Check out Jade Belzberg's half of the story on this link here.
As we rolled into Camp Cuyamaca, the start/ finish of the race dark and early that morning, I still felt uneasy about starting this thing. I'd been slowly nursing back a weird left foot neuropathy/ post tibial tendon injury since the Mt Frosty 50km three weeks ago and in my own words my running lately had felt "like total garbage."
I'd been going back and forth in the week, days and hours and even seconds leading up to the race as to whether I was going to do it or not: my ankle? My greater purpose? What was the point?
The night before the race I'd given myself a full blown panic attack. I was consumed in the shame that my waffling back and forth about the race had occupied so much air space between Jade and I that I’d completely neglected to talk or care about her goals, which were far greater than my mine.
A short call with my therapist put me back on the right track. I’d do the race. Everything was already set in motion. I just needed to show up and besides, “what else are you going to do tomorrow? Sit around and ruminate on what a bad husband you are for ruining Jade’s race?” …and that sounded like a bad idea.
The First Loop Miles 0-32:
And so the race was off! Within a minute or two everyone was on single track crossing a creek and then off onto more single track where the front pack formed a giant conga line for about three miles before things started spreading out more.
I hung back, unintentionally with Jade. If I’ve learned anything from watching Jade over the years it’s that she knows how to pace herself early on at these races.
By the first aid station (mile 8) there was about a two or three minute gap between us and the front runners. We’d kept the pace nice and easy, nothing exciting or too high heart rate, running the climbs constantly questioning to myself, “is this something that I would at mile 50? Mile 60?” the answer was a ~mostly yes.
After a quick trip to the bathroom Jade went on ahead, having used her as my pace setter so far, I was anxious to catch back up, she knew what she was doing.
The night before the race I’d been doom-scrolling through Tik-Tok and came across remixes of the “sometimes I’m alone” cat, my bastardized version of the song that I sang to myself was
“Sometimes I’m with Jade”
“Sometimes I’m not”
“Sometimes I’m with Jade”
We caught back on the long and gradual ascent up the backside of Cuyamaca. Runners had spread out a bit more now and where several were charging through the brushy, off camber terrain we took our time with it, conserving energy knowing that there would be time to run later on at the race.
I never hit a low headed up Cuyamaca Peak, the main climb of the race, but I never felt terrific either. Jade led the whole climb up, pacing brilliantly. The way she runs uphill is so light and so quick. I kept mostly out of my head. Ran out of water. And kept thinking “the fastest way through this, to the next water station, is to run” and so on we ran. The whole way up.
I took some extra time at the top of Cuyamaca to refill water, ice and go as full “heat protocol” as I’d been telling all of my athletes as of late. The trouble I kept running into though was that there would be these 6-8 mile stretches between aid stations and I’d douse myself in water with one of my bottles in the first 3-4 miles to cool off, drink my other bottle and consistently (the whole race) I’d run out of water 1-2 miles from the aid station. Flirting with dehydration in the heat was not so fun. Had I thought things out more 3 bottles would have been more appropriate in several sections of this course.
Photo by Paksit Photos
Down Conejos trail we went! The rockiest, gnarliest, ankle twisting’est trail the Cuyamaca region has to offer. What a terrible trail. And that’s about all I have to say. Followed of course by the prettiest trail on the route, the Azalea Glen Loop which Jade led through all the way into Paso Picacho/ Tiki Bar Aid Station.
“Robert!!” I watched as Jade hugged our long time friend and San Diego local Robert Hunt, it had been over a year since we’d last seen him and man did I miss him! It was great to get a hug from him and move on through. More ice and more following Jade to finish of the first loop and mile 32.
“Water, ice, change gels” we went over this plan together as we came into the aid station at mile 32 and bam we were out. I was impressed with how well we were moving sans-crew (granted San Diego and it’s ultra-family are essentially crew)
Loop 2 Miles 32-44:
I tried not to think again much as loop two got underway. “Be where your feet are” I said to myself several times as I caught my mind trying to future-cast the distance I had left under. “Let go of your expectations and stop anticipating.” I followed Jade up the next climb and up and up and up. Through off-camber, overgrown grassy fields, hot and exposed fire roads and more “death by 2-5% grade” grassy slopes”
“Great work you two!” said a hiker, “but you’ll never catch that guy in the orange shirt, he’s way ahead!”...Mean.
Jade and I pushed on, I was hitting a bit of a low patch here from the climb earlier up Cuyamaca and was kind of shaking it off. It was hot, mid 80’s and still weather, I really didn’t want to eat anything which was impacting my energy, which was causing my low. I forced down some gels, turned off my brain and continued to just follow Jade.
Photo by Paksit Photos
I took the lead for us on the long descent to the mile 40.2 aid station, it never seemed to arrive. Weird sign after weird sign that volunteers had placed out there to make us laugh.
We filled up on water, more ice, watermelon, potatoes, Jade checked on me to make sure I was eating and drinking enough, I checked the same with her. And off we went again.
The heat here on this next section was intense and the air was still. I had no clue what time of day it was, just that it was frikkin’ hot. We walked some of the climbs here, conserved energy where we could and watched our overall effort moving quick but trying not to overcook ourselves back to the end of loop 2.
Jade would pull away from me on the climbs and I’d stumble after and catch up on the flats and descents that ensued. She’d challenge me on the ups and I’d challenge her on the downs and we propelled each other like this to mile 44 and the end of loop 2.
I was in the midst of icing and cooling off when a volunteer told Jade that the “second place female just came in, you’ve got to go!” I made shoosh signs at Jade who was in the middle of getting ice for the next 7 mile uphill stretch, she dropped it and headed off.
I wasn’t feeling too hot and quite sure that would be the last I’d see of Jade before the finish now. I hoped she’d have a great race.
I finished up icing, drinking some more and trying to eat before leaving the aid station and said hi to Orion who was just coming in as I left.
Loop 3 Miles 44-62.8:
Ten minutes down the trail or so I caught up to Jade. The pressure she’d felt from being rushed out of the aid station by me and the volunteer, the pressure of holding first place for so long, the course record slipping, the heat of the day, the pain of the blisters, the distance of the miles, the unsolved tight left achilles…it was all coming down on her all at once.
I held her hand and we talked through it all in the coming miles. “Let’s keep working hun, you’re doing your very best, I know that you are.”
We’d run 100ft then walk up the exposed fire road in the still choking heat. I don’t know how far we were but I was already low on water.
By now we’d both developed a nervous flick of the head, a look back over the shoulder to see who or what was coming in the distance. Was someone coming for us? Could we hold them off if they did?
Orion, Evan and his pacer caught up about 2 miles out from the Sunrise Aid Station, they’d go onto to finish 2nd and 3rd overall. We tried briefly to run with them only for me to peter out about 50ft into trying to follow, “no way!” I told Jade.
We moved at our own best and arrived at the aid station empty on water but with renewing determination. The worst of the climbs were now well behind us and the weather was cooling down.
More ice, more water and moving on. The PCT is notoriously rolling through this region, sort of rocky and undulating. Nothing tough, but at this point in the course the heat from the earlier section really started to take a toll on.
“Ah I think I’m starting to cramp, go ahead on without me Jade I’ll catch up!” I said shooshing her off again.
“ACHHH!!” I yelled out in pain as my left inner thigh locked up and brought me to the ground only to cause my right inner thigh to lock up as well. I poured precious cold water across my legs in an attempt to cool them off and relieve the cramp. Heat cramps and under-trained adductors. Classic Nick cramps.
Eventually, I caught back up with Jade, we’d twitch look over our shoulders expecting “them” to be right behind us every other hill, I’d shuffle sideways up a hill or run oddly downhill trying to avoid cramping again.
The last aid station! I tried eating a cookie to switch things up a bit only to be frustrated by my mouth’s inability to chew anything without copious amounts of water.
6.8 miles to go, Jade took off running up the hills of this last section. A few looks behind the shoulders and then no more. I could sense her energy shifting. She was more certain, more self-assured, she had this. Even if someone came up to contend with her, I knew she’d fight them now.
“Sub 9 woh!” I yelled out to Jade impressed that we’d ran so fast. Then a sub 8:30 and then Jade was pulling further and further away again, she’s such an incredible downhill runner.
The final mile was upon us and at the rate we were going only 8-9min’s at most until we’d be done.
CRAMP! Ahh! “Jade go on without me, I’ll see you at the finish line!”
“You sure? I don’t want to leave you like this”
“Go on without me, I’ll be there soon!”
Stumble, stumble, walk, walk, stumble, walk, run, hobble, run.
The finish! Jose Sosa who I’d been coaching and working with earlier in the year showed up with a big smile and camera and ran in with me, there it was the finish and Jade with a big smile and hug waiting for me on the other hand.
We’d done it. Nearly 99% of the 100km together. Completely unintentionally. Jade lifted me through low after low, had me running where I’d never usually run, had me pacing in ways that I’d never have paced before.
What an incredible and memorable experience that was to have.
Photo by Manmadh Rebba
Photo by Manmadh Rebba
Photo by Manmadh Rebba
And now for the dorky Sports Psychologist in me that wants to objectify performance:
Post Race Performance Analysis: