Thursday, April 26, 2012

San Juan Trail 50K Race Report—first Ultra Marathon!

I wrote about some lessons learned from my race HERE at  My race report here is a bit more detailed and personal.

I was excited and nervous about my 50K. I could barely sleep the night before. I drove to the race site with plenty of time. That is a good thing because I missed the turnoff and had to drive a ways down the highway before I could turn around.

When I arrived to the starting line, I discovered that the course had been changed. The day before, there was a storm. It was a short, but powerful storm that brought snow into the foothills. Snow levels dropped to about 3000 feet. Because of the snow, the race organizers decided to eliminate the upper portions of the course where snow apparently covered access roads. We were told that the Forest Service had originally asked them to cancel the race. They posted a map, but it was hand drawn and didn’t mean much to me.IMAG1151

Everyone was buzzing with the news. The biggest change was that the toughest part of the race, Horsethief Trail, was no longer part of the race. Several runners cheered with delight at this news. I actually felt disappointed. I mentally and physically prepared for that trail. I was also a bit bummed when I learned that the course would be several miles short. I then realized that I needed to face the situation for what it was and keep positive. I made the comment to another runner that I just needed to get 45K in since it was my 45th birthday. I was still super excited!


I took off on the first loop at a comfortable pace. I was running with a group of runners for a while. Had it been a 10 mile race, I would have pushed to keep up, but I realized that I had a LONG way to go and slowed it down a bit to conserve my energy. I let them go down the path without me. I was a little relieved hours later when I passed one of those runners around mile 23.

The rest of the first loop I spent running mostly by myself. I always forget how disconcerting it is on these trail races with relatively few runners. I often felt like I was out there by myself. I kept doubting whether or not I had taken a wrong turn. I used logic to reassure myself. It was early in the morning and it had rained the night before, so any footprints would belong to other runners as few hikers would be out that early. So whenever I felt lost, I would look in the mud and see footprints to know that I was on the right trail. I felt a little like a tracker.

tracks SJT50k

Photo courtesy of Lauren on the Run

Many of the miles are a blur. I enjoyed the solitude of the trails. I listened to my music and didn’t listen to my music. I was out there for a long time. At the end of the first loop (9ish miles), there was an aid station stocked with some food and helpful volunteers to top off my water. I grabbed a couple Oreo cookies and went on my way. I have never eaten Oreos during a run and it was fun.

The next loop is known as the Candy Store loop. It is about 19.5 miles and was originally supposed to be the first part of the race. I tried to imagine that I hadn’t just run over nine miles and I was just starting out.  I was feeling great.

The entire course was single track trails. Those are the kinds of courses trail runners love.  However, you have to pay attention the entire time. So mentally and physically these single tracks take a toll. There were several times when I came very close to tripping and doing a face plant onto the trail. Tired legs trip more easily. SJT50k Lauren

The hills didn’t help either.SJT50k Lauren 3

Photos courtesy of Lauren On the Run

Around mile 14, there was a little gully. There were big rocks that I needed to cross. I stepped on a big rock and it was slippery. My feet slipped out from under me and I fell flat on my face. My first trail fall! I did a quick assessment and realized that I was fine...just a little scrape on my hand. I picked myself up, wiped myself off, said a quick “I’m OK” and ran down the trail. You see, even though I had been running mostly by myself, the one time I face planted, there was someone there to witness it.  Of course.

About 1/2 mile down the trail, I looked down to check my Garmin.  GONE!!  What??  I have a velcro wrist strap instead of the standard strap that comes with the Garmin. The device itself snaps onto a plastic housing. During my fall, it snapped out of its housing. My brain was spinning.  Run back? Keep going? I wasn’t 100% sure if the course came back that way. I don’t have money to burn buying another Garmin. Ultimately, my practical side won out. I wasn’t going to win this thing. I trained for 31 miles and this one would be shorter. What is an extra mile or so?

I ran back to where I fell. I was really hoping that I would find it. It was possible that it fell between the rocks and was lost forever. I could spend time looking for it and only come up empty handed. But there it was, right where my wrist banged against the rock. I tried to snap it back on the band and it wouldn’t go. Assuming it was broken*, I stuck the Garmin in my pocket. For the rest of the race (about half of it) I had no idea how far I had gone. Maybe it was better that I wasn’t checking my Garmin all the time. But it was frustrating not to know how far I had to go unless I dug into my pocket.

As I ran into the aid station around mile 15, the awesome volunteers starting singing happy birthday. They finished with “happy birthday dear, number 58!  Happy birthday to you!!!!”  I was shocked. Tears came to my eyes. “How did you know?” I stuttered. “I heard you telling someone at the starting line,” one gal said. I was fully refueled and recharged after this aid station-both physically and mentally. I felt like I was flying. I was ready for the next 13-14 miles!

Five miles down the trail was the next aid station. This was the big station. They had lots of stuff to refuel. They had some bananas, cookies and some nectar of the gods, Coca Cola. The Coke was the perfect temperature—not too cold, but not too warm and just slightly flat. It really hits the spot and gives the perfect boost. I love an ice cold Coke after a race, but during, it is better a bit flat. This aid station marked the turnaround of the loop. There was about nine miles or so left. There was a woman who had been right on my heels for a while. We both left the aid station around the same time. My competitive streak kicked in and I was determined not to let her finish ahead of me. It was great motivation.

The return was mostly uphill. I did quite a bit of power hiking, but tried to run as much as possible.  Most of the bottom part of the loop looked a lot like this. SJT50k Lauren 4

Photos courtesy of Lauren On the Run.

About mile 25 was the same “happy birthday” aid station. I felt great after this. I tried to run as much as possible. The terrain flattened out for a bit and looked more like this: SJT50k Lauren 5

At one point I ran into Lauren. She is my wonderful trail running friend and guide. She was heading down the trail as I was heading up.  She was in good spirits, despite having taken a spill herself. We stopped and snapped a couple of pictures of each other.  Photos courtesy of Lauren On the Run.

Lauren SJT50KDSCN4019

As I was a couple miles from the end. I came up to an intersection of trails. This was the third time running through this particular section. I had three choices of which way to go. One of them went away from the finish, toward the first loop of the day.  The other two both went towards the end. One of them went straight up a brutal hill, the other was a bit longer, but a more gradual uphill. I stood their for a while. My brain was not working well enough to decide. There were arrows going both ways. Another runner (that one female who had been behind me at the aid station) ran up and the two of us made the decision together. We went UP. That trail went up, up, up. Three other runners came along behind us. So at least if we were wrong (which we were), we would be wrong together. I found out later that the other trail was the way to go. The trail we chose was a bit shorter, but MUCH more difficult.

I finally hit the pavement of the road to the parking lot. It was a short downhill to the finish!!  I was done!  My Garmin said that I had run around 27 miles. I added the extra mile I had run backtracking to my Garmin to give me a total of 28 miles. I barely made my 45K goal.

My finish time was 6 hours 30 minutes. I was a little disappointed with this time. That was my goal time for the original course. I had thought I could run closer to six hours with the shorter course. But this course was not necessarily easier. There was still plenty of elevation (close to 6000 feet!). Plus, there are several miles on the original course that are on fire roads, allowing for some pretty fast pace. I couldn’t “open it up” on any section of the course that day.

SJT50K elevation profile

I tried not to dwell on any disappointment. I still ran an ultra—a very difficult ultra. I was tired at the end, but was still able to enjoy dinner and a movie with my husband later that night. Looking back, even though it was difficult, I enjoyed nearly every minute. People call me crazy for running for over six hours on my birthday. I must really love running.

I had normal soreness the next couple of days, but was able to run 29 miles the next weekend (look for my recap for the Ragnar Relay!!!).  I feel strong and am ready to run another one.  I still have a desire to complete that 50K! 

Thanks for reading this novel of a race report. It has been a while since I have written a detailed race report.

Happy Running…

*because my only camera was my phone, it was difficult to take pictures during the race. The on-course pictures are from Lauren at On the Run.  Thanks, Lauren for letting me steal!

**it turns out that it is fine. The plastic didn’t break like I had thought. I was just too impatient to snap it in place correctly.


Lauren said...

Great race recap. Funny. I stood at that same intersection toward the end for quite some time figuring out what to do -- and I chose the same route as you, the steep brutal one. If you are up for some heat training beforehand, I think the Bulldog 50k is an excellent 50k to attempt. I am thinking at making another go at it this year! Congrats again on your excellent time. I know we all have different goals and you were a little disappointed in your time. For me, this course in 6 1/2 hours is quite quick. : )

Unknown said...

Congrats on finishing the race...

Nicole said...

Great recap. You did an amazing job!

Glenn Jones said...

Congrats on your 50K! I think the worst part of that lower loop over toward Sugarloaf is the way the bikes have rutted the trail. Makes twisting an ankle pretty easy.

Lindsay said...

woo hoo! congrats! what a GREAT way to celebrate your birthday. i am actually envious. i've always had some dilemma (usually not being in shape) as to why i can't run my age on my bday. well, i probably could have sucked it up and converted to km's sometimes but i didn't. i love that the volunteers remembered who you were from overhearing you at the start line and sang to you! too cool. and also cool that you found lauren and got to run with her!

happy belated bday!

Angela said...

LISA! I about had a heartattack when I read you lost your Garmin! I stopped reading and went back and read it outloud to Matthew. WHEW!!!
Congrats on your race--sorry you're disappointed with your time. I understand the feeling. But YOU DID IT!! You are an amazing runner!!!

Elle said...

What an exciting way to spend your birthday... great recap and so happy about your Garmin too.

I loved reading this recap and seeing the pics. Thanks!

Yo Momma Runs said...

Just came over to your blog from twitter! Loved this race recap. I'm considering my first ultra next spring. And I look forward to seeing your new site!


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