Tuesday, June 14, 2011
San Diego 100 Miler
Takeoff! Photo by Brett Rivers
Why San Diego 100 miler? Well, it started selfishly enough. Last year I had run an extremely competitive racing season. And, while I did well in all the events that I entered, I was looking to do some new races against maybe slightly less stacked fields. As anyone knows, that mentality is a recipe for disaster. Usually this is because others seem to have the same thoughts and all of a sudden that “mellow” race becomes somewhat of a barn burner. That is what appears to have happened at San Diego. The event had caught my eye as I heard it was a tough, beautiful, but relatively fast race. I had noted that race veteran Guillermo Medina had won the race the year before in a time of 18:53. That seemed like a time that I was very capable of and could maybe rack up my 1st 100 mile win. However, after the event opened, it seemed like I wasn’t the only one with this idea. It quickly became one of the more competitive 100 mile races this summer. While the race didn’t feature any of the “top of the top” runners (Tony K, Geoff Roes, etc), it more than made up for in the next level of top trail runners in the country. Yassine Diboun (multiple ultra wins), Dylan Bowman (more wins, young, and 3rd at Leadville 100), Ben Hian, Topher Gaylord, Josh Brimhall, David James, Guillermo Medina, Krissy Moehl (uh, yeah, she can win any 100 miler she is in). Are you kidding me? Well, that’s what I get for cherry picking my events on trying to win…..
But, I was really excited to run this course. Tons of singletrack, sunny skies, some good climbs, and the fact that I was heading to the race with two of my good friends; Ken and Denise.
We flew into San Diego on Thursday and headed up to our cool little cabin at 6,000 feet. As usual, when you head up to altitude, the small towns become a little more eclectic and this was no exception at the Mount Laguna cabins. We settled in and Ken, Denise, and myself went out for a quick run on the course. The rest of the day was filled with watching movies and ESPN. I had grown a bit of a beard and as we watched “Smokey and the Bandit”, I got the idea to give myself a 70’s stache which proved to be the entertainment of the day. In fact, the next day, armed with my cowboy hat, friends Krissy Moehl and Topher Gaylord had to look at my pre-race name tag to know who I was! Classic.
Friday was filled lots of nervous energy, race meetings, and getting our drop bags ready. The day before the race always seems endless and it is usually a great relief to get to sleep. Luckily, the day was broken up as Ken and Denise had their pacers, Christian and Julie, fly in from Portland and add more energy to the mix. Soon enough it was race morning and the usual seriousness set in. As anyone who has done these races knows, you are not going to make it through a 100 miler unscathed. Knowing that you are willingly going to put yourself through something that 99.9% of the world would consider torture is still daunting.
At last we were at the starting line and it was time to get moving. It was 7 a.m. and off we went! A couple of the threatening contenders were not there which was a nice surprise! The front pack was formed quickly between Yassine Diboun, Dylan Bowman, and myself. Within a mile, Yassine had sprinted off at sub 7 minute pace. I heard uber veteran’s Roch Horton’s warning to me in the back of my head. “Yassine and that guy from Aspen are going to go shooting off. Let them go.” Within a couple miles I did. First, Yassine, and then Dylan. It felt good to be on my own and not trying to run anyone else’s race. The first 20 miles of the race are actually quite gentle as we ran through big open meadows speckled with wildflowers only to be interrupted by quick “stinger” climbs and the introduction to our toughest companion of the day: the rocks! Of course, during the early miles, our legs are fresh, nimble, and able to dart through the array of rocks strewn on the course.
Photo by Brett Rivers
While the course was undeniably beautiful, I found myself having a hard time getting into a rhythm. I wasn’t feeling particularly badly but I definitely wasn’t feeling like the run was coming to me easily. By mile 20, I was mildly worried about how my day was going to go. As we have had literally NO warm days in Central Oregon this summer, I was struggling with the heat already. But, onward I moved. Dylan Bowman had taken a wrong turn somewhere and caught back up to me and we ran together towards Noble Canyon. We both noted that the technical terrain had caught us off guard. The descent into the canyon felt tough and I was running slow downhill. As we hit mile 30, my race really felt like it was unraveling. I was hot and I really wasn’t enjoying myself. We were then to run a loop at the bottom of the canyon which pushed me further into the hole. It was hot and I was literally mugged by gnats, flies, I don’t know what they were but they were unbearable. They swarmed my head, ears, and made me want to scream. What do you do? Suck it up and keep moving. I looked back every couple of minutes amazed that no one had caught me yet as I felt like I couldn’t have been moving any slower. At that point, the course enters into one of the true “cruxes” of the race. A 2.3 mile, steep asphalt climb that then drops momentarily before an exposed, hot single track climb. It was miserable. Worse yet, I puked after 34 miles which is earlier than I ever had in a 100… and I’m a puker! I started going through the reasons why I should quit. “I’m slammed and stressed out at work. I haven’t trained enough. We have had no heat for training. Rod, you never DNF. Give yourself a break. Its not your day”. But upward I went. I looked back and finally I was being caught. Up and looking extremely strong, Topher Gaylord seemed to be feeling as good as I was bad. If I was going to be caught, I was glad it was Toph. One of my favorite folks to see at races, he gave me encouragement and took off. I did my best to keep him in my sights and use him to pull me around. When we hit the aid station at mile 44, life sucked. My vision was blurred and I was out of it. Catherine Horton, Kim Gaylord, and Devon Crosby-Helms were all great mother hens to me and tried their best to get me to eat and drink. I did and then predictably and violently puked it all out. Finally, they pushed me out and I scuffled my way along the next 7+ miles on the technical PCT. I could see Topher in the distance and did seem to be slightly gaining on him. I still felt like absolute shit but just kept moving forward thinking of the famous ultra mantra, “it never always gets worse”. At mile 51, I picked up my first pacer, Jason Hill. While we just met a couple weeks earlier, I felt an immediate connection to Jason. Maybe it was his uber cool South African accent or just his genuine personality shines right through. It was definitely very cool for him to jump in and run with me. At first, I still felt horrible and nauseous and within a few moments, I threw up again. As I have said in the past, if I do have any redeeming quality in my pukiness, it is that I seem to rally pretty well. At the last aid station, I had stopped taking gels, which were clearly not working for me. I started taking Carbo Pro which instantly seemed to have a good affect on me. I wasn’t moving real well but I did slowly seem to start moving better. As we entered an area of giant meadows and wide open views, life seemed ever so slightly better. Jason and I had some good conversations and slowly moved up the pace. By the time we hit the next aid station at mile 58, the sun was lowering in the sky and the relief helped me out. Topher and I were at the aid station together and both complained on what in the world we were doing willingly thrashing ourselves out here. I was however, clearly, feeling better. We were 45+ minutes behind Yassine and Dylan but that had very little concern to me. I again, and stupidly, tried to fill myself with chicken broth, coke, and ginger ale. Jason and I were just ahead of Topher and his pacer, Nathan when I again started projectile vomiting. “God damnit”, I yelled. Why didn’t I just stick to the Carbo Pro? The barfing pissed me off and put a little giddyup in my step. All of a sudden, I was running better. I put on the gas a little bit to see if I could get some breathing room from Topher and was able to do this. Next came a tough little climb up Stonewall Peak. We were now starting to move though. My legs were responding better and better as the sun eased up on us. Okay, I thought, I can do this. By the time we hit the next aid station, we didn’t have Topher in view. Again (yes, I am an idiot), I tried to get more liquids in my body and again, I puked several times within a ¼ mile after leaving the aid station. No more food. Jason ran back to get more carbo pro and I took off. The next few miles, my race drastically changed. We were running. Not only that, we were running well. The next section was my favorite on the course as we traversed a hillside that had a faint and awesome trail to run on. We had some great conversations and were moving!!! I was having fun again. Thank God….
When we hit mile 71, life was good. My great friend David Easa was there to pace me to the finish. A quick note on David. This was his 4th time pacing me at a 100 miler and is one of the closest people to my heart. We don’t talk daily or weekly but we have a lot of connections that go deep and I know I could call him for pretty much anything and he would be there. Jason and I entered the aid station whooping and hollering. Kim Gaylord was there and said that Yassine was only 8 minutes ahead of me. Are you kidding me??? I hadn’t even thought I had a chance of catching him. And, Dylan was only 15 minutes up on us. “David, you better be ready to run. I’m moving right now!”. I left him to fill my bottles as I ran down the trail. David caught up to me about a mile later and we settled into a groove. The next section was going to be tough but I was up for it. It was a definite “Rod style climb”. A grinder. I had David lead and we ran virtually the whole hill. Our headlamps were now on and we were on the hunt for Yassine. Finally, we hit the mile 80 aid station. The aid station was also the 50 mile aid station earlier in the day. I couldn’t believe how many people were just getting there…. 30 miles behind me. I really felt for them. They had one damn long adventure still ahead of them. As we hit the aid station, we heard that Yassine was just a couple minutes ahead of us. I felt strong but cold. The ridge we were entering had strong winds and my body temperature dropped fast. I didn’t have a drop bag at this aid station and had to borrow someone’s “sleeves” as my tank top was not going to do it. Finally, I was smart enough not to eat any food and just got more Carbo Pro and off we went. Again, we moved well. Both of us very focused. We starting seeing Yassine’s light ahead of us. Yes, we were going to catch him. We had several setbacks on this stretch. After a trip, my headlamp would not turn on. We also made a wrong turn that cost us several minutes. However, finally we reeled Yassine in. He had been my goal to catch for so long that it felt strange to go by him. I felt badly as I knew he had gotten off course earlier and looked to be hurting some. As we entered the aid station, we was only 25 yards or so behind. I knew I was in second place but I figured I would ask Yassine if he wanted to stay with us and finish together. I asked him and he seemed happy to have the companionship after a long day of running alone. I know I should have a stronger “killer instinct” but I don’t and I genuinely thought it would be cooler to finish tied for second rather than by myself. After Yassine latched on with us, the last 12 miles were tough. We were both tired and pretty beat up. The course eases in terms of vertical but the rocks and tough terrain just never eased up. We all took turns “pulling” as we grunted and swore our way to the last aid station. At the last aid station, we heard we were only 10 minutes or so behind Dylan. A bit too much of a gap to make up so we just suffered on and on. It was sweet relief to see the “1 mile to go” sign. We made our way through the campground and it was done. Yassine and I tied for 2nd place in 18:12... a PR for both of us.
So, the questions, right? I'm sure a lot of folks are curious why Yassine and I would want to link together after battling all day? I don't have a great answer other than, to me, 100 milers are bigger than winning and losing. They are testing your soul and your resolve as a man or woman. To me, to be able to share the end with a a runner that I respect, was a much better ending than trying (and he sure as heck may have still beat me!) to beat him out by a couple of minutes. It was a much more meaningful race to me because of the decision.
Did I have a chance of catching Dylan? I doubt it. I don't think that I necessarily slowed down much at all after Yassine and I linked up. I think it breathed some new into Yassine and he definitely picked up his pace. So, while I may have made slight gains on Dylan... I'm sure his place was secure. And, for the record, I think if Yassine had not gotten lost on the course for 10 minutes, I think he probably would have won. I think we all know the feeling of getting lost on a course and how it can truly take the steam out of the engine. He had been in the lead ALL day and to lose it late in the race, without a pacer, is certainly hard to overcome. Regardless, as I look back on the race, I'm proud that I persevered from having a very challenging first half, getting my 100 mile PR on a stout course, and gaining a good friend along the way. I'd call that a solid weekend.
I'd be remiss to bring up my one big disappointment of the weekend. It seems as if someone stole all four of my drop bags. Major bummer. Whoever it is, you better hope I don't see you with my stuff!!! I'll be looking!
I'd also like to thank my pacers: David Easa and Jason Hill. Without these guys, there is no doubt that I would not have achieved the time that I did out there. I'd also like to thank Kim Gaylord (Topher's wife) for genuinely helping me out at all the aid stations. I'd like to thank my sponsor, Patagonia. I've been on their team for a long time and I truly believe they make the best trail running clothing in the world and I am truly proud to represent them. Lastly, a big shout out to Yassine for being willing to run the last 12 miles with me. I had a blast... once it was over.