The Angeles Crest 100 – Round 1

“Really, if you think about it, it’s a downhill course,”  I slowly turned my head to Kellie and shot her a look that sent her into immediate laughter.

“I would suggest that comment doesn’t come up DURING the actual event, Kellie!”

It was early Friday morning as Kellie weaved her big red truck up the Angeles Crest Highway, with me in the front seat, Dawn in the back, headed off to tackle my first mountain 100 mile race.  With 21,610 ft. accumlative elevation gain, 26,700 ft. accumlative loss and 48,310 feet total of elevation change this was considered one of the hardest 100 milers.

I was terrified, and doing my best not to show it to my crew.  If I had been in perfect health, getting across that finish line would have been a miracle.  But for the last two weeks leading up to the race, I’d been fighting a sinus infection and was still very cloudy headed and on some strong medication.  However, I was committed now.  I’d worked my ass off for months in preparation for this race.  I’d regret not starting more than I would regret it if I DNFed.  I had to take a chance.

We arrived in Wrightwood before 10am, where I quickly went through my medical check and was given a little pep talk my Gary Hilliard, the race director for the Mt. Disappointment 50k.  “Now don’t race anyone, Summer.  I know you like to race people!”  I had to laugh at his remark, and it brought back memories from my last year of racing – a PR marathon, a 100 mile PR with no training, a 50k race against my coach, and a PR 50 miler.  It was a great year full of a lot of miracles!  I began to become very hopeful about the next day.

The pre-race meeting was a reunion with all my friends.  There I met up with Heather and her crew.  She was the owner of CrossFit Squamish, and we had become very good friends over the last few months, as we both prepared for this race.  Rainer, another Arrogant Bastard, was seated a few chairs up from me, smiling excitedly.  As Hal, the race director, addressed the crowd, I made my committment to go for this with all my heart, no matter how I felt the next day.

Kellie, Dawn and I checked into the hotel a little early and I was excited to find out that one of my friends, David Campbell and his girlfriend June were in the room right next to us.  David was the epitome of ‘slow and steady wins the race.’  He had finished AC before, and knew how to get the job done.  I pegged him as someone to stay close to during the event.

I didn’t sleep much that night, but when my alarm went off at 3am, and I took a big, clear breath, I realized that the symptoms from my sinus infection were gone!  Kellie and Dawn drove me to the start line, I checked in, gave them both a big hug and thank you, and lined up with Heather for the adventure we had been preparing for, for seemingly so long.

The start was announced, and we were off, up the first hill side by side.  My heart was pounding.  How anticlimactic to feel so incredibly nervous about the start of a race that would then extend throughout potentially the next 33 hours of my life.  I saw Rainer pass and we exchanged a few encouraging words and promised to see each other at the finish line – no matter what.  We took the first turn and something didn’t feel right deep in my lungs and I started to cough.  I told Heather to go ahead, and I planned to take it slow and let whatever was in there work itself out.

It didn’t.  As we climbed up the Acorn trail,  I watched as runners who I am usually close to in the pack passed me and I ended up towards the back.  I was 8 minutes off my predicted time into the mile 9 aid station, but still had plenty of time to correct an issue if needed.  I shared my concerns with Kellie and Dawn and we started to try to figure out how to fix it.  My chest felt so tight and I couldn’t seem to get a deep enough breath to get oxygen to my legs.  I wheezed and coughed as I left the aid station, similar to my old asthma symptoms, but I was committed to giving this everything I had.

I found out quickly that I could make up time on the downhills, but I was terrible on the ups, which were usually my strength.  This was a problem since I had 4 major peaks to cover in the first 30 miles.  It took me just over an hour more to make it to the mile 14 aid station, still in the back of the pack.  I drank a Red Bull as a ‘poor mans’ solution to my asthmatic symptoms, since caffeine can open up my air passages, and Kellie had found some anti inflammatories to help bring down whatever was in my chest.  I stared up Baden Powell, the hardest climb at the highest elevation in the course.  If I could get through this part, maybe I could make up time at lower elevation.

It took me over 4 hours to go up and over Baden Powell to the mile 26 aid station.  Due to the amount of effort it was taking me to climb, with the shortness of breath, I began to run out of water quickly.  I tried to conserve, but at the top of the mountain, my toe hit a rock and simultaneously a cramp seized my leg and I went toppling down the side of the hill, where fortunately a tree kept me from sliding down to my death.  I crawled back up to the single track and realized that it was important to fix this hear and now, so I took some salt and finished off my water,  5 miles to go, in the heat, with nothing to drink.  Fortunately it was mostly downhill, so I managed a steady jog down to the aid station.

I came into the Islip Saddle aid station 1 hour off of the time it had taken me during training.  For some reason I felt at peace with everything.  I was giving this the best that I had on that day, and I wasn’t about to give up.  Kellie and Dawn were pros, getting me through the medical check quickly and out of the aid station.  I stared up Mt. Williamson, still hopeful but as soon as I began to move, my chest screamed at me in pain and my vision blurred every time I tried to climb harder.  After a valiant attempt and almost losing my footing in a steep section, I layed down in the middle of the trail to try to calm my breathing and give it another go.

Within a few minutes of lying there, my friend Louis found me.  He was the last person to make the cut off at Islip.  He encouraged me to get up and walk slowly with him.  Every few steps I had to stop and get my breath again.  It was like a bad dream.  My muscles weren’t the least bit sore, I just couldn’t get them to go.  Not too much further down the trail we saw David Campbell.  I looked down at my watch and it was 5 minutes until the cut off at the next aid station, and we still had 2.5 more miles to go.  When 2:35pm hit, and we were still on the trails, I looked back over the beautiful mountains that I had just covered, and began to cry.

“Hey…”  David said to me.  “Please don’t let this get you down.  I’ve followed your story for a long time, Summer.  I admire and respect you so much.  Please don’t stop taking on these huge challenges.  This is simply part of the sport.”

I nodded and smiled.  He was right.  This was a risk.  I knew this going in.  Unfortunately an issue arose that I simply couldn’t resolve.  But I had given it everything I had.

Kellie and Dawn were amazingly supportive as the three of us came in together.  They loaded me in the car and brought me back to Glendale.  By the time that we got home, I found out that Rainer had also pulled out of the race.  I took a moment to collapse on the floor of my room, call my coach – who had truly become my ‘life pacer’ over the last few years – before coming to a place of acceptance about the whole thing.  I went online to let my team know that I was ok and to thank them for their support, and I text the rest of my crew to let them know what had happened.  I cleaned up, ate my first cheat meal in months, and went to bed.

I woke up several times in the night to check on the status of my friends.  We had all become a big family, and I was sad to see 12 of our regulars on the training runs drop, some seasoned veterans.  As the reasons became public, I found out quickly that I was one of many with some terrible breathing issues that day.  Heather was still on course and doing great.  I tried to force myself to go back to sleep so I could go out to support her the next day.

I arrived at the finish line late that morning, congratulating the finishers and comparing notes with those that had to pull out for the same reason that I did.  When I saw Heather cross the finish line with only 15 minutes to spare, the two of us broke down into tears and threw our arms around each other.  “I’m so proud of you!”  I said.  “You did this for BOTH of us!”  I couldn’t have been happier if it had been me accomplishing this.

I stayed to watch the award ceremony, said goodbye to my friends, and oddly, felt very hopeful.  There was no doubt in my mind I’d be back to tackle this again.  It’s time now for me to let my body heal, and decide what I needed to do within the next year to become successful at this event.  An allergy test at the doctor was #1 on the priority list, as well as selecting a 100 miler that I can finish in 2012.  I have some thoughts, but for now I will rest, and accept this as another learning experience, do my best to simply let this fuel my fire, and fall in love the challenge that broke me.

I’m so grateful for all my friends who took time out of their lives to help support me at my first attempt at this race.  Although the end result was not what I had hoped for, the journey was incredible.  I’ll DNF over and over again if it means that I get to make friends with people like Heather, or go camping with people like Jorge and Robert, or get lost on a training run with people like Andy, or miss a cut off with people like Louis and David.

Mark my words… 2013 is my year at the Angeles Crest 100!  And who knows, I may have another epic challenge brewing before then.  376 Days…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ultra1bob July 23, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Somewhere in the race booklet is the following:

The booklet is dedicated to the those who didn’t complete the race last year, but got it right this year.

Reply

Kiley AKers July 24, 2012 at 1:36 am

“I was giving this the best that I had on that day, and I wasn’t about to give up.”

Love it. Great re-cap of your day. Thanks for sharing this Summer. Happy Trails!

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