Leona Valley Half Marathon – October 2011


Last weekend I returned to Leona Valley to run one of the Leona Valley trail races. This was the same setting where I ran the Leona Divide 50 Miler earlier this year, and that race—and the scenery—was such a pleasure I decided to go back for more. There were a number of different distances, but since I’ve been taking it easy in the training department, I decided to do the half marathon instead of the full enchilada. Result: a quick, fun little race that let me spend some good time on the trails without leaving me too sore, tired, or wiped out the rest of the weekend. Win!

The course was tough…race-elevation

And the competition was beastly…

But most of all, it was completely frrrrrreezing at the start!

Trying to play it cool while secretly dying of shivers

When I saw it was 35* at 6:30am I started to get really worried, especially when I thought of how windy it was on the ridges back in April. Fortunately, it warmed up as soon as the sun rose, and just a half hour later it was (almost) pleasant. It turned out to be perfect running weather—sunny but cool.

                                                                              I didn’t get the memo about the neon shirts.

In keeping with my new laziness devil-may-care training attitude, I hadn’t actually looked at the course map before the run, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the half-marathon course was entirely on trails we’d run for the 50 miler. The first 3 miles are almost completely uphill. I’d promised myself that since I was undertrained, I would take it easy and not do anything stupid, so I took a few walk breaks during the uphill push. Probably not as many as I should have, but it’s HARD to hold back when everyone else is (foolishly?) sprinting uphill.

Beautiful sunrise over the mountains, about a half-mile into the race

After the first aid station about 3.5 miles in, we turned onto some singletrack and had a beautiful mile of up-and-down through the brush, on faint trails that seemed to disappear into the trees on a regular basis. It was really lovely, since at this point the pack had thinned enough that I was alone for long stretches at a time.

After some rolling trails, the course started to go steadily downhill, which was a great change from all the uphill of the previous section. Picture this: innocent Elizabeth, unaware of what the course map looks like, not knowing what the future holds, rejoicing in the steady downhill progression. “Fantastic!” she thinks. “Free as a bird! May this blessed downhill never end! Steeper! Steeper!” But after a few miles…what does she spy? A bright neon shirt on a far glimpse of trail, heading back towards her? Could it be? An out and back course?! This can only mean one thing…the steep downhill trail she is on will soon be the steep UPHILL trail she has to climb. Son of a…!

Of course if I’d thought about it, an out-and-back makes sense for the course, and of COURSE I could have saved myself some trouble by just looking at the course map in advance. But where’s the fun in that?!

Speaking of fun, we had this delightful aid station to greet us at the turnaround, about 6.5 miles in, at the bottom of the hill.


How great is that?! You can’t tell, but all the ladies working the station had matching sparkly pink skull shirts. Fun aid stations are the absolute best. Love.

So yes—after flying downhill, I fawned over the aid station for a few minutes and then started trudging back uphill. This is actually the same climb that we encountered at mile 43 of the 50 miler, and let me tell you—it’s a LOT more fun when you’ve only gone about 6 miles. I surprised myself by doing a fair amount of running during this time. I did take walk breaks, but whenever I could, I got my slow jog on, and was rewarded by a) not being passed and b) doing a little passing myself. A nice change from the last time I ran this trail, where I was passed by 85-year old runners looking fit and spry, while I felt like grim death.

One thing I like about out-and-backs is getting to see where you stand in the race and scoping out the competition. Knowing there’s someone just a few minutes behind you (or ahead of you!) is great motivation not to wimp out.

After the last aid station at the top of the big climb, we had just a few more rolling hills before it was aaaallll downhill, 3 miles to the finish line. During this time I got to chatting with a fellow runner who flies remote planes for the Navy SEALS. As a pastry chef I’m used to winning the “what do you do for a living” small talk “cool job” award, but he definitely swept it this time! The time flew as we talked about jobs, running, skydiving, and the war in Iraq (you know, typical light banter) and before I knew it we were done in about 2.5 hours.

Definitely not my best time by a long shot, but for a last-minute race, with little training, I was pleased! Also, I cannot recommend the Leona Valley races enough. RD Keira Henniger is fantastic, and her races are always well marked, perfectly organized, timely, and lots of fun. In fact, I think I’m doing her race in Griffith Park in LA next month! Two dirt-covered thumbs way up.

And just as a little multimedia bonus, this is the song I was rocking out to during the race. It seems like I always find one song that “grabs” me on a particular day and motivates me, and for this one, it was “Horses” by Yes Nice. (And as the video proves, it’s the prefect song for running in the woods!)


Final stats:
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Distance: 13.1 miles
Elevation gain: 3,000 feet
Garmin time: 2:34:11
Official time: 2:36:45 (6/24 women, 31/62  overall)

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Hi, I’m Elizabeth. 
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