Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chimera - Dec 12, 2009

The Chimera is a beast from Greek mythology. According to Homer it is part goat, part lion, and part serpent. The question remains, which is the Chimera - the ultrarunner or the mountain?

When I first heard about this race from RD Steve Harvey, I was excited. I knew he'd put on a great race and that his meticulous planning would ensure the safety of runners and volunteers alike. So I signed up for the 100K having ran 100 miles at Javelina 6 weeks earlier and thinking that I wouldn't be recovered fully enough to attempt such a difficult 100-miler. Then at the beginning of the week, Steve announced that the weather forecast was bad and after Monday's rain, that the course may have to change. So I switched to the 100-mile. Afterall, if I had to run the Blue Jay-Candy Store loop 3 times, what was 2 more? My like-minded friend Jody also switched, figuring this was a great opportunity to attempt her first 100-mile (Shelli was already signed up for the 100-mile).

Friday afternoon I ventured up "the Ortega" to Hell's Kitchen to collect my race bib. It was raining and foggy but that didn't seem to dampen Keira, Steve or Pam's spirits. All reported that the race was going to be on the original course and that the trails were in good shape, albeit very muddy. Not being one to be deterred by having to run an additional 38 muddy miles (!) I reported the news to Jody and Shelli. We all had waterproof running gear, we'd be just fine - right?

Perhaps I should have heeded the omens; on Friday morning I lost a crown while munching yogurt and granola; on Friday afternoon I almost got my rental car stuck in mud on the side of the road on Ortega Highway having graciously pulled over to let some lunatic passed; on Friday night I worked late at Parents' Night Out at the dojo and didn't get done packing my drop bags and taping my feet until 11:30pm (that gave me less than 4 hours sleep); on Saturday morning it was thick, thick fog on the mountain and the race start was delayed 30 mins. But, I'm not one to let minor things like that get in my way so I was there at the start line with a hundred and something other "crazies", all dressed in our layers and waterproofs. It was so good to see so many Trail Headz and other folks that I meet at races.

The first 9 miles were damp and muddy at times but passed by uneventfully. Then came the climb up Main Divide and the Chimera reared her head and started to devour runners. Down came the rain, sheets and sheets of it. Gusts of wind so strong that they almost knocked your feet from under you. Rivers of muddy water flowing over our shoes. Rocks crashing down. Runners heading back down the mountain. We were soaked to the skin but were we demoralized? No, not Jody, Shelli and I. Up and up we went.

By the time we fought our way to the Trabuco Peak aid station, the tent was down, the volunteers were soaked to the skin. As I came into the aid station, one of the guys asked me how he could assist me. As he was struggling to hold the last remaining tent pole up, I thanked him and said given the circumstances I was happy to fill my own bottle. I waited for Shelli and Jody and then we headed up to Santiago Peak. That was probably the toughest 5 miles of my life. I barely made headway battling the wind. There was no shelter from the wind, driving rain or occasional hail storms.

I was now getting sleepy and cold as i trudged up the mountain. Survival instincts kicked in and all I thought about was getting to the aid station, warming up with hot soup and then heading down to Maple Springs to my drop bag and dry clothes. I had to get out of these soaked clothes/waterproofs, warm up and reassess the situation. Up at Santiago Peak came the announcement that the race was called off and we could either wait in the tent for rescue vehicles or head to Maple Springs to be picked up there. Jody, Shelli and I decided to wait, lured by the comfort of homemade tomato soup and delicious lumpy hot chocolate served by the Coury brothers.

A couple of hours and a scary drive down the mountain later, we were safe at the start/finish line and able to change into dry clothes. A hour or so after that, I was safely home and soaking in the tub.

Many, many thanks to:

* the volunteers who bravely stayed at their posts as the full fury of the storm hit and tents came crashing down.
* all the ham radio operators who relayed status of runners continuously to race central and ensured no-one was unaccounted for.
* Michael Muenzer and everyone who headed out in their vehicles to rescue the runners.
* Everyone who headed out to rescue Michael Muenzer's vehicle(!)
* Steve and Keira who remained calm under pressure and made the right decision to call the race.
* my friend Kristen who despite being under tremendous stress manning the radio at the top of Santiago Peak, still had a friendly smile and hug for me when I made it to the tent.
* Jody and Shelli for being crazy and like-minded enough to even think of attempting 100 miles with me in those appaling conditions.

This year, the Chimera won. Thankfully no-one was injured or suffered hypothermia. Next year, ultrarunners will rule the mountain. I, for one, have unfinished business with the Chimera!