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I again ran Kodiak 100 which is in the San Bernardino Mountains at Big Bear Lake, California.  I ran the 100 last year and enjoyed it enough to return.  This is an easier mountain 100 and has about the same difficulty for me as Tahoe Rim 100.  But make no mistakes, there are a couple very tough sections of this race involving some long, difficult climbs.  The finishing rate is only about 65% which is pretty low, but typical for newer races that attract newer ultrarunners.

The course makes a complete loop around Big Bear Lake but you rarely see the lake because generally you run up in mountains over the ridge away from the lake.  The course involves about 17,500 feet of climbing.  What keeps its difficulty down are many miles of dirt roads and a few miles of pavement.  There are also plenty of miles of fun single track, most up on the Skyline trail.  I believe the course is a bit long.  My GPS measured the course at 102.6 miles. This year they reversed the course direction from last year, clockwise, presenting a nice inviting change.  I couldn’t use my counter-clockwise split times from last year. It would be a new experience.  I believe I enjoyed the clockwise direction of this year a bit more.

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I arrived at Big Bear Lake in time to check in and deliver my drop bags.  But I was alarmed that they weren’t collecting for the Snow Valley aid station where I planned to put my lights and long sleeved shirt.  So I scrambled and shifted things between bags.  I would need to carry my lights unnecessarily for an additional slow 10 miles.  I got everything ready with a couple minutes to spare.

Seventy-seven 100-mile runners started.  In addition were many runners who were only going the first 50K. We first ran a short 0.4 mile paved loop in town, a parade loop for spectators to cheer, which was a nice feature.  Then we faced a 1,100-foot climb up a dirt road to a high ridge above the Snow Summit ski resort.  As usual lately, I just can’t push the pace fast for the first several miles.  No longer can I hang with the front-runners for a while.  But I found a good hard pace up the hill in mid-pack. My race philosophy was to be patient, run steady the entire race, and only walk the steepest hills.  I believed if I could do this, that I could again place in the top 20 finishers. (After the race I received several compliments from other runners about my steady pace.) I hoped to finish this year in about 28 hours.

View from Skyline Trail - Laura Range photo

View from Skyline Trail – Laura Range photo

Once up and over the ridge, we ran up a dirt road toward the trailhead for the single-track Skyline Trail.  The Skyline aid station (mile 4.8) was there and I arrived at 1:05, in about 35th place.  The rolling Skyline Trail was great fun and I enjoyed running on it with fresh legs.  Again this year I ran near Ernesto Cruz and his friends.  I would see him on and off for about 70 miles.  Also Ken-Ichi Sugawa surprised me and hung with me for several miles pushing me well.

I arrived at Grandview (mile 15.4) at 1:51 in about 30th place.  Next up was a trip back down to the lake foothills and back, on a couple well-used mountain bike trails.  The afternoon was getting warm the lower we went, but I did well to stay cool and thankfully the trail was mostly in the shade.  I arrived at Aspen Glen (mile 12.5) at 2:25 in 28th place.

Laura Range photo

Laura Range photo

After returning back up to Grandview we were back on the Skyline trail heading west.  The trail followed closely to the 8,000-foot ridge top and would run up and down the various passes along the way.  I could see runners ahead and behind me through the scattered trees and did a good job catching up and passing runners who were mostly 50K runners.  At about mile 20, we left the Skyline trail and then ran on a dirt road to Champion (mile 20.9).  I arrived there at 4:23.  This was the aid station where I needed to grab my lights (handheld and headlamp) and a warmer shirt.

I knew the challenge facing me next.  We needed to cross massive Bear Creek canyon, descending about 3,000 feet and climbing back up the other side.  It was like a mini-Grand Canyon rim-to-rim.  The trail was rocky, brushy and trees caused us to stoop often. There was also plenty of deadfall to go over or under.  I tried hard to push the pace going down but could only average about 12:30 miles because of the rugged terrain. But that was plenty fast to catch a couple runners and stay ahead of all those behind.  The worst part of this section were the little flies. I forgot to use bug spray. These tiny flies loved to fly along with you and crawl all over your head trying to get in your ears. Thankfully my ear phones kept them out.  If I moved fast, they weren’t a problem, but if I walked or stopped, they were horrendous.  Once at the bottom I crossed the creek.  A kind person was there filtering water and I gladly filled mine as flies were swarming all over me. The climb back up the other side was torturous because of the critters.  Ernesto and a few others passed me as we neared the top.  Thankfully the top came and the flies disappeared.  Dusk arrived as I ran into Snow Valley (mile 31.3) at 7:28, still in 28th place.  I was 37 minutes ahead of my planned pace and felt well.  There were many runners at the aid station.  I only stayed for five minutes, eating the best I could and drinking plenty.

Night arrived.  We again faced a 600-foot climb up and over a ridge and then descended down to the town of Green Valley Lake.  I ran down toward a place all lit up, thinking it was the aid station, but it was a large group campground.  I wasn’t the only one to make this mistake.  As I ran out of the camp, I signaled to the runner behind to not visit the camp.  It was Ernesto. We ran near each other to the true aid station, Green Valley (mile 36.2) where I arrived at 8:52, 18 minutes ahead of schedule.

I knew the next 10 miles would be fun rolling fast dirt roads in the foothills of Crafts Peak and Butler Peak.  First I knew I needed to take care of business to run faster and stopped for a ten minutes bathroom break.  Several runners passed by.  Feeling better, I really started to enjoy the night.  A full moon was out making it light enough to run at times without my light.  I could see lights of runners both ahead of me and behind me.  It was really funny to see the runners ahead of me constantly looking back to see if I was catching up.  I was, and repassed several as the road wound back and forth.  We did get to run on some fun single track for a couple miles but when it joined a dirt road I failed to understand the continuation sign pointing wrong and wasted five minutes trying to figure out where the course continued.  I could tell by the foot prints that many other runners made the same mistake.  I finally figured things out and continued on.

I arrived at Hanna Flats (mile 46.1) at 11:23, right on schedule.  My downfall was the next 6.5 miles.  I stayed well ahead of any other runners, but my pace suffered from the usual stomach issues caused by low oxygen lung congestion.  I did my best to clear up the lungs and ran slowly along.  Another issue was the course markings.  Ribbons were used in this section but they lacked reflectors and were rarely seen.  When I was in doubt, I would slow down.  I was averaging just 15-minute miles during this point.  I also thought this section was about four miles, but it was actually 6.5 miles which was very frustrating because I started to wonder if I went off course and missed the aid station. This valley was coldest point of the race, dropping to nearly freezing.  I put on my jacket for the only time during the race.

Holcomb Valley aid station - Matt Smith photo

Holcomb Valley aid station – Matt Smith photo

I finally reached Holcomb Valley (mile 52.6) at 13:14 still in 28th place.  The volunteers there said that runners ahead had complained about the markings. All the turns were well-marked, but you were always wondering between them, not seeing the flags. The footprints on the road always gave me some confidence because they were always going the same direction. At the aid station, there were several sick looking runners trying to get warm.

I warmed up well and was anxious to start climbing out of the cold again. I moved better and caught a slow moving runner who could only walk at this point. I could not see any other lights more than a mile ahead. The ridge tops were always far warmer then the valleys. It felt about 20 degrees warmer.  I removed my jacket and rolled my sleeves up. Soon, the lights of the town of Baldwin Lake came into view and I descended fast down the dirt road to the valley floor and ran the paved road to The Dump aid station (mile 58.8).  I arrived there at 14:53, 18 minutes behind my planned pace. But I had climbed six places since the last aid station and was in 22nd place.

The aid station was full of life as many crew and pacers were waiting for their runners to arrive. Ernesto’s group was there taking a long stop.  A woman runner was sitting next to me trying to justify to the others why she was quitting. I should have argued with her to continue on. My stop was only for a few minutes to drink some soup in my drop bag and fill my bottles.  I announced that I was leaving and ran through the town of Baldwin Lake by myself on the paved road.  One runner caught up with me a mile or so later and pushed on fast ahead. He must have been well-rested. I climbed into the foothills near the Pacific Crest Trail and wondered why the course didn’t use the famed trail in this section.  Ernesto’s group caught up with me as we arrived at Burns Canyon (mile 63.4).  I arrived there at 16:17, now 27 minutes behind my plan.  I knew I was fading but I again started to feel fantastic.

The next section was very rocky with many climbs.  I had fun pushing far ahead of the lights behind me and could jog up some pretty steep hills that everyone else walked up.  I was pleased at my pace.  I had my eyes set to catch other runners ahead, but when I caught up, they were coming toward me.  We both had missed a critical turn to climb up Deadman’s Ridge.  Thankfully they turned me around.  I only wasted a half mile and ten minutes, but it took the wind out of my sails. The important turn was poorly marked. I joined in with Ernesto’s group who at first missed the turn too. Our group was now big as we made the steep climb up to Deadman’s Ridge.  Once up there, I discovered the runners around me just continued to walk so I pushed ahead with a strong running pace and caught up with Mark Jolin and Mike Hirst.  I arrived at Sugarloaf (mile 69.9) at 18:37 in 19th place.

Surgarload Mountain climb

Surgarload Mountain climb

Dawn had arrived and this aid station was full of life. From here we would run up to the top of 9,952-foot Sugarloaf Mountain and back. I listened to the chatter around me and the 6th place runner had just returned from his summit, 12.8 miles ahead of me. It was still pretty chilly, but I dressed down to short sleeves and left behind my gloves. I was glad to time my arrival so I could drop off my lights and jacket for the climb. I stayed for 12 minutes, putting on sunscreen, eating and resting.

I finally pushed myself out of my chair and was away for the grueling climb.  My energy level was low but I pushed the pace to try to get this climb done.  The climb went slower than I hoped for, 2.5 hours up, 2,700 feet in 6.5 miles, but my pace was solid for this point in the race.  I caught up and passed a couple runners.  The top seems to never come because the trail goes up and down on the ridge top for 1.5 miles until the true summit is reached.  My run down took about 1.75 hours.

I arrived back at Sugarloaf (mile 82.7) at 23:07, now in 15th place.  I had passed several runners who I had never remembered seeing before so I realized that I was climbing in the standings.  I hoped that I was in the top 20. There were lots of runners at the aid station because they now included 50K and 50-mile runners who had started earlier in the morning.  I stayed for about ten minutes preparing for the remaining 20 miles.

I continued on, but had a hard time finding a good pace.  My initial miles were 19:21 and 15:47.  I really wanted to try to break 29 hours and understood that I needed to average about 17-minute miles from her on and still have a couple long tough climbs left. I reached Bear Mountain (mile 88.1) at 24:51, still in 15th place.  But Dawn Poole arrived right after me with her pacer, didn’t stop at all at the aid station and pushed on up the road ahead.

We now had a 2.8 mile, 1,000 foot climb back to the ridge top above Snow Summit ski resort.  The trail was a nice smooth mountain bike single track.  For the first half, I was content to hang with a couple 50K runners who were going 19-minute-mile pace.  But my energy level finally returned nicely and I asked to pass.  I ran the uphills and pushed far ahead of them.   I reached Skyline (mile 90.9) at 25:45, now in 16th place.  But another 100-mile runner arrived, Mike Hirst, who had impressive speed and didn’t stop at the aid station.  He would go on to finish in 28:29 in 15th place.

The turn down off of Skyline

The turn down off of Skyline

So now I was in 17th place and had 3:15 to cover that last 11.7 miles in order to break 29 hours.  Next up was a long, hot dirt road 2,200 foot descent in four miles.  I started out strong, clocking a 12:32 mile, but then felt the punishment of 90+ miles and slowed to about 15-minute pace.  I knew that my goal was slipping away. The flies arrived again near the bottom. Finally the Seven Oaks trailhead arrived and I started to push as hard as I could to reach the top of the ridge again by the 28-hour mark.  This climb turned out to be punishingly steep. It climbed about 1,700 feet in 2.6 miles.  I passed a 50K runner on the way up and reached Grandview at 28:10.

With 4.6 mostly downhill miles to go, I knew I didn’t have it in me to clock 11-minute miles to break 29 hours, so I eased up and just enjoyed the remaining miles down.  Another 100-mile runner, Dylan Morgan arrived at the aid station when I left, so I did keep an eye behind me, but he never tried to catch up.  Down I went and finally reached the paved road to the finish.  There were several spectators along the way cheering nicely. The finish came into view and I crossed the finish line in 29:15 in 17th place.  I beat my last year’s time by 27 minutes.  I know I could have done better, but I gave it a good effort. As usual lately, everyone who finished ahead of me were many years younger. The next runner my age or older finished more than three hours later. Ernesto finished 44 minutes later. I cheered him when he ran by as I was cleaning up at my car.

Looking back, I had a great time again this year.  My only criticisms for the race are minor and few.  The noon start is a bother.  I prefer the early morning starts, but I’m sure this accommodates logistics for also putting on the 50K and 50-mile races.  Detailed course directions are still lacking from the website although each year promised. Without them, runners are still going off course. Drop bags can be put at each aid station, but on race-day, they didn’t collect for a few aid stations.  They must have collected the day before.  And finally, some course markings at night were lacking, needing reflectors. At aid stations if you asked how many miles until the next one, the answer you got was usually off by more than a mile. The course is likely long. On my GPS the course was 102.6 miles.  But in general, things are well-done and a good quality race is put on. I will likely return to earn the three-year big belt buckle.

Several days later, I look forward to running the course again.  I think the reason I enjoy it so much is its variation.  Rolling single track, numerous climbs, nice fast dirt roads at night, plesant temperatures, three long tough climbs to challenge you.  The combination and changes along the way make it great fun.

This was my 10th 100-mile finish for the year, 13th straight without a DNF, and my 84th lifetime 100-mile finish.