Sunday, July 29, 2012

AC100 Race Report

Before I begin giving a race report, I would like to back up to August 2009. Earlier that year I started these crazy endurance races, and was putting in a lot of running miles. I was in good shape and ready to run my first AC100. Being well trained and ready for the race, I was disappointed when the race was canceled, due to the station fire, that killed two people and burnt 1000's of acres along part of the AC100 coarse.

The following year, fresh off the Appalachian trail, and not as well trained as the year before, I wasn't quite ready for the race. But, not wanting to let it pass me by, as well as my entry fee was still good from the year before, I attempted my first AC100. Everything went wrong from the start, and it was not long before my body found its weakness in my left knee. With a sore knee, as well as a diminishing mental spirit, I quit at mile 58.

So this year mostly consisted of unfinished business. Not being concerned with running this out as fast as I can, or beating my body up to the point of a second failure, was the agenda. I spent the weeks prior to the race learning the entire coarse, and doing climbs up Baden-Powell for altitude training. I found a pacer to start running with me at mile 52 and a crew person to follow me along the way, with a car full of race ready gear and foods.

The AC100 is unarguably the hardest race on the west coast. It has 21,600 feet of elevation gain, and 26,000 feet of elevation loss. A lot of the hills are steep and rocky, and seem to get harder as the race progresses. To make matters worse as well as probably the main factor, it can get very hot. In all, AC100 is a test of ones mental and physical condition, those who have completed it measure all other races against it. The race gives you 33 hours to complete, and the coarse record has not been broken since 1989, set by Jim O'Brien of 17:35. This is amazing, because every year, there are a few hardy souls who are after that time, and some are record holders on other popular races. When you compare their times to the other races, you see that AC usually takes them a couple hours longer.

While doing my mandatory trail work for the race, I met Mike Stephens. He would be attempting his 10th completion of AC. He and I did a training run the following weekend, from Chilao [mile 52] to Chantry [mile 74]. It was a fun run, and I picked his brain a bit about all his years of experience with the race, its coarse and his stategy. A few days later on the 4th of July, I ran from Chantry to the finish with my friend Matt, whom would be pacing me the final 48 miles. I then spent the next couple of weeks, mostly resting, with a little surfing, some short runs and preparing my gear and such for the race.

Three days before the race, my crew guy, Adam, decides, he can not help me the day of the race. If he would have given me more notice, I would of asked someone else. At this point, I was not going to attempt relying on someone else, and just see if my pacer could pick up the slack.

Friday morning before the race, Matt and I drove to the finish line and met with Mike. Mike and I left our cars there, while Matt drove us to the start line in a rental car.
There was a mandatory pre/race meeting, before noon and we were pushing the 12:00pm deadline.

We then piled our gear into a small hotel room just yards from the start line and participated in the pre\race meeting. After a good meal and as little as walking around as possible, we sat around in the room cracking jokes till late at nite, only to be asked to quiet it down by another runner trying to sleep.

About 4:30 am, we were up, dressing and assembling the car just in time for the 5:00 am start. There was a weird feeling in the air, due to the unusually warm atmosphere. We were all talking about it, as well as fearing what the day would bring.

At 5am sharp, with 125 other runners, the race began with the sounds of fire engines blasting their sirens, surely waking up all the residence of Wrightwood. We all began jogging slowly up the street, where we changed it to a fast hike as the road began to climb steeply up to the end of town. A couple of miles later we were all ascending the Acorn trail to the Pacific Crest Trail. The crack of dawn began here, as well as the last vision we would have of those mighty souls who were chasing each other down for the fastest time. The air was a little cooler near the top, but not cool enough to ease ones mind for the possibility of the temperatures to come.

Upon reaching the Pacific Crest Trail, we began to compress into groups. Mike and I were leap frogging each other, but there were also other runners whom I would run with off and on throughout most the race. The rest of the 9.3 miles to the first aid station was mostly ran in 10 minute miles, to increase our average from the steep climb up the Acorn trail. I reached Inspiration Point in 2hours and 9 minutes, two minutes faster than in 2010. Feeling good and not wanting to stop, I just grabbed another bottle of coconut water and continued on.

The next 4.5 miles are mostly rolling hills, so I kept things moderate, in hopes I keep energy up for the next section. It wasn't long that I wished I would have grabbed something to eat, back at Inspiration Point. I ran most of this section solo, and found a bit of quiet time for the next hour. It was short lived though, as I neared the next aid station at mile 13.8, Vincent Gap.

I caught up with Mike here, and grabbed my hydration pack, in attempt of being able to carry enough liquid for this hard section. I grabbed a handful of potatoes, and a bean and rice burrito, I made the nite before and began the arduous climb up Baden-Powell. Soon Mike passed me, and I found a notch with the rest of the runners, as we made our way to the top. I ate my first couple of Advil, in hopes of numbness during the bone jarring descents later on this section. Once clearing the cover of the trees, it began getting hot. I finally put on my hat, and sun glasses, and just paced my way the best I could on this tough section. Nearing mile 20, while descending a small hill, I passed the first person, that was obviously not going to complete. I also ran out of water. Nearing a reliable spring [Little Jimmy Spring] I was not worried, and looked forward to filling up and cooling off. As I began descending the last 5 miles, my eyes were fixed on the canyon some 3 miles below where I would reach the spring. I began passing other runners, and had my head submerged under the icy water as they passed on by again. One runner came down and filled his bottle as I was rinsing my shirt. After cooling off and guzzeling 2 quarts, I found my pace and proceeded the last two miles to the next aid station. Nearing the bottom of the hill, just yards from the Aid Station, I tripped and fell in some fine dusty dirt. Embarrassed, but unhurt, I quickly jumped to my feet, and jogged into Aid, for my first weigh in. With a wet shirt full of dirt, I lost 6 pounds. I am allowed to lose 10, and being only 26 miles into the race, I drank and ate as much as I could. I also rinsed off the dirt and soon left Islip Saddle, the current Aid Station.

Progressing North on the Pacific Crest Trail, the AC100 coarse, climbs once again almost to the top of Mount Williamson. The big difference here from the last big climb is, it is now HOT! I really stubbled hear and was passed by a few runners. But, I also passed by a few others who were wiped out. One was throwing up and another was laying out in the shade. I just climbed slowly, and gradually made my way to the top. Upon reaching summit, I began passing the few who passed me earlier and charged on tho the next aid station, [Eagles Roost] mile 31.

Reaching Eagles Roost is a mile point for me. This means, no more high altitude. The altitude had been affecting me, and I realized this when I stopped, and was still breathing hard. But now, the heat was nearing unbearable. For the first time in the race, I stopped and sat down. Matt was a trooper, and threw a ice cold wet towel over my head as i ate and drank my fill. He filled my water bladder with Gatorade, and I began the 2 mile road walk to the next trail. I passed a few whom had caught up due to my 15 minute rest, and actually did well along the hot pavement [highway 2]. Soon the coarse goes through a campground and on to the Burkhart trail. The trail descends steeply into a canyon along side a creek, where it turns around and climbs out of another canyon back on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was hear that I felt the first rising heat from the Mojave Desert down below. The climb began to get arduous, but had its short retreats from the sun under the trees. It seemed that for every runner that passed me here, I seemed to pass someone else. It might mean that we were all having highs and lows at different locations along the way. Upon reaching Cloudburst Summit, the next Aid Station, I was relieved, Knowing the next 10 miles or so were to be eisier.

Atop Cloudburst Summit, Matt greeted me with another cool towel, and the fact that I was climbing the ranks, in placement of the race. Not really to concerned with time and more concerned with completing this monster, it was a good feeling I was doing better than someone. I left Cloudburst in a slow jog, contemplating whether or not to use this section to make up time or rest my way back to strength. I probably did a little of both. I passed more than I got passed, and changed between fast hike and slow methodical jogging, The trail is mostly downhill and some flats to the next Aid Station, 3 points, [mile 43].

Feeling Great, [considering] I came into 3 points ready to start rehydrating and eating. I ate another burrito, and grabbed a whole orange for a hike out. The sun was lower now, and the thought of a cool night was on everyones mind. I left in a fast walk talking to the next guy I caught, while pealing my orange. After completing the orange I made great time through the rolling trail to the beginning of the short asphalt walk to Mount Hilyer Aid Station, [mile 49]. It is also here, we leave the Pacific Crest Trail for good. Things went well in this section, and I did not stop long at the Aid Station.

Leaving the Aid Station is a very hard climb, to the top of a short mountain. Descending down the other side is like a obstacle coarse, circling boulders and stair steps. The trail winds its way down the mountain to a paved access road to Chilao Campground, where it is like a small city of Aid. There is food galore galore, including Bar B Q, and people all over the place all. This is where the pacers can hop in, and the crews are all waiting patiently for there runners. There was also a weigh in, where I gained a pound since the last weigh in. I also found Mike whom was leaving at the same exact time.

Together Mike and I climbed out of the canyon to the top of the next hill where we got our first view of the runners ahead on distant hills with there headlights on. Time seemed to go by fast as we talked about the days encounters and shared each others miseries along the way. Approaching the next aid station, we could hear our names being yelled as Matt was preparing to jump in with us, and pace his way to the finish. He found a girl to take the car to Chantry [mile 74], and leave it for easier access after the race.

Now at Shortcut Saddle [mile 58], I am now at the destination that I quit in 2010. I reached here at approximately the same time, except this time I was cheery and determined to complete. As the three of us began to run down the hill together we were joined by two others and a girl we nicknamed Colorado, for her home location. Together we must have been a scene jogging down the road with all the headlamps and handhelds. Matt brought some light that wouldn't work with new batteries or not, so I made him carry my hand held. The down hill was 6 miles long, on a dirt road down to a creek crossing. Then it climbed for 2 1/2 miles up to some power lines, where shortly after it ends at Newcomb's Saddle [mile 67].

Newcomb's Saddle has a live camera and monitor system to the next Aid Station. It was neat to see the runners up ahead, and find out it was in the 80's at 3 o'clock in the morning. They also had some great food. I ate some grilled chicken and some potatoes. We probably sat too long, but it was comfortable. We then single filed our way down the canyon, talking about how ridiculously warm it was at 3 in the morning, and how hot it would be, once the sun came out. Then upon reaching the bottom of the canyon, I became more tired than I have ever been in a all night race. I ate a caffein pill, and it did not help. But we pushed on to the bottom, and continued the short climb up to Chantry, [mile 74]. At Chantry, Matt decided he had enough, which I don't blame him, for he spent the whole day crewing us in the car, and climbed in the car and went to sleep. Mike went through his gear, and I began coating my new chaffing problem. I grabbed a bottle of water and an empty bottle, in hopes of refilling at the creek. Soon though we passed the creek, and continued on to the most arduous climb of the race. I soon was out of water, and the feeling of dehydration began to overwhelm me. The crack of dawn, began while nearing the top. The climb seemed to never end and is much steeper than the climbs we found earlier on the Pacific Crest Trail. Upon reaching the top, I was greeted by another runners pacer with a half a bottle of water. I guzzled it and began running downhill to the next aid station. The dirt road I was now on, continued for what seemed forever due to my dry mouth and low spirits. Reaching the Aid Station could not come soon enough for my Uvula was now swelling so big it would choke me if I breathed in too hard. But in the light of a new day, I pushed on to Idle Hour, the next Aid Station, [mile 84].

Reaching Aid, I began drinking several different liquids, in hopes of quickly dehydrating. I also ate a couple of breakfast burritos, and continued drinking. Mike shortly showed up, and I explained to him my problem with my Ubula, and we proceeded on. Over some rolling hills and down to Idle Hour Campground, we crossed the creek, where I grabbed more water, and began climbing our last long climb. We caught a couple of runners and their pacers, and together we all paced our way to the top of the hill to the next Aid, Sam Merrill, [Mile 91].

At Sam Merrill, I ate some fruit and drank a soda, and together with Mike we snuck out, leaving the other runners. I led the downhill challenge constantly looking back, making sure they were not catching up. I felt great all the way to Millard, the last Aid Station. We passed by some historic sites dating back to when the Angeles Crest was a more common place for outdoor enthusiast, rather than sunday drivers. The ruins we passed were part of a network of outdoor cabins, resorts and a old railway that went high into the mountains.

Millard was a quiet place, in a car campground with a few old homes. We blew through there in a couple of minutes and climbed a short hill to the last canyon descent before the finish. We were passed by one runner, and soon were in the neighborhoods of Alta Dena. We did our last horse trail climb to the streets and our last mile to the Park in which we finished together. Our finish time was 31:13 [We got our money's worth].

I had a challenging race that was quite difficult in the heat. It was my first really hot race, and I think I learned a lot, that will help me in future races. I am glad I did not bolt out from the start, and try to get a fast time, for completing it was my main agenda. I really look forward in attempting to lower next years time. There were 125 people who actually started the race and 75 people who completed. I came in 60th.