TALES FROM THE TRAIL (AND SOMETIMES THE ROAD TOO)

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Harding Hustle 50k

I never really thought that I had it in me to run The Harding Hustle.  I was never going to even try.  This was the race that I worked, not ran.  It was too hot.  It was too steep.  And I would have to summit not once, but THREE times. 

That is, until 2014 when I registered for this race.  A momentary lapse of reason, I suppose.  I wanted to use this as a training run. 

I woke at 3:30 AM, left my house at 4:00 AM, arrived in Modjeska Canyon at 4:30.  I took off up Harding Truck Trail at 5:00 AM.  I elected an early start with two other runners, one of them my friend Emmett Rahl.  At the start line, Emmett gave me a laminated pace sheet with cut-offs, and pacing for a 7:30 finish and a 10:00 finish.  Considering that I doubted that I could even finish this race, I hoped for the longer finish.  On the backside, he had printed a group photo of my three sons and husband. 

Early on in the dark, I turned my ankle going up that mountain, but not terribly.  But, I have to admit that I thought to myself, “I really wouldn’t be that upset if I twisted my ankle.”  I had about thirty-one miles to go at that point.  An unbearable thought, so much so, that I didn’t think about it.  I just plodded one foot in front of the other.

I considered the  first “leg” of this 50k the almost entirely uphill trip along Harding Truck Trail.  It measures about 9.3 miles.  The first mile is the worst mile.  And it doesn’t ease up until about mile 6.5.  At that point, the road levels out some, and there’s even a slight down hill.  Only slight.  Normally, it takes me about 3:15 to make that nine mile trip.  Yes that long!  I am excruciatingly slow during that first leg.  Quite amazingly, I made the trip on Saturday in under 3 hours, something like 2:50.  To make matters quite pleasurable, the skies were cloudy and the breeze was cool. 

Trying to catch Emmett (which I never did) going up Harding:

Views from Harding TT:

First Leg complete:

The second leg of this 50k was the trip up to Modjeska Peak, which measures about 3 miles.  Also entirely uphill, there’s quite a few rocky portions which I found more than annoying.  But the views were so gorgeous and the breeze was still so cool, there was no getting me down, even as numerous regular starters began passing me. 

I found great solace in seeing a few runners that I know as I ran up to Modjeska Peak.  One of my running friends, Randall Tolosa,  manned the post at Modjeska where I turned around and ran back down for the third leg of this 50k. 

On The Main Divide onward to Modjeska Peak:

Shoe Tying at Modjeska Peak:

Coming off Modjeska Peak:

The third leg of this race entailed running down Modjeska into the saddle and up to Santiago Peak – a trip totaling about 3.5 miles.  Somewhere in the third leg, I met a reader of my blog (thanks for saying Hi and telling me you read Laurenontherun!!!).  Running down into the saddle I teared up, as I knew at this point I was truly committed to the 50K.  I was on my way to Santiago Peak, and there would be no turning back for a 30k race.  It was a finish or a DNF for me – just as I wanted.  I took out my phone and texted my husband, “in the saddle.” 

I found the third leg tiring and hiked a bit of that switchback up to “Talking Towers,” (AKA Santiago Peak).   Some of the runners powered up to the peak, others walked for more strength later.  I saw Emmett as he came back down, and he shouted out words of encouragement, as he knew all about my doubts.  I looked at my family’s picture quite a few times and smiled wide.  And I used the pace sheet to move me on quicker.  So far, I was coming in with times under the 10:00 finish, and well above the cut offs for the race.  I felt fine.  I was enjoying this adventure.  And even more amazingly, I kept the demons at-bay.  There was no negative self-talk, no “I suck,” or “Who am I kidding?”   It was more, “Look how beautiful that is!”  or “I am so lucky that the breeze is cool today.”

I meet several other runners at Santiago Peak, and familiar faces working the aid station.  I took a little more time at this peak, filling my hydration pack and talking a bit with the other runners.  I took off for leg four well within the race cut-off times.

The fourth leg was back to into the saddle and back up Modjeska Peak.  I teared up again in the saddle, this time because I knew that I would probably finish this race.  “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” I warned myself.  Still, I felt confident.  I texted my husband, “back in the saddle.”

At the base of Modjeska Peak, I found myself weary of making that climb again.  You could have shot me at that point and I probably would have been fine with that.  I REALLY didn’t want to summit again.  But I drudged up that switch-back alongside the other runners who dragged along with me.  I noticed one guy sit down to rest as I finally quite happily made my way back down for the 5th leg back to Harding Truck Trail.  Keeping a foothold on that rocky terrain was difficult.   

Back in the Saddle:

I left the Maple Springs aid station for the final leg of this 50k at about ten minutes past the pacing for a 10:00 finish.  I felt fine with that.  But I had energy still, and I had run this 9.3 downhill on many occasions.  I knew that I could run it quicker than I thought that I could.  And so I took off with the intent of a 12 minute mile all the way down.  I did very well, felt strong, met other runners.  I was going back and forth with another runner who looked familiar.  He finally caught me again with about 6 miles to go, and we ran side-by-side silently for a bit.  So I pushed a little harder when he finally said, “Gosh Lauren, put down the hammer!” 

Ha!  Turns out we kind of knew each other.  He remembered me from working Chimera.  He said that I helped him at the Holy Jim Aid.  I remembered him as Jeff Higgins from Old Goat 50.  He was the guy behind me with encouraging words at the end of the race.  Well, he finally said that he couldn’t keep up and I raced off ahead of him gaining more speed as I crashed down the mountain (though I passed him, he finished with a better time, about fifteen minutes quicker because I started earlier).  It was great to see Jeff again.  And it was a booster to pass him. 

With less than 5 miles remaining, I stopped one last time, at the Laurel Springs aid station.  My eyes stung from salt dripping off my head.  So, I took the time to drench my bandana and washed out my eyes.  Then I draped the wet bandana over my head and headed down Harding Truck Trail.  I continued to pass other runners down that mountain who would beat me in overall time.  But it still felt good to finally pass runners.  I ran that last leg, the 9.3 rocky mainly downhill miles in less than 2:15.  My best from prior runs was 2:30. 

I am happy to report that I finished The Harding Hustle 50k.  It wasn’t quick.  In fact, it was slow.  But I did it.  I wasn’t pulled.  I didn’t fall.  I didn’t lose all my strength.  I never went into the dark side.  I kept my wits about me.  My garmin time was 9:25:41.  The race’s clock time had me at 9:27.  I’ll take it.  I finished.  And I am so, so, so grateful for that!

Less than 5 miles left:

the harding hustle

Thursday, July 17, 2014

One Last Little Run Before The Big Run

I must say that I’m having a great time in my state of unpreparedness as I approach The 50K Harding Hustle.  I got out early this morning for one last little run before the big event.  Best thing about today’s run (besides the empty trails and awesome views) is that I got to run with another long time trail running friend.  I haven’t run with Sheila in years, and we ran today as if not a day had passed.  It’s like we had just run together yesterday.   And I was back home by 8AM – plenty of time to contemplate this Saturday’s Harding Hustle. 

My goal for this weekend at The Harding Hustle is to run the 31+ miles as a training run.  This is precisely why I registered for the race.  I wanted to go long (30+) in a safe environment – such as one with aid stations and other people.  Here’s my dilemma:  Medal Lust.  If it seems that I’m not going to make the 50k within the time requirements, I know that the smell of that finisher’s medal will tempt me to drop to the lower “mileage” race, the 30k.  I can do the 30k, no problem – it’s one of my training runs.  I have run it many times by myself.  The 50k is a whole other story.  Chances are slim that I can make it within the time requirements. 

Here’s what I want to do come Saturday: Forgo the finisher’s medal and run as much of the 50k as I can.  In other words, swallow the DNF (if that’s inevitable). DO NOT drop down to the 30k; give up the medal.  This my friends will be VERY difficult for me to accomplish.  I must remind myself when I come to the 30k turnaround, that I am in no way in this hustle for the medal.  I am in this adventure for the training. 

For the training. 

Training.

Training.

Training.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Lovely Company Of Friends Make It All Better

When I woke at 4:30 Sunday morning, I looked forward to climbing West Horsethief like I would look forward to a bullet in the head.  Seriously.  I did not want to go.  I hate West Horsethief.  Hate it.  This is precisely why I force myself up it.  Because I hate it.  It was the thought of seeing my two trail running friends that I haven’t run with in years, that I got me out the door.  Without them, I wouldn’t have gone out this morning, at least not to Horsethief.

We got an early start, hitting the dirt up Trabuco Trail at 6:30 AM.  The 2.5 mile uphill climb was minimal compared to what awaited us at Horsethief.  Later we would see that first two mile portion as the “flat” part. 

I didn’t know how I was going to do it, climb the mountain that is.  But I knew that I could do it, albeit slowly, simply by putting one foot in front of the other.  Hank ploughed up ahead on Horsethief, occasionally waiting in the small bits of shade for Kelly and I.  Horseflies took miniature chunks out of my arms and legs.  Gnats swarmed into my eyes.  You quickly recognize bug landings on these runs.  If a bug lands on you for more than three seconds, get it off.  Because it’s going to bite.  So, I swatted at my legs and arms to get the flesh eaters off.  The gnats, well, I just let them swarm, swallowing a few, breathing in a few. 

When we met Hank on this massive climb, he’d be there handing us cold chunks of deliciously sweet watermelon.  And though the climb seemed never-ending, and I felt near miserable, taking on Horsethief was much more bearable with friends.  This was Kelly’s first time, and she took it smiling the whole time!

Just tickled to death going up W. Horsethief:

When all else fails, and you think you want to collapse, turn your head and take in the view:

So close to the top:10543062_4287146594113_6458870479742723550_o

(Photo credit for picture above:  Hank / Hank’s Life on the Move)

After that hellish climb, we took on the majestic rolling hills of The Main Divide.  The views were immense with crystal clear shots of Lake Elisnore and Lake Matthews.  Far off, we could see that the coastal towns had lots of cloud cover.  We had very little.  The weather was HOT.  Very hot.

On The Main Divide:

For the last five mile leg of this 14+ mile run, we ran down Holy Jim.  We said hello to a few gnats again.  And speaking for myself, I couldn’t wait to get back to the cool comfort of my truck, were it was parked in the lush shade with ice cold drinks and an air-conditioner waiting to be turned on.  The heat running down Holy Jim was nearly unbearable.  It felt as if someone was holding torches at my calves.  The only way to get through it was to keep on going.  And going . . . and going.  I took up the rear (of course) and felt so overwhelmed with heat, I took down my energy level a notch so that I would not boil over.  Still, the beauty was immense, and I had the lovely company of friends. 

up horsethief down holy jim

Friday, July 11, 2014

No Perspective

I don’t know what’s the matter with me, except for the notion that I may have lost all, and I mean ALL perspective on strength and training.  When I run less than ten miles, I consider it a short run.  Nine miles:  short run.  If I put in less than 40 miles during a week, I feel like a failure.  I never feel strong in my training.  In fact, I feel like a complete weakling.  All. The. Time.  I go to the gym, spend an hour on the elliptical, a half hour on the treadmill for speed work, then an hour on the cycle.  I can top that off with thirty minutes of weights, another fifteen minutes of ab work, and I feel like I can’t do anything strength and endurance-wise, like I have no strength at all.

What is the matter with me?

I try and go with it and still plug through these workouts, enjoying the trails like I do.  But when it’s all said and done, I don’t get a sense of accomplishment.  I feel like I came up short, like I failed.  Like I don’t try hard enough.

Such is the truth concerning my training.

Still, I go out there and run those trails, not because they give me greater strength or endurance, but because they clear my mind and fill it with beauty. 

My first and only run thus far this week, came on late in the week – Thursday afternoon, 1 o’ clock in the afternoon, to be exact.  The heat was strong, and the air was heavy.  I didn’t feel like I could do it.  But I just started running, like I always do.  Sweat dripped down onto my face early on – it was so damn hot.  The hills were empty.  Really.  Empty.  I decided to run up Meadows Trail, a steep hot climb.  I didn’t fret going up, and I power-hiked most of it.  At the top of Meadows, I looked back at the Santa Ana Mountains and took in the view of my beloved Saddleback.

I continued on across Top of the World with no idea about my pace, as my garmin battery was dead (& I didn’t notice until I parked my truck).  Funny thing.  I really can’t tell how fast (or slow)  I’m running.  A 15 minute pace feels the same as a 10 minute pace to me.  Go figure.  The only difference I’ve noted on trails is that with the quicker pace, my steps are shorter.  And so I took shorter steps in a hopeful attempt to pick up my pace. 

Thursday’s heat run measured 9.4 miles.  And I only know that (because I wasn’t wearing a garmin) because I’ve run the route before.  My route:  Aliso Creek Canyon, Wood Canyon, Meadows Trail, Top of the World, West Ridge, Mathis, Wood Canyon, Aliso Creek Trail.

My swing break in Alta Laguna Park at Top of the World:

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Howdy Neighbor

I got out the door this morning much later than I had planned.  The sun was already fully up, runners were running up and down the city streets.  This was going to be a problem.  It’s summertime now – and heat is building.  I REALLY need to get out there under darkness if I want to do long runs in the mountains

Okay, it is what it is.  So, I decided to cut my run about five miles short.  This way, I’d arrive back home about the same time I originally planned. I think what’s most important to me is not what time I leave, but what time I arrive home.  

I drove to Modjeska Canyon not at all in a hurry.  I even stopped at the tiny community park in the canyon to use the outhouse.  There were some bags of stuff like vhs videos and paperback books free for the taking at the entrance gate.  One book stood out to me – My First Summer in the Sierra, by John Muir.  I grabbed it as I hopped back into my truck and headed off for Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary.  (It wasn’t until later at the Laundromat when I began reading this book, that it felt that someone left it specifically for me!)

It was after 7AM when I began that wonderful-terrible climb up Harding Truck Trail.  I felt sluggish, but didn’t let that get me down.  I mean, how could I with a view like this:

Catalina Island looked like a mountain range.  Sometimes I can’t even see the island.  Today, cloud cover was gone.  Today, views were immense – the San Gabriel Mountains behind me, the Pacific Ocean in front of me.  I had to stop and stand at the edge of the trail and revel in the vastness before me.  I felt at one with the land during that moment, as if time didn’t move, when suddenly the loud rattling awakened me.  Wow.  Talk about ferocious.   I don’t know why anyone’s afraid of whether or not they’d hear a rattler.  Their rattling is so unbelievably loud, there’s no missing it.  It doesn’t sound like an insect or anything else except the loud, fierce rattling of a poisonous snake.  I immediately turned off the music on my ipod, focused in on the noise, and moved away from it.  I didn’t even bother to locate the snake.  I’ve seen enough rattlesnakes, and I had some time to make up on today’s run.  So, instead, I trotted away (UPHILL some more) on my way to Four Corners (where Harding Truck Trail meets The Main Divide). 

It was a struggle, a great struggle running up that gigantic switch-back.  I’m not talking about a mental struggle.  Mentally, I was there.  I knew eventually I’d make it.  And just because my abilities sucked this morning, didn’t mean that I’d flat-out fail come The Harding Hustle in two weeks. 

Several hikers made their way down Harding Truck Trail as I made my way up.  A few runners came down too, which is utterly unusual in my experience on this trail.  I rarely see runners on Harding Truck Trail.  Several cyclists raced down Harding as well.  Then with about three miles remaining to “Four Corners,” I passed the last hiker I’d see.  He was hiking down.  We both did a little wave, and just as I passed him, I realized that I knew this man.  I stopped in my tracks, looked back at him and said, “You look familiar.”  I thought that he was probably one of my students, someone recent, or a student that had been in my class more than once – he looked that familiar.  I’m not sure if he recognized me immediately of it if just donned on him, but he said, “I’m your neighbor.”

Doh!  My neighbor!  My next-door neighbor.  Can you imagine?  I don’t know my neighbor!  My husband does.  But, I’m rarely out front.  And in my defense (a little anyway), he has only been our neighbor for a short while.  I can’t even tell you how long, but less than a year (I think).  We chatted a bit for the first time today on Harding Truck Trail, and I found out that he was doing the same 19 miles as I.  I had to laugh that we have this huge common interest, live right next door to each other, and for the first time really, spoke on this mountain. Howdy neighbor. Smile

After our quick chat, I stopped at this scenic view to phone my hubby and tell him who I met on the trail:

Well, I finally made it to “Four Corners,” in just about the worst time I’ve ever ran it.  I sat for a bit and re-packed my hydration pack (had empties to tie on), and then I took off for that long, hot, exposed nine plus miles down.  I came upon several hikers making their way up in the extreme heat.  Thank goodness for a slight breeze.  I tried to power run it down, and hoped that I’d catch my neighbor.  No such luck.  I was lucky to maintain a 13 minute mile, so sluggish and worn out was I.  I tripped really hard once, slightly several times.  And I ran out of water with a little over a mile remaining. 

Last time I made this run (last week), I came in thirty minutes quicker than usual.  Today, I came in forty-five minutes slower than usual.  I’ll take it.  18.76 miles on trails is pretty much great any way I look at it. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Misty Summer

Wednesday’s Run:

Miles:  10.39 (16.72 km)

Elevation Gain: 1,243 ft (379 m)

Location:  Aliso/Wood Canyons

Route:  Aliso Creek Trail, Wood Canyon, Meadows, Mentally Sensitive, Top of the World, West Ridge, Mathis, Wood Canyon, Aliso Creek Trail

Weather:  humid, but a deliciously cool and misty summer morning.  Began running in the clouds, ended beneath sunshine.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I Hate Horsethief

I may not look like it in this picture – but I HATE West Horsethief.  I really do.  That trail is a vampire.  It sucks the blood right out of me and leaves me there in the dirt to die.  So, ask me this:  Why did I decide to take on Horsethief in the middle of the afternoon during the summertime?  I have a good explanation for that.  Well, I don’t know how good.  To make it quick, I needed to pick up our youngest son in Wildomar on Sunday.  Just so happens that The Saddleback Mountains separates me from that destination.  Normally, I would have driven around the mountains.  On Sunday, I thought, “Heck – I’ll take a short cut.  I’ll drive to the top of the mountain.  AND, while I’m at the top of the mountain, I’ll run back down into the canyon . . .  then run back up to the ridge – via Horsethief.” 

What the heck!!! Winking smile

horsethief

What. Was. I. Thinking?

I knew right away that I was probably in trouble.  I felt miserable at 1:30 PM climbing up The Main Divide in 100+ F degree weather.  And I felt pretty miserable running down Trabuco (because the terrain was so rocky I couldn’t get a foothold!!!).  But it certainly was GORGEOUS.  Trabuco is awesomely beautiful.  Enough to forget about the potential hell that awaited. 

My Beautiful Trabuco:

My real troubles began as soon as I set foot upon Horsethief.  I yearned for shade.  SHADE.  SHADE.  SHADE.  I felt that I could not bear the trek another step.  But I had to.  Had to.  I was in a canyon with no way out, but UP.  I pretty much hated every second of it.  But I plugged forward, else fall down in the dirt and cry.  Hell, I tell you!  Hell.  When I finally reached a bit of shade, there were no branches strong enough to lean against and hold me up.  I tried to hunch over and grab my knees.  But my hands just flew off my knees from the sweat.  Finally, I just decided that in order to cool off, to stop my insides from boiling over on this ridiculous incline, I needed to stop and  SIT in the shade.  And this is what I did.  I sat until I could feel my body temperature decline.

And then, I finally made it.  I reached The Main Divide.  I wasn’t giddy, and I wasn’t elated.  Instead, I bushwhacked my way  to the water stash.  I was so grateful to find the stash was still there.  Thing was, the tarp was thrown off and the tens of gallons were exposed to the hot heat.  After washing my face in HOT water, I poured a jug over my head.  And then I filled my pack with this hot water.  I didn’t mind taking the time to put the tarp back over the water.  I was in no hurry to continue on.  Eventually, I took off on The Main Divide in sopping wet clothes, but thankfully with a body temperature declining. 

As the gnats swarmed my face, I caught a clear glimpse of Lake Elisnore.  Not far from the lake, our youngest son played, joyfully I’m sure, with his friend at his nearby home in Wildomar.  I couldn’t wait to get there.  But move, I could hardly manage.  I ran the flats and I ran the downhills.  I didn’t run quickly though.  And I didn’t even much look at my garmin for pace.  Misery.  This is what I was training for.  How many more steps?  Don’t think about that.  Just one foot in front of the other, and then I will be done . . .

That took FOREVER.  But I made it.  Indeed I did.  

When I drove home that evening, I drove around the mountain instead of up and over.  I was done with mountains for the day!  Smile