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100-Mile Race Hardly Run of the Mill


A decade ago, not too long after Ken Hamada rapidly advanced from being a jogger with a wheezing smoker's cough to a lean and fit marathoner, he ran in his first race of 100 miles.

With that one experience, at Squaw Valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Hamada became a confirmed runner of perhaps the longest, most grueling type of race on earth. But soon the aerospace engineer from Arcadia faced an obstacle more problematic than even the running itself.

Because of growing popularity, the Squaw Valley race began holding a lottery to narrow its field. In 1983, Hamada was shut out from running there, at one of the country's few 100-mile contests.

So, that year Hamada, then 43, said he decided "to put together a race in my own back yard."

With help from two other runner friends, by September of 1986 Hamada had created the Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run. It traverses the rugged terrain of the San Gabriel Mountains of the Angeles National Forest, a winding route from the mountain town of Wrightwood in San Bernardino County to the Rose Bowl.

Saturday, the sixth annual race is scheduled to begin at 5 a.m. On Sunday at 2 p.m.--33 hours later and the deadline for all runners to complete the race--Hamada will preside over the award ceremonies at the finish line in Pasadena.

One hundred and fifty-five have paid their $100 entry fees, including runners from New York, New Jersey, Florida, Belgium, Finland and Morocco. About 80 are from California. Based on past experience, Hamada said, roughly half of those who have entered will finish.

The course covers 85 miles of mountain trails, 10 miles of dirt road, and 5 miles of pavement. Accounting for all the ups and downs along the journey, the course is the equivalent of some Himalayan peaks: 21,610 feet in gain and 26,700 feet in descent.

Along the way, teams of 700 volunteers (in addition to individual runners' personal assistants and pacers) will tend to the entrants' needs in the same manner as pit crews at Indianapolis service race cars and their drivers.

During the last six years, the Angeles Crest race has taken its place alongside the handful of other races in the rarefied field of ultra-marathons. This year, there will be nine such 100-mile contests in the United States.

Experts consider a 100-mile race in Utah to be the toughest, and the one at Squaw Valley to be the best.

Peter Gagarin, who is the editor of the Massachusetts-based magazine Ultra Running, and who has run the Angeles Crest twice, thinks it may fall in just behind those two. "It's a fabulous trail up in those San Gabriel Mountains, when you consider it's so close to Los Angeles,." Gagarin said.

Hamada, who runs 60 to 70 miles a week and averages four 26-mile marathons a year, is a one-man public relations agency for ultra-marathons.

" There is no limit to what a human being can do if he is properly motivated," Hamada said Tuesday as he walked along an oak-canopied trail--at mile 72 of the course--above Chantry Flats north of Arcadia.

"You pay your mortgage. Take care of your kids. Do the mumbo-jumbo," said the 51-year-old Hamada, who is married and has two children. "But you've got to have organized play. You've got to have risks, adventure. Human beings crave to go to the moon, dream of sailing around the world. To me, the 100-mile race is dreaming big."

Back at his house in Arcadia, Hamada couldn't stop extolling the virtues of the 100-mile run.

"Marathons are great," he said. "But there is no risk. Here, you can disappear, get lost. Think about it. You are running at night with a flashlight.

"Listen to this!" he said over and over, after he clicked on a video of the 1987 race. On the screen, a woman from Los Alamitos is saying that at the 50-mile mark "my body is going to be numb. . . . The big problem is going to be convincing myself that I can go the next 50 miles."

But she said, when she reaches Echo Mountain, north of Pasadena, and sees the city lights spread below her, she knows she's home free.

Speaking over the video's sound, Hamada said that to see the sun rise, while running atop Mt. Baden-Powell at elevation 9,399 feet, is majestic.

"It's the risks, the rattlesnakes, the cliffs, the danger, the elevation. All these things come into play," he said.

Furthermore, he said, "You can't believe what it's like to cross that finish line. It's an ego trip to the nth degree."

Hamada clicked off the television.

Hamada somewhat bashfully acknowledged that there is one irony in his involvement with the race. As the pre-race director, he is extremely busy overseeing the event. He has only run the Angeles Crest once, and that time, he said, he only made it a mere 35 miles.

"If you put a race on," he said, "it's almost impossible to run in it."

Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run

Facts About the Race Distance 101.6 miles Altitude at start 5,890 feet Altitude at finish 800 feet Ascent 21,610 feet Descent 26,700 feet

Good viewing spots

Along Angeles Crest Highway Wrightwood (start) 5 a.m.

Vincent Gap (mile 15) 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Islip Saddle (mile 26) 9:20 a.m. to 1:40 p.m.

Eagles Roost (mile 30) 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Chilao (mile 52) 1:30 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.

North of Arcadia Chantry Flats (mile 70) 5 p.m. Saturday to 4:40 a.m. Sunday

Pasadena Just south of the Rose Bowl (mile 101) late Saturday night until Sunday at 2 p.m.

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