It’s hard to believe it’s already October. After an unbelievable summer that didn’t fall short of everything I thought it would be, I’m finally settled into my new home, enjoying beautiful Southern California and back to work. And what better way to welcome myself home than with a grueling 50 miler….Twin Peaks. 15,000 feet of climbing and argued to be one of the hardest 50 milers in the country, I was a little hesitant getting out of bed at 2am race morning to make the hour plus drive out to Corona, CA. “Why do I even do this?”
Out west they tend to offer early start times for those who’d like to get ahead of the cut offs. FINALLY, races that speak to me! So there I was with 20 or so other trail runners, ready to start at 4:30am. Not gonna lie, I was nervous. Oh well… off we went.
The first 7 miles were a gradual climb up to the main trail. I actually enjoyed this part. With very little runnable parts, this made for a good warm up and thanks to a loyal blog reader, Scott, we’d run 20 miles of the course together two weeks prior. Not having seen it, I probably would have either not done the race, or been a nervous wreck. Thank you, Scott.
The night was perfect, the stars were bright, and spirits seemed high. For now. As we climbed in the dark, I met wonderful people. Joe and Mike were two dads getting back into training and this would be their first 50 miler. They had a lighthearted, comical demeanor. Then I met Hank. Hank was a father of 3 and seemed like the strong and steady veteran of Twin Peaks. He’d finished last year and as brutal as it was, forgot all about the pain and came back for more. We laughed talking about that darn runner’s amnesia. So talking and climbing, up we went. I felt good. Before we knew it, we hit the aid station at mile 7. I actually had an appetite…this was different? In fact I think I was actually hungry. Even more weird. Grabbing some food, off I went. 7 miles of uphill down and yet a few more to climb. I saw a gorgeous sunrise coming up over the mountains in the distance. “Gosh… was I really by the beach this morning?”
Slow and steady we kept climbing. The next three miles had some pretty steep sections. I also knew the course was long so mentally I kept repeating this to myself as to not get discouraged later on when 50 miles would come and the finish line would still be a few miles to go. Finally, after a few nice downhill sections I caught up to Mike and Joe. I enjoyed these guys. Here we decided to band together. As we left HorseThief, one of the volunteers made a point to say, “You’ll be coming up this later, so remember it on the way down.” Down we ran. It felt good to finally have gravity on our side. And down we went. Fast. And steep. After 3 or 4 switchbacks I thought maybe I should have been counting because this probably wasn’t going to be fun coming up. Here the first and second place runners zoomed by. We dropped a significant amount of elevation, down until we were in the bottom of the park. Seeing Santiago Peak up in the distance was something I couldn’t even focus on. It was far… and high. But there Joe, Mike, and I took off enjoying the level to slight down hill terrain. We were moving. Before we knew it we hit mile 14. Shortly before the aid station, my training partner Scott passed me, casually saying hello. I did a double-take, before yelling at Scott to get going as he was in 6th place and 5th place had JUST gone by. He looked like he was doing great!
Looking back, mile 14 should have been one of the lowest moments of the race. Not only geographically because it probably was, but emotionally. From mile 14 it’s pretty much a 10 mile climb up almost 5,000 feet to the top of Santiago Peak. Only to then turn around and come right back down, back through the canyon, and around a longer way to the peak yet again. Oy vey. Slow and steady, up we went. I still felt good. I left my buddies and told them to catch up. I was still feeling good. That alone was making it a great day.
It was slow going, but I was steady and one foot in front of the other, I made it to the top of Santiago Peak. And….with an appetite? “Something MUST be wrong with me!” I was feeling great. About a half mile before I made it to the top, Mike and Joe turned the corner below me and I got some good cheers when they caught up to me. The band was back together. Now we had a nice downhill section in front of us. A looooooonnggg downhill. Coming off the peak we hit the split in the trail where runner’s dropping to the 50k went left, and 50 milers went right. I thought this would be a tougher decision, but honestly, I was feeling so good, it was a no brainer. Umm yes, I’ll have the 50 miler with a side of fun. Awesome, thanks.
Running together we made great time back down the way we had come up. We actually ran the whole section. My legs were getting a little tight and I was nervous as to how my climbing would be going back up Horsethief. But we made it down to bottom and refilled at the aid station. It would be 4 miles to the aid station, and the whole day, everyone had said, this was the section to dread. Ugh… here we go. The first two miles I walked just about every inch. It was slightly uphill and now it was getting HOT. Like REALLY hot. Overheating was setting in. And there's no worse feeling than being overheating hot, in the bottom of a canyon, and the only way out, is up. Finally we started the climb. It was STEEP. I mentally prepared myself for the never ending switchbacks ahead and to expect no end in sight. To make things worse…there was no shade to to be found. The dad's, Joe and Mike fell behind. Adam, a grad student at UCLA who I'd been following since the aid station was setting a good pace. We made it a ways up and as I stopped to take a breath, Adam fell back and grabbed me. I swear, I saw the life go out of his eyes. I couldn't tell if he was going to throw up on me or drop dead. Luckily, Allan, an Irish guy behind me knew Adam was fainting and came to our aid. As Adam came to, Allan told him to sit still, rest for 20 minutes and drink. Woah.. that was close. As Adam rested, we kept going. With the sun beating down and water becoming an issue, we just needed to get to the top. I just kept telling myself.. one foot in front of the other. I started to realize there was someone behind me. It was Steve. I'd climb, take a break and Steve would stop as well. IT was brutal. We found ourselves bending down as low as possible to catch any bit of shade the tiny brush was providing. Why oh why do I do this?! After what not only seemed, but WAS forever… the trail started to change and we neared the top. But unfortunately, it wasn't over. Just as we came up on the last section, I heard yelling. Allan and a race volunteer were bending over someone on the ground, yelling at the unconcious man, slapping his face, for him to stay with them. Probably one of the scariest things I've ever seen. We're not at the mall, or place of business…. we were in the middle of nowhere. Steve and I stood there frozen. More volunteers were coming down the trail. They told us to keep going and we heard them radioing a helicopter for rescue. Reluctant, but unable to help, Steve and I made the last trek up to the aid station. Holy crap. What did I just see? Two more men were on the radios at the aid station. We really were in the middle of nowhere. Apart of me couldn't get what I saw, out of my head. But with only 5 people around, and nothing we could do, we had to keep going. I had 4 miles until the next aid station. I told myself depending on how I felt, I could keep going up to the peak, or turn and just make the last 7 miles down to finish line. As I headed out of the aid station, Steve was sitting down and I yelled back for him to catch up.
This was my first time alone in some time. I was still moving well which was a miracle in itself. The sun was finally starting to let up as it was later in the afternoon, just before the glow of sunset, and I couldn't help but take in the beauty around me. After a mile or so Steve caught up to me. Just as we began to talk, we saw the helicopter come over the mountain, follow the road we were on to find the aid station. Steve and I just wished the runner was ok. So scary. (We found out the next day he was in fact ok and home recovering).
We made it to the next aid station. Steve and I would learn later we both had the same secret thoughts of turning to head down the last seven miles to the finish without a second ascent of Santiago Peak. Luckily, our company and conversation kept us both going, and towards the peak we headed. Slow and steady, as I had the last time up the peak, Steve and I made our way, talking and mostly hiking back up the now familiar climb, to Santiago Peak. It was nice to have company. Just as we neared the peak, with the sun going down, I hit my first official low. I was losing energy. I told Steve all I hoped that had at the top of was chicken noodle soup. Despite the heat, as soon as we didn't have the sun on us, it was starting to get cold. A cup of delicious hot soup was keeping me going. Finally we made it!
I was revived sitting in a comfy chair and drinking my hot and delicious soup. And wtf.. I STILL had an appetite. While this course is EXTREMELY brutal being that it is mostly climbing, knowing you have 10 miles of downhill makes continuing the last bit, much easier. Up until this point, I remember something Steve had told me. He said Trail Runner had written an article on a race that also covered some of the same trails as Twin Peaks. They said it was the only place that physics did not apply as you start and end in the same place, but you are climbing the ENTIRE race. I understood their feelings!
Warmed up and revived from soup, warm clothes, and my headlamp, off we went. Steve and I now joined forces with Allan the Irishman. We had three miles to the last aid station before making the turn to finish out the last 7 miles down to mountain. We were about to lose a lot of elevation and fast. It felt good to be in a group. We chatted as we made our way, making sure to watch our footing. Nothing left to do but keep going.
Finally we made it to the last aid station. Just as we headed out my headlamp started to die. Always has to be something! Steve thankfully had two lights that lit up the trail like the freeway. 7 miles left. Allan got us running almost immediately as we made our way. 6 miles left. We kept going. 5 miles. Where is that overlook at the 4.5 mile mark? I asked someone to come up with a conversation as we'd gotten quiet and the miles were passing painfully slow. Finally, the overlook! More running. More walking. We started seeing the twinkling lights of civilization down below. Hard to believe we'd climbed up this mountain 15 hours ago. 4 miles to go. The race vehicles started making their way down the jeep road above us. Allan – "Should we run a bit lads?" Steve and I both agreed… hesitantly as our stiffening legs tried to loosen up. But the more we ran, the better they felt. 3 more miles. Another walking break. Behind us we saw another headlamp making it's way, and fast. Steve and I decided we too should get going again. Off we went. We were moving. 1.5 to go. When Allan caught up he said, "Talk about running?" I joked we should send the runner behind us a thank you for the motivation. As we turned the bend we all hoped we'd see the gate, meaning only 1 mile left. There it was! On the last mile, I soaked in all we had accomplished that day. And what a way to finish… me, Steve, and the Irishman. Steve asked if we should get moving again. Allan responded, "Save it for the finish lad." And then, finally, we made our way across the finish line. Awesome.
I want to say thank you to Scott for following my blog, getting me out for a training run on the course and your faith that this was my kind of race, and I'd get it done. Congratulations on SECOND PLACE! I look forward to more trail running together. And to Steve and Allan for creating such an memorable and enjoyable experience with a phenomenal ending. With a race like Twin Peaks, it's hard to say what would have happened without your motivation and company. Amazing team effort. And despite a 16 hour day, I still woke up the next morning for the annual 1 mile Sharkfest Swim across the San Diego Bay to Coronado. I've had some stupid ideas, but let me tell you…swimming after little sleep and running 50 miles, might have been the stupidest. Lets just say, I made it across.
After a race like Twin Peaks, it's hard not to look back on all that's happened this year. After losing hope I'd ever be able to accomplish a 50 miler last year, Twin Peaks was my 3rd official 50 of the year and 5th including unofficial 50's. Crazy! I was able to get in a fun trail half marathon this weekend up in Chino Hills and while 2013 is shaping up to be an awesome race year, I've still got a few left for 2012. Next up, helping my new buddy Steve finish Chimera 100.