2007 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run
by Ben Gaetos
“Miles and miles to go before I sleep.” These are words runners would face at the start of the AC100 Endurance Run on a quiet Saturday morning at 5 am. The race was held at a quiet ski resort community of Wrightwood, CA. 125 runners started and trained several months with the hope of reaching their goal to finish at Johnson’s Field at JPL in Pasadena before 2 pm on Sunday. AC100 has a time limit of 33 hours. Cutoff times were also enforced at each aid stations.
The course ran through San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles Crest Forest. The primitive wilderness, natural settings and 360 degree view of the surrounding cities attracted endurance runners to test their skills. The total elevation gain is 19,900 ft with a total elevation loss of 25,400 ft. There’s no prize money for winning this event but the feeling is priceless at the finish line for those who complete this race.
AC100 was my second 100 miler race. Last year, I finished San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run. I knew beforehand the difficulty of this race. Several veteran runners including past winners advised me how to run this race. The history and prestige of this race is one of a kind. I have watched the finish of AC100 a few times. Last year, I paced my friend David Overstreet. Soon enough I trained and focused on just one race, AC100.
I was very nervous at the start. My two friends, David Campbell, Carmela Layson and I planned to stay together the entire way. Carmela also brought in her friend, DC from Palo Alto, CA. It would be difficult to keep the group intact the entire way. But, I was ready just in case the group falls apart. My former coach, Nancy Shura-Dervin advised me to be used to running alone and practice walking as much.
The most difficult part of the race was placed on the first and last 25 miles. Runners faced two big climbs one of which is Mt. Baden Powell at Elev. 9100. I felt a little bit light headed during this climb. Every time I looked up there were runners way up ahead. I even thought of dropping out at Mile 25.91, Islip Saddle Aid Station. Adding insult to injury, another short but very steep climb to Mt. Williamson was thrown to us. It was already noontime and this took a toll from the runners. All of a sudden, I felt a surge from within to keep going. My confidence started to increase as we traversed the up and down portion of the middle part of the course. I kept hydrating myself. Nancy told me to make sure to finish up all your water before hitting the next aid station. I maybe over hydrated in the sense that I kept peeing all the time. Runners noticed me several times. I kept hearing, “Again?” I must have lost a lot of time on pit stops alone. Some runners, and I mean male and female mastered the art of peeing without stopping. Whoa! I saw their markings along the course.
Around halfway mark, something started to develop in my stomach. An acidic taste started to develop. My food intake was mostly energy gels, potatoes with salt, watermelon and potato chips. At one point, Dave summoned me at the aid station. “Hey Ben, that’s not a buffet table. Let’s go running”. I have peanut butter sandwich in my drop bags but had difficulty digesting solid foods. Carmela’s husband Gus was our crew extra-ordinaire. Gus stayed late on Friday night preparing foods not only for Carmela but for all of us. His Durango SUV was 7-11 store on its own. Just ask anything you need and Gus will give it to you at full service. Noodle soup, chicken, and other solid foods were served to runners at night. However, I can’t take anything solid. I needed something to settle down my stomach problems first. Gus had Pepto Bismol. From hereon, I had to take a shot of Pepto Bismol at crew accessible aid stations. I have no difficulty running at night. It’s actually my favorite part. Dave marked the majority of the course. Just seeing yellow ribbons and chalk marks gave me confidence that I was on the right path. At San Diego 100 miler, I ran 4 extra miles for being lost.
At Newcomb’s Saddle Mile 67.5, the first sign of life appeared in sight. The city lights of Arcadia were clearly visible. I knew this course in and out from hereon. I’ve seen a bear, mountain lion, rattle snakes, deer, and coyote during my training. Dave left the aid station early. DC told me that Dave wasn’t doing well. At this point, I couldn’t catch up with DC and Carmela either. My stomach was getting worst. Now, I was definitely thinking of dropping out from the race at the next aid station, Chantry Flats Mile 74.55. About a mile to the station, I noticed a runner barely walking and leaning on his left. “Dave, is that you?” He told me he was done. I felt bad and thought the same way. That was totally unexpected.
At Chantry Flats, I was greeted by my friends from the Hashers. Hashers is a drinking club with a running problem. I am a member of this underground club. The Hashers led by Tom “See More Buns” O’Hara manned this station for years. Tom installed a tv monitor to hook up communications from Chantry Flats to Newcombs. It’s like a party at Chantry. Our friend, Gary Hilliard showed up to support the runners. He signed up for this race too. About three weeks ago, Gary suffered a serious motorcycle accident on his way to mark up the trails in one of our training runs. Some runners wore ribbons in support for Gary’s recovery.
The climb to Mt. Wilson was extremely brutal. The uphill switchbacks would never end. No wonder, everyone told me to make sure you have something left at the last 25 miles. Be conservative and run a smart race. Carmela and I alternated with another runner on looking for a place to rest. She even brought a rosary for the most needed holy intervention. My heartbeat could break any medical equipment. I never felt this at San Diego 100 miler. No wonder every runner has outmost respect on this course. As we reached the Mt. Wilson toll road, it was a downhill section to Idlehour aid station. The second sunrise was also a sign of relief. I felt cold, exhausted and shaky at the aid station and asked for another noodle soup. We will be facing another 5.5 mile climb to Sam Merrill aid station. Carmela began to worry about my condition. I told her just to go ahead and I’ll decide whether to continue or not at Sam Merrill. We were still ahead by 1 hr. and 40 secs. from the cutoff time. I knew I was done at that point. All of a sudden with about half mile to the station, our two running friends from the Snail’s Pace running club appeared to rescue me. Tom Wilson and Norm have been tracking the progress of the race on the race website. They told us that one of our running buddies, Matthew Dickie was also having problems as well as several top runners. Tom and Norm’s presence gave me a sign of life. I got back into my competitive adrenaline at the last 4 miles. One runner passed me at El Prieto Trail. All of a sudden, I took off. I trained on this maze like section a lot. Anyone can get lost here. I would be insulted if anyone passes me here. Later on, Norm told me that I gave him a pretty good workout.
About a mile to the finish, I knew I was home. Goosebumps started to develop. Hikers gave me high fives. A few other runners I know showed up and cheered. A while back, I was already down and about to quit. The positive thoughts ruled over to take charge of the outcome of this race.
My wife and daughter were delighted to see me at the finish line. I reached Johnson’s Field in 32 hrs 10 mins. They witnessed the ups and downs of several runners. 89 out of 125 runners completed the race. There were no glamour attractions and media coverage like big city marathons. AC100 was simply a pure love and determination of the sport ultramarathon. Those who crossed the finish line can attest the priceless feeling.
I say thank you to my family, friends and all for understanding and supporting me achieve this goal. I am truly grateful for their believing in me.Back to story index page