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.
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.
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!