Sunday, August 29, 2010

100-Mile Endurance Spectating Report Part I

I am almost embarrassed to be worried about my upcoming Ironman after watching some friends do the Angeles Crest 100-mile Endurance Run. These guys are just simply nuts.

I've spectated a fair number of races, from 5Ks to Ironmans, but I was clueless how to watch this race. They had a 70-page race booklet with confusing maps and complicated charts and I didn't understand how any of it would come together. But in hindsight, it was actually one of the easiest races to watch that I've ever been too.

Well, easy may be oversimplifying things. For starters, I had to get myself to Wrightwood, CA for a 5:00am start time. Wrightwood is a tiny little mountain town about 75 miles away, in a place where you can actually see the stars at night and breathe the air without burning your lungs with smog. I wanted to get there early because I was worried about parking and being able to find everybody: HA! I parked about 100 feet from the starting line. This was not your typical corporate race- it was Hippies Running Through the Woods.

I quickly found racers Rich, Gil, Jesus, and Mike V, and about 100 other crazy people who signed up to do the race. The entire start was kind of anti-climactic; there was no welcome speech, no national anthem... at 5:00 some guy said "Go!" and off they went.

As amazing an undertaking as the 100-mile run may be, I have my own upcoming race to worry about. So I packed up my bike, and my plan was that I would see everyone come through the checkpoint around 7:00, then do a 4-hour bike ride along the Crest and meet up with them again around 11:00 a few checkpoints down the road. Well, we did see them all come into the checkpoint looking strong... but it was FREEZING. I think it may have been in the 40s, with some nasty winds, and I was completely unprepared for a cold bike ride. So I delayed my start for a couple hours and wound up just doing about 80 minutes later in the morning. I did stop by the Mt. Waterman ski lift and sat on the chair just because.

Back to the race... Most of the run is along trails in the Angeles National Forest, and every 5-10 miles or so the trail would cross the Angeles Crest Highway. (Sidenote: people in SoCal really need to head up there and take this drive. It is absolutely beautiful and you'll be amazed just how close it is to the big city.) All of those crossings were "checkpoints" in small parking lots where they had basic aid stations, and friends and family could resupply their runners with food, clothing, or whatever. In triathlon terms, they were basically public Transition Areas. This was my first time ever seeing a "crewed" race and the whole thing fascinated me. At each checkpoint, there would be two dozen cars set up like tailgate parties, with each car loaded with supplies for their runners. Stephanie and Adriana were on official crew duties, and then myself and Annie were there for general moral support.

Funny thing about giving support: Stephanie had the idea that we should try to make it easy for Rich to spot us when he came into each checkpoint, so she suggested we all wear the "SuperSteph" T-Shirts that we wore when she did her Ironman. Throughout the day, people kept asking us who Steph was and how she was doing along the run, and we would just say "oh Steph isn't doing the race. We're just supporting her while she's supporting her husband." After all, it WAS a lot of work for her to be crewing all day long, right?

Our guys came through the first checkpoint looking and feeling great. Maybe a little TOO great, because Rich as way ahead of schedule and was going out too fast. Pretty much same thing at checkpoint two, everyone looking good. But then things got interesting for Rich at checkpoint three.

Oh, the nasty scrape? Nothing to do with the medical help. He fell in the woods. Instead, he had a big blister on his foot that he needed to have popped. He was the first victim - errr, client - at the checkpoint, and the medical team wasn't quite ready to handle people. It was very chaotic. Not only did we have trouble finding a medic for Rich, but when we did find them they didn't have their bags and boxes of supplies ready. I would hate to know what would have had happened if there was an actual emergency.

"Deb" tended to Rich's blister, and as she was looking at his foot she suddenly handed me something and said "here, take this." I thought maybe she needed me to hold some gauze or bandages while she worked on his foot, but no: she gave me her camera and wanted me to take pictures. I don't know what kind of scrapbook she's working on, but she wanted to make sure i got good shots of her slicing open a foot. Freaky hippies. Of course, all the best shots are on her camera.

Unfortunately, at Checkpoint four around Mile 30 MIke V. was dropped off in a pick-up truck; he missed the cutoff time at the last checkpoint by 4 minutes. Now then, I fully understand and support the need for cutoff times: Big-city marathons have to deal with complicated street closures and the midnight deadline for Ironman adds to the mystique. But those are big, corporate events with computer chips calling the shots. This weekend was Hippies Running in the Woods. Those 4 minutes shouldn't have mattered. But they decided to play the "rules are rules" card. Fine. But then they just made matters worse for Mike V. There was no mechanism in place to get him back to civilization. He asked if they had a cel phone he could use: no, there was no coverage in the mountains. (Which was true, but all of the checkpoints were in radio contact with each other so with the slightest amount of effort, they could have done something to help him out.) Mike asked "what am I supposed to do?" The race worker told him "well, you want to help us clean up?"

Really? REALLY?! This guy just ran more than a marathon, you're pulling him off the course against his will, and now you want to put him to work? Seriously? Mike was able to find some guy with a pick-up to drive him to the next checkpoint where we were waiting for him, so I was able to drive him home. He was understandably bummed, but is already talking about next year. In the meantime, he has a crazy swim to Catalina Island he's organizing so I think he'll be just fine.

The race is obviously very long, so a bunch of stuff happened while I was gone. For the last section of the race, the runners have pacers join them along the course. Gerald, Heather, Leah, Gary, Zubin... they all met up with our warriors in the middle of the night to run though the woods and help keep them alert and focused. I haven't been briefed on all of the adventures they had, but I DO know they did an AMAZING job bringing our boys home. They could not have asked for better support.

More to come.


Blogger Brent Buckner said...

I think the 4 minutes matter. In exchange for people staffing aid stations, it's important to give them a definite shut-down time in advance. With a 100-mile race, it would be nuts to encourage anyone to continue without aid station support; thus the need for automatic official DNF if one doesn't make a cutoff. Making decisions on-the-spot risks making poor decisions - to my mind, better to have a conservative policy in place.

Sure sounds as though the organizers should have had a better plan for sweeping the course.

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, I'm sure you're still editing your IM Arizona race report....

3:51 PM  
Blogger Wedgie said...

I would agree with you if ANY other aspect of the race seemed structured or organized. But it really was just hippies in the woods. I don't want to make it sound like the race was "poorly" organized, because I think the participants would say it was very well-run race. But everything about it was so laid back that it seems odd that the ONE thing they stuck with were cutoff times. Runners couldn't tell where to go at the checkpoints to get weighed-in (or even that they HAD to get weighed in), it was hard to find medical help, and they had no plan for drop-outs. They were so casual about everything else, the 4-minutes seemed arbitrary.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Wedgie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:59 PM  

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