I love this race. I love this place. This past Saturday, I did not love the pace.
Prior to Saturday, everything seemed to have clicked: the energy, headspace, fitness, nutrition, taper, and I felt that I struck that optimal balance of pre-race tension.
Not only that, but this was an opportunity to complete another in the mountains with Matt & Hickey. It’s been awhile; the synergy on the car ride southbound was strong.
The course, with a few minor changes, was relatively the same.
It was still hot (90 F) and exposed, both of which were expected.
The aid stations and volunteers were first-rate (yet again).
Yet still, Round III was a struggle to tune in. No rhythm was found.
“Beware the chair” is a common saying in the sport, usually an attitude I heed. resonated But on Saturday, I longed for the chair. After mile 31, I sought reprieve and plopped myself down the chair at every single aid station that ensued.
I walked up, down, everything in between, and barely jogged down. Joints, feet, legs, hamstrings, knees, … they all hurt.
Things felt like they were slipping fast. The discomfort became psychological, though I’m not sure whether it started internally or externally first.
“Settle In” I told myself; still no rhythm.
Slowly my mentality shifted from competition to completion. Or so I thought. The idea of completion would morph into a competition, one I would be holding for next seven hours against myself.
I sat at the Gator Aid Station (Mile 39) and my favorite aid station in any race I’ve ever done. They always bring the energy. And again, they did not disappoint. As a bonus, they also were dishing out popsicles. I clutched my melting popsicle as though it were a lifesaver, drowned my hat in water and ice, and sat down. A dude named Richie popped in the chair next to me. We exchanged pleasantries as one does at mile 40 in the heat of the day. I finished my second popsicle, absorbed some Gator vibes, and did my best to harness their energy for the next four mile stretch.
Four miles later, I arrived for loop three. My stomach felt a little better, the heat was dissipating, and there was only 15 miles remaining. I could now wrap my head around that.
As I was leaving for Loop 3, the 1st place finisher was coming in at a blazing 8 hours and 50 minutes. Unbelievable. He looked fresh. I couldn’t believe it. All of my efforts seemed to have failed me and nothing was clicking, but, of course, none of that matters because I could keep moving forward.
After exchanging high-fives with the optimistic volunteers, I was headed for Loop 3.
As I was turning the corner, Matt flagged me down.
Ummmmmm…. What are you doing dude? Shouldn’t you still be out there gunning for 2nd? I thought.
Come to find out, he was. Unfortunately, Matt missed the Gator Aid Station on Loop 2. He ended covering approximately the same distance as the competitors and did so with no refuel or hydration refill. He told the Race Director – Scott Crellin – that he missed the aid station. He had his head down and started hammering, which means he must have missed a ribbon – a commonality in this sport. Do enough races and it will happen to you. Missing an aid station is different though and unfortunately Scott gave him the option to either run the loop again or take a DQ. It’s a pretty demoralizing option considering Matt was climbing from 6th place to 3rd and nearly 2nd as the race progressed. He took the DQ. It’s the hardest, hottest, most exposed stretch of the course. Plus, this would’ve meant retracing another two hours.
I would’ve done the same thing. Most would. I’m not so sure most would’ve had the integrity to inform the Race Director of an error that nobody else was aware of. Granted, it would’ve eventually been found out had he said nothing, but the point is he did. Honesty always wins, even if it might not appear to look that way given the subsequent circumstances; however, I have no doubt when Matt runs this race next, he will crush it. Vengeance will be had on Loop 2.
On to Loop 3….
Almost every turn of this loop is etched in my memory from years past. That’s probably due to its proximity to the finish. Everything becomes more memorable. Now that Matt was waiting, I had to make my get through it. I set my sights and narrowed my focus. From this point forward, all that mattered to me was making it to the finish line. That’s it. Game on.
Still nothing was clicking. I ran into a guy who was supposed to be on Loop 2, yet had gone 3 miles into Loop 3. I informed him he needed to go back and wanted to give the dude a hug because I felt bad for him. He said thanks, put his head down, and marched back.
I slogged my way through the next couple of miles. I stopped nearly every mile and crouched down into the fetal position because it was the only posture I could tolerate. I even sat down on a rock for a minute or two. Nothing seemed to be working, except for stopping. Finally, I made it to Mile 50 and, to no surprise, sat down.
“I’m over this”, I said.
“No, don’t say that; you’ve still got some miles to go.” this stranger chimed in.
I looked up and introduced myself. Her name was Angela, and she just so happens to be the Race Director for the San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run.
“I’m on the struggle bus for every hill.”
“You’ve got to flip it dude! Flip it into a positive. Can’t run the hills? No factor. You can run the flats and the down hills. Who cares about the hills? Flip it dude. Right now. All you can do is control two things: your attitude and your effort.”
“ATTITUDE AND EFFORT TYLER!”
She gave me some green tea capsule to add a little more pep to my step. I thanked her and moved on. It was just the boost I needed.
It wasn’t the typical, charge-hard, hammer the pace boost; it was, instead, just enough to keep me moving forward with the finish line nearing.
One more aid station before the finish line.
As I was dropping down the last climb, Richie ran into me again. We started talking. This was his first 100K and he was crushing it! We kept yapping and rolled into the last aid station – Pedro Fages – together.
We started cruising. The sun was setting. The surrounding mountains, and all of their details that were visible from afar, now were turning into silhouettes. The road below our feet was turning dark and fast. Richie had a headlamp. I did not.
He clicked his on. The batteries were low. I followed behind him. The sliver of moonlight that dangled above illuminated just enough for us to avoid any errant steps or ankle-biting holes.
Finally, we rolled into a smooth section. Ohhhhhhh, I remember this. Hay is in the barn.
“We got it in the bag; we’re going to get this $#!* done!”
We agreed to finish it together since we probably had spent the previous 2 hours trudging.
The finish line lights were in sight and the parking lot, signifying the last stretch, now under our feet.
We fist-bumped again. We arrived. The course was now behind us. All 62 miles. Done.
ATTITUDE & EFFORT
I had completed this race twice before. That mattered, not in terms of how fast I thought I could run, but just in being able to get through it. Round III demanded what felt like a strained effort. My ego got beat down around mile 15. My body wasn’t responding, but the bigger challenge was that my optimism got annihilated. That’s the lesson I’ll take moving forward: attitude and effort. And no, I’m not going to heed the en vogue “Love Yourself” mantra that every life coach seems to preach. It was mile 22 and 40 miles remained. “Loving Myself” would have been irrational and destructive, likely resulting in me to putting forth a half-hearted effort. On the flip-side, I had to also avoid self-loathing as that can be equally unproductive. It’s not that complicated even. I had to get out of my own way. I had to keep moving forward. That was the effort. The attitude was only focused on moving forward. Attitude and Effort, both of which were (and are) 100% in my control.
Due to injury, it’s been almost a year-and-a-half since my last trail race. Saturday served as a reminder why I keep showing up to these deals. Nobody cares what you do, what you did, where your from, how much money your worth, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, your major, who you voted for, your GPA, what school you went to, or even if you even went to school. All status symbols for posturing and keeping up with they who are drowned out with the noise distraction and stuck chasing the rat race.
All that “stuff” might matter during the work week, but it means little out there.
Out there cuts you to the core. You see whats inside and keep moving forward. Most love the idea of peeling back the layers, or at least talking about it (take a look at all of the “life coaches” out there). But, as I was swiftly reminded Saturday, talk remains useless. Go. Do.
I probably ran 3 hours with Richie and all that mattered to us was that we pulled each other along. The bonds you make out there are different because you get to the truth a whole lot quicker. It’s why I continue to do these journeys with Matt & Hickey. I’ve probably trudged more than 1,000 miles with each of them. We’ve seen each other crash hard, blow up, crush goals, and fail. In doing so, you skip past all distractions and
Onward and Forward
…and, of course, a tune to share: