Saturday marked my slowest running of the Whoo’s In El Moro 50K and served as an eye-opener for me. I am happy that I ran, elated that I finished, slightly regretful that I didn’t stick with the 25K, but ultimately disappointed in my performance.
Pre-race positives: I went into this race with 2+ weeks of consistently higher mileage, a few decent hill repeat sessions, felt good during my easy run the day before, and was mentally excited for the challenge of 50K, especially having not run a marathon+ since June.
Pre-race negatives: I felt physically and mentally tired the week prior and was under a lot of stress at work. I wasn’t sleeping or eating enough, and felt like I wasn’t recovering well after runs.
I was able to sleep in on Friday morning and run later in the morning, both of which felt good. The rest of the day felt long and stressful: I was very late for a work event, spent too much time in traffic, didn’t eat a hearty enough dinner due to being stuck in said traffic, and just felt tired and irritated. When I finally arrived home, I packed for the next day and tried to get some sleep. Since I’d picked my bib and race items up on Thursday, I didn’t rush to get to the race too early on Saturday. I ate a Quest bar and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee on the way to Crystal Cove State Park, arriving around 5:55am for a 6:30am race start. I didn’t feel very hungry when I woke up, so I felt like the bar would be enough of a breakfast, but I probably should’ve had a bit more.
Lori and I caught up for a few minutes before the race started and then we all made our way out and up! I usually find someone to run and chat with during the first 8-10 miles, but was left to enjoy the sunrise by myself this time. I felt very content and happy for the first hour, thinking about how lucky I was to be running freely while watching the sun rise over the mountains. It was one of those moments that I wish I could bottle up and use later. I also saw my friends John, Telan, and Carrie (course rovers) in the early miles – it always cheers me up to see friends out there!
There are two aid stations before the “major” West Cut Across station, but I generally don’t feel the need to stop that early in the race. We hit this major station a total of 4 times, the first time at 9.5 miles and the second at 13.75 miles in. I foolishly decided to skip it during the first two passes and try to power on toward the halfway point/turnaround/mile 15.25 aid station. I really wanted to get the Poles segment out of the way (.4 miles, extremely steep) and I actually felt really good going up. This climb almost feels like a break from “running” since I’m using a different set of muscles, but it’s definitely still a challenge. I finished off the last of my water bottle and took my gel while cruising down the No Dogs trail toward the turnaround. At this point, I would see how far behind the female leaders I was.
I should’ve paused here and re-filled my water bottle, but I didn’t want to stop running and then immediately start to climb, so I just made the u-turn to go back up No Dogs and down Poles. I didn’t feel overly thirsty, hungry, and still felt like I had some power left in my legs. After descending Poles, the course goes back up Machione, and this is where I decided that I absolutely needed to stop at the West Cut Across station. At mile 17, I re-filled my bottle for the first time, ate a few peanut butter pretzels and M&Ms, drank a small cup of Coca Cola, and grabbed a few paper towels. The food and drink aren’t the only energy-boosters on the course – Molly recruits awesome course support volunteers. I always love hitting this aid station 4x because of it! What I didn’t love, however, were the ensuing miles. I felt like I went from 85% to 40% between miles 17 and 20.5.
I tried to focus on my surroundings and remember sections of the trail, but I started to feel discouraged by how quickly I was losing steam. “Maybe the gel and food hasn’t kicked in yet” I thought as I approached the West Cut Across station for the fourth and final time. I definitely didn’t look as peppy as I did during the first 3 visits, but the knowledge that I was well on my way home perked me up a bit. I re-filled my bottle again and grabbed some more peanut butter pretzels before starting toward my least favorite section: El Moro Canyon to Slow ‘N Easy.
It was definitely slow, but not easy: I crawled along at a snail’s pace and stopped 3-4 times for a few seconds. I had a lot of time to ruminate over what lead up to me feeling this badly. I realized that I’d had at least 3 marathon efforts on my legs going into my last two WIEM 50Ks. In fact, I looked back on my results today and noticed that I’ve always run the 25K in October – this would be the first time that I tried the 50K “fresh.” Additionally, September and October are the two most stressful work months for me and training takes a back seat. It isn’t surprising that my lack of longer runs and sustained climbs plus not consuming enough calories in the days leading up to the race would result in an epic sufferfest. Being 20+ miles in though, all I could do was crawl on and get to the finish line.
I also started to notice the effects of dehydration. I’m not sure if this happens to others, but my hands start to tingle and my fists close up. As I become more dehydrated, my fists get tighter and won’t un-clench. I was drenched in sweat and still sweating (which is good), but was definitely losing more fluids than I was taking in. I didn’t walk for more than 5 seconds at any point in the race, but I was move very slowly. At this point, my goal was simply to make it from aid station to aid station. I was happy to reach mile 24, and celebrate the end of my least favorite part, but I felt pretty terrible. In the hopes of energizing myself for the last 8 miles, I chugged a Coca Cola and ate a handful of Swedish Fish. I usually find a second wind on Missing Link, but it was… missing. I knew that the next section (Moro Ridge) was going to feel 2x as long as normal in my depleted state. I entertained the notion of just hanging a right down I Think I Can, but knew that I would be left with an ugly DNF. If this race/run served as anything, it was a long and tough mental strengthening session.
When I arrived at the three-way intersection where we start the last, but most difficult, out-and-back section, I offered Jon and two other course marshals $100 each to let me just turn right toward the finish. They laughed, my heart cried, and my dead legs carried me out, and back. On the way back, I saw Michaeline who was running strong in the 4th overall female position. She is a very strong runner and could definitely catch me during the last, long downhill section. Unfortunately, I had no legs left for any type of a “race.” and desperately just wanted to finish. Seeing that three-way intersection again and knowing that I would finally be able to run straight to the finish line was a good feeling. I was working hard going down I Think I Can, but it definitely felt slower than usual. After what felt like 5 miles, I felt the energy of the finish line drawing closer, and crossed the bridge to complete my 4th Whoo’s In El Moro 50K.
With clenched up hands and dead legs, Molly helped me get a chair and a bottle of water. I was tired and dehydrated, but my stomach felt fine and I didn’t feel any odd aches or pains. I sat down for about 2 minutes, then got up to walk around and chat with people before the awards ceremony.
Maggie (1) and Cindy (2) ran phenomenal times and looked great when I saw them on course. I would love to run that 50K as fast as they did some day! My 3rd place prize package included a pair of 2XU compression socks and calf sleeves, a Nathan hydration pack, a visor and draw string bag, a Running Skirts headband, and a few other small items. I also won a large container of Carbo Pro protein powder. My goal this week is to chase every run with a protein drink, regardless of if its an easy or harder effort. I don’t take in enough protein and know that it is likely inhibiting my recovery.
The remainder of my Saturday was spent eating and napping, and ended with a late night babysitting gig. I slept in on Sunday and ran a very easy 6 miles on the treadmill. I kept Monday’s effort easy as well, but felt surprisingly spry on Tuesday morning and ran faster than expected. My quads still felt sore and tender, but much less so than on Sunday. I’m optimistic that this weekend’s poor performance was just my body being shocked by 31 miles of hills after a 3+ month break from long-distance racing. I’m calling it a rust-buster and moving on.