Running, hiking, dying in the desert

As a child I did not do well in the extreme heat plus humidity of Memphis, TN.  I recall getting very hot playing on the playground and spewing my lunch all over the playground.  I eventually learned to deal with it well enough to run and be active outside while living there and Tampa but never as well as others.  Fast forward to now when I live in Southern California near the ocean and 80s and 90s are considered extreme temperatures.  It makes running conditions optimal but does not prepare us for racing in warmer environments…unless we venture into the inland areas and do what others avoid- run during the heat of the day.  Over the weekend, I unknowingly ventured into the extremely warm and dry conditions of the Anza-Borrego desert and experienced one of my worst “runs” ever.  It proved to be a learning experience and, as always, a good time with friends, despite our suffering.

One of my running buddies, Shacky, notified me of a training run for the Lost Boys 50, an event that will be held October 23rd in the southern San Diego county portion of the desert.  It’s one that’s on my radar as a potential race and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to check out a portion of the course.  The run would start at about mile 18 of the race course and go out 11 miles and come back; for some reason, I did not realize exactly where we would be running and how brutal it could be during the summer.  Shacky and I easily convinced Billy to drive down and do the run with us.  22 miles…how hard can that be?! 

Saturday morning I woke up at 2:30am and questioned my sanity for getting up so early to drive to S.D. and then the middle of nowhere for a 22 mile run.  Nevertheless, I crawled out of bed, prepped, and got on the road by 3:15 for the drive to San Diego.  Our little group met at Shacky’s house and then drove to the San Diego Running Institute so that we could meet up with others doing the training run; that was perfect since we had no clue how to get to the starting point.  I figured it was somewhere near part of the SD 100 course because there is a small section of Lost Boys that appears to be part of the SD course…..well, the desert is bigger than I realized!  Thankfully we were following others because finding Great Overland Stage Route of 1849 (no, I’m not making that up…that’s the road name!) was trickier and farther than I could have imagined.  About 90 minutes after leaving SD, we arrived at the starting point just in time to do last minute running preps and get briefed on the run by the race directors.  They had marked the course with ribbon and would have water and ice at miles 5.5, 11, and 16.5; they warned us that temps reached well into the 100s the day before and for us to take care of ourselves.  GULP.  It already felt warm and I started to question being out there for hours….

 Kilted Shacky, me, Billy (“before”)

Start of the trail/and, later, the end of my misery

We took off and I immediately realized how hard running through sand can be.  I didn’t want to hold up the group so I was running a comfortable pace but not one I could have sustained through the sand and heat so I took a walk break a couple of miles in, much to the relief of Shacky.  Billy, Shacky, and I muttered complaints about the sand and how it would be harder on the return trip.  Paul, one of the RDs, passed us in his truck on the way to mile 5.5 and I thought nothing of it…trucks can drive through sand easily, right?  Well, we ran/walked into deeper and deeper sand and I wiped all desire to run Javelina Jundred out of my mind.  My shoes were full of sand and I could feel hot spots developing.  Well, the sand was so deep that we came upon Paul’s truck stuck in the sand.   The rest of the group caught up to us as we tried to dig the truck out…after building and using cardboard ramps, the truck was eventually unstuck and Paul continued on his way to the aid location. 

 And it got worse…

We got there and topped off water and grabbed ice.  It was already brutally hot and we had only just begun!  Shacky said he could not go any farther…the sand had killed his legs and his back was hurting.  Billy and I convinced him to venture on by hiking the remaining section.  The next section was a long, very rocky climb and we eventually decided that Billy and I would go to the 7.5 mile point and then turn around and get Shacky on the return.  I trudged up the hill as Billy ran sections; I was horrified that I could not even run the very baby uphill sections and was so relieved to get to our new turnaround.  I was dizzy and nauseous and just wanted to be done.  Even running dowhill was hard as the rocks and my dizziness made each footstep challenging. 

Starting to climb Oriflamme (Shacky’s pic)

Rock to the head

I could have taken a long, hot nap there

We loaded back up on water/ice at the truck (aid) and I dreaded the remaining 5.5 miles since it would be through sand.  We tried to run/walk but eventually the heat got the best of me and I told Billy to run ahead, while Shacky and I would take our time back to the car.  Shacky and I ended up splitting up as I tried to move when I could and find shade (VERY hard in the desert) as much as possible.  In the final 3 miles, I sat under 4 different bushes trying to get my heart rate down enough to continue on; running was out of the question as even walking wiped me out.

Still smiling with less than 4 miles to go…think this is when the smiling ended

Canyon area (Shacky’s pic)

When I eventually got back to the car and chugged some ice-cold recovery drink and diet coke (thanks to other runners), I started to feel human again, though I would feel dehydrated until the following day.  The car thermostat read 109 degrees and I can bet it was at least that hot.  I drank plenty of water during the run- about 120oz- but dehydration still occurred.  I tried to problem solve and determine why I struggled so much and came up with a few things: I did not eat breakfast, yet consumed caffeine prior to the run; I should have sipped water every few minutes from the start instead of waiting until later; I need to try wearing a white long-sleeve top instead of the brightly-colored tight Moeben sleeves for sun protection.

After taking the long, less-windy road to the 8, we eventually made our way to Alpine for the best part of running- the eating and chatting afterwards.  We stuffed our tummys with delish food at Ramon’s smokehouse BBQ and eventually I made my way home.  What an adventure!!!

During the run, I swore that I would not run Lost Boys or Javelina (they are on same day so would have been choosing) but, by that night, I was trying to figure out how I could become better at running in those conditions and how I could train for either event.  Runner’s amnesia strikes again. 

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3 responses to “Running, hiking, dying in the desert

  1. Even your worst day out on the trails is still a good day (assuming you don't die that is).

    Great times with you and Shack (especially post-race!).

  2. Runner's amnesia. LOL! I love it!

    Do you have any idea how inspiring it is to read that even some of my runnng heros have a badday every now and then? Thanks for sharing!

  3. You are a good story teller! Nice pictures, too. Congrats on your first 100. Someday…

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