"Going back to Cali, strictly for the weather, women and the weed..."
OK, I didn't go back to Cali for the same reasons as Biggie, but we definitely agree on the weather. Well, I do consume a lot of weed but it mainly consists of tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and the like, not the sticky-icky. What Biggie didn't happen to mention is Mt. Baldy. The Mt. Baldy Run-to-the-Top is the first mountain race I have ever done and, in my opinion, one of the best mountain races out there..and it's been around for a while, 45 years to be exact. Situated in the San Bernadino Mountains, just outside of LA County, the Run-to-the-Top consists of an 8 mile course, beginning at 6,400 ft and descending steeply on a road for 400 meters before climbing the rest of the way to the summit of barren Baldy at 10,064 ft (also known as Mt. San Antonio).
The first 400 meters of the race is the painful pounding of a steep downhill on the road, which was a uncomfortable experience when you know that you have to immediately climb the next 7.75 miles. That didn't stop many people, including a few females, to bomb down the road at full tilt. I was in about 20th place, but that very quickly changed once we hit the road to the start of the climb and I found myself in the lead after another 400m. Knowing that I was ready to climb well after coming off the Pikes Peak Ascent and a very successful mountain season, I pushed the pace to see who would go with me. No one did, so it turned into a solo effort the rest of the way.
The first half of the race is a steady climb on service roads, and relatively fast for a mountain race. I hit the halfway point in 29 minutes and was hoping to maintain a fast second half. The grade and terrain becomes significantly more technical in the second half of the race, adding a healthy chunk of time to your overall time. A section dubbed "The Devil's Backbone" is a single track path with 1500 ft of drop-off to each side and can be quite precarious when you are in oxygen debt and oxygen deprived at 9,000 ft of altitude.
I was just under an hour with a half mile to go in the race and thought I would be in a good position to run a fast time. The last time I ran this race was in 2003, so I forgot how rugged and difficult the last part would be. That might be a good thing with these type of races, after a couple of months you forget how bad it hurt and then you can decide to do it again. I was also challenged the entire race back then, resulting in a faster time. It was a lot of fine, unstable rock with a few routes you could choose from to reach the summit. My race number acted as a sail within the last half mile as it caught the strong winds near the summit. That last half mile turned out to be about 8 minutes and I crested the peak to the finish line in 1:08:21, over three minutes ahead of the 2nd place finisher.
I was happy for the win but know I should have been a few minutes faster. Once on top, there are majestic views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, LA and Orange County and the Pacific Ocean far out in the west. The only drawback is that you must run (or scramble) 4 miles back down the same trail to the halfway point, where food, drink and the awards happen. That is the only way to get off the mountain. In 1999, this is where I witnessed a man go into cardiac arrest and die.
After a 10 or 15 minutes, the coldness creeps into your bones and you need to get down the mountain. So, a few of the top finishers were headed down and our prize for winning the race...carry a trash bag full of cups and orange and banana peels back down the mountain. It felt moist and heavy, like a bag full of poopy baby diapers, just without the stink. They had to pick the skinniest person out there to ask. I had to discover myself, a couple of miles down the trail, that there was a huge rock in the bag along with the trash--Congratulations! After all, it was Labor Day!