I’d like to get a couple things ironed out going into this race…
It would start with this race towards the end of last year. Ok, well maybe about 3 years ago when I was setting my sights on the San Diego 100. I was looking for a prestigious, challenging, highly regarded, out of state, epic race to do. The Lottery seemed to come and go as I was contemplating which races to do each year. Getting a qualifying 50 miler done at 1st was the pre req along with the time off from work, the ability to fit it into my current training schedule and all of that.
Applying for Western States now two years in a row produced no entry for me for 2016/2017 and thus opened up that coveted June slot for me. The day I had waited for was finally here. I applied Jan 1 and was quickly notified on the 4th I had gotten in. This year apparently didn’t draw the group size in year’s past and even had some additional slots open. Let the planning begin.
Over the next few months leading up to the race, I managed to get in quality runs, long good runs, some races and even a down and out at the Grand Canyon in May to help prepare me for San Diego. The goal leading in to June would be to have a steady ramp up of higher than average climbing weeks. In the range of 3500-8500(peak) pretty consistently as well as a topper of 52 miles in a week had me considering if I had done enough for this challenging course. Race description and profile info. here.
Race week: My crew and I had met to go over last minute plans, logistics etc.. This would be a great meeting since we had already discussed some things prior to which mainly focused on the “why” I was doing this race, what would be new this time around and what to expect.
I wanted to use this race experience to help “iron out” two primary things: Challenge myself on new and unfamiliar ground. Leadville 100 would be coming up in a couple months. Surely, I wouldn’t have been able to run that course, do the recon I wanted to and a host of other things in prep. Yeah, I’ve been to Leadville, run some of it, done Silver Rush 50m twice but this would not compare to what I would experience in August of 2017.
The second reason for going down this San Diego road would be to put other logistics, crewing, packing and things like that to the test.. A “dry run” of sorts. This would prove pretty critical when I reflect back now. Everything was executed flawlessly thanks to my faithful crew(Brian and Meghan Slavin), leader and wife, Tara. They were simply awesome and I have ZERO complaints or issues as to how things went! Brian wore that UD Crew Bag well, very well! 🙂
From the moment we arrived at Lake Cuyumaca to the moment we left, I felt I could definitely see myself coming back in the future. The best way I can describe it for those who live in or are familiar with Arizona would be: Prescott and the Prescott Circle Trail meets Payson and the Mogollon Rim trails. Oh, throw in a little of Norman Rockwell and a hell of a lot of PIE options!! More on that as the race goes on.
This race had 275 entrants signed up and ready to go the day before the race.. Final stats here.
For those curious about the course itself… 100.5 miles(41 of them on the PCT/Pacific Crest Trail). Other notable sections: Noble Canyon, Pine Creek, Anza Borrego State Parks and the immediate area surrounding Lake Cuyumaca. There would be a total of 11 aid stations some being double out and backs and well stocked!
As advertised, the elevation specs were: Approximately 26k total (13k Ascent and 13k Descent). In my guestimate, I would venture to say 90% was single track, some forest service roads and a small section of pavement coming down into Pine Creek aid. Elevation ranges went between 3850’ and 6000’ ish.
Weather was forecasted to be epic! 73 ish for highs and 43 ish for lows depending on which site, and locations you stalked. I wondered if we would have WIND at all?!? More on that later.. This year, they would have received plenty of rain creating an ideal scenario for wildflowers and longer grasses. We headed the advice of the famous and very well respected RD, Scott Mills to wear gaiters to keep us from struggling with the cattails that lined most of the trails. Damn, that was great advice!!
The race briefing was spectacular.. The setting was at the Start/Finish right next to the main parking area and docks for Lake Cuyumaca. The weather was awesome! Oh and I may add we rolled in with plenty of time to spare! Not typical Christley casually late : ) The cool kids from So Cal were here… It was starting to feel awesome..
Scotty Mills is genuinely awesome.. I was blown away with the tips, tricks, and the thoroughness of his pre race talk and the sheer volume of his dedicated volunteers. A very top notch and well organized venue. It was everything I had already heard from the Ultra community as to how he is, who he is and how well he manages this race. We had him introduce to us the committed folks coming back year after year for their 5 and 10yr finishes and those who came in from outside the U.S. Again, pure awesomeness to look around and witness this as well as everyone’s energy and excitement to be here.
The fact that my favorite nutrition company, Tailwind was sponsoring this race and would be supplying all aid stations with Tailwind put it over the top for me! This was awesome as I also learned the San Diego 100 was Tailwind’s 1st sponsored event 5yrs ago when Tailwind was a fledgling brand new brand and graciously promoted on the likes of TRN(Trail Runner Nation) podcasts and has been a part of the race ever since. Other top sponsors for this event included: Orange Mud, Clif, Julbo Eyewear, High Desert Dropbags, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Squirrel’s Nut Butter, Running Skirts and host of others. Oh and the swag bags were pretty cool! I would also learn we get a medal in addition to a buckle for the 100m finish! A coffee mug to boot! Damn, am I done with this part yet?!?
Race morning: Our phenom VRBO we secured was in the town of Julian. A short 15min drive to the northeast. Well worth the drive over. Julian has a lot to offer for a small mountain town.. Farming community, historic stop along the PCT, mom and pop restaurants, and antique shops of various cowboy like flare..
The usual routine for me race morning is to get in Christopher Bean bulletproof style coffee and some minor food.. When I travel, I bring the necessities: MCT Oil, Grass Fed butter and the contraptions to grind, mix, and whip up this lovely concoction. I would also not normally eat solids within the magic 3hr window of starting a race. This morning I was slightly in and held it to two bananas and a couple teaspoons of Nuttzo. Mmmmm… Packed up the Hummer, crew was bustling and off we went to Lake Cuyumaca. The only thing we would need to do is get my Bib and do the final check in with staff.
Start Line: We would arrive around 5:15-5:30a in plenty of time for the two drop bags I had.. There were two options for this race..Solo(unsupported but having drop bags and no crew options) and regular(crew/pacers/drop bags). I opted for the crew option. It’s a system I’ve used for years now.. Again, one of the primary reasons to do this particular race with crew was to iron the kinks out for Leadville. My crew is and will continue to ooze awesome sauce. I ran into a few friends I’ve met along the years at the start and had a chance to hit the potty a couple times prior to the start. I was ready! The sun was just cresting, the chill in the air had most of us wearing arm sleeves or a very light long sleeve. 6:00 GO!!! Scotty sent us off!
Paso Picacho Aid Station(1) – After getting onto the forest service road, it was still quite congested as we conquered our 1st climb up Middle Peak. Even when we got a couple miles in, the proverbial “conga line” was still present.. I was happy to run into an AZ ultra vet Michelle Wagher during that stretch.. Seeing and chatting with the other AZ folks was great! Dean Hansen, Brad Schmitt and Matt Simmons.. We would all have finishing times at this race. Congrats to you all! Checking in here only had me re filling my small soft flasks with tasty Mandarin Orange Tailwind. “48 out” my 1st chance to blurt that out to Angela Shartel.
Chambers (2) – The climb out of Paso Picacho had stupendous views all the way around the immediate areas. It was amazing to hear some of the other runners talking about the area.. the plants (yep, I was pretty sure I had never run into Poison Oak or Ivy but was scared to death of picking some up along the way based on what I was hearing) that lined the trails and were native to the area.. I would learn “Poodle Bush” was also a pretty, purpley bush but “steer clear”. Chambers aid was on the other side of the Dam at the Lake.. Everyone there was super helpful and re filled me immediately.. The sleeves came off before this and the Cool Off Bandana went on.. Was super glad I got this knowing we could encounter hot weather for this race. “48 out” to the gal taking down numbers for us.
Sunrise 1st Pass (3) – This would be my 1st chance to pretty much run solo and have a decent spread.. Some single track farther in but for the most part, plenty of room to spread out.. I was taking in a small fruit stick I carry with me, Tailwind was flowing and a Honey Stinger gel during this section. Up until this point, I was not consuming a ton of calories outside of the 200cal/hr of Tailwind. 21 miles up to this point before I would come in and see my crew here.. I had a chance to run a bit with a trio, which included Amy Chavez, a veteran ultra runner, and all around bad@ss.. We all came into Sunrise ready to greet our crews. Was a great sight to see them and they had me in and out in a flash! It was awesome. “48 out”
Pioneer Mail 1st Pass (4) – After leaving Sunrise, we crossed the S1 Highway and onto the PCT. This was awesome.. We went from rolling hills and grasslands to a very hilly mountains for miles section. Once we(Amy and I) got back on track, we were a steady 11-12min pace with the climbs here and there.. The run “trot” was a great strategy. Amy would say that frequently as we tooled along on our way to Pioneer Aid. This section would have us experiencing windy more sunny and exposed trails. The temps may have been hovering around 70 but with direct sunlight the entire way.. My Cool Off Bandana was working great! The trails were in great shape up until this point.. Encountering the cattails along the section from Chambers to Sunrise was all that we had so far(thank you gaiters for protecting the sharpery pointy thingies that would have normally punched right into the socks). As far as technical, rocky sections we had not seen any major sections, yet… “48 out”
Pine Creek (5) – Did I say yet? Almost the entire time from when we left Pioneer(Amy and I still moving forward together) all the way down to this aid station, this trail would be littered with rocks of every size category. I had heard so much about what NOT to do leaving Pine Creek I was focused on this for the time being.. Hydrating as much as possible, conserving energy for that arduous climb up Noble Canyon.. There was a small section of asphalt leading us to Pine Creek but I would assume it wasn’t more than a couple miles. Time to re fill, fuel up and head back out with Amy. Boy, is she efficient!! I was still getting folks to fill and top me off and she was ready to roll! Off we went.. Trotting for well, about 100 yards it seemed like. According to the charts, the amount of ascent/climbing we would expect to encounter up here would be 1952’ over 7.6 miles. We were already 36.2 ish in for ground covered at this point. As we climbed up Noble, the heat soared. It felt like 80 with some high elevation sun scorching our backsides going up this thing. At times, there was a conga line. Seemed Amy and I switched positions back and forth with a few guys along this route. Some had made stops to cool down. Luckily there were a couple creek crossings with cool flowing water we could use for dunking bandanas, hats and the like. As we were drawing closer to the aid station nature was calling! I definitely had to hit a Porta Potty. Thankful for the small things in an ultra race of this duration. I would say my next section was “sponsored by a Penny Pines Porta Potty”.. : )
Penny Pines 1st Pass (6) – I ended up spending way too much time here.. Amy left and trotted on which was fine since I had to recycle through my drop bag, get refilled and use that Porta Potty! Dang glad that thing was there! I should mention the assistance of every aid station worker. EVERYONE was very accommodating, this one in particular. There was a group of youngsters here pitching in asking us if we needed anything. That was so cool! “48 out”
Meadows (7) The section between Penny Pines and Meadows was awesome! A lot of pine trees, open meadows and such. I enjoyed the brief relief of the rocky, technical terrain. Amy was ahead and I tried txt’ing my crew to let them know what time I left PP and when to expect me. I would find out later they never got said txt. Actually, I would also find out I disappeared for some reason from ultralive.net and wasn’t showing during this section for some reason! Maybe mentally, I was gone but physically, I sure the H E double hockey sticks was there making my way through miles 43 and 48.. I was getting super stoked to be able to pick Meghan Slavin, my pacer up very soon! I would be able to get changed at Meadows now for the night running, another quick change of clothes and I would be good to go. I was starting to actually feel hunger pains off and on… I wasn’t feeling a bonk at all since I never really stopped eating but I was ready for a little solid food here. As I rolled into Meadows aid, I was thinking of things I could eat.. Chicken Bone Broth came to mind since it was dropping in temperature at this point. I had Tara grab my hydro flask and I took some.. I have been doing this concoction as of late during the later stages of my racing and it is fab!! I do a bone broth with Sea Salt, Turmeric, and sometimes a shake of cayenne and pepper. I warm it up but not too much so I can get a quick chug in. It’s awesome! Meadows aid seemed like it came and went but I now have 6.2 miles to get to Red Tailed Roost and a mere 1000’+ of climbing. “48 out”
Red Tailed Roost (8) – As I rolled in here, it would be headlamp time.. dark, tons of people and pacers ready to meet their runners. I had developed a bit of a lower right back cramp that I had Meghan work out for a bit while I tried to get a few solids in. I had almost emptied both soft flasks of Tailwind and water from my bladder upon arriving at each aid station. I was fine with the mandarin orange flavor up until now.. I try and get the green tea caffeinated flavor in around dark to get me going through the night. It’s worked in the past. I had a stick I dumped in while I was at Penny Pines aid. Tara was the best each time I came in saying “you relax, we got it”. Brian was there all the time filling my flasks, replenishing my Honey Stinger Waffles, Gel and fruit stick with each aid station. This time around I asked for some sweet potatoes the crew had from earlier. I got a cup and threw in some other sweet potato fries with cinnamon, grabbed Meghan my pacer and off we went up the hill and towards Dales Kitchen 1. “48 out”
Dale’s Kitchen 1st Pass (9) – My initial thoughts as we went up this hill were two things.. Where the “F” did all of this wind come from all of a sudden? Gale force gusts just whipping from every direction and temps were dropping. And, what the heck would I grab from this aid station 1.3 miles ahead.. Well, that answer came fast as we rolled up and were rushed through the station. I did manage to eat that cup of glorious carbs I mentioned earlier but the aid station folks indicated this stop wasn’t really an “aid station stop”.. “48 in, 48 the F out”.
Cibbets Flat (10) – OK, I knew we would have a huge descent ahead of us leaving Dales Kitchen.. This was an understatement. If one were to review the course map, you would see a large “V” starting at mile 56 and coming back up the Canyon. Net loss here in this 7.7mi section was 2115’. 80% rocky, 110% WAF-Windy as F*CK and the bushes were quite thick in this section.. This would be the 1st chance we had to start seeing the leaders coming back up. That was cool! I recognized some friends and was glad to see them. Meghan kept me moving. We caught up again to Amy Chavez and her pacer. That was cool too. Amy was having a little bit of a rough go after a pretty good toe jam/trip when her and I were going into Pine Canyon earlier. We pressed on. The one side of this downhill was completely open and exposed to utter darkness on the one side and did I mention how awesome that wind was yet? We could see the aid station way down at the bottom where we would meet Brian and Tara. When we arrived, I immediately rushed over to change my shirt under my long sleeve and UD ultra rain jacket. I rushed over to the rest room and changed. After this, my body would start shaking uncontrollably from the cold. I would ask Tara to get me soup but nothing was hot enough. Even though I had gloves and a beanie on, I was still shivering. This has happened to me in late stage ultras. It’s frustrating and a bit scary to go through. We stood by the campfire real quick. I got refreshed, brushed my teeth(yes, this is an amazing experience 65mi into a 100mi race), warmed up and thought to myself, if I can just get moving, the heat would get generated going back up that long ascent to Dales Kitchen again. Off we went. “48 out”
Dale’s Kitchen 2nd Pass (11) – On this ascent back up the hill and into the aid station, we stopped frequently, chatted when we could about small talk, giving a couple high fives, trying to keep the mind from going to a dark place and honestly, with that wind whipping our UD jackets, it was hard to even talk much. I began to wonder what my strategy would be when we go to DK. Eat hot stuff, replenish and not spend a lot of time there. I was already starting to get behind on target times. Nowhere near cutoffs but I spent way too much time at Cibbets. The aid station staff was so accommodating every single time. That is so refreshing. These guys and gals were veterans. We weren’t here too long but left DK 2 around 2:30am. Pitch black and yet so thankful my last big climb was done.. Did I mention the rocks on that route and the wind?!? “48 out”
Todd’s Cabin (12) – I would venture to say this was probably the most quiet, and dark and what felt like a slow jaunt.. Even though we were running here and there.. It just felt like it took forever to get to this aid station. I thought, “who is this Todd and is there a rustic cabin out here, what is this place”? Low and behold we saw lights shimmering through the trees and there it was! The most awesome sight I’ve seen in the last 10hrs. A structure. A real cabin. People were everywhere. Then I thought… Will there be someone to let us in? The spread they had here was unreal.. Dark Chocolate this, that, all things Ginger, boiled potatoes, bananas, it went on and on.. It was SO cool! Someone said the bathrooms are in the cabin.. We made our way over and knocked on the door we saw few runners coming out of.. Some gent answered the door and welcomed us in.. OMG. Warm, cozy and a puppy nestled there in the kitchen on the floor. We think this may have been Todd himself who let us in to use his restroom.. It was unreal. We took turns, washed up a tad(real soap was a god send here), and made our way out. That was the best feeling.. We immediately felt recharged. “48 out”
Penny Pines 2nd Pass (13) On our way to PP 2, we experienced the subtle sunrise. The surreal experience where your body has been running for endless hours, you feel like sleepwalking is a “thing” but all of a sudden realize the sun coming up just means things will start getting better. Well, this section had a shot ton of rocks on the trail again and some sweeping twisty turning climbs, descents, ascents, etc… I wasn’t too much of a fan but knew we would see our crew at Pioneer Mail soon and then after that, the downhill to the finish would be near. Time wasn’t all that concerning to me at this time but I still had a certain goal in mind but wanted to be strong about it mentally and not let anything get me down. Meghan was doing an awesome job trying to clear rocks for me at this stage and I may have cussed them at least 47 times just since picking her up at Red Tail Roost. We rolled into PP2 around 5:20a. Man o Man… Did I see Pay Day’s at this aid station? WHOA and I mean whoa.. They also had “rice balls” OMG. These were awesome. I had chicken broth and swished that down with the rice.. Oh man.. I may not have wanted to leave this aid station. I rustled through my drop bag, got what I needed and we left.. Dang that was another great refresher to have eaten a little solid food. “48 out”
Pioneer Mail (14) – Even though we had been running for some time now along the PCT, this was the time I really wanted Meghan and my crew to see some of the beauty of this trail along the eastern edges of this huge mountain range.. S1 was the highway I believe. They came up on this earlier when they provided me aid on Friday. The views with the sunrise at this point were unreal and I will never forget those images. Another great boost coming into the home stretch. I had not run that particular route coming down from Dales Kitchen on our 1st pass since we went to the west towards Pine Creek. Again, that section albeit hard and somewhat technical was beautiful! We met up with Brian and Tara since we had not seen them since around 8:30 Friday night. We both had hoped they got some sleep during the night. They refreshed both our packs, and off we went.. This aid station was unreal as well.. Two huge Class A motor homes surrounding the aid station, propane heaters, great food, paydays, even pancakes!! It was quite the get up.. “48 out”
Sunrise 2nd Pass (15) – Coming down this section was just as awesome as the previous day except for one factor. That “F’ing” wind.. Damn, it seemed relentless!! At times just pushing us almost over onto the ground.. Gale force and very very consistent hardly ever letting up! This section although it was only 4 miles to get here from Pioneer Mail seemed to go on forever!! I forgot to mention, my Garmin 5x was running out of battery juice during the night so we had to rig up a portable charger to get it back up to a good charge but it was reading well over 100mi at this point.. like in the 111-112 range.. I thought WTF! I had Ultra Track GPS mode on. Not sure what happened. I was a Suunto guy for so many years, I’m still figuring this awesome watch out! Tara and Brian were there giving us final aid! We would only see them for about 5 minutes maybe 6-7 and then we were off! Yep, that wind was still whipping around.. I had my long sleeve black Tailwind shirt on heading into the early morning sun hoping I wouldn’t overheat. “48 out”
Lake Cuyamaca (Finish) – The last 9mi were really great for me. I loved the feeling of knowing I was near the finish and feeling good. My 2nd wind was certainly not coming on prior to leaving Sunrise. I really turned things on this final stretch averaging a 10:55 moving pace. I passed some folks but that wasn’t the goal really.. I wanted to finish this great race strong, happy and satisfied!! And that is EXACTLY how I felt crossing that line at 28:58:43. Scotty Mills did just as he promised.. shook my hand and handed me that buckle. Angela Shartel placed the awesome medal around my neck and I was greeted by my wife, Brian and others. Quick hugs, kisses and all of that and we walked around a tad.. Tara and Brian had picked up pie and I grabbed a chair and just sat for a few. Taking in the feelings, witnessing bad@sses crossing that finish line including Catra Corbett coming across as a Solo female finishing her 10th SD100, the second person to do so and only female so far.. Yes, that’s right, her 10th! She is amazing! I was so proud to be able to run alongside with here throughout this course.. There were so many great ultra runners out there.. Scott Mills delivered big time and I will cherish all the memories forever and may even put this one back on my radar very very soon!
Oh yeah, those two goals I mentioned.. knocked them out of the park! Here I come Leadville!
HUGE Thank You all to the volunteers, the crews, those who supported me along the way, my awesome sponsors.. everyone!!! Congrats to all who took this race on! You all rule in my book!