Leona Valley Trail Races Recap
The Leona Valley Trail Races was this past weekend. This is the second year of the event and I ran the half marathon distance for the second year in a row. Last year I was second in 1:47:34. This year I figured I was in a little better shape, even though my weekly mileage is still pretty low. I have been able to get out on the trails the last three weekends.
This race has something for everyone from 5k to Marathon. There really is no excuse for not trying one of the distances. Last year when I ran the half marathon my mom ran the 5k as her first trail run.
The half marathon and marathon started at 7:00am and the temps were in the 60s but I could tell in the second half of the race that it was going to be a hot one. In typical easy going trail runner fashion, everyone was hanging out behind the starting area before the race. No one was pushing up toward the starting line. We counted down from 10, walked up to the line and took off running.
My goal was to conserve energy and not push it up to the first aid station, but before I knew it I was leading the race! I heard a, “Go Karl!” from Clay behind me and decided to go with it. Another runner J.C. came up on my shoulder early on and we realized we were both running the half marathon. We were both surprised that no one else was running with us. J.C. was 9th last year. I told him to conserve his energy for the second half of the race. My watch had not started at the beginning of the race, so J.C. told me when we got to 15 minutes and the rest of the race I had to add 15 to my time to see where I was. I think we made it to aid station 1 (3.4 miles and 800ft elevation gain) in under 28 minutes.
The next 3.3 miles is mostly switchbacks and all downhill to just below 3000ft elevation. The peak is at 4100ft. I stuck in right behind J.C. and tried to take quick steps as not to burn out my quads, but still get down as quickly as possible. I forgot to look at my watch at the bottom. I took some water and Gatorade and we headed back up the mountain, this time with me leading.
Since it is an out and back course you get to see how far ahead or behind your competition is. We appeared to already have a few minutes on the next group. We hauled butt up that mountain and I could not shake J.C. off my back. I don’t think I have ever run up that section of trail faster than we did that day. I wish I had a split, but again I did not look at my watch at the aid station at 10 miles.
There is still a half mile climb after the last aid station and I took a slightly longer stop there, but when I turned around to go J.C. was there waiting for me to go. We started the last section together but he began to pull away, and I told myself, “You’ll catch him on the downhill.” I am calling it a mental lapse but really I had nothing left. I think I was about 20 seconds behind at the top and I tried to pick it up in the last two miles, but ended up finishing 46 seconds behind him.
I finished in 1:43:46 which is nearly 4 minutes faster than last year. I didn’t think I was in that good of shape. Unfortunately, I don’t have mile splits because my watch did not start at the beginning of the race, but when I look back at the splits I did get my slowest was 9:20 coming up from Lake Hughes Rd, and my fastest was the last mile 6:20 coming down to the finish. The first three miles were around 8:00 pace, then the down hill switchbacks were all about 7:00 pace. Thanks J.C. for pushing me the entire race. It was lots of fun. My running pals Dale and Clay both crushed the 2 hour mark (1:55 and 1:56 respectively) and broke into the top 10.
One cutting edge runner, Janet, ran the half marathon as a training run for her first marathon coming up in November. She ran strong the whole way and made it into the top 50% without doing any training on trails. Congrats Janet!
After the race everyone hung out and visited, rehydrated, ate some good food, and cheered in all the other runners. The marathoners had a tough day as temperatures reached into the 90s. I heard some runners say they had to walk from mile 14 to the finish line. Both the marathon and half marathon are challenging coursed as you are either going up or down significant grades most of the time. With the different distances at this event, it is a great way to challenge yourself if you are new to trail running or are more experienced.
When people ask me how hard the half marathon course is I tell them about the elevation gain and loss and about the switchbacks. I also say that if you have been training on trails then take your current road half marathon time and then add 20-25 minutes to estimate your time on this course. That is how much harder it is, and I think that holds true.
Keira Henninger put on another awesome trail event. The event is well organized with great aid stations, great post race atmosphere, and cool schwag. I earned an awesome 2nd place mug for the half marathon! I am so glad that she decided to put on two different events during the year on these trails that feel like my home courses. Leona Valley Trail Races in the fall and the Leona Divide 50/50 in the spring. Thanks again Keira! Next year I might have to try that marathon course!