201 Days: Ben Gaetos & Carmela Layson

This post is a tribute to the two (2) Pinoy Ultramarathoners who are well-knowned among the ultra runners in California. They just finished their third (3rd) participation to the most challenging ultra trail running event, Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run, which was held last Saturday & Sunday (13-14 Sep 2008) with hours to spare before the cut-off time of 33 hours.

The following was the race report of Ben Gaetos on his 2nd Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run in September 2007:

Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report

Sept. 15-16, 2007


“Miles and miles to go before I sleep.” These are words runners would face at the start of the AC100 Endurance Run on a quiet Saturday morning at 5 am. The race was held at a quiet ski resort community of Wrightwood, CA. A field of 125 intrepid runners started in this annual event. They trained several months with the hope of reaching their goal to finish at Johnson’s Field at JPL in Pasadena before 2 pm on Sunday. AC100 has a time limit of 33 hours. Cutoff times were also enforced at each aid stations.


The course ran through San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles Crest Forest. The primitive wilderness, natural settings and 360 degree view of the surrounding cities attracted endurance runners to test their skills. Runners maneuvered rugged rocky fire roads, stream crossings, cliff hanging single trails, and occasional paved connecting roads. The total elevation gain is 19,900 ft and a total elevation loss of 25,400 ft. There’s no prize money for winning this event but the feeling is priceless at the finish line for those who complete this race.


AC100 was my second 100 miler race. Last year, I finished San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run. I knew beforehand the difficulty of this race. Several veteran runners including past winners advised me how to run this race. The history and prestige of this race is one of a kind. I have watched the finish of AC100 a few times. Last year, I paced my friend David Overstreet. Soon enough I trained and focused on just one race, AC100.


I was very nervous at the start. My two friends, David Campbell, Carmela Layson and I planned to stay together the entire way. Carmela also brought in her friend, DC from Palo Alto, CA. It would be difficult to keep the group intact the entire way. But, I was ready just in case the group falls apart. My former coach, Nancy Shura-Dervin advised me to be used to running alone and practice walking as much.


The most difficult part of the race was placed on the first and last 25 miles. Right at the start, runners faced two big climbs one of which had 41 switchbacks leading to Mt. Baden Powell at Elev. 9100’. I felt light headed during this climb. Every time I looked up there were runners way up ahead. I even thought of dropping out at Mile 25.91, Islip Saddle Aid Station. Adding insult to injury, another short but very steep climb to Mt. Williamson was thrown to us. It was already noontime and this took a toll from the runners. All of a sudden, I felt a surge from within to keep going. My confidence started to increase as we traversed the up and down portion of the middle part of the course. I kept hydrating myself. Nancy told me to make sure to finish up all my water before hitting the next aid station. I maybe over hydrated in the sense that I kept peeing all the time. Runners noticed me several times. I kept hearing, “Again?” I must have lost a lot of time on pit stops alone. Some runners, and I mean male and female mastered the art of peeing without stopping or sitting. Whoa! I saw their markings along the course.


Near halfway mark, an acidic taste started to develop in my stomach. My food intake was mostly energy gels, potatoes with salt, watermelon, jell-o and potato chips. At one point, Dave summoned me at the aid station. “Hey Ben, that’s not a buffet table. Let’s go running”. I have peanut butter sandwich in my drop bags but had difficulty digesting solid foods. Carmela’s husband Gus was our crew extra-ordinaire. Gus stayed late on Friday night preparing foods not only for Carmela but for all of us. His Dodge Durango SUV was 7-11 store on its own. Just ask anything you need and Gus will give it to you at full service. The race provided noodle soup, chicken, burgers, pizza and other solid foods at night. However, I couldn’t take anything solid. I needed something to settle down my stomach problems first. Gus had Pepto Bismol. From hereon, I had to take a shot of Pepto Bismol at crew accessible aid stations. I have no difficulty running at night. It’s actually my favorite part. Dave marked the majority of the course. Just seeing yellow ribbons and chalk marks gave me confidence that I was on the right path. At San Diego 100 miler, I ran 4 extra miles for being lost.


At Newcomb’s Saddle Mile 67.5, the first sign of life appeared in sight. It was about 1 am. The city lights of Arcadia were clearly visible. I wondered if anyone was aware what was going on above the mountains. I knew this course in and out from hereon. I have seen a bear, mountain lion, rattle snakes, deer, bobcat and coyotes during my training here. Dave left the aid station early. DC told me that Dave wasn’t doing well. At this point, I couldn’t catch up with DC and Carmela either. My stomach was getting worst. Now, I was definitely thinking of dropping out from the race at the next aid station, Chantry Flats Mile 74.55. About a mile to the station, I noticed a runner barely walking and leaning on his left. “Dave, is that you?” He told me he was done. I felt bad and thought the same way. That was totally unexpected for our fearless leader.


At Chantry Flats Mile 74.55, I was greeted by several running friends and the Hashers. Hashers is a drinking club with a running problem. I am a member of this underground club. The Hashers led by Tom “See More Buns” O’Hara manned this station for years. Tom installed a tv monitor to hook up communications from Chantry Flats to Newcombs. It’s like a party at Chantry. Our friend, Gary Hilliard showed up to support the runners. He signed up for this race too. About three weeks ago, Gary suffered a serious motorcycle accident on his way to mark up the trails in one of our training runs. Some runners wore ribbons in support for Gary’s recovery.


Right after leaving Chantry Flats, we noticed a couple of runners heading the opposite way. Carmela and I were surprised to see our friend, David O and his pacer. David said he was having problems and would not be able to finish. We let DC go ahead as he was now with a pacer. The climb to Mt. Wilson was extremely brutal. The uphill switchbacks would never end. No wonder, everyone told me to make sure I have something left at the last 25 miles. Be conservative and run a smart race. Carmela and I alternated with another runner on looking for a tree to rest. She even brought a rosary for the most needed holy intervention. My heartbeat could break any medical equipment. I never felt this at San Diego 100 miler. No wonder every runner has outmost respect on this course. As we reached the Mt. Wilson toll road, a downhill section led to Idlehour Aid Station Mile 83.75. The second sunrise was also a sign of relief. I felt cold, exhausted and shaky at the aid station. I asked for another noodle soup. We will be facing another steep 5.5 mile climb to Sam Merrill aid station. Carmela began to worry about my condition. I told her just to go ahead and I’ll decide whether to continue or not at Sam Merrill. We were still ahead by 1 hr. and 40 secs. from the cutoff time. I knew I was done at that point. Kiss the dream goodbye. All of a sudden with about half mile to the station, our two running friends from the Snail’s Pace running club appeared to rescue me. Tom Wilson and Norm have been tracking the progress of the race on the race website. They told us that one of our running buddies, Matthew Dickie was also having problems as well as several top runners. Tom and Norm’s presence gave me a sign of life. I got back into my competitive adrenaline right after hitting the last aid station Millard Campground Mile 95.83. One runner passed me at El Prieto Trail. Without hesitation, I took off instantly. I trained on this maze like section trail a lot. Anyone can get lost here. I would feel insulted if anyone passed me here. Later on, Norm told me that I gave him a pretty good workout.


About a mile to the finish, I knew I was home. Goosebumps started to warm my face. Hikers gave me high fives. A few other runners we know showed up and cheered. A while back, I was already down and about to quit. The positive thoughts ruled over to take charge of the outcome of this race.


My wife and daughter were delighted to see me at the finish line. They also tracked my progress. I reached Johnson’s Field in 32 hrs 10 mins and 10 secs. They witnessed the ups and downs of several runners. 89 out of 125 runners completed the race including Matthew, DC and Carmela. There were no glamour attractions and media coverage like big city marathons. AC100 was simply a pure love and determination of the sport ultramarathon. Those who crossed the finish line can attest the priceless feeling.


I say thank you to my family, friends, tireless volunteers and all for understanding and supporting me achieve this goal. I am truly grateful for their believing in me.



Ben Gaetos

Ultramarathon runner



The following are my other races this year:


Jan – Avalon 50 mile Benefit Run @ Catalina Island

Feb – Twin Peaks 50 mile Ultramarathon @ Cleveland National Forest, Orange County

          Did not finish (DNF) the race – got lost on the trail at Mile 40

Feb – Orange Curtain 50k (31 miles) Ultramarathon @ Liberty Park, Cerritos, CA

March – Los Angeles Marathon (26.2 miles)

March – Catalina Marathon @ Catalina Island

April – Leona Divide 50 mile Ultramarathon @ Lake Hughes, CA

May – Wild Wild West 50k Ultramarathon @ Lone Pine, CA

June – Holcomb Valley 33 mile Ultramarathon @ Big Bear Lake, CA

July – Aztlan 5k (3.1 miles) Trail Run @ Elysian Park

Aug – Mt. Disappointment 50 mile Ultramarathon @ Mt. Wilson

Aug – Bulldog 50k Ultramarathon @ Santa Monica Mt, Malibu, CA

On the other hand, the following was also the Race Report of Carmela Layson in last year’s Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run, her first participation with the event:


A gym rat turned ultra runner conquers AC100


It all started when I was running on a treadmill at a local gym while watching the L.A. marathon on TV and a trainer came up to challenge me to run a marathon – a daunting 26.2 mile run.  I took the marathon challenge about 10 times before contemplating on running my first ultra marathon about 4 years ago.  I ran my first 100 miler – Rio Del Lago – last September and vowed to myself that it was to be my one and only 100 miler.  Well…you know how that goes…..2007 came along and my buddies, Dave Campbell, Ben Gaetos, Matt Dickie, and I decided to sign up and train for the 2007 AC100 Endurance Run.  A 100 mile race is a 100 mile race but somebody just forgot to tell me that some 100 milers are TOUGHER than others.  I figured I’ll just ‘suck it up.’


I signed up for races that would serve as ‘training’ runs for the big game.  I ran those ‘warm up’ races and visualized myself on the AC100 course and dreamt up tough situations that I may encounter and how I’ll deal with them – a strategy.   As spring and summer rolled along, my friendship with Ben, Dave, and Matt became stronger as we supported and encouraged each other towards one common goal.  I’ve also met a lot of incredible people and am truly lucky to have cross paths with them – Andy Kumeda (AK), David Overstreet, Dina Aman, and Manny Garcia.  I felt like I camped out at Angeles Crest mountains with these buddies and I’ve always wondered — where have these folks been all my life?  We talked about life, hopes, dreams, regrets, disappointments – the journey indeed is priceless! 


Alas, we found ourselves standing at the starting line of the AC100 Endurance Run on Sept 15th in Wrightwood, CA.  I was already hyperventilating walking up Acorn Street and was already feeling jittery and nervous.  As we approach Vincent Gap, the climb to Mt. Baden Powell (my early death march) towards Islip Saddle (25.91M), my feet started to hurt terribly (which I never experienced in my training runs) and I was ready to throw in the towel.  I figured I gave it the good ‘ol college try but as soon as I saw my crew extraordinaire and beloved husband, Gus, who gave me that look in the eye, I had to move on.  My good friend, DC (ZombieRunners), gave me a boost and we were on our way.  As the miles passed by, my feet got worse but I just ignored it.  On the way up to Cloudburst Summit (35M), I realized I lost my race bracelet.  I was afraid that they might pull me out of the race so I hurried to climb up to the aid station and when folks saw my frazzled face they thought that I was dehydrated for some odd reason??  ‘You haven’t been drinking, make sure you drink water, sit down, drink,” so I drank even though I knew I was fully hydrated.  My good friend, Robert Baird, gave me big hug and a much needed pep talk. 


Pavement running hurts as we approach the top of Mt. Hillyer (49.8M), “almost half way through” I repeatedly told myself.  I was feeling pretty good at this point and was covering ground in a decent pace as we ascend a slight grade and then descend through large sandstone boulder formations – that was a beautiful sight indeed and it was still daylight!  It was very well marked as I have gotten lost in that area before during one of our training runs.  Running towards Chilao (52.8M), the sun has set and it was time to use our flash light.  I enjoy running at night and was looking forward to that adventure. I was feeling pretty good at Chilao  — I took my time  — went for a pit stop, hydrated/gulped half of a Redbull, ingested some hot vegetable noodle soup, and even managed to eat ¼ of a burger.  My plan was working out pretty good – I wanted to feel strong at this point similar to what I felt at the finish during the Mt. Disappointment 50M.   If I could just stretch this ‘runner’s high’ towards Chantry then a strong finish was guaranteed.  But as the old adage goes – what goes up must go down – not just true for climbing up and down mountains but it’s also applicable to what one goes through during a very long, long, tough race.   I would soon encounter one of my many lowest points of the AC100 race.  Both of my feet were numb and I thought that was okay since I won’t feel any pain but every time my feet hit the trail, pain would shoot up my legs.  Wha’ tha’ heck is happening??  What do I do??  Adding insult to injury, my stomach started acting up.  I took a deep breath trying to relax because if I panic, it may become worse so I stopped running and started walking until both my feet and stomach felt better. Instead of being disheartened, I knew that this was a temporary set back and it will pass.  At that point in the race, I drew from the mental aspect of my training.  I hope I have enough reserves to last until Johnson’s Field.  My good friends, AK and Bill Ramsey, who also happen to be very accomplished ultra runners, have repeatedly told me that the mental part is hard to train for – either you got it or you don’t!   As we approach Shortcut Saddle (59.3M), I decide to take another good break.  A new pain has emerged – my left knee.  Bill Ramsey, crew chief at Shortcut Saddle, gave me the biggest hug and a serious pep talk.  I had some chicken noodle soup, ate half a sandwich, popped some Advil, sprayed my knee with Ice ‘N Kool, and got a good luck kiss from Gus. Time to suck it up!  I knew the upcoming relentless downhill and uphill to the next aid station.  Dave, Ben, and DC were running the downhill in a pretty good pace.  I could hardly keep up.  I tried to walk but it made the knee pain worse. It was so freaking quiet that I could hear crickets.  It was just me, I, and I for awhile.  My buddies up ahead were kind enough to stop a bit to wait for me but I urged them to go and I’ll try to catch up.  Dave got to the top of Newcomb Saddle (67.95M) first then Ben, DC, and yours truly.  ‘Hey, Carmela, Carmela’ a little voice I heard from the corner of my ear, I thought I was hallucinating at that point, I totally forgot about the video cam set up at Newcomb connecting to Chantry Flats.  To my delight, I saw the smiling faces of Gus, Dina, and Jakob (DC’s pacer and co-Rio Del Lago finisher).  I needed that emotional boost.  I’ve violated the ‘beware of the chair’ runner’s rule over and over again on this race as I sat down ate some soup and a serving of yummy teriyaki chicken – I thought I have died and gone to heaven!  I was waiting for the trail police to give me a ‘sitting violation’ ticket.  As I began to get a bit of my energy back, Dave came up to me and told me that he was going ahead because he felt a little shaky.  Ummmhhh……it was so un-like Dave, our fearless leader.  I got worried.   DC and I soon left with Ben behind us towards Chantry, it was a gradual downhill and both my knee and stomach were intact.  Feeling pretty good, we picked up the pace but as soon as we approach a few yards before Chantry Flats (75M), we noticed a runner walking and leaning on his left pretty bad, I looked up and it was Dave.  I was shocked!   He motioned me to go up ahead.  Dina, Gus, and Jakob gave me encouraging words.  I then saw my pacer, Billy, still wearing his jeans and I knew he wouldn’t be coming with me as he hurt himself while running a couple of days ago.  I immediately saw Dave sit down and he told me that he was done – he was dropping from the race.   Mentally and emotionally, I was a basket case.  My demons of fear and doubt came out.  Gus saw what I was going through and suggested for me to go see Gary Hilliard, Mt. Disappointment race director, who was involved in a major motorcycle accident on his way to one of our AC training runs.  He gave me the biggest smile and looked me in the eye and said – ‘You can do this!  Take it home!  You show ‘em what you’re made of!’  I cried.  I saw Ben talking to Dave and he sat down.  I got worried that he might decide to stay at Chantry, too.  Ben got up and took a picture of his Hasher friends and I told him, ‘you’re coming, right, Ben’.  It was not a question but a statement. 


DC, Jakob, Ben, and I started our journey from Chantry to Johnson’s field.  Ignorance is bliss…what you don’t know won’t hurt you.   But this didn’t apply to Ben and I, we have ran this portion several times during our day and night training runs.  DC and Jakob were having a great time going up Chantry catching up on the good ‘ol days that I told them to go ahead.  I know this course.  We suddenly noticed two runners going down Chantry and by then I knew I’ve lost my mind — they’re going the wrong way!  I saw my good friend, David O, and talked to him for a few minutes – he was done and decided to drop at Chantry.  I was again shocked and very sad.  Ben and I continued our trek, shook hands and agreed that we would stick together until the finish.  At that moment, I took my rosary from my pocket and I prayed hard for divine intervention.  I cried quietly most of the time on our way up to the Mt. Wilson toll road.  My stomach started acting up violently as I found myself spending more time wiping my ass than actually walking up the trail.  I felt bad that I was slowing Ben down but not realizing that Ben himself was also fighting his own demons. I made sure that I kept myself hydrated as cramping would soon follow.  We reached ‘the bench’ at top of Wintercreek trail, I sat down and wanted to lie down so badly but afraid that I may not wake up in time.  What’s the cutoff?  What’s the cutoff?  I keep asking Ben as I gave DC my pace chart earlier in the day.  We got 10 hours to finish 25 miles….no big deal, right, we’ve run many marathons during training….what could possibly go wrong?? 


As we reached the top of Mt. Wilson, we have a 4 mile rocky downhill run towards Idle Hour, we can definitely pick up some speed on this portion — WRONG!!   Ben has always been a phenomenal strong downhill runner so I wasn’t worried about him; he actually trained walking downhill so he can save some of his quads – pretty smart guy.  I knew I was in trouble when my left knee wouldn’t budge.  Every step was excruciating and I refused to take anymore Advil at this point since my stomach was already out of whack.  I tried to catch up to Ben but to no avail.  He would try to walk slower but that took more energy for him to do.  I let him go.  I tried to skip, trot, and jog all the way to Idle Hour.  Amazingly, both of my quads were not trashed, so they absorb much of the stress of the downhill to relieve my nagging knee.  As we approached the Idle Hour aid station (83.75M), guess again – I sat down for a brief moment.  It was getting a bit cold as it was early morning – where’s breakfast?  I gulped some lukewarm chicken noodle soup (hope I don’t regret later) and some crackers.  Ben soon followed.  What’s the cutoff?  What’s the cutoff?  I was getting in Ben’s nerves but he was as gracious as ever to tell me that we now only have an hour and a few minutes before the Sam Merrill cut off.  We gotta haul ass!   We knew what we were up against.  I got my third, fourth, fifth wind back….I tried to use all the tricks under my sleeve to conquer that 5 mile hike to Sam Merrill.   I started to get worried about Ben since I haven’t seen him for awhile….I keep calling him.  Get to Sam Merrill, get to Sam Merrill is the only thing I heard from him.  I prayed for a miracle!  Suddenly, I saw 2 runners going down the trail – it was Norm and Tom!  Boy! I was so happy to see them – my prayers were answered.  I’ve only met Tom and Norm during the Holcomb Valley race but they sure provided us the much needed emotional boost.  I asked them to bring Ben up the aid station.  I sat down for a long time (14 mins.), got some hot chicken noodle soup, more crackers and some chips.  I had a big smile on my face when I saw Ben as he also sat down and had some soup.  We are going for it!  All downhill from here!   Ben and I alternated running with Tom and Norm all the way down to rocky Sam Merrill/Echo Mountain area.  My knee was trashed at this point – I have nothing else to give.  As we approach the Millard campground, Ben told me that we are not stopping long as this is the last aid station (95.83M).  No more sitting down for me.  We were in and out in a minute.  I was just following Tom towards the El Prieto trail – just get me home.  Ben and Norm were like two kids trotting their way towards the barn.  I was happy and content.  I saw Gus driving up to make sure I was okay and then I spotted my buddy, Jimmy Fullerton.  I also asked him to run with me to the finish. I crossed the finish line at Johnson’s field in 32 hours, 11 minutes and 32 seconds!  Whew!!  Mission Accomplished!!!


I would like to thank God for giving me the strength and perseverance.  To my ever supporting husband, Gus – my rock – I couldn’t have done it without him.  To my family and friends who believed in me. 


I read this quote and it truly embodies my 2007 AC100 Endurance Run experience…..”it was almost zen-like for me.  I was always in the moment….Something definitely inside me has changed, both in my quotidian existence and my running.  I have stopped worrying about the next moment or the next hour or the next day.  I refuse to waste the Now for it is all I have to spend.”


Carmela – gym rat turned ultra runner – 2007 AC100 finisher







4 thoughts on “201 Days: Ben Gaetos & Carmela Layson

  1. Pingback: 201 Days: Ben Gaetos & Carmela Layson

  2. benwah

    Just a little correction Sir Jovie. Carmela has also 3 – 100 mile finishes. Her first was 2006 Rio del Lago 100 in Sacramento, CA and AC100 ’07 and ’08. My first was San Diego 100 in ’06 and AC 100 ’07 and ’08.

    There is another Pinay runner based in Bahrain and London whom I communicate from time to time. Her name is Tess Geddes. She has completed the Sahara Desert Marathon (Marathon des Sables) in Morocco. This is a 7 day stage run totalling 148 miles. Longest run is 50 miles.

    Good luck on your preparation for the Bataan 50k.


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