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 Finlayson Arm 50 km Race Report

Despite the immense beauty, rugged terrain and innumerable mountain trails here on Vancouver Island, there has been a notable shortage of ultradistance races. I am aware of two ultras – The Great Walk (63.5 km of gravel logging road) and Elk/Beaver Ultra (5 or 10 loops of a 10 km flat, lakeside trail). This dearth of mountain trail ultra races is not a reflection of the ultra running community since each weekend, ferry loads of local racers sail to the mainland to satisfy their race appetites. Luckily, this year, two more Island trail ultras appeared on the radar but unfortunately only 6 days separated them. Although I wanted to support them both, I chose to register for Finlayson Arm 50 km which would round out my season of ultra races. The Snowden Trail Challenge will have to wait one more year.

The Finlayson Arm 50 km is essentially an out-and-back course with an extra loop tacked onto the front end and a gracious skirting of Mt Finlayson’s rocky summit on the return trip. Mt Finlayson is a large rocky knob just east of Victoria BC. As we drove towards Goldstream Provincial Park the evening before, the setting sun illuminated it and I began to realize that perhaps I had underestimated the course. This giant of a mountain was the lowest elevation of the five that we would summit and it looked like a monster of a climb.

Mt Finlayson - a 400 m high rocky knob at the foot of Finlayson Arm in Goldstream Provincial Park.

Mt Finlayson – a 400 m high rocky knob at the foot of Finlayson Arm in Goldstream Provincial Park.

After camping with seven other tents in the group campsite, Bruce and I walked about 100 m to the start line and collected our race numbers.

A pre-race photo of Bruce and me at the group camp site, 100 m to the start line.

A pre-race photo of Bruce and me at the Goldstream group camp site. A chilly start before a glorious, cloudless September day.

At 7:00 am, 56 racers headed into the trails. Right away, we were calf-deep in a creek crossing and then chugging along beautiful, rolling single track. The first 7 km took us up along the western side of the highway and then dropped us steeply down into a pitch black tunnel to pass back to the eastern side. That was the warm-up. Things were about to get serious.

I wish this sign had said: WARNING - don't go out too fast. This climb is only a teaser for you 50 km runners.

I wish this sign had said: WARNING – don’t go out too fast. This climb is only a teaser for you 50 km runners.

The next 1.3 km included over 300 m (1000 ft) of ascent. As you can imagine, this means that both hands and both feet were involved with a whole lot of panting and grunting too. The exposed rocks had smooth, rounded corners from the thousands of hiker footsteps over this popular route. It zigged and zagged to the summit, marked with race flagging as well as permanent reflective markers drilled into the granite.

Working up a sweat on the first climb. (photo credit: Randy Beveridge of www.flashinthepanphotos.com)

Working up a sweat on the first climb. (photo credit: Randy Beveridge of http://www.flashinthepanphotos.com)

I had been pushing myself up the steep and knew that I was going out too fast. I paused on an outcrop and let a group of four pass me so that I could re-boot at a more reasonable pace. I hit the summit just as my watch beeped my food reminder. Exactly 1.5 hours had already gone by.

The descent was not anything like the climb. We were sent down a wide, double track trail that dropped us somewhat more gradually. But even though we were descending, there were still countless uphill grunts that smacked us out of any mind-wandering trance. Eventually we popped out on a paved road where a sign let us know that we were entering the municipality of Highlands. We cruised this residential neighbourhood, entered the trails of Gowlland Tod Park and found our first aid station (approx 12 km).

The next section included an upsy-downsie climb up to Holmes Peak and then onto Jocelyn Hill. It was not as grueling as I had predicted from studying the elevation profile. Although it was generally uphill, there were many opportunities to run or shuffle along unexpected downhills. Holmes Peak (329 m) is graced with powerline towers and incredible views of the ocean below. Farther along, Jocelyn Hill (434 m) provides a more stunning view of the coastal fjords that we call home. Again we had climbed above treeline on this rocky outcrop and could enjoy the morning heat radiating from the granite surface. A group of volunteers were at the summit, recording race numbers, marking the turn-around point for the 25 km racers and enjoying the spectacular 360° view.

After some sweet downhill switchbacks and a few more unexpected uphill grinds, we dropped severely down to the beach at McKenzie Bight. Yes – the beach. Although the elevation profile says 17 m, I can attest to running just above the tidal mark on the beach trail. As I looked out over the water, I tried not to think about the 420 m (1360 ft) climb that lay ahead of me. I simply focused on shuffling up the almost runnable trail leading to aid station #2 (approx 24 km).

The 4.5 km climb from McKenzie Bight beach to the summit of Mt Work took me 50 minutes of hard effort. The trail surface varies from wide dual track with loose rocks to narrow, steep clambers to exposed granite ridge line. All of it was relentless. I was still pushing my pace here, knowing that I was the 5th women but trying to remind myself that the ‘race’ shouldn’t begin until the final quarter. Upon reaching the summit, the real work began. Flagging ribbon was difficult to follow since we were above the main tree line and there were so many small, off-shoot trails. I spent a lot of time standing around, searching for a ribbon. It was impossible to have any flow on this much needed downhill section. With so much climbing in my legs already, I dreaded the thought of adding more so I was extra careful to be certain of the correct route. Finally the steep descent eased and we had about 1 km of flat trail before arriving at aid station #3 (approx 29.5 km).

There were only 20 (+4) km left to go but I knew what was in store. There would not be a moment’s rest during any of this race. No easy miles. No ‘gimme’ clicks.

I love an out-and-back course since you get to see other runners, call out words of encouragement and receive them back. I exchanged words with every one of the racers as I returned to the summit of Mt Work and descended down the far side. In one steep, narrow gap, the tread of my shoe skidded on a light dusting of sand and I slid down a short face. In an instant, I was seeing stars due to a tweeked ankle. Passers-by and other racers stopped to ensure I was okay as I gingerly tested if it could bear weight. After a few steps and a few minute walk, I recognized that my ankle felt okay as long as my foot placement was flat. I wondered if I had seen any flat footing so far on course. I cautiously continued along and was eventually able to muster back some confidence in my stride.

As I expected, climbing up from McKenzie Bight beach back up to Jocelyn Hill was far more difficult on the return route. It was hotter, the legs were more fatigued and the climb was steeper on this side. Those 6 km took me 1hr 20min. And from there, the descent and climb back up to Holmes Peak really took a toll. At that point, I was out of fluids and course markings were becoming an issue. It seemed that the course had been flagged with an eye to the out-bound route. But, upon return, intersections would be flagged up until we reached them but there would be no indication of which way to continue at that intersection. With a lot of guesswork, some memory and sheer stubbornness, I pressed on. I reveled in the sulpher smell of the Cowichan Valley mill, knowing that the smell was only evident as we reached each summit.

When I finally arrived at aid station #1 again (approx 47 km), I was depleted. I had been without water for over an hour and I knew that I still had another huge climb ahead of me. I took a seat, drank almost a litre of water and watched as a young woman passed through, taking 5th place from me. I summoned up my strength to follow her for the final ~5 km of the course. Although we did not have to go over the top of Mt Finlayson again, the side trail still had a significant climb and steep descent. Luckily, I instantly felt better after my re-hydration and made a mental note to bring a third water bottle next year.

The 53+ km course was challenging right to the end. As I ran on rugged mountain bike trails alongside a golf course, I had no idea where the finish line would be. It was a huge relief when I finally spied our tent through the trees, still pitched in the group campsite and knew the finish line was right around the corner. As I crossed the finish line, I was greeted by RD Myke LaBelle who handed me my awesome finisher award – a Driftwood Brewery chalice.

The beer chalice has the Driftwood Brewing logo on one side and the Finlayson Arm logo on the other - a great addition to our collection.

The beer chalice has the Driftwood Brewing logo on one side and the Finlayson Arm logo on the other – a great addition to our collection.

This course is the most difficult, stand-alone 50 km I have run (except, perhaps, a certain Chris Scott-Ojai-C4P event). It has all the punch of a 50 miler, packed into 30 miles. Imagine if Mt Frosty, Squamish Chief and Mt Kusam had a love child – the love child would be Finlayson Arm 50 km.

Here is my Strava elevation profile. I have noted the aid stations in pink and the most significant peaks in black (Finlayson, Holmes, Jocelyn and Work)

Here is my Strava elevation profile. I have noted the aid stations in pink and the most significant peaks in black (Finlayson, Holmes, Jocelyn and Work)

Out of 56 starters, only 45 made it to the finish line within the tight 11 hour cut-off. Aid stations are few and far between since the route is so remote. Even so, in its first year, it is a stand-out event and I can’t wait to return to it next year, but I will prepare differently, knowing that it is a race with not a moment’s rest permitted.

Here we are at the finish, sipping Driftwood's New Growth Pale Ale (and White Bark Wit).

Here we are at the finish, sipping Driftwood’s New Growth Pale Ale (and White Bark Wit) from the finish line beer garden.

Finish time – 8:30:28

21/45 finishers; 6/11 women; 1/3 40-49 age group

And here is the local paper write-up: Victoria Sports News

More Post-TDG Thoughts and Lists

A year after the fact, I am finally posting all the information that I wish I had before I toed the starting line of the Tor Des Géants in 2014. Although I hope that this is useful to someone heading out for the same event, it truly is for my own memory bank and could be helpful when I begin packing for the next adventure. This, partnered with my 7 blog-post account of our journey, keep those memories of the race crystal clear (except, of course, for all the sleep deprivation hallucinations – but that is another story)!

Stuff I Found Helpful /  Stuff I Wish I Had Known:

-shirt/garment sizing is all in men’s sizes but I ordered medium since I thought I was ordering a women’s medium. Being a small woman, I wish I had ordered a men’s extra small. When I wear my finisher jacket, it looks like I borrowed my boyfriend’s rather than earned it myself. Luckily, I was able to trade my participant technical top for an extra small which fits perfectly.

I am wearing a men's medium finisher jacket. It is a superb jacket but it is way too large for me.

I am wearing a men’s medium finisher jacket. It is a superb jacket but it is way too large for me. B is also wearing a men’s medium which is a perfect fit.

-pre-race gear check was an absolute gong show with only four volunteers checking every racer’s pack. We spent about 3 hours waiting in line where we met some amazing people.

Gear Check Line-Up - Socialize with those around you for those three hours! We met Jason and a few other characters who we have kept in touch with since.

Gear Check Line-Up – Socialize with those around you for those three hours! We met Jason and a few other characters who we have kept in touch with since.

-make sure that you have everything on the mandatory gear list and anticipate random controller checks throughout the event. Our friend, Pieter, was randomly checked at approximately 200 km and was lectured for having a wool top, rather than a microfleece top, but luckily was not given a time penalty for this infraction (although I believe that wool is a superior fabric to microfleece and I, myself, was also carrying only wool, which had been approved at the gear check)

After almost three hours, i made it to the gear check table. There were only two gear check stations for all 750 racers and they wanted to see every mandatory item.

After almost three hours, I made it to the gear check table. There were only two gear check stations for all 750 racers and they wanted to see every mandatory item.

-the mountains have a predictable tree line at 2200 m. Above this point, trails are usually open and rocky. If bad weather rolls in, you will be very exposed above this line. Rifugios are often just above the treeline in a basin below the pass.

-refreshment aid stations are far more frequent than what is shown on the main map. I carried two 600ml bottles as well as a 1.5L water bladder in my pack. I removed the bladder in Donnas since water availability was never an issue. But do not drink from streams! There are far too many cows, goats and other livestock around.

-watch the clock in life bases. We spent 7 hours in both Donnas and Gressoney even though we only spent 3 hours sleeping in each. It is very easy to lose track of time in life bases.

-Donnas is a very difficult life base to leave and many racers drop out there. It is the lowest elevation of the route (330m) and the following 17km climb to Rifugio Coda is a tough 1900m ascent (6200ft). Expect to feel terrible in Donnas and anticipate the desire to drop. Develop a plan to get yourself refreshed and out the door. For me, after an emotional meltdown and a few pointed words from my husband, I ate a large, hot meal, drank a lot of both water and wine and slept for three hours. When we woke, I simply went through the routine of getting ready to go with no opportunity to further reflect on abandoning.

-look for and ask the volunteers if there are any unique foods at their aid station. Many volunteers bring their own delicacies and are delighted to share them with you but they may not be out on display or you may overlook them in your rush to move on. We enjoyed chocolate mousse, hunks of parmesan cheese, baked polenta, barbecued pork and a pastry twist called Torteccini di St Vincent. Each of these was a delicious treat after eating the same aid station food over and over (and over)

-write a list of things to do while in a life base. My list included lists of food, pills and drink mixes that I needed to top up each time as well as options for shoes, clothes, etc. When I got severely fatigued, it really helped me to stay focussed and follow my plan. Because of my lists, I never left a life base forgetting something.

Life Base Check List - I had this list in my life base bag and referred to it each time. I never forgot to top up or refill something and it reminded me to think about things like sunburn, chafing and foot care.

Life Base Check List – I had this list in my life base bag and referred to it each time. I never forgot to top up or refill something and it reminded me to think about things like sunburn, chafing and foot care.

-anticipate the desire to drop and write yourself motivating thoughts to avoid a DNF. My list included the names of friends and family who had supported me and who had to sacrifice something in order for me to be there. I carried this reminder note with me the entire race but referred to it only once.

-bring earplugs with you all the time. Rifugios are noisy and sleep minutes are precious. I also carried those eye shades that airlines hand out since some sleep was in mid-day.

Route Markings

Following the historical Alta Via 1 and 2, there was never any question about where to go. The whole route is well-marked with yellow triangles or yellow dots painted on rocks. When the route went through open pastures, it was marked with TDG surveyor flags, although some had been eaten by herds of cows. Within the towns, you need to pay closer attention as the route goes through back alleys and tiny streets but these are also marked with the yellow triangle or the ‘Tor’ markings.

The yellow triangles are painted all along the route. Since there is no shortage of rocks, there are plenty of triangles!

The yellow triangles and arrows are painted all along the route. Since there is no shortage of rocks, there are plenty of triangles!

Typical route flagging

Typical route flagging

Cows have been here!

Cows have been here!

This way to the Tor!

This way to the Tor!

Route Signs - At a trailhead or junction, these route signs were often visible. They never reveal distances but only time. We referred to this as

Route Signs – At a trailhead or junction, these route signs were often posted. They never reveal distances but only time and difficulty (EE being the most difficult!). Initially we laughed and referred to this as “Italian Grandmother Pace” but, towards the end of our journey, we were lucky to reach the next junction before that generous time elapsed. (I love the way the times have been adjusted recently!)

Mandatory Gear and Life Base Bag

Mandatory Gear - These items were with me at all times in my backpack.

Mandatory Gear – These items were with me at all times in my backpack. Label everything with your name! I used everything here except for the water bladder, the wool undershirt, one pair of gloves and the emergency blanket. I even used both headlamps each night- one around my waist for better shadowing. From back to front: Ultimate Directions PB vest (with 2 600ml bottles); 1.5L bladder; instant coffee; eye shades and ear plugs; headlamp batteries; sunscreen; body glide; lip balm; camera batteries; drink mix powder; various food/gels/Nuun; bandages/ID/emergency blanket; wool sweater; capri tights; wool undershirt; rain pants; rain jacket; two pairs gloves; sunglasses; two head lamps; toque; buff; collapsible cup (not shown: UD race belt; La Sportiva Bushido shoes; arm sleeves, camera)

Life Base Gear Bag - This bag met us at six times, at each life base (approx each 50 km).

Life Base Gear Bag – This bag met us at six times, at each life base (approx each 50 km). From back to front: warm coat; socks and underwear; calf sleeves; spare running top; spare microfleece sweater; food/gels/Nuun/drink mix powder/ instant potatoes/energy bars/candy bars; yaktrax (for snow or ice); batteries (headlamp and camera); sunscreen; foot care tape; wet wipes; sunscreen spray; toilet paper; two towels; refills of tape/meds/body glide/ginger candies (not shown: second pair of shoes (La Sportiva Ultra-Raptors); spare insoles; toothbrush)

I never needed the warm coat, the yaktrax, the instant mashed potatoes and most of the drink mix powder (blech!) I did shower once at the Gressoney life base but I did not change my running clothes at all for the six days. I washed my feet and changed my socks at every life base and switched shoes at halfway. It was good to have a warm sweater to put on while at the life base since they were often big, open gymnasiums. Next time (!), I would add sandals/flip-flops to this bag for Life Base wandering.

In my mind, trekking poles are an absolute necessity for the TDG. I taped the 160km of the elevation profile on each pole.

In my mind, trekking poles are an absolute necessity for the TDG. I taped 160km of the elevation profile onto each pole but I never bothered to look there for that info. Make your poles easily identifiable since you often have to leave them outdoors at rifugios and it would be easy to take the wrong pair.

Col Loson - the high point of the race at 3299 m

What I Wore: running cap; tech t-shirt; running bra; capris or shorts; socks; La Sportiva Bushido shoes; suunto altimeter watch; Ultimate Directions belt and PB vest; race number belt; sunglasses

Photos – We each had a camera and we took many photos. Although they are not yet captioned, you can see our entire gallery here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lonerunman/sets/72157647815485339/

For the full story of our TDG trek, click HERE! If you have any questions about my experiences during the TDG event, please comment below. I would be happy to help in anyway possible.

Or My Squamish 50 Miler Race Report

When you register for a race, what exactly do you expect to get for your money and your time? This is the question that I mulled over for most of the day while recently running the 50 mile event of the Squamish 50. I suppose that most of us simply want the opportunity to run the proposed distance without getting lost and to receive some nutrition and water along the way. But races and race directors vary greatly in their visions of a well-executed event.

At the 50 mile start line with JP. We both look relaxed and confident about the day ahead.

At the 50 mile start line with JP. We both look relaxed and confident about the day ahead.

To me, the ultimate goal of completing the distance is entirely up to me. Over the years, I have learned (the hard way) to be self-sufficient and I generally have very few needs out on the course. I carry my own food, resupply with my drop bag, if provided, and simply require water at aid stations. Towards the end of a race, I browse the food tables and often take a potato or a cup of coke. I know that I am not in the norm here and my approach may be considered to be ‘old school’. These days, ultrarunners have higher expectations for their race entry dollar and expect support more consistent with marathon road running. Many racers rely heavily on race-day support, which now allows them to run without a water bottle or extra gear, and RDs have had to step up to meet those expectations.

The Squamish 50 Races provide everything imaginable for the racers of their four distances (50 mile, 50 km, 23 km and Kid’s Run). There was no aspect of running that wasn’t anticipated and indulged. This made for a smooth event with many happy customers. It is a race for The People. Here are a few examples of the unexpected luxuries that the race committee provided:

multi-event race weekend – Having four separate distances spread over the weekend encourages family and friends to get involved in an event that appeals to them as well as being a spectator. It also allows for the 50/50 event which has racers running 50 miles on Saturday and 50 km on Sunday – a beast of a challenge! The town of Squamish seemed to be involved in the races in some way, making it a strong community event.

tough and challenging – The 50 mile route surely lived up to its reputation as a challenging course. Do not underestimate those 11 000 ft of climbing, much of which falls after mile 35. The last 30 km will spank you if you aren’t careful.

The big climb of the day wasn't so bad. It was the long, long descent that seemed to take a toll on me. Here I am at 53 km, enjoying a cup of soup and changing one sock!

The big climb of the day wasn’t so bad. It was the long, long descent that seemed to take a toll on me. Here I am at 53 km, enjoying a cup of soup, changing one sock, cooling my head with a cold sponge and prepping for possible spanking in the last third.

a showcase of natural beauty – The race route had us twisting and turning through valleys, lakes and mountains, revealing vistas, trails and mountain views in every possible direction with barely any pavement throughout the route.

Look at the views from Quest University (AS #5)! There are beautiful views at every turn.

Look at the views from Quest University (AS #5)! It almost makes me want to be a student again. (Ha!) There are beautiful views at every turn.

technical trails – The trails chosen for this race are stunningly beautiful tracks which are mostly used by the local mountain bikers. The ladder bridges, boardwalks and logs make for exciting running and those steep, rocky, sheering descents will make you into either a kamikaze or a pansy. I definitely fell into the kamikaze camp, hollering out a few primal screams during gnarly plunges. With awesome trail names, like The Panty Line, Angry Midget, Seven Stitches, Mountain of Phlegm, Mid-Life Crisis and Entrails, you know that those trail builders have a great sense of humor and a tendency towards sado-masochism!

Flying down one of the aforementioned trails and trying to keep only two points of contact!

Flying down one of the aforementioned trails and trying to keep only two points of contact! (photo courtesy of Brian McCurdy Photography)

course markings – With flagging ribbon and surveyor flags always in sight, there was never any question about the route. At any given time, you could see 2 or 3 markers! I heard that they abide by a ’20 paces’ rule, making it possible to run without ever studying a course map. (A bit like a lighted runway at times)

Here's the elevation profile according to Strava. The back third was tough! In the pace profile, you can see the two places where I sat down at aid stations.

Here’s the elevation profile according to Strava. The back third was tough! In the pace profile, you can see the two places where I sat down at aid stations. Phew!

remote volunteers – Over and over, I was surprised to find course marshals WAY OUT in the middle of nowhere, sitting in a folding chair, reading a magazine or noting race numbers. Just when you think you are all alone in some remote corner of the forest, a smiling face greets you with some encouraging words and sends you on your way. The obvious upside is that oftentimes you have finally reached a seemingly endless summit and are about to rip it up downhill.

experienced aid station crews -When I arrived at aid station #7 (70 km), I was feeling the cumulative effects of ‘racing’ and the afternoon heat. The aid station crew recognized my deficit at a glance and efficiently dealt with me, encouraging me to finish a full bottle of water, eat some potatoes and take a salt tablet. Taking less than 10 minutes to steer me onwards, they made a world of difference to the remainder of my race. I learned afterwards that they are all experienced runners from a running club – exactly what racers need at that point of a race.

I sat on this cooler and followed AS #7 advice, had a cold sponge bath and headed out, feeling refreshed and ready to attack those last climbs.

I sat on this cooler, followed the wise AS #7 advice, had a cold sponge bath and headed out, feeling refreshed and ready to attack those last climbs.

gluten free options – Aid station food even took to heart the dietary restrictions of some racers

photographers – There were photographers all over the course. I came to realize that seeing someone with a fancy camera did not, in any way, mean that an aid station was close by. These photographers hiked into the most remote and picturesque places to catch our day in digital. I have admired the artistry in previous years’ photos and this year’s installment continues that tradition. (Brian McCurdy Photography)

I was greeted with a hug at the finish line by RD Gary - as he does for every single runner during the weekend.

I was greeted with a hug at the finish line by RD Gary – as he does for every single runner during the weekend.

Gary and I share a moment as I tell him what a fantastic and challenging race he and his committee have created. 90 minutes longer than my STORMY 2011 time!

Gary and I share a moment at the finish line as I tell him what a fantastic and challenging race he and his committee have created. This race took 90 minutes longer than my STORMY 50 mile time in 2009 on the same trail system! (photo credit: Brian McCurdy Photography)

beer garden – Howe Sound Brewing had a beer garden set up at the finish line, serving two styles of beer. It was the icing on the cake and I spent much of Sunday ‘cheering’ racers as they crossed the line.

After finishing the 50/50, JP made a beeline for the finish line beer garden and is seen here enjoying a well-earned Super Jupiter ISA.

After finishing the 50/50, JP made a beeline for the finish line beer garden and is seen here wearing his awesome trucker hat and enjoying a well-earned Super Jupiter Grapefruit ISA.

Overall, my day was a huge success and I am pleased with the outcome. The beauty of Squamish is beyond compare (except, of course, for the Comox Valley!) and the trail system is phenomenal. Personally, I prefer races which provide less in the way of markings, support and supplies, requiring more mental strategy to arrive at the finish line.  I like vague distance estimations and the feeling of uncertainty as I wonder if I am still on course. But I am probably in the minority here. Most racers seem to want a guarantee that the finish line is within their grasp as long as they put in their training miles. They like the idea that race day is only about running, since all other factors will be managed by The Race.

In either case, this event was challenging and therefore satisfying. Despite the difficulty of the course, it would be a great race for someone wanting to try a new distance since every need has been anticipated. It is indeed exactly what The People want!

Finish time – 11:24:52

44/160 finishers; 8/57 women; 2/13 40-49 age group

(OR My San Diego 100 Miler Race Report)

Dear Scotty,

Thank you so much for all the behind-the-scenes and in-front-of-the-crowd work that you do for the San Diego 100. My day was flawless.

Package Pick Up - already getting loaded down with schwag!

Package Pick Up – already getting loaded down with schwag!

Thanks to your pre-race runner emails and the super-informative website, I arrived at the start line feeling ready for the adventure ahead of me. I didn’t feel nervous or jittery but simply ready to place my trust in your volunteers so that I could enjoy the day.

The sun rose just before the 6:00 am start.

The sun rose just before the 6:00 am start.

I'm looking pretty wide-eyed here at the start as B looks relaxed and ready.

I’m looking pretty wide-eyed here at the start as B looks relaxed and ready.

The aid stations were so well-stocked with great nibblies, real food and experienced volunteers. Every time I arrived at one, it felt like a Pit Crew took care of my every need and got me moving on in no time flat. One volunteer let me wipe my sunscreen-burning eyes on her t-shirt. Another found me a towel and clean water so that I could rub the grit and salt off my face. And yet another one ran off to her car to fetch me her personal set of nail clippers when I had a troublesome toenail! The lengths that people went to help me through my day were countless.

Heading out of Paso Piccacho 1 and up towards Stonewall Peak. There are muscles here I never knew about!

Here I am heading out of Paso Picacho 1 and up towards Stonewall Peak. There are muscles here I never knew about!

The course was spectacular. I loved climbing along the PCT, thinking of our friends GnG who are currently thru-hiking, and gazing out across the bleak desert. We simply don’t get vistas like that up here in the North where thick tree canopy obscures most views and we don’t have many deserts to speak of. Despite being a ‘cool race day’, the heat on those exposed ridges tested me. I felt myself wilting as I climbed up towards Todd’s Cabin (40 miles), a combination of the mid-afternoon heat and the 6000 ft elevation both taking their toll on my body.

B flies along open grassland in the early stages of the course.

B flies along open grassland in the early stages of the course. These open sections were hot in the heat of the afternoon.

But, at that point, my suffering ended. Upon leaving Todd’s Cabin, I entered the most beautiful section of the course. From Todd’s Cabin to Red Tail Roost to Meadows and back to Penny Pines 2, I enjoyed every step. Somehow that sweet downhill came as a surprise and I loved flowing through the oaks and pines. I was lucky enough to run down Noble Canyon in the daylight and actually enjoyed the long hike back up in the cool evening air. I loved seeing the headlamps shining across canyons, trying to figure out if those folks were ahead or behind, close or far away. I never did figure it out.

Through the night, I cruised almost effortlessly. Having always been fearful of running through the night, I have steered away from the 100 mile distance. But, here I was, cool, refreshed and strong, picking off numerous runners and their pacers all night long. I awaited moonrise and admired the endless star-scape. And around 4:30 am, just before arriving at Paso Picacho 2 (93 miles), I witnessed the song of early-rising birds who began singing long before the sun hinted in the east. Glorious!

The course markings were perfect. During the day, I never searched for a ribbon and the route felt very straight-forward. Through the night, with far fewer reflective ribbons, there were a few instances where I questioned the way and one place where I pulled out my copy of the turn-by-turn descriptions to double check. But I personally prefer a less-marked course. Route-finding is part of the challenge and it sure kept me both occupied and focused!

I loved how you greeted each runner as they crossed the finish line, handed out their awards and then catered to their needs. Never before has an RD offered me a chair, taken my photo and then brought me recovery drinks! This personal touch was wonderful to receive and even better to watch from the sidelines. It felt like you knew each and every runner – as if you had put on a race for your 270 closest friends. It shows a true dedication on your part to share in the success of each finisher and I am touched to have been counted among them.

Finished! B and I were near each other all day but purposefully ran our own races. Here, we are catching up on trail tales at the finish line.

Finished! B and I were near each other all day but purposefully ran our own races. Here, we are catching up on trail tales at the finish line.

Bruce and I managed to travel to the race with only carry-on baggage, but not so on the return! We had so much schwag between us that we were able to fill a third bag which had to be checked. I have never seen so many goodies handed out at a race! And these goodies are supreme! You truly spoiled us. I love the green theme (tech t-shirt, finisher hoodie, shoe bag and shoulder bag) and we have both affixed our SD and 100.2 stickers to various cars, tool boxes, computers, etc. My third place Open Women award (which is truly gorgeous!) and our two San Diego Solo Division buckles have been proudly added to our ever-growing collection, on display for all to see.

A finisher gets all of this schwag and more. We also got Injinji socks, a show bag, recovery powder, a buff, etc, etc.

A finisher earns one of the buckles, all of this schwag and more. We also got a technical t-shirt, Injinji socks, a shoe bag, some recovery powder, a buff, etc, etc.  We each earned the Solo buckle at the bottom of the picture.

I have already begun singing the praises of your event and will continue to do so. Having never tried the distance before, I came in with humble hopes of finishing. My results on race day astounded me. Although I trained hard (and scared), I think I can credit you and the incredible race organization for my end result.

Thank you for all that you, Jean, the race committee and all the volunteers do for the race. I am so proud to have tried and succeeded.

With gratitude from the depth of my heart and the soles of my feet!

Martha

This was my first 100 miler attempt. I finished in 24 hours 42 minutes and placed second in the female Solo Division (no crew; no pacer). I was 4th woman overall and 3rd in the Open Women category.

At this same race, Bruce completed his 22nd 100 mile race, his second SD100 and also earned a Solo Division buckle despite his severe knee injury.

SD100

Here are my race stats. Talk about coming from behind!

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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