The best way I can describe Western States 100 for me is a whole new level of hurt. This photo says it all:
It, of course, was much more than that. I’ve only had a few race experiences when crossing the finish line comes an overflow of emotion rather than just trying to catch your breath. WS100 was one of those where coming through the finish line was a good mix of crying and laughing, happy to be done and in awe of what I’d just done. Not the fact that I’d been able to run the course in what I would consider a fast time but more that I’d just freakin run a hundred miles. Because, lets face it, that’s the accomplishment that we were all striving for. Your first goal is to just finish the darn thing, think about running it fast later. That’s a long way by the way, a hundred miles. The longest I’d ever run by about 38 miles.
This was more than just another race for me, of course any hundred miler should be for anyone, but a short list of reasons this was my first hundred reads like this: This is the first hundred I ever knew about growing up in Sacramento, I spent countless hours in the Tahoe, Foresthill, American River, and the whole Sierra area and it’s a special place to me, probably my favorite place in the world, my family gets to see me run and follow along, it’s the first ever hundred miler and the history and tradition are full of legends of the sport, stories, native American routes, and thousands of people making their way over the high Sierra to Auburn.
I’ve always known I wanted this to be my first hundred and I’m glad I made it my first. I’m also glad I waited. Many of you know I started this race with no intention of finishing back in 2009 after I won the American River 50 then got injured. Looking back now the injury between was a blessing as I was grossly under prepared for such an undertaking. In several of the years since I’ve been fortunate to head to Squaw Valley and follow the race as it winds its way to Auburn as a spectator, taking in all the hoopla and preparing myself for what that would be like.
The road to get into Western this year was not without it’s hiccups as I didn’t perform at Sonoma and then had to make an emergency trip to Ice Age to qualify. At the time I was torn 50/50 on whether to go or bag out. Finally deciding that it was worth pursuing this year since I had other plans next year already, I’m glad I made that trip for many reasons, not the least of which turned out to be a great experience at Western States and one I’ll remember for all time.
With qualifying and having a short window to actually train specifically for Western I did what I thought I had to do and headed first to the Western States Training Camp to see the course. In all my years around the area I really hadn’t run the course. This was by far the best thing I could have done to prepare mentally for the run. It let me “see” how I would mentally break 100 miles into smaller doable segments. It became doable in my mind and not as daunting a task.
The training weekend was a great way to see the course, definitely more enjoyable than the race. You get to run with friends (I got to run with the future womens WS winner, yeah, that’s right, and my buddy Byron who was also running his first 100miler), we all camped in Foresthill, swam in the river, and did it as enjoyable 30 mile segments. So, if you don’t get into the actual race, go to the training weekend and enjoy the trail just as much. The training weekend also got me from dreading running the race to actually becoming excited to run it.
I have to admit that something other than myself was pushing me to go to Ice Age because prior to that and the training weekend I wasn’t sure I wanted to run Western or if I was just doing it because it fit into the schedule this year. After all, after Lake Sonoma I wasn’t really in the mood to ever run another ultra race.
The about face in my mental state was a combo of Ice Age boosting my ultra confidence, the training weekend just being what I’ve always loved about running, having friends to run amazing trails with then hanging out with the family camping the rest of the time, and really getting into the training, trying to figure out what would prepare me the best mentally and physically.
The training weekend would boost me to my highest mileage week at 135 miles. Subsequent weeks were 115-110 with some good elevation gain like a 30 miler w/ 11,500ft of gain followed by 20 mile road runs in under 2hrs, at one point clipping off a 53:30 10miler on the second half. When you can do that, training is really hard but really rewarding. You’re putting all you’ve got into it and it becomes important to see what your body can really do.
When Western rolled around I was as ready as I was going to be and what amazed me was that I was excited to do it. I spent some time gathering up gear, I had my crew, I put in the training as best I knew how, and I knew the course. We packed up the car on Wednesday (100milers take a lot of gear) and headed South. It was me and Tonya, one of my crew people that works at Footzone with me. We made it south to Susanville where we had our only negative encounter of the trip, a cranky old pizza making lady. I’ve never had to wait an hour for pizza before, unless there are actually other people in the restaurant. We camped outside Susanville that night and continued on to Squaw Valley early the next day to catch the USA soccer match, good game by the way. We had a nice relaxing two days in Squaw hanging out at the Montrail house, helping with the 6K Uphill Challenge, and enjoying the views of the valley. Makes for a good start to the weekend.
Since Western is a pretty big deal in the ultra world I ended up doing quite a few interviews with Ultrarunner podcast, iRunFar.com, and a few others and in each one I laid out exactly how I would run and what my goal for the weekend was. First goal: finish in 24hrs to get that belt buckle. How: I would run my own race at my pace and see how things ended up. I might just lead to Foresthill and then blowup and walk it in. Well, you all know how it went, just as I said. I ran my own race at my pace. I knew I would be more comfortable and efficient if I could run what I’m used to running on an easy run and that that pace was most likely going to be faster than most of the runners really wanted to go.
So, I found myself leading Western States at about mile 9 after a cruising a flat road. What I didn’t know was that I would continue to lead until about mile 70. I wanted to keep my HR low and knew that I could cruise areas that were flatter like from Robinson Flat to Last Chance but thought I would be pretty slow going up/down the canyons and that on each climb a handful of people would catch me. Except for a brief moment at Robinson that didn’t happen. Looking back, maybe I should have taken those climbs a bit easier and slower. I don’t know. All I know was that it was a lonely 70 miles but it was fun to come through the aid stations, whoop it up with the crowd, and be on my way. It was uplifting to come through and talk to my crew too. They did an amazing job getting me what I needed. I saw all the wildlife on the course and scared it away for the rest of the pack and got into a better rhythm by not following behind another runner.
My mantra going in was to feel good to Foresthill, then I could push. Stay relaxed, smooth and efficient. I knew at some point Rob would catch me and so it was just a matter of time before he caught me just after the Cal 1 aid station. I probably pushed this section a bit too hard and should have just kept my foot off the pedal a little longer but I felt good and knew he was coming up. It wasn’t until the last 20 miles that it started to get interesting. I started to feel it coming up to the river crossing and knew it was going to be a long final 20 miles unless I could turn it around. The problem was, I didn’t know how to turn it around. Just not enough experience yet. I ran well up to Green Gate but at that point the stomach started to shut down. Nothing seemed to be passing through and all the water just sat in my stomach. That didn’t feel good and I started to slow my pace. Whether it was the accumulation of fatigue or my stomach I don’t know, but I wasn’t running at a pace that was going to keep me in second for very long. I kept sipping on water, GU, and taking an S-Cap at aid stations but couldn’t seem to get things moving.
At some point around Browns Bar I just stopped eating. Big mistake. I ran Quarry Rd, then ran well up to 49 crossing. I saw D-Bo come through the aid station just behind me and I cruised up the penultimate hill trying to fend D-Bo off. We got up to the flat though and the lack of fuel caught up to me. I bonked hard and fast. Dizzy, I sucked down a bit of GU and walked a couple minutes downhill to get it back together. Miraculously it helped and I finished off the downhill. I crossed No-Hands Bridge then looked back to see Ryan Sandes gaining ground on me. He passed me and pulled ahead by 20-30sec. I sucked down a bit more GU and charged the hill as hard as I could. This whole time I was pushing hard knowing that Ian Sharman was lurking back behind me somewhere and he was the one I didn’t want to pass me. I gained ground quickly back on Ryan and passed him on the climb to Robie Point. The final mile on the road I kept looking back expecting Ryan or Ian to come around a corner at any moment.
They never came back and I hit the track and I knew it was over. Overwhelming emotions came up and I was high fiving the crowd knowing it was about over. I crossed the line and began heaving, laughing, and crying at the same time. So happy to be done. Feet hurt, legs hurt, stomach hurt. Everything hurt.
I crossed over to the grass and laid down for a very long time. I did not feel good. I could have slept there. I laid there for about 2hrs until finally moving again. Staggering around to do a quick interview, staggered to the showers, then to the trailer for the night.
I’d been thinking about it all day, poison oak! I just remembered that I meant to tell my crew to find some Technu Poison Oak wash so I could shower with it otherwise I was going to be miserable for weeks. So, my amazing crew of Geof and Tonya found a 24hr pharmacy, picked up some Technu and a strawberry milkshake at In n Out to cap off the night. Wow, what a day.
There was so much anticipation in town that it was getting hard to handle everyone asking about it before I left. It starts to mentally affect you because you’re continually thinking about it, but when we got back it’s really pretty awesome when you get everyone following along with the race. I’ve had so many people say “I was glued to my computer all day!” That’s cool. And a good feeling that you have so many people back home that care about you. So much so that Footzone threw a Race Re-cap party for the 4 Bendites that ran the race. Stephanie, of course, Denise Bourassa, and Scott Wolfe. Put us up against any other town and we did pretty well considering we’re 80,000 people.
One of the coolest things was to see two guys walk in that had WS belt buckles from their races…in 1978 and 1981. Running the race, you join a small but dedicated crowd that is passionate about the race, can talk about the different elements of it and man can they tell stories, and the stories are amazing.
I finally had the chance to meet the amazing Ann Trason after the race. I mentioned my plans for next year included Comrades Marathon and so probably didn’t include a Western States. And she says “I did both.”
Montrail Fluidflex II shoes
Swiftwick Aspire socks
MHW Ultrarefueler Shorts
MHW Way2Cool Singlet
MHW Way2Cool Arm Coolers
Rudy Project Rydon II Glasses
MHW Way2Cool Neck Cooler
Ultraspire MBS Synapse Waste Belt
Straw Cowboy Hat