Well Western States is all done! Yes I finished, but it didn’t look like it was going to be that way at times. We arrived at Squaw on Thursday afternoon and got settled in to our condo before heading down to the legends talk.
Met up with Sandy, Eric and their runner David. It was a very inspirational talk from the 4 “legends” which is just what I needed as my confidence had been lagging somewhat (see previous posts). We also got to say hi to Chris Thornley from Squirrels Nut Butter. We love this product and it definitely works well for us. After the talk we went for dinner at the Fireside Pizza place and were just about ready for bed once we had finished. Friday would be a busy day and expected to start early as we were still on Eastern time.
Friday morning we took our time to get moving. Joan and I went for a walk and saw the race folks setting up for the “expo” and registration.
It was a nice sunny, cool morning and we stopped at the Starbucks in the village for a few refreshments and got one for Gary to take back to the condo. The registration started at 9 and we went down at about 9:30. This year is much simpler than previous years as there are no medical checks, unless you sign up for a study, which I didn’t. So it was picture taking and picking up swag. If there was a complaint from this year it may be the swag, not nearly as much as I had seen when Gary ran in 2013 and 14.
After a walk through the vendors market and chatting with a few people we met up with Leon from Bowmanville and arranged to meet up at the Dam Café in Tahoe for brunch.
The Dam Café has the best breakfast burritos on the planet, and I had 2.
Once lunch was finished and we did some last minute shopping before we headed back to Squaw to drop off my drop bags and go to the pre race briefing.
The briefing was the usual, packed hall with lots of patting people on the back for a job well done etc., introducing the favourites, what to look out for on the course…
We got there early and got second row seats, before the rush. It got very warm once more people came in.
For our last meal we decided on the Dubliner Irish pub and I had a nice Salmon dinner.
Then it was off to bed for an early night, as it was going to be an early morning!
I had my alarm set for 3:45 a.m., but was awake a bit earlier than that. I got up and had my oatmeal, cup of coffee and dressed and before you know it we were on our way downstairs to register and pick up my bib and chip.
The morning air was chilly, but the atmosphere was electric. I soon had all my gear ready and it was then just about waiting for the start. I had decided to use my Inov8 shoes for the first half and my Speedgoats for the second half. The Speedgoats were half a size bigger so would give my feet more room for swelling.
I met up with Leon and we waited for the count down. Joan and Gary went up the hill a little ways to get some video and pictures of the start.
.. 3,2,1 and with the shotgun blast we were off. A quick jog before the walk to the top of the mountain, 4 miles up.
The climb to the top of Squaw is a bit of a blessing as there is not much opportunity to run and a good power hike gets you to the top in good time. At the top the views of the sun rise and Lake Tahoe in the distance are amazing. Once we crested we got in a conga line and proceeded on the single track trail downhill for a long stretch.
Soon as I started running I felt my glute area getting tight and it stayed like this for a long while. I wasn’t in any hurry and was quite happy just to stay behind those in front and go at a nice easy pace. Every now and again one or two runners would want by. Once we got back to the tree line it was a mix of up and down hills. It seemed like easy running at this point. The first aid station, Lyons Ridge, was at 10.5 miles, the longest stretch without on the whole course. By the time I got there I was doing ok, but not the best. I was in and out fairly quickly and continued on. Red Star Ridge at 16 miles was wear I started feeling it. I again went through quick and started the climb up the other side. This climb although short in comparison to other climbs, was still tough and probably the hardest early climb. The views were utterly incredible. It was almost 8 miles to Duncan Canyon and the first opportunity to see my crew. It would be a long 8 miles and a lot of runners passed me. I don’t know why, but I was already struggling. I could only put it down to lack of training, which would mean things would get a lot worse. Altitude and the now rapidly rising temperature could also have something to do with it too. This section was very runnable, but I was having trouble maintaining a decent pace at all. I was walking a lot. I did notice that the trail was extremely dusty. Anytime you were behind anyone, you were breathing in the dust they were kicking up. The trail to Duncan Canyon is mostly downhill, abbreviated with the odd climb. It seemed like a long time coming, but eventually I decended into Duncan Canyon aid station and the first person I saw was Rebecca, who I met on the training runs. She gave me a big hug and a kiss and showed me to food. I grabbed a few items, while someone filled my water bottles. Then over to Joan and Gary to get some aid!! I Sat down and a girl came over and gave me a sponge to soak my head. I had my hat and arm sleeves filled with ice, Joan made me a shake, which I drank and before I knew it I was heading out again. I found out after wards that although I was an hour behind where I thought I’d be at this point, Joan and Gary had only just got the aid station in time. I told them before I left that I needed to change shoes at Dusty Corners. My toes were not doing well in the Inov8s.
I was under the assumption that the trail was downhill from Duncan Canyon, but apparently other than the first 50 yards it is either up or flat. At least it felt that way. But eventually decended to a creek, which I managed to cross without getting my feet wet. Crossing the creek also meant going from a shaded area to exposed and the long climb to Robinson Flat. This part of the course did some serious damage to me, at least my mind. I was hot, and tired and struggled to get in any running. I resigned myself to the fact that walking to Robinson was all that I could muster and dark thoughts started to take over. I was beginning to think that I wasn’t going to be able to finish. As I walked up to Robinson I came across others in the same state, we were stopping here and there to sit for short breaks. Eventually I came into the aid station not knowing what I would do next. I sat down and decided to just rest for a bit and take in some nutrition. I took off my calf sleeves as I felt they were only adding to the heat I was feeling. They were black and just absorbing the sun. I drank a few glasses of ginger ale, some watermelon and after 22 minutes got up and left. Another climb greeted me and the group I was with to Mount Baldy. After cresting this peak there was a lot of downhill running to come. I was able to muster up a bit of running through here, but it would be a while before I would see my crew again at Dusty Corners. My feet, or my toes, were killing me and I needed a shoe change desperately. I would keep a walk/run pace up but it wasn’t good and I wasn’t very positive at this point either. I don’t remember Millers Defeat aid station, but I’m sure I sat down for a few minutes. The run down to Dusty Corners is just that, down! It starts off flat and gradually gets a bit steeper. By the time I got close I was flying down the hill and saw Joan waiting for me a few 100m outside the station. I went in got refueled and sat in a chair for a shoe, sock and shirt change. Joan gave me some orange pieces and they were to die for. I hadn’t been eating enough, but my stomach wasn’t the best. These went down nicely.
Just behind me was Gunhild Swanson, who got lots of cheers. Ann Trason was there to crew for her. Gunhild is over 70, so it made me feel like shit to know that she was about to pass me.
I left Dusty Corners after Gunhild, but soon passed her. The change of shoes felt great, but he damage to my toe nails had been done. I got in line with a group on some more single track and got into a rhythm, at least for a little while. I knew this was the trail to Pucker Point, one of the most beautiful views on the trail, so I was looking forward to that. The problem was that it took a lot longer than I remembered and that played heavily on my mind. I started walking again, but my walk was as fast as the people in front were running. I was quite happy to maintain this for a while. I followed two older gentlemen and young lady as we turned on the dirt road to Last Chance aid station. I ran down here quite well and again needed to sit down for a rest. A young volunteer asked to fill my bottles and asked if I needed anything. I grabbed a few things to try and eat and drink. The volunteer was quite adamant that I should not sit around too long as the cut offs were getting close. I went to the bathroom before I left. Then realized I had a drop bag, so figured out what I needed and then continued on.
The next section was the drop into the first canyon before the climb up to Devils Thumb. On the training run I did this section well, conservative on the decent and power hiked up the other side very well. I again took it easy on the decent , about almost 2 miles down the switch backs to the bridge across the river. The climb up to Devils Thumb is daunting on a good day, and so far today had not been a banner day at all. I started up the 36 switch backs, but quickly found the going tough. I slowed down to a crawl and really started to feel lethargic. Yes it was hot, but not as hot as it could be, it was early evening by now. I was well behind where I thought I would be and my mind was not in a good place. The further I climbed, the worse things got and I had to stop a half a dozen times to sit down. The mosiquitos reminded it was time to get up and go, but I wasn’t too interested and I was sure I would hear the cut off horns soon. I was thinking at this point that maybe it would be better just to miss the cutoffs and put me out of my misery. I heard the first 3 horn blast (30 minutes to the final cut off), I wasn’t far from the aid station, but… The second 2 horn blast went off and I was almost at the top. I wandered in the aid station and the volunteers were all over me, what did I need? Fill my bottles? Food? I saw a cot and said I needed to lay down. They said I didn’t have enough time, they needed to get me out quick. I said I couldn’t I thought I was going to pass out. My stomach was in knots. They gave me Pepto which I ate, to settle the stomach. Then felt like throwing up. Not quite though. The young lady assigned to look after me kept trying to to get me up and out of the aid station. “you have to get moving soon or you’ll miss the cutoff!” And that is a problem? I thought. I saw Elke there, but she didn’t say anything, she knows that the volunteers know there job and what needs to be done. I reluctantly got up and the young lady walked me out. I was grumbling under my breath about going, but go I did. #245 out! I walked on for a while trying to come to grips with the fact that I was still out there. As I left the third horn went off 10 minutes to the final cut off. At this point I started to do the math. What would it take for me to finish in 30 hours. No matter which way I did it, it didn’t matter, I couldn’t finish in 30 hours. This didn’t help! So I thought let me get to Michigan Bluff at 55 miles to reassess the situation. At this time to the problem was I had no light and it would get dark before I got to Michigan Bluff, especially at the pace I was going.
The section to El Dorado Creek was almost all downhill, about 3 miles worth! I tried running what I could on the initial gentle downhill to the canyon. Once I got into the switch backs I ran a bit, walked a bit, and then saw some runners ahead and passed them, then I was running more and passing more. By the time I got to El Dorado I had passed half a dozen and was feeling great again, well maybe not great, but better! I had a few things to eat, some drinks and a sponge over the head a few times. WOW, that felt good. I said to the volunteer that it was almost orgasmic! She laughed.
Off I went up the hill to Michigan Bluff, almost 3 miles up hill, which after the last uphill you’d think I’d be creading it, but I was power hiking and doing it “quickly”. I passed more in the aid station and more up the hill. I’m not sure what was driving me, but thought of a pacer and my crew at the top helped. I had pushed aside any thoughts of not finishing. And I didn’t hear any horns coming out of or after leaving EL Dorado.about a mile from the aid station I came across Gary coming down and he mentioned how strong I looked. I came into Michigan Bluff after passing a total of 17 runners since Devils Thumb.
After a quick change of socks (I think), grabbed 2 headlamps and we were off. Power hiked for a bit, then ran the down hills and passed quite a few more. This section followed a long uphill climb on a forest road, before turning downhill and then onto some single track down into Volcano Canyon, we ran almost all of this, took a minute to dose ourselves in the creek, before heading up hill to Bath Road. The climb up to Bath Rd., is tough, but Gary kept me on track and I was feeling much better at this point. We came into Foresthill after passing another 15 runners in the last 6 miles. We only spent a minute or so at Foresthill and then walked down the road to Cal St. I was concerned that I would find running impossible after this walk, but once we hit the trails again we ran consistently. To Cal 1 it is mostly downhill and we ran almost all of it. The section to Cal 2 is a bit hillier and walked a bit more, but we came into it after passing another 24 runners, although I didn’t know that at the time. The section to Rucky Chucky always seems to take forever, and I walked a lot of it. I was looking forward to the river, but not enough to run at this point. We checked in and out of the aid station and down to the river, donned our life jackets and into the water we went. Woooo it was cold! But it felt so good too. We went across slowly as the runners in front were going slowly and it wasn’t easy. It felt good to just stand in the strong current holding on to the rope. Once on the other side I wasn’t sure if we’d see Joan at this point or she would wait at Green Gate, but there was no sign of her on the other side. I quickly changed socks out of my drop bag and we were off again. This is a 2 mile climb to Green Gate and I left the River just after 3:30 a.m., my goal now was to get to Green gate before sun rise. Part way up, we came across Joan on her way down. What a welcome site! She was ready to go from Green Gate (80 miles) and we made it there by 4:20 a.m. I had over 6 hours to run 20 miles. It seemed like I had pulled it out of the bag, but there was a lot of work to do yet.
I told Joan to do the same thing Gary was doing, I would run the down hills and flat sections, unless otherwise told and power hike the uphills. She paced me like a pro. To Auburn Lakes it is a mix of up and down, but nothing great. We made good time. Joan said we ran the 5.4 miles in 1 hour and 25 minutes. By the time we arrived at ALT it was daylight. I grabbed a bit of pancake and syrup and a coffee and immediately ditched the coffee, more because it was too hot than anything. The gentle trails from ALT to Browns Bar were good, and Joan kept me at a decent pace and we finished the 4.7 miles in 1 hour and 15 minutes. At Browns Bar we had passed another 26 runners, although as we came into it we were followed by at least half a dozen runners and their pacers. We left quickly.
There is about a mile of downhill after Browns Bar that is followed by a dirt road section by the river, that is continuously rolling. I seemed a lot longer tha I remember to get to the trail again. I warned Joan about the next uphill as it is long technical and told her it would be the toughest section she would experience. Low and behold it Joan did find it hard, but pushed ahead. The sun had come up and the we were feeling it on the exposed portions. Eventually we hit the short downhill to Hwy 49 and crossed to the aid station.
Again we didn’t spend much time there and headed out. Uphill again. Joan groaned, she was struggling with these uphills and on this one felt a twinge in her calf. We let a few people pass and continued on up, eventually coming to the meadow as we were crossing the meadow I saw a flock of turkeys and pointed them out to Joan, as she looked she tripped and twisted her ankle. She was ok, but was not moving well. At this point she told me to go on ahead. All I could think about was that she would miss me finish! There had to be a way to get her to the finish. I ran on and pretty well ran all the way to No Hands Bridge, passing all those who had passed us since Hwy 49 and then some.
They warned us at No Hands that it was all exposed across the other side and to load with ice and ice water, which I did. I crossed the bridge and hit the gentle climb on the other side. There wasn’t much shade and it was HOT! I made it to the small bridge with a creek that I soaked in and said hello to a couple with their two dogs. The dogs loving the water in the creek. From here the hill got steeper and then turned up on single track I thought my heart was going to pump out of my chest at this point, but kept on power hiking. The single track gave way to another dirt road by a gate and there was Arnoud walking towards me. We had met him on the plane to Reno. Arnoud (from France) was filming the race for the Ultra Trail World Tour and asked if he could film me on my way back. I said certainly. We chatted a bit as he filmed and we got to Robie Point with a mile and half to go at 9:49 a.m. Over an hour to finish a mile and a half! The hill continues past Robie into town and it is only the last half mile that is downhill to the track. As we climbed, I looked up to see Joan waiting at the top of the first steep bit and what a relief that was. Gave her a hug and a kiss as we continued on. She had recovered after I left her and ran after me, only getting into to No Hands 5 minutes after me. A volunteer offered to drive to Robie and that’s how she got there.
She was still troubled by the hilly parts so we walked it all the way to the track. Gary also met us part way and we all went to the track together. Joan accompanied me along the track to the finish. It was all a little bit too much for me as I crossed (as expected) and broke down a bit after crossing the finish line. Once composed, I got a hug from Craig (RD), Elke and Gary, got my medal and looked for somewhere to lay down. We found a cot in the medical tent! Soon after Leon caught up with us. He had finished in just under 27 hours, a great finish.
It was all over, I had done it. How? I’m not sure when I think about the state I was in at Devils Thumb. But I’m sure knowing Joan and Gary were at Michigan Bluff waiting, I had lots of friends watching on the internet and that I knew it may be the only chance I ever get to do this race helped a lot. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you think all is lost, but I showed on this day that it is possible to come back from edge.
Especially big thanks to Joan, I couldn't have done it without you.
Here are my final splits. From almost last place at Devils Thumb (318th) to 228 at the finish.
Western States is 8 days away and nothing I can do now is going to make my race better. That’s how I am looking at it after, probably, the worst spring training I have ever gone through. Injuries have taken their toll at the worst possible time. It’s taken me 5 years to finally get selected at this race and it is the year the injuries have curbed my training more than ever. I figured after 5 years I was ready to tackle this race and started training shortly after being selected in the lottery. I have been dealing with Piriformis Syndrome in my right butt cheek for many years, but this year it seems to have gotten worse than ever. Add that to the knee problem I was dealing with from late last year. The left knee osteoarthritis had actually improved to the point where I wasn’t even thinking about it, but every now and then it would pop up to remind me, or worse the right knee would act up. But the knee problems were becoming less of an issue. After TJ100k in March the right calf was the main concern. It is fine now and was replaced by an Achilles pain on the left side. It is mostly healed now, but the PS just won’t go away and is also affecting my lower back on the right side too. This only seems to be a problem with sitting for long periods, like at work!!!
I signed up for the WS100 training runs with the idea of just experiencing the course and getting in some extra heat training. As the runs got closer it was clear that they would be much more than that. I would look at them as a test to see if my body and injuries could manage the most running I would do in a week for almost a year.
The weekend would entail 3 days of running over the WS course, covering a total of 72 miles, 32 miles the first day, followed by 18 and 22 mile days.
We flew to Florida the week before for some vacation time with friends and I managed to get in 4 decent runs in the Florida heat and humidity, although the PS was a pain.
I flew to California on the Thursday before the training runs, but didn’t get to my hotel room in Cupertino until 4:30 am due to flight delays in Dallas. I picked up Gary and Kate at SFO the next morning before going to Zombie Runner to achieve a long term desire to visit the store.
I subsequently spent too much money and we headed off for Auburn.
The traffic out of San Fransisco was the worst I have ever encountered. Similar to a long weekend in Ontario (Memorial Day) everyone was heading out of town and we were in the middle of it. What would normally take about 2.5 hours took 5.5 hours. We rolled in to Auburn at about 7 pm, just in time to catch the end of the Hoka One One film show at the Auburn Running Company. Got to see a few elites there including last year’s race winner Magda Boulet. Chatted with Gordie for a bit and he gave me some encouraging words.
We went back to Elke’s house and quickly settled in for the night as we had to get up early to get ready for the bus ride to Robinson Flat. The busses left for the Start from Foresthill, where we would finish later in the day. Overall they figured there was about 200 people running on the first day. It was about a 45 minute bus ride to Robinson Flat and I chatted with a guy in front of me from Oregon who had only run 1 100 miler before and it was WS a few years ago. A lot of the runners there were not in the race, but just there to experience what a lot of people never get to. We hopped off the bus and headed out on the trails, snowy trails. There was no official start, it was go when you want and we followed the crowd up the hill.
The first part of the trail from Robinson was snow covered, for the most part, and deep in spots, but we were able to run on top. The trail quickly goes up and climbs to Mount Baldy, before heading down for long stretches. The views at the top were stunning.
Once we started heading downhill, it was on easy single track on the side of the mountain, but very exposed. This is an area where things will start to get warm on race day. For the most part, the first number of miles were good as we ran the half marathon to the first canyon. The decent into the first canyon was quite steep, but manageable. I took it easy and saw no one. It was about 1.6 miles to the bottom and as I crossed the first bridge I came across Gary waiting for me.
There were a few people in the river, but I thought it was too far down to go there now. Maybe on race day if it’s too hot. Anyway I was interested in getting the next climb out of the way, Devils Thumb. We started up the 36 switch backs with a purposeful hike and passed many people on the way up. We were about ¾’s of the way up when we heard someone behind us! WTF. Yes two runners (RUNNERS) passing us up Devils Thumb. Turns out it was too of the elites, Jesse Haynes and Jeff Browning. Never saw them again. We continued passing folks and stopped a few times for photos ops.
Eventually 2 miles into it we got to the top of Devils Thumb and there was the thumb! We waited there for about 15 minutes for Kate and then continued on to the aid station a mile or so down the road. Shortly afterwards we headed down the trail to the next downhill. This one was longer over 2 miles down, but not as steep. By the time I got to the bottom I was toast. At the bottom was another river and lots of runners soaking, so I joined them.
The next climb was up to Michigan Bluff. Some consider this tougher than Devils Thumb and while not as steep, it is definitely longer and I would say it may be tougher. At Michigan Bluff I took the time to relax and chat with Craig Thornley for a bit. I had a bite to eat at the aid station and downed more than 2 cokes as I waited for Gary and Kate.
From Michigan Bluff on is familiar territory, at least in memory from 3 years ago, as it was here that I started pacing Gary in 2013. My memory can’t be that good though as I don’t remember a lot of it, particularly the length of the climbs. At the top before going into the last canyon we came across lots of bear tracks.
The last canyon (Volcano Canyon) was not nearly as tough as the others, but still lots of downhill running and a steep climb up the other side, before hitting the pavement on Bath Rd to climb up to Foresthill. Once I hit the flat trail into Foresthill I ran for a bit, but my hip/glute was rather sore and backed off to a walk before running in the last little bit.
A decided that this day was a big success, as for the most part, I came through fairly unscathed. Gary came in shortly after me and Kate a little bit after that.
Day 2 saw us start at Foresthill and would run 18 miles to just past the Rucky Chucky River crossing, although we wouldn’t cross the river.
We started down the road to Cal St. and the gradual downhill. I was feeling good after yesterday’s long run and followed Gary down the single track. For the most part, until the first aid station after about 7 miles, I was running well, although Gary had left me behind a while ago. But once I got to that aid station I started to suffer a bit. Not sure what, but I was tired I guess. At that first aid station met up with Ann Trason and Tim Tweitmeyer and his dog. Two WS legends.
I ran down the next set of switch backs, but was soon reduced to walking more. The heat was getting to me and what was worse was the fact that the river was so close, but yet so far. I was still passing lots of people on the hills though. What seemed like a long time passed before we finally made it to the river, where there was an aid station and… the river to soak in. almost everyone was taking advantage of that. I drank a lot of pop, probably too much, but I was craving it. We soaked in the river until Kate got there and it gave us an opportunity to chat with some of the fast guys who just hanging around socializing. I chatted with Sage Canaday about his choice of shoes (Hoka Claytons).
The last 2 miles of this run were up a steep dirt road up to the finish. It was hot with not much shade, but I still passed lots of people on the climb.
At the end I got a well needed Chiropractic adjustment from Gordie. He told me a few stories while he adjusted me. As he usually does.
Day 3 would see us bussed from Placer High in Auburn (WS100 finish) to as close to Green Gate as possible it was then a 22 mile run to the finish. Not on the track but almost.
We started down a dirt road to near the Green Gate aid station and then followed single track trails and bypassed Auburn Lake Trails AS site on to Browns bar. Most of this was flat to rolling single track trails. A few decent hills for good measure, but nothing compared to the past couple of days. I remembered most of this from pacing Gary in 2013 and 14. Some of it I don’t remember though. I ran well here, but in the back of my mind was the thought that the first aid wasn’t until 10 miles in. After about 8 miles I was reduced to walking some and felt the impact of the heat again. Along these trails I came across Mike, a Canadian who lives in Truckee (near by) who I met in 2014. He organizes the Canadian party prior to race and this year he’s having it on the Wednesday, which is before we get there. So it was good to run into him and chat briefly.
I got to the aid finally and saw that Chloe was working it and chatted with her for a bit. Refueled and off I went. I ran for while and took advantage of the hills for walks, but I knew there was a couple of bigger hills coming on either side of Hwy 49. I thought I remembered the first one, but wow it was a lot longer than I remember. I struggled to the top and wasn’t feeling the best by the time I got to Hwy 49. After is another hill and I didn’t remember it being as long as it was. Struggled again. From here on in I mostly walked it. Between the heat and glute aches I was resigned to just walking. I felt bad about walking here as it is such a runnable section, at least until the climb up to Robie Point.
Eventually I got to No Hands Bridge, it was hot and made worse watching all the people in the river below enjoy the nice cool water. The aid station was on the opposite side of the bridge and Ann Trason was there and she recognized me from the posted picture on FB with her. We chatted briefly and then I headed up the long climb to Robie. There were lots of people on the trail enjoying the nice day. About half was there is a bridge over a stream and another runner had “taken refuge” there to cool off in the stream. I did likewise and soaked myself shoes and all. I then continued up and the trail got steeper. It wasn’t as long as I remember it, but after turning onto the pavement the hill just continued into town. I caught up to 2 ladies who I chatted with for a few, took a few pictures at the 99 mile sign
and then with 1/2 mile to go there was a group of people with a pop up tent which looked like they were giving away drinks and I said jokingly cold beer. As it turned out they were giving away beer, so I took one for the last stretch. I tried running with it, but it just foamed over.
So I just walked in the last bit. Kate came in next after having what she said was a good day. Today it was Gary’s turn to struggle.
Over all, the weekend was a success. I proved that I could get through these sections of the course, albeit over 3 days. So I was happy.