Rocky Road 100 is held along horse trails in Coto de Caza, in Orange County. Originally intended as a counter to Texas’ Rocky Racoon, with liberal cut-off times and an equally non technical course that combine to make it especially favorable for first time 100 mile runners, it is also near the start of the Southern California ultra season and is starting to attract a big turnout.
The course itself is a 15 mile out-and-back of gently rolling hills along well groomed horse trails through an upper-middle-class Orange County planned community. As is often the case on loop courses, this brings all the runners together – the fastest and the slowest – and there’s a certain camaraderie that grows out of that.
Those of us who are not in the front of the pack seldom get a chance to see the front runners in races that are not loops. Winner Jon Olsen, who ran an astounding 13-something hour 100 miler – (third fastest hundred miler on record, according to ultrasignup.com) had an encouraging comment for every runner he passed – which was all of us, repeatedly, and with the sort of amazing form that allows someone to run 100 consecutive 8 and a half minute miles.
I met Tomokazu Ihara at Chimera 100. He was visiting the States from Japan on a business trip and managed to get last minute entry into the race. He ran it unsupported – no crew, no pacers – through rain and fog and snow – for a third place finish. We talked briefly somewhere up on Santiago Peak in the middle of the night as he passed me. He’d injured himself at Chimera, so he was running Rocky Road with not as much training as he’d like, and pulled off a 4th place finish with a time of about 16:52. He had a high five for me every time we crossed on the course, and some encouragement when I slowed down.
There were so many other people there. Jack Cheng, who I ran a few miles with at Calico 50K, along with Wilson Liu. Catra Corbett cruised to a 22:52 finish – 3rd place women – and Andy Kumeda, who I ran with for a mile or so on my third loop. George Velasco, running the 50 miler. Badwater and AC100 finisher Mari Lemus, who had a strong start but a rough middle, and her husband Jorge Pacheco, who was there to pace Juan A. Juarez, one of the guys who paced Jorge to a Badwater win a few years earlier, and then paced Mari on her last lap. Ben Gaetos was there as a pacer, as was Donn Ozaki. Sally McRae, with a permanent smile, powered her way to a women’s win in the 50 miler.
My plan was to run it in 10 hours. I went out a little fast, and faded a bit in the middle, to finish in 10:18. I’m happy with that, and with an AG second place, especially given that the guy who finished first in my age group also won the whole doggone thing.
I finished before dark. A few hours after darkness came the local assholes, I am told – privileged rich kids who decided to cruise along side the course in a Hummer, shouting out abuse and throwing water balloons at the runners. At some point, they even set a trip wire across the course. Eventually the police were called and a cop car was stationed along the course.
Hilda Xicarra was running Rocky Road as her first 100 mile race (and only her second ultra). Kista was Hilda’s crew chief. Hilda is one of those people who is just full of positive energy, and all the other runners took notice, including veterans like John Radich, who has run solo across the United States.
Hilda had assembled a huge crew of friends, and her tent, set up next to the drop bags, was so well appointed that many mistook it for an official aid tent. A lot of other runners stopped by. At times the tent seemed a bit too crowded with well wishers, friends and family, but Hilda thrives off that attention. Ted Liao told us how his first AC100 finish was largely due to having stashed friends and family at every aid station. He had to finish for their sake.
Things got quiet in the night. I’m too long to fit in the back of the truck without folding, and my legs kinda want to spread out straight after a long run, so I ended up in my sleeping bag on the dirt, waking up for a moment when Hilda rolled in at 4am, and then back to sleep until sunrise.
There’s something incredible about runners like Jon Olsen or Jorge Pacheco, Hal Koerner, and those who bang out these astounding under-15-hour 100 mile runs. There’s something equally heroic about those folks on the other end, who finish around 30 hours. 30 hours awake and on your feet, running, walking, shuffling – that’s a whole ‘nother level of endurance running. Watching some of the runners struggling to stave off emotional and/or physical breakdowns, even their pacers sometimes exhausted, is an extraordinary experience.
As it got further from sunrise and closer to noon, the finishes became more emotional.
As always, the ultra runners band together. Pacers finished with their shifts headed out to man aid stations. Others took up cooking duties, supplying the runners and crew with coffee and pancakes in the morning. This sort of thing occurs much more at loop races because the logistics of the course allow it, and it’s one of the reasons why I’ve come to love loop races so much.