132 Days – The Old Goats 50 Mile Race

It was 6:40am on Saturday morning when I heard a familiar beeping noise.  But this was not my alarm clock.  I’d actually been up for over 4 hours at this point.

“One mile?”  I asked Ben, signaling to his GPS watch.

“Yep,”  he smiled back at me from the technical descending single track.

“Only 49 more to go!”

I had left to pick up Chris, a fellow Arrogant Bastard, at 3am that morning.  Chris is a significantly faster runner than I am, and I warned him that he may be waiting for a while at the finish line for me.   But he didn’t seem to mind and both of us were happy not to be tackling this beast alone.

We arrived at Blue Jay Campground where the Old Goats 50 Miler was beginning, just in time to see the early starters take off, inclusive of my old running buddy Donn.  A sudden wave of anxiety rushed over me as I saw several other folks who I consider my peers in terms of ability level take off with him.  Should I have taken the early start?  Well, it was too late for that.  And honestly, the best training that could happen for me would be a day of pushing cut offs and overcoming.  That will happen at AC this year, for sure.

Chris and I lined up next to each other as Steve, the race director, made some final announcements.  I looked back over the crowd behind us.  Not one person looked out of shape, with a much higher percentage of men starting than women.  This was the best of the best of Southern California’s ultrarunning community, here to tackle what some have named the hardest 50 miler in the US.   “No matter what,”  I said to Chris, “Two out, two in.”  I was saying it as much for my sake as I was his.  He nodded back at me.

The race began and I parked myself towards the middle.  It was very easy to take off too fast in this event, with the first 11 miles almost entirely downhill.  I found myself in a large group of about 20, lead by Amy (the winner of the Rio Del Lago 100).  I remained close to my friends Ben and Wilson, Elizabeth, who I had done a training run with a few weeks ago, and Marisol, an Angeles Crest 100 finisher who I had so much respect for.  She ran the entire race without a pacer and did phenomenal.  I knew I was running with some people that were typically much stronger runners than me, but the pace felt conservative and the company was nice.  We chatted away as the miles flew by.

At mile 11, Alexa was working an aid station and had brought me a liter of coconut water!  I filled up, used the restroom and by the time I was out, my little snake of runners had departed.  I was on my own for a while feeling like I was the last person on the course until Linda, another really strong ultrarunning friend caught up to me.  This calmed my nerves.  We ran together on and off up through the mile 23 aid station.  There my friend Carlos was in charge, and my teammate Rainer was dressed in full Hawaiian garb – I didn’t even recognize him at first!  I also caught up to Donn here and lifted my spirits to see him.  All in all a big highlight of the day!  They cheered us all up after a tough 2.7 mile climb, and we were off down a rocky technical single track.  It was there that I ran into the biggest issues of my day so far.  My feet were becoming really sensitive to all the rocks, and trying to keep my nutrition 100% Paleo while racing was starting to fail.  I was cramping, hungry, I had no energy and everyone was starting to pass me.  At mile 29, I think I fell face first into a bowl of potato chips.  From there on out I did a combo of some Paleo and non Paleo items and my energy returned just in time to tackle the two toughest climbs in the course:  Holy Jim and Santiago Peak.

At the base of Santiago is where I started to fight cut offs.  This would continue for the last 16 miles of the race.  I had under 3 hours to make it 11 miles, which may not sound difficult, but we still had two big climbs left.  There was a group of about 5 of us all in the same position and we were never too far away from each other at any given time.  My friend Ryan would catch me on all the downhills and I would catch him on the ups.  We led our little pack into the 2nd to last aid station.  At that point we had just over 2 hours to go 7.8 miles.

I found myself alone as the sun was beginning to set.  I looked at my watch questioning my capability to make it.  Then I switched my thought process a little.  If I was pacing a teammate, would I be able to get them in within the allotted time?  Absolutely.  So how was this any different?  I spend up.  Just as I did, a new friend joined me.  “You look chipper.”  He said.

“Yep!  I realized we’re going to make it.”

“I’m not so sure about that,”  he said.

“Well, I am.”  I smiled.  “So stay with me or in front of me and you’ll make it too.  I promise.”

Exactly what I needed.  Someone to pace!  We trudged on, silently pushing each other, anticipating the downhill that we knew would come soon.  It was dark as we approached the last aid station which was also where Carlos and Rainer were.  We had 1 hour to go 2.7 miles.  Downhill.  We were going to make it!

We both crossed the finish line with another group of 3, all with plenty of time to spare!  Chris had finished hours before but didn’t seem to mind waiting and hanging out with the rest of gang.  He told me he had been checking my progress and when someone realized he was my friend they had told him not to worry because “Summer always finishes.”  That was probably the best indirect compliment I’d received all day.

Chris and I drove back to Los Angeles, chatting about our adventure all the way.  He had placed 15th and reached his goal of going sub 10 hours, by over 15 minutes.  I had also reached my goal of going sub 14 hours, by almost 30 minutes, and I found myself in the company of runners I never would have been able to keep up with a year or two ago.

This was an amazing and beautiful event that taught me quite a bit – I made some mistakes, I learned some weaknesses, but in the end came out successful.  As I’m sure my Angeles Crest 100 friends would tell me ‘It don’t matter to the AC.’  BUT, I am one step closer to making that dream a reality in August.  Game on!

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