Monday, August 20, 2007

The Long of It

"THE STAIRS?!? What the ...." It's somewhere after midnight on Sunday, morning August 12th. I am standing at the base of the Pirate's Cove steps. I am supposed to be at the Muir Beach aid station. The question sitting in my head is simply, "how the hell did I get here?" How did I get here? To answer that now, I need to go back to the start...

But, where to start?

Saturday morning, a little past 6am, people were just beginning to gather at Rodeo Beach for race check-in...

no, before that....Friday, I'd taken the day off work and picked Harry up from his house to drive up to the Hostel near the race start...

no, wait...Thursday night, my bedroom floor is literally covered with running gear and supplies in preparation for....

no, no, let me give the back-story...say, 6 or 7 years ago...

About six years ago, I 'd been working at a startup called Liquid Audio. I began there as one of the first employees in 1996 and it had been one of those crazy rides through the ups and downs of the late nineties "internet era" whose tale is as fantastic in its details as it is mundane in its similarity to the many other such stories told and re-told around the Silicon Valley. Since going into "startup mode" I had significantly less available free time away from the office and had started running more regularly to keep in shape since I no longer had time for the 3-4 mountain bike rides I once enjoyed on a weekly basis. I did miss the trails though, and occasionally, when time permitted, I would take my running off the asphalt and onto the trail for a bit. I always found it rejuvenating to move through a more natural landscape and feel the soft dirt beneath my feet. By 2001, the tech-downturn had started to hit and many companies were already experiencing the (now infamous) "bust" reaction to the Internet "boom". Our company was still limping along, but things had definitely slowed and I found myself with a little extra free time. I started running more and more on trails whenever I could; sometimes even taking long lunches to head over to Edgewood Park in Redwood City for a nice jaunt on the local trails from 3 to 6 miles.

It was around this time that I first discovered Trail Runner magazine. I'd been reading Runner's World for a while, but Trail Runner was fairly new (both on the market and to me). I was enthralled by it, especially the first-person perspective of many of the run and/or race descriptions. In fact, I liked just about everything about the magazine except for, what seemed to me at the time, the over-emphasis on these very long runs. They just seemed so far out of my reach, I hadn't even run a 1/2 marathon let alone a marathon or the unthinkable, ultra-marathon. However, it had definitely captured my imagination. I loved reading the stories of the epic struggles of people completing these events. I researched the history online and was even more fascinated. I remember an ad at the time that read something like "in your dreams, are you an ultra-runner?" My answer was definitely, "yes".

In October of 2001, I ran a 1/2 marathon It took me another 4+ years (and 3 failed training programs) to finally run a marathon. However, the whole time I continued to run trails and to think and dream about ultra-marathons. I really looked at my marathon as just a stepping stone. I mean, who else would run Mt. Diablo and Mission Peak as training runs for a flat road marathon? However, after completing it, I had made up my mind. The next year I would run a 50K. The year after that, a 50M and then I would do a 100 mile run before my 40th birthday. This was my goal. All went basically according to plan in the next year and I completed my first ultra-marathon at the 2006 running of the Ohlone 50K. After that, things sort of went off course, so to speak. My plan went out the window. I ran two more 50Ks that summer and singed up for and completed my first 50-miler in October at the Dick Collins Firetrails race. It went great, but I was struggling with a worsening case of plantar fasciitis. As I took the next two months with nothing but very easy running, I wondered if I had totally messed up the long-term plan. However, what I really learned was a more important lesson about how much running ultras is mostly mental and how you loose less than you think when you take the time to let the body heal.

This year I came back with a vengeance. My running addiction went into overdrive. My initial goal was just to complete the Miwok 100K and see where things went after that. Well, I did that. I also did two 50-milers, four 50Ks and signed up for the Headlands Hundred, a new 100-mile event being put on by my favorite race directors Sarah Spelt and Wendall Doman of Pacific Coast Trail Runs. It shared many trails with Miwok as well as with the Pirates Cove 50K which I had also done early in the year. I finished Miwok feeling like I had more "in the tank" so I was definitely feeling that I could commit to the 100.

As the race day approached, I actually felt like I was as prepared for the distance as anyone can be for their first attempt at such a feat. I had even written up a detailed analysis of the difference between the Headlands course and that of Miwok which Sarah and Wendell had included on the race web site. This exercise plus the past races I had done in the Marin headlands area made me feel like I knew the trails fairly well. The week before the race, I spent even more time staring at trail maps. I was much less stressed at this point than I had expected to be. I even waited until Thursday night before getting everything together. Spread out on my floor was an array of gear and supplies that represented everything I had learned about ultrarunning both on my own and from others. I knew I had more than was needed, but even that was part of the plan. I would be staying at a Hostel just a mile from the start at Fort Barry thanks to Harry Walther who I had met the previous year at a 50K event. We seemed to following a similar path into ultra-running and had run many of the same events over the course of a year.

Saturday morning arrived and we woke around 5am to have some breakfast and make our way to the race start. It was nice being close to the race and not having to get up at 3am for a change. My memory of the start and early parts of any ultra, especially the longer events, is always a bit spotty. As I approach a long event, I tend to go into this mode where I don't focus on anything until I am at least a couple of hours into it. This is the way that I get myself to focus on the hours rather than the minutes of an ultra. I place some "standing orders" in my head and then try to put myself on auto-pilot. In this case, the orders were to go out slow...slower than I had ever before. I'd hit the 50 mile split in around 10 hours at Miwok, I wanted to be a lot slower than that here. I was aiming for between 11-12 hours. We started out, heading across the beach and then the slow (walking) climb up the road section. I was hanging out with Harry and Beat Jegerlehner. Beat is an experience 100 miler who I have run with at shorter events. He and I are fairly close in speed. Harry is normally faster, but was taking it very, very easy at the start here. I unfortunately don't carry a camera on my runs, but others do and here is a photo of early in the race. It's a bit blurry, but you get the point.


That's Harry running point with me behind and Beat back of that. I think he may be running with Chuck Wilson, but I'm not positive. Beat was nursing an injury and decided that he needed to keep it easy even on the downhills so we left him behind once we hit the first bit of trail. Harry hung back with me for some time. However, even though he was going basically my pace, I realized later that I wasn't really running my race by sticking with him and we eventually split up. I normally just find people who are running what I am comfortable with and stay with them for a while. I will then either drop them if I start feeling good (usually on a downhill section) or fall behind if I feel I am pushing more than I should. I ran with a few people, many of whom I had met at previous races. Unfortunately, I am terrible at names and don't always remember exactly who it was I was with. One of the reasons I don't like the idea of using a pacer is that I don't like to always stay with the same person during a race even if they are trying to run my pace. I kind of like to float, sometimes enjoying the company of others and just as often running in solitude. Here, I am obviously enjoying others company.


I don't recall much of the first couple of Aid Stations, but I do remember coming down off the ridge along the coast and heading down the Pirate's Cove steps on the way to Muir Beach. We would be traveling back this way and would be going up these steps twice more during the second and third loops of the hundred. At Muir Beach I felt OK. Some things didn't really feel like they were loosening up as much as they should at this stage of the race and I thought I should feel better given how easy I was taking things. Sarah was at Muir as were many other familiar faces. Will Gotthardt was working there and it was good meet him as we had only met online previously even though he lives in Fremont. After the AS there was a nice, flat even trail before the big climb up the Dipsea to Pantoll. I was familiar with these trails and was rlooking forward to some forced walking time. It was also starting to heat up at this point. I think I always have a tough time adjusting to temperature changes during a run, though I don't know if it is physical, mental or a combination of both.

As it warmed, I felt like I was struggling a bit. I definitely felt the heat, but just kept telling myself to take it easy. I think I was starting to worry about the Bolinas Ridge already, which is not where my mind should have been. I made it to Pantoll with two empty bottles. I ate and drank a little extra and then just headed out, prepping for the ridge. I've run this ridge a few times, but no matter how familiar I am with it, it always seems to go on forever. About midway through, I started seeing the top 50 milers coming back and then Kermit Cuff leading the 100 milers. He looked strong and would go on to win the race in under 21 hours. It was a nice to have a little distraction just before my least favorite section of the entire course. The last part of the ridge is on a narrow, steeply cambered trail through high grass. I don't know anybody that likes to run on it, but I think I dread it more than most. If you wonder why this might be, a picture will demonstrate a lot more than words. Here is a close-up of my leg from one of the pictures above showing my normal running step on flat ground.

Pigeon Gate

I was born pretty badly pigeon toed and my parents did what they could to correct it. I even had to wear a brace between my feet for a while as a child. For the most part, it isn't a huge issue, but my feet still turn in a bit and I tend to run on the outside of my foot as demonstrated above. However, clearly, someone who runs with foot placement such as the above is not going to enjoy a trail that cambers to the outside of his foot. I must have rolled my ankle 3-4 times along that section of trail. Luckily, years of trail running have strengthened the supporting muscles in my ankle enough to compensate for my over-stretched ligaments. But it really didn't help my mental state and I had slowed down quite a bit. Beat caught me on the way back along the ridge and I decided I could use the company so I hung out with him and Jochen who was running the 50.

We arrived back at Pantoll and I was happy both to be off the ridge and to be headed for some downhill running. However, we would be taking a different route back to Pirates Cove via the Heather Cutoff which I had not been on before. On paper, this section looks like good fun. It is a narrow trail that winds down the side of the hill. However, I seemed to have difficulty getting my groove as it was pretty hard pack and the hairpin turns kept me from getting any good speed up. My feet were beginning to hurt, but I promised myself no Advil until I finished the first 50 miles. I broke off from Beat and Jochen on the downhill and was headed along the flat, soft trail towards Muir Beach by myself. I was thinking about the fact that I wasn't feeling as good as I wanted and was going over in my head just how I was going to get myself into and out of the Start/Finish area. I knew all I had to do was start the second half of the race and I would never let myself drop. I just had to get through this first 50. Of course, I wasn't focusing on the trail at this point, so this is right about the time I took a nice face-first dive in the dirt. I guess I have to give my subconscious credit for picking a nice flat, soft section of trail in which to wake me up.

I got to Muir Beach and who should be there with camera ready, but Miki who was also the one to capture the results of my last dive in the dirt. So, I have wonderful photos of stuffing my face while being reminded of my own stupidity.


I stuck with Beat and Jochen as we headed back up the steps (for the first time), down to Tennessee Valley and then back up and over to Rodeo Beach. When we got to the road overlooking the start/finish, Beat and I told Jochen to go and get himself a good finish for the 50 miler. The two of us took our time heading down this section as it really isn't all that enjoyable to run downhill on the road and we knew we had to do it two more times. I think I was also over focused on the fact that I wasn't feeling as good as I had hoped for at this stage of the race. I had just run the slowest 50 miles I had ever done and yet, I felt no better than had I raced it hard. The slightest bit of doubt had started creeping into my brain. I decided that I would spend some extra time at the Rodeo Beach and then just plan on some serious walking for while.

I got to the beach and was immediately perked up by Meredeth whom I had met at Miwok. She had just finished an awesome 50 miler, coming in as the 3rd woman and was still waiting for a couple people for whom she would be crewing during the 100. She started taking care of me right away, filling my bottles and getting me some chicken noodle soup. It definitely lifted my spirits (thanks Mer). I changed socks, ate soup, changed into a long-sleeved shirt, drank some Red Bull, got my night gear together and had some more soup. Luckily Beat was there to kick me in the butt and get me going as I might have stuck around too long just visiting and enjoying the eats.

With night on its way, this next loop of 25 miles would be much slower going. However, I was looking forward to the evening. The cooler weather and the change of scenery started lifting my spirits, though the chicken soup wasn't sitting too great in my stomach and I felt it whenever I tried to run. However, overall, things started to get better. Beat and I hooked up with Craig Slagel who is normally a much faster runner than us, but was said he has been hurting ever sense finishing States in June. We made it to the first aid station taking almost a full hour longer than at the start, but the night had now set in and I was enjoying it. By the time we came into Tennessee Valley, I was feeling good. I downed an Ensure and headed out leaving Beat behind as he was switching into some warmer cloths. I figured he would catch me on the uphills as I was generally slower going up. However, as I said, I was feeling good and so my pace started to pick up even on the hills. I was really starting to enjoy being alone out there on the trail at night and I think I was enjoying the race for the first time. I had also approaching the longest distance I had ever run. I made it up to the ridge and had no trouble finding the shortcut we were to take down towards Muir Beach, avoiding the Pirate's Cove steps.

At this point I was really having a great time. My pace felt good. The air was cool, but not cold and I was just simply "in the zone." I think this is why it never occurred to me that the shortcut should have been a lot shorter. It also never occurred to me that I shouldn't be hitting any uphill heading down this section and that it should all be on fire trail (and the ribbons should still be orange and...). I was just going, moving along the trail above the water with ease. When I finally went down into a little valley, I stopped. I knew something was wrong. It looked familiar, but I wasn't sure where I was. I felt like I was definitely moving in the opposite direction of Muir Beach at this point. I decided to follow the trail a little further along to where I could hear the waves hitting the coast below. I short jog and I knew exactly where I was. THE STAIRS!?! How did I get here? Where did I miss the turn? Was it close behind me or a ways back? I didn't have answers to any of these questions so just turned and started running again.

"Beat? That you?" Someone was coming down the trail toward me.
"No, It's Harry"
"Steve? What are you doing here? Did you miss the shortcut?"
"No, worse" I replied, "I took the shortcut and made a wrong turn. How far back is the intersection with the fire road?"
"It must be close to a mile"
"Good luck..."

Without much thought I simply take off running. My adrenaline is now fueled with anger and self loathing at my own stupidity. I run up out of the valley and along the trail taking a while to get to the intersection which is as obvious as anything can be now that I take the time to look at it. There is a metal gate and a square sign clearly marking it as the return direction as well as plenty of ribbons. It feels familiar to look at it, but I must not have been thinking at all to go past this. I made a quick decision that it was not going to get to me. I simply told myself that I was now just running the 102. I meet Craig and then Beat coming up the fire road from Muir Beach and he expresses his concern. I tell him quickly what happened, but I don't linger as I want to get to the Aid Station. The chicken soup I'd eaten early is calling for me to find a porta-john and I have already lost about 1/2 hour or running. I get to the aid station to find that it is without bathroom so I get to go hunt through the bushes. I still don't let this get to me. I return to the aid station feeling physically relieved and still fired with adrenaline. Stan, who is working there, is very helpful and encouraging and simply tells me he will see me again.

I head out of the aid station and put on my best power-walking stride once I get to the hill. I then start to run a bit once I am on the single track. Its my 5th time on this trail so I feel like I know it pretty well by this point. I don't let the steps slow me down either. In fact, as I am pushing up the steps I make what would normally not be a great decision to make at 65+ miles. I am going to try and catch Beat. I get to the fireroad and get into my shuffle-jog pace on the steep hills. I hit the ridge and I start running...really running. I start passing people who had gone by during my wrong turn. Someone's pacer going the other way comments in shock to see someone running the way I am, where I am, in the dead of night. I see a runner moving slowing up ahead and call out asking if it is Beat. It's Craig. I notice, as I come closer, that he is hobbling. He assures me that he is alright, but that he plans to drop at Tennessee Valley. I wish him well and charge down the hill.

I make Tennessee Valley and ask how far ahead Beat is. About 10 minutes. I am definitely making time. I slow myself a bit so I can fuel and then head out walking and eating. I hit the hills and start shuffling again. I know the section from Tennessee to Rodeo very well. I push the whole way until the road. The road brings me pack to reality. I feel some pains in my feet and decide not to run the first, steepest, part of the paved downhill. In fact, I turn around and walk backwards for a bit. However, overall, I am actually feeling pretty good and the lights from Rodeo Beach beckon me. I hustle down the hill and come into the aid station still charged up. It's about 3am. I tell my story as I down a couple more Ensures and then start on a Red Bull. I'm feeling wired. Way too amped up for the volunteers who all look pretty sleepy at this point as they listen to my wayward tale. The only thing on my mind is that I have just one more 25 mile loop remaining and I feel great. Maybe there is some truth to the idea that when you feel bad in an ultra, it sometimes helps to actually pick the pace up rather than take it easier. Or, maybe, I just need to occasionally get mad at myself to push into the next gear.

Beat had only come into the aid station a few minutes before me. However, it was enough time for him to work up all the good chiding that I very much deserved. He told me that I needed to stick with him so I don't get lost. I agree (for now). At this point in the race, most people told me they were dreading the last trip out of Muir Beach up the stairs. For me, I know that the first climb on the road will be the toughest mentally. I am, once again, glad to have Beat there to push me along. His uphill pace keeps me from dropping into a slow, casual walk. However, his injury is still giving him some trouble and he tells me that once we hit the downhill I will likely be on my own. I agree. I still feel generally good and am really anxious to make sure I give it all I have left on this last loop. Once we get close to the big downhill into Rodeo Valley, I tell Beat that I'll see him at the finish.

I move through the aid station quickly and just try to keep the momentum. The sun is starting to come up and I am hoping it will take my energy level with it. Along the climb up and over into Tennessee Valley, my watch alarm goes off. It is officially 24hrs since I woke up Saturday morning. I realize that I am actually feeling sleepy for the first time in the race. I definitely feel that "up all night" feeling. I don't have any specific hallucinations, but every looks just not quite right. I am happy when I finally make it up the ridge as I can push the downhill to try and get my head straight. I'm happy at Tennesee Valley as I move through grabbing what I need and just saying, "see you again soon". I make it up and over the ridge to Muir Beach without incident this time (other than really feeling stupid when I see how obvious the trail intersection is marked).

At Muir Beach I know there is about 9 miles left. I know I have plenty of pump still in my legs. My watch tells me that sub-27 is actually still quite do-able. I keep a good pace moving out of there. I pass a guy named Jack who stayed at the same Hostel the night before. He is having problems with his Achilles. He encourages me and warns me about one of the trail markings before the downhill into Tennessee Valley. I take note..sort of. As I am approaching this important downhill I see a few people I know coming the other way including Chuck Wilson. It must have been there that I lost focus once again and missed the very turn that I was warned about. Luckily, I catch my mistake much sooner this time and turn to run uphill once again. I then take the downhill into TV as fast as I can. I don't worry that there is one more major hill after the aid station. I am on a mission now.

I strip most of my gear off at the aid station and decide I can make the final push with a single watter bottle. I start on the first hill and there are a bunch of young teenagers doing some volunteer work on the trails. One of them turns to me and says "I really have a lot of respect for you." I say "thanks" as my face goes a bit flush. That girl has no idea how much her simple words meant to me right then. I pass the rest of them thanking them for working on the trail and deciding that there is no more walking for me. I am going to push the whole trail, even the really steep little hills before the final road. I pass one guy who isn't looks to be struggling, but has a pacer keeping him going. I give him some encouraging words. I finally make the road. I am going to ignore all pain and run the asphalt. I'm very surprised to catch another runner and pacer along this section. It is Leslie Antonis who has been leading the woman's race the whole time. She is having stomach problems. I offer my encouragement, but really, I feel bad about passing her. We are less than a mile from the finish and she is normally such a strong runner. However, we all have to run our own race and 27 hours is not far off so I continue my relentless push down the hill.

I can see the finish coming close. The last winding downhill is very frustrating as you can't seem to make the finishing stretch come fast enough. Someone yells up to me that I can break 27 hours. I push some more and finally get to the the bottom. I don't know how much separates my watch from the official time so I am going to sprint to the finish. As I come around the turn, Sarah and Wendell try to assure me that I don't need to push it as I have it in the bag. However, by this point I don't care. I say, "I did my 100 miles, now I'm gonna do my 100 meters!" To be able to sprint to the finish at the end of such a long race is a feeling like nothing else.




There isn't much I can write to try and explain my mental/emotional state after the race except to say that there was a growing sense of calm satisfaction. I hung out at the finish to cheer others in and swap stories. There were so many people out there who were so helpful that I don't think I could thank them all. Fellow runners, the amazing volunteers who worked all night and, of course, Sarah and Wendell who put the whole thing together.

I had rented a hotel room in downtown SF so I wouldn't have to drive all the way back to Fremont. It was a good call. I might have had not problem driving home had I left right after the race, but the more I hung out and relaxed, the more I could feel my physical state deteriorating. My wife was going to come up and meet me in the city along with our son and his friend. After one amazing shower, I called them from the hotel to tell them the room number and said to just wake me up when they arrived. I got a little nap in, but knew that I would need to eat a real meal before I slept. Dinner was hard. Total exhaustion was setting in and everything felt like it was stiffening up. I normally wouldn't include this part of the story as it is a bit anti-climatic, but it turned out to be a very, very good thing that I made myself walk around and get dinner. When I awoke on Monday morning after a deep,dreamless sleep, I was shocked to discover that most of my stiffness and much of my soreness not only hadn't worsened, but had actually gotten better. I could walk almost like a normal human being and I felt mentally somewhere approaching normal. My recovery has gone well since. I've had almost no real muscle soreness though I can feel a lot of weakness in my joints and ligaments. I have kept things very easy.

It is still surprising to me to think that it is just been a little over two weeks since the race. The few short runs I have done these last couple weeks have all felt especially easy, light and joyous. Rather than being burned out on running, I actually feel that I am enjoying it more as it feels less pressured mentally. I've accomplished a goal that was set in my mind a long time ago and now I can get back to the simple pure joy of running. Now, don't get me wrong, it isn't like I am giving up on training and doing races. In fact, I actually went and signed up for another 100 miler in Arizona at the end of October. However, the pressure and self-doubt about whether I can do it has been released. There will definitely be more and further goals to accomplish, but right now, everything ahead of me just looks like icing.


Against the Wind said...

What a great story, Mountain Man! I decided "not" to run what would have been my first 50-miler this summer, due to injury and ennui. Maybe in a year or so, after I hike the Appalachian Trail.

Been scouting bloggers who list "backpacking" under their interests, to build up a following and blogging community. Come visit mine!

olga said...

Wow, what a great story! Felt it...and congratulation again! I get off course for bits pretty dang often too:) hey, how 'bout "have lots of pump in my legs" at mile 91?? Is this awesome or what?

Eudemus said...

"Against the wind"

Thanks for visiting the site. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I checked out your blog, very nice. Have a great time on your AT hike. That sounds awesome!

Eudemus said...

Hey Olga! Glad you liked the story. I view missing turns as just part of the adventure of these long runs :-). It certainly is an amazing thing to find you can actually run after 90+ miles! Thanks for the comments.

Sarah (PCTR) said...

Congratulations again, Steve - and I hope that you realize how great it was for Wendell and me to be there as you crossed the finish line of your first hundred miler.

It has been a true pleasure getting to know you these past months, and we look forward to many more great times on the trails with you in the future.

Great job out there - and we can hardly wait to see you A BUNCH at Javelina!


Brad said...

Awesome, Awesome. I have been studying your blog for every bit of advice I can gather for my upcoming 100M. Sub-27 is an awesome time.
Hard to believe how far one can come in just 1 year!

miki said...

You forgot to mention that you had thee best bib number ever!! 100!! Wow again Steve. Great great job and I hope my first 100 goes as well as yours. Without taking wrong turns of course.....:p

Eudemus said...

Thanks Sarah, it was also very special to me being able to do my first hundred at PCTR's first hundred. You guys are the best! See you at Javelina.

Eudemus said...

Thanks Brad, just make sure you study some of my exampled from the "don't do this" perspective as well :-). You're gonna do great at RDL!

Eudemus said...


There's a lot of stuff that I forgot to put in my report, but it was already pretty long and I was already taking too much time to write it. Oh well. It was great seeing you out there. Thanks again for volunteering. As for your first 100, I'm sure it will be great when you are ready! Making wrong turns is all just part of the adventure in my mind :-)

Addy said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story with us! It gives me a lot of faith, as I am sort of loosely following the same schedule as you in terms of ultras (first 50k summer, first 50 miler DC, and hopefully Miwok in the spring). I have faint dreams of Headlands next year, but it's too soon to think about that yet.

Just reading your report, I can't quite imagine doing something so amazing. Even with your wrong turns and all, it still sounds like you had a fabulous attitude out there and fully enjoyed the course (with all its many challenges).

I'm so glad to hear too that running has been going so well for you afterwards. Can't wait to hear about your next adventures

Rajeev said...


What a story!! You are an amazing runner. 26:58 on that course?? That's a superb time in anybody's book! Congratulations.


Eudemus said...


Glad you enjoyed the story. It is definitely a great race for your first 100, I think. Challenging, but not frighteningly so. Also, if you get into Miwok, it is a big boost if you can finish that race feeling like you could do more. However, even if you don't, I think that doing a few more 50 milers after DC will give you the confidence and training you need to finish your first 100. I really believe in running shorter distance races as training for longer ones.

Hope to see you at Firtrails!


Eudemus said...

Thanks for the comments, Rajeev. Headlands was awesome! You should run it next year.