Mor and me, after finishing, with me holding my
silver belt buckle award for finishing in under 24 hours
With great difficulty and with tremendous help from friends and support from my family, I did manage to run, power-walk, or shuffle through all 100.4 miles and 20,020 feet of elevation gain and descent of the Headlands 100. It took me 23 hours 18 minutes and 53 seconds. I almost dropped at mile 75 due to a seemingly sprained ankle, but it didn't get worse. I had a "death march" for about the last 12 miles. Otherwise, things went well -- no nausea, no falls, no chafing, one minor blister, no cramps.
I guess I was looking for a bigger challenge and I had seen other friends and acquaintances repeatedly conquer this type of race, of covering 100 miles non-stop on foot, often in tough wilderness conditions. Having had a good race this year at the Miwok 100K, which is 62 miles, I imagined that if I ran slower, I could last another 38 miles. After having researched many different 100 mile races, I chose Headlands 100, put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs, because it was nearby, would likely have cool weather, and I had raced on its trails many times already. The timing worked out well, too, giving me 12 weeks after Miwok 100K to recover, build up again, and then taper off. The 20,020 feet of elevation gain and descent were going to be a challenge, though.
Leading up to the race, my training went reasonably well. I ran the Pacifica 50K three weeks beforehand, and chafing aside, it went well. My peak training week was just a bit under 100 miles for a 7 day period. I was able to get in many 20 mile runs, but only one 30+ mile run. I also ran the local Pillar Point Half Marathon and did well, averaging around 6:06 per mile for those 13.1 miles.
In the few weeks prior to race day, besides hitting my peak training week of 99 miles, I was also unusually busy at work and with the Half Moon Bay International Marathon, for which I am an assistant race director and was doing the course certification. Add in family time, and I had just about zero down-time and was cutting in on my sleep. On the Wednesday before the Saturday race, I got less than 5 hours of sleep and was super-busy with work. So, in a way, by the time the race day rolled around, I saw it as a relief and a break from all my other obligations! So, I wasn't stressed about it, but I was also a bit sleep-deprived and felt quite sleepy on the drive from our hotel to the start at Rodeo Beach, in the Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco.
Arriving around 6:10am, I was struck by how few crowds there were. With only 51 participants, this was one of the smallest races I've entered. I said "hi" to Mike Weston, who is in the Coastside Running Club with me, and Jennifer and Claire and I hung out for a bit, doing the last-minute preparations. I wasn't nervous!
Mike Weston and I, sporting our club running shirts
My plan was to monitor my heart rate and keep it at 140 beats per minute (my max is 186 bpm) and to eat every 20 minutes, around 90 calories each time, and to eat a bit more than that at aid stations, plus take in sports drink. I would take a SaltStick salt capsule every 30 minutes to 60 minutes depending on temperature and how much water I was drinking.
Soon, we were given instructions and at 7am sharp, we were off!
Starting off nice and slow
I felt sleepy, but I perked up once we started and I felt good and healthy and strong. I regularly checked my heart rate and tried to keep it below 140 beats per minute. I tried to imagine being in this same spot 11 or 12 hours later, going in the same direction, on the same terrain. I tried to imagine the last loop where I would be in uncharted territory, running-wise. After going up and down over a tall ridge, I arrived at the Tennessee Valley aid station, mile 4.2, for the first time in 44 minutes. I realized that this was probably too fast, but I was going by how I felt and by heart rate, so I neglected to bring along any kind of printout of my goal times. I cruised along, in the cool fog, and enjoyed the sights and the experience. I saw a large bobcat. I chatted with a few runners. As I descended into the Rodeo Beach aid station at mile 25.1, I finally realized how far ahead of schedule I was. I tried to slow down a bit for those last couple miles. Jennifer and Claire weren't there and I decided to be quick about it and not take off my shoes but just to refuel and put some Body Glide around where my shorts might rub and slather on some more sunscreen. This took just a minute or so. I saw Claire and Jennifer drive up! Claire ran out and greeted me and took a photo. I was soon on my way again, leaving the aid station at 11:44am instead of my most optimistic 22-hour time of 12:30pm.
Food in my mouth and sunscreen on my face at mile 25.1
The runners have reversed directions and are doing this lap counter-clockwise. So, we run into those in front of us and behind us. Around mile 38, it occurred to me that I was just now beginning a 100K. I've run two 100K races (Miwok 100K, both times) and it was an intimidating thought to be starting a race like that with 38 miles on my legs already. Well, slow and steady should get me there. I ran Miwok this year in 10 hrs 49 minutes. So, I was going considerably slower. As I was getting closer to finishing lap #2, I thought this was more difficult going counter-clockwise because parts of the downhill near Rodeo Beach were so steep that I couldn't really run it. I arrived at Rodeo Beach aid station at mile 50.2, quickly refueled, gave Claire and Jennifer a quick hug, met my friend and pacer Amanda, and departed at 5:04pm. I was well ahead of my optimistic 22-hour schedule of 6:00pm.
Amanda and I at mile 50.2.
Amanda and I were cruising along, trying to take it easy and not run too fast. We acknowledged that I had almost certainly run the first lap too quickly.
Amanda and I at mile 58.5
My right ankle suddenly started hurting at around mile 69. I had to walk much of the descent to Rodeo Beach and then I had a lengthy stay there, examining both feet and deciding whether or not to continue. We decided to go for it and left around 11:01pm. My 22 hour optimistic time would be 11:30pm.
My friend Mor, also from the Coastside Running Club, convinced me to try out my ankle and that we could turn-around if we needed to and come back. My ankle was sore, but didn't have any sharp pains. So, we continued on, doing this 4th loop counter-clockwise. I was able to maintain a decent pace and heart rate at first, but then, I started deteriorating. With about 20 miles remaining, I was barely able to run downhill due to soreness in my quads plus my right ankle. The last 12 miles became a slow painful shuffle. I fantasized about sleeping in a comfortable bed. I was mentally and physically fatigued. I was totally hating the experience. I hated running. I didn't want to ever run any kind of race again, including the Kauai Marathon in September that I had already registered for. I wanted to quit. I felt bewildered why we were torturing ourselves like this, with all these lonely tired pained people struggling in the middle of the night. I wanted to quit at the last visit to Tennessee Valley aid station even though it was only 4.2 miles to the finish, but I knew those last 4.2 miles were going to take as long as 90 minutes in my current state because it was such a hard climb and descent. I recalled at Miwok 100K (62 miles) that I ran every step up this hill. I had one short period of renewed energy and I was able to run hard for 4 or 5 minutes uphill, but then my strength fell again.
Finally, we reached a point near the top of this mountain above Rodeo Beach where the closest fastest way of stopping was to get to the finish line. The sky was gradually getting lighter. I no longer needed my headlamp. I could start to hear cheering at the finish line. Another runner or two passed us.
Jennifer, Claire, and me
Claire and me, after the finish. The race director Michael Popov is on the right.
Things that went well
- I finished my first 100 mile foot race!
- My training was about as good as I could get
- No nausea
- No falls and only one minor stumble that I can recall
- No chafing that I noticed at the time. Somehow I did get very minor chafing on my butt
- Only one minor blister that didn't cause me any problems
- No cramps
- Equipment and clothes worked well
- I seemed to be able to drink plenty. Towards the end of the race, I was urinating the most frequently, like every 30 minutes. My theory is that this was because I was drinking about the same but moving so slowly!
- The course was mostly well-marked with some difficulty on the counter-clockwise direction, nearing Rodeo Beach
- The aid stations were staffed well-enough and mostly supplied well-enough, with some shortages of hot soup at night. The volunteers were terrific.
Things to improve upon
- It probably would have been helpful to have run one or two more 30 mile training runs.
- In addition to monitoring my heart rate, I should have had a better idea of what times to shoot for at each aid station for the first lap. Ideally, I would have had something taped to one of my water bottles. Running the first lap too fast probably made the finish extra-difficult.
- For the race officials: the website's aid station mileage chart had a couple of mistakes. The longest distance between aid stations was not 8 miles, but was 7.1. On another leg, the distance was really 5.9 miles and not 5 miles. So, the mistakes cancelled each other and the overall mileage worked out fine, but it's still useful to know accurate distances between aid stations.
- On Thursday morning (two days before the race), I weighted 163.8 lbs.
- Results are here.
- Garmin data for the first 85 miles, until my battery died: here.
I need to give a huge thanks to Jennifer and Claire for driving me to the start, visiting me at miles 25.1, ~38, and 50.2, and cheering me on at the finish, and then taking care of me afterwards. I need to also give a huge thanks to my pacers, Amanda and Mor, without whom I would likely not have finished the race. And finally, thank you to all my friends and family following me online. Thanks, everyone!