Friday, June 12, 2009
Camp KP/AC 100 Training
Day 1 - Angeles Crest National Forest
This past weekend I had the opportunity and the privilege to go to a friend’s small training camp in California for my continuing efforts of preparing for the AC100. The objective for this camp was a “gut check” of sorts for the 3 participants, Pat, Vic, and myself. All 3 of us are running a 100 miler this summer season. KP is the Zen master that got Pat and Vic into this ultra stuff when they all worked together. Then through Vic changing jobs and coming to work where I do, I got pulled over to the dark side of ultra running.
Vic and I flew out to LAX on Friday afternoon getting to the airport gate when the last 20 or so people are boarding. Due to work and meetings, we got a later start than we wanted to and then the lovely ATL traffic jam to the airport didn’t help either. I knew right then that I had to relax and just be cool because it was what it was and I knew that the following 2 days would probably be some of the hardest training I have done so far. No sense in stressing myself out and getting into a negative mindset from the start of the trip. Before I know it, we are at KP’s house greeting everyone and discussing plans for the next day.
I was really looking forward to Day 1 due to the fact that the guys had been nice enough to plan for us to run the first 35+ miles of the AC100. Last year Vic and Pat both completed the AC100 and I was able run about 35 miles of the back end of the course as their pacer. I was pretty anxious about the front end due to the fact that you get to the highest point of the race around mile 17. 9300 feet above sea-level at nearly the top of Mt Baden-Powell. I don’t know if I have ever been that high above sea level and know that I had never tried to run at that height.
We started off from the same parking lot I will be starting from for the AC100 which is in Wrightwood, CA. We head up a couple streets till we finally hit this fire road. Pat and I are ahead of Vic and I guess are so focused on getting up the road that we totally miss the Acorn trail marker to the left that we are suppose to take! We continue up this road for not sure how far before it just ends. We look around for a bit trying to figure out what happen. End up walking back down to the start of the fire road. We then started back up the road looking to our left instead of right and found the Acorn Trail marker. We had lost 45 minutes! I promise you I will not forget where that Acorn marker is at the race!
We start climbing on the Acorn Trail and at the top of this 2100+ feet of climbing, it puts us onto the PCT (Pacific Coastal Trail). At that point it has some beautiful ridge running being able to see for miles around. At two different points we pass by the top of ski lifts for the Mountain High ski area. Pat and I get to the first meeting point for the run and so the tongue lashing begins from KP and Vic on how in the world could we have gotten lost! If you can’t verbally assault your ultra friends, who can you then! We took our lumps and headed on.
We ran another 4 miles and meet KP again at Vincent’s Gap at 6500 feet. This is where the party was about to start, at least for me. The trail up Mt. Baden-Powell climbs 2,800 feet in 3.6 miles over 41 switchbacks to a saddle 100 feet below the peak. KP was nice enough to fix us a sandwich. I grab mine and started walking listening to KP direction that I needed to learn how to eat and walk. I started eating and trying to down the sandwich as best I could, but due to the fact that I am going up hill and already over a mile high I can barely keep the food in my mouth due to try to breathing! I did learn quickly to take small bites, but still I sound like a freight train. I was able to eat ¾ of the sandwich but got into a negative attitude and ended up throwing the last part away. It seemed like it would never end, then I finally saw this beautiful sign and realized that I had actually made it to the highest point in the race and I was ok! I haven’t passed out or gotten sick due to the thin air. Funny thing is when I saw this sign, I didn’t pay close enough attention to it and continued on the trail to the top of Baden-Powell. I got about a 50 feet away from the sign and thought to myself, “Wait a minute. If that is the highest point, why am I still climbing up!!??” Yes, I had gotten off the course AGAIN, but it was my fault for the fact that I was by myself. I get back down to that sign and realize that it was pointing to a trail that started downhill. One new experience for me at this point was hearing my heart beat in my head! First couple times I heard it I turned around to see if someone was behind me!
Another crazy thing that happened this particular weekend was that it was colder than we had anticipated. We actually thought that it might be warm up there. WRONG! After getting to the highest part and making my way to Islip Saddle the wind kicked up. It had to be in the low 40’s and I was not totally ready for that. Fortunately I had brought a long sleeve shirt, but not a coat. I had to live by a saying that I heard a few years ago, “If you going to be stupid, you got to be tough!” I think the cooler weather helped me in the way that I was so cold that I was going about as hard as I could to get to KP’s truck! I get to Islip Saddle and KP was smart enough to bring the camp stove and cooked me up some chicken soup. It was some of the best I have tasted due to the situation.
We start discussing the plans and how the day is going and decide that I am going to go with Pat back over the section of Mt Baden-Powell again for more altitude training. We get back over 8000+ feet and Pat starts to get altitude sick. This is something that I was concerned for myself. It doesn’t matter how good of an athlete you are, if your body has an issue with altitude you either have to deal with it or take a number of weeks trying to acclimatize yourself. For the next 6 or so miles Pat would run some, have the sick feeling, throw up, start to feel better and start running again. That cycle happened 4 different times! I share this not to embarrass Pat in anyway, but to give everyone insight into what happens sometimes with ultra runs and also to share my true amazement that the man kept going and would not stop! That is what I am learning ultra running is all about. Sure it is about covering a set distance, but what happens when you get sick or develop a blister, or any number of issues that can happen. Do you give up or do you solider on?
Here is a link to video that Pat shot of the recap of Day 1:
Day 2 – Cleveland National Forrest
Today we were running in the Cleveland National Forrest that can be seen from KP’s back yard. I was a little concerned on how I would do today. I have never run 38 miles one day and then plan to run 30+ the next. I was obviously sore, but had no major pains and was very grateful for that. The guys had warned me that starting off that morning I would have some pains and if I would just keep going that my body would loosen up and things would be better. That prove to be dead on and within a couple miles I was feeling pretty good.
2 miles away from KP’s house, we start up a dirt road that is nearly a constant 7 miles up hill. The incline to it wasn’t too terrible, but the fact that you are constantly going up hill that long did wear on me. We get to the top of this climb and head down a fire road for 5 miles and meet KP in his truck for the one and only aid station for this 30 mile trip. We take a couple minutes to talk about things, grab a snack, and off we go for the rest of the journey.
The very next trail we get on is a 1 mile downhill that is just nasty. The trail is covered with large rocks that are loose and slippery. I had a number of close calls of hitting the ground forwards or backwards. We get down in this beautiful ravine that has some nice trails that roll along and we can finally get into a good running rhythm and cover some distance. Not sure how long that section was but it seemed to be over way to fast because the next thing I know we are starting up a trail called Holy Jim, a 4 mile constant up hill. The one thing I must say about the trails in CA is that the way they were laid out, the incline is not that bad. The Smokies in NC, the AT trails seem to go straight up the mountain, in CA they have a lot of switchbacks but the trails have a way that you can get into a rhythm and get through the distance.
We finish with Holy Jim and have 3 miles to go on the fire road to get back to the 7 mile now downhill to finish this trip. I know that in physics going downhill is easier than uphill, but still going constantly downhill for 7 miles, at least for me, was hard at times. Using the same muscles over and over will get to anyone. As most of you know me, I try to make a game out of anything, especially if I trying to distract myself from the pain. I started thinking of myself as a race car going down the mountain. I started to take the inside of the curve whether it was on the right or left side of this dirt road. I get about 2 miles from the end of this dirt road and notice this car driving away from what I had seen early on the way up of what we thought were empty bee hives. Well, they were not empty and I think the guy in the car has done something to them to make them mad. There are thousands of them flying around the hives but fortunately not too close to the road. I immediately started walking very softly and even remember saying out loud “I come in peace!”
I am very sore and my feet are killing me. I get to the asphalt road and realize that in my sleepy, painful run out from KP’s house, I don’t know how to get back! I am in the front because Pat had stopped to talk to someone and I just had it in my mind to get down and complete this run. I start walking up the road and notice that Pat is coming up behind me and he is moving at pretty good clip. I know what you are thinking, but no, the bees had not gotten after him. He gets up with me and says “Let’s roll!” There is no stopping the man, he is ready to finish this thing but it has to be at the finish line of KP’s driveway. One thing he tells me is that KP had taught him to always finish strong. Finish strong??!! I feel like I am nearly going to have to break out into a sprint to keep up with him. We run by some neighbor kids with this real puzzled look on their faces like “why is that big guy chasing that other guy and breathing so hard?”
It was an absolute OUT-STANDING weekend!! I feel much better about my training. I know there are a few things to tighten up on, but I am happy for where I am right now.
KP – thanks for everything dude. The encouragement, butt-kicking, and hospitality were great. You have an awesome family.
Pat – Dude, you continue to teach and amaze me. To realize you were that sick and continue on to run another 75 miles in the AC100 last year, mind-blowing. You made the times of suffering much more bareable.
Vic – Thank you for all the coaching and advice you have given me to get me to this point. I appreciate your patience through all the silly questions I have asked you about how to do this, that, and the other in the craziness called ultras.
Rhonda – my beautiful wife, thank you for continuing to put up with this crazy quest I am on. I Love You!