So, the itchy throat I had on Monday had turned into an actual cold, which at first didn't seem too bad. By Friday however, I was more or less in body shutdown/exhaustion mode. The day before the race I was coughing, hacking, sneezing, sniffling, blowing nose, congested; the whole 9. I go the whole year without getting sick, then I get sick right before this race. I guess that's comes with the territory of working with kids. I wasn't sure how the race was going to look on Saturday given that all I wanted to do was lie in bed and be sick all day. If the race were on Sunday, I told myself, I'd have a chance at being competitive. With my cold in full throttle the day before however, I'd be lucky just to just do this race.
The race started at 5:00 a.m. in Anza Borrego Desert so I decided to fall asleep at 6:00 p.m. to wake up at 1:45 a.m. and leave from Escondido at 2:30 a.m. to get there at 4:00 a.m. Having got nearly 8 hours of sleep I feel helped tremendously as I benefited from one more full night of recovery from my cold. On race morning, I was still sick but at least I was well rested.
Whitney and I reached Pinyon Wash sooner that I thought we would. We got there almost exactly at 4:00 a.m, which for me is surprising because I'm never on time. According to my GPS, mile 81 on Highway 78 was still about 20 miles down the road, but thankfully we saw people on the side of the road with flashlights and reflective vests trying to guide people into this pseudo-parking area. Others there were desperately trying to pick up the porta-pottie that had just flown over and was in legitimate danger of actually flying away. THE WINDS WERE CRAZY THAT MORNING! The Race Director sent an email a couple days prior warning of a "high wind advisory" put out for Octoillo for race morning.' Gusts of winds up to 50 mph are possible", the email read. "Bring a high-quality windbreaker," it continued, "You'll be glad you did". And boy was I glad I did. These winds were no joke. With sand blowing into your eyes, a lot of people chose to wear sunglasses even though the sun wasn't going to come up for another hour and it was still dark out. I thought ahead and brought not only a windbreaker, but goggles, and a buff I got from a friend before the race. I didn't care how crazy or stupid I looked with the goggles, I figured better to look stupid or crazy than have sand in my eye. And who are we ultra runners fooling? We're all out here at 5 in the morning getting ready to start at race in the middle of a windstorm in the desert. We're all crazy and stupid to most other people.
|Looking like Vega from Street Fighter
The buff was the first thing to come off of my face, and I moved it up to head like a bandanna when I realized 1) I couldn't really breathe, and 2) there wasn't too much dust or sand flying in my face and the winds weren't that cold. The goggles were next, after I realized my vision was compromised too much by them to be of any use. The windbreaker lasted about 2 miles into the race, at which point I realized, "Phillip, what are you doing? You are going to sweat your ass off if you keep running with this thing on and be 10 pounds down in sweat loss by the first aid station." So I just continued in my yellow tank and running shorts (with my sweatpants over them until mile 18) for the rest of the race. Should've just started like that anyway. Better safe than sorry I suppose, but I almost ended up sorry by forgetting how much I sweat with any kind of jacket on me when running.
I decided that I was going to take this race as a training run for SD 100 (my first 100 mile trail race), that I was going to go at a conservative 50-mile pace for most of day and see how I feel at the end of it, to gauge how I would feel at the half-way point of the SD 100. A 12:00 min/mile pace is what I would aim for, I decided in the first 5 miles of the race. At mile 5 you climb up and over these boulders, which is a good way to get your quads/hams/glutes ready for Oriflamme later on. After mile 5-8 is when the truly deeps sand happens, so depending on who you are, it might make more sense to walk those parts, because running just feels like an unnecessary waste of energy. the first 10 miles are gradual uphill, so remember that too.
At mile 8 or so, there are these dried up waterfalls you have to scale. For people who don't like climbing over rocks with narrow footing, this section might take you a while. It caught me off guard, but it was actually a fun change to just running like we usually do. I would not suggest this race for a first 50 miler if you are a road running marathoner.
After a steep incline, you go down for a quick little ride then a gradual back up to mile 10 then down a wide road from there until the next aid station at mile 12. The people at this aid station were awesome. Some actually knew me from other races, or from my previous race reports - oh hey, I'm semi-famous for my writing lol. Thank you kind sir for your words, and thank you to the rest of you for being out there on that dirt road in the desert. Truly appreciated and your energy gave me an extra pep in my step for the 2 mile stretch going downhill. It truly is a warm feeling I get from the thought that people are actually starting to know me or recognize me at these races. It feels like family, I thought. A community that I'm really starting to become a part of in San Diego.
I was doing 7:30 pace downhill until the sharp left at mile 15. Not as fast as I could go downhill but for my goal 50 mile pace, I would almost consider this foolish. Oh well, I was feeling good, and I told myself since this race doesn't have as much downhill as uphill (6,000 ft loss vs. 9,000 ft gain), that I could take the downhills harder than I would if it were out and back, and not worry about blowing my quads.
The sharp left took you on single track surrounded by cactus. Yikes! This would be a bad place to fall down, Phillip. Be careful.
|Single track into field of cactuses at mile 15
|View of the dried up lake bed you run across from CRH Trail
|Coming into AS mile 18 with sweatpants on
Thank you to the man guiding us across S2 Highway at mile 20. Much appreciated you taking time out of your day. Thank you.
Gradual downhill until the Oriflamme Aid Station at mile 23. Thankful to these guys being out there and Scott Mills, RD for the SD 100. They did a great job seeing if we needed anything and warning of the crazy headwinds up Oriflamme. This was my first time going up Oriflamme so I was looking forward to seeing the hype behind this climb. After having done it, all I can say is UGHH. WHY WON'T YOU END?! What?? I thought you were done?! What the hell is that trail going up around that hill in the distance?! I think I see a runner on there. Oh hell no. Not only was the climb really rocky and fairly never-ending, but the headwind just made it such that whenever you thought "Hey, I think I'll try running now," the wind knocked the motivation out of you and seemed to laugh at you as you resorted back to a walk almost immediately. I had 2 guys around me as we headed up the hill, Garrett and Weston. Garrett, having done his Old Goats 50 a month and a half ago, was used to a lot of climbing. We trekked our way up to the top, with Garrett eventually passing me up. Finally got up to the mountain part of the race at mile 29 Pedro Fages Aid Station. Boy, did I feel like a million bucks coming into this Aid Station. I was warned by Becca at the bottom as I was taking off my sweatpants, that it was cold up on top and that I might need warmer clothes. "How cold?" I asked. "38 F".
"That's perfect weather for me. I do better in colder weather. I'm fine in my tank and shorts". So when I got up to mile 29 AS, I knew I was about to dominate because it was cloudy and slightly cold -- and it would only get colder, YES! Paul Jesse was there and said, "If I'd had known you'd be here, I would've brought my Rubik's Cube!". "Hahaha," I smiled back, happy to feel that familiarity again, "Not today! It's too cold, my fingers...". My fingers get stiff in cold weather, almost like I have pre-arthritis from all my cubing. I could barely tie my shoelaces at that moment, so turning a Rubik's Cube was out of the question. This Aid Station was A-W-E-S-O-M-E. There were a lot of people there, but when I came up it was more or less silent and all eyes were on me, as I was the only runner at that point at the aid station. It was weird having 20 pairs of eyes on you after running a distance, waiting for you to say something. It was like Forrest Gump, "Shh! Wait, he's gonna say something!"
|How I felt leaving Pedro Fages Aid Station
I usually don't need much at aid stations, just like the break and support from people there who are awesome for coming out. If they had a Rubik's Cube there though, I'd probably solve it just for their entertainment and to show my appreciation for them being out there. I grabbed a protein bar, and listened to Becca as she reminded me yet again to keep eating. Despite what non-runners think, it's actually really easy to forget to eat while you're running, so it's helpful to be reminded, even if you are eating regularly. Was reminded again about the colder weather at the top of Cuyamaca Peak, at which point I got a surge of energy as I knew it was my time to shine!!
Miles 29-37 were incredible. Rolling hills, with eventual downhill to West Mesa Trail. I was killing it. I was doing 10 minute something miles and loved the single track and non-technical trails. Downhill is my strength, so that's where I passed a couple people in the last 20 miles. I was glad I saved energy for the Cuyamaca Peak climb, because I knew I was going to need it. Mile 37 Aid Station was AWESOME, super supportive and cheerful. I stopped a little bit and took time to eat my protein bar before heading out. I had caught up to Garrett and used him as a rabbit for the last 7 miles. He went ahead while I continued eating my protein bar. At this point I heard something about the lead guy dropping out only because he had gotten lost or off track a mile or so. I have no respect for that. If it's who I think it is, this guy drops out all the time if races don't go his way. If he knows he won't get first, he just takes the DNF. That's not what ultra-running is about, take your super-competitive attitude to road racing with Ryan Hall or something. Boo, you bore.
Gradual climb up Cuyamaca peak was AWESOME. Super cool weather, wet grass and brush, very green, beautiful soft dirt single track. I loved it. Had a chance to share a little running/walking with Jeff Miller and his pacer Matt Carol, awesome guys. I then ran on and passed Garrett at mile 39 who was having hamstring troubles and massaging it with a rock. I offered him some spare salt pills and told him to take it easy. Apparently Jeff caught up with him and they ended up going off course a little bit, missing the turn onto Burnt Pine trail, which is the left that leads you up the switchbacks to Cuyamaca Peak. Bonus miles!
|West Mesa Trail up to Cuyamaca Peak
Boy, was this section almost as never-ending as Oriflamme. It didn't help that it was also harder to breathe at almost 6,000 ft. I ended up doing run-walking, running 0.10 miles then walking 0.05, all the way to the final (wo)manned aid station at mile 43. I was nice to see Karen Hamilton who offered to hold my stuff while I make my way up to to peak (0.2 miles) and back down to the aid station. From here on out, besides Middlepeak, it was all downhill technical.
MY TIME TO SHINE!
I LOVE downhill technical and can usually pull 7:30-minute miles down hills people don't consider runnable. I have done Conejos trail a number of times, which is notorious for it's technical descent, so I knew how to approach it. I was flying down this section. I loved it. Then up, middlepeak where I tried to run as much of it as I could. This is where I went into the, "How bad do you want it, Phillip?" mode and tried to push hard to the end. Got up to the top, then down Sugarpine for the first time, more technical downhill, and I loved it. I wish it were like that other fire road that parallels it so I could maybe end with 6 minute miles but alas, I'll take what I can get. Time to try and blow out the quads! The technical made it difficult to do just that, though I still enjoyed it.
Finally, crossing the road to Cuyamaca Lake. It might sound weird, but during this whole race I felt "protected". Never had that feeling before, but I felt like there was something really right about choosing to do this race. Everything went right during, no cramping, no blown quads, and most importantly NO FALLS. Especially with all the technical and places where I could've fallen given my fast downhill pace, I didn't fall! In the finishing moments of this race, I felt an overwhelming sense of protection. Following the finish, was an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the protection, for the people who were part of this race, the volunteers, the land, the air, the food, the water.
I finished in tears. Something that rarely happens to me these days after races but this one was special. I was truly in awe of how lucky I am. After long runs like this, I like to show appreciation to the land from whence I feel I draw all my energy and strength from, by touching or grabbing some part of the land with my hands, whether it be a tree or dirt, and saying thank you. I strongly suggest all runners do this after each race as it is often overlooked but just as important as thanking race directors and volunteers.
Something was really right about choosing this race. A couple weeks ago, when I signed up, I was contemplating signing up for another race on the same date in Las Vegas called Red Rock. After I had coincidentally picked up a Lyft passenger who happened to be an runner, and happened to be doing her first 50 miler on April 30th, at Red Rock, a race whose page I had literally just happened to be looking at signing up for, I took it as a sign that I needed to sign up for that specific race. These coincidences happen to me quite frequently, and I usually take it as a sign from the Universe that you are doing the right thing, and that you are in the right place at the right time. Kind of like a little head nod, like "I see you." But my trouble is when I take it as more than that and try to interpret it literally. I start thinking with my brain. I hesitated in signing up for that race, but was trying to convince myself that I had to do it because it was a sign that I should do it and there are going to be cool people there who I met from my 24-hour race since it was put on by the same Beyond Limits Ultra people. I started thinking too much, trying to ignore my heart which was causing the hesitation. I put signing up for it off for another day. I needed a good 50 miler a month before SD 100 to put me in good shape, this could be it, and there would be cool people there, I reasoned with myself.
A couple days later, after seeing a friend's request for a pacer, I decided to look up exactly when Lost Boys 50 was. I had heard of it, but never really considered doing it. I saw it was on April 30th, and thought, "Oh hey, that's the same date as Red Rock. I won't be able to pace him... wait, why don't I just sign up for this race instead?" And that was it. I just felt like it had to be this race. I didn't hesitate, nor did I think too much about it. Instead, I went with my gut instinct and immediately signed up for it, even though it didn't make sense and according to an imaginary sign I was reading in my life, I should've signed up for the Red Rock race. Well, life doesn't make sense, and I've learned if you try to make it make sense you'll end up failing, or at the very least having a hard time. Since I'm naturally more of the logical type, I have trouble with "feelings" or "intuition" and go with things that make sense on paper. I've learned, it's more important to think with your heart than with your head. That's what this race has taught me. You learn something from every race and from this race I've learned to trust my heart and I'll be fine. Look where it has gotten me thus far.
Elevation Loss: 6,100 ft
Distance: 50 miles
Place: 12th overall
3rd in age group 20-29
|Oh, and the best race medal ever.