Sunday, December 13, 2009

Desert High 50k

Ridgecrest, California
Sunday, 12/06/09

Fashion Report: Black capris with a blue stripe down the side, light blue tech shirt, bright yellow Moeben sleeves, hot pink sports bra, hot pink gaiters, blue and gray Mizuno trail shoes, baby blue hat

I participated in the 30k distance of this race last year and enjoyed it so much, I decided to go back this year for the 50k. My aunt and uncle live in Ridgecrest and my dad goes with me, so he and I get in some much needed father-daughter time, and we get to see family, too.

I live in Northern California, and Ridgecrest is way down at the other end of the state in the Mojave Desert (do the Tehachapis ring a bell with anyone?), about 12 hours away. Dad and I left around 3:00 Thursday and drove halfway before we got a room for the night, then took off the next morning for the second half of the drive. My uncle, in an effort to get out of having to visit with us, decided to go in for hernia surgery Friday. However, being the devious persons that we are, we forced ourselves upon him by visiting him in the hospital. He was only allowed to stay one night, so he had to come home and face us Saturday and Sunday. (Grins to Uncle Wayne!)

On Saturday, my aunt and I walked to the town’s annual Christmas faire about a mile away, which gave my legs a chance to loosen up. It was really windy, and I was hoping against hope that it would die down before the next day. My aunt made a great baked spaghetti casserole for dinner Saturday night, and I did my best to eat as much of it as possible.

Before dinner, I went to race headquarters and picked up my race packet. There was lots of people waiting in line, so I struck up a conversation with the two guys in front of me. One had run Western States before, and both had run AR50 (American River 50 Mile), which I plan to run in April. It was nice to get some more insight into the run, which ended with one guy saying, “You just have to come to terms with the fact that the last few miles are going to suck.” Okee dokee!)

I slept remarkably well Saturday night, and woke up Sunday ready to face the run. Got myself dressed, ate a bowl of oatmeal, and waited for nature to take its course. My dad got up to use the bathroom at one point and asked if I wanted him to sit up with me, but seeing as how it was around 5:30 a.m. and there was absolutely no reason for him to be up, I sent him back to bed . . . much to his relief, I must say.
(Finish line workers braving the cold)

It was quite chilly when I got to Cerro Coso College, where the race is staged. The cement pad going in to the gym (which was open for bathroom use and for people to hang out) had quite a layer of ice on it. The edges had thawed and there were lights along the outer edge of the iced areas, and someone was standing there to ensure people were aware of the ice. Regardless, as I was heading down the steps back to my car, I heard someone bite it - hard. Whoever it was, he or she had to have done themselves in, and I could only imagine how much they were gonna hurt once the shock wore off.

The early start was suppose to be at 6:00, and around 6:10 they took off to cheers and horn honks from those of us waiting for the 7:00 a.m. start. I stayed in my truck with it running and the heat going full force. No reason to hang out in the cold! A little before 7:00, I double-checked my gear, then headed to the start line. Directions were given, a short prayer was said, and with a countdown, we were off.

This course, although at some elevation (2500 feet at the start) and with a couple of long uphill hauls, doesn’t have the intense climbing that I usually encounter on trail runs, so it’s a good place to set a PR. My previous PR had been in July at SOB (Siskiyou Out Back in Ashland, OR), which I finished in 7:39 and some change - a really good run for me. My verbal goal for this race was to finish in 6.5 to 7 hrs, but I was secretly hoping to finish faster.

One of the great things about this race is that the distances between aid stations are fairly short, with the longest being around 5 miles. I wish, however, that they allowed drop bags. I use my own fluid mix during runs, and with no drop bags, it meant I had to carry it all with me. This allowed very little room in my waist pack for anything extra (like my Mojo Clif bars), so I was hoping against hope that the aid stations had foods that would agree with my stomach. They were well-stocked, and I subsisted on bananas, potatoes, and a few pretzels for the entire run. At one station, I stared longingly at what looked to be homemade brownies and at miniature Snickers (I LOVE Snickers!), but with heartburn just a stupid food choice away, I reluctantly walked away from both.

About 1.5 hrs into the run the winds picked up with a vengeance, and never let up the rest of the run. It was awful. 90% of the time it was a direct headwind or was coming at you from the front left. My uncle emailed me on Tuesday after the race and said their paper indicated the winds were blowing at 30-40 mph with gusts of 55 mph. Did I already say it was awful? The couple of times I remember it being at my back, we were, of course, going downhill. Gee, thanks. At times, it felt like you were pushing against a wall, with the wind buffeting you all over the place. When it was coming from the front side, I’d find myself half turning my body trying to protect myself. I finally gave up trying to keep my hat on, and eventually tucked it around my waist pack.

The aid stations workers were da bomb. Those poor folks, all bundled up against the wind and cold, kept us going while trying to keep food and drinks from being blown off the tables. And the Christmas station was back! Christmas bobbles and stuffed animals lined the course beginning less than a 1/4 mile from the station, and just as you got to the station, there was a length of PVC pipe covered with gold garland arching over the course. The only bummer about the station was the guy who, with very good intentions, said, “This should be the end of the headwinds, folks.” Alas, he was wrong. :o(

There was a point where I was getting really mad because of the wind and curse words went flying. But I realized it was wasted energy and wouldn’t change anything, so I changed to positive thinking as much as possible. Also, because this an easier course, you’re never far from other runners, so there was a lot of commiserating with one another.

One thing that brought a smile to my face - at the M11 aid station, a group of women came in just behind me. Of the 4 or 5, it sounded like only one had ever run this distance before. One of the newbies says, “We’re all Mile 11? Great! Only 20 miles left!” I thought, “Hope you’re that cheery come Mile 20!”
(Look! Two feet off the ground!)

Despite the wind, I was doing really well. A little before Mile 20 or so, I could feel my legs tiring, but I was still able to effectively execute my run/walk up the hills without much ill effect. I was doing my best to take in food and fluids on a regular basis, and felt it was possible to attain my secret goal. . . . Then M28 came and it all began to fall apart. I’ve hit walls before, but it’s always come on gradually. This time - WHAM! It felt like it came from out of the blue. Even though there were only 3 miles left, I knew it was going to be a long 3 miles. Thankfully, there was a good downhill section, but I even had to resort to walking some of that, which was a real bummer since that’s where I (along with most people) can really make up time.

All the aid stations have signs indicating what mileage its at in the run, as well as the distance to the next station. With this race, there’s one final aid station at M29.9. Even though I knew the last station had been at 25-something, in my “you have nothing left” state of mind, I asked what mile we were at. One lady says, “24.9.” Well, I guess my head almost flew off my neck I turned it around so hard, and the other lady manning the station started laughing like crazy. The first one says, “No! 29.9! 29.9!” and the other says to me, “Oh, you should’ve seen your face!” I told her, “Well, I thought I was in hell for a second!”

There was a group of about 4 or 5 of us who left that station at the same time, and one guy, doing is best to urge me along, ran with me for a few yards saying, “Let’s go! Only one mile left. We can do this! Don’t go crazy and go too hard. Let’s just get this done.” Well, he had a little more oompf in his legs than I did, and it wasn’t long before I let him go on his merry way. From that point, I leap-frogged a few times with a man and woman who were running together, each of us intermittently walking and running.

I eventually pulled away from them, and once I hit the last downhill section, I let it go. My dad, who had showed up about an hour or so earlier so he could take pictures, saw me coming and stood out in the middle of the road snapping away. Because he had been chatting with the folks around them, they knew my name, and as I ran toward them, they were all yelling, “Go, Leslie!” It was really cool to hear.

The end of the race takes you back through the parking lot and up what is an imperceptible incline. Imperceptible, that is, unless you’ve just run 31 miles and your legs are like jelly. But I refuse to walk through a finish line, and I gave it everything I had those last yards, finishing in 6:39:29, a distance PR. (This smile took a bit of effort.)

My dad gave me a big hug, and I told him, “I think I’m going to puke or poop all over myself. I gotta sit down.” We headed to my truck, and my poor dad, he got to watch me start to shake like crazy, beginning in the legs and working it’s way up. I sat on the bumper and he kept asking, “What can I do for you, sis? What can I do for you?” He got me the rest of the Mojo bar I had in the truck, and once I got that down, I started feeling a bit better. (There was a bit of an updraft behind the truck.)

After a walk to the bathrooms, we headed back to my aunt and uncle’s house, where I ended up having all three of them standing in the dining room watching me shake while I ate a banana. My aunt says to me, “And you pay to do this?!?” Yep!

This is a great run, but you definitely have to like the desert and not mind using the bathroom behind a see-thru bush. I intend to go back next year, the run’s 25th Anniversary, and hopefully Mother Nature will be a little kinder and keep the winds to a low roar.

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