2015 Run Rabbit Run 100

“So as he rose for the shot he concentrated on trying to do something he had learned skin diving: not to care. Underwater he had learned to be detached, because to be in a constant state of concern was to be using oxygen. You have to make yourself not care, he would say when people asked how he did it. Not caring was why it was so easy to make these shots in practice when it didn’t matter and so easy to miss them in games when it did.”   –From Racing in the Rain, by John L. Parker, a prequel to Once a Runner

One race season leaves indelible footprints on the next. 2014 was the first time I raced two 100-milers in a single season—Tahoe Rim Trail in mid-July and Pine to Palm in mid-September. All things considered, I felt there wasn’t quite enough time—for me—to both absorb TRT and properly prepare for P2P. So the way 2015 panned out, having San Diego 100 in early June and Run Rabbit Run 100 in mid-Sept really seemed to open up some breathing room and do things right. RRR being my seventh 100, I feel this one was truly a synthesis of experience, where I was able to employ so much of what I’ve learned in my time in the sport to produce the result I knew I was capable of in a so-called high-stakes race. The ups—but particularly the downs—I’ve experienced in the last 18 months really paved the way for a magical race in Colorado. I’ve always liked doing September races. There’s just somethin’ about ’em…

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Crunch-time! Hammering out last-minute details before depositing the drop-bags the day before the race. Invaluable tips from Hoka teammate, Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer helped sealed the deal.

The build-up to Run Rabbit Run 100 was so busy, there wasn’t much time to get nervous. I knew who was gonna be there and fully embraced the opportunity to race against the best. The competitive factor has become a huge driving force in fueling my training mojo as of late. With the training I had in the bank and my success at the distance, I ensured the self-talk stayed positive, believing that I was just as deserving of a strong result here as anyone else on the entrants list.

I hopped a flight outta Sacramento Wed morning, got into Steamboat in the early afternoon and just focused on resting up and setting my mind to the singular, monumental task of running this mountain-100 to the best of my abilities. With a quick rainy run on Thursday morning, the skies cleared, sleep was in the bank, and soon enough it was high noon on Friday and time to get the party started.

With Pine to Palm 100 course-record holder Becky Kirschenmann at the start. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

With Pine to Palm 100 course-record holder Becky Kirschenmann at the start. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

Holding back, letting people go—with great expectations of reeling them in later—was the name of the game. I figured that since the use of heart-rate has been so successful for me in previous 100s, why try to fix what’s clearly not broken.

With some solid run prep, including 7 weeks of using Hypoxico altitude training gear, I figured I was as prepared as I could be for the specific challenges this race presents. I just had to ensure I operated inside my optimized limits and focus on really nailing the execution.

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

The start of the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 (Hares). Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

Heading up to Mt. Werner in the opening miles, I watched about 20 runners just float away from me. According to “the plan” I wanted to average about 142bpm for the first 30-40mi. I figured that target HR, like it has in the past, would set me up for a strong finish. But by the time I reached the summit, my avgHR was at 147. Well, there ya go. What to do now? Just flow with the course. Knowing that Run Rabbit Run 100mi course-record holder, Jason Schlarb, was in the mix again this year—along with so many other talented runners—I expected the folks on the front would go out pretty hard. I was counting on it!

Even with seven weeks sleeping in an altitude tent and doing 23 intermittent hypoxic sessions on the trainer, I was still surprised to see how the higher elevation—in contrast with my heart-rate at the same intensity back home at sea-level—was clearly pushing my heart to beat faster in order to supply needed oxygen to working muscles. Pacing off heart-rate early ultimately allowed me to optimally pace, conserve energy, process calories, while freeing up my mind to appreciate the exquisite beauty of the Routt National Forest, which was a big draw for me when signing up for this event.

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.” -John Muir.  Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

The early miles are always glorious smooth sailing. It was in here patience was already starting to pay off, with a few runners came back to me just by running within myself. I filled up a water bottle at Long Lake aid-station, saw a couple runners there, including, Timmy Olson, and took off wondering if I’d be seeing him later.

It was great getting to run with Boise’s Mark Austin, for a good stretch. Mark was one of the few athletes I knew coming into the race. I’d expected to see him at TRT50 in July but he didn’t make the trip down. Last year, at the tough Silver State 50, in the mountains outside Reno, Mark caught me with a mile or two to go and snagged 2nd. This year he won it. Mark knows how to pace and always closes like a champ. Yet another guy to worry about here at Run Rabbit…

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

On the way down to Fish Creek Falls I was happy to dice it up with Michelle Yates, who was looking strong over this technical section which leads us out to the road back into town and then to Olympian Hall at mile 21. Once I hit the road, I felt the force flowing from the four tempo sessions I did on soft surface back home in prep for this event (I mean I signed up as a hare after all, gotta run quick when ya can!). Just lean into it and let those legs do the job they’re well conditioned to do…

Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

In the light of day. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

At Olympian, I picked up my first of nine 300cal bottles of VitargoS2. After all these years I’m finally content with how I use hydration bottles in ultras. Two Amphipod bottles, a yellow one for Vitargo, and a clear one for water (and chicken broth late in 100s) really works well for me. This was the first race I’ve used a Flipbelt, and it helped secure the bottles in my waistband, even when full. The low temps made the distance a lot more enjoyable and to drink relatively cold Vitargo all day was definitely a treat. This was by far the coolest 100 I’ve run and it was great to have steady energy all day with no nausea or vomiting!! Can I get another exclamation point?    !!!

On the long descent down to Cow Creek I was excited to catch up with Nick Clark, who looked like he took a few nasty spills (I’d have one late in the race as well). So gradual, is this process of catching up to competitors in a 100. I’d started to catch folks in the tortoise division some time back so it was always so awesome to see other hares. Nick and I settled into a good downhill rhythm, chatted a bit about our displeasure with the tricky descent, and made our way into the Cow Creek aid, where I grabbed a Tikka RXP headlamp, with a spare battery. In the event something was off, I didn’t want to be without a headlamp so I’d stashed one in my mile 30 drop-bag as well as mile 42.

Photo Credit: Run Rabbit Run 100

Delicious single-track. Photo Credit: Run Rabbit Run 100

Talking with the occasional pack of tortoises, it was slow going back up to the water-only aid-station at mile 38, which I’d heard rumored may be dry since mountain-bikers like to help themselves to the runners’ refreshments. As so it was—bone dry. I’m glad I made the last-minute decision to definitely use two bottles. I knew it wasn’t that far back to Olympian Hall, so I rationed a bit but with the cool temps, hydration wasn’t the critical issue it is when the mercury’s through the roof. Just hang tough and ride the line…

Arriving at Olympian Hall in good spirits. Mile 42. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

Arriving at Olympian Hall in good spirits. Mile 42. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

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Average heart-rate coming into Olympian at mile 42 was about 144 or 145bpm. That was a bit higher than I’d expected, or wanted, but considering the temps, great fitness, perceived exertion, and solid fueling, I felt the risk was worth it. Besides, my ace-in-the-hole was having a fully-absorbed San Diego 100 in my legs from June. This day, I felt bulletproof. I swapped out my short-sleeve race jersey for a base layer and long-sleeve jersey here and picked up my second Tikka RXP headlamp and another spare battery. I was fully charged to run through the night. Bring it on! >>>

Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

Let’s Go HOKA!! Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

And now the sun was setting, which was a foreign place for me to be and not have the race be even half over—strange sensation indeed. We started at noon, versus 5 or 6am like I’m used to, so I had to do some on-the-fly reprogramming of my head so I wouldn’t push too hard during sunset, as has been the norm in other 100s when I’m around 80mi in by sundown. I’d heard I was running in 4th and it wasn’t even mile 50 yet, so I just kept yelling back to enthusiastic spectators, “Hey thanks! And there’s still so much racing left!” I was having a blast, clicking off some street miles back up to the rugged Fish Creek Falls section.

vitargoSlog. Slog. Slog. The trail goes up to Fish Creek Falls aid while the temps go down. By the time I got back to Long Lake it was a gettin’ chilly. I grabbed a fresh bottle of Vitargo, a beanie, some gloves, and stuffed some hand-warmers in them to help keep my hands warm and functioning. Glad I remembered those bad boys. I found them at the bottom of a drawer before leaving home. They’d been left over from some cold winter when I was doing a lot of cycling. Nice thing to have them for the night-running here.

Up at Summit Lake (mi58) I heard my wife’s voice in my ear: “The time you spend putting on warm clothes you’ll gain back, and more!, since you’ll keep yourself warm and comfortable.” There’s always some unknown variable that she’ll focus on intently, then go to work on my head to ensure I take the issue seriously and proactively address it. I’m grateful.

In the days leading up to the race, Amanda got in touch with an old friend she danced with as a kid. Her husband works for Smartwool, which is based out of Steamboat Springs, and this guy’s friend has run the 100 here before. Amanda was on my case to call this guy—Alex. So I gave Alex a ring the day before and much to Amanda’s delight—and my own—he gave me a ton of great information that really helped me dial in my drop bags, and get a better sense of how, when, and where the temps would affect me over the race. It was then great catching up with Alex, pacers, and other tortoises on some climb out there in the night. Hoppin’ along the bunny trail exchanging cheers of encouragement with the tortoises is a very cool aspect to this event. Amanda also ensured I got in touch with Speedgoat, Karl Meltzer, before the race to get more insights on race-day strategy. No surprise, his wise words aided my race strategy.

Summit Lake to Dry Lake. After subjecting some poor guy at Summit aid to help me don a pair of especially tight tights, I threw on a couple more layers, left the bustling warmth of the aid-station, and started one long-ass descent down to Dry Lake en route to the turn-around at Spring Creek Ponds. Shortly after departing Summit, I look back and spy a head-lamp a couple 100 yards back. Then it was 100. Then 50. And then Nick Clark went by me.

As Speedgoat had suggested, I needed to be patient in this section because I really wanted strong legs for the challenging duration of climb out of mile 70 and ultimately for the final third of the race (when moving well matters most). Now I had just been passed by Clarky, which not only put me back a position but knocked me back to second Master (over 40). I’d gotten a good feel for Nick’s pace coming down to Cow Creek earlier and it was still inside my comfort zone, although now there was a bit more pep in his step. And, of course, I wasn’t forgetting who this guy was. Freakin’ Nick Clark. They don’t make ’em any tougher. So h*ll yeah, I thought to myself, what an honor to run with this guy. I’m stayin’ on this train. Honestly though, I’d written him off after Cow Creek, since he’d fallen a few times and seemed too quiet, maybe frustrated—understandably—so I was surprised and inspired to see him back killin’ it down to Dry Lake. And it was just too cool to pass up the opportunity to work together.

Faster together. We pulled into Dry Lake and the folks were just awesome. I was flying high, in good spirits, crackin’ jokes with volunteers and as we grabbed what we needed before gettin’ outta Dodge and getting back to the task at hand. Nick was in full on race mode. The night running was goin’ good. Every tortoise we’d catch, they’d know Clarky. No one had a clue who the h*ll I was. I wasn’t in California that was for sure. Eventually, we made our way up to a dark, slim figure walking on the right side of the road, 20 year-old, Jared Hazen, 3rd place overall at both Lake Sonoma 50 and Western States this year. He boldly ran with Jason Schlarb for some 65mi before the wheels came off. No shame there. I have former students older than this kid. Young, talented, and fearless.

Now running in 2/3, Clarky—5th here last year—and I kept up a good clip for a few more miles before we saw Jason Schlarb running back up. We exchanged some encouraging words and hightailed it as best we could down to the aid-station at Spring Creek Ponds. Upon arriving, I finally got a laugh out of Nick when I said, “Man, it sounds like a cowbell orchestra here!” All the energy at the aid-stations was so great.

Since Summit, Nick and I had ample opportunity to get a good sense of how strong/confident the other was feeling. Mile 70: this was the point in the race I’d been waiting for all day! I had no reason to doubt Nick would be strong for hours to come and suspected he was at least as decent on the ups as he was the downs. As we pulled the u-turn down into the aid, I zoomed to my drop-bag, snagged a fresh bottle and moved like h*ll back outta there and started moving quickly back up the climb. It was time to cash in on the 90,000′ of elevation gain I had in the training bank since August 1st! I wanted that Masters win so I needed to get out of Nick’s sight for a while or at least get some damage control goin’ on this climb so that once we got back to Summit Lake at 82, I wouldn’t be too far behind him. That, of course, along with the other obvious fact…. There was a growing presence behind, now in front, closing at a relative speed of sub-6min/mi pace. I hit my lap button and said a little prayer…

Challenger ATR -- Greatest. Shoe. Ever.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR — Greatest. Shoe. Ever. I had a fresh, fly pair locked-n-loaded for Run Rabbit, with just 20 little miles on ’em just to ensure they were perfect.

Now not-so-firmly in 2nd place, with 1st way off in the distance, there was 50k left to go and anything could happen. It was time to move with increasing purpose while being steady, getting in calories, and keeping my mental game crazy positive. Eight minutes and 30sec later, the next hare I spied coming down was Germany’s Marco Sturm. We’d diced it up a bit earlier in the race and I was impressed with his smooth, strong running over the technical stuff. [Marco got off course after Dry Lake and added about an hour to his time.] I rounded the 8:30 to 10min, doubled it, and gave myself a not too generous 20min lead on him. Not a lot. There would be no more Hollywood breaks at toasty aid-stations from here on out. With Nick right there, Marco some 20min back, I kept up my fast-hiking and waited with much anticipation to see who who’s headlamp would blind me next—Jacob Puzey? Tim Olson? One of the Colorado boys? Josh Arthur was 2nd here last year; he’s gotta be makin’ his move. Then there’s Boulder’s Andrew Skurka. And then there’s the leading ladies… Almost a year to the day, Becky Kirschenmann, was running me down at Pine to Palm 100 to place 2nd overall, nailing the 5th best ultra performance of the year from a female. She again has her TransRockies experience in her legs. And I gotta be on the lookout for Yates and Kimball…

Somewhere out there in the night. Photo Credit: Ultra Sports Live

This is the moment we train for. What I dream of as an ultrarunner. And the memories created here I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. The choice to answer the call, have the extra gear be there, and motor to that finish line is exciting. What an amazing space to be: alive and thriving, so raw, and so rare a moment in this modern world of conveniences. It’s after midnight, and I’m on some mountain top in Colorado, some 20mi to the finish line of a 100mi trail race. This is living…

Six hundreds paved the way to effectively deal with the otherwise overwhelming weight of distance and time. Don’t think just run. Smile. Laugh. Encourage. Keep the head positive. Above all else, maintain momentum in the moment. Second place at Run Rabbit Run is a pretty cool place to be. Don’t blow it.

Finally to Summit Lake, back up above 10,000′. This section from mile 82 to 97 was the reason I rented Hypoxico equipment in the first place. Now it was time to see if the 45+ nights in the tent and 14+hrs sucking rubber on the trainer was worth the investment.

I’m up high. I got competitors in front and behind, I’ve got over 80mi in my legs, and I’m puddle-jumping/weaving like a madman shifting focus from trying to catch 1st to dwelling on how far behind is 2nd back to “not caring” and just trying to recapture my now elusive flow-state I found myself in for so much of the earlier miles.

I take a hard fall. Back up. My light goes out. On goes the spare. Energy’s depleted. Chug more Vitargo. The hot chicken broth from the last aid is burning my right ass cheek. Take it out and carry it for a while. It’s so warm in my hands. My headlamp lights up my breath in front of my face. Hallucinations imminent. Was that a mudpuppy I just saw in that puddle? Indulge and have another look. No, it’s a slimy log. Are you sure? Snap out of it. When’s the sun gonna come up? Only 0.3mi to next aid at Long Lake…

In-n-out of Long Lake I zip down the trail and remember the serene water from the daylight now to my left with trees opposite reaching to a blue, cloudless sky. Signage ahead: “To aid-station 3: Fish Creek Falls”. Think. Does this take me to Werner? Yes. I don’t know. F*ck. 0.5 back to Long Lake to ask. I’ll go down this trail and see. Maybe not. D*mmit. It has to go to Werner. You can draw the map by heart. Think. Is it the trail or not? Sh*t, I can’t think very well right now. They’re catching you. Alright, I’m running back, f*ck it. It is what it is. I’ll just have to outrun anybody that catches me because of this little setback. Better safe than sorry. Get your effort down. Relax…

Back at Long Lake I get the attention of a knowledgeable volunteer and I inquire about the signage and whether it leads to Werner and the finish. He graciously runs with me back to where I was. We take the turn and run down a short connector to a fork in the trail, one leading right to Fish Creek Falls and the other going left to Mt. Werner (the final aid-station before the finish).

D*mn, that sucked. No one caught you there, you were lucky. No harm no foul. You weren’t lost, you were clarifying. And more importantly you didn’t just flush $6000 down the toilet. Smart. Now run your ass off to the finish! Full effort is full victory. Thanks Einstein.

Daylight breaks. Headlamp off. But the headlamp really illuminates those reflective course ribbons. Headlamp on. What if someone’s a couple 100yds back? They’re gonna see your lamp and catch you. Headlamp off. Catch a toe on a rock. Headlamp on. It’s light enough now. Headlamp off. Step in a huge mud puddle and leave shoe stuck in it. Really? Headlamp on. Find shoe in mud and slip back on foot. Oooo, that feels good. Love these shoes. Hmm, Injinji socks are cool too; like little gloves for your feet. Focus! Put hand over lamp and look over shoulder. Someone’s back there. Wait, doesn’t look like it. How’s that Kinks’ song go again?…

(yea, it goes like this, here it goes) paranoia, they destroy ya
(here’s to paranoia) paranoia, they destroy ya
(hey hey, here it goes) paranoia, they destroy ya
(and it goes like this)

Mt Werner – Mile 97. It’s all downhill to the finish. I’m a great downhiller. No chicken broth. Ergh. Fill ‘er up with Coke. Thank-you! Sorry, I’m cranky!!

I suck going downhill. Holy God this is awful. What kind of long-term damage am I doing to my legs right now? Switchback. Holy h*ll, I think I see my hotel room window. Look over shoulder to see if there’s a runner. Pounding. What meniscus? Each step must be taking months off my life. Pain is temporary. Pride is forever. How many more years before hip replacement surgery? Sun’s up and it’s a glorious Colorado morning. Savor this… beauty. This sucks. Switchback. See mountain-bikers. Ask if they see anyone behind me. “No.” “Thanks.”

Guy goes by in a Hoka kit. Hmm, nice jersey friend. “Hey, good job.” Other runners coming up the maintenance road. Wow, must be coming up to watch us finish. Hmm, more runners. You idiot, they’re running the 50mi. They started at 6am. I knew that. Cheers. More cheers. Hey, long night. Thumbs up, thanks. Hey, cool. More runners. Look over shoulder to see if Clarky’s coming. Smile. Wave of euphoria hits. Another. Start cheering for the 50milers. High-5s. See my buddy Kevin Deutsche from home. Another high-5. Wow, that was great seeing all those runners. Mile to go to the finish. Let’s try to stay on course. Atta boy. Get this sh*t done.

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

Brought it home for 2nd place overall and first place Master in a time of 19 hours and 13min. This stands as the 9th fastest time in the four-year history of the event. The co-RD said that Run Rabbit’s typically not nice to Californians. I can see why with the altitude and the low temps. I was more than happy to prove him wrong. Three guys from Cali, including myself, did manage to find the finish line. Upon crossing the finish line, we were immediately lookin’ for a heater and our flip-flops!

And as it panned out, Schlarb was over an hour ahead of me by the finish and I was exactly an a hour in front of 3rd. So funny how things go out there. You just never know what’s going to happen in a 100mi footrace at elevation, that starts at noon, has 20,000′ of gain and loss over technical terrain. Naturally, I’m wondering how I could’ve gotten an hour back to bridge the gap to 1st. I’ve come up with about 30min so far, including that little navigation snafu back at mile 90. Schlarb’s got a lock on this race, to be sure, having set the course-record, of 17:15 in 2013 and having been at the event, in some capacity the last four years. Rob Krar was here last year and won in a time of 17:40. Jason’s a professional mountain runner living in Durango, CO who’s spent some good time this year training up high in the mountains. Tough guy to beat!

All things considered, I executed pretty well. Naturally I’ll get sh*t for my course confusion and someone always chimes in that if I hadn’t worn the HRM I could’ve won, but I’m betting Denver dollars to Dunkin’ Donuts that I would’ve ended up on the long list of DNFs had I not worn HR in those early miles. A DNF is never an option, especially in an A-Pri event like this. Too much time, energy, sacrifice, and benjamins went into it to throw caution to the wind early and run wild. I took calculated risks and followed some of Speedgoat’s key rules for running 100s, namely, do your thing out there to stay within yourself, manage your issues effectively, so you can be there in the final 25% of the race. Eastern religion tells us that the middle road is often best. I like to apply that mentality to 100mi racing. It’s gotta be a balance of brains and balls out there. Doesn’t it?

In the money! Not a bad yield for an old school teacher with a mortgage.

In the money! Not a bad yield for an old school teacher with a mortgage. Photo Credit: Amanda Misiak

You know another golden nugget of wisdom from the Speedgoat? Here it is: “You’re always faster the second time you do the same 100.” Thinking back to my four Tahoe Rim Trail 100 times… 22:44, 19:57, 18:03, 17:38. I believe in that idea, wholeheartedly. Afterall, Karl Meltzer did go 18:32 here at Run Rabbit in 2013 at 45 years of age…  😀

Run Rabbit Run 100 – Strava Activity – I finished with a 3% battery charge!!

Complete Results from Hallucination Sports

1st place, Vitargo athlete, Jason Schlarb’s ultrasportslive.tv interview

1st place, Hoka One One athlete, Emma Roca, ultrasportslive.tv interview

3rd place, Andrew Skurka’s usl.tv interview. Listen to him talk about heart-rate!

Optimal Pacing for an Ultra-marathon | Q&A with Bob Shebest

Parting Shot: Sonoma's Suzanna Bon, 51, running Tahoe 200, a week earlier. First female and course-record in 68hrs. 4th overall finisher. Three over-nights. Two 20min naps total. My muse for RRR100.

Parting Shot: Sonoma’s Suzanna Bon, 51, running Tahoe 200, a week earlier. First female and course-record in 68hrs. 4th overall finisher. Three over-nights. Two 20min naps total. My muse for RRR100.

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 your 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 nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! | A final BIG thanks to Dylan Bowman at Hypoxico for the support with my first experience using the gear. It was fun throwing this experience into the training mix!

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.