Two weeks later.
I’ve thought through it all: the training, the nutrition, my mental game, the shouldas, wouldas, couldas and pretty much anything else that connected to this experience. Rather than exhaust what’s finished, I’ll extract what I can, do my best to learn, and move on.
Looking back, I’ve got zero regrets; however, that isn’t to say that there aren’t changes that I’ll make moving forward. Not only is tinkering fun, but it promotes curiosity, stoke, and neverending learning; three elements that I need en route to the starting line. This go-around, I don’t think the excitement was as strong as I’d have preferred. Maybe a break or some time spent doing other things will shift the focus and, eventually, rekindle the fire.
Anyways, trying to run 100 miles is bizarre. Everything that follows the starting gun is a like a blurred time warp. My focus shifts from here to there to everywhere. My needs become simplified, driven by a single-minded objective: keep moving forward.
To better make sense of the experience, I figured I’d write it down. Below is a rundown of my experience at the 2018 San Diego 100 mile run:
At 3:15 AM the alarm went off. Brit and Rob were up and at em’. I savored my morning constitutional as we double-checked our race provisions, loaded the rental car, and headed towards the mountains. After checking-in, we waited. While waiting, I was more eager than nervous, as it would be a long day comprised of fluctuating thoughts, emotions, and moods.
Finally, go time. The first 10 or so miles were filled with conversations and trying to settle in. My only goal during this phase was to keep it mellow and settle in.
Under a wide-open sky, the sun burned brightly and the temperature increased quickly. The conversation that accompanied these miles served as a pleasant distraction from the eminent heat.
Through this stretch, I met a dude named Wes and a gal named Darla. This was Wes’s first 100-miler and ended up crushing it. He finished in 4th overall. Darla, a total stud and five-time Hardrock finisher, ended up finishing just after 23 hours. Needless to say, after the 21st mile aid station, that was pretty much the last I saw of them. I took time to reload and cool down, as I knew that would be important for me to maintain the rest of the day.
I was pretty much on my own for the next fifteen miles. I plugged in some headphones and tried to keep it positive. To no surprise, it got much warmer. In the heat, what works best for me is salt tablets every 30-40 minutes and enough water to perspire.
After mile 36, the course got gnarly. We entered into a stretch called Noble Canyon. It was probably the hottest time of the day and the shade was limited. I met another cool dude through this stretch, but forgot his name. Whether that’s due to fatigue or forgetfulness, I’m not sure. Regardless, I kept moving forward. I felt as a comfortable as one might feel after running 40 or so miles. My goal was to get through the day, staying focused and hydrated, so that I wouldn’t be broken off by the time night arrived.
At mile 43, a volunteer noticed my shoes were a bit worn. No big deal. We’re 43 miles deep and they haven’t bothered me yet. He then applied duct-tape around each shoe as a way to prevent sand from entering. I didn’t really care because my feet were going to be destroyed regardless. If anything, the duct-tape looked cool.
At mile 48-ish, it started to cool down. A volunteer, Tracy, helped fill up my bottles and was very encouraging. While we was pumping out the good vibes, I realized that we had raced each other at Lake Cuyamaca back in October. He remembered and we chatted for a minute. Tracy told me the hardest part of the race was behind me. He’s a total stud and, in that moment, I definitely needed a pick-me-up. Good on ya Tracy!
At this point, the heat of the day was behind me. I was now entering the Mile 55 aid station, a significant point in the race because it means I’m onto the second half. This time, it was even more significant because Brit and Robby were there waiting. This was an unexpected treat, as I was not anticipating seeing them until mile 64. I took a seat. They jumped in and filled up my bottles and grabbed me a V8. At this aid station, I ran into Austin from Flagstaff. He is a young buck, 22 years old, and was in the thick of the grind. It was his first 100-mile race and he was entering unchartered territory. His crew was stellar and loaned me some more duct-tape. We chatted for a bit, encouraged each other, and pressed on.
Quickly, Austin and his pacer went ahead of Rob and me. I wasn’t worried about them or anybody else for that matter. My goal was to move as easily and efficiently as possible until the last 15 or so miles. Then, it’s just a matter of finishing as fast as possible.
Rob and I chatted until the mile 64 aid station. As we descended, the sun was setting on the mountains. It was epic. It was dark. We were now entering the night. After this aid station, it would be time to put on the headlamps, our guides through the night. Again, Brit and Rob were extremely helpful in assisting me in any way possible. It wouldn’t be until mile 84 that we would see Brit again. Our adjusted goal was to arrive at mile 84 by 2 AM. I sucked down some chicken broth, a V8, and we marched on.
The gap between mile 64 – 71 was comprised of our last final big climb of the race. For the most part, everything following this section would appear to be more “runnable”. Out of mile 64, we power-hiked and ran when possible. Rob made sure that I was taking in salt every 30 – 40 minutes, and drinking/fueling as well.
Since the race was mostly an out-and-back, this section was the last part where we encountered runners on their way out to mile 64. It was really cool sharing in the encouragement with the other runners and pacers. As we would run into them, everybody would dish out a “Good Work”, “Way to go” or “Awesome Job”. This is why trail running is so different than other sports. Some people will have more highs than lows. Others might experience more lows than highs. Either way, it’s a long, gnarly day. Everybody out there knows that. There’s no need to trash talk or belittle others because either the weather, the distance, the darkness, the time, or the terrain will take care of that. All will influence a performance at varying times and degrees. But in my brief experiences, they seem to become amplified during the night.
Rob continued with his encouragement. He even pointed out how surreal the stars appeared above us. Crystal clear, it was unbelievable. I felt like a child and was totally mesmerized by the grandeur of it all. Finally, we arrived at Dale’s Kitchen, the mile-71 aid station at 11:02 PM. We were on pace to break 24 hours. The initial goal was 22, but it was time to adjust.
At Dale’s Kitchen, Rob helped me with fuel and hydration. At this point, I remember starting to feel exhausted. At this point, fatigue was expected, given that we were nearly 75% of the way through.
We pressed on to Todd’s Cabin, the mile-75 aid station. Todd himself reapplied duct tape to my shoes. It was now 12:14 AM. If we were to get the sub-24, we had around 25 miles to cover in a little less than 6 hours.
We pressed on.
An hour and a half later, we had arrived at the mile-80 aid station. It was around 1:40 AM. The vibes at this aid station – Penny Pines 2 – were first-rate. They were dressed in costumes, playing music, and drinking beer. They gave each of us a sizzling piece of bacon and even referred to me by my name, not bib number. It was hilarious. At this point, unless I was able to pick it up, the sub-24 might be slipping beyond my grasp. Now fatigue and frustration were starting to take their toll.
I don’t really recall the next stretch of trail, other than my mind beginning to drift and my body following suit. My only desire was sleep. I remember stopping by a rock, kneeling,
Four miles and an hour and twenty minutes later we arrived at mile 84 (3:02 AM). It was time for Rob to pass the baton to Brit. From 84, Brit would help bring me to the finish line. Rob just busted out 29 miles. More impressive than covering that distance is the fact that he put my needs above his own for every single step. Brit did exactly the same. Without these two, the night would’ve been much darker.
When we arrived, Brit was wired, ready to rock. I was not. While taking off my hydration pack, I scanned the aid station and saw a lineup of cots. I walked straight towards them and told Brit and Rob that I wanted just five minutes. They allowed it and squared away my hydration and nutrition while I napped. Up until this point, I had yet to take a nap at a race. I didn’t care. I rolled my head wrap over my eyes and, in about 10 seconds, knocked out. While out, they reapplied more duct tape. I didn’t even notice. It was probably the hardest five minutes of sleep I’ve ever experienced in my life.
My five minutes was up. Brit and Rob quietly reminded me to get up. They offered a Red Bull and I obliged. The time spent sitting left me feeling cold. I stood next to a propane heat lamp while they helped get me sorted.
It was now around 3:30 and 15 miles remained. It just wasn’t going to happen. I was on the struggle bus. It wasn’t until right after mile 84 that I realized the sub-24 hours might not happen. It took until 5 AM to let that sink in. There was still a goal that remained and that was to finish. Rather than see it as a missed opportunity or a race gone awry, I still had a choice. I could choose to get all bummed out or savor the remaining 15-miles. This choice sort of organically developed as night morphed back into day.
Up to this point in my life, that was by far the most surreal sunrise I had ever seen. There were layers of gold contrasted against dark mountain silhouettes. We were both in awe. Rather than take a photo, we opted to drink it in. I’ll never forget it. Other than shuffling feet, it was dead quiet. My brother, who came all the way from Iowa, was running along the trail with me; simply surreal.
We talked, walked, power-hiked, jogged, ran, and made sure we were following the trail correctly. Brit shared with me the sad news regarding Anthony Bourdain. In a strange way, that made me cherish this gift of living.
Once the sun had risen, we arrived at mile 91.5. I knew the sub-24 was no longer a possibility. Thus, there needed to be no rush at the aid station. I downed some bacon and
M & M’s. All that remained was the home stretch.
The last bit was not how I’d wanted it to go. I struggled to jog. It was rough. Brit kept encouraging me, equating me 15-minute-per-mile pace to “hammering”. I got passed on this stretch and didn’t even muster enough mojo to charge back. Oh well, we still had to make it to the finish.
The last mile went around a lake. I could see the finish. I could hear the finish. I could almost taste the cold beverage waiting for me at the finish. We walked a bit more and Brit did his best to encourage me to jog. We did and slowly inched our way towards the finish line. I saw Rob waiting and gave Brit a fist-bump.
The race was finally coming to an end for me 25 hours and 48 minutes after it had started. Yes! Rob was holding a couple frosty IPAs at the finish line. Double Yes! I crossed the finish line, took a seat, and threw away my shoes. To no surprise, my feet were pitch black, covered in dirt and muck. I was surprised to find a couple blisters. That was a first. I can’t complain though. No worries, especially if that’s the worst thing that happened.
Before I conclude, I owe a big thanks to Brit and Rob for bringing me to the finish line. The very next night, they went to a wedding, while operating on no sleep. Savages. A big shout out to all of the aid station volunteers, many of whom I’d recognized from previous races. Shoutout to Paksit photos for the dope pictures! A huge thanks to my training partners from the last 5 months: Matt, Ben, and Kenny. We all had different goals, but each committed two mornings a week to meet up and put in the work. A huge thanks to my parents and siblings (Brit, Amber, Will, & Cobra) for the never-ending support. Thanks to Peter Defty for hooking me up with VESPA. While fat adaptation might be en vogue, I believe there is merit to it, especially for a long, slow effort. Nutrition and GI issues were no factor. Also, a huge thanks to anybody and everybody who sent text messages of encouragement.
1. The race will not go as planned. Have a Plan B, C, D.
2. Sometimes, the magic won’t be there. The swings between highs and lows won’t be dramatic. Rather than swinging from a 1 – 10, this time it felt like a 4 – 7.
3. Update the playlist.
I left an old playlist on my IPOD. After an hour streamtime, during the race, it got old. Part of my pre-race ritual is curating a new playlist that I’ll get psyched on. I’m not sure why I didn’t do that this time around. That won’t happen again.
4. It’s a long day. Be patient.
5. The “Dream Race” is still ahead of me. I strongly believe that working through the difficult days will pay dividends down the line. That belief is rooted in training, learning, and experience. When will this “dream race” come to fruition? I have no idea. Regardless, I will do my best in continuing to chip away, chip away, and chip away some more.
And, of course, a sweet jam:
If you found this in any way remotely interesting, feel free to explore my other site https://www.theresilientathlete.org where I am exploring how the world’s best navigate adversity.