Well I finally did it! After 3 failed attempts at running 100 miles I was successful at the San Fransisco One Day ultra on Saturday Oct 23 – 24th. It’s unbelievable and completely unexpected and I have no idea how this happened, but I actually tied for 4th overall out of 52 runners with a total distance of 100.8 miles in 23 hours, 50 minutes. Go figure.
And what an incredible experience it was! I feel like I pushed myself harder than I ever have before. I am writing this paragraph from my bed at the Travel Lodge Presidio late Sunday afternoon. It takes me 10 minutes to walk to the bathroom, preceded by 20 minutes just lying there trying to psych myself up for the arduous, painful task. I’ve never hurt so much just lying still. Every muscle, bone, joint, and skin cell is screaming at me. Still, I had 16 glorious hours of the best sleep of my life.
My day started at 8:00 am on Saturday morning when I arrived at Crissy Field in San Fransisco to set up my tent and get my race bib and timing chip. The weather forecast looked pretty bad – two storms blowing through over the next 24 hours with plenty of rain and high winds. Since I hadn’t booked a hotel room for Saturday night, I wanted to set up my tent and throw a sleeping bag in just in case worse came to worse and I had to drop at some point during the night – at least I would have some place to crawl into and escape until morning. And since I knew rain was in the forecast, I wanted somewhere dry to protect all of my gear: food, extra clothes, spare shoes, headlamp, medical needs, etc.
As I set up my tent, I met my neighbors Joey Bryan and Linda Wise from San Diego. As Joey put it “We have our own little Mysteria Lane here.” As it turned out, my piece of property on SF1 Mysteria Lane turned out to be a bad buy. It’s an old tent and it leaked BADLY. After the heavy rain started, my sleeping bag was soaking in an inch of water – everything in the tent was soaked including my cell phone which was why I only made 2 Facebook updates.
The race started at 9:00 am sharp in fairly decent and dry weather with temperatures in the low 60’s which is perfect running weather. 52 runners registered for the 24 hour race, and 43 registered for the 12 hour race excitedly pushed off across the start line. The course is a flat 1.06 mile loop around Crissy Field. The South side of the rectangular course was a popular paved recreational path packed with other runners, a big walking event, cyclists and people enjoying the park on a weekend. The south side was gravel along the beach next to San Fransisco bay. We enjoyed amazing views of the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz as we made our incessant right hand turns. Race director Sara Spelt reminded us that there are only 4 turns on the course and none of them are left!
The objective of the SF One Day is to chock up as many laps in exactly 24 hours (or 12 hours if you are registered in the 12 hr division) as you are capable of. The course record is 140 miles. There was one aid station stocked with water, electrolyte drink, potatoes, pretzels, beef jerky, cookies, gummy bears, M & M’s, cake, pumpkin pie, sandwiches, hot chicken soup, chips, and many other goodies – plenty to choose from!
I was sort of disappointed to resort to my iPod so soon after the start, but after only 2 laps, I sort of got the hang of it and there was really nothing else to see. Also I didn’t feel like talking to anyone yet because I was running at a pretty good pace and wanted to keep my rhythm going for as long as I could.
I felt good. Really good in fact. My goal was to run at a 4 hour marathon pace for as long as I possibly could, then resort to a mix of run / walk as required to achieve my 100 mile goal. I was happy to finish 25 miles after 4 hours and still feeling pretty good, continued to run straight through the next 4 hours and tacked on another 25 miles. At the 4 hour mark the rain started, but it was relatively warm and my pace was fast enough that I could run through most of it without my rain jacket.
When I reached 50 miles I really wanted to walk a lap, but felt I was still capable of running some more so I made myself a deal that I would run 10 more laps, then do some walking. So I did – I think I was at 60 miles in 8 hours and I was still in a pretty decent mood. A darn good mood actually. I would have burst into song as I am known to do at times, but there were way too many others around and I felt that it would be cruel to subject anyone aside from family and close friends to my singing voice.
I started to do the math. I timed a fast walking lap and tried to calculate my finishing mileage based on a mix of walking and running. I realized that there would be no way to make it to a hundred with just walking, so I started to run down the paved side of the course and fast walk the beach side. I continued to do this throughout the afternoon and into the evening interspersed with a running lap when I got paranoid about my math abilities. The rain tapered off during the night, but came back with a vengeance at about 4:00 am accompanied by 40 mph winds. I made a lot of friends during the night and chatting everyone really helped pass the time. Let me tell you about my friend Tony.
Tony Arrizon is 50 and was running his second ultra event. When Tony was in the military he was part of the team who attempted the illfated rescue of american hostages in Iran in 1980. Operation Eagle Claw resulted in the destruction of two aircraft and the deaths of eight American servicemen and one Iranian civilian. After their plane blew up, Tony ran for one of the helicopters, jumped up to catch the landing gear and fell off, then ran after the last chopper, did the same jump and was pulled aboard at the last minute. The reason he was chosen for the mission was because he was a good runner. The idea was that if he didn’t make it aboard any of the rescue aircraft, he could run 60 miles across the desert to Safety. With the Iranian army chasing him. Right. Needless to say, Tony is very happy that he was pulled aboard the last chopper after falling off the first one and watching the airplane explode into flames.
As the night wore on, I periodically checked with the timing mat official on my lap count. The math wasn’t working out, so I started to run full laps again. I repeated this process many times throughout the early morning – run as many laps as I could possibly stand, walk a few, get a lap count, do the math, get discouraged and start running again. Each walk break was like throwing the switch on the ‘change friends’ machine. Since I was in a generally good mood, I would ask everyone how they were doing as I passed. Once in a while my pace would match someone else’s, and we would start up a conversation.
Tony finally told me why my math wasn’t working – I was under the assumption that each lap was exactly a mile. The timing official had told him 95 laps was slightly over 100 miles. That was perfect because all of my calculations had me finishing 5 laps short!
The bleak early hours of the morning were very strange – like a battle field the morning after. I witnessed runners sprawled out on park benches, lying on the path, weaving right and left like a drunkard, and someone wrapped up in a sleeping bag taking baby steps as if they had a heavy ball and chains attached to each leg. My buddy Aaron who I was running with earlier had completely fallen apart. He was creeping along with his head tilted sideways dragging his right foot on the ground and wearing nothing but his running shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. It was pouring rain and the wind was blowing 30 miles per hour at the time. A couple of hours earlier when I was running with him and his brother, he was wearing rain pants and a rain jacket. I stopped and asked Aaron if he was OK. He told me in a very slurred voice: “I juss fffell apppart – I alwaysss dddo this”. On the next lap around I told him that he should be wearing more clothes and asked him if he wanted me to get some help for him. He insisted that he was OK and we were almost finished, so I let it go. One of the leaders of the 24 hour race was doubled over at one point and had to be carried off. A couple of hours later he was back running his 8 minute miles – incredible. Laura Bleakley was ahead of me in distance and winning the women’s race. She pulled out and spent 2 hours throwing her guts up. Then she came back to run the last two hours and tied me for distance.
The aid station / timing mat area was an un-inspiring mess and got worse as the night got longer and weather got worse. The organizers stopped manning the aid station and all of the food was just set out on two tables – self-serve style. The drinking cups were wrapped up in a couple of bags and had blown off the table into the mud – a real pain when you are counting seconds and have to dig through dirty plastic bags to pick out a cup and pour your own. The coke bottle was tipped over and spilled onto the table. There were pizza boxes in the mud that I had to run around. The path that lead through the timing / aid station area was thick mud and riddled with puddles. Not a pretty picture at all, but thankfully, it only lasted a few seconds before turning right onto the bike path.
I ran and ran/walked the last couple of hours with (sorry! – I forgot your name) who kept me entertained with various stories about his life and numerous ultra races (believe me, the very LAST thing you want to talk about when RUNNING an ultra, is running an ultra!). I want to thank him for pacing me through the last couple of hours and helping me with the math. As it worked out, I crossed the timing mat for the very last time at 8:47 am with a grand total of 95 laps which converts to 100.8 miles.
I met Joey and Linda at the finish line and everyone sort of quickly ran off to take down tents and gather stuff because the wind was ramping up it’s intensity and starting to blow the timing tent over. These ultras are low-key events for sure – which is kind of nice. The web site promises “a custom award with the runners name and distance”. I’m hoping they will mail that to me?
I threw my piece of garbage tent in the trash can, packed up my stuff as the wet wind howled and my buddy Tony gave me a lift to my hotel room where Raymond worked like mad to get a room ready for me way earlier than their check-in time. I fell asleep at 11:00 am, woke up at 5:00 pm, ordered a pizza, ate 3 slices and I was sound sleep again by 9:00 pm and didn’t wake up until 9:00 am the next morning.
It’s Tuesday now and I’m feeling much better. Legs still a bit sore, but my feet are a mess. Big blisters on my toes and swollen ankles as usual.
What’s next? I’m going to start to focus on Ironman training now to get ready for IM St. George in May with my friend Bryon. Helen and I are running the Vegas marathon in December and Boston marathon in April and I would really like to see how close I can get to 3 hours. However, every year I get a year older darn it! I don’t know how that happens, but it does, and with each additional year of living comes a bit of a loss in physical performance – but I’m fighting it every step of the way!