I Knew This Day Would Come: Spectating at the Western States 100

AJWs Taproom“Hey mom, how are you doing?” I said, trying to sound upbeat.

“Good,” she said, “How’d the weekend in Auburn go?”

“Not so well, mom, I think I am going to bail on the summer and just get healthy.”

Pause.

“I am proud of you, Andy,” she said in that knowing motherly voice, “You’ll be all that much stronger and smarter next year!

And, just like that, my summer racing plans were canceled.

I suppose I knew this day was coming for a while as I was struggling with my return to running after meniscus surgery in March and a couple setbacks along the way but it really didn’t hit me until I told my mom I was dropping out. Something about that made it definitive, and also, it made it OK.

As much as I want to run Western States and Hardrock this summer I know I shouldn’t. And now that I’ve told my mom, I know I can’t.

But, what next?

Well, for me, in the short-term, I am looking forward to spending race weekend at Western States as a spectator. From what I’ve been told, I have a space in the backseat of Twiet’s truck alongside Craig Thornley. Provided those guys have ear plugs, we should be good to go. After that, I am not sure.

Turns out I may need a second surgery to repair my damaged knee. The recovery was going well to a point, but it never quite progressed to a point where I knew I was “better.” I, of course, hope that I can live to fight another day, but these things are fleeting and I need to take what I can get. Whatever happens, I know that running, in general, and Western States, in particular, has found a way into my heart and for that I am forever grateful.

Just a few experiences from this past weekend I spent in Auburn to illuminate the point:

Hanging out with Jorge Maravilla in the Raley’s Parking lot in Auburn talking about the race, his expectations, his questions of me, and the notion of being a part of something bigger than yourself. In this day and age of self-promotion and short-term impact branding, it was impressive and fun to sit in a parking lot, and not just any parking lot, either, but a parking lot in which I have spent hours talking about running and Western States, to share a few thoughts with a relatively new runner to the game and just to exchange the love of The Trail.

Running leisurely down from Michigan Bluff to El Dorado Creek and back not as training but as fuel for the soul. Enjoying those relaxed miles with Craig, Scott, Lewis, Meghan, Dave and others made the heartache I was feeling much easier to stomach. And, emerging out of the Canyon to hang out with 10-time finishers Bill Davis and Ray Scannell really served to connect the past to the future for me.

“Working” the Cal 2 Aid Station with Western States legends Craig Thornley, John Medinger, and Tim Twietmeyer on Sunday morning really made the sting of the reality of my not racing next month wash away. Here I was, surrounded by three extraordinary men, all of whom have given of themselves to this race for decades, and it was all good. And, along the way, we had a really, really good time. I mean, when’s the last time you had your water bottle filled by the future RD, the past Board President and Editor-in-Chief of Ultrarunner Magazine, and, oh yeah, a 25-time finisher and five-time winner of the race? Good stuff, indeed.

All this leads me to the clear understanding that all is well with the world. Sure, I am bummed that, for the first time since 2004, I will not be on the starting line at Squaw, but, heck, it had to happen sometime and I have no choice but to be OK with that.

Honestly, I truly hope this is not the end of the line for me. I hope to one day, once again, get a chance to toe the line at Squaw. I love the race and I love to run. But, I also know I need to get healthy and in this case, this year, it is not meant to be. So, like the shameless optimist that I am, I will dream to fight another day. And, in the meantime, I hope the rest of you out there, all of you, find a way to fulfill your dreams. Heck, I have had the opportunity to circle that track eight times, EIGHT TIMES! That’s amazing, that’s lucky, that’s the kind of thing that defines a life. Here’s a guy with house, cars, wife, kids, jobs, etc… who gets to run this thing. I’ve been chased down for 10th and I’ve gutted out a 4th. I ran through the sauna for 6th and had no idea what I was doing when I ended up 8th. One year, heck, I ended up 2nd just by running faster and faster as the day went along.

Just this past weekend I met people who have waited five years for their one chance at this thing and they are finally here. They are finally poised on the edge of a Western States start. I, for one, want every one of them to finish and I am looking eagerly forward to cheering each and every one of them around the track when they arrive in Auburn on that illustrious, extraordinary, life-defining fourth weekend in June. Until then…

Bottoms up!

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Auburn Alehouse Gold Country PilsnerThere is no doubt that this week’s Beer of the Week comes from the Auburn Alehouse in Auburn, CA. Their Gold Country Pilsner Lager is a light-tasting, fast-drinking brew in the German tradition that is really crisp and surprisingly strong. Great on one of Auburn’s hot June evening’s, like the one that’s coming on the 23rd. :-)

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • What action signifies that you truly won’t run a key race?
  • How do you deal with that decision?

There are 17 comments

  1. olga

    Bummer. Sorry to hear about that. Make the best out of it, Andy. Good luck with full recovery! And I am sure Craig needs you to be by his side this June anyway:)

  2. Tim Lambert

    Hi Andy,

    What a great attitude. I too am coming to WS, not as a runner, but as crew for one of the favourites, which is an honour and a privilege in itself.

    If you get fed up in that truck, let me know and Im sure we can find room in ours!

  3. Pam

    You had me teary from the 5th line, Andy. I love this column. I'm kind of in the same old boat this year. It seems like you're using the wisdom earned from those 8 trips around the track to keep you in the truck this year. You'll love it anyway. Hang tough….

  4. John

    Awesome read. Good luck with the recovery. It seems like you are in a good mental state despite the set backs. Overall health trumps races in my opinion.

    8 Trips…that really is something special. Especially in light of the recent explosion of the sport. Western just keeps getting more popular and as such, more difficult to get into. The good news though is that there are a ton of other awesome races out there.

    Have fun spectating this year! I'm sure you will give all the racers some much needed support!

  5. Rob

    Andy, once you see the top ten finish, come on back to Brown's Bar. We'll keep the light on for you.

    I think you've made a difficult but right decision. How many times have we seen fellow runners not take the time to heal properly.

    Wish I was with you guys last weekend.

  6. Wyatt Hornsby

    Andy:

    Sorry to hear of the potential second surgery. I'm sure the decision to cancel your participation in WS and Hardrock was awfully difficult, but your perspective and attitude are admirable and set a good example for others. At some point, many of us will find ourselves in the situation you're in (in 2010, I thought it was over for me when I developed a severely wicked case of plantar, which sidelined me for 5 months). Also, keep in mind that, as ultrarunners, ordinary recovery timetables don't always apply to us. We're in such good condition that we can often come back from injuries faster than others, provided we do the smart thing and give ourselves a break, as you are doing. You'll come back from this at 100%, and we all know that you'll get that 1000-mile WS buckle in a few years. I'll bet this year's WS, which you'll see from a very different angle, goes down as one of your most memorable!

    Wyatt

  7. Steve Pero

    Best of luck in your recovery, you will be back and maybe even next year!

    If part of your trip to States is to swing by Silverton, stop by the Avon for some fine home brews.

    I have learned this year that volunteering has it's own reward that Deb and I have enjoyed this year. As we get older, there will be more of that and less racing.

  8. Juan Diego

    Beer is good, but Moms are great.

    For the both of them we appreciate.

    And when life serves you lemons do not fear.

    With proper love and libations you'll be stronger next year.

    Keep up the good work AJW!!!

  9. Alex from New Haven

    Sorry about the news. Great attitude. I know if you get the chance to do the race in the future you'll love the experience even more (if that's possible).

    That's going to be a pretty freaking fun truck ride jumping aid stations and watching the race unfold

  10. joeblow

    Sorry AJW, hope you will be back next year stronger than ever! Maybe some more world touring by bicycle will be in your recovery future.

  11. Larry

    That's unfortunate, Andy… I'd recommend a dash cam in the truck–certain there would be some really good out takes.

    After, personally, attempting to get in each year since the '07 lottery, the embers are barely lit. But, posts like this are like a strong breeze that fans that ember back to bright red. Thankfully, I have the experience of pacing from FH to the track in '07 and was an all-day specator in '10. Watching all the runners that year crest Immigrant as the sun rose over the Lake was really special.

    All the best!

  12. Travis Trampe

    Andy,

    I hope your recovery goes smoothly and the trail running community gets to see and hear about your races in the near future. I know your dedication and passion for the sport via reading your articles and postings. Wishing you a quick and healthy recovery so you are back on the trails soon.

    As the others mentioned, making the decision to not run this WS100 had to be hard but you know what is right you and are looking toward the future. I know the runners at this years race will be glad you are there supporting them and encouraging them to the finish. Great ambassador to the sport of ultra-running.

    Travis

  13. Eric Massanari

    Andy,

    This was a timely post for me. This week I had to back out of a June ultra that I had been looking forward to for months. Plantar fascitis (one of your nemeses earlier this year, right?)hampered training and I realized that I simply wasn't ready. Your words capture the disappointment alongside an honest acceptance of what is of greatest value and importance in all of this. It is a reminder that we can be grateful for the ability to put one foot in front of the other and make our way through this wondrous world. Sometimes we are given the extra gift of doing it a bit faster and farther! Peace to you as you recover, heal, and support others on their ultra-adventures.

    Eric

  14. Tom

    AJW what were some of the symptoms with your meniscus? I have been having some strange knee issues, mainly a sharpe pain outside and below me knee cap just to the side of my petalla, when the knee my knee almost like something is being pinched.

    Just thought I would ask seems like you have had some recent issues with knee stuff.

    Thanks AJW

  15. Marcus

    If it's any consolation, I'm two years away from even APPLYING for the first time based on a pending deployment (an all expenses paid vacation by the Army to somewhere dusty and miserable). So I think you are approaching it with the right attitude for sure. Enjoy the opportunity to encourage others and lend your support. In the meantime, get better!

  16. Tony Mollica

    Andy:

    I agree with your Mom! Way to be smart instead of pushing through when you know you weren't right physically! Sometimes "manning up" (as my 23 year old son is fond of saying) is not what you need, but being smart is.

    No way are you done! You will heal, and you will compete again at a high level! In the meantime you will contribute to our wonderful sport in other ways.

    God Bless,

    Tony Mollica

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