Back in 2011, I was coming off my first year of ultra marathons where I completed my first 50k, 50 miler, and 100 miler. With a year of experience under my belt, I set off to conquer more difficult races. I did have momentum on my side, however, having completed the longer distances, I thought I had it all figured out. I didn’t need to be as cautious and prepare as much as I had my rookie year I thought.
My first reality check came that July at the Angeles Crest 100 miler where I got my ass totally kicked and timed out at mile 30. Looking for a rebound race, I signed up for the Twin Peaks 52 miler thinking I could cruise through since I had made it 30 punishing miles at AC.
Yeah, I don’t think so.
The 2011 Twin Peaks was an even worse experience. I first of all, decided to run in a football jersey. Second, I had no nutrition plan and thought I could wing it with Gatorade and whatever they had at the aid stations. Lastly, I glanced at the elevation profile and thought, “Meh, no sweat. I got this”
The result was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in a race. I began to develop a killer headache from lack of electrolytes just 10 miles into the race. By the time I hit Santiago Peak, I was done. My legs were severely cramped and my head felt like it was about to explode. I tried to drop out, but the aid station wouldn’t let me. They suggested I head down Indian Truck Trail and get a 50k finish. It probably took me about three hours to limp down the 6.5 miles to the finish.
Angeles Crest and Twin Peaks would kick my ass in 2011, but I vowed to one day return for a rematch and avenge those losses. Last year, I went back and finally completed the 2014 AC100. This year, I was back for the rematch with Twin Peaks. I had no time goals and didn’t care if I would be out there all day (which is basically what ended up happening!). All I wanted was a finish, and a finish I was determined to get!
Twin Peaks 52 Mile Course
Twin Peaks gets its name from Santiago Peak which racers have to reach twice. The race has over 14,000 ft of climbing and racers have a final cut-off of 15.5 hrs. There is an early start option that gives you an extra hour, but I don’t believe in early starts. There is also a 50k race. People who are getting their ass kicked during the race can drop down to the 50k. Technically, I didn’t DNF in 2011, I received a 50k finish. But, since I don’t believe in drop downs, I consider it a defeat.
Start to Holy Jim 1 (mile 14.5)
The 6.5 mile climb up Indian Truck Trail went smooth and I reached the first aid station in an hour and 27 mins. I continued climbing up to Trabuco Peak and once the climbing subsided, I put away my trekking poles and settled into an actual run to the Horsethief aid station where I had a nice, little French conversation avec mon amie, Christine. Next up was a plunge down Horsethief trail. Once I reached the bottom, I was able to really turn on the jets and arrived at the Holy Jim 1 aid station mile at just over three hours. So far, so good. No cramps, nutrition was on point, and I was feeling good after that last stretch of running.
Holy Jim 1 (mile 14.5) to Santiago Peak 1st Ascend (mile 22)
Leaving the Holy Jim aid station, I ran that first mile before reaching the trail head to begin the long climb up to the peak. The trip up to Santiago Peak was what crushed me back in 2011. I had done a training run of the 50k course weeks earlier when it was 100 degrees that really beat me up.
This year the climb was nothing too bad. I could feel the sun but it didn’t bother me. All of my heat runs and sauna training had helped create a nice, strong tolerance for the heat. I had a nice cadence going with my trekking poles and I was still staying on top of all of my nutrition.
I eventually reached the Bear Springs water only station at mile 19 where I refilled my bladder and took a huge swig before continuing the trek up to the peak.
When I finally hit the Upper Holy Jim base, I was relieved because I was starting to feel the affects of all the climbing. I had seen only three people during that last stretch so it literally felt like I was the only one out there. At the base, I finally had some human interaction in the form of Chris Ferrier who was taking pictures. I remembered his work from the great pics he took at Los Pinos. As I continued up towards the peak, many of the front runners and 50k runners were coming down. I saw many friends here and it lifted my spirits.
At the peak, I rewarded myself by sitting down for a few minutes. I cracked jokes with Regina as I chugged multiple cups of Ginger Ale. My stomach was still on point so I wanted to make sure it stayed that way.
Soon, I got up and said “Bye, Felicia” to Regina and left to begin the downhill stretch back to the Holy Jim aid station.
Santiago Peak (mile 22) to Holy Jim 2 (mile 30)
Now that I’d reached the peak, I had a bunch of flat and downhill running ahead of me which was what I was glad to see! With my limited time to train, my “training” was basically flat but actual continuous running. With all of this downhill, I was free to play to my strength.
I went down the way I came to where we eventually jumped onto a small trail that took us back down to the Main Divide. This is the point where people can drop to the 50k if they aren’t having a good day. Not me. Fuck that. I was here to finally go the distance! As I popped out of the trail, I shouted my number and told the radio team that I knew I had to take a right to continue onto the 52 mile course.
As I continued running towards Bear Springs, a big sense of accomplishment came over me. By taking a right back at the radio team, I had hit the point of no return and had hit a milestone that I hadn’t four years ago.
When I reached Bear Springs, I took a big swig of the water gallon and began the 5.5 mile drop back to the Holy Jim aid station. I’d never run down Holy Jim, only endured the misery in climbing it. But with the great sense of accomplishment, I used this wave of emotion to bomb down Holy Jim in 55 minutes reaching the aid station at a total time of 7 hrs and 42 minutes.
I was feeling real good as I drank more ginger ale and ate but I stayed at this aid station much longer than I should have. I got up, thanked the aid station and was off towards Horsethief.
Holy Jim 2 (mile 30) to Horsethief (mile 34)
As great a stretch I had in the previous section, I had the complete opposite here. This would end up being the only major low point of the race. Leaving the aid station, I was able to actually run before the trail started to slowly shift towards an incline. A lot of this incline seemed runnable, but I wanted to save energy for the push up Horsethief.
This section going in the opposite direction seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t believe how different it seemed to look going in this direction. I kept thinking the Horsethief trail junction was around certain corners, only to see nothing and more incline. I soon picked up a rock when the junction wasn’t around a corner and threw it on the ground in anger yelling, “What the fuck! Seriously, this is bullshit! Where the hell is fucking Horsethief?! And where did all this fucking trail come from?!” I sat down to calm myself.
My stomach was feeling a little funky here and I was afraid that eating might make my stomach go to shit and sabotage my race. I reached into my pack to throw in the remainder of my Tailwind mix into my water but couldn’t find it. Great. Freaking great! Hahaha. I realized that I needed to quit my bitching and just keep moving. I got back up and kept moving before finally reaching the Horsethief junction. Fucking finally!
Horsethief is about a 1000 ft climb over a mile and a half. I’ve done it many times since its part of Los Pinos, so I was ready for it mentally. Physically though, I was not. The climb up Horsethief would be the most challenging part of the race.
Having not eaten anything since the Holy Jim aid station began to catch up to me and my energy quickly started to vanish. I kept wanting to sit down, but instead opted for a 10 count stop, before continuing the climb until I couldn’t go further, and would repeat the 10 count process.
At this point too, I found myself thinking for the first time, “Damn, it’s hot!” My tolerance for heat had finally been penetrated and I was feeling the power of the sun. I kept going up thinking of how I was going to lay down on my back at the aid station and take a quick nap to regroup. I knew every twist and turn, every little rock on Horsethief, but couldn’t believe the punishment that was being dished out. I began to get flashbacks of the climb out of Chantry at AC last year which is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Eventually though, I said fuck it, found a small patch of shade, fell over and closed my eyes to let my heart rate go down and recover. When I opened my eyes, I just stared at the sky and started thinking, “Man, I know what’s going on here. This is the universe punishing me for making people go through this shit at Los Pinos!” I thought of Regina’s race report in which all she could say was “FUCK HORSETHIEF”. I laughed and picked myself off the ground and finally felt comfortable enough to eat something. I thought it was nearing 5pm at this point and thought I might miss the final cut-off time. But as I reached into my pack, I checked my phone and realized it was only 3:30.
I capitalized on this change of emotions and reached the Horsethief aid station 10 mins later which left me with 6 hrs and 5 mins to cover the last 18 miles.
Horsethief (mile 34) to Santiago Peak 2nd Ascend (mile 42)
Immediately after leaving Horsethief, I felt the life come back into me. This stretch to the Indian Truck Trail (ITT) aid station was runnable for the most part. There was one climb not too far after leaving the aid station, but there was plenty of shade there and I quickly got up it. At the top, it flattened out and was downhill for the most part, so I was able to settle back into a run all the way until the ITT aid station. I knew I had plenty of fluids and food, so I simply drank some ginger ale and was out of there very quickly.
I kept a steady run up until I hit Bear Springs again for the second and final time where I switched back to hike for the last of the climbing in the race to Santiago Peak. I congratulated those who were on their way down towards the finish and started feeling good knowing that would soon be me. There was still more distance to cover, so I stayed focused and eventually arrived at the aid station at 6:15 pm.
The first thing I told Regina was how much Horsethief had kicked my ass and how I thought of her race report as I laid there on the trail. We had a good laugh as I scarfed down some food and chugged some gatorade.
I grabbed my headlamp and pack, said “Bye, Felicia!” to Regina, and I headed out towards the finish line.
Santiago Peak (mile 42) to the Finish Line
I shuffled down to Upper Holy Jim where night finally set in. After popping back out onto the Main Divide, I had to keep it in shuffle mode since the fog limited my visibility. But, slowly but surely, I made it to the ITT aid station. I refilled my pack and was now on my way towards the finish!
I had enough left in my legs to let me actually run down ITT. I saw the city below lit up and started feeling an even bigger sense of accomplishment as I knew I was going to finally finish this damn race.
Towards the bottom, I caught up to a runner who I had leapfrogged these last few sections with and told him that we were almost there. The gate was up ahead, followed by the Church, and then it was about half a mile to the finish.
I kept running and felt proud of myself for still having a decent pace at this point. I passed the Church and laughed as I passed the spot where I’d thrown up weeks earlier on my training run. Damn, was that a long and miserable day, but I’m glad I had put myself through it, because it made today very tolerable.
I turned the corner and saw the finish line in sight. As I crossed the finish line in 15 hrs and 5 mins, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I don’t feel I give myself enough credit sometimes in the things I accomplish, but in that moment I felt so proud of myself for having finally avenged my worst defeat!
41 runners started the race with four dropping out and 11 dropping to the 50k option leading to the 2015 Twin Peaks having a 63% finish rate. Many thanks to Jessica for putting on a great race and thanks to all of the volunteers who helped me along on this magical day. I’ll see everyone out there next year as a volunteer 😉
I’m done with ultra marathons for the year and have only two half marathons in November to close out 2015. The next big race is the 2016 San Diego 50 miler. I’ll be looking to beat last year’s 50 mile PR of 9 hrs and 54 mins en route to finish #4 on that course. Funny how it took me just over six hours longer to finish Twin Peaks by comparison!
With both Angeles Crest and Twin Peaks finally complete, there remains only one final defeat that needs to be avenged. The hostel is already booked, and pending I get into the race, I’ll be back in Colorado next August for the Race Across the Sky, the Leadville 100 mile race.
Until next time!