July 14th, 2012:
It is hard to know where to begin on this write-up. The Cuyamaca 3 Peaks 50k race this last Saturday was quite the event! Me and my friend Jeremy got to the race at around 4:50 am to ensure we got a parking spot. It was great to see off the early start group at 5am, but we were a bit jealous of the extra hour of cool weather running they were going to get. After checking in, we spent the hour leading up to the race by eating snacks, stretching, and applying sunscreen(first time I have ever applied sunscreen in the dark.) We also got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise over Mt. Laguna.
This was the first race since I began running last November that I had no projected time of completion or if I would even be able to complete it. For those unfamiliar with how far the 50k distance is, it is just over 31 miles. This particular one, has 6288 feet of elevation gain and a total elevation change of 12,585.
With a 10 hour cutoff it seemed almost impossible with those extreme inclines. The longest hike I had ever done was 22 miles in one day and the longest trail run I had completed was 12 miles. Given my conditioning, this was obviously a very ambitious and what many would probably consider a very foolish attempt at one's first Ultra Race. Nevertheless I lined up toe to toe at 6am with some of the best and most experienced Ultra Runners in the area.
We were off! In the cool of the morning we got a nice 3 mile warmup around Cuyamaca lake and through a beautiful valley with tall grass landscape before hitting the first major incline, up the back side of Stonewall Peak. After switching from running to my fast hiking pace, I caught up with my friend Jeremy on the incline. We hiked up to the top together and were already sweating profusely. The first decent of the race was glorious and a great chance to catch our breath. After hitting the bottom of Stonewall we came to our first aid station at mile 6.7 . What a difference in aid stations between a regular foot race and an Ultra race. The assortment of snacks,fruit, gel packets and drinks were plentiful. The volunteers were also the best and most helpful of any race I have been to. After tanking up at the station, we decided to continue running together to the next station. We made impeccable time through the Azalea fire road trail up Middle Peak and down it to the 2nd aid station.
Jeremy kept telling me that he was in a world of hurt and he was not looking too good. I was still feeling very good at this point after the very long downhill and did not want to waste much time resting. Here came my first big mistake of the race......I had the young girl who was volunteering fill up my camel back for the hardest section of the race that was to come. My mistake was that I left the bladder squished in the pack with all my other stuff and thought she overfilled it, so I emptied some out so I could drop my electrolyte tablets in it. I told Jeremy I was going to start the incline back up the hill we just came down and I left in a hurry. About halfway up from the Half Marathon checkpoint and 1 mile into the 6 mile uphill section I ran out of fluid. After scratching my head for several minutes wondering why I was sucking air, I realized the mistake I had made. There was no way that I was going to turn around so I had to push through the next 5 miles of incline in the humid heat. I was feeling great climbing back to the top of middle peak and running down it to the Cuyamaca peak connecting road. When I reached the interchange I was approached by an old lady who told me I had gone the wrong direction and was suppose to turn off of the big Middle Peak incline before reaching the top. She goes on to tell me as I rejoined the correct trail that I probably added about 1 mile to the race..... JUST GREAT was what I was thinking!! Just what I needed as a amateur Ultra runner.... more distance!
Without any liquid to rehydrate and cool my core temperature, along with the temperature climbing outside, I was in a world of hurt and started to become delirious. I trying to force myself to hike as fast as possible to make it to the top. I must give thanks to 2 people that gave me a sip of their water on the way up.... it may not have cured my dehydration but it was just enough to give me the drive to push hard to the top. After a hard climb through very rocky/boulder terrain , I finally had the 3rd aid station in sight. A big banner stretched across it saying "The Beach." I was a bit delirious but I remember a girl in bikini running down to me with a cup of water. That was the best cup of water I have ever had! My memory of the top is a bit blurry, but I remember eating a popsicle, being misted with water by some guy and having them take care of all my hydration needs for the next section.
On the road again.... I hit the trail really hard on the way down Cuyamaca peak and felt unstoppable. Another run caught up to me on the downhill, Jeff was his name. I had just looked at the time on my cell phone for the first time, 10:30!! I was only 4.5 hours into the race and at over 21 miles in! I had to have him check his watch to make sure I was not imagining the time I had just seen. The time was correct, only 10 miles to go of mostly downhill and flat sections. I was on track for a 6 or sub 6 hour finish! I was so encouraged by this that I took up an even faster pace with Jeff down the hill. After reaching the bottom of the mountain and entering into a campground area I noticed we hadn't seen a trail marker in awhile. We were so focused on our speed and conversation that we didn't bother to check for them every few minutes. We continued on for a bit more and confirmed we were indeed on the wrong trail after talking to some of the campers. I suddenly felt like I just got punched in the stomach....two wrong turns in one race?! Trying to stay positive, we hoped that we had just missed the trail by a little bit, so we trekked up a bit higher up the steep grade and asked some more campers if they had seen any runners, they hadn't. I was feeling defeated but I was not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I remembered that the day before I said my goal was to just finish; this was still easily attainable despite the setback. I have not yet been able to confirm the length of the detour, but I know the detour cost me about 40 minutes and about 20 positions in the race.
After finding the split in the road we missed, I joined back up with some people I had passed earlier in the race before each detour. The trail was extremely rugged through this section, very overgrown with various plants and there was some felled trees across the trail. I was doing well and running at a very fast pace with my new friend John until I ran out of water again. I barely made it to aid station 4 before I collapsed to the ground in a squatting position. Even after tanking up on lots of liquids and getting sprayed down with water, I was not the same after this station. It was mile 25.3 and there was only about 6.5 miles to go, but my body was broken when I stood back up.
I was at 5 hours and 45 minutes coming into this station and still confident of a sub 7 hour finish. An hour and fifteen minutes to finish out a fairly easy 6.5 miles on Cold Stream trail, around base of Stonewall peak, and along the shores of Cuyamaca Lake. After crossing Highway 79 I attempted to jog but my body just wouldn't have it! The hamstring tendon behind my left knee felt like it was about to rupture and both hips were burning with every step. So I spent the next 3 miles hiking as fast as possible before I got extremely frustrated......... I still had boundless energy but my tendons and supporting tissues were not conditioned for this extreme distance. I decided it was time to take out the iPod and crank up some motivational tunes. I went with "Impossible" by Da'Truth. The music helped my mind be distracted from the pain and I was able to run again, at a very fast pace! I cranked out about 2 fast miles on the trail, passing 3 people, until the pain couldn't be ignored anymore. I was next to the lake and had less then a mile left, but it was now almost impossible to just walk.
With the end in my sights now, it helped me push on to finish this thing. It was a very emotional end for me since I was fighting extreme pain and dehydration. I joined up with the wife and my family before the finish line and went back into a strong run with her to finish off the race.
Total distance(w/detours): ~34 miles
Official Finishing time: 7:19:01
The experience was truly unforgettable and I'd do it all over again once I am healed up ;-) The people I met were really nice and all had great stories to swap about other Ultra races they had done. The Ultra Racing community appeared to me as the closest knit in the world of running; I really like that aspect of it!!
I guess now is a good time to announce my running and racing goal of 2013. After careful consideration of what I'd like to achieve physically, I have decided I want to compete at the Leona Divide 50 mile race in April 2013. This is quite a step up in distance from the 50k, so I had better get off the computer and start recovering and training right now!