How much farther, Coach?
Santa Monica Pier to San Diego Training Run: Round Seven
With a 50 mile race just a few weeks away and with the Alaska Susitna 100 Miler a month and a half away, I needed to get in a super tough, long run. So I begged my wife for permission to let me sneak away while the kids were home for Christmas break. As soon as I got the hall pass, I started organizing my running pack.
After a busy 2 PM to 10 PM shift in the ER, I retired to the doctor sleep room to get a few hours rest before my 6:15 AM Uber ride to the train station.
I was able to get a decent nap on the train. Before long I was at the foot of Santa Monica Pier, taking my customary “selfie” to mark the official beginning of the adventure.
At exactly 11:30 AM on Wednesday, December 27, off I went. Every quarter mile of or so as I made my way down the boardwalk, I looked back, watching my starting line fade off in the distance.
First up were the slums of Venice Beach. It seems like every time I come through here on these runs, the area gets worse and worse: Bums. “Medical“ marijuana shops; Drugged out homeless. High school and college dropouts from across the country who certainly are not making their parents proud; T-shirt shops. Other stores selling all kinds of crap.
As I weaved among the throngs of tourists and bums walking along, some homeless dude trying to be funny, yelled out loudly towards me “Somebody stop that guy! He’s got my wallet!” I looked over my shoulder to make sure nobody was going to come knock me down. I just kept the same pace and sure enough, nothing happened.
This trip, I turned inland and ran about a mile along the famous Venice canals. I got to see the heart and soul of Venice and not just the seedy beach area. Then I headed around Marina del Rey. Along here, I saw two kids “eat it” while not turning their bikes sharply enough from the road up onto the sidewalk. They both had a lot of abrasions and contusions but I think their egos took the greatest hit.
I made great time as I cruised along the other coastal communities of Playa Del Rey, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach. I fueled myself by eating biO2 bars. I stopped for the first time at the edge of Torrance and Long Beach at a gas station on a super busy corner. I inhaled about 1200 calories in ten minutes simultaneously stretching my muscles on a sidewalk curb watching hundreds of cars and trucks go by. I exchanged my hat and sunglasses with my headlamp for the impending darkness. I made great time through the Wilmington/Long Beach Harbor area. I always feel empowered by the busyness of all the semi’s hauling shipping containers to and from the Long Beach terminals.
I stopped for about 10 minutes at the busy corner of Anaheim Street and Pacific Coast Highway, to connect my phone, which was almost dead, to the portable charger I was carrying. I put on another shirt, my hat and gloves because the temperature had dropped about 10°. I knew it would get even chillier since I would be running directly on the coast for the rest of the way home.
For my next stop, I visited Viking Liquor in Sunset Beach. On my last run through here, I carelessly left behind my ATM card, requiring me to have them send it back to me in San Diego. I made sure not to do that again this time.
At 9 PM, crossing under Huntington Beach Pier, I called my daughters and my wife to wish them good night. It was awesome hearing some familiar voices, among the thousands of strangers I would pass during this adventure.
At 12:30 AM, I had become famished again. I stopped at a pretty nice carryout in Laguna Beach which by now had become pretty much a ghost town. The store owner told me he was closing but he let me in anyway. Though there was a garbage can about 25 feet to the north of where I was sitting, I carried the wrappers of the last couple “entrées” with me, saving them for a trash bin I knew I would pass as I proceeded. Absolutely always in my races and most of the time in my long training runs, I have a rule to never run backwards/retrace my steps. For this workout, the finish line was to my South. So why would I run North one step?
As time went on, I made sure to keep an eye on the clock. My very good friend and training partner Tom “Coach” Atwell would be meeting me in Oceanside at 7 AM. I didn’t want him to have to wait for my arrival.
I made another brief stop in San Clemente to fuel up on coconut water and Snickers for the push through Camp Pendleton. At 5:15 am, I turned onto the bike path at Christianitos Road. Passing by the access points to Trestles surf beach, I remembered how much I hate this 10 mile slog at this time of day. Other than a little bit of moonlight low in the sky and the light of my headlamp, it was pitch black. Nobody around. My phone thermometer said 47°. Other than it being about 50° cooler, this experience was amazingly similar to the Badwater ultramarathon at a point called Darwin. I was beat down, lonely, physically tired from the many previous miles and emotionally beat down knowing that I still had a hell of a long way to go.
Tom’s son Cole, despite being a high-schooler on Christmas break, agreed to get up super early to drive his Dad all the way up to Oceanside. They would pick me up at a point in Camp Pendleton where I would’ve either had to call for an Lyft again or hitchhike. What a huge relief. Having completed 90 miles to this point, I took advantage of the opportunity to lay down on a soft surface, get in about two minutes of shut eye, stretch my legs and rest my mind, during the short 10 minute drive down the I-5 freeway. I joked with Cole and told him to drive a slow as he could so I could get more rest.
During this time, I took my shoes off to massage my feet. I asked the guys if I smelled as bad to them as I did to myself. They replied “Way worse.” I think that explains why Cole drove so fast on the freeway.
Tom had come up to the northernmost part of Oceanside to ”run me home.” Always training, he had just finished a killer hundred miler in sub 24 hours in Texas less than two weeks ago.
Along here, I really noticed that my fitness level was excellent but I simply had not had enough quantity of miles over the last few months. My legs were getting increasingly sore and heavy. I had been doing a lot of high intensity stuff, running with my weighted vest and doing some runs in the soft sand towing my sled to prepare for the Alaska race. All that cute stuff is fine and dandy but there’s no substitute for miles and miles and miles when you’re an ultramarathoner.
Tom and I made our way through the North County communities of Carlsbad, Leucadia, Encinitas, Cardiff by the Sea, Solana Beach and Del Mar. It seemed like he’d packed all the important things from an aid station in his backpack. He made sure to keep me well fed and well hydrated along the way, as the miles were taking their toll. Once again as I seem to always do, I questioned why the hell I was doing this freaking crazy Los Angeles to San Diego adventure for now the seventh time. He kept my spirits up and I loved having his company.
Coach let me stop at the base of Torrey Pines Hill. He mixed up some drinks and we ate up for the climb through the park. I took advantage of another opportunity to stretch my increasingly achy legs. I wasn’t experiencing pain. They just felt super tight and heavy. When the road leveled out, Tom told me we had about seven miles to go. As always, I tried to maximize running and minimize walking. I noticed that every once in a while though my leg would partially buckle causing me to stutter step to maintain my balance. This made me ashamed and guilty for not having put in more miles the last few months.
Coming down La Jolla Shores Drive, we were treated to a gorgeous sunset view of the La Jolla coastline. What an iconic shot to mark the end of another awesome adventure to put in the memory bank.
We made our way to the streets of La Jolla and turned left off of Fay Avenue past La Jolla High School for the home stretch to the finish line of my driveway up off Nautilus Street.
After giving great thanks to Coach and saying goodbye, I collapsed on my garage floor. 125 miles. Done. But no belt buckle for crossing this finish line.