Now is not the time to be humble. I kicked that race’s ass.
Quicksilver 100K was the smartest ultramarathon I ever ran. Yes, everything went well for me on race day, and I thank the ultra gods for that. But the way I prepared physically and mentally for this race was completely different from my traditional M.O.
I went into Quicksilver having qualified for the 2018 Boston Marathon at the Modesto Marathon two months prior with a time (and 5-second PR) of 3:29:31. A week later, I ran 75 miles during the 24-hour Barn Burner. Then, due to the hubby being out-of-state “launching freedom,” I took two (much needed) weeks off of running.
Other things changed for me during this time period, as well. I went from being a 99% vegetarian (I ate 5 or 6 meat-containing meals during the entire 11 months) to a 100% vegan as of April 1.
I also started a regimen of 30 burpees a day throughout the month of April, and continued with 20-a-day in May. I felt stronger, I dropped four pounds from my 5-foot-2-inch frame, and my arms gained some definition.
After my short hiatus from running, I began to train for Quicksilver, beginning with a 16-mile training run on the actual course — at least, the first several miles and last few miles of it. It was a huge wakeup call. The hills were brutal, and that wasn’t even the hardest climbing section of the course.
It gave me a sense of what portions of my home trail I needed to train on. I prescribed myself a hefty dose of Pincushion repeats, a Pa’san Loop and weekly Casino Hill repeats. But, like any average patient, I didn’t follow the orders to a T. Yes, I did the loop; yes, I did my Casino Hill repeats every Wednesday. But I never got around to climbing Pincushion, which, I think, most closely mimics Quicksilver’s dreaded Dog Meat climb.
My PT once again became my best friend as I went in for my pre-race tuneup. I had a trouble spot in the arch of my left foot and tightness of the right hamstring near the ischial tube (or something like that. I don’t really speak anatomy). Tightness in my left psoas also returned, a problem I developed while training for my first BQ in 2014.
Just a few weekly visits later and I felt as ready as I’d ever be. Things were still a little tight from all of the training I was doing, but I wasn’t injured injured.
As the other two Fresno runners prepared in the week before the race by looking at the aid station charts, elevation profiles and maps, I did my best to not research anything. I didn’t want to see the climbs, I didn’t want to estimate neither my finish time nor the times I’d get to each aid station. I didn’t know how many aid stations there were or how far apart they were.
I had just one plan: run.
The realization that I should have drop bags waiting for me forced me to look at the aid station chart to see how many bags I should pack. I threw a buff, a pair of socks, a Gu and a single-serving pack of Tailwind in each one. I put an extra pair (of brand new! lol) trail shoes in one of the drop bags that I would see twice during the race. Maybe I’ll need ’em, hopefully I won’t. I labeled each bag with the aid station’s name and then hid the aid station chart, never to look at it again. (Until now, as I’m using it for reference to write this race report.)
The best change I made for this race was to book a quiet, cozy AirBNB all for myself. I love having my family at races to support me, but it was SO NICE relaxing on my own the day before the race.
I picked up my race packet, shopped at Whole Foods for pre-race breakfast, bought some new batteries for my headlamp at CVS and dined at MOD Pizza, devouring an entire 11-inch pie stacked with every veggie and topped with Daiya vegan cheese.
Back in my minimalist-style, tidy AirBNB with a private entrance, I had no kids to take care of, no one sharing the bed, no movements, no sounds… I slept a peaceful 6 1/2 hours, waking up at 2:50 a.m. to get dressed and head out to the Hacienda entrance of Almaden County Park for the 4:30 a.m. start.
My digestive system cooperated, allowing me to start the race with empty bowels and a tummy full of banana and a few bites of espresso-laced vegan dark chocolate.
I met up with Fresno friends Juan and Bobby, and we soon found Brandy, a former-Fresno friend who flew in from her now-home state of Florida. We were all in good spirits and prepared to have a great race.
The rocky, uphill start was illuminated by an almost full moon and about 200 headlamps. Starting off in the back of the pack, the four of us power walked for the first half-mile. Both seemingly a little impatient, Juan and I ran a few stretches, passing a half-dozen people at a time. We continued with these intervals until the course leveled out a bit. I started to run and didn’t see anyone I knew until a couple of miles later when Bobby shouted some words of encouragement during an out-and-back.
I wouldn’t see either Juan or Bobby again until I was about a marathon into the race — just after leaving Kennedy Road aid station at 25.8 miles. I never saw Brandy. (I found her after the race near the medical tent. She was injured around Mile 27 and couldn’t bear weight on her right leg, forcing her to drop.)
The first part of the race was a blur. I didn’t know where I was, placement-wise. I had no idea which climbs were coming up because I had refused to look at the elevation profile. I remember running into the first aid station, Hicks, and spotting my drop bag right away. Shalene, Bobby’s wife, said “Hey, Farin! You’re here already! You’re the first one.” I smiled, because, honestly, it’s kind of cool to be ahead of the guys.
She asked if I needed help finding anything and I glanced into my drop bag, realizing it was so early on in the race (6.1 miles) that I didn’t need anything. I grabbed three red grapes from the aid/station table and took off.
I grabbed a section of boiled russet potato from the next aid station (Wood Road), dipped it in salt and sped off again.
Just before I reached Lexington Aid Station, I heard the distinct voice of my Mama Gazelle, Audrey Crow, yelling “Yeeeaaaah, Farin!!!” I hadn’t wanted a crew. Remember, my entire methodology for this race was Just Run. But it was pretty nice to have a whole cheering section of Fresno folks who drove 2 1/2 hours just to watch you run for a few minutes every dozen or so miles.
I found my drop bag and Mikey sprayed my legs with sunscreen and helped apply some KT tape to my collar bone where my hydration pack had started to chafe my skin. Meanwhile, I asked Audrey to grab some grapes for me from the table. As I put my pack back on and prepared to head out, Audrey shoved an entire bunch of grapes in my hand. It was literally the size of my head, with at least two dozen ginormous red grapes dangling from it. “Dang, girl!” I said, an astonished look on my face. She met mine with an equally astonished expression. “You said to get you some grapes!”
I ran out of the station laughing, somehow picturing myself as Baloo, the bear from Jungle Book, as he balances a fruit salad on his claw while singing “Bare Necessities.”
To be honest, I ate about 10 grapes before I felt full (I’m telling you, these were HUGE grapes!) and had to toss the rest into the forest. Is it littering if it’s compost?
That’s when the toughest climb of the course came — Dog Meat. Four miles up and then four miles down. I had mentally prepared myself for this climb, picturing it as going up Pincushion x4. I guess the elevation gain wasn’t really as bad as that, but there was no way I was running up this thing. I slowly and steadily power hiked, hands on my knees, going up, up, up until I reached the top and saw a photographer. She snapped a few shots and then smiled at me, seeming a little annoyed. “You’re going to have to look up at me so I can see your face.”
I laughed and looked up, smiling for the camera. Looking up also forced me to see how much farther I needed to go. Thankfully it was only another quarter-mile or so to the peak. Then it was all down from there.
I LOVE going downhill. My stubby legs are built for it. They may suck at climbing, but my thunder thighs absorb all the shock while tearing down steep declines. I enjoyed every moment of the descent into Kennedy aid station, where I found my cheering crowd once again.
As we left, I chatted with JJ, a woman who I somewhat leapfrogged with on Dog Meat.
“From what I can see, we’re fourth and fifth,” I told her. “Were there more women ahead of those first two? They were far ahead.”
“No,” she said. “You’re right. We’re in fourth and fifth right now.”
“That’s insane,” I said. “I’m normally not up here in big races like this.”
It was a little after this, I believe, that I ran into Tim from Sunnyvale, whom I had met during my one training run on the course a few weeks prior. He recognized me and we chatted a bit about how our training had gone after that run. Neither of us, it turns out, had returned for the second and third training runs organized by Quicksilver Running Club. I asked if he had any pacers or crew; he didn’t. I said I didn’t have a pacer, and I didn’t intend to have a crew, but my faithful teammates had driven up from Fresno that morning and it was nice to see some familiar faces.
“They drove up from Fresno?!” he asked, impressed. “I couldn’t get anyone to drive 20 minutes from Sunnyvale to be out here.”
That’s just the Wascally/San Joaquin Running Tribe way… we support each other!
By this time I was tackling the “Dead Kennedy Rollers” — an up-and-down ride on steep, dusty, rocky trail. I had put on my Trekz Titanium headphones by then — they conduct sound through your cheekbones, leaving your ears open — and was listening to an audiobook.
“The Stranger In The Woods” is a true story about a man who disappeared into the wilderness one day and didn’t rejoin society until 27 years later, when he was caught stealing food from a camp and arrested. The author, a journalist, did a fantastic job researching hermits and an even better job of storytelling. It was a great listen for a long run.
I reached Hicks Road aid station for the second time and was slightly bummed that my cheering crowd was missing. Either they were lunching somewhere or they didn’t expect me to get there that fast. (I found out later that it was the latter.)
Grabbing a stick of Tailwind from my drop bag, I asked a woman at the aid station if she knew how many girls were ahead of me. I needed to know if it was true — if I was really that close to the podium.
“Three,” she said, in an English accent. “But that third girl looked weak.” She winked at me. “You look strong.”
A huge smile spread across my face. “Thanks for that!” I said. I took off, this time on the hunt for a girl wearing a skirt and toting trekking poles.
My book had ended, and during a flat stretch I started going through the contents of my pack that I could reach without pulling it off. I wasn’t really hungry, nor thirsty … I was kind of just, well, bored. I found a sample packet of sunscreen and thought, now’s a good time to put this on.
As I rubbed the cream over my face, ears and neck, I wasn’t looking at the trail. I also decided that I was wasting time by walking, since it was flat anyway, so I started to run while still applying sunscreen. Ten seconds later I was sprawled out on my right side on the ground. My right big toe had caught a rock, sending my supermanning it into the dust. The sunscreen on my hands mixed with dirt, and I had a light brown, powdery coating of trail all over my right leg, right arm and shoulder.
Idiot! I laughed at myself.
“Are you OK?” yelled a runner several yards behind me.
“Hahaha yeah, I’m just stupid.”
“You’re more badass now!” he replied.
I sat up in the criss-cross applesauce position, planted my feet on the ground and stood without using my hands for support, spinning to face forward on the trail. If my fall looked dumb, at least my rise could look kind of cool.
A couple of miles later I reached Hacienda, where the race started, without ever seeing the third-place girl.
But I did see Audrey, who jumped out of Shalene’s car to cheer for me as I ran through. They had just pulled into the parking lot. “You’re running too fast!” Audrey said. “We thought we were going to miss you again. We missed Bobby, too, at Hicks.”
“Look! I fell!” I told her, excitedly.
“You’re not the only one,” she said.
“I know, but this was my first time, like, REALLY falling! I’m kind of excited about it!” I said. The aid station volunteers laughed (and I think I saw some eye rolls). Yeah, I’m a dork…
I quickly grabbed a couple of sweet potatoes, dipped them in salt, shoved them in my mouth and took off, shouting back to Audrey that I was in fourth place I needed to find third. “Uh, hello?!” she yelled back, holding up her iPhone. “I know! I already told everyone on Facebook that you’re in fourth!”
Within a half mile I spotted her. Hi, third place. Do I keep her in my sights and then pass her quickly later? Yeah. I’ll just hang back here.
Then boom, she turned her head and looked over her shoulder directly at me.
So much for the sneak attack.
I caught up to her and we leapfrogged a bit on the rollers. She was a better climber, probably due to the trekking poles, but I passed her again on the downhills. After about a half-mile of this, I saw my opportunity. It was all downhill from there into the next aid station, Mockingbird, which would also be the finish line when we returned to it 19 miles later.
I let loose on those downhills, sometimes skidding recklessly. Instead of slowing down, I just giggled and made little noises like, “Ah!” “Whoa!” and “Oy!” I was having the time of my life — and I was in third!
At Mockingbird I realized I was hungry, and as the volunteers added water to my hydration pack, I grabbed a big scoop of sweet potatoes into a cup. I set the cup down to put my pack back on, but then I turned and saw that the five people I had passed during that 2-mile downhill stretch were now making their way into the aid station. I took off, leaving my meager lunch there.
I realized it as I ran up the hill, just as I looked into the eyes of the now-fourth-place woman. She looked tired. Now was my chance to put some distance between us; I didn’t want to risk going back down to the aid station to grab my cup of potatoes.
The race was pretty uneventful after that. I continued to fuel with Tailwind and Gu, which I brought, and watermelon, potatoes, sweet potatoes, grapes and oranges, which I picked up at the aid stations. The first three I dipped in salt.
I popped five salt capsules throughout the race and stayed hydrated with plenty of water and Tailwind. This combination kept the cramps away, and I admit I was a little proud that I was eating healthy doses of fruits and veggies while racing. Vegan diet for the win!
I fell into step behind Paul, a runner from Sacramento. We talked about our previous ultra adventures and races we aspired to do. For a second I thought consciously about how relaxed I was. I was genuinely having fun and felt no pressure or nerves. Was this a 100K or a 10-mile training run?
Audrey ran about a mile and a half with me out of McAbee aid station and we chatted about how the race was going for me, Bobby and Juan. “I’m in LOVE with this course,” I told her.
I really was! Although I hadn’t run it before, it felt so familiar. When I was alone out there, I talked to the course sometimes. I literally said, “Oh, hi, Wellbarn!” during several stretches that reminded me of my usual stomping grounds. At another point I said, “Oh hey, SJRT!” That stretch was exactly like the second and third miles of the San Joaquin River Trail Half Marathon.
I looked forward to telling everyone back in Fresno how perfectly compatible SJRT and Quicksilver are. Even the volunteers at the aid stations made it feel like home. You had the sense that everyone knew each other and I didn’t have a single bad experience or come across a single nasty attitude the entire day. This was all smiles and rainbows and butterflies! Endorphins, much?
At Enriquita aid station, I found Stuart, the leader of the Quicksilver training runs who had graciously stayed back with me when I found myself alone behind the fast training group but ahead of the slow training group. “Hey, Farin! I haven’t seen your buddy, Juan,” he told me.
“He’s having some issues today,” I told him. “He’s behind me.”
I left my pack at this aid station to be refilled as I made a .6-mile descent, marked my bib with a Sharpie and returned on the .6-mile ascent. I felt so FREE without that extra weight. I wish I could’ve run the rest of the race that way, but alas, I had five miles (and probably an entire hour) left to go.
“I LOVE this race,” I told Stuart before taking off toward the finish. “It feels like home!”
It just wouldn’t be me running an ultra if I didn’t call my coach at some point. When I found a stretch of hike-inducing climbs and three bars worth of reception, I called Brad.
“I just wanted to tell you that I’m freakin’ killin’ it,” I told him, still focused on power hiking as fast as I could.
I could hear his smile before he even spoke.
“I’m going to get the podium.”
“Yeah?” He sounded like he hadn’t heard or comprehended what I’d said.
“I’m in third!!”
“What?! No way!” Now he understood.
“And I’m not giving up that podium! There’s no way I’m going to let a woman pass me at this point. I have five miles left.”
He laughed, told me to keep kicking ass, and we hung up.
Alright, let’s finish this.
At the final aid station I popped another sweet potato and a slice of watermelon into my mouth.
Three miles left!
I checked my watch. 12 hours and 3 minutes? No. Freaking. Way.
Not only was I going to PR in the 100K distance, I was going to smash my first-ever 100K goal: breaking 13 hours. I’m pretty sure I smiled all the way to the finish line.
I thought I might make it in by the 12:30 mark, but the final mile wasn’t all downhill like I had anticipated. I crossed the line in 12:31:45, crushing my PR by 41 minutes.
Audrey, just pulling into the parking lot like she had at Hacienda, was able to see me finish from the car. The race director congratulated me and handed me a belt bucket. Sweet!
I pigged out on a vegan burger, fruit salad and hard cider served at the super impressive post-race barbecue. Their spread was amazing. The club must’ve had a dessert potluck, because there was literally every type of cookie, cheesecake, cake, cupcake and any other type of sweet you could think of. Plus snow cones! And a dozen varieties of beer! And they didn’t even mark your bib! ALL YOU CAN EAT AND DRINK!! WHAT!?!?
But I digress…
I splurged on the post-race massage, posed for a photo with the first- and second-place women, who finished about an hour and a half hour ahead of me, respectively. My sweet mining pan award will be mailed to me, and I also snagged an age group medal.
Almost two hours later, Bobby finished, securing his Western States qualifier for the year. More than two hours after that, Juan finished, crossing the line in the dark with his supporters running in behind him.
We came, we saw, we finished.