Sunday, December 15, 2019

Saddleback Marathon 2019 is on the Books!

We were hit with big rains a couple of weeks leading up to the Saddleback Marathon (and ½!) Time was fleeting, and I worried that we would not get enough water stashed. Thank God for help. When Yi Feng (Marathon 4th overall) emailed asking for clarification on the route, I mentioned that I was doing a water drop and he could join me. He did. And he carried water! Then Dave Wiskowski messaged with an offer to mark San Juan trail (which he marked the hell out of, and he had to do it twice because someone, grrrrrr, was taking ties down). Dave dropped some water too!

We got a couple of days reprieve from the rain the week prior -- I checked the weather report constantly, and the forecast fluctuated. The forecast always read rain, but the percent varied from 10 to 60 percent for Saturday, December 7. Meanwhile, the US Forest Service worked behind the scenes that last two weeks to get lower Blue Jay opened for us because the entire lower campgrounds (race headquarters) were closed due to hazardous trees. We were looking at other race locations, even got a quick approval from the California Conservation Corps to use their parking lot about a mile away. We came up with an alternate Start/Finish but ultimately did not need to use it because the Forest Service really came through for us. They got the trees cut down and the area inspected in time to open for the race.

That last week was rushed and crazy. I felt like a deer in the middle of the road staring down the headlights, frozen. I had lectures to plan (3 of them) and computer labs to run (3 of them), plus regular life like boys’ music concerts and getting everyone to their places. So, basically, I shoved all the packing and organizing to Friday. So many stupid things were missed (like sorting the roster alphabetically!). Again, thank God for help (my family and a super group of volunteers!)

I picked up the bibs in Newport Beach Friday morning, and then hurried home to finish packing. After pulling my youngest son, Lucas, out of school, we headed off up Hwy 74 (Ortega Highway) to Blue Jay Campground. The time was 2:30 pm and it was raining. About thirty minutes in, I pulled into the Ortega Oaks Candy Store to get a signal and text my husband, but also to treat Lucas since he was in for many hours of work at zero dollars an hour (but on the up side, he got to camp, and he has always been the most enthusiastic about camping out of my 3 boys).

With Lucas in the store picking out some treats, I remembered the earlier years working races up here. Lucas was 7 or 8, before his voice changed. He has always known Old Goat Races. It is part of his tradition. It felt good to be parked in the rain right there at the candy store. I got a chance to gather my thoughts and collect these quick memories that were rushing in. Rain was falling pretty hard and I had no idea what to expect. Whew. Looking back, that feeling of the unknown is something akin to riding a roller coaster or dare I say, running a trail? The unknown is scary, but it’s exhilarating which I suppose is why I (or rather, we) took on this wonderful adventure.

We were not alone the night before in the secluded lower campgrounds of Blue Jay. Whitney Shepherd, long-time and trusted Old Goat volunteer had a bed set up in the back of her car. And three young men from BYU (Nate Medsker, Austin Christenson and Time Maughan) purchased a campsite with their marathon registration. The rain certainly had not dampened their spirits. They drove down to Elsinore for take-out Olive Garden and drove back up the mountain for campsite dining. No other campers arrived that Friday before, though several had purchased sites with their registration. Lindsay Nicoson (2nd place female, marathon) arrived in the evening for pre-race check-in. (I’m so glad that I drove out to Newport Beach to pick up the bibs!).  

I did not want to set up our tent in the rain and spent the time instead marking Long Canyon Road with signs and ribbons. When the rain finally stopped, my son and I found ourselves pitching the tent under darkness. Lucas was not thrilled about this. Darkness, however, is far better than rain in my eyes. But now we were rushed, as I had left the tent to last minute and I really wanted it up before my husband, Dave, arrived. He had done so much already, I wasn’t going to ask him to put up our tent too! When he finally did arrive, we had the tent up, and Lucas had lugged up all the wood and had a fire burning (in the rain!)

Winding down the night with a campfire, the clouds parted some and I was happy to see stars even though a cloudless night meant colder temperatures. Whitney, Lucas and I sat beneath a canopy until 10pm. Lights were completely out by a quarter past ten. My family was sleeping comfortably on mattresses that Lucas had pumped with air. I was nervous, but also content being back in these campgrounds. The last time we had camped here was for Chimera 2018. For the past 7 or so years I have camped in these very campgrounds every March, September and November (and then some on a few family outings that had nothing to do with trail running).  It was good to be back. 

It was a cold, wet night this time around. I awoke at 1:30 am to a downpour. And the downpour continued for many hours. I remember looking at my watch again and again hunkered down in my sleeping bag, each time relieved that we were some hours out from start time. I didn’t know how this whole thing was going to pan out, and I wasn’t very optimistic in those dark, wet hours. I worried that no one was going to show up. I recall quick little dreams of standing in the pouring rain trying to give race instructions. It was a long night.
5:00 am, Dave and I were up and headed down the hill. I merely put on a pair of shoes and a coat and slapped a beanie on my head (dressed-up Pjs!). Dave got the stove up and water boiling for coffee and hot chocolate. Whitney and I worked on checking in the runners. And just before sunrise, Lt  (Negative Split Timing) was doing his set-up for chip timing. It was all starting to come together despite the weather, as the runners, yes, those wonderful crazies, began arriving at 6:00 am. They definitely were not afraid to run in the rain. (Afraid to camp in the rain maybe -- one runner who paid for camping said that he didn’t come out because of the rain, to which among our dearest volunteers Whitney replied: “We camped last night. Are we dead?”)

Hot Springs Aid station crew arrived for gear after the early start. (Julia Holt, Rick Herr, and Matt Ruiz -- all have been involved with this race since the Baz days)  They would be meeting up with Leon Gray and Mark English at the bottom of the mountain, the turnaround for the marathon (with a 10:30 am hard cutoff). About the same time, Tom Barr took off from the start/finish to the hike-in station at Cocktail Rock. That location would be about mile 6 for the runners, but with a short cut straight out “Old” San Juan Trail, Tom would make it in about 2.5 miles. Still concerned about water (even in these wet conditions -- what was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking), I asked Tom to carry in a gallon along with the small first aid kit and gels. And then lastly, but definitely not least Dave Tan and Melinda arrived with a long day ahead of them sweeping the course. 

We had 55 registrations and 42 starters. Early start took off at 6:30 am. Marathon regular start left at 7:30 am. The half marathon began at 8:00 am. (One mistake I made here was to list one check-in time beginning at 6:00 am, when in reality, many of the runners did not need to show up that early. Next year, we’ll specify different check-in times!)
There was only a slight drizzle for each start time. My main goal with the race instructions was to make it simple so that runners didn’t get lost. I have gotten lost at a couple of races -- one of them an Xterra race in the Santa Monica Mountains and another, one of Baz’s 50k, re-routed due to snow, on the very trails that we were running for Saddleback 2019. It is crucial to me that no runner gets lost, and with reports of ribbons being torn down by a couple of mountain bikers the day prior, I focused on simple important directions. Number one direction: Never leave the trail -- on the way out, always veer right at a "T", and on the way back veer left. SECONDLY, when you come to a four-way intersection, always run straight through. And LASTLY, If you end up at a waterfall, turn around and go back because you veered off San Juan Trail. (“But bring me back a picture of the falls!” Whitney added).

Soon after the last starters, I took off in my truck and headed up Long Canyon Road, removing ribbons, because we needed to mark a different (slightly longer) way back to the finish line. It wasn’t raining, but the weather was cold. I still had not changed out of my flannel pajama pants (but I had brushed my teeth and managed to run a brush through my hair!). I met up with Whitney walking her dog, Leo, and she offered to remove the remaining ribbons. I drove off to San Juan Trailhead to switch the direction of the signs. And what perfect timing -- that’s where I saw Steve and Annie Harvey driving the Goat Mobile into the campgrounds. What a delight! I would not be directing the Saddleback Marathon if it wasn’t for Steve. I was so happy to see them, but the rain was beginning to fall again, and I still needed to mark the remainder of Long Canyon Road and Falcon Trail.

Hiking Falcon Trail in flannel pants was not well thought out. It was beautiful, and I truly enjoyed it BUT my pants became drenched and heavy, and full of plant stickers. 

The Final Stretch -- Falcon Trail Turn Off

Some memories drifted in as I marked the end of Falcon Trail -- I nearly teared up recalling the emotion of running through that shoot toward the finish line of Baz’s Saddleback Marathon. And then hanging out there again, cheering runners coming through when the Old Goat (Steve Harvey) had it. I have always loved runs in these mountains. They are special to me and many others.  

The Last of the Trail, Finish is just around the corner!

I was back at the Start/Finish line by 10:00 am. In time to see Steve and Annie a little longer. Chili was on the stove (big batches of meat and vegan). The hot chocolate and marshmallows were a hit with the spectator children.  It was still raining, but it was no downpour. By my calculations, the ½ marathon runners would not be arriving until 10:30 am (and that was with excellent pace). So back at camp, none of the finisher medals were put on their lanyards. David and Whitney were both busy getting the post race festivities and meal ready. Thinking that we still had plenty of time, I headed up to the tent to change my clothes. I had a pair of jeans in my hands when I heard cheers from down below. I bolted down the hill as quickly as I could, threw my jeans in the back of my truck and was able to get this picture of our first place ½ marathon runner, Doug Herman (2:10:58) -- what a great time on these trails!

Doug Hermann, 1st place overall 1/2 Marathon

I am kicking myself because after that, I left the scene momentarily to change my clothes and I missed photo finishes of the next placers for the ½ marathon. Nixon Gallardo (age 17) and Salvador Avila (age 15!) came in within 1 second apart after that.  It wasn’t long after that the top 3 females came in: Samantha Avila (age 15!) at 2:14:14 and following quickly after, Linda Vigil and Holly Palmer.  (Special awards for the placers & dfl was an ounce of silver each, different design silver round for each place.) 

Jesse Cardoza, 1st place overall Marathon (Another great time!)

Marathon Top 3 Females:
1 Taylor Sherman / 4:50:52
2 Lindsay Nicoson / 5:18:06
3 Laura Goff / 7:53:45
Marathon Top 3 Males:
1 Jesse Cardoza / 3:31:19
2 Nate Medsker / 3:57:56
3 Eric Palmer / 4:27:12
½ Marathon Top 3 Females:
1 Samantha Avila / 2:14:14
2 Linda Vigil / 2:20:59
3 Holly Palmer / 2:34:01
½ Marathon Top 3 Males:
1 Doug Herman / 2:10:58
2 Nixon Gallardo / 2:11:07
3 Salvador Avila / 2:11:08

What a great group of runners and volunteers we had. For some, this was their first trail marathon, for others, their first run in these mountains and/or trails. That delights me to no end. These are some beautiful trails. To top it off, everyone had great attitudes, and it rained on them for much of the race. I wish that I got know all of the runners' stories for this race. I got to hear a few of their tales, and it was as I expected, the Saddleback Marathon was an exhilarating challenge that tested both the physical and mental, that in the end, no matter how you fared, left a smile on your face (at least eventually). This was no minor feat! 

The day turned out better than I expected. Fantastic runners, great friends and family. I got to see some running and volunteering friends, some I have not seen in a long time. (Emmett Rahl and Doug Malewicki ran the 1/2 marathon, Donn Ozaki and Stephen De La Cruz ran the full, Tom Barr worked Cocktail Rock, Julia Holt, Rick Herr, Matt Ruiz, Mark English, and Leon Gray worked Hot Springs Canyon, Whitney Shepherd, came in the night before and helped tons throughout the race, Dave Tan swept the course with help from Melinda and of course Lt, long time timing favorite spent the day with us as well!) 

Meet my friend Doug Malewicki who has completed 80 revolutions around the sun. He also ran the 1/2 Marathon on Saturday. Doug is an inspiration to many. He talked me through my very first trip of W. Horsethief -- for those of you who know the trail -- yikes, I had no idea what lay ahead. He said we could do it in 45 minutes, he warned me not to look at the top, and we marched right up that thing in precisely 45 minutes. Doug also lead the way for my very first Saddleback Marathon (2010). I took the early start with two girlfriends. I phoned Baz (whom I had never met) the night before and requested an early start. He cussed me out on the phone -- in a good way, for those of you who know Baz know what I mean -- and allowed an early start. We set off with Doug until he ran ahead to finish marking the course.

Saddleback Marathon 2019 


What a great day. Saddleback Marathon 2019 is on the books!

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