Chimera 100 mile trail race

This is my race report for the Chimera 100M race, that I ran a couple of days ago on November 15 and 16 2014.

Thank you!

I feel like usually this section goes at the end of the document. But this time, this is clearly the most important section. I could not have made it without a ton of help from so many people. I can’t say thank you enough. Not in any particular order:

Pre-race

Training specifically for the race ended up being ridiculously short. Scary short. I trained for the Lake Tahoe tri (half IM) at the end of August. Since running was probably my best sport at the time, I spent more time cycling and swimming for that. After a short week of recovery, it was time to ramp up the running.

I had about 10 weeks to get ready, and that’s really short. I ramped up the mileage pretty quickly over the first few weeks, running a couple of races (Mt Diablo 50k and Coastal 50k) in the first 3 weeks, and then went for longer runs in the weekends (up to 70km). I more or less alternated between back-to-back weeks (2 long runs - 30 to 40km - two days in a row) and single longer run (60, 70km) weeks. However, there weren’t that many weeks to begin with.

Unfortunately, 3 weeks before, on one of the last long runs, my IT-band got very tight and started hurting me around my knee. After 2 days of rest not helping, I took a week of rest, which still didn’t do the trick, so I took the remaining 2 weeks off. That was a hell of a long taper, with absolutely 0 exercise. Lots of massages, and two visits to the chiropractor. On race day however, it felt like most of the pain was gone, but I was still unsure it would hold up for 100 miles.

Here is what my runnng looked like this year (including the race):

2014 training

Getting ready strategically for the race involved going over the course map a ton of times. This year the course was slightly different than previous years, and finding existing GPS tracks, or even roads on nearly every online mapping service was nearly impossible. One first mistake here was to assume that the trails were mostly dirt (like the first half that I knew from a previous race there) or truck trails. So besides the trail surfaces being unknown, I had the course in my head. I also studied and refined my race plan over time.

My pacing strategy was simple. I assumed the terrain would be similar (or actually easier, since truck trails, not single tracks) on the second half, so it sounded reasonable to count 50-50 of the time on both half. Aiming for 28h, I planned to complete the first half in 14h, and the second in 14 as well. I couldn’t be further from the truth unfortunately.

The day before the race was a briefing at “Hells Kitchen” on Ortega Hwy. Not too much new information there I should say, as long as you read the course already, studied the map, etc. But good for last minute questions (e.g. restroom locations… but I didn’t ask about the terrain now that I think about it)

Before we go into the actual race, here is an overview of the course from aid station to aid station. The race first heads south:

south

The second part is north of Blue Jay. Essentially follow the loop clockwise, always following your left hand (For example, Modjesta Peak is done on the way back from Maple Springs)

north

This is the elevation profile. Don’t be fooled by the green sections. There was no flat. None. The elevation profile shows flat sections around Blue Jay, but it’s just that it’s rolling hills roads, that end up averaging to something flat on the chart.

Elevation Profile

Race day

We drove to the start at 4AM, but they only opened the check in at 5, so we had some time to have a bit of a breakfast. It was really hard to eat anything - I was pretty scared.

start

This is my crew, just before the start.

crew

By 5:50, all 125 of us we were lined up at the start line (143 entrants, 125 at the start). After another quick briefing on the course by Steve (RD), we left at 6:00am.

Lined up at the start

Start

The Goat

The Goat lives and runs on beautiful single track trails.

At 6am, the sun is barely out, but we were able to start running without a headlamp on the road. By the time we reached the trail, 1 mile out, there was definitely enough light to run on rugged terrain without extra light.

I focussed on starting slow. Really slow. My mantra there was “run smart”, and at this point it meant to follow my plan.

The first 48 miles were two out-and-backs, one to Hot Spring Canyon road, and one to Candy Store. The trails here are really enjoyable (at least for me): all single tracks, mostly dirt, and with very technical sections, big rocks, etc. Those are my favorite trails.

Plus amazing views over the Santa Ana mountains.

Each out-and-back was essentially all downhill, followed by all uphill.

The descent and ascent to/from Hot Springs Canyon looks like this:

Hot Springs Canyon

And the second loop to and from Candy Store, looks like this:

Candy Store

Having my pacing strategy in mind, I had planned to complete this section in 14h. That’s pretty slow for 47 miles. So I started super easy. Pretty quickly, I found myself towards the end of the pack, but did not think too much of it right away. I was executing my plan. I started to get scared and doubt my strategy when runners around me were discussing their fights against cutoffs in other races. It was not the group I really wanted to run with. But even trying to go really slow, I was on pace for a 26h finish time, according to my flawed pace calculations.

The last climb, I decided to go extremely slow to get to Blue Jay very relaxed and be able to eat a good chunk before leaving for the night. I did so, had a burger, geared up for the night, and I left Blue Jay 12h05 into the race. Still 2h ahead of my schedule.

During this time, my friend Adam who was running with a much better pacing strategy left Blue Jay after 10h10 of running. For reference, the winner ran the first half in 7h42, and finished in 18h29 (that’s a 42% on the first half).

Nutrition-wise, I also followed the plan pretty well. I had setup my Garmin watch to vibrate every 45 minutes. At which point, I would eat something I had with me unless I was very close to and aid station. It generally was one of: a gel, a banana, a stack of crackers, a bottle of ensure. In this first half, my crew (dad and girlfriend) were meeting me at most aid station, and I would tell them what I needed for the road to the next aid station. The distance was roughly 20km between aid stations.

Crew help

At the end of this section, I was feeling great. For example, much better than at the end of my first 50 miler right here, on the same trails. My knee was feeling bad at first, then worst, but by the end of the two loops, it had decided to stop bothering me. Maybe it figured I wouldn’t stop anyway, so no reason to keep trying?

The only problem was with my shoes. I don’t know why I was so dumb. Of course I wanted to run with shoes I had ran in before, so I had my two pairs: Inov-8 trailrock 235 (minimal), and some Nike Zoom (the usual road running shoe). Both were pretty old. The Inov-8, after all the trail running I made as preparation for the race had lost all its knobs on the bottom, and the Nike were already super old, the cushioning was mostly gone. It was too late to buy new shoes and break them in. Especially given that I couldn’t run the last 3 weeks. So that’s what I had on race day.

I started with the Inov-8, and it went pretty well, but the super small stack, and the knobs gone, even the tiniest rocks were hurting my feet. After 20 miles, I changed in the Nikes. I almost never run with them anymore, and I actually think the last time I ran on trails with them were during the 50 miler last March. In between I used them on roads though. At this point, they slowly but surely started their job of blistering all my feet. By the halfway point, I could still ignore the pain, but I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty at all.

Food

The Lion

The lion is a hunter. It’s the beast trying to stop you from running. Solitude, the wind, the cold, the pain…

I am leaving Blue Jay for the night with 2 headlamps (one on my head, as it was already pitch black), a warm long sleeve shirt, a wind breaker, 34 compression tights, gloves and a beanie. That ought to be enough warmth right?

Next course section, goes from the left to right on this profile:

BlueJay to Santiago Peak

The first climb started pretty soon on a truck trail full of sharp loose rocks. I had planned to walk uphill, so no worries. But avoiding all the rocks was basically impossible, and every time I stepped on one, my foot was on fire already. It’s ok I thought, the rest will be fine. This climb started at a reasonable grade, but by the middle, it felt like it was vertical (the dark red on the right has some sections close to 20% grade). At the top I quickly checked my time: I had reached the top of the climb and Trabuco aid station in a pretty good time. Feeling pretty good about it.

Next was a long descent to Holly Jim Canyon Aid Station. I learned that it was a technical downhill, with a lot of loose rocks. Damn! one more trail like this. I could hardly run on those, my feet were killing me. Not being able to run downhill is really a time killer. Uphill is one thing, I had planned to walk uphill anyway, but downhill you easily spend twice more time on the same section. I managed to hop as I could when the trail turned to dirt, but the more I had to run on rocks, the worst my feet were. Soon I would not be able to run at all.

Nevertheless I reached Holly Jim Canyon (the lowest point, in the middle, on the above picture) in 14h30. On this 5 mile downhill section, I had lost 15 minutes already. I didn’t know this at the time though, so I started climbing Holly Jim trail at an easy pace.

Maybe around 1h later - it is only around 9 or 10pm - I am getting tired. I’ve been up since 3am, and running since 6am. My legs are fine, but my feet are hurting, and most of all my eyes are closing… You know when you drive and you are sleepy, you head falls, and you suddenly wake up and you are still driving, hopefully still on the road? Same thing, but trail running. I’m climbing on what seems to be a very steep hill. I don’t see much to my right or my left, my headlamp doesn’t light up that far. It’s probably a ravine or a canyon (“Holly Jim Canyon”? hint! hint!), there are rocks everywhere, and I’m sleep walking. I realize that. But I keep moving. I dream, I see weird stuff around me, blink and they disappear, blink and I see something else… I really hope a couple of other runners with pacers actually did pass me, and that those were not hallucinations…. no, they were definitely runners. definitely.

At this point, I’m pretty scared, I can’t continue like that. I’ve been sleep walking along rocky a canyon. Apparently I stayed on the trail, which is a pretty great achievement already. What would you say driving? Maybe it’s time to pull off at a gas station and sleep for the night?

Well that’s what I decided. My feet are destroyed, I can’t run, I’m not even at 60 miles, and I’m sleeping: let’s call it off. Good news, I should be reaching Bear Spring aid station pretty soon. I am going to sit down, relax, and wait for the next Jeep to go back home.

Beep-beep-beep, beep-beep-beep. My Satellite messenger wakes me up from sleep walking. It’s a message from one of my friends: “I can’t see what I’m typing but keep kicking ASD Yohann! You got this! –Andrew” (I think he meant “kicking ASS”). Andrew, for those who don’t know, is “the toughest motherfucker [I] know” (according to him ;)) So… well…. I can’t give up now can I? (And the funny thing is, Andrew probably sent the message a bit earlier, but given that the messenger only polls the satellite every 10 minutes or so for messages, and only sporadically reaches them, I could have received it tens of minutes later!)

I reach the aid station, and the volunteer kindly ask “What can I do for you? refill water?”. I was forced to say “sure”. And that meant I was going to keep running. I got some coffee, some noodle soup, and here we go. More climbing ahead.

I am now on Main Divide Truck Trail. What I thought would be a nice truck trail is in fact very rugged. Lots of rocks, holes, etc. It’s not a smooth ride, rocks dig under my shoes. But mostly, it is very steep at times. This climb goes up to Santiago Peak, the highest peak of those mountains. Mostly uneventful, it’s a slow march to the top. There, I unfortunately took the wrong turn. I knew I was supposed to make a right, but as I was walking on the left of the wide trail, and I did not see the flour arrow that was drawn on the right. After a bit of searching, I managed to get back on the right trail. I probably only lost a few minutes here, no big deal.

Then was a long descent to Maple Springs. Once again, I can barely run. The steeper the trail, the more it hurts.

Here is a view of the Maple Springs to Modjesta Peak climb: Maple Springs to Modjesta Peak

After reaching the Maple Spring aid station, it was time to ascend Modjesta Peak. This was “a nice addition” to this year’s course, because 2 more miles were needed to make 100. We had to climb to the top, high-five a 30 inches tall wooden tiki, turn around and head back down. And you might have guessed it, once again the trail was full of sharp, loose rocks. Once again, no running without a lot of pain. I might have hopped down a bit, but not much.

On top of that, the temperature started to drop a lot at this point, but worst, the wind started to blow. I was really not prepared for this much weather. People around me had huge winter jackets, I had my ridiculously thin windbreaker. I was freezing. I felt really miserable during that climb and descent. Not being able to run made things worse too, as I couldn’t warn my muscles some other ways.

I made it to the top, the tiki was cute with a glow stick duct-taped to his forehead like an Indian’s feather.

Modjesta Peak, back to Santiago Peak! Down Modjesta Peak, up Santiago Peak

Misery wasn’t over just yet. I had to climb Santiago Peak again. The wind blew harder, the temperature dropped even more, and it started to rain. I was progressing slowly against the wind, folded in half, trying to hold my windbreaker’s cap closed and in place with one hand. Some gusts of wind made me take a step back. And I was starting to fall asleep again. They did not have coffee at Maple Spring, and it just so happened that Bear Spring-Maple Spring was the longest section between two aid stations: 8 miles. And on the return, the section was 2 miles longer with Modjesta Peak’s climb.

Here is a graph of the temperature over time as recorded by my Garmin (the lower blue line). The garmin is on my wrist - so always biased towards higher temperatures - and was under my windbreaker too. There is no axis, which makes for a not very scientific graph, but you can see the values on Strava. The temperature dropped to 7 degrees C (44.6F), which isn’t that terrible. But the high winds made it feel like -10.

Pace and temperature

The top line is pace, and you can definitely see where the aid stations were. Including the big, no-aid station, gap between Maple Springs and Bear Spring. But back to the race…

The rain got pretty bad just before I reached Santiago Peak.

As I started the descent, walking, the rain stopped, and the wind got slightly better. I managed to run slowly down on some of the less steep sections down to Bear Spring. I could see far behind me the dancing headlamps of a few runners. I did not want to be passed before the aid station.

So let’s take a break here, and talk about racing. At this point, I know I’m super late. I’m not fighting the cutoff times, far from that, but I know I’m far back. I am mostly fighting against myself. It’s been 70 miles, I still have more than a marathon to go. The conditions at this point are pretty bad, and they could get worst. Adam is so far ahead, there’s no way I could beat him today. So why the hell am I thinking I should run, or those dancing lights far behind me may pass me. I have no idea…. Ok, back to the race, where I’m reaching Bear Spring AS.

Part of the aid station was gone… Blown by the wind. I was feeling so bad for the volunteers there. They managed to brew me some coffee quickly though - but it took a minute or two. It woke me up a bit, and I headed out on Main Divide Truck Trail.

This section went by pretty fast (it was also pretty short), but the wind started to blow strongly again. At the next aid station was one of the Jeep drivers on standby, ready to evacuate the aid station personnel. Apparently a high wind warning was issued, with gusts of 67MPH. The RD was deciding to call the race off or not. At this point I really wished he did. I was really cold and wet. I stayed in the Aid station’s tent for a while. Someone was sleeping wrapped in a warm blanket: DNF.

I managed to dig some strength to stand up from the chair, step out of the warm-ish tent, and head down Indian Truck Trail. The wind was still blowing like crazy. I send a text message using my satellite messenger to Polina and my dad saying “I am really cold”.

The snake

I’m not exactly sure what the snake is. But for today, it will just be all those rolling hills, and decieving trails. They seem easy on paper (dirt) but they bite, especially after 80 miles. Or maybe the snake wants to bite you, and his venom slowly put you to sleep?

Meet Indian Truck Trail: Indian Truck Trail

Indian Truck Trail is an insane 7 mile, rolling downhill, trail. At least it was mostly packed dirt. Finally no rocks. But at this point my feet were in so much pain, that even on dirt running was extremely painful. I mostly walked down I think, getting passed by a lot of runners. That was pretty hard mentally. I truly thought I was Dead Fucking Last (DFL).

Thankfully the night was almost over. A few freezing miles down, and the sun started to rise. A bit later I saw Adam, he was already going back up. We chatted for a second: he told me he couldn’t run anymore either, I told him I was DFL…

About a mile before the end, I met Polina (gf) and Roger (dad). We walked down to the aid station. They reassured me I wasn’t DFL, but it was hard to believe. After 7 miles down, come 7 miles up. But with the sun up, I was feeing better mentally. I just have to walk this anyway, that was the plan. Polina climbed most of the trail with me, before running down by herself.

Climbing up ITT

Once back to the top of Indian Truck Trail, I only had about 9 miles to go. Ok, at this point, you know you are going to finish. It’s still windy like hell at the top of ITT, but whatever. I just have to finish this, it will be short. Well, not that short… because walking 9 miles does take a long time. It’s not 9 flat miles either. The first 3 miles or so are once again straight up on Main Divide Truck Trail, with 650ft of positive elevation.

Here are the final 6 miles: Last 6 miles

I really enjoyed those last miles. It was slowly getting warmer outside, I couldn’t see anyone behind, couldn’t see anyone ahead, I knew I was going to finish. There was no fight going on: no fight against other runners, the cold, the clock or myself. It was still painful to walk, but I didn’t mind anymore.

I reached the last aid station, Trabuco Trail. One volunteer approached me, and said “I’m really sorry, we don’t have anything besides water and a bit of fruit, the wind took everything else”. They had been completely blown away by the night’s winds. I said I was fine, I only had 2.5-3 miles left. I grabbed a piece of fruit for the road, thank them, and started to run down.

Yes, run. For some reason, I decided I had to finish running. I could barely walk, but at this moment, maybe being happy, I managed to run the last couple of miles. And run pretty well too. I ended up passing one last guy who was walking down the trail. He turned around, I high-five’d him, said “congratulations, you made it” as I zoomed by.

I reached Blue Jay campground a few minutes later, and crossed the finish line in 31:36:29. A lot of other runners were still there, right passed the finish line, and Steve the RD as well. We shook hands, and he handed me the untrarunner’s medal: a belt buckle with the Chimera logo.

Finish line

I beat the beast. It was following me, chasing me all night, almost caught me, but in the end, I outran it.

Aftermath

Ouch

I finished, and that was goal #1. I am far from being entirely satisfied: objectively, I did not have a good race. It was a good experience, and I learned a lot. I think experience matters a lot for those races, and I gained a tiny bit of it this weekend. I still managed to finish the first 100M race I signed up for, and I think that’s a pretty good achievement in itself, but now I want to know if I can run it better.

Physically, there wasn’t too much damage passed my ankles. Upper body, everything is perfectly fine. I carried a backpack (Ultimate Direction SJ), and nothing in my hands. Legs were obviously sore right after. So sore in fact that using the Normatec boots was even too painful. But by Wednesday, I was about 80% recovered. My feet however took some serious hits (again: shoes, rocks, all of that). I think I had the sole of my shoe imprinted on my foot. I could literally see the lines of the shoes’ sole under my feet. My toes are mostly fine, except the both pinky for some reason. They lost all of their skin to the mountains. It was gross, really. And since people tend to ask: actually, I got to keep all of my toenails so far.

Of course that’s not all. This week I am also more tired. I did not sleep right away actually. After the race, I slept a bit in the car while we were driving to the hotel, but then, I slept at a reasonable time (8:30-9pm), and we woke up around 8:30 as well. The rest of the week was also following the same pattern: I was asleep a bit earlier than usual. It will take a couple of weeks to fully catch up on sleep.

As a recap, here are the things that did not go well at all:

Regarding pacing strategy, we had a friendly reminder at the start: The sign reads “If you go out too fast, your ass is mine!”.

If you go out too fast your ass is mine skeletton

On the other hand, here is what worked:

Finally, if you read that long (I really hope no one did), I had promised a video of my thoughts and what not during the race. So here it is. It’s interesting to see how some things changed right after you finish. You immediately get a different perspective on things. But anyway, I have the videos, so here they are. XXX

And also, here are more photos of the race. XXX

What’s next?

I’ve had this question a lot. If you ask my girlfriend, she likes the fact that I’m not satisfied with my result, which apparently indicates that I will keep doing 100 milers until I’m satisfied.

For the coming year though, I’ll focus on triathlons I think. Training for this 100 mile was a lot of work, running all the time. At least, triathlon offer some variety in the choice of sport - even if that means you can actually train more hours!

Finally, if I do end up signing up for another one, I’ll make sure to start the preparation more than 10 weeks in advance.

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