Growing up I swam on a summer swim team affectionately called the Surf Club Water Rats. My hair was green and life was good...fast forward 30 plus years and I am proud to say I have become an official Desert Rat!
Thanks to my friend & neighbor Tom for encouraging me to venture west for the 24th running of the High Desert 50k. Race Director Terry Mitchell and her crew put on a peach of an event...challenging course over scenic terrain of the Mojave Desert, casual atmosphere and great people. While I had no big expectations for my first go at an ultra I was definitely looking forward to it as race day approached. Using some of the lingering fitness from my triathlon season I put in about a three week block of training in preparation. Nothing too crazy though with two long runs of 2:00 and 3:00 respectively.
I went to the desert with several unknows - pacing, terrain, knowledge of other athletes, etc. My plan was basically to sit in behind the leaders and see how things would unfold. The field would have several accomplished athletes including current course record holder Robert Leonardo (3:17) and 2008 Badwater Ultra Champion Jorge Placheco. As we made our way into the desert the early leaders were a couple of young stallions who run at a local college outside of LA. I sat in behind these guys for the first few miles and by the first aid station at mile 5.5 we formed a small group of three. The pace was comfortable & conversational, but faster than what I expected for the start of an ultra. Well turns out these two characters had just completed their 8k race season and like me were newbies to the ultra scene. We ran together for a while and at one point these guys had to take a whiz. Not really sure what ultra protocol would call for in this situation I simply waited for them and took down some Hammer Gel. Upon hitting some rolling terrain around mile 13 I decided to have a little fun and picked up the pace a bit to see how these speedsters would respond. I noticed I was building a small gap and continued to run solo off the front for the reamainder of the race.
The course was terrific with stunning views of the Sierras and forgiving terrain of sand/dirt. After mile 5.5 we had aid stations every three miles so fueling was not a big concern and I had plenty of opportunity to top off my water bottle. The middle miles of this course were tough with some decent climbs and over the final 10 miles my hammies were hurtin'! I crossed the line with great joy to have just completed my first ultra and coming breaking the 3:30 mark in 3:27.
What made this race tough in addition to the distance and terrain was the wind - it was howling on race day with gusts up to 40mph. The legs are feeling pretty decent with some light activity this week and perhaps I'll tackle another one of these off-road ultras in the future.
Keep it smooth...