Saturday I had the opportunity to run the Leona Valley Trail Half Marathon in Lake Hughes, CA. This race is put on by Keira Henninger, accomplished ultra runner and race director of both the Leona Divide 50/50 I volunteered at back in April and the upcoming Griffith Park Trail half marathon I’m running in November (and more).
I arrived at about 6:40 am and had enough time to pick up my packet, drop the race bag goodies back at my car, put on sun screen, and get back up to the starting line for the count down to the 7am start (we started exactly at 7:00, too! which has not been the case for some of my previous smaller races).
The course starts at the Lake Hughes Community Center and goes straight up a fire road for about 3 miles with views like this along the way:
Around mile 3 we got to coast down hill to the first aid station at mile 3.4. The aid stations had water, electrolyte drink, bananas, oranges, perfectly ripe strawberries, peanut butter pretzel nuggets, pb&j, energy gels, and more.
After the aid station at mile 3.4, we dropped down on to single track along the Pacific Crest Trail and continued the descent until the turnaround and 2nd aid station at mile 6.7.
And so ends my attempt to photograph while moving. I felt amazing through the second aid station and it was cool to see the lead half marathoners coming back up on my way down. They were hauling it uphill yet they were still able to offer encouraging words while I stepped off the trail for them to safely pass me. Math is fuzzy while I’m running, but I think I was around mile 5.8 and therefore they were around 7.6? I hit the second aid station (6.7 miles) at 1 hour, 11 minutes. This aid station was pirate themed: complete with a treasure chest, fake swords, and skull & cross-bone fabric draped on the brush leading up to the aid station.
After the turnaround, the first mile up was tough and I did a lot of walking. Looking at the elevation above, according to my Garmin, I feel better about the walking I did (mile 7.0-8.0 had no elevation loss and 469’ of elevation gain). The sun started to feel warm on the sunny parts of the switchbacks at this point too. Somewhere in this rough uphill mile is where two speedy guys with yellow marathon bibs flew down the hill past me, closely followed by elite ultra runner Michelle Barton—who all took the time to say things like “great work” as they passed me.
Mile 8-9 was a little faster but still with some walking mixed in and once I hit 9, I ran the entire way to the aid station at mile 10 (that mile was not as steep and more fun to run). The aid station had some unexpected ice for my water bottle which was much appreciated as it had really warmed up by this point. From this point, there was about a half mile uphill, then the rest was down hill to the finish.
Leaving the aid station, I met another runner named Naomi and we stuck together until the finish line, and even finished at exactly the same time. Just a few miles before, all I could think about was the downhill miles awaiting me and how I couldn’t wait to fly down them, but they dragged on a little longer than I expected and it was great to have some company.
After the last aid station I saw some 5k runners making their way up the hill, a few people setting up a water stop—two of them wearing only tie-dyed tighty whities?, a non-racer offering some encouragement, and a couple guys who had already finished the half perhaps doing their cool down in the form of running back up the hill along the course (also perhaps crazy?) With less than a half mile to go I could hear cheering from the finish area below and tricked myself into thinking I was closer to the finish than I actually was.
I tied for 7th out of 39 females; and 27th/72 overall.
After crossing finish, Keira medal-ed me, then someone gave me a cold bottle of water and a lunch ticket. I walked around trying to keep my freshly pounded quads from seizing up and talked with a few of the runners who passed me or were near me on the course. I love how positive and friendly trail runners are—both during and after racing– a little different than road racing.
I of course have to note that I am greatly appreciative of the female-specific shirt sizing. I’m not typically a super pinky (or glittery) person, but I will definitely wear this shirt. The guys got a light grey tech tee. Ladies also got the cute running necklace above (and modeled by Molly Waffles, above right). Top finishers of all the distances (5k, 10k, half & full marathon) received nice big mugs with the race name and their place on them.
This was a well-organized race and a beautiful, but very challenging, course with great aid stations & volunteers! Even though as I write this my quads are still sore, I would definitely run this again next year and I’m looking forward to another well-organized trail race in November in Griffith Park.