If you're looking for heat, hills, single track trail, a little sadistic punishment, a down-home race atmosphere, you needn't look beyond the Leona Divide 50 Mile run. This year's 18th annual didn't disappoint.
Jay Grobeson, Scott Sullivan, and Bill Ramsey (each with ten Angeles Crest Finishes) after the Race
Bill Ramsey and I drove to the start around 5 a.m. under a dark, star filled sky. Another reminder of the blistering sun we were about to face in the hours to come. Leona starts at 6 a.m. sharp. To the dismay of runners like me with a GI tract that doesn't wake up until 7 am, this can wreak some serious potty havoc on race day strategy. Unlike last year's debacle, I succeeded in jump starting my system before the start with two cups of coffee made from fresh ground beans Bill and I purchased from Palmdale's own Albertsons the night before. A major coup-de-latrine in my book.
Scott Mills chats with Krissy Moehl (1st female, 3rd overall)
The start of Leona Divide is deceptively steep. It climbs 800 feet in just over 2.5 miles along winding dirt roads. Within the first few minutes my heart rate was pushing 165 bpm, not a good sign with 49 miles left to run. With an eye toward finishing, I pulled the pace back a couple of notches and got into a rhythm. Robert Blair, a fellow Sycamore Canyon 50k finisher, scampered along with me as we rounded through the meandering trail (thanks for reading the blog Robert!). The sun soon emerged and we found no solace from the disappearing shade.
This year's coarse was altered from the standard LD 50 course, with the addition of several miles of dirt road in lieu of single track trail. Not a preferred exchange, but a necessary one due to issues with the many power lines in the area. I will say that this year's course, in my humble opinion, seemed more difficult, mainly due to the long hill added with the out and back. We didn't hit single track trail until mile 25, and when we did it was a welcome site. By this time I had already succumbed to the relentless Tracy Moore, who ran by, then ahead of me so methodically that I was rendered a mere spectator until he simply dropped me on one forgetful trail.
Tracy Moore (4th overall) talking with Michelle Barton (2nd female, 9th overall)
As I was making the long four mile descent down the Pacific Crest Trail after mile 25, I came upon Michelle Barton. We ran along together until we hit the 1,500' climb out of aid station 5, when I watched Michelle pull away from me as she floated up the hill. Knowing that this would be the longest of the climbs on the course, that the sun was beaming in full force, and we had yet another four mile climb to come at mile 42, I hunkered down. I kept moving forward under the sweltering sun as one must do along these long, relentless hauls. Images of Tracy and Michelle still appeared, then disappeared, through the trees before me.
Bill (12 time Leona finisher) and Jay Finishing Strong
Aid station number 7 is a turnaround at mile 35.5 in the race. By this time, if you still care, you can assess where your fellow runners are along the course. Many words of encouragement and high fives can be offered up along this section of the course. Most importantly, after the turn, it's all downhill until mile 42. Scott Mills was on my heels as I pulled out of the aid station, and not far behind him was Greg Hardesty.
After a Great Run, Greg Hardesty Lifts His Hand for a High Five
As I came to the end of the long descent, I caught Michelle again, only to see her dance away from me once again on the last climb. Finally, after a long, brutal, hot, and thrilling run, I rounded the final turn. Before me was a finish line, a clock, many cheering spectators, and a moment to take a long, deep breath of relief. All in all, a very good day - race time 8:15, 10th place overall, 2nd age group (40-49). Average heart rate 153.