Running Western States was a long awaited realization of a dream. An understatement as that is probably true for many ultrarunners.
I thought about running Western States in 2001 when I first learned about it. Weird thing is I hadn’t even run ten miles yet! I guess I filed that thought away deep inside my brain. A saying I learned a while back: “Thoughts become things, so choose the good ones!” I guess it’s true because the thought I filed away over a decade ago came to fruition. A person doesn’t learn to conquer an ultra distance in a short period of time, it can take years. Well, I feel my training started years ago. Just some thoughts I had while trying to figure out how to begin this blog of my 2014 Western States journey.
Lets begin with race day. My day surely didn’t start out as any normal day. Waking up at 3:15 A.M. always sucks. Especially when you didn’t sleep well and your mind is boggled with so many thoughts of; did I train well enough? Is everything prepped right? Am I missing any gear and damn, I should have checked my socks over more thoroughly because I brought a pair with a hole in them! Good thing I brought extra pairs. Also, it must be a tradition for me to wake up in a hotel room on race morning with a pinched nerve in my neck. Second time this year. So yes, I had some negative thoughts because I was nervous about running 100 miles. The good things were, I had an awesome cheerleader and crew captain in Alisyn, she really kicked butt in preparing and planning for my crew. She also gave me a good pep talk the day before the race. Alisyn reminded me that through my job I had plenty of nights where I worked for over 24 hours and so running into the night wouldn’t be all that bad. Also, I was coming in to this race injury free, a first in quite a long time.
Aside from all the nervous emotions I was really excited to get the show on the road! We arrived in Squaw Valley a little after four and checked in. Got my bib, finally, and timing chip. We thought there was supposed to be a nice pancake breakfast, I don’t know what happened this year, but there wasn’t one. Strike one, WS! I usually eat a hearty breakfast before a race but I had to make do with some sugary yogurt and a little fruit. 5 A.M. was approaching rapidly. The waiting for six months was almost over and I was feeling ready to get started. It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be outside. I gave Alisyn one last goodbye and got into the starting line pack. Excitement was building as Gordy Ainsleigh started to give a speech. His timing was behind as he was cut off with the final 10 second countdown the crowd all shouted in unison. The traditional shotgun blast blasted and we were off! And I was not running but hiking. That was a weird feeling at the beginning of a RACE!
The race begins with a 4.5 mile ascent of over 2,000’ of elevation gain to a summit of 8,750’. I wasn’t planning on hauling ass over that, and I knew I needed to expend my energy evenly over the next 20 something hours. I chatted with a few people here and there and looked back now and then into Squaw Valley. There was a beautiful dawn and I could see a bit of fog over a green meadow. There was a line of red tail lights as hundreds of cars left Squaw en route to Forest Hill or wherever. There was a nice sunrise behind me as I approached the escarpment, the high point of the race. It would all be downhill from there, not! At the escarpment we turned off the dirt road on to a single track trail. Let the congo lines begin. Normally I would run along past a long line of people but I had self preservation on the mind and I congo’d along. We passed through some meadows and red fir timber forest, muddy water flowed down the trail in areas and we passed a small sign letting us know we were entering the Granite Chief wilderness. I continued to congo. I didn’t realize we had left the wilderness until we got on to an old two track road. On it there was a small group of people sitting in lawn chairs all bundled up in blankets in the middle of nowhere cheering us on. We eventually came to Lyon Ridge AS (mile 10.5) and I was only 10 min behind where I thought I would be. I didn’t train all winter with any sort of GPS, only by feel. I carried a watch during the race to keep track of the day and maybe do some pacing math.
I was feeling fine and happy. Happy to be alive and to be on this great adventure. The only things I ate from the AS all day were fruit, salted potatoes and salt caps. Otherwise I was supplying my own drink mix, Skratchers, and my own food, homemade rice cakes. One rice cake contained blueberries and semisweet chocolate chips and the other contained raspberries and mint leaves. They both had a little sugar, salt, lemon juice and ginger in them. I ate when I hiked, drank when I needed and always tried to keep moving forward.
Fast forward a few more hours. Coming in to the Duncan Canyon AS (23.8) I saw my first familiar faces, Rob and Cara Scott. I know it’s a long drive out to that aid and I was surprised and happy to see them. Rob ran the race in 2013 and paced for his uncles many times over the years. He’s also the person who first educated me about WS back in 2001. It was definitely uplifting to see friends even though I wasn’t tired yet. I did waste a lot of time in that AS fumbling with trying to put Skratchers in my bottle. My hands were swollen and fat. They had been freezing cold at one point and now that the day was warming up they were thawing and swelling.
Moving along, I cruised through the Duncan Canyon area and got some more climbing out of the way. Steadily passed people but kept self preservation in mind. I was excited to get to Robinson Flat AS (29.7) because that’s where Alisyn would be. It was also the first weigh in. Nutritionally I was feeling good. No stomach issues and I had plenty of sweat. I came in to the AS happy and energetic. The crowd of spectators was crazy. I weighed in and my weight was spot on. Grabbed some fruit and then started wondering where Alisyn was. It took me a while before I realized I should look on the exiting half of the AS. I finally found her and my friend Ruben, (who would pace me later) and his girlfriend was there. They put more sunblock on me and refilled my rice cake supply. Alisyn was trying to kick me out but I wanted to stay and visit. I had no idea that I had spent 10 minutes at that station. It was time to move on. From this point forward I was familiar with the remaining 70 miles of trail.
I moved along nicely, passed people who already looked like crap, caught up to and repassed people who passed me during my long stay at Robinson. My neck kink went away. Generally enjoyed the next nine miles to Dusty Corners (38). On the way I saw Rob and Carra again and they told me I was on a good schedule to be under 24 hours. At Dusty I got to see the other half of my crew. Shannon, Paulette and Kevin. They sunscreened me, gave me rice cakes and ice. It was fun to see more familiar faces. I was also informed by another friend that Scott. wasn’t doing well. Scott is a friend who I trained with a bit. I made a mental note to think about Scott while I ran. I really took some time to think about everyone who means something to me while running the race.
For the next four hours I would be running some of the toughest parts of the course. The canyons at midday. It’s steep descents followed by steep climbs and it’s hot. I’m a terrible downhill runner and I got passed by quite a few people. Fortunately I’m good at climbs and I reminded myself to play to my strong suits. There was a nice waist deep river crossing at the bottom of one canyon which was very refreshing. I knew the canyons would be a bitch but I was also looking forward to them because I knew the halfway point was in the middle of them. I gritted it out, agonizing poison oak dodging descent followed by kick ass climbs and repassing people who got me on the down hills. On one of the ridges a guy had set up a shade tent and was playing a cello! So cool, people are really neat. Eventually I made it to Michigan Bluff AS (55.7) and I was almost 12 hours in. I was actually still feeling pretty well. Happy to see Alisyn and crew. I was also greeted by Doug, a Folsom Trail Runner and 4 or 5 time WS veteran. He was super energetic and positive. I had been running with pebbles in my left shoe for 30 miles and he made me take that shoe off and get them out. Why didn’t I do that before? I wanted to, told myself to, but I couldn’t. I needed someone to make me do it. Ahhhh, relief. Thanks Doug!
Before my crew sent me on my way Alisyn told me that my cousin Andrea was waiting for me in Forest Hill. I started running and totally lost it. Emotion surged through me. It was very meaningful to have family come see me. I know that everyone was thinking about me all day but to have someone take the time out of their day was meaningful. And it was Andreas birthday to boot! So there I was running and sniffling along for a while until I could pull myself together. Gritted through one last canyon as I came to Bath Road AS where Kevin was waiting for me with a pillowcase full of ice. I slung it over my back to cool myself as we hiked in to Forest Hill (62). I was an hour and ten behind where I had hoped to be at that point but it was no matter. The important thing was I was still injury free and feeling decent. So cool to see Andrea there and I lost it again but not as bad. Alisyn washed my legs and tried to force a sandwich on me. I wanted to have it, it looked so good but I didn’t want to risk eating anything that might upset my stomach. My GI tract had been in perfect working order the whole time. There were some more FTR friends there as well and it was good to see so many familiar faces. Ruben was ready to pace and we got going quickly. I felt bad that I only saw Andrea for just a couple minutes after she had waited there for at least 2 hours. But, in my head I was still racing. Thanks for coming out Andrea, love you!!!
Every step after FH was breaking new ground for me as I’ve never run more than 62 miles. Ruben and I started making our way to the famous Rucky Chucky river crossing 16 miles away. Ruben was saying that he came prepared by bringing a headlamp. It dawned on me then that I should have gotten my headlamp from FH and being an hour plus behind meant it would be way past dark when I saw my crew next. Woopsies, that was an ameture mistake, oh wait, I’m a novice 100 mile runner. What a concept to run from darkness into the day, all throughout the day and back into the night!
We cruised along fairly well. My energy was definitely starting to wane though. I exchanged places a couple times with Sally Mcrae, who ended up being the 10th place female. It eventually got dark and Ruben allowed me to carry his headlamp. I felt like an idiot not being prepared. I was glad to get to the American River. Over the past few months I had envisioned myself crossing it in the daylight. It was not light however, and my body was starting to have trouble regulating temperature. I was suddenly not looking forward to getting into the water. I had to suck it up though, and do it. I was very tense and that made it worse. There were glow sticks in the water illuminating the rocks which was really cool. I just concentrated on that and thanked the volunteers who had been standing in the water for hours. Once on the other side I didn’t feel so bad and we power hiked up to Green Gate (79.8). At this point I was 17 hours on my legs. I thought for sure I could finish in the next 4 to 4.5 hours.
Green Gate was the last time I would see my crew until the finish line. We performed the normal tasks. Got that dang head lamp and headed out. The remainder of the trail was really mellow. I passed quite a few more people. I saw a set of large glowing eyes and discovered it was either a large kitty cat or a small bobcat. The aid stations along the remainder of the route all blast music and the volunteers are really chipper for it being the middle of the night. I was glad Ruben stayed running with me just for the company. Normally people have two pacers but my plans didn’t work out so Ruben volunteered to run the whole 38 miles with me.
The only time I really got down was around mile 91 when I stubbed my toe on a rock. My feet were pretty beat up by then so it didn’t take much. There was one last hill to descend that really slowed me up too. I was starting to get frustrated that I had to go so slow down it and lost about 20 to 30 min. Then I hit No Hands Bridge (96.8) and I knew I was just about home free. Even still the next few miles were a bit of a grind. I hadn’t eaten as much and my blood sugar was getting low. Mentally I was feeling weary too. I was getting that “I’m ready to be done,” feeling.
Seeing the Mile 99 sign was a great feeling. We were on pavement now, just following the red painted footsteps to Placer High school. Then I could see the bright lights of the stadium. I picked up the pace a little. I told Ruben thank you and that I’d see him at the finish line. When I hit the track I saw my whole crew and a bunch of FTR’s waiting for me and cheering me on. They started running with me around the track and I felt their energy. I started sprinting, then my friends couldn’t keep up and they dropped off and those few seconds were all a blurr. I crossed that finish line in 22:08:24! Good enough for 71st place. (goal was 20-22hs) I can’t describe how good it felt to be done. Tired, yes but still healthy and good. I received my finishers medal from the legendary Tim Twietmeyer. I really wish I had gotten a picture with him. At that moment though, I wanted to hug Alisyn and see my friends. I drank a little beer and ate a little pizza. I was glad to get my shoes off too.
|My finishing time! Here ia complete listing of my stats, in case you are interested. I am #71. Just click the number!|
Would I run 100 miles again? Heck yes! One lesson learned? Get faster in the aid stations. I trained to run conservatively and I did just that. I’m sure with the experience I gained at WS I could knock a good amount of time off. I can’t wait to try! The race committee and volunteers of Western States put on a world class event.