Ultrarunning Back in the Day - Page 2
How did you get ready for the 1989 AC100?
I really prepared for Angeles Crest that year. I sacrificed for six months before the race. Meticulous planning. I had a crew, pacers and my nutrition dialed in. I had three plans. Plan C was to run the record. Plan B was to run conservative, and break the existing record. The secret Plan A was to go under 18 hours. The training began a year before the race.
My mileage for the six peak weeks before the race, nine weeks prior to race day, was 150 to 200 miles per week in a continuous build. Then I tapered downward 200-100-75-50 per week. The Tuesday before the race I did a speed workout to deplete the fast-twitch muscle fibers.
I got back to basics on what worked. Nutrition was going to be liquid based, in total defiance of conventional wisdom. I was using mango nectar mixed with Carboplex, with ProOptimizer as the protein supplement every 25 miles, and water with potassium tablets for electrolyte absorption.
How did the race shake out?
After a cool start, the day was warm through Shortcut [mile 59]. I was outracing most of the aid stations, which had not set up yet. For instance, I beat the crews up to Newcomb’s Pass [mile 68]—the trucks passed me on the way up the road.
After Newcombs, a heavy inversion layer cut visibility down to three feet in through Santa Anita Cyn to Chantry [mile 75]. However, I knew the way cold. At this time I was running a caloric deficit because my bottles were mixed and still on the trucks, and my pacer Bill Kissell couldn’t get to them without me waiting around.
At Chantry there was no scale to weigh in on. I stuck to my plan throughout. I stayed in the chair for the full 10 minutes getting a massage etc before heading up Mount Wilson.
How about Leadville the following year?
My original goal was to do every hundred that existed in 1989. These were Old Dominion, Vermont, Western, Leadville, Wasatch and Angeles Crest.
At Leadville I did the homework for six weeks before the race, splitting my time between Steamboat Springs (three days) and Leadville (four days) each week.
Come race day I ran alongside Skip Hamilton, a four-time winner of the race, known as “Mayor of Leadville,” which was OK by me. Skip held back in the first 13 miles. When I was changing out of my tights at May Queen, he passed me. I let him lead until the base of Mount Hope, which was about a fat mile past the water crossing after the elk wallow at Twin Lakes. I passed him there.
I started throwing surges at Hamilton going up to Hope Pass. I’d let him come close, then surge ahead. Then I’d repeat. By the top of Hope I was pretty whacked. Bill Clements passed me here, and I let him go.
I saw Skip on his way up to Winfield while I was heading back to the base of Hope Pass—he wasn’t long for the race (and dropped at Twin Lakes). The return leg to Twin Lakes took 2:30 as planned.
I took the lead back from Bill at Twin Lakes. Midway between Twin Lakes and Half Moon, it began to dump rain. The trails turned to grease. I dropped my first pacer who was suffering from intestinal distress, and ran solo to Fish Hatchery [mile 75]. I picked up a wild-card pacer, who probably had a snappier workout than he bargained for, slipping and sliding up Pole Line Pass—complete with lightning and hail.
Out of May Queen [mile 87] the mud was so bad that a USFS truck sank to its hubs on the dirt road while trying to light the way.
O’Brien crossed the finish line in a record time of 17:55. There had been three inches of hail on the streets of Leadville at the finish line. His record stood until 1994 when it was broken under a mild full-moon dry night by the Tarahumara runner Juan Herrera wearing huaraches.
The following year, before running Wasatch, O’Brien was convinced that a record was possible. Once again, he did the homework. He stayed in Park City for three weeks, and trained with Dana “Blood and Guts” Miller. Their families socialized together and made the business of training more pleasant. Finally, he ran the course in three sections over three days.
Race day was notable for the pouring rain that greeted the runners at the top of Francis Peak, and that Miller had completed half of his Double Wasatch along with Dennis Herr.
The race threw a succession of obstacles at O’Brien. The course itself is difficult on a good day. Fog and rain made routefinding up Chin Scraper very difficult, where he topped out on a rock crag. Rain-battered, he decided going up was safer than down-climbing. Continued rain throughout the day turned trails into mud-runs and bottomless shoe-sucking misery. Dense fog at night added to route-finding challenges up past Desolation Lake [mile 70]. O’Brien left Brighton [mile 75] just ahead of RD John Grobben, who was seriously considering stopping the race due to the extreme wet conditions. Houses were sliding off hillsides at this point. I can only imagine what the steep climb up to Ant Knolls must have looked and felt like after 18 hours of soaking rain!
Jim won it in 22:50—not a course record but almost two hours ahead of second place Neal Beidleman. There were 55 finishers out of 105 starters.