Not getting into Western States or Leadville, I spent a lot of time searching for a summer 100 miler. Coming off of HURT in January and Nine Trails in March, I felt relatively sufficient at climbing and thought that a race with a significant amount of vert would be a smart option. I also wanted to choose a race that would be accessible for crew as I hoped Alejandra, my dad and Kris would be able to join. After looking at several options, I decided on the Santa Barbara 100 as it’s close to home, I’m familiar with portions of the trail and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.
The Santa Barbara 100 is big… really big! With well over 24k of ascent/descent over 101+ miles, the SB 100 is not your beginners 100 miler. An out-and-back race taking runners through the Santa Ynez mountain range, the SB 100 is a relentless beast that hits you with over 13k of climbing over the first 50 miles. Thankfully, most of the trail is semi-runnable. Although there are plenty of rocky patches, steep grades and a few miles of waist high briars to add to the party.
The SB 100 was the first ultra I’ve raced where the start time was at night. With temperatures in the back country known to climb into the 90’s-100’s, the race directors were smart to move the start time to 6:00pm on Friday.
My dad and Kris decided to rent an RV, as they’ve been toying with the idea of purchasing one when pops retires. They drove down on Thursday evening, picked up the rig and met Alejandra and I back in SLO. We went out for an early dinner and spent some time at the Farmer’s Market dodging the throngs of people out on a beautiful evening.
On Friday, Alejandra had to work a half day, so my dad, Kris and I ran errands and picked up last minute items for the trip. For all you RV owners out there, no store in San Luis Obispo carries toilet paper for your bathrooms… literally NOT ONE!
I traveled down to SB at around 12:00pm to provide for plenty of time to check-in, ask some last minute crew questions and catch a quick nap. I was able to meet one of the race directors, Robert Gilcrest, along with Errol “Rocket” Jones. Listening to the Rocket on Ultra Runner Podcast, he’s known to tell a story or two. As I approached the check-in booth/bench, Rocket was talking about his Badwater experience being crewed by Tropical John Medinger and Ann Trason… what a legend!
The afternoon was uneventful, as I parked in a quiet spot and napped for a couple hours. My dad, Kris, Alejandra and Carly arrived around 4:15, as we had a mandatory crew/racer meeting at 4:30. We made our way over to the start area and I caught up with Joannie as she would be manning the Gilbratar/Romero aid station ALL NIGHT AND DAY. Recent 200 miler Born to Run Finisher Tiffany Guerrero was also in attendance, and we were able to catch up on her recovery. I also BS’d with fellow Physiophyx athlete Bryan Toro, as he was taking pictures that evening and would be racing the 100k on Saturday.
All the crew, pacers and racers congregated at the Lower Oso campground at 4:30pm to listen to race director Robert Gilcrest give course details. Robert was very detailed, and it seemed as if a lot of time and effort had been put into preparing for this big race. After finishing up the talk, we had a few minutes to lube up, loosen up and sneak in a last minute potty break.
At 6:00pm, we were off.
Nearly a quarter of the runners were close for the first few miles chasing Eric Clifton. Eric is another ultra-legend that took off like a bat-out-of-hell, and I wasn’t sure if he would blow up or set a new course record. I led a lead pack that consisted of Dean Karnazes, the eventual women’s winner Rachel Ragona and SB 100 veteran Marshall Howland.
The first few miles of the race run parallel to Paradise Rd., before turning into single track and climbing up towards Buckhorn, the first aid station. Leading the chase pack and spending a little too much time BS’ing with the fellow racers, I burned right past a well-marked right turn and started heading up a big climb. About five minutes into our ascent, we hear someone shouting from a distance, “HEY, YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!” Thankfully, some fellow racers saved our asses, and we flipped around to get back on track.
Apologizing profusely to our group and definitely well into the mid-pack, we made our way up the climb to the first aid station relatively unscathed, with an extra mile or so under our legs. This aid station was pretty remote, and manned by two awesome volunteers. I asked if they had seen the lead runner, as I was nervous Eric had made the same mistake we did. Fortunately, he doesn’t share my sense of direction.
Quickly making my way out of the Buckhorn aid station, I took another wrong turn and starting heading out toward God knows where. Thankfully the aid station crew shouted, “HEY, YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!” I really hoped this wouldn’t be the theme of the race.
The next five miles to aid station #2 (Falls) were relatively uneventful. We climbed and descended back onto Paradise Rd. and made our way onto asphalt for a short time before seeing my crew. My dad, Kris and Alejandra had set out gels and had a headlamp ready. I tried to make quick time through the check-in, as I was irritated about getting lost so soon and nervous that it might happen again.
Heading back out onto the soft sand before starting another series of climbs, I made a right turn which looked to be correct. About 5 minutes later I hear, “HEY, YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!” I couldn’t freaking believe it! This time I was fairly certain I was on the correct trail, or just too damn stubborn to turn around, so I took my time following the trail and identifying all the markings. Thankfully, they must have been either yelling at someone else or lost themselves.
The sun started setting on the 7.25 mile climb and descent between Falls and aid station #3 (Live/White Oak), and by the time I made it into Live Oak it was pitch black. Checking in and out quickly and meeting the team, I packed in an extra headlamp battery, put on a shirt and apologized for being irritated so early after getting lost. Not worrying about racing so soon into the 100, I was still interested in how the front runners were doing so I asked my dad how everyone in front looked.
“You’re the only runner to come through…” “HOLY SHIT!!!”
Although not 100% positive on my choice of expletive, you could replace it with any four-letter equivalent, and it would still likely capture my surprise. I’d definitely passed some runners after getting the group turned around, but had no idea I’d passed them all. Excited and definitely shocked, I “sprinted” off completely forgetting my water bottles. Thankfully, the weight of the pack was a quick reminder, and I met my dad halfway back to refuel. The next 5 miles from Live Oak to aid station #4 (Red Gate) runs on the same route as the Santa Barbara Red Rock 50, so at least I was 25% sure I wouldn’t get lost on this section.
Running through the night is an experience I highly recommend for those that haven’t had the privilege of watching the sun set and rise on the same run. The scenery is muted, the normal daylight sounds are replaced with the occasional chirping or buzzing of nocturnal insects and it requires a runner to remain continually focused on the “Now,” as you’re a misstep away from a fall or worse.
Making my way towards the Red Gate aid station at around 10:00pm, I heard music blasting and saw what looked like a house in the distance lit up like Christmas at the Griswold’s. Not entirely sure if this was the aid station, I made my way closer to what definitely was a home. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much aid at this station, unless your choice of nutrition during an ultra are jello shots and keg stands. This was a full-on raging house party in the middle of the damn forest! Looking back, I should’ve took a beer for the road…
Moving quickly through Red Gate (mile 22), I started an 8-9 mile stretch of trail with over 3,300 feet of climb. This is the longest section between aid stations, and the last 2,500+ foot climb to aid station #5 (Cold Springs Saddle) is nasty.
Finally cresting the climb to Cold Springs, I was very excited to see my crew after a tough 13 miles. Unfortunately upon arrival, there was no crew to be found. I checked all the vehicles parked on Gibraltar, but couldn’t find our rig. Nervous as my dad and I definitely do not share my sense of direction, I hoped everything was ok as E Camino Cielo is a very windy road and difficult for cars to maneuver through, let alone a big ass RV. After checking in with the aid station, asking if they had seen my crew, and asking that they have the team meet me at Romero Camuesa, I packed in several VFuels and declined a very nice sweatshirt offer from Tiffany. She sure was moving well between aid stations.
What goes up must come down!
The six miles from Cold Springs to aid station #6 (Montecito) take runners down a massive 3,000ft+ descent. Trying not to pound my quads too soon or fall off the damn mountain, I increased my cadence, focused on picking up my feet and tried to slow down. This is a fun section of trail in the daylight, but definitely posed a challenge at night.
Pulling into Montecito (mile 36), I felt relatively strong coming off the descent and didn’t want to waste much time. After checking in and thanking the volunteers, I topped off both bottles, grabbed a couple VFuels, and took off. These volunteers were great, manning a remote aid station throughout the night!
The next six miles require a 2,000ft+ climb and a short descent dropping runners off at the Romero Camuesa aid station. After checking in at Romero and not hearing any updates on my crew, I was so excited to see my dad in the distance. We all caught up briefly, as we hadn’t seen each other in 24ish miles, found out they had made a wrong turn and ended up in Santa Barbara, arriving a Cold Springs right after I had left the aid station. We also decided the VFuels were working very well, and I was going to go sans Gu for the remainder of the race. The Physiophyx also came out at Romero, and the protein was a nice addition to the 8+ hours of sugar I’d been pounding.
The 8-9 miles from Romero (mile 43) to Lagunita Cielo is primarily uphill, and a brand new trail I’d never taken. The trail markers on this section were also replaced with traffic cones, really adding to the assurance of my navigation skills. The first 5 miles of this ascent was the most difficult thus far, not because of technicality or grade, but because of my non-familiarity of the trail. My heart would start pounding after each cone spotted, and unfortunately they were staggered by upwards of a half mile. With a few miles left before the turn around, at literally 3:30am, I spot a guy in the middle of the trail.
“What the hell are you doing out here?”
After briefly chatting about his plan to photograph runners heading up to Launita Cielo, he tells me there’s only one way to go on this trail. No more worrying about finding these damn cones!
The Lagunita Cielo turnaround at mile 51ish was manned by three guys and a dog, and that really had to trek to get up to this aid station. These guys were awesome, as anyone willing to spend an entire night and day taking care of battered runners is more than great by my definition.
Heading out of the aid station at 4:10am, I was really looking forward to some sunshine and dropping off my headlamp. The benefit of an out-and-back race is being able to see the runners in front and behind. Not thinking about racing at all to this point, I was interested in where the other runners were. Less than five minutes after leaving the aid station, and after fiddling with my replacement headlamp battery for a few minutes, I spotted Ken Zemach heading towards Lagunita Cielo. We both said “Good Job,” and I continued the descent. Ken looked to be in good spirits and was running well up the climb, so I assumed we would be battling it out over the next 10+ hours.
Heading back towards Romero Camuesa, I ran past multiple runners, some looking much better than others. As long as I’m not crawling, cursing or puking, I try to say something short and positive to each racer. We all suffer for a significant amount of time in an ultra, and I truly respect anyone willing to lace up and tackle challenges of this magnitude.
Checking back into Romero Camuesa (mile 59ish), the sun started to rise and thankfully I was able to dump my headlamp. Only having experienced a sunrise on race day once before at HURT, it was an absolutely amazing feeling to be able to see the ground without a spotlight… the little things! Descending back down towards the Montecito aid station was great with sunlight, and it was a fairly uneventful six miles.
The climb from Montecito back up to Cold Springs was downright abusive! With nearly 3,200ft of ascent over six mostly exposed miles, this is by far the most challenging climb of the race. Although only around 7-8am, the sun was starting to bake in the canyon. I felt sorry for the runners having to suffer through this during the heat of the afternoon.
Finally arriving to Cold Springs after a brutal climb (mile 70), I was very happy to see the crew had made it. We quickly replaced bottles, took off the charger from my watch and put down another 30 ounces of Physiophyx before heading out on the long section to Red Gate.
The 8-9 miles from Cold Springs to Red Gate was definitely easier on the return, as the first several miles was a descent. Unfortunately, there was approximately 1,200ft of climbing on this section, and we had to make it through the couple miles of briars again. Pretty sure not being able to see these damn things made it easier.
Arriving to Red Gate (mile 78) knowing there were only two more significant climbs was very refreshing. I made my way past the party house from Friday night, weird that no one was out-an-about in the morning, and headed out towards Live Oak. The last few miles before Live Oak are either downhill or flat, so it was nice to open up the legs for a few minutes.
Pulling into the Live Oak aid station (mile 84ish), it was nice to get hosed down as it was starting to get warm. I was also definitely starting to get cranky, and tried to move through as quickly as possible so I didn’t say anything I’d regret later. My crew was awesome moving quickly to replace water bottles and find some ibuprofen. I don’t recommend taking anti-inflammatories during a long race, but all of the climbing and descending had taken a toll on my quads, and I was feeling pretty beat up at the time.
Leaving Live Oak, we had a 1,500ft climb and descent before making our way into the Falls aid station. This 7.25 mile section was a lot more difficult than I recall it being 15 hours earlier. Although a fairly runnable course, the SB 100 has a significant amount of rocky sections and plenty of toe smashing rocks lined throughout the trail. I’m pretty sure my foot found about 95% of these damn rocks, as I stubbed every toe and had countless close calls catching myself right before impact. Up until mile 89ish however, I hadn’t actually taken a spill.
A mile outside the Falls aid station, I was running on a fairly flat, buttery section of single track when my mind started to wander. Pretty sure I was day dreaming about taking off my shoes and sitting down, as I hadn’t done this since Friday afternoon. On one of the most groomed parts of the race, my right foot got caught under a rock and I went headfirst into the trail. I was too damn exhausted to move my hands up, so I face planted/belly flopped right into the ground. Thankfully there were no other big rocks around, so I merely ended up with a face full and mouthful of dirt. Normally after a spill I’ll jump right back up and get moving, but there wasn’t much adrenaline left in the system, so I stayed down in the dirt for a while. I thought about a lot of things in the minute or so laying in the middle of this trail.
- What the F@$% am I doing out here?
- Why the hell did I pay for this?
- Can I teleport home?
- Would it really matter if I just took a nap right here?
Thankfully, I was able to shut my mind down for long enough to get up and start moving again.
Pulling into Falls (mile 91ish) was the last time I’d see my crew until the finish line. We hosed down one last time getting the trail off my face, pounded another 30 ounces of Physiophyx, replaced bottles and picked up some VFuels. Heading out relatively quickly, I wanted to get this last climb over with.
The nearly 1,500ft climb to the Buckhorn aid station was pretty tough with 90 miles on the legs. I tried to intersperse running with hiking, but my hiking speed was likelier faster than my uphill running this late into the race. Not knowing where 2nd place was at any time since the turnaround at mile 51, I ran scared for too many miles including this last climb to Buckhorn.
Checking into the Buckhorn aid station, the volunteers were again absolutely awesome. Having a little less than 6 miles to go, I asked if they could quickly check on the location of 2nd place. They radioed in and it came back that Ken was about an hour back. Pretty sure I hugged and tried to kiss one of the volunteers, as now I could feel relatively comfortable with the final few miles.
Minus one very short climb out of the aid station, the last 5 miles are all downhill or flat, which is normally a relief. Unfortunately, the cramping set in with about 4 miles to go. I pounded an entire water bottle, took several salt tabs and hit an extra VFuel to fight back, but my legs were pretty beat up at this point. I would’ve liked to enjoy the last couple miles before my first win, but it was pretty fitting that I had to suffer for all 102+ miles.
Passing the finish line in 20:50, I was absolutely spent! Between the climbing, lack of sleep and chronic fatigue, this race beat me up like Ike Turner. After hugging my dad, Kris and Alejandra, Robert placed me in a chair that I didn’t move out of for about an hour. Cheering on Ken as he came in under 22 hours, we chatted for a while about how brutal the course was, but how well the race was organized. After thanking Robert and Jakob for putting on an outstanding race and eating an awesome piece of salmon (Thanks Linda), I tried to shower and change out of the filth I’d been running in for nearly 21 hours. We decided to head back to SLO so everyone could cleanup and get some well deserved rest. I went into a coma for 10 hours.
Link to Garmin race info:
Things I learned:
- There’s no way around it, a 100 miler will hurt!
- Strength training was an integral part of the buildup for this race. I’m no Arnold Schwarzenegger, far from it, but it’s helped tremendously for climbing and keeping together late
- I’m so lucky to have a supportive partner in Alejandra! It’s not easy on a relationship traveling 75% of the year for work and being out 5-6 hours each Saturday and Sunday leading up to a race. I’m so thankful that she still likes me!
- Be nice to your crew, thank them constantly, and remember to prep them beforehand that you WILL get cranky late in a race.
- Be nice to your crew!!!