Angeles Crest 100. 100 miles through Angeles Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains, starting at Wrightwood and finishing in town in Alta Dena, almost all trail, often technical, 23,000 feet of up and 26,000 feet of down, lots of the run at not insignificant altitude…and in heat…
I was crewing friend and running partner Maggie Beach. Kista and I arrived late in Wrightwood. Traffic’s always a little bad on a Friday afternoon, but I hadn’t expected it would not be moving on the freeway. When did Barstow become such a big attraction?
Wrightwood is a beautiful little town. Separately, each group in our party priced houses there. Inquiries were made about the town. It comes down to this: ski season is a nightmare. Wrightwood is close enough to be a daytrip from LA, and when there’s good snow the town is full of aggro big city snowboarders who park on people’s front lawns and pretty much have no respect for or consideration of anyone but themselves. The rest of the year the place is wonderful and bucolic. Unfortunately, the economy is largely dependent on these snowboarders and skiers, and so they need to be treated with a little more respect than they treat the locals.
There was a fair amount of talk about the prerace meetings. Apparently the mayor of Wrightwood did not entertain anyone all that terribly much with his magic show.
We had what must be the honeymoon suite at the Best Western on the corner of the 138 and the 15 freeways. I had no idea motels offered such deluxe accommodations. Super spacious, complete with king sized bed and walk in closet. This is where the honeymooning truckers stay, I guess. The condition of the pool and ice machine had certain people feeling a bit apprehensive, but neither Kista nor I (nor honeymooning truckers, I would imagine) were particularly concerned about either.
Up at 3am, coffee and strudel, and then off to Wrightwood for 4am checkin. Soon after that, the runners were off, and we went out for breakfast.
Jorge Pacheco was running strong – perhaps a bit too strong, his wife Mari thought. He came into Inspiration Point with a solid lead over #2 Dominic Grossman, and that lead continued to build. It’s often said that Jorge has only one gear, and so his races tend to follow a pattern: if he doesn’t drop at around the 75 mile mark, he wins. The question was whether or not Jorge could sustain this hard run for 100 miles. The answer, usually, is yes – he’s won Angeles Crest 100 4 of 6 finishes. What I don’t know is how many times he dnf’ed.
The women’s race was shaping up to be exciting. Past winner Keira Henninger was the favorite and was leading coming into Inspiration Point. Just behind her was my runner Maggie Beach, followed closely by Paulette Zillmer from Arizona. By Vincent Gap, the second aid station and 14 miles into the race, Maggie had taken the lead. By Islip Saddle, 26 miles and 5.5 hours in, Maggie held on to her lead and Paulette was in second. The three women would continue to jostle position for the first 40 miles.
Meanwhile, on a side note, whatever they put in the coffee at Wrightwood is not something I would recommend if you are going to run a race (or go for a long drive). I probably set a lifetime record for pissing. One cup of coffee miraculously turned into gallons of piss. It was stunning.
One idiosyncrasy that deserves mention: at most 100 milers, the runners are weighed regularly. Too much weight gain or loss and you could be pulled from the race. At AC100, the two scales used were old and each had unique characteristics. That’s a polite way of saying you might weigh 5lbs different between the two…and so runners were advised to make note of the scale used to weigh them during the pre race medical, and to make sure they used the same scale at every medical station. Maggies’ weight held. Jorge Pacheco was getting worried about his. Luckily, he had his own crew handling the weighins. AC100 is a little looser than, say, Western States.
71 finishers; 89 drops – the lowest finish rate in the race’s history. Only 8 sub 24 hr buckles. In 2008, there were 17.
Maggie had found some runner’s splits for a just-under-24-hour-race, and we were using that as a guide because we figured it factored terrain, heat, and other race specifics into the equation. In the 10 miles between Three Points and Chilao, she dropped behind pace. This was not necessarily indicative of her bonking, however. Everyone was faltering some, and all the runners were coming in late to Chilao.
Chilao aid station captain Dave Emmons says “The first runner Jorge Pacheco, last years winner, came in at 2:54, a full hour later than last year. He was pretty tired and spent a lot of time with his crew. Eventual winner Dominic Grossman came in 18 min. later and was having stomach problems. The first two would set the tone for the rest of the day as runners came in beat up from the first 50 miles…” It was at Chilao that the race started to sot itself out.
Dave Emmons also commented on the battle between Keira and Maggie: “Kiera Henninger and Maggie Beach came in at 4:38 and 42 and were racing. The pace was taking its toll. Women’s winner Paulette Zillmer came in at 4:58 and looked in control.”
Jimmy Dean Freeman has proven himself as an ultrarunner. A sub 24 hour finish at AC100 is an achievement. He certainly has his fans, too – an entourage of enthusiastic young Westsiders eager to cheer on their man. I imagine they are all part of the Coyote Running Club he coaches.
Jimmy Dean’s strategy was much different than our runner’s. For the first 2/3 of the race, both would arrive at an aid station at the same time, but Maggie would be out quickly whereas Jimmy Dean would linger, sitting in his chair, getting massaged, fed and tended to by his crew. It seemed to pay off. Jimmy Dean ran those last 25 miles strong. Maybe all that pampering kept him fresh.
Kista and I first met Bill Ramsey at Nanny Goat. He set up his tent next to ours, laid out all his gear, and crewed himself to a 100 mile finish.
Bill ran the Shortcut Saddle aid station. His aid station was a 100 mile run veteran’s aid station, and a Nannygoat and then some reunion. Nannygoat race director Steve Harvey was there. Fred Pollard (to whom I’d been introduced at Leona Divide) was also there, in charge of the grilling, which was being done on two stoves he’d just picked up 2 days before on Craigs list. Bill gave us the tour. He had suggestions about fighting nausea, which is something all the runners seem to battle in the latter stages of a hundred miler. Bill’s suggestions have always worked in the past. They are simple and sensible, which is not the sort of stuff that I often hear coming out of ultra runners when it comes to nutrition, hydration, etc. (The tendency is more towards mad scientist when it comes to that stuff). When I didn’t make my way to the medic to get the things Bill had suggested, he had the medic come to me.
Our crew took a break after Shortcut. The runners had 15 miles of mountains and one no-crew-access aid station at Newcomb’s Saddle before Chantry, which would be the last time we’d see any of them before the finish.
Chantry was heartbreaking. Jorge Pacheco was wrapped up in a blanket off to the side of his crew, who all had a pretty good buzz on. His nausea had gotten too much for him. After 1-2 minute stops through the first 7 aid stations, he was 10 minutes at Chilao, 8 minutes at Shortcut, and 14 minutes at Newcomb’s Saddle. Keira Henninger had her game face on but it was clear she was in both physical and emotional pain. It looked as though she dropped almost immediately upon arrival at Chantry. She and her crew were packing it up.
There were video monitors set up so that folks at Chantry could see and communicate with their runners at Newcomb’s Saddle. We caught a glimpse of Maggie but soon a larger crew swarmed the monitor, and that was the end of that.
Maggie came in to Chantry at 10:44pm. Like most of the runners at the 75 mile mark, she looked haunted. Second place was almost assured her if she could finish. Paulette Zillmer was 45 minutes ahead, so first place was out-of-reach unless Paulette dropped or faded badly.
Veterans say the race begins at Chantry. The last 25 miles are technical and challenging to a runner on fresh legs. In the dark, on legs that have already run 75 miles through the mountains, it’s more than a challenge. This is when the race gets mental more than physical. This is when your demons come out to play.
Maggie headed out with husband Bob as her pacer. 25 miles to the finish, 2 aid stations, and no crew access. It’s a marathon. Anyone can do a marathon. My friend’s 65 year old mom decided to run the LA marathon. She just got off the couch and did it. Zero training. It took her about 8 hours, and then she rode the bus home.
Jeff Pflueger, who ran the race, took the published splits and designed this really impressive graphing tool that lets us see any runner’s pace variations through the race. It’s excellent for post race analysis, also known as armchair quarterbacking. It looks a bit to me like Maggie started out a bit too strong and faded. Was this bad strategy? Was this because she was racing Keira? Perhaps it was WS100, run just a month earlier, and 60 miles pacing at badwater in 120 degree temps, just 10 days earlier, all catching up to her. It’s got to be hard to gauge what you’ve got left in the tank after a month of that kind of running. Whatever the case, she powered out a second place finish. Not too shabby.
We headed out to the finish line in Alta Dena. We reckoned it would be another 7 hours before Maggie came in, although the male front-runners would be coming through earlier, at around 2am. Kista and I rolled out sleeping bags and slept in the back of the truck. We would wake up on occasion to cheers as someone crossed the finish line.
At 4:30 the rest of the crew called. They were headed down to the trail head to run Maggie in. This seemed a little hopeful; I didn’t expect Maggie in for another couple of hours. It was still dark. I headed out and cheered on a handful of runners coming in. I was surprised at how many seemed to be running without pacers. The Coyotes arrived soon after and took over the trailhead for a bit, howling loudly for their guy.
After a few hours, we spotted Maggie’s red shirt nearing the bottom of the hill and started cheering. By this time, Maggie’s 3 kids had arrived, as had assorted friends. She actually managed a run up the hill, and then we ran her in to the finish a mile away. As we started down the road she asked me what place she was in. I told her second. She seemed satisfied and said she wanted me to make sure no other women snuck up behind her, but the closest one, Natalie Sims was almost two and a half hours behind.
One last note: after Western States, I noticed how stiff legged all the runners were. They had nothing left below the waist. But after AC100, the runners had nothing left anywhere. They were physically and mentally trashed. You could see it most in their eyes.