The pain in my stomach started at mile 7. Oh no, was this going to be a repeat of last fall’s 50k that turned into a 30k because of GI issues? Regardless of what my body started telling me, I was going to power on and get this done.
I got up extra early at 2am to get the body going with breakfast and a warm shower. While eating breakfast I watched Youtube and did something I rarely do, I started stretching. I always get to races cold and tight so I thought I would do a short warm up. But when I headed off at 3:40am I drove a few miles and my lower back started hurting. Not good. I broke the cardinal rule and did something “new” on race day.
I was glad that I was able to park at the Green Valley Community Center lot because that meant I wouldn’t have to walk back and forth for a quarter mile to get to my car before and after the race.
I got to meet up with a lot of friends before the race and there were selfies galore. My friends Annette and Ricardo were there unexpectedly as they both had done the 4-Day race at Born To Run and had run 100 and 130 miles respectively. What’s another 100k for Ricardo, especially while he is training for the Badwater 135? Yeah, they’re badasses. It was great to see my New Basin Blues friends who were going for the 100k race. They have been working so hard for the past few months and I’m proud of them..Great work, Mariela, Daisy and Esther!
The 50k, 50 mile and 100k runners started at 6am and 30k runners got going at 6:30am. Unlike last fall, I didn’t need a headlamp as the sun was already up. I took the first mile easy but I did run long segments of the street climb. During training I used the iFit app to create a virtual run using Google Street View and did the workout a couple of times on my treadmill. This was good physical training and also a great way to visualize the race start.
I saw that my running friend Corina was just up ahead and she was also doing the run then walk thing and had a good pace so I was mostly following her and tried to keep up somewhat.
We got to the trail section and started the climb. I felt good and the first mile came in just over 15 minutes which is good for me on climbs. I had set a goal to do every single mile split in under 20 minutes. I used that strategy in the Sean O’Brien 30k last fall and I had crushed the race so I hoped I could have similar success in this race.
When I got to the Spunky aid station I got water and then asked for a salt pill. I wasn’t ready to take a pill but I wanted to have one if things got rough on the next 7 mile stretch and it would be much better to have a pill then to not have it. The volunteers dug into the aid station supply and I grabbed a couple of them then took off on the first leg of the PCT trail.
I was feeling good and the legs had some run in them. I started off eating a gel but soon got into a jog.
Mile 3 to 9
I felt good and I was doing a nice pace on the flats and downhills and would even throw in a little running on the uphills. I was leapfrogging with a couple of runners and that helped push me. During the miles 3 through 6 I realized that this segment is largely downhill running.
As I started the second half my stomach started to act up. Not again!
But, one of the reasons we do training runs is to learn to deal with adversity and how to work out problems. When I had similar GI distress I learned that if I loosened the drawstring on my shorts that my stomach wouldn’t be as agitated. I kept that in mind as I got to the mostly uphill climb of the second part of the segment. Realizing that this part was mostly uphill helped me deal with the increasing difficulty. It’s taken me 5 races to understand this segment and to get my head wrapped around it.
I checked my watch and I was at 8 1/2 miles and I was approaching what looked like the last climb and turn before the big decent into the San Francisquito aid station. For some reason I thought I needed at least another mile. Just before reaching the turn I heard Mayra yelling “Go Jesse!” as she climbed up the trail behind me. I wasn’t too shocked to see her since she was out there as Jerry was running that day. She, with her running friend, caught me at the turn and it was indeed the start of the big downhill segment. Before the descent. She gave me a “Vamos!” and I started the run down. Mayra is super fast so they were both out of sight rather quickly.
On the way down I started looking for Corina who was sure to be coming up the trail soon since the 30k race is a completely out and back route. I saw someone that soft of looked like her so I took out my phone and snapped a photo but realized it wasn’t her. Oops. A few minutes later I did see Cory and quickly told her that I had take a photo of the wrong person and we both chuckled.
When I got to the “San Fran” aid station, I saw that they had a port-a-John but was too busy getting several cups of water and soaking my bucket hat in water. I also took a salt pill and washed it down with water. This was a cupless race so I was carrying a foldable silicone cup that I had bought at Tarjay for a buck a few years ago. It was perfect and when I left the aid station I used it as a watermelon carrier. Before I left the aid station a volunteer said, “Oh no, here’s someone sun glasses. I think they belong to the woman who just left. I looked at them and they were mine. They were on my hat and when I drenched it in water they had fallen. A volunteer took out a water mister and got the sandy dirt off of them. I also had a brief chat with a volunteer in a Hulk outfit. I told him that I think he had helped me out the first time I ran at Leona and helped get me back to the race start after crashing and burning. He said he didn’t remember but said he had the same Leona Divide shirt as I was wearing.
I started the big climb was chomping on the watermelon. That tasted great and helped refresh me. This climb can suck but I was feeling good and climbed it in no time. I kept seeing super fast runners going back and forth in this segment. I had seen 100-mile world record holder Nick Coury earlier. I wasn’t sure which race he was doing but he was hauling a$. After starting back on the 7 mile segment, I realized that there would be a couple of miles of downhill then a few miles of uphill on the last section. This helped a lot mentally as I could run a good pace but then I would mostly hike the last mile. There was a reason why the last few miles could feel long, it was uphill.
Even though the 30K race is “only” 19 miles, this 7 mile segment has taken a lot out of me in the past. I had a race where I sat in every patch of shade and then begged other runners for bits of water. Then I’d stumble to the next shade spot and do the same thing. This was a much better day.
At mile 13 I ran into my friend Saeed and he was looking strong. We’ve done a lot of the same races the last few months and we run about the same pace until he powers on at the end and leaves me in the dust. A bit after seeing him I heard a “Hey Jesse!” and it was my former boss who was doing the 50k. I had not seen her before the race so I was glad she made it and she was in good spirits. We had a couple of guys take a photo of us and she was on her way. I briefly chatted with the two guys, gave them my name and told him that I was from Ventura County. One said that there was another Ventura County runner up ahead a bit. They were funny and I wasn’t sure what they were doing out on the trail as they were talking with all the runners but they weren’t moving much.
After running a bit, I got to a slight downhill section but wasn’t running then I heard the two guys who were about a half mile away but still visible – and audible – yelling “Jesse” and waving. I waved back but then realized they were probably telling me to get my ass running. I appreciated that and started running.
There was all kinds of good energy on the trails. I crossed paths with several different PCT through hikers and one who was doing a segment but had done the whole things 5 years ago. I have to say hi to them. 30k, 50K, 50 mile, 100K – try over 1,000 miles. Yeah, they put things in perspective. As cool as we feel doing the race, they are out there for months.
I got to the last long climb and started doing race math and it didn’t work. I know that that the segment is 7 miles but I didn’t remember what I was at when I started from San Fran. I thought that I would get to the las aid station at 16 miles but 16 miles came and went.
Also, during the last climbs I tried to push some but my heart rate was in the 150’s and that was way too high for the perceived effort I was pushing out. After decades of driving, when things are unclear – there are sirens, or dense fog – I slow down. That gives you more time to see what’s actually going on. I think there are some people who get in that situation and they say “go faster!” I’m not that person and that’s why I lived to be 54 and haven’t gotten eaten by a bear. So even though I had more left in the legs, I pumped the breaks just a bit.
I continued to try and do race math and was trying to figure out if I was going to PR or beat the Ultrasignup target race pace. Meanwhile, I kept hitting false final turns to the aid station and it started to frustrate me. My quads were starting to bark at me and I hadn’t had any food for a while as my stomach was complaining and I was sick of gels.
I finally got to the Spunky aid station again and started taking down water. They didn’t have any watermelon and nothing else was appetizing at this point. Other runners shot by and a couple of them headed down the wrong trail and would have tacked on some serious bonus miles if they had continued. One runner looked familiar and it was someone who I had seen there a couple of weeks ago at the same spot during my training run there. I had seen her zip back and forth during that run. After the race I saw her and briefly asked her if that was her and she had recognized me as well and we both laughed.
The last miles start with a nice downhill and I ran most but not all. The day had taken its toll and I had to keep fighting to run. My body was telling me that hiking was a better idea so I had to keep remembering my hard training runs to keep me going at a faster pace.
When I got to the big climb before the final climb another runner caught up to me and asked “Why do they put this big climb at the end of the race?” then he kept running. I was power hiking and I didn’t curse it that much this time.
I finally got to the downhill and the road and I was running. I wasn’t going to beat the predicted Ultrasignup time but I could put a big margin on my course PR so I dug deep. My body still wanted to walk but I kept telling myself to dig deep. I jogged then picked up the pace. With about 500 feet to go, my friend Gerardo caught me and zoomed by. He was in a different race so I didn’t have any inclination to race but I don’t think I had much more left in the tank. I thought I was at the final turn but still saw Gerardo running. Gah! I was ready to finish.
The last turn came and there were cars driving on the narrow road so I had to squeeze by and shot in for the finish.
Official race results aren’t in yet but my Strava activity has me at a total elapsed time of 5:44:18. My previous 30K PR was 6:17 so that was a huge improvement and about a 22 minute PR! My Sean O’Brien race last fall is still my 30K PR and that was a result of a massive training block.
I had some down training weeks where I was more internally focused and was just doing short treadmill sessions. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that there is usually a direct correlation between training and race performance. 3 weeks of 30-mile weeks is more 30k training for me so I chose to drop down from the 50k race and do the 30k. That was a hard decision but my bottom line was that I wanted to have a good day and not a tough soul-seeking vision quest kind of day. I know it’s vogue to have the seek the edge of your fitness and stretch goals and do whatever it takes to complete the goal even if you do it on broken bones that are wrapped in duct tape mentality but this was not the race for that. There will be those races in the future though. My Virtual Boston Marathon virtual race was like that but I did not have to dig that far into the well, but I was prepared to do so to get to the finish.
Also, I needed a “win” since my last race was a complete shit show. I had a summer where I had all bad races and that sucked big time. I didn’t want that. It would have been nice to have a second 50k finish but there will be time for another 50k race, or longer, down the line so I can renew my ultra runner trail credentials.
I have not signed up for any other races but I do have one in my sights and a big project in mind. Work has been very busy and it will be difficult to have free weekends through the summer so I’m going to create a challenge. The inaugural SAMO 100 race will be held this year. I am going to do a SAMO 100 Challenge where I will cover the same course but in segments over the course of this year.
So one day I’ll do an out and back from Zuma and those miles will all count to the 100 tally as the full race course is an out and back. I may rename this as I don’t want to conflict with Keira’s race branding. If she is OK with me referring to it by this name then I will use the name or call it something similar. Regardless, I’m going to cover the 100-mile distance, similar to how I did all of Backbone Trail in 2020.
What races are on your schedule?