Western States 100 mile run
|Western Mug Shot|
This story starts back in December when my name was drawn as one of the lucky few that get a chance to run this historic 100 mile race, where it all began, the big dance, the track meet, etc. I walked in the door from a 2 hour run in the mountains just moments before hearing my name called over the laptop speakers. I was in shock, had it finally happened after all these years, OK only 4 but it seems longer. It took a while to sink in but once it did the planning started. How would I get into 100 mile shape 2 months earlier than normal? That was the biggest question resonating in my brain cells.
The PlanMy plan was to keep it simple. I simply moved up the typical training runs I normally do for Cascade Crest, my late August 100 mile race, by 2 months. I also figured out my races the same way. For example, my 12 hour May race was replaced with a March 24 hour race. At the last minute I decided to go down and see the course during the memorial training event. That was a very important step in making my race a success. Had I not gone down, my confidence and pacing would not have been at the level needed to finish in a time I could define as “having a good race”. My training had very few setbacks in large part to the sacrifices made by my lovely wife. I sacrificed a lot of sleep, more days than not Jenn would wake up hours after I had left for my morning run, but she didn’t complain too much. Other than too much snow in the hills the plan worked well. No matter how hard I train, there’s always that thought of I could have done more, but I made it to the start healthy and ready to run. Most importantly my mind knew I could do it.
|Memorial Day Weekend Training @ Robinson Flats|
The raceRace week came way too fast and I was packing right up until the day I left. I’d been watching the long term forecasts for a month and it swung back and forth more than a pendulum on a grandfather clock, hot cold hot cold hot cold. Eventually the weather settled on mild with some saying rain.
My goals and how I came up with them. My first goal for the race was to finish, above all else that is the most important thing. Finishing in less than 24 hours qualifying for a Silver Buckle, instead of bronze, was next on the list. Then was to finish under 22:45 which is my fastest Cascade Crest 100(CC100) time. Next up was finishing in 20:45 or less. I came to this time by adjusting my CC100 PR by 2 hours. On any given day, I felt that I could run this course 2 hours faster than CC100 so that would be a course adjusted PR. Next were finishing under 20 hours, and then the ultimate pipe dream goal would be to finish on Saturday which would take 18:59 or less. I came up with that Saturday right after the lottery, before I trained a single day for the race and more importantly, before I saw the course. Once I saw how rocky the trails were I pretty much threw that 18:59 out the window. I figured if I went for that right out of the gate I’d risk blowing up and not finishing under 24 or at all. I also wanted to be in the top 10 in the over 40 age group. I settled with a pace chart of 19:21 and 20:33. Honestly anything slower than 20:45 and I would not have considered it a “successful race”.
I slept well but not long enough. There was a party near my room and even an Earthquake so it took me a long time to get to sleep. Race morning it was cool but didn’t seem like it was that cold for predawn at 6200 feet. I knew I’d warm up fast going up that first big climb. I went with gloves, arm sleeves, calf sleeves for extra warmth. I thought about a hat but decided against it.
Just as I thought, 5-10 minutes into the race I was plenty warm and sweating. I went with a jog/walk strategy trying to use as little energy as possible but still moving quickly. I settled in with some of the top women because they tend to run a lot smarter than the guys and their expected finish time was similar to mine. About 2 miles up the hill the wind started up, followed closely by the cold and hail. Yes I said HAIL at Western States! I went through 5 different hail showers in the first 32 miles of the race. The closer we got to the top the harder the wind blew which really brought the temperature down. It was freaking cold! At one point it felt like I was in a sand storm from the tiny windblown hail. I probably would have lost my hat anyway. I nearly lost my sunglasses from a gust that almost blew me over. I thought those glasses would never touch the ground.
The trail after the first A/S (aid station) gets pretty primitive as you climb the rest of the way to the top. There was no stopping to enjoy the views today. You had to keep moving to stay warm. I just wanted to get down the other side where it was a little warmer. The trail through the wilderness, the first 28 miles, was supposed to be dry, but that was before this storm came in. Some of those dry trails had turned into streams. The first five hours of the race was pretty much running fast enough to stay warm but not so fast that you were going to blow up.
My A/S times were fast (time in an A/S not running), not as fast as those with crew but fast for me. I was right on pace at Red Star Ridge and Robinson Flat. After Robinson Flat there is a little uphill and then 15 miles of downhill. Unfortunately when I got to the top my left foot was basically numb, frozen from being cold and wet all day, I couldn’t get a good stride going. I’m sure I looked like an albatross running as I tried to warm up on the way down. Eventually, sometime after Miller’s Defeat, my foot and quads warmed up and I started passing back the dozen or so runners that had just passed me. Dusty Corners went by and I was still on pace, warmed up and passing runners.
About a mile before Last Chance I was flying down some nice single track and I caught my toe on a rock or root or something. I did a serious face plant wipeout, a first for me. I had a bloody gash over my eye. The blood was running into my eye clouding my vision. I could see well enough to spot the ping pong ball size welt growing out of the side of my kneecap. I knew I had to get up, test it out and start moving before the swelling took over. I was a little out of it, I didn’t check for lost gear from the fall (rule number one). Sure enough I lost a bottle and it was far enough off the trail that other runners didn’t see it either. I limped down the trail, eventually getting back to into a run. By the time I rolled into Last Chance I was feeling pretty good again. The A/S volunteers freaked out a little but I convinced them I could see fine. I had a drop bag here so this was a 3-4 minute stop and by the time I was running out of there I could hardly even walk. The knee did not want to work so I walked and shuffled and after ¼ - ½ mile I was running again and within a mile I had my stride back. I cruised down to the bottom of Devil’s Thumb, glad to be sweating and losing those extra 4-5 pounds I gained up in the high country. I drink half my calories so I had been gaining weight all day from being so cold but it was coming off now. The climb up the Thumb was hot but I had trained for a lot hotter so I didn’t struggle too much. The trail down to El Dorado Creek is sweet and I was moving very well.
I came into Michigan Bluff and the volunteers steered me over to the scale again, weight was fine so they directed me to the food and drinks, then out the other side toward the finish. I got a couple hundred yards down the road and yelled out half under my breath, “FUCK” and did a U-turn. I forgot about my drop bag, why did they not grab it for me, this is a very important stop, “come on keep your head in the game dumbass”. Back at the A/S, I try to get my dropbag and they tell me I don’t have a dropbag. We go back and forth and finally they start going through the rows of bags, I guess they could see the desperation in my eyes. They eventually found it, it had been put in the wrong row. I hooked up my watch charger, grabbed some essentials and headed back down the trail. That was very stressful but only cost 5-6 minutes, it could have been a lot worse.
I jogged along trying to shake off my second drop bag mistake of the day. At least I remembered I had a drop bag. Earlier at Robinson Flat (another medical check A/S) I totally forgot I had a drop bag luckily the A/S’s are really close together. The next few miles were uneventful, Volcano Canyon was hot, the watch charger charged, the trails were dusty and wide, and the Gu was sticky. I came into Bath Road and my pacer was there, he told me how great I was doing and off we went. He told me Krissy was ahead me and Megan was behind me. This was opposite of what I thought. I hadn’t seen Megan all day so I figured she was way up there and I had left Krissy on the way down to El Dorado Creek, she had been struggling. Oh yeah, her crew probably whisked her through Michigan Bluff in under a minute as I was searching for my dropbag. Krissy ended up having a great race and finished about an hour in front of me.
My pacer, Alan Abbs, filled me in on what was happening with the rest of the field. It sounds like it must have been exciting to watch. This being our first run together he asked me a bunch of questions. I was just happy to be running with someone again. I filled him in on the happenings of my race, what he couldn’t see by watching the splits online. I felt good; I had been running within myself all day so I picked up the pace just a little bit. We ran into Foresthill and I quickly resupplied. I felt good down to Cal 1 but on the way to Cal 2 I had my first low. I was still eating but not as easily as before. I gave back 3 minutes on the pace chart between Cal 2 and the River but I was still right where I needed to be.
The River Crossing was not a good stop for me. I changed my shoes but forgot the insoles so I had to do some transferring and ended up being there for 15 minutes. The trails from here to the finish are truly the easiest on the whole course but I started to struggle. I had trouble eating. The food from the previous A/S would still be in my stomach when we rolled into the next one. Before long I was fighting not to throw up. After a few miles, it seemed like forever, I decided I wasn’t going to do this anymore. I needed to run and I needed eat so that’s what I did. It wasn’t long at all before everything in my stomach came right back out. After what seemed like gallons of stuff, I was finally empty. That was a relief! Once it stopped I started in with a Gu and drink right away. I changed to fewer calories at the A/S and eventually just a cup of Coke.
I was hiking up a trail/fire road and was passed by a runner which didn’t sit well with me this late in the race. We were somewhere between A.L.T. and Brown’s Bar. I thought about it for a little bit and figured it was around 12 miles to the finish, time to push a little more. I started speed hiking up the hill and within a few minutes I flew by that guy. That felt good to pass him and the pace didn’t kill me. In fact it didn’t feel any different than the pace I had been going before. So I cranked it up a gear and started running the uphill. That didn’t kill me either. I figured a Gu would be too much for my stomach so I just gassed up with Coke at the A/S and kept sipping on my GuBrew. I went through HWY 49 in a flash. I borrowed a cell phone and called Jenn to let her know what pace I was on and to make sure they were going to be at the finish when I got there. That took too long, long enough for me to be caught by a runner so I started running as I said goodbye. I ran out of HWY 49 up the hill and just kept running. I cranked up the music and dug deep. I pushed hard from a place I didn’t even know I had. I wanted to be done, I wanted to be under 20 hours, and I really wanted to see my family. I think I ran every step to No Hands Bridge. Then, I didn’t run a single step on the bridge. I knew we had the finish in our sights. I basically took a long walk across it and just took it all in. I was at Western States. I am running the most historic race I know. I just raced my ass off. It was nice to relax. OK, back to work and up the hill I ran, well most of it because it gets really steep in spots.
As we approached Robie Point I saw the lights of another runner, and then heard the cheers of the A/S. Megan was about a minute or two ahead of us. I knew I had what it took to catch her but I decided not to. My kids would be waiting at the track to run with me, my racing was done. We jogged over to the high school, through the gate and on to the track but the kids weren’t there, so I stopped. The volunteers were going crazy, yelling at me to run, RUN, you’re not there yet. I just smiled and continued looking around for my three little ones. OK “where are they”, I thought out loud. So I start yelling for them. Finally I see them 100 yards away at the end of the back stretch. Jenn figured 300 yards was too much for them at 12:30 am so she set them up at 200 yards out. I went over to them and we all ran in together as Jenn and my mom cheered us on. It was the perfect way to end a great race.
I made a few mistakes along the way but it ended up a success. I finished in 19:47, 7th Master, 44th overall. I could not have shaved very much time running the perfect race. Other than not falling at mile 42, I could not have run under 19 hours (the pipe dream), which is the only goal I didn’t meet.
I’d like to take these last few lines, which nobody will read because they got bored ages ago, to thank all my friends that had to listen to me ramble on about Western. How I was never going to get in, and then how awesome it was once I did. Also thank all the runners that met me out on the trail at ridiculous times of the day for really long runs through the rain and snow. Lastly I thank Jennifer, the most important person in my life. She’s put up with me running ultras since 2005, without her support I wouldn’t be able to do these crazy things. I point to her as the number one reason for my success this year.
Pictures from the Start, River, and Finish.
Now that I’ve run Western States, what do I do? What else, go to Disney Land!
For my recovery I spent the next 4 days walking around Southern California theme parks.