I started the run in the first wave at 5 am with about 30 other runners. Having run the first 10.5 miles of the course a few weeks before, I knew there was a lot of climbing and I took my time.
Let me share a little of my training with you. First, the only hill training I did was the first 10.5 miles of the course, which I ran January 2nd. I have a bad left ankle and after the beating it took running back down the 10.5 miles, I wasn't even going to run this race. But, as the race date crept closer, I thought, "I didn't bring enough water, I had nothing to eat before, or during the training run, and with enough food and water, I could do this thing. Plus, I had already paid for my entry." So, did my lack of hill training concern me? A little. In it's place I did weight training and the stairmaster at the health club. Was that smart? No. But, I am 50 years old, and my left ankle can only take so much. Seventeen years ago I had ankle surgery to correct a genetic defect, stop me if you heard this one...but it didn't make it better. In fact, it made it a lot worse. I am told that if I didn't have the surgery, I wouldn't be running today.
So, here I am at the start with my wonderful, supportive, non-running wife, Colleen, headed into another day of mystery. And for me that is a big part of what draws me to ultrarunning, the unknown. I've got my flashlight and my gloves, and off we go!
I hear that a lot of runners don't like running in the night, not me, I love it. Especially when there are no city lights near and I can see stars all around. And this morning there were plenty of stars to see.
We're about a half-mile into the run when I see a bunch of beams from flashlights coming towards be, back down the course. We're already off course. For me it's no big deal, I'm at the back of the pack and I only have to retrace a few steps. We get back on track and I'm looking at the city lights below, and the stars above when I notice that my hands are already warming up. That was fast. I'm no longer cold at all, I'm comfortable and taking my time.
Since I do all of my training alone, I know no one in this race, and I have brought my ipod to keep me company. I have run two 50 milers, and one 100 miler with my music. I didn't know it, but today was going to be different.
Somewhere around mile two, three, or four, a woman about my age is running the same pace as myself. We both say, "Good job!" and "Looking good!" to each other, but after a few minutes, we notice that neither of us is going anywhere. So we start talking, and I told her that I had ran the first 10.5 miles a month before, and that it's going to remain mostly uphill for the next few miles, etc. I find out that her name is Kim and she runs about ten ultras a year. WOW! I've run three this past year. I learn that Kim is one day older than me, that her spouse also doesn't run, but he's very supportive and he volunteers at the events she running.
With all this talking were at the first aid station, mile 6.5 before we know it. No one is there, but fortunately, there is water. I fill up my bottles, Kim has a hydration pack and doesn't need any water at this time, and waits for me. I tell her to feel free to go ahead, she tells me that she's in no rush. I look around at the beauty that surrounds us. We can see the ocean from here, and what I think is Catalina. It's hard for me to believe that we're still in southern California.
We head up to mile 10.5 and there we meet Billy and Lori. They've got a boom box with music blasting and huge smiles on their faces. They are happy to be there and it shows. We both fill up with water and GU, say our goodbyes and head out.
We take a left hand turn and head down a steep trail that doesn't have the easiest footing. It's single track, the first of the day. I love single track, and as we're running down this trail, I'm hoping that we won't have to come back this same way, it's too steep.
The day is getting warm, and by this time we're on relatively flat ground, here's where the first runner from the 6am wave passes us. I tell him, "Good job," and that "You're the first runner from the 6am wave to pass." He slows and turns around with a concerned look on his face, "Really," he asks. "Yes," Kim and I say. He says, "I hope I am not going out too fast." We never saw him again.
We both take off our long sleeve shirts, and leave on our short sleeves, we're running in and out of the shade, but it's getting warmer. We get to the next aid station, Kim knows a few of the volunteers, we reload, thank them and head out.
We cross some streams. I help Kim cross, she said she doesn't have good balance. I am glad to help. We both tried to keep our feet dry.
We're headed up a steep hill and we're getting exposed to the sun. Kim said that she should have grabbed another GU, and that she was needing energy. I had a couple of GUs so I gave her one of mine. She was going through a tough patch and she told me to go on. I looked at her and knew she was serious, I went ahead, but she was never out of my sight.
We were a couple of miles away from the next aid station, it was now was officially hot, and I was running out of water. At the last aid station I drank a look of water and instead of filling up both my water bottles, I discovered two miles from the next aid station that I failed to fill one of my water bottles. I wear a waist pack, and my water bottles are at my back. I was getting dehydrated starting to bonk. It was a long 2 miles to the aid station. Fortunately, I made it to the unmanned aid station, drank a lot of water, took 2 GUs, and by that time Kim arrived at the aid station, fully recovered herself, we headed towards the summit.
The next patch of the course was steep, however much of it was in the shade, and portions had snow on it. Combined with carrying enough water and the GU we made it to the summit without any real problems. But, it was a long morning. The time we reached the summit, it was almost noon. It had taken us almost seven hours to cover 22 miles of the course.
The volunteer support at the summit was excellent. "See you at mile 42," we were told as we left. I was thinking, "Mile 42, what time will that be?" Kim and I head down the summit and I call my wife, Colleen, on my blackberry, "Honey, I just left the summit and it took me seven hours to get to 22 miles. I'm running with a woman named Kim that I met only a couple of miles into the course. She was born the day before me, isn't that weird? I don't know what time I'll finish, but I'll call you later when I get closer to the finish."
Kim and I get to mile 23.5 and before we make a make a sharp left turn, a volunteer tells us to make sure to turn right at the bottom. This section is steep, single track, and we're careful with our footing. Halfway through we get passed by a man that was flying down the trail. If I attempted that I'd end up in the brush a couple hundred feet off the trail.
We get to the bottom and make a right hand trail. It's a good thing the volunteer told us because at the bottom of the trail there were two arrows, one pointing right, the other pointing left, with no directions. Someone could have easily written in chalk, 50K this way, 52.5 miler this way. Kim and I were sure there would be some 52.5 milers going left instead of right and some 50K runners going right instead of left.
We get to the next aid station, unmanned, the same one where I refueled earlier when I had bonked from dehydration. Reloaded on water and GU and headed downhill. When we reached the streams this time, instead of trying not to get out feet wet, be walked through each stream. It felt great on our feet. I wasn't worried about blisters, I tape my large and small toes, the bottoms of my feet, and I wear injini socks. I haven't had a blister in years.
We get to the next aid station about mile 30, and we refuel. We're told that we have about 12 miles to the summit, 4 miles up hill, four miles flat, and then four miles uphill. We both agree that we can do this as we head out.
It's not too hilly for a couple of miles, so we know that the next two must be a bear. Sure enough as we continue, it got worse. We were headed up the single track that we took down at mile 10.5. It was hot, we were tired, and we weren't alone.
One this stretch of the trail we actually passed people, and we were walking, slow. At one point, I was almost out of water again. When it's this hot and hilly, I need water, and lots of it. Kim had filled her hydration pack at the last aid station and filled one of my water bottles, if she hadn't I would have gotten dehydrated. I told her that I had to stop for a minute and for her to go on. My heart was racing like crazy and I wanted to get it under control. I headed up again in a minute, made it to the top, got some water, GU, and great energy from Billy & Lori. We had made the first of three 4 mile chunks to the top.
The next 4 miles was supposed to be flat. We had already run these four miles earlier in the day from 6.5 miles to 10.5 miles, and we knew these weren't flat.
Kim pulled out laminated list of the aid stations she had brought, along with the cut-offs times. We had to make the summit before 6:30 or get pulled-off the course. Kim and did a lot of talking on this portion of the race, "Do you think we'll make it?" "If we don't make the cut-off at least we can say we did all the 17,000 feet in climbing!" Kim was in better shape and physically stronger than me and I told her to go on ahead of me. I didn't want to ruin her chances of finishing because of me. She told me that she needs me to run with her in the dark. She can't see in the dark, she's legally blind! She's had four surgeries, and with her contacts she has 20/70 eyesight, but at night, even with a flashlight, she's basically blind. So, we were in it together, for how ever long that would be.
We got to to next aid station what felt like surprisingly fast, and we didn't stay long. We had a slim chance to make it to the summit before the cut-off, and we didn't want to miss it because of spending too much time at the aid station.
As the wind started to pickup, and the sun was going down, Kim and I both put back on our long sleeve shirts, gloves were soon to follow. By the time we got to the part of the course with the snow, it was dark outside. There wasn't much conversation on this part of the trail. Could we make it to the summit before 6:30?
When we made it to the top we asked what time it was, it was 6:25. We were stoked! Hot chicken broth, more delicious GU, P&J sandwiches, coke for Kim, and we were on our way.
About half a mile down from the summit, a single runner was headed up, he asked how far to the summit, "A half mile," I replied. He said, "They better let me finish!" We wished each other luck.
Kim and I know knew exactly what we had in the remaining 10.5 miles, mostly downhills. Our immediate concern was, could we make the cutoff at mile 46. We pushed each other as best we could. Kim thought the cut-off was 7:30, we weren't sure that was possible for us. We hoped that if we missed the cut-off, and received a DNF, we'd would be allowed to finish the race. We both didn't care about getting a DNF, we just wanted to finish, for ourselves. We got to the aid station and no one said anything about being pulled off the course, so I asked what time it was, it was 7:38. Then I asked what time the cut-off was, it was 8:00! We could finish. At this point the volunteers from the summit were headed down to the finish line in their truck. They recognized Kim and I and asked how were were, "We're great," I said, and I meant it.
It took us 2 hours to cover the last 6.5 miles, but we made it, finishing in 16:39:50. My wife, my daughters, their respective boyfriend, and fiancee were there to cheer us in. Kim and I even got a medal after we crossed the finish line.
As someone who trains and runs ultras by himself, this day was made 100% more enjoyable because of running it with Kim. Thank you Kim Abundis for a truly memorable day. I look forward to pacing you in the SD100.
The runner that we passed at mile 42.5? His name is Dennis Wolf and he finished 17:23:33!
Thank you to the Race Director, volunteers, and runners. Without all of you, this memorable day would have never happened.