May 6, 2017
About a week before the race, I got an offer for some (paid) race work. Somewhat disappointed to turn it down, but excited to run the Wild Wild West race, finally, after having to skip it after breaking my elbow a month prior to this race last year.
I got a clarification on the race work and it turned out that it was going to be the following day, in Santa Clarita, which is somewhat on the way home from WWW. It was going to be a long weekend.
It worked out for the best, then, that I hadn’t convinced anyone to carpool with me, since I don’t think they would be too keen on sleeping in my car before the race and in a Santa Clarita Mall parking lot.
This race has been going on for some time (this year is the 39th running) and yet, it still felt very fly-by-night to me. There is little posted on their website about locations of aid stations, intermediate cutoffs, though there is a map. They also cut off registration 4 days before the race. I could understand wanting to order the right amount of shirts, but on the other hand, you could tell late registrations that there’s no guarantee of a medal or a t-shirt if you register after a certain date.
I called the Chamber of Commerce (who puts on the race) to try and get more details about the race before I came up. They weren’t very helpful at all and seemed almost mad that I wanted more details. The most I got was that a couple of the stream crossings would probably be 4-5 FEET deep because of snowmelt. I assured them that a 5 foot water crossing would hardly concern me (though other might drown).
I tried to time my drive up on Friday so that I would arrive around the time that bibs were available (and also not hit excessive LA traffic), so I did get in around 4pm (an hour early) and it was pretty hot in Lone Pine, and I kept periodically opening the car door to let some cool air in as I napped for about an hour.
At 5pm, I went inside and picked up my bib and shirt. Shirt was nothing to write home about, white (maybe technical, not sure). Maybe you do an event for nearly 40 years, you don’t mess with what works for you.
I opted for their pasta feed, which involved some middle schoolers serving us some spaghetti and salad. I chatted with various people that I may have met previously, including Karin Usko (from Ridgecrest, maker of Happy Gaiters), the Central American-slash-German gal.
I also saw that David Binder was there along with one of his kids. We chatted briefly. He had decided to come up last minute and try to run the race, but registration was already closed and they wouldn’t budge on that, so he was going to volunteer and then maybe spend an extra day doing some recreational stuff with his son.
When I said that I was probably going to drive to the finish and just sleep in my car, he offered to let me share his motel room. I figured the floor was a better option than the car (having done that a few times before), but I ended up with my own bed and David and his son shared the other bed.
Even though they didn’t have to get up as early as I did, they did go to bed fairly early. The bus to the start leaves at 4:10am! (for a 5:00am start)
I woke up at 3am, took care of my duties and then drove myself to the bus pick-up, which is a city parking lot on the right-side of Hwy. 395 (the finish will be on the left-side, pretty much across the street). It is pitch-black and no bus here, but there are other folks here, including Chris Spenker, who is doing either the marathon or the 10M race but opting to get up to the start early (or to just start early).
We sit together on the bus and the conversation is mostly about what to expect. I have not done this race before but I have done 1 or 2 ultras so have some advice for a guy sitting near me that is running the race with his little brother and fiancee (first ultra for all of them).
The ride is pretty much a straight uphill drive, and then a short drive on a dirt and pothole-filled road – kind of slow-going. We arrive fairly quickly and are given the option to stay on the bus or head outside. We stay on the bus for a bit, but can’t wait too long, as we do have about a half-mile walk to the start and don’t want a “running” start.
As I start, my general goal is to finish around 7:30 (which would be 15 minute pace), which is not too bad at elevation, either.
The beginning of the course is on a fire road and uphill, so I am not doing a lot of running, but within a few miles, we are on a single-track in sandy gravel, somewhat precipitous downhill, heading for the first water crossing. I don’t see any ribbon marking the course around here, but there is a wooden board in the water, so this is probably where we cross.
When you step on the board, it goes under the water, but only a few inches (not waist-deep as promised), but I do have wet shoes. The path up the other side is not clearly marked, so I do wander a bit off course before I notice people who were behind me on a marked course.
At the first aid station (4.2M), I have managed 14:14 per mile, so I am currently under my goal pace. Sort of meager pickin’s here – some pretzels, candy, potatoes – I end up having a red vine.
The 10 miler veers off from us and there is some more climbing, and more water crossings. Some are “risky,” but none are deep, and at least one of them had a metal bridge going across, though part of the bridge was submerged (but only a few inches). By the next aid station 3.7 miles along the course, we split off from the 50-mile course, which is heading up to Whitney Portal. I slowed down a bit in this section to an 18:06 pace and just slightly behind the 15:00/mile average.
At this point, we get onto a wide fire-road which is heading downhill pretty significantly. It’s not too technical, so I can actually run, gallop, and amble down. It is a long, long downhill.
Now you may be asking why I would comment on how long the downhill was. No doubt most people would be ecstatic about a long downhill, but so early on, it is a bit of a detriment to my running health in this race. I don’t want to overextend myself, get my heart-rate too high, or blow out my quads.
Yes, dear reader, there are actually points on the downhill where I am stopping and walking downhill. It helps me readjust my pace and not go down too fast. I am back-and-forth with the brothers and fiancee on this section. I am a pretty good downhill runner (long legs, you know), but just try to run as consistently as possible.
It’s mostly non-technical, though the ground is pretty wet in some sections, somewhat softer, somewhat muddy.
The next aid station is at the bottom of this hill, 4.5 more miles on, and I do an average of 10:47/mile. (If you read enough of these, that’s fairly fast in an ultra.) I am back to being under the 15:00/mile threshold.
From this aid station, we are now entering the Alabama Hills (where apparently a number of TV and movies have been filmed). There is some climbing (not a ton) and then a descent , and then a turn onto a single-track. A guy just ahead of me misses that turn and has to come back up the hill to turn. This is the shortest section between aid stations, 2.2 miles and the combo of up and down enables me to do a 13:36 pace through here.
The wind has begun to pick up a bit and I do have to hold onto my hat at points.
Now back to the fire-road, but it is getting sandier by the minute (not that fond of sand), but I’ll take sand over really technical rocky stuff any day. In the distance, I can see a trailer with radio antennae and an aid station and a number of signs. I think this must be the split off from the marathon. Sure enough, that’s the case. A somewhat slower pace section here (3.2M in 53 minutes) but most of the upcoming trail looks flat, so maybe I’ll be able to jog it.
We head off towards some rock faces. They look like cliffs, replete with people climbing them, except they are stand=alone, probably a great place for training to rock climb.
Then a left-hand turn away from that section. It sort of seems like we are meandering around the area of the aid station, but when I see some folks that I haven’t seen since the start, I realize this is going to be a lo-ong loop.
The heat has increased, too, so I am not really running even though it is mostly flat, because I am getting hot. The next aid station is a mere 2.3 miles off, so I am not going super slow (not uphill pace), but another 13:45/mile section.
Ooh, another left-hand turn… maybe we are heading back to the aid station, but no, back to the right and I can see the incoming trail back to the original aid station (and again, people I haven’t seen for some time). We actually now go out to a paved road and follow that downhill for at least a half mile. I can see where I am going for the next aid station, but it is close to enough to “touch,” but no way to jump off the road and into where it is located.
This section seems to go on forever, but I am rewarded by the sight of Dave Binder and his son. The son is doing what I want to be doing soon, which is lounging in a chair. It is great to see a familiar face and we chat for a little bit, but I need to keep moving if I am to stay under the 15:00/mile pace.
Now it is a short jaunt back to the original aid station. They seem to be packing up for the day, which is weird, because there are still 50-milers out there and there is another 9 hours left in the time limit. OK, whatever. They are still there for me, and I am headed on the homestretch, about 4 miles from here and just about an hour to make the 7:30 time.
It’s fire-road for part of the stretch, but then we move onto a horse-trail single-track that is really substantial “rolling” hills. I will get something going on the downhill, and that is immediately negated by the ensuing uphill. Also, the wind picked up markedly and I have to take off my hat or it will blow away (it almost blew off twice, but I have good reflexes). This continues for about 2 sucky miles until the final aid station next to a giant American flag (waving like crazy).
I bust out into a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as I near and chat it up with the two “elderly” gentlemen manning the station (both are my age but gray-haired). They have limited aid, but I can taste the finish line, just over 2.5 miles away.
Out of this aid station, steep downhill and out of the wind. My pedantic pace in the wind and hills gives me just 18 minutes to do 2.5 miles (maybe possible if it was a road race and I was fresh). Oh, well, at least I will be close to that goal.
I know we are finishing in the park across the street from the bus pick-up (where my car is parked) and I can see the Tuttle Creek Road to my right-hand side. I thought I had heard in the past that you ran down the road to Hwy. 395, ran a little loop around the street area to make sure you got to 31.1 miles and then finished in the park, but I think they mentioned that we are going to finish through the park (maybe along the road and then into the park?).
There is a brief point when we do get onto the paved road, but I think this is so we can cross a bridge (easier than fording every stream), because immediately after, we go right back into the dirt and then get into a wooded area (by wooded, I mostly mean twigs all over the ground) which wends its way back and forth.
The highlight is an impassable water crossing. The most direct route is straight through, but you can avoid it entirely and I do that, not wanting to finish in totally soaked shoes (I don’t think anyone went through the water.).
It’s very sudden, but you turn a couple of corners and then pop between a gap in a fence and I’m done. 7:45:45
There are a few people hanging out here sitting on a small gazebo stage, two people at a timing/result table, and a small food table, which has peanuts, Red Vines, and cookies (basically the same food at the aid stations) – not exactly what I have a hankering for right now. The medal is a ceramic piece with a hole for a rope or ribbon, but they don’t actually have a rope or ribbon (later, I loop fishing line through it so I can wear it).
My plan, because of the whole working at a race tomorrow, is to try and leave by 7pm and get into Santa Clarita by 10pm (to get a few hours of sleep but not have to hang out in my car for HOURS). It’s around 1pm now, so why not hang out and watch people finish for a while?
There is one guy sitting in a camp chair (former Ridgecrest RD Chris Rios), so I go across the street and get my chair, and he gives me some of his beer and we hang out and watch people finish.
The first people I recognize are Rafael Covarrubias (formerly of LB, now back home in Tulare) and Thomas Kuerten (a German guy I have met on a few occasions). They are in the 50 miler and have stories how they got to the Mile 45 aid station and no one was there and there was no signage, but that they knew the course decently enough to find their way to the finish (well, not directly, but close enough – maybe 2 extra miles).
A little later, another guy comes in from the wrong direction, running south on Hwy. 395. He says he missed a turn, ran back by the Boy Scout aid station (probably Mile 10 on the 50K course) and then ended up on Hwy. 395 at some point. His GPS says 62 miles, so Chris and I raise a toast to the first (ever) 100K finisher.
No one is really mad, per se, but it is frustrating that a major aid station disappeared with 8+ hours to go in the race. (And I almost feel like the CoC ladies would tell us, you should have run faster, to avoid that problem.)
As it starts to get dusky, I decide to leave for Santa Clarita. I end up not eating anything (certainly not Red Vines) and have a nice drive back (not too much traffic, don’t get too lost). I pull into the Santa Clarita Mall around 10:30, right next to the staging area for the race.
I double-check with a security guard who tells me I am in the right location. I tell him I will see him in a few hours and nap lightly in my car until my call time of 1:15am.
Turns out, I am working with Stacy Embretson, former AREC member, LA Marathon RD, and ultra-runner herself. We set up signage in the first six miles, zip-tying vinyl signs to bike racks. Once runners go through (race starts at 4am), we remove the signs and also remove the kilometer markers until we get passed by the other support vehicle (which turns out to be around 25 kilometers). It is a very upper-body heavy workout after a very lower-body workout yesterday, but I earned some good money and got a nice hat (and shirt) to boot.
I get home by 10:30am on Sunday and don’t know whether to sleep or what. (I just watch TV and try to relax.)
Will I run Wild Wild West again in 2018? Thinking about it, thinking about maybe the 50 miler, especially as 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of this race, but if I had to choose between WWW and Bishop, I would opt for Bishop because it was better run, and a bit more scenic.