April 26 was the date of the 23rd annual Leona Divide 50 in Green Valley, California (just outside of Lancaster). The race offered both 50mile and 50k options. Some very last minute issues with the forest service resulted in the course having to be completely changed just a couple of weeks before the event. The overcoming of this obstacle was my first insight into how well planned of an event Keira Henninger runs. Needless to say, this was an awesome event and I would highly recommend it!
The conditions of the race couldn't have been any better. Race day high was 56 and there was a dusting of snow on the course in the morning. There were plenty of pre race treats and drop bag locations were organized and obvious. The 50 mile started promptly at the 6am start time and as I waved good bye to my friend and traveling companion (who would later that day take home the gold in the 50k, great job Eric!), I began climbing up the first grade of the day, anxiously awaiting the brief paved road stretch to join the PCT.
Touching a little more upon the course changes I mentioned before, the NEW course clocked nearly 9,000 ft of vertical gain (the original course had around 6k I believe). Yahoo! On another positive note, the new course had about 45 miles on the PCT, as opposed to 30 in the previous course. That meant we runners were able to experience even MORE glorious PCT action. Ohh yeahh! What's more is that these additional PCT sections cut out miles of burned trail and fire road.
The layout of the course was something like a 'Y'; the start/finish of the race was at the bottom of the 'Y', and eventually the course would split into two, separate out-and-backs. Aid stations (for the 50m) were typically between 6-7 miles apart, aside from the Agua Dolce aid station which was 9 miles from the nearest aid station. Runners were required to have at least 40oz of water before entering these 9 unsupported miles. Although I did power hike many sections of the race, I found the majority of the climbing to be runnable as the trail was gradual, compact and not technical.
One of my goals at this race was to limit my 'hang-out' time at aid stations and try to move through them more efficiently. I have to say that it was quite easy with so many experienced volunteers manning these stations! At one aid station I had a volunteer literally take my shoe off (which I apparently wasn't doing as quickly as I thought), bandage my blister for me, then quickly put on my sock and shoe. Of course, as she was fixing me up she was telling me, "Girl, do you have any idea how many of these things I have had? Let me do this for you!". Oh yeah, and meanwhile, another volunteer was filling the bladder of my Salomon Advanced Skin 5! Talk about good service!
Something that was really special to me about this race were some of the other runners that I met. Early on in the race I spent several miles running alongside a local runner (I forgot his name! Ah I'm sorry!) who had spent a good amount of time training on the course. We ran together all the while he would point to ridge lines and saddles and describe to me the terrain the next few miles. This was a comfort to me, as I was nervous about not being familiar with the terrain.
Sometime around mile 20 I settled into running behind a man named Pete. I judged by Pete's full length zip-off pants, blouse, and fingerless gloves that he was either a lost fly-fisherman or a bad-ass runner. It turned out that the latter image was correct. Pete challenged my down-hill running skills by elegantly racing down miles of descending terrain. I pretended like I knew how to do the same. We stayed together from then on (separated only for a few minutes at the Bouquet Canyon Road aid station, where I switched from my Brooks Pure Grits to my Hoka Kailua Trail shoe) until the last few miles of the race, chatting the whole way! It was really great to connect with a stranger in such a way and it certainly helped to keep me motivated during the last 20 miles of the race! We joked some, complained a little, and mostly passed the time geeking out about previous running adventures, future goals, and practically anything else that could be remotely distracting.
Energized by the meeting of a new friend, and also very anxious to be done, I charged down the final couple of miles of the course. Luckily, they were all very steeply downhill! Somehow I managed to pass a couple of other 50m ladies in the final few miles and came in as the second female overall, a rather humble finish behind the female winner, Kami Semick, who finished exactly an hour ahead of me. I was eager to talk to Kami after the race, but after I was done addressing my calorie deficit by eating an unreasonable amount of mini powdered donuts, I realized that I actually didn't remember what Kami looked like, despite seeing her pass me earlier in the race. All I remembered when she ran by were here glorious sculpted quad muscles! So Kami, if you happen to be reading this, great job on the race. And by the way do you squat?
Anyway, to wrap things up, the Leona was a perfect reminder to me as to why I pay ($125, to be exact) to run races. It brought me to new, incredibly scenic trails, introduced me to so many inspiring runners, and added a little challenge to my weekend.
For new and seasoned runners, the Leona divide 50 should not be missed. You will get your share of scenic, single track scenery and make a few friends in the process. So don't forget to add the 2015 Leona divide 50 to your upcoming year's race list! It is a race that shouldn't be missed.