Rejoining the Club

Hugging my wife at the finish of the 2017 Chimera 100. Photo by Howie Stern.

Hugging my wife at the finish of the 2017 Chimera 100. Photo by Howie Stern.

Prelude

After I completed the Zion 100 mile trail race in April 2013, amongst the many Facebook congratulations was the oft-cited refrain "welcome to the 100 mile club!" Since that time, I had repeatedly failed to renew my membership. In review:

  • 2013 Angeles Crest 100 - DNF (or Did Not Finish, mile 50 or so due to endless puking of everything including water)
  • 2014 Angeles Crest 100 - DNF (mile 75 due to ITB injury)
  • 2015 Mohican 100 - DNF (mile 55, after running all day in a biblical rainstorm, I just didn't have the urge to spend all night slipping and sliding on degraded muddy trails)
  • 2015 Angeles Crest 100 - DNF (mile 50 or so, for the same reason as 2013)
  • 2017 HURT 100 - DNF (mile 40 - the second of five loops was too slow to possibly finish)

At some point, I either needed to renew my membership to the 100 mile club, or just simply stop trying and stick to shorter races. After reviewing my race history and pondering the reasons for my many failures with friends, we decided to focus on racing in cooler weather where most of the training would occur during a slower season for my work as a biological consultant. It was also intended that I do an "easier" course, but "easy" courses don't interest me at all, so I signed up for the renowned-as-difficult Chimera 100 and didn't tell anyone about it until after I registered, as it's easier to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.

Race Start to Candy Store Aid Station (0-35.8 miles)

The race started promptly at 6am. My plan was to start slow and remain slow all the way to the end. Everything felt great from the start and well into the race, with a lot of "pop" in my legs and no aches or pains anywhere. It seemed I had gotten my training (and my taper into the race) right. I enjoyed multi-mile stretches here-and-there chatting with old friends and making new ones.

I was pretty enamored with how good I felt when I entered Chiquito Falls Aid Station (mile 31.3). The aid station was a remote one where supplies were hiked in featuring water, candy, and some avocado "quesadillas".  The quesadillas sounded good, so I grabbed a few and started the steep and sun-exposed climb out of the station. That's when things very-suddenly changed. 

Though it wasn't that hot on race day, I felt like I was being basted in an oven. My calves started hurting equally in both legs. I started feeling nauseous. I tossed my last quesadilla into the bushes for some lucky raccoon. I slowed my pace even further, knowing that I would - eventually - get through this rough patch and that it was only temporary. I eventually struggled my way into Candy Store Aid Station (mile 35.8) feigning positivity.

My friend, crew support for the day, and pacer for the night in Howie Stern met me as I entered the parking lot. I reported my various problems and he found me a chair. Along with aid station volunteers, he helped me get some calories in, refill my running pack, and massage the knots out of my calf muscles. I got out of there as fast as I could, with Howie urging me to stay conservative so that I'd be in good shape for him to start pacing me at Blue Jay.

My first date with the chair was at Candy Store aid station (mile 35.8). Photo by Howie Stern.

My first date with the chair was at Candy Store aid station (mile 35.8). Photo by Howie Stern.

To Lower Blue Jay (Mile 46.8)

I felt OK for a little while after leaving Candy Store, at least until I had to eat again. Again, I felt like puking. I spent some time walking on the flattish stuff in the canyon. It was getting dark. I put on my headlamp. A Great Horned Owl called nearby. Yes, I called back. As it got dark enough to need a light I felt like I was coming back to life. I climbed well on the steep climb to Chiquito Falls (mile 40.1), and was surprised to spook a rattlesnake. I grabbed a few avocado pieces at the Chiquito Falls aid station, and had an uneventful - if slow - trek to Blue Jay where I was excited about getting a pacer for the night.

I arrived at Blue Jay at 6:42 pm, and was surprised to see my wife and Summer Wesson there; I wasn't expecting to see them until Corona the next morning. After a momentary excited greeting, we got to work: I reported on my problems to address (which included pain and swelling behind my right knee), put on a dry long sleeve shirt and jacket, and picked up some spare batteries. I had been on a mostly liquid diet for awhile because of stomach issues and still didn't really feel strong. Howie suggested I have a beer. I ended up having a couple cups of Samuel Adams Boston Lager along with some chicken broth. That combination brought me back to life, and Howie and I headed out to do the much harder second half of the course.

Heading out to Main Divide with Howie Stern from Lower Blue Jay (mile 46.8). Photo by Summer Wesson.

Heading out to Main Divide with Howie Stern from Lower Blue Jay (mile 46.8). Photo by Summer Wesson.

On Through the Night to Bear Springs Number 2 (Mile 76.4)

Much of what went on that night is a blur at this point, as it often is for most 100 mile runners. I remember the following:

  • Never feeling super sleepy all night.
  • Moving at a pretty good pace all night and feeling mostly strong.
  • Despite the above, I was yakking on almost every climb, especially heading up Holy Jim where I puked repeatedly. I think I did well to keep moving quickly after doing so, later even puking while I was power hiking with no stopping at all. No need to waste time...
  • Probably being annoying to aid station personnel as I often responded to their questions of "what can I help you with" with "you can push me off the cliff and end my misery". I was joking, of course, as making light of the ridiculousness of it all helps me deal with being in the pain cave.

We didn't stay too long at most aid stations, just long enough to deal with what needed to be dealt with while we were there. I tried to make sure Howie didn't think I was trying to camp out by asserting early and often that "I'd like to get out of here quickly, as soon as I do..." whatever it was I needed to do.

For his part, Howie was best at helping me run more often than I likely otherwise would have. On technical stuff, he showed me something he called "hobby jogging" (if this is a common term, I never heard of it), where we moved with short and fast steps, with our hiking poles always at the side to keep us from stumbling, which happened to me quite often. A lot of the night parts of the course weren't overly exciting, and it seemed like a lot of lather, rinse, repeat. At some point, I saw Howie up ahead of me stumbling around. He confessed later that he was falling asleep on his feet.

I managed to get through the last part of the darkness without feeling my usual tiredness. The sun rose as we neared the top of our second trip up Santiago Peak. It was getting light when we returned for our second time to Bear Springs (mile 76.4).

Working my way up Main Divide at around mile 50. Photo by Howie Stern.

Working my way up Main Divide at around mile 50. Photo by Howie Stern.

Onward to Corona (Mile 85.4)

We were in and out of Bear Springs very quickly. After Bear Springs was a lot of downhill. We ran a lot into the Indian Truck Trail Aid Station about two miles down the road. I was in and out quickly from there as well as I was feeling really good at that point. I ran a lot from there, until a couple miles from Corona when the pain behind my leg took a drastic turn for the worse. Howie tried to press for me to run initially, but I could power hike well (which hurt drastically less), running was excruciating, and power hiking was easily fast enough to finish the race. We arrived at Corona (mile 85.4) at 8:45am.  I was feeling pretty well physically, especially considering I had gone 85 miles, but I was getting concerned about the leg and that was my priority at the aid station.

When we arrived at Corona, the trio of my wife, Summer Wesson, and Naomi Ruiz (who was crewing another runner still out on the course) went to work. They secured an entire can of Guiness. They secured a nice slab of pumpkin pie. They helped me get my cold-weather night clothes off. They also dealt with my leg. I downed several Advil, had my sore and swollen area behind my knee slathered in some weird green gel from Mexico, and tied my wife's arm sleeve around the sore spot to apply some pressure. With that, Emily and I started the seven mile climb back up Indian Truck Trail and my leg felt amazingly better. 

Being tended to by my wife and Naomi Ruiz at Corona Aid Station, mile 85.4 (Photo by Summer Wesson).

Being tended to by my wife and Naomi Ruiz at Corona Aid Station, mile 85.4 (Photo by Summer Wesson).

Pacing all night is hard. Howie gets a well-earned nap right after I leave Corona. Photo by Summer Wesson.

Pacing all night is hard. Howie gets a well-earned nap right after I leave Corona. Photo by Summer Wesson.

Charging to the Finish

I had looked forward to my wife pacing me to a race finish for so long, and so many times it was foiled.

"Well, here we finally are", I said. 

I was surprised about how strong I felt on that arduous climb. I dug myself deep into the cave, yelling, screaming, cursing, digging deep with everything I had inside of me to keep moving at the fastest pace I possibly could. I bypassed the Indian Truck Trail Aid Station (mile 92.4) and continued to push hard on the climb past there. We passed quite a few other runners in the last 15 miles. Nevertheless, I resisted calls by my wife to run on the short downhills and flats. I didn't want to torpedo a good thing, and running downhill was what bothered my leg.

"Save the running for the end", I told her. "We are moving plenty fast enough and gaining time."

I was happy to see friends at Horsethief (mile 95.5), but again wanted to pass through. I said a few social words and grabbed some food to go.

At Trabuco (mile 97.9), I didn't even visit the aid station. "116 in and out!" I said as I went past. I could smell the finish line, and I wanted to get there as soon as I possibly could.

Shortly past Trabuco were some more moderate-grade downhills where I told my wife I wanted to run. We ran a lot, and kept running consistently in the last couple miles of pavement leading to the finish. Emily told me she was having trouble keeping up with me. I guess it was the adrenaline, as most of my leg pains went away and my stride felt fluid.

That lasted until about a half mile from the finish. It was a sudden and very sharp stabbing pain behind my knee. I tried striding in different ways, but it didn't matter: my leg suddenly wasn't even capable of moving in a manner that allowed running. I was a little depressed at the prospect of walking it in, but that was over-ridden by the ecstasy of finishing. I told my wife "thank you, for being there for training, for being here now, for being there always". With that, we reached the final turn to the finish and she backed off as I crossed the finish to be embraced by Howie. I hugged Summer. I then hugged my wife and the pent up emotions of so many failed attempts leaked out despite my attempts to hold them back. The photo of that moment, which leads this post, is something I will cherish until I die.

I, again, can't thank my wife enough for allowing me to spend the time involved to partake in this admittedly ridiculous sport and for always being there to help during races. Thanks to Howie for helping me plan and implement this thing, and running his own hard ultra in pacing me all night for 40 miles. Thanks to Summer for the many training miles this year, friendship, and help crewing. Thanks to Naomi for helping out and being a cheerleader. Thanks to Dave Tan for being a trail buddy during the race for so many miles (and I am so, so glad you got your finish!) Last of all, thanks to Chimera Race Director Steve Harvey and all of the volunteers for putting on a great race. This is something I won't soon forget.

Just a few dozen feet from the finish line. Photo by Howie Stern.

Just a few dozen feet from the finish line. Photo by Howie Stern.