Saturday, April 25, 2015

2015 Leona Divide 50 race report

Last Saturday I ran the Leona Divide 50 miler, held on a beautiful course on the PCT  in the northwest corner of the Angeles National Forest.  My first race since fracturing my hip socket  in  a freak fall on downhill single track last  May 2014, I finished in 9:25, running comfortably with no hip pain.  I can't express how grateful I am to have been able to start this race and run solid, given  that accident and the surgery needed to screw me back together.

After my surgery,  I'd been non-weight bearing for 7 weeks;  starting to walk again in late July I'd begun a physical therapy regimen to restore flexibility and strength in the injured leg.  After 6 weeks of PT and walking I'd been cleared to start running on  a limited basis;  all through the fall I'd walked and maintained my PT regimen to rehabilitate the hamstrings and glutes, injured by the accident and the surgery required to repair the fracture, as well as to restore lost muscle mass in the quads and calf on the injured leg.  I started training in earnest in late December and  had very gradually ramped up my mileage;  to my surprise I had found myself running faster this season, probably by virtue of improved core strength from all the PT and core exercises.  Heading into  taper week I got a final checkup by my orthopedic surgeon and he gave me the green light:  I was fit and ready-- but a little nervous!  Had I prepared enough to handle 50 miles on the fracture?

...And so the weekend prior to the race I'd run a bit hard, thinking to top off my mileage and tune up my downhill single track running, which had continued to scare me a bit since the accident.    Starting with an easy  14 mile run/walk on Saturday to work out the knots in a tender calf, on Sunday I'd run a hard 24.5 miler up Wilson in 4:07;  the last section down steep technical on the Sam Merrell trail which I forced myself to run at full blast.  Then, as a final touch on  Tuesday I did a tough hip and glute circuit for a final tune up of my hip stabilizing muscles  before the race.

With all this "tuning up" I found myself on Friday at the bib pickup a bit  sore.  Meeting up with my friends Dale and Tina, who was running her first 50k race,  we headed out for Mexican food where I ordered a carne asada for a last bit of muscle repairing protein.  Dale just shook his head, smiling with a chuckle.  I made sure to eat a large number of corn chips in observance of the CW on carbo loading.  After a pleasant, salt-laden meal, we got to our  hotel in Palmdale for our gear set up slumber party -- Tina and I getting our gear ready,  with Dale, who would be crewing Tina, helping out.  We entertained ourselves by  telling Tina wonderful stories about ultra strategy,   hyponatremia, rhabdomyolysis, heat exhaustion .... assuring her how much fun tomorrow would be!  Being rather saner than either Dale or I she took it all in stride and had her gear all ready while I was still figuring our how to pin my bib onto my pants.

We all woke before our 4am alarms;  Dale got us coffee  and we hit the road, arriving at the start around 5:30am.  It was clear and chilly in the predawn dark; I left  a drop bag for the mile 26 aid station and finally it was time to run.  Better trained at this point in the season than I'd been for the last two years, and having woken feeling good, I headed out a bit more aggressively than usual.  In short order we'd run up the fire road to Spunky Edison aid station (mile 2.6) and  hit  the PCT single track heading east.
Mile 8, still nice and cool!  Photo by Howie Stern.

 Hitting  the Bouquet Canyon aid station (mile 8.6), in 1:20, I was 9 minutes ahead of last year's pace and feeling OK but starting to feel that knot in my left calf.  I made steady progress up the 3 mile climb to the top of the next ridge, and then began the 6 miles down towards Agua Dolce at a fast clip. Reaching  Agua Dolce, mile 17.9, in 2:53, I was now 14 minutes ahead of my 2014 split there;  but the down hill had taken a toll on that calf which had become decidedly tender.  I sat and  jammed my thumbs deep into the knot in my calf to try to release it, and washed down a calcium carbonate chew.  Walking up the steep section of fire road before returning to the runnable single track, I began the long 6 mile climb back to the ridge top, and thankfully the calf was feeling good.  At last I crested the ridge.   Reminding myself to focus,  I  dropped in down the west side into the scary-steep downhill toboggan run leading back to Bouquet Canyon.    Reaching the aid station, mile 26.6, in 4:37 with some relief,  I was still 13 minutes ahead of last year's pace despite taking the downhill single track a bit  more tentatively than last year --having learned the hard way that bones can break with a fast downhill single track spill.

By this point it was warm and  incredibly dry; quite unlike last year, when we had begun the race amid snow flurries.  I was starting get salt encrusted.  (Temperatures on race day  reached 84F in nearby Lake Hughes according to Accuweather).
Getting hot and salty at mile 26, just before the Bouquet aid station.  Photo by Howie Stern.
 I zipped off the legs from my zip pants and my friend Marco, who was working the Ultra Medical Team station at Bouquet, helped me with my drop bag.  I drank  an Ensure and Marco got me ice for my bandana.  Thus refreshed I headed out for the last major climb of the race out of Bouquet Canyon,  reaching Spunky Edison (mile 32.6) in 5:50, now just 6 minutes ahead of last year.  I was really starting the feel the heat and stayed a bit long in the aid station to fully hydrate and wet my head and back.  Carrying two full bottles, I started out on the 7 mile desert stretch to San Francisquito Road.  Initially I felt great and was gaining speed, but with 2 miles left to go, I was completely dry, bottles empty, and feeling the dust -- feeling sore in my chest with  a dry  cough.  I pressed on and with great joy saw that my wife and kids had driven up to see me at the aid station;  I arrived dead-on my 2014 40 mile split.
Looking like a salt rimmed margarita glass...
My oldest son-  Thanks!

The best crew ever!

My son and the aid station crew filled my bottles and I drank down a bunch of coke and two bottles of electrolyte drink and water.  I was hurting but extremely  moved to have my family there with me.  Having spent about  15 minutes at the checkpoint rehydrating I was feeling better.  Warning my wife that it might be a slow death march back to the finish, I headed out, this time carrying three bottles.

Power-walking up the 300 foot climb out of the aid station, it was with relief that  I found I was able to run once the trail leveled out.  Looking back on that  run back to Spunky Edison, it had an epic desert feel and I recall  running  through dust devils -  moving well despite the irrelevant discomfort.
Mile 45, photo by Howie Stern
I remember passing many runners  that were out-bound to San Francisquito but couldn't hail them above a whisper, my chest had gotten  so tight with the dust.  At last I hit the final aid station, topped off a bottle and headed down the fire road for the final 2.6 miles.  Rounding the corner to the finish there was my wife Steph and our kids;  Dale and Tina, and many friends.  I crossed the line, Keira put the finishers medal on me, and I hugged my wife, with a full heart.

Finish in 9:25, 15th place
A bit overcome with gratitude

Tina, Dale and Geoff.

Thank you Steph!

It was wonderful to visit with my friends Dale and Tina; Geoff,  Nick, Zachary; and  enjoy the moment with my wife Steph, our son Zack and our munchkins.   

I finished in 9:25, 15th place;  placing better than last year,  while my time was 24 minutes slower in the tougher conditions.  I'd lost all of that time in the last 10 miles which was a good reminder for me of what can happen in these races with heat and the importance of staying on top of hydration.  Great lessons, and a terrific experience.

A wonderful weekend!

Here is a link to the GPS track for the race:


  1. Nice! Way to come back from an injury. Where did you get the race pics from?

    1. Thank you Emilio! The race pics are from Howie Stern, posted here:

      He really took some nice shots at various points in the race...