I’m not an angry person, and most people remember me by my smile, or so I’ve been told. But Oriflamme 50K–the second time-around–was a miserable experience for me (and because of me.)
For those who aren’t familiar with the Oriflamme 50K, it’s a terrific event put on annually by Pinnacle Endurance. The course starts at Sunrise Trailhead in the mountains east of San Diego, then winds along the Pacific Crest Trail for a few miles before dropping down through Oriflamme Canyon and into Anza Borrego Desert. The first time I ran the race, in 2015, I had little idea what to expect. It turned out the early descent at the beginning of the race, the blooming barrel cactus and accompanying sphinx moths on the desert floor, and then the long, grueling climb back to the finish was my ideal race. I placed first female that year, my first ever win at any race, and it’s been special for all those reasons since.
This year, when asked what races I wanted to run, the one and only race that popped into my mind was Oriflamme. Of course, Orcas 100 happened, and others will happen, too, but this was a race I really wanted to try for: I wanted to win, and I wanted the course record, too.
Last year, this goal would have been out of reach. But with the help of my coach, Alec Blenis at Complete Human Performance, I feel like I’m finally making strides (literally) toward becoming faster. Remember, I was the kid who was congratulated for placing first at a B.C. track meet in the 800-meter when I was eight years old. I thought my teachers and friends and even strangers believed I had ran really hard; turns out the results were misprinted and I hadn’t placed first but dead last. My running career ended there (…until I met Nick: see here.)
Since the start of the year, I’ve gladly jumped into a variety of races. Nick and I both ran the San Diego Trail Marathon in January, then Orcas 100 at the end of February. Going for any kind of record, or even a really solid run, at Oriflamme seemed like asking for too much but I thought I might regret not running the race after mentioning it numerous times over the last six months. I had to at least try.
The taper, as tapers often are, was tough, but I felt especially unmotivated and apathetic about the upcoming race.
The morning of the race, a knot had settled in my stomach. I briefly told Nick that I wasn’t feeling this race, but when is that ever an excuse? Does anyone ever really feel like waking up at 4 a.m. and running for several hours?
I made oatmeal while Nick heated hot water for tea and within twenty minutes we were in the car and headed east. I forced myself to eat a spoonful of oatmeal, but I wasn’t hungry.
“I don’t think I want to do this,” I told Nick. “it’s going to be cold and freezing and I don’t feel like racing today.” I mumbled my words, embarrassed to be telling Nick this on the way to the start line.
“You’ll be fine,” he assured me. “It’s just nerves.”
“No,” I retorted. “This is different. I really, really don’t want to do this.”
I continued to argue with him the rest of the drive, my mind becoming increasingly anxious the closer we got. The temperature continued to drop toward the low 40s and light rain landed on our windshield. I took one more bite of oatmeal then shoved it into the backseat, refusing to eat more.
Ten minutes before the start of the race, I hopped out of the car to use the bathroom. Wind whipped across my body, leaving my legs in goosebumps, and I shivered as I thought about the miles that lay ahead. I turned around and headed back to the car.
“I can’t do this,” I told Nick. “I don’t want to do this.”
I had no real reason why–I loved the course, I loved this part of San Diego, and I was looking forward to seeing both runners and volunteers I knew on course. But I didn’t want to race–not today, anyway.
“I’ll see you at the turn-around, okay?” Nick told me. “Do you have your bottles?”
I was planning on running with two handhelds, one filled with UCAN, the other with only water.
“I’m not using anything,” I said, forcefully tossing the second, UCAN-filled bottle into the back of my car.
Runners gathered around the start line and with only two minutes to go, I headed over. Nick hurriedly followed behind to give me a kiss before the start, but that didn’t even register. Suddenly the race was starting and I was gone.
The first few miles of the race wind along the PCT and without caring whether or not I bonked later on, I ran hard. While I had started mid-pack, half a mile in I was in the top ten and in the lead for females. I tried to remain upbeat and polite to other runners, and I weakly smiled when I had to, but my internal thoughts were angry. The rocks along the trail sucked, (made worse following this past winter’s heavy rain), the wind was awful, and I had absolutely no fuel on me; my mind dredged negative after negative thought from a never-ending river of doubt and for a while it fueled the miles. I ran hard down the long descent into the desert and didn’t start coming to my senses until the second aid station at roughly mile 13. Nick was there waiting, and I started to smile, genuinely, suddenly happy again to be out here running. I snagged half a banana then left, eager to reach the turn around point another two and a half miles down the trail. From here, the course seemed to slow as I slogged through the wash. Along the sides I glimpsed fuchsia flowers opening on cactus. My friend, Igor, was suddenly heading towards me and I gave him a heartfelt wave as we passed one another. My heart rose: it couldn’t be much further until the turnaround.
It wasn’t, and I didn’t waste time. I gave Nick a proper hug then ran out, determined to speed up the second half of my race. My mood, however, didn’t last. Within seconds I saw the second-place women, and, only a few minutes behind her, females three, four, five, and six. Even with my poor attitude and fueling mistakes, I thought I had made up time on the downhill. My mood sank once more.
At the second aid station, now at mile 18, I lingered. Nick tried to get me to eat something, anything, but I only willingly grabbed a banana. Even then I grimaced. Why even try? I thought to myself. They’re probably going to catch me anyway.
Even I thought my own thoughts were foolish, and I agreed to take a salt pill before I left. Still, I would regret not taking more food.
The next several miles were a long, gradual ascent, a very steep ascent, a mile of gently rolling hills and finally another long climb to the last aid station at mile 26. I tried to keep an even pace on the first section, but winds seemed to sweep down the valley. At several points dust storms cropped up, pelting my bare legs with tiny grains of sand. Within half an hour I was completely out of water, not entirely surprising considering the 16 oz. bottle I had on hand, and there were still miles to go. I pushed as much as I could, running the runnable sections while breaking down into a fast-paced hike on sections that warranted longer strides. Time seemed to pass slow, and yet all of a sudden I was at the water drop–thank goodness. I filled my bottle, then drank it almost entirely down before filling it again.
My stomach rumbled; I had quenched my thirst but now I was famished. Up until this point at mile 24, I had eaten roughly a banana and a few bites of oatmeal.
Angry Jade made a major rookie mistake and now my race was paying for it.
As I rounded a corner, I caught sight of a runner ahead of me. Go for him, I thought to myself, and urged my legs to keep pace. As long as the gap between us didn’t increase, I could run at this pace. The final uphill section was upon me, and I glanced back only once to see who was behind me. A few switchbacks below I saw two figures, one in black and one in blue, but it wasn’t clear if either were female. Still, I couldn’t ease up.
At the final aid station, I felt relief: finally I could eat! The fresh fruit looked amazing and I ate handful after handful of strawberries, then grabbed another large handful and half a PB&J to go. I thanked the volunteers for their kindness in letting me eat all of their strawberries and then took off. This last section of the PCT was long and meandering, and I recall the seemingly endless twists and turns it makes before the finish from the 2015 race. Rather than focus on the miles to go, I made it my mission to catch and then keep up with a runner in front of me. I matched his pace and tried to clear my mind of anything but following his footsteps. My mind felt lighter now, my attitude improved.
With a half mile to go, I promised myself to smile as big as I could for Nick who had endured my crap earlier that morning. The trying wasn’t necessary, though; both my mom and my Nana had driven up to watch me come in. I ran into the finish in 4 hours, 54 minutes, first place female and sixth overall.
It’s been nine days since the race, which means that by the time this race report has been published on my blog, it’s the longest I’ve ever taken to finish a race report following a race. One reason is because I’ve not known how to begin and, frankly, I’m embarrassed by the fact that I was so bitter and anxious going into this race. The second reason might be because I’m not entirely sure what caused my anger.
In some part, I think it boils down to my personal decisions: with my grad school thesis looming (I turned it in on Friday), a wedding to be planned, a career to be built and relationships to be nurtured, all of which I ultimately put upon myself, it was foolish to also ask myself to be competitive, to go for a big goal so close to Orcas and amidst other large, and truthfully more important, life events.
Is there a limit to the goals that one can set? Is there a finite amount of stress that a person can take on before adding competition to the mix? How does competition, whether defined or perceived, change a person’s attitude?
How do I know when I’m too stressed out to function, let alone run 31 miles?
I don’t have the answer to these questions, but with each of these races I come closer to finding them. I thrive on setting challenges for myself, and no matter how they turn out, there’s something to be gained–whether physical or mental endurance, a peaceful sunrise, a new friend on the trail.
In this case, however, a little more grace with myself might have resulted in a lot less stress (and a ton less anger towards Nick, my fuel, and a random assortment of natural phenomenon on course.) Life is short, and we make our own purpose; I want mine to be positive.
Congratulations to all of the runners, and a heartfelt thank you to the volunteers and RD. The strawberries and smiles were very much appreciated.