I started running back in 2004. I ran my first trail race in 2015 with the Xterra group. I had done some hiking before to which I got my ass handed to me on some simple trails so trail running seemed a bit foreign to me but in 2005, I was a lot younger and my infatuation with anything running was at an all-time high. I thought I could do anything. Running can make you feel like that or at least running a race and crossing the finish line can. I remember running the Xterra 6k and thinking it was hard as shit. It had a climb about a quarter of a mile in that seemed like it went on forever then you turned and went up another climb that seemed like you were going up the stairs for a slide at a water park because before you knew it, you were running downhill for about a mile and a half and it was filled with twists and turns down a single-track trail until you were spun out to the fire road and back up and over a hill to the straight away mile run to the finish. It was a rush and a serious sense of accomplishment. I would return to the run the 6k a few more times and I always felt like I was just on the brink of running my best time but would miss it by a few minutes which would leave me chasing that ever so difficult dream of placing top 3 in your age division. In 2007 or possibly 2008, I finished the 6k and stood around feeling myself like I was the top trail runner on the planet and about 10 minutes later a guy came blazing through the finish line. He was one of the first or second finishers of the 22k but the thing that caught my attention was that he only had one arm. He looked strong, fit as hell and totally made me feel like a complete loser. Sure people tell you to run your race and why should you compare yourself to others but sometimes that is a load of crap. In that moment, I knew that it was time for me to step up and stop celebrating a short victory in having run the 6k 4 years in a row.
The only thing I knew about the 22k was there was a portion of it called bulldog that people swore was hell. I emailed the race director before registering for and simply asked him was this really something I should be concerned with. His response: “definitely!” and he said don’t underestimate the last climb at mile 13. It has been over 6 years now that I started running the 22k and everything that race director said held true the first time I ran it and it has remained true including yesterday when I ran it again. One, I had no business running the race yesterday because simply put, I was not prepared mentally and physically. After the LA marathon in March, I have spent weeks trying to rehab an ankle/tendon issue which has kept me from any serious running. My longest run was about 5 miles two weeks ago. That doesn’t help prepare for a 14-mile race with nearly 1,800 feet elevation over 3 and a half miles but I am who I am so I was there at the start line with ambitions to at least finish without needing an ambulance at the finish line.
I had shades of last year’s race which was about 90 degrees and I literally felt like I was crawling the last mile of the race and finished about 40 minutes slower than my best time. It was miserable and a race I wanted to forget but it is kind of hard to forget when you know anything can happen with this course and I have never really had what I call a great performance at this race but we were blessed with low temperatures and overcast skies from start to finish. When we started off yesterday, I knew about 2 miles in that I just did not feel strong. I could not tell if I just needed to warm up or was this going to be a repeat of last year. I knew that the bulldog portion of the race would be coming up around mile 3 and it was there that I thought to myself “you are in for a grind today”. I started up bulldog which at the start of it makes you feel like it would be a piece of cake and that is because you really haven’t started the climb. When we hit the slightest bit of incline, I was tired, my legs were not turning and I was sweating like a pig so I knew the only thing I could do is to start hiking with some pace and try to dominate the climb. This is usually when I would throw on the headphones in a get into a groove but I heard a voice from behind and it was Cyris. I have been seeing Cyris and his wife at all the Xterra events for basically the last 5 years. Its super cool to see him because he’s always super positive and provides a feeling of family and that is what the trail running community is. Everyone is competing but they compete with a sense of seeing their fellow runner do well. Cyris and I started chatting and making our way up bulldog. He told me he had been battling a bad sinus infection for the last few weeks so he just couldn’t get into gear and run like he wanted but the conversation we had going up bulldog actually distracted from how hard it was. We were attacking the climb stride for stride. It wasn’t a competition at all. Just two runners feeding off each-others energy and pushing one another. I truly needed that and once we reached mile 6 and finally a chance to straighten out our backs and walk upright and start a bit of downhill, I knew we would go our separate ways.
In the past two years, mile 6 was where I looked to make up ground on the dreadful climb up bulldog and all the time I lost but I was so out of it the last few years that I sucked running downhill from mile 6 to 7 and so on but yesterday, my spirit wasn’t broken and I knew the course so well that I knew I just needed to conserve my energy and run the parts I could and conserve my energy until mile 10 when you essentially have downhill sprint for 2 miles to mile 12. When you reach mile 12 of this race, you actually exit the park and you are on the main highway for a bit which is crazy. It was there that I spotted another guy I have seen at these races, Joe Lewis. It was just last year that he and I were climbing up mile 13 like two turtles until we finally made it to the top and somehow made it to the finish. Once I saw Joe, it gave me even more confidence because he had sped past me in the early going so to catch him let me know I had rallied from that slow beginning and still had a lot in the tank. I sprinted past Joe and up the road and then back into the park where you run for a bit before the dreaded last mile uphill. I would say this is definitely the worst of the race because you just have nothing left but yesterday I was able to conquer mile 13 by just keeping a steady pace and moving my feet no matter how tired I was. Last year, I could barely walk 3 feet on this portion before I would stop, look around and trying to catch my breath and walk another 3 feet and stop again.
When I was done yesterday, I was able to talk to Cyris, Joe and a bunch of others that I see each year. There was a level of content and excitement on just about everyone’s face yesterday and really I think it was a sigh of relief especially for all of us who ran it last year and suffered through the heat. I could feel that we all were excited to finish and also to be able to celebrate a good hard race. If it hadn’t been for Cyris on that uphill, I may not have had the same result. He pushed me along and sometimes whether you believe it or not, you have to abandon your normal race plan to just go with the flow. This race continues to be a challenge no matter what but if I can lace up the shoes, I will be there to accept the challenge.
Legs are sore but I am feeling good!!