I was in Los Angeles, California last February to attend the wedding of my son, John Paul. After the wedding, I had all the time to “peak bag” some of the nearby mountains near our house and had my daily runs of about one hour everyday. My “peak bagging” activities would cover not more than 20 kilometers in distance but most of these runs would cover 4-6 hours and my longest was 7 hours.
I was able to “peak bag” the Dante’s Peak @ Griffith Park, Verdugo Mountain, Echo Mountain and Mt Lukens through the detailed information from Ben Gaetos, an ultra runner friend who is based in Eagle Rock, California which is near Los Angeles. Separate posts will be published on this blog on my experiences on these mountains that I’ve visited.
In one of my FB chats with Ben Gaetos, he mentioned to me that he is going to run the Bandit 50K Trail Run in Simi Valley, California which was two weeks to go before race day. Without any training and preparation for the said distance, I forced myself to join this event with the goal to finish the race within the cut-off time.
Gilbert Gray, an ultra runner from Maryland, USA and BDM 102 & 160 Finisher, saw my picture on Facebook with Joe Matias of A Runners Circle Store and Ben Gaetos having breakfast. I posted the said picture saying that the three of us were planning for something about ultra running in California. Gilbert might had been intrigued about my post and picture. He ultimately discovered that Ben and I were registered to run this race. He immediately registered for the race and booked a flight to California with his wife.
What puzzles me up to this time was when I found out that Gilbert Gray’s flight landed in Sacramento, California which is 500 miles north of Los Angeles. He drove from Sacramento and arrived at the race area barely 4 hours before the start time. What amazed me most was that he just finished a 100-mile race in Florida two weeks before this run and drove his car from Maryland to Florida and back. And after the Bandit 50K Race, he would drove back to Sacramento to catch up with his flight back to Maryland the following day! This is the reason why I call him, “The Machine”!
The trip by car from our house to the State Park in Simi Valley was about 45 minutes and I was at the assembly area one hour before the start time. Runners would fall in line on their respective distance booth and the Race Packet and Loot Bag were given after stating your last & first names to the volunteers. Very easy and well-organized.
After pinning my race bib, it was time to look for Ben Gaetos and Gilbert Gray. It was already daybreak when I was able to see them barely 30 minutes before gun start. It was some sort of a reunion and I was very relaxed with the expectation to finish the race within the cut-off time. Few minutes before the gun start, Ben Gaetos told us that we will see each other at the Finish Line which means that he is going to race and finish strong in this event. Gilbert and I positioned ourselves at the back of the pack and we both knew that it would be a long day for us on the trails!
After a simple countdown, the race started at exactly 7:00 AM. Gilbert and I were at the back of the pack trying to warm-up with our slow jog but we can still see the runners in front of us. We went around the park on a wider trail for about a mile and then passed by the place where we started. After that short flat loop, we turned right into a wooden bridge and that was the start of almost 2 kilometers of winding single track trail going up to the peak of the mountain. Gilbert and I started to power walk all the way to the peak where the first Checkpoint/Aid Station was located. On top of the ridge, the trail was on top of a mountain made of rock and we simply jogged on this part.
After the exposed mountain rock, we followed a trail that brought us for some shade and vegetation until we went down from a mountain that leads to a subdivision/group of newly-constructed houses. We ran on the asphalted roads of this affluent neighborhood until we followed a road that goes to another mountain. Before going up to another mountain, this was where the 2nd Aid Station was set-up to serve a lot of food and drinks. This was where I saw boiled small potatoes were served with salt to dip on.
From the 2nd Aid Station, we had to face another mountain which was exposed to the sun. It was hot during the day that I had to drink a lot. It was on this portion of the course that I thought I was dehydrated and tried to look for Coke for some “sugar rush”. It was only when we reached the turn-around point at the Km 25 that I was able to refill my bottles. This was where the 3rd Aid Station was located. But my mistake was not to take a drink from the ice-cold coke offered at the Aid Station. I relied on the electrolytes that I brought with me in my pack which was my first time to use.
I was still strong from the turn-around point up to the 2nd/4th Aid Station. Gilbert and I ate some foods at the 2nd/4th Aid Station and we stayed longer to mix my drinks and engage short conversation with the volunteers and other runners trying to refill and eat at the said place. From the 2nd/4th Aid Station, we started to jog and walk but the heat of the sun was too much to bear but I tried my best to power walk on the inclines and slowly jog on the downhill parts of the course.
On our last 15 kilometers, I started to have cramps on my quads and I had to stop to stretch the affected parts and Gilbert Gray was there to see to it that I was fine. Slowly, we walked on a long stretch of uphill road to the top of the mountain and I was on survival mode! When we reached the peak of the long uphill road on the last mountain which is about 5 kilometers from the Finish Line, I thought I could no longer move my legs! This is where I analyzed my mistakes in joining this race. No decent “back to back” long runs and introducing a new electrolyte mix in this race! I told Gilbert that I have to finish this race and consider it as my long slow distance run even if I slowed down from my past 50K trail run in the United States. Gilbert was very patient with me as he would start a conversation that would boost my ego and morale. He would tell me that people with my age (60 years old) would be fat and sitting in front of their TV set and constantly visiting their medical practitioners for their health problems.
As part of our brief rests, we would take some photos of us on the last few kilometers of the course. The 1st/last Aid Station was a blessing to us as we had the last cup of Coke and there was a towel soaked in an ice water which I rubbed on my head, nape and face. From here, it was our last 3 kilometers and we simply started to run on switchbacks going down the mountain (the first mountain that we peaked). Our pace in going down the mountain was so fast as if somebody was behind trying to overtake us on that single-track trail. Gilbert and I were excited to cross the wooden bridge where his wife was located trying to get a picture of us. At this point, we were 400 meters away from the Finish Line.
Few meters from the Finish Line, Gilbert and I held our hands up high until we crossed the Finish Line. We had an identical time of 8:07:19 hours, placing 119 and 120, respectively out of 140 Finishers. Ben Gaetos crossed the Finish Line one hour ahead of us. He was really fast on his way back to the Finish Line.
If I have the chance to join this race again in the future, I would gladly prepare and try to improve my time and correct my mistakes. I am highly recommending this race for those who usually visit California and Los Angeles during the month of February.
If you are interested to know more about this race, you can visit its website on http://banditultratrailrun.com.
Keep on running!
(Note: Some of the pictures were taken by Ben Gaetos & Gilbert Gray! Thanks!)