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!
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!
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.