The campground started to fill with light as I snuggled in my nice warm sleeping bag, in my tent filled with too many people and a dog, underneath a beautiful pine tree. When I signed up for this race, I signed up for the camp spot right across the street from the start of the race, so the fact that I was up at 5am and the race started at 7ish, and that I had absolutely nothing ready for my race of the day didn’t worry me.
My race of the day: The Holcomb Valley 33. This would be the longest run and race of my running career. Was I worried? For some strange reason, no. For a race of this magnitude, I did absolutely no justifiable training. In fact, I didn’t even try to counter that by eating clean and healthy. According to my boyfriend, I was eating pizza, mozzarella sticks, donuts, chicken tenders… So I corralled my group of support along with my hydration pack, an empty handheld, and some snacks, and headed to the race start.
I never really got nervous for this race, and I think it’s because I never really got ready for it. I had looked at the map of the course, but didn’t really pay attention to the total elevation gain, or what kind of terrain I would be running on. It was a trail race right? The 33 mile race as well as the 15 mile race ran along the same course, and I had the option at aid station #3 to drop down to the 15 mile race if I felt I needed to. I think this information acted as a security thought, but I was still going to give it a go. So here we go!
The wave I started in had about 10 women, 30-39 female, and 40-49 female. As I looked around at my competition, I realized that I have never run in a race where I had this much of a chance at placing in my age group. I’m a terrible judge of age, but the odds were looking pretty good for me. If only I had trained!
So we all started running at the sound of the horn, and I knew what my game plan was going to be. I had to survive 33 long miles on a trail I knew nothing about. All I had to do was endure and make it. I figured I had 10 hours to get this thing done. Right off the bat the trail became very technical, and went up for almost 4 miles.
I had planned on hiking up all the hills, and running down when I could. Usually I have a hard time making myself slow down or walk at the start of the race because I feel like if I am at a race, I should be there for a reason, and that is to run. I felt very much relieved though when most everyone around me also started walking. At the top of the technical trail, was the first aid station. I didn’t think I needed anything yet, so I yelled out my bib number and continued on, and to my sheer joy, to be connected to the PCT. At this point I was already starting to become bored. Sure the first 4 miles were interesting, but I still really had not run anything, or looked at anything other than the ground beneath my feet.
At this point I had already tripped on rocks over a handful of times, and was anxiously awaiting the one trip that was going to land me on my face. Once I realized that I was on the trail that I had learned so much about, in the book Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, I was rejuvenated.
The trail itself was a beautiful single track under the cover of the pine trees of Holcomb Valley. The trail was nice and smooth, without all the rocks I had become accustomed to running on.
The trail meandered a bit up into the hills again, then connected us runners onto fire roads.
I really should have done more homework in this race, because it would have been helpful to know how far apart the aid stations were. This is the point in the race that I realized that I didn’t think I was going to make it. I knew that I had be through aid station #5 by 12:45pm to continue onto the remainder of the race. I began to climb once again for what seemed like a couple miles, until finally I reached station #2. When I got there I decided that some salted watermelon along with a handful of peanuts would satisfy me. I filled my handheld with some Hed, and found out that I was only at 8.6 miles and it was 10:30am. I had been at this for about 2 hours, and in 2 more hours I had to be a 20.5 miles. I knew from this point on I would have to keep up a faster pace in order to make the cut off. Leaving station #2 put us right back on the PCT. A runner in front of me that at the pace he was running he would should make the cut off by 12:30pm, so I kept up with him for a few miles. Meanwhile, I contemplated on whether I really wanted to run 33 miles.
After all this I had to contemplate whether I really wanted to run 13 miles more after I made it to station # 5. It didn’t seem like something that sounded like fun, and then I tripped. I tripped so hard that I was surprised that I actually caught myself. I thought for sure though that my toenail was bleeding, and it became painful to put pressure on the front of my right foot. My decision was made. I called it quits at station # 3 and dropped down to the 15 mile race. I notified those in charge at station #3 and headed on back down the technical trail. Usually running downhill is my favorite part of the run. Not this time though.
The trail was so littered with rocks, that actually running down it was not an option for me. It drove me crazy to be so close to the finish line, but I couldn’t go any faster than a hike. When I finally got to a point that I could run, about a half mile to the finish line, I ran with all I had left in me and crossed the line at 3:17:14.
So what did I learn? Well, it does help to train for a race. Even just a little. Second, I should do my homework. I knew that I had to be through station # 5 by 12:45pm but I kept forgetting that important detail because I was so focused on running slow and steady because I had 10 hours. I should have taken a look at the elevation profile, and possibly have had an idea of the distances between stations.
So overall I had a great race, even though it wasn’t what I had in mind. I am thankful for the opportunity and the fact that my legs carried me for 15 miles, and I was able to walk the next day! This race was hard, but I definitely would love to give it a go again.