What Makes Them Run? : Scenery, Solitude and Camaraderie Propel the Ultramarathoners

Times Staff Writer

Kenneth Hamada’s three-year dream materialized in the dark of night Sunday when one runner, followed by another and then another, loped across the finish line of a grueling 100-mile race.

In all, 35 men and two women completed the first Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run, to the amazement of Hamada, an Arcadia man whose fantasy in 1983 was to create the toughest mountain race in the West.

Even a year ago, when the dream started consuming Hamada’s time and money, he considered the Angeles Crest run a daring, dubious venture that few would undertake and perhaps none would complete.


Last year, Del Beaudoin of Monrovia joined Hamada to plot trails from Wrightwood to Pasadena, crossing Mt. Baden-Powell, which rises to 9,399 feet, and several other peaks, including Mt. Wilson. Ted Hill, a pharmacist in Arcadia, joined in the planning. All three are ultramarathon runners who said they are always seeking new challenges.

“We just started talking and we liked the idea of putting on one in our own backyard,” Hamada said.

“This race is extremely crazy,” Hamada said several months ago, when 30 had signed up.

“Absolutely, we’ll do it again,” he said Sunday when it was over and unexpected numbers had finished.

Entry Fee Is $100

Of the 69 who paid $100 to enter the race, 59 showed up Saturday for the 5 a.m. start. Of the 37 who finished within the required 33 hours, seven completed the course in less than 24 hours, thereby earning silver belt buckles, the traditional award for 100-milers. The other finishers got plaques.

Racers said ultramarathons (races longer than the standard 26-mile marathon) usually attract fewer than 10 in their inaugural runs. They had predicted that only a handful would finish the Angeles Crest run.

More than 300 volunteers manned 19 checkpoints. Several doctors who were recruited through Orthopaedic Hospital checked the runners along the trail, and a helicopter, radio and telephone relay operators monitored the route. There were untold gallons of chicken soup, the favored food and beverage of distance runners, administered by teams of supporters.


At Islip Saddle, where Bob Pike of Valinda, a veteran runner, coordinated services for runners, there were recreational vehicles, cots and what one runner called “a gourmet feast--everything you could possibly want.”

At Chantry Flat, coordinated by Barbara Basta of Temple City, a dozen members of the Foothill Flyers Running Club lavished attention on the racers who were two-thirds of the way through when they arrived. Most stayed no more than 10 minutes, expressing amazement at the support and encouragement they received.

“The reason I run is because of these wonderful people,” said Sheila Hasham of Alhambra, who ran on a sore leg that cramped eight miles into the race but was still able to finish. She was nursed and encouraged at each checkpoint. “This is real camaraderie,” she said.

“It looked like a carnival at some of these places. It just blew me away,” said Hamada. He, Beaudoin and Hill did not enter the race but monitored it for all 33 hours.

“All the checkpoint coordinators had run ultramarathons and they said they were just returning the favors that they had received,” Hamada said.

The first to cross the finish line at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, at 2:52 a.m. on Sunday, was Richard Provost, a 40-year-old banker from San Pedro, who called it “the most difficult race by far. The first 35 miles are unbelievable.”


The second was Jack Slater, 39, of San Gabriel, who came in seven minutes later. He said Provost deserved to win because he had held the lead for most of the 100 miles, even though he veered off the trail at one point and lost 20 minutes.

Another to finish within 24 hours was Michael Gregg, a research fellow in astronomy at the Mt. Wilson and Las Campanas observatories, who at age 28 was one of the youngest to enter the race.

Hasham, 44, a computer service engineer at USC, was one of two women to complete the race, finishing ahead of Jeannie Wood of San Pedro. Hasham limped across the finish line favoring the leg that had pained her for 92 miles.

By their ages and attitudes, the participants typified ultramarathoners. Most are over 30 and many are over 40. They say they generally do not like to run on streets or tracks and they usually train on mountain trails where they enjoy nature and solitude. Although they consider themselves competitive, they have strong bonds with their fellow racers.

Some Ran in Pairs

Some of the runners crossed the finish line in pairs, holding hands. All were applauded, patted, toasted and fed.

None appeared to be exhausted or breathless, and they chatted amiably as they awaited others to cross the line. They seem unconcerned that little attention is given to their remarkable feats even though regular marathons, which are slightly more than one-fourth the length and are rarely run at extreme altitudes, are widely heralded.


“A few cans of beer and a silver buckle, and we’re happy,” Hamada said. “There’s nothing in it for us except the race. Nobody knows about it except those who are doing it.”

An engineer during the week and an addicted runner on weekends, Hamada said he began 10 years ago “when I saw some guys who ran marathons who didn’t look any different from me.”

He said that until then, “I was kind of a klutz. When I played basketball the balls always hit me in the face, so my glasses were always cockeyed.”

Winner of Silver Buckle

But six months after he started running he entered a marathon, and then more of them and longer races. He said he has entered five 100-mile endurance runs, finished three, and won a silver buckle when he completed a race over the Pacific Crest Trail near San Diego in less than 24 hours.

Beaudoin won a silver buckle for a race through the Wasatch Mountains in Utah.

The men estimated that the race cost about $10,000, and Hamada smiled and shrugged when he said he “lost several thousand.”

The men based the course on existing trails in Angeles National Forest, crossing Angeles Crest Highway several times. Beaudoin devoted more than 700 hours to clearing unused and blocked trails, and just before the race he and Hamada marked every turn with yellow tape.


Runners went through such descriptively named places as Inspiration Point, Eagles Roost, Cloudburst Summit, Windy Gap, Chilao Flat, Shortcut Saddle, Idlehour and Echo Mountain.

Through Historical Areas

They passed through pine forests and the home of centuries-old limber pines that were discovered in the 1960s. They ran through the territory of bighorn sheep and the camp established by pioneer woodsman William Sturtevant at the head of Big Santa Anita Canyon.

They saw deer, birds, one sunset, one or two sunrises (depending on their speed) and their friends all along the way.

“That’s why we do it. Winning’s not important,” Slater said.

“These people are unreal,” said Dick Sale, who manned a telephone relay around the clock.

Soon after the race’s end the volunteers and the runners, their families and friends regrouped for a picnic at Brookside Park near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, looking like the most ordinary and normal of people. Some limped, some carried babies, most drank beer, all sang the praises of the volunteers who manned the rest stations and their support teams who provided changes of clothes, food and encouragement along the way.

A simple brown bag meal began with a prayer of thanks. It ended with a discussion of next year’s race.