Friday, June 24, 2011

Crewing and Not Pacing San Diego 100

Luis Velasquez and Janet Thompson, training and racing buds.

Heather Van Ness and Marissa Walker. Heather is crewing for Marissa.

Heather Van Ness and Marissa Walker. Heather is crewing for Marissa.

Almost time to go. Rod Bien and Topher Gaylord pose for one more photo.

Scott Mills is a great race director who along with his staff and volunteers work very hard to make sure they put on a successful race. Right in line with pretty much all the ultras I've experienced. The course is challenging and beautiful. You get heat and cold and the trail is technical in some parts. For crew, pacers and volunteers the aid stations are very close together and easy to get to. As a runner it feels like you are going places, as support staff you are merely driving a few miles down the road to the next aid station and to the next and to the next. Most of the aid stations are crew accessible. There are medical personnel at the some of the aid stations. The finish at the lodge is wonderful in that there is a place to shower and shelter until it's time to go home. Most of all the volunteers are the best I've experienced and that's saying a lot considering ultra marathon volunteers are some of the best to begin with. I have two very memorable experiences at an aid station, both were at this race.

Krissy Moehl leaving the first aid station.

Our girl Larissa Polishuk, leaving the same aid station.

Brett and I with our "hammerchuk" shirst on. Hammer + the last part of Larissa's name. If you are familiar with the way she runs or trains you'll understand the "hammer" part.

I've run the race the last two years and being in Western States this year, just two weekends after San Diego, I couldn't run the race for a third time. I have friends who can run 100 milers a couple of weeks apart but that's not me. I came in the Wednesday before the race to celebrate my mom's birthday with her. She's in the city of Corona and I drove down early Saturday morning. It's about a 2.5 hour drive.

Penny Pines aid station, mile 23+ into the race.

Walter Edwards getting some help at the Penny Pines aid station.

I got there 20 minutes before the start. Lots of friends running, lots of friends spectating, crewing and pacing, it was another trail party scene. I was to crew and pace my buddy Randy Katz and he was one of three runners from our Thursday morning run group. He got food poisoning two days before, ouch, and he looked like what you might expect from someone who is about to start his first 100-mile race with a compromised gut. These things are hard enough when you're healthy, when you're not..... Everyone else looked good though. Our pal Larissa looked lean, mean and hungry. Last year she started three 100 milers and dropped on every single one. She had the ability and the strength but she was showing up injured at these races. Well this year is a totally different story, she has been running but she has also been doing Crossfit, TRX and Boot Camps. I noticed the difference in the Spring when she would bounce back from events very quickly. She was hungry for that first finish after those three dnf's and she was going to be paced by her boyfriend Brett Rivers who I would consider an elite runner and a total monster on hilly courses. We got shirts made, she had her superstar pacer and she was in the best running shape of her life.

From the start I headed right to the first aid station. We had lots of time to talk, hangout, take pictures. It was a good time early in the morning. It was quite chilly at first but it got warm not too long after. Randy struggled from the get go, he came through the first aid station feeling terrible. Our hope and his too was that his stomach would recover somewhat during the course of the run and he could salvage a finish no matter the time. He didn't get much better as the day went on however. By mile 23 it got pretty warm and they had to run the next 20 or so miles without crew access. They drop down to the valley, endure the heat then climb for 11 miles until they reach mile 44 and the next crew accessible point. This is probably the hardest section on the course. When Brett and I saw Randy he looked like he already ran three quarters of the race; haggard, tired and ready to be done. We saw him off and crossed our fingers. From there Brett and I went back to their cabin which was just right off the highway. The race was so easy to crew, so easy to get around to all the crew accessible points. We caught a few zzz's and by the time I woke up Brett was already gone and I headed out to the mile 44 aid alone. When I got to mile 44 the crew had already moved on, they've since gone on to the other aid station and would continue to progress forward on the course as I waited for Randy. I got there at about 5PM, 10 hours into the race and it would be about 8PM when I finally saw Randy. He had almost nothing to eat for the last 20 miles and was determined to drop. He came in to the aid station 20 minutes before cut-off and needed some time to change clothes, eat and drink. Despite his desire to drop I was able to coax him to leave the aid station. He left the station with 6 minutes to spare and I walked with him for a quarter mile before I let him go. I left him just as he entered my most favorite part of the course and I hoped the scenery and the cooling weather would buoy him to at least one more aid station. I told him he could at least make it 50 miles. Alas it wasn't to be, as I was enjoying a cup of chicken soup at the aid station he came walking back. His race was done at 44+ miles in 13+ hours. Well I gotta hand it to him, he did what he could with his stomach. He gave it one last legitimate shot to get back out after mile 44 and even though he couldn't make it happen he tried. Tough, tough day for him. I forgot to mention that he also got lost for three miles or so and was knocked down hitting a tree branch. He was following a runner too closely, the runner ducked the branch and he ran right into it. After getting back on his feet he threw up. Yah, terrible, awful day.

Waiting for the runners to come in to the Sunrise aid station and mile 80 of the race.

Sunrise aid station in the evening. Runners came through here earlier in the day at mile 51.

My first thought was to head back out and pace someone else. I called Brett to keep a lookout for someone who may need a pacer but the more I thought about it the more I realized that would be a mistake. Randy needed the company and I wanted to see Larissa finish. We drove back to the cabin so Randy could get cleaned up then we drove the 45 minutes to El Cajon for some food - no facilities inside the Mt. Laguna Recreation Area that is open past 7PM. After some fast food, only type of place we found open close to midnight, we drove back to look for Larissa.

Boy did it get cold at night. The wind was strong on the ridge at Sunrise aid station, miles 51 and 80 of the race. They had four RV's parked there helping block the wind as well as heat lamps, a fire and a couple of tents - it was still cold. I parked the car in a location where we could see runners coming off the trail and into the AS then fell asleep and so did Randy. We got up and walked to the AS just before Larissa and Brett came through. She looked great. We repeated this process until she finished - driving to an aid station, falling asleep, getting up in time to see her come through. We did manage to visit the finish area about 20 hours into the race and catch up with ome of the elites. I got to talk briefly with Krissy Moehl who was resting/sitting next to Topher Gaylord. She had good things to say about the new course, something about "tough" and "beautiful". Just before we left I was also fortunate enough to see Jenny Capel finish for second female finisher. She's another great runner and I got the pleasure of making her acquaintance at American River 50-mile earlier this year.

The sun was bright and shining by the time Larissa and Brett came through and many of the gang were assembled at the lodge enjoying the post race conversations. There were several other friends who dropped from the race like Randy but they were back out to see others finish. It was quite a celebration when Larissa finally came through and again when Walter finished as well. There may have been some watery eyes in the crowd, Devon I'm looking at you.

Oh yeah, the buckle and a happy finisher.

Walter, done, done, done.

Sunday ended with one more group session back at the cabin. Just a bunch of us sitting around the living room talking more about the race, lots of laughter and shaking of heads. The good times are always over so fast so quickly though and soon it was time for hugs and to hit the road. I was headed back to Corona and dreading the 2.5 hour commute, most was headed out to brunch. My last enduring image of San Diego was Larissa waddling up the stairs like a penguin in her new San Diego 100 gray sweatshirt and baggy blue sweat pants, cussing. It reminded me of something that Andy Black once said and actually he was also a finisher at this years race so maybe he would say the same thing about SD.

"The thing I don't like about Western States is that you show up at the starting line in the best shape of your life and a day later you are in Auburn in the worst shape of your life" - -Andy Black

Larissa started the race looking like she could be in the cover of a fitness magazine. All that running and hard work cross training really paid off. She finished looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy (her words:) A lot of water retention. I'm not sure why actually, too much salt, not enough salt, some other factors?

Well another great San Diego 100. My third year in a row and there will probably be a fourth. As a runner or crew and pacer I really enjoy the course and the hospitality of the event and the area. I'll be back.

For the photoset click here

Tomorrow I start my 100-miler race. The Western States 100-mile!
You can track me here


  1. Congrats Rick!!

    I just saw the "live feed" of you crossing the WS Line, Way to go!!

    Can't wait to hear the stories of the Pain and joy and ummm more pain - lol

    Enjoy those cold beers !!!!!!! and recover well!

  2. Sounds like a great way to spend the weekend only beaten by the way you just did!

    Looking forward to the details!

  3. Randy Katz3:31 PM


    Thanks for being there and supporting me. I agree that everything about the race was great from the course to the volunteers, crew access, etc. I only wish that I got to run the whole thing. If i don't get into States next year, I'll be back for sure.

    On a different note, congratulations on your Western States run. I wish I could have seen you along the way, but at least I got to see you cross the finish line, which as I've learned the hard way is a precious experience. Here's to a fast recovery.

  4. Damn straight I had some watery eyes for Larissa's finish! So proud of her! I am considering SD for next year!

  5. Sounds as if you had a great time. What a run,well done thankfully no smoke from wildfires.