In retrospect, maybe my body wasn’t ready for that first 100 mile run. My mind certainly wasn’t. Only my ambition was.
But that’s a story for another day.
I finished. In 32 hours and 44 minutes I ran and hiked 100 miles through 100 plus degree weather in the day, rain at night, and maybe even an encounter with a grumpy bear being woken up by thunder. At the time, I think the general consensus had been that this was an “easy” hundred mile race. It was only until two years later that people started referring to this course as being a tough one.
That year, my brother Mike and I were the last official finishers. That landed us a 8th and 9th place. Two more would finish unofficially. Everyone else dropped out.
Still, another story for another time.
For now, I want to share an experience of recovery from an Ultra.
I guess recovery starts from the moment you leave the finish line. Mike drove us back the 12 miles from the race to the room. We had each been awake for maybe 36 hours at this point.
I wanted nothing more than to sleep. But Mike was sleep deprived too. The safest thing to do was to stay awake until he drove us safely to the hotel room.
When we arrived at the hotel. Things weren’t really that bad yet. We could still walk. The distance from the car to the hotel did seem far, but not daunting yet. But our legs were shutting down.
We got to the room. Mike said that before we slept, we each had to take a shower. He said that our cuts, blisters, and chafing areas could get infected because we were covered in dirt. (Not to mention all the dust we had inhaled.)
When it was my turn, I could hardly get undressed. It was a difficult process to get my legs high enough to step into the shower. I vaguely remember the shower itself. The water runoff from my body was red and brown and rocky from the course. I was coughing already (from the dust and exercise)…
AND I was CHAFED. In places. In embarrassing places. What kind of places? Well, let’s just say that my buttocks are included on that list.
I’ll leave the specific details of my chafing areas to your imagination. Or I’ll save them for a conversation we have in person.
But I discovered certain chafed/cut/bleeding areas by the shock I received when the water hit them. Then I would feel these very sensitive areas with my hands and I’d know that some healing had to happen there. This is why runners wear Vaseline, lube, and/or Band-Aids.
My feet were bleeding and especially dirty. I couldn’t bend down to scrub them nor could I lift them. They would have to wait. I struggled to get dressed again and made my way to bed.
Might As Well Have Been a Hospital Bed
It was a two queen bed hotel room. I had the bed closest to the bathroom. I shivered from cold, in and out of consciousness for a good while. My legs completely stopped working by this point. They couldn’t move or support my body weight.
I had to urinate.
I wondered how long I could lay in that hotel bed without pissing myself. I knew that in my condition, the short trip to the toilet would be challenging.
I was exhausted so I slept as much as I could, but I was always waking up because I still hadn’t urinated. Eventually, it was time to launch. I positioned myself to the edge of the bed with my feet hanging over. I used my arms, the bed, and the nightstand, to leverage myself as much as possible into a smooth transition. Each step was slow and low, carefully planned out. I was always leaning on something. I was putting as much weight on my arms, and as little weight on my legs, as possible.
The leap of faith from the nightstand to the wall was a risky one but it paid off.
It sounds dramatic, but I’m not exaggerating here. I couldn’t lift my legs and they couldn’t support my body weight. This was the smoothest process. Even crawling would have been more strenuous.
I made it to the toilet and I finally relieved myself. (Standing up, of course)
During this process, I looked down at my feet. Between my toes, I could see a slimy clear-ish, slightly pinkish fluid. Like I said, the bottom of both of my feet had giant blisters that had popped. The fluid I was looking at was a mixture of dirt, blood, and the clear pus that fills blisters.
And here’s my favorite part….
That mixture glued my feet to the tile floor. I was stuck.
Trying my best not to lose my balance, still unable to lift my legs, I had to peel my popped blisters off the bathroom floor.
With everything accumulating, this was one of the most physically painful experiences of my life, but even then I thought it was funny.
Back then, I always thought it was part of the experience. A few hours prior, I was a “super-athlete,” an ultra-runner. Here I was temporarily broken. I thought this was life’s way of letting me know how blessed I truly was.
After I let out my noises of pain, I laughed a little.
Eventually I was in bed again. I would have to return to the restroom frequently that night, but always just a little bit smoother. My feet never got stuck to the floor again. Trust me, some mistakes you only make once.
In case you’re wondering, it was four days before I started walking close to normal again.
My last 100 mile run was four months ago. I recovered in four hours.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.