Sean O’Brien 50 2014
I’m sure one of the first thoughts anyone has that follows my racing is “why is she racing 3 weeks after Bandera?” Three fold answer – 1) My brother lives 25 minutes from the start line and gives me the impetus for a visit 2) It’s part of Montrail Ultra Cup series and I wanted to score some points, and 3) I love supporting Keira Henninger’s events – she puts on a great party! As a bonus reason, I made some rookie mistakes at Bandera and wanted to revisit them while they were fresh in my mind.
It was frickin’ cold at 6:00 am in the Santa Monica mountains. I could barely warmup in the 28 degree air, having to go in and out of my car to stop shivering, despite the puffy coat and sweatshirt. I forced myself out of the toasty car and clothes with 10 minutes to go, and stood with the other runners, trying to encourage a group cuddle. As always, great to say hello to new and old friends – Timmy, Dom, Cassie, Paul, Scotty, Angela, Ken, Denise, Karolina, Shahid, Bree, Jimmy Dean. Keira gave a short introduction to the namesake of the race, told us to have fun, and off we went into the darkness.
Truth be told, my legs have felt tired on most of my runs since Bandera, except for running circles around the track at Placer High, where the ground is springy and flat. I was still putting in some long runs on the weekends, but I ran very little the few days before the race, and optimistically believed that the minimal running would be restorative. However, the first few hundred yards of SO I could feel junk in them – a slight burn – but went with the thought that it was because it was so cold and I wasn’t warmed up. I patiently waited for the feeling of lactate to diminish, but we were on single track going up hill pretty quickly. The first bit of downhill they were okay, but every climb early on had the same feeling. I watched my HR on the climbs, keeping it below 165, hiking when I needed to, and getting more beta on the course from Jimmy Dean. I was feeling very patient and focused on eating every 30 minutes besides sipping my liquid calories.
After 30 minutes, I was greeted with spectacular sunrise and soon after some amazing ocean vistas. Bree Lambert caught and passed me on this initial long ascent. Next I heard a familiar voice behind yelling up “I wondered who that skinny chick was!” It was Luanne Park, working her way to up me. We caught up a bit before she left me behind as well. And then Tera Dube, whom I had not talked to in years, caught and ran with me for few miles before she left me as well.
Through the first aid station finally there was a nice bit of downhill single track – rocky, rooty, sandy, but not Bandera technical. I would have enjoyed it more, but legs were just kind of blah. Not bad, not awesome. I glanced back to the familiar voice of Ken Sinclair, surprised that he was behind me. When he caught up he told me that he and Denise were sitting in their car when they heard the start, so they were DFL across the start line. And soon after, Denise “Little D” came trotting up, light as a feather. We crested a small climb together, and she led the way for awhile. Then came a downhill where I let loose and gapped the folks around me. Around a couple of switch backs when I found myself flat on the ground – both knees banged and my quad scraped. Crap. I had not fallen that hard in a long time. I didn’t have to be embarrassed since no one saw, but on the next climb up I had to be sure and share with Ken and D my bloody legs. As we cruised into the 13 mile aid station I was offered a clean up which I refused out of fear of the stinging.
Back down a nice runnable section of single track, closely followed by a couple of men I had been going back and forth with, and BAM I was on the ground again. I was pretty pissed off as I felt careless and I had basically repeated the same action of slamming both knees on the ground. And this time I had witnesses. They were so kind, wondered if I needed any help, could they do anything for me – I laughed, shook it off, insisted it was just a flesh would, but it took a few minutes for the pain to ease and I could run smoothly again.
Keeping up on the calories and fluids and electrolytes was going well. We had climbed fairly high, giving way to more ocean views, and some coastal winds that were a blessing at your back, but tough to run into. I didn’t really run with anyone for awhile, but eventually I saw Bree’s bright green shirt and realized I was coming back up on her. I caught her during a descent, we exchanged encouragement and soon I was descending quickly with a newbie to the sport, Vince. We chatted all the way to mile 22, and I was finally feeling pretty good – as if I needed a 20 mile warmup. The aid station was at the end of a small dog leg, where I saw Luanne, then Tera, then Denise. It was good to know I wasn’t too far back. I was in and out quickly and started another long grind out of Malibu. This section was possibly one of my strongest, and thought maybe I would gain back some places if I continued a steady effort. At the top of this grind was a little downhill, where I could see Luanne once, and figured D and Tera had passed her. Every turn my eyes would strain, but she was no where in sight. I caught up with another runner who had trained on the course, telling me we still had 2.5 miles to the aid station. I had gone dry in my bottles and was disappointed in myself for not filling them both. Another grind climb and finally back to an aid station, filled both bottles, and to the well wishes and encouragement of the volunteers, I was inspired to stay strong and hunt some women down.
My legs, however, were of the same spirit as at the beginning of the race. Not peppy, but not dead. My downhill, which I love, was not loving me back. My quads had been golden for Bandera, but just weren’t ready. I was running alone for the most part now – passing the occasional 50k runner, or being passed by a male 50 miler. At mile 35, a water only aid station, a young man volunteering asked me if I needed anything, and then proceeded to follow me down the single track. He was a newcomer to the sport, currently local but from the Netherlands. He was very encouraging and supportive as he ran behind me to the next aid station, wondering what he could do to help once we got there. I was feeling pretty good again the single track, but when I arrived at the aid station, an even stronger Bree Lambert had caught back up. I fueled up with the help of the wonderful volunteers, and got the beta from the now dropped Jimmy Dean that the 2nd place woman was 11 minutes up, and Luanne was about 2 minutes up, with Tera and D somewhere in between. I’m sure Cassie, in the lead, was miles ahead.
Leaving the aid station, volunteer Greg Lanctot was determined to photo my beautiful knees, and ran up the trail ahead of me and Bree. He nearly fell off the trail in his attempt, much to our amusement. Bree went around me as if I was standing still, strong and smooth. I was definitely alone now and in a bit of a lull. I checked my HR, which was a little low, so I worked on getting in more fluids and trying to push myself. I passed a few more 50k runners, and finally coming to the 39 mile mark, Portlander Jessie Boisaubin popped out behind me, wondering when I was going to catch him. He fell in behind me, and we had a long session of running together – sometimes chatting, sometimes just working hard at moving forward. We were close to getting to the end of the big climbs, so in theory things were getting easier, but finally he could hold on no longer. At the last aid station, I took a little more aid, then had some short climbs before the more steady downhill that would last a few miles. The steep pitches were killing me – my right quad was quite sore from the crash, my left arch was sore, and as much as I wanted to override it all, I also didn’t want to hurt myself.
With about 2 miles to go, and one more climb, I could once again see Luanne. She was one or two bends in the trail ahead. And I would see her looking back at me. I couldn’t close the gap, and frankly, wasn’t really interested in chasing anyone down at this point. Up and over this last hill, down to the flat finish, I was greeted by the usual fanfare of the ultra community, 7th female, just a minute behind Luanne. She remarked that the two of us represent 105 years, and we were pretty damn satisfied with our day.
The race was good for many of my friends – Cassie nailed it coming in over an hour ahead of all the women, Dylan “D-Bow” Bowman won the men’s race. Cassie, Tera and Sally McRae earned spots at Western States. Over all, I’m more satisfied with this race than Bandera, as I took care of myself much better and had no real issues other than tired legs. Six weeks until the next big race, and I will be rested and ready to go!
Thanks to Keira Henninger and all of her volunteers for putting on another spectacular event, and my sponsors Scott-Sports and Injinji Socks!