Race Report: The Holcomb Valley Trail Run

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!

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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.

IMG_3021I 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.

IMG_3027At 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.

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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.

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IMG_3024I 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.

  • I didn’t train
  • It was hot
  • I wasn’t crazy about having to run a faster pace when all I wanted to do was sight see
  • I wanted to spend time with my family at the lake
  • I wanted to swim in the lake
  • I was getting bored

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.

IMG_3026The 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.

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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.

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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.

Happy Running!

Pre Race Rambling – Holcomb Valley 33

Sitting next to a morning campfire with the rising sun casting light through the trees and a nice brisk chill to the air, gives a person a chance to think and reflect.

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By the time you will have read this, my race, the Holcomb Valley 33 miler will have already been completed. Since I’m a stickler for leaving technology at home while enjoying the outdoors, I didn’t bring along my laptop to type this all out for you before the big day. What I did instead, was bring along paper and pen to document my thoughts, ideas and worries before I take off to run my heart out through the hills of Big Bear and Holcomb Valley.

This race is my race of the year. At least that’s what I decided when I signed up for it earlier this year. I had a plan too. Take the family camping (which I love) and also spend one of the days running. The logistics were perfect since the race’s start and finish were located steps beyond our campground. Now here I am though sitting at the campground and realizing that in my planning for the event, I failed to include one very important detail. Training.

Two weeks ago I ran my first trail half-marathon and for a week after I was hurting. I knew though what the problem was, and fortunately for me, I can recognize these things pretty quickly. My training for this race was minimal if not really non-existent, and I went out the start gate like I had actually trained and was prepared for it. I had to keep reminding myself that this race was merely a training run for a much bigger race. That race did it’s job of checking me mentally and forcing me to realize that I’m not going into the Holcomb Valley race as prepared as I should be.

The Holcomb Valley Trail Run consists of three distances, 7 miles, 15 miles and 33 miles. Me being the badass that I am of course signed up for the 33 miler. Being that I’ve never run any of the trails in Big Bear area, although I have hiked some of them, I only have expectations as to what kind of challenge I’m up for. This is going to be no walk in the park. When I ran my 50k last year, I trained 80% on trails. I ran the course and knew the difficult areas before toeing the line, and I still struggled to finish under 6 1/2 hours. This one though, I knew when I signed up, could never be compared to the last or any other ultra race I ever run. So up until the last week, I knew that I would be destined to run 33 miles. Then I received one of the final information packed emails with last-minute instructions for the race. Those running the 33 miles have the option to drop down to the 15 mile race while running the course at aid station #3.

The Thoughts of Others

Nearly everyone who knew about my race in Big Bear said, “What about the altitude?” Yes, I understand that the altitude is going to play a big factor in whether or not I can do this thing, especially since I live in a nice valley in San Diego county. Did I ever run a practice run in an area of higher elevation? No. Is that going to alter my chances of completing this race? Perhaps not.

We arrived at our campsite on Friday and in the evening I had a slight headache which I credited to the altitude, but I think that giving myself a couple of days of camping before the race also helped me adjust. The air is definitely different here. Maybe it’s a shock to your system as you pass through the thick layer of smog on your way up the mountain, and you finally get to breathe good clean air. My lungs, as well as my mind are definitely appreciating the yummy mountain air.

People have also told me to just drop down to the 15 mile race before it starts. I don’t want to do that because I signed up for the 33. If I wanted to run 15 miles or thought that I couldn’t go anymore, then fine. That’s not the case though, and my stubborn competitive attitude won’t allow me to start off that way. If during the race I believe it’s a no-go, then and only then, will I drop down. Until then I have 10 hours to complete the race. 10 hours that I can take my sweet time with. I know my disadvantages coming into the race, so I’m not going to push it, but I do plan on enjoying myself, the trails, and the wonderful opportunity I have to be here and able.

The Cougar Half : Race Report

The morning was chilly and as I stood around waiting for the race to start, I realized that running a race that morning was what I was supposed to do that day. The Cougar Half Marathon put on by Dirt Devil Racing, was a race that I had signed up to do months and months ago. I was excited for this race at the time of sign up, but as the weeks got closer, and it seemed like more and more personal misfortunes came upon myself and my family, the less and less I prepared to run a race. It seems logical that training for a race would be put on the back burner as life gets busier and more stressful, but essentially going for a run probably would have made things a little but easier.

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Training schmaining.

As I stood in the gravel on race morning waiting for the race to start, I started to psych myself up for the events to follow. I was about to partake in something that I loved. Something that I signed up and paid to do. I was about to complete this race while most people I knew were stumbling out of bed. The feeling that I would have after the race, is all worth being there so early in the morning, cold and tired.

As I lined up with my wave, my adrendaline started pumping and I was ready to go! As the gun sounded, my wave took off like a pack of wild animals. I started out in the front of the pack, heading down the single track trail on a mission to get this race under my belt. I knew the course well and after about 2 miles, the trail spilled out into a gravel track along the side of the road. Running along the single track made me realize that I started out too quick in my wave, and I should have stayed towards the back. The pressure from the runners behind me kept me moving at a pace that was beyond me at that time, but I couldn’t slow down because I already had runners on my ass.

Almost from the beginning of the race I had to start with my mantra, “Slow and steady, steady and slow, that’s the pace I like to go. Slow and steady, steady and slow, that’s the pace I like to go.” This course is mostly flat with the exception of Raptor Ridge hill. If I were properly trained I maybe would have considered attempting to run the hill just to better my overall race time, but that was not the case. I had to remember that this race was nothing more than a training run. The Holcomb Valley 33 is the next race on the agenda in two weeks, and the Cougar Half race was merely taking place of a training run.

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About halfway into the race I had an overwhelming feeling of enjoyment and appreciation for the trail, and I remembered the reasons why I became a trail runner. The smell of the earth beneath my feet and the light breeze through the grasses are things that are unmatched in any other type of run. The sound of wild animals at the nearby San Diego Safari Park calling for mates as well as roosters crowing at family farms, are reasons I choose to leave my earphones at home when venturing on the trail. The elements of the trail are precious and priceless. Their is nothing in a road race that can replace these special details of trail running, and it was at this moment that I became excited again for the race.

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Continuing with my mantra, I found my place along the trail. The front of the packers, the ones whom actually trained for this race, started heading back my way, so I cheered them on as each one passed me by. Most of the runners thanked me for the encouragement, some reciprocated it, some ignored me and others didn’t hear me at all (they had earphones in, grr!).

So as I neared the end of the course, I happened to glance down at my watch and to my surprise I was at just about 2 hours with only 2 miles or so left to go. I knew heading into this thing that I could in no way compare this race to the others because it was a trail, and I had only completed road half marathons, and those of course I had trained for. So once again with so little to go, my adrenaline amped up again when I realized that I could actually finish in under 2:30, which was my conservative goal.

The best part of the race for me was the finish. I couldn’t wait to cross the line and get this thing over with. As I came around the corner, my legs wanted me to stop, but with the end in sight, I plowed on through and got blasted with a huge spray of water!

This race was hard, and as strange as it seems, it was even harder than my last 50k. Throughout I had to continue to play a solo mental game, work through the pain of a huge blister developing on the bottom of my foot, try to hydrate myself after a couple nights of drinking, and curb my boredom.

196 But I did it, and with a official time of 2:18:15! Woo Hoo!!

Onto the next one…

Happy Running!