Trails of Glory

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DNF at Angeles Crest 100 Mile


After 745 days of anticipation and training I finally toed the line at Angeles Crest 2003. The race should have been in 2002 but due to forest fires it was cancelled and its entrants were rolled over to 2003 for a total of 175 entered. In the process of training for this monumental feat of completing my first and one of the four most difficult 100-milers in the country I had raced four 50-milers: White River in 2002, Crown King, Zane Gray, and Tahoe Rim Trail all in 2003. I raced four 50Ks, three road marathons and ran over 60 hash runs as well as participated in 90% of the Tucson informal trail series runs over the last two years. Was I ready? I felt ready physically but mentally the week leading up to the race seemed anti-climactic. The sense of excitement brought on from the unknown that I had in September 2002 was no longer there for this year’s event.

My wife, Trish, and I drove out to Wrightwood on Thursday afternoon arriving at the Pines Motel by 10pm. I checked in on Friday morning to be weighed and have vitals assessed. My weight was 161 pounds, blood pressure 120/78 and pulse 52 BPM. The EMS gal put a band around my arm and locked it down as I asked, “Must I wear this overnight?” The race briefing was that afternoon but I had been studying the course profile for two years now and felt like I knew where every major hill would be. Trish and I had a thick crust Mexican pizza for dinner that night and were snoozing by 8:30pm while the alarm clock ticked off to awake us at 3:30am.

Ahhh, a good night’s sleep, eat a banana, tape my nipples, apply sunscreen and body glide, E-cap, coffee, bathroom, race number, two handheld bottles and a waist pack bottle, hand held flashlight and the gun goes off. The first half-mile of the course is on a level street in Wrightwood at 6000’ and then turns up Acorn St. towards the Pacific Crest Trail and up to 8500’ Wright Mtn. I commented to other runners alongside me as we walked up the hill on Acorn, “You gotta love this, walking in the first mile of a race!” We walked the next three miles up the mountain in the dark except for a few shuffles to release some pent up energy.

After the top-out I descended to Inspiration Point at mile 9 as the sun was just beginning to rise over the horizon. I am not used to having a crew (Trish), so when I went through she handed me fresh water bottles as I grabbed a piece of watermelon and then ran right out of the aid station up the trail with my flashlight still in hand. Luckily another runner’s crewmember was up the way and readily took my light back to my wife. After reflecting on my 10-second water stop I decided that maybe I should spend just a little more time taking a few easy breaths at the next stop.

The first medical checkpoint is at 25.91 miles, Islip Saddle. This checkpoint is preceded by a long descent from Mt. Baden Powell 9500’ and over and down three more peaks: Mt. Burnham 8997’, Throop Peak 8789’ and Mt. Hawkins 8850’. I really tried to control the downhill in this area as it felt like I was descending Mt. Wrightson. I figured I would need my quads later in the run. I came in at 4:55 and weighed 161 pounds, same as my check-in weight the day before. I felt like I was doing things right up to this point. I had set my countdown timer for one hour for endurolytes and I was running within myself. In other words, I was holding back and keeping a low profile. After Islip 6700’, the course ascended Mt. Williamson 8214’ and then descends to 30 miles, Eagle’s Roost 6100’. At this point it was beginning to warm up and I commented to Trish that it felt like I had just run up and down Wrightson three times. After looking at the course profile that is almost exactly what I had done. From here the next 7.5 miles drop down into Cooper Canyon along and across a streambed and then gradually climbs back up to the aid station at Cloudburst Summit 7000’, mile 37.5. The temperature had risen dramatically by this time and much of the trail is exposed. My time at this point was about 7:30. The next 5 miles dropped 1000’ to Three Points aid station at 6000’ where I made my first mention of stiffness and pain in my quads. Trish gave me some ensure and I took another E-cap, drank a little coke and mixed a water bottle of Clip as she got me going again within 5 minutes. I figured it sure would be nice to reach 50 miles around 10 to 10 and half hours giving me lots of extra time for a sub 24 hour finish and at worst beat the second sunrise of 25:45.

The next 6.5 miles turned out to be a reassessment of my goals. The trail was mostly a slight downhill until the last 2 miles up to Mt. Hillyer aid station 6300’ where the course climbs up an exposed paved road. My legs started to cramp in different areas during the first 2 miles so I decided since I was good on my time that I would relax a little and walk briskly through this section. It wasn’t until I reached the 2 mile uphill road that I realized I was experiencing some real problems. My walking pace decreased drastically as I tried to keep the quad and calf cramps in check. On the steeper climbs the sides of my legs cramped and it became hard to stay upright. It felt like I had walked on this road for 25 minutes and knew that I had to be within a quarter mile to aid. The cramps became debilitating on this last climb. My legs buckled sideways and I dropped to the ground. I wouldn’t have minded laying down on my back and stretching out on a beautiful sunny day but every muscle in my quadriceps and calves looked like hard fists and they were rolling back and forth while I tried to contain my screams for help. I rolled to my side and unclipped my waist pack and got on my knees. I began to get nauseated due to the blood pooling in my legs and being trapped here on the pavement in the hot sun. Within a few moments I managed to stand and move a few feet up the road to a spot of shade from a manzanita bush. I got down on my elbows and knees with my head down on the ground and hoped the cramps in my legs would subside. An older runner ambled up the road and asked if I was ok. I mentioned I was in pain and trying to control cramps and he said “Good luck.” As he moved on, the thought crossed my mind that if I don’t get help I will be stuck here and more bad things will happen, so I asked the runner to please send help from the aid station. After a minute or two I managed to stand as a motorcycle arrived from the aid station. I was offered a ride but realized that I would be disqualified. Instead I managed to hobble 400 more yards to aid.

Mt. Hillyer 49 miles has no crew access but is a fully functional aid station in the shade.
I could barely manage to sit in a chair or lay down and it was quite difficult to stand. Another runner had already been here for some time and finally decided to drop. I sipped electrolyte fluids and nibbled on saltine crackers and chunks of watermelon. I eventually laid in the back of a pick-up truck with my legs raised while I listened to yet another runner come in and collapse on a cot then roll over and vomit his guts out followed by voluntarily having his medical band cut off and DNF’ing. I stayed here for an hour and fifteen minutes trying to find the strength to convince myself I could walk another 3.8 miles to the next aid without collapsing on the trail. Bob Bachani came into the aid station looking a bit tired but walked around and drank some fluid. He didn’t recognize me as I was sitting on a chair at this point with my head between my legs. I got up one last time to assess myself and promptly went behind the pick-up truck and ralphed up everything I had put in my stomach over the last hour and a half. This is about the time Bob recognized me and came over with a cup of water. I felt pretty good after this so I decided to get my pathetic ass out of there and get down to 53 and find my wife.

So I checked out and the aid station volunteers were happy to see it. I was a little wobbly for a bout 10 minutes but then started to feel a little better and took about an hour to get down to Chilao 52.8, 5500’, the second medical checkpoint. It was getting dark as I stepped on the scales to find myself seven pounds down which is approximately a 5% loss. Rick Kelley and Duane Arter were both there. Rick had missed a cutoff earlier in the race and decided to follow along. Bob was getting ready to head back out and used Ken as his pacer. I sat in a chair and tried to eat and drink some more while Rick and Duane convinced me to traverse the next 6.5 miles and see if my cramps subsided. I figured hell, why not. It’s just getting dark, it’s still early, I’m not sick anymore and I’m not bonked.
Well lo’ and behold I walked 10 minutes up the trail and the thought immediately occurred to me “I wonder if it’s not too late to turn around and catch Trish. 10 minutes back or 2:20 ahead. My legs are killing me. Shit, she’s probably already gone.”

So I walked in the dark with my light while runners passed me on the downhill for it hurt more to walk down than it did up. I eventually ran into Duane as he descended down the trail from Shortcut Saddle mile 59.3 to meet me. This was a welcome gesture as he walked behind me and kept my mind off of the pain in my legs by trying to psyche me up for the rest of the night and the rest of the run. I didn’t know how to break it to Duane but I was dropping at 59.3. I was toast and I couldn’t keep a sub-20 minute per mile pace for the next 41 miles or 16 hours. I got to Shortcut Saddle and said to Trish, “You don’t have to ask me to quit, I’ll do it myself,” and got my band cut off.

It turned out that many others had already dropped here and would eventually here. 175 signed up, 130 started and 70 finished. Heat cramps were a common factor as well as missed cutoffs. The heat was at a best guess between 90 and 95 degrees in most areas throughout the day and didn’t cool off much at night. I took one electrolyte cap per hour up until 8 hours and then started taking one every half-hour. I probably should have done the latter from the beginning. I told Trish at the end that I didn’t even want to run a 50-mile race again. It’s four days later and my legs are still very sore. I haven’t decided yet whether to try a less difficult 100 or attack my nemesis again. Odds are I’ll go after the monster. I’ve always believed that adversity makes you stronger as well as 70-mile weeks, weightlifting, cross training, sit-ups and numerous 50-mile races.

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