Leona Divide 50M Race Report

Wow - I finished my first 50 miler! Somehow I'm still in disbelief that this actually happened. I've known for a couple of years that I wanted to give 50 miles a shot, but it took me a long time to come around to actually going for it. The journey to get here was long, but the reward was worth it.

I didn't blog about the training cycle at all and I didn't even know if it was going to happen. I initially targeted Marin Ultra Challenge 50M as my goal race; however, I faced unusual stress during my base building time and didn't feel ready to jump into training for an early March 50 miler. I switched to the 50K for MUC - a great decision because I felt strong and PR'd - and moved my 50 miler target to Leona Divide on April 14. I have so many things I could say about the training cycle, perhaps I need to do another post for that. At the moment, I want to get to the race!

Leona Divide is a smaller race near Santa Clarita, CA, which is about a 5 hour drive from San Jose. It's directed by Keira Henninger, who has a few races, and I really enjoyed the overall vibe of the day. The people were friendly (I mean it's the ultra community so of course!), the trails were well-marked, and the volunteers were incredibly helpful. They made my first 50M experience a great one. For anyone who wants to experience the race at a shorter distance, they also have a 50K and 30K option.

We drove down on Friday and even though I could easily have gotten my bib on race morning, I wanted to go to packet pick up the day before so I felt ready. The less I had to worry about on race morning, the better. We stopped by the start/finish area, grabbed my bib and super cute tank top, and then headed to the hotel to relax. Although I felt nervous, I also felt extremely excited to explore new trails the following day.

Bib #66, beautiful scenery.

I took extra time to prepare my drop bags to make sure everything was in order. This was my first time using drop bags and I wasn't sure how much I wanted to trust them, but I also didn't want to carry everything. So I used them (and it was fine.) The most key item in my drop bag turned out to be sunscreen; the spot I missed tells me I'd be in major sunburn pain if I hadn't reapplied.

Preparing!

I woke up around 4:20 am on race morning, got myself dressed, and made my oatmeal to eat on the way. I have reactive hypoglycemia and getting up early can REALLY mess with my blood sugar, so I have to be very careful not to crash before the race. It's always one of my biggest worries about early race mornings. Everything went smoothly and Kevin drove me to the start line. Parking at this race is really tight, so I'm happy I had someone to drop me off.

After adding my drop bags to the right piles, I got into a very long porta-potty line and managed to make it through about 5 minutes before the start. That was close and there were many people behind me too. Keira made a few announcements about the course, and then we were off. The first mile or so was on the road and then we hit some wide trail to the first aid station at mile 2.6, where we turned on to the single track of the PCT. There were a ton of 50K runners with us and the trail was very narrow with a drop off on one side (think, you have to turn sideways to pass someone), so it was tough to make any movement. Most people managed it well, although a few of us almost got knocked off the side of the hill around mile 5 by a guy who decided to pass and run into everyone along the way with his shoulder. Talk about a lot of adrenaline when your foot slides down the side of the hill! We checked on each other, re-grouped, and continued on our way.

We climbed a bit and then had some nice downhill to the aid station at Bouquet Canyon, mile 8.6. The 50K runners turned back here, and it felt great to cross the road and continue on the lesser-traveled 50M course. The next aid station was 9 miles away with a climb followed by a lot of downhill, and I really enjoyed it. The scenery was awesome, the downhill pretty rocky at times. Even though it was 9 miles, this direction of travel felt fine and I was happy going into the Aqua Dolce aid station at mile 17.6. Kevin greeted me there and he helped me get everything together with regards to my Tailwind refill, fueling, ice, and sunscreen re-application.

Arriving at Aqua Dolce.

When I left Aqua Dolce, I could tell it was getting really warm and the course is fully exposed to the sun. Within 2 miles of leaving the aid station I started feeling nauseous, and it got worse as I continued. I'm attributing this to my core temp rising and digestion issues, although this is not an issue I've had before so I could be wrong. I continued along the 9 mile stretch back to Bouquet Canyon, which is mostly uphill, and ignored the nausea as best I could. It most definitely slowed me down though.

The view along the way to the top.

Pacific Crest trail beauty!

In thinking about a 50 miler, I expected to feel fine for the first 50K and that I'd just get really tired or sore after that. This whole feeling bad in the early 20s thing really threw me for a loop. How on earth was I going to go 30 more miles like that? I pushed the worries aside and told myself it would pass. I thought about so many friends who came through low points to crush their races. After what felt like forever, I crested the top of the climb and made my way back down to Bouquet Canyon aid.

The sign at the top.

I felt really bad by Bouquet Canyon and wasn't on top of what I needed. I tried eating animal cookies (a very bad idea for the stomach, apparently) and didn't remember to get ice. I left the aid station to start the next 6 miles to Spunky Canyon aid, another big climb. At this point I wasn't worried about cutoffs at all until a fellow runner came by and commented that he wished they'd ease the cutoffs. I said I thought were were fine, and he told me we were 50/50 on making it. What?! Then I tried to do the math myself, did it wrong, and went through the next few miles thinking I was going to get pulled at the 32.6 mile aid station. Everything in my head was trying to prepare myself to get pulled and not finish my first 50M. I was sad, but I was also nauseous, dizzy, and thought maybe it was for the better. I told myself I was ok with this.

About a mile from the aid station I realized my math was 30 minutes off and I was actually completely fine to make the cutoff. Now that was some extra adrenaline I didn't need! There was some carnage at that aid station and about 5 runners sitting under the tent or DNFing, but a very positive volunteer distracted me from that and took my pack to fill it for me. I got ice, Coke, a Tailwind refill, and headed out as quickly as I could. My journey wasn't ending there, I was at least going to see a 4 in front of my total mileage.

The next aid station was 7 miles away at San Fran Road, mile 39.6. This is the next aid station where I'd see Kevin and I wanted to get to him so much. The terrain was kind of rolling, it somehow felt uphill both ways, and I was still feeling ill and moving slow. I hiked as fast as I could, ran when I felt I could manage, and fed off the 50M runners who were now coming back at me. The nice thing about an out-and-back is the camaraderie and cheering for one another!

This section of the course was really painful. It all looked the same, the sun was beating on us against the rock, and my nausea had gotten even worse. I thought I was going to throw up but somehow didn't despite some dry heaving. At the previous aid station I'd mixed my Tailwind lighter so that I was taking in more water with my calories, and I kept hoping I'd see the benefit of that eventually. My fingers were extremely swollen like little sausages and I wondered if that was bad. I wanted to cry, and I told myself I could ride back with Kevin when I finally got to him.

The last bit into the San Fran Road aid station was a nice downhill, and I saw Kevin when I was still pretty high up. I gave him some jazz hands and he waved back and yelled, which was just what I needed to get myself into that aid station. I was ahead of the cutoff and that was the last one, I had plenty of time to finish. Natalie, a friend from Oiselle Volée, was volunteering at this aid station, and when I said I was super nauseous she gave me ginger candies, a potato, and poured me Coke with ice. I told Natalie I was going to cry, and she said I can't because it expends too much energy - that actually worked. I got a nice cold sponge to the neck and head to work on cooling me down. They were so on top of it that I didn't even have time to ask Kevin to ride back with him. They encouraged me out of the aid station and I was on my way.

Leaving, potato in hand.

I was still nauseous and still moving way slower than I'd have liked, but alas I was making forward progress. I passed a few people and was near another woman finishing her first 50M, which was nice. I stuck with the walk as fast as you can, run whenever possible strategy even though my 'run' was barely that. My Garmin died around 43.5 and even though I had turned on Strava recording on my phone for the final bit, I had it tucked away in my pack. All of a sudden I started hearing 'Uptown Girl' playing from speakers and THERE WAS THE AID STATION. I had made it to mile 47.

A quick drink of water and I was on my way to the finish. The rest was mostly downhill with a little hump, and I was tired but able to manage well. I finally realized it was going to happen. Finally, I rounded the corner into the finish line.

Happy jazz hands!

I finished in 13:06:40. My estimate had been 13 hours and I was right there, although I admit I'd hoped I could be a bit faster if all went well. That's the interesting challenge about ultrarunning though; it doesn't generally 'all go well' - it's about problem solving and managing the day. In this case, I fought nausea for about 30 miles and had to really push myself mentally to deal with it and keep moving. I'd also say that the temperatures weren't THAT hot, something like low-80s, but it still had a big effect on me with exposure and canyons holding heat. I think the long distance between aid stations (due to lack of accessibility along the trail), and therefore lack of cold water/ice/etc for long stretches of time, was part of it. The other part could be training in cooler NorCal winter temperatures and not having trained in any heat at all.


A happy finisher photo.

Ahhh, finally time to remove the shoes and drink a beer.

I'm thrilled I was able to train, get to the start line healthy, and successfully finish the race. I'm also lucky I had so much support throughout the whole process - friends who shared miles with me or listened when I needed encouragement during training, Kevin's constant support, friends sending cards for me to read during the race, race volunteers - I truly couldn't have done it without each and every one of you!

Race tank and medal. I love the cute tanks!

Comments

  1. CONGRATULATIONS! Reading this makes it seem like a hop skip and jump between aid stations and the miles just ticked off. Then I remember - it was 50 MILES! That is such a massive accomplishment, especially when you were not feeling well for most of it. You are amazing!

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    1. Thanks so much! It definitely didn't feel like the miles went by very quickly. :) haha

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  2. Paulette, you are awesome!!! Thanks for sharing your experience. When that 50mi itch comes for me, I'll come knocking for your advice :) way to go! What an amazing accomplishment and even more so given the day's challenges. CONGRATS!

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    1. Thank you! I think you'd really rock a 50M if you ever feel like it. :)

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  3. Congratulations!! A 50-mile drive takes a little while, a 50-mile bike ride requires some planning, and a 50-mile run is just a whole different level of badass. You're amazing. That sunlight "beam me up, Scotty" photo is great, and I LOVE that they gave out tank tops -- I've been requesting this of races for years.

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    1. Thanks, Layla! I totally hadn't thought of it like that with the drive/bike, haha. I'm so pumped about the tanks!

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  4. Congrats!! 50 miles is an amazing accomplishment, even more so since you felt ill for more than half of it!

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    1. Thanks, Jen! Hopefully the next time I try this I can get rid of that sick part. :)

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