Tales From the Back of the Pack

Tales From the Back of the Pack

Monday, August 3, 2015

Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run Volunteer Weekend

Last year the Puff and I volunteered at the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run . We had such a fun experience we couldn't wait to go back again this year. The race was this past weekend August 1 and August 2nd right here in our backyard (sort of). 
We were assigned to help at the very last aid station on the course, (mile 95) which was at Millard Campground in the Angeles National Forest. This campground is located only about 40 miles from our house but it's remote enough that there is actual wildlife there!
We arrived at the campground at 4pm in the afternoon on Saturday. We re-joined the same group from last year: Aid Station captain Bob (who's run this race several times himself), Rebecca and Rebecca's dad John (who's run this race and many other ultras).
The AC 100 race starts at 5am in Wrightwood on Saturday and ends in Alta Dena at 2pm on Sunday. Runners have approximately 33 hours to finish the course and most take around 30 hours. After we set up our tent & cots, we got down to the business of the aid station. 

Our first official duty as aid station volunteers was to set out and organize the runner drop bags. Out of approximately 240 total race registrants we had only 30 bags to sort. We already knew from previous experience that once they've run 95 miles, most runners don't usually want what they put in their bags. Most runners don't know their own name after running 95 miles.
We brought my nephew Sam along this year
The Forest Rangers close the main canyon gates daily at 8pm and re-open them at 6am. So, even though the first AC 100 runners wouldn't be coming through our aid station until midnight, we had to get to the campground early enough so that we could drive in before the gates close and so that we can set up our tent while there's still daylight out. 
This means that after our tent & stuff is set up there's quite a few hours to kill before we have to start getting down to work. This year Rebecca brought some fun stuff for the Puff to do!
Just playing DS (Sam) and taking selfies (me) during our down time.
We followed the runners' progress via GPS tracking so we knew pretty much when to start looking out for the first runner. This year John & Rebecca also brought infrared cameras which were set up on the trail near our station. Via the laptop & TV monitors we could see the runners on the trail before they got to us. It was really very very cool. 

Just as the down time was starting to wear on us, the MOST exciting moment of the night, the one that everyone fought off sleep for, finally arrived: seeing two small orbs of light off in the distance, aka the FIRST runner and their Pacer making their way to our aid station!!!
It was exactly midnight and this scene just made us go nuts. We started hooting and cheering for the runners as loud as we could. If there were any mountain lions or bears lurking nearby, they would have totally been scared away by all our nonsense! 

Eric Schulte and his pacer thundered in, grabbed some snacks, downed some coke (I think it was coke, I could be wrong) and was off again in a total of less than 2 minutes. All those hours of anticipation and the moment was over just like that. 
The runner in second place came in a few minutes after Eric. He also hastily grabbed some snacks from our table, downed some Gatorade and was off to catch Eric.
I don't remember all the runners that came through, but there was obviously a huge difference between the ones who were racing to place 1st, 2nd, 3rd in the race versus the ones who were in it for the personal challenge. The runners coming through at midnight were all business, no time to spare, no lingering. Everyone was still very appreciative though and so incredibly nice. Trail runners are so.darn.nice.
I don't remember her name, but I took a picture with this runner because she was one of the middle-of-the-night arrivals (badass) who actually did stop to chat with us for a bit. She was training for Mont Blanc
The runners arrived in very predictable groupings. After those first few runners who were gunning to place, the next group would be those who were trying to finish in under 24 hours arriving at Millard about 3am-4am Sunday morning. After that, the next recognition would be for runners who finished before Sunrise on Sunday (sunrise to sunrise award) and then the last flurry of runners would be those who were just trying to get in before the final cutoff (2pm on Sunday).

I did catch some sleep in between those groupings. I managed to get maybe an hour of sleep at a time at 3 separate times. My nephew and the Puff slept through most of the night but the Puff was up again before the Sunrise runners started to trickle in. She was moving & hustling better than some of the adults in our group, I was super proud of her!!
This is the Puff handing a runner his drop bag.   
During one of the more extended breaks, Sam and the Puff went exploring up the trail and hammed it up for the cameras. Until a runner surprised them from behind and they jumped out of his way just in time. Good job kiddos!
 Sam & the Puff hanging out in the tree in the wee morning hours:
After the canyon gates re-opened at 6am, we had a few more volunteers join us to help which was awesome because this was definitely the BUSIEST time of the entire race. 
Volunteering at an Ultra aid station is no joke. Especially at this particular aid station. It's a very tiring job and if you're at the last station like we were, it''s many many many hours of work. The first aid station of the race is done in a couple of hours max. But for us, the last runner finally made his way to us at around 1:14pm (unfortunately he was disqualified due to time. Can you imagine running 95 miles of a 100 mile race and being DQ'd?) We'd been assisting runners since midnight and were set up way before then the day before.   

After the last runner, the trail sweepers weren't too far behind (they also need aid station help!). We finally packed up and went home, promising everyone we would see them all again next year. 

We made it home just in time for Sunday Linner dessert: SCOOP CAKE. YUMMMMMM. 
I slept most of the rest of the afternoon on Sunday. It was another great weekend for us. Our Summer vacation is nearly over--school starts August 12. I feel like our summer has been so incredibly busy, we're in need for the school year to start so we can finally slow down.

I'm not sure I want to ever train for a century race. Maybe a 50 miler? Maybe. I need to get better at the marathon before tackling the next distance.

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