Last Saturday, my buddy Will Hudson and I left Berkeley early in the morning to make our way to Cameron Park, CA, the site of the Pony Express races. There are a bunch of different distances that have varied a bit over the years (the 100k has dropped a “0” this year). It would be the first time that I would tackle a flat, short-distance loop course. The trail around Cameron lake is all of 1.25 miles long and basically flat as a pancake. To tell you the truth: that scared the heck out of me.
I like hilly races. I like walk breaks on steep sections and flying down a long downhill. I like not worrying about splits. The Pony Express 50k would be a tremendous psychological challenge for me.
Further concern was a recent bout with the flu that still had me coughing up all kinds of nasty stuff, but it had been getting better a few days prior to the race. Finally, I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off as my job search is in full swing. This race actually came as a nice distraction from all that.
We got to Cameron Park and it was raining. Again. (Note: you might not want to sign up for winter races that I’m signed up for unless you like the wet stuff). After the quick instructions (tough to get off course, ya know), we were off. For some reason, the first lap felt longer than any other. How was I supposed to run 24 more of these? I finished the second lap only 18 minutes into the race: a bit fast. I was hoping for a PR at this race, but wasn’t really gunning for a sub-4.
Laps 4, 5 and 6 were probably the easiest. I had settled into a nice rhythm and my legs weren’t tired at all. Lap 5 was also the first time (out of three) that Will lapped me (Will’s a 2:29 marathoner, so he’s pretty swift on his feet). Next thing I knew, I was passing the approximate half-marathon mark in a new PR time and still feeling fresh (1:36…1:41 is my time from six or so years ago. I’m a different…faster runner now.). 12.5 laps marks the half-way mark, and I was still ahead of pace at 1:54. Then it happened.
A huge coughing fit really irritated my bronchi. Every breath hurt. What a bummer! I slowed a lot hoping for it to get better, but no such luck. I scrambled through another 2.5 laps to finish the 30k in 2:25.
At a different time in my life, I would have pushed on and tried to finish risking getting sick all over again or, worse, catching pneumonia. But as I mentioned above, I’m in the middle of finding a job. That means interviews, networking, endless applications and little sleep. That’s my number one priority right now. No question about it. If I can avoid getting sick, I will. There will be another (running) day.
Will finished in a CR time of 1:52, but somehow got left off the results. Too bad. Also, loop races aren’t that bad. I actually kind of enjoyed it. Nothing beats trail races in the wilderness, but it was nice to constantly be with people and be able to pace off someone in front of you. An aid station every 1.25 miles doesn’t hurt either. This was not my last loop race for sure.
Finally, thank you to all the volunteers who braved the rain and wind and hung out all day to aid the runners. You guys rock!