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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Saddleback Trail Marathon 2011

After a day-long rain storm, I went to bed quite early Friday night.  I woke every single hour, forgetting what was happening Saturday morning.  Before dozing off I thought, “What’s the big thing happening in the morning?”  The answer would quickly come to me, Saddleback Marathon,  and I’d fall promptly to sleep.  SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I began my drive up the mountain in the dark, and parked the truck as the sun was rising.  No snow on the ground, but it was pretty dang cold.  I wore my warmest socks.  Wearing gloves, long sleeves and a beanie, I wrapped a scarf around my neck while waiting for “the toughest marathon in California” to begin.  I don’t personally know that this is the toughest marathon in California.  But I do know that it is the toughest marathon that I have ever run.   

Jeremy Howes and Jeff TrevenaSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

About 80 of us took off on this mountain run.  My feet were numb from the cold.  I knew I had to give up my scarf, so I threw it in the back of the truck as I ran by.  A multitude of runners also threw things in their trucks and cars.  My friend Jeremy threw his jacket in his truck bed and then his distance from me grew farther and farther, just as most of the runners did.

Headed toward the Main Divide for first climbSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I did not make that first climb alone.  Among the runners were 3 gentlemen from Buena Park, one of them running his 117th marathon!  I did not know it then, but several runners were behind as well.  Knowing what lay ahead I decided long ago that I’d use that first climb up the Main Divide to warm up. 

Up the Main Divide headed toward Trabuco TrailSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

The run down Trabuco was shady and lush, a divine sight.  I noticed frost on the ground, but didn’t stop to check it out or even take a picture.  All the runners kept bundled as they made their trip down Trabuco.  Having run that trail quite a few times, I passed about 8 runners on the way down.  Then suddenly Chris Diaz (guy wearing orange shirt in video below) was right at my heels.  I didn’t even know that Chris was behind me.  He’s a super fun trail runner that I’ve met at many races.  He always beats me, but he’s so extremely supportive and friendly it’s always a pleasure when Chris passes me! 

By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, Chris and his friend passed me by.  But I was able to pass two ladies who walked across boulders on the flatter portions of Trabuco.  I find it easier to run across them, though by the looks of the scattered boulders, they look easier to hike. 

Aid Station at bottom of Holy Jim:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA


I hoped to catch up with Jeremy by the Holy Jim aid station.  No such luck.  I took a couple shots of Pepsi and took off as quickly as possible, happily leaving some ladies behind using the outhouses.  I ran all of Holy Jim, as I had been training, and as I had been training, very slowly.  I can’t take it any other way right now.  My goal was to make it from the start line to Bear Springs (Top of Holy Jim) in less than 4 hours.  (2010 it took me 4:20 to make the trek). 

One by one, the runners that I passed on the way down Trabuco began passing me going up Holy Jim.  I kept up with the Buena Park men for a while.  When I lost sight of two of them, one of the guys refused to pass me, hoping to push me along (he insisted that I was going to finish this race in 6:30 or less, where my goal was a sub 7 period).  When he took off, he darted up that switchback with animal strength.  I was amazed.

I ran much of Holy Jim solo, but could see runners in the distance, most of them hiking.  As I neared Bear Springs, I began to lose faith and doubt my ability.  I thought that I was probably in last place and started to feel sorry for myself.  “You’re not in a race against others!” I told myself.  “You’re in a race against yourself, against the mountain.”

Nearing the top, I passed an older gentleman, who gave me a friendly push from behind (not on my behind, but on my back).  I laughed and thanked him.  Utterly relieved, I made it to Bear Springs in a little less than 3.5 hours!!


Bear Springs aid station:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

After a couple swigs of Coca-Cola I noticed a woman that I had not seen before, reach the top of Holy Jim behind me.  Her presence sent me on my way quickly.  I felt strong and confident again.  My fingers cramped somewhat, but other than that, I had no aches and pains.  I could see some runners in the distance, and passed one or two, but I didn’t see my friend anywhere and thought that I would probably not catch Jeremy.  

I found the rolling hills along The Main Divide a nice break.  Then at one point, gosh, I’m not even sure now when it was, I think it was heading up to Trabuco Peak, I spotted Jeremy.  I worked long and hard to catch him, staying to the side, hidden by the brush.  My plan was to surprise him by suddenly appearing next to him.  Every time though it seemed that I closed the gap, he would get out farther ahead.  Finally as I ran up, he turned around and saw me before I could surprise him. 

I had to fill up with fluids at the next aid station, and Jeremy was off again, disappearing from sight on the mountainside.  I found myself joking around again and stayed a bit longer at the aid station than I should have.  I took “shots” of Coca-Cola like a drunkard at a bar taking shots of Tequila. 

When I took off again, I was quick on my feet.  I wanted to pass everyone who had passed me at the last aid station.  I felt the strength and I was going to use it and ran as fast as I could, focusing on the slightly rocky terrain.  Then all of a sudden I flew through the air and comically hit the ground making a graceful roll in the dirt.  Except for a tiny scrape, there was no injury, but my calf cramped up.  (I joked at the next aid station that it was a ballerina fall).  I jumped up and continued my run as quickly as before I fell.    I passed all of the runners who passed by me at the last aid station.  I gave Jeremy a thumbs-up when I finally caught him and continued on running with strength that at this point I didn’t realize I’d have.  (Last year about here, I was ready to drop to the dirt). 

View from the Main Divide:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I ran along joyfully (seriously!), trying to close the gap between me and one other runner out there on the Main Divide that I could see in front of me.  I didn’t realize the runner was Chris at the time.  When I reached the top of the last hill, I caught up with that runner.  That’s when I realized who it was.  I took off running, giddy that I had a lead on Chris Diaz! 

I ran those last 4 miles as fast as I could.  When I’d peek behind me, Chris was no where in sight.  Then all of a sudden I noticed two women within striking distance behind me.  That got me moving faster.  I didn’t even look at my garmin to notice my time.  Suddenly all that mattered was not letting those two (I’m sure very nice) women pass me. 

I rounded the corner onto the asphalt with relief.  Still, I knew that those women could appear any time.  I ran down that pavement toward the last single-track, slowing some.  Then OUT OF NOWHERE, Chris appeared at my side.  “Dang!”  I said.  He laughed and as we both entered that single-track” he said, “Together, we’ll do this together.”  But I was in no shape to keep up with him that last half mile or so.  And I happily watched his lead grow. 

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I asked for my time.  My jaw dropped when I was told 6:01!  6:01!  I could have cried if I wasn’t so dang happy.  FINALLY, I had made a goal that I set out to accomplish.  I wanted to kill last years’ time.  I would have considered “killing” the time by beating it thirty minutes.  I truly amazed myself and did more than that – I shattered last years’ time by 1 hour and 25 minutes! 

My friend Jeremy also shattered his time by about an hour: Smile


Saddleback Trail Marathon 2011 The Movie : )


My Activities Saddleback Marathon 2011 11-5-2011, Elevation - Distance

My official time was:  6:01:55.  Out of 81 starters, 80 finished.  I placed 69.   (In 2010 my time was 7:26:23 for this trail marathon) 

ps.  I have one more thing to write.  This may seem dorky to include, especially for me, it’s not like I’m a placer.  But I have lots of people to thank who helped me train for this race by getting up before sunrise and running up in those mountains – Tom Bychowski, Michael Perlongo, Hank Guardado, many others too many to name, and lastly but definitely not least, Jeremy Howes who spent many, many hours with me running those mountains in the rain, in the heat, with enormous gnats and scary pitbulls, and freaky (yet cute) salamanders, downhill storming deer, and a few of my clumsy falls.  : )  Thanks!  I really couldn’t have done it without you guys.


  1. 6:01 is awesome on that course. Way to go!!

  2. Yeah Lauren!!! Congrats on your awesome race!

  3. Wow Lauren, that is fantastic! Congratulations! You really had a super run but I knew you were ready for something good. Amazing how you beat last year's time by so much. You deserve it as you worked extremely hard. Rest well my friend and be very happy and proud.

  4. We could not ask for a better day to run that race. No dust, no flies, no gnats, no heat... only had to worry about calories and the person behind you. Great job again, and thank you for allowing me to tag along. Lets get our times under 6 next year.

  5. That's AWESOME! I was thinking about you Saturday, what perfect weather for that race!! Congrats! :)

  6. Congratulations! Improving by an HOUR AND A HALF? That is simply amazing!

  7. Lauren, in my usual procrastinate form, I finally came by your blog to catch up on this post. It has always been an honor to share trail with you as a fellow trail runner and friend. You put in the time and effort and it payed off. It's been nothing short of amazing to watch your progress and you will always be an inspiration to me and anyone privileged enough to know you. Stay strong and stay positive!!!


  8. i love those mountain-view pictures - gorgeous. and you look so skinny! where did you go? :) congrats on smashing your time!

  9. Thanks Jessica. I am very happy with my time. Funny thing is, if I had only been looking at my garmin, just maybe I could have come in before 6. LOL. There's always a what-if. No complaints with a 6:01 here though, really!

  10. Thanks Johann. And thanks so much for your support and confidence. You had more confidence in me than I did. I was really afraid that I wasn't going to improve my time, then to beat it so bad (or good : ) . . . I'm still in disbelief. Thanks again!

  11. Thanks Scott. Maybe I will see you at the Saddleback Trail Marathon 2012!

  12. Jeremy, you can "tag along" anytime. And it's a deal for next year -- sub 6.

  13. Thanks for the good vibes Giraffy! It definitely was perfect weather. Funny how it rained Friday AND Sunday.

  14. Thanks Scott Barnes! I'm glad to have been a small part of your training in Twin Peaks too. What a race you had!!!

    What a difference it made for me to run those trails up there again and again! Good luck on your next race.

  15. Thanks Jessica. I am one to set ridiculous goals that I hardly ever achieve. So I am on quite a high after approx. a 1 1/2 hour improvement. I wouldn't have believed it possible. I really appreciate the blogging community's support. Good luck on your next race!

  16. Thanks Hank for your super kind words. It was such a great honor to be asked to pace you. I really believe that helped me with this time improvement. I so much didn't want to let you down by being out of shape that I really pushed it these past several months. Looking forward to seeing you in December!!

  17. Thanks Lindsay -- the marathon was in the Santa Ana Mountains. In my parts they divide 2 counties in Southern California (Orange and Riverside).

    Skinny? Not even close. But thanks!!! I don't think I could ever be skinny. Then again, I'm 46 so I'll be happy with "looking" skinny once and a while.

    Thanks again!

  18. I know I am so late in reading this. But what an awesome experience!! Congratulations! You didn't just kill your old time you slaughtered it! :D

  19. Thanks Kate! It was great fun.