Monday, September 18, 2017

Tahoe 200
Sept 8-12, 2017

Was it all a vivid dream?  I’ve asked myself that question now for days since the end of the 205.5 miles race around the magical trails of Lake Tahoe.  The lack of sleep combined with the sheer amount of time and distance of this race left me with only fragments of memory.  I have only pieces of the colors of the woods, sunrises, darkness, laughter, and tears.  Through the 93 plus hours, my friends were by my side holding me together literally and figuratively.  It’s redundant but necessary to say that a finish would not have been possible without Sonja, Inna, Michelle, Melissa, and Aud.  Thank you, sincerely.


The Crew and me at Tahoe City - L2R Mel, Inna, Aud, Sonja (less Michelle)

The Tahoe 200 Endurance Race is a 205.5 mile foot race that traverses the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe across California and Nevada.  It includes a 40,000 feet elevation gain as well as the same in loss.  The lowest point of the race is approximately 5,500 feet in elevation and highest at 10,000.  Since the first time I learned about its existence, this race has been on my bucket list.  For a long time I thought of it as out of reach for my ability.  I am glad I waited until completing Chimera 100 last year because it gave me the seasoning I needed and confidence to tackle the 200-miler.


Even then, a leap from a 100-miler to 200-miler seemed inconceivable.  When I finally mustered the courage to register for T200, I made to mental commitment to REALLY train my body to withstand the distance.  My focus was simple, climb, climb, and then climb more.  I worked on hill repeats multiple times a week.  Up and down to strengthen the legs.  In addition, I got high as often as possible.  I made Mt. Baldy my friend.  We also took tours of San Jacinto as well as Mt. Whitney.   I ran back to back days with little to no sleep.  Aud said she had never seen me take on training as seriously for another race; and she was probably right.  A little fear can get one’s ass working in a hurry.

Finding a crew was highest on the priority list because I wanted to maximize my chances of completing the 200 miles.  I am really blessed to have friends like the girls.  All accomplished ultra-runners but more importantly good friends who I enjoy spending time with.  They worked tirelessly to get me everything I needed so I can focus singularly on running.  They took days out of their lives as wives, mothers to help me accomplish the goal.  For that I am forever grateful.  Logistics for traveling was a little complicated but I managed to lay down a schedule well in advance for van-pooling and flights.  Keep in mind that some flexibility had to be managed once the race began based on my progress.  We arrived in Tahoe on Wed 9/6/17 two days ahead of the start on 9/8/17.

 Mandatory check-in and race meeting was held on Thurs afternoon.  I can feel the tension and nervous energy in my body all day.  Being in the meeting hall with nearly 200 other runners only increased the excitement and anticipation.  As I look around the room I recognized some familiar faces amongst the crowd.  There were some legitimate runners here and they were looking cool and collected.  I quietly repeated to myself “you’re ready for this”.  Maybe if I said it enough times, I might begin to believe it. 


After the meeting and dinner, we had some excitement back at the hotel when I encountered a BIG-ass bear in the parking lot.  He wanted nothing to do with me really, but it was fun to watch him go through the trash bins with the crew from the patio of our room.  After some final prep, I went to bed by 8:00PM and managed a fantastic night of sleep.  Something I wouldn’t see again for four days to come.

The race start had the atmosphere of a festival.  Runners gathered with crew before the 9:00AM start.  Here I collected my spot tracker which allowed the crew and friends back at home to monitor my progress.  The spot trackers really served as an essential tool for rescues in case of lost runners.  We took pictures, said our hellos to fellow runners, and good bye to crew.  I saw and met Scott Jurek at the start line.  I am a big fan and he was nice enough to take a photo with this fan boy. 
My crew and I decided we would not need to meet at miles 7 of the course and that the next time we would meet would be at mile 63.  At 9:00AM sharp, as a group, all the runners raised our right hands, and recited after Luis Escobar quoting Caballo Blanco (of Born to Run) “If I get hurt, lost, or die, it’s my own damn fault.”  With that began the biggest race of my life.


No matter how you study an elevation chart and course map, you can’t ever prepare for the variables that cannot be anticipated.  They said the first sixty three miles were supposed to be the hardest part of the course.  They were right until you finished the first 63.  We started with a 7 mile climb out of Homewood with lots of chatter and smiles.  Everyone was fresh and glad to be moving.  I didn’t even notice the rocky slopes of the first three miles which would be the pain of my existence later coming back down at miles 202-205.  I hiked every hill and tried to do so as effortlessly as possible knowing the distance ahead.  The field seemed to spread after about 4-5 miles.  I had no idea where I stood.  I guessed somewhere in the middle.

What I remember of the first 63 miles is fragmented.  I remember the Rubicon Trails which the Jeep vehicles were named after.  It lives up to its iconic name.  It consisted of large boulders that required a lot of quad work.  I had some plans to used my Black Diamond poles only periodically during the race.  I ended up using them for all but 7 miles in the 4 days.  There was also some beautiful variation in the landscape of the first 63.  We had mossy clearings and alpine peaks and everything in between.  We also had a nice thunder shower in the afternoon before sunset.  It poured and thankfully we decided to last minute before race start to pack the rain jacket instead of the plastic poncho.




There was some congestion in the aid stations of the first 63.  I had to fight my way for food as the stations worked hard to keep up with the demand of the runners.  I didn’t mind it much but didn’t want to sit longer than necessary.  I kept an efficient pace changing out of wet clothing and socks.  It felt cold for the first time at AS44.  I took pleasure in drinking my canned Starbuck coffee from my drop bag and got a hot quesadilla to go.  Once darkness set in it was a lonely trek.  I would leapfrog with a few runners and exchanged a few words.  Oh, my watch died at mile 20 even though I had charged it to 100% the night before.  So for miles and miles I didn’t know my exact distance.  I relied on time to estimate my progress.  A little frustrating but when you’re out there, you have to let go of things that happen outside of your control.

The next spot I recognized was crossing Highway 50 which indicated I had 6 miles to 63.  By this time I was very much looking forward to seeing my crew.  My legs felt strong but my feet ached.  I wanted to sit, eat, and rest.  Seeing the unmanned water station at Highway 50, I put my phone off airplane mode and texted my crew with excitement “6 miles out” is what I put.  Then I was met with a fair mile of road.  I think it’s safe to say that at an ultra any time the RD throws you something easy you should expect something ridiculous to follow.  The next mile became one of the more memorable climbs of the first 63.  This relentless mile of climb made me say to myself “please make it stop.”  Then some rolling trails until the final ½ mile of climb into the aid station.  There I was greeted by Sonja.  What a sight for sore eyes.

Sonja, Michelle, and Mel got me in and helped me clean up, fed me, and worked on my feet.  We had planned to have me sleep here and they asked me to go to sleep for a few hours.  I closed my eyes to bouncing headlamp that I had been seeing for the last 8 hours.  I tired breathing relaxation techniques and I think I actually fell asleep; for 15 minutes.  I lay on the floor hearing every snore and footstep within the race sleep area.  I got up and told the girls that it was time to continue on.


Michelle was my first pacer and with her company, 15 minutes of sleep, and a 7 mile downhill section, we blasted out of the aid station and ran one of the fasted segments of the race.  We even beat Mel and Sonja to the next station.  I know I should not be going too fast but sometimes when you’re feeling good you have to take advantage.  That of course would be short lived.  The next segment was going to be a beast.  Mel led me through nearly 18 miles and up to the highest point of the race at Armstrong Pass.  My Garmin topped out that section at 9,500 feet.  But while I’ve trained consistently at higher elevation, this segment kicked me in the teeth.  I had a sort of out-of-body experience there watching me and Mel traverse building sized boulders shaped like faces, monsters, and butts.  I asked to stop and rest for the first time during the race.


This segment included the gorgeous Big Meadow.  It also ran longer than the advertised 18 miles.  By the time we arrived at Armstrong, I was not a happy camper.  Again, the crew asked that I sleep and I tried.  I just couldn’t and after 15 minutes asked that we keep moving.  For the first time I saw a look of concern on their faces.  I could tell they were not happy with my decision but I really could not sleep.  Sonja looked at me straight in the face and said, “If you don’t sleep at the next station, you will not have a pacer.”  Message received and I agreed.

trying unsuccessfully to sleep
Michelle led me through the next 15 miles and what I remember to be mostly through darkness.  We chatted a lot about her up-coming race and how stupid it was that two people should be hiking through the woods for hours and hours in the middle of the night.  We laughed and moved and never stopped.  We passed by several runners sometimes just sitting off the trail.  We always asked how they were doing and I begin to see the effect of lack of sleep amongst us all.  I knew I was beginning to fall into hallucinations when twisted branches and rocks begin to resemble animals and creatures.  We forged on and seemingly like routine, we took a sharp descend into the next aid station at Heavenly.  103 miles done.

I slept!  3 hours of incredible, refreshing sleep.  I woke up around 3:00AM and begin to get myself ready.  By about 3:30, Sonja had also gotten up and got the whole crew ready for the next leg.  I can see that they were as exhausted as I was.  Sonja led me for the next 20 miles.  We saw another beautiful sunrise on the Tahoe Rim Trail.  I remember some conversation about kids and family.  It made the time pass as we traversed from mountain to mountain.  I remember from this point forward the first 5 miles of every segment going by very quickly then the next 10-15 miles would slow to a crawl in my mind. 
Next segment with Mel was through some beautiful openings with wild flowers and peaks with rustling trees.  That was also a hot 17 miles where I worried about running out of water.  While Mel and I trekked, Sonja headed to the airport for reinforcement.  Aud and Inna were on their way for the last wave.


Surprisingly, my legs felt incredibly good.  My shoulders and arms were another story.  I have never put that many miles while using hiking poles.  And it became painful to push off the sticks with each stride.  The bottom of my feet hurt unbearably.  I tried shifting my weight around, the front, the heel, and the sides until it all hurt.  Only thing to do was to keep moving.  We saw one of the most beautiful sunsets coming down to Tunnel Creek.  It was glorious and for a moment made me forget the pain.


When we arrived, it had just turned dark.  Waiting for us was Sonja, Aud, and Inna.  I hugged Aud and it felt so good.  It felt like I had not seen her in a life time.  No sleep here so it was a fairly quick change and food and out we go.  The next three miles were on flat paved roads through a high end residential area.  Inna brought new energy and as usual cracked me up with her sense of humor.  We had no idea what was in store next.  We existed the residential area (before witnessing some illegal crewing; someone’s whole crew was working on their runner outside designated aid stations) and came across some heavy brushes.  The ribbons led up a steep mound of dirt.  When I say steep I mean this shit was vertical.  I thought “this must be a short hop before another trail.” I dug my poles hard with every climb.  To her credit, Inna stay ahead without the help of poles and using her hands while pointing out the tarantulas and quarter sized ants crawling about.  In the complete darkness, all I can see were reflective flags waving above head that seemingly led to the stars above.


“What even is this shit?” I thought (In Inna's voice). Powerline, as this was called is a one mile, 1,500 feet vertical climb at mile 144.  All of a sudden, Candice Burt didn’t seem as nice as she did before the race.  Inna and I found spots to sit and catch our breath along the way while laughing and cursing.  Just when we thought we had summited Powerline we turned right and realized there were more to go.  Immediately after reaching the top we drop back down only to climb back to over 8,000 feet elevation before the final descend on some rocky ass Tahoe Rim Trail.  Some hikers told us they had just seen a bear with its cubs.  That was reassuring.  And then they said, “You’re almost there; aid station is only 5 miles down.”  When was the last time you thought 5 miles was “almost there?”  This portion was extremely sandy and dusty, staying behind Inna I was breathing in so much dust that I almost threw up.  At this point, Scott Jurek passed us with Luis Escobar like ghosts through the night.  It was a sight to see Scott move through the trails with such grace and ease.

When we arrived at Brockway Summit at mile 155.5 I was ready for another nap.  I was also informed that I had no more clean clothing.  So maybe I became a little grump then.  I sat in a chair with no shirt for about 10 minutes while the crew looked for clothing.  It was a pretty low point and I tried very hard to contain myself.  Aud came back with her shirt and said that was all they had for the time being.  She would do the laundry before the next segment.  I ate and took a spot in the race sleep quarters.  There was a twin size cot with no pillow.  I asked to be waken in three hours and thought that there was no way I could fall asleep in the very uncomfortable looking setting.  I lay down and when I opened my eyes it was exactly three hours later.

Crew life - Sonja catching some zzzzs

Another morning and Sonja was in charge of the walking dead this time.  Again we started out strong and trekked the first five miles at great pace.  Then it got increasingly hot.  Thankfully the terrain of this segment was mild in comparison and I prayed that the worse was behind us. 
We rolled through mazes of trees and boulders before dropping back down into Tahoe City almost a block from where our hotel is.  There waiting for me was a cup of amazing iced coffee.  I mean real coffee.  And yes a pulled pork sandwich and more coca cola.  My god, nothing has ever tasted so good.

Inna and me goofing around at Tahoe City

“You should pack your rain jacket” Mel said.  “It might rain they said.”  I packed my jacket but with the warm morning I doubted it would be bad.  Inna seemed reluctant but packed Mel’s rain jacket in her pack.  Both of us are in our tank tops and shorts.  We started the next section and the elevation chart showed 10 miles of climb followed by 10 miles of drop.  It fucking lied.  The first 8 miles were relatively flat and then the next two miles climbed about 2,000 feet.  About 2 hours in, the storm clouds and thunder rolled in.  You can hear the rain from miles away and closing in.  “Let’s get our jackets on” I said.  And as soon as we managed that the rain just poured.  Along with the rain began our climb into darkness.  We reached over 8,500 feet in elevation and saw lighting storm over nearby mountain BELOW us.  Then I said to Inna, “Are those snowflakes falling?”

Just before the thunderstorms

I think she thought I must have been hallucinating at first and ignored me.  Until it got colder and colder and she finally saw them falling around us.  “Shit, it’s snowing.”  There was Inna in shorts and a layer of rain shell forced to walk at my pace.  She said “I’m going to run a little ahead and run back to stay warm.”  I felt really bad and tried to stay pace.  It had stopped raining and I offered my jacket to her to stay warm.   This segment was rocky as hell; the trail was essentially a river creek with fist sized rocks with no lines to walk.  I said “Inna you got the hardest segments, hands down.”  She was a good sport and we tried to joke to forget the ridiculousness that we were enduring.

“YES, we got off the mountain and lived to talk about it!” were the words out of my mouth when we reach the bottom of the mountain into yet another residential area on the roads.  We went about a mile laughing and celebrating what we had just endured.  Then shit just got crazy.  Another thunderstorm rolled in right over our heads as we ran alongside the lake.  “This is where our friendship ends” Inna joked.  But as the rain, lightening, and thunder intensified, neither of us felt like laughing.  I started running.  And I mean actually running in fear of being struck by lightning.  We happened upon a public restroom and ducked in for 20 minutes.  Once feeling safe we joked again about the absurdity of it all.  I told Inna she needs to buy lotto tickets after when this was all said and done.

Hiding out from the thunderstorm

We were only three miles to the next aid station but it seemed like an eternity.  We were routed off the street into a trail of complete darkness and what seemed like a thousand turns.  Along with the rain and some very wet trails, my spirit was at an all-time low.  But we kept moving while listening to the thunder moving away from us.  When we reached Stephen Jones we saw a sea of runners hiding out from the rain.  We hid inside our crew vehicle and while I changed in the back with the fresh laundry Aud had done.  The crew fed Inna in the front.  “Man, if Inna looks this exhausted, I must look like shit.” I thought.

Last ten miles.  But I needed just a little more rest before we headed out.  I think exhaustion was getting to everyone.  Aud would lead me for the final ten miles.  In complete darkness we headed out.  What struck me the most was the amount of climb and how difficult it now seemed.  My arms and shoulders were spent from the four days of wielding the hiking poles.  But nevertheless I dug deep with them with every step.  These miles were slow and grueling to say the least.  Aud told me about the last few days with the kids to keep my mind off the pain beneath my feet.  The ribbons kept coming but I swore we were going in circles.  I checked my GPS app time and time again to insure we were on the right track.  We were, but I swore we were lost.  My mind drifted from happy to anger to sadness over and over again.  Finally we reached what appeared to be the top of Homewood before our descent.

The next three miles seemed like an eternity.  I tried to run thinking the finish was just around the corner.  I kept telling Aud that I recognized a turn from 4 days ago and the finish was just ahead.  I cannot remember how many times I was wrong.  The fist sized rocks of the descend provided no comfort for my feet that hurt with every step.  I cringed, groaned, and cursed with every trip and fall coming down.  We passed the tequila aid station.  That bottle was fucking empty; figures.

With less than one mile to go the sun rose and the lake came into view.  We passed two runners and I felt energized to move “fast” to the finish.  One last turn and the finish line came into view.  Downhill, downhill, and more painful downhill.  I crossed the finish line of the Tahoe 200 and looked back.  I fell to my knees and tears ran down my dusty cheeks.  I could not believe I had just done that.  Inna and Aud picked me up and we hugged.  I found Mel and Sonja and I hugged and thank them.  The last two days of the race was a blur but I remember the finish now like it had happened moments ago. 



It has been a week since we ran and finished the Tahoe 200.  I am still working through the recovery physically but more so emotionally.  The pain beneath my feet lessens daily and my legs are in decent shape.  There is an unexplained numbness to my left quad that I continue to monitor.  But the biggest challenge since the race had been the mood swings.  The post-race blues are more intense than I’ve ever experienced and I go from extreme uplifted happiness to grumpy to sad daily.  I miss the woods and that feeling of absolute freedom out there.  I miss the movement of the body on the trails, the sounds of water and wind, and the smells of pine and wildflowers.  In the days to come I will continue to process the whole experience and try to understand the impact it will leave in my life.  I am sure it has left its mark deeply in my heart.  For now, I will rest and remain thankful for those who helped me complete this journey.  Thank you to my crew, my wife, my sister who took care of the kids while we raced.  Thank you to my friends who sent notes of encouragement and kept us in your thoughts throughout.  Your positive energy was felt even deep in the woods of Tahoe.


One race, one mile, and one step at a time,



Friday, December 9, 2016

Chimera 100 Nov. 12, 2016 – Conquering  Surviving the Beast

“The Chimera is a figure out of Greek mythology. She is a fire breathing animal comprised of a lion, a goat, and a serpent... and those who have participated in her race refer to it simply as "THE BEAST"” – Chimera Ultrasignup page

2016 proved to be a good year of running but not so great for documenting my experience here on these pages.  It has been nearly 9 months since my last entry.  I’ve found myself drifting more and more into the abbreviated world of social media ( .  Does anybody still write?!  Then again sometimes, a few photos and captions alone just aren’t enough to express an experience, especially one that is colored with great emotions. 

Since Beyond Limit Ultra in March, I completed another Nanny Goat 100 in May.  It was not planned and I ran it because it was convenient (close to home) and I wanted to have a 100 miler (not timed event) in 2016.  But the race left me with more than a half year of no ultra planned and too much time to think about “stuff”.  This seem to always lead to trouble.

Up to Nanny Goat 2016, I’ve run the 100 mile distance 5 times along with a 188 miler under 72 hours.  But, I still considered myself a rookie in ultra running.  Four of my finishes (NGx2, BLU, and BTR) have been loop courses.  The only point-to-point race (GY100) was flat as a pancake.   The two trail courses were mild at best (LH: 6,500 ft., BTR 12,000 ft.).  My only attempt at a legit trail ultra resulted in a DNF.  And the taste of the Pinhoti DNF lingered bitterly in my soul.  If I were to be honest with myself, I sometimes felt very much like a fake, a JV player, and someone with something to prove. 

I don’t know why I think this way because it doesn’t make sense logically.  I should be content with this shit and stay home with these few buckles.  But like other ultra friends, some of us are cursed with the desire to do more.  Go further and do harder stuff to prove to (imaginary) others and (ultimately) ourselves that we can keep chasing for more.  Am I a fake?  Am I just a flatlander?  Well, there was only one way to find out; and that was to go up the mountains again.

Now that was one half of me talking (well, thinking).  The other half was filled with “logic”, doubt, and pretty much scared shitless.  When Chimera came up in conversation with my friends Andrea and Joshua I think I said that I felt like throwing up in my mouth.  The 100 mile race is set in the Cleveland National Forest about an hour south of my home in So Cal with an advertised elevation gain of 22,000 feet.  I paced Andrea 3 years ago at Chimera and know (at least 25 miles) first-hand the rocky trails of the race.  I’ve also run other portions of the course that were challenging even in small doses.  Even strong runners considered the course “hard.”

It took some internal mental debates and prodding from Andrea for me to finally decide to take the dive.  Weeks of “just sign up,” and “Don’t be a pussy (#DBAP)” was basically what Andrea kept telling me.  I should have known better, then again, if I did, I wouldn’t into this madness in the first place.  I felt physically and mentally strong.   I have put hours and hours on the trail since Pinhoti so I know if there was ever a chance for me to make the push it would be now.  My game plan for Chimera would be simple; dance gingerly down the monster’s back and hope that it would sleep through my finish.  No time goal.  Finish the course under the 35 hour cutoff.

To better my chances of finishing, I asked for pacers.  Crewing and pacing is a big commitment and I hate having to trouble my friends with the responsibility.  But what I learned from Pinhoti was that having a crew and pacers can make a world of difference.  When I asked, and without hesitation, my friends Michelle and Lori stepped up to the plate.  The week before the race Lori got sick and her husband Lee stepped in to fill her spot.  I am so very grateful for their friendship.  I apologized in advance for any whining, swearing, farting, burping, and whatever else the trail may bring out of me.  Michelle would be there for me at mile 47-70 and Lee would anchor the last 30 miles to the finish.

Night before the race I had everything packed and was in bed by 8:00PM.  It was the best I’ve ever prepared for a race and I slept like a baby.  Aud drove me to the start in the morning for the 6:00AM start then returned with Michelle in about 12 hours when I’ve reached mile 47.  It was kind of a surreal feeling arriving at Bluejay Campground and gathering with other runners at the start.  I saw a lot of unfamiliar face at Chimera.  Aud and I agreed that we were amongst different company (from our loop running friends). 

I did my homework prior to the race and studied each section.  I focused on elevation changes visualized going through each part of the course.  First half consist of single tracks and the second was mostly jeep roads.  Gear packed used for the run:

UD PB pack with 2L bladder

Altra Olympus 2.0 1-47

Altra Olympus 1.5 47-70

Altra Olympus 1.5 (second pair) 70-Finish

Black Diamond Z-Poles 85-Finish (used only from 85-92)

Nitecore HC50 headlamp

Nitecore P12 handheld flashlight

I also set a change of clothe for the night at 47, additional clothing at 70 (ended up not needing), and a final day time set of clothing at 85 in Corona.

I did more homework for Chimera than I have ever for another ultra.  It was to be respected and properly prepared for.  But I think amongst all the preparation, the most important part was the mental preparation of sticking to the game plan.  Run within my ability, run what course allows me, and do not wake the monster Chimera.

The race started a few minutes past 6:00.  Gave my final goodbye to Aud and we were off onto the San Juan trail dimly lit by the glowing ruby skies.  I took a position in the back of the pack by starting slow and allowing several more runners to pass within the first few miles.  The beautiful mountains and sunrise along with the downhill of the first section can easily make one forget the long journey ahead.  I reminded myself frequently in this section to ease off the downhills and walk over rocky section.  I also took many mental notes of the decline knowing that I would have to retrace my steps on the return trip.
Aud and me at the start

The first 24 miles, out-and-back, single track section was beautiful and with spectacular views of sunrise lit mountains and clouds.  Feeling fresh, I only took a few minutes when I returned to Bluejay.  Knowing that the temperature would warm up, I filled my bladder and took only a few bites of what was available at the aid station.  There were just a few PB&J sandwiches and pretzels and candy.  I packed my vest with other food items I had brought to get me to the next major aid station 11 miles away at the Candy Store aid station. 

Beautiful San Juan Trail

From this section (Bluejay-Candy Store-Bluejay; 24-47), I begin to notice the small aches and twitches in my legs.  It’s not unusual for me to notice these things at this early stage of the race.  I’ve often said that it starts sucking after 30 miles for me in any given 100 miler.  But knowing the miles and miles of mountain ahead I wanted to preserve my legs and feet as well as possible.  This section included views as beautiful as the first section.  Single tracks with giant boulders lined the trail.  Again, we’d descend down towards Candy Store and then would climb the same trails on the journey back. 

Several parts of the Candy Store section were pretty technical.  I walked, crawled (hands required) through these sections with care.  I encountered a gigantic 5-6 feet bright copper/brick colored rattle snake near the bottom.  It stopped me dead in my track.  Backing up about 10-15 feet, I found rocks and begin throwing at it.  It was pretty angry but slowing slithered sway from the trail.  This took several minutes but I thought it was time well spent. 

As the temperature heated up my water supply was depleting fairly fast.  I got a partial refill half way down to Candy Store (water is limited as it has to be brought on the back of volunteers to the middle of nowhere), so I had to really watch my consumption.  When I arrived at Candy Store I was completely out of fuel and water.  The volunteers there were wonderful in assisting me with water refill.  I had really hoped for real food at this aid station but none were to be found.  Just bars and candy.  I fought very hard to go off the rails and into the dark end.  I asked and packed several bars and took my trek back up to Bluejay.

The skies began dimming soon after I left Candy Store.  At about half way up the trails to Bluejay, it was perfectly dark with only a few distance flashlights up high throughout the switchbacks.  I had properly anticipated the darkness and was lighting my way with my handheld flashlight.  Throughout these climbs, I managed a decent effort.  Nevertheless, I remember some doubts began to crawl into my head.  The internal voices went something like, “just get to Bluejay”, “yeah but how will you do another 53 miles” “I’ll have a nice meal and my pacers after” “you’ll just embarrass yourself when you have to drop in front of your friends”.  I was annoyed at not having food at Candy Store and I was alone in the dark.  Then I remember having these exact feeling and doubts on the trails of Pinhoti.  That’s when I said to myself to suck and up and keep moving. 

I was so happy to see Aud and Michelle at Bluejay and they shared the same excitement upon my arrival.  This was a long break.  I took about 20 minutes to change into my night gear and finally had a proper meal.  ½ of an In-n-Out burger and a cup-o-noodle.  I tried to bury my doubts and put on my best brave face.  But I think I said to Aud “this is hard” many times over the 20 minutes.  We packed my bag with as much food as possible (I complained about Candy Store, a lot) and we were off again soon after.  Aud said “you got this.”  I smiled.  Not sure if it was able to hide my doubts as Michelle and I left the station.

Michelle is excited!

Chimera was Michelle’s first experience pacing at a 100.  She is a strong marathon runner and we’ve done a lot of trail training together over the last months as she was preparing for her first 50K race.  She was super excited as we started and it was what I needed.  Once we left Bluejay and after a short section on paved roads, we started climbing what seemed to be some endless jeep roads.  I apologized for the amount of walking we were doing but it was all I could manage. 

These miles in the darkness were long and I spent a lot of time talking about how stupid ultra running is.  I told Michelle that “I’m never doing this shit again” quite a few times over the hours we spent together.  That venting seemed to really help.  Section by section, slowly we chipped away at the course.  Even with my obvious suffering, Michelle was enjoying the experience like a new addict finding the new high.  She even declared her intention to run Chimera in 2017.  Well, I guess I may be pacing this shit next year.

We passed the 100K vs 100M split shortly after we saw a few 100K runners running towards us.  At that point I turned and half-jokingly asked Michelle, “Can I drop to 100K?” “NO, we already passed the split” “it’s still shorter for us to backtrack and towards the finish than it is to continue on the 100 miler.”  She was firm in her answer and so I resigned to my whining and accepted the fact that she was going to get me to 70 where she said her job would be complete.   “When I hand you over to Lee, then you can drop all you want, but he’s not going to let you.” 

Going up 8 miles on Holy Jim to Santiago Peak after 60 miles of running is vastly different than when you do it with fresh legs.  It was a grind.  And for the first time in all my ultras, I felt sleepy hiking up these thousands of feet of endless switchbacks.  “I’m tired” become my favorite phrase over many miles.  To Michelle’s credit, her positivity and the cans of coke she fed me kept me going in these very dim moments.  I wondered out loud if I can just curl up and take a nap on the side of the trail on Holy Jim.  The answer from my pacer ahead was always “NO”.  My watch dies before I am able to charge it at my next drop-bag.  We past Maple Spring, I saw Diane and Melissa there.  Thank you both.  The quesadillas and chicken soup were out of this world.  The tent was full of dropping runners.

Mile 64 was when we were supposed to see Lori/Lee’s Santiago Station for the first of three times.  We didn’t get there until about 66 miles based on our Garmin.  These kinds of discrepancies often happen at ultras but were nevertheless frustrating for me.  When we finally got there I found yet another tent of runners who have decided to drop from the race.  I looked at the cutoffs and I was only 1 hour ahead of the ever pressing DNF line.  It was great to see my friends Sonja along with Lee and Lori.  Bless her heart, even with a bad cold, Lori was up there volunteering and working the station.  I was reminded again about the cutoff so I quickly plugged in my watch and changed my shoes and Michelle and I were off again to Maple Springs and Modjeska before returning back for a final time at 70.

When we returned, I sat and had a solid meal of cup-o-noodle and coffee (thank you Sonja!).  I thanked Michelle and everyone else.  I overheard that there were some issues with transportation for Michelle to get back down the mountains.  I tried to ask more but was told by Michelle to not worry and go finish the race.  Lee was ready and I took a deep breath and off we went down the mountains.  The sun was a few hours from rising but you can see in the very distance some colors starting to come back into view.  I found some renewed energy and although we ever moved very quickly, we kept moving.  Lee was a great pacer and kept us on pace and at every station we encountered we kept that one hour lead on the cut-off.
With Lee at 70 

I’ve only known Lori and Lee for the past two years but because of our shared love for ultra running it seem like we’ve known one another forever.  We joked and asked why we couldn’t just see sunrises from mountain tops like normal people.  That is by driving up the mountains instead of climbing them.  As we talked and joked, Lee ran ahead and pointed out best lines to run on those FUCKING ROCKY jeep roads.   With my sore feet and legs, there were only a few “runnable” sections from the 70s forward.  We made the best of what was runnable and I shuffled forward.  I determined that this race sucked balls.

Second Sunrise - Santiago
I was really surprised on how well Lee knew the course.  After having done Los Pinos and paced at Twin Peaks, he knew this back section like the back of his hand.  It helped and I am sure I asked “are we there yet” more than was necessary.  A lot of mindless chatters kept my thoughts off the blisters and the stabbing pain in both knees.  The sun peaked and there were few clouds in the sky.  It would be warm and I would stay over dressed until I got to Corona at mile 85.

When we arrived at the top of Indian Truck Trail (mile 78) we had managed to keep our one hour cushion.  This was a section that I was familiar with from pacing Andrea three years back.  The view from the top was spectacular.  It was like the serpent tail of the Chimera winding its way miles down to Corona.  It looked less spectacular and more daunting after 80 miles.  But I sucked it up and we averaged roughly a 15-16 minute mile pace in this section.  In the second half of the race, I moved the fastest through this section, shuffling to a mild jog whenever the trail would allow it.  But it would be the last section that my knees would allow me to move beyond a fast walk.

Aid station Corona, mile 85 called for a longer break.  I finally changed out of my long sleeve and pants and into my final daytime clothing.  A volunteer at the station offered me a fresh spam musubi that almost made me cry for joy.  I asked the station if they had any lube and they did not.  Another crew waiting for their runner saved my life by offering some fresh towels and lube.  I cannot imagine those last 15 miles if I weren’t lucky enough to run into them.  Last thing before leaving Corona was taking out my hiking poles from the drop bag.  It was time to wrap this shit up.

“Poles are for pussies” says Andrea and Josh.  I thought about that as I hike up those 7 miles from Corona back to the top of Indian Truck Trail.  “Do I give a shit?” “Hell no, because they are helping big time right now” I thought.  Lee became the drill sergeant up these hills.  “Come on Liu!”  “ooohhhh, yeah, let it out Liu”  I got to be honest, I was loving and hating him at the same time all the while climbing those hills.  The sun was at full blaze and we cherished every little corner that afforded some shade.  I dug deep in my mind and with my poles and we made our way back to the top of Indian Truck Trail.  Time check at the top of ITT showed that we were now 1:45 ahead of the cutoff.  Just 8 more miles to go.
Poles are not for pu$$ies

Andrea said that this the part of the race that made her say “fuck this race” and unfortunately I found out first hand that was entirely true.  "When you think you're through with climbing out of Corona, you've got to climb again," she said.  After a very brief break we turned left out of the ITT aid station and onto what I considered the most miserable 10K I’ve ever done.  Rocks and climbs.  Rock and climbs.  For the next six miles the hills kept coming and the jeep road got no smoother.  Lee kept promising that some downhills were coming until I just said “Lies” whenever he would speak of downhills.  Then finally we hit the last aid station at Trabuco.  “It’s just downhill from here” they said at the aid station.  True to their word, the last three to four miles were all down hills on steep fucking rocky tails. 

I was now wishing for climbs.  My knees would no longer bend.  My blisters had blisters.  My pace slowed to a crawl, other runners passed us.  Lee continued to holler and cheer up ahead.  Then it happened as it has in before during 100 milers.  I felt at peace.  I felt as if I was just watching myself.  I felt divorced from the pain, fear, and anger during what seemed like a lifetime in those last few miles.  I think we continued to talk but the conversation become muffled and dropped to the background.  I was filled with indescribable joy and fulfillment.  Physical suffering is strange gateway into these glimpses of spiritual awareness.  Then it was gone.  Before I knew it, the trails turned to pavement and we were coming in near Bluejay to the finish.

I rounded a few of the last corner inside Bluejay and a few of the runners who had just finished were by their cars and cheering.  I recall yelling to one of them in passing, “it was hard” to which he responded “Fuck yeah its hard, this is Chimera, its ain’t for pussies.”  That statement filled me with pride as I thought, "I am going to be a Chimera finisher."  Aud and the kids along with Lori were at the finish line.  Lee said “come on Jeff, lets finish this” and we started jogging towards the finish.  I held up Lee’s hand and we crossed the finish together.  I just thanked him and said that it would not have been possible without him (and Michelle).  Audrena and the kids were there and I can see the pride on their face.  I was so glad they were there to see the finish.


“All 100 milers are hard” is an accurate statement.  But I also knew that some are “harder than others.”  Before Chimera I didn’t really appreciate the gap of the difference.  That was a hell of a leap from my other races and I am grateful to have had a great crew with me to help me to the finish line.  I was the 27th of 30 runners to complete the race.  I feel no shame in the back-of-pack finish because of the 70 registrants, just 30 of us finished the dance with the monster Chimera.  I think the finish showed some growth in me as a trail runner and some added toughness since Pinhoti.  I will cherish this finish.

I’ve had some time to digest the finish and given some more thought in the passing weeks.  The need to chase bigger, harder, and more is difficult to fight.  But I truly recognize that at some point I need to draw a line and find the moment to stop chasing.  Perhaps part of the problem is that I still don’t know exactly what I am chasing, or running away from.  I am taking the Chimera experience and parlaying it into the biggest race year yet next year.  The Tahoe 200.  200 miles, 4 days in the woods.  I hope I can find what I am looking for out there and perhaps find an end to the ever calling chase.

One race, one mile, and one step at a time,