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Yeti 100

Ian Saunders
September 25th, 2020 · 10 min read

Race information

  • What? Yeti 100
  • When? September 25th, 2002
  • How far? 100 miles
  • Where? Virginia, US
  • Website: https://www.yetitrailrunners.com
  • Strava activity: Strava
  • Finish time: 22:39:16 official (22:26 actual :))

Goals

GoalDescriptionCompleted?
ASub-24Yes
BFinishYes

Training

After hearing about the mystical Yeti 100 from some of my Ultra friends from North Carolina, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. My place was booked on the 2nd of January 2020 as my backup 100 miler. I had 2-races in the spring which I begun training for, the LA Marathon and the Thames Path 100. Training went well for both these races as I was able to sustain consistent, though perhaps a bit low, mileage whilst avoiding any injury - you may remember I lost nearly a year of racing due to Achilles tendinitis in late 2018.

About a month before LA marathon I had a tune-up half-marathon (Kaiser SF) which I finished in a respectable time of 84:09, which was indicative of a sub-3 in LA. I knew LA marathon was going to be a much hillier marathon than I am used to, but foolishly discounted the hills and thought I could roll over them. On race day I went out at around a 2:55 pace, I crossed the half way point in 86:53 feeling good, but after another 9 kms the wheels came off, and I started getting really bad cramp in my legs. In retrospect, I should have done more hill/distance, I am not one for quitting, so I slowly stumbled my way to a very painful end with a 86 | 124 positive split! The last 12 kms taking me 91 mins :(

Around this time COVID started to sadly grab hold, and LA marathon was to be the last big marathon calendar race of the year. Not that it mattered in the end, but during a night-time training run for Thames Path, I tripped on some uneven pavement and took a pretty big fall. I initially thought I may have broken a rib, but I was just badly bruised, the pain made running impossible for around 6 weeks. During this period lock-down was in full swing and it looked like all races for 2020 would be canceled. Having moved down to San Diego, I decided that due to lack of races this year, I should spend the time with another sport. I began focusing on learning to surf! This meant that from June onwards I ran around 10 kms a week just to keep the legs ticking over, and spent the vast majority of my time surfing and swimming, which was a lot of fun!

Much to my astonishment the Yeti 100 Race Director emailed everyone letting us know that Yeti 100 would almost certainly be going ahead. I spent a couple weeks thinking through if I was comfortable traveling to Virgina to run the race and if I had time to train for it given my low-mileage. I decided with a COVID test and continuing to be careful with wearing a mask and social distancing I would be comfortable with the safety aspect, and I had just enough time to go through a light training cycle to prepare for a 100 - as long as no injuries occurred! Though I hadn’t been running I was surfing 3 or 4 days a week, surfing happens to be a super good work out and my core strength and endurance were pretty high. Would this translate to running 100 miles? We would see! Just to add a bit of extra fun to the race, I called “shot” on a sub-24 hour run, which meant that if I would be entitled to a special buckle if I managed to finish under a day. If I didn’t no buckle!

TLDR: I managed a 10 week training block, peaking at 40 miles/week…

Pre-race

After taking a few days off work to relax, I arrived in Abingdon, a cute little town close to the start of the race. The packet pickup opened early in the day, so I popped down early to grab my stuff. The bib pickup was well handled with everyone wearing masks. The Yeti team hooked all runners up with a ton of amazing SWAG - 1 buff, 2 Peak Caps, 2 Shirts, stickers and various bits and bobs, I particularly enjoy the very colorful hat and buff (see photo at end of race…)!

After getting my race bib I grabbed a few last minute supplies before heading back to the hotel to sort my kit out and have an early night sleep. I slept well, and had around 6 to 7 hours of sleep.

When I woke up and looked outside, it was raining - hard. I had been in the area for the last 4 days, and the weather had been sunny but cool - perfect running weather. Sadly, for race day it was going to be rain-rain-rain.

Cool bib! Olde style bib

Picking up my bib. Bit of fun while picking up sawg

Elevation change Pretty flat course...

Simple Pacing plan... Simple pacing plan

Race

Upper Loop (0 to 28 miles)

Aid stations: Damascus to Green Cove and back to Damascus

Rather than have a mass start, the organizers asked runners to start at any time between 5 to 5:30 am with faster runners starting earlier. As tempting as it was to start at the last minute, I picked a time in the middle - I imagined I would be front/middle. This meant I had the most time to sleep in, but avoided any stress of missing the start. I started by myself at 5:13 am. I am used to the rousing start of the races, everyone hooting and hollering, so this felt very subdued, and a little surreal. Here I was about to run 100 miles, and I gave a chap my bib number and started - 2020 is weird. It turned out that a lot of runners had decided to start before me, this meant that I was able to do some early race passing, always good for moral to overtake rather than be overtaken.

The course this year was slightly altered due to COVID regulations. Rather than start at the top of Whitetop with a couple of out-and-backs the course was instead split into 1 big upper loop and then 4 repeats of the lower loop.

This upper loop was broken down into an up-hill and down-hill section. The up-hill section was deceptive in that it didn’t feel up-hill and was very runnable, in reality it was around a 2% gradient. Rather than run it all, I decided to run/walk this section. This proved pretty effective and kept my heart-rate low. As I got to the half way point, I picked up the pace and ran back, keeping to target pace and feeling good!

And how could we forget the rain? It was pouring… Having suffered through the cold 2 to 6 am deluge in Bear, the Yeti rain was subjectively pleasant. I had even given the rain too much credit, and started the race overdressed, sporting a poncho, rain-jacket and under layer! After a couple kms I stripped down to just my running top and poncho as it was relatively warm, around 15c.

As the sun rose and the mist burnt off, the beautiful course emerged. The stand-out feature of Yeti 100 is the the wooden trestle bridges. The course is set on an old train track, the Virginia Creeper Trail. The bridges are really gorgeous and have stunning views of the rivers below. All of the Ultra Marathons I have run have had natural run/walk sections as they are broken up with rolling hills. Yeti didn’t have rolling hills, so to avoid running all the time, I decided to use the bridges as my walk sections. The wood was a little slippery due to rain, so my walk sections were a safety feature!

Poncho and Rain fun... Poncho and Rain fun...

Wet Bridge at day break Wet Bridge at day break


Lower Loops 1 & 2 (28 to 64 miles)

Aid stations: Damascus to Alavadro and back x 2

As I arrived at the Damascus aid station I was pleasantly surprised with the spread of snacks. The aid stations in the first section had been relatively bare, but Damascus more than made up for that. I grabbed my feeding bag and grabbed some choice snacks. Shout-out to the baker behind the chocolate and pumpkin cake - so delicious! At the aid station I opted to swap out my very wet running shirt for a dry singlet and change to road shoes instead of trail. The rain had calmed down a bit and I predicted it would warm up.

Each out-and-back was around 30 kms, 15 kms out and 15 kms back, giving a total distance of 120 km for 4 loops, phew! I had more time than usual at the aid-station stop, just under 8 mins, but I hoped to get time back by running through the aid station at Alavadro. As I left the Damascus for the first loop it began raining again. It had to stop, didn’t it?

The out-and-back was bowl shaped, run down then run up. Because of the minor gradient it was very hard to tell which section was up or down, I paced myself knowing that the middle was the inflection point. To be honest, psychologically I felt I was running up-hill all the time! As I approached the aid station in Alavadro I was relieved that it was already time to turn back, not so fast there! Sadly the aid-station wasn’t the terminus of the leg, you had to run on to a “bloody long bridge”. This was around 2 kms away. This false-end would play on my nerves for the rest of the race. It always felt like I had arrived at the end, but I hadn’t! In the corner of my eye I saw a owl grab a mouse and fly away!

Other than those minor annoyances, the first loop went well. As I approached the end of loop 1, I began to feel very cold, mainly due to the constant rain, sheltered course and lack of sun. Having struggled when my core temperature dropped rapidly in UMSTEAD 100, I decided it was best to play it safe. Arriving at the aid station, I swapped into a new dry singlet, and put on a running base layer and rain jacket. I got rid of the poncho as it was wet inside out. Sam, from previous running adventures, would have been proud - I decided to have a nice lunch break, enjoying warm soup and quesadillas before heading back out. All-in-all spending a whopping 20 mins in the aid station! During this time another runner came in shivering and shaking from the cold. From what I could tell, they didn’t have a change of clothes and were freezing. Sadly the runner decided to drop from the race, but not before swigging a small bottle of Tennessee whiskey to warm up!

As I got stuck into loop 2 I was very glad I had made the clothes swap as it continued to rain. With a bit more walking on this leg I am sure I would have got cold without the warm gear.

One enjoyable attribute of the out-and-back format is that you get to see most of the other runners, in particular you get to see who is out front. The race leader was absolutely crushing it and cruising along with ease. I made some friends along the way, I remember having had a good chat with a very impressive retired lady who was doing a cracking job and well on the way to sub-24! As we passed the crew station a random stranger shouted out, great running ladies. Perhaps I needed a hair cut after all…

As I closed in on the end of loop 2, my toes had started to blister slightly from the shoes, I had made the mistake of putting on my standard size shoes (UK 8.5), thankfully I had a fresh pair of UK 9.5’s ready to go. As the rain had also become very light, I decided another wardrobe change was in order. Swapping into my evening running shirt for the final 2 loops, I decided to jettison the base-layer but keep my rain jacket with me, just in case. Thankfully the rain jacket was not needed for the rest of the race. Once again I took my time preparing myself for the next section at the aid station, with another massive 20 minute break. I made sure to stock up on food and snacks. My strategy of running through Alavadro was working well so I didn’t feel bad indulging in a 2nd portion of soup!

Time to change clothes I think... Time to change clothes I think...


Lower Loops 3 & 4 (64 to 100)

Aid stations: Damascus to Alavadro and back x 2

As I left for loop 3, I knew that sub-24 hour buckle was in the bag - excluding an injury or a big blow up. With a bit more mental gymnastics I realized sub-23 was pretty realistic too. I was starting to feel the lack of long distance training in the legs, but was able to keep the run/walk pace up and ground out lap 3.

  • Lowlight of this loop was the long bridge at the turn-around. I dropped some choice words in the direction of the bridge as I crossed over it, @£%^!
  • Highlight of this loop was the delicious freshly cooked quesadillas from the Alavadro aid station. Damn they were good!

As I began the final loop out the Damascus aid station I felt pretty good about the final 18 miles. I decide to err on the conservative side and land somewhere in the middle of 22 hours. There wasn’t any need to go faster, and I really didn’t want to experience the pain at the end of the LA Marathon or blow up.

During this final loop I thought about how this run had brought a bit of normalcy to 2020, even with the need to wear a face mask for sections of the race and the aid stations setup being a bit different. I also reflected on the fact that this was the first 100 that I had done solo with no pacers bringing me home. Pacers are certainly very useful, but it was nice to know that I could get the job done by myself - though I doubt that would have been the case in NDW100 or Bear. I also reflected on my experience in Bear 100 exactly 1 year previously, in that race I ran for nearly 34 hours. The experience was vastly different, Bear had made me a stronger ultra runner. During Bear I had experienced eclectic weather conditions, lots elevation gain, rain, snow, lighting, so much mud and low oxygen - a race like that really put things in perspective. As I approached the final bridge I couldn’t make my mind up if I could manage a sprint finish or should just walk it in. For those who are curious, you can see what happened with the video below - NSFW! :)

Super fun buckle! Super fun buckle!



Post-race

Yeti 100 was by far the most enjoyable 100 mile race I have done. Great support and aid stations, a simple format which didn’t require much thinking, and using my knowledge from the previous races ensured it was a great day. My feet were only slightly mashed which was refreshing! I also discovered the joy of a new kind of shoe, the recovery slip, which has really helped walking in the post-race week. After a couple nights chilling in Abingdon I headed back to sunny San Diego. For the rest of this year, I have one more challenge - legs permitting, and I still need to decide what to do next year. I hope in 2021 more races both Ultra and short distance will come back in some form. I am keen to run another road marathon, the only one I had booked, CIM 2020 in December, has already been canceled.

The evil bridge looks better in the sun. The evil bridge looks better in the sun.

It is long though! It is long though!

Fun hat and buff Fun hat and buff

Strava

More articles from Ian Saunders

Bear 100

As we made our way through we got to experience all the joys of trail running. Rain pouring on us, sliding in ludicrous amounts of mud, hails battering us from all sides, lightning crashing around us. What good value for money.

September 27th, 2019 · 17 min read

10 Peaks

I started running hard to catch up, and after a few moments the realization dawned - no, I would not be able to catch them. I was pretty baked from 30ish kms of heat and hills.

July 14th, 2018 · 9 min read
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