Until Saturday at the Leona Divide, my fastest 50 mile trail PR was my 50 mile split at Vermont 2 years ago.Â Although if I included road races too, the Comrades in 2001 would be slightly faster (on a longer course) at 8:50 — my first ultra, running a negative split for a Bill Rowan medal.Â Leona was also my 3rd 50 miler — the Mt Hood PCT 50 (pre-Olga) being my first, and Jessica’s TwinPeaks being the only other.
The OC crew, consisting of Kyle and Michael, with Robert Baird at the wheel arrived moments after I did.Â Inside the community center, there were several people already there — it was nice and warm too, making it hard to go back outside into the 33 degree temperature.
Glenda signed me in, and Kim Gimenez handed me my race sweatshirt, then I went back to my car to get ready — 2 handhelds (probably could’ve gotten by with one), and my one drop bag (just a big ziplock with Clif Blocks for the second half) that I’d pick up at the mile 28 aid station.Â Back inside, and 15 minutes to the start, the room was now packed full of racers.Â It was great to see a lot of the local ultrarunners — both JR’s, Wendy, Deb, Carmella, Ben, Bob Harris, Bill Ramsey (10th Leona for him), Greg and Nattie from the OCTR, and a bunch more.
The start was near the parking lot entrance, just far enough from the trailhead to alleviate some congestion, although the first part of the course was on fireroad anyway.Â It was the typical start of most races — a long climb for the first few miles, then a drop down to the aid station at mile 8.Â The weather was perfect as I had hoped — not a cloud in the sky, and the cool temperature made it a gorgeous day for running.Â Even with over 150 participants, the group spread out very quickly, and I never had more than a few people around me the entire race.
Before going in, I secretly had a goal of a 9 hour finish, but knew that the last 3 weeks of racing (a 100K and 2-50K’s) would make it hard.Â Looking back, I think I ran the first section too fast — don’t think I walked at all, and got to the mile 8 aid station feeling a bit worked (not a good thing that early into a 50 miler).Â Luckily, we started a climb from there, which allowed me to back off a bit.Â On this stretch, Devon and the second female runner passed me, then a bit later, I saw JB Benna and Ric Hatch, who I met at C4P.Â JB took off, and Ric and I ran down to the second aid station together — 13 miles in about 2 hours.
Now it was finally time to get on the PCT, and run on some awesome rolling single track.Â About a mile or so in, I saw Bob Kimmerly’s memorial bench with all the winners of each year engraved next to it.Â The Leona Divide was Bob’s idea after he began a series of fun runs in the area, but unfortunately, he passed away before the inaugural event, but his widow Glenda and friends have been able to put it on for the last 15 years.
I ran with Ric briefly until I pulled off for a pit stop — that was the last I saw him.Â Soon, I was on the descent down into the mile 20 aid station, where I knew Jessica was volunteering.Â As soon as I popped off the trail, I saw her and Keira, who I wasn’t expecting to see, taking down numbers/times — turns out that she was injured unfortunately.
Another long climb followed — almost 1000′ in a couple miles, then a drop down to the aid at mile 24.Â One runner passed me just after the photographer, but kept him in view most of the way up.Â I was with a couple others in to the aid station, then lost them on the descent down to mile 28.
I saw Robert Baird there, who told me I was around the 25th runner through, but I was more curious as to how I was doing on time.Â I recalled I had to be there somewhere around 4.5-5 hours, and think I was, but knew based on how I was feeling that my 9 hour goal wasn’t going to happen.Â I didn’t really dwell on it or cared much, and just kept going.
Earlier, someone had mentioned the climb out of 28 was pretty steep — it definitely was.Â The first part was about 1200′ in 4 miles, with a small aid station in between.Â Just before we got there, the lead runners were returning.Â First up was Robert Leonardo, with Jorge about 3 mins back, and not too far behind them were Kevin Dean and Brian Polley.Â When we finally got to the mile 32 aid station, Guillermo was just leaving — after a high-5, we both went our separate ways.
The next 3 miles to the turn-around was a struggle for me, but seeing some more runners like Krissy and Kyle kept my energy up, but the whole time I kept thinking about the return trip.Â Interestingly enough, after the mile 35 aid station, I managed to come out of my funk, and hammered it back.Â This section was especially fun, since I got to see all the runners who I hadn’t seen yet, and was able to exchange words of encouragement with them along the way.Â Carmella was chatting up a storm with some poor unsuspecting runner who got lured in by her captivating personality; Xy hardly looked like she ran a 100 miles only a week before; and Bob Harris with his Karl Meltzer headphones was rocking out to Garth Brooks.
Back at the now 38 mile aid station, I saw Vinnie there, loading up on calories, which made me a bit hungry too.Â I asked what they had, and a volunteer offered a hamburger, that sounded pretty good.Â Unfortunately, it was cold and almost as tough as Barefoot Ted’s feet, but I ate it anyway.Â That was a big mistake, since it messed me up the rest of the race.
The next section was mostly downhill, and I ran with two other guys.Â I still felt ok, but wasn’t able to really eat anything after the burger — not good.Â On the way to 42, just after the aid station before, I passed Devon, an excellent runner, who was unfortunately having a little trouble.
Arriving finally at the bottom, Robert was still there recording times, and suddenly Michael Landa flew in looking real strong.Â The four of us left around the same time, but Michael soon pulled away, and saw him widening the gap as we climbed up to the final aid station.Â I think it was about 8 hours in, over 7 miles to go, with about 5 of those mostly uphill — no way I was going to make it in 9 hours, but then again, I stopped thinking about that goal a while back anyway.
Heading up to mile 46 was a struggle for me, and as I occasionally looked behind, I noticed that other runners were gaining ground.Â At the top, there was a group of about 4 of us who left the last aid station around the same time, but I couldn’t maintain the pace they were setting.Â I was on fumes, and had to do a lot of walking.Â Once at the top, it was a 2 mile downhill to the finish, which I would normally be able to run, but I was reduced to a shuffle, occasionally mixing it up with walking.Â I was dreading people passing me that close to the finish, and kept looking back to see if anyone was approaching.Â Sure enough, not more than a couple hundred yards from the finish, the third female runner passed me.Â I mumbled something stupid as she sped by, at first I tried to keep pace, but eventually failed miserably, crossing the line 30 seconds behind her in 9:25:46.Â Based on how I felt that day, I’ll take it, because it could’ve (should’ve?) been much worse.
I hung around for a bit at the finish watching people come in, and chatting with others who were already done for a while, like Krissy and Brian Polley.Â I saw Gabor, and found out he had to stop early because he was sick.Â Then I finally got to talk for more than just a few seconds with Keira and Jessica, who were done with their volunteering duties.Â Jessica was trying to get me to join OCTR, and come down to a run they’re having on Saturday in Chino Hills.Â I said that I’d consider it if there would be a post-run gathering at the most non-OC like watering hole afterwards, and think she agreed.Â Now the question is, is that enough for me to venture down behind the Curtain this Saturday, and put my fine reputation at stake.Â Well, you’ll just have to show up to find out.