “marathon” runner to cross it. A friendly face greeted me with a handmade finisher’s necklace and winners ceramic plate! I chatted with the winner and took a picture with Scott and Michelle.

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While I was chatting with runners and volunteers and enjoying a hot bowl of chili, it began to rain. Within 15 minutes, I would categorize it as “raining really fucking hard.” I hoped that Chris had made it past the steep uphill section after the last aid station. It would only be a matter of time before that part become a giant mud slide. I took refuge in my car while waiting for him, watching finishers come down the final stretch. Call me a fair-weather runner, but I would not have wanted to run more than 5 miles in that downpour, especially muddy trail miles. Chris finished, changed, and then we left. As expected, there was a lot of southbound traffic, so we stopped at Whole Foods and enjoyed hot bar fare and cookies. Caramel macadamia nut cookie = 9/10. Lemon coconut cookie = 7/10.

As expected, I woke up with a very swollen ankle and extremely sore legs. I can’t remember being that sore since running the Twin Peaks 50K. I attributed it to the last 3 miles of hard, downhill running. I predict that if I hadn’t run that section so aggressively, I wouldn’t have been as sore. My legs really took their time regaining pep and it took until Friday for the soreness to dissipate. Reflecting on the race, I am very happy with the effort and how I felt. I really enjoyed the course and getting to know the trails of Santa Barbara!

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