PCT 50M race. 100% single track. Mountains. Long climbs and long descents. Wild flowers. Thin dry air. Back flashes down memory line. Larry with me whole weekend. Lots of sun. Great people...It was a weekend to stand out for sure...The truth is, this was the most perfect weekend in every and any way you could possibly imagine, and I don't even know where to begin. Pardon my random rambling...
As I was hugging the RD John "El Cubano" Martinez at the finish line, grinning ear to ear, I kept repeating "South California always treats me nice". And it does. In 2005 I won and set a CR at SD100. In 2007 I came back to crew and pace my friend Adrien to a heck of a 100M finish. In 2008, while I DNF'ed at Angeles Crest 100 due to a hip stress fracture, I made a clear mind decision to move to TX to be with Larry. Then last year I had a perfect race at Leona Divie 50M. Later same year I was back to have a great time at SD100, and even though that particular race wasn't all that great, the day worth running at these mountains was awesome nevertheless.
I was rocking it. I was rocking this weekend from the moment the plan of it had started to emerge. Some time few months ago Larry and I figured it would be nice to pick a race out of TX we can go together to. I scouted, and pointed at SD 50. Don't ask me how, I just did. My nicest friend Eman agreed to watch after Stephen. I booked pretty cheap tickets and we got a motel practically next to the start, which was also next to a family diner (a-la 50's style) we had late lunch/dinner at and to the grocery store where we bought a pint of ice cream, which we ate the night before. We arrived early, we picked the car, we drove fast, we had crap load of time to go on the course and check it out - oh, my, it was beautiful!!!
A couple of weeks before Larry created a race profile. I taught him to have a race profile and a pace chart taped to his water bottles, ever since he first met me back at Jemez 50 - exactly 3 years ago...yes, lots of anniversaries on this weekend too, besides this, 1 year since our last trip for a race together (MMT100) and 10 years since my very first 5k race, which got me so hooked...but I digress. PCT50 didn't have a profile on the website, so Larry compiled his knowledge of maps and made one himself. And then figured his paces. The night before he asked me if I want to look and adjust mine - I was busy cooking dinner. So, I looked over the shoulder and threw some times to AS, fairly approximately. "How about on the way back?" he asked. "Whatever, same would work, add a couple of 5 minutes extra". As I told at the Hill Country runner's meeting that Tuesday, my plan was simple: 4:45 out, 5 hrs back. The family wage was on too! I was to finish no more than 45 minutes behind Larry. I actually had no clue what his time goal was:)
It is nice to fly West for a race. We gain 2 hrs of sleep, so by the time alarm went off at 4 am, we basically felt like we overslept. 1 drop bag at mile 22.5 (same as 27.5), the rest of the gels stuffed into skirt pockets and bottle pockets (24 total), 2 water bottles, 10 S! caps, 3 NUUN tablets, 6 Ibuprofen. What else does a woman need when running 50 miles? We went off exactly at 6 am and for the first time in a long time, my watch actually showed 6:00. That's weird:)
We climbed from the start. I jogged a mile, then went into powerwalking mode. Methodically, with short shuffles, letting people pass, rocking my music softly on a background. I don't listen to music very loud. They sing in English, I have also some Danish hits, and a few Russian songs. I've had same music for years, only this past week adding 2 more songs, and I hardly understand words of 80% of the songs (in any language), so it's a background, that's why it's never loud. Just tunes, whatever they sing:) It is already light out, but as we ascend, higher and higher with every step, we pop above the morning fog and the clouds - and it is WOW, really. We are running on a narrow single track carved on a side of a mountain, above the clouds, surrounded by smells and views of wild flowers blooming and by peaks of other mountains beyond the clouds. I let out a yelp. I laugh. I don't think I had been that high emotionally in a long time. Total complete utter happiness. Soon the sun rises and blinds me as we run East, and I have to drop my eyes down to be able to see at least a foot ahead. WOW. This is so worth the trip already...
I don't know anyone, and as I run, I don't care of my location in the field, but then again, I hardly ever do. Not in the first half anyway. I am having flashbacks into 2005 and SD100, which I did with my ever-best running partner and friend Gail and one crazy guy who agreed to help, David, and this 50 miler is run on the same course (the other two 100M races I had been to were on other variations of the trails). Funny, it's like body memory. Almost down to the step. We reach first AS, I look at my watch, and I am, like, to the second. 1:14, fill bottles, out to climb more, on the rockiest part of the trail.
I remember these rocks, I even remember how I described them to Ronda (who in a year of 2006 broke my CR at SD100, ha!), and I remember this relentless climb. I become a metronome. I powerhike. "I was born to powerhike" - is my mantra. Utilize, capitalize. These two weird words follow me through the whole race. I am capitalizing on my ability to hike without been winded or tired, never even take an extra breath. A handful of guys jog pass me, but at the same time I had out-walked a handful of others. May be some of them are early starters. I am happy, singing along with my tunes and rocking my surroundings. I am spot on a gel per 25 minutes, an S! cap an hour, and drinking. The only thing that remotely bothers me is my heel spur, which I never resolved after I treated the PF back in January, so I get "snarly" and wonder if this is a good time to learn how to run "forefoot striking". Kidding. I am in a camp which says whatever running gait you are born with - stay with it, don't change. The pain is rather bad, but I promise myself Ibuprofen 3 hrs in and put it out of my mind.
We get to the next AS, and I hit my 1:30 split like I was born to do so. I laugh.Next section is short, and it goes in a cover of trees. How did this knowledge suddenly popped into my mind? I don't know, but this is exactly how it is. A nice smooth single track under tall trees the whole time, gently rolling up and down. I stop to pee, spook a girl behind (I don't move far away for such a small task) and pick up the pace again ever so slightly. Is this happy feeling planning to end any time soon?
Dale's kitchen has a small spur down to AS, and I reach it in 45 min. I don't know what time it is, when I race I only look at the "minute" part of the watch, so I can be gel-ready and on a lookout for an AS. A volunteer asks me if I want ice in my bottles, and I say "only if fast". Seems that there was a line for ice, so I grab my stuff and get out. I am like that, if it takes more than a minute - it is not needed. A few guys yell out my name as they leave, and I "pick them up" on a next downhill. I apologize as I move by, and make sure to ask how we know each other. Steve readily recites: LD50 last 2 sections, SD100 first 2 sections, I was the guy taking care of my feet at an AS...I remember! Have fun! I was born to run downhill! Thus I have a new mantra. I can't help it. I am a downhiller. I don't speed up, and I don't put any effort. I glide over the trail. I leap. I let it flow. I am super-naturally happy.
We cross a small wooden bridge, and I remember how in 2005 I had stomach issues here, Gail met me just off the highway, I whined, and she told me to switch to ice and water only. The trick I use ever since - and tell everyone. It works. It is not an AS yet, it's about a mile and half of practically flat terrain, which I dislike strongly, but I run. I was not born to run, that's for sure, but it's a running race, so nobody gives me an excuse for that:) Graham Cooper runs towards me. Yowser! Is he that fast or am I that slow? Apparently, I had no clue which mile I am at. Really. Honest to God. I also realize I am out of gels and am very surprised. I had calculated meticulously - every 25 min on the way out, every 20 min on the way back, 2 gels from an AS table for a short out-n-back section to the turn-around. When I arrive at AS, fill my bottles and grab gels from them, and leave, they shove me a card (playing card). That was to be what each runner has to drop inside a box at the turn-around 2.5M down the trail, in the middle of nowhere. I am at Penny Pines? You mean I am at mile 22.5?? You just made my day! If you thought I was crazy happy before, realizing I am about 5 miles further than where I thought I was just sent me sky-rocketing. I am rocking it!
Someone says I am 2nd gal, someone else says I am 4th. I don't care but do look who comes back from the trail as I am heading out. After a few I lost count. The race had an early start. Everybody looks strong. How do I know? Why would I care? I only know I am running behind a girl wearing a scarf Russian style, and I am liking her, this tiny little woman. I see Larry coming back and scream "Hey, baby!" and stop for a kiss. He didn't look that good here, and I worry, but don't let it bother me. He is running his race, I am running mine. And I am rocking it.
As we approach turn-around, (just a chalk arrow and a box), exactly at 4:47 into the run, the "Russian scarf girl" stops and asks "Are you Olga?". While we chat I almost forget to drop my card - but I don't. She is Iris from Calgary, and is a friend of Leslie from Banff whom I know (virtually), so we are thrilled about this! As we talk, I slowly pull away without noticing, because I am so damn happy. I am dancing (imagine how it looks when you don't hear the music I have in my headphones), I am yelling insanities and as I pass guys on the hills ("Com'n, folks, stay with me!"), I can't wipe smile off my face. As I enter back Penny Pines, one of my newest additions, J Lo's On the floor, came up on tunes - and I turned the volume all the way up. I had never done it so loud! But I was rocking this song, my mood, the mountains, and the people. I got my drop bag, and as I drink my V8 juice, I keet dancing, then tell the girl getting my bottles filled (yelling over the loud music in my ears) "Isn't J Lo hot?". Hopefully the runner's crew friends didn't call mental institution. I stuffed the gels into pockets (which was a few too many, and my skirt kept riding down on me) and jumped out of the gates.
I need to ride this happiness, I decided. Not push up, not speed up, just cherish this feeling. I hit a small pocket of a "low", one and only in the whole day, and I shook it off. It was hot, low 70's, high and dry, completely open to the burning sun, I was drinking every drop, and I was running. Unbelievable. Back to Todd's cabin on the spur, I see a girl coming out of AS. I get down, wait for my bottles, and a runner say "Hey, Olga, I don't know if you are racing, but there was a girl just leaving...". I exclaim "I am now!" and everyone laughs. I get out, but pull a notch back in my effort and settle in. It is 18 miles to the end, too early to race somebody's race, and I bet the girl is going to make a mistake (she had that look) - she will decide to put a distance on me and will exert herself. If I do my own thing, I will be where I have to be...
I run and hike next section very mellow, just riding what the course dictates. I see the girl as we enter the AS. Another volunteer asks me questions if I am coming back to SD100, I am telling him about my plans for OD100 - and take off, passing the gal (and a handfull of guys) behind at the AS. Only one man gets by and dissapears. A few hikers come towards (there are lots of them all day long, every one of them nice and chatty and polite), and they are showing me 2 fingers and saying "go get it". Am I second? 2 more ahead? It sounded like there was a female close, and I strain my eyes to look on the hillside ahead - and don't see anyone. I tell myself to calm down one more time. Run your own race, honey.
There is a pretty substential climb here, and I suddenly feel at first a cramp coming, and then my right calf tightens and cramps, sending wave to my hamstring and to my butt. Left side joins. Ouch! It somehow doesn't scare me. More like - really, both sides, full leg cramp? For the most part it becomes dull, and only siezes when I eaither jump over a rock, or step off a ledge sharply, and I, for some reason, play my medical profession and picture muscles and tendons and "yo, here is the origin of a lateral head of bicep femoris, ai, here is soleus...". I drop my emergency NUUN tablet into one of the bottles and sip on both water and NUUN (latest studies proved that cramps develop more of dehydration than of salt depletion). Despite that whacko developing, I am still happy - and still running. My legs, muscles in them anyway, feel great. I surprise myself how much of that flat ridge is runnable - to me! - that late in a race! May be I was born to run after all? Then, a heaven, a downhill, long strong downhill. I was born to run down - I enter last AS, Fred Canyon.
A woman runs to me and asks "Are you Olga?" Well, yes, I am. "Your husband said you'd want ice and water and you'd want it fast and furious!". Well, yes, indeed, thank you. I laugh. This is so awesome. Can you freakin' believe it? They fill my bottles "per request" as I swallow my gel - I also caught another handfull of guys here, and I get out before they blink. And catch that man who passed me at the last AS. Aha, here is a lesson, buddy. Nobody passes me in the last thrid of the race without consequences:)
I am still cramping wildly the whole backs of my legs, and still running, not crazy fast, but steady. I make a (second for the race) pit stop, and hug the steep slope of a mountain, on a narrow trail, with a steep drop on my left, eyes glued to the single track. Suddenly a voice says something, and I flip - look ahead (nothing), look behind (nothing), the voice says something again, I make a head turn up over the shoulder - there is a dude hanging on a tree above the trail taking photos. Really? I almost fell off the cliff? I laugh and go on. I remember this section so well, from 2005, before the asphalt road, how I screamed in desperation here, and there are only 4 miles left after that...
There are not all down, those last 4, and I allow myself to walk some inclines, and even some parts of flats. I do simple math and think: 9:35, and I will be at even split. This is awesome! Can I smile even more? Here is a rock 1.5M from the finish line, Larry and I hiked up here yesterday, I am 9:15 in. Here I can see the highway I need to cross under. I push the button and find "Eye of the tiger" song. I never skip my music. I feel the need now. Can I beat 9:30? Under the highway. It's 9:27. May be not...Skip button. Find Eminem's "Not afraid" now, quickly! My other newest addition! I am rocking it, I see the finish line, I see Larry running frantically to take a picture of me, and I am running right past the dudes with the clock with my Longhorn fists up! And I keep dancing, music blaring. I am not afarid! I don't want it to stop, none of it! I bet folks thought I was obnoxious. I was simply thrilled. 9:29. 5 minutes negative splits. And I am still rocking it!
But wait! A man turns to me and says I am first woman. Really? You are joiking, right? He shakes head. I turn to Larry - is he serious? Yes, indeed. I am in utter disbelief. Really? Can this day get any better?
Larry ran an amazingly smart race. He took it easy, never played testosteron games, ate and hydrated, and chased a bunch of guys down in second half. Only in the last 15 miles did he face the demons with stomach distress, which prevented him to "capitalize" on the downhills, yet he never gave up and placed 9th overall. He finished in 9:06 - which means the family wage win is still mine! Just kidding. The sweetest thing was that stop for a bit at the last AS when he told volunteers I will need help very fast ("unlike me" were his words) and he also told them I will most likley be the first female. I guess my husband has more faight in me than I do:)
The great times didn't end, and the luck never stopped. We drove back to San Diego and got a room in downtomw Hilton - for $94, while still wearing race clothes, having salt all over my face, pigtails in my hair and dirty legs. A great treat! I promised to clean up nicely. We ate at Pei Wei and my fortune cookie read "This week your lucky day is Saturday. Enjoy the fun" No kidding, heh? We slept in - and had a huge breakfast at a diner at 6am. We slept some more. We ate more - like 20 lbs of food. We flew back with no hussle. Stephen was great. Life was beautiful. I am going to miss this weekend:)
About the course: it was marked immaculately, and hard to get lost when running PCT all the way. It suits all my strength. I haven't been to the mountains since last Tahoe race in July, and I missed it so dearly. I love mountains. the attitude and mood I had was a clear indication where I belong. I didn't need to force anything out of myself. The whole time I couldn't believe how far I was, it felt I just set out for a morning jog. By the time I was leaving last AS it was still not any close to what I experience when I run here. My legs are not sore, and while I am going to loose a few toenails (I always do, having to do with my "special" downhill running, and I don't care), and my foot has a pretty big bruise due to the heel spur, there are no blisters (thanks, Drymax!) and no foot issues (thanks, Crosslites!). I need to email Powergel company to get them sponsor me - love this gel, never an issue with a stomach! I wore Tejas Trail shirt - it was light, cute, had a pocket on the back for empty garbage, and I felt an urge to represent my home state. I sure hope I did:)