Mt Baldy and her first ultra after the surgery

Baldy Peak

July 26, 2003
Mary Campilongo

Editor’s note: Mary wrote this as an e-mail reponse to my inquiry; it’s been left in ‘letter’ form to not dilute the immediacy of what she says. The circumstances to which she refers are her recent recurrance of colon cancer, the surgery to remove it, and her ongoing radiation treatments.

Oh my God Jim!

Before I tell you about my day, let me tell you that Stu Sherman just shredded out there!  I think he ran something like 7:22.  Very, very impressive on that course.

It was so great!  I had an amazing day!  I’ll wait to tell you my finishing time as that is not very impressive but I finished waaaaaaaaaaaay ahead of what I expected.

That race is everything I’d heard about and expected and more!  It is a mutha. And I loved every single step of it.  Even the ones where we were literally crawling up boulders on our second climb up Baldy Peak.  It is one of the hardest races I’ve ever done.  (I think it was voted the toughest 50K in No. America a few years back.)  And not that I have anything to compare it to, just going on the finishing times alone, even for the front runners, I’d say so.  Folks have always said to expect to run your 50 mile time on that course.  Yesterday was much slower than my 50 mile PR but, given the little ‘health issue’ I’m dealing with, well, I’m satisfied.

I had never been above 8-9,000 ft before and in this race, you go to the top of Baldy Peak TWICE (10,064).  I didn’t have any problems with the altitude.  I will admit now, I was apprehensive going into the race.  I only had 3 radiation treatments last week (usually have 5) so I was feeling much more physically and mentally energetic than I have in the past few weeks.  However, I was fully prepared to drop if the slightest hint of anything ‘funky.’  I think being so conscious of this helped me to remain consistent throughout the race and keep my efforts steady.  I had originally planned to accompany a friend from Orange County whom I had talked into doing the race.  However, in the first 2 miles (up!) I was walking so strong I left her behind with two other ultra buddies.  I did wait for them once but then I decided I had to run my own race and so I forged ahead.  As well, all of them have much better training levels than I do right now and so I didn’t want to be a ‘liability’ to their race.   (As it turned out, I finished ahead of all of them.)

The first time I reached Baldy Peak, I was teary eyed.  This was only 8 miles into the race but I was biting this off in small chunks.   I felt so great upon completing that first ascent to Baldly Peak that some of my previous apprehension lessened.  I still had 24.12 miles to go.  The next portion of the course (a little over a 10K distance) was downhill) and I ran most of it at a very moderate pace as a woman who was running with me told me that she blasted down this same portion the previous year and blew her quads out and said that completing the race was agonizing.   As well, it is after this portion that you begin your second ascent to Baldy Peak which, while shorter, is more difficult than the first climb.  You are literally climbing up over boulders on some portions.  I know I uttered the phrase, “mother of god” a couple of times going up that portion but, I was still loving every step.

One of the guys at an aid station that we hit twice always commented on the smiles on our faces.  He said it looked like we were having way too much fun out there and he didn’t understand it.  (It was Micah White, the previous year’s winner, so he knows what’s out there.  The second time we came through, he again seemed so amazed at our high spirits and smiles that I gave him the Reader’s Digest version of my circumstances and why I was smiling:  being treated for colon cancer, have two more weeks of radiation treatments to go, and that I was just so happy to be out there I couldn’t even begin to tell him.)

Jim, you have got to do this race.  The views are simply breathtaking.  Besides the mountains, there is a triple waterfall you run by a couple of times, and mountain vistas that are simply phenomenal.  There are a couple of sections of the course that are along Baldy Ridge and you have almost sheer drops on both sides of you and you can see the AC course on one side (if you know where to look) and the rest of all the Baldy areas.  Sounds more sketchy than it is.  There is one part that is a narrow (no more than 16″ wide) single track, rocky/scree path with a sheer drop on the right.  I just kept looking at my feet and not down to the side.
There is a section in the first half of the race where you go for 11 miles with no aid.  There is no aid at the top of Baldy Peak and the next aid from there is 3.24 miles.  So, you make sure you fill your bottles at the 3.5 mile mark.  I was careful to stay well-hydrated as I read somewhere that this can help offset altitude sickness.  Maybe it helped, maybe I was just lucky.   All I know is that the elevation didn’t noticeably affect me.  I was careful though not to run even the few short runable portions on that first ascent of Baldy as I didn’t want to chance any problems with my energy or have altitude issues.

As I went through each aid station/checkpoint, I gained more confidence.  And when I passed the Notch aid station and had a little more than 10K to go to the finish line, and the woman I was running with realized she was going to shave at least an hour off her previous year’s finishing time and that she felt I had helped her do this, well, I was thrilled.  She said staying with me helped her not to make the same mistake as the previous year.  At one point I did tell her of my ‘circumstances’ and she was very surprised.  We crossed the finish line together.  And she was crying.  I teared up as well.  I had been advising her to ice her legs as soon as she could to help with inflammation and there was a stream running right next to the finish line so we immediately trotted over and literally sat down in it for about 15 minutes.  It was just the perfect temperature.  Cold enough to make your toes hurt after 5 minutes but it was warm enough that we weren’t chilled.  I’m sort of weeble-ing (“weebles wobble but we don’t fall down”), you know, the post-race stick up your ass walk… because I’ve got some soreness here and there but it will subside in a day or so.  Haven’t had that in a while so I’m sort of ‘enjoying’ it.

One of my BW crew members was running it and he told me after the race that he really didn’t think I’d finish.  I wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or what.  But I told him not to bet against me.  He also told me he thought I was amazing and that he was proud of me.  It was a glorious day Jim.  As I told the husband of another Orange County ultrarunning buddy who I was able to hang with on the first ascent of Baldy, “This is the most life-affirming thing I could do for myself.”  I know that given the level of my training and this little health issue, some would say that doing it was stupid, and I might very well agree with them in some ways, but I haven’t felt so strong in a long time Jim.  (Both physically and mentally)  So, you can imagine my sheer joy initially at just standing on that start/finish line and utter joy crossing it again 32.14 miles later.  I flashed back on BW many times throughout the day.

And then today, upon my return home, I received an email from an ultrarunning stud in Smell Lay who said he assumed that since he didn’t see my name on the BW start list that I had “prudently” decided to withdraw.  And, then he said he would crew for me next year.  Which is so awesome!   He’s not only a great athlete but he’s a really nice guy (despite that he’s a DA in Smell Lay).  He knows the race, having done it himself in 2000 as well as having crewed for another running the following year.  I’m stoked.  I told him to put in his vacation request now.

I apologize for the length of this email.  Thanks for asking about my race.


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