My AC Nemesis
Around 3:30 Saturday morning, I woke up to find my hydration pack soaked, and a big puddle on the floor — there was a hole just big enough that it lost half its content overnight. A slight panic set in, but remained as calm as one can be while dealing with a crisis before a 100 mile race. The interim solution was a piece of duct tape, hoping my hasty patch job would make it until I would see my pacer/crew at Chilao.
The morning was warm — VERY warm. I have not experienced a start at any race that comfortable in a long time — definitely not at AC in the last 4 years I’ve done it. My goal this time was aggressive compared to my previous finishes — I wanted to get as close to 26 hours as possible, knowing realistically that it would likely be more around 28 hours. I would’ve been happy with that, since my fastest time so far was just over 30 hours, which I happened to do a week after I ran Wasatch last year. My concern though, was my left ankle that I originally hurt at San Diego in June, which never really got a chance to heal properly since I kept re-injuring it in subsequent races, most recently at Bulldog a few weeks back.
Catra was also shooting for a course PR, but we would not be running together this time — our first 100 miler which we would be on our own. She was excited though, since she was looking forward to being paced and crewed by her Crossfit friends from Team Elite Fitness Academy in Monrovia.
As most races go, the beginning went just fine, although I do recall last year, I had some serious stomach issues before I even made it to Inspiration Point (mile 9.3). This year, I was right where I wanted to be — 2:04 into the first aid, 10 minutes faster than my previous times.
I got to Vincent Gap (mile 13.9), just after 7am, right at the 26 hour pace, and readied myself for one of two longest stretches in between aid stations. Even though I thought I made it up and over Baden-Powell (the course high point at 9400′) faster this year, I was actually 2 minutes slower, which could’ve been because of my tumble, plus a slight detour to get some water at the spring by Little Jimmy’s campground.
This was when I began feeling a hot spot underneath both feet — flashback to 2005/2006 when I had the same exact issue. Déjà vu! I decided to continue on and make an assessment while climbing up Mt Williamson — at the top, I concluded that I would need to get my feet taped up, or at least take a look at what was going on. When I entered Eagle’s Roost (20 minutes off pace), I couldn’t find anyone who could help me, so I continued on — big mistake.
The paved section out of the aid station is one part of the course I really dislike — this is the detour for Cooper Canyon, where they are trying to protect some endangered frogs. It’s a gradual uphill on the highway, then a steep downhill into the Buckhorn campground. Once at the bottom, it’s a slow grind up to Cloudburst (mile 37.5)
When I finally arrived, I knew my feet were bad, so immediately requested for someone to help fix them (didn’t even need to look). Mark Weineke happened to be there, got his kit, then patched me up — both heels already had silver dollar-sized blisters, and one was already sliced open revealing raw skin underneath. The thought of running over 60 miles on those was not very comforting. I left there close to 2:30pm, almost an hour behind my original pace, but knew earlier that my goal was to only finish this time around.
The next section to 3 Points (mile 42.7) should’ve been fast and easy, but it was slow going because of my feet. Luckily, the terrain is relatively non-technical, so it didn’t bother my blisters too much, and I arrived at 3:45pm.
For once, I was looking forward to the asphalt road up to Mt Hillyer (mile 49.1), since I knew it would be easy on my feet, but forgot how long it took to actually get there. Good thing was that most of the trail section leading there was relatively smooth. I got to the top at 5:30pm along with three other runners.
I knew the trail down to Chilao (mile 52.8) would be difficult, so wasn’t looking forward to it, but at the same time, I wanted to get to the aid quickly so that I could get my feet re-taped for the remainder of the race. As we climbed to the top, I joined up with Wally and Howie, who immediately dropped me as we began our descent. Near the blacktop, I was also passed up by Carl Borg — out on his first 100 miler attempt.
Just before the aid station, I was met with Willem who was supposed to pace me from there, but he wasn’t able to because he was sick. Oh well…I was used to doing 100′s solo anyway, but was bummed because I knew that he would’ve been a good pacer. Interestingly enough, he paced Catra a few years back before we started dating.
I sat down, and luckily found Deb Clem, who happened to patch me up at 2 previous ACs. For some reason, this process has become routine unfortunately. I saw many people there — runners who dropped earlier, pacers, crew, etc, including my friends Robert Baird and Jeff Stein.
I was at the aid station for 30 minutes, then headed out just after 7pm (14 hours in) for the remainder of the race — the section I was most familiar with. The good thing was that I knew what lay ahead, and the bad thing was that I knew what lay ahead. At that point, I was still a little behind a 30 hour pace, but well within cutoff. It was still early, and I knew I’d be slowing down as I approached the most difficult sections of the course, so didn’t want to waste too much time.
I did relatively well going into Shortcut (Bill Ramsey’s station at mile 59.3), since the terrain was downhill and smooth most of the way, until a short steep climb at the end. I made it there around 9pm, about 30 minutes behind my previous year’s pace.
From there to Newcomb’s (mile 68) was basically a 1.5 hour mostly downhill stretch on fireroad, followed by another hour+ climb to the saddle. In the past, I’ve had trouble there, but felt relatively ok (other than my blistered feet) this year, arriving at 11:30pm or so.
The 6.6 miles to Chantry (mile 75) would normally be fun along a rolling and windy fast singletrack, but after having almost 70 miles under your belt, plus it being dark, made it a bit more challenging and less fun. I ran briefly with Kristin Farley and Dave Campbell, two local ultrarunners along that section.
My arrival at Chantry was around 2am — 30 mins slower than last year, but almost 30 mins faster than 2005, and I was still surprisingly close to a 30 hour pace. At that moment, I was not concerned about my finish time, but just making it before the cutoff. What I hoped to not have to do was to walk all the way in, but knew what would be coming up the next 25 miles, which did not make me feel too confident based on the condition of my feet.
After thanking David Overstreet who helped me at the aid station, I set off alone into the darkness, which is always a bit unnerving, but the familiarity of this section made me feel more at ease. I was still moving well, or at least I thought I was. My foot mainly bothered me on the downhills, although it still hurt on the ups as well, but just not as much, since I could use my forefoot more. In the past, this is where I would begin to fall asleep, so usually looked forward to the bench at the Wilson trail junction where I’ve had to take a nap in all my previous ACs — this time, I actually declined an offer to join Kristin and her pacer Wendy along with Jussi, who were all taking a breather there. When I reached the toll road, I caught Mike Stephens who I recognized from last year, and would not see again until after the finish.
In a way I was looking forward to the downhill into Idlehour (mile 83.8) because I needed a break from the long climb, but at the same time, I knew it would be painful. I got to the aid just before 5:30am, greeted by a big chicken and Barefoot Ted — I thought I was hallucinating at first, since I rarely see chickens on the trails.
I knew along this section, the sun would be coming up, and hoped it would give me some much needed energy, but realized it would unfortunately do nothing for my battered feet. I would see no one here until just before the Sam Merril aid station (mile 89.3), where Jussi finally caught up to me.
We both left there around 6:30am, with a long technical stretch ahead that I wasn’t looking forward to. Middle Sam Merril has always been known to be chewed up by the mountain bikers, and one of the most rockiest sections of the course. I ended up having to walk (or rather tip-toe) the entire section down to Echo Mountain, and also up all along the Mount Lowe railway.
Once I got to Sunset, the rocks would ease up, but would remain technical enough that I still couldn’t really run. Just before I reached Millard around 10am, Linda Dewees caught up to me, but could not maintain her pace. I had almost exactly an hour to get under 30, but knew it would not be possible based on what lay ahead, and the condition of my feet, as the pain had become excruciating.
I was glad to get off El Prieto onto some flat asphalt, which I normally would not welcome due to the impact, but this time, it was much easier on my blistered heels. After the last climb which took us from the old finish up to the road to the new one, it was a long gradual uphill. I was able to run fairly well all the way in, and ended up crossing the finish line only 13 minutes slower than last year, my second fastest in my 4 finishes at 30:17. Catra came in about 40 minutes later to finish in 30:57 — her 6th AC.