I was registered and on the starting line for the 100k distance the day of the race. Race director Keira Henninger warned from the beginning that conditions were going to get rough and that racers would be allowed to drop to a lower distance at any point throughout the day if things weren’t going well. I shook off any thoughts of this at the time.
I started slow. I didn’t get caught up in the excitement to sprint off from the gun. I wanted to let the day come to me. I took the climbs easy and drank a lot of water. I was getting gels every 25-30 minutes and trying to relax.
We plummeted down into the abyss of the Bonsall aid station. Mile 22. At this point, I still felt okay despite the day warming up. I had my Nathan hydration pack with 2-liter water bladder stuffed in my drop bag knowing I had a long way to the next stop. I topped off water, grabbed some cold pineapple, put on my sunglasses, and sprayed on a coat of sunblock before heading off.
The course then starts a long, 9-mile climb to the next aid station. I started to cook in the 80+ degree sun, and with that my stomach started to revolt. I couldn’t keep gels or food down, so I tried to just drink water and keep moving. This is really when I started to unravel. My legs were getting heavy and even a little cramp here and there would pop up. I popped a couple salt pills on the way, but the climb was almost entirely a hike and took me about 3 hours to complete. In my mind’s wanderings over this period, I recalled an interview on Dr Shawn Bearden’s Science of Ultra podcast with psychologist Michael Gervais. He recommended that if the goal of running an ultra is to challenge yourself, to find your limits, and you’re struggling – you can smile knowing you’ve succeeded. I was succeeding a great deal in that regard.
The scene at the 2nd Zuma Edison Ridge aid station at Mile 31 was one of carnage. While every runner I had seen had come through a few hours earlier with only a brief water top off and bounded down the trail, everyone was lingering. Bodies were sitting in chairs, on the ground, pasted to the water coolers looking for reprieve. One exchange between runner and volunteer went something like “That was so much harder than I could have imagine…” “Yeah, everyone has come out of there completely hammered.” I stuffed my pack full of ice and water, sucked down some Coke and electrolytes, and got out of there before I could change my mind. I told myself that things would get easier from here.
4 miles later, I stumbled into the Kanan Road Aid Station at Mile 36 and knew I was in trouble. My cramps had gotten much worse, sending a shockwave through my calves every few steps. I popped some ibuprofen from my drop bag and sat in a chair while the beautiful aid station volunteers got me watermelon, boiled potatoes (for the potassium), and more salt pills for the road. They commented on how my face was covered in salt, so they encouraged extra consumption. I knew in the back of my head that salty sweat doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take more, but I wasn’t in the mood to argue. With a pat on the back, the redheaded volunteer looked at me and said “You’re going to do it.” and I believed her.
Over the next 6 miles, my leg cramps and stomach went from bad to worse. Every running step seemingly sent me into blinding calf pain. I was trying to eat potatoes because they at least seemed bland enough to work, but I could barely chew them. The sun had climbed to a point where there was no escaping its glare.
At mile 42, I stumbled into the aid station and was immediately put into a chair. I couldn’t respond to aid station volunteers, so they brought over medical staff, placed ice packs on my neck and head, checked blood pressure and oxygen, and had me elevate my feet to fight off the spasms and cramps pulsing through my calves. Volunteers recommended I not go back out, that I drop out right there. I sat in that chair for about 15 minutes before deciding I had to move. I politely asked how much time I had before the cut off, then let them know I was heading back out. As I was filling my water, one volunteer rushed over and told me he wasn’t going to let me head out on the Bulldog 12 mile loop. He said this section was very tough and very remote, so the risk of getting stuck out there if I had another bad spell was too high. He told me that if I absolutely had to go, I would be allowed to complete the last 8 miles to the finish line, giving me a 50 mile finish. I was told that my only other option was a DNF, so I begrudgingly agreed. With tears in my eyes, a volunteer with a black sharpie came over and make a large X on my bib, indicating I wasn’t finishing the intended distance. I grabbed some more boiled potatoes and started walking.
Those 8 miles were mostly descent, but still too many climbs to “just get it over with.” I spent a long time over that last stretch contemplating what I was doing, why I was doing it, if getting a 50 mile finish was really enough. I finally made it through the last hilly sections and back onto the gravel road where it all began for one last half mile. I gave everything I had left in those last few seconds, hoping to squeeze out whatever little energy I had in reserve so that I couldn’t question if I had given my all or simply given up. I crossed the finish line and a medal was placed around my neck. I looked down at it, and slowly sat down on the ground, completely done.
There are a lot of lessons that I learned, both practical and psychological, and here are a few:
- Trying your best and scoring a C or D is better than turning in a blank test and getting a Zero.
- Checking your ego at the door and still getting punched in the mouth is how we learn to humble ourselves further.
- When you think you’re done, just take a break to compose yourself. Make no impulsive decisions.
I set out to run 100k at Sean O’Brien and finished 50 miles in 32nd place in 11 hours, 40 minutes. I gained over 11,000 feet of elevation over the course, more than twice my previous most. Am I happy? Yes. Am I satisfied? No. I started the 100k race, not the 50-mile. I wasn’t who I wanted to be on that day, but I am proud of the fight to keep going. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to prove we can keep fighting.
Thank you to a few who did so much to help me get here:
Austin Massage Company
San Antonio Running Company
Skechers GOtrail 2 shoes
Patagonia Striders 5″ shorts
Lululemon tech t-shirt
Camelbak 24-ounce bottles
Nathan Vapor Air 2-L hydration pack
Garmin Forerunner 920xt watch