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A Personal Account of the Events Before and After the 1998 Angeles Crest 100 Mile by a First-Timer
By A. J. Shaka17 December 1998
Part I. Truth or Dare.The hash browns sure looked good. The coffee was hot, black, and strong. Sun streamed in through a window, gently. I had an idea. "Maybe we ought to sign up for the Angeles Crest 100 after all!" I offered to my brother, Barry, as we breakfasted at a small diner in Bishop, CA, on a beautiful Sunday morning the day after the Bishop High Sierra 50 mile run, in May. Although we had finished only near the very back of the pack, many other runners had dropped out in the wind and cold. Also, Barry had gotten sick after the first 7 miles, but ran through it to finish pretty strongly. Feeling surprisingly good the next day, especially considering the paucity of my own training, the thought of 50 more miles didn't seem so awful. I find this to be uniformly true, sitting in a comfortable chair with a cup of Peet's coffee, mapping out great running accomplishments in distant lands, crashing through the tape with superhuman speed and strength after goodness-only-knows how many miles-- as long as I don't have to do the running. By the second cup I've "finished" every run advertised in UltraRunning.
Fifty miles is, of course, not so very easy. The first time I finished a run that long I couldn't quite believe it. It was MUCH longer than a marathon and that, in turn, was MUCH longer than the 10K runs with which I had started running. But, after a number of years of training, you can run 50 miles. You may not enjoy it, but you can do it. I actually did enjoy it, but that's another story. The human mind, of course, can imagine anything, whether true, possible, or not. Given that, the extension to a hundred mile run isn't too absurd.
My goal in most ultras is to try hard, enjoy the beautiful terrain, and maybe even surprise a couple of runners in the later stages, if I have anything left. Sometimes I just try to finish. I enjoy the challenge. I started running to reverse the ravages of a sedentary period during my Ph.D. work, and out of shame at how far I had disintegrated physically over that time. Unlike California, there was little interest in physical activity overseas, and little or none among the hard-working graduate students at Oxford. There were some active detractors as well, so that you might be dodging a cider bottle occasionally, enduring some verbal abuse, or just feeling conspicuous. But, mostly, the atmosphere of fighting for your life to earn an advanced degree, a somewhat Kafkaesque experience in a foreign country, is not conducive to a vigorous training program unless, perhaps, you're world-class in the sport. Science, too, is hard work: the hours are long, and it's a race. Suffice it to say I was out of shape when I finally returned to the US. So, like many others, I started with a single mile, around the UC Berkeley campus. A few short races taught me how fast other people were! My first race, six miles from Santa Cruz to Capitola, was thrilling. I had never run that far. I liked the excitement, which I missed in a way from my collegiate days playing tennis. In running, though, you never really lost. Not in the same way, at least. In tennis you really lose. It's not as bad as chess, but bad feelings over a close line call, etc., can live on for years. There is the lure of money, fame, and it is a personal struggle against an opponent you are trying to overwhelm.
Running, especially the long training runs, is a different matter entirely. Although I started running to feel better physically, I kept running for the pure enjoyment of it, and the undeniable mental benefits. Once, while running 50 miles, I thought of an idea that provided several years worth of productive science. You can't count on it, of course, but I still feel that you may be somewhat more creative by breaking up your mental routine, especially if you sit in an office a lot of the time. It takes time, but you may avoid feeling "low" which isn't good for productivity, either. I also found that, as the distance increased, I tended to place a little higher. Running trails was a way to get off the pavement and away from the crowds and the posers stretching and prancing around-- posers who, I knew, were going to kill me. As running ability is 90% genetic, and performance is 90% training, by training a lot with Barry we usually run at about the same rate-- give or take some intestinal distress, soreness, or the unlucky fall. On a 10K it's every man for himself, but on a long distance caper it's far easier to run with company than by yourself, a fact which has contributed greatly to our 100% finish rate in ultras.
The AC-100 had first come up over a year ago, when Barry and I finished the Pikes Peak Marathon. We stuck together on it. I slipped right off the trail onto a steep scree slope at the top, and twisted my right ankle pretty hard, twice. That run was an emotional high-water mark, speeding along the final pavement at a pretty good clip and hoping against hope that I wouldn't REALLY sprain the ankle hard again, with runners trying to surge by as the tape neared. Holding them off seemed to take every ounce of energy. After collecting the finisher's key chain (perhaps an idea, especially for women, as an alternative to the big heavy belt buckle-- or maybe some colorful finisher's braces instead, for those who like suspenders?) there was an immediate downpour just as we found the rental car and climbed inside. "Slipped out again!" I thought, marveling at the timing. I felt lucky, perhaps even charmed. Let Zeus throw his thunderbolts. We were headed to Outback Steakhouse for a giant Fosters.
As the idea of a one hundred mile run took shape, it held my imagination captive. How to train for it? What would it be like? When should you begin preparing? In a way, running 100 miles is like buying a yacht. If you have to ask anything about price or financing, you can't afford it. In any case, these questions quickly became moot after school started and work took over throughout the fall of 1997. I had little time except to run 3-5 miles at lunch. I knew that 15 miles per week wasn't anything like enough, and so the idea faded, like most ideas, having existed only in the loud realm of talk. Gradually, however, I had time to increase the mileage as 1998 rolled around. I began running in the morning with Hershel, our Golden Retriever, who was now old enough. He loved to run, and was always ready to go. As the sun peeked over the horizon, he would give a single sharp bark, as if to say "Time to run!" and then wait patiently for me to get ready. Hershel could trot right along at a 7:30 pace. He looked happy. He attracted attention from well-wishers. Hershel, in fact, had charisma. My wife, Deborah, dressed him up with a small Stetson, cinching the string under his chin. The hat looked ridiculous on him, and his sad face seemed to indicate that he knew it. "I'm a cowboy!" she said brightly, and we all laughed at poor Hershel.
Having never run more than about 60 miles per week, the training seemed daunting. I had run 10 years without problems, and without any particular desire to run 100 miles. Sure, I knew the name "Ken Hamada" from the advertisements I had seen, but I didn't know him from Adam, and had had nothing but a sort of idle curiosity about the event. I could calculate, however, and knew that I'd have to put in plenty of training. I wondered it I could do it, and worried about it. Nonetheless, in the end the long miles were more time-consuming than debilitating. I set aside an entire day each weekend for running, and sometimes the better part of both days, in addition to regular weekday runs. Unless your job is not demanding, or you're on the brink of divorce anyhow, this time factor inevitably erodes other aspects of your life. For that reason alone, the hundred miler won't be my choice very often. Sure, you can improve by doing more running, but you may miss quite a bit elsewhere. Not interested in more than an occasional 5 or 10K, Deborah missed me while I was on the long runs. She began agitating for "a normal life." "You mean," offered a colleague wryly, "you want him sitting at home, drinking beer, watching football, putting on weight mercilessly, and having the occasional fling on the side?" A quick glance confirmed lack of spousal amusement. Okay, okay. Things will subside after the AC-100.
It wasn't until after that fateful day in Bishop, over the coffee and hash browns, that Barry and I began to get serious. I didn't know anything too specific about the course, but I knew what running at high altitude might be like. We planned accordingly. Running up and down Mt. Baldy (10,064 ft.) twice in one day was the most effective training run. We could eat at the Notch restaurant, use a filter to get additional water, and test running in thin air. Also, from Orange County it's easier than trying to drive all the way along Highway 2 somewhere. The Baldy Village trail is long and steep, and plenty hard, and the rocky downhill along the Devil's Razorback is also good practice. I have to thank Mr. Davis, the Race Director for the Baldy Peaks 50K, for introducing me to some of the route, courtesy of his well-organized event. We also took the "Three-Ts" trail sometimes. It was hot as Hades on occasion. Every other weekend the Santa Ana Mountains were the choice, instead. Rob McNair came hurtling by one morning on the Harding Truck Road, at an impossible downhill pace. He was happy. I remembered him battling "Buffalo" Bill McDermott for supremacy at the Saddleback Mountain Marathon. A shining example of just how good you can look in your mid-forties, he was out there by himself, enjoying the crystal clear views from the top of Santiago. Back at the cars, he was actually very encouraging, and thought that the AC-100 was within reach. I listened carefully to every word he uttered. "Just throw away the watch," he advised, "and enjoy yourself." His jeep sprayed gravel, and he was gone.
We also did a couple of the organized training runs. Meeting some of the other aficionados, I had the distinct impression that I had discovered almost a new underground. Had these people loved music instead of running they'd have been the Dead Heads who followed the band around, dressing colorfully and organizing the rest of work, life, and love around the concert tour. By the time you're training for a 100 mile run you just don't have that much in common with mainstream America anymore. There's a certain solace in that.
The training runs were 25 miles each and weren't easy. We got thoroughly lost in the dark at Idlehour campground on the night run from Chantry Flats to Johnson Field, and completely baked in oppressive 100°F heat from Islip Saddle to Three Points (where we dropped out that day). We were dragging, discouraged, tired. I got stung by an insect that packed a wallop. Barry was licking his dry lips. It was bright. We walked along the highway to get to Three Points, in shimmering heat. The mobile aid station, a load of ice and drinks and fruit in the bed of a pickup truck, had packed up and moved on, to meet runners further along. It would be 110°F out at Sulfur Springs, a place I had never been and didn't want to know about that day. The name was enough. It was quiet, still, hot. We wanted a ride back to Chilao, where the cars were waiting. "Well," offered Hal Winton leaning on his van, "you could run down through this trail over here, and it's only five miles instead of eight." He sounded to me like the teacher does to Charlie Brown. I'd parse the first part of the sentence, realize that it didn't contain "ride" and then listen to the "fah fah-fah fah" after that. He just didn't seem to understand that we didn't want to run anymore AT ALL. He also didn't seem to want to offer to give us a lift. "Who'll pick up the yellow ribbons?" he asked. We'd obviously let him down. We managed to catch a ride with a couple from Northern California. Brad Norris, from Las Vegas, rode with us. He felt sick, too. Riding back to Chilao Campground from Three Points I couldn't help thinking that if you couldn't run 25 miles then you certainly couldn't run 100. "Talk is cheap," said Hal succinctly. I thought back to the breakfast in Bishop. It certainly was.
But, ascribing the poor performance to the heat and perhaps some mild illness, we entered! On the second cup of coffee, I signed the check, and mailed off the entry. I had a new secret. Feeling as if I had bailed out of an airplane, I now began checking my gear before I hit. I bought a brighter flashlight (Princeton Tec40), $400 worth of shoes of different types, finally settling on the Asics trail shoe for race day, an Ultimate Directions Aquifer vest, and a load of white Duofold Coolmax shirts. I liked the vest. It was comfortable and I never lost weight. Since I won't be in the front, the extra weight is worth the price of having an ice cold drink whenever you'd like. I also bought Coolmax sock liners and socks, and put a pair of each in the ~25, ~50, and ~75 mile drop bags, along with a fresh shirt. Changing socks took time when I was tired, but saved my feet from all but a few blisters.
We missed the organized run from Wrightwood to Islip Saddle (the first 25 miles or so) but did it a week later, with the residual yellow ribbons still marking the way. We met Larry Gassan on the trail or, rather, he overtook us from the top of Mt. Baden-Powell. He was preparing for the Wasatch Front 100, and looked strong. Everyone along the trail, it seemed, was up to something. The section took under 7 hours, which seemed encouraging. After all, 4x7 = 28, right?
Worried about getting lost in the dark, we finally ran what we thought was the last section, from Chilao Campground to Chantry Flats, three weeks before the race. Coming up the paved road to the Chantry Flats parking lot, only about 5 hours had elapsed. Fantastic! Unfortunately, we'd taken the single-track trail rather than the jeep road, and the latter is longer and harder. Loaded with poison oak, that overgrown trail could have been a disaster but, courtesy of Avon's Poison Oak Block, which I recommend, not a single problem ensued. I was still worried. There were long stretches of the course that I hadn't seen.
As September neared, I avidly read past accounts from 1996 and 1997, posted on Stan Jensen's page. They made me plenty nervous! It was unlikely that anyone who had been completely beaten by the course would write a long missive, so these hair-raising accounts were the BEST you could expect. I didn't want to drop out, no matter what. I was curious to hear from someone who had. "Why did you give up?" I wanted to ask. Whatever it was, I wanted to avoid it. Whatever it was, however, was headed my way.
I had never heard of the Hardrock 100 or, if I had, it hadn't registered as anything other than some sort of mountaineering expedition. Stumbling on Joel Zucker's account, I couldn't stop reading. It seemed like he must have been near death trying to finish within the 48 hour time limit. Then I found the Hardrock home page. Yikes! Zucker WAS dead! "Wild and Tough." Indeed. Like a description of cyanide as "Quick and Effective." This unsettling discovery crowded my vivid dreams, which were fueled by pre-race anxiety, and led to plenty of scared talk on the telephone between Irvine and Thousand Oaks.
"Take your emergency ponchos," said Deborah, the practically-minded one. She had two yellow squares of plastic, folded tightly into ziplock bags. Each was marked "Emergency Poncho" and was the source of great hilarity. But both Barry and I took one. "It might rain." More chuckles from the ol' hands, fancying ourselves by now as grizzled competitors, and meteorologists to boot, both tough and smart. "That depends," I said judiciously, mocking Clinton, "on what you mean by rain."
I feared the heat. Rain would be okay. Of course, if it's also cold then a modicum of caution is needed. At the 1997 Saddleback Marathon the weather had turned cold and wet and windy. Baz Hawley, the RD, had warned everyone. Coming along the exposed Main Divide jeep road, dressed in long-sleeve Thermax tops, gloves, and warm hat, the seven miles to go didn't seem bad. Up ahead, a hapless runner, in lingerie-material singlet and nylon shorts, shivering in the cold with his bare fists doubled up, came into view. He valiantly tried to stay ahead. Overtaking him, we went around to either side. He suddenly began walking. "Sometimes," he cried, waving his arms, "you have to tell the truth!" He seemed a little delirious. At the next aid station we left him ineffectually wrestling with a garbage bag, emptying out the paper cups and trying to punch armholes through it. I packed warm clothes and gloves for the AC, just in case.
With the motel reservations set, and the somewhat serpentine logistics for race day worked out, there was little left but to taper for the event. Tapering made me feel lousy, as if I'd been supersonic on high mileage for the past month, and was now crashing through the sound barrier and breaking up. Aches from nowhere surfaced, and I actually thought I might have an injury. If you have to "think" about having an injury, you don't have one, as I found out later.
I dragged Deborah to the premiere of "Without Limits" up in Century City. Parts of the movie were electrifying. But I knew it wouldn't play long. There is something inspirational, even heroic, in digging deep into the reserves to bring out the best you can do. But most people aren't interested. They ride the freight elevator up one floor, and complain. I liked Prefontaine's attitude. "The reason no one in the world can beat me," he said, "is that no one in the world can stand as much pain."
Part II. Appointment in Pasadena"...it was not a threatening gesture," Death replied, "but one of surprise. I was surprised to see him in Wrightwood today, when I had an appointment with him in Pasadena tomorrow..."
Perhaps not as far as Baghdad to Samarra, Wrightwood to Pasadena still seemed like an awfully long way. And the closer it got, the longer it looked. I was going to take it easy. Nervous at 4 am, wondering what I had forgotten, I spent my time milling around, sipping coffee. Many of the top runners were checking their gear, tying their shoes, or stretching a little. Gabriel Flores, whom I recognized from the introduction at the trail briefing the day before, was sitting on a table, hanging his legs loosely over the side. He had recently set a new record on the Badwater 135, in unbelievable heat. His support van had caught on fire. He looked over at several of the other elite runners and fixed them with a stare. "Okay," he said, emphasizing every word, "let's go for it!" Zzzzinnnng! I felt a sick hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I were headed over the apex of a giant roller coaster. The wooden struts were going to shudder. These guys were going to run hard from the beginning. I knew I was in for it.
The first 9 miles, mostly in the dark, up the Acorn trail out of Wrightwood on to the Pacific Crest Trail along the Blue Ridge, was thrilling. It was cool, quiet. We were on a secret mission! I wore my long sleeve shirt and Patagonia gloves. I kept hearing, with superb fidelity, the opening riff from ZZ Top's "La Grange," the percussion ever so light, and the restrained electric guitar hinting at a giant reserve of energy. I like making up my own music, changing its tempo to match my stride, and buggering the lyrics if things are going poorly. But things were going unbelievably well. Cresting the ridge, in came the drums with their phony reverb, and the charging guitar and bass. Running had never been this much fun. "Yeah, heh heh heh."
"Liquid gold!" I thought of my legs, strengthened from the 90-mile weeks and then recharged with the 3 week taper recommended in UltraRunning. After John Lee Hooker, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and a little Stevie Ray Vaughan, we had reached the first aid station, Inspiration Point. My inspiration was to divest myself of the pasta dinner eaten the evening before. I felt great. We ate some candy and continued running. The trail was smooth, the running easy. "This run'll be a joke!" I thought to myself as Mt. Baden-Powell towered ominously into view. Crossing the highway carefully, after a veritable jaunt through the woods, here was the second aid station, Vincent Gap. "Here are the brothers!" said a woman at the aid station. "It's their first hundred." We filled the vests with ice, topped off with Gatorade. I ate a Clif bar, my second. It was delicious. Power walking up the steep switchbacks, all the fluid intake began catching up with me. Not wanting to stop, but somewhat irritated at the way the trail gets messed up, I roped snorting bulls on the down-hill slope with an imaginary liquid lasso. "Yahoo!" I thought brightly, " I'm a cowboy! I'm a... whoops-darn!" Two hikers were coming down the trail. I hadn't seen them. They weren't in the race. A middle-aged couple, they had big benign grins. "There's a dark side to everything," I confessed lamely as we walked by. "Yes," he replied, "we're just enjoying seeing what goes on. Good luck!" Zooming by scout troops, up Mt. Baden-Powell into the 9000+ range, playfully running along at the trail near the top (a few feet away from a yawning abyss) for a picture, and passing several runners along the technical downhill to Islip Saddle, things could not have been better. We had reached the 26 mile point well ahead of "schedule". Using the excellently-documented race booklet which, by the way, is the best I have ever encountered, I had made a miniature business card with each aid station, mileage, and the time of day that Wilkie (our fast runner) and Valesco (who finished in 32:45 last year, 1997) passed through. I had the cards laminated at Kinkos, so that they were waterproof. These cards turned out to be very important to have! I wore two watches: one, a Nike 120 lap model, clocked the race, the other, an older Casio, was simply the time of day, with altimeter and thermometer. The Nike watch has big digits on the display, which is important when your eyesight fritters out. I felt great. I didn't have to figure out anything.
While some may admire the frontrunners, my hero (and I don't use the term lightly) in the weeks of insecurity leading up to the AC-100 was George Valesco, a man whom I had never met. "Valesco", I thought, "was tough and smart. And while the other runners dropped out after going too hard, he kept at it and finished." He had also had to put on quite a surge at the end to do it. Finding out that he had entered again, we half thought of trying to shadow him this year: that would have been a grave mistake, as he finished over an hour earlier. In any case, I didn't know what he looked like.
We were slightly ahead of Wilkie, too, which should have been a warning. But I thought that might be due to the other hero of the day: "Crazy" Eddie, the remnants of which were spinning off the coast, whipping up the cloud cover and fog. It was the perfect time to have an offshore tropical storm.
We changed socks and shirts, and powered up Mt. Williamson. "Hey, maybe the hundred isn't worse than 'Nam after all!" I was full of positive statements, some of them pure bravado, others pure nonsense. Cresting the ridge just shy of the summit, things were still going well. Now there was an unrelenting downhill section. Alas, the rocky footing and steep downhills to Eagles Roost began to take a toll. Much like you can snap a metal fork by bending it back and forth gently hundreds of times, the 100,000 times each foot lands during this event can inexorably reveal any slight weakness. Even my forearms began to ache, though I carried nothing, as they were simply unaccustomed to the constant non-stop bouncing.
I'm not sure what contributed to my injury accumulation, but the large dorsal tendon (on the front) that controls the pitch of your foot and which, I think, is used to "brake" on the downhills, became gradually more inflamed as time passed. I have had minor problems in the past with the right foot, but nothing even remotely close to this. As the pain increased I tried running like a somnambulist, with my feet locked into position at a certain angle, I tried running more on the balls of my feet, I tried purposefully rotating them through the stride (to try to loosen the stiffness), I tried truckin', leaning back, I tried landing on the outside, the inside, the heel, the toe... I tried everything. Unfortunately, nothing worked. Every time my right foot hit the ground from mile 30 onward, it was like someone clanging a loud bell between my ears, "dang, dang, Dang, dang, DANG...". Any adjustment, like moving around a rock, changing stride slightly, or compensating for poor footing, added a few dB to the clamor.
We reached Eagles Roost, and pressed on. Cooper Canyon was mild, even cool, and the long uphill to Cloudburst Summit wasn't too taxing. Walking uphill seemed to ameliorate the pain. Crossing the highway yet again past Cloudburst, we overtook a tall thin man striding deliberately and resolutely, swinging his arms. His face, however, had a pale haunted look, as if he had seen some terrible tragedy that had opened his eyes too wide. I never saw him again.
The mixed terrain to Three Points was most unwelcome. Dang, dang, dang. I took an Advil, something I had never had to do in 5 months of hard training. I began taking every hard landing on the left foot, stutter-stepping and then reaching out over the many 6 inch "steps" with the left. I wasn't beaten: "I'll just keep running smart," I thought, "and see." The relatively short stretch from Three Points to Sulfur Springs was easy running, and then there was a long gradual climb up to the Mt. Hillyer aid station, along road. It was finally getting dark now. We'd been running for more than 13 hours, talking about work, dogs, computers, science-- anything except running. I'd been eating and drinking regularly, and my cast-iron stomach hadn't acted up. Neither had Barry's. The Mt. Hillyer aid station was marked "Twilight Zone." There was soup, a row of chairs. "Beware the chair!" had said Rob McNair. I thought about it for an instant. I sat down. "Imagine a place, where everyone is too tired to move..." I heard Rod Serling announce in his creepy voice. Another runner, one of the younger entrants, was swathed in blankets, shivering, trying to warm up. In came Brad Norris, whom we had met briefly in Bishop, where he held us off over the last 8 miles. He had commuted from Las Vegas to do the training runs. "My quads are blown," announced Brad, "and I've already taken three Aleve." There was a bottle of Aleve on a card table. He looked like a four-Aleve man. I recalled a stern warning on the label not to take more than three in 24 hours. My legs felt fine. That was my party line. I heard Nabokov's Pnin whispering in my head, voicing over the friendly chatter from the volunteers: "He won't haf nofing left." A real Russian, I found out later, would have said "nussink." I knew the Roald Dahl short stories would be coming. I had to get out of there.
We didn't have any batteries! The Tec40 runs 3 hours on 4 AA batteries. It makes a bright white light, but uses juice. But how long had they been on in the morning? I had turned mine off for a while. It was dark now, and Chilao was still some distance. We tried one light between the two of us. I almost tripped and fell. Ka-dang! Ouch. That one really hurt. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls," said a lethargic John Donne, as the inner world expanded kaleidoscopically to fill the void left by the departing sun. Pretty soon I'd have to stop listening to this nonsense, I thought.
Finally the Chilao aid station, mile 52.4, came into view. There were lights, hamburgers, tents, chairs, helpful people everywhere. "Hey, it's the brothers again!" said the same woman. She was apparently leap-frogging us, moving along to help as the earlier aid stations shut down. My hands didn't work right. I'd worn my gloves for most of the day, for some reason. I'd never done that before, but my hands had felt cold. I didn't want to look at what might be underneath my right socks. I peeled them off. "I feel cold..." as I recalled the awful scene from Catch-22 in which the zippered flight suit is all that is holding the poor sod together. Actually, I couldn't tell much. I was losing time, fumbling, ineffective. One volunteer, who had the air and look of a veteran finisher, conspiratorially asked whether we were continuing. Oh ho ho! That's a funny one: OF COURSE WE ARE! "Okay," he said, "you can do it. It's not that far to Chantry, and after that it's just pain management." Right. AFTER that.
We each took the four batteries we had packed from the drop bag and waved good-bye. "One-thirty-nine, out. One-thirty-seven, out." Not dead, I thought, just out. It was after 8 pm. The Silver Moccasin trail was plenty challenging in the dark, with quick turns, and some intersections that seemed like either direction was equally likely. But the trail was always excellently marked, making it possible even for fumbling fools to stay on course. Man, was I tired! My right foot clanged with every stride. I didn't know what to do. Sixteen-plus hours of running now. I had never run for this long-- ever. The flashlights cut out, within 30 minutes of each other. We put in the new batteries. The mythical city of Oz! A lighted hilltop was dimly coming into view. Shortcut, the next aid station. Dang, dang, dang--ding! Baz Hawley was there, chipper, talkative, and willing to get anyone to help us. He seemed like the benevolent Wizard himself. But there were no drop bags! Hence, no batteries. We should have put eight batteries, each, at Chilao. There was now no way to get to Newcomb Saddle without running out of light. I couldn't believe it. I was supposed to be smart. The ol' medicine ball to the soft underbelly, once again. Out came the "spare" flashlights, tiny under-powered devices that cast a dim beige circle. Mine looked like a firefly-- you could see the light, but nothing else.
With that fateful "ding" the left foot had now chimed in, 29 miles later, at Shortcut. The pain was sharp and unfamiliar: I now thought I was finished. Baz asked if we were okay mechanically. "Yup!" came the response, with absolutely no thought. But I found it wasn't true, a fact I considered as if it were some unsolved lemma that could still be disproved. Another downhill section followed Shortcut. The first tentative notes, in a different, shriller key, were from cloth-covered mallets, but soon the glove material came off, and the left hurt even more than the right. Dang, ding, dang, DING. I could still walk okay on the uphills and, in fact, we went by some people on the section to Newcomb Saddle. But the Angeles Crest 100 course is a downhill course (26,700 ft down, and 21,610 up). And on the downhill sections I now wanted to cry out with every step. Getting around this by mental control was the toughest thing of this type that I have ever done, BY FAR. Advil had little or no effect on the pain, and after four of them I decided that it would be unwise to add renal failure to my list of woes. I felt bad, like a mountain climber whose equipment has failed. I'd have to dig deep.
With a combination of good lights, bad lights, other runner's lights, and no lights, we finally made it to Newcomb Saddle. It was an awfully long uphill climb. I was slowing. Barry and I still held, what I remember at least, to be a scintillating dialog, mostly in monosyllables. "Knee hurt?" "No." Both ankles hurt, but not as much going uphill. I kept looking at the altimeter. As it went from 2900 ft to 3100 ft I recalled that the saddle was 4000+. I stopped looking for a while, to play a mental trick. I looked: 3400 ft. At long last there were some lights, people, and more hot soup. I thought it tasted good, even though it was now the middle of the night. My stomach was fine. But even as I was complimenting the "chef", Barry was quietly bringing it all back up, just beyond the lighted perimeter. "Didn't like the noodles," he muttered. Time to run again. "And it's down, down, down, with legs on fire..." said Johnny Cash. I couldn't control the music anymore. It was as if a maniacal alter ego were in control. I was going to have to listen to stuff I didn't like! Other runners went by. The pain had intensified, to a hammer-and-anvil timbre. It took forever to get to Chantry Flats. Someone was shoeing a horse in my head and, like Zeus, I wanted to let her out. The God of Pain was being born, in a bright and horrible moment in the dark. We came into Chantry Flats. I was trailing Barry up the road. Until now I had led when it was single track. It was now 3:40 am. Almost 23 hours and 74 miles ago I had thought the AC-100 was "a joke." I weighed in fine, but didn't respond coherently enough to questions. I understood them, and realized that they were designed to test my mental acuity, but I couldn't see any point in responding enthusiastically to them. I had to sit down. Rob McNair, who had undoubtedly followed his own advice, would soon be sitting at the finish.
I didn't want to change socks again. I didn't want to look, and I didn't want to get "pulled." (This, in fact, was my clandestine fear, and worst nightmare.) Someone I didn't know was just staring at his shoes, like a monk. An Asian woman appeared, screaming about blisters as she walked up to the parking lot. A pile of clothes moved-- someone else on a makeshift stretcher or bed, I couldn't tell. I furtively searched around in my drop bag. Barry had brought it: I was still sitting. The fumble factor was multiplied by indecision, and extended into the complex plane by a light, insubstantial feeling. I guessed that I'd change socks after all. It was the smartest decision I've ever made on my own. At least there was no discoloration on either ankle-- that I could see, that is. I felt mentally okay, in fact I didn't feel sleepy at all. But I was making mistakes, forgetting the sock liners, dropping my gear in the dirt, and so on. My mind wandered, which wasn't unpleasant. After almost 40 minutes, far longer than we had intended, it was time to face T. S. Eliot's devil of the stairs-- Mount Wilson. The Chantry cutoff time had crept too near while I dawdled, and I had gotten deeply chilled, as if Death himself were breathing over my shoulder.
This section was the scorpion's sting at the tail end of a very long, hard, unbelievable run. The course was very tough, with steep sections of lousy footing for a part of the uphill. Big "steps" from giant ancient tree roots, endless switchbacks in the dark under the forest canopy and, finally, rain conspired against us. Runners with pacers were coming BACK DOWN. Were they in the race? Had we gotten turned around? I felt confused, until it occurred to me that THEY WERE DROPPING OUT. I had stopped thinking about that, as another mental trick. It was amazing that the trick had worked so well.
My legs were tired. My ankles were feeling slushy, like an early spring morning in the East. They were neither cold nor hot, but the left one, in particular, felt loose, as if my foot would suddenly, of its own volition, sever itself from the rest of this mad expedition, and crawl off alone, to die in peace.
The rain picked up. Out came the emergency ponchos! Every single thing we brought had to be used! Deborah, I thought, would have a smug smile. The translucent yellow plastic gave us a ghostlike quality, only amplified by the occasional eerie green chemiluminescent glowstick hanging overhead, marking the trail. After the longest uphill of my life, we reached Manzanita Ridge-- another even steeper uphill. I was expecting the beautiful city lights that I had read about in Stephen Simmons's account of the AC-100. Instead, there was nothing but boiling smoke and fog. It looked like J.R.R. Tolkien's Mordor, and we were now headed to the tower. There would probably be a huge spider, confusion, and despair. I was thinking too much. Instinctively, Barry began leading up the steep slope. I followed him, listening to the percussion of the rain. After a long time we reached what we thought was the Mt. Wilson (dirt) toll road. Down again. Ouch! Ker-ding, dong, dangetty-dang, dang... "You're going the wrong way!" barked a pacer, coming up. He was right. Apparently there were two acceptable paths near the top of the ridge. We had skipped part of the trail briefing the day before where, undoubtedly, this little detail had been mentioned. When the two paths joined again, we had somehow taken the OTHER one back down. Oh come on! It can't be! Back up. Finally we reached the real toll road, and followed the others. This was downhill again. "Try a little fire, scarecrow?" said the Wicked Witch, sitting in a tree. I was now a big scaredy-cat, only slightly better than the Lion. But I was in fact the Scarecrow, with part of me over there, and the rest over here. There were Flying Monkeys on this course.
"Pain is mental, it's all in your head," and similar philosophical platitudes bubbled up, in whispered voices overlaying the constant clanging. "Your mind is a derivative detector, so if it doesn't get any worse, it'll be like nothing." I tried to use the voice of the HAL-9000 computer, the most soothing, hypnotic, mesmerizing voice I had ever heard as child. I then tried, by force of logic and then suggestion, to tare the balance back to zero, but with such a heavy load it just wouldn't null. The Fabulous Thunderbirds, whom I don't really like, had "Are You Tough Enough?" playing in the background. I suddenly thought of Ramsey Lewis. "Hang on Sloopy!" Thirty-three-and-a-third years ago, when my father regularly brought home blues LPs with the Verve label, they smelled good. I was cooking up some other distracting line of thought: then I caught my foot on a root and was forced to take some quick, hard steps to recover. The derivative clearly could work the other way, as two lightening strikes seared the fronts of both ankles, and a clap of thunder peeled across the empty fabric of awareness. I pulled up short, stopped, and let tears roll down my cheeks. The reverberant echoes were in sync with my heartbeat. There was no music, and I was alone. Barry was padding along ahead. I wondered if this would be my experience with the hundred: getting completely beaten, reduced to a blubbering coward, and riding the "Range Rover" back into town. The mythical Rover had been a source of much nervous pre-race mirth and scared talk-- whether it would have a leather interior, ashtrays, etc., as you may as well ride in style if you can't finish, and smoke a few bitter Lucky Strikes to look cool. Anyone who would dare to give cigarettes a name like that deserved to make as much money as P. T. Barnum allows, we figured.
Interwoven with the physical side of things, of course, was the psychological side. There was now the constant worry of simply not being fast enough to make the next cutoff. Or, perhaps, the even more troublesome thought that, even if you DID make ALL the cutoffs, that the finish, for some reason that seemed like a mathematical truth during the race, would still be slightly out of reach. Most of the time, Barry and I worked well together, using the two flashlights to better light the trail, calling out the hazards (each plant or obstacle having a shorthand name: "spikes", "knives", "rotating saws") and helping to fill each other's vests more quickly. But at times we'd have different ideas about how much we should speed up, push, or ease off. As I began to slow in the last quarter of the race to fight off the terrific pain, the miserable thought that I was now holding him up, and that if I were to drop then he'd surely finish, plunged me into a deep, dark frame of mind.
I thought of the mountain climber Scott Fisher, and his saying that, no matter what happens, you might as well groove on it, because if you bum out you'll never make it to the top. I tried grooving on the pain. I caught another rock and got the 100 kV jolt. I ended up bitterly thinking of Fisher, high on Everest, his non-biodegradable parka flapping aimlessly, loosely, over bleached bones. I wondered whether he was still groovin'.
At this point I looked up and noticed a parked pickup against the skyline. A man with a Stetson was leaning against it. He was a cowboy. He adjusted his hat, as if he had seen us. There were three or four huge Coleman jugs with yellow sides and red tops in the truck bed. I thought that he must be stocking the Idlehour aid station. Surely, we must be close! I glanced down and glanced back up. He was gone! And in his place was a shattered pile of stones. A complete figment of my imagination, I wished that I could at least have had an imaginary drink as well, or even an imaginary finish, at that point. Fortunately, the "real" Aid Station emerged.
At the Idlehour aid station, mile 83, our margin for error had begun to evaporate, as the 1:20 lead on the cutoff had now boiled down to a mere 35 minutes or so. The ghost of Valesco was now near enough to put a chill up my spine. We had to hurry! I'd never be able to run like he had done for the last section. Larry Gassan was here. We talked for 30 seconds. I told him I was never going to do this again. I didn't tell him that he didn't look like Larry Gassan. Hal Winton was asleep in a director's chair. I felt hobbled, and the 17 miles to go seemed absolutely hopeless. But there was no point in dwelling on it.
Off we go. Barry, apparently even more concerned than I was about making the next aid station on time, sped up and pulled away. But then, to my amazement, he would slow at a switchback until I could catch up. I half wanted him to go ahead and put on a surge, but I couldn't say anything, and he never did. On the uphill to Sam Merrill the pain lessened, I rallied, and we actually did put on a surge, regaining precious minutes. "Maybe," I thought, "I can hang in there."
We made Sam Merrill. Who was he? A Robert Service character? No, that was Sam McGee. I couldn't think straight. I think I ate something. But every second now counted. Keep going.
Needless to add, the steep, technical, rocky downhill from Sam Merrill brought my eyes out of their sockets a couple of times. I didn't really mind crying, as long as it didn't sink to sobbing. I could still move forward while crying, and it passed as the thunder echoed into the distance. In some way, I didn't really feel as if I were suffering. I was still "up here" narrating the plight of the music player.
"In spite of everything," said Anne Frank in her diary, "I still believe that people are really good at heart." And in spite of everything, I still thought that, somehow, I could finish.
"Come on Bertha," urged her pacer, "come on Bertha." She looked at us. "You guys are doing great. You're all going to finish." Maybe, I thought. Every conceivable running surface, including asphalt, sand, mud, shattered granite, scree, grey dust, cinder blocks, pebbles, dirt, pine needles, fallen leaves, and large smooth stones had now made its appearance at some time. The Grateful Dead was playing "Bertha". "I had to move, move, really had to move..." Garcia, no runner, could still comfort me with his sweet, lyrical guitar. At the Berkeley Greek Theatre in the late '80s a long ragged line of swaying people in the back had held a huge banner. It said in giant letters "Jerry Garcia is God." While the Examiner Op-Ed section wondered aloud whether a new and dangerous cult might be starting, I knew that the enthusiasts were, in fact, right. Not dangerous, mad, or anything. They just had to tell the truth.
Bertha's pacer could talk. She was energetic. She said she had missed the 33 hour limit by 10 minutes last year. I couldn't stand it. I wanted to trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries. Desiring this man's lift and that man's stride, with what I most enjoy, contented least... Even the Bard was no comfort. The trail was just awful. Steps, downed logs, rubber flaps (to control water flow), and other obstacles on the latter half of the descent to Millard campground were nothing short of pure agony for me to navigate. I'd stop completely and stare at each one.
"More power Mr. Scott," said the deep-but-shallow voice of Captain Kirk. But I was now the emotional Scotsman. "I'm trying the best I can, Captain," he complained, "but she won't hold together if you continue on like this." "Steady as she goes, Mr. Scott," said the forceful side, "Kirk out."
Millard campground is the 95 mile point, ninety-five POINT FIVE, I thought. The last digit was important to me. You might think that it's inconceivable to go 95 miles, have a little less than two hours on the clock, and drop out. But I almost did. "You've got 1.5 miles," cheered a volunteer. My heart lifted. "Ooops, I mean 5.1." I resisted the urge to scream something truly nasty about dyslexia. I carried a cold can of coke. I might as well have been walking with cannonballs instead of feet. Nothing had any spring. Every grain of sand was in intimate contact with my brain, sanding it down, rough and gritty, with a preternatural glare everywhere. Scritch, scritch, scritch. Up we went.
A cheerful girl in her early twenties, clean and bouncy, paced us up the long, gentle climb from the campground, on a dirt road. We didn't ask for any pacing, but she was probably bored with the aid station work. She was also a Good Samaritan. Hardly anyone else was coming in. I was still distraught, now at the thought that I had gotten so far and would be defeated somehow right at the end. I remembered a shark attack victim at Half Moon Bay who, having watched his surfboard disappear beneath him, was thrown clear. He paddled like mad for the shore. He bellowed for help. Even in ONE INCH of water, he was still terrified that he'd get taken. He couldn't move, as in a dream. I now knew how he felt: the final cutoff was closing in for the kill.
Life itself is a series of cutoffs. Most people just seem unaware of them.
Our "pacer" asked me a couple of times, the way that Californian-born kids do, "Is everything okay?" Obviously it was not. "Is there anything I can do?" Yes, shoot me quick. "It's only a few miles to the finish." Where's that gun?
I silently thought these replies, holding a secret dialog, making a separate peace.
She dumped us at the El Prieto trail, on any other day a cute little afternoon walk, a constitutional after a lazy picnic, a trail for baby buggies and champagne laughter. But now, in the stark daylight, it assumed Paul Bunyan proportions. "Here, I'll take the empty can back to Millard," she said.
Don't ever tell a runner that there are no more uphill sections unless the course is optically flat! Even a little 10 ft. rise to climb out of a small picnic area seemed to pile on despair. I stared at it darkly. Bertha and her friends went by. Other runners went by. My watch had "32" for the first two digits. Thirty-two hours. Time was running out! Finally, we struggled onto paved road-- hard but flat. We walked fast. The watch now read "32:15." I saw no sign of the finish. I felt a cold thrill. Valesco's ghost again? So, after everything, it had come down to this: I'd have to set my jaw and run, just like Valesco must have done. No matter what I'd been through so far, I'd have to dig even deeper. I wanted to laugh like a goddamn madman.
We ran. It seemed like an eternity of shuffling, with no more than dull throbbing, as my eyes bounced against the roof of a hollow-feeling skull, along those few miles. The Dead had switched to "Goin' Down the Road, Feelin' Bad". This run had no finish. Yellow ribbons were waving a lazy good-bye to my dream of finishing under the 33 hour limit. I was talking to myself, but I was too tired to listen. Finally, we dropped onto a grassy field. There it was! We were still running! I supposed that would at least look good. The finish line was a giant banner, complete with smiling people. I tried to smile, too, but I think it looked more like the wince people make at a distasteful joke. Hershel the dog was there, anxiously sniffing my ankles. The video camcorders were rolling, photos were being taken, and my parents and wife were congratulating us, and asking how we were. "Nothing to it!" I quipped, a planned line that slipped out before I realized that it didn't apply. Aside from a little soreness on the back of one knee, Barry was okay. He told me, in an ironic twist, that he didn't think HE would have made it without ME. Fearful I would fall apart emotionally in front of everyone, and just thankful that I didn't have to crawl like Julie Moss at the 1982 Ironman, I didn't dare repeat the same back to him. But I'll never forget how he waited at the switchbacks.
Hal congratulated us. He was awake again. He seemed implacable, peaceful, and sage. I don't remember what I said.
"Never again!" was my post-race motto. "Never say never!" announced a smiling woman, contradicting her own maxim twice. After having Deborah ice my elephant-man ankles, I drifted into a heavy trance. "The award ceremony is starting," someone said, "and they begin at the back." I was sure that would be me, but luckily another runner (Bill Hams) had finished a few minutes later, so they would begin with him. Yet another race. Now it was, unfortunately, time for the Julie Moss imitation. The little grassy slope just seemed impossible to climb! I had to crawl up the slope on all fours, very gingerly, miming a wounded soldier. No one was watching, as Hal Winton had begun acknowledging the volunteers and the money raised on behalf of Nancy Tinker. But someone was. One of the other runners made a face: her mouth expressed disgust and alarm, as if to say "I'm glad that's not me!" but the eyes were soft and showed sympathy, adding a silent "but I'm sorry it's you." When my name was called and I, ever so slowly, marched forward, received the handshake, and 33 hour buckle, my cynosure, the cheers and applause from others who had shared in this Brobdingnagian adventure made that moment one of the proudest I'll ever have. Unfortunately I was far too uncomfortable to stay for the rest of the ceremony. Sitting on a hard bench with my emaciated behind was like having two axe blades for support, and standing was simply out of the question.
Mental alertness doesn't seem to be much of a problem in the hundred. When your life is in danger, it's fairly easy to stay wide awake. But on the way back home I felt reality getting fuzzy and warm, and when I took a moment to just lie down on the couch, fully intending to get up and shower, I awoke almost an hour later, with no sense that time had passed. Hershel was intently watching me. He had brought me his favorite toy and dumped it on me, as a gesture of goodwill.
Part III. The Wake of the FloodOn Monday I was still walking, though barely. E-mail was coming in: what had happened? Apparently the real-time posting on the web (an interesting aspect of the race, and one that has the effect of adding some additional pressure, as friends around the world log on and "watch" you move forward) had died with us at Sam Merrill. I answered a few of them, but I had to work! I chased a couple of Orudis with a pot of black coffee. (Learn from my mistake, and take a day or three off!) It took an hour to walk less than a mile to UCI. It hurt like crazy, and was a huge mistake. Giving my first freshman chemistry lecture of the year, I told the UCI freshmen not to shy away from a challenge. For some inane reason I had worn the finisher's shirt. No longer among ultrarunners, I now imagined I looked like a self-aggrandizing fool. My feet were killing me! I couldn't move. I did a lot of extemporaneous talking, without moving a muscle except to lean on the podium, as the time I had allotted to organize my notes had been spent trying to get my socks on, instead. Later in the day, finishing up a manuscript, I kept fingering the belt buckle in my desk drawer, and wondering if I'd wake up again at Chantry Flats, or one of the other aid stations, having drifted into a fatigue-induced reverie, with miles to go. I squeezed the buckle for dear life, and tears sprang into my eyes again. I really didn't want to talk with anyone about the "weekend outing".
A week did not bring much in the way of pain diminution. I continued to underestimate the damage, thinking I'd be padding around the soft grass of the athletic field in a couple of days. By Wednesday, however, my elephant feet had become dinosaur feet and were truly scary. Ice, elevation, constant dosing with NSAIDs, etc. brought only slow progress, and took time I just didn't have. I had gotten "behind" by training so much earlier in the year. I could barely DRIVE because the brake pedal required too much pressure to get the car to stop, even with both feet on it. I drifted through a lot of intersections, and I felt as if it were a metaphor for my rudderless life. I wanted to run. The parting "advice" of broad-assed, martini-swilling shufflers of embossed certificates, as the German automobile doors slammed to, that "exercise is dangerous" was an interesting mental extension of the torture. At night all I could do was to move the pain around in space. I hobbled around, and had to explain. Unless the party involved is a runner or friend, it's too much effort. I reckon it's better to tell most people you slipped and fell, and let it go at that.
After finishing my first 50 mile run, I felt a wave of triumph, and the wake of the flood took a week to subside. But the hundred has been different. A soft halo of deep sadness surrounded me for three weeks. There was euphoria at finishing, but significant worry about the permanent damage that I may have done. The euphoria itself was tinged with overly high-strung emotion, like that at seeing a kidnapped child return safely home. It is naïve to think that one emerges unscathed from every adventure or that, as one finisher was remarking to another, "anyone can finish the Last Great Race, if they really want to." Not so! You might as well argue that anyone could prove Fermat's Last Theorem if they were willing to work on it. Talent, mechanical soundness, training, experience, and determination are all involved. Determination is the king, but the king may not always rule. And while the injuries may heal, one's mind can be permanently influenced. Your friends and family worry about you, as well. They also get put through something.
Walking half a mile on soft grass, around in a circle, three weeks after the AC-100, I felt as if I were back in time 11 years ago. I thought that I'd probably recover, but it still hurt somewhat. This was another underestimate. My ankles have come unglued a couple of times, feeling like hot noodles, loose and painful. I've been sidelined for the rest of 1998, a very, very high price to pay. I still don't feel right. Until the beginning of December, I could barely run at all, as in "try twenty-five steps and stop." If I did more than just a little bit, it hurts again. I missed carefree running like I miss my free and easy childhood; I longed to run like Hershel longs to talk. Not far, mind you, but just enough to clear my thoughts.
Swimming back and forth, ruefully, in an outdoor lap pool with the generous Southern California sunshine highlighting the numerous bubbles, dragging my poor legs like vestigial organs, and feeling my previously neglected shoulders, arms and back respond to the new form of exercise, I have had plenty of time to think. Having been to a conventional medical doctor early on in my running, when I had some minor knee problem, I know that the standard advice is simply "Don't run" plus "Don't be stupid like that again" and so on and so forth. That guy smelled heavily of cigars. I wanted to tell him "don't smoke!", but I just decided to forget the whole thing. In a mad world, you have to vow to outlast them, or YOU'LL be the one who goes mad. This time I haven't bothered tipping my hand. I'm sure a proper sports medicine type would be fine, and I trust medical science like I trust all science that is carefully done. Nevertheless I toyed with the idea of some alternatives, but in the end didn't want to chance being victimized by the abundant quacks who exploit any sign of weakness. I remembered a man in the Midwest who, capitalizing on the terror of the early stages of the AIDS epidemic, packed his own urine into vials that sold for $50, sending them off to desperate patients as a "cure" for AIDS. Business boomed for a while, until he ended up on some cheap investigative TV show. So, I've been recuperating on my own, and improving each week.
It's difficult to explain to non-runners why an ultramarathon is appealing. In part it's appealing because it DOES NOT appeal to most. This is the purely negative reactionary cry, the last desperate wail of despair at a life gone soft with overstuffed sofas, remote controls, and nonsense like Sports Bars, in which no sports are done. The world of diet aids that "work while you sleep to melt away pounds and build muscle," presumably with no effort, the world of larger and larger clothing sizes, as Americans pile on mass at an ever quickening rate (in spite of these miracle products!), in short a world gone completely mad-- has little to recommend it. I WANT effort. I value it. In fact, it's the most important thing of all to enjoy in life applying, as it does, across the board to anything. There may also be a love of solitude, a misanthropic backlash from overcrowding and impersonality that leads one to value training alone for hours. Love of nature, wilderness, and the joy of attempting something tough are additional factors. There is also a positive side, perhaps best encapsulated by William James, in a passage my father first read to me.
"To go back now to our general maxims, I may at last, as a fifth and final
practical maxim about habits, offer something like this: Keep the faculty of
effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be
systematically heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two
something for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the hour of
dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the
test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his
house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never
bring him a return. But if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his
salvation from ruin. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits
of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary
things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and his
softer fellow mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast."
You may find a spiritual aspect of ultramarathoning, which you did not expect, and which is best captured by this slightly altered Eastern quote.
"On a clear day, run up to the sky, and enter the clarity."
The final facet of ultramarathoning is the love of the wild and free. You won't see anyone riding a zebra, because a zebra cannot be broken-- ever. Likewise, an ultramarathon stands on its own as a counterexample to a world of labor-saving gadgets and machines that isolate us from physical contact with the world. In it you feel the raw excitement of living, moving through space, and remaining unbroken by the inexorable trends of progress. In short, you earn your stripes.
I could expound further, but this note has already gotten too long to read. I'm completely off long distance running until, like women who have more than one child, I manage to grey out and desaturate the memory of the pain, recalling in technicolor only the beautiful vistas, the sounds of the forest, the magnificent trees and crystal-clear streams. And the triumph of finishing together with my brother!
A full three months after the AC-100, I can now run 5 miles on the soft. I hold my breath, mentally, the entire time. I guess my tattered tendons are on the mend. Using a Precor EFX training machine, with its generous ankle rotation, has helped me to maintain range of motion.
Supposing, then, that I do finally recover and rise from the ashes of experience to fan the flames of another ultra, would I ever consider running the hundred again? I just can't answer that directly, because I don't know for sure. Oftentimes one thing leads to another, with no clear-cut dividing line, and you gradually find yourself making the same old mistakes. So, it's hard to say for sure what will be.
Instead, I recall an early morning scene over 20 years ago, at a small convenience store/bar in Evanston, Wyoming. I was camping with a friend, and we were getting supplies before heading into the Uintah Mountains. The sun had just come up. A huge motor home, with giant powerboat in tow, pulled up and parked crooked. A broad-backed man with a sunburned, scarred, and beer-inflated face emerged. He looked like he had been through a lot. Inside, the clerk knew him. The man ordered up six cold cases of Colt 45, in a gravelly voice. The clerk, a thin-waisted, diminutive, neat man, was getting visibly agitated as he loaded the dolly higher and higher. The big man towered over him. "Now John," the clerk finally said nervously, "you ain't plannin' to go drinkin' and boatin' again, are you?" Bluebeard saw that we were watching. He turned toward us, grinning like an escaped convict. "Well," he boomed deliberately, "I might have ONE."
A. J. Shaka 17 December, 1998 Irvine, CA