Rodeo Valley Trail Run – 2nd place

A few weeks ago, I ran the Rodeo Valley Trail 50k, with Inside Trail, one of the racing groups here in San Francisco. We ran up in Marin, just north of San Francisco; Marin is famous for beautiful and challenging single-track trails with arresting ocean views, and many of the races I’ve run have been up there. It was a perfect day – started at 50*F, finished at 70*F, and was the right combination of overcast and sunny.

This one was a little different – due to some previous weather, some of the trails that were part of the course were closed. Our 50k race would actually end up being a little closer to 52k with the adjustments.

The week before the race, I’d planned to take it fairly seriously – I had every intention of tapering my exercise, eating well, and getting lots of sleep. I accomplished zero of those three things, so showed up to the start line with no expectations.

As we lined up to start, I looked at the field of women just to see who was up front – fast women are inspiring. There were a number of women who looked quite speedy.

When the race started, one woman took off – I never saw her again. There were a few of us who clustered together for the first mile or so.

Heading out for the first loop before we hit the first hill. Mallory is right behind me and she immediately passed me when we got to the hill.

However, when we hit the first hill, I let the other women pull ahead. In what is somewhat a superpower, but also a bit of a psychological block, after ten years of ultrarunning I’m really good at judging how fast I can move up a hill without burning out too early. It’s great because it helps me pace, but not as great because in shorter distances, I revert to this slower pace when I could probably push harder. In this case, the pace these other ladies were setting was too fast for me so early in the race. I settled in for the climb.

At some point during this climb, I realized famous ultrarunner Dean Karnazes was right behind me. I had a moment of excitement when I realized that I was running a race faster than Dean Karnazes. He passed me right before one of the aid stations during this stretch, and I thought that he’d be gone – but then I left the aid station before he did, and stayed ahead of him for the rest of the race!

Uphill fun on the first loop.

And after the first aid station, the terrain switched to rolling single-track. I picked up a bit of speed, and caught up to another runner – Jill – who was training for a longer race in the fall. She and I ran several miles of the first lap together.

Following Jill down the hill. Or maybe this is an up.

When we got to the 20-mile aid station at the start-finish, I stopped to refill my water bottle, and Jill kept going. I knew I would probably lose her on the hill again (yes, we had to do that first one twice), so I let her go.

The second time around, the hill was a little harder. I took a few walk breaks, using a Galloway-method-like technique I learned from Badwater Mike. I would run for 100 breaths, then walk for 20, then repeat. If I could run for more than 100 breaths because the terrain wasn’t very steep, I would do that, and if I could walk for less than 20, then I would do that too. I could see Jill and Mallory (who had passed me on the first hill) ahead, but not close enough to try to sprint to catch them.

At the top of the hill was the final aid station, about seven miles from the finish line. Mallory and Jill were both refilling water bottles and grabbing some snacks.

I didn’t know where we fell in the pack – how many women were in front of us or behind us – but it seemed not unreasonable that I might be able to stay ahead of the two of them for the next seven miles, since I’d been slowly catching up on the climb.

I refueled very quickly and headed out for the last 7 miles.

The last 7 miles were a sprint. An old boss of mine – a marathon runner – introduced me to the concept of not leaving anything in the tank during the last part of a race – and these miles were that. I flew down the downhills and charged up the uphills.

I had significant anxiety during this stretch about the actual course, as the second loop had a shortcut that we were supposed to take, and hadn’t taken during the first lap. I was constantly on the lookout for turn instructions. There weren’t a lot of other runners to follow (a lot of runners had done just the 30k), so this part of the course was not busy. At various intersections, I asked several random hikers if they’d seen other people racing, and responses were mixed. This was a little nerve-wracking, because I knew if I missed a turn, one of the other girls would definitely pass me.

Run run!

The last half mile is a downhill to a beach, with great ocean views. I flew down it and headed straight to the finish line. I finished in 5:49ish. Not bad for a very hilly course!

I checked the results table and found out I’d come in 3rd. The first place woman was about an hour ahead of me, and the 2nd place woman was about 30 minutes ahead of me. I was pretty excited – if I hadn’t pushed it in the last few miles, I wouldn’t have placed. I grabbed my trophy and waited for the other girls to roll in.

Mallory arrived first – which was strange, since she had been behind Jill for most of it. A few minutes later Jill showed up – she’d missed a turn (what I had feared!) and added 1-2 miles to the overall length of the course.

The three of us hung out for a bit at the finish line and exchanged numbers before I took off for home.

Finish line with Dean (who I beat by about a half an hour!) and Jill

A few days later, I was checking the results to get my exact time – and found that I’d actually come in 2nd! The woman who was listed as 2nd originally had dropped down to the 30k, but in the moment the results hadn’t updated to reflect that yet. So this was very cool! (I’m still waiting on the 2nd place trophy though – Mallory, if you’re reading this, I’ll send you the 3rd place one! )

Overall, this was a fun day. I ran unexpectedly fast, which felt really good, because I have been training pretty hard for a few upcoming races.

Next up on my calendar: San Francisco Ultra in just under three weeks (discount code: AMBOLISA25 for 25% off all distances) and Burning Man 50k in about seven weeks.


Final results – I came in 2nd!


Getting past the burnout – 2nd place at Redtail Ridge

This is a race report about the Redtail Ridge 50k at Lake Chabot, put on by the illustrious Inside Trail Running.


On Saturday, at 8:05 a.m., I was sitting in a car in the parking lot of a park. My race started at 8:30. I hadn’t put on my shoes, and I hadn’t picked up my bib. I was not motivated or excited to run this race. I was feeling burnt out.

Last week, I posted a depressing call for help on a running message board. Here it is:

Hi runners,

I’m training for my 3rd 100-miler. Race is in early April. I’m running 28-30-milers almost every Saturday, plus whatever the training plan says for the other days. Between work and training for this race, I feel really burnt out – if I’m not working, I’m running, and there’s no time for anything else. I’m starting to dread my workouts [even non long-run days], and that hasn’t really happened before.

I haven’t felt this way when training for my past races, which I did primarily by running some 50s and 50ks [fun!] and then just running the race. This time around, training seems like an inescapable slog. I’m wondering if a) I’ve hit my limit of interest for the sport b) I’ve been overtraining or c) training is hard and I wasn’t doing it right before.

Help me out, guys – another four weekends of 30-mile Saturdays just seems daunting, miserable, and not worth it, but not doing the training seems like a bad option too.

Suffice to say, the last few weeks have been rough. I was tired, overwhelmed, and not excited to run. And in the car on Saturday morning, I wasn’t excited at the prospect of another run. It just seemed like so much work.

I thought about my options. I could either get out of the car and run the race. Or I could let Will run and go do literally anything else for five hours. Anything. I could go read a book or visit with friends or just wander around and explore the area. I was really grasping at any reason to not run this race.

But, ultimately, I was basically at the start line already, and I’d already paid. Two really uninspired reasons to run. So I got out of the car, picked up my bib, and started the race.

I’d run a couple of races in this park before, so the trails were familiar. The first few miles were along a lake – flat and forested, before we started a steep climb to the first aid station.

I wasn’t pushing it too hard at this point in the race. I’d gotten food poisoning on Thursday, so wasn’t sure how much energy I had in the tank. This race was also supposed to be a training run, so it was more about the miles and less about the speed. As such, I hadn’t tapered at all, and had run back-to-back ten-milers on Tuesday and Wednesday. I was moving slow, and I was okay with that, because I wasn’t motivated to run anyway.

That said, I was watching the color of the bibs around me. The 30k race had started at the same time as we had. They had green bibs instead of our yellow ones. Even though I wasn’t going for speed, I definitely looked at a racer’s bib color any time one passed me, which happened frequently, and hoped their bib was green. Runners going shorter distances should be running faster, so it doesn’t feel completely devastating when someone running a shorter distance scoots ahead. For a while, I didn’t see many yellow bibs at all, which was motivating.

After the second aid station, we ran along a rolling, wide dirt road in verdant green pastures. The trail was sloppy with mud from recent rain, made worse by the … generous … presents that grazing cows had left us along the way.

I took a quick pit-stop in the bushes and retied my shoes before the trail plunged back into the forest.

I hadn’t brought my watch on this race. Sometimes, looking at your distance during a race can be more depressing than helpful. At the beginning of the race, I felt like I had so much going against me mentally already. It didn’t seem worth it to add to the misery by knowing how many millions of miles I had left to go.

So, I’m guessing when I say it was somewhere around mile 10 when I picked up the pace a bit, for no reason other than it seemed like a good idea. At some point, I caught up to another runner, and fully intended to pass her, but she opened a conversation as we rounded a corner and stuck with me.

I’m really glad she did. We spent the next six or eight miles together. I learned about her running past [she used to live in Hopkinton, where the Boston Marathon starts!] and we chatted away a few hours of running.

I felt like I could have gone a little faster at this point, but I was more excited to have company and someone to talk to. Finding kindred spirits is one of my favorite parts of long races.


My new friend and motivation for the middle stretch of the race

When we reached a downhill stretch, she and I parted ways; I’m a strong downhill runner and was feeling good.

The 50k course included all of the 30k course; we headed back to the start line with the 30k runners, then turned around and went out for another 12 miles after that.  As I headed back to the start line, I was feeling pretty good, energized by running with my new friend and excited by the prospect of running another 12 miles on the course. I would see her one more time on the course as I headed back out and she reached her finish line.

I like courses that have little stretches of out-and-back. Some runners don’t, because it can be demotivating to run in the opposite direction of where you’re ultimately headed, especially when part of that is at the start/finish line. However, I think  it’s fun to see the other runners on the course who are ahead or behind. It’s also an easy way to figure out how well you’re doing relative to other runners, because you can count who’s ahead of you. I hadn’t seen that many women with yellow bibs, and none that had passed me.

With just a few miles to the turn-around at the start, I started looking out for runners coming the other way. I saw one – she was moving pretty fast, and she was about 2-2.5 miles ahead of me. I saw one more, but she had made a wrong turn and wasn’t running the 50k anymore. And then … I reached the turnaround.  There weren’t any other women ahead of me.

I was in 2nd place.

And, even better, I was feeling good, both physically and mentally.

Neat. I turned around and took off, trying to widen the gap between myself and whoever was behind me. I quickly saw two women neck-in-neck, both 50k runners, about a mile behind me. So that meant I had to not lose a minute per mile to them, approximately, over the next 12 miles. It was 2nd place or 4th place.

I was glad I had left some gas in the tank, because the next few miles were back up that first hill again. I paced myself, running the hill where I could and taking walk breaks on the steep parts where I needed to, and made it to the first aid station in good shape.


Cruising up a hill

There were three aid stations in this stretch, and I knew that if I made it to the 2nd one without getting passed, I could defend my position and sprint the last six miles to the finish. So the next few miles were somewhat anxiety-filled. Every walk-break, I was second-guessing whether or not I was wasting time by walking. This strategizing was kind of fun, too – not something I normally did in races, because normally I don’t compete for any meaningful prizes in races.

I made it to the 2nd aid station – another out-and-back – and hadn’t been passed yet. As I left the aid station, I saw one of the other women behind me. She was still about ten minutes back. I was pretty confident that she wouldn’t catch me, but I didn’t want to take any risks.

The last six miles were great. My legs had started to fatigue a little bit, but I knew I could go this last stretch without hitting the wall. These were the miles where I could feel my long runs paying off. I felt strong and prepared for the distance.



After the last aid station, it was all downhill, and I flew all the way down to the lake. The last mile or so was little rolling hills along the lake, and I really pushed hard. At this point, it wasn’t because I was worried about getting passed, but because I was feeling good and I wanted to leave it all on the course. Will came back and ran with me for the last couple of minutes too, which was motivating and fun.

I crossed the finish line at 5:41, which was my 3rd fasted trail 50k time. And – I came in 2nd!


Will pacing me to the finish


I had a really great time out on the course. I had been feeling really burnt out on running. A fun race – which turned into a competitive race – ended up being just the thing to get me back on track. Training for a 100-mile race is hard work, and it was nice to take a mental break and see some of that training pay dividends.

Sometimes we forget why we do the things we do, and it’s hard to get over the hump. This race helped to remind me about the reasons I run.

Running is a very multifaceted activity, and it draws people in for a variety of reasons. Some people love structured training, getting lost in the wilderness, racing competitively, or breaking PRs. As for me, I’ve always loved showing up to a race with no agenda, knowing that the time doesn’t matter, and also knowing that all I have to do is have a good time in nature. I don’t have to worry about the distance or about getting lost or about making sure I get home in time for something. All of that is taken care of, and all I have to do is relax into the trail, maybe make some friends, and appreciate being outdoors in a body I’ve worked hard to make strong.


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Swag. Bottom middle is the 1st-place age group medal, which is what they were giving out instead of 1st-2nd-3rd prizes. Also, what a great bib number.


Quick reminder: I’m still fundraising for the SF double marathon. Check it out: 

Podium Finish!

I just got an email from McAllen Marathon team – apparently I came in 3rd! The listed 3rd place finisher didn’t actually finish the race, even though her chip triggered at the finish line. Kinda cool! Here’s the email. Text below.

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Congratulations Lisa!

After reviewing the final results from Sunday’s McAllen Marathon, we discovered an error. It seems the overall third place female finisher in the marathon did not complete the marathon. Her chip was somehow read by the sensors. She notified us of the error and we have removed her from the results.

You are now the overall third place finisher and winner of $250.00. Please complete the attached form so we can mail you a check.

Thank you for running the McAllen Marathon.

Thank You,
City of McAllen

Leslie A. Howland
Marketing & Events Coordinator
Parks and Recreation Department
(956) 681-3333