Catching up with Glenn at the start and telling him how much of a fan Masha is of his photography.
With pals Larissa Polischuk and Brett Rivers.
That was probably the most well executed race I've ever run in my life. Not my fastest hundred, in fact two years ago when this new course was introduced, I had a faster time but it was the best and most solid I've felt in a 100-mile event. I ran smart, strong and with what I had for that given day. I didn't look back and fret to what I could have changed and done better in my training. Out on the course last weekend there were no regrets or second guesses, just a lot of hard work and hope and excitement for a great race and a sub-22 to 24 time.
Four weeks before San Diego, Quicksilver was a perfect tune up race and my difficult experience there told me exactly what I needed to do to have a great race in San Diego. The lessons learned that day were invaluable. It revealed to me that I wasn't as fast as in previous years, being heavier and not having had integrated speed work into my training this year but it also showed I was in solid shape and the mental engine was as strong as ever - the "can do" attitude has not been diminished. I have valid reasons for not having dropped more weight or done the speed work but I'm not going to go through them. What's done is done. It's just life in general. I don't run for a living and as much as I love it there are other priorities that take precedent that has a direct impact on my training whether I want it to or not.
I am not a big breakfast person and for races I've been known not to eat anything at all or very little before the start. This time, with the help of my friend Jonathan Gunderson, I prepared a large breakfast. The fact that it was a 2 hour drive from my mom's place to the race made it easy. I started eating as soon as I got up thanks to my mother who help prepare the meals and I ate and drank on my way to the race. I had two whole wheat english muffin egg sandwiches, a banana, coffee and Gatorade. I drank an additional bottle of Gatorade while we prepared for the start at the lodge. I felt really good the first 4-5 hours, like never before and I attribute it to being topped up on my nutrition and hydration. Started with a full tank.
Miles 1-25: Settling Into a Long Day
I was determined to go slow, I had a heart rate number target and I kept it there. It felt like driving 40 miles an hour on the freeway but I stuck to it. A couple of bathroom stops threw me back further down the line but I was totally okay with it. I felt great. I had so much energy and worked to hold it back.
A little homework.
Miles 26-31: Hello Rocks
The last time I ran San Diego I memorized the elevation profile so despite never having been on the course I felt some degree of familiarity with it. I knew where all the climbs and downhills were. This year I did the same with the addition of memorizing the aid station chart, committing to memory the names of the aid stations, the total miles at each AS and how far it was to the next AS. It was awesome. I never had to ask volunteers for course information and I was able to share the info with runners I ran with during the day - "Stephen you are gonna want to top off both bottles and drink some at the next aid station, it's 8.1 miles to the next one and it's gonna be toasty". One thing I should have done back in 2010 however was to note down the technical sections. On the chart, approximately miles 25-31 is a downhill, a drop of about 1600 feet. Having forgotten the terrain I thought I could gain some time here - wrong! That section is the rockiest of the entire course. I took a dive taking a gel out of my pocket, just a moment's distraction sent me sprawling on the rocks. I would take two more falls during the course of the race but with no witnesses to any of my dirt dives. How I avoided getting hurt, like breaking a finger or slamming my knees on a rock, I attribute to God's grace. It wouldn't take much for a fall to ruin your day, even a small rock jutting out a few inches from the ground can do some damage. Last time I ran the race I had a swollen left pinky from a nice fall which made taking the water bottle on and off my hands trickier than it should have been. San Diego's course is rocky! The large rocks are not the problem, they are easy to avoid and spot, it's the small ones only a few inches off the ground. The rocks are embedded in the ground, you hit a rock it is you that moves. One time my foot glanced off one and my trajectory went straight into the bushes. Thankfully even the shrubbery is tough, it was like I landed on a bunch of springs and it held my weight.
Coyote love! SoCal Coyotes took care of us at this aid station and were on hand in the loop to provide directions. At the Pine Creek AS with Stephen Itano. Photo courtesy of Chihping Fu.
Miles 32-40: Toasty
At 31.3 we started what is known as the Pine Creek loop. It gets warm here for those of us who don't like heat. The temperature was only in the low 70s according to the weather reports and the loop is only 5 miles but down there in that loop it is hotter. The heat affected me just like it did at Quicksilver but since I paced myself better, drank a ton and took my time I was able to power right through it. Folks I ran with, Andy Black and Stephen Itano, were feeling what I was feeling. We just made our way as well as we could. We struggled but other folks looked even terrible. At one point I advised a young runner to stop in the shade and let himself cool down. He looked terrible and was clearly having a tough time with the heat. It was nice in the shade with the intermittent breezes and I took my own advice a couple of times.
By mile 41 were back on top of the ridges once again and in the breeze. San Diego has some strong breezes and it felt amazing. Predictably I started picking up speed as I cooled down. My HRM monitor stopped working back at mile 36, maybe some water got into the housing but I knew by feel where I needed to be. I love my gadgets but I've learned to function without them first. The Pioneer Aid Station at mile 44.1 to Sunrise Aid Station at mile 51.3 is probably my favorite section of the race. It's a rolling net downhill with amazing views of a valley below. In some parts you are running on the edge of a cliff, just beautiful. Like in most parts of the course however you don't let your eyes linger off the trail for too long.
Miles 52-64: Beating Back Discouragement
I hit the 50 mile mark around 11:25, much, much longer than my planned 10:30. I knew I had been going slow but I expected a faster split. I started to worry about being able to hit sub-24 let alone a sub-23 which was my A-goal. My plan was to slowly ramp up the last 1/3 of the race but at 50 I needed a boost. I needed a kick, a jumpstart. So I decided to start haulin' butt right then and there, right after I changed shoes. The La Sportiva X-Country was a great pair of shoes but a little to light for the rocks. My feet were hurting big time by mile 45. For backup I had the La Sportiva Crosslites which were perfect. They were not fully broken in but the protection was great. I was a bit nervous about increasing my pace, worried I might go too hard and not have enough for the finish but I figured that a good finish was out of the question anyway if I couldn't get things rolling at 50. I was a little shaky at first but once I got going I was movin'. It felt great. I didn't go all out but I let myself sink into a harder and faster pace. Around 56 miles I pass Larissa being paced by Amy who was battling blisters, some under her toenails - they are not going to grow back in time for her wedding. Thankfully her fiance Brett Rivers is a kick ass ultrarunner himself (17:30 at Western States last year), besides lancing her blisters at the aid stations and pacing her the final miles I doubt he cares about her missing toenails. I also pass Chris who was just ahead of Larissa, battling G.I. issues and not having a fun time. The answer to a question I asked pretty much confirmed it. He was paced by Peter who was one of my pacers last year at Western States. I felt for the both of them.
Right before Paso Picacho, the aid station at mile 64.2, I had to turn on my lights. I had my back up light with me since mile 51 and it was a spunky 104 lumen light I had picked up at Walmart the day before. 104 lumens is more than I ever had in a flashlight, ever, and it only cost me $30. If I had to run the race the entire way with only this light I would have been fine with it but like I said it was just the backup. Waiting for me at Paso Picacho was my monster light which I picked up at Zombierunner.com with a gift certificate my pal Dana Katz sent me. It was a full 200 lumen headlamp light. It's one of those headlamps that has a battery pack sitting on the back of our head, doesn't bother me, and I lit up that trail with 304 lumens. It was fantastic! I'm with the DC Lundell/Zombierunner school of night time running - the more light you have the faster you will go. In fact rocks were easier to avoid at night because they cast a shadow on the ground. I was careful to turn off my headlamp at aid stations lest I blinded the volunteers.
By mile 81 I was certainly getting exhausted. I started to feel all the miles. The challenge was to keep the momentum going as I was all too aware at this point that going under 24 hours was going to be a close thing. I didn't need a pacer to motivate me, the desire to go under 24 was enough. The gels was starting to get to me, it was all I was eating. The cool air didn't help as they made the consistency of GU thick like peanut butter. I had my own Power Gels which are not as thick but I was saving them as I only had a few left. It was a beautiful, beautiful night though and I enjoyed the darkness despite the fatigue and my slowly rebelling gut. I kept myself focused on running from one aid station to the next. When my thoughts wandered too far into the future like day dreaming about the final miles, I just pulled it back to the present. When the sky started to lighten up, just past 4AM, I was actually disappointed. I wanted more of the darkness, it was like a blanket and it was cozy and nice surrounded by it. In the dark no one could see how filthy I've become with all my gel stains, salt stains, dust and snot. Uh-huh the gloriously glamorous side of 100 milers.
According to Amy, I was a bit dazed when I came into the Penny Pines aid station at mile 91.5. Well not only was I dazed but also confused. When one of my electronic gadgets fail me I curse the damn thing and thank my ability to go without, forgetting that my brain too also fails from time to time. Nothing is fail safe. I got confused, I thought 91.5 was actually 92.5 and so when I got to the last aid station at Rat Hole, mile 96.2, I thought I was at 97.2 with 23:11 on the clock. I thought I had the sub- 24 time in the bag. The aid station volunteers corrected my error and told me I had 3.9 miles to run instead of 2.9 (San Diego is 100.1 miles). You can imagine my stress and surprise at that moment. My progress was down to 13-14 minute miles. The aid station people got me out of there though and told me to hustle. They let me leave my lights with them and hauled down the trail as fast as I could possibly go. My memory of the elevation profile and the finish from two years ago gave me hope. Rat Hole to the finish is a net downhill plus the last two miles is on less rocky ground with the last mile on the asphalt inside the campground. I ran and ran and ran at one point I hit a sub-9 minute mile on the trail. I ran the hardest fastest miles of the entire race. I do have this bad habit of looking at my watch even when traversing trail which makes the rocky parts even more exciting than usual. When I want information I want it now and can't wait. I need to fix that. With about a mile and a half to go, in the meadow immediately outside the campground, in much smoother trail, it happened. I looked down at my watch for the umpteenth time to check pace and time and I nailed a rock. I can still hear the rubber on rock impact in my head, feel the air rushing out of my lungs, hear the audible "guuuuhhh" sound I made as I flew forward traveling at 8.5 minute mile pace and feel the thud as I hit the ground right side first. Caught me by surprise certainly but I was already on my feet running again before I fully regained my composure, that surprised me more. Who was this stupid yet resilient runner and what was I doing in his body? I was wobly, unsteady at first, but picked up speed eventually and I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. It was amazingly stupid of me to check my watch again on the trail, wonderfully blessed I didn't hurt myself and so damned great that I got up and started running again without thinking about it, without dusting myself or to check for injuries, cuts, etc. 24, 24, 24, it was all about going under the magic number. I wish I could display such focus all the time.
I came in at 23:51 for 29th, when I realized there was still 9 minutes on the clock I remarked that had I known I would have slowed down a bit. It didn't really matter at that point what time I came in as long as it was under 24. It could have been 23:59:59 and I wouldn't have cared and indeed it would have made a better story. I was wrecked at the finish, not so much from soreness but from my gut, from all the gels especially the caffeinated ones. John gave me a coke and I almost threw it up. No more sugar! All I could take was water and I would go to the bathroom feeling sick only to dry heave since there wasn't anything inside to throw up anyway. It would be another 7 hours before I could eat anything solid. Horrible but you know I'll eat gels again on my next race:) Just isn't a faster way to get nutrients down especially running with no crew who can pre-prepare food in baggies.
SoCal Coyotes bringing in one of their own. I believe they had 5 first time 100 milers and all made it to the finish.
The finishline 28+ hours and counting.
A great time was had by all and after another whupping I would return again. C'mon I really feel I have a 22, 23 hour San Diego in me. It is a legit 100-miler. It may not have as much elevation gain as some of the mountain ultras in California, may not get as hot or as high altitude wise but it's just as pretty a course and the rocks will give you a warm welcome. If you thrive on technical terrain you will ride over the stuff, if you are used to smooth trails as I do you will have a challenge much harder than the elevation charts would suggest. I would gladly take more heat, climb more hills, race at a higher altitude if they would just jackhammer smooth some of those trails but then it wouldn't be San Diego, it would be Western States.
Official Results Here. Jeff Browning kills it at 16:38:59 and female champ is Shawna Tompkins with a 20:45:05, both 40 years old. I'm 40, why I noticed.
Thank you Glenn T!