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A chat with Mt. Disappointment RD Gary Hilliard

Posted Jul 31 2009 7:35pm
Gary hands out awards after the 2007 race.

The weather is hot, the Lakers are in the offseason, parents are pulling their hair out figuring out what to do with their kids --- yup, it must be time for one of the toughest and best ultras around, the perfectly named Mt. Disappointment. Not that this race is a bummer, but it can destroy you -- and we ultrarunners love that.

The race is held in the San Gabriel Mountains on and around Mt. Wilson in the heat of summer -- just to make sure runners won't have it easy. Hah, the hills are enough to kill you!

Mt. Dis is a must for every ultrarunner, in my opinion. It never fails to bring even the best runners to their knees.

Inches from the finish line

So, am I a sick puppy to want to deal with this beast every year -- and to recommend it to all runners?

Of course! LOL.

I prefer to view Mt. Dis as my annual "gut check," and a great day in the mountains that is sure to test the mettle of all runners.

It's fun. I swear it is! I will be running the 50-miler this year -- my second in a row. I started with the 50k in 2007.

With the 2009 running of Mt. Dis one week away, I decided to check in with venerable race director Gary Hilliard.

Gary, who has friends far and wide, is one of the most respected names in Southern California ultrarunning.

He genially agreed to answer some lame-o questions ahead of race day on Aug. 8. The race officially is sold out, but schmooze him and he may let you in.

So, Gary, lay it on us!

Q. Your race has one of the coolest names anywhere.

Actually, "Mt. Wilson" was taken and the next mountain we summit in the race is Mt. Disappointment.

The oddity of it all is that it really is the first mountain the runners climb after the start. The mountain was named because a frustrated survey party in the 1800s was trying to identify the tallest mountain in the Mt. Wilson area.

The party climbed to the top and realized San Gabriel Peak was taller, right next door...thus it became Mt. Disappointment.

True story.

Q. How has the race evolved over the years, in terms of runner interest/course layout?

The course has stayed the same from a training routine I developed with my running partners, Mike Malnin and Fausto Rowlan.

Some of the best aid stations around...

Runner interest just continues to explode both with women and men. The other phenomeon is that "the harder you make it...the more will come and try!"

Q. What's the most common thing you hear from runners who have completed the 50k and the 50 miler?

The 50k people love it and say they are now ready for the 50-miler. The 50-mile people just come in, flop down, look wide-eyed, and mutter, "Epic....just epic."


Q. What makes Mt. Disappointment unique from other ultras?

I think we have an incredible energy created from our aid stations, volunteers, and finish-line amenities. I mean that we are hard workers who put everything we have into this event.

Q. How has your recovery gone since your motorcycle accident shortly after last year's race?

I was going to volunteer at a training run, marking the trail for runners to follow. I never made it. I had a motorcycle accident and needed life flight to Los Angeles County General/USC Trauma Center.

I lost a right kidney.

I lost half the use of my left kidney.

I severed my spleen, I severed a spleen artery and I severed and lost a small piece of liver.

I broke my back and neck in four places, broke my left arm/wrist, and broke my right elbow.

I suffered multiple puntures in my right lung, broke three ribs, and suffered a brain hemotoma and a concussion.

My health is a daily issue, but I am alive to just be concerned about
it. I mean that in a good way.

I wasn't supposed to make it, but I did, and I am happy for it! I wasn't ready to leave...I am not finished yet.


Q. Give us your take on the ultrarunning scene today. For example, do you see the ultra scene becoming more mainstream? Are there too few or too many races?

It's not the races, it's the racers!

The events will survive and blossom if they are good events. It's the runners that have changed in the sport.

Like many things in today's society, there are those who have that feeling of entitlement, maybe because they paid an entry fee. Everything is expected by that type of person...they want to purchase rather than work hard and hurt deep.

The sport has definitely changed with the influx of the one-day extreme adventurer. Today, running shoes -- tomorrow, an ultra.

Today, REI-purchased gear -- tomorrow, a mountain to climb.

Today, a hunting rifle -- tomorrow...maybe I should stop there.


Q. What would you tell a runner who is considering doing his or her first ultra?

Train when you have tired legs. Take baths. Just sit in there...in the tub...just sit.

Walk the uphills, run what you think you should be running...never stop drinking. DON'T STOP DRINKING!

Q Describe the perfect aid station.

Mt. Disappointment aid stations, of course! Essential are cold fluids. Hot food. Sweets. Some grilled food. Pizza, snacks, energy drinks, music.

You also need a ham radio team for safety issues. Crew access also is important. So are weather updates. And don't forget rub-downs, especially if the race is an all-nighter). Also cots, if needed -- gotta keep warm!

Q. Who are some of your favorite ultrarunners?

Jorge Pacheco, Errol Jones, Ann Trason, Eric Clifton, Tommy Neilson, Hal Winton, Mike
Malinin
, my friends like Fausto, Gabor, Hollis. And all my trail-worker friends!

Q. Besides Mt. Disappointment, what is your favorite ultra, and why?

These are not in any certain order, but I like the AC 100 -- it's a one-way mountain extreme! I liked Badwater. I thought it was the most unbelievable crew race. Your crew is with you every step! That's really incredible.

I like the PCT 50 in San Diego. I like the high-desert burnt courses, I guess. Now that I think about it, all three of these races are in the high desert, and burnt.

I also like stuff like big street marathons like the L.A. Marathon, etc. At those BIG marathons, there are a lot of people who are doing maybe the biggest athletic undertaking of their life.

Even if I don't know them...I was there. Those people are out there...I was there. They don't know me from Adam...I was there.

I was there.

Think about it...I was there.
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