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‘The icing on the cake’: La Jollan legs out 50-mile race after overcoming COVID-19

La Jolla resident and UC San Diego pharmacist Laura Lafranchise runs in the San Diego 50-Mile event Jan. 15.
(Courtesy of Ilian Moctezuma)

Like many others who have had to postpone trips and events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, La Jolla resident and UC San Diego pharmacist Laura Lafranchise had to shelve her plans to complete the Avalon Benefit 50 Mile/50K Run on Jan. 8 on Catalina Island when she contracted the COVID coronavirus.

Never one to slow down, Lafranchise made up for it a week later by completing the San Diego 50-Mile running event Jan. 15, starting and finishing at the San Pasqual Valley Trailhead in Escondido. That’s approximately the distance between La Jolla Cove and San Onofre.

“I’ve been an athlete most of my life and always want to have some big goal that I’m working toward,” Lafranchise said. “I have a group of friends that are runners as well. In the past for birthdays, we would do unusual races. So my friend turned 50 in November and I wanted to run 50 miles for her. … We found the Catalina 50-miler and thought it would be a fun weekend getaway, so we set our sights on it.”

However, after months of training, Lafranchise tested positive for the coronavirus — en route to Catalina.

“I have to get tested weekly, and this was a routine test, which I was expecting to come back negative,” she said. “My big concern was getting home without exposing anyone. When I found out, I was more disappointed that I tested positive because I tried everything I could to keep it from spreading. But the Omicron variant is so contagious, you can’t take blame if you get it, even if you are really careful. … I didn’t have bad symptoms; thankfully it was a super-mild case. I was ... vaccinated and boosted, and attribute that to having minimal symptoms.”

She followed protocols to isolate and recover, but still wanted to reach the goal she had trained so hard to achieve. “The friend I wanted to run the 50 miles for told me about the San Diego 50-miler and I decided I still wanted to give it a go,” Lafranchise said.

But even two days before the race, she had doubts.

“I didn’t want to have COVID and then put myself through the most strenuous thing I could do,” she said. “I wanted to feel completely better. I didn’t want to get sick and regress again. I paid serious attention. I told myself if I feel bad at all that I would take myself out.”

“Life is going to throw crazy things at us. That doesn’t mean you can’t complete a goal. It might not look how you thought, but you can do it.”

— Laura Lafranchise

When race day came, and after testing negative and feeling well enough to run, Lafranchise decided to sign up.

But surprises kept coming.

“It was supposed to be 70 degrees, and it was warmer than I thought when we started,” she said. “I was not expecting it to rain, but 45 minutes into the race it started raining and rained for three hours. At mile 16, I slipped, so my quads were hurting. At mile 32 on I had to walk. At mile 40, I had to decide whether I could finish in the time cutoff. Given everything that has happened over the last two years, I decided to walk. It wasn’t the time I wanted, but I could walk it in.”

With just 15 minutes to spare before the time cap, Lafranchise crossed the finish line.

“It was amazing. It was the best feeling just being able to finish,” she said. “It didn’t go as planned, but what has gone as planned the last two years?”

As a pharmacist, Lafranchise has seen the toll the pandemic has taken on health care workers. She said she hopes her accomplishment inspires others to undertake a goal-related project or at least something to take them out of the day-to-day routine.

“Life is going to throw crazy things at us. That doesn’t mean you can’t complete a goal,” she said. “It might not look how you thought, but you can do it.

“You don’t realize it when you are doing something like this for yourself, but other people see it and get pulled into the excitement of it. ... I want to inspire my co-workers to find what allows them to reset so they can prepare for the next battle.”

Whether it’s a 5K (3.1-mile) or a 50-mile race, having a training plan is everything, Lafranchise said. “It’s so cool to see how you can evolve and your body can adapt and what your body can do. You might start by running one mile, but then you ask yourself, ‘Can I add 10 percent more and continue to test my limits?’ Soon, 10 miles becomes doable.”

But, she added, “you have to fall in love with the process. Don’t focus on the end goal. If you hate the training, you are going to hate the event. So nerd out on it. The end result is just icing on the cake.” ◆