Thursday, May 25, 2017

Born to Run Ultra 100M 2017 Race Report

Cool shirt

Hey, everyone...  I figure I had better get this race report up while things are still relatively, and painfully fresh in my mind.

On Friday, May 19th, was my first 100-mile race at Born To Run Ultras, in Los Olivos, CA. And, spoiler alert... I didn't reach my 100-mile goal, but this event is really cool.. highly recommend it. Luis Escobar puts on an amazing event, and the support staff and aid stations were top notch. What follows are all the gory details from my attempt, and a review of this event, as it was my first time attending.

Highly detailed map of the venue, courtesy of Luis Escobar, Race Directo
Now, before I get into the details and highlights, I want to make it very clear that I understand the reasons I DNF'd (Did not finish), rest solely on my shoulders. I just don't want my recap of this race to sound like a laundry list of excuses I'm making..  I know exactly the errors I made in training, and in strategy, and have gone over it many times in my head, and, like from any DNF, I'm turning that experience into learning for my next attempt... and yes, there will be another... although at the time I dropped from the race, I wasn't sure...   anyway, get some popcorn, get comfortable.. you know I love to ramble on...   here we go..

I love LA Traffic

The adventure began by flying down to San Diego on Wednesday night.  My parents live in the area, so it was good to visit with them a bit, spend the day Thursday rounding up food and other necessities that I didn't bring with me.   Friday morning, I got up and hit the road around 430 am to head up to Long Beach and meet my friend Chris who was heading up to the race as well.  Got a nice tour of rush hour traffic in LA as we made our way up to Los Olivos.

We arrived sometime around 1030-11am..  the race is all run at the 8,000+ acre East Creek Ranch, and we found a place to park along side part of the course.  The course was comprised of two loops.  A 10.8 mile Pink Loop, and a 10 Mile yellow loop.  The plan was to run 5 of each beginning at 6pm that night.

After checking in and parking, I wandered around the start/finish area...  all around were cars, tents, RV's and tons of cool people.  I had looked forward to this race as it gave me an opportunity to meet several Facebook friends in person, and make some new friends as well.

I wished I had taken a few more pics with folks, but it was cool to see everyone...

After that, I grabbed some lunch, and then focused on trying to get some rest before the race.  I  REALLY wanted to sleep, and hoped I would after getting up before 4 am that day and driving up.  But.. it was hot, I was nervous and keyed up about the race, so it was difficult.

Running the AC... it was HOT

View back towards the start/finish

Pretending to be asleep
Try as I might, it just wouldn't happen.  I had hoped that just laying quiet was going to help, but an hour or so of sleep would have rocked..   eventually around 4pm I gave up, and started to get taped up, loaded up to start the race at 6.

Finally, it was close to 6pm and time to get rolling.  Fortunately the breeze had picked up and it felt a little cooler, but I'm guessing it was still in the high 80's...   Luis Escobar, the Race Director made the course marking directions VERY clear... having us repeat it back several times.  Blue flags = bad, Pink loop, keep the pink ribbons on our right, yellow loop, keep them on our right.   Striped flags combined with pink/yellow meant a turn to follow.   Seems very straightforward, but I know that later on, after sleep deprivation and heat exhaustion, this could become difficult to remember! 

And then, at 6pm, we took off with the crack of a rifle announcing the start.  My plan was to take it slow on this and future laps.  I knew I had plenty of time to finish the race (42 hour cutoff), so I just wanted to just keep moving, hydrate, eat right and get it done.   The first loop (Pink) was mostly on the dirt roads that meandered through the ranch.  The landscape was beautiful... tons of cool trees (I only get to see a few kinds in Colorado), golden meadows, valleys and ridges to climb...     climbing... I knew there were some hills to negotiate in each loop, but I had not expected as much climbing as there was on both of these loops.  After 20 miles it was apparent to me that I didn't train to climb nearly as much as I should have.   My legs felt good, but the tendons on the front of my ankle were not happy with all the tilting back going up and tilting forward going down.. they were not happy. Lesson #1 learned.

During the first pink loop, the sun went down, and the air felt great.  Managed to snap a few pics of the sunset..  so much better in person of course.  The yellow loop had some very intense and long climbs, and also included a single-track section that runs up and down some of the very exposed ridges... I ran this loop twice in the dark overnight, and each time I was thinking about how hot these exposed climbing sections would be the next day.

Photo courtesy of Scott Smuin and Born to Run Ultras

Night time was simply spectacular... it was around 50 degrees (perfect for me).  Aside from my lower shins, my legs and feet felt great..  my breathing was great (as it felt like I had a boost from the low altitude).  I stopped a few times for bio breaks... switched off my headlamp, and the sky just exploded with stars...  so awesome... and so peacefully quiet.   The loops were such that they overlapped a few places with yellow and pink running different directions, so I had the opportunity to say hello to folks during the race, but there were also very long stretches of solitude. By the time the sun came up, I had 4 laps completed and was feeling ok...  tired yes, a little sore, but kind of the "normal" for 40+ miles in.

Things, of course, began to heat up once the sun was up... and heat up quickly.  I had planned for this, so in between loops, I switched to a cooling shirt, hat, and towel for my neck.  Items I could get wet to enhance the cooling off process.  I reloaded on sunscreen and made sure to eat more as well.  During this race, I'd been fueling with a variety of things...   usually carrying a bottle of Tailwind, a bottle of water, a variety of sweeter snacks (Honeystinger waffles, Moon pies of course etc), and also some of Jason Koop's super secret rice balls (which you can find HERE).  I made them with rice, eggs, bacon, green onion, parmesan, soy sauce, and a little honey.  Theses things were perfect... never got tired of eating them, and kept me fueled well the whole time.  Just snagged another pack each time I passed by the truck/cooler etc.

So, as I was somewhere between mile 45-50, I made a critical error.  It had really started to heat up, so I was going through my water/Tailwind more rapidly.  I hit one aid station out on the pink loop, and iced down my hat, towel, head.. you name it.  I grabbed a few things to eat and then headed out again.  It wasn't until a mile or so later that I realized I only refilled one of my two bottles.  The other only about 1/4 full of water.  Lesson #2 learned.

Ugh.... and at this point, it was well into the 90's (I heard later it was close to 100 most of the afternoon).  I tried to meter out my sips as I pushed forward, but I could just feel myself burning through what water I took in.  My hat and towel were drying out quickly, and I was feeling the heat. For every small sip of water I took, it seemed I could cover maybe 100 yards or so and then I just lost all energy, felt sick, and was getting dizzy.  All signs of impending heat exhaustion, that I learned to recognize at my first DNF at 100K (Tommyknockers Ultras 2015). I knew I had a few miles to the next aid station so pushed on but then ran out of water. I was really fading fast, and trying to limp along between patches of shade along the trail, only to then stop and rest in the shade hoping to recover.  At this point, I asked a few runners as they passed for any extra liquid to get me through.  And as ultra runners are, those that weren't out themselves were happy to share a little.

I stumbled into the next aid station and collapsed in a chair..   the crew there were just amazing.  They went right to work on helping me get my core temp down and get rehydrated.   There was even a new delivery of ice happening at that time and I held a few 20 lb bags of it on my lap!  I also had the pleasure of finally meeting Barefoot Ted McDonald (of Born to Run and Luna Sandals) at this station.  He was awesome.. even taking time to fan me with a giant aluminum tray!  Such a great guy, and better yet, he was zipping up and down the trail helping supply the aid stations on one of his Solo Wheels...     so cool.. but I'm getting sidetracked..

After barely surviving my 5th loop... I jumped in the truck... fired up the AC and tried to get my head together.

The heat seemed to be peaking at this time, so I took more time to just try and recover and prep myself to head out there again.  I took this pic as I began my 3rd go at the Yellow loop (mi 54-64), and I was feeling positive, telling myself I could do this.  I just needed to survive the next two loops.

Well, I felt ok for two miles or so, but then the wheels began to come off.  Again, it was the climbing that took its toll.  My lower shins were on fire, which slowed me down, and I hit the exposed single track sections that sapped me even more.  I was trying to drink at an even rate, although I just wanted to chug it all quickly...  I wished I had brought a third handheld bottle to supplement the two I carry in my pack. I was concerned I would not get to the next aid station without running out. Also, the lack of sleep was hitting me hard here, making my head swim a bit and my vision a little unclear at times.

Needless to say, it took me over 1.5 hours to cover the 4 miles, and progressively getting slower and feeling worse.  My focus became just surviving to the next aid station, where I would try to cool down and then finish the lap and call it a day.  I was sad thinking about it, especially after being so up at the start of this lap, but common sense and my body told me I was done.

I got to the aid station, and as before at the other aid station, the folks there were absolutely amazing! I got my towel and hat dipped in ice water and draped over me as I sat.  Ice cold coconut smoothies (made from fresh coconuts) were handed to me as I worked to regain some of my faculties.  I think I sat there a half hour or more just recovering, and replaying everything in my head up to that point.  I so wanted to finish my first 100 miler, but I know my body well enough that even if it cooled off right there, I risked injury if I pushed on.

So, I picked myself up and focused on walking the last 3+ miles or so to the Start/Finish and drop there at 64 miles.  This section starts with a very long climb. Not super steep, but just a long steady grind upward.  I buckled down and just focused on moving my feet and staying hydrated.  It didn't take long for my ice water soaked towel, shirt, and hat to begin drying out quickly in the superheated sunlight.

Not a hallucination!
Now... it is this part of my day that, in retrospect, I find very amusing.  Having been awake now for over 38 hours, and abusing my body for most of that time, my brain was pretty mushy.  I knew that for this race I would be awake and moving longer than I ever had, and hallucinations were commonplace.  I just had never experienced them before.  And the trails at this race were ideal for hallucinating! All the cool oak trees, landscape, ranch equipment along the trail already looked odd, to begin with, with all the shape, shadows, and branches moving in the breeze etc.

I kept telling myself it could happen, and I needed to be aware.  For the most part, things that caught my eye, I quickly realized were just parts of the landscape.  Yet it was still disconcerting as I kept seeing people out in the trees and grass, many of them waving at me.  Blink my eye, and it was just a small tree. Then the faces began appearing in mounds of dirt and grass.... creepy... but it didn't freak me out.

The best of all however, was a little further down the trail pictured above.  The road was tree lined, so lots of shadows and light etc.  I looked down the trail and noticed a big John Deere tractor parked along the side of the trail.  Not uncommon on a ranch, I just hadn't seen it before.  I noted how bright green it was... hmm.. must be brand new.   Really big too... almost like a combine.  I'd have to check it out when I got closer.   Looked up again in a few minutes and poof.... gone.  Just like that.  Just like my mind... lol.

On another note, for some reason, my Garmin decided to corrupt the tracking file, so I don't have a record of my run!  Ugh.. maybe for the better.  Anyway, I found the above from a 3 loop 32 mile run, so I basically did the above twice.  Looking at the elevation, you can see that there was little to no "flat" sections.. either going up.. or down.   Over the 64 miles, it looks like about 9,000 feet in climbing, and my legs still feel it today!

Ok... well, there you have it.  All the gory details as promised.  I am still moping a bit, but I know it was the right call, as hard as it was.  Live and learn... and I learned a lot!

I also wanted to give a shout out to folks that sponsor me as an ambassador.  I appreciate their support so much.   Carson Footwear got me the 12/12 Stingers pictured above, overnighted to me so that I could have them for the race.  This is a brand new sole, due to debut in July, and I was so excited to give them a workout in this race.  A full review is coming, but let me just say they performed flawlessly!

Also, thank you to Liberty Sport/Switch Sunglasses, Orange Mud, Fuel-100, and Thin Optics for their support as well. Couldn't do it without you guys!

Ok.. thanks as always for tuning in, and all your words of support.  When I started training for my first 5K 5 years ago, and couldn't make it one loop around the track without multiple breaks, I never imagined I would end up here. If I can do it, you can too :-)

Happy trails!