Western States 2016 6-25-16

Can’t we just take the gondola up to the top???
Not the race we planned for, but the ending was worth it…
Western States is the oldest and most iconic 100 mile race in the world. In 1974 Gordy Ainsleigh’s horse went lame during the Tevis Cup, a 100 mile endurance horse event held on the WS trail from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Instead of throwing in the towel like hundreds had before him, Gordy decided to finish the race on foot. Forty two years later, the Western States 100 is now  regarded as the “Super Bowl” of ultrarunning.
On paper, Western States looks relatively doable for a 100 miler. The altitude, heavy climbing and major heat of the canyons is in the first half of the race, with the last 38 miles from Foresthill to the Placer High track in Auburn being fairly runnable. In reality, this race presents a wide assortment of variables that add up to the perfect storm of carnage if not handled expertly.
Alejandra and I started the trip up to Squaw on Thursday afternoon and met up with my dad and Kris in Auburn. We also had a surprise visit from John, as he was doing a volunteer project for Google. For the week leading up to WS, Google Map’s project team that most are familiar with for their pictures of homes and roads, sent several volunteers to hike the entire 100 miles from Squaw to Auburn with a 50+ lb backpack/camera unit. Starting in August, everyone should be able to experience the Western States trail, albeit by computer.
After a Thai dinner and drive up to Squaw, we checked into our condo in the Olympic Village. Although I’m up for some under-the-stars camping before a race, since the crew would be spending an entire day following my ass around in up to 100 degree temperatures, I thought it best to pamper them as best I could before the work began.
With all Friday to spend the day in Squaw, we had plenty of time to take in the scenery, get a shakeout run in, watch Dave and Nick hammer the Vertical 6K, and cook dinner for the group. Being on the third of three floors with a balcony, we also had a great view of the Olympic Village, and specifically the Auld Dubliner Irish Pub. Great location for stumbling home, but probably not the ideal spot if you’re interested in a quiet night sans hammered folk yapping at midnight.
Post our homemade dinner and copious amounts of wine for the group, as I wanted to get our crew and pacers well fed and “hydrated” before asking a lot of them on Saturday, my dad, Kris and Alejandra went for a stroll around the village to look at the shops and get some ice cream. No more than 5 minutes after they left, as Dave, Nick, Abe and I were catching up, there was a loud banging on the door. Knowing that Alejandra had our key and that no one else knew our room number, I wasn’t sure who the hell was at the door.
Enter Pat Sweeney and Bobby with three bags full of beer… and a board game
Four hours earlier, we spotted some Dirtbag Runners saddling up to the Auld Dubliner. Surprisingly, well fairly unsurprisingly for DBR’s, the group was battling valiantly with the Dubliner several hours later. I assumed they would be passed out before us, but I shouldn’t assume.
Apparently Pat and Bobby were on beer duty for the group. They were on their way up to Luis’ room and had received a text that he was in 439. Considering Luis picked a fight with the Auld alongside the DBR’s, it wasn’t surprising that he texted the wrong room number. After catching up with the boys and working out Luis’ proper location, Pat and Bobby made their way out alongside Nick, Dave and Abe. Alejandra had passed Pat and Bobby on their way down to the village, and supposedly they told her they were on their way to 439. She was pretty nervous returning to the room, probably thinking it would be a raging party.
3:30am alarm. Race Day!
Outside of trying to poo as much as possible… ultrarunning problems… I was surprisingly not nervous in the least about the race. Thomas’ training plan was spot on and although ridiculously difficult, I felt incredibly fit and confident in being able to navigate the course well. After a last minute check-in and bib pickup, which was the first time I wasn’t able to pick up the race bib the day before a race, we made our way over to the start to begin the trip to Auburn. After a quick hug and picture with Samantha Pruitt, we were off.
All smiles before go time… just give it a few hours
The four mile, 2,500ft climb to the escarpment starts your journey from Squaw to Auburn. Aside from a steep section near the top, these first few miles are very runnable taking place on a fire road. Making our way up, I caught up with Andy Pearson. Andy and I ran HURT together in 2015, and he finished just in front of me after a VERY long day/night/day in the jungle. He’s an excellent runner and although he’d been doing some international traveling without his regular training in the San Gabe’s, he looked fit and able to handle himself. I also ran into Mark Austin, another incredible runner that I spent some time with during the first day of the Memorial Day training runs. He was targeting 18 hours and looked well prepared.
Around mile two, Andy and I were BS’ing about something, and we looked over to see Jim Walmsley running next to us. I checked my watch about 10 times to make sure we weren’t running 8 minute pace up this damn mountain. Thankfully, we were not.
Jim Walmsley had recently set the course record at the Lake Sonoma 50 mile, running 6:00hrs (7:00 min miles with over 10,000ft. of climbing). Jim hadn’t lost a race since 2015, and although this would be his first 100 mile race, many including myself were expecting to see fireworks… course record or epic blowup
Hanging with our group, Jim was definitely using some early race strategy. Not knowing that he would later set the most blistering pace that the WS course had ever seen through 93 miles (30 min under course record at Rucky Chucky), we all chatted like most ultrarunners do while running/hiking towards the peak. Somewhere around a mile from the top, Jim turned and said to the group, “ok, I’m going to set the pace now.” We never saw him again.
Dave and Nick had made their way up the escarpment to watch the lead pack and say, “Good morning.” Luis Escobar was snapping incredible photos like Luis does, and Eric Shranz from the Ultra Running Podcast was decked out in full lederhosen blowing some huge horn straight out of a Ricola commercial… RIIIIICCCCOOOOOOLLLLAAAAAA!!!
Cresting the peak, we started our 26 mile journey to the first main aid station, Robinson Flat. This section of the race is referred to as, “The High Country.” Running at approximately 8,000ft, I sure was hoping all that time in the altitude tent paid off. Thankfully it did, as the first 25 miles felt great as we climbed and descended into Duncan Canyon.
Top of the morning to you!
Moving quickly through the aid station, we started a descent that turned into the second big climb of the day to Robinson Flat. Thinking that my nutrition/hydration plan was working well, I didn’t account for the dry air at altitude sucking moisture from the body quicker than at sea level. Although I was drinking to thirst, I didn’t realize how dehydrated I was coming out of Duncan Canyon until we started the climb towards RF. My body instantly felt lethargic and I was laboring to keep pace while trying my best to power hike. An apparent blister had started to appear under my left foot, and several runners passed me during this section, as I was trying to determine why this issue popped up.
Arriving in Robinson Flat, I took a giant swig of Physiophyx and my pops filled up the ice bandana. Instantly, I knew that I was dehydrated, and started sucking down water on the way towards Dusty Corners. I finally started feeling better a few miles outside Robinson Flat.
Dave and Nick had made the trek out to the Dusty Corners aid station and we caught up briefly as I did a quick lube job and pounded some more water. The ice bandana is an absolute necessity for warm weather running, but it tends to drip into places that you really don’t want to chafe 80 miles into a race. Quick word of advice if you haven’t raced with an ice bandana… lube around the neck, all around the butt, and don’t forget the taint!
The 20 miles from Dusty Corners to Michigan Bluff felt amazing as I figured out the hydration issue and the heat management plan was working (ice bandana at every aid station, ice in the hat and dipping in water wherever found). Passing the 50 mile mark shortly after 9hrs, I felt confident in pushing towards a negative split and having legs to run from Foresthill to Auburn. My mantra in the morning hours was, “legs from Foresthill.”
Andy had moved back into the picture, and I ran with Pete Kostelnick, the recent winner of Badwater, for a majority of these miles. Unfortunately, the blister had gotten progressively worse, and it was starting to affect my stride. I planned on a quick 2 minute pop job from the foot doctor at MB, and ran right into his “clinic” before even checking into the aid station.
Well, this wasn’t a blister and it didn’t take 2 minutes…
20+ minutes later, it was determined that the skin on the pad of my left foot was macerated and a crease had formed. There wasn’t much to do other than tape it up and hope for the best. Losing 20 minutes was definitely not in the books, and I took off from MB moving much faster than I should have for the 6-7 miles leading into Foresthill.
Picking up Erik at Bath road, I told him about my early dehydration and foot issues. Everything else felt relatively ok, and we made good time through FH and onto Cal Street. A couple miles into this section and on the first significant descent, my quads began to scream.
Never having “blown out quads,” I wasn’t entirely sure what the feeling was. I had heard multiple podcasts and read race reports on people running downhills too hard and literally destroying their quads for the remainder of the race. Considering my pace wasn’t too rushed, outside of the stretch from MB to FH and I tried diligently to relax on the downhills, I had blown out my quads with 35 miles left of runnable terrain.
Erik did an amazing job calming and helping me down to the river. He should seriously rent himself out as a pacer, as he knew what to say, what not to say, and knew every damn turn on the course. After hearing me bitch for what was probably waaaay too long, we worked down to the river and decided to modify race goals to break 20hrs.
Pulling into Rucky Chucky and saying goodbye to Erik, Dave was ready to roll. We crossed the river and began the climb up to Green Gate. After giving Dave an update on my status and the revised goals, I felt terrible that we wouldn’t be able to race these last 22 miles hard. Being his first time pacing, Dave did a great job. He kept things lively, although I wasn’t in the happiest of moods. He did an awesome job moving through the aid stations and although I gave him a hard time for not knowing how far a climb was late into our time together, I was lucky to have him join me for these 16ish miles.
Nick was the third pacer, “running” with me from Highway 49 to the finish. After updating Nick on  my status, which wasn’t too pretty at this point, we headed out on the last 7ish miles to Auburn. Uphills were being hiked, most downhills were being hiked, and I was really only able to run the flat sections with a moderate shuffle… not the race plan we originally built, but I had to get my ass to Auburn and this was the only way that was working.
Seven miles and what felt like 3 hours later, (literally it was probably somewhere around 2 hours), we made our way over No Hands Bridge and up to Robie Point. Dave joined us for the last mile, which is all downhill and a fitting end to the day, as I could barely move quicker than a shuffle. In comparison, Gunhild Swanson, the oldest female finisher of WS, had to run a 7 minute mile from Robie Point to the track in order to break 30hrs. My last mile was somewhere around 10-12 minutes… going downhill!
We finally crossed the white bridge and made our way onto the track. Most people say that all the fatigue and pain go away the second you see the finish line… not today! Shit hurt all the way through, but I was proud that we battled over those last 38 miles. Crossing the tape in 20:49 and 44th place, I received a giant slice of humble pie to go with my silver buckle.
Immediately after crossing the finish line I looked for my dad, as he was holding what I was waaay too scared to carry from Squaw. After picking up the box and stumbling down to one, hell maybe both knees as it was 2:00am and we were both delirious, I asked Alejandra to marry me. She’s put up with me for 3.5 years and somehow supports these crazy adventures. Having my mom, Dave and Romo (my little brother/Chihuahua) come out was icing on the cake, as this was the first race they’ve seen me finish. Joanie also came out to volunteer at the finish line medical tent, and took some great videos of the engagement.
Rough finish, but glad she said yes! Wait, she did say yes right???
Can’t wait to start the next chapter in our lives, and on to Vermont!
One down… three to go!
What I learned:
– Hydration at higher altitude is very important. Drinking to thirst isn’t always the best idea at 8,000ft, especially if you’re a heavy sweater like me
– Patience is a virtue, and I should’ve used it when running from Michigan Bluff to Forest Hill
– Just because you’re fit, doesn’t mean you can’t get your ass handed to you on the trails
– If you’re going to propose at the finish line of an ultra, whether or not you think you’ll be ok carrying the ring, don’t be a dummy and have someone you trust hold it for you
– Three weeks is a VERY short turnaround for another 100 miler… Hello Vermont!
– I don’t say this enough, but ultrarunning really is a team sport. My dad, Kris, Alejandra, Eric, Dave and Nick were absolute rockstars from Squaw to Auburn! Nearly 21 hours is a REALLY LONG time to follow my slow ass around. I’m so grateful for all the support and encouragement, as I wasn’t in the cheeriest of moods from Foresthill to Auburn

4 thoughts on “Western States 2016 6-25-16”

  1. Super fun to be a part of your race, and super inspiring to see you shift your mindset from original goals to “holy shit boys, I’m gonna finish Western States”. Thanks for letting me tag along for the ride!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s