Sunday, April 19, 2009

Leona Divide 50 Mile Run

This was a race of three halves. zero to twenty five, twenty five to forty and forty to the finish. I’ll spare you all the prerace shenanigans but suffice to say that the alarm went off at 3:00am, I was on the road by 3:45am and at the start by about 5:15am; it was cold and dark, the complete opposite of what was in store for the day.

The traditional saw blade was rung at 6:00am sharp and with a woot we were off. During the first climb the sun climbed over the far hills and with it’s ascent so the mercury went the same way, the first hour went by quickly as is often the case and with it the first six miles, I was running with Chris, a runner I had met via RunCastTV and then met in person at Malibu Creek in March, we lost each other at the first Aid Station. Shortly after this Aid Station we were directed onto the diverted section of the course and upwards and onwards we went. I played cat and mouse with Chris during this section and he eventually pulled away.

My pace was on target and I had set myself the target of covering fives miles in the hour, this would potential give me a ten hour finish; to achieve this I had planned to go through Aid Stations as quickly as possible, not stopping if not required and taking photos on the fly, I was carrying my voice recorder and recorded some sections on the way round. The next six miles clicked by in just over an hour and we climber higher and further along the first section, eventually we topped out and started on the downhill, of course being an out and back every step downward was a step up on the return. The was a degree of discomfort from not know the course and not knowing if I was going to fast or too slow! More discomfort was being offered by my stomach, I was feeling bloated, gassy and my drink was sloshing about in my gut…a bad sign of things to come!

I hit the turn around and started the climb back up, the sun was higher in the sky and the temperature was climbing. At the next Aid Station I refilled my third bottle with Perpetuem and my forth with ice water knowing that I would be at my Drop-Bag within the next hour. I was directed onto the Pacific Crest Trail, with the gentle reminder of “see you in 21 miles and don’t go too hard; the climb up is a bastard”, from this point on I was on the old course and with that came a level of comfort knowing what was in store; kinda! The downhill allowed me to pick up my pace and passed the halfway mark in 4:58. Around this point my stomach started to really go to town and took my legs with it and so heavy legged and gurgling away I made it to Aid Station five and my drop bags, I refilled one bottle and grabbed a new one from bag, also taking the opportunity to switch out gel bottles (one bottle contains 6 gels; I was taking one every half hour as well as the two gels in the pocket on my bottle sleeve) and packet of ShotBloks I had taken. I headed out for the long climb on the second out and back. The route follows a series of switchbacks taking you higher into the canyon and then you crest out, pass through another aid station and then the is a set of remorseless rolling turns, up, down, left, right till you reach the next stop, I was being consistently passed at this point not only by people who I had previously passed but by runners who I not even seen before! While it was hot the temperature had topped out and there was a cooling wind which things more comfortable. The next Aid Station had a Hawaiian theme complete with coconut bras and leis; I grabbed some coke and headed out.

Onwards and upwards to the turnaround which was situated in the relative shade under some bristlecomb pines which had the biggest pine cones I have ever seen! I actually passed someone on the way but he was looking pretty bad and asked if he was ok, he replied he was making steady but slow progress and how far was it to the next Aid Stationm I guessed a mile and half and he thanked me. I eventually reached it and gave them the heads up as this guy was in pretty bad shape, (as best I can tell he dropped) I about faced with 8:55 on the clock. On the way to the next Aid Station I hooked up another runner who was also having major gastric issues and we chatted as we passed the miles, I left him at the Hawaiian Aid Station and started on the descent, (he went on to finish about half an hour after me).

Around mile 40 my stomach threw the towel in and I stepped of the trail, without all the graphic details it will suffice to say I threw up. 30 seconds later I was back and feeling a whole lot better with 9:20 on the clock there was not a lot I was going to be able to do to make up the time and I new that of the remaining 10 miles at least five of it was uphill. I hit AS 9 the penultimate stop, refilled and pushed onto the climb. I wound my way back up the hillside, two hours later, or thereabouts, I was at the top and with 3-4 miles left it was plod back to start line, my time was shot and so I eased off in an effort to minimize my recovery, I was passed by another six or seven runners on the way to finish and that was fine I even stopped to record some video.

I caught sight of the finish and carried on down the hill crossing the finish line in a very unremarkable 12:07.

I met with Chris, who had had a great race and finished in 11:17; a new PR for him by some three hours! We stretched and chatted while we waited for the Drop-Bags and then said our goodbyes.

Ninety minutes later I was outside my house doing the hamstring crampy dance from my car to the front door…ouch!

So what went wrong? Well I am struggling to figure it out, did I over hydrate, take too many S-Caps (one an hour), was it something I ate that morning or night before, truth is I don’t know, I’ve been googling possible causes/symptoms to no avail so maybe it was just “one of those days”!?

Whatever the cause it’s not something I want to experience again, what I will say, and other ultra runners I am sure will agree whereas runners of shorter distances may (or may not) disagree is that it's never as bad as you think, this is not said out of hubris or bravado but only from experience. I felt bad and that's probably as bad is it got, was it life threatening; no, was it potentially life changing; no I simply felt bad, it was just a case of suck it up and get on with it. At Twin Peaks last year it was 30 degrees and I was in the dark and wet in a t-shirt and shorts, that was bad; but with hindsight and Goretex I could have finished, yesterday I was at worst sick; once and then felt better, there is no real comparison. So as I say it's never as bad as you think, most likely when you stop even considering the good bad equation then it probably is bad.

The good news is that I have my AC100 qualifying race in the bag; that takes the pressure off completing a race in the summer. Of additional comfort was that I was not overly impacted by the heat, it was hot, that is typically my Achilles heel but I seemed to manage that pretty well all things considered. My recovery today is a hundred times better than last year and I am up and about with no problems today (Sunday), this goes to the power of stretching, Of more concern is this weekend has reinforced a niggling concern that I have had that my local training trails are probably not going to be up to the job, the Santa Monica’s top out at around 3300’ and at AC I’ll be going up to 9000’.

For some reason while my Forerunner kept going all the way round the MotionBased data is a bit screwy, most everything is there except the elevation profile and it says it recorded only 18 miles but when you check out the laps they are all there! There are also a few pictures here but the best ones are included in the post.

Next up I have six weeks of relative downtime until the Ojai Century ride on May 30th which kicks off my AC training proper.


  1. Sometimes a "sucky" race just prepares us for harder races ahead where we kill it and PR. Your attitude is awesome and I'm sure you'll look back on it and find something you can learn before the next race. Congratulations, you inspire me.

  2. Interesting race report. Stomach issues can be a puzzle at times..Good to hear that the day after you feel fine...Chalk it up to the day and keep on running.

  3. Fantastic report. Sorry about the issues during the race, but it sounds like you kept your head in the game. Good work!

  4. Maybe you're right -- it was just one of those days. Sorry you got sick and had the stomach issues! Take it easy!

  5. sorry to read about the stomach issues, but you muscled through it and finished! Congrats!! happy that you're recovering nicely already. take care!

  6. Great report! As you said you qualified for AC100 now. Sorry about the problems..

  7. I'm surprised your Forerunner lasted that long. It's only supposed to have 5-6 hours of battery life, or so I've heard. In any case, it probably started wrapping around because your historical data was full, or something like that.

    Great job on the run! I know its not your ultimate result, but you got the qualifier out of the way and something to think about when you train.

    Well done!!

  8. Good for you - sucking it up. I think what saved me yesterday from hurling was candied ginger I carried with me. I felt sick twice, popped a couple of pieces, within a few minutes my tummy felt better. I know what you mean about the drink sloshing around. UGH! Blah!
    Again, congratulations on the finish and AC100 qualifier. ;)

  9. MAN IN CAPRIS!!!! you rock! :) Great job even though it sucked. Believe me I know the feeling and sometime the finish is the only thing working for you. :)

  10. watching that video made me hurt again. :)

  11. Your race reports are always so good. Lots of pixs, info, and videos... you are awesome.

    I would not count this a bad race. not good that you got sick but your qualifying race in the bag. That ROCKS!!!

  12. Wow...despite the obstacles, you completed it and got your qualifier so all's well that ends well.

    Congrats on toughing it out Stuart - can't imagine going for 12+ hours/50 miles straight.

    Ugh. I think I'M going to go throw up now.

  13. Congratulations on making it through a tough race. Reminded me on my first 50 miler and my stomach issues - unless you I quit!!!

    The pics looks awesome. A nice landscape make sit easy it be out there:-)

  14. Great RR. I know you had goals set, but you did finish on a bad stomach. That is amazing.
    The heat can have a lot of screwy effects.
    If the temps would have been a few degrees warmer in my race, it would have been much different.
    Recover well.

  15. Dude - unremarkable?! I think not. 50 miles is 50 miles! Badass man. I, too, am thinking about Ojai Century...what's your speed like?

  16. wow, congratulations Stuart! i've never puked at any point from running, so i can't imagine dealing with that in the middle of a 50 (50!!!) mile race. very happy you were able to get your AC100 qualifier done ... can't wait to hear all about your training plans for that bad boy. and i'm glad the heat didn't get to you, although i wonder if that was a contributing factor--these things can be hard to figure out.

    congrats again--you rock!

  17. "Unremarkable" is hardly I'd describe your race. The two times that I saw you, you looked like you were hanging in there and running well - so good job trucking along despite your discomfort.

    The heat downright sucked (my stomach was also unhappy with me, although I didn't experience any reversals). Crossing that finish line is all that matters at the end of the day.

    Congratulations on getting your AC qualifier in! Rest up & recover well. Great job, Stuart!

  18. Your "unremarkable" is still pretty remarkable. Great job!

  19. GREAT Race Report. You will rock the 100 miler. Stay Strong!

  20. that's a looong way to go. sorry you weren't feeling up to par-i am sure the throwing up felt much better afterwards!! well, it was excellent training and i'm got you the many many many miles in.

  21. Great report, and great job to tough it out when your stomach was rebelling against you. It sounds like a pretty tough race to conquer.

    Recover well, and good luck with your AC prep!

  22. Great race report...I think this year's course seemed harder than last year's. Your stomach issues sound like NOT ENOUGH sodium, vs too much. I've had some GI issues on Leona myself and its not a fun feeling. Good work in getting through it while overcoming such challenges. I can't think of any better training for AC 100 than what that.

  23. if it were me, i would blame the perpetuum. i had terrible luck with that stuff, especially on hot days. i have given up on it.


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