Headlands 100 is a 4 loop course around the Marin Headlands north of the San Francisco Bay. When browsing a possible race I knew the course would be "hilly" but with a 33 hour cut-off time I felt confident. Naturally, I was assuming a solid training cycle and no injuries. Sorry for the delay on this one but here it is.
Tops: North Face Jackets -Salomon Running Vest - RaceAdapt Tech Tee
Bottom: NF Flight Series 5" Short
Headwear: Headsweats Visor /Buff (night)
Accesories: Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves (white) / Gore Gloves /iPod Shuffle (top ten list) /Oakley Radar Sunglasses (standard for my races nowadays-love oakley just sayin.)
Socks: Drymax Lite Trail Run 1/4 Crew & Drymax Trail Run 1/4 Crew High
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak (used 1-25 and 80-100) /Hoka Mafate
Tracking/GPS: Garmin 310XT and 910XT
Night Specific: Fenix HP11 (blinding animals on the regular) /Fenix E11 Flashlight
Gear: Victory Design Bear 1 - Drop bag (2) (link) /Ultimate Direction Fast Draw Plus Handheld (Review) -Bodyglide Liquified Powder, Zombie Runner Blister Needles
Nutrition: Tailwind Nutrition (link)
20,000 ft of Elevation Change
Pictures - Course Pictures (marked) courtesy of Donald @ http://www.runningandrambling.com
Note on Nutrition:
Tailwind is an amazing product and I will be reviewing it individually soon. I used it as my primary fuel source and it kept me strong for 30+ hours. I have successfully used other products at different race distances ranging from 26.2 - 100; gels, drink mixes, solid food, etc. However, what drew me to this product is that it is all inclusive. I am forgetful and a little lazy to be quite honest; especially in the later miles. I always forget to take suggested S-Cap per hour, gel at 45 minutes etc so this product is right down my alley of keeping things as simple as possible. A secondary consideration was energy spikes. When taking gels I get a boost of energy 5-10 minutes after ingesting, which is great if you have the energy to spare, but deadly if you are just trying to keep even splits and conserve in the first half. Tailwind took care of everything; hydration, caloric needs as well as my electrolyte balance. All of this and it was easy on my stomach. I was able to throw down anything aid stations had to offer and there were no ill effects. For ultra-running GI issues will take you out of the race the fastest (unless you are struck by lightning during competition, sorry Lee Trevino). For the foreseeable future I will be training and racing with tailwind.
Loops 1 - 2 (50 miles)
Overall the first 50 were pretty solid. I ran conservatively and did not speak to any of the other runners until loop 2. I probably seemed like a jerk to most, but I know my style. I will turn into "chatty kathy" (sorry to Kathy's out there) in a heartbeat and completely forget my game plan if I had started talking at mile one. It also takes energy to talk and recalling my training was not optimal I decided to maximize the little fuel I had in the tank. In classic alex racing style I got lost in the first 3 miles. Because of the heavy fog (shocking for SF I know) a group of us missed a turn and we lost about 10-15 minutes.
At mile 25 I changed shoes because I felt the Altra Lone Peak's were not flexible enough for the rocky terrain. I was having trouble leaping from place to place along the single track sections. My foot would slide inside the shoe and because there was not a lot of flex I was concerned about rolling an ankle and possible blisters. Looking back I probably should have not made such an extreme change (went to the Hoka Mafate). It was not new and I had made the change before (AR50 - Newton Gravity-to-Hoka) with great success. Unfortunately at mile 40 I tweaked something in my right knee. I had been dealing with an injury to my left leg leading up to the race. My left leg was subconsciously/consciously babied all day and I had placed extra strain on the right. The pain stopped me in my tracks and made running downhill impossible. The pain started as sharp jabs to the area below the kneecap, then over time it went to throbbing and finally did a combo of aching and sharp pains from time to time.
Loop 3-4 - 50-100 (Night-time)
If I had gone out to try this on my own as planned, I would have dropped at mile 50 or 60 at the latest. My knee just gave me no hope for running downhill. I was doing great on energy level and nutrition. I expected to be a lot worse shape than I was but the whole plan was working, except for the right knee of course. I was still relatively chipper and could muster smiling which is huge considering it was dark so I could have frowned and no one would have been the wiser. I simply couldn't put much pressure on the right knee; especially downhill without wanting say "F(orget) this" and tap-out.
There were a few motivating factors to keep going into the night (not in order of importance)
(1) I wanted to run at night b/c I bought a gnarly headlamp, and fully expected to blind me some wildlife. (mission accomplished - a buck, few deer, spotted a coyote and 2 raccoons)
(2) I had pacers Victor (UltraSignUp Results - VictoryDesignBags) and Roberto (RocknRiver Crew - seen me finish 50 milers & get tied to a gurney by firefighters (don't ask, but we go way back))
(3) I had a support crew - Roberto, Kristen, Lucille, Huan (how it came together)
The next 50 miles can be summed up in one word; grind.
I felt terrible putting Victor and Roberto through that ordeal. I was moving so slow it felt I would never make it. Victor was awesome helping me to keep my mind in the race throughout the night. We chatted about topics ranging from the Ultimate Warrior/Yokozuna to his 3rd fastest recorded time around the 165 mile Tahoe Rim Trail (Podcast Link). His trail and local knowledge was huge. In the fog at night headlamps reflect off the water particles and if you are not careful the trail magically disappears. With Victor there I did not have to think, just move. Pirates Cove...is scary as hell at night especially on a bum knee. I am sure I would have gotten myself lost without him.
Roberto as a pacer has has this sixth sense. He knew when to give me the facts or when to give me a ninja kick to the rear. He suggested a sock and shoe change which probably saved the race. I had a blister on the top of my foot. I know its weird...I think the fog soaked my socks and overnight the friction just got me. Taking care of that issue mentally got me back in the game. I felt that I was doing everything possible to keep going and that's a huge win after 24+ hours of movement. I was pretty lucky to have him volunteer to help me out on the 75-100 loop.
Like Vegas what is said on the trail stays there. But, I will say that having a crew help get my bottles ready and help motivate me to get to the next station was awesome. Just knowing that someone you know is going to be there is a huge mental bonus and these guys were awesome.
Muir Beach- Tenessee Valley - Rodeo Beach - Finish
The hardest part of the race were the last two aid stations. The hike down to Muir beach was awful on my knee and I could tell my pacer was getting nervous about the cut-offs. On the way from Muir to TV, I told him we would go until they pulled us off the dam course. He nodded but we were both feeling the stress. The 4.2 miles from Tennessee Valley to Rodeo Beach had a lot of climbing which had been my strong suit since it allowed me to negate a lot of the pressure on the lower knee cap. I had come into the 50 mile mark and the 75 mile marks with a few hours in the bank, but these last four I was cutting it too close for comfort. When we got to TV, I could tell Roberto was dreading having to give me the bad news that I would not make it. He looked stressed, like....oh crap I am going to have to tell this dude that going for 30+ hours may not be good enough. Mentally I had been preparing myself for that news all night.
When we arrived the aid station volunteers knew me, "oh hey the knee guy, right?" Yup that's me a body part. One of the aid station volunteers asked me if I had put anything on it, I said no. She went into her personal bag and grabbed a balm (which I do not know the name of but it was bad ass). My knee started feeling numb. It was awesome, the pain was gone and for a moment I thought about running. Roberto kept telling me to go only as fast as I could not to cause permanent damage. Whenever I would push it anything he thought excessive he would reassure me we had time and that I needed to reign it in.
I made it with 9 minutes to spare. It was pretty emotional for me. The emotions came a day later after my zombie-like state was mitigated. At the time I was just so tired and so out of it that all I could think about was a shower, food and laying down. I'll admit I did tear up at mile 99.1-ish when I felt that I was really going to make it, it was just so long and that last aid station looked so far away, but like they say one step in front of the other.
27 Toed the Line
17 Finished within the cut-off
#17 - Alex Mares, San Clemente, CA - 32:51:14