Saturday, September 18, 2010

Angeles Crest 100 (paced last 25mi)

I took advantage of a great opportunity to be part of the 2010 Angeles Crest 100. This is NOT a century ride, it is a 100 mile run from Wrightwood to Pasadena. I volunteered to run the last 25 miles of the course as a pacer. The race was canceled last year due to the Station fire which was one of the largest forest fires in LA County history. The US Forestry Service granted the race organizers a special permit to hold the race in a “closed forest.” Much of the forest remains closed to the general public since the fire, but race was allowed to go on because the organizers and runners volunteered countless hours of trail repair work to restore the burn and subsequent flood damage.

I arrived in Pasadena and caught a cab to the finish line, or at least where the map I pulled from the race website said the finish line was. The cab driver took me to a residential neighborhood where we found a closed gate. I was nervous about getting out of the car because it was midnight and I didn't see any signs of a race. I made sure to get Arshak, the cab driver's cell phone number in case I didn't find it. I turned on my headlamp and headed down the dirt road. I almost turned back when I finally came across an arrow marked on the ground with white flour. About 3 miles later, I emerged from the trail into a different residential neighborhood and soon after, found the finish line. Once there, I learned that only one runner had come in. Local legend Jorge Pacheco won the race with a time of 19:20, two hours ahead of second place. I called Ashmet and asked him to pick me from the finish line.

The drive to the location where I would sign up as a standby pacer was intimidating to say the least. Chantry flats is halfway up a mountain. The cab driver was intrigued by my rambling insistence that there were actually people running 100 miles along the highest ridges of Los Angeles. To him, I was either crazy for dreaming up the whole story or crazy for being so eager to jump into this mad race. It was 2AM and some signs of life started to appear on the mountain, as several cars passed in the opposite direction. I figured they were crew cars for runners who were leaving the mile 75 medical checkpoint. After a few miles driving up the mountain, we finally found the Chantry Flats campground.

I met Allan around 2:45AM. By accepting a pacer, he was allowing me to officially enter the course. My job was to accompany this man who had already run for over 20 hours and 75 miles, for an additional 25 miles through the night on rugged mountain trails. Not having any previous experience pacing in such a race, I spent the first hour thanking him for the opportunity to participate in this great event. We were running in pitch black darkness, our headlamps illuminating the path just a few feet ahead. In the distance, I could vaguely see the silhouette of the mountains all around us. On the steep sections, we could see the lights of other runners. It was surreal. We caught up to one runner, Chihping, who Allan had spent time with earlier in the race. He was struggling and eventually dropped back. Amazingly, he would catch us many hours later and finish a few minutes ahead.

There were several aid stations along the way, but Allan spent no more than a minute at each one. We pressed on, at a slow but steady pace. The guy was like a machine. He is a seasoned ultrarunner who just last year completed the Grand Slam of ultrarunning, finishing four of the oldest 100 mile races in the United States: Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run all in the same year.. Later this week, he planned to run from one side of the Grand to the other, and back. It is over 10,000 feet of climbing in 50 miles! Over the course of what would be a 31 hour run this year at Angeles Crest, he consumed only water, salt tablets, and 5,000 calories of pure maltodextrin. I ate nearly as much covering just 25 miles!

It was my first nighttime trail run and the next step towards accomplishing my own ultrarunning ambitions. I am committing this entire year to preparing to race Ironman Saint George in May 2011 as a Triabetes Captain, so I will postpone tackling anything longer than a 50k run until after I honor that commitment. It was a privilege to get such a close look at what it takes to run a 100 miler. I definitely want to go for 50 miles sometime soon and am “open” to the idea of someday running 100 miles. Thanks, Allan!

I've left out a lot of details in this post, but I invite any readers of my blog to leave comments and ask questions. Check out the Angeles Crest 100 page