No 100-Mile Runner

I’m not a 100-mile runner.

Sure, I’ve completed three 100-mile races; but, I am not a 100-mile runner.

Instead, I’m a 40-mile runner, who may or may not, endure up to 60 miles of suffering, simply moving along just enough to eventually possibly complete the hundred mile distance.

My last three 100 mile races have been heart-breaking. At the Keys 100, stupid mistakes with my feet forced me to failure, and at the 2010 Western States 100, poor race execution lead to the choice being made for me by the race’s medical staff; but at Rio Del Lago 100 this weekend, I was not having fun and I made the choice to avoid enduring hours upon hours of continued and pointless suffering.

94 started, 44 bailed out. I was one of the 44.

Finding some clarity at Rio Del Lago

I was excited to run the Rio Del Lago 100.

Christian and Jean Pommier
photo: One of ultrarunning’s elite, and 3rd place finisher, Jean Pommier, with me at packet pickup

Right now, I’m fit.

More fit than I have ever been in my adult life.

I was sure that not only would I be able to handle the Rio Del Lago 100, but that I could most likely post a strong personal record and finally capture that elusive sub-24 hour 100-miler.

Neither of which playing out as I had expected; but that’s ok, because along the way I did a lot of observing of other athletes and the 100-mile culture, with a heaping helping of personal soul searching, and came away with a greater understanding of what exactly I want out of this running addiction.

The start

I like to run races. I do not like to walk. I understand that for most ultrarunners, it’s best to be as conservative as possible, taking lots and lots of walking breaks early on – but I just don’t want to do that – which should immediately illustrate why I shouldn’t be doing these distances, yet.

The first, I dunno, 15 miles or so, were probably my favorite – both the terrain and the fact that I was running free and happy. A few miles out from the school, we got to run some of the nicest, rolling single-track of the day, and all the while with huge expansive views of beautiful, refreshing-looking Folsom Lake, the far-off foothills and a colorful morning sky. I felt great and because I’m stupid (a common thread in my reports), I found myself running in a front pack with two local runners.

I knew we might be going out a little fast for me, but some of the course markings were missing in these early sections, and after almost making two wrong turns, they invited me to stick with them since they knew the course really well. They kept referring to me as, ” Hey, Georgia” and I was enjoying their conversations.

The trails in California have mile markers, and I was amazed at how fast the miles were clipping off. …Amazed and frightened because I knew I was NOT listening to the advice of my elders in the sport, and I was sure to eventually pay the piper.

If someone was to ask me, “Did you come to run, or did you come to finish?” I’m not exactly sure how I would have answered.

Cardiac climb

About 20 miles into the race comes the first real significant climb, Cardiac. I was with cool Bay-area runner Hao Liu on this climb, and I just tried to stay with him as we climbed steeply to the canals. The climb was challenging, and although not one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever done, it certainly woke me up and made the trot to the Auburn Dam Overlook (23-ish miles) less-than-impressive.

I did take the opportunity to jump in and soak in the canal plumes which cooled me off quite a bit. Like a hippo, if it’s a hot day and there’s cold water around, I’m a shoe-in for a dunk in any available water source.

Hitting the Western States Trail

By the time we hit the Western States trail, the heat was in full effect. No clouds, just bright blue sky with a searing sun overhead producing temps well into the high 80s and low 90s with little-to-no breeze at all.

Once we arrived at no-hands bridge, a popular landmark runners cross during the Western States 100, and only a marathon into the race, I was already slowing down and getting passed by people who I haven’t seen at all during the earlier part of the day.

I started thinking about what DC and other experienced ultrarunners are constantly trying to pound in my head, and how they surely would be laughing at me about now. How graceful and strong I must have looked at mile 11 …while now, at just a little over 26 miles, I’m clearly and quickly headed south.

K2 …now this is a climb

I dunno, man, I think K2 is as hard as Devil’s Thumb on the Western States course. Here’s the word from the Rio Del Lago web site:

Be prepared for this mother and fuel up in anticipation – it is essentially a firebreak with seven false summits. I would approach it on the basis that “you haven’t got to the top until you’ve got to the top” – never anticipate the false area ahead of you as the top! Some parts of it are very steep, but it is nowhere near as long as say, the Western States climb up Devils Thumb, the Angeles Crest one up to Mt. Wilson, or the Leadville climb up Hope Pass. It can be rather ferocious, however, particularly as things should be heating up by then. But you get it over with relatively quickly, as it is only 1.25-miles although you gain approximately 1,000 feet in elevation.

Halfway up the climb, I met Ling, a runner from West Sacramento, and she thankfully gave me the head’s up on the false summits – easily some of the most deceptive series of false summits I’ve ever experienced. Thanks Ling and congrats on coming back to life for a strong finish!

The Olmstead loop

I did not like this section. Hot as hell, fully exposed for 7 miles through what felt like one giant horse pasture. I got passed by a bunch of runners here too as I was starting to get whittled to a run-walk, sorta-shuffle strategy. Not good. Not this early. If it was a “choice”, that’s one thing, but I had no choice. The heat was burning me up and with no sunscreen and no shade, I was getting terribly burnt.

After the loop, I sat down to change socks and shoes, and as I was pulling on the first shoe, the inside of my thigh starting to cramp. The panic reaction tossed me out of the back of the pickup truck bed I was sitting on, which then resulted in a chain reaction of leg cramps and some kind of weird side muscle-chest cramp thing that caused me to SCREAM in pain …and then took my breath away. It was horrible.

Thankfully, after witnessing my drama scene, some triathlete dudes came rushing over, sat me down on their chairs, and changed my shoes for me.

Thanks, dudes, whoever you were. You saved me.

Back to the Auburn Dam Overlook

The trip back down to No Hands Bridge was a very enjoyable run and for a second, I thought I was recovering…

…but, the gradual climb out on the Western States trail took all that away in a hurry. The mid-day sun was in full effect and I had now been baking for well over 5 hours straight in it. Because of the time of day, this gradual climb out on the Western States trail was really rough on me since I was burnt to a crisp and fatiguing rapidly. The sun was perfectly positioned directly on top of me the whole way back out. I walked 95% of this 4-mile climb, and all the way back to overlook, inches from total heat exhaustion.

Why didn’t I wear sunblock? I don’t know. It never occurred to me. I never expected to be so exposed during a trail race, I guess.

If you know me, you’re not surprised.

The black hole

From the overlook, the rest of the race was simply a back-track to the school, opposite the way I had come through earlier, and honestly, I have nothing to say about it other than I was miserable and no longer having fun. I began questioning why I was here. I began questioning why I think I can do this distance on the type of training I’ve been doing.

I was observing other runners in which I’d come upon, and many were also suffering. I stepped outside of my body and watched this collection of stragglers all suffering through various portions of the course and all of a sudden none of it appealed to me. In fact, I have to admit I started to think about the recent TV show about obsessions and the ultrarunner they portray on that show, and kept thinking, “is this me?”

I started thinking how we all refer to “running 100-milers,” but aside from a few shuffles when the terrain got easy, I hadn’t seen anyone really running for hours. At least not until those with pacers starting passing me, but even then the dynamic was the same – spunky pacer, dejected runner – and it was occurring to me, right or wrong, that with pacers and crews and all that, it becomes a team sport and the individual effort changes.

I started feeling bitter and lonely. Bitter at feeling disadvantaged for not having someone I know and love to help lift my spirits, …while lonely and jealous, …well, for the same reasons. Not proud of it, but I am who I am and I felt what I felt – regardless of warrant. I gotta tell it as it was.

I knew at that point that while I respect and love many of the people I meet in this sport, the 100-miler events are not satisfying running events for me right now, and I was 100% sure that my intentions for the sport have definitively changed. I no longer want to suffer in the woods beyond my current ability just to prove that I can.

I’ve already done that and I wear the reminder every single day.

A moment of clarity

First, for my own knowledge as I look back on all this someday, after Western States I had already come to the realization that for the style of running that I enjoy, coupled with the realities of life, my training, and my “under-graduate” experience level, 100-milers are simply out of my league. At least for the times in which I would like to complete them (24 hours or less).

I started chasing time goals last year in the 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles), marathon (26.2) and 50K (31.2 miles) distances, and I LOVE IT!

I love it because it’s all about “running” and running fast(er).

My previous post from my proud run at Laurel Valley illustrated how I had come to the sport backwards, never having had a real introduction to speed, and shorter distances first. In a way, I think this phenomenon will happen more and more as ultrarunning grows and becomes exposed to more athletes who are intrigued with the sport but may not have been runners before.

My moment of clarity came about a mile or so after I left the Cavitt school aid station. Slowly and pitifully making my way down the levee, I was cramping horribly, terribly chafed between the legs, teeth-chattering-chilled from the sunburn and no longer running at all.

Just walking.

I had 13 hours to walk a 50K, but why? What was I to gain? Another buckle? More pointless suffering and potential injury?

I was not having fun.

So, I shut off my head lamp, laid on the ground (using my water bottle as a pillow) and stared up at the stars while listening to the comforting waves on the shore of Folsom Lake.

And I made my decision that from now on, I was only going to run what made me happy.

When I surf, I smile from ear to ear, like a little kid. My wife loves, loves, loves when I get to surf because she knows she’s going to get “happy Christian” for days. She likes to see me happy, and nothing makes me happier than surfing fun waves on a sunny summer day. That might just be the definition of heaven for me and I was reminded of that during hurricane Earl.

Lying on the ground, I found myself smiling just thinking about it.

Running isn’t surfing, but running hard makes me happy. Chasing times and redlining make me happy. It’s animalistic and its raw and unbridled. These are things that my aggressive nature understands, and I enjoy it so much more than calculated strategies of conservation necessary for my ability level at the very long distances.

I don’t like to think that much, nor have to prepare that well.

Not yet.

For now, I’m attracted to the simplicity of showing up and hammering with all I’ve got.

In 100s, that strategy is not only stupid, its completely impossible, and a waste of my time and money.

I’ll be back

But I’ll be back. Just not until I’m willing to put in 70-100 miles a week in preparation for a 100-miler. I want to first become consistent with 5-ish hour 50Ks, sub-10 50-milers, and while it may or may not have much relevance to 100-milers, lots and lots of faster 5K-thru-marathon races.

Once I become a better runner, I’ll have a better chance at running further and for longer periods during 100-milers.

In this runner’s opinion, there’s no better way to respect the distance than being prepared.

100-milers are no joke.

The black hole
Be Sociable, Share!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider to leave a comment or subscribe to the feed and get future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Comments

Christian,
I discovered your 2010 RDL post a few days before this year’s edition. I liked it so much that I referenced it in my 2011 race report and that helped me… DNF’ing with more philosophy… thank you! ;-)
BTW, sorry for your drop at Courmayeur, the conditions were so tough. I’ll leave a note on your report.

Thanks Jimmie: I have to offer a counter opinion to the comment, “Great insight on the 100s. 24 hours! Who cares… It’s the finish that counts.” – I think this all depends on where you are with regards to your approach to the sport. For me, “just finishing” is no longer enough. I know and understand the perseverance thing, but once you have proven to yourself you CAN do it, then it becomes an exercise in how to do it better (for me anyway). Having three buckles now, two of which I obtained through second halves of total misery, I no longer need to tell myself “I can” – I need to prove to myself that “I can in 24 hours.” —- if not, then I will not continue to punish myself and risk unnecessary injury and longer recovery JUST to finish.

Christian,

I ran my first 100 miler last year in July 2009 at the age of 39 at the the Tahoe Rim Trail. From my perspective, running 100 miles is daunting in itself. Two things I learned from running 100 miles. Respect the distance…. It may seem easy and you push the pace and then the next thing you know bam… you hit that wall. The second thing I learned, when you hit the wall and go bam, which all 100 milers have, you can make it thorugh and finish. I made it to 76 miles and wanted to quit, but, my dad and a few other aid station crew motivated me to the finish. One foot in front of the other. I was hurting really bad, but, I realized that your body can do anything if you put your mind to it provided that there is nothing medically wrong as at WS. Just remember this philosophy by Ann Trason, “you run the first 50 miles with your legs and the last 50 miles with your MIND!!!” I totally believe that. I would add, your heart to that category. MIND OVER MATTER… One last bit of info, try running a 100 miler with a longer cut off and finsh one of those and that will build motivation and confidence. Trust me, it does work. Great insight on the 100s. 24 hours! Who cares… It’s the finish that counts. Good luck…

You are wrong!

I enjoy reading your brutally honest posts Christian. All your readers seem to agree on the fact that this is the trait that brings us back to your blog.

But don’t you dare pretend for a second that a 100 is all about conservation, strategy, blah blah blah.

That sounds like an excuse to me.

True, many go into ultra’s with that mindset. But 100′s are about pain. You can go out as fast as you want as long as you are tough enough to endure the pain.

The greatest megadistance runner the world has ever, or will ever see (Yanni Kourus) trained for his runs (some up to 700 miles) on a mere 30 miles a week. And yet the man ran ~180 miles in a DAY (“an unassailable record” – Scott Jurek).

How did he do that?

Mental.

If you aren’t enjoying it and don’t want to do it, then that is good. But some of us 100 milers may not like the potshot you are taking there saying it doesn’t fit in the aggressive mindset.

I am much like you. My beginnings even more extreme though as my first race ever was a 100k. I trained for 3 months to do this. I went out to fast (as i do at all races) and endured what happened. But in my mind, it was my aggressive, ‘never say die’ attitude that allowed me to keep going.

I hope you get back and wish you well otherwise.

I have chosen to suffer and I have chosen not to suffer and inevitably choosing not to suffer has caused me more suffering. RDL was my fourth 100-mile finish so now I’m four for six. I enjoy running at all distances, well, at least 5K through 100 miles, and I can only say that I will shift my focus from one distance to the next only when I am satisfied with my result. At the end of a race, regardless of my finishing time, I have a sense of whether or not it felt right, “was that about the best performance that I am likely to turn out?” and if the answer is yes then I feel good about shifting my focus. If the answer is no then I start evaluating how I could do better. The really long races are like a giant puzzle to me, a problem to be solved. I do suspect that I could turn out a sub-24 100-miler on the right course and under the right conditions but even were I to achieve that goal I would not necessarily get that sense that I had gotten it right. Of course everyone need to find their own “Why” for any of these races but if I were me talking to myself after having written a race report like this I would tell myself that trying to set up time goals for shorter races is simply setting up illusory walls between myself and the distance that is challenging me to the greatest degree. I would tell myself to step back and evaluate my DNFs as a whole, not just look at one race at a time, look for patterns, common mistakes, areas of light as well as dark.

Keep solving those puzzles and I’ll see you at Ghost Town in January.

Christian,

I love your 100 mile race reports and I will miss them! Do what you need to do, but you don’t have to make a decision right now — one day at a time.

Juli

V good introspection and race report Christian. Do what motivates you to be out there. do the best in events you choose. v glad to meet you there.
cu on trails one of the races.
Anil

Christian,

I have read many of your race reports and have been entertained living through you (and I’m a fellow Falcons fan). I’m happy and sad to read this post. Happy because you are man enough to come to your own clarity. Sad because I think you represent the “common ultra runner” (if there is such a thing. You approach running in your own unique way.

I’m running Pinhoti 100 in Nov averaging about 30-35 miles a week. I know this is against conventional wisdom, but are proof that you can set your own bounds.

Please hang in there as you are motivation for more than you will ever know.

Greg

Yo Christian…!!!
Dude I was totally at Rio this past weekend and I saw you but I couldn’t place where I known or seen you. As as newer reader to your blog it didn’t hit me.
I was crewing for Brian Pilgram and pacing Catra Corbitt throughout the day/nite so I saw you several times on the course. At times you looked nice and strong and of course thin in the skin at others.
When you returned to Cavitt, I was there and waiting on Catra to pace.. You looked tired and I just gave you the head nod when you looked at me, like you can do it, but most likely you don’t remember.
After leaving Cavitt with Catra you were already gone and soon crossing that dam we saw you laying down, asked your pacer if you were Okay? and went forward.

You did great out there and the day brought a lot of heat so from me to you I am proud of what you did out there and understanding what you like in running and how it brings you happiness no matter what mile it took you to realize. These ultra’s are about finding ourselves and who we are and you went to a new level and that thought (success) will take you farther in the future.

You’re awesome in my book!!
Thanks for sharing.

rockon’

Enjoy your time away from the long ones and work on that speed. I too love the feeling of putting it out there on the redline and see just how fast I can go and at age 54 I’m still setting pr’s in the 50k’s and hope to get a marathon pr. It’s been since Feb 07 since I finished a 100 and have had a couple of DNF’s with my last attempt in early 2008. I plan to return to the 100′s in July 2011 and see if the desire is back

Christian,

I would suggest giving more thought to any decision that you make about running before you decide on a conclusion. Personally I believe that you have done extraordinarily well considering the difficulty of the courses that you have attempted. Whether you have the ability to run sub-24 is an unknown until you make an attempt at a course that just might suit your style of running. If your goal is to, indeed, run sub-24 than I would suggest you consider making an attempt on courses that are widely considered moderate to easy. Try Rocky Raccoon, Umstead, Arkansas Traveler, Heartland or something similar. Once you’ve been successful than return to the monsters you’ve already attempted and use the lessons learned to defeat those courses as well. It’s okay to be frustrated and dejected but until you reach you goal never give up my friend.

Take care and good luck

@Sabby: yup. You’ve nailed it succinctly. That’s exactly what I’m shooting for.

Christian, I have a feeling you’ll be back. You’re just on a journey and it’s a very personal one. All journeys have stages and interims but they’re different from person to person. Apparently, right now, yours is headed towards being fast. But I have a feeling it will eventually put fast and long together (which sounds pornographic, sorry) and you’ll be back in the 100s.

Dude — great, insightful, personal report as always. Rob Y and others have said the word, call it burnout or whatever you want. But perhaps a great opportunity to focus your athleticism elsewhere for a spell? Think about a 40min 10K, Pensacola Bay Swim, crushing FRAN in sub-5min, take up amateur MMA fighting, whatever. Ultras ain’t going anywhere, build some other skills, then come back when you are jumping out of your skin to go again!

Personally, I’m taking a break from any ultra training for a few months, intent on a sub-20min 5k for the first time in years, then I’ll see you at The Mist. (Incidentally, I’ve got this strange calling to be the first to do a Mt Cheaha 100k; run the course backwards starting at midnight, then run the real race. Company is always welcome.)

Congrats Christian on an awesome self-realization moment! A buddy and I got into trail running/triathlons this year. We dabbled with it a bit last year (sprint distance tri’s and road 5k’s for me) but really kicked things into gear this year. I had a similar moment when on a 54 mile training ride for the 56 mile distance that would be required in the Atomic Man half iron distance tri I was “planning” on racing in. I knew that I had not been riding nearly enough this year and a half iron distance race wasn’t as simple as the Olympic distance races we’ve been doing this year. I knew that I wouldn’t have a problem with the 1.2 mile swim, and I’d make it through the 56 mile bike ride, but then to finish things off with a half marathon . . . I realized that I’d be able to finish, but I’d be struggling to do so and I would not enjoy the race nearly as much as I could if I were better prepared for it. And at this point in my life/race career, enjoyment is all I get out of racing. I’m not winning, and I’m not aspiring to win, I’m doing it for the pure and simple joy of racing and being active. So I decided to put the Atomic Man on hold this year, and shoot for it next year, or perhaps the following when I’m better prepared. Keep at it Christian . . . I really enjoy reading your blog and look forward to running a race with you one day . . . I’m a couple hours away, just north of Chattanooga so I’m sure we’ll see each other at one race or another!!

Christian – what a long way to go to realize the conclusions you came to. Your honesty may be hard for some to swallow, and it was for me initially. But re-reading your post, I came to accept your logic. The mantra of “finish what you start” is so engrained in me that there are only 2 choices – finish by whatever means necessary, or be pulled off the course. To voluntarily leave the course takes a lot of courage – maybe even more than those of us who crawl across the line. Either way – if you’re not satisfied with what you’re doing – you have to find what does make you happy. Good luck with that! You’re still an inspiration.

Self-realizaton is a great thing…glad you’ve found the essence of what really drives you and makes you happy in this sport. Your “race reports” are really an insight into your soul Christian – thanks for sharing :)

How funny that so many come out truthful to what they feel lately. What’s up with that? Or may be, before an era of technology, we simply didn’t have the means to share pains, and some of us, doing ultras (at whatever length) had simply quietly disappeared…Your thoughts ring familiar to mine from Tahoe 100, or to Devon’s at CC…I did my share of proving, I had good times, I don’t need to “walk in” even if I can, and since passion supposed to be fun (and I know the difference in glycogen-deprived tired brain and solid “I don’t want to” thinking), why bother.
Sometimes I also think why we even bother to explain it to others as well. I guess we still need that approval? C’mon, if we just quietly disappear, not many will notice, and if we feel we are true to our souls…
Anyhow, run on, man. Or, surf on:)

Christian, you are brave for pushing through and running until it stopped being fun. Smart. Running should be fun.

Are you still up for a totally insane version of the Fuego 100k?? I really really hope so!

Very good write-up Christian!

I enjoyed reading that.

Glad you ended up with some soul-searching and solid decisions to balance out your suffering. More useful than a buckle in the long run.

I’m running my first ultra (34 mile) in a couple weeks and I’ll get to climb K2…twice. Not looking forward to that part. :(

Best of luck with whatever distances you run!

It’s not the end of the world Christian (at least I don’t think so). Take it from me, you are suffering from burn out, everything you describe was/is me a couple years ago (and still reoccurs from time to time). The best treatment is along the lines that you describe, do something different, take a different approach for a while. Definitely focus on speed and getting faster at the shorter distances, especially if that seems appealing to you. The 100s will be there and you’ll learn how to train and race them eventually. You can be relatively fast at 100s if you have the proper mindset going in and pace yourself correctly. Some of my most memorable race experiences have been me “flying” over the last 20-30 miles of a 100 and finishing strong, feeling like I could keep going and going… But that didn’t happen overnight, it took years of running and experience in the sport. You’ll get there if you want to. All the best!

Ah K2…damn that hill. RdL was my first 100 and I had to go up that hill twice because I got lost. Reading your report brings back memories. I can even imagine the levy’s right now, in the dark. Peaceful out there no? Well it seemed like you did a lot of thinking out there. Good luck on your future running plans. Paraphrasing what a lister said, “the 100s will be there when you are ready” or something like that.

Lots of soul-searching and good food-for-thought in this report. I’m still new to the sport and I haven’t figured out what I really want out of it yet, but it must be a great feeling to do so. Keep up the good work and keep going full-tilt at what you really enjoy.

Christian, it was a pleasure running with you for a while in RDL, especially going up Cardiac Hill. I absolutely agree with all you’ve said. In fact, I was in the same shoes as you. Didn’t really start running till 2006. Went backwards like you. I realized the same thing so I went to work on my marathon speed. Got much better in the last couple of years. Just like you said, there’s no better way to respect the distance than being prepared. I hope you enjoy the shorter/faster races for now. Get your speed up and time down. When you are ready, the 100 milers will still be here. And remember, once a 100 miler, always a 100 miler. :) Godspeed, brother.

Frank Mir is a former Heavyweight champion for the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships). He was most well-known for breaking Tim Sylvia’s arm in an armbar to win the title. Now mostly for getting his face pounded to a pulp by Brock Lesnar.

Best of luck – I’ve no doubt you’ll get faster at those distances, then be right back at pushing yourself. After PR’ing every distance marathon and under in 2009, then slowing down for my 1st 50k in June (Chattooga), I’m trying to get my speed back up and continue working on it with a 50 miler in my future. All your posts help – and will continue to – Thanks.

who’s Frank Mir?

I always learn something valuable (to me) from your posts. Regardless of age, regardless of experience.

The only person you owe anything to is you.

Your honesty is refreshing. Always is, always will be.

G

BTW, in my opinion “I was only going to run what made me happy.” is the only way to be…

Did anybody ever tell you that you look kind of like Frank Mir?

Word. You know I understand and think you made a fantastic decision. Rock on my friend.

Leave a comment

(required)

(required)