Los Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run 2011 Part 1

September 18, 2011 by  
Filed under inspiration

A Race “That Just Happens”
A Journal by John DeGregory
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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