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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!