Thursday, June 28, 2012


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Finsbury Park 15k
April, 2012
Masha's longest event and I was glad to have been there to share it with her. I didn't pressure her to take up running, something she wanted to do on her own.

Race Report

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Quicksilver 50k / 50-Mile 
May 12, 2012
Hot and hilly. What a welcome back to the Bay Area run. Quite a shock after five weeks of flat stuff in London in cool, drizzly, overcast weather. Managed to survive despite pushing the pace early. I needed this race to prepare for San Diego 100 in June. Painful but rewarding run.

9:10:59 for 13th place.
Race Report

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San Diego 100- Mile 
June 9-10, 2012
What a race!!! My third time in San Diego and my second run on the new course. Knowing I didn't have the speed this year I focused on having a solid race and paced accordingly. Worked out great, especially the last 4 miles when I had to go hard to make sub-24.

I was joined by fellow San Francisco buddies Larissa Polischuk, Randy Katz, Chris Wolfe and Jennifer Pattee. Brett Rivers, John Brandershorst, Amy Freund McCrea and Peter Duyan came along to crew and pace. We had quite a group going.

23:51:05 for 29th
Race Report

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Pacing at Western States 100
June23-24, 2012
Mind blowing experience pacing WS this year, just incredible. I won't say more. I don't think I can sum up what happened in a couple of sentences.


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Western States 100!

I'll start this with an email that I sent out to my running group yesterday morning:

"I don't know what it is about this race. I've never had a good race here (2x) but my all time best race experiences have been here pacing people (2x). This weekend's event won't be topped for a long time however, if ever.... I've paced many times at 100 milers, probably more than I've run (13) but this was the first time I was actually scared for the health and well being of my runner. It's done now, blessed it was a good ending and if next year there is a Philippine flag at the finish line for the first time in WS history, it will be because of the hard work, perseverance and no small amount of trust my runner placed on me to carve the safest path through the trails as his eyesight continued to deteriorate to the point of near blindness."

I've run WS100 twice and twice I've suffered and fell short of my goals. It remains in my experience as the hardest most painful finish I've ever experienced (2006) yet it is also the one race where I've had the most memorable event running as a pacer for my friend Carrie Sisk in 2009. Our story is the only thing I think of when folks talk about their best races, that was until this year's edition…

Jon and I met through the ultramarathon list several years ago. He joined and his introduction email came through around midnight San Francisco time. Feeling particularly friendly after having had a few beers I reached out to say hello seeing he was from the Philippines. I had been following the growth of the sport in the country since the first running of the BDM102. I had also been reaching out to the Filipino running community in general, following blogs such as Baldrunner and The Bullrunner. We stayed in touch through emails and the occasional blog responses to each others articles. Finally we met for the first time last October when I visited the Philippines for my Grandmother's 94th birthday. When I found out during the holidays that he got in through the lottery I contacted him right away and offered my congratulations and support. I was disappointed that I didn't get in but that was nothing compared to how psyched I was I for him getting his chance. He had a shot at becoming the first runner from the Phiippines to finish Western States.

Western States is difficult to get into because the spots are limited. Top 10 men and women are guaranteed a spot for the following year, spots are given out at select races for the first and second place finishers, more spots are given out to clubs and organizations who support the race and the remaining spots are made available via a lottery process. Runners have to run a qualifying race before they can enter the lottery. I've entered the lottery six times and never got in. I got my two finishes due to a now defunct "two-time loser" rule which provided that runners who have entered two consecutive times and failed to get in are guaranteed a spot on the third year. If it wasn't for that rule I would still be on the sidelines looking in.

Why Western States? 
There are many reasons and everyone has their own, for myself it's because of the history of the race, the privilege to participate in the country's most prestigious 100 miler, the hype, the talent who show up, the friends who attend and the opportunity to run in Tahoe - my mother's favorite place and one of my own.

We leave San Francisco early Friday morning but not before running into Wayne who is a local runner and member of the Filipino ultra-marathon group on Facebook. They get to meet for the first time but are familiar with each other because of the Facebook group. We are accompanied by Neal Gorman and his wife Abby who were from Virginia, we were giving them a ride to Tahoe. It was a pleasure as Neal is also an amazing runner and both he and his wife filled us in on the running scene in Virginia.

Race registration itself was relatively painless and we ran into Jose San Gabriel, we didn't know then how much time we would actually spend around each other all weekend. The pre-race briefing is still as long as I remembered it to be After the pre-race brief Jon got to meet some of the runners he looked up to and we hung out for a bit before heading to our hotel.

Friday evening we were jolted by a 4.2 earthquake, fitting considering both our worlds would get rocked on this race, something that would take us beyond our experience and comfort level.

IMG_2123 With Jon and Jose at race registration

With Stan Jensen at race registration

Going through medical

Pre-race briefing

Meeting Dave Mackey after the race briefing

Fortuitos Coincidence or Divine Providence?
I'm a praying man so I would say the latter. Race morning was the usual zoo of runners getting ready being attended to by crew and pacers. Jon was nervous but ready. I told him that I would see him only once on the course, at Robinson Flat - mile 29.7, before finally meeting him at the 100k/62-mile mark at Foresthill. Being his one man crew and pacer I knew I was going to have my hands full and I still needed to set up a ride from the finish back to Foresthill. The plan was to have the car at the finish so we could drive to the hotel immediately after he came in, clean up and get some zzz's before the awards ceremony. After they took off I went back to our hotel, packed and checked out since I couldn't go back to sleep from all the excitement. With a bit of time before having to meet him at Robinson Flat, I stopped off at Tahoe City to meet up with friends who were at an Xterra event (Off-road triathlons; swim, mountain bike and trail run). It was on the way and what better way to enjoy my morning coffee than to see a bunch of triathletes freeze their butt off in the cold water :)

With friends at the Big Blue Xterra triathlon in Tahoe City.

Brrr it was unseasonably cold in Tahoe. Jesse contemplating getting in.

By 8:30 am I left Tahoe City for Robinson Flat with plenty of time to reach the aid station before Jon was scheduled to come through. On the way however I started to get sleepy and when I started to lose my focus on the road I exited to the next rest area and slept. When I woke up I was surprised I had napped for over an hour and that it was raining heavily. Traditionally a warm to hot race, Western States was cool this year but I didn't know rain was in the forecast too. On the freeway it was just heavy rain but Jon and the other runners got hit with wind and hail in addition to the rain. I worried about Jon freezing on the trails since he was used to warmer weather. It was a good thing we decided that he take with him my lightweight hooded Marmot shell, great protection for the weight and it has seen me through several hundreds. Because of my nap and the fact that I got lost in Auburn I knew I was going to miss my chance to see him at Robinson Flat so I opted for Dusty Corners instead. On foot, the two aid stations are only 9 miles apart but a runner moving at a decent clip will beat their crew trying to get from Robinson Flat to Dusty Corners because these aid stations are remote and only accessible through tight, narrow, winding roads. Unless a runner has two crews it's best to only choose one of these aid stations.

Jon came through Robinson Flat just fine but his problem started on route to Dusty Corners. Had I seen him at Robinson Flat, I would have judged incorrectly that everything was fine and would have been clueless to his condition. Worse I would not have been able to give him a critical piece of equipment that he would need to keep progressing through the later aid stations before I could join him to pace, his headlamp. The front and middle pack clear the canyons before sunset but the back of the pack needs their lights. After Dusty Corners not only does the course get harder, two canyons side by side that need to be traversed, there is no crew access until they come out of the canyons and into Michigan Bluff at mile 55.7.
Ana Levaggi, Peter Defty and Miwok 100k RD Tia Bodington at Dusty Corners

Walter Edwards with his crew and pacer Georgia Young and Ultra Signup's Mark Giligan 

Todd Shipman, never too busy or worn out for Mbelle 

Grand Slammer Chihping Fu

Jose San Gabriel taking a short breather at Dusty Corners

What the ?!?!?!
I got to Dusty Corners just before 1PM and waited and waited and waited. I started to think that I might have misjudged his pace and missed him but the last update on the webcast assured me this wasn't the case. Unfortunately the area was remote enough that no one had cell reception. The only thing working was ham radio and they reserved it for emergencies, not to provide runner updates - I asked. Eventually, 1.5 hours before the cut-off for the aid station, Jon makes his way downhill to the aid station with the aid of another runner. The runner informs us that Jon had gone blind and had also twisted his ankle because he couldn't see the obstacles on the trail. Jon came in looking dazed but I think it was because he couldn't see well enough to focus his eyes on someone. I went to his side right away and led him to the station, asking him questions and ascertaining his condition. Nothing in my experience prepared me to deal with this but more experienced people available at the aid station were also stumped. The nurse came over but she too did not have any definitive answers for us. We gave him food and made sure he was hydrated but he told us he never fell behind his nutrition, hydration and electrolyte replacement and frankly he looked it. He looked great except for the vision thing. He wasn't even cold but we bundled him up just the same.

IMG_2148Volunteers looking over Jon 

He's looking at the camera but he doesn't know it was me 

Being looked over by the doc

Eventually the doctor from the Last Chance aid station was called in. Last Chance was only the next aid station down the trail and it was a mere 5.3 miles away. It was while the doc was en-route that I realized Jon, being at Dusty Corners so late in the day, was going to need his headlamp if he was going to make it to the next crewed aid station at Michigan Bluff - provided he could recover his eyesight before the cut-off and was allowed to continue. The sun was going to set before he came out of the canyons and being already partially blind, getting caught by darkness without lights could end his race.
By the time I got back to the station the doctor was already there with the nurse. I took the chair opposite the doctor and Jon looked at me blankly so I told him it was me and that I had his lights. He acted like it was the first time he talked to me since the start at Squaw Valley, apparently he had thought I was another volunteer when I attended to him earlier. That sent a small chill down my back, is he confused as well as being blind? I didn't realize his eyesight was so bad he couldn't discern facial features but surely he should have known my voice. He complained that his eyes felt like they had dust on them and wanted to wash them so the doctor agreed to take another look. While the doctor was examining his eyes he tells the doc he has glasses on, we all look at each other because the doc didn't have glasses on. The doc's face was only a foot away from Jon's! Crazy! Jon insists on washing his eyes with cold water, all three of us insist that any dust thick enough to obscure his vision will also be painful but the doc figured it couldn't hurt so they helped him. Needing a break from the tension I moseyed over to the aid station food table and took some food while relaying the situation to the volunteers who would listen. It was during this time that Jose San Gabriel came in and left. Meanwhile the clock kept on ticking but whatever Jon did his eyes recovered. Was that holy water? Could the cold water have washed away something or have an effect on the eye and it's blood vessels? Who knows but he made a remarkable recovery within the next 20 minutes. Ten minutes before the cut-off the doctor gave him a final vision test and he passed. He correctly stated the number of fingers the doctor held up, even the tricky ones he flashed quickly. He was even able to read the numbers on his watch. Despite the doctor's reservations about Jon continuing, especially to the canyons with less than perfect eyesight, he let him go. We figured that since the doc was going back to Last Chance, the next aid station, he could check up on Jon one more time before letting him continue to the canyons. I gave Jon his lights and he took off.

Trail sweeps!

Back on the winding narrow roads I started to get sleepy again and promptly pulled off at the first opportunity and took a second nap. By the time I made it back down an hour has passed and I was alarmed to find out that the wrong information was being relayed on Facebook about Jon's progress. I sent my update while idling at a gas station then promptly went looking for a real meal. I'm no use to Jon if I didn't take care of myself. I also checked the website for runner updates and was gratified to see he had progressed beyond Last Chance. Through Facebook, I found out what had happened at Last Chance. A volunteer named Allen Lucas posted some additional info:  

Allen Lucas I remember him! One of our Last Chance doctors left to see him at Dusty Corners. When he came into our aid station and got on the scales, the doctor asked him what the scale said. We all thought that was odd but didn't know that this was the runner he had just been working with. He must have made up some serious time to beat the 30 hour cutoff! I'm so thrilled he managed to finish after such a scare! Very cool!  


Allen Lucas What was odd was that he was very normal when he came in - you never would have guessed that just a bit before he couldn't see anything! He laughed about the scale reading thing - he made a joke about it. The only real concern we had was that it was late and he needed to pick up some time (which he did).

Thanks for the info Allan!

Foresthill was the usual hub of activity for the event. The streets were lined with cars, people everywhere and volunteers running around taking care of things. Got myself a sandwich meal at the local Subway and ate it while I walked around and caught up with friends. I also shared Jon's story to try and figure out what may have happened. I got several answers, each one a plausible cause. At this point there was no need to check in to our second hotel as we were going to finish close to the time we have to check out on Sunday. Thankfully they do have shower facilities at the finish so I packed a shoe bag full of fresh clothes, toiletries and slippers for Jon and passed it on to a volunteer who was gracious enough to drop it off for us at the finish line bag area. It was also too late to figure out the whole car-drop-off-at-the-finish-line thing. Later in the evening I found out that it's possible to pick up your runner at Michigan Bluff when it's after 8 PM but since I found this out late I opted to keep the car at Foresthill and back track along the course. There was a shuttle bus from Foresthill to Michigan Bluff but I was worried that I would be on the bus making my way there while he was on the trails making his way to Foresthill. Back tracking was my best option and the going was slow since it was dark and I made sure to check every runner not wanting to inadvertently miss Jon. When I found him he looked good but the first thing he disclosed was that his vision was not so good. It was going to be a long night...

Jon coming into Foresthill

We left Foresthill at 11:20 PM, 18 hours and 20 minutes into the race which meant we had 11 hours and 39 minutes to cover 38 miles in under 30 hours. No problem, I wasn't worried at first. I figured if we could somehow manage 15 minute miles for 38 we would be good, the extra time left over would go to the time spent at aid stations, gear changes, bathroom stops and whatever else and we would still have enough of a time cushion to go under 30 hours.

In my pack was four cans of Starbucks Double Shots and gave him one at Foresthill. The caffeine woke him up but after the first two aid stations after Foresthill it became apparent that we wouldn't be able to hit 15 minute miles consistently and by mile 75 I was convinced that it was going to be a close thing. Jon was moving well but not fast enough, his degraded vision really hampered him. Joining my lights with his only made matters worse it seems so I had to keep my distance not let my lights overlap with his. Too much bright light especially over the fine sandy texture of the trail really messed with his vision. What could we do? We just pushed as hard as we could hoping to make up time. He assured me that when the sun came up he could do better and I told him that the smoothest trail he would ever find on the last 38 were the ones we were running now to the river crossing at Rucky Chucky. We had to push while the trails were good. Now one of the theories about his blindness was the hypoglycemia/hyperglycemia theory proposed by Peter Defty and Marty Hoffman at Foresthill. Being low on sugar and then having too much could cause blindness, having a reaction like some diabetics do. Jon has been on the Paleo diet and he latched on quickly to this theory since he has cut out sugar in his diet but was using energy gels for the race. So as an experiment we switched to solid food and ditched the gels; bananas, grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit, etc. We had a ziplock bag which we filled with food from aid stations and he would eat through this stash as we ran and hiked.

Eventually we made it to the river crossing, ahead of the cut-off but 8 minutes over the 30 hour mark according to a volunteer. The volunteer wasn't very encouraging. Maybe he was trying to scare us into moving faster. I told him we made up time from Foresthill and we planned on continuing to do so all the way to the finish, he just shrugged his shoulders and gave me the attitude that it was improbable. Thanks guy, we made it by the way. Numbers can't measure a runner's heart, his determination and perseverance.

The river was damn cold but clear even in the dark, it was around 4 AM I believe. Peter "Bear" Rabover was joking that I may have to swim for it being so short. He was joking but it wasn't far from the truth. One slip on the rocks and I would have been up to my neck in water. The last time I paced Western I killed a camera this way. The cold was great for our legs but Jon wasn't convinced. On the other side of the river he had his only drop bag which contained a backup pair of shoes, first aid items, food, socks and extra long sleeved Patagonia Capiline base layers in case it was colder than we anticipated. He wanted to keep his shoes but change socks. I gave him 5 minutes to take care of things, I even helped and it still took 10 minutes. I was a bit pissed when we finally got going so I was quiet on the climb out of Rucky Chucky. I wasn't in a talking mood anyway because after the dunking in the river and being at the aid station for 10 minutes I WAS FREEZING. It took half a mile to warm up again but once we were warmed up I pushed him to the Green Gate aid station at mile 79.8. The left ankle he twisted was starting to really bother him and we took it easy on the rocky trails after Green Gate, on all the rocky trails.

We made such great time coming out of the river and on the trails after Green Gate that we felt better about our chances of finishing under 30. The sun had come up and Jon was re-energized. We continued to make good time and we chatted and joked around about miscellaneous things, the tension from earlier completely gone. We were on a climb with him leading when he took a left when we should have gone right at a T intersection. It wasn't a hard mistake to make, our heads were down and were talking while hiking up the climb. Our conversation distracted us. Jon had the excuse of being partially blind but there was nothing wrong with me. I should have caught it! I had run and paced the event before and I had the fresh set of eyes and a clear head. Sometime during the climb I did realize we had not seen a ribbon in awhile but I was distracted before I did something about it. Finally I popped out into a road with no markings and a car stopped and confirmed what I dreaded. We promptly turned around and came back down the hill. By the time we made our way to the point we got lost we burned 15 minutes. It was quite a blow. Our positive momentum was halted and in it's place a quiet awkward silence. I felt pretty bad about it, in the back of my mind I was thinking, "If we miss this by 15 minutes or less it's going to suck real bad". Jon was moving slower now, the run back down the hill wore him out and he too was frustrated about getting lost, burning time we desperately needed. We made up time and we lost it but it's wasn't an equal exchange as it ended up with Jon being more tired and both of us in a funk. I tried to play it off as not being a big deal but he was having none of it. It crushed us mentally because we had made progress against the cut-offs only to lose it by a stupid mistake. Our mood went positive and hopeful to negative and more stressed, especially when we fell in behind runners we had already passed. Finally after about a mile I proposed we act like it never happened and get back into the business finishing this race under 30 hours. It took a few more miles but we finally came out of our funk and was able to refocus. Besides it was hard to dwell on one thing when we had other more pressing things to think about.

One of these issues was Jon's ankles, the left one he had twisted earlier in the day and was already swollen but the right which had been taking more of the load, working harder than the left, was also showing signs of wear. The second issue was that his vision was progressively getting worse again. I helped out by running ahead and calling out roots and rocks, small obstacles that even non-runners could probably navigate without much thought. Worse than the roots and rocks were the ones we called "butas" - holes. There were gouges on the trail, it looked as if there had been large rocks embedded on the trail which were then rooted out leaving a hole on the ground but they were shallow and easy to miss. The trails were narrow too so they were hard to avoid and Jon couldn't see them because the subtle change in color on the trail, the darker shadowed areas where the holes were, was too subtle a visual clue for his eyes. On one of these he planted his right ankle, twisted it and went down. My breath caught as I heard him cry out and go down. Was he down for good? Badly strained ligament or a minor strain he can keep running on? In our pouch was a product called "Omega Pro", it's a topical pain reliving salve like Ben Gay or Salonpass. I was introduced to it last year on my first and only ultra in the Philippines and I've been a user of the product ever since. I brought a bottle back with me but my girlfriend absconded with it so I had Jon bring me more. We packed one in his drop bag at Rucky Chucky and boy did it come through for us repeatedly.

We also tried having him run in front while I called out the obstacles ahead. Yeah that didn't really work out. I had to run while peeking around him to warn him of what was ahead, had we continued that configuration I would have twisted my ankles. We went back to me leading and calling out obstacles as we went along, I would also call out if the trail was clear. We eventually passed a friend of his who had a busted ankle. He was sitting on the side of the trail taking in the sun. We exhanged a few words with him and it was only later I found out that Jon had no idea it was his friend - his eyes were going from bad to worse.

Lowest Point 
Real food was taking too long to eat and he was getting sick of the bananas and grilled cheese sandwich squares. Finally we had to switch back to energy gels because he needed the calories. We'd get into the aid stations, grab a refill of his water, grab a gel and go. No more grazing at the food tables. We just couldn't afford the luxury anymore. We had our routine and we were moving right along, passing people and making up time. With the sun up in the sky now, Jon complained that in the sunny areas, where the sun hit the ground, he could barely see anything. Anything in the shadows was still okay but the sun obliterated his vision. @#&%!!! That was all we needed, enough degradation in his vision to slow us dramatically. A mile out of the Highway 49 aid station at mile 93.5, he had problems seeing even in the shadows. We came in to the aid station with Jon doing his best to keep cool, I think he feared being pulled from the race. I feared leading a blind runner the next 6.7 miles while trying to make the cut-off. Western States trails are not that technical but if you're going blind, well yeah they would be quite a challenge. The volunteers knew we were close and did their best to get us out of there as fast as possible. The trails out of Highway 49 were rocky in some parts and it really slowed us down. I would tell Jon to pick up his feet through the rough sections and he would, if it was particularly rocky he would put his hands on my shoulders and we would slowly and gingerly walk through the rough sections together.These sections sank our morale, I started to lose hope and I could tell Jon did too. We knew we had to go faster but we just couldn't do it through these sections. With 4 miles to go he asked me if we would finish and I gave him the most honest answer I could give - "Jon you will finish but I can't guarantee you a finish under 30 hours. Dude you're blind and I don't know how to get around that fact".
Never Giving Up 
Thankfully with the rough patches there were also relatively clear trails. Again I would just call out for him to pick up his feet and follow my blurry outline. I told him to run to my voice if I inadvertently got too far from him and I asked him to stay right behind me as I picked my way through the roots and rocks. That must have taken a whole lot of trust. If I was told to close my eyes and run to someones voice I don't think I could have done it. I declared loudly, as much for myself as it was for Jon that we wouldn't give up. I told him that if we missed 30 we would miss it fighting not walking in dejectedly. "No Giving Up" was our motto those last 4 miles.We pass Jose for the last time. We had traded places with him since mile 75 or so.

Eventually we momentarily left the trees and crossed a small dry field. The light brown grass in the sunlight must have been a whiteout to Jon. I just told him to keep doing what he had been doing, running to my voice and picking up his feet when I told him to do it. The field was blessedly flat and clear, we picked up speed and our morale rose as our per minute mile pace dropped.

Digging Deep
I think we had an hour and five minutes or so for those last 4 miles, I don't remember the exact figures now but I remember we were doing everything to make up time at this point. I knew that No Hands Bridge was obstacle free, I also knew that before the final climb up to Robie Point the trails was also clear and obstacle free and then there was the final mile to the high school, asphalt is definitely root and rock free. The only thing that really worried me was the final climb to Robie Point, I remembered it being tough with steps. I shared all this with Jon and told him we had roughly 4 miles to cover with an hour but that there were opportunities to make up time. I told him there were many smooth parts but the climb to Robie Point would take longer than a 15 minute mile so any time we could make up leading to the climb would be critical if he was going to make it under 30. I also told him that he still had a chance and that our goal was within grasp. We flew through No Hands Bridge, only stopping long enough for a water refill for him and a gel which he ate as we ran across the bridge. After the bridge we continued to run the gentle uphill fire road which lead to the final climb at Robie Point. Despite it being a slight uphill we were clocking 10 minute miles, at one point 9.5. We were killing it on the fire road. By the time the trail got progressively steeper with more obstacles we made up so much time we had 39 minutes to cover 2.2 miles. This allowed us to walk the steeper sections of the Robie Point climb. I wanted him to walk to save his strength for the final push and I myself needed to recover. Having been preoccupied with his well being I forgot to take care of my nutrition needs and started to feel dizzy. I took a gel but it needed time to hit my system, quick as it was.

When we finally made it on the road there was still three blocks of uphill to go before the final stretch to the high school. We had to do some walking here as well, he was exhausted and winded from all the running we just did and that was okay - we were going to make it! When we finally turned the corner and the road sloped downhill towards the school we hauled. He kept asking me about the time and the distance to the high school and eventually I had to tell him to just shut up and keep on running. Persistent as he was, even on the final lap on the track he asked me about the time to which I yelled, "IT DOESN'T MATTER NOW, YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE IT!!!" and then he was off to the finishers chute. I had to leave his side so he could finish, kept the video running though. How I didn't collide with a spectator or nail a step in the bleachers I've no idea. In the video you will see that he drops my sunglasses on the way to the finish, he turns around, stares right at them and doesn't even see them. Everyone yells for him to keep going which he does. Later he would tell me that he was only able to run on the track because he could discern the white lines, there was enough contrast between the lines and track itself.

Jon finishing!

After I turned the camera off I tried to get to Jon but the finish line is fenced off and he had to go through a post race medical evaluation. They took some of his blood and I believe they also take your blood pressure. Not sure about the latter but they definitely did the former. I crossed the field back to my pack and water bottles which I had ditched on the side on our final sprint to the finish. While walking I just started laughing. It was either cry or laugh. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all, still couldn't believe we made it.

With Jon at the finish line. How much you wanna bet he can't tell it's Darshan taking the picture?:)

The pacing job doesn't stop at the finish line however. I collected Jon after I found him wandering the field, mingling with runners, pacers and spectators. I doubt he could see me from 10 feet away:) Then I rushed him to the showers so he could be clean and in fresh clothes for the award ceremony. The bag I packed for the finish line was right with our drop bag from Rucky Chuck - Thank you Brittany, you are an awesome volunteer! He complained about being sore but I rushed him anyway, "just follow me Jon and pick up your feet when I say so". The award ceremony was it's usual long and extended program, thankfully it the weather was cool because we were in the grass. I tried to stay awake but after a meal I passed out. We finally got a ride back to Foresthill and it was a long trip home from there as I had to make two rest stops. The last stop, under the shade of a tree was probably the same spot one of my pacers from last year, Peter, stopped at to nap before we continued on our way home to San Francisco.

Jon receiving his buckle

Jose receiving his buckle

With Rajeev Patel

Conclusion Jon has been inundated with support and congratulatory remarks from the running communities here in the US and in the Philippines. Already there has been news articles written and posted on Facebook. I've been feeding it myself posting pictures and such. He deserves it, it was a gutsy performance and he gave it what he had all the way to the finish line. Had things gone according the plan he might have achieved that sub-24 hour buckle like he originally planned but thankfully things turned out this way - it's a far richer and interesting story. He also probably learned new things about himself despite having completed other races of similar distance. As I write this a part of me still can't believe we finished, I keep thinking back when we were 4 miles out and I had to guide him gingerly through the rocks. The days that followed he would get emotional reading all the comments on Facebook and every time he watched his finishing video. The beer didn't help either:) Damn that cry baby! I kid Jon. Thank you for keeping that private:)

Jon with Tim Twietmeyer after the awards ceremonies

Like all epic runs, memories keep coming in. We talked about the run over and over again. One funny thing I'm remembering right now is something that happened around mile 95 or so. On our way to No Hands Bridge, we were on a fire road going uphill when around the corner 5 college aged girls came running down the hill. They were dressed in sports bras, short tight shorts with hair flowing backwards from the speed of their descent. I smile and said "Jon you should see this", he couldn't of course. Now he thinks I may have just hallucinated the whole thing. Hallucinations don't say hello or do they?

We still don't know what caused his blindness but I can give you these details:

- First time it happened he was between miles 30 to 38
- At mile 29 they were hit with hard rain, wind and hail
- He was no longer at high altitude
- He doesn't wear contacts
- No glasses either
- Second time it happened was Sunday morning
- Definitely not in the cold this time
- Much lower altitude than the first time it happened
- He kept up with his hydration, nutrition and electrolytes
- He had a mixture of solid food and gels
- We were very stressed to make the cut-off

Pacing is a bonding experience, I remember all my pacers. A race like this will be unforgettable for the both of us. I have never experienced something like this. This was beyond my experience level and so was he, we just made it up as we went along. We did our best to stay calm, think things through and run as hard as possible. People say I did a great thing, yeah sure but there is no pacer if there is no runner. What I mean is that it all started with Jon. He had the drive and perseverance to keep going despite his problems. Had he given up there was nothing I could have done. It was a privilege to have been there and lend my support. My own race finishes ride partly on the work of others, even the 100 milers where I ran without a pacer or crew - it is never a solo effort! It takes a village to support a runner. RD's, volunteers, crew, pacers and even spectators work for the benefit of the runners.

Someone on Facebook pointed out that the Philippine flag isn't one of the flags at the finish line. Maybe it's because no Filipino has finished the race until this past weekend. Maybe the Philippine flag will be among the other flags displayed next year at the WS finish because of Jon's gutsy performance. More Filipino runners will come, some them will run very fast times but Jon will always be the first and his story will be remembered by many because of the way he fought until he got to the finish line. Mabuhay (long live) Jon! Mabuhay to the fast growing ultra community in the Philippines! Mabuhay ang Filipino!

More photos here.

Strava data here (hopefully it's visible to non-members)

Friday, June 22, 2012

That Time Again - Western States 100

I am more than envious of all the runners in this years event. This has got to be one of the best conditions for this race, not much snow at the top and the weather is cool! It was chilly at the pre-race briefing. Boy I wish I was running this year. I have the crew and pacing role however, that's a nice deal too. I get to experience the event in many angles/several roles and I finish it off with a run on the last 38 miles of the course, at night at that!

I'm here to pace my good friend Jonnifer Lacanlale. I believe he is the first Filipino coming all the way from the Philippines to run this race and if he finishes the first from the country to buckle at Western. He's got a couple of hundreds under his belt; The Great North Walks 100 in Australia and UTMB in France (last year in stormy conditions). He's gunning for a sub-24 time.

Here's to Jon and all the runners, here's to all the volunteers, crew and pacers.

The webcast is here. My runner is Jonnifer Lacanlale #254.

With Jon after the pre-race briefing

Jon with Victory Bag creator Victor Ballesteros at race registration

Monday, June 18, 2012

San Diego 100!

Race morning!

San Jose in the da house! With Greg Lanctot of the Quicksilver Team. Both of us had walked out to get a view of the fantastic scenery. Partly why we do this, getting to run in wonderful places.

Al Bahr lodge at 6:30am Saturday morning.

Catching up with Glenn at the start and telling him how much of a fan Masha is of his photography.

With pals Larissa Polischuk and Brett Rivers.

That was probably the most well executed race I've ever run in my life. Not my fastest hundred, in fact two years ago when this new course was introduced, I had a faster time but it was the best and most solid I've felt in a 100-mile event. I ran smart, strong and with what I had for that given day. I didn't look back and fret to what I could have changed and done better in my training. Out on the course last weekend there were no regrets or second guesses, just a lot of hard work and hope and excitement for a great race and a sub-22 to 24 time.

Lessons from Quicksilver 50-mile
Four weeks before San Diego, Quicksilver was a perfect tune up race and my difficult experience there told me exactly what I needed to do to have a great race in San Diego. The lessons learned that day were invaluable. It revealed to me that I wasn't as fast as in previous years, being heavier and not having had integrated speed work into my training this year but it also showed I was in solid shape and the mental engine was as strong as ever - the "can do" attitude has not been diminished. I have valid reasons for not having dropped more weight or done the speed work but I'm not going to go through them. What's done is done. It's just life in general. I don't run for a living and as much as I love it there are other priorities that take precedent that has a direct impact on my training whether I want it to or not. 

I am not a big breakfast person and for races I've been known not to eat anything at all or very little before the start. This time, with the help of my friend Jonathan Gunderson, I prepared a large breakfast. The fact that it was a 2 hour drive from my mom's place to the race made it easy. I started eating as soon as I got up thanks to my mother who help prepare the meals and I ate and drank on my way to the race. I had two whole wheat english muffin egg sandwiches, a banana, coffee and Gatorade. I drank an additional bottle of Gatorade while we prepared for the start at the lodge. I felt really good the first 4-5 hours, like never before and I attribute it to being topped up on my nutrition and hydration. Started with a full tank.

Meadows AS by Brett Rivers
Coming into the first aid station at 7.4 miles. Photo courtesy of Brett Rivers.

Miles 1-25: Settling Into a Long Day
I was determined to go slow, I had a heart rate number target and I kept it there. It felt like driving 40 miles an hour on the freeway but I stuck to it. A couple of bathroom stops threw me back further down the line but I was totally okay with it. I felt great. I had so much energy and worked to hold it back. 

A little homework.

Miles 26-31: Hello Rocks
The last time I ran San Diego I memorized the elevation profile so despite never having been on the course I felt some degree of familiarity with it. I knew where all the climbs and downhills were. This year I did the same with the addition of memorizing the aid station chart, committing to memory the names of the aid stations, the total miles at each AS and how far it was to the next AS. It was awesome. I never had to ask volunteers for course information and I was able to share the info with runners I ran with during the day - "Stephen you are gonna want to top off both bottles and drink some at the next aid station, it's 8.1 miles to the next one and it's gonna be toasty". One thing I should have done back in 2010 however was to note down the technical sections. On the chart, approximately miles 25-31 is a downhill, a drop of about 1600 feet. Having forgotten the terrain I thought I could gain some time here - wrong! That section is the rockiest of the entire course. I took a dive taking a gel out of my pocket, just a moment's distraction sent me sprawling on the rocks. I would take two more falls during the course of the race but with no witnesses to any of my dirt dives. How I avoided getting hurt, like breaking a finger or slamming my knees on a rock, I attribute to God's grace. It wouldn't take much for a fall to ruin your day, even a small rock jutting out a few inches from the ground can do some damage. Last time I ran the race I had a swollen left pinky from a nice fall which made taking the water bottle on and off my hands trickier than it should have been. San Diego's course is rocky! The large rocks are not the problem, they are easy to avoid and spot, it's the small ones only a few inches off the ground. The rocks are embedded in the ground, you hit a rock it is you that moves. One time my foot glanced off one and my trajectory went straight into the bushes. Thankfully even the shrubbery is tough, it was like I landed on a bunch of springs and it held my weight. 

On our way to Pine Creek 1 by Chihping Fu
On my way to Pine Creek 1 with Stephen Itano, around mile 30. Photo courtesy of Chihping Fu.

Coyote Love_Pine Creek 1 by Chihping Fu
Coyote love! SoCal Coyotes took care of us at this aid station and were on hand in the loop to provide directions. At the Pine Creek AS with Stephen Itano. Photo courtesy of Chihping Fu.

Miles 32-40: Toasty
At 31.3 we started what is known as the Pine Creek loop. It gets warm here for those of us who don't like heat. The temperature was only in the low 70s according to the weather reports and the loop is only 5 miles but down there in that loop it is hotter. The heat affected me just like it did at Quicksilver but since I paced myself better, drank a ton and took my time I was able to power right through it. Folks I ran with, Andy Black and Stephen Itano, were feeling what I was feeling. We just made our way as well as we could. We struggled but other folks looked even terrible. At one point I advised a young runner to stop in the shade and let himself cool down. He looked terrible and was clearly having a tough time with the heat. It was nice in the shade with the intermittent breezes and I took my own advice a couple of times.

The loop ends at mile 36 but the toasting is only part of the way through, we still had to get out of the canyon and this is by way of an asphalt road that climbs about 1600 feet. Awful stretch! For company we had flies, the same ones that bothered us on the Pine Creek loop and they bite too. My arms have some red bite marks and I bet they are from the flies. As bad as they were I'm glad they are not the deer flies I encountered in Wisconsin. I ran the Kettle Moraine 100 in 2008 and met the flies from hell. Those things can bite you through your shirt. Thankfully the climb is over by mile 40 and there is a small aid station there stocked with popsicles, ice and water. There was a runner there who was sitting down and looked worse than we were. Our advice to him was to hold on, hydrate, cool off and keep going once he got better. Wish I had gotten his race number, wondering if he finished.

Miles 41-51: My Favorite Parts
By mile 41 were back on top of the ridges once again and in the breeze. San Diego has some strong breezes and it felt amazing. Predictably I started picking up speed as I cooled down. My HRM monitor stopped working back at mile 36, maybe some water got into the housing but I knew by feel where I needed to be. I love my gadgets but I've learned to function without them first. The Pioneer Aid Station at mile 44.1 to Sunrise Aid Station at mile 51.3 is probably my favorite section of the race. It's a rolling net downhill with amazing views of a valley below. In some parts you are running on the edge of a cliff, just beautiful. Like in most parts of the course however you don't let your eyes linger off the trail for too long. 

Leaving Pioneer Mail AS at mile 44. Photo courtesy of Brett Rivers.

Miles 52-64: Beating Back Discouragement
I hit the 50 mile mark around 11:25, much, much longer than my planned 10:30. I knew I had been going slow but I expected a faster split. I started to worry about being able to hit sub-24 let alone a sub-23 which was my A-goal. My plan was to slowly ramp up the last 1/3 of the race but at 50 I needed a boost. I needed a kick, a jumpstart. So I decided to start haulin' butt right then and there, right after I changed shoes. The La Sportiva X-Country was a great pair of shoes but a little to light for the rocks. My feet were hurting big time by mile 45. For backup I had the La Sportiva Crosslites which were perfect. They were not fully broken in but the protection was great. I was a bit nervous about increasing my pace, worried I might go too hard  and not have enough for the finish but I figured that a good finish was out of the question anyway if I couldn't get things rolling at 50. I was a little shaky at first but once I got going I was movin'. It felt great. I didn't go all out but I let myself sink into a harder and faster pace. Around 56 miles I pass Larissa being paced by Amy who was battling blisters, some under her toenails - they are not going to grow back in time for her wedding. Thankfully her fiance Brett Rivers is a kick ass ultrarunner himself (17:30 at Western States last year), besides lancing her blisters at the aid stations and pacing her the final miles I doubt he cares about her missing toenails. I also pass Chris who was just ahead of Larissa, battling G.I. issues and not having a fun time. The answer to a question I asked pretty much confirmed it. He was paced by Peter who was one of my pacers last year at Western States. I felt for the both of them. 

Brett also crewed for me whenever I came in. He was such a huge help especially with the retrieval and putting away of my drop bags. It was also good to see a friendly face willing to help. Much kudos to that guy. He crewed until his pacing duties started and he took a lot of great photos during the day too.

Sunrise 1 by Brett Rivers
Arriving at Sunrise 1 AS, mile 51. Photo courtesy of Brett Rivers.

Miles 65-80: Enjoying the Dark
Right before Paso Picacho, the aid station at mile 64.2, I had to turn on my lights. I had my back up light with me since mile 51 and it was a spunky 104 lumen light I had picked up at Walmart the day before. 104 lumens is more than I ever had in a flashlight, ever, and it only cost me $30. If I had to run the race the entire way with only this light I would have been fine with it but like I said it was just the backup. Waiting for me at Paso Picacho was my monster light which I picked up at with a gift certificate my pal Dana Katz sent me. It was a full 200 lumen headlamp light. It's one of those headlamps that has a battery pack sitting on the back of our head, doesn't bother me, and I lit up that trail with 304 lumens. It was fantastic! I'm with the DC Lundell/Zombierunner school of night time running - the more light you have the faster you will go. In fact rocks were easier to avoid at night because they cast a shadow on the ground. I was careful to turn off my headlamp at aid stations lest I blinded the volunteers.

Miles 81-96: A New Day but A Tired Body
By mile 81 I was certainly getting exhausted. I started to feel all the miles. The challenge was to keep the momentum going as I was all too aware at this point that going under 24 hours was going to be a close thing. I didn't need a pacer to motivate me, the desire to go under 24 was enough. The gels was starting to get to me, it was all I was eating. The cool air didn't help as they made the consistency of GU thick like peanut butter. I had my own Power Gels which are not as thick but I was saving them as I only had a few left. It was a beautiful, beautiful night though and I enjoyed the darkness despite the fatigue and my slowly rebelling gut. I kept myself focused on running from one aid station to the next. When my thoughts wandered too far into the future like day dreaming about the final miles, I just pulled it back to the present. When the sky started to lighten up, just past 4AM, I was actually disappointed. I wanted more of the darkness, it was like a blanket and it was cozy and nice surrounded by it. In the dark no one could see how filthy I've become with all my gel stains, salt stains, dust and snot. Uh-huh the gloriously glamorous side of 100 milers. 

Miles 96-100: Bouncing on the Trail - Literally
According to Amy, I was a bit dazed when I came into the Penny Pines aid station at mile 91.5. Well not only was I dazed but also confused. When one of my electronic gadgets fail me I curse the damn thing and thank my ability to go without, forgetting that my brain too also fails from time to time. Nothing is fail safe. I got confused, I thought 91.5 was actually 92.5 and so when I got to the last aid station at Rat Hole, mile 96.2, I thought I was at 97.2 with 23:11 on the clock. I thought I had the sub- 24 time in the bag. The aid station volunteers corrected my error and told me I had 3.9 miles to run instead of 2.9 (San Diego is 100.1 miles). You can imagine my stress and surprise at that moment. My progress was down to 13-14 minute miles. The aid station people got me out of there though and told me to hustle. They let me leave my lights with them and hauled down the trail as fast as I could possibly go. My memory of the elevation profile and the finish from two years ago gave me hope. Rat Hole to the finish is a net downhill plus the last two miles is on less rocky ground with the last mile on the asphalt inside the campground. I ran and ran and ran at one point I hit a sub-9 minute mile on the trail. I ran the hardest fastest miles of the entire race. I do have this bad habit of looking at my watch even when traversing trail which makes the rocky parts even more exciting than usual. When I want information I want it now and can't wait. I need to fix that. With about a mile and a half to go, in the meadow immediately outside the campground, in much smoother trail, it happened. I looked down at my watch for the umpteenth time to check pace and time and I nailed a rock. I can still hear the rubber on rock impact in my head, feel the air rushing out of my lungs, hear the audible "guuuuhhh" sound I made as I flew forward traveling at 8.5 minute mile pace and feel the thud as I hit the ground right side first. Caught me by surprise certainly but I was already on my feet running again before I fully regained my composure, that surprised me more. Who was this stupid yet resilient runner and what was I doing in his body? I was wobly, unsteady at first, but picked up speed eventually and I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. It was amazingly stupid of me to check my watch again on the trail, wonderfully blessed I didn't hurt myself and so damned great that I got up and started running again without thinking about it, without dusting myself or to check for injuries, cuts, etc. 24, 24, 24, it was all about going under the magic number. I wish I could display such focus all the time. 

Finish Line by Amy Freund McCrea
Beat and filthy. At the finish with pal John Branderhorst. Photo by Amy Freund McCrae.

I came in at 23:51 for 29th, when I realized there was still 9 minutes on the clock I remarked that had I known I would have slowed down a bit. It didn't really matter at that point what time I came in as long as it was under 24. It could have been 23:59:59 and I wouldn't have cared and indeed it would have made a better story. I was wrecked at the finish, not so much from soreness but from my gut, from all the gels especially the caffeinated ones. John gave me a coke and I almost threw it up. No more sugar! All I could take was water and I would go to the bathroom feeling sick only to dry heave since there wasn't anything inside to throw up anyway. It would be another 7 hours before I could eat anything solid. Horrible but you know I'll eat gels again on my next race:) Just isn't a faster way to get nutrients down especially running with no crew who can pre-prepare food in baggies. 

All the other 4 people in our crew finished with Randy Katz totally killing his first 100 mile finish with a 21:20 and 8th place. Buddy John Branderhorst who paced him remarked that he kept up an incredible pace at night. Chris Wolff would recover from his GI issues around 10PM and finish around 24:44, Larissa Polischuk continued to suffer from numerous blisters, 18 counted post race, but finished anyway at 25:57. Jenn was still out on the course when Chris and I collected our drop bags and left shortly after noon. We didn't have time to stay especially with the guys in the cabin needing to leave at 3PM for the airport. We knew she was going to finish though and indeed this was confirmed on Facebook when we all got home that afternoon. Jenn finished at 31:25. I once finished a 100 mile race in 30+ hours, it's a long time to be out for a 100 and I can partly imagine the determination to keep going and never say die. Way, way to go Jenn!
SoCal Coyotes bringing in one of their own. I believe they had 5 first time 100 milers and all made it to the finish.

The finishline 28+ hours and counting.

A great time was had by all and after another whupping I would return again. C'mon I really feel I have a 22, 23 hour San Diego in me. It is a legit 100-miler. It may not have as much elevation gain as some of the mountain ultras in California, may not get as hot or as high altitude wise but it's just as pretty a course and the rocks will give you a warm welcome. If you thrive on technical terrain you will ride over the stuff, if you are used to smooth trails as I do you will have a challenge much harder than the elevation charts would suggest. I would gladly take more heat, climb more hills, race at a higher altitude if they would just jackhammer smooth some of those trails but then it wouldn't be San Diego, it would be Western States.

Official Results Here. Jeff Browning kills it at 16:38:59 and female champ is Shawna Tompkins with a 20:45:05, both 40 years old. I'm 40, why I noticed.

I'll leave you with this great shot from Glenn Tachiyama. Scott Mills flew him in for our benefit, how lucky were we. Check out Glenn's pictures!

Of me 2 by Glenn T
Thank you Glenn T!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Runner 65

Is outta here!

San Diego 100 will try to update this page throughout the day. Cell coverage is spotty but I'm thankful that they are trying anyway. Mighty nice of them.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


It is race week, the San Diego 100-Mile Endurance Run is upon us! It is only Wednesday but I am already way too excited. I was up late again last night working on my new work website but I got up early this morning and was unable to go back to sleep due to anxiety and excitement. I forced myself to stay in bed so I could eek out that little bit of rest.

My friend Randy Katz asked me the other day if I still get nervous, he's running too and I told him of course I did. It's a long way to go and the journey from start to finish is always hilly on so several levels; the course itself, emotions, energy and strength and unforeseen issues coming up. There are always peaks and valleys inside and out, at least that has been my experience.

It's only Wednesday but I leave tomorrow morning, probably why my body thinks it's already race weekend. My mom lives in Corona, California and it's her birthday on Friday, the day before the race. The last three years I've been making this trip. Even when I ran Western States 100 last year instead of San Diego I was still present in SoCal for Mom's birthday and San Diego weekend.

What even makes it more exciting is that four other members from my Thursday morning run gang - the Ninjas, are participating in San Diego as well. I already mentioned Randy Katz, in addition is Larissa Polischuk, Chris Wolfe and Jennifer Patee. In tow are more friends who are helping crew and pace. Speaking of which I'm going solo. I don't really need a crew and I've always run San Diego solo, a tradition I'd like to continue. Besides it's never really solo, there are other runners and the aid stations are not that far apart. Am I scared running in the dark by myself? Only when I think about it, only when I have time to think about the wildlife and creepy films I've seen in the past - running around with flashlights always reminds me of The Blair Witch Project. When I am actually running the only thing that scares me is failure; failure in the task whether from weakness, injury or unforeseen problems. Fun is always part of the equation too and I'm pretty sure I won't be having fun if I have to pull out of a race.

I'll leave you all with two pictures Gary Wang shot of our Thursday morning run crew. Gary is beyond phenomenal right now with his running, not only has he done really well at races but last month, during the Strava climbing challenge, he amassed 130, 732 feet of climbing for the month of May taking 2nd place. Third place will be a familiar name to the ultra folk out there. I'm at 56 for that Strava challenge. Had I not been in the UK the first 9 days of the challenge I would have cracked top 30 but nothing close to the leaders, mountain goats! All that and he has been taking great shots of his GoPro camera, finding new angles for the usual places. We've been seeing a lot of him on Thursdays as he trains hard for his 12th Western States 100. Most likely I'll see you guys on the other side of the San Diego 100. If you are a Strava user look me up, don't mind meeting more folks in that social space.

Ninja Crew by Gary Wang
Getting up at 4:30am to run is hard but always worth it especially on mornings such as these. Photo courtesy of Gary Wang.

Ninja Crew by Gary Wang
I once won a photo contest sponsored by Wend Magazine with a photo similar to this one - I received clothes, a pair of Saucony Peregrines, an Osprey pack and my picture with credits on their website, let's just say I'm glad Gary didn't enter the contest then:) Photo courtesy of Gary Wang.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Zion 100-Mile Ultramarathon

Hello Everyone! Just popped in to share a video my buddy Randy Katz put together from Zion 100. While I was sweating about the possibility of a hot race at Quicksilver the day before the race, Friday, pals Dana Katz (no relation to Randy) and Kara Teklinski started the Zion 100 - warmer for longer. Randy was one of the crew and pacers for Kara and got some great video and still shots in.

These two ladies are too awesome for words and they've come a long way. I was with them a couple of years ago when they ran their first 50 mile at American River. That day I was Randy, crew and pacer for Kara, no awesome video after I was done though:) Great to see them finish, to see all the friends that were there to crew, pace and celebrate their finish. Jessica Fewless who lead the crew for Dana has seen me through 3 of my 100 milers. Just too awesome for words.

I had the opportunity to join in on the fun but had to decline knowing how important Quicksilver would be leading up to San Diego. Stil, I wish I had been there.

And speaking of San Diego, watching this video over and over again and receiving a last email update from RD Scott Mills this morning has got me all pumped up and way too excited a week early. Love the rest and extra time for other things that comes with the taper, not sure about the butterflies.


Got another video of the race from Dana put together by Samantha Pinney. For some reason I can't embed it. Anyway Sammy Sam was my second pacer the last time I ran Headlands Hundred. Those last 25 miles was a roller coaster ride energy wise; high, low, lower, high, low then final high - ultimately finishing strong and feeling great in the end, all smiles. Thanks Sammy Sam.