It has been a long two years since my last ultra and I wanted that ultra drought to end with a challenging race that would give me a chance to visit the local mountains. Thanks to the ultrarunning calendar, I saw a race that fit the bill, Nirvana Ultra Big Bear; I eyed since since finishing the Austin marathon and finally signed up a couple of weeks ago. My training after the marathon was less than desired after pulling my hamstring doing yoga but I could not miss one of my last opportunities to race in Southern CA.
One of my major concerns about the race was the altitude; the race site indicated the course varied between 6500 and 8000 feet and I have not run at altitude in years and it kicked my butt and lungs when I did! The course was billed as 10 mile loops and there were various distance options (10 mi, 50K, 50mi, 100K, 100mi). I opted for the 50K and hoped that I could survive that distance without having asthma issues. Since the race started at 6am, my husband and I drove up to the Lake Arrowhead area the day before; we drove to the race start so that we would be able to find it early race morning and then drove to Lake Arrowhead to check into our hotel and hangout in the village. I opted for “carb loading” by doing some wine tasting in the hopes it would help me go to sleep early; I managed to fall asleep around midnight and got minimal sleep before the 4am wake up call. When we arrived at the start/finish area, I picked up my bib and tried to figure out how many were running the same distance; it was a small race (65ish people across all distances) and I loved the low-key start (complete with pictures). It was very cold but I thought that it would warm up quickly, so I did not wear my gloves. I regretted that for the first half of the race!
When we started, I was slow going out and made sure I walked anything uphill but still found myself near the front of the pack. The course was two small loops before we headed out for a longer loop. I felt the altitude as the course undulated and I focused on running slowly and breathing and not falling on rocks. I love the ultra vibe and enjoyed some chit chat with others around me for the first loop. There were no long climbs but constant up and down and I knew that would take a toll on my legs and lungs. I completed the first loop in about 1:52, faster than I intended. After a couple of minutes of going the wrong way when heading out for the 2nd set of the loops, I found myself running in a groove and powered up the uphills. I realized I had not eaten anything, drank more than a couple of small sips of water or taken any salt and worked to get myself on track nutrition-wise. I tried to avoid passing people on the climbs since I was being careful on the technical downhill sections. Around mile 15, I noticed I had been out there 3 hours and was on pace for a solid race time, faster than the 7 hours I projected. As I finished the 2nd loop and hit mile 20 about 3:54 in the race, I sat down to clean out my shoes and told my husband I knew I was feeling the altitude and would probably take another 3 hours to finish the race.
The final loop was very challenging mentally. I was alone for most of it, except when I would pass a person one lap behind. I focused on breaking it into sections and trying to get calories in my body, which was increasingly tough; my fingers were swollen so I monitored my salt intake. My headache and nausea, combined with challenges breathing and tired legs, left me with little in the tank. I walked more than I did any other loop and entered the aid station around mile 17 feeling beat up. I found out I was neck and neck with a guy for 1st place in the 50K and we were at the aid station at the same time; I listened to my body and pushed my competitive nature aside and told the guy to go ahead of me. I expected having to tack on the small initial loop to make it 31 miles and wanted to save energy for that. As I went back by the aid station before heading down to the finish, I stopped to grab more water since I was drinking it in large gulps.
I hit the finish line for the loop in 5:59 (2nd place overall) and asked the RD if I was to go back out for the extra mile; he said he decided not to have us tack on the mileage. I was a little bummed since I was gunning for a 50K. After sitting for a few minutes and getting more water, I asked my husband if he wanted to go hike that mile and half with me. He agreed so I went back out for the additional mileage and took in the beautiful scenery one final time. I felt very nauseous post-race and opted to leave asap instead of hanging out or trying to eat anything. I definitely felt the classic altitude sickness symptoms and was thankful I only did the 30 miler!