Tuesday, August 5, 2014

#18-2 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run 31:19:27


"Do your best, never give up, if you fall.. GET BACK UP!"   
-Hal Winton (Angeles Crest 100 Co Director)

"Facing my face on my puke was way more easier than standing up and just walk."
-2014 Angeles Crest 100 - Tomokazu Ihara (Just a runner)


Photo provided by Mieko Morita

Angeles Crest 100 Endurance Run August 2 - 3, 2014

I am now sitting on my seat flying back to Japan. I still cannot imagine that I am able to safely go back to Japan “alive” desprite to see my wife Sachi and my daughter Sakura.

When I ran the AC100 last year for my first time, I was 5th overall (Men’s 4th place finish) with a time of 22:28:35. I was happy with my result running on the course for my first attempt achieving a sub 24 on such a hard course, but in my mind, I thought I could do better if I had another chance. That’s why I registered for AC 2014 on the next day believing to run with a stronger and a better race this year. I trained very hard for this day. I was in great shape, I had no idea how I could do worse than last year that I could only think of doing better or much better.

Race day:

I was prepared, I felt great, my plans were all fixed, I had a great crew (Mieko and Eric). My plan was to do a sub 21 at the bottom line and aim for a better time if I was feeling strong after Chantry (mile 75). My plan was to take it really easy to Short cut (mile 60) and run the whole downhill and uphill to New Comb and cruise down to Chantry and the race would have had started from there. I really didn’t care what place I was during the race because no matter what place I was, I knew that I would of have gotten a great place along with a great time if I just sticked with my plan focusing on just myself and the entire course, and not running against the runners.

I felt solid and not tired at all till Chilao (mile 52) and just sticked with my plan. I ate my gels and salt tablets like a robot. I assumed I would eventually pass runners after Chilao and on to the finish and I did. I started passing runners and I could see in their eyes that they were pretty much exhausted. I couldn’t blame that because it is such a hard course. When I arrived to Shortcut and sat on a chair, I felt something wrong with myself. My legs weren’t tired at all but I felt weak in my body that I couldn’t eat anything. I thought that was a bad sign but my plans were counting down on me so I left drinking some Redbull and Gatorade and taking my gels with me thinking I will eat it running down the downhill to Newcomb.

I ate my gels when I started running down for a bit and right after running down for a mile or so, I puked all my gel. I thought "great!" I have reset my stomach so I can start eating gels again with a 30 minute window (30 minute is my gel eating routine). When I puke during a race, I can take gels right after I puke all the time but today I felt my stomach was still upset so I thought I will eat it 15minutes later and I did. After I took the gel, I felt strong again and ran the entire downhill and when we got to the bottom, I puked again but nothing came out other than my water I drank. And puking several times, the only thing that came out of my mouth was finally my acid (Gastric Fluid) in my stomach. Oh my god, I thought I was in a really bad situation, which I have never experienced during a race within my past races.

My body was not only refusing my gels, it started refusing water too. Since I had no energy, I was barely moving. I thought the uphill to Newcomb was a climb to Mt. Everest. But I didn’t want to give up here, because I trained so hard for this day for this moment since the day after AC 2013. I couldn’t fail on this race, failing is not an option for me, but on the other hand, something in my head started telling me to drop this race. After I got to the half way point on the uphill to Newcomb, runners behind me started passing me. I was laying on the ground closing my eye and I could hear they were passing me but I didn’t know who they were but knew that they were just passing me. Some people knew me and gave me kind words and I was happy about it. But, I couldn’t express my happiness on my face that I felt like hell, but I was waving my hand from my heart saying “Thank you”. I puked and puked and puked, but nothing came out from my body but just my acid. I thought my eyes were going to pop out everytime I was puking. Erik my pacer convinced me to take gels but I refused, puking was the best effort that I could do at that moment. I really should of taken gels but I wasn’t able to eat it at all.

Finally, going up that hill taking almost an hour, I arrived Newcomb. I told Eric, I wanted to sleep for 5 hours. Arriving at 8pm to Newcomb, my only goal for this race was to finish under 21 hours so my race was totally over. I still thought I could do a sub 24 but that wasn’t my goal and I couldn’t of felt happy even though I did. But on the other hand, my body felt worse and worse and worse until it got to the most worse feeling I have ever encountered within my entire life. I was laying down on a flat emergency bed covered with blankets. It started to rain and the winds made me feel cold and miserable. I was allowed to stay there for an hour and I tried to sleep thinking I would get better when I open my eyes next. When I opened my eyes, the miracle didn’t happen, that I was feeling just as worse as an hour ago. I then told Eric that I wanted to drop here. But he said that they will not allow me to drop so the only choice was to go to Chantry and then to think about it. I thought the only 6 - 7miles to Chantry would be an endless trip from Newcomb. I drank coke and soup, ate quesadilla, but I ended up puking them all. My friend JDF came into the aid station and told me "Puking is great" because it resets your energy level but to try and get my energy back by eating anything I can. It was getting cold and Eric told me to leave here but nothing was in my stomach so I tried everything at the aid station and finally the chocolate pudding worked for me so I ate two of them. I could feel my brains slowly started to work and my energy level was spreading through my blood and then to my body. Then I was able to stand up and walk. (I would like to say a big thank you to the aid station who let me stay there for such a long time)

But the best effort I could do was to walk and not to puke my chocolate pudding which was my lifeline. We walked and walked and walked thinking I was almost arriving at Chantry but all we moved was a mile and a half and I was devastated. I sat down on the rocks and finally I couldn’t hold my puke and I puked. Again, nothing came out other than my water and then the acid again. I was so annoyed to myself with what I am dealing with. I felt terribly miserable and useless over and over until I couldn’t think of anything that I think my brain stopped working. I just followed Eric and his light. Every single runner who passed me gave me a shout that if I needed anything which was so kind but I couldn’t even say a word “thank you” at that time and I felt miserable again about this. Finally, we got to the paved road which was a sign that we are almost there at Chantry. I tried my best effort climbing up that paved road but a quarter of a mile to Chantry, I fell down on the ground and puked. My face was covered with my puke but all I could do was to close my eyes laying on top of my puke thinking I wish somebody could take me to Chantry. But after a while, I stood up, I stood up because I thought if I was to able to make it to Chantry, I could quit and the day would be over and Mieko could take me to back to her house and I could take a nice hot bath and sleep forever.

When I arrived Chantry, I stopped my watch, took off my shoes thinking finally I can quit. A lot of people came by to me and said kind words but the only word that came out of my mouth was that “I am willing to quit here”. But surprisingly, no one said that I can quit. They said to me “You have time to take a rest and think about moving forward to the finish”. But I couldn’t imagine of myself moving an inch forward from how I felt and what I was dealing with. Mieko also encouraged me to move forward making me lay on the bed telling me to sip Gatorade little by little, telling me it will not feel good but it will make me better having something to start with. I closed my eyes thinking about my family, friends, and also thinking this was my first DNF ever in my entire past races. But I had no regret with my DNF that I did the best that I could to end up at Chantry and I was alive. But Mieko didn’t let me drop, she did everything she could to encourage myself to move forward. She brought her friend Nancy (Nurse and Mother of Bad water) for help willing she could help as well. Nancy heard all about what I was dealing with from Eric and she told me to puke everything from my stomach and watched myself until I couldn’t puke anything. Then she gave me a pill and told me to not throw up the pill. I did what I was told but in my mind, even though I ended up feeling better, I was not going out to the trails further more from here that this is my finish for today. After I got the pill, I woke up and an hour and a half had already passed. When I woke up, I didn’t have a clue where I was but looking around, I noticed that I was still in the middle of the race. All I could see and hear was people laying on the ground and puking looking as worse as myself or more worse.

After the sleep, I felt much better and Mieko cooked me some Miso soup with rice in it. It tasted so good and I had a couple of bowls. I couldn’t believe I was able to eat something. Looking around the atmosphere again, there were a lot of runners that looked worse than me and made me believe why should I drop?! If these runners were trying to move forward feeling worse than me, why should I quit? After having some solid food, I think I sat on the seat for a few hours that I wanted to move forward but on the other hand, I was really scared going up two big climbs and I still having 25 miles left to go. I told Eric that I don’t need a pacer from here that I wanted to face the trail just by myself. Nancy gave me Oral Hydration (like drinkable instillation) telling me to drink or sip it all the way. At 4am, Mieko and Nancy pushed my back telling me I can do it and that they will be waiting for me at the finish line. All I could do was to slowly walk trying to feel my energy level like I would see on my gas meter on my car not to push too hard. I concentrated not to use as much energy as possible but when it came to the climb to Mt. Wilson, I knew my energy was almost running out that I needed to take something to eat. I tried a lick of a gel and it made me feel bad that was going to puke again. I felt terrible knowing if I couldn’t eat, I will not even make it to a quarter of Mt. Wilson. After a while, I remembered Mieko put in a Stinger bar in my pack and I tried it. Surprisingly, I was able to take the bar not eating it but just licking it little by little and felt my energy level coming back. I licked the bar, sipped the instillation over and over and I walked.

When I got tired, I sat on a rock licking my bar and sipping the instillation and sometimes thinking, “Where is this? What am I doing?” and remembered that I was still in the middle of the race moving forward trying to get it all done. This happened over and over. I finally got to the summit of Mt. Wilson. By the time I got there, the sunrise started coming up and the view of the LA was beautiful. I looked at the entire course of AC to Wrightwood and thought "what a long day". The scene, the trees, the breeze of the wind encouraged me to move forward but sometimes thought I still couldn’t make it to the finish that I still have 20 miles to go. But like any 100 mile race, I tried to focus on every single mile or to the next aid station rather than visioning to the finish line which made me think sick and tired and it’s way too long. I sometimes cried along the way because of the toughness of the race, I cried because I was having such a miserable day, I cried because this was not what I planned to train for a year, I cried because I was happy that I am still alive,  I cried imagining maybe I could finish this race. I walked and walked and just walked going through Idlehour aid station, then to Sam Merril aid station, and finally to Millard Canyon aid station. I was able to sometimes run but that didn't last long that made my stomach upset again. Every single people at the aid station were so nice and encouraged me that I could finish the race. After leaving the aid stations, I cried feeling I am so fortunate having people encourage me, willing me to finish the race like they would. As I get closer and closer to the finish, my weak minds started to fade away and I was thinking that I can really get this done. I passed some runners and they all looked desprite like I did trying to finish their battle. We are all individuals trying to finish our own race but it didn’t feel like our own race that we were a team trying to finish our races together.

From the last aid station after climbing up the uphill, I was able to run slow so I put all my effort to run to the very end so I could say to myself that I gave everything I could do to this race. Eric was waiting for me at mile 99 and he ran the last 1 mile behind me. When I saw the finish gate, I couldn’t stop my tears and I couldn’t believe I made it, but I did. Mieko, Hal, and Jean were waiting for me at the finish line and also people at the finish line were clapping their hands as I got closer to the finish line shouting “Tomo!!”. I finally finished and shook hands with Hal remembering he said “Do your best, never give up, if you fall, GET BACK UP!” and I did. I was able to do it not because I was strong, it was because of all the people who encouraged me to move to aid stations to aid stations and finally to the finish. 

AC100 2014 was the most miserable race or day that I have ever encountered, but the most greatest race that I have ever had. I will say it over and over, again and again, from my heart and soul, I would like to say a huge “THANK YOU!!” to everyone out there and especially Mieko and Eric for supporting me all day long.

The question remains whether was I able to finish within sub 21 or not if I had no issues? I guess not, because total management is all about this sport. Being just fast cannot lead you to a good result, you need to be fast as well as tough, solid, calm, patient, etc, which you need to manage yourself with all these aspects. I am sure I was missing something that lead me to my result. I guess I need to train hard again believing failure will always teach you to success.

I am still sitting on my seat on the airplane back to Japan, thinking now I want to hug my wife and daughter as strong as I can.

-100 Miler Tomo