It has been an incredibly busy 6 weeks for us, between a trip to Phoenix for work for me, a trip to Hawaii for Sean to visit his dad, UTMB, coming back and almost immediately leaving for a work event in Cleveland then heading to Tahoe to crew/pace Sean at his third Tahoe 200, I figured it out and we were home maybe 5 days out of the month so I wasn’t too keen on immediately coming home from Tahoe and heading up to Big Bear for another 100 mile race.
Fortunately Sean was on board with that and we decided against him running the 100, but after talking about it a bit more, we decided that maybe doing the back 50k on Saturday would be a good final training run for my first 100k 2 weeks later.
So we got in the car Saturday morning at 4:00am and made the drive to Big Bear. Fortunately Sean drove and I’m pretty sure I slept at least 75% of the way. It’s approximately a 2.5 hour drive from San Diego even without traffic. We got there just before 6:45am when they had told us to arrive so we could register the morning of. This is a pretty small race, there were only 36 people who started the back 50k and when we arrived there were a few people at the finish line area.
It was pretty cold out when we got there and Sean was freezing so we stayed in the car for a bit before heading over to the finish line to catch the bus to the start line at the bottom of Sugarloaf Mountain. The bus they had to take us over wasn’t very big and once we were all on, they told us that we weren’t able to stand so that meant we had to wait an extra 30 minutes to get to the start line (right before the race was to start at 8:30am).
A fun, silver lining, side note, since we weren’t on the first bus, it actually worked out that we were able to see the overall 100 mile winner arrive. It was pretty exciting because he was just under 20 hours and got a new course record by over an hour.
The bus finally came back and took us over to the start, we got there just in time to get bibs and pins and then pretty much immediately took off.
I didn’t feel like I was fully prepared for the start, but the show must go on and away we went. The whole race is run at elevation, most of it around 7,000ft and ranges from 5,800 to almost 10,000. We had been in Tahoe for a week and I had run/walked/hiked there with no issues, but for some reason I could definitely feel the elevation here, way more than in Tahoe.
The first section of the race goes up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, 9,920ft and then back down about 12 miles. There was a guy at the top checking & marking bibs but no aid station. This section was really rocky and tough to run on because of the shale rocks. We hiked the majority of it and I ran what I could on the downhill.
We finally made it to the aid station which was the start of our race, I had a few potatoes, refilled my bottles and used the bathroom and then we were off. I don’t know what my problem was during this 5 mile section but I was exhausted, I seriously felt like I could lay on the side of the trail and take a nap, haha. But we pushed through and did a bit of running downhill and then once we got on the road.
At this aid station we saw Paul Romero, the original RD and founder of Kodiak, and 2x podium finisher at Tahoe 200. We chatted for a bit, had some snacks and then got ready to start headed up to the skyline trail for another 3 miles.
I felt a lot better after we got to the aid station, I don’t know why I was so tired. It was during this section that we decided that there was no need to worry about our time and just walk/hike/run as we could. I think that really took the pressure off because I didn’t think I was going to be able to get anywhere near my 50k PR and I was putting that pressure on myself. Come to find out later, this is an extremely challenging 50k, definitely not a beginner course and the winners came in at around 7/7:30 so my finish time was actually about on par with what I would have done on a normal course adding in the difficulty level.
This section started on the street and then headed to the skyline trail which was a steady climb but not horrible. The climb wasn’t super steep and there were a lot of switchbacks. This part was pretty and relatively short. We got to the aid station, they had a lot of bees at this aid station and not a lot of food so we just refilled our bottles and then headed out.
The people at the aid station told us that there was going to be a downhill section and then we would have to go straight up for 2 miles, oh yay! lol and it was an 8ish mile section.
Well the show must go on so away we went, starting out with a relatively steep fire road which we hiked up and then eventually we got to a beautiful downhill section that went down with views of the canyon. This downhill section eventually got really steep and it was probably about 4 miles. I have to say that I never thought I’d say it, but I was definitely ready for this downhill to end.
It reminded me of the red house loop at TRT that they call the taste of hell, that seemed way less like a taste of hell than this, although beautiful, it was super rocky, steep and seemed to go forever. We eventually go to the bottom and then turned to go up to Grandview.
Oh boy, was this an interesting climb, it wasn’t exactly straight up, but it was pretty steep which was made worse by the fact that it was a very sandy trail. It section wasn’t exactly 8 miles so the super steep part of the uphill climb was maybe a mile before it flattened a bit with some smaller uphill sections. We could hear the aid station waaaay before we got there. They were super nice to be cheering for us, but with all the crazy switchbacks it was like alright already, I just want to be there.
We finally made it and only had 4 mostly downhill miles left. I got my bottles filled, drank some awesome broth which seems to be my go-to lately, especially when it gets close to dark. Since we were going to be chasing sunlight, Sean was urging me to get a move so I chugged my broth and we headed out. I tried to run as much as I could during this section but I still took a bunch of walk breaks on the uphills and then we ran and ran and ran down the trail to the city watching the sunset over the lake, which BTW was incredibly low. We finally made it to the road only to have to go up another short hill before we turned down towards the finish. That section on the road to the finish felt like it when on forever, but eventually we made it and over the line we went!
We saw a few of our friends and chatted for a bit while they were doing the awards ceremony before getting our medals and an awesome finish line photo.
Our friend Eric from Elevation Culture made the 50k medals and they were really cool with a bear claw on the front.
By this point it was getting cold so we got our race shirts, which I really like and then headed to the car to get warm clothes on. I have no idea if they had any post race snacks because of the awards ceremony, there were a ton of people there and they weren’t obvious.
All in all, even though it was probably the most challenging race I’ve done yet, it was a well run race and we didn’t have any issues with course markings during our section of the race. There were some issues earlier in the 100 mile race where people had gotten off course for up to 7 miles, but the section we did was pretty straight forward.
If you are looking for a challenging race in a beautiful location, make sure to check out Kodiak next September. They have 4 races, 100 mile, 50 mile, front & back 50k so there is something for everyone.