By: Salvatore Padula
My journey to SD50 started back in September of 2013 with a Biggest Loser challenge at work. During the course of that two month challenge I lost 30 pounds. I also huffed and puffed through my first 5 mile Turkey Trot. That’s when I realized I really needed to get in better shape.
I began walking every day and in January of last year started running more and walking less. In February I ended a 25 year affair with the Marlboro Man and kept on pushing my limits.
With some help and encouragement from friends I ran my first 5K in January, my first ½ marathon in April, my first marathon in June and the Camp Pendleton Mud Run a week later.
I continued to step outside of my comfort zone with weekly back to back long runs, a 37 mile run from work to home, a Tough Mudder, a self-supported 50 miler on a flat 1 mile loop, and a 44 miler in November to celebrate my 44th birthday.
Along the way, I lost another 30 pounds and made the decision to celebrate my victories of 2014 and start 2015 with my first 50 mile race.
While my pace has improved over the last year I am not a fast runner. Therefore, I decided to take advantage of the early start option. My primary goal going into this race was to not get caught in the trap of starting too quickly and try to maintain a 13:30 pace throughout.
When I arrived I was met by a handful of other friendly runners, volunteers, race director and event staff and at 5:30 AM my journey began and I headed off into the darkness… I was confident and settled into my goal pace feeling strong.
Having completed a couple of training runs on the course a few weeks earlier I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I’d be in store for. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
The trek up and down Raptor Ridge to the first aid station was relatively uneventful. I concentrated on my pace, hydration and nutrition strategies.
At the second aid station I recharged very quickly on the volunteers hospitality. I filled my Amphipod, grabbed a chunk of banana and continued on. As I made my way around the lake and towards the Del Dios aid station the runners in the main wave began to pass me. I focused on maintaining my pace while getting out of their way. I also made it a point to extend a friendly greeting to each and every one of them. As they passed I reveled in awe at their speed, hospitality and words of encouragement as they raced by me.
Eventually I made my way into the Del Dios aid station still feeling pretty strong and confident in my abilities. I again filled my Amphipod. I also took the time to take off my Nathan hydration vest, top off my water bladder and stow my headlamp, gloves, and long sleeve outer layer. Wanting to waste little time I quickly refastened my vest, grabbed another chunk of banana and was on my way.
I was now over 15 miles in and I felt stronger and more confident than ever. I also entered what I considered unchartered territory. I was unfamiliar with this section of the course and it started getting warmer, much warmer.
The view as I headed past the dam and down into Del Dios Gorge was amazing and I allowed myself to get lost in it for awhile. As it heated up I continued to stick to my nutrition plan with a GU every 30 minutes or so. I also began to drink alot more water than I had during the cooler early morning hours.
As I made my way into the Bing Crosby aid station I began to run into the front runners who had long since reached the turnaround and were headed back towards the lake. I found comfort in greeting them as they passed and found strength in their words of encouragement.
When I reached the Bing Crosby aid station my spirits were immediately lifted higher by the amazing outpouring of support from the spectators and volunteers. I filled my Amphipod grabbed a banana chunk and once again was on my way with a newfound pep in my step.
By now it wasn’t just warm it was sweltering hot and the trail offered little shade. I quickly downed most of the electrolyte water in my Amphipod and shortly thereafter realized that I had made a grave mistake. I had forgotten to refill the bladder in my vest. I took a sip and it was empty! I made my way into the switchbacks without water during the hottest part of the day. How could I be so stupid?
The next few miles to the turnaround were torture. My pace slowed, I forgot to continue to take my GU and I let my mind get the best of me. I beat myself up for making such a dumb mistake. I questioned my ability to reach the turnaround. I questioned my training and started questioning my ability to finish. The fog of doubt that had come over me was thick and I could not see through it. There was no foghorn and I was lost. But still I pushed on.
When I finally reached the turnaround I could not be happier. It was still hot as hell and I spent more time than I had planned cooling down, replenishing my water supply and preparing myself mentally for the next 25 miles. Once I regained my composure I was off again.
I made my way through the hills and navigated the switchbacks once again. My pace had slowed and I was sore but I slowly began feeling better and my spirits had improved significantly. I reached the Bing Crosby aid station for the second time. I quickly replenished my water and electrolytes grabbed a banana and a cup of pretzels and was off.
As I made my way back through Del Dios Gorge towards the dam I began to become really conscience of the remaining cutoffs and again had strong doubts. This time about my ability to make the cutoffs in time. I became fearful of not making it and not being allowed to proceed. I was determined to not let that happen. I had come way too far. I tried to remain positive and pushed myself as hard as my body would allow.
I reached the Del Dios Park aid station with 30 mins to spare and with the help of some outstanding volunteers got in and out as fast as I could. Again I pressed on pushing myself as hard and fast as I could muster. With every minute that passed I became increasingly nervous about not meeting the last two cutoffs. I was in pain but I refused to allow the pain to get the best of me.
At one point, very briefly I considered slowing down and intentionally missing the next cutoff. It was an easy out, and in my mind it could be used to justify my failure. I might have been able to live with myself had I allowed that to happen. However, I quickly put those thoughts aside and reached the second to last aid station with fifteen minutes to spare.
Again the volunteers helped me get in and out as quickly as possible. I took the time to make sure I had enough water to finish, grabbed some pretzels and again was off. Ten miles left. I had about an hour to reach the Raptor Ridge Aid Station. My muscles ached but again I pushed as hard as I could. At the pace I’d averaged over the last 10 miles I knew there was no way I was going to make it in time to meet the cutoff and yet I would not allow myself to give up.
About a mile or so out I ran into another runner who I’d run into on and off throughout the day and we pressed on together. I welcomed the opportunity to have someone to talk to and it helped keep my mind off my sore muscles. As we continued it was cooling off quickly and darkness set in. I stopped briefly to put on my headlamp and made my way through the darkness. With over a mile to go to reach the aid station I realized we had missed the cutoff but we pressed on. I was more determined than ever to finish and as I finally made my way into the last aid station I prayed they’d allow me to continue. Thankfully my prayers were answered. The volunteers ensured we were ok, made sure we had enough water, offered us some cookies which I readily accepted and again we were on our way and ascending Raptor Ridge for the second time that day.
By now the 5:30 early start seemed like it took place ages ago. It wasn’t until I’d descended Raptor Ridge, with over 3 miles left to the finish line that I finally realized that I was going to finish. When that realization hit me it was like a great weight had been lifted. A years worth of hard work had paid off and I was going to accomplish something that had seemed impossible only a short time ago. I allowed myself to enjoy the last few miles. I reflected upon the long journey that had led me here and how much healthier I was because of it. I lost myself in those last moments. What a ride! Through healthier living and my new found love of long distance running I’d become a better man, a better father, and a better husband.
I learned that your body is capable of much more than many people can imagine. Most importantly I reconfirmed something I’ve always known but perhaps forgotten. You can do anything you set your mind to if you want it bad enough, work hard enough, and never give up. Don’t ever listen to naysayers who try to cast doubt. Stay true to yourself, pick yourself up when you fall and stay the course. It’s worth it in the end!
I finished the San Diego 50 DEAD F@$#ING LAST in 14 hours and 51 minutes and I could not be prouder!
Thank you to all who helped make the SD50 such an amazing and unforgettable event! I can’t wait to return next year!