Besides the Barkley Marathons, San Diego 100 was the first race I crewed. Six months into our relationship, I drove from aid station to aid station, wondering how someone could volunteer to run a race where heat exhaustion was normal and peeing blood didn’t necessarily mean you wouldn’t finish all 100 miles.
“You can’t run like that!” I said when Nick came into the aid station, shuffling in like someone decades older, but I lacked both the experience and relationship status to convince him otherwise.
“I’ll be okay,” he said. “I just have to drink more.”
I fell asleep on the floor of the old Al Bahr Shrine, sharing a pillow with an old man I hadn’t actually met. When Nick came in before dawn, running in hard after picking up a second wind 95 miles into the race, I was too tired to drive so he drove me all the way home—having finished 100 miles just 30 minutes before.
I look back on my first crewing experience fondly—eating all of Nick’s chocolate-covered espresso beans and sheepishly accepting quesadilla after quesadilla at the Pioneer Aid Station—then realize how green I was to the weird sport of ultrarunning. The idea of following someone around for almost a full day and then going home to sleep in one’s own bed as if nothing had happened—as if you hadn’t just run 99.5 more miles than you thought you could ever run when you were in elementary school—seemed insane. I couldn’t yet fathom why anyone would want to run that far, or even if one did, how it could happen.
I’m glad that most things in life tend to happen gradually, because it would have been overwhelming to see how all of these things I started to do for fun—joining Nick for short and then longer and longer runs, saying yes to R2R2R as my first real trail run, signing up for my first 50K, finding a coach, and training hard, but more importantly, consistently, over several years—could result in me wanting to run San Diego 100…and eventually finishing the same race that Nick had finished six years before.
After racing Santa Barbara Nine Trails at the end of March, I found myself navigating my first quasi-injury. A tight IT band had led to lateral knee pain and I doubled down on PT exercises and swapped out runs for bike rides through neighborhoods and local trails. I wasn’t too worried; if I wasn’t better, I wouldn’t race. Luckily, I had found professionals (thank you Warren and Megan!) who figured out the issue and within three weeks I was back to building up a solid base for San Diego 100. I trained hard, but I also rounded out my fitness with a lot of strength training, yoga, long hikes, and time in the sauna. (If you don’t like the sauna, learn to use that as built-in reading time; if you’re anything like me, it might become your favorite time of the day.) By race day, knee niggles were weeks behind me and I was ready for the heat.
Or so I thought.
Nick and I stayed in Julian the night before the race so that we could avoid the back-and-forth driving we’d otherwise have to do with a 5:30 p.m. pre-race briefing and a 6 a.m. race start. Our hotel did the trick and we got in a solid 8 hours of sleep before the race. I normally start races on an empty stomach, so we woke at 5 a.m., dressed quickly, and mingled with so many wonderful San Diego friends at the start.
I didn’t have a strong plan going in and though I had glanced at previous race splits to give Nick an idea of when I might be coming through aid stations, I wanted to run by feel. The start of the race funneled all 300 of us runners onto single track quickly, and I found myself near the front and wondering who I would end up spending the early miles with. Teresa dropped in behind me and for the first 12.5 miles to Chambers I ran mostly alone, finding myself leading the women. At this point in the race, it didn’t matter. Ask me again in another 12 hours, I thought to myself, and that might change.
By Chambers, the first aid station, the day was already heating up and I gravitated toward watermelon to refresh the tastebuds after several MUIR energy gels. I waited for Teresa to grab a piece of mango so that I might have someone to run with for a while, but a few miles out I caught up to Chris Sigel, and I spent the run up and down Stonewall Peak chatting with him. The run felt effortless, and I loved climbing up a peak I had only been up once before despite living so close.
I felt smooth coming into the first crew-accessible aid station at Sunrise, mile 21. I passed my friend, Robert Hunt, walking in and though I was surprised to see I had caught up to him, figured he was biding his time.
I saw Nick immediately and he hurried me into the packed aid station. It wasn’t even 10 a.m. and already the day was heating up, so ice was added to my flasks and a buff was filled with ice and placed around my neck. Within a minute I was onto the rocky PCT.
I had so many memories of running this next section—getting lost with Nick years earlier and running 15 miles more than we had planned for, as one example—that the time passed quickly. At one point I saw a horny toad and reminded myself to tell Nick at the next crew-point.
For the next 7 miles I could see Teresa behind me but I felt relaxed so maintained my pace. Suddenly BJ, one of the new Race Directors, appeared and within a mile we were at the next crew-accessible aid station, Pioneer Mail, at mile 28.
In the rush of refilling my Salomon flasks and grabbing more food, I forgot to tell him about the horny toad and in his rush to get me out of the aid station fast, he suggested that I eat a pickle while taking a bathroom break in the port-a-potty. (Spoiler: I didn’t do it. Even I have pickle limits.) Since I wouldn’t see Nick until mile 48, he passed me a handheld bottle—I’d need all the water I could carry during Noble Canyon.
I had been warned that the next section could be a race ruiner if taken too fast, so I let gravity do the work during the mostly downhill section toward Pine Valley. Teresa caught up here, and for a while we ran together, both of us trying to move at a pace that was efficient but wouldn’t be too taxing in the heat.
“I think that’s a snake,” I said, casually jumping over a small rattlesnake laid out across the trail. Teresa and a man that had been running with us verified my claim with a much less-relaxed tone, but I was simply happy to have seen a snake. One of my goals going into the race (besides, if I’m being very honest, winning and going sub-24 hours) was to see as many animals as possible. So far this goal was going well.
The three of us arrived at Pine Creek, mile 36, just before 1 p.m. My face felt hot and my mouth was parched. Volunteers filled my flasks with ice water and the most brilliant woman dumped ice into my sports bra (instant body temperature cooler) as I devoured slices of watermelon and banana.
Teresa headed onto the trail first. She looked determined during this section up Noble Canyon, and I decided to stick with her fast hiking pace. The trail was much more technical than I recalled. Recent rains had filled the creeks with water requiring large leaps. When I got tired of going around the water, I simply walked through, relishing the cool water on hot feet.
As the miles went by, I continued drinking but dizziness began to take hold. The ice in my sports bra had melted and water that was once cool was now lukewarm. I slowed my pace hoping the spaciness would leave, but it didn’t. Theresa was a switchback ahead, and then two, and then I couldn’t see her anymore. New this year, a kind volunteer had offered to create an impromptu aid station two thirds of the way up Noble Canyon. I dumped more ice into my sports bra but by the time I hit Penny Pines 1 at mile 43.8, I was overheated.
“Jade!” Paul Jesse cheered me into the aid station and I scarfed down more food. I would see Paul in another 20 miles, but for now all I could focus on was how many miles I needed to run until I could see Nick. I badly needed to cool down.
For the next 5 miles I mostly jogged my way up and down the rolling single track, the ground hot with the smell of pine. When I popped out at Meadows at mile 48, I was surprised to see my dad! I struggled to smile for him, then promptly plopped myself on the ground, chugging cold kombucha as Nick refilled my pack. Our Scottish friend, Lindsay Hamoudi, attempted to fan me by waving his kilt but all I could do was laugh at the attempt. It was hot and it was going to remain that way until the sun went down.
My spirits renewed from seeing Nick and my dad, I picked up the pace, vowing to keep two men ahead of me in sight in order to stay consistent with my pace.
When I reached Red Tailed Roost five miles later, I wasn’t feeling much better. Over the last two sections my knee had started to act up, a sharp pain I wasn’t familiar with lodged underneath my knee cap. I laid down on the towel that Nick had spread out as he massaged my IT band. Paul was ready to roll with pacer duties but I felt lightheaded. I needed to eat something before I took off. Nick had brought along an endive as part of a joke, but suddenly the idea of a bland, crunchy vegetable sounded amazing so I threw on my pack and finished off an entire endive.
I was thankful to have Paul pace me, but I was still struggling. We alternated between jogging and power hiking the long section down to Cibbets Flat where I all but collapsed. Nick had prepared my favorite foods—kombucha, dill pickles, and a variety of MUIR energy gels I had been consuming most of the race—but I couldn’t do it. Everything sounded awful and my body felt too hot to eat.
“What about broth?” Paul asked, and though I said no, Nick filled my flask with tepid soup broth. My body temperature had cooled down to the point that I was now shivering so I draped myself in clothes and tried to get it together.
“Just start walking,” Nick and Paul urged and though I wanted to argue, I knew that I needed to keep moving or I’d get sucked into either being at this aid station a long time or, worse, lured into the dreaded DNF.
The first few steps weren’t easy but as we got moving, I felt myself start to come back. I sipped on the broth which was better than expected, and the faster we moved, the better I started to feel. My knee didn’t feel great, so we hiked most of the way back up, exchanging smiles with runners heading down toward Cibbets.
It was dark by the time we reached Dale’s Kitchen at mile 71.7. I gulped down more broth and grabbed a handful of oyster crackers—somehow exactly what I was looking for. We hurried on, knowing my pace had slowed but wanting to cut out any wasted time we could.
Over the next few miles we moved efficiently, though never fast, my hamstring/knee hurting fairly bad. Both Paul and I kicked so many rocks, and at times I couldn’t recall if San Diego had gotten rockier or I had become too used to the relatively smooth trails of the Pacific Northwest.
For the next 13 miles, I focused only on getting from one aid station to the next. I had long since stopped watching the miles click by on my watch. At Todd’s Cabin (mile 75.3) and Penny Pines 2 (mile 80.3) I stuffed veggie sticks and crackers into the pockets of my race vest. I had only two images in mind: getting to Nick at Pioneer Mail 2 (mile 84.3), then getting to the finish.
Nick swapped roles with Paul at Pioneer Mail and we were off. My pace had slowed significantly over the second half of the race, but I refused to hike without purpose. Despite kicking more rocks, whether out of sloppy footwork or sheer fatigue, we moved well. The sky was at its darkest as we stumbled through the winding ridge of the PCT and the wind whipped up enough that I threw on a jacket.
Even though we were quick, we weren’t running. Soon I could see lights behind me and in a moment Rebecca Murillo and her pacer passed me—placing me as third woman. We were less than 10 miles from the finish, and though I expected to feel upset, I just felt peace.
It’s an odd thing to train so hard for a race—really a cumulation of years of running—and have goals evaporate.
I didn’t excel at sports in high school or college and my family has only ever cared that I have fun. Before the race, my dad texted me: “Proud of you for just being in the race. You’re a winner already, enjoy.” My mom said, “just do your best.”
The night after I finished, my knee swollen and unable to bend, I jotted down some thoughts in my training log:
“Less than an hour from the finish I suddenly realized that no one cared if I finished or didn’t finish, won or didn’t win. I feel very, very lucky that I’m loved no matter what and a race doesn’t determine anything but a mix of very hard work, talent, and plenty of uncontrollable race variables.”
That moment under a dark sky of polka-dot stars was one of those rare “aha” moments where I felt the sheer pointlessness of everything—and because of that, the specialness of it all.
Two hours later, Nick and I jogged our way to the edge of Lake Cuyamaca. When I spotted the finish line across the water, I picked up speed. Paul was waiting at the finish, as were my parents who had driven out from Palm Springs at 2 a.m. and slept in the parking lot just to see me run through the finish line. I finished all 100.5 miles at 6:15 a.m.
I’m so grateful to everyone who came out to support me and all of the runners on course. New RDs Angela and BJ did a fantastic job of ensuring the race ran smoothly and I was impressed seeing BJ hike out to several points along the course. The volunteers were beyond helpful and to that woman who dumped ice down my sports bra—I have a new favorite trick!
I can’t thank Nick and Paul enough for helping me through this race. The best part of 100 mile races aren’t the belt buckles but knowing how supported you are by others.
24:15:15, 3rd female
Food consumed: Muir gels, watermelon, banana, dill pickles, kombucha, an endive (don’t ask), 4 cups of soup broth, oyster crackers, veggie sticks, crackers, and coffee (the only time I drink coffee/caffeine. Can’t stand it.)
A: win (uh…no.)
B: sub-24 (um…no.)
C: finish (yes!)
D: have fun (of course!)
Thanks to rabbit and MUIR Energy for clothing and feeding me during this race! To try MUIR for yourself, use the code Jade15 with your order for 15% off.