Sometimes everything you've got just isn't quite enough, but leaving it all on trail is pretty damn satisfying. Its been a few days since I ran and came up 7 miles short of finishing the San Diego 100. As most ultra runners do, I've started to play my race back over and over in my head, thinking about things I may have done differently, ways I could improve, or mistakes I made. I definitely made a few mistakes, and there is always room for improvement. But from start to finish I gave SD100 my all, and that is what it's all about.
Start to Chambers 1 (Mile 12.6)
I was able to get a solid nights sleep in a cabin Josie and I rented for SD100, Im always nervous the night before the race that I won't be able to fall asleep, but luckily I got in some rest before my alarm went off at 4:00 AM and I knew it was time to go run, all. day. long. And into the night a bit too. I was amped that the big day was here, my training had been great, the weather was looking like it was going to be perfect, and I had the best crew I could ask for in Josie and my good running friends Josh and Dave.
When the gun went off I settled into the initial climb with a few of the front guys and kept one thought in my head. Don't get too Chambers aid station (AD) much before 8:00 AM and its going to be a good day. We rolled through the first Aid Station Paso Picacho and I wasn't even sweating, I felt great, calm, and had even started taking in calories. The climb up and over Stonewall was uneventful, I worked in a few spots of power hiking but felt comfortable every step and rolled into Chambers AS at 7:57 AM just a couple minutes under my planned splits. Coming out of Chambers I felt myself settling into the rhythm of the day. The sun was starting to warm up the trails and I knew we were heading to our first section of Pacific Crest Trail single-track, one of my favorite parts of this race.
Chambers to Pioneer Mail 1 (30.5)
Heading into Pedro Fages (18.6) I moved into third place, but also started having a bit of pain in the outer area of my right knee. At the time it felt almost like an awareness of my knee hitting the ground more so than a specific pain, and I had actually had this feeling a couple of times in my longer training runs and it had never progressed to anything more. I rolled through the AS and as I hopped on the PCT I got a great burst of energy knowing that this was my first chance to see my awesome crew!
As I headed into Sunrise at 9:31 AM, four minutes ahead of my splits, the energy of the aid station was amazing! Theres just nothing like an AS at a 100 mile ultra, it blows me away each time I give this distance a shot how supportive my friends and total strangers can be to help a runner achiever their goal. This was Josie's second time crewing me, and I could see that I wasn't the only one who had been training. She got me in and out of Sunrise in a couple minutes and before I knew it I was back on the PCT.
From Sunrise to Pioner Mail is about 8 beautiful miles of PCT. I was excited for this section as I had ran it in training a couple of times and loved the rolling single track and awesome views it showcased. While part of me was able to enjoy the views, this is where my mind started to focus in on that right knee "awareness" I had mentioned about 10 miles earlier. At this point the awareness had shifted to more of an unwelcome tenderness and a bit of pain that seemed to increase with each step. One part of ultra running that has come a bit more naturally to me is tuning out my body, for better or worse. To be able to run 100 miles requires a solid dose of being able to listen and at times not listen to your body. For instance, to simulate the pounding and build up the endurance a lot of runners, myself included, will go for back to back long runs on training weekends. While my body may be tired and benefit from rest on a Sunday after a solid long run on Saturday, I have found that getting in that second long run does wonders to strengthen the legs and prepare myself for a 100.
Even though this right knee pain I was noticing was definitely uncomfortable, mentally I had prepared myself to be ready to be able to absorb and run through it. This was my first mistake. I came into Sunrise AS with a forced smile, and instead of taking a few minutes to have my crew take a look at my knee, I felt like if I vocalized the pain and gave it words, it was as if I was acknowledging its existence and I was not ready to do so. I was still able to comfortably hit my splits and again my crew was stellar and I got in and out of Sunrise like a well-oiled machine.
Sunrise to Red Tail Roost (44.8)
Shit. I barely even remember these miles. The pain in knee had definitely set in, I realized a couple miles out of Sunrise that I most definitely needed to tell my crew what was going on, unfortunately I wouldn't be seeing them for another 15 miles at Red Tail Roost AS. I knew it was going to be a grind and was starting to feel like this may not be my day. I came into Penny Pines 1 (34.5) and saw the Ultra Medic tent. I took about 15 minutes here to touch base with the medics on hand and they agreed that my symptoms sounded like classic IT Band issues. From what I knew about IT Band problems and their input it sounded like I couldn't do any serious damage to my knee, which was my number one concern. The only problem- they said the pain I was feeling was probably not going to get any better but could get progressively worse the further irritated (i.e. running) I put on it. Mentally I was not ready to be done, I grabbed my pack and thanked them all for the help, and started limping my way out of there. As I hopped back on the trail I told myself just get from one aid to the next. By shortening my race down to the next few miles I was hoping I could trick my leg into getting into gear. Not happening, I won't lie, every single step from 30-44.5 was painful. Looking back I'm pretty shocked I was able to hold onto my splits and I can only attribute this to my fitness and nutrition. The rest of my body still felt great, and I was having zero issues eating and drinking, and with the cooler temperatures I felt like I was processing everything I was taking in.
Red Tails Roost to Penny Pines 2 (56.4)
Miraculous. Thats just about the only way I can describe what happened at Red Tails Roost AS. I came in to this aid station and felt like my right leg was on fire, literally, it felt like there were needles shooting up and down my leg from my hip to ankle. Josh was the first one to me, and I turned to him and as calmly as I could I told him I needed a few minutes my right knee was giving me some trouble. Boom! within 30 seconds Josh, Dave, Josie, Peter, Crista, all my friends were right there taking care of me. Josie got me a fresh shirt, shoes, and socks, and even a cool towel to refresh. Dave whipped out this cream called Tiger Balm and a little bit of Advil, and Peter started rolling my quad and IT Band with what felt like 100 lbs. of pressure but was probably a tenth of that. Sitting there I had a flashback to Josh's SD100 race in 2013. Josh suffered through some of the worst body cramps I have ever seen and pushed through it for 50 miles! I paced him from miles 50-80 that day and was so inspired by his effort and will I knew then I wanted to come back and give this race a shot. So here I was dealing with my own pain and had all these friends giving me all they had, I knew I couldn't even think about dropping.
After 10 minutes of work I was ready to give it a go and with a reset from my crew I was optimistic I could at least make it to the next AS. The next 6 miles of my race felt like nothing short of a miracle. Looking back I'm sure it was a combination of all the effort from my crew and a healthy dose of adrenaline, but from Red Tails Roost to Meadows I ran every single step, and pain free! It was incredible, for basically the first time in 35 miles my right leg was feeling good and my mind did a total 360, I actually started believing I could pull this thing together. As I came into Meadows AS I could see and feel the relief on my crews faces. I think they were even a bit shocked at how much my attitude and pace had picked up. I was in an out of Meadows and officially more than halfway done with SD100, but feeling like my day had just began.
Penny Pines 2 to Pioneer Mail 2 (72.2)
I came into Penny Pines 2 with another runner named Ricky, he seemed like he was running strong all day and it was great to have some company. But now it was time to pick up my first pacer, Dave Daley, and with my knee not bothering me I was optimistic that we could pick up the pace. The next 16 miles of the course were some of the toughest miles and I felt like if we could move efficiently here I would be in good shape. Running with DD is always a good time, I don't know many people that are as passionate and supportive when it comes to running as Dave and it was great to get miles together. We ran the long descent into Noble Canyon well and actually started putting some distance between myself and Ricky. This was the first time I had starting thinking about what place I was in and when Dave told me I was in 3rd and the guys ahead of me were looking like they may be hurting I was pumped. We made quick work of the AS and were heading up the longest climb of the day back to Pioneer Mail. I had given myself two hours for this section as I knew an 8 mile climb with the first 2.5 on steep asphalt was probably going to be really tough. We got to Pioneer Mail about 30 minutes ahead of my planned splits, safe to say we were moving now! The climb was tough and my knee was starting to bother me again, but it wasn't affecting my gait and I felt like the pain had stabilized to a dull thud that I could live with. As we came into Penny Pines the excitement on Josie and Josh's face was awesome! At this point I felt like SD100 was my race and if I could hold it together it was going to be a special day.
Pioneer Mail to Chambers 2 (88)
This next section to Sunrise 2 (80) was a bit rough. I was having a low energy spot, but felt like the previous big descent and climb were a part of this and knew that I still had the legs to push myself through. Unfortunately I started to really feel my IT Band flare up again. As this section was pretty flat and rolling it wasn't affecting my pace significantly but mentally I was getting concerned whether I would be able to tolerate another 20+ miles of pain. We came in to Sunrise 2 and I was blown away by support, even more friends had shown up and it definitely got my adrenaline pumping. I knew the last 20 miles of the course well and with Josh taking over to bring me home I was confident I could finish strong. I took a few minutes here to start taking in soup and put on sleeves and a headlamp as sunset was fast approaching. I still couldn't believe that I had run 80 miles in 14 hours and had some daylight left. With Dom reading off some splits on the top two runners ahead of me I wasn't sure that I could catch them, but was optimistic that if I gave it my all who knew what would happen.
Josh and I settled into a solid pace and he caught me up on his day and what was going on in the world while I had been running the last 14 hours. We talked and talked while I don't remember much, it was a welcome distraction from my knee as that pain was steadily increasing. Heading into Chambers 2 I could feel my knee starting to really stiffen and go from a steady throb to more of a steady piercing ever-increasing level of pain, but with 12 miles to go I was only thinking about getting to Lake Cuyamaca. In hindsight this may have been my last mistake of the day. I don't know if I had taken more time at Chambers and rolled the IT Band if it would have held up, but I choose to keep my pain to myself and Josh and I got out of the AS with one goal, get up and over Stonewall, the last climb of the day.
Chambers 2 to Paso Picacho (93) DNF
Pain. Thats really all I can remember about these very long five miles. As we started our climb I was optimistic. I thought switching to a hiking gear would loosen my right leg and I was looking forward to the change. Wow. I couldn't have been more wrong, within probably a 1/2 mile of the climb I knew I was in trouble. I had slowed to a crawl and each and every step up felt like an explosion of pain in my knee. Josh kept feeding me optimism and being super supportive, but fear started to set in for me. I had to stop us a couple of times and totally sit down on the trail. About halfway up I got passed by another runner and it barely even registered in my mind. When we finally made it to the top, which I wasn't sure would ever happen, I still believed that I could finish this race. It may not be the fastest last 10 miles, but I wanted to grind no matter what it took. As we started our 2 mile descent to the last AS, my dream of finishing SD100 got obliterated. I don't think I have ever had to walk a downhill in a race due to pain. My knee and entire right leg had seized up and became so stiff that every single step I took had me ready to pass out. I was afraid at this point I may be doing more damage to my knee than I was willing to live with long-term. I told Josh this much, and he was still optimistic we could finish our day, but I could tell he was a bit nervous for how quickly my leg seemed to have deteriorated.
When we made it to Paso Picacho I hobbled in feeling utterly broken and in a bit of shock. My crew knew at this point that something had gone wrong since Chambers and as I came in Josie and Dave were there ready to help whoever they could. I knew I needed to get off my knee and the AS volunteers helped Josie lay me down on a picnic table and wrap me in a few jackets. My knee was on fire again, but was also radiating pain up and down my whole right leg. I couldn't believe how far I had come, 93 miles and here I was unable to take another step! At this point part of me was digging around in my head for some will to get up and crawl my way to the finish. But a much larger voice was saying, hey you have given it your all for 93 miles and pushing your body (who is signaling something is wrong) another step would be a very bad idea. Not to mention I was honestly not sure I could even walk the 7 miles.
I talked with my crew and after some time I decided to drop. As shitty a feeling as it is to not reach my goal, as soon as I decided to drop I knew it was the right decision. Just getting to Dave's car from my picnic table/bed was a monumental effort.
Sunday was a rough day. Mentally I was proud and satisfied with my day, but physically my knee got incredibly swollen and stiff. But when I think back about my weekend I only have positive thoughts. I ran with everything I had, and faster than I ever have before for 93 miles. I had some of the best training of my life, and some of the best racing as well. While not getting to cross that finish line is a major bummer, it doesn't take away any of the enjoyment I had training and giving SD100 my all. I had the best crew ever, literally they were incredible and without them I would not have made it nearly as far as I did. One thing I keep coming back to is the difference between my Pine to Palm 100 DNF and SD100 DNF. Two years ago at P2P, my first attempt at the 100 mile distance, I had to drop about 65 miles into the race with stomach issues. I remember being a total dick to my parents who had come to support and crew me after, and it took me quite some time to get back into the swing of trail running and find enjoyment in trail running. I had gotten so absorbed in wanting to race, and finish that I forgot how awesome the journey really is.
San Diego tested me in a lot of ways, and I didn't finish the race. But I take solace in that within a few hours of my race I had put my disappointment aside and still enjoyed a great breakfast with friends before heading back to LA. Its only been five days since my race, but already most of my thoughts about SD100 are positive and are about how awesome of a day it was and what an incredible experience I had.
On Monday I went and got my knee X-rayed and it checked out all ok, I am also getting an MRI today, while confident that there is no serious damage, I want to be sure before I start running again. My knee has felt better each day, and pending my MRI results I am optimistic that with a few tweaks to my training, i.e. a whole lot more IT Band focused stretching and exercises, I can get my body ready for my second date on our home hundred- Angeles Crest in August.
Thank you one more time to my crew chief Josie, my pacers Josh and Dave, and all of the friends, volunteers, and especially the awesome Scott Mills for putting together an incredible 100 mile course!