We'll the good news is I didn't DNF, the bad news humble pie doesn't taste so good...And who would have thought that a race with only 8,900ft of gain could serve up such a whipping of said humble pie? We'll not the ignorant, over-confident runner that started this race last Saturday morning...
For some reason or another I thought that two weeks of recovery, one week of training and one week of tapering would be enough to get me top five at the Leona Divide 50...In hinsight I have no idea what I was thinking. Three weeks out from Barkley, I'd been able to go on runs but just couldn't seem to keep a 7:30min/mile (on hilly terrain) for the life of me. I was trying to train at 7:30's over rolling terrain in a last minute ditch to train my muscles for what they were going to encounter at the Leona Divide 50. Needless to say, my muscles didn't like it. Combined with some intense strength training three times a week, I was extremely sore day in and day out from my training. And I now only had about a week left to go until the Leona Divide 50.
As race day got closer, I really started to worry, I hadn't ran or lifted in over three days and my body still felt like someone had taken a meat tenderizer to it. Foolishly, I decided to scope out/ google/ creep on (whatever you want to call it) my competition this year. Foolishly, I discovered...I had zero chance...Sure I could win something like Barkley, a race of attrition, a race of navigation, gruelling ascents, horrible descents and just straight hell. But this course was well marked, the trails were well groomed, the climbs were gradual, everything about the race was 'runnable'...Something that my competition was extremely well trained for.
If you looked at my physiological adaptations to a race like Barkley, my muscles were much more used to hiking, jogging downhill and crawling uphill. The HURT 100, El Cajon Mtn Race, Barkley and Rabbit Peak were all on trails so steep and so technical that 'running' was a distant wish that only the foolish dared attempt. Running at the Leona Divide 50 however, was everything. It's a runner's race, and it had honestly been a while since I had entered one of these.
I arrived late afternoon to a hazy, moderately warm Lake Hughes Community Center where Trasie Phan had set up a pre-race speech for me to talk to the other runners about Barkley. It was a great chance to get to speak about Barkley and instill fear and wonderment in the hearts of other ultrarunners : ) Apparently the harrowing tale of Barkley is even inspiring to some...
After eating some weird chicken salad thing from Trader Joe's I went to bed on my creaky cot and covered my head in a blanket trying to blot out the bright full moon as it illuminated the sky throughout the night. 5:30am came around quickly, and soon enough, my tired sore legs were lining up at the bridge for the start of this race.
At the starting line I talked briefly with Fabrice, Jesse, Robert and Jason, whom at the time I had the balls to think that I was going to be competing with. I wished them good luck as Jimmy-Dean Freeman yelled into the crowd "its going to be mother f'in hot today!!"
The idea was to stick a 8:30min/mile on climbs, 6:30min/mile on descents and 7:30's on flats...We'll that was a nice idea...They always are...
My friend back in San Diego had told me to keep Fabrice and Jesse in sight throughout the whole race, so in the first few miles I kept near them, glancing down at my watch occasionally I noticed myself and the 30+ runners around me were all clocking 7min/miles uphill...And in the distance I noticed Robert Krar and Jason Wolfe who must have been clocking low 6:00's on the uphill...Was this a 10k? Where did I miss the sign? I longed to cut through the bushes to my right and disappear into the woods in search of some book...
At mile six I had slowed down to a 8min/mile uphill, still much faster than I wanted to be going. My legs felt heavy, I felt crappy, my stomach felt crappy, everything was crappy, except the course and the scenery those were beautiful still. I slowed down and figured I must have been in 30th or so place at that point, why and how was everyone going so frikkin' fast???
I slammed down a few gu's and some carbo-pro to get my calories in for that hour, I was fueling myself as if I was going to be out there for the next three days but then remembered that even if things went way 'south' that I would still likely finish well before the time it would take me to do a single loop at Barkley. That thought seemed to comfort me as I started to descend four miles into the 17 mile aid station.
Things were going too quick though, in and out, bam, slam, gone! There was no time in the aid station, everything and everyone seemed like they were running from some sort of fire, but I couldn't see smoke.
The following three mile climb, although technically 'runnable' was brutal for me. I had faced far worse at HURT, at Barkley, at Rabbit Peak ect...but a friend once said to me "what's the hardest ultra you've ever ran? We'll its the one I am running right now" And that saying was extremely relevant in this moment as the temperatures climbed and muscular fatigue really began to set in.
Plain and simple, my body was 1) not recovered fully from Barkley 2) not accustomed to 'running' especially 'running' at a 7:30min/mile for that matter...
The race proceeded to get ugly from there. I started losing motivation to move quickly, the muscles hurt, I developed strange chest cramps and my breathing became shallow as the temperature on the trail increased. I plodded slowly down into the mile 29 turnaround for fear that my legs would cramp or that I would have a sudden heart attack from these chest cramps, I certainly didn't want this to be my last performance.
For a moment at the turnaround aid station, I considered dropping out of the race. I felt terrible, I was getting smoked by everyone, and was just having an awful race. Then I thought about how long I would have to wait at that aid station until they could realistically give me a ride back to my car at the start line. A few hours maybe...And I figured I could probably run back to my car and finish the race faster than that, even in my deteriorating condition. So I kept sluggin' on.
A few more runners passed me on the uphill on the way to the next aid station, normally I would have chased them, would have fought with them for the position. I didn't care though, I was fighting for what 16th place at best? It was all the same.
The temperature on the trail seemed to have picked up on the way back and muscle cramps were now lurking over every odd step or lunge that I would take. I'm pretty sure my body fell apart at mile six and now I was just doing damage, whatever though it was only about 16 miles back to the start now.
I made sure to say hi, congrats, good job, you look great! To all the runners and aid station volunteers as we weaved in and out of one another on the course. I was only about four miles from the finish line now and kept thinking how no matter what I did, finishing this 50 mile race would still be much faster a single Barkley loop.
I was on the border of breaking 8hrs and my personal PR at this race (and my first 50 miler ever) was 8hrs and 10mins back in 2008 when I was 17yrs old. I felt like crud, but even at my worst...could I really justify getting beat by my 17yr old self? The answer was no.
Then the aid station volunteer told me there was a half mile hill before the three mile downhill...Suddenly the above answer was, yes.
I just didn't care, I wanted the race done in a clean bill of health, I knew the shame of not placing top five or top ten would be upon me, but I also knew that the shame in not completing what I started would have been worse.
I crossed the finish line in 8hrs and 4mins. Over the past five years of running I had improved by six minutes...great...
Anyways, lessons learned, back to the drawing board, I am taking this week and the next week off of running and doing nothing at all. My body needs to heal and I need to find out if my heart is healthy (those chest cramps and shallow breathing worried the crap out of me). The Leona Divide 50 as Robert Krar (5hrs and 53 frikkin minutes!!!) Trackstar and Flagstaff Ultra-runner extradoinnare proved, is a runner's race and I am clearly not a 'runner' at the moment. I am runnings bastard child left to the woods to fend for myself and prefer the company of bushes and 40% grades than to the company of trail and graded climbs
...To my cave I shall now humbly retreat...