Friday, June 24, 2016

Statesmas Eve

With the 43rd annual running of the Western States 100 starting tomorrow, and taper tantrums in full effect, I thought it'd be fun to post a graph I've been working on. It plots the paces of various runners' times over the States course based on aid station splits I found on the WS website. My choices were fairly arbitrary. I selected a few of the runners based on our relative speeds across shorter distances and because their times loosely translate to my goals for this year. I included DBo and Krar mainly because I was curious how their paces deviated throughout the day for a mid-15 hour and high-14 hour finish, respectively.

Here are the plotted times from fastest to slowest:

Rob Krar - 2014: 14:53:22 (1st place)
Dylan Bowman - 2014: 15:36 (3rd place)
Brett Rivers - 2014: 16:20 (9th place)
David Laney - 2015: 17:01 (8th place)
Paul Terranova - 2015: 17:43 (10th place)
Stephen Wassather (Me) - 2015: 18:50 (18th place)

Click to enlarge

A few notes about reading the graph: the graph follows the States course from left to right, and the higher on the y-axis the faster the pace.

There are a lot of factors that'll play into top-10 finishing times this year, the most crucial being heat. If anything, the chart gives me a good idea of where I need to "lean against my limits" (to borrow from Bob Shebest) on Saturday to vie for a coveted top-10 spot.

Monday, June 6, 2016

San Diego 100 - Race Report

Wow! I still can't believe I actually finished a 100-mile race. I want to include a lot of cold info/data, as well as some of my thoughts on training and reflection on the experience. I'll start with data, and then move chronologically through training and race day.


This report is long, so I broke it into three sections with bold headers (basic statistics, training, race day).

Haha look at that smile. I had no idea what I was in for ;)

Things I would change for next time:

  • I started with too many calories (280/hour), and Vitargo does not shake/mix in soft flasks. Lessons learned.
  • Chasing cut-offs sucked, so that's good motivation to get a little quicker (and sign up for colder races).
  • Blister kit. I need to make one.

Things I was really happy with:

  • Toughing it out. SD100 was a great lesson in not giving up.
  • My crew. There is no way I would've made it without their help and support. 
  • Vitargo! After I diluted it, my stomach was happy, even in 100+ degree heat. All day, I only ate 2 cups of soup, a few potatoes, and Vitargo (plus two Gu that got puked up).
  • Gaiters are awesome. I plan on wearing these a lot - they minimized a lot of shoe/foot issues.
  • Post-race mobility. I feel great!! My feet are a little swollen, but I am really happy with how I feel.


I like data. Here are some numbers, with corresponding pie charts and percentages.

My GPS data was all screwed up, but a few others' have shown roughly 101 miles with 17,600' of gain. I swooped some temperature data from other Suunto/Movescount user data (thanks Eric Miersma). It looks like it was around 99F for most of the day, and then dropped down to 40-50 during the night. The heat index was 108F.

Temperature Chart from Eric Miersma's Movescount
(linked in paragraph above)
259 starters; 122 drops; 137 finishers

27 total female finishers; 110 total male finishers
First male finisher was Nate Jaqua in 19:15:12
First female finisher was Jenny Capel in 22:00:08

7 under 30; 41 from 30-39; 60 from 40-49; 24 from 50-59; and 4 over 60.

25 under 24 hours; 14 between 24-26 hours; 26 between 26-28 hours; 32 between 28-30 hours; and 40 between 30-32 hours.


My longest run leading up to SD100 was 24.6 miles (April 23). I did very little heat training, mostly because it's been a cool and wet spring. My average mileage per week was around 50 - for about five weeks (with four weeks around 40 mixed in), and I tapered for two weeks leading into the race. Despite the relatively low mileage (in this age of "mega-milage"), I survived! And not only survived, but was walking and climbing stairs within a few hours. So what gives?

I'll start from the beginning...
I signed up for SD100 on January 2. After my DNF at Rio Del Lago (mile 76) in November, I was determined to spend the next six months preparing for another attempt at 100 miles, even if it meant adjusting my expectations and preparing for a long, slow day on the trails.

I eased back into training - mostly doing rock climbing, strength training, and stationary cycle through December. I worked my injured Achilles with calf drops and then picked up running again in January. I was also finishing my last semester of law school, during which I was working full-time at the DOJ (with night class 1-2 times a month). On top of this, my art business has been doing well, so I've been working to fulfill orders. This spring, a typical day for me was waking up at 5am, running in the dark, showering, running to catch the bus to SF (70-80 minute ride), working a full day in SF and then bussing home (another 80+ minutes), making dinner, fulfilling art orders, and passing out around 10pm... It was grueling.

After a few weeks of adjusting to this schedule, I realized I needed to up my mileage and start some serious 100 mile preparation. I sought out a coach with 100 mile experience who could prepare me mentally and physically for SD100 - despite my busy schedule. I emailed Bob Shebest.

Bob's training was fantastic. With his help, I focused on quality over quantity, although my mileage increased, too. I incorporated strength workouts and spinning, which I love. I'm a not a mileage hog - unlike Stephen - so I don't thrive on mega-miles, especially since my days were already packed with 11 hours of work/commute, studying for the MPRE, and night class. Plus, it takes me a lot longer to get the same mileage as someone like Stephen because I run at a much slower pace. So even though I was spending around 12 hours on the trails, I was only running about 50 miles per week.

Towards the end of April, my training was going great. I was hitting all of my workouts, I had taken (and passed) the MPRE. My graduation was in sight. But I felt really fatigued. I figured it was because of all of my crazy commitments. But after a long run, I was too weak to even walk home and had to call Stephen to pick me up - only a mile from home. The next day, I went to the Berkeley health center and requested a blood panel.

The results showed low hemoglobin (HGB), low hematocrit (HCT), low MCV and MCH (meaning my red blood cells were small in size), and a Ferritin level of 6.

HGB - 9.9 (normal range 12-15)
HCT - 30.9 (normal range 32-43)
MCV - 77 (normal range 80-100)
MCH - 24.8 (normal range 26-35)
Ferritin - 6 (normal range 15-150)

The doctor recommended I start taking iron supplements. Notably, the doctor deflected any suggestion that my anemia was diet related. He suggested I keep my diet the same - but to add salt (I was low on sodium). I also talked to my friend (and amazing role model) Meredith Terranova, who provided great advice about dealing with anemia.

I tried to stick out the last few weeks at or around 50 miles of training, and I felt a difference almost immediately. I stopped falling asleep during the day (I had been struggling to focus and stay awake - at work and at home). I felt superhuman on my runs, with oxygen delivery starting to return to normal. It was a huge relief and boost of confidence to know I would be getting stronger heading into SD100.


I ran in Nike Wildhorses, Stance socks, Dirty Girl Gaiters, and Oiselle Roga shorts and Verra sportsbra. I had ZERO gear issues, besides four (relatively small) blisters on my feet. Karis and Aaron had given me an Elevation Tat, which was so, so, so helpful during the race. I saw a lot of people with them on during the race, and mine lasted the entire time.

The start line.
Photo: Stephen Wassather

Friday Morning (start to mile 21)

The start was beautiful. The race started on the west side of the lake and we all started walking in a conga-line up towards the first climb. This year the course began with two climbs - one right before Paso Picacho AS (aid station), and one right after. It was already hot, and the aid station was handing out cold buffs (so appreciated!)

Coming down towards Paso Picacho.
Photo: Ulysses Chan

I had planned to drink Vitargo the entire race. That plan went sideways at the first aid station. I poured my carefully-measured Vitargo powder into my Salomon soft flask, only to have the entire mixture coagulate into a giant glob of jelly, clogging the flask mouthpiece and preventing me from getting ANY calories. So it was a long 5 miles until Chambers AS, where I flung the sticky pink mess out of my flasks and refilled with a bit of Tailwind and water.

Karis and Rachel at Sunrise AS.
Photo: ?

Now hot and hungry, I gobbled down my only two "emergency" Gu packs. It was an exposed 8.5 miles to Sunrise AS, where nice cold Vitargo awaited. I just had to make it 8.5 miles. Well, about a mile in, now full of sugar and really hot, my stomach revolted. I had tried to listen to my Harry Potter audiobook to distract myself from how shitty I already felt, but the descriptions of Dudley Dursley were adding to my nausea. I ripped my headphones out and emptied my stomach all over the trails. Other runners were looking back, while I puked Exorcist-style all over the grass and tried to keep moving.

I made it to Sunrise AS and was feeling a lot better after puking - but was hot, dehydrated, and hungry. My crew was incredible from the start, helping me wipe off my dirty feet (my original goal was to clean my feet and change socks at every station - HAHA). Anyway, it started well, and I was soon on my way, packed in ice, with fresh Vitargo, clean feet, and only 7.2 miles from next aid.

Friday Midday (mile 21 to 43.8)

Leaving Sunrise, heading to Pioneer Mail.
Photo: Stephen Wassather

The trail from Sunrise AS to Pioneer Mail AS looks like the edge of the world. The trail skirts the Anza-Borrego desert, with a huge drop down to the east. It is surreal. That sensation is magnified when you're running an ultramarathon in 100 degree heat! Thankfully, I had ordered a "Cool Off" bandana with a pocket for ice and a built-in chamois that stays cold and wet for HOURS - seriously, best $20 I've ever spent.

This section was really enjoyable, despite being hot. Mostly because I leapfrogged with a really nice runner named Greg, who had run SD100 before and was doing the Solo division. Realizing how many little kicker-hills were on the course, I was really jealous of his trekking poles, but I resisted knocking him over the edge of cliff to steal them, and we ended up commiserating in the heat and chatting about running and life. It was great!

Rachel, working her magic.
Photo: ?
Pioneer Mail AS was another picture of crew perfection. I had puked and rallied - and I was feeling great. I was well ahead of the cutoffs and having no issues (minus a small blister forming on my right foot - which Rachel covered with New Skin). My friends had Vitargo ready to go, refilled my water, and packed me in ice. I was heading into the second (and last) long stretch without crew.

From Pioneer Mail AS to Pine Creek AS is a long, rocky decent with no shade. At this point, it was about 100 degrees, but I was grateful to be going downhill with a bit of a breeze coming up from the west. I was really, really grateful for the rock plate in my shoes. I was able to run the entire downhill section, passing a lot of people on the way down, some who were just sitting on the sides of the trail.
Looking down towards Pine Creek AS.

Pine Creek AS was carnage. I must've been pretty far back in the field, and the station looked like it had been hit by a wave of locusts. Despite appearances, A VOLUNTEER ANGEL ran up to me and helped me get full bottles of Tailwind. This volunteer seriously saved me. Within about 5 minutes, I was covered in SPF 50, packed with cool, fresh calorie drinks, and had my ice bandana back on. My friend from SFRC, Zak, had been contemplating dropping at Pine Creek, but rallied to join me for the long climb up Noble Canyon. I was really grateful for the company since I'd been running alone for the last few hours.

Fuck Noble Canyon. That's all I'm gonna say about that.

Friday Evening (mile 43.8 to 55)

I got to Penny Pines AS at 6:30pm, and it was a worse scene than Pine Creek AS. It looked like a war zone. They were out of soup and a lot of other snacks, and people were strewn on the ground and in chairs everywhere - not moving, just panting and covered in dirt and sweat. Another angel-volunteer refilled my bottles with Tailwind. About a mile before the AS, Zak had stopped to rest. Knowing I would be close to cutoffs (and like a gigantic jerk) I left him. But just as I was heading out, he came in - as did my friend, Kara. It was great to know friends were on their way and surviving.

Sunset about 1 mile from Meadows AS

The sun went down as I was approaching Meadows AS, and I was really looking forward to seeing crew. We had planned on doing hot soup, a clothing change, and rallying for the night. Well, again, things were not as planned. I ran for a while without seeing trail markers and was totally stressed out when I finally made it in (thankfully there were two other runners who had run the course before and I was able to follow them into aid). Knowing I was getting closer and closer to cutoffs, I felt stressed, hungry, and I needed a real revamp sesh.

Then I got a reality check: I would not be changing, first because it was still too warm for pants, but also because I was now approaching cutoffs. Second, I would not have hot soup because I hadn't packed a lighter. Third, as Stephen tried to heat the soup (in vain), some little shit kid stood behind him, deliberating trying to kick dirt into the soup bowl. I asked the kid nicely to please stop kicking dirt into my food. But instead, the punk got a smirk on his little mug, looked me in the eye, and swung another hefty kick of dust right into my meal. So I did what any rational adult would do: I yelled, "HEY KID, STOP KICKING FUCKING DIRT INTO MY SOUP!" At that point his father (whose hand he had been holding the entire time) tuned into what his spawn was doing and told me to "calm down" since the cretan was "only five years old."

The crew at Meadows
Photo: Jessi Goldstein

Well, now my crew really wanted me out of the aid station, so Rachel (who was not originally slated to pace) strapped on a headlamp and valiantly volunteered to pace me from Meadows to Cibbets Flat AS. I wasn't feeling so great after eating my cold dirt-soup and not getting to change, so we had a few rough miles in the dark. I told Rachel I didn't walk to talk and just wanted to find my "zen place." I was pissed that I felt crappy because I was finally near Kara Teklinski (racing) and Jessi Goldstein (pacing). But they slowly pulled away from us. After about 40 minutes, I puked up something black and disgusting. It did the trick. I felt better and we started jamming - through Red Tailed Roost and towards Cibbets Flat.

Late Night with Maggie Tides (mile 55 to 80.3)

Rachel was an amazing pacer. The descent to Cibbets AS was slightly wider than single track (1.5 track?), rocky and rutted, and lined with sharp, pokey plants. Rachel pushed me the whole way, encouraging me and giving me concrete time goals as motivation. We saw a ton of beetles, a couple scorpions, a mole, and even a tarantula! I was so relieved to see the glowing lights from the Cibbets Flat aid station - and I'm sure Rachel was even more so. About a mile away, my headlamp died [editor's note: Rachel reminded me how this actually went down - I was already kind of loopy!]. We had a backup, so I threw that on, but the battery was somehow dead - even though I had checked them all the night before. Rachel gave me her headlamp, and she ran the rest of the way using her iPhone flashlight. It was a shitshow, but we got it done - and 45 minutes ahead of cutoff.

Hiking up to Dale's Kitchen.
Photo: Stephen Wassather
Knowing I had to make it back up the long climb to Dale's Kitchen AS, the plan was to hustle through aid and rely on the cushion Rachel had helped secure. Karis and Stephen had found a lighter and prepared warm soup, and I was able to sit and chill for about five minutes. At about 1:40am, Stephen and I started up the climb. I actually really enjoyed the climb. My stomach had settled down. The chaos of the day was past, and it wasn't hot. It was almost peaceful out, especially since I was enforcing a strict no-talking policy (lol sorry guys).

About 2 hours into the climb, my Achilles started to seize - just like they had at Rio. I was pissed and terrified. We kept climbing. I popped a couple Advil, and decided that I wasn't going to stop preemptively, like I had at Rio. If my Achilles were going to rupture, then so be it. But I wasn't going to stop unless I literally could walk no more.

Dale's Kitchen was a ghost town when we arrived. Chihping Fu was there, but Stephen and I bustled through before he had left (we'd end up seeing him a lot and he finished shortly after I did). After Dale's Kitchen, shit started to get weird. It was about 4:00am, and the sky was barely starting to get lighter. I could've sworn I saw cats in the bushes, and my mind started to separate from reality: there were things in the world, things my crazy mind was thinking, and a small voice of reality in the very back of my mind.

Popping out on the edge of the Anza-Borrego desert.
Photo: Stephen Wassather
We rolled into Todd's Cabin at 5:10am. By this time both of my Achilles were agonizing, but I had told myself, "The pain isn't real. If you can run, you are ok." I sat down at the aid station, expecting a short reprieve and food. Stephen looked at me with shock and told me we had to GTFO if I wanted to make cutoff for next aid. So I jumped out of my seat and ate a banana as we hiked out of aid.

The section from Todd's to Penny Pines was brutal, but beautiful. We had popped out onto the edge of the Anza-Borrego Desert again, and the sunrise was a deep, blood red. I kept seeing weird things in the plants - like broken down trucks, cats, and faces. With 24 minutes to spare, Stephen got me to Penny Pines, where Melanie picked me up. I refilled with Tailwind (no crew allowed), and we took off. My stomach had settled, and I was surprised at how well my body was cooperating (with the exception of my blisters and Achilles).

Saturday Morning (mile 80.3 to 91.5)

Saturday morning felt hotter than Friday morning, but this time I was prepared for the relentless exposure along the eastern-facing trail. Mel meant business: between each aid station, she gave me a concrete time goal, and an average pace I had to maintain to make cutoff. We kicked butt. I was so mentally exhausted, I didn't talk -  but we were on the same page and ticked off mile after mile.
Mel and I leaving Sunrise for the last 9 mile stretch.
Photo: Stephen Wassather

Unlike the day before, I wasn't figuring out nutrition issues: my stomach was soaking in three soft flasks of calories between every aid station (16 oz x 3 = 48 oz total). When we had crew, I took in Vitargo, but if not, I drank Tailwind. I took a total of 8-10 Advil to manage the Achilles pain, but eventually the pain meds didn't make a difference, so we stopped. I stayed iced up, and focused on listening to the small rational voice in the back of my head. I felt completely disconnected from my body and only somewhat connected to the outside world.

Leaving Pioneer Mail, Mel and I saw two big rattlesnakes, which was really cool (but also terrifying).  For the last 16 miles, we leapfrogged with the same group of runners - who were all really nice and equally exhausted. It was hard to take in the beauty of the desert when all I wanted to do was curl up into the fetal position in air conditioning. But it was stunning, and I thought about how lucky I was to be testing my limits. I thought about my mom. About my friend Mike Holmes, who recently lost his daughter to cancer. I thought about the world and being and life. And we kept running.

Saturday Midday (91.5 to finish)

This is what the "zen zone" looks like. Ouch.
Photo: Mel Michalak
Sunrise AS felt like a small victory. My pacers and crew were confident I would make it. After hours and hours on the trail, I felt like nothing was guaranteed. Mel and I headed out in the heat of the morning - ready to finish the last nine miles. Those last nine miles were almost completely lined with knee- to chest-high grass and almost completely exposed. Every shadow looked like a snake - and we did actually see a real rattler about 5 miles from the finish. I figured if I got bit at that point, I would just walk it in. Nothing was stopping us.

The cold water station 4.5 miles from finish was a huge morale boost, and Mel and I jogged most of the remaining miles, weaving down through green grassy fields until we ran along the edge of Lake Cuyamaca. As we turned the corner to see and hear the finish line, a wave of emotion washed over me. We were here. I could hear my crew screaming, but I couldn't look. I had come this far, I couldn't fall apart now. We ran the last half a mile hard, trying to make it under 31 hours. My official time was 30:59:06.


Tres amigos con cervezas
Photo: ?
At the finish, I felt elated but empty. Finishing was surreal. It wasn't until I was back in Marin, listening to James Taylor on the radio that everything hit me and the tears came. This finish meant a lot to me. It represented the culmination of my self, my being. It has been difficult to maintain myself and my heart through the challenges of the past three years. But I'm here. And I couldn't have done it - and I wouldn't be who I am - without my incredible friends.

Coach Bob - thank you for believing in me. You took me (and my crazy goal) seriously, and you prepared me thoroughly. Your workouts had a physical and mental focus, and I learned so much from you. I have LOVED training the past couple months, and I am a little sad that this goal is over! I want to sign up for another race, just so you can keep coaching me to improve - and I can keep getting your encouraging messages and feedback. I can't thank you enough, Master Shifu!

Thank you to Rachel, for cleaning my feet and resurrecting my race. You were so prepared and so organized and so willing to do whatever it took to get me to the finish. All while you've got bigger and more important plans this summer... Seriously, I felt so lucky to have you on my team. I am in awe, and I'm beyond grateful.

Karis - thank you! Thank you for being on top of with the aid station supplies, for taking care of EVERYONE else and snapping photos and for your crazy enthusiasm and support. You have been nothing but positive about this insane endeavor since the beginning :)

Thank you, Melanie, for talking to me about running and life. Next time we can talk about geology on the run, too :) You have been a part of this since before Rio. Thank you for believing in me. Not sure if I should thank you for your cooling methods during the race...

Finally, thank you, Stephen. It's almost exactly three years ago that you did DRTE100, and I thought- what kind of an idiot runs 100 miles? I guess we've answered that question. I'm so grateful for your support and advice, and for your patience while pacing me. I can't wait to be out there for you in a few weeks. I love you!

A hug is all you really want after 100 miles.
Photo: Rachel Wadsworth