San Diego 100 starts and ends at Lake Cuyamaca, up in the mountains about an hour and a half east of the San Diego airport. If you have visions of running on the beach, you will be disappointed, with the majority of the race at 4-5,000 feet of elevation.
Compared to the hustle and bustle of the San Diego area, the race venue is remote, quiet, relaxing, with friendly people – my kind of place.
We flew down to San Diego from Reno mid-morning on Friday, rented a car and drove the hour or so up to Mt Laguna Lodge with a quick stop at a grocery store to pick up a few items. The lodge has both hotel rooms and cabins for rent that are basic and dated but clean and comfortable; more than adequate as a race base. A general store on site and several bar and grills nearby to make the crew happy and pick up that forgotten item. Mt Laguna Lodge is in a great location for the race, being less than an easy 30 minute drive to the start/finish and within minutes of multiple aid stations. Being in close proximity to the race venue gave us plenty of time to get checked in, unpack, relax a bit, and then head over to Lake Cuyamaca for the packet pickup, race and crew briefing. To keep things simple, low key and relaxed we made our prerace dinner of pasta, bread, and salad at the cabin.
As always, after a less than ideal night of sleep the race morning alarm was rude. A bit of coffee and some toast and we were headed off to the start. Upon arrival, we hung out in the large start area tent keeping the morning chill at bay.
Soon it was race time and I lined up mid pack with the intention of a more controlled start- I have a tendency to start racing too soon.
The countdown began, then the surge forward as the race field narrowed down to a single track across a meadow, a sharp right, then starting the first major climb less than a quarter mile into the race. This new portion of the course was rocky and rooted and I like many, were thinking, this will be fun at mile 99 on the return. The conga lines thinned as the field spread out. At the top, the course became fire roads giving anxious people like myself the ability to pass on the descent into the first aid station, Paso Picacho. A quick in and out at the aid station, then promptly start another good climb up to the top of Stonewall. The trail for the ascent was good, mostly sandy DG, a few rounded rocks with a few big step-ups. However the charter of the other side of the mountain is different, steep, with plenty of rocks and technical footing. I was moving well, but was being passed on the descents by several- that’s fine, plenty of race to go.
The course continues out through a series of meadows, calm, quiet and cool in the still morning air. Early-race chatter was everywhere as others bantered about. “Hi, I’m Jimmy Dean Freeman” as another small pack goes zipping by. Nearing Chambers AS, a corner that was a bit thin with ribbons sent a pack ahead of me down a wrong path, they quickly figured out the error and were back on track quickly. Race staff was already on it by the time I informed them of the corner. In and out of Chambers AS, quickly and off across more rolling meadows. The morning was great, cool, clear and a light breeze, and more rolling trails through the meadows as we made our way out toward Pedro Fages AS. A quick bottle refill and a hand full of food off the table – giant strawberries, that looks good. Another nice meadow before a quick hard right turn onto the PCT, that you had to be looking for – I see two runners below me on a road, I yell that that they are off course, but am unsure if they can hear me- they had missed the sharp turn. On the PCT, the course decidedly changes character from the rolling meadows and big climbs to more rocky single track along a big exposed ridge in the chaparral brush with big views off to the east that look down into the desert far below. On the ridge where the breeze was blowing, it was still cool, but in spots where you were protected, one could start to feel the heat of the day starting to build.
Soon, I was rolling into Sunrise 1 AS, for the first access of my crew in the race. I got off my feet for a few minutes and resupplied with food, water and another bottle of Tail wind. With crew access, I like to have them mix up tailwind so you know what you are getting. Sometimes the drink(s) from the AS are too weak or strong. I also informed crew of a sore spot/stone bruise on my left foot that I had after running Miwok a few weeks before and to have a near new set of Cascadias ready at the next aid station (Pioneer Mail 1) as I was hoping that the extra cushion of the new shoes would help.
Back out of the aid station for more miles on the PCT with the big vistas off to the east, into the desert and beyond. The course continues to roll along in and out of the brush and monolithic boulders with spots where the trail is carved into steep hill sides where one wrong step, you would end up far below. The day continued to be great, great views, light breezes and warm sun.
The crew was waiting for me at Pioneer Mail 1, a quick shoe change – resupply and down the trail I headed. I could hear the Trent girls on the road above cheering me on, John must not be far behind. The trail continued to roll along the high ridge as we continued to head south. Nearing Penny Pines 1 AS, I could feel the additive stress of the warming day, stone bruise and the miles starting to catch up. This had me digging into my pack for a couple of Ibuprofen at Penny Pines 1. Things were not bad, but I wanted to be proactive on any issues that may come up, especially this early in the race. A bottle refill and a hand full of watermelon and I was out and head for Todd’s Cabin AS.
The trail conditions continue to be the same, but the scenery was starting to change again as the large pines start to filter into view and the associated shade that is welcoming as the day continues to warm. The ibuprofen does the trick and I feel and move better including better food consumption. I had packed (or bought) the majority of my own food for the race due past issues with nutrition. The fresh strawberries and sticky short-grain rice were going down well.
A quick in-and-out of Todd’s Cabin AS, and continued to enjoy the tall woods with the deep shade. More hikers and users were on the trail, but all were friendly with a few even asking about the race. Things continued to click along as the miles went by. The deep shade and the quiet of the woods were welcoming. Soon the single track gave way to a dirt road a mile or two out from the AS. With no traffic, the road was a relaxing break where one could cruise along with a bit of mindless running. Soon I was making a small climb and crossing the Sunrise Hwy blacktop into Redtail Roost AS where the crew was waiting. The day was warming up so a resupply with plenty of ice including the ice bandana. I continued to feel ok, but not great.
Out of Redtail Roost, and headed onto the Meadows AS. The single track winds along big wooded ridges then drops back into open grassy meadows several times. I felt like I was making big loops but not going anywhere, since the meadows all looked familiar and the same. Soon into The Meadows AS where you run right through the AS, touch a flag, then return. Another AS where crew has access, so the full-on pit crew treatment. I continued to feel ok, but far from great, so a couple more ibuprofen, resupply of food and drinks and a load of ice in the bandana.
The course continued to be a mix of wooded ridges, some with some rocky technical trail that slowed me to a walk, then punctuated by meadows and very runnable trail. Looking back now, my food consumption has started to lag since nothing was sounding good. The pace was starting to slow a bit as I had been on the move for over 10 hours. A pacer was the carrot waiting for me at the next AS, Penny Pines 2, at mile 56.3 as I chugged along.
At Penny Pines 2, there was Jason Riddle (pacer drop off only, no crew access) cold Coke in hand and ready to roll. Nothing sounded good and the chicken soup was not going yet so I settled for some watermelon and ginger ale. Out of the AS we headed, with the big descent into Noble Canyon ahead (and an even bigger climb out). Out of the big timber and into the brushy chaparral before descending into the big live oaks where the trail paralleled an idyllic babbling brook with inviting pools, greenery and mini waterfalls. As we neared the bottom, the trail continued to become more rocky and rough and my not-so-happy stomach continued to become more unsettled. After rattling along the last couple of miles, the Pine Creek AS was a happy sight. I rolled into the AS and had a seat that promptly caused my legs to cramp. A couple of S-caps were in order, so down they went with a splash of water – that had me promptly heading for the weeds as they and everything else came right back up. Well, that was not fun, but maybe a “system reset” was needed to make things right. Still not feeling all that good, I sipped a bit of water, tailwind and got a cup of soup to take with me.
Now an 8-mile climb back out of Noble Canyon to Pioneer Mail 2, with two miles on a steep blacktop road to start. The sun was starting to get low in the western sky, as we walked our way up the blacktop. Not far out of the AS as the road climbed ever steeper, I started to bonk to the point where I could not even walk up the grade. A few steps, then a rest, repeat… After a couple of these walk-rest cycles, I was to the point where I had to sit down to take a rest. Near the top of the black top another “event” left me laying on the side of the road and my abs sore from the mid-race “core workout”. It was apparent that my GI was not processing anything. I continued to think that all I had to do was make it to the top where the AS was and my crew could patch me back together. Slow walking, with lots of stops as the sun went down and runners streamed past me. Another event left me again laying in the dirt very near the top of the climb in the dark almost in the middle of the trail. Many helpful people asked if there was anything they could do to help, including Ray Sanchez (Thanks for helping!), who got me out of the dirt, and moving once again up the trail. The course does a bit of side hilling, then a short decent into Pioneer Mail to a waiting and very concerned crew since I was hours past due. This was the longest, hardest 8 miles of my life. I thought there was a chance the race was over for me.
I spent over an hour in the Pioneer Mail 2 aid station as the crew nursed me back to life. A change of clean clothes, wrapped in blankets on a picnic table slowly sipping 7-up and dozing fitfully, trying to pull the pieces together. Soon, Crew Boss Sherri deemed me fit enough to leave the AS with a can of 7-up and orders to walk to the next AS. I walked the next section to Sunrise 2 AS with only a few breaks. A fairly uneventful section other than being slow, a lone scorpion in the trail that Jason spotted, and the odd racer streaming by.
Soon we rolled into Sunrise 2 AS to a waiting crew and a new pacer. Shortly after leaving the AS, Miriam was encouraging me into a slow jog as the course winds its way back down into the meadows surrounding Lake Cuyamaca on smooth single track. We continued to move reasonably well, and even passed a runner or two with the “gel queen” hounding me to have a gel before I bonk again. I attempted a small portion that promptly made me gag then shortly I ended up with the majority of the gel all over the front of me, making a sticky mess and me in an even more irritated mood. We continued to jog-walk, not overly fast, but we were making much better time than we had on the previous segment.
Soon we were coming into Chambers 2, where I handed off the bottles for a cleanup and grabbed some soup and 7-up and out we headed with two major climbs ahead, low energy levels, and a pacer with visions of a sub-24 finish dancing in her head. We continued to jog-walk across the meadows with the steep rocky climb up Stonewall looming in my head. As the trail started to pitch up and become rockier, thoughts of just keep moving were first and foremost. The climb up was as expected, a trudge, through the never ending switchbacks, rocks and large step-ups. Soon we were on top, and making the descent on the much nicer trails into Paso Picacho AS. In sight of the AS on a road, we encountered a spotted skunk, the first one I have ever seen, but still, not the kind of excitement that most look for when 93 miles into a race. He danced down the road a bit, then had enough, and went off into the grass so we could get by and get some aid.
As the sky began to become lighter, we made our way out of the last aid station with both of us keeping close eye on the time, knowing that sub-24 was doable if I was able to make the last climb in decent time. As always, watching the clock makes the passage of time go slow was you try to make haste. Again the summit seemed to come slowly and the final steep, rocky, rooty downhill was looming. Would my quads be able to move well, or would I be relegated to a slow downhill walk to the finish? Being able to see the lake form the top, you know that the finish line is close, and you get that smell-the-barn motivation. Rattling down the hill on tired legs, attempting to make good time, but knowing that your ability to recover from a trip is poor is always an interesting experience. Move fast, but not too fast. Soon we were at the bottom, crossing the road and into a lakeside meadow that indicated that the finish was now yards, not miles away. Crew and other spectators could be heard cheering as we climbed the last small rise into the parking lot and the finish. R D Scotty waiting at the finish (as he does for all) with a metal, buckle and a hug. We had done it in 23:47:34, sub 24, thanks to a surprising comeback that can only be attributed to the great crew and pacers.
Thanks to all that made this race happen for me. Crew boss Sherri Twedt once again knew what I needed, many time before I did. She knows how to pull the flaming bacon out of the fire and salvage it, she proved this once again. Jason Riddle took time out of his family vacation in San Diego come out and pace, while “professional pacer” Miriam Smith jumped on a plane at the last minute to come down for a little adventure. My brother Chris who drove down with a car load of supplies that made the weekend easier and more comfortable for all. And not least, Lucas, my 12 YO son who was a trooper during this very long weekend, even being there in the early morning hours when I crossed the finish line.
I continue to work on race nutrition and dial it in. For a large portion of this season, I have experimented with real food instead of gels, blocks and the like. I was able to complete Miwok 100 k without using a single gel, just real food and Tailwind for electrolytes. Some foods that I used for this race include short grain sticky rice, baked sweet potatoes, fresh strawberries and avocado/turkey rolls. I did eat some food off the tables such as watermelon, peanuts (early) coke and 7-up. I will continue to add additional items to see if I can get the late-in-the-race nutrition figured out and keep the GI happy, the key to racing to my full potential.
Crew access at the SD 100 is about as good as it gets, with many of the drives between crew accessible aid stations measured in single digit minutes. The majority of these are accessible off a single well maintained road, the Sunrise Highway. This gives the crew plenty of time to eat and rest though out the day. Since the Mt Laguna Lodge is near the center point of the course, it is an ideal base camp so crews have the option to rest, resupply, or easily grab that forgotten item from the room.
Scotty Mills puts on a great race with plenty of swag, great aid stations, and even a full-on pancake breakfast on Sunday, if your stomach is up to it. The race has been plagued by course marking vandals the past two years, so the start date for 2016 has been moved to Friday in an effort to alleviate conflicts with other users and crowded parking at several locations. Temperatures were much cooler this year compared to 2014, and I suspect most years, but by mid-afternoon it was warm and it was warm through the night.