Similar to Lake Sonoma 50, I had a knowing early in the week that I would be setting a personal best on the Mendocino Coast 50k course. It was the 3rd time I would race Mendo and I felt the second half of my 50/50 uplevel on the horizon.
With each day following LS50, I felt more and more fitness soak into my cells. In addition to rest and time in the recovery boots, I practiced hot vinyasa yoga, swam and walked. It was beyond doubt that I was getting stronger every day. On the Thursday before Mendo, it was clear that I was stronger than I was a week prior.
Stress. Rest. Adapt. Done.
I woke up Friday morning in the vibrant embrace of the Stanford Inn which is less than a mile from the race start. The logistics of Mendo are so easy, a big draw for us to return each year.
I headed up with the team for a shakeout run and then to Raven’s Restaurant at the Inn where we indulged in delicious plant-based fare. This was my biggest meal of the day and although I continued eating, the day before the race is always about tapering off as the day goes on. I led a visualization for a packed room of awake and ready runners at the Inn later in the day and it was an epic experience. The mediation moved through me with ease and I walked away with an understanding that every step I took during the race was going to give me strength, not take it away. It was an unshakeable understanding.
Mendo starts at 7:30 am which means a solid night of sleep and a 4:15 am wake-up time. In the endurance world, this is a sleeping-in kind of race. Apple sauce, plant-based protein powder, banana and 1/2 bottle of Grape Roctane in the belly by 4:30 am.
Meditation and a long nap.
The final alarm went off just after first light. I peaked beyond the balcony and felt the coastal front hang low. Everything reflected a gray, blue hue that made it all the more peaceful. I imagined the silence deep within the woods where I would be running hours from that moment. I felt myself push a strong and easeful pace amongst the redwoods and deep green.
We piled into Liz’s rental car and headed to the start. It was BJ, Clark and I along with my 50/50 partner Liz, her daughter Anna and two friends, Scout and Nina. It was a family affair. The frequency I was holding felt different than the morning of LS50. It was more easeful but no less powerful.
The plan for this race was simple. Go out strong, build throughout the day and with 12 or so miles to go to be at a pace that questioned my ability to hold it. In other words, let’er rip and see what’s in the tank.
I was all in.
The first 10-miles of Mendo is along Big River. Liz and I took it out together. She had the same race plan as me and from the start, she advanced quickly through the runners until I lost sight of her. As we approached Aid Station 1, I caught a glimpse of her rounding the bend ahead of me. We got to the aid station around the same time and I headed out first but it wasn’t long that I noticed Liz off my right shoulder.
We cruised, in-step like we’d been training together for months.
“This is much faster than I’ve ever taken out a race. You?”
“Yup”, she said and we surged ahead.
We ended up separating and I started to move through the other competitors. I front-loaded a bottle of Roctane before Aid Station 1 at mile 6(ish) and when I got there I already had my soft bottle prepped for a refill. Right before I came into Aid station 2 at mile 10(ish) I decided that I had everything I needed and was not going to stop. It felt incredibly good to feel so secure in my supply so that I didn’t have to lose momentum as I started getting closer to our first big climb.
My nutrition plan was to primarily use Roctane Energy drink for my calories (250/bottle) and supplement with a few gels. At the end of the day I ended up taking seven bottles of Roctane, four gels, and two BCAA capsules every hour and that started one hour before the race. Mendo was another race with zero nutritional issues.
After the first big climb following Aid Station 2, there are some super fast, steep downhills. I let it go. I knew my legs could absorb the load and I trusted that I would have perfect steps. Once you activate a thought into the universe, without a doubt (this is the key piece), it will come back to you in reality. The better you get at this, the quicker you receive what you need. I knew my perfect steps were already taken care of. I moved through groups of runners and connected with several people from the visualization the day prior. They all shared with me what they were applying to their experience and that was fueling me to no end.
After the half marathon mark, I knew I was coming up on the water crossing and the amazing descent that leads to it.
It’s narrow, perfectly pitched and requires focus. Soft ground but lots of obstacles, roots, sticks, and leaves on the ground. I accelerated down and passed a group of six, weaving in and out I embodied my snowboarding days. My inner child was shredding, knuckle drags and all.
The fuel I was burning felt like it was coming from an unlimited supply. It was a new reservoir that I had not previously related to at this depth.
I crossed the water and pushed on to Aid Station 3. This was the drop-bag station which I opted out of this year. I have done it in the past but I knew it was a time investment that I wasn’t willing to make. I knew that I could comfortably carry everything I needed in my pack and that I was going to need every moment for a massive PR.
I ran up the final pitch to the aid station just as BJ, Clark and the girls were arriving. So good to see them, I was at 16.5(ish) miles and I was well into the pace that questioned my ability to hold it yet at the same time, I knew without a doubt that I would hold it. I made sure BJ knew that I was feeling incredibly strong and to wait for all our athletes to get through. He didn’t need to worry about seeing me until the finish. I was fine.
I was more than fine. I was burning up the eternal fire of limitlessness.
One-mile down the fire road from Aid Station 3 was Skip Brand, LS50 Race Director and owner of Healdsburg Running Company. Skip operates at a high vibration and I celebrate being in his field.
I adorned my LS50 Relentless buff on my head and it was met with many words of affirmation throughout the day. Skip was high-five ready and he reminded me that the best part of the course was next. Another sustained downhill at the perfect pitch that allowed for maximum ease and speed.
This descent leads to what I call fern gulley, one of the flatter sections of the course. It’s emerald green and rich in the scent of vibrancy. Its beauty weighs heavy as this section tends to feel like it goes on forever. When you do finally pop out onto the next fire road you turn left and head up to a steep 1,000-ft climb to Aid Station 4. This is the last of the long climbs.
There was a woman in front of me on the fire road that was literally doing the Julie Moss Crawl of Fame. It was interesting to imagine how the hell she was ever going to climb this next ask of the course. I passed her on the corner and moved into a power hike. I never saw that woman again.
I was breathless when I reached a short flat section, I picked it up to a run until the climb took me back into a power hike. I just kept pushing on and relaxing into the effort. I needed every second to count.
I came to the top of the climb and ran the rest of the way to Aid Station 4. I saw Clark and BJ again which is always the best thing ever. I told him to see me at the finish because I was going to need to change my clothes immediately. It was extremely humid, I was soaked but it wasn’t super warm. It was perfect running weather but the kind where you get extremely chilled when you stop.
I was feeling solid so I wasted no time getting back on the trail.
I reached the next downhill section and noticed a sign that said the waterfall was .8 miles ahead. That felt so close to me. The math kept adding up. I was on track for a sub-7 race but I needed to continue to push to the very end no matter how it felt. I wasn’t going to give this experience anything less than everything.
The stretch from the waterfall to the last aid station at mile 27-ish is where the mental edge prevails. It’s the busiest part of the trail because the runners intercept day hikers who are heading to the waterfall. It is a funny contrast to be coming out of the woods like a wild animal and see people who have no idea there’s even a race going on not to mention that this section also feels like it goes on forever.
I came into Aid Station 5 in agreement with all the comments about how strong I looked.
Although I was less than 5 miles from the finish at this point, I knew that the trickiest parts of the course lay ahead. There are a few short, steep climbs that were typically muddy, the 200 ft rope descent, the notoriously windy headlands and the final stretch of deep sand across the beach under the bridge and to the finish line.
Quickly after leaving Aid Station 5, I got my first few glimpses of the coastline. The wind was picking up, I could hear the surf and sense the energy of the finish line as I drew it even closer.
I came to the end of the trail to find one of my San Diego training partners at a loss.
“I have no idea which way to go”.
I ran ahead and gestured for Colleen to follow. “You’re like my spirit animal”, she said. I’ve heard that one before and it never gets old.
She and I hit the rope at the same time. My hands were wet and slippery. My gloves were also soaked and would not serve me here. I grabbed the rope with my tightest grip and headed down feeling the burn as my hands slowly slid along the harsh strands of rope.
In past years, there’s been a person that the bottom of the rope descent but this year we were on our own. I noticed that removal of security and simultaneously lost my footing. I swung around a bit and landed in the brush. I used the rope to hoist myself up and then started the steepest, wettest part of the descent. I knew I had to trust every step. No room for doubt.
I lowered down, crossed the water and headed up the steep climb with Colleen right behind me. I emerged from the trail and onto the road, I remembered this was the last road of the course. I took a right towards the headlands and was body slammed by the element of wind.
As I reached the headlands trailhead the wind was hitting me from the side blowing my right arm straight up in the air and constantly shoving me off the trail. This section is so tricky because the trail is narrow and deep. You have to trust your footing while getting tossed by the wind.
I had a remembrance of running the Newport Half Marathon and feeling the intense wind as the course takes you around Brenton Point. This wasn’t my first rodeo in the wind, I did not resist.
I heard a horn beep and knew it was for me.
Clark, BJ, Nina, Scout, and Anna cruised up ahead. BJ ran out on to the course to see me. If he yelled to me I have no idea what he said because the wind took all his voice in the opposite direction. The sight of him kicked me into a higher gear and I saw Liz’s athlete Chris ahead of me. Knowing that he was a strong machine made me feel even more strength.
Just before we hit the stairs to the beach I cheered Chris on and sucked down the rest of my Roctane bottle.
With reckless abandon, I ran the stairs to the beach.
The closest distance between two points is a straight line. Although I knew I had just over 10-minutes to get to the finish line under 7-hours, I never stopped pushing, I never stopped maximizing every moment. I jumped piles of shipwrecked wood and sticks that blanketed the beach.
I climbed onto the rocks, around to the left, under the bridge and into the parking lot of the finish area where I absolutely left everything on the course.
I went out strong, I was impeccable with my nutrition and efficiency, I got stronger throughout the day and I lay down a personal best on this course of 55-minutes. Uplevel complete.
Mendocino Coast 50k
April 20, 2019
7th Place Female Age: 40-49