Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Santa Monica Mountains 50K Race Report

PCTR puts on the best trail races and this year's Santa Monica Mountains race was no exception.  This race is a sentimental favorite for me because the 2008 version was the first time I met Billy and Lori in-person; we did the 30k together and I had a blast.  That was only my second trail run and it got me hooked on trails and led to my path of insanity ultra running.  Sarah and Michael put on another fantastic event this year and it made me so happy to be out there; they even brought in good weather to make conditions perfect for running.

Saturday was non-stop rain where I live and the forecast called for rainy and windy conditions for Sunday.  My boyfriend had decided against the 50K (okay, I told him no because I knew he was not trained for it and I didn't want him getting hurt) but was contemplating the 30K or 18K.  Unfortunately, the potential for rain caused him to back out and I definitely missed having him at the race.  The drive to Point Mugu made me worry about trail conditions and being out there for 7 hours but thankfully the skies cleared as I neared the race site.  Seeing how beautiful of a day it was made me wish I had tried to convince Alan to run and that hung over my head off and on during the day.  My heart and mind were not totally into running and I knew that my legs were not prepared for the distance.  However, seeing my running buddies before the start cheered me up and I knew that I would have fun out there.

Good looking bunch of fun people!

The course consists of 3 "loops" (with a section that is the same on out/back) and then a 9k out/back for a total of 5 significant climbs.  My plan was to take it very slowly and walk all the ups (ie. energy conservation, saving my legs) since I was very unprepared for the distance.  The first loop I ran with Stuart and, since we started very far back, we were bottlenecked at times and then behind a slower group for the first few miles.  We finally passed them after the first big climb and I just enjoyed taking in the phenomenal views.  I did not carry my camera since there was a chance of rain but Stuart got some great pics. :)  I was glad that it had rained because it made my least favorite section (meadow area with trail in a "v" making running hard) softer and easier to run without hurting my ankles.

Coming back through the "boulder" section, I was super cautious and Stuart ran ahead.  I took a moment at the first aid station to grab a Shot Block and a sip of electrolyte drink.  As I started the next climb at the start of the second loop, my coworker caught back up to me; he was going for his first ultra so I told him to walk the uphills and save his energy for the latter miles.  I powerhiked the up section and caught back up to Stuart; as we ran towards the aid station/turnaround, I felt good but realized my legs were already dead.  Running the fire road out was torture and I wanted to walk...not exactly the best feeling before hitting a seemingly endless technical climb. 

I pushed to the top and was very happy when I finally reached the downhill and entered the aid station after completing the 30K part.  Seeing Billy taking pics and having Sarah's friendly face asking if I was having fun motivated me to continue on to complete the 50K.

I filled up my water and was happy to see that I had done a better than normal job of hydrating.  I grabbed a couple of Shot Blocks, hit the restroom, and started back out on the 3 loop, which is the same as the 1st loop.  This time, I walked the entire first part as it's miniscule incline and my legs did not agree.  It was then that I realized I had not been eating (3 shot blocks over 19 miles); this is the first PCTR event where I did not grab candy, potatoes, etc. from the aid stations and from miles 18 to the end, I felt that mistake.  In the "boulder" section, I got very disoriented and started going the wrong way; thankfully, a fellow runner (Mike, a guy who ran Los Pinos 50K the day before...super awesome, tough guy!) yelled out and got me back on track.  However, with him ahead of me, I managed to do the same thing less than 0.25 mile later; I stood there wondering where on earth to go before climbing up on a big rock and seeing the right way and having to climb down and find my way to the next ribbon.  I felt pretty dizzy and unstable on the entire uphill section and even struggled on the flat meadow part, walking most of it and telling several runners to go ahead of me.

The fakest smile ever. 

I was very happy to get back to the aid station, see my friends, and head back out for the last 9K.  While I know others ran the gradual uphill, I again walked all of it.  I ended up with another runner as we were both just trying to get through the race; I hated letting other runners pass me but I knew that my objective was to finish, not to race, and so I didn't even try to push harder.  When we hit the turnaround, I was so happy to have less than 3 miles to go; I walked any of the uphills on the return but cautiously flew on the downhill...I had my doc's voice in my head reminding me to take it easy on the downhills and I obeyed.  The wind gusts slowed me down at times but I realized I had a chance of finishing around 6:30 and I cautiously pushed the pace to make that happen.  About 0.15 from the finish, I lost my concentration (I was irritated with a runner who stood in the middle of the trail seeing me coming but not moving until the absoulte last second); I took a very hard fall, slamming my face, hands, elbow, knees into the ground but jumped up so as to not lose any time.  I crossed the fnish line in pain, quickly said hi to Billy, Lori, and Emil and walked to the bathroom to assess the damage and clean up. 

I felt very dizzy and out of it and Emil commented on the amount of salt on my clothing.  It was then I realized another mistake; somewhere around mile 18, I stopped taking salt capsules.  By now, I should have learned how to eat, drink, and replenish electrolytes but yet I made the same mistake I've made other times.  In retrospect, I wonder if my crappy feeling for the last 12 miles was due to nutrition and not a lack of endurance/traning.  I guess I'll get a chance to figure that out soon when I run another 50K. :)

Final results- 6:30, good enough for 6th female and 29th OA (out of 70 finishers).  It's not my personal worst (what I anticipated) but it's far from my personal best.  However, I had a lot of fun out there, had a wonderful time during and after with my old running buddies, made some new running buddies along the way, and enjoyed gorgeous weather in one of the prettiest parts of the country. 

(all pics courtesy of Billy and Stuart)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

PCT at San Gorgonio- Hello, altitude!

On Veteran's Day, I had the pleasure of exploring new trails and getting in some altitude training.  A fellow SocalTrailHeadz member posted for doing a longish (up to 20 miles) run along the PCT near San Grogonio and I jumped at the chance to head to the mountains.  LT is a speedy ultra runner who has completed races I dream about and he's one who always supports his fellow runners.  I made sure he would be okay with running slowly and that he knew I'd never run at altitude (SD 100 is highest altitude I've run at and that was only up to about 6200 ft).  Thankfully, he was more than willing to take a newb on those gorgeous trails.

Normally I look forward to sleeping in on my days off work but I was so excited to explore that area that I had no problem waking up at 5am to prepare to drive to Riverside.  The weather forecast called for strong winds and temps in the 30s in the San Bernadino mountains so I dressed and packed accordingly.  The initial part of my 50 mile drive made me realize that the winds would make the run potentially way more challenging, but I did not wake up to bail because of some little bitty winds. :)  LT texted me while I was driving to make sure I was okay with running in those conditions and I told him I could handle the challenge (no texting while driving...pulled to the side of the freeway) as long as it was safe; I had no idea how exposed the trail was but I figured it would be good training for races when you run regardless of the weather.

We carpooled from Riverside to Hwy 38 and parked within a mile of where the PCT runs parallel to the highway.  It was clear that the temps were cool but I didn't worry because I was wearing more layers than I've worn when running in cold temps in Memphis.  LT recommended we walk the first half mile or so for me to acclimate to the altitude; I felt totally fine and didn't notice any problems (momentarily)....we were running at a comfortable pace for me (slow for him) and stopped when we came to a wildlife refuge area.  I've never been so thankful for metal fences and cages!  There was a lioness that became agitated(?!) and started roaring and pacing back and forth...that scared the life out of me as I've never heard something like that before.  The tiger and bear seemed more mellow but I was still pretty freaked out by seeing creatures like that so close...especially before running on a very remote section of trail!

I'm not getting any closer- the lioness and tiger are hard to see and that was fine with me!

The section of the PCT we planned on running was one with no major climbs, just rolling hills (800 feet or less for each climb).  I was already wondering if I'd be able to run all the hills since lately I tend to fast hike up hills but I also know that I can push myself more than I do if running with others.  However, as soon as we started running up the first hills, I felt a tightening in my chest.  I couldn't take any deep breaths and started to feel a little dizzy.  I pushed through at first but finally told LT how I was feeling.  He gave me one of his tricks of the trail and it helped momentarily.  But as soon as we started to climb again, I was having such a hard time breathing that I told him I needed to walk.  I admitted that the altitude was kicking my butt and we decided to take it very easy and just enjoy the run.  And that we did...that area is stunningly beautiful!

Incredible backdrop...loving the mountains and being on a "real" trail

Steep drop!

Conquering the rocks and the PCT (yeah, right!)

LT running ahead to show how small we are compared to our surroundings...neat perspective!~

 The fireroad below, thank goodness for switchbacks!

We ended up missing the PCT trailhead around mile 5 or 6 and instead ran on fireroad; since it was so pretty running by the campsites, we decided to keep to that path instead of turning back to look for the PCT.  Unfortunately, running down the fireroad meant we had to run back up it but challenge is what ultra runners seek, right?!  We decided to turn around when we hit mile 8.  Thanks to my difficulty breathing, we did a walk/run approach for making the climb back up.  LT figured out where we missed the PCT, the place where we were more focused on the scenery (seeing the steep dropoff) than the trail.  Getting back to the vehicle meant more running/hiking and just taking in the beauty of the area.  It was a perfect day for being out there and the scenery made me long to stay out there for days...maybe some day I can do that. :)

In the end, it was about 16 miles and over 3 hours of altitude training...a fantastic fun run with great conversations during and after the run....well, more talking after the run because talking and running at altitude are not easy for me!  I can't wait to go back to that area as it's just the challenge that I need and it's such a gorgeous area that any run is destined to be a wonderful one.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sometimes you just have to get it done...

This week felt like a "just get it done" one as I battled being sick, hot temperatures, and a work deadline that left little time for running.  Wednesday and  Thursday I hit the roads and a dirt path for a couple of easy hilly 8 milers; considering the weather and my lingering fever and icky feeling, I was happy to get in decent runs.  Saturday I finally broke away from grading (and watching football) to hit the trails for 10 miles; I knew that I had to get in some miles to up my weekly mileage.  I took it easy and was happy with how I felt on the hills, though I still have a long way to go to being able to run up the steeper sections.

With the Santa Monica Mountains 50K only two weeks away, I felt that I needed to put in 18-20 miles today.  It looks as though Alan will not be running the race so I procrastinated heading out for a solo run.  I watched the NYC marathon and graded all morning and then found the energy to hit the trails.  This was one of those days when I was very happy that I live a mile from the trailhead as not having to drive to run helped me get out the door.  From the first step, I could tell that the run would not be a great one but knew that I could battle through it and just get it done.  I took it very easy, walking the uphills (even little ones) and was glad I saved energy as it was a rough one; I discovered I did not have any salt pills so my body was craving salt from about mile 9 to the end.  I underestimated my caloric needs and only took one shot block so I ended the run needing sugar and electrolytes.  All in all, 18.35 miles with less than 3,000 feet of climb. It wasn't pretty but I got in the miles and I am hoping that the back-to-back trail runs will help the race not hurt toooo much!