They say the third time’s a charm, right? My third time running Headwaters 50k was definitely the most fun. I would even say it was the best race of my life so far.
A lot of this had to do with the following factors:
- The date was moved from late August to Oct. 1, meaning the temperatures and air quality were way more runner friendly
- I was prepared. My friend made me promise to wear my hydration vest regardless of the temperature, or else he would beat me up.
- This race happens right in my backyard. I’ve run the course so many times, I know exactly what to expect. That said- it was marked WAY BETTER this year. Props to the trail faeries for hanging those ribbons and laying those chalk arrows.
- I’m in much better shape, both physically and emotionally, than the past two years.
- When I started to feel pain, I figured out a healthy way to deal with it instead of pushing through and injuring myself.
I had a completely realistic goal of finishing in under 7 hours. Halfway through the race, I realized I was on time to finish in under 6:30.
…until I started to feel pain in my knee. This slowed me down a ton, but I didn’t stress out. I knew I would still finish in under 7 hours, even if I had to walk the rest of the way.
Alternating running and walking, I crossed the finish line in 6:56, setting a new 50k personal record and finishing first in my age group.
I added a new (and different!) stainless steel pint glass to my trophy collection. One of these babies is for finishing 3rd in my age group in 2014 (I actually finished 4th, but won a pity prize for going home on crutches). Another is for finishing 2nd in my age group in 2015. The black one is my favorite, and it’s my 2016 1st 30-something finisher prize!
These shatterproof cups are perfect for camper-bum life!
Speaking of that, it was a bit of a project to get rigged up in time to camp out the night before the race. But I did it!
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I did it! I got my camper rigged up and hauled it to Mount Shasta in time to pick up my race packet! [huuuuuuge sigh of relief] Breakfast is ready, outfit laid out (I'm wearing my shirt to bed, not going topless), and Garmin ready to charge off my car battery tomorrow morning. Now all I have to do is relax and watch the sun set with my sweet puppy 💚 I'm #3 because it's my third time running #headwatersultra #50k Boom! #trailrunning #ultrarunner #raceready #toesocksornosocks #herewego #fitstoner
It was cold in Mount Shasta on the morning of Oct. 1. I had camped out by the Sacramento River, and didn’t bother setting up my propane heater because, in my mind, 34 degrees wasn’t very cold at all.
But I’m crazy, and I should have set up the heater. I would have gotten out of bed on time. Then I would have arrived more than five minutes before the race started and had an opportunity to warm up my muscles.
In true Lauren fashion, I scrambled like hell to get it all together before the race countdown. There was no time for my usual leg swings, hip rotations and silly skipping.
I’m pretty sure the cause of my knee pain around mile 25 was a tight iliotibial band on my right side.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A PROPER WARMUP!
I also didn’t carry my phone, so stole pictures from my girl Heather, who finished her very first ultra that day! Go Heather! Here’s a starting line selfie, in which I look cold and nervous.
I was cold and nervous.
It was a little chilly, but ideal running conditions with a clear sky and killer views the entire time. More people came out this year than I’ve ever seen. I think the new date and addition of a 30k distance had a lot to do with that.
That’s another pic I stole from Heather, of a training run on the second loop of the Headwaters course back in September.
I can’t wait to see the final race day photos from my homies at Pusher!!!
The lady in the middle is my friend Lee Ann, who’s an absolute riot to run with.
I set mini goals throughout the race.
The first was to get to Aid Station #1 in under and hour. I missed that by about two minutes.
The second was to pass Lee Ann! I had kept her within sight for the first several miles, and finally squeaked by on the harrowing uphill climb to the crest of Rainbow Ridge.
The third was to get to the bottom that damn hill in less than three hours. The one we not-so-affectionately nicknamed “Hill from Hell.” The dreaded Forest Road 40N27. Two and a half miles of rugged, rocky and seemingly endless downhill disaster that makes you feel like someone threw wrenches at your joints all day.
I totally shattered this goal. In fact, I was well across the river and boogying up the Sisson-Callahan Trail by the 3 hour mark.
But I had help with that.
Somewhere in between the first and second aid stations, a younger, faster and more successful version of myself caught up with me.
Her name was Brianna, and she was my trail twin.
I didn’t get a good look at her face, but we were wearing the same shoes (Saucony Peregrines <3<3<3) and had the same approach to tackling hills. We chill on the way up, and kill on the way down.
Get this… she’s also a journalist!
We ran side-by side for many miles, sharing stories of trail running and writing and discussing whether grad school is worth the debt.
Sadly, I realized I couldn’t keep up with her on the steady five-mile ascent up the S-C trail. Or, rather, I made a conscious decision to conserve my energy and just let that little bird fly.
I was planning to catch up after that, but then my leg stopped working.
I tried to pick up speed after my second trip through the North Fork aid station. I was way ahead of my 7 hour goal, and wanted to see how close I could get to 6 hours instead.
My body was not on board with that plan, and every time I put my right leg down, pain shot through my knee. It didn’t feel quite like an injury, and I guessed it was just my tight IT band transferring pain.
I got really frustrated because I knew my second descent down that fucking hill was coming up soon, and I wanted to tear it to pieces SO BAD!
I tried adjusting my form, which had gotten sloppy. I tightened my core, loosened my hips and focused on balancing my feet. None of this worked, and the only way to avoid pain was by walking.
When I came up to the High Divide aid station, I told the volunteers what was going on. One amazing helper handed me ice, while another let me lean on her shoulder as I stretched my hips out.
Around this time, Lee Ann jogged up to the aid station. After a rushed greeting, she took off down the hill.
A volunteer was approaching me with athletic tape, suggesting that supporting my muscles might help the pain subside.
I looked at the tape, then at Lee Ann’s backside disappearing down the hill…
“I have to go catch that lady,” I told the volunteer who was trying to tape me up. “It feels all better, now, thank you!”
Buuuuuut that only lasted about ten seconds. I clambered down the rocky slope at about half the pace I typically take. I kept hearing the voice of another local runner in my head saying, “I stupidly went out hard when my muscles were really tight and then my hamstring just snapped.”
I figured my ego would heal much faster than torn connective tissue, and decided to just be happy finishing in under 7 hours. Brianna finished in just over 6 hours.
Honestly, I’m stoked Lee Ann kicked my ass, finishing around 6:30. I can only hope that, in 25 years, I’m still as fast and furious as that lady is. Plus, she had to make up for my 30 second win over her at Moore Mountain Half Marathon last month ;)
After some experimenting, I realized I could run for 10 seconds at a time without any pain, but no more than that. After 10 seconds, I took a 5 second walking break. With this alternating strategy, I maintained a pain-free 11-13 min/mile for the last several miles. I was happy.
As I neared the finish, I worried that I would have to take a walking break in the final stretch. When I actually saw the finish line, however, all the pain in my body melted away, and I ran hard.
It felt like magic. I’ve never finished a race so strong or with so much energy. I plowed right into race director Gerad Dean, almost knocking him over with my attack hug.
I felt amazing.
The best part, though, was the lasagna at the end. I almost proposed to the lady who made it. That good.
HUGE thank you to Gerad, all the mighty volunteers and sponsors for making Headwaters Trail Runs a ton of fun! Special, personal thanks to my friend Linn for checking on my doggie while I was running <3
Freelance writer. Trail runner. Relentless savage.