Monday, January 20, 2014

San Diego 50 Race Recap - 2014

by Rachel

It's hard to know where to start. I finished a 50 mile race. I probably did about the least possible amount of training that I thought necessary to finish - and it worked! This post may ramble and jump around - it's hard to wrap my brain around it all.



The San Diego 50 is a trail running race that starts in the San Pasqual Valley outside of Escondido (by the Safari Park). The trail takes you up and over Raptor Ridge (the biggest climb of the race), around Lake Hodges, and then South almost to Black Mountain. Then all the way back. I would say this is not a typical 50 mile ultra trail race - if you talk to any seasoned ultrarunner, they will tell you this race is very "runnable". Oddly, this is not the norm - usually ultras are up in the mountains, and there are lots of climbs and descents - and therefore a lot of hiking up. This race, however, is "mostly" flat - meaning that you could potentially run the majority of the race. While the flat-ness of the race may make it seem like it's "easy"... beware! That means forcing your body to make the same motion for much much longer, which requires more mentally and physically than you might think.

This was the second running of this race, and Paul Jesse and all the volunteers did a great job! Though I ran almost the entire race by myself, I never felt alone. I knew there were so many people out there going through the same thing, and that I would see people that cared if I was OK every few miles. I had an advantage because I knew the course already so didn't have to really pay attention to the course markings, but I only saw someone off-course once - and that was because it was still dark out and they had missed a key turnoff. Luckily it wasn't very far off-course so not a big deal. I do wish I could have had some of the food from Mimi's Kitchen when I finished, but the people that had finished before me had already eaten it all up... what, people finishing an ultra are hungry?? I couldn't believe it! :)

The medal rocks, and doubles as a bottle opener (necessity for ultrarunners of course). The t-shirt fit is really nice this year, and the logo for this race is already iconic. Oh, and don't forget about the beer glass!

To train for this race, my very rough plan was to run 3-5 miles 3 times per week, then run a long run on the weekends - at least 15 miles. Two weekends in a row I ran long on Saturday, and on Sunday. Also, I made sure to get one week where my accumulated mileage was 50 miles. And finally, three weeks before the race I did my longest training run of 30 miles. During all of this, I also biked 40 miles/week, and did lots of strength conditioning for my hips/legs/ankles, along with pushups, situps, and yoga. I felt like I trained as much as I could without really interrupting my home life. Paul did almost all of my long runs with me too, so I didn't feel like it was completely taking over my life.

My goal for this race was pretty simple. I wanted to run 1 hour between aid stations for as long as I could, then just keep going forward until I finished the race. Each aid station is roughly 5 miles apart, so we're talking 12-minute miles. Not lightning fast, very doable, and I figured that I would not keep it up the whole race. I was OK with that, and knew that I had 14 hours to finish the race, because I opted for the early start.

So... I was up at 2:30 a.m., to ease into the morning. Huge bowl of oatmeal with almonds, walnuts, raisins, banana, strawberries, blueberries, chia. Cup of coffee (after a week without caffeine), and 2 VO2 Max pills (part of my nutrition plan). It was in the 40s at the race start, but I'm glad that I still wore all of my planned layers - because it was freezing as we ran in the valley by Lake Hodges! Anyways, the early start was at 5:30 a.m. and I think 8 of us opted for the extra hour. We all had headlamps, and I didn't turn mine off until I got to Raptor Ridge.

In the car on the way to the race, Paul and I were listening to Sasha - Involver. This music replayed over and over in my head, and carried me through probably the first 20 miles. The beat was absolutely perfect for my running pace, and it's just perfect "serious journey" music. Take a listen for yourself while you read the rest of my journey. (the more bass, the better)



I eased into the race, nice and steady, and made sure to hike the uphills - I knew even with the hiking I would easily make 5mph for awhile. My nutrition plan was:
  • 1-2 VO2 Max pills every hour (electrolytes + aminos + phosphates - these worked really well for me - I kept this up the entire race)
  • 1 date per hour, stuffed with peanut butter and either strawberries or raspberries (this lasted about 5 hours)
  • baggie stuffed with goodies from each aid station (so I could keep going while eating - this lasted about 3 aid stations before I stopped finding the aid station fare appealing. I think this is probably normal for ultras - you can't do the same thing for food the entire time - your body just starts to crave something new)
  • 1 Island Boost at every aid station (I actually find these much easier to stomach than traditional gus - only aid station that didn't have them was the turnaround so I just went without - other than that, I kept this up the entire race)
My nutrition was great until mile 20. I didn't want anything from the aid station, so just grabbed a bar and Honey Stinger waffle I had in my stash. By mile 30, my brain had stopped making decisions. I pulled into the aid station, and could only respond with "I don't know" at whatever Paul tried to ask me. Honestly, I don't know what I ate at that aid station. All I know is that Paul and Leslie took care of me when I didn't have the mental capacity to do it myself. At mile 35, my saving grace aid station, Paul was there with my friends Lynne and Jennie, and gifts of a Taco Bell bean burrito, and Coconut Water! I sat for a few minutes and ate, drinking in the coconut water and the energy from my husband and friends, and Paul filled my pack with the coconut water too. Wow - really. I went from hardly running miles 30-35 to mostly running miles 35-40 - what an amazing difference! Mile 40-45 was probably the most power-walking of the race - I knew my muscles were just tired and ready to be done - so I didn't try to push past it and injure myself. But I did force myself to finish the coconut water in my pack completely, and ate a bunch of fruit at the aid station. I think all of that, combined with the climbing up Raptor Ridge, gave me the mental energy and confidence to go for it - I bombed down the hill, stopped being so careful, and started feeling ALIVE! I RAN almost the entire last 5 miles! The entire run my stomach was fine - and now for the obligatory info that you may skip on to the next paragraph if you don't want to hear about it. I peed 3 times during the race so I feel like I was hydrating adequately, and not once all day did I do the other deed - my stomach shuts that stuff right down when I'm running long races, I've noticed.


There was a temperature swing of probably 50 degrees throughout the race - low point being at Lake Hodges in the early morning, and the high point probably in the Del Dios Gorge on the way back to the Del Dios Dam. As it got warm, I swapped out my hat for one with a neck cover. Paul also put a cooling kerchief around my neck and wow - the two combined cooled me down to the point where really, the heat did not bother me at all, all day. I don't remember ever thinking, wow it's really hot! And I think that is awesome - one less thing to have to worry about during a long race like that.

As for the "wall"... I don't think I can count how many I blasted through. I think because of how I had my goal set in my mind, I would go for 5mph-ish as long as I could, then just RFP (relentless forward progress) - it allowed me to be steady and strong, then easy on myself. But even with that, I had to contend with many things:
  • my ankles - both ankles hurt pretty much the entire race. But that is almost a constant for me anyways these days - posterior tibialis tendons and all through that area give me grief... probably because I wear minimalist shoes and I'm flat-footed. At a certain point, the pain is steady - no better, no worse - and I just make peace with it. Someday this will be resolved, but this last year was about fixing a different area...
  • my hips - I only finally figured out the complete fix for my ailing hips late last year. I've been working on it for quite awhile, but finally I added inner thigh lifts to my regular strength routine (clamshells, lateral leg lifts, squats, pushups, situps) - which targets exactly the most painful spot in my hips during long runs. The other thing I did was start taking the VO2 Max pills during my long runs - I really do credit them for keeping my muscles from doing whatever it was they were doing in my hips - cramping or something. My hips were definitely feeling the miles, but it never got to a painful point.
  • my knees - after 20 miles, my knees did not let me carefully run down the hills. I either had to very slowly inch my way down hills, or bomb down hills as fast as I could and practically lock my legs. It was bringing me down mentally whenever I came to a downhill, until I got to the last long downhill at Raptor Ridge. At that point, I took the advice of my friendly neighborhood aid station volunteers and bombed down! After a certain point, probably because it was so long, it re-energized me and ejected me out onto the last part of the course running and running fast, for being so late in the race - it was amazing for me! Screw safe - blast it and at that point in the race, there's nothing left to save yourself for!
  • my mental state - I felt great for the first 20 miles. All business - very steady. 20-30 was a crap shoot because I knew this was where the most hills were.  I was just glad to be done with it. After that, I would constantly be on "my longest run ever". Miles 30-35, I started feeling every pain, every soreness, and feeling like I was nowhere near done. I hit the big wall - the one where I start hyperventilating and will start crying if I try to push too hard through it. So I stopped. But I had planned for this, and had brought my music and headphones so I could groove my way through it. For the rest of the race, I had the music going - I was listening to Trance Around The World with Above & Beyond - perfect perfect perfect!
  • slip and fall on my bum going down a steep little hill - it sent shockwaves through my body, and immediately my whole body just wanted to stop. I wanted to keep going though, and could only force a slow walk, for a few minutes, while the stress of that fall dissipated. Turns out nothing bad happened, it was just all of my muscles went in panic mode. But it only took a few minutes and then I felt back to normal again, thank goodness.
  • the weight of all the miles - miles 40-45 were rough. I got to the point where I could only jog very, very carefully for short spurts, but I could power-walk just fine. So I mostly walked these miles, and just focused on going as fast as my body would allow. I was convinced that my last 5 miles would be the slowest, just because that's how the progression was going for the day. I almost allowed that belief to come to fruition..
The positive sides were many, and I had complete 180s along the way:
  • Paul was there at every aid station he was allowed to be at - and seeing him almost every 5 miles, with all my supplies and an expectant face, was amazing - and he now knows what it's like to go through all the emotions that involves, and how tiring it can be, crewing for an ultra! We were both sad that we couldn't both run the 50, but he did the right thing for his body by not running in the race. He is still on the mends, and while he is absolutely running like a beast now (already 140 miles in 2014!), he is being smart about the recovery and not pushing things too far. His races are coming up in April (Leona Divide 50) and September (Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100). I'm so proud of him and his recovery from his ankle infection and sciatic injury, and I was so happy to see his face every time that I did! Thank you Paul for taking care of me, especially when I couldn't take care of myself.
  • Having my "emergency music" was absolutely a necessity, and I put it off for as long as I could. I don't normally run with music, but when I'm at the point that I can't mentally go on, it's amazing what music does for me. My brain is musically wired!
  • Seeing my friends, Jennie and Lynne, at mile 35 was so uplifting - it was nice to just sit and chat with them and Paul for a few minutes. They even stayed all the way until I finished - which I absolutely did not expect - they rock! Thank you Lynne and Jennie, for everything!
  • The Taco Bell bean burrito and coconut water... forever in the history books as my ultra food saviors!
  • One last pep talk with Chris, Cory, and Dax - convincing me to blast down the other side of Raptor Ridge because my knees couldn't take an easy, safe descent. I don't know about taking advice from a bunch of crazy ultrarunners, but it worked!
A little funny story from the front lines: the last time I saw Paul before the end of the race, I totally spaced on what time it was, and what time it would be when I'd be finishing the race. I didn't think to grab warmer clothes, or my headlamp - and it was going to be dark before I finished. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until I was about to climb Raptor Ridge. I was so happy that blasting down the hill worked and that I was running fast enough to generate heat to keep myself warm once it got cold. I was chasing the sunset, and running as long as I could before the sunlight was completely gone. At the point where the light was completely gone, I was about to text Paul and tell him "bummer, can't run in the dark", when I realized what I was holding. A smartphone - with apps... so I just downloaded the Flashlight App and it really worked! I used my phone as a flashlight for the last 1.5 miles of the race and it saved me!
Never have I been more happy to finish a race!

Oh, I should probably put the stats in - I finished in 12:17:52

Thank you to Lynne Cao Photography and Jennie Chen for the great pictures!

3 comments:

  1. Great Job. I loved reading your race report. Its really well written. We should go for a run .Oh 50 miles is crazy and you finished with great time.

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