Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Dom Layfield's 2022 Angeles Crest 100 Race Report

Article by Dom Layfield

PC: Ron Bijlsma

My entry for the 2022 edition of the Angeles Crest 100 was carried over from 2020.  The race was canceled in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, and then in 2021 due to forest fires.   So everyone had been waiting a long time for this race.

Even in 2022, the AC100 course bore the scars of the previous wildfires.  Damage from 2021 forest fires (and subsequent mudslides) had destroyed the road to Chantry Flats, a major checkpoint at mile 75 on the traditional race route.  The workaround for 2022 was to make the course and out-and-back over the first 51 miles of the regular route.  I had mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I was grateful to skip the hateful climb up Mt. Wilson; on the other, I expected that returning over Mt. Baden-Powell a second time would likely be harder still.

I previously raced AC100 in 2018, when I dropped at mile 60-ish, and then prior to that in 2016, when I came second.  This time around, I had relatively modest expectations.  Leading up to the event, I’d been dealing with erratic health, and I knew that my training had been a little on the light side.  Mostly, I hoped for a smooth, uneventful race.   

Start Line.  PC: Ivan Buzik

On the first climb, I found myself chatting to Dean Dobberteen, who previously ran the race with David Goggins and finished a mere four minutes behind him, back in 2007.   The runner behind him also said that he’d been inspired by David Goggins’ book.  He said he’d previously been 230 lbs (at 5’6”) and had taken up ultra running after reading DG.  By spooky coincidence, I’d just been sent a copy of Goggins’ magnum opus by a friend, mostly for the unintentional humor.  

Other veterans may disagree, but with AC100, I believe there’s almost nothing to be gained by pushing at all on the first long climb up Acorn.  This is a pretty steady, steep gradient, dictating an even hiking pace.  Once at the top, however, the dense forest gives way to mostly open ridge trails, dawn has finally broken, and the terrain becomes gloriously runnable.  At this point, everyone is fresh and positive.  The day is bright but still cool.  Nervous energy at the start has dissipated.   Months of preparation come into focus. The only downside is that everyone is well aware that many miles of running lie ahead.

I ran straight through the first aid station at Inspiration Point without pausing.  The field was still closely-spaced, and not stopping gave me a chance to get some separation from other runners.  Even though it is fun to get to know people, it’s easy to get distracted and accidentally go faster than one should.  Early in a race, it is often safer to run alone.

Inspiration Point.  PC: Ivan Buzik

I next ran with Xavier Perreault.  As I approached, something about him looked European to me:  the clicking of his hiking poles;  the flimsy Salomon (Kilian-esque) shoes.   So I was not in the least surprised to discover that he was Quebecois, and spoke English with a heavy French accent.  We leap-frogged back and forth for a while, and I enjoyed his company until I left him behind at the top of the descent into Vincent Gap.  I was disappointed to discover, after the race, that he dropped early, at Cloudburst.

Next, at the top of the descent into Vincent Gap, I came across a dog, a French Bulldog, I think, apparently alone, standing in the middle of the trail.  With no time to think, I just skipped over the top of him, fully expecting that as I rounded the next corner, I would see the dog's owner hiking up the trail.   Instead of encountering the owner(s), I came upon an entire pack of 10+ french bulldogs.  I think there was also a black lab in the mix, too.  This time, leaping over the entire group at once was not so trivial, and required me to execute a high-risk, high-consequence, triple-jump in order to avoid slowing down.  Again, however, there was no sign whatsoever of anyone who might be responsible for this pack of dogs.  The thought momentarily crossed my mind that they might actually be a group of feral dogs living in the mountains.  But then I quickly came to my senses and recognized the ludicrous improbability of a pack of french bulldogs managing to survive in the wild.  Running down the trail to VG, I never did encounter anyone who looked like they might be responsible for an escaped pack of frenchies.  It remains a mystery to me how these dogs got up there.

I had my first drop bag at Vincent Gap.  I dropped my headlamp, and picked up a baseball cap, sunglasses, and a couple of gels.  I began the long climb up Baden Powell (~3,000 ft over ~5 miles).   I like this climb.  On the downside, it is somewhat monotonous.  But what I like about it is that it is fairly consistently too steep to run comfortably (certainly in a race this long, unless possibly you’re chasing the win).  So you get to settle into a steady hike, relax, and refuel.  Typically, this is a good time to chat with other runners, but there wasn’t anyone near me, so this year it was a solo climb.

Baden Powell tops out into a long, runnable ridgeline that undulates and gently declines for the next few miles.  This is another sublime section of the course: the views are spectacular, the day is still cool, the legs are still fresh, and the trail is interesting enough to keep my fidgety mind occupied.   This early part of a long race is all about avoiding any overexertion, and I focused on keeping my heart rate on target, trying to avoid the temptation to push the pace, even for brief moments.

The descent into Islip started out a little more technical than I remembered (perhaps because of recent rockslides?) but then became a delight: fast and smooth.  There had clearly been a fire since the last time I was on it, and the trail went through a significant burned-out area.  However, this part at least seemed like a minor blaze, and not hugely devastated.

Descending into Islip saddle.  PC: Ron Bijlsma

I came into the Islip aid station and saw the familiar face of Ben Atkins, who was super positive, telling me that I was doing great, and was in about 10th place.  I wasn’t quite ready for his high energy.  Mentally, I was trying to remain as calm as possible, staying a zen-like state.  But this was the first aid station of the race where I felt I needed significant assistance, and boy, did the Islip volunteers deliver.   Too often, aid stations lack any coordination: you run in and have to ask where the drop bags are, go find your bag, then double back to find a chair you can sit on while accessing your bag, then double-back further to refill water bottles.  Then walk somewhere else to find food.  While volunteers are always friendly and helpful, they are often inexperienced and disorganized.   

At Islip, my pit-stop was like a well-oiled machine.  Someone found my drop-bag and brought it to me.  As I started pulling out my arm-sleeves and bandana, another volunteer took my hydration pack and refilled the reservoir.  Another filled my soft flasks with water.  Another shoveled ice into my sleeves.  It was all super-slick, and I was in and out quickly, with no stress, and with all the many little tasks accomplished.

In my rush packing gear for the race, I was unable to find my trusty sewn-up bandana that I use to hold ice around my neck in hot races.   I knew AC100 was going to be hot, and that this was a significant oversight.  However, I did have multiple pairs of arm sleeves, and it had occurred to me that I could tie off one end, and secure the other with a rubber band, making an ad-hoc ice sausage.  I’m glad to say that this worked surprisingly well: the only real drawback was that I had to instruct volunteers not to overfill it, so that it could drape around my neck without bouncing off.

One of the fascinating aspects of hundred-milers is that they are often as much about logistics as strategy or fitness.  Compared to notorious scorchers like Western States or Badwater, Angeles Crest is not a particularly hot race.  Even so, the sun can make the day feel much hotter than the thermometer would suggest.  And from mile 25 to 75, a significant amount of attention needs to be devoted to staying cool.  From previous hot races, I’ve learned the value in wearing arm-sleeves that can be filled with ice; with a neck gaiter/bandana that can similarly hold ice.  In the middle of the day, I run with two soft-flasks of water: not for drinking, but for pouring over my head and body to stay cool.

As I jogged out of Islip aid station and up the hill, I was clanking away with so much ice that I sounded like the Tin Man, and I reflected that I had probably overshot on the cooling.  It was, after all, only 10 am at this point.  But I felt relaxed and happy.  Better to err in this direction, and have my icing routine fully debugged by the time things got really hot.

Kratka Ridge (near Eagle’s Roost).  PC: Paksit photos

The next section of the AC100 course is mostly along the highway, with some minor detours along side-trails, and is definitely monotonous.  I didn’t see anyone in sight, ahead or behind me.  Again, however, I tried to reframe this as an opportunity to keep my effort level and heart rate tightly on target, to stay cool, regularly dousing my head and shoulders with water, to make sure I was staying on top of hydration and fuel.   My legs were starting to tire, and I could feel the lack of training, but generally everything felt solid and on track.

Kratka Ridge.  PC: Paksit photos

On the long climb up to Cloudburst, I caught up with Jorge Pacheco.  Jorge is a legend in the local running community, and has run this race a ridiculous number of times, including several wins.  So I was very surprised to see him walking up the road, particularly this early in the race.  We exchanged a few words, and he didn’t seem to be injured or even stressed.

After Cloudburst aid station (and another ice and water refill), the course continued to feel empty.  Nobody ahead or behind.  With so much pavement, there was nothing to dwell on but how hot it was, and how tired I felt.  (How tired?  Well, not much, to be honest, but I believe you should feel fairly fresh until at least the half-way point in a race.)

The final few miles before Three Points were back on trail, and it felt great to finally get off the road.  The variety of the trail provided again provided enough distraction to quell my gently escalating anxiety, and I settled happily back into a steady rhythm.  At Three Points aid station, I was pleased to see another familiar face, Pedro Martinez, who was volunteering.  I was settling into my aid-station rhythm: refill ice, refill soft flasks with water, refill reservoir with carbohydrate drink, drop trash, pick up new gels, and out.  Nobody gave me any information about what place I was in, or how far ahead the next runner was, and I pointedly avoided asking.

Arriving at Three Points aid station.  PC: Pedro Martinez

I finally passed another runner on the climb up to Mt. Hillyer.  This was nobody I recognized, but we exchanged the usual brief words of encouragement to each other, and I soldiered on.  Again, I tried to keep my focus on staying cool, relaxed, and not overexerting myself.  

On the Hillyer to Chilao segment, trails started to feel much more populous, with both mountain bikers and climbers enjoying the boulder field.  Then on the last descent into Chilao, I passed another couple of runners who were chatting happily away to each other as if they were just out for a social jog around the park.

At Chilao, the aid station was startlingly crowded, and I arrived right after what I assumed was the first female runner – in retrospect, I think she must just have been a pacer.  Then the two runners I had just passed came in perhaps a minute or less behind me.  Compared to every other aid station so far that day, where I had been the only runner in the aid station, Chilao felt busy and chaotic.  I tried to remember the various items I needed to accomplish, but immediately after I left, I realized I’d forgotten to put ice in my arm sleeves.  Not a fatal error, but annoying nonetheless.  Up to this point, I’d felt like I was executing well.  Now I fretted that the cracks were beginning to open up, and I hoped I wouldn’t make a more significant mistake.

I cast my mind back to the 2016 AC100, when I’d run through the Shortcut aid station leading the race.  At that point, I was both surprised and stressed to find myself in front of everyone.  In my haste to get out of the aid station before the pursuing field could catch a glimpse of me, I forgot to refill my drinking reservoir.  

On the subsequent climb up to Newcomb Saddle, I got hot and dehydrated, and arrived in a disoriented daze that took hours to recover from.  That single mistake may have cost me the win that year.  Who knows?  At any rate, I have looked back many times and cursed my stupidity.   Six years later, I was happy not to feel the pressure of being in contention for the win, but still determined not to make easily avoidable mistakes. Performing well in hundred-milers is so much about logistics, and it is terrifyingly easy to squander months of training in a moment of careless haste.

Since I had less cooling capacity than I planned, and I knew this was a longer gap to the next aid station, and through the hottest part of the course, I was frugal with my water bottles.  Instead of dousing myself liberally with water, I was careful just to wet my hat to keep my head cool.  After the last of my neck ice melted, I tried to do the math: how many minutes to the Shortcut aid station, how long did I need to make each soft flask last?  

The canyon before Shortcut was ferociously hot.  There was no shade, almost no vegetation, and the exposed rock, directly facing the sun, radiated heat.  My mental strategy in this situation is to tell myself – despite the fact that I am suffering – that I am managing the situation better than the other runners around me, suffering less, and conserving more strength.   It only half worked here.

About halfway down the long descent to the base of the canyon, I encountered the first returning runner, Michael Eastburn, I believe.  He looked strong and fixated, and had opened up a commanding lead over the chasing pack.

I saw the next two runners: Wyatt Million, closely followed by Mario Martinez, right at the bottom of the canyon.   I was happy to see Mario up there at the front, as I’d been watching his preparation on Strava, and knew he had been training like a machine.  He had done the hard work and deserved a great result: he was on my shortlist for the win.

What perplexed me, however, as I hiked up the grunt of a climb up to Shortcut, was that I didn’t see any other runners coming back down.   I believed that I was in seventh place or thereabouts, so I was expecting to see several other runners, including Dom Grossman, who I knew had been far ahead of me earlier.

Coming into Shortcut, the aid station volunteers were outstanding.  It helped that I was again the only runner they were having to deal with, but they were super helpful, getting everything I needed quickly and efficiently, making suggestions about anything I might need, making sure I didn’t forget anything.   When the rubber band holding my jerry-rigged neck gaiter snapped, one of the volunteers even pulled off her hair tie to secure it.  (A huge retrospective thank you to my savior!)

As I left the aid station, I asked, “so am I in fourth place?”   Absolutely, they assured me.  I asked where everyone else had gone.  It seemed as if three or four runners had evaporated.  Nobody knew.  Someone suggested that maybe they had missed a turn.  I hoped that was not the case.  Nothing in ultrarunning  is as frustrating and disheartening as getting off course.  Still, I was elated to feel that I was chasing the podium.  Suddenly my race had a new focus.

The turnaround gave me a chance to assess how close other runners were behind me, and I was pleased that nobody was snapping at my heels.  It was far too soon to think about racing other runners, either chasing or staying ahead.  But knowing that there was nobody close by meant that it would be easier to keep my focus on my plan, and not get distracted.  

The climb out of the canyon was blazing hot, and I was already tired.  But I was relaxed. This time I was fully laden with ice, and was back on track, executing according to plan.  I reiterated to myself my mantra that I was managing the heat better than my fellow runners, and pacing more conservatively.  Even though I knew that second and third were far ahead – and looking strong – I felt comfortable that I could maintain my position.  And if I got lucky, there was a chance that someone ahead of me might blow up.  Still, the finish line was far, far away, with many hard, hot miles ahead.

Other runners came thick and fast, which provided a welcome distraction, an opportunity to high-five each other and call out words of encouragement.

Chilao on the return was even more chaotic than in the outbound direction, now dealing with runners moving in both directions.  This time, however, I was expecting the hubbub, and wasn’t stressed.  Mt Hillyer aid station was only a short distance ahead, so even if I missed something here, I knew I would have the opportunity to replenish within an hour.

I passed the last stragglers descending Mt Hillyer.   Then I fell in with Joachim Cassell, another Brit ex-pat. I was initially confused that another racer had somehow appeared out of nowhere, and was relieved to learn that he was just out for a training run in preparation for Kodiak.  It was a welcome distraction to spend a few miles with him, and not worry about competition.

Leaving Mt. Hillyer.  PC: Jeff Sewell

Hillyer aid station was quiet and the trails empty again.  I made steady progress through Three Points, where I saw Pedro a second time, apparently logging a marathon double-shift volunteering at the aid station.   As I was leaving I was told that the runner ahead of me had left only about seven minutes earlier.   This was good news, I was catching him.  Still, I was starting to feel ragged, and didn’t feel inclined to chase in any meaningful way.

On the long climb up from Three Points to Cloudburst, I kept looking ahead of me, first on the trail and then on the road.  There were long stretches where I could see far ahead, but I never glimpsed another runner.   I began to doubt that I’d heard correctly.  If he were seven minutes ahead, surely I would be able to see him.  Maybe the volunteer had said ‘seventeen’, or maybe I’d misunderstood completely.

When I arrived at Cloudburst, the volunteers said that the apparently invisible runner ahead had just left.  Again, this was positive news, but my legs were feeling leaden and I didn’t feel much appetite for the hunt.  If anything I went slower, not faster.

A side note:  I hugely enjoyed the soup at Cloudburst.  Big props to the chef, who told me that the recipe came from the Cascade Crest 100 race.   It tasted like a salty, oily, potato and vegetable soup.  Perhaps too dense for everyday consumption, but heavenly after 14+ hours of running.

I puttered along the road at a steady, but lackluster pace.  I was well aware that more than 25 miles remained, and the hardest part of the course was yet to come.  There seemed to be minimal upside to pushing and exhausting my meager reserve of strength.

Just after passing through the tunnels,  (Terrifying BTW.  A car belted past me at mach schell, seemingly inches away, and leaning on the horn, resulting in deafening volume of sound, and inducing a panic attack.)   I passed a car parked at the side of the road.   Improbably, a voice called out, “Is that Dom?”  The voice in the dark turned out to be Tim Christoni (another local ultrarunning luminary and AC100 veteran).   He told me I was doing great and that Mario was “about 15 minutes up”.   Until this point, it hadn’t occurred to me to identify the runner I’d been chasing.  For some reason, I hadn’t put two and two together and realized that I was chasing Mario.  Indeed, I wasn’t even clear from this latest nugget of information whether Mario was the guy just ahead of me, or the guy ahead of him.  Everything was fogging up in my brain.

When I got into Islip, I changed my shoes and picked up hiking poles.  I took my time, knowing that the climb back of Baden-Powell was going to be a brute.   Once again, the aid station volunteers were marvelous.  Patient, helpful, and attentive, with useful reminders to make sure I had lighting with backup.  Baden-Powell would *not* be a good place to be without a headlamp in the dark.

With tired legs, I really enjoyed having hiking poles on the long ascent up BP.   After 16 hours of running, being able to spread the load made a huge difference.  I didn’t exactly feel fresh, but I still had a little gas in the tank, and for the first time, I allowed myself to enjoy the idea that the race had entered its final phase.  I could see Mario’s headlamp flickering in the distance.  I was glad to see firstly that he had a healthy lead, and secondly that he seemed to be pulling away.  That meant again that I didn’t need to chase.  All I could do at this point was to focus on keeping my own shit together.

As we climbed higher, I began to feel worse and worse. I have found that I’m unusually sensitive to altitude, particularly when fatigued.  At UTMB, for example, I develop headaches and feel crappy near the top of each ascent, and then feel much better after I start to descend.  This cycle repeats like clockwork with each big climb.  And UTMB is far from a high-elevation race!  I had been anxious that something like this would happen at AC100, but I wasn’t prepared for quite how bad it got.  

Not only did I get the usual headache and malaise, but I also became light-headed and dizzy, and started to worry about falling off the trail and tumbling down the side of the mountain.  I tried to estimate the consequences: how far would I fall?  How long would it be before another runner came by?  Would I develop hypothermia?  I was shocked at how awful I was feeling, and also alarmed by my melodramatic and confused mental state.  I seriously considered turning around and going back to Islip.  But given the long ascent up Baden-Powell, it wasn’t clear that turning around and going back would get me off the mountain any faster than going forward.   I was grateful for the extra assistance of my hiking poles in staying upright.  By the time I reached the summit, I felt like death.  Normally, I fly down descents, even late in a race, and had been looking forward to a huge boost in speed.  (And the feeling that the race was almost finished.)  But at this point, I didn’t feel well enough or stable enough on my feet to do anything beyond a walk. 

As I descended, I gradually started to recover, and was able to gently pick up the pace.  However, now I experienced a new crisis: my gut was rebelling and I felt an urgent need to poop.  I was confident that the aid station would have porta-potties, and tried to hold it in long enough to get to Vincent Gap.  Unfortunately I ran out of time, and had to detour off the trail to dig an emergency hole.  

After all of this overwrought time-wasting, I was thus shocked to see, as I looked down to the lights of the Vincent Gap aid station, the flicker of a headlamp below me.  If that was Mario’s headlamp, then he had slowed abruptly, so he was apparently doing even worse than I was.  I never actually saw him in the flesh, but when I came into the aid station and asked how far ahead he was, I was told that he’d literally only just come in, and was still there, being looked after by his crew.

I frittered away a good amount of time at Vincent Gap aid station, enjoying the calm and security, and feeling relief after my mental crisis at the summit of Baden-Powell.  But I was aware that there was just one more section of the race to go, and I was reaching the point where all I wanted was for the race to be over.  As I ran out of the station, and thanked the volunteers, I forgot to ask when Mario had left.  Surprisingly, I couldn’t see his headlamp ahead of me, and neither could I see any light behind me.  I was puzzled: did this mean he was still in the aid station?  Or was he just way ahead and out of sight?  I guessed that I was now in third place, but I didn't feel much confidence.  Either way, I had to finish this race, and with another three hours still remaining, I knew I had to just focus on moving steadily and keeping myself together, not forgetting to eat and drink.

I felt pretty good on the steep climb out of Vincent Gap.  “Pretty good” in the very limited way that one does ninety miles into a race, i.e. “slightly less terrible”.   I knew this was the last big climb of the race, and finally allowed myself to start counting down the miles to the finish.   I pushed a little for the first couple of miles, again feeling the benefit of the hiking poles on the uphill, but soon enough I ran out of steam.   As the incline leveled off, I knew I should be running more than I was, but there didn’t seem to be anyone close to me, ahead or behind, and I couldn’t find the motivation.

It wasn’t until the final checkpoint, at Inspiration Point (mile 93 according to my watch), that I finally got clarity that I was in third place.  The volunteers there confirmed that only two runners had passed through.  I still had a gel left, and liquid in my reservoir, so I didn’t bother to refill supplies, and ran straight on without stopping, now fully fixated on the finish.

The final ridgeline seemed completely unfamiliar.  Even though I’d run along this same trail just twenty hours earlier, nothing looked as I expected.  When I tried to replay my memory of the route, in reverse, nothing seemed right.  I felt some small relief when I reached the pond at the top of Mountain High resort.  At least that was an unambiguous landmark that I did recall.

My altitude headache also returned around this time, at which point the elevation was barely over 8,000 ft, and I was annoyed and disappointed at the wimpiness of my sea-level body.  Thankfully, it was nothing like as bad as Baden-Powell: no dizziness or disorientation, at least.

The last turn down to Wrightwood finally appeared.  I had been relishing this final descent all day long.  I love to run downhills, and I knew at this point there were just three and a half miles to go, all downhill, starting with a lovely, runnable, smooth trail.  But the “lovely, runnable, smooth” descent felt steeper than I expected, and I couldn’t really summon any drive to pick up the pace.  Furthermore, I knew that I was going to be racing UTMB in just three weeks (I’m actually writing this in Chamonix) and told myself that I needed to minimize the wear and tear on my body.  So I trotted gently downhill, lacking any feeling of urgency, and in something of a daydream.

Then, just as I exited the forest and hit the paved road into town, I was jolted abruptly out of my trance.  Right behind me, there were headlamps.  And I mean, literally, just yards away.  Suddenly, I was wide awake.  Time to hustle!  I started to run very fast.  I needed to get ahead of whoever had caught up to me, to show them that I still had plenty of strength left to stay ahead.  To my relief, the speed came easily.  After many miles of minimal effort, my legs felt surprisingly fresh, and I still had additional headroom available if it became an all-out sprint to the finish.

Despite being literally out of the woods, I was not figuratively “out of the woods”.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)  I knew that the mile or so to the finish was a long straight downhill, followed by a turn to the right.  But there were no markings (or no obvious markings, at least) on the road.   I passed several turns to the right that I was pretty sure weren’t the correct one.  Then another.  There were now motivational signs on every corner (“Go!”, “You got this!”, etc.) but as far as I could see, these didn’t seem to indicate the turn.  I stopped at each junction and peered off to the right, but could see no markings or signs of life in either direction.  Behind me, I could see the headlamps flashing close behind, so I continued to sprint downhill.

I continued downhill on Acorn Street, until the road just stopped at a dead-end, with no way to go forward, and only a turn to the left – which I knew was the wrong direction.  I turned around and to my consternation, saw no headlamp behind me, only a dark and empty street.  That meant that not only had I missed the turn, but also that the runners behind me (I assumed this was one racer and his pacer) had watched me miss the turn, made the turn themselves, and had not made anattempt to alert me.   It didn’t seem to make sense.

I ran back uphill one block, and took the next turn to the left.   After another block, this road also ended.  I turned right and ran another block uphill, then turned left again.  I still couldn’t see any course markings, but this road stretched ahead several blocks at least.  After I’d run another block in this direction, I saw another motivational sign, and was finally confident that I was back on track.  Another block passed and I turned into the finish area and crossed the line.

I was agitated and confused.  What had just happened?  I couldn’t wrap my head around it.   How could you watch the runner right in front of you go off course less than half a mile away from the finish of a 100-mile race, and do or say nothing at all?  

I have been in similar situations many times.  For example, at a race in Utah, I had been chasing the runner in front of me down the final descent and then saw him make a wrong turn.  I yelled at him to point out that he was off-course, then waited while he turned around and came back, and allowed him to finish in front of me.  I would have expected something similar here.  If that was too much to ask, a lesser option might have been to finish together.  At the very least, one would at least yell out a warning.  To do nothing seemed incomprehensible.   

The runner who had just finished ahead of me was pumped up and elated at his podium finish.  He hugged me.  I hope I had the good manners to congratulate him without reservation, although to be honest, I don’t recall with any confidence whether I did so.   I wanted to be happy for him.  But I was seething, and didn’t trust myself to say much.   Mostly, I was struggling to comprehend the situation.  I knew I was exhausted and confused.  Perhaps I had completely misjudged things.  

I sat down in a daze.  Rather than feeling happy, able to relax and enjoy the satisfaction of having finished a hard and beautiful race, I was sullen and frustrated.  Instead of being pleased to have come in fourth, I was now bitter that I hadn’t taken third.

I knew I should be thanking Gary and his team for organizing the race.   I should be waiting for other runners to come in, to congratulate them.  Instead, I slunk grumpily to my car and drove back to the motel where I was staying, full of bile and resentment.

I had only partially recovered my good humor at the awards ceremony the next morning.  Happily, now, weeks after the race, my bitterness has faded, helped by quickly paving over the memory with other races.   It took a while for me to come to the obvious realization that I’ve only myself to blame.   I hope I’ll eventually be able to completely bury this sorry episode by returning to Angeles Crest 100 better prepared.   While I’m definitely no longer as fast as I once was, older runners have achieved good results at this event, most notably, the great Ruperto Romero, who won in 2019 – by more than an hour – aged 55.   No excuses for me, then!

I also need to remember that so many runners had a much worse day than I did. In the grand scheme of things, getting pipped at the post after taking a wrong turn is pretty small beer.  I feel particularly sorry for Mario Martinez, who had been in third place most of the day before the wheels came off his bus.

Finish line photo with RD’s Gary Hilliard and Ken Hamada.  Despite only coming in fourth, I was first ‘solo’ runner (no crew, no pacer), and so was lucky enough to win a magnificent cougar trophy and a very fancy Coros Vertix GPS watch, in addition to the engraved plaque awarded to all finishers, and belt buckle for finishing under 24 hours.

Gear Notes:

  • Shoes.  I opted for Hoka Tecton X (RTR Review) for most of the race, but switched to Speedgoat 5’s (RTR Review) at mile 75.  The change wasn’t really necessary, but I had been nervous that the untested (beyond ~10 miles) Tectons were a potentially risky choice, and had stashed a backup pair of shoes in my drop bag, just in case.  When I got to Islip, switching shoes seemed like something that might give me a mental boost.  I did sustain some toenail damage, but I’m not clear which shoe was the culprit .  This was unusual for me, as I’ve an excellent track record of keeping my feet intact in ultras, even 100-milers.  The state of my feet heading into UTMB was a little scary.

  • Socks.   I opted for tried-and-tested Drymax.  I’ve used these socks in so many ultras now, that I’ve long since lost count.

  • Hydration Vest.   I used a Salomon ADV Skin 5L Set, now several years old.  I keep trying new hydration vests, and still haven’t found anything as good as this.  The only downside is that the lightweight chest closure system is a little fiddly.  (Really hard to operate with gloves on, but that wasn’t an issue in this warm-weather race!)

  • Poles.  Again, I stuck to tried-and-tested gear and used Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles.  I know a lot of people like the glove-based Leki system, but the BD was a better choice here, where I knew I would only be using poles for a portion of the race.

  • Nutrition.  A mishmash here, which is partly intentional.  I’ve yet to find any single product that I can consume happily during long races.  At some point almost anything tastes unpleasant, and I’ve found the best strategy is to use a variety of lightly-flavored offerings.  Some favorites are GU Roctane salted caramel gel, which I buy in a 15-pack pouch and decant into a multi-serving soft-flask to minimize waste.  I also enjoy the Spring Energy Wolf Pack.  Lately, I’ve started to appreciate the more gelatinous gels from NeverSecond (and similarly Maurten and Precision Fuel) that I find easier to gulp down than the traditional thicker syrupy kind.

  • GPS watch.   Just ahead of this year’s UTMB, I decided to upgrade from my Garmin Forerunner 935 (now about 5 yrs old) to a shiny new Forerunner 955 Solar.  I expected that the new watch would have significantly better battery life.  Angeles Crest 100, which would happen mostly in the daytime, with bright sunlight – so maximizing any photovoltaic charging benefit – seemed like an optimal use case for the watch.  Ahead of the race, I charged the 955 to 100%, I turned off bluetooth and wifi, and disabled the wrist-based HR measurement.  (With regard to the latter, I’ve never found wrist-based HR measurement to be reliable, and always use a chest strap during races.)   My expectation was that there would be plenty of battery capacity remaining at the end of the race, even if I was slow.   However, I was dismayed after about 21 hours to see a low battery warning, followed very shortly thereafter by the watch shutting down.  Consequently, I didn’t record the last five miles or so of the race.  (And perhaps the mapping function might have saved me from missing that fateful final turn.)   Strava track here.   I didn’t read the fine print in the Garmin battery life guidance.  Out of the box, the Forerunner 935 runs in “All + multi-band” mode, which “enables multiple satellite systems on multiple frequency bands”.  This maximizes location accuracy (although it still got confused by Angeles Crest Highway tunnels), but evidently uses a lot of extra power.   A few weeks later, at UTMB, the same watch ran happily for ~32 hours in GPS-only mode, with about 30% capacity remaining.  (Strava track from UTMB)

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Joe said...

Thanks Dom - that was a wonderful read and very insightful. Congrats on the fourth place finish!

Jeff Valliere said...

Great write up and nice work out there! I sympathize with the wrong turn, happened to me once where I was running in 3rd and was gaining hard on 2nd place and would have certainly caught them, but somehow missed a hard right turn (unflagged) and lost 2 places. Somehow others made that turn though, so was my fault for not knowing the course, but I was still pretty pissed. The dude behind you capitalizing on your mistake though is especially lame.