Ever run on the sun? I haven't, but I came as close as I would like to at this years San Diego 100 (SD100). The 15th editon of SD100 was one of the hottest years in race history, and it made for quite the experience. Last year I came within seven miles of finishing SD100, before an IT Band injury finally took me out. I was hungry for another date with this course!
Coming off of The Gorge Waterfalls 100K in April I took a week to recover before diving back into my big push for SD100. Throughout April and May I put together some great weekly tempo runs in my backyard trails of Tilden Regional Park and while my long runs didn't have quite as much vertical gain as they did last year, I was confident that focusing on 4-5 hour weekend runs with rolling hills would get me to race day feeling not only fit, but healthy.
Over the last eight weeks of my training I became religious with my stretching, rolling, and core work. I knew if I was going to try and run hard for a 100-miler and didn't want a repeat of last year I had to come into race day with a more balanced body.
With SD100 moved to Friday June 3rd (as opposed to most 100's starting on a Saturday) Josie and I flew down to San Diego Wednesday night. Luckily my best friend Phillip and his amazing girlfriend Liz live five minutes from the airport and took care of us all weekend. After lounging around Thursday we made our way to Lake Cuyamaca for the pre-race briefing with Race Director Scotty Mills. It was during the pre-race meeting, which started at 5:00 PM, and was still pretty hot that I realized how much heat would play into tomorrow's race.
Much credit to Scott, he made sure to emphasize to all runners how important managing the heat would be. I had experienced hot races before, but as Scott pointed out; the trails we would be on would offer full exposure to the sun and would be smoking hot all day long.
I got a great nights rest at our cabin and by 4:00 AM was up and ready to roll! Josie and I made our way to the start of the race, and as you can see from the picture above, it was already warm and no runners needed more than a shirt. As the countdown started I felt cool, calm, and almost relaxed. I knew I had a big day ahead of me, but in the back of my mind I was confident in my training and if I could run smart nothing would stop me.
Start to Sunrise 1 (Mile 21)
As we cruised away from Lake Cuyamaca I settled into a groove with eventual winner Nate Jacqua. This was my third time racing with Nate, I watched him run an epic time at Pine to Palm 100 last year, not to mention the overall win. And we raced together at this years Gorge 100K where I ended up finishing a few spots ahead of him as his stomach was giving him trouble. He's a great runner and we both felt like it was way too early to worry about the half-dozen guys who had already gone off the front. We cruised through the first aid-station at Paso Picacho (Mile 7.5) and I pulled away heading to Chambers (Mile 12.5) AS knowing full well I would see Nate soon.
I came out of Chambers AS at 8:00 AM and was definitely feeling the heat! Which totally freaked me out. I had put down splits for a 17 hour day, and I could hit those times on a normal weather day. But with the heat I was already starting to fall off those times, so instead of stressing over my splits I chose to focus on how my body was feeling.
Sunrise 1 to Pioneer Mail 1 (Mile 21 - 28.2)
I came into Sunrise AS to cheers from my crew, this was the first time I got to see them. I would see them at the next AS, and was in and out of the aid station in a couple of minutes. I took extra water and food, even though I would see them in seven short miles. Within a couple miles of leaving Sunrise I was baking. By now it was around 10:00 AM and I could literally feel the heat radiating off the trail. This section is part of the Pacific Crest Trail and is beautifully exposed. It is a very runnable section, but I started backing off the intensity and bumped up my fluid intake. Even then by the time I got to Pioneer Mail AS I was overheating and in need of a strategy.
Pioneer Mail 1 to Meadows (Mile 28.2 - 48.8)
As I came into Pioneer Mail, I immediately sunk into a chair in the shade and my epic crew went to work. I feel so fortunate to have a truly wonderful partner in Josie who supports me 100%. Over the last couple of years she has become an absolute master at taking care of me and understanding what my body needs, sometimes even better than I do. As soon as seeing me basically crumple into that chair, Josie could see I needed to cool down. Within a minute she had a ice-cold towel wrapped over me, soaked a fresh shirt in ice water, and had Phillip and Liz acting like crew veterans getting my temperature down and back out of the aid station in no time. Check out the video below, there as good as it gets!
I rolled out of Pioneer Mail completely reinvigorated and blown away be their support, running a hundred mile race really is a team sport. Whether you have a crew, or are running solo and relying on the wonderful aid stations and countless volunteers, it takes a community to get us across the finish line.
Feeling refreshed, I started making good work of the eight mile descent into Pine Creek AS. Nate had caught back up, and we worked together, careful to not push to hard with the rising temperatures and upcoming climbs. We came into Pine Creek and after passing a couple of runners we also saw a couple more getting worked on in the aid station. I had found my strategy for the day, stay as absolutely cool and wet as possible, and went to work soaking my shirt and body in ice-cold water.
Climbing out of Pine Creek to Penny Pines 1 AS I settled into a solid rhythm. It was tough to keep myself from running as the grade was not overly steep, but with so much heat left in the day I was wary of pushing it. My intuition paid off and as I closed in on Penny Pines I passed Matthew Morales, whom I would go on to yo-yo with back and forth all day. I made quick work of the aid station and heard that other than Nate the runners in front of me were looking worked by the heat. I felt for the guys ahead of me, knowing how much racing and heat was left in the day, but my confidence was growing in my ability to manage the weather and was starting to think this could be a special day.
Meadows to Red Tail Roost (Mile 48.8 - 55)
I came into Meadows AS and was pumped to see my crew had grown to include Rudy, who would be pacing me in a few short hours. Like a NASCAR pit stop I was in and out of Meadows, cooled down and refreshed to take on the second half of this source.
Less than a mile out of the aid station I moved into second place, and was right where I wanted to be, running strong and getting ready to pick up my first pacer.
Red Tail Roost to Cibbets Flat (Mile 55 - 64)
As I picked up Liz, I was again blown away by the selflessness of my friends. Here was a woman, who had never met me, but who had essentially given up her weekend to support my goal, incredible! This was the longest consecutive downhill section and it felt good to open up my stride. It was a new part of the course, and although I would have to climb right back out, I enjoyed letting gravity carry me down the mountain. Liz was a natural pacer, and kept my mind off the fact that it was still pretty dam toasty. Her enthusiasm was awesome, and I loved getting to know my Liz for the first time, in the middle of a 100 mile race.
Cibbets Flat to Penny Pines 2 (Mile 64 - 80)
Liz and I came into the AS having seen Nate in first, but only eighteen minutes ahead of me. Much to my surprise, Matthew had picked his pace up and came in just a couple of minutes behind me. We had a race on our hands, and with the temperature finally starting to drop, , I was amped to race into the night!
At this point Rudy, picked up pacing me, and he would actually be doing double pacing duties, taking me back to Penny Pines 2 AS and then waiting for our buddy Jim Atkinson to take him to the finish (congrats on your race Jim!). I felt like this was an ambitious idea, but within five minutes of climbing realized Rudy is a pacing extraordinaire. For the next 16 miles he filled me with epic stories, and words of encouragement. Not to mention carrying two headlamps without me even requesting it, and when it started getting dark and I realized I had mistimed picking up a torch and wouldn't see my crew for an extra hour, he just nonchalantly pulled out lights for us! Totally lifesaver! He didn't even flinch when Matthew passed us halfway up the climb, immediately calling out to me that I was power-hiking strong and we were conserving my legs for the home stretch, where I could easily catch him. I wasn't sure this was true, but Rudy was convincing so I figured lets go for it.
He turned out to be right, and a couple miles out from Penny Pines 2 we caught Matthew (the second time that day for me) and I again thought this was the last time I would see him.
Penny Pines 2 to Finish (80.3 - 100.5)
Rudy and I rolled into mile Penny Pines and I was in the zone. I knew I only had a couple of minutes on Matthew, but felt stronger than I ever have this late in a race. I picked up Keith, who paced me to my first 100 Mile finish at Angeles Crest in 2014 and knew I was in good hands.
But ultra running is a fickle sport, as strong as I felt at mile 80, I still had 20 miles to go and anything can happen. As Keith and I caught up on life and marveled at how much stronger I was running than at AC a few years ago, Matthew was pushing himself. We rolled through Pioneer Mail 2 and before heading out I asked Josie to rub my legs in tiger balm as they were starting to feel pretty heavy. As we left the aid station I was still confident that I had dropped Matthew. A few short minutes later Keith mentioned he could see a headlamp behind us. I really couldn't believe it, this guy never let up! I dropped the hammer, in my depleted mental state I thought if I could hold him off through Sunrise 2, the final aid station, I could get to the finish in second overall and maybe even sub 20 hours. Alas, he had found his 3rd or 4th wind, and passed me halfway through the section.
I felt the wind come out of my own sails, and although Keith made an epic effort to get me to continue pushing, my body was starting to lock up. I came into Sunrise 2, and my faithful crew could see the exhaustion in my eyes. They did their best to give me their last bit of energy and as we left Sunrise for the finish I tried to keep pushing. Unfortunately my body had given pretty much all it had. Even though I was within nine miles of the finish line, it felt so far away. Then something clicked, and I recalled the total agony and pain I had been in basically at this point last year. I realized how fortunate I was to have a body that was going to carry me through 20+ hours of running and how lucky I am to have friends and family that support these adventures.
It wasn't my fastest section, but eventually Lake Cuyamaca, where my adventure had started only 20 hours ago (it felt like so much longer!) came into view and I relished in its cool breeze. As I crossed the finish line I couldn't stop smiling. I had an amazing day. Like all the awesome runners on the course, I battled through the heat, and felt proud to cross the finish line in 20:36:08 and third overall!
I gave Scotty and Angela big sweaty bear hugs, congratulated Nate and Matthew, and reveled in the moment. Finishing a 100-miler is a special moment, and I don't think its going to get old any time soon:)
We capped off the weekend with some pie celebrations in Julian on Saturday, and enjoyed exploring San Diego. My body was naturally pretty sore and I took the last week and a half off from running. I worked in some good stretching sessions and as my energy came back this week I am starting to get excited for my a return trip to my first hundred miler- Angeles Crest.
I am heading back to Los Angeles for Angeles Crest 100 on August 6th. This will be my first year trying to run two hundred mile races in the same summer, and while I am nervous to do races within a couple months of each other, I'm also excited for the opportunity to get back to this course. AC is always going to have a special place in my heart, with it being my first hundred and so many close friends in LA that basically brought me up as a trail runner. I am looking forward to putting together a solid short block of training, and seeing what I can do out there with much more experience under my belt.
Thank you so much to all my friends and family that have sent messages of support and kind words, I really appreciate it.
Special thanks to my crew and pacers: Josie, Liz, Phillip, Rudy, and Keith. Couldn't have done it without you all!
Thank you to Scott Mills, Angela Shartel, and all the amazing volunteers at San Diego 100, you guys were amazing and put on one of the best 100-mile races in the country.
Thanks for reading,