Thursday, April 7, 2022

Old West Trails 50K Race Recap

I ran the Old West Trails 50K at the beginning of March. (Yep, it's been almost a month since the race, but I've been putting off writing the recap because the race definitely did NOT go how I was hoping {but I'm getting ahead of myself...}. Even still, I always told myself I'd write my recaps before running another race because I never wanted to get 'that far behind', so seeing as I have a trail marathon this weekend I forced myself to finally get my thoughts to paper post.)

Can see the flag on the bush in front of the sign? The course ran by here and I
made the hubby drive to it on the way out so I could snag a "finisher" photo. 

I originally signed up for this race in October of 2019. It was scheduled for March of 2020, but then COVID hit and the race was postponed and rescheduled a few times, only to eventually be put back on the calendar for March 2022. 


The race starts and ends at a campground in Anza-Borrego, so the hubby and I thought it'd be fun to camp the night before the race. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, he was registered for the half marathon distance while I'd be tackling the 50K.) We booked a spot for the 2020 race and obviously had to cancel the week of the original event once the race was cancelled and rebooked for 2022 when the date was finalized. Unfortunately COVID had other ideas... Yup, although the hubby and I are both fully vaccinated, he came home from snowboarding in Mammoth with the pesky virus so we had to cancel our campsite AGAIN because he was still testing positive on Wednesday of race week. Thankfully on Friday when he retested he was in the clear, so he was able to run the event but since we had already cancelled our camp spot (we had to do it more than 24 hours in advance to get any type of refund) we'd have to drive to the race on Saturday morning.

He tested positive for 11 days, but on day 12 he was negative!

Since the race was the weekend before St. Patrick's Day, I had the PERFECT Sparkle Athletic skirt to wear for the event. I made sure to lay everything out the night before so I wouldn't forget anything come race morning. {I'll be honest, I went back and forth on which PRO Compression socks to wear. I thought the smiley face socks were a MUST but I was nervous because I wasn't sure if the yellow would get thrashed on the trails. Eventually I went with them anyway and I'm happy to report the trails were more sand than dirt so they didn't get too nasty.} #ObviouslyTheGearMatters ;)

This race's #FlatCarlee included: Smiley PRO Compression SocksShamrock Sparkle Athletic SkirtNathan VaporHowe Hydration Vest
PROBAR BOLT chews#TeamSparkle tankelite Road IDQALO silicone wedding bandswatermelon nuun hydration, custom rainbow
trucker ;), Body Glide for HerMomentum Jewelry wrapsCOROS APEX WatchMudLOVE braceletgloves and Altra Olympus 4.

The alarms were set (much earlier had we been staying at the race startline, but I was just stoked that the hubby would be able to run the event since we were both worried he would still be testing positive for COVID and have to miss it entirely).

Anza Borrego is about 90 minutes from our house and there isn't a super direct way to get there, which meant a lot of curvy roads, but thankfully the traffic was smooth sailing at 5am in the morning so the drive was easy and uneventful. 

Welcome to the campground!

The 50K and marathon were set to start at 7am, with the half marathon kicking off at 7:30am. We shot to be there by 6:30am so we could find parking, grab our bibs/ participant tees and use the potty before I had to be at the start.

Who knows... Maybe 514 is a lucky number?!

Bib pick-up was super easy (as with most trail races - the start is pretty low key and there are usually a ton less runners than with road races). I think it took all of about 3 minutes to get everything we needed before we were on our way.

It was nice that they had bib pick-up inside a meeting room, that way you could get out of the chilly morning air.

When I had originally checked the weather for Anza Borrego it was showing in the high 30s at the start and temps in the mid-60s around the time I'd be finishing. I figured a tank and sleeves would be perfect (normally the desert is chill once the sun goes down but tends to warm up quickly as soon as that golden ball of fire makes its way into the sky).

When we left it didn't look bad... but apparently I 
didn't have a super accurate zip code when I looked...

Well, let's just say I was so thankful I threw a light jacket in the car before we left because on the drive out to the race it had dropped to 24* at some places along our journey and was 27* once we pulled into the campground around 6:30am. 

BRRRRRRR! I know I grew up in Michigan, but quickly
became a "weather wimp" once I moved to SoCal in 2006.

I knew the chill wasn't going to last, but I still threw my new PRO Compression alum windbreaker on (along with gloves) when Ryan and I made our way to the start line. I figured I could always jam my stuff in my hydration vest, but I really didn't want to be shivering for the first few miles of the race. (Note - I tend to "run warm" and my elbow pits are the first thing that sweat on me so I knew the layers wouldn't last, but I'd always prefer to be over prepared than under prepared.)

Glad the windbreaker had a little extra room in it so my hydration vest fit perfectly
underneath it (I didn't want to have to stop to remove my vest once I got warmed up).

Before long it was time to hear our pre-race instructions (which mostly just consisted of flags to follow for each distance) and wish us luck. As per usual, the trail races are very low-key and after a quick count down and "GO" we were off.

Not too bad of a turn out!

Sometimes I research a race completely beforehand (looking at course maps/ elevation profiles/ aid station splits/ etc) and sometimes I wing it. This one was more of a "let's show up and see how it goes". Although this was the only race before my 100-miler that I was actually tapering for (I just fit the others into my schedule as long runs), I still knew I wasn't "racing" this one and more just needed time on my feet so wasn't too concerned with knowing the in's and out's of the course. I do my best to be as self sufficient as possible (especially now, in the times of COVID), so I knew I had enough water, electrolytes and fuel with me for the event, but apparently I didn't study the elevation of the course enough because I swear it felt like we were running uphill for the first 8 miles or so (even if at times it was just gradual). #GoingUpUpUP

Again, it doesn't look terrible, but it was a pretty constant uphill.

I was feeling strong for the first seven-ish miles. Don't get me wrong, I didn't think I was going to win or anything like that, but in the back of my mind I thought maybe I could hold my own in the competitive field. Well, that was until about mile eight. Around mile eight the lower left hand side of my back seized up and I couldn't seem to do anything about it. I tried stretching, I tried walking, I tried breathing through it and nothing was making it feel any better. Frick, frick, FRICK!

Maybe a selfie would take my mind off of it... Maybe not : /

I had started my period the day before (sorry if that's TMI for some of my male readers) and although I normally have bad cramps that accompany my menstrual cycle, I didn't think that was to blame. The course had a few out and back sections on it and thankfully within a couple miles I came across the hubby. I told him that my back was a BIG issue and that I would probably be walking quite a bit of the rest of the race (that way he wouldn't worry when my time was a lot longer than originally anticipated, especially since we didn't have any service out in the desert and I couldn't call him along the course). It was great getting to see him for a few minutes - it lifted my spirits, even if it didn't relieve any of the pain.

Seeing my hubby was just the burst of energy I needed so that I could dig
myself out of the mental hole I found myself in before I got too deep...

I did my best to keep moving forward. I would run when I could (mostly on the flats and downhills) and walk when I had to. There was definitely an internal battle raging inside my head - between the competitive runner and the cautious runner. On the one hand, I would tell myself that this was okay because it was "time on my feet" and "just a training run" and that the bigger goal I was going for was my 100-miler, but on the other hand whenever someone would pass me I would want to chase them down. I know I am probably the only person who actually cares about my finishing time or the place I come in, but that doesn't mean it's just as easy as flipping a switch and telling myself I don't care anymore and can walk it in.


It seemed like a lot of people were having rough days (at least the folks that ended up around me). Many of us were playing "leapfrog" (one person passing the other when they felt strong enough to run and then the other person passing them back when they were running and the other one was taking a walk break). Obviously I never want someone else to have a "bad" race, but it did make me feel a little less alone knowing there were others around me who were struggling.

Although the first half of the race seemed to have a large chunk of uphill, it was definitely gradual. I also knew that the majority of the elevation change came in the second half (mostly because I remember in the description that it said the half marathon was relatively flat but the marathon and 50K had some climbing to contend with and since we were all sharing the course I assumed the difference had to come once the half runners turned off to head towards the finish line). 

This is where the half folks made their way towards the finish and we continued on.

My assumption was not wrong. When we hit mile 20, we had to climb a mountain (okay, it may not have been an actual mountain, but at this point of the race and with the pain I was feeling, the hill in front of me definitely looked a lot more insurmountable than I was expecting). There were quite a few switchbacks going up and over, which made it feel not as steep, but it did lengthen the distance we were covering to climb the hill. There were definitely loose rocks on the trail too.

It might not look 'that bad', but at Mile 20, it was honestly a mountain to summit...

I was hopeful that we'd be able to jog the downhill, but once I crested the top I realized the trail wasn't super runnable. It was a bit more technical than I was comfortable with (steep with a lot of larger and looser rocks), so more hiking it was... Obviously at this point in the race I had given up on a decent finishing time, but I'd be lying if I said the terrain didn't deflate my already flailing sails. I was hoping I could make up a little of the time on the backside of the hill, but that didn't seem to be the case, especially when we started having to climb over boulders and make our way through crevices.

Again, probably not terrible, but my legs were already a bit wobbly at
this point so I was NOT about the chance it and try to run DOWN this...

Eventually we did get out of the tough stuff and got to a gradual downhill towards the final aid station/ turnaround spot. I was doing my best to keep chugging along (I knew early on in the race that my running form was totally "off" when I felt like I was having to fling my left leg around to get it to the front of my body) but quickly put two and two together and realized - what goes down must come back up. Yep, every step I was running downhill towards the final aid station I begrudgingly took because I knew I would have to climb my way not only back up the gradual descent I was jogging down, but would then again have to go back up and over the "mountain". I was doing my best to stay in the moment and not focus on what was to come, but I knew in the back of my mind that even though I might be running at the present moment (however slowly it might have been), there would be quite a few miles of straight walking/ hiking coming soon. 


Oh yeah, and just in case you were wondering if I was still doing my #3PieceChallenge... I AM! I was pleasantly surprised that there was very little litter on the trails, but I did find three pieces. (Funny story - the hubby said he saw the lighter too!)

I was able to stash the trash in my vest while I ran.

Because I was doing a lot more walking than I was originally planning on, I was on the course for a lot longer than expected. As I'm sure you could expect, the desert definitely warmed up quickly, but thankfully my pack was fully stocked. I fueled with my PROBAR BOLT Chews, hydrated with water (in my back bladder) and nuun electrolytes (in my front flasks). I probably could have been drinking a bit more fluids, but I never felt dehydrated so think I was a-okay.

Pink Lemonade BOLT Chews are my JAM!

Looking back at my paces, things weren't as terrible as I was originally expecting. I was able to get in some sub-10 minute miles (when there was downhill) late in the race and for how rough my body was feeling I'm pretty proud of that.

Paces from my COROS APEX 42 watch

The elevation from my watch. Overall it said we had over about 2,800 feet of climbing. 

Eventually it was time to make my way to the finish line. I was so stoked to see the hubby still sticking it out, waiting for me! He even snagged a shot of me doing my best impersonation of a strong runner heading towards the finish line ;)

The grimace on my face was a bit due to running directly into the sun and a bit due to the pain.

There wasn't too much fanfare at the finish (probably because the majority of the half and full marathon finishers had already come through and they were just waiting on the 50K'ers to struggle their way in), but that's not an issue for me. We crossed under the same banner we ran under to start, gave the timing folks our number and you got your medal. 

I don't know about you, but I sort of love medals that aren't made of metal ;)

I would have loved a "finish line" picture, but the sun was in the wrong direction, so I figured a selfie would have to suffice.

HA, just look at all of that salt, sand and grime caked on my face... YUM!

The hubby walked me into the room where we picked up our bibs before the race and they had a spread of food for the finishers. Apparently they had great goodies before they all got picked over by the runners who finished earlier (hubby said there was "real coke", Jarritos, _____, etc). I grabbed a bottle of cold water and a small purple G2 Gatorade. 

It was super nice of them to have stir-fry after the race, but seeing as I was in the heat for 6 hours,
it did not sound appetizing at the moment... I just wanted something cold and something salty.

Seeing as I had been walking for what seemed like FOR-EV-ER, I was ready to get in the car and get on our way. I did make the hubby drive us over to one of the state park signs I saw on our way into the finish line so I could get a picture.

We aren't the only ones who play around with panos, right?!

Although the race did not go as I would've liked [side note - even with how rough it was, I still placed 32nd overall, 9th female and 4th in my age group - so not too shabby all things considered!], I'm glad I didn't throw in the towel (#RealTalk - I probably mentally threw in the towel at least once a mile, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other, so that's gotta be a win, right?!). I don't believe the race itself had anything to do with my back seizing or my leg issues [you can read my 100-Miler Training : Update #3 if you're interested, but after a visit to a sports medicine doctor and a referral to physical therapy I found out the issue was actually a strained hamstring/ abductor/ hip flexor from my November 50-mile bike ride that hasn't "healed"], but even still, I don't think I would do this race again. Don't get me wrong, I love all creation, but this race wasn't the most beautiful I've run and with the second half (at least of the 50K) being less runnable than I would like {even if my body had held up}, there's nothing screaming my name to call me back again in the future. #OneAndDone


No love lost, this race just wasn't my jam (but I'm sure it's someone else's cup of tea and they'll have a BLAST!).

Do you like running the same race multiple times or do you normally just run a race once?

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