Friday, October 28, 2011

Angeles Crest 100 - Part 4

"If you're going through hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill

I was very dizzy as Annie walked by my side.  Bev approached with my hydration pack and told me it was time to get moving.  I was stumbling to walk, and THINK at the moment, as my world was spinning again and I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out.  Or both.  Oddly, I still wanted to keep going.  I didn't know if I could keep on my feet, but I definitely didn't feel like throwing in the towel.  I was simply OVERWHELMED.  After putting on my pack I lost my balance and fell into Annie and Bev.  They escorted me back to my chair and gave me some more chicken broth.  EVERYBODY was talking to me, at least it felt that way.  Everyone was telling me not to give up.  I told them all that I wasn't giving up, and that I just couldn't STAND at the moment.  They gave me more chicken soup and I downed that cup.  I sat for a moment, and then I decided to get moving.  Bev re-assured me that if I walked a little bit more I would get my balance back, and I got my ass out of that chair and told Kev it was go time.

Ever so slowly, we marched out of Chantry Flats.  My mom has told me that looking back on this moment, she couldn't believe I still had to run 26 more miles.  If I were looking at it from an outsiders perspective, I would probably have said the same thing.  I was FUCKED UP.  Kev and I made our way up the road out of the parking lot and he kept handing me pieces of Banana to eat.  I ate everything he handed me, and we marched up the road as quickly as I could muster.  Before the race I had told Kev that I wanted to run the entire Lower Winter Creek trail section (about 2.5 miles) until we got to the death march up Upper Winter Creek.  I knew at this moment that this wasn't going to be possible for me.  I was almost redlining just from hiking at this point, and was still a little bit dizzy.  We let out a HOWL as we marched along the trail to let my crew know I was OK, and I followed Kev through the dark with my flashlight and headlamp on the backs of his feet.  It was tough, and in the technical sections I'd effortlessly ran through before, I was very cautiously avoiding every rock.  When I was ready to run, I got in front, and was able to run some of the downhill/flat sections, but couldn't string together a run longer than a minute or two.

Tending to my cuts.
So there we were.  This was it.  This was the moment I had been waiting for.  Running through the night during my first 100 mile race.  The bottoms of my feet were sore with every step from the blisters, and my legs were tired, but the only thing keeping me from running well at this point was my stomach.  I'd regained my balance but my energy was low.  I wanted caffeine gels but my crew had taken most of the gels out of my bag because they felt like that was what had fucked up my stomach so bad.  I had taken off my headphones after I lost one of the ear bud things in the creek before Newcomb's Saddle, and elected not to have music anymore because it was bothering me.  I was feeling pretty miserable, but at this moment I wasn't feeling sorry for myself.  I knew what needed to happen.  I was finally able to get running again, and ran down a section of switchbacks and even a technical stretch leading down to Hoagee's camp and the junction with the Upper Winter Creek trail.

Now, for those of you who haven't ever run this section of trail, Upper Winter Creek is FUCKING STEEP.  Doing this climb with fresh legs is a BITCH.  Doing this climb after running 79 Miles is outright DISGUSTING.  I knew it was coming.  This is either the hardest, or the second hardest climb of the entire race.  I hit it at night, in the middle an energy lull.  I knew what was coming, and I had done this section with Kev before during the day and with Jimmy Dean and Tom Nielsen at night.  I couldn't have imagined how fucking hard this climb was on race day.  Mentally, I wanted to just lay down.  I wanted to stop moving.  Every step was so hard, so exhausting, and I was sleepy.  I didn't want to eat, but like a Swiss watch Kevin had me eating solid food every 30 minutes on the dot.  I begged for a gel with caffeine, and he finally caved and gave me an Espresso flavored Hammer gel.  It tasted like SHIT.

One of the things that I discovered during this race:  climbing was really hard on me mentally later in the race.  Once I got tired, every climb made me feel less like a BAD ASS and more like a huge PUSSY.  I couldn't help but think I should be climbing faster, and that I just wasn't tough enough.  These were the hardest times mentally.  When I felt like I was going so slowly, and at this rate I'd be climbing FOREVER.  Downhill's weren't bad because my legs/feet hurt so bad I could just focus on moving forward and felt like I should just be happy I was still able to run.  The steep climbs were brutal after the first 50 miles or so.  Looking back, I think I should've brought my music with me for the last marathon.  It could've helped me stay a little more energized on the climbs.  Moving on:

KEV WAS SO FUCKING AWESOME.  He didn't baby me, but was so attuned to my needs.  He was so NICE.  "Hey George, can you please eat these peanut butter pretzels for me?";  "How about you take a couple of sips of water, George";  "George, please eat this salt pill in the next couple of minutes." This guy is such a great dude.  I wish I could be more like Kev. 

I mean, what a nice guy.  I feel like we talked a little bit more than I initially remembered on the climb.  It wasn't totally silent.  I remember being focused on Kev's feet and listening to the leaves and the dirt move as we crunched up the trail.  He kept checking in with me and telling me I was doing great.  We talked about how we had done the same climb 6 months prior together in the snow.  I'm pretty sure I bitched about how hard it was.  The climb seemed to go on forever, but much of it was familiar.  As we neared the intersection with the Manzanita ridge trail, I started to rebound mentally.  The reason why is one of the reasons that I love ultra-running:  We came upon someone else who was hurting, and I felt compassion for him instead of being in my head.

Don Freeman was laying face down on the trail about 20 steps ahead of us, his headlamp pointing towards the mountain, motionless.  My heart immediately sank.  "Oh No" I said.  I feel like Kev must have said the same thing at the same time.  Don heard us and immediately said he was OK and he wasn't as bad as it looked.  The moment immediately became about this stranger.  This man on the trail who was hurting much worse than I, in need of fluids.  I'm not sure if he was able to get any water out of my pack, it was running really low, but we convinced him to get moving again and make it to the bench.  We told him it was just a tenth of a mile or so more.  We all started walking together up the trail and Don said he was going to just rest a second longer.  I kept moving and told Kev to stay with him and move him along and that I'd meet them at the bench.  The bench I speak of is a bench at the top of the steepest portion of the climb up to Mt. Wilson toll road, and is only about a quarter or half mile from the top of the climb.  It sits on a ridge overlooking the city of LA, and is the second time you see the city after Newcomb's Saddle.

I continued up the trail and yelled back a few times to Don some words of encouragement.  He questioned whether it was really only a tenth of a mile... haha.  It was probably a half mile from where we found him, but hey, my senses were a little off.  Eventually I made it to the bench and took a seat.  I turned off my headlamp for a moment and looked out over the city.  I was still thinking of Don and wondering if he'd make it, but my thoughts drifted away for the moment.  I remembered sitting on this bench during training runs.  During the crazy snow run in January with all of the Coyotes when Dom nailed Jimmy in the face with a huge snowball.  I knew there was still a lot of running to do, but I soaked in the moment as much as I could.  I heard Kev call out that he was almost there, and I stood up again.  My body hurt, and I was tired again.  Kev came up and we started climbing again up to the toll road.  I was completely out of water at this point, and we still had a few miles to run to get to Idlehour.  I was a little concerned, but there was nothing we could do about it, so we pressed onward up the trail.  Kev later told me that right after we left Chantry he'd discovered that whoever had filled his hydration pack hadn't closed it properly, and that he hadn't had water until we got to the Idlehour checkpoint 9 miles later.  He didn't tell me because he didn't want me to worry about him.

We made it to the Wilson Toll road intersection and there was a runner there puking next to his pacer.  Again, I was reminded that I wasn't in as bad shape as I could have been.  We started running down the toll road and my right shin began screaming at me.  At this stage the blisters in the balls of my feet hurt so bad that I couldn't run downhill without heavily heel-striking, but I'd been indulgent as I had to finish some way, and if I could do it faster and better running with bad form then FUCK IT.  Nonetheless every foot of descent from this moment onward was absolute TORTURE.  My stomach was still rumbling, and I stopped to take a piss and it was GOLD.  I told Kev, then said at least I was pissing.  As we ran down the hill, I told Kev that now we were done with the UWC climb, I could rename it "Fucker Winter Creek".  It was a dumb joke, but it was still a joke, which was a good sign this deep into the race.

This was a good moment for me.  I was HURTING, but I was moving more quickly.  The air wasn't as hot as we ran down the hill, the lights of the city were beautiful.  My headlamp/handheld light combo were working out well.  My vision was a little weird, but whatever.  We made our way down the road and talked a bit.  Kev encouraged me to try to relax my body a little bit.  It's hard when you hurt all over, but when he did we moved more quickly and it was probably less damaging in the long run.  We passed more and more people as we ran (more like shuffled) down the fire road.  People who had gone through Chantry as I struggled with my nausea and dizziness.  Kev told me that it reminded him of Western States.  I thanked him again for pacing me and for letting me pace him.  I told him he was an inspiration for me to not give up.  When I paced Kev at Western States he demonstrated True Grit as he pushed through pain, passing 40 or more other runners in the last 38 miles.

We talked a lot during this stretch.  When we rolled into the Idlehour aid station I was doing ok.  I sat down for a bit and drank a coke and had some broth and water.  I asked them to fill my camelback and we told them about the runner we had seen face down on the trail.  They ended up sending Jeff Biddle, a fellow Coyote, up to get him (Don Freeman) with some more water.

I had the other volunteer there fill up my bladder and downed some more water as I sat.  I was there for a good 8 or 10 minutes, at which point the volunteer told us we better get moving and go get my buckle.  Jeff said there were at least 2 or 3 other runners within reach, and to go make them cry.  Although I'm sure he didn't have any mean sentiment, and neither did I, that was sorta the plan.  We moved on through the night, leaving another runner and his pacer there at the station.  As we continued running up and over the small hill before we dove into the canyon, my stomach was shitty again, but I was able to run the slight uphills and string together some solid runs.  Suddenly, my focus drifted away from the pain and back into the present moment, and I realized what time it was.  I was able to put things into perspective a little bit as to what exactly I was doing in relation to the rest of the world at this moment.  It was roughly 1 or 2 in the morning, and I was in the middle of nowhere having run 85 miles.

It was dark, and I was with a friend.  We were on our way into a canyon, and had one more big climb to finish before the last 11 miles of agonizing descent.  My headlamp was bright, and my handheld flashlight was bright, and they were creating a small little window of life in the pitch black night.  The trail wove in and out of the hillside, my feet sinking into the dead leaves and loose dirt of this relatively pure mountain ground.  The burning from the lower half of my body was intense, the blisters on my feet, my shin screaming back at me.  My stomach turned and gurgled as we descended.  I knew I'd have to stop again, but for now I had to keep moving.  I wanted to run until we hit the bottom of the canyon and crossed the creek.  We hit a steep portion of descent with large wooden beams across the trail (my guess is to prevent the trail from washing out) and moved down it quickly.

As the trees wrapped over the trail and my headlamp illuminated branches and leaves moments before my head passed under or through them, I maintained my focus on the trail about 10 feet ahead of me as we ran.  All of a sudden a MOUSE fell out of a tree 2 feet in front of my face.  WHOA!  "Kev, did you see that MOUSE?"  He had, in fact, it wasn't just my imagination.  I narrowly avoided stepping on it, and we continued through the darkness.  At the bottom of the canyon we crossed over the creek a few times, as we gradually climbed up along the banks.  This seemed to go on forever, as it is a little bit technical and I was so tired at this point.  I thought back to when I'd done this section in training and how I'd felt.  This is about the point where I'd run out of water when I was with Jimmy and Crispin and Tom Nielsen on our night training run.  I was just as fucked up now as I was then.  I was really struggling again mentally at this point, and I could see lights coming up the canyon behind us and I could hear people talking.  Kev and I stopped to get some food out of my bag and see if my camelback had any water in it.  It should have had plenty (it's a 70 Oz pouch) but it was drained.  FUCK.

Right around the time we made this realization, the runner behind me and his pacer passed us again.  They were MOVING.  They were going back and forth between a quick hike and a run (UPHILL) and this hurt my worn out ego.  I was out of water, and getting passed, and feeling shitty going up a steep hill.  Apparently, the aid station volunteer at Idlehour who filled my pack didn't fill it up all the way.  What a shitty situation.  We continued moving up the hill at a snails pace, and the climb felt like an eternity.  Again I focused on Kev's feet as we moved along through the dark.  I was longing to reach the point of the climb where the trees were burned out, as I knew that would mean it was almost over, but dreading the descent down the Sam Merrill trail.  My shin was now hurting with every step, and I feared the shooting pain I would have running downhill again, but nonetheless was excited to possibly make up some time.

As we continued up the hill, I carried Kev's pack and he carried mine as there was still a lot of water in his pack.  Although this is technically against the rules, my pack wasn't filled at the aid station, if it was I'd have carried it.  Kev's was full, so if anything I was muling for Kev at this point.  Anyway, we trudged on up the hill for what seemed like forever until we got to the little bit of downhill at the halfway point.  The downhill upset my stomach so I stopped again to poop, and then we continued on up the second half of the hill.  I have fewer memories from this little section than from any of the whole race, possibly because it was so monotonous and awful.  When we finally got to the burned out section, my spirits lifted again.

I could see the flashing lights of the aid station.  I knew we were getting close.  I could see the runner ahead of me, and he wasn't that far off.  It was time to turn this around.  We picked up the pace of the hike a little bit until we got close to the aid station, and I'm not sure if we ran it in or not, but when we got there we found out that we were now in 17th place.  The guys who got there before us were in 16th.  I was SHOCKED.  I was feeling so shitty, and was disappointed that there was no chance of sub 24 or Second Sunrise at this point.  I felt like I was doing so poorly, but to have only 16 people ahead of me, one of whom was in the same aid station as me, felt pretty good.  We hurriedly filled our packs with water and got moving before the other runner and his pacer and got going as quickly as possible.  My energy level was up again, but I hurt so badly.

I may have already said this about 15 miles earlier, but EVERY STEP was AGONIZING.  My shin hurt SO BAD just running the slight downhill section that begins Sam Merrill trail.  A couple of times I was dangerously close to losing my balance and falling down the mountain, but we kept running.  I wanted to build as big of a lead on the guy I'd left at the aid station as I could.  I knew this section of trail well, and as we ran along I couldn't wait to get around to the front side of the mountain and see the lights of LA.  When we rounded the corner, and I saw the lights, I knew that I was SO CLOSE.  It was here that Kev told me that Annie and the Crew would be waiting for me at the end of the trail section, a mile from the finish.  I probably told Kev a bunch of times how badly my shin hurt.  It was SO painful.  Even though I knew he'd run 100 miles and felt the pain, I had to tell somebody about it.  I mean FUCK.  It HURT so BAD.  I knew we were close but I still HATED running.  Walking HURT, running was self-imposed TORTURE.  But now only 8.5 miles away was the finish line, and 7.5 miles away was Annie and my crew.

This section of trail was as AWFUL as I had expected.  The pain of dropping down off of rocks and wooden beams sent shock waves of pain through my legs.  My blisters rubbed on my insoles as I clumsily ran down the hill, pounding away with my body tense to brace itself for every step.  When would this END?  I knew that we had to be close, but I remembered this trail being SHORTER.  Kev and I talked more about running and about pain.  We talked about a lot of things that I can't remember right now.  Everything that we talked about is clouded with a haze of pain.  All of a sudden, I heard voices, and saw LIGHTS.  Flashlights and headlamps, and we passed another runner.  Maggie Beach, 2nd woman, was right before the junction of Sam Merril and Echo Mountain.  Kev said hello and we said good job as we passed by, and this made me feel better again.  I was doing alright!  We made the turn on to Echo Mountain trail and there were TWO MORE sets of lights at the intersection of the E.M trail and the Mt. Lowe railway trail.  This filled me with energy.  Prideful energy, but energy nonetheless.

I immediately began running harder as we blew past the lights.  Someone asked me which way were supposed to go and I told them to follow us, as I knew the course.  Maybe they had made a wrong turn?  Or were confused.  Either way, we just jumped from 16th place to 13th place in a matter of one or two minutes, and I wasn't about to let go of that.  We ran most of the gentle climb up the railway trail, and I looked behind us countless times to see if they were gaining.  They weren't too close, but I felt the level of competition.  We got to the Mt. Lowe road section down to the Sunset trail, and we blasted down it onto the single track.  We were MOVING at this point.  The trail was very overgrown and technical at this point, and the overgrown portions were terrifying to run through as we couldn't really see the ground or any rocks that may have been hiding.  Kev was looking back but couldn't see any headlamps, and I'd guessed that I probably had made a solid lead on them.  I stopped to walk a few times in this section, thinking I had some space.  The pain was so great that I'm pretty sure I even told Kev that I didn't care if they caught us.

We made it out of the really technical section and on to a rolling patch.  Kev encouraged me to keep running the ups.  Twilight had begun, and I turned off my headlamp.  In some ways it was nice because I could see the trail better, in others just a reminder that I didn't beat the sun to Loma Alta Park.  Nonetheless, onwards we went.  Kev encouraged me to run more, noting that it would help the pain be over sooner.  Every second of running was just stringing together sections of walking with only slightly less pain.  It was ridiculous.  We finally made it to a short road section that I knew was close to the Millard aid station.  All of a sudden, I heard steps behind me, and I turned to see Jaime Gilford (one of the guys I'd passed) running down the road about 100 yards back.  "You tough son of a bitch!"  I exclaimed as he ran up on us and passed us as I walked down the road.  "I'm just trying to get done with it, you have to try to run these sections even though it hurts." He answered.  His pacer was a little ways behind him, but he slowly jogged by.  After his pacer came by, I began running again and caught up to them.  We chatted with them, which was cool, because it was twilight and felt like a different day.  I felt alive again, and felt good.  I knew that as long as we stuck close by I might have a chance to pass them again, and I figured I could learn a thing or two.  This was Jaime's 30th hundred mile race.  His pacer had run 48 miles with him from Chilao, and was still feeling great.  We talked about Hoka Ones (his pacer was wearing them, and said his feet didn't hurt one bit) and I asked Jaime if every hundred hurt this bad.  He said they all did.  They asked how much farther to Millard, and I said it should be pretty soon.  We ran a good amount of this section, and only towards the end did my stomach churn and I hiked a bit.

We were right around the corner from the aid station, and I was about 20 seconds behind Jaime when we got there.  Kev knew one of the volunteers, and I had the energy to keep moving.  I ate some fruit and had a sip of coke.  Jaime sat down in one of the chairs.  I couldn't believe it!  I asked him how long he was going to sit for, and he said just a little bit to gather himself.  One of the other runners we had passed had caught up to us and was running into the aid station as we were talking.  I told Jaime I just wanted to get it over with and rushed out of the aid station.

I was filled with nervous excitement as we crossed the creek and jogged out of the campground.  There was another climb right after this (not too bad) but I was exhausted and hiked some of it.  I kept looking back to see if anyone was behind me, and sure enough I saw the other runner who was behind us coming up the hill.  I ran as much as I could without redlining, but soon Jaime and this other runner were right on our tail.  Kev kept reminding me that Annie was only a few miles away, and that the more I ran the sooner I would get there.  It still seemed so far though!  We descended into the creek bed section of El Prieto trail with Jaime right behind us.  I told them a little about the trail that Tom Nielsen had told me, and wondered if Dom felt as bad as I did when he ran through earlier.  As we went on, I kept stringing together runs as much as I could, and would get a lead on Jaime but he'd catch us.  Finally, about 3 miles from the finish, I heard him catch us one last time.  I told him he was doing great, and he told me the same.  We crossed the creek bed and there was a short and steep climb up the other side that I ran, and then all of a sudden I just took off.

I knew we were close.  I knew that Annie was there.  I knew that the pain was going to be over.  I wanted to see Annie and my crew so badly.  I RAN.  My feet felt lighter with every step.  Emotion filled my brain and my body and endorphins pumped through my veins as I picked up the pace with ever quarter mile.  I jumped over gaps in the trail and the creek and ran every section, uphill or not.  I COULDN'T WAIT.  I felt so GOOD.  My feet hurt, my legs hurt, but I felt SO GOOD.  We got to the section of road that leads back to the last little climb before Altadena drive and I stayed focused on my form as we floated along.  Kevin told me he was so proud of me.  He told me we were almost there.  I looked at him and said "I know where we're going, Kev, and I'm not gonna stop running until we get there."  I had a huge smile on my face, and he smiled back at me and said "I know".  As we continued running along together, the weight of my accomplishment set in.  I was overwhelmed with emotion, and I began to tear up a little bit, and I looked at Kev and said "I did it.  I can't believe I did it."  He knew.  I thanked him for being with me, and he thanked me for letting him be there.  Every time I remember this moment, I go back to that place emotionally.  I knew that Annie would be there, and I knew that I was steps away from achieving my dream.  I really couldn't believe it.

We passed a couple of people walking down the road as we ran.  I was so excited, I told these total strangers that I'd just run 100 miles.  Haha.  The first guy was like "Holy crap".  The second was two women walking their dogs and one of them said "and none the worse for wear!  you look great!".  I almost cried again.  I let out a loud howl, and I knew that my crew would hear it.  They couldn't see me yet but we were about to turn onto the very short trail section leading up to Altadena Dr. I heard them howling back and it sent a powerful wave of emotion through my muscles.  I ran harder up the hill and when I saw Annie and the rest of my crew standing there I felt relief, excitement, love, and pride as I kept pushing my body through the pain.  Kev said "go get it man, it's yours" and tears welled up in my eyes as Annie jumped up and down clapping for me with the rest of my crew clapping and howling and yelling for me to keep it up.  I was almost there.  I pushed my body up the hill and ran to the top and my crew ran along on both sides of me like fighter jets escorting a wounded bomber back to safety.
Being Escorted to the Finish line.

As I ran down Altadena Dr. I asked my crew if they'd had fun, and how I looked.  I was running strong and was so relieved to be so close to the finish.  I looked at Annie as I ran, and I looked around at my surroundings.  To end up in this neighborhood in Altadena after spending over 24 hours running through the mountains was so surreal.  I almost didn't want it to be over in some ways.  I did my best to open myself up to the moment and to take note of how I felt and what I saw.  My crew kept telling me how proud of me they were, and I kept holding back my tears of joy.  I felt SO INCREDIBLY GOOD.  SO SO GOOD.  I had made it.  We turned onto Lincoln ave and were one turn away from the finish line.  I struggled to keep my pace running up even this gradual grade, and asked Annie how my form looked.  It seems so stupid now to think that I asked such a silly question.  She told me my sisters had made it to Chantry right after I'd left and that they would probably be at the finish line, and that Kodi was there with beer and donuts.  Annie said I didn't even look like I was in pain.  I assured her that that WAS NOT THE CASE.  She said she couldn't believe how good I looked.

We turned onto Palm ( I think) and were less than a quarter of a mile away.  I saw Kate Freeman getting out of her car, and she said Jimmy was waiting at the finish line and came running along with us.  I was running faster and faster as I realized this was it.  THIS WAS IT.  Nothing to hold back, no energy needed after this last stretch.  I picked up my pace to what felt like a sprint, and I heard someone on my crew say "There's that kick!" as I turned into the grass and made my way up the grass hill towards the Finish Line.  Adrenaline and endorphins flooded my body again and I sprinted up the hill.  I felt strong.  I felt happy.  I felt relieved.  I saw Jimmy standing on the other side of the finish line and as I ran under the tarp strung between two trees I slapped it as hard as I could.  The BEAST was dead.


There were a good 15 or 20 people standing there clapping, and I looked at Jimmy and said "wow, running 100 miles is hard!".  Dom came over and gave me a hug, and my mom gave me a hug, and Jimmy gave me a hug, and Annie gave me a hug.  There were LOTS AND LOTS of hugs.  I had my photo taken, and Kodi gave me a beer and a big box of donuts, AND A HUG.  I sat in a folding chair in the grass and my sisters came over and hugged me.  I was shocked.  I was still in pain.  The next few hours was a laughable series of attempts at walking or changing clothes or sleeping.  This is one of my greatest accomplishments.  People have said that they can't believe I ran 100 miles, or that (respectfully) they didn't expect for me to do as well as I did.  Sometimes in retrospect I agree with both of those statements - but I wouldn't have run 100 miles, or had the day that I did, had I not believed that I could or would on July 23rd.   
So happy to be in this moment.
Attempting to sleep.
Kev, Bev, Crispin and Kate - Chicken Dance
A hug from the winner, Dom.

I still get teary eyed 2 months later as I write about this.  As I think about all of the LOVE and SELFLESSNESS that people are filled with when they come out and dedicate a few DAYS of their lives to helping you live your dream.  As I sit here in my office typing this, I can't but hope that the next time I run 100 miles I have an experience as EXTRAORDINARY as this one.  THANK YOU CREW AND FRIENDS AND FAMILY!.  THANK YOU for helping me live this dream.  You have helped me to make a memory that has lasted longer and stronger than any memories to date.  You have been a part of a magical piece of my life, and I am indebted to all of you.
Destroyed.  Satisfied.

Angeles Crest 100 Recap - Part 3

"In the first 50 miles of a hundred miler, don't be an idiot.  In the second 50 miles, don't be a wimp." -Unknown

Pedro and I charged out of Chilao and began the first small climb of the section.  I told Pedro to lead for the time being, but his pace was BLAZIN' fast for a tired guy like me (his nickname is BLAZE) so I decided to run in front to eliminate his guesswork.  I know that the Blazin' fast thing is cheesy, btw, but that's why you like me, right?  Anyway, we got to the top of the first small hill and began the rolling section that leads down to the Charleton Flats fire road.  By the time we reached the road my stomach started really f'ing with me.  I knew that I'd have to stop pretty soon to go poop, but I held out as long as I could.  When we got to the top of the first concrete grade, I found a spot off the road behind a tree and let loose.  We were probably stopped for 3 or 4 minutes, and another runner and his pacer came up as I was pulling up my shorts.  They were moving well and passed us.  There was a gentle climb that felt much harder than it should at this moment, and I hit the second deep low point of my day.  We were about 55 or 56 miles in, and climbing up a road.  My energy felt like it was running out, and the heat was starting to get to me.  I told Pedro and he told me that I would get through it, and that at the top of the hill we got to run down for a long time.  I knew that already, but the reminder helped me try to get back in a positive space.  We kept charging up the hill and eventually got back to the single track that lead to the to of the ridge.

When we got to the top, I could see over the valley to the next aid station, Shortcut Saddle, and knew that it was just a nice mile or so descent and a mile or so climb to get to the other side.  The sun was far off in the Western sky, but it was still hot and burning down.  There was a nice breeze, though, as we started our descent.  It was CRAZY the way my legs went from feeling heavy to feeling fresh again as we started running down hill.  It was technical, but SO MUCH FUN.  My feet were hurting but I took my mind off the pain by running faster and focusing on the breeze hitting my skin and on the music pumping through my headphones.  I had both of them in and was focused on descending.  I remembered the turns like we had run them the day before, but it had been 3 weeks since I'd been here.  I thought about Annie and I and how we were taking pictures.  I wondered what Pedro was thinking as he followed me.  How did I look?  At points, I felt like I was out of control.  Was Pedro worried I'd fall over?  We passed a few guys on the descent into the canyon and Pedro commented on how fresh I looked.  When we reached the rolling canyon floor I slowed down a bit but kept up my jog, until the climb up the other side started.  Pedro reminded me to eat another gel, and as I did my stomach gurgled.

It was so STRANGE to me at this point to feel the way I felt. On the descent I felt incredible.  Fresh.  Unstoppable.  On the climb, the heat sucked the energy out of me and my legs grew tired.  My legs felt like lead.  I took one of my headphones out and talked with Pedro a little on the climb.  He was really encouraging and pointed out that he and I had run together for the first time less than a year ago when we were training for Bulldog.  About how I hadn't even run a 50k at this point last year, and that I had almost run 100K already today as we climbed the hill.  It made me feel good, and I longed for the sun to go down as I anticipated it would cool off and make the climbs a bit easier.  As we neared the top of the climb, Pedro told me I should run the rest of it, so I did.  Running into Shortcut I got choked up.  There was so much EMOTION running through me.  There were so many people there lining the trail as I ran in and people taking pictures and cheering.  Annie was there to take my pack and people were looking at me as I got my aid.  It was so strange.  I felt like I was some kind of TV show that people were watching.  There were people all around me that I didn't know and it seemed like they were all interested in what was going on with my crew.  I sat down in the chair they had set up for me and started taking in some calories.  I told them how I was feeling and they changed me into some dry clothes in case it got cold.

May have been crying under the shades.  So happy to see Annie.
Mom: "How do you feel?"  Me:  "Shitty!"
I looked behind me and notice some cots layed out and one or two people laying in them.  I felt AWFUL at this point in the race.  This is when I really started to feel fatigued.  I was getting sleepy, things became difficult to process mentally.  I was getting tired.  My stomach was shitty, but I still had hope I could turn it around.  I knew that I needed to get to Chantry by 10 PM to have a real shot at 24 hrs, but for the first time I doubted my ability to do that.  I knew I could run, but if my stomach didn't turn around it may not happen.  Crispin looked eager to finally get to run.  I got Annie's IPod and drank a little bit of Redbull and some more water.  My mom asked me how I felt.  I'm pretty sure I said I felt shitty.  Bev put a cold towel over my head for a little and I wiped my face off.  I remember looking at Bev and telling her the chair was starting to feel good.  I wanted her to know I needed to get moving.  She told everybody time for me to go, and got my butt out of the chair.  I put my headphones in and ran across the Highway with Crispin by my side.  I'm not sure when I got it in my head during the race, but I kept coming back to a quote that Bev had told me before the race.
Bev and Annie makin' it happen.
Crispin waiting to roll out.  Redbull gave me gas. 

"In the first 50 miles of a hundred miler, don't be an idiot.  In the second 50 miles, don't be a wimp."

As I ran towards the trail head with Crispin, I looked over to Annie who was running us out.  She had a huge smile on her face and was cheering me on.  I knew how much she had cared about making EVERYTHING that I wanted to happen, happen.  She was there for me.  I said " I love you!" to her, and Crispin and I veered off down the single track towards Newcombe's Saddle.
Saying goodbye to Annie.

I had my music in and was running along but I could already feel my stomach turning.  I didn't really know how fast we needed to be going, but I knew if we kept up our current pace I was going to shit myself.  I took my headphones out and told Crispin what was going on.  We ended up stopping about a mile down the road and I dropped heat again.  We got back on the road and for the rest of the descent tried to bring our average pace for the section down to around a 10 minute mile.  My stomach was so awful at this point, and it became so frustrating.  I WANTED to run faster.  My legs COULD have run faster.  My stomach wouldn't let me.  It FUCKING SUCKED.  I knew that I wasn't making the time I wanted to make for this section.  Even though we passed a few people and were going back and forth with a few people it was just tough.  Mentally I was struggling and Crispin kept me moving.  I went to the bathroom again at the bottom of the hill next to the creek crossing, and was out of wipes so I used some smooth stones.  I remember there were ants crawling around and I was praying that they wouldn't crawl up my legs.  I just had to go.

Crispin is getting the crew riled up.
I walked through the water with Crispin, and looking back I should've spent more time putting water all over my head to cool down, but at this point I just wanted to get moving.  People had passed us while I was pooping and I wanted to start the climb up to Newcomb's as fast as we could.  We got going and Crispin cracked the whip like a champ for the entire climb.  He set a good pace and kept me motivated the whole time.  I was in a lot of pain.  My feet had blisters on the bottoms of them that I could feel, and it was hot, but I tried to focus on Crispin's feet and just power up the hill.  It got dark enough for us to turn on our headlamps at this point, so we both switched them on as we climbed.  I remembered power hiking this section with Kev during training.  I tried to stay on top of the food and eat, the gels continued to kill my stomach.  The caffeine definitely helped, though, and when we got to the top of the hill, we passed both the runners who had caught us while I was shitting.  We started to run when we got to the rolling section that was around the corner from the aid station, and first the first time saw the glittering lights of LOS ANGELES off to our left.  It was BEAUTIFUL.  It felt so surreal to be seeing the city after being in the wilderness all day.  I had wondered what this moment would feel like, as Dom had told me it was pretty strange.

Newcomb's saddle is the most remote of all of the aid stations, as it takes 45 minutes to get there from the Angeles Crest Freeway on rutted out mountain roads.  What is TOTALLY AWESOME about this aid station , is that even though it has no crew access, they have a video conferencing system set up between there and the next aid station at Chantry Flats.  As the crow flies I think they are only a mile apart, but by trail it is 6.5 miles.  When I got into the aid station I asked about the conference and they gave me a microphone and let me talk into the camera.  There was a TV monitor of Chantry Flats, and I could hear them on the microphone at Chantry calling out my bib number to alert my crew that I was on the monitor.  I felt SO BAD at this point, and my stomach was terrible.  My feet needed taping, I had to poop again, and I was getting tired.  Seeing my crew there definitely made me smile and cheered me up a bit, and my roomie Elya showed up, too.  That was pretty awesome of him, as he'd even gone to Shortcut (right after I left!) which is out of the way as well.  I said hello for a little bit and then went to poop, and while pooping out in the brush away from the station I could see Crispin doing some kind of crazy dance on the screen.  When I came back, I sat down and had some broth for a little bit.  My whole crew was urging me to get up and keep moving so they could see me again.  Annie even FLASHED ME!  Every other guy sitting in front of the monitor was pretty stoked about that... I told them she was the best girlfriend ever.  I knew I needed to get moving, so I slowly pulled myself out of my chair and put on my pack.

2 Way TV!
I took a hand full of  chips to eat on the way out of the aid station, and Crispin and I started walking along a fire road for a half mile or so.  The city was still glowing off to the left, and I started talking about how it would be tough to get sub 24 at this point, but that I still wanted to finish strong.  I told Crispin about how Jimmy and I had done our trail work on the upcoming single track section, and how I was looking forward to being able to run it.  Crispin reminded me how hard I trained and all of injuries I'd overcome to be here, to be in this place at this time.  I thought about all of the time I'd spent on the stationary bike daydreaming about this moment.  Wondering if I would be strong in these moments or if I would break.  As we approached that single track section my adrenaline kicked in, and we let out a charge.  Howling in the night, we ran to the single track trail and dove down into the darkness.  I felt so free as I let go of the pain and let my legs go as they pleased, moving faster and faster down the tree covered mountain trail.  I knew that this section was going to get very technical, and I yelled out to Crispin behind me to keep focused on the trail and not me, as it was going to get rocky.

I could see the trail dropping off in places on my left as we went winding along the side of the mountain and down into the canyon.  There were some places where we had to make aggressive moves as the rocks would come into the beam of our headlamps just before our feet would get to them.  We were making incredible time on this section, and I focused on the trail and on keeping as relaxed as I could.  We came around a corner and all of a sudden my foot hit a rock and I TRIPPED.  Face first I fell towards the trail, only a few feet wide in this spot, and the left half of my body landed off the trail as I held myself on with my right leg and arm.  Crispin shouted "you're ok" to calm me down.  I scrambled and got up.  I was shaken, and had to slow down at this point to gather myself.    I could see blood on my hand coming from a few places, but the adrenaline was still flowing and I forgot about the pain again.  We slowed our pace still as we ran further and further down into the canyon.  I realized that to run faster than I could see the rocks at this point was too great a risk.  I had come too far to ruin my chances of finishing by being careless.

Dom had told me that the 4.5 rolling miles from Sturtevant camp to Chantry are the longest 4.5 miles ever.  The trail is very rocky and technical, and you keep crossing over a creek.  It seems to go on FOREVER.  As Crispin and I made our way along the canyon floor, my stomach continued to gurgle.  I had to stop AGAIN and this time right away.  I was too tired to waste any energy finding a place to squat off the trail, so I just stepped to the side of the trail and dropped trow.  I looked around as I released for something to wipe with, and all I could see were dead leaves.  A few hikers came up on us as I was going and I told them sorry and that they should look away or be scarred for life.  They must've been told about the race, as they all said keep it up and don't give up.  I was too tired to even be embarrassed.  I hoped that the dry leaves weren't weren't poison oak, and even asked Crispin.  He said probably not.  Then I wiped.  Then he said "better safe than sorry though, so maybe don't wipe with those leaves."  Haha.  Too late.  I pulled up my shorts and we began running faster now that I had relieved myself.  In addition to just having to go, my core was now hurting from running/pooping so much.  I had only wiped with one leave and felt like I probably had shit all over my compression shorts.  I felt disgustingly dirty and unclean, as I imagined that the chaffed portions of my ass and my legs would get infected by the bacteria in my crap.  I remember thinking that nobody ever told me about this part of running 100 miles.  It isn't just pain.  It is also gross shit.

We continued running along, getting faster every mile.  We passed Andy Kumeda and a guy running without a pacer named Skinny from Run With Us (Pasadena Ultra Club).  I got into a pretty good rhythm and started feeling good again.  We were getting close to Chantry.  Mentally this was a place I wanted to get to because it was the last leg.  The last marathon.  I was familiar with it, and had Chandelous waiting for me at Chantry to carry me to the finish.  I knew that this was going to be a hard stretch, but I dug deep and I prepared myself for what I needed to do.  I was ready to give it my all.  Crispin and I hit a pretty fast pace leading up to the bitch of a concrete grade right before Chantry, then power hiked fast and purposefully to the top of the hill.  When I saw the lights at the top of the hill I got choked up again.  I let out a howl and heard people cheering as we came up to the stairs.  I was so beat up but so ready to go.

I had a mental to-do list that I rattled off to my crew the second I saw them.  I needed the blisters on my feet taped and to see if I could do something about my stomach.  I needed my hand to get cleaned up.  I needed a change of shorts.  I weighed in at 190, 10 pounds underweight, and went over to the chair to start getting shit taken care of.  The guy looked at my hand a little and put some hydrogen peroxide on it, but said I'd be ok to finish with it without any bandages or further cleaning.  My crew had me eat some apple sauce and down some cups of chicken noodle.  I drank some water and then medical had me come over to the table to tape up my feet.  As he taped them I ate a tortilla with avocado and people kept coming by to check on me.  Leading up to this point, I was so utterly focused.  I was in pain, but I felt motivated and felt strong.  I felt like I could get back out there.  All of a sudden, I had been sitting for too long.

I was FUCKING FREEZING all of a sudden.  Annie and Bev found a blanket for me and tried to get the guy to hurry up taping my feet.  I appreciated that he was trying to be gentle, as he knew I was in pain, but I was also in a hurry.  The longer I sat there the colder I got.  When he was finally done, I got up to go to the bathroom and change shorts and when I stood up I almost fell over.  This was NOT GOOD.  I was DIZZY.  I felt like I was gonna start puking any second.  Annie came into the bathroom with me, but the second we got in there I had to poop again so I kicked her out as I changed my shorts and let one go.  When I got out of the bathroom I could barely walk.  The world was spinning, and I felt out of control of my body.  This was one of the lowest feelings of the race.  Up until this point, I was ready to take on any challenge.  All of a sudden, I needed to SIT.  And fast.  I told Bev how I was feeling as Annie walked me back towards my crew.  Then I started to lose my legs.

This is when shit got real.

Angeles Crest 100 Recap Part 2

"If you start to feel good during an ultra, don't worry you will get over it."

Gene Thibeault

Running the last bit of Cooper Canyon

BOOM.  I came up the hill into Cloudburst feeling amazing.  When I saw and heard everybody cheering for me it's like I got an adrenaline shot straight into my muscles.  I had been feeling better already, but this solidified it.  It was GO TIME.  So I'd stuffed my face a little with an avocado tortilla, until I couldn't eat anymore, had my crew all riled up and cheering me on and I put on my headphones.  Don't Wanna Be A Playa by Big Punisher was the song that came on when I hit play, and it was at that moment the best song I had ever heard.  My body was new, fresh, and ready to pounce on this course.  Annie ran along with me until I crossed the highway and flew down the trail on the other side.  I almost ran into another runner getting his shit together at the trail head but I ran up the side of the mountain a little to avoid him.  My whole body felt so so so good.  My feet didn't really hurt anymore, my legs felt like I hadn't run a step, and I had to contain myself as I looked down at my watch and was running at 7 minute pace, which was way too fast.  I slowed it down to an 8 30 or so, and I'm thinking:  How long will this last?  20 minutes?  20 Miles?  30 Miles?  Is this what Tom Nielsen was talking about?  Is this really happening?  I was so excited to be feeling good after 38 Miles.  My music was awesome, I felt awesome.  Endorphins kicking in.  A PERFECT moment on the trails.
Getting ready to Rumble.

I passed a girl I had talked to on the climb out of Cooper Canyon on the way down to the first highway crossing, then after the crossing I passed another guy who was walking.  I remember thinking that there was a huge contrast between the way I felt and the way the people I was passing looked.  Right after I passed the guy, there was a huge tree down over the trail and I jumped on top of and over it like there was nothing there.  I turned around about 15 seconds later and saw the guy I had passed slowly climbing over it.  When I ran this section with Jimmy in training, he jumped over it and I slowly climbed over.  I remembered that and how during that run I was only 7 miles in and struggling, but now I was 40 miles in and flying.  It is amazing how non-linear this sport is.  I continued running on the soft single track trail.  The section was very runnable and soft, and as I passed Sean O'Brien again some really great house music had come on my Ipod.  I took one of my headphones out so I could say hi to Sean and cheer him on as I passed, then put my headphone back in.  My stomach turned over a little bit more, but I didn't worry about it.  I slowed down when it rumbled and ran once it stopped.  This would be the pattern for the rest of my race.  I passed another guy a little down the trail from that, and continued to party to the music blaring through my headphones.

When I listen to good house music, especially stuff that is recorded live, I can imagine myself there at the club or the arena dancing with all of the people.  This was Calvin Harris live from Carlisle in the UK.  The set was awesome, and the cheers/music coming through my headphones blended so well with the gorgeous scenery and the endorphins pumping through my veins.  In the next mile or so I passed Katie DeSplinter and said hi.  She was looking good and running well, but said she'd slowed down a little because of the heat.  At Cloudburst my crew said she'd come through looking better than anybody all day, so the fact that I had caught up to her felt good since they said she was on 24 hr pace.  I ran on along and knew that Three Points aid station was around the corner.  I could feel some blisters forming on my toes so I made sure to remember to tell my crew as I cruised up to the aid station at mile 42.75.  I felt the energy and love from my crew and the other people at the aid station as I came in, and the music was still great in my headphones.  Bev very quickly duct taped the blisters on my toes and gave me a change of socks and I got right back on the trail with my pack and a handheld.  The next section is rolling and downhill and I ran most of it, and passed another few people as I pushed through the hills.  My left foot felt like it may cramp at a few points but I again focused on how beautiful it was and how well I was able to run.  I had remembered running this section with Broman and Jimmy, and remembered how both Broman and I had both said how we hoped we could still run at this point in the race because it was so fun.  Windy and soft and run-able, and Jimmy had said it would be a good place to run the short little uphills and make up time.
Ice.  Water.  Awesome.

My spread at every crew point.
My stomach continued to churn around, and I made sure to stay on top of my salt and my eating.  I passed Tiffany Guerra in this section, and she was running well.  I told her she looked great and to keep it up, and she told me she wasn't feeling so hot, and I looked even better since I was passing her and to keep it up.  I told her I was just riding the wave as long as I could and that I was sure she'd feel better again and hang in there.  I kept going and had a few energy lulls but stayed focused and calm, enjoying my music still and making sure I ate.  I couldn't wait until I got to Mt. Hillyer, because then i was only 3 or 4 miles from Chilao and I'd be over halfway there and could pick up my first pacer.  I knew also, that I had made up some time, and that I should be heading in to Chilao in just about 12 hours and 30 minutes which would still give me a chance at Sub 24.

As I got closer to the 2 mile road climb leading up to Hillyer my stomach grew increasingly upset.  Every time I ate anything solid it would sort of turn over and I'd feel like I was about to crap my shorts.  I would walk a little then start running again.  I knew that it would probably feel better if I just went to the bathroom, so I took my first outdoor relief of the day.  Thankfully, Annie had me stocked with a coupe of Summer's Eve feminine wipes to make the entire experience so absolutely pleasant!  Ha.  JK.  Actually I just found a spot a little off the trail behind the biggest shrub I could find and hoped nobody came along.  I wasn't very well guarded but at that point I was almost 50 miles deep so I didn't really give a shit!  No pun intended.  Anyway, that only took a minute or two so I pulled up my shorts and jogged up the trail towards the road.  I passed an Asian couple who didn't seam to speak much English, and they asked me if they were headed the right way to the big parking lot.  I told them sorry, that I didn't know as I'd run there from nearly 50 miles away and wasn't super familiar with the area.  This reminds me of something I forgot to mention earlier in this story, which is that throughout the morning I saw a lot of hikers along the trails, and I remember wandering if they had any idea what the runners along the trail were doing that day.  We'd seen a few Boy Scouts who knew what we were up to and cheered us on, but you sort of wonder.

Anyway, my music was still good when I got to the road and as I walked up the hill by myself, I made sure that I stayed alert and kept my eye out so that I wouldn't get hit by a car.  The road was narrow and my music was too loud for me to really hear a car approaching until it was close.  I didn't have the same problem that I'd had on this road the time I'd hiked it in training with Mosquito's swarming my face, and I recalled Jimmy's story about walking up this hill backwards to give his quads a rest when he ran the race his first year.  The climb definitely seemed longer then it did on my training run, which was a trend that became more and more present as my legs grew tired.  I was still optimistic, nonetheless, and was curious as to what position I was in.  I had passed a good number of people at this point, and felt strong still.  I kept on moving up the hill at a decent pace and used the water in my handhelds to drench my hair and face as the heat continued its assault.  I knew that sooner or later I'd get to the top of the hill, and from there to Chilao was what I remembered as a pretty easy stretch.  I was having a couple of issues at this point with the volume buttons on my iPod and it was a hassle to try and take it out of the waterproof case that it was in, so I just left one headphone out for a bit.  Finally I took it out of the case and adjusted the volume but I had a feeling that the iPod would begin testing my patience as time went on.  I rounded a corner and could see the Mt. Hillyer aid station at the top of the hill, and I took out one of my headphones so I could hear the volunteers as I got closer.

It was definitely not as exciting as the other stations, as my crew wasn't there, but the RD Hal Winton was there and I was able to find out how Jimmy and Dom were doing.  I was happy to eat some more chips and solid food and try and get my stomach to settle, and they gave me some more ice for my had and wristbands to cool me down.  I asked Hal if he thought I could still make sub 24 and he told me that he couldn't say.  Then he said "I'll put it this way.  Each year no more than 15 or 20 people finish in 24.  You have about 23 or 24 people ahead of you.  Now, that's not to say that 3 of those people aren't puking on the side of the trail a half a mile from here.  How many hours have you been running?"  I told him 11 hours and 39 Minutes.  He said "Well, the good news is you're half way in under 12 hours.  The bad news is it only gets harder from here.  If you have a chance at it then you're gonna have to run like hell."  I laughed, and said I'd better get moving then.  I ran off up the trail at a slow jog and hiked again when it got a little steeper.  I started being conscious of my position in the race at this point, and didn't want to get passed.

Right as I hit the steep part of the last climb to the top of Hillyer, "Whoop that Trick" by Three 6 Mafia came on in my headphones (from Hustle and Flow) and the adrenaline kicked in again.  I CHARGED up the hill and ran the entire flat/rolling stretch on the top.  As I crested and began my decent I passed another couple of people, and then I saw even more people as I got to the road going into Chilao.  I ran harder, feeling a flood of endorphins as I realized that I felt better at this moment than %100 of the people I saw running.  Admittedly, this felt pretty good.  I almost felt like my crew wasn't expecting me there so quickly when I ran up the road, as they had been at the entry to every aid station before and I couldn't see them here, but I didn't sweat it and ran past a few runners on my way into the aid station.  Annie was there right next to the scale to take my hydration pack and I weighed in at an even 200 lbs again and hustled over towards the AS exit where my crew had a chair and a burger waiting for me.  I had made it farther than I'd ever run before, and felt pretty good still considering.  As I sat in the chair my boss, Steve, approached.  I'd given him splits and let him know what times I'd be coming through each aid station.  I tried to make conversation as I felt bad that he'd come all the way out to see me and I'd be leaving so soon.  I wanted to get moving quickly, the chair was feeling nice to sit in, and my crew was trying to get me to eat as much solid food as I could.  I drank some coke and had some french fries.  I remembered wondering how I would feel at this point.  Although I felt like I had run 50 miles, I felt relatively good.  My legs weren't cramping, nor had they been all day.  Although my stomach had been iffy I still had energy.  I had a long way to go, but the trail to Chantry was a lot of downhill and I'd been really enjoying those sections up to this point.  I asked Bev how I was doing for pacing and she said I was running a perfect race.  I felt good, and I still felt like I had a shot at 24.  As I got up and got ready to go, I felt a rush of energy again.  Every time I left an aid station I felt like I was on a mission.  The cheers from my crew pushed me out on to the trails and made me feel so supported, and helped me to keep believing in myself.  My feet definitely hurt, and my body was tired, but I had 48 miles left to run and I never thought it was going to be easy or feel good, so that didn't get me down.

Burger and Fries at mile 52.3 - Priceless.
Getting the tunes Situated.
As Pedro and I left the aid station my stomach got funny again, and I had a feeling things may begin to get a little touchy.  It was cool to have someone there with me, though, and I was glad I could have somebody to talk to.  We charged out pretty quickly (at least I felt like it was quickly) and I ran out in front.  After losing the trail about 50 yards in, we turned around and finally got our bearings.  It was a little embarrassing, but hey, I had just run 53 miles to get here.  I cut myself some slack.