The Last Great Race (Part 4) - 2019 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run

8/08/2019 07:06:00 PM

The majestic San Gabriel Mountains.
The Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run is one of the six oldest 100 mile races in the US and the fourth of six races in "The Last Great Race" challenge. It has been held since 1986 and after some slight course modifications now runs point to point from Wrightwood, CA to Altadena, CA. It utilizes part of the Pacific Crest Trail, nearly summits Mount Baden-Powell and runs through the San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles National Forest among other beautiful areas. This year saw the highest number of finishers ever, but that does not reflect the difficulty and conditions this course threw at runners this year. In fact, my slight anxiety leading up to this race proved to be warranted to some degree, but more about that later.
When you're running six 100 milers in the span of 14 weeks, you need to be be very frugal with your paid vacation time, so for Angeles Crest, I booked a flight arriving Friday morning and leaving Monday morning. Unfortunately, two things happened that altered my plans a little bit. First, I found out after booking my flights that I had to drop off my drop bags by 11AM Friday morning, which would prove impossible with a 10AM arrival time at Ontario airport. Second, my fall back solution not using drop bags at all fell through as well. Since a friend had committed to crewing/pacing me, I figured I could reply on him and skip the drop bags altogether. However, a new job with new commitments meant that he had to drop as my crew. I now had to scramble to come up with a fallback plan. While I could've easily run without drop bags and just fed at the aid stations, following a 100% plant based diet means that you (rightfully) cannot depend on aid stations to cater to your special needs. As such, my only option would have been to carry 2 lbs of vegan gels from start to finish. Thankfully, I figured out another alternative and with the help of friends, I was able to use drop bags afterall. I decided to back all drop bags the Saturday before race week and send them via USPS to my fellow "Last Great Racer" Sean and his wife Jenny, who graciously agreed to take my drop bags to the race. That took a lot of stress of my mind and allowed my to focus on my race plan.
Since I fully expected this race to be the toughest so far this summer, I was much more conservative with my race plan and strategy. Sub 24 was off the table, especially now that I did not have the luxury of a crew and/or pacer to keep me moving swiftly. Since I would not have a crew or pacer, I also switched to the SOLO runner division, which come with a few support perks as well as a special SOLO runner buckle. However, I still felt the second sunrise buckle was a possibility if all things came together perfectly. Well, they didn't and to be honest, it wasn't a surprise to me. If there is one thing that is certain, there will always be problems to be solved during a 100 miler and this one was no different. In fact, it presented a whole new challenge I'd never encountered before.
My arrival at Ontario airport as well as the rental car pickup and 1 hour drive to Wrightwood went pretty smoothly. I arrived in Wrightwood around 12PM on Friday with plenty of time to check in and scan the crowd for familiar faces. Familiar faces were slim pickin's for me, since this was a west coast race. However, Sean and Jenny had arrived earlier and I met up with them for a quick lunch at a local diner serving vegan burgers...score! After, I headed to my hotel to check in and to do some work before heading back to race HQ for the mandatory pre-race briefing. My stoke level continued to rise as we got closer to race morning.
For dinner, we located another spot with a full vegan menu in Hesperia, the location of our hotels a short 28 minute drive from the race start. After dinner and a couple of good laughs about the restaurant's dress code prominently displayed outside, we went our ways to get back to the hotel to get our race kit ready and to catch some Zs.
Pre-race night did not go well. I slept maybe 3 hours, but I didn't let that get me down. It's happened before and it's just something outside my control. My alarm went off at 3:20AM, giving me 40 minutes to tape my feet, get my race kit on, drink some coffee and take care of business before making the drive to the race start. Parking was slightly problematic once I got back to Wrightwood, a sleepy little mountain town that usually does not have 250+ runners and crew congregate in its center of town. Eventually, I found a spot on a side street, got my pack and headed to the race start to make sure I got checked in. Being a solo runner meant I'd have to leave my car at the start and figure out how to get back after the finish, since this was a point to point race, but I decided to worry about that once I crossed the finish line:-)
The level of excitement was high at the starting line. Because the RD crew implemented a new waitlist system, many more runners were able to toe the line than in previous years. This also resulted in the highest finisher rate in the history of the race. It did not, however, result in larger numbers accomplishing a sub 24 hour or sub 25 hour buckle:-)
When one of the race leaders (Gary?) signaled the start, I had lined up somewhere at the backend of the top third of runners. We would climb straight out of town and I had no desire to push early. The Angeles Crest 100 has anywhere between 20,000-22,000' of climbing and 25,000' of descending, so there was no reason to burn myself out early. With a larger field it also took longer than expected to run alone, i.e. it is often difficult not to run/hike someone else's pace when there are runners in front of you and behind you. Eventually, I managed to settle into a sustainable pace, or so I thought.
Since I was a solo runner and I needed my phone at the finish to call an Uber to get me back to my car, I decided I would carry it instead of my GoPro and take photos that way, instead. It's how I'd taken photos for most of the races over the last few years, so it was nothing new. I am sure glad I did have something to take pictures with, because this course was way more scenic than I could have imagined. Distant views of the Mohave desert, the lights and skyline of the city of angels and lots of mountain and ridge line views had me stopping more than usual to take it all in and capture it on (digital) film.

The first few miles were pretty challenging but otherwise uneventful. The first major challenge presented to runners was a 13 mile section between aid stations that included a climb to the top (almost) of Mount Baden Powell. I carried 4 soft flasks for this section and I needed every bit of it. Even a "light" altitute of 9200' proved challenging to me, causing severe dry mouth. Along with the dusty dry air and the challenging climb it required that I drink lots and lots of fluids for the entire climb and beyond. In fact, I still ran out of fluids about two miles from the next aid station.
I dropped the fourth soft flask in one of my drop bags and kept the third one in the back of my pack and I'm glad I did. There were about 3 more 9 mile sections without aid and temperatures had continuously ramped up, even if some folks mentioned that it wasn't quite as hot as last year. You could've fooled me! After Vermont 100 2 weeks earlier, I was sure I was ready for any heat. In fact, I even told myself how well I was dealing with the heat. I regretted these thoughts about 50 miles into the race. Until that point, I had been hot but I'd been able to manage it with ice filled buffs around my neck and drinking plenty of fluids and staying on top of my nutrition.
However, at mile 50 just 1 mile from the next aid station, the wheels came off. Actually, it was more of an implosion or complete breakdown. My body suddenly reacted badly to the heat. During the final 0.5 mile climb to the aid station, I actually had to stop and just try to collect myself. I was doing a system check and I knew I'd have to take a serious break once I got to the aid staion. When I arrived, I collapsed into a chair. I was completely lucid, but my body was not playing along. I sat in the shade for a while unable to really eat anything. Medical started to assist me along with super helpful volunteers and eventually, we decided that I should lay down completely and prop my legs up. Shortly after arriving at the checkpoint, I had started shaking and shivering uncontrollably. More importantly, I was unable to control my breathing at all. It was short and shallow, both not good signs of my current state. 
I had rolled into the aid station in 12 hours flat, so I knew I had plenty of time to continue, loads of time. But I still needed to figure out how to get those issues resolved. It took nearly 90 minutes of laying down for the shaking, shivering and shallow breathing to subside. In those 90 minutes, there were a few moments where I questioned whether medical would let me continue and more importantly, I wasn't sure my body actually could continue. Mentally, I was 100%, physically, it looked bad. The medical crew checked my vitals including blood oxygenation and were able to confirm that all looked to be at normal levels. Now I just needed to actually feel better. I slowly rose from the dead and after a 90 minute delay I was finally back on my feet, eating a couple of Avocado tortillas and drinking loads of Gatorade and Pedialyte provided to me by medical.
Just as I was about to head out for another 9 mile section in the hottest canyon on the course, fellow Huntsvillian Rob Youngren rolled into the aid station. We both decided that a bit of company may be a good idea for this next long stretch and with the night section coming up. Rather than continue solo after that, we both stuck it out together and ran the final 49 miles together. Yup, I did manage to finish this thing and while there were certainly more frustrating moments through the night and the usual moments of sleepiness between 2 and 4AM, both Rob and I stayed pretty relaxed. We knew we wouldn't be breaking any speed records today, so the goal was to do as little damage as possible:-) If we could manage a sub 30 hour finish with our conservative approach, all the better, but it wasn't an actual goal, more of a nice though for me to keep me engaged and not walk the final miles.
However, our slowdown also meant that we would be running in some of the heat of the next day. Thankfully, the last major aid station was giving away some nifty ice bandanas to the first lucky runenrs to snag one up before they ran out. That really helped keep us cool for the final miles. When it was all said and done, Rob and I crossed the finish line in 29 hours and 33 minutes, earning our deserved solo buckles.
I cannot finish this race report without mentioning the amazing race staff and volunteers, from the RDs, to the aid station workers (especially them) and the medical crew. I have never seen such attentive aid station volunteers, not even at Western States. Maybe it felt that way because I needed them way more than ever before, but these folks are on par with both Western States and Hardrock. I always had a minimum of one volunteer cater to my every need while in an aid station. The ration was always 1 volunteer to one runner and sometimes even a 3:1 ratio. Absolutely amazing and I'm pretty sure I would not have finish this thing without there help considering my poor physical state at mile 51. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
If this classic is not on your bucket list, you are doing yourself a disservice. It is one of the granddaddies of them all and it shows in both the amazing course (see for yourself) and in the tireless volunteer staff. For me, it's now on to Leadville, CO to try to acclimate for the Leadville 100, the fifth of six races this summer, to inch closer to my completion of "The Last Great Race", the "Grand Slam of Ultrarunning" and the "Western Slam".





























  
































The only two "Last Great Racers" this year, hoping to become number 38 and 39 to do so in more than 30 years (myself and Sean Nakamura).

Rob and I at mile 60, all smiles after completing another tough 9 mile stretch.

I never looked very fresh during this race, it was a day and a half of hard work.

At first, I pinched myself to make sure I wasn't already hallucinating, then I took a picture just to be sure.

The most spectacular view of any aid stations with the city of angels lighting up the sky towards the finish.

Aerial view of another aid station.

Aerial view of an aid station.

Receiving my cool finisher awards from RD Ken and Gary.

One b@d@$$ buckle!

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