2015 San Diego 100

SD100_9

Free. Your. Mind.  >>>>>> Photo Credit:  Paksit Photos 2015

In the days leading up to San Diego 100 I kept thinking about that famous Frank Shorter quote, “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.” The event was feeling a bit more ominous than it should have. Two weeks out I had to basically shut down the running and concentrated on a strong finish to the school year; the most challenging one, in terms of classroom management, in my ten years teaching. Throw in coaching and training for a 100mi run and no surprise that my soul’s check-engine light came on. Thankfully I had a week to catch up on rest and get my head on straight before the big day in SoCal on June 6th.

Let's just EASE into this... Photo Credit: Josh Spector

Let’s just EASE into this…   Photo Credit:  Josh Spector

Nice to have a direct flight down to San Diego on Thursday before the Saturday race. I got out on the course a bit on Friday to preview the start/finish after a huge night’s sleep. The race started to feel less threatening and more like it should—an epic adventure on brand-new trails! First thing I realized was I needed some gaiters to protect my ankles and feet from the plethora of pesky foxtails that were in over-abundance due to recent rains. I’d pick some up at registration later that day and in tandem with a brand-spanking new pair of Hoka Challengers, I’d have zero foot issues for 100 miles. BOO-yah!

Challenger ATR -- Greatest. Shoe. Ever.

Challenger ATR — Greatest. Shoe. Ever.

I’d posted a question on Facebook a few days before the race about what settings to use on my Suunto Ambit 3 Peak and an illuminating conversation thread ensued. I ended up using the 1sec recording interval with “best” GPS accuracy. For this race, I chose not to use heart-rate, not merely because it saves battery life, but because, this time, I wanted to race a 100 without it. Suunto note:  upon finishing I had 20% battery life remaining. My back-up Suunto never left its mile-80 drop-bag. I was happy that the Peak’s band didn’t bother my wrist all day, as it had been doing in training. I prefer the Sport’s band since it’s softer, but the Sport doesn’t have the Peak’s robust battery life.

With Spokane's Ben Bucklin. Photo Credit:  Paksit Photos 2015

Yukkin’ it up early with Spokane’s Ben Bucklin, who would go on to win the SD100 solo division.

Racing aid-station to aid-station was the plan from the start; chunking the mind-numbing 100-miler up into bite-size pieces is, for me, mentally advantageous. Thus, I had three pieces of data on my Suunto the entire race: lap-distance, lap-time, and lap-pace. Upon departing each aid-station, I was sure to hit the ol’ lap button and do my best to live in that “space” from aid to aid, a task that would grow increasingly difficult as the race wore on and my weary mind would drift to how much racing was still left…

2015 SD100 Aid Station Splits (Strava.com)

2015 SD100 Aid Station Splits. Click to enlarge. (Strava.com)

 2015 San Diego 100 – Strava Activity

Photo Credit: Billy Yang

Rollin’ on the PCT. 23mi in, averaging 8:35/mi. Sunrise Aid-Station. Photo Credit: Billy Yang

On this day, running “within myself” found me in first position after about 15 miles. I can’t say I was psyched to be there with so much racing to go but I’ve learned that I need to run my race at my pace, and this was the reality. I pressed on all day long, thinking about this-that-and-the-other, but returning to Karl Meltzer’s sage 100-mile advice, “You gotta be there in the final 25% of the race.”

Todd's Cabin. Mile 40. Photo Credit:  Scott Mills

Todd’s Cabin. Mile 40. Don’t know if Todd was there. Photo Credit: Scott Mills, RD

Photo Credit: Chris Wehan

Mile 51. Meadows Aid Station. Double-Butt-Bottling it, DeNuch style. Photo Credit: Chris Wehan

Race director, Scott Mills, his staff, and volunteers run a tight ship; one BIG reason I chose to run San Diego this year. Communication with athletes in the preceding weeks was excellent. Course-marking was dialed, including confidence ribbon every 3-5min, flour arrows with extra flagging at turns, signage, and critical junctions were often manned with volunteers to ensure weary runners didn’t make any knuckle-head mistakes. I previewed the finish route the day before. I could roughly sketch the entire course from memory, including all the connector out-n-back trails. Scott reinforced through multiple email communications, and again at the pre-race briefing, the importance of keeping your head in the game and doing your due diligence with regards to knowing the course. Bottom line for me:  I feared getting off course more than anything. Every ribbon spied was a small victory, all day long.

Even at this race, with so much vigilant course-marking happening—before and during the race—there was still a longish stretch, somewhere there in the middle miles, where I’d been running too long without seeing a marker. I knew there’d been no other way to go yet I was starting to get nervous. Down-trail, I saw a wadded up bunch of orange ribbon thrown between some bushes. “Ohhh, sh******t”, I thought. Right there, on a log though, near the displaced ribbon, I spied one lone ribbon that had a SD100 note attached to it, explaining to passersby that there was a 100-mile trail-race going on, imploring them to not remove the ribbon, etc.

It appeared to me that someone had found this particular downed ribbon, read the note, recognized its significance and thoughtfully placed it on that log as an act of goodwill. I imagine notes like that appealing to people’s humanity, discouraging vandalism on one hand and encouraging others to lend a hand and replace down ribbon. Yet, I didn’t fully trust the course-markings for a mile or so, scrutinizing over how each one was attached to a branch, tree, bush, sign, or rock. Vandals had sent us on a wild goose-chase at mile-20 at Gorge Waterfalls 100k in March. Once bitten, twice shy baby. The ribbon thankfully led me to the next aid-station, where I shared the news with a concerned aid-station captain.

Photo Credit: Debbie Jett

It wasn’t the hottest SD100 on record, but it got pretty toasty during the afternoon. Photo Credit:  Debbie Jett

Upon reaching Pine Creek aid-station I was about 100k in and still averaging about 9:30/mi pace. I’d been riding the line with nausea for hours. Before departing Pine Creek, I asked the volunteers, how far to the next aid. They reminded me, “Eight miles. All uphill.” My spirit took a hit. I lingered a bit longer there, drank another 12oz of water, cold-sponged myself, and set to the task of climbing. I would lose about 30sec/mi off my average race-pace by the time I reached the Sunrise 2, at mile 72.

Mile by mile, I was grateful for previous experiences like climbing up Diamond Peak at mile 80 in Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and ascending Peavine Summit from mile 33 to 39 in Silver State 50. In the words of educational theorist John Dewey, “All experiences live on in future experiences.” One foot in front of the other. I knew if I didn’t suck it up on this section, someone—back there—would happily reel me in, just like the flyin’ Frenchman, Jean Pommier, did last year at Silver State.

IMG_9683Somewhere about mile 7 of 8, up this godforsaken climb to Pioneer Mail 2. I was out of water and calories, even after rationing best I could. Both bottles now bone dry. I thought about this hilarious “100 Mile 101” pic my wife shared with me a few days prior. At this very moment I knew I just moved from #2 to #3—“This is shit.” What was curious about it was there was something in the back of my mind that now found the situation somewhat comical. The power of these “steps” though wasn’t necessarily the lighthearted humor, but the promise of getting to #5 and ultimately #6. I knew I still had to get through #4 though…

Photo Credit: Debbie Jett

#3: “This is shit.” With pacer Chris Wehan. Photo Credit:  Debbie Jett

At the top I was greeted by pacer extraordinaire, and Inside Trail Racing teammate, Chris Wehan, who told me, “I’m bored,” so he was jumping in early. Fine by me! We’d planned on teaming up at Sunrise 2 (mile 79). It was good to have some company. “Soooo… you’re walking?, he said.” I was having a moment. I soon got over it and started running again. Chris never fails to fire me up. Whether pacing or racing against him, he always brings out my best. At an Inside Trail 50k in Woodside in late April, we were hitting the early, soft downhills there at 4:45/mi pace. We would both subsequently blow sky-high later in the race. Friendly competition at its finest! I found myself thinking how nice it would be to run at 50k race pace to the finish, and get this bullsh*t over with asap.

Chris and I got into a rhythm and I grew quiet, struggling now with fatigue and nausea. Thinking I had at least a 20-30min lead over 2nd place, my mammalian brain attended to its job of slowing me down, since I believed there was no threat from behind. Nausea turned into vomiting. I’d reached #4 – “I am shit.” Back moving. Get in calories…

The secret sauce---VitargoS2.

The secret sauce—VitargoS2.

Besides a Picky Bar in the first 10mi, I’d only taken in calories from VitargoS2. I’d premixed nine bottles, each with about 300cal/bottle and placed them in drop-bags that I’d basically hit at every other aid-station throughout the day. Each time I picked up a bottle, I had a 280cal packet of Vitargo rubber-banded to it, to use at the aid-stations in between, where I would not have a drop-bag. As the race wore on, and my stomach was less and less cooperative, I found I had to dilute my 300cal mixture with water to reach a concentration that my gut could sustainably handle. Once beyond 70mi I also started using a 50/50 mix of water and chicken broth in what had been my water-only/cooling bottle (aka: bottle #2). From this point on, I’d use the “steady-drip” method of fueling/hydrating, taking little hits off the diluted Vitargo, chasing it with bigger gulps of delicious, life-giving chicken broth.

Predator-Prey. Ben Bucklin on the hunt, rolling through Pioneer Mail, mile 72. Photo Credit:  Billy Yang

Predator-Prey. Ben Bucklin on the hunt, rolling through Pioneer Mail, mile 72. Photo Credit: Billy Yang

Like the song goes, “When the lights go down in the California town / People are in for the evenin’.” Not the ultra-runners. We’re out there with all the critters that come out at dusk. As Chris and I shuffled up on the PCT to Sunrise 2, we watched the shadows grow long and spied several fox, deer, and later, closer to the finish, we had to run past a juvenile skunk, which evidently sprayed us a bit, since folks at the finish said I smelled kind of skunky. While chasing the sunset, I told Chris about the rattlesnake I almost stepped on in the heat of the afternoon. Biggest rattler I’d ever seen on the trail; coiled up, and rattling to beat the band. I’d given that guy a wide birth and told the RD, upon running into him again at the next aid. I guess I could go without seeing snakes, but all the wildlife throughout the day, added to the wildness of the experience.

SD_100_map

I’d been silently dreading Chambers 2 aid-station at mile 88 since about mile 12, when I hit it on the way out. It’s tough because you’re 88 miles in and you can see the finish from across the lake, that is, if you look left, which I didn’t. Chris said what I was thinking, “Let’s get in and out of this aid-station fast. You can see from the map that Chambers has an out-n-back connector. We wanted to be back-n-forth before 2nd place came in. And we almost made it.

As we were just about to turn right to head up the first of two climbs to the finish, 12mi to go, we see a headlamp moving along the trail to our left. Without someone ahead to keep me “in the hunt” I’d simply slowed too much, or so I thought. Turns out, Ben Bucklin had been making a charge for hours, getting feedback from aid-stations that I wasn’t looking too hot, inspiring him to give chase. With 12 to go, the race was ON!

The adrenaline surged, the temps were dropping, the stomach immediately righted itself and two miles of climb later, we were averaging 10:30/mi pace. Push. We ran everything I could. 5.1mi to the final aid-station at Paso Picacho, where we topped off my bottles, and quickly moved on down the trail. 7.1 brutal miles to the finish. Anything could happen. I had to push on the climbs, stay steady, try to keep calories coming in, and ride the line as best I could. I remember Chris reporting 10k to go, then later 5k to go. How I longed to be running my open 5 or 10k pace at that moment! Get this sh*t over with!

The final two miles into the finish are brutal. Lots of loose, large rocks that make running quickly all but impossible, especially in the dark. Every time we start to push, we’d stumble, or twist an ankle. Adjusting pace, we moved more carefully through this section, sometimes rewarded with a smooth stretch, where I’d open up the stride, imagining increasing the gap to 2nd by a few more seconds. Keep that cadence quick!

Careful to stay on course, we finally arrived at Highway 79, crossed, and made the hop-skip-and-jump to the finish. I was psyched to see 17:09:28 on the official clock and shake Scott Mills’ hand. I wanted to be under 17:30 here at San Diego since my 100mi personal best, set at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 last year, was 17:38. I also didn’t want to let Scott down by making any major knucklehead navigational mistakes, considering how much energy he and his staff put into marking the course so well.

Ben Bucklin came in a few minutes later, winning the solo-division (sans pacer), the first year this division was offered. I was counting my lucky stars that my pacer, Chris, happened to be visiting family in Los Angeles this same weekend, and so graciously offered up his time to hobble around in the dark with me, while I vomited, stumbled, farted, grumbled, and belched. Bucklin ran a solid race and pushed so hard to close the gap down to within 8min at Chambers 2, at mile 88. His efforts to bridge and get within sight of 1st, put the fear of God into me, which made me dig deep, find another gear, and work so hard to the finish. Competitors will always push us harder than we would otherwise push ourselves. Because of Ben, that final 12mi brought out my best and produced some powerful, and cherished memories. Long live sport.

With Gabe Wishnie (3rd) and solo division champ, Ben Bucklin. Photo Credit:  Scott Mills

With Gabe Wishnie (3rd) and solo division champ, Ben Bucklin. Photo Credit:  Scott Mills

San Diego 100 – Full Results

With ultrarunning LEGEND, Scotty Mills, SD100 Race Director. It was an honor to win his race and shake his hand at the finish.

With ultra-running legend, Scotty Mills, SD100 Race Director. It was an honor to win and shake his hand at the finish. Thanks to Scott, Co-RD Ang Shartel, and the army of amazing volunteers that make up the awe-inspired event that is The Official San Diego 100mi Trail Run.

breakfast

Parting shot. Nothing in the world like the breakfast after a 100-miler! With pacer extraordinaire, Chris Wehan.

Faster than Twitter, thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”  |  Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you!  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!  |  Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my SAN DIEGO 100 nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for the awesome show of support for SD100. HRC rocks!!  |  Thanks to my friends at Nuya coconut water for the optimal way to replenish after a long (long) run.

San Diego 100 Prep

Seventeen little days now to San Diego 100 and I’m taking a bit of comfort knowing I’ve pulled this off before, that is, preparing for a hundo while in the midst of the school year and juggling all my other life pursuits. Pine to Palm 100 last September came about eight weeks post Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and well into the first month of school; the desire to train was no where to be found and I ended up running that one off summer/100mi fitness. This time around it’s been a lot better. One hopes…

Cinderella 50k - Photo Credit: Foggy Bottom Photography

Cinderella 50k, Oakland, CA (5/9/15) – Photo Credit: Foggy Bay Photos

Gorge Waterfalls 100k in March messed with my head a bit due to the comedy of errors in the final 8mi of that race, resulting in a lost opportunity to qualify for Western States in June. Even though outward appearances suggest a failure, I was quite pleased with my fitness in Oregon, considering I was just coming back from injury. Sucks though to not secure the result you know you’re capable of. Gotta keep movin’ on down the trail…

The heart of my San Diego 100 preparation.

One of my two-week training blocks for San Diego 100 + a rest week. Credit: Strava.com

Setbacks, in my experience, always seem to have a silver lining. Injury forced changes to my training, which have actually made me a more balanced runner. Go figure! All my runs now have purpose. In Oregon, I felt increased power and speed and have kept up with my evolved training program while building up for San Diego, continuing to reflect on each week and make tweaks here and there. Training for a 100 miles though, versus a 100k, I’ve toned down the intensity some for the sake of increased volume and maintaining overall life balance (thank-you Dr. Maffetone). The number of hill intervals have increased and gotten longer in duration. The speed of the tempo run has slowed a bit but has lengthened as well. And the weekends have been dedicated to double long runs, with Saturday being more about enjoyment, leaving Sunday to do a proper long run, focusing on “programming” the mind for the incipient battle that starts at Lake Cuyamaca on June 6th at 0600 hours. “A quiet mind is a powerful mind.”

Hill repeats from 5/14/15. Credit:  strava.com

Gritty “Hundo” Hill Session: My 12 x 425′ hill repeats from 5/14/15. Credit: Strava.com

After soaking up some great motivation at Lake Sonoma 50, I put down a high quality two-week training block with lots of climb, then took a rest week to really absorb it. That Friday I found myself feeling good, and with my birthday the next day, I started surfing the web for a race. Why not?! It felt like the right thing to do. It is the Bay Area after all, and I was delighted to find a nice little 50k down in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland.

Checking the entrants list, I saw Chris DeNucci was also racing. So that sealed the deal—get to race on my birthday against at least one competitor who I knew would push me from start to finish. And that’s all it takes—one other runner to keep you honest and working to your potential on the day. As it turned out, there were plenty of guys rocking it on the front, including Chris Castleman and Alex Ho. It won’t be too much longer before I won’t be able to stay in front of these guys for 50k!

Like Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “Without a certain continuity of effort, without a certain duration or repetition of purpose, the soul is never deeply moved.” That right there is why I’m crazy about ultra-running. When I came through the start/finish (for the second time), I knew I had to string together just 4 more miles of continuous effort to complete the final loop to make it 50k. I found myself thinking of Travis Macy’s dad, from the book I just read called, Ultra Mindset. In it Macy talks about what the guys from his Dad’s era of ultra-runners had instead of comfy Hokas and super-fuels like Vitargo—-and that’s grit, plain and simple. And grit is what we need in abundance to run 100 miles. Winning a small, local 50k in course-record fashion on one’s birthday feels good, to be certain, but honing one’s ultra-running mettle for an upcoming hundo is priceless when we find ourselves at mile 80.

The following Tuesday, Amanda and I went down to support Michael Wardian in his 50k Treadmill World Record attempt, where he successfully lowered his own record of 3:03:56 to 2:59:49. Hoka One One made Iron Mike a literal centerpiece at their two-day sales conference held at the Claremont Hotel in Oakland (no pressure Mike!). Hoka folks got to jump on an adjacent treadmill and run “with” Wardian for a few miles (or minutes). Toward the end, I jumped on after Magdalena Boulet, who had the pace set to 9mph, which I found quite brisk! Mike was running 10.4mph at the time. After a mile or so, I briefly bumped it up to match his pace. I quickly felt the effects from my own 50k from a couple days prior. Volunteers started asking if I was okay.  😉

Much respect for Mike’s stout record. He’d just run a 70+ mile race in Australia 10 days prior and just arrived from “down under” that day. Jet-lagged or not, Mike made running sub-6min/mi pace for just about three hours look pretty easy. Smooth and efficient. And talk about “ultra mindset.” Mike said after that in order to stay focused he had to go “somewhere else.” He said he was “in” his basement back home in Virginia. I had a heaping pile of delicious gourmet food and left for the evening with a heaping pile of inspiration. #LetsGoMike

IMG_5451Okay, so I’ve shared the basic components of my 100mi prep:  training, the mental game, inspiration, and what else?… Oh yeah right, strength. I’ve been trying to be consistent with a modest strength circuit routine I can do during the week but that won’t compromise my quality run sessions. It basically encompasses four exercises (which I vary depending on what’s sore that day) that I like to do 3-4 times through. These include some basics like sit-ups and pull-ups as well as some full body stuff with 8lb dumbbells and the TRX. I try to keep it simple and it’s no surprise I’m stronger after a recovery week and less strong when I have a lot of miles in me. My feeling with strength training is that a little goes a long way. That’s my hope here in 17 days—go a long way, strong. Hold form together so you can “fake it until you make it.”  !!!

Looking ahead now, I’ve begun hittin’ the sauna with two 20min sessions in the last few days. I’ll do this all the way up to San Diego. Temps have been way too cool here in wine country so far this spring, so a little sauna training better go a long way as well! This week’s the last structured training week prior to San Diego, which I’ll cap off with the Western States Training Runs this Memorial Day weekend with another Hoka teammate, Paul Terranova. I’m hoping to bank 50k of sweet trail running bliss on Saturday and follow it up with 20 on Sunday. And that’ll do it. I’ll stay sharp with a handful of short runs, work on my race-plan, keep studying the course, strategize, get great sleep, limit my caffeine and alcohol intake, hydrate, stretch, foam-roll, and keep visualizing how I want things to pan out on game-day.

SanDiego100LogoSo, about the San Diego 100 course-record… I’ve been lucky enough to meet and chat with two past SD100 champs in recent months—Jeff Browning and Karl Meltzer—and hear about their experiences on a course that has evolved over the years due to things like forest fires. I contacted RD, Scott Mills, and received a very detailed, appreciated, and fair account on the history of the race, which has helped me create some realistic goals:

The SD course is in its 14th year and over that period we have had 4 major course changes that make records only applicable to the years that it was run over those particular courses.  The first 7 years was the easiest as an out and back on the PCT and it was held in Nov.  Karl holds that record at 15:48. The next two years was a double loop in the Cuyamacas….it too was an easier course and comparable to Karl’s course record so I always considered Karl’s time as the course record for this route as well.

Then 6 years ago the race underwent a major change when I inherited the event and we ran a much tougher and more varied course.  Over those first 4 years, Jeff Browning won the race twice and held the course record of 16:39….a very solid and impressive time.  I feel Browning’s time was pretty much comparable or better in terms of difficulty to Karl’s record on the old course and it was run in June when it is significantly hotter than the Nov time frame of Karl’s.

Then two years ago (just after the 2013 race, a devastating wild fire destroyed our race venue and many of the trails we use so we had to yet again change the course.  Last year’s and this year’s courses are very similar (only a very minor change) and I believe this variation of the course is the toughest of all past variations.  Jeff Kozak won last year’s event in 19:24 and that is the current course record that you would be competing against.

As you know 100 mile course records are so dependent upon race day conditions and in our case upon route changes.  I think this year’s course winning time will be below 19 hours but again, too many variables to predict. I will add…the SD 100 course is “sneaky hard”  By this I mean it looks very runnable for the entire course but there are some very technical and hard sections that don’t appear so on paper.  The dry air, wind and low humidity need to be watched closely as well with regards to dehydration.

I’m looking forward to this special opportunity to execute to the very best of my abilities in this long-standing and challenging event. Hopefully I’ll have packed enough grit to see me through. #seeyouinsandiego
Photo Credit: Amanda Shebest

Parting Shot:  Just hangin’ out in Mike’s basement. Credit: Amanda

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”

Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the sweet looking, functional, and super comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you guys (and gals!).

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!

Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my SAN DIEGO 100 nutrition.

Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for opening up in my ‘hood. Love the new store and the weekly group runs. It’s great to be building community with you!