A Race “That Just Happens”
A Journal by John DeGregory
NEWCOMB’S SADDLE TO CHANTRY FLATS (74.55 MILES)
I continued to press out of Newcomb’s Saddle still feeling good. I wanted to tick off as many miles as I could while I felt great, understanding that reality would set in eventually and I would be relegated to a slow climb once the big climbs came up after Chantry Flats. I had just over 10k to run to get to Chantry and all but .8 mile was more or less downhill. I made good time down to the bottom of another canyon (we have a theme going here) and passed a few more runners in the attempt. At the base of the small climb up to Chantry Flats, I could here the noise in the distance. I was relegated to glow sticks until I came around a sharp turn and there on the bluff was an electric aid station that arguably was the most energetic and well manned on the course. It was like an oasis in the dark. It reminded me of a carnival scene with multiple aid station tables, HAM radio operations, people bustling back and forth attending to runners, people kicking back, etc. I got into Chantry Flats at 3:30 a.m. (90 minutes earlier than the 5 a.m. drop dead deadline I gave myself). The tides were starting to turn. I located a porta potty at the aid station entrance and did my business. I then came out and started to weed myself through the crowds looking for Al. I was surprisingly greeted by Carrie! I did not see Mark so I found some immediate solace in that something did not happen to him. Carrie looked sick and a few seconds later confirmed that she was battling an unsettled stomach and some other flu like symptoms while on the course and had to abandon. Al took over the pacing duties and had left with Mark about 30 minutes before I arrived which meant I was still pacing myself well. Carrie refilled my hydro pack while I got into my drop bag and replenished some supplies. I had a grill cheese sandwich and that really hit the spot! I noticed Jorge Pacheco was at Chantry Flat comfortably clothed in his post run attire. I later found out that he was leading the race (predictably) into Chantry Flat but elected to drop after being on the course record for a while. His decision to drop was not confirmed but we think he may have had a hard time fueling and hydrating prompting his early day. It is amazing how so many of these elites have the mentality of all or nothing. To finish a 100 mile run is a sacred privilege no matter the time. The mindset of an elite runner is so much different. I joked with myself after saying good bye to Carrie that I was going to finish ahead of Jorge. I thanked Carrie for everything as I was not going to see her again until the finish at Loma Alta Park (no crew access points after Chantry Flats). It felt weird to know that but I was used to being alone so it strengthened me to push on. I was also glad Carrie was going to be able to sleep for a few hours in the hopes she was able to capture a second wind.
CHANTRY FLATS TO IDLEHOUR (83.75 MILES)
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH……the last 25 miles of the course and the two biggest climbs loomed. Against better judgment, I ignored my foot problems and sabotaged my plan to care for my feet at Chantry Flats. I think adrenaline and emotion overcame me at that aid station and I just wanted to keep moving. I had 3,100 feet in 6.24 miles to climb to the top of Mt. Wilson and a total of 9.02 miles to Idlehour (the next aid station). This stretch would determine my fate on this day. It was 3:50 a.m. when I got back on the trail and began the gradual ascent of Mt. Wilson. I once again fired up the I-Pod Shuffle and immediately noticed how bad my feet were. The non category climbing was a matter of minutes away and I was already compensating on the up hills to negate the pain radiating through my heels and toes as the friction of each step kept grinding into my skin exacerbating my blisters. I was relegated to leaning all the way over on the steeps much like a ski jumper in the Olympics. I was trying to minimize the heel lift in my while keeping progress moving forward. It was a tough predicament. I decided to do the best I could to go out of my own body and focus on other things. I did come in contact with “Mr. Hoorah” again and passed him which brought some resolve to my problem. He commented on how well I was moving and how strong I was. I was too tired to argue and decided to take his feedback and try to make that my reality. Eventually I found what I thought was the summit of Mt. Wilson. I came off the trail and into a clearing and immediately noticed Larry Rich sitting on a park bench with his pacer John. I stopped to exchange pleasantries and noticed Rich was in pain also suffering from some advanced blister problems. This was the moment that Rich and I were forever inseparable for the rest of the run….our fates still in the balance but our journey became one effort. Rich introduced me to his pacer John who was an incredible guy full of energy, encouragement and tough love. He kept us moving and in rhythm often getting a head of us which inspired us to push on and get to where he was. After talking briefly, Larry encouraged me to push on with him and John. I accepted the invitation and found out John was familiar with the course. He indicated we had just under four down hill miles into Idlehour but had not yet crested Mt. Wilson (of course we hadn’t). Larry got up and we began a gingerly saunter up some more vertical until we arrived at a fire road that would take us the rest of the way into Idlehour. John was great keeping us motivated to keep moving while holding us accountable to perpetual motion. We talked, laughed, took some brief respites to pee and eventually found ourselves grinding into Idlehour. I ran out of water for the second time in two days and John let me suck from his Camelbak intermittently to offset my fluid deficiencies (a novel gesture). Larry had a more aggressive exit strategy on the aid stations than I did and I was able to catch him on the sections leading to the next aid station. This was the aid station that I needed to attend to my feet so I agreed to catch up with them later not knowing if I actually would. This aid station had arguably the best team on the course. The nicest gentleman greeted me enthusiastically and asked what he could do for me. I half jokingly said I needed some foot care remembering the medical director indicated they provide no hands on medical care for runners. Before I could laugh at my own request, he immediately asked me what I needed and quickly got out a first aid kit. Before I knew it, he had my feet analyzed and the care remedy in motion which included popping my blisters (beyond the call) and covering my hot spots with mole skin and first aid crème. He lined the heals of my with duct tape to minimize the friction on my heels. This guy saved my race and to add kindness to beyond the call of duty…sent me off with a breakfast burrito. Now this was service with a smile. I chugged out of Idlehour on a mission to find Larry and John and for a brief but fleeting moment, thought I might just have a chance to finish this thing. Later I found out I was nearly two hours ahead of the cut off time at Idlehour. It was coming together slowly but surely.
IDLEHOUR TO SAM MERRILL (89.25 MILES)
Chugging out of Idlehour I quickly realized how much better my feet felt. It was not perfect, but I knew he had patched them well enough for them to be a non-factor the rest of the way (or so I was hoping). I had one more big climb up to Sam Merrill (1,960 feet in 3.77 miles) waiting for me and at the summit of Sam Merrill is when the barn starts to smell as we say in ultra running. Before the ascent up Sam Merrill, there was a little over a mile of down hill and I took it aggressively and did end up catching Larry and John prior to the ascent. The three amigos back in action. It felt good to get back with Larry and John as we picked right up where we left off. The climb up Sam Merrill was arduous and I remember Ling Chu noting in her course feedback that you could see the aid station on a bluff from afar but you never seemed to get there. Exactly the predicament! We met up with a couple other runners and a posse of five of us grinded mercifully to Sam Merrill. When we finally arrived, the realization of having the last big climb under our belts radiated but the victory was short lived as we had work to do. My feet felt great (per the predicament) and that was the last time I would think about them as everyone’s feet were hurting at this point. The Sam Merrill Station lacked karma. All I can remember from this aid station was a guy that kept negatively indicating that they only had water and Gatorade. My ammo was water and coconut juice so I was not in dire straights although as mentioned earlier, the aid stations at critical junctures of the course (notably the last 3-4 aid stations) should have been stocked with soft drinks, ice and a few other high mileage essentials. Not complaining, but it makes a difference to have cold fluids and a Coke in the later mileage. Staff mojo (or lack thereof) at this aid station kept me motivated to keep moving. I filled my hydro and blasted on toward the last aid station (Millard Campground) with Larry and John smelling the barn at 89.25 miles.
SAM MERRILL TO MILLARD CAMPGROUND (95.83 MILES)
John kept the stories rolling and the accountability in the high beam encouraging Larry and I to press on. We were both shot (our legs were worthless and the relentless climbing and downhill had trashed our quads relegating us to a consistently slow shuffle). We were not complaining but it hurt nonetheless. It seemed in hindsight like we would never get to Millard Campground. We made good time overall and eventually came to a ridge over looking the Los Angeles Basin. Larry had us look down the canyon and we could see Millard Campground in the distance. He pointed exactly to where we needed to go and it seemed to motivate Larry and I to up our pace (if even for a minute) to get there. We descended for a while longer and inside of a mile from the aid station we encountered another female runner coming up the trail to greet us. I was confused at first as to whether she was part of Larry’s crew but ended up finding out she was a friend and not associated with his crew. She knew Larry was coming and wanted to support him. She gave him a bottle of Ensure and Larry took a couple of swigs. I thought to myself how good that would taste if only I had one. Before I knew it, Larry passed the bottle back to me and I noticed it was an icy cold Coke (hallelujah!!!!!!!!) I swigged the rest of the Coke and the lady immediately ordered me to give it back to her. She quickly became our mother and within minutes had me assessed to include all of my shortcomings. 1. I was carrying too much weight, 2. I was over dressed, 3. I looked dehydrated, 4. I looked under nourished…..I chuckled inside and decided to let this lady care for me (what the heck….I needed some TLC). We arrived at Millard Campground and Larry and John decided that Larry was going to immediately continue up the trail while John got his water bottles filled. They encouraged me to do the same asking me to give my hydro pack to the lady who was our new guardian angel. I checked in and out of the aid station with Larry and continued up a slightly steep canyon out of the basin Millard Campground was situated in. John caught Larry and I felt a little weird leaving a lady I did not know behind with my hydro pack so I stayed behind and waited for her against John and Larry’s advice. They disappeared and the lady appeared with my hydro pack a few minutes later scolding me for stopping. We were now headed home.
MILLARD CAMPGROUND TO ALTA LOMA PARK (100.53 MILES)
We quickly got in a rhythm out of Millard Campground and before I knew it, this lady was feeding me peppermint candies, gel shots and telling me to drink every few minutes (like a human metronome). We quickly caught John and Larry and once again John kept encouraging us to keep moving while giving us periodic reports of where we were relative to the hallowed grass of Loma Alta Park! Larry and I chatted intermittently trying to get our arms and minds around the realization that barring death, we were going to finish this thing. We had enough time recouped to walk it in and the utter elation coupled with the utter exhaustion made for a giddy few final miles. The last few miles were a combination of dirt fire roads and single track. We merged on to the final section of single track before dumping out on to the streets of Alta Loma. At the top of this small rise of single track was a guy who looked familiar as I got closer but I could not place him. Turns out my dear friend Monte Grix made the trip (as discussed) from Santa Monica to support me and see my finish. It was emotional seeing Monte and he quickly joined our convoy running with me all the way to the finish line at Loma Alta Park. We popped out on to the streets of Alta Loma and sure enough we had one final climb to the finish line (why not finish with a climb). We made a few turns residentially and finally ended up at the perimeter of Loma Alta Park. Larry and I insured our pacing was congruent and eventually we saw a pathway on to the grass that took us the final 100 yards to the finish line in the distance. Upon seeing us, the crowd erupted and this is perhaps the single moment in time when I remember little to nothing. The finish line at a 100 mile run elicits a myriad of thought processes and emotions. You become numb to your reality trying to grab hold of the magnitude of what you are about to experience and what you have already endured. I came across the line separating from Larry just enough to give his crew and supporters an opportunity to embrace him and allow him time in his moment of triumph. I crossed the line in 31:54.36 looking down before looking up to see Mark, Carrie and Al cheering me on while moving as fast as they could to get over to greet me. Mark and I embraced in a congratulatory hug and I found out that Mark finished 24 minutes ahead of me. I was given a finisher’s t-shirt and directed to the photographer to get a black and white photo. Afterwards, I chatted with Monte briefly and gave him a hug as he had to leave to get to work. So appreciative of his selfless dedication to coming out and seeing my finish especially in light of the fact he has a new baby Mirabella and is time strapped. I sat down briefly while my body succumbed to the fact that I had finished and starting stiffening up as is the drill at a hundred. Mark, Carrie, Al and I conversed briefly and we then decided to go to the local community pool where showers had been secured for us. Mark and Carrie said their good byes having an afternoon to catch out of Burbank. Words cannot describe the gratitude and appreciation I have for them and their efforts to get Mark and I to the finish line. Mark and I got back to the park right around 2 p.m. and met up with Dan Burke, Suzie Lister and his posse. We ate some pizza, hydrated and set up lawn chairs together and enjoyed a wonderful awards ceremony. Around 5 p.m., we parted ways and Mark and I headed back to a Best Western Motel in Pasadena to recover and recoup. Mark fell fast asleep and I could not seem to follow suit as we had both been up for 39 straight hours and my body was aching. Slammed a few Advil’s to numb the discomfort! Mark slept to nearly mid night and I went in and out of consciousness. We eventually realized we needed calories. We ended up at a Denny’s restaurant and had a mid night buffet of epic proportions.
We headed home the next morning with our finishers belt buckles and engraved plaques in hand celebrating and recounting the many moments and memories we accrued over the past two days. My wife Susan could not be with me at Angeles Crest as she was attending the wedding of a close friend in Indianapolis. I missed her dearly and so appreciate her support from afar. She always provides the support and inspiration for me to pursue my passions and I love her endlessly for that selflessness. A special thank you to Mark Barichievich (my esteemed good friend and trail companion) for always pushing me to new heights and having that perspective that always keeps things fun, meaningful and on the light side. I respect him greatly and cherish the two one hundreds we have run together. I’m sure there is another one on the horizon soon. To thank Al and Carrie for what they did is hard because they did more than a simple thank you can justify. Mark and I don’t finish the Angeles Crest 100 without their unwavering support and encouragement. They were incredible. Special thanks to all of our friends, families and ultra running buddies who provided the invaluable perspective needed to ready us for this challenge. Mark and I can’t thank everyone enough for following us round the clock on the internet and for your text messages and phone calls.
160 runners signed up for the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run. 122 runners started the run. 71 runners crossed the finish line. A 58% finish rate! Ultra running is heart and soul. Your body is just along for the ride. To have the health and the good fortune to do these things is something I am truly grateful for. Live each day to the fullest. A day in the life and a mile in the sneakers is never guaranteed.
This was our journey at Angeles Crest. Thank you for reading this report.
CLOUDBURST TO THREE POINTS (42.72 MILES)
The course had a number of dirt and paved road sections that meandered upward and downward FOREVER…so it seemed. The journey to Three Points included a progressively beautiful descent coupled with the predictable short ascension spikes! I had not seen Larry in a while but knew he was close to me seeing his crew at every aid station. I got in a rhythm with an Asian gentleman that was running about my pace and I settled in about 50-75 yards behind him and used him as a visual pacing indicator. As with most of the course, the predicament was running and walking at best and in this section we were doing some intermittent stream crossings and maneuvering some dry creek beds which offered very technical and unstable footing with loose boulders at our feet. I came across another runner up in the distance and eventually came along side him. He was wearing the newly acclaimed foot gloves that are gaining traction in many running circles. The gloves have little to no padding forcing one to run on the balls of their feet which is more natural to appropriate running mechanics. I am not quite there but am intrigued and may elect to purchase a pair one day. As I passed him, I said hello and got a weak and fairly pessimistic hello in return. I elected to slow my pace and talk to him for a few minutes. I asked him how he was doing. Without a pause, he immediately told me that anyone walking at this point in the run had little to no change of finishing. Not the enthusiasm and optimism I was hoping for but I countered by asking him how he felt about his chances of finishing. He told me he could no longer fuel and hydrate and would most likely be dropping at Three Points. He quickly told me not to stand around talking to him and continue on. His comments did not deflate me. I felt confident in my pacing knowing I was not comfortably inside the cut offs but I was able to hydrate and fuel and that was a huge indicator I was talking the punches and hanging around for another round. I got back into my running and walking rhythm and that was the last I saw of that gentleman. He gave me a dose of motivation to keep going. It is so amazing how many motivating factors you come in contact with on a 100 mile course. Some inferences are obvious and others you have to dig deep to decipher. I kept plugging away on the trail and realized I had reached the bottom of a canyon when I came in contact with Carmela. I chatted it up with her through this beautiful meadow and eventually we connected with a dirt road. She encouraged me to continue at my pace. I asked her how she was feeling and she indicated she was dealing with a bad case of neuroma (called Fat Pad Impingement Syndrome). This condition occurs when the nerves in your feet are being pinched by the fat pads in your feet that cover the nerve linings). She did not have her earlier optimism about finishing and I told her to keep going as long as her body could hold up. As I grinded up the road I looked back once and saw her far back in the distance. That was the last time I would see Carmela. She dropped an aid station or two later succumbing to her foot issues. I caught up to a Hispanic gentleman who was part of the SoCal contingency I came in contact with earlier in the run up Mt. Baden Powell. He maintained a 20 yard lead on me and we both sauntered into Three Points glad this long gradual road ascent was behind us. Al and Carrie were not at Three Points but crewing for Mark and waiting for me at Chilao (the coveted aid station at 52 miles). I could only hope that by some miraculous act, I had a pacer waiting for me. I elected not to get too far ahead of myself. I had no drop bag at Three Points and became a little nervous as the sun was rapidly setting and I had debated about putting my night lights here just in case I did not make it in to Chilao by nightfall. I asked one of the aid station volunteers if he thought I had enough time to make it to Chilao without needing a light. He indicated it would be close but that I should have enough time to slide in there. I took him literally at his word (had no choice) and after a cup of chicken noodle soup and a hydro pack fill up, got traction on the trail and headed out toward Mt. Hillyer on the way to Chilao.
THREE POINTS TO MT. HILLYER (49.08 MILES)
I was racing the sun at this point hoping I could continue to see it on the ridgeline for as long as possible as once it went behind the mountains, I was in a race for sunlight. Much to my surprise and disappointment, the first mile plus out of Three Points was an arduous grind up a rock infested meadow. My feet were continuing to hurt as blisters continued to develop and advance. I had not checked the blisters in a few aid stations electing not to take off the to investigate. I figured my feet had settled into the enough where the wear and tear was not entirely debilitating (that predicament changed later regretfully forcing dire measures). The grind up this initial meadow did put some pressure on my heels and my blisters did awaken and it started to become an issue once again (lucky me). I continued to keep grinding electing to address the issue at Chilao. The grind up Mt. Hillyer was true to the course (difficult and undulating). I climbed just under a thousand feet in 3.58 miles which was tame by comparison per some of the earlier climbs, but when the miles continue to accrue on the legs, climbs just get more difficult and mentally taxing. I ran into Larry Rich again and we actually climbed Mt. Hillyer together. I was a mixture of uneven footing and dry creek bed navigation. Larry and I both climbed relatively well and the conversation helped the miles and the elevation pass more conveniently. Larry and I arrived at Mt. Hillyer and I don’t remember too much about this aid station other than I had no crew or drop bag here, so I refilled my hydro pack and got out of there quickly with the necessary fuel so I could get into Chilao. Larry and I hooked up again and ran the gradual descent into Chilao together. I had indicated to Larry earlier in the run that my pacing situation was dicey. Larry (like myself) had a super crew and had two different pacers to get him through which was the only luxury I didn’t have. He asked me how my pacing situation was and I confirmed the worst. He told me not to sweat it and that I was welcome to run with him and his pacers as pace and circumstances dictated. I thanked him again for his act of kindness and for some reason the reality of not having my own pacer over shadowed the assistance Larry was offering me. It is my nature not to want to rely on others or leverage someone else’s planning. Part of me was frustrated, angry at the predicament and at a loss as to how I was going to navigate this short coming as all I could think about was just how insistent the race directors and other previous finishers were about having a pacer. I didn’t have one….how was that going to turn out for me? Odds were going down and at this point I needed all the odds I could muster. The unknown brought me down somewhat as I made my way to Chilao hoping Al had somehow secured some company for me. Larry and I chugged up the final road to Chilao and about a half mile from the aid station Larry had an energetic crew member on the trail waiting for him with some liquids and moral support. I slowed my pace letting him have a moment with his crew and focused my energies on finding the nearest porta potty having to make another deposit. I found one about 300 yards from the aid station check in and took a few minutes to lighten my load. I chugged into Chilao and immediately saw Al who came to my aid. I got ushered over to the scale before Al and I could communicate and catch up and they indicated I was about 3% under weight. The lady said I was doing great and I still knew my hydration was good electing not to worry. Once my attention was directed back to Al he guided me over to the crew pit chair which he situated up the parking lot near the trail entrance to the next aid station. On my way, an aid station volunteer gave me a much needed wet rag to wipe my salt infested face and I enjoyed a much needed plop into the pit crew chair. Mark had come through about 35 minutes earlier and Carrie was out on the course with him pacing. Once Al had my undivided attention, he told me (in an optimistic tone) that he tried in vain to find a pacer for me but that none were available). Not shocked at this point, I accepted the predicament and tried to warm to the reality of plugging on solo. Al told me he talked to a crew that invited me to run with their runner if interested. Ironically it was Larry’s crew! Al pointed to the area where Larry was transitioning and indicated they would be leaving in a few minutes. I did not want to get caught up in someone else’s plan, so I told Al I’ll beat to my own drum and insure I was properly transitioned before departing Chilao. I did a shirt change, tried a change but my feet had swelled so much that I could only fit into the original pair of causing me all the problems (how convenient!) I did another temporary foot patch in vain, put on a fresh pair of socks and slid my wheels back into those blister infested . I insured my waist and headlamps were affixed, had Al fill my hydro pack, refilled on fuel and got out of the chair. I looked at Al and he indicated to me that he would see me again at Chantry Flat (a life time away 23 miles in the distance at 75 miles). Small consolation realizing I had many hurdles to vault before Chantry. In doing what little math my head could process, I figured I needed to get into Chantry Flat before 5 a.m. to have a chance at finishing. It was that simple. You cannot walk 25 miles on this course in 9 hours. I needed a cushion and my fate was really up in the air and reliant on my ability to rally. Could I pull off something epic? The drama was just heating up. As I bid Al adieu, I pushed the illumination buttons on my lights and shuffled off into the forest that had since become dark since my arrival at Chilao. A faint orange sun line filled the horizon. It was going down fast…would I be following???
CHILAO TO SHORTCUT SADDLE (59.3 MILES)
Once out of Chilao, I got on a single track trail and began winding through a network of multiple trail junctions with pathways shooting out in every direction. Campgrounds laced the area and I could smell camp fires and a smorgasbord of variable food odors wafting in the surrounding air. People sat in lounge chairs conversing with the site of tents in every direction. It was like a magnet pulling me in that direction. I quickly adjusted my mindset and reset it back on the task at hand trying to pull it together. I spent a few quick mental minutes identifying the priorities of what I needed to execute to survive the night time section and salvage my dream of an AC-100 finish. I needed to stay awake and stay sharp (always be looking outside my periphery to insure I was not missing yellow tape and chalk markings on the trails and roads – DON’T GET LOST!!!!!) Getting lost could tank my race either via lost time and/or by simply defeating me mentally). I could not make this mistake as I had little time in the bank. I had to find a way to stay sharp and awake at all costs!!!! Hydration, electrolytes and refueling continued to be common themes and I was doing good at these critical elements causing me optimism. I always carry an I-Pod on me but historically never use it. Remembering I had one stashed in the far reaches of my hydro pack, I reached for it without hesitation and it certainly lightened the mood and boosted my spirits. If I could not have a human pacer, some inspiring music could help fill the void. U2 kicked things off and from there forward the music blended together. I was less aware of the specific songs than the fact that I had a continual beat echoing in my ear drums which actually subconsciously helped me establish some rhythm in the sneakers. With the reality of not having a pacer still fresh, I elected to take out my I-Phone and film a short video to collect my thoughts out loud which, in hindsight, helped me get over the hump and focus on what I could control, not would I could not control. I started to look at the pacer as a luxury and not a necessity. Far from the truth but if the cool aid worked, I was going to keep sipping it. I realized that I had a chance to accomplish something epic within the larger confines of something epic and at that point a light came on that would flicker the rest of my run. Each and every mile that passed without the pacer helped me to get stronger and more resolved in my efforts! Things didn’t seem so bad after all. The single track trail experienced in the camp ground areas soon turned to an over grown fire road. All of a sudden my head lamp beam abruptly flashed on a beautiful purple flower that looked almost like a hydrangea, except that this beautiful flower was a deceptively evil weed called Poodle Dog. We were warned about Poodle Dog at the pre-race meeting. Poodle Dog is a cross between Poison Oak and Stinging Nettle and it is a plant (weed) that springs up after soils are disturbed by wild fires. It is indigenous in the areas of the San Gabriel Mountains that were affected by the Station Fire of 2009. We were told that a lot of trail work went into cutting this weed back off the trails but that it grows fast and that not all of the Poodle Dog could be accounted for. Ironically most of the runners were going to encounter the bulk of this plant on the lower portions of the course conveniently in the dark. The plant has invisible needles on the flower that insert into the skin when in contact. It takes about 48 hours for symptoms to immerge, however, when they do blistering rashes cover the skin and it is extremely painful and inconvenient requiring cortico steroids to apprehend. I saw more Poodle Dog on this section of the course than I can accurately recount. Depth perception in the dark is always an issue when staring through the lense of a LED headlamp for hours on end. I was quite certain I brushed up against the plant on numerous occasions but had little control over the outcome so I trudged on. In fact, the plant kept me alert and awake not wanting to encounter it, so this proved pivotal in my staying sharp at night.
About three miles out of Chilao with another 3.2 miles to navigate to Short Cut Saddle, I came out of the woods and out of no where ran into a race official with a flashlight that warmed me with a nice enthusiastic hello. He pointed down into an abyss of darkness indicating I would be going down into the bowels of the canyon I could barely see. He then pointed directly across the canyon to a small collection of lights on the horizon that seemed a planet away. He indicated that was Short Cut Saddle. Over the mountain range from Short Cut saddle was an incredibly illuminated Los Angeles skyline (civilization looming a couple of mountain ranges away). This gave me great hope as I could see how far I had come out of the higher mountain elevations having made my way down to the lower sections of the course. Altitude was fast becoming my ally and this was a critical realization. Nasty climbs still remained but I had some hope to hang on to. The sharp descent down to the bottom of the canyon leading up to Shortcut Saddle was steep with extremely technical footing. I did not want a sprained ankle or a knee injury so I took it slow but steady. At the canyon bottom I came across an overgrown section of trail that meandered through a series of creek beds which provided opportunities to douse myself and wet my neck handkerchief (it was comfortable but still hot at night). The climb up to Shortcut Saddle from the canyon bottom was steep but short. I looked back over the canyon I had just traversed and could see multiple sets of headlamps traversing down the steep canyon slopes. More motivation for me to keep moving. I arrived at Shortcut Saddle with no crew or drop bags. I went through the regular reps and insured I minimized my stay as I sensed I was making good time. No need to disrupt the flow. I filled up, fueled up and headed out to Newcomb’s Saddle. Chantry Flat was within my grasp which is a critical mileage point on the course. I quickly remembered that I was focusing on one aid station at a time and needed to get to Newcomb’s Saddle before lending my attention to Chantry Flats. Perpetual forward motion was the goal. Larry Rich coined that term many miles earlier in our run. I had not seen him for a while and he was ahead of me slightly so that was good news.
SHORTCUT SADDLE TO NEWCOMB’S SADDLE (67.95 MILES)
Still uncomfortably inside the cut off times, I never asked aid station volunteers how inside the cut offs I was. I figured they would let me know if I was dangerously close and at this juncture, no news was good news. The section from Shortcut Saddle to Newcomb’s Saddle PROVED TO BE THE MOST PIVETAL SECTION OF MY RACE. IT WAS THE MIRACLE IN SNEAKERS…..I FINALLY FOUND MY GROOVE AND I ELECTED TO WASTE LITTLE TIME LEVERAGING MY NEW FOUND REBIRTH! The course out of Shortcut Saddle was like falling off a cliff. I crossed the highway and on the other side, the single track trail fell vertically for just under a half a mile dumping me out on to a well groomed dirt road. This ended up being the road that never ended. The road went down progressively into another immense canyon covering over five miles and more turns than I could keep track of. I ran and walked intermittently down the road and noticed the course markings were sparse. I went over a half mile without seeing a course marking and elected to start back tracking thinking I missed a turn. Luckily for me two sets of headlamps came up from behind and I was assured we were on the course. I reverted back in my original direction and stayed close behind my new runner friends for a while until they vanished. At the canyon bottom, I traversed a creek bed with technical terrain and extremely hard to identify course markings. It was at this point that I made my move. Feeling good with seemingly fresh legs, I aggressively charged the trail system and before I knew it I was coming up on hoards of headlamps passing runners cautiously navigating the creek beds while showing the understandable signs of fatigue. I exchanged pleasantries with all runners and pacers encouraging them to push on. Before I knew it, I had passed eight runners and was alone at the base of the final 1,070 foot climb in 2.56 miles up to Newcomb’s Saddle. I noticed while down in the canyon that there were the names of runners chalked in the dirt along the road. I was amazed that someone so supportive would climb down into the canyons to cheer their runners on with chalk signs. I later found out that the names of runners chalked into the roads were the names of runners that had dropped. Aid station crews wrote those names to assist in keeping track of runners on the course for safety reasons. I saw Carmela’s name chalked into the road. She made it to Shortcut Saddle and called it a day. I was bummed at that realization! The climb up to Newcomb’s Saddle was long but I felt strong having the energy I wished I had in the earlier miles of the run. No use dwelling. Things were looking up! I came into Newcomb’s Saddle to an enthusiastic aid station crew. I grabbed my special needs bag (glad I had one stashed at this aid station) and sat down in an area of chairs devoted to tired runners. I heard two search and rescue guys discussing a helicopter rescue that was to unfold shortly. Apparently a runner incurred a serious knee injury somewhere down in the canyon short of Newcomb’s Saddle and needed helicopter aid to get out. I could only be thankful it was not me praying this person got successfully air lifted to some aid. While sitting down sifting through my drop bag I heard Al’s voice calling me but I told myself that could not be. Al was at Chantry Flat or was he??? I looked around to no avail while Al continued to chant my name. I finally looked in front of me and saw two television screens. Al was on one screen and I was on the next!!! Indeed Al was at Chantry and asked a HAM Radio operator at Chantry to plug him in to Newcomb’s Saddle to see if I was there. We chatted joyously for a fraction of a minute as Al was expecting Mark and Carrie to arrive soon. He gave me the pep talk that had kept me going to this point and got me firing emotionally on all cylinders. I finished purging my drop bag of supplies, reloaded and did elect to not address my foot issues as they progressively got worse. I knew I would have to take the off at Chantry as the two hardest climbs awaited and I had no chance of navigating them without foot care. As daunting as that thought was, I had been through bigger adversity thus far and it minimized the reality of my foot issues. I was 8.65 miles from being ¾ of the way through the course. Keeping my eye on the prize I skirted out of Newcomb’s Saddle after a re-energizing cup of soup broth and put the hammer down again with the next stop being Chantry Flats! NOTE: The HAM radio operations at AC-100 were second to none. I could not have been more impressed with the HAM radio communications and runner accountability protocols.
INSPIRATION POINT TO VINCENT GAP (13.85 MILES)
This stretch of the run was fairly tame in comparison to most course sections. The terrain was mostly rolling to down hill which afforded opportunities to stretch the legs and gather thoughts as they pertained to the next course section which would take us up to the high point on the course (Mt. Baden Powell – 9,400 feet). I had mixed emotions about this climb as I already felt tired. Climbing is usually my strong suit and I relish the climbs but for some reason not today! My newly established mantra was to ‘BE COMFORTABLE.” Don’t blow my race early on bouts of testosterone which I was having a hard time generating anyway. Fueling and hydration were good during this stretch and I found myself running with a group of runners from So Cal who all knew each other. One runner named Carmela was attempting AC-100 for the third time. I listened to the group chatter remaining quiet and I ascertained that Carmela had a smart race strategy predicting we would see each other a lot in the miles that awaited us. I pulled into Vincent Gap again taking out the I-Phone to video and went to the aid station table to refill my hydro pack. On a related note, the aid stations at AC-100 were all over the board. Some were above and beyond the call of duty and some were underwhelming. Vincent Gap was underwhelming. Aid station volunteers stood there while I fumbled with my hydro pack not offering to help me fill it initially. When they finally did ask if I needed assistance, I politely declined and finished getting my bladder back in the pack. As I headed out to the trail head to begin one of the most difficult sections of the course (Vincent Gap to Islip Saddle – 12.06 MILES BETWEEN AID!) I felt a barrage of water saturating my butt! Before I knew what happened, my hydro pack had sprung a leak and the water was gushing out of my bladder. My spare bladder was not accessible until the next aid station over 12 miles away AND Al and Carrie would not be meeting me again until Islip Saddle so I was praying my bladder was not technically damaged. I immediately stopped, took the bladder out and noticed that the hose hook up going into the bottom of the bladder came detached. I pulled the bladder out as fast as I could, shoved the hose back in the bladder and went back again to the aid station table to top off the fluids I lost. I had a rush of adrenaline come over me and admittedly I was stressed not knowing if my problem initially was fixable or if I was in dire straights. I gingerly placed the bladder back in the pack and headed out again. This cost me an extra 5 minutes. I could only hope this did not end up being the difference. I hit the trail head again, with a little more purpose this time striving to make up time I had not expected to lose. The trail got steep quick!
VINCENT GAP TO ISLIP SADDLE (25.91 MILES)
This was the stretch everyone talked about. Over 12 miles between aid stations and a 2,500 foot climb in 3.77 miles to the top of Mt. Baden Powell with a series of smaller descents and ascents to Islip Saddle. I had not yet run a marathon yet and I was being tested once again with another monumental grinder! As I took off up the steep trail I passed a multitude of vacationing hikers (all recreationists we passed on the trails over the two day run were by and large amazing…..encouraging and always yielded the right of way which was immensely appreciated). I ended up catching the group of SoCal runners that got away from me during my hydro pack complications at Vincent Gap and settled in a rhythm at the back of their line listening to stories and AC-100 insights. I was mistaken at the back of the pack for a runner that dropped back earlier in the climb and that forced me to come out of my cocoon and introduce myself. I was really quiet through the early miles in this run (unusual for me) but I appreciated being singled out as it forced me to talk and get my mind off the arduous climb that was admittedly taking its toll on me. I listened more and talked less through the summit push and we did eventually make it to the summit of Mt. Baden Powell. Hydration was good but I knew I was consuming at a rapid rate and the thought entered my mind that I may run out of fluids before I got to Islap Saddle (yikes!!!) Should I have taken those two 16 oz. handle bottles? I had three liters of water and had never consumed that much liquid in a 12 mile stretch. Welcome to my new reality (more on this in a second). At the summit the group elected to take a bathroom break and admire the vista. I decided to push on realizing my fluid levels were low and it would be advantageous for me to get to the next aid station sooner than later. While on the trail toward Islip Saddle, I made some progress on the downs and came up on a runner that I quickly recognized as Larry Rich (the energetic runner I encountered in the city streets of Wrightwood at the beginning of the run). I introduced myself (as we did not formally meet earlier on) and we immediately hit it off. Larry confirmed that he and his wife Cherie were running their first 100 mile run, lived in Monrovia, CA and had four children.
While running with Larry my hydro pack went dry. Nothing like sucking liquids only to find nothing is coming through the hose. Larry was traveling with four 16 oz. bottles and appeared to have a nice volume of liquid remaining. I would not normally ask another runner to purge their resources but I put pride aside and politely asked Larry if he had liquid to spare. He enthusiastically offered a bottle before I could get done asking my question and he essentially bottle fed me intermittently through the woods until we made it into Islap Saddle. I told him his generosity and karma would come back 10-fold later on in the run. He laughed. Although not spoken, we both realized at this point that we had a special bond and that we would be seeing each other again multiple times throughout the run to offer assistance and support. Not knowing how my pacing logistics were going to unfold, it was comforting to know there was another runner out there to provide support. Not having a pacer would be unchartered territory for me and not the recommended strategy (more on this variable later.)
I came into Islip Saddle feeling ok but not incredibly great (hoping to feel better not quite having run a marathon). Carrie and Al quickly quelled my self doubt with their energy and enthusiasm drowning out my pessimism with “Go Johnny” chants. How could a guy feel any better! I had a drop bag at Islip Saddle and they quickly got my bag full of provisions and before I knew it, I was in the pit chair with two attentive Angels waiting to attend to my every need. I felt like Jeff Gordon with the immaculate pit crew. As mentioned, Al and Carrie were so amazing in their efforts that I get emotional describing what they did for Mark and I as it was beyond what could ever be expected of a support crew. Al just kept saying “IT’S WHAT WE DO.” I reloaded with Clif Shots, started ingesting TUMS as a precautionary measure just to insure my stomach did not act up and elected not to perform any changes or foot care as my blisters were evident although things had not gotten worse. The rule of thumb is not to disrupt karma if things are feeling good. By Islip Saddle Mark was 30 plus minutes ahead of me and Al told me immediately when arriving that I had 4 minutes at this aid station and he would be sending me out. I got the feeling I was starting to get close to the cut off times. I asked Al directly if I was in danger of not making an aid station cut off and he refused to provide a direct answer only to tell me I was doing great but needed to economize my stops. I leveraged on Al’s enthusiasm, got up out of the chair, took a quick rest stop video and headed out. Next stop……Eagle’s Roost (4.07 miles).
ISLIP SADDLE TO EAGLE’S ROOST (29.98 MILES)
The next four plus miles included a sharp climb up to the summit of Mt. Williamson (1,380 feet in 1.63 miles) and a mixed dose of small descents and ascents into the bottom of Cooper Canyon. Per the thoughts and reflections of many AC-100 veterans, Cooper Canyon can be the beginning of the end for many. It is exposed and it gets progressively hotter as you get farther and farther into the canyon. Mentally knowing you have to grind out of that canyon to Cloudburst can be overwhelming, especially if a runner is not feeling well to begin with. On this section I saw many runners on the side of the trail expelling many fuels and fluids not integrating well with their stomachs. Once again, I was not feeling incredible, but I was also nailing my fluid and salt intake not to mention eating well and thus was not sick. Good omen as it got worse for many as we got into the mid to later miles. I ran into Larry again as we descended into Eagle’s Roost and he appeared to be doing well (running steady and avoiding the stomach issues like myself). When the trail intersected with Highway 2, we came upon a construction zone and were guided up the highway about a quarter mile to the aid station by a host of Cal Trans workers.
Eagle’s Roost was another underwhelming aid station with little aid station assistance. I had fun once again refilling my hydro pack and was about to run out of the aid station toward the next check point when I saw Al and Carrie (not expecting them to be at Eagle’s Roost). They hooped and hollered and once again I had an unexpectedly pleasant econo sit in the pit crew chair as they asked me all of the important questions and I did refill on some foods I was not expecting to have available to me. Al continued his push to keep me going and provided the tough love needed to get me out of the chair and back on the road. A little I-Phone video before departing.
EAGLE’S ROOST TO CLOUDBURST (37.54 MILES)
Once on the road toward Cloudburst, the course meandered on Hwy 2 for about 2.5 miles until we connected with another single track trail system. The run up the road was a little weird but it did offer a dose of civilization which helped me to recharge the mental battery knowing I would again be in the middle of no where soon. I came up again on “Mr. Hoorah” as he stopped to talk to a friend on the course. He caught me a few minutes later and we chatted briefly before he got a second wind and disappeared in the distance up the road. The road was mostly downhill with some rolling ups. I used the terrain to make some time electing to employ my 30 run steps countered with 30 walking steps. I passed a couple of runners I had been leap frogging down the course with and almost missed the turn on to the single track trail had it not been for the kind efforts of a gentleman on the course watching the run. I thanked him for his alert and continued down the dirt trail to the adventures that awaited. We ran through a camp ground with a plethora of out houses. You never have to go when the conveniences of a toilet present themselves. I could only chuckle continuing on. One of the most significant realizations awaited me randomly while ascending out of Cooper Canyon. As mentioned, I was taking cell phone video of my run through the course and thus my phone was on at all times. I was periodically coming in to cell phone range and would occasionally get the text bell or voice mail indicator motivating me to keep going knowing I had many people out there thinking of me and willing me forward. Just before the big climb out of Cooper Canyon I got a text bell and decided to check it. Regretfully, it was a text from my pacer indicating to me that he had a medical issue and had elected to abort coming down for fear of exacerbating his condition. Disappointment and anxiety were initial reactions but I choose to put the predicament aside until I got to that intersection later in the course at Chilao (pacer pick up spot).
I reminded myself to inform Al and Carrie of the news when arriving at Cloudburst so they could set their sites on recruiting a pacer at Chilao. The grind out of Cooper Canyon to Cloudburst was significant (as I was told) but for some reason I climbed strong despite the lingering effects of being tired. All I remember was putting my head down not looking ahead to the cruel inclines that awaited me. Before I knew it, I heard music and voices in the distance and as I ascended through the tree line to a cliff in the distance, I could see Al and Carrie standing on the Cliff’s edge and upon recognizing my neon orange running hat, erupted in applause encouraging me to grind the final few hundred yards into Cloudburst! As I arrived, I remembered Ling Chu’s race feedback as she indicated having felt like she used about 90% of her energy getting into Cloudburst but that she was told this is how most runners felt coming in. Just a matter of keeping the mental optimism in tact. I surely felt like most of my energies were consumed but was alive and willing to kick some more. Al and Carrie guided me to the coveted pit crew chair and I dropped like a rock into the red nylon cradle! Al indicated to me that I was holding steady on my pacing which was nice feedback to receive and that Mark was about 30+ minutes up the trail.
To know I was hanging in the vicinity of Mark was a huge dose of optimism as Mark is an incredible runner and I was not losing any time which made me feel good. Al indicated Mark was warrioring through some stomach issues and I was happy to hear he was soldiering on and not losing immense amounts of time despite the predicament. I still felt pretty good with no stomach issues. On that note, Cloudburst was nothing short of an infirmary. Looking around me I saw runners under blankets with blue lips and some drops had occurred here. To know I was getting out of my chair and continuing was a huge shot in the arm. Al continued to push the rest stop economy and after replenishing all supplies, headed out to the trail head toward the next aid station called Three Points which was about 6.2 miles in the distance. The distance between aid stations in this run really made for tough traveling conditions. Despite my one water gaffe earlier in the run, I was coming in to most aid stations with a little liquid reserve remaining. Right before I got on the trail head, I saw a runner with her eyes closed under a blanket shivering. More motivation to continue…..
ALARMS SOUNDED OFF AT 3:15 a.m.
Alarms sounded off at 3:15 a.m. and we both saved the drama of the snooze button and popped right up out of bed. As with all ultra runners, the big “TO DO” in the hours leading up to a run is insuring the calories consumed the night before get adequately deposited ideally before the run starts (always a hard feat for me). Mark and I got dressed, slopped on all of our lotions and anti-chafing lubes and went down stairs to the wonderful smell of pancakes prepared by Diane (well beyond the call of duty). Leroy left at 3 a.m. for a to Alabama so Diane was up early anyway. Mark and I added some blueberries to the pancakes and enjoyed a combination of coffee and coconut juice to compliment. We finished our breakfast about 3:45 a.m. and insured all of our remaining bags were packed in the vehicles. We planned to drive down to the start line about 4:25 a.m. which left us about 15-20 minutes to sit down and collect our pre race thoughts. It is a lonely period gathering thoughts for the days ahead while trying to keep the mentality at a “one hour at a time” pace. My thoughts kept drifting back to my pacer logistics and the unsettled nature of where they stood at current time. My pacer indicated to me that he would be at Chilao (pacer pick up spot at 52 miles) and would do whatever it took to get there. I put my trust and my confidence in him but also initiated efforts to concoct a plan B, just in case things fell through. 52 miles was a long way off so I elected to divert my attention back to the moment, choosing to grapple with this issue when I came to that intersection.
We loaded into the cars at 4:30 a.m. and drove the ¾ mile down to the Wrightwood Community Center to check in and await the pre start invocation given by Hal Winton (co-race director). When we arrived, it was a little chilly (46 degrees F) and the sun had not yet initiated its ascendance into the morning sky. It was quiet outside the community center building, but when we walked in, the runners were firmly packed into the building with chatter at full tilt. The common “nervous” smiles were all over the room and the warmth of the room felt good although I could not get too used to it. Mark and I checked in and found a place in the corner of the room to huddle, collect our thoughts and “get in the zone” as we had 15 minutes to the gun. At 4:45 a.m., Hal Winton requested we bow in prayer as he gave a nice invocation. Mark and I made one final trip to the bathroom and at 4:50 a.m. a loud voice requested we file outside and locate under the big start banner just outside the community center building for the official race start. The outside air was slightly chilly but the nerves quelled the temperature nicely. The final few minutes standing under a start banner at a 100 mile run are surreal. Your mind races through a myriad of thoughts, from the weeks and months of training leading up to this moment, to the challenges that await ahead to the hard questions that include “did I train enough”, “did I over train….never an issue for me”, “can I do this”, “what obstacles await me”, WHEN will I suffer and how long, etc.?” Mark and I got separated right before assembling under the start banner and found each other a couple of minutes before the start. We fist bumped and hugged one last time wishing each other a successful journey. I fumbled through the buttons on my watch making sure I had my 30 minute salt pill alarm adequately programmed and that my stop watch was ready at the start of the gun. At this moment, reality hit me…..this party was about to get started. I was about to embark on the biggest 100 mile journey in my life!
THE START – WRIGHTWOOD TO INSPIRATION POINT (0-9.3 MILES)
Hal Winton got on the blow horn and gave the 10 second count down to the start. The gun went off at exactly 5 a.m. followed by sirens from the local fire department that was on hand to send us off. As is the usual dynamics, Mark ran out ahead of me and I elected to gradually get my running legs in check settling comfortably into the back third of the pack. The first ¼ mile was fairly flat and I did elect to trot that section. As we made a left hand turn on to Acorn Street, we began the vertical journey out of town up to the Pacific Crest Trailhead. I immediately began walking when I hit Acorn Street (the first compliance in a master plan to conserve by power walking all of the inclines) and settled into a rhythm trying not to allow runners around me to dictate my pace. It was still quite dark and I did elect not to carry a headlamp the first 30 minutes when lighting was suspect. Rather, I aligned myself with runners carrying headlamps and borrowed some light from them to get me to sunrise. As we walked the concrete laden streets through Wrightwood climbing drastically, we passed numerous homes, some homes were pitch black giving us and our journey no mention while some locals got the coffee pots going early and situated on their decks wishing us well as we passed. One local had a bongo drum set up serenading us as we walked the initial stages of our death march. The town embraces this event and we appreciated the support both the day of the run and the days leading up to the event. I settled in behind a husband and wife team (Larry and Cherie Rich) who were engaged in one of many conversations going on early as we lumbered up the road. I elected to listen and embrace all of the stimuli going on around me trying to establish my own rhythm. Larry and Cherie were running their first 100 mile run (they picked a dozy) and were talking to another runner about their trials and tribulations training for and getting to the start line. They had an unmistakable energy and optimism about them and I believed they would both have good days based on their outlook. Little did I know that Larry and I would have a destined karma that would take us down the course leap frogging each other the entire 100 miles (more on this development later.)
As we hit the trail head signaling the beginning of dirt and rock, runners fell into a single file configuration and we all began the death march of 3.51 miles in 2,150 feet leading up to the Pacific Crest Trailhead. An undesirable realization crept into my race picture as we ascended up the trailhead traversing repeatedly over numerous switchbacks (I was groggy….I was actually tired….). What happened to the adrenaline and nervous energy that usually negates any feelings of fatigue???? Had I took a wrong turn in my taper? I was only a couple of miles into a 100 mile run and the climb was not feeling as good as it should have at this stage in the game. I elected to embrace the predicament believing it would get better. In hindsight, it was a plague that would follow me the first 75 miles of the run and within reason almost cost me my race. I remained quiet, not electing to engage in too much conversation but did zero in on a runner behind me in the congo line who would later be known as “Mr. Hoorah.” As it turns out, this guy was an eight time AC-100 finisher attempting his ninth finish. He hooted and hollered the whole way up the mountain and one of his famous lines was “RUNNABLE” as he would shout when we came to the few rolling sections on the course. He was a piece of work and we did talk many times sporadically along the course. He was running with a buddy and the goal was for them to finish together, however, his buddy became a cut off victim later in the run.
Upon arrival at the Pacific Crest Trailhead (PCT), a beautiful rolling section of trail opened up allowing us to gain some time while enjoying a nice reprieve from the relentless climbing. We came upon some ski lifts and open meadows which afforded some great views. Mother nature called (predictably) and I was relegated to my handi-wipe protocol which cost me a couple of minutes (no sweat). Some more sharp ascents coupled with some steep descents brought Inspiration Point into the visual lens and I was about to pull into the first of 19 aid stations. REALIZATION #2 horrifically became a reality that was nothing but unexplainable….I ALREADY HAD BLISTERS AND DEVELOPING HOT SPOTS ON THE HEELS OF BOTH FEET!!!!!! Dog gonnit!!!!!! This was not supposed to happen let alone by the first aid station.
I knew I had to make some foot repairs early to avoid the unthinkable. I also elected to carry a 3 liter hydro pack on this run instead of bottles as my hydration needs are immense. I had problems with my hydro pack the entire run as my hose hook up and bladder were not cooperating causing leaking and water loss which cost me fluids and ultimately I ran out of water twice while on the course (more on that later). To add to the already more than desired weight, I carried my I-Phone on the run as I made the decision to commit to video while on the course. I took out my I-Phone as I came into Inspiration Point and videoed my entrance. There to greet me was Carrie as Al had driven ahead to crew Mark at Vincent Gap. No person I know exudes more energy and optimism than Carrie. So great to see her! As I came in she whooped and hollered and had all of my needs ready to go. I sat down, took off both , cut some cover roll and some mole skin and re-patched my heel blisters. Luckily, they were accelerated hot spots at that point but no blistering had occurred….YET. I put on a fresh pair of socks, had Carrie refill my hydro-pack and insured I reloaded with more Clif Shots, etc. I was weighed at Inspiration Point and told I was about 5% down on my body fluids. The medical director told me I was in the beginning stages of dehydration. I thanked him but quietly dismissed the observation knowing my hydration was on point. I weighed in the day before in my pants and had an over inflated weight. My skin was also glistening with sweat which is an indicator that my salt to fluid intake was good. I said good bye to Carrie and trudged on down the trail to the next aid station Vincent Gap (mostly downhill). Mark was about 40-45 minutes ahead of me. (to be continued)
A Race “That Just Happens”
A Journal by John DeGregory
There is not an easy 100 mile endurance run anywhere on the planet! This was to be my third 100 mile run and to ask the question why would take a short manifesto to answer. When my good friend and ultra running companion Mark Barichievich and I signed up for this run in December of last year, we hardly knew what we were signing up for, although we did know this was not going to be your run of the mill 100. As with any 100, the hardest part are the months and miles leading up to the big finale..staying healthy, balancing the training with other more important life commitments and just hoping to have an opportunity to tow the line to take yourself to the brink in a 30+ hour ordeal that asks you quit all too often while you entertain the notion, hoping your soul can take over your body in an exorcism that will get you to that coveted finish line.
The Angeles Crest 100 has nearly a 30 year history but it hardly has the press or receives the accolades that other 100 mile runs garner annually. This is the majestic wonderment and beauty of this race. It is administered by people who seek not fortune or fame but who affectionately love nature, adore community and want people to spiritually connect with the outdoors at the highest of levels through the passion of ultra running. It is a race that asks the very question…”Only you know if you should be here…..only you know if you can run 100 miles.” That question is the essence of the vibe and the culture that is Angeles Crest. The course is a point to point journey starting in a little mountain town called Wrightwood (pop. 5,400) located in the eastern San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California at just under 6,000 feet elevation. The course meanders through the spine of the San Gabriel Mountains and eventually ends in Alta Loma at a wonderful little community park called Loma Alta. The run historically ended in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl with a ceremonial lap around the football field until a few years ago.
Mark and I arrived in Wrightwood, CA on Thursday, July 21st at dusk after a long day of travel and having gotten lost. Ironically (and quite randomly) I have relatives that live in Wrightwood approximately three fourths of a mile from the start line, so it made for some convenient and personable accommodations. Diane and Leroy Jenkins were quite the hosts feeding us and making us feel right at home. We could not have had a better pre-race headquarters. Diane took us on a driving tour of Wrightwood the evening we arrived and showed us (among other things) the first mile of the race which goes vertically through town up to the trail head that would eventually take us to the famed Pacific Crest Trail (of which a lot of the run in on). After seeing the first mile of the course, our fears were realized understanding quite literally how vertical this course is. The Angeles Crest 100 has nearly 22,000 feet of climbing and over 26,000 feet of descent. You are either climbing or descending the entire 100 miles with very little flat or rolling surfaces. The recovery and transition processes ended up being extremely difficult on this course with the undulating terrain.
On Friday morning July 22nd (the day before the race), Mark and I awoke about 7:15 a.m. and sauntered down stairs for some breakfast with Diane and Leroy. We had a nice bowl of Oatmeal with some coffee and water and headed down to the Wrightwood Community Center (race headquarters) for the official race check in and medical check which included taking your pre-race weight (I tipped the scales at 198 lbs. not thinking to weigh in per my race day but instead had pants on and a few other items that took me to a higher weight class). My blood pressure was surprisingly 164/79. The numbers don’t lie (I was nervous)! The medical team was not concerned with my stats and in fact did not even query me on any health related or medical history questions. This will come in to play shortly. After our weigh ins, Mark and I proceeded to look over the swag that was for sale and purchased Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run shirts for our crew and pacers. Al and Carrie Barichievich (Mark’s brother and sister in law) were coming down from South Lake Tahoe to pace Mark and crew for both of us. David Smith was coming down from Napa to pace me. We then proceeded to mingle in the rustic community center building for a short time and then placed our course drop bags outside in the designated locations. I had six drop bags for the course hoping worse case I had more than I needed. It is always difficult when not having run a course before to know exactly what aid stations to select for drop bag placement, however, I had some incredible feedback from Ling Chu who ran and successfully completed Angeles Crest last year and her feedback on the course and details associated with the run were amazing and incredibly accurate per what I would soon experience myself.
On a side note, Mark overheard a conversation between Ken Hamada (race director) and a runner from Colorado. The runner indicated to Ken that he had flown out from Colorado a month and a half ago to scout the course and run particular sections to familiarize himself with the terrain. He indicated to Ken that he took a wrong turn on his training run and was concerned that the course was not going to be adequately marked. Ken (being a quiet, unassuming guy) calmly told the gentleman that the course would be marked. The runner dove back into his diatribe of concerns and Ken again reiterated that the course would be marked and said “We have been doing this race for nearly 30 years and it JUST HAPPENS.” In hindsight, this really was the essence of Angeles Crest…not sweating the small details while believing things will somehow come together. I also spoke with Ken briefly and asked him what the historical play out has been on getting a pacer at Chilao Flat (52 miles) as my own pacer logistics were confirmed in theory but uncertain logistically going into race day. Ken informed me that historically pacers have been available for runners needing them at Chilao Flat but of course could not guarantee it. The common scenario is that pacers sometimes get stranded at Chilao Flat waiting for runners that drop at earlier aid stations on the course. Appreciating the odds, I thanked Ken and decided to inform Al just in case my pacer was not able to make it last minute. I figured Al could inquire at Chilao (as needed) about a pacer in the hope that, if needed, I could have an emergency one lined up if mine could not make it.
Once our drop bags were in place, Mark and I decided to get off our feet and drive up to the first aid station on the course called Inspiration Point which is 9.5 miles into the run. It is about a five mile drive from downtown Wrightwood. Inspiration Point has an incredible view due West of the entire Los Angeles Basin and the afternoon we were there, we saw an incredible marine layer mixing with the all to common SoCal smog which together looked like a nuclear concoction hanging in the atmosphere. Made being higher up that much more desirable. Before heading back to Wrightwood we ascertained where the course meandered from Inspiration Point and took stock in Mt. Baden Powell in the distance which represents the highest elevation on the course at 9,400 feet and would be the second major climb in the run. We ran into a local cyclist eating a Clif Mojo Bar and I could not help but I-Phone video him in a short social media plug for Clif Bar, Inc. Always nice to see people fueling with Clif Bar.
We made our way back to Wrightwood and stopped by Leroy and Diane’s for some lunch prior to returning to the Wrightwood Community Center for the pre-race meeting. The pre-race meeting is one of the significant realities that the run is here and that you will soon be lining up at the start line to put your best foot forward. The pre-race meeting was true to the culture of Angeles Crest, brief in content but compelling in approach. The essence of this run became crystal clear as Mark and I listened to every word being spoken. The medical director took the microphone and informed the runners that medical aid and resources would be available along the course but that it would be at the runner’s discretion to utilize medical materials and attend to their own medical needs. The medical team was assuming no liability for runner safety and would advise cautiously on medical recourse. We were informed that there would be three mandatory weigh ins along the course but that the medical team WOULD NOT PULL A RUNNER for hydration and body weight issues, only advise that they drink more or less pending the predicament. This announcement was met with a rousing applause from the majority of the runners. A uniquely different medical approach than in most runs as we have become versed in the medical teams controlling our fate when it comes to runner medical safety. Ken Hamada again addressed the course marking issue and indicated that last year’s race introduced two new aid station captains that did not coordinate effectively on the course markings between their two aid stations resulting in some runner hell as a number of front runners went off course. He indicated that this year’s race would also have two new aid station captains and although he was confident the course would be adequately marked between their two aid stations, he could not guarantee it and predicted there might be some minor runner hell. Once again, we were reminded that this race “just happens.” After the major announcements, Mark and I elected to skip a non-mandatory course slide show and returned to Leroy and Diane’s to meet Al and Carrie Barichievich (Mark’s brother and sister in law) who graciously volunteered to come down from South Lake Tahoe to crew for Mark and I and pace Mark. In the final analysis, Al and Carrie were the reason Mark and I survived on the Angeles Crest course. They were remarkable beyond what can adequately be described (more later on their legendary contributions).
Al and Carrie arrived about 4:15 p.m. on Friday afternoon and we enjoyed some conversation and relaxation on Leroy and Diane’s patio before heading over to the Grizzly Café for dinner where we were meeting another buddy (Dan Burke) running Angeles Crest and his crew including Suzie Lister (a long time friend and fellow ultra runner who was pacing Dan from Chilao to Chantry Flat). We had a great dinner complete with a plethora of laughs as we ventured into the world of Facebook not quite believing some of the photos posted on a couple of ultra runner accounts (I’ll leave it at that). The veggie burger, fries and garden salad went down nicely as I did deviate from my usual pre race pasta fuel. We wrapped up dinner close to 7 p.m. and headed back to Leroy and Diane’s to finalize our pre race strategy and get to bed early as our 3 a.m. wake up call was going to come quickly.
When back at Leroy and Diane’s, Mark and I sat down with Al and Carrie and reviewed the crewing, pacing and general run logistics for the next two days. Since the run is a point to point course and the race organizers do not offer shuttle service or transportation back to the finish line after the race, we had to find a way to get one of our vehicles to the finish line. We were short in personnel (originally had four people scheduled to pace and crew Mark and I) which would have allowed us to drive two vehicles down the course. As we only had Al and Carrie and my pacer (who had not arrived yet as of race eve) Al and Carrie amazingly agreed to drive our vehicle down to the finish line race morning (after we started the run) and would then drive back up the course to start crewing for us at Inspiration Point! A novel feat in and of itself. I will never forget Al saying “IT’S WHAT WE DO.” He indicated him and Carrie were there to insure we finished at all costs. Nothing made me feel better or more confident knowing we had that kind of dedication to our cause. They are both such amazing people! It showed ten-fold over the next 48 hours! After our pre race chat and a couple of chocolate chip cookies, Mark and I headed for bed. We set our alarms for 3:15 a.m. and read for a little while before drifting off to sleep.