Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lost Boys 50 Mile Trail Run - My First 50 miler!

I ran my first 50 mile trail race last Saturday, the Lost Boys 50 Mile Trail Run. It was 50 miles of beautiful, challenging trails and I was able to run it with my husband, Brian. What an EPIC day!

This run is held on trails in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which are east of San Diego, CA. It is a point-to-point course over rugged terrain, climbing nearly 10,000 ft and descending 7,000 ft, making it a net 3,000 ft climb to the finish. A perfect race for a first time who lives in the flatlands of the Chicago area! ;-)

I had run my first 50k a year ago, and since then I hadn't really thought much of going farther. I figured I would stick to the 50k distance for a while. The turning point to changing my mind was when Brian and I were making "life plans" and with hopes of starting a family soon, I thought about ending my race season this year on a big note. The 50-mile distance scared me a little, and the search for my first was a thoughtful one. I used a few criteria to help with the decision -- it needed to be after the Chicago Marathon (10/10/10) since I would be pacing my brother-in-law at this race for his first marathon. I also wanted it to be a trail run, so I wasn't interested in running the Lakefront 50mi which is the most convenient and "easy" (not that 50 miles is ever easy!).

Brian and I were planning on a vacation to San Diego, where I was tentatively planning on running the Noble Canyon 50k. While looking for my first 50 mile, I saw Lost Boys 50mi on the Ultra Running Calendar. So, our vacation shifted as I decided that Lost Boys would be my goal race. Brian was planning to crew/pace me, but then as I looked at the LB course being point-to-point and that we didn't know anyone else there, logistically it would have been hard for Brian to run with me from a later point on the course. So, I suggested he should run the whole thing with me, and he was game. :-) I remember my heart racing as I clicked the "register" it was time to get ready!

I had pretty solid back-to-back long runs during the summer but unfortunately didn't do nearly as much hill/strength training as I had hoped to for Lost Boys. In reality, there isn't really any comparable trails within an hour of where we live that would fully prepare me. I focused on getting in miles and avoiding injury. My weekly mileage was lower than expected, peaking only in the mid-40's, but I felt strong and mentally ready to go. In addition to running the Chicago Marathon a couple weeks before LB, I had run Rock Cut Hobo 50k a few weeks before Chicago and felt like I could have run longer. That was a big confidence boost for me.

So, fast forward to getting on a plane to San Diego...I was so nervous. We got to SD on the Tuesday before the race and spent a few days leisurely exploring the area. On Wednesday we had a fun early morning run with Keith Kirby at the San Elijos Lagoon and chatted with him and other area runners afterward. My legs felt great during that 10k run. A good sign. On Friday we headed to El Cajon, east of San Diego, where we would stay before and after the race. I was so glad the race was finally here! I still was so nervous and could not wait to start the race so that I wouldn't be nervous anymore. :-)

On Saturday, the alarm went off at 2:45am...race day was finally here! I felt good in spite of the early wake-up time. We got ready and headed for the finish line where we would get shuttled to the start. It was an hour-long ride on the shuttle to the start. I think I even slept a little bit on the way. We arrived after 5:30am and headed over to get our bibs and make last minute preparations. Finally we were here, ready to run! I wasn't nervous anymore. We mingled with the other runners (nice to meet you, Dax!), and then the race began at 6:00am!

Ready to run!
Ready to run 50 miles!

The first several miles of the course is in the desert (Pinyon Wash) on a wide path. Recent rains there made the sand a little bit better to run on, but my shins and calves could still tell we were running on sand. :-) Most of the runners ran ahead, while Brian and I hung in the back. I didn't look behind me at all, but Brian did and saw that we were second-to-last. I didn't care that we were in the back, 50 miles is a loooong way, and if we were dead last at the start, that was ok with me. Brian usually starts out fast during ultras, and I always take it easy as it takes a good 3-5 miles for my legs to feel good. I wasn't racing others today. I wanted to finish the distance within the cutoff (for 6am starters, that was 14 hours). That's all that mattered to me.

Beautiful sunrise
Colorful desert sunrise

The desert was beautiful...the first few miles flew by and the pace was pretty good on this subtle climb. Pretty soon we were at the first aid station at 5 miles where we met Zach who was volunteering there, hanging out with his family. He snapped a picture of us on the way out. It was a quick stop, which was my goal for all of the aid stations. I didn't think I would have time to spare, so I wanted to spend the time wisely by constant forward motion. :-)

Brian and me at mile 5 (Photo by Zachary Johnston)

Hello boulders!
Time to climb...literally!

Just after the aid station, we got to "climbing" part of the run, a dry waterfall that we would maneuver up. Wow, I thought, what a race! After that initial dry waterfall climb we had a couple more "boulder-climbing" sections, then more "regular" uphill sections which required us to walk a while for the first time of the race. I was actually pretty happy with our pacing so far, so this was fine with me. Then, a couple miles later, as we were continuing our way through the desert washes, following the course by looking for the orange tape tied to cactus plants. We also ended up walking some of these sections even though it was pretty runnable -- it was still uphill and I could feel it. I actually felt a little doubt creep in about whether 14 hours would be enough time....and we were only 7 miles in. Yikes! I tried to ignore those feelings, knowing that it's a long race and I was just going through a little rough patch (albeit a little earlier than expected). After 10 miles of gradual climbing (3000 ft), we finally hit some downhill. Yes! It felt good to switch gears and RUN!

Beautiful view, awesome downhill
Awesome views, having fun downhill after 10 miles of uphill

The next aid station at mile 12 came by quickly. I got my pack refilled, grabbed some food and we were off for more downhill. The views during the section were awesome. I think we ran a sub-10 minute mile during this section, compared with the 13-15 minute miles we were running at the start of the race. After few miles down the jeep road, there was a turn off onto a "trail" which actually seemed more like weaving between cholla cactus plants. It was here we met Melinda, who was also doing her first 50 miler here. (Congrats, Melinda!) We ran together as a pack for a little bit, but then Brian and I let her and the other runner near us pass by. It was early and I wanted to make sure I running at a nice, easy pace at this point.

Then came the mile 17 aid station at Blair Valley, another great group of volunteers out there to help us runners. I grabbed a few chips and m&m's and kept walking. Brian stayed back and hovered over the buffet and caught up a few minutes later. This next part was a fun, mildly rolling desert trail, and I was in a groove. We passed a couple more people during this section.

Next the course starts to climb again towards Oriflamme. We steadily hiked up towards the aid station at mile 23. One of the volunteers there mentioned that there was a 4.5mi climb ahead followed by a nice section in a meadow for about 1.5 miles leading into the next aid station at mile 28.7. I felt great during this part, hiking well up the switchbacks and along the ridges, while admiring more awesome views. We were almost halfway! Brian was struggling a little bit on this climb -- the early 20's are usually when he goes through a rough patch during an ultra. I slowed down a little so that we stayed closer together. I was less concerned now about that cutoff...confidence was building in me.

Looking behind us in Oriflamme Canyon

Oriflamme Canyon, almost to the ridge and the end of this 4+ mile climb

As we climbed higher, the weather started to get a little ominous - the wind was howling and the sky threatening us with rain but luckily we stayed dry. When we finally reached the top of that 4.5 mile climb, we were happy again to switch gears and start running. I was thinking about the blustery conditions here, thinking that I'd rather have 50 degrees and breezy than 85 degrees with the sun beating me up. We made it to the next aid station (where the volunteers looked like they would prefer 85 degrees!), we loaded up again and were on our way.

Fun single-track, mile 30

This part of the run was on really fun single-track in the prairie. We entered the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, where remnants of a large 2003 wildfire remained and gave our views a "Halloween" feel, but still beautiful. I was so happy to feel so good after the 50k point, going past this distance was new to this body. :-) Brian was still feeling a little rough but being a trooper. I think he was still in recovery mode from his 100 mile finish just 6 weeks prior.

30mi in, feeling good, so dang beautiful out here!

After a few miles, things changed. Ah, gotta love the peaks and valleys of a long distance run. :-) We were anticipating the next aid station (and working bathrooms) at mile 34.5, the first cutoff point, but no aid station was in site as I looked at my GPS watch at that distance. I know that these watches can be off, but it had been spot-on all day so I started to get worried. Did we miss it? Did we make a wrong turn? The course was marked very well, so it was really just a little paranoia setting in. Physically, I was fine, but I allowed myself to get freaked out about the cutoff as I saw the time get closer to the 3:30pm cutoff. Brian started to lead the way, and gave me encouragement to help lift me out of my funk. FINALLY, we did make it to the aid station, with my GPS watch showing 36 miles. We got there with about 20 minutes to spare. I made a quick stop at the bathroom, and then switched watches and grabbed some soup on the way out of the aid station. This was our longest stop, probably a few minutes. I remember looking at the watch and seeing 3:15pm.

Around mile 36, eery scenery with the fog and burnt trees

As we got higher, the weather was definitely more blustery and foggy. I was out of my funk and we were able to run a little bit before climbing to the next aid station a few miles away. After a short visit at that aid station, the course lead us in a loop around a ridge where we would return. It was slow-going on the climbing part of the loop, but we switched gears and ran well back down to the aid station again. This was the second cutoff (41.4 miles) and I was happy that we came in with an hour ahead of the cutoff. Ok, single-digit miles until the finish! Awesome! We had just one more climb, 1000 ft in about 2 miles. Piece of cake! it wasn't. ;-) It was tough and this was probably the hardest I had to push physically. My legs were getting tired and I was getting clumsy maneuvering around the large rocks that made up the trail. We clocked a blazing 29 minute mile on this part. Brian was great in providing support, telling me that he was so proud of me, and in general saying all the right things. :-)

Last climb, rough and slow going (Photo by Barry Baldwin)

The course took us up a paved drive for a short time and we saw the last aid station! What a huge rush of happy energy I felt seeing that aid station! Another great group of volunteers greeted us and gave us the good news that the remaining 6-7 miles was downhill with a flat last mile. Yes! Time to run! Brian and I zoomed down the trail, I was so dang excited that we were going to finish. We zipped by some other runners whose quads were shot and were walking. There were a couple of guys walking down, and one of them patted me on the back as we were navigating around them and yelled "go get it!" which gave me a little bit of extra energy. It was now getting dark out so the going was a little slower. After a few miles of downhill, my legs were starting to feel ready to be done. :-)

The last couple of miles felt long, and while I felt like we had plenty of time before 8pm, I wanted to see that dang finish line! During those last miles, I kicked a piece of burnt wood on the trail and felt one of my toes take the brunt. Ouch! I had to pause and take a couple deep breaths after that. (I'll be losing that nail!) Usually when I trip or fall, I like to act like it didn't happen and keep going. Not too much after I kicked that wood, my knee buckled -- probably due to tired quads -- and I fell in the grass to the side of the trail. I was very glad that we weren't in a rocky part at that point. :-) We crossed a driveway and a guy told us that there was just over a mile to go...ahhh, almost there! I kept asking Brian when he saw trail markers or glowsticks to make sure we were still going the right way. It wasn't very rational to ask since the trail really was simple to follow and was well-marked when it wasn't.

Finally, we see lights ahead! The finish! We hear people cheering as we run towards the line, crossing it holding hands high in victory. Yes! I just finished my first 50 miler! We arrived at 7:51pm -- just 9 minutes shy of the cutoff -- after spending nearly 14 hours on a challenging and gorgeous 50.4 mile course. I hunched over, hands on my knees and mouthed "oh my gosh, that was hard" while shedding a few tears and trying to stop hyperventilating. Yep, I was that excited and overwhelmed. :-) RD Kara hugged me and gave me my finisher medal. Wow, what a great race. What an amazing experience that I got to share with my sweetie!

50 miles done - so happy!

After the race we headed back to our hotel to eat and sleep. Felt good to be off my feet! We spent a couple more nights in San Diego before returning back home. I was walking a little stiff and sore the next two days, but have recovered well since the race. I am so glad that I took on this challenge. I am quite the happy ultrarunner :-) and look forward to fun and exciting things to come!


Running Brad 10/29/2010 11:48 AM  

Way to go Kelly! I loved reading your report, especially since I'm contemplating running my first 50 next spring. I'm worried that I won't make the 14 hour cutoff.

Paige 10/29/2010 12:20 PM  

Woohoo, Kelly!! Congratulations on your finish, I'm so excited for you! :) What a way to close out the year! So, perhaps another one some day, with a Baby Brelly on your crew?? :-)

Rachel 10/29/2010 4:57 PM  

Congrats! That's a tough 50 miler. I did one of the training runs (through the desert wash and up Oriflamme) during the summer and remarked at how tough it would be for anyone who did not train in sand... big congrats for completing your first 50 on a challenging course! You must have brought the great weather as it was perfect conditions for the race. Love that you and your husband completed it together!

Barry B 10/29/2010 9:05 PM  

Great write up Kelly. Congrats on your first 50 miler. A pretty dang tough one if you ask me. You guys sure know how to vacation. Will we see the Brelly team out here next year? Hope so.

Kelly Gaines 10/29/2010 10:19 PM  

Thanks for all the nice comments, everyone! :-)

Brad - All the best of luck to you training for and running your first 50 next spring! As a back-of-the-pack runner myself, the key is to keep moving forward and get through the aid stations quickly. You can do it!

Paige - Yay! Thanks! Yep, Baby Brelly wearing a little CHUG onesie will be part of the crew, hehe. :-)

Rachel - Yeah, I ran on nicely groomed trails most of the time for training, so Lost Boys was challenging but I loved it - especially the long downhills. I tend to make up a bit of time there! I was so happy that my husband was willing to run the whole thing with me, it made it very special!

Barry - Yes, pretty tough for sure! But soooo worth it. :-) I'm sure you won't see the last of Team Brelly, trail running in the SD area is wonderful!

Ian 10/29/2010 10:37 PM  

Great report Kelly. Way to go on your first 50 miler. So proud of you. Having ran a marathon with you (even if it was over 10 years ago) when neither of us wanted to go on I know you are one tough cookie and could get it done. Congrats.

Fixated on the Trail 11/17/2010 4:02 PM  

Just found your blog Kelly. Awesome finish at Lost Boys. Looked like you and Brian had a blast out there.

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