Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Los Pinos 50K Race report

by Paul

The slogan for the race is: Feel the beast, and become one with it....
Well I got chewed up by the beast and spat out half alive.

This race takes place in the Saddleback Mountains off Hwy 74 in California. I just want to start out by saying - I have no idea how I am sitting here writing these words down while I reflect on an experience that will forever be etched into my mind. I survived this experience and I have no idea how I did. At times, I thought I would never make it to the top of the Los Pinos trail. I blacked out a couple times, and I know I saw grey a few other times while slowly dragging each foot up each steep incline. The only thing that kept running through my mind while out on the trail (other than I just want to get to the Aid station) was I can't wait to see my wife and kids at the end of this whole thing.

My little family has been through a lot in finding our way here to Southern California and I reflected a lot on that during this run. I reflected on what matters most in life and what you make of your life. I didn't really start living my life until a few years ago when I picked up running. Running to me has been the place I go to learn about myself, to work through the problems of the day, to meditate and just enjoy being outside on this gorgeous planet. I have taken to trail running just this year, after a few years of running races on the road. Road racing never gave me what Ultra trail running has given me. Those who have read my other blogs know I'm an emotional person and this race report will be more than just about miles and trails. I am an open book and I believe we should share our stories of life and grow together. I get that from this community of ultrarunners and the races. Like myself, they have stories of conquering one thing or another during their lifetimes. So it is nice to have them there at the Aid stations or on the trail cheering you on, helping you during your time of struggle on the trail. I had many of those runners and volunteers help me along the way on the most trying times out there. I just want to thank most of you here and now I might not know who you are but I just want to give a big THANK YOU to your help and support.

I'm kind of naive when it comes to these races, so when signing up for Los Pinos I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I ran the PCT50 miler and Noble Canyon 50K and both of those seemed fine. I mean fine as in being able to run up or down trails most of the time. But Los Pinos was different - and I didn't find out how different until after the 13 mile mark. That, as they say, is when the race really starts - the climb out of Lazy W to Trabuca Aid Station...

As usual I woke up after having my three hours of sleep before a race. I cannot turn the mind off the night before a race. We woke up at 3:45, and my wife got the kids and everything ready for the day. I did my usual morning routine of waking up - did my stretches, push-ups and other deeds that need dealt with in the morning. So I got my hydration pack filled and ready full of goodies and things to help during the race. I got my backpack ready with an extra change of clothes and other essentials we all need after a beating... uh, I mean run. I did a once-over in the house before leaving, feeling like I might have left something, but I couldn't put my finger on it exactly or see it so we headed out. We got on Hwy 56 and headed East - when we got to the on-ramp to I-15 it was closed off! We had to follow a detour (not a good start so far for raceday). I'm always more nervous about getting to the races than I am about actually racing them (weird I know - I think it stems from childhood and not wanting to be late for class - missing my alarm a few times and getting to class late). So mentally that kind of set me back a bit but I've learned to let it go and move on. We finally found an open on-ramp for I-15 and were on our way.

We got there early and my son Errin walked over to start his volunteering for the race. He is so awesome - I'm so proud of that kid (he deserves his own blog post some day). So I get all my stuff out the back of the car and I realize I had forgotten my carry bottle with my 800 calories of CarboPro in the fridge at home. Luckily I did bring another bottle with me, but it didn't have my liquid calories I so wanted (eating calories during running sucks). Come to find out, I really wish I had that extra bottle on the Los Pinos climb (more on that later). Met some of my friends at the start - we talked about how crazy we were and what we were about to do.

The RD Keira Henninger talked to us and she couldn't stress to us enough how difficult this race was going to be and tried to drill it into our heads how difficult it was going to be. I listened, but I thought I truly had trained up for this race - and hell, I had done pretty well at Noble Canyon, so I thought I was good. I had done some practice runs up here in the Saddleback Mountains also - so I thought I was prepared for whatever this trail threw at me. RIGHT!

I said my goodbyes to my family - it would be the last time I would see them for over 8 hours because this race had no crew access. They are usually my crew - it is always awesome to see them at different points along the race course. But this race was just us against the BEAST.

The timer went off and we were on our way - the first 12 miles are mostly downhill and I was going to use it like I did at Noble Canyon. I love the technical side of running downhill, being a dancer and ex football player my feet can move and adapt quickly. So I took off quickly and enjoyed it - the only thing I wish I had done was take the option of leaving my hydration pack off until I could pick it up at Lazy W.

I had a good pace going - I was running with a couple of the Coyote Running group who I had seen a few times out on the training runs but never met. I stayed with them and had a pretty uneventful time for the first 6 miles except for watching George trip a couple times over rocks. At mile 6 Steve was there as a watering hole for us and it was cool to see him there for a split half minute. Then I was on my way for the next 6 miles of nice cool morning descent while mountain bikers were making their way up. About 2 miles from Lazy W, George and I saw Michelle up ahead running strong. George went ahead and I stayed behind and ran with her for about a mile into Lazy W. Some where around 3/4 of a mile from Lazy W, Michelle and I got cussed out by this cranky mountain biker. He seemed to have thought all mountain trails were made for bikers and not anyone else. While he cussed at Michelle and I we kind of defended our right (while running of course) - we yelled back up at him to change his diaper or stop sucking on his baba. I think the guy needed to stand up a little more while riding - I think his seat got stuck up his butt and it was taking a toll on his attitude. Anyways, got down to Lazy W with some laughs, and before 2 hours, so was feeling really awesome about my day. (oh man would that change)

I had started out pretty good - and I was hyped up from the good time I made coming down the San Juan Trail. Michelle, who ends up being the first female runner/winner of the race, is long gone (I put this in to give people a scope of what the trail and heat did to me for the next 8.5 miles). I ate some food for calories at the aid station because I didn't have my CarboPro with me. So it took me a bit to get out of the station - I had an idea the next 8.5 were going to be rough, but I had no idea how rough it would turn out to be. I filled up on water and calories and headed out, walking while I ate.

After a mile of concrete, I came to stairs that reached up into the sky and a sign that said to LOS PINOS - and this is where my hell began. I made it up those steps feeling confident and strong - and got onto the first part of the trail feeling like I had this thing down. I got to about 15 miles and I saw my first ever wild Tarantula crawling on the trail in front of me... I did an "OH MY" and took a nice leap over him. Most the time I'm leaping over snakes, so it was weird to see something out in the wild that you've only seen on TV or in a pet store.

I started noticing something about this trail that no elevation map can tell you or no one can describe to you unless you've actually been on it. This trail went straight up - and straight down - peaks and saddles - and it went on like this for 8.5 miles. So many times I would reach the top of a peak and say "that has got to be the top" only to be demoralized by a steeper hill, more inclined than the last climb. Not only were the trails steep, the rock was loose and it would slip out from underneath you - and you would fall on your ass if you weren't careful. I am totally surprised my a$$ isn't black and blue.

I am also fair skinned and redheaded, so sun and heat are not my friends anywhere, let alone out on a open steep hill climb in 90 degrees. The sun started beating down on me and I started losing strength - each incline zapped more and more strength from my body. I had some people pass me during this time and that was fine - I had stopped trying to get an awesome time and just wanted to get to the top of each new teasing freaking peak. I swear that 8.5 miles felt like all of the races I've raced combined into one evil beast. The sun was taking its toll on a lot of us out there - some of the people who passed me would be sitting when I would drag my butt up a peak. I found myself stopping a lot on the inclines because my heart would not stop beating rapidly. I also had bouts of dizziness and a few times I blacked out. I found myself sitting a lot under some bushes trying to find any shade away from the sun. A few of us were doing that and running out of water a couple of miles from the top.

I have no idea how I kept my feet going or how I didn't just completely pass out and lay there until some one came. I kept thinking if I could just get over this peak I will have a little downhill - and maybe, just maybe it will be the last peak. I was so far gone out there and my body knew it - but my mind had a determination that wouldn't quit (which I found during the PCT50). I kept thinking about my wife and sons at the finish line and how happy I would be just to see them again - to have them proud of me because I felt so many times in my life I let them down. I'm going to get emotional here writing now so bear with me. I have been to the bottom mentally in my life - and physically. You don't get to be over 300 pounds without some kind of bad history. So making them proud and to finish something I set out to do kept me going up that damn trail. I now have the mental strength I lacked for years and it helped me get to the top of that next peak. Sitting down or moving slowly I was determined not to let it beat me - it might kill me but I won't be conscious when it does kill me.

So when I got to the top of the last Peak and saw angels and a big tent I thought I was delusional!

I got all the love I needed at Trabuca - thank you to Deborah, Dorene and Carl for being the angels there at the top of hell. I stayed at the Aid station for a bit eating potatoes, soda and other things I can't really remember. Carl was kind of enough to dump a whole bunch of water over my back and head - it was much appreciated and it helped wake me up from the heavy zombie-like state I had entered and get me on my way. I was the walking dead by the time I got to Trabuca - and ended up leaving the station running down the Trabuca trail. I had some life back in me and going downhill helped my heart rate a lot - and being that it was in the shade for the most part I could handle it better. But I knew what was coming - not exactly the trail but the rumors...

I had worked the TWIN PEAKS 50 mile race at West Horsethief a few weeks before LOS PINOS and a lot of people were dying at the top of Horsethief. So I had some idea that my next 1.5 miles were going to be rough - and after being totally exhausted and beat down from Los Pinos trail I didn't have much left in my climbing legs or mind. I started up on a very slow "OH CRAP" kind of hike and just tried to endure what I could, as long as I could. I got to a place about .70 miles from the top and found a shady spot and almost passed out - I was sweating profusely, but I also had to go pee (which I believe if you're dehydrated wouldn't happen). SO it was weird to me - I was in such dire straits, but my mind really didn't take in the fact that hey dummy, it is the SUN that is beating you down. I used to work bucking hay when I was a kid and would overexert myself out in the fields and would feel the same way. I should have realized, but I was out of my head at that point and just wanted to get to the top and have all the hard stuff out of the way. Some guys I had met along Los Pinos were stopping in the shade and we hung out for a bit, trying to get our stuff together enough to make the rest of the climb. When they showed up, I was hanging on to these little trees for dear life because I almost passed out and threw up. But I eventually followed behind them and dragged my feet up to the top of West Horsethief. When I got to the top, I was jogging a little bit and started seeing little pumpkins along the trail and thought - I'm almost there. Then I saw one of the crew run to the gate at the top and yell Runners! or something - and I knew I had gotten past the worse part. I came up to the guy there and he said I was looking good - I thought to myself man I am a good actor if I can hide how much I am dying right now.

When I got to the top, my buddy Keith was there for a big needed hug (sorry Keith I hug and tell). It was a man hug or a dying man hug I should say. Keith and the rest of the crew rocked it there, and he gave me a nice shower that brought me back to life again. Thanks so much Keith and the rest of the West Horsethief Crew - you guys were life savers! Keith sent me on my way with words of encouragement that he knew would resonate in me as I headed out back to Trabuca.

I ended up running - or I should say, moving faster then I was going up Horsethief - for most of the way back. I came upon Greg, which I had met during TP50 race, and we ran and talked for a bit. It took my mind off the fact I was still running after everything I had just went through. Thanks Greg for running with me during that little bit! It helped more then you know just to talk with someone that just went through what I had, and see them still pushing - it helped me keep pushing it through. Nothing eventful happened physically on the way back to Trabuca - just time to reflect on my experience during the day. I still had a few miles of trail to go but it was mostly downhill. I was sore all over from my toes to my head but I kept chugging away. I didn't care much about the soreness at this point - I just wanted to see my family at the end. I saw the angels again and headed towards their beautiful light!

After leaving Trabuca, I was on my own going downhill on the Main Divide Truck Trail which was a nice relief from the previous 16 miles. More time to reflect on what I had just put myself through. I had a car go by me and Jesse (the 2nd place finisher) was helping at Trabuca pick some one up or something stopped to give me encouragement on my last mile. I thought that was awesome - he was also helping out after he finished the race which is top notch! Thanks Jesse for the encouraging words and for the directions! After a bit there was a turn off back onto a small single track trail to the finish. I started down this trail and I saw someone on the side of the trail - it was Errin (my son) and all of a sudden I started crying. All these emotions from the day I had kept in check, and had just kept chugging along... these emotions swept over me all at once seeing him there. He ran behind me while I wept and talked about how I couldn't believe he was there and I was running with him. He told me where I needed to go and he stayed behind so I wouldn't be paced - I don't know if pacing was allowed. When I came out of that single track trail back onto the road I couldn't hold back any more - I started crying some more (I did tell you I am an emotional guy right?). After I crossed the finish and Keira put the medal around my neck, I start crying hysterically - it just came out of nowhere... I had no idea how I got to that finish line - I still don't know today. My wife took a picture of me and I was pale as a ghost - my eyes were sunken into my skull - I looked like the skull that was on the medal and shirt for the race.

This race took a lot out of me but also added a lot of good to me.

I take a lot away from this race - I come away a lot stronger mentally and hopefully physically. I don't know how I got to the finish except for pure will, desire not to die out there, and the desire to see my smiling family at the end. That race was a pure test of what I am becoming, and what I am letting go. I am becoming stronger, more resilient, more determined, a better father, a better husband, a better person and all around better human being on this planet. This race will have a special place in my heart and in my mind until the day I die... and it will live on through my son, who was there helping and now more than ever wants to challenge himself. This ultrarunning is saving my life and making it one amazing life also. I have grown so much over this year from running these races. I can't wait for the next challenge and the next growth in my life.

I have to give my props to 2Toms Sportshield - I had no nipple bleeds or chafing anywhere I put it on me. Anyone who runs these know taking a shower after a race can suck - screaming in the shower from all the chafed raw skin. Well I had none thank goodness. The only burning I had was a sunburn and scratches from bushes on my leg and arms.
 Thank you to Gabybars for providing me with some energy and calories, Thanks Gaby.

Thanks Keira Henninger for putting on a great challenging race -this one is ETCHED inside me forever. Thanks to all the volunteers for helping put this race on - without you none of this is possible. Thank you to all the awesome runners I came in contact with and to all that helped me along the way. You guys ROCK! and you will always have a place in my heart.


  1. Awesome, motivating, awe-inspiring report that actually teleported me to the foot of Los Pinos to engage in excruciating ecstasy of the beast. After marathoning in Houston from 1999(180lbs), I had a good time with Tall Pines Trail Runners led by Rick Lewis in Austin, and only then got a whiff of what you have tasted. I've finished a few 50 milers (Grasslands, 2 Oceans, Om die Dam, Longtom) and have attempted 3 100 milers (LT100, AR100 and Rote66-100) but never meet cuttoff times, I'm mostly a racewalker, but love to sprint downhills. I was blessed to crew at Badwater for Jan Reyerse(2002) and Anita Fromm(2003), and look forward to do it soon. I did start barefoot running and Bikram Yoga when in SanFrancisco in 2004 and now don't train with shoes. My last 2 marathons were in Indianapolis 2009/2010, weight now (226lbs), sore left knee, hamstring prvent bikram yoga.

    Your writing has inspired me to enter races again and return to bikram yoga. I want to experience the thrills, danger, pain, euphoria again. I also want to get my weight down 50lbs back to 170 lbs, my weight before the accident and coma.

  2. Nothing like the feeling of being out there challenging yourself beyond other peoples norms. When I started running these trail races was when I tried my hardest to get rid of this excess weight because after a few miles it does wear on you. So I've been trying to get off as much as I can. My wife and son are trying to go barefoot and actually my son Errin has ran races barefoot. I learn so much from the barefoot community on how to run and run properly.
    THanks so much for you comments it does mean alot to me to read your words. I hope to see you out there and good luck on your new journey to lose the weight and join us crazies again! Hope to see you soon!