Sunday, August 16, 2009

Headlands Hundred Race Report

01. Summary and Pictures
02. Results
03. Course Flyover
04. Nathan Yanko's Race Report
05. Shan Rigg's Race Report

That was one great race! Liked the new course, couldn't be happier with my performance and was treated like a rockstar by friends - the ones who came down to crew, pace and cheer but also the ones running, volunteering, crewing and pacing for other runners. Every time I think about it, which has been a lot this past week, I just want to lace up my shoes and go for another long run.

Larissa Polischuk, Nathan Yanko and Brett Rivers of the Endurables at the start. Larissa was Nathan's crew chief and Brett was one of his pacers.

It was a 7AM start and it was pleasant, not too cold although many wore long sleeves and light jackets. It was later than I wanted, I like dark starts, but at least there was enough light for a few pictures. Unlike the other 100-milers you show up for Headlands Hundred just like you would for PCTR's other races, mostly 50ks. There is no big meeting the day before, no medical check, no drawn out pre-race talk and speeches. You show up race morning, pick up your number and schwag and you're off. It's the same start as the Pirates Cove 50k, not one of my favorites because it's a good uphill for the first mile but it warmed us up quickly.

Minutes before the start.

Started out nice and easy, even easier than I did at San Diego, running at about 78-80%. People were in a really great mood, more than the usual. On a down and back portion of the loop, there was a lot of greeting and cheering. The views were spectacular and the temperatures nice and cool. Larissa Polischuk of the Endurables joined me for a few miles but eventually I had to let her go because she was moving too fast. She was sneaking in a training run before serving as Nathan Yanko's crew chief. You reverse direction after each completion of a loop and the first runners I saw heading my way were the 50-milers. It should be the 50-milers, totally expected that, what I didn't expect was the speed - they were haulin on that course. The first 50-mile race finished the first loop at 3:23:04, in contrast the first 100-mile racer finished his first loop in 4:02:14. I finished the first 25-miles 19th with a 4:38:10, 22 minutes faster than I estimated and feeling very good.

Completing the first loop.

It got warm on the second loop despite the lingering fog and some cloud cover. I hadn't done any heat training since San Diego and the heat affected me. My heart rate would spike up on moderate efforts. I felt dumb about it and would sheepishly struggle up the hills - at least it was nice and cool at the top. I just didn't expect Headlands to be warm. I did the best I could and plugged along. In the lead heading out for his third loop was Joe Palubeski who was paced by Beverly Anderson-Abbs, second place was Nathan Yanko who was still running solo at this point and a not so happy Brian Krogmann who was paced by Devon Crosby-Helms bringing up third. Brian was leading the race until he got lost. It was a bad mistake, he came down a big hill only to have to go back up to get back into the race. He was off course for about 4+ miles, plus 800 feet or so of climbing. For those of you familiar with the area, he came down the Miwok fire road instead of continuing to Old Springs, all the way down to Bunker Hill Road before going back up Miwok again. At the finish he was in better spirits about it saying 105 is the new 100. What do you say to something like that? It sucks, thankfully that was Devon's job:) The second loop took me 5:11:21 and I moved into 13th. My crew chief, Jessica, was there and I was more than happy to switch off the gels which were already starting to make me want to gag. She had turkey and cheese sandwiches, Gatorade and Starbucks Fraps. JP Sulpizio, my pacer for miles 50-75, and his girlfriend Janet was also there waiting for me. Janet is also a good friend and it was great seeing her.

Pacer J.P.
JP Sulpizio, photo courtesy of Tina Harrison.

J.P. and I had a great time. He was genuinely happy to be out running and helping me out with my race. I was under my estimated splits and everything was going well. I was starting to feel tired though. I knew it was just a temporary slump and just did my best to push through. It was too early to be so tired. On the way out we chatted with another runner who was running solo and attempting his first 100-mile race. We had traded positions a few times during the day and on the way out for our third loop I finally introduced myself. His name was Brendan Holmes, from Oregon, and he rocked his first with a 6th place finish. Brendan took off early and after he left it was pretty much just us. Most of the 50-milers were finishing up their run and the 100-milers were spread out all over the course. Having the company was great. The last time I used a pacer was on my third 100-miler, Western States in 06. The conversation, the extra push, got me going faster than I would have had I been by myself. Then there were all my friends cheering! A huge boost! Coming up on Tennessee Valley, one of the major aid stations, I had sent JP ahead to get my lights. When I rounded the corner to head into the station there was about 9-10 people there, cheering, waving signs, yelling, taking pictures. My other crew person, Carrie, had crab shaped signs that said "Don't be Crabby, Go Rick!". Jess had told her that I was "too focused" at San Diego, neither smiling or making small talk. I was blown away. I wanted to stay, talk and hangout with everyone but we had to go.

It got dark with about 7 more miles to go on the loop and it made it easy to spot the other runners because of their lights. At the top of a climb it was easy to spot Brendan who was steadily pulling away and fellow San Franciscan Jon Burg with his pacer Steve Ansell following from behind. This time it was harder to tell who was who heading back out for their final loop. You can't see people's faces when headlamps are on. I purposely turned mine off and just used my handheld. Nathan Yanko was first, he and his pacer Brett Rivers called out from the bottom of the hill as they were heading back out. They were like happy school kids, laughing as they went. He would eventually finish first, a champion for his first 100-mile race. As we were heading in we counted the runners leaving Rodeo Beach. We came up with 9, I was in 10th. Finally crept my way into the top 10. As we made the final turn another group of friends were there screaming and hollering. More folks from the triathlon club. These guys had been waiting close to 4 hours, yeah I was pretty touched to say the least. Again I wanted to stop and talk but Jessica was all business. She waved me into a corner, pumped me full of fuel, asked me if I needed anything else then sent me on my way. It was a Nascar style stop, boom, boom, done. Dropped off J.P. picked up Samantha and we were on our way wheels screeching. Loop 3 took 5:47:26. The website mistakenly lists me at 8th, Brian Krogmann (2nd overall) and Joe Palubeski (3rd overall) are not listed on the 75-mile splits.

Tennessee Valley Gang
Friends at Tennessee Valley, photo courtesy of Tina Harrison.

More GGTC'ers at Headlands Hundred
More friends at Rodeo Beach, photo courtesy of Lara Rafton.

The good feeling didn't last very long however, fatigue/exhaustion had settled in and it was a grind just to keep running. We made the most of it and I moved at the best speed I could muster. Sam had never run at night and was excited and a little bit nervous. The fog hung low in the valleys which gave us spectacular views up on the hills. On the way out we were treated to great views of San Francisco's city lights. This time it was cooler in the valleys and warmer on the top of the hills. It wasn't very windy and there was a full moon, great conditions for a night run. As it was with JP, Sam and I had great conversations and all the chatting helped keep my mind off the remaining distance and the mounting discomfort in my body. Already certain parts were starting to twitch and send danger signals; right calf/achilles was feeling crampy, the quad muscles were starting to fry and a muscle just above and to the right of the left knee had started to get really sore - same muscle that seized up at TRT 100 last year and caused me to walk it in from mile 78 (a part of myself, deep down, still cringes at the memory of that). Sam told me that earlier in the day, during canoe practice, she over-turned her one person canoe twice in the face of a strong current and white caps. She said she was so shaken up that she cried afterwards, on the drive home and in the shower. The best part of this story, my favorite part, is that she took a nap, got up and laced up her trail shoes to do something she has never done before - run at night and to pace a 100-mile runner. I was sorry she had such a terrible day but inside I was laughing at Sam's resilience. Should have inspired me to run harder and faster but I continued to drag.

At the Rodeo Valley aid station we came upon Mark Tanaka and his pacer Jon Gunderson. Mark looked like he should be pulled from the race. Suffering from bad nausea, lack of calories and electrolytes, he was in a chair covered with a blanket and mumbling. You hate to see that happen. We chatted briefly and left. I knew Jon Burg and Ray Sanchez were not far behind and still looking strong. I saw them coming into Rodeo Beach as we were leaving. Mark was at least in good hands with Jon, aid station captain Ted Knudsen and other volunteers. As we left the aid station I told Sam we had to hustle to build distance against Mark, never under estimate what a little rest can do to a strong and fast runner. That motivation lasted oh about 10 minutes, it stopped at the foot of the next climb. As much as Sam tried to coax more speed out of me going up Bobcat trail I moved sluggishly, didn't affect my mouth any though as I spouted off what I thought were very good reasons why we shouldn't run uphill. When we finally hit the top of the climb however that was when things would abruptly change for the better.

The top of Bobcat curves to the left which allows someone at the top to look down and spot people chasing from behind. I was oblivious, it was Sam who spotted them first - not one set of lights but three halfway up the hill. It took me almost 30 minutes to shuffle up the hill and the slow pace allowed these runners to catch up. My legs had already spun to a higher turnover before my head was turned back to the front. Like waking up from a dream, fatigue, pain, stiffness all receded into the background as the shot of adrenaline had me bolting forward. Sam dubbed it my "fear gear", the fear of being passed. I joked that next time, if there is one, she could get me to move faster sooner by having volunteers chase us in the dark with flashlights. As we neared the bottom of the next downhill I sent Sam forward to ask Jess for a long sleeve shirt and a dose of Tylenol to help keep the soreness at bay. Jess had prepared the items but in my rush I didn't grab any of them. Stayed long enough to drink a frap, my bottle refilled and I was off. It was a good thing because I didn't need it, I was feeling no pain and running warm from the increased speed. We made short work of the next uphill which was harder and more challenging than Bobcat. We ate that hill up then hustled the long descent to Muir Beach. The final descent to and out of Muir Beach is about a 1.5 mile down and back section and we encountered no one on the way back up. Even better looking up at Coyote Ridge where pursuing runners would be coming down from we saw no lights. Whoever the next runner was they were at least 2-miles away. As we entered the coastal trail to Pirates Cove my body disengaged out of fear gear and the exhaustion, stiffness and discomfort returned to the front. It was like I suddenly hit a steep hill, I slowed down dramatically. I told Sam what was going on and she suggested that we start using time as a motivator. Calculating it in my head I found I had a real chance of breaking 22 hours and I went for it. Things came back to life once more and I mustered my best possible speed back to Tennessee Valley.

We caught Jess off guard since she had expected us to come in much later but fortunately she had already prepared everything in the back of the car. She groggily padded around in her socks as I told her that I was 5 mins off 22 hours but was going to do my best to make up the time. I didn't get a chance to tell her however that I needed to cover the 4.2 mile distance from Tennessee Valley to the finish at a time faster than I've ever done before. Hahaha, I'm having a hard time typing right now because I'm LAUGHING. What is ridiculous to me now made absolute sense at the time - sure I could run my fastest split for that distance at the end of a 100-mile race, what's crazy about that?. I didn't have time to say anything to Sam, I just ran hard and she figured it out as we went. We hit the last two hills hard and I felt every fiber of my being clawing it's way forward. I was exhausted but driven. The last hill was Wolf Ridge, a quick mean little crapper when all you want is to be on the last descent to the finish line. I clawed my way up that as well, breathing heavily but roaring on the inside like an animal and loving every minute of it. At the top of the final descent, a peace about my race came over me. Whether I went under 22 hours or missed it by seconds or minutes it no longer mattered. I felt like I did my best, had no regrets and would happily take any time on the clock. The events of the last 24 hours flashed before me and there wasn't anything I would change. I pushed even harder feeling no weight on my shoulders and crossed the line at 22:06:30, happy, elated...satisfied. Quite a different scenario two months earlier at San Diego 100. When I missed going under 20 hours at San Diego I was sorely disappointed because I had it in me to make it happen. I bungled it, choked on the last 7 miles. Seven miles is an eternity at the end of a long race but 2 months later I'm still bemoaning that blown opportunity. Regret is an eternity and a day:) The last loop took 6:30:25.

With my crew, Carrie and Jessica, photo courtesy of Samantha Pinney.

Sam and I
With Sam at the finish, photo courtesy of Sam.

I like the new course. Budget cuts to the park system forced PCTR to change the course and frankly even though it boasts more elevation gain, 20,020 ft. vs 19,620 ft., I think it's easier. The washing machine style loops (you reverse course with each loop completion) was great. I got a lot of support from my fellow runners, especially the first two loops when the 50-milers was running with us and I got to see exactly who was ahead and who was behind chasing. Second, they got rid of what I thought was the toughest feature of the old course, the Pirates Cove to Coyote Ridge climb. You started at the bottom of a set of stairs that goes up steeply and turns into a gnarly, rocky, rutted single track which then connects to a fire road that goes on to climb or another 1.25 miles before you finally start going downhill again. It got old after the second time but you did it three times. On the new course you do go up Pirates Cove, twice, but you come back down as soon as you get to the top of the single track. No more extended march up to Coyote Ridge. At least for myself it felt easier. The hills kept coming but no one climb dominated the course.

Well this was my 9th 100-mile finish and my 9th 100. It's also my first repeat of a 100-mile course. I tried to hit a different race each time but I couldn't resist.

Recovery is going very well. After 3 days of doing nothing remotely athletic I started doing some walking and jogging. By Friday I was able to put together a slow 4-mile continuous recovery run and by Saturday I was able to join friends from the triathlon club for a 10-mile run and we ran on part of the course. I was prepared to turn back early but my body did just fine. Then in the evening I caught the BART train with Nathan and Brett to join some runners in the East Bay for some post Headlands Hundred/HURT 100 Entry List celebration. HURT 100 is a very tough 100-mile race in Honolulu, Hawaii put on by the Hawaiian Ultra Running Team in January. They just released the entry list and many in the group that evening got in.

For myself, this was my last 100-miler of the year. Originally I had two more planned in the Fall but work has been very slow and I can't justify the cost. I've got a couple of 50-milers and the Quad Dipsea left, maybe I'll throw in a 50k or two. I've got pacing duties at Angeles Crest 100 and I'm also planning on volunteering for a few events. Should be a busy Fall.

On the Headlands Hundred race course this past Saturday with friends from the triathlon club.

Heading back to Rodeo Beach, this was the return route on loops 1 and 3 of the race.

The champion, Nathan Yanko, and co-race director, Sarah Spelt, celebrating Saturday night. Don't worry those drinks are harmless, someone forgot to put alcohol in them. Well maybe not so harmless, it was loaded with sugar.

One of many groups shots before the dance floor got crowded.

Brian Wyatt and Suzanne Carrier, partying like there's no training run the next day.


  1. You rock Rick ! Despite exhaustion and dehydration, you still grind it out. Amazing. Are you going to be a Javelina this year ? Want to come if not ?

  2. Rick,you're such an inspiration not only to me but to many ultra-runners out here.That was an awesome feat,against all odds. God bless.

  3. Awesome job, Rick! It's so nice to have one of those truly satisfying races. You are kicking some butt out there man! Sounds like you had some great friends crewing and pacing too. It's pretty awesome to share these experiences with friends, isn't it? Also, I totally dig the term "fear gear!"
    Anyway, great report, and thanks for sharing all the details. Sounds like your recovery is going well!

  4. Congratulations on your 9th 100, awesome. Thanks for including me in your report and for the advice about running at night. It really helped me push when my mind started to relax.


  5. Thanks for a great report Rick, and congrats on an even greater performance! You continue to inspire!


  6. Man, you're getting to be a superstar in these races. Nine 100s without any drops, and you just keep getting better. You make it seem like you could just cruise through one of these events every week. Very impressive.

    Enjoy your recovery!

  7. Amazing job, Rick! Wow, your 9th 100! And what a great race you had. Your reports and photographs are always so excellent. My sincere congratulations to you, and I hope you are recovering well!

    Any ideas where your 10th 100 will be?

  8. congrats for finishing your 9th 100-miler. i could not imagine the pain & exhaustion you had gone through. you are really an inspiration for us who are training for our first 100-mile run. nice race report.

  9. Awesome Re-Cap Rick... you are so kicking butt this year!! Way to CLOSE out the race for a top 10 finish, and yes "fear gear" was a great tag line for that loop :-)

    Glad u are recovering well cause the Hill repeats just to get some food needs u to be fairly recovered... verses me who would just stave to death after a race like that -- LOL

  10. Congratulations on having such a great run. And what fabulous friends you have. My favorite was the crabs. :D

  11. Tony: Yeah man, will be at Javelina as your pacer! Let's do a better job this year - we are going sub-24, heck lets go sub-22 and beat your 100-mile PR.

    Runner for Christ: Thanks. One of my best races.

    Gretchen: Me too, love the term. I'll be using that for now on. The friends coming down was truly something special. I'm a lucky, lucky person.

    Brendan: It was good running with you. You were hard not to notice because we exchanged positions several times during the first half and because of your orange shirt. You looked very much in control of your race from the first half until you pulled away on the second. Congratulations on a job well done.

    Drs. Cynthia and David: Thank you. Been awhile since I saw the two of you, maybe in the Fall?

    Donald: What up Big D! Nah, I'm the guy nipping at the heels of the superstars. Always chasing. That first drop is just around the corner now that I'm pushing harder. When it comes it comes so long it's not the result of something really dumb.

    Jean: So I'm not sure where my next 10th will be. Maybe Western if I get picked in the lottery this year, that has never happened though. If it ain't Western then I may go back to San Diego. That was a great race, great trip and I got to see Mom on her birthday.

    Bald Runner: This time around the exhaustion was more than the pain and it was exhaustion born out of good hard efforts which is why I'm satisfied with my race. I'm wishing you continued success in your races and your training for your first 100.

    Bob: Bobby! So Sunday afternoon I met Brian Krogmann and his dad for some food. I caught the bus back and it dropped me off three blocks, two of them uphill from my place. You remember, the area by Grace Cathedral church. Walking down took forever and a lot of pain. It would have been better to walk uphill. Bro, my quads were shot!

    Miki: Hola Miki, thanks. Yeah I've got some nice friends. I'm supposed to get those crab signs as souvenirs. Gotta track them down.

  12. Awesome accomplishment! Congratulations. The report is engrossing and well-written. Enjoy your down time this time... and the food :)

  13. Great re-cap Rick, and awesome job out there! To put my run in was roughly and eighth of what you did. It was fun to catch up! Congrats again and I hope you're enjoying the recovery (and flaming drinks!)

    And I signed up for the Quad so I will be seeing you there for sure (but most likely before that:)

  14. Yeah, Rick! Congrats! You're just such a solid 100 mile runner, sheesh. I'm excited for you that you pushed through those tuff times.

    Oh, and I don't believe a word of the "harmless" drinks bit. :)


  15. Rick, just now getting to your report. I am always amazed at your abilities. You are one tough guy and I am glad to call you my friend.


  16. Nice one, Rick! Glad your recovery is going well.

  17. Rick, it was an honor to be a part of your adventure and accomplishment! I didn't know you actually listened to my stories out there between 75-100. :) I'm just glad I didn't let you down - AND, that you didn't drop me. (Thanks to Victoria for the pre-leg pep talk!)

    So where will #10 take place? I hope to be out there cheering, crewing, pacing, drinking - whatever is necessary for the good of Team Rick to see you through that milestone.

    You never cease to amaze me.

  18. Someone should tell Brian and Mark those drinks were "harmless." Great race report, as usual. Good seeing you out there and then at the tiki bar madness...

  19. great report, thank you for writing this, I am running this race this year and love to see other runners insights. hope your running is going well this year

    1. Ah Headlands Hundred, I was present again last year pacing for a good friend. A great and hard course, good luck on your training.