All was good until Thursday morning. I was finishing up my run and with less the 400m to go my right calf cramped. I immediately stopped and walked back to my car. As the anxiety started to set in all I could think was, is this it?!? All this build up down the drain, am I going to have to tell everyone the Dipsea didn't happen? When I got home I immediately downed a bottle of water and doubled up on the Nuun and went to work with the foam roller and the peanut. This has happened to me before and it's put me out for a few days, so to say I was panicking was a huge understatement but I tried not to think about it and enjoy Thanksgiving.
When I woke up Friday morning my calf was still tight but mentally I felt better heading to the airport. I was stoked to be flying Virgin America and I highly recommend it if you have the opportunity! After landing and checking in to my hotel I headed to Old Mill Park to check out the start and the infamous steps. I walked the steps, all 684 of them, hung out at the top to enjoy the sunset, take some pictures and thought about what tomorrow had in store. My confidence was a little rattled but I knew if my calf held up it was going to be a good day.
Saturday arrived and after I picked up my number I started my warm up. 5 minutes into my warm up I felt a slight twinge in my calf but tried not to focus on it. I tried to relax and zone out to my music. From my run I transitioned in to my dynamic movement drills being careful not to over do it and with 20 minutes to gun time I said to myself stop thinking about it and just go until you can't go anymore. With that it was out of my head and I headed to the car to gear up and hit the bathroom one last time before the start.
The Quad is a race like no other, it offers some of the most challenging terrain I ever run but it also has some of the most amazing, awe inspiring views I've ever laid my eyes on. The race starts and within 200 meters you hit a wall of steps that is so long you can't even see the top. As we hit the steps I over heard a spectator cheer for the runner next to me and his response was, "they can run the steps all they want." That runner ended up being Runner Up Justin Morejohn. I agreed and decided there was no need to smoke myself within the first two minutes of a 28.4 mile race. Once I had hiked the 684 steps I began my journey to Stinson Beach. I had an overall memory of the course and a few select gnarly sections burned in my brain but for the most part didn't remember much course from last year. All I remembered was that it was extremely difficult and when I crossed the line I was a broken man. Knowing I was better prepared I still played it cautious during the first half of the race. As we hit the first descent I heard footsteps rapidly approaching I moved to the side of the trail and three runners blew past me putting 100 meters into me in less the ten seconds. At that moment I had two thoughts 1. How do people run that fast downhill without killing themselves and 2. I'll see you again as we climb to the top of Cardiac. It was still very early in the race and the most important thing I've learned over the years is that first and for most it's a race against yourself. Once you start racing someone else's race your dead in the water. Too many times I've ruined races by racing others and not myself. I race my best when I block everything out and battle myself.
As it turns out I'm much better at going up then I am at going down and as we hit the base making our way up Hogsback I began to use my mantras. My mantras are quick and simple things that I say to myself to keep me focused and present. I use them so my mind doesn't wonder and to stay positive as the climbs gets steeper or when it has no end in site. They keep me moving forward and when your running an ultra, moving forward is the name of the game. The first one I used was "I am not the body. I am not the mind. I am something divine." Over and over I repeat this to myself, step after step. A lot of times this does the trick, I stay focused, I stay positive and I get to the top. At races like Noble Canyon or at the QD when the climbing can be relentless I pull out the big guns. When I'm really hurting I picture my brother Jim (my pit crew) cheering for me saying over and over "you're climbing better then most Dawg!" In the past, at times when I have tended to be negative, it's always my brother that helps me see the positivity of any situation and it's at those points on a climb when it can be so easy to get down on yourself, I use this.
As I suspected by the time I had reached the top of Cardiac I had moved past the runners that had passed me early and sure enough as we ran down into Stinson they eventually caught and passed me again. It was still early and the steps on the back side of the course are way more gnarly then the steps at the start and again, they disappeared into the forest in front of me. When I reached the turn around I was in fifth, I handed off my bottle to one of the volunteers for a refill and mixed my SFH*. I was feeling good, took a deep breath and headed back towards Mill Valley. It's tough to say which direction is more difficult, both are equally challenging and the climbs are step. I continued on with my strategy of walking the steep sections of steps and used my mantras when I was running on the climbs. I moved up to fourth on climb back to the aid station at Cardiac but by the time I had returned to Mill Creek Park and made the turn to start the second out and back I had slipped back to sixth place.
I refilled my bottle and headed back up the Dipsea Steps, again I walked. Once at the top of steps I set my sight on getting to the aid station at 18.7 miles, focusing on my own race knowing that if I kept moving forward I was pretty sure I would catch the guys that passed me on the downhills. One of the cool things I had noticed was the feeling of the pine needles under my feet as ran through the wooded sections and even though I was suffering on the climbs, I was enjoying myself. I had moved into fifth and I was pretty sure my mantra of "you're climbing better then most Dawg" was on point and true as entered the aid station.
A while back I read Sabrina Moran's blog (about her 24 American Record) where she had waited until 17 hours before she allowed herself to used her ipod and since last year I was over my ipod 10 minutes into the race I decided I would hold off until the later portion of the race. Once I hit the aid station, I refilled my bottle and decided now was the time for some music. I had just suffered over the highest point of the course and had a good stretch to push the pace before the steps and then the turn for the final 7+ miles. If there was ever a time for a little musical fuel injection now was the time. I made sure I put some effort into my playlist but didn't arrange the songs in any particular order. However I did make sure that this was the first song I would hear.
As I hit play and headed to Stinson I was once again reminded that my pit crew is always with me and new I was good to go! To the beach I went.
It might have been the music but I honestly felt like I was bombing the descents much like the runners that danced away from me early on in the race. As I got closer to the turn I saw the leader and eventual winner Brett Rivers, this time he was all alone out front, smiling as he headed back to the finish. Justin Morejohn had moved into second and the third place runner at the time looked like he was hurting pretty bad. As we passed each other on the trail I smelled blood and when I hit the aid station at Stinson I told myself "you can get third if you run this last 7"
My strategy on the way home was simple hammer on the runnable sections, hike up the steep sections of steps and use my mantras to get up and over the climbs as efficiently as possible. As I climbed back up out of Stinson Beach I had third and fourth in my sights as I got closer to entering the woods. By the time I hit the steps I had caught fourth and each time I got to a level section a ran to the next section of steps trying to time into fifth place. The wooded section heading back up to Mt Tamp is something out of a movie it's the most epic running I've ever encountered. Even though steps there are ridiculously hard I was feeling good and was making ground on third. Shortly after I saw third place walking on one of the switchbacks and again "you're climbing better then most Dawg" gave me the push I needed to move into third. When I arrived at the aid station at mile 23.7, I new the worst was behind me. I knew I still had to roll in order to maintain third but I had a long descent I could bomb and one climb that was minor compared to what I had already done.
When I handed my bottle to a volunteer for a refill he said, "you look great, you're in third. second place has a sprained ankle and was limping pretty bad and first place fell and hurt his shoulder." I said really? No way your F*ck!ng with me!?! He smiled and said "yup!" Traditionally something that would have caused a WTF Dick!, reaction but those negative vibes don't do anyone any good. I smiled grabbed my bottle mixed my SFH and took off running. As I left the aid station this shot into my ears and I blasted off for the finished, determined to get a podium finish.
Descending down Cardiac I was completely focused on moving forward using my matras and the music to push as hard as I could. With just my feed timer going off every 15 minutes* and mile marks(which I wasn't looking for) on the course I had no idea of my time or or the distance covered or remaining. Not having my GPS allows me to run on feel rather then worry about what sort of pace I'm running or what pace I think I should be running. If your racing for results pace is irrelevant. If you finish with a good placing your going to be stoked and any improvement in time is an added bonus. With that being said when I passed the 3 mile mark I knew I had less then 30 minutes of hard running ahead of me.
With 3 to go my only concern that I was putting enough time into Greg Benson in fourth, so that I could avoid almost killing myself again on the steps at the finish. Last year I fell, holding off the runner behind me on the Dipsea steps 400 meters from the finish. When I hit the steps I gave a quick look back to make sure I was in the clear. At that moment I was sure third was mine and I had secured a spot on the podium! With one hand I the rail I did my best to get down the steps as quickly and safely as possible. I hit the road and crossed the bridge finishing with a little fist pump checking the clock as I crossed the line.
When it was all said and done I had finished 3rd place over all running 4:41:57. Mission accomplished! I moved up from my 18th place finish in 5:04 from 2011.
*As I mentioned early I only ran with a feed timer that had set to remind me every 15 minutes to fuel and hydrate. For fuel I used Stronger Faster Healthier In-Race formula Lime flavor. Every 15 minutes I would take in 4-6 oz. of fuel and carried additional single serv. packets with me in my race pack to refill at the aid stations. SFH has been my go to fuel source for all my marathons and ultras in 2012 (3 marathons and 3 ultras) 170 miles of racing fueled on protein and fat!
Here's the Track from my play list and the order they play from Mile 18.7 until I finished
1. My Brother the Gun - Mariachi El Bronx
2. Music Sounds Better With You - Stardust
3. The Night Out - Martin Solveig
4 Kick Out The Jams - MC5
5. Time Will Tell - Bob Marley & The Wailers
6. Recipe For Hate - Bad Religion
7. Trip (Teen Daze Remix) p Vacationer
8. Pyramid - John Dahlback
9. Bigger Than Kiss - Teenage Bottlerocket
10. Fire In Your New Shoes (feat Dragonette) Kaskade
11. Now is the Time (2020 Soundsystem remix) Layo & Bushwacks
12. In a Big Country - Big Country
13. Fu-Gee-La - The Fugees
14. Broken English - Rise Against
15. Vicarious - Tool
16. Cold On The Ceiling - The Black Keys
17. Nutshell (Live) - Alice in Chains
18. Next Girl - The Black Keys
19. Hard Times - Cro-Mags
20. Percolator (Claude VonStroke Remix) - Cajmere
21. We Found Love (feat Calvin Harris) - Rihanna
22. I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow - The Soggy Bottom Boys
23 Paper Wings - Rise Against
24. Your Worst Mistake - Strung Out
25. Beautiful People (feat. Benny Benassi) Chris Brown