How do I describe the most difficult run I’ve done yet. I guess I’ll try.
I was invited my friend Keira to join a group of very talented (read race winning) ultramarathon runners to go for a run on a local trail called Los Piños that was part of the now defunct Los Piños 50k race (which by the way may have a resurrection soon, stay tuned). More accurately, this is the part of the race is described as “hell on earth” and given the nickname of “The Beast” by non other than Badwater 135 finisher Michelle Barton – she knows pain.
So of course, I jumped at the chance to run with some awesome people. I wasn’t sure who all was going to be there and the group turned out to be the fearsome foursome of 2012 AC100 winner (among other wins) Chris Price, multiple Western States 100 top 5 finisher Tom Nielson, top three finisher at Miwok and Waldo Jesse Haynes and the guy who hasn’t yet run an ultra – ME!
My “Running” Partners for the day.
I felt lucky to be among such great athletes but I was scared to be running an extremely hard trail with people who were way above my current fitness level.
Everything started out fine and friendly with a little road run to the trail head. Once on the trail we immediately started climbing. Chris let me take the lead and I ran slowly up the first part of the trail. We were having a cordial conversation for about five minutes when my gasping for air started to make talking difficult. Chris seemed to be out for a Saturday stroll so I wisely let him take the lead.
After about a half mile we hit the first real climb of the day. I’ve seen some steep hills and this was about as steep as any but longer. We were all power hiking at this point but I was working about 1000 times harder than my partners and I also let Tom and Jesse pass me on the single track trail. I know these guys are training and I didn’t want to hold anyone up.
The first mile was done and my legs were burning, my heart rate was up at about 90% of maximum and I was breathing hard and I’d really only been power hiking. We would reach a summit on the trail and then after a momentary flat spot or downhill the steep climbing would begin again. At mile 1.5 I thought I could not take another 7 miles of this. I was afraid I’d bonk or slow down so much I’d be on the trial for many hours. I was doubting my judgement for not only being on that run but for getting into the sport. This shit was hard. But, all the while these doubts filled my head, I kept moving forward. One sometimes tiny step after the next, I kept moving forward.
Jesse and I had to stop to take of our outer layers of clothing. We’d started with long sleeves and hats in the 30 degree temperatures but now the sun was beating down upon us on the ridge and we were generating major body heat. Chris and Tom broke away at this point and thankfully Jesse stayed with me.
My Trail Buddy for the Day Jesse Haynes
He’s been nursing an injury for a while now and didn’t want to push his pace and I think he knew I was struggling and wanted to stick with me. Either way, I was glad for some company. With the doubts running through my head I might have turned back if not for the company.
We continued to climb. It’s hard to describe the mental grinding required to keep up this level of effort for more than two solid hours. My legs hurt and were tired the whole time. I took small steps, long steps, side steps, any kind of step I could to find some fresh muscle somewhere in my legs and kept ascending. The climbs were about twice the pitch of set of stairs. The downhills were a such a relief when they came but were way too short. After maybe a minute of running the grind began again.
Perhaps the most tortuous part of this trail is the false hope it keeps providing. Over a distance of about 8 miles and about 4300 feet of elevation gain there are no less than 12 false peaks before you get to the actual summit.
Previous false summit seen from the next false summit
I would get to the top of a peak and then see one more another three or four hundred feet higher and think “Oh, that must be the summit, I can do that” and then I’d reach that peak only to see yet another one maybe five hundred feet higher and steeper. Every summit was like getting punched in the gut. When would this end?
Despite the arduous climbing, the day was really beautiful. We were getting up over 4000 feet elevation and the views were incredible. Jesse pointed out Mt. Baldy in the distance and the OC was stretched out beneath us. There was still snow on the ground on some of the protected areas of the trail and I got to do a little snow running. Jesse did a great job of pacing through the last couple miles of the climb. He lied his ass off like any good pace and told me that we’d completed the hard climbs or there was only one more as we topped each summit. This gave me hope that I could make it and I kept moving forward.
Finally after two hours and fifteen minutes of climbing we could see Main Divide road just below the next peak. Reaching Main Divide meant finally some relief in the form of easy downhill fire road running to Blue Jay camp. We made the last summit and scrabbled down some loose rock to the road.
I’d made it! I’d concurred “The Beast.” Jesse and I cruised down the road and I was feeling really good. My legs felt strong again and I could have run a fast pace if I’d wanted to. I said to Jesse “I’m feeling pretty awesome right now!” and I was. The pain and struggle had been erased from my mind and been replaced by overwhelming accomplishment and hope. I’d climbed almost as much elevation as the entire race I’m running in April in about one third the distance and I was alive and running.
After a couple quick miles we met back up with Chris and Tom and Keira was waiting there with her truck and the Oatmeal Cookies I’d baked in honor of the day. I got some nice high fives and congratulations from everyone for completing the run. I thanked everyone profusely for letting me run with them and was feeling especially grateful to Jesse for keeping me company.
I jumped in Keria’s truck and headed down the mountain as the four of them ran the remaining 14 miles back down to the Lazy W camp and trail head via San Juan trail.
Despite this being a hard, hard day I’m so glad I did it. I learned that I can do this. I might not be the fastest or the fittest yet, but there’s hope. And I’m learning the meaning of the cliche about just putting one foot in front of the other. When it gets difficult, that’s all that needs to be done. Keep doing that and eventually the finish line arrives.
Lots of gain and false summits
More pictures from the day.