There is a famous Sidney Harris cartoon in which two scientists stand in front of a chalkboard covered with complex equations, and one of them points to where the board reads "then a miracle occurs..." And that about sums up my experience with the Angeles Crest 100 mile Endurance Run, where after dealing with the complex equations of training, tapering, equipment preparation, caloric and electrolytic needs, race pacing, stomach problems, minor injuries, and lots more, I managed not only to finish the race in fine style - running the last four miles as hard as I could and literally sprinting across the finish line to finish under 30 hours - but to experience essentially no ill effects following the race - no cramping, no stiffness, no sore muscles, not even any tiredness - not immediately after the race, and not in the days following the race. Compared to how I felt after my only other 100-mile race, and even after many shorter races, it was almost literally a miracle.
Unlike some ultrarunners, I've never been obsessed with the 100-mile distance, but in 2002 after seven years of running 50K's and finally a couple 50-milers, I did my first 100-mile race, Western States. In that race, a knee injury forced me to walk the last 55 miles. As a result, although I had completed a 100-mile event, I never really felt like I had "run" 100 miles (not that anyone actually runs every step of the way), and moreover, I felt like I hadn't seen what I could do. I applied for the 2003 race, and when I didn't get in, I told myself that if I had a good race at the Miwok 100K in May, I would enter the Angeles Crest (AC) 100 in September as a "substitute." I was happy with my race at Miwok, but procrastinated entering AC, which turned out just as well, because for six months or more I was experiencing pretty severe hamstring pain which would have compromised my performance. In 2004 I didn't get into Western States yet again, and made the same "deal" with myself. I had some problems at Miwok, but not enough to discourage me from entering a longer race. This time I went ahead and sent in my entry to AC, and commenced preparation.
One of the reasons it took me so long to enter AC was because I had fears of the race. Lots of them.
Yes, I had lots of fears going into this race. On the other hand, some things didn't bother me at all. The race is run at altitude, with the first 50 miles or so above 5000 feet and ranging as high as 9000 feet. I knew from experience at the Tahoe Rim Trail 50K that that would slow down my time, but that's just the way it is, and I was pretty sure from my experience at Pikes Peak that 9000 feet was low enough so that altitude sickness wouldn't be a factor. And the second thing was hills. The race has nearly 22,000' of climbing, with three climbs around 1000', two around 2000', one of 2500', and another of 3100'. But climbing is "what I do." Nearly every training run I do involves hills, typically 1500-2000' for every 10 miles, so although the hills would again pose an obstacle, they were certainly not one of my fears.
Starting in March with my birthday run (the Stevens Creek 50K), I logged long runs of 39, 44, and 35 miles leading in to the Miwok 100K at the beginning of May. Miwok went ok, although I went through one very bad patch 2/3 of the way through. After that I backed off, dropping my weekly mileage into the 20's and 30's through May and June. Throughout July and August I stepped up to the 50+ mpw range, including runs of 37, 30, 45 (the "Steve's to the Sea" run), and 29 miles, plus one 50K race (I wanted at least one long effort where I tried to push myself a little harder than on my typical training runs).
Throughout this period I was also experimenting with equipment and food. I began drinking Succeed Amino on my long runs, and even practicing mixing it from powder on the fly. I have no strong opinions on the composition of various electrolyte fluids (Gatorade, Cytomax, Succeed, etc.), but I did find that the very mild, "crisp" taste of the Succeed (note: NFI in this or any other products mentioned herein) was something I thought I could tolerate indefinitely, and moreover it was something I could tolerate when it was warm, which becomes important on long runs. I had also experimented with eating cheese/bagel sandwiches on my extra-long runs, as a way of getting in some extra calories.
Although my lighting arrangement during Western States was ok, I decided the longer night at AC (with its mid-September rather than late June race date) warranted better lights, so I bought a Petzl Tikka Plus to replace the Petzl Tikka I had used before. The newer unit has four LEDs instead of three, which turned out to make a noticeable difference.
After experimenting with shoes during the year, I had settled in on New Balance 807's. Getting smart for once, I bought one pair, wore it for a few training runs and then the 50K race, and then set those aside for AC and purchased another pair for daily training. Later in the game I decided to buy another pair one size larger for later in the race if I had foot swelling problems. Strangely enough, though, although that pair came in a box marked size 14, and the previous pair was marked size 13, when I looked inside the tongue they were both labelled 14. The new pair did feel a bit bigger, but maybe that was just psychological. Who knows? After finding Fox River socks that I really liked, that were a little thicker in the forefoot and seemed to work well on my longer runs, I bought three new pairs and put them aside for race day (after washing, they shrink a little bit, which is why I wanted brand new pairs to race in).
My other key foot choice was gaiters (Joe TrailMan gaiters to be specific).
Gaiters are designed to keep stones and dirt out of your shoes. In ten years of running ultras, I had always disdained them, figuring that I could just tough it out, or wiggle my foot to get the stones in a place where they didn't bother me. But in my other 100-mile race, stones had been a problem I eventually had to deal with, and with my tendancy to cramp up, worrying about sitting or squatting down to deal with a shoe problem wasn't something I wanted to do, so I finally invested in a pair of gaiters. After the first run, I was instantly in love with them! I run on a lot of trails with small sticks and bark as well as stones, and, during training runs when I didn't care about losing time, I was constantly stopping to get stuff out of my shoes. Not only did that stop totally, but as a side benefit, I was no longer finishing my runs with my socks totally impregnated with dirt and my feet partially impregnated (although the feet problem had been somewhat alleviated by my choice of shoes and socks). Wearing the gaiters I could finish the longest runs with my socks and feet completely clean. It was practically a miracle!
Finally came September and time to taper. I did my last long run (29M, 5000' ascent) exactly three weeks before race day. The rest of that week my longest run was 14M; two weeks before the race it was 10M, and on race week it was just 6M. Just as important, for the last two and a half weeks, I did NO hills whatsoever. My left Achilles had been acting up a bit and I wanted it as rested as possible for the race, along with my specific hill climbing muscles. And finally, the last three weeks of running were almost all done at mid-day, in the middle of a heat wave which hit the Bay Area, giving me lots of experience running at 90+ degrees. I was ready.
Unfortunately, it's not enough just for me to be ready. "Stuff" has to be ready too. Before I could make a plan for the race, I needed to understand my probable times. Looking at past results of people whose speed I compare to my own, I guessed at a "best case" scenario of 27 1/2 hours and a "worst case except for serious problems" of 30 hours; combining that with information in the race book showing splits for typical runners, I worked out a detailed schedule (below) of expectations.
Based on my expected times I worked out a fluid schedule, estimating how many bottles of fluid would be needed for the different segments of the race; filled with Succeed, each bottle would provide 150 calories. Then I worked on the complete caloric schedule, adding in regular intake of GU, along with more selective intake of Cliff Bars (Chocolate Mint), bagel with cheese, and Hershey's "Milkshakes." I would be referring to the schedule I worked out, as would my crew Debi, who would have the appropriate items ready at the aid stations she could access. For the other aid stations, at most of them I prepared a "drop bag" which was actually a large ziplock bag containing a couple GUs to replenish my supply, some Succeed powder in a smaller baggie, and occasionally some other item like an extra supply of Advil or salt tablets in case they were needed. My only "real" drop bag was one left at the Chilao aid station, where the transition from day to night was expected. Although Debi would be carrying a backpack containing appropriate night clothes (long-sleeved shirt, jacket, tights) and supplies (headlamp, NoDoz), I had to plan for the possibility that something might go wrong and she wouldn't make it to Chilao, so for Chilao I prepared a drop bag containing duplicates of all (or most) of those things, just in case. You don't train for months and months and run 50 miles only to find out you don't have a light and you can't continue!
Finally we were ready to head off to Los Angeles, where motel reservations had been made months before in the start and finish areas. We headed down to L.A. midday Thursday, hoping to have enough time to drive the course backwards (as much of it as can be seen from the Angeles Crest Highway, anyway), but as usual, a late start killed that plan. We did manage to stop long enough in Pasadena (Altadena, actually) to see the finish line, or at least the approximate area where it would be; I'm not big into "visualization," but just for logistical reasons I thought it might be nice to see where I was headed. After that it was on to the hotel in Cajon Pass, 15 minutes east of the race start in Wrightwood.
The next morning we drove over to Wrightwood, a quaint little mountain resort (ski) town, grabbed a light breakfast, and checked in at race headquarters, getting weighed in (at 173 lbs) and having the mostly symbolic medical bracelet with my weight and blood pressure affixed to my wrist. A nice and substantial lunch at the Grizzly Cafe followed; I prefer a large lunch to a large dinner pre-race. The afternoon was spent chatting with the handful of people in the race who I knew and listening to the race briefing which ended with a slide presentation of the course. It was hardly essential, but since I was totally unfamiliar with the course and had read about people getting lost in past years, I thought that anything I could pick up and remember just might come in handy. As it turned out it was just a pleasant way to spend some time.
A spaghetti dinner followed the meeting, but it would be a while, and since we had a little drive, we elected to just pick up some sandwiches at the market across the street and head back to the motel. After dinner, Debi pursuaded me to do something I never do, which is to do something new before a race. Specifically, she talked me into letting her massage my legs. On more than one occasion I've experienced cramping problems, especially in my calves, and she thought a good massage might help. As it turned out, I didn't have any cramping problems the entire race, so maybe it did!
No one sleeps terribly well the night before a race; I actually don't do too badly. Except this night. The bed we were in was, quite simply, the most uncomfortable bed I can remember sleeping in. I tossed and turned all night, and I'm pretty sure I didn't get a single minute of sleep the entire night. Not the best prelude to a race which was going to last me all Saturday and part of Sunday, but what are you going to do? Heck, we had to get up at 3:30 a.m. anyway. So up we got, loaded up the car, picked up a bag of ice at the gas station adjacent to the motel, and drove off to start the adventure.