On Sunday Shacky and I pulled into William R. Mason Regional Park at 7 a.m. and paid $30 to run for six hours. We didn’t have any distance goals but were there just to have fun.
After our recent Los Pinos experience we were looking forward to a race that was flat, fast and scenic. It was a run where we could chat with people, never be far from an aid station, and stop whenever we wanted.
I hadn’t run a flat course since moving here from Toronto. San Diego has so many hills, I wasn’t even sure there was a one-mile stretch in all of California that didn’t want to murder my quads. But apparently there is. And it is very pretty.
This beautiful 1.09-mile loop reminded me of the picturesque Mind the Ducks 12 Hour race put on by race director Shelley Viggiano in New York. The concrete was soft, smooth, and well maintained. The loop encircled a pretty lake with busy ducks and other birds.
Children played at a nearby playground while older kids gathered by the pond’s edge to launch sailboats. Other than a couple of seniors out for a stroll, the path belonged to us runners
As lunchtime approached, some larger gatherings set up family BBQs and there was one birthday celebration. The vibe at the park was carefree and friendly. There was a lot to see, but also a lot of room to run.
The course itself was barefoot-friendly. There were no broken sections and only the odd pebble scattered on the pavement. My soles didn’t start feeling the mileage until after 20 miles of barefoot bliss. The path was flat except for one very small incline.
THE FIRST THREE HOURS
Time flew by. Shacky and I ran together for the first three miles and then he slipped ahead of me while I maintained my pace. It took at least three loops to warm up.
It was a cold morning and my fingers and toes felt numb. Most people were sharing my pace, so I was never running completely alone. I enjoyed listening to their conversations and chatted with some of them.
One thing I love about timed races is that you have the chance to meet and talk to people of all running levels. You may pass some and others may pass you, but sooner or later you’re bound to share a mile with someone you’ve never met and swap stories.
The second thing I love about timed races is that you never know who will come out on top. Some people start strong but don’t last long. Others start slow but never give up. I’m more like that second one.
I’m not a fast runner but I don’t always have an OFF switch. Once I get in a groove, I feel great running for hours. I wasn’t paying attention to how far others were going, but I did notice that after three hours a lot of runners had left.
THE LAST THREE HOURS
Shacky decided to stop after a little more than 20 miles, so I sat around with him for a bit and then walked a lap. We took pictures of the other runners, scouted out a nearby trail, crossed a bridge, and hit up the local playground.
There was a nice little outdoor gym setup that provided bars for people to do sit-ups, push-up, or chin-ups. We used all the bars and then did handstands.
Shortly afterwards I decided to keep running. Since so many runners had left and nobody was keeping my pace anymore, I busted out my iPod and continued to loop.
My body felt great and so did my legs, though I did miss the trails and hills. Every stride on the pavement was similar and it was easy for my feet to get bored. But I was running and that made me happy.
THE LAST TEN MILES
This is the point where everyone is looking exhausted and people are slowing down. In the last ten miles, anything can happen.
I didn’t know any of the runners still out there. Shacky had stopped and so had his ultra friend Rachel Boyd. The people I had chatted with had gone home, and the leaders were inching painfully along.
I wasn’t going fast, but I felt good. I felt like I had a lot left in my legs. And I actually felt thankful. Just so lucky to be out there on a beautiful day, pounding out some miles.
Back in Toronto, I used to train with loops. While loops seem boring to many, they’ve always brought me comfort and solace. Loops allow my mind to wander while my legs move fairly effortlessly on familiar terrain.
But back in Toronto I’d sometimes run loops with a sense of guilt. I knew that people were waiting for me to come home. That there were errands to take care of and chores to do.
I was limited by the distance and time I had reported before leaving. So if I felt like running more, I felt pressured to come back with an explanation.
But this felt liberating. Loops with no strings attached. A place I could run forever and nobody was waiting for me to finish. There was nobody tapping their fingers wondering when I would come by or waiting in the car to pick me up. I knew that when I crossed the aid station, Shacky would push me to run one more mile instead of wondering when I would finally call it a day. I felt lucky.
Pretty soon I was the only girl on the course. My mileage built up slowly, inching closer to Rachel’s, who was currently first girl but had stopped running. Now she was on the sidelines watching me.
There was a prize for first place but I didn’t know what it was, nor did I care. I never imagined I would be competing for anything. My prize was the freedom to run until I felt tired. And that was all I wanted.
Meanwhile, Shacky thought he’d keep himself entertained by playing on Rachel’s competitive spirit and tell her how I was going to run one more loop than her and steal first place. I was oblivious to his taunting back at the aid station, but on my 25th loop Shacky yelled, “One more lap and you tie Rachel!”
I smiled and continued. I just wasn’t tired yet.
Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I see Rachel pass me in a mad sprint, cursing Shacky. She was back out on the course to defend her place.
NOW we had a race.
I couldn’t help but cheer Rachel on. I knew she was coming back from an injury and wasn’t feeling her best. I was so proud of her for defending her lead. Rachel is a 100-miler and God knows if my legs had the wisdom of 100 miles I would never in a million years lie down for some Canadian 50K finisher.
I didn’t pick up my pace or try to race Rachel. But I loved watching her walk/run each loop (run when she knew I was looking) and felt so honored to be the fire under her ass.
I knew that if I stopped, Rachel could stop. And if Rachel stopped, I could catch up. And so we both looped. Over and over and over. Each one waiting out the other.
Time ran out before Rachel and I did. I ran my final lap with three minutes to spare for a final 50K distance. Rachel never let me catch her so I came in second girl – my most impressive ultra distance run. It was also a 50K PR for me.
Rachel ended up finishing just one lap away from first place overall. She came into this race thinking she’d be lucky to run 20 miles. And she almost took it all home.
After this, Rachel was left wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t stopped running before I forced her back on the course. And I was left wondering how close I could have come to first girl if I hadn’t messed around doing handstands.
But after all, that is the beauty of ultra running. You’re always stronger than you think you are.