i could swear that my ipod shuffle is sentient. that thing constantly offers up songs that are apropos to the situation. maybe it’s that the mind grabs on to lyrics that fit the situation, but whatever the case it tends to be a source of distraction and motivation when the going gets tough.
and, it did. get tough. the going, that is.
saturday morning i saddled up for a 50k race in the mountains east of san diego. yes, cool, costal san diego. moderate temperatures and cool breezes are the halmark of said beach community. but, head a couple of miles inland and that all changes. as we pulled up to the pine valley bible camp, the temperature read 42 degrees. huh? it was a chilly start as we geared up and waited to get started. this was no indication, however, of what was to come. the day would top out with temperatures in the high 90’s.
i’ve been putting in some longer runs and have had some decent mileage weeks recently, so i was feeling pretty well prepared to cover the distance. i felt very eager to run the race, though, and had a feeling that i might be able to break my 50k pr and maybe even go sub six hours. as the time ticked down to the start, i was chomping at the bit to get started.
the course started out fairly easy as we ran on some road and then up a mild sandy graded single track. i noted the composition of the trail as we headed up. it was somewhat technical, but i was guessing that i’d be able to move quickly on the way back down and maybe make up some time if i’d been slowed down at some point during the course. after climbing for a mile or more, we started dropping back down into a canyon. and down. and down. and down until we reached the first aid station. that meant that we’d have a final hill just before the finish. well, i told myself that the course is what it is and i’d deal with that obstacle when i got to it. i topped off my bottle in record time and continued with the climb out of the canyon.
the aid stations seemed to come pretty quick at this point in the race. i hit the next one in decent time after having climbed up through the shaded canyon and into the big laguna burn area. again, i moved quickly through the aid station and back onto the trail. the singletrack continued to be a rough sandy type of trail. not “sandy” but more like something you’d see in the utah desert. as we moved up into the burn area, the air started to get warmer and we lost our protection from the sun of the ridges and trees. the penny pines aid station came quickly, too, and before i knew it i was on the pct with another full water bottle and a topped off camelbak [with ICE! – thanks tracy moore!].
the stretch along the pct was gorgeous. the trail follows the laguna plateau and looks down onto the anza borrego desert, ocotillo wells and the great salton sea in the distance. the view was breathtaking and helped take my mind off the warming air. i started paying attention to the time at this point in the run and trying to estimate my pace and what finishing time i could manage. my garmin had gone tits-up at the start and i had quickly replaced it with a generic timex [thanks keira!]. i was making good time based on where i thought i was on the course, but it wasn’t until i rolled into the 16.5mi aid station that i had a better idea of how i was doing. the watch read 3:00 at the exact half way point, which boded well for a sub six hour finish.
i topped everything off again, ate some watermelon and hit the arches of my feet with some vaseline to take care of some hot spots that were forming. speaking of eating, i was sucking down a ton of fluids and salt. i was drinking 20oz of gatorade endurance every 5mi or so and drinking about another 20oz of water in the same time frame. in addition, i was taking gu every 45min and two salt tabs at each aid station. i felt like i was really putting the fluids necessary into my body and preparing for the heat that was sure to hit.
shannon gave me the beta that the penny pines aid station was 5.5mi from where i was at, so i figured i’d be able to hit it at four hours in and i’d eat some more and top off the camelbak there again. i headed out and onto the big laguna trail. the trail moved out of the pines and into the meadows and that is when the heat attacked. the trail was exposed and there seemed to be heat from a blast furnace blowing from behind. i started to get cooked on this section of the trail and ended up pacing off one of the san diego bad rats for a good portion of it. the good news was that when i felt like i was slowing down a bit, i would try to pick up the pace a bit and my body would respond. i reminded myself that it was just the heat and exposure that was making it seem tough and my legs still had plenty of juice.
i hit penny pines just before four hours and tracy took good care of me again, topping off the camelbak with more ice water. i downed a bunch of salted potatos [YUM!], unpacked the ipod shuffle and headed out again. from here, it was going to be a little over 11 miles of downhill and i was really looking forward to stretching out my legs. i turned on the tunes and killing joke’s, “the house that pain built” welcomed me. i laughed at the appropriateness of the song and turned on the gas. my legs responded and i flew over the next three mile section to the 2/6 aid station. those couple miles of hard running really let me stretch out my hamstrings and hips, which had begun to fatigue with all the climbing effort.
after that aid station, i dropped back down into the tree filled canyon. the temperature backed off a bit, but the air was still warm under the canopy and every time the trail moved back into the open, it felt like opening the door to an oven. it was at this point that the foo fighters, “long road to ruin” came on and the chorus continued to resound in my head:
“running through hell, heaven can wait”
in the current heat, it seemed oh so appropriate. my ipod, i proposed, must have a neural link with me. i laughed some more as it continued to offer up more unintentional “running” or “road” or “trail” related lyrics from unlikely artists.
i bombed my way down this highly technical section of the trail with total disregard for my knees or my safety. i was trying to fly, but the trail just wouldn’t let me move as fast as i wanted to. i kept checking the watch and guessing that if i could roll into the last aid station around 5:10 into the race, i could easily pull out a sub six hour finish. but, as i wound around the canyon walls in and out of the spurs, that 5:10 came and went. i finally popped over a small rise and could see the blue roof of the aid station tent down below. i let out a whoop and hurried to fill my now warm and nearly empty bottle. alexa from the scthz was there and commented on how salty i was. i looked at my shirt and it looked like a bizarre white and red tie-dye pattern. i was caked with salt. it was a beautifully disgusting affair.
i headed out of the last aid station with 4.2mi to go. the trail headed up that climb that i’d noted early in the race and it was all i could do to keep moving on it. it was exposed, i was tired and any really effort on the incline was sending my heart rate through the roof. i moved at a shuffle, knowing that i could make up the time on the downhill and once i hit the road. as moved along the trail, guestimating how far i’d gone, i could see that i still had a very slim chance of pulling off sub six. i kept that goal in my head and continued to push despite the fatigue and heat. i finally crested that blasted hill and started down into pine valley. again, the trail was too technical in most sections to run too fast, but when it smoothed out, i flew like the wind. i was quite pleased to see that my legs continued to respond when i asked them to turn over quickly.
with that thought in mind, i quite looked forward to hitting that last mile of road. i knew that the surface would be smooth, i could open up my stride and i’d be able to fly to the finish and get my sub six. the downhill finally bottomed out into the valley’s wash and i could see the road not far ahead. i was almost there!
and then i hit the road.
something odd happened as soon as i stepped onto that asphalt. my legs turned to lead. my nearly empty camelbak felt like someone had loaded it with sandbags. i was sapped of all my energy and it was all i could do to lift my legs and run. i shuffled and tried in vain to get my legs to turn over quickly. i couldn’t figure it out. so, i shuffled for a bit. i spotted a guy walking ahead of me and i painted a target on his back. i figured if i could pass him convincingly, that would motivate me to move faster. it worked and as i passed him i felt like i had been sling-shotted forward. my pace picked up and i was able to get the legs to turn over with more enthusiasm.
the turn into the bible camp appeared on the right and i knew i was under a quarter mile to go. i pushed, giving every last bit that i had in me and rolled across the finish…in 6:04. ugh! i had JUST missed my sub six goal. i was so close! as i thought back over the race, i picked apart the different spots where i COULD have gone faster. at the same time, though, i had pushed hard on areas that i felt like taking it easy and i know that i went as hard as i could on that course and in those conditions. plus, it WAS a two minute pr for the 50k.
so, i was quite happy with the performance, even without the goal finish. it was HOT out there and i had successfully run the course and survived the heat. i drank, ate, showered and headed home with one singular thought on my mind…
…i couldn’t wait to crack a bottle of pumpkin spice ale and crash on the couch while tc drove his cars all over my legs. i’m wondering what song the ipod would offer up for that scenario?