Cold, wet, rocky, and long. We gathered at the starting line, cold, foggy, looking more like refugees than runners. Race director Steve Harvey (who deserves great praise for all of his events) mercifully delayed the start by about 15 minutes so that it would be light when we set out for the initial loop, fun, sometimes technical singletrack, a 10 mile out-and-back to Chiquita Falls for the 100K runners, and a 20 mile out-and-back through Chiquita to Candy Store for the 100 mile runners. I found myself stuck behind a pair of runners going slower than I would’ve liked, and resisted the urge to pass, figuring this would help me not bust out too fast so that I might have something left for the end, or at least for the middle.
We came back through Blue Jay. My crew/pacer Maggie told me she’d found a ride out to Silverado Canyon, which was great news. (At one point, she was considering catching a ride to another station and then running to Silverado – about 15 miles). I put on my Nathan vest and headed out. For the first couple of miles up to Trabuco Trail Head I ran with a guy in the navy who’d just returned to the States from Japan. He’d driven up that morning without an entry, hoping that there’d be enough no-shows for him to get in.
George Velasco was working Trabuco Trail head aid station along with Keira Henninger. He offered advice and instruction for the stretch down through Holy Jim Canyon. Rough, rocky, and slick with mud, he said, and it was, but it was also a beautiful stretch of trail and probably the last bit of terrain I really enjoyed running.
Somewhere along this stretch, I encountered a runner from Montana whose knee was bothering her. I could see a scar from past surgery. She was heading back up to the Trabuco Trail Head aid station to drop. We talked for a few minutes on the trail, and I convinced her to keep going. People have talked me out of dropping in a few races, and it was time for me to repay the favor. We ran gently and talked for about 5 miles, and then she pulled ahead coming into Holy Jim Canyon aid station. I caught up with her briefly a few miles later on the long climb up to Santiago, but when she pulled ahead again it was for keeps. I hope she finished strong and did well.
From Holy Jim Canyon came a long, steep climb, some of it singletrack with plenty of switchbacks, and some of it rocky fireroad, to the Bear Springs aid station (23.5 mile mark) to the top of Santiago Peak. Donn Ozaki was working at the Bear Springs. It was there that I began fueling myself with chicken noodle soup. We talked briefly about Kista’s Javelina Jundred last weekend, and then I headed out and still up, to the top of Santiago Peak, which was shrouded in fog, cold and wet.
From Santiago Peak it was downhill to Maple Springs aid station, and the drop bags. As I was leaving Maple Springs, the first 100 mile runner came in, at 50 miles to my 30. He spent next to no time at the aid station and passed me just a few minutes later, at the beginning of a 7 mile long downhill to Silverado Canyon. About 20 minutes later, Fabrice Hardel passed me, second place in the 100 miles. Fabrice would go on to win Chimera 100m with a time well under 19 hours, destroying the old course record.
By Maple Springs it seems the 100K had sorted itself out. With the exception of Ben Gaetos about 10 miles further, I did not see another 100K runner the rest of the race.
I was cheered by name as I came in to Silverado. My running partner and pacer Maggie Beach had told them all about me, although there isn’t really much to tell. Pink was the color of the day down at Silverado. Maggie was worried I was going to be in a bad mood having run a few miles of pavement, and normally that would be true, but the rocky fireroads were so rough on my feet that the pavement was a blessing. Silverado Canyon is beautiful. Rangers drove by and cheered me on.
The aid stations and volunteers deserve special mention here. They were extraordinary, and on a cold, wet, and long day like this, the aid stations were less about seeing us on to the next stop and more about providing a nice, warm, friendly sanctuary, especially for middle-of-the-pack runners like me. It was great seeing people I know, like George Velasco, Donn Ozaki, and race director Keira Henninger (also a great runner), but all the volunteers at all the aid stations were wonderful and supportive and there is no way I could’ve pulled this off without them. I cannot imagine getting through the cold, dark, wet, foggy night without my pacer and without the folks at the aid stations. I ran Chimera fueled almost exclusively by chicken noodle soup, and it worked.
Who knew a cheap piece of plastic could be such a life saver? Kista had given me a couple of basically disposable plastic rain ponchos. One of the criticisms runners have against these ponchos is that they do not breathe, basically creating a little sauna inside. What we discovered was that on a cold, windy day, this sauna is a very welcome thing.
From Silverado Canyon to Bedford Peak was a fairly steep singletrack uphill. Maggie did recon earlier in the day, and said it was nothing I hadn’t encountered many times before. This was true, except that my legs had about 40 miles and 12,000 feet on climbing on them, so it was a bit of a challenge. We came out of Bedford Peak aid station and realized we were freezing. The ponchos saved us, keeping the warmth in and the wind out. Maggie had some chemical handwarmers we each shoved inside our gloves. Whoever invented those things is my new hero. (I hope he or she wasn’t a nazi or anything). Misting rain, cold winds, even a little bit of snow…
We walked/ran for about 5 miles with Ben Gaetos between Bedford Peak and Maple Springs. Aside from Ben, I had not seen (and would not see) another 100K runner on the road after the first stop at Maple Springs.
I talked briefly to a 100 mile runner at Maple Springs. He looked spent. I realized that he was coming through for the first time, just at the midway point in his race. One of the volunteers said he’d just made the cut-off.
As we continued on to Upper Holy Jim – a return trip to the top of Santiago Peak – we crossed paths with a number of 100 mile runners who had yet to make it to the midway point. There was probably 3 or 4 batches of them, and I imagine all were pulled from the race at Maple Springs. I felt bad for them, but I was also a tiny bit envious. It was cold, windy, and wet. There was snow, and thick fog. My feet were starting to hurt and it occurred to me that worse things could happen than being pulled from the race, especially for some of the folks in the last batch of 100 mile runners who were still in singlets while we were freezing with our hats and gloves and jackets and ponchos.
Somewhere along the line we lost Ben. We pulled ahead of him, but at some point later on he must’ve passed us at an aid station because he was already at Blue Jay when we finished. The only runner we saw was 100 mile third place finisher Tomokazu Ihara, who passed us twice, once shortly after dark and the second time near the finish.
My feet we aching. The rocks did me in. The arch on my left foot was increasingly tender. At first I merely noted it, as I’d never had a pain there before; it did not seem like it would have much impact on the run. By the 54 mile mark it was getting serious, and by Horsethief just walking was an issue and I was not sure I’d be able to finish.
I was also getting tired of going up hill. It seemed to me that physics dictated that eventually we would be done going up and have to come back down again. Apparently there’s a different kind of physics at work in the middle of the night in the Saddleback Mountains. Optimistic folks at aid stations kept saying “It’s just rolling hills from here on out”. What I discovered is rolling means sharply up for 1 -2 miles, followed by gently up, followed by a medium up, followed by more steep up, and then 20 yards of flat before it goes up again.
My foot got a painful massage at Horsethief. We took the insole out of my left shoe because the arch support was not helping now that everything in the arch was swollen and tender. This was enough to get me running again.
I hooted with delight when we hit the pavement, and one mile to go to the finish. I noticed that the pavement seemed rougher than I remembered but attributed that to tender feet and didn’t follow the thought through. If I had, I’d've realized that we were not on the same road I’d gone out on, and I might have noticed the turn-off onto singletrack. Instead, we got lost in the last mile, took the road until it ended, and then doubled back until we found the marked turn, and then the finish.
I have no idea what my time was, or where I placed. Somewhere in the middle, I suspect. The results aren’t yet posted. I think a number of people dropped. It was slow and painful, and it was also possibly the most gratifying race I’ve done. Just to finish is good enough.