Result: 3rd, 7:17:23

Two weeks before the Leona Divide 50 I was in San Francisco running in the Headlands with a group from the San Francisco Running Company. And the next day it hurt to walk. That’s because I was running up-and-down mountains for the first time in several months. That’s also because I have been living in Florida and, although I had run staircases and had been on the treadmill, I hadn’t done enough to prepare myself for real mountain terrain. So the experience in Marin had me concerned that I wasn’t prepared for Leona. Then, the same day I was hobbling around, I learned that the Leona course was altered: instead of 7,800′ of elevation gain, the altered course would boast around 9,000′ feet of climbing. It’s fair to say that I was even more worried about how I would hold up during the race.

So the week of the race I smartly reminded myself of an oft-forgotten sagacious phrase first uttered to me by my good friend Brown Dog: abandon expectations. And so I did. When I toed the start line this past Saturday, I was not wearing a watch and I had spent very little time looking at either the course profile or the entrant list. I was concerned neither with my finishing time nor my finishing place nor anything else besides enjoying the trails and the scenery for the morning: something I am unable to do in Central Florida.

Sunrise at the 8.6/26.6 mile aid station (all photos courtesy of Jacquelyn) 
Keeping warm at the start line
Almost underway at dawn

I ran the entire race based on feel and, though my time nor my place would suggest as much, it was the best 50-mile race I have ever run. Case-in-point: my split (I was told) to the 8.6 mile aid station was about 1:05, while my split (I was told) from the mile 39.6 aid station to the finish was 1:08. I ran in 4th place almost the entire race and moved into 3rd only in the last 10 miles. I hiked almost every significant climb, as I was entirely unable to run with any vigor on the inclines, but used the downhills and relatively flat sections to maintain a decent overall pace. And in the end I was reminded of something that I already knew: I need to run mountains to get better at running mountains — go figure.

Still jacketed leaving the 8.6 mile aid 
Fueling up at 26.6 miles 
Descending into the 26.6 mile aid station

This race turned out to be the most enjoyable race I have ever run. During it I was filled with happiness and gratitude for all that the sport of ultra and trail running has brought me. I reflected on where running has taken me and the people that I have come to know through it. When the race was especially difficult, I recalled all the super early long runs I’ve had with Hank Southgate, all the indoor mile repeats I used to do with Fran Flanagan; when the scenery was breathtaking, I was reminded of long runs with Brian Condon in Flagstaff, fun runs all over Colorado with Cassie Scallon and Matt Flaherty, and scenic runs with Chris DeNucci in San Francisco.

But I also kept my mind on the race and coached myself through the course with brilliant advice from some of the many talented ultra folks I have had the pleasure of knowing: when I was tired and wanted to walk, I thought of Matt Flaherty’s classic line: “the thing about running is, it’s faster than walking…even if it’s slow running”; I thought of Ian Sharman‘s sage words when I started picking up the pace to catch the runners within eyesight early in the race: don’t start racing until the last third of the race; I recalled some of my conversations with Rob Krar while dealing with a particularly curvy and undulating part of the course late in the race (a section that was very, very similar in kind to a section of the Bootlegger 50k course): find a rhythm, get into it, and stay relaxed.

Final stretch to the finish 
Getting in-and-out quickly at mile 39.6

The support I received during and outside of the race was second-to-none and another reminder that the people in my life and the people in this sport are fantastic. RaceReady helped me get to the race and, as always, provided me with the most functional and comfortable gear made in the US. My crew, which was amazing, consisted of my girlfriend Jacky and her friend Peter Brennen. Peter was asked if he wanted to crew just 36 hours before the race, having never met me before. He drove north of LA the night before, slept in his car, and then crewed for me all day before running a 12-miler of his own. How awesome is that? Jacky came up with some hysterical costumes and the two of them dressed up to keep me (and themselves) entertained during the race. Again, pretty damn awesome.

Costuming it up!

Running in southern California during Leona reminded me of all the things that are good in my life and in the sport that I love. The race itself — the competitiveness and the arbitrary distance — meant very little, and the result even less so. It is the journey through the mountains and in the mind that give us all so much joy. It is a joy that cannot be experienced without the love and support of amazing people. I’m lucky enough to know such amazing people, and I hope to experience the joys of long distance running in the mountains again and again for as long as I can.