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twin peaks 50: a stirring endeavor

it’s dark. i’m alone. all i hear is my own breathing. all i see is a round spot on the ground, lighted by my headlamp, where my foot is going to land next. i can feel it… it is getting stronger… it defeats me. the ruthless grip of fear. 38 miles into the race i get in the car that would take me to the finish line.

it was no surprise that twin peaks would be a hard race. having run most of the course in training, i knew what i was in for. or so i thought. i knew how hard the trails were, how brutal the climbs. but i had no idea how challenging combining these trails into a single run of 50 miles would be.

right from the start, a 9-mile climb up harding truck trail, i knew this would be a lonely run. as i saw the headlamps move quickly up the trail and disappear, negative self-talk took a strong hold of me. why do i have to be so slow? but soon anger and self-pity were replaced with acceptance and gratitude. i turned my music on, put a smile on my face and just kept going up the hill.

i reached the aid station at the top of harding truck trail after 2 hours and 20 minutes. i refilled both my bottles, took a hammer gel, and continued my way up, now on main divide road. the out-and-back trail to the top of modjeska peak was only 2 miles away. it was a short climb, but the trail was steep and very rocky, requiring full attention, especially on the way down.

back on main divide road, i continued on to the aid station at the top of santiago peak, 4 miles ahead. there i got a mental boost from the friendly volunteers, drank, ate, and refilled my bottles. it felt good to finally be going down after santiago peak. i thought this 8-mile stretch on main divide road to the west horsethief trailhead would be all downhill, but it included an unexpected (and tough) 5-mile climb to the top of trabuco peak. i hadn’t run that part of the course before.

at the aid station at the top of trabuco peak i got compliments for having “a beautiful smile after running 23 miles”. that’s always good to hear, but i wasn’t even halfway through the race, and a lot could (and would) change later on. i refilled my bottles, put a handful of pretzels in my fanny pack, and started my way down west horsethief trail. this 4-mile portion of the race was both a blessing and a curse. sure, i was going down, but the trail was so steep and rocky, i couldn’t just run down at full throttle. i learned that rather quickly after a few slips and a couple of near falls.

at the mile 27 aid station i filled one of my bottles with 20 oz of red bull and the other with a strong mix of cytomax and water. i’d need some extra energy to face the brutal climb up holy jim trail. i was fully aware of the challenge that awaited: i had run up holy jim two weeks before. on fresh legs. i knew this would be much harder then, after 27 miles.

this was by far my slowest portion of the race. it was also the hardest. during this climb i experienced every possible emotion. my mind raced from the extreme poles of euphoria to the depths of despair. and everywhere in between. i sang. i talked to myself. i talked to my bottle of redbull. i tried laughter therapy. i repeated all sorts of mantras. i delivered voiceless cries into the void; they painted the rarity of utter agony, as beauty.

i was at 32 miles when i saw the top of the holy jim trail. back on main divide, i still had to climb 3 more miles to the top of santiago peak, before i could enjoy the last and “easiest” part of the race: 6 miles down main divide road followed by 9 miles down harding truck trail, back to where i had started in the morning.

my stop at the top of santiago was a quick one. they were shutting down the aid station and packing up to leave. i had both my bottles filled with orange sports drink, ate the best tangerine ever, and started my way down, after assuring my fellow oc trail runner skip that i was warm enough, had my headlamp, and was ready and willing to run the remaining 15 miles in the dark.

i shut the music off for night running. the sun was setting and it had the deepest, most incredible red color i had ever seen. i felt blessed for being at the highest point in orange county at that moment. i had the best seat in the house! oh, the hidden treasures of being a slow runner…

i was feeling really good. it got dark quickly once the sun had set, and i turned my headlamp on.
within minutes i began to feel afraid. the battle inside my head started. i feel good. it’s pitch dark and you’re on your ownit is a downhill run to the finish. it’s night time, when mountain lions start to roami only have about 12 more miles to go. it’s still gonna take you at least 2 hoursi’ve done 50 miles before, i can finish this. not if you get attacked by a mountain lion… that was it. forget about snakes and everything else. my biggest fear when running or hiking is that a mountain lion will jump at my neck. i was freaking out already. i felt like such a wimp. i’ve come this far, only to be defeated by fear?… i saw headlights coming my way. i secretly hoped it was skip’s truck, so i could ride to the finish… and it was.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Darrell February 8, 2007, 3:38 am

    I’m so glad your run ended safely, if short. Your post just serves to remind us that running 50 miles is as much a mental battle as a physical battle.

  • Jessica Deline February 8, 2007, 5:31 am

    Nattie I have no doubt you had the mental toughness to finish that route. BUT running alone in the dark up there CAN be dangerous and you made the right choice. I was happy when I heard the report at Santiago that you were going to finish. Then I was happy when I heard you got in the truck as I was worried about you running alone and part of me wished there was a way to get up there to Harding and run down with you. I was secretly hoping you had found a running partner to stick with you through the finish. That is a tough course and people dropped out before you did. All things considering you did a FANTASTIC job those first 38 miles!

  • angie's pink fuzzy February 8, 2007, 3:10 pm

    nattie, that was a stirring post, how inspirational.

    i am so happy to have met you, and you do have the most gorgeous smile!

  • OCRunnerGirl February 8, 2007, 5:25 pm

    Nattie – you are a beautiful soul. I totally feel your fear! I had the same thoughts and I was running alone during the daylight! I could not have done it in the dark! You are such a tough, tough girl and I hope to be as strong as you! I am so happy to hear you went with your gut and got in the truck. You made the right choice! That trek back down was spooky to me too…again I was running in the daylight! Great job Nattie! You did awesome!

  • Anonymous February 8, 2007, 5:46 pm

    I know what you mean about the fear. I was racing the sunset (which was an amazing red that can’t be explained), and loosing the race. I then had to keep my cool running for 60 minutes or so in the dark, music off so I could hear the attacking lion and react. I was frustrated that I would be killed after 48 miles and not even get to finish. So I called my wife and felt worse, as I was still stuck on the never ending trail. If Skip would have come by, I would have jumped in at mile 49; anything to avoid the attack that my emagination and I were sure was eminate. Best regards, Mike Kennedy

  • Sarah February 9, 2007, 3:36 am

    What an awesome effort you made! You are definitely not a wimp! I think you made the absolutely correct decision. Good job! : )

  • Greg February 11, 2007, 5:53 am

    You are a great inspiration to me, and proof that it doesn’t matter how fast one runs, just that running takes you somewhere. I am so happy you made the tough decision to get off the mountain. It was the right one. No one belongs up there at that time. No one. : ) You are so special.

  • medalboy February 12, 2007, 5:37 am

    am i being trite if i say that your story is inspirational as have several of the other runners’ stories have been? so be it. if running an ultra is as much a mental as well as a physical challenge, then you clearly met it and surpassed it by making the clear-headed decision of running another day. great writing and story telling, nattie.

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