I’d put myself on the waiting list for this always sold out race sometime back in the spring. It seemed unlikely that my name would ever come up. I was a few weeks out from running Stagecoach 100 when I got the invite to do Cuyamaca, two weeks later. I accepted, and then cancelled Stagecoach.
In my typically impulsive, disorganized way, driving down to Flagstaff from Salida, Colorado, having spent a few days on the Continental Divide Trail, I decided I wanted to run Stagecoach after all, so I could run through the aspen around Humphrey’s Peak. RD Ian Torrence made room, I ran a solid race even after getting lost in the woods for over an hour, and hit the starting line for Cuyamaca on tired legs.
What is the secret to running a decent 100K two weeks after PRing at 100 miles? Stupidity, mostly.
An active recovery between the two races helped a lot, too. Recovery from something like a 100 mile race is helped by keeping the blood flowing to the muscles, which speeds up the repair process. It’s the same reason that doctors now encourage patients to get moving (gently) as soon as they can after surgery. The human body is built to move, and the stimulation of movement can be a crucial part of recovery from injury, surgery, or a 100 mile race. The risk of overdoing it is greater with some athletes than it is with me, as I am pretty much a natural underachiever. Proper recovery is crucial now that myp sring chicken days are long behind me, and proper recovery mostly involves easy-does-it movement and lots of sleep.
My two week taper for Cuyamaca 100K was pretty much exactly what it would have been had I not run a 100 mile race two weeks before. One important thing to note, though: two weeks of good recovery does not put you in peak condition. I started Cuyamaca 100K on tired legs, and the first 15 miles or so involved a lot of careful assessment of just how hard I might be able to push it.
Cuyamaca 100K – start (photo: Andrea Feucht)
The race began slowly, a traffic jam as 250 runners funneled onto single track. The miles slowed almost immediately as we started a seven mile gentle downhill to the first aid station. That was fine. I’d created some splits, given them to Andrea, and promptly forgot them. Later, when Andrea would tell me how I was doing relative to these splits, I’d have to ask her what my target time was.
I suspected I was going too slow in these first eight miles, but that didn’t really matter. There was no way to force my way through the crowd without expending energy I’d probably need later. My habit of starting well in the back half of the pack and slowly moving forward isn’t helpful in situations like this, but I do it anyway.
I had vague memories of running the race in 2015. The opening climb was long and gentle, through a field of tall yellow grass up to the top of Cuyamaca Peak and the second aid station. Beautiful, and an oddly calming climb. The weather was also gentle, enough sun to keep things warm, enough clouds to prevent it from getting hot, Goldilocks style, just right. I recognized the stretch where I’d stopped to tie my shoelaces in 2015. I’d set my waterbottles on the trail while tying my shoes, forests got all over the waterbottles and stung my hands badly. The ants were still thick through that section in 2018, but there were no shoelace problems.
First aid station.
View from Cuyamaca Peak
This climb was followed by a rocky, technical downhill, the sort I used to really enjoy three years ago, but three years ago I was about fifteen years younger than I am now, and a few spills and broken bones and aging vision have made me extremely cautious on this stuff, so I picked my way slowly through the loose rocks, probably losing more time, but it didn’t really matter. I had plenty of excuses I could use for underperforming, chief among them age and the 100 miler I’d run two weeks earlier. My spring chicken days ended a long time ago. I don’t have the recovery abilities I did when I was in my teens. I was happy just to be out there.
Conejos Trail, by Paksit Photo
The race is three different loops that begin and end where the race itself begins and ends. This is also the main aid station, and the only one with drop bags. The first loop is 32 miles. The second is 12, and the third 18.
The second loop begins with long gentle stretches through tall grass meadows, and who doesn’t like a meadow? Just the word itself is calming. I was reminded a bit of the Canadian prairie that I grew up on, except that the Canadian prairie seems endlessly flat and expansive, and these were gentle climbs with visible ends. To me, things always seem more reassuring on a run when the horizon is nearby. After this, there’s a dusty and sometimes rocky, sometimes steep descent down to the aid station, a little more than two thirds of the way through the loop, the approach marked mostly by Barbra Streisand posters. Because it was the weekend of the highly contentious Brett Kavanaugh confirmation vote, there was also a few “I liked beer. I still like beer” posters that made me laugh even while thinking it unfortunate that the most unqualified ever Supreme Court Justice has become more-or-less nothing but a Bro meme.
Andrea joined me on the 18 mile long third loop. This began as all the loops did, and then about a mile in started to climb. Eventually we hit fire road, a nice, mostly flat and mostly runnable few miles as the sun was getting low before spilling onto single track and a mostly climb up to the Sunrise aid station. The last time I ran this race, I hit this aid station just at dark. This time, on older and very tired legs, the lights came out a half mile or so before. On the fireroad we’d been all alone. On this sometimes rocky single track there were lots of people. We passed a few, and quite a few more passed us.
Sunrise is also a major aid station at San Diego 100, both in the beginning of the race and towards the end of it. I’d become quite familiar with it in the years since I first ran Cuyamaca, and with the trails around it, too. We’d even done a few miles out here the day before the race, just to shake the legs out, and met the elderly couple in charge of the aid station. They had an RV twice the size of my apartment, flying a big Trump MAGA flag. Oh well. This is San Diego, after all.
Me, mile 50
We joined up with the San Diego course about a half mile in from the aid station, at about the point it got dark. It was starting to get cold and windy, too. I felt like I spent a few minutes too many at this aid station, trying to warm my hands, but it seems that others spent more time than we did, because despite being passed by many more people than passed me on this last loop, I finished in the same position I started in, which means I passed them all back at the aid stations. This is significant. If twenty runners passed me on the trails, I passed twenty in aid stations. That means I passed more than 10% of the runners left on the course in a small handful of aid stations on the last loop. Efficiency in aid stations makes a big difference, especially when you are old and slow.
The wind was much colder than I remembered it from 2015, and strong, and I was getting uncomfortable in a hurry. Getting uncomfortable was just about the only thing I was doing in a hurry. Andrea’s encouragement to run was met with resistance, in part because I’ve lost confidence in my night vision these past few years. I was also tired, knew I was not going to make my target time, and also knew I had hours to spare before the cut-off to qualify for Western States. Aside from getting out of the cold, there didn’t seem to be any rush.
We came upon a gate that I remembered from my last time at Cuyamaca. It was at this gate in 2015 that I’d decided to turn it on, and passed a bunch of people in the last few miles. Aside from the runners who passed us coming up to the gate, there seemed no one else to pass, which might have been just as well as I’m not sure I had it in me. We shuffled the last few miles to the finish. I ran the last few hundred yards kind of hard, just in case anyone was watching.