Monday, May 16, 2016

PCT 50 2016 race recap

Another year rolled around and another chance to run the PCT 50. Last year we had a freak snow storm in the mountains the day before the race, which made everything a little more interesting. This year I felt like it was the opposite. The weather report indicated that it would be dry, warm and windy.

In the mountains, windy can be dangerous. During one of our practice runs, it was so windy that we had to occasionally stop running during gusts to make sure we weren't blown off the edge. There are several sections of completely exposed areas that can make running in true high winds challenging. And winds really make the hardest part of getting ready for a race harder, what am I going to wear? (Yeah, I know, I'm such a girl sometimes.)  After much debating with my fellow sister runners, we decided tank tops and shorts with sleeves and gloves. Well, after the first 2 miles we didn't need the gloves or the sleeves.

But enough about the high fashion of ultra running, what actually happened? Were there any snakes? Did you fall down? Did you crash and burn horribly? I know you have sooooooo many questions!

Race morning started out early, as they all do. My friend M drove me to the start (same as last year) and my family would come and get me afterwards. I know, I'm pampered. I'm Asian and a woman, so apparently my day driving skills are already marginal at best, so my husband thought it best to drive me home. The last two years it was very much needed because I was a wreck, better safe than sorry.

Pre-race silliness.


As the race director started the race, and everyone was jockeying for position, I eased into an opening to make my way down the terribly uncerimonious start. The race starts you out in a ditch, literally. We slowly wound our way under the interstate and began our meandering climb. The first 13 miles of this race are a slow and sometimes arduous climb over occasionally rocky ground. It was an absolutely beautiful morning! I felt like Goldilocks, it wasn't too hot or too cold, my arm warmers were rolled down around mile 2 and I was so excited to M at 3.7 miles so I could hand off my very unnecessary gloves. The next 2 miles or so follow a ridge line that makes passing a little risky, so anyone unhappy with their position in the conga line of runners sprinted for a better position. But, really? It's 3.7 miles into a 50 mile race. There is sooooooooooo much more running to do.

Coming into the first aid station I was greeted by one of my favorite trail runners Jeff (the one who first started getting the ultra bug in M's head). I grabbed some snacks (orange slices and the world's driest pretzel), had a friendly volunteer tie my arm warmers to my pack in case I needed them later and I headed out of the aid station to start the real climb. This section will also be in SD100, so I'm making myself LOVE it, every single rock. This is the section where I noticed the most people start to fade. People who were previously snarky and not overly pleasant to run with were suddenly falling farther and farther behind. I tried to implement a fast walk over sections that were not very runnable and run any section I was able.

Before long the next aid station came along! My very fast friend, Ricky and M were there to cheer us and offer lots of words of encouragement. I noshed on more oranges, refilled my pack with water (added some citrus Vitalyte powder) and headed out.  This aid station is one of my favorite sights, because now the course levels out and the scenery changes. And after a hard 7 miles of climbing, it is finally nice to be able to run. It was fun to keep swapping spots with the same few people for this segment until the next aid station came into sight. I always worry I will miss this aid station because it is down the hill from the actual trail, and you need to check in and out of each aid station. It's always so well marked, and they usually have a volunteer telling you about the turn, but I still worry about it. This aid station, Todd's Cabin, is 17 miles into the race, so ONLY 8 more miles until the turn around! Whoohoo!

Leaving the aid station the course rolls a little more until you break free of the tree line and get exposed to the sun again. On the plus side, you start a gradual downhill run until the next aid station at Penny Pines. On the negative side, it's an out and back course, and what goes down must go back up. I finally saw some of the front runners around mile 20/21. It was so nice to see how strong they all looked! As I made my way down, and down, and down the mountainside, I took an aggressive turn and nearly ended up on my face when I planted my foot in a pile of loose sand as opposed to hard rock. I couldn't decide whether to laugh hysterically or just keep running. I decided to keep running. The course came upon another beautiful ridge line, this one overlooking the Anza Borrego Desert. So amazing, usually we stop and take a moment to admire the view, but not today! And boom, suddenly I was at Penny Pines and so many friendly faces came in view. Everyone was so happy and cheerful, and you know what? It was a great time to be cheerful! 22 miles in the bag and only 3 to the turn around.

My pacer, Neily, was waiting for me as well, she will get to run the final 22 miles with me to the finish. I gave away free sweaty hugs to all my friends, ate some salty watermelon chunks and potatoes, and left to go to the turn around. I love this segment because I get to see so many of my friends. And I got to see every single one of them, except Scooby,  who I saw earlier because he is crazy fast. I managed to get a picture of everyone smiling and happy. At the turn I was greeted by 2 amazing ultra runners, Ang and Scotty. It was so nice to see them. Partially because now I can turn around, but also because they are genuinely fun people and so happy to see how you are doing during the race. A little joking around and some shenanigans and off to run back to the start.


Beer with Scotty

Ang mugging for the camera with me.


Back to Penny Pines and pick up Neily for the final 22 miles. In addition to Neily, I added Dave to my posse. So we spent 22 lovely miles getting to know about one another. I've been trying to work out my nutrition lately, usually any runs longer than 45 miles I end up a nauseous mess. So I wanted salty, calorie dense food. I packed prosciutto in my drop bag, it was so delicious! Yes, I was eating prosciutto on the trail (we already verified I'm a little spoiled, right?). 

My 'posse': Neily, me and Dave. 



The return from Penny Pines to Todd's Cabin is a grind. The fun, easy, gradual downhill is now a slog back uphill. And it's exposed and pretty warm. This is also the where your stomach can start to go south. So, more fast walking and trying to eat and drink. My first PCT, this section killed me. My second I expected it and tried to not meander, I felt like this year I did better on it. It was so hot, and so very dry. My lips kept drying out and my cough was worse than normal. I really wanted an ice cold coke at Todd's Cabin, that is a thought that took root and settled in my mind. I finally caught my friend Spring at mile 28 and we spent a few miles toggling for the lead.


When we finally saw the turn to Todd's Cabin, I saw 2 little boys sitting just off the course with their grandfather, I starred hard and thought they looked an awful lot like Spring's boys, but I've never met them. I came awfully close to asking, but decided against it. As we got to the aid station, and had a cup of Shasta cola with a single ice cube (as close to a cold coke and I could get), Spring came into the aid station and asked if I saw her boys up top. Lol, it was them! I munched on some watermelon to go with my cola and headed out of the aid station with my little posse. 17 more miles to go. I can't recall too much of this portion, I just recall being warm, wanting something ice cold to drink, and to be done. But when the trees started to thin out and we came within view of Dale's, my spirits picked up.

Dale's means 13 miles left, overall downhill. Rocky, hard to find your footing downhill. The second leg (or in this direction, the next to last leg) is always so incredibly slow. I never feel like it's going to end and I will get to see the aid station in the helicopter landing area (I don't know if it really is a helicopter landing area, but that's what it looks like to me). We slogged on, nothing hurt like crazy, but I was just tired. As we made our way slowly to the end, we saw another runner ahead of us on the trail, and suddenly she came running back towards us. Yikes! Snake! We grabbed some rocks to try and scare it off the trail so we could run past, and after a few tense minutes, we finally saw him leave. We did not waste any time running past.  Well, that bit of excitement got us moving until the last aid station! I was so glad to see it, I had to pee pretty bad and after the whole snake debacle I was not prepared to venture off into the shrubs. I asked one of the volunteers which bush made the best coverage and he directed me behind a car, good enough for me.



I had more watermelon, some orange slices and got ice water dumped on me (surprise!). Then my posse and I headed out for the final 6 miles. Whoohoo! Last year I felt like the walking dead leaving the aid station, this year I was practically dancing to get done. I probably should have turned on some music, I really would have been dancing.  We made the slow trek to the start line, and about 4 miles out I could feel my stomach start to make a turn south. Instead of just ignoring it because it was only 4 more miles, I forced myself to eat a gel. After another mile I felt better. The last bit looks all the same, so it's hard to judge how far until the finish, so you kind of have a rollercoaster of emotion for being done. At the next to last gate you get giddy, almost done! Voices start filtering through from people waiting at the finish area and you are just so happy to be done.

This year I ran PCT in 11:48. I'll take that time! I approached this race as a training run for SD100 in 3 weeks, feel out the nutrition and don't overdo it, and save my legs for the big race.  It was so great to see so many friends out cheering, volunteering, pacing, snapping pictures and just plain being awesome!


My hubs. He had kids soccer, a birthday party that kept getting extended, carting around our brood and some other kids and making the drive out to get me! Such a rock star today, and my biggest supporter. 

Robert, me, Spring, Becca and Mark

The whole gang! Louka, Natalie, Robert, Ricky, Becca, Mark, Scooby, me, Sal, David,
(circling back to the front) Gloria, Neily and Steve. Awesome group of runners!