Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Ultimate Challenge - The Old Goat 50

by Paul

I've been thinking these past few days about what it took to finish the race. This race tore me up physically and mentally, but in a good way. Going in I knew it was going to be tough - that is why I trained up in those mountains, on those same trails. Now I don't know what happened - on race day I had no legs for any part of the race. So right away I'm tearing myself down, thinking I did something wrong. Did I overtrain? Do I suck at running? Did I eat the right things? Who am I kidding? I shouldn't be out here... I'm no runner. I kept beating myself up and wanting to quit from the start of the race and I have no idea why - even after reflecting on the race these past few days.

I wanted to go out slow and get a good pace down for the San Diego 100, so I didn't look at the race as a race but more as a training run. But right off, I was not having a good day. I realize this is my first year running ultras, but I really thought I had everything down for this race. On race day I fell apart from the word GO.

I sit here today still going through it in my head. I am still tore up, not only physically but mentally, and I feel out of balance. My feet have huge blisters and a deep black bruise on my heel. The thing is, I had to run on those sore, beat-up feet for over 30 miles in excruciating pain. With that pain, I had to go inside my head and try to deal with it - on top of all the doubts I was having about even finishing the race. I doubted everything about my choices in life and about running.

Here is the race from GO:

Start - Candy Store Loop
This race starts at Bluejay Campground in the Santa Ana Mountains. These mountains have some of the most spectacular views - they just roll on out in a wave of green above Orange County and surrounding valleys. I really enjoy running in these mountains - they're a true test for any runner.

Rachel and my 6yo son Jude sat and watched me prepare for the start. I ate my Gabybar and four Gabybites for my meal prior to the race (after having oatmeal for breakfast a couple hours earlier). I decided to take two handheld bottles to start - one with water and the other with my liquid calories. I filled the pockets with gels. I also had a pocket full of Gabybites for the first part of the race. I had decided to eat every hour of the race as I took my salts and see if I could stay on top of falling into a funk.

The highlight of the morning was seeing all my new friends I had found out on these trails. They were the ones that made this day possible for me to finish.

It was nice to get to the start line on time - I stress about it the whole week before the race! We all lined up under The Goat Pen sign and the awesome RD Steve Harvey released the gate to let us billy goats go out to become old goats "hopefully". I took it very slow compared to my other races - I wanted to find a nice groovy pace. The first part going out of Bluejay is about a mile of pavement to get to the trailhead - everyone can move around one another on the road before the single-track San Juan Trail starts. I got to the trail and got caught up in the train of single-file runners at a pace I did not really want to go. I took it in stride because it wasn't all that fast - it was just faster then the pace I had in my mind before the race.

The views were so awesome - there were clouds below us in the valleys as the sun rose in the West, warming our backs. There wasn't much opportunity to look up from this very technical rocky trail. This trail also had a lot of poison oak on the side of the trail. I kept trying to keep my big ass feet from stepping anywhere near it. I talked a little bit with a guy behind me and Tiffany Guerra as we ran down to Chiquita Falls Aid Station. Of course I had to pee but I didn't want to stop until we got to somewhere safe away from runners and poison oak. So when I got to Chiquita Falls AS I stopped and went pee. From that point on, I was pretty much on my own until I ran into my friend Christine Bilange - she is always a pleasure to see out there on the trails, especially when I was in such a funk already. Luckily, just after seeing her I ran into the leaders on their way back and they told me I had missed the turn about 100ft behind me. There was a bit of a confusing arrow thing going on down in that section. But back on track, I headed into the Candy Store AS and saw some more of my trail friends working the AS. It's always nice to see people who know exactly what you're going through! I had to go do the deed so I stopped in the bathroom. After that I got back on the trail and headed back up to Bluejay.

My feet had already started to feel warm in places and I was a bit confused because I had worn this shoe and sock combo before for a 50 miler with no ill effects. But today was real different... I soon found out how different. I kept feeding myself every hour like I planned and had no stomach issues during this first 21 miles back to Bluejay! By the time I got back at Bluejay my feet were tore up pretty bad, but still not excruciating. I got into the AS with my wife Rachel and Jude cheering for me and waiting to take care of me. Rachel had all my things ready for me - I doused myself with Heed (on accident), then doused myself again with water and toweled off and reapplied sunscreen. I put on my hydration pack and grabbed my other two handhelds (water and nutrition), then kissed my wife goodbye because I wouldn't see her for another 8 hours.

Falcon Trail - Holy Jim AS
The first part after the single-track trail is a nice steep climb on a very rocky fire road that heads up to Trabuco trailhead. The fire road beats your feet up going up or down, but the views are spectacular. I trudged up this at a pretty good hiking pace, even with sore feet, because at this point they weren't too bad.

I got up to the Trabuco Trailhead AS. My 14yo son Errin was there helping out and he helped me get some things I needed. On my way out, he told me he would meet me at Trabuco Peak AS, so I headed down Trabuco Trail as he headed the opposite way down the Main Divide Fire road.

I usually fly down this 5 mile section of very rocky and technical trail, but I just couldn't muster anything. My feet started to really hurt, to the point that I started freaking out. I was so frustrated from not being able to run down this trail without pain - and it was starting to get inside my head that I should just quit. A lady passed me and we got to talking about my feet. She passed on some advice someone once gave her. She said that her friend puts diaper cream on their feet and has had no blister issues. So she has done it ever since with no issues. So guess what I'm going to try my next 50 mile race? Yep, diaper cream. I tried to keep a positive countenance, when I saw another friend taking pictures of us as we ran by him. Pedro was in places along the race only a dedicated ultrarunner would be to get the good shots. Thanks Pedro for your photos!

I tried to keep up my spirits but it was getting more difficult as the miles kept coming. I got to the Holy Jim AS where my pink-clad friend Greg Hardesty was having fun cheering us on and Baz gave me a hard time about how full my Hydration pack was. All in fun! It was a great AS for me - especially the way I was feeling about the last 5 miles crawling down Trabuco Trail.

Holy Jim AS - Santiago Peak
The next section is all climb, from around 1800ft to 5600ft up at Santiago Peak. Four miles of Holy Jim's switchbacks, then the Main Divide fire road of hellfire and brimstone (well not exactly hell or fire but very rocky and painful). The first part of Holy Jim you are on roads leading to cabins, then you get to single-track with switchbacks and stream crossings. I swear, I crossed that stream more times this race than any other time I've run that section. I am usually a tractor chugging up this section at a nice pace, but today was different. I had no legs, and my feet were killing me inside and out. I wanted to quit, to sit down and forget I even started this shit. I was also freaking out because my heart was going crazy. I was afraid I had heat exhaustion like I had at Los Pinos 50K. That race was also in these mountains, and I'm starting to think these trails out here don't like me much.

I kept climbing up Holy Jim, hoping that it would end soon, because I was down in the dumps. I had every emotion go through me on that trail, to the point I wanted to scream and just sit down. My feet were causing my mind to turn against me. That brought everything down into the dark depths where no one should enter in their minds. Especially not a runner, out on a trail where he/she should be having fun or least enjoying some part of it. I mean, I love this trail, and the views, the climb out of the valley below, and just being in the middle of the wilderness. You truly feel like you're in the middle of nowhere, when you look around and all you can see is green shrubs and trees and mountains all around you. The smell was amazing - there were purple flowers along the trail that smelled really good. See that, I guess there were great parts I can remember beyond the pain and disappointment.

I got to the top of Holy Jim only to find that there was no AS at Bear Springs where I thought it would be! That made my heart drop out of my stomach because I needed some damn love. Someone coming down informed me that it was still a few turns up the Main Divide fire road. I got there finally and took my time eating and crying inside. I left with a couple of other people, one of them was Ryan (was what I think she said her name was). Anyways, we talked the whole way up that rocky ass road and steep climb to Santiago Peak. Ryan, or whoever you are, you were so nice to get my mind off my feet as we crawled our way up the mountain. GAWD those views are spectacular! It doesn't matter how much pain you're in, when you can look out and see the beauty of the Earth all around you.

When you get to the top of this climb you should be feeling jubilation but I could not. I couldn't muster much of anything. My mind and feet were beat up. I stopped in, had some soup and refilled my bottle with water. I wanted to quit at every Aid Station I came to because I just couldn't handle the pain anymore. For some reason I just kept going. Leaving Santiago Peak was a relief though - I felt like I had gone so far and the worst was over. But it wasn't, the worst was still to come.

Santiago Peak - Finish
Leaving Santiago Peak, I wanted to be amped because downhill is my specialty and very fun for me. But no, my feet would not let me enjoy it. The worst part was trying to control your steps with feet so sore and tore up that you wanted to cry every step you took. This Main Divide road is rocky and no fun if you're not put together. You're completely exposed to the elements and the harsh terrain. I felt like my feet were ripping apart every step I took. Inside my mind I was falling deeper into sadness - a place I really hate going. I had that voice telling me to stop and just quit. I had a few voices in my head by the end of this downhill screaming at me to just quit. But the strongest voice of all kept me going no matter the pain I was in. I got down to the Bear Springs AS and went right on by, yelling "83 IN and OUT". I made sure someone heard me as I hobbled right past.

At one point, there was a little bit of a climb out of Bear Springs. This is where my right leg near my hip started to burn - and I couldn't lift that leg anymore. Now my feet were killing me with every step, and I could barely lift my leg without crying out in agony. I started dragging my feet, with my right leg lagging behind. I was doing a sort of shuffle now because walking and running hurt way too much. For the next mile or so I shuffled, until I got almost to the next AS. Then some nice guy asked if I wanted some Aleve. I almost said no, but then I decided why not? I took the two Aleve and thanked him - then shuffled up to the Trabuco Peak AS.

I saw Carl Tedesco and my son Errin waiting up there, as I dragged my leg up the hill. I was happy to be up there! It meant I was almost done, with only seven and half miles to go. I still had my issues with my feet and leg, but I was going to finish no matter what - and that lifted my spirits a bit. John Hockett also gave me a Red Bull (which helped a ton about a mile down the road along with the Aleve). This is also where I saw my buddy Matthew Brabeck doing his first 50 mile race, looking pretty darn good as he left the AS. I left, hobbling up the road, waiting for anything to kick in and let me forget this pain.

I hated not feeling good all day! Being out there, alone with only you, your thoughts and your pain can take a toll on one's mind. I had no stomach issues at all during the race... it was all feet and mental. During most of this time until I got to West Horsethief AS I was shuffling along, trying to make progress wherever I could get it without too much pain.

I finally made it to West Horsethief AS, not really there mentally, just trying to get my ass to the finish. I don't really remember much about that AS, sorry to anyone there I really have no recollection at all what I did there or who was there. I was trying to finish and my mind was on the prize at that point. With five miles to go and the worst of the climbing out of the way, I was ready to be done. I took off and around this time I guess the Aleve and the Red Bull kicked in - the aching pain in my leg was gone and my feet didn't hurt as bad. I started to actually run with a little speed behind it. By the time I got back to the Trabuco Trailhead AS I was flying and feeling decent. I stopped in and thanked them again as I gulped down a Mountain Dew for good measure.

I almost forgot to mention that along my journey from Trabuco Peak on until Trabuco Trailhead there was a roving volunteer on his DRZ400(motorcycle) at each of the AS - whenever I pulled into one he was there. He actually stopped on his way up to the Trabuco Peak AS to ask if I was ok and needed anything. So he saw me at my worst time, alone on the trail, dragging my foot up the hill, to when I was at the Trabuco Trailhead AS hauling butt. He said "now that is the way to recover" - or something to that affect.

I left Trabuco Trailhead AS, and almost sprinted down the fire road. At that point it did feel like sprinting, after all I had gone through during the day - it felt good. On the way down, my feet still ached with each step. But it was a dull pain, no longer a sharp pain driving pins into my feet with every step. I ended up feeling really good for the last two and half miles, and made it into the finish running hard and getting a time of 12hrs, 3min.

Thoughts and Future
Throughout the day I thought I never would finish this race. I tortured myself inside my mind for most of the race. I had one voice that stayed strong within, I kept referring to it and fighting on until I finished. I learned a little something about time and patience. I learned I could have the worst day physically and mentally and still finish one of the toughest 50 mile races out there in 12hrs. Which really means a lot to me, because I suffered that day and I came out on top. This race was the best lesson for me and I gained so much from it. It feels a little like my first ultra and the strength I took away from that race. This race gave me everything, threw everything at me and I conquered it. I might not have finished where I wanted, but I did finish and I finished strong - the last 3 miles felt great. I have new knowledge going into my next 50 mile race, the Leona Divide. The Leona Divide RD won the Old Goat 50 women's race - Nice work Keira Henninger! I can't wait to see what my new knowledge will do for me during the Leona Divide and the San Diego 100.

I've been dreading the timing for all these races and was confused about what pace I needed to get a good time. This race taught me I can get my ass kicked and still finish in 12 hours - which is a really good thing to learn.

I had no stomach issues - that in itself is a very positive sign right there. My nutrition plan worked much better this time.

Patience is the key for these races, and letting the race come to you. You can't force it or you will end up in the dumps the whole day. I might have struggled that day and the days after, trying to regroup my mind and body, but I take a lot away from this race. I learned from my last race and I will learn from this race. I'm still recovering mentally and physically, but it gets better as each passing day ends and a new day rises.

Thank you
I would like to thank the most wonderful woman in the world - my wife Rachel - for sticking it out all day waiting for me. You are the best thing that ever happened to me and I'm so glad I have you in my life. You're so awesome as my crew at these races and at home. Thank you Errin for helping out at three different AS's and for being there when I went through them. Also for being awesome and running with Christine until the finish. Thanks to the RD Steve Harvey, his wife Anne and their family for putting on one hell of an awesome race. It tested everything about me to get it finished, and I want to thank you for letting me experience the OG50. I came out of the race a different person than the one that woke up that morning. Thanks to all my friends and volunteers for being out there cheering us on and getting us to the finish. You guys all rock and I can't wait to go out running with you all again. Thanks to Gaby for her awesome Gabybars and Bites for fueling me for most of the race. Thank you to all the people who make these races possible.

See you all in a few weeks for the make-up of Oriflamme 50K, then onto Leona Divide!

Healthy day everyone.


  1. Wow.. just wow.. you never cease to amaze me!! I'm so hapy to be part of your adventures, even if it's just as your nutrition and moral support :)
    Keep it going!!! :D

  2. You are just becoming an ultra runner for whom pain is just an information, you don't listen to it until you cross the finish line.
    I let one of my heel on the trails also, out of running , but it was really worst it.
    We'll be back next year and we'll do better buddy !

  3. What a fantastic race report! Really enjoyed it....thanks to your wife for linking it from her Sparkpeople blog. Keep up the great totally inspire and motivate!