Two weeks before the Leona Divide 50 I was in San Francisco running in the Headlands with a group from the San Francisco Running Company. And the next day it hurt to walk. That's because I was running up-and-down mountains for the first time in several months. That's also because I have been living in Florida and, although I had run staircases and had been on the treadmill, I hadn't done enough to prepare myself for real mountain terrain. So the experience in Marin had me concerned that I wasn't prepared for Leona. Then, the same day I was hobbling around, I learned that the Leona course was altered: instead of 7,800' of elevation gain, the altered course would boast around 9,000' feet of climbing. It's fair to say that I was even more worried about how I would hold up during the race.
So the week of the race I smartly reminded myself of an oft-forgotten sagacious phrase first uttered to me by my good friend Brown Dog: abandon expectations. And so I did. When I toed the start line this past Saturday, I was not wearing a watch and I had spent very little time looking at either the course profile or the entrant list. I was concerned neither with my finishing time nor my finishing place nor anything else besides enjoying the trails and the scenery for the morning: something I am unable to do in Central Florida.
|Sunrise at the 8.6/26.6 mile aid station (all photos courtesy of Jacquelyn)|
|Keeping warm at the start line|
|Almost underway at dawn|
I ran the entire race based on feel and, though my time nor my place would suggest as much, it was the best 50-mile race I have ever run. Case-in-point: my split (I was told) to the 8.6 mile aid station was about 1:05, while my split (I was told) from the mile 39.6 aid station to the finish was 1:08. I ran in 4th place almost the entire race and moved into 3rd only in the last 10 miles. I hiked almost every significant climb, as I was entirely unable to run with any vigor on the inclines, but used the downhills and relatively flat sections to maintain a decent overall pace. And in the end I was reminded of something that I already knew: I need to run mountains to get better at running mountains -- go figure.
|Still jacketed leaving the 8.6 mile aid|
|Fueling up at 26.6 miles|
|Descending into the 26.6 mile aid station|
But I also kept my mind on the race and coached myself through the course with brilliant advice from some of the many talented ultra folks I have had the pleasure of knowing: when I was tired and wanted to walk, I thought of Matt Flaherty's classic line: "the thing about running is, it's faster than walking...even if it's slow running"; I thought of Ian Sharman's sage words when I started picking up the pace to catch the runners within eyesight early in the race: don't start racing until the last third of the race; I recalled some of my conversations with Rob Krar while dealing with a particularly curvy and undulating part of the course late in the race (a section that was very, very similar in kind to a section of the Bootlegger 50k course): find a rhythm, get into it, and stay relaxed.
|Final stretch to the finish|
|Getting in-and-out quickly at mile 39.6|
|Costuming it up!|