Like all good ultra marathon stories it begins at mile 75, in the middle of the night on the side of a mountain. A volunteer was helping me refill my water bottle inside a warm tent perched high on the ridge of the Saddleback mountains overlooking the twinkling lights of Orange county to the west and lake Elsinore to the east. I drank a cup of hot broth preparing for the next grueling 7 mile descent to the desert floor below, before turning around to climb back up. Grueling because after 15,000' of climbing and descending over rocky, tumbling, crunchiness this was going to hurt.
As soon as I got my bottle and grabbed a few snacks for the trip I took off like any fool-hardy ultra runner would... I ran till I couldn't run, then I ran some more. I had to keep up a consistent pace downhill in order to make up the time it would inevitably take to get back up. I broke up the endless spiraling dirt road with occasional songs. Even though it seems endless at times, the distance is fixed and every step is getting you closer, you must simply keep going and eventually you will get there. Don't worry if it's around the next corner or on the other side of a mountain.
(( The Corona aid station at the bottom of the hill is the last place to see your crew and/or pick up a pacer. I wasn't going to be getting either because I had told them at mile 50 to go get some rest. Back then I was just beginning to feel the deep muscle ache, more a feeling of heaviness then pain, that comes halfway through a 100mile ultra, as the slow boiling physical pain subtly fatigues the mind, my brother asked if I wanted him to pace me in. I refused him, belying my building anxiety of getting through what lay ahead. Despite the increasingly attractive idea of having something to look forward to later in the night, i told him that i wasn't going to expect anyone until the finish. It was pertinent at that moment to have an unambiguous plan and not open the door to subconscious anticipation, potential disappointment or doubt, and other wasteful expenditures of mental energy. After all, the only person that can get your legs to the finish is you. ))
ENJOYING THE EARLY MILES
CHANGING SHOES AT HALFWAY
As I neared the bottom, the idea of climbing back up this monster had become less than appealing accept for the fact that I would rather have done anything besides more downhill at that point. So I made a quick turn around and began the trudge back up. To say I ran would be a lie. I walked. And as I walked, another runner walked past me. I was reminded of a moment on my training run over the 7 summits of baldy when I was standing at the bottom of the sixth peak feeling totally incapable of continuing. I let my feet take a step without deciding what to do and then continued doing so until I reached the the top. It's profound what happens psychologically to your belief after getting to the other side of impossible. As I marched up towards the ridge I knew that the other side existed and wanted to go there. I tried to run, or at least look like I was running when other runners came down the hill. I planned on having a snack to break up the climb but when I took inventory and realized that there was only 4 almonds left to eat I knew things were only going to get worse before they got better. I shuffled and grunted and counted out my steps until at last I was back on the ridge road.
The volunteers told me it was now 3:15 in the morning. Less than 3 hours left to cover the remaining 8 miles over rough terrain and get back to blue Jay if I wanted a silver and gold belt buckle reading 'Chimera 100 - 24 hours', instead of 'Chimera 100 - 30 hours'. The ridge road traverses across hideously rock invested dusty roads that four wheel drives find difficult to navigate. A place I have trained many times leading up to the race where every steep climb and quad-trashing, ankle-rolling downhill is followed by another and another.
I pictured every turn of the course ahead. I pictured the finish with my family and the race director. I pictured a 24 hour belt buckle. Then I pushed all of these thoughts out of my head and focused on the stars in the sky, the lights of the city shimmering up through the fog below. I asked myself over and over, "how bad do you want that buckle?" And the answer was always the same -- another step. Then ten more steps. Then suddenly I was moving across the mountain running through the night. It doesn't take strength, it doesn't take speed, all it takes is stubbornness. I refused to let go. The wind careening up the slopes violently whipped up dust storms blinding me momentarily pushing me back. I yelled into the air, BRING. IT. OOOOON!
Descending towards Blue Jay campground at last I took deep breaths to make sure I had enough to push all the way to the finish. I imagined missing the 24 hours by a minute. I imagined regretting not giving everything I could at the finish. And I ran from the heart. I hit the tarmac and felt like collapsing but pushed the thought out of my mind with the relief that the Chimera 100 would soon be over. After a year of planning, moving to the area to train on the course, and 9 weeks of focused build up this was the victory lap I felt light and swift being carried towards home. I entered the trees below the campsite and soon saw the lights of the finish. I howled and my family waiting for me howled back. I wanted to enjoy it, to laugh and weep at the same time. Such immense relief.
I told Steve Harvey the race director that I wanted the 24 hour buckle so bad. "well now you got it" he said.
(23:24) 20k' gain
RACE DIRECTOR STEVE HARVEY
CHIMERA 100 RESULTS
MILEAGE LEADING UP TO CHIMERA