I will cut to the finish right away and end the suspense. I completed my 7th consecutive Calico 30k trail race last Sunday. I did worry about this one, that I might get pulled due to time requirements. I tried not to think about that, but the fear lingered in the back of my mind. At the rate I’d been going and due to the difficulty of this course, I figured I would be lucky if I “ran” this one in less than 6 hours. I didn’t want to worry about this though – I’m not that kind of runner. I have always been in it for the adventure.
We arrived in Calico Ghost town the afternoon prior to the race. By “we” I mean, my three sons, my husband, our nephew and middle son’s friend. After taking in some sights – visited the old school house, rode the train, ate dinner – we headed back to the bunkhouse. I was early to bed, and woke often, at least once an hour, maybe more. I woke for good at 5:45 AM.
As I walked through the desert into Calico Ghost Town, I didn’t much feel like running. Knowing that this course runs long, I was looking at close to 20 miles through the desert. I’m talking uphill in sand, boulder hopping through canyons, kind of trails. Tough stuff. For a second, a milli-second, I considered walking back to the bunkhouse and skipping the race. But then I faced the facts. I would never be able to handle watching the runners come through the finish as we took in the town’s sights. The self-bashing would be immense.
At a complete disadvantage physical fitness-wise, I needed to come up with a plan – something to get me to the start line and through the next twentyish miles. Pacing plans were out of the question – my pace was too slow for a “plan.”
This is what I came up with: BE PRESENT. I had to be there on the trails, not inside my head, not ahead of myself, or looking back. It was essential that I focus on my step – my current step. I had to be there. And there I was – in the present, running down an asphalt road out of Calico. I saw Steve Harvey, and a few other friends, including followers of this blog that I was so fortunate to meet for the first time. It was a lovely beginning with a nice pace to start (can’t beat a downhill asphalt start ).
I stayed so focused in the present trekking through that soft sand, that I didn’t turn on the music until mile 8. MILE EIGHT. I didn’t even notice the music’s absence. Instead, I looked for hard spots in the sand, which were mainly off trail. Believe me, if they were easily accessible, I was off trail to run the hard stuff often (And I was not the only runner doing this). I chatted some with other runners, and I focused on covering 4 miles in the first hour. I did that, plus some, coming in at 4.5 miles after the first hour.
I ran into the first aid station thirty minutes shy of the cutoff. Stopping briefly, I headed out with a pocket-full of Jelly-Bellies and a handful of Party Mix (Pretzels, Cheeze-Its, etc). I hit mile 8 within two hours. That’s when the trail grew more and more technical with slants, uphills, fist-sized rocks and boulders.
I made the half-way point at 2:15. A negative split was pretty much out of the question (as was an even split) with the trail gaining in difficulty. So, I knew that a sub-five wasn’t going to happen. That was a-okay – remember I was worried about a six hour finish.
I lost my four-mile an hour goal at about mile 12. This did not concern me. I could actually see other runners, as opposed to being so far behind that I was out there in the desert by my lonesome. Being out there by my lonesome wouldn’t have been that bad though. I have run this course enough times that I know it by heart, and the trail’s rugged beauty is breathtaking. Unfortunately though, the trail grew so difficult that I had to focus so hard on my step that I could not look up often and enjoy the beauty. But I did catch glimpses.
I love this spot – it comes right after a particularly technical portion, followed by a good climb. At this point, the colorful views greet you just before a nice mile-long downhill:
As I summited the last big hill of the race (there would be a couple little hills to come), I met up with and passed two runners I had been trailing the entire race. They asked when the next aid was, and I gladly gave out that information as well as a whole lot more, especially about the two miles of extremely difficult trail that we would encounter soon. (Though I passed these young ladies, they passed me after the last aid station, which I was glad to see – I know, weird – weird as in, who is happy about someone passing them? I was happy for their success. Funny. One of these young ladies told me that they chose this race to train for the L.A. Marathon. I thought to myself, having not ever run the LA Marathon, that the Calico Trail Run will make the LA race seem easy – he,he).
Onward into that last aid station, I still held firm in my attempt at four miles an hour, though I had lost it recently. When I hiked, I hiked determined and quickly, moving at a 15 mile pace. I told myself, “If you can’t hike a 15 minute mile, then run!” Glancing at my Garmin more often than usual, I sped up when needed, but never told myself to slow down. Fatigue was setting in.
I never felt stressed, panicked or scared during this race. Yes, I grew irritated at times, and frustrated when some runners passed. And yes, I was extremely tired. Cramps were right at the edge – I kept them at bay by sipping my electrolyte water (3 Nuun tablets to my 70 oz). And though I was not a particularly quick trotter, landmarks continued to come in much sooner than I expected. If you run trails, or if you run at all, you know the sheer delight of coming upon a landmark all of a sudden when you didn’t expect it. It’s a lovely thing!
Those last 4 miles of the Calico 30k are the toughest of the entire race. The rocky trail slants one way, then the other. You must zig-zag through the terrain, else eat dirt (or rather, rock). At times, I braced myself against the canyon walls, but I never needed to stoop down and butt-scoot down a boulder. I noticed a runner scoot down a boulder ahead early on, which was the sign that I needed to tell me that I could pass her. Difficult terrain is my strength among the back-of-the-packers. I passed her easily and ended up passing three runners total during this difficult canyon. I was thrilled. But the pressure was on to keep moving quickly. Last thing I wanted is for runners that I passed at the end of the race, to over-take me toward the finish.
With about two miles remaining, I worked hard at leaving behind the three runners that I had recently passed. And I passed another runner as I made my way back into Calico. It was a difficult, final stretch, with a killer (though very quick) climb. By the time I made it to the Calico parking lot, I felt that I could not run another step. Two of my sons and my nephew met me at the base of the utility road back into town. They marched up it with me, and kept a lookout for the “orange guy” (the last guy I passed). I didn’t need him passing me so close to the end.
My oldest son ran me through town to the finish line. He urged me to sprint. All I had in me was a trot. I crossed the finish line at 5:15, with 12 runners (out of about 45) coming in behind me. When I finished, I was spent. I had no more gas in the tank. But what did I need gas for? The race was over, and hubby was going to drive us all home.