Coyote Two Moon 100 Mile and 100K | California | March 14, 2009
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
By Gary Dudney
Ultras by nature are dramatic things but the Coyote Two Moon 100 Mile and 100K is downright Shakespearian. One minute you’re in a thick fog stumbling over rocks three hours into an agonizing climb up a twisting trail, the next you’re cruising along an open ridge basking in moonlight above an endless sea of clouds. There’s rock everywhere except where there are beautiful wildflowers. The climbs are heartbreaking. The nights are long. You lean on friends. The aid stations never come. It’s an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish.
The race unfolds up and down and across the Ojai Ridge, a geological monstrosity that sits about twenty miles inland from Ventura, California, and looms over the picturesque and historic town of Ojai like a thick brocaded stage curtain. From the valley floor at about one thousand feet, it soars to a stunning six thousand feet. Runners arrive in town to this massive wall of stone hanging over their heads. It’s as foreboding as the three witches at the beginning of Macbeth proclaiming, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
A creative race format adds to the drama. Groups of runners start at intervals with the slower 100 mile runners beginning at 6 PM Friday night (thus the two moons) and faster 100 milers going out as late as 3 AM Saturday morning. Hundred K’ers start in groups spread over Saturday morning and afternoon with the goal of getting everyone in both race distances to the finish between 6 and 10 Sunday morning. So in Act 1, you become acquainted with the small cast of characters in your group, but in later acts the ensemble expands as you begin crisscrossing with other groups. Several out and back legs from the top of the ridge to the bottom and back keep familiar actors constantly reappearing from the wings until the whole cast gathers for the climactic denouement at the finish line.
Race director Chris Scott and his merry band of exceptional volunteers provide lots of comic relief when they aren’t putting shattered hundred milers back together at the aid stations. There is prerace bowling, a lot of zany e-mails, liquor bottles spread around the aid tables, an inflatable alligator gracing a trailside pool, dressed up dummies, dummied up dresses, and other assorted folderol. The pharaoh’s head dress the RD wore as he sent the first runners on their way was a nice touch, but it was later cowed by his cow costume complete with udders that he wore all night at a ridge-top aid station. Runners there were greeted with a loud recording of flatulence, at least, it is to be hoped that it was a recording.
The aid stations rival a good intermission banquet at some highfalutin theater. Runners feast on cheese and turkey quesadillas, soup with rice, broth with noodles, pizza, spicy burritos, p & b sandwiches, pancakes, and a large assortment of other goodies. It’s easy to gain weight during this race. Volunteers at remote aid stations even cook things to order, for cryin’ out loud! A chilly wind gripped the ridge late Saturday night but everyone at the two aid stations up there in the cold just seemed to get friendlier and more helpful. Want to huddle next to the fire? More soup? Got everything you need? The support provided throughout the race was truly remarkable.
Which was good, because at the heart of the race, underneath all the goofy trappings, was the stark, hard reality of a tough, tough course. The 100 K crowd faced 19,000 feet of elevation gain in their 62 miles, more than the gain at Western States. The hundred milers had to swallow over 28,000 feet of gain, over some very rough and technical trails. A runner who might cover a less challenging 100 K course in 14 hours would be looking at 20 hours at C2M. Hundred milers were taking up to 40 hours to finish, or in other words, practically Hardrock territory. The four mile descent at the end of the race to the finish at Thacher School stretched easily into two hours (Just one mile per half hour going downhill!) as beat up runners found it impossible to navigate the rocks on the trail at more than a strained walk for most of the way.
All in all the C2M is great theater. The organizers work at casting the race in a mantle of zany fun and light-hearted adventure, something like the atmosphere of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, where the moonlight seems to make everyone crazy. And certainly, the runners at C2M respond with smiles and laughs and gallows humor as ultrarunners do when the going gets tough. But underneath, where there is a profound struggle going on as runners engage the beasts of exhaustion and failing will and pain and fear, there is something happening in the heart more akin to great tragedy than comedy as runners face their demons and overcome them.