October 5, 2019
After venturing down to San Diego last year to help “pace” Alan in his inaugural 100K race, I had some interest in trying out the race myself. However, it has been many years since I have completed or even attempted 100 kilometers.
I’m not certain if the training that Alan and I did will be sufficient but one of the bonuses of this event is that they offer previews of the course four times during the summer in 20 mile increments. Alan and I attended two of these (involving leaving Long Beach at about 4:30am) and I struggled on both – lots of climbing and descent and technical trails. The nice part of the tuns is meeting people, getting to know the trails, and beer and snacks afterwards… but long drive both directions!
On Friday night, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with Alan’s brother in Julian and get an OK night of sleep (though I never sleep that great the night before). It was a sight better morning situation than in 2018 when I punctured my tire and Alan had to bicycle pump it back because I was still recovering from a broken wrist. In other words, no tire trauma or distractions.
We picked up our bibs and giveaways – green tech shirt and orange hoodie jacket – and prepared to start the race. I always hang towards the back because I know that I will be slow and don’t want to hinder the other runners.
The “gun” goes off. We run maybe 100 yards and then slow to a crawl as the trail cuts from two-lane road to single-track in a matter of feet. I am always concerned about cutoffs and it doesn’t help that I am pretty much at a standstill one minute into the race.
Once I get onto the single-track, I am able to run for about 30 seconds before I come to another halt. Now we have two creek crossings over a narrow log. I suppose I could try and jump ahead and just go through the water but the entrance to the water is narrow as well and all that will do is put me ahead of folks that will want to immediately pass me on the next bit of single-track.
I think I have maybe traveled a half mile in 20 minutes and now I have to seemingly make up this time and quickly.
This early section is fairly flat single-track through overgrown weeds (path is clear but weeds block view of my feet) and I am in a long serpentine single file somewhat struggling to keep the pace of those around me. At one point, I step to the side and it’s 20 people passing before I can edge back in. There are a few gentle slopes and a few rocky sections but nothing major. We parallel the main highway for a couple miles before crossing the highway (no traffic to speak of at this hour) and get onto a wide uphill fire-road for a few miles. Of course, I briskly walk the uphill and fade further behind everyone else.
Eventually, I turn off onto some single-track (downhill) which leads back to another wider fire-road, the familiar mile-and-a-half downhill to the first aid station. I ascertain that I am a good 10 minutes behind Alan already (out-and-back section). I make quick work out of the station. I am doing OK on time but probably one of the last ones to arrive.
Now back up the hill to the more technical section. My knee is acting up a bit so I don’t overdo it and I am mostly by myself for the next five to six miles. Again, I am one of the last people into the aid station. I am still ahead of the cutoff but the times become more stringent the further I get into the race so I would rather bank time.
From this aid station, Green Valley, I am getting into unfamiliar territory. Just prior to the race, they announced that due to construction, we will not be able to climb up Cuyamaca Peak but will do something different (elevation-wise, not as high, but climbing-wise, more gain). I feel like I am doing well going up the hill, not suffering from the elevation too much but the rockiness of the trail is not to my advantage. Also, it is getting pretty hot and I don’t do real well in the heat.
I get to the “Peak” aid station and a volunteer named Angela (Schatz?) is here in beach wear (read: dorky inner tube and wade pool) offering cold water and aid station stuff. I decline the offer of being doused but hustle on.
After the aid station, the terrain seems a bit familiar but I get frustrated because I constantly see signs for Paso Picacho (the next aid station) but the ribbons and flour arrows are always pointing in the opposite direction. It seems like I’ll never get there.
With each passing minute, I get more nervous that I will not even make this cutoff, which would be disappointing. With about 10 minutes to go, I can see the aid station, but not sure if the trail will take me there in under 10 minutes. I increase my speed as best I can and make it through with less than 5 minutes to spare. (They are already packing up!)
Now I have just about 90 minutes to go 3.5 miles, but I remember it being somewhat technical and a lot of little ups and downs. I am not worried about making the cutoff, but I am worried about the next section and making those cutoffs.
I get back to HQ start/finish in around 9:30, made it with 30 minutes to spare, but I know I have to hurry through in order to have any chance to finish.
The next loop involves going through the same creek but then making a left turn. There is a little traffic on this section as it is also part of the return on this section. I see Chris Ferrier heading out on Loop 3. He says something like “Great job,” until he realizes I am 13 miles behind him. (I don’t think he rescinded his “Great job,” but was concerned for me.) It’s nice to see some people until I turn off for the climb up to Harvey Moore Trailhead and I see no one for 45 minutes. I keep hearing voices but I assume it must be hikers somewhere ahead (above) me.
Once I get to the top of this taxing section, the trail flattens out quite a bit and it is very similar to the early can’t-see-me-feet-because-of-weeds section earlier (but less technical). On a couple parts, I can actually see other competitors wa-a-a-y off in the distance. Far away but visible!
Eventually, I catch up to one of the runners. He is suffering some intestinal distress which is how I managed to catch him. He is about 30 years old and named Jesse Ellis. I have run into him at a number of other ultras but usually he is taking pictures or volunteering. Nice guy.
I see a few other runners including one that blasts past the turnoff clearly marked with chalk (don’t see him again). This downhill section is similar to West Horsethief near the main divide, with several switchbacks and semi-technical rocky trail. I am chasing another cutoff (not as dire as Paso Picacho but still). I seem to remember that you get to the aid station at the bottom of the hill, but that is not accurate. It’s the bottom of the hill, a short climb, another flat trail, some more descent, paralleling the highway, et cetera, et cetera ad infinitum. Frustrating that it seemingly doesn’t get any closer as time ticks away.
I grab a few things and I know I need to get going. It’s definitely dusky and the further I can get before it gets totally dark will be to my advantage. The volunteer tells me that I need to get going. Got it. I appreciate the encouragement. I like the fact that this volunteer knows what the cutoffs are and where we are in the race.
I hustle along this section of trail which is somewhat familiar – some of it was trod on this morning. Unfortunately, there is a different turn at one point and this wouldn’t be a problem except that there are no glow sticks and the ribbons are not visible in the dark. I wish that race directors would place reflective ribbons based upon the possibility of where the slowest runner could be, not where they hope they might be.
It is slow going especially because I have to swing my headlamp with my hands to make sure I am not going off trail. I do manage to get to the water crossing but I need my hands for balance but then that plunges me into darkness and I can’t see where to balance myself. It takes me some extra time and even then, I do end up splashing into the water a bit.
I get back to the HQ start-finish in 13:50, about 20 minutes beyond the cutoff. I am disappointed not to make it further but not sure how well I would have done stumbling around in the dark for the last 18 miles by myself.
I help out at the finish line and watch people come running in, including Alan in a time about an hour slower than he ran in 2018.
I am hoping to work on my speed and technical trail running and attempt this again next year. Hopefully, no health issues or injuries!