This past August I ran up Mt. Whitney. It was a lot of fun- here’s the video I made.
This past August I ran up Mt. Whitney. It was a lot of fun- here’s the video I made.
A few months ago I did this run from Independence, CA up to Shepherd’s Pass along the Shepherd’s Pass Trail.
It was super gnarly. The only thing harder than the run was editing and uploading the video.
The Coastal 50k is the crown jewel of all of the Coastal Trail Run races; it’s a point-to-point from Stinson Beach to Rodeo Beach that hits all the Marin Headland highlights. It’s pretty much a “have-to” in my book from now on; even if I’m beat up next year from whatever 100-miler I’m going to do (or if I plan to do one after) I feel like I have to run this race.
Let’s get started on the report:
…so this is about the closest I’ve come to feeling like I nailed a race since last year at Dick Collins; even though I did have a rough patch (again, right at miles 22-to-25; seems to happen almost every 50k for me these days) I was able to finish very strong and (almost) hit all my goals. I had very little problem solving to do, I just wanted to put my head down and get to work.
I ran with a hydration pack which was a first in a 50k; I’m usually good with a single hand-held (and throwing another in a drop bag to pick up later in case I was getting dehydrated) but since there were no drop bags in this race, I figured I’d give the Camelbak bladder a go.
I always lose a good 5 minutes in aid stations, I’m way too chatty. I figured I’d stop at every other one and get a fill-up. This way, I could run through and say “thanks for being out here, you guys are awesome” and not lose a second. Genius!
So here’s a breakdown of my goals and how the race went within the context of all that:
Goal #1: run under 5 hours
Missed this one by 5:56; and I can only think it was that aforementioned “rough patch” between miles 22-25, right after the first Rodeo Valley aid station. I felt really good coming out of there and soon as I hit the incline my legs just couldn’t generate any power. I was doing the math on how much Vitargo and Gu I had eaten during the previous hour and thought I was okay, so I ate another Gu. After a few minutes I felt a little queasy, tried mixing some running in here and there, then about halfway up got passed by a guy I had passed back at mile 12 (I think I scared the shit out of him when I passed, too- he might have been a little bit pissed).
I figured “great, here they come” which is what happened at Skyline a month ago; one runner passes you, then it’s like a torrent of demoralization in the form of faster runners and people that didn’t go out at a silly, unsustainable pace. I watched him just bang away at the incline, disappearing into the fog towards the top of the climb.
So I took a ginger chew right there, just kind of sucked on it for about 5 minutes as I continued to work at the climb; I minute of shuffling, a minute of power-hiking. I spit it out, took another Gu and said to myself, “if I’m going to puke in a race, let it be now”. I got to the top of the climb and was able to run, it was that really cool stretch of single track on the SCA Trail, totally enveloped in fog.
I was able to bomb down the switchbacks pretty well, and started to see some of the lead runners. Of course I get passed again right at the road crossing, and a minute or so later I saw my buddy Tony coming up those same switchbacks. We high-fived, I told him he looked really strong and that gave me a temporary mental boost as I hit the paved section that winds down under the Golden Gate Bridge and few into the Fort Baker aid station.
Took a couple shots of Coke, got some Vaseline (I had some chafing under my arms from rubbing against my Ultimate Direction pack- it’s always that same damn spot!) and then flew back up that paved road, passing back that guy that had got me up the Rodeo Valley Trail climb. I knew that I had to work really hard now because this was it as far as climbs go; this is the last one, and it’s all downhill from the top.
I should also mention that I was counting runners on the way down, and I came up with 8 runners ahead of me (I never saw eventual winner and CR holder Jorge Maravilla, he was moving!) With only eight guys ahead of me, that brings me to mention my next goal:
Goal #2: run in the top 10 all day.
The best position I held was between Cardiac and Muir Beach, I had pushed up to 6th. I went out really hard on the Dipsea- I tried to keep Jorge and the other leaders within view at least until we hit Steep Ravine. I passed 2-3 runners up that and hit Pantoll at 37:26, feeling really good. My favorite stretch of trail in the entire race would be right here on Alpine to TCC, and I hit Cardiac at exactly an hour. Okay, I thought. Today could be a good day.
I passed that guy on Coast View Trail right before the switchbacks down Heather Cutoff, just flew down them. I heard a “yeah Jimmy!” from a few switchbacks above and saw Tony with the biggest smile on his face, he was feeling good and moving fast. I ran with him from the road crossing (where Heather Cutoff intersects Redwood Creek) and we ran to MB together.
He took off out of Muir Beach so I trailed him for a while until he was out of sight and pretty much ran alone for the next 10 miles. Felt good through Tennessee Valley, which presented me with my next challenge for the day.
Goal #3: run all of Marincello.
It came earlier than in a few other races (I think it comes at mile 44 at TNF & maybe mile 39 at Miwok) so I knew I’d have some pop in my legs, but I wanted to go up the Marincello climb very aggressively. Since this wasn’t a target race for the second half of the season but something I did taper for, it falls into the “B” race category which means “try out some stuff”.
I always take it way too easy up Marincello, like I’m looking forward to it so I can walk/power-hike/shuffle the 1.4 mile climb. If you’re not familiar with the Marincello climb, it’s a long but mellow hill south out of Tennessee Valley; I think they were calling it the “$10,000 Climb” because that’s where last year’s TNFEC Championship race was going to be won (and it was, with Rob Krar finding another gear to break away from Chris Vargo right here).
Anyway, I was able to complete the 1.4 mile climb in a little more than 18 minutes, which for me is pretty solid. If I can take anything away from the race it’s that I felt good powering up Marincello.
So that’s about it for goals; I wanted to go really hard in some places to see what I needed to do to get ready for TNF in December; I think along with some recent speed sessions a huge key for me is doing some harder stuff on Sunday’s runs- basically going just a tad harder on tired legs.
I see some folks on the Strava doing some progression-type runs on Sundays; I think I’m going to give that a shot. Along with my new training plan (been using Hal Koerner’s guide from his new book, make sure you check that out) which adds speed stuff on Thursday, I’m going to mix in a few progression runs- if you’re not familiar with these types of workouts, basically you’re splitting your run into two or three parts; the first half (or third) is done relatively easy, then you “progress” to a faster pace, increasing intensity and effort; ending at either marathon, 10k or 5k pace (sounds ouchy).
I’m going to do these by feel, as if I’m not too beat up after a hard Thursday plus Saturday long run. We’ll see…
Here’s the official results and a cute little pic of me turning off my watch at the finish line (dude?):
9th place overall
5th pace men’s 30-39
5:05:56 (9:48 per mile)
Garmin elevation: 6,192 feet (official elev. listed as 5,810 feet)
Hey, thanks for reading!
What a doozy of a race. I mean that about my race performance and not the actual Skyline 50k itself; I love this race. It feels like home. So I’ll keep this race report short and sweet (and to the point).
Sometimes I feel kind of crappy when I use a race that so many people trained so hard for as a training run. Especially the Skyline 50k; it’s a really great race with a great vibe, amazing volunteers and a tireless RD that tries to ensure every runner has a top-notch time. Plus, the course is one of the best the East Bay has to offer; it traverses the ridge that rises up from around Lake Chabot in Castro Valley and goes into Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, then turns around at Skyline Gate and runs back.
It’s a lot of people’s “A” race, and a heck of a lot of folks’ first ultra experience, there also seems to also be a cross-country type showdown between a few local running clubs, and here I am just out for a long run to:
That all being said, going into last week my whole idea was to treat this as a “C” race. Then, after a great run on Saturday (July 26th) I decided to get my taper on and treat this race as a “B”, which means less of a training run and now I’m going after an actual goal.
Damn my ego!
This was a huge mistake; seeing as I had only 4 weeks of solid training in and my longest run in that block being a 22.5 miler with an 8.7 follow up the next day, I was probably going to suffer a bit.
So of course I go ahead with a pace chart; planning on hitting the turnaround at Skyline Gate (14.4 miles in) at 2:00 and coming home in another 2:30-2:40. I wanted a new 50k PR (4:41:43 at Dirty German 50k in ’13) so that was the plan.
I hit the turnaround at 2:06, and figured if I continued to feel this good I’d be right up against running a 4:40 finishing time. My average pace was 8:45 right here and some quick math told me I’d have to run just under 9-minute pace for the last 17 and change.
So I was feeling awesome until mile 24, then I started cramping. I felt awful for the next 4 miles, going back and forth from low energy to full-on calf seizures. I took all my remaining Vitargo plus a Gu and just tried to get through the section from the Stone Bridge to Honker Bay aid station, along Cascade and Columbine trails. Ugh.
I yo-yo’d between a 10:15 and 14:00 pace for these miles, just trying to fully embrace the suck. I was in a low point; probably a combination of dehydration, cramping, being low on calories, being slightly undertrained, being overly optimistic, letting my ego run the show, racing that guy in the damn Five Fingers back at mile 12 (he ended up finishing 8 minutes ahead of me), and finally- the biggest lesson: not respecting the distance.
Like I said, my ego is a terrible thing- 31 miles is a hell of a long way no matter what anyone says. I come into this race thinking, “I just ran 100 miles in the high desert of Southern California, I can do a backyard 50k no fucking problem.”
That’s a shitty attitude to go out and run with.
Thankfully the aid station volunteers at Honker Bay were so funny and nice, they let me bitch and moan about how awful I felt, told me lies such as “you look good” and “you’re running strong” and all that stuff we say to each other as encouragement. Well, it really helped. So did the Salted Watermelon Gu, the 2 cups of Mountain Dew and the two salty chunks of boiled potato.
As bad as I felt, I was able to finish somewhat strong. The funny thing is, I was a whole 6 minutes slower than last year but I improved one place in the standings (up to 39th overall). Weird.
But it doesn’t matter; the thing I learned is that no matter what, even if it’s a 5k or a 10-miler with friends, you gotta respect that distance.
After the race I was able to meet and chat with some great local runners; I met the esteemed Jean Pommier (his race report here) and fresh off his amazing run at Hardrock, I got to ask Big Johnny Burton a lot of questions about what kind of training he did to prepare for HR100 (his report here). What a solid dude. John’s wife, Amy, also recounted her recent Tahoe Rim Trail 100 race, and that was cool to hear. I even got to see my buddy Jesse cross the finish line of his first ultra.
So, all in all- not a great race for me but it was a great race in general, as always. Heck, this is my third finish and I hope to back for many more. Because it should be more about building community and having fun than chasing some dumb time goal.
I mean, look at it this way: it’s taken me 11 days to write 900 words about a race, what’s the rush anyway?
That title seems a bit more onerous than I had originally intended. Maybe in parentheses it should say “subject to change” but such a small audience actually reads this blog that I hope you few that do will keep me somewhat accountable.
So here goes:
Skyline 50K – August 3rd
After Dick Collins Firetrails 50-miler, this is my favorite race in the Bay Area. I believe it’s the oldest continually running 50k in America, Sarah Lavender Smith wrote a great piece about it for TrailRunner magazine (find it here). The aid station volunteers are wonderful, the vibe is super old school, and the roast pig at the post-race BBQ is freaking outstanding (cracklins for days). RD Adam Ray does an amazing job at keeping it low-key but still is able to attract a few local fast runners. Great race for rookies looking to dip their toes into their first ultra!
Coastal 50K – September 20th
Point-to-point 50 kilometer race from Stinson Beach to the Golden Gate Bridge before heading back down to Rodeo Beach? Yes, I think I’ll run this again. I used this race as a training run for the Dick last year, but since I’m not running DCFT this year (got a friend’s wedding that same day) I’m just going to race it, full-on, taper and everything. It’s a great race on great trails, going up the Dipsea and Steep Ravine, hooking around Pantoll back to Cardiac then down into Muir Beach. Then up Pirate’s Cove to Coyote Ridge and Miwok down to Tennessee Valley. Then the long mellow climb out of TV on Marincello to Bobcat, up the Rodeo Valley trail to SCA then dropping under the bridge. Taking Coastal back up, you then drop back to RV and finish in the parking lot at the beach. 31 miles of Marin trails with about 7,400 feet of climb. It’s a great preview to some other marquee races in that area like the Miwok 100K or The North Face 50 Mile Championship, with a subdued atmosphere.
San Joaquin River Trail 50 Mile – November 15th
Found this on UltraSignup.com- it happens to be three weeks out from The North Face 50 so I’m going to take a ride down the the foothills north of Fresno for a little camping and give this race a go, a nice 50 mile training run as a warmup for a 50 mile race. Seems counter-intuitive, but I’m kind of bummed to be missing out on the Dick so I feel like I have to do one little road trip race last in the year to make up for it. It looks like a really cool out-and-back race on (mostly) single-track, and that time of year the weather should be pretty crisp. As for the Dick, two of my friends are running it as their first 50-miler so I’ll be at Skyline Gate early in the morning ringing a cowbell and shouting encouragement. Maybe I’ll be slanging pickle juice shots.
The North Face 50 Mile Championship – December 6th
I gotta do this race again. You might be saying, “what, you’re not going to run another 100-miler?” I’m going to wait to run another, throwing all my chips in again for Western States next year, and if no States then I’ll decide on another 100 for sometime around June-July-August-September of next year. But for now I really want to focus on “nailing” a 50-miler. I think I can go somewhere around 8 hours at this race; and I’m going to throw everything I have at training for TNF, then fully recover and rest around the holidays before ramping back up to attack another 100.
About that next 100-miler…
I’m hoping it’s States, but if not I’ll be looking at either doing the San Diego 100 (early June) again or one of the following races: Bighorn (late June; Wyoming), Angeles Crest (early August; southern California), Cascade Crest (late August; Washington), Wasatch Front (early-September; Utah), Pine to Palm (mid-September; central Oregon), Run Rabbit Run (mid-September; Colorado), Mogollon Monster (late-September; Arizona) or The Bear (late September; Utah-Idaho).
You may be saying, “wow, those races are pretty ambitious for a second 100-mile attempt”, and looking ahead that far may be putting the cart way before the horse- but I’m a much better runner when I’m working towards a goal, so putting my name in one of the aforementioned hats gives me something (hard) to work for. I feel like I have an idea what it takes to run 100 miles, so a mountain 100 would be both ambitious and challenging to try next year. Those are all contingent on me not getting in States (and which lotteries I can “win”).
It’s literally an entire year away from right now, so barring catastrophic injury I think those races could be a bit of a reach and they’d really force me to train harder than I’ve ever trained before; I know I have a lot more to learn about training for what comes after mile 70. That being said, let’s see what happens.
I’m also confident that I have another 100 in my legs, and if I stick to my plan of one per calendar year, I’ll have many years of running 100s left. My original idea was to run Rio Del Lago this November, but a 100 really beats you up- I was feeling it for a good 3 weeks after. That kind of recovery takes time, and I don’t think I want to put all my eggs in that basket just yet.
Another thing about those races listed above: they’re all on the Hardrock qualifier list, and looking even further ahead I’d love to be able to throw my name into the 2016 HR Lottery, so there’s another motivating factor.
Apparently I’ve also qualified for The Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) with the points accumulated from Lake Sonoma, Miwok and SD100, so there’s a possibility (albeit a pretty extreme one because that race not only costs a fortune to enter but getting over to France would likely cost another small fortune) I could run that, but I’ll probably also wait on that (put it on the bucket list race)…
…and I’ve got some trips coming up in the near future that either involve running as the sole purpose OR involve me trying to shoe-horn in some running around the real purpose of travel, including (also subject to change):
Tahoe Rim Trail. Yep, all 165 miles in 4 days. Putting together an ultralight kit to attempt this. Not an FKT by any stretch, just going out on my vacation week to log a bunch of miles and get around the entire thing. Great altitude training, great views, great adventure. Might bonk hard and call it quits in Tahoe City, might not. “Embrace the great unknown and do epic shit”, I say.
Mt. Shasta ascent. I keep checking the Shasta Avalanche site as well as both the Avalanche Gulch route and the Clear Creek route on SummitPost.org for new comments (check out the most current webcams on this site, too). The blog over at Shasta Mountain Guides website was just updated less than 2 weeks ago, and they’re saying it’s good to go through Labor Day and beyond. Looks like the snow conditions are at their lowest in years and I’d still need some minimal gear like an ice axe and crampons, but I’m thinking an ascent would be awesome.
Honeymoon in Kauai. So psyched to get some runs in on The Garden Isle; I hear there’s a few trails here.
October 30th-November 1st
Yosemite. My partner has a conference here, and while she’s stuck in seminars and meetings all day, I’ll be out exploring. Would you believe I’ve never been to Yosemite? Entering my 8th year in California and it feels criminal to have never gone. I’ve been to a bunch of places just north and south of the park, but never in it. Crazy, I know. My friend Steve wants to get me up here earlier, however for a climb/run on Mt. Lyell. He calls it a very runnable 13,000-footer with an easy(-ish) scramble to the summit. Might make two trips there this year.
December 20th-January 4th (2015)
Extended East Coast visit. Looks like we’re doing the whole family thing; my peoples in Philly, Allyson’s sister’s family in Brooklyn and then her parents in western Massachusetts. I’ll bring tights and gloves and get some runs in, if there’s snow I’ll rent snowshoes (not really). Maybe re-create my childhood skiing on the shitty ice hills of eastern Pennsylvania. With my luck there will be no snow, and I’ll be stuck looking through stacks of old baseball cards.
So there it is. Looking into 2015, I’ll probably try to do lake Sonoma 50 again (going to a lottery this year, so maybe not), maybe Miwok again, possibly the Bishop High Sierra 100k and hopefully one of those mountain 100s I mentioned. I’m looking forward to checking out new shoes, new gear, getting up to altitude, etc. So here’s to adventure!
My first hundred is in the books. I can’t explain how under-prepared I was for this race; because all the training in the world, all the miles, all the elevation gain, all the proper eating and sleeping and recovery days and stretching and mental preparation can not prepare you for spending 25+ hours on your feet.
The only thing that prepares you to run a hundred miles is to actually go out and run 100 miles. There. It’s that simple.
All the back-to-back 25 milers in the world can’t prepare you for that second sunrise.
All those 50k’s used as hard training runs don’t adequately prepare you for the aches and pains at mile 72 and beyond; and knowing you might be out there for another eight hours.
All the climbs up Tam and Diablo can’t prepare you for the climb out of Pine Creek at mile 64. Or the climb up Stonewall Peak at mile 90.
You just have to experience it. The actual race is the training; it’s going out and doing the distance even if you’re not ready.
And I don’t think we’re ever completely ready, we just have to take that leap of faith and go out and hammer away at the trail, rack up the miles, get queasy, get mad at your nutrition plan, get dehydrated, feel the pain in your feet and ankles and calves and knees and quads, freak out a little because you haven’t peed in 3 hours, let your crew keep you at an aid station until you can eat and finally pee, listen to your pacer’s advice, watch the sun go down and know you’re not even close to done, eat the soup they give you at the night-time aid stations, take that extra shot of pickle juice, down another nasty Mountain Dew, eat just one more terrible cherry lime Roctane, let the people you love try to cheer you up, feel worse than you’ve ever felt in your life, be a zombie and then cross the finish line.
I thought the nine 50k’s, six 50-milers and one 100k race would have me ready for my first hundred. The only thing they got me ready for was being in shape to run those distances AND the ability to run for a long time, say between 5 and 13 hours.
The difference in running a 100-mile race isn’t even comparable to those shorter distances, it’s exponentially harder by orders of magnitude; whereas a 50k might be about 25% harder than a marathon and a 50-miler maybe twice as hard as a 50k, a 100-mile run is probably 10 times harder than a 100k.
I thought, “yeah, it will probably hurt as twice as much as a tough 50-miler like Lake Sonoma…” when in fact it hurt probably 20 times as much.
“Yeah, I’ll probably be out there 8 hours longer than Miwok…” when it was almost exactly twice as long.
They say expectations lead to disappointments, but I’m not disappointed at all. I think by ballparking some ideas like pace, time on feet, expected caloric needs, what it might take me to run this climb, my pace between these aid stations, et. al., I wasn’t necessarily setting myself up for disappointment, I was trying to prepare myself- no, “protect” myself.
I found myself saying “if I have a perfect day I could go somewhere around 21-22 hours. If things don’t go so well, maybe 25. If things go completely haywire I might be racing that 32-hour cutoff…” These were all distinct possibilities. I was going to let the race make my decisions for me, and I learned very quickly that I really had to listen out there. To my body, to the trails, to my crew.
I’m probably boring you out of your mind with little to no details of how the race actually went, so here’s an actual chronological breakdown of the hours before the race:
3:43 AM – woke up like a shot, a full half hour before my alarm. It’s definitely going to be one of those days. As I readied the camp stove for my morning coffee, I kept thinking of that Crazy Horse quote before the Battle of Little Bighorn: “today is a good day to die”. That’s being a bit melodramatic, but imagine me thinking that and then smirking at myself.
4:11 AM – Jimmy (crew chief and pacer from miles 56-79) is rustling around in his tent, so he’s now awake and shuffling off to the shower. He probably senses my nervousness. This coffee is good.
4:26 AM – off to empty myself out; check the Facebook, Twitter, my fantasy baseball team’s performance Friday night, throw some kudos to Strava runners, basically do my morning toilet reading, and get in some last minutes of feeling connected to the outside world before I retreat within.
4:41 AM – getting dressed in the tent. I remember thinking, “man I’m already sweating a lot, I better drink a little bit more water just to stay ahead of my nerves and the impending heat…” I was kind of shaking, couldn’t tell if it was nerves or the strength of the coffee. Probably both.
5:09 AM – leaving for the race. Allyson had woken up around 4:30 after going to bed super early (she got a migraine and puked her brains out at the Crew Meeting Friday night, right after the Race Briefing). She was feeling pretty good now, and I felt good knowing she was going to be there for me for the next 30 hours. What a tough cookie.
5:15 AM – took my first Vespa of the day, followed a few minutes later by drinking my first serving of Vitargo. I felt really confident about my nutrition plan today, it had been working really solidly for me since last year at Dick Collins 50-miler. My plan today was to take a Vespa every three hours, and a serving of Vitargo every hour for the first three then every 45 minutes after that. Then at somewhere around 15 hours (or whenever I ran out) I’d switch over the the sugary aid station junk to bring me home. This plan had been working really well for the last three 50-milers, a 50k and a 100k.
…an then the next 45 minutes were a total blur. There was a check-in, a fumbly bib pinning, some gear fixing, water bladder filling, some nervous “hey, how are you doing?” to the people around me, all that stuff I do before a race to feel somewhat human, especially before running a distance I’ve never run.
6:00 AM – we start, and I immediately feel better. I stayed towards the middle of the pack because I figured this is where I’d be running most of the day, so might as well settle in now and be okay with it.
(I’m going to use the splits from the race to tell this part of the story)
The first climb is about 2 miles long and more than 1,000 feet, just skirting the summit of Middle Peak before descending down a solid mile. Here you can see some fire damage from the last big one, and all the amazing work they’d done on the trails to get them ready.
I basically power-hiked a huge portion of the up and ran the down really mellow. I kept going over the mantras “respect the distance” and “run within yourself” right here, not wanting to get all crazy and fly out on a pace that would blow me up. At this point I noticed I was going to have to make an unscheduled pit stop; and nothing will make you run a bit slower like tightly clenched ass cheeks.
I left Paso Picacho 1 at 1:29 after taking a few minutes in the bathroom, and feeling like a million bucks now. I had my Camelbak pretty well full from the start, just sipping a little here and there in the cool morning, so I could fly through that aid without taking anything.
Funny story about why I went with the Camelbak instead of hand-helds: I basically forgot to bring my hand-helds. I brought the straps but left all 5 Ultimate Direction bottles back home in my fridge. I noticed that Friday night right before my little shake-out run. Oops. So Camelbak it is.
I also thought I’d listen to some music, just a little something to keep me within myself and slow me down. Fighting the urge to put on something that would make me all hyper, I opted for The Mountain Goats “The Sunset Tree”, one of my favorite records of the last 10 years. I could go for some stories right about now, and nobody tells them like John Darnielle.
So that album took me for a ride up and over Stonewall Peak and into Chambers 1 at 2:31, pretty much all downhill and really mellow as it flattens out. I was feeling really good, still had about 20 ounces of water and seeing that the next aid was only six miles I decided to just check in and go.
The next section here is basically a fire road through a meadow-type area with little bumps, if you can even call them climbs. I found this section to be the most runnable in the early going. I also noticed that with my pace here I was getting a little low on calories, so I opted to take that next Vitargo at 2:45 (15 minutes early) just to stay a little ahead of my caloric needs. I could go every 45 minutes from here on out I’d run out earlier but I’d be able to push it just a little more. So I thought.
I hit Pedro Fages aid at 3:35, feeling so good. I gave a few “whoooops” as I saw the lovely folks come into view, there was a little descent into it. I filled my entire Camelbak, high-fived the aid station folks, told them how beautiful they were and was off to Sunrise 1 to see my crew.
I told them to expect me at around 4:30, and when I pulled in there five minutes early and looking fresh I had the first moments of “today can be a good day if I keep doing everything right”. So far I had done everything right; run within myself, hydrated properly, been on a tight eating schedule, etc.
So I was in and out in five minutes, right on my expected pace. I told them I’d see them at Pioneer Mail 1 in about two hours so when I pulled in at just over 6:00 they may have been a bit surprised. Looking back, this may have been my first mistake- I figured, “I got my crew now, I’ll be seeing them pretty often, I can just take it aid station to aid station and they’ll pull me through” I think I ran that section a little bit harder than I should have but I was letting my pace be decided by how I felt. And I felt great.
I don’t know who that bro with the umbrella is, but he is the man.
So I left PM1 at 6:07 and continued on, hitting Penny Pines 1 at 6:59. My friend Kevin was pulling in just ahead of me, having puked a few times between PM1 and here. The medical staff attended to him, he told me how strong I looked, so I gunned it out of there.
The next time I’d get to see my crew would be at mile 44.7 aid, Red Tail Roost. I figured I’d keep hammering away at the trail, just building a solid lead on the pace chart I came up with so that I’d be well ahead if and when the wheels come off.
Welp, the wheels started to come off right out of PP1, maybe 10-15 minutes later. This was a pretty steady climb along the PCT here, gaining about 800 feet or so. Add the fact that the sun was in full rage mode, being directly overhead now (it was 1 PM after all). I should’ve known something was up because I got an ice-sponge bath at Penny Pines (which felt awesome) and within a few minutes of leaving there I was totally dry. It was like suddenly I felt awesome and from out of nowhere I was as flat as a board, couldn’t generate any power on the ups.
I couldn’t drink enough water and suddenly it was sloshing around inside me. It wasn’t emptying from my gut. Then I started feeling a little queasy. It felt like all my Vitargo was in there, too- not being digested? What was going on inside me?
By the time I hit Todd’s Cabin aid at mile 39.6 I was ready to puke. S-Caps weren’t really helping, the Vitargo tasted awful and I could barely choke any down. I was in a slight panic mode- this had never happened to me before in a race. My stomach is always pretty solid, what the hell was happening?
My buddy Kevin had caught up to me by now so I lingered for a long time at Todd’s; there were 3-4 guys in chairs in the shade looking like a MASH unit. I was telling jokes, flirting with the older ladies volunteering there, just generally trying to put on as happy a face as I could to hide how wrecked I felt. I’m the type of person that if my mental frame of mind changes for the better, my physical rebounds with it. I was trying to “fake my way” to happiness and then into “good running”.
I also figured it might be time to abandon my nutrition plan- I had to start taking in easily digestible calories, and fast. I opted for Clif ShotBloks (which have never bothered my stomach) and a little bit of Mountain Dew.
I left Todd’s feeling a little better, running along with Kevin and remarking how he’d rebounded in such a major way since seeing him at Penny Pines. I could only keep up with him for a few minutes and quickly found myself getting passed by everybody and their mother. It was now 8 and a half hours into the race, I’m barely past mile 40 and the wheels are fully off.
The next section was mild and cooler, however because we were now deep in the pines among Mount Laguna, we were up over 6,000 feet. I walked a lot of this section, just feeling as awful as I’ve ever felt in a race, probably worse. I don’t think it had anything to do with the elevation, I’ve done some runs on the John Muir Trail and didn’t really notice the marked effects of elevation until being up over 10,000 feet, so as much as I would love to blame elevation 6,000 feet is not that high.
Just then, The Jester Guy (Ed Ettinghausen) came up on me, he’s moving pretty well and I am straight up walking.
“What seems to be the problem?” he asked.
“Man, I am done. I got nothing. Can’t generate power, hopefully I can puke…” was all I could offer.
“Well, there’s going to be a lot of highs and a lot of lows today.” he countered, and with that I watched him jingle away down the trail.
If you’re not familiar with Ed’s story, he’s going for the record of forty 100-milers in a calendar year right now. SD100 was #15 for him, and he’s got twenty-five more to go. Amazing.
Also, he wears a full jester’s outfit while he runs.
I figured I’d get to RTR, hang out as long as possible (until I felt better) and keep going. I’m not going to take a DNF because “I feel bad”. The only way I will drop from a race is if something is broken, and it has to be a bone on the lower half of my body, at the very least my pelvis or a leg. Maybe a compound fracture would stop me, but not “feeling shitty”. I’ve felt awful during really short races, like the Woodminster or that Table Rock race last July. Hell, if I can walk I can run. And if I can run, I’m going to fucking finish.
So Red Tail Roost at 44.7, I rolled in at 9:55, almost a full hour later than my pace chart. It was hot, and my crew informs me that “people are dropping like flies” from the race. I don’t doubt for one second that this course is taking a body count, and I tell them I’m going to stay here as long as I can until I feel like running again. I tell them I’m going off my nutrition plan, I’m heading straight for the sugary aid station crap and to put 6-7 Gu in my race vest. I hand them my remaining Vitargo and Vespas.
I also changed sunglasses, those expensive Tifosi ones were annoying and fogging up and make me look like a triathlete.
So they feed me bacon(!), bananas, watermelon, salt pills, ShotBloks, salted potatoes and a lot of icy cold water. I just sit and laugh at how shitty I feel. Allyson applies sunblock as I lube myself up. Carl (pacer from miles 79-94, seven-time Boston Marathon finisher with a 2:55 marathon PR) wears a look of concern, while Jimmy is getting my hydration bladder filled and generally being awesome. We sit.
Then it happens; my stomach kind of unfurls and I realize I have to take the biggest dump (again). I hop in the porta-potty and unleash my guts. I am rocketed to the 4th dimension of existence. I feel great. I t was like the scene in Superman II when he goes into that transformation chamber thing and everyone on the outside loses their powers and he regains his. Well, not quite because that’s at the end of the movie and I’m not even halfway through this race, but you catch my drift.
Anyway, I check out of RTR and power along the trail. I am moving now, it felt like it did in the first few miles. Those 25 minutes did me right, and I’m again passing runners and feeling amazing. There’s a solid downhill section here and I let it rip.
I had a chance to run with this really nice guy named Steve that was going for the San Diego Slam, it’s basically all the races in this general area of the Laguna Mountains (the Noble Canyon 50k, the PCT 50-Miler, the Cuyamaca 100k and the SD100). That’s a huge achievement, I was able to tell this guy that he’s pretty awesome.
I’m wondering what the Bay Area Slam would be? Maybe Skyline 50k, Dick Collins 50-miler, Miwok 100k and Headlands 100?
Meadows aid at mile 51.1 comes and goes, I’m in and out in a few minutes. I don’t want to lose the momentum. I leave there at 11:55. I pass another 10 runners, including my buddy Ed (The Jester) and get a chance to introduce myself and say “thanks” to him on my way to Penny Pines 2, hitting that at 13:08 and ready to run with somebody. In steps Jimmy and off we go, down into Noble Canyon (and an almost 1,900 foot drop along the way).
The sun starts to set as we descend, and we go from a mountain meadow scene into a deep green riparian wilderness, the deeper we descend the darker it gets and the noises of the night start to to unfold. Frogs chirp. Water trickles. We throw on our headlights and go into hunt mode, passing another eight runners down to Pine Creek aid.
Those 7.7 miles didn’t go as fast as expected since I didn’t want to blow my quads just yet, and I knew that “what goes down must come up” so we’d most likely be hands-on-knees hiking back out of this deep canyon after the aid station.
Pine Creek did not disappoint, it was a weird-ass hard rock dance party. They had guacamole (too spicy) and finally I could get my hands on some chicken soup, crushing potato chips and salty potatoes into it and chasing it with Mountain Dew. It was now pitch black and we were likely at the deepest part of Noble Canyon, and facing an 8 mile, almost-2,000 foot climb out. This would be gut-check time.
Jimmy and I jammed this section, alternating some shuffling-type running with extreme power-hiking. Two hours and 36 minutes later we were at Pioneer Mail 2. I remember sitting here for a while and giving my Garmin to Carl to charge in the car because it had died a few minutes before we got here, right at 17:00. We got into PM2 around 17:20 (we checked out at 17:28) and got moving up the trail.
Then, maybe two miles or so out of the aid I’m eating a Gu, not paying attention and wham! I eat shit. Landed in a bed of super soft but coarse sand, right on my shoulder. I was kind of stuck in there, it felt good to lay down for a second. Then Jimmy helped me out, I think he may have thought it was slightly more serious than it was. I had to laugh at myself, both for falling and then for the fact that I had been running for almost 18 hours. That just seemed very silly at the time, and it felt surreal, like someone else was doing it, not me.
The next few miles were pretty uneventful, the trail here goes along the edge of a super-steep canyon, winding its way in and out, alternating stillness and a fierce tailwind. We could see strings of lights both ahead and behind us, people we planned to catch up to and people I didn’t want to catch us.
In to Sunrise 2, it’s now 19:15 on my feet. Jimmy calls it a night and Carl steps in to pace me. We check out at 19:30 and proceed to gingerly trot down the trail, somewhere in the general direction of Chambers 2, almost 9 miles away. My pace for this section hovers between 12-and-18-minute miles. I’m just wrecked; the lack of sleep coupled with the pounding on my feet has taken its toll on me.
It takes about 2+ hours to hit Chambers 2, and when we do it looks like a mobile MASH unit. There’s some sleeping runners on the cots in the huge tent. There’s guys taking off their shoes and socks (one guy’s foot looked like the skin was melting off); people just didn’t look good. We decided to hang out, have some soup, just relax a while.
After 15 minutes we felt good enough to go. Carl ate way to much in there and was complaining that he now felt like me. Then he was talking about all the food he ate that day and I was like, “damn I want real food…” I would’ve killed for a cheeseburger or a couple slices of pizza.
We were in pretty good spirits right up until the climb up Stonewall Peak, just about mile 90. This would be the toughest part of the race for me, by far. The relentless switchbacks just keep coming and coming. We also got passed by 2-3 runners and their pacers right here, but at this point I didn’t care as much as back around mile 75.
We were treated to a really nice sunrise just before the top, we stopped and enjoyed that for a minute. Then we hit the summit and dropped down the front side. It’s a really nice, mellow and long downhill (lots of switchbacks) but the best I could manage here was about a 12-minute mile, and that felt like I was really working hard.
6.5 miles later and about 2 full hours since leaving Chambers 2 we hit Paso Picacho 2. All I can say is real chicken soup and pickle juice shots might be the best breakfast I’ve ever had. The aid station volunteers were awesome here. And that lady with the dog was pretty funny.
At this point, Ally was ready to pace me the final 5.8 miles. She was chatty and chipper and I was absolutely miserable. I just let her lead me out of PP2 for the final climb of almost 600 feet in those first two to two-and-a-half miles, there was some intermittent shuffling but really the most I could manage was some power-hiking.
I realized I could probably power-hike at this speed literally forever; I think the idea that’s been in my head for a while to go out and do the John Muir Trail or the Tahoe Rim Trail (or any similar long, mutli-day scenic trail) in an ultra-light, fast-packer sort of way way has now been fully cemented- no matter how tired I was during this race I always kept moving forward. “Relentless Forward Progress” is the term (maybe coined by iRunFar’s Bryon Powell? I don’t know…) and as long as you’re moving forward you’re gaining ground. Miles on the legs is still miles on the legs.
Anyway, after that climb we crested and were both able to run the mellow downhill, it felt like it lasted forever. Then Ally did that thing that Jimmy and Carl had been doing- “look, there’s a guy! Let’s pass him!”
I wish I could say I had a ton of fight left in me and was ready to really run, but that would not be anything close to “honest”. I was filled with 1) pain 2) an overwhelming sense of “just wanna finish” and 3) hunger. Like real, deep down in my stomach, “let’s go to an all-you-can-eat buffet” hunger.
So we passed this guy, and I took no solace in the fact that he was hurting way worse than me. He had a look on his face that said “please kill me now”. I asked him if he was okay, if he needed anything, and continued down. We crossed the last road crossing and basically ran the last mile-and-a-half through the dry lake bed. My last two miles were a 9:56 and a 10:53 (and an 11:31 for the last .2)
photo by Jimmy McCarthy
So that’s my first 100-miler.
25 hours, 24 minutes and 8 seconds.
38th place out of 142 finishers (229 starters).
I think that’s a pretty telling number of the actual brutality of the course; only 142 finishers. I can say I definitely underestimated a few things, one being the weather; both the low humidity and the 86-degree heat was way worse than I imagined; that and the 12,000+ feet of climbing really takes a toll. Add the similar amount of downhill and my quads were like “this is ridiculous”.
So of course I went through the ultralive.net stats, and here they go:
142 finishers out of 229 starters (62% finish rate).
First timers 100-mile attempt (40 out of 73 for a 55% finish rate).
Rest of the field (second or more 100-milers) 102-156 for a 65% finish rate.
There’s a lot of things I can take away from this race; the experience of it was both insanely brutal and staggeringly beautiful- that fact that my a few of my closest friends and future life partner were there to help me was amazing; getting to see that sunrise (which I was dreading) actually turned out to be totally cool, my mind had never been so empty and so ready to receive that moment and just take it as it is.
So I got the belt buckle, the huge medal, a Finisher’s mug (coffee tastes better out of it) and a really nice embroidered hooded sweatshirt. Those were the tangible things I got; and some I’ll lose, or break, or misplace in my next move.
But the things I’ll always get to keep are the beautiful memories, the camaraderie with the other runners, my awesome crew waiting on me hand and foot all day and night and the fact that I moved my body with just my legs, lungs and heart 100.2 miles.
There’s three categories of races us runners group our efforts into: the “A” race, or the race we’ve been focused on since we started our current block of training (for me this would be the San Diego 100 in a few weeks). This is the race we taper for, we look forward to from the minute we hit “submit” on UltraSignup- we obsess over it and we want to do our absolute best at.
Then there’s the “B” race; this is the one where we will still go out and give our maximum effort but might not be as emotionally invested in, this is usually 5 to 8 weeks out from the big “A” race. I use these as a measuring stick; they tell me where I need to put my focus for the final block of training; whether it be hills, nutrition, etc. I race them hard but won’t kill myself if I don’t hit my goals.
Then there’s the “C” race. This is the race you do with buddies as a social thing, or the one you don’t taper for, or the one you either go out on a whim and do last minute or just use it to “get that distance in”, whatever.
This was Miwok 100k for me. I kind of felt like a dick using this race as a “C” because there’s a lottery to get in (I guess I’m lucky to have gotten in this year?) but I was so looking past Miwok to the SD100 that everyone (even the voice in my own head) said “don’t race Miwok”. So, I basically used it as a $180 training run. And it was totally worth every penny.
The goals I had in my head were really loose and forgiving; I wanted to go under 15 hours (to get that Western States qualifier) and I wanted to be able to run well after mile 50. That was pretty much it. Oh, and I wanted to have fun. If that meant running slowly in order to run with other people, so be it. I treated Miwok like a mobile party, and it didn’t disappoint.
I learned some cool things along the way, too. That it starts hurting around mile 23-25 (yeah, I already knew that) and progressively gets worse until mile 45. Then, it doesn’t get any worse. It just stayed there, at the same pain threshold. The last 17 miles were kind of blissful; except for a low spot at around mile 49, it was pretty awesome towards the end. I feel like I did some of my best running late in the run.
I fueled with Vespa and Vitargo all day, taking a Vespa every 3 hours (45 mins before the race, then at hours 3, 6 and 9) and took ~150 cals of Vitargo per hour for the first 3 hours then every 45 minutes until around hour 10, also had about 80 calories of UCan in there somewhere; thanks to the guy at Bridgeview aid for helping me pour that powder in my bottle, yes, it did look like cocaine! This is also where having a crew is so valuable; having to mix your own drinks is definitely a pain in the ass. I love my crew!
I hit a low point coming out of Tennessee Valley at mile 48, it was the only time in the race I wasn’t having fun (luckily it only lasted a few minutes). I was quickly pulled out of it by a combination of: a friend and her pacer ran by me and were “c’mon, man- run with us!” but I just couldn’t run right there; everything suddenly “sucked”, the weather (it was probably the nicest day of the year), the music I was listening to (Dick’s Picks Vol. 16, which is really awesome- a ’69 Fillmore show), my attitude went from super happy, flying into Tennessee Valley to pure crap in a span of 5 minutes.
I decided at this point, 10+ hours in that it was probably a good time as any to start with the sugar.
I put on The Hold Steady and was immediately pulled from my funk. I switched over to salted caramel Gu, eating just 4 in the last 2+ hours. Add to that some Mountain Dew (10 ounces or so), a little bit of salty boiled potatoes and a small piece of banana and that was it for the day. I was once again a happy camper and able to hammer away those final miles, in relative comfort and once again running happy.
I’m really psyched by my body’s ability to burn fat as my main fuel, and never came close to feeling bonky or shitty physically (just that one little mental low point). I started the race in a fasted state (only having had a cup of “bulletproof” coffee upon waking) and felt really good in the early going. Maybe it was the 2+ miles of single-track at the start that forced us mid-and-back of the pack folks to march up Matt Davis Trail the whole time that kept my legs fresh later in the race; maybe it was me constantly checking my Garmin and thinking “this pace is a bit too fast, I’m going to slow down a bit” (I really felt good about my ability and desire to control my pace); maybe it was all the miles leading up to the race; who knows?
At no point did I think “let’s race now”. At least not in the first 55 miles…
…then of course the ego kicks in a bit, like the whole “I do not want to get passed in the last 10 miles” thing is now controlling my legs. I’m also not sure if it’s the fact that at around 11 hours of being out there I just wanted to be done running. That may have had something to do with “finishing strong”. In my mind I ran “perfect” pacing, going 6:24 in the first half of the race and just about that in the second half.
Recovery has gone really well, I was back out running again on Monday after resting up Sunday. It’s been a month and change since Lake Sonoma 50 and twelve days since Miwok, and all I can say about how well my body has handled everything is astounding (I also think I’m kind of lucky, too).
The week after Sonoma I reverse tapered and hit 50 miles (with 8,800 feet of vert), followed by a 70-mile week (with 13,000 feet of vert), a 90-mile week (including almost 15,000 feet of vert!) and then a 45-mile week (+6,250 feet). I plan on hitting back-to-back 80-mile weeks (with 10-to-12,000 feet of gain) before a 2-week taper for the SD100.
I can’t say enough for proper sleep and a diet that works (for you). I found a nutrition plan that works really well for me; at least one that agrees with my digestive system, keeps inflammation at a minimum and allows me to both go hard when I need to and recover really fast after those harder efforts.
And again, I think I might just be lucky.