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.