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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Pupa - The Running Joke

Still A loser - A Baldy Marathons Race Report

This was my second attempt at the Baldy Marathons. The race is comprised of 5 twenty mile loops; each loop contains over 10k feet of vertical gain. You have 60 hours to complete all 5 loops with various cutoffs for each loop. If you haven’t done your homework this race will eat you up spit you out and have you questioning your very reason for being.

My first attempt at the race ended in a hypothermic frostbitten mess. I hadn’t done enough homework and didn’t know the course near well enough to be considered for the possible finishers table. I finished 30 miles in 17 hours and that was that. This time around I was ready. I trained each and every weekend on the mountain and even practiced a reverse loop in order to try and get dialed in for the race to come.

Race day:

Usual race day jitters had me up by 7:30 AM for a 10AM race because who needs sleep when you may need to stay up for 60 hours running 100 miles? After a quick protein bar and the obligatory 3 sips of black coffee I was ready to go. 11 runners sought out to complete the 100k to 100 mile distance.

The Course starts near the Mount Baldy ski lodge then simply heads up the big climb, to Ronny and Lorlei’s trail, a left at Eric’s plunge, Left on Satan’s ridge, down Hades, across the upper plateau, to the top of doom, then on to Emilio’s way and back to Candy land to finish your first half lap. The race directions read more like a Tolkien madlibs than actual directions.

The start:

The first 10 miles were fairly unremarkable. I teamed up with Richard Sparks whom, I had run with in May, and decided our strengths complimented one another. We checked in with Aaron and headed down to our cars to our makeshift aid stations. Unlike the usual ultramarathon with Aid stations stocked with fresh fruit and goodies, at Baldy you have your hot car and if you are smart a well-stocked cooler. A quick change of socks, a few orange slices, and food for the next 20 miles and we were off.

The second half of the loop is easy enough to navigate. Simply head up Ginny’s crawl to the big climb, then when you reach Candyland head straight up to heaven, then on to Joel’s gap and back. This portion of the course could also simply be called, “if you’re not going up you’re lost.”

This is where things began to go sideways for Richard. Unfortunately it was becoming evident he was having stomach problems and we had to take our first elongated break at punch D mid-big climb. I want it to be known yes I could have gone on without Rich at this point, but with all the hard work and prep he had put in I made a calculated decision to remain as a team to continue. Richard was able to push through and the rest of the lap was relatively smooth. I had wanted a sub-9 hour loop 1 and with a few setbacks our first loop was 10 hours flat.

Loop 2

While Richard turned in our punch cards I grabbed a couple of cokes. We took approx. 10 minutes to turn it around and headed out for the second loop. At the top of beginner’s hill Richard began to have bouts with altitude sickness and had only consumed about 200 calories in 20+ miles. If you know nothing about ultra running just know if you are ultra running you better be ultra eating.

I chose to stay and attempted to rest my legs, but ultimately this would put a huge dent in our lap 2 time. As the loop went on we took more of these extended breaks. I decided at the very least we would stay together through 30 miles and I would drop Richard at the cars and he would do his best to recoup and maybe catch me later on the climbs.

Huge shout out to Richard for his effort and also for recommending pizza as a trail food. I don’t know if there has ever been a bigger AHA! moment in my running career. Of course Pizza! I eat pizza kind of a lot, I mean it’s not like I get free pizzas because I order that often, ok yes…yes I do. Moving along. Any runner knows you need to use food that your body likes in order to fuel yourself for a run. So with that I had 3 slices of pizza per lap for the next 2 laps and my stomach was strong throughout the race.

I climbed as quickly as I could, I crossed paths with race leader Aure’ who was absolutely crushing the course and dealing with some stomach issues of his own. Next I crossed paths with Gus the second place runner on my way to punch Y. He was in good spirits, but voiced he clearly could use a nap. I was able to complete lap 2 in 13 hours. A far cry from my originally predicated 10 hour loop I felt I needed to be a Baldy finisher. I also saw a very polite 2 foot Rattlesnake that let me live while making my way up the ski lift trail to turn in my loop 2 punch card.

Loop 3:

The first reverse loop. I spent 18 minutes eating a quick breakfast (thanks to my amazing gf Lizzy) and headed back out for the next loop. I was feeling strong and spirits were high.

The climb up over the top was uneventful, and to my surprise on the climb down to punch Y I found Richard gutting out the last leg of loop 2. After a quick exchange I pushed on knowing every second counts.

At punch Y, seemingly out of nowhere, fatigue set in. Like a cat caught in a sunspot, I lay next to a log for 10 minutes not wanting to move baking in the sun. I rolled 3 feet away to shade while repeating in my head just a 15 minute nap over and over. With that I fell asleep for exactly 15 minutes from 11:45AM to 12:00pm. I have no idea what Jedi Mind tricks happened, but I took it as a good sign and got my ass moving again.

I want it to be clear even with all the early race issues at this point I was still on pace to complete a 12 hour loop and be back on track to be a Baldy finisher. After a quick resupply of pizza and orange slices I trudged up to the lodge and prepared myself for my second night on the mountain.

I spent very little time catching up with Aaron and headed to Emilio’s way to finish my reverse loop.

This is where I slowly lost my Baldy finish. I began running down Emilio’s way moving too quickly and soon realized I was on the wrong ridge. I now had to descend to the valley and ascend back to the point I needed to continue. I believe I lost about 15 minutes here and every moment counts. I nailed the next punch and continued down to the top of doom.

The Top of Doom descends to the upper plateau which is essentially a mine-field of briars and thorns. Not like “ouch a single thorn on a rose” like the amount of briars the creators of the Saw films would see fit to plant for an exceptionally gory scene. In an attempt to save time, I put on my rain pants and long shirt and ran straight through all of it like a thousand tiny paper cuts in exchange for a few minutes back. It was a successful bloody mess.

My next mistake. Hades, funny enough I had given the correct directions to several 50k runners in order to be able to complete their loop. “Stay Right after Hades” still rings in my head. I missed this exact point to begin up to Satan’s ridge. I began to get in my head and second guess my instincts, during the day time in training I had nailed this portion, but up against time going on 15 minutes of sleep in 35+ hours in the dark is a whole different ball game. Eventually I decided to stow my poles and free hand climb up the ridge face to right my wrong. Using much needed energy like a big dummy and probably eating more time than just back tracking and admitting an error.

Next was up Eric’s plunge to Telegraph. In my haste I made several attempts at the climb only to slide back down to the bottom. It probably looked more like a 3 stooge’s sketch than an ultra-runner doing his very best.

I took a moment regrouped (losing more time) and then made one more push up and over the peak. This is the point where I began to realize my Baldy Marathons was probably over. 12 hours was out of the question. 13 hour loop chances were gone as well. I was looking at a near 14 hour loop.

I descended as fast as I could back to race start. When I turned in my punch card I was at 37 hours 48 minutes. By the letter of the race I had more time. The cutoff for loop 3 is 40 hours. I would’ve needed 11 hour and 6 minute loops in order to finish. At this point Aaron suggested I complete the 100k and call it a day. Ultimately I decide to take him up on that option. A part of me will always ask what if I pushed to loop 4 and gave it every last ounce. But looking at my depreciating times over the race I decided I was proud of my performance and now knew exactly what I need to do to finish 5 loops in May.

My Race was over:

The thing I love about these races outside of the selfish reasons of testing yourself and learning more about yourself in a weekend than you ever could in any classroom is the comradery. I decided to stay at the Lodge and wait for Aure’ to come through and exchange his punch card for the final loop. Aure’ came in and Aaron and I dug through our packs for any nutrition/gear we could to help him deal with his ongoing stomach issues.

Shortly after Gus came through ½ way done with loop 4 in great spirits. He congratulated me on my effort and reminded me this was his 6th attempt so be proud of what I accomplished. If every runner had a bit of Gus’ personality and heart there would be a hell of a lot more Baldy finishers by now.

I climbed down the ski lift trail started up my car and popped open my jar of pickles and a protein shake because yes ultra-runners and pregnant women are on the same diet. I smiled knowing that once again I was a loser and that’s just fine with me.

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