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.
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.
About to head into the Night
Rolling into Mile 42
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…
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.
Ahhhhh!! The satisfaction of a well-earned beer!
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.
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”
Cup Of Noodles Broth
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.
- Family, Friends, and Co.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- That type of enduring support stretches far beyond any specific moment or circumstance.
- Elevation is serious
- The mountains do not discriminate
- Bring an extra water bottle
- Or two
- Pacers are awesome.
- So is a crew.
- 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!