One Step Leads To Another

Happy New Year! Can you believe 2017 is officially in the books?! A part of me wanted to write up this huge long end-of-year recap but truthfully, there really wasn’t much to recap. 

Somehow, I managed to squeak in 1,177 miles for the year which included only one race – Leona Divide 50K in April. It’s amazing how little consistent bites of miles add up and I gotta say I’m surprised I even hit 1,000 miles for the year. Running a mile is a gift so anything above that is a true blessing and I’m thankful for every step. 

When I ended 2016, I set my intentions for 2017 to take it easy and take a break. No multiple races. No big mileage. I wasn’t even planning on doing any races at all. While 2016 was called, “The Year of the Ultras,” 2017 was going to be a year of “R and R.” That is, Recovery and Rebuilding. Not sure what 2018 will be called but I sure hope “Epic” is part of it.

For a majority of last year I didn’t have a running plan. I basically ran when I could and ran when I truly felt like it which was still a few times a week. 

During the last quarter of the year I became a little more consistent and aware of the mileage I needed to do especially since I had signed up for the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile set for the first weekend in February. There was no possible way of waiting until the year was over to start training for it. 

On New Years Day, I met up with a couple of friends to tackle the back half of the 50 mile course which consists of the miles between 13 and 36 of the race. Both Jim and John have done this portion before both as a training run and during Sean O’Brien itself. I have not. This was all new territory for me and it was going to be an extremely important training run because it was going to give me a good sense of where I am and how to proceed. 

In the days leading up to the run, physically, I felt pretty good. However, I started to feel a teensy tiny bit nervous. Alright, more than a teensy tiny bit. But I always get nervous before a long day on the trails. Not that a long day is necessarily bad, but the longer time out there, the more there is a possibility something could go wrong, and the more time you may feel horrible and the farther you’re out there, the farther it is for you to get back to where your car is. 

Of course, I almost didn’t make it past the first mile as I rolled my left foot on a dark rocky stretch very early on. It didn’t hurt the slightest and it was fine, but that was my cue to retie my shoes.

We made it out of the canyon and onto the open fire road (Zuma Ridge Fire Road) where the 50K runners would turn around. It was the same spot where I turned around when I did the race a few years ago for the first time. Only this time there were no flour markings that said turn around and no jugs of water were stashed along the trail. 

We headed up Zuma Ridge into what was quickly becoming a beautiful sunrise with a sky filled with cotton candy clouds. Seeing that sunrise makes waking up at an ungodly hour on New Year’s Day, or any morning for that matter, worth it. Good thing I didn’t stay up all night celebrating, or else, I probably would’ve bailed on this run, but I needed this run. However, I was tired. We were all kind of tired. Little did I know how I tired I was going to become. 

Once we hit Buzzards Roost Ranch, there was a good stretch of downhill. When we reached Bonsall Drive which is a site where the aid station would be, we refilled our packs and bottles and from there began the arduous ascent back. I don’t even know how to describe this portion of the course. Tough? Yes. Grueling? Maybe that’s more appropriate. 

Tons of single track. Miles and miles of uphill climbing. Slow uphill climbing. Even with a few downhills, there were still close to 8 miles and thousands of feet worth of climbing involved.

A nice piece of downhill came in somewhere in miles 12 or 13 into this run which would be around the half-way mark in the race. We had stopped to take a photo (below) where John proceeded to tell me that particular spot was the pivotal spot and moment of truth where I would decide if I should go forward with the 50 Mile race or dip down to the 50K. I said, I think I’d like to do the 1K.

But that spot wasn’t where I made any decision. 

We ran deeper down into the canyon and then had to make our way back up to Buzzards Roost which was about 3 (long slow) miles away.

Must. Get. There.

Once we were around mile 15-ish miles in, we made our way back up. And up and up and up we all went. 

Deep in the canyon.

So many thoughts went through my mind at this point and I started to question my life choices such as maybe indulging in all those holiday treats weren’t such a good thing after all. Why did I sign up for this? Core. Work!

It was certainly a strugglefest up the mountain and there were a couple of times I told them, “Ok someone go get the car, I’ll wait here.“ Funny? Maybe. Realistic? No. 

We were about 2 hours away from the cars and there was nowhere on the mountain where a car could get me.  Believe me, I thought this through. 

While this part was difficult, I think it would’ve been a whole lot more difficult for me had I not been doing any hill training or focusing on elevation gain for the past few months. But I must do more, or at least continue to focus on it.

Climbing up those hills there were words that would drift into my head: one step leads to another. No this wasn’t just some motivational push I needed. Earlier in the run, as it usually goes with these runs, songs and lyrics get spoken or sung, and sung badly usually by me. One step leads to another was a play on The Fixx’s song “One Thing Leads To Another.” Anyways I was singing it earlier. Actually, I was singing one step leads to another to the tune of “One Thing Leads to Another,” but those words kept resonating with me every time I turned a corner and saw more uphill. Slowly my feet turned over one after the other. 

Towards the end of that section, which was the hardest to complete, I did feel a twinge of nausea creeping up. I wasn’t drinking enough water. For fear of running out, I took intermittent sips. We could’ve used that stash of water jugs when we reached Buzzards Roost about 18 miles into this run. That water sure would’ve been nice right about there.

After all that climbing ended at Buzzards Roost (for the time being), we had a stretch of downhill back to where the 50K turnaround was. The sign said 2.5 miles left to go. I held it at it’s word. It was wrong. Could be I was wrong, but naaah.

Now that I could see where I was, I remembered this area from when I did the 50K race. But I don’t remember it dragging on. It felt seamlessly long. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely area but I was so tired at this point and running extremely low on water that I wanted it to be shorter than what it was. 

Almost home.

When I heard those cars zooming by on the road, I knew I was close to the parking lot. Nope. I could see the cars zooming by so I must be close. Nope. Just one more turn and there it is. But nope. 

The distance was probably closer to 2.8 miles and when you’re tired and ready to be done like I surely was, the distance between 2.5 and 2.8 feels miles apart. 

At the end of this training run and technically, a 50 Mile course preview, I was certainly drained and my body ached and my feet hurt, but I would do this portion again. Absolutely! I’m so grateful I got to see what is on the other side and experience that section of the Sean O’Brien course with Jim and John. We covered over 22 miles and somewhere in the ballpark of 5,300 to 6,000 ft elevation gain (different GPS watches get different readings). But I think I’d rather do this again as a training run and not during the race itself. 

Yeah. This means I will most likely dip my body down into the 50K pool.

While there is a part of me that believes I can finish the 50 miles, there is that part of me that doesn’t believe I will finish within those last time cutoffs. And then I wonder, is this just doubt or fear creeping in? Am I unintentionally sabotaging myself and diminishing my abilities? Is this a knee-jerk reaction for having a tough training run? Should I just go for it and not even care about not making the final cutoffs and receive that DNF because my pride or ego told me to?

I am certainly evaluating my goals for the year, and race goals specifically for that matter, and I think the 50K is a much better and smarter option for me at this point. And I feel ready for the 50K. Or at least I will be. This run certainly helped with that.

Thanks for reading!

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  1. Sounds like it was a good training run. That same segment you did is the only part of the 50 mile course that I haven’t done yet. I heard the Zuma climb is a beast so good job. I’m volunteering for the SOB parking crew so I’ll see you out there bright and early!

    1. Thank you Jesse! It was definitely one of the hardest segments of a race course I’ve encountered thus far. One heck of a challenge. See you at SOB!

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