I heard this was a flat, easy race. That gave me mixed feelings. On one hand, I thought it would be a great opportunity to PR. On the other hand, I really do love hills even though they kick my ass.
Race morning was freezing cold. We opted to pick up bibs the day before and stay overnight, instead of getting up at 2 a.m. to drive for four hours. It was the right decision.
I was thrilled to bring my girl Ginger along on this race instead of putting her up in her pet hotel. She loves to run and I love having her around me. The race director was kind enough to allow a leashed Ginger to see me off and wait around for me to finish.
At the starting line, we met up with Pat who was racing this in Lunas and shirtless. His chest hair keeps him warm. We also spotted Catra at the start line, who is one of my running heroes. I wasn’t as tongue-tied as with Michelle Barton and was able to ask for a picture instead of just staring at her like a weirdo. Win!
It was weird not having Shacky run this race with me, but also nice to have someone to hold my jacket and take pictures. He also chugged about a year’s supply of caffeine trying to stay awake, driving my ass around everywhere. Deeply appreciated.
When the race started, I had trouble moving quickly through the cold. My thighs felt numb, very similar to Noble Canyon. I decided to just take it easy and cruise along until I warmed up. Mike McDaniel caught up to me and we chatted for a bit before he took off. Then I saw Catra pass by, showing the boys how it’s done.
The runners spread out and before long I was mostly running on my own. There was no single track; it was a wider dirt road. So there was never any congestion. I was holding a steady, but definitely not fast pace. Every once in a while a runner would pass me, but I could never tell if they were running the 50K or the 30K. I pretended that everyone passing me was running 30K.
It felt like I hadn’t even blinked before I reached the first aid station. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, so it was a welcome opportunity for me to grab some Gatorade and an orange slice. Then I was off again.
The course was flat and a little sandy, and everything looked the same: a long road and mountains in the distance. I thought about pulling out my iPod to keep me motivated, but decided that it was way too early in the race to be bored. I tried to move faster, but I wasn’t really feeling it. I was comfortable trotting along, but deep inside I missed my hills.
Soon after the second aid station, there was a split for the 50K runners. We turned left while the 30K went straight, and I straightened up a bit. I felt happy to be on a trail with only ultra runners, and I finally picked up my speed. A couple of other runners passed me on this stretch, but I felt motivated and I was in a good groove.
Then suddenly—a third aid station. I stopped again, had some more oranges, and chatted with some volunteers. If I had known there were this many aid stations, I might have left my hydration pack in the car. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have stopped at all the stations. I didn’t need to. But I couldn’t resist peeking at the spread, taking a nibble, and chatting with volunteers. The stations were decorated for Christmas and I’d never seen Christmas decorations in a desert before.
At one station, the volunteers tried to guess my age—they thought I might be the youngest runner there. But I’m much older than I look (29). At another aid station, I was offered a beer. I had never had a beer during a run before, but the dude dressed as Santa was very persistent so I gave in and enjoyed a very nice, very dark beer. At the finish line I was able to brag to Pat about it since he was NOT offered beer. In the end, I suppose it was worth losing a few minutes at each aid station.
In between aid stations, the course was pretty much the same all the way through. This is a great race to PR, but not the most scenic. I’ve learned that a flat course does not necessarily mean that I will go faster. I was going the same pace I normally do, so in many ways I’m more competitive when there’s elevation. It was hard for me to feel fast, and although I wasn’t hurting or sore, I wasn’t motivated to push myself whereas on hilly terrain I always am.
My low point wasn’t physical at this race, it was motivational. At one point I was beating myself up over my unwillingness to speed up. How could I be so slow on such an easy course? Why wasn’t I taking advantage of the flat terrain? What kind of a pathetic pace was this?
Then up ahead, I saw Catra and my pity party died. I ran behind her, completely thrilled that I was keeping her pace and very inspired by the sight of her running. Then I picked up the pace and passed her, telling her how great she looked.
After that it was hard to be bored. But over the next couple of hours, my leg muscles started to tire. The feeling was similar to the 6-hour race I ran. On flat surfaces, I find that my muscles exhaust more easily because I’m using the same muscles over and over again, instead of shaking things up with hills. I decided it was time to pull out my iPod.
Music helps my mind wander, and I soon fell back into my groove and forgot about my tired legs. I started thinking about my mom, which is common during a race. But this time I thought about her more than most.
My mom passed away from leukemia when she was 27. I don’t think about her often, except during races. My mom was very health-conscious. She loved to cook and exercise and I remember she would take me running in the park when I could barely put one foot in front of the other. She would run too.
I know that staying healthy was important to my mom, and yet she still got sick. I like to imagine that somehow she knows that I run ultras now, and that she cheers me on. Sometimes I wonder how her body could have been so weak, when mine is so strong. I feel like I owe it to her to finish well when she couldn’t.
I decided not to stop at the last aid station in an effort to finish in under six hours. But in the last two miles I started falling apart. I was sore, but not in pain. I mostly felt drained and unmotivated. Then I looked behind me and saw Catra.
Catra ended up running the last two miles in under 10 minutes, and easily passed me. She didn’t even look tired. However, she took the time to push me on and tell me how close we were to the finish. I was walking when she passed me, but she got me running again.
Another strong lady passed me after Catra, saying “We can do this!” I decided to believe her and stayed on her tail until the finish. I thought that for sure I had missed my 6-hour PR, but ended up coming in at 5:59. I had already given up my time goal in that last mile, so if it wasn’t for Catra and the lady that followed her, I wouldn’t have run a sub-6 ultra this weekend.
It was such a relief to cross the finish line and find Shacky, Pat, and Ginger waiting for me. Ginger jumped all over me and I’m pretty sure she licked all the salt off my face. Pat also suggested I wait around for the awards, which never occurred to me because I never win anything. But as it turned out, I won second in my age group (where were all the 20-somethings??). I was thrilled with my award because next year I turn 30 and probably won’t win a darn thing.
The awards were fun. I also won men’s socks at the raffle… I know what Shacky’s getting for Christmas!
I’d love to run this race next year—and every year—to aim for a PR. This is a race to actually RACE. It’s great for a first ultra, with tons of support and aid stations, and very clearly marked. Many thanks to all the great volunteers and the race director for a successful event.