A return visit to my first ultra. Flashback to January 2011. I’d just run a marathon distance long run – ’round and ’round the Silverlake Reservoir 12 times on the day after Christmas, after an autumn of nagging injuries and canceled road races.
Kista called me and said it was time to run try an ultra – 50K through the Mohave Desert in the Calico Mountains. Calico was also her first ultra, back in 2008.
Return trip 2012. We drove out in a rain storm that turned into a windstorm. Packet pick-up in Calico Ghost Town, but the town was literally being blown away, chunks of roofs of buildings flying through the air and Japanese tourists making a mad scramble back to their tour busses. The Rangers closed the town but left the Tavern open. We picked up our numbers and chatted with a few runners who were planning on camping in the desert the eve of the race.
Our friend Maggie Beach was running Brazil 135 – their version of Badwater. I’d been following the race online. She was just a few miles short of the finish when we’d taken off. Her race was one of the topics over dinner with friends at a pizzeria in Barstow.
The wind was gone in the morning. We said hello to Jorge Pacheco, chatted a bit with Badwater Ben, and then we were off. I ran with Kista for about a mile and then took off ahead.
I’d forgotten how sandy the course was. I’d also come up with the ridiculous idea of documenting the entire thing using a video camera attached to my head. The camera was bouncing, and I couldn’t tell when it was on or off. My other camera ran out of batteries. I head yet a third camera, loaded with film, and was wearing a jacket with pockets sufficient to hold all of this gear, and the whole thing was just a bad idea, and frustrating.
Ran a few miles with a friend who kept me entertained with stories about Ken Hamada, the crusty and somewhat ill tempered race director of AC100.
Any attempts to document the race were down the toilet due to gear failure, and any attempts to run a good race were similarly down the toilet as I’d spent too much time dealing with all the gear that was weighing me down. As usual, I debated quitting. I remembered, though, that the real beauty of the race is all in the second half, and so I dumped all the gear and extra jacket in my drop bag at the midway point and decided to just run the second half.
I was especially excited about hitting the rockslide. last year, I gingerly picked my way down the steep slope of scree. This year, I ran it, and shoe-skied down it, passing about five runners and spraying scree on my joyous way down.
It was on.
Calico, by my experience, is not the hilliest or most technical race in Southern California. It’s a classic desert race – sandy, rocky, opening with a long, slow 17 mile climb before busting out into a bunch of short rollers. There’s no singletrack – it’s mostly wide fireroad/ATV paths – but there are a lot of rocks, a lot of sand, and the aforementioned scree.
For some reason, Calico seems to get a number of runners from the East and Midwest whose ultra experience consists of pancake flat races and maybe even road. They were all in road shoes, and you’d think they were climbing Mt Everest the way they were carrying on. Not being much of a people person, I found some of this East Coast conversation annoying, which prompted me to run harder and leave these various chatterboxes behind.
When I hit the midway point, I was well behind last year’s time. About 8 miles from the finish and I’d made up that and then some. It looked like I could take about half an hour off last year’s time if I ran the last few miles nice and strong. I knew about the false finish – that stretch where runners come upon the town and finish and then, much to the uninitiate’s dismay, run right past it on an out-and-back. I knew about the final hill and saved up for it. I had a good kick at the end and passed a few guys in the last half mile.
Jorge Pacheco had set a new course record. The old record holder Roberto Leonardo took second. I talked to Jack Cheng, Donn Ozaki, Wilson Liu, and other assorted folks at the finish line, and then waited for Kista to come in. She finished strong, and made me promise not to let her run this race again as unprepared as she was this year, ’cause it’s oner she loves too much. For all that, though, she was just a few minutes off last year’s time.
Everyone admired her Sharpie drawn race tattoo. Lots of photos were taken. We hung around until the sun started getting low and then back home to LA.