Surviving the Alarm – Julian, CA
By Holly Ryerson
December 3, 2022
Most times it’s just surviving the alarm.
3:00 a.m. came up quick, especially since I fell asleep at 2:00 a.m. This is customary the night before an ultra to not sleep well. I’m up. I rise with surprising ease. I peek from behind the curtain and see darkness, yep it’s still dark. Routines help the morning of. Everything was, of course, laid out the night before. Meticulously adjusted, checked, and fussed over. That’s how I roll. There is order in the chaos. I don’t like to bumble around for things like a buster.
The shuttle bus to the start leaves at 4:30 a.m. sharp. I’m on time, dialed, relaxed. I step outside and it’s those crispy desert morning vibes. Yes, I am just so stoked to go run 50 miles.
I take a peanut butter & jelly sandwich on the bus as my breakfast. Sat next to some dude that signed up for this race on the Tuesday before because his buddies convinced him. Couldn’t see out the windows because the bus was hot boxed with steamy ultra runner breath and pre-race farts, gross. And this driver was driving the bus so fast, like is this MF pissed at us? Duder next to me is still talking at me and suddenly I was thinking; fuck I’m ill. I’m gonna be sick. I kept wiping the window in little circles to maybe see something outside to steady my belly. Still dark. Thin spits. Fuck. Deep breaths. Dude is still talking at me. ‘Hahaha no way. Hahaha that’s crazy.’ He ended up dropping from the race, I was curious and looked him up 😂
Somehow I hang on and we make it to the race start.
It’s an hour before the race. I already have my bib. There was nothing there except a check-in tent and a biffy. There was coffee but I don’t drink the stuff. It was cold and I was just milling around the dirt parking lot. I sat on a rock for while to get off my feet. After all of this I am just thinking, if I can survive the alarm, that doggone bus ride, and now the hanging out in the freezing dark, would the actual race be…easy?
Finally, the race begins! My god, I was just happy to have jumped through so many hoops to get to that start line. I start out fast-ish. Let’s be real, we all do it. C’mon it’s a race. And I was cold. I just let the current take me. Fun little rocky single track on a slight downhill to start out. How could I not just flow?
Coming into maybe mile 3 or so it flattened out to a wash. A couple strong looking ladies passed me there. Now looking back I realize I lead those first three miles lol. Nice strategy for a first 50 miler. The race continued through beautiful manzanita, oak, sage, pine, creeks, and a surprising amount of technical trail. I was stoked on that, because that’s what I primarily train on. Blew through the first aid station, which was nice because I passed a bunch of people. Around mile 8 I felt the first poke of the prairie dog. Ignored that for another 8 miles, then had to stop and take care of business. I reeled in everyone that passed me.
Next aid I was quick and efficient. I thought about exactly what I wanted to do there before I arrived. In & out, passed a bunch of people there too. Hit a big time climb for a few miles. Lucky for me this race is at a pretty low altitude so climbing felt great. Giddy-up! I actually was the fastest female on the day on that climb. Took a wrong turn with two guys at one point, but we figured it out pretty quick.
Seeing my crew at mile 26 was a huge boost. My son Cody met me and ran in with me. My sister and her boyfriend Jan were there with my gear. Once again, in & out. Crew slayed it. Cannot stress enough the importance of efficient aid stops.
Next was the apex climb up Stonewall Peak. Such a sick ascent. Lots of big granite boulders, made me think of Tahoe. Felt really good on this climb and did a variety of running, power hiking while eating, and dodging all the large groups of hikers that cheered me on. I reached the peak and it was like a switch flipped and I entered hell. The backside of this sucker was actually quite brutal. I struggled here. This was supposed to be my strength, and here I am pretty much walking down this technical rocky switchback. I was annoyed. My stomach was annoyed. I needed to stop again but all of the bushes were these thorny brambles, no way I shitting in there. I eventually found a place, took some pepto, and just kept running.
Moping along like a sad little baby, I hit a mental low for like 5 miles. All of sudden this guy rolls up and asks me what mileage I had because his watch turned off. This dude was cool as hell. We talked about snowboarding and that he lives a few streets away from my dad. His company turned the tide for me. We ended up running together to the next aid station. Then decided to stick together because it looked like we’d be out there after dark.
Scott Huffman. Good dude right there.
After the most relentless, rocky, steep enough to just blast your quads descent of my life, Scott and I met a couple of other runners, Jayden & Nate. Nate was from Yuma, AZ and Jayden had just qualified for Boston. Our four person posse shared the most beautiful desert sunset together.
After pulling out Cholla cactus from another runners arm, Craig Bronstein who is running States this year, we descended into the night. We worked together to get through the cactus and barely marked course. We collected two more runners, Daryl and Amanda.
We could see the finish long before we got there. Like an oasis at night. Is it real, dear god let it be real! We all ran two miles in complete silence, lulled by the sound of feet on earth, shifting of packs, and the rhythm of our bodies. I hollered out “Party Wave” and everyone just started laughing. I swear that was a goal for the race, to create a party wave. It actually happened! Manifestation is real. We all put our heads down and got that thing DONE! After 53 miles and 5000ft of climbing we were home.
The experience was much more meaningful and rich because it was shared. I love the trail running community. Sports in general unite us. Besides the shuttle bus, I highly recommend this race as it is point to point, has fabulous aid stations, great volunteers, race director and overall organization.
I ended up with 8th female.
Most times it’s just surviving the alarm. Show up and the rest is easy.
For all things Holly
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