Tuesday, February 17, 2015

California Dreaming...and Holiday Lake Memories

                                               All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey
                                                   I've been for a walk on a winters` day
                                                    I'd be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
                                                California dreamin` on such a winters` day

                                                                           --The Mamas and The Papas

Our daughter is looking at colleges on the west coast, and last weekend we had the good fortune to be in LA on the same weekend as the Sean O'Brien 100k/50/50k/26 races in Malibu. I had heard fantastic things about the SOB course from Andy Jones-Wilkins, so when I realized that the marathon and 50K distance started at 7:00am on Saturday, I was psyched that I had time to run on the famed SOB course and get a taste of the west coast ultra scene, while hubby could take our daughter shopping in Santa Monica. I love it when the cosmos line up! Win-win!
The Georgian ---a classic hotel in Santa Monica
We stayed at the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica, a wonderful old boutique hotel that was built in 1933 that once hosted Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. It was about 20 minutes from the race start/finish in Malibu Creek State Park. Hubz drove me to there along the Pacific Coast Highway just as the sun was rising;  it felt a bit surreal to be mentally preparing for a mountain trail race while admiring the moonrise over the the ocean! The Santa Monica Mountains are craggy, exposed, and wonderfully runnable. The TV show M*A*S*H* was filmed in these mountains; in fact, the 100K course went through the old set for the show. With about 5500 feet of climb for the marathon distance, I knew I was going to get a tough workout just one week before the Holiday Lake 50k.

The site of M*A*S*H in Malibu Creek State Park
  Since I typically never race on back-to-back weekends, I asked my Charlottesville Area Trail Runner peeps for their advice on whether I should: a) take it easy and run SOB as a training run for Holiday Lake; b) race it and take my chances that I would have dead legs at Holiday Lake; or c) go out easy, take lots of pics of the views on the course and then throw the hammer down on the way back if I felt good. The unanimous response was c). In addition to getting in a good training run/tune-up for Holiday Lake, I was excited to see some beautiful new trails and meet some kindred spirits on the left coast.

The course led us up on the ridge line of the Santa Monica mountains to the Backbone Trail, which offered great running and gorgeous views. Below are a few pics from the first 13 miles:

Views of Malibu early in the race

Typical fire road in the first 6 miles

Looking west towards the ocean

There were miles of this runnable, buttery single track

The aid stations were manned by experienced ultrarunners. Each time I arrived I was personally met by a volunteer with a pitcher of water ready to pour in my bottle (this was a cup-free race...of course!) and move me quickly on my way. The aid stations had the usual fare, along with Clif Bloks and Shots, and when I got to the marathon turn-around, a volunteer saw from my yellow bib color that I was running the marathon.  She approached me, looked me in the eye, and told me to turn around to go back to the finish. No messing around here --- they made sure there would be no bonus miles! The return trip was a blast with greeting and cheering on fellow runners, most of whom were running the 50K. I did notice that there were many more women 50 and older than I typically see on the east coast, and everyone was incredibly supportive and positive as all ultrarunners tend to be.

The scene of the crime: course ribbons were moved to direct runners to the left side of the photo
 The only glitch of the day took place with about 3 miles to go, where *someone* had moved the ribbons to purposely direct runners off course. I spent about 15 minutes with a few other guys running downhill before we realized that the ribbons we were following were NOT the race ribbons, just shorter versions of the actual race ribbons that had been ripped up into shorter pieces and placed on the wrong trail. Ugh.

A volunteer appeared on the ridge (having quickly been sent by the RD to fix the markings!) and directed us where to go. We hammered the final miles of downhill and I tried hard to save my quads for Holiday Lake, but I knew I had been just behind the 2nd and 3rd place females before I went off course, so being conservative was a challenge. I ended up 4th female, about 20 minutes from the 3rd place female (who also went off course), and we had a good laugh at the finish line. This was the first race in my 13 years running ultras that I had gone off course due to sabotage. It can happen on popular trails, and I'm very glad it didn't impact the 100K runners who were going for the Western States slots!

RD Keira Henninger awarding me my sweet 4th place SOB coffee mug. How did she know I love coffee?
 At the post-race party, there was a huge buffet of veggie and turkey subs and soups, and I was able to chat a bit with Ultrarunner Podcast's Eric Schranz, who had been running the 50K. While we were chatting, I got a text from Andy Jones-Wilkins, who wrote, "Have a great run and don't take too many pictures!" I was happy to text him the pic below of Eric enjoying his post-race carbs (Andy has been a guest on URP a number of times)!

Eric and the crocheted shorts that are all the rage (?)
After socializing a bit, it was time to head back to the beach (Dude...I love the sound of that...) and continue our weekend visiting USC, the Grammy Museum, and Griffith Park. I loved running the SOB and visiting sunny LA in February!What a treat!

The view of the city from Mt. Hollywood...yes, that is smog.

Sunset from the beach

Looking towards Hollywood Hills

Me and hubby at Griffith Park. Yes, it's kinda smoggy.
 After flying home on the redeye Sunday night, the week following the race was spent hydrating, resting, and stretching in anticipation of 32 faster miles the following Saturday. I was a little sore until Wednesday, and didn't run a step except for 4 easy trail miles that morning. The others days I swam, stretched, and slept late...ahhhh. I could get used to just racing, recovering, racing, recovering! Forget training!

Work kept me busy all week and before I knew it I was heading down to Appomattox on Friday afternoon with John and Michelle Andersen, owners of Crozet Running and leaders of the Crozet Ultrarunning Team, of which I am a proud member. Holiday Lake was to be Michelle's first ultra, and we were all really excited to share this special time with her. Holiday Lake 2002 was my first, so coming back each year always gives me a jolt of happy memories...I love watching my friends anticipate and finish their first ultra.

Michelle, Annie, Martha, Kathryn and me in the bunkhouse just before the start
 Holiday Lake is a great first ultra. The 4-H camp has heated bunkhouses, good food, and hot showers at the finish, and staying onsite creates a wonderful sense of camaraderie. The night before the race, after the pre-race dinner, RD David Horton hosts a "first-time ultra" information session which I always listen in on. He tells some classic stories of his days on the trail and gives great advice, most of which I totally agree with! This year he told the newbies not to wear a hydration vest since the aid stations are so close together...but I was very glad that I did because I'm realizing that I can't skimp on nutrition (see my previous blog post, "Hellgate Smackdown"). I'm very glad that I brought all my Perp, EFS, and Hammergel with me --nutrition played an even more important role given the fact I was attempting back-to-back races.

So, how did this back-to-back experiment go? In perfect racing weather of temps in the 20s and dry trail, I started fairly conservatively with my mantra all day being, "Your race, your pace." I needed to just run my race and not get swept up with the fast girls. And, for the most part, it worked. I came into the turnaround at 2:30 on the nose, a little fast for me but a good sign that I might come close to my PR of 5:01 which I set in 2012 in very similar temps and trail conditions. I was around 12th place female, about where I usually am at Holiday Lake. And, I was feeling good, so I knew I had something in the tank in case I needed to actually push the pace. At around mile 23 I saw Rob Colenso who was looking calm, relaxed, and very focused. We ran together for the next 10 miles trying to chat but we soon realized the pace was too fast for chatter. At one point I took a nose dive in front of Rob and two other dudes. Rob's comment: "Very graceful!"  There is nothing like a face plant and shoulder roll in front of a bunch of dudes to get the adrenaline moving. "Nothing to see here!" was my response and before long I was back running behind Rob, focusing on his Happy Trails shirt to pull me along. Whew. Dodged a bullet there, nothing hurt but my ego!

Around mile 26 we met up with Jason Farr. Jason is a fellow CAT and he has treated me to some fun hill workouts during the past few weeks on Carter's Mountain. As we were crossing the creek, he told me he  was hoping for a sub-5:00 finish as well. I was thrilled to be running with these two friends and that we were shooting for the same goals. I learned a while back that running WITH my fellow competitors as opposed to AGAINST them made me a better runner and person. It allows me to dig deeper than I would if I was alone, share the experience of the pain cave and suffering with another, and always reveals to me what a privilege it is to help and share in someone else's PR, win, or course record. Donna Utakis taught me this beautiful lesson at Hellgate and Mountain Masochist. Running with her at the end of both those races enabled me to set a PR in both, even though we were also competing for a top female spot. I try to remember that lesson every time I race.

"Sophie!" Rob is yelling at me but I can't really hear due to my singing "Shake It Off" along with Taylor Swift in my earbud.

 "Whatt???!!" I stop and turn. It's about 4 miles from the finish now, and I'm starting to fade a bit.

"If you pass the next female, you'll be 10th!" he yells, before catching up and passing me like I was a tree standing still.

"Awww. Rob! Thanks for the intel buddy! Now I have to race. Geez" I think to myself, though I very much appreciate him finding this out at the aid station and passing it along. Top-10 females get some special schwag at Horton races, as do the age group winners. If I finished 10th, that meant another "old lady" in our age group-- Rebekah, Martha, just to name a few-- could get the Patagonia backpack instead. I dig deep and find the next female a mile or two from the finish. I make the pass, run ahead, and then once out of sight, promptly start hiking uphill. Rob is just ahead so I focus on his shirt one more time and keep moving. The final mile of the race is on the paved road, and I looked at my watch for the first time all day when I got there. 5:00:34. Ahh well, no PR today but at least a top 10! I hammered on.
Trying to keep it all together on the final paved stretch (photo by SOS photography)
I finished in 5:07:36. Not too shabby for this old girl with no real taper. My nutrition worked like a charm and besides a few miles of low energy and a bad attitude, I felt fairly strong all day. But I know it would not have been possible without the push of Rob and Jason in those middle miles. Thanks, guys. It is very fun watching both of you get faster and faster!

The finish line celebration at ultras are the best, especially at David Horton races. He loves to announce the name of every finisher, especially if he/she is a first time ultrarunner. I remember finishing my first ultra at Holiday Lake in 2002. I was third female in 5:17 (this year, TEN women broke 5:00!). I'll never forget his welcoming hug at the finish. It was the beginning of a life-changing thirteen years that has introduced me to wonderful friends, beautiful landscapes, and challenged me in ways I could not imagine. Thank you, David, for helping me get my start.

At the finish with RD David Horton. I had to sit down because he told me I was 11th female, not 10th! It's all good!
The rest of the afternoon was spent cheering in my CAT, VHTRC, and Crozet Ultrarunning Team friends. It was awesome to see the joyful expressions on the faces of so many friends as they crossed the line. Special congratulations go out to Michelle Andersen and Jen Lysiak who both finished their first ultra! Little did I know thirteen years ago, while sitting all alone on the wooden bench at the Holiday Lake finish line knowing virtually no one, that the sport would embrace me, nurture me, and make me a better human being.

I think about that every time a newbie crosses the finish line, wondering, "Does she know what wonderful times await?"

Charlottesville Area Trail Runners! We are growing, and it is awesome.
Crozet Ultrarunning Team-- Bethany (first female...and she won in 2002 also!), Marc, Michelle, Dan (11th), Horty, Nick, Annie (7th female), Jeff (first old guy), and John (10th!). Love these people.

Congratulations to all the Holiday Lake finishers! Results are here.