This post is written by a guest author, Lawrence McDaniel. All photos contained within this post were taken while volunteering at the Bouquet Canyon aid station, which a group of us were volunteering at. This was Lawrence’s experience at the Leona Divide 50 Miler. 

Late afternoon at the San Francisquito Aid Station a conversation occurs between a solo crew member, still a novice to crewing, and a spectator who knows what’s happening in the head of the runner bombing down the hill to that aid station.

Today’s spectator had done distances more than twice what today’s runner is doing, he knows the drill when a runner is chasing cutoff times. Get in, get out. No bullshit. Just dump water in the bottles and jam out.

The chance never happens. The adrenaline rush of getting a second chance in the same race is only to be met with disappointment of falling short.

So I ended my second attempt at a 50 Miler at Leona Divide. 7 minutes late and 10.4 miles short.

Leona Divide was an amazing experience. The early morning was quiet but filled with excitement as all ultras are. The time comes and we all eagerly head out for the day from Green Valley Community Club and head up the road. My pace is good and consistent  through the first AS at Spunky Edison. Then it became a narrow long piece of single track that eventually led to steady climb. Many were power hiking up the hill which was not a terrible strategy for most of us, so we had a very long conga line going on. While it stumped the flow of things until we peaked, it saved some much needed energy and legs for later. As soon as we peaked it was downhill.

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Heading down the hill to Bouquet Canyon it was all single track, which in some cases we had to slide over ever so slightly for the 50k runners, one wrong step and you were prone to sliding down at least a few feet if not more. But hey, that’s why running trails is so fun! Coming through Bouquet, I’m stoked to see some friendly Fleet Feet Sports Burbank crew there. Spent a few minutes there ate some potatoes and a GU then headed out. Mile 17.6 I had barely taken in 13oz of fluid, still felt good but I knew I would need to take in more going forth.

On to Aqua Dolce, heading up the PCT was an awesome experience, especially during a race. I took in all that it had to offer. By this time the winds were picking up and we were getting some pretty intense gusts. This sure beats insufferable heat though, as we reached the peak of the trail to head down towards Aqua Dolce. This was a fun little bit of mostly technical single track. By this time the top runners were heading back up. Damn that was fast! Seeing them move up the hills seemingly effortlessly is amazing. On downward I cruised along, got a boost when I passed my training buddy and OrangeMud teammate, Anthony who was moving along as he always does. He’s a freaking machine. Next, I came across Steve who looked to be in rough shape, he had tripped and hit his head on a rock. But like the badass he is he kept going (he ended up cutting his race short at the 50k mark).

Finally hit Aqua Dolce, mile 17.6, just shy of 4 hours, my pace was good. Fluid intake was good, nutrition was on point. Switched to some other socks as I began to feel a hotspot on my toe. Got some watermelon, cola, refilled with ice and water, picked up a third bottle to ensure I had enough for the climb back up. Here is where I made one of my mistakes. I was not nearly as efficient as I should have been. I guess I was there a little over 10 minutes. Way too long.

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Back out again, by this time it is starting to warm up. The pace heading out was good, heading up the hill keeping a steady and consistent pace. Here is where I caught up to Alan, he had gotten to the last AS before me, but by this time he seemed to be struggling heading up the hill. I stuck with him for a bit to pull him along. As soon as we hit the downhill to go to Bouquet he dropped off majorly. I kept a comfortable pace for the next few miles towards the AS. Letting my legs go as they would.

Bouquet AS for the second time was a quick stop. Refill the bottles grab some potatoes then head out. By this time the exposed trail was starting to heat up and the wind had stopped. I had about 1h45m to get to Spunky before cutoff at 2:30. Or so I thought. Heading back up the single track we had come down in the morning was definitely no easy task. I realized I was losing precious time but my body was not in agreement with my head of making the cutoff. I kept pushing. Realizing it didn’t look like I would hit the cutoff at Spunky, I relegated myself to a 50k finish. Not what I wanted but for the day, I’d take it. I slowed a bit, still moving at a decent effort.

I get to Spunky. It’s approximately 2:45, I’m thinking my day is done. I start filling up a single bottle. Then some of the most daunting and exciting words I hear, “Cut off in 12 minutes.” For a brief second I contemplate wrapping it up. Then I fill up my other bottle, grab watermelon and some rice balls. I look to the others that had rolled into Spunky with me. Their day is done. Not mine! A second chance!

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I head out to San Francisquito. I’m ecstatic. In my excitement I realize I’m going faster than I should, I don’t want to bonk. I have to tell myself to slow it down just a bit. I have 90 minutes to go 7 miles. This is doable on this terrain. I pumped. My first 50 mile finish is within reach. As long as I beat the clock. I pass by the Leona Divide Champions board listing names such as Scott Jurek, Karl Meltzer, Jorge Pacheco, Michelle Barton and Kristin Moehl. More inspiration.

I keep moving and I hit a downhill and pass by a few others. I keep looking at the time. I’m losing ground. I start heading back up. My legs are not totally spent, I keep pushing but I’m slower than I need to be. Eventually I come to the final downhill for my race. I let my legs go as quickly as then can, I pass by others going back up. They encourage me. I keep pushing. I look down at my watch 4:31. I keep going as quickly as I can, hoping I can get another reprieve against time. I get there at 4:37. As soon as I get there with another runner, we are informed we missed cut off. I’m full of emotions at this point. Pissed, sad, relieved, disappointed.

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I take some water, some food and have my sister get my Dr. Pepper to help boost my spirits. For a second I want to breakdown. I get it together. I briefly recount my mistakes. I ask about Steve. Chit chat with the volunteers and the people who my sister was hanging out with. She befriended two couples. One of the men she met was an ultrarunner as well. She tells me about what they talked about. This lifts my spirits, while I failed to make that opportunity a reality, the fact that this community of amazing, selfless, caring and inspiring human beings are there to give and help strangers who we may only meet once; for maybe but a few minutes or less.

The good: hydration-Skratch and water, nutrition-ProBar chews, GU Vanilla, potatoes and watermelon, no chafing, no blisters

The bad: aid station strategy, pacing up hills after mile 26 needs to be faster, I didn’t push hard enough

Gear: OrangeMud VP2, The North Face Flight Series Shorts, Wigwam Socks/Stance Run Socks, Merrell Bare Access Trail shoes, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Suunto Ambit 1