Thursday, June 09, 2011

After Mile 70

I signed up for the Santa Barbara Endurance Race 100 miler mainly because of the advertised 30,000+ft if elevation gain and the need to start some serious climb training towards my big end-of-summer goal. After one of the wettest winters in recent California history forced the RD to modify the course mere weeks before the start, I was a little concerned. When the new course included nearly a marathon's worth of road running, I became a bit bummed. However, I reminded myself that 100 miles is still 100 miles and even if it had far less than the advertised ascent, it would be a good launching pad for my series of summer races.

I guess I could handle 25 miles of road if it all included views like this

My plans were further altered when Beat backed out of the race due to a nagging Achilles after finishing his 3rd 100-miler this year at the grueling White Mountains race in Fairbanks, AK (go figure). Some solo time sounded good to me anyways so I headed out of work early Wednesday to stay at our place in Arroyo Grande and then down to the pre-race meeting at Rancho Oso on Thursday. A quirky, but enthusiastic RD, a very cool start/finish venue and an assortment of participants ranging from ultra-elite runner Geoff Roes to the big, smiling Ken Michal with his "All Day" motto and shirt logo, set the tone for this low-key 100-miler.

The early Friday start was preceded by a ceremonial blessing by a member of the local Chumash tribe just before sunrise. We then set off, up the initial climb via the only single track on the course. I'd mapped the route online and followed it a few times via Google Earth, but it's still difficult to get a sense of the steepness. The single track dumped onto the long, gradual--far too runnable--firetrail up to the road. Making it to the initial aid station in an hour and 15 was definitely ahead of pace. While I tried to take it easier along the road to the next aid station, I still arrived at mile 10 right at 2 hours, staring at a long descent down another gradual firetrail to the reservoir.

Being a natural downhiller,I knew I couldn't exactly slow down on this section, but since I generally run at "gravity's pace" I would at least be able to take it easy since it was far from steep. I met up with a few other runners on this section, first a young guy named Mike from Sacramento and then Tiffany Guerra from LA who was the lead woman. Near the bottom we hooked up with another group of guys and we all headed up the short climb before the turnaround together as the leaders came through. Geoff made some comment about not expecting to see a "pack" in this race. We laughed. I commented back to him that this wasn't going to be the best training for his goal race at UTMB. I figured our little pack wouldn't last. I was pretty sure we were all going out too fast and hitting the 20 mile mark in 3:45 was all the confirmation I needed. I swore I would take it easier on the climb back up.

I arrived at the top in 6-1/2 hour for 50K. That did was a bit of a slower pace,, but it was still a pace for a (completely unreasonable) 21 hour finish. The next 6 miles were back on road. My hips began complaining and I began questioning whether I had blown up before even mile 40. Luckily, the asphalt didn't last long. The promised, rugged dirt road at its end  immediately loosened my hips, my legs and my head after a brief descent. Right about mile 40 the climbing started. Given how moderate the initial terrain had been, even if the course went straight up to the turnaround from here, there was no way we were going to accumulate a total of 30,000ft. It didn't go straight up, but it did become significantly steeper.

I fell back in with Mike and Tiffany over the next several miles. It was far from lock-step as Tiffany was quite a the climber, but I could catch up on the interspersed downhills in the early miles. Mike was closer to my pace being only a slightly better climber and keeping nearly my pace on the descents. We chatted a bit. He was fairly new to 100 milers. When talk turned to finishing times, I told him it was far to early to be thinking about that. The race doesn't start until after mile 70. I then regaled him of all my worst 100 mile experiences each of which had degraded north of mile 70.

The three of us exited the Vista Peak aid station together en route to the final 7 miles before the turnaround. At the bottom of the first descent, Geoff Roes came by on his way back. Friendly guy that he is, he stopped to give us some advice to make sure we had plenty of water for the next section. He had drained a full 40oz on his way out. I said I was fine, but probably should have thought a bit deeper on the subject. The day was getting warm and if Geoff had drained 40, I would need at least all of the 50 I had in my bladder. Not that I would have gone back to the aid station and filled up further, but I might have conserved a bit more or simply have taken this as a word of caution that the hardest part of the trail was to come.

If the entire course had been anything like the final stretch to Divide Peak, this would have been a very different race. It's easy to see how the original planned course might have been the beast we all expected. The trails became progressively steeper and more rugged as we approached the peak. Tiffany marched up the first steep climb not to be seen again for until the turnaround. Mike eventually dropped me too as the hills started to weigh on me. Serious doubts began to creep into my psyche about the effects of my early exuberance. 

As the climbs reached their pinnacle of steepness, I drained both the last of my water and my energy reserves. I was seriously bonking and moving up the hills at a snail's pace. At one point I just stopped and sat on a rock. I became upset with myself for having mismanaged my early race so poorly. I resigned to just shuffle it into the aid station and take some time to recover. As I headed up the final climb, Mike and Tiffany came down. I was surprised I hadn't been overtaken by more people.

The excited (and slightly inebriated) volunteers were all abuzz at the aid station. I muttered something about needing to "gather myself", took a seat and asked for soup. As I slurped my chicken noodle, I worked on getting my head straight. The good thing about having experience at the distance is that I knew I had plenty of time to recover. A check of the watch showed that I had arrived at the half way point in less than 11-1/4 hours. Given that the bulk of the climbing was already done, I was still on sub-24 pace, though I had no intention of chasing that goal. I resolved to stay until 11:30 race time. However, as soon as others began arriving, I realized I was already feeling better and decided to get off my butt and head out on the rocky trails.

We weren't the only ones enjoying these rough dirt roads.

Once I hit those technical downhills, it didn't take long for my spirits to lift. It also didn't take long for me to catch back up with Mike. When he complimented me on my recovery, I responded that "I don't know why I ever fret the climbs in the first place." Caught up in my enthusiasm, he began flying down the steeps alongside me and eventually we caught up with Tiffany. When she commented that we were going to leave her in our dust, I joked that I was just trying to "crush Mike's quads before mile 70." For the time being, we pushed each other to keep a good pace. We probably didn't have enough time to make it all the way to the road, but the final miles would be fairly smooth climbing so optimizing daylight to get through the rocky sections was a good plan.

It was certainly dark by the time I reached the road, but I always like to hold off on my flashlight for as long as possible. I turned it on just before entering the aid station at the 100K mark and 14:30 into my race. Mike caught up and I knew he would be leading me out given that he had full crew and was picking up a pacer. Tiffany also came in and out as I was prepping for the night and hoping (unsuccessfully) to take care of some minor GI issues. I figured I was going to be slower along the paved section. It was time to put the brain in "auto" and wake it up at the 70 mile point. For the most part, it went as planned other than a very strong wind sweeping across the ridge. I ended up skipping the intermediate unmanned station and arriving at Angostura Pass on empty.

Tiffany had already passed through and Mike was just leaving when I came in. I took my time knowing the 10 miles of downhill ahead would suite me. I caught up with Mike fairly quickly as he and his pacer had slowed to a walk. He said he was just taking a break. I really hoped my earlier joke hadn't turned prophetic. I cruised through this section catching one other struggling runner near the bottom before the turnaround. I was feeling less than perfect and with 20 miles to go, the 5 remaining hours to break 24 seemed a tall order. I hadn't come to the event in either racing condition or mindset. However, I knew I'd kick myself for my fast pace early in the race if I didn't at least try to finish strong.

On the return I passed Tiffany, but was caught and passed shortly thereafter by another runner who had obviously managed his energy better than I had. A short downhill was coming up and I decided it was just the incentive I needed to kick up the effort level. I leaned forward, picked up my feet and got going. Halfway down the slope, I felt it drop. The minor GI blockage I'd been dealing with all day came to a sudden and urgent resolution. Details will be spared, but the next 15 minutes or so was spent in the bushes with the only conclusion being that you can never have too many Handi-Wipes in a trail race.

Under a mix of relief and discomfort, I made my way up to the next aid station where I hit the porta-john for a final check to assure all was in order. I also learned at this aid station that Mike had dropped from the race. He said his legs were shot. I hate being right about it, but I did warn him about mile 70. I bid him farewell and wished him a strong recovery for his future endeavors as he took a ride out. I made descent time on the climb to the ridge bringing my total climbing time to just over 3 hours even with my diversions. Tiffany was just leaving as I came in. I thought she might be able to breach 24 if she really pushed the final 10 miles. I had no such intention.

"I'm gonna just take my time here so I'm not even tempted to chase sub-24," I told the volunteers with a smile as I stopped to survey the snack table. In truth it was hard not to do the math in my head, knowing that the final 8 miles was almost completely downhill and knowing I could probably make 10 minute miles going down even this late in the race. I decided not to chase the goal, but just see how close I could get without too hard a push. So, when I was handed my filled pack, I put it on, grabbed a few items from the table and headed out.

It wasn't more than a few steps before I felt it. Water running down my back. I stopped, took the pack off, checked the lid and put it back on. More water. I headed back to the checkpoint for a full inspection to find that the bladder had already leaked significantly and the pack was soaked as was my shirt. The next 15 minutes were spent sitting in a chair, under blankets trying to warm back up. Luckily I had an extra shirt and a handheld bottle in my drop bag. I probably should have listened to my own statement when I came into the aid station.

I eventually got back underway and made it to the final stretch of dirt road right around sunrise. With all time pressure off, the final 5-6 miles of gradual, winding downhill was eminently enjoyable. I passed Tiffany near the top as she was having some challenges with the downhills at this point. As light spread over the valley, I maintained a leisurely 10-11 minute pace. As I approached the final miles the speedy 50K, 50mile and 100K runners began passing on their way up offering encouraging words. As always seems the case in 100 miles, you need one final challenge before the finish. For some reason I didn't recall the final mile having so much climbing in it or being so long when I ran it on fresh legs the previous morning.

I crossed the finish line right around 24 hours and 40 minutes. Keeping with the low-key nature of the event, the ranch was empty and quiet. I had to seek someone out in order to report my finish time. I congratulated Mauricio Puerto (the runner who passed me in the night) on his strong finish and sub-24 result. I then waited for Tiffany to come in and congratulated her for being first female before heading to the back of my Jeep for a nice nap. Full results are on UltraSignup. Geoff Roes knocked this thing off in 16-1/2 without even trying. 8 hours back, I took 6th place. It was a good event. I'd probably run it differently if I did it again, but there are no regrets about any aspect of the race as it was.

Once again, I've finished my report just in time for my next big race. San Diego 100 is this in two days. Other than one big weekend where I followed Mission Peak hill repeats by 53 miles of road biking and running the Ohlone 50K on consecutive days, my training has been essentially non-existent. I've no major goals of racing this one either, but it is rumored a relatively moderate course so the challenge will be again not to go out too hard. Regardless, 6 weeks later, I am more than ready for another 100 miles of fun and adventure.

Look for me out there, somewhere after mile 70.


Danni said...

You're a machine.

Ric Munoz said...

Excellent report, Steve, as per usual. And I saw you finished this weekend's San Diego 100 safely as well. I trust you will write a nice and newsy report about that one, too!

olga said...

It looks very pretty, just cut the dirt roads and make them narrow! Steve, man, time to run fewer 100's yet? Ha, I wish, I am trying to figure out which one I can ask Larry to allow me to enter. they got something, those stupidly long things...