San Diego 100 Race Report: Will Run for Ramen

newbannerphoto1398380360sd100Out of all the 100s I’ve run, I was the least confident going into the San Diego 100, and rightly so—I was vastly undertrained. Probably not as undertrained as my first 100 miler, but close to it.

We entered the SD100 lottery on a whim while we were wintering in Pennsylvania, and got in. I was excited to start training, but was soon disheartened by the Pennsylvania winter that prevented us from moving any faster than a 20+-minute mile pace through deep snow.

I regrouped and took up some long hiking instead. We’d go out for seven or eight hour days on the mountain, bundled up like eskimos, and trudged slowly through the snow and ice. It was a beautiful, challenging, and sometimes frustrating experience. The extreme weather tested my willpower and mental limits, but I chalked it all up to good SD100 training.

When spring hit, the plan was to beeline to San Diego and get in some course training before the race, but RV repairs delayed us significantly and by race day we had only done two short hikes on the course.

What’s worse, we discovered that our winter hiking translated poorly into San Diego training. The heat and elevation were frying our brains and our bodies. It was hard to keep a running gait after so much hiking. And to my horror, we discovered that we had both gained 15 lbs of winter weight.

Although I had been active, I had compromised my nutrition on the east coast to include much more junk food than I normally eat, and under the winter layers I hadn’t noticed the extra pounds. By the time we got to warm weather, my running clothes weren’t fitting right and my body wasn’t moving the way I was used to. We did manage to lose some weight before the race (nine lbs down for me), but still not quite my ideal race weight.

I was negative about my ability to finish until a couple of days before the race. I kept telling people I would start but probably not finish, and I even told my pacer not to come, convinced that I wouldn’t make it to mile 50. I felt like I was running in a body that wasn’t even mine.

Paul Hassett, Shacky’s pacer, called us out on our negativity and a few days before the race and I realized I need to snap myself into the right frame of mind: I WAS going to finish! I could do this. I had done it before. Sure, it would hurt a little more… but I could finish. I WOULD finish.

I adopted Robert Frost’s Canis Major as my personal mantra:

The great Overdog
That heavenly beast
With a star in one eye
Gives a leap in the east.
He dances upright
All the way to the west
And never once drops
On his forefeet to rest.
I’m a poor underdog,
But to-night I will bark
With the great Overdog
That romps through the dark.

At the start line, I was excited to spend an entire day on the trails. I was poorly prepared—no crew, no pacers, only a tiny drop bag with a change of clothes and a headlamp at mile 56—but I was sure it would be a good day.

The vibe of the race was infectious. So many of our friends that we had missed were there, either as runners or volunteers. This was my element! I was right where I belonged.

At the start line, I chatted with Colleen Zato and warned her that I would be trying to tag along at her pace for the first 30 miles, but that she shouldn’t wait for me. I was a little worried about getting lost since I didn’t know the course very well, but I had also packed the turn-by-turn directions. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to consult them for the first 30 miles and could instead get away with mostly following Colleen. I knew she would keep a slow and steady pace.

Then we were off! For the first few miles, the trails were clogged and in some sections we were conga-line walking. The runners ahead of me would kick up dust (as I was doing for those behind me) and it was hard to breathe. When the crowd spread out, I let a lot of people pass me as I settled into a comfortable slog. I had already lost Colleen.

I ran for a while with Rob Distante and leapfrogged with Antonio Rios, and before I knew it we were at the first aid station. I grabbed some more water, a couple of orange slices, and left in under a minute. After that, we started climbing. And climbing. And climbing.

Me with Antonio. he went on to finish his first 100-mile race!

Me with Antonio. He went on to finish his first 100-mile race!

 

I was loving the climb! I’m a stronger hiker than I am a runner, and I managed to catch up to Colleen again. I was feeling great. We stuck together and took pictures and chatted until we ran into the next aid station (all the photos on here are hers). I saw Shacky coming out of the aid station as I was going in, and he looked like he was doing just fine. At the aid station I grabbed some watermelon, more electrolyte drink, and was off again. Colleen was seconds ahead, so I jogged to catch up.

Pirate's Cove

Pirate’s Cove aid station! Aaaarg!

 

 

The next stretch was lovely and effortless. We ran into Sunrise 1 together and I was surprised to find Shacky sitting in a chair looking rather miserable. He was holding a bottle with a powder mix, and a wet powder blob was stuck in his beard. “I don’t think I can do this,” he told me.

“SURE YOU CAN!” I practically yelled. “Just grab your stuff and we’ll walk the next section.” It was seven miles to the 50K mark and we had plenty of time to make the cutoff, even if it was a slog.

Me trying to talk Shacky into leaving the aid station

Me trying to talk Shacky into leaving the aid station

 

It was getting warm, but I figured it was just my lack of heat training (I later learned it had actually hit 120F+ in some sections). David Lopez helped me soak my head in ice water, we posed for (another) picture with Colleen, and then we were off.

I tried to keep up with Colleen, but she was way faster than Shacky so I decided to lag behind a bit. I walked a lot and kept looking behind me to see if Shacky was following. At first he was… until he wasn’t. I walked slower… but no Shacky. I stopped for a few minutes and let a few people pass me. Two gentlemen I had been leapfrogging slipped by, Corina Smith, and Jeff Coon. Still no Shacky. Hm.

I knew I still had time to make the cutoff… should I go back for him? I started taking a few steps back, and immediately stopped. WTF WAS I DOING?? I’M GOING BACKWARDS! Never go backwards. I lingered for another minute or so, and still no sign of Shacky. Crap.

Leaving Sunrise

Leaving Sunrise aid station with a reluctant Shacky

 

“What should I do??” I wondered.

I’m sure this sounds like a stupid dilemma, but for me it was a big deal. Everything in my girlfriend-nature wanted to go back for my dude. But every part of the runner in me thought that was absolutely ridiculous. I had already lost time… whose race was I running, anyway? MY race. I wasn’t a pacer. I knew that Shacky would hate for me to wait for him, but that didn’t matter. I felt—somehow—that it was my job to go back.

My internal dilemma only lasted for a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. My mind wandered to the last song I learned to play on the ukulele: Jesse Ruben’s We Can.

Do not hesitate when people bring you down

Do not settle, Do not wait

DO NOT EVER TURN AROUND

You’re almost there…

I swear, I swear it’s yours

Fuck it. I started running and didn’t stop until I got to Pioneer Mail 1, the 50K mark. It was now 94F.

At Pioneer Mail, I soaked my head and stuck a bandage on a hot spot on my foot. I was feeling strong and got out of there in under two minutes. It was four miles to Penny Pines 1, and I ran it in. I was well ahead of cut-offs.

I caught up to Jeff in the next stretch and we jogged into Todd’s Cabin together. Jeff was having a hard time with cramping, something he had never experienced before. We chatted and passed the time until we got to aid. At Todd’s cabin I soaked my head again and grabbed some food. I was still feeling great, even though the heat was starting to annoy me. I got out of there as fast as possible and walk/jogged alone for a while. I was slowing down.

Corina caught up to me and we jogged into mile 44 together. Corina went to get foot aid while Regina Peters greeted me like crew. She said Elizabeth would be picking me up at Meadows, and Paul Hassett would bring me home. Insta-pacers!

“Um.. ok,” I said. But Paul was Shacky’s pacer!

“Did Shacky drop?” I asked her.

“Shacky dropped,” she informed me. “But he’s totally fine with it—he’s eating a huge burger right now.”

“THAT RAT BASTARD!” I exclaimed, “I’ll kick his ass when I see him!”

Regina laughed and I took off with some watermelon down the trail.

Starting to feel the miles

Starting to feel the miles

 

At this point I was starting to feel more hot spots in both feet. I had never had blisters before, and they weren’t hurting… just mildly annoying. I figured I’d ignore them until I got to Elizabeth at Meadows and let her help me deal with my feet.

I left Meadows feeling great, but somewhere in those next few miles every negative feeling hit me all at once, out of nowhere. It was suddenly too hot. I was starving. The rocks were too sharp. And OMG, my hot spots hurt. They must be blisters?

I considered stopping to take a look, but I was afraid to. What if they were terrible? I wouldn’t know how to fix them alone. I figured my best bet was to get to Meadows and have my feet looked at. I would also sit down and eat something hot. The sun was already starting to set.

Thankfully, I had packed an extra handheld light and carried it for the entire 44 miles… just in case I got hopelessly lost and had to spend a cold and scary night on the trail. I only had one drop bag at mile 56 with my headlamp and somehow thought I would make it there before dark. I was about 10 miles off.

All of a sudden I felt a POP in my right foot. My hotspot, which was apparently a huge blister, had popped. Then it started stinging in the most terrible way. Believe it or not, this had never happened to me in all my previous races. Another little known fact: I’m a huge blister wuss.

Every step after that felt like knives in my heel. I was able to walk quickly mostly on my tiptoes (to stay off my heel), but I knew I was compensating my stride with other muscles and I would soon wear out.

“I can’t be far…” I told myself. “Just get to Meadows! Then you can fix your feet and eat soup.”

All of a sudden it was extremely important to me that I have some soup.

“What if they don’t have soup there??” I tortured myself with this possibility. “I MUST HAVE SOUP!!”

The pain grew so bad that I started counting my steps just to keep my mind off my sucky situation. It was now pitch black and I was basically limping. I dug into my pack and grabbed my handheld light. I heard someone coming up behind me… it was Corina. She wasn’t looking too well, but she was still moving faster than I was.

“I’m dropping at the next aid station,” Corina told me. “I’m done.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll get out of there before the cutoff…” I sighed. It would take me a few minutes to eat and fix my blisters, and I was already going SO. SLOW.

I told Corina to go ahead. “I’m limping this one in.”

In retrospect, I probably should have sucked it up and jogged my way in. It’s not like the pain was getting any worse. But I was way too busy feeling sorry for myself and quickly losing my motivation to give a crap.

By the time I got to Meadows, my stomach was growling, I was feeling weepy, and I hated life. Paul Hassett, Jon Sanregret, and Elizabeth Kocek ran up to me.

“She’s here! She’s here!” one of them yelled.

“You have four minutes to get out of here!!” They barked. “Just check in and check out!!”

“But…. IS THERE ANY SOUP??” was my brilliant reply.

Corina was puking in the corner.

It took about one second for the three of them to decide that they would get me a quesadilla, hot soup (TO GO!) but I had to check out immediately. They would stop further up the trail to fix my feet, but they couldn’t stay in the aid station.

I was too tired to argue. Those bastards! I had planned to drop here!

They grabbed all my stuff, found me a log, and tore off my shoes. OUCH!! My blisters were pretty big. I tried not to look at them. I just stuck my foot up and munched on my quesadilla while Elizabeth cleaned my feet.

I insisted on popping them myself because, if you’ll recall, I’m a big wuss. And I took my sweet time popping them. Some fluid came out and then it started stinging some more. I pulled out my tape, but my insta-crew agreed that my tape sucked.

Jon ran back to his car to get some crazy bandages I had never seen before. They patched me up while I finished my quesadilla. I chewed slowly and wondered if I stalled enough, they might let me drop. No such luck.

By this time the aid station captain had found us and walked over to see if we were leaving anytime soon. He made sure I had a pacer. My insta-crew assured him I was fine and I would make it. I just looked at him with a blank stare on my face.

Finally, I got up and it was time to go.

“Oh…. your soup spilled,” said Elizabeth. She handed me an empty styrofoam cup with a lone, limp noodle dangling from it. It was still hot.

OMG NOOOOOO!!!! MY SOUP!!!!!!

There was no time to cry. The aid station was closed and we were off.

I limped a few steps, then walked, then started jogging. YES! I could run without pain again! I was gonna make it! My mood had already improved.

I had run for several yards, starting to feel pretty awesome, when I had the sinking feeling that something was wrong.

“What’s wrong… what’s wrong…” I wondered. Then it hit me. HOLY SHIT! WHERE’S MY LIGHT??

Elizabeth was ahead of me with her headlamp and I was following her… no light in my hand.

“My light! My light!” I yelled to Elizabeth.

“What?”

“I had a handheld light!”

“Oh yeah… you did.”

We both knew we couldn’t go back.

“I’ll text them and see if they have it….” Elizabeth suggested as she pulled out her phone. Turns out nobody knew where it was.

“It must be by the log,” I moaned. I must have dropped it in all the commotion, god-knows-where.

It was pitch dark and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. It was also my favorite light! I felt myself slipping back into my grumpy state. All of a sudden, I was scared of falling. I couldn’t run anymore. Where’s the trail??

I asked Elizabeth to run behind me so I could use the light off her headlamp, but all that did was cast an enormous shadow of my own fat head in my path. I still couldn’t see anything.

“Do you think if I used your light and you ran right behind me, you could see too??” I was sure I had just come up with a brilliant solution, not realizing that we had just been doing that (with me behind Elizabeth) and it hadn’t worked.

Still, Elizabeth graciously gave up her light and I started jogging.

“Can you see?” I asked her.

“Um…. I think I have a light on my phone!”

Of course she couldn’t see. STUPID!

But I was jogging and that seemed to make Elizabeth happy.

A few minutes later Elizabeth had to pee. I went on ahead of her, but then I wanted to pee too. Then there was a hill I had to walk. And then… it seemed hopeless.

“We’re not gonna make it…” I moaned.

Elizabeth was a beacon of positivity. She was certain we would make the next cutoff.

A few yards away, we saw two more lights. What?? People behind us??

Elizabeth warned me not to let them catch up, but I was quickly losing my ability to care. I did try to stay ahead… but they caught up. They were moving so fast!!

“Hi!” They greeted us. “We’re the sweepers!”

OMG NO! GET AWAY!

They assured us that we were doing great, and we’d probably make it. They said it would be mostly downhill in the final stretch. I continued pushing… and I starting thinking I had a good chance. There was another runner up ahead of me, and I passed him. That got the sweepers off our tail, and I kept jogging/walking.

I had no idea how far it was or how fast we were going, but I did try to push. Every once in a while, I’d feel a wave of defeat and Elizabeth would have to reassure me. I was also hungry again.

We started talking about what I needed at the aid station. More water and hot soup. PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HOT SOUP.

I also had a drop bag there with a change of clothes, but Elizabeth said there was not time for that. She’d just grab my jacket and an extra layer since it was getting colder, as well as my headlamp.

We saw someone standing on the side of the trail and he said we only had 0.2 miles to go. Elizabeth ran ahead to fill my bottles and told me to not slow down. I didn’t.

When I got there, I found Elizabeth arguing with the aid station captain. They were pulling us from the course.

“That’s ok… that’s ok….” I waved at them. “I’m ready to stop.”

I asked the aid station caption by how much we had missed the cutoff. She told me I was 15 minutes late. That was a lot… maybe I never had a chance. The drop bags were already packed up and with them, my headlamp. What’s worse, the aid station had shut down completely. No hot soup for me.

My day had come to the end at 56 miles, but I felt satisfied. I had spend the whole day running and suddenly the prospect of a warm bed and shower sounded too good to pass up.

I thanked Elizabeth profusely for pacing me, and enjoyed a bumpy ride back to the Start.

I found Shacky fast asleep in the RV, bloated from a bacon burger. Kitty stirred from her slumber and sneezed in my face. And all was right in the world.

kittehYou May Also Enjoy:

Rocky Road 100 Race Report

Zion 100 Race Report

Chimera 100 Race Report

****

Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

 

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Welcome to Your Tribe: Born to Run Ultramarathons

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When I first started running ultras, I was lucky enough to meet the Mas Locos crew. For a while, I thought that all ultra runners were like this. After traveling around the country, I learned that no… nobody else is like this, and there are no other races like Born to Run.

Born to Run is more than just a race–it’s a running festival, mesmerizing for both runner and spectator alike. Here you’ll find hippies, cowboys, Mariachi heavy metal bands, guitars, archery, costumes, beer mile races, campfires, hula hoops, homemade burritos, and more.

Distances include 10 miles, 30 miles, 60 miles, and 100 miles, but be warned that if you run anything longer than 30 miles, you may miss some of the shenaniganza (Pat Sweeney’s made-up word for this event). Every time you pass through the start/finish, you’ll be cheered by a tribe of dancing runners.

Appropriately, the race course map is shaped like boobies.

If you get lost, it's your own damn fault.

If you get lost, it’s your own damn fault.

 
A few days ago race director Luis Escobar wrote the following about this event:

The Born To Run Ultra Marathon Extravaganza cannot be described on the static pages of a magazine. There is no adequate podcast, YouTube video or Facebook post. Until you have made the trek to the ranch in Los Olivos and spent the night under the stars and until you have literally danced in the California dirt and sang the songs and drank water from the well and until you have run through the oak groves and across the dusky ridges you will not fully appreciate the experience.

Born To Run is trail running at its finest and much, much more. We created this event as an experiment. What would happen if we invited running friends from across the country and beyond? What would happen if more than seven hundred happy people showed up and spent three days and two nights behind the closed gate of a private cattle ranch, with no amenities? As corny as it may sound, the answer is, love.

At first glance, the Born To Run Ultra Marathon is a 10 mile, 50km, 100km and 100 mile trail run. But after a few minutes on the ranch you quickly realize that something deeper and very special is happening here. The words Woodstock, Grateful Dead Show and Burning Man immediately come to mind.

Personally, I would describe it as Summer Camp for Running Hippies. Three days of camping, running games, bola races, beer miles, live music, dancing, archery, arts, tattoos, guitars, cowboy hats, rattlesnakes, shotguns, piñatas, food, drink, socializing, Tarahumara Indians and running – lots and lots of running.

In addition to all of that, there is more because Born To Run has become the icon of running harmony and the celebration of good things between all running cultures. As our Tarahumara friends have taught us, “When you run on the earth, and with the earth, you can run forever.”

Some photo highlights:

REGISTRATION FOR 2015 OPENED TODAY!

It will sell out this year.

Next event of equal awesomeness: New Mexico Running Retreat

Don’t miss out!

You May Also Enjoy:

How to Train Your Human to Run an Ultra

Has Ultrarunning Evolved Past Western States?

Why I Run 100 Milers

****

Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Should Children Run Endurance Events?

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Every time I post a photo of the Redden kids on Facebook, I see the same type of comments: lots of admiration, some shock, some concern, and some downright anger.

Seth and Sabrina Redden are the proud parents of two unusual kids. Tajh (male, 11) and Teagan (female, 9) are both avid trail and ultra runners. Last year, Teagan ran her first 100K and 100-mile distance. She was nominated for the Arizona 2013 Rookie of the Year Award at mcdowellmountainman.com. Needless to say, her competitors were older than her by a large margin…as they usually are.

Team Redden is so mind-blowingly young and accomplished that Outside Magazine covered them in an article, The Art of Raising Young Ultrarunners.

View Teagan Redden’s race results.

Like the Redden kids’ Facebook page.

The debate as to whether children should be running endurance events rages on. However, it is not an entirely new concept. Children have been running marathons for a while now.

Data from the Twin Cities Marathon shows that between 1982 and 2005, 277 children have crossed the finish line ranging from ages 7 to 17 with finish times from 2:53 to 6:10.

Unfortunately, there is little scientific data on the effects of long distance running on children.

This topic intrigued us enough to chat with Seth and Sabrina Redden as well as a pediatrician on the Natural Running Network Podcast a couple of weeks ago. On the show, we discuss veganism for kids, thermoregulation in children, and a child’s eagerness to please his/her parents.

nevertooyoungtorun

Direct Podcast Link HERE

Here are some things that didn’t make it into the podcast:

Colby Weltland and Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen

I had hoped to have child prodigy Colby Weltland on the show. Unfortunately, his family was traveling for a race and they were unavailable.

Colby is a 13 year old kid who has already finished several 100-mile races and aspires to be youngest Badwater finisher. I also spoke to his close family friend and pacer, Ed “The Jester”. An accomplished ultra runner, Ed has thousands of miles of experience and has mentored/paced Colby to most of his finishes.

When I asked for his insight, he wrote the following:

Just for more fodder on the subject, I know one of the concerns people have is that running at a young age will do physical and emotional harm to kids. My four kids have never run an ultra, but have run many marathons, running their first one at the ages of 8, 9, 11, and 14 (and that was because she’s a type 1 diabetic, otherwise she would have run her first one at an earlier age).

They’re all young adults now and are just fine, physically and emotionally. My 21-year-old daughter who was 8 at her first marathon just did the Disney World Half Marathon and works for Raw Threads a clothing company that specializes in running attire. She is a vendor at many of the big marathons and she still loves the running world.

I was told by many people that running a marathon at such an early age would damage her growth plates. I feel really bad now, because apparently it did stunt her growth–she’s only 5’11″!

And for me personally, although I didn’t run marathons as a kid, I did run my first two at the age of 17, and three more at the age of 18. Thirty-four years later I set three American age records: 200k, 24-hour, and 6-day, so I don’t think running long distances as a teen hurt me too much. Anyway, just thought I’d share that with you.

Oh, and one more family of young ultra runners. Brandon and Cameron Plate are from Oklahoma. They’re 12 and 13 and have both completed two 100+ mile races. Colby & I and the two of them ran together at Silverton 1,000 and ATY last year. You can find their stats on Ultrasignup as well.

Jester on . . .

Follow Colby’s blog.

Join the Run Jester Run Friends Facebook page.

Remember: There are many great programs out there like Girls on the Run and the 100 Mile Club that help introduce kids to the joy of running. They don’t have to run extreme distances to stay healthy and find a love for the outdoors.

You can check out our other running podcasts at the Natural Running Network HERE.

What are your thoughts? Should children be allowed to race ultras?
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You May Also Enjoy:

History of the Popularity of Ultrarunning From 1585 to 2010

How to Train Your Human to Run an Ultra

How to Train for Your First Ultramarathon

****

Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Zion 100 Race Report: Miserable is Memorable

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Badwater’s youngest finisher and recent Barkley camp Nickademus Hollon once said: “Miserable is memorable.”

His quote became a mantra for Shacky and me as we neared mile 50 on the Zion 100 course last Friday, but it wasn’t until a couple of days later that I realized just how memorable this race had actually been, how much I had learned, and what a rich experience I had come to know at Zion.

Shacky and I didn’t finish the race. We both dropped at mile 52, though I accused him of having sympathy pains. He argued that he had complained about his knee long before I had, so maybe mine were the sympathy pains?

Either way, I came into the mile 52 aid station limping and leaning on a stick for support. I had tweaked my knee on some slick rock back at mile 30, and the pain kept getting worse until it seemed unbearable at mile 50.

Judging from my recovery after the race, I have no doubt that I would have seriously injured my knee had I chosen to continue. The limping was causing my good knee to slowly give out as I overcompensated.

For the first time in my life, I learned what “bad” pain felt like—the kind of injury that it would take weeks or months to recover from. I wasn’t willing to put in that kind of recovery time. We were headed to Sequoia National Park, Yellowstone, and the Redwoods after Zion. I had to be healthy enough to run among those trees.

The pain I felt in my knee after mile 30 confused me. The course led us down a very runnable, downhill dirt road. I kept trying to break into a run, only to be forced to walk after about five steps due to pain. When I walked, I felt no pain. Finally, I resorted to a speed walk and figured I would just power hike the rest of the way.

At around mile 40, even the hiking started to hurt, and the downhills started to kill. The pain only stopped when I stopped moving.

I wondered if I was just being a wuss, and decided to try an all-out sprinting pace to see what that did. I felt a sharp pain shot up through my knee that made my leg buckle under me. I hopped on my good leg to avoid falling.

People who passed me changed their comments from “Great job!” to “Way to tough it out…”

And at the bottom of Grafton Mesa, the third climb of the race, I sat down on a rock and cried. Why did it hurt this bad? I had never hurt this bad before.

Determined to get to my pacer who was waiting at mile 52, I told myself to pull it together and started climbing Grafton Mesa. On fresh legs, this climb is mostly runnable. Instead, I was inching my way along, limping and grabbing on to rocks to keep the weight off my bad leg. It was pretty miserable, and Shacky gently suggested that I consider dropping at the next aid station—a thought that had already occurred to me.

The idea of dropping felt strange. Other than my knee, I felt fabulous. My other leg felt strong, my nutrition was perfect, and mentally I was ready for many more hours on the trail. I was also, despite the pain, genuinely enjoying the day. The weather was perfect, the course was fabulous, and the race was so well marked.

Inching my way to the aid station, I wondered how dropping would make me feel. I tried to push myself to continue by appealing to my ego. I tried to tell myself that everyone was watching and that I would fail myself and fail my pacers… but I just couldn’t believe that.

I felt—whether I finished or not—like an awesome runner. I had run 100s before, and I would run many more after this. Deep down, I felt strong even though I was limping.

I thought of the Boston batons that the race director had sent out on the course. There was a gold and a blue baton being passed on from runner to runner throughout the course. The batons had the names of the Boston victims, those who would never run again, and would be sent to the families of the victims after they had been carried through the Zion 100.

I tried to motivate myself by thinking about how the Boston victims couldn’t run, so I should run for them. But instead it occurred to me that the greater honor would be to make a decision that would allow me to run again in a couple of days—and for the rest of my life—instead of pushing myself into an injury that would take months to recover from, and then re-occur at every race in the future. How would hurting myself honor anyone?

I thought about how funny perspective is. If this had been a 50 miler, I would be finishing victoriously. But because it’s a 100 miler, I would end the day in failure. And yet the distance is the same. I just ran 50 miles. 50 MILES! Should I really be ashamed?

I felt a distinct shift in my perception of the race. In previous races, I would think of it as: ME vs the TRAIL. But in Zion, the trails feel like my home. We had been here for three weeks, running all these same trails and doing all these same climbs. I knew I could summit and I knew the course would still be there tomorrow. The views were spectacular but familiar, and I just couldn’t see this event as a do-or-die.

When you wake up in the morning, do you race to see how fast you can make coffee? How long you can take to prepare dinner? Of course not—because those are your daily activities. They are your routine. That’s what the trails have become for me. They are my routine and my home. They are there when I fall asleep and there when I wake up. If I can’t run 100 miles today, maybe I can run 50 miles today. Maybe I can run 100 miles tomorrow.

Somewhere along the line, I have managed to detach my ego from my running, looking instead to the journey ahead and knowing that there are so many more trails to run, and an endless amount of miles to cover. I want to run today so I can run tomorrow.

I knew that by dropping at mile 52, I could rest for a couple of days and be back on my feet by the time we got to the next National Park. The other option was to push hard for this buckle, and be out of running for weeks. In my mind, I could imagine the towering trees of the West coast and I pictured them waiting for me. I could smell the moist dirt under my feet, and the soft leaves at my fingertips. It was a no-brainer. I must stay healthy so I could run more—not today, but tomorrow.

The next morning, we drove to the mile 83 aid station, also the home of George and Melissa Walsh. Their aid station theme was “Whiskey Town” complete with limitless drinks and jello shots. Shacky had whiskey for breakfast, and we shared some San Diego IPA.

The Walshes ran such a memorable aid station that the front runners were finishing the course, then driving back to Whiskey Town to party for the rest of the night. Amazingly, they only had one drop there.

Well into the next day, the festivities continued. Matt Gunn had organized a big screen showing of the Western States movie Unbreakable at the local movie theater, followed by a live Q&A with UltrAspire’s elite athletes. After that, it was free burgers and drinks at a local restaurant, and just in case you weren’t exhausted enough, there was also free river rafting.

The running community and volunteers were so warm and inviting that we ended up spending the next day at Tracy and Robin’s house. We talked about aquaponics, checked out their Air Stream trailer converted into a garden, saw some solar LED lights they had made out of Pabst beer cans, and played with their dog and cats.

Memorable is an understatement for what RD Matt Gunn put together this year at the Zion 100. I have no doubt the entries next year will soar. The course is brutally challenging yet still mostly runnable. There was a low-key, small town feel, the marking was flawless, the weather was perfect, and every single finisher’s buckle was handmade.

As we continue to travel the country, I will look back fondly on these memories and do my best to stay healthy enough to run another day in Zion.

You May Also Enjoy:

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

 

Why I Run 100 Milers

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It has been two months since I released my first book, and although I have an entire chapter in there about how silly the “Why do we run?” questions is, it ironically has become the most common question I’ve been asked since then in interviews and podcasts. And so I have been forced to formulate a rough answer.

That, combined with the fact that I am now five days away from running my fifth 100-mile race (the Zion 100 in Springdale, Utah), I find myself in an introspective mood, and very much wishing to answer that question for myself.

Why run 100 miles?

There has been some debate going on in the blogosphere as to the value of racing. Why not just enjoy trail “training” runs, without the pressure of a goal race? Why bother with the entry fee, the crowds, the packet pickup? And I can certainly see some validity to those arguments.

I think of my friends like Jason Robillard or Ashley Walsh, who have questioned the sanity of running 100-mile races and have more or less given them up (for now). On a rational level, their arguments make sense. Yet the 100-mile distance still calls to me, whispering my name through sandy canyon walls and from the top of rocky summits.

Over the months, I have seen friends enter ultras and drop out because it was “boring.” This, I don’t understand. A race can be many things for me, but boring is never one of them. When I was a kid, if I ever complained about being bored, my dad would make me do pushups or clean the toilet, so that may explain my aversion to the state of boredom. Plus I can’t shake my father’s voice ringing in my ears: “Only boring people get bored!”

No, I am never bored on the trail.

I think of my friend Christian Peterson who is forever encouraging me to balance my training with Crossfit-ish supplementation, a detour that I have embraced for Zion 100. My mileage decreased in favor of strength work, core work, plyometrics, and even yoga. Though I enjoy when a workout change leaves me expectantly sore, I can’t help but also think of my friend Nathaniel Wolfe who wisely advises: “Stop trying to get in shape. Just do what you love and let your body take whatever shape is best suited.”

What I love is running more miles. Maybe “balance” isn’t the best thing to strive for when training for a 100? Maybe balanced people don’t run 100 milers.

So why run 100s?

I’ve spent the last couple of days of digging through my brain for a list of reasons. I was hoping for a Top 5, or a Top 10 list, but I could only come up with one thing.

Quite simply, I run 100 miles because it’s the only thing I do that demands my all.

Every.

Last.

Ounce.

Of.

Me.

This distance takes from me all that I have, and the thrill of surrendering myself to the trail—to that extreme—is unparalleled.

I was inspired this week by the music of Joe Pug, who seemed to speak to my 100-mile aspirations in his Hymn #76:

“To love me is to sit upon the mountain.

Every step is harder than the last.

But to find a step above it, is to triumph—is to summit.

Taste the frigid water from the tap.”

I need some things in my life to be hard. I need some things to demand more of me—to insist on everything.

Every so often, I need more than a training run. I need to pour all my heart out… in a race like this.

WELCOME TO ZION

Direct YouTube link HERE

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Has Ultrarunning Evolved Past Western States?

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On April 1st, the eyes of ultrarunners across the country lit up when they read about the drastic changes to the Western States 100 course. You can read the article on irunfar here: Western States Announces Changes.

Minutes (hours?) later, hopes were shattered when runners learned the article was actually an April Fool’s joke and Western States was still same old, same old.

But the real joke, it seems, was on Western States.

Tracking the excitement around the changes, followed by the let-down of the prank, I wonder whether ultrarunners are begging for a real change.

The article proposed changes that would make the course harder, the most popular change being a hard 24-hour cutoff.

Western States’ own godfather Gordon Ainsleigh famously ran the course for the first time in under 24 hours, and was thrilled with the new “changes”. His Facebook post:

“It’s great to be a part of this epic improvement in the race I started… It’s finally getting back to the way it was when I did it in 1974: Just 3 aid-station/crew-access points… About time!”

His comment when he found out it was a joke?

“Oh, shift! Was it all a tragicomic dream?”

Jokes aside, Ainsleigh actually has some realistic and innovative ideas to make the race:

a) harder

b) guaranteed entry for everyone

c) more accessible to 55+ seniors

If even a stubborn old man like Gordy knows it’s time to evolve the race, perhaps it’s time we listened.

Yes, Western States has the historic appeal. Yes, it has the hype and the hoopla. But are runners starting to say this is no longer enough?

Sherpa John wrote a great post on his Western States experience that actually made me think that I never want to run it. You can read it here: Western States Thoughts

I entered the WS lottery for the first time last year, secretly hoping that I wouldn’t get in. We had plans to spend the summer in Alaska, and Western States would have conflicted.

Still, it seemed that entering the lottery was the thing to do and I couldn’t be a “real” ultrarunner unless I threw my name in like everyone else, never mind that I have five buckles sitting in the RV.

I realize now how lame this was and I’m relieved I didn’t get in. I doubt I’ll qualify or enter the next lottery. What bothers me the most is that the races I want to run aren’t qualifying races, yet they’re much harder than the qualifiers.

I have my eye on a 100-miler in Alaska this summer and I’ll be running Zion 100 in three weeks (neither are qualifiers). I ran the last Chimera 100, and was shocked to learn that although it was not a qualifier, the Old Goat 50 (exactly half of the Chimera course), was. It makes no sense.

The races I seek out are newer, grassroot events. So my chances of qualifying are pretty low, even though I’ll end up with some rock hard mountain miles under my belt.

I haven’t been around this sport long enough to have an expert, informed opinion. But I do know what ultrarunning means to me. It’s not about the politics, hype, and drama of Western States.

It’s certainly NOT about entering a race because you’re “supposed” to.

It’s about community. It’s about mountain solitude. It’s about accessibility for all who are crazy enough to attempt a race. And if a race can’t be accessible to everyone, it better be extremely hard.

I’m curious about where others weigh in on this. What are your thoughts?

Check out the Facebook discussion HERE.

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Ultrarunning Through 2012: My Year in Point Form & Video

Today I was going through my old photos and I was really taken by how filled this year has been with so many firsts, and so many amazing adventures. Here is my year in point form, and in photos.

January

* Started the year with a new distance PR at Across the Years: 100K
* Completed the Disney Goofy Challenge in January (half marathon followed by marathon the next day)

February

* Ran my first 100-miler at Rocky Road 100
* Completed my first mud run (Spartan Race)
* New marathon PR at Surf City

March

* First DFL at Rodeo Valley 50K (four-way DNF with friends–the best kind!)

April

* Beat Shacky for the first time at Oriflamme 50K
* First of many Mount Baldy summits

May

* Grand Canyon R2R2R
* First of many shared miles with ultra legend Gordy Ainsleigh
* DNF at PCT 50 (Grand Canyon legs)
* Slowest 50K ever at Born to Run 50K (failed barefoot attempt)
* Second 100-mile attempt at Nanny Goat 100 (dropped at 55 miles)
* Quit my job to focus on running and writing

June

* First pacing gig at San Diego 100
* Met Scott Jurek and got my Kindle autographed
* Shopping for a Rialta RV
* Got my dreads :)

July

* Training runs with Gordy Ainsleigh on his stomping grounds & Western States course

August

* Bought the RV!
* Transrockies 6-day Challenge (120 miles)

September

* Course PR at Noble Canyon 50K
* Volunteered at inaugural Mogollon Monster 100

October

* Completed inaugural Cuyamaca 100K
* Visited and ran in Zion National Park
* Summited Arizona’s highest peak, Mt. Humphrey’s
* Finished my second 100-miler at Javelina 100

November

* Ate my way through the Krispy Kreme Challenge (Lite Division)
* Ran the last few days with Rae on her Run Across American
* Completed my third 100-miler at Chimera 100, my first mountain 100
* First Zion 100 training run
* Ran with Colby on his first marathon

December

* Cheered friends at their first ultra at Ridgecrest 50K
* Multi-day Noble Challenge (5 summits in 5 days, 100 miles)
* Next up: Across the Years 72-Hour

Transitions

* From barefoot running to minimalist running (and sometimes Hokas!)
* From some roads to all trails
* From flats to mountains

* From 50Ks to 100 milers (still haven’t run a 50 miler!)
* From racing everything to racing some, and volunteering more

Highlights I’m most proud of:

* From zero 100-milers, to three in one year (should be four at Across the Years!)
* Finished my first book, to be released in 2013 titled The Summit Seeker: Memoirs of a Trail Running Nomad
* Ditching the daily grind and moving into the RV to explore, write, and run

May your 2013 be filled with joy and adventure. Happy Holidays!

Ultrarunning Through 2012 Video

Direct YouTube Link HERE

Chimera 100 Race Report

The Chimera of Greek mythology is a ferocious, fire-breathing beast made up of part lion, part serpent, and part goat. She is a terror, but also swift-footed and strong. She sprints the mountain trails of this course, devouring runners and claiming her victims one DNF at a time. On this race of incessant climbs and quad-shredding descents, you have only two choices:

Fall prey to the Beast. Or run at her side.

When I first signed up for Chimera, I knew this race was out of my league. But I knew that if I trained hard, I had a chance of finishing. And if I didn’t, at least I challenged myself and hopefully learned something.

For a few weeks, I approached Chimera with a “race that I will try” mentality. But the Beast smells fear from miles away, so I knew I had to change my mindset. I adopted a new approach:

  • Do or do not. There is no try.
  • You don’t have to be fast, but you better be fearless.
  • Are you a Mexi-CAN or a Mexi-CAN’T??!

I would finish this race no matter how bloodied or broken. Quitting was not an option. This is the story of how I survived.

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When I ran Javelina 100 at the end of October, I overheard a runner encourage another by saying, “It’s only one 50K in the morning, one in the afternoon, one at night, and then a short 10-mile loop.” That made sense to me, so for Chimera I broke down the race into three parts:

  • The first 50K I would run as the Serpent.
  • For the next 50K I would be the Goat.
  • And in the final push I would be Lion.

1. Serpent

“I don’t know about tomorrow. I just live from day to day. I don’t borrow from its sunshine, for its skies may turn to grey.” – I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

The serpent is one of the oldest symbols in mythology. One of the first things I ever learned was the Biblical story of Adam and Eve falling prey to the crafty serpent. The serpent is shrewd and cunning. And that’s what I need to be early in this race.

I remembered a Bible verse I had learned in my childhood from Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Strategy in a 100-miler is everything. The key is to hold back as much as possible and preserve your body. I did this by keeping my body loose, slowing down, and not bombing any downhills. I made sure I never felt like I was exerting myself or breathing heavily. In fact, the first time I actually pushed myself to run was at mile 70+, when the sun came out on Sunday morning.

I love downhill running on single track, so I really had to make an effort to slow down and not fly these sections. I knew that I would need my quads later on. Tons of people passed me early in the race as well, and on every out and back I noticed that there were less and less people behind me. I was in the back of the pack.

2. Goat

“To some it’s the strength to be apart. To some it’s a feeling in the heart. And when you’re out there on your own, it’s the way back home.” – Katie Melua

Before I left for Chimera, I posted on my Facebook status: How can a goat be afraid of the mountain? It is his home.

That’s how I felt going into this race. I had no jitters–just excitement. This would be my first mountain 100, and although I had never run this far in the mountains, I knew I belonged in the clouds.

As Sarah Duffy points out on the Chimera Facebook page: “The course description includes 16 different terms for UP.” Some include:

  • Steep Up
  • VERY Up
  • Decomposed Granite Up
  • Truck Trail Up
  • Uphill Danger
  • Rolling Up
  • Generally Good Footing Uphill

There are also 15 different terms for DOWN:

  • Steep Technical Down
  • DANGER Down
  • Rolling Down
  • Very Rocky Downhill
  • Short Rocky Down
  • Slight Down Rocky

Sarah continues: “It was a purely physical challenge. I finished a climb and there was another one. I got to the bottom and I had to turn around and go back up. I rounded the bend and the hill continued on. I am still overwhelmed by the sheer physical demand of all that climbing, but I’ll recover happily knowing the monstrous fire-breathing creature didn’t eat me alive.”

Fabrice Hardel won Chimera this year with a mind-blowing time of 16:52:06. He broke the course record from last year (which was also his). After Cuyamaca 100K, Fabrice gave me the following advice for Chimera: Find the steepest hill you can and run up and down, over and over again.

He was dead on.

Climbing

I channeled my inner goat and embraced these climbs. Rather than seeing them as something outside of me that I must conquer, I imagined myself playing in my own living room. The hills were not strange, nor foreign. They were a part of who I was. They were hard, relentless, and beautiful. Just like me. I tried to remember that I wanted to be here. Even if there were no race, no buckle, no accolades. I would still want to run.

Positivity was crucial. This I learned at Javelina, and made sure my mind was clear and positive the entire distance. To me this means not allowing myself to get caught up in the stress of the race. I don’t allow myself to think of the cutoffs. I don’t wear a watch so I can’t stress over my pace, and I eat consistently. When I’m having a dip, I stop and mentally address it.

Something like this:

  • I’m feeling grouchy right now because I haven’t eaten enough. I will stop and eat at the next aid station.
  • I’m feeling worried right now because I don’t think I will make the cutoff. I have plenty of time.

Stress can lead to physical pain if I don’t put a stop to it. It’s a wave of desperation and exhaustion that hits all at once and makes everything suck. With every race I do, I’m learning to control it more and more.

Sidenote: My inexperience as a 100-mile runner showed when I realized at the end of the race that I pretty much missed all the hot food. I heard there were burgers, quesadillas, and pizza, none of which I saw. I was told I was supposed to ask for it. Oops.

I had also mistakenly assumed that most of the course would be single track. When I realized it was a lot more fire road (where cars could drive), I switched into my Hokas the first chance I got at mile 50, and they truly saved my feet out there.

Coming from a background of minimalist running, this was my first time racing in Hokas and by far my longest run in anything this supportive. What I found with the Hokas was that I could run more of the course with minimal pounding on my feet. My form didn’t change–I was still running light and my feet still felt strong from the minimalist training. But they gave me a break as far as watching all my footfalls late into the night. I also had to do less jitterbugging with my legs (especially downhill) in an effort to maneuver around any rocks that might trash my feet.

Although I love my minimalist shoes, I can’t deny that I owe much of this race to my Hokas. My feet after the race were immaculate. There was no blistering. No broken skin. No swelling. I almost feel that my minimalist training combined with using Hokas to bring it home created a perfect storm. I had all the benefits of minimalism, combined with the benefits of protection.

The biggest criticism I hear about Hokas from the minimalist viewpoint is that there is little flexibility at the ankle. So if you step on a rock, your ankle is more likely to roll. This wasn’t an issue at Chimera since the rocks were not the trickiest I’ve maneuvered. It was more straightforward terrain than what I have been training on, so by keeping my form light, I avoided any ankle issues.

The more I run, the more I realize that success has very little to do with what brand of shoes you wear, and so much more to do with specific terrain, combined with personal preference. Hokas might have felt terrible on another course. On this course, my minimalist shoes felt terrible, although I’ve had great success with them at other races.

In the meantime, my good friend Patrick Sweeney ran the entire thing in Luna sandals. He signed up the day before, with zero training, and came in 8th place. To me, that goes back to show how irrelevant footwear can be. All that matters is what feels good to YOU.

I also feel that 100-milers are an exception. When you’re talking shoes with someone, they’re probably not planning to run 100 miles in the pair they rave about. Distance can really change your perspective on things like this. The Hokas worked for me, and I always vote for whatever works in the moment. Right now I’m seeing some value in training minimalist and running the later miles of a 100 in Hokas. But I’ll keep experimenting.

I also brought my iPod to help me out in case I needed a push through the night or in the later miles. That helped me at Cuyamaca 100K, as well as Javelina. I even had a backup iPod in case my battery died. While the iPods worked, my headphones busted early on, so my music was useless. I’m sort of glad that happened because I still really enjoyed myself and now I know that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t have an iPod or an audio book with me.

I learned that I really enjoy the solitude and silence of being out on the trail. I’m very comfortable with the passing of the hours, with no distractions and only the shuffling of my own feet to accompany me.

3. Lion

“If you fall, pick yourself up off the floor. And when your bones can’t take no more, just remember what you’re here for.” – Gym Class Heroes

Having “preserved my body” for the first 60 miles, it was now time for beast mode. I pulled into an aid station about 30 minutes before sunrise, and was informed of a new danger:

“Do you have a pacer?” a volunteer asked.

“No.”

“We recommend that people run with pacers, because there is a mountain lion from here to the next aid station.”

“Oh. Ok….”

I still didn’t have a pacer.

I remembered my mountain lion encounter at the Grand Canyon and decided it would be best to avoid this new obstacle. I tried shining my light into the bushes where the lion might be hiding, but that was useless. My light was only strong enough to illuminate my next few steps, so I wouldn’t see any mountain lions until they were on top of me.

Instead, I decided to sing loudly to the lion. Surely my terrible singing voice would terrify him and send him fleeing into the mountains. It must have worked because the sun came up and I never saw any other lion besides myself.

As soon as the sun rose, I started running. I ran into the Indian Truck Trail aid station, and was greeted warmly by what looked like all my friends!

I was thrilled to see Trasie, Elizabeth, Julius, and Trisha, among others. They were so eager to help and I got star treatment. I also had a cup of the most delicious homemade butternut squash (vegan) soup with avocado. It was my first time seeing any hot food vegan options, and I was immediately energized. Refueled, I ran the seven miles down Indian Truck Trail to meet my pacer Holly.

Running into Mile 80

At the bottom of ITT, I changed my socks, got into some dry clothes, re-taped my foot (preventative), and grabbed some gaiters. It was such a relief to see Shacky again. The last time I had seen him was at mile 20, after the first single track loop. The day before.

Even Ginger and Momma Cat came out to say hello. Ginger licked all the salt off my face while Kitty demanded to know why she had not been recently petted. I gave her a quick pet, but I couldn’t stay long–we still had a lot of climbing left, and I started hiking back up the hill with Holly.

Ginger was waiting a really long time for me to come down the trail…

Climbing again…

Holly and I made it to the top of ITT, Mile 90

It has been said of Chimera that “even the downhills feel like uphills,” and that is certainly true in the last 10 miles especially. As soon as you hit a downhill stretch, you realize that you have no quads left. Thankfully, I had worked so hard to preserve mine, that I had some leeway to run or at least walk comfortably downhill.

I was in such high spirits chatting with Holly. The mountains were beautiful, we were moving through the clouds, and Shacky had packed me a large ziplock bag full of watermelon, apples, avocado, and grapes. We also picked up some clementines at Trasie’s aid station. I almost ate the entire fruit bag.

It’s impossible for me to be sad on the mountain. I’ve been in San Diego for a year now, but I still feel like a tourist when I run at these spectacular elevations. It never gets old.

The downhill stretches were tricky because they were so steep that it was harder to walk them than to run. But running this late in the race is hard to do as well. There were no comfortable options.

I had to remember that the Lion doesn’t represent comfort. It represents strength and power. And with the blessing of the Chimera She-Beast, I ran it in. As sick as it sounds, I was almost sad to see it end. I was having such a great time with Holly and I knew that stopping would be more uncomfortable than running at this point.

I finished in 31:52:31. I didn’t realize it at the time, but finishers who complete the course under 30 hours get a silver buckle. I’ll be back another year to claim my silver buckle and play in the mountains with my old friend Chimera.

Yes, she is as vicious as they say.  She haunts these mountains because she can be herself here: crafty, fearless, and strong. She does share her trails, but only with other beasts.

Me crossing the finish

With RD Steve Harvey at the finish

The Aftermath

My recovery is going great. I’m stiff when I sit for too long, but once I’m walking I feel pretty good. I also feel good when I sleep. Ha. I’ve been craving so many fresh fruits and veggies, and I don’t want to look at aid station food for a very long time.

My weight feels about the same, but I have no scale to confirm. I haven’t tried running again–I believe recovery is a crucial part of training. I want to take a really easy week, and hopefully be running again by next weekend. We’re headed to Zion to preview some of the Zion 100 course over Thanksgiving.

I told Holly as we neared the finish that this is the buckle that I will treasure the most, for many reasons. First of all, it’s my first mountain 100. Second of all, it’s the only 100 that I actually trained for. And finally, it was the only race that I seriously believed at the time of registering that I couldn’t finish.

The swag

The Course

Elevation profile

Shout Outs

Shacky

Besides crewing me, Shacky was a huge part of my training. He has been taking me across state lines to the steepest, rockiest mountains to train on. He has given me tons of time and space for long runs, and then longer runs. He has supported me in signing up for races as “training runs”, and has crewed me for those events as well. I could never have done this without him.

Here are some of Shacky’s highlights:

  • Hanging out and having a beer with Karl Meltzer the night before the race
  • Seeing Fabrice smash the course record
  • Seeing Pat Sweeney ape Vanessa by signing up for a hundred at the last minute and bringing home a buckle (8th overall)
  • Seeing Wes Edell run his first hundred and finish it in 7th overall
  • Being weirded out by the strange church near the aid station I hung out at all night

Holly

My pacer made the last 20 miles of this race downright fun. I never once felt sad or sorry for myself. We shared some great conversation, she kept me eating way after I had forgotten, and she wouldn’t let anyone pass us. She even made sure my shirt was on straight (I left the aid station with a backwards shirt). I’m so grateful to her.

Jason

Jason Robillard took me under his wing as my coach after I signed up for Chimera months ago. He kept me on track as far as mileage, speed work, and general training. He gave me great advice and I was able to learn quickly. Jason is now organizing a boot camp in San Diego for ultra runners. I would strongly recommend his training style. You can learn more about it here.

Congrats to all the beasts who conquered this epic race!

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Javelina Jundred Race Report

Javelina Jundred was the 100-miler that wasn’t supposed to happen. Over the past few weeks, I have been training for Chimera 100 at the end of November, and Javelina was too close to Chimera. Instead, I signed up for a pacing gig at Javelina. I was going to pace Desi to her first 100 mile finish, and Shacky would be pacing Jeff.

We were driving to Javelina from South Dakota, and had already been on the road for several days, exploring different states and trails. I hadn’t run any significant mileage, so I was about 90 miles short of my monthly mileage goal for October (200 mile goal). I didn’t push myself to get in the long runs while on the road, so I moved my 200-mile goal to November, and posted on Facebook that I had failed to meet my goal.

Someone commented that October wasn’t over yet and there was still time. This led me to joke with Shacky about how I would need to register for Javelina in order to meet my goal—wouldn’t that be crazy?? Around the same time, our friend Jeff also posted on his own Facebook pace (jokingly, I think!) that same-day race day registration for Javelina was still open (haha, wouldn’t it be crazy to register this late??) But then Shacky mentioned that it probably wouldn’t be bad training for Chimera, and that got me thinking.

The closer we got to Arizona, the more I realized I really did want to run it. But that was crazy, right?? Besides, I already had a pacing gig. We got to the race bib pickup where we would meet Desi to drop off a tent for her. I mentioned to her that I was thinking about registering, but I was still committed to pacing her, or even running the second half with her if she needed it. I didn’t care about time, I just wanted some miles on my feet. I thought I could run my own 100K, and then pick up Desi to finish it out with her. Desi encouraged me to register.

With Desi’s approval I felt better, but still wasn’t sure whether it would be a reckless decision. We saw the Millers (Mike and Kimberly) helping out with the race kits, and I told them I was thinking of registering despite Chimera coming up. They didn’t think it was a bad idea. Mike agreed that it would be great training, and worst case I could always drop down to 100K and still get a buckle. So now the decision was mine.

I wanted to race, but I didn’t want to hurt my chances at Chimera. To ensure this, I would have to take it slow, easy, and not push myself as much as I was planning to at Chimera. The two races are completely different—Chimera is a mountain race, and Javelina is a relatively “flat and easy” 100.

The test at Javelina would be more about mental determination and endurance. I would get more practice with sleep deprivation, and I was more or less in shape to run since I had already been training for Chimera. In fact, I was more prepared for this last-minute 100 than I was for my very first 100, where I trained very little and only had 50Ks under my belt.

So I registered with RD Jamil Coury.

All the last minute registrations

In some ways, it was an advantage for me to sign up so late in the game. It completely eliminated all the nervousness and jitters that play with our doubts before a race. If I had known I would be running this, I wouldn’t have enjoyed our adventures on the road as much. And I wouldn’t have climbed the highest mountain in Arizona two days before the race. But I did, and I’m glad.

Part of me really liked the craziness of signing up on a whim as well. I’m very passionate about encouraging others to run ultras, and finishing 100 miles in particular is truly life-changing. The 100 is my favourite distance because literally anything can happen, and so much of it is mental. What better way to make ultras seem achievable than signing up for a last-minute 100, and finishing?

Since I hadn’t done any specific training for Javelina, my only goal was to take it slow, not injure myself, and finish at least 100K. I also wanted to practice my mental focus and positive thinking.

Race Day Arrives

When the alarm clock went off on race day morning, I rolled to my side and wondered why the hell I registered. I had slept great, but I would have been happy to stay in the warm RV until the sun came up. Instead, I got dressed, emptied my bladder, and filled up my water bottles. By the time I made it to the Start line, I was so glad I had registered. I mentioned to Shacky how cool it was that at any moment, we had everything in the RV we needed to run 100 miles.

Waiting for the race to start

Waiting at the Start line, I nibbled on some breakfast and asked my fellow runners about the course. I learned the aid stations were quite frequent, so I decided at the last second to go with only one water bottle. It was a bit of a risk, but then again so was registering for the whole darn race. I figured what the hell, if it doesn’t work out I can pick up another handheld in 15 miles when I loop back to the Start line.

I had been following a vegan diet for the past several weeks, and I felt great at the Start line. I also saw that Pat Sweeney had made it out, so I was super excited to get to hang out with him later. The loop began, and I started slow. I wore my Merrell Mix Masters (they were great at Cuyamaca 100K), and planned to switch out to my Montrails later in the race.

I wore my INKnBURN denim capris, which were so comfortable and prevented any type of chafing on my thighs. I also started with a jacket since it was cool, but wished within three miles that I had left it behind since it warmed up fast. It was slightly dark and while some people brought headlamps, I didn’t want the extra weight and figured the trail would be congested enough that I wouldn’t have a hard time finding my way. I was right.

And we’re off!

My themes throughout this race were: Minimalism and Prevention. I carried as little as I could possibly get away with, and I took preventative action against issues like chafing and bonking. Both worked better than I could have imagined.

Although I started near the middle of the pack, a lot of runners passed me the first loop. I was surprised at how fast people were going. I was walking some slight inclines and jogging close to 12-minute miles, and I still worried that was too fast. For shorter races, the question is: Who can run the fastest? For 100 milers, the question becomes: Who can go the furthest without breaking?

I had estimated about a three-hour finish for my fist 15-mile loop. I tried to make note of the other runners around me to help me gauge my speed, since I wasn’t wearing a watch. But at the same time I didn’t push myself to follow anyone’s pace. I wanted to run my own race.

I had some lovely chats with a few new friends, but eventually they all passed me as I kept plodding along slowly. I finished the first loop in under three hours, and decided I should slow down even more for the second loop. My goal was to run as conservatively as possible while it was daylight, and then pick it up overnight when it was cooler.

Finishing 50K

My single handheld was working great, and I wasn’t carrying an extra ounce that I didn’t need. At every aid station, I would fill my bottle, grab some food, and walk while I ate it. When I was finished, I would start jogging again.

I wasn’t committed to staying vegan throughout the whole race, but in the end it did work out that way (I thought I had blown it when I ate an Oreo, but Pat later informed me that most Oreos were indeed vegan). The vegan foods looked good to me, and I stayed away from the candy and chocolate. This race had a great spread, and there was plenty for me to eat. I mostly went for the watermelon, oranges, PB&J, avocado, and potatoes.

Despite the large number of runners (for a 100-miler), we did get spread out fairly quickly. I found myself running alone for long lengths of time, and I was happy to get lost in my own thoughts.

I am currently reading two books about introversion (one Kindle, one audio book), where the authors argue about the power of quiet, and the high value of introverted personalities. I consider myself an introvert, and these books argue that introversion is NOT the same thing as anti-social or shy, which was an eye-opener for me. I have been accused of being both anti-social and shy, but I just don’t see myself like that. I love talking to people, but I also love being alone.

One author defines an introvert as someone who recharges in solitude, and that rings true for me. An extrovert, on the other hand, feels recharged when they are surrounded by others. I don’t know what the 100-mile experience is like for an extrovert, but for me it’s very calming and positive. I crave the long stretches of solitude where all my thoughts fall into place, and solutions easily present themselves. I feel happiness and gratitude.

I was feeling great, but I knew the final loops would get harder. I started thinking about suffering and ultra running. It would seem that a main goal in our society is to avoid suffering, but some suffering during a 100-miler is inevitable. And yet the suffering is part of what we crave. Part of what makes our victory that much sweeter.

When I feel better at the end of an ultra than I did at my last race, I don’t think it’s because I’ve become significantly faster or stronger. The main difference is that I’m more familiar with the discomfort. Instead of bothering me, it has become something I enjoy and even crave. I seek that suffering.

Growing up in the church, one common question that was asked of us was, “If God is love, why does he allow suffering?” But is suffering in itself really the enemy? It is because of suffering that people do amazing things. I would imagine a life of complete comfort would make us sick, bored, and miserable.

I decided that I would be grateful for my 100-mile suffering later in the race. I am lucky because this is a suffering that I choose. It is not suffering at the hands of others. It is not a result of an environment that I cannot control. It is something I picked and even paid for. It was my choice, and for that reason far easier to bear. I need obstacles in life. Something to strive for. But I want to suffer on my own terms.

I’m not stranger to suffering in life, but this is the first time I have been in completely control of how much I suffer. I can pull the plug at any time, or I can challenge myself physically and push my body to new levels. That is so rare, and I should be grateful for it. I choose my poison. I can drink it gladly.

My mantra for the rest of the race became, “I chose this.” It reminded me to bear my suffering gladly. And for the third and fourth laps, joy was what I found. I decided early on to not let any negative thought take hold of my head. Instead, I flipped every negative into a positive. I wanted to see how far positive thinking could go.

Motivational kisses to keep me going

Normally, I struggle with night running and dread the overnight portions of a 100-mile race. This time, I convinced myself that it would give me an advantage. The weather would cool down, and I would no longer be able to see the full length of the trail. I could focus on only the next few steps, and if I remained steady, I could speed up when the rest of the field was slowing down. I looked forward to the night portion.

I also looked forward to the terrain in front of me. Instead of being harder, the inclines were a relief on my legs. Instead of being boring, the long and flat stretches were easy mileage. I imagined that everything was working in my favor, and I smiled at myself in solitude.

All of a sudden, my happy thoughts were shattered by a sharp pain in the top of my hip, right beside my groin. I looked down to find a massive ball of thorns stuck to my clothes, right where the leg bends into the pubes.

I had brushed against a cholla cactus, and the ball of thorns had attached itself to me. I reached down to try to carefully grab it, and shot my hand back when I realized these thorns were razor-sharp, and would draw blood. I thought it was just attached to my shirt, so I tried to lift my t-shirt and shake it off. That’s when I realized the thorns had dug deep into my skin, firmly embedded. It didn’t hurt if I was standing still, but when I moved, it would pierce me like a thousand needles.

The aid station was only a few feet away, and a couple of volunteers came over to give me a hand. They were very knowledgeable about the plant, and said the best way to deal with it was to grab two rocks, crush it, and then yank it out really hard. WTF??

I begged them to let me try to remove it myself instead, and they waited patiently while I tried to slowly pry it off. As I pulled, my skin would just stretch with the cactus, and I felt as thought it would rip the skin right off my body. Finally, I let them try it their way.

I was close to hysterical because I’m a actually a big wuss (little known fact). Another runner stopped to offer to let me squeeze his arm while the volunteers did the deed. I clutched his arm, buried my face, and they pulled while I screamed. It took a couple of good pulls, and it was out. I was bleeding, but only slightly. And the volunteer had pricked his hand deeply and was now in need of aid himself.

I walked to the aid station in a daze, and when I handed over my water bottle for refilling, I noticed there were more thorns stuck to the drinking nozzle of my bottle. Thank God I noticed before thrusting it up to my lips.

The aid station didn’t have any tweezers, so it took them a minute to remove the thorns from my bottle and then refill it. The volunteer that helped me was trying to nurse the thorns out of his own hand, and I don’t think I thanked him profusely enough for helping me.

The aid station workers looked for some saline to help clean my wound and alleviate the stinging, but there was nothing. I figured I would run to the Start and see if they had anything for me in the medical tent. It was only two miles away.

I jogged away, but I was still shaken. For the first time, I wondered if I should just drop. Desi had already dropped due to blistering, and Shacky was waiting to pace Jeff.

Despite my cactus attack, the first three laps were the best I’ve ever run. I jogged consistently nearly the entire time, keeping the same stride when I power hiked any uphill. My loops seemed to be getting faster, and I ran my fastest 100K time. I was feeling good.

Shacky and Pat were waiting for me at the Start, and I told them what happened with the cactus. Pat ran to the medical tent to see if they had some kind of salve for me while I filled my bottle and refuelled. Shacky and Pat came back with a wet paper towel and told me I should rub it over my wound. I did and immediately felt relief.

I later discovered that the medical tent had nothing to give me, so Shacky and Pat had conspired to put regular water on a paper towel, and tell me it was medicine. Bastards.

Pat and Shacky were quite the pair, as I later discovered via the photo evidence. They were naughty most of the time, and some of the pictures that were taken that weekend could not be posted on Facebook. Shacky’s highlight was meeting his crush Jen Shelton, and I’m so happy they had fun. One of my worries when Shacky crews me is that he will be bored while I run. Thanks to Pat and their shenanigans, they slept very little and goofed around a lot.

After I healed my wound with Pat’s invisible salve, I told Shacky and Pat that I was wondering if I should drop. Shacky was OK with it either way. He was tired and ready for bed. There was nothing really wrong with me, but I was peeved about the damn cactus and not really excited about going out for another loop.

But Pat insisted that I not drop. He said it might be a long time before I ever felt this good, this late into a 100-miler. He said my pace was good enough to sub-24 if I kept it up. I scoffed. Sub-24?? Pfft. But when I broke down the numbers, he was right.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to push myself to a sub-24, but I did decide it would be a shame to drop when I was feeling good. And besides, I didn’t want the cactus incident to be the last thing that happened to me out here. Pat said he would pace me on the next loop, so we set off together.

Overnight

Back at the 45-mile mark, I had changed my shoes and my bra and my t-shirt before it got dark. I usually start chaffing after 50 miles, and I thought that a good wipe-down (with wet wipes) and a change of clothes could prevent this. The one thing I didn’t have was extra panties.

I have learned via RV living that panties are the most worthless piece of clothing to own. So I stopped wearing them. I still have a couple that I use while running in pants or capris, but I didn’t have a clean pair since I wasn’t expecting to run this race. So I just ran without, and hoped for the best. I did do some very generous lubing on my butt cheeks just in case.

I ended up walking most of the night loop with Pat. He tried to talk me into running, but I was more interested in chatting. I was talking a lot, and running just made it harder to talk. Some of the things we talked about included:

  • Period protection
  • Peeing while standing up: girls vs boys
  • How to melt all our race medals into one giant and epic hula hoop
  • What I love and dislike about Mexicans
  • What I love and dislike about Salvadoreans
  • Why certain skateboarders don’t associate with other skateboarders
  • News from Luna sandals
  • Living off the grid in Utah

I think we covered all the important stuff. The loop went by so fast, even though it was one of my slowest. We saw Jeff and Shacky right at the end, and ran in with them. At the Start, I asked Pat to continue with Jeff since Shacky was tired, and Jeff was moving much faster than I was.

I hung out chatting with Holly Miller until Jeff had left. Then I grabbed my jacket, my iPod, and set out for another loop. I was still feeling good, but bored of running, which sounds terribly douchey to say but miraculously true.

My body was tired and sleepy of course, but there was nothing wrong with me to warrant a drop. I almost wished there were so I could just hang back with Shacky and Holly instead. But I figured I came this far, I might as well take the buckle home.

This was my last full lap, and I moved slower than I wanted to. I noticed myself starting to doze off, so I drank coffee at the next two aid stations and that perked me up. I never do caffeine in my daily life, so when I take it at races, it only takes a small amount to wake me up. On this loop, the sun started coming up again, and I couldn’t help but smile. I chose this.

I ran into the Start with less than 10 miles to go for my finish. Shacky was asleep, but Pat was waiting for me. I asked him to get Ginger so she could pace me on my last loop, and he did. I didn’t waste any time at the aid station, and ran out with my awesome dog.

Ginger was so excited and tried to get me to run the entire time, but I just couldn’t keep up with her. When Ginger realized I was moving slowly, she started trying to explore the environment and sniff around the cacti. This freaked me out because I didn’t want her running into the thorns I experienced, so I kept her on a tight leash. What stopped me from running was tender feet, and I wished I had Hokas.

Ginger and I finish strong

We moved along as quick as I could manage, and there was the finish line! I finished in 28:10, more than a one hour PR. But I was most proud of the way I felt. During my first 100, I cried the entire last three miles out of pain. When I finished, I didn’t even want my buckle. I just wanted to lay in the car and cry. This time I was running in the end, and went to a party afterwards. I had no blisters, no chaffing, no crashes, and no injuries.

I attribute this to eating at every single aid station, staying positive, and the support of Shacky, Pat, Ginger, and all the volunteers who helped out at this event. A special thanks to the Coury brothers for a well-run event, and joining us at the after party. A generous thanks to the Millers who hosted the after party, and were so hospitable with their great home.

Having fun at the Miller’s

Hanging out with my pacer

Visiting some reptiles

Resting with my best furry

The next day we visited with running legend Eric Clifton and his lovely wife in their awesome cat-friendly home. I am so grateful for these opportunities and the freedom of our nomadic life.

I am ready for Chimera. I chose this.

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12 Things I Learned At My First 100K Race

A few months ago I did something pretty silly and signed up for the Chimera 100 Miler, a race way out of my league. Instead of backing out, I decided to step up my training and have really enjoyed pushing past my old limits. Last weekend I ran the inaugural Cuyamaca 100K as training for Chimera and to catch any issues that I may need to troubleshoot before my 100 miler.

I’ve run one 100 miler at Rocky Road (much easier than Chimera), and DNF’d another attempt at Nanny Goat 100 (finished 55 miles). I’ve also run a 100K distance at a timed (one-mile loop) event, but Cuyamaca was my first trail 100K.

I finished in 15:42, a great time for me. Aside from some soreness and fatigue at the end, I did better than expected and really saw my training pay off. I’ve taken some time to celebrate a strong finish, and now comes the analysis of my progress and what I need to improve:

6 Things I Did Right

1. Handhelds for Hydration

For a few weeks now, I have been transitioning from a hydration pack, to carrying handhelds for hydration. There have been so many benefits in doing this that I’m working on a separate post about it. When I worry about running out of water, I carry a hydration pack with the bladder removed, and put an extra handheld bottle in it. So I’m always drinking from handhelds only.

For Cuyamaca 100K, I ran with only two handhelds. On the final loop, I carried an extra bottle in my pack but didn’t use it. The handhelds worked perfectly and I never ran out of water. The weather was also perfect and I never felt too hot, so that helped.

One tip I picked up for Gordy Ainsleigh is to carry juice concentrate in one bottle, and mix it with water and salt (small salt packets from any restaurant) in the other bottle. This allows you maximum control as far as diluting your fluids to a perfect consistency. However, you do need a separate water source to do this, such as from an aid station. Gordy usually fills up at streams, sparking some debate with his giardia approach. But that’s a whole different topic!

2. Running Uphills

When I first started trail running, I would try to run all the hills and then get burned out. I soon learned the benefits of power hiking uphill, and fell into a comfortable groove walking pretty much everything with an incline. My most recent hill work has been a combination of speeding up my hiking pace, and actually running uphill again. As a result, I’ve learned that I can run more steeper grades. However, that doesn’t always mean that I should. I’m becoming much better at knowing when to run and when to hike, as well as much more confident in my ability to climb quickly.

3. Blister Prevention

Dealing with blister issues is all about experimentation. For this race, I didn’t use any blister prevention techniques and came out completely unscathed. I attribute this to a wise sock and footwear choice. I wore new trail Injinji socks, and ran most of the course with my Merrell Mixmasters. I switched to my Montrail Rogue Flys in the final loop to vary the feel of my footfalls. This strategy worked perfectly for me.

4. Clothing

I had no chaffing issues at all. I wore longer capris, because on some of the training runs the overgrowth on the trail scratched up my legs. The INKnBURN capris worked amazingly well.

5. Power Hiking

On my very first trail race, I was shocked when people passed me walking uphill. These past few weeks, I have trained specifically to improve my power hiking speed, using a watch to time my summits and forcing myself to walk, not run. It all payed off in the final stages of this race, when I was able to match my running gait with a fast power hike. The hike conserved energy, I was able to sustain it for a longer period of time, and it allowed me to keep a steady pace through rolling hills even when I felt tired. When my pacer was jogging to keep up with my hiking pace, I knew I had hit a sweet spot for walking speed.

6. Music

I don’t like to listen to music through my entire run, but I do carry my iPod on some races in case I need to pull through a difficult low point. Music really helps get me into a groove, and boosts my motivation. It takes my mind off any pain and makes the time go by faster. When I do listen to my iPod, I like to use only one headphone so I can stay aware of my surroundings. At this race, I busted out my iPod in the last few miles when I needed a boost. It worked.

6 Things I Need to Work On

1. Night Running

I haven’t been doing enough of this. I slowed down a lot after dark, partly because I was tired, but also because I had a hard time with foot placement and navigating terrain at night. Only more practice can help build my confidence and skill in the dark.

2. Nutrition

I did great with remembering to eat, but then started lagging in the final loop and my pacer had to help me with nutrition reminders. I need to be more on top of it, as I was starting to drain right near the end and at one point I even noticed that my stomach was growling. I don’t have much appetite when I’m running, so it’s just a matter of remembering to eat throughout. I didn’t have any stomach issues, except for a couple of times my belly felt slightly “unsettled”, which is usually the case when I don’t eat enough.

3. Lighting

I very much prefer hand held lights to a headlamp, but I didn’t think through the fact that I would also be running with hand held water bottles. I had a hard time holding everything. I also had a headlamp, but I need to combine it with something else for better depth perception. A few times my hand would start cramping up and I had to keep shifting my hand position to hold everything. It was a waste of focus and energy. My coach Jason Robillard also runs with handheld bottles, plus a handheld light. So it can be done. I just have to practice doing this more often.

4. Sore Feet

Many of my long races have been on smoother terrain, so this was the first time my feet got sore from gnarly rocks in the final miles. I wrote to Jason Robillard about this, and he suggests that it’s worth taking a few extra seconds to avoid sharp and jutting rocks from the beginning of the race (even though they don’t hurt yet), to help preserve your feet for the later miles. Minimalist shoes are an added challenge, but I don’t do well with heavier shoes. Again, more practice on rockier terrain will help me improve. As mentioned before, the shoe swap was a really great call for me during this race.

5. Downhill Running

Usually running downhill is my strength, but in the final loop my legs felt pretty trashed and it was a new feeling of discomfort for me. My 100 miler was much flatter, and I have little practice running downhill on trashed legs. Jason suggested changing up my gait for the downhills, and throwing in some more hill training. I think both will help.

6. Suck It Up

I thought I was pushing myself pretty good, but of course after the fact I wonder if I could have pushed a LITTLE harder in the final miles. I did a lot of walking in the final loop, and I maybe should have done more running while it was still light, since the darkness would slow me down anyway. If I had to do it again, I think I would have dug a little deeper right at the end. And next time I will.

Overall, I had a great race and it was a perfect learning experience for Chimera. I’m not quite where I want to be, but I’m much closer than I used to be.

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