Let me start this by saying I finished last in my age group, 35th out of 37 30K participants and I couldn’t be happier about that! You’re probably wondering why I would feel that way about a finish that close to the cut off and it’s simple. Because I knew no matter what, I was going to cross that line and earn my medal on Saturday. Inside Trail Racing’s Toro Park 30K is a challenging and character building course. I’ve mentioned it a few times in the last couple of blog posts as I’ve logged training miles. A tremendous advantage to living so close to Toro Park, I was able to get a feel for the course and train there. My goal was to see as much of it prior to the gun going off on Saturday as I could. I trekked up Black Mountain three separate times, thinking it was the most challenging part of the course, I was wrong.
But let’s start at the beginning shall we?
Friday I left work with a list of errands to keep me busy and my mind engaged. My first stop was at The Treadmill (have you liked their Facebook page, yet?) to pick up Superhydration mix from Skratch Labs and some of their energy chews as well. I didn’t really need the chews, but they are so good and I never want to run out of them. They come in orange and raspberry flavors, they remind me of the orange slices from when I was a little pinkhatrunner! After my stop there, I picked up a new pair of Injinji toe socks, I couldn’t find the ones I wanted to wear, so new ones were on the list. After that, I met up with a friend for sushi to carb load and I got the bright idea I needed to have music with me for the race. I haven’t run with music in years, but I had a feeling that if I had some snazzy tunes in my ear, I would be moving and grooving on those hills. I found a cheap MP3 player at Best Buy (I didn’t want to use a good one in case it was drowned in sweat) and downloaded a bunch of new songs.
Saturday morning I was up early to get everything together, have coffee and stalk the weather. It was supposed to be a high of 77 and sunny, it’s usually a good 10 degrees warmer in Salinas than Monterey. Briana and I had talked about carpooling to the race and she was raring to go at 6:30 am to get a start on our adventure.
One of the first people that I saw and knew was my awesome friend, running partner and therealdealrunner, aka Sarah. She was volunteering race day and got us set with our bibs before we made another porta potty stop. . Did you know that Inside Trail Racing offers volunteer credits depending on how long you give back, to use toward a race of theirs? This is how I was able to run Toro Park, I volunteered at the Ft. Ord race in January. Have you volunteered at a race yet?
One of the highlites of the race was being able to see Michael Jimenez in person. He is a local trail runner, Badwater top 10 finisher and all around great guy! We chatted for a few minutes as he assured me I was going to do great. It’s always nice to hear encouragement from a seasoned pro like he is!
Around 8:15 am the race director Tim got us all together for last minute reminders and directions. The course was well marked, they did an outstanding job making sure we all stayed on the course, it was really fail proof! Then we were off and climbing!
They started us at 8:30 am on the Bessie Trail, in full sun and we had to climb from the get go. Having trained on what I thought was the toughest part, it wasn’t. There were climbs I had no clue about, good thing I always had a map during training because I was reading it wrong *insert sarcasm*. The first loop was the orange and had Black Mountain to conquer, which I had been on this part of the course three previous times. I was mentally prepared for what was in front of me, then I took a fall about a mile from where the orange loop ended and the pink began. My left ankle turned and I went down, ripping my pants and leaving some blood on the trail. I was feeling good and moving along (I prefer to run trails by feel rather than keeping an eye on my pace, so I left my Polar M400 at home) before I found myself on the ground. I had to climb and tackle switchbacks that were new to me and I had no idea were there, on my way to the aid station. During training, we had always stayed straight during training on this portion of the course, when we should have turned right for all of this fun. Now I know for next year!
My pace slowed from there, but I didn’t quit! At the aid station I got help from Michael (remember that cool guy I was talking to at the start, he was at the second aid station on the course), he helped to get me cleaned up while another great volunteer made sure I had my hydration pack refilled and any necessary fuel. I was on top of my nutrition but took a couple of salt tabs – it was so hot on the course, I wanted to replenish the electrolytes I was losing. Even though I had salt with me, a couple more wouldn’t hurt. Sending me off onto the pink loop, the guys waved goodbye, assured me I was running strong and I was gone, up another hill! To be honest, this is where the real work was starting.
Oh the hills, I would look at the hills and they were so steep they were almost eye level. With the heat, I had to pause a few times, really to catch my breath and give myself a pep talk. As I was climbing, there were two guys I was able to pass. One of them had passed me a while back, he would bomb those downhills and I was going slow and steady. I had wondered how far ahead he was and there he was, just head of another 30K runner. As I passed both of them, we shared words of encouragement, it’s amazing how struggle brings people together. All of my power hiking skills were certainly coming in handy, especially on this climb. It was relentless, never ending and when I thought there was a reprieve, I was wrong. This was the part of the course that looped you back to the peak of Black Mountain. Up ahead, I saw another runner and I used him as my rabbit, I had a feeling if I kept him in my sites up to the top I would be good. Getting to the top was a struggle, I won’t sugar coat it for you. There were a lot of F-bombs littering the course at this point, a lot of conversations with my grandmother who I swear is with me during races and I kept looking at my hands. On my left I had written “Get it Done” and the right “Set Yourself on Fire”. Briana and I had been here once before, it literally takes your breath away with the elevation. I could see the aid station to the right, but that was the easy way to go marked with blue ribbon, meaning don’t go there. I had to go up, up and up to get to the top, then hang a right downhill to the aid station that was used twice during the race. When I got to the peak aid station, my rabbit was there looking over what was left. He lingered over bananas that had been sitting there for 8 hours. I got more water to mix with electrolytes, some soda, salt and headed out. Leaving him behind, that was runner number 3 I had gotten ahead of. For a slow and steady, key word slow, runner on the trails it felt good. Not because I was doing better than the others, but because I was focused and clear on what my goal was…..GET IT DONE. There was one more steep climb to Olasson Peak which I walked because it was a dousy. It wasn’t as high as some of the others, but my knee was bothering me and I knew once I was at the top it was downhill to the end, about 3 miles.
“You had so much energy it was contagious! Just think of all the possibilities that are going to open up to you after conquering this beast of a race, you hammer through this one and any thing is possible!”
Once my downhill recovery was over, I had a slight stand off with two cows that were on the course. One decided to hang out in the middle of the trail and now I wish I had gotten a photo of them. I opted to steer clear and move far around them, to make sure I wasn’t in their way. Seeing the road off to my right, signaled that I was getting closer to earning my medal and boy was I happy to know that I was almost done. Reaching the trail opening and road, I saw Bill who is Briana’s husband and he jogged a little to the last turn into the finish line with me. It was such a relief to see a happy, smiling and familiar face! He text the girls to say I was on the way and the cheers, whoooop and hollerin started, I heard them before I could see them and I have never been so happy to be one of the last finishers of a race. This was all because I was greeted by my friends. Some that drove out just to see me finish, others that spent almost their entire day volunteering and those that had paved the way on the course before me and waited to see me cross that line of accomplishment after they had been done. The hugs, tears, cheers and sense of family was plentiful…it takes a village and I have the best!
Even during the most strenuous sections, I kept myself positive, moving and looking forward to the finish line. My fueling and hydration were spot on, I took in one Gu and two packets of Skratch energy chews, salt tabs, ~150 ounces of Skratch electrolytes and some soda at the aid stations.
It goes without saying, that I have a lot of people to thank for their never ending support and encouragement! It never ceases to amaze me the unconditional support that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience. I promise when I wrap up my season soon, I will make sure everyone knows how amazing each of you are to me.
Next up is the Whistle Punk Trail half on September 13th, that is my last race of the year! It looks like it will be both rewarding and challenging as I take on new trails through the Purisima Redwoods.
How do you get through tough races? Do you have a go to fuel and hydration plan?