Wednesday, June 18, 2014

San Diego 100 - June 7, 2014

Summary
Very long story short, the San Diego 100 was an awesome race for me as I nearly put together a flawlessly executed 100 miler. I successfully managed my effort and nutrition all day making it to mile 92 feeling great and motivated to finish strong. However, I pushed the second to last climb a bit too hard, while letting my nutrition suffer a bit. This primed me for feeling quite miserable and even blacking out, which cost me about 30 minutes in the last aid station. However, I was able to regain my strength to finish strong.

I ran without any pacers or crew as it was important to me to run on my own with only aid station support. I ended up running about 85 - 90 miles alone, which gave me plenty of time to get in my own head, especially since I never listen to music, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The weather was hot and dry with a lot of exposure, all at moderate altitude (for someone who lives at sea level anyway).

I finished in 21:54:38 for 8th place overall. It was an epic day with snakes, mountain lions, skunks, face plants and stunning mountain views. I am very excited to get my Western States and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) lottery qualifiers, especially under the new, higher standards for each race. The race was flawlessly executed by Scott Mills and his team of organizers and volunteers. I cannot thank them enough for a great experience and something I will never forget. I would highly recommend this race to anyone considering it!

At the end of this report, I offer a lot of lessons learned and things that worked out well for me. I hope this is helpful to anyone considering running longer ultras, especially in challenging conditions. I tried a few things in training and on race day that worked out really well, which made it possible to run a great race. Over 100 miles, every little thing makes a huge difference in the end. I also offer some advice specific to the San Diego 100. Finally, I mention all of my gear, which performed flawlessly. Please note, I am in no way sponsored or affiliated by any of these companies and bought each piece with my hard-earned cash. The strava file for those curious.

I think I need to award a belt buckle to all who read this entire report!! Enjoy!

Race Report 
For the first time before a race, except for maybe my first marathon, I was very nervous in the days, hours and minutes before the San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run (SD100). Aside from Chicago 2013, which I should not have started, the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Run (RR100) was my first DNF last February. At RR100, the 100 mile distance proved to be too much for me mentally and physically, which led to my first real DNF. Now that I had experienced failure, I felt I had something to prove to myself. Although, I felt in the best shape of my life, I questioned whether I could complete the distance. After all, 100 miles is really far, nearly four consecutive marathons, and anything could happen.

After a two week taper, I did not feel particularly strong on the few easy runs the days before the race. For one, my nervousness led to stomach and sleep issues, and I questioned everything I ate or drank. I also knew I needed to sleep well the days before, but nervousness about sleeping, of course, led to less sleep. However, the start of the race would start promptly at 6am Saturday morning, regardless of whether I was ready or not.

I drove down to San Diego the Thursday before the race, and I camped in the back of my Ford Explorer both nights. The race starts and finishes at Lake Cuyamaca, which is about 60 miles northeast of downtown San Diego. I camped at the Paso Picacho campground about three miles from the start. I had some essential camping gear, like a stove and pot, so I could at least boil water. As an inexperienced camper, I figured if I could boil water, I would be fine with oatmeal and some freeze dried meals for a couple days in addition to some PB&J sandwiches. I aimed for 3,200 calories each of the three days before the race, and since I was not running much, I thought this would be more than enough to ensure my energy stores were full.

Maybe this is too much information, but this might be helpful to others. I also took a laxative Thursday night to ensure movement. The last thing I wanted was to feel bloated or plugged-up on race day. I have done this in the past, and it has worked out well. I think it helps keep the digestive system moving as you decrease your activity level while slightly increasing your food intake, especially if you are traveling to a different climate/environment.

On race morning, I woke up at 3am, which was plenty of time to eat breakfast, get ready and drive to the start. For breakfast, I had about 500 calories, which consisted of four pieces of bread and some peanut butter. This would probably be too much before a shorter race, but I thought it would pay dividends later on, even if it led to some discomfort early in the race.

At the start, I saw my friends Paolo and Travis. Last year, I ran the Goldrush 100k with Paolo, which was a rough day for both of us. I occasionally run with Travis with the San Francisco Running Company. We wished each other well and looked forward to seeing each other out on the course as it was shaping up to be a beautiful day. The forecast was hot and dry, but this is typical for this race. Staying cool and hydrated would be essential to make it through the mid-day heat and into the evening.

Eventually the clock struck 6am, and we went off. The start of a 100 miler is special, especially if that is the only distance being raced. Each time, I am reminded of my favorite running quote, and it could not be more appropriate. “The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start,” by John Bingham. To me, it is very inspiring to see so many people of many different backgrounds and fitness levels accepting the daunting challenge of 100 miles in the mountains.

Going into the race, I had specific fueling and hydration goals. In my last three 100 mile starts, improper fueling has contributed to some epic bonks and a DNF. Since I did not have a crew or pacer, I would be relying on my dropbags and the aid stations for support. My goal was to average two gels an hour and supplement with a single bottle of Tailwind between each aid station. Tailwind also has electrolytes so I did not intend to take extra salt tabs. This plan would give me about 300 calories per hour, which is about what the body can easily digest. I also intended to only carry two 20oz handheld bottles (without a belt or vest), which could also hold four gels each. In addition, I could carry about six gels in my short pockets. My second bottle was filled with water to offer some extra hydration, just in case. Finally, my plan to stay cool, along with ice cold hydration, would be to fill a bandana, sewn in half, with ice to wrap around my neck.

As we left Lake Cuyamaca, the family, friends and crews of the runners cheered us on as we approached the first climb of the day. Every climb at San Diego is runnable, however in the context of 100 miles, running uphill does not make sense for most people, especially early on. But this did not stop a handful in the lead group, as they went out fairly hard. According to the results, I was in about 20th place at this point.  I did a combination of running and hiking the 2-3 mile 1000ft climb. I ran the gentle parts, but did not hesitate to hike the steeper sections, especially since my legs did not feel particularly strong. I could tell early on that I did not have much speed or turnover, and even though that could change later on, I was not worried at all. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Fact is, there is no need to run fast over 100 miles, and if you could maintain just 10 minute miles at the SD100, you would be flirting with a course record. As we climbed, the sun rose over the lake, which was a spectacular and inspiring sight.

Eventually we reached the summit of Middle Peak and had a nice gentle, but somewhat technical, downhill to the first aid station at mile 6.8, which was my campground Paso Picacho. I filled my Tailwind bottle, and although it was not too warm yet, put a bit of ice in my bandana. A few seconds later, I was through the first aid station and on my way to Chambers, where everyone was dressed up as pirates!

At this point, I was feeling just OK, not fast or nimble, but like I said, it does not really matter over 100 miles. My slight sluggishness might have been due to the larger than normal pre-race breakfast or too short of a taper. However, the extra calories would be far worth some slight discomfort early on. After another gentle 1000ft climb and running around Lake Cuyamaca, I strolled into the pirate themed aid station at mile 12.5, Chambers. After a quick break to refill my bottles and bandana, I was moving on. This trend carried out throughout the day as I only considered the current segment to the next aid station. When I arrived, I refilled my bottles and bandana and moved on trying not to waste too much time. I never looked at my overall mileage or time. It is very daunting knowing you have 60 or 70 miles to go, but I was comforted knowing I only had a few miles to the next aid station.

Shortly after Chambers, it was clear it was going to be a hot and dry day. During the pre-race briefing, race director Scot Mills mentioned the humidity was about 10%, which I was not quite sure how to react to. I know I do not like high humidity, but I did not have any experience in extreme dryness. In addition, the race is at altitudes ranging from 3,781ft to 6,083ft, with the majority of the race over 5,000ft. Although this is not high altitude, the thinner air was noticeable, especially since I was coming from sea level.

I really enjoyed the landscape. It was hot, dry, dusty, bare and exposed. I remember comparing it to the ending scene of the Jungle Book with Shere Kahn and the fire. Especially after last year's fire, the terrain consisted of numerous burn areas. I thought only the strong, well-adapted can survive such harsh environments. After realizing I was not well-adapted to this particular environment, I knew I would have to run a smart race. Originally, my goal was 18-20 hours, however, after 20 miles in those conditions, I knew I had to run by effort, regardless of any goal. And since I have some 100 mile experience, I also know that your finishing time is largely determined by how you do in the last 30 miles. A fast first 70 miles means nothing if you walk the last 30, which I have done (Rio Del Lago) and would prefer not to do again. Therefore, it was an obvious decision to abandon any ambitious splits and run by feel, at an effort that felt very sustainable. That said, I did not hesitate to throw in short hiking breaks on gentle climbs or technical terrain.

I ran with a couple others for very short periods during the first 20 miles. One runner was running his first hundred and we talked about previous races, advice and whatnot. However, I was running alone for the most part, and this trend continued as the race went on. After the aid station at mile 23.2, I started running with Jenny Capel, who was currently leading the women's race and also defending her win last year. We talked about all things running from how we got started running, to the ultra-running culture and future race plans. After running along some beautiful and exposed cliffs, we arrived at the mile 30.4 aid station, Pioneer Mail.

My first dropbag was at Pioneer Mail, where I would restock my gel supply in addition to refilling my bottles and bandana. Since I did not have a crew, I had to rely on my dropbags or aid stations for gels. I relied on the aid stations for water and the Tailwind electrolyte drink, which was very convenient. However, I was worried the aid stations might not have the gel flavors and more importantly, the caffeine levels, I wanted. So I used dropbags to ensure I had the right gels at the right time. Although it took some time to sort through my dropbag, it was worth it. I planned to restock my pockets with gels every 30 miles since I had enough storage capacity for about 12 gels. I think Jenny had a crew, so she was in and out of the aid station before me, and that was the last time I saw her as she stormed to her second SD100 win. Congrats Jenny!

I left the aid station, and I just remember it was getting hot, really hot. My cooling strategy of the ice bandana was working great, and without it, it would have been very difficult. The ice filled bandana was a life-saver as it trickled ice-cold water down my back and chest. Keeping your core temperature cool during hot races is incredibly important. As your body heats up, it becomes less efficient, which requires you to work harder, and over 100 miles, you never want to work harder than you have to. Little things like drinking and holding ice water and using a bandana filled with ice make a huge difference. Think of it as putting effort in the bank for later on.

Not only was it hot, but it was dry. Although it was 90+ degrees, I was not noticeably sweating. The sweat was evaporating before, I could visually see or feel it along my body. Throughout the day, I drank to thirst, which meant I was drinking about twice as much as I expected. I thought I would drink one bottle between each aid station, while the second bottle would be a backup or to splash over my head. Instead, I was emptying both bottles between aid stations. Since I felt good and knew there was a decent amount of electrolytes in Tailwind, I continued to drink to thirst. Carrying just one bottle would have been suicidal, while two seemed perfect for me. I finally learned this lesson! Always better to be safe than sorry, and carry a little extra water. Likewise, nutrition was going well, and I was more or less sticking to my plan of two gels an hour.

Although Paolo and Travis went out faster than me from the start, I caught back up with Paolo at the mile 34.4 aid station. He looked good, but said he was in the middle of a dark, low patch. I wished him well, and continued on. After talking with him at the finish, he said he nearly dropped, but instead, drank a beer and continued. Nice!

I continued to successfully manage my effort, nutrition, hydration in the dry heat and was in and out of a few aid stations just refilling bottles and my bandana. At this point, I was running pretty much completely alone, and there was no sign of others ahead or behind me. It was nice to get into my own head and enjoy the spectacular scenery. I do not remember any particular thoughts or feelings, other than just being really happy. I realized there was nothing else I would rather be doing at this point in time. I marveled at the harsh terrain with a smile from ear to ear.

In fact, I was glad I was alone. I wanted to do this 100% without help, aside from the aid stations for which I relied on for hydration. I did not want a pacer, crew or even to run with someone else for an extended period of time. In my opinion, pacers and crews are a tremendous advantage. Please do not take this the wrong way though. Everyone can have a crew or pacer, but I opted to run without either. I do not look down upon runners with a crews one bit, but for me, it was important to finish with minimal help from others. For both my previous two hundred mile finishes, I intended to run completely alone. However at Headlands 100, I met Ben, and since we had the same goal and were moving at the same pace, we ran almost 70 miles or more together. At Rio Del Lago, my buddy Paul bailed me out, when I was 100% convinced I would drop, and hiked the last 20 miles with me. Long story short, I was alone running in the mountains, and I would not have it any other way.

Shortly before halfway, I saw the race director just up ahead. He calmly informed me there was some course vandalism and although I correctly followed the ribbons, someone had switch them. Fortunately, they were able to fix the issue without requiring any additional miles or backtracking. Now that is what I call a excellent race directing!! After following some makeshift markings made of sticks and rocks and nearly stepping on a snake, I was back on course, moving toward the mile 51.1 Meadows aid station. I am nearly positive the snake was not a rattlesnake, however I did hear some very suspicious rattles throughout the day.

I was halfway in 9:25, and the first half was somewhat uneventful, which was a good thing. I was able to keep up with my nutrition, stay cool and manage my effort.  Although it was still hot, I was hoping the hottest part of the day was over. From a distance perspective, I was halfway, but I did not get too excited since I knew I was not halfway from a time or mental perspective. This tidbit is important to realize as it may help gauge effort and expectations. Some say mile 80 is halfway.

After the first two climbs, the course was mostly rolling hills with a slight upward gradient to the high point of 6,083ft around mile 45, which was followed more rolling hills with a slight descent to the mile 56.4 aid station, Penny Pines. Next, I headed down a famous trail into Noble Canyon in which we lost about 1,750ft in about six miles to the low point of the course around mile 63 and 3,781ft. This descent was fairly technical, and with marginally swollen feet 60+ miles into the race, it was tough. With every step my toes slammed into the front of my shoes, which was painful, especially since my swollen feet had less room in my shoes.

I did my best to maneuver along the technical trail, but eventually, my massive Hoka sole clipped a rock, which sent me flying forward. Dazed, I sat still on the ground assessing my wounds, and once I realized nothing was too severe, I looked out across the canyon. Everything seemed to be in slow motion, and I became vividly aware of my surroundings. I noticed the insignificant movement of the leaves from the slightest breeze and the rays of light scattering through the trees. For a short moment in time, I was under absolutely no stress and everything seemed insignificant, even the race. This feeling was special in which I briefly wondered what I was doing and why. I did not come up with any profound revelation on why someone would try to run 100 miles, and instead, I just knew it was time to get up and continue.

I sat there for about 30 seconds, and it was not until I started running again, that I realized I sprained my wrist. It was not anything major, but it was somewhat uncomfortable to carry a full bottle in that hand. Since going with one bottle was obviously not an option, I decided to drink that one first for the rest of the race.

By now, the sun was starting to set. I had just rolled into Pine Creek at mile 64, however, my headlamp was at mile 72.1 and there was a 1,500ft climb in between. Initially, I was not too worried and proceeded to hike up the longest, steepest climb of the course. About halfway up, Paolo caught back up, and we talked for a bit as we hiked. He told me about how he almost dropped earlier, but came back and was feeling strong. Soon after he caught up, we saw the race director up ahead. He told us there has been more vandalism and we would not see any course markings for the next four miles to the aid station. Fortunately, his instruction was very easy, just follow the trail two miles, turn left and it was another two miles to the aid station. We thanked him again for letting us know, but we started to get worried as daylight was very limited and neither of us had our headlamps.

Paolo was moving faster than me, so I told him to go ahead and maybe I would catch him later on. He jokingly said not to worry since this high would not last long. Eventually I made the turn and was about two miles from the aid station, but it was getting tough to see the trail, especially in the shadows. At this point, it did not matter if it was uphill or down, I had to run, otherwise, I would run out of daylight. In fact, it was already too late. This was tough, I kept looking at my watch counting every hundredth of a mile saying I just need 15, 10 and 5 minutes. About a half mile from the aid station, I saw a volunteer with a headlamp asking me if I needed a light. By now, it was dark, and the only way I could see my watch was if I used the backlight. I politely declined his offer as I wanted to do this on my own, under my own planning, and I did not want someone to bail me out due to my poor planning. My eyes adjusted to the limited light, and eventually, I made it to mile 72.1, the Pioneer Mail aid station.

I noticed Travis sitting down at the aid station, which was the first time I saw him since the start. I do not know for sure, but I think he had trouble eating. This was his first hundred, and I know how easy it is to make the same mistake. I did not talk to him as he was busy with his crew and pacer. I was in a really good mood as I came into the aid station, especially since I had a headlamp in my dropbag. One of the aid station volunteers asked me if I needed a massage or food, and I politely responded by saying "no thanks, just a headlamp and a few gels, and I'll be good to go." That said, I swapped out some old gel wrappers and turned on my headlamp. Although it was not cold, I tied a long-sleeve shirt around my waist, just in case.

From Pine Creek (mile 64) to Chambers (mile 87.9) the aid stations were at least 7.2 miles apart, with a maximum of 8.6 miles. Going into the race, I thought this would be the toughest part, especially since we got used to aid every 4 - 6 miles before. However, I was excited for the night, which ironically gave me some energy, especially as I started to take caffeinated gels. I love running in the night, which is something unique to hundred milers. I am a daily 2 - 3 cups of coffee person, but ten days before the race, I gave up all caffeine. This taper was tough because I absolutely love my morning coffee. However, it was worth it. Even the lightly caffeinated (25mg) gels gave be a nice burst of energy to keep me going through the night. Sleepiness was a major problem in my previous hundred mile attempts, but after a proper caffeine taper, it was not an issue this time.

I left the aid station at mile 72.1 with Erika Lindland and her pacer just behind me, while Travis and his pacer, Byron, were slightly ahead of me. I first met Erika at Rio del Lago (RDL) as we ran a few miles together after No Hands Bridge. However she quickly pulled ahead of me at RDL to win the women's race and smoking fast time! I talked a bit with them, but I pulled slightly ahead and out of conversation range. Now, it was completely dark, and I was alone. Running in the dark is very unique, especially as all the nocturnal animals come out. I committed to a run/hike strategy in which I hiked all the short rolling hills. Sure, they were very runnable, but I still had 25+ miles left, so it was still important to run at a sustainable effort. As I made my way to the next aid station, I saw a fair amount of mice, which worried me a bit because snakes eat mice.

Eventually, I rolled into the Sunrise aid station at mile 79.3 just ahead of Travis and Erika, and although I did not know it at the time, I had manage to work up to 9th place. I knew I had passed a handful of people throughout the day (I was 18th at the first aid station at mile 6.8), and I am sure the tough weather conditions contributed to a fair amount of drops. In fact, the overall finish rate was 62%, which is probably on the low end of average for the distance. Now, I was nearly 80% done, and I had done a marvelous job with nutrition and hydration. I felt infinitely better than my previous hundreds at this point. I consistently drank nearly two bottles (one Tailwind and one water) between each aid station and kept up with about two gels an hour. I never felt the need to take additional salt. I grabbed a second headlamp, and was on my way with a headlamp on my head and around my waist. Two headlamps is far better than one.

Next, was the longest segment of the race, 8.6 miles back to the Chambers aid station. Eventually, I caught back up to Paolo. Although he was with his pacer, he was not feeling great. He asked if I noticed his noodles splattered along the trail. I remembered them, and it was clear he was having some more issues. I did not stay with him long as I continued to run as much as possible, within reason. Within a mile of Chambers, I saw my first skunk of the night. I made some loud noises and scuffed me feet, and the skunk jumped off the trail. I continued to meander around Lake Cuyamaca and pulled into the pirate themed aid station with only two climbs and 12 miles left. I was feeling great, and after passing another runner, I was in 7th place. Chambers was the first time during the race I was aware of my place, and to my surprise, I was top ten, but I knew Travis and Paolo were close behind, while Erika was less than a minute back.

For the first time all day, my competitiveness took over. Since there was a short out-and-back to Chambers, I knew 6th place was out of the question as Ray Sanchez was at least a two miles ahead. Ray is an awesome runner and extremely mentally tough, so there was little chance I would catch him with only 12 miles to go. However, I wanted to preserve 7th place, and with a handful of people just behind me, I felt the need to push. For the first time, I looked at my overall mileage and time. From the start until now, I had just focused aid station to aid station and only looked at my current segment distance and time. However, after I left Chambers, I had a chance to finish in under 21 hours. This new time goal combined with some great runners just behind me, I made the decision to push hard up the second to last climb, which was about 1000ft in three miles.

This decision would be my first mistake all day. I did great managing my effort, nutrition and hydration all day. I dialed my effort back when it felt too hard, regardless of my goal splits, and drank twice as much as intended because I was thirsty. I adapted to the race conditions very well, until now. Just before the climb, I looked over my right shoulder and notice two eyes looking back at me. This caught me totally by surprise and scared the sh*t out of me, especially when I noticed the large cat-like figure attached to those eyes. It was a mountain lion. I made some more noise and tried to look as big as possible. Thankfully the animal had no intentions of making a meal out of me. I have a new appreciation for wildlife. I feel like the media portrays bears and mountain lions as beasts constantly making meals out of humans. In fact, this is quite rare. However, it is still very important to know what do when you encounter such animals.

Unfortunately, as I hiked hard up this climb, my nutrition suffered. Subconsciously, I was working too hard to eat, and my muscles did not want to share any blood with my stomach. However, I mistakenly thought it was OK not to eat since I had less than ten miles to go. At the Stonewall summit, I knew something was wrong, and for the first time all day, I felt miserable. I was forced to hiked down 75% of the 1000ft descent to the final aid station at mile 94.4, Paso Picacho. Of course, this more than negated my hard effort climbing to the summit. Although I was still in 7th upon arriving at the aid station, I could hear Erika close behind.

Upon arriving at the aid station, I sat down, and I told the volunteers I did not feel good at all. It was hard to pinpoint it to anything specific. They asked if it was my stomach or muscles, but I could not be anymore specific other than I felt terrible. Indeed this was a strange feeling, something I do not recall ever feeling before. The volunteers asked if I wanted some potatoes, pickles and dozens of other foods, but nothing sounded good. Then they said, I could just walk to the finish, and since I was so close, it should not be more than 90 minutes. I agreed and stood up, but before I could take a single step, my eyes shut and I went face first into the ground. My legs gave out from under me, and I went crashing into the ground. I quickly regained my strength, well at least enough to get up and sit in a chair. My collapse quickly caught the attention of the medical marshal.

Soon after my collapse, the volunteers convinced me to try to eat a banana slice. Honestly, I was dreading this, especially because I am very picky about my bananas. I absolutely love ripe bananas, but absolutely hate green or yellow bananas. Unfortunately, typical race bananas are bought from the store just before the race and are still yellow or even worse, green, which I find revolting. I like my bananas speckled with brown spots. Funny thing, this is exactly how it played out in my head while I sat there! To my surprise, the banana they gave me was ripe with some nice spots!! Now, I was motivated to at least try it. It went down very well, and I proceeded to eat an entire banana. By now, I had been at the aid station for nearly a half hour, and I needed to get moving. Erika had already zoomed past me, and I figured the others were close behind.

The medical marshal was slightly reluctant to let me go, but I felt like a new man after that banana. I walked for a minute or two with a volunteer to ensure I was OK, which I was and felt great. Now just 5.8 miles with a little 500ft climb to the finish. Obviously, I did not want to make the same mistake twice, so I hiked the final climb at a very easy effort, with every intention to run the last four miles, which was a nice gradual downhill. After making it to the top of the climb, I proceeded to run down, with no signs of anyone behind me, eventually making it to a road crossing a mile from the finish.

The volunteers helping runners safely cross the road warned me of some more skunks up ahead, but I was not too concerned. At this point, I was running fast, probably around 9 minute pace, not knowing how far anyone was behind me. Then, three skunks sitting in the middle of the trail stopped me dead in my tracks. Their tails quickly went up like they were about to spray me. I quickly made some noise with my bottles and scuffed my feet, and the skunks moved forward. So I started walking forward, after all, I was so close to the finish!! I stopped again because I did not want to get too close to the skunks, and those tails went right back up. I quickly made the realization, their tails went down when there were moving. So I made some more noise and moved forward, and the skunks started to move forward along the trail. I quickly increased my pace, and before I knew it, I was simultaneously chasing three skunks down the trail desperately hoping they could not spray me on the run. However, I quickly wondered if I was going to chase these guys all the way to the finish! Fortunately, there was a fork in the trail, and the skunks went right, while the course went left. I ran as hard as I could for the last quarter mile and was greeted by a handful of people, including Scott Mills for a high-five, at the finish just before 4am. I was absolutely thrilled to have completed run in 21:54:38 for 8th place, which is a new 100 mile PR. The next person behind me was about 15 minutes back.

I stayed awake for awhile to see Paolo and Travis finish along with many others. I even had the pleasure to speak with the legendary Ann Trason. I love hanging out at the finish watching others come in, it is very inspiring, especially at a hundred.

Reflections
Looking back on the San Diego 100, I am incredibly proud of myself. As I eluded to in my report, I wanted to run this race with minimal support. In my previous two hundreds, I had a pacer for all intensive purposes, even though I never intended to. For those races it worked out for the best, and I made some great friends. However, it was important to me to do one of these things on my own, without the help from others. I turned down friends who kindly offered to pace, and I even told the volunteer I did not want his light when I was without a headlamp in the dark at mile 72. Even if it meant finishing a second before the final cutoff, I wanted to do this on my own with minimal support from the aid stations.

I know the community is divided on this, but in my opinion, pacers and crews offer a huge advantage. Actually, advantage is the wrong word since everyone has the option to organize a crew, but you know what I mean. Having someone to talk to or motivate you when times get tough helps you lose focus on the pain, discomfort and mental demons. I wanted to confront them head on. However, I felt very good for the vast majority of the race and did not have any epic low points. For most of the day, I managed my effort really well. Maybe that came from experience, but it helped prevent those notorious low points, where all seems lost.

That said, I do not have any profound revelations from this race. Instead, I am very proud that I ran a smart race with minimal support. I only relied on the aid stations for water, Tailwind and my dropbags. I had the confidence to abandon my splits when the effort seemed too hard given the conditions. Of course, I miss-managed my effort on the second to last climb, which cost me 7th place and 30 minutes, but I consider that a minor hiccup that I will learn from. In the past, my race unraveled around mile 70, and in San Diego, I made it all the way to mile 92 without any issues feeling great. In the end, it was a great race for me, which led to a top ten performance and a personal best time in challenging conditions.

Lessons Learned and Tips (no particular order)
1. Rehearsal Runs and Gear - Make sure to get in a couple rehearsal runs in your race day gear. Sometimes I reserve certain shirts and shorts just for race day. Maybe it is superstition, but it can also be easy to get in a simple routine of wearing non race day gear. I did a few long runs of 30 miles in my exact race day gear hoping I would notice any potential problems. Maybe obvious, but even if you run a 100K in your gear, new issues can crop up late in hundred. In this case, make sure to have spares with your crew or dropbags, just in case.

2. Taper - I did a two-week taper in which my weekly mileage leading up to race week was 81.4, 91.1, 106.4 and 61.1, all with around 12,000ft of gain (except 61.1). Going into race week, and even race day, I felt somewhat beat up and not fully recovered from the training. Next time, I will go for three weeks.

3. Managing Effort - To me, this is the key for hundred mile success. At all times, I think one needs to be moving at an effort that feels sustainable for a long time. May sound obvious, but it is all too easy to go out too hard, been there done that. Sustainable effort will be different for everyone. For some, it might be running and for others, it might be hiking with occasional breaks to stop and rest. I did great until mile 92 when I got overconfident thinking there was less than ten miles to go. Personally, I would not push it until you are at mile 95, at a minimum. Remember even if you are moving well, averaging ten minute pace, you still have an hour out there and anything can happen.


4. Note Sheet - I made a personal note sheet to carry for the race, which is shown to the right. First, I added all the aid station mileage and elevation gains. I also put goal splits for my 18 - 20 hour goals along with the number of gels I intended to take between each aid station. Although my paces only lasted to the first aid station, it is still useful information. Next time, I will consider less ambitious goals. However, in my defense, this was the first time I ran in Southern California, and at least I had discipline to readjust on race day. On the other side, I posted the elevation profile and the nutritional facts for the products. I never used the nutritional facts, but I thought it could be useful. The elevation profile was incredibly useful, and it was so nice to know what was coming up. I folded it 3-way, tucked it in my waistband, and it was worth its weight in gold. In the future, I would not start a race 50 miles or more without one. All you have to do is print out the information and completely cover it with tape.

3. Nutrition and Aid Stations - Originally, I intended to rely solely on the aid stations for hydration and fuel. However, I was worried the aid stations may not have the flavors and caffeine levels I wanted when I wanted them. Since I planned to fuel solely on gels, I knew I could carry 12 gels at a time, so I was able to strategically restock my gels with dropbags appropriately. My whole point is to bear in mind that the aid stations may not have the exact gels you want, and if you have specific flavors and caffeine levels to follow, it is best to pack your own. I also relied on the aid stations for water and the Tailwind electrolyte drink. I found each aid station seemed to mix the Tailwind drink slightly different. It can be important to realize a stronger mix means more calories and electrolytes versus a weaker mix. This is also why it is important to train with the race day fluid so you notice these differences. This way, you know what proportions work best for you and you can attempt to accommodate differences on race day. For example, if one aid station mixes a strong electrolyte drink and you are also taking salt tabs, you could slightly reduce the frequency you take the tablets.

4. Watch - My goal was to only focus on the next aid station and to not worry about my overall time or mileage. So on my watch, I set the screen to only show my lap/segment distance and time. It can be very daunting and overwhelming knowing you have 50 or more miles to the finish, but if you break it down into small pieces, it is a lot easier on the mind.

5. Training at Race Effort - For me, this was very helpful. In training, I did a few 45+ mile weekends, all at my approximate hundred mile effort. By doing this, I was able to realize my goals were too ambitious on race day and adjust appropriately. Even if it is your first hundred, try to simulate the effort in training. At this effort, you should feel like you can keep going at mile 30, even if it is the day after a previous long run. If you are wiped out at mile 30, you should consider adjusting your expected race day effort. In my opinion, successfully running this distance is all about managing effort.

6. Caffeine - My ten day caffeine taper was not fun, but it payed off. I waited until mile 70 to start taking caffeine. Next time, I may start slightly earlier, but not before mile 50. Once you start caffeine, you need to continue in order to avoid the crash. If you taper your caffeine correctly, you probably will not need it until the evening. For me, the sleepiness starts when the sun sets, and in San Diego, I was able to completely prevent it with a caffeine taper. Note, if you successfully rid the body of caffeine, which I have read takes about ten days, a little caffeine goes a long way! Be careful, the double espresso gels might be too much!

7. Staying Cool - Even if you are heat acclimatized, staying cool on a hot day can only help. I was not acclimatized, but a $2 bandana was the difference between being miserably hot or reasonably comfortable. By wrapping an ice-filled bandana around my neck, I had ice cold water trickling down my back and chest all day, which allowed me to keep my core temperature in check. All you need to do is fold a bandana in half as a triangle and sew it shut, except for a corner along the fold (not the middle one). Then, when you tie it around your neck, you effectively seal the hole, which keeps the ice inside.

8. Headlamps - Two is better than one. I had one around my waist, which always shined down on the trail ahead of me. The other was on my head, which could follow my field of vision. So even if I wanted to swivel my head, I still had light on the trail, which allowed me to use my peripheral vision to spot some last minute obstacles while looking away.

9. Supplies - In addition to gels, I also carried some useful supplies in my short pockets such as antacid tablets, salt, lip balm and an anti-chaff cream. In a perfect world, I would not need any of it or grab it at an aid station. However, I have frequently forgot to apply anti-chaff cream at aid stations, only to realize I forgot and have to deal with it for another hour until the next one. I found small, sample packages, that took virtually no space, but allowed me to handle anything immediately. Fortunately, I only used the lip balm. Anything you can do to be more comfortable is worth it. Had I experience any unfortunate chaffing, I could address it immediately without relying on my memory at the next aid station. Aid stations can be hectic, especially if there are other runners and you want to get through quickly, which makes it too easy to forget.

Specific Tips for the San Diego 100
1. Weather - If you can, be prepared and train for hot and dry conditions. In 2014, it was over 90 degrees and about 10% humidity. If you cannot train accordingly, be sure to have a cooling strategy, be prepared to adjust your effort on race day and consider carrying more water. I ended up drinking twice as much as I initially thought.

2. Aid Stations - Realize there are four segments late in the race over seven miles (miles 56.3 to 87.9), where as the average segment length in the beginning is about six miles. Therefore, be sure to carry enough water and fuel, especially if you are moving slower than expected late in the race.

3. Technical Trail - The trails are not super technical, but technical enough at times to slow you down, even on the downhills. For me, the long Noble Canyon downhill was tough to run. For comparison, I thought the trails were more technical than the Marin Headlands. I love technical trails, but they can be exponentially more difficult 60 miles into a race when you are tired and your feet are swollen.

4. Dust - The trails were incredibly dusty. Everyone was covered in dirt upon finishing. I am not sure if there is anything you can do to prevent breathing in all the dust, without restricting airflow, except maybe, try to avoid running behind a pack of people for long periods of time. You could also plan on packing a toothbrush and toothpaste in a dropbag.

5. Exposure - For the vast majority of the run, especially during daylight, the trail is very exposed. Again, consider a cooling strategy to manage your core temperature. Wear a hat or sunglasses and white clothing. Remember, every little thing makes a huge difference over a hundred miles.

Gear
Shoes: Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmac with Dirty Girl Gaiters
Socks: Injini mid-weight, mini-crew socks
Shorts: Adidas Supernova short tight with Under Armour 6" Boxerjock brief
Top: Pearl Izumi M's Infinity In-R-Cool sleeveless
Neck: Ice bandana
Headwear: Race Trackers Run Dri hat
Bottles: Ultimate Direction 20oz Handheld (two)

Thanks for reading!!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Pre San Diego 100 and Lake Tahoe

I wanted to post a quick update before the San Diego 100, which is tomorrow! In preparation for the race, camping and driving 500 miles, I have not had much time to write, but here goes.

On the TRT.
I had a fantastic weekend in Lake Tahoe over Memorial Day weekend. I accumulated 55 miles, 10,000ft of gain and 11 hours on my feet, all at altitude, in two days. It was an epic weekend and gave me a lot of confidence for San Diego. I even saw a bear 50ft off the trail! Since I went with a friend who is running the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (TRT100), we tried to run as much of the course as possible. I am also planning to pace a different friend at the race, so this would be a great experience for me too.

The TRT100 course is two identical 50 mile loops on the northeastern part of the Tahoe Rim Trail, which circumnavigates the entire lake. The first day, we parked our car, and aid station, at the base of Diamond Peak. Then, we started by running along the road down to Tunnel Creek and picked up the TRT. Next, we headed north back to the car to refuel and refill our bottles before heading up the infamous Diamond Peak climb. This climb gains about 1,700ft in two miles, but nearly 1,100ft is in the second mile. It is a brutal climb, will be tough at mile 30 of race and torture at mile 80. We finished day one with 30 miles, 5,700ft of gain in about 6 hours (strava).

Lake Marlette and Lake Tahoe.
The second day, my buddy's knee was bothering him, so he opted out of another 20 - 30 miles. So I started solo at Spooner Lake, and he met me at Tunnel Creek so I could refuel and refill my bottles before heading back to Spooner Lake. I wanted to head up to Snow Peak on the TRT, but there was still too much snow. Even between Lake Marlette and Tunnel Creek, the large snow packs made it very hard to navigate and stay on your feet. Although I was going solo, I saw a handful of other runners along the trail. On my return, about a mile from Spooner Lake, some hikers stopped to warn me a bear crossed the trail about 50 feet ahead of them. I didn't see the bear due to a bend in the trail. We waited it out for a few minutes before we proceeded. Eventually, we started walking again, and I saw the bear about 50ft off the trail. I finished day two with 25 miles, 4,300ft gain in about 5 hours (strava).

Action shot.
Both runs were at altitudes between 7,000 - 9,000ft, and since I don't have much experience at altitude, I was very curious to see how my body would react. The only other time I ran at altitude was on a quick two-day trip to Chamonix, France, which was similar to Tahoe. In Chamonix, the altitude really slowed me down. I was dying at anything over 7,000ft and surviving at anything above 5,000ft. When I came back down to the valley at about 3,000ft, I felt like I was drunk on oxygen and had tons of energy, even after spending all day in the mountains. In Tahoe, I felt great the whole time. Sure, I was breathing harder and moving slower, but had good energy the whole time. I am no scientist, but I attribute this to my much improved cardiovascular fitness compared to Chamonix.

My pictures don't give a justice to beauty of Lake Tahoe. The mountains and lakes are absolutely beautiful, and I highly recommend any trip out there.

Doesn't get any better!
Training Week 5/19 - 5/25
106.4 miles with 12,200ft gain in 17:58
I extended my weekday commutes by a few miles, but reduced the climbing because I knew there would be a lot of climbing in Tahoe. Tahoe was an epic trip and felt great to get in a big weekend just before San Diego. It was a huge boost in confidence.

Training Week 5/26 - 6/1
61.1 miles with 4,500ft gain in 8:52
Nice and easy commutes during the week, nothing special. I ran with the SFRC on Saturday, which was great, although it was very foggy with no views.

San Diego is tomorrow!! I feel strong and ready to go. I hope it is not too hot though, but either way, staying cool will be the highest priority. Keep an eye out for my race report sometime next week!! In the meantime, here are some great photos from Tahoe!

Finally, atop Diamond Peak!
Lake Marlette.
The northeast shore of the Lake looking south.

Smooth trail.
Very green!
Honestly, they need more of these.




Monday, May 19, 2014

Mt. Diablo 50K and San Diego Training Update (mid May)

Richardson Bay and Tiburon from the Marin Headlands
With about three weeks until the San Diego 100, I have been trying to get in some high volume training just before I start to taper. I continued to train through the Boston and Big Sur marathons treating them as hard race efforts. Currently, I am planning a two week taper, which gives me one more big week. Before Boston, I took it easy for about a week before the race, which seemed adequate for a decent performance, which I am very proud of. However, San Diego has always been my main focus for the first half of 2014. Therefore, I want to make sure that I have time to properly recover from the training and be well rested for the big day. However, tapering is epically boring, so lets talk about some big training weeks!

A couple weeks ago, I made a last minute decision to run a local 50K on May 10th. The Mt. Diablo 50K race was organized by Pacific Coast Trail Runs, and the brutal course included two identical 25km loops, each summiting Mt. Diablo from the Mitchell Canyon trailhead. The course accumulates about 8,900ft of gain over 31 miles, which makes it one of the more difficult 50K races in the area, if not the country. To put this in perspective, the Speedgoat 50K is arguably the most difficult 50K in the country with about 11,000ft of gain, although Speedgoat is also at altitude.

San Francisco silhouette from the Headlands
I am not going to write a traditional race report, because I ran this race as a dress rehearsal for San Diego. I wanted to replicate everything I planned for San Diego including gear, effort and fuel. I thought this would be a good course for a solid five to six hour effort and could provide some warmer temperatures like San Diego. Since I am not planning to carry a vest, pack or belt at San Diego, I wanted to simulate carrying less gear and relying on aid stations for nutrition.


In the past, I have carried a lot of my nutrition in a vest or belt, and did not rely much on the aid stations. Usually, I don't have a crew to supply fresh bottles of my favorite drink or gels. I want the flavors and brands I like, which might not be at the aid stations. For the same reason, I like hydrating with water, because it is constant across all races. However, I found vests and packs fatigue the core and can become quite annoying over the course of 100 miles.  Now, I am trying to train with the products offered by the races so I can rely on the aid stations for nutrition and not carry everything on my back. Unless required, the elites carry as little as possible. There is no sense in carrying extra weight if you don't have to. Long story short, I will be trying a minimal gear strategy at San Diego, and since I have not tried this for 50 or more miles yet, I wanted a test run.

Glorious single-track trails
In the past, I have not had the discipline to run a race as a training race, however, I was able to keep my effort level in check the whole day. I would like to think this shows I am slightly more mature as a runner. In my opinion, it is similar to someone just starting to run regularly and runs everything at maximum effort. Realizing there are times for hard and easy efforts, or more importantly, every run has a purpose, is a sign of being a smarter runner. For me, Mt. Diablo was all about taking it easy for a long day on the trails, practicing my San Diego plan and getting in some serious elevation gain.

At the start, there were about 15 runners running the 50K, including local resident and grand slam record holder, Ian Sharman. I think Ian was running it as a training race too as he gears up for Western States. The 25km course has three aid stations in addition to the start/finish. The aid stations were around miles 5 (Juniper Campground 1), 7.5 (Diablo Summit) and 10 (Juniper Campground 2).

Pre-race Plan
In the past, I haven't had a nutrition strategy, other than by feel, but that has lead to some epic bonks and death marches. From now on, I want to document a plan and revise it after each race. It is too easy to forget your pre-race intentions and even worse, trying to remember what you actually did in the race. By documenting everything, I hope it makes the process of learning what works best for me a lot easier.

Before the race, I had planned to hydrate solely with water and fuel with a combination of gels and Pocket Fuel Nut Butters. Specifically, I planned to take an un-caffeinated gel every 20-30 minutes and drink about 20oz of water per hour for the first 25km loop. For the second loop, I wanted to start with a nut butter for the first hour and followup with a few caffeinated gels for the remainder of the run all while continuing to hydrate. My San Diego plan would be to repeat this cycle over 100 miles, except the caffeine wouldn't start until much later. Some may think it is crazy to consume so many gels, but honestly, I don't mind them.

Post-race Analysis
The first loop took me 2.5 hours, which was only 15 minutes behind Ian, and I consumed about 40oz of water with four gels, which was on the low end of my plan. I learned a couple things. I don't think I can physically consume much more than two gels an hour and three would be an absolute max. I like the gels over time, not all at once. Usually, a gel lasts me about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, two gels an hour is probably not enough calories for ultras, especially 50 miles or longer. From what I have read, it seems like the stomach can digest about 250-300 calories per hour, but it largely depends on the individual.

For the second loop, I started with a nut butter, which was about 350 calories, mostly from fat. Why? Well, in general, I love nut butters as snacks, and I thought it would be a nice treat and something to look forward to for a mental boost. However, it seemed to send my stomach into a whirlwind of pain. It was awful. I had tried a nut butter on the run before, and I loved it. However, I think I consumed it too fast and it shocked my stomach, especially with all the fat. Also, I took it right before the second summit, which obviously included a lot of climbing, and therefore, my stomach and muscles were both demanding a lot of blood. Looks like my stomach lost that battle. I am no nutritionist, but this seems to make sense. At Mt. Diablo, I probably consumed the package in 30 minutes, which is way too fast. When I tried it before, it took me about an hour or more. I took another gel around mile 22 and was hoping the caffeine would propel me to the summit so I could then fly back down. Unfortunately, my stomach wasn't having that either. Overall, it was a good learning experience. My stomach slowed me down considerably for the second loop and was the limiting factor as it took me 3 hours. With only a couple weeks until the race, I will likely reconsider my fueling strategy for San Diego. Since I am still planning a couple long training runs, I am going to try to supplement two gels an hour with an electrolyte drink, which will bring me a lot closer to 300 calories an hour and allow me to enjoy my gels.

Pirate's Cove looking North
Overall, I finished in about 5.5 hours, which given the difficulty of the course, I am very happy with. Without the stomach issues, I think could have finished around 5 hours. The first loop felt very comfortable and conservative, but it was difficult to run with the stomach issues. To me, this is the worst, when your legs are good to run, but your stomach says no. However, the views near the summit were epic and you could clearly see Mt. Tam and downtown San Francisco. It was a perfect day to run with sunny blue skies and slightly cooler temperatures than normal.

Recent Training Weeks
Since Big Sur, my last few training weeks have been pretty good, and I only have one more week of training before I begin my two week taper for San Diego!

Training Week 4/28 - 5/4
52.9 miles with 5,400ft gain in 7:55
After running two marathons (Boston and Big Sur) the week before and attending my grandfather's funeral in Chicago early this week, I arrived back in California on Tuesday 4/29. During the week, I took it very easy as I ran to and from work. I ran at a comfortably slow pace, which I was hoping would increase blood flow to my beat up legs to speed up my recovery. Overall, I think my body bounced back quickly, which played into my overall San Diego plan perfectly. Since my legs felt reasonably good, I decided to join the SFRC for their Saturday morning run, which was my first run in Marin in four weeks! It felt great to get in a semi-long run with some good vertical on one of my favorite routes in Marin. I finished off the week with an easy eight miles on some new trails in Tilden Park.

Training Week 5/5 - 5/11
81.4 miles with 12,500ft gain in 12:55
I never expected to run 80 miles this week, but my legs felt great so I took advantage of it. On Wednesday, I signed up for the Mt. Diablo 50K for Saturday. I added a nice hill workout Wednesday after a couple easy commutes on Tuesday. Then I took it easy Thursday and Friday to prepare for Mt. Diablo. The race went well as I described above. On Sunday, I went out for 12 miles and some climbing at a super easy pace in Tilden. Although it was slow, it felt great to be able to get back out the day after a tough 50K.

Pirate's Cove looking South
Training Week 5/12 - 5/18
91.1 miles with 12,200ft gain in 14:37
Fairly standard weekday commutes with a few nice climbs over about 40 miles Tuesday through Friday. However, I tried to take it somewhat easy to recovery from Mt. Diablo and prepare for a big weekend. On Saturday I ran 20 miles in Marin with the SFRC. Gary Gellin, fresh off his win at the Miwok 100K, showed me some new trails in Marin. Specifically, the Laurel Canyon Trail, which was very nice. Sunday, I planned to run with a couple other friends through the East Bay Regional Parks including Wildcat Canyon, Tilden Park and Claremont Canyon. We went out for 30 miles and 5,800ft of climbing. It was a beautiful day, with great views, to share the trails with some good company. I also tried fueling with two gels and a serving of the Tailwind electrolyte drink every hour, which worked out very well. I felt strong the whole day with no stomach issues! Overall, it was a great week, and my legs felt strong.

I am looking forward to one last week of high mileage and vertical before I begin to taper for San Diego! I will provide another update before San Diego. Next week, I am headed up to Lake Tahoe for the holiday weekend and a couple long runs. I'll bring my camera to provide some nice pictures. This week's pictures are from Saturday's run in Marin on May 17th.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Big Sur Marathon - April 27, 2014

Summary
Long before I signed up for Boston, I signed up for the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. The idea is simple, run a marathon on each coast six days apart. However, after running Boston six days prior, I honestly wasn't particularly excited or ready to run Big Sur. In the days after Boston, I ran short three to five mile runs each day, but my legs were definitely feeling Boston. Although I did not have much muscle soreness, I had no pep or spring to my stride as my legs felt dead running 9:00 – 10:00 minute pace. Going into the race, I had no goals except to listen to my body and finish. Initially, I thought I would start with the 3:25 pace group, which was the fastest they offered, to talk to some other runners and play it conservative. However, after the gun, this pace felt a little too slow for me. Although my legs were still feeling Boston, 7:20 pace felt conservative and sustainable. As in Boston, I had to stop to go to the bathroom, but this time, it was at mile 5. After the ascent up and descent down Hurricane Point, I finished the first half in 1:37, but everything changed after this. 

Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away about ten hours after I finished the Boston Marathon. The wake was the same day as Big Sur, and immediately afterwards, I had to drive to San Jose Airport to catch a flight to Chicago for the funeral Monday. The whole first half I felt mixed emotions. Parts of me thought I should be with my family and not worry about my own personal agenda, while another part of me knew my grandfather would want me to run. After halfway, I told myself my grandfather was waiting for me at the finish. At that point, I ran as hard as I could, battling fatigue, rolling hills and the emotion of losing a loved one. I finished the second half in 1:28 for 3:05:37, 27th place overall, and the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge in 5:54:25, 7th overall. I was completely shocked and excited to run 3:05 at Big Sur, a time I didn't think was possible given Boston, and especially to break six hours for the challenge.

As an aside, Big Sur should be on every marathoner's bucket list. For road marathons, it doesn't get much better. The race is executed flawlessly with some epic views of the California coast, which blow away any big-city views, in my opinion. Although it is not the course to plan on a PR, you will not regret it. Google image search Big Sur Marathon!

Note: I switched the order of the sections by putting my reflections after the race report. I thought it would make more sense to read the report before reading how I reflect upon it. However, I would like to think the reflections are worth the quick read if nothing else.

Lessons Learned
1. Hydration - In both Boston and Big Sur, I lost about a minute to go to the bathroom. In the past, I have never had this issue. However, these are the first two marathons that I have tried UCAN pre-race and have been mixing it with 20oz of water, which is more then usual. This amount of water combined with a pre-race coffee might have led me to be slightly over hydrated, and the diuretic effect of coffee, probably did not help either. Furthermore, I was not drinking much at the aid stations, maybe a gulp of water every three or four miles. Next time, I will mix the UCAN with less water, maybe 10oz.

2. Back-to-back Marathons - Running two marathons at hard efforts one week apart is tough. I know, that sounds obvious, but I have done this multiple times in training and have even ran two marathons on the same weekend, albeit much slower paces. I loved the idea of Boston 2 Big Sur and am very happy I completed the challenge. However, it will probably be sometime before I attempt it, or something similar, again. Especially in the first half, I felt it hard to fully enjoy Big Sur because I felt beat up and fatigued. Also, I have really enjoyed training this year, and I no longer feel the need to race all the time, which brings me to my next point. 

3. Training - Last year I raced nearly 700 miles, which was way too much as it beat me up pretty good towards the end. At that time, I didn't really look forward to the training aspect of running and it was all about the races. I loved running with others and enjoying a beer afterwards while sharing stories of the trail. I did the vast majority of my training alone, as I did not know many other runners. But now, after countless runs with the SFRC and last year's racing, I have met so many wonderful people to run with, and on the weekends, I hardly run alone anymore. It has been a fantastic year so far with some epic training runs that I have enjoyed as much as a race. In fact, I look forward to racing less, but training more with friends and planning weekend running trips. Of course, I'll still race, but at the moment, I see myself picking out four or five races a year instead one or two a month.

4. Mental Aspect of Running - Endurance running is very mental, which I know along with most other runners. In fact, this is why a lot of us run. However, I think sometimes we need to be reminded of this fact. Running hard is, well, hard, and it does not matter if it is 5k or 100 miles. Going for a personal best or running a tough race is going to hurt for everyone, and it doesn't matter if you are fighting for first place or just to finish before the cutoff. Some runners are much stronger mentally than others, which can be huge advantage. Pushing through fatigue and pain is all in your head. In the first half, I, in some respects, gave into the fatigue and took it fairly conservative; after all, I ran Boston six days ago, which was a convenient excuse. The second half was the total opposite as I said, "!$#@ it," and just went as hard as I could, regardless of the pain. Being mentally strong is a huge advantage, and it allows one to continue to push, even when the body says slow down or makes excuses. Everyone is capable of so much more than they think, but you have to be willing to go to those dark places and fight the pain and mental demons. Be careful though, and don't let the mind push through so much pain you end up being injured or worse. There is a fine, and not so easily distinguishable, line between normal fatigue and soreness and injury, that is for sure. 

Tips for running the Big Sur Marathon
1. Hills - My GPS recorded about 2,000ft of gain and 1,800ft of descent over the marathon course, which for road marathons, is a lot. For comparison, Big Sur has more than twice the elevation gain of the Boston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco marathons to name a few. If you want to do well, you must train for the uphill and downhill. Being prepared for the climb to Hurricane Point and the countless rolling hills towards the end will be crucial for success. Not only do you have to prepare for the uphill, but also make sure you practice downhill running to prepare your quads for the punishment running downhill. The unprepared may not enjoy the gorgeous coastal views Big Sur has to offer!

2. Aid Stations - There are only 13 aid stations along the marathon course, which is significantly less than other road marathons. If you are accustomed to marathons like Boston, New York or Chicago, which all have 20+ aid stations, be aware that it could be two or three miles until the next one at Big Sur.

3. Race Strategy - More so than any other road marathon I have run, I think a general strategy is especially important at Big Sur to successfully tackle the difficult course. Pre-race, everyone talks about the climb up to Hurricane Point, and for good reason, but don't forget about the rest of the course. The climb to Hurricane Point is the biggest and most obvious climb as runners gain about 600ft from miles 10 to 12. I think some people forget about the rest of the course or think there is nothing to worry about after Hurricane Point. Look at the elevation profile (or drive the course!) and develop a strategy based on your strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few other things to consider in addition to Hurricane Point. 

First, the start to mile 6 is a nice gradual downhill, but don't get too excited and go out too hard. If you are not used to downhill running and your quads and legs are already getting sore, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Remember, there is a lot more up and down ahead, so like any marathon, it is especially important to start conservative at Big Sur. Next, is the two-mile climb up to Hurricane Point from miles 10 to 12. During the climb, there are a few false summits in which it looks like you are at the top until you turn the next corner. Be aware of this and recognize you are not done until mile 12. Generally, what goes up, must come down, and at Big Sur, this is true. Just after the ascent to Hurricane Point, you immediately descend about 400ft in less than a mile. Be careful here not to run too hard and trash your quads. Remember you are not even halfway yet! Finally, the second half consists of a lot of rolling 100ft climbs. If you went out too hard in the beginning or went too hard descending from Hurricane Point, this will seem like torture, and you will deeply regret pushing it in the first half. 

4. Wind - I also ran Big Sur last year in 2013, which seemed to have a stiff headwind, especially atop Hurricane Point. Fortunately, this year seemed quite calm. I overheard someone on the race committee say there is a headwind about 70% of the time. So if there is a headwind, it is even more important to stay conservative in the beginning. 

5. Registration - If I remember correctly, registration for the marathon sold out in a matter of hours or even less. Registration always seems to be July 15, so if you want to run the Big Sur International Marathon, be ready as soon as registration opens. Of course, this assumes Big Sur does not go to a lottery as many other popular events. However, if you miss the boat, there are a 21, 10.6 and 9-mile options in addition to a 5k. 

6. Road Camber - Unfortunately, I do not think there is much you can do about this, but be aware that Highway 1 has a very noticeable camber, especially through the turns. As the road winds along the coast, the banked turns can be difficult to run on, and even the straight sections seem to have much more camber than city streets. Sometimes you can run along the gravel shoulder, but other times it is unavoidable. 

Race Report 
Emotions were at an all-time high for me at Big Sur after the passing of my grandfather a few days prior. I was in Chicago for a couple weeks last August, and I was able to visit him in the hospital a few times. At that point, he was bedridden for nearly three months, but was making great progress. Throughout the fall he continued to improve and eventually went home just before Christmas. After being confined to a bed for nearly six months, he had lost a lot of strength, physically, but mentally, he did not lose a thing. When I went home for the holidays, I remember helping him in and out of the house with a wheelchair and going up and down a fake step. He religiously did all of his exercises and was incredibly motivated to rebuild his strength back to what it was. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, a somewhat unrelated issue put him back in the hospital.

I found out of my grandfather's passing Tuesday morning after Boston, and I was still planning on being in Vermont until the following Thursday. In some respect, I think I had subconsciously prepared for this phone call as he has battled numerous health issues, some out of his control, in the last year. Although I had my emotional moments in Vermont, I don’t think the full magnitude of the situation had hit me yet. I tried to enjoy my remaining few days in Vermont by going on a couple short runs and enjoying downtown Burlington. Then, very early Thursday morning, I flew back to California and was planning on running Big Sur Sunday. I found out the wake and funeral were set for Sunday and Monday, and therefore, in order to run Big Sur, I would have to miss my grandfather's wake. I talked to my family, and we decided together it would be best for me to run the race and fly to Chicago immediately after for the funeral in which I would be a pallbearer. 

Although my grandfather thought my running was crazy, he was always interested in how I was doing and my upcoming races. He followed me throughout the 2012 Chicago Marathon, and was very proud that I qualified, for the first time, for Boston. It was obvious he would have wanted me to run Big Sur. 

At the start and throughout the first half, I had mixed feelings. On one side, I felt I should be at the wake to support my family, as I knew it would be very difficult for many of them. Also, my body was fatigued and not necessarily ready for another marathon. However, like I said, I knew my grandfather would have wanted me run, and at the start, I had no choice; it was time to run. The first half was fairly uneventful as I struggled a bit with my decision to run. It took sometime to find a rhythm and for my body to loosen up. Eventually, I ran a 1:37 for the first half and that pace felt fine all things considered, especially after the 600ft climb up to Hurricane Point. 

I will never forget the second half. Right around halfway, I was a little upset since I thought I could have run faster. Then, I told myself my grandfather was waiting for me at the finish and it would be my last chance to pay my final respect to his memory. At this instant, my family was about to do the same at the wake in Chicago. Something inside me instantly changed as I flipped the switch from 7:20 pace to 6:40 pace. I was no longer running to finish a marathon or to complete the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. Instead, I was running to say goodbye, and this was my way to pay my last respect.

Of course, it was painful, especially as I was running on tired legs from Boston, but I wanted it to hurt more, so I ran harder. I thought about how insignificant my current pain was compared to what I saw him go through at the hospital. I no longer felt human. Instead, I felt like a wild beast charging forward. It seemed I tapped into an instinctual feeling of disparity. It is similar to when you change your mind about something at the last possible moment, and you are desperate to catch up and make the other choice. Think in the movies someone frantically chasing a car on foot yelling and screaming for them to stop. For me, I wanted to change my mind and be at the wake with my family. I was angry as I pushed up some of the rolling hills thinking how selfish I was to be running. I thought the quicker I finished, the sooner I would see my family, where I was supposed to be. So I ran harder. 

There were times where the emotion of losing a relative, friend and someone I looked up to completely overcame me. I cried knowing I would never see him again and for my own father, who was with my grandfather everyday helping with his therapy exercises, talking shop or just sitting by his side. It was an emotional roller coaster where I felt everything from grief to anger, but in each case, the only solution was to run harder, so I did with no regard for the pain it induced. 

Throughout the second half, I was passing people left and right. Graciously, a lot of them offered kind words of encouragement, however, most of the time, I could barely utter anything coherent. I feel bad about this, and I would like to thank and apologize to those runners. Mentally, I was on a different planet and was physically and emotionally destroyed. 

Eventually, the finish was in sight, and I gave every last ounce to finish strong. Just after finishing, I lost my balance a bit, but regained control just before falling over. After a few steps, it hit me and it hit hard. I went down to one knee and all the emotion of finishing a marathon and losing a loved one poured out. With my hands covering my eyes, I cried. With tears streaming down my face and completely unexpected, my friend Ben came up to me to award the finisher's medal. I first met Ben at Headlands 100 last September as it turned out we were running the same pace with the same goal. We ended up running about 70 miles together that day. Ben is also one of the race organizers for the Big Sur Marathon, and it could not have been more fitting for him to be there at the finish. He noticed I was very emotional, and I eventually muttered I was immediately heading to San Jose Airport to fly home for a funeral. 

In the time between Boston and Big Sur, I was very busy. I wanted to enjoy my last few days in Vermont, had a big meeting on Friday for work and had to prepare and travel to Monterey for the Big Sur Marathon. With everything going on, I don't think my grandfather's passing had really hit me during this time. When I crossed the finish line, it hit me hard. I knew my next stop was a flight to Chicago, and as much as I love seeing my family, I did not want to go under these circumstances. 

All things considered, everything could not have gone better. The turnout at the wake and funeral blew my family away, and we were very thankful to see so many friends and family. A true testament to the kind of person my grandfather was. In the end, I am glad I ran Big Sur, and my family reassured me my grandfather would have wanted it this way. It was hard to say goodbye, but I feel lucky and thankful to have had such a strong relationship with my him. 

Reflections 
Like many, one thing I love about running is that it can be very therapeutic, and I always feel better after a run. When everyday life gets too crazy and stressful, I immediately know I need to run to clear my head. I have even gone for a run at 3am in pouring rain because I couldn't sleep. For me, running has never been about getting in shape, losing weight or competition. Instead, it is about connecting with myself and providing time to collect my thoughts. Although it certainly wasn't easy, this year's Big Sur Marathon gave me the chance to remember and relive fond memories of my grandfather and to pay my final respect by giving it everything I had. 

Yet again, I realized how much more we are all capable of than what we think. Going into Big Sur, I thought 3:15 or faster would be a near perfect day, while 3:30 seemed more reasonable. For one, Big Sur is a tough course, not to mention I ran a PR at Boston six days prior. However, after the halfway point, at which I was on pace for a “great” day, I decided to risk it all and go as hard as I could for the memory of my grandfather. Although I believe one never knows or achieves their true or maximum potential, I realized that you can only come close if you are willing to go to those deep, dark places of pain and suffering. Consider asking any non-running parent if they could run a marathon tomorrow, and they would most probably, with no disrespect, say no. However, if you said their child is in desperate need of help and is 26.2 miles away, their instincts would kick in and they would do everything in their power to get there or die trying. My point is that running occasionally lets us tap into these primal instincts to some degree and experience something truly remarkable. Although I can only say I have experienced this to some level once or twice, Big Sur being one of them, this is why I run and push myself. To me, there is nothing better than being mentally, physically and emotionally destroyed and being able to muster the courage to take one more step against all odds. This moment is when you can come close to your true potential, and the experience is so incredible it will change your life.