The San Diego 100: Chip Away

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:

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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.

 

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The help that the course volunteers provided was second to none. 

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.

 

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Bring out the duct-tape.

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!

 

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After receiving encouragement during the heat of the day. 

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.

 

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Hello darkness my old friend…

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.

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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.

 

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Rough two days after… Good times. 

 

LESSONS LEARNED

 

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.

Onward,  

Tyler Baxley

 

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New Site is Up. Check it.

This past year, I finished graduate school.

In order to do so, I needed to complete a project.

Out of that came the “Endurance Mindset”.

This blended my passion for endurance along with

my curiosity into high performance.

I was fortunate enough to have interviewed 10 of the world’s

best ultra-endurance athletes (> 6 hours in duration).

In those conversations, we explored the psychological side

of high performance. It was fascinating.

Now, I feel it is my duty to share the findings.

Interested?

Want to learn more?

The website is: Endurancemindset.com

If you’re still not interested, at least give the video a look!

Quite a Day For It

While the entire trailrunning world seemed to be at the North Face 50 in San Francisco this past weekend, I opted to keep it local for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, I had school priorities that needed to get squared away. My good friend Josh Hickey smashed out another finish and described the jaunt across the Golden Gate Bridge as ‘epic’. While the overuse of ‘epic’ often undermines its real emphasis, this labeling was certainly appropriate for such a day. That being said, I signed up for the San Joaquin River Trail 50k to mark a definitive finish to my running year.

Matt and I carpooled, only to arrive to the race start fifteen minutes prior to the start. My goal for the day was to feel good. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. While the last two races – Kodiak 100 & Cuyamaca 100K- were filled with amazing moments, those were counterbalanced by a multitude of frustrations. Those frustrations do pay dividends in the future. I think Saturday was one of those days where the patience paid off.

We started at 6:30 and took off on a climb. Right away the legs were burning and the lungs were churning as everybody jockeyed for position on the single-track. After mile 1, Matt made his move and bolted. I kept my distance. We turned a corner and there he was, stuck behind a herd of cattle. Myself and some others caught up. Having worked with and around cattle for the entirety of my youth, I was hoping to harness the old ‘Bax-to-the-max’ cowman mode and magically move them. That didn’t happen. Ha! We instead walked patiently and eventually they moved. Such is life as a muggle. It was a classic trail running moment, that signified the unimportance of what we were doing.

Matt then took off again. I followed, but at my own pace. After a while, he was gone. I had zero intentions of cat-and-mousing him all day, but it sure was great to have a carrot! The first aid station appeared around mile 6. After that, the next couple miles were uneventful. Feeling very relaxed, I carried on and kept running.

For 95% of the race, I was on my own. Concerns about others, albeit ahead or behind, sort of became irrelevant. That influenced my strategy as my number one priority was to keep it internal. By internal, I mean maintaining acuity through rhythmic breathing, steady movements, and pleasant thoughts. I like to call it the Triumvirate of Chill. This helped me better handle the geographical and emotional undulations that were inevitable.

Around mile 13, I turned a corner and was a bit startled. A human?!? I tripped on the side of the trail, only to attempt a suave tuck-and-roll. It was anything but that, as I lost control and sort of just rolled. I immediately sprung back to my feet and acted as though nothing had happened. I looked back towards the ground, acting like I had some sort of authority over it. It was like I was accusing it of tripping me. Funnily enough, there was nothing there. No big deal. It’s cool. I looked back up and there was a girl laughing. Having made a fool of myself, I laughed and carried on.

For the remainder of the run, I did my best to stick to the Triumvirate of Chill mode. It was not too difficult because the surrounding views were stunning and the weather was perfect. Yes, like idyllic-California-autumn-perfect. Human interaction was pretty low, so I used this to keep maintain stoke. My Ipod had enough battery life for one song. It wasn’t even a big deal because everything else was just AWESOME!

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I kept moving and grooving. At each aid station the volunteers cheered me on to Go Catch Matt! Yeah. Right….. Regardless, miles kept clicking off. The climbs didn’t seem as arduous as I had envisioned. Looking back, I know it was a special day because everything just sort of clicked. In terms of feeling, I had been yearning for a day like this for a loooong time. The patience and training paid off, leaving me chomping at the bit for some more. However, this time of the year is best for  unstructured fun and investing time towards other, oft-neglected responsibilities.

 

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Me, Nate Moore (Race Director) & Matt

 

 

Lessons Learned, Epiphanies Spawned, or Much-Needed Reminders

 

A. Nobody really cares. Not even the cattle.

  1. Take your pick: Coming to a halting stop because of some unconcerned cattle or trying to play it cool while falling on a near-flawless trail. I feel that these moments happen for a reason. I suppose that they are reminders for all of us to not take ourselves so seriously. Nobody (outside of you and your running friends) really cares about splits, mileage, or any of that stuff. All the more reason to let it rip and savor each experience.

B. Massive debt of gratitude to all involved

  1. Props to Nate Moore, the volunteers, and everybody else who helped make the SJRT 50K such a memorable experience. I literally had no expectations and this race operated like a well-oiled machine. He’s a great trail runner and a phenomenal human, so he knows how to put on an A+ race. And, if you are wondering this is not a paid endorsement. Ha! I highly encourage anybody to sign up for one of his races. Check em’ out at http://www.sanjoaquinrunning.com
  2. Also, a big thanks to my family and friends that have encouraged me in the last year. 2017 has been loaded with optimal moments and I am really, really fortunate to have such wonderful people in my life.

C. It feels good to feel good

  1. Finally! This was the day I had been hoping and working towards for quite some time. I don’t know if I have ever felt as good as I did on Saturday. From the start to the finish, the rhythm was there. It had been a big year for me and I was losing my fire for running. It wasn’t about numbers or any of that stuff, simply the feeling. My goal was to feel good and I felt great. This was the ideal way to end the year off and carry the mojo into the off-season. Well, carry the momentum until I will need it in next month’s Beer Mile.

 

 

Consumption (not that you’re interested, simply jotting it down as a reminder for the next-time around)

  • Pre Race
    • ½ Avocado, 1 tbsp. Almond Butter, & 1 Boiled egg
    • Coffee w/ coconut oil (for the road)
    • VESPA (20 minutes prior to race)
  • During
    • Water
    • Salt Tabs
    • A little bit of tailwind
    • Peanut M & Ms –à AMAZING!!!!
    • Light Fruit
      • à 2 slices of watermelon
      • ¾ a banana
      • Orange slice
    • Bacon (Yep, it hit the spot)
    • 2 handfuls of potato chips
  • After
    • Soup
    • Slice of Pizza
    • Americano (the caffeine charge-endorphin rush combination is one that I highly recommend. I felt like I was on another planet for the remainder of the day. Give it a shot, or two, or even three if we’re talking espresso).

 

And of course, the obligatory jingle. An all-time favorite of mine How to Fly by Sticky Fingers. Probably have listened to this more than any other song in that last 3 years. Cheers!

Cuyamaca 100K Round II

Rather than inundate you with the minutiae of my 2017 Cuyamaca 100K, I’ve opted for a much less verbose recap. Cheers!

Night Before

  • Bunkhouse felt like Junior High Camp, except for the fact that we went to bed early.
  • Bunkhouse (2017) > sleeping in car (2016)

Morning of

  • Alarm
  • Up and at em’
  • Frigid
  • Dark
  • Double-check preparation
  • Packet Pickup
  • Packed house
  • Nervous Energy
  • Spend nearly 20 minutes trying to attach bib
  • Coffee + Brekkie
  • Triple-Check preparation
  • Bathroom
  • Startline

Loop 1

[Miles] 0 – 10

  • Go!
  • Moonlight
  • Thawing out
  • Keep it steady
  • Don’t press
  • Sunrise

10 – 20

  • Climbing
  • Talking
  • Focused
  • Drink
  • Eat
  • Relaxed

20 – 32

  • Music
  • Climbing
  • Downhill
  • Drink
  • Eat
  • Relaxed
  • Still feeling good

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Aid Station Buffet

Loop 2

32 – 39

  • Reload
  • Drink
  • Eat
  • Off we go
  • Brutal, exposed stretch
  • False flats (didn’t feel that way though)
  • Carried by two others here à The Synergy was strong
  • Janna (from Columbus) & Sam (from Ann Arbor/now Oakland)
  • Bone Dry in both bottles
  • Stopped Sweating = not good
  • Arrived at Gator Station (Florida Gator Fans/Alumni clad in jerseys & drinking beer while helping)
  • Lots of Stoke
  • Drink, Drink, Drink
  • Sun is full-on
  • Ice-cold Sponge rinse on head, face, & back

39 – 44

  • Solo
  • Feeling better
  • Maintain Composure
  • Playlist on point “Terrain” by Pg.lost (Shoutout Dave Kraina)

Loop 3

44 – 50

  • Speed through Aid Station (too quickly)
  • Adrenaline pumping
  • Adrenaline fading
  • GI issues
  • Head Fog
  • Weary legs
  • By myself
  • Pity party has officially commenced
  • Now Talking to myself
  • A lot
  • This sucks
  • Waaa, Waaaa, Waaa
  • Find something to laugh at
  • Seriously, quit taking yourself so seriously
  • Looking forward to pacer

50-ish Aid station

  • Jeff, friend and fellow classmate, eagerly waiting
    • (not to mention that this is Jeff’s longest run yet – Thumbs up!!)
  • The chair is calling
    • I am usually a staunch proponent of “beware the chair”, but not now
  • I needed five, but probably took ten or fifteen
  • Pickle Juice – A first for me & now i know why…
  • Laughs
  • Smiles
  • 12 to go
  • Stomach still whack
  • Need to rally
  • Colbie Caillat bumping in the background – Can’t beat that!
  • Onward
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The Chair….

50 – 56

  • Trudging
  • Others blowing by me
  • Now Slogging (Slow Jogging, aka walking…)
  • Jeff’s company is greatly appreciated during this stretch
  • Stunning views from high desert ridgeline
  • Downhill to Aid Station
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Getting passed in the heat of the afternoon action

56 Aid Station Oktoberfest theme (beers and margaritas are flowing)

  • Wanting to sit. Again…
  • The wonderful volunteers tell me No
  • Suck it up dude! Only 10K left! You’ve got some carrots dangling ahead of you!
  • Onward
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Beautiful stretch of scenery 

56 – 59

  • Still not finding my stride
  • Stomach still frustrated
  • Energy still zapped
  • Pace is slow, scenery is unbelievable
  • Jeff’s presence helping big time
  • At this point, I’m slower than last year
  • Okay, re-calibrate and get something out of the last 3 miles

59 – 61

  • Dusk is upon us
  • So is downhill
  • Jeff reminds me: It’s 6:00. There is a half hour left to bring it home in under 12 hours.
  • Okay
  • Silence falls upon us
  • Erratic footsteps turn into rhythmic footsteps
  • Pace picks up
  • Letting it all go
  • We’re moving faster

< 3/4 mile

  • Turning the corner, there’s a carrot
  • The mojo is back
  • Fully engaged, I go for it
  • Pain is taking a backseat
  • Don’t look back
  • I was lucky enough to make the pass
  • Feeling better and better
  • Thumbs up & a good job exchanged

< 1/2 mile remaining

  • Finish line in sight
  • Another carrot
  • Oh boy
  • Thumbs up
  • Feeling better
  • Matt & Katie waiting
  • High-fives exchanged
  • Deep breathe
  • Quick expression of gratitude to the Man upstairs
  • Game over
  • Done
  • Stoked
  • The adrenaline-fueled finish was like that one great shot in a bad round of golf.   I started the day in rhythm, then battled frustrations, and finished strong. It left me chomping at the bit
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We finished! 

Lessons, discoveries, epiphanies…  

  1. Course Familiarity is a DOUBLE BONUS
  2. Aid Station Volunteers rule! The Florida Gator-themed Station brought the juice. At the final aid station, appropriately named Oktoberfest (they had beer, margaritas…), a gal told me to suck it up and get moving.
  3. The other runners & pacers. The synergy from Janna and Ben pulled me through the difficulty of loop 2. Without their steadiness, I would have walked most of that stretch.
    1. Kudos to my friend Jeff who paced for the last 12 miles. It’s worth noting that, up to that point, 12 miles was his furthest run. During the last bit, he helped me get back on the horse. Many people might think these are solo efforts, be we all know they are not.
  4. Carry more water. This has been a theme for me lately. I have had a string of runs where running bone dry is part of it. That is usually followed by not sweating. It is foolish bordering on dangerous. It doesn’t need to be that way because it’s a variable that can be controlled. Nobody earns points for carrying less water… That being said, this was the last straw. Lesson learned…
  5. Too much sugar = gastrointestinal rollercoaster. After switching to a Fat Adapted protocol for Kodiak, I reverted back to my old ways. The objective? To see how I would feel. Long story short; it sucked! My stomach became wrecked from miles 40 – 50 and didn’t get much better until the last 3 miles. After reading more from dudes like Dr. Tim Noakes, Dr. Peter Attia, Dr. Dom D’Agostino and Dr. Stephen Finney, this is a change I still believe is worth exploring.
  6. It wasn’t the race I had envisioned, but that is okay. I’m not getting paid to do this and nobody really cares. A dose of reality always smacks me in the face when getting out of a vehicle for the first time after crossing the finish line.  It’s extremely satisfying and also hilarious hobbling through a gas station. People take notice like something is seriously wrong, but nope All good over here!
  7. Every single time I finish a race there is this immense + intense feeling of thankfulness that settles in. That feeling trumps the any muscle soreness felt shortly thereafter. The culmination of a long, hard effort outside puts things into perspective. That sense of smallness always brings me back to appreciating life’s simpler things.

Coupled with an incredible rush afterwards, the lasting lessons are the ones that come from being on the edge. Wrestling with uncertainty, doubt, and pain makes that ride home that much sweeter.

And, of course, here’s a little sliver of audio pleasure…

Koi Child “1-5-9”

The Puzzle: Part I

There are a lot of factors that go into a performance: nutrition (vegan, keto, intermittent fasting…), the physical (specificity, level of intensity, duration), sleep, recovery, attitude, emotion (highs and lows), and the mental. I liken the process to a puzzle.

When setting out for a goal, all of the pieces are right there, scattered about. At first, it is exciting. A few pieces attach here and a couple others connect there. The momentum begins to build. Then, the frustration sets in. With so many pieces, it’s easy to take notice of the work that remains. That is usually accompanied by a sense of being overwhelmed. That’s the nature of setting out for an ambitious undertaking. The excitement can dim quickly.

Sometimes a break helps reinvigorate or refine perspective. Patience and flexibility will help in puzzle piece positioning. Consider it can trial-and-error. Trial-and-error. Trial-and-error. There will be days when the weather sucks, and others when your heart just isn’t in it. I think those are the prime moments to step back and examine the entire puzzle and the progress that you have made. There’s need to beat yourself up for taking a day off. There is no need to compare. You’re on your own trajectory. The puzzle looks different for everybody. It’s a long journey. Those unused pieces certainly aren’t going anywhere.

 

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Magical Morning at Ford Ord. February 2017.

Weekly Musings

“It’s the little things…”

 

This past weekend, I helped crew/pace for my friend Chris at the Tahoe 200. Yep, that’s right, 200 miles. Chris and I met while traveling on the STRAY bus in New Zealand early 2015.  The trek around Lake Tahoe started at 9:00 AM Friday and culminated the following Tuesday afternoon. I arrived in Tahoe Saturday afternoon to link up with Chris at Heavenly, which also signified the 100-mile point. He recuperated, refueled and geared up for the dark, cold night ahead.

 

We left Heavenly around 6:30. There would be no aid station for another 20 miles. Chris’s ankles were taped and wrapped, but that didn’t quell his spirit for the trek ahead. We walked, shuffled, jogged and conversed as the day gave way to night. We would stop occasionally to in an effort to relieve the pressure caused by the bandages tightly-wound around his ankles. At times, we were accompanied by others, exchanging words of encouragement. As the hours got later and later, that ubiquitous sense of care becomes more evident.

 

The night got longer, colder, and darker. At times, the trail became rockier. Combine those factors with sheer silence and fatigue, and everything becomes a little more formidable. A half-mile felt like 4 miles. The night got longer and longer. Since we were power hiking, it was difficult to keep warm. Temps had now dropped into the low-40s. Coming from triple-digit temps, this felt bone chilling.

 

Also, it’s difficult to gauge progress at night because all you can see is the luminescent glow beaming from your headlight five feet in front of you. This makes it difficult to stimulate your mind. That lack of stimulation added in with extreme fatigue and you have a recipe for some serious mind games.

 

It was now nearing midnight. At times, the fatigue was evident when Chris whether or not we were on course or how much longer we had remaining until the aid station. I estimated we had nearly 3 more miles remaining. Mike, another participant in the race, claimed that we had at least 5 to go. This was the second time, Mike had estimated that there was more than what actually remained. This was deflating. Without missing a beat, Chris replied, You’re a real Debbie Downer man!

 

Whether it was due to fatigue or frustration, Mike didn’t reply. About 20 minutes later, we arrived at a sign that stated: Spooner Summit 3 miles. I laughed, probably because I didn’t know what else to do.

 

As the night wore on, so did our spirits. We inched closer and closer to Spooner Summit. It was now 1’clock. We needed Spooner Summit. Chris’s water supplies were low and, in addition to his ankles, his left knee was hurting. Switchback after switchback, I continued to reassure Chris that we were almost there. In reality, I had no idea. It was getting pretty grim.

 

Finally! At 1:45, I saw the light. There it is Chris! We’re going to get your ankles and knee looked at, some real food in ya, a quick nap and you’ll be ready to rock! We slowly entered Spooner Summit. Ahhhhhhh, yes!!!

 

The volunteers were outstanding. Almost immediately, they provided us blankets. There was another EZ-UP next to the aid station that had cots, yoga mats, blankets and chairs, all surrounding a propane heater. Other participants were gathered there. They were wrapped in blankets like burritos and probably deep in the REM cycle. Speaking of burritos, the wonderful volunteers made us some breakfast burritos and chicken broth. Double-bonus!

 

Since my duties as pacer/crew required a little extra focus, I had a heart-warming half-coffee, half-hot-chocolate combo. Wrapped in a blanket, I gingerly walked back to emanating heat with a burrito in one-hand and a coffee/hot-chocolate in the other. There was a spectator standing next to me. We both nodded and smiled.

 

It’s the little things isn’t it?

She replied, Oh yes, it most definitely is.

 

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Absolutely stunning sunrise over Tahoe Sunday Morning. This was captured about two hours after leaving Spooner Summit. 

Directly below the heater, Chris was passed out on a yoga mat next.  Slowly, I was warming up. Accompanied by some light Pearl Jam in the background, I smiled while savoring my caffeinated-hot chocolate. In that moment, I had all I needed: Warmth, a hot meal/drink, shelter, and support. It didn’t take too long before mind slid into a deep slumber.

 

This moment of respite is one I will not soon forget. It would have never happened without the remote darkness or frigid temperature or the mounting impatience. That’s what it took to make Spooner Summit feel better than any 5-Star Resort. There are plenty of lessons to pull from my pacing/crew duties in Tahoe; however, my lasting takeaway is that it really is the little things!

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Chris and I parting ways at the Tunnel Creek Cafe (Mile 140). He ended up finishing sometime late on Monday night. Kudos to him for sticking with it!!

 

 

Kodiak 100: BIG BEAR, CA

We had arrived! After a long stretch through arid desert, we were welcomed by a more temperate climate in Big Bear. We arrived at our studio Airbnb; it was packed with all the amenities that would ensure a restful night. Sweeeeeet!! In past races, the night before has comprised of attempts at sleeping under trees (only to awoken by sprinklers), camping in the rain, or uncomfortable sleeping in the car. This was a huge step up! Kudos to Matt for taking action.

From there, we went to the pre-race packet pick-up and pasta dinner. Yeah, say that five times. We received our bibs, some grub, and caught up with some friends (shout-out Nate Moore and Eric Chrisman – Chad’s brother) and then headed back.

I always find “the night before” to be amusing. The combination of nervous energy and chatter equals usually lends itself to an unneeded analysis. In terms of a social setting I usually don’t hang too long at these pre-night shindigs for two reasons: A. I have already made up my mind as to how I’m going to run and B. There is no amount of training or adjusting in 12 hours that can be overly advantageous. For some, those conversations are helpful and I think that awesome. As for me, I prefer to head back to my accommodation, double-check my provisions and dial in to the right headspace. Typically, that means either reading, listening to some Jack Johnson or watching a movie.

GO TIME: August 25, 2017

Coffee, Breakfast, Shower. After that, Matt and I were met by Randy VT and Scott K. at around 7:15 AM (meaning they left really early). I was stoked that they were coming to pace me. Not only did they pace, but they went above and beyond and crewed from start to finish. Without them, the overall experience would have lost its luster. It made for a wonderful team effort. I’ll touch more on this later…

We arrived at the starting line. Can we just start already? As per the rules of participating in this race, we were mandated to wear a SPOT tracking device. This device was to be ziptied on to us and it’s awkward size emulated the size of an early cellular phone. The intention for these devices was that those following along on a computer could accurately track us. Long story short, they didn’t.

9:00 AM

Go! Nothing really exciting happened at the beginning. We went up, then we went down. A sip of water here and small talk there; all in all, the first 15 miles were pretty vanilla. That’s okay because it allows me to find my groove.

After that aid station, Matt and I were running together. He had gone off course, which sucks, but it happens. Then, we weaved our way through paved roads, until the realization came that there weren’t any course markings. 10 minutes removed from the course and our frustration was evident.

Since it was early on, I was a tad bit concerned: if we were veering off-course this early, what would happen would happen at 3 in the morning?

Frustrating? No doubt. On the plus side, it was early on, meaning there would be plenty of time to make up for it. It was out of our control and in the past, but our attitudes were not. It was early, but we had a choice: dwell in frustration or press on. We opted for the latter.

We arrived at Sugarloaf (mile 19), refueled and refocused for the arduous climb ahead. 12-ish miles stood between us and the next fueling/aid station, which also happened to be this very same one. We hit 10,000 feet on this climb. Slowly making my way upward, I felt nauseated, like as though I was sucking air through a straw. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. As my body felt the climb, so, too, did my mind. And the negative thinking began to fester: This is beyond you. What are you doing? You’re not even 1/3 of the way done and you feel like this already. Just grueling. Every half mile or so, I leaned against a tree, took a breathe and tried to stay just where I was at. I stayed calmed and my thoughts slowly shifted. One step at a time and we’ll be to the top quickly…

Finally! I arrived at the top with a couple others. My water bottles were empty and my mind disoriented. But, we had downhill ahead of us. I looked over at a dude named Cameron That was gnarly. He sucked down the last of his water. We were bone dry at the top and not the only ones. It was grim at the top. We then jetted down the loose shale and unsteady rocks. GET WATER ASAP. En route back to Sugarloaf, Nate Moore – head of San Joaquin Running Tribe – blew by me. He recently completed a 100-miler up in Tahoe. Kudos to that guy! Stud.

Super parched, Cameron and I rolled back into Sugarloaf. Come to find out, Cameron is one of the owners of Stumblefoot Brewery in San Marcos. Their beer was waiting for us at the finish line. Having not had a beer in nearly 3 months, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on an IPA.

As we neared, I heard Willemina, Cody and my Mom cheering. I was so stoked to see them!. Also, Scott and Randy were there to refill my bottles and double-check if there was anything I needed. Matt’s wife – Kate – and daughter – Brooke – were also there with a ice cold bucket and a sponge. Matt had already gone through, so it was very kind of them to wait for me. They continued that throughout. Again, team effort. I slugged a V8, grabbed watermelon and trudged onward.

The next 10 miles consisted of uneven footing, more loose shale, and some short, punchy uphills, followed by rolling terrain. Basically, a little bit of everything. As the sun was now setting, I arrived at the mile 42 aid station “The Dump”. This would be the last time I would see my crew until mile 69. My lungs were exhausted and voice was waning. It had been a long day so far and I had yet to reach the halfway mark. I swapped hat for headlamp and tank top for tee shirt. On the eve of nightfall, I was now at the point where the senses become heightened and everything else becomes a little more visceral. I took off with a fellow participant named Jack. Jack is from New Orleans. We shared the next 3 hours with wide-ranging conversation and plenty of quiet moments.

 

We linked up with a guy named Chris. Together, we arrived at the mile 55 aid station. It was there that Jack and I split up. He decided to switch shoes and I carried on. For the next 2-3 hours, it was pitch black. I plugged in my tunes to help maintain focus. The stars were shining above a low-hanging crescent moon. The lights of greater Los Angeles were in the distance. This stretch was one of those periods where the magnitude of the moment becomes evident. I weaved through burnt forest, which made this stretch all the more formidable. The trees were sharp, jagged and pitch-black. I was on a trail at midnight in the mountains. Looking back on it, it’s quite surreal.

Finally, I saw a light. Aid station!!! Woohooo! I drank broth, met a dude named Jorge. Jorge just woke up from a 20-minute nap. They had had conveniently placed a couch behind their table. I was tempted to lie down, but made the decision at the beginning of the race to “beware the chair”. Jorge also just so happened to be an OG in the ultrarunning scene. I had no idea of this until immediately before the race. The cool thing is that I would have never guessed that when speaking with him. Understated and kind, it’s people like Jorge that make this sport rad.

Snow Valley – mile 69 – signified an important juncture of this race. For me, it was the point at which my pacers began to join me on the trail. From 69 to 87, I would be accompanied by Randy VT. Post-87, the duty belonged to Scott K.

It was 1:30 and I requested some broth. Part of the amenities offered by the race were chicken broth and veggie broth. Instead of broth, they offered me some lukewarm cup-o-noodles. Well, I didn’t sign up for this race to critique food and upload my YELP account. So be it. Randy and I carefully left the aid station through what was a very unconventional route that ran parallel between a chain-linked fence and highway.

We descended into Siberian Canyon. From there, it marked the final, big climb of the race. This climb was even more frustrating that the one before. It was one of the most annoying segments of a race I have ever experienced. The “trail” was sandy, slick and accompanied by low-hanging trees. At one point, I climbed on my hands and knees because the markings (at certain points) sort of just disappeared. There were ample, if any opportunities to run, so we trudged. I needed an attitude adjustment, a mental reset. Tyler, get over yourself. Suck it up. If I wanted to make the most of what remained, I had no choice but to accept how things presently existed.

We climbed and climbed and climbed. It was around 3:30-4:00 AM and my thinking brain had dissipated. Also, I was out of water (again, I know, what a clown). We turned the corner on this ridge and I saw something move about 15 yards ahead of me.

At this point, I was getting delusional, but I know I saw something. I stopped in my tracks:

Randy, did you see that?

No, what was it?

I was confused because at this point every shadow that moved with my headlamp looked like a black bear. This was different. It was distinct. Also, I saw a tail. Or at least I thought I did. The figure disappeared and went above us. We both looked for it.

There it is! Do you see it?

Where? Where? Oh. Yes.

A pair of green eyes… And they were locked in on us…

From above, no less…

We moved forward about another 100 yards.

We looked up again.

The eyes were again parallel with us and bearing down

We moved forward…

Same result.

Randy grabbed a big walking stick and I clutched on to a rock.

Again, I can’t fully verify what the animal was, but I know it was curious. For the sake of a good story, we’ll go with Mountain Lion. Seriously though, having seen one before and I didn’t see a bobbed-tail.

Of more importance, I am very thankful that I had a friend with me. I don’t know how I would’ve responded had I been solo.

We decided to jog a bit and speak in loud, audible tones. From there we stayed the course and rolled along the trail for a quite some time. After a while, Randy brought up the fact that there hadn’t been any markers for over an hour. Then one hour turned into almost two.

 

At this point, 5:40 AM, the sky was slowly morphing from black to a deep blue. I was too disoriented to conjure up the remote possibility that we had been going off-course for beyond two hours.

 

Nearing the 80th mile, not iota of me wanted to turn back. I was praying some sort of boost or a sign (literally and metaphorically). Just something.

 

Fortunately, we never had to entertain that option as an orange course marker FINALLY appeared. Yes!!! I just stopped, and stared at the sign with insurmountable relief.

Dude, a course marker… Finally.”

My fatigued tone certainly didn’t match the magnitude of the moment, but this was big-time.

 

When we went to the aid station, we informed them of the massive gap that lacked course markings. The lady explained, albeit in an authoritative tone, that they were on top of it and would soon figure out who didn’t do their job. I found that to be a bizarre response, given the fact there would be plenty of people who would soon encounter the same issue. A more helpful response might be sending somebody out there to mark it? Just a thought.

23 ½ hours after starting, we ended up making it to mile 87. Scott had been patiently waiting for us. I’m sure he was eager to get moving. I slammed some bacon and a cookie, my first real solid food yet.

 

Scott and I ran what I could. It was probably the slowest half-marathon of his life, but he never once exuded any negativity for the entirety of the closing miles. Randy was much the same. They both encouraged me throughout. Most of this last half-marathon comprised of going five yard down and twenty yards up. That ended up meaning lots of walking. The effects of elevation and fatigue had me yearning to just get this thing over with. Finally, we hit mile 97 and the what-was-promised-long-ago-downhill that I was very much looking forward to.

 

At about mile 99.5, we hit the pavement. The hay was in the barn. I heard the banter down below. Scott peeled off to the side and there it was! My body exhausted and spirit thankful, I crossed the finished line in 26 hours. I immediately tossed the SPOT tracker to the Race director at the finish.

 

You can keep that

 

Real quickly, Matt had finished in under 24 hours for a stellar 4th place overall position. He was paced by our good friend , Ben G, who will be running in his first 50 miler soon. To make it even better, Matt got to cross the finish with Katie (spouse) and Brooke (daughter). How epic! I exchanged high-fives with the crew. My mom’s friend (and pretty much family), Shana, and daughter, Astrid, even drove all the way from Ventura to watch the finish! I couldn’t believe it. I sat down and Matt mustered up a couple more steps and fetched both of us each a frosty Stumblefoot IPA. Ahhhhhh!!!! Satisfaction guaranteed!!! I kicked off my shoes to reveal filthy feet and a smile that couldn’t be fabricated. The job was done.

Ruminations, Musings, reflections….

 

Completing something that stretches you to your outer-limits is unique. There’s nothing quite like a long and difficult effort spent in the outdoors. Those moments where I’m called to tap deep into the well are the ones of great importance. This go-around, the only way I could move beyond those low points (miles 22-29, 74-78.5) was to remember that they’re inevitable.. You try to prepare your best for the lows in training. This requires simulating the terrain or conjuring up various scenarios to help you gauge your potential reaction(s). Despite the preparation and emulation, Plan A usually goes out the window. Moving forward from Plan A is neither good nor bad; but it leaves me with a choice. I can either fighting the present circumstances or accepting them. I’ve learned that by fighting the pain or dwelling on the negative chatter, it only exacerbates everything else. Everything. But, if I just accept the brutal climb, sketchy footing,, or overall discomfort, I can at least give myself a chance for something good to happen. There are no guarantees, but it seems like a chance worth taking.

 

 

 

 

Nutrition Change-up

Going into this race, I completely switched my nutrition to a High Fat Low Carb, almost Ketogenic style of nutrition. In case you were wondering, this was why I didn’t drink any beer for almost 3 months. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

In any case, this was a 360 from what my train of thought had previously been. I have dabbled in plant-based, vegetarian and pescatarian for various amounts of time in the past.

This meant completely eliminating grains, legumes, and/or wheat from my consumption. I’m certainly not an expert on nutrition, physiology or anything related, but it was fascinating to observe any noticeable changes.

First, I was always vehement that the HFLC (High Fat Low Carb) protocol is the most idiotic idea for endurance sports. It never made sense to me. Then, after my Dad brought it up to me. That was followed by multiple conversations with Randy VT, Peter Defty of VESPA, and my parent’s neighbor, Brian. Well, I figured the only way I can truly form an opinion on this is if I actually try it for myself. So that’s what I did.

It took a couple of weeks to get through what felt like a “mental fog”; however, after that, my body slowly became “fat-adapted” and things got much better. My palate changed. I even started eating cheese!

The goal for this race was to avoid any stomach-related issues or glycogen-spikes a.k.a. “bonking”. Over the summer, my energy levels were much steadier and I was able to run on a much lower caloric intake. By reducing the carbohydrate intake, my inflammation was dramatically reduced, which enabled me to train in a more optimal manner. Also, my goal was to not use gels because I have had such horrendous experiences with them, so I was stoked to not use them. I’m sure there were moments when they would have helped, but this was something I wanted to do sans-gels.

 

As far as the race went, I consumed:

 

VESPA product – 1 per every 2-2.5 hrs. This helped me in using “fat as fuel”

Watermelon

Broth

Cup Of Noodles Broth

3-4 V8

Perrier

Sip or two of Red Bull

3-4 cups of soda (near the end)

½ slice of Bacon

A cookie (very end of the race)

 

 

 

Will I continue with it? I’m not quite sure at the moment; I will go on the record and say that I do believe HFLC works for ultra-endurance sports. There are a bunch of tweaks I’d like to make for the next race, but I’m excited to see how this journey goes.

 

 

Lessons

  1. Family, Friends, and Co.
    1. I looked forward to seeing them at aid stations. They consistently encouraged me while assisting to my needs and provisions. They helped me get through my low points.
    2. More specifically, I thought of them when I was sucking air while climbing Sugarloaf and during the middle of the no-course-marking melee in the wee morning hours.
    3. Nietzche said that “He who has a why can live to bear almost any how”. For me, family and friends really accentuated the “why”. I privileged to be able to something I enjoy, while encouraged by the ones that mean the most to me.
    4. That type of enduring support stretches far beyond any specific moment or circumstance.
  2. Elevation is serious
  3. The mountains do not discriminate
  4. Bring an extra water bottle
    1. Or two
  5. Pacers are awesome.
    1. So is a crew.
  6. The journey lies in making it to the starting line. It’s all gravy after that.

And lastly, this was a song that Matt introduced me to on the drive down there. I loved it and for an added bonus, it was jingling in my head during the run!