Last year I spent a week running in California and tackling a tough 50 miler (Ray Miller 50) in an effort to give myself a wake up call on some tough trails. It worked. I consider it a major reason why I was able to finish my first 100 miler (Potawatomi 100) and my first Hardrock Qualifier (Superior Trail 100). This year I decided to do it once again at the inaugural Sean O' Brien 50 miler in Calabassas, CA.
Unlike last year, I brought some company. Melissa, Cory, Jeff and Kevin who are each in a couple of my running groups joined me. Melissa and I flew into LA on a Wednesday night. We stayed with a longtime friend of mine from Milwaukee in the Calabasas area which is northwest of LA.
We started the trip with a 7 mile run with the SoCalCoyotes and one of my personal heroes Jimmy Dean Freeman. Although I had communicated him with online and seen him at a few races, this was the first time I actually got to meet and spend time with him and the Coyotes. We met at Westridge and ran with a large group. It was nice to chat briefly with Kate Freeman and Jimmy, as well as a surprise couple of miles with the extremely talented Guillaume Calmettes (who ran a couple of miles with us).
Afterwards we went for coffee with the Coyotes and we made a few more Coyote friends (Erin, Jennifer, et. al). Jimmy and the Coyotes treated us extremely well....and we even came away with some swag! (Coyote Shirts).
We had a nice dinner at Wolf Creek Brewery that night (the GM, James, being the guy Melissa and I stayed with) and also had the pleasure of meeting Keira Henninger (RD, ultrarunner and nutritionist), Chandra Farham and and Bryon (irunfar) Powelll.
The following morning Melissa and I had Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles,
and then headed to Wrightwood, the city where the Angeles Crest 100 begins. We drove to Vincent Gap (mile 13ish of the AC100 course) and made a stab at Mt. Baden Powell (10,065 ft. - the tallest summit on the course). The mountain was snowy and beautiful. The scene was spectacular. We ran until it became too dangerous to continue (sheer ice). We got in 2,500 feet of climbing and got up to 9,000+ feet of elevation. We had a final pre-race meal at Wolf Creek, packed up our drop bags and hit the sack early.
Race day for the Sean O' Brien 50 began on Feb. 1, at 4:00 am. The field contained the best of the best. To name a few, Domonic Grossman. Tim Olson, Dylan Bowerman, Chris Vargo, Chris Price, Mike Aishe....the list goes on and on. The women's field included Cassie Scallon, Meagan Arboghast and Sally McRae, among others. This will be one It was extremely cold (for CA) and we started in the dark with headlamps. We didn't really get to see many of the other competitors due to the darkness and we were all pretty separated when the field spread out. We passed very few people. We took it easy and enjoyed the amazing views being revealed by the morning sunrise.
The cutoff was 14.5 hours. The race was advertised to have more than 10,000 feet of vertical climb. Melissa and I had a plan to run together and try to keep a 12 hour pace as long as we could and make a decision when one of us struggled. Both of us acknowledged that POT 150 was the next big race, and that just finishing was all we expected.
The good news was that the race was, for the most part, not too technical. There were a few rocky sections and a few sections of running on amazing rocky hill/mountain tops, but the course was overwhelmingly smooth fire roads and/or gentle single track. Neither Melissa nor I tripped during the entire 50 miles (which is unusual for me).
The bad news was that there were more ups and downs than any race either of us had ever done. Long. Sustained. Climbs. I'm talking 2,000 feet in 5 miles. If you can't imagine 2,000 feet imagine the Sears (fine...Willis) Tower....on top of the Willis Tower. That's 3,000. Gulp. We went up up up and then down down down, with a little bit of technical. We worked our asses off and just barely made the 15 mile cutoff (thanks Flo;) ). Melissa had some early struggles we had to work through, but we got though them and got to roughly the halfway point on 12 hour pace. Then shit got real.
We had a 2,000 foot climb followed by a 1,500 feet descent followed by a 2,000 foot climb that kicked our asses. It was the hardest 7 mile stretch I have been on to date. I'm talking straight up, straight down and then straight up again. It left Melissa and I winded and stopping in the shade to catch our breath. We both ran out of water. It was a low I have not been to in a LONG time.
Then we hit the next aid station and it was a total reload. We never returned to that bottom again....but we were pretty burned out. With our makeshift trekking poles from trees on the side of the road we looked more like characters from the Lord of the Rings than serious runners. We laughed. We cried. But we made it to the finish with 15 minutes to spare.
Our finish is captured on this video:
Three takeaways from this trip:
1) Ultrarunners are AWESOME people. Jimmy Dean Freeman literally took us into his home and gave us Coyote Clothing. We made so many new friends. Every time we turned a corner we knew someone. The elites posed for pictures with us and talked to us. Some even came to the fun run just to meet us. We were welcomed into their homes, given their gear....and a few of them even stayed at the finish line until we ultimately finished. . That just doesn't happen at road races or marathons.
2) Never discount the value of doing HARD SHIT. Get out of your comfort zone. Do a race that is WAY outside your skill range. Try to run up an Icy Mountain. Try to run 50 miles. Try to run too much. Too hard. Too high. Too fast. Try running at altitude. But most importantly....just try to fucking do something. If you find yourself gripping the side of an icy mountain and afraid you are about to fall off or if you come in last place at the race, or find yourself sucking wind at altitude - GUESS WHAT?? You're LIVING!!!! Don't wait to try to reach your goals. Do it now. If you fail you can try again. And AGAIN. Because it is only when we try and fail....when we push our limits....when you taste the adrenaline in the back of your throat that you can look back and say "Did that REALLY just happen?"
3) This one of the most obvious. CA is awesome. I have to go live there. Soon.