Thursday, September 21, 2006

Above The Clouds - the Angeles Crest 100 Race Recap!

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”
-T. S. Eliot

MAY OF 2005- I dreamed up the most epic athletic endeavor of my life after meeting Dean. Many of you probably know where this is going, but for those of you who don't know who "Dean" is, he is THE Ultramarathon Man, a regular human who regularly stretches what is possible not only for himself, but for humanity, by completing super-human acts of endurance. I emceed an event for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at Niketown in Beverly Hills which was to be a recruitment event for the 2nd Annual Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. Not only did I get to meet Dean and pick his brain, but I got to meet his parents
too. I was moved by how real he was (in person). The net result of us meeting is that I have been sparked on a wild new journey. I read his book and was enamored of the idea of running the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the original 100-mile trail run. I resolved to do whatever I needed to do in order to qualify for and apply for entry. Over the next 6-months, I trained for and completed my first double-marathon on trails. I needed an 11-hour finishing time. I ran a 9:28. I placed 1st of runners in their 20's. I was also second to last in that age group. I remember that miles 40-54 of that race were the most complete and all-encompassing pain I have ever known. I was looking forward to the challenge of ONE-HUNDRED. I didn't get selected in the Western States lottery, and I resolved to compete in the Angeles Crest 100-Miler in SoCal. The training for "AC" officially kicked off in mid-May after recovering from the Boston Marathon and built to a exhausting crescendo in late August of 125-miles in a week. I averaged 90-mile weeks over the summer and climbed up over 100+ miles about 4 different times. I was running 10-14 times per week, sometimes 3 or 4 times in a single day. I would do 2 or 3 LONG trail runs a week, sometimes with friends Matt, Rad, Travis, Lukas, Diane, Zach and others, sometimes all alone for 5-6 hours on a Saturday afternoon. I trained through 100+ degree heat. I trained through the night. I'd run on a full stomach, an empty-growling stomach, I'd even eat WHILE I ran sometimes. It was training that I believed would prepare me for ANYTHING. Well, it did prepare me for ALMOST anything...

SEPTEMBER OF 2006 - Race day arrived.

The loneliness of the long distance runner is well documented, and the time leading up to the start of the race was somewhat lonely. There were a ton of people around me and supporting me, but I knew I was going to have to run, walk, hike and crawl for the better part of ONE day on my own, where my race and film crew could sit down whenever they wanted, they could relax, take a nap if needed, eat a real dinner, etc. At the same time, it was SO amazing to have everyone there that was there: my fiancée Kate, my mom, my close friends Nick and Gareth, honored teammates and families Virginia & Van, Melanie & Dan, Vivian & Bruce, as well as other film and support crew, Ryan, Patrick and Rich. The photo to the left was a strong representation of how isolated I felt, yet I was excited to begin the EPIC journey...

I started the run/hike/walk/crawl slowly and patiently. When the gun went off, I didn’t begin
running until sometime after the first mountain climb, maybe an hour or so into the race. At one point, I was literally in 111th place, as even one of the last crazy Germans went running past me. I didn’t care. I wanted to SOAK up the experience. The first mountain climb was fun. There were centipedes of athletes snaking up the mountain… a centi-snake, if you will. The groups were 5-20 people long, and there were a dozen or so of them, not including the front runners. I would chit-chat with people, get their name, hometown, and some of their story (is this your first 100, first AC, how many have you done, etc.). A VERY high percentage of them knew who I was from the day before when we were at the race briefing, I talked a little about the film we were making. During the race, everyone was SO gracious and kind. “Are you Jimmy making the film? It’s such a good thing you are doing! I want one!” There were at least THREE Jimmy’s in the race, and at one point about 32-miles into it, we were back-to-back-to-back in race order! "Up top" the first mountain, I began running into a 40-45 mile an hour BONE CHILLING headwind. But it was SO breathtakingly beautiful. I was up along the ridge of Mountain High Ski Resort looking at Mt. Baldy (Mt. San Antonio), Mt. Baden-Powell and numerous other peaks and valleys. I was swallowed up by the vastness of it all.


It was so great to come into the first checkpoint! I was in 34th position coming into "Inspiration Point". Coming out of the first checkpoint, I was feeling like I still needed to “warm up” since I only ran in freezing winds, but I didn’t feel bad. Coming into checkpoint 2, I still had not warmed up, MORE bone chilling winds had me freezing (in spite of the fact I had two shirts on, one long sleeve, and gloves) and all of my muscles felt stiff and tired. This was at MILE 13. I was aware I had not “warmed up” and I was almost confused by it. I didn’t feel right.

I then moved into the longest section of the day (without aid), up and over Mt. Baden-Powell (9,399 ft.). The first 3.6 miles of this 13-mile section was climbing 2,800 ft. in 41 switchbacks. This part downright SUCKED.

The only thing I liked about it was looking out across the plains of the Mojave Desert and still hearing Kate, and the film crew relay messages back and forth as they drove 80-miles around the mountains to get back to me at Mile 26. I don’t quite understand how I was still in walkie-talkie-range, but I was. This 13 mile section of the course took me 3+ hours, and it was 3+ hours of MISERY. I really couldn’t appreciate the beauty of the view at all. I was TRYING to eat and I could BARELY choke down half a peanut butter sandwich.

Luckily I WAS staying pretty hydrated, sort of. I came into Mile 26 at Islip Saddle a bit bewildered. I was 3 lbs. down (160.5 from 163.5) but just felt horrible. I imagine it was one of two things… I had either caught a flu bug at the end of last week (Wed or Thu), or I was suffering from “altitude sickness”. My WHOLE BODY was off. It was one of those nightmares come true where you prepare for a race FOR A LONG TIME (18-months for me) and race day just doesn’t line up with your picture-perfect training. So, at the Mile 26-checkpoint, I was confused and somewhat bewildered… “I thought I would feel somewhat good for at least half of this race”… nope.

I put a wind breaker on for Mt. Williamson and suffered through another 1,380+ ft. climb (in 1.63 miles) and on the way back down that stretched out my legs a bit. By the time I got to Mile 30, pretty much EVERYTHING hurt. Both my rear and hips were sore and tight, my lower right shin was stabbing pain (worst shin splint I have ever had), my IT Bands were sore and tight and borderline inflamed at my knees, my hamstrings hurt on the climbs up the mountains, my calves were painfully tight, and my shoulders, especially my left upper back between my shoulder-blade and spine were killing me.


I came into the Mile 30 checkpoint and emotionally broke down. I believed I COULD finish, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do 70.8 more miles in this kind of pain. I thought I might feel better than this later, but knew the type of pains I was having wouldn’t disappear all together. I was completely defeated and discouraged. Kate, my buddy Gareth, my mom, and our friend Ryan all did ALL they could to cheer me and help me feel better. They made me feel “well enough” to give the next 8-mile section a shot. I came out of "Eagle's Roost" in 67th position overall. During the next section, I ran “normally” for the first time in the day. I still felt ALL of the pain, but I found my stride within the discomfort. I was pretty sure I wasn’t altering my gait (consistently) which would have been my indication to STOP so I didn’t cause a major overcompensation injury. But dear God it hurt. Around Mile 35 I made a choice… “I am pretty sure ALL of this is going to hurt the rest of the day. I am going to run 65+ miles in pain and nothing short of a broken leg is going to stop me.”

When I came into the Mile 38 checkpoint, everyone immediately noticed my emotional turn-around and commented on it. They were ALL relieved to see me smiling and joking again. My plan the rest of the day was to take 10-20 minute breaks and work on eating and maintaining my well-being (getting massages, talking to my friends and mom to ease the discomfort), normally, the aid station breaks would be 3-7 minutes long, typically around 5-minutes. I didn’t care about time anymore. I didn’t care if I finished last. From that point forward, the Aid Station officials and HAM operators (the people radioing in time and position) would ask me if I was dropping when I had been in the car for about 15-minutes. That was typically my signal to get up and GO. The next section was the FINAL section of the course I did not already know from training.
I had done EVERYTHING from Mile 43 to Mile 100.8 at least twice, sometimes backwards and forward. This was what got me through Miles 38 – 43, which seemingly took FOREVER. I knew I’d have a mental boost of KNOWING the rest of the course.

At Mile 43, I knew I was a mere 10-miles from a BIG group of friends and family AND my first opportunity to run WITH one of those friends. Matt Armstrong was to be my first (of three) pacer(s), a support position implemented by most ultra-marathon race directors to help ensure the safety of the participants. Thinking of Matt (and my friends) carried me through, up and over Mt. Hilyer. I was SO excited to see everyone, and to be "more than halfway done". In spite of my pain, I began to have fun (in some sick, twisted, disconnected from my body sorta-way). On the way out of the "Three Points" checkpoint, that little devil Kate was on the radio talking to Nick (Diablo) and Gareth (G-Money) about the awesome HOT, real dinner they were about to get to sit down to enjoy. GRRRRRRR. I turned my walkie-talkie off, I couldn't take it. I had been surviving thus far on PB&J, Gatorade, water, pretzels, Red Bull, Coke, and chicken-noodle soup. Climbing up Mt. Hilyer I met Jack Chang, a 46-year old Ironman triathlete who was also attempting his first 100-miler. He and I had a good laugh as we were literally walking backwards up the road climbing this mountain. Walking backwards spelled the discomfort of walking (or hiking or running) forward, as it was switching up the muscle groups. We were laughing heartily at the sight of each other, still moving forward on the course but only looking where we had already been. We did this for the better part of 15-30 minutes of the climb and were joined by Mike Landa at the aid station near the top. Mike had attempted this race one year prior, but had pulled out about one-third of the way into the race. He was determined to finish this year, and EVERYONE who knew his story was pulling for him. I was always excited to see him, as I was inspired by his fierce determination. I left Jack and Mike after that aid station, I realized it'd be my LAST true alone time in the race.


I came into Chilao laughing at my pain. It was awesome to see some of my friends I had not yet seen that day. Matt was eager to get going. I was in no hurry. I sat down for the better part of 20-minutes and ate and chatted away. Vivian Hartman massaged my legs, Greg Minter advised me on all things (he is a 3-time finisher of the Badwater-135), my mom and Kate fetched water, food, and I changed shoes and socks. It was getting dark. This was to be the last checkpoint I would see in the light of day. After saying my good-byes again, Matt and I were off. We ran the next 7-miles disguised as heat-seeking missles. In the next 7-miles, we caught and passed 12-runners. At the halfway point, I was in 66th position overall, coming into the Shortcut Saddle checkpoint, I was in 54th overall. The rest of the evening was spent relentlessly running "to be done." The harder and faster I ran, the sooner the misery would end. Anything to keep you moving forward, right!?


Matt walks up to Jeff (my second pacer) and says something to the effect of, "buckle up, buttercup". Miles 53-60 were an incredible confidence boost. Kate was now worried I was running too fast and that I wouldn't have enough left to get over the last two looming and ominous mountain climbs in the final marathon of the course. Kate whispers to Jeff, "slow him down a bit" and poor Jeff has the yin-and-yang of knowing I'm now chomping at the bit of the "second sunrise" buckle (for those who beat the sun coming up the 2nd time) and the fear of all that if I continue on my frenzied pace, I will not only slow down, but I'll fail to finish. After some more chatter, Jeff and I are off. Off into the beauty and deadly quiet of the night we went. Jeff and I maintained that blistering pace for the first 8.5 miles of 15 miles. Position jumped from 54th overall to 44th. Jeff kept commenting on how strong I looked. I felt mentally strong but physically chewed up. It was a mind-over-matter game now, if I didn't mind (the pain), it didn't matter (how much it hurt). We hit the Newcomb's Pass checkpoint and I heard people screaming my name, but I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. Then I turned around to see a TV monitor and Kate and many of the SGV crew were on it yelling to get my attention. Then I realized that the BRIGHT LIGHT right next to the TV was a video camera, and we were essentially video-conferenced in. I had my walkie-talkie most of the day, but I had left it at the last checkpoint, so this was a really welcome sight. I was now about a 10k away from the final marathon of the course. This is where our pace really slowed, I began to fight sleep-depravation symptoms, and I fell for the first (and only) time in the 100-mile trek. Dropping into the canyons between Newcomb's Pass and Chantry Flats (the three-quarter mark) was eerie. It was beyond PITCH black darkness. It was so dark, it seemed to swallow up the lights on our heads and in our hands. At one point I lost my pacer, Jeff, and stood still in the rustling darkness for what seemed like 3-minutes waiting for Jeff to catch up. He had turned his ankle. Luckily, we were SO close now, maybe 1-2 miles left in this section. We hiked up out of the canyon into Chantry Flats. 74.5 miles down, 26.3 to go...


In the last 6+ miles I had passed a few people, and Jeff and I had been passed by a few. I was in 43rd position heading into the final marathon. I spent a solid half-an-hour at Chantry hangin with friends. Vivian and Bruce had fired up the BBQ! Kate had arranged for a massage to get me going on my final marathon. Diane Isaacs (pacer # 3) was eager and ready to go. The table was SET for a memorable final section. Due to the rugged terrain and inaccessable nature of the final 26+ miles of mountain, there was NO point from here to before the finish where my crew could get to me. We set out for the most grueling climb of the day, up-and-over Mt. Wilson via the Wintercreek Trail. It was to be around a 6-mile climb that would take the better part of 1-hour, 45-minutes. This is where things truly began to unravel. At points in the climb, I was blacking out, my vision would completely go black. I couldn't walk in a straight line to save my life. Diane took the lead and began to push the pace, (likley) in an attempt to get me up and over this mountain sooner rather than later, or it may swallow me whole. I began to want to nap. JUST lay down in the dirt and doze off. This would have been the end of me as well, as my body temp. would plummet. Diane pleaded with me to keep going. Up top, the most amazing thing happened, literally the moment we began our run back down the other side of Mt. Wilson, I came alive. I went from half-asleep to fully invigorated. Diane couldn't believe how much stronger I was now running. We caught and passed a few more athletes. Coming into the Idlehour Trail checkpoint, we had moved from 43rd to 36th position and were still driving forward. At the Idlehour trailhead, we bumped into Jeff Stein, who was visibly exhausted. I asked him how he was and he said, "not that great, but I'm going to finish!" Jeff had done the all-night training run with us, and I was inspired by him as well. We pushed onward. After dipping down into the Idlehour Campground, in more pure darkness, we began our FINAL major climb, yet another 90-minute ascent up Mt. Lowe towards the Sam Merrill trailhead and checkpoint. I began to see people. I thought on more than one occasion that I saw the aid station / checkpoint. I was so relieved when we made it to the top, as I knew that in the final 11-miles, 9 of them were either downhill or flat. Two minor 1-mile inclines remained. Diane and I blazed down the mountain. Between the Sam Merrill Trail and the Millard Campground (6.5 miles) we caught another 5-athletes. It became a game. When we arrived at the FINAL aid station at the Millard Campground, I wanted to stay for breakfast. They had doughnuts and coffee!!! I resisted the temptation. Diane and I made the final 1-mile climb out of Millard and began to FLY down one of my favorite trails, the El Prieto Canyon trail. It is a 2-mile drop, rollercoaster style, to lower Brown Mountain Road which was about 1.5 miles from the finish line. I began to get radio signals via walkie-talkie from my crew who anxiously awaited my arrival. I couldn't get there fast enough. I think I may have jammed my BIG toe about 7 times in the last 5 miles. OUCH. I did it so many times that Diane didn't think twice when I screamed at an imaginary person in a tree who I thought (really) was going to shoot us. She thought I was just getting ornery due to all the toe stubbing. Maybe the pain was causing the hallucinations? We hit Lower Brown Mountain Road and the excitement built. WHERE DID ALL THIS ENERGY COME FROM??? I was 99-miles into a 100.8-mile race! We were almost done!!!


Diane and I streamed toward the finish line. It seemed we were running 6-minute miles, but was probably closer to 7-something. I peeled off layer after layer of clothing, threw aside my pack, dropped everything. We were REALLY here! 26-hours and 27-minutes after I began my journey in Wrightwood, I was here in Pasadena. GROUP HUGS!!!! Holy smokes, it was REALLY over!!!

WE just completed a 100.8-mile race!!!! I say WE because there was NO way I could have done it without ALL of the incredible support I received. There are SOME runners who did the whole race on their own, had their gear, food and fluid in "drop bags" dispersed throughout the course, then proceeded to run 100+ miles with NO crew or pacers. That's insane. I would have quit if it weren't for all of my friends and family being there. I believe that ALL of you now know about the cause. Just in case you didn't, I ran this 100-mile trek of insanity in honor of Sophie Hartman; a delightful 12-year-old-girl we lost a little more than one year ago (10/14/05) to leukemia. Sophie's mom and dad (Vivian & Bruce) both came out to the start and finish of the race and pretty much saw me at as many checkpoints as they could manage (Miles 13, 53 & 74 were particularly memorable). Other honoree's who came out included Van & Virginia Garner, Melanie Fastrup, and I also ran for the honoree's of other friends and fellow runners (every person who donated $100 or more could name someone else for me to run in honor of). A FEW of these people included Fred Akers, Jill Hemmer, Audrey Duffy, Monica Trent, Laura Povinelli, Nina Boluarte, Jeff Carroll, and many more who will be named, honored, and recognized in our upcoming AC100 Coffee Table Book. For those of you who wanted to donate and have not done so yet, you can do so here, there are still a few spots left for bios of honorees in the coffee table book ------>

To put in perspective EXACTLY HOW MUCH ALL of you helped...
*111 people started the race in Wrightwood
*30 people who started, failed to finish
*Every participant made it through the first marathon (and over Mt. Baden-Powell)
*Between Mile 26 & 53, 16 people dropped
*Coming out of the checkpoint at Mile 53, I was in 66th place overall (out of approximately 95 still in the race)
*I finished 27th overall of 81 finishers
*I / WE passed 33 people in nearly 48 miles
*6 people in front of us dropped out
*I completed the first 53.1 miles “fresh?” in 13-hours, 52-minutes (15:40 per mile)
*I completed the last 47.7 miles “less-than-fresh!” in 12-hours, 36-minutes (15:50 per mile)
*To me, this is a negative split considering there is MORE climbing in the 2nd half of the race and I was falling asleep in the last 26 miles!!!
*To others, it’s an even-paced-effort, in what is typically a progressively slower-and-slower pace throughout as 100 miles takes its toll on the body
*I fell ONE time, one!
*I jammed my left BIG toe about 8-times, and it was my biggest race INJURY… the toenail is mostly OFF, and I bled through my sock

The $1,000 question: Will I do it again? You bet I will. I will be running 100-mile trail races AT LEAST until we've found a cure for blood-cancers.

I leave you with one final, parting thought...

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: 'WOW!! What a ride!'”
-said by a running buddy of Dean Karnazes, from the book ULTRAMARATHON MAN



Angie said...

What a great story Jimmy. I am so very glad that you posted it. I am awed and inspired by your courage, drive and determination.

Shawna Barlette said...

Rock on dude! I am so proud of your accomplishment, and proud to count you as a friend and comrade in endurance racing. Umpstead....

olga said...

Awesome report and feeling recap! I am printing it for my future endevours:) Rock on!