Wednesday, June 22, 2011

San Diego 100-Miler Race Report-- 2011

A few months ago I decided that I wanted to run my next 100-miler in San Diego based on the location, the timing of the event, and the popularity of the race. I also had the plan to simultaneously raise money and awareness for the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp-- an organization that I am affiliated with that helps students and adults with disabilities. You can learn more about that whole mission by clicking HERE. When I initially met with Terri Taylor, the Communications Director for the camp, she asked me what goals I had in mind for the run. I told her that I wanted to raise a certain amount of money to help financially incapable students, and that I wanted to win (it is after all a foot race!). She later on told me that she thought that was awesome. Fast forward a couple months, over $3,000 in donations, and lots of solid training I showed up at the starting line in the mountains at 6,000 feet-- an hour east of San Diego, CA.

(Moments after the start...Dylan Bowman in yellow, me in center, Rod Bien on right--Photo by Brett Rivers)

I didn't tell many people about it but about a week before the race I was having some Achilles tendon pain. I had some anxiety about the whole situation but tried to stay calm, do some self-care techniques, and I got some work done on it such as acupuncture and massage. By race day I was feeling great but still had some apprehension about running 100 miles on a possibly compromised tendon that you can't really run without!  My acupuncturist in Portland Ruth Oclander gave me a small piece of advice that stuck in my mind throughout the week and the race. She told me to imagine a bright white light (which signifies healing) around my tendon any time I feel a slight twinge, or if someone asks me about it, or just in general thoughts or anxiety about the issue.

The first few miles when you are rested, tapered, and well-trained just seem so easy. I effortlessly glided into the first aid station in first place after running alongside some deer through some gorgeous early morning single track.

(Cruising into Aid Station #1 at mile 7.3 all far so good! photo Devon Crosby-Helms)

During this time I thought I felt a couple little possible "blips on the radar" regarding my tendon but really focused on staying loose, relaxed, and the white light imagery. When I saw my wife Erica at the next aid station she emphatically asked, "is your leg ok!?"  I told her that I felt it a tiny bit but that I thought I'd be okay. It was much of the same through absolute picture perfect trails until mile 23 and by now I knew that I was in the zone and was going to finish this baby! Erica passed a bottle of Perpetuum to me and I gave her and baby Farah a quick kiss and I strolled out of the aid station still leading the way.

The course was much more exposed, rocky, and technical than I expected and the sun was rising higher with the temperature with not a cloud in the sky. In the next section I could look back down the valley a bit as it twisted around and climbed and I would periodically get a visual on second place Coloradoan Dylan Bowman. At one point he gave me a fist pump in the air which I took as "we were both rockin' out". He was probably about five minutes behind me at this point.

At around mile 30-ish we dropped down into a canyon where we were supposed to run a five-ish mile loop back to the same aid station before climbing out a couple miles up a steep paved road. Honestly this was one of the most difficult parts of the race for me. I was extremely hot and everyone was greeted (attacked) by swarms of gnats or flies on roids. I tried everything including taking my shirt off and swinging it around my head like a helicopter, and tying my shirt around my head like a bonnet. They were relentless all the way to the top of the paved road where they finally tired out a bit.  I was so thankful for that and for the lady with a cooler full of popsicles! I kept pluggin' along toward the 50-ish mile aid station still in the lead with Dylan a few minutes back.

When I came into the half-way point aid station my new neighbor and buddy Jason Hill helped me re-stock my pockets and mixed up another bottle for me quickly which was a huge help. I was definitely feeling the heat at this point but Jason, with his South African accent, encouraged me to keep killin' it! I badly wanted to take my shoes off and dump out the sand and tiny rocks and particles out of my Inov-8 X-talon 212's but kept the forward progress.

At the Stonewall Mine Aid Station they told me that I would be ascending the steep Stonewall Peak and then I would be descending the other side. I was also told by Kim Gaylord (who helped me so kindly throughout the race) that Rod Bien was puking and that her husband Topher was having a rough time as well. I knew Dylan wasn't too far back and despite my fatigue I felt really good about how I power hiked and ran this section. It was this point in the race where I was starting to draw on things like the campers from the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp. I thought about how we once took a bunch of students on a vertical one-mile hike up from Timberline Lodge to Silcox Lodge, and how they all persevered despite issues I can't even imagine dealing with on a regular basis. I was sweating profusely and the sun was beating down on me and the dusty exposed mountain. I knew I had to be getting close to the top and came to a "Y" in the trail where I was almost sure it said "Straight Ahead".  I kept powering up...running...hiking...grunting....sighing a little....until I thought, "I haven't seen a ribbon in a few minutes". Then I saw some people up at the platform at the top overlooking the vast land.  "That must be where I go down the other side, right?" I asked a hiker heading up the same way if there was a way down the other side and she said, "not unless you're a rock climber". I panicked at this point.  "I'm off course!" I started scrambling all over the place and heading back down the trail toward my competition...something that you never want to be doing in a race!

I finally, which felt like forever, got back to the "Y" and realized that this is where I was supposed to descend. As I came across a couple hikers I asked if a guy in a yellow jersey came running past and they confirmed that Dylan had passed about 10-minutes prior.  I was so pissed at myself and I just didn't have a ton of energy to muster at this point.  I let gravity take me down to Paso Pichacho aid station at mile 64 where I was told by Kim and others that Dylan left seven minutes prior to me arriving confused about the whole situation. I needed calories, caffeine, and the incessant encouragement and motivation wasn't doing anything for me. My attitude was just kind of deflated but I got out of there relatively quickly and I knew that there was still a lot of race left.  I made sure I didn't try any surges to soon in order not to burn out at one of the toughest times of a 100-mile race.

The miles seemed to just drag on at this point but finally the temperatures were starting to drop a little and we were in some shaded trails. I eventually made it to to grab my night gear and was getting regular  updates from people that Dylan was consistently between 7-10 minutes ahead. After I donned my headlamp it became a different race...the trails are different and you just seem to get into a different frame of mind.  You realize that you've been running hard since early in the morning and now, on one of the longest days of the year, you are running in the night! It's a crazy place to be mentally, physically, sometimes just want to say, "I'm done...I can't do it anymore...I'm feet hurt, etc. etc." but you have to stop the chatter and just keep pushing through. I thought again about the campers at Mt. Hood, their parents, and how much I want to finish this run for them...and for myself.

I came into the mile 80 aid station and stared at all the food and could not imagine eating any of it. My digestive system was just shocked and nothing appealed to me...I think I choked down a Powerbar and a potato and another gel and disappeared back into the darkness. I had passed the only relay team who were honoring their friend who passed away and I felt that I was just on my own for the rest of the run/hike. Honestly I just felt fine with taking second place and was focused on beating my prior best 100-mile time of 18:53...but didn't rule out the idea of something happening to Dylan and me still winning.  I kept looking back every once in a while to see a couple head lamps off in the distance behind me and I just thought it was the two relay guys. Another hour passed and the lights were getting closer and I could hear their voices. I thought, "wow these guys are really moving pretty well!"  As they approached me from behind around mile 87 I moved off the trail and said, "Strong work guys!"  Then as I shined my light on the first runner I see a Patatgonia shirt and Rod Bien's face!  I thought I saw a ghost!  I yelled, "You're back!"....Rod yells to me, "I'm back from the dead!" and scurries past me with his pacer David Easa.  I was so shocked and yet again deflated at that same time and I wondered if there were more runners reeling me in as well.

Despite this unexpected pass by Bien it really energized me and I picked up the pace to try and latch on the back of those two. There were like 30 mph winds up on the Pacific Crest Trail and we were approaching the 87.5 mile aid station. Then something happened that completely took me off guard.  When I entered the lighted aid station I was yelling out my number and that I needed water and then I see Rod standing there looking at me.  He turns to me and says to me right as I enter, "Hey Yassine...Do you just wanna finish this thing up together?" I think we both were pretty fried literally and figuratively from running 15 hours and what we had to endure throughout the day and without hesitation I said, "Let's do this".  Rod introduced me to David and we kept powering onward as we got some cheers from the aid station volunteers.  I was shocked again when Rod encouraged me to hang with them after I suggested them pushing on without me. I just didn't seem to have the same pep in my step as Rod was showing but I dug deep. Eventually the three of us started getting into some decent running grooves and the human contact helped me immensely.

There was much more light on the trails from all of our headlamps and we got to know each other.  Conversation is kind of strange at mile 90---you are just completely raw nerves....your brain doesn't work as's cold, windy, you grunt, cuss, piss, fall, etc. etc.  There were also periods of silence or negativity (mostly from me and occasionally from David) but Rod stayed positive and led us toward the finish.  A 100-miler is so difficult to articulate and so is this experience of camaraderie I experienced with Rod and David.  Instead of separately working against each other we worked together in a race against the clock abandoning the notion of placement, etc. It's kind of strange that Rod and I are both living in Oregon  and we actually never met in person prior to this race.  Like Rod said, "This is a cool bond that we will always share."

We finally made it into the finish line area with big smiles on our faces crossing together, tied for 2nd overall, with a time of 18 hours and 12 minutes...a personal best for Rod and myself!  Race Director Scott Mills put a medal around our neck and we were so happy to be finished with the 10th annual San Diego 100-miler! It is such an amazing, indescribable feeling that you get from crossing that line.  I am still trying to process it seems like a dream...almost a blur...but it definitely happened and I learned a lot during this race. This run had so much meaning behind it not only for the charity fundraiser for the camp but for a lesson in not giving up and sportsmanship. 100-milers are a trip for sure!  Thanks Rod and David...I'll always remember that....Big thanks to Scott Mills, all the volunteers and workers...and to my wife Erica and daughter Farah for being such troopers.  I also want to thank everyone that donated toward the camp and made the whole weekend such a huge success.

Results---Photos---Stories, etc. from the San Diego 100-miler can be seen HERE

Thank you to my sponsors that fuel me and help make my life and training so much easier:  Inov-8, Udo's Oil, Drymax Socks...I really appreciate it!

Congrats to Krissy Moehl and Dylan Bowman who ran such killer races both taking the win...and to everyone else that endured the race (which was much more difficult than I expected!)

See Rod's race report HERE and his pacer David Easa's report on "Sportsmanship" HERE

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

San Diego 100- Bigger Than Just a Race

It's been about three full days since I finished The San Diego 100-mile Endurance run. The race was epic indeed--a long day in the sun navigating rugged trails overlooking beautiful vistas in a part of the world I've never visited.  However, the way in all unfolded was definitely not the way I expected. I will have more of a detailed report soon but as I am here on the east coast on vacation with my family I will leave you with a quick summary and some powerful glimpses into this wild and crazy sport of ultrarunning.

*I led the race for 61 off course for about 7-10 minutes and blew the lead to Bowman....Deflated
*I kept motoring on knowing that there was still a lot of race left....finally the sun went down giving us cooler temps.
*Mile 85-ish....Rod Bien passes me w/ his pacer David.  It blew me away as I thought he was not a contender (I got updates that he was puking all day)
* Aid station 87.5 I came in about 20 seconds behind Rod to find him standing there waiting for me. He asked if I wanted to finish this thing up together.  I was surprised but didn't hesitate to say, "Let's do this!"
*Finished much faster than I would have alone in a time of 18:12 and made a strong connection along the way. I learned a lot last weekend...and I still got a PR in the 100-mile distance.

In a response to why or how we finished together here is what Rod wrote...:

I'll try and answer as honestly as I can from my perspective.  I had a tough day.  Nothing was coming easy to me on Saturday.  Not sure why but it felt like a lot of work.  The course was tougher than I thought.  It is a harder course than WS.... or slower anyway but not as tough as AC.  It was just quite technical and that caught me off guard.  My first 50 miles just sucked.  However, when I came into mile 58, I heard Yassine had gotten off track and had lost the lead after getting lost for about 10 minutes.  I felt bad for him as he had been in the lead all day.  At that point, for whatever reason, my stomach turned and I was able to run hard.  At that point I was 45 minutes behind Yassine.  However, I was pretty sure during the next section, I was putting time on him.  I was just running well and would have been surprised if he was running as fast as I was, without a pacer, and considering he had lost the lead.   When I got to mile 63, they said I was 25 minutes behind and that definitely got me fired up.  I ran the next section as well as I have ever run in the second half of a 100.  When I got to 71, they said Yassine was about 10 minutes up on me.  At this point, I knew I'd catch him as it is much easier to be "the hunter".  I was surprised that I didn't get catch him on the climb at mile 75 or so as I ran every step.  When I got to mile 80 (?), they said I was 3 minutes back.  Anyway, at this point headlamps were on and we were running on a cold and very windy ridge (PCT) and I could see him looking back at me (and my pacer).  I assumed (correctly) that he thought I was part of a relay team (there was just one out there... long story), and would have no idea it was me.  I finally caught up to Yassine at about mile 87.  I think it definitely surprised Yassine as I was pretty destroyed earlier in the day.  I quickly passed him and headed towards the aid station.  On my way there, I realized that it had been awesome having him as a "goal" but I really had no real interest in beating him.  I know.  I should be more competitive and a lot of times I wish I was more like Browning or something.  But, in the end, I just thought it would be cooler to finish with Yassine.  Its actually kinda weird that we had never met before this race.  And, given the choice, I'd rather become a closer friend with him because of this position than to work my ass off to try (and maybe he would have beaten me) and put a couple minutes on him and secure second place on my own.  He was just behind me when I got to the aid station so I asked him if he would just like to hop on the train with us and finish together?  He said it would be great to have the company as he had been alone all day.  It was cool to run the last 12 miles in together.  Its a cool bond that we will always have.  There is no prize money and no one is ever going to remember any of this shit, so why not create something a little bit bigger.  Maybe it is just a cop out that I'm not competitive enough or maybe I was scared he would come back and beat me.  But, really and truly, it just sounded cooler to finish together.  I'm glad I did it and I hope he is glad that he agreed.  100 milers are powerful stuff.  That's why we do it, right?   It was a great race and we both had to overcome a lot of shit and setbacks.  It seemed fitting to finish together.
Sorry, LB, we didn't hold hands though.  Thanks again, Yassine.  That was a cool run.
I should also mention that I believe that if Yassine had not gotten lost, he probably would have won.  I think we all know how tough it is to get lost while in the lead and to get back on course, especially if you don't have a pacer.  Those last 20 miles are tough in a situation like that.


Wow, I'm still humbled and blown away by all of this. It definitely made for a weekend that I will never forget.  Thank YOU Rod and David, and to everyone else at San Diego 100 this past weekend.

For more insights and perspectives read Rod's race report HERE
and his pacer (and a stand-up guy) David Easa's post on Sportsmanship HERE

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Forest Park 50k Race Report- 2011

The 2011 edition of "Ultramarathon Sunday" (seen on signs intermittently throughout the park's race course) went down in my backyard training grounds and it was really nice to see so many familiar locals and friends.  The weekend started off with a 25-mile run in the gorge that included the summit of Larch Mountain on Saturday, and then a pre-race-mountain-of-a-meal with Glenn Tachiyama at one of my favorite vegan restaurants called Blossoming Lotus.

It was fun and kind of strange to be in my living room less than an hour before race time on Sunday morning. I was a little nervous how it would all go down with this last back-to-back big weekend before San Diego 100, but I assured myself that it was just a training run race, as I tried to alleviate some of the pressure.  I rode my bike over to the start about a mile away and met with some friends before the start at Lower Macleay Park.  The weather was perfect and I knew the course well so I felt really comfortable in that regard.  Just before "go time" I looked over to see Erica and Farah and that made the smile that was already on my face a little bigger!

The 20k and 50k runners started together up the Macleay Trail to Stone house (Wildwood) and I found myself behind about ten runners who were mostly 20k runners. Todd Braje and I ran together for a bit but then he pulled away about ten seconds ahead. I knew that he was the man to beat in this race and he and I have run many miles of trails together in the park. 

(At the junction of Wildwood and Macleay Trail sits a landmark called "Stone House")

Strangely after about three or four miles I started feeling supercharged with energy. As we climbed a little I started clipping off 20k runners one by one, and then I passed Todd. A little voice in my head said, "what are you doing Yassine?", but I decided to just go with the feeling. The endorphins were in full effect and I eventually came across my buddy Rob who was just behind the two 20k leaders, brothers Martin and Joel Dieterich. I was feeling so good that I passed them as well and really didn't say much more than, "good job guys".  I think we were all pretty surprised at that move...especially when I surged on out of sight!

I was the first one to come into aid station 1 at Firelane 1 and was greeted by Rick and my friend Joe Kleffner who were volunteering....thanks guys! and good to see you out there. I continued to just push the pace on the familiar muddy trails of Forest Park and the Wildwood Trail. Wearing my Inov-8 X-Talon 190's also gave me some confidence in the sloppy conditions and I just decided to see how much ground I could cover while I was still feeling strong.

Finally I made it down Oil Line Rd. which I knew was going to be a potential butt-slide all the way down to Leif Ericson fire road.  Of course Glenn picked that spot to photograph all the runners but I managed to wipe out just before I came into his view. He got some great shots of people....CLICK HERE to view all the excellent photos Glenn Tachiyama captured last weekend, and the Oil Line slip-and-slide photos are definitely comical!

Miles 21-24ish I really started fading and I was very surprised that I hadn't been caught yet. I just kept plodding on and welcomed any climbs as my hamstrings were kind of hurting from hammering for so long.  This was only my second 50k that I've ever run that had less than 5,000 feet of climbing in it so I knew there was potential for a PR (3:52). Just before the last aid station I got past the rough patch and started running really well again. I ate some food, downed some drink quickly, and headed for the finish. A few minutes after I left I see buddy and new neighbor Jason Hill coming toward the aid station at this out-and-back section! I give him a high five and start hammering home knowing that the last 10k is pretty fast being mostly downhill.
The 50k Elevation Profile...about 3,200 feet of climbing

I also knew that I was going to go sub 4-hour, unless something drastic happened, but was wondering if I could get that PR. Just like early in the race I seized the opportunity and went for it! "On your left!!!!" I yelled at hikers and other runners and hopefully I didn't come off as too obsessive or rude!  Eventually I made the last turn at Stone House and I see my friend Todd Janssen walking his dogs. He tries saying something to me but I just blew past him maybe giving him a high five. About a minute later I realized that I wasn't going to make it, but still ran strong to the finish in 3:54....First place overall. 

See full results HERE

It was a fun day and I was happy to run so well on my home turf.  I met some really nice people and I was satisfied with how I ended my training leading up to San Diego.  Thanks to the race directors and volunteers and to the Forest Park Conservancy. 

Congratulations to all that raced on "Ultramarathon Sunday" in one of my favorite places to run....Forest Park!