“I must secretly hate myself…”
I was really fired up for this years edition of the Angeles Crest 100. I had just come off of a 36:07 PR at Hardrock three weeks earlier under some pretty challenging weather conditions. One never knows how recovered you can be in such a short time, but by race morning, I was feeling pretty confident that a solid day lay ahead.
Race morning is always a bit of a twilight zone. Feelings of excitement, fear, doubt, intestinal distress. Amongst the sea of people, I found most everyone I was looking for to wish a great race. Hal gave his pre-race prayer, with special significance to the passing of 26 time finisher Garry Curry. I’m not religious, but I’ve always looked forward to Hal’s invocation, as it always reminded us how lucky we were to be able to play in these great mountains…
The start of the race was a bit funny this year. I was lined up in the front next to Dom, but seemingly without warning, half the field started running, while we were standing still…Oh well, off we went into the darkness.
Cruising up the Acorn trail felt really good. As had been the case at Hardrock, the higher up in elevation I got, the better I felt. As we topped out at the PCT in about 55 minutes, Keira Henninger and Robert Bracero settled in behind me. I was happy with that time and was right on schedule. The rest of the way was very enjoyable as we chatted off and on all the way to Inspiration Point. For now, I didn’t feel any tiredness in my legs.
Inspiration Point is always a fun show. So many people lined up cheering. I got there around 6:57, again, on schedule. Chris Gaggia, my sole crew and great friend, was there and we quickly changed water bottles. The next 4.5 miles to Vincent Gap went smoothly. I laughed, as more people seemed to ask me how my dogs were than anything else. Shortly before VG, I caught up to the master Facebook Poster, Robert Whited. Always great to see him out there.
I arrived at VG, mile 13, at about 7:42 and Chris swapped bottles and handed me a bagel with bacon, turkey, and swiss. Yum, real food. I also put on a third water bottle around my waist as I was tired of running out of water like in previous years. It was getting warm and I decided to go for Robert’s signature look, and ditched my shirt.
I settled into a pretty casual pace. I didn’t want to push this climb at all, because I still wasn’t sure how recovered my legs were from Colorado. For the first 3/4 of the climb, I don’t think anybody passed me, and again, as we got higher, I felt better. I caught up to Keira, and then was about 40 feet behind Robert, who was running the entire time. Hats off to him!
I arrived at the Gassan/Turner toll booth and was happy to see them, We chatted for a minute while I downed a salt tab. I was pretty excited with how the day had started…Mistake number one, don’t count your chickens till their hatched…
The rest of the way to Islip was pretty uneventful. Keira and I flip flopped a few times, and I could see Robert ahead every now and then. I had expected the heat to build up, but there had been persistent high clouds that really cut the power of the sun down a notch. Good stuff!
I reached Islip, mile 26, at 10:27. I was still feeling pretty good and was feeling that running around 24 could be possible if things hold up. But alas, the day is still young, and it’s too early to think about such nonsense. I weighed in at nearly the same weight I started at. So far, so good.
The climb up Williamson is where the fun and games end, and the work of the day begins. Going up was smooth and steady. A few people passed me at the bottom, but I wasn’t concerned, as I was trying hard to run my own race. I patiently hiked to the top in about 35 minutes and then began the descent…
“Ut oh, Houston, we have a problem.” This was the first inclination that my quads were beginning to “speak” to me. My legs and low back just felt stiff and sore, and I couldn’t run very well on the way down. I passed by Angel Perez, who was walking, and a little while later, Will Fisher cruised by me. I didn’t worry yet. I just slowed down, and figured, just get to Eagle’s Roost, and I could take some Advil to take the edge off. Just before the Scenic Mound™, I caught back up to Will, and he stayed just ahead of me all the way to ER.
Chris was there and we took care of business. I was feeling a bit bonky, so I drank my first coke of the day, hoping the caffeine and sugar would bring me back to life.
Leaving the aid station, I had no desire to run. I was content walking while trying to power down a sandwich. Within a half mile from the A/S, Keira caught and passed me. It would be the last time I would see her till the finish. My friend Tim, who I had run with on many of the training runs, had also caught and passed me on the gentle uphill.
I really despise this road section. The pavement, along with the cars whizzing by, spoils the vibe of being in the mountains for me. While cruising through Buckhorn CG, a few campers cheer as we go by. I’m jealous they get to sit and relax, while I’m feeling at a low point. I got passed by a few more people here, including Andy, Amelia, and Jimmy Dean. I didn’t let it bother me and I was just adapting to how I felt and figured I’d get it back later.
At the bottom of the climb, fellow Hardrocker Terry Sentinella caught me. We chatted for a sec. I kind of used him as a pacer and just hung back about 50 feet or so for the climb out, until maybe the last 3/4 of a mile to Cloudburst where the trail goes downhill, and he could run down better than me. It always a great feeling when you get near the top and you can hear people begin to yell down to you. I ran as much of the flatter switchbacks as I could.
Unlike previous year, where at Cloudburst, mile 37, I was a deflated image of my former self, I didn’t feel too bad this year. My quads had some f*ckness going on, but at least my back pain had settled down. As a bonus, because of the cloud cover, Cooper Canyon was quite pleasant, so I wasn’t having the usual heat related problems.
Cruising down from Cloudburst, I caught Will, who was having some issues. Later on, while going past Camp Glenwood, Jack Cheng sprang out of the bathroom! Always great to see Jack Cheng! We ran together until Katie DeSplinter caught us about a mile later. I decided to run a little faster in order to chat with Katie and see how her day was going. Katie, Diana Triester, and I all basically came into Three Points, mile 42, at the same time. Jack and Will showed up a short time later.
Three Points to Sulphur Springs is usually a wasteland of pinyon, sage, and broken dreams to me on race day. Usually a very lonely place. This year, was different. I felt marginally ok, but for the first time, I had a lot of company. I ran with Diana for a while, and eventually passed her. By the time I hit the road, I really felt like crap though. I wanted to run up it, but every time I started to run, my quads said “no”…So walk on I did. Diana and a few others all went by me before reaching Alder Saddle.
I was doing the math in my head and even though I was having issues, I figured I still get to Chilao around 5:30 or so. I was ok with that. That was only about a half hour or so slower that I had hoped.
Near the top, I heard footsteps. I turned around and immediately heard, “Jack Cheng back!” Jack had been having stomach issues after 3PTs and had slowed down. He came back full strength and we cruised to the aid station together.
I saw Hal pull up to Hilyer, mile 49, just after I got there, and I went by to chat. Seeing Hal on the course is always something I look forward to on race day. It’s all part of why I love AC.
I left Hilyer feeling pretty weak. I was calorie depleted, but knew that I needed to get to Chilao where Chris was, and real food. Plus reaching Chilao is a mental milestone where to me, you are entering the “meat” of the race.
I made it to Chilao, mile 52, in ok time, all things considered. It was 5:39 when I rolled my way in to the semi’s…Chris did his usual job of taking excellent care of me. I changed socks, ate some hot dogs, then went to the loo to lose some weight. I think it was 6pm when I finally checked out of the aid station. Chris went up the first hill with me for moral support. I was definitely feeling Hardrock on my legs at this point.
Chilao to Charlton is one of my favorite parts of the course. It rolls nicely, and doesn’t stress the body too much. Unlike some of the earlier sections where people were catching me, I managed to hold my place here more or less. Running the downhill from Charlton sucked. My quads just hurt and felt so stiff. It was quite unpleasant. I couldn’t wait for the uphill climb to the aid station so I could walk again.
As I was just about to top out, I heard this loud voice yell something that sounded like, “Howzit”. I was like, “who the f*ck is that?” It’s driving me nuts, as I was bonking and didn’t want to deal with loud noises. As I got about 40 feet away, he did it again, except this time, I saw him and was like, “no way, it’s Robert!”(Andrulius, my good bud from Hardrock)
Dang, was I happy to see him. Total surprise. I plopped down in a chair and was pretty catatonic and shit. Chris, Robert, and Bill Ramsey were all asking what I needed, but I was lost in space. At this point, Tommie Silva popped up into the aid station looking great. I think it was around 7:40 and there was the most amazing display of purple fire going on in the clouds to the west. Chris also told me Keira and Jimmy Dean had left there only a short while ago. Hearing that gave me a little boost, as I thought I was much farther behind considering how long ago they passed me.
I also recall this was the first time I uttered the phrase, “I must secretly hate myself.” I say this because of the pain I was now feeling as a result of 100 miles in Colorado three weeks earlier, and the prior 59 miles of AC. It wasn’t fun anymore, but my mind was on auto pilot and forward was the only direction it new. I wasn’t having fun anymore, but I had a job to do.
Robert joked about pacing me to Chantry. The catch was, he was here on vacation with his wife…Vacation WITH his wife…Not vacation to come to AC…So off I went down to the Edison road, or what I affectionately call, The Highway to Hell. I was running, but pretty slow. Every step just felt like a jackhammer to my quads. I forced myself to run, however, as the more I ran, the sooner I would get to the bottom and then get to walk up the long three mile climb to Newcomb’s.
Well, about two miles down, a single headlamp comes up beside me. I look over, and sure enough, Robert had “convinced” his wife to let him pace me to Chantry. I was told that Chris being there was the only thing that kept Robert “alive” when he asked her. Or some shit like that.
So on we went. Shortly thereafter my dream for AC came true. Three weeks earlier while Katie was pacing me in a rainstorm on Handies Peak in the middle of the night, I wished for weather like that at AC. Well, here we are at AC and it begins to rain. Boy howdy, good times! Mind you, it is so warm, I still don’t have a shirt on, and I feel like I am burning up.
Newcomb’s, mile 67, came quicker than I imagined, and I sat for a minute to eat some food. Chris and Robert were busy taking some time portal reverse selfies with the video feed to Chantry.
The “run” down to Chantry was a walk. My quads were toast and I just tried to walk as fast as I could, occasionally faking running. At some point we passed a chalk “Howie S.” on the trail. Bill Dickey writes the names of all the runners he knows along this stretch. It made me smile. Thanks Bill! Robert entertained me by reciting Zappa lyrics amongst other random stuff, while I spelled altered dominant chords and quizzed him on the quadratic formula.
It was around 12:30 something when I sauntered into Chantry, mile 74.5. I was in my typical hypoglycemic, bonked state. I had been looking forward to Chantry for a number of reasons. One was that I promised to see Gary Hilliard there. Two, Hal is always there. And number three, Andrea Feucht would be there to pace me to the finish.
My quads were pretty non-existent so I decided to get on the massage table there to see if they could be helped. Andy Roth and Chris fed me hot dogs through the headrest hole and I began to get some energy back. At least enough energy to make a tree pose when I stood up.
It was 1:07 when Andrea and I left Chantry. I asked Andrea one favor, and that was to not let me stop at all on Upper Winter Creek. I always waste so much time on that climb, and I was hoping this year would be different. (it wasn’t, ha)
The gentle uphill to the Hogees junction felt ok, but the clock told a different story. I was definitely moving slower than I expected. Also, on this section, I encountered Michael Chamoun and his wonderful pacer Tiffany Guerra. Problem was, they were heading downhill. Micheal had gone up and down a number of times and had finally decided to call it quits…I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think I said something to try to encourage him. They quickly disappeared out of view down the trail back towards Chantry…I was bummed for him.
Well, the climb up Upper Winter Creek turned out to be a repeat of every other year. Well, except I didn’t puke this time…Well, that’s a lie, I threw up a salt tablet…Andrea did a great job of at least getting my mind off of the catatonic pace, but I had to take a number of breaks where I just laid face down in the muck…I remember gazing at the sky through the trees wondering wtf is it about Mt. Wilson that always destroys me on race day. No climb in Hardrock ever abuses me this bad…
After an embarrassing amount of time, we arrived at the bench. A minute later, much to our surprise, Michael and Tiffany showed up, and Michael flopped on to the bench. I was so happy that he had changed his mind! We spent the next few minutes sharing war stories, interspersed with the phrase, “f*ckin AC…”
The four of us got up and finished off the last half mile of the climb. Running down the toll road felt impossible. Michael could walk faster than me, so they disappeared ahead after a short while. The lights of the city below were amazing. About 30 minutes later, we came across Michael sleeping in the middle of the toll road. He was toast. Such is life at AC.
After what seemed like an eternity, the final switchbacks came and Idlehour, mile 84, suddenly came into view. Thank goodness. All I had been craving is pancakes. Every year Idlehour had panckaes, and I desperately needed their plentiful carbs. Well, there were no pancakes. I scanned the food array and nothing appealed whatsoever. I was temporarily panicked because I was so bonked, and there was still a lot of work to be done. Fortunately, they had hot dogs, so that and a cup of coke became my breakfast. Jussi also came into Idlehour as I was getting ready to leave.
Off Andrea and I went, the easy climb out passing quickly. I tried to fake running down the beautiful single track to Idlehour CG. It just hurt too much. At the dry creek crossing, I looked at my watch and told Andrea the climb would take an hour. The climb went smoothly, and we topped out at Sam Merrill, mile 89, with relative ease. Michael and Tiffany were there and we all left together.
Once again, I couldn’t keep up with Michael, and they pulled ahead by the time we reached sunset point. I walked/shuffled down to Echo Mt. On the Lowe railbed, it began to rain again, however, it was cold and windy this time. Not terrible, just uncomfortable. So weird for AC. I’m used to baking on this section.
From the Sunset trail to Millard, I managed to shuffle most of the way. Mainly because I was cold and wanted to be done. We got to Millard, Mile 95, and Jussi was there as well. Howard Cohen also showed up at this time.
From Millard to the El Prieto trail, I stayed with Jussi. I decided I really wanted to finish with him. Unfortunately for Jussi, his back was really a mess and he waved me on to go ahead when we were about a quarter of a mile into the El Prieto Trail. Reluctantly, I agreed.
After a small eternity, the El Prieto trail finally ended and we hit the pavement near Brown Mt. Road. I saw Dave Tan walking toward me and he told me everyone was waiting at the finish. We talked for minute. What a wonderful person Dave is. Inspiring.
For the first time in the whole race, emotion finally began to come out. I couldn’t believe that after all of the pain and suffering of the day, that the end was near. I was fighting back tears as I was talking to Andrea. For this first time in a while, I was actually running as well. And it felt good.
Coming out of the Arroyo and onto the city streets is always a weird transition back to reality. Before I knew it, we were making the right turn on to Palm. As I made the left onto the park grass, I could finally see the finish. It was overwhelming to not only see how many people were there, but how loudly they were cheering. I couldn’t fight back tears anymore. It was complete emotional overload.
I crossed the line and immediately shook Hal’s hand and gave him a hug. Somebody put a chair down behind me and I sat down and cried for probably five minutes straight. The battle was over. I completed the HR/AC double, but greater than that was all of the support and love I felt from my friends and fellow runners over the last 30 hours.
A short while later, Jussi came in. Unbeknownst to us, Jussi had carried Garry’s ashes the whole race. After he crossed the finish line, Jussi spread Garry’s ashes on the ground. Garry got his 27th finish with Jussi. Unreal…
To cap off the day, I watched two more of my friends finish, Diana Pacheco and Summer Wesson. It was both of their first AC finishes and I was so proud of them.
Thanks again to my dream team crew/pacers: Chris Gaggia, Andrea Feucht and Robert Andrulis. It meant the world to me to have you guys out there…I owe you guys big time…