Angeles Crest 100M (2014) - Race Report
The starting line of the Angeles Crest 100M 2014 (photo: Ivan Buzik)
You know it is going to be a great and fun day when you toe the line of a race with all your friends. This year’s AC100 was no exception and prove once again that running is so much more than just an individual sport.
This race was very special for me. For the first time since I started running ultras (almost 2 years ago now) I had my family crewing for me. They came all the way from France for the race and I was very excited about that. For the occasion, I assembled a 100% French team, my good friends Christophe, Christelle and their son Aidan, as well as Philippe and Stephanie having also freed up their week-end schedule to come to the race and support me!
The French Team! (photos: Diana Treister and Christophe Balestra)
The atmosphere at the pre-race meeting was electric. AC100 is quite an event in SoCal, and being part of it (as a runner, crew, volunteer or spectator) is always an honor. People are passionated about this race and it feels like time literally stops during the AC100 week-end. It’s all about experiencing the mountains, fast or slow it doesn’t really matter.
Wrightwood to Eagle’s Roost (0-30mi): Setting the pace
The morning of the race was warm. I was strangely very relaxed. A lot of people were expecting great things about me today, but that did not really affect me. In fact I was just very excited to finally run this race. AC100 had become a big focus of mine for the past 6 months, and I had trained like a mad man, meticulously studying every inch of the course.
The calm before the racing storm (photo: Mom)
All the SoCal running legends as well as the young guns were at the start. Dom, Chris, Jorge, Jussi, Howie, Tommy, Erik, Andy, Elan, Pam, Keira, Katie for sure this race knows how to gather some serious running talents!
5:00AM and we were off! My race plan was to be conservative for the first half of the race, and to try to push after Chilao (mile 52) to catch up the big dogs. Of course, being conservative didn’t mean necessarily walk the climbs and I ran every single steps of the Acorn trail at what felt a very comfortable pace. 3.5mi and 2200ft later, I was leading at the top in a new PR of 44min … well either that was going to be an amazing day for me or my “running feel” was totally off. The sunrise on blue ridge was gorgeous. I made sure to eat/drink in the semi-technical down to Inspiration Point, waiting for the downhill speedsters to pass me. At my surprise, nobody passed me and I was still leading the race when I arrived at the first aid station (9.3mi) in 1:30, 3min faster than record pace (again, a strangely comfortable 8min PR …). The crowd was dense at the AS, and I was welcomed with a lot of cheering love!! I ran by, quickly grabbing the new bottles prepared by my crew, before jumping into the small climb waiting for the runner when exiting the AS.
Full speed into the Inspiration Point AS (9.3mi). Feeling easy and relaxed (photo: Mom)
Nobody was in sight and I was starting to wonder if I was going too hard or not. I was still feeling easy though, so I just thought that my hard training was paying off. I had a lot of fun on the 4.5 rolling miles between Inspiration Point and Vincent Gap, and I arrived at the bottom of Mt Baden Powell in 2:07, 5min faster than record pace … Once again, my crew did an amazing job and I was ready in no time to tackle one of my favorite 2500ft climb ever. Before leaving the AS, my father made sure I knew I was 10min faster than the splits I gave him before the race, to what I responded that I’ll take the next section very easy.
I made sure to slow down and I forced myself to cut my running with some power-hiking during the Mt Baden-Powell climb, reaching the top in just under an hour, exactly what I wanted. I was relieved to finally see someone when Jorge passed me at the end of the climb! I also got a glimpse of Chris and Michele not far below in the switchbacks. “Great” I thought, “The action is about to begin!”. I made sure to smile for the iconic “Larry Gassan’s Top of Baden Powell photo” and started the long descent to Islip Saddle.
During the down, I took my time and focused on good footing to avoid any ankle sprains (yes, they are kind of my specialty). Michele and Chris were right on my heels and we shared some miles together. I really enjoyed those miles, I really love the alpine views once you get on the ridge. After Throop Peak Chris took off, chasing Jorge who was not far in front of us. I slowly pulled away from Michele in the down and arrived in 3rd place at Islip Saddle in 4:30 (still 5min faster than my expected time … and new PR again ;) ).
Having fun on the PCT. (photo: Hillary Coe)
Arriving to Islip Saddle is always special, the crews did not see their runners for 2-3h so they are are super excited when you finally show up. Also, this is the first AS where you are weighed so you have a first indication of how good you did with your nutrition/hydration on the first part of the race. Having ran out of water during the descent, I was ready to be reminded by the medical team that I should drink more, but it ended up that had just lost 1lb, so that was not that bad. It was only 9:30am but the heat was slowly starting to rise. My crew got me wet, gave me a ice-filled bandana and I was ready to go back on the PCT. Next step, the Williamson climb!
Medical check and refuelling at Islip Saddle (photo: Jack Rosenfeld and Mom)
The ascent of Mt Williamson is relatively short (1.8mi) but butt-kicking. I was moving well though, alternating power-hiking and running. The sight lines are long on this climb and I got a glimpse of Jorge and Chris who were only 5-8min in front of me. I reached the top and started the rocky descent over Eagle’s Roost. I lost 3min for a much needed stop in the bushes and got caught up by Michele. We ran together into Eagle’s Roost, just 4min after Chris and Jorge. More ice, more water and I was back again in the hunting game.
In and out at the Eagle’s Roost AS before grinding the 3mi road section (photo: Jack Rosenfeld and Mom)
Eagle’s Roost to Chilao (30-52mi): Seeking to please my feet
This next section starts with a 3 mile road section (the original PCT route has been momentarily closed to recreation since 2006 to protect critical habitat for the Mountain yellow-legged frog. A solution is being actively searched so this area can be opened again in a near future). Roads are not that bad, except when you have brand new trail shoes with an aggressive outsole, sticky rubber and 7mm-deep lugs (and no rock plate) … I can assure you that as soon as I started running on the road, my beaten feet were able to precisely locate every single individual lug on the outsole. I had run this section with the same shoes before without any problem, but I guess having the feet wet from the cold water poured down on my body at each AS, sensitized my feet a bit, a detail that I had overlooked. The pain was minor for the moment, and I knew that once back on the trails, this should be fine.
“Dude, those lugs are fantastic on the trails … not on the road …” (photo: Christophe)
I ran the road section with Michele and we made the right turn into Buckhorn campground before entering the Burkhart trail. To our surprise, we got a sight of Chris just few yard in front of us. I pulled away from Michele in the down to the Burkhardt/PCT trail junction and passed Chris at the beginning of the Cloudburst climb. He told me Jorge was just few minutes in front and that I should catch him very soon. I don’t know why, but I like this climb. It is very exposed, all runnable and it is supposed to be hot. Unfortunately for me, a nice cloud cover had settled down and the canyons were not as hot as expected. In exchange for the clement heat, we got offered some humidity which made the ambient air even more heavy. I ran most of the climb before turning right on the PCT at the fireroad junction. Jorge was now in sight and he didn’t seem to move very well. I was hoping he was not having a bad day again, but apparently his recurring stomach problems were starting to manifest.
As I was about to pass him and take the lead again, mister Unicorn showed up and flew by right by me. “Glad to see you here”, I shooted, “I was worried about you!”. It’s always a pleasure to run with Dom. He told me he was in trouble earlier, having some problems to ingest some food, but that now he was ok. Yes, for sure he was ok now, seeing how efficient he was in the climb! He made a little gap on me during the few downhill parts of the climb and I arrived at the Cloudburst AS just before noon, few minutes behind him, happier than ever.
Chasing the Unicorn on the Cloudburst climb (photo: Christophe)
Being at the Cloudburst Summit means that you have already done 37.5 miles. From there the monotonous but fast downhill section to Three Points awaits for you. My crew quickly refilled my bottles, poured me some more cold water/ice on, and I quickly took off. Except for my feet, I was still feeling really great, and most importantly, I was having a blast leapfrogging with all my friends for the lead!
My crew and I were all having a blast at the Cloudburst AS (mile 37.5).
Check out those smiles! (photo: Mom)
As soon as I started the low grade descent, I knew that this section was going to be long. My feet were on fire now, and the only thing I could think about was to change my shoes at Three Points. It was still a relatively long way to there, so I forced myself to think about something else. I slowed down a lot in the hope of reducing the impact forces on my feet. I lost 10min on Dom just on this section, but I was still on my 19h splits though. When I finally arrived at the AS, my first words to my crew were about changing shoes! Michele arrived 1min later. I put on my 110v2, not the most comfortable shoes, but at least they have a rock plate. I thanked everyone and left the AS while Michele was still refueling.
Much needed shoes change at Three Points. (photo: Mom)
The way to Hillier was pleasant. The trail is nice in this area and the only thing you have to take care off is to avoid the purple poodle dog bush. My feet started to bother me again once on the road of the climb to Hillier. “Damnit” I thought, “I should have put on dry socks too ;)”. The climb was not a problem, I ran all of it and did not even stop at the AS at the top. Just out of the AS, there was some fresh puke on the trail … I knew it was Dom. I started the technical down to Chilao and Michele joined me for the fun part in the boulders. We got to the AS together and we went on the scale for the second time of the day. +1lb … everything was fine.
Coming into Chilao with Michele (photos: Mom)
I put on some dry socks and took off my magic weapon from my arsenal: Caffeine! The week before the race I had suppressed my caffeine intake, no coffee, no coke. The idea was to sensitize my caffeine receptors so I would have a pretty good kick when taking in caffeine on the second part of the race. Let me tell you, that worked pretty well! I chucked down and entire can of coke and I didn’t have to wait long to feel the adrenaline rush. “Let’s go for it!”, I told David (first pacer). Dom had left only 10min ago and I knew that with my new feet and all the sugary stimulating liquid circulating my body right now I could make up some time on him on the next section. I was in running heaven, and magic was about to happen.
New feet, pumped pacer and large amount of caffeine = awesomeness (photos: Christophe and Mom)
Chilao to Chantry (52-74mi): The rise and fall of the French bull
We left Chilao more motivated than ever. Michele stayed there 2 more minutes, but I was convinced I’ll see him very soon. This is a 6.5mi section until Shortcut Saddle, some rolling ups and downs, then a technical down and a nice little climb before the AS. We were moving well and running was easy. David was excited to finally be running with me and we chatted the whole way. The technical down went pretty well and I was super excited for the climb. Approaching the climb, we heard some cheering up on the road. “That must be Dom” I though. I started to work hard on the climb, running every single steps of it. That was good, really good, and I was loving this climb. My crew was on fire at the top, screaming some loud “Allez Allez” like never before. David was doing great too, trying to keep up with me. 1:16 for the section, not necessarily super fast, but good enough to make up some time.
Charging the climb and rushing into the Shortcut Saddle AS like an enraged bull (photos: Pap)
At Shortcut AS, I was in “Super stocked” mode, still feeling the effects of the can of coke I drank earlier. I chucked down 3 other glasses of coke, and I was ready to charge the long downhill up to the bottom of the canyon.
I didn’t even wait for David to finish to be prepared and I was ready to jump into the trail connecting to the fireroad when I got a surprise … Dom … This was Dom, he was still at the AS with his pacer, waiting for a bottle to be filled. I was so much focused that I didn’t even notice he was there when I arrived. Sounds like we were all going to have a downhill running party in a moment ;) I went on the trail, with Dom and his pacer on my heels. David caught us up later on and the 4 of us started the long descent on the fireroad. It was so much fun, running with a friend, 63mi into one of the best race the country has to offer, is priceless.
One of the highlights of my race: Leading the race with Dom and having
some good time on the down from Shortcut (63-65mi). (photo: Peter Williams)
I slowly pulled away from Dom as he had some trouble breathing on the down. I was cruising and enjoying my time. My quads started to feel a bit beaten with all this downhill, but that did not worry me much at that time, I knew it was going to go up soon. Just as we were going to hit the bottom of the canyon, Ruperto showed up. “Wow, I didn’t see this one coming” I thought. For sure Ruperto looked super fresh and he was flying right now. We chatted a bit and then he took off, not much I could do at that point. My plan was to run the whole climb up to Newcomb AS and make up the time I had lost on him on the down. Surprizingly, after all this downhill running my legs were not very cooperative, and I couldn’t do more than walk the whole climb. Dom passed me and offered me some protein recovery drink. He knew I was having a bad patch and he wanted me to go out of the hole. I thanked him and watched him go away, hunting Ruperto. Newcomb AS, 15min back of Ruperto and 7min back of Dom. Well, I didn’t loose that much finally. I quickly said Hi to Maria Pacheco via the video system connected to Chantry and I went back to work. Time for some singletrack fun!
David and I entered the singletrack. This is a fun part of the race, you enter a forest and follow a creek before hitting a very steep road leading to Chantry. I was starting to feel better (the coke at Newcomb AS might have played a role here) and I was finally running again! And then, this happened. My left decided to break my strain-free experience and made love with a rock. I cursed, sorry. The pain was sharp but I could still run on it. I knew I had an ankle brace in a spare bag at Chantry with my crew. We did our best to move on. Michele passed me again in the switchbacks before the creek. 4th place now. Time to pull off some more magic ;) We finally hit the 20% grade road, and I got a surge in adrenaline. I wanted to run the whole stuff, and I did, passing back Michele in the process. Chantry, 19:14pm. Ruperto had left just 20min earlier and Dom was 10min in front of me. Michele was 1min back. It was going to be an exciting 4-man race until the finish. My crew was all smile.
Left: Christophe getting ready to pace me on the last 26mi.
Right: My amazing crew at Chantry. You guys rocked! (photo: Philippe)
Chantry to the finish (74mi): The stone quads
I thanked David for the amazing job he did and I picked up Christophe at Chantry. I owe the guy a lot. He had paced me for the last 15mi of Chimera last year, we finished 2nd place but I didn’t offer him a lot of great running. For the last 26mi of AC100, I was ready to give his fitness justice. I didn’t really take my time at the AS, I wanted to put my ankle brace on and massage my quads with some Kool’n Fit, but somehow I changed my mind and I just wanted to go back on the game as soon as possible. 3 glasses of coke later, I was running with Christophe on the slope of Mt Wilson. For sure Christophe made me move well. He was the conductor and I was playing the running symphony, hitting every single note he told me to play. We reached the bottom the dreaded Winter Creek Climb and I started to feel good again. Half way into the climb, we saw two headlamp above us in the switchbacks, probably Dom and his pacer. We pushed a little harder and we caught back Dom at the bench. I wanted Dom to come with me, but he wanted to have some rest first. I knew I’ll see him soon. Christophe and I ran the last switchbacks before the top and we started the descent to Idlehour.
Winter Creek running symphony, under the orders of the
conductor Christophe. (photo: Christophe)
Going down, I was now regretting not to have done the leg massage I wanted at Chantry. I was still able to run but my quads were starting to become two big rocks. We arrived at Idlehour. Ruperto had long gone 25min ago, but I still thought I could have a shot at the win if I could run the last climb up to Sam Merill. We left the AS and started to work on the climb. The ups were feeling goods but all the short portions of downhills were stabbing my quads a bit more. At one mile of the Sam Merill AS, my quads shut down, forcing us to walk. This is when Michele appeared, power-hiking like a mad man with his pacer. He passed us quickly and we arrived at Sam Merill. From there, it is 11mi of technical downhill, not really what you want when you have fried quads. I told Christophe that it was going to be a long night and that I didn’t think I could run any of the remaining miles. I tried to stretch my quads at the AS, thanked the volunteers and started our journey in downhill hell. It was long indeed. My legs couldn’t even bend anymore and the few times I tried to force myself to run made the situation even worse. The win was now out of reach, the plan B (<20h) also, but the plan C and its silver buckle was still a possible reality. It took us 4:20 to cover the last 11mi but we did it. We talked a lot, we even laughed at one point I guess, we had some good time, cheering on our friends passing us one by one.
Stretching the quads with 7mi to go. (photo: Christophe)
I was mostly thinking at my crew, I was hoping they were not worried too much and not disappointed of my finish fiasco. Every single part of my body was feeling good though, except for the two rocks I had now instead of the quads. I was not angry, I was just happy to be here, in my way to (slowly) finish the race I had dreamed for a long time. I got passed by Andy with 2 miles to go. It was nice to see him. I was now in 9th place and that was going to be my final ranking.
All my crew was waiting for me at the road and we covered the last mile together.
I crossed the finish line in 22:43:55.
Finish line delivrance. 22:43:55. (photo: Christophe)
I iced the quads, immortalized my AC100 finish at the Larry’s photo booth, and talked to a lot of friends.
My post race: friends and Ice (photo: Mom)
That was a great race, probably the best race I have ever had. Sure, at the end I fell short of some of my goals, but I had so much fun running with all my friends that I am not even disappointed. I loved every moment of it. I am still new in this ultra thing, and I am still learning. See you next year!
Thank you to all the volunteers who have made this race possible. Congratulations to all the finishers for having tackled such a brutal race.
A big shootout to my family and crew. You guys have been amazing. Thank you David and Christophe for the few miles we shared together, you pushed me and I had a blast. Christophe, I promise, the next time we’ll run it all! Finally, a particular thanks to my crew chief Pauline, I am very fortunate to have you in my life and your limitless support is always something very special for me.
With two AC100 legends. Dom Grossman and Jorge Pacheco. (photo: Maria)
I strongly encourage you to watch this super rad video by Joel Silva. I believe he perfectly captured what AC100 is all about: having fun in the mountains.