It had been almost two years of training up for Angeles Crest 100. 3 runs at Wild Sebastian (The 50, the 75, and the 25 miler), a 100k at Long Haul, a 50 miler in the Green Swamp, a 50k at Calico. I ran a 100 mile week. I bought two iPods, new shoes and insoles, a plane ticket, a hotel room, a heart rate monitor.
Angeles Crest 100 Start Line 4:55am.
It was a little chilly outside. I put on a jacket. Everyone lined up and the firetruck blew the horn and the race started. I ran around the corner and up the street, took a right and ran down the next street, and turned left to start the initial climb – walking mostly. The day before I climbed this a little and thought I was just about at the top. I realized when I got into the switchbacks that I hadn’t a clue how serious this climb was going to be. It’s 5:30am and I’m hiking switchbacks behind the only person who has ever finished every single Angeles Crest 100 ever ran. At this point I’m thinking “Great, stick with this guy and you’ll be fine!”.
Watching the sun come up over Hisperia as you summit inspiration point is probably one of the best ways to spend any morning. When you get to the top the wind that these mountains hold back blows across your sweaty suffering legs and it feels like heaven. Not to mention you are thrust into a landscape that doesn’t even exist just a few miles below. Up here it’s a forest of cedar, fur, and pine with fields of shrubs that just don’t grow lower down the mountains.
It’s a hell of a suffering to get there, despite the beauty, and sadly 50 of 163 participants dropped from the course at the first aid station. Other runners, later on down the course, explained that they heard their friends saying things like “It’s not worth dying for!”. I don’t think that you should even be signed up if you plan to screw around and drop at Aid Station 1. Any high school cross country runner could finish that 5 mile ascent. Angeles Crest 100 is a limited entry event for serious runners who want to test their physical limits of endurance. If you signed up and dropped at aid station 1 you used a slot that a serious endurance runner was denied.
I don’t know much about the volunteers. I do know Cheryl Zwarkowski, of multiple Badwater finish fame, was there. I know I made it in and out in under 60 seconds at aid station 1. Thank you volunteers!
Mt. Baden Powell approaches
As you leave inspiration point you can see Mt. Baden Powell in the distance and you get excited! The first downhill must be right here, right? No. Theres a little more up and down a few hundred feet here and there before you’re allowed to descend to the bottom of Mt. Baden Powell. It is a sweet downhill once you get to it though.
The easy place to make a mistake
Watch the Delta!
The problem with racing is that not all courses are the same. In Florida, it’s common to see an aid station every 3 to 6 miles but not at Angeles Crest 100. From AS2 to AS3 is 12 miles! You’d actually see it if you looked at the Delta column of the pacing chart (Huge hint for future runners). On this section from AS2 to AS3 you need 4 water bottles. I had read 3 somewhere and this was fatally bad advice for me. I filled my handheld and not my backpack, which I was just using for backup, and took off up the mountain after a few pieces of melon.
Mother of quads!
This climb is so hard up Baden Powell that it makes the climb up inspiration point look like games. I had done my bridge repeats in Florida like a good soldier but there is no way I was prepared for this kind of climbing at this kind of altitude. I was fine with the pain – big deal. It was the heart rate data that scared me. I was pumping a full 163 beats per minute walking up that mountain.
Everyone passed me
The old timer who finished all of the previous Angeles Crest 100’s was the first person to pick me off. He walked past me and disappeared. I never saw him again! The it was girls, old runners, and finally a hiker with a knee brace and hiking poles. Although, I eventually did pass him back. I walked this climb. I had no intention of running it. It wasn’t even in the plan. The plan was to run the downhills and walk the uphills.
The top up close
However, I eventually made it to the top, sucking wind like a boy scout on his first real hike. Then I got to the sweet downhill. Funny thing is, my heart rate recovered to 120 beats per minute at full speed run on the downhills. I was looking ok. I wasn’t sure how the 163 bpm would shake out in the long haul – I had never elevated my HR that high in an endurance event but I was willing to find out how it played out. Would I be ok?
So I barrel to the bottom of the mountain. I sip my handheld dry. I go a little further and sip the backpack dry. Now it hits me. Here I am on the side of the Angeles Crest with no water and no idea how far I need to go. I see a sign that says “Vincent Gap 1.8 ->” so I’m thinking “cool, I can make that”. I remember the name vaguely from the race book and assume it must be the next aid station. There isn’t anything at vincent gap. Not anything. So I am running and running. I ran for 90 minutes with no water. About a mile before I got to the aid station I had given up. I thought “screw Angeles Crest 100 if the logistics are this bad!”. I started walking. I was ready to miss the cutoff and chalk it up to a lousy aid station gap that was unrealistically large for having a mountain climb in the middle of it. Remember, it’s not just 12 miles, it’s thousands of feet of climbing and descending!
At AS3 things are touchy. I weigh in at 141. That’s down 7 lbs from start weight. They tell me to sit and drink. All the while I’m laughing aloud and thinking “gee I wonder why? I’ve been running 90 minutes with no water!”. So I comply out of thirst and not advice. I get up asap and head out. I thought I missed cutoff but they told me I was 13 minutes ahead. So I laughed, and said “ok then, bye” and off I went. I climbed a hellish section and snapped a photo.
Mt. Wilson in view!
The descent here was stellar. Steep switchbacks and rocks galore. I was a kid in a candy store. If you fell you really were going to fall far here. I passed a few people on this section. Then I crossed a road.
Unmanned road crossing
Then there were real steep sheer sides on both sides and hard cold wind wipping up the sides of sheer rock faced canyons. This was the kind of place you didn’t even feel comfortable stopping. Too treaterous. Really fun terrain.
Then I made it into an aid station and had made up 15 more minutes. Things were looking up. I hauled off onto a road 2 mile section. Very boring. Then down into the canyon. I ran down that canyon. The someone told me “it’s only 1 or 2 miles. It’s only back up to the road from here”. I thought I had time. I got comfortable. I set in walking. Too bad it was 7 miles and not “a few”. I missed the cutoff by a long shot – 20 minutes. I was walking too slow. The climbing had got the best of me and I was stubmling up the mountain out of gas. I thought I was better than that but I was only human.
The only saving grace for this run was that if I’s seen the course before I ran it than I’d never have attempted it at all. I would recommend anyone considering this run sign up the day registration opens and fly out to the course work and trail run on one weekend. Otherwise, you’ll have no idea what you’re up against. Pictures and blog reading hearsay won’t be worth a damn for you on race day – you’ll want to get your boots on the ground in advance.
All over now
So, goodbye California! It was fun. Maybe next year I’ll take on something I can handle. Big Bear 50? Back to Florida for now!