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San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run

June 16, 2011

This past weekend I was honored to be a part of my friend’s, Helen, first 100 mile race experience. What an adventure. From crewing her to pacing her through Miles 80-100, it was an unbelievable experience. Here’s her race report and see for yourself:

San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run, Mount Laguna Recreational Area, CA
June 11-12, 2011

My interest in the San Diego 100 started last year, after I completed the American River 50 Mile Run, my first 50-mile distance ultra. It seems that once you’re trained up for the 50-mile distance, you’re 75% ready for a 100mile race – so I threw my name onto the waiting list for SD100. Honestly, I didn’t actually expect to get off the waiting list, since there were 15 or so people in front of me. Be careful what you wish for – a month or so before the race, the race director, Scott Mills, emailed to offer me the last spot. Naturally, I chickened out and said no way was I ready – maybe next year.

Next year is now. I don’t talk the talk unless I plan to walk the walk, and when registration opened for SD100, I signed up on day 1. I had hoped to do the Western States 100M and/or Miwok 100K, but lost out on both those lotteries. I prepared for SD100 by running the Avalon 50M in January and Leona Divide 50M in April – a pretty conservative racing schedule. I like to be fully recovered and ready to run hard when I race. I pushed my body as far as I possible without inviting overuse injuries, increased my weekly mileage only ~20 miles/week from my typical training schedule, dutifully took rest days, and toed the starting line at SD100 close to 100% healthy – with the exception of a nagging cough that was still hanging around from a recent cold. I reminded myself during training that getting to the start line healthy was the first goal, getting to the finish line was the second.

The race started at 5500 ft elevation in the Al Bahr Shriner Campground. At 7 am, it was 45 degrees – by mid-afternoon, it would reach the mid-80s and feel even hotter. I crowded somewhere into the middle of a pack of 159 eager runners, and off we went. The first few hours of running were so flat and easy that it was hard not to go out too fast. I kept reminding myself to run so slow that it felt ridiculously easy, and to keep my arms relaxed. I blew through the first several aid stations yelling, “this is SO easy!”

I had made up a race plan with estimated arrival times at each aid station, which were 5-8 miles apart. My plan was based on an unrealistically optimistic goal finish time of 23:45, but in reality I expected to finish around 27-28 hours. Still though, the estimated times would ensure my crew wouldn’t miss me if they arrived at each aid station when I indicated. I was right on schedule 5 hours into the race, but then I started to fall behind. Miles 23-31 looked pretty flat and easy from the course elevation profile, but in reality it was too rocky and technical to run. Then it got even tougher.

Miles 31-51 saw the onslaught of dozens of flies buzzing around every racer’s head. I felt like the dirty kid from Charlie Brown, because naturally I stank at that point, and the flies were incessant, despite the DEET sprayed on my hat. I found myself wondering what the behavioral incentive is for flies to buzz around my head. I provide neither food nor shelter for these creatures. Why won’t they leave me alone? They were in my ears, mouth, nose, under my sunglasses, biting me on the shoulder, everywhere. I knew swatting would be futile, and I didn’t want to get stung by the wasps that occasionally joined the party. To top it off, we hit the promised 80-90 degree temps, and the steepest, gnarliest climb of the day out of Noble Canyon. Some a-hole mountain biker on the trail saw me suffering and noted that the buzzards were circling, which got him a dirty look and the reply – “maybe for you, not for me.” I put my head down and persevered. Somehow that gnarly climb is also where I powered past the most runners. That was the first big mental test. Win. And there were cold popsicles at the top of the hill.

I hit mile 51 at 7 pm and picked up my first pacer, Erin Chavin. I was only a half-hour behind my goal time at this point, and was pleased that I somehow made up time on the hardest part of the course. We rolled through gorgeous meadows at sunset, and I was moving as if I was on mile one. Once it got dark though, things slowed down and fell apart. A lot. My headlamp faded quickly, I lost my chapstick, spilled half my Saltstick on the ground, lost the replacement Saltstick that I picked up later (including the ginger pills that my stomach desperately needed), lost my race plan sheet, and had to navigate tough stream crossings while feeling dizzy – during which time, I lost a fight with a rock after leaping off a moving log. Our feet were wet from going through marshes, and the course markers seemed to disappear. The layering system that normally works in 30-degree weather was woefully inadequate on this night, because my body was in energy-saving mode and refused to generate heat. To top it off, with my dizzy head and poor night vision, I could not maintain a running pace on the narrow, overgrown single track trail, even though I had the energy. This was frustrating. Every time I picked up the pace, I’d trip or roll an ankle, and I was hesitant to move faster than a power walking pace – I didn’t want my race to end early because of a fall or sprained ankle.

At one point, we missed a turn and ended up going what felt like a mile off course before turning around (apparently we only added 0.6 miles, but it felt like more). We had trouble at several other points finding and confirming we were still on course, and it added a lot of time. I was pissed at myself for missing the sign for the turn, and I could feel the negative energy starting to take over. Knowing how poisonous this can be, I turned it around by telling myself and Erin that you’re not a real ultrarunner until you’ve gone off course and added mileage. And in the grand scheme of things, adding less than a mile is nothing. Problem solved, back on course. If ultramarathons are run with the mind, then I wasn’t going to lose mine here. It’s all about attitude.

Once Erin and I got back to the aid station at mile 80, the sun was rising again. My pacers traded batons and I started the final 20-mile stretch with Andee Torng. Boy, I knew she was in for a treat considering my body and mood were pretty far south at this point. However, I was so ecstatic to be able to see the trail in the daylight, and to start warming up with the sunrise, that I took off like a rocket out of mile 80. Andee couldn’t believe I had already run 80 miles. It didn’t last though. Around mile 85 I hit The Wall. Or maybe it hit me. It seemed like every mile was taking forever, and I had to pep talk myself into running for the brief stretches that looked easy. Once I could feel my extremities again, I became acutely aware of my blistered feet. I had ditched my plan to change socks, re-lube my feet, and re-apply anti-perspirant, and was now chafing everywhere for the omission. I went from hypothermic to overheating in about 4 hours, as the temps rose up to the 80s again. We faced an eternal uphill climb all the way until mile 96 or so, and when Andee asked how I was feeling, I’d bluntly report, “I feel like *@#%, how do you think I feel?!” At least I could still report that the pain was “equally distributed throughout my body,” which I considered to be a positive. The final push was ugly, but I knew that I could make it.

Not knowing if anyone would be at the finish to take my all-important finish line photo, I asked Andee to run ahead of me to get the shot. Looking at my watch, I realized that a 10-minute mile could still get me to the finish in less than 28 hours, but I also assigned a non-zero probability to passing out and not finishing if I attempted this seemingly heroic task. I’m not sure why I am so paranoid about passing out, since I have never actually done so. Regardless, I maintained my conservative strategy and took it easy to the finish – even a 27:59 is still basically a 28-hour time. I took stock of the remaining contingencies that could keep me from finishing and focused on avoiding those – i.e., rattlesnake bite, newfound anaphylactic reaction to a wasp/bee sting, and fainting/heat stroke. Hey, it happens.

I was greeted at the finish by a lot of friendly faces – Andee, Erin, Jonathan Bernard, and the Race Director Scott Mills, who was there to put a medal around my neck. I love that even in a race where the first finishers are done 14 hours before the last, the race director is right there to greet everyone at the end. Oh, and the medics rapidly greeted me too, which was a nice touch. I cycled through a range of emotions in the minutes after finishing – ecstatic joy, complete exhaustion, and disbelief. Working towards a goal like this, and finally completing it is such an overwhelming feeling that it’s hard to describe.

So … will I do it again? I don’t see myself becoming an ultramaniac, that’s just never been my style. A 100-mile race is a special event, and races lose meaning to me if they happen too frequently. But I would still like to do Western States someday, so I plan to enter the lottery for that race again for 2012. There are plenty of adventure runs on my bucket list, so whether I’m racing or not, I’ll be out there soaking up the sun and tearing up the trails.

SD100 in numbers

*Starters: 158
*Finishers: 106 (67% finish rate)
*Finishing time: 28 hrs 1 minute 35 seconds
*Elevation change: 15,687 uphill, 15,729 downhill
*Altitude: 3,800-6,000 ft
*Temperatures: Upper 30s (with wind chill) to upper 80s
*Course: 95% single track
*Estimated calories burned: 10,000
*Essential gear: Lululemon tank & shorts, Zensa calf compression sleeves, Saucony Peregrine shoes, Dirty Girl trail gaiters, Nathan HPL hydration pack, Dermatone sunscreen, Aquaphor, DryMax socks
*Consumed while running: Clif shot blocks, Honey Stinger chews & waffles, Gu Brew, SaltStick electrolyte tabs, ginger capsules, Kashi granola bar, Clif Luna bar, Starbucks VIA instant iced coffee, watermelon juice, watermelon, red bean mochi, ginger snaps, marshmallows, soy crisps, veggie chips, potato chips, hard-boiled egg, chicken noodle soup, minestrone soup, peanut butter pretzels

Notions of quitting: 0

2011 San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run from Helen Wu on Vimeo.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2011 4:31 am

    awesome! I had entertained the idea of running ultras, but I’m going to abandon that idea and stick to shorter races. 🙂

  2. June 16, 2011 6:27 am

    Great write up (and amazing race) Helen (and thanks for posting it here Andee). Really makes you want to attempt these insane distances. I need to survive my first two 50’s before I consider anything longer.

    Great job TeamWu!!!

  3. Rand Feura permalink
    June 11, 2012 9:49 am

    Nice write up. My wife and I with our granddaughter started a 5.5 mile hike at Pioneer Mail which was an aid station for the 2012 run which we knew nothing about. Pansy-ass in comparison. That was the 44.1 mile mark and when we finished around 3:00, the first few runners were coming in. You guys are awesome!

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