Thursday, June 14, 2012

San Diego 100 Race Report. Gu's, Lions, and Rattlers!

The beautiful Al Bahr Lodge near Laguna Mountain
So my brother and I were discussing the merits of going on an all 'Gu' diet recently.  Since I consumed around 40 Gu energy gel's at this race, I think I've prepped my system for the switch!  Imagine how quick breakfast will be now; no need to make coffee, just pop two or three Gu's with caffeine on the drive to work!  No more tough decisions on what's for dinner; everyone picks from one of the two or three flavors that have no caffeine!  Snack bags will get smaller too, and lastly, think how easy it will be to maintain a vegan diet!  If the family wants a real treat we can spread a banana flavored Gu on bread, or drizzle a mint chocolate flavored Gu on soy ice cream!  I will have to get sponsored by Gu to pull this off, because at a buck a piece the cost can add up pretty quickly.  Small details!

I could go on all day about training, diet,  and all that junk, but I'm not going to.  I ran some every week, long, short, fast, slow, trail, road etc.  A couple of weeks were in the low 70 mile range, but I probably averaged around 60.  Definitely a little under trained, but more or less healthy and uninjured at the start line, and that counts for a lot in this game.  I wished I had at least one 50 mile weekend, or 50 mile race in the last couple of months, but my biggest distance was several 31 mile races in the last few months, culminating in a second place showing at Sun Mountain 50k.
The Friday trip down to San Diego was uneventful, and I had time to meet up with friends Bill and his wife Jennifer.  Bill agreed to crew for me and his wife, and it was a huge mental relief to know that someone who knew me would be out there to support if I needed it.  The generosity and enthusiasm they showed was second to none, and I am lucky to know such great people!  From there I drove out to the start/finish area about an hour drive east of San Diego near Laguna Mountain, checked in, enjoyed a good pasta and salad pre-race dinner, and just soaked up the views.  What a spectacular area!
Back at my hotel in San Diego I was in bed before 9pm, with the alarm set for 4:30am.  Surprisingly I got a great night's sleep, and woke up pretty refreshed.  The drive east was beautiful as the sun was rising, and I just concentrated on keeping my nerves down and trying to relax.  Before I knew it I was lined up near the front of 193 runners ready to participate in a huge adventure.  Let's face it, it doesn't matter how many people  run these distances, or how many times a person has run one, it's going to be a test, and it's just hard to visualize the distance.  The only way to do it is to put one foot in front of the other, and focus on whatever is directly ahead, like the next climb, or descent, or just the next turn in the trail.
0-23miles-ish.  This race was stacked with talent on the men's side.  Jeff Browning, Luke Nelson, Dan Olmstead, Adam Hewey, Fabrice Hardel, and a few others that could easily win.  The women's side was easier to pick, with Shawna Tompkins the easy favorite, and capable of beating anybody in the race.  I took off near the leaders, but allowed about 10 or 12 people to run out front, figuring some would come back to me, and others, well, anything could happen!  This was beautiful running.  The feeling of having a strong body, a high level of fitness, running smoothly over rolling mountain trails (mostly around 5000-6000 feet elevation), beautiful meadows, forests, incredible mountain vistas, wild flowers, boulders, and so much more.  What a feeling!  My plan was to run these easy miles conservatively, but not slowly.  I didn't want to waste the cooler morning temperatures, and the easy terrain.  I was in the zone, and cruised at an 8-9 min mile pace, barely breaking a sweat, even at this altitude.

23-50.  Canyons and climbs!  Nobel Canyon was where it got a bit hot, but I enjoyed the change of scenery, and concentrated on good hydration, and keeping my core temperature in check.  There were several creek crossings, and I dunked my hat in every one.  The fun level came down off the pegged side of the gauge, but overall I still felt pretty smooth, and rolled into mile 31 in a touch over five hours.   Solid.  Here came the part we had been warned about:  A hot four mile loop consisting of a solid climb, and then a six mile climb (the first two of which were on a paved road) all exposed.  My plan was to stay way ahead of my temperature and back off if I even thought I was getting hot.  It seemed to be working as I blew past one of the favorites, Luke Nelson,  around mile 33.  He was complaining of the heat, and I didn't even feel it!  That put me in fifth overall, and I started contemplating racing.  Too early!  The following big climb felt ok, the highlights being a wonderful volunteer half way up with cold water and ice, and a little further up the road a guy handing out popsicles!  As I left the aid station at mile 43 a man recording race numbers said  "Go for it Fabrice! Oh, you're not Fabrice, you're ahead of him.. GO GO GO!!".  Sweet, I was in fourth place, and I used a powerful tail wind to help me run the next climb.  I hit the 51 mile mark in nine hours flat.  27 gel's down (I was taking one every 20 minutes)!  Yummy!

Great photo by Glen Tachiyama!

51-73  Although I never hit serious mental downs, the fun was about over at this point, and it was time to get to work.  The sun was still sitting on my shoulder, there were solid climbs, treacherous footing in places, and I kept kicking rocks.  Several I kicked so hard that I felt my toenails separate painfully.  Some runners change shoes and socks during the race.. no way I was even going to peek under those socks!  I was offered a quesadilla at mile 59, but no way that was happening... all Gu baby!  A highlight was coming off a big climb to mile 62, and then descending to an aid station at mile 64.  I flew down that mountain, and amused the aid station volunteers (and Bill and my friend Joe who was preparing to pace his wife Shawna and had been helping me as I came through aids) by letting out a big YEEEHAW!  To run 64 miles and still feel pretty strong is amazing!  Strong legs, no joint pain, just some chafing, and broken toenails.  I was out of there, and pushed on into the evening, foolishly slowing a bit to conserve.  Looking back I should have pushed those miles hard to minimize night time running.  The lights came on at mile 73, and I started substituting drink mix for gels, as I could barely open a pack without gagging!  Oh, and as I ran out of the mile 73 aid, a runner and his pacer came in. 

73-Finish.  Night moves.  My night running blows.  Stumble, fumble, and trip!  Lights behind getting closer.  Cold moving in.  Heavy dark mountains all around, amazing stars, my world huge, but at the same time confined to a 20 foot stretch of trail in my lights.  I would crank the tunes until they made me sick, and then enjoy the silence of the wilderness.  Near mile 80 I got passed and dropped to fifth.  Kind of a bummer, but I had no race left in me.  The 'Sunrise' aid station at mile 81 was something to behold.  RV's, lights, heaters, a buffet table of food, music, even a guy making soup in a chef's outfit!  What a class act (as were all of the aid stations).  Bill was working hard trying to get me dressed for the cold, and the wind was absolutely HOWLING up there.  I insisted that I didn't need much as I was sweating, but a minute later started uncontrollable shivering, and unpacked my jacket shell.  Out of there!  Mice running down the trail, Owls zooming overhead, screaming wind, stop to pee, turn to look for lights, adjust iPod, kick a rock, hike a climb, why am I barely going four miles per hour?!  I didn't really go too far in my head, just pushed any bad thoughts to the back, and concentrated on what was directly in front of me.  Finally 'Rat Hole' aid station at mile 96+.  Almost there.  Very cold; frost was on the ground.  Hands kind of stinging?  Wow... fingers  swollen like sausages!  Strange to see in the light of the head lamp.  Stumble, fumble, and trip.  This should be fast running, but I just didn't care anymore.  I figure those lights I saw behind me were probably Shawna, but they weren't getting closer, and my legs still felt strong enough to race if she got close enough that I had to.  Amazing that what was slowing me down was mental exhaustion diminishing my ability to place my feet safely on the trail without tripping.  My legs were actually strong and still pain free (mostly)!  I was able to hike hard, but my running was a slow jog.  Finally I arrived at the large campground complex where the finish was located, and the run through this was the final torture.  I was walking anything that even pretended to have an incline, and most of the flats.  Done!  A very solid 20:22 for fifth place.  Humbled seeing that Jeff Browning owned the course in an astounding 16:39!  I won my 30-39 age group... because all four runners ahead of me were 40 years old and older (there is hope!).  I crawled into my sleeping bag on the floor of the lodge as the full-body agony set in.  I'm pretty sure I looked and acted like an addict withdrawing from a serious high.
I don't know what pushes people to do these things.  I don't even know for certain what pushes me to do them, but let's not over complicate things, it's just running.  One foot in front of another, just for a long time, over rough terrain.  It breaks you down, mentally and physically.  You get to catch a glimpse of what you're made of.  Not all of it, just enough to make you come back for more.  As amazing as it is to admire the finish time of a 'fast guy', it's just as inspirational to watch people cross the finish line many hours later.  The human spirit is an incredible thing to see, and these events give you front row tickets!  I think that modern life is becoming less and less physically demanding, and that basic human nature thrives off a certain amount of adversity.  If we don't have it in our 'regular' lives, some of us seek it out, or create it, as a way to experience certain fulfillment.  Is that selfish?  Perhaps, but I also see it as a gift to our kids and the people around us.  I want them to see what's possible.  I want my friends and others to see what's possible, and to get out there and do something with that powerful spirit that exists in all of us (and it sure doesn't have to include running for 10, 20, or 30 hours)!

What worked and what didn't? 

1.  Well, it's pretty clear that you don't need to log mega miles every week to run a successful 100.  I topped out at 70+, but the average was in the 60 range.  I ran conservative 50k races every month or so, and those counted as my 'long' runs.  Other runners top out well over 100 miles per week, and log many 50+ mile weekends. 

2.  Nutrition.  Gu's every 20 minutes straight up works.  That plan kept me strong until very late in the race.  At that point I became a little over hydrated, and that contributed to some nausea that prevented me from eating.  At that point I switched to a mild tasting carbohydrate drink powder made by Hammer.  That stuff is also great (a sandwich in every scoop), but since I was now drinking my calories I continued to over hydrate.  I ended up stopping to pee every mile, and the swelling in my hands was a concern.  Next time I need to remember to adjust as the temperature cools, and if I'm running on calories in a drink, to mix it somewhat more concentrated (100 calories per 8oz instead of 100 per 20oz like I was doing).

3.  Hoka shoes.  Great padding helped to protect my legs and joints, but the shoes I wore were slightly too small, and I did great damage to my toes from striking rocks.

4.  Race strategy.  Overall solid.  I would tweak it a bit by going just a touch faster during the hot part.  I was a bit too conservative, and I really need to minimize time running at night.

The recovery is going great as I write this.  Amazingly the aches and pains disappeared after a day, and by the time I got home Monday evening I was able to bound up the stairs.  The hurt toes are the only sticking point, but honestly, it feels good to take a few days off from training.

What's next?  Hard to contemplate.  I'm on the wait list for the Cascade Crest 100.  I'm pretty strong, came out of this uninjured, and I think with some tweaking I can get a top result, but I can't imagine running 100 miles!

One disappointment was that I had heard there were mountain lions in the area we were running, and I had planned to take one out if it tackled me.  That didn't happen, so no neat ornaments for my house.  At a minimum I figured a rattler would make the mistake of striking at me.  No such luck.  All I saw was lizards, mice, deer, and an owl.

Oh, and that Gu diet plan?  Ya, right now I never want to see another Gu as long as I live!
The aftermath...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

San Diego 100 Pre Race

Well, in a weeks time I'll be on the trails near San Diego for a huge adventure!  The San Diego 100 is the culmination of six months of training, one trail marathon, and four 50k trail races.  Let's face it, for someone who doesn't run these things all the time (this is only my second crack at the distance, and the last time was a year ago), there is an enormous sense of unknown.  In a marathon, 50k, or even 50 mile race, the nervousness for me centers around living up to my expectations.  Although I have goals for this race, the truth is that I have no idea what will happen!
I'm excited, and a little nervous thinking about this.  My mind is spinning with plans for everything from what to wear, to what type of lights to carry at night, to how to pace myself in the early miles in order to get the maximum out of my body.
I've had my ups and downs in training, from a couple of minor sicknesses (one happening right now), to lack of trails in Italy during a five week detachment.  Overall I think I'm in a pretty solid place, I just came off a strong second place finish at the Sun Mountain 50k, and a week later was running training runs at near PR pace.  No big back-to-back training runs like so many people do, and no 50 mile or 100 kilometer races under my belt.  I've averaged 60 miles per week this entire last year, and this cycle topped out at just under 80.  More than some, but less than the 'elites' seem to do.  Will that hold me back?  Too late to say!  Last year I ran a tough series of races, including a 50 miler, in the weeks leading up to the Mohican 100.  Although I came in third overall, my legs were shot, and my right knee was hurting so badly I could barely bend my leg.  Perhaps my focus on good recovery and solid race nutrition will have me running strong all the way!
The plan is to run smoothly and conservatively at first, then see what's left at the end.  If I can get through 50 miles in less than nine hours feeling 'good', then cover the last 50 in around 11 hours, I'll have a finish that will be close to the front.  No racing the rabbits at first, but no walking either, just confidence in my ability to run steady all day, and then FOCUS on execution every mile of the way.