I am always searching for new fun, exciting, and adrenaline filled activities to do. I’ve said before, I am a sucker for agreeing to extreme activities, far before I am actually physically prepared to do them. When it comes to physical challenges, ignorance is in my world is bliss. I can’t count how many times I’ve said to myself, “If I knew how hard this was going to be, I never would have done it.” BUT, knowing how thankful I am that I did it after the pain has passed, is what keeps me coming back for more.
So, for those of you ladies out there who would like to experience a new athletic high, trail running may be your next sport.
A few blogs ago I wrote about my first experience ultra-trail running, which took place in Mississippi, in March 2014. I must say, crossing that finish line from this first ultra was the moment of my life. The feeling of completing such an intense activity left me wanting more and more. Fast forward to September, a few weeks ago I ran the Kodiak 50, which is a trail run at Big Bear Lake in Southern California.
The race provides courses for both 100 miles and 50 miles (I opted for the 50).
This is not a race for the mentally unprepared, as it takes place at an elevation between 5,100 feet and 10,000 feet. This is a big time endurance race for trained athletes. The cutoff time for the 100 miler is 36 hours, and for the 50 is 19 hours. This is nonstop running/hiking. Welcome to the world I love.
Ultimately, what separates ultra-trail runners from marathon runners is the terrain and the distances ran. Most of us are familiar with the prestigious Boston Marathon, which is a standard 26.2 miles through the streets of Boston, (side note: I have always had a life goal of qualifying for Boston). But what’s different about a standard marathon from an ultra-trail marathon is that the runner will be trudging his/her way either 50 or 100 miles through forested trails and rugged terrain, depending on which race she/he chooses.
I think, trail running offers numerous advantages over training on roads, which is why many newcomers are drawn to the sport.
Some of these advantages include:
- Less impact on the body with trail running
- Trail running is more fun than roads…this may be a biased opinion J
- Recovery on trails can be easier on the body
- There tend to be fewer overuse injuries from running trails
- Running on trail is more fun than running on roads
- The air on the trails tends to be cleaner with more trees and less traffic
- You utilize more muscle groups when running trails
- And soo much more fun!
If you are semi unfamiliar with Ultra Trail Running, or just ultra-running in general, it is probably because many of these endurance events are still fairly underground.
Most people have either run a half or full marathon (either on road or on a trail), or know someone who knows someone who has. However, the same can’t be said about the ultra-running community. Yet, the popularity of the sport has slowly begun gaining momentum throughout the United States, and ultra-trail running groups have been springing up everywhere. Many ultramarathon events, regardless of road or trail, have severe obstacles such as inclement weather, elevation change, or rugged terrain.
Dependent on the run, there are aid stations along the route from five to seven miles apart, but many require pacers for nighttime hours, and a crew to make sure you have all the nutrition you need to complete the run and not die (joking, but not joking).
The Kodiak race of Southern California, which just finished its second year, has all of these challenges. The race, held in beautiful Big Bear Lake, near San Bernardino, California tends to surprise people. The mountains, which tower over 9,000 feet, can be typically sunny one moment and rain showers the next.
Because of the altitude, the nights can be cool but the daytime temperatures tend to be comfortable during September when the race is held. The 50 mile race starts in the Village of Big Bear Lake and, after a circuitous route through the mountains and neighborhoods of Big Bear end up on the opposite side of the lake.
The 100 mile race ends up back at the Village. Altitude is definitely a factor. Both races start at the 6,800-foot level. The 50 mile run takes the marathoners as high as 7,900 feet and as low as 5,000 feet while the 100 miler course gets as high at 9,900 feet. Both courses are grueling as one can imagine.
What is specifically nice about this race is that the second half of the 100 mile course begins where the 50 mile course begins. So, if you have a friend who is running the 100, and you decide to run the 50, you can actually schedule to meet up and run the last half with them (the last half being 50 trail miles..ahh). Fees may vary but the cost this year was $250 to challenge the 100-mile course and $100 for the 50 mile run. The race organizers are awesome, and you can’t beat the amazing runners who turn up for events like these.
As previously detailed, trail running is especially difficult because there are so many elements to consider, including: terrain, climate, altitude, and clearly marked course direction; so trying to figure out how long it will take someone to actually finish the race, can be really challenging. In the first year of the event, out of the sixty-seven 100 milers that started the race in 2013, only 19 people finished.
The top time was expected to be less than 20 hours but the top runner, Gary Harrington from New Hampshire, was the only runner to break 24 hours coming in at 23:58:55. The top woman from San Diego (whoo!), Jeri Ginsburg, clocked in at 29:15:10. Runners in the 50 mile event fared better with 54 finishers out of the 71 runners who started. Italy’s Michele Graglia came in at a phenomenal time of 9:32:28. The top woman was Kristina Tudor of Azusa, California who cranked out a 12:03:20 finish.
This year, I was privileged to run in this amazing event. Luckily, I had two of my absolutely favorite running buddies participating also. Shannon was there specifically to help pace my friend Maia and for myself, to offer support between aid stations. I cannot tell you how excited we were every 10 miles or so seeing Shannon with pizza, soda, and smiles. It was definitely needed!
Throughout races like these, you really have so much time to think. Personally, unlike marathoning, I am so much less concerned with my time, and so much more concerned with listening to my body, pacing myself, and thinking, thinking, thinking. I thought about all of the things I still want to do in my life and how I am going to get them done.
I thought about different pitfalls that I’ve fallen into in the past, and how I can plan for my weaknesses differently. I think that is one of the things I love most about running, especially on the trails—it is unbelievably cathartic. I have made some of my major life decisions being out in the solitude of the mountains, and every time I smell that mountain air, I am reminded what it is I love about being alive.
On this day, I loved the amazing people I met along the way. Having small, but meaningful conversations about life, kids, traveling, social justice, and more, makes you feel so connected to a person you may have just met. There’s something very intimate that happens out on the trail, and those moments have fostered some of the most influential relationships I have in my life. It becomes overwhelming as you cross the finish line to see people cheering for you that you only met a few hours before. This year I finished in 12:23, 5th in the ladies, and the first time I have ever been in the top 10. It was a moment for me that I won’t soon forget, but more than anything, it was affirmation that women are capable of doing amazing physical challenges.
After the race, once I returned to San Diego, someone made the comment to me, “12 hours, that’s pretty good for a girl.” I was so caught off guard by the comment, that at the time I didn’t say much. But as the day went on, the comment kept repeating over and over in my head obsessively. It was one of those moments in life that you wish you can rewind and do it over. Geez, there were so many things I could have said but didn’t. But, what I can do is say, or rather write, something now. Ladies, the next time you do something physically challenging, whether it’s an ultra, a marathon, a 5k, cross-fit, handstands, yoga, or just getting up and walking your dog, just remember, you didn’t do it well for a girl—you did it well AS a girl, and you’re making the rest of us super proud!
And when you do something YOU consider to be physically amazing, don’t forget to #gutslikeagirl, so all of us can see how amazing you are. See you on the mountain.