Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pirate's Cove 24-hour Race Recap

Last week, I took on my first 24-hour race: Pirate's Cove 24-hour Race. This was a race that began at 8:00am Friday morning and ended at 8:00am Saturday morning. Runners trekked along a 2-mile loop around Lake Cuyamaca, which is located in the mountains in East San Diego County. There is also a 12-hour and 6-hour option, also beginning at 8:00am Friday, as well as a 12-hour option beginning at 8pm Friday night. It is put on by the ultra running group I belong to - San Diego Ultra Running Friends (SURF) and was a great event!

You may remember my less-than-amazing experience at the San Diego 100 Mile run last June. I had some major nutrition issues as well as the worst blisters known to man. I wasn't able to make the cutoff after 75 miles and was pulled from the course. My partner in crime, Vanessa, also suffered the same fate and the two of us were heartbroken after that race. We decided to focus on making some nutrition changes, as well as other things to help with the blisters and then try our luck at a timed race rather than a distance event with strict cutoffs. This way we could focus just on running for the specified amount of time we wanted to and see how our body responded to the changes we made.

For me, nutritionally, I have switched over to using primarily liquid calories rather than liquid plus food. I found that, the more I ate during my runs, the more my stomach got upset. Now I run with Tailwind exclusively and when I feel hungry, I'll have some fruit or potato chips (though that's mainly during races with aid stations). It's definitely helped with my stomach issues, though they're not completely resolved. I think I'm always going to be a runner with stomach issues and it really just boils down to how well I can manage them over the course of these long events.

As for the blisters, I started wearing Injinji socks (the toe socks). I tried them long ago and didn't care for them but with all my blister issues during San Diego 100, I thought I'd try them again. And they've been great. I had one weird case of blisters on my heels on a long run over the winter but other than that, I've had no blisters at all! I think that was a fluke as I was breaking in some new shoes as well.

Ok, fast forward to Pirate's Cove. The logistics are simple. As I already mentioned, runners run a 2-mile loop as many times as possible within 24 hours. They can set up their own aid station at the campground where the race begins, in addition to using the main aid station provided by the race organizers. So we had our own spot with all our stuff so we didn't need to worry about carrying anything longer than 2 miles at a time. I really liked that concept. I also liked the 2-mile loop as it was pretty varying in terrain. There was one main hill within the first half mile and then the rest was fairly flat.

Vanessa and I arrived at the race site at about 6:30am or so to check in, get our race stuff and set up our little aid station. We had a pop up canopy as we knew it was going to rain during the 24 hours we'd be out there. We also had all our rain gear, extra water, food and Tailwind and everything else we'd need in case of rain, sleet or snow.

We have arrived! 
Our little personal aid station

Speaking of snow, there was a bit of snow on the ground around the lake when we arrived. It was pretty cold so it wouldn't all melt, but we knew that snow on the trail would lead to mud with all those feet sloshing through it.

At 8:00am, our race began. We ran through the campground and out to the first bridge crossing Lake Cuyamaca. That bridge would prove to be the most difficult part of this loop! It was cold and windy right from the get-go. We had to cross it going out to start the loop and then again to finish the loop. It was miserable as the day wore on and it got colder and rainy/snowy. As I'm writing this, I realized that I didn't take a picture of this bridge even though it was such a huge part of the race. It was maybe a tenth of a mile but as the weather got worse, it got longer and longer each time we crossed it! I hated that bridge.

And off we go! 

Anyway, after your cross the bridge, you start heading up towards the hill of the course. This section was pretty muddy. It became a swamp as the day wore on and ultimately was the muddiest part of the whole course. After you climbed up the hill, the section heading down also became a mud fest. That was a tricky section and I'm surprised I never fell, even in the dark.

Down the hill! 

After the ascent and descent of the hill, we headed over the lake again on a wide wooden bridge (dubbed the Judge's Bridge but I never found out why). You hit this bridge almost halfway through the loop. After you cross that bridge, you had to make it through another fairly muddy section of trail. Then you make your way down some nice, flat section to the turnaround. Some poor soul we dubbed Stanley (I think, his name changed throughout the night - I think we also called him Samuel) marked the turnaround and surprisingly, he remained upright the entire time. We high fived him a lot and then made our way back over the wooden bridge, through the swamp and then back over the hideous windy bridge, back to the aid station.

A view of the lake

The wooden Judge's Bridge over the lake


The sky looked pretty cool as the sun was setting. 

For the most part, I felt pretty good throughout the race. We just kept moving along, walking when we needed to, stopping to refuel and add layers throughout the day. I didn't really have many low points until the weather got bad. At around 5pm or so, our friend Alexis showed up. Alexis was doing the night 12-hour run beginning at 8pm. She was adding to our aid station and hanging out until her race began.

And so it went. Around and around the loop through the day, through the night. Alexis began at 8:00pm but strangely, we didn't run together. We just had different rhythms. She was fresh and ready to go at her start and we had already been running for 12 hours and were not fresh at all. But we chatted a bit each time we saw her and she was seriously rocking her race.

At about 1:00am, the rain began. Well, it was snowing lightly a bit before that but then the rain began. It quickly turned into freezing rain and with the wind, felt like it was pelting us pretty hard. Now, you would think that growing up in New York and living in DC for years before moving to California would have prepared me for this moment. And it did, to a degree. I knew what to wear and all that. But I haven't run in cold weather and certainly not freezing rain, in about 8 years. That was back in 2010 and it was the last winter I ran in DC. Our actual last winter in DC was 2011 and I was pregnant with my twins, so I wasn't running at all! So, needless to say, I'm no longer used to running in cold weather. And frankly, I don't do well in cold any more. I have a really hard time.

As the night went along and the mud, rain, wind and temps got worse, Vanessa and I were struggling. At one point, we sat in the car for a bit just to heat up. Though it felt good at the time, when we got out to start running again, I had a hard time. My hip flexors were already so tight from the time on my feet and the weather conditions, when we added sitting to the mix, they protested greatly. But I forged on as best as I could. Though when we got to the aid station after 60 miles, we were ready to call it a night. We decided we would do one more loop to get a 100K distance and then be done. I was shivering with teeth chattering at this point. My feet had gotten wet and I felt like I was running on blocks of ice. It just wasn't worth trying to get the full 24 hours. In fact, the wind had gotten so strong, it blew over and broke my pop up canopy. The legs snapped off from the top! Stupid wind!

We left the aid station for the last time and made our way to the stupid bridge. Just as we were leaving, Vanessa's headlamp died. But since we were just going for one more loop, we didn't stop to get her another one. So we went on. Then, after we finally get to the end of the seemingly-100-mile-long bridge and we hear the most terrifying sound ever. It was kind of like a cross between a growl and a scream. I can't explain it. But at 3:00 in the morning, it scared the crap out of us. We stopped when we heard it and then our headlamps picked up some beady eyes heading away from where we were. I seriously thought I was going to pass out. On our last loop? Really?? We believe it was a bobcat we heard, telling us that he was there. I don't ever want to hear this sound again. I can't find the exact sound I heard, but this one sounds a lot like what we heard. I hope I never hear it again!

We did see a night bandit (raccoon)!
But that bobcat was rude!

After making our way up and over the hill, through the mud slide down the back of the hill, we ran over the wooden bridge for one final high five to Stanley. And that's when my headlamp died. We were without a headlamp and standing in the dark. Thankfully we could see another runner coming and decided to wait and run back with them. Thankfully, not only did she let us run with her, she wasn't running so fast we couldn't keep up with her. I'm horrible and I can't remember her name but she was so nice and she kept us moving through that final loop. Her stories definitely helped pass the time so we didn't freeze to death in the dark! We made it back over the bridge, through the swamp and over the hideous bridge one final time, back to the aid station, finishing our race. My Garmin says I did 63.09 miles in 19 hours and 23 minutes. If I'm being honest, I was a little disappointed that I stopped before the 24 hours. But as I said already, I was freezing and only getting more uncomfortable. I am glad I stopped and didn't risk hurting myself or getting hypothermia! And, I was doing this race to test out the changes I've made. I did not have a single blister, even with wet feet. In fact, I didn't have a single spot of chafing either. I also only had slight stomach distress but it was resolved fairly early and I didn't have any more issues. I have felt good since the race and only had slight soreness. I call this a super success!!

After we finished, we went back to the car to get changed out of our soaked clothes and grab some sleep. I think we slept for an hour? I'm not really sure. But we had some time before Alexis would finish, so we went back over to the aid station to hang out, grab some breakfast and wait for Alexis.

Finally warm and dry with full bellies!

How did Alexis do, you may ask? Well Alexis, who also happens to be a private client of mine, seriously rocked her race and ended up as the top female for the 12-hour run. That's right - she won the 12-hour run with 42 miles in 11 hours and 23 minutes. I am so proud of her for her tenacity in continuing on through very tough conditions and working so very hard towards this goal. She's such an awesome runner and I'm really happy for her. This is the longest she's ever run in both time and distance. I couldn't be happier for her! Congrats to Alexis!


Despite the weather and the bobcat, I had an absolute blast at this race. The race organizer, Jenny Henderson, puts on a fantastic event. The aid station was amazing with all the usual aid station goodies like water, electrolytes, candy, potato chips and the like, as well as hot food like burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheeses and quesadillas throughout the day. There was also soup and chili throughout the night. And the breakfast in the morning on Saturday was everything I needed when I finished the race. There was eggs and hashbrowns as well as bacon and pancakes. I mean, seriously! All the volunteers were so amazing and took such great care of us. If I knew the weather wouldn't be a winter storm, I'd sign up for next year's race in a heartbeat. In fact, I think I'll plan on doing it but won't register until it's closer to the event and it looks like the weather will hold out.

So, what's next? I have the PCT 50-miler in May, the Bryce Canyon 50K in June and then we'll see what happens next. I'm still hoping to tackle another 100-miler, I just don't know when. I think if PCT 50 goes well, I may look into doing Javelina Jundred in October. That time of year is pretty busy so I'll have to make the decision soon.

What races have you done so far this year? What's on tap for you next?

Now that you're done here, check out the Tuesday on the Run blog link up, hosted by Patty with My No-Guilt Life, Erika at MCM Mama Runs and Marcia at Marcia's Healthy Slice.


  1. 19 hours is still great! I can't imagine a 24 hour race or even 19 hours. I can't believe your Garmin lasted that long. Great job! What an accomplishment!

    1. Thanks! I charged my Garmin while running. It can keep track of distance while charging, which is so helpful in these long races!

  2. Mad props to you for going as far as you did in horrendous conditions! That growl! Yikes!! I can't even fathom running this far in perfect conditions. You are a rockstar. I did the Gasparilla Amber Challenge (5k, 15k, half) in Florida a couple weeks ago. That's the extent of my racing this year so far.

    1. Thanks! I’ve heard such great things about Gasparilla! I may have to check that out now that my parents live in Florida. Congrats to you!

  3. I am so impressed with your tenacity and results, and I'm really happy you felt better than expected after more than 19 hours! Although the bobcat is scary as crap. Next time you're up there, tell Stanley he needs to put on a few pounds. :)

    1. Thank you!! There was another skeleton on the loop, but I didn't get a picture of him. I think we named him Alexander. And possibly something else. I don't remember! I could barely remember my own name after a while!