Category Archives: Running

Pacer for Ventura Surfer’s Point Marathon

 

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Ventura, California

We arrived at the coastline just before sunrise. We were in Ventura, California, right in between the Ventura Pier and Surfer’s Point Park. The town itself reminds me of a quieter version of Huntington Beach. The Downtown Area where we had ate/drank the night before looked like Main Street but without the partying.

We all made our way to the starting line and corral. It was a gorgeous sunrise. The Sky was all kinds of cool colors and the waves were sparkling. The Surfers and Paddle boarders were out living the beach life.

From a surfer’s perspective, they’re in front of a sunrise. From the shore, they’re a cool part of it.

Expectations

Today, I’m a volunteer on the Pacing Team. In a marathon, a Pacer is a runner who carries a projected finish time on a banner. The purpose is to provide runners with a sense of time as they go. For example, let’s say that you needed to run a 3 hour finish to qualify for the Boston Marathon. You could run with the Pacer who is carrying the 3 hour flag. If he passes you, you’ll know that you are going too slow.

I’m like a moving clock with a very specific trajectory.

The expectation that was given to me was that I have a 60 second margin for error. I can be 60 seconds early, but not one second late.

To help me, I have garmin and pace band with all the half mile times written on it.

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4:55 pacer
4:55 pacer

Surfer’s Point Marathon

As soon as I pass the starting line, I activate both my Garmin and my stopwatch.
We’re right on the beach trail as we head North up the coast and turn inland at the first half mile. At this point, it’s impossible for me to know our pace. I have nothing to measure it against yet.
Once my Garmin reads .5 miles, I compare it to my pace band and see that I am reasonably within pace.

Keep it up.

I let my group know that we are right on pace. When we crossed the first mile, I update them again. Example: “We’re on pace by within 10 seconds. We crossed 1 mile into the race at 11:05, the requirement for a 4:55 finish time is 11:15. The next update is 1.5 mile at approximately 17:02 minutes.”

I updated us at Mile 2 and was finding it easy to keep the pace. I explained my trajectory, my expectations, and my confidence in my abilities. Then, I introduced myself.

There were three of us in the group. Myself, a man named Camillo, and a woman we’ll call Alice.

Camillo was a Puerto Rican born native of Calabasas. His wife was the runner of the two, but she was only running the half. For a reason I probably forgot, she had made Camillo sign up for the full marathon. THIS WAS HIS FIRST EVER. In fact, he had only ever gone on two twenty mile runs. He signed up anyway thinking that another 6.2 miles couldn’t hurt too bad. I  agree and respected that.

Now Alice, she was just one extraordinary tough cookie. Currently in her 70’s, she has run 160 marathons since 1989. She’s completed a marathon on all 7 continents including Antartica. Her favorite was Paris, France. Due to health issues, this was her first run in a while. Her goal was to finish under 4:55 and qualify for her 3rd Boston Marathon. The more we learned about her, the more we were blown away.

I always kept my mind on our pace, and I updated them every half mile. We were generally always within 20 seconds or less of our trajectory time.

The course was straight forward, with the beach to the left, we ran 4.5 miles up the trail and then a highway. We hit a turnaround and turn back. Eventually we’ll pass the starting line and do an out and back loop which will take us to the half marathon finish line. Full Marathoners will complete a 2nd lap.

Put simply, run a big 8 twice.

We would stop at every aid station, and I would wait for them to be ready before we all took off. I also gave them options to walk the uphills as long as we made up for it.

For me, its really tricky business staring at my watch for what will be five hours when I m done. Also, because I m updating them every half mile, there’s a bit more pressure to be as accurate as possible.  I’m definitely glad that I wrote in the half mile times on my pace band. This let’s me adjust our pace before we get too off track.

On our way back to town, Alice informed us that she would be dropping from our group in a few miles. In fact, she would be dropping from the race. It was a bummer, but I knew she knew what she was doing.

Camillo and I passed the starting line area at about mile 8 and headed into the out and back loop. The loop was all uphill on one side. It beat him up a bit, but he stayed on our trajectory. I slowed us down so he could recover. We picked it back up on the downhill and got back on pace.

The guy was still in a good mood. He was having a great time joking and everything. He insisted that he wanted to finish the marathon with me and that we were runnning buddies from start to finish. There was a problem though. He had to go to the bathroom but he wasn’t sure if he could catch back up. He was going to run ahead and find a porta-potty. He asked that whenever I pass one, to yell his name so he could know to catch up. If he didn’t hear me yell, he would wait for me. I agreed.

I don’t think he runs as fast as he thinks he does though because I never lost sight of him. We passed the half marathon point and began our second loop. I was right on schedule.

Mile 13.1 to 26.2

It was hot now and I was tired of looking at my stupid watch. All this garmin stuff is not how I travel. uh oh, I gotta use the restroom too. I spotted Camillo at a porta-potty, I handed him the flag and said I’d catch up. When we met up again, I updated him on our trajectory.
He was starting to burn out. I could hear it in his breathing. On our way to the turnaround, I kept slowing us down so that he could recover. Then I would pick it back up and bring us up to pace.

On our way back to the town, he shouted and asked if I had seen Man On Fire with Denzel Washington!?!?!?
“Yea, which part?
“YOU’RE EITHER PREPARED OR NOT PREPARED, US, WE’RE PREPARED!!!!”
I didn’t know what scene he was talking about. But no one rains on my moments, so I won’t rain on his. Mile 18 was the invisible line he had crossed when his first marathon changed from something obscure to a realistic possibility.

He had wanted us to finish together, but a mile later, he could no longer keep up. Still, having already won the battle in his head, he would continue at his own pace.

I had slowed down nearly a minute and needed to get back on trajectory. I passed a few people, including a woman who would soon climb Mt Kilamanjaro.

Somewhere around mile 20, someone started yelling at me from behind.
“No! You’re not supposed to be in front of me, you’ll ruin my hopes of finishing under 5 hours.”
“Run with me then! You’ll finish on time!” I replied
So we ran together and I encouraged her as much as I could. There was something about her that was immediately familiar so I treated her like a friend. I kept her as close to my trajectory as possible as we got to know each other.

She was an Air Force Veteran from Oregon. She was running her first marathon in support of the Wounded Warrior Project.
As we passed the town and headed into the out and back loop, she told me that she had been planning on quitting before I came along. Not cutting her any slack, I said, “Geez… Get it together!” I think she appreciated my attitude.

We made it all the way to mile 23 together, but it was all uphill for another mile and I couldn’t slow down anymore. She asked that before we split up, I help her do the math for how fast she has to run the remainder of the race to be under 5 hours.

Now it was just me. I was behind schedule, it was an uphill mile, and my ribs hurt. Still, I knew I’d be fine. Mile 24 would be all downhill and I tried to get back on pace. I came across Alice. She was still in the race, exciting and asking how far Camillo was. I wasn’t sure.
At the coast, I passed a man with a metal prothestic leg.

I was nearing the end of the race and I needed to make my trajectory exact. I decided that I would finish 30 seconds ahead of schedule. This would buy me 30 seconds of leeway in either direction in case my chip time was off.

As I mentioned before, my expectation as a pacer is that I can finish only 60 seconds early and not one second late. For me, this means 4:54:00 to 4:55:00.

It was a bit harder than I thought it would be.

Shortly before the Finish Line, a few old ladies yelled out, “how far back is the soldier???”
“Uh what soldier?” (I had seen lots of Wounded Warrior Shirts)
“The one with the new metal leg!”

Finish Line

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The race was actually 26.3 instead of the traditional 26.2. According to my garmin, I crossed the Finish at 4:54:50. I was within 10 seconds of my target. The official chip times show me at 4:55:06, six seconds late. I’m unsure of why there could be a 16 second discrepancy.

I hung out for a bit and had 2 beers and 4 tacos. The Air Force girl finished slightly later than her goal. She was still teasing me for leaving her.

The crowd went nuts behind me, and I turned to see the Wounded Warrior with a metal leg crossing the finish line. The cheers went on for a good while. I suspect that I had caught a glimpse of a much bigger story.

People are awesome.

It was time for me to go. As I left the corral, I saw Camillo cross the finish line. He was a marathoner now.

Going Home

My girlfriend was waiting for me at the same spot on the beach where we stood earlier. I couldn’t help but laugh at all the limping runners. We looked like bambi on ice.

I fell asleep and woke up in Malibu at the Duck N’ Dive for a burger, more beers and then home.

Pacing Opportunities

I was added to the pacing team by Ultra-Athlete Vanessa Kline. I had run a few miles with her at the Kodiak 100 where she finished 2nd Place Women’s Overall.

You can follow her on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/vanessaklinelikeabeast

She’s always offering promo codes, discounts, and opportunities for pacers.

See you at the starting line.

 

 

My experience at the 100 Mile Endurance Challenge

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We woke up at 4am to be ready by 5am to be in Norco by 6am.
The opening ceremonies started at 6:15am. The opening ceremonies at the 100 Mile Club Endurance Challenge is always a bit of a funny glimpse into how hardcore some people really are. As they read off runner’s bio’s, you will hear a mixture of Badwater finishers, World Record Holders, Fastest Beer Mile Record Holder, and fastest marathon run while dribbling a basketball. I was introduced as simply glad to be a part of this race.

Left is me (Justin Flores) Right is my brother Mike Flores
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this is how I travel
Left to right, Josue, Me, John Flores, Mike Flores. Mike and I as the runners, John and Josue as support crew
Left to right, Josue, Me, John, Mike. Not pictured: Alex Parra

This is my family’s 3rd year involved with the “EC100,” as it’s known by runners in the know. 2 years ago I ran this race fast and hard and burned out at mile 81. Cold, body and spirit broken, I quit. DNF as it’s called. (Did not finish) I was in incredible shape physically; I was a hungry and ambitious athlete. However, I was immature and impatient. Having already completed a 100 mile race just two months earlier, I probably didn’t want it as bad as I should have.

Last year, my older brother Mike ran the race. He also ran a fast, hard run, but when his legs locked up and his back gave out, he quit at mile 62. DNF.

Here we are in our third year. Although I’m in decent shape, this was the most undertrained physically that either of us have been for this race. We would have to train mentally. I spent the week before the race visualizing the course and our day. I had prepared everything we would need and printed out all the maps. I kept a copy of the cutoff times in my pocket. It was a simple plan, we would shoot for all the bare minimums in terms of cutoff times.

As an athlete, I’m not as tough as I used to be. In fact, I now know that physical toughness does not necessarily translate into completing races. I would have to come at this race with patience. Run smarter not harder.

The Course:

full course
click to enlarge, looks much better that way

3 counties, 30 cities. It’s pretty simple. Run the Santa River Trail from Norco to Huntington Beach. Turn right and head to Long Beach. From there, Head to San Pedro and Palos Verde, and all the way to Santa Monica Pier.

Mile 0 – 25, Cities: Norco, Corona, Yorba Linda, Anaheim

7am, we’re off. Slow and steady, we jogged the first 12 or 13 miles easy and they passed before I was fully awake. Josue followed us on the bike. On our way to the river trail, we ran alongside a slow moving train. It was like a metaphor for us. The train was slow, strong, steady, and it travels far. As I was sharing this thought with Mike, the train came to a screeching halt. I remembered I hate metaphors.

We took it really easy and reached the 25 mile mark at a Denny’s in my hometown of Anaheim. In and out quickly, we checked in, weighed in and off we go.

Mile 25 – 50, Cities: Orange, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, Long Beach

In many ways, the foundation of our race was built on the next 25 miles.

The best way that I could word Ultra distance running is in comparison to an airplane. (Via the longest race by Ed Ayres) Having run the Santa Ana River Trail many times, I’m familiar with the mile markers. As we move, I monitor everything: water intake, food, salt intake, amount of sweat, how do we feel?, pace, and I keep my eyes on my watch and the mile markers painted on the trail. With John following us on bike, In the 14 miles to Huntington Beach, we jogged only enough to keep our pace. Somehow, no one ever passed us. With the cutoff times in my pocket, our trajectory was set. All we had to do was be at the 50 mile marker before 9:30pm. If we get there a bit too soon, perfect. It buys us more time for the next section.

This part is going to sound odd, but bare with me. Mike and I are trail runners. All of our experience has been in hilly terrain with lots of rocky areas, and lots of long uphills or sketchier downhills. We have little experience on road. However, that little bit has taught us that runners underestimate flatness. You see, big hills don’t wear out experienced ultra runners. Ultra runners thrive on big hills and crazy terrains. In fact, the big uphills are where I usually recover.
Because this area is flat, I would periodically imagine big hills. I would walk them, and that’s where I would recover. I did not underestimate the flatness. I didn’t sprint only to crash and burn. We stayed patient and we made great pace.

At mile 37, we left the S.A. River trail and reached the aid station at the Carl’s Jr on Victoria and Brookhurst. Mike’s feet had been blistering and he was experiencing some chafing. So he switched out socks and applied vaseline to his chafing areas.
And we’re off. At mile 38, we reached Huntington Beach and enjoyed an 8 mile run along the coastline to Sunset Beach. It was a hot afternoon when we started, and it slowly cooled off as we went. John seemed to be enjoying himself on the bike. The three of us brothers were together and cruising.

As we got to Seal Beach, in the far off distance across the water, you could see a gigantic hill. Mike shared that this hill is in fact San Pedro and Palos Verde. We would be headed there on our epic run.
At Mile 45, fellow athlete-adventurer Alex Parra arrived on his bike. We were in Sunset Beach and the last light of the day was fading into the night. We each put on our reflective vests and headlamps. We looked less like athletes and more like school crossing guards, but we would be visible every step of the way. Safety first.

Leaving Sunset Beach, we headed west on PCH over the sketchiest bridge crossing of the race, just inches from oncoming traffic. I always lead the way crossing this bridge and it always scares me a bit. This is where being visible comes in handy.
At approximately 7:30pm, we reached the 50 mile checkpoint at the Sea Port Marina in Long Beach. We were right on schedule, two hours ahead of the cutoff time.

Mile 50 to 75, Cities: Long Beach, Wilmington, San Pedro, Ranchos Palos Verde

Hello’s were exchanged, we checked in/weighed in. We resupplied and I handed out copies of the maps for the next 25 miles. We’re off.
During visualization tactics, I predicted that mile 60 to 75 would be the hardest on me mentally. If I were to be in danger of dropping out, it would be here. I wouldn’t let that happen. I would monitor my mood and morale and stay laughing.

It was here that I checked my Facebook page and saw all the posts that I had been tagged in. I looked through all the names of everyone who “liked” those posts and I secretly considered them my sponsors. I know how much of a social media whore that makes me sound like, but you have to get positivity from where you can. #thinkpositive
When we reached Belmont Shore, we were running again. It was probably 14 hours into the race and we were feeling strong. Josue and Alex kept us hydrated as we all moved forward.

Across the water to the left, you could see the Queen Mary. We ran through Downtown to the Long Beach River Trail. This is the sketchiest part of the race. For the last two years, this had been “Tent City.” Where the homeless community lived. They had even hacked into the City network and had working electricity. This year, the homeless were gone, but the river trail itself was pretty crowded with undesirables hanging out in the dark.

Here, we came across a fellow runner puking his guts out. We let him know the next cutoff wasn’t until 5am. It was plenty of time to recover and we hoped to see him soon. Before we left the river trail, we watched for him and his pacer to pass a certain group that had been giving us dirty looks as we passed.

Back on the streets, we moved through the urban areas and refineries of Wilmington and passed the aid station at a Jack in the Box. It was mile 62, the area where Mike had quit last year.

In and out, we were on another 5 mile straightaway to San Pedro. This was mostly City life on our way to the aid station at a 7-11 on 19th street. Before we arrived, a police car pulled up in front of us for a friendly questioning. Just a quick “how many miles left in the race? How are you feeling?” and a very supportive “You guys are crazy. Good luck.”

A right turn at the 7-11 passing the aid station and we marched up a huge, long, endless uphill somewhere between San Pedro and Rancho Palos Verde. This had been the big hill that we had seen hours earlier from Huntington Beach. We were here now.
Just 7 miles til the 75 mile marker, through the dark endless stretch of Palos Verde, Mike and I, followed by Alex on bike, slowly moved along. Spirits not as high, we began to feel a bit beat up. Mike had been slowed down by blisters on both of his feet for some time now. Morale was lower than it should be.

The 75 mile marker never arrived. According to my phone, it was only a few miles away, but it would never come. I checked over and over but the aid station never got closer. My morale sank as I started to feel sleepy. Mike was feeling like crap. It was nearing 3am, we had been running for 20 hours.

I was cold, everything hurt, morale was dipping, I started to sing.

Finally, we arrived.

The volunteers were friendly and fed me chicken noodle soup. Just like that, I was awake again and spirits were high. Turns out I just needed to feel love. 😉

Back at the truck, Mike removed his socks. The front paws of both of his feet were gone. All that remained of his front feet were the shiny, slimy, soft underskin. The protective layer was torn off and tangled. His feet blistered badly early in the race, those blisters popped, and eventually the loose layer of skin tore off. It was really bad, and it was really gross.

As Mike tended to his feet, we ressuplied and I changed out my map. The detailed turn by turn printouts for the last 25 miles were missing. Someone must have dropped them. They were gone. Time to go.

Mile 75 to 100, Cities: Palos Verde Estates, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, Marina del Rey, Playa Del Rey, Venice, Santa Monica

Before we left the aid station, a big group of runners came in and plopped down comfortably in chairs. They looked too comfortable though, and I wondered if they ever would make it out of those chairs.

We’re off. The last 25 miles. It wasn’t lost on me that I had failed at a higher number than mile 75. This time it was different though. I was wide awake, strong, and moving forward. My legs were loose and smooth, and I hadn’t even blistered. As we passed the neighborhood where I had quit two years ago, we came across a runner who was shivering cold. She stopped moving, and her crew was trying to warm her up. She was emotionally where I was two years ago.

We were in Palos Verdes Estates, the other side of the big hill. High up on our dark course, we ran 5 miles of badass downhill coastline. The black of the ocean crashing against the cliff walls below us. We could see the city lights of Torrance and Redondo Beach and so many others below us. That’s where we were headed next.

We eventually reached the bottom of the hill and ran along the shore of Redondo Beach and through the pier.

The sun was slowly coming up again as we made our way through Hermosa and Manhattan Beach. the big hill of Palos Verde crept farther and farther into the distance behind us. We had 7 miles ahead of us . The day got hot.

Somewhere before Playa del Rey, Mike and I hit a huge mental hurdle that changed the tone of our race. Runners were running along different sections of asphalt. We knew there would be a turnoff somewhere, but without our detailed map, we didn’t know where. Apparently, a couple of other lost runners didn’t know either.
Furthermore, no one knew what mile marker we were at. We kept hearing we had 12 miles left in the race. Miles would go by, time would go by, and then again, 12 miles left in the race. We ran for yet another hour and heard, “Just 12 more miles!”

The math was no longer adding up. Have we slowed down that much? If this is true, somehow, we are now in jeopardy. Mike had been running on two open wounds for hours now. The pain was marked on his face, but we weren’t gonna finish unless we did something.

Mike and I, not knowing the course or mile marker, decided that all we could do was our best. Until we knew where we were, we had to run fast. Once we know we’re in the clear, we’ll slow down again. We reached Playa Del Rey and worked our way inland.

It was a hot crowded day at the beach. There was also a duathlon race on the same course as our run. These other athletes looked incredible. They were fast, strong, and dressed like pro’s. Mike and I were a sorry sight of two sunburned, exhausted fatties.

We got to a turnout. Mike said go left. John said go straight. I believed that we had to trust our crew, so I sided with John. We went straight. Still not knowing where we were and how many miles left in the race, Mike and I picked up the pace and ran what felt like our best two or three miles. It was impressive.
You’re talking about two individuals who had been awake and running for nearly 25 hours picking up the pace and running FASTER!!!! F-YEA! Yee-haw!!! A-Roo!
And then guess what? It was the wrong way.

Mike was right, we were supposed to turn left when we went straight.

I asked John to go ahead and find the exact route we needed and how many miles left in the race. He disappeared and the water went with him.

And there we were, deflated, lost, and out of water. Spirits low.

Step one, get water. an aid station for the duathlon was more than happy to oblige us.

Step two, get back on course. (Called the race directors)

Step three, Start moving.

Still not knowing where we stood, we pushed as hard as we could. We reached the shoreline at Venice Beach. According to my phone, only three miles left. It turns out we were never in jeopardy of not making the cutoff time. It was just drama due to misinformation. In fact, we had run such a great race, that we had more than enough time to run bonus miles and come back.

When we were lost, I lied to Mike and the crew in an attempt to ease tension and bring morale back up.
“I’m glad we got lost, because now we know we can run more than 100 miles, because that’s what we’re doing today.” I rehearsed the line a few times in my head and eventually I genuinely believed it.
And I believe it now. I’m glad we got lost. Because now I know I can run more than 100 miles.

FINISH LINE

At 11:10am, Mike and I, followed by John, Josue, and Alex crossed the finish line. Our official 100 mile time, 28 hours and 10 minutes. Mike and I tied for 16th place.

The finish line was a party of smiling faces. Everyone was there. Kara, Darren and Sandy Von Soye, Tapatha and Tammie. All the fellow runners. They all applauded us as we just stood there. The 100 mile club is it’s own world. Only we knew what we had done. You could have walked right by us and never knew. Plenty of people had.

AFTERTHOUGHT

They say you can tell the moral of a story by the way that it ends. So here goes:

For starters, in two days, I would be a year older. All I wanted for my birthday was 100 miles.

With our past failures behind us, in many ways John, Josue, Alex, Mike and I had closed a chapter on something we all started three years ago and hadn’t finished until now.

This year, we got two brothers, side by side from start to finish, across 100 miles of beautiful terrain.

Someday this race will be famous; I’m just glad to be a part of it.

Let’s Go, Team Disgruntled.

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Finishers are awarded this awesome belt buckle

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