The Opening Ceremonies began at the 100 Mile Club Headquarters atop a big hill in Norco, California.
The ceremony was led by Ed Ettinghausen, a badass ultra-runner who holds the world record for completing the most 100 Mile (or more) Ultra Marathons in a year. It was said, that only 3 people in the world have accomplished more lifetime races than “The Jester,” as he is also known. To put it simply, he is redefining the upper limitations of endurance running. He’ll also be speaking at a sold out Tedx Talk in Temecula which you can learn about here.
This race had initially been canceled. Luckily for everyone involved, Ed and Alfa Severino stepped up and took over as co-race directors.
The larger goal of this race is to both inspire and raise money for the kids of the 100 Mile Club, a nonprofit organization fighting the battle against childhood obesity one school at a time. That’s what this race is all about, and it’s up to us adults to set a good example, so here we are.
EC50 / EC100 Starting Line
It’s weird standing at the starting line of a hill in Norco knowing that your finish is so far away. Half of us would be aiming for Huntington Beach around dusk. The other half would be passing even further going over Palos Verde and all the way up to the Santa Monica Pier finishing between 18 – 32 hours later. In total, this race crosses 3 counties and 22 cities.
To Clarify: this is not a relay race. Each runner must run either an entire 50 or 100 Miles.
Both my brother Mike and I would be returning to run in the 100 mile category. Our eldest brother John was home resting with the plan to again be our support crew chief for the 2nd half of the race. This is the fourth year that one of us will run this race and at 7am, we were off.
And We’re Off / Early Trouble
I had written, “The first 25 miles passed before I was fully awake.”
This year, however, was different. We were short on crew and would be minimally supported for the first 50 miles. So, we packed heavy with enough water, Gatorade, and snacks. This is clearly a strategic mistake. To no one’s fault but our own, we were putting in more effort for the same output as we would with a lighter pack and started experiencing back pain early in the race.
With the 91 freeway and the Santa Ana Mountain range to our left, we made our way towards the checkpoint in Yorba Linda. We shifted our strategy to drink and eat as much as we could to lighten our packs and hydrate for the stretch between mile 25 and 50. Before we even reached the first aid station (mile 18), Mike’s back had begun hurting too much to carry any weight.
I asked him to hand me his pack and I was surprised by how light it was; this just proved how much his back must have already been hurt.
I put his pack over mine and carried both on my back. The extra weight wasn’t TOO BAD at this point but the added pressure wasn’t allowing my lungs to fully expand unless I adjusted my breathing.
It was still funny to me that last year, the first 25 miles were so easy to me that I didn’t bother mentioning them in my race report, but here we were struggling.
Just before the mile 18 checkpoint, a cyclist asked, “Justin Flores?” It was Stephen, a member of my beer club who answered my Facebook request for support although we hadn’t even met. He let us know he’d meet us near a Circle K with snacks and cold beverages.
We reached the aid station and left with our packs almost empty to avoid weight. We could survive possible hunger and dehydration better than back pain, besides there would be snacks near Circle K.
I turned on my Garmin and we logged a few 10 minute miles on the way to meet Stephen. There, Mike and I split a cold Gatorade. The contents of the cooler were simple yet exciting to see and I stuffed my pockets.
It was like trail magic. When we left, I mentally added Stephen to the list of people who have helped us.
We reached the 25 mile mark at Denny’s sometime around noon.
Mile 28 to 38
I ate what I could grab at the station and was greeted by the 100 Mile Club’s awesome volunteers… Kara Lubin (100 Mile Club Founder), David Schulman, (Awesome Photographer), and our favorite pair of other siblings Tammie and Tabitha.
And we’re off!
Last year, the section between mile 25 & 50 was the foundation of our race, we moved almost effortlessly with spirits high. This time, we weren’t quite able to turn our moods around just yet. Still, we had a simple plan: turn on the Garmin and cruise 15 minutes per mile. The next 7- 8 miles passed rather effortlessly.
For the first time that I’ve seen, nearly every underpass between the Denny’s and Santa Ana was populated with tent communities of homeless.
Some may have housed approximately 15 per underpass. The shelters varied in size and shape. One was a 12 person Coleman tent, while another was cardboard, tarp, and curtain.
As the day progressed, so did the miles and back pain. We needed desperately to get rid of the packs. Our friends were offering to drop off supplies, but we declined. What we really needed was for someone to mule our stuff for a while.
It was nearing 2pm & John let us know that he’d be meeting us early at the mile 38 aid station. No bike support yet, but he’d have food and we could ditch our packs. At this point, we were already carrying them in our arms.
Mile 38 – 50ish
We arrived, ate, and left running. We wouldn’t need to carry anything because the beach had water fountains. As we had estimated, we reached the coast in Huntington Beach at approximately 4pm.
We had a sense of urgency and were moving at a great pace to reach the 50 mile marker as early as possible.
It was OC beach life today with people were enjoying their bonfires, playing volleyball, and para-sailing. We felt great having less on our shoulders, but still Mike’s back was hurting.
We had wanted to get to the 50 mile mark early, but we knew we were going to need some recovery time. Since this was both the nicest part of the day and course, we decided to relax our pace and enjoy ourselves.
After listening to music, I felt happy and recovered. Then, I passed the IPOD to Mike. As the sky turned pink, we were nearing Bolsa Chica & Sunset Beach. The air smelled roasty, my mood was relaxed, and we moved onward.
We met our crew at the Jack and the box at sunset beach, ditched the little we had left and put on our reflective vests and hurried along PCH in the dark.
Mile 50 – 64.5
We reached the 50 Mile Checkpoint around 7:00pm.
We rested a bit and I loaded up a backpack for our friend Scott Tower to wear as he paced us.
During our time at the checkpoint, the 50 Mile Runners were coming in and celebrating their victories. We were happy for them.
Before we were leaving, Mike asked if we could have our 100 mile buckles now and just owe them fifty miles. We were respectfully declined this reasonable request.
Scott, myself, and Mike walked onto the streets and made our way towards Belmont Shore. When we reached the beachfront, we were mostly walking. I had very bad chafing in some personal areas, the kind I could never use as an excuse for quitting out of sheer embarrassment. Scott shared that rockstars claim “fatigue” whenever they need to save face. Good to know.
When we reached the Marina, Mike’s girlfriend arrived to straighten out his back.
(Hearing all the pops and cracks made me squeamish!)
We moved on passing through downtown, across the water from the Queen Mary, and onto the Long Beach River Trail, which is always sketchy. The first two years, this portion was a homeless tent city. Last year, it was crowded with undesirables. This year was rather calm but we still made sure to move through quickly. Once we were back onto PCH, we were in refinery territory.
We began to slow down. For miles, I didn’t see any runners neither behind nor ahead of us. Everyone must have been scattered at this point.
We mostly walked and I shared with Scott my love and history with this race.
By the time we reached the station, there had been nearly 25 miles of discussion on the topic of dropping out of the race.
Mike had first brought it up before Sunset Beach when it became clear that his back would not get any better and the lingering question of causing any permanent damage.
Mike had a genuine and more honorable reason for dropping out than I did, but still I was hesitant to continue. I struggled the entire race mentally and I was never able to fully turn my mood around. Also, it was my birthday weekend I wanted to relax for once. For the last four years my birthday had motivated me to push myself but now it was sapping my focus.
Normally, when we run past restaurants and downtowns, I’m grateful to be out living life. Now every scent and sound made me want to relax and celebrate. I wasn’t 100% focused nor willing to put in the time needed to succeed.
When I heard that Mike was no longer running, it made me consider my own motivations. After all, I was awake and in good condition, still I was reluctant to continue and was unsure why.
Someone asked, “Is it because last year you finished together that now you don’t want to finish without your brother?”
The coffin was nailed. I remembered the Army Rangers from Dean Karnazes’ Ultra Marathon Man, how they trained and ran together and on occasion failed together.
I could tell John wanted me to keep going, and the rest of the crew was ready to support any decision.
We hadn’t run 100 miles today, but we did run 100k, or a “metric century run” which is a term we just made up.
I was happy, proud, and ready to go home.
Where We Quit, Others Endured
I’m told we were in 8th place when we dropped out and there were 23 finishers this year, so at the very least 16 more runners would come into the same station, and unlike us, they would have the determination to run on.
What differentiates an ultra-runner is quite literally the lengths that we go to, not just in terms of miles but what we are willing to do to get those miles. Every person will face their own obstacles and 23 runners who began at the starting line in Norco would go the entire distance to the Santa Monica Pier.
The Remaining Course
For the runners who would pass the Jack N’ the Box, they would go over Palos Verde, which starts with a hill so steep that cars struggle up it. What a cruel place to put a hill in a race.
It stands as an obstacle to weary runners in search of the St Peter By the Sea, the Mile 75 Checkpoint that sits between two dark endless stretches of hilly, windy and empty road until eventually you speed the curvy downhill towards Redondo Beach.
The black of the ocean crashes and cracks beside and below to your left, and before you shine the lights of cities you are descending towards.
Once they reach sea level, they run the shoreline up through Manhattan Beach, Marina Del Rey, passing the hustle and bustle of Venice Beach until finally the finish line.
Congratulations to all the runners, volunteers, and support crews that made this great race possible.
Don’t Forget to Follow us on Facebook!