Race Report: Stairway to Heaven 15k

Many new experiences:

  • First San Diegan race
  • First real trail race
  • Hardest race of my life so far

It’s been a few days after Sunday’s race now so I’ve decided that I had a blast. But there were definitely a couple of times during the run when I was hating life.

Shacky signed me up for this race and later told me it was probably the hardest trail race out there. I was excited to hit it up as my first San Diegan race. I figured I had done a lot of hill training in Toronto and I always said that I liked hills. So I thought, how hard can it be? And it’s just 15k.

I started off pretty slow and steady. I figured if I paced myself I might be able to take the first hill. Then I SAW the first hill, and I wished I had just gone faster at the beginning. Because pace yourself or not, the first hill makes your legs feel like they’re about to explode. And it doesn’t end.

First of all, these are not hills. They feel more like cliffs (ie – you want to use your hands to help you climb), and completely unrunable (at least for me).

Apparently I have to work on my hill walking technique because I discovered I only have two speeds: running and half-dead crawling. I’m not used to walking up steep hills. I’m used to hills that I can actually run, and EVERYONE was walking faster than me. Fat people, skinny people, old people. Everyone.

I did manage to recover pretty well at the top and start running again. I learned my lesson and stopped trying to pace myself – I knew I’d be walking again regardless. I ran through some nice stretches that reminded me of Toronto. Hard packed dirt trails instead of rocks, surrounded by trees. I flew through those sections; they were exactly what I was used to. Best compliment of the day: A lady behind me said, “You’re like a little gazelle in those sandals!” I was wearing my Invisible Shoes Huaraches. I was feeling great. And then I hit the Stairway.

This may be the Stairway to Heaven, but Satan himself built those steps. You’ll never climb steeper, more torturous “stairs”. All I could do was stare at the ass of the person in front of me and claw at the rocks to keep moving. There was a great cheering section at the top of the steps, but by the time I got there I honestly didn’t give a shit. I wanted to quit running forever.

I didn’t want to sit so I kept walking, but I was DONE. I wanted to go home. I felt every incline from that point on, and running was starting to hurt. Finally I turned to the person next to me and asked, “How much further??” Just under 3 miles.

The last bit was mostly downhill, but I wasn’t in any state to enjoy it. My huaraches were a challenging to run in through these sections – I kept feeling like I was going to fall. It didn’t help that my legs also felt like noodles. Because of all the shifting through uneven terrain, my right sandal started coming loose in the last 2 miles, while the left one was feeling tight on my Achilles. I had to stop to adjust the tightness, but was able to continue.

I got stuck behind a girl who kept cheering loudly to herself and others (basically me since I was the only other person around at the time). I wanted to punch her in the mouth. I had no breath to spare at that point and I figured if you had it in you to scream, you should run faster and leave me the hell alone to die in my misery.

That said, I found it truly motivating to be greeted at the aid stations by people I actually knew. That was a new experience for me. I’ve always only run races with strangers, and organized by strangers. Seeing familiar faces along the way was a breath of fresh air.

The final stretch was flat and I was still trotting along, but barely. The finish line sort of snuck up on me. I didn’t see it because I could only focus on a few feet in front of me and quite honestly I wasn’t sure there even WAS a finish line. But somehow I crossed it.

The lovely Theresa met me at the finish, put a cool dog tag around my neck, and asked me how I did. I wasn’t sure. Race results aren’t in yet and I wasn’t wearing a watch, but I think I came in well over 2 hours. That was giving it all I had.

For my first race, I’m pretty happy with the ass-kicking. I figure it can only get better from here and my body will have no choice but to adapt. I feel like these trails are at a whole new level than everything I was doing in Toronto and I’m definitely humbled by them. I love it here.

Elevation profile for this race


Congratulations to BRANDON who won the Nuun giveaway! Brandon, please send your mailing address to vanessaruns@gmail.com so I can send off your prize.