by Harris Goodman
It’s always darkest before dawn, except when you are with ultrarunners. It was late in the evening of May 31, somewhere high up on a coastal mountain ridge, where I came upon another ultrarunner around mile 53 of the first annual Santa Barbara 100. It had been a tough first half, tougher than everyone had anticipated, and it had become dark earlier in the course than we predicted. That runner was April Thorp, second place woman, struggling with a failing light. I had my emergency flashlight, and we worked our way together down the ridgeline, running when we could. However, the Santa Barbara 100 has some short but very steep, rocky, and in the dark, treacherous pitches, which required me to go ahead and then wait at the bottom to light the way for April. She felt terribly guilty slowing me down so much, but I appreciated the slower pace and believed she would have done the same for me. We carried on, gazing upon the exquisitely thin crescent moon, glowing blood red as it set in the west over the ocean far below, mocking us with its hope of normally bright moonlight that was not to be.
Finally arriving at an aid station where I had stashed my usual blinding headlamp and a spare, I offered the spare to her as she fought off tears of despair. We set off into the night in remarkably raised spirits, as the next section was downhill, fast and relatively smooth. However, our new hope was seriously challenged, as we later steeply climbed out of Montecito and came upon a runner we were fairly sure was hallucinating. He said someone was shooting runners and the police were all over the place. It did not make sense, as the canyon was quiet; no gunshots, no waling sirens, and no flashing lights below, save for the offshore oilrigs glowing like a fleet of spaceships hovering over the deep black ocean. Needless to say, we were glad to have each other as company, barely knowing each other but now good friends.
Upon arrival at Cold Springs Aid Station, once again high up on the ridge around mile 71, I fell upon hard times, shivering, toenails falling off and just plain ready to drop out. April, Aaron Kohr (another runner), and the wonderful folks at the aid station enthusiastically encouraged me to go on. Aaron, knowing me well, told me to turn around in my chair, as he knew the sight of dawn would mean hope and better times for me (despite knowing it would mean worse times for him; the ruthless sun took its toll on Aaron, causing him to drop at mile 91). The three of us took off into the longest unaided but most beautiful section of the race within the Las Padres National Forest, towards the finish.
April finished second, and I finished in the highest place I have every finished a hundred miler: 17th place, which also happened to be second to last. The finishing rate for the first Santa Barbara 100 mile was 46% and 38% for the 100k. Without these two selfless and extraordinary ultrarunner friends, I would not have been able to finish, as they both brightly lit the way for me.