JonRoig.com | Posted: 2010-07-05 11:32:12 | 10041 hits | View in Hi-Fi Mode
"Oh mah gawd... what a fucked up day..."
There's a video that Judy shot, just a little snapshot of me running around the track at Auburn, all hunched over, beat up... and I say that into the camera as I shuffle along. Kind of sums it all up nicely.
The Western States 100. That shit is legendary. It's the oldest, most venerated race of its type in the country... 100 miles, through snow and water, with 18,000 ft of climbing and 24,000 ft of descent.
It's hard to explain how you feel, when you finally make it to Auburn. Ready for it to be done, sure... but kind of blown away by the whole experience. There's nothing else quite like it, emergenging from the woods after running all night into a town where you're, like, part of an endless zombie parade of runners cresting the final hill.
We'll come back to that... since, for someone like me, it takes a long friggin' time to get from the race start in Squaw Valley to my final resting place on that track. 27:40:52.
The Western States 100 is a total class act. From beginning to end, I was very impressed at how well organized the whole affair is, given the complexity of the event. I would imagine that checking in for the WS100 is a lot like getting all set up to participate in a minor Olympic event or something. You show up the Friday before and they totally hook you up with cool stuff -- a killer Mountain Hardware backpack, a nice WS100 fleece, some cool sleeves, your standard issue "Western States 100" technical shirt that you can wear to intimidate the runners at the Fiesta Bowl half marathon. From there, they weigh you for the first of about a billion times, then take your blood pressure, chat wth you about your general condition, etc...
There's a bunch of pre-race hangout time built into the process. Since the race is the main game in town, the world's greatest runners totally take over Squaw Valley. It's, just, such a good scene... ran into a bunch of the regular offenders from AZ and beyond. "Oh shit, is that Krupica?"... "Hey! That's Hal Koerner!"... "Will I ever run a race without getting my ass kicked by Dan Brenden?" Everyone is super friendly and while it's a little intimidating, looking up the ski slope knowing that the next day at 5 AM you're going to have to start a 100 mile run by getting up that thing, I really didn't feel any anxiety at all.
I'm not saying running 100 miles has become routine for me... after all, I'd never really done anything on the scale of WS 100 before this. I felt 100% confident that I'd be able to finish this thing. Now, I wasn't at all sure I'd be able to do it in 24 hours, but my strategy, in so far as I had one beyond "keep moving forward," was to begin with that assumption and slow down from there. Oh, and grow a beard.
I have to give big ups here to my crew, since they were a big part of why I able to jump into this without much fear. Judy Stowers and my Mom.... they did great. My main mistake at the VT100 last summer was not having anyone out there when I didn't know the race very well. This time, I'd be able to drop and pick up stuff as I needed, so I wouldn't have to worry about shoes or changes of clothes or anything like that. Obviously, it's always good to enter into a brutal athletic activity with someone like Judy, given the depth of her experience in the sports massage world. I figured that if worst came to worst, she'd be able to patch me up and get me going again.
I also decided to play a little with my gear, given past errors in other races. This time, I went super light weight and ran with just the MT100s, a pair of those old adidas shorts with the bike-style inner liner, a sleeveless running shirt, a coolmax hat, and one of those Ultimate Direction fanny pack / single bottle holding things. I'm not ashamed I wore a fanny pack! It was was more comfortable than my aging and somewhat heavy Camelbak MULE, but the combination of that and carrying a single bottle worked out pretty well. Don't worry, I bought the women's version... it's a tranquil light blue. I also wore Judy's watch. I have a men's one of my own, but it just doesn't feel right on my dainty, bird-like wrists. I threw two small packages into the drop bag piles, but I knew I wouldn't touch them. Those Powergel gummi blobs were more like a token offering to the Gods. I have no idea what happens to these things if they're not used, but I hope some homeless runner somewhere gets a burst of speed eating them during their next race.
With the Gods in my side, logistically, I had the Western States 100 on lock down.
There's a mandatory pre-race meeting where they go through the specifics and introduce the various bad ass runners and some of the volunteers behind this amazing effort. It's a pretty low-key affair, but full of good information. There were two major changes this year: first, the was a pretty big course re-route do to snow at the top of the escarpment. I don't know the other course, so I have no idea how much of a difference that makes. Second, at Rucky Chucky, we'd be cruising over the river on rafts instead of wading through like usual. Fine with me!
The race is divided up into three parts. Part one, the trip up the escarpment and across the mountains to Robinson Flats, is all fucked up. The middle third, the canyons, that's all fucked up. And then the final long ass descent into Auburn, that's all fucked up too.
4 AM. Race starts in an hour. You show up, they weigh you and you get your race number and affix it to your shorts like a proper trail runner. There's food and fit looking people everywhere. It's cold outside, so we're all in the little lodge, organizing gear, saying hi to other runners.
Shortly before five, we all make our way outside to the starting gate. It's not quite dawn and it's cold. We're about to run up a very large ski slope, illuminated by lights.
... and then, boom! We're under way. Walking 2,500 ft up the Escarpment is the perfect way to begin a race. I bet the serious people ran up that thing, but me, I was happy to just chill out and chat a bit with some of the people out on the course that day. I was glad I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, since it got pretty cold for a skinny dude like me, but I felt good. Excited! People told their stories about how they got there, what races they'd done, that kind of thing. A guy in a pink tutu told me he's doing Badwater in a few weeks, followed by Leadville.
I love it that, no matter how much I feel like I might've stepped over a line somewhere with ultrarunning, there's always a guy in a tutu proving that, at the very least, you aren't the worst offender.
The first aid station came and went pretty fast... and at the top of the hill, someone had set up a gong, maybe the best backdrop for playing a gong ever. What's that sound about, anyway?
Looking back behind us, the Squaw Valley was shrouded in mist, now way down far below us. Once you come up over that hill and start running, it's on for the next 30 miles to Robinson Flats.
Now... I'm from Arizona... what the heck do I know about running in snow? It's awesome. I tagged along with some random Portlander named Leif and we slid down little snow hills and sloshed through mud and water. That dude... he's just rad. Not only is he a long ditance unicycler (think century rides), but he was doing WS in Vibram KSOs. Fun fact! Leif did the PF Changs 50k barefoot, so, since it's kind of an unusual distance for a road race and he's one of the only ones to have done it, he gets to claim the "Fastest Road 50k Runner in the World!" title.
The run to Robinson Flats was, without a doubt, my favorite part of this race. I love running on snow and getting covered with dirt. I knew I had a change of shoes / socks waiting for me at 30, so I didn't hestitate to get wet. Somewhere between the Poppy Trailhead and Duncan Canyon we went through an area someone dubbed "the garden of a thousand sticks." It looked like the trail had been bushwacked through the foliage the day before, so while I got cut up a bit, the trail was easy to follow.
Arriving at RF was pretty interesting, if only because it's such a transition from the calm of the trails to the first major aid station where crews can assemble. My transition here went pretty smooth, but tips for future WS crews: send a spotter down as close to the entrance to the station so that your runner knows you're there. It's kinda mayhem there, so I'm not dissing my crew at all -- the way the station is laid out, it's you can't actually get with your crew until you leave the station entirely... which isn't a problem if you know for certain there's someone down the road a bit, but if you're still early in the race and anxious to get moving, it's... well... it's just good to know. I changed shoes and socks and started the climb out so I could do the first descent.
I've got to be honest with you, this next third of the race is kind of a blur. I settled into a rhythm as the day got warmer and found a bunch of interesting guys to run with. Our pace was pretty chilled out, more or less a combination of running and walking. My weigh-ins had gone just fine so far, so no problems there... just settled into my rhythm of eating gels, popping S-Caps, filling one of my bottles with water and one with Gu20, drinking lots of Pepsi, and munching on melon whenever I had the chance. Mmmm... cantaloupe....
I didn't think Devil's Canyon was too bad, but maybe that's just because I got in a ton of climbing in the heat leading up to this race. After you cross the bridge, there's a pool at the bottom... I dipped my shirt into the water and when I put it back on, experienced an immediate deep freeze. I stopped for a few minutes at El Dorado creek, the bottom of the next canyon, to take a look at my feet. They were getting pretty banged up... as were my quads. Those downhills, which might have been easier early in the race, started to really take their tolls. My ability to execute a controlled freefall down the trail was started to be in doubt, but I still powered down the hills ok. It was around here that I started trading places with Amy Palmiero-Winters, who I'd narrowly go on to beat as she became the first amputee finisher of Western States.
Now... it probably goes without saying, that chick seems pretty hardcore. She looked like she was really suffering on the downhills, but would usually close the gap pretty quickly on the climbs. I'd heard earlier that there was a amputee runner from Arizona in the race, so I asked, "Hey... are you from Scottsdale?"
"No... that's the other Amy." Weird... yeah?
The popsickle at Devil's Thumb was heavenly. In general, I probably spent way too much time screwing around in aid stations, but fairly early in the race, I started drinking soup. Yum. Soup. On the way out of the station, I chatted with with an older gentleman from Seattle, whose name I totally can't remember, about him finishing like a billion ultramarathons. He just likes to do each one 10 times. That's his thing. (He finished a little after me, looking solid.)
If you look at my splits, things get a little weird at Michigan Bluff. I stopped here for awhile to get my feet looked at by John, the podiatrist. He and his crew totally patched me up, but it took awhile. I took advantage of the opportunity to kick back and rest for awhile, just chill out and eat more fruit and soup... so that probably helped me. Also, my pacer Steve showed up and introduced himself.
Now... I can't say enough awesome things about Steve Rourk. That guy, he totally helped me out! So... I didn't have a pacer slotted in advance, so I posted to the WS100 website in the "Pacer Wanted" section that I was "just some random dude from AZ" trying to finish in around 24 hours. Steve, another random dude from AZ (Sierra Vista) responded -- he's doing Hardrock this year, so he wanted to get in a long training run and Western States worked out perfectly. He used to live up in the Valley so we knew some people in common and it just worked. Not only did he keep me moving all night, but was full of good insight into trail racing and what it takes to be successful in the sport.
Once I escaped from the podiatrist's tent, I made pretty quick work of the next aid station and powered through to Forresthill School.
I arrived feeling good, right as the sun went down. This was a pretty major aid station with crews and fairly sizeable crowd of onlookers, so I took a little while to recombobulate, affix my headlamp to my head, and restock on gels and whatnot. Steve and I set out a few moments after Ron (paced by Debbie), and it wasn't long before we caught them during the endless descent into the canyon.
It was a loooooong night, filled with seemingly endless climbs and drops. I started moving progressively slower, but Steve stayed on top of my situation, gently reminding me to eat something periodically. As we advanced a bit through the field, we started to see real suffering out there. Aid stations started seeming further and further apart.
Hitting Rucky Chucky at 1:30 in the morning was surreal as we emerged from the darkness into a hub of activity. The boat ride across the river was quick, followed immediately by a climb up a big ass hill to Greengate. From there, more running / walking, all night long... making steady progress to the end, passing and being passed by the same basic group of people I'd hang with to the end.
We made it to Brown's Bar just after dawn... although we could hear it from a ways out. They were playing "The Long and Winding Road" on the loudspeakers... mocking me. I resisted the urge to drink a beer or do a Jaeger shot in favor of some Tylenol and gummi worms. G-d knows how many Gu packets I ate during this race.
You can only suck down so many of those things. My stomach was suffering a bit, so I started gobbling down ginger and tums whenever I saw them. Aid stations, even relatively late in the race, were completely well stocked and staffed by enthusiastic volunteers. Thanks guys!
Steve did a good job of keeping me moving on the climb up to Mile 49. Mile 93... up all night... feet totally trashed and knee starting to really hurt on the downhills, I knew I was going to make it.
The last seven miles of Western States perfectly encapsulates how this race fucks with you. At no point does it let up -- you have to do a relatively big descent to get down to the river and cross No Hands Bridge, then do another big climb up to the final aid station at Robie Point.
Make it there... and you're done. Except for one final hill. (They had to throw that in.) Tim Twietmeyer gave me five as I powerwalked up the last incline and as you roll through the town, there are people, dogs, and even a cat cheering you on as you rumble by. The energy is amazing.
You just follow the flow into town. Sure... it hurt to run, but you pretty much have to keep hustling with all those people looking on. The sound of the PA announcing the finishers pulled me in like a tractor beam.
... and that's where that video picks up. Over 27 and a half hours after I started that journey at Squaw Valley, I was crossing the finish line at Auburn... a moment I'd thought about ever since reading about the race in Dean K's book a couple of years ago.
Immediately as you finish, you're intercepted by the medical crew who start asking somewhat complicated questions about your health. "How do you feel?"
... I mean... how how do you answer that? "Uhhh... like I just ran 100 miles!"
Which is to say, somewhere between amazing and destroyed. I volunteered to participate in a medical study, so I hung out for a bit while they did a blood analysis and declared me in good enough health to go relax.
The damage was substantial, but nothing particularly surprising or alarming. The chafing... I don't think I need to say more, but it hurt. A lot. (Lesson learned.) My right little toe had an award-winning blister that spurted puss when popped by the med tent guy. I promptly hit the showers and caught up with the other finishers, traded stories, and ate some solid breakfast.
I am in awe of the people who finished this race. AZ reprezented: Andrew Heard had an amazing performance (coming off an injury??) and finished in 20:44:56. Jamil Coury rocked it as well, crossing the line at Auburn in 21:41:08... and Ron completed the race in 28:23:40. Dan Brenden finished in 24:45:39. I assume there was wife carrying involved.
Get this though: even if I'd picked up 12 hours somewhere out on the course, I still would have gotten soundly beaten by Geoff Roes, who finished the race in 15:07. Holy shit. It sounds like he and Anton and Killian all had a heck of a race out there... Krupica's race report is totally worth reading for a perspective from the front of the race. Those guys are just awesome.
Having finished 204 out of 328, I'm 100% satisfied with my race. I finished the Western States 100! I got a bronze buckle! While there are definitely things I would do differently in the future, I beat my only previous 100 mile finish by an hour on a MUCH more difficult course.
Learned some valuable lessons on this run. It is good to stay as light as possible. If it doesn't seem like you'll need a long sleeve shirt, don't bother carrying it. I need to get my blisters under control -- I feel like they brought me down in the last 20 miles way more than even pure fatique. Everything just gets harder when your feet hurt. Also, Body Glide. Uhhh... ouch!
Honey... Kirk... Joe... Debbie... Jody... Jamil... Nick... all the people in the WMRC gave me pretty solid advice leading up to this race. If you're a time traveller from the future reading this report, trying to figure out how to train for this crazy thing, let me pass along their wisdom: prepare for the downhills, because with 24,000 ft of descent, that will destroy you if you're not ready. Sure, the climbing is tough, especially in the heat of the afternoon, but running downhill becomes more treacherous, the more you damage your quads. The Grand Canyon was, in a lot of ways, the perfect place to prep, since it's got those big ass canyon walls to get up and down. I didn't feel like altitude negatively affected my run at all.
I'm just so grateful I had the opportunity to do Western States. I just think it's great that I, just some random dude from Arizona, get to do this stuff. I'll never play pro basketball or drive in the Indy 500, but the trails are always open and I love that. Ultramarathoning is an incredible sport.
It was around mile 80 where I finally came to terms with why I'm never going to be one of the great super long distance runners of our day: I really don't like being in pain. Some people can just power through, spurred on by competition or some deep, internal drive... I don't have that.> I just want it all to go nice 'n' easy. For the most part, this all did. I'm pretty sure this was the most fun thing I've ever done in my life... and while I entered the race thinking "There's no friggin' way I'm ever going to do this crazy thing again," I finished thinking: "You know, with a bit more training, I bet I could get a little better at this and finish sub-24."
What a fucked up day.
Here are my splits, as grabbed from the webcast...
|CheckPoint||Mileage||Time In||Time Out||Elapsed||Pace||Pace for Section||Place|
|Squaw Valley (Start)||0||--:--||5:00:00am||--:--||--:--||--:--||--|
|El Dorado Creek||52.9||05:46pm||--:--||12:46:00||14:28||15:05||247|
|Dardanelles (Cal 1)||65.7||--:--||--:--||--:--||--:--||--:--||--|
|Peachstone (Cal 2)||70.7||11:13pm||--:--||18:13:00||15:27||16:33||239|
|Ford's Bar (Cal 3)||73||--:--||--:--||--:--||--:--||--:--||---|
|Rucky Chucky (near)||78||01:25am||--:--||20:25:00||15:42||18:04||206|
|Rucky Chucky (far)||78.1||--:--||--:--||--:--||--:--||--:--||--|
|Auburn Lake Trails||85.2||03:50am||--:--||22:50:00||16:04||19:26||204|
|No Hands Bridge||96.8||--:--||--:--||--:--||--:--||--:--||--|
|Auburn Finish Line||100.2||08:40am||--:--||27:40:52||16:34||14:30||204|
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