Race Report: Sean O’Brien 100K by Will Barkan

DNF at mile 42 Corral Canyon Aid station
Stomach is is still off 5 days later, but coming back around

So, my 2nd DNF in running and my last DNF was my first 50K 14 years ago. In Short: stomach; puke; loss of sensation in face/hands/feet; and painful intense muscle cramps.  In that order. I am grateful for super-star sighted guide Dave Daily (in pic), and an excellent aid station crew helped me to realize that my race was done. 

Lessons: Respect the heat. Monitor over and under-fueling. Don’t mix all the foods and drinks. Every runner is different and always be calibrating. 

The start at Malibu Creek state park is a cold one and slow conga line to the creek crossing. A few hundred runners pile up at the start for a slow herd on road and single track uphill to a creek crossing East of Las Verginitas road bridge. Crossing is pretty easy, but runners stand in a giant line in dry creek bed. Kim graciously guided me the first few miles in the dark despite needing to run her own race that day.  

Once we were out of the creek and up some single track to the first big uphill at mile 3 or so, Kim and I parted ways and I got my power hike on. This 2.5-3 mile climb is mostly up until the road flattens out on the top of the ridge getting you to the first aid station at Corral Canyon road, mil3 6-7. From Corral Canyon, you cruise the fire road on the ridge tops with one section of very rock shelfs and sandstone obstacles. From there you run a fair bit of single track through creek beds and buffed-out trail gradually down to the Latino water station/road crossing (mile 13). Fairly uneventful section and ran into some Bay Area ultra friends like Samir Shah

It’s fairly easy going with some gradual hills and rollers until the rocky “road” that is really a sandstone ankle maze descent down to Kana road aid station. Dropped flashlights and extra clothes. Traded up for tailwind and more food. A few switch backs and some fire road later you hit Zuma Edison aid station at mile 17. Then the big descent down to Bonsell. This is a relatively steep fire road all the way down to the Bonsell aid station before returning back up the hill on a different route. Some nice random lady ultra runner said “good job Will” at the turn around. No idea who she was, but as a polite blind guy, I just say “You too.” 

The climb back up to Zuma-Edison is 8 brutal miles with little shade or cover. After 3 miles of climbing this trail, it starts winding and rolling a bit. Some early basketball sized rocks, some creeks and then back into the sun uphill. I did get to re-connect with fellow Western States Training Camp trail buddy Luis Ra Gar. A real pleasure.

After a quick shade break at Zuma, I headed back to Kana road in the heat of the day.  A mix of fire road and single track took me back to Kana road aid station. Picked up flashlights from a drop bag and headed out to connect with my sighted guide for the evening, this time heading back up the “road”. 

From Kanan Road to Latino it started to go downhill. Headaches led to bad cramps in my quads and I started to slow down. I was temporarily re-animated by seeing Dave and my cousin Erick at Latino aid station (mile 36). Thanks Erick for sitting in a parking lot with crazy people for a few hours. Dave and I tore off quick up down the previously runnable section back to Corral Canyon road. During this time my stomach got worse and worse. We hiked it in to the aid station. I got into the shade for coke and chips. Finding it hard to eat, Dave took me to a camp chair. About 5 minutes later, I got an S-cap down, then drank some general and water. 

Then PUKE, PUKE, PUKE with a vengeance. 
I had my head in my hands with Dave at the ready and aid station volunteers all around me. 

I was able to take some general down but my hands started to shake and my body started to cool down. My chat with the medics was brief in that I was dehydrated, but actually puked up a lot of fluid. 

Some of you know this well, but I’d never had the shape of my muscles changed from extreme cramping.  It Hurts. Followed by swear words and more crazy muscle knots. I attempted to get up 2 or 3 times and kept cramping up and almost falling down. 

My loud noise caught the attention of a local hiking teenager who came over to talk to me and tell me to clam down. I was confused that they had 13 year old medics at this aid station. Thankfully Dave nicely explained to her what was going on and that no one was hurting me except me. I spent 40 minutes at this aid station failing to get up and cramping in quads and calves every time. Loss of sensation in my hands, feet, and face. Wrapped in a blanket and unable to stay warm. 

The time cut off was called and I agreed to take a ride back.  Dave told me I could still run the 50 miler but that did not register with my brain. I went back to the finish line to watch Kim and others finish and enjoy soup and special medical drinks with minimal puking. My stomach is mostly back two days later. 

A very humbling experience but I had no hesitation in dropping. From the looks on the faces around me I was in trouble and while the support was there, I needed to end my race. Many lessons learned but I feel good that my inner-crazy does not override my basic judgement. Will have to do SOB 100K another year.  

Big Thank you to the volunteers, medics, my cousin Erik, my brother Andrew (in pic above), my sighted guide/new buddy Dave, and girlfriend/sighted guide Kim. I also still got to have my post-race chocolate milk despite my stomach. 

Stuff that went well: I took good care of my feet. I did not over pack. I flew up hills catching some folks, and only had one minor administrative fall with no damage. I smiled at the aid station, and wore some blind bigs, which I never do. I re-connected with ultra friends. I trusted my guides. I had great support from friends and family. I probably drank enough fluid until I puked. My spirit remains intact despite the DNF, and I don’t regret dropping at all. 

Stuff that went badly: Too much salt and mixing of drinks. Not listening to my body telling me it was hurting. More summit tea is always needed. Left my poles in my drop bag and never used them.