Thursday, August 11, 2016

Race Report: Mein Götterdämmerung

When I rediscovered running in 2011, the reason I did so was to literally run away from people.   I was looking for a decent one-hour break during my work day where I could just be alone, away from shitty colleagues and stupid email chains, and straight-up rediscover the glory of my existence.  

It's been five years, and unfortunately, searching for my raison d'etre is still one of the biggest reasons I lace up--the only difference is that the whole "I just need an hour to deal with some shit" part is closer to a day and a bit now.  

This race report is not a happy story.  It starts out pretty dark.  And then it depicts the pains of running a Hard Rock qualifier all by yourself.  

But it gets better.  

(Also, it's a long one, so maybe pour yourself a glass of wine first.  Or split open a tube of cookie dough.  I don't know, whatever floats your boat.)




I had originally decided to run Angeles Crest because someone told me to race (run?) it with them in 2016.  Eventually they backed out for their own non-injury-related reasons which I totally respected, but only after I had registered, so I was effectively running this race for giggles.  (It was also a Hardrock qualifier, but Fat Dog from 2015 is effective for two years of qualification.)

Angeles Crest is unique in that it has a special ‘solo’ division (which I may refer to in this report as the 'screwed' division, because it rhymes with the alternative 'crewed' division), and it gives prospective racers a 1-hour head start on registration (2016 only!) in return for electing to have no crew and no pacer; the reason for this is because the single lane #2 highway is stupid during high volumes of traffic, so the RDs wanted to cut down on the number of vehicles on course during the race.  As I had run Lost Soul, Javelina and a 24h run last year in the same self-deployed conditions, I was confident at signup that I could pull this off another time, but what didn't strike me at the time was that this would be the first point-to-point 100mi run I'd be doing without a pacer or crew (or a ride back to the finish line).  

Angeles Crest is also unique in the sense that it is one of the few races with a degree of difficulty caused by being pretty much put on just for the joy of running.  The RDs are elderly (Hal Winton, affectionally referred to as Uncle Hal, celebrated his 85th birthday during the day of the finish), and they run this race in a manner not common with most other hundies--zero frills at all, a website that looked like it was made on Geocities, no provision for trekking poles, a finisher's shirt made by Hanes, substantial finisher's plaques engraved at the finish, no chip timing, simple aid station loadouts (i.e. none of this gel shit we didn't have back in the day), heavy-ass finshers' belt buckles, no desire to take any of your shit--the mentality definitely was reminiscent of some of the older British fell races I had read about, where people just show up to run after picking up bibs from the back of someone's van and occasionally make casual jokes about each others' mothers while chasing each other up the fells on the way to the pub.   

Prelude


Despite Angeles Crest being my first hundred miler for this year (!!!), the weeks after my West Highland Way race can best be described as a complete shitshow in training.  I ended up volunteering at four different races for four weekends in a row, which threw a sizable dent into my fitness as I was only able to get one long run (i.e. 42.2k+) in that span; two of those weekends saw zero running as well.  By the end of the fourth race, I was in a very dark place after not having taken care of myself for an entire month, despite me knowing the incremental detriment to my baseline fitness was probably negligible if I was still able to keeping going balls-out during my weekday lunch runs (some of which were in full winter running gear to acclimatize to the Mediterranean climate of the greater Los Angeles area, but I digress).  The sight of my fellow tribe members frolicking in the wilderness and cleaning up at races made me feel like I had lost my place in the broader continuum of existence, especially watching slower runners in my group run Sinister 7 faster than my time last year on the account of the best running weather ever.

This was exacerbated by the fact that my usual running tribe, through no fault of their own, had fragmented into separate cliques I did not belong to for the previous 12 months.  There were groups left behind because I was getting faster, there were groups leaving me behind because they were getting faster, there were groups who were injured (SO SELFISH), there were groups whose lives just took them in a separate direction away from running, and there were a bunch of trail douchecanoes whose current level of funemployment let them aggravate my FOMO all day long (LOVE YOU TOO).  

This feeling of abandonment was obviously not warranted, since--as mentioned above—nobody is at fault here; the different reasons my friends ran just became suddenly apparent to me.  Unfortunately, I just had an extremely hard time processing the notion that a critical mass of my friends were in different places of life--mainly because I wasn't sure if my decision to take a step back from training and just heckle people on the weekends was a reaction to this feeling, or the cause of all this.  And by 'hard time', I mean a significant loss of sleep, sensation, and appetite for stuff.


I suddenly was at my loneliest in the presence of others.   

Pretty soon I was running my lunch runs like I was five years ago--alone and pissed at the world, extremely agoraphobic, and with zero fear of getting hit by cars to try to feel something again.  

In some societies this would be called depression.  Alas, I envisioned my recovery from this dangerous state of mind to proceed as follows:
  1. One final 50k+ run on the Sunday before the race, with some of my more recreational-paced friends, to get me a little less emo before the race.    
  2. EAT ALL THE CAKE AND DRINK ALL THE BEER
  3. Cross fingers and hope no new forest fires start.  
  4. Fly down to LAX. Continued eating all the cake and drinking all the beer.
  5. Run in the solo, no-crew, no-pacer division.  Burn in hell (mid-90s weather and dried out streams!  WOOOOOOOOOOOT).
  6. Get to the point where you realize life is better with friends, because this solo division business is utter bullshit, especially when you're pretty much running in hell.  Cry for someone maternal.        
  7. Tame and adopt a mountain lion to keep you company on the back 50mi.  Call him/her Pappu because that's close enough.  (SHUT UP.)
  8. Tame and adopt a black bear to keep you company on the back 20mi.  Call him/her Baloo.  Keep him from murdering Shere Khan...unless it's taking too much time.  
  9. Tame and adopt a rattlesnake.  Call him/her Kaa.  Bring the menagerie to the finish line, all alive hopefully, a la Life of Pi.
  10. Finish. 
  11. Take a shower.
  12. Continuing on the theme of my last race report--eat a sandwich and enjoy it.
above: the course elevation profile.  I've noted the part where I thought I'd be crying for one of my many mothers.
The week prior to the race was characterized by a massive 43k-acre forest fire in the area which only stopped farting into the air quality index a few days before the race.  A part of me wanted the fire to ultimately defer the race to next year because I wasn't confident with my heat training, but unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans and the LA County (and neighboring firefighting authorities) pulled through.  The containment in the five days leading up to Monday progressed successively each day at 10%, 25%, 65%, 95%, and 98%.

Other than that, the lead-up to my race was pretty uneventful:
  • Sunday: Ran a mild 54k out-and-back to the Assiniboine Lodge across the BC border for a beer as my pre-taper run.  It hurt, but I felt more confident because I did the back half with only a measured amount of farting after pounding back a dark brown ale. This was especially relevant since my metabolism is super-active in the heat.  
  • Monday: Signed up for my 2017-2018 Hardrock qualifier, in case this race went bad.  I wasn't sure how this would affect my race--maybe the notion of a safety blanket would give me the confidence to DNF, or it would give me the confidence to go balls out on the way to DNFing.  
  • Tuesday: Got my legs needled.  I had the absolute pleasure of murdering a 20 oz burger over lunch with my close friend Tony, while planning out our Iron Legs aid station loadout.  (This magical treat worked for West Highland Way, so....gotta keep consistent.) Discovered the magic of reading Victorian-era stoic poems.
  • Wednesday: Looked at the long term forecast for various elevations along the Angeles National Forest area and realized my low confidence was unfounded since the course conditions would be similar to what I put up with in the heatsinks of Lost Soul last year; I just needed to properly give my fucks as the elevation would be a bit more and mind the cutoffs accordingly.  
  • Thursday: Flew in to LAX and picked up yet another Hyundai Elantra, to keep things consistent with the hilarious performances of Fat Dog last year and Big Sur the year before. Tried to keep it meditative on the 405/I-210.  
  • Friday: Worked the package pickup line and pretty much met the entire start line. Didn't know a single person, which felt awesome for some reason.  I also reiterate my previous observation about the Californian ultrarunning mustache game.   The race briefing was pretty simple: don't fuck with the rattlesnakes, don't fuck with the bears, don't fuck with the mountain lions, don't fuck with the poison ivy, don't fuck with any plant that's purple, and don't fuck with your hunger and thirst.  Met up with another screwed-division runner and stashed a car at the finish line.  Didn’t realize it took close to 2h to drive from the finish to the start on the I-210, despite it only being 56mi on the road.
My goals were set up as follows, in decreasing order of priority:
  1. Acquire a finishing time that starts with the number ‘2’. I wanted to benchmark this race against something but I was limited by the number of Hard Rock qualifiers I had done already, and my 100mi time at Fat Dog, my other qualifier, was stupendously handicapped. 
  2. Finish within the 33h limit.
  3. Don’t get bit by a rattlesnake.
  4. Don't die.  
  5. Don’t get vomit on my shoes.
Evidently I was taking this race very non-chalantly, but I'm not sure if it was because I was setting myself up to fail, or because I thought this wasn't a race that was worth any fucks to give, or because I was too burnt out this early in the season already.

To Vincent Gap (13mi)

The race start at the Wrightwood Community Centre was marked by a brisk breeze uncharacteristic of SoCal weather--it was only 21°C at the start line.  It was like the complete inverse of my West Highland Way experience--cooler weather on race day, bookended by heat that would make a Lovecraftian hell seem like paradise.  I hadn't really read the course profile ahead of the race but I knew that there would be a few big-ass climbs amidst a profile that is a net elevation loss.  Not wanting to take any chances, I carried two 750mL Hydrapak flasks in my 5L Salomon pack, just in case some of the heatsinks in the on the course were hot enough to cook a few eggs.  

Just like Fat Dog, the first 6k was just straight uphill through the back streets of Wrightwood, and then onto the single-track Acorn Trail connector to the PCT.  I settled into a measured hike-the-ups/run-the-flats pace while making small talk with the others around me.   My headlamp was only on for around half an hour, and as we got closer to the PCT the wind picked up.  I knew it was going to be a good day, as there would be plenty of potential to use evapotranspiration on my compressions to keep my legs cool.  

DAT WIND.  Photo credit: Ulysses Chan
The descent off PCT was rather uneventful.  I kept opportunely running the flats and and bombing the downs, and quickly transitioning through aid stations to the tune of loitering for no more than four minutes in order to keep pace with the crewed division.   The trails weren't rutted at all from the drought greater LA was having, and it was sorta fun smoking people I passed with a literal cloud of dust from my stupid vertical oscillation.  
blowing through the inspiration gap flash mob.  photo stolen from Coach Andy Noise.
But in retrospect, I think that I felt that way to savor the moments before the next mountain after the Vincent Gap checkpoint, Mount Baden-Powell, which can best be described as a motherfucker.  

To Islip Saddle (25mi)

Named for the founder of the scout movement, Mount Baden-Powell sits 2867m tall and is the tallest point on the course.  The crest of the trail was about 4mi and 41 switchbacks from the aid station, followed by 8mi to Islip.  My marching pace slowed it down to just under two hours to the top, especially given the altitude was boosting my heart rate.   While all the speedgoats were pushing up the ridge, all I could think of was how authentic Los Santos in GTA V was since it was based off of LA (i.e. holy fuck, there are actual fucking mountains in LA). I could truly get used to the perennial surfing, skiing, cycling and running culture here.
true story: I bunny hop up switchbacks.  Photo credit Ivan Buzik.
As this was only the second climb of the day I took it easy with a flamboyant arm-swing stride while muscling up the hill.  I think this helped with easing off the calves and hamstrings for later in the day, especially given AC100 lore suggests to save some gas in the tank for the back 30mi starting at the bottom Mt. Wilson.  The scenery was just spectacular--much like Cape Town's tablecloth, the wind had pushed a sea of clouds into the greater LA area and it felt majestic running in the sky.  It also amplified the effect of the ice in my bandana, stashed Rob Krar-style, that I had picked up back at Vincent Gap.  I kept making friends along the way, finding souls all the way from the Beast Coast and talking about our mutual loves of Waffle House, but once we crested out I unfortunately let gravity do its work and pretty soon I had caught up with all the speedgoats from earlier, who had eased off the pace probably to spare the quad and knee strength for the back climbs of the course.  (I may or may not have also sped up because I heard a few rattles coming from behind me multiple times on the descent.)  It was fun riding caboose on the pain train, getting high-fives and encouragement from hikers going the other way.  The ten of us rolled into the aid station simultaneously, giving the tracking crew a ton of grief with pulling bib numbers from us.  
I'M LIKE A BIRD, I'LL ONLY FLY AWAY WOOOOOOO.  Photo credit: Ulysses Chan
To Cloudburst Summit (32mi)
I emptied my water flask on myself every time I got to an aid station.  Sorry, SoCal.  Photo stolen from Ulysses Chan.
I spent a few extra minutes dislodging rocks here, especially because I hadn't sat down for an entire marathon.  I noted that there was also a lot of dust in my shoes that circumvented the fabric, but it didn't seem to bother me too much.   It was also here where I had run out of Tailwind after having diluted it as a means of refilling electrolytes, but I realized the closest thing most of these stations had was Gatorade.  Long story short--my dentist is probably going to kill me the next time I see her.   This was also the first part of the course where I started padding my glutes, IT bands and quads with ice inside my Salomon TwinSkins.   

Historically the course would have taken us up Mount Williamson, which would have been the third big climb of the day, then to the Eagle's Roost aid station, and then onto the Angeles Crest Highway to go around a yellow legged frog habitat.  However, this year saw the closure expanded due to changes in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument use policy, and as a result we were directed up the gently douche-graded highway #2, onwards to Eagle's Roost, and then continuing on the highway to Cloudburst Summit.  I started yo-yoing with a friendly lady, who was absolutely destroying the uphills, but was holding back on the flats and downhills, whereas I was doing the opposite.  I always told her that I'd see her in a little bit as I passed her, and ultimately she was able to hang on to a 3rd lady position by the finish.  

I took a few minutes at the Roost to get misted by a garden hose, and to refill the ice in my pants, and then kept trudging onwards up the highway, which ended up naturally uneventful in the baking sun.  Just for the lolz, I cheered on cyclists assaulting the hills with me, screaming out "ole, ole, ole", to the effect of many smiles.  
coming up to Cloudburst.  yes, my singlet is a bacon pattern.  and it's official--i've caved to the notion of repping a brand during my races, and it's "Pork Farmers Everywhere".  Photo stolen from Louis Kwan.
I rolled into Cloudburst still in good spirits, and I was surprised to find that they had actual electrolyte here in the form of Fluid Performance drink.  I gladly threw out the rest of my Gatorade, refilled my ice, cleaned out all of the S-caps in the aid station because I had run out, and went on my merry way.

Of course, in my haste I had forgot to ask what aid station I was at, and as a result I completely forgot I had stashed a drop bag here.  

To Mt. Hillyer I (40mi)

I had thought I placed my drop bag somewhere closer to km60, which was Cloudburst's original position on the course with the Mount Williamson ascent.  As I hadn't read the revised course profile, Cloudburst was actually closer to km52 without Williamson and the Eagle's Roost.  Alas, I ran the downhill to Three Points in complete joy, pounding down the last of my pickle juice flask, going balls-out in my Hoka Speedgoats as I was a few miles away from dumping its narrow toe box in lieu of some Rapa Nui 2's (but, you know, in the other direction), and pounding down the rest of my gels.  I ran into Three Points, straight to the drop bags, and to my dismay, learned that the previous aid station was called "Cloudburst".  

"Fuck" was probably what came out of my mouth next, before I pounded down some coke to take the edge off.  I could feel blisters developing on the inner parts of both heels, my pinky toenails dying, and some localized swelling on the outer edge of my left foot from exposure to certain trail cambers, but unfortunately the only relief I had for this was five miles behind me.  What kind of douchecanoe memorizes where he stashes his drop bag by the course mileage, and not the name of the aid station they're at?

Following the doctrine of relentless forward motion, I motored on while continuing to clean out the aid stations to mitigate my stupidity.  I stopped at Sulfur Springs campground to drop a deuce because my metabolism was accelerated in the heat, but quickly made up time on the gradual grind of the 5NO4 road up to Mount Hillyer.  
believe me, that's a fake ass smile, especially since I would be all out of gels for the next 50k.  Photo stolen from Michael Everest Dominguez.
To Chilao (53mi)

Hillyer was the first aid station that had bacon.  I couldn't resist, given my attire.  The aid station crew found it extremely meta.  

To make up for the lack of the grind up Williamson, we had to now run a 4mi+4mi out-and-back on the Pacifico Mountain road to the Pony Park trailhead.  The road itself can best be described as a complete mindfuck for a tourist like me, as it was gentle douche-grade white crushed rock winding along a set of curving hillsides that always kept me guessing as to when it would end.  It was a bit of a death march uphill due to its lack of trees from a 2009 fire, but it was nice seeing how many people were ahead of me on this 4mi stretch...which turned out to be a ton.  

Uphills usually earn you downhills, and I naturally bombed down the road as soon as I cleared the Pony Park aid station.  (I think the adrenaline rush from nearly getting stabbed in the eye by my own shades via an overzealous aid station volunteer who really wanted to clean them off had something to do with it too.)  I was screaming out encouragement to everyone behind me on this stretch to keep my pace down.  

Once back at Hillyer, I took some more bacon and ice and then rejoined the original Angeles Crest course, ascending a knoll before descending into a MTB trail with stupidly magnificent sandstone boulder formations.  A curious coyote crossed paths with me, which brought up memories of Javelina, but this one just had less aggro.  I really wanted to take a couple pictures on this section of me parkouring my way through, but my feet were killing me and I really didn't want to waste any time getting to Newcomb's Saddle, where my next pair of shoes would be.  It was a shame I couldn't run any faster on this downhill as it would have been a solid agility workout.  

To Newcomb's Saddle (68mi)
descending into Chilao.  Photo credit: Ulysses Chan
Chilao was the aid station where I was supposed to give my friend Steven that I had met in Scotland a high-five at (he was volunteering there), but unfortunately I wasn't able to locate him in the throbbing mosh pit of people.  Now thoroughly running on Gatorade-based fumes, I took in some broth, grabbed a few sandwiches and hot dogs for the road and proceeded to Shortcut Saddle.  

I didn't see a single soul in front or behind me on this 6mi stretch, which was completely surprising as it was a dramatic change in context.  The course took me past fire damaged areas prior to entering a downhill of switchbacks.  I had noticed I had started to slow down on the descents, which was a bit concerning as the pickle juice had started to wear off and I was still more than eight miles out from a refill.  Naturally, as a saddle the back part of the leg involved a climb through manzanita and poison oak just to keep things interesting. 

I was really low on electrolytes (seriously, fuck Gatorade) so I took in all the broth at Shortcut Saddle.  They too had bacon and a volunteer who made me eat a few slices just because it was so meta, and I took a few minutes to sit down with wet towels draped over my compressions as there was still a gentle breeze blowing.  The sun was now obviously setting, and as I exited down into a dirt road, the familiar sound of a drone I had heard previously in my races at Norway and Scotland came in.  My feet were screaming  at me as I took the switchbacks at speed and put on a fake smile, while mentally screaming at the machine to GTFO.  Once I was on the 2N23 dirt road the drone finally pulled away and I slowed down a little bit as it would be 5mi of gradual downhill, followed by 3mi of uphill to Newcomb's.  

As the road turned east and headed up, the sun disappeared beneath the San Gabriels and it didn't take long before I had to whip out my headlamp.  It started getting cooler and the cricket choir got louder as well.  I took off the bandana I kept my ice in, and it was just tolerable in a singlet for this weirdo Canadian.  My dogs were barking loudly by the time we crested Newcomb's Pass, and much to my dismay there was a bit of flat running to get to the aid station.  The swelling on the left side of my foot had exacerbated my stride into an odd-looking waddle and my perceived balls-out running speed was now somewhere just over 9min/k.  

To Chantry Flats (75mi)

The feeling of finishing a race is always one of relief and celebration, which was unfortunately how I felt when I finally got to my drop bag at Newcomb's.  Luckily there was a video feed setup between the station and Chantry, as crews were not permitted at Newcomb's, and it was pointed at the seating area where I was busy changing out my shoes, socks and running pack items.  Some of the crews at Chantry were yelling at their runners sitting next to me to get off their asses, and that's all it took for me to help me to get my shit together and stand up before my legs had a chance to seize or cramp.  I quickly pounded down more soup, took my caffiene pill in my drop bag and chased after a group of four into the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  

I had trouble keeping up with this pack because the Huakas I had put on were a bit clumsy on the technical stuff in the canyon.  I tried to keep their headlamps in sight but I was distracted by a fantastic view of the greater LA area at night that would give the opening credits of Drive a run for its money.  Further complicating things was that my eyes were drying up so it was tough to read the shadows on the uneven ground, and every so often my knee would just give out because I'd be stepping onto something lower than what my head registered it as.  Keeping pace was a lost cause by the time I was under Mount Zion, and once again I was alone amidst a forest of oak, alder, willow and bay.  There was a group of spectators to cheer me on about two miles out in the middle of nowhere, and they had an airhorn to boost the effect of my caffeine pill.   A mile out from Chantry the trail turned into a paved uphill, and the lights and party-like atmosphere pulled me into where this race actually started.  

To Idlehour Trail (84mi)

Continuing the mandate of reducing course traffic, Chantry was the first point on the course pacers were allowed on, so as a Solo runner I knew that traffic from here on out would be fucking with my mind like it did in Scotland.  I had overpacked my running pack with stuff back at Newcomb's in anticipation for murdering all of it on the grind out of Chantry to Mount Wilson, so all I got at Chantry was a quick deuce droppage, water poured on my compressions, broth, and Fluid before I headed out to get the climb over with.  It was pretty gradual, and I had burnt a bit of my food by the time I got to Hoegee's Junction.  I did notice that my attempts to compensate for the lack of pickle juice between Three Points and Newcomb's by pounding it down was now causing a burning sensation in my throat, so unfortunately I had nothing for my cramping anymore.  

At mile 78 the famed Winter Creek Trail began, which was marked by a much steeper climb I pretty much completely hiked.  This took way too long, and it wasn't helped by the fact the caffeine pill I took earlier seemed to have zero effect (I didn't drink coffee for a week before I employed them at West Highland Way to good effect, but I forgot to pull the same shit on race week for this race), and the 'dinner' I had had prior to Hoegee's was now throwing me into a food coma.  A few runners and pacers passed me as I sat off the trail twice for five minutes, and I tried everything from slapping myself in the face (that shit is hard) to deliberately sideswiping my arms on the spines of agave as a means of trying to stay awake.  I knew there was a bench set up--aptly named Deadman's Bench--at mile 80 I could have napped on, but I just couldn't wait until then.  

When the trail finally crested I found myself on a wide fire road with the lights of a runner and pacer not far away.  A sign noted Altadena was a short half-marathon away via fire road.  I sat down for a minute while I poured water into my compressions, and then quickly took the two of them down as I ventured downhill into the Idle Hour Canyon.  About halfway down I was surprised by a sprinting runner behind me--but I knew he was a pacer because he was carrying poles; he noted that he was just some aggro for our self-esteem because his runner DNF'd so he was out for a morning run, but he also commented that I was still looking fresh compared to the two I had passed behind me.   I reeled in another runner suffering from indigestion but told him I'd be seeing him real soon again on the way up to Idle Hour.

To Sam Merrill Trail (89mi)

They had fucking pancakes at Idlehour, but as I had only averaged around 9min/k's on the last downhill I elected to just do the usual ice-down-my-pants, broth and electrolyte refill for four minutes before departing.   (I think it was a little too early for pancakes anyways.)  The next section through fantastic granite formations, manzanita and oak was particularly brutal, with the night masking featureless sequences characterized by 9-10min/k's downhill across a stream, then a blindingly fast 16-20min/k uphill through various switchbacks, and then back down again.  Shades of watching the Blair Witch Project at too young of an age came into mind as I started thinking I was running in circles, and this was exacerbated by the multiple direction changes and consistently changing constellations of runner/pacer lights I couldn't use to orient myself with.   I kept falling asleep on the hikes, only to wake up after putting one foot off the edge of a steep dropoff, and then managing a short run to quickly burn off the adrenaline.  Eventually I sighted a 2-runner, 2-pacer pain train coming up from behind me--I had apparently passed the 2 runners back at Islip so I knew I was really shitting the bed now, but at this point I just wanted to get this shit done with and eat my sandwich at the finish.  I used them to pace me up to the former Mt. Lowe railway bed despite them having a full kilometer on me, and they were still at Sam Merrill when I got there.  

To Millard Campground (96mi)

Now almost sunrise, I pounded down a makeshift breakfast of coke and grilled cheese before taking up the caboose position of the pain train.  As I was in the screwed division I knew I had to fall back sooner or later as I didn't want any race officials think I was using a pacer, but as we were still a while from Millard I hung on for as much as I could down Echo Mountain and onto the Sunset Trail.

Once we got to Sunset Point, we were greeted by a massive sea of fog covering Pasadena.  I would have taken a picture but it was just too dark, and the pain train had no intention of stopping while dancing around the rocks of Sunset Trail.  My Huakas were barely gripping the smooth rock and it was hard to maintain a consistent rhythm with an inconsistent camber and plenty of rocks, but somehow i managed to overtake a pacer and a runner that had passed me back on the Mt. Wilson climb.  The four in front of me were unintentionally trying to dislodge me by kicking up dust with their fresh strides, which appeared as fog in my headlamp, and I finally gave out on the caboose role on an opportunely placed uphill before the Mount Lowe road.  The sun hadn't risen from the east just yet so the four lights pulled me forward until it did rise after I had reached the Chaney trail intersection.  I threw my headlamp back in my pack shortly thereafter, and kept the group of four within a kilometer by squeezing my feet together like I was running on narrow single track at home, despite it hurting like a motherfucker.  I was able to keep them in sight until they disappeared into the fog onto the Millard trail.   


Punching the clock

I was told by the Millard aid station that I still had 4.5mi to go, despite my watch saying I was over 155km in, which was a little dejecting (seriously, fuck Garmin).  I refilled my flasks, threw more water onto my compressions and pounded down a ginger ale before apologizing to the crew for hanging out for more than a minute there.  


The last climb of the race started right after Millard, up Brown Mountain Road, but it only lasted a mile before I started on my 9min downhill k's on the El Prieto Trail.  Thankfully the trail got busy with mountain bikers and runners coming up the trail giving me encouragement and high fives, but also to squeeze my waddle back into a running stride on the narrow single-track.  I followed the drainage past a neverending series of concrete debris dams, looking for pavement my Huakas could eat up since it wasn't having any fun around the rocks of El Prieto.  I finally got to the Lower Brown Mountain road and let my legs loose on the blacktop.   Much like the end of a training run in the mountains up north, the volume of hikers and children heading the opposite direction gradually increased, and pretty soon I found myself adjacent to the NASA JPL compound.  

I could taste it now.  

There was a modest climb off the Gabrieno to West Altadena Drive that I ended up running--despite having hiked the uphills for the better part of the last thirty miles.  I thought it was because the guy standing at the top of the pathway entrance was a marshal or something, but he ended up being some dude just out for a walk with his two dogs--in any case I was now carrying significant momentum fueled by messages of encouragement written in sidewalk chalk on the asphalt.  A finished runner loading his stuff into his car also shouted encouragement at me too, and when I turned onto Lincoln Ave I found that he had followed me to comment on how ludicrously fresh I was looking.  He told me to find the strength to drop a runner one more time, and I promptly did so to him once I got onto Palm St.  I could smell the burgers, I could hear the spectators--and despite the gentle uphill from Palm onto the Loma Alta Park lawn, I cranked out a sub-6min/k pace rushing into the arch for a solid jump-shot photo.  
obviously didn't run hard enough.  Photo credit: Ivan Buzik.
The post-race damage assessment was gloomy--I had a quarter-sized blister on the inner heels of both feet, and a massive bulge on the outside of my left foot and on my left ankle (not a sprain due to a lack of sharp pains).  I'd likely be losing both pinky toenails in a week.  The left side of my body was noticeable sunburnt while the right side was normal, due to the direction of the course (west during the day then veering south).  I knew that running in the screwed division would result in absolute carnage anyways, but the above were certainly avoidable, if it wasn't for me being a dumb fuck in not reading the course updates.  
my finisher's plaque--engraved immediately after the finish, but still showing the old course.

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I've always been a subscriber to the school of thought that conflict causes clarity, and for me, this race was just what I needed to screw my head on right.  I know that I'm saying that by doing something crazy, you can become less crazy--but circling back to my fuck-your-humanity-and-emotional-limitations game plan noted above--it's become apparent to me that for the last few years, running hasn't been so much as a find-your-existence type exercise, but rather just a forced reminder that the concept of shared experiences are always better than a hermetic sojourn into the nothingness.  Don't get me wrong--the skill of being able to be self-supported is still important to have, and I will still self-deploy on certain races through the year to check up on that, including next year's now-completely-unnecessary Hard Rock qualifier.  But when I look back at all the races I’ve already self-deployed at, I’ve realized that I’ve unconsciously made more friends from all over the world, despite just wanting a little bit of time alone (or in the company of a menagerie/animal-entourage I've managed to tame on the fly).  It's quite amazing how shared suffering can bring people together so effectively.  

And it just seems like the process of running these stupid distances is a little like the birthing process--we're all pretty born dead at the start, even if you're not stillborn, and it's through the efforts of others that truly make you alive.

By the numbers:
  •  Time: 26:11:21
  •  Official distance: 103.08mi
  •  Official elevation gain: 6362m
  • Placement:  
    • Overall (Crewed + screwed divisions combined): 34/181
    • Screwed division: 9/57
  • Overall DNF%: 27%
Stray observations:
  • If you're still wondering why I felt like absolute shit between West Highland Way and this race--astute readers will note that this entire report, especially with regards to those listed in the prelude section, shows quite a few of the DSM-IV TR diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder.  I won't get into the details about what I've done about it, but if you ever feel the same way, just know that help and hope is out there, you're not alone, and that tomorrow doesn't have to be shitty.   Check yo'self before you wreck yo'self.  (I know I write like I take this in stride, but it's only because it's managed.  I can't stress this enough--this shit is serious stuff.)
    • Yes, you have been running with a very unstable person this whole time, but come on--we ultras are a special breed and this shouldn't be any news.
    • No, it's not lithium.  
    • I still feel so shitty mentally (i.e. not that proud) after performances like this, mostly because I feel there was so much opportunity to have done better.
      • But I threw my finisher's plaque on my office wall instead of putting it in my finisher's medal shoebox in my closet, so i guess that counts for something.  
  • I’m not one to mind this statistic at my races, but apparently the ladies' field was a little different this year as this was the first race ever where I didn’t get chicked.   First lady came in at 40th place.  
  • It’s starting to look like I’m done with racing with poles.  But only because I keep entering races that prohibit them.
  • It’s also starting to look like I need to start training with the imperial system.  But only because I keep entering races in countries that use it.  
    • I’m not going to lie—doing km/mi or ft/m conversion calculations at 2am in the middle of a 100 miler is a good way to stay awake.
  • I was told at Hillyer that 60% of the runners entering the first time was complaining of indigestion.  I definitely felt it too, having run out of gels for a third of the race, but amazingly I didn't take a single ginger Gravol tablet, handing them out to other runners instead.  I think TUMS may have been a better idea though.  
  • I did not eat a sandwich after the race but I went halfsies on a Fiesta in a Box from Del Taco next to my hotel.  It did not last too long.  
  • Continuing the theme of my last report--holy fuck, I've come a long way in executing pointless races since the mess that was Javelina.  
Shoutouts and such:
  • Uncle Hal and Ken, the main RDs: thanks again for the opportunity to help out on Friday and for putting on such a fantastic event!  I'm a big believer in helping set up the race prior to racing it so thanks for helping put my conscience at ease.
  • The rest of the volunteers: As a screwed division runner I truly couldn't have done this without all the help this race had.  Also, thanks for not judging how much ice I was putting in my pants.  
  • Carson, Ken, and David--my carpool buddies back to Wrightwood: thanks for the stories and race tips.  Looking forward to sharing a few more trails with you all.  
  • Runner number 138: I don't know who you are and you don't know who I am.  But seeing you run and finish this race wearing a hiking hat and shirt, cargo pants and knee-high socks was truly legendary.
  • The rest of the runners and pacers:  Thank you for giving this lost tourist a little bit of company and encouragement after Chantry.  Vive le Waffle House!  And fuck Gatorade!
  • LA County and Greater LA area firefighters: Thanks for putting the Sand Fire out like a boss.  Didn't even smell like there had been a fire when I got here.  
  • The ones who told me they'd be watching me online via runner tracking, despite me pretty much trying to keep this race on the down-low: Thank you for reminding me the world hadn't turned and left me here.  I know I said that I was just trying to keep this a casual affair, but this gesture told me I shouldn't have and it meant a lot to my fragile mind.  
Up next:
  • Nothing until TARC 100 out by Boston during October, which I am solely running to hang out with my awesome friend Larry, but also to opportunely high-grade my UltraSignup ranking and Ultrarunner Race Series ranking.  It's not a qualifier for anything, but it is still stupid technical.  
  • Until then:
    • You'll see me, Tony and a few other friends at the Iron Legs 50mi while I captain Aid Station 1/4 in the Powderface parking lot.  We'll be on station from 6am through 7pm.  There will be a secret menu, just like the rest of my aid stations.  
    • You'll find me working the finish line, finish line beats and timing at Moose Mountain Trail Race for my third straight year.  
"I've always been deeply affected by the theater of the absurd because, I believe, it shows the world as it is, in a state of crisis. It shows man having lost his fundamental metaphysical certainty, his relationship to the spiritual, the sensation of meaning — in other words, having lost the ground under his feet.....this is a man for whom everything is coming apart, whose world is collapsing, who senses he has irrevocably lost something but is unable to admit this to himself and therefore hides from it.    
...The kind of hope I often think about...is, I believe, a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don't. Hope is not a prognostication — it's an orientation of the spirit. Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within himself. You can't delegate that to anyone else. 
Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It's not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope." 
--Václav Havel 

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