The week of the race we received an email from race director Keira Henninger. At the end of the email was this sentiment: “stay positive, and remember to enjoy the day. Be in the moment. Life goes fast. Someday Saturday will be a faint memory in one of your life chapters. Have fun, and just be stoked to be out on the trails. Its a gift!”
This completely resonated with me and Elisa, and we both approached the race with this in mind.
The Sean O’Brien 50k started at 7am. Around 6:45 we walked over to the starting area, grabbed our bibs, checked out bags (with only our new Patagonia race tech tanks in it) and lined up. We shivered next to each other while we were given a few pointers, much of which we couldn’t hear (save for how to pass other runs). A few minutes later and we were off.
We started towards the group camping at Malibu Creek State Park, up some single track switchbacks (the same ones I started with at the Malibu Canyon 50k), that rolled down the back. I already wanted to pass the girl in front of me, since her stride a little bit shorter than I would like on the downhill portion, but I knew it would open up soon enough.
We came to the creek, but this time it was pumping. There were two options — to grab the rope and run through the creek, or to cautious walk on top of the rocks. Elisa and I both opted for the latter, preferring to avoid soaking our feet less than 2 miles in.
The first part was pretty much the same as the Malibu Canyon 50k until we reached the first aid station at Corral Canyon. I knew what to expect, as the first climb took us over 1,600 feet in four miles. Going into this we knew we would hike the steep portions and run everything else that we could.
After the Corral Canyon aid station, instead of continuing to head up like the Malibu Canyon 50k, we continued on the Backbone Trail heading west. We popped onto rolling single track that provided a much needed reprieve after all of the uphill. The scenery transitioned from dry chaparral to shaded oaks saving us from the increasing 75 degree temps.
4.3 miles after the first aid station, we came across the Latigo aid station. I thought this was going to be the last aid station before the turn-around, but was pleasantly surprised there would be another one in just a couple miles (where the marathoners turned around).
At the Kanan aid station we prepped ourselves because we knew there wouldn’t be any aid until we were back there again. I was feeling pretty good at this point (around 14.5 miles) and could hear some volunteers talking about how I looked so fresh (definitely made me feel good and boosted my spirits — damn right I look fresh!!).
The turnaround point was further than I anticipated and I keep wanting it to come around. The goal was always to make it to the halfway point and then we’d be home free!
A little over 16 miles we made it to Zuma Ridge where we received our high-fives before turning around. Mentally, the out-and-back made it easier. It also made it feel like you weren’t the only one out there because you would pass runners both ways. And it
made the race seem like 2 different courses.
On the way out, I wasn’t focusing on anything but my footing on the downhills (because it wouldn’t be a trail run if I didn’t almost trip several times). So coming back up them seemed like completely different terrain and I kept saying “I don’t remember this.”
Before we hit the Kanan aid station again, I wanted 2 things. Ginger ale then. And beer after (the race). Luckily, at the Kanan aid station THERE WAS GINGER ALE (not just coke). Elisa also informed me there would be beer at the finish line. I sighed the biggest relief like this was the best news I had ever heard. EVER.
In addition to sharing the single track with other runners, we also had to share it with mountain bikers. It was fine and we pulled off to the side. The one thing that bothered me was one biker who rode by and said “I want to get in this sport, if all you do is walk.” …ok buddy….
We started to make every aid station a destination. We discussed how we would fuel, what we would eat at the next aid station. We also decided how we would celebrate after the race (Blue Ribbon Pizzeria BABY!).
At the last aid station, we were completely pampered. Someone filled my camelback with water, another person added ice. Someone fetched me run goo, ushered me to sit down, and another handed me baby wipes. There was one guy that was so kind and willing to do anything, I would like to hire to be my personal assistant for life!
After Corral Canyon, we knew we would literally be home free. With a big downhill (the uphill of which we had to endure on the way out) was waiting for us!!!
We flew down this but still encountered some uphill that I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t have (but then again, I wasn’t paying attention when it came to any downhill on the way out).
We reached the creek and decided that we would both run through it. I was worried even if I attempted to walk across the rocks, I would fall in anyways. It felt so refreshing, but also made my Hoka’s feel like they had mini puddles inside. My toes started to feel frozen too. I was definitely glad we didn’t run through it the first time!
We knew we had just a little bit left and powered through. I was really proud of how strong we were both running, after 31+ miles. Just a little bit of uphill and then down the switchbacks we started with. We hit the base of the group camping, and the finish line was less than a quarter mile away. Elisa started to pick up the pace and I said “ok badass!!” as I checked the pace and watched it drop to 7:15. We continued with this pace, rounding out to the road. I pulled a little bit ahead and dropped down to a 7 minute pace. One quick turn as we shot by the spectators and into the finish line.
I turned around with Elisa right behind me as we gave each other the biggest embrace. WE DID IT!!! I was so happy and it was such a special feeling I felt the most emotion I ever have at the end of a race and could feel my eyes swell with tears of excitement.
We were adorned with our cool wooden medals, picked up some ice from the med-tent, grabbed subway sandwiches, and headed for the beer station.
I would definitely recommend the Sean O’Brien 50k. Although it lists all of the distances as challenging and not recommended for first races, I enjoyed it so much! It was a well run and well organized event, with overabundant aid stations, extremely generous and attentive volunteers, and a great course. I will most likely return next year.
I ended up placing 52nd overall and 7th in my age group (Elisa was 53rd and 8th).
Mile splits recorded by my Garmin (7:28:18):
1 – 11:49
2 – 11:14
3 – 16:43
4 – 19:03
5 – 12:27
6 – 14:09
7 – 11:49
8 – 14:57
9 – 10:50
10 – 15:58
11 – 11:51
12 – 15:00
13 – 12:22
14 – 15:23
15 – 12:40
16 – 12:25
17 – 14:29
18 – 12:37
19 – 17:42
20 – 16:02
21 – 13:21
22 – 18:04
23 – 15:51
24 – 11:00
25 – 13:40
26 – 22:04
27 – 13:33
28 – 11:05
29 – 10:04
30 – 8:46
31 – 11:03
32 – 13:16
Last .82 – 6:46