Saturday, June 11, 2016

My Heart Is Good - San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Challenge

"So, why do you want to do this show?"

She strayed from her script for a brief moment to reveal a tone of genuine curiosity, bordering confusion. Up to this point, all of the questions during the psych evaluation were read in a straightforward, business-like manner, almost as if to avoid becoming involved in actual conversation with what I was telling her. It seems like with this question, she had foregone any predetermined structure to the dialogue we were having in an attempt to really figure out how someone like myself wanted to be involved with this reality show I was a finalist for. At this point, what did it matter? She knew she couldn't let me continue in the finalist process.

My head dropped, chin touching my chest. My usual eloquence betraying me, as all I could do was just -- let go. I cried, and for the moment that's all I was aware of; pure feeling, sadness, love, hopelessness and hope.

A couple of seconds later, I started to allow myself to process what I was feeling and why I was feeling it. I told her, in a voice made shaky by the tears I had just shed: "The same reason I do everything else I do: to give hope, to help other people. I know what it's like to feel hopeless and how great of a feeling it is to have hope restored, even if momentarily. To show people that it doesn't matter what you've been through, or your background, you can do amazing things, you can take horrible things and have them help you achieve truly impossible things. To give that to someone else -- there's nothing better you can give someone".

I was amazed. My heart was good, truly good. I had never been more truly aware of how honest, and purely benevolent my deepest intentions were. I had been honest during the entire evaluation, but the honesty behind the response I gave to her final question is something that overwhelmed me. It was something that I had felt only 4 days prior.

I explained the reason for the tears was because her question invoked the same feelings as I had had upon my last big undertaking, when I crossed the finish line of my first 100 mile trail race in San Diego. Because it was so fresh in my mind, those feelings had the same exact overwhelming effect on me. It was a finish bigger than a finish for myself; it was a finish for the entire San Diego Native American Community.

This is the story of my first 100 mile finish and first 100 mile trail race. This is a story of wanting to help others, appreciating the help that I receive, and of living a good life.


I have attempted only one other 100 miler and it was an urban 100 miler. A poorly organized one which led me to my first DNF. I had set out to finish that 100 miler in the name of bringing awareness to suicide in Native communities, particularly among Native youth. A failure to meet the amount of advertised aid stations, the first one being at mile 27, caused me to lose 8 lbs by mile 50 and become severely dehydrated. A failure to mention that a crew is mandatory, not just "highly advisable", led me to a prepare for a race that was very different than the one I thought I was getting into. Having to "give up" that day taught me more than I could ever imagine about the struggle of suicide, and compassion that only comes from understanding what it's like to feel like "there's nothing else you can do" and a desire to "just make the pain stop". It was perhaps fitting that I didn't finish this race. I still contest to this day, that DNF's will teach you more about yourself than finishes will.

San Diego 100 was to be different. I trained. I trained long, I trained hard. I did a couple of 100 mile weeks and my peak week got up to 140 miles a week. I did weekly group runs with the Trail Crashers  out in Julian to learn the course and do everything in my power to make sure I was prepared, from the moment I got off of the waitlist and onto the "registered participants" list. It was March 20th when I knew I was going to do this race, that gave me 2 months of solid training time to get this 100 done. Come race day, I had done one 24-hour race in which I covered 74 miles, and the Lost Boys 50 miler as training races to help make sure I felt confident that I could complete this race. After having done Lost Boys (9,000 ft of climbing) in 10.5 hours and feeling like I could've gone longer, I gained the confidence I needed to make sure I could get through the San Diego 100 one month later. 7 days after Lost Boys I felt so good that I started my 140 mile week which included 4 back-to-back 25 mile days. Never pushing it more than is wise, I listened to my body and continued training and 10 days out I was feeling great about the race.

Weather-wise, I was hoping the "May Gray" would stick around for one week longer as I do better in colder weather and we had not been training in anything over 60F. So, hopefully, I checked the 10-day weather forecast for some ballpark figure of what to expect. WTF 85 degrees? I'm screwed. Anything above 65 and I die during a race. Put me in 30 degree weather and all I need is shorts and a tank. But 85 degrees and all that I could think was that if the weather didn't change for the better, there was no way I was getting this done. It's just things you know about yourself, you know? I'm lactose intolerant so no quesadillas during the race. I don't process Gu's well because I get GI issues. If it's 85 degrees I will likely suffer dramatically and not be able to finish the race. Things that experience has taught me to be facts about myself and how I perform.

Well, when the week of the race came up the predictions were getting higher and higher, from 85 to 90, from 90 to 97, and finally on race morning, Race Director Scott Mills announced

"I'm sure you know the big story today is the high of 108 degrees". 

"Shit just got real!"


"Well, I guess that means I'm walking", I told my one-person crew Whitney, my best friend since UCSD.

I had made a pace chart that was purposely ambitious (though admittedly I forgot to add 30 minutes to the Noble Canyon climb, apparently thinking I was going to be doing 12-13 minute pace up that damn thing) yet at the same time conservative, and so I knew that if I at least stuck to it for the beginning of the race, I might be in good shape for the rest of the day. Any faster than my pace chart and I would be endangering my chances of finishing the race. Even in the cool of the morning, starting out too fast is foolish.

Miles 0-12.5: So I started out slow, letting people impatiently pass me on the single track leading up to the first little climb of the day. I watched as they ran quickly past me thinking, "Okay, if you wish, but I'm only going to return the favor later when you burn out". I simply settled on confusing them by saying "I'll seeya later" as they passed. I'm sure they realized what I was getting at, but were confident somehow that I wouldn't pass them. Well, I would.

Started off at 130th place out of 259 competitors

I walked the majority of the first 2 climbs, up Middle peak and up Stonewall. Even pulling into the first station I started walking as I was 5 minutes ahead of my expected ETA. I used my calm walking as a chance to hydrate, as I recalled advice given "Hydrate early, hydrate well, and take electrolytes early too". Didn't matter that I wasn't sweating too much, I needed to heed this advice. I also took every chance I could to pour cold water on myself in the early morning aid stations.

Dave Snyder, a fellow trail crasher doing his own first 100 mile race, was right behind me as I left Paso Picacho (mile 7.5) and he was looking strong. It was good to see someone else taking it easy and doing the smart thing. A little ahead I saw ultrarunning legend/veteran Dan Brendan and caught up with him to powerhike up Stonewall and make some conversation. He's a really awesome person who has has so much experience running ultras that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share at least a mile with him. I first had met him at my 24 hour Beyond Limits Ultra race in Mountain Center, where he had ended up coming in as first male for their 100 mile race. We talked a little but for the most part I was happy just being his shadow and taking in the moment. I told him how the reason I finishing this race was important to me was because I wanted to revive the tradition of long-distance running in Southern California Native Communities. He told me about this guy he knew and ran with, I forget the name he said, maybe Dennis Poolheco, famous ultra runner who was Native who had passed away recently in a car accident. Peace and blessings to his family. As people passed, I commented how a lot of people seem to be starting off fast today and passing me up. "They always do," he said, "But you won't believe how many 100 milers I've completed in less than 24 hours by simply walking".

Oh, I believe it. If you've never seen this guy race, he has a walk faster than most people's jog. In fact, I remember I was running during the 24 hour race as he was powerwalking and he was keeping better pace than I was. Truly awesome to share some race time with this guy. From that point on, I decided that if I saw someone I wanted to catch up with, I was going to just stop running and walk/talk with them for a while. Afterall, it's 100 miles, what's the rush?

As we peaked, I decided to descent down stonewall a little faster than we had climbed and so went ahead. As it leveled out into tall grassy flat area, a voice pulled up behind me, "You look like a distance runner!". I recognized it as Dan's voice and said "Thanks!". I imagine it was my form that he was watching, as build-wise, I'm not entirely sure I look like a distance runner. 

"How old are you, again?", he asked
"27", I replied
"Oh-ho yeah, you definitely have a bright future in Ultra".

Needless to say, I was extremely flattered that someone as accomplished as Dan would pay me such an amazing compliment. 

"Well, hopefully I will--", I said 
"No, no 'hopefully', you WILL", he interrupted
"Yeah? Thanks! I just hope to stay injury-free because you just never know what could happen"
"You will," he insisted. 

Miles 12.5-21: Feeding off of the good vibes, I kept up the easy pace pulling into Chambers Aid Station. Again, wet my head with cold water and took off after refilling with Tailwind. Around mile 13.5, someone in front of me jumped up as they saw and heard a huge rattle snake on the side of the trail. I stopped in my tracks. I remember hearing somewhere that the first person wakes them and the second person is the one who gets bit. I was not taking any chances so I waited until someone else came and also warned them of the snake on the side of the trail. Luckily, the snake reclused into the shade somewhere under the bark of a tree. 

I passed a few people during this section as they were starting to feel the effects of the heat of the day and of probably starting out too fast. I cruised into Sunrise 1 Aid Station where I met my crew Whitney and some of the trail crashers who were crewing other people. The plan was to pick up my 70oz hydration pack at this point as I would benefit from the extra hydration, but I thought to just hydrate as much as I can here and continue with my 44oz of hydration in my handheld to the next aid about 7 miles away at Pioneer Mail. I ate freshly cut pineapple, courtesy of my amazing crew, and some vegan oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies from Trader Joe's. Offered some of the pineapple I had to a friend Jeff Miller, who gladly took them as I went on about the natural anti-inflammation benefits of the fruit. It looked like he was just starting to have a bad day so I'm sure it was much appreciated. I took extra time to pour ice water over myself with a sponge and really cool down by putting ice in my buff before I took off. Oh, and I took time to solve a Rubik's Cube here, in my attempt to break a non-existing record of most Rubik's Cubes solved during a 100 miler. Gotta have a little fun at these things!

Miles 22-28.3: Thus began the section on the Pacific Crest Trail, rolling hills and some technicality to the single track on the ridge of the mountain. It's a net gain to the next aid station and since it's really exposed to the sun/heat, this is where a lot of people ended up struggling. I ran, cautiously, holding the ice in my buff against my neck/body to keep cooling my core temperature.

As I politely passed someone who was walking (rather as they politely stepped to the side), I embarrassingly took my first fall, but was quick to get up as it was luckily not on the many rocks of this trail. Kept going and I ran up behind someone with a 1-bottle Orange Mud vest who looked familiar from behind. He was going at a really good, easy pace too. 

"This looks like someone who knows how to pace himself!", I said

Jonathon stopped his jog and turned around to see it was me. He started a walk now as he began to tell me about how his calf was acting up. "I just don't get it, I've hydrated properly, I've paced properly, I don't know why this is happening". You could tell he was getting frustrated. I decided to walk with him for the next 1.5 miles to offer some company. I know how much it sucks to be cramping up and to have it happen so early in a 100 it must be really mentally discouraging. So again, remembering that part of this experience is about being with other people, not just about running, I took time to just walk and make conversation with a friend who looked like he could use it. "I'm not gonna give up", he said. I believed him when he said it too, as if you could tell he would take all 32 hours if he had to. I talked to him about what my first DNF taught me and also reassured him that he had plenty of time left to take it easy. "At this rate, I'll be lucky if I finish under 24 hours", to which I reminded him, "Hey, today, we'll all be lucky if we finish under 32 hours". Both of our goals were to get under 24 hours, but as the heat grew with the day, we started to realize that it was likely not going to happen for either of us. 
"Oh crap, a camera. Quick! Look like you're having fun!"
"Don't let me hold you back", he said. "Nah you're not, I'll leave when I want, but for now walking makes sense anyway". I stuck with him until the asphalt road where it starts to go downhill to Pioneer Mail as I didn't wanna get too far behind my planned ETA quite yet. So I ran at a 8:30 pace down to the Pioneer Mail 1 Aid Station to meet up with my crew (Whitney) again. This would be the last time I'll see her until Meadows at mile 48.8, so I have to make sure to take my 70oz hydration pack filled with ice water for the climb down into the hottest part of the race, and the following climb up Noble Canyon. I solved one more Rubik's Cube as I was asking if Paul Jesse was around to witness it (he was doing sweeping duties, I believe, but he always asks me about Rubik's Cubes at every race he sees me at so I make sure to look for him if he's around). Karen Hamilton, SURF Mama, was there and served as a proxy-witness to my Rubik's Cube solve. That's 2 so far. Time to eat some things and take off with my CarboPro filled hydration pack and one handheld of ice water to pour on myself along with ice in my buff.

Champagne Pass down to Indian Creek Trail to Deer Springs is all really rocky and technical so you have to be careful and you can't go too fast even though it's downhill for the most part. I took it extra careful here, not wanting to fall and hurt myself unnecessarily for a couple of seconds' gain. Again, focusing on keeping my core temperature down, holding the ice in my buff against my chest. Passed some people on the way down and also on the way down the paved road to the Pine Creek Aid Station. A car was coming up the paved road, it was the race director. As he passed he told us to keep it up and that aid was 1.5 miles away. I'm not sure what he was doing there but man, this guy's awesome I thought. 

Finally stopped pounding pavement and hit the Pine Creek Aid Station and mile 36. They had limited supplies, understandably so, it seemed like a hard place to get to, but everything was warm and/or melting, but luckily they had ice. I ate some melted protein bars and some other goodies and drank my topped off handheld a couple of times to refill it with Tailwind before I left. "78 OUT!". 

A little after I left the aid station, I realized I had been needing to "lighten the load" for a couple of miles and realized that if I kept running, the feeling would get worse with all the sloshing around. So I took some time off the side of the trail to "sit and think" about things, if you know what I mean. After some time, I was actually happy to have done the deed because that usually never happens for me during a race and I was worried how that would look during the 24+ hours. After burying my business, I continued up Noble Canyon during the hottest part of the day. 

It was HOT. Luckily there was shade on the way up because of trees and somewhat of a breeze occasionally but for the most part it was just suck. I knew I was gonna hike most of this so I was trying to powerhike but be wise about not tripping and/or pushing too hard. A lot of people I passed were struggling, some guys were stopped completely having been puking etc. I offered what little I had but told them to just take it easy and they could finish. So up, up, up we go, passing more people in a zombie-like state, just by powerhiking. 

Then I see the back of another Orange Mud vest walking a little ahead of me. I try to recognize the walk, and I think I recognize the shoulders. I think it's fellow trail crasher Steven Tally, a friend who was also hoping to get sub-24 on this brutal day. I'm not quite sure if it's him, but if it is I definitely wanna see how he's doing. So I ask a vague enough question that would be appropriate to address any fellow racer with: "How's it going buddy?". He turns around, sure enough it's Steven, and he doesn't look like he's doing too well. 

"I can't get my heart rate down, it feels like I'm doing a 7:30 pace and I'm walking."

Oh no. I recognize these symptoms. "You're severely dehydrated and the heat is just taking everything out of you, I know what that feels like". "I'm getting worried," he said. "What do you MEAN you're getting worried??" I said fearing that he meant that he was worried he wasn't going to be able to finish the race. "I'm gonna have to take some time at Penny Pines to re-evaluate". 

And that's when it hit me, how truly tough of a day it was. This man, Steven Tally, of whom I hold a high opinion, having done harder races than this, was going to have to "re-evaluate" at the next aid station. Wanting to help more, wishing there was something I could do to revive him, I offered some words of ease, "Yeah, everyone is having a hard time, it would be wise to take some time to refuel and relax until it gets cooler, you have plenty of time to make this happen Steven. Take it easy". Then, out of water and bordering dehydration myself, I had to take off to the next aid station to quickly get some more fluid in me. "I'll see you there. Really, take it easy", I told him.

I pulled into Penny Pines, again passing more people who legitimately looked like zombies walking, desperate for shade and something ice cold. Finally reached the final left turn shooting you into the aid station, and I see my buddy from Movin' Shoes, Mick, volunteering there with the freshly cut pineapple he promised to have for me. YES! And Julieann! Another trail crasher, there volunteering offering me ice cold soda. This must've been simultaneously the best aid station to volunteer at and the worst. Best because the kind of gratitude you receive from people who have trekked up Noble Canyon to find you offering hydration and relaxation was probably beyond what was imagined. I for one was super thankful to have this station here, and I can only imagine the countless Thank You's they received that day from struggling racers. At the same time, it was probably really disheartening to see so many people struggling and I'm sure this is the spot where lots of people decided to DNF.

I stayed here for a good maybe, 10 minutes, refueling, eating and cooling down, making conversation with people there. For the occasion of seeing Movin' Shoes, a store whose Monday evening running group I've been loyally a part of for going on 2 years now, I wore my Movin' Shoes hat and decided to have Mick take a pic of me in front of the Movin' Shoes Banner.
Mile 43.8. Sadly, I decided to sit out on the following Monday's group run.
Steven pulled in, and I was glad to see him as he sat down in a chair and cooled off. I was needing to go, as I didn't wanna waste too much time at any one aid station more than I needed. "Phillip, go get that Silver Buckle", Steven said, with regard to the silver buckle you get when you complete the race in under 24 hours. I laughed a laugh that said "Yeah, right, not today", but he still believed I could do it. I was way behind schedule though and just needed to keep moving forward regardless of what color that buckle was.

In training, I thought I had covered the Mt. Laguna part of the course but it turns out this was entirely new to me, which turned out to be an awesome bonus, unexplored trails! But as I approached the Meadows aid station at mile 48.8, I was really beginning to feel tired, and I mean physically TIRED. If I feel this way and I'm not even at the halfway point, how the hell am I going to push through another 50+ miles? I started reciting out loud, the poem by Bob Dylan that I had memorized for this specific occasion... 

"When you're head gets twisted and your mind grows numb, when you think you're too old, too young, too smart or too dumb. When you're lagging behind and losing your pace, in a slow motion crawl, or life's busy race, no matter what you're doing if you start giving up, if the wine don't come to the top of your cup. If the wind's got you sideways, with one hand holding on, and the other starts slipping and the feeling is gone... and your sidewalk starts curling and the street gets too long, and you start walking backwards so you know that it's wrong, and lonesome comes up as down goes the day, and tomorrow's morning seems so far away, and you feel the reins from your pony is slipping. And your rope is a slidin' cause your hands are a'drippin'. And your sun-decked deserts and evergreen valleys turn to broken down slums and trash can alleys... and you say to yourself just what am I doin? On this road I'm walking, on this trail I'm turning, on this curve I'm hanging, on this pathway I'm strolling, in the space I'm taking and this air I'm inhaling. Am I mixed up too much, am I mixed up too hard? Why am I walking? Where am I running? What am I saying, what am I knowing?... Who am I helping? What am I breaking? What am I giving? What am I taking? But you try with your whole soul best never to think these thoughts..."
I gave you the truncated version of the poem but I think it's the best poem to memorize and recite when you or someone you care about is struggling, whether it be during an ultra, or during "life's busy race". I memorized all 7 minutes of it, recited it numerous times, and it really did help just to just say this out loud, as I was trying to keep the hope alive, that I would in fact finish this race. It was getting harder though. Luckily, the aid station was coming up where I would be able to meet up with my crew and have an ear or two to listen to my worries. 

I met up with my crew (Whitney) who brought me the best tasting burrito from Sombrero's, my favorite burrito place. I ate it as others, even volunteers, voiced their jealousy. That's right, my crew is freakin' AWESOME. And MMMMM that burrito hit the spot! It had rice, eggs, potatoes! It was delicious! I could only make it through a 3rd of it though, as I grabbed some Squirt and re-hydrated. Natalie Larson offered her plentiful caffeine pills and pain killers and I politely declined, somewhat suspicious of how many caffeine pills she herself had consumed that caused her to be so energetically advocating them haha. Hey, crews are just as much part of this endurance feat as the runners so by any means necessary to get your job done! Thankful to this aid station for being so freakin' awesome, I solved a Rubik's Cube before I left (3 total), changed my phone battery, and took off towards RedTailed Roost, mile 55, where my pacer would be waiting. 

The Sun was going down and I absolutely LOVED IT, especially during this part of the course. The meadows and the tall trees of Mt. Laguna make this part especially awesome during the early mornings and late afternoons. I kept steady hydrating and moving along well, then I started picking up energy, thanks to that burrito! It's really important to eat actual solid foods during a long race like a 100, and you'll hear other people say this because it's true! Just make sure you always eat food that's agreeable with your GI, and don't take chances on something you've never tried during a race, during your 100. 

I reached the part where it was downhill, made primarily for mountain bikers, as you could see ramps and trees that were built for bikes to ride on. Sidewinding down these switchbacks, I come upon another friend who happens to be walking. I recognized her from when I volunteered during Sycamore Canyon 100k earlier this year, and it seemed like she had some bandages around her knee. I slowed down to a walk and proceeded to make conversation with her. Clearly, she was not having a good day as she had taken a spill going down to Deer Springs Rd from Pioneer Mail and she had apparently been able to ignore it until recently. We talked about how glad we were that the sun was finally going down, and she noted how that's what she was mad about; that she made it through the heat of the day and now it's looking like she won't be able to finish the race. "We do these things for recreation, like the race director said", I told her "and also for good health. There's no need for us to be hurting ourselves unnecessarily and so it would be a perfectly legitimate reason for you to DNF". 

Sometimes, you need to hear other people telling you that "It's okay".

because we live in a world where you feel like you would be judged for "giving up". Again, the parallels to suicide are remarkable. Our egos get in the way of our own success a lot of times and it takes real wisdom and maturity to know when you should really stop. "At least it wasn't me who gave up, like, I didn't stop because I was tired or couldn't handle it". She had other races coming up too so we both concluded that it was best for her long-term that the next aid station be the completion of this race today. I was to see her sister and crew waiting for her when I pulled into Redtailed Roost and I told them of her situation. Her sister decided she was going to go back on the trail and walk her in.

There was a route that I came upon that I thought was going to be the way we took up to RedTailed Roost, as it was the way that we took during training and was only maybe 0.5 miles away from the Aid Station. NOPE. Instead, we took a hard left up a hill, to go up more hills, and oh--look! More hills. I was over climbing by the time I pulled into RedTailed Roost and said to myself "Oh, thanks God" when I saw the entrance to the aid station as I thought it was never going to come. 

Wow, mile 55 and I'm feeling good! I first tell Whitney, on a scale of 1-10, 1 being I'm not gonna finish, and 10 being it's already done, I was a 5. A look of concern came over her face. "Actually, make that more like a 7/10". "Oh, okay, that's a lot better". I drank my orange soda and met up with my freakin' awesome pacer Eli Barreto who would pace me from mile 55 to 84, at which point we would switch with Whitney. It's always funny running with someone who has such fresh legs and is rearing to go, especially when you have 55 miles underneath you. 
Who loves orange soda? Phil loves orange soda.
We were ready to head down to mile 64 and he was going to do his best to make sure I finished this race. As he was talking about how awesome it was, and that I'm GOING to finish the race, my first 100 miler, all I could think was how that was his fresh legs talking, and how unsure I was that that was actually going to happen. After my first 100 FAIL (First Attempt In Learning), I take no step for granted and realize things can change in an instant, so I try not to be so confident, in an effort to avoid jinxing myself. Yeah, it's a bit superstitious, but it's also wise not to count your chickens before they hatch. I just like to focus on the fact that I have eggs, and if they hatch that's great. If not, hey, I'm still eating eggs (sorry, my vegan friends). 

We pull into Dale's Kitchen about 1.3 miles down Thing Valley Rd, and one of the volunteers asks, "Hey, how's it going Phil?". Holy crap, it's Jason, the archaeologist I used to work with when I did Cultural Monitoring with LSA. It was good to see him there! Eli grabs some tomato soup and I do some quick refilling of my handhelds (having dumped my hydration pack at mile 48), and we're off. "Let's aim for a 11:30 pace going down, alright?" "Alright, sounds good". 

And we were moving! We were doing low-11 pace and so had to slow it down a little. Down this section of the PCT, you have to be really conscious of your footing, and so as the sun was starting to go down, we had to be really cautious. I was surprised I was feeling this good after having experienced such a low before mile 48. I was back at it and having my pacer really helped keep me going at a good pace. Sun's gone down, starting to get dark, so it's time to turn on the headlamps. I've covered this section before and for some reason it felt so much longer in the dark going down. Getting down to Fred Canyon Rd was such a relief! Only about 0.6 miles left to Cibbets Flats, mile 64. Ran down the road to meet the well-lit party that was going on at the campground, with an open fire and everything!

I took way longer than I was anticipating at this aid station. I sat down for a hot second after drinking some more orange soda, and tried to finish the rest of that burrito I started earlier. My trail friend Larry Pustinger, who really enjoys my race reports SHOUTOUT TO YOU LARRY, was there and I was glad to see him. His voice is really comforting to hear, regardless of what he's saying, it always sounds like he's telling one hell of a story. As I was sitting down, I used the little foamrolling stick to roll out my quads, hams, calves and even all my back muscles that were starting to cramp up. I stood by the fire a little as I started to get cold (from not moving for too long) and I was so tempted to just spend the rest of the night here hanging out with these awesome volunteers. And they were like Sirens they were, telling me, "Yeah, maybe you should take a little more time, just relax here by the fire. Here, have a seat". Sooo tempting, but I knew it would be the worst idea for me so I just told my pacer we should get going soon. We took off, telling Whitney it would probably be 3am the next time we see her, which would be at mile 84. She might've gotten some sleep in between, but probably only chunks at a time, until it was her time to pace me. Freakin' best crew ever. 

I told Eli it would be mainly walking, not even powerhiking, on the way back up because I didn't want to be foolish and trip going uphill (which describes 90% of my falls). I'd rather be safe and a little slow than fast and injured. Going up, it was cool seeing other racers as they were coming down. I saw Dave Snyder being paced by Louka, so glad to see him doing well, I saw Jeff, who said he was "feeling bad", oh no.. "Hang in there!" I tell him. As we were racing, we have no idea who is still in the race and who had dropped but I had some idea that a large chunk of people ended up dropping so to see my friends' faces as they make the descent to mile 64 was an awesome way to get a live update on their situation. 

Wait a sec--where's Steven Tally? Oh no... If I haven't seen him by now, he's most likely dropped. Damn it. I really hope he's doing alright, but if he felt like dropping, I can only imagine his situation must have gotten worse. Aw, man. I wonder if Jonathon is still in the race? It's been a while and the last time I saw him was before mile 28 when he was having calf issues. OH HEY! It's Jonathon! He's on his way down! That's freakin awesome! Boy, he must have had a tough day, but he's still going! Boy, did that feel good seeing him. What a way to keep the spirits alive going up this climb, seeing the countless people fighting forward. And there's Ed! He is NOT having a DNF today!

I started getting a little dehydrated reaching the top of the climb as I had only brought my 2 handhelds for the 7.7 mile hike up to Dale's Kitchen, which ended up taking 2 hours. My headlight battery was dying too and I forgot to bring extra batteries! Crap. Luckily, Eli had extra batteries to give me from his spare headlamp, oh thanks god. How freakin' awesome are all these volunteers to be out here so late at night on a Friday to help us out? Grabbed some tomato soup, burned my tongue off, put some ice in it to cool it down but my tongue lost feeling. Ate another protein bar, refilled on Tailwind, and took off towards mile 75, which would be a distance PR for me.

We're trucking along the PCT in all it's rocky glory and start pulling up behind a couple people. Oh cool, I hear people up th---CRASH! Faceplant into the trail, my hands couldn't move fast enough. My strategy, after a particularly hard fall, especially at night, is to just lay there for a second and regain my ego, play it off almost. Eli's strategy is "No man, you gotta get up right quick, let's go let's go". So it was somewhere in between the two strategies, I got up quicker than I would have but still took my time. Off we go to catch those people and get to Todd's Cabin.

Todd's Cabin was freaking awesome, I actually had never been to this part of the course, it's 1/10th of a mile off the side of the trail to this little cabin where awesome people were posted out and enjoying the Saturday morning. "Do you guys know who won?" I asked. "The race is still going on" someone said. I was surprised to hear this as I had figured someone might have finished this race in less than the 19 hours that had passed. It must have been a rough day for EVERYONE.

I ask to use the bathroom, which was really nice and inside the cabin. Again, another chance to lighten the load, as I was starting to experience some GI distress. Mission accomplished! Super stoked, as we celebrate my distance PR and head towards mile 80.3, Penny Pines 2. 

Eli had said this next part is his favorite part of the PCT 50 course because it goes downhill. The lie detector determined THAT was a lie. It goes downhill, eventually. Right before that though, boy was I glad I grabbed a light jacket at Cibbets Flats to take with me, as the desert view section of this part got really windy and really chilly. We made our way down the relentless technical downhill of this part of the PCT and our GPS's clocked in at 82 miles by the time we made it to Penny Pines. A fair amount of scorpions were out, which I then realized that scorpions must be nocturnal because I never see them during the day. I almost forgot they were supposed to be harmful as when I stepped over them, I did so as I would have a furry caterpillar, like, "Oh hey, that's cute". I must have been tired.

We FINALLY pulled into Penny Pines 2, it was awesome to see the lights as we came in. I started eating what was there, a rice ball (awesome), and refilled my Tailwind. Then out of nowhere Whitney came walking up. I wasn't expecting to see her until the next aid station but there she was! Awesome! AND I think she had some pineapple there for me, which I gladly took. I also grabbed a Picky Bar she had for me, which I swear is the best bar to eat during ultras. Of course, she brought the cube there for me and I solved it one more time, this time on camera, for a total of 4 solves in 100 miles. 

Since I was already feeling sluggish about my pace going into Penny Pines, I decided to try to be realistic with Whitney as to when she should expect us to be at the next aid station, 4 miles away. "We'll probably be there in 1 hour 25 minutes", I said. Then Eli and I took off walking up a little incline before it started going downhill a little bit.

This section of the PCT turned out to be a lot more runnable and somehow, I ended up getting my 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th wind and ended up doing a 10 minute pace for the last 3 miles or so. We ended up at the next aid station 50 minutes after leaving Penny Pines. GREAT! Except, where's my Exit Buddy? Aw crap, she's probably not expecting us for at least another half hour. I ask one of the crew to go see if she's waiting in her car or something and she returns with a slightly tired-looking Whitney. I think she might have been trying to sleep. Sleep? At 3:50 in the morning? Who the hell does that?

Me and Eli looking fresh at 4am

This is where I parted ways with my awesome pacer Eli. I tell ya, I couldn't have had a better pacer, made for great conversation and to top it all off, he's a family guy and he still made time to come out and pace me for 29 miles. Cannot express enough gratitude for this guy and I promised to return the favor at his first 100 if he needed it. 

So after refueling and eating some, my Exit Buddy (former crew) and I took off towards Sunrise. Like, literally, towards the Sunrise aid station and towards the Sunrise as it came up on the east behind beautiful mountain skyline. God, I don't remember this section feeling as long when I was going the other way on it! Luckily it was mainly downhill, but again, wanting to be careful, especially on some of this narrow ridges, I decided to take it easy on certain parts where it might be easy to miss seeing a rock. 

So as we continue, we start seeing the sky to the right of us get lighter and lighter, as it turned marigold with the rising sun. Boy, was that the most beautiful thing I'd seen all race (well, next to the burrito at mile 48). I was moving pretty good for being in the 80's mileage-wise. Kept going and going and going, passed up a couple people and it felt like tomorrow's morning was not that far away after all. My headlamp battery was dying but luckily it was getting lighter and lighter so I just let it fade out, as we pulled into the trail that led to Sunrise Highway. "Oh thanks God" I said again. 91 miles. 

91 freaking miles. When I first got into running in 2012-2013, it was to do a 90-mile Spirit Run in honor of my Great Uncle Alfonso Soto, as I recreated his run away from the Sherman Indian Boarding School back home to Mesa Grande. But that was over 3 days. Here, I had just covered 90 miles in less than 24 hours. My mind was officially blown.

It was officially morning and the awesome volunteers at this aid station were excited to tell me I only had 8.5 miles left. "OH 8.5 miles? That for some reason sounds a hell of a lot better than the 9 I thought it was". Then, Gloria King came out of nowhere! Freaking awesome! Fellow trail crasher who is a beast unto herself came up and hugged me from behind. You can tell she was happy for me. And HEY LOOK, IT'S ELI! I thought he took off but he came to see me at Sunrise! He has freaking work in a couple hours! Talk about being surrounded by amazing people. 

So I fill up my handhelds for the final 9 miles (turns out the volunteer forgot it's 100.5 and not 100.0) and prepared for what I was expecting to be the craziest 9 miles of the race. I drank half of a Rockstar and ate a Picky Bar and I was ready to END THIS. We started off with a little jog/walk action to get some oil in my stiff joints, then eventually picked up the pace as it started to go downhill. I was doing a 12-minute pace and feeling okay about it, as we started pulling up on some people and passing them up. I kept up a good running pace until near Pedro Fages, mile 94, where I began to notice a little pain in the part of my calf muscle that's close to my shin, the extensor digitorum longus for those who would know. I started walking up the slight hill and noticed that it was still hurting me. I tried running and landing differently but it didn't matter how my foot landed, it would send a sharp searing pain, almost like a cramping jolt, up my leg that would cause my leg to just stop. And it just got worse the longer I kept moving. I realized it was probably some kind of tendinitis issue developing and that I needed to stop moving if I wanted to prevent real damage. But Goddamnit, NOT RIGHT NOW, FOOT! I'm trying to finish here! I thought about meditation techniques, to help with the pain. But then I thought about the scene from Fight Club, my favorite movie, that in part allowed me get this far in the race. A simple truth:

"This is the greatest moment of your life, and you're off somewhere, missing it!"

When he gets a chemical burn from Tyler Durden, he tries his best to shut out the pain via guided meditation. He tries to find his "happy place", and tries his damnedest to avoid acknowledging the pain, when he's missing the point of the exercise. A lot of times, when we experience pain, whether it be in a race or in life, we try our best to shut it out or to mitigate the effects of the pain, without realizing that the pain is part of the experience, and that experience is the greatest moment of your life. It's the ONLY moment of your life, the present one, so don't try to run away from it, Phillip, "THIS IS THE GREATEST MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE!". I told myself as I began to embrace the pain. Every step, every time I landed my right foot, searing pain consumed me. But this race, in its entirety, was guaranteed to be the greatest moment of my life, and this pain being part of this race qualifies as part of that moment. 

So I pushed on, ever wanting this race to be done. We got to mile 95 where there was a hidden aid station, awesome guys who were posted out there with ice and other aid, since temperatures were going to rise again soon and since there were almost 100 people behind me still going to finish. I tried putting ice on my leg where I felt the pain, but it didn't help much. So screw it, time to roll on. Those loose rocks did not help one bit as I struggled to descend down this slight hill. Since running slowly or walking didn't seem to be helping, I decided to try bouts where I would run really fast, Those lasted about 30 seconds at a time before the pain came back. Eventually I slowed to a walk as we crossed the road leading to the Marty Minshall trail. Only about 2 miles left, but I have to walk. The pain is not going away as I walk, but the damage that's being done is lessened. 

I walked slow for 3/4 of a mile. That is until I heard some people coming up behind us. They were walking, granted, but they were walking faster than I was. "Whitney", I breathed, "are there people behind us", unsure of whether I was too tired or too afraid to look back. I barely heard her "Yes", though I probably didn't need to, as I knew the answer. "Well, this is still technically a race, so let's get moving". So I sucked it up for the last 1.5 miles and started running until I got on the trail that went around Lake Cuyamaca, at which point a sign was posted saying: "1 mile left". I had forgotten that it was in fact 1 mile from that point, in my mind it was shorter, but I remember the distance well from the 12-hour race I did there in March doing this same roughly 2 mile loop around the lake. "Is it really 1 mile? Oh my god". I think the person behind me had started running when I did so she was not far behind. "Alright, let's keep running". And we ran, miraculously at a 10-minute pace, my pain in my foot subsided for a little bit. Then the uneven surfaces of this trail around the lake caused me to once again stop in pain and start to walk. But looking behind, the person was still running. "I can't walk" I thought. So I resolved to run the rest of the way in as fast as I could, partly because I didn't want to get passed up last minute and partly because the finish line was so close and I just couldn't wait for that end. We ended up picking up the pace to maybe 9:00 or possible 8:30, all the way to the hill leading up to the finish.

Whitney had been keeping up with me but you can tell she was starting to push it a little as her breathing increased. She trailed behind me to let me finish on my own and I ran up that last little hill to the finish. Knowing this to be the finish line of previous years of this race, I've always wondered how, if at all, people reaching the end of their 100 mile race had the energy to do anything besides walk up this dang little hill. Yet, here I was, running pretty strong up this dang little hill, finishing my very own first 100 mile trail run. 

It had been roughly 18 minutes since the last runner, Neil Ferrick, had come in and so I'm pretty sure I caught them off guard. I can honestly say I don't even remember crossing the finish line, or what it looked like. I see it on video and I try to visualize the memory of having crossed it but I can't visually remember much. I just remember this overwhelming feeling, the same feeling described in the beginning of this race report memoir. This was not an end, but a start of something bigger than I could actually comprehend. 

I had become the first modern day Kumeyaay to run a distance of 100 miles or longer and had, with my own 2 feet, revived a part of the Culture that had more or less died off since ancient times. Hope-- an overwhelming feeling of hope and gratitude that I've only ever one other time in my life felt. For all the struggles our communities face, we are making a comeback and it's through me. We are repeating history in the best possible sense. I caught a glimpse of a future where we, as San Diego Natives, embrace running as part of our Culture, the way it used to be. The quiet little Indian kid who weighed 230 lbs in middle school did this. WE did this. 

Imagine, if you will, someone singing a bird song right before they were to almost never be sung again. Imagine, that person singing loud enough for other Natives to hear the songs, a voice powerful enough to be heard across the valleys, singing long enough to cause others to wonder what it was that he was doing. Imagine then, others joining him, and the women starting to dance. Imagine a full-blown revival of this part of the Culture that just about died out, if not for that one voice singing, despite being the only one, causing other voices to sing with him until all the neighboring tribes and communities began joining in at gatherings, fiestas, wakes and funerals. Imagine, many years after, an annual gathering being held where people gather to sing those songs that almost faded away into distant memory. That's what I saw when crossing the finish line, but instead with running. 

It is my dream to see running flourish again in Kumeyaay communities, to have it locally embraced as a cultural signifier in the same way that bird songs are. It's happening, I just need to keep singing my song. 

'Eyaay 'ehan 
(My heart is good)

Phillip Kwa'han Espinoza


  1. What a huge inspiration and congrats on your excellent finish! Brutal course on a brutally hot day. My 9 yr old daughter ran the Pirate's Cove race and one of her highlights was seeing you solve the Rubik's cube after each lap.

    1. Thanks! Thanks for reading and I'm glad your daughter got a kick out of my Rubik's Cube solving. Next time, I'll see if I could do a behind the back solve for you all ;)

  2. Great Race Memoir and a very wise and gutsy job on the SD100, Phillip. Thanks for sharing your mindset about the slow and easy start and super strong finish. I love the photos (way to rep Movin Shoes!) from your 24 hours. Keep up the great work and beautiful writing.
    Sunny Kim

    1. Thanks for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed!

  3. Great race report Phillip, and nice talking with you after the race.

  4. Great reading your report, loved every minute and all the emotions. As years go by, your first 100 will always be the one when you finished and said to yourself, "oh, this wasn't too bad." Lol. On to the next one. Thanks for sharing.