Leona Divide

I don’t really know where the divide is. The Leona Valley with its lakes is a rift created by the San Andreas fault. The race starts to the east of Lake Hughes and runs first south-east, then doubles back on itself to go west and then returns.

The weather people claimed that it was 39° in Lake Hughes Friday morning (day before) and that the high would be 56°. But when I got there it was about 70°. The prediction for the day of the race were equally wrong. It was 51° when I arrived at 5am and reached up into the 80s during the day (that’s at the start/finish area. it was hotter in the canyons).

Very windy though, but I figured that would calm.

We started at 6, in twilight, and ran up into the hills. Two women behind me were chatting: “We can go slow for the first half hour, after all we’ll be out here for seven or so.” At first I thought they might be slow 50K runners, but they had said they were going slowly and our current pace would not yield a 7 hour 50K. Nope they had to be fast 50milers and they were behind me. I should slow down. And they passed me.

I was hoping to break 8, but didn’t really expect to. Somewhere between 8 and 9. Every course is different and I can’t tell in advance…

The countryside is drier and barer than that of the SB mountains, much more open and smaller bushes. Not a problem this early in the morning but it doesn’t look as though there will be much in the way of shade later in the day.

I’ve been troubled with nausea in most of my ultra races (and some training runs too). Mike tells me this is because I haven’t been taking enough electrolytes (salt), so this time I take 100mg of sodium every half hour (and I’ll continue to take a gel pack every half hour). Of course I have a large camelback to drink from when I need it.

We are winding up a dirt road on a ridge line with canyons opening off to the west as the sun begins to rise above the mountains. Every now and then I stop running and walk for a bit until my heart rate drops. This early in the race that happens pretty quickly.

The course is well marked, but sometimes I don’t notice the markings. At an intersection the guy just ahead turns right to piss in the bushes and to avoid him I turn sharp left. The woman behind me yells at me that the correct route goes closer to straight ahead, and then I notice the little “do not go here” sign. Now we get to go downhill for a bit and we trundle along in slightly different order.

My hands are getting warm and I take off my gloves. Stuffing them in the backpack is too difficult so I just hold them. 🙂 I end up holding them for about an hour and a half…

I don’t bother to stop at the first aid station. I’ve only been running for about an hour; it’s still cool; I haven’t drunk that much water; no need for a refill. So I’m now running with a slightly different group of people. We go uphill again for another 20 minutes and then make a very sharp turn onto the Pacific Crest Trail (the west coast equivalent of the AT) — and it’s a bit harder to pass people, but there is an etiquette involved and people are willing to move over if they know you want to pass (and, similarly, I must move over when someone wants to pass me). We coalesce into a little clump of runners (different, yet again from any I’ve run with). I count about 6 people ahead and there are maybe 4 directly behind (harder to count people behind). I slowly move up the clump.

At one point when I move to the side to allow someone to pass I twist my ankle slightly. It’s fine on level trail, but on a slope I notice a little twinge. OK for now, but I worry that it may worsen. I feel it off and on for another three hours or so, and then it fades. Good.

It’s kind of odd, there’s our little group of about 10 people but no one in sight ahead. We wind in and out of canyons. It’s very dry. The trail is white sand with little scrubby bushes, only waist high, much lower than what I’m used to in SB. It is still chilly in the shade, but starting to be warm in the sun. Every now and then we turn a corner and the wind hits and then it’s chilly in the sun too.

I’m in fourth place (in our clump) when I realize that the reason we are a clump is that the woman in front isn’t going as fast as the people behind. The guy behind her passes, and then the woman ahead of me, and then a few minutes later I do. I stick with these two, they are going at a reasonable pace (for me) until we get to the next aid station.

Again I don’t need water so I just pass through.

Now we go steeply downhill for about 3 miles to the next aid station where the trail crosses a paved road. This section goes very quickly. My water is starting to run low but the station appears well before I run out. I do stop here, and get them to refill my water while I remove my long sleeved shirt and tie it to the backpack and then stuff the gloves inside (finally I get rid of them).

Of course immediately after removing my shirt I plunge into shade again and am a little chilly, but that doesn’t last.

And now for the longest climb of the course. I cross the road and head up. First we climb 1600ft in about 3 miles. Then there is about a mile of fairly level ground and then another 600ft. I go up.

There’s a guy behind me, slowly catching up. I offer to let him pass but he seems happy not to. We chat for a bit. When 16.7 miles rolls around on my watch I mention that we’re a third done and on track to break 8 hours. However he’s doing the 50K, so he’s more than half done and on track to break 5 hours. “Of course” he says. Finally he does pass me. But then he gets a stone in his shoe and I pass him back. We climb.

We start to see returning 50K runners. One guy. 10 minutes later another 2. Then a woman. Another man. The second woman (but she’s limping, oh dear).

At the top of the steep hill is another aid station, and this is the turn-around for the 50K race. I say good-bye to my friend and he turns back while I continue. This station claims to be about 20 miles from the start, but my watch thinks I’ve gone 19. Not sure what to make of that.

I start out with a couple of other people but they start to draw ahead, and pretty soon I’m by myself. This is a bit that looks flat on the elevation profile but really consists of lots of small ups and downs, twists and turns. It’s also exposed and in the sun. The ground is very white. The sun is very bright. The sun reflects off the white ground. Not really to my taste.

Off in the distance is a hill top with some pine trees on it.

Then I begin to climb again. There’s a little shade here. I think I’m on a north facing slope so there’s less direct sun. And there are masses of baby blue-eyes. These are fairly rare (or I think so) in SB, but they are all over here. Also some larkspurs. I guess it’s a bit damper here than it has been.

At 25 miles (by my watch) the time is 4:06, so I’ve dropped a little from the 8 hour pace. On the other hand, if the distance posted at the last aid station is correct I’ve probably run more like 26 miles and so I’m still OK…

And after a bit I start to see returning runners from my race. I sort of count these. That is to say… I try to count them, but I’m not at my most analytical after running for four hours and I keep forgetting to pay attention. (Was that runner 8? or 9?). Convention is that returning runners have the right of way, but the trail is narrow here and we’re on the side of a steep hill. Leaving the trail makes my foot twinge. Still, I do it.

As I crest this hill I’m in a stand of leafless trees, with a few just starting to put out buds. They look like oaks. I don’t think I’ve seen any oaks in Ca. which lose their leaves (Heidi thinks caterpillars ate them, but she wasn’t there; I think they were deciduous).


There was supposed to be a nice view of the valley below, but the camera didn’t catch it…

And now we leave the trail and head down (steeply down) a hot dusty dirt road. I pass some people and some pass me.

Two miles down the road (or a bit more) is the turn around (and an aid station). The woman who comes in with me (slightly ahead) turns out to be bib number 320, while I am 319. This amuses me. But not her. She turns around and zooms out of there like a rabbit, while I feel more like a tortoise. The road is uphill and steep and hot. I’m basically walking. There’s another guy who left the station at about the same time. He is also a tortoise and he and I trade places a couple of times. The rabbit is long gone, I never see her again. How does she do it?

I think I’m in about 40th place now. But I know I haven’t counted well. I’d could be 45th, or 35th

Off on the side of the road is a western wallflower. I noticed it on the way down, but I was running then. Now I’m walking. I can’t photograph flowers when I’m running, but at a walking pace, I can stop and it won’t slow me much. I’ve never seen a wallflower before.

The road is hot. I feel I’m crawling up. My fellow tortoise has now disappeared ahead.

I’m starting to balk at the thought of another gel, so I eat some blocks instead. For some reason they seem more palatable.

Eventually I reach the trail again. It’s cooler and sometimes shady and I can run again.

Now I’m the guy returning and people have to get out of my way. It’s kind of nice, but I’m feeling tired.

After ~3.5 miles from the turn-around I see Nichol and cheer her on. (well, sort of. I tell her she’s looking good, which she disputes saying she feels terrible to which I reply that I’m tired). A quarter mile after that I see Jennifer and say something to her too. It’s supposed to be cheering…


Hot. Lake Hughes in the distance.

There was maybe 3 miles of gentle shady downhill, but that is behind me now. I’m out in the sun on the bumpy flat section. I’m not doing very well. Several people pass me. I do see my fellow tortoise again, but I never catch up with him.

As I approach the next aid station there are inspirational quotes on signs. The only one that grabs me is one from Winston Churchill: “If you are going through hell, keep going.” It has a twinge of wit to it which the others lack.

At the 50K turn-around aid station again. In this direction the aid-station claims to be 35miles, my watch thinks it’s only 34 miles. In either case I’m more than ⅔rds done, but still with a long way to go. I eat a bit of banana and a potato. I grab a quarter peanut-butter sandwich while they fill my water.

The peanut butter proves a mistake. My mouth is dry and the peanut butter sticks to it. It’s very difficult to swallow. Funny. I don’t feel thirsty, but my mouth is dry. I thought there’d be some jelly in it, or less peanut butter… Eventually it goes down.

There’s an older woman walking with a stick (I mean a real stick, not a fancy pole). She’s a 50K walker and is in good humor. She asks for a tow as I head out. I wish I had enough energy to tow her 🙂 After this I assume that anyone I pass is likely to be a 50K runner, and anyone who passes me a 50M.

And I stumble out. Steeply downhill now, but very sunny and hot.

People pass me. I’ve given up on trying to eat even the blocks. I’ll just wait for the food at the next aid station. Mike told me that it was easier to eat real food at this point and he seems to be right.

I’m back at the paved road. It’s hot. It’s 1:30, about the hottest part of the day. People ask me if I’m OK. Well… not really, but I’ll manage. Someone pours water down my back. “Brormbgphmshqua”. Oranges! I eat 5 orange quarters! Yummy! And some soda. Mike told me to try drinking it. Bleah.

And now, the last steepest hill. Three miles of up to the next aid station. All in the direct sun in enclosed canyons with no breeze. I’m really dragging now. All slumped over walking up the hill. People pass me. I pass a few. The ridge line seems impossibly far above me. I realize I’ll probably be slower than 9 hours. I hadn’t expected that. Ug. It’s hot.

I think that funny little thing might be a broomrape flower.

It looks as though I’ve reached a ridge. There’s a bit of shade now and it’s not so steep. I can run again. Well… jog.

But I haven’t reached the ridge. I keep going up for another mile or so.

And there is the last aid station. More oranges! — these are covered with salt. Weird. Again they ask if I’m OK.

But this isn’t the end of the climb. There’s another mile to go up exposed fire road. At least it’s slightly cooler up here than it was down in the canyons. Slightly. It’s still hot. I’m walking again.

Someone looking far too cheerful comes running up from below. Only 2.9 more miles he tells me, and it’s almost all downhill.

Maybe. But it’s still uphill now.

And then it is down. And I’m running again. Not fast. But running.

I’m a quarter mile from the finish line when someone passes me. Damn. I haven’t seen anyone for half an hour couldn’t he have waited 2 minutes? And then someone else. And then I’m done too.

At the finish line they ask if I’m OK. Strangely I feel dizzy for about 30 seconds after stopping. And then… I’ll manage…

I really must look awful, they aren’t worrying about other finishers as they are about me…

John (who did the 50K) tells me it was “just over 80 at the finish line in the afternoon” (I finished at 3pm).

Official time: 9:06:47, 52nd overall, third place in my age group.

I want an orange. Or a banana. Or an apple. But they don’t have anything like that. I have a banana and an apple down in my car, but that seems so far to walk. Instead I go sit on the front porch for about half an hour and then go inside to eat a sit-down meal. I’m rather proud of myself. This is the first 50 miler where I’ve actually been able to eat after the race. I guess the extra salt was helpful.

Then I go back outside and wait for my friends to finish.


I did not piss during the race (I never have in an ultra). Nichol points out that means I was dehydrated. Um. I never felt thirsty. Maybe I need to force myself to drink more than I want to?


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4 Responses to “Leona Divide”

  1. Joy Says:

    I love the way you write George. It is almost as good as you telling me in person. I have not had time to read many blogs of late so I went back about 8 entries or so and got caught up with you:) I feel like you have been sitting next to me at work telling me stories for the last half hour!!!

    Ummm…I think Nichol might be on to something with that dehydration thing…it is NEVER okay to go 9 hours without having to tinkle:)

    Look forward to seeing you soon.

  2. Carl Says:

    Hi George, I agree with Joy. These are such a delight to read. Congrats on this last race! Your story makes me think about doing an ultra one day. By the way, those deciduous trees might be black oaks. During college I worked in the mountains east of San Diego and they had these really old black oaks which would lose all their leaves until late May.

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