Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rocky Road 100

4th 100 miler
1st sub-24
21hours 31minutes
12th place

  • February 18-19, 2012 
  • 100 Miles on a 7.5-mile out-and-back course 
  • 18,000 feet total elevation change 
  • All horse trail with occasional street crossings
  • Aid Stations every 2.5 miles
  • The course is marked by an obvious three-rail horse fence 
  • 6AM start in Coto de Caza Sports Park, Coto De Caza, CA
  • 34-hour time limit  
  • 120 starters and 87 finishers (73%. There is also a drop down option available for those that complete 60 miles)
  • Jon Olsen 1st place for Men in 13 hours 14 minutes 
  • Jeri Ginsburg 1st place for Women in 18 hours 45 minutes 

Six legs on this 7.5-mile out-and-back course with a final, 5-mile out and back.

I chose Rocky Road because:
  • I wanted to complete one more 100 miler before our first child was born in April 
  • I had been going up against gut crushing, technical mountain races for my first three 100's and I had not tested myself on a fast 100
  • It offered a controlled, consistent environment where I might learn more about my mind and body as I progressed through the 100-mile distance 
  • I wanted to run a 100 miler in less than 24 hours and the course is entirely on horse trail with no technical terrain and relatively low elevation change 

Differences going in this race compared to previous 100's:
  • For the first time I would be running a 100 without a pacer 
  • I had intentionally reduced my training regime to see if I could run 100's with much less training, which would free up more time to be with my family. (My previous training plan was 80 miles per week and this new plan was 50 miles one week alternating with 30 miles the other)  
  • I would be running in a state far, far away and would not have familiar faces

My stomach typically has a complete meltdown between miles 25 and 60 and then I don't take in enough calories. This makes it much harder to perform so for this race I planned to add maltodextrin powder to my water. This would give me extra calories in a liquid form which is much easier to take in.

I did face one hurdle of how to transport this across the country. The maltodextrin comes in a fine white powder and is sold in a container shaped like a powder keg. My buddy suggested I separate it into plastic bags and bring it in my carry-on... Thankfully Rob, the Co-RD, was really helpful and I had the manufacturer ship him one container.

Pre-Race Briefing
When we landed at John Wayne Airport, we were taxiing towards the gate and from my window I saw a private plane with a 360-degree bubble-shaped cockpit coming the other way. I was too shocked to take a photo even though I was holding a camera.

At the Pre-Race Briefing they served some pretty delicious food and after a second helping I walked over to the trophy table and took the photo of the two buckles below. I had been on the fence about pushing for a sub-24 when a few days before the race I noticed the USATF (USA Track & Field) elevation profile that read 20,000 feet of vertical in this race instead of the 10,000 I thought I saw when I had signed up. Earlier in this report I listed a number of differences between this race and my previous 100's and the one that I kept thinking about was that I had trained on 50% less mileage. In other races I had known some friends that blew up from pushing too hard. But seeing those buckles side-by-side helped me make up my mind. Screw it, I'm going for it.

One advantage of flying from the east coast to the west coast to race is being able to fall asleep at 8PM PST
and then to be wide awake and chipper at 4AM!

Last minute race preparation at the start. I ate 4 Entemann's donuts.

Leg 1 (Miles 0 to 15)
I went out hard for the first leg of a 100 mile (2h 25m). Some of the downhills were steep and I had to lean only a little ways forward to bomb down. I was cruising along the course and I was trying to memorize the profile since I had another 5 laps to go after this.

The way out is 7.5 miles and the first 5 are mostly downhill with some abrupt uphills.
The next 2.5 miles reverse and are mostly uphill with a few quick downhills.
These sharp up and downs is how the total elevation change reaches 18,000 ft!
 The turnaround is at mile 7.5 and then the whole roller-coaster happens in reverse.

The race is held in the Coto de Caza Sports Park where they filmed the Real Housewives of Orange County.
[Most of the photos in this post are from The Green Girl who generously allowed me to use them without knowing who I was or what I was about. Thank you Green Girl!

Leg 2 (Miles 15 to 30)
On the second leg the temperature rose into the 60's and I was not used to this. It is still winter in NJ and the previous weekend I had been training in light snow! The heat was absolutely oppressive and I started to run in the shadows of the fence even though I knew it did not make sense.

The second leg of the race was a low point as my glycogen stores depleted and I was overheating. At the 7.5 mile turnaround there was a tray of salty focaccia bread which helped propel me back to the start.

This three-rail horse fence marks the entire course.

Leg 3 (Miles 30-45)
I needed to cool my core temperature so I switched to a handheld bottle filled to the brim with ice and soda. Wow! The caffeine coursed through into my system and brought me back into focus. For the rest of the day I refilled my bottle with soda even though I knew it wasn't a good idea. I should have switched my fuel back to the maltodextrin but my senses were pretty sharp and brewed coffee would have been too hot plus I don't think they had it.

BTW one 20oz. soda has 250 calories, 75 mg of salt and 65g of sugar which is equal to 17.25 sugar packets according to 17 sugar packets. 17. sugar. packets.

There was an aid station every 2.5 miles and I blew through most of them. Occasionally I would spend a minute to refill a low bottle or grab a handful of chips but I minimized my time at the aid stations.

I found that so much of the course was runnable and there were no long climbs to break up the running. Sometimes I would just tire and would have to slow down to a walk. I wasn't used to quicks up and downs. Walking was more comfortable but it ate up precious time so before I fully recovered I would remind myself to have discipline and would start running again. I wanted that sub-24 buckle and little decisions like this helped to make it more of a reality.

What? I missed this sign on the first 2 passes. This is a densely populated suburb with two golf courses, tennis courts and mountain lions?
After the race I learned that "Coto de Caza" actually means "game preserve" in Spanish.

Since the course was an out-and-back, runners constantly passed in the opposite direction. We greeted one another with words of encouragement: "Great job" "Looking strong." But I had been pushing hard for the many hours and as I approached another runner my brain misfired and I said loudly and clearly "GOOD GAME!"

Leg 4 (Miles 45 to 60)
I reached the 50 mile mark in 9 hours and 25 minutes. I still did not think that I had the sub-24 in the bag since those last 20-30 miles are so unpredictable. And as I mentioned before, one of my concerns was that my legs might blow up and I would be forced to walk. If this second half of the race took 30% longer than the first half then that would push me over the limit.

It was starting to get dark so I carried my headlamp. At the mile 50 aid station I suddenly felt very, very nauseous. My stomach was not absorbing the 17 packets of sugar per bottle and I was feeling it sit on the bottom of my stomach. It felt like I had ingested sand. The urge came on pretty strong so I moved off to the side and heaved. There were a few teenagers volunteering at that aid station and I could their shock and horror. But hey, it's an ultra, it worked and I felt like new. I switched back to the maltodextrin powder, took some NoDoz and felt pretty good as I moved into the second half of the race.

I remember looking up and seeing the cypress trees standing out against the sky. Very cool.

Leg 5 (Miles 60 to 75)
The sun was going down and the headlamps were coming on. The residents of Coto de Caza started heading out for their Saturday night.

Throughout the day I passed many residents taking walks and one even riding a horse. They were all very welcoming and offered lots of encouragement to the runners. But as I reached one of the intersections there was a couple in a Mercedes stopped at a stop sign. Two runners were crossing in front of their car and the man threw both of his hands up in the air and started shaking them because he had to wait a few seconds. After I saw his reaction I just had to pass in front of his car even slower than they had.

Leg 6 (Miles 75 to 90)
Earlier in the day I felt something tight in the upper part of my left calf and I assumed it was cramping. I popped a few S-caps and that seemed to take care of it. Later in the afternoon I felt a strain in the lower part of the left calf just above the ankle. I took more S-caps and it also went away. Then around mile 80 I felt a very sharp pain in the back of the knee and I yelled out loud. 

Something was definitely wrong and I had never felt anything like this before. Suddenly I realized that the calf cramps and the knee were all related. “Oh ___”. What could I do? 80 miles into a 100 and I was making great time. This was some bad news and I did not know what it meant yet. I tested the leg with different strides and force to find out exactly where and what caused the pain. The sharp pain came when the leg extended and I figured out that if I shortened the stride for the left leg then there was no pain. It looked a little awkward but I could actually run better like this than I could walk! 

I kept on racing but of course there were times that I had to walk or at least transition to a walk. The sharp pain returned whenever this happened and sometimes it would be too much. I would have to grab onto the white fence for support. I considered all of my options and what each of them would mean. I continued the race with the adjusted stride. 

The NoDoz wore off when I was about 10 minutes from the mile 87.5 aid station. I started falling asleep while running and I started listing side to side like a zombie. I had been hoping to make it back to the mile 90 before this happened where I heard they were finally serving coffee. Unfortunately I knew I wasn't going to make it back with taking a nap. At the aid station I fell into a chair and asked the family volunteering to wake me up in 10 minutes. While I was sleeping I overheard their hushed conversation that there will be more runners like this shortly. I was too far into sleep to tell them that it is 3AM east coast time. They had about 3 more hours before there were more zombies on the trail.

Final 5 mile out and back (Miles 80 to 90)
At mile 90 I pulled into the start/finish area and sat in a chair. I started in on a coffee and was readying myself mentally for the last 10 miles. I had just sat down when coming across the line were three runners that I had seen at the last turn around. I thought I was much further ahead! The coffee splashed on the ground and I launched myself out of the chair.

I kept a hard pace to put as much distance between us as possible. I was hoping that after I hit the 5 mile turnaround there would be enough of a gap that I would not be caught. But the course had those abrupt changes in vertical and this forced me to transition from fast to slow. I was getting those sharp sensations in my leg and it felt like the muscle had locked tight. I could only push down and behind without pain and I was losing control of my stride.

I had been drinking plain water for a few hours now and when I hit the aid station at 92.5 miles I made a 50/50 mix with Mountain Dew. I never really had much of the coffee and I wanted to be focused again. Only a mile or so down the road my stomach turned. I went over to the fence and retched over the side. I was half laughing because the fences were the perfect height to do this! Runner #9 came over to me and she rubbed my back and asked if I was ok. This made me feel so much better. Ultrarunners always seem to be such great people.

At mile 95 I climbed up the hill to the final turnaround. As I bombed back towards the finish I saw one of those three runners from mile 90 only about a half mile behind me. I pushed on as fast as I could with my hobbled stride but it was much more difficult than before.

But I was getting psyched for the end and I thought, “This is it. You don’t have to pass this place again.” I made it past this one ginormous mansion that had a driveway hundreds of yards long and I was getting close. I started counting down the cross streets as I made it closer to the end. “4, 3, 2, 1.”

I made a left at the cones and ran up that last hill to the finish line. The official time was 21h31m.

It was around 3AM PST and I changed into every clean layer I had and sat in the passenger seat of the rental car. I was psyched to have my sub-24 silver buckle and surprised I had finished 12th.

The spike in speed before mile 60 was a planned sock change and foot maintenance. The spikes at the end were the leg.

The morning after I was hobbling around but luckily there were no sharp pains. 6 weeks later with lost of rest and ice and I was, thankfully, ok.
Here's our little Maya keeping me company while I write this race report.


  1. Testing this function For Jim (Who might not be savy enough to use the interwebs)

  2. Loved this race report. Congratulations on the sub-24.

    I love how despite the exhaustion and pain, you maintained your sense of humor. I laughed out loud a few times reading this.

    I had no idea 'Coto de Caza' actually means 'game preserve' in Spanish.

    And congratulations on your beautiful baby, Maya. So sweet.

  3. Nice race report. definitely a good read. again, congrats
    after old dominion the 4 of us all share the feeling of finishing a 100 mile race in less than 24hrs. it is a good feeling and glad to share it with great friends

  4. Looks like it was an awesome race, great picture of Maya at the end.

  5. Congratulations on your burning fast sub, sub, sub 24hr 100 miler, Mark!! Damn.
    Great pics and write up.

    100 miles = 21hrs 31min
    Race report = 2880hrs 00min

  6. Great report!! And congrats on the new baby : )