Saturday, February 8, 2014

SO50...kicking off 2014

Photo c/o Ken, George and I looking tough

And the 2014 race season has begun; I kicked it off at the Inaugural Sean O’Brien 50 miler in Malibu.  
While my 2014 race calendar may not be filled with monthly races, I aspire to compete in the Grand Slam of racing this year, four 100's in less than 4 months....lots more to come!

I first registered for the Orcas Island 50k (same weekend) and then deciding some Vitamin D would do me good I swapped it for racing in sunny Malibu, one of KeiraHenninger’s races. If you haven't run any of her races I highly recommend it, great courses,aid stations, volunteers and after parties.  Keira is also a fellow Patagonia trail runner.

Great dinner with friends!

With sun in mind, rain greeted Ken and I on Thursday, but that did not stop our adventures. First stop was Ventura where we spent part of the day touring the Patagonia headquarters with George  (Patagonia trail running team manager) as our tour guide (Thanks G!). 
Friday, Ken and I spent the day relaxing and putting in a few shake out miles on the course.  The course reports 11,000ft of vert and as I took in the towering canyon walls all around and the heart stopping drops to the canyon floor of below I could only imagine what Saturday would bring.

My training had been haphazard in building up to this race.  After registering in November I then proceeded to take from December 4th through January 1st completely off from running.  I won’t bore you with my girlie issues J and while I did some cross training IE stationary bike, walking on the treadmill, squats, lunges and the like, there was no running to be had.  Needless to say with my longest run, a 21 mile Smith Rock Badass run courtesy of team mate Jeff Browning, I had a bit of trepidation going into this race.  Ken asked if perhaps I wanted to bump down to the 50k distance but being the who I am, I did not…with the thought that this race would be a strong training run J Ha!
Photo by Donovan Jenkins mi 6.5, warming up on the climb!
 Saturday arrived, temp of 28 degrees and clear skies, so much for the heat of Malibu! Ken and I quickly rethought our dress for the start, adding the Houdini layer for some protection.  We had checked in for the race and had gone back to the car, hoping to connect with George.  I called him the previous night, calling upon him to aid us with a couple of headlamps.  Yup, you got it; we didn’t bring any and guess what time the sun rise is in Malibu…6:40 race start was 0600….no George, and no lamps. Ken and I got out of the car about 6 minutes before the start of the race and for the 1st time (not due to being in a bathroom) we heard the hoots and hollers and flashing lights of a race starting without us!!!  Seriously, we are NOT rookies but between the headlamps and missing the start of the race we were definitely not showing our Ultra running experience!
Photo c/o Greg Lanctot; UltrAspire
Spry 1L, love it!

Photo c/o Greg Lanctot
To the back of the pack we ran and I mean DFL.  Someone even graciously asked to take our drop bag when they saw us looking frantically around for the drop bag location…and finally, we were off.

I quickly found myself tucking in behind a runner with a light and who looked to be doing the same as I, maneuvering efficiently through the runners.  When he saw my predicament he even stopped and turned around to allow me to use his light to cross the creek!  How great is the camaraderie among ultra runners!!

Photo c/o Greg Lanctot; having an amazing day
I finally made it out onto the first long climb on a fire road and was able to move freely among the runners.  As I moved through the runners it gave me great opportunity to meet and greet both friends and new faces.  1st aid station was 6.5 mi and I was told the lead female was 12 minutes up on me J go Cassie!  I was feeling good and it was early.  I was making the climbs nicely and hitting the downhills at a moderate pace.  Before long I was running with Meghan (who had already taken her 1st fall L ) I would pass her on the uphill and she would pass me back on the downhill.  I finally pulled ahead of her at the second aid station, also passing Bree Lambert.  Ahead of me were Luann Parker and Tera Dube.  This next section was a long descent, Luann and Tera pulled ahead with Luann leading the charge down the hill.  I kept my pace around the 7:30’s, again fearful of what would happen if I started pounding the down hill this early on.  We were at about mile 15.

Asked to smile with a mouth full
of banana! Mi 37
Photo c/o Greg Lanctot
I came into aid station #5 at mile 19 and was told I was F5.  This section had a small out and back giving me opportunity to see Luann and Tera heading out as I was coming in.  I fueled up and was off.  This next section was considered the toughest climb on the course and so I began my trot.  Within about 5-10 minutes I found myself passing both Luann and Tera.  In passing Luann she asked "you're already in Western States right?" I responded with, "yes" ,"I'll let you go then", responded Luann.  This race is part of the Montrail Ultra Cup and the first 3 men and women get a ticket to States, if a runner is already in States it rolls to the 4th finisher.  If the volunteer at the aid station was correct, I was 3rd chick at mile 22, which by the way was the furthest I had ran in give or take 3-4 months.  Crazy what thoughts like that do to your brain J  I continued to feel strong and let my legs do the work on the climbs.  Again, as I hit the down hill, I stayed conservative with my pace and while I wanted to look behind me for one of those speedy downhill gals (Megan, Luann or Tera) I refrained and continued to run my own race.  I took in the amazing scenery while listening to some great tunes.  I chatted with a few of the guys I came upon but spent most of this time by myself.  Just the trail and the voices in my head…"are my legs going to hang in there?", "wow we have to climb all the way back up to that ridge?", "how and where is Ken, why hasn’t he passed me, where are the women?", "ugh I don’t think I can eat anymore Swedish fish", and so on goes the voice.

Finally the last aid station, 6.5 miles to go, same 6.5 we started with and so I had sort of seen it once.  I came into the aid and was told F2 was 8 minutes up on me and then was asked, do you know how far back F4 was??? Not sure how I was to know and so I said, “I wish I knew” and was off.  I trotted out of the aid, up the sandstone and down.  I new at this point I could push the down hills and was still running the ups fairly well.  With about 1 mile to go and heading up the last climb of the race, I glanced back and hear and well as saw F4, Tera “hey Denise” she says…..ugh, seriously!!! And so I did what I could only do, I trotted the ups and pushed the downs and…Tera was still close behind me…I hit the last flat section racing with what I had left…racing to the finish line with Tera a mere 18 seconds behind me!!!
Great job ladies F1-F4, see you all at States!
What a day, what a race.  Congrats to Tera for securing that 4th spot and a ticket to states, as well as Cassie and Sally (F1, F2) who also secured States entry.
Big shout out again to Keira Henninger who put together an absolutely amazing race. As always a special thanks to my great sponsors Patagonia and UltrAspire for creating the best gear out there. 


  1. Denise, great job (considering the lack of running the month prior). The pictures are really beautiful. Will have to check it out next year! Good luck with the rest of your season.


  2. Thank you Nicola, I was super pleased with how well my cross training helped me out. I would definitely recommend this race, it was a great combination of challenging climbs with scenic views. Great support also!
    Cheers! D

  3. Hey Denise - really looking at UA Spry for Ice Age 50 and WS100 this year. How'd the 1L reservoir work out for you ... seems pretty tight / light / simple / minimal. Any chance a 20oz bottle fits up front or probably just the 8-12 oz kind?

    Cheers and good luck with 2014!!!!

    1. Hi Adam, sorry for the late response! Great family pic on your Blog!
      I love the Spry, and it is exactly that, tight, light and on that note it fits only a singe liter bladder. It has the 2 front pockets, I tested mine out with the bladder full and a 20oz bottle in the front pocket and while it actually fits, I don't think the design supports it. While the vest has a stape at the front and the sides for adjustment, when I tried it out, the bottle continued to bounce on my rib cage...I use the front pockets for gel flasks, windbreaker, snacks :) and such. I also ordered an extra bladder for my drop bag for swapping out at aid stations.
      I hope this was helpful.
      I will be at the States training camp weekend, perhaps I will see you there! Good luck at Ice Age it's a great race! Cheers