After a terrible WIEM 25K back in October, I was so happy to have made it back for double the fun and feeling much better, this weekend at the WIEM 50K. It ended up being a very interesting race.
On Thursday, I completed a pretty brutal hill workout. I hadn’t planned to run very hard; I simply wanted to remind my legs how to run up and down hills. When I woke up on Friday with very tight quadriceps muscles, my first thought was that I was happy to finally feel sore. It’d been a while since I’d felt that level of soreness. That thought was immediately followed up with the realization that sore legs may not serve me well on Saturday morning. I woke up on Saturday with still-tight leg muscles, but ready to run 31 hilly miles! I’d been missing the trails.
It had rained the day(s) before, so I kept checking my email inbox in the case that the race director, Molly, sent a cancellation email. It started to drizzle, and then rain, during the drive to Newport Beach. As the race start time approached, the possibility of a cancellation became more likely. It started to come down pretty hard about 30 minutes out from the 50K start and worsened as 6:30 approached. Aside from my visor, I was definitely ill-prepared for the rain. We joked about just taking off if a park ranger tried to cancel the event, but I know that most of us would actually do it. I wrapped myself in a towel with 10 minutes to go and huddled near the start line with the group of soggy runners. Furtively glancing around for a park ranger, we listened as Molly delivered the final pre-race instructions and then released us to go play in the mud.
The first 2 or so miles looked like this: run a few steps, feel the mud accumulate, kick shoes around wildly while running, release the mud clumps, run a few steps, feel the mud accumulate, and so on. It was definitely annoying, but I just kept plodding along. I couldn’t really find my rhythm for the first 10 miles due to these muddy patches, but they seemed to clear up as the day warmed up. When I finally did settle in a bit more, I took note of my placement in the race. In the lead was Rachel, a very strong runner. She’d placed 2nd overall female last spring for this 50K and had run a 1:26 half marathon 6 days prior at the OC half marathon. In 2nd place was Denali, with whom I’d talked for a bit during the earlier miles. She mentioned that it was her first 50K and I warned her about the section that sucks the soul out of me every year (see below). I lost sight of both of them before mile 5, but then came upon Rachel at the top of Rattlesnake (approx. mile 11) who said that she was going to drop out of the race.
In my mind, this race is made up of 5 sections.
Section 1 – 15.5 miles: A bunch of trails, a quad-busting climb up Poles, three visits to the West Cut Across (WCA) aid station, and then a long-ish downhill to the turnaround at the halfway point.
Section 2 – 5 miles: : A long-ish uphill out of the turnaround aid station, a careen down Poles, another long climb up Machione to No Name Ridge, some other trails, and then one last stop at the WCA aid station.
Section 3 – 3.5 miles: Undulating hills through El Moro Canyon and Slow ‘N Easy. This is the soul sucker section. More on that below…
Section 4 – 4 miles: Missing Link to Moro Canyon and a 2 mile-out-and-back section which feels like 20 miles. Around mile 26, we pass the turnoff to the finish line, continue out down a hill and then back up said hill. I usually feel like shit at this point.
Section 5 – ~3 miles: a beautiful downhill toward the finish line. Regardless of how tired I am, I usually try to bomb down I Think I Can and then hold on as it flattens out through El Moro Canyon.
I usually feel pretty good for section 1 and am enjoying the crazy trails like Rattlesnake (super technical and rocky) and Poles (31% grade). After ascending Poles, we cruise down El Moro Ridge to the halfway point and then I start working on section 2. I’m still running easily at this point, but preparing for the climbing fatigue to hit. The climb out of the halfway point aid station feels very long, is followed by a run/fall down Poles, and a sharp left turn to ascend I Think I Can. This year, worry struck when I started to feel tired earlier than normal. Was it the mud? Was it Thursday’s hill workout? Was I eating enough? I’d met a few of WCA aid station volunteers at the start line and they remembered me and yelled my name every time I came through. I felt really pumped up by the fourth and final WCA stop. Stuffing salted peanuts into my mouth I thanked them for re-filling my water bottle, and then set my sights on the dreaded section 3.
My thoughts turned to figuring out what it was about the 4 mile stretch which made it seem so difficult. It felt stuffy and more exposed to the sun than the rest of the course, though less so than in year’s past since the cloud cover had stuck around. Though my tired legs felt less able to discern changes in incline, I thought maybe the entire section was slightly uphill. There are also a few decent climbs, one of which is barely run-able, but none more difficult that in the previous miles. Toward the end of slogging through section 3, I came across Denali. I said something along the lines of “this is the part I was telling you about!” to which she responded with a very loud expletive, expressing her frustration with it. I wished her well and continued jogging along. I am happy to report that I met my personal goal of not walking at all in section 3!
Section 4 is also long and not terribly exciting, but we are rewarded with some fun single track coming out of the mile 24 aid station. I thought back to 2014 when I had to sit down for a few minutes at this aid station because I felt so hot and depleted. The volunteers had reluctantly let me continue, but I found my second wind while chasing Mike for a few miles. This year, I felt so much better and continued through the station to Missing Link and Moro Ridge, which feels much longer that ~3 miles. I couldn’t see anyone ahead of or behind me and became curious as to how far back the next runner was. When I made the final sharp u-turn at the bottom of Moro Ridge, I was very surprised to see that Rachel hadn’t ended up dropping out and was a mere .75 miles behind me. Another surprise came in the form of a girl I hadn’t seen before in the 4th place position, running fast, strong, and like she could overtake us all in the last few miles.
I was relieved to feel much better for the last 5 miles than I ever have running this 50K. I’m usually either slowing down or working hard to maintain a steady pace, but I was able to speed up a bit this year. As soon as I made the left turn onto I Think I Can, I unfurled my wings and flew down the trail. I was having so much fun running fast and free, but also aware that I could be passed by a strong downhill runner at any moment. I sprinted across the bridge and came across the line 4 hours and 47 minutes after I’d started, which was good enough for 1st place overall female and 2nd place overall runner. Rachel, Kate, and Denali finished, and then the 2nd overall male finisher rolled in. The women had taken 2nd-5th places overall – very cool!
I caught up with old friends and made some new ones. I love the running/trail running community and am glad that I fell into this sport.