August 12, 2006
Laura and Chuck convinced me to join them on a newish ultra in the area called the Mount Disappointment 50K. If you are not familiar with Mt. Disappointment (not the race, the actual peak), don’t be upset. It’s not one of the mountains that is often mentioned; however, it is really close to Mt. Wilson, where many of the radio towers in the region are located. Mt. Wilson is about 2 miles off of Hwy. 2 (Angeles Highway).
The race starts at the top of Mt. Wilson, which is attained by driving up an extremely narrow winding road from Angeles Highway. The first couple of miles of the race are downhill on this selfsame paved road, with about 1800′ of descent. Ouch!
Before we get to the bottom of the hill, we turn off onto the trail which leads to Mt. Disappointment. This is one of my favorite parts (even if it is a bit early) because there is a random 50-yard tunnel on this section. Once we summit Mt. D, it is a scary switchback descent back to the main road and to the first aid station at Redbox (where Hwy. 2 and the Mt. Wilson turn-off road meet).
The next section parallels Hwy. 2 toward LA on a trail that continues to head downhill and is mostly single-track, except for a small section where you ascend out of a campground and back to Hwy. 2. There is a aid station just before the next climb.
This next section is the climb to Mt. Josephine. It is 100% uphill, switchbacks on fireroads with ZERO shade. It’s 10:30am, so it is starting to heat up a bit. I walk this entire section and very few people pass me (even those that are slowly running).
Once at the top of Josephine, we get onto a single-track that winds around the edge of a beautiful section and gradually heads downhill. There is a point where you think you have reached the bottom – you think that you are probably at the same elevation as Redbox (which will be the next aid station) – you are in a valley running through a dry creek bed. Then, you turn a corner and find that you are still hundreds of feet higher than you thought… and then you start climbing again to Strawberry Saddle. I totally bonked in this section; I was seeing spots and had to stop and sit down.
This is the longest section without aid – about 8 miles – and one of the toughest sections to get through, but once you get back to Redbox, it’s a scant 10 miles to the end of the course.
From Redbox to the last aid station at Westfork is a nice, mostly downhill fire road section through the trees and across a few streams, near blackberry bushes. It’s runnable.
Finally, the last section. The last 5 miles – 2500′ of climbing.
I walked this entire section, and pushed my heart rate into the 180-190 range. There is one part of this section where you take a look at the path ahead and you can’t really see a path to follow. I liken it to the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where he takes the ‘leap of faith.’ If you look closely enough, you see that there is a path… and once you are on it, you realize how obvious that it is there.
In the last 3 miles of the trail, I passed 4 runners. (I am quite proud of that.)
It’s hard to tell whether you are making any progress to the top, but I can always tell when the treeline gets more and more sparse and the blue sky is easier to see.
This has one of the worst endings to a race – finally I can see the radio towers and the road where we started the race. You step up onto the road… and…. you’re done. In other words, you can’t sprint in to the finish. (They changed this in future races… and the ending became even worse.)
I finished last of the 4 of us who did the race in 7:55 (under 8 hours!!) and it ended up being a PR for the 31.3 miles actual distance of the race.
Speaking of which, I will categorize anything that is called a 50K (even if it is a mile short or 5 miles long) as a 50K, but in my personal records, I do separate out the different times for whatever the RD says the distance is.