Friday, November 10, 2017

Lake Hodges 50K Recap

Last week I had the pleasure of running the Lake Hodges 50K. The 50K is one of 4 races that are part of the Lake Hodges Trail Fest. There is also a 15K, a 5K and a kids race. I have been training runners for this race for the last 3 years and this year I had the opportunity to run it myself! It's put on by my friend Paul and I knew I was in for a great racing experience.

My partner in crime, Vanessa, and I decided back in August that this would be a good race to have on the training schedule. As we build up for the Pirate's Cove 24-hour race, we need lots of miles. And there's no better way to get long training runs done than at a race. You can practice all the things you've been working on regarding nutrition and hydration, shoes, etc., under race conditions. You can also practice pre-race rituals and the recovery process as well. I highly recommend using a race as a training run whenever it suits your training schedule. This go-around, I was trying out exclusively fueling with Tailwind and supplementing with fruit at the aid stations. It worked like a charm!

Race day arrived and I was excited. I knew I'd be running with Vanessa, but also my friend and private client Erika. I've known Erika for almost as long as we've lived here as we were both members of the same moms of multiples group. She also has an older boy and then younger twin girls. Anyway, I've been working with her professionally on and off for a few years and she's a rockstar runner. She qualified for the Boston Marathon at her first marathon, and she wasn't even trying. Yeah, she's a rockstar. She's been wanting to get more trail runs and get into ultras. She's joined us on a few of our jaunts through the woods and decided she was going to give Lake Hodges a try. I also knew my other private client, Dan, would be running as well. This would be his second 50K as he crushed the Marlette 50K this past August. So I was looking forward to seeing him.

At the start with Dan

I also knew Smitha would be running the 15K and I was pleasantly surprised that another friend, Jenn, who I've also coached before, would be running. I knew she was going to do the Ray Miller 50K in December, but she had the opportunity to run this and jumped on it. We all met up right before to start to chat and then it was go-time.

Everyone at the start 

We are pretty lucky in that we run at Lake Hodges and the connecting trails through Escondido a lot. I live really close and like the ease of getting to the trails there. And with the groups I've been coaching for this race each year, I've run the course about a million times. So I knew the course and knew it would be deceptively difficult.

There are two reasons that make this race difficult - the flat sections of the course and the heat. The race is very runnable, meaning there are few steep climbs and you feel obligated to not only run as much as you can, but push the pace on those runnable sections. So that can bite it you in butt. And then the heat. With the course inland from the coast, there is very little air movement and virtually no shade to speak of. It's hot. And dry. And it's unrelenting. If you can stay on top of your hydration, you'll be ok.

The first eight miles of the race are run entirely on the Lake Hodges trail. It was really foggy at the start, so the lake was pretty spooky looking. The first mile is on tight single track, but then you cross over the lake and run on wider trails. There is a combination of soft sand and rocky trail, but it's all really manageable. You make your way towards the lake marina and have your first turn around at the first aid station. Then we head back on the same trail but instead of crossing back over the lake, we head toward the Mule Hill trail and Escondido. You cross under Interstate 15 and then get back on the trail. This is where it's very flat for about 5 miles until you head into the largest climb of the race - the Raptor Ridge. This is about a 400ft climb up for about a mile and then back down onto the trail as it parallels what was once the San Dieguito River. Erika went ahead of us as we started climbing Raptor Ridge. That girl loves hills. Jenn hung back a bit at the aid station so Vanessa and I were left to our own devices. We ran another 4.5 miles to the second turn around out near Bandy Canyon Ranch in Escondido. Once we turned around, our spirits lifted knowing we had a half marathon left. We had to get through the heat but we knew the course was manageable.

You can't tell but the lake was super spooky when we crossed it

My fave pic of all of us!
Back through Raptor Ridge we went and then the unrelenting flat section. We basically just stopped talking, put on the some music and just put one foot in front of the other. It was really hot and really dry. But we knew the final aid station was right before we went back under the 15. And from there, there was less than a 5K. So we pushed through and high-tailed it through to the finish. Both of our families would be at the finish and we were excited to get to them!

I am so happy I was able to run this race this year. I had a great time and even managed a 15+ minute PR. Since most of my races are training runs, I never even try to PR. I don't push the pace. But I had a feeling there was a chance for a PR when we were about 10 miles from the finish. So after the last aid station, we said we were going for it. Vanessa got a PR too! Erika rocked her race and ended up coming in 3rd in her age group. My awesome client Dan also crushed it, coming in 5th in his age group. And Jenn did amazingly well, working through cramps and earning her first ultra finish. It couldn't have been a better day!

Finished with a PR! 

With Erika at the finish!

Me, Erika and Vanessa with all our children!
The reason why we run!

Would I run Lake Hodges 50K again? Absolutely. Here are my five reasons why you should too:

1. The race organizer is amazing!! He leaves no detail unchecked. The aid stations are no more then 5 miles apart (and have everything at them), the course is well marked and the check-in and packet pick up procedure is easy. Pre-race communications were great as well. We knew where to get our race numbers, where to park and what to expect of the course. Paul even made sure we were aware of the weather forecast to be sure we were prepared. With 4 different races to manage, the fact that everything goes smoothly and seamlessly is amazing.

2. The volunteers are awesome. Every aid station was well organized and the volunteers greeted you with smiles and attended to our every need. They filled bottles, they gave us ice and sponged us off. They had sunblock, salt tabs, electrolyte drink, water, food, fruit and more. There was nothing I didn't need at these aid stations!

3. The swag. Race participants received an awesomely soft race shirt. The 50K finishers received a pint glass, which is always welcome. And all race finishers got an awesome wood medal from Elevation Culture. These are probably the best looking "medals" of any race I've done. So unique and beautiful.

4. The course. I love running Lake Hodges and Mule Hill trails. Even though I know it will be hot, unrelentlessly flat and unshaded, I still love it. They're fun trails and I love the combination of tough single track, soft fire road and rocky climbs. There is something for everyone!

5. The atmosphere. There is no better place than the finish of a trail race. It's laid back and fun. Everyone is genuinely happy to see you finish and hopes you hang out for a while. People are nice and friendly and you always leave knowing more friends than when you arrived.

If it works in my training, I'll definitely be back next year!

Have you run a trail race recently? What did you love/not love?

I'm linking up with the Friday Five 2.0 link up, hosted by Rachel at Running on Happy and Lacey and Meranda from Fairytales and Fitness. When you're done here, be sure to check these ladies out!


  1. I've only done a couple of trail races. None in heat. Don't like heat, although those trails look really nice!

    I didn't like that the last one (just a 5k), was still muddy in the woods -- I just wasn't expecting it since it had been pretty dry.

    And of course my first trail have was super muddy, but then its name is Mud & Chocolate. :)

    1. I don't mind a little mud but it can definitely be annoying (and tiring!) if there's too much.

  2. I will definitely do that one again. ANd who knows...maybe a longer distance next time!

  3. I had no idea you PR'd, and by 15+ minutes?! Holy crap--you're calling out the rockstars among you, but you forgot to name yourself! Nice recap, and congratulations, Coach!

  4. I've heard so many great things about this race! I do love the unique finisher medal--I loved the ceramic one I got from Big Sur, it's my favorite!

    Congrats on your big PR!

    1. Thank you! I would LOVE to do Big Sur one year!! I've never been there!

  5. Congrats on the PR! That sounds like a good course, especially running around the lake!

  6. Running with your friends and a 15 min PR?! I'd say that's a win congrats

  7. Congrats on your race and your PR!! That is a cool medal and I love that you also got a pint glass.