On December 11, 2010, for the seventh consecutive year, under a dark and foggy sky, eleven of us reached down and touched the Pacific Ocean then turned to run to the top of Saddleback Mountain.  

We touched the cool Pacific water at exactly 5:40 am, a mere ten minutes after our designated start time.  Not much of a delay given the certain flat tire that had to be changed on Beano’s truck on the way to the start.  But there was no flat tire, we later discovered, only lazy sods that couldn’t get out of bed on time.  The running gods didn’t take kindly to this little tale and, well, they made sure the tire eventually did become flat, but not until the crew was on a mountain road five hours into the run.

There are things you learn when you run from sea level to 5,687’ in December in Southern California seven years in a row. One of those things is you have to be prepared for extreme weather, blazing heat or freezing cold.  This year the weather was made to order.  As we made our way out of El Moro canyon the sunrise offered some of the most brilliant skies we’ve witnessed in years.  A low, dense fog lurked whimsically in the coastal canyons and the sky grew brighter with every step.  In the distance loomed the mile high finish line of Saddleback Mountain. 

As the day wore on, the temperatures rose, tempers flared and self doubt began to take its ugly toll.  Kevin S, who had declared himself out of this year’s run before the start, only to be talked back into it by several SW veterans, pulled the rip cord at the electrical grid, admitting his legs didn’t have the miles in them.  Filling in for Kevin was none other than Bill R, a Saltwater sophomore, who appeared from the mist around mile six like a mystical Stevie Nicks adorned with colorful scarf and accoutrements.  Note to running gods: alarm clocks don’t wake mystics. 

As the runners made their way through the ‘hood’ section of the run, the crew was beginning to assemble at the skate park.  Like crews in most running events, the Saltwater crew helps runners with hydration and nutrition.  But unlike crews in other running events, the Saltwater crew takes Saltwater 5000 from a cool slogan, a nice dinner conversation, to a reality. This year it took three SUVs to get the aid to the top of the mountain and then drive the runners down the mountain.  And the stark truth is that this run wouldn’t happen without the crew support.  Al C, the original Saltwater crew, has been there every year.  Returning crew included Dawn, Trina, Marshall, Earnie and Cindy.  Each of them played a big role in seeing that the cranky and whiney runners got what they needed, not what they deserved.  

As the runners left the final aid station before the big mountain stage up Modjeska grade and Joplin trail, the running armada began to dissipate.  Rookies Mike F and Sena H were running with the wind, but rookie Chris C and returning Joe R were looking for life boats.  Chris, dealing with a serious bronchial infection, was battling every step from mile 25 on.  Joe seemed to be hampered by his new winter coat he was showing off.  Just ahead was Gerry W, seven time Saltwater veteran who will be celebrating his 70th birthday next year.  What followed was a lesson in patience and utter resolve, as all three runners just dug in, and pushed on, as one must do on this hot, ten mile segment that ascends 4,500 feet!.  

It was, to all of us, a special day.  Eleven runners started and eleven runner finished.  We reached the summit with a few hours of daylight remaining.  At over a mile up, the summit offered the best views in all of Orange County.  Sitting with friends, drinking a beer, smoking a cigar and reminiscing over the days events while looking down at the world below.  Does it get any better than that?

Keep it real Saltwater runners!     

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