My name is Joe DeVreese. I own 2 running shops in Santa Barbara, CA. I consider myself an ultra trail running junkie. I find trail running and racing to be so rewarding. It is not always about the time or splits you run. For me, it's more about the journey, the experience and what I take away from that. One year ago we formed our first Santa Barbara Mountain Racing Team and we are stoked to be running and racing in rabbit this year. Last weekend I had the opportunity to race in our rabbit kit in the Angeles Crest 100 mile trail race (sidenote: the most comfortable gear ever. No chafing, no rubbing. It really was perfect). I chose to race in the welcome to the gun show singlet and the daisy dukes (yeah, the shorty shorts).
The 2016 Angeles Crest 100 was my second time to run this race. I will not go into details about my 2015 AC100 experience, but let me just say I had some unfinished business to take care of. This picture from last year pretty much says it all…I am here with my friend and ultrarunner legend Billy Simpson sitting a deadman’s bench at mile 80 of the race saying at prayer to whatever God would listen to get me to the finish last year.
The route: the race starts in Wrightwood, California and finishes in Altadena, California via the San Gabriel Mountains all just above Los Angeles, California. It is 100 miles overtechnical terrain at an elevation gain of over 20,000 feet. Cut-off time is 33 hours.
My AC weekend started on Friday, Augst 5th with my crew and pacers Dave Odell and Mark Warren. We headed out of Santa Barbara in the Sprinter…coffee in hand (of course only Handlebar coffee). The van was loaded with the yeti cooler, gels (only had three during the race), bars, Renaud’s pastries (killer idea), coca cola, plenty of water to get us all through the day and night, head lamps, and a patio chair to sit in at the aid stations. As we are heading to Wrightwood, the three of us make our plans and strategies in how we will tackle the rugged mountain course. I’m excited and nervous, mainly because of what happened to me last year as I didn't want to experience that kind of suffering again. As we pull up to town, I see familiar faces which set me at ease for a bit. I do the check in, catch up with other runners, get my number, hit the pre-race meeting and then check into the cabin.
I was very wound up and having a hard time relaxing once we got to the cabin. We hit dinner a block away (Mile High Pizza). I spoke to my wife, Monica, and the boys before hitting the sack and the best advice from the day came from Monica “just relax and enjoy the day tomorrow”. That is just what I needed to hear before I went to bed. I set my alarm for a 4:00 am wake up, had a fine cup of coffee (thanks Dave), some oatmeal and a 500 calorie pastry from my favorite local pastry shop in Santa Barbara, Renauds. We walked to the start at 4:40 for the 5am start. I was feeling excited. We listened to Uncle Hal (the race director) do his prayer and then came the 10 second countdown.
It’s 5am and we were off. I took my time up the first climb. It is a 2000 foot climb up Acorn to Inspiration. It felt easier than last year, but my time was about the same. I roll into the first aid station at 9.3 miles, do a fast switch of bottles with Mark and Dave and start my climb up Baden Powell, a mountain full of switchback splendor which tops out around 9,600 feet. I’m feeling really relaxed and keep repeating what Monica had said the night before. It seems to be working. I cruise into mile 26.5 and meet my crew, take a seat, eat, fuel up on an almond croissant and my first coca cola, which tastes so refreshing on these kind of runs. My nephew, Nick, who lives in LA was out cheering for me as I made the climb up Baden Powell and snapped this photo.
I make my way down Highway 2 for a bit, the day is starting to really heat up and I never allow myself to push too hard. I think at that point I’m around 25th place. I enter the new section of the course with a climb up Mt. Pacifico, a 4.5 mile climb on a hot exposed rocky road, running with a guy from Denver, CO and we work together to the top. Once I hit the top, I eased into a nice pace all the way back down and found myself feeling rather good.
I hit the 50-mile marker, grabbed a few things off the table to eat and made my way to Chilao where Dave and Mark are waiting (mile 53). Mark is ready to pace me to mile 75. We keep moving pretty solid up to mile 60, the Shortcut Saddle aid station. This will be the last time we see Dave until he takes over pacing duties at mile 75. I slam some soup and eat some quesadillas.
From there, Mark and I have a 5.5 mile downhill section where we try to keep a 8:30 - 9:00 minute pace. The sun is still high, we are both cooking and we are looking forward to it setting, it was still hot. We make it to the next aid station at Newcomb, mile 68, and its still light out. Last year it was already pitch-dark at this point for me. I remember telling Mark there that I was tired. I grabbed my drop bag, took my headlamp out and threw on my long-sleeved rabbit top (I’m wear testing a new top coming out in the Fall) and we split. The next 7-miles were just beautiful! The sun was setting and we were catching glimpses of the LA lights below. I got a sense I was getting close to being done even though I had 30 more miles to go. We roll in to Chantry Flats, which is mile 75. Dave is there, waiting with a bag of burgers from the Habit. I wished so badly I could have stomached a burger, but I just couldn’t. I tried to have a few bites and then Dave and I were off for the last 25 miles. Right out of Chantry Flats we climb back up to 7000 feet. My goal was just make it to Dead Mans Bench, which is 1 mile from the top of Mt. Wilson…everyone stops there, it’s all lit up with x-mas lights and from the bench you have a killer view of LA… sparkling lights for miles and miles.
We hit the top of that climb and I know I have 19 miles to the finish and I am starting to smell it a touch. We have another decent and Dave is setting a great pace that I wish I could keep up with, I’m struggling, but we make it to the next aid station. I sip on some soup and ginger ale and off we go to the next and last big climb back up another 2000 feet or so…and I am just pooped. Dave makes a good plan to hike for .30 mile and rest for 30 seconds or so, all of a sudden I was only focusing on the .30 and not the entire climb. It freaking worked and we make it to the top to the Sam Merrill aid station. I’m sitting in the chair chatting with the wonderful volunteers and all of a sudden I have to puke. It all comes up…all of the food and cokes I have consumed during the race blanket the back of that aid station. I tell Dave I think its all blood (23 hours of running will make you think like that) and the poor guy comes over to inspect and there was no sign of blood. After that, I actually really started feeling better with 10 miles to go. I knew at this point I was not going to break the 24 hour mark and earn the sub-24 hour buckle, but there is the second sunrise buckle and I knew it was very doable to still make the cutoff time for that (it changes every year, but this year it was about 25:30). We refocus and set our sights on getting that buckle. The next 10 miles were rocky single track. Once again, Dave sets a blistering pace and this time I’m locked in staring at his HOKA Speedgoats in front of me. Picking our way through the rocks, big drops and switchbacks, we pass three runners and their pacers in the last 4 miles, which was more fuel for the fire. We make it down to the fire road with 2 miles to go. I savor those last 2 miles, it's so sweet to know you are going to make it and that all the hard trails are behind you. It about 5:30am and we run into the park where I see Monica, DeAnna and Mark and its a great reunion at the finish line.
Me at the finish with my crew and pacers, Dave and Mark - I can’t thank these guys enough.
What took me 31:44 last year took me 24:28 this year for 19th place overall. AC100 and I are now even. I’m so glad I had both experiences. I believe it’s the perfect combo to learn and grow from. Its all about the journey, the good, the bad, the ugly and making it through. That is ultra trail running life in 24 hours.
“The only way out is through” - Billy Simpson, Ultra Running Legend