Race Recap: The San Diego 100 — ‘Buckling’ Under Pressure

The San Diego 100 was my first 100-mile attempt last year. Though I dropped at mile 64, I vowed to return in 2015 and avenge my DNF … and this past weekend, I did just that.

After finishing the Zion 100 in April, I knew the name of the game would be to take it easy between the two races and focus on cross training and short, hilly runs. From Zion to SD I bet I only put in 50 miles on the trails. While my legs were still tired, my mind was ready to go. I’d been thinking about coming back to the SD100 ever since last year, where I found myself in the back of a pickup truck at 2 a.m., being driven out of Pine Creek (mile 64) with a truckload of others who had dropped.

Fast forward to 6/5/2015. C and I were once again on our way back out to Julian to get checked into our hotel before the pre-race brief. Once again, Race Director Scott Mills outdid himself. Check-in was smooth, and all runners were greeted by an incredibly kind army of volunteers, not to mention one of the best swag bags I’d ever seen at an ultra. But while all the swag was great, I wanted to come home with one thing: a buckle.

After the race brief, a few of us went out to dinner before calling it a night. Though I’d slept well all week, the only thing I could think about the night before was that I was back … at the San Diego 100 and that I desperately wanted to cross that finish line.

Race Day

San Diego 100-Miler

Us at the start

231 runners showed up to test their mettle against the challenging-yet-beautiful course. The race has 13,000+ feet of gain, a 32-hour cutoff and takes runners through Lake Cuyamaca, Mount Laguna, the Pacific Crest Trail and Noble Canyon, before returning to the start line. Exposure, wind, challenging terrain and almost always unpredictable weather add another layer of difficulty to an already demanding course. According to the forecast, we were in for some of the best weather the race had ever seen. So, we had that going for us.

San Diego 100-Miler

Elevation profile of the San Diego 100

At 6 a.m., we were off … and I quickly settled in toward the back. I knew if I wanted any shot at finishing this thing I needed to be honest with myself about my pace, nutrition and the fact that I still had “Zion Fatigue” in my legs.

This Looks Familiar

Runners were faced with a long, steady climb up Middle Peak right out of the gate. I fell in line with my good buddy Mark and we talked about our strategies for managing the day (note: both “strategies” would be blown up by mile 40). Once atop Middle Peak, I took some time to take in the view before running down the back side and right into and through Paso Picacho aid, mile 7.1. I was right on pace with last year.

From Paso it was up and over Stonewall Peak, and then a nice stretch through the meadow to Chambers 1. By now the party of the conga line had all but disappeared and runners were beginning to settle in for the journey ahead. I left the pirate-themed and ever-so-gracious Chambers aid station and headed across some rolling fire road and single track before arriving at Pedro Fages (mile 18.6). With about an hour in the bank, I was feeling good and continued on. Before I knew it, I was running into Sunrise 1, AKA “The Dog Pound”.

The pound is awesome. When you come in there it’s hard to tell who is having more fun, the runners or the crew and volunteers! This is the first spot where I could see C and she had everything ready that I needed, so my time here was brief.

Leaving Sunrise 1, runners head out on an unbelievably scenic stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail that overlooks the Anza Borrego Desert, nearly 5,000-6,000 feet below. It’s quite the site. It’s also the stretch that can crush unsuspecting runners with a brutal mix of elevation, wind and exposure. Last year I remembered seeing a lot of runners struggling through this stretch and adjusted my pace/nutrition accordingly. Before I knew it, I’d made it to Pioneer Mail (mile 30) and was more than an hour ahead of the cutoff. All was well.

San Diego 100-Miler

View from atop the PCT

The next point for crew access was Red Tail Roost (mile 44), so I made sure I loaded up on food/water and hit the trail, sneaking in and out of Penny Pines before making my way to Todd’s Cabin. I was proud of how I’d managed myself on this stretch of the course, as it ate several of my friends. I left Todd’s knowing that the worst was behind me (in terms of exposure), and cruised to Red Tail Roost with not a care in the world … except for the debilitating blisters that had formed over the last 10-15 miles.

Crap.

I let C know that my feet were in pretty bad shape and she and our co-crewing friend Willie wasted no time locating one of the members of the Ultra Medical Team to help me patch my feet. The gentleman’s name was Jim, and he no doubt saved my race by lancing some pretty nasty blood blisters that had formed on my feet.

Sidenote: The runners of the SD100 (and many other races) are so, SO lucky to have this fine crew of professionals out on the course. They do an AMAZING job watching out for the safety and well-being of all the runners. Hats off to you, Ultra Medical Team!

With new feet and a full stomach, I felt like a million bucks and left Red Tail Roost slightly ahead of where I was last year at that same time. While I felt great physically, memories of the same stretch last year started to creep into my mind. This is where things started to go wrong last year.

I couldn’t let it happen again.

I ran some of the most “conscious” miles of my life from Red Tail Roost (mile 44) through Meadows (mile 52) and on to Penny Pines 2 (mile 56.2), where I knew C would be waiting to start her pacing duties. As runners, we can often vividly recall some of our most profound sections of a run. This was definitely one of those for me. With a renewed spirit, I flew shuffled into Penny Pines 2 … grinning from ear to ear.

Into the Night

C and I took off from Penny Pines about 45 minutes ahead of the cutoffs. With C pacing it out we were able to get down Noble Canyon in a hurry and into Pine Creek with no real issues (other than an eye on the clock). I was so thankful to have her accompany me on this stretch, as it helped keep my mind off my DNF at Pine Creek Aid (mile 64 last year).

When we got to Pine Creek I saw Jim, the Ultra Medic who helped put my feet back together at Red Tail Roost. I told him thanks again and that they were holding up well. He said “That’s great. Now all you’ve got is a long climb up Pine Creek Road before getting on the Indian Creek Trail, where you’ll have another long climb up to Pioneer Mail 2.” My response?

O___O

In all truthfulness I knew what was coming. I was just dreading it. I’d hiked this section on an overnight training run last year and knew it would cost me a lot of time. After refueling, we were on our way up from the lowest point on the course. It was 1:15 a.m.

“Dlaaainggg” my Garmin ticked off a final mile before dying. It read 25-something minutes. Not good. With 8 miles to go and a 4:30 a.m. cutoff at Pioneer Mail, I knew it would be close. But C was all over it, and by pushing the pace (and keeping me distracted) we got to Pioneer Mail with 30 minutes to spare. She did an amazing job.

At Pioneer Mail, Mark’s friend Stephen said he’d jump in with me for the next stretch. With C acting as a 1-person crew/pacer, I knew she had been working super hard all day and could use the rest.

After thanking Stephen profusely for the kind gesture we were off … headed toward Sunrise 2.

Just Another Day

As we ran back towars Sunrise 2 on the PCT, we were greeted with one of the most amazing sunrises I’d ever seen. As the sun continued to rise, so did my spirit and before I knew it we were moving at a pretty good pace.

San Diego 100-Miler

Coming into Sunrise 2

We got to Sunrise ahead of schedule, ate some food and then Stephen said he’d go with me again. I couldn’t believe it, but took him up on the offer to run the 8-mile stretch to Chambers 2. By now it was morning and the sun was out in full force, which forced us to slow down a bit.

As we approached Chambers 2, I couldn’t help but think of being there almost a day ago on my way out. Now I was returning … only in a little worse shape.

The Home Stretch

After about 20 minutes at Chambers 2, C and I took off for the final 12- mile stretch. The final miles send runners BACK over Stonewall Peak at mile 92-ish. I’d heard my friends who finished last year talk about how brutal this was … and I can now agree with them. It was killer.

But the surprises weren’t over yet. As I stumbled into Paso Pichaco 2, I was greeted by my friend, Ultra Medic Nick, who had some “unplanned” news for me.

Nick: “So, you’ve got an easy few miles through the meadow, then a mile, mile-and-a-half climb back up Middle Peak before you run down the mountain to the finish.”

Me: “Sooo, you’re telling me we’re not running a lap around the lake this year?”

Wow. Shame on me for not checking the map closer. It turned out that they had changed the end of the course and added the substantial climb up Middle Peak in lieu of the lap around the lake.

My 45-minute buffer seemed a lot less comfortable now, so C and I high-tailed it out of the aid station with all hopes of making it to the finish in time.

The Final Push

As we started the final climb, it was pretty apparent I had nothing left. We were moving at a snail’s pace and the mental blow of not anticipating the final climb was stinging pretty bad. As we climbed up (and up and up and up), we ran into a few other people who were experiencing the same unplanned joy that we were. We had another thing in common … we were all growing more and more worried about time.

As we continued climbing, I became convinced that we were going the wrong way (the course had been subject to vandalism in prior years, in the form of people moving ribbons and mismarking the route). I didn’t think we were supposed to go all the way to the top. After confirming with a few other runners, we all agreed the way we were going HAD to be right. After what seemed like an eternity, we FINALLY saw the junction for the final descent.

Normally I’d be happy, but instead all I could think was, “Tick tock. Tick tock.”

It was 1:20 p.m. The course closed at 2 p.m. We still had a little more than 2 miles to go.

All I’ve Got

The final two miles were a big blur. C and I descended the Sugar Pine trail in a hurry, before looping around and putting the finish line in our sights.

Thanks to C’s ability to keep calm, run hard, and stay positive, we crossed the finish in 31 hours, 48 minutes … 12-minutes before the course closed.

I couldn’t believe it. We’d done it. Finished the San Diego 100!

Sitting in a folding chair, watching the last few runners come in, I couldn’t help but reflect on the day (and night … and subsequent day). C paced me for nearly 30 miles … almost all of which were unplanned. Mark’s friend Stephen was kind enough to jump in and pace a complete stranger. Ultra Medical Team gave me the feet I needed to have a fighting chance … and all the runners gave each other the strength and encouragement to keep moving forward.

What. A. Journey.

San Diego 100-Miler

Finally

Post-Race Thoughts

I’ve had people ask me which finish mattered more, Zion or San Diego. The truth is they both are two of the most important and memorable days of my life, but for very different reasons. Zion for being my first buckle, and for truly showing myself that I have the grit it takes to finish … and San Diego, for having the guts to go back and try again after dropping the year prior. My SD100 finish was also almost 2 hours FASTER than my finish at Zion, which I ran just 8 weeks prior.

Proof you can do anything if you want it bad enough.

Looking forward, my plan is to ease back into things and focus on putting in some high-quality, purposeful training. With a few races left in the year I’m hoping to make some improvements in my speed, and transition from a goal of just finishing to more time-based goals.

Take care,

G

5 Things to Know When Crewing for an Ultra Runner (Who Is Also Your Significant Other)

When G and I first started dating, I knew he liked to run. I do, too! I had no idea that finishing his first couple of marathons would lead to him running 100 miles just a few years later. We moved to San Diego from the Midwest; we hadn’t had the opportunity to run on real trails and at elevation.

When he decided to run a 50K I thought, “that’s only a few miles longer than a marathon; great!” Then when he decided to run 50 miles, I was a bit skeptical but felt better knowing I would be the person crewing for him and ensuring he fueled properly. Check. Once he brought up the 100-mile distance, I knew he was addicted and my presence at his races would no longer be a nice-to-have; I would be his one-person crew.

All race crews are made up of selfless and amazing people who are more than willing to spend whole days in remote areas all in the name of supporting their runner. I’m convinced crewing for a significant other is one of the most incredible, yet nerve-wracking duties, bar none. You want to ensure everything is perfectly planned, packed and executed so that they have their very best (and safe) race possible.

Here are the 5 main things I’ve learned crewing for an ultra runner (who is also your significant other):

  • You have to remain calm. That sounds easy; you’re not the one running. Wrong. This is the person you care about most in the world, and that factors into the entire equation. In general, I don’t get easily stressed. All of that goes out the window when G is racing. It’s partially because I know him so well. I know what his race goals are, what he said he would want at each aid station, etc. But all of those things are discussed pre-race. On race day, anything can happen and it’s easy to get yourself all worked up trying to make sure they get everything they need each time they see you. I’ve learned to just lay everything out that he may potentially want and let him choose what to take.

    PCT 50

    At the Mile 25 turnaround of the 2014 PCT 50.

  • You have to be prepared. That goes for everything from poorly communicated driving directions and little-to-no cell phone service, to packing food for yourself, because – duh – you have to eat, too. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve underestimated how hungry I would be, yet didn’t bring enough to eat.) Print out maps of everything (you can recycle the paper later), bring a car phone charger, pack camp chairs, blankets, a cooler and anything else you think you might want at all. Because chances are, you will. The last thing your runner should be worried about is whether you’re freezing, starving, or don’t know how to get to the next aid station.
  • You have to be their champion. Sometimes, the stars align and a race goes perfectly. But more often than not, something will be thrown into the mix (exposed areas of a course resulting in really hot conditions, stomach issues, a nagging pain, etc.) that makes parts of a race kind of miserable. Throughout all of the ups and the downs that can make up a race, your runner is counting on you to stay positive. They are also counting on you to be resourceful even if they didn’t know that would be necessary pre-race. Example: While waiting to pace G for the final miles of the Monument Valley 50-Mile race in March, I noticed the main road the runners had to spend quite a bit of time on was VERY dusty. And G had nothing with him to cover his nose and mouth. I purchased a buff from the race director’s tent and made sure to have it soaked with water when he finally got to me. Definitely $22 well spent.
  • You have to appreciate the dedication. I’m not saying you have to be a runner to appreciate someone else’s running. But I do think you have to appreciate the dedication it takes to complete a race of any distance, but especially ultramarathon distances. It’s not just race day. It’s all of the days, weeks, and months that lead up to a race. The hours-long training runs on weekends, the early morning and late night runs squeezed in around a regular workday. Beyond that, the daily nutrition requirements and money spent on race-related items is beyond impressive. Being witness to the journey makes the finish that much sweeter – even for you.

    Zion 100

    So proud of G after finishing the Zion 100 last month.

  • You have to ignore emotion (yours and the runner’s). When you run far enough, for long enough it’s easy to become agitated, upset, and emotional because you’re tired. And everything is worse when you’re tired. Simply be prepared to be snapped at or for your runner to get angry that you offered the wrong thing (even if it WAS the right thing pre-race). I’m incredibly lucky that G is even-tempered in general, and even when he’s tired he remains cognizant that I’m there for his benefit and that my job is to ensure he has what he needs to continue. But I’ve seen some ugly exchanges between spouses/significant others that result in hurt feelings and that’s too bad. If you both acknowledge that some things could be said that you don’t mean, all will be right with the world in the end.

Since there are many more ultra running adventures in our future, I would love to hear any crewing advice you have!

Have a great week!

C

Product Review: ROLL Recovery R8 – Quick. Easy. Effective.

The first time I got to use the ROLL Recovery R8 was at mile 23 of the Antelope Canyon 55K. I was so impressed with the product that two weeks later I was on the wait list for one, and a little over a month later it showed up on my doorstep.

I’ve been in love ever since.

ROLL Recovery R8

Getting in a quick, deep tissue massage has never been easier!

Founded in Boulder, Colorado, by endurance athletes Jeremy and Adrianna Nelson, the R8 roller allows athletes to quickly get in a deep-tissue massage that helps reduce inflammation after workouts, breakup muscle adhesions and stimulate blood circulation. Gone are the days of hopping on a foam roller immediately after a hard workout. Instead I usually grab my R8 and roll out my legs while sitting on the couch!

ROLL Recovery R8

Rolling out after a run

While the R8 hasn’t completely eliminated my time on a foam roller (I still use one to hit my glutes, hip flexors and upper body), it has certainly minimized the time I spend on one … and that’s something I can appreciate. The product is also incredibly durable and portable, making it easy to bring to races.

ROLL Recovery R8

The ROLL Recovery R8 is super portable, making it a great companion for races.

The ROLL Recovery R8 has become a staple in my training. It’s an incredibly convenient way to get in a quick and effective massage after a hard workout. Check out their website for more information.

Take care,

G

*This post was not sponsored. We purchased the ROLL Recovery R8 and all opinions are our own. 

Never Give Up: The Zion 100

Some memories have a significant impact on you and your future. For me, last year’s DNF at the San Diego 100 was one of those memories. It humbled me and forced me to be honest with myself and my abilities. But it also lit a fire within me and became the catalyst for a rematch with the 100-mile distance, and I chose the Zion 100.

Ever since Monument Valley, I’d been experience some significant hip pain that had derailed my last 3-4 weeks of training. I’d gotten a few massages and met with a running doctor to help diagnose and fix the issue. I was physically feeling about 75-80%, however, mentally I was at 110-120%, so I figured I could hit the start line of Zion at 100% (of sorts).

Zion bound

C and I left San Diego early Thursday morning and arrived in Springdale, Utah, around 2:30 p.m. We checked in at the Pioneer Lodge then went into Zion National Park for a while to do some exploring before heading to packet pick-up which was at the start line in Virgin. We didn’t hang around too long. My nerves were kicking in and I just wanted to get some dinner and get some rest. I knew the next day was going to be a long one.

Zion National Parl

C and I in the park the day before the race.

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Zion 100 Course Map

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Zion 100 Elevation Map

Race day

There’s an energy at the start of a 100-miler that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and the Zion 100 was no different. Both the 100-milers and 100K runners took off at 6 a.m., and just like that it was on. My second attempt at a 100-miler was underway.

As I approached the first big climb, Flying Monkey, the sun was just beginning to rise. I got up FM with no issues, hit the aid station up top and set out on the 6-mile loop atop the mesa.

The scenery up on top of the mesa was amazing – a completely different landscape than the land below. Oh, and the views from above were jaw-dropping.

Zion 100

Beautiful sunrise as we were going up Flying Monkey

I descended Flying Monkey with no issues and hit a nice stretch of Jeep road and was able to run most of it, before hopping on some single track and working my way to Dalton Wash Aid (mile 15).

C was anxiously waiting for me at Dalton. She knew that by now I’d know how the day was going to go. Once I got there she asked how I was doing – my response was simply “I made it to here.” I knew if I wanted to have ANY shot of staying in this thing, I had to focus exclusively on running from aid station to aid station.

After a quick pit stop I began the climb up to the Guacamole Loop, where runners would be treated to nearly 8 miles of challenging slick rock. It was impossible for me to get a rhythm going up there, so I just enjoyed the views and tried to keep moving as best I could. I finally made it off the mesa and back down to Dalton Aid 2.

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View from the Guacamole Loop.

Once I got there, I noticed my pacer and good friend Tony from San Diego had arrived and immediately jumped in to help C out in crewing me. I wanted to take a few extra minutes to rest up – my hip already wasn’t feeling great and I wanted to recharge for a minute.

Neither of them let me, and before I knew it was back on the trail.

Going up

After crossing the highway I headed toward the infamous Gooseberry mesa. In my research of the race, I knew this climb was going to be a beast. The climb gains 1,500 feet. Fast. Sprinkle on some serious exposure to the sun and a subpar hip, and 1,500-foot climb felt like I was climbing Whitney.

Zion 100

Me coming up Goosberry. What. A. Climb.

Once up to the top I came into Goosebump Aid, refueled, and then set out on my last solo loop across more slickrock to Gooseberry Point and back to Goosebump #2. I got back a little before 8 p.m., but not before taking in one of the most amazing sunsets I’d ever seen.

Zion 100

Unreal sunset from atop Goosberry Mesa. One of my last photos before my phone died.

By this time I was only an hour ahead of the cutoffs. Definitely not where I wanted to be. I picked up my pacer, Tony, and we headed out into the darkness toward Grafton Mesa. Running with him was a huge breath of fresh air and though we weren’t moving fast, we were still moving. We arrived at Grafton Mesa, downed some soup and headed on through. Grafton was a breaking point for a lot of runners, many of whom were still sitting around waiting to get picked up.

I’d be lying if I said the thought of dropping didn’t cross my mind. I hurt from the start, I had yet to get into a rhythm, and now I was furiously chasing cutoffs … all with 45 more miles to go.

Before I could turn that thought into any more than just that (a thought), Tony said “You ready, G? We gotta go.” And just like that, we were back on the trail and off toward Cemetery Aid Station (mile 57.5).

After a mix of single track, slick rock, climbing, and then a huge descent off the mesa, we arrived at Cemetery Aid with 45 minutes to spare. After another quick in/out we were on our way back up. The climb up was the hardest and most challenging part of the day night for me (so far), but Tony did a fantastic job of keeping me moving.

This was also about the point in the race where I DNF’d in my 100-mile attempt last year (around mile 60). Tony knew this – and though we weren’t saying much at this point, he did say this:

“You’re about to be on the other side of what you know you’re capable of. It’s all new after this.”

In a weird way, hearing that gave me a spark that I hadn’t had most of the day. It was true; I was now further into a race than I’d ever been. What a rush.

The way back was a serious grind, and making cutoffs was still a top priority (talk about a feeling of added stress!). We were in and out of Grafton Mesa #2 within 5 minutes and got back to Goosebump Aid #3 by 4:45 a.m.

By this point all I could think about was how bad I wanted off the mesa. Upon leaving Goosebump I got my wish – in the form of a 1,500-foot, pitch-black descent down Gooseberry.

I’ll leave most of the details of it, but just know that I was in a dark place (both literally and figuratively) by this point.

A change of scenery

After getting off the mesa, we had to get to the Virgin Desert Aid station by 8:30 a.m. The stretch was tough, but we got there by 7:45 a.m. My hour buffer was fading.

Fast.

Once you hit Virgin Desert Aid, the style of the race changes. Runners were now faced with a series of challenging desert loops. In prepping for this race, I had thought that if I could just “get to Virgin Aid” that I could spend some time getting re-energized before hammering the loops out, but being up against cutoffs, I didn’t have that luxury.

C was waiting for me at Virgin Aid and would be responsible for pacing me out the rest of the way (25 miles). Tony had done a phenomenal job keeping me moving overnight, knowing that I was hurting and not in a good spot. He was able to keep me on pace, and focused just on the next aid station. It was a night I never thought would end – but, like all things, it did.

For the record, Tony wasn’t unaware of what was going on at all, either. He knew we were crunched for time, had a long way to go, and that I was starting to fall apart. (He had dug deep and finished the SD 100 last year, so he knew what it took to get to the finish – and what I had yet to go through).

The red, white, and blue

By now my mental state had gotten a lot worse, and I was seriously rationalizing a second DNF in my head.

“Well G, you made it 76.5, farther than you’d ever gone – but it’s just not going to be your day. You weren’t 100% when you started … and you’re paying for it now.”

This “inner monologue” slowly started to leave my head and now C and Tony were hearing it … but they weren’t having it. They both knew me well and weren’t ready to have a repeat of last year.

And just like that, they switched roles. C was ready to go and after 5 minutes we were out on the Red Loop, a 4.7 stretch of rolling desert single track … with a cutoff of 9:15 a.m.

A snail’s pace is probably an adequate comparison to what I was churning out at this point. I asked C every 3-5 minutes “how much distance have we covered? Do you think we’ll make the cutoff?”

C, being the ever-positive person she is, assured me we were doing great and that we could make it.

I apparently thought otherwise. I began walking, saying I had “given it my best effort, but it just wasn’t going to happen.” We came in at 9:10 a.m, the cutoff was 9:15 a.m – and I didn’t think I could go back out.

I thought it was 9:15 a.m.

An aid station worker who had taken notice of me when I first came into Virgin Desert Aid came over and said “Don’t get too comfortable buddy, the cutoff is 9:30 a.m. You have to get back out there. You’ve come this far. You’ve got to keep going.”

He took my red bracelet and replaced it with a white one, to signify I was about to start the second loop.

And again, just like that, we were off.

The white loop (mile 81), was a bit longer with more rolling hills … and it was getting hot. I was kicking out salt bad and knew I was on the verge of losing control of my nutrition, but we slugged it out. All thanks to C.

It gets a bit overwhelming when you start to think that you’re within 20-30 minutes of not being able to continue on, which is exactly where we were at when we returned from the white loop.

Mile 87.1

Time in/out: 11:10a.m./11:22 a.m.

Cutoff:            11:30 a.m

The same aid station worker that had kept me on course earlier found me again and offered me more words of encouragement and advice. His support, along with C and Tony’s was hitting me hard, but I was falling apart. I hadn’t stopped for more than 5-10 minutes since mile 47.5. My hip was on fire, my feet were all blistered, and my nutrition was in the tank. I was a mess.

Even with all the support I was ready for a DNF in my head. But my crew didn’t let me act on that thought and sent me back out. I had more than 3 hours to go 7 or so miles. But like I said, I had fallen apart. I was walking/shuffling along at a dismal pace, and things were looking bleak.

The blue loop was also the most exposed (and challenging) of the loops, and the sun was just roasting us. We had caught up with a few other people who were in the same boat, wished them well and continued to shuffle along.

Zion 100

A view from the blue loop

C did an unreal job pacing me, knowing just when to talk and when to let it ride. When to let me vent and when to tell me to man-up. It was a delicate balance and she managed it well.

In my head I thought that IF I could somehow get back to Virgin Aid for the last time by 1:30 p.m. that would give me 2.5 hours to finish, and at the pace I was moving at, I thought I MIGHT have a shot.

But 1:30 p.m. quickly passed, and I was still out there. I watched 1:45 and 2 p.m. tick by as well, before getting returning to Virgin Aid for the last time at 2:18 p.m.

Mile 94.

That was it. I came into that aid station to drop. I was dehydrated and distraught. I thought I had left it all out there and came up short. There was no way I could go 6 miles in less than 1 hour 45 minutes based on how I had been performing for the last 12 hours.

It wasn’t possible. Not to me.

I walked in and sat down, ready to make my announcement, but before I could, the aid station volunteer dumped an entire cooler of ice water over my head, and said “Hey buddy, you look like hell, I know you feel like hell – but YOU. CAN’T. STOP. YOU GO FINISH THIS THING! YOU’VE COME TOO FAR TO QUIT!”

His statement was matched with Tony handing me two new water bottles and C pulling me back out on the course.

This was it. We were going for it.

The ice bath was reinvigorating – and the support from my crew and the aid station worker helped stoke a fire deep within me. I was 94 miles in. I had 1 hour 35 minutes to give it everything I had.

And so I did.

For the first time since miles 10-20 I started running. As hard as I could. I’d tell C to “Go” and we’d run as hard as we could, walk and repeat. Tony had parked near mile 97 and was stressed to the max, he knew I had fallen apart and my pace was bad.

Until he saw C and I come around the corner. 3 miles down in 35 minutes. Some of the fastest miles of the day for me were miles 94-96. I had 3 miles to go – and more than an hour to get there.

I gave the next few miles all I had as well, and came across the finish line in 33:25, side by side with C, Tony, and my friend Corina, who had hung around to watch me finish.

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Finishing my first 100-miler

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Handcrafted buckles were awarded to all finishers. After two years, I finally got mine.

I couldn’t have done it without the support of C, Tony, Corina, the aid station worker, and my fellow runners. It truly was a life-changing experience. I learned more about myself during this race than I ever thought possible, but most importantly, I learned to never give up – in running or in life.

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The gang at the finish. I wouldn’t have finished without them.

Take care,

G

Race Recap: The Monument Valley 50

Monument Valley

It’s hard to believe it’s been two weeks since C and I road tripped to northeast Arizona for the Monument Valley 50. The weekend was amazing, and not just because of the race. In fact, even though we logged 24 hours in the car on a trip that lasted less than 60 hours total, we both agreed that we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

We took off from San Diego bright and early, at 3:30 a.m., and hit the road. This was total déjà vu for me, having done a similar middle-off-the-night departure to get to the Antelope Canyon 55K just a few weeks prior. But lucky for me this time I’d have company, both in the car and on the trails, as C was coming along to pace me for the last 15 miles of the race as training for her pacing duties at Zion.

As much as I enjoy road tripping alone, having C along for the ride was a complete blast. We made great time and were through Phoenix before either of us knew it. From there, we were northbound for a few hours, before heading through Flagstaff and on to Monument Valley.

We lucked out and snagged a last-minute cancellation at a hotel called The View just a few hundred feet from the race start/finish line. After checking in and dropping off our bags, we decided to make the most of the daylight we had left.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley as the sun set the night before the race.

Monument Valley

“Well, I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.” Just kidding! I’ve got the Monument Valley 50-miler tomorrow!

After a nice meal at the hotel and an evening walk to take in the scenery and look at the stars, it was off to bed (except for when we got up and to look at the stars again at 3 a.m.).

Race Day

Monument Valley

Monument Valley 50-Mile Race Elevation Profile

Monument Valley

Monument Valley 50-Mile Course Map

Monument Valley

Sun rise at the start line

Prior to the 50M/50K start, runners were treated to a Navajo Prayer Ceremony at the start line and then, promptly at 7 a.m., were off on our way.

I thought that Running Antelope Canyon a few weeks prior had given me a pretty good idea of what to expect, but since the Monument Valley area had been hit by extreme weather during the past two weeks, I knew it was best to take anything I thought I knew about the course conditions, throw it out the window, and prepare for a long, tough, sandy day through the Navajo Nation.

Monument Valley

Sunrise somewhere near Mile 4

With less than 60, 50-mile runners, the pack thinned out fast, and runners were able to experience the area’s beauty on their own. As I trudged along through the sand, it quickly became apparent that I was going to get, way, WAY closer to the monuments than I had originally thought. By mile 9, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite races to date.

Monument Valley

Near Brigham’s Tomb

Monument Valley

Sandy conditions for miles

The weather that hit the area earlier had helped “pack down” some of the sand, but most of the miles between Brigham’s Tomb Aid (mile 9) and Hogan Aid (mile 22) were still a challenge. I hit Hogan’s Aid for the first time in around 5 hours, feeling pretty good overall.

From Hogan, the 50-milers would do a series of loops, all of which passed back through Hogan before heading onto the next. The first loop (North Windows) took runners out on some of my favorite singletrack of the day. The views were simply unbelievable.

Monument Valley

Running beneath the monument

After North Windows, I cruised came through Hogan before heading out on the Arches Loop. This 9.5 mile loop was incredible … and sandy. But mostly incredible.

Monument Valley

Is this the Sahara? No, it’s Monument Valley.

Monument Valley

Ear of the Wind

I returned to Hogan for the final time at 3 p.m. and picked up C, who was planning to run the final 15 miles with me. We headed off to Mitchell Mesa – which would be the biggest climb of the day at mile 40.

(Sidenote: To the group of volunteers at Hogan Aid, kudos on running such a great aid station. With runners hitting this aid station multiple times, I estimate they saw somewhere between 800-1,000 runners. Every time I came through food and support was plentiful and spirits were high. One of the best aid stations I’ve ever ran through. Thanks again – you all were great!)

Heading up Mitchell Mesa was tough. The trail up was really technical and slow going, but once we got to the top, the views we got where the highlight of my day. Words don’t even do it justice.

Monument Valley

The view from the top of Mitchell Mesa

At the same time I was up there, I noticed a local Navajo man up there … ON HIS HORSE. I couldn’t help but stop and ask how he got up there with that horse. He smiled and simply said “the same way you two did.”

Monument Valley

We weren’t the only ones on top of Mitchell Mesa …

I had a lot of interactions with the local Navajo throughout the day, each of which was an incredibly memorable (and positive) experience. Talking with them about their land, its beauty, and its history was a once in a lifetime experience that we all enjoyed.

Coming down Mitchell Mesa was a lot more fun than going up, and before I knew it C and I were back to Hogan Aid for the final time. Just 3.2 miles were left until the finish. I’d been out there a little more than 12 hours and was feeling pretty thrashed … yet I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.

Having C out there as my pacer was fantastic. She did a great job keeping me moving and helping me forget about the pain. Definitely a natural!

Together, we knocked out the final 3 miles and crossed the finish line at 12:53:36 (30/41).

Monument Valley

50-mile race finishers received a bracelet handcrafted by a local Navajo family

The next morning, bright and early, we put about 700 more miles on my Altima before arriving back home in San Diego. Talk about a whirlwind trip!

One that neither of us would change for the world.

Take care,

G

 

Recipe: Healthy Crab Cakes

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a healthy, easy-to-make recipe, so I wanted to remedy that with my Healthy Crab Cakes concoction. I’m originally from the South, and most of the seafood I grew up eating was battered and fried, including crab cakes. They were my absolute favorite seafood dish then, and still are to this day, but I wanted to create a healthier version to satisfy those cravings.

My recipe is an adaptation of a Cooking Light version that I found a couple of years ago while purging my magazine collection before our move to San Diego. I eliminate mayonnaise, use less breadcrumbs, and add extra herbs and spices to enhance the taste profile.

Crab Cakes

Crab cakes with over-roasted asparagus and garlic bread (this was a race week meal for G)

Healthy Crab Cakes

 Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs, divided)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh, flat-leaf parsley (you could certainly use dry parsley instead)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (or other similar seasoning)
  • ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 8 oz. lump crab meat (fresh or canned), well drained
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lemon, quartered

 Directions:

  • Combine 1/3-cup panko and next 9 ingredients (through eggs) in a large bowl and stir well. Add the crab; stir gently just until combined. Place the remaining 1/3-cup panko in a shallow dish (I like to use a glass pie dish). Using wet hands, shape crab mixture into 4 equal balls. Coat balls in panko, then gently flatten them to form 4 (4-inch) patties.
  • Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add crab patties; cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden. Serve with lemon wedges, asparagus and garlic bread, or a salad.

Note: While eliminating mayonnaise saves on fat and calories, it can be a little harder for the crab cakes to stick together. The second egg should take care of this, but if your crab cakes are falling apart before you start to cook them, you can add a bit more panko. Overall, I think the taste without the mayonnaise it so much more flavorful and fresher.

Here’s the nutritional breakdown for one crab cake:

Calories: 181

Fat: 7.8g

Carbs: 8.8g

Protein: 16.3g

G ran the Monument Valley 50-mile race last weekend (recap to come), and I was able to pace him for the last 14 miles – what a beautiful and fun experience! We had a fabulous time road-tripping there and back, and can’t wait for our travel adventures in April to Zion for Greg’s 100-mile race and Kauai to celebrate his birthday!

Take care,

C

Race Recap: Slot Canyons, Scenery and Sand – The Antelope Canyon 55K

Antelope Canyon 55K

Coming off my race at the San Diego 50 I was feeling good about getting back out on the trails and putting in miles … which is why I was so excited to head to Page, Arizona, for Ultra Adventure’s Antelope Canyon 55K last weekend.

Well, that was one of the reasons.

The other was to experience first-hand the much-talked-about scenery of the course!

I opted to drive and left San Diego bright and early, at 4 a.m., and arrived in Page around 3:30 p.m. Not a bad drive at all; pretty scenic in parts, actually.

Antelope Canyon 55K

Sunrise over the Mojave on my way to Page

The first thing I wanted to do is complete one of the Trifecta Challenges. The Trifectas are a really cool thing Race Director Matt Gunn has put together. Realizing that these are destination races for many runners, he put together a list of “other must-see areas” while they are in town for their race. In addition to seeing more of the area, runners who participate in the Trifecta are eligible to receive discounts on future races. MORE trails and money off race registrations? No complaints here!

I was most interested in The Cable Trail, which, if followed all the way down, will take you to the Colorado River. Since I was traveling alone, I felt like going halfway down was good enough; I didn’t drive 600 miles to spend race day stuck at the bottom! Definitely an amazing trail.

Antelope Canyon 55K, Cable Trail

A bit tough to find, but definitely worth looking for!

—RACE DAY—

I got to the staging area at 6:15 a.m., got prepped and headed to the starting line. Matt gave a quick pre-race briefing, which included a moment of silence for a fellow runner’s daughter who was tragically killed in a car accident last year. In addition to the moment of silence, purple bracelets were available for runners who wanted to run for Alyssa and her family. I was one of them.

Once the briefing wrapped up, it was time to get busy. The 55K runners were off at 7 a.m. sharp.

Antelope Canyon 55K

Map of the 55K course

Antelope Canyon 55K

Elevation profile for the 55K

The first loop took us out through the desert toward the much-anticipated Horseshoe Bend and Waterholes slot canyon. The first thing I said after taking off was “wow, the scenery out here is going to be amazing,” followed abruptly a few miles later by “wow, this sand is going to make for an incredibly hard run.”

It most certainly did.

Antelope Canyon 55K

Trudging through the sand early on

Since I’m making a more concerted effort to not waste too much time at aid stations this year, I went straight through Horseshoe Bend aid (mile 5) and continued on toward the river.

Antelope Canyon 55K, Horsehoe Bend

Me at Horseshoe Bend

Antelope Canyon 55K, Horseshoe Bend

Absolutely amazing

Standing over Horseshoe Bend was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever experienced. Billed as one of the most photographed land features in the country, I definitely added to the picture count by snapping 20-30 pictures on my iPhone.

Once I picked up my jaw from the ground, I continued on my way.

One thing that quickly became apparent was the fact that you’d be running on a wide variety of terrain. Running on the slickrock overlooking the river was an awesome experience – but one where I had to stay pretty aware of where my feet were landing so not to injure myself.

Antelope Canyon 55K

Careful!

All went well and I hit Waterholes Aid with no issues before dropping into Waterholes slot canyon.

Runners were pretty spread out by this point, which allowed me to experience Waterholes slot canyon alone. It was an awesome experience. I’d like to try and capture it in words, but I think pictures tell the story better:

Antelope Canyon 55K, slot canyon

Entrance to Waterholes

Antelope Canyon 55K, slot canyon

Somewhere in the middle

Antelope Canyon 55K, slot canyon

Continuing on through

Antelope Canyon 55K, slot canyon

Ladders to get out

Once out of Waterholes it was some fire road, followed by a quick pass back through Horseshoe Bend aid, before heading back toward the staging area. The first “loop” was about 23-ish miles.

The 55K finished up with a lap on the Page Rim Trail, a 10-mile loop of scenic singletrack that encircles the city of Page and gives runners amazing views of Lake Powell and the surrounding area.

Antelope Canyon 55K, Page Rim Trail

Awesome views from the trail

I crossed the finish line in 8:26, somewhere in the middle of the pack. I was definitely happy with the effort and think that I’m improving each and every day.

Finishers’ awards for the 55K were handcrafted pieces of pottery that were each unique – and way cooler than a medal (in my opinion). I also really liked how you got to pick your own award based on which one spoke to you the most.

Antelope Canyon 55K

Awesome finisher awards

But I was given so much more than a finisher’s award. Antelope Canyon gave me the opportunity to run through some of the most memorable and breathtaking scenery in the country, and to do it in support of a fellow runner who had experienced a significant loss. Thinking of him and his family throughout the day really put life into perspective for me.

It should be noted that the runner who lost his daughter committed to running the Antelope Canyon 100-mile race in her memory. It was his first 100-miler. He finished strong and I’m sure his daughter is incredibly proud.

I know I am.

—POST-RACE THOUGHTS—

A week has passed since the race, and I’m still replaying a lot of it in my mind. I’ve also had some time to think more about the event and here’s what I came up with:

  • I loved that Antelope Canyon was not only a race, but an adventure. Using ladders to get in and out of slot canyons, bushwhacking to get to The Cable Trail, running on slickrock overlooking the Colorado River – all of these things added so much to the experience.
  • I’m becoming more and more interested in destination races that offer an opportunity to run through scenic areas.
  • The event was incredibly well-supported, well-marked, and lived up to what it said it would offer on the website.
  • It’s important that we take care of the areas where we run. I really admire Ultra Adventures for living up to their commitment of hosting a zero-waste event.
  • Never … EVER … judge a race by its elevation profile. Running through sand for extended periods of time is really, really hard! Not to mention scurrying across slickrock and climbing up and down ladders.

My experience at Antelope Canyon confirmed one thing: I need to run more of these events to see more of the The Grand Circle. But I won’t have to wait too long; I’ve got two more UA races on my calendar, Monument Valley and Zion.

Zion will be my second attempt at the 100-mile distance … and I can’t wait.

Take care,

Greg

This was my first race as part of the Ultra Adventures ambassador team. For more information on Ultra Adventures races please visit their website. You’ll be glad you did!