By Mike Wedemeyer
One of the things that I was really looking forward to when moving to the west coast was running on trails that were a little less rocky then the ones you find in the Massanutten Mountains. I have found less rocky trails in Oregon. However, that is not to say that the west coast does not have its share of rocky trails, including the section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that starts at Lake Morena and travels north 43 miles, indeed, the majority of the San Diego 100. From mile 43 you leave the PCT and descend some 3,000 feet on a fire road to the halfway point, at which you turn around and make your way back to Lake Morena.
Now I know for you diehard MMT 100 milers that I am taking a big risk in comparing another trail 100 to the infamous rocks of the Massanutten Mountains, however, these rocks are of a slightly different nature. There is still your fair share of small boulders that you can use as spring boards for running down hill, yet in the deserts of Southern California you find these small, loose golf ball to baseball size rocks that can be as annoying as the stereotypical Southern California attitude to a conservative east coaster. Olga Varlamova, first place women's finisher notes in her race report that, "the rocks are relentless...." She obviously hasn't run MMT. Now mind you, this was only my second 100, and besides pacing at Wasatch this year, I don't have much to go on.
Another reason I compare the SD 100 to MMT was its excellent course markings, aid stations, and hospitality (Paul Schmidt, the RD, had a tent, sleeping bag, and pad all set up for me at the campground when I arrived). If you don't believe me about the course markings, just ask Scott Mills who marks the course for MMT and was there pacing a first time 100 miler. I spoke with Scott about this, and he too was very impressed with the course markings and noted that it was a first class hundred. Finally, I must warn you that one significant way in which it is not like MMT is the lack or total absence of shade. The blaring, desert sun definitely plays a significant factor and gave me an inkling of what it must feel like in the canyons at Western States or the open roads of Badwater.
If you like the desert and desert conditions, including coyotes cheering you on at the start and welcoming you back at the finish, then this is a 100 for you!
Indeed, this was a race from start to finish as Karl and Hal candidly pointed out at the finish. The pace was somewhat conservative in the beginning, which I welcomed and appreciated. I had a feeling that Karl was going to take it somewhat easy in the beginning, as he had not long ago set the record at Wasatch and then 13 days later run the Bear 100, missing Hal's current record by 20 minutes. Hal pushed the pace early on and ran all of the major ascents. By mile 23 we had all stayed close together, with Hal leaving the aid station first and Karl and I following close behind. Hal and Karl started to pick it up from mile 33, and gained about 6 minutes on me by mile 38. I was able to keep this from increasing by the turn around. Even though I had a crew and they didn't, it did not make much difference considering their efficiency at the aid stations. Karl really started to pick it up leaving mile 50 and hammered the uphill gaining an hour over me in 12 miles. Hal did not follow his lead and remained just ahead of me, leaving the mile 62 aid station just as I arrived. I caught up with Hal in the next 5 miles and we stayed close to mile 76.
We continued to push each other for the next 12 miles as we descend the mountain. During this time, the reality of possibly breaking 18 hours gave me a boost that carried me to the finish, along with periodic swigs of Red Bull, my new favorite beverage during ultras. Meanwhile, it seemed to me that our downhill pace may have resulted in some noxious feelings on Hal's part. Nevertheless, we left mile 88 together. A mile later, I ended up taking a hard spill on "Hurricane Ridge" (named for its high winds which were absent on race day), landing on my side and forehead, and leaving a nice cut from my headlamp which offered some protection as well. I quickly shook it off and caught back up with Hal. I ended up passing Hal on the down hill and came into the final aid station 5 minutes ahead of him. I felt surprisingly good and determined on the last leg, and later found out that had actually been gaining a little on Karl in the last few sections. I ended up breaking 18 hours with a time of 17:42 and could not have done it without my awesome crew!