Quote of the Day: “Only the shallow know themselves.”
- Oscar Wilde
I was somewhat awake before the alarm went off at 0233. Habit had me setting it so that I could get three snoozes in but I didn’t really need them. It was time to get up and start a most unique adventure. A hundred miles…in a row.
I got in the shower and my angel of a wife got up and started prepping things like coffee, breakfast, last minute packing, ice, and a million different things that were absolutely critical and that I didn’t have to give a second thought to. The last couple of nights we had spent hours making lists, packing, and going over plans. This morning, it was all about execution.
Paola showed up right on time at 0330 and let herself in.
She joined in the general prep and watched me down the oatmeal I so desperately hate to eat.
I then ate some egg beaters, toast, orange juice, and coffee. I knew I could eat just about anything and it would be some of the last “real” food I would eat for a very long time. Later, my stomach likely couldn’t handle such decadence as solid food.
I’m finding out these races have so many facets to them and one of the big challenges is one not many people would instantly consider. It’s hard to get enough calories and fluid into your system when the only entry point is through the stomach which tends to stop playing when you start running the long tough miles. Kind of a catch-22. You must eat and drink massive amounts of food to get the calories but this act upsets the stomach and it shuts down.
We got the car loaded up,
… said goodbye to the dog,
… and headed out to the campground where the race began.
An hour later we emerged into the parking lot and the first thing I noticed was that it was a private-parts-shrinking cold. I mean see-your-breath cold and I had shorts on. Wait a minute, this is San Diego, right? WTF?
We shuffled up to the cafeteria where they had held the dinner last night and they had some coffee. The runners kind of shuffled around nervously and I drank a cup of coffee and stretched. Carrie offered to go back down to the car to get her sweatpants and my bag.
It was about a half hour before race time my nerves frayed during every passing minute.
I looked over and saw David Goggins, the Navy SEAL who got third in Badwater this year and was completely zombified at the end when I last saw him. He was much more personable today when I introduced myself to him.
Here is part of our conversation:
Viper: “Is this your first race since Badwater?”
David: “No, it’s my 5th 100 mile race since then.”
Viper: “So, you must be, uh, ready, trained up for this one.”
David: “Either that or overtrained.”
We both laugh. Him legitimately, me feeling totally stupid.
I told him it was my first 100-mile race and then he gave me some advice.
“The race for you doesn’t start until mile 60. Take it easy until then and then ramp it up for the finish. When you get more experienced, your race starts sooner. Mine will start at mile 20 and then I get going.”
I really appreciated this advice but he falsely assumed I was racing. My race doesn’t START until 60? I hope to MAKE IT to 60. This is the ultimate example of a “two-line” race which means I hope to start the start line and then the finish line. What ever timeframe ticks off between is of no concern, as long as I made the time hacks.
But I understand, he was competing and good on him. I just hoped my run would end AFTER his. If I finish before him, it will only be because I never made it to the end.
I kept an eye out for Olga. She is a super-runner who had just finished her 10th 100-mile race and was pacing a friend. I had never actually met her but I had been reading her blog for a long time, not even remembering how I found it. Like these things happen, you somehow start reading a blog from a link from another runner’s blog or website and then after awhile, you forget the connection and you find yourself tracking someone you have never met.
I had been lurking on her site, tracking her 100-mile adventures when I noticed recently that she planned to pace someone at this race. I finally came from beneath the shadows and sent her an email, trying not to sound like some wretched lurker.
I asked her some advice on the race, seeing how it was my first, and discovered another tendency about this culture that I’ve heard about, suspected, but kind of forgot: when you ask for help, these people shower you with it.
Before I knew it, I had an unofficial coach with daily emails and advice I scrambled to follow. Drink HEED, here’s your pace chart, eat this many salt pills at these times, switch over to solid food at this mile… and on and on and on.
She even offered to come back after her runner finished and run me in to the finish line.
And I had never even MET this woman before!
She had missed the dinner last night where my wife and I were supposed to meet her. Her plane was delayed and she was not able to get to the brief so this morning was the first time we were to make her acquaintance.
She walked in and I crossed the room to introduce myself. When she recognized me, instead of a handshake, she gave me a big hug. She was this excitable little Russian woman (“Olga”, go figure) and I think we both had that strange feeling of knowing a lot about each other due to reading each other’s writings on the Internet. Sign of the times.
It was less than 10 minutes before the start and we all wandered out into the dark cold to head toward the start line. By the time we got there, I was a little stressed to see that most of the field was already lined up. I looked at my watch and there was less than 5 minutes before 0600.
On the way out, we had stopped by the Pilot and grabbed the walkie-talkies but when we turned them on, they did not work. We fiddled with them all the way to the start line but I ended up just handing mine to her and telling her to try to get it solved by the first aid station.
By the time I got to in the group, the countdown had begun.
Holy crap, that was fast.
My fist 100 miler.
Am I ready for this?
Someone yelled “Mommy!”
My goal was running 15-minute miles for the first half and then slowing to 18-minute miles the last half. That would put me in at 27.5 hours which left me plenty of cushion for the 31-hour limit.
It was easier than I thought it was going to be to run slow starting off because we were all bunched together and it was dark. Once we got to a single-track, we were all in a big long line.
I got to the first aid station as the sun came up and was feeling wonderful. I had done plenty of walking and was hardly feeling any stress. That’s what you want, a nice gentle start and saving everything you can for when it starts to get REALLY tough.
I made it into the first aid station in 1 hour and 9 minutes. My goal was 1 hour and 28 minutes so I was going WAY too fast. Carrie and Paola were waiting for me in high spirits and everything was right with the world.
This was the first chance I weighed myself and I came in at a whopping 201.6 pounds. This was due to the massive amounts of food and liquids I had stuffed my body with over the last few weeks but still, it was a little distressing to top the 200 mark. That would change soon. I was down to 197 at the next station and then 194 at aid station 4. Then we kind of let the whole weighing thing go since the thirst for knowing took back seat to just plain rest at each station.
The next few legs were very calm. I had talked to some people but ended up running quite a few miles with two men name Joe and a woman who was married to one of the Joes. Her name was Nicole and I very much enjoyed spending hours with each of them, chatting about our various adventures. They all seemed strong, had a great crew, and I had no doubt they were going to finish. In fact, they did according to the final states. They made the 31-hour cutoff by about 20 minutes.
They had said only one had ever done the distance and planned at about 28 hours which seemed perfect. I hung with them for a bit but then we started yo-yoing back and forth and after awhile, I was coming into aid stations that they were just departing.
My food plan was going well. My medicine plan was on schedule thanks to my great crew, and after a couple of hiccups, we had the pattern down. I would come into the aid station and they would have the chair waiting. They would strip off my Camelback to fill it, give me a bottle of HEED (that tasted horrible) and give me whatever was scheduled for that stop whether than be Ensure, salt pills, or just Gu.
Carrie and Paola got some advice from Olga to have me eat more salt so they had chips and pretzels at about every stop and I ate them like my life depended on it. I guess I needed it if I was craving it that bad.
During one of the legs, I had taken off before the Joe-Joe-Nicole trio and was sorry I attacked this particular portion alone. It was steep and very hot, up on a ridge hugging the road below. It was in the 90s but I felt OK, especially just walking a lot it.
I caught up to Xy (pronounced “Christy”) Weiss, a flamboyantly dressed runner also known as “Dirty Girl” which is the line of brightly colored gaiters she produces. She is pretty much a staple at these long races and I had seen her at the Bishop. Her moniker turns heads though, like the time she was in the airport with her kid and someone yelled “Hey, aren’t you ‘Dirty Girl’?” That had to be a GREAT scene.
It was along this stretch that I came across an older fellow bent over with his hands on his knees. I didn’t know what to do. It was early in the race and while it was hot, it wasn’t race-stopping hot. But he looked really bad and I wondered what I should do for him. When I asked, of course, he said he would be OK but I felt bad just leaving him there.
I asked him if he needed water and he said that would be great which to me, was a bad sign because if you accept water from a stranger, you must really be hurting.
I unhooked the end of the tube of my Camelback and let my water pour into his water bottle until it was half full. I bid him farewell and went on my way. I was confident he could make it to the next aid station and then he could decide for himself if he was fit to continue.
I was starting to worry at the 30 mile mark because I had peed exactly twice and that was during the first two miles. Those two were clear but that was all the liquid I had pounded before the race. I had gone a long way and drank ungodly amounts of liquid since then with nothing to show for it.
I ended up only peeing two other times during the rest of the rest and both times were forced, not to mention a dark amber. That weighed heavily on my mind because I know my body was creating toxins and they weren’t getting flushed out.
The hours rolled on and on and I hit some pretty nasty climbs as my legs started to talk to me. I had no specific injuries, just overall fatigue. It became increasingly irritating that I would trudge up a long uphill with the singular thought that I could jam down the other side only to find the downhill was full of big ankle-breaking boulders and I was often reduced to walking down just as I had walked up.
The most common question I get about running ultras is how I can tackle such distances. I can’t, is my answer. A hundred mile race is not a hundred mile race. This one was 16 small races end to end. In other words, you LIVE for the aid stations. You run to them. You look forward to seeing your crew and for me, that’s what keeps me going.
Certain other people (OLGA!) do not put much value in aid stations because they (she) doesn’t want to waste the time there, break concentration, etc. I have a different approach: I love them. The only time hacks I want to crack is the cut-offs so if I spent 10 minutes instead of 2 at an aid station, well, it’s my chance to communicate with the wonderful people out there sacrificing for me. I’ll eat the time.
The miles wore on and I tackled some pretty fierce climbs and covered many many miles. I was mostly alone and I just trudged along, listening to my music, and looked forward to seeing Carrie and Paola at the next aid station.
At one point, there were some day hikers who I don’t know if they knew what the hell was going on. I know I looked pretty bad and I got the curious looks I’m used to when I’m sloshing around out in the middle of nowhere.
I know I must have seemed to be bragging a bit but I was coming into an aid station and got on the walkie-talkie to give my crew a heads-up that I was coming in. I asked what mile marker we were at and I was told 26 and I noted that was a marathon, three more to go. When I said that, the hikers I was passing looked at me like I had cucumbers sticking out of my head.
Everything was going as planned. I was about on schedule, I had eaten what I thought I was supposed to, I had taken the medicine (Aleeve and Tylenol) on schedule, and other than fatigue and not-pissing, everything was going as well as can be expected. The sun was stating to set so the temps were down and I was trying to get mentally ready for the nighttime running. It loomed as a scary concept but I was confident it was just yet another challenge this day full of challenges.
Coming into Sweetwater, the aid station that marked the start point of the last leg before the halfway point, I had been a bit spoiled with some short legs and this last one was going to be 7.4 (an eternity at this point).
I geared up and set out. The nastiness of this was that it was uphill for half of it and then downhill on the other half. At this point, the only thing that was worse than the concept of 3.5 miles uphill was the reality of it.
I was reduced to walking all of that uphill portion, no questions asked. It was pure drudgery and it siphoned both mental and physical energy. I felt like I was just giving away time and that this was putting a serious dent in my pace. Monsters started to creep in my head and I trudged along in a low mental and physical gully.
The next thing that happened was that I realized I had made a potentially serious error. I had not thought about bringing my headlamp because I hadn’t used it since the morning and the sun was still up at Sweetwater. I realized that it would be dark before I hit the camp at the halfway point, my next aid station.
I finally crested the uphill portion and started the flat and downhill. I was passed by a walker and as I watched him crest the hill ahead, my mood sank. Even walkers were blowing past me.
A little later on I saw another runner/walker in the distance and I somehow caught up to him. I asked him how he was doing and he told me he was just trying to get to the next aid station because he was done. He had hurt his leg or his hip (hard to remember details) and he was calling it a day at the 50.
I was kind of shocked because I thought I was the worst off out there and in last place but here was someone who was ahead of me and quitting. He even seemed to be in better shape than me but I guess injury is not prejudiced.
He asked me if I was going on and I said that I was. I was not injured and I had to shave in the morning. I don’t know if he caught my meaning but I meant that I would have to look at myself in the mirror and if I gave one whip less than everything I had, I would not be able to look myself in the eye.
The sun set and it got progressively darker and darker until I was depending on moonlight and glowsticks placed along the path by the race organizers.
I didn’t immediately assign the proper level of value to these glowsticks and was still trying to squint to keep myself on the path, looking for the white powder marks on the path. In a sudden realization, I thought “Hey, glowsticks!”
I had seen the cyclists riding around placing them as the sun started to set and even saw them along the path before it got dark but I guess I was starting to lose it because it took me some time to actually start using them like a trapeze artists, swinging from glowstick to glowstick.
A couple of times I thought I had got lost because I didn’t see the powder marks and started to worry. Then I would turn a corner and see the green glowstick in the distance and I would have a rush of happiness and relief. I even started talking to the glowsticks and greeting them as I came up to them, thanking them out loud for showing me the way.
Speaking of losing my mind, I got scared silly a few times.
Earlier in the race when I was running with the Joes and Nicole, I pointed out how scary some of the ragged, half burnt trees would look at night. Well, what started out as a joke became a reality.
I was running along a path and it was dark enough to have to pay attention. I look over and I see a monster’s face in a cave-like hollow of a burnt out tree right beside the path.
I won’t sugar-coat this; I yelled.
It scared me so bad I jumped to the opposite side of the path with dinner-plate eyes.
I was coherent enough to realize I might start hallucinating but I didn’t feel that far gone yet. But criminy that face scared the shit out of me and my heart was racing. I rushed by but had to stop and take a look back to see what I actually saw.
It was indeed a burned out tree and at the base where it was wide, a perfect cave-like area had burned out making a little “sitting area” inside. The back of the stump-cave was a pattern of black and ashy white. I looked at I swear on a stack of Bibles that it still looked like a face. A ghoulish face looking out from a dark little cave.
Stupid moonlit shadows.
It wasn’t only the trees but also the shadows the moonlight cast. I would be running along and stop in my tracks. Right in the middle of the path, a trick of light and shadow made it look like there was some kind of small animal sitting in the middle. The only other creature (other than the stupid Tree Troll) I saw all day was a snake slithering across the path when it was light.
I stopped and would talk to whatever I thought I was seeing…
“OK, what are YOU?”
I would hesitate to see if it moved and then I would see that it was just a trick of the light and go on. This happened a few times during this last leg.
At this point, I felt like I had given up so much time that I was last in the race and that I wouldn’t even make the cut-offs, much less the time limit for the race. It was the dark talking to me and the beginning of the challenge that these races pose when all of the sudden, I realized I was running. I was actually running and was being distracted by looking for the glowsticks.
When did I start running again? I couldn’t remember but I felt fine doing a little jog in the moonlight looking for glowsticks. It was a strange and sudden realization and I marveled that I could be running after all my body had been through this day.
Off in the distance I could suddenly see the lights of the aid station. I looked forward to getting in but I was in another low based on the assumption I was in last place and was way behind pace schedule. My crew had not told me if I was on pace the last few stations so I assumed that meant that I wasn’t and they didn’t want to tell me.
I was having these dark thoughts when I saw someone coming the other way.
“Your wife sent me out here to help you in. She told me you didn’t have light so I offered to come find you.”
He had a flashlight and gave it to me to take the lead.
We got into the aid station and I thanked this stranger. I was focused on getting into the shower and minimizing what I knew to be the longest rest stop I would take the entire race.
I told Carrie to meet me by the showers with my change of clothes, a little irritated that they weren’t ready, Indy 500 pit stop style, for this potentially time-vortex of an aid station.
I had made it in at 13:13 which I didn’t realize at the time was a PR for the 50 mile distance, beating my old PR by 10 minutes.
The water flowing on me was beyond exquisite. As the water ran down my body, it was like waves of relief applied to every surface it touched. It was every bit the decadent comfort I had imagined it to be for so many hours.
The rest of the story is covered in “The End” but here are the stats I put together for this race:
Arrive AS1: 0709
Depart AS1: 0712
Time at AS: 3 min
Weight: 201.6 lbs
Distance: 5.9 miles
Leg Time: 1:09
Leg Pace: 11:42 min/mile
Overall Pace: 11:42 min/mile
Arrive AS2: 0832
Depart AS2: 0837
Time at AS: 5 min
Weight: 197.8 lbs (-3.8 lbs)
Distance: 6.7 miles
Leg Time: 1:20
Leg Pace: 11:56 min/mile
Overall Pace: 12:03 min/mile
Arrive AS3: 1003
Depart AS3: 1021
Time at AS: 18 min
Distance: 7.2 miles
Leg Time: 1:26
Leg Pace: 11:57 min/mile
Overall Pace: 12:16 min/mile
Arrive AS4: 1151
Depart AS4: 1205
Time at AS: 14 min
Weight: 194.8 (-6.8 lbs)
Distance: 6.0 miles
Leg Time: 1:30
Leg Pace: 15 min/mile
Overall Pace: 13:36 min/mile
Arrive AS5: 1315
Depart AS5: 1326
Time at AS: 11 min
Distance: 4.9 miles
Leg Time: 1:14
Leg Pace: 15:06 min/mile
Overall Pace: 14:10 min/mile
Milk Ranch Road
Arrive AS6: 1500
Depart AS6: 1510
Time at AS: 10 min
Distance: 5.8 miles
Leg Time: 1:34
Leg Pace: 16:12 min/mile
Overall Pace: 14:48 min/mile
Arrive AS7: 1645
Depart AS7: 1700
Time at AS: 15 min
Distance: 6.4 miles
Leg Time: 1:32
Leg Pace: 14:22 min/mile
Overall Pace: 15:04 min/mile
Arrive AS8: 1945
Depart AS8: 1955
Time at AS: 10 min
Distance: 7.4 miles
Leg Time: 2:45
Leg Pace: 22:18 min/mile
Overall Pace: 16:30 min/mile
Arrive AS1: 2155
Distance: 5.9 miles
Leg Time: 2:00
Leg Pace: 20:20 min/mile
Overall Pace: 17:05 min/mile
If you notice, I kept my goal of 15-minute/mile pace, even counting the aid station stops, all the way up to the 7th aid station where I began to falter.
Please continue with this report by reading “The End” where I analyze more deeply what effect this race had on me.
I wanted an adventure, man, I got one in spades!
Other race reports:
Free Advice for Today: “Remember the three universal healers: calamine lotion, warm oatmeal, and hugs.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.