Sean O’Brien 100k
I have put this off long enough. Fifty miles of Sean O’Brien last year did me and my knees in pretty well, and adding 12 miles and one more huge climb this year didn’t have me feeling any better.
It was, however, fun to come on down to SoCal and join the locals and RD Keira Henninger for a beautiful day in Santa Monica mountains. Since this was a Montrail Ultra Cup race, the stakes were high for a few of the top runners still hoping to race their way into The Big Dance. I have only been in two races with Magdalena Boulet, and that was the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2008, where she made the team, and again in 2012, and I barely broke 3 hours both times. I didn’t expect to be in the same time zone as her most of the day, but did hope to be within an hour of her finishing time. Also vying for a Western States spot was one-time WS winner Anita Ortiz. Tera Dube, Darla Askew, and Luanne Park would also be women for me to compete with throughout the day.
We started at 5:00 in the dark. At least at the beginning, my legs felt pretty fresh, and I was determined to meter out the energy throughout the day, and to stay upright and finish with all of my blood on the inside of me where it belongs.
The course is advertised as having over 16k feet of gain in 62 miles. That is more than the old and too -long Waldo course, where my best time was around 12 hours. With that knowledge I was hoping to finish in between 12 and 13 hours. Ouch, that sounded like a long time. For the first hour and half or so, we ran with headlamps. I began bouncing around with Luanne and bit, and she pulled away on the first climb, still having a conversation with me even though she had dropped me. As it got lighter I found myself with Tera. We stuck together back and forth for many the mile of sandy single track, open service road, wildflower laden trail and great views. Darla Askew joined us after the 25 mile mark, but she was always out running/hiking me to the tops of the long climbs, and I would eventually reel her back in.
We lucked out with the weather. It was cloudy, sometimes misty, and did rain on some of the shorter races, but somehow I avoided any real rain. I never really felt bad those first 50 miles or so, but at the aid station at the start of the final dog leg, my body was starting to feel broken and jolted and out of gas. I was on my own – Tera had fallen off and dropped with a locked up knee, and Darla had pulled ahead out of site. At least now I would be able to see the lead women and then calculate how far back I was.
I wanted to run downhill fast at least, but even that was not feeling good. I saw a few of the men coming towards me, and finally, Magda coming up the long grind. She was “only” 8 miles ahead. That’s a pretty big chunk. A couple miles later, here came Anita, so focused on the ground in front of her that I scared her by yelling out encouragement. And then came Silke Koester, another big gap and there was Luanne! “Darla’s right ahead” she said. I arrived at the turn around aid station just as Darla left. I lolly-gagged and then started back up the grind out of there. After about a mile, Darla, 20 yards ahead, stopped and yelled back “Do you want to just run this together? I’m done!” I gladly accepted, and we suffered well together, each offering to let the other one go at any time, but we had nothing vested in the outcome at this point. My enthusiasm for competing on this day had left me miles ago.
Darla and I made sure our legs and chips were all synced up, and crossed the finish line together in 11:40, which was better than I expected, but almost 2 hours behind Magda, and 1 hour behind Anita. Those two women both took their spots for Western States, where I will have another chance of finishing on the same day at least.
And the most remarkable and awesome result to me is that not only did I remain upright for the entire race, but I was in the top 5 women, and at the age of 53, I was 3rd in my age group!! Anita is 50, Luanne is 54. Fifty is the new insert what ever age you want here. Pretty proud to be amongst such fine female athletes.
In retrospect, I do think I can improve on this type of course. I’m “okay” at climbing, and don’t ever really expect to be a killer climber, but will continue to work on it by chasing Caren Spore uphill in training. Nutritionally, not sure I’m consuming enough calories in training and running, and with the help and advice of Stephanie Howe, I’m having more success in sustained energy on my training runs at least. I’ve also just switched to Altra shoes, and have been feeling much more fluid and less broken down at the end of long runs. If nothing else, these things give me a little spark to my training and outlook on my year ahead.
Many thanks to Keira for putting on a great set of races – the aid stations were complete in both food selection and enthusiastic volunteers. Thanks to Injinji socks for keeping me blister free. And thanks to Mark for coming along, suffering through the crazy extra long marathon, and chauffeuring me home.