Wednesday, May 17, 2017

PCT 50 - 2017

I'm going to make these race reports a little shorter because I have a lot of races this month and I don't have the time to keep writing novels for each one. For those who don't like reading let me give you the highlights:

No Falls!!!
10:21 Finish :/ eh
Ultra Slam - COMPLETE
2 Rattle Snake sightings (yikes)
1 Asshole Runner (a Race Director no less!) who ran into me at the end when I was having trouble walking and yelled "GET OFF THE TRAIL, I SAID MOVE!"
1 Rubik's Cube Solve!
No snake bites!!
Hyponatremia and Dehydration 

I signed up for this race when it first opened up on New Year's Day 2017 for 2 reason: 1) It was the final race I needed to do to round out my SD "Ultra Slam", and 2) It sells out usually that same day. I don't ever sign up for races that far in advance, mainly because I can never be sure what my future will look like in the next 5 months. I could get injured, causing me to waste $150 by DNS-ing, or another race could pop up that I might want to do that is scheduled to happen the week or 2 before that race. Well, that happened with Lost Boys. I signed up for Lost Boys 50 knowing that I had PCT 50 two weeks after but I thought "fuck it", I'll just take one of the races easier. I was slightly concerned that it might not be enough recovery time but it turned out that, like last year, I recovered really REALLY well from Lost Boys so much so that I was able to knock out a 1:45-ish half marathon the Monday after. I feel like my recovery had a lot to do with how easily I approached the first half of the race and how relatively slow (10:00) my finishing time was. Also, the soft sand for the first 20 miles of the race helped ease the impact on my body. Combine all this with the Cryotherapy and Normatec I did the day before and the day after the race, I felt like Lost Boys was just another training run. So, going into PCT 50 I felt fresh, both physically and mentally ready. I could tell my recovery was going to be good because the day after Lost Boys I had already started fantasizing about PCT 50 and visualizing what that race would look like. Usually I don't want anything to do with running for the following week, but I knew mentally I guess, that my body would be okay. 

A good amount of the Trail Crashers were doing this race, even some (Julieanne) who had done Lost Boys with me 2 weeks ago, so I knew this would be a fun race. My concern with this race was just to finish out my Ultra Slam and whatever time that happened to be was okay with me. That being said, I figured a 9-hour or even sub-9-hour time would be possible to shoot for so I mentally hung that carrot in front of myself. Packet pickup was done last weekend at Milestone Running Store in North Park so Whitney and I, who I had convinced to sign up for the race the same time as I did because it would be a good training race for her SD100, were able to arrive a little closer to start time (6:00am) than we usually do. We arrived with about 15 minutes to the start which turned out to be barely enough time. It was approaching the mid-30's on the ride over so I was looking forward to how cold it would be. It was projected to be in the 40's in the morning and reach maybe a high of 65. It was a beautiful day with an inversion layer that we would rise up and over as we make our way towards the first Aid Station. I'd much prefer a high of 55 with lots of cloud coverage for performance sake but you cant beat how beautiful it was outside all day. Anything over 60 degrees F though, I melt. Today would turn out to be no different. 

As it got closer to 6am, we started gathering towards the start. I remembered my watch this time and was also going to run Strava on my phone simultaneously as a backup and put it in my pack. I asked the person behind me to kindly put my phone in the back pouch of my hydration pack, when I heard the RD counting down "5...4...3..." and I told the guy "Nevermind, thanks though" as I brought it forward to put into my handheld pouch. Ugh, I dropped it right on the blacktop face-down right before the dirt started. I picked it up, the screen was mainly black. "Great..." I thought. That turned out to be the last encounter I would have with that phone, unfortunately, as it turned out that the LCD had cracked and that would make repairs cost more than what the phone was worth to begin with. Regardless, time to go! Or... time to Conga... 

Mile 4.5-ish

I made the mistake of getting stuck in the middle of the pack when I know I'm a more.. audacious runner, even when I'm taking it easy. I was planning on doing 10 to 11-minute pace going uphill but because I got behind 55 people, it was looking to be more like 14-15-minute pace and walking. It probably did me better to walk a lot of that first half anyway but I should've been smarter and got at least in the top 20 if not top 10 at the start. Silly me. We got to Kitchen Creek Road and I started making moves to pass people and as we got to the first Aid Station I ran into "Boy Blue" Miguel Osuna who is planning on finishing SD 100 this year after getting swept last year. I pulled into the first Aid Station, took 3 salt pills, filled up on CarboPro and took off for the 7.8 mile climb up to Dale's Kitchen. I started catching some more people and eventually ran into Deb who was trucking along just fine. She always ends up catching me towards the end of races so I knew it wouldn't be the last time I would see her. Pulled into Dale's Kitchen and started to see some of the Early Starters who started the race at 5am. If you feel like you'll need more time than the 13.5 hour cutoff allows, you can start an hour earlier and relieve some of the pressure of having to chase cutoffs. I wasn't pushing too hard at this point and actually had the feeling that this could be a really easy finish if I keep it at this pace. I made my way through the woodsy Laguna single-track part of the PCT, my personal favorite, towards Todd's Cabin about 3.8 miles away.

As I was pulling towards Todd's Cabin, which I was familiar with because of SD 100, I saw someone run past the sign accidentally and hooted at them to come back as we had to go down to check-in to Todd's Cabin (about 0.10 miles down) and then come back up to continue. It seems like it would be easy to miss though as though there was a sign saying "Todd's Cabin", it wasn't readily apparent via flags or anything else that you had to turn there if you were running the race. Maybe some more runners missed this turn? Who knows. Anyways, I was in and out like a robbery at a California burger joint and onto the next Aid Station, Penny Pines, about 5.8 miles away. 

As I started the little 1-2 mile descent towards Penny Pines, I started running behind Tracy Dimino, who is a kickass runner. She kept saying I could pass but I was fine sticking with her at the pace she was doing downhill. We stuck together as we closed in towards Penny Pines and started seeing the front runners Igor Campos and the eventual winner Fern Blanco, who was having trouble with his hydration pack at that time. They were about 5.5 miles ahead of us at that point and they both seemed to be moving strong. I ended up losing Tracy at Penny Pines as she was literally in and out while I stayed and filled up some bottles and get some electrolyte pills. I saw Gloria (hi Gloria!), Matt Carol, Robert, Ricky, Becca, Anthony; it was a party! But, unfortunately couldn't stay long at that party so I took off toward the turnaround about 2.25 miles away. I asked Karen how many people had passed so far and she told me about 15, which put me in good position as I was feeling pretty strong. 

Heading towards Penny Pines 1

Headed towards turnaround

I took off towards the turn around and I swear to god, I saw this kid playing with a Rubik's Cube on the trail! He was hiking with some friends as they were backpacking and it seemed like he knew how to move it. I don't recommend cubing while on the trail as you could easily trip but it was pretty cool and random to see a cuber out there cubing on the trail. As I caught him on the way back, I was going to just pass him and keep going but I turned around and asked him if he could solve it, to which he replied "Yeah, in about 15 seconds or less," to which I was like "Can I see that cube?". I started walking with him and solving it, with my gloves still on from the morning, as he asked "Are you doing cross on left?" I knew at this point that this kid was actually a cuber and not just some kid with a Rubik's Cube and so I told him a little bit more about myself and as I finished it I handed it to him and continued to run on while also yelling back "I used to hold NAR (North American Record)" and he was like "What? Really? What's your name?" "Phillip Espinoza!" "I think I know that name". It's kinda funny that my two worlds happened to collide as they usually don't. It's funny, I used to be a name in the cubing world, kinda like a Sage Canaday, or Rob Krar, but these days I was more like a Timothy Olson or Anton Kupricka. My World Championship days of speedcubing were over and I had moved on, but I still try to incorporate it into my running occasionally. How funny that there just happened to be a cube on the trail for me to solve.

I continued on to Penny Pines as more people started making their way towards the turnaround. I had almost managed to catch up to Tracy when I saw her darting out of the Penny Pines Aid Station as I was coming in. I saw Eli, my buddy and pacer from SD 100, who was out there spectating and I had asked him on the way out if he wanted to pace me for the last 22 miles. He was tempted, really tempted I'm sure, but unfortunately he had other places to be that day. It was all good though as I quickly grabbed more CarboPro from my drop bags and tried to drink more and more water. I took off after a couple of minutes and made my way up the last little climb back towards Todd's Cabin.

Heading towards Todd's Cabin 2

This was mainly a walk, as the very, very beginnings of dehydration were starting to kick in and I started to feel a little tired. On the way back up I saw Julieann, Nartaya, then Whitney (who apparently wasn't have the best day) and then Nell, who looked like she was running with the sweeper (Jeri Ginsburg) behind her. As I topped the climb, I decided to pull over and finally pee, which took a good 60 seconds straight (boy, must've been holding back the whole day). I continued on, always saying hello and thank you to the many hikers we kept seeing throughout the day. I pulled into Todd's Cabin and at this point, people were starting to catch me for the first time of the day. I was starting to feel it and made attempts to keep drinking and took some electrolyte pills. Someone commented how much salt was on my clothes and asked if I was taking salt pills as it looked like I was losing a bunch of salt. "Yeah, it happens all the time to me, I'm a really salty sweater". I filled up some more and headed out, this time palpably drained as I started walking even the most gentle of climbs. Well, as soon as I made it to Dale's Kitchen, that would just be about 13 miles left until the finish. So I run-walked my way towards Dale's Kitchen as I pulled up to someone who I thought was Tracy. Was she having a bad day too? She said she didn't taper much for this race, could that be her? No, it was someone else, ah well. I pulled into Dale's, visible drained, but with only 13 miles to go, manly downhill, I knew I just had to get stuff in me and bite the bullet. I wasn't too responsive to the volunteers unfortunately, but I think they could tell I was having a hard time. Deb pulled into Dale's a little after I did, as I knew she would catch up to me. I grabbed some more stuff, a little caffeine from soda and the little coffee bars and headed out for the descent. She started out in front of me but then forgot to throw some stuff away so she turned around and ended up behind me, but only for a little while before I decided to let her pass. She was looking really strong at that point and I knew, if she stayed like that, she would finish really well.

As I was making the descent, people started passing me left and right. About 23 people would eventually pass me from Todd's Cabin to the finish. I started cramping up in my left hamstrings, but fortunately these cramps wouldn't stay for too long. It wasn't quite as bad as my Old Goat 50 experience but the cramps kept happening. As I made my way towards the final Aid Station at Fred's Canyon, I was relieved to know that there was only roughly 6 miles to the finish. I ate 2 hammer gels here and filled up on some Tailwind they had at the Aid Station and continued to drink water. More and more people were pulling up on me, but I continued on. A little after making the final tiny climb up to the ridgeline single-track, I started to run a little as it was gradually descending when all of a sudden I heard a large hiss and a loud rattle coming from the edge of the trail. Quicky, I slammed on the breaks almost inducing cramping all over my legs as I saw a rattle snake coiled up positioned to defend itself. "Shit-shit-shit!". I backed away, slowly. Rattle snakes aren't aggressive, but they will defend themselves, especially if you surprise them and catch them off-guard, as it seemed like I had. "Look, I don't want any trouble," I told the snake, backing away. There wasn't enough room for me to safely pass without coming within striking distance so I decided to wait a little. I looked at the right side of the trail and it seemed like there was enough embankment for me to climb up and over without disturbing the snake, who had all eyes on me like 2pac in the mid-90's. I also decided to wait until someone else pulled up as I remember hearing that it's the first person who wakes them up and the second person is the one that gets bit. Sean Nakamura was pulling up, running comfortably with a smile on his face when I tried to wave him down. He must've thought I was just waving for support like a spectator because he seemed to just keep smiling and running until he was just about in front of me. He took out a headphone (I think he had headphones) and I warned him of the rattle snake just ahead. We both climbed on the right side of the embankment as it still had all eyes on both of us now. We escaped and he thanked me for the warning as he ran ahead.

About a quarter mile further I was thinking, thank God that snake didn't bite me and thank God I still had enough energy to react appropriately instead of cramping up and falling over like a dweeb. Then, another loud rattle and a hiss as I saw another rattler on the side of the trail. "Fuck, are you serious?". I just decided to wait this one out, he didn't look too scared but I thought it best to just let him do his thangg. You do you, boo, I'll just be here chillin' until another runner comes along or until you move on like an Adele song. I waited 5 minutes, no runners were coming up. Meanwhile, Jake the Snake over here decides to cross the trail and go up the side of the embankment. I'm like cool, I'm just gonna... scootch... on... byy.... don't mind me... and I got away. Phew! 2 snake sightings is more than enough for me! I hope I don't see anymore before the finish. Onwards I go, as I make the mistake of trying the Muir Energy "Cashew Lemon" for the first time. Oh my god, I'm lucky I didn't puke everything up right then and there. Crikey, and that was only a taste!

I cross Kitchen Creek Road and make the final 3.7 mile descent towards the finish, at this point in a good amount of pain, barely walking it in. I thought, "Okay Phillip, this is going to be embarrassing, but you can walk this one in. You *might* be able to walk." At this point I was clearly struggling. This was supposed to be a fast finish as it was downhill from this point but I was barely able to walk without seizing up. Oh well, just, keep, walking. People kept passing me, as I stayed to the right of the trail as much as possible. Some people were nice and gave me pats on the back, telling me to keep going, some even stopped and asked if I needed anything. That's what I love about this sport; when someone is not having a good day, or is clearly in distress, we lend a helping hand when we can. The sportsmanship of the trail is one that is second to none in my opinion. As people kept pulling up and passing me, I would kindly let them. All was going okay, cramping was still happening, but I knew that barring a fall, I would be able to walk this one in at a 20-minute pace.
I hear a runner coming up behind me, running a decent pace, and I heard him mumbling something. I'm not sure if it was to himself or if I was supposed to hear. Either way, I knew he was coming so I moved to the right of the trail like I had for the other runners. Then, BOOM, he runs right into me, almost knocking me off the trail. "What the fuck!" I yell out of reaction "GET OFF THE TRAIL!" he yells back "I SAID MOVE!" as he continues to run on un-remorsefully. This was really upsetting and disappointing. This guy was part of the race. In trail running, especially on single track, the right of way is something that should be agreed upon. You do not assume someone else on the trail is supposed to give you the right of way, no matter what, that is my understanding. If there is a hiker in the way, you do NOT have the right to just plow through them. If there is a runner who is walking, you do NOT have the right to run over them. Race Directors always make a point to strongly encourage courteous attitudes towards everyone on the trail and to remember that we are SHARING the trail, that we do not own it just because we signed up for this race. This runner, seemed to have forgotten about that. He seemed to be unaware of how we're supposed to treat each other on the trail. And I get it, things happen on the trail, we might run into each other, I actually did on the way back, but we immediately apologized, asked if we were both good, and moved on. This guy was not apologetic in the least. You know the worst part about this? Apparently he's a race director himself. I can't imagine any of the Race Directors I know to EVER treat ANY one like this. Scott Mills? Scott Crellin? Brian Gonzales? Jennifer Henderson? Never. This guy is a race director. The extent to which I am disappointed is incredible. Regardless, I move on, hoping to catch him after I finish. He seemed to be nowhere in sight when I finished.

Shortly after that incident, my faith in the trail running community was restored when Jonathon Hunter came up behind me, stopped in front of me and asked if there was anything that I needed. I insisted that we were almost done and that I should be fine. I was really appreciative of him, and all the others who passed me up in that final mile who offered support or words of encouragement as they passed, or stopped to see if they could pull something out of their own pack that would help me. "I'm okay, thanks though, I really appreciate it", I would tell them.

As I pulled into the final 0.5 miles, I was just going to walk it in, and with the finish line in sight, I was going to do just that until Jamie Chatham pulled up behind me with his friends as they encouraged me to run it in. So I jogged it in, happy to have finished this race, in a time of 10:21. 

After the Finish. I was done son.

The cool part about these races is hanging out with the Trail Crashers and talking about the race as we wait for the rest of the Crashers and the rest of the finishers to pull in. I got some pizza, an ice cold pop, and relaxed. As I was talking to Tracy about how her race went, I started to get cramping in my abs, which is never a good sign. I went to go look for salt pills where they were serving pizza, and they didn't have any, but thought the EMT might have some. While they were getting the EMT over to where I was, my cramps were getting worse and starting to spread all over my body. I recognized this and knew what to do. I knew I needed to drink water and get salt pills in me. Someone who was serving food picked up a bottle of Endurolytes, unsure of what it was, as she tried to read the label, I said "Yes.. that's it..". The EMT however decided to withhold the pills from me and give me a full-length exam to make sure that giving me the pills wasn't going to make things worse. In between gasps of breaths, I tried to tell them I knew what I needed and that they needed to give me the salt pills, but they were still reluctant to give me them. When I get to this point, I'm hard to communicate with and not really that responsive, so it makes it seem as if there might be something more serious when in reality I'm just in a large amount of pain and trying to mitigate it. They finally gave me the salt pills as I snatched them and shoved 3 in my mouth washing it down with some water and coke. Within 30 seconds, I started breathing easier and "coming to". I proceeded to tell them how this happens to me usually and it's because I lose a great amount of salt in my sweat, which I really need to get checked out and have studies done on me. I thanked them for their help, and continued to relax as we waited for the rest of the Trail Crashers to come in. 

Salt Stains on Shirt

Not Normal, it was only in the 60's

Whitney came in just under the cutoff, and I was beyond happy to hear that she got the honorable DFL (Dead Fuckin' Last) spot. Most people wouldn't consider that a good thing but I consider the DFL person to be the most awesome as they were out there longer than anyone else that day, and they stuck with is, likely chasing cutoffs, to finish despite the challenges of the day.

All in all, it was another awesome day on the trails. Up next, Nanny Goat 24 hour in about 10 days! 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Lost Boys 50 Miler - 2017 - San Diego's Best Kept Secret

This race. Seriously, if you haven't done it, you need to. Not even kidding. The course, the community, the organizers, the volunteers. Everything about this race has the quality and coruscance of a hidden gem that can only be found in a race that starts in the desert and ends in the mountains. Having done this race 2 years in a row now, I have to say that it has become my favorite race in the San Diego Ultrarunning community. A point-to-point race that starts off in Pinyon Wash in the Anza-Borrego desert at 5am, under a still very starry night sky, has you traverse over the sandy desert floor, climbing over boulders and dry waterfalls as the Sun rises, gently washing over the landscape, exposing all the wildflowers that line your path. Mountains in the distance, soft sand beneath my feet, I was moving at an easy pace of 11:00-11:15 per mile, really trying to enjoy and take in the scenery. The winds this year had become virtually non-existent compared to last year's windstorm of a race. I took some time in the first 5 miles to glance back at the awesome sight of runners running through the dark in a line of headlamps in the middle of this awesome desert. My goal with this race was to have fun, and really enjoy the race, so that's what I focused on.

Trail Crashers w/ Race Director 4:45am

All my Trail Crasher friends were doing this one so I felt huge FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) having still been not signed up for the race the week before it was scheduled to take place. Luckily, I emailed the race director and a spot had opened up and so I jumped on the opportunity to do this race. With PCT 50 two weeks after Lost Boys 50, I wasn't sure if it was the best idea to sign up for a challenging race so close to my Ultra Slam-closing race. I'm not one to pass up an opportunity to live life and make more memories with friends, so I signed up and told myself I would just take the race easy so I would have stuff left for the next race.

The thing about this race is that it doesn't typically sell out, and usually only has about 60-70 people sign up. I'm not sure if that's because of the perceived difficulty of the course or if there is another reason I don't know about. Whatever it is, I'm glad that so few people sign up for this race. It really distills the quality of the people who do this race and I believe it really is an awesome group of people who choose to do this race.

My pacer, Leo, had just told me 2 days prior that he wasn't going to be able to pace me for the race. Having a job that requires a lot of manual labor, he ended up injuring his knee slightly after a bale of hay took a swing at it. "I'm barely able to walk bro", he messaged me. Hoping his injury wasn't going to knock him out of getting a 1:05 half marathon at Rock n' Roll this year, I wished him luck at his doctors appointment on Saturday and expressed that I was bummed that I wasn't going to be able to share those last 20 miles with him. Leo is not only a fast runner but he's also a blast to have as company on a run. He hasn't yet had the chance to explore the trails of Eastern San Diego so I was also looking forward to showing him how awesome the trails were out there. As it was though, I was not only left without a pacer but also without a crew and consequently without a way to get to the starting line in a point to point race. I decided to wake up at 1:30am (after not really getting much good sleep) and leave Escondido at 2:00am to get up to Cuyamaca Lake around 3:30am to see if 1) someone was leaving down to the desert start or 2) there was room on the shuttle that was leaving to the start from the Lake. I hadn't paid up to that point for the shuttle so I felt bad but I decided I would leave my name and number on the sign-in sheet so the RD could contact me and we could work out a payment afterwards. Luckily I ran into him at the start and he was cool about it as we made an arrangement to work it out via email. 30 minutes before race start, everyone was schmoozing, pictures were being taken, talks were being had about the Santa Ana winds predicted for the day. To give you an indication of how not-windy it was, I left my bib on the table on accident, went to the bathroom, came back and it was still there. That would have not been possible last year.

Registration Table 4:40am. Not windy at all.

We took off as Jonathon blasted off to the front at a 5k-pace like he usually does as Ricky casually followed along probably breathing solely through his nose. They would go on to lead the race together probably until mile 12 at which point Ricky would go on to create a gap so large that it would almost seem as if he was part of a different race entirely. 1 hour and 40 minutes would pass before the finish line would seen another finisher after Ricky. It probably had all the Aid Station volunteers scratching their head wondering where everyone else was. As these 2 were leading the way, I stuck at a more reasonable 11 minute pace as it was gradually uphill and in sand. The sand in the first 5 miles is very manageable and not that deep. The sand from miles 5-8 are the deepest you will encounter for the day. I mention this in my race report from last year but if you haven't done trail races before, and if you are coming from a road running background, this is NOT the race to start with. The boulders and the dry waterfalls at miles 5 and 8 respectively, will have you using your upper and lower body to climb up and over. I remember catching up to a woman who said she was thinking about waiting for someone to come help her climb up the waterfalls they were that steep/climby. After you make it through the waterfalls, you have one steep jeep road that everyone walks up, then you descend a little onto this wider dirt road that leads to mile 10 at which point you start descending and won't start any more real climbing until mile 23, the Oriflamme climb. At mile 12.5 I was happy to see Geezer (Larry) whose voice is always pleasant to hear, and I thanked the volunteers as I stuffed more CarboPro in my 21 oz handheld after filling it up and downing 21 oz of water.

I was making it a point to be really on top of my nutrition and hydration this entire race and it worked. I started off by drinking a good amount of water before the race and I took one salt pill right before the start with the plan to take a salt pill every 30 minutes of the race. Even though it wasn't too hot in the morning (62*F), I know that I have a tendency to sweat out all of my electrolytes in anything over 60*F. Having made the grave error to abstain from electrolyte pills until mile 19.5 in my last 50 miler, I made a note not to be as reckless in my next 50 lest I want to visit the PAIN! Cave of endless cramping again. I decided to try to stay on top of my electrolytes from the beginning and like clockwork I stuck to my plan. I would carry ziploc bags of 200 calories worth of CarboPro and put it in my handheld every hour and I would also carry about 40oz of water in my Orange Mud hydration pack (which, did you know they make bladder packs?). I would also occasionally take some calories from my Hammer Gel Flask to make it around 200-300 calories every hour with about 330mg of sodium's worth of salt pills. Let me tell you, THIS was the magic formula. I felt great the for most of the day because I stuck to this plan. It felt great to finally create a plan and stick to it AND for it to work out! All these other races, I was more or less winging it, having a general idea of the amount of calories I was taking in and I was taking in electrolytes occasionally, or maybe as much as they would have in Tailwind, but none of that seemed to be working for me. I had a series of "Almost-Wins" in 2 of the last 3 races I had and I made a note that Tailwind was the common denominator for both of those races so I would have to switch to a fuel source that was different, one that had complex carbs, and not fructose, as their main source of energy. I honestly believe it was all the sugar from Tailwind that caused my Gastro-Intestinal issues that took me out in those races. Now, it seemed, I had it figured out.

Blair Aid Station. Mile 18.

Pulling into Blair Aid Station, I grabbed some more CarboPro ziplocs from my drop bag, filled up on water, filled up my pack to 40 oz, then took off to Oriflamme. Around mile 19 I was pulling up on a guy, after passing about 6 people from the start of the race, when I realized I had to "lighten the load" on the side of the trail somewhere. Sorry for the unpleasant euphemism, readers, don't mean to punish those of you who spend enough time reading my race reports to get to this point. It's understood, however, that this is the way of the trail and the way of the sport. Unfortunately though, it caused the guy to pull away from me and as I crossed the highway I still wouldn't see him until the top of Mason Valley Truck Trail. I passed another guy (#7) who was wearing Ironman gear who said he was "enjoying" himself, taking pictures etc. Coming into the Oriflamme Aid Station, I was pulling up on another runner (#8) as I asked what position I am. Scott Mills, SD 100 RD, informed me that I was #9. So as I grabbed some watermelon and filled up my handheld, the guy took off and I shortly after him. "Top 10, alright!" I thought to myself. If I passed this guy, I would be top 8. He pulled off to the side, sitting down, looking like he was trying to tie his shoes as we exchanged affirmations during my passing. Cool, okay, time to work up this climb. I was able to run most of this mainly because there was no headwind like there was last year. As I climbed, I was able to see 2-3 other runners on the turns ahead of me. I was pulling up on Paul Chamberlain, a frequent racer and Chimera 100 advocate. He was feeling a little queazy and his legs a little tired, so he decided he was going to walk a good chunk of Oriflamme. On climbs like this, I always take time to walk and talk with friends for a little while as it helps "pass the climb", if you will. That's what doing these races is about anyway, in my opinion; spending time with awesome people and sharing these awesome experiences together. I told him I was going to pull away as I had never felt better during a 50 miler as I was feeling that day. Okay, now I'm top 7. I saw one more guy ahead of him who was also walking and I ran past him. Okay, now I'm top 6. Then I saw a good friend Jeff Miller and I decided to walk with him up the steeper part of the climb. He was testing out his hiking poles which he plans to use for Tahoe Rim Trail 100 later this year. He had told me before the race that he was glad I had signed up and that he had hoped to share some miles with me and so I took the opportunity to share the bulk of the last part of that climb with him. Once we got to the part where it flattened out, I told him I was going to run up all of Mason Valley Truck Trail. "Finish strong," he said, to which I responded "I'm probably going to see you before the race is over but thanks!".

Picture of Robert going up Oriflamme taken by Gloria

Man, I felt so good, I ran all the way up the (not-as-steep-but-still-a-climb) Mason Valley Truck Trail as I moved into 5th place. "Man this is nuts!" I thought, "Top 5? And I'm moving up on some people ahead of me soon." I pulled up around of the turns and passed someone near the top as they were walking and as I was running. Okay, now I'm top 4. Wait--is that Jonathon I see, walking with a friend? Oh my God, I'm going to be top 2. I continued running to the top and was 1/10th of a mile away from the guy who trailed behind Jonathon and another 1/10th of a mile behind Jonathon who decided to start running at this point. I remember making a stupid post on Facebook when I signed up for this race about "Running through fields with Fields" as I tagged Jonathon (whose last name is Fields) and I couldn't help but think how crazy it was that I was pulling up on him as we were running through some of the most awesome looking fields leading into Pedro Fages (mile 29) Aid Station. He pulled in about 45 seconds before I did and he didn't look good at all. He gave me a pat on the back silently as he grabbed his pacer and started a slow walk across Sunrise Highway and onto the trail. At this point I think he was still in 2nd. "Holy crap, 2nd place is within my grasp?" I couldn't believe it. I quickly changed my shoes from the 12 oz Adidas Response TR, which served me well in the sand and on the climbs, to the lighter Altra LonePeaks as it was now time to try and pick up some speed. I asked one of the volunteers to fill up my Hammer Gel flask, and oh my God -- I have deodorant in my drop back, oh thank God! I forgot 3 things in my half-awake haze this morning: 1) My GPS watch 2) My sunglasses and 3) deodorant. The 3rd thing you might think would have been the least significant but man, I smelt it and I dealt it that morning. I felt bad for the people running around me but I mean, it's not like I could do anything about it at that point, it's not like they have deodorant at Aid Stations or anything. Oh how thankful I was that I accidentally had it in my drop bag.

Here is my one error of the race that changed the last 20 miles: I forgot to pack more CarboPro ziplocs in this drop bag. I left with just 500 calories in my Gel Flask and 200 calories from my Guru Energy drink as I took off for the mile 36 Aid Station. I left the Aid Station, thanked the volunteers for all their help, then I stopped, turned around, and REALLY thanked the volunteers and told them how much I truly appreciated them being out there. They were freaking awesome. I cannot say it enough. I love volunteers. Each time I do these races I am reminded more and more why I love being a volunteer and why I love volunteers. I took off to try and catch Jonathon and apparently Victor, who had snuck past the Aid Station as I was prepping and took the #2 spot in front of Jonathon.

Then, not even a mile into the next segment, I see Jonathon coming towards me with his pacer as he swiped 4 fingers back and forth over his throat signaling he was done for the day. Not processing it as him dropping, I somehow thought he forgot something crucial at the last Aid Station and was simply going back to get it. Nope, it just wasn't his day. I stopped for about 30 seconds to both hear what was going on (stomach problems and congestion of the lungs) and to try and convince him to keep going, to maybe just take a break as he was still in a good position to finish the race. To no avail however, as he had made up his mind. SD100 was his main race for this year so he didn't want to jeopardize that race by forcing this one. It always sucks to see someone have to DNF especially if you know how much DNF's can suck. They haunt you, in a way. In this sport, a sport where we emphasize the "Never Give Up" mentality, it's always a hard thing when you realize you have to stop. You'll wake up the next day, and every day after thinking "I could've gone on. I should've gone on." and though you know it was the right choice to make at that moment, a part of you will always feel that regret of "I should have just kept going". Regardless, having DNF'd a couple of times, I've learned that you cannot be the judge of someone else's DNF. You just can't. I had to keep going though, as I was now in 3rd place and was not too far behind the 2nd place guy.

I finished my Guru and as I turned right onto the trail that leads to the Cold Stream Trail, I continued running as I saw 2nd place turning a corner. "I almost have him" I thought. Then, I fell. Damnit. I hit my right knee, landed also on my right elbow/arm, and just lied there as my phone flung off to the side of the trail and my flask popped up out of the front pocket of my pack. It felt so good to be lying down, I just lied there for 5 seconds before getting back up. I got back up and saw my knee bleeding as I started running again with a slight limp. "Great, there goes me catching 2nd," I thought. As I pulled into the West Mesa Loop Aid Station I asked how far ahead the guy in 2nd was. "About 5 minutes," one of the volunteers said. "What about Ricky, how'd he do? When did he come by here?". "Oh, he came by, like, an hour and a half ago. He might be almost finishing actually." Wow. Ricky had trained hardcore for this race and it was so crazy awesome to hear he was annihilating everyone today. I wasn't surprised at how far ahead he was. If you've ever run with him, you wouldn't be surprised either. But it was still one of those things, like damnnn. I thanked the volunteers again as I topped off my single handheld, neglected to fill up my pack (which maybe had 20 oz left), and took off to tackle Cuyamaca Peak, the last major climb of the day.

"Top 3, man I can't believe it, this is nuts". I was still in disbelief as to how good I was not only feeling but how good I was doing as well. The sun of the day was out in full blast though and if I have one weakness it's that. Last year, this part of the race was a perfect 38*F and covered with fog and clouds and as I result I finished the race stronger than I had started. This year however, the sun was out and though it was beautiful, it meant I was going to sweat a lot more than the hydration I brought would be able to counter. A lot of this part was power-hiking and ever-so occasionally running up to the top of Cuyamaca. As I turned left onto Burnt Pine Trail, I saw someone within 1/10th of a mile behind me pulling up. Crap. There's 4th place. He might catch me. Luckily, his climbing wasn't any stronger at that point in the race than mine. I got up to the Aid station womanned by Karen Hamilton and Jennifer Henderson as I desperately handed them my pack to fill up with water. I was dehydrated and I knew it. I filled up my water bottle and headed up the steep 0.5 paved road to the top of Cuyamaca Peak. As I neared the top, I saw 2nd place Victor. Oh my God, if I had felt better at this point I could've caught him. Not today, even though he was so close to me at mile 43.

This stretch always feels longer than it actually is. As I work my way back down, I see 4th place coming up. Crap. A little further down, to my surprise, I see Paul Chamberlain coming up! "Great comeback, Paul!".  Then a little behind him I see Jeff again. "Great job Jeff, I told you I'd see you again before the race was over!". He gave me a passionate high-five as he climbed up towards the peak. Not too far behind him was the guy in 7th place. All of these people I saw as I was coming down the paved road, they had all steadily crept up to be not that far behind me.

Given how bad I was starting to feel, I knew going down Conejos was going to be really slow. Last year I was going 9-minute pace down this thing, which, if you are familiar with how rocky and technical, is actually quite speedy. This trail though, is probably the most dangerous of the course. In fact, during the Cuyamaca 100k last year, Zach Bitter had split his head open going down this trail and ended up having to DNF. This year, not wanting to risk a finish, I decided I was going to go as slowly as I needed to and not do anything stupid that would have me falling and cramping/seizing up on all of these rocks. As I was old-man crawling down Conejos, I heard someone pulling up. It was the 4th place guy pulling into 3rd. "That's okay, he can have it," I thought to myself, "I'm not doing anything stupid right now". I knew now that Paul Chamberlain would soon after pull up and pass me going down Conejos. Sure enough, he came FLYING down that trail. I dunno how he did it, but he was moving pretty good. So I continued down onto Milk Ranch Road and up Middle Peak, the last climb of the day, knowing I might have a chance to catch 4th if I climb strong up this last peak.

I saw 4th place as I neared the top of the climb and started down Sugar Pine. I caught up with him as he asked "Do you know how much more we have left?". "About a mile," I responded, and he hung with me for a little while before eventually taking off to the finish. "I saw you running up that Mason Valley Trail, it was the most beautiful thing ever". "Haha thanks," I responded, and I watched him go down the slightly technical trail that remained of the race.

As I was pulling along the part of the trail that parallels the highway, I heard cheers and realized the 4th place person probably had just pulled in. Crossing the highway, I was really appreciative that the finish was within grasp. As I ran up the little bump of a hill to the finish line, I saw the timer read "9:59:56". I had no idea of the time that I was coming in, having had forgotten my watch, but I made a last ditch effort to make it sub-10. Couldn't quite do it. If I had known somehow as I pulled onto the trail that runs on the side Cuyamaca Lake, I would've sprinted full-force to make that happen. Oh well, I finished, and top 5 overall, at a race I wasn't even expecting to do until a week ago. Ricky, having come in almost 2 hours prior, was getting massaged down by his pacer Fern. 8:02 was his time, a new Course Record. 2nd place had come in 1 hour and 40 minutes after Ricky had. Unbelievable.

As always, I was happy and grateful to finish a race, and always appreciative of these experiences. I got to hang out with the Trail Crashers and watch as everyone else came in and indulge in post-race reflections and share our own unique experiences of the race. "Another notch in your belt," as Geezer put it after the race. "Always good to see you out there, Larry". "It's always good to be seen," he responds with a wink. Another good day out on the trails.

A HUGGEEEE THANK YOU to the Race Director Brian Gonzales and all the volunteers who took time out of their day to help us have an awesome one. Also, a HUGGEEE THANK YOU to Becca and Ricky for providing the Trail Crashers run group, a group to whom I owe a great chunk of my success in ultra trail running.

For more reference, check out my race report from last years race, with more pictars:

Course Details:
Distance: 50 Miles
Ascent: 9,000 ft
Descent: 6,000~ ft
Lowest/Highest: 1,000ft/6,500ft
Terrain: 40% desert sand 10% rocky technical 30% smooth single track 20% truck trail
Cost: $166 (after Ultrasignup fee excluding $25 optional shuttle)
Average # of Participants: 66
Crew-friendly: Not really. Miles 18 and 30.
Pacer: After mile 30
Dropbags: Yes
Worth it?: Absolutely

Sunday, April 9, 2017

2017 Old Goat 50 Miler - PAIN!

*Heavy breathing* *Heart beating*

"There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
" - Carl Jung

Pain. It's a fact of life, and a misunderstood, frequently-fought friend in the sport of ultra-running. It is something that grounds us universally in this reality. Buddhists believe as one of the core tenants of their philosophy that "to live is to suffer". Although I'm not Buddhist myself, I feel we can all find meaning in this concept. It's not to say that all of life is constant suffering, but rather that suffering is connected to happiness and "suffering" often comes from being without the things which make us happy, or satisfied. So, in a sense, all the things that make us happy are directly connected to the things that make us sad, or in a state of suffering. Regardless of the meaning and philosophy behind it, which I can go on and on about, I like the saying, as a reminder that pain is inherent in who we are as human beings. We can try to avoid it all we want, but it'll be there as long as we are alive. That's not necessarily a bad thing though.

Pain is how we know this is all real. As subjective as it is, it is objective in its reality-grounding effect. When we are in disbelief of something, we might ask the people around us to "pinch me, so I know I'm not dreaming". It grounds us, and reminds us that we are alive. Being a person who suffers from the tormenting phenomenon of Sleep Paralysis, I've been forced to become mindful of the differences between when we are having a really convincing dream and when we are conscious. If you aren't familiar with Sleep Paralysis (seriously, you need to look it up, it's crazy), it's a a situation where you are awake before your body is awake. That's how the Western scientific world describes it anyhow. From an experiential perspective, you sometimes feel like you are in the deepest sleep of your life, while having a horrible nightmare, and every time you try to wake yourself up you find yourself in another dream -- and each time you "wake up", you are convinced you are actually awake and it is in fact reality. Other times it is the closest I have ever come to believing entirely in paranormal activity. I've felts ghosts, I've also seen them watching me as I slept at night, as I watched them from a different part of the room. It's a really scary experience, to say the least. In the episodes in which I am forcing myself awake from one dream into another dream, I eventually find myself actually awoken, sometimes gasping for breath. Hysterically, I remain unconvinced that this is actually reality, so in an attempt to gain a grasp of reality I'll wake up whoever is nearby and force them to help me make sure this is real. I'll ask them questions, like "What are you doing this weekend? What are your plans for today or tomorrow?". Sometimes the only response I'll get will be a confused half-awake "huh?", or some muttering, which sends me into a mini-psychotic episode where I start panicking because they are refusing to answer me in a way that lets me know that I'm actually awake. Sometimes I'll start yelling or crying, "Oh my God, oh my God, this is not real, this is not real, I NEED YOU TO ANSWER ME WAKE UP!". It's a really terrifying experience when you don't know what's real and what's not. You feel like you'll be stuck in this never-ending cycle of waking up.

I had a episode of sleep paralysis the week after Old Goat 50. In it, someone was killing me in a most bizarre way of which I cannot recall the details. I sometimes feel pain in these dreams, and though obviously different than the kind of pain you feel when you're awake, it can still be pretty convincing when you are in your dream. It's hard to convince yourself that the pain you are feeling is not real, because you are convinced that you are conscious. When you are actually awake however, you become clearly aware of the fraudulent pain you experienced in your dream. Pain is something that is incredibly hard for me to explain, but it is something you know when you feel it. In fact, in my opinion, it is one of the only things we can truly know. "I hurt, therefore, I am, and this sucks", if you will.

My point is that although I was being killed in my dream, and although I felt immense "pain" during it, the real-life experiences of immense pain that I experienced at the Old Goat 50 gave me such a grounding in reality that I was much more able to recognize the pain in the dream for what it actually was -- not real. Although I was still experiencing the pain in my dream, the pain was lessened if only because the part of my brain that processes real pain couldn't be fooled as easily as when large episodes of pain weren't as frequent in my life. It helped me "get a grip", on reality if you will. I feel like there are a couple of things to take away from this. 1) Pain is a spiritual teacher that can give you a better control over what is real and what is not, which can help in issues related to mental illness and 2) The thing besides pain that separates reality from a really convincing dream is shared memories with others. I feel like making memories with others to recall back on at a later time is such a crucial part of our sane existence here on Earth as human beings. This too can help with mental illness-related issues.

"First thing's first I'ma say all the things that's in my head, 
 I'm fired up and tired of the way that things have been, oh - OOOO oooo.

(The following will make more sense if you first watch the music video for Imagine Dragons' "Believer". In other words, go watch it.)

I woke up at 4:00 am. The race was supposed to start at 6:30 am, or whenever there was enough light out that would eliminate the need for headlamps. The plan was to get there 45 minutes to an hour before the start of the race so I left Escondido at 4:30 am and got to Blue Jay Campgrounds in Lake Elsinore around 5:45. Due to rain damage, there had been a last-minute course change for the 50 mile option (50k and 30k runners were unaffected) that eliminated Holy Jim trail, a crucial climbing aspect of this race. Having paced Teyana at Chimera 100, I was familiar with the latter two-thirds of the race course and although I was happy to hear that this climb was going to be removed from the course, I also knew that there's no escaping the "up" that comes with going up to Santiago Peak. I knew we would make up for it somehow and the way we did that was going up Horsethief with the 50k people. Now, if you don't know Horsethief, it is a notorious part of the Saddleback Mountains that is roughly 1.8 miles at an average grade of 15%. We were also told in the email before the race that we would be going back the same way we came which means back down Horsethief and up Trabuco (which is a pretty gnarly (rocky) although more gradual ascent. Well, on race morning, we were subtly told that there was another (real) last-minute change to the course. I know it was April Fool's, but I mean come on! With 5 minutes to go, we were just now hearing about this. Instead of going back the way we came, we would just go down Main Divide all the way to the Trabuco Aid Station, in a way to relieve the slower finishers from having to go down the steep (although surprisingly not technical) Horsethief in the dark. I hadn't actually done Horsethief prior to this race so I was looking forward to seeing what all the hype was about. Well, I saw. It's pretty steep, although climbable and even runnable if you're up for it. I'm pretty sure everyone walked it this year though.

Off we went, running up the 1 mile of asphalt that leads into the campground and we took a right, down into the single-track descent that leads into the Candy Store Aid Station. This part of the course is pretty technical, though it's not nearly as bad as Conejos Trail in Cuyamaca. I'd say it's like PCT technical, with a little more narrow single-track, soft dirt, and cover from the trees to eliminate exposure for a chunk of it. There are also parts of the trail the have boulders that require you to really watch how you descend, and one or two cases where use of hands would be appropriate. There were some water crossings because of the heavy rain we got in the previous months and the most efficient was of crossing was, well, straight through it. They were usually never higher than shin-deep and never more than 6 steps, but they were there. I enjoyed the cool respite for my feet, which is always a welcome shock to the system that probably has more scientific benefits than we realize. It's just unfortunately you're left with soggy shoes for about a mile, but they eventually dry up.

I had no overt goals going into this race, although I thought it would be doable for me to hit around 9-10 hours given the training that I had been doing. Having experienced some setbacks with my hydration-electrolyte balance in previous races, I decided to try to limit the amount of salt-pills, or electrolytes, I took in. In previous races, taking in one scoop of Tailwind in 20 oz of water every half hour seemed to have reeked havoc on my GI system causing a blockage of nutrients, including water, from getting absorbed in my system. So, in a traumatized over-compensation, I decided to go from one extreme to another. "Moderation has its place, it ain't here!" as the finish line banner says. I had read some things (on the Internet! It's this great place, have you heard?) and mentally decided, I probably don't need salt pills as much as I think I do, and I will only take them if I start feeling fatigued before I should start feeling fatigued. So I didn't take any until mile 19.5 when we finished the first loop back at Blue Jay Campgrounds. I also started feeling dehydrated a little at this point so I decided to stop for about 5-10 minutes to take in fluids in a reasonable time-frame so that my body could readily absorb it with the salt pills I was taking. I'd rather take my time here and get my hydration back in check rather than deal with the consequences of haste later on, I reasoned to myself.

This guy named Nicolas, from France I believe, was running with me into the Aid Station and although he took off before I did, he was moving leisurely so I managed to catch up to him. We started talking about our goals and although his accent was thick and conversational fluency limited, we managed to carry on a conversation as we started up the Trabuco climb. I forgot to tell the Aid Station people not to fill up my hydration bladder to its entire 70 oz capacity. Wanting to have as little weight on me as possible, I started sucking water and spitting it out, probably looking like a freak in the meanwhile. In the Ultra world however, giving all the compromising situations we often find ourselves in, I remember that it's hard to come off as a "freak" to a fellow runner. Pissing, pooping, pissing while walking, pooping while walking (I dunno about that one), puking, blood, guts, glory. We've seen it all.

When we were going up Trabuco, mile 21-ish, that's when I started feeling the cramping. It started in my left quad, and it was the kind of cramping that stops you because the muscle seizes up and tightens like a Charlie Horse. Having experienced this before, I realized I need to stop, try to massage it out, and maybe get some more salt pills in me, along with an appropriate amount of water (which I feel like I had gotten about 2 miles ago. "This early?" I thought to myself. Gah! Maybe I drank too much water and flushed whatever little electrolytes I had left out of my system. It happens to me too often when I don't take in enough electrolytes.

This wasn't the first time I had tried limiting my electrolyte intake. When people kept making the comment that I might be taking in too much electrolytes/salt via Tailwind, I decided to do some training runs last year with little to no salt/Tailwind, only to afterwards have my abdominal muscles start seizing up after a mild cough rendering me immobile in my car. It's kind of hard to explain but suffice it to say when my ab muscle starts to seize up, it typically marks the end of my training day. It is a pain that is unlike the pain I feel when any other muscle seizes up and I usually have to work myself down from a state of panic/shock from the pain. My abdominal muscles twist themselves into a knot forcing one in particular to become rock hard and protrude from my stomach. One of the first and most prominent times this has happened to me, I was training for Carlsbad Marathon in December of 2013 when I tripped over a crack on the sidewalk 0.5 miles away from being done with my long run for the day. My reaction when I fall is almost always to tense up, and that tensing up motion caused me to contract all my muscles in a way that immediately caused most of them, mainly my abs, to seize up. In a state of panic and adrenaline I jumped up immediately and ran into the Souplantation that happened to be really close. I grabbed the nearest salt shaker, and started pouring as much salt in my mouth as I could. It was raining that day so I made the mistake of wearing a jacket which caused me to sweat gallons more than I would have an a regular 20-mile run. I also, at mile 15, chugged 30 oz of G2 Gatorade, which is essentially watered down Gatorade with fewer calories and artificial sweeteners. All this made for a flushing of my electrolytes and the consequential seizing up of my abs, putting me in a state of acute pain the likes of which I had rarely, if ever, felt. It wasn't long before employees and customers started noticing this freak in running clothes chugging salt from a salt shaker. I didn't care, I needed to end the pain. The pain got so intense that I started actually going into shock, a glossed-over look on my face, and became unresponsive. An ambulance was called on my behalf and I remember them asking me what year it was: "2003", I managed to mutter. I was out of it. I think I remember them somehow putting me on a stretcher (all dramatic) and putting me in the ambulance before they told me they were going to charge me if we started driving so they wanted to make sure it was serious. "What? You're gonna charge? Okay, I'm fine, I can walk, lemme out," LMAO. In all seriousness though, enough time had passed and I get enough fluid/electrolytes in me that that pain had started to subside. I agreed that I could get out if we were really careful about it. I did a walk of shame back to my car. I don't think I even stopped my Garmin.

Since then, I have had this happen to me numerous times, I'd say 6 times, each time gaining a better understanding and control of the pain and the panic that comes with it. I imagine it to be like the scene in Fight Club where he gives himself a chemical burn. I've trained myself not to escape this pain when it happens, but to embrace it. "This is the greatest moment of your life, and you're off somewhere, MISSING IT!". It's become one of my favorite quotes and I use it often with my races every time I experience pain. I don't think I've had my abs seize up during any one of my races though, so luckily it's always just been a matter of it happening during my training.

Well, it happened. As the climb was flattening out, I stupidly tripped over a rock, my second fall for the day (the first one being so soft and gracious that I almost don't consider it a fall) and landed on my right side after trying to brace my fall with my hands, the left of which is connected to a wrist that is still messed up from a fall at Sycamore 100k. One of my calves started to seize up, "Ah fuck, get up, get up, gotta get up quick before it gets worse and work/walk it out". In my hurry to get up, I obviously contracted my abs which was a big mistake. "Ah fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, no, no, no, no. Okay, it's happening again, that's okay, the aid station is right there, a quarter mile away, just walk there and they'll help you out". A part of me that didn't think I could even get there was hoping they would see this runner clenching his stomach, yelling in pain, hobbling at a 40-minute pace, realize the urgency of the matter and come carry me in. That's not going to happen, I realized. I just needed to make it to the Aid Station that now seemed hours away. "Okay, embrace it, embrace it, it helps you realize you are alive, pain is a blessing in disguise," I told myself, "this is a good thing, embrace it, don't escape it AHHHHHHHHHHH FUCK! That hurts! GAAHHHHHHH". I managed to get there as the volunteers all looked concerned. I tried to explain, in broken gasps of words accented by shouts of pain, also attempting to ignore the pain enough to focus on finding words to explain what was going on. "I'm seizing up -- I fell -- my abs -- they locked up -- I can't -- GAHHH -- I need to breathe -- I need salt or salt pills". This was the first time I tried drinking pickle juice, probably ever, but particularly during a race. It just seemed like the right thing to drink. Ugh, yikes! As long as it helps I suppose. I eventually decided to try and sit down, after refusing to sit for fear of not being able to get back up. I spent at least 30 minutes at that aid station, if not 45, trying to work out the kink in my abs. I had Jessica, RD of Sycamore Canyon 100k who happened to be volunteering there that day, feel my ab muscle so as to have a witness. "Oh wow, yeah, that's really hard". I was drinking coke, eating what I could, more coke, water, massaging it out, beating it out with my fist, Wim Hof breathing techniques -- whatever I could. I started to mentally come to terms with the fact that my day might be over here, as I started to see runner after runner pass me up. "It's a really beautiful day. I should've just volunteered here with you guys," I joked, still trying to knead out the knot. It was in the low-60's, absolutely a perfect day for running, a gentle cool wind -- super beautiful. As it normally happens when I stop running and I'm in a dehydrated state, I started shivering because my body temperature had a hard time regulating itself. The shivering then started triggering the cramping of other muscles all over my body, in my lower back, my upper back, my sides, my neck, my quads, my hamstrings. I asked if the volunteers could help massages these knots out. It was a mess, but I'm grateful for those volunteers that day. One in particular kept checking in on me in a mom-like way. They gave me a blanket when I started shivering. I told them I wanted to keep going, but I also don't want to fall over and be stranded on the side of the trail in pain. They told me I had plenty of time and just to make sure I was okay before heading out. I started thinking about it. At the beginning of the race, the RD also told us that we could opt-down into the 50k if we feel like it wasn't our day. I thought, well, that's just 9 miles, I might be able to make at least that if I can just get my hydration/electrolytes stable. "I think I'm gonna head out and I might do the 50k", I started walking around in circles with the blanket on to get my body temperature back up enough to feel comfortable going out. The pain had subsided and my ab muscle had relaxed. "I think I can do this, just do the 50k". So I thanked the volunteers and went out to start the Trabuco single-track rocky descent, walking as carefully as I could.

Second thing's second don't you tell me what you think that I can be, 
I'm the one at the sail I'm the master of my sea, oh -- OOOO ooooo. 

I remember covering this part at night with Teyana. We had done 20 miles that night in 10 hours before we were forced to call it a day. She kept saying how mad she was for how slow she was going down that trail when she usually speeds down it. I kept thinking about how much resolve she showed through the night, at 2 mph on average, and this kept me going as I started to feel comfortable enough to do a 15-minute pace. I was moving pretty good when all of a sudden I tripped over a rock and landed on the right side of the trail slamming my upper-right quad directly on a rock. After the immediate panic of falling wore off, I was happy to realize that I hadn't seized up the way I had before. This realization then allowed me the blessing to be able to focus on the pain from landing full-force on a soft-ball-sized rock -- "AHHHHHHHHHWWWWWW!!" I yelled out, not caring if anyone could hear. It felt like someone took a bat and swung as hard as they could into my right quad during mid-contraction. I embraced the moment of pain, as I lay there, on my back, sun in my face, in a bunch of weeds letting out more expressions of pain. A guy pulled up behind me and managed to help me get up, though I was a little cautious of not using my ab muscles at all when getting up so as not to trigger another episode of chaos. "Yeah, this is definitely not the place to fall," he said. He also asked if I needed any salt pills, and kindly offered some of his water. This is why I love this sport.

I decided to just walk the rest of the way down to avoid any other stupid mishaps. We got to Horsethief and as I was walking up, I passed people -- some who had stopped to "admire the view" and others who were sitting down puking various liquids up. "Hang in there, man," I told him as I continued on and started to seize up in my quads and hamstrings. I got to the top of Horsethief at the Aid Station where you had to make the decision to either keep going another 25 miles to try and finish 50 miles, or turn right and just do 6 miles more to finish a 50k. After eating a bunch of chips and drinking fluids, I had to have that moment of honesty that you can only find during a race in a situation like this where we could drop down and avoid a DNF. I never really liked the idea of dropping down to avoid a DNF. I always appreciate the offer when RD's extend it, but I signed up for a 50-miler, so it would feel dishonest of me to consider anything less than that an official finish. Should I risk a potential DNF and go for 50, knowing I might not make it another 25 miles, or should I just cash my chips in and walk 6 miles back to the start, avoiding a DNF entirely?

The guy who I saw puking had just gotten up from his chair and decided to go on. "Fuck it, at least I'm not having stomach problems. I can continue even if I seize up every tenth of a mile. If I stop, I stop, but for now, I'll continue.


I realized I still had to climb up towards Santiago Peak and thought, "If I make it up to Santiago Peak I can call it a day". I kept playing leapfrog with the guys who were having stomach issues. When they would stop, I would pass, only to be stopped by more seizing up of my hamstrings. When we got to the next Aid Station 2.5 miles away at Trabuco Peak, they eventually left me. I was telling the guys at the Aid Station about my problems and how I honestly was thinking of calling it a day there because those last 2 miles felt like they took forever. At this point I heard on the radio they had that they had just closed off the Aid Station I left 2.5 miles ago at 1:42pm. That was right behind me, and they had just cut it off. I found myself asking what the cutoff for Bear Springs (the next AS) was. They didn't know, but wanted to assure me that I was fine if I continued. I had never been concerned with cutoffs before, yet here I found myself, clearly in the back of the pack. They assured me that there were plenty of people behind me, but I found that hard to be true considering they had just cutoff the AS I had just left. "Well, if I was going to quit and do the 50k, it's a little bit late for that now I suppose". A part of me still wanted to walk back the way I came as even though it would still be longer than a 50k, it wouldn't be nearly as much pain as a 50-miler would be in this condition.

Pain is such a hard thing to describe. It's extremely subjective and you never know exactly how much pain someone is truly in. Someone could have looked at me and thought, "he's alright, he's just cramping", without realizing how much pain I had already endured up to that point. This is the best thing about running in a sense, as it's a kind of honesty that you can only have with yourself. Nobody else will know how bad it hurts and the danger you genuinely feel you're putting yourself in by continuing -- but they don't have to know. Sure it would be nice to have a compassionate person who tries to understand your pain but at the end of the day, there is no difference between a hangnail and a cramping abdominal muscle to the observer. You, and only you yourself will ever know what that felt like. And you will be the only one who realizes how awesome of an accomplishment it truly was to keep going, in the face of pain that is guaranteed to stop you in your tracks and send you into panic. Nobody else will have that knowledge. It is yours, and yours only; a treasure which you are lucky enough to find, made all the more valuable if only because everyone else cannot see it for what it is.

"How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?"
- Tyler Durdin
I forced myself up out of the chair and continued. Although next little bit was downhill, I knew that that was no solace to my cramping muscles. Walking downhill forces your muscles into a contraction just to keep yourself upright, and it therefore increases the likelihood that I will seize up again and not be able to do anything about it besides rub it out and wait. I started singing out loud to help myself continue. I had picked the song of the day for this race, as I often have a song repeating over and over in my head if not in my headphones for the entirety of a race. It was a song I heard on the radio often called "Believer" by Imagine Dragons. After actually listening to the lyrics one day, I thought it was the perfect song for ultra running as it is an omage to pain. As I started a little 15-minute jog downhill, I began singing louder and louder, almost hysterically:


And just like that -- PAAIIN. It locked me up to the point where I was almost whimpering. A runner who I believe was Brandon Bollweg was on his way back down Main Divide when he saw me clenched over, rubbing my hamstring in pain. He looked like he was having a rough day himself but he offered help to which I was more grateful for the concern than I would have been if he was actually able to help me. "I'm alright, I'm just cramping like crazy", I said. "Ah, man, hang in there," he grimaced fighting off pain himself. I forgot the power of words and how I can manifest things into reality via songs I listen to. I should be more selective of the songs I choose to repeat over and over again. Maybe some Louis Armstrong next time. I almost imagine a slow-motion video montage of me cramping up in pain juxtaposed with "What a Wonderful World" playing. In fact, look it up and listen to it while reading the rest of this. It's worth a good laugh.

I managed somehow to pull into Bear Springs Aid Station. I gave them the rundown of what was happening and they helped out as best as they could. "I gotta stop here. I've been cramping up since mile 21 and it's the kind of cramping that stops you dead in your tracks and sends you into a panic". There was no way I was going to be able to do the next 3 miles up to the top, I didn't care that I had planned to get up to the peak, this wasn't going to happen. "I just know the kind of pain to expect and I know it can get worse, and I'm afraid that might just take me out all together". I spent 20 minutes here talking my options out with the volunteers to see what was possible. For some reason, I decided to get up and try to keep walking up to the peak and deal with the problems as they arise. Before I left, there was a guy there who looked Native, which is kind of rare for me to see at ultras. I asked, "Hey, are you Native?" "Half," he said, "Klammath". "Ah cool, I'm from a tribe down in San Diego," as I trudged my way up to start the climb. "Thanks a lot you guys".

I continued the climb up towards Santiago Peak when a new issue had started to become a problem -- flies. Now I know what you're thinking, they're just flies, and no they didn't bite, but listen. Every time I would seize up, which was now every tenth of a mile, within a half a second of me stopping they would SWARM -- and I mean SWARM -- around me. I had no idea that that many flies could occupy that amount of space. Imagine a swarm of bees from a classic cartoon, that's what it looked like around me. They were trying to get into any orifice they could; my mouth, my ears, my nostrils. Luckily I had shorts on otherwise I'm sure the other orifices would've been fair game. I was faced with the ultimatum of either moving through the seizing up, which wasn't possible, or getting engulfed by these large flies spitting them out as they tried to envelop me. These weren't little fruit flies or gnats, they were legitimate flies hovering over what they probably thought was a dying body. It got to a point where I had had enough. "GO! THE FUCK! AWAY!!!! LEAVE ME ALONEE!!!!!!!" I yelled, knowing I would seem crazy to anyone within hearing distance. I was over it, I was more than over it. I am walking back down to Bear Springs AS and calling it a day, fuck this. I can't even, this is a fuckin nightmare. People were running down and there were even some hikers. Some hikers were nice enough to tell me "It gets worse", as I was frantically swatting flies away from my face. As rude as that was, it actually didn't faze me as I was finding it hard to believe these flies could get much worse than they already were, unless by that he meant that they turned into bees.

"I wanna stop," I said to myself, "I wanna stop."

I created an imaginary being inside me to respond. My inner me became my enemy, and also my coach, as he embraced me and said

"We can't," right before pulling back, and swinging full-force with an uppercut to the chin.


I no longer had a say in this. This was a fight. I was beating myself up, like Tyler Durden himself, and the scene must've looked just as ridiculous. That person inside me, that thing, was stronger than my will. My will was telling me to stop, for all sane reasons, but that thing inside me kept telling me that we can't.

It knew something I didn't and whether or not I liked it, it was in control. In retrospect, I realized what it knew that I wasn't conscious of at that time. It knew that if I had walked back down and DNF'd, I would've woken up the next morning, and every day for the rest of my life I would've kept replaying that scenario, wondering if I could have truly gone on and finished. Having had DNF's before, I know that feeling of waking up the next morning, that feeling of regret. That "I should've kept going" feeling. Even though you knew at the time that there was 100% nothing left for you to give, there will still be that doubt. Having had 2 recent episodes that I would consider DNF's, I didn't want to make this a third one, and it knew it. This couldn't become a trend. I don't put too much pressure on myself to not DNF and I do not try to attach any negative feelings to a DNF, but this one was different. It's this kind of honesty that I dig for in races and that's what it knew.

I got to the part where the road hooks to the left uphill when a jeep came by. Desperately looking to make eye contact with someone who might see my suffering and offer a way out of this misery, I watched as they drove by. As they continued downhill around the curve, I turned around and waved them down. They stopped. "Are you guys part of the race?" I yelled. "No, we just happened to be driving here today," they said, unsure of what I wanted. They probably figured I was running the race and in trouble. "I don't think I can make it to the top". How pathetic this sounded, flagging down complete strangers and whining to them that I didn't want to continue. "Could you guys take me down to the next Aid Station?" They said they could, although I imagine they were reasonably reluctant to want to turn around and come get me. I paused to think before agreeing to have them take me down. This would be for sure committing to a DNF, Phillip, are you sure you wanna do this? "On second thought, I think I'll keep trying, I don't want to make you guys turn around and come get me". "Okay, we'll let them know you're having trouble maybe they can send someone up for you".
"Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time."- Viktor E. Frankl
Okay, I just gotta make it up to the top, it's not that far. Just keep walking -- OWWW FUCK. I had to wait another 30 seconds to rub that one out when another Jeep came. I hailed this one down as it came by, with very little shame to my game at this point. "Are you going all the way down?" I asked. "Yes I am", he responded as I was still being consumed by flies. "Do you think you could take me down to the last Aid Station? I don't think I can make it all the way up and I'm gonna call it a day". "Sure, get in," he was nice enough to offer. I opened the door and gripped the hand rail to pull myself in when I stopped -- "Wait, I really have to think about this. If I get in, that's it, it's game over, there's no turning back from this decision. I'm making that decision right now if I get in, but I can choose differently still." "Whatever you want to do," he responded. I'm the most indecisive person in the world. The fact that I had to make a split-second decision or otherwise waste this gentleman's time and suffer the resulting guilt was just too much to handle. "WE CAN'T", Tyler Durden yelled as I hoped that that wasn't actually audible by anyone but myself. Then I saw a runner coming up without a shirt, running to pass the Jeep on the side that I was on. Being faced with inconveniencing now two people with my antics, I told the gentleman "I think I'm just gonna keep trying", and told him I really appreciated him stopping. The runner was now walking, being more or less stopped by me and the Jeep being in the way. I started walking with him and talking out my problems. "Man, I know how you feel, I wanted to quit a while back. I did got lost and did 10 extra miles so my legs are really at mile 42," he empathized. "WOW, you got lost, did 10 extra miles, and you're still going? Most people get lost and get completely defeated and would call it a day after even just 5 miles extra. The fact that you're still going really says something," I told him. "Yeah, I even called up my girlfriend and told her, 'Yeah, don't come out because I'm going to drop because I got lost'. Then one of the guys at the Aid Station really talked me into continuing," he continued. "Wow. You must have a really good reason to keep going if you're still going now. What's your name?" "My name's Kyle and yeah I wanted to get a 100 miler done before I turn 25 but I dunno if that's going to happen this year. But that's why I'm out here now, I wanted to do Chimera. I might have to train an extra year and do it next year," he explained. "Dude, if you're doing as good as you are now you are in perfect condition for Chimera. How old are you?". "24", he breathed. "Holy crap dude, you are killing it at your age!". I was extremely impressed at his resolve. I was at mile 32, and he was at mile 42, and we both had 18 miles to go. How could I DNF when this guy still found it in him to keep going? "Man, Kyle, if I finish today -- and right now that's still a BIGGG "if" -- you would have something to do with it". "Thanks man, you can do it just keep hanging in there," he responded. "Don't let me hold you up by the way, if you feel like you have it in you, run up this thing". "I think I just might". Incredible. Off he went and I managed to finish walking up towards the peak myself.

I finally got to the peak much to my relief and sat down at one of the chairs they had. A volunteer was nice enough to offer me a HotShot, which I hadn't tried before, but heard it was good for cramps. I downed it, hoping it would help if I decided to continue. I asked when the next Jeep was coming up, to which they said, "Pretty soon to take this guy". A runner was standing with hands tied behind his back, someone I remember passing me up a long time ago. "How you feeling?" I asked. "I'm doing good, how about yourself?" "I'm hanging in there," I responded. I guess he wasn't feeling good enough to continue, which was awesome for me as now I had a ride back down. I explained to everyone what was happening and again, the downplaying of my pain simply because in the ultra world carnage is seen all the time. It's okay, they saw a dollar on the floor and I saw a stack of $100's. I can't let this opportunity go. "It's just 13 miles and it's mainly downhill," they tried to comfort me. "Yeah, but the downhill is no better than up or flat, I seize up worse downhill even". These 2 female runners offered me some Tums, which I was a little reluctant to take at first not wanting to chance much of anything on the fact that I wasn't having any GI issues thus far, which was my one solace. I got over myself and thought, if it's over here it doesn't matter much anyway.

Some other people came up and left before I did. I then decided to try and make it 3 miles back down to Bear Springs AS. I figured a Jeep is coming to pick up the other guy so that will be my safety net if I feel like dropping on the way down. They wished me luck as I hobbled back down the undulating Jeep road, hoping the HotShot would prevent more seizing up.

It didn't. I was still cramping up on the way down, 30 minutes after taking it. So much for HotShot, not worth $7 a shot. To be fair though, I was in really horrible shape. I saw the truck that was going to pick up the DNF'er coming up, and caught it on its way down. "You going all the way down?" I asked the lady. "Yeah, and we have room for one more if you need a ride." At this point, I was starting to lose it a little bit. She was still speaking, and the little girl in the passengers seat was also saying something, but I told them "I'm not here right now, this doesn't feel real, it feels like a dream, or like I'm watching it happen like a movie or something. I'm tripping out." "Yeah, you need help, they have an EMT down there, you should get in". "I think I should be good," I said. "Are you SURE?" "Yeah, I'm sure, I can get down to the next Aid Station." "Alright..." she said reluctantly as she drove off. I continued on down to Bear Springs.

At this point I started peeing every other mile, even though I had peed 5 times already during the race. I managed to pick up the speed just a little bit, just enough to trail behind this girl who had passed me for the last truck showed up. "It's all downhill from here they said. It should be easy they said", I joked with her as we were both struggling to go downhill.

I pulled into Bear Springs and greeted the nice volunteers from the last time I came through. I told them I'm feeling better but I'm worried that's just temporary. At this point I started to slightly pee myself without realizing it, which I thought was cause for concern. The sweeper had just pulled in to this AS going uphill to the peak. Damn. "This is where I'm at, huh?" I thought to myself. One of the volunteers spoke to the sweeper "Want me to call to make sure there's somebody up there before you go up?" Wow, was I really the last person? Could it be? I've always had much respect for the person in the back, and felt I could relate to them more than people in front, but I had never actually been this far back in a race before. There was only one other person behind me at this point. I was almost DFL. "I wanna keep going, but I don't even have a headlamp in my drop bag, I didn't think I'd be out this long". "Here," one of the volunteers said, "take this flash light. It's my personal one and it's my lucky one". Super appreciative of the gesture I took it, even though I was meaning to hold on to that one excuse to DNF. I was still under the impression that the cutoff was 15 hours, when in reality it was 14 hours. "If I continue, that'll be a 14.5 hour finish, I dunno". "Don't think about that!" the lady who gave me the flash light interrupted, "Just keep going one step at a time".

I decided I needed to keep going. I would keep monitoring my situation but I was okay enough to keep going. One of the other volunteers was really concerned for me and I was really appreciative of him as well. I managed to make it to Trabuco Peak AS with only the occasional seizing up. On the way there, I tried the flashlight only to realize it actually didn't work. "So much for good luck," I thought, tossing it into my pack. At Trabuco Peak AS I asked the volunteers if they had batteries or a spare light. They changed the flashlight batteries only to still not have it work (how lucky), at which point a volunteer just gave me his headlamp to return at the end of the race. Man, I fuckin love volunteers.

I took some Honey Stingers which ended up really helping my cramping 20 minutes at a time. I made it to the Horsethief AS with such relief, remembering that at this point there's only about 5-6 miles left of the race. At this point, I was actually making up ground. Still seizing up occasionally but able to hold a surprisingly fast pace of 15 minutes. Yeah, only in ultra will you understand how a 15-minute pace could be considered "fast". I started passing up people. First that lady who passed me going downhill, then another guy who was walking, then another guy who was in the bushes probably taking a shit. I made it to the final Trabuco AS when the lady who had been so helpful the first time around was so thrilled to see me. "We heard there was somebody lying flat on the side of the trail, we thought that was you, we're so glad to see you come back, we thought you were going to do 50k but we kept not seeing you. I'm so happy you stuck it through!". Again, I fuckin love volunteers.

I continued on down the Trabuco road really trying to pick it up to about a 12 minute pace when I passed the 2 girls who gave me Tums at Santiago Peak. "Thanks for the Tums ladies," I said as I ran past them walking. "Oh, yeah, we're glad it helped". At this point I hit the pavement when you have about 2 miles left to go. I started doing a 10 minute pace and because the sun had long gone down, I guess you could say I was just starting to get a second wind. That, and I just wanted to be done with this mess of a race. I told Whitney to come out if she wanted to and that I would be there for, at the longest, 12 hours before taking off, thinking I'd be done in 10 hours and stick around for 2 more. How foolish. I wasn't sure if she was even still there or if she had shown up. I was pulling a 9 minute pace as I reached the final 0.5 miles of the race. I saw someone walking alongside the line of parallel-parked cars and thought, I should shine the light on myself so if it was Whitney she'd be able to see it was me. "Hey," I heard her say as she started running with me. I yelled out in pain as if trying to express how all the pain of my day in one sound. "I had a bad day. I never wanted to quit a race more than I did today," said. "But you didn't, and you're almost done". I'm sure she must've figured, at 13.5 hours, that I had a really rough time out there but I wanted someone to understand and she would, knowing who I am and what I can handle. I ran into that finish line with such relief, I cannot tell you. I ran right past it and kept walking down the road towards a tree, as I felt it was good enough at that point to let myself stop and be overwhelmed with emotion after having won one helluva fight. This is why I run -- not for speed, not for winning, not for glory, but for that battle, that nobody knows about, between you and an old familiar friend/coach that knows more than you do, yet is willing to teach you if you are willing to listen.


The people experiencing the most pain ,tend to be the ones who are always trying to make others SMILE.