There were a couple of great reasons for me to run the Leona Divide 50K. One reason was for me to tie up loose ends, and seek redemption at a race which was supposed to be my first ultra marathon when it turned out to be my first DNF. Another reason had something a little bigger on the line and that is, it served as a training run for my next race, the Miwok 100K. Leona was going to give me a snapshot of what I might be up against when I face my longest race distance yet coming up in a few short weeks, but I’ll get to that in another post because this is all about Leona.
Everything going into this race felt different this time around. I actually felt fairly calm and relaxed. There wasn’t much nervousness for the race itself. The nerves came on when I started to think about what might be at stake here in terms of how Miwok might go for me. But I knew I needed to focus on Leona, and only Leona.
Arriving much earlier for Leona was something I didn’t do the first time. Because I knew I was heading out early, I went to bed SUPER early on Friday night – that is, 6PM super early. Knowing I had to get up around 2AM, I didn’t want to be sleepy or dragging for this race. Some people might think that’s crazy, but I say, you do what you need to do and I’ll focus on me. 🙂 Knowing I didn’t eat enough before my last 50K, I made sure my breakfast was better and substantial so I ate oatmeal and fixed me an almond milk latte.
Saturday morning I had plenty of time to pick up my bib and goodie bag, use the restroom a couple of times, and find my friends. First, I ran into my friend Jim Doyle, who was on our wonderful Ultra Ordinary Running Podcast, and then I met up with my other friends (Crystal, Roxanne, Wendy, and Olivia) who were all running their first 50K.
Based on the race instructions, I knew there were going to be an aid station around 2.6 miles in but I wasn’t going to stop here. There was no need because I had plenty of water and CarboPro with me. I kept going here and said hello to the Pacific Crest Trail with it’s single track and never-ending switchbacks.
Running along the single track, there are always moments some people will be behind you that you need to pass, and some people you come upon whom you need to pass. This happened to me about 3 miles in when the lady in front of our running train moved to the side to let the person directly in front me of me pass, and then I noticed she stayed on the side waiting for me to pass as well. Just as I did, I heard this lady say, “Christina?!” I turned around and I said, “Vida!” Vida and I first met last summer during a trail run.
From this moment on, Vida (pronounced VEE-DUH) and I ran together for most of the race. There were a few moments we parted but for the most part, it was me and Vida for the entire way.
When we got to the second aid station I ate my first couple pieces of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. At first I wasn’t going to but I needed to take a dose of my antibiotic due to getting tonsillitis the week before and didn’t want to take on an empty stomach.
When I started to run trail races back in 2012, I always ran by myself. This wasn’t a conscious decision. I just didn’t know anybody else running these things. Surely there were people I talked to during the race. Strangers I’d meet. Strangers I’d see at other races. And then follow them on Instagram such as the case with Luisa. Last year, she and I shared the joy of not finishing the Bulldog 50K together. After seeing her at the Run Deo Run race, I knew I’d see her at Leona and it’s always nice to run into the same people. We encourage each other and that’s always a wonderful thing.
The course was definitely different from what I remembered and while this course was no less challenging, it was challenging enough with hills everywhere, but some nice stretches of downhills too. Downhills are harder for me, especially mentally. While I always have the option of power hiking up hills, I wanted to take advantage of downhills as much as possible; remembering to stay relaxed on them.
The weather was certainly different too. No scorching heat where temperatures got up to 4,000 degrees. Cool in the morning and it warmed up nicely throughout the day reaching temperatures into the 80s (from what I heard). But the wind kicked up in spots here and there, not giving me the best hair day.
However, I wasn’t about to complain about the weather, or the wind, or the course. When I choose to run these races, there should be no complaining allowed! My pet peeve number 1! Complaining does nothing. Complaining doesn’t solve any issues. Complaining makes your race worse. Complaining makes your race longer. Complaining makes you weak. I don’t want that. And I don’t want that kind of energy in any race I do so I try not to do it.
I was out here to enjoy this day, and the beautiful chance to run on the PCT. I was out here run Leona Divide! Coming across the Leona Divide 50 sign seriously made me giddy. I thought this was the coolest sight of the day! Seeing those names and some pretty impressive names and times on there inspired me. Taking those names in, I drew energy from them.
Energy was not an issue for me on this day. CarboPro helped me with that and I ate a couple of pieces of peanut butter (or almond butter) and jelly sandwiches at every single aid station, except for the final one. This helped me immensely and later on I found it funny the bread was toasted. Guess the temperature toasted them up nicely!
When I made it to the second half of the course, it felt a little familiar. This course doesn’t deviate too much from the original course I ran on and I was wondering if I had to face that tough climb I DNF’d on back in 2013. It wasn’t there! However, I was prepared for it and ready to tackle it had it been there. Not this day. I did have to tackle giant mosquitos because they were everywhere! They were so huge!
But I absolutely loved this course! Nothing too technical at all. There was a nice mixture of uphills and downhills and only about 4300 ft elevation gain. But there were indeed so many switchbacks! So many!
I got to the turnaround aid station, around mile 21.5. We had an option for a drop bag here but I didn’t feel the need to have one. I made me some ziplock bags filled with CarboPro in case the aid stations ran out of it, and added one to my OrangeMud bottle. It was at this station I met up with Crystal, Roxanne, and Wendy who were already here fueling up before I arrived. I had passed Olivia on my way down and she was well on her way back to the finish line. Vida wasn’t with me at this point as she dropped back to get a rock out of her shoe. But right after leaving the aid station, Vida was right behind me! From there on, it was me and these ladies who carried on back to tackle these final 10 miles. We chatted and laughed and got through these last miles together.
Even though some of us ran together during some training runs, we each had a race to run and I wasn’t even sure I’d run with any of them during the race. I was completely prepared to run all by myself. Many people can’t run races alone. They need or want someone to run with. I’m not one of those people. Whether running alone or with others, each of those scenarios present their own set of challenges. When you’re alone, you need to rely on only yourself to get through rough patches. When you’re with people they can help in those tough times. I will say this, running alone in any tough race, certainly makes you tougher.
Getting through those last miles to the final aid station took a while to get through. We were on single track and there were moments runners from the 50 Mile were coming down the pike so we stopped and let them pass. The heat was out more and I started to feel it more. I knew I needed to push through this so I made sure I kept hydrating by sipping my water, and drinking my CarboPro, and trying not to get bogged down by the questions of ‘what our distance was’ which was being asked every few minutes. I was the only one with an accurate tally of mileage with my Garmin because others had their distance off, or the battery ran out, or they refuse to wear a GPS watch. While I try not to look at my Garmin every few minutes, I always like to have one. I’m not up on “running naked” just yet because I like having the ability to know where I am at any point and not depend on others to tell me. But maybe I’ll try that at some point and see how long it takes for someone to want to toss me over the mountain for asking them every 5 minutes, “how far have we ran?” I kid. Maybe. 😉
When I got to the final aid station there was one thing I couldn’t wait to eat! Up until this point, I only consumed CarboPro and nut butter and jelly sandwiches throughout the race and only took 1 salt stick capsule, so I was really looking forward to the watermelon since Vida talked about it earlier and I saw it at every station.
I refrained from eating any watermelon before this final station because I didn’t know how it was going to affect me with all the sandwiches I was devouring. It’s just water, right? But I know my tummy, and it’s sensitive. The CarboPro and sandwiches were perfect for me. No GI issues whatsoever! However, after leaving this station and running soon afterwards, I started to get a side stitch from all the watermelon I consumed. Aha! I knew it! But I couldn’t stop eating this sweet watermelon! I think I may have consumed about 10 pieces. Oops. It was just too good. Thank you to whoever picked out this watermelon!
One of the volunteers told us we had 2.9 miles until the finish line and I kept thinking “how could this be?” I didn’t think that was correct but I took my mind off of it knowing we’d have some serious downhill all the way to finish line coming up soon. My quads were hurtin’ from all the downhill I’ve already had this day, and my back was hurtin’ from all the water refills in my hydration pack, and my right baby toe was hurtin’ from all the bruisin’ it was taking.
After I crested the last of the uphills, I punched it – telling myself to not stop running until I cross that finish line, which was about 2 miles away at this point. I can honestly say I ran so hard here and didn’t let up, working hard to control and relax my breathing because that side stitch was still with me. Darn you delicious watermelon! But I was SO close to the finish line!
Making the last few turns on the road I could see cars parked and knew I was close. Just a few more turns. A few runners were making their way back to their cars and I finally asked one “am I close?” One finisher’s response, “yeah! Turn this corner and make a left. You’re right there!” Sweetest words I heard because soon after I turned the corner, I could see the flags. I made the final left turn and could see the finish line. I was finished! I was finished with my fourth 50K and my second best 50K time!
Soon after I finished Crystal, Wendy, Roxanne, and Vida came barreling in. Olivia had finished well before us.
What can I say about this race other than I had a great time running it! This experience felt so much better this time around, and I’m attributing it to being better prepared, the course, the weather, and the company I kept. Plus, I got to witness some friends receiving their first ultra medal and that was nice.
The score I needed to settle at the Leona Divide 50K was indeed settled and yeah, redemption feels very good!
Thanks for reading and Happy Running!
Thank you to Keira Henninger, her volunteers, and amazing aid stations for making this one great race!