I decided at the last-minute to bail out of Big Horn 100, due to its unprecedented snow pack and subsequent major course re-routing. Fortunately I was able to claim the last spot remaining in the San Diego 100 mile race, happening only a weekend earlier.
My training partner and friend Yassine Diboun was also running the San Diego 100, and I thought the course and location seemed attractive. After a few logistical changes, I was off, southbound. Instead of braving big Wyoming country, I was headed back towards my home state, crazy California.
I eventually meet with Yassine and family and we make our way to the race start. Mount Laguna Recreation area is a beautiful area, surrounded with big mountains and hundreds of miles of trails. Only an hour from downtown San Diego, I am astounded by its beauty. Camping the night before was great. Befriended my tent neighbor, a veteran of this race and very familiar with this area. His advice? Everyone kills themselves on the first 50K. Take ‘er easy, you’re gonna need it for the rest of the course.
My crew arrives late and I quickly brief them on some logistics. I rest my head on the eve of my second 100 mile race and prepare myself for a long slumber. Who am I kidding? A sleepless night full of nerves. I probably got 3 hours of sleep.
5:00am rolls around and the rituals begin. Bagel with almond butter, banana and a stiff cup of coffee. I feel much more relaxed about this race than Pine-to-Palm 100. No longer an unknown distance, I am confident in my abilities to fight through this sacred distance. The morning is crisp but the energy burns bright. Before the race starts, I notice some heavy hitters lining up: Yassine Diboun, Rod Bien, Topher Gaylord, Dylan Bowman, Ben Hian.
Despite a bit of a scratchy throat, I feel pretty good. As always, the clock quickly counts down to zero, the gun goes off and boom. Here we go…
Several move into the front and I follow. We make it onto some prime singletrack skirting past lakes and down forested areas. Absolutely beautiful. I settle in behind Topher Gaylord, who seems to be setting a comfortable but competitive pace. Yassine leads in the distance while Rod, Dylan and Ben follow.
Going through the first aid, there are a bunch of people cheering us on, providing a morale boost. My body is fresh and the morning conditions are ideal.
After a few hours of moderate climbs and some rocky sections, Topher, Ben and I are all running strongly together as we enter Todd’s Cabin (Mile 18.6). I get some strong words of encouragement by the RD and Topher.
At about 3 ½ hours, we all reach Penny Pines Aid at mile 23.6. I arrive feeling good. Not great. The temperatures are starting to rise and I am about to drop down several miles to the lowest point in the course, only having to climb my way out in order to see my crew again and restock.
I grab a second bottle and hat, and head on out right as Topher departs. I know he will be running a strong race and I feel comfortable with his pace. We both round out the Top 5 at this point.
The next 7 miles are surprisingly tough. Over 2,000ft of rocky downhill to descend. Difficult to find rhythm, I envisioned this downhill going differently in my head. My body is starting to run hot and I take every advantage to cool the core with dunks into passing streams.
After what seems like forever, I make it to Pine Creek 1 (Mile 32) the lowest point in the course, where I then must tackle a 5-mile lollipop loop around a mountain. As I get to the aid station, a volunteer sponges my neck and asks if I’m alright. I could tell he wasn’t convinced of my positive answer. He informs me of the hot, exposed section ahead, I thank him and move on. He was right.
Things Go South.
This is about where red flags begin to pop up. I stop to urinate only to have a dark yellow/brown color. I’ve experienced this before and just drank more and it cleared up. Unfortunately, this section was hot, with little moving wind and swarming with biting gnat flies. I suffer on this section and hike any significant uphill. The remaining 67 miles weigh heavily on me. I unimpressively make it around the mountain and back to the aid station, where I am faced with the crux of the course: a 8 mile, 2,500ft ascent to Pioneer Mail Aid Station (Mile 44). Breathe.
I begin up the 2-mile asphalt road disappearing into the mountains. Having to urinate again, I stop and this is where it gets ugly.
Blood exits my body instead of urine and I am stunned. Dark red.
This experience is followed immediately with an all-star cast of expletives, not knowing what to do. I am already a bit into the climb and can’t return. I’m wary of pushing my body too hard up this climb and decide to run-hike. I confide in a lady giving out popsicles at the end of the road, sitting on her cooler for a few minutes. She is confident it will clear up, and reassured me there is medical staff at the next aid station, 6 miles away. I must continue.
It takes me nearly two hours to make it up the treacherous climb and, at this point, I begin to surrender to the reality of dropping out of the race. Too many stories of kidney failure in this sport: Skaggs, Olmstead, Hein, the list continues. I didn’t want to be on that list.
Something about this realization makes me run the last climbs with purpose, and I finally make it to Pioneer Mail, only to hear whoops and hollering from dozens of people in the distance. Up on the road, I see my crew, Rory and Clifton screaming at me in delight.
When I arrive into Pioneer Mail Aid Station, I quickly inform volunteers that I peed blood and need help. Volunteers sit me down, provide fluids and an EMT staff takes my vitals. Totally fine. At this point in the race, I believe I am still in the top 10. The recommendation is to wait, drink fluids and then urinate again. If its improved at all, I can possibly keep on going.
After 10 minutes and several runners passing through, I pee in a cup and what came out was nearly worse than blood. I walk out of the porta-potty laughing because it was so bad. A dark brown/black thick liquid resembling a triple espresso shot was presented in a cup to the EMT and they all stepped back promptly to say:
“There’s absolutely no way you can go on, I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
This I knew before they told me. The fluid was downright disturbing and I was at a loss for what had caused it. The medical staff basically told me it could be a few things:
Not enough fluids combined with caffeinated gels, too much salt and excessive muscle damage could have essentially backed up the kidneys, creating such a devilish concentration. And the blood? Kidneys can get jostled by high intensity activity and become irritated and bleed.
All this was not good news, but it also was a great time to stop. I ran fairly strong up until this point, my crew was there, and I didn’t need to go to a doctor and this point.
So, I received my first-ever DNF as the lady cut my bracelet off. I was slightly welled up when shaking the RD’s hand thanking him for letting me into such a beautiful race and impeccably organized event. Aside from training a lot for this race, I was mainly disappointed that I could not experience the rest of this beautiful course. I would highly recommend this race to anyone, and would love to get another shot at it sometime down the road.
Packing my camp gear, I depart with my crew back to Old Town San Diego for some serious Mexican chow. This helps the system and by the evening, the kidneys were processing everything and there was no problem. The extremely positive side to all this, despite being able to take a crack at the White Salmon Backyard Half the next weekend, I was able spend some quality time with great friends in Southern California, without being absolutely destroyed from the race. I woke up the next days feeling like I hadn’t even run, was playing soccer on the beach and went to a great music show in Los Angeles that evening.
Overall, I had a blast in California for the weekend, was able to stomach my first DNF, checking the ego. I’m extremely inspired by Dylan, Yassine and Rod’s performance out there. Strong!