This race was HARD. It was more than twice as long as last week's race and twice as difficult. Here is a glimpse of the elevation profile from my Garmin. Yikes.
This race was a leg workout extraordinaire! There was a LOT of running uphill or downhill and very little flat. The climb starting at mile 6 was 1400 feet over 1.4 miles! The grade for that section of the race was over 20%. To put that in perspective, my previous hilliest races were La Jolla Half Marathon and the trail race last week. La Jolla has a hill with an elevation gain of about 450 feet over two miles and O'Neill Park has an hill with an elevation gain of about 550 feet over two miles. La Jolla has 960 feet of climbing over 13.1 miles where today's had 3107 ft of climbing over 13 miles.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I would like to start at the beginning....*
I woke up this morning to rain. Thanks to Glenn, who told me about the race as well as pointed out the joys of running in the mud, I was determined to go no matter what the weather. Due to scheduling issues, I wasn't able to rally anyone else to drive the hour drive with me. By the time I hit the road around 6:45, the skies had cleared. It was a gorgeous morning!
There was a bit of traffic (always in this area), so I was starting to cut it closer than I would have liked. I drove up into the mountains and then turned off toward the campground where the race was. Instead of going through Orange County, I drove into Riverside County. Google Maps told me that it was fifteen minutes faster. That was because there was more time on the interstate than the windy two-lane highway. Unfortunately, most of the runners came in from the west. My directions were brief on the website and there were no balloons showing me the way.
As I am driving up a wide one-lane road into the mountains, I started wondering if I was going the right way. There were no other cars. No markings. I finally came across a campground. It was not the Bluejay campground that I was looking for. Thankfully, there were some campers there making breakfast who told me that the other campground was just down the road. Phewww.... I hate being lost.
I finally found the cars of the runners and parked. I started talking to two women while walking down to the start. They were Kate and Cindy. I explained that this was my first real trail race.** I was nervous. I knew that there was a lot of elevation change. They told me that there was even a creek crossing! They had run it a couple of weeks ago in the pouring rain. It was Cindy's first time. They reassured me that I would have a great time.
In the starting area a very friendly gentleman came and welcomed me. He even gave me a hug. I recognized him as the race director Baz Hawley. What a wonderful person. He completely put me at ease. The day before, I had e-mailed him asking if there were still spots available. I also asked him how scary the course was in the rain and mud. His response? "Not scary... it is magic... you will love it. BAZ"
Then I saw a familiar face. While I have never met Glenn in person, I recognized him from pictures from his blog and Twitter. I walked up to him and said hi. I love meeting bloggers in person. We learn so much about them through their blogs and other social media, once we meet them, it is like we already know them.
This race was so laid back and low key. All the announcements were made by hollering over the crowd. The RD, Baz, scolded runners for talking while he was talking. He knew most of the runners by name and teased them mercilessly.
I had no idea what to expect in terms of time. Should I go out slow? Should I run faster while I can? I really liked the lack of the pressure of the clock. If this was a half marathon, I would be thinking about splits, pacing, PR etc. In a trail race, because they are all different, PR's are out the window. It is all about running. It is ok, and even encouraged, to walk when the terrain gets tough.
So we were off. We ran along the road for almost a mile. Then we headed into the hills. It was a gravel and dirt fire road. Things were pretty social along here. It was nice and wide. I chatted with several runners. There was a couple, Melissa and Hugh, who were very nice. I came up on Kate and Cindy and ran with them for a bit. It started getting pretty steep and just about everyone around started to walk.
The views were spectacular. The sun was out. I took this opportunity to take my phone out and take a couple of pictures. I still have a hard time getting a clear self-portrait.
Yes... that is the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
Sorry for the blur.
At the top, there was an aid station. I decided to drink a full cup of sport drink. I was carrying water, but I forgot to bring my Endurolyte pills and I was really starting to sweat. While I was standing at the aid station (you can't really drink on the run because the garbage is right there and there is no way I would toss my cup in the woods), a woman asked the man at the station in a very tired voice, "is that the last of the hills??!!" He gave her a sympathetic look and answered, "I am sorry to tell you that the next one is worse." I half expected her to turn around and go back. But she actually passed me on the downhill a short time later. I then passed her on the "hill". I didn't see her at the end. I hope she finished.
After the aid station, the course went into a beautiful single track section. This is where more experienced runners started to pass me. Glenn's friend, Lori, passed me. She is a really cool ultra runner who has run 50K, 50 miles and has attempted a 100 mile (she was cut off at mile 72 due to time). I tried to keep up with her, but she was pretty quick. Glenn pointed out that these runners may not have a ton more skill maneuvering on the trails, but a lot less fear. Watching your feet was necessary.
We hit a downhill section that was pretty much all rocks. The rocks were all shapes and sizes and getting good footing was difficult. A few times, my ankle rolled a little. Thank goodness I didn't roll it all the way. I really had to pay attention during this time. We hit a bit of a bottleneck. Apparently, there were others who were even more cautious than I was. The trail was narrow and hard to pass. At some points there were four or five people, so it seemed fruitless to pass. I caught up to Lori during this slow down. At one point, I was gaining some momentum. I nearly ran into the woman ahead of me, who I had been basically "tailgating" for a bit. She asked if I wanted to pass, so I did. I am still not sure of the correct etiquette. I didn't want to be pushy or cocky, especially when the big hill was still to come.
We hit the creek at the bottom of the canyon. It was smaller than I had imagined it to be, especially after the rains. I had visions of traipsing through ankle or knee deep water. Instead, I just hopped a couple of boulders and started back up the canyon. There were a couple more spots where we had to navigate water or obstacles, but I loved every minute. This was trail running. I even had to duck under a log crossing the trail! Awesome!
The trail went up, up, up. This was the 20% grade. I was right behind Lori. She stopped at a switchback to take a drink and I decided to go past her. I was in a nice rhythm with my hiking and didn't want to mess with it. Soon we came across four or five men in a line. They were walking very slowly. In fact, my heart rate dropped quite a bit. I told myself it was a good rest, since more than half the race was in front of us. After a while I worried that my heart rate would get down too much and I would have a hard time getting back into it. A guy who I had passed on the way down asked to pass. I thought about following right behind him, but didn't. Then the girl I had tailgated came up behind us. She asked to pass. As she went past me, I fell in step behind her and passed the men. I was able to get my heart rate back up.
As we reached the top of the canyon, the trail widened and the grade reduced a bit. My calves and hamstrings were KILLING me. I couldn't wait to start running downhill. The climb took us to over 4000 feet of elevation and we were in the clouds. Where earlier the sun was making me warm and sweaty, now the temperatures were lower and the wind blew on the top of the ridge making thing very chilly. I ran just to warm up.
I reached the aid station and stopped to down some more sport drink. I could feel my calves and hamstrings starting to cramp up. I think that my electrolytes were a bit low. Lori caught up to me here and offered me a salt pill. I am pretty sure it stopped my cramps. We started down the hill. Less than three miles to the end, all downhill. I tried to stay with Lori, but she was very fast. She flew down that hill. I just ran it easy. My legs were really tired. It reminded me of that last run after a long day of skiing. That last run, when your legs are like rubber, is when you are most likely to get injured. Running down that fire road, I nearly tripped a few times, just because I was so tired. I focused on running strong and safely down to the end.
It wasn't until I was on this downhill section of the fire road that I realized that it was the same road we ran up. The aid station was the same one from the third mile. I usually have a great sense of direction, but with all the switch backs and turns, I had no idea which direction we were heading. Since the clouds had moved in, the sun wasn't around to give me a clue. Thank goodness for ribbons and chalk, or I might still be out there today.
There was another short section of single track at the end. It was nice to run through here, knowing that I could stop running soon.
Other than my three marathons, this was the hardest race I had ever run. It was also the most beautiful. I ran into the finish to see Baz cheering me on. He high fived me as I crossed the finish line.
After the race
Later, I cheered on other runners coming in. I saw Kate and Cindy, who had been so encouraging.
Glenn posted a great video of the entire race. It really shows a lot more of the terrain (I didn't get my phone out much to shoot pictures). Check it out here.
My time was somewhere around 2:46 (I forgot to turn my Garmin off right away). It was great to forget about the Garmin. I rarely looked at it the entire race. Splits didn't mean anything. The winner ran it in 1:36!! Holy cow. I think he must have run all those hills.
It was a great race and I'll definitely be running more trails!!
* Of course, I couldn't do a short, concise race report. Detailed (aka wordy) is my signature. ;-)
**I'm not sure if last week's really counted, since it was only five miles.