2008 Leona Divide 50 Mile
by Ben Gaetos
“If you build it, they will come”. The scene from the movie “Field of Dreams” reminded me of the sea of cars on their way to Lake Hughes in the dark. Some runners hit the road as early as 3 am. Who else will be out this early?
The race started at 6 am. Around 170 runners signed up for this event. Some would be stepping on a virgin territory of 50 miles. Other runners treated the race as stepping stone for much bigger races. The camaraderie among the runners filled the air unmindful of the challenge they would face.
After a heart pumping climb on the first 3 miles, a rolling up and down course led to the first aid station at Mile 8.3. Temperature was in the 50’s with a blanket of fog and occasional cold winds.
Shortly after, my legs started to feel heavy. A couple of runners were talking about a great seafood dinner they had the night before. “It’s only 8 am, we’ll be out here all day”, I butted. My friend, Jimmy noticed me walking too soon in the race. He urged me to pick up the running. I lost contact with Dave while Carmela’s voice wasn’t far back.
A series of up and down course followed on the Pacific Coast Trail. Wildflowers bordered some sections of the trail. One has to have a sense of balance running these trails. It was mostly a combination of winding, rolling hills and hopping over drainage trenches. Lost of concentration may mean a trip to the bottom of the hill. Some runners were good on the uphill portion. Others showed their expertise on the downhill. I kept within pace with a group of runners. They passed me on the uphill while I passed them on the downhill.
As I approached Mile 28, loud cheers can be heard. Three time champion and course record holder (6:34:51), Jorge Pacheco arrived at the aid station. That was Mile 42 for him. The looming seven mile straight uphill and back have always decided the outcome of this race.
I filled myself with noodle soup, boiled potatoes, potato chips, nut cake, salt pill and coke. “This is it”, I said to myself. Deb Clem checked if I needed anything else and gave me some words of encouragement. Steve Matsuda hollered too as I crossed the highway. My legs didn’t respond well to the climb. There was no feeling of leg cramps. Meanwhile, Carmela’s strong power walk skills started paying off dividends. She noticed me struggling and asked if I was okay? My archive of excuses wasn’t with me. I simply said, “I have nothing to give, just go ahead.” I couldn’t take advantage of a perfect day.
As the climb continued, returning runners came opposite the cliff hanging single trail. We exchanged encouraging words. Jorge’s closest competitor was 31 minutes back. No female runner was in sight until my Mile 31. Local favorite, Michelle Barton was in an unfamiliar second place position but in hot pursuit. Dave and the rest of my running buddies soon arrived from Mile 35.5 turnaround. I felt a big sigh of relief reaching that point. It seemed like an infinite destination. The rest of the runners would soon feel the same.
On the way back, I started to run in spurts. Andy, who was running with Catra, cheerfully jested not to let those ladies up ahead beat me. I caught up with Carmela and slowly regained my stride. The next 4 miles from M38.6 station was very critical. I rehydrated myself again and checked my watch. I needed a big time rally on the next downhill segment if I want to break 11 hrs again. The response was quick as I spotted a runner to aim for. From here on, the chase for time began as I passed several runners. For the most part, I was a sleeping dragon. It took me awhile to wake up.
At M42, the feeling was much different. The running adrenaline was back. On the final climb, the power walk was much better. I was now within striking distance from last year’s finishing time. One more mile of climbing was left after the last station M46.1. I glanced at my watch and cruised my way to the finish. Race clock read 10:54:--.
Indeed it was another triumphant feeling. The binding of friends both old and new rose to a new level. There are always a lot of lessons learned from each race. One thing I know is that I was not as focused as last year.
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