This ultra snuck up on us. Until a week ago, we had planned on running the inaugural Hollywood Half since we had free entries, then at the last minute I decided I’d rather PAY to run on a trail than to run a free road race.
I’m ruined for road races. I literally have zero interest in ever running another road. As far as I’m concerned, a road race weekend is a weekend I’m NOT spending on a mountain. And where’s the fun in that??
I try to not be a trail snob, but I’m picky with my races now. I want all my mileage to go towards training for Chimera 100 this year, probably the hardest 100-miler known to man, and certainly the toughest thing I’ve ever done. I’m not sure if I’ll finish, but I’m sure as hell going to try. That means spending my time running vertically as much as is humanly possible.
The Oriflamme race director, John Martinez, was so accommodating and got us into the race even though we had already told him we weren’t coming. It was such a wonderfully organized event full of great friends and familiar faces, I felt like an idiot for almost missing out. Hollywood red carpet VS dirty trail ultra? I know where I belong.
Photo: Thanks to Greg Hardesty
Shacky and I got up at 3:30 am on race day and drove to the start. We overestimated how long it would take us to get there, so we showed up in time for the “early start” at 6 am. Darcy was starting with the early wave, and we were tempted to take off with her as well. But it was still dark, we didn’t have headlamps, and we figured we’d have more company with the normal start. So I took a nap in the car.
Shacky assumes it only takes me 3 seconds to get ready, so he didn’t wake me up. When I opened my eyes it was only 10 minutes to start time and Shacky was in the bathroom line. I stumbled out to go pee, get dressed, fill my water, and get to the start line. As soon as we got there, the runners had just taken off.
Photo: Thanks to Theresa Wheeler
I fell into the single track line and there was some walking for the first few minutes until the crowd started thinning. I had no goals as far as time, and I didn’t know the course. I thought I would just treat this as a long training run and enjoy the day.
A few people passed me in the first couple of miles and I finally settled into a comfortable, slow pace. Before long, there was a wide gap between the person ahead of me and the person behind me. I happily trotted along by myself, enjoying the trail and the scenery.
The first aid station came up quick. I didn’t need to stop, but I slowed down to say hello and grab a cookie. From there, it was all downhill.
I had a blast flying down the hill and ended up passing a few people. My downhill running skills have dramatically improved since running down the Los Pinos hill last weekend with the Robillards. Pinos is the steepest downhill I’ve ever set foot on (and most brutal climb). It made this downhill seem like a piece of cake.
The best thing I can do while running downhill is to relax my legs, go with the momentum, and not be afraid. When I get scared, my legs tighten, I slow down, and I’m much more likely to slip and fall on my ass.
When the road flattened out, I fell into my normal slow pace again and one of the guys I had passed caught up to me. We were running on sand now, which was hard to do in shoes. We’ve done some decent sand training, but always barefoot. I couldn’t believe how much harder it was to slog through the sand wearing shoes. But it wasn’t far to the second aid station.
I saw Desi and other friends at the next station, filled up my hydration pack with ice water, and took off again. It was getting really hot.
On my way to the turnaround point, I saw several more of our friends and they were going strong. It was great to see them all running together. I still wasn’t near any other runners, and I wondered at what point I would see Shacky coming back.
When I saw the turn, I realized Shacky was waiting for me, so I checked in at the halfway point and turned right around. Shacky’s shoes (New Balance MT 110s) were giving him trouble—he was getting too much sand in them and had to stop every few minutes to empty them out. We made it back to Desi’s aid station, where Shacky again emptied his shoes and I grabbed some oranges.
We hung out here for a few minutes longer than we really needed to, and started walking the sandy section back. Shacky was having a hard time running and I was doing a slow jog to keep up with his walking pace. At the bottom of the hill, I decided to push myself.
Photo: Thanks to Greg Hardesty
I’ve been trying hard to improve my hill running in preparation for Chimera, and I thought this hill would be a good test for me. Shacky later said I flew the hill, but it certainly didn’t feel that way. I ran as much as I could, and focused on a power hike the rest of the time. I had to put my head down and really concentrate on moving my legs forward as quick as possible. Otherwise I’d probably still be out there.
My “ultra walk” is pitiful. I’m trying to work on it. I run as much as possible because I know my walking pace is about as fast as slug. Jason once wrote that we shouldn’t walk hills as though we’re perusing futons at Ikea. That’s totally what I do. So I tried to imagine myself NOT at Ikea.
I tried to tell myself:
- This isn’t a stroll. This is a race.
- At least this isn’t Los Pinos.
- The faster you can get up this thing, the sooner it will be over.
I passed a lot of people who had been ahead of me, and it was obvious the hill was taking everyone out. Some people were cuddled under thorny bushes, seeking any sort of shade. Others were low on water. It reminded me of the Pinos climb on Keira’s race, where I basically lay down on the trail and prayed for death. But I wouldn’t lie down today.
I conserved my water and made it to the top with adequate supplies. As soon as the road flattened out, I happily started running again. I looked behind me but Shacky was nowhere in sight. Would I actually beat him to the finish?
I’ve never yet been able to beat Shacky in a race, mostly because he hauls ass and never lets me. But I knew he was struggling on the hill and that was my chance to slip past. He’s better than me on downhills, but I’m better at uphills over time. I’m also better in the heat. So on this race, I had advantages I could play.
On the way up the hill, I saw some Search and Rescue trucks and I wondered in the back of my mind whether Shacky would drop out. If he did, I could make fun of him for days. If he didn’t, I could beat him to the finish. WIN WIN!
At the aid station on the top of the hill, I felt like I was on the home stretch. My spirits were lifted, and I stopped for some watermelon and oranges. I considered waiting for Shacky, but then Christine told me Shacky had dropped.
It never occurred to me that he might be hurt or dehydrated. I know he’s a hardass, so I just assumed he was being a wuss. I figured he’d be at the finish line, so I decided to haul ass to the end where I could make fun of him.
I ran the second half of the race much stronger than the first half. Usually, I’m giving it all I’ve got in the second half, but today I felt as though I still had a lot left. It was a good day for me. Part of me wondered whether I should have started faster, but I had a blast and I was really proud of my performance on the hill.
The last few miles were extremely pleasant. I was all alone, and for the most part couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind me. Every once in a while, I would come across another runner, greet them, and pass. I wasn’t going fast, but I was running.
Photo: Thanks to Rachel Hassett
As soon as I saw the finish line, I started to sprint and crossed with a big smile. Then I hung out and spread rumors about Shacky dropping out. I figured whoever finishes first reserves the right to spread rumors about the person behind them.
Shacky wasn’t at the finish line yet, and after 20 minutes I started to get bored and wish he had given me the car keys so I could at least change. You know, now that I’m the faster runner I should be the one to carry the keys. Thirty minutes later I wondered if maybe had had been hurt after all. Nah… he’s a hardass.
Then Julius told me that he hadn’t dropped after all—he was still on the course. Nice! I was proud of him for finishing, but was pretty sure he was still being lazy and walking. I thought about running back to scold him for taking so long, but decided to eat cake instead (Happy Birthday Carlos!).
Photo: Thanks to Carlos Quinto
There was a great crowd at the finish, and I had fun chatting with everyone. Shacky finally finished an hour later, pacing a girl who was running her first ultra. So it was hard to scold him for taking so long. I decided to get him some chili and pop instead.
Photo: Thanks to Theresa Wheeler
The next day, we went for a run with the dog on Mount Woodson where both Shacky AND the dog kicked my ass on the uphills. Pretty sure I’m still better at burpees though.