Last June 7, 2009, halfway across the world, Rick Gaston, a Pinoy ultra trail runner, clinched 6th place at the San Diego 100-mile Endurance Run. I have always been a fan of his blog— an adventurous and daring athlete (with great photos to boot), a prolific and entertaining writer, and a creative designer (what more can one ask for in a running blog?)—so I grabbed the chance to interview him soon after his amazing feat: (Read on…Rick’s got a lot to share, plus he’s hilarious too!)
Name: Enrique (Rick) Gaston
Location: San Francisco, California
Congratulations on grabbing 6th place at the San Diego 100-mile Endurance Run with a time of 20:00:25, a new PR for you. You make us Pinoys proud! Did you expect such a great performance?
– Rick at the Starting Line of San Diego 100mile Endurance Run –
You know I did. My training was good and the times I ran in the Spring races all pointed to a potentially good race at San Diego. I expected 21 hours but the cooler than normal temperatures allowed for 20. Based on the finishing times in the previous two years, I knew that if I could hit 21 or under I had a chance of cracking the top 10.
How did you train for this race?
This years training is different from the last 5 years in that I decided to take a hiatus from triathlon. I decided to focus all my energy into trail running. I’m a really slow swimmer anyway. Heading into this race I was running 80 miles per week. Not a lot considering I was training for a 100-mile race but it was enough. I run 6 days a week with one day off. I participate in our triathlon club’s track workouts and on the weekends I will do a hilly 6 hour trail run on Saturday and a 3-4 hour not quite so hilly road or trail run on Sunday. I build for 3 weeks and I back off on the fourth week. I ran three races prior to San Diego; a 50k, 50-Mile (80k) and a 100k. I ran them all hard, not at training pace, and that was a personal decision. My training would have probably been better for San Diego had I ran them at a moderate pace. I’m never one to be solely fixed on one event however. What I do miss this year is the time on the bike and the spin classes. I have to figure out a way to make time for those two activities. The bike is a really great way to work the legs without all the pounding and the spin classes were great interval workouts that again were gentler on the body than running.
What was the highlight of the race for you?
At about 9PM in the evening, approximately 122k into the race, a runner and her pacer had caught up to me. I had just survived a brief bonk (miscalculated my calories) and was running in 7th place. Bonking (such a funny word) had left me hungry, cold and sluggish and I was still shaking off it’s effects when these two runners came upon me. They got close, I could hear them talking through my music. I could see the lights from their headlamps and flashlights. My initial reaction was to let them pass. I didn’t want to be hounded and chased. I didn’t want to be pushed into running their pace. A bigger part of me wanted to fight however and so I started haulin like a thief with nowhere to hide. I was going to make them work for the pass and if they didn’t, well even better. At first I wasn’t able to shake them but as my body continued to revive with the influx of new calories, fluids with the addition of caffeine, I slowly and surely pulled away. I love those moments when I’m able to do more than I thought I was capable of doing.
How long have you been running?
10 years. 2 years training for and participating in marathons and the last 8 in ultras and triathlons.
How many ultras have you joined?
I’ve participated in 82 races, 43 in ultras. San Diego was my 8th finish at the 100-Mile distance.
You’re more of a trail runner than a road runner. What is it about running trails that you enjoy?
I like the absence of cars, the softness of the trails, the difficulty of long climbs, the joy of a fast downhill, picking and thinking my way through a technical trail filled with rocks, roots, mud, etc., and the amazing views. Most of all trail running always reminds me of the presence and majesty of God; in his creation before me, from the flower to the mountain, from the valley to the sea and in the Holy Spirit driving forward within me.
What is your most memorable race ever? Why?
Tough one. I would have to say that the Kettle Moraine 100-Mile last June in Wisconsin was the most memorable. The event is run the same weekend as San Diego. It was hot, humid and buggy. Flies, mosquitoes and deer flies that could sting through a running shirt. The start reeked of insect repellent. The temperature caused several runners to drop out early, at the 50k mark. At 4PM a thunderstorm rolled through. It cooled us off but turned the trails into a muddy mess. Lightning lit up the sky and scared some of runners running in the exposed fields. Fortunately I was back in the shelter of the trees by then. Tornado sirens were blazing in the background which I was oblivious to at the time because I had never heard one in my life. No tornados in Hawaii or California. It was a good thing I didn’t know! It would have freaked me out. I’ve seen the movie Twister. Many more runners dropped at the 100k mark, including one of the front runners. Only 37 of the 69 100-mile runners finished. At 11PM another thunderstorm hit. More insult to injury or more bang for your money, you decide. All day I battled one internal problem after another and had my last issue at mile 95 when a muscle above my left knee gave out. Running, bending the knee became quite painful especially on the hills but I managed to limp in at a 14 minute mile pace, scared that I was going to get caught by the next runner. Fear is such a great motivator. When I finished one of the co-race directors, Jason, told me I was third, a pleasant surprise. I had mistaken some of the relay runners in front of me as 100-mile participants. I was a mess afterwards; barely walking, stank of sweat and mud and I had started shivering uncontrollably. The other race director, Timo, took great care of me. He walked me out, made sure I was ok to drive, got the car for me which was parked a long way away and made sure the heater was cranked up to high. I got a warm welcome back in the hotel room I shared with three other runners. Meghan finished her 100k event and placed third female while Bob and Tom were 100-mile runners who dropped at the 100k mark. We spent Sunday eating, drinking and exchanging stories about our run. Days later the whole race site was inaccessible due to flooding from more thunderstorms. We just made it that year. Good times. A June to remember.
– Surviving Kettle Moraine 100mile –
What are the top 3 tips you could give to beginner trail runners?
Read. Learn about the sport. Learn the how to’s and why. A little homework goes a long way. If you have the benefit of an experienced coach / coaches, listen and ask questions on top of the reading. If you are getting your information off the internet consider the source. Not everyone is an authority. I certainly am not. I’m doing the exact same thing; reading, learning and asking questions.
Remember that it takes much longer to cover distances on trails especially if the terrain is hilly. Prepare accordingly. Stay on top of your hydration, nutrition and electrolyte replacement and bring more than you think is enough.
Don’t get lost. Trails are not like streets. It’s harder to find your way and easy to get lost. If you think you are going the wrong way, backtrack to where you think you made the wrong turn. Continuing to go forward in the hope that the path you are currently on will eventually take you to where you need to go doesn’t always work. If you are in a race, back track to the last marker that you saw.
One more, tell your road running friends what a bunch of sissies they are and how unnaturally white their road shoes look. Okay I’m kidding about the fourth one.
What are the top 3 trail runs that you would recommend for runners to join in the U.S.? Why?
Well I can only speak to the ones which I have done, most of which are in Northern California.
• Western States, late June. It’s the oldest, the grand daddy of 100-milers in the US. It is not the toughest or the most beautiful but it has a lot of history and well supported. They say it is the Boston Marathon of 100-milers, I think it’s that for all the ultra’s in the US. This years field is one of the most competitive. I just spent three days there last weekend, supporting a friend who was running her first 100-miler. What an experience that was, a full on emotional roller coaster. My friend Carrie finished and I’m still high on the whole experience like I was the one who ran. Working on my post for that one.
• The Miwok 100k, first week in May. Tough hilly course with beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay Area. Also features a good competitive field, a favorite with the crowd preparing for Western States. Long enough to be a nice epic run without having to run through the night like the 100-milers.
• The Quad Dipsea, end of November. My all time favorite race. It is only 28.4 miles but it is very hilly and quite technical in some parts. The single Dipsea is the oldest trail race and the second oldest foot race of any kind in the country. The trail connects the sea side town of Stinson Beach to the valley town of Mill Valley. The quad race is four trips across this trail. Amazing views, heartbreaking climbs and quad pounding downhills. Enough roots, rocks and stairs to make a trail runner cry with joy or pain. Seeing your fellow runners four times on the course makes for some good camaraderie afterwards. Lots of food and drink provided post race. It is like a holiday party for trail runners.
What are the top 3 trail running gear you recommend for runners?
• Great trail shoes, not necessary for flat trails but a lot of fun on hilly, technical trails.
• A hydration waist or back pack
• Socks that help prevent blisters
What’s your next goal?
I am planning on taking part in the Headlands Hundred, a small local 100-miler here in the San Francisco Bay Area in the second weekend of August. I train regularly on the course so I know the area well and several of the trail runners I know are taking part in the event.
Any plans of running trails here in the Philippines?
I would love to race an endurance event in the Philippines but the problem is time. I’m only there for three weeks at a time and I’m expected to spend most of that in Bacolod with my Lola who raised me till I was 12. Too bad because I have family and friends in Manila who would make excellent crew! Don’t count me out yet though. I could fly in, do a race and be home in Bacolod before they can yell at me on the phone to come home already – rickkeeeboyy puli na! Could happen right? I’m a trail runner so the Northface event appeals to me; lahar, river crossings, storms, mud, that’s more my style. However I am also quite interested in Sir Jovie’s Bataan Deathmarch 102k even though it’s on road. There is so much history tied to the event. I also have faith in Sir Jovie as a race director. Since the first Bataan Death March he has continued to compile his notes on the organization of other races and I have no doubt he will apply all that knowledge to further improve his event. I was also inspired by the stories that came out of the Bataan 102k this year. Prior to the event I had started communicating with one of the runners, Jonnifer Lacanlale, and in the process of following the event and his success at the run I ended up reading a whole bunch of race reports. My television has seen very little use this year 🙂