Week before AC. I’m talking to my Urologist who, when he finds out I’m 3 days away from running Angeles Crest 100 miler, asks if I’m nervous. “Hell yeah I’m nervous! You’re cutting my testicles in a week!” Perhaps I was a little distracted, but I really was more concerned about my upcoming balls-be-gone surgery than running a very difficult 100 mile course.
Mile 70. It has only been dark for a few minutes and I look in my waist belt for a gel. Razz is the only flavor I have (leftover from Waldo). I put the first bit in my mouth, and instantly it tastes horrible. Yuk, but I need the calories so I squeeze the rest into my mouth. Within a minute I tell Eric, a friend of my brother from Flagstaff and my pacer for 22 miles today, “this isn’t good.” The Razz gel is on the trail instantly. Eric, who is getting married in three weeks and will be a great husband and father if they decide to have kids, gently caresses my back as I’m violently puking (something my wife has never and will never do). The water and electrolyte drink I had consumed since Newcomb’s also comes out. Eric continues with a gentle back massage as my puking becomes less productive dry heaves. Hmmm. This isn’t good. Chantry Flats is four or so miles away. I continue jogging down the trail still dry heaving. There’s absolutely nothing left in my stomach, but it is still trying to empty itself.
Nothing in my pack or bottles sounds good so I just continue working my way very slowly to Chantry Flats (74.5 miles) where my crew awaits. I hear OD yelling, “Go LB” from the aid station above. Normally his enthusiasm is infectious, but right now I want nothing more than to tell him to shut the f$%^ up; I feel like crap and I’m barely moving. But he has no idea how I’m feeling until I get up there. Chantry is the last place where runners can see their crew, and the next section is 12 miles over Mt. Wilson, which is just a bear of a climb (3000′) that late in the race. I have to get my stomach back and fluid and calories in before I leave, or it could get real ugly. It’s almost 9 pm as Laurie, Chris, Ed (OD), Laura, and Eric guide me to the chair and begin helping me. Explaining my plight, we decide on chicken noodle soup, 7-Up, and saltine crackers. I’m slumped in the chair feeling as low and out of it as I have in any of the seven 100 milers I’ve run. If anybody on the crew had suggested that I drop I probably would have. But there was none of that talk with my crew. They are experienced and have total faith that I’ll fix this problem and come back. Laura suggests that they also have potato soup. OK, let’s get a cup and walk out with it.
After a 20 minute break in the chair I get up and begin to move. Oh my am I stiff. Chris begins pacing here. The talk before the race was that I would finally get back at Chris and drop him in the last 26 miles, the longest he’s ever paced me, but that isn’t looking very likely as I walk out of the aid station like an 80 year old man carrying my cup of potato soup in one hand and a bottle in the other. I calculate that I have just under eight hours to get a buckle. That is now my goal. Pre-race my goal had been top 5 with a finish time under 21 hours. But that time goal slipped away on the descent from Mt. Baden Powell (9300′) earlier in the day. I just couldn’t get moving very fast after the long climb.
Chris and I walk and chat as I continue with the soup. It is actually tasting really good. I finish the cup and we hear a runner and pacer fastly approaching us. “Is that you, Rocky?” I ask the runner. He replies that it’s Brian. “Good job,” I tell him. I have no idea who he is; neither of us had seen him all day. Unfortunately, the first few miles “up” Mt. Wilson aren’t really up so they are runnable. The steep part of the climb, which I’ll have to walk anyway, is further ahead, but we keep walking to make sure I won’t puke again.
The climb goes up and up, and eventually we reach the road which takes us down 30-40 minutes to the Idle Hour aid station, an oasis in the darkness. My stride is not too good, but Chris gets in front and starts showing me how to run. I try to keep up, and sure enough I can actually run still. We see lights. I can’t believe I’m catching somebody. It is El Flaco (Adaberto) who I have been running near most of the day. We pass him. Once again I say something in English that he doesn’t understand, and he says something back in Spanish that I don’t understand. But I think we both know that we’re working to get in under 24. I don’t care about place, just getting in before 5am and ending this misery. Chris continues to set a good pace on the easy downhill, and we see another set of lights. But when they see us they pick it up, and we don’t catch them.
After the aid station we go into Idle Hour Canyon, the place where Andy Jones-Wilkins says ultrarunners go to die. It is a poison oak-infested, boulder-filled canyon with a trail right in the middle of the creek or so it seems. El Flaco and I pass each other a couple more times, each time the same thing. I say something that he doesn’t appear to understand, and he says something to me that I don’t understand. Just shy of 2000′, this climb is the last one of the race, still a big climb late in a 100 miler but nothing like Mt Wilson. El Flaco comes by me one more time setting a good walking pace, and I decide to just hang right with him. Chris has been telling me that I need to start racing people, and the time will take care of itself. He’s right. I do better racing people than the clock.
Walking up with El Flaco in front we are making great progress to Sam Merrill, the top of the last big climb of the race and the second to last aid station. El Flaco is moving great, but just short of the summit he stops and actually says something I understand. “You lead now.” OK, I lead now. I get in front and continue at the pace he had set, but he is no longer hanging with us. Soon we see more lights ahead, and Chris is happy to see me responding. We catch them, and I tell Brian he is running a good race. “How do you know my name is Brian?” he asks. We pass Brian and his pacer Bill, and continue to powerwalk up to the aid station.
We do a switch of hydration systems from a drop bag at this station, and I continue with my diet of soup and soda. The aid station help is awesome and attend to our every request. We get out just as Brian and Bill enter the station, and with an exchange of “great job” and “hang in there” we’re gone. Chris was hoping to get an update on where I was and who was in front of me, but we forget. We have 11 miles to go and about 5000′ of downhill. It looks to me that breaking 23 hours is a possibility, but Chris still wants me to just race people. “Let’s go get some more lights, and the time will take care of itself,” he says.
The drop from Sam Merrill to Millard is spectacular. You run along a ridge, and you can see the lights of the city down to the right. Eventually you drop straight down off the ridge. It is technical and fun. Last year I paced Andy on this section, and he was absolutely flying. This year I’m running this section with Andy in my mind. Fun stuff. We can see lights ahead on the railroad bed, but I know from last year and 2003 that they could be far away. Still, it helps to motivate me.
Millard seems to take forever to get here, and we never see anymore lights after getting off the railroad grade. When we get to Millard at 3:20am, with 4.7 miles to go, I know that 23 hours ain’t gonna happen. But Chris gets the update that the last runner left a couple of minutes earlier. As we leave we figure they have 4 minutes on us so off we go trying to catch them. Chris is doing a great job keeping me motivated and moving and focusing on catching whoever it is in front of us. It’s not until we come out of the trails and hit the pavement with about 10 minutes left that we see lights ahead. We are running well, but whoever it is sees us and starts running hard. It is Angel who I met in 2003 and ran with a bit today. He has good leg speed and holds me off. I finish at 23:11 in 10th place, which is where I seem to like to finish these 100 milers. Perhaps my nickname really should be M10 instead of LB, which stands for Lord Balls. Speaking of which, I forgot all about my upcoming vasectomy during the race.
Thanks to Laurie, Chris, and Eric for crewing and pacing all day; to Laura, Ed, and Lewis (Jeff’s crew) for helping when I was close enough to Jeff for them to see me; to Jeff for all the training and friendship; to Curt and Tom for making all the travel and lodging arrangements; and to Sunsweet and Sporthill for the support.
Oh, and what about the title Phelan Owinge? That was the color of our toenails this year. We came up with the name at the pre-race spaghetti feed when little (8 year old?) Miss Junior Phelan with her tiara came walking around asking if anybody wanted any owinges.
a.k.a. Lord (soon-to-be) Ball-less
Cast of characters:
- Adaberto Mendoza (El Flaco), competitor
- Angel Perez, competitor
- Brian Polley, competitor
- Chris Thornley, brother and crew/pacer
- Curt Ringstad, friend and Tom’s crew/pacer
- Eric True, friend of my brother and crew/pacer
- Ed Willson (OD), friend and Jeff’s crew
- Jeff Riley, competitor, friend, and training partner
- Laura Riley, Jeff’s wife and crew
- Lewis Taylor, friend, training parter, and Jeff’s crew/pacer
- Laurie Thornley, wife and crew
- Rocky Allen, competitor
- Tom Janzen, competitor and our host
September 23 update – The vasectomy wasn’t that big a deal once I got past the three shots to numb me up. No complications, just sore achey balls. Looks like I’ll survive.
To Angeles Crest 100 Website