Los Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run 2011 Part 4
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.