The 2015 Lost Boys 50 Miler
I had signed up to run the 2015 Lost Boys 50 Mile endurance race back in October 2014. I had run the event the last time it was staged in 2010 and it was an epic race. During my training my mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given 3 months to live. I moved back to New York to help take care of her and to spend as much remaining time with her as possible. Although I was able to run while in New York the situation in addition to the brutal winter and lack of available trails to run put a serious damper on my training. My average weekely mileage dropped from 50-60 miles a week to 5-10 which is not conducive to training for a 50 mile ultramarathon. My mother passed in late January. On my return to San Diego I knew I had roughly 2.5 months to regain my ultrarunning legs, drop the 10-15 pounds I had somehow gained and get ready for the Lost Boys 50.
As I ramped up my weekly mileage it appeared that everything was going well. Yea my cardio sucked and I was sucking wind trying to keep up with my buddy Mike on the trails but slowly and surely I was dropping the weight and my legs were getting stronger. Then disaster struck. On a 22 mile run one day I began to feel an unusual sensation in my lower left ankle. This unusual sensation casued me to actually favor my ankle after the run and even made me limp a little. Because I am a sports medicine doctor that specializes in running injuries I was accutely aware of what this sensation and limping meant. I had developed a stress fracture! I could not believe it. With over 15 years of marathon running and 10 years of ultramarathoning under my belt how could this happen? Obviously the 3 months of severely reduced training had resulted in more physiological deconditioning that I had thought! The race was only 4 weeks away but all hope was not lost. 2 years ago we had purchased an Alter Gravity Treadmill. This amazing invention allows runners with bone or joint injury to continue running while they heal. It accomplishes this by creating an altered gravity state and “unweighting” the runner enough so that their injury is not agravated. I had rehabed runners with fractures before, why not rehabilitate my own injury? I immediately began running 2 hour sessions, roughly 13 miles each, 4 times per week. Over the next 4 weeks I logged 200 miles on the AlterG in addition to watching 16 movies while doing so! Not only does the AlterG allow you to run while your body heals but it actually speeds up the healing process. Since bone and other connective tissue build and repair in response to appropriate stress my fracture healed in only 3 weeks! Due to this I was able to log about 20 miles back on terra plana prior to the race. Not only was it nice to run outside again but it also gave me confidence that my leg and ankle were back to normal. https://www.sdri.net/services/alterg-anti-gravity-treadmill/
The days leading up to race day were filled with anxious reports from my running buddies about the predicted weather. The local forecasters were calling for high winds and rain. The day before the race the forecast was changed to 20-40 mile an hour gusts but no rain and temps in the high 40″s. Because my experience with the local forecasters has been so poor I sent out an email letting everyone know that the weather predictions in the San Diego desert and mountains are almost always wrong. I have had numerous experiences when they predicted a low of 50 and the temp’s dropped below freezing or sun was predicted and instead we got torrential rain. We have developed a saying “don’t be sorry be prepared”. We all agreed to bring jackets, gloves and a change of clothes in the event the weather forecast had underestimated the day…….it turns out it was a really good thing we did.
We all arrived at our rented cabin Friday night. The wind was howling outside our cabin and the rain pounded the roof mericlessly. We all pondered what the morning would bring as we made our final preparations for the race the next day. Backpacks and hand bottles were filled, GPS watches and phones charged, clothes laid out for the morning and drop bags prepared with food and changes of clothes. If you are not familiar with ultramarathons a “dropbag” is a bag that you can put supplies in that you may require during the race. The race coordinator will have all the racers drop bags taken to a predetermined location, usually an aid station around the half way point of a race. As we said our good nights I could sense my friends anxiety that I know all too well can keep you up througout the night before a 50 miler.
3:45 am came quick. I got up to make coffee and began to make as much noise as possible in order to wake my buddies. Everyone snapped awake and began their morning rituals. We went over the race plan one last time. All 4 of us agreed to hold a 14 minute mile pace on the trek from the desert floor to the mountains. This may seem slow to some but each ultramarathon brings a different set of challenges. The Lost Boys 50 starts in Anza Borrego Desert at 1000 feet of elevation. The first 10 miles of this event is uphill, in sand and through desert washes and canyons that aslo require some amount of bouldering and climbing rocks. Once you reach mile 20 you then have to powerhike/run 2500 feet up Oriflamme Canyon until you reach 5500 feet at Sunrise Highway. We settled on the 14 minute per mile pace so that we would all stay together and enjoy the experience as none of us had a chance to win anyway and no one was qualifying for Boston at this event. After reviewing the race strategy we jumped in the car and headed off to the starting area located an hour from where we were staying. We arrived at the starting location 5 minutes before the start, donned our bibs and packs and prepared to roll.
The day started out nice enough with cool desert temp’s in the 50’s and winds blowing in around 20 mph. At the sound of “GO” we started off in the back of the pack heading out into the desert. Running in sand has never been a favorite pastime for me. It requires more energy than running on hard dirt because as you attempt to push off the sand gives way under your shoe. This requires more effort and my achilles area on the same leg that had the stress fracture was not liking it……and was already letting me know it early into the run.
We arrived at the first aid station and enjoyed a snack consiting of pop tarts and the electrolyte drink called Tailwind. We did not linger and headed into the first of many canyons requiring us to rock climb and boulder hop our way up through the desert.
This type of running, walking, power hiking, bouldering and rock climbing continued for about the next 7 miles. Instead of stressing about our time we enjoyed the experience and unique geography.
Me, Harv and Dave stuck to the gameplan however and eventually made it to the top.
Now at the top and at roughly 4000 feet of elevation we could see the desert laid out before us like a artist painting. The sky was incredible and scary all at the same time. We could see ahead of us for miles and the Laguna Mountains that we were to climb in another 10 miles looked menacing. Dark clouds indicitive of a storm loomed over the peaks.
We tried not to think about what was to come and instead concentrated on making it to the base of Oriflamme Canyon. The desert trail took us through cactus fields and across dry lake beds.
We arrived at the aid station in Blair Valley right on schedule. So far we were having a lot of fun and holding the 14 minute mile pace proved to be quite easy. Not only were we reserving our energy for Oriflamme Canyon but because of our easy pace we had plenty of time to enjoy some delicious Bannana Nut bread that an aid station worker had made for us.
With our bellies full of nut bread and Tailwind we headed off into Box Canyon on our final approach to Oriflamme Canyon. As I ran through Box Canyon I contemplated the difficult climb that Oriflamme Canyon presents.
I have done three 50K’s and one 50 miler that have required me to climb Oriflamme Canyon and get to know it intimately well. I am not a great hill runner to begin with so a 5 mile hill that takes you from 2500 feet to 5500 feet is not something I necessarily enjoy. Couple that with the looming dark clouds atop Mt. Laguna and you might understand my sense of dread.
As we neared the top we were assulated by weather we had seen from below all day. We were in the mist and clouds and the winds began to increase. If you have ever tried to run into a strong headwind you can imagine what this was like. In addition we were power hiking straight uphill. You just have to put your head down and fight the wind as it slows your pace to a crawl.
With a final effort we made it to the top. Dave was a couple of minutes behind myself and Harv so we took the oppotunity to catch our breath and discuss the upcoming approach to Surise Highway. I knew we had to run across an open meadow with no cover or mountains to help block the relentless winds and rain. The wind gusts were so strong that at times it would actually blow us off the single track trail.
We made our way to the aid station on Sunrise Highway which is located at mile 30 of the race. It seemed impossible but I remembered that 5 years ago in the very same event we had the very same conditions. I have come to understand and respect Southern California Mountains and the extreme weather that it can present you with. I decided right then that the weather would not stop us from finishing this race. After all we had rain jackets, hats and gloves and plenty of food and drink. There was no way a little torrential downpour and 70 mph winds were going to get in our way.
I was really happy to leave the aid station at Sunrise Highway. I had made time to change from my wet shirt and gloves and was ready to assault the downhill portion that would bring us into the lower Cuyamaca Mountains taking us from 5500 feet to 4000 feet over the next 6 miles. This would also be the last time Harv and I would see Dave until the finish. While Dave was sticking to his 14 minute mile game plan Harv and I decided that considering the bad weather we would pick up the pace in order to finish. We also secretly wanted t otrac kdown Vito and see if we could pass him. We all run together and have a friendly competitiveness amongst us. None of us are very fast but its all relative if you know what I mean. Harv and I accelerated through the winding hills sometimes averaging a 8.5 minute mile. We were picking runners off left and right offering words of encouragment as we passed.
We steamed into the aid station on Highway 79 located at mile 36 of the race. I personally had never felt better. I was stoked that my stress fracture was stable and the pain was not worsening. I was vastly undertrained for this race physically but I also knew that the remainder of the race was mostly mental at this point. I have run over ten 50 mile events and knew myself and my body. There was no question I would be able to push out the last 14 miles of this grueling event. Harv on the other hand was doing his first 50 miler. I knew he was physically trained and knew his mental toughness but this was an exceptional day. I took a moment at the aid station to size him up……I was happy to see that he was not delerious and in good spirits as he posed with the tequila bottle that we graciously declined to have a shot from.
Everyone at the Dirt Devil aid station was helpful and friendly except my wife as she did not seem pleased when my camera was pointed in her direction.
We left the aid station feeling great and started our ascent up the highest peak of the day. Cuyamaca Peak is over 6500 feet up and is the highest peak in the area. The rain and wind continued to pound us as we ran-walked swithcback after swithcback only stopping to pose with a random airplane engine preseved at a memorial site for the downed plane.
The trail was relentless and seemd to cimb forever. Just as you thought you were getting closer to the top the rail would descend 100 feet or so winding you around the mountain. It was unbelievably frustrating and the wind and rain were both merciless and relentless at the same time.
After finally cresting Cuyamaca Peak we were told by the brave souls at the aid station that “its all downhill from here”. With 6 miles to go we set out with our mission to catch Vito and finish this amazingly miseable race. As we came to a clearing where there was suppose to be an aid station a familiar figure stepped out of a car and approached us. I recogized him as we got closer as the race director for the San Diego 100 and hard core ultramarathon runner Scott Mills. Scott shouted over the wind to us that there were tress coming down on the final 4 mile approach to the finsih and that the situation was extemely dangerous. We told him we would be carful and set out to climb Middle Peak Mountain (the aid station workers were incorrect. Scotty told us there was 1.5 miles of uphill followed by 2.5 of serious downhill).
When we got to the top of Middle Peak the condtions were so bad I abandoned my Go Pro and said to Harv “let’s get the F off this damn mountain now”! As we started down the normally rocky and dry single track trail towards Lake Cuyamaca I had an “ah ha” moment. I had been on these trails many, many times….just not in these conditions. I had always wondered why the trail was so rutted and had so many rocks in it. Now I knew! During heavy rains the water takes this path as it is the path of least resistance for its flow downhill. The heavy currents take rocks with it and leave them on the trail as the water drains towards the lake. Since we were now in the storm and the water was careening downhill we were essentially running in a fast moving and rocky stream! It was also perfectly muddy so that if you stepped the wrong way you would find yourself flat on your back in some pretty good mud. We carefully picked our way through the rocky stream and mud “skiied” down the mountain towards the finish. At one point we had to climb over a very large tree that had come down across the trail. I was seriously ready to finish this day as hypothermia was setting in.
We had survived the Lost Boys 50 and everything Mother Nature had to throw at us. 9000 feet of climbing, desert sand, Oriflamme Canyon, high winds, sub 40 degree temp’s, mud and rain coming at us sideways. We never caught Vito but we did make it in under 13 hours without a scratch. It was an epic day that we will never forget.