For my second attempt at a 100k I signed up for the Loco Go Big or Go Home Challenge. At the time I doubted I could be ready for that distance in time for the race, but the price for their inaugural 100k was the same as the 50k and I decided to chance it.
The rule of thumb is that you don’t increase your weekly mileage (nor your long run distance) by more than 10% per week. Another rule of thumb is that your weekly mileage should be at or above the race distance you are preparing for by the time you get to tapering. I was sticking to my training plan (more or less) and I knew that getting to 60+ miles per week was going to be close. The end of the school got busy and training suffered. My 60-mile week ended up being 40 and my taper week turned into 2 weeks. Still, I figured I would toe the line and see how far I could go.
I grew up in the Chico area and I love the surrounding mountains. Going back to places I had fished and camped when I was younger was a big draw for me doing this event. Taking my family with me was another big plus.
The adventure began on Thursday with my two younger kids, one dog, and I heading up to Butte Meadows to set up the borrowed tent trailer at our campsite. My friend, Jason, was camped across the way and we hung out by the fire and talked about how we came to be involved in this craziness.
We decided to explore the course on Friday and see how much snow was hanging around. We drove up as close as we could to where we thought the Cold Springs Aid Station would be and hiked up to the AS location. Glad we had trekking poles and crampons for the race the next day, we decided to see how far we could get on the Cold Springs loop. As it turned out, it wasn’t quite as far as we went and we weren’t even on the course. I drove forward and then tried to back out, but buried my rear axel in the snow. After nearly two hours of digging someone with a four wheel drive happened by and tried to pull us out. Although we snapped my rope, we created enough room to get out
forward. I completed a 30-point turn and blasted through the snow coming back. I wish I had video of the flying snow and the front wheels coming slightly off the ground, but I hadn’t anticipated the level of drama and was just glad to be free.
We headed part way down the hill to find cell phone coverage so I could firm up plans for meeting with my wife and my other daughter for dinner and because I had forgotten my shoes (that’s right, I forgot my running shoes for a race).
Pre-race adventure over, we headed to Chico for dinner with everyone else running the race from our Sacramento area group. After dinner, we drove the 45 minutes back to camp and tried to get some sleep before the 6 AM race.
Sleep is elusive before a race and I was glad to see the sky getting lighter as I was lying in my sleeping bag trying to keep warm. Checking my watch revealed that it was near enough time to get up and get ready. My wife drove Jason and me to the start and the race part of our adventure began.
There were some pre-race instructions, which included some necessary changes due to accessibility. In a first-time event, this is to be expected and there is always some necessary flexibility in a trail event where weather and forest service trail maintenance are out of the control of the race director. I had carefully mapped out a pace chart and was determined to stick with it. For me, that means not starting too fast. At “go” I started at a fast walk and gradually built to a slow running pace. I wanted to stay at or near
15 minutes/mile for the first 14 miles and slow to 18 mm on the climb up to Jonesville AS. I told my wife I should arrive around 10 AM. This was her first time crewing me and all of my drop bag supplies were in the back of her car. I fell quickly to my comfort position at the back of the pack and locked pace with my new friend Jacqi. Veronica was just behind us and Jason just ahead with Kiley (running her first 50k). At the junction where the 5kbeer5k overlapped a couple of friends missed the sharp left and continued back almost to the start line. Jacqi and I caught the sign and took advantage off the natural anti-inflammatory effects of hops at the Hydration Garden before continuing to Jonesville. We didn’t stay long and made it to Jonesville about 15 minutes ahead of schedule and feeling good. Alessandra took my eta as literal and arrived with Georgia and the dogs at 10. This gave me some time to reload on calories, electrolytes, and Squirrel Nut Butter anti-chafing lube.
I changed from my Orange Mud to my Camelback. The larger pack carried 100oz and had room for my crampons and trekking poles. Fully ready, we moved on towards the tougher terrain of the part of the course exclusive to the 100k.
Leaving Jonesville, the course continued up the road for half a mile before turning onto single-track down into the canyon. Technical single track is my favorite part of trail running so, even though I was slow, I enjoyed this the most. I had left my phone in my other pack so thanks to Jacqi for getting pictures in this section. The mostly runnable trail was occasionally interrupted by fallen trees and water crossings. The pre-race instructions mentioned 2 water crossings – one with a rope and two volunteers and one where “you can expect to get your feet wet.” There were SIX water crossings. One with the rope, two that maybe should have had a rope, two shallow crossings in the canyon, and the little one in the snow loop. The current in the final canyon crossing was strong enough to pull the snow basket from my trek pole and, without the rope, would have knocked me over. My friend Veronica reported that it took her “100-pound ass right out from under” her. As the day progressed and the snowmelt increased, the current grew stronger and depth increased – just another way that being slower makes this sport harder.
We climbed up out of the canyon and onto the service road and then followed that down to Humbug. I was glad to be through with the water crossings. After a climb, we were coasting on a long downgrade to the Humbug aid station. On the way there I saw Jason heading back out and, once there, filled up on peanut butter/Nutella sandwiches, oranges, banana, everything looked good! My good friend, Youa was there and gave some encouragement and helped Jacqi and I get through the aid station quickly and ready. I was still feeling good at mile 25 and ready for the climb up to Cold Springs. As we were leaving we saw Carina, Veronica, and Lily, all of whom had missed a turn and done some bonus miles early.
The next 8 miles were on the service road and mostly up. It was here that we saw the eventual winner of the 100k on his way back to the creek crossings. Apparently, I missed the race day change that we would be going back the way we came and through the 5 water crossings in the canyon. Honestly, I think this makes the course a more legitimate 100k (whatever that means), but I was not looking forward to the waist deep water, nor the thigh deep with no rope. There were more immediate obstacles, however. The 5-mile Cold Springs loop held unknown amounts of snow and I had to do it twice.
Crisis of Faith
Once at Cold Springs, I verified that I would, indeed, have to go back through the water crossings before climbing to Colby Lookout and down to the finish. I decided not to put on my crampons since the snow was slushy enough to provide traction. Heading out for the first loop, I started falling behind Jacqi. I saw Jason coming around (he had taken the first loop the wrong way). I felt bad for him because his way was more difficult, but the RD allowed him to continue and he eventually earned his first 100k on this day. I felt like I had everything under control because it was just 2 laps in the snow and then up to the Lookout and down… then I looked at my watch and realized that I was just now half way. That, and the snow really took the strength out of me. With each bend, I saw Jacqi pulling further ahead. I got slower and slower. Those 5 miles destroyed me. During any given ultra I have moments where I begin to doubt my ability to finish. As I would hear from volunteers that there were fewer runners behind be, not because they had passed me, but because they had dropped, I could feel the cutoff coming up behind be like certain doom. I had no business being out here. I obviously cannot do 100k. I should just stick with shorter races… or not at all. By the time I got back to the aid station, I told them that I intended to drop. Youa and Hassan were there and they and the volunteers talked me into doing the second loop before I decided. Something clicked as I began the second loop. I ran it. Even in the snow. I finished the second loop in better than 5 minutes faster than the first. I did the last mile in 13:30. Youa had gone to pace Jason and Hasson had left, but I decided to continue.
My next objective was to get through the water crossings before dark, which I did. Then back up the single track out of the canyon. I moved slower than I wanted to, but still moving pretty well and enjoying the single track again. When I came onto the road at dusk and saw my wife and Jeff I thought I might have a chance to finish this thing. They ran me into the Snake Mouth AS (mile 46). Jeff told me that I was slightly behind the cutoff but gaining on Jacqi again. They gave me the option to continue but told me I would have to do the next 8 miles in 2 hours. 4.5 of those miles involved 1000 feet of elevation gain in the form of a hill called Slow Death. I was unsure until I pulled off my wet shoes and socks and realized my feet were covered in blisters. I had bought shoes a little big and compensated by using the heel lock lacing, but I had put in new laces and forgotten to do that. The wet shoes slid around a lot and destroyed my feet. I had also somehow strained my knee. I was done!
Truth be told, I learn something from every race, whether I finish or not. It takes a huge amount of commitment, both in miles and in time, to prepare for a 100k (or longer) race. My weekly miles were at about 40. I ran 46 miles. I need to get a lot more hill work and more miles, in general, to be prepared for something like this. I’m not sure I have the time to dedicate to that. I need to lose about 20 lbs. I was down to 165 when I ran my first marathon. Ultra running and injury time-off have added 20 of that back on. For the past 5 days, I’ve been thinking about whether or not I will try this distance again. I really don’t know, but I’m going to keep running. I’m going to lose the 20 lbs. I have the 110k Folsom Lake Ultra Trail that I’m considering attempting for the second time, and I might have to come back and try Loco again.
For certain, I would not have gotten as far as I did without Alessandra’s support and I really loved my kids being there. I would have stopped a lot sooner had it not been for my good friend Youa and the encouragement I got from Jacqi. The best parts of trail running are the people you meet on the journey and the scenery you get to be part of.