For the past few years I’ve felt like my best days on the trails were behind me. In 2013 I ran what I feel is my strongest ultra at American River, finishing the 50 mile distance in 7:21:13 for 20th place overall. I followed that up with a personal course record at the Ohlone 50K in 5:57:18 for 15th place overall. After that my results never lived up to my expectations for myself. Luckily that all changed last weekend at the Quicksilver 100K.
I’ll start by getting the one negative about this race out of the way. It starts really freaking early. 4:30 AM! Luckily I live pretty close by so my drive isn’t that bad. The 3 AM alarm was brutal. I quickly got dressed, grabbed my gear, and headed out the door to pick up my friend who was also running the race. If I’m going to suffer this early in the morning, at least it wouldn’t be alone.
We got to the Hacienda entrance to the Almaden Quicksilver Park around 4 AM. Plenty of time to park, pick up our bibs, and hit the bathrooms before the pre-race briefing. After a quick and straight forward briefing by race director John Brooks we were off and running.
One of the advantages of the pre-dawn start is that I got to try out my new UltrAspire Lumen 600 before I head down to San Diego. WOW! I used it on the highest setting since I was only going to be using it for about 6 miles and it is BRIGHT! So bright that a nearby runner remarked that he didn’t need to bring his own light. It is also so comfortable that I didn’t even feel it around my waist.
The race features in the neighborhood of 14,000 feet of elevation gain so it isn’t surprising that we started with a big climb. About a mile and a half into the race I caught up to Mark Tanaka. I’ve raced with Mark several times over the years so it was nice to catch up with him. He has a robust racing schedule coming up including the San Diego 100 which I’m also running.
Mark is far more experienced at trail racing than I am and was pushing the pace a little faster than I would have doing by myself but it felt comfortable so I kept up with him. Shortly after rolling through the Lexington aid station at mile 17.9 we were joined by Amy Burton who happened to be the lead woman at the time.
One of the biggest climbs on the course was coming up and Amy knows the course well so I followed her cues and walked when she walked and ran when she ran up Priest Rock Trail which is affectionately known as “Dog Meat.” Somewhere along the way we lost Mark but picked up Jesus Garcia-Fernandez. Turns out that Jesus will be working one of the aid stations down in San Diego so I’ll have another friendly face down there!
Thanks to a trail closure on the trail that heads up to Bald Mountain, we got to do the Kennedy Trail instead this year. According to many, this added a bit of elevation gain to the course from previous years. The nice part is that we got to see all the race leaders as they were heading down. I should have been paying attention to how many people were ahead of me, but I really didn’t care since I didn’t want to push myself too hard this race.
After about a two mile decent and two mile climb back up we were greeted by Chikara Omine handing out popsicles. I would usually pass on them but I’m trying to eat more during these races and it looked pretty good.
Shortly after that, I hit my first low point of the race. I got really tired, really fast. I have sleep apnea and the previous weekend was a rough one for getting sleep in. I had been feeling tired all week because of it and I’m sure the early wake up call on race morning didn’t help. I let Jesus, Amy, and the rest of our small pack of runners go as I slowly jogged my way into the Wood Road aid station, hoping they had some caffeine.
I was in luck! There was a can of Coke at the Wood Road aid station with my name on it. After downing a couple cups I headed back onto the trail. There was one small climb left before we had a nice long downhill section but it was a steep one. Climbing up my quads started to shake. At around 30 miles into the race it was way too early to be feeling like this!
Thankfully, my quads got some relief on the long downhill and I was able to recover. I recovered enough that I was able to catch back up to Amy as we rolled back into the Hicks aid station at mile 37.8.
For the better part of the next 6 miles Amy and I clicked off the miles at what felt like an effortless pace. Then at the top of the last little climb before heading down to the Mockingbird aid station My quads decided they had enough. Amy flitted down the hill as I entered my second dark patch of the race.
After gingerly making my way down the hill I came to the Mockingbird aid station. I couldn’t have gotten there at a worse point in my race. This aid station is also the finish line! 50K runners were finishing their days and the air smelled of BBQ. I had to get out of there quickly before I seriously started to consider taking a DNF. After a quick bottle refill and a few slices of watermelon I was back on the course.
Little did I know, I was sitting in 15th place leaving the aid station. Considering I wasn’t planning on racing that day and hadn’t really tapered for the race, I was having a pretty decent day. I’m actually glad I didn’t know how I was doing. I made the decision to walk a bit to see if I could recover my quads. I don’t know if I would have done that had I known I was in a decent position.
I was quickly passed by a runner and his pacer and then one more runner on the rocky Buena Vista trail. I really didn’t care. My only goal was to find some flat or down hill section and see if I could run and I knew I would get it after the Buena Vista trail ended.
Once on flat ground I discovered I was able to run as long as the pace was mellow. I was content with that and decided that finishing the race was my only goal at this point. Unlike the first 40 miles of the race, I ran the rest of the race by myself. The only exception was the occasional runner that would pass me.
At mile 52, Mark Tanaka caught back up to me. We had a nice long downhill coming up so I did my best to keep up with him for that section, knowing that he would leave me on the upcoming climb and I wouldn’t likely see him again until the BBQ at the finish.
The temperature wasn’t too high that day, but the next few sections felt warm and took their toll on me. After the McAbee aid station I got a bloody nose. Then at mile 56, right before the Enriquita aid station I pulled over to the side of the trail and puked relentlessly. I instantly felt better so I tried to run again but my quads sized up again. After hiking for a minute I somehow was able to work myself back into a slow jog. I didn’t know how far I had to go to the aid station but I wanted to get there ASAP. I was overjoyed when it quickly came into view.
Rolling into Enriquita I saw Jesus. He mentioned the wheels fell off for him and I told him I was in just as bad of shape if not worse. At the aid station I was told that I had a 1.2 mile out-and-back and to mark my bib with a marker at the bottom of the trail. I was a little surprised that Jesus was only about 15-20 minutes ahead of me. Maybe I wasn’t moving as slowly as I thought.
Heading down the hill I realized I still hadn’t recovered from my earlier trail side purge. I started feeling light headed and a little dizzy so I started walking down the hill. Then I saw Amy and her pacer cruising up the hill. Again, I was surprised to see she wasn’t that far ahead of me. She mentioned that this was the worst section of the course as we crossed paths but all I could blurt out was a “good job.” Next Mark came rolling up the trail and asked if I was hurting. YES!
Not only was I hurting, I was getting more light headed and decided I needed to sit in the shade for a few minutes and take in some calories. 5 minutes later I was back up and walking back down the trail only to get light headed again. I sat back down and watched a couple runners bomb down the trail. After a couple minutes more I got up and finally made my way down to the markers at the end of the trail.
I was slowly making my way back up when I got light headed again and needed to sit for a third time. Then a couple more runners came shooting down the hill towards the marker and I decided I didn’t want them to pass me so I got up and made it back to the Enriquita aid station.
With one more climb to the top and only three mostly downhill miles to go I felt that I had recovered enough to push to the finish. I certainly wasn’t going fast for the next few miles, but they felt comfortable. I rolled back into the finish at Mockingbird at 12:28:29 and in 20th place.
With a solid race in the bag, it was time to congratulate friends that finished ahead and enjoy a ridiculous BBQ spread while waiting for more friends to finish. Thanks to UltrAspire for incredible gear, I’m looking forward to rocking my Lumen 600 in San Diego in a month and to ASO Sport for helping me recover quickly. Huge thanks to the volunteers supporting the race and the Quicksilver Running Club for hosting such a quality event.
I think what has been holding me back at a lot of my recent trail races is that I had forgotten how or been unwilling to suffer. I’m proud of myself for hammering out the last 20 miles of this races with blown quads and pushing myself to run when it was very uncomfortable. Most, if not all of us hit dark patches in these long races and knowing how to push through them is how you reach your goals. I feel really confident after this race heading into the San Diego 100 next month.
Oh yeah, this was also a Western States qualifier so it is nice to have that out of the way. I’ll #SeeYouInAuburn for my fifth consecutive lottery in December.