Written by Christopher Thomas
Round 1 – NorCal 100K Grand Prix
The Canyons 100K
63.6 miles – 15,000’ eg
Western States Trail – Foresthill, CA
Canyons is deemed as one of the hardest 100K courses in California did not disappoint. At 15,000’ of elevation gain including Devil’s Thumb about 1,600’ in a little over a mile I knew the climbing would eventually take a toll especially with the last 15 miles up back to Forest Hill Elementary school where the race begins. But this is what I had been training for. I had three finish times on my pace chart, sub 14, 13.5 and 13 hour. I was ready for a long run and very anxious.
My wife and I arrived the night before pretty late dropped off Skipper’s race kit to his hotel and proceeded to the race venue. My wife, Michele was the captain of the ReddAntler Running aid station at mile 47.8 Rucka-Chucky turnaround. I picked up my bib and she picked up her captain’s binder and we were off to the motel after a quick stop to get supplies. Laying in bed checking Strava from the day I received a message from my running buddy Bert, “Go to bed, see you tomorrow” he will be at the aid station. I slept wonderfully as I was exhausted from a work emergency which delayed our arrival (possible blessing in disguise).
The morning came and my anxiety was gone, I was ready the training had been done and nothing more to do than enjoy the day. We arrived at the race about 30 minutes early, drank some coffee, chatted a little and took to the start line. There were a couple people I knew I needed to be behind if I wanted to run strong at the end and of course I lined up right next to them. The gun went off and we were headed towards Michigan Bluff a mile or so down the road and on to the trails. I was warned by one of the race directors to get to the creek crossing before it becomes a conga line. There was a slack line to help runners across and I could see there could possibly be a problem. I did not slow at all I must have went fast enough. Now to calm down and back to the game plan. Through Michigan Bluff aid without stopping and down to El Dorado Creek aid where the 4.5 mile climb up to the Pump began. I didn’t stop again and soon realized I was running with all three of the runners I knew I needed to be behind. Halfway up the climb I let them go, but I am pretty sure the damage was already done. I had a game plan of staying under 135 BPM until I returned to Michigan Bluff for the second time and I actually stayed around 145-148 BPM the entire time spiking out at 160 at times.
Arriving at the Pump aid station it was 2.2 miles down to the turn around and 2.2 miles back up the Devil’s Thumb. I decided to not fill my water bottle and stay light. I had about ½ a bottle full of Vitargo S2 which was about 100 calories. Thinking back I should have grabbed some more calories or water to cool down with. Going down and up was not too bad, much easier than I thought. This was the first time I got to see the lead runners and gauge how far ahead they were. The leader, Bob Shebes,t my coach was about 3 miles ahead of me and my team mate Skipper Crocket was about 2 ½ miles ahead. I was right where I wanted to be but more fatigued than I would have liked. Back at the Pump aid I switched from my goto nutrition to GU Summit Tea which I actually like as a substitute. I also switched one bottle to ice water.
Off we go back to Michigan Bluff, I heard this is the real killer and it was. By this time the sun had come out in all its glory. The forecast had said high of 72 but it felt like the 80’s. After all this rain and training in the early cold mornings or nights I had no idea how my body was going to react. Not good is how it reacted. I made a decision to slow down a bit to run harder later when it cooled down. I arrived back at Forest hill ½ hour later than anticipated and very hot. I did my best to cool down and was grateful to get two new bottles of S2. At the aid station was my buddy Todd who I was trying to stay behind but he was falling apart too (He had ran Lake Sonoma 50 2 weeks prior). We left together towards the Ruck-a Chucky turn around. This is where I was going to make some time up.
That is not what happened. It seemed like someone turned up the knob on the Sun and started cooking my brain. We were running together or maybe walking when we saw Chris Denucci and Jenny Maier. I got super inspired and took off towards Cal 1 leaving Todd behind. Through Cal 1 and off to Cal 2 the heat took its toll and I slowed to the point where Todd caught me and we hobbled to Cal2. We had an extended stay at Cal2 with the Donner Party Mountain Runners and cooled down quite a bit. Down to the river we went and we saw our coach again Bob this time he was 11 miles ahead of us looking strong in the lead. He reminded us to keep up on our nutrition and took off. Inspired again I took off to Ruck-a Chucky, leaving Todd behind. I passed another friend Shawn who had become another casualty of the course.
Again, an extended stay at Ruck-a Chucky. My wife was there my friends were there and BACON was there! Just what the doctor ordered lots of ice water and bacon. A little sunscreen and SNB a kiss for the road and I was off. Determined to break 14 hours. Todd arrived as I left. I pushed hard up to Forest Hill only taking 12 minutes longer to climb back up than it took me to run down. Not bad for climbing 3,500’ more on the way back. Finish time was 13:47:36 and 40th overall.
I feel good about my performance. I need to remind myself I have another 100k on Saturday and another after that. But I am my worst critic.
I want to give a big thank you to Tim and Tanya at Inside Trail Racing for providing me with such a great racing kit which performed excellent in the heat and introducing me to La Sportiva my new 100 mile shoe the Akasha. I was in the water all day trying to cool off and the shoes performed great. ReddAntler Running and Healdsburg Running Company for man-ing the Ruck-a Chucky aid station and the Donner Party Mountain Runners for man-ing the Cal2 aid station. Chris and Jenny for lifting my spirits and Todd Bertolone. I could not have made it without you! And of course The Canyons Endurance Runs team, Chaz Sheya, Chris Perrilo, Pete Broomhall and Sean Flannagan. Of course my coach Bob Shebest of Point Positive coaching, helping me stay injury free and rolling through my crazy race season ahead.
See you at Miwok 100K!