Jun 19, 2011

San Diego 100

San Diego 100 Course in Cleveland National Forest
The day finally came. After 6 months of running and racing for this solitary event it was time to put it to the test.  Arriving at Al Bahr Shrine Campground in the Cleveland National Forest, with support crew Megan and her friend Mary, we found TheOnion at one of the campsites where we soon pitched tents and organized items (e.g. gels, food, water, drop bags) for race day.  After checking in, which included getting race goodies, a mandatory weigh-in and race briefing, by director Scott Mills, we sat outside in pleasant afternoon weather eating dinner while Megan and Mary played a game of horseshoes.
Elevation Profile 

The next morning I woke up at 5am to a chilly 39 degree morning with wind chill and picked up my race bib number and anxiously nibbled on half a muffin.  The past week I had been feeling anxious. Every hour of that week had been scrutinized: Was I drinking enough, was I on my feet too much, what and how much was I eating, etc.  Now that anxiety was slowly transforming to excitement mainly because I did everything I could feasibly do consistently while attending a full-time grad program to give myself the best chance at completing the run, which was the ultimate goal.
The race soon started with the first aid station 7.4 miles away.  It was a pretty beginning with a stroll through Laguna Meadows, but the thing that stands out in this section was that I was about 10 minutes faster than my original planned time by the time I got to the aid station with my legs not feeling as fresh and springy as they were for the Bishop 50 a few weeks prior. My perceived exertion was higher than normal for the type of terrain I was running through. You can do everything you can to end up feeling good on race day, and I've had those fortunate experiences in the past, but today was not it. However,  I was hoping a solid training base would offset that.
To give you a general idea of the course it was nearly all single track with technical terrain (just ask the runner who ate it in the first few miles), 18000+ feet of elevation gain and loss, highs of 85 and lows of around 32 with cold winds kicking up to 30-40mph, and nearly all exposed.
Race morning with Megan
The next 16 miles saw a return to the pace I originally wanted to run at and with rocky uneven terrain creating a difficult environment for rhythmical running.  For the past several miles I had a bothersome left hip flexor and knee which was baffling to me since I had zero issues with it the past several months and I couldn't think of any legitimate reason on why of all days it wants to show up now.  It didn't really slow me down but it was another thing I had to monitor. From my understanding and experience the longer the race distance the more small problems balloon into large ones so I was desperately hoping it would disappear.  I arrived at Penny Pines aid station a little low on energy and had Megan put some menthol cream on my left knee and hip flexor in hopes of distracting the nagging issues there.  The next 20.5 mile loop plunged into Noble Canyon on very technical downhill terrain where the cool breeze immediately ceased and stale heat took over.  I started to hit a small wall in between miles 31-36 where a dusty, hot, and horse-fly infested trail slowed me down.

After dunking my hat in a flowing cool creek I started a hot and difficult 8 mile climb out of the canyon where 20 horseflies decided to set-up camp near my head and shoulders where continual biting through my shirt produced some welts all the way until the mile 44.1 aid station.  Megan and Mary were waiting for me with a chair and some food but I was soon off on a gorgeous section of the PCT where you contoured around some mountains overlooking a huge valley in Anza-Borrego Desert.  I started to employ a 1 min walk/run strategy hoping to milk whatever I had left in energy.  The near halfway point at 51.3 mile aid station, Sunrise 1, saw me enter in at 10 hours 46 minutes.  This was a good time but I was already feeling low on energy. I attempted to eat, nearly not enough as I should have in retrospect, but I continued on. I caught up to TheOnion who was about 15 minutes ahead of me and got to Stonewall Mine, mile 58.9, where Megan would become our pacer.  At this point it was about plugging along as I didn't have the energy to keep a running pace.
Rolling into Penny Pines 1 (Mile 23.6)

Megan was chipper, eager to lead us through the night portion. We brought headlamps and headed out into the sunset.  Half a mile into the leg Megan rolled her left ankle where a baseball sized pocket of inflammation immediately presented itself. This was fairly devastating and painful for Megan and myself but she put her pain aside and led us without question to the near top of Little Stonewall and Stonewall peaks. I knew she was in severe pain but she never gave up and didn't complain once.  I was starting to come unravelled at this point. The climbing and startlingly cold night had started to put me in a lower energy setting.  Nearing Paso Picacho aid station, mile 64.2, TheOnion's body decided it didn't like what was sitting in the stomach so it prompted several (count: seven) upchucks, mainly water.  We finally arrived at the aid station freezing cold, dehydrated, pale, and looking like we just went 4 rounds with Mike Tyson. We huddled next to a propane heater trying to warm up and putting on the extra clothes from our drop bags.  An aid station volunteer soon realized that more clothing was necessary proceeded to offer his Mountain Hardware softshell, which I'm sure is over $100.  Even in my increasingly fatigued and cold state I was taken aback.  I was amazed at the lack of hesitation of offering a complete stranger his jacket. It was not the last time in this event where an act of kindness presented itself.  We soon headed out, stomach's anew with chicken noodle soup, more clothing, and a sense of mild rejuvenation.  We headed out into a continual 8 mile climb back to Sunrise aid station, mile 80.  The brisk hiking pace soon devolved into a slower walk as Megan stayed with me and TheOnion spurted ahead.  We would soon see him sitting on a log, head in lap, poorly attempting to not give way to his bodies strong desire to sleep.  With encouragement from Megan he would get up and the process would repeat all over again several times.  However, my moment of truth soon came: I hit a wall. Not some wall in a typical person's marathon where they slightly slow down. This was a wall I could not break through.  I stopped the hike, hunched over head in between knees, and started to fade quickly.  At first, Megan thought I was just tired and needed a moment's rest, although she would soon come to understand that this was not a low point of short duration.  TheOnion got ahead of us again but my body and mind did not, could not, move forward.  My eyes started to close and I desperately just wanted to lay down on the headlamp-illuminated trail even though 30mph winds and a 30 degree night surrounded us.  She kept urging me to get up and walk with her but I could only respond in weak grunts.
Sunrise 1 Aid Station (Mile 51.3)

By now Megan was holding on to me trying to keep me from stumbling over and talking to me to keep me conscious. She was starting to get frightened on why I had suddenly started to badly fade and soon tears appeared.  My gait had become on-par with a drunk person on the verge of passing out and I could barely keep one foot in front of the other whilst being a seemingly infinite miles from the aid station; with no other options we could only stumble forward in the cold starry night. Those couple of hours felt like an eternity and we soon crested a hill revealing a well lit aid station.  Some runners that had passed us reported my number to the aid staff to alert them about my condition. We found TheOnion plopped on a camping chair next to a propane heater huddled in a large blanket, the look of fatigue clearly evident. He had been resting and waiting, with Gazelle, who was going to pace him for the final 20 miles.  Anna, an aid station volunteer, sat me in a chair and threw a blanket over me. I immediately tried to sleep but I really needed to lay down. After slowly answering some of her questions she decided that I really did need to lay down.  I was placed on the floor with a blanket and immediately wanted to sleep for at least 30 minutes. "Nope, only 10!" was Anna's response. I begged and pleaded for 5 more minutes and she soon relented.  At first I didn't understand why she would only let me sleep that long, but she had a feeling (and she was right) that if I slept longer without moving that I would call it quits.  That was certainly my most trying moment of whether to continue or not.  I had traveled 80 miles so far and had only a mere 20 remaining; but to me that 20 felt very far away.  Anna soon disturbed my sleep and I begrudgingly opened an eye big enough for me to slurp some chicken noodle soup.  As a tried to lay back down an "Oh no you don't!" came out of Anna's mouth.  Both her and Megan wanted me to start walking. Like hell I was!  After deciding that there was no way I was going to live with myself if I didn't finish this and after traveling 80 miles, what was 20 more?
I soon staggered up, immediately feeling a little better, and Megan and Mary got all the extra clothing we had to wear. I was soon bundled with 6 layers on top and 3 layers on the bottom; finally, warmth! To cheers from an amazing aid station I soon walked those few steps forward to continue the race with Megan in front. I had spent 1 hour there recovering. With the first sign of light appearing on the horizon, I thought back to what I'd been hearing from multiple runners: that now matter how awful the night portion, and it was, there was going to be a newfound sense of rejuvenation as soon as you see light.  So with that first light, the memories of that difficult night portion faded, but I didn't get a strong desire to push the pace. What also happened was that vicious wind was blocked by the mountains we were hugging and the 5+ layers we had on were now a burden.  We stripped down and carried all the extra weight as we made our way back to Pioneer Mail 2 aid station. With 2 legs and 13 miles left, Megan's last contribution was to pace me on the next 4 miles to Penny Pines 2, with me finishing the last 9 solo.  The next 4 miles were definitely at a stronger hiking pace and we reached penny pines in an hour or so.
Penny Pines 2 Aid Station (Mile 91.5)

I rested up for a bit, bid farewell to my wonderful pacer, who was icing her puffy ankle.  In the previous leg I had planned to run the final 9 miles as hard as I could no matter how I was feeling.  I started to run immediately and was actually feeling pretty good, a marked difference from a few hours ago.  There was still one big climb involved but I was on a mission and was focused on finishing these last miles with some quality.  The people that had passed me in the past several miles were all coming back. The deep ache in the balls of my feet didn't stop me from blazing the rocky downhills and finishing strong.  I zoomed by the 96.4 mile aid station without grabbing anything and who would knowing they were only 3.6 miles away.  I ran hard and could feel the finish line in my pores as adrenaline started to really kick into gear.  I was moving faster and faster, zooming by runner's here and there, like I just started a 5k race.  I wondered why I couldn't muster this energy before but the constant mental battle during a race of this magnitude is a difficult one to win.  I soon reached the "One mile to go" sign and now I was in full swing.  I passed by my campsite and a surprised Megan, who wasn't expecting me for another hour.  The smattering of claps and cheers from the spectators brought a smile to my face.  Soon enough, the final 100 meters was a straightaway to the finish. I pumped my arms and a wide grin crested my pale and fatigued visage as people around cheered.  I crossed the line in 27 hours 54 minutes and 5 seconds, every second accounted for and used. I shook hands with the tireless race director, Scott Mills, thanked him for a wonderful event and was given the much-heralded item in 100 mile races: the belt buckle.  I sat down on a chair and just wanted some time to realize what just happened.  One step over that finish line was the cumulative effort of the past half year.  I had done it.
As I sit here in the comforts of my home and recovered 1 week I've had more time to reflect on the race itself.  First, I want to credit half of the race to Megan, my courageous and loving cornerstone.  Were it not for her I honestly don't know how I would have made it to the next aid station in my long moments of complete vulnerability.  She held me up, figuratively and literally, through bone-chilling cold and a seemingly never-ending night.  33 miles in total on a sprained ankle that occurred .5 miles in.  She had also been my rock throughout these past 6 months of training.  Someone I could talk to and share my innermost feelings and fears.  If my love for her couldn't get stronger it was now cemented. Oh, and did I mention she was also battling an upper respiratory infection?
Mary was everything a runner would want in a crew member: willing to put up with the crappiest of situations with hilarious jokes, smiles, and punctuality.  She made the race a lot easier on both myself and TheOnion.  She was at each aid station providing us with whatever we needed without complaint. I owe her a lot.
Finish 27:54.05

This was my first 100 and after a first 50 miles in 10:46 and second 50 in 17:08 there were some lessons to be learned.  Preparation: I think I did all I could do considering school and work circumstances to put myself in the best position to successfully finish the race, which only had a 67% finish rate.  However, in retrospect having a hard 50 mile race just 3 weeks before the 100 was not the best thing.  Next time I will try to space it out 4-5 weeks, but that comes with it's own difficulties, mostly due to the lack of local 50 mile races.  Nutrition:  In my last 50 mile race I consumed mostly gels and water at regular intervals and it worked out really well.  However, 100 miles is a different beast entirely and I wasn't prepared.  Gels only is not going to cut it. Real food is needed and should be consumed at regular intervals.  Being out there for 20+ hours sustenance is needed to maintain any semblance of a decent pace.  I learned my lesson and will be taking it a lot more seriously next time.  Next time? At first reaction after the race there was no way I was going to enter another one. I questioned the lack of sleep and core philosophies of whether this is something I want to continue doing (100 milers that is).  Was it worth the time and effort?  I was very happy I was able to finish it but was I enjoying it? It seemed on the verge of ridiculous at times and frankly, as I predicted, it took me to lows I've never experienced in a trail run.  With that being said there is something in me that knows that I can perform better.  It was my first try and it was a rite of passage.  Time became irrelevant. It was about truly experiencing the event highs and lows and paying my dues.  There is a reason only 67% of the starting line field actually finished.  I was able to get through those lowest of low points and come out of it with a new found experience. I will be very picky with my spots but I don't think this will be my last. The 100 is a different run. It's not so much about VO2 or speed but simply about enduring through the lowest points and grinding it out.  It's about finding your formula to success no matter who's around you.  It's about the symbiosis of you, a natural being, and the natural surrounding world. It's about making the most out of your life.
Crew of the Year

Start line (TheOnion and me)

Rolling into Red Tail Roost (mile 13.8)

Crew (1/2) and Pacer

Sunrise 1 (Mile 51.3)

Penny Pines 2 Mile 91

Megan, me, TheOnion, Gazelle post-race

Post race=fatigued but happy

The coveted belt buckle

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