Leona Divide 50K 2017: Race Recap

The butterflies showed up early on race morning and I wasn’t expecting them. It’s always normal for me to feel a little nervous before a race, but my stomach was in total knots.

So I did what I always do: I took deep breaths and told myself, “One foot in front of the other. That’s all. No pressure. Just relax.”

I don’t think I started to relax until the race actually started where we took off to climb close to 3 miles before reaching the first aid station (Spunky Edison Fire Road) and then hitting the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Single track. Up and down. Winding curves of trail for miles and miles with beautiful mountainous views.

I settled into a comfortable ease. My goal was to have a steady pace that wouldn’t burn me out early. On the other hand, I wanted to be ahead of the heat, and if I could speed up here maybe I’d have a fighting chance of not being in the heat for so long.

And I was doing fairly decently.

That is, until I rolled my right ankle 6 miles in – actually 5.83 miles on my Garmin to be exact.

Right then I could’ve dived into panic mode, but my brain quickly reminded myself, “Remember you rolled it at Ray Miller, 7 miles into that 50K and you were fine. You’re going to be fine here.”

I knew immediately this wasn’t going to be race ending. I stopped for a minute and walked slowly for a few more minutes, which eventually transitioned into a slow easy run. The dull achiness in my right foot stayed with me for a little while longer, but it would eventually dissolve.

And I knew, as long as I didn’t roll it again, I was going to be in good shape.

Just before I got to the second aid station (Bouquet Canyon Road), I saw a familiar face, Maile (@maile.belles on Instagram), who was running her first ultramarathon! We chatted for a couple of minutes, took our photo op and then she and her sister were on their way back up for more climbing.

Making it into the second aid station, and the turnaround point for the 50K, I made sure I added more water to my pack along with some ice, and refilled some CarboPro, which I carried with me.

My initial thought was to quickly check-in and check-out of this station, but considering I’d have another 6-ish miles to go before I could fill up again would’ve been a grave mistake on my part.

I made every conscious effort to make sure I drank up and stay hydrated. When the weather is cool and breezy it’s easy for me to loosened the reigns on my hydration plan, but I know better.

Because the weather was so wonderful I began to wonder, what if the weather report was wrong? What if the temperature stayed like this the whole way? What if the weather gods had a change of heart and was going to make the day cooler?

Yeah, that would’ve been nice.

Soon after leaving Bouquet Canyon, I ran into Jacette (@jazzedupjazzy on Instagram)! I haven’t seen her in person in a seriously long time and it was nice to see her out there.

Experience from last year’s race helped me to remember to train on long stretch of climbs because I remember some never-ending climbing between miles 10 and 12. I was going to be ready for it this time around.

Just as I came upon a photographer I heard him tell me, “Alright! Power hiking with a mission!” That’s right. I wasn’t messing around. This heat was going to come out soon and I really wanted to make it up this climb before it did.

I hiked up with a few running surges on more runable hills until it leveled out and hit a stretch of downhill.

13 miles in and my quads were pounded. Damn. It was way too early for my legs to be trashed and I was actually asking for climbs to give my quads a break from the downhills.

As I was running along a stretch, I heard a guy behind me yell out, “On your left.” I turned around and he was several feet away from me. I looked to my right, which had a slight drop off and I quickly moved and hugged closer to the mountain on the left. He was probably 4 or 5 feet away from me at this point and said, “I guess on your right!” With such attitude.

I gave him a once over and didn’t see a bib. The voice in my head was quick.

You’re not even running in this race. Asshole.

Not even a minute later a woman who was indeed running in this race, came upon me. I stopped again to let her pass me. As she did, she says, “Thank you. That guy was a dick.”

“Wasn’t he?! I thought it was just me!”

Nope.

I totally felt validated. But I didn’t let this get me because I had a race to get through.

Making it into the third aid station back at Spunky Edison, I dipped my bandana in ice water, added ice and water to my hydration pack, and filled up on CarboPro. Actually I should say “CarboPro” because even though it looked like CarboPro, it didn’t taste like CarboPro. At least not the CarboPro I’m used to consuming. Mine doesn’t have much of a flavor, if at all, and this tasted watermelony. I can’t really pinpoint what it really tasted like.

I got nervous. But I wasn’t about to relive the “Javelina water” incident and continued taking sips of it here and there with no serious issues aside for the fact I didn’t particularly care for the flavor.

By the time I left for the next 6.5 miles into the fourth aid station at San Fran Road, the heat was out, but it was still manageable and bearable. There were still some breezes blowing in which lessened the impact.

About half way to the turnaround, I ran into a couple of friends, Crystal and Wendy, who were returning on the 30K. We chatted and laughed and it was fun. Of course, we chatted for what feels like around 10 minutes, even though it was probably closer to 7 minutes. Maybe it was because I was jacked up on salt tabs with caffeine, but I hadn’t seen them in forever and apparently when you’re in the middle of a trail race is a really good time to catch up.

We stood there talking having people I had passed, now pass me by. Welp. There goes that PR. Just kidding! I knew the PR wasn’t going to be in the cards today. The only hope I had now was to beat last year’s time.

I’m totally going to make up this time the last few miles. Yeah, totally.

We bid adieu and I couldn’t wait until the stretch of downhill into the fourth aid station.

Single track. Up and down. Winding curves of switchbacks for miles and miles with beautiful mountainous views. And the heat was out.

Amazingly I ran a generous portion of this section, albeit slowly, but still. I guess I wanted to try and hurry up, and get to that aid station.

Around 0.75 of downhill into San Fran Road, I ran into Maile again here, looking strong as ever on her return.

Just before reaching the aid station I tossed the remaining “CarboPro” out of my OrangeMud bottle to hydrate the bushes.

5 minutes. That’s it. That’s all I’m staying here. Use the restroom. Fill up on ice and water. Add CarboPro, MY CarboPro into my bottle and get out of there. 5 minutes. OOOOH COKE!!!

12 minutes later I was filled up with a couple of cups of Coca-Cola, peanut butter pretzels, potato chips, ice, water, and flavorless CarboPro.

And back up that hill for 0.75 miles.

I really hope all that Coke and pretzels don’t come back to bite me here.

They didn’t.

The miles back to the final aid station (Spunky Edison yet again), can feel never-ending. It’s exposed. Hot. There is a lot more uphill than I imagined on my return. And there are runners coming towards you and behind you on this single track so you need to sometimes stop and let them pass because both of you moving can get tricky and nobody wants to dive into that slight drop off into hot brush where slithering critters are most likely lurking. Thank goodness I didn’t have any.

One runner in the 50 mile ran towards me and recognized me from one of my YouTube videos. He was very sweet. In fact, there were three ladies running together and as I came upon them about to pass, I heard one of them said, “She did Bulldog.”

“I did do Bulldog.”

One of them asked me, “Which race is harder, Bulldog or this one?”

I said, “This one!”

The reason being with Bulldog, you get the big climb fairly early, but Leona has constant rolling hills and switchbacks throughout. Plus we have single track for around 26 miles, and this is just for the 50K. Not sure what’s on the other side for the 50 mile distance, but maybe I’ll find out next year.

Of course, if it’s just as hot next year as it was this year, I may need to rethink that.

Okay it’s hot, but not as hot as Javelina.

I couldn’t tell you the temperature exactly but definitely in the 90’s. I’ve heard 95 degrees thrown out, but there were some breezes here and there which helped in parts, but overall it was hot – definitely hotter than last year’s race.

And people were feeling the effects. Many people were cramping and getting sick, even stopping and sitting along the trail to recover. Just before I reached the final aid station, a medic was attending to a runner flat out on the trail.

If I stepped above him, chances are I would’ve slid dirt down into his face and I honestly didn’t want to do that. A fellow runner who was helping him, put his arm out for me to hold onto so I could go over him and not lose my balance.

“Sir, I’m stepping over your head. I just wanted you to know.”

“Ok.”

A few seconds later after I passed, I could hear him scream out in anguish from the leg cramps he was experiencing.

Luckily, I didn’t have any cramping. Nor did I have any blisters either. Hallelujah! I really only needed to contend with the heat and the constant barrage of bugs. So many bugs! Mosquitos!!! I don’t remember having this many bugs last year, but I have a feeling the glorious rain we had this season has brought them out. And in all honestly, I’d rather deal with bugs and mosquitos than rattlesnakes.

The last few miles were very challenging for me. I tried to take advantage of every downhill I could, even though my legs were tired and achy. But I really wanted nothing more than to see that next aid station. I’m sure we all did.

A 50 mile runner came upon me and asked me how much further until the aid station at San Fran Road.

I quickly did the math.

“About 5 miles.”

“5 miles???”

She really did have about 5 miles to go. Her disappointment was apparent. But she pressed on.

If anything that last stretch is where the mental toughness has to come in. Every turn, you think will be the last one. It’s not. And I was trying to think of why it seems last year’s went by quicker. It might have had something to do with the fact I was running with four other ladies and this time around it was just me.

Me, alone to push me along. Me, alone to fight the heat demons. Me, alone to tell myself, I can do this.

But what a magnificent feeling to see the final aid station.

I have enough water and CarboPro to get me to the finish. Dip the bandana in ice water and go! OOOOH WATERMELON!!!

I couldn’t tell you how long I stayed but it was long enough to eat several pieces of watermelon and drink some Sprite. I had a serious craving for watermelon during that last stretch and while I told myself I wasn’t going to have any, I simply couldn’t pass it up.

This time the watermelon came back to bite me. I got a stomachache. But the good thing was I had less than 2 miles to go.

Once I hit the road, I had a mile remaining.

With around a half mile remaining I ran into Dave who attempted the 50 mile distance, but it wasn’t his day. A lot of people struggled out there, including myself.

At the end of the day, I somehow managed to finish 6 minutes ahead of last year’s 50K time and aside from my rolled ankle, I didn’t get majorly sick. I suppose if I didn’t stop to talk to people, or snap photos, or spend more time in certain aid stations than I did, I probably could’ve shaved off even more time, quite possibly 20 or 30 minutes. But I don’t regret any of that.

I do these races for the challenge, for the community, for the joy, for the empowering feeling I have for overcoming whatever demons I’m facing that day, and yeah the medal is pretty cool too.

Thanks for reading!

p.s. Three days post-race, my right ankle is sore and tender. I’ve been icing it and compressing it and most importantly, resting it. But I was going to rest anyways because my quads are still trashed. 

 

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