Friday, January 7, 2011

Paced and Almost Self-Disgraced at the 2010 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run

My kids have gone to Disneyland twice.  Both times the excuse to go down there didn't happen.

The first was for a medical conference, the costs for which I could partially offset with my modest annual continuing medical education allowance.  The conference got cancelled, but I had been granted the week off my work schedule, the tickets were purchased, and the hotel booked.  So we went to Disneyland anyways.  We had fun.

The second trip came when I first mentioned the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run to wife about 30 months prior ago, as something we could do when the kids were older.  But she was all over it.  "Sure, sign up, let's go!  I loved Disneyland!"

So last year (2009), I did my trail work, paid my fees and was all ready to go.  It would have been my 3rd straight 100 mile run, each 3 weeks apart, after doing Vineman a week before the first (Headlands).  However, the Station Fire cancelled Angeles Crest.  But we did go to Disneyland, which is now not just about the Mice, Ducks and Mutant Dog.  We had fun.  (The first trip was a bit pricey, so this time we drove instead of flew down and stayed at a hotel outside rather inside the park.  I got some running by dropping my family off at the park, driving back to the hotel and then running back to the park, reversing the process at the end of each day.)

The race directors were very generous for not requiring us 2009 cancelled race entrants to pay again for entry to the 2010 race, scheduled earlier during the last weekend of August.  My kids' preschool was out the following week (leading up to Labor Day), so we planned a vacation with friends to Donner Lake near Tahoe.  So I decided to go down to SoCal the last weekend of August without my family, and booked a return flight from Burbank back to Sacramento arriving at 4:15pm, where my family would pick me up on way to the rental house.

Jonathan Gunderson was driving down, so I asked to get a ride with him.  He was going to arrive at my house before 4 am, but luckily he didn't show up until 4:20ish.  I managed to dump work hours so I could end at 7 pm, but with getting the kids down, I wasn't in bed very early.  The race directors quoted a noon cutoff for drop bags, insanely early.  During the ride, I dozed on and off, but enjoyed talking to him, his wife Wilma and their friend and pacer Peter, who is here taking my suitcase out of the trunk.  (Maybe I was supposed to tip him, dang, I'm so rude.)

Lunch at the Evergreen Cafe, ran into Brian Myers and his wife Ysa.  She saved my ass (or rather my feet by providing a nail clipper when I realized I had forgotten to trim them.   To give myself credit, I realized this BEFORE getting to the start line.)

Ysa Myers, Wilma Yun, Jon Gunderson, Peter MysteryLastName

Jorge Pacheco who would win the race, was sitting at the next table.  I thought of saying hi to him, but was too shy.  I am a shy guy.

After lunch, still sleepy, so laid down on my bed for an hour in my cheap but clean enough hotel around the corner...

...before the pre-race meeting, which apparently wasn't as long as in the past.

But some people still couldn't stay awake.

Ysa and Brian Myers

I opted for the official pre-race dinner, a fund-raiser for some nearby girls' organization that buys books to read to poor kids, and every member is a princess.  Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking...

For the night before a big race, I didn't sleep too badly.

Finally--since I'll never get into Western States, the less-hyped SoCal point-to-point equivalent!

photo by Ysa Meyers

On the ascent in the dark up to Inspiration Point, I heard numerous conversations.  Tried to engage in a few, but other than a few minutes talking with  Donna Utakis from Amherst, was too out of breath on the ascent to talk much.  At the top I was moved by Blake and Heather Wood, a veteran father (who had been leisurely snapping photos when I caught up) and his rookie 24--year-old daughter from Los Alamos, New Mexico, running together.  (Moved in that it would be so cool to run with my daughter when she turns 24 in her first 100 mile run, but I don't have a daughter.)

Blake in green, Heather (I think) in pink.

At the first aid station at Inspiration Point (mile 9.3) I ate a potato, grabbed some Chex Mix and pretzels and stuck them in my pocket.  No gels, no blocks.  There was only water at the start, luckily I had brought a couple gels, but I wanted salt.  "Any salt caps?" I asked loudly a few times.  Apparently not.  I complained about the sparseness of the station fare to Jeff Lang, and he shared a lyte cap.  At successive aid stations I would look for protein-- turkey, PBnJ, but none of those would show up until halfway through the race, which I and many others running found disappointing-- we weren't expecting this from such a long-running race.

Passed Scott Mills, San Diego 100 race director.  Catching up to him was initially disturbing since he's 16 years older than me.  He was concerned about Keira Henninger, who directs Leona Divide, and with whom he had been running.  Apparently some hikers gave her wrong directions, so she added some serious bonus miles.

Keira  on some fun run with Eric Wickland, stolen from her facebook profile

Ran also a while with David La Duc, pictured in action below at the princess dinner giving the peace sign with Jeff Lang on left (they drove down from Oakland together) and Roger Jensen in the shades at right.  We both agreed the scenery was much better here than the 100-miler we did in Oregon last (2009) year as a last-replacement for the cancelled AC race.

Slowly the course descends from that early high point, so was feeling slowly a little better.

Ysa Meyers

coming into Islip Saddle mile 25, photo by Ben Jones

Ysa Meyers

Eagle's Roost (mile 30) to Coudburst Summit (mile 37.5) started with a stretch of highway.  Yellow ribbons were on the right side, but I sidetracked when I saw a bunch of yellow ribbons on the left.  Only after getting close did I figure out they were non-race "DO NOT ENTER" ribbons.

As the course finally went back to trail, I caught up with John Rutherford, and we had good chat, largely about some altitude sensitization device by AltoLab, and his experience on the U.S. National Cycling Team when he was in high school.  I told him I was amazed I was running with him, but he told me the biking thing doesn't carry over to running.  Maybe.  As the course started going back uphill, I suddenly noticed that I had been overexerting myself.  John sped off ahead, and I started feeling nauseated and bad.  Also, I think the lack of nutritional choices at the aid stations was starting to catch up with me.

The final ascent was on a fire road.  I started seeing blue ribbons, and no official yellow race ribbons, which made me nervous.  I pulled out a copy of map of that section, and recognized a hairpin turn that wasn't on the course.  After some nervous deliberation, I decided to head back down the hill, rather than possibly cut the course.  Luckily I hadn't run more than a quarter mile when a couple other runners came up, and one of them knew the course, and assured me we were on.  Had these guys not been close behind, it could have been much worse.  I thought that whoever was marking the course could've placed a few yellow ribbons to counter whatever the blue ones were there for.  I had to spend extra time at the aid station to fuel up.  Charles Wickersham (in white shirt below) from Modesto gave me a caffeinated gel, and I started having ice put under my cap.

At Three Points (mile 42.7), I pulled out my spare Garmin Forerunner.  Maybe right after leaving did I see race director Hal Winton, and told him I was enjoying myself.  Sometime during this split I caught up with and overtook John Rutherford, who might have been behind on his calories.

At Chilao (mile 52.8) I met up with my pacers, Billy and Lori.  Billy was going to pace at Cascade Crest, but his friend had to pull out, so he posted a little blurb on facebook asking if anyone doing AC wanted a pacer.  Billy's knee had been bothering him though, so in the end he decided to run only 7 miles to Shortcut Saddle (mile 59) and Lori would take me two splits and 16 miles through Newcomb's Saddle to Chantry Flats (mile 74.6).

Both of them admitted to being nervous they wouldn't be able to keep up with me, but of course that wasn't the case.  I told them that I needed to not talk on the uphills, a rule I often violated.  It was good talking and running, and I enjoyed getting to know them both better.

As the evening approached and we hit some nice views (not as stunning as those at the beginning of the race, but beautiful enough).  Billy was extra pained that he had dropped his pocket camera and broke the lens.  The scenery shots lost, but really, how many photos do you all really need to see of me?

check out our Moeben sleeves!

Don't tell my wife I am being chased by pretty younger women in shorts!

It helped that Lori had an extra light after it got dark.  Pacing is light muling!  This time I could benefit for a change, though I was telling her whenever she stumbled if she fell and maimed herself, I would feel bad and have the ethical dilemma of whether to leave her on the trail or stay with her to administer aid.

No crew access from mile 75 to the end, so I had to be sure I had everything I needed.  But I was pretty disorganized, not sure what I needed, and had to ask my two pacers to shlep the suitcase they got from Jon's crew.  And somewhere there I must have lost my white Marmot running shade hat.


The last 25 miles involved:

  • two large ascents, including the largest of the race up Mount Wilson
  • two even longer descents
  • no crew access
  • no pacers
  • the dark

I started to really focus on the split times from a chart in the race booklet for Fabian, who finished one year in 23:55.  (I also had splits for Suzanna Bon (22 hour finish), but with the altitude and my two 100 mile runs in the previous six weeks, gave up on staying with her early in the race.)  His Chantry Flats (mile 74.6) time was 9:55 pm; I left at 10:03.  Being a split chart, I had no idea how he had been feeling, or how smoothly he had been running.  I assumed he had been paced, and I was on my own.  I was already lagging behind him, and I needed to make up time, as well as build up a cushion.

The split started as rolling ups and downs, but more up than down.  I wanted the big ascent, which I felt was my 24-hour make or break stretch, to come. Finally a volunteer doing some last minute course marking told me the turn-off was up ahead.  "The signs say four miles, but it's actually three."

I worked that late climb like no other.  I could feel the air grow thinner and my head lighter again as I approached 6000 feet, but kept pushing.  Finally I summitted. Arrows pointed me at an angle down a very nontechnical, wide fire road.

I loosened up, let gravity pull me down, and started cranking down the road.  If the course stayed like this, I calculated I was going to gain at least 15 minutes on Fabian.

After a few minutes, I noticed I wasn't seeing any yellow ribbons-- just reflective strips that were part of the road.  Some doubt.  Was I paying close enough attention at the top?  Did I miss a turnoff?  Oh, shit.  The thought of stopping to make my way back up was already unappealing, and each stride further downhill made it smell even more so.  I saw an isolated randon pink ribbon.  Great! ....  Or not.  Crap! Finally, I thought to pull out the map.  I reached in my shorts pockets.  Then my black Sportiva black pockets.  Then my mostly empty pack.  No luck.

Finally, I made the call.  Shouldn't I see the next peak or the next aid station?  I decided to stop and go back up, saying bye to that 24-hour buckle.  Sigh.  That one's out, I'll cut my losses.  At least there's a 2nd Sunrise buckle, which was still well within my reach-- as long as I didn't get off course again.

During this bonus/punishment climb, I couldn't keep up the intense pace of my original climb.  Despite trying to keep a positive attitude, I was inevitably dejected.  Also, the already long 9 mile split was going to be 10.5 to 11, and my body was anticipating the nutritional penalty, my bottle already dry.

I didn't have to kill myself to make that fall-back buckle. I reflected on the race so far-- I ran well, and this mishap really wasn't my fault-- the markings really were too sparse quite often-- though having that map would have allowed me to figure out if I was on course or not.  I enjoyed beautiful scenery.  I met some cool people.  No one really cares if I sub-24ed all my 100 mile races this year, or missed this one.

Almost back to the summit, I ran into a runner and his pacer coming down and asked them, "Is this the course?"   Most definitely yes was their definitive reply.  They obviously knew the course.  Relief and remorse.  I ended up tagging along with them all the way down the non-technical fire road to the Idle Hour aid station.  In contrast to all the chatting I did with Billy and Lori, they never talked to each other, so I wasn't about to try to talk with them.  Appreciated my Nano.

At Idle Hour (mile 83.75, though I had already run well over 85 miles), the runner and pacer I never formally met took off pretty fast. I went wussy, and in response to a volunteer's "you're looking great!" replied something like "thanks, but I just added at least a mile and a half bonus thinking I was off course when I wasn't.... which sucks because I had a great shot at sub-24ing."  To which they replied that there was plenty of time. I countered with 100% certainty "No, I've been following the splits of this guy who finished in 24 hours, and I've been struggling to keep up with him. There's NO WAY."  After which I spent a couple more minutes waiting for a more reliable answer to my question regarding when sunrise was scheduled in Pasadena.  We decided I was good for that Second Sunrise buckle.  I finally went on my way, 9 minutes after coming in.

It was hard to push the final ascent (1960' in 3.77 miles) to Sam Merrill aid station, but figuring I shouldn't jeopardize my consolation buckle, wasn't too lazy.  I noted that without really trying I had gained 5 minutes on Fabian coming in at 2:35 (he came in at 2:22).

Oops, guess I wussied out prematurely.  Big time.  Crap, maybe I CAN make this.  I was out of Merrill in 2 minutes.

And ran like hell.  Some parts were a little technical, but twisting an ankle or falling off a cliff seemed like reasonably risks for the resuscitated goal of finishing under 24 hours.

Was getting hot, but didn't want to waste time taking off my jacket.  So I was not only crazed, but really sweaty too.

Ran into another runner going the opposite way, lost, who didn't seem to trust me when I told him definitively the way I was heading was the right way.

Unchicked myself by passing 1st place woman Keira Henninger, who had passed me when I was running with Lori.  She did more bonus miles that I had, so in reality, she still chicked me.

Billy met me shortly before I left the woods.  He and Lori could see my splits from the finish, and they had been convinced I wouldn't make it under 24.  Little had they known that my pace was great, it's just that I was running bonus miles.  So Billy was surprised to see me this soon.  As he guided me, he kept telling me I would make 24 hours easily, but aside from suspecting I was 10th place overall, regarding the more important 24-hour goal, decided that I would not trust him, and wanted to punish myself for being such a wussy earlier, so I kept pushing it hard as I could, my sweat capture by Billy's photos.

I could not believe I made it!

No, sitting in this chair, I wasn't feeling like I had to throw up.
This is just how dorky I look when I get emotional and cry.

See, I'm really feeling good and happy when Larry Gassan asked me to step aside so he could take my pic.  Have seen these awesome finishers photos before--finally I was getting one!

Although David La Duc beat me soundly without my detours (5th overall, and our age group award trophy), apparently he was lying in the recovery tent not feeling nearly as good.  Had I known I wouldn't taken another action photo of him.

After napping at Billy's house somewhere in LA, we had brunch, and then he drove me to Burbank Airport, for my flight to Sac and vacation with my family and friends.

A happy ending, with a valuable lesson about adjusting expectations.

finishers photos by Larry Gassan

race results
race results with splits
race website

Garmin Forerunner recorded maps of run
first half (map data got erased, whoops/sorry)
third quarter
fourth quarter

shorter race report ("NOW he tells me!") on the La Sportiva Mountain Running Team blog, 2nd half narrating great recovery runs I did around Donner Lake northwest of Lake Tahoe


Hone said...

Nice recap. I was on the course pacing Dean and was hoping to see yo out there but you were too damn slow. jk

Love the pics and see you next week!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on hitting your goal! Getting lost is always a concern for me on trails. Really enjoyed your report, although I did laugh seeing there was a "shorter" report.