It’s very early, geez did I even get to sleep?, I roll over to hit the button on my alarm and a wave of depression hits me…..1:45am! Are you kidding me! And being a good little running soldier I roll out of bed and prepare to head out the door with my gear.
Gary Hilliard had warned us time and time again about the detours heading to Mt.Wilson the start point of this year’s Mt. Disappointment endurance race; so time and time again I reviewed my pre-race time plan to see if I could squeeze a minute more sleep to no avail; early to a race is ok but late just plain sucks…
We arrived earlier than expected but the time seemed to pass very quickly and before we knew it the race was about to start. This year we had to park in an overflow parking area set aside from the main parking which was now being used as a staging area for helicopter landings and communication line repair work that was required due to the devastating wild fire last year. Luckily the food and sitting areas along with the bathroom hadn’t been burnt and were now useable for the race; hey!, we will take what we get.
At the start we assembled, energy in the air and friends all around we waited for good ole’ Gary and his loudspeaker to fill us in with the details in his own special way. He had done a lot this year for the race and the forestry service and every word deserved to be heard.
With my previous military experience I along with a few others marked the start of the race and we were off just like that!.... The beginning of the race as with last year began on asphalt and downhill on Mt.Wilson Road which is a temptation for most to just plain haul ass…and they did! As I passed a runner he commented how fast the pace was and complimented my friend Michelle at her speed. “you have to run your own race here, don’t get caught up with the pace” I said, brushing away my own advice as I pushed downhill averaging from medium 6’s to low 7’s.
As I grinded out the pavement portion of the downhill I came upon the first Check station/Aid station at Redbox, last year we turned left here into the beautiful forest; this year it was a sharp right along Redbox road the dirt fire road which continues its journey downward towards Westfork which holds the distinction as being the halfway mark as well as the last station before the dreaded Kenyon Devore uphill. Rounding a turn on Redbox Rd I caught a glimpse of Michelle Barton ahead of me, we ran alongside each other down the fire roads, past the line workers who all looked on and offered support and through the ravaged hillsides. We jumped over streams and bounded along as if on a typical relaxing training run listening to our various jumble of dare to be hip songs on our MP3s, the Westfork aid station greeted us with even more amazing people as we filled our bottles; the uphill were coming and Michelle was eager to get going, she was gone before I knew it to continue her own journey.
I pushed up the fire roads with the speed of a gazelle…..ok maybe a water logged elephant ha ha… and before long was passed by Sada Crawford, she looked strong and steady, I was taking in calories as she passed and shortly ahead she too was doing the same so I’ll take credit for her win due to the importance of the reminder of caloric intake prior to the hills we were about face…no...ok, I tried. At the top of the fire road at Newcomb we take a quick turn off the road which gets me excited thinking it’s back to the single tracks again!!! Nope, just another smaller fire road, the downhill of this section felt good, shaking my quads up and giving me a break from the uphill. At the Newcomb aid station I was told that I was now behind around 6 guys and two girls but with the big uphill’s coming I was going to just enjoy that while it lasted. I asked if that was the big long climb that I just ran up and the volunteer laughed, hmm..not sure at that point if I was trying to joke or not; but I laughed too…..sighed and kept running.
I read a lot about running uphill’s, maybe cause I need work on that portion of my running, lactic acid, quick small steps…..bla bla…I need an escalator!, that’s what I need! The long uphill had begun and it was the misleading type, not just a continuous grade; it had teeth. At some points it was considerably steeper than others but it just continued on and on. I realized that my initial quad pounding debut to this new course was now catching up to me..Dang!, I’m such a sucker for a downhill… and I began to slow, content with just forward progress.
Then they came, one after another, all my friends Mike Campian, Rudy Montoya, Mark Dorman and of course Keithski. “What’s up man”, “How ya doin?” “Good, Good, Great, Good” I said one after another; because I was, and I felt good, I did..I swear, crazy I know; that aside from just seeing my INKnBURN teammates and friends of course.
Ahead in the opposite direction I was happy to see Andy Kumeda, Todd Hiskey, Wendy Barth, Sharon Pevsner, and Marisa Wilment running strong on their own training run down from Newcomb; so many friends way out here…I love this sport!
There was a point mid way along the Edison uphill that I looked up and saw a trail ahead of me, it looked as if it carried up along the communication line poles at an incredible angle, super steep and then carried back down and around…. “There’s no way that’s the trail, is that the saddle” I thought as I strained to see movement of runners struggling up that impossible hill, but couldn’t see any. I continued to run, trying to verify the upcoming trail, in full denial of what I saw. Then I looked up and saw it, the next aid station, perched high on the trail ahead of me to the left above some sharp switchbacks…the trail I had seen earlier was only the maintenance road for the poles themselves, relieved I ran on…I don’t have any climbing ropes with me anyways.
I saw both Charlie Nickels of INKnBURN and Badwater Ben near the top of Newcomb taking photos of the runners and with a few readjustments and a large smile I picked up the pace as I approached them for my glamour shots; I was still smiling as I continued to the Aid station on shortcut.
The Foothill flyers were hosting this aid station and they did a great job, they were friendly and I was greeted immediately; man I love ultra aid stations and all the great volunteers in this sport. With bottle filled, some watermelon, soda and gummies I was gone “44 out” I said as I jogged away.
The trek back from the 21 mile mark was interesting, until now I haven’t seen too much actual trail – in fact, it had been all fire road, I was excited to set my Brooks onto some good trail I then turned off the fire road with a child’s anticipation.
As I’m running down the hillside in Shortcut Canyon I’m reminded of the desert, the soft dirt beneath my feet, the downhill feels good and my pace increases as I weave back and forth dodging the underbrush and plants that extend over the trail, the trail is thin and I’m constantly looking out for the one plant that will trip me and send me over the edge into the canyon. With the devastating wildfires clearing the vegetation, the rain took advantage and ripped the hillsides apart covering the existing trails with muddy landslides and debris… it was here that I could seem to appreciate the extreme work that was done to allow us to run. The cut out trails were just wide enough to run and I could feel my feet in some spots moving it downward there were a few areas here that seemed to sweep you away causing you to high step quickly to avoid skiing down the steep hill – rocks and dirt in tow. Like an army of heavy pavement rollers today’s runners were toughening up this new trail for future hikers and runners alike and that made me feel good.
Although we’ve been following the river, we now enter the river bed itself, strewn with rocks and boulders. The trail here seems to evaporate and it’s now an adventure run as you attempt to spot the next flag or calk mark ahead, seeking out footprints of those before you or movement ahead of you to help guide you along.
Before long you find yourself at the last aid station, you refill your bottles, take in some energy and cool yourself down, ahhh! Many people were tempted here but many were stronger than I, the ice devil got me, he sat me down and poured ice water over my head; covered me with his icy hand towels and I was trapped in his web! I don’t know how much time passed, seconds, minutes, hours…. It took a few runners and Greg Hardesty and his ultra lady, the beautiful Marla Hernandez to pull me out of his trance. “gotta go!” I said as I broke free from his grasp and began to run up towards the finish line; one crazy hill to go…
The last stage was a blur, I remember last year hitting the wall here and was happy that it didn’t happen. I worked my way up to the finish on Mt.Wilson spotting Dean Dobberteen driving home, he’s a stud runner and honestly a great guy, after a brief congratulations to each other I was off to cheers from friends and another Mt.Disappointment finish. I’ve learned a lot since last year’s run at Mt.Disappointment but this year’s lesson wasn’t worth the price….fires suck and those that are irresponsible with or cause them suck even more!
The environment, the wilderness, the trails, the volunteers, the line workers..they don’t deserve what the fire has left them. Its compassion and teamwork, it’s those that are willing to sweat and sacrifice their own time for the benefit of others that I want to thank personally for the opportunity that you gave me to run this race once more.
And a special thanks to Gary Hilliard the gladiator behind this race resurrection – amazing job my friend, it won’t be forgotten.