Santa Barbara 100 is a special race for me because it was my first 100 mile race. It is also in the general vicinity of where Robin and I first met and started our wonderful journey together. It is set in a beautiful location going from Lower Oso campground to Montecito and back. It takes you through some very challenging terrain that can make it very hard for you to appreciate how beautiful it really is. Upon finishing last year, I knew that I wanted to come back and try again this year. I wanted to be able to experience the journey again; but, also there was the underlying hope that I would improve on my time.
This was race number 2 out of the 3 races in the California Triple Crown of Ultrarunning challenge . So far, both San Diego 100 and Santa Barbara 100 have taken me much longer than I had planned. San Diego temperatures during the race took me down a few notches and Santa Barbara was pretty damn warm also. Much of the SB100 is quite exposed and the heat is continually oppressive. In addition, the race starts at 6 pm. So within three hours after the start, when you are really feeling ready to run, you are forced to put on the brakes as you navigate some tricky terrain and overgrown trails or risk wrecking your ankles or doing a face plant onto the rocks. The course is really well-marked with very highly reflective ribbons, but you still need to stay focused and pay attention or find yourself doubling back.
The month between San Diego and this race didn’t allow me to do much in the way of improvement in my training. It was more a week of recovery, a couple of weeks of moderate running, and a week of taper. I am finding the short period in between back to back 100 mile runs to be a real challenge in that I am not sure what I should be doing other than listening to how my body feels and go with it. My main focus is to show up at the starting line of the next 100 mile run as comfortable physically, mentally, and emotionally as possible. Any running leading up is purely for working out kinks and tightness, not for gaining any real fitness.
Standing at the start line of Santa Barbara 100 on Friday evening I felt pretty good. I knew what was coming (not always a good thing) and though I knew it was going to be difficult I had the confidence that I could make it to the finish, barring any major injury. I had had a nice day driving up with Robin and the dogs and a fairly stress free period to get myself ready. That is one benefit of a later start. Early morning starts I always feel rushed and am often getting stuff together in the dark. This race is also very family oriented and laid back; the kind of place where you want to kick back and hang out. Waiting for the start I caught up with some familiar faces and soon enough it was time to go.
The crowd was pretty small, with roughly 70 runners starting. I went out with the lead group, quickly falling back from the first 3-4 knowing that I wanted to keep a conservative pace and focus on consistent running. I turned my attention inward and zoned in on my breathing as I began climbing up the trail towards 19 Oaks. I was feeling a bit sluggish and hit the first AS at Buckhorn about 4 minutes later than I had planned. I moved on through and continued on for the descent into the Falls AS at mile 10.3 coming in at around 8 pm. The next stretch to White Oak is just over 7 miles with the first half occurring in day light and the second half in the early evening. It was soon time to turn on the headlamp and let the fun begin. Even when the trails aren’t littered with little boulders they are often overgrown and deeply rutted with water run off chutes that force your ankles into unnatural positions. My friend Pete described it quite well when running through some of the overgrown sections commenting on how the thorny brush first claws your legs open so the abundant poison oak can than work its magic on your open wounds. It is very difficult for me to plan my split times for this race because I often forget the details of the terrain and how challenging it is. Just going by the map and elevation charts is very deceptive and often has me expecting to finish legs much faster than I can actually do once I get out there.
I ended up rolling into Live Oak AS probably about 25 minutes later than I had anticipated and the night was still young. I tried to get in and out knowing that it was only about five miles to Red Gate. This section has a fair amount of fire road and paved sections. I was able to stretch out a bit and I got into the AS around 1030. I topped off my fluids and caught up on some calories knowing that the next section was just over 8 miles with a nice little climb up to Cold Spring Saddle. I have run most of this leg in training runs in the daylight. But, when I do it in the dark on race day it seems to be a completely different animal that I just have to succumb to and concede to the power that it has over me. I usually feel fine physically, but the inability to focus and find proper footing has a profound effect on my attitude and I usually find myself cursing my way to the top
I eventually found my way up to the AS and emerged to the welcome sight of my friend, Pete, who had come up to help crew and run with me from mile 42 at Romero Camuesa and back to this AS at Cold Spring Saddle at mile 70. It is not often that I have a crew or pacer in my races, but I looked forward to having the company this year remembering how draining the climb back up to this point was last year. I chatted with Pete briefly and told him I would see him at mile 42. My split times were falling apart, as usual, and seeing how I had arrived to Cold Spring Saddle about 1 1/2 hours later than I had hoped, I figured that would give Pete some time to nap while I covered the next 12 miles.
On paper, the next 10 km down to Montecito looks like a super fast downhill glide. In the daytime I can do it at a decent pace. At night it is a frustrating trip over myself stumble parade. More lost time. This is the point at which I just stop to look down at the lights of the oil rigs off the coast and enjoy the beauty while I reel in the frustration that I am feeling. This is also the point of the race where I look forward to the climb out of Montecito as I have more control climbing than descending in the dark. At the Montecito checkpoint I topped off, had a few bites, and continued on to Romero Camuesa to meet up with Pete. I set in to move as quickly as possible through this section, disappointed with falling so far behind on my projected times. When I finally reached Romero Camuesa around 430 I was about 2 1/2 hours behind what I had anticipated. It was looking like another 12 hour tour for the first half, no improvement over last year.
Having Pete with me to share some of the miles at this point in the race was definitely beneficial. I felt bad because my pace over the next leg to the turn around at Lagunita del Cielo was pretty pathetic. I was feeling mentally low and physically drained. We got some good conversation and laughs in as I tried to work through my funk. Getting to the top at mile 50 is always a mood changer. The sun was starting to come up and there we were hiking above a blanket of cloud cover below. It was quite beautiful. I was beginning to see the leaders who were ahead of me. Unlike last year, I had gained a bit more ground before seeing the lead runner on the return trip. It seems everyone was running a bit slower this year. The guys running the show at the AS were having a great time and helped to lift my spirits. Pete and I grabbed a bit to eat, topped off and headed back out for the return with the AS captain shouting encouragement for quite some time after we left.
Heading back to Romero Camuesa I began to see who was on my tail. It appeared that most had a fairly draining night and were glad to see daylight. It is amazing what being able to see clearly does for ones spirits! My legs were still a bit heavy but I was feeling a little bit of energy return. Pete and I were able to actually get a good amount of running in on the stretch from Romero to Montecito moving faster than I would again for the remainder of the race. It was short-lived as the trip from Montecito back up to Cold Spring Saddle was up next and it threw me into a world of hurt once again.
The night had never really cooled off substantially and by the time we began the climbing trek out of Montecito, it was getting pretty toasty. This fairly short leg of just over 6 miles is incessantly slow slogging with hands on knees every step of the way. Most of the time, when moving uphill, if I cannot run or shuffle, I can hike at an acceptable pace. On this stretch there were a couple of times where I just had to stop and let the burn pass. It was exhausting, seemingly more so than last year. When I finally got to the top, after numerous false summits, I just wanted to be done.
I am so grateful for having Pete to accompany me on this stretch and for Johnathon being there to join me for the trip to the finish. It really does help to have friends offering you encouragement at times like this when self-doubt makes continuing seem unbearable. I spent some time cooling off with lots of ice and watermelon and before I knew it my oppressive sense of exhaustion and defeat began to fade and I geared up to continue on. This is not to say that there was a complete turn around. It took a good amount of time before I found any urge to move at any pace faster than brisk walking. I was feeling pretty tapped out. It was a long trek at this pace as this was an 8.2 mile stretch from Cold Spring to Red Gate. I was able to eventually get into shuffle mode and after a couple of hours pulled into the AS for more cold water rinse down and rejuvenation. Off to Live Oak feeling more inspired with every mile behind me but a bit sluggish with the increasing temperatures.
It was around this point that I felt hot spots developing into blisters on the same foot and same exact spots as last year. It seems all of the pawing back up to Cold Spring Saddle causes some irritation to the ball of my left foot, which I must favor more. When I got to Live Oak, Pete and his family were there to greet me. As I was about to pull out of the aid station I realized that there was some grit working its way into the blistered area and that I would have to remove my sock and shoe and deal with it now. Pete and his wife helped me to rinse it down and clean it up so that it would be a little less aggravated for the rest of the journey. I thanked them all and continued on with Johnathon for the final 18 miles.
It was a fairly long 7 miles to the Falls AS with the first half uphill. Every step seemed to hit the blisters the wrong way. Climbing aggravated the blistered ball of my foot while the twisting and turning of the rocks made the blister on the outside of my heel scream. It didn’t hurt any less to walk, so I tried to move as quickly as I my energy levels could sustain.
For me, when I get to the last 15 miles of this race, it seems like eternity. My feet are on fire, I have been awake and upright for over 24 hours, my energy level is in the red and I want to run but the ruts and rocks make me a danger to myself. I was hoping to make the final climb up to Buckhorn at mile 95 before dark but came up short. I knew at this point that not only was I not going to improve on last year’s time, but I was taking longer to finish. When you get to Buckhorn, there is an initial feeling of relief that the last few miles are downhill. Once you start heading out and down the trail, the relief quickly dissolves as it is all ankle twisting rutted terrain. With the darkness setting in I just had to take a deep breath, regain my composure, and slow down and give in to my exhausted feet that would only allow me move at a fast hike. It isn’t until we spilled out of the river rock littered trail onto the fire road that we could start shuffling at a better pace, with about one mile or so to go. This last stretch is a bit convoluted coming off of the asphalt road back onto a winding trail leading back to the Lower Oso Campground site. You don’t get a sense of the finish until within a few hundred meters. But, as always, when the lights of the time clock are in site, the last little bit of energy reserves surface and fuel my battered legs and feet across the finish with all that I have left. There is always a surge of emotions when reaching the finish and especially when greeted by Robin’s beautiful face. The feeling at the finish is almost not to be captured in words. It is a feeling that is so wonderful that it makes all of the pain and suffering along the journey acceptable and immediately dampened.
I am not sure what to expect at the Angeles Crest 100 in less than two weeks. My training has been sporadic at best. I have been anything but consistent over the last couple of months in between my 100 mile races. Trying to find the sweet spot combination of enough recovery to avoid overuse injuries, while trying to keep my body fit and ready for the next race, has been a journey through uncharted waters for me. There have been days where I could have, and probably should have, gone out to run, but was just not inspired enough to do so. I do know that the AC100 will most likely be another hot one if recent weather is any indicator. After two hot 100 mile races I am a bit exhausted with the thought of another one. I have the confidence that I can make it to the finish line. What remains to be seen is how my body will respond and perform. All will be revealed soon enough!