Tuesday, May 10, 2011

SBER 100 Race Report

Well, the good news is I've already accidentally erased this race report twice while trying to write it up, so you're in for an unexpected treat: a race report that is significantly more brief than the original. 

Let's hit the highlights, shall we?

Race HQ was at the beautiful Rancho Oso Guest Ranch

The SBER was held in Santa Barbara this past April 28th. It was the inaugural event, and while I was terribly excited to jump into another 100 miler and apply some of the things I learned at the C2M, I still felt a sense of uncertainty as the event approached.

In readying myself for the race, I prepared a few "cheat sheets" for reference and orientation while on the course, including a chart of the aid stations, and the elevation profile. On the back, I added some quotes that I felt would be a source of inspiration, should my spirits need bolstering in the later hours of the race.

At the bottom I placed my favorite quote, printed it in bold:
"You're stronger than you think you are. You're capable of more than you think."
And while I found myself repeating that quote quietly to myself a number of times during the race, at no point did I ever find the need to dig out my quote sheet and look at the rest of them.

That is to say, my race went pretty well.

It didn't go perfectly, mind you, and I still learned a lot of things... but there were no major lows or giant hurdles. All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable event, one where I'd not only prove that I can come within range of going sub-24 if I plan well enough and push a bit harder, but also got to be there as a new friend turned in a killer performance and finished his first official 100-miler in incredible style.

As for the new friend? That would be Mr. Ken Michal, known previously to me only by his "All Day!" sign-off that he employs on forums and blogs where he posts. Ken had also been present at another race I was in, which is where I recognized him from at the SBER pre-race dinner.

The race we had run before was the Headlands Hundred in August 2010, where Ken completed the 100 miles but missed the cutoff by 10 minutes, so it was not an official finish. He was at the SBER due to the 48 hour cutoff, and to make claim to what would be his first 100 mile finish within the time limits.

I liked Ken immediately, as do most people who meet him. He's optimistic with a great sense of humor and very experienced in ultra-running, and I was very much pulling for him to finish this race.

It was lining up to be one exciting weekend.

Before the Race

At the registration and pre-race dinner, I got to meet some of the other folks I'd be sharing the trails with... Ray Sanchez, Aaron Sorenson, Steve Ansell, Vance Roget, and a few more... and if I didn't meet them then, I'd get to do so the next day out on the course.

Pre-race dinner at the Stone Lodge

Briefing by RD Robert Gilcrest

Oh yeah, Goeff Roes was there too... I was struck suddenly shy the first time I saw him at registration - go figure - but after that, all hesitation fell away, as he is as approachable and friendly as anyone else out there.

It's just that he's usually way out in front... way, WAY out in front.

It was great to hear stories from the races these guys had competed in. It was interesting and invaluable, and what's more, everyone was friendly, and the atmosphere was comfortable. It was a nice little group.

The Race

I'll dispense with any more pre-race chit-chat and jump right into the event itself. 

Starting Line

The race started at 6AM with a 6 mile hike up the hill. The climb was gradual and the views were lovely as the sun came up. We all moved with purpose, running and walking off and on and chatting with each other as we crossed paths.

The mountains behind us as the sun came up

Ashley Walsh and Steve Ansell headed up the hill
At the top, we grabbed aid from the station and headed on to Angostura Pass. At Angostura we would turn north and descend 10.5 miles to a turnaround point at Red Rock Gate. After that, we'd climb back up to Angostura, then venture east for 21 miles to a second turnaround point that marked 50.5 miles into the course.

Then, quite naturally, we'd turn around and do it all again. It was pretty straightforward, and we were left to admire the views and focus on our respective races without having to worry too much about getting lost.

Well, all except Ashley Walsh, that was... she would end up tacking on an extra 9 miles before the event was through due to a wrong turn.


The course

Overall, the course was really enjoyable. It had enough climbs and descents to be challenging, but not enough to be really tough. The word of the day was definitely "runnable" - as in, "This course is really runnable, I keep having to remind myself not to go out too fast!"

A few of us runners did at least attempt restraint, especially after speeding through the first 25 miles of the course in well under sub-24-hour pace. I did the first quarter in 4:30, which was a brisk pace for me but one that felt comfortable and manageable at the time.

I did have to constantly remind myself to walk up the slopes, and to take it easy when I noticed my heart rate creeping up. 
The terrain as we got further out

In monitoring my electrolytes and fuel, I did an outstanding job... well, mostly outstanding. There were a few slips now and again and a few things I still have to figure out, but overall it was far better than how I've managed in previous races. I was pretty pleased with myself in this regard.

I reached the turnaround in 11:15, from what I can remember. It was either that or 11:45, but I believe it was the former.

I had seen Geoff Roes a couple of times on the out-and-back sections. The first time he had a runner named Scott Hambly by his side, but when I saw him the second time he was on his own. "Great job!" he called out when he saw me. 

Goeff Roes just said great job! my inner fan said.

"Thanks, you too!" I squeaked, trying to sound casual, yet encouraging - I'm pretty sure I pulled it off.

The course was a lot of fun. The hills got steeper in and out of the turnaround, but nothing lasted for so long as to make you throw up your hands in despair, as you knew that was the most challenging part, and that it would be over soon. It was actually really enjoyable.

It the night, it got a bit tougher... the winds made it difficult to get in and out of the aid stations, and in the case of Romero Saddle, nothing whatsoever could even be set on the table or on the ground without being swept away. But still, the volunteers managed admirably, as did the runners.

My plan at each station was to gather my supplies as fast as I could and then get out of there and back onto the trail. At the time, I remember thinking it was probably tougher for the volunteers than the runners, as the runners were at least generating heat by moving around. The volunteers, however, were left to huddle under sleeping bags and wrap themselves in blankets to try to stay warm, then would emerge from their covers as we approached to help us in any way they could.

At 75 miles in, I was still doing pretty well. The wind was knocking me around a bit and I was getting cold from the repeated blasts, but it was nothing too serious and my focus remained on moving forward.

At the same time, I'm not especially pleased with how I handled the last quarter of the race. It was ok - but it could have been better.

Essentially, up until the 80 mile mark I had done a great job of staying on track with regard to pace, nutrition, electrolytes, and fluids. I was feeling good - a little achy perhaps, and a bit weary - but nothing unusual given the circumstances. In fact - and here's the important part - if I could have just maintained a 3.5 to 4 MPH pace through the 80-90 mile section uphill, I could probably have brought it home for a finish in under 24 hours.

That would have been pretty cool... but it didn't happen.

What happened instead is I decided to let up on my pace through the 80-90 mile section of hills, and in that section I lost enough time that I could no longer finish in under 24 hours. Not only that, but I neglected the "hot spots" on my feet, disregarding the signals my feet were sending me to stop and take care of the two blisters that were developing there.

The result of this was that my last 10 miles downhill was not all that speedy, with my jogging gingerly downhill to ease the pain on my blistered foot.

Pretty lame....literally.

At the time, I remember being pretty tired and not thinking I could finish in under 24 hours, so I decided to stop pushing. It might have been true - I might not have been able to finish in under 24 - but looking back on it, I find it hard to believe I couldn't have given it more of a go.

In the end, I finished at 7:06AM on Saturday morning, with a final time of 25:06. It was a good time, but there remains some regret over not pushing harder.

Finished... yes!
But with all that said, it was a truly enjoyable event. I showed restraint with my pace and got see what it was like when I did a better job of monitoring myself during the race, and for these things alone I am pleased.

And perhaps, I should leave it at that.

But isn't over

Except... that there's still one more to finish.

As of Saturday afternoon, several more runners had finished, coming in gradually as the day went on. As we rolled into the second night however, just one runner remained, the rest having either finished or dropping out due to injury, or in one case, hypothermia.

By 9PM that night we got a report on the remaining runner: Ken Michal had cleared the last aid station and was making his way down the hill. By all reports he was moving slowly but with determination, and was making steady progress, despite having to stop for some time at some of the aid stations in an attempt to get a break from the wind and warm up a little before moving on.

By 10:30PM, only the Race Director and I were awake, and he (the RD) was exhausted. He pointed out his tent - it was right next to the finish line - and told me to wake him I wanted to go an find Ken. I agreed, and told him to go to bed... after all, he had been up for days like the rest of us, and I could wake him if need be.

Following that I took a 45-minute nap, then got up again and went to wait for Ken. I sat in my car with the lights off, fixated on the finish line and the line of forest directly behind it. I sat and waited, my eyes scanning the trees, wondering what Ken's spirits must be like by that time.

He had been out there for close to 43 hours, over 2 days and nearly 2 nights. He had not been to sleep. He was probably cold, likely delirious, and had nearly certainly been depressed at some point (I'm making an assumption based on my own sleep-deprived experiences). I hoped he was well, but I readied myself to wake Robert and set off on foot to find Ken if he needed our help.

But it hadn't yet come to that, and as I waited, I remained certain, somehow certain, that Ken was still making his way down in the darkness and cold all on his own.

I didn't have much longer to wait.

A few minutes after, I saw two lights flickering, bobbing, dancing madly over the trees and the shrubs just past the finish line. Someone was coming. It had to be Ken.

"Ken!" I shrieked, getting out of the car and running up the hill with my flashlight pointed out over the ground in front of me. "Ken! Over here! Ken!"

I could see the lights kept coming, and then, I started to hear a sound. "Auuuuughhhh!" went the sound, slightly muffled. "Auuuuuuugh!"

"Ken!" I yelled, still running. I didn't know what was wrong with him, but if he was freaking out, I wanted to encourage him and get him in. "Ken! You're done! Over here! Keep it up, Ken, keep it up!"

"AUUUUGHHH!" said the noise again. "AAAUUUUGHHH!"

Suddenly, out of the woods burst Ken. He was running like a bat out of hell and headed straight for the finish line, his arms and legs pumping as hard as he could. "AAUUUUUGHHH!" he yelled as he ran.

"Ken, right here, right here!" I said, pointing him to run under the sign, as he started to go around it (like it really mattered, at that point). Ken stopped yelling and did a little dance to go under the "Finish" banner rather than around it, then forcefully threw his hand-held bottles on the ground and started shrieking with joyous relief.

"I did it! I did it! I finished! I'm done!" he cried, looking happy and exhausted and overwhelmed all at the same time.

I laughed and nodded as he continued for the next few minutes to celebrate, not knowing for sure what to say but understanding that it didn't really matter.

Then, we turned and walked down the hill together, and I listened as he began to tell me of his run.

Finisher's buckle and medal... shiny

In conclusion

So, in conclusion? Hey, it was a great race - have I said that yet? I'm definitely interested in going back next year, regardless of whether they go back to the original course that was planned, or use the route we ran this year.

I hope the race attracts more participants, but only because it deserves to, not because anything was taken away by the small field - in fact, having a smaller group was nice in a lot of ways.

As for me, the race allowed me to see that I can be successful at tracking my nutrition and electrolytes over the course of 100 miles. Now, for the next challenge... breaking that 24 hour mark on a trail 100-miler.

I'm looking forward to it.


  1. Great report on a really cool event...

  2. Wow great race and story!! Makes me want to try it!

    And congratulations to Ken! His finish made me tear up.

  3. Great! "Over-achiever"- love it! And any time we have a great race it is normal to wonder if we pushed hard enough. I think you maybe pushed a little too hard the first 25 but most runners do like to put a little time in the bank at the beginning so maybe I'm just weird.

  4. You are amazing, overachiever! ha

  5. Yahooo!!! Great job, Tiffany! That is a smokin' fast time :) You are SO going to get that sub-24! Congratulations, and good on you for hanging out to wait for Ken, I think that's really, really cool :)

  6. Great job and nice report. It was nice meeting you and hanging out on the trail for some time. It was really nice of you to hang out and make sure Ken had someone there for his finish.


  7. Thanks for the very flattering write up, Tiffany!!! For the record, SBER was my first 100 mile... I missed the cutoff at HH at mile 75! ;) Thank you again for being at the finish line for me!!! It was a very special moment and I'm really glad to have shared it with you! I'm very excited to toe the line with you at events in the years to come! (Are you coming up for TNFEC???)

    I think you missed one of the biggest points in your report: You came in FIRST PLACE, my friend!! I really can't wait to see you break 24 next year! Even better than that, I can't wait to see you with your F1 bib number!!!!

    Kick butt at Born to Run tomorrow!!! Tell Luis I said hi and All Day!

    All Day!

  8. Hey tiffany, this is Ashley. I was looking for some race reports on sber, & was happy to see that you wrote one! You did an incredible job out there and I enjoyed watching you slay the course like it was effortless. Seriously.. That whole rocky out & back, u were the only person I saw running it.. I don't think Geoff even ran that. Also, our conversations made the experience so much more memorable for me & I am thankful for that! It was quite an adventure. Ken was so happy out there every time I saw him, truly in the moment. I loved that. Can't wait to see you again, you've got my email- stay in touch! pS that whole over achiever thing- yep that's exactly what I was going for .. i had some exploring to do;) haha

  9. Hey Ken! Whoops, I thought you did the 100 at the Headlands Hundred... now I'm even MORE impressed by your accomplishment at the SBER, it was truly new territory! And yeah, I would love to break 24 next year... but we'll have to see the course first, right? :)
    Ashley - you did an incredible job too. 110 miles is a LONG way. I really enjoyed our conversations too, and I will definitely stay in touch - I have a feeling I'll be bumping into you again out on the trails sometime ;)