The Ideal RaceI had hiked up Baldy 4 times before, but never had I tried to run up it. While it sounded daunting, I'm always up for a cardiovascular challenge and wanted to see how I could do against all the trail-running folk. What made particular race enticing was that it is an uphill race, whereas the thought of running downhill in the Mt. Wilson race makes my patella tendon feel terrible thoughts.
The only issue I could potentially have was dealing with the altitude, as I'm practically a ninny in how quickly I can get AMS. I've gotten headaches hiking up Baldy at a lower intensity, as well as relieving my stomach on top of Whitney, so I was hoping to avoid similar symptoms. To that end, I crashed in my car the night before around Manker Flats, to hopefully alleviate some of the sickness problems.
Unfortunately, that was offset by having to deal with bikers roaring up the road in the middle of the night, as well as 'campers' blasting music. What happened to peace and quiet in the wilderness?!
Nevertheless, I woke up early and did my normal exercise prep. I had never done a competitive race before (other than running around as Dorothy from Wizard of Oz in a mudrun), but I knew adrenaline often hurts runners' performances, so I strapped on my heartrate monitor knowing what sort of rate I could maintain for this race, about 172, which is about 90% of my max heartrate.
I had established a goal of getting under 1 hr 40 min, though I quite unsure if it would take more than that. But I felt as long as I maintained the intensity I thought I could do, I would be happy.
Keepin the PaceThe Start: There was some delay in the start, but once we were clear to go, all 500 started heading down the only major downhill portion - the road from the ski lift down to Manker Flats. As soon as we started ascending the fire road people began to spread out. As some took off ahead of me, I knew I'd be passing some of the overzealous later on, while seeing the others only on the top.
Of course I had loads of adrenaline as well and had to slow down a bit as my heartrate jumped, but after the first 5 minutes I got into a groove. And for the first 35 minutes, it was steady going with the evenly graded fireroad.
The Wrong Turn: Now here's where it got a little tricky. I actually never looked at a map of the route, but I assumed we would be ascending to Baldy Notch via the branch of fire road to its south, and not the one that loops around that comes from the east. One would think this wouldn't matter since there are other runners all over, but at the split of the roads there were no hikers near me (ahead), and I turned up the wrong one. I headed up for a few minutes, until a hiker told me I was going the wrong way! So pissed, I retraced my steps back to the intersection. There were 2 volunteers there, but neither had warned me! And no runners behind me said anything. Nice guys, nice.
Anyways, I still made it up to the Notch in 40 min which was my goal, but I was pissed about losing several minutes. I grabbed a little water, then started up the second half of the course, and the hard part. Immediately the fire road increased in steepness, and everyone changed from a run to a walk (well, except for the top 10 or so people I'm guessing). I certainly could have "run" but the speed would have been the same as a fast walk. The heartrate I could maintain dropped slighty, but still I was feeling good and passing up some people.
Devil's Backone: As I hit the backbone, traffic congestion ensued. I was behind 4 or 5 people, but I wasn't complaining as they were maintaining a good pace. The backbone was tough simply because of the varied terrain, and one has to be quick to turn a walk into a run when the grade changes. It seemed I was hanging in well.
Along the way I noticed one guy taking pictures who I recognized as Dan Simpson of LA hiking website fame. I shouted out to him "it's Dan Simpson!" and he was quite shocked anyone knew of him. Quite entertaining!
The Final Ascent: This was not so entertaining. I knew the final stretch up to Baldy was steep, but I had only hiked down it before. This posed more of a problem in that I didn't know how well to estimate how far from the top I was. I knew I had some extra in the tank, and was waiting to finish strong.
I moved up in single file for a while, and could see what I thought was the summit in the distance, but I wasn't sure if the actually peak was further back out of view. At some point I just started yelling at the volunteers, "Is that the summit?! Is that the summit?!". Once I got affirmation, I hit on the burners.
Since there were too many people on the single file use trail, I had to cut around them, finding side use trails to bypass, or just going off-trail. There was no time to say "pardon me, can I pass". I'm not sure how long this final part took, perhaps just a few minutes, but I managed to pass up at least 10 people. Some of those already done and volunteers were cheering, pleased with my sprinting.
As the trail rounded off, I could see the finish line, and I could see one guy left ahead of me who was slowly making his way to the end. I tried to catch up, but he saw me and realized I might pass him, he mustered up just enough energy to finish ahead by 1 second.
I ended up with an official time of just under 1 hr 32 min, which I was pleased with, but also aggravated knowing that I really had done it in about 1 hr 29 min without the wrong turn off. I was also pissed that I timed the final push poorly, waiting minutes too long.
In the end, it was a great race. The views were quite nice, and I did not even end up with a headache! I headed down with a friend who also did the race, and never enjoyed a ski left as much as that race.
I'll probably do the race again next year, and maybe also the Palm Spring Tram race. Until then, I'll probably stick to hiking outside, and keeping the hard cardio inside!