Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lake Hodges 2013 50K Recap - Running with the fear

Back in a former life, I was a hardcore surfer.  This week brought back memories of that life.  I used to live in San Francisco and Ocean Beach, home of 48 degree water, 45 minute paddle outs, six wave sets and double and triple overhead waves, was my break.

To get to the beach, my friend Sam and I would drive down Lincoln Way, which runs alongside Golden Gate Park and hits Ocean Beach.  On big days, especially on dawn patrol, Sam and I would drive the three miles to the beach in his silver Nissan Sentra, quiet as church mice.  We knew we were going to get worked, that our arms were going to burn and that we would paddle straight up waves, hoping we would just make it over the top, before the wave crashed on top of us, sending us into a world of pain.

On the bigger days, as we got closer, not only could we see the waves from a mile out, we could hear them. Sam and I may have had the fear on those days, but we never spoke of it.  We pulled on our wetsuits, waxed our boards and trotted off into the surf, dealing with the fear.

This week, the fear rose up in me.  I had signed up for the Lake Hodges 50K, which is 31.06 miles and took place on Sunday, October 27, 2013.  Prior to Lake Hodges, the longest I have ever run was the Carlsbad Marathon in January 2013.  The six weeks prior to the marathon, I was injured and ran a total of about 40 miles.  During the race itself, I had to walk the last three miles and was in a considerable amount of pain, finishing in 4:07.  Once done, I swore I would never run a marathon again.  

Despite all that, here I was, a few days away from running 31.06 miles!  What was I thinking.  Was I ready, could I do it, would I survive?  The closer I got to the race, the more the fear rose up.  There was nothing I could do.  I was either ready or I wasn't.  I could either run or not run.  I chose to run with the fear.

The race itself began in a very foggy Rancho Bernardo at 7:00 a.m.  Just prior to the start, while sitting off the back of my car drinking coffee, my spirit animal, a rabbit, ran into the parking lot, over to my car and then back into the woods.  I took it as a sign that I was in the right place.

At the start line, about 150 runners were lined up.  The race began and about seven or eight runners got out in front of me, some of them appearing to go way to fast (apparently at least one runner eventually dropped out).  I eased into the race and a long train of runners formed behind me.  Over the next two miles, three runners passed me, placing me into about tenth.  I let them go, knowing the race had barely begun.

I felt good and the next five or six miles no one passed me.  I slowly reeled in a guy in front of me who was carrying two water bottles.  I couldn't quite figure this out, as there was water on the course.  One water bottle I could understand, but what was the point of two - that's a lot of extra weight for a four plus hour race.  I decided I had to beat him.  I passed him, going into ninth and up next was a guy who looked strong, but probably weighed 190.  I'm six feet and weigh 150.  I knew it was only a matter of time.  I caught him around mile 9, putting me into eighth.

Next up was Tracy, a women I spoke to after the race.  Tracy ended up winning the woman's division in 4:25.  I caught her, going into seventh and for the next 8 miles, I passed no one.  Finally around mile 16, I caught my last runner, placing me into sixth.  At the turn, at 18.75 miles, I felt good, but my body was tiring.  At the same time, my Garmin died and I was running blind so to speak.  I had a vague idea of course distances, but I like my watch . . .

I turned around and headed back up Raptor Ridge.  At the crest, Tracy caught me and I put in one last effort, trying to fly down the hill and put some distance between me and her.  It worked for a bit, but soon enough Tracy passed me and she was gone.

I soon began to struggle.  My right butt cheek had been tight since mile five.  Now it was creeping up into my back.  Each step with my right foot was beginning to hurt - why was I doing this again?  I wanted to stop, but I kept going.  Finally around what I figured was 26.2, I began to walk for a bit and then run.  I was now into new territory, I had never run more than 26.2 before.  I was almost there.  For the next four miles, I stayed in seventh.  Finally, with about a mile to go, a man caught me and another one was gaining on me.

However, the guy who caught me had two guys following him on mountain bikes for the last bit of the race. They were carrying his water and I had to step off the trail to let them pass.  I imagine this is the sort of thing that can get a runner DQed and it annoyed me enough to find some more energy.

I decided to give it my all and run the last bit.  The race finishes with a climb up a hill and then a downhill section.  The man who had just passed me, was walking the hill a little further up.  I was running it.  He was looking back.  I had a chance.  I caught him at the top of the hill.  I sprinted.  He tried to keep up with me. He couldn't.  I poured it on, I felt no pain.  I was almost there.  And then after four hours, thirty-five minutes and twenty-four seconds I was done.  I had never run so long in my life.  I finished seventh, could barely speak or walk, but I was done.

The race itself was well organized, had a friendly vibe and had fantastic people manning well-stocked aid stations out on the course.  If you have never run a 50K, this is the place to start.  Thanks for the experience and a huge medal!  

San Elijo Hills Running Club


  1. Great job, John. I didn't recognize you out there. Must have come through my aid station too fast.

  2. Thanks Dax. When I was feeling tired, I thought of you running JMT. Enjoy reading your blog. Need to run with the boys on the weekend sometime.

  3. I think I might be that 190 lber. Or the guy with two water bottles. What a kook. I enjoyed the recap :)

  4. Alex, you were the "strong guy". Hopefully you like that adjective. Good job.