Sunday, May 10, 2009
PCT 50-Mission Accomplished
Well, it's in the books, I have completed my first 50 mile trail run. And trust me, it's more fun than it sounds. Here's a recap of the day.
We reserved a camp site at Paso Picacho campground just up the road from the start/finish line. Normally, the race is run on the Pacific Crest Trail through the Laguna Mountains but due to an unfortunate helocopter crash a few days before, the race was miraculously moved to the the San Diego 100 course. One of my new running friends, Kara, drove up and camped with us on Friday. I'm sure Tracy was happy to finally put a face to a name that I had mentioned a number of times before.
I woke up at 4:07 am to a potty break and sure enough the alarm was set for 4:30am. Oh well, I hadn't slept much the night before anyways. I made some coffee and marvelled at the warm morning and setting full moon. Kara arose a short time later and soon enough we made our way to the start line about 4 miles down the road. We were surprised to find the temperature about 10 degrees cooler than our camp and were not prepared. As such, we waited in her car until the last moment.
We walked over the start just a few minutes before 6:00am. I saw some other running friends, including Seung and Trasie, and said hello. Next thing I know, we're off. The pace was fast at first and I kept reminding myself to slow down. From all that I've read and experienced, it's important to go out slow and to be conservative on the hills. I looked over to Kara and reminded her we needed to slow down. About that moment, I realized I made a big mistake and forgot my handheld bottle with my nutrition in it. Oh well, I'd had to improvise and wait until mile 20 when I planned on seeing Tracy again.
The first 20 miles is a relatively easy stretch except for the climb out of the valley. We were pretty good and walked a good portion of the climb. We also reminded one another to drink water and take our salt pills. But things were not clicking for me. My hamstrings were tight and my heart rate seemed a bit elevated for the effort I was putting in. I figured things would work themselves out as long as I was cautious and focused on eating and drinking early.
I had asked my long time friend and training partner to pace me during the race. Logicstically, it made sense for her to meet me at aid station 3. As Kara and I were headed out, I saw Sharon driving in. I told her that Tracy was waiting and would drive her to the next aid station. As it turned out, about two miles into the next section, I spotted Tracy driving by and Sharon decided to join me there.
This was a rough section for me. I felt very winded, my hamstrings and now right calf were screaming, and I was getting very hot. While it was warming up, I felt as if I was starting to overheat. About this time, Kara started separating from us and then she was gone. I had suggested she move ahead for some time as I was holding her back but she held true to running with me. Now that Sharon was there, she was off to the races.
We had a long climb and we walked most of it. I stopped at a creek and cooled off a bit. It was a short reprieve but helped as well. Towards the top of the hill Sharon and I started to run a bit but I knew something was wrong. I started to feel a twinge below my right knee and soon could barely run. I tried to convince myself that the pain would go away but things got worse. I slowly started to share my thoughts with Sharon. The thought of pulling out at the next aid station were creeping into my head. Normally, I can push myself and dig deep. If I were throwing up or dealing with heat exhaustion, I would suffer through it. But the thought of seriously injuring my knee was not worth risking. Up until this point in life, I've had relatively few injuries. Sharon suggested we evaluate at the aid station and go from there. I felt bad asking her to pace me and then bailing 4 miles later.
Tracy and Gabriel were waiting at the Paso Picacho aid station. It would be convenient to pull out here since our campground was maybe 500 yards away. I told Tracy of my predicament and she was open to whatever I decided. She pulled out a list of inspirational quotes from family and friends and I felt compelled to go a bit further. I changed socks and put on a new pair of shoes still debating on what to do. Someone suggested taking some Tylenol and then Sharon pushed me to give it a go to the next aid station. What the heck, I thought. I knew the next section was beautiful and flat going through a meadow and around the lake. Off we went albeit slowly.
About half a mile into this section, my mind started playing tricks with me. It felt as if the pain was disappating a bit. I started to jog and Sharon turned around to confirm her ears and off we went. I was afraid to say I was better so intead I suggested we try a jog/walk combination. But our jogs got a bit longer and longer until about two miles into this section (mile 28 or so) I was convinced I was going to finish the race. My spirit erupted and now I was refocused on getting fueled and hydrated. We ran into the Big Bend aid station to find Tracy and Gabriel waiting for us. Tracy could see by the smile on my face that I was going forward.
The next section was a long, five mile climb. I tried my best to refuel and drink but the hill was taking its toll on me. I knew once at the top, we had a nice long downhill stretch. We passed a few people along the way which fed the growing enthusiasm as well. Soon we were at aid station four where Scot Mills was working. Of course, he and the other guys were drinking some beers and all I could think about was how nice it would be to stop and enjoy a cold one. Off we went for another mile of climbing.
At the top, I knew it was time to run again so off we went. At first I was getting stomach cramps if we ran too fast or too long. Finally, though, after a few Gu's, we were running well. We passed a number of people during this section and towards the bottom of this section I was running all out. We hammered into the last aid station to find Rick, Phoung, Tracy, and Gabriel ringing cow bells and cheering for us. It was so uplifting and exciting to think I almost to my goal of finishing a 50 miler.
I packed a few more Gu's, loaded up on ice water in my hydration pack, took a few big swigs of coke, and gave a big kiss to Tracy. Unfortunately, Sharon had to pull out here as she had evening plans. I said I'd make her proud on the last section and off I went.
This is the only section of the course which I had not run before. It was long (7.9 miles) and hilly from what I was warned. In fact, last year my friend Jeff Givens had great difficulty on this section of the San Diego 100. How hard could it be, though, I wondered? I soon found out that it was the toughest section of the course.
The first couple of miles gently rolled up hill and then turned straight up on narrow single track. Around each turn I thought the climbing ended but it kept going up. I was over the climbing and knew once it leveled off I could start running again. I passed some pretty dejected souls along this section but soon found the summit after probably four miles of climbing. I started descending and was moving along pretty well. Soon I felt people behind but never really looked back. This pushed me a bit. I had no issues being passed but figured they were going to have to earn it. About a mile from the finish, I turned and noticed 5 guys coming hard. I knew this section from prior runs and felt I had the advantge. There was a short technical section and then a water crossing. I raced through the water, up a short steep section, and then around the bend to see the line. I was so full of energy and excitement. Kara and her husband Jeremy were also there to cheer me across the line. I got my medal and the stories started flowing out. My finish time 12:23.
In the end, my finish time was over what I had planned but I was okay with that. I was more pleased with the fact that I was able to move through my pain and continue on with the race. Fighting through adversity is a powerful feeling and easily translates into everyday life. I'll better my time in the future but for now I have my pride and my first 50 miles under my belt. And best of all, no blisters!
Thanks to everyone that supported me along the way especially my beautiful wife, Tracy!
Until the next adventure.....