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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Into the Wild / Limestone Canyon 20k

Recently, I decided I need to run a short race.  Short?  What I mean is, a race that’s shorter than I’ve run lately.  I don’t think “short” means easier.  The race I picked in fact has a great deal of elevation gain for the number of miles.  I thought “short” would help me pick up my pace.  I also wanted a race that I could actually finish.   After a quick search, I read that Limestone Canyon 20K didn’t “technically” have a time limit.  Into the Wild even posted something like, “you will have ample time, even if you have to walk.”  Well, this was my race!!

Limestone Canyon is a protected area in the Santa Ana Mountains that we can only gain access through the Irvine Conservancy, or through special events.  I’ve run Limestone Canyon before, with a docent from the Irvine Conservancy.  So, I knew the trails were no walk in the park.  This was my first Into the Wild race. 

Into the Wild put on two events today:  a 12k and a 20k.  When I learned that the vast majority of the runners were running the 12k, and only a handful were running the 20k (37 runners according to the results page), I knew I was going to be running by myself, perhaps coming in DFL.  I’m already a back of the pack runner on the trails.  You put me in a race with hundreds or thousands of runners, I can come in around the middle of the field.  A race with around a hundred, or even worse, less than 50, I’m going to struggle handing off the honorable DFL.

I’ll tell you one thing for sure.  Those 20k runners, they kicked ass!  My marathon plus pace CANNOT keep up with these runners.  They take off fast.  And they don’t seem to slow down. 

We took off on fire road and quickly made it to a single track and a steep uphill, and then more steep uphills.  The trail was exposed and quite warm.  I felt okay, happy to be on the run.  Shins felt good.  Arches taped, my feet felt strong.  I remained with a crowd for some miles, actually up until the 12k runners split from us 20kers (around mile 4.5).  At that point, one woman ran a short ways ahead, and past her I could see another woman.  With all the twists and turns in the trails, I couldn’t see any other runners for quite some time.

Traffic Jam:

The field spreads out:

Finally, after about 6 miles, I headed down.  For a bit, the trail was technical, single track.  But then it turned to gorgeous fire road in and out of trees with lush canopies.  Occasionally, I spotted two runners off ahead.  But I was never close to catching them.  I resolved to keep running strong.  But I also resolved that I would be taking the honorable DFL. 

And then the trail began to climb slightly.  Through the trees, I could see one runner up a ways.  She was hiking the slight inclines, but she was still far enough away that I couldn’t catch her.  Onward I ran in the sweltering heat through the lovely valleys. 

Approaching Aid #2:

Then I lost her, the other runner.  I always lost her on the downhills.  But then we began a climb at about mile 8.5.  Suddenly the woman appeared not too far ahead of me.  She was actually within reaching distance.  As she hiked up that climb I gave it all I had and RAN up the hill.  I tried to run quietly so that she wouldn’t realize that I was gaining on her.  It took me a good half mile to come up directly behind her.  Just when I could have collapsed, I passed her and handed off the honorable DFL, at least for now.

She smiled and said, “Hi!”  I smiled as well, then commented awkwardly about the scorching heat.  With a downhill quickly approaching, I knew that I needed to gun it to keep my lead.  Strategic thoughts ran through my head on how to keep this lead for 3 1/2 miles.  Don’t look back, I told myself.  Don’t let up! 

I did look back.  She was no where in sight.  I knew though, I could not let up.  If I was going to stay away from the honorable DFL, I had to push hard.  If not, I was certain that she would pass me on the downhill. 

Well, I broke my rule about looking back, and looked back frequently.  Occasionally, she gained on me.  And I pushed onward as quickly as I could, even though I felt I couldn’t take another step.  I began to think that it would have been better to pass her with only a mile left.  Keeping the lead for 3 1/2 miles was almost too much to bear.  I couldn’t let up for 3 1/2 miles!!!!!  I told myself that if this is her usual distance, then I’ve got her.  I can put up with pure hell misery running for hours and hours.  This was my only advantage.  Speed was not my advantage.  Endurance was.  I kept running, while she hiked the uphills and flats.  How do I know this?  BECAUSE I KEPT LOOKING BACK! 

As I approached Aid #3, I saw another female runner sitting in the shade.  As soon as she saw me, she stood and ran onward in a rush.  I could see another runner, a male, not too far ahead of her.  I ran straight past Aid #3 without stopping.  And I believe the woman behind me did the same.  She was gaining on me!!!

I constantly looked at my garmin.  I was so fatigued, I needed badly to let up (that is take it easy for a bit).  Finally, in the last half mile, I looked back and didn’t see my pursuer.  Still, I didn’t trust that.  I gunned it in to the finish line, placing 36 out of 37 runners. 

Mama Mia!  I think “short” runs are much harder than the long distances. 

Though I hung around a bit at the staging area, I didn’t see the woman who came in behind me.  We must have been parked in different lots.  I would have liked to throw her a smile and thank her for a dang hard run race. 

As far as Into the Wild as a race event goes, I do recommend them.  The race directors, husband and wife, are friendly and organized.  They supplied plenty of fuel and fluids.  I also got a nice shirt and even a finisher’s medal.  My only critique is that their aid stations were not evenly spaced.  Aid number 3 was only about a mile away from the finish.  Most of the runners (oddly) did not carry water.  They definitely would have needed water before the last aid.  I think in a 20k, aid should be as close as possible to every 5 kilometers. 

Running Limestone Canyon 5-11-2013, ElevationRunning Limestone Canyon 5-11-2013

Oh!  One more thing.  I placed first in my category (gender/age) group!  Muhahahaha. 


  1. Way to go Lauren, well done! I've done some very small races with one having only 8 runners. I came 7th so i know what you went through. I have a nice stone at home that was my prize for being "stone last" in a mountain race that had 34 runners. Nice medal!

  2. Thanks Johann! I love the stone for "stone last." I once got a "DFL trophy" Dead F'ing Last. :)