Race Recap: PCT 50 Mile Ultramarathon

I signed up for the PCT 50 as soon as it opened back in January … and it was a good thing I did. The race sold out in just a few days! After doing some research and spending some time out on the trail itself, it was quick to understand why: The Pacific Crest Trail is absolutely beautiful.

The race was ran primarily on single track trail in the Cleveland National Forest, and provided unbelievable views at altitudes ranging from 3,000-6,000 feet. The race also boasted 7,500 feet of elevation gain. Needless to say, today would not have been the day to forget my race pack!

With the race start being about an hour east of San Diego, we got up at 3 a.m., picked up my buddy Mark, and headed out. We got to the start (Boulder Oaks Campground) about 5:15 a.m., just in time to pick up our packets, say hello to some running friends, and get those last few pre-race jitters out. And then—before I knew it—I heard “3 … 2 … 1!”

We were off.

PCT 50
Runners preparing to go at the start

Boulder Oaks Campground – Fred Canyon Road (0.0 – 6.4)

The race wasted no time in sending us “up”. My strategy for the first part of the race was simple: fall towards the back and power-hike the first 14 miles, since they were mainly uphill. I ran the flats and downs but wanted to conserve as much energy as I could, which made this stretch pretty uneventful.

PCT 50
A.M. reflection on the PCT

Fred Canyon Road – Dale’s (6.4 – 13.7)

I arrived at Fred Canyon aid station with no trouble. I topped off my bottles (one with water, one mixed with lemon-lime First Endurance EFS & Carbo Pro), grabbed some pretzels and an orange, and took off to continue my climb. The trail got a lot more technical during this stretch, which meant I spent a lot of time looking at the ground instead of the scenery, but before I knew it was rolling into Dale’s aid station.

PCT 50
Climbing on the PCT

 Dale’s – Todd’s Cabin (13.7 – 17.5)

After a quick pit stop, I was back on the trail and on my way. I knew the next few miles were predominately flat, so my plan was to hammer them out as quickly as I could. This stretch was mainly shaded single track, so it was the ideal place to bank some quick miles while getting a break from the sun.

PCT 50
Solitude out on the PCT

Todd’s Cabin – Penny Pines 1 (17.5 – 22.7)

I cruised into Todd’s cabin, quickly remembering how much tougher it is to run at elevation than it is at sea level (where we live). Luckily, I had run the next 5 miles on a previous training run, so I knew when to conserve/when to push. The scenery was crazy. Apparently, several years prior, the area had experienced a massive fire that scorched the earth. It felt like you were running on a different planet at times. I started hiking up the last big climb to Penny Pines and could see C at the top waiting for me. What a great sight that was!

(Sidenote: C, and all the volunteers, crewers, pacers, medics and sweepers who donate their time and energy to helping make the runners’ day successful deserve the biggest, most sincere THANK YOU I could possibly offer. You guys/girls are simply amazing. Thank you.)

PCT 50
View from up top

Penny Pines 1 – Turnaround (22.7 – 25)

As soon as I got to Penny Pines, C went to work getting my bottles filled and making sure I had everything I’d need. My pacer, John, had also just shown up and was preparing to run the last 25 miles with me. I was talking with them when I overheard someone say “cutoff time.” I froze. It was 11:40, and all runners would need to be back through Penny Pines by 1:30. John looked at me … I looked at C … we all looked at each other, and I busted ass back out onto the trail.

PCT 50
Grabbing some fuel at Penny Pines

Note to self: pay more attention to cutoff times!

Turnaround – Penny Pines 2 (25 – 27.3)

I couldn’t believe I could have been so careless. Although hiking the uphill at the beginning was allowing for some pretty fresh legs here – my back was now against the wall and I was going to have to work hard to stay ahead of the cutoffs on my return. Luckily this section was pretty much rolling single track and I was able to cruise pretty quick back into Penny Pines.

Penny Pines 2 – Todd’s Cabin (27.3 – 32.5)

I came back through Penny Pines, picked up John, and we were off – ahead of the cutoff by about 40 minutes. We started on our way back and were making pretty good time, passing several runners along the way. Although it wasn’t hot, per se, this section of the PCT left you pretty exposed, and I could tell the sun was starting to hit me pretty hard. However, the spectacular views of the Anza Borrego Desert nearly 5,500 feet below made the trip pretty enjoyable. As great as the views were, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t checking my watch continuously … the cutoff at Todd’s was 2:30.

PCT 50
On the way to Todd’s Cabin

 Todd’s Cabin – Dale’s (32.5 – 36.3)

John pushed me pretty hard on the return and got me in (and out!) of Todd’s Cabin by 2:15. The return stretch here was pretty rough for me, as I could feel two hot spots on my feet starting to flare up. This resulted in some sort of walk-run-shuffle-tiptoe-forward motion that somehow got me to Dale’s.

PCT 50
Heading to Dale’s

Dale’s – Fred Canyon Road (36.3 – 43.6)

There was no cut off here, but they informed us that there would be a final cutoff at Fred Canyon at 5:30 p.m. Needless to say, we grabbed what we could and took off. While I’m not a huge proponent of out-and-back courses, I will say that it was nice to know exactly what type of terrain I had to run over to get back to Fred Canyon in time.

Fred Canyon Road – Finish (43.6 – 50)

I made it to Fred Canyon by 4:55, and saw my friend Mark there getting ready to head back out. We all ran together for the first few miles, then we split up. My return to the finish was FAST! Probably some of the quickest miles of the day for me – all over some pretty technical and rocky trail. As we descended the final few switchbacks, I couldn’t help but smile. My strategy had worked!

PCT 50
PCT 50: Complete

I crossed the finish in 12:32:32—a 17-minute PR at the 50-mile distance—on the most difficult course I’ve run to date.

Overall, I’m incredibly happy with how the day went. It’s funny, as with any race, I learned so much that will be valuable for future races. Although I was feeling a bit stressed on the start of my return, I do not regret my decision to power hike the start. Yes, I lost a decent amount of time there, but it resulted in an incredibly strong finish, with enough in the tank to keep going if I needed to. In conclusion: Physically, mentally and nutritionally, things clicked.

Thoughts Looking Forward

As many of you may, or may not, know, I’m running the San Diego 100 Endurance Run on June 7. The PCT 50 was my last long run before that race. If you’ve followed along, I’m sure you’ve noticed my last few tune up races have had all kinds of issues, leaving me feeling a bit uneasy. Yesterday’s race, however, erased all of that and provided me with the confidence I needed to be able to toe the line on June 7.

Take care,

-G

23 thoughts on “Race Recap: PCT 50 Mile Ultramarathon

  1. Awesome job! I am running my first half marathon this coming Saturday and am completely terrified. My goal is to merely finish. 🙂 I read most of your posts and wish you all the best in the 100 miler.

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  2. Congrats! What a great run and on the PCT, lucky you. I think you were wise in conserving your energy during the beginning miles. If, or when, I run my next ultra, I’d like to go out slower and see how I feel at the end. It takes great self control to use that strategy. Good job!
    I can’t wait for you to run 100 miler. What a goal!!!

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    1. Thanks, Jen! You’re 100% right … it was super hard to hold back at the start — especially with all the adrenaline that comes with a race start! It definitely paid off for me. Plus, I figured the more time I spend on my feet I can count towards training, right?! 🙂

      I really hope you’re leaning towards “when” you run your next ultra. 🙂 You did fantastic and it was so fun for us both to follow along!

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  3. Congrats on a great race! Excellent strategy to conserve your energy and keep your legs strong for the last half of the race.

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  4. congrats on the PR! and on such a difficult but absolutely gorgeous course. i struggle with “smart running” and really need to learn how to be patient and conserve energy. i can’t wait to read about your 100. i’m tentatively planning my first for december!

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    1. Thank you! I agree … “smart running” is hard. It takes a lot to hold yourself back and not get completely caught up in the adrenaline of the start! I definitely wanted to, but was glad I didn’t 12+ hours later! Which 100 are you planning to run?! Any other races on the horizon for you?!

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      1. i’m planning on bartram 100. it’s mid-december in georgia. i want to be close enough to home that i can drive and bring a solid crew and pacers but i don’t want to stay in florida since even dead of winter can throw us for a loop with high temps. only other definite plans i have right now are a few sprint tris over the summer and the florence marathon in november (yes, italy :)) i’m sure i’ll add a couple 50ks and likely a 50 miler as training runs too. what’s next on your schedule?

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      2. VERY NICE! Sounds like you’ve got a full year ahead of you! Best of luck! Can’t wait to follow along! Oh, and the FLORENCE MARATHON!?!? WOW!!! That will be SURREAL! 🙂

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  5. That looks like a fantastic race, I’d have loved to give it a go. I have a similar strategy to you for any ultra, start slow and get faster. It just seems to work for me. Great photos too!

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    1. Thank you! Yeah that strategy really seems to pay of for me, especially when long climbs are involved at the start! Best of luck on your upcoming mountain ultra! Can’t wait to read about it! 🙂

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  6. Congratulations!! What an awesome job you did! I loved reading your race recap! And, WAYO TO GO on your 17 minute PR!! WooHoo!!!
    I am very excited for your San Diego 100 coming up! I wish you all the BEST!
    I’m very happy to hear that your performance in this 50 miler has served to ease your concerns coming into your 100. It’s so important to have your mind “right” for this challenge. I look forward to reading your SD100 Endurance Run Race Recap!
    Again, CONGRATS!! You are an Inspiration and a Rockstar!!

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    1. Thank you so much!! I really appreciate it!! I agree — absolutely essential to have the mind right heading into any type of big race! How about you — any big challenges on the horizon for you!?! Take care and I hope your training is going well!!!! 🙂

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