Thursday, May 3, 2012

Leona Divide 50M run and lessons learned

by Paul

I find it nice to go into a race without being nervous and full of anxiety. This race was another preparation for the San Diego 100 miler. Time to get my pace down and hopefully learn something new along the run. WOW, did I ever learn something, but I'll get into that a little later.

My family and I decided to go up early Friday and find a campsite so we were close to the start line in the morning. That way we are close and we get a camping day in for the year. It was nice to get up there and hang out with other runners and friends volunteering at the race. Chatting away about races and life as we sat around getting our race packets and getting ready to eat the race-sponsored pasta dinner.

The race was held in the small lake community of Lake Hughes - which had one store and a hotel/ restaurant in it. It was nice to be away from the crazy city life for the two days we spent up there. So a bunch of ultrarunners come rolling into town and fill up the place with fit and sweaty people all over. It was a cool to see people from all over going in and out of the Lake Hughes Community Center. This race is part of the Montrail Ultra Cup Series so it brought out some of the elite runners from all over. It was cool to watch them run by you during the race. The RD is Keira Henninger and she always puts on a great challenging race. The swag bag is always awesome and the race shirts kick ass.

I found that sleeping in a tent the night before a race is bad if you don't have the right sleeping bag. It gets cold up in the mountains at night in late April. I made it through the night tossing and turning, but overall I think I got enough rest for the race. We learned we need to prepare a little better when we camp up at the SD100... need a little more blankets and cushion. It was a great experience though - camping out near the start line helped me relax! It was also nice to have the dinner before the race and watch the movie "UNBREAKABLE" with my fellow athletes.

I was pretty relaxed during the race - I just wanted to get a good pace down and see how that went for me. I didn't have to be anxious about running the race as a race, just sit back and enjoy the scenery. For most of the race I did just that. I sat back and was in awe of the beauty of the mountains and the trails we ran on. I made a ton of new friends just sitting back and relaxing, running with the crowd for most of the first 20 miles. I was having a great time running these trails and hanging out with my fellow runners - until I had an experience that just about handed me my first DNF....


From the start I was fighting myself to not push it, to not race this race. It was very difficult not to take off up those first hills to chase down a great time. I kept my ego in check and stayed the course of just cruising at a good pace. I really wanted to just have a good time, have fun and pace myself for the SD100. I had so much fun those first miles talking and running with others - without losing my breath or overdoing it.

The first 8.5 miles to the first Aid Station I made friends and reacquainted myself with old friends. That's pretty much how it went, until the second AS 4 miles away, where my son was waiting to run with me to AS3 (where he would be volunteering). He volunteered for most of the race when he wasn't running with me. We ran together for the downhill part until we reached the Lake Hughes RD AS3 where my wife met me for the first time during the race (and the only place crew can be). It was mile 16 and late mile 42 AS9 so we saw our crews twice. Errin got settled in, then gave me some words of encouragement as I ate and got pampered by my wife (my crew as always). We kissed and I was on my way to climb a couple thousand feet to get to the next AS 4 miles away.

I got through this section really nice with a technique I learned following a great ultra legend during a training run at Mt. Woodson. The technique worked like a charm and the funny thing was he ran by me near the top (going to help at the next AS and getting in a run for the day). I passed a few people while using that technique during the day and it didn't drain me at all, so I used it often.

The next AS was great - I refueled, then quickly headed for the top of the peak at 5200 ft to get to the next AS 4 miles away. When I was coming into the AS I noticed great music and encouraging quote signs every few feet. Everyone was wearing 80's clothes and listening to 80's music - it was a great, uplifting AS. My friend Pedro was there with his Coyote running group. It was their AS and they kicked ass and I couldn't wait to get back to the AS.

The next miles were flat at the top with the narrow Pacific Crest Trail until we came to a fireroad and headed down to the halfway turnaround AS. As I was headed down I saw a lot of my friends headed up - we gave each other high-fives or just some words of encouragement. It was a great experience. Heading into the AS, it was a nice oasis in the bright sun of the day - a Hawaii theme! I pigged out on some more food and had my bottles filled, one with electrolytes and one with water. I usually don't do electrolytes in my bottles. I decided I might need it since it was getting warmer and later in the day.


I took off from the halfway point and climbed the two miles to the top, where the fireroad met up with the PCT again. It was nice to be in some shade on the PCT - that fireroad was exposed to the sun. I was enjoying myself for the most part just cruising along - going a pace I could run for a very long time. That is, if nothing happened to my body or mind. Coming into the 80's themed Coyote party AS I heard some great music and started dancing coming into the AS. I was feeling pretty darn good to waste some energy dancing. Saw Pedro again and got some food and bottles refilled. It was a very uplifting AS - I had a great time each time I entered it!

The next 3.5 miles were rolling and exposed on the top of the mountains and I felt every sunbeam hitting me. I started to feel tired and worn-down just a couple miles after the Coyote AS. The sun can takes it's toll on you. I rolled into the next AS and got doused with water to get revived before the climb down off the mountain. I was feeling ok, but I had a feeling the sun was taking it's toll inside my body more than I would like.

A little while after the 38 mile AS I felt I had to go pee... but something felt wrong with it, something I had never felt before. When I stopped to go pee it burned like acid and it was a maple syrup color - this scared the crap out of me - I had never experienced anything like this before. I ran the next miles feeling like I had to go pee and a burning in my Urethra. I was scared my kidneys were shutting down or something serious was happening that I had no idea about. The experience had me inside my head - should I tell my wife at the next AS which was mile 42 back at Lake Hughes Road? By the time I got down there and had scared myself to death, I just blurted it all out to Rachel and my friend Christine. I was so scared I didn't know if I should go on. Christine assured me that I had too much electrolytes and not enough water to dilute it. So I sat in the AS for over 20 minutes diluting my system and preparing myself for the 4 mile climb up to the next AS.

Errin joined me after this AS to get back to the start and help out his old man. At this point it was starting to get warmer in the day. This part of the hill climb on the PCT is exposed with few spots of shade.
Errin went ahead and I tried to stay with him the best I could, but I was still recovering from my scared shitless episode on top of the other peak. He pushed me to keep climbing, and I probably would not have done so well going up that climb without him. We passed a couple people sitting down in the shade. That brought back memories of Los Pinos, so I hiked a bit harder. It was so nice to have Errin for that climb. He will be a great ultrarunner.

I was so relieved when we got to the next AS at the top of the climb - that meant I had only three miles left to the finish! We ate a bit and refilled our bottles, then headed out for the half-mile climb before the 2.5 mile downhill fun. This part was on the fireroad that we ran up the first few miles of the race. The fireroad was mostly hard-packed dirt, with few rocks, so it was nice to be able to run on it and not trip on rocks the whole way. Errin and I got to the top of the climb and started our descent to the finish line. I started feeling a lot better - I no longer had the stinging in my Urethra and my mind was strong again after the scare - so I took off. I took off down the hill, passing people as we flew down the hill. I was feeling great! I had no issues with my feet this time because I used Injinji's, 2Toms Sportshield and diaper cream on my feet, so I could hurdle down the hill with just the usual pain in the feet from running 50 miles. It was a lot of fun to finish like this, compared to my last 50 the Old Goat.

It felt great to come charging in to the finish - when I crossed the finish line I did a flying ninja kick! It was nice to come into the finish strong, and feel good that I had a great pace. I did what I set out to do, I got my pace down for the SD100 and I learned some lessons along the way. I am glad I had this scare happen now so during my next races I will know what to do. I love these 50mile races - they test so much about you and you find out so much about yourself, being out there and testing your limits. I can't wait to test myself at the SD100.

For most the race I was fueled by Gabybars and Gabybites. I ate a lot of potatoes from the AS's and I stayed on top of my food and salting. Maybe too much on the electrolyte end, but I still learned a valuable lesson.

It was a great experience, and I will be doing this race again in the future. Keira is an amazing race director and she takes care of us all. I love that she let my kids and family help out where needed when they are not crewing or running with me. My family loves these races - they do so much not only for me but for our whole family. We grow more and more closer each race we experience together.

Thanks so much to all the volunteers for your hard work and your dedication to the runners and to the sport. Thank you to the Lake Hughes Community. Thanks so much to the other runners and their support during the run. A special Thanks to my friend Christine Bilange for settling my fear down and helping me get over it - it meant a lot to me to be assured I wasn't killing myself. Thanks to my awesome wife for her support as a crew and awesome wife. Thank you Errin for being there running with me and helping out at the AS's. Jude thanks for the kiss.

Well now it's time to get ready for the next adventure Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon. Then it's onto preparing for the SD100.

Healthy Day


  1. You are an animal my friend !!

  2. This is awesome! Now I know what the "scare" was LOL
    So happy to be part of your adventures! :D

  3. Thanks for the post. Even though I'll never be an ultra runner, your descriptions were enough for me to try and imagine what you experienced. Glad you worked through it and good luck with the 100. Kermit