TWO decades ago, Ken Hamada started the Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run to save a few marriages. "Back then, the only 100-mile run in California was the Western States 100, and some of my running pals -- mainly CHP officers -- would leave their families for days and weeks at a time to go up to the Sierra and train," says the aeronautical engineer and two-time Western States finisher from Arcadia. "Cops are intense people. Ultrarunning is addictive. Put them together and divorces were rampant." Hamada's solution: Start a race closer to home. He and his friend Bob Pike mapped out a course from Wrightwood to Pasadena through the Angeles National Forest's 500,000 acres of ultrarunning bliss. The annual race starts at 5 a.m. Saturday. In 1986, 60 runners showed up for the first race, one of just five 100-milers in the United States. Today there are 40, but the Angeles Crest 100 remains one of the toughest, with 21,610 feet of cumulative elevation gain as it crosses and recrosses Angeles Crest Highway, summits Mt. Wilson and finally drops down to Johnson Field in Pasadena, about three miles north of the Rose Bowl. "It's more difficult than Western States, which is why the official finisher's time limit is three hours longer at 33 hours," says Hamada, who because of knee problems no longer runs. Finishers get a bronze belt buckle; those who come in under 24 hours receive a sterling silver buckle. But anyone who breaks the course record of 17:35:48 -- set in 1989 by Jim O'Brien who ran so fast that he blew by aid stations before they were erected -- receives a 14-karat gold buckle. For Hamada, the close-to-home plan worked: He celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary last year. Go to www.ac100.com.
-- Roy M. Wallack