The race's title fit fairly well. There was an actual Mt. Disappointment that we ran up, but there also was a lot of disappointment.. and mountains. To put it in perspective I ran the first 26.2 miles in 4:49, and the last 23.8 miles in 6:45. Definitely not the course to run your first 50 miler on, but the experience will put future races in perspective.
The first two miles were on road at about 5500 feet. I had done some hypoxic swimming to prepare for the decreased oxygen, but I was could not accommodate for the lower pressure affecting my bladder and stomach. I hadn't eaten too much fiber at all and had stayed on top of my salt, but ended up having to go 1 and 2 a few times early on. After the road, we slowly headed up Mt. Disappointment on single track. I say we, because I was in a pack of 30 or so runners who were all walking the same pace. Heading back down the other side, there were definitely some more skilled mountain goats (doing only the 50k) taking the descent much more aggressively, while I was trying to pace myself for the full 50. We finally stopped descending after about mile ten and were about 2300 feet lower than the start. However, I still was acclimating to performing at altitude, and hadn't fully accepted that I needed to keep my heart rate lower than I wanted to (the stomach problems didn't stop till mile 15). After Clear Creek aid station (mile 10.8) there was a 1250 foot climb over two and a half miles. I actually saw Downtown LA from the trail event though we were pretty deep in the San Gabriel Mountains. I normally would have ran/walked the hill, running the flatter portions and walking the steeper, but my stomach was not ready till a mile or so after the EN264 aid station, so I ended up losing a lot of time. I had a few potatoes and salt hoping to keep enough food in my stomach to keep it engaged and keep my energy levels up.
After being held back by my stomach for so long, I eagerly pushed the pace once on Colby Canyon and Strawberry Trail (didn't see any strawberries). Climbing on the strawberry trail was much more my style with a lot of runable sections that allowed me to make up some time and catch a few runners. Coming out onto Mt. Lawlor Saddle, I got carried away and began pushing harder. It was a single track trail carved right into the side of the mountain that had a good few miles of shear 1,000 foot drops, but the adrenaline pumping helped me attack without too much fear. There was another 600 foot descent coming into Red Box Aid Station. I was running with some 50k guys, and had to force myself to slow down and let them go in order to save my quads and knees. Pulling into the aid station at just under 4 hours, I knew I wasn't going to be under 10 hours, but got plenty of potatoes and refilled my bars and bottles, and pressed on.
This was the start of the heat becoming a big factor. Last years course record holder, Jorge Pachecho was running this year with a cambleback and two 20oz bottles. Initially I was concerned about running with a cambleback vest-pack because of my pace being slowed and the sloshing about, but the second half of the course demanded it with the lack of shade, canyons blocking wind, and long hills. The run down into Westfork aid station (26.2) was about a 1300 foot drop that was mainly in the sun and on some inconsistent trails that took a toll on my knees. I arrived at Westfork which was the split for 50k finishers to head towards the finish or 50 milers to head onward to the back loop of the course. When the aid station workers asked which race I was doing, I was proud to say I was doing the full 50, but little did I know when I saw them again in 18 miles, I would be in a whole nother mental state.
I began climbing a 3 mile uphill and passed another female runner who was walking. I began to slow down and walked with her for a bit. She looked alright, but had been walking the whole hill (which was not the most steep on the course). We talked about the course, and she gave me some good tips. This part of the course which was a long shaded climb was not to be run. It was a prelude to a much steeper and hotter part of the course that had claimed others. Last years temps had been over 108 on that part of the course had left "a trail of vomit" from various runners suffering from overheating. I took her advice carefully but still wasn't ready for the severity of the 2000 foot climb. After passing through the saddle for the second time, I drank as much liquids as possible and prepared mentally for the climb.
This was beyond any distance I had ever run, and I was concerned about my first time in no man's land on such a difficult part of the course. The 3 miles down to the San Gabriel river were some of the worst footing imaginable. The trail was littered with 10-50 lb rocks that took their toll on my feet. My shoes, Salomon Trail Runner SW's worked great at my last race, but during this section, they allowed my feet to bend in many directions further than they should have, and it ended up taking a lot out of me to run upright and not fall. After the river crossing, the longest uphill of my life began. The trail quickly lost all shade and had little or no wind most of the way. I walked with another runner that came walking up behind me. He was in good spirits and optimistic for climb still ahead. He was planning to run the WS100 but since the fires had canceled the race, he opted to run the Angeles Crest 100 that would take place in a few weeks on the same trail we were on. He was running the flatter sections and walking fast on the others. Eventually I told him I'd see him later, and dropped back a bit. After getting about 2.5 miles up, I was down to about 5 oz of water in one bottle. I had been walking the whole way, but the heat had taken it's toll. I passed an unlocked SAR suburban and borrowed one of their instant cold packs. I was starting to confuse rocks as squirrels and was getting more worried about my liquids as I had started to stop sweating. Slowly but surely I made it to the SAR station and made the mistake of sitting down to drink some water. After downing a few water bottles and mixing some more accelerade, I continued on with some extremely tight legs. The 3 miles into Shortcut aid station where I met my mom, took forever. I was not only still suffering from the heat damage, but also from my legs feeling worse than ever. As I pulled into Shortcut, I made sure not to sit down.
This section of the course made me pretty mad at the course designer. The climb into shortcut had severely tested me, but it was still walkable and still had consistent enough footing. However coming back down to Westfork, the experience was comparable to being beaten up after a marathon before climbing a mountain. The downhills during the race were opportunities to make up time, however this descent and subsequent creek bed transit were opportunities to break ankles and fall. The 4 miles into Westfork seemed to take forever as I was in struggled through 30+ creekbed crossings.
I was not in too good of a mood at Westfork knowing that I had a 5 mile, 2600 foot, 2 hour walk to the finish. I jokingly told one of the aid workers that some jerk had put a lot of rocks in the middle of the trail that made the footing very difficult, his reply being "well it is a trail race". I drank up some more, and asked what the last 5 miles were like and what I should look for when I approach the finish, and his reply was "you just go up the hill". Maybe he didn't quite know the course, but I was starting to get the feeling he thought I was whining. He kept talking. "You know, Jorge already already won the race 2 hours ago." "Don't run this, don't overdo it, you'll pay". Maybe he was right, but he wasn't helping at all. I ran most of the first mile approaching the climb, and then began the slow consistent walk. I put a timer on for 15 minutes. Ever 15 minutes I'd force myself to eat something and drink a 1/8 of my liquids. I knew it could take 2 hours or more, but that if it went beyond 2 hours, I would be close enough to draw on reserves. As I approached within a mile of the finish, I was cautious to start believing I was actually at the finish. Other aid stations had been within view but had required a winding path to reach them (shortcut). When I finally approached the last tenth of a mile and could hear my mom and sister yelling, I ran all the way into the finish and looked back over the valley in disbelief that I had finally finished the race. There were parts where I couldn't even imagine the possibility of being done with it, but once I reached it, it all was worth it.
At the start the race director had referred to us 50 milers as the "unfortunate ones" while the 50k. One fellow racer said he was only doing the fun run, the 50k. The back loop truly was much more severe than I had anticipated. I came to realize that I had made some tactical mistakes:
1) Understanding the course: The length of many hills were longer than I had ever ran before. The knowledge to know when to walk and when to push it was critical.
2) Hydration: The 6 miles from Newcomb to the SAR station required much more than just 40 oz of water to attack it at a reasonable pace. I needed to have another 20-40oz. If I had had a cambelback or a dual 20 waist back, the race would've been much different.
3) Walking skills: My friend running up to the SAR station agreed with me, there are some amazing older runners that have blazingly fast uphill walks. My running style is more fluid and allows me to roll my torso and hips more to absorb shocks. However fast walking is more about stiffer legs and a tighter torso.. Something I need to work on for hillier races.
4) Stiffer shoes: Ultramarathoners like to feel the course, but at the same time run in the best shoes. I knew exactly what I should've been wearing 20 miles into the race, but by then it was too late.
5) Race Virgin: Miles 33-39 had some of the worst terrain to go into no man's land on. As one veteran told my mom, "he really picked one of the worst races to do his first 50 miler".