Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Serious fun": Santa Monica Mountains trail race

So, our race bibs had the tagline "Serious fun", reminding us of why a fairly small group of people had arrived on the early side of a Sunday to do something crazy like run a 30K or an even longer distance.  Throughout much of this race, I completely forgot the fun part, and even now I would say that a more appropriate description of my experience is "Fun if you love suffering".

Because suffering is what I did today.  I certainly don't consider myself a badass, but I can usually hold my own in a race if I've trained.  This race humbled me far more than anything that I've done recently - maybe even in all my very limited racing experience (even Wildflower in May and certainly harder than Boulder 70.3).  I often say that I'm just happy that I finished, but let's be honest.  Really, I'm not happy to "just finish".  I like to have a sense satisfaction when I reflect on my performance and know that I ran a good and smart race and finished strong.  As for today, I have zero satisfaction about my performance, except that I'm still a bit surprised that I finished the damn race.

To back up, the race for the 50k and 30k participants started at 8:30.  The 30k course was made up of two different 'loops', or lollipops, the first one being 12k and the second one 18k.  The 12k loop was tough - challenging, rocky uphill and downhill trails.  Also, there was one stretch that should have been fast and easy, but because of the rain yesterday it ended up being muddy - and a sticky mud.  I kept stopping to scrape the mud off my shoes because it felt as though I was carrying around an extra two pounds per leg!

Once I returned to the start line, I then began the second loop - the 18k.  I finished the 12k in over an hour, but I felt good about my pace.  We had a long climb for a few miles, but the trail was a lot easier than the 12k loop, so I was confident that I would have a strong 18k.  I felt that way until about mile 11.5.  At that point, I had hit a nice downhill slope and should have picked it up, but I just could not make my legs go.  So, I asked myself "What is going on" - a rhetorical question because I felt clammy, cramping, and weak.  I started walking on the downhill (how lame) and even sat down a few times.  I knew that the aid station was up ahead and I just had to walk another 1/2 mile or so which, in any other circumstance, wouldn't have bothered me.  However, this was the longest half-mile walk of my life.  Meanwhile, tons of people were passing me which drove me crazy but there was NOTHING that I could do about it.

Finally, I made it to the aid station.

Ah, the aid station.  I hoped that there would be paramedics there or a huge crew, ready to deal with any and all problems.  Ahem, this is a trail race, and a tiny one at that.  There were two guys managing the aid station, but even then I hoped that one of them would call an ambulance for me - or do something dramatically helpful like drive me back to the start/finish line.  I had accepted that this would be my first DNF, and I didn't even care because I wanted the experience to end.

Well, no such luck. Instead, they jumped into action, making me sit in a chair, giving me two salt tablets, a cup of regular coke and some boiled potatoes with salt.  I was too fried to say "no, I need a doctor!".  When I eventually felt a bit more energetic, I apologized for all the trouble.  Again, the volunteers were great and assured me that it happens to everyone, at least once.

After a 15 minute (or longer?) break, I shuffled off, thinking that I must really be crazy to continue, but what choice did I have? Also, I noted that I was feeling better with each step, and eventually I caught up with a few people who had arrived at the aid station and then continued on while I was still 'recharging'.  I kept ticking off the miles and feeling a bit stronger and more confident, even on the uphill.  Once I turned onto the trail that would lead me down to the finish line, I felt incredibly happy and relieved, despite the fact that I still had a few more miles of downhill to navigate.  For a brief moment, I hoped to push it on the descent and try to pick off one or two people, but I then settled into an easy pace and accepted the fact that just finishing would be quite a feat at this point.

So, I crossed the finish line at 4:17.  Woo-hoo!  I thanked the organizers and told them that the only reason that I made it back was because of the people at the aid station.  I also saw those guys - they seemed surprised and happy that I had made it back so "quickly".  It was obvious to me that their concoction - salt tablets, coke and potatoes -was some sort of holy trinity of trail running.  I think that I was one of the very last people running the 30k to cross the finish line.  I won't lie - that hurts my ego a bit, but considering that I didn't even think that I would finish, I'll try to find some satisfaction in that.

So, final thoughts on the day?  I'm glad that I ran the 30K, despite the fact that the race shredded me.  It was a new distance, and it challenged me more than I could have expected.  I learned an important lesson - fuel, fuel, fuel on real food during longer trail races.  I'm not sure what happened, but I know that I'll be more careful in the future.  Also, I hesitated to wear the Garmin, but I opted for it, and I think that it helped me continue when I was in my meltdown mode.  Otherwise, I probably would have sat on the side of the trail and given up completely.  A major positive - the race was beautiful, although I wish that I could remember more of the great views and the wonderful trails (especially that 18K loop).  I'd love to return and hike some of the trails and actually take in the scenery!  Finally, it was a really tough race.  I knew that the climbs would be serious, but I trusted my training, perhaps naively, because it was all much harder than I expected.

But, I'm alive and well now and don't feel too terrible after 18.6 miles and 3200 feet of climbing.  Looking back, I'm also happy that despite my meltdown today,  I remained relatively healthy during the training cycle.  I am not, however, about to sign up for a 50K, or even a 5K, at the moment!

*Sorry this was so long!
**Sorry that I have no photos - no energy at the end!


Kalli said...

oh christina this reminds me of a much shorter trail race i did when i was not that much of a runner. i felt the same way you did and VERY nausaus and dizzy. i got the aide station like a zombie and then unlike you a very cute lifegaurd drove me out of the race. i felt like a turd to say the least. really well done on your part but yes you must fuel!

mindful mule said...

They should probably consider having a shuttle available from Sycamore Cyn back to La Jolla Cyn.

Working your way through a bonk is a pain but a huge learning experience to make you stronger.

There's a line from The Right Stuff that pops up in my head a lot: "I think you're going to make it. I think you're going to be an astronaut." I was happy to hear that at the top of that last hill.

Kristina said...

Kalli - Yeah, not a great race. I felt like such a rookie! I would have happily taken up a cute lifeguard's offer to drive me out of there!

Rob - I think it's just a good reminder that, yes, I need to fuel. Also, that this is not a 'regular' road race. But a shuttle would have been amazing. I do like to think of myself as an astronaut though!

kilax said...

Wow! What a tough race! Do you think you had that reaction purely because you didn't take in proper food? What were you eating on course before the recharge? Potatoes and salt is what got me through my 50K, for sure. So happy those guys helped you and you made it through! Congrats!!! :)