“There is a 50K this weekend, are you doing it?” says Aaron at our Wednesday night club run.
I knew nothing about the Twin Peaks 50M/50K race until the day that registration closed; Aaron and Emmett explained that it involved a fair amount of climbing and wasn’t for the faint of leg muscles. I went back and forth on Wednesday night – should I sign up despite a minimal amount of trail running and sustained climbing in the weeks prior, or save myself $105 and get a little extra sleep on Saturday morning? I ended up signing up for the damn thing 23ish minutes before online registration closed and only looked at the course profile afterwards.
The name “Twin Peaks” suddenly made sense.
I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t nervous about the course. I wasn’t worried about doing well, I was worried about actually finishing. That was my A, B and C goal this morning: to complete the course and not drop out. I am still learning about elevation numbers in trail running and gauging what “a lot” is, but I now know from experience that 11,000 feet of elevation is a LOT.
The race starts in Corona, California, so I hopped on the freeway at 4:35am and ate my peanut butter & pretzel breakfast en route. I noticed other cars parking on a seemingly random residential street, so I found a spot and began to prepare myself for the task ahead. Wearing my road ASICs and carrying a worn Smart Water bottle, I always feel a bit out of place around serious ultra and ultra trail runners. Once I located the semi-hidden and very small start line, I picked up my bib, number 99.
“How many people are registered?” I asked the long-haired guy distributing bibs.
“There are about 80 in the 50 miler and 20 in the 50 kilometer race.” He responds.
“Oh.. wow, that is small. Is this a tough course?” I inquire.
“It’s pretty much all climbing. Good luck!” He chirps.
Nervousness levels increasing, I jog back to my car, shed my sweater and head back to the dark start line. It’s way darker than I expected and I didn’t even think to bring a headlamp. I realize that I will have about 30-40 minutes of running in darkness, uphill, on a a very unfamiliar trail. Jessica, the race director, gives us some instructions and bids us farewell.
The first 6.5 miles head up Indian Truck Trail and is straight climbing. It isn’t super steep, but relentless. I settled into an extremely slow pace, close to 11 minute miles by my Garmin. My first and last 50K trail race, back in May, was very tough. I struggled during miles 24-31 and my goal for Twin Peaks was to NOT finish feeling like I was going to pass out. I kept that in mind as I settled into the slow grind. Watching the sun rise as we ascended was pretty incredible and one of many moments of gratitude I experienced during the day. I still felt good and relatively fresh at the Main Divide aid station, but ready to head downhill for a few miles. I was excited to see my friend Steve at the 10 mile aid station and enjoyed some extra-large size M&Ms. This is one aspect of trail races that I have really come to enjoy – the aid station fare is a mini-buffet of odd treats! There were potato chips, M&Ms, peanut butter & jelly mini-sandwiches, Oreo cookies, steamed potatoes and salt, Famous Amos cookies, Coca-Cola, and some scrumptious home-made oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips.
On the way down Horsethief, I caught up to Leigh who was demolishing the 50 mile course. We engaged in girl talk for a few miles and it took my mind off of the increasing fatigue. She had completed a few Ironman triathlons before and other endurance events, but this was her first 50 mile race. We chatted about endurance sports and specifically the mental and physical aspect of what we do. There is something truly strange about running for hours and hours, through the mountains, for a medal and bragging rights. In fact, it makes no sense. Leigh and I came to the conclusion that part of the appeal is the mental and physical grind which is part of the sport, the battle with epic fatigue and mental demons, the feeling of having to give more with nothing left (or rather, thinking nothing is left and realizing that there is always something left. That last part resonates with me as I believe this is why I am so drawn to longer distance running. There is always something left in the tank; it takes time and practice to train the mind to understand this. I think about this a lot when I am not in my running shoes. I can do anything if I just keep believing I can. Life, like trails, goes up, comes down, contains rocky portions, obstacles, slow-down periods and sprint segments, but it is all manageable if the brain believes it to be so. Though in racing there is a start line and a finish line, in life, there is always “the other side” to a rough patch.
I told Leigh I was going to start taking walk breaks during the climb up Holy Jim and we separated as she bound up the trail. My quads felt fatigued and the sun was coming out, but I was still feeling good. I enjoyed some alone time and ran/walked my way up through the switchbacks. As the trail steepened, I resorted to more power walking and less running, but picked it up a little when I saw a group of 4 men up ahead. I spent some time walking and talking with them and then ran a bit at the end to reach the next aid station. The entire day became worth it as I looked out and saw that we were above the cloud line. I was looking down on the top of the cloud layer! I sat down for about a minute, munched on some snacks and start to make my way downhill to the finish line. This was mile 22 and I hoped for a smooth last 10 mile segment.
It was anything but smooth. Most of the miles between 22-26 were really rocky, forcing me to walk a few portions and with more than one near slip-and-falls. I cheered on the runners heading up Holy Jim and stopped for a minute to talk to my friend Emmett, who also gave me some electrolyte pills. He was actually one of the two people who urged me to sign up for this event, so it was appropriate that he was witness to my roughened state. I reached the 50K/50M split at mile ~24 and knew I was going to pretty much be alone for the remainder of the race, which I was. I stubbed my toe very hard at mile 25 and had to stop for 20 seconds to get my breathing under control; I wanted to cry because it hurt so badly. I continued on with a few walking breaks as my quads were very tender at this point. Though I was descending for the most part, there were a few mini-hills sprinkled into the last 10 miles. After negotiating way too many rocks, the trail turned into fire road and it was just a matter of controlling myself while running downhill. It was hot, I was tired and I really wanted to be done. I have so much respect for those running the 50 mile race, not only because 50 miles is a lot of miles to run, but because this course was absolutely brutal.
I always have to break the last few miles of a longer race up into one-mile segments. I told myself “just get to mile 30,” then “just make it to 50K,” then I remembered that Jessica had indicated the course was 32 miles on the website. I could not wait to see that finish line and was elated when I did.
I ended up finishing in 6 hours and 41 minutes, which is the longest run or race that I have ever completed. My total Garmin time (not including the breaks at aid stations) was 6 hours and 18 minutes. The first 50K finisher finished in 6 hours and 16 minutes and I was fourth overall. The other 3 finishers were in the tent and looked worn, but not beat up. Another runner came in about 5 minutes later and then a female rolled in about 5 minutes after him. The medal is a beautiful wooden medal and one of my favorites. (Would this even be called a medal?)
I walked, slowly, to my car, washed my dirty feet off, inspected my toe (not broken!), and drove to Subway. I had been thinking about Subway during the last few miles, I was craving something really salty and wanted a lot of mustard and pepperocini. I knew I would likely deal with traffic on the drive home, so I devoured my meal in the car and then actually took a power nap in the car. Normal?
Though I know that 50K is definitely a “short” race in the vast world of ultra running, and that there are more difficult courses, for my level and time spent actually trail running, I am very proud to have completed the Twin Peaks 50K.