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Monday, December 12, 2011

Valley of the Giants Marathon

When my cellphone alarm sang out this morning, I had to think hard.  Get the boys to school?  Run?  Then I looked at the time and saw 4AM and immediately knew, A RACE.  It took me one or two seconds to recall which race, and I thought to myself, “Oh crap.”

Crazy Elevation profile of this marathon:My Activities Valley of the Giants Marathon 12-11-2011, Elevation - Distance

Normally I love trails, as you are aware if you’ve read this blog.  But this race took place in the San Gabriel Mountains.  I’ve NEVER run those mountains.  I like racing on trails that I know “like the back of my hand.” 

It was cold at the base of the mountains in Rancho Cucamonga.  My good friend, Kurt F. came out to meet me near the start line, as lucky for me, he only lives a couple blocks away from the race.  (Kurt is one of my oldest continuous friends.  We met when I was TWELVE YEARS old).

Among the runners I saw some people I recognized from volunteering Twin Peaks 2 years ago.  I also saw Mark Ryne who I first met at Barstow’s “Get Your Kicks on Route 66 half marathon” a few years back.  I saw Steve Harvey, the race director of so many hardcore races in my local mountains.

Raring (Ha!) to go, at Start Line (Mark Ryne’s photo):384620_1675391822188_1759245344_845867_503695507_n

Fellow trail runner, Mark:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

The morning was lovely, clear and cold with no wind.  We began on a slight decline, then climbed for about a mile and a half.  Then we ran downhill for about two miles.  “Remember this,” I told myself “You’re going to have to climb out in the end.” 

The 29 racers spread out quickly, and for a long while, I had two runners behind me, and one a ways up front that I could see.  I tried to catch him for a long time.  I closed the gap on every uphill, but then on the descents he blew me away. 


The Santa hat and long sleeves come off!:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I ran fire roads, lovely forest paths where I could hear the stream flowing strong.  I ran up a single track, and along rock mountainsides.  I crossed creeks and ran along cliffs and then a long descent into the halfway mark.  Thorns from a wild rose (I think) tore at the back of my calves and drew blood.  But other than that, my first half of the race was fun and carefree.  I didn’t make the time I planned but how could I have possibly known, being I didn’t know what lay ahead.  The cut off for 13.1 miles was 3 and a half hours.  After my first hour running, I calculated making the half in three hours.  I made it in at 3 hours 22 minutes, and there was the guy I had been trying to catch for so long.  We spoke briefly then he raced off while I chugged down some Coca-Cola






13.1 miles!!!  Awesome aid station workers to greet us:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

After leaving the station, I had about 2 miles of uphill running which I used to my advantage to catch the guy ahead of me.  I passed Mark on the way as he came in to the half way mark.  We both took a few pics and I continued to work on lengthening my lead on the guy I had passed.  I knew I needed to get the lead as big as possible or else he’d pass me on the next downhill.

Heading back and working on “the pass”:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Mark crossing stream, very close to halfway point (probably half a mile):SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Quick pose as I continue to make my way back up the mountain (Mark’s photo):384578_1675425783037_1759245344_845968_2041340851_n

At about mile 16, I made the big descent and I ran “like a bat out of hell,” because I didn’t know how close that quick downhill runner was to me.  I never looked back once I passed.  I tripped several times, but never fell.  Then as I began to bottom out before the next climb, I had to duck beneath some branches.  I glanced down at my garmin to calculate whether I’d make 6 hours.  There was a slight, very slight chance.  That’s when I looked back up and slammed, I mean slammed my head into a large branch.  It seemed like I could hear my skull crush and my brain rattle (of course they didn’t), but the impact really dinged me.  At first, I started to cry but quickly stopped the sobbing and headed off a bit slower.  I began to see purple spots and worried the head impact caused some damage.  But immediately after downing a gel, the purple spots in my vision disappeared. 

Still, I wasn’t the same.  Eventually, I was able to pick up my speed again, but the climb was uphill again.  I was completely alone, realizing now that I was never going to make 6 hours.  My spirits began to drop until I heard someone hooting and hollering.  I knew I was close to the next aid station.  When I reached the single-manned station at the top of the climb, I inquired whether he could see any other runners behind me through his binoculars.  He said that he could see me running for a long time and pointed out the vast mileage as I looked down upon it in kind of a disbelief.  And he had seen no other runners behind me.  At that point I felt safe, thanked him for his hospitality and headed off downhill toward the next climb back to the finish line.

Well, LET ME TELL YOU miles 22 through 24+ were pretty much HELL.  Time travelled so very slowly.   My left ankle was sore, my right knee ached.  Every time I turned a corner I thought for sure the last mile and a half descent would begin.  I turned corner after corner, my spirits dropping, dropping, dropping.  That’s when I wanted to take the “Race director’s name in vain,” (something another race director, Jessica Deline wrote that I now understand).  I thought to myself, “Does he think this is funny???”  When I turned one of the last corners and saw that the climb continued, I actually exclaimed, “F***!!”  And I stopped running for about twenty steps.  Then I picked up my feet, kicked out the back and continued the ascent.     

I was so dang happy to see that final downhill.  But I have to write even that last mile and a half or so, really crept by.  The race director, James Schoelles, ran me up to the finish line.  I wasn’t mad at him anymore Smile (Seriously, he put on a top-notch race).  You can’t believe how very happy I was to have finished.  No, I didn’t get the honored DFL (there were still 3 more runners to cross the finish line – and they all did : )  My time:  6:34.

Running UP HILL into the finishing line, filming race director, James Schoelles as he photos me (James’s photo): (Oh and NOTE TO SELF:  GET YOUR HEAD UP LAUREN!)341326_2330135769782_1141370981_31936934_1223594859_o

And of course, the movie!!


  1. Awesome job! Great race report as usual. Loved the video and busted up laughing on the shirt issue... I have my own story of an inside out shirt deal, so it hit home!
    Congratulations again and am working towards some longer trail runs and I use your tremendous efforts as my motivation!

  2. Well done Lauren! Great run and report! This looks like a race I would love to run. Awesome video...loved it! rest well!

  3. Rock on!! I thought of you the other day. I was out running and I thought, Lauren is running that marathon today! Awesome race report! Glad to see you figured out your shirt issues. ;-)

  4. Very nice! Where was this race? I'm pretty familiar with the front range - having grown up in the San Gabriel Valley and hiking around as a youngster.

    Congrats on another outstanding effort!

  5. Hi Glen. Thanks for reading and the congrats. I don't know the names of the trails. But I do know that we parked on Archibald just a few miles up from the 215, and we took a fire road heading west. Then we climbed up a paved road and took a single track down, down, down, then back up, up, up, then back down, down, down : ) to Baldy Road. Then we turned around and ran back. Do you know where we were? LOL.

  6. Huh. Interesting. So you started in Rancho Cucamonga and went west. That's an area of the mountains that not a lot of people get into. Was there a metal sign a a fork on the road that says "Campground 9"? If so, you were on the Cucamonga Truck Trail.

    I've got to admit - I've never been in that part of the range!