Missoula Montana, Running, Leona Divide 50 Mile Race Report, Unpreparedness
Much has happened in the last month for the Schlarb family. On March 26th we finished our 5 month trip to New Zealand and flew back to the US. Our first stop in the US was to visit my parents and brother in San Diego for a week, next we flew to Denver to pick up our truck and camper, visit friends for a week and then finally drive to our new home, Missoula Montana.
Missoula is a great place. Missoula is surrounded by mountains, has numerous trails starting right from town, has a great university and a vibrant and exciting down town. Missoula certainly is a great place to be. In less than a week Maggie landed a full time job and we found a beautiful house to live only 2 blocks from campus, 3 blocks from trails and less than a mile from our great friends, the Wolfs (Jeremy, Tiffany and Autumn). Right now I am thoroughly enjoying being home with Felix, running and starting a degree in Physical Therapy at the University of Montana. Our new life in Montana is very new, exciting, different and we look forward to the new adventure.
I’m really a bit mixed up when it comes to where exactly I am with my running. Last year was a great year of running. Last year I had some great races along with some bad races and I did a lot of fantastic training all over the US and then New Zealand. For 4 months Maggie and I bike toured the South Island of New Zealand and I did some lower volume training with what energy I had left. At the beginning of this season I had several good weeks of training after our bike tour before the Tarawera 100k, but it was starkly obvious 40 miles into the race, when I began to walk, that I was under prepared.
Back in the US a couple weeks after Tarawera, Colorado’s hight altitude took its toll on my stubborn attempts at vigorous running leaving me tired and slow. Two weeks before Leona Divide Maggie, Felix and I got sick which resulted in a few days off from running and a tired body. The few days before Leona I turned a real corner and was feeling better than I have in the last few months, but feeling great doesn’t equate to great fitness and solid preparation for a race. I’m hoping for a quick and full recovery after Leona so I can get back to a successful race and training rhythm, something I haven’t really had since last July.
Leona Divide 50 Mile Race Report-
Leona is a great opportunity for me to race and be able to visit my family in San Diego, so for the second year I made it down to Lake Hughes for the Leona Divide 50 mile. Last year I didn’t have a good second half at Leona and finished fifth in 6:22, this year I really hoped to have a stronger finish and faster time, but half way understood I wasn’t prepared.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on my side race day with temperatures around 15 to 20 degrees warmer than last year which would make a huge impact on me over the last 15 miles (high 80s). The race started just like a 50k, just like last year. This year I stuck much closer to Jason Wolf and the other leaders, but stayed comfortable. At 25k/15.5 miles my split was 1:47, so 3:34 50K pace with over 3,000 feet already climbed. With some solid training under the belt, the fast start would have been fine, but that wasn’t the case. After the speedy descent down to the aid station at 16 miles I began the biggest climb of the day going from 3,000 feet up to 5,000 feet. Things felt good going up the climb and I passed a couple guys moving up from 6th to 4th place. The stretch at the top of the climb is my least favorite part of the course, as it is hot, exposed, and sort of bobs up and down and back and forth preventing one from getting a into a rhythm. Back into the woods and the prettiest part of the course, things were going allright and I kept chugging along by myself through the half point in about 3:08-09, if I remember correctly. Next came the 3 mile dirt road decent to the turn around. I was very impressed to see Krar so ridiculously far ahead of everyone, followed by Wolf about halfway between Krar and 3rd place San Diego local Fabrice Hardel. Fabrice was about 2 minutes ahead of me at the turn around and my complete focus was directed at hunting him down. Fabrice wasn’t moving well on the ascent back to the trail and I managed to eat up his two minute lead in the 3 mile ascent.
My focus became purely centered on finishing in 3rd place. I began to chant “3rd place I finish the race” along with a few other motivational distractions to keep my mind from convincing me to to slow. The heat started to take a toll on the rolling terrain as the sun rose higher in the sky and I descended. I first realized trouble was coming when I finished my water halfway between aid stations and then I started to really slow down, got the chills and felt like quitting. I had 13 salt pills in total, so enough for 2 an hour, but I quickly started hitting 3 an hour at this point. At the aid station I drank as much water as I could without wasting too much time, I poured water on my head and I started using ice in my bottle. Then I spotted Fabrice behind me as I made my way to the mile 42 aid station. I was running in fear, chanting my mantras and I was hell bent to get to the climb starting at the next aid station before Fabrice, otherwise I might mentally crumble. On the last mile or two of the descent I flet the first signs of muscle cramps in my calves, something that you never want to feel on a run, especially when you really need to on speed up, not down, have little salt left and things are getting hotter.
Reaching for water at the 46 mile aid, I found Fabrice standing right next to me. Forget the thorough hydration, cool down and break in the shade before making for the finish line. I literally was pouring water on my head, half chugging half spilling coke, ginger ale, a mysterious blue liquid and then waddling out of the aid station with Fabrice in my back pocket. I shuffled up the trail to give a facade of running to my competition and only kept at it as I noticed Fabrice not running. The misery carried on and then got worse when discovered I had broken one or two of my last 3 salt pills, a near tragedy worth crying over. I allowed myself to power hike on several well debated stretches of particularly steep terrain, terrain out of view of Fabrice or in the shade, but each time I walked I found it wasn’t easier than running, more comfortable and certainly wasn’t getting me through this hell any faster. Up I kept going, with Fabrice slowly fading back. Deep in my rational brain, I was thankful for the up-hill as if it was flat or down hill I would be hobbling in 4th place instead.
At the last aid station a half mile below the top of the climb and 3.5 miles from the finish I repeated my hydration binge and shower process. The aid worker nearly had to hold me up and did in fact walk me out stabilizing my destroyed body and giving heart felt encouragement. What a mess. The down hill finally arrived along with quad, hamstring and calf cramping. It was Fabrice’s turn to yo-yo back, had I gained enough on the climb? The other question I was facing each and every stride, was rather I could run without a full scale cramp seizing one of my major leg muscle groups. I’ve never ever had an epic battle with cramping muscles before and I truly believed I wasn’t going to make it down without a full on fall or slowing to a limp. I licked the salt out of the little bag my pill had exploded in and babbled like a fool all sorts of prayers and self encouragement. This mess finally ended without walking, but it certainly was not what anyone would call good down hill running. I finished in 3rd completely destroyed. Looking at the results a day later I saw I was only 1 minute and 43 seconds behind Jason Wolf, but 2nd place was never even considered on my survival descent to the finish. Relieved to finish doesn’t capture the moment, as it was such an ordeal that I really didn’t have those good feelings of finishing a goal.
Top 3; Krar 5:53, Wolf 6:43, Schlarb 6:44
Leona 50 Mile is a great high quality event that has gone off without a hitch for two years. The post race hang out is fun, low key and just a blast, I’d recommend the race to anyone looking for an ultra in SoCal.
I’m completely resolute to show up to races better prepared for my goals (who doesn’t want that)… or just not show up at all. Yeah, the second half hurts, but I’ve really been making a habit of pushing past levels of pain that I feel is reasonable to just finish… super slow finishes. Don’t get my wrong, I love pushing the envelope, but when well prepared for a race of any distance, things can really be under control and one can finish strong, that isn’t something I’ve done in my last 3 races. I run for my love of trail running and making a habit of this sort of second half finish is taking to much away from my experience, at least the racing experience. Glad to have finished and made the podium and I certainly learned some tough lessons on running in the heat.
San Juan Solstice Win
Jason Wolf plans on running Western States and Robie Krar would like to if he can get out of work commitments, so that leaves me with a chance at a Western entry, but I need to be ready for a back up plan. Right now the back up plan is my beloved San Juan Solstice 50 mile, but there are some real challenges of doing that race with a hut running trip in the Italian Dolomites in mid June and a lack of altitude training (Missoula is at 3,200 feet). Need to figure out a realistic plan for a June race.