WSER 2015 Race Report – Chris Petterson – Last Chance Sweepstakes Winner

Oops, I got into States!” My Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report – by Chris Petterson

Sitting at the Western States lottery, waiting for the last spot to be drawn, I was mentally keeping my fingers crossed but already prepared to submit my entrance form for the Bandera 100k coming up in January, which was just a couple of months away. I had decided to run Bandera in order to qualify for the 2016 WSER lottery as early as possible in the year so that I could focus on my soon to be +1 family with a baby due in early May. The last spot was filled and sure enough, it wasn’t me. So I hit submit on the web form for Bandera that I had filled out and ready for submission on my phone. About the time I hit submit, Tim Twietmeyer announced the “Montrail Last Chance Series” and I was intrigued. This would be the first year that Montrail offered 5 additional spots, 1 drawing for each of their Montrail Ultra Cup races leading up to WSER, which just so happens to include Bandera. Bonus! I was happy, but immediately struck by the implications of potentially winning the ‘Last Chance’spot and what that would mean for my family and my training. Once home, I discussed the news with my wife; we both know my lack of luck with such drawings and after some further discussion we decide that we could handle it, if I won…if I won! Since I wrote this you can probably guess that I was drawn as the ‘Last Chance’ winner for Bandera and never had the adage “when it rains it pours” rang so true for me as I foresaw the next 5 months of my life unfolding in all its sleepless, diaper changing, new job and running glory!

I’m a relative newcomer to ultra-running, having run Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim of the Grand Canyon as my first ultra-run in early December 2013. That experience was so amazing that I wanted “more of that” and decided to try my hand at 100 milers. Realistically, I set a goal of running WSER a little less than a year before this lottery (I did have it in the back of my mind for a few years), so I never thought it possible to get in my first year trying. Having just run my first 100 miler at Javelina and going sub-24 there, I knew it was possible for me to accomplish my ultimate goal of running WSER in sub-24. Granted, they are vastly different trails, but I knew it was possible. The winner of Javelina was Catlow Shipek and I read an interview that he gave where he talks about not quantity but quality being his primary focus when training. He goes out for the hardest runs he can possibly find and doesn’t worry as much about his weekly mileage. I knew this was going to have to be my strategy for WSER training as I didn’t want to make things any harder on my wife and baby than was absolutely necessary! My wife is an amazing woman, an incredible mother and the best wife ever for even letting me contemplate entering the ‘Last Chance’ drawing. Without her support all of this would never have been possible!!!
Fast forward to June 25th, I’m walking to the top of Emigrant Pass from the tram with my friend Meredith who rode up from the Bay Area with me to crew. Along the way we meet Sam and Jeff. We soon figure out that both happen to live fairly close to me in the East Bay. Sam and his wife own and run Brazen Racingand Jeff is there to assist on the medical team. Since Sam is vying for his 2nd WSER finish, I pick his brain about the first 30 miles of the trail which I hadn’t seen yet (FYI, Sam ended up bagging his 2nd WSER finish!). Our hike ends at the top of the pass, just in time for the start of the dedication ceremony at “high noon”. It was a great ceremony and well worth it, especially for a ‘first-timer’. Plus, you can’t beat the ultra-running community for such welcoming and friendly people with whom you feel an instant connection. On the way down the tram, I talked to Shane and his family who are up for ‘holiday’ from Sydney. Shane tells me he has a stress fracture in his hip, but that it really doesn’t affect his running too much…I’m guessing that’s what he tells himself, as we ultra-runners have a way of ignoring pain that isn’t going to further damage us. After imparting some of my knowledge of the trail to Shane, the tram ride ends with us wishing each other luck and a “see you in Auburn” (FYI, Shane ended up running sub-24; fractured hip; no prior trail recon; amazing!).
Dedication Ceremony
 
Article about WSER read aloud

 
The rest of Thursday goes by in a relaxed frame of mind. Meredith and I meet up with the rest of my crew and mutual friends from Arizona: B-rad, Marissa, Danimal and Alex. We took the afternoon and evening to go over some crew instructions and grabbed dinner and some beer at Bridgetender Tavern & Grill in Tahoe City. The elk burger was amazing and the blueberry BBQ sauce made B-rad squeal like a little school girl. It was delicious and the beer selection wasn’t too shabby either.

Friday was my crew’s day to have some fun as well as being B-rad’s birthday. While I was taking care of race business they went kayaking on the lake, including Emerald Bay. I wish I could have joined them, but I had a very large ‘fish to fry’ the next morning and so I was taking it very easy the entire day. After breakfast, I put in a little 2-mile shakeout run to remind myself that I still knew how to run. After checking in at registration and the medical research study, I found the Montrail booth and met Eron and Jeff whom I’d been in email contact with since I won the ‘Last Chance’ drawing. Both are great guys, chatted about running and they wished me luck. I headed over early to the mandatory runner meeting to grab a seat since I heard it fills up fast. That done, it was time to go back to the rental house and put some finishing touches on my gear bags and take a nap. I treated my crew to a pizza dinner at Fireside Pizza in the Squaw Valley Village. The pizza was amazing and after some water chugging antics we were ready to head back to the house and hit the sack. I happened to see Clark and Tim, a couple of guys that I ran part of the Memorial Day Saturday training run with, we wished each other luck and left each other with a “see you in Auburn!”
After a good 5 hours of sleep (which is a lot for someone with a 6-week old), I was up and at it, getting ready and packing the coolers and cars. I was calm and ready for the race. For breakfast I was going to eat whatever they had at the start line but had a packet of Pop Tarts in the car just in case. The breakfast was ‘no bueno’ so I ended up consuming the Pop Tarts after Danimal ran back to the car to get them for me. Danimal, B-rad and I relaxed in the building near the starting line for about 30 minutes and then it was time to head out and take in the energy flowing around the starting line arch. Marissa, Alex and Meredith joined us, we took pictures, chatted about the day ahead and I wished a bunch of runners luck that I had met over the previous few days and months. Finally, the start was upon us and after a blast from Dr. Lind’s shotgun, it was race time.
Start to Robinson Flat

The first climb is a long sustained climb, gaining 2500+ feet of elevation in around 3.5 miles. This climb can’t make you, but it can certainly break you! I started out strong and steady, running what little flats there are and power hiking the rest. To give you an idea of my loose and calm state of mind, there was a man standing on the very top of a big Caterpillar tractor about 3/4 of a mile into the run that yelled “good luck” and “looking strong.” Since I was wearing a hat, as most of us were, I couldn’t see the man, so out loud I said “look, a talking tractor” but not one of the 10+ runners near me even gave me a sympathy laugh…I often say, you have to be able to entertain yourself when you’re running an ultra-marathon, and that one was a knee slapper!
Still climbing, I chatted up a few folks near me almost the entire time, including a guy named Derek from Reno who ended up running sub-24; we kept passing each other all the way to the top. I also chatted with another guy named Ryan whom randomly we figured out had dated a woman whose brother I went to middle school and high school with (small world). Unfortunately, from what I can tell Ryan DNF’d at Michigan Bluff. Tony, an acquaintance of mine and a good buddy of my pacer, and I chatted quite a bit on the climb while we kept leap frogging each other almost the entire way to the top. I said to Tony, statistically speaking, about 20-30% of the people will drop from this race, so let’s not be adding to that number! He ended up finishing his 3rd WSER.
Right before the end of the climb there is an extremely steep section, luckily it is fairly short. That’s the only time on the climb and the entire race where I could feel my heart pounding in my chest! I recovered quickly from that little heart rate spike and fed off the energy of all the folks on top of Emigrant Pass cheering us on; cow bell included.
The next 6+ miles to Lyon Ridge aid station is mostly downhill with a few rollers. Very runnable and I put down some good times while still staying within myself. I’ll probably mention it a few times, but I’m a strong downhill runner, so the downhill sections for me are where I make up a lot of time; and luckily for me, this course sets up well with a net loss of almost 5000 feet.
Throughout this section and pretty much the entire day, minus a few low points, I wore a stupid grin on my face just thinking about how beautiful the trail was and how amazing it was to actually be running States!
Coming into Lyon Ridge, I felt great. I grabbed some Oreos and some bananas. I didn’t need water yet so I was out in less than 2 minutes, thanking every volunteer that was within shouting distance. The volunteers on this race are second to none and just so I don’t have to be redundant from here on, I thanked every volunteer that I came in contact with throughout this race including during my low points.

Just out of Lyon Ridge there’s a fairly steep climb that will quickly remind you that there is still 15,000+ feet left to climb in this race. This next section to Red Star Ridge aid station is not as easy as it looks on the elevation profile and with 3 decent climbs it is probably one of the most underrated on the course. I really enjoyed this section, as you could look back up toward Emigrant Pass and see how far you’ve come, while also beholding the beauty of the Granite Chief wilderness area as you power hike the steeps. I was passed by quite a few people on this section, but I didn’t care. I had a plan and I was sticking to it for better or worse. The last thing I’ll mention about this section is that I was still in a lighthearted mood, asking the camera guys if the fork in the road below where they were sitting was a short cut and could they keep their mouths shut if I paid them off?!?! I have a dry sense of humor if you haven’t been able to pick that up yet.
WSER Trail – Granite Chief Wilderness Area

The aid station at Red Star Ridge was very efficient with an awesome multi water faucet contraption set up in the back of a pickup truck. I grabbed a few more Oreos, a few more bananas and was out of there in less than 2 minutes again. I generally try to keep my aid station times to a minimum as time wasted in aid stations can add a lot of time to your run with absolutely no upside. Get in, know what you need/want and get out. There was another runner named Ryan that I was chatting with through this section as he kept passing me soon after the aid stations. His comment to me was, “you got me on the drop at the aid stations,” and I told him that I believe that is one of the biggest positive changes in my ultra-running that I have made to date and I am always trying to become even more efficient through aid stations. As best I can tell, this Ryan went on to a strong finish in his first WSER.

After Red Star Ridge there is a pretty steady rolling downhill with just a few tiny climbs. This was probably my favorite section of trail, as the vegetation, the trees, the trail and the surrounding scenery were all beautiful. The trail is a bit technical with loose rocks on this section, but I enjoy that kind of trail as it keeps you in the moment. The second you lose focus you’re probably going to end up face planting! The heat was just starting to become noticeable and after a fun steep downhill, rolling into Duncan Canyon aid station and seeing the water buckets and sponges was a welcome sight.

Once again, it was a fast in and out, topping off my water, again grabbing a few Oreos and bananas, and getting doused by the ice water bucket ladies. The aid station was very busy because it was the first place you could have your crew. The energy of everyone there helped to energize me once again. I was still feeling awesome at this point in the race and since the first place I would see part of my crew was at Robinson Flat, I didn’t want to keep them waiting any longer than I could help, so I hit the trail.
Coming out of Duncan Canyon I actually had to dump some of the ice in my hat because I was getting a cold headache. The ice water bucket ladies didn’t scrimp on the hat ice, that was for sure. The next 1.8 miles are mostly downhill to Duncan Creek. I made pretty quick work of the downhill and took some time to cool off in the creek. While crossing the creek I did have a bad step in the water that jammed the 3 smaller toes on my right foot. While painful, I ignored it and kept moving. I still had 73+ miles to go and didn’t have time to care about some injured toes (as it turned out I received blood blisters underneath the toenails of 2 of the 3 toes, which I found out Sunday morning after the race).
I had heard from a handful of people that the climb from Duncan Creek to Robinson Flat is probably the hardest climb in the race. I wanted to get the climb over with as fast as possible, so I set out on a steady power hike and never stopped until I reached Robinson Flat. I was passed by quite a few people on this climb, some running the uphill very well. As I have mentioned already, I’m a downhiller, so I didn’t let my competitive nature get the best of me on this climb and the rest of the race for that matter. I stuck to my plan and while I said “hi” and “good job” to each and every person who passed me, I mentally pretended that they were not even there.
Coming into Robinson Flat I was a little emotional, welling up with pride and joy to be done with the first 50k of the race and arriving 20+ minutes ahead of my schedule to see my best buddies Danimal and B-rad. They hadset up shop just before the aid station, in the shade and had everything laid out. With the next section of the trail being the hottest, I planned for a change of clothes and added a neck bandana. Here is what I changed into: white cotton shirt (picked up a medium size for $2.99 at Goodwill, I went with a smaller shirt since water expands cotton), white Mountain Hardware (MH) WayCool Arm sleeves, white MH WayCool Bandana with Headsweats visor and MH Chiller Cool.Q Zero Bandana. The change in clothes took me a little longer than I thought it would, so I decided to forego a change in shoes and socks as I would have another opportunity at Dusty Corners. All changed, pack swapped with a fresh and stocked one, and my buddies telling me how strong I was looking, I headed up the trail to get doused by water at the aid station quickly before continuing on.

Coming into Robinson Flat – screenshot of usl.tv video

Robinson Flat to Foresthill

Besides the little uphill coming out of Robinson Flat and a couple little bumps, the next 13+ miles are all downhill to the Swinging Bridge at the bottom of Deadwood Canyon. I have read it referred to as “the Western States half marathon”. Since I love downhills, I picked up the pace and picked up a few spots in the race while I was at it.
I had not planned on stopping at Miller’s Defeat, since it was so close to my last crewed aid station and mynext crew aid station at Dusty Corners, but I did anyway because the running club who was manning the aid station happened to be from my childhood hometown of Redding, CA. I grabbed a few things, said “hi fellow Redding’ites” and then continued my journey on down the trail. Some proof on how warm it was getting, there were a few people along the trail just before this aid station throwing up and sitting in the shade. Luckily, I had done my heat training and was never really affected by the heat, especially at this point in the race.

Dusty Corners – Alex and Marissa getting their “crew” on!

On my way into Dusty Corners, I could see Meredith snapping pictures of me with my camera, since I had designated her the ‘official photog’of the crew. She directed me to where Marissa and Alex were waiting for me. They were all set up and started asking me all the questions I had prescribed. Later on they told me my answers were short and not very helpful, like “what did you eat” to which I replied “a lot!” Oh, the life of a crew; sorry team! Anyway, I restocked, changed my visor, opted to not change my shoes or socks as I felt great and not one single hot spot raised its ugly head. I added 2 handheld bottles, one for ice and one for dousing myself. With a “thanks guys, I’ll see you in Michigan Bluff” I was back on the trail still keeping up a good pace. I took stock of my quads along this stretch of trail and not one twinge meant I was going to be just fine heading into Deadwood Canyon.

Although I had planned to cruise right through Last Chance, I once again stopped to fill up my ice bottle and dousing bottle. Less than a minute in the aid station I was back at it. The downhill into Deadwood is near the top of my list of favorite sections of the Western States Trail. There is some exposure, some beautiful sights of the creek including a couple of waterfalls (I took time to walk at Pucker Point to take in the sights) and it is pretty steep. Making quick work of this section I was at the Swinging Bridge feeling great and headed up the trail a few yards to fill my dousing bottle with spring water on the right side of the trail. I made a dumb mistake here! I allowed my shoes to get too wet in the spring water rather than taking the care to keep them as dry as possible. I’ll get to why this was a mistake a little later.

At the spring I met a guy named Kevin wearing a Tamalpa Running shirt and subsequently hiked the entire 36 switchbacks of the climb to Devil’s Thumb with him. Later, while writing this, I figured out that he was also a Montrail ‘Last Chance’ winner from reading his blog. There were quite a few of us making the climb together and a few kept asking me how many more switchbacks we had as I happened to be counting them down out loud at various intervals. I also couldn’t stop talking about the popsicles that I was told they had at the Devil’s Thumb aid station. In all honesty, that may have been the most motivational thing that kept me climbing! This is by far the hardest climb of the race. The steepness of it, where it is positioned in the race and the heat all combine to make it a brutal test! Kevin and I had differing opinions on what the hardest climb on the race is, as I really do not enjoy the El Dorado Canyon climb up to Michigan Bluff. However, after this race, I have changed my mind and agree with Kevin, the climb up to Devil’s Thumb is the hardest.
I got my popsicle, topped off with water and ice and departed as quickly as I could move. The climb took quite a bit out of me so getting going again was hard but I just kept relentlessly progressing forward. The popsicle didn’t taste very good to me and though I choked it down it was not at all refreshing; it did however serve its purpose on getting me to the top of the climb and for that I am thankful.
The next downhill to El Dorado Canyon is another wonderful part of the States trail. Although I was still recovering I managed to keep up a decent pace as I headed down into the canyon. Passing the cellist at Deadwood Cemetery was a highlight and I thanked him for being out there for us! Such a unique experience that only a small number of people ever get to experience.

It was on this downhill that I realized my mistake from the spring in Deadwood Canyon and all the prior opportunities to change shoes and socks. I began feeling some pain on the bottom of my right foot that felt like a blister, and shortly thereafter I felt a slightly duller pain beginning on the bottom of my left foot. Well, I love my Swiftwick socks and since changing over to them I have not had any blisters, but my overconfidence in this fact led to maceration on the bottom of both feet from the dampness created by all of the creek crossings early in the high country and compounded by the spring and climb up Deadwood Canyon. I decided that it didn’t matter, I would ignore the pain and push on as hard as I could to get to El Dorado aid station so that I could get them taken care of. On top of that, I was looking forward to seeing my friend Kevin who was working the aid station, maybe he could help me find someone that could care for my feet. I watched the mileage on my GPS watch roll over to 50.1 and let out a “there goes half the race” as loud as I could.
Coming into El Dorado Creek Aid Station – courtesy of Kevin Patja
Crossing the bridge over El Dorado Creek I was instantly met by a volunteer asking what I needed. I asked him if Kevin was around and quickly found him. Kevin filled up my pack and bottles while we chatted. I asked about the foot care and he tracked down the aid station captain. The best bet was to continue up to Michigan Bluff and there would be a specialist up there to assist me. Kevin commented on how I was only 20 minutes behind my estimated time at this point and said I was looking extremely good, especially compared to a lot of people he had seen come through. Whether he was lying to me or not, I was energized by it, thanked him for the water and ice and said I would see him in Auburn.
Kevin getting me out of the aid station as fast as possible – courtesy of Kevin Patja
If only the boost of energy would have lasted longer. As soon as you leave the aid station the climb hits you and it hit me hard. I was going through a very tough point in my race and stopped for about 30 seconds to let a couple of runners pass me. This little reprieve was enough for me to refocus and power through my low point. This climb is one that feels like it will never end, but eventually it did. I could hear a guy with a blow horn a good ways down the canyon and was hoping that I would see him with each turn. Probably 3 or 4 turns later I finally saw a handful of people standing along the side of the trail cheering me on. I continued my steady power hike and finally reached the asphalt just a few hundred yards from the aid station and ran my way in to look for some assistance for my feet.

All smiles coming into Michigan Bluff

Long story short, I was given the prognosis of macerated feet and after the foot expert put some Desitin on the bottom of my feet and my crew gave me new socks and shoes I was good to go. It was still going to be painful, but at least I knew what the damage was and what I needed to deal with.

The only time I sat all day!

Coming into the food area everyone was very friendly, using your first name from your bib and making you feel right at home. There was a mix up with some soup that I had requested, they said it would take a few minutes to make some more and that was enough reminder that I had already been there long enough, so I graciously declined and got back to it. My crew being there was a huge bump in my mental outlook. At one point, walking up the road out of Michigan Bluff I told Danimal that I thought the silver buckle was lost. Having a clearer mind than I did, Danimal reminded me that I was only 36 minutes off of my 22:55 estimate and that I was well within range of sub-24. Not to mention, I’d be picking up my pacer in Foresthill which would give me an even bigger boost. With all the encouragement and not wanting to make my pacer’s job any harder, I took off at a blisteringpace over the short downhill and power hiked the hills before dropping into Volcano Canyon.

B-rad with the “v-horn”, myself and Danimal

Another lift to my spirits came in the form of a laminated picture that I had of my wife, baby girl and dog. Every time I began feeling down during this stretch and most of the race, I would pull this picture out and it would provide me an instant boost in energy. Also, if my wife can labor for 25 hours with our little one, I can run WSER in less than 24 hours!

I ended up passing around 5 people and picking up 10 spots (due to drops) between Michigan Bluff and Foresthill, running the downhill hard and power hiking as fast as I could muster up to Bath Road. Danimal and B-rad joined me at Bath Rd., well actually about half way up Bath Rd. because they didn’t expect me to be there that quickly. We walked the rest of Bath Rd. at a decent clip and when we hit Highway 49 I started putting down sub-9 minute miles the rest of the way into Foresthill. There were 6 or 7 firefighters sitting outside of their fire station cheering the runners on; I thanked them for the work they do and they commented that my pace was amazingly fast at this point in the race.
Finally, Foresthill! Although it is 62 miles into the race, it is often considered the halfway point because of the toll that the first 100k takes on your body and the generally slower pace that runners have at night. I was so happy to be there! I was looking forward to picking up my pacer Jeffery for so long and to see my Mom who came up from Arizona for the race that I felt no pain coming into the aid station and getting down to Cal Street where I told my crew to park. Paul, a friend of Jeffery’s and mine happened to show up just in time to see us come through. Paul was training for TRT 100 miler and ran a number of my training runs with me leading up to WSER, so it was great to see him here (Paul went on to crush it at TRT with a 22nd place finish!).
Foresthill with Jeffery, still plenty of light! – screenshot usl.tv video

My pacer Jeffery is a two-time WSER finisher and a two-time WSER pacer, not to mention an all-around good guy. I met Jeffery running a 50k on Mt. Diablo the prior July when I kept him from making a wrong turn, who knew that he would be pacing me at States just 11 short months later. On top of his pacing duties, he was my guide on a number of training runs and his wife Jeanne was our shuttle a few of those times. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to them for everything!

Alright, back to the race. Jeffery started cracking the whip right away, not letting me linger with my crew and my Mom for too long. We had work to do and a silver buckle to go earn!

Headed down Cal Street w/ my pacer extraordinaire

Foresthill to Green Gate

After a brief hello and hug with my Mom and thanking my crew, it was on to Cal Street and the wonderful downhill to come. Short of calling me a wimp, Jeffery got me moving with a “do you think you could go faster,” to which I replied by stepping up my pace. I was doing somewhere in the range of 8-9 minute miles for the majority of the 3 miles down to Dardanelles (Cal-1), making up considerable time and picking up a few spots along the way. Not needing to stop, we thanked all the volunteers on our way through and kept the pace up.
Though I have worked on my uphill running and power hiking, I still say that it is not my strongest asset as an ultra-runner. The little 500ish foot climb after Cal-1 was a tough one for me, but I kept moving with Jeffery’s encouragement and reminder to “hike with a purpose!” I also knew that the ‘elevator shaft’ was coming up sooner than later and I love flying down that thing with reckless abandon. After a few more short ups and downs we finally arrived at the steep 600-700 foot aforementioned downhill section. Just as in my training run, I crushed it, leaving Jeffery in my dust and passing about 3 or 4 people on my way down as they picked their way carefully down it. I’m not the smallest of runners, nor do I really have a runner’s physique (5’10″ 185lbs), so you can get an idea of what I look like going down this steep section with Jeffery’s description of a”locomotive coming through.”

After that fun steep technical section was over I came back down to Earth and knew after a handful of rollers that we would come to another 500ish foot climb. I would struggle on this climb despite Jeffery’s prodding. I used the arms swinging and the hands on knees techniques to power me up the hills, trying to get any additional help to my legs that I could. Somewhere on this section the light became scarce enough to break out our lights. I had made it to within 10 miles of the river before needing a light. From every blog I’ve read from other sub-24 runners, I knew I was sitting in good shape as long as I didn’t blow up from here on out. Not wanting to rest on my laurels I finally made it to the top of the 2nd 500ish foot climb and had fun on the next downhill once again.
Coming in to Peachstone (Cal-2) I was in need of water, some ginger ale and some broth. I took in all that I could and got back on the trail as soon as I could, mainly because I knew that another awesome downhill was coming. Chock full of beautifully manicured trail with switchbacks and almost 800 feet of elevation loss in about a mile, I knew I could open it up here. On a training run prior to States I was putting in 7:15-7:45 pace down this entire section trying to trash my quads. This day would be a bit slower, but I was still averaging in the 8-9 minute miles on this glorious downhill and my quads were still feeling great.
There are a couple of short but steep uphills between Cal-2 and Rucky Chucky which seemed to suck the life out of me. It seemed like forever before we made it to the iconic river crossing that I’d been looking forward to all day. We finally arrived and I was mostly intact, but was not feeling great. I had an upset stomach and I was feeling a bit on the woozy side. I had made up considerable time and picked up a total of 17 spots from Foresthill to the river. The lady helping me at the aid station seemed to give me a look of pity with a touch of “man, you look bad”, but maybe that was just me projecting at the time because I felt like curling up in the fetal position and sucking my thumb until I fell asleep. I got some ginger ale and some broth and decided to forge on (pun intended) seeing as though I was looking forward to crossing that river all day.
The river crossing didn’t disappoint. It seemed to revive me as so many others have mentioned in blogs and personal accounts. Had there not been another runner in front of me slowing me down I think I would have had one of the faster crossing times of the day; maybe not, but I was definitely moving. This has to be one of my fondest memories of the race. It felt great on my tired legs and brought a smile to my face knowing that I was really doing this! One of Jeffery’s least favorite parts is crossing the river. But afterwards he said he enjoyed that more than any other time he could remember; maybe he was just saying that to try to keep my spirits up.
Just on the other side of the river I spotted my buddy Danimal waiting for me. I tried to get his attention by shining my bright flashlight at him. He finally saw me as I exited the river and told me later that I had looked like a ghost. I was shocked by that statement because I had felt so good going through the river, but in retrospect, he was probably right given my state of mind on the climb up to Green Gate.

More than once I have mentioned that I’m not the biggest fan of long uphill climbs. Green Gate was one of the hardest on the course for me. I felt bad, I was starting to complain which is not like me and I just wanted all of this to be over. My strongest asset in ultra-running is my mental state, I’m rarely in a negative mood and think of challenges as opportunities to overcome anything between me and the finish line. Here, I was beginning to unravel mentally!
Luckily for me, it is a fairly short climb, and once into the aid station I finally got my favorite late stage fuel source which I had forgotten to double check for on leaving Foresthill. Perpetuem solids were my go-to when I was having an upset stomach and didn’t feel like eating. My crew, specifically Alex, remembered this from Javelina and made sure they were ready to go for me at Green Gate.

 
Feeling “awesome” at Green Gate!
 
Survival shufflin’

Green Gate to the Finish

I literally shuffled out of Green Gate toward ALT and wanted to end my friendship with Jeffery when he made me run, but I remembered that ‘pacers are people too’ and he was just doing what I ‘hired’ him to do. It took about 5-10 minutes for the first Perpetuem to kick-in, but once it did I never looked back. My stomach was still not 100%, but I was able to put down some pretty good pace times going into ALT. Another strength of my ultra-running lies in the fact that I love running at night and even at home I do a good chunk of my running late at night. The peaceful still of the neighborhoods and relative traffic-free roads make running at night extremely enjoyable for me and my pace times are not really affected when the sun goes down. On this stretch of trail I regained my cheery outlook and never lost it again the rest of the race.
Coming into ALT, which had amazing Christmas lights, I was harassed by a medical worker asking me a bunch of questions about how I felt. He asked me what my favorite part of the race was and I told him it was like asking a parent who their favorite kid is; there’s just not a good answer to that question. Jeffery felt like he needed to run interference a bit, even though I was not in bad shape at this point. Had he talked to me at Green Gate that might have been a different story, but he left me alone shortly after my facetious answer to his “favorite question”. After some more ginger ale and broth at ALT and a refilled water pack we were off again. Checking out of this aid station we were told that we were 6 minutes ahead of sub-24 hour time. I know that they pad these pace times through here pretty heavily in their calculations, so I knew based on my running that I was about 30 minutes ahead of the 24-hour mark.

Although I never let myself slow down, I did feel a ton of relief shortly after ALT, knowing that I pretty much had the silver buckle in the bag as long as something catastrophic didn’t occur. I really love this section of trail with its runnable rolling single track. I continued to put down great pace times with the help of Jeffery running in front of me and basically calling me a pansy every time I slowed even a fraction. The water from ALT was disgusting, it tasted like a garden hose from my childhood and though nostalgic, I still couldn’t wait to get rid of it at Brown’s Bar and get some good water.
Brown’s Bar is one of the coolest aid stations on the race. They do so much with so little area and the music and the lights are welcoming as you get closer and closer to the aid station. I took some time to shake Hal Koerner’s hand and told him he puts a great aid station together. I became aware of Hal from Javelina as he holds the course record which is almost 9.5 hours faster than my 2014 performance. I took in some ginger ale and did get some good water refilled in my pack. They said they have been getting complaints about ALT’s water all day. A volunteer accidentally spilled all of Jeffery’s water from his pack, so I hit the trail without him as he told me he would catch up with me. On my way out, the lady behind the aid station table said I had a good 30 minute buffer on the 24-hour mark. I was feeling awesome! I had also picked up 4 more spots from Green Gate to Brown’s Bar.
From Brown’s Bar there is a pretty decent 600ish foot downhill that I once again flew down. I picked up 1 more place on this downhill and was able to hold onto that spot all the way through Highway 49. The climb up to Highway 49 is normally a tough one for me, but I was floating on air and power hiked it like I was on a training run. The long steep climb ends briefly at the Highway 49 aid station.
Feeling good at Highway 49
This aid station was hopping and my crew stopped for me even though I gave them the option of continuing onto Robie Point. I took a bit more time here than I wanted to as I had one of the volunteers fill my pack instead of just switching out my packs with my crew. It was here that I allowed myself for the first time to say, “it’s in the bag” out loud to my crew. Danimal said something to the effect of “it has been in the bag for awhile,” but reminded me that I still had to cross that finish line. With that said and my pack finally back on my back, I hit the uphill coming out of the aid station. From this point to the finish, every runner I passed I congratulated on their silver belt buckle because at this point we could have walked and still have been sub-24!

Here, I allowed myself to be passed by 3 runners because I was saving myself for my absolute favorite downhill bar-none. The downhill from the meadow to No Hands Bridge is truly amazing. I fly on this section no matter if it’s training or a race. I passed the 3 runners that had just passed me saying, “you’ll catch me on the uphill” as I flew by them. My quads were still in perfect shape and I left Jeffery in my dust once again. Right near the bottom, just before No Hands, all the fast ‘downhilling’ made my body decide it was time that I made a pit stop. I walked for a bit to let Jeffery catch up to me. He knew the trail better than I did so pointed out a good location for my pit stop. That over and done with, we hit the trail just after being passed by one of the 3 runners. I later figured out that his name is Todd. I passed Todd again before No Hands. He would pass me again at the top of the next climb as we were coming into Robie Point.
No Hands Bridge aid station was the coolest set up for an aid station by far. They had a video screen running with music videos playing. They had lights strung back and forth along the length of the entire bridge. From the trail just before getting to No Hands, it looks as though the bridge lights are going upwards toward the sky. It was a cool visual affect that is helped by the slightly upward ramp of the bridge. Jeffery introduced me to his friend Eric who was the aid station captain. Eric congratulated me on my silver buckle and I in turn told him how awesome they did on the aid station!
Just as I was starting to cross the bridge, I heard my name. I looked back and it took me a moment to realize where it came from. My buddy Bryan was there and it was awesome to see him! He had wanted to crew for me, but life as a manager got in the way and so he was unable to take the time with some recent employee churn. We briefly hugged it out and he congratulated me on nabbing a silver buckle. I thanked him and headed off to finish what I started. He’ll get his as soon as he gets into States (mark my words)!
 Heading up the last hill was surreal. Remember, I’m not the best of ‘uphillers’, but I was still putting down some good power hiking. Most of this uphill was a blur to me. Jeffery kept me moving, but I only needed a little motivation at this point. I’d been smelling the barn for awhile. At Robie Point aid station a couple of runners passed me. I skipped the aid station, letting the volunteers know that I was ‘running off pure adrenaline now’. I was extremely happy to see that Danimal, B-rad and Meredith came down to Robie Point to run with me to the finish line. We chatted going up the steep asphalt uphill and we had fun with the awesome folks that party at the mile 99 sign. They strung lights across the trees above the road and were filled with energy. I love the “pacers are people too” sign and patted Jeffery on the shoulder and said I agreed with the sign. We all had a good laugh.

From there the road levels out a tad bit. I told my pacers that it was time to haul some butt to the finish. I wasn’t joking; I took off at a decent clip and booked it in the rest of the way, easily running 9 minute miles (probably even a bit faster). I didn’t know this then, but I was leaving Jeffery behind until I slowed down at the track to allow the guy in front of me to have his moment without me getting in his picture. I passed Todd and another runner before the white bridge. Todd commented on how I had picked up a few pacers. I mentioned that they were the best crew and their presence had energized me throughout the entire race. Marissa and Alex joined us for the jog around the track and I asked all of them to run the chute to cross the finish line with me. They helped me achieve my goal and I wanted to share that moment with them. I was elated crossing that line. My friend Bryan made it up into the stands and after a shout out I pointed at him and gave him the thumbs up knowing that he’ll be there too someday! I crossed at 23:22:09 coming in 70th place and was immediately greeted by my friend Bob. He is the finish line crew chief and having volunteered for him for the 2014 race we kept in touch and I was able to get some good tips from him about the race and trail in general. What a great way to end a great race!

Best Pacer and Crew ever!
Jeffery and Bob, ultra-running bad-asses!

Post Race

Since I agreed to be part of the research study, I headed into the research tent to get my blood drawn. There were 3 groups: massage, compression boots or the control group (basically you just get to lie there on a cotand wait for 20 minutes). To prove that my luck isn’t the best (despite my Last Chance drawing), I was in the control group; imagine that!

I found out later that my CK levels were less than half that of both the average for this year’s research participants and the historic median value. My CK was 9,136u/L and the mean was 26,928u/L (the range was 2,685-106,248u/L) with the historic median being right around 20,000u/L. With my CK levels the way they were I was pretty well recovered a day or two after the race. The only thing that hampered me were my blisters on the bottom of my feet. All in all, I was in good shape coming out of the race and a happy man to boot!
Collecting my silver buckle was surreal and I still have to pinch myself on a daily basis!
Thanks to Montrail and their ‘Last Chance’ drawing; without you I probably would have gotten in to States in 5 or 6 years knowing my luck! Eron and Jeff, it was nice meeting you guys, I hope to run a race with you soon!
Thanks to my crew, Danimal, Alex, B-rad, Marissa and Meredith! You are the best of friends and took a lot of your time and money out for me and I am eternally grateful! To my pacer Jeffery – you are awesome my friend, I can’t wait to repay the pacing duties! I joked about questioning our friendship on the trail, but you are the best pacer that I could have ever hoped for and I knew you had my best interest in mind the entire time! Thanks to my Mom for making the long trip up to see me on this race and to meet your new granddaughter. It meant a lot to me!
The biggest of all ‘thank yous’ to my wife Corinne – okay, I’ll take some time off, I promise!
Lastly, thank you to all the volunteers and staff that made this race such an amazing experience! It is all of you that make this race truly world class!!!

 
 

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