Mount Disappointment 50K

My shoes, after the race

Sat. August 13. This is said to be the toughest 50K in So. Cali. We started at the top of Mt. Wilson, headed down, up down, up, down, up… 7,403 feet of climbing says my Garmin. Probably a dozen stream crossings. Long exposed climbs.

Because AC100 had traditionally been held in September, and because the Mount Disappointment course covers a lot of the same course (except in the opposite direction), Mt. D has been popular with AC100 runners. Past AC100 winner Jorge Pacheco has won Mt. D a number of times. This year’s AC100 winner Dominic Grossman has also posted one of the fastest Mt. D times. This year, however, with the new AC100 July 23rd date, the races were only 3 weeks apart, and most of the AC100 crowd runners were there to spectate instead. Pacheco (who dropped at mile 75 of AC100) was running the race. Diana Treister, George Velasco, Andy Kumeda, Sean O’Brien, and a handful of other AC100 runners were also there to run.

My friend and running partner Maggie Beach, who came in 2nd at AC100, had decided to drop and focus on recovery. She’d also run Western States 100 a month before AC100, and crewed/paced at Badwater in between those two. Her legs needed a rest.

A couple of days before the race she emailed me. “Enough of this recovery shit. Time to put on my big girl shorts and race. Can I ride with you?”

I picked Maggie up at 4:30 and we headed out to Mt. Wilson. Sunrise is particularly beautiful up there.

And we were off.

The first stretch was a 2.5 mile downhill on the paved Mt Wilson road, before turning off onto Valley Forge Trail down to Gabrielino Trail. Valley Forge is a beautiful soft loose dirt singletrack that heads down, sometimes a bit steeply. It’s wooded, and the latticework of light and shadows from the sun through the trees has proven visually challenging for me.

My recent runs have had me getting close to the ground on numerous occasions, and downright splat on a few. The last splat was a bad one, on the top of the Valley Forge trail during a Mt. Disappointment training run. I was determined not to take any spills this early and ran the downhill much more conservatively than I once would have.

Somewhere around the 3 mile mark I started cramping. By the time I got to Newcombe’s Saddle I’d had pretty much every cramp but menstrual cramps…(and I think I started my period on the climb up to Shortcut). I’d been ill a bit the days before and started the race dehydrated and with an electrolyte imbalance, and there was no amount of stuff I could drink that was gonna change that. I was popping salt pills like pez candy…to no avail.

Maggie was waiting at Newcombe’s Saddle. She hadn’t recovered yet from her 2nd place AC100 finish, and racing was probably a dumb idea. After taking a spill during one of the stream crossings and realizing that she really wasn’t sufficiently recovered, Maggie dropped and spent the next few hours helping at the aid station. Katie Desplinter (AC100 4th place woman) had been out for a run in the mountains and ended up stopping to volunteer at Newcombe’s Saddle as well.

People were passing me on the downhills, and I was passing them on the climbs, climbs I actually looked forward to, which is proof that reality had been turned assbackwards, ’cause that is not the way things work, except maybe in an alternate universe.

The climb up to Shortcut Saddle was 3,000 feet in 6 miles under blazing sun. Including the run down from Newcombe’s Saddle, it was the longest stretch between aid stations – 6 miles to a water only station, 9 miles to Shortcut Saddle. I’d run this stretch with Kista a few weeks earlier, so I knew what to expect. I powerwalked most of the uphill, and passed a bunch of people.

Shortcut Saddle was the 24 mile mark. From Shortcut came 4 miles of downhill on Silver Moccasin Trail. This is a beautiful stretch, but it’s a desolate beauty – this is burn area. It was also completely exposed and blazing hot. I ran this section as hard as I could without getting crazy. My left quad gave out and I took a quick and insignificant spill.

The next section involved about 8 stream crossings. Running was difficult because you couldn’t find much of a rhythm before the next stream crossing, and a lot of us were reduced to a walk, something I heard others complain about but which I didn’t mind as my legs had finally given out.

By the climb up Kenyon Devore, I was passing Search and Rescue guys as much as I was passing other runners. Everything was cramping and spazzing. Runners were sprawled on the trail. I concluded that there were a handful of people to blame for my predicament, got very pissed off at them for not having let me drop in the weeks before the race. I fueled an extremely painful climb with that anger. I couldn’t wait to get to the finish so I could tell them all to f*ck themselves.

There’s a spot where you round a corner and suddenly hear the hum of the generators from Mt. Wilson. At that point, the trail slopes gently down for about a half a mile just before the finish – one of the course’s few mercies. I’d intended to run this stretch but after about 50 meters I had to alter a stride slightly to evade a rock and couldn’t pull it off without kicking off muscle spasms. I was gonna have to walk that last stretch. I still managed to pass a few folks.

Maggie was there at the trailhead to cheer me on. Jorge Pacheco was too, I’m told, but I was too tired to notice. Kista, Luis, Pier, Drew, and the Beach kids were all at the finish line cheering.

Needless to say, Jorge Pacheco won, (and, I suspect, had a much easier time winning than I did finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack).

Everyone but Kista headed home. She helped me fill up with liquids, salt, and food, to stop the cramping enough that we could drive home. This ended up taking about 4 hours, during which time I watched a number of folks I’d passed in the last 10 miles straggling across the line 2 or 3 hours after I did.

When the race officially ended, there were still about 20 people on the course…and this was a race we needed to qualify for. Pacheco and Mari were still at the trail head cheering the last runners in. He spent more time doing that than he did running.

One of the things I love about these races are the people. Badwater Ben was there, taking photos. Fred Pollard, who has run nearly 100 ultras and didn’t start until he was 62 years old was there as a volunteer. (Fred was also the cook at Shortcut Saddle aid station for AC100). AC100 winner Dominic Grossman was there, as was his AC100 finisher girlfriend Katie Desplinter, who had been out on a run and ended up volunteering at Newcombe’s Saddle. Keira Henninger was at Redbox helping out, cheering folks on, and, mostly, supporting her boyfriend, who was running the race. Jimmy Dean Freeman was also there, cheering on everyone, but especially cheering on his wife Kate, who finished 2nd. The So Cali ultrarunners not racing were there as volunteers or just as cheerleaders. It is a wonderful community we have here.

The awards ceremony was held early so that the winners didn’t need to wait around. Along with the awards ceremony was a kid’s run. I’m not sure how long it was – I think it was just the final climb to the top. Smoky the Bear was there to entertain and educate and their swag bags were full of Smokey the Bear stuff. Maggie’s husband Bob came up with their 3 kids and then left them with Maggie and ran home, 20 something miles, all down hill, which turned out to be a great thing because he was finally able to experience trashed quads.

In the end, it didn’t suck and I didn’t cuss anyone out. I had modest ambitions for this race and came close enough to hitting them.

The day after the race, my old coach from the road running days cornered an ultrarunning friend and chastised her for running in the heat. She tried to explain that ultrarunning, especially on trails in the mountains at elevation during the heat of midday is somewhat different from an 18 minute 5K at sea level on roads, but it wasn’t registering with this guy. I hope no beginning ultra runner is foolish enough to listen to his bad advice. Ultra-training 101: train for (and under) the conditions of the race. If it’s a mountain race, train in the mountains. If it’s going to be run at altitude, train at altitude. If there’s going to be heat, train in the heat. To do otherwise is going to result in failure. I’ll bet some of the folks being carried off the course by Sierra Madre Search & Rescue would have a bit to say to this fool. Oh well.

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