No…I wasn’t the only one entered, and didn’t finish first overall, but I somehow managed to win the 30-39 age group of the San Juan Trail 50K held in the Cleveland National Forest, just off the Ortega Highway.
4am wakeup, then a 1.5 hour drive to the trailhead.Â When I left home, it didn’t feel that cold, and seemed like it would warm up — it never did.Â The entire day, we were blanketed in fog, and was misting off and on as well — crappy beach weather, but perfect for running.
Saw familiar faces at the start…Michelle, Robert Harris, Fred, Leigh, George, Carmella, etc, not to mention a surprise appearance by Robert Baird, who I always enjoy seeing — I’m especially looking forward to seeing Cate soon too.Â I also bumped into Cheryl, who recognized me from Javelina and the OTHTC 50k — we talked briefly about HURT, before we had to get ready to run.
I had forgotten how the course went, so chatted with Robert Harris for a bit about that — basically, it was an almost 10 mile out and back to the Candy Store, primarily downhill to the aid station, then back up to the start/finish area.Â The second part was the same as the WTRS half-marathon (or now called the 21K) — up Main Divide, down Trabuco, up Horse Thief and back.Â I had done the 50K once before in 5:56, so my goal this time was to get under 6 hours again, and maybe even beat my previous time — Robert had the same goal in mind as well.Â He also mentioned a good idea — to try and get ahead of the pack before getting to the singletrack to avoid the congestion.
After Baz’s pre-race babble, we took off shortly after 7 — I really didn’t like this start because it was mostly uphill out of the campground, but I knew once we got to the top, that we’d be on some nice fast downhill for a while.Â There was a pack of about 10 of us out front, and think I was in the perfect spot — no one was directly behind me, and no one in front of me was holding me up.Â About half way down though, near the makeshift bridge (man, was that dodgy or what?), Kim Gimenez, who I met at C4P, and her friend Tim passed me.Â I made it down to the first aid at the bottom in about 1.5 hours.Â Baz and Robert Baird filled my bottles, and I was out, but Kim and Tim, and one other runner were still at the aid, but figured they’d catch me at some point.
About 5 minutes later, I sensed someone behind me, and when I turned around, it was Jorge — I found out later that he started 14 minutes late, so was making up some time.Â He was flying!Â I wondered if he’d be able to catch the front runners, that included Rob McNair and Eric Clifton.Â Hey, so I just realized that I was in the same race as two runners who holds the two fastest times at Rocky Raccoon (and the world?) — Eric Clifton @ 13:16:02 and Jorge Pacheco @ 13:16:56.Â That’s an 8 min/mile pace if you’re wondering.
So on the return back up to BlueJay, we made a big loop to join back up with the trail we took down.Â One runner passed me there, then further up, Ann Langstaff went by me as well.Â At the top, about 3.5 hours and 18 miles into the race, I passed Ann just before we got to the aid.Â I saw Robert and Baz there again, quickly filled my bottles, and started on the second part of the course.Â I knew that section well, just having done it only a couple weeks before.Â I was actually looking forward to the climb up the Main Divide so that I could get some walking in, then the awesome downhill on Trabuco that I love.Â Since it took me over 2 hours to do just that part, I knew that I’d be cutting it close to my sub-6 goal, but didn’t really dwell on it and continued running.Â They told me Michelle was about 5 minutes ahead, and I was still around the 10th runner through — it didn’t really matter to me, but felt good about it nevertheless.
Instead of taking the road through the campground to get to the Main Divide, we got on a singletrack that took us out to the road instead.Â About half way up, I heard a runner approach, and he eventually passed me, but said that he wasn’t in the race.Â Just before the aid station, Robert Baird drove up, and asked me what I was thinking about at the moment — I replied, pizza and beer, but unfortunately, he was all out.Â I would see him shortly at the top, along with Gary Hilliard, who was helping out with the aid station.Â I asked if Jorge had caught the leaders, and they said that he was still behind Rob McNair.Â I also learned that Michelle was trying to catch the women’s leader as well, which surprised a few of us, since no one knew who the runner was.
Just as I was about to leave the aid station, Ann Langstaff arrived — I thanked the volunteers, said goodbye to Robert and Gary, and turned down onto Trabuco, my favorite section of the race.Â Right before reaching the bottom of the canyon, I heard voices — there were a few volunteers there cheering runners on and offering water, which was an unexpected surprise.Â I politely declined their offer, and started the steep climb back up to the Main Divide on Horse Thief.Â About a quarter mile from the top, the same runner who passed me earlier, came running through again.Â I said to him that he should’ve entered the race since he looked so strong, but he mentioned that he was getting ready for Boston the following week, so wanted to take it easy.Â Taking it easy?
When I got to the road, Robert Baird was there again.Â He mentioned that Michelle was about 9 minutes behind the lead woman runner, and that I was the 7th male overall.Â So throughout the whole race, I was passed 3 times, but passed all of them later on at some point except for one runner.Â I hadn’t seen him since he went by me just after the Candy Store, but then as the fog cleared momentarily, I saw him about 50 yards in front of me, and knew that I would catch him.
Along one of the uphills along this section, I ran by him as I remarked how cold it was, and how we were pretty close to the last aid station.Â He kept up briefly, then fell back as I pulled away.Â At the top, I think I had about 30 minutes to break 6 hours, which I thought was still doable, since it was all downhill to the finish.Â About a third of the way down, I saw Leigh and George heading up, and Fred Pollard wasn’t too far behind them.
Once I reached the asphalt, I knew I had plenty of time to make it under my goal.Â It was a short downhill, a sharp left, a slight uphill, then a right turn on a dirt path leading to the campground.Â As I neared the finish, I heard someone yelling my name, and saw that it was Keira.Â I completed the race in 5:52, a few minutes better than my previous time, so I guess you can call it my new PR for the course.
I asked Keira how Michelle did, and found out she had some shoe trouble, but still managed to finish in a very respectable second place.Â I also learned that the women’s winner was Becky Flowers (5:20), and that she had only done two previous 50Ks, but more important, she had set the course record in both of those races — Holcomb Valley and the Wild West Ultra.Â Jorge managed to catch everyone to finish first in 4:45 — remember, that’s with a 14 minute late start.Â I think I ended up 9th overall, and considering that Jorge, Rob McNair, Eric Clifton, Becky, and Michelle made up 5 out of the 8 before me, I’m pretty happy with my placing.
Next up, the Santa Monica 50K — the same one where I got my personal worst 50K time back in November.Â I’m certain that I’ll be able to better it this time, even though it’ll be my third ultra in as many weeks.
Official race site here.