It only takes two words to sum up this race: what fun!
The Run to the Top of Mount Baldy is a community institution, a race now in its 42nd year. At the start line, runners -- many of whom seemed to know one another -- reminisced about races past, comparing memories of the weather on various race days rather than comparing finishing times.
Driving up the mountain toward the start line, I passed a number of athletes intent on making the day into a biathlon of sorts, cycling up the switchbacks for hours before they even toed the starting mark. I mentioned this to another runner at the start line, who replied in a confidential tone, "Yeah, there's a guy who starts running in downtown Claremont the night before, arriving here just in time for the race start so he can go all the way to the top." That's certainly earning your summit view!
Adding to the community spirit of the race was the abundant cheering along the trail. At most trail races, once you kiss your honey goodbye at the start line, the only people cheering for you are the aid-station volunteers every few miles -- but this race is different. Entire families took the ski lift up the hill as a shortcut, and then walked to various points along the trail, cheering for all the passing runners.
The race benefits the Mount Baldy Volunteer Fire Department, and its firefighters also were out in full force, both to cheer for runners and to provide medical assistance. One of the firefighters asked a runner near me how he was doing, and he replied, grinning through gritted teeth: "Well, I've got chest pain and shortness of breath, just like everyone else up here."
It truly is the last two miles that test you, both physically and mentally. At about a mile and a half from the summit, from my position in the middle of the pack, I could see runners gradually making their way up to the top, like slowly-moving brightly-colored ants climbing up a very large anthill. As you near Baldy's final climb, you suddenly realize why those ants are moving so slowly: they're climbing over and around big rocks, negotiating slippery footing, sometimes sliding back two steps for each step forward, and -- like my friend with chest pain & shortness of breath -- they're panting in the 10,000-foot altitude.
To my mind, the final climb made those last few strides to the finish line even more satisfying. I'd really struggled with the last half-mile up the mountain, never quite feeling like I could catch my breath, but nevertheless once I was up and over the top, I sprinted the final 7 or 8 strides to cross the finish line. What a great feeling!
I finished in a little under 2 hours, 23 minutes (2:22.52). More importantly, I had a great time, and all the runners raised a little money for the Mount Baldy Fire Department. All in all, a good day.
See you on the trail!