This Friday, Joe Seeley will embark on his fourth San Diego 100: a 100-mile exercise in physical and mental endurance that winds from Lake Cuyamaca to Cibbets Flat east of Pine Valley and back, to be completed in 32 hours or less. He earned the finisher’s bronze belt buckle on his previous three attempts; this year, he’s aiming to do better. “You get a different buckle if you either go solo without a support team or if you finish in under 24 hours. I’m just at the point where if everything lines up, I can do it” — especially if the cool weather holds and he doesn’t run into triple-digit temperatures in the canyons.
He came closest at age 42 in 2014, when he finished in 25 hours and 2 minutes, but he has reason to hope that this time will be different. “I did the Angeles Crest 100 last year, and did really well: 28:08. That’s a much tougher run; 18 or 19 thousand feet of climbing vs. 13 thousand for San Diego. For training, I hooked up with a group in Pasadena and they said, ‘You’ve got to get really good at hiking.’ Before, I was just laying down as many miles as possible, but I realized that half the race is hiking, and that’s really the challenge. I’ve done over 50 thousand feet of climbing in the last three months, and that’s my strategy for doing better.”
But as important as the physical preparation is, Seeley says a 100-miler “is 80 percent mental. We always say it’s a metaphor for life, starting with the fact that you’re going to have ups and downs, and you’ve got to plow through those downs. We put in our own self-defeating limitations: ‘I can’t do this. I can’t go another step.’ You’ve got to be like, ‘Hey, shut up. Just one foot ahead. Just get to the next aid station.’ Break it into manageable chunks. And you know you’re going to have setbacks, so you’ve got to have an A, B, and C goal, where C is just finishing before they throw you off the course.”
The metaphor extends on and on — rather like a 100-mile run. Discipline is crucial: “Once the sun sets, it gets lonely and it gets dark, and the aid stations are really warm. You have to be disciplined about your time: know what you’re going to do, get in and get out as fast as possible. They’ve got cots there, and you can take a nap, but the clock doesn’t stop for you.” Company is also crucial: “I’m running with several friends who are also doing it solo. You can encourage each other. They say the first half is run on preparation, the second half on inspiration. When you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about this and I just want to quit,’ their companionship helps take your mind off that internal conversation. And if you see someone who’s down and you can encourage them, that gets you out of yourself. Getting your mind off yourself is the way to do it. I say the rosary, and that starts me thinking about things I’m grateful for in life, and loved ones.”
And entertainment, distraction? Less crucial, perhaps, but still important. “If you’ve got a two-hour climb, it’s good to listen to an entertaining story. I used to listen to more heavy-duty audio books, but your brain is just not functioning and you can’t really pay attention. So I listen to audio versions of Dr. Who, done with the original actors. That’s about my speed.”