Wow. What a crazy freaking day that was. Where do I even begin?
It's funny to think, less than 2 years ago, I barely finished my first half marathon, running the last 3 miles with excruciating knee pain and limping in the finish. I had no clue that I had just knocked over the first domino. Less than 1 year ago, I accomplished my long time bucket list dream of running the Long Beach Marathon. At that time, "ultramarathon" wasn't even in my vocabulary yet, and I hadn't even run on trail yet haha. It wasn't until I signed up for the Catalina Marathon that I googled local trails in Orange County, and remembered one time long ago I did a 3 mile hike at El Moro Canyon in Crystal Cove.
And I guess this is where the story takes a crazy left turn. The first time I ran the Crystal Cove trails was in January 2018, I payed the $15 to park in the State Park like a rookie, and I also went up Elevator like a rookie, but I was hooked! At the Catalina Marathon, I ran alongside Travis and Jesse who stuck out like sore thumbs, Travis in his crop top tee, music blaring, and Jesse basically naked with no shirt and short shorts. I "officially" met them 2 months later at the Whoo's In El Moro 50k, where I also met Molly, and the Wednesday right after I went to my first Wednesday Night Run Crew and met the rest of the crazy OC trail and ultra runners. A few long runs later, we became good friends, and some of us decided to make the Kodiak Ultramarathon in Big Bear our big team race. I was the only one running his first 50 miler, but fuck it, right?
The best part of Kodiak was that it felt like a team effort. Travis, Jesse, Eric, Ben, Lucas, Jordan and I did training runs together. Two training runs stand out above the rest: a 20 miler with 7k of vert at Mt. Baldy with Travis, Eric and Jesse, and a 28 miler at El Moro in 90 degree heat with Ben and Jesse. Running for me shifted from a solo endeavor, to a team sport. It's so crazy to me how much community and support there was leading up to Kodiak, and in Big Bear for the actual race. It was so cool seeing so many people I knew on the course, at the aid stations, and at the finish. On top of that, many new friends were formed. This was the best part of the experience, hands down.
My alarm went off at 2am. I ate my oatmeal and trail mix, and drank my cordyceps coffee. I filled up my Nathan with water and Skratch Labs matcha hydration mix. I packed all my nutrition, a variety of flavors from Spring Energy and Muir Energy. I put on my Boa shorts, matching with Jesse. I grabbed the headlamp I was borrowing from Ben. We carpooled to the start line for our 4am start.
Here's the course map for reference: 51 miles with 9042 ft of gain, to a max elevation of 10k ft, split up into 2 halves almost perfectly by the Sugarloaf Mountain climb.
The first 10 miles seemed to fly by in the dark, despite a few minor issues. It was my first time running with a head lamp, and with my hat forward I wasn't getting enough light and with my hat backward it was sliding down my face. Also, the 4am start definitely messed up my morning poop routine. I had to do a little bit of the run-clench shuffle. The first aid station was named The Dump. I took a dump at The Dump. It was more like half a dump, because once I started running I had to go again, but would never go again, and after a while it just went away.
The sunrise was beautiful. The sun slowly rose as I was on a good single track section with a great overlook view. Magical. The climb at mile 15 was tough but not horrible. It was early, so I was in no hurry. The downhill was fun and I got into Sugarloaf around 7:45am, pretty much on time as anticipated, and met up with Jordan who was starting his 50k there at 8am.
I started out on the Sugarloaf climb, and it wasn't long before I was passed by a bunch of 50k runners with fresh legs. I know I was passed by a handful of 50 mile runners as well, because by the time I got to the top, I had dropped more than 20 places in the rankings haha! I'm actually proud of myself that I stuck to my plan, and ran my own race. Trust me, it's hard to let people pass you. And I got passed by so many people. But this was my first 50 miler and I was going to respect the distance. Plus, I'll admit, it was a hard fucking climb and I was freakin tired already!
Jordan caught up to me about 3/4 up Sugarloaf. Then I saw Jesse hauling ass coming down, in 4th place and making a strong push to catch the 3rd place runner. Then I saw Eric and Ben coming down.
The universe gave me my first gift of good timing, which was me and Travis getting to the top of Sugarloaf at roughly the same time. It was mile 75 of 100 for Trav, and mile 25 of 50 for me. He was at the top with Bill, taking a quick breather. I took a seat with him for a few minutes, ate an RX Bar, and had a quick chat. He was telling me about his hallucinations of rabbits running across the trail haha! All in all, he looked good, exhausted of course, but he was super positive, and looked strong and determined. It was pretty inspiring to see Travis at mile 75, and it put things in perspective for me, and gave me a little bit of added strength and motivation to keep going strong myself. What a legend he is! The first part of the Sugarloaf decent was rocky and slow, but about half way down I found a groove and passed a handful of people before making it back to aid.
Sugarloaf Aid Station was a bit of a party. Lots of friendly faces, and lots of help and support. Eric's wife Hannah, and her friend Bek, were my awesome crew for the day. They were amazing! They drove me to the start line, helped me change socks, gave me Harmless coconut water, and most of all, gave big cheers throughout the day! My usual support crew, Ashley the gf, was out of town for a Bachelorette party, so I was super grateful to have Eric's crew adopt me for the day. I let the kids soak me down with sponges and super soakers before heading back out.
30 miles down, a long 20 miles to go. There was a lot going on in the psyche at this point. It was good to have 30 miles down, and Sugarloaf behind me. But I was pretty tired, and 20 miles is a long way to go when you're already really tired. My sub-12 hour goal was still possible at this point, but if I wanted it, I was really going to have to work for it. I started getting obsessive about my time and pace, looking down at my watch every few minutes. The uphills were hard and slow at this point, and it seemed like way more uphill than I thought it was going to be. For some reason, I thought post-Sugarloaf would be mostly "downhill from here" but it was the opposite. Looking back at the course map now, mile 30-40 looks like a lot of uphill. At the time, it was frustrating, and slow.
Mile 40 and on was pure grit. It was starting to get hot. My feet were killing me. I still thought I could go sub-12, and I focused on that goal. The thought of not going sub-12 and being out there past 4pm did not sound good at all. When I got to the big downhill at mile 40, I smashed it. It was a 4 mile 2200 ft decent, and I crushed it as fast as I could. The view was incredible, best views of the day, and it felt like I was flying at 7 minute mile pace. I was actually going about 10:40 pace hahahaha, but whatever haha. The decent seemed to never end, it was pretty brutal to be honest. My quads were demolished by about half way down, but it was easier to just keep trashing them vs try and slow down.
At the bottom, at mile 44, the Seven Oaks climb started. Oh, Seven Oaks, fuck you. Pardon the language, but Seven Oaks, I hate you so much.
Seven Oaks is straight up and never-ending. Many of my steps could be measured in centimeters. Literally, I inched up some of the steep climbs. There were runners throwing up. There were runners lying down in the bushes. It was pure carnage. I got negative at one point, "why the hell would the RDs put this climb at mile 44, are they sick!?" I snapped out of it, and tried to stay positive and kept telling myself that there was no way that the climb could last forever, which is so funny, because I started telling myself that at about 20 minutes into the climb, I thought it was almost over, and it took me almost an hour and 20 minutes. To make matters worse, I ran out of water. In retrospect, maybe it was good that I ran out of water, because it put me in pure survival mode. I couldn't stop, and didn't stop until I made it to the aid station to get water. So you know what, Seven Oaks, you kicked my ass and beat me down, but you couldn't stop me, and didn't stop me, not even for a second.
There were two emotions when I got to the last aid station at Grandview, mile 47. First, relief.The relief felt so good. I slammed 2 cups of orange Crush soda. I ate 2 pickle spears. I chugged water. It was so good. The second emotion was a little bit of anger. I saw a sign that said the finish was more than 4 miles away, and we were at mile 47. This was the first time it registered that the run was 51 miles, not 50. I don't know why, but this kind of pissed me off a bit haha.
The last 4 miles were more of a shuffle than a run, but I was determined to finish strong and run it in. My legs were done, and my feet were torn up. There was one main thought that repeated in my head as I ran in the last 4 miles - "This is where I find out how tough I really am."
This is my favorite photo of the race...
A few yards from the finish, I got big cheers and high fives from Gus, Bill, and Raymundo, my WNRC fam. You can see how happy I was by the smile on my face. So tired and so happy. So stoked Bill captured this awesome picture. It really sums up what this day was all about: so many miles shared with so many people, such an amazing community of runners and supporters. Ultrarunning takes a team, there were so many runners, aid station volunteers, crew, supporters, and cheerleaders that made this accomplishment possible.
I crossed the finish line as Mr. Jones by The Counting Crows was playing. I didn't hear it at the time, but Jordan got a good video of my finish. Mr. Jones is one of my favorite songs, and reminds me of my childhood. My dad had a cassette player in the kitchen and used to play and sing that song, over and over again, while he cooked us breakfast in the morning before school. I think he played that cassette every day for a year. It was a long day, and to somehow cross the finish line during that 3 minute song... what another great gift from the universe. A sign that I ran the race how I was meant to run it, and more importantly, finished it how I was meant to finish - strong.
God it felt good to cross that finish line. And it felt so good to get hugs and high fives from runners who saw me on the course. So many sweaty and meaningful hugs! We all shared in such a tough experience, the camaraderie is super strong.
12 hours and 34 minutes. 30th place overall (of 113). I was actually in 45th place at the top of Sugarloaf, the half way point. I would have liked to finished sub-12, but more importantly, I wanted to finish strong. I believe I finished very strong.
I'm super stoked for my brother Jordan who ran the 50k, his first ever ultra. He had never run more than 15 miles in his life, so to go out and just send it in this super tough 50k was super cool and impressive. The ultra bug has bit him hard, and he's already amping about his next one!
And i'm super stoked for all the boys for running a killer race. Jesse isn't pictured here because that speed demon finished over an hour before all of us! He took 8th place overall! What a stud! Ben crushed it as well, with a time of 12:07, which was 20th place overall! What a badass! And Eric fought it out, gritting through the second half of the race with duct tape holding his knee together. What a beast!
Travis is also not pictured here because at the time of this pic, he was still out there in the trenches. There is a hard cutoff for the prize purse 100 mile runners at 30 hours, 6pm. We were all at the finish line, waiting for Trav, anxiously looking at our watches as it was 5:45pm and quickly nearing the cutoff.
At about 5:50pm, with a mere 10 minutes to spare, Travis comes running down the finish stretch next to his little daughter. It was seriously like the dramatic happy ending to a movie! I might have had a little tear in the eye. What a way to cap off a truly amazing day.
This day will always be special for me. My first 50 miler. My first "true" ultra. With my brother, and trail brothers. Surrounded by so many amazing people. Such a badass crew to run with and roll with. Camaraderie and community runs strong in the Socal ultra scene.
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