I’ve run SOB many years now and each year I get excited about running my favorite race. But going into this year, I wasn’t able to get very excited. It was going to be a new course because of the snow. I usually visualize the course, how I will run different sections, but this wasn’t possible. This year was going to be a different course and very different experience.
I applaud the race directors for pulling off the race. I can only imagine the mad scramble to map a new route w/ aid stations, volunteers etc. And in this respect, the race was exactly the same – well managed, runners were well cared for, volunteers amazing and as always, great schwag! The race was said to be a fast course with the first 24 miles predominantly downhill, then 3 miles uphill (2500ft elevation gain), ¾ mile snow field and then the last 3.3 on the familiar SOB – yea!
I consider my strength to be more of an uphill runner than a downhill, so the first 24 were an interesting experience. I found myself constantly gauging my pace. Was I going to fast? Should I speed up? How were my quads holding up? Is all this downhill going to blow them before the major climb? I told myself to relax and have fun and just find out what the new course was all about.
Heading into mile 24 aid station I felt great. I was easily keeping pace with my goal of a sub-6 hour finish. I felt good mentally and my body still felt relatively loose. Then we started to climb. At first, the climb felt great – finally I was doing what I love to do. I kept trying to figure out if I was on the trail in some of the final miles of Pine to Palm except going the opposite direction. The trail looked familiar and I found humor when repeating my mantra “this too shall end”. After about a mile of climbing, I started having self doubts, my goal time was creeping away and my mood was sinking. I was low on water and other runners were starting to come up the trail behind me – more defeat. If climbing on the dry trail wasn’t enough, near the top of the hill, we started climbing in snow drifts.
It seems like there’s a crux in each race and even if I know it’s coming, I can’t help but think the race director was feeling humorous or evil when they designed the course.
After reaching the top of the hill, next was the snow field, ¾ of a mile. Out of water I began carefully making my way through the snow. I began to think about all the Western States runners and how they had 12 miles of snow to run through. Although this didn’t make me feel any better, it did make me evaluate whether or not I wanted to run Western States. If so, I’d have to get better at the snow thing. I’m a cautious runner, I don’t barrel down hills, I worry about twisting my ankle crossing streams, when I run on snow , I think about all of the contorted ways my body can fall down the hill. All of my backcountry ski patrol experience still didn’t prepare me.
Close to the end of the snow field, I look down and there is a short drop. I see skid marks where other runners have slid on their butts to get to the dry trail below. Down I went! Sliding in the snow with a skirt on was definitely a first experience. Nice way to cool down, but I could have done without the snow in my briefs.
When you’ve come this far and overcome what you thought you couldn’t get through, you keep going – the aid station had to be coming up soon!
The last 3.3 miles was on the original course. Familiar trail and a section that I particularly like to run on. All of it is rolling through open meadow and cool forest. There were several small streams that I splashed cool water on my face and down my back. Simple pleasures make it all worthwhile. I started looking forward to seeing Tim & Rory and I knew Deb & Lisa would be yelling at me as soon as I got closer to the finish shoot. When I ran up the last small hill and saw the parking lot and heard the first person yell, “good job” I felt a small lump in my throat begin. I knew I couldn’t let myself end this in tears. So I put on my serious determined face.
Later, I found out that Deb and Lisa turned to each other as I ran by and said, “She’s pissed!” Little did they know I was trying to be stoic and hold back the tears. This was a tough course and I had been tested. After I crossed the finish line, Tim, Rory, Deb and Lisa ran up to me and then it was ok. Deb hugged me and the tears started to flow.
I’m always surprised by the emotions and thoughts that come to me in each and every race. It doesn’t matter if the miles are shorter or longer. I’m excited and feel powerful and then there are times I feel defeated and down. I think about and feel the love of friends and family and then I notice how isolated I am on the trail, just me and nature. Every race teaches me about myself and most of all they teach me that I am always capable of more than I ever thought I was. Nothing ever stays the same and there is a solution for everything - it just may take 50 to 100 miles to figure it out!