2014 Leona Divide 50 Miles: Race Report

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 Leona Divide 50 Miles Race report

Last Saturday April 27th I ran the Leona Divide 50 mile race as my qualifier for the  upcoming 2014 Angeles Crest 100.  The race went well, with a 9:01 finish.  I was delighted that I went negative in the second half by 3 minutes-  a nice even, controlled pace though the run.  All systems feel good since the race and my achilles  feel better than they have in months.

The race was run on a new course due to fire damage on the route we ran in 2013.
GPS track of the 2014 Leona Divide 50 mile race course
 Keira Henninger pulled it all together despite the adversity of a mandated course change, and put together a beautiful course with her usual excellent organization and friendly, helpful aid station volunteers (thank you guys!).   A bit more climb and descent,  and steeper grades than last year, much more single track (with about 45 miles on the PCT) and the weather couldn't have been more different:  While last year's race saw a high temperature of 92F, this year we started the race with light snow flurries that persisted for the first 10 miles or so.  The day emerged as blustery and cold starting out threatening rain and by the end, sun-soaked with azure blue skies.

I'd driven up by myself for the Friday bib pickup and stayed in Palmdale while my family stayed in Pasadena, planning to drive up Saturday to crew and see the finish.  At the pickup it was positively freezing.  Friday night there was a rain storm; hitching a ride in the next morning  I got to the start around 5:30 and stayed bundled up and huddled with the other runners (like that scene in Happy Feet) until the 6am start.

I wore my Columbia zip pants long, and  a Columbia wicking long sleeve shirt; on this day because of the cold and threat of rain I avoided cotton.  I wore a pair of Merrell Ascend Gloves, my favorite trail model,  broken in last year while training for AC100.  I love these shoes, they fit like they were custom made for me.  One twist though, probably anathema to some minimalist purists out there,  was that I wore a pair of cheap gel heel inserts to add about 3-4mm of heel lift.   My achilles had not been 100% since coming off of the tendonitis I picked up in my 2013 AC100 race and my thinking was that these lifts would take a bit of the stress off the achilles.  This was something that worked for me ten years ago when I faced a similar (more serious) achilles issue.  It worked out just fine in the race.

We started off in the pre-dawn dark and ran about a mile East up Spunky Canyon Road, turning north onto a fire road for a 2-1/2 mile gentle climb to the first checkpoint, which I and most others blew past.  From there we turned East onto the PCT and began ascending the ridge separating Green Valley from Bouquet Canyon.  The trail was fabulous and as the sun rose I saw there were pockets of snow or sleet on the ground from the storm the night before.  I settled into an easy pace and ran for a bit with Jack Cheng, trading AC100 stories; Jack took off soon blazing the downhill.   Soon I was running with Joe Seeley -- a fellow devotee of minimalist footwear,  we traded experiences and had a great time talking. Cresting the ridge we blew down to the  Bouquet Canyon checkpoint (mile 8), bottoming out,   and then started up again to ascend the ridge separating Bouquet from Agua Dulce.  The trails were occasionally  steep enough to shift down to power hiking but mostly runnable.  Patches of tall grass and poison oak weren't a problem with the long pants and I was running comfortably, on pace for a 9 hour finish.  Finally,  the crest,  and then a long descent into Aqua Dulce.  Soon the leaders were cruising past in the opposite direction and it was great to see Ruperto Romero cranking on the uphill in contention;  this guy is a hero, but at age 50 he is an inspiration.  Refueling at Aqua Dulce aid station (Mile 17)  and shaking some grit out of my shoe I headed back up and spent a few miles chatting with new friends and then broke off to tackle the climb up the ridge, the longest of the course.

Cresting out there was a strong headwind and I was glad of the choice of the wicking shirt as it did a good job of blocking the wind and keeping me warm.  Over the ridge and I dropped down the single track and soon  realized I had been  overtaken by a strong runner who was matching my pace down the twisty steep single track.  "Pass when you're ready" I called out but the runner called back she was cool where she was.  We got to talking in between steeper pitches; hit the Buquet Canyon checkpoint (mile 27) where I lost her as she went for a drop bag, but soon after I'd left the checkpoint, the runner, Laura Lingeman, had caught me again.  We worked together up the ridge to Spunky Edison (mile 33) and then pushed each other, trading off point position and cranking the rolling downhill into San Francisquito aid station (mile 40) passing a few more runners along the way.  I was delighted to meet my family at the aid station.
At San Francisquito aid station, the best crew ever... 
....what a beautiful day

After family hugs and refueling,  Laura and I joined back up  and headed back out to tackle the 5 mile climb back to the ridge separating San Francisquito from Spunky Edison.  Still picking up a few runners, we moved steadily up and Laura took the lead.  Laura was picking up strength and slowly pulling away from me.  I was beginning to feel a bit short winded and just couldn't keep up with her powerful surge.  Seeing her on a  hairpin bend I waived encouragement and she moved smoothly up and out of sight!

Finally I reached the descent and came to Spunky Edison to refill on some electroluminescent pink stuff (brrr!) and hit the last 2.5 mile descent on the fire road.  I cruised in, hit the blacktop and finally saw the turn to the finish area just ahead.  I was ready to be done running.  Just as I was reaching the turn, Jason Emberger and Vincent Juarez came out of nowhere and blew past me at a full sprint;  I accelerated to respond but it was too late and I was too done:

Rounding the former into the finish..

Jason and Vincent kicking in past me...great finish fellas!

It was great to hit the finish and meet  hugs with my family and see Laura.  Laura had dropped me by 7 minutes in the last 5 miles, a powerful finish that earned her 2nd place among the ladies. I was delighted to introduce my daughter to this amazing young woman:

 My wife Steph with my daughter in pink (hiding from the camera) meeting Laura
At the finish with Laura Lingeman, 2nd place woman 

I am happy with the run as I ran a very even pace, with a time of 4h32m for the first half and 4h29m for the second half.   I felt comfortable the whole way though.

Here is a link to my GPS track for the race:
Leona Divide 50 GPS track

I wouldn't necessarily recommend it but this 50 mile trail run did seem to burn in my achilles pretty well;  as I wrote above,  they haven't felt this good since AC100.

It was truly a fabulous, fun day.  I am grateful to my wife Steph and kids who came out to cheer me on and crew;  grateful to have made new friends at the race and grateful to the organizers and volunteers --Thank you all!

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