A good start to the season-- San Diego Trail 50
Every step I took at a dinner party the night before the race caused severe pain in my right Achilles. “How in the hell am I gonna run 50 miles tomorrow?” I asked myself. I tweaked my Achilles on a 12 mile training run wearing my 30 pound weighted vest going up Mt. Soledad about a week and a half ago. I had hoped it would be better by race day. Nope. I did everything I could to get it better.
I wanted to get off to a good start this spring because I had big goals and expectations for the year, as I do every year! The San Diego Trail 50 is an excellent early-season race. Mostly flat and on a really runnable surface for most of the way, I’ve enjoyed this race the last few years. Last year I did really well and ended up having a pretty solid season. Because my training has gone so well over the winter, I was expecting the same this year. Talking a little
It felt like I was being poked with a knife in the middle of my Achilles as I walked to the starting line. I hoped that it would loosen up once I started running at race speed. The gun went off and off I was. Saying that the first half-mile was a struggle would be a huge understatement. I was pretty much running only on my left leg. I was hopping with the other. Several times I thought about quitting the race, worried that I’d be jeopardizing the rest of my season. To great relief, the pain became tolerable. I noticed my stride was becoming more normal. I could finally push off with the front of my right foot. I then became able to run just under eight minute pace. After about three miles, I realized that I would probably be okay. I noticed however that the discomfort was moving up into the calf and the pain in the Achilles was subsiding.
At mile four a half, we were faced with a couple hundred foot climb up Raptor Ridge. I had settled into about eighth place by this point. I noticed everybody else was walking up the climb but I continued running effortlessly. The climb put extra stress on the Achilles and calf muscles. I proceeded gingerly. I could tell my fitness level would not be a question. If anything would get me, I knew it would be an injury. I flew through the 10 mile aid station consuming a couple hundred calories and about a quart of liquid. I noticed the temperature heating up. I sure didn’t expect that. Between miles 10 and 15, I cruised along nicely. I had to work harder between 15 and 20 but I kept pretty even mile splits. At around mile 23 ½ I noticed a couple guys talking and thought “What’s going on?” A park ranger told us that this point would be the turnaround, making the race about 3 miles shorter than expected. I guess there was quite a bit of mud on the trail up ahead.
We all had mixed feelings with this change. First, I was relieved to not have to run as far. But, almost all ultra runners want the race to be as long as advertised. I took it in stride and headed back the other direction like everybody else.
Miles 24 to 30 weren’t very fun. The temperature had climbed to probably near 85° and I noticed my shirt was getting really, really salty. My mouth was getting really, really dry. At this point, I had now started walking all the uphills. My average pace was dropping. But, nobody was passing me. I guess the miles run already and the warmer than expected weather affected all of us equally. At mile 40, I decided to put the hammer down. I pumped up the volume on my music and told myself to push, push, push. At the last aid station, I told myself I only had five miles left. I would not let myself settle for a half-ass effort.
Up to mile 22, I had averaged all less than nine minute miles. After 22 though, the miles were taking 10, 11 or 12 minutes. Every ultra runner tries to keep his pace even. Well, I wasn’t able to accomplish that but the effort was very even.
I crossed the line in eight hours and 22 minutes for 47 miles. This resulted in 14th Pl. overall and first in the 50 to 59 age group. All in all, I’m very satisfied with my effort first and foremost and my performance secondarily.
Of course I’m super relieved that my Achilles held out okay. As I limped back to my car, I noticed that the middle part of my calf had become all purple. I knew I had a lot of stretching and physical therapy to do in the next couple weeks before my big hundred miler in the snow and cold of Alaska on February 17.