SANTA BARBARA TRAIL RUN…
I had just gotten off course twice in the last hour, it was noon, my heart was pounding, I was puking, it was hot, still a big climb away from the aid station. I was calculating: time to recover at aid station + who knows the conditions ahead + wanting to finish before 9 pm (we started at 7 am) = might as well stop now = where do I get a ride? One hour before I was chasing the guy in front of me and I was giddy at the thought of a sub-12 for a Santa Barbara Trail Run 100K!
I quit a race yesterday – after about 30 miles. It was the first time I quit a foot race. It’s not like I didn’t make a cut-off. I was plunging to exhaustion and was going to end up in a helicopter flying to the Santa Barbara ER (if only there would have been a spot for a helicopter to land in that dense brush and savannah of the Santa Ynez mountains). Quitting was right. I’m grateful I came back in one piece and I am satisfied with the way I handled every situation that arose. Although I can’t pinpoint what went wrong exactly I can definitely see the chain of events that led to quitting.
All I wanted was another race before starting more training for the UTMB. At first, I signed up for the DRTE 100 miles but I downgraded to the SBTR 100K because I didn’t want to be running on Father’s Day. I had also noticed that there were only about 30 runners in the 100 miles run and I don’t like running alone at night in mountains I don’t know well. I like working with fear but not stupidity. This is a very wild area – the home of pumas, bears, and rattlesnakes.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN
Navigating at night on those California courses isn’t fun at all sometimes (but part of the sport). Usually at least one confusing point (not that the race organizers didn’t a good job – imagine having to mark 100 miles of trails!). This is not a report on the quality of the race. It’s hard to put all that activity together and the freedom of the format is that everyone is out on their own (I like that) – still with basic aid stations to refuel and replenish. Big bows to Robert Gilcrest and his great volunteer crew.
Everything started well up to mile 22 of the race. I camped at the start and slept very well despite feeling my tent was in the middle of a family kitchen. I got up and got ready following my routine. All good. Robert got us on our way by 07:15. What? I didn’t understand that. It was light at 05:15… Getting mileage in early is always nice (and I wanted to finish at sundown). Anyway, I met another French runner from San Francisco – he was there with his wife. It was nice to meet them. I also met another friend from LA.
After 7 hours running (sections of it just being steep hiking), getting sick, overheating and under eating I decided to call it quits. Here’s a number of factors that led to this decision:
The course had changed. Not that it mattered much because I can adapt and the GPS on my iPhone didn’t work. It almost never works. I wonder why… Apple!
The drop bag locations had changed too. I had scheduled my personal nutrition for Red Gate to have access to it at 20 and 40 miles – instead, I had to leave it at Romero Camuesa at (28 and 32 miles). That’s where I quit. I was planning on a force-feeding of hummus, falafel, and berries before the heat and earlier and later in the race.
STARTING TOO FAST
Maybe I started too fast. I didn’t feel that way although a friend of mine who was faster at Miwok was 30 min behind me… I was having fun, stopped to take pictures, stayed a bit at the aid stations to chat with the nice volunteers. There weren’t many runners. I thought the other Frenchman, Emmanuel, was starting too hard (I told him at an aid station – I was compelled to catch up with him and maybe win a France race…). At some point, I was calculating a sub-12…
I got off course twice after 4 hours. All was feeling great and I was enjoying the flow. Must have been too zoned out at a turn because all of a sudden I was following blue markers instead of pink ones… Which led of a dry river bed overgrown with trees and no markers at all! I back trailed to the last pink marker I saw and after witnessing I actually had to jump over a big log and that pink markers where marking the turn I took another wrong turn.
GETTING TURNED AROUND
My friend from LA who I knew was behind me appeared all of a sudden! I was going back to the previous aid station. While I thought the first mistake was recovered it was the realization of the second one that crossed me. Cortisol level shooting through the roof, adrenaline. I had lost about 30 minutes which I was now trying to get back (to catch up with my French friend and another running at the same pace).
Within 30 minutes I was vomiting after slowing down considerably – when a runner caught up with me I told her to tell the next aid station that I might need help or even to send someone. I made it to the aid station which was more like a camp – so no getting a ride to my car from there. No evac possible at all from there! I was feeling exhausted. There is a difference between working through pain and misery and adding more misery.
I messed up the scheduled feedings. But I was still looking up and in good spirits. I had recovered a bit at the aid station and they told me the next one was 5 miles away with a 1300ft climb. It was cooler but still hot: my watch was giving me around 86F (it passed the nineties in the previous stretch). However, I was wearing all black and it wasn’t helping.
A climb was so steep that I had to take small steps while my heart was pounding and pumping in my chest. Moving like an Everest climber. It took me 2 hours to cover 5 miles. I ran a little in flats. The solar radiation was also very high, it was the zenith and there was little shade. A tough course that could be fun I guess.
THEN THE GEAR
My pack was weighing between 6 and 7 pounds (UTMB training I loaded it a bit extra). I realized I should have packed my poles when I had to climb steep inclines. Carrying that pack, also mostly black, probably didn’t help. My pack’s bladder was letting a plastic taste in what I was drinking. I don’t know if it was caused by the water they were filling with (too much chlorine releasing a chemical in the plastic?), the heat or if it was my changing taste. This contributed to my nausea (ginger candy helped with that). I probably will have to put lemon in there next time.
I was wearing all black. Black shirt, long black shorts, black pack, and black calf compression tubes. The temperature was in the high 80F to low 90F according to my watch. There was also very high solar radiation. I wasn’t ready for that heat. Not that hot but I haven’t run in 80/90 since the Red Rock Cyn 45 miles run in April. I haven’t had those temps on my long runs yet. Today I went for a 10 mi steep run in 90F with no food or water and I was fine. Heat training has officially started!
At the end of the day, I was home to see my eldest boy coming back from the prom and to be home early for Father’s Day. I love running but I love my boys more.
It was a good practice. I usually acclimatize to the heat in a couple of long runs in Griffith Park. Then I can run comfortably in the 90s. Training for the 100s would be a different game. Last year’s Rio del Lago 100mi was comfortable while quite hot in the Knickerbocker area there in the middle of the day: but I had run all summer in the heat. Even Miwok this year wasn’t that hot. I’m training for the UTMB so I should just go back to Mammoth Lakes and wear three layers and pray for a storm.
I do want to go back to SBTR100 next year. It will be fun. Thanks to all the awesome volunteers at the aid stations. Getting a coke over ice at the last one was a treat. And seeing the other French guy quit too wasn’t so bad either!