To bed at 8:30 PM Friday, I woke to a 2:30 AM alarm Saturday morning. Less than an hour after the bars closed I was on the road, spotting more than one drunk driver, on my way around The Saddleback Mountains, to Indian Truck Trail in Corona. Total drive time: 1 hour.
I set up the mountain in the dark in my quest to conquer Twin Peaks Ultra mostly alone. But I had the company of a lovely lady for a while. When she told me that she had run Nanny Goat, I jokingly replied, “That’s good, you know all about suffering then.” She said, “No. I had lots of fun.” It’s then that I wanted to take her by the shoulders, look her in the eyes and warn her, “You are going to go to a Dark Place today. DON’T WORRY. It’s going to be OKAY. You will get through it, and you will be better for it.” Instead, I told her, “Just remember, you have all the time in the world.” Since we were both intent on the 50k, we really did have all the time in the world, well, all the time that the fifty milers had – and that was good enough.
The first leg of Twin Peaks Ultra is about 7 miles long, all uphill, along Indian Truck Trail, a dirt road over-looking Riverside County. How did I feel? I felt neutral. I felt no fear; I was not anxious. I was in “one-step-in-front-of-the-other” mode. I reached The Main Divide in about two hours with cheerful aid station workers, and one lovely lady stating, “It’s Lauren on the Run.” I cannot tell you how strange that feels. People read this blog. And when they see me, they smile. I find that strange and odd.
The second leg was a short distance of rolling hills along The Main Divide, about three miles. At 9 miles in from the start, the front runners who started at 6:00 AM began to pass me. I ran much of this portion alone however, and it blessed me with tranquility.
I met my friend (Chimera, Old Goat, race director), Steve Harvey at mile ten where he manned the Horsethief aid station. I made my stop quick knowing what hell awaited me. I met up with Greg Hardesty, on my descent, who took this awesome picture of me slightly loosing my balance as I made my way into Trabuco Canyon:
This third leg of Twin Peaks entailed about five miles of very technical terrain (Horsethief and Trabuco Trails). I took much of the Horsethief portion slower than I wanted, mainly because I feared falling on the fist sized rocks that rolled beneath my feet, and also because I needed to step aside for runners to pass. This trail is a true single-track, with no room to pass.
I reached Holy Jim, slightly slower than than I intended. Still, I felt no anxiety. As I told the lady on the way up, “We had all the time in the world.” And looking at this run as the first long run in getting back to shape, helped a great deal. This notion kept my usual evil negative talk at bay.
The 4th leg, the Holy Jim leg, consisted of five miles uphill switch-back. I cannot tell you how many times I have climbed Holy Jim. I have had good times, and I have had disastrous times with that monster. But it has always, always been beautiful. One person at the trailhead told me he had seen my video of a prior Twin Peaks and thanked me for the info. I met another lady at the aid station who said the same. I always feel a little embarrassed when someone tells me they saw my video or read my blog. It’s like I feel I need to “measure up,” like they expect something better than I am. And I am so not better than I am. .
Anyway, I stocked up with calories at Leon Gray’s station in the Holy Jim lot and trotted into the canyon behind several of the regular starters who were now approaching by greater numbers. (Mind you, this was a mountain trail race, so by greater numbers, I mean don’t mean very many – only 79 people ran this race).
Those five miles up Holy Jim were a bear. I saw friends who passed me on the way up. Their encouraging words helped some. Still, I felt miserable. Weak, and totally unable to move with any speed whatsoever, I felt some solace over the fact that I had all the time in the world. And I felt solace in the fact that I knew every bend in the road, and exactly when it was all going to end.
It took me two hours to climb Holy Jim. My best time (I think) is 1 1/2 hours. My worst time is around 2:15. This was one of the worst times. But I was not a wreck when I reached the top. Still determined to finish this thing out, I felt confident that I would recover enough to reach the peak.
On my way up The Main Divide, I passed four runners hovering over a map, and asked if they needed help. They had already reached the peak and were unsure where to turn on the down trip. I told them to turn onto Holy Jim and could have sworn that I read doubt in their eyes. So I said, “Trust me. I may come in last, but I know these trails by heart. I know this course by heart. Turn down Holy Jim, run back up to Horsethief . . . Trust me.”
After these departing words, I began leg 5 of Twin Peaks Ultra – a three mile, uphill trek to Santiago Peak.
I wish that I had the words to adequately describe the pure and utter hell that awaited me on leg five of this ultra. It was only three miles. But I think I could have travelled those same three miles faster if I were to have dropped to the ground and rolled up to the peak. I was not in physical pain. Sure the bottom of my feet ached a bit. The plantar fasciitis in my left heel was hinting its way back. Overall, I was okay physically and mentally – I was just utterly, UTTERLY exhausted.
The hellish leg five mainly consisted of exposed, rocky truck trail with a relentless incline. I was alone for the first 1.5 miles, and therefore resorted to mind games to keep me moving. “Where do you think a half mile ends?” I asked myself, and then forbade myself from looking my garmin until I reached my guessed point. I came up short each time, .3 of a mile, .45. Doh! But the game kept me going. Somewhere in here I began texting my husband. I needed something outside myself to help pass the excruciating slowly passing time. Thank God I had service and was able to communicate somewhat with hubby. He was so positive. Oddly, I had this terrible desire to convey what I really couldn’t convey, and that was, I WAS IN HELL.
About half way through this leg, I came to a flat portion and found very little strength to even trot it. But up the next incline, I saw my friend Emmett Rahl. What a welcome relief! Coming down from the Peak, leg five had done him in as well, which made him decide to opt out of the 50 miler for the 50k. I felt sad to hear this, as he had conveyed his desire to complete the 50 miler. Regardless, I cannot tell you how much a friendly face helped on the course at this point. Emmett pressed his ice filled hand-helds against my cheeks to cool my face, and I was off again, on again, with Santiago Peak in my heart. That’s the only thing I wanted in the world right then – SANTIAGO PEAK.
Runners coming down from the peak told me about ice, and Reese’s candies, and great food that awaited me at the top. I really didn’t care about anything except for the agony to stop. I don’t know how I was able to put one foot in front of the other. Passing a group of hunters drinking Corona beers, I was tempted to stop and drink a beer with them. We chatted as I tromped by, and somehow I kept on going. I saw a tree that I recognized, and I remembered that last time I came up this trail a LONG time ago, it had many more leaves. And then I saw this:
The sight of the towers nearly broke me down. I teared up, overwhelmed with relief. The end of my misery was near, so, so, near, but at the same time, so gosh dang far!!! Just a little bit longer, about a half mile, and I had this treacherous race in the bag. I picked up my step some, and then lo-and-behold, another friend, Randall Tolosa, came up from behind me. We made that last miserable part of the trek together, thankfully, as he kept my mind off the pure torture that I was enduring.
At Santiago Peak I refilled my hydration pack with water, ice and Nuun tablets. I guzzled three or four small cups of iced cola. I ate a handful of potato chips, and I shoved a Reese’s two-pack into my pocket. Now normally, I would never allow myself to eat two whole Reese’s to myself guilt-free. Not so running down from the peak. I ate both of them before the first mile off the peak had ended.
Heading down from the peak, I saw the lady whom I had wanted to warn about The Dark Place as we headed up the mountain so many hours ago. I could tell from her face, she was in that Dark Place. Yet, still she smiled. That’s what keeps us coming back I guess. We go to that Dark Place, and we still smile. I barely recognized her, as we had met in darkness. She wore a hat now, and she agreed with me that the trek to the peak was “quite difficult” (those were her words, my words were not so nice). I also saw a young man, a slender young man, suffering terribly as he made his way to the peak. He didn’t manage a smile. I assured him that paradise awaited. And it really did. I can’t think of anything that equates to the relief of finally reaching the peak, except for giving birth. Yes, giving birth!. The whole process is so terribly painful, and all you want is for it all to end. And then finally, after so, so, so long of suffering, you are there – standing at the peak, or laying there with baby in arms.
I headed down The Main Divide, then Upper Holy Jim cautiously, yet excitedly. All I had to do was not twist my ankle or break any bones for ten miles. Upper Holy Jim provided breathtaking views with steep, rocky and slippery terrain. A couple of runners were making their way back to the peak for the fifty miler. One of them shouted out to me, “Thanks for saving us earlier!” He was one of the four guys I pointed out the way to at Holy Jim. I smiled and told him how I thought they weren’t going to trust me, when to my surprise he hollered, “No! I read your blog. Great job, by the way, keep it up.” That was the lifter I needed to carry on.
My goal down Indian Truck Trail, the last seven miles of this event, was to maintain a 15 minute mile. I maintained between a 13 and 17 minute mile (downhill – 17 minute!!!). I was that tired. About a mile into the last leg, my phone rang. Yes, my phone rang. Without glasses, I answered the call blindly. It was my friend Hank who had gone onward to work on the 50 miles. He was hoping that I had finished the race because he was encountering some trouble on Horsethief (The man eater!). To avoid telling his story before he does, I’ll just say that I worried a great deal. I phoned Steve who manned the station at the top of Horsethief. I didn’t get through but was able to leave a message. Then after several attempts, and a great slow down on my part, I was finally able to reach Hank again by phone, and learned that he was coping.
I finally crossed the finish line of Twin Peaks Ultra, the 50k option. So happy am I that I decided to show up. 25k trained, I ran a 50k trail race with 11,000’ of elevation gain. I feel like I gained a whole new family. Twin Peaks is in my blood for good now.