By Ben Gaetos
Mt. Disappointment 50K is back! The news was very welcoming to the ultrarunning community after a year of disappointing hiatus. Race directors Gary and Pam Hilliard and their band of volunteers spent numerous hours to bring the race back to its original course.
Early surveyors named the summit Mount Disappointment after realizing the peak they sought was actually San Gabriel Peak, which is two hundred feet taller and directly next to it. Mt. Disappointment served as an air defense missile site in the ‘50s.
The race started atop the towering Mt. Wilson antennas. The early pounding on downhill pavement didn’t quite agree with my knees forcing me to pull back. Eight weeks prior, my left knee and ITB were badly swollen. Cross training kept me in shape. It was only the week before the race that I was able to put together some running mileage. I knew the 25k option was very doable. The 50k would be a risky gamble.
After navigating technical single-track trail uphill and downhill of Mt. D, the course veered to Red Box Aid Station Mile 5.2. Here, the 25k and 50k split directions. I assessed my level of comfort and asked myself if I should settle for 25k or go 50k as registered. I’ve been in worst condition before plus I knew the course well. Barring unforeseen difficulties, I can pull this off. I normally enjoy running the rugged section of San Gabrielino Trails. Not this time, as I kept reminding myself not to chase the runners ahead.
At Clear Creek Aid Station Mile 10, a little over two miles of uphill lead to Josephine’s Saddle. I powerwalked with my good friend, Donn. We kept pace for the next 10 miles to Red Box. This section is very popular to hikers and mountain bikers. The degree of difficulty on the ascent and descent is rewarded by magnificent views of the surrounding. The trail was recently opened after undergoing major trail restoration from the 2009 forest fire. We reached Red Box with some cushion from cut off time.
The conservative pace kept my legs with plenty of gas for the next five miles of downhill fire road to Kenyon Devore Trail. Off I went and picked up the pace. The temperature began to heat up but didn’t bother me much. This summer, the normally flowing stream beds were dry and quiet. My confidence built up as I passed a handful of runners laboring the heat.
Finally, the last aid station West Fork arrived. The signature five miles of single trail uphill switchbacks to Mt. Wilson finish waited to prey runners. I have never reached West Fork with a high note in all my previous finishes. This place is always a scene of carnage of downed runners seeking medical attention. I know. I’ve been there and still finished. The volunteers did an exceptional job keeping runners avail of their hydration and nutrition needs. The ever reliable water tank even had enough cool water to douse our heads and hats prior to the final ascent.
My steady progress moved my position a few more notches up to my delight. Prior to the race start, my mind was clouded with doubt in going the full distance. As the finish got closer, I felt the resurgence of my old self. Mt. D never disappoints. Cheers!