The race became reality this year… no fires, no cancellations. Angela and my entry rolled over from last year, so all we had to do was requalify by running another ultra (tough convincing us to do that!) and putting in another 8 hours of trail maintenance.
This race is known for not only its beautiful scenery, but also its hot temps and its more exposed terrain. For Angela and I, although the hot conditions were wiped aside, the exposed terrain was not thanks to the fires of last year burning about 60 miles of the course. The weather could not have been any more perfect for us. Although temps were in the triple digits in the days leading up to the race, a cold front rolled through just in time… leaving us with “fall like conditions” and temps hovering near 80. How lucky were we?!?!
Saturday morning, Angela and I got up, walked the block and a half to the starting line (Angela booked the ultimate pre-race hotel!!), and we waited for the race to start. At 5AM, we were off to the sound of a fire engine’s horn blaring. How about that for an early morning race start???
This course consists of a LOT of climbing and a LOT more descending. It’s the kind of course where you look forward to the downhills as you are climbing up the mountains… but then looking forward to the climbs as you are descending those same mountains. The race starts on a climb. It takes you along a mountainside… and since you start pre-dawn, you get to overlook the lights of LA. Pretty cool! What was even better was the sunrise. You could not beat the reddish-orange beauty that the day was bringing. The higher you climbed the more scenery you experienced, but the windier it got. It was insane how strong the gusts were… even pushing ME around!!
Our monster climb came at mile 13… up to 9000’+ Mt Baden-Powell. This climb took us up 41 frickin’ switchbacks. What was amazing to me about this climb was all the people out hiking the same trail. It was so nice to see so many other people, outside of the race, taking advantage of the trails available to us all. We even got some cheers and high fives from groups of Boy Scouts hiking up for their camping adventures. Great motivation at the start of our race!
The course consisted of singletrack, portions of the PCT, dirt roads, paved roads, and sidewalks. There was more road running than I thought would be on the course. A portion of the course needed to be re-routed from trails to roads due to the elusive yellow-legged frog that is said to be spotted in the area of where the course used to run. There were several grumblings about that, but to the roads we ran.
Along the way, I was able to get updates on Angela’s progress, thanks to Brian being able to hit multiple aid stations along the way. I got word that Angela took a tumble early on and skinned up both knees pretty good. Not being one who spends too much time in aid stations, rather than get patched up by the volunteers, she just got the blood wiped off… since anything else would have taken too much time. Tough gal!!
Brian tied up his racing shoes and met me at mile 59.3 to carry me the rest of the way. It was a little before 9PM, so we had a full night to run through. Unfortunately, I had it in my head that it was just 5 miles to the next aid station. In reality it was around 8 miles. After not seeing anything resembling an aid station for 2 hours, I was going through one of my lows… yes, I got cranky! I found out later from Brian that there was no difference between regular Julie and cranky Julie… is that a good thing or a bad thing?!?!
Once we got to the next aid station, life got better… thanks especially to caffeine. It was here, too, that I met up with my wayward friend from Syllamo… Jeremy from California, who I got lost with during the 50K. Funny how the world gets so small!
It was within the next section that marked the first time that I got freaked out during a race. In Canada, I ran past several piles of bear scat with no problem… because I never heard or saw a bear. But during this race, as Brian and I ran in the dark, through a wooded area, we heard something walking on the hill above us. The footsteps sounded larger than a squirrel, so we figured we would make some noise to alert our presence, so whatever was in the woods would be frightened away. Unfortunately, the footsteps were following us along the trail. It’s amazing how quickly you can run despite how dead your legs are. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see a switchback lead us away from the stalking creature. I have no idea what was watching us in the woods… and I don’t think I want to find out.
Daylight came the second day and brought new life to the legs. Brian and I were getting close and that only pumped me up. It was great to hit the mile 89 aid station, since that meant it was pretty much downhill from there. Unfortunately, about a mile past the aid station, heading along the trail, we needed to straddle a tree trunk. I heard some buzzing and looked back… but by that time, it was too late. BEES!!! Brian took off like the wind. All I heard was OW OW OW!! as he zoomed by me, swatting at his back end as the buggers were attacking him. If you want to hear the ultimate sacrifice of a pacer, ask Brian. The poor guy took about 10 bee stings, while his runner suffered none. Puffed up arm, bleeding knee, and burning butt… he continued on. What a trooper!
Luckily, the last few miles were uneventful. We made it off the trails and on t the streets of Altadena. A left here and right there, we headed to Palo Alto Park… where there was a crowd to cheer the finishers on. It felt great to finish this race, but I definitely missed crossing the finish line with the person who lead me to sign up for the race in the first place… Ralph. Although he didn’t run step for step with me in person, like so many other races we entered… he was definitely there to spur me along through my tough times.
Brian, Angela, and I learned an important lesson at this race. Regardless of whether the race director states that he will pair people up at the finish line to make sure everyone gets back to their cars (this was a point-to-point race)… it can’t hurt to find your own way back to your car without the RDs help. Unfortunately, after the race, there was never an announcement to pair out-of-staters up with rides… so the few out-of-staters without crews were left stranded, with no money and no phones. Not a good feeling to have! Lucky for us, we had a savior in the form of the medical director of the race, Tom. He drove us back to our car and back… a round trip of nearly 3 hours for him. Without his help, we would have had to resort to a taxi ride… which some other may have had to do. This experience definitely opened our eyes to help out other out-of-towners that come to enjoy our Wisconsin races, without the benefit of crews or pacers.
Great travel companions, meeting some amazing athletes, beautiful scenery, awesome volunteers, amazing generosity of a complete stranger… we definitely had a memorable experience at the AC100.