The 2014 edition of Angeles Crest 100 was an incredible day. To understand how incredible though I have to rewind back 11 months...
Saturday September 14th, 2013
Pine to Palm 100- this was supposed to be the day I rocked my first 100 miler. I had put in more training, focused (even obsessed) over the course and improving myself as a runner, and done everything I felt was in my power to get myself ready to run 100 miles. Unfortunately things didn't work out for me as planned, I had a rough day from the first climb to the time I dropped 13 hours and 65 miles deep. When I dropped I felt totally wrecked and emotionally drained, I couldn't believe I had failed to complete my goal.
Being honest it took me a long time to come out of this disappointment. I put so much time and energy into P2P and to have it go so poorly, was rough and something I realize now that I was unprepared for mentally or physically. After P2P the last thing I wanted to even think about was running, I happily threw myself into my relatively new job at TOMS, and put running on the back-burner.
I signed up for a bunch of races after P2P thinking I would take a few months to not think about running and I would be totally fine for 2014. Not the case. I did some disorganized training for North Face 50M in San Francisco in December and while I enjoyed the day I didn't enjoy the run. I was happy to be back home in the bay but not on the trails and crawled my way through race. After NF50 I knew I might have a rough time balancing my increasing work life and my ultra running.
Sean O'Brien 50M- this is when shit hit the fan for me. I barely trained in December/January and showed up to SOB in the worst shape I had ever been in before a race. I tried to fake my way through it and enjoy the trails, but I simply couldn't. Somewhere in the middle of the race I realized I did not want to be running, at all. I kept jogging thinking this dark spot would pass but it didn't. My good friend and roommate Keith had drove all the way out and ran back on the course to cheer me on and found me at mile 35 totally dejected. He tried to cheer me up and get me back in the groove, but he could tell I was just mentally done with running. I came in to the mile 38 aid station and while my body felt fine and I could have slugged out the last 12 I decided to DNF and knew it was time to try something new. I had lost the love, freedom, purpose and all of the amazing qualities that I associate with trail running. Somewhere in the last year running had become a necessity not a joy and I needed a reset.
Luckily I got a big one- I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of launching a new product for TOMS: TOMS Roasting Company. This meant going on the road for the entire month of March and not running a single step, something I had not done in a long time. It was an amazing trip and experience and I couldn't have a better work life.
When I finally got home in April I was completely out of shape. I talked to Keith and some of my good running friends, but still didn't feel much like running. I started getting back into weight lifting, practicing yoga, and even playing basketball. It was awesome, I had forgotten how much I loved just exercising and the variety started to really get me engaged again. I started to get the itch for the trails but knew that I needed to do a few things totally different than 2013.
1) No more racing until Angeles Crest- I had signed up for a few others races, but I knew if I was going to show up for AC fit, fast, and excited to race I needed to scale back my schedule. I also realized that I don't really love racing as much as training and exploring and the less crowded I made my schedule with races, the happier I am and the more flexibility I can put into training and my life.
2) Focus train- I ran a ton of miles getting ready for P2P, but not a ton of quality. I would get massive weekends in and then slog through a work week feeling exhausted. I didn't listen to my body and tried doing what other people had done, and this is never a good idea. So this time I was going to do it differently, I trained in three-week blocks with recovery weeks and even added in speed work and commuted to and from work by running for some good road tempo miles.
3) Go with the flow- If I missed a few runs, or things didn't come together for AC I wasn't going to show up. I know this sounds bad, but I needed to give myself the freedom to train and prepare, but without any pressure, and it worked:)
May - July
I came into May optimistic. I had slowly got a base of miles in during April and started to ramp up my miles in May. These months were some of the best training I have ever had. I was so excited to get out and run with my friends, I spent tons of time on the AC course and had great blocks of training followed by legitimate rest weeks. All of this was highlighted by a three-week period in late June- mid July in which I put in 3 weeks over 100 miles and vert between 16-22K each week, some of the biggest weeks I had ever done. I felt great and before I knew it it was time to head to Wrightwood!
I had three goals for AC this year:
1) Have fun
2) Run within myself
3) Have more fun
It is safe to say that anyone who saw me on the course knew I had a fun day, I was smiling from the start line at 5:00 AM to when I finished and laid down for a nice dirty nap across the finish at 4:00 AM!
Start to Islip (Mile 26)
My plan for the day was to get to Islip somewhere in the low 5 hour range. I rolled in at 10:02 AM. The first 5 hours were great, I hiked each and every step up Acorn and Baden Powell and ran as smooth and controlled as I could on the rollers and downhill. The day started cool and seeing the sunrise up Acorn was one of most beautiful mornings I can remember. I felt totally calm and at peace with myself and knew it was going to be my day.
Islip to Chilao (26-52)
Here things started to get interesting for me. I am not the greatest in terms of running in the heat, and I lucked out on the cloud cover going through Cooper Canyon. I came through to Cloudburst (37) feeling good but I was having a bit of trouble urinating and my stomach didn't feel great. I decided to switch up my shorts (never having done this mid-race) and was so happy for the fresh pair that happened to be a bit looser around the waist. I was surprised and happy to see my amazing girlfriend/crew chief Josie and my pacers Keith and Brian who came out earlier than I expected and totally got me psyched for the next 63 miles. I cruised through to Three points (44) and was unnerved at how great I still felt. Naturally, this was when I had my first low spot. Somewhere between Three Points and Chilao I started noticing some red discoloration in my urine. I have never peed blood and was shocked. I had been taking in calories and water all day and my energy still felt great. I kept pushing on but knew that if this persisted I wasn't willing to push my body into a real kidney damage. I then went and got myself lost coming into Chilao for about 15 minutes until I noticed a nice gentleman shooting a shotgun and asked if I was on the right path for AC. He told me to double back and I was happy to go in the opposite direction. I came into Chilao and told my crew I was low on electrolytes and they hopped into action. A couple salt sticks, a bowl of soup, and I had picked up my first pacer Brian and I was ready to go!
Chilao - Chantry (52 - 75)
Talk about a good time. As soon as I started taking in electrolytes my kidney's immediately bounced back and 15 minutes out of the aid station I was peeing clear and feeling good. Only problem was I was started to pee quite often. We don't have an official count but I would say I stopped at least 15-20 times during this 22 mile period with Brian for a bathroom break. He was a great sport and we made great time until we hit the climb up to Newcomb. The miles had finally started catching up to me, and I knew I was going to have to start digging deep to finish, or simply ask Brian to sing:) He started belting out tunes, and we were jamming and into Newcomb before I knew it. This is where I made my last mistake of the day, I should have brought my head lamp from Shortcut. For some reason I thought I could get to the road going up to Chantry by 8:15ish, which even if I could I should have brought a lamp for insurance (they're not exactly heavy). Brian had his headlamp but it definitely made for interesting footing running the single track to Chantry. We came into Chantry at 9:00 PM sharp and I could see Keith chomping at the bit to take me home.
Chantry - Finish (75 - 100)
Hands down the toughest 25 miles I have ever run. Keith and I power-hiked strong up Winter-Creek and while I was suffering a bit I felt strong and ready to push and give the last 25 miles everything I had. Keith kept me energized and distracted with infinite stories and words of encouragement. We passed Jorge heading down to Idle Hour and I was feeling good and ready for the final climb up to Millard. This is where my wheels feel off- this climb utterly destroyed me, every step felt like I was taking a couple steps backward and I wasn't sure if it would ever end. I just had no more energy and had resorted to grunting in most of my responses. By the top of the climb I had gotten passed by a couple of runners one of which was the incredible Tommy Nielson (on his way to finish #10 for AC, congrats man!). I took a solid 10 minutes here, and took stock of my body: everything hurt. My quads were so heavy, my knees were screaming, and my calves burning. We were so close, 11 mostly downhill miles, yet Loma Alta Park felt so far away. The enormity of running 100 miles was pounding through my head and felt a bit nuts for taking on such a challenge.
When I got up I was shivering and stiff and as we ambled out of the aid station I knew I was in for a tough stretch. But ultra running is a funny sport, it takes you to places truly unknown. Somewhere in those low 90 mile's I stopped feeling the pain and started feeling amazing. Well maybe not amazing, but I stopped hurting so much, my stride opened way up and I was moving! Keith started getting excited and we started hustling. We came into the final aid station, and blew right through it! A couple miles later I caught one of the guys that had passed me going up to Mallard and I think I took him for a bit of a surprise. We pulled away from him and his pacer and were flying through the creek the last few miles.
I couldn't believe it, I was about to finish Angeles Crest 100, I had dreamed about running a 100 miles since I ran my first 50K. And when I moved to LA and learned about the amazing community around AC I knew this was going to be the race for me.
We came up to the road and Brian and Josie were there (at 4:00 AM!) ready to run the last mile in with me. It was amazing, I crossed the finish line in 23:10:12 and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. The whole day washed over me and I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to toe the line with so many awesome friends and experience such a brutally beautiful and historic course.
Thank you to all my great friends who cheered me on and supported me throughout the race, you all rocked! Special thanks again to Josie, Keith, and Brian- you three were the best crew and pacers I could have ever asked for, you even cleaned between my toes!
Im not sure when or what my next race will be but I do know one thing I will see you at AC2015. Im happy, I love running again and I don't want to lose that feeling, because it is as good as it gets!