Wow. What an amazing experience.
First of all, thanks to all of you who via text/blog/Twitter/Facebook/RWOL/e-mail wished me luck...meant a lot to me and helped keep me going during dark spots. Secondly, a big thank you to the RD of the PCT 50 John Martinez for: a) letting me into the race after it had sold out and b) for putting on a well-organized race in the beautiful trails of the world famous Pacific Crest Trail.
Last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to my friends (Josh, Colin, Kristin, Andrea) for coming all the way out to support, pace, crew me in my first 50-miler. It would not have been the same without them out there.
I have friends who race this distance (and beyond) quite regularly. Probably as often as some run half and full marathons. And they race it competitively. Having finally endured my first, I have so much more appreciation for what they do week in and week out. I was taken back to my first experience of doing my first half marathon, marathon, etc. I had no idea how my body would respond when I reached miles I've never ventured to run before (in this instance, beyond 31+). So the goal first and foremost, was to finish.
I made the late afternoon drive down towards the San Diego area on Friday, making a quick stop in Irvine to grab an early dinner with my friend Rachel. Then I went straight to the motel I was staying at in Pine Valley Village, a few miles from the start of the race. I managed to snag 6 hours of sleep before my 4am wakeup call. For the next hour or so, it was all race prep - coffee, bathroom, taping nipples, bodygliding feet, bathroom again, etc. When I stepped outside, I ran into two other people who were also heading to the race. We decided to caravan together which was great, because I wasn't exactly sure how to get there.
The race elevation started at ~4,000 ft and would climb to above 6,000 ft on a 25 mile out and back. The starting area was a buzz with nervous energy and chatter when I arrived. I had my game face on, just grabbing my bib and going back to my car, exchanging last minute texts/tweets before grabbing my bottles and gathering at the start again. The race started promptly at 6am without much hoopla or fanfare. The RD sent us off and I settled in mid-pack content to start off as slow and as easy as possible. We started immediately on the PCT single-track which would be the case for almost the entirety of the race. The switchbacks took us up our first gradual climb. I kept my head down and just followed the folks up the road.
Around mile 4, we came to a road crossing before jumping back on the PCT. This time, the road continued along a mountain ridge with a sweeping, awe-inspiring view of the valley. I joined up and started running with a gal named Sally shortly thereafter. She was coming off a great run at AR50 a few weeks back AND was planning on running the Bishop High Sierra 100K NEXT weekend. We chatted and ran together for a couple of miles before I let her go ahead. We hit our one and only fire road around mile 7-8 that ran down into our first aid station at a camp site. I filled up my bottles, grabbed a couple of boiled potatoes before heading back up the fire road. As I was hiking up and taking a draw from one of my bottles, I actually had a dizzy spell and stumbled a bit. I shook it off and kept hiking up before rejoining the single track once again.
The next aid station would be another 8 or so miles. During this stretch, there were some up and down rollers and then some steady climbing on the narrow, sandy, rocky single tracks. I don't remember too much except I was passed a couple of times, walked all the ups and generally felt crappy. My footing was lazy too as I tripped and stumbled on more than a few rocks. I heard my friend Lori's voice repeating in my head, "lift those feet up Burger" so I tried to concentrate on my footing some more. I knew there would be highs and lows during the course of the race, but I basically just felt low. I was still a little light-headed and mentally couldn't flip the switch on. Still, I kept prodding along trying to enjoy the scenery (it was magnificent) and looking forward to seeing my friends who were awaiting me shortly before mile 20.
Aid station #2 finally arrived around mile 15ish as we were entering the forest part of the run and one of the few areas that offered some relief from the sun. Not a huge deal now, but would be of assistance on the return trip. I got in and out as quickly as possible, grabbing some more gels and continuing on the PCT. My nutrition plan (reinforced by some experienced advice from Rick) was to just take in 100 calorie gels every half hour (200 = 1 hour) with some salt tabs every other time. In one of my 26 oz handhelds I used Nuun, in the other water. I occasionally grabbed some more boiled potatoes and soda when they were available at the tables.
The view from 6,000 ft
After some more running/climbing, I finally saw the sign for Todd's Cabin which was near mile 20 and also where I knew my friends were. I turned left and scrambled down the switch backs where I saw the next aid station and Andrea, Josh and Kristin (nature was calling for Colin at the time). Immediately, my spirits were lifted and gabbed happily while my bottles were again refilled by wonderful volunteers. Josh then joined me and the two of us continued on to the 25 mile turnaround. I felt a renewed sense of energy in spite of my sciatic pain acting up since around mile 8 and a blister on right pinkie toe from around mile 14. We were at or around the highest point (6,000+ ft) and the views were that much more remarkable. We passed a few runners coming back from the turnaround and a lot of quick words of encouragement were exchanged.
Finally starting to feel good.
Josh and I doing some climbing.
Coming into the halfway point.
We finally hit the halfway point to some whooping and hollering by volunteers and friends/family and while my bottles were getting filled, I found my drop bag (only time I'd have access to it) to apply more sunscreen and more Vaseline to my right foot. Before we left, Colin caught up to us and the three of us started back together chatting and taking some photos along the way.
Colin joining me as I begin to tackle the last 25 miles.
Since Josh had parked at the turnaround, he left us after a couple of miles on the return. Colin and I continued on back to Todd's Cabin where I was treated to a wonderful, icy sponge down and after grabbing some more gels, climbed back up to the main road with Colin in tow. He would join me until around mile 30 where he would turn back around and along with Kristin and Andrea, meet me at the finish. I vigorously thanked him for his pacing duties and company and he wished me luck as I continued down the road.
Further along, I hit the 2nd to last aid station and knew with about 8 miles separating this one from the next, took a couple of minutes to ice down and mentally prepare myself. After a couple of cups of coke, some potatoes and grabbing some more gels, I buckled down and left for the next long stretch of road that lay ahead.
This next section (miles ~32-38) was no doubt the most difficult. With the sun now high in the sky and very little cover from it, I felt strength being sapped from my body with each mile. Not to mention the nausea I started to feel from a diet consisting primarily on gels (Hammer and Gu) every half hour. It came to a point that the mere thought of it would make me gag. While most of the return trip was downhill, it was incredibly rocky and technical and I felt my toes getting bashed in by my Cascadias. So I walked/trotted for what seemed like an eternity, getting passed by about 3-4 runners in the process. At one point, I had to stop under a small patch of shade for a minute from the beatdown the sun was laying down. I was of clear mind to keep hydrating and even though I didn't have to, stopped to pee a bit to check the color.
Somewhere around mile 38ish on the ridge back before the highway, I decided that I had had enough and started hammering. I wanted to be done. I chased down a pair of runners down the road ahead. The legs amazingly didn't hurt that much any more so I kept charging. The ridge was narrow and technical however and somewhere around mile 39, I stepped into a shrub when I saw a tail flail up followed by a loud rattle. Holy shit - I almost stepped on a rattlesnake! Fazed for a sec, I pressed on, descended down the highway crossing and kept on charging.
The single track spilled out to an opening where I would turn right down the fire road once again, turn back up and march up where I came before continuing along the PCT. I once again doused myself with some water, took a couple of cups of coke and hiked back up the long fire road. I passed my friends Sarah and BK who were heading down and finally after about a mile of this death march, reconnected to the PCT where the final 7-8 miles lay ahead before the finish.
Summoning the same energy and determination I ran with before hitting the final aid station, I again started pumping my arms and again was pleasantly surprised to find responsive legs to get me to the finish. I looked back near the start of the road and see a guy giving chase about 50 yards behind me. So I started hauling and running scared. I passed another runner down this stretch but never looked behind me again.
I just wanted to hurry the hell up and a) finish and b) not get passed. I stomached my last gel down around the 9:30 mark and kept willing myself to finish strong. I saw the start on Old Highway 80 off in the faint distance but it looked so damn far away. While my legs were still feeling strong, my breathing was getting more and more labored the harder I pushed. Around the 10 hour mark where I would have taken another gel, I said screw it and just kept pressing.
After a few minutes of this with still no finish in sight, I actually started getting pissed. How far was it exactly? Where the hell was the finish? Shortly thereafter, I was spent and bonked. I was so done and so weak but I somehow mustered down the final switchback roads that we started on before finally hearing the faint distant sounds of people.
At the finish...finally!
Mercifully, the finish comes into sight and I am beyond overjoyed. A small crowd (which includes Colin, Kristin and Andrea) begins cheering me in loudly and I let out an ecstatic scream. Officially came in at 10:19:44 and utterly spent.
After some congrats and getting a medal around my neck, the only thing I want is an ice cold coke. So I shuffle over to a tent where some other finishers have already gathered, slump to the ground (where I sat for about the next half an hour or so) and slowly pull from a Diet Pepsi trying to come back to my senses. They were out of regular - blah.
Kristin, Colin, Andrea and me at the finish. Much love for these guys.
After a couple of cans of soda and getting some post-race food in me, I finally start to feel human again. So I gather and lift myself up from the crumpled, dirty heap I was in, thank John the RD and the 4 of us drive a little east to a BJ's for some beer and calories (think nachos, pulled pork sandwiches, pizza, ice cream, etc).
The aftermath...other than a sore backside, a blood blister on my pinkie toe and sore shoulders from lugging around two big bottles, I feel like I came away relatively unscathed. Foot never really bothered me and I felt like I did a good job with nutrition/hydration for the 10+ hours I was out there.
All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better day. I had familiar faces out there, the volunteers were superb and I got to run through some historic and scenic paths I've always dreamt of running on. The run itself could have gone better, but my goal was to finish and finish in under 11 hours so I feel like I can walk away with my head held up high.
Thanks again to all of those who were cheering me (either in person or in spirit). I can honestly and truly say you had some part in getting me across the finish.