With the 2008 edition of the Western States 100 less than a week away, I thought it would be an appropriate time to post a race report from my 2005 run at the Western States Endurance Run. That year I lucked out with a solid training season, good race day conditions, and great support. The report found after the break speaks for itself. [Note: This report was written back in 2005, when the course did not go through Duncan Canyon.]
As for this year’s race, I’m getting psyched. I can hardly wait to see old friends, be in the woods, and pace AJW.
Speaking of pacing, if anyone will be out at WS (or is thinking of it) and is interested in pacing a sub-20 hour guy from Foresthill to the finish, PLEASE get in touch with me. A friend had his pacer go down and would really like support in his first 100.
Western $tates ’05: The Race of a Lifetime [or The Smartest Idiotic Race Ever]
by Bryon “Goat” Powell
[Warning: If you don’t want to read a race narrative written by an exuberant author, stop now! I also recommend finding a comfy chair, some coffee, and perhaps even snacks – this is going to take a while to read. Furthermore, I’m neither a good writer or very humorous; all I offer is my longwinded take on what happened during a magical 20 hours.]
During the months, days, and minutes leading up to the shotgun blast that would send me out of Squaw Valley towards the Placer High track, I was uneasy. There was no doubt that I was fit. I had run more miles in the 6 months leading up to the race than at any point in years, possibly ever. I had run two 100 mile weeks back-to-back – I’d only had one previous 100 mile training week. Early in the spring, I’d run a 50k PR and I easily ran through a sub-3 marathon two weeks before W$. That was all well and good, but I know that good general fitness is no guarantee of a good 100 miles at States. My training inadequacies weighed on my mind. I hadn’t done the long runs. The same goes for downhill running or uphill walking training. Ditto for heat training. All this is bad news for a race the would be a bit of a long run up and down some hills over a course that might just be hot. Yeah. Oh, and then there was that whole DNF problem. For the first time in my life, I battled the DNF bug every race all spring. It didn’t matter if the race was 50 miles or 4k, only a few miles into each race, I’d be doubting whether I could or even wanted to finish. Easter weekend, I dropped 10 miles into a 50k training run. A few weeks later, I dropped 27 miles into a 50 miler.
Besides my physical doubts, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t figure out what my motivation was for the race or where my head would be. Although my 2005 W$ may now supplant the 2004 version in my mind as my most memorable ultra, there was something special about running 100 miles for the first time. First off, there is the motivation to just finishing it. Secondly, there’s the wonder that your body can do such a thing. Not to mention, if you finish, your time is a PR. Furthermore, running a course for the first time you get to view the scenery with fresh eyes and the difficulties on the course with innocence. This time around, I went into W$ with a finish (sub-24, no less) and I knew the difficulties I’d face. I’d already made it to Placer in less than 22 hours, but “knew” I couldn’t yet make it in under 20 hours. I wasn’t ready yet. So what was I doing out there? Obviously, I wanted to finish, and having already done so, I’d be a bit disappointed if I didn’t go under 24 … other than that I had absolutely no time goal and with Will Harlan in the race, no hopes for an age group win (something I’d contemplated in the off season before investigating the entry list). So I ended up in Squaw Valley with little motivation except to go out there and run “okay” – yeah, not real satisfying.
Fortunately, my doubts and lack of motivation ended about two minutes before the gun, when I asked a buddy, let’s call him Mr. Consistency, if he’d mind if I followed him up the mountain. He didn’t, the gun went off, and we started to climb. Much like last year when I followed another friend (Scotty) up, we ran more uphill than we would later in the course, but the single track starts a few miles up, and it sucks to get caught behind a line of people. The differences between last year and this became apparent early. The snow on the course required that the race to move the first aid station to mile 2.5 instead of 4.5. I adjusted by carrying three water bottles instead of one up the hill, hoping that I could make it to the Lyon’s Ridge aid station without refilling – it turns out that I should have carried less. Regardless, the fun started after the first aid station, but earlier than the normal Escarpment aid station. The sun had not yet cleared the peak east of Lake Tahoe, so the snow was still hard and slick in places, but since the course went uphill for another two plus miles, traction wasn’t such a big issue, except when I nearly fell on the patch of “green ice” on the tennis courts.
The highlight of this first climb of 2,200’ in 4.5 miles is its end. No, its not that the runners are looking for a break from trudging uphill at 9,000’, but rather for the view – it’s now just before 6 a.m. and the sun peaks over the eastern mountains, setting the sky ablaze with a palette of pink, orange, blue, and gold. This mass of Promethean color touches the glassine surface of Lake Tahoe. The lake erupts into light, in a word – awesome. I hope that all the runners stopped and took in the view as Mr. Consistency and I did.
The seven or so miles from the top of Squaw Valley to Lyon’s Ridge through high alpine forest was mostly covered in snow with a few patches of rocky trail/stream to run through. At this point there were still small groups of runners, who did a good job of helping each other navigate the trail over the snowy sections. The snow cups, various pitches, and slick snow made travel slightly treacherous and slowed things down a bit. Even with utmost care, I went down from time to time when my shoe would lose traction or when I would posthole going down a slope. Regardless of my times through these early sections, my effort was a bit harder than I had planned – I was with runners I had no business being with. In fact, until just before the Lyon’s Ridge aid station, I was ahead of Mr. C, the ultrarunner whose knack for pacing I most respect and a runner who I’d never finished ahead of. Bad idea.
[Now for a quick point of clarification. In this narrative I often mention my position and effort relative to other runners and, in particular, Mr. C. I do this to give a frame of reference, to explain my mental or physical state, and sometimes simply to make note of where I saw familiar faces. Please, do not take anything to mean that I was competing with anyone other than myself. When on the course, I sincerely want every other runner to have his or her best day.]
After dropping off a bottle of very well tr
aveled tequila to Scotty at Lyon’s Ridge (don’t ask) and topping off my water bottles, Mr. Consistency and I headed off together towards Red Star Ridge. This section still had some snow, but less than the previous section. I continued on, not really running my own race (too fast), but trying as best I could to keep as close as I could to Mr. C on the downhills and then closing any gaps when we reached climbs. Early in this stretch was the first of a few times that I’d tell Mr. C, “See you at the finish,” as I thought he was heading off for good. As we ran along, we’d pass, be passed by, or run with the occasional runner who would introduce himself or whose name Mr. C would mention – I knew all names … not a good sign considering my plan had been to go out conservatively. Oh well, so much for plans.
At mile 17, Red Star Ridge was another in and out aid station with only a bottle refill. Mr. C managed to get out a few steps ahead of me, but I soon caught up. The almost 8 miles to Robison Flat are on jeep road with the majority a gentle decline. For the most part the road was free of snow. As with earlier sections, Mr. C would pull away on the downs, I’d hold even on the flats, and try to catch him on the ups by holding off walking for a bit longer than him and by pushing the walks. This worked for a few miles, but when I stopped for a quick break on the side of the trail, he opened up a gap I couldn’t close. I was fine with this, as I felt I’d been pushing too hard and really needed to settle into my pace. With the dense forest and relatively frequent turns, he was soon out of sight on all but the longest vistas.
At 24.6 miles, I came into Robinson Flat AS, where two of my crew members were waiting for me. After the mandatory weight in (still at my starting weight of 155#), I ran out of the station yelling to my crew that I wasn’t going to stop here and to meet me at the Little Bald Mountain aid station (AS) four miles later (a 1/2 mile walk for them). This would be my first of many gambles during this race. Coming into the aid station, I still had one full bottle and based on my drinking rate, I hoped that it would get me through most of the next few miles. Well, this turned out to be a good/bad decision. Coming out of the station I hit snow, which would dominate the rest of this leg. More importantly, as I rounded the first bend, I spotted an orange Team Montrail/Patagonia jersey – Mr. C was only 75 meters ahead. I couldn’t help but try and catch up (the bad part of my decision not to stop). I made up a bit on the flat section leading to the climb up Little Bald, but closed the gap once we hit the climb. While catching up, it seemed as if Mr. C had been holding a conservative pace, but once with him I learned that he was still moving, so much for my hopes of getting my legs back under me once with him. Regardless, it was worth it to be with someone as we cleared the trees in a turn from South to West near the summit when thousands of square miles of the Granite Chief Wilderness opened up below us. We both took in and shared the breathtaking view, just as we had done twenty miles earlier above Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe. For the most part, the rest of the section Mr. C, a few other runners (maybe Kevin Sawchuck, Topher Gaylord, Will Harlan?), and I hung together.
28.6 miles – Little Bald Mountain AS, I finally stop to take on supplies from my crew for the first time. I take on two bottles with my preferred sports drink, another vial of salt tablets, some sports gels, another bar, and down a bottle of Ensure Plus. I thank my crew and leave the AS before Mr. C. I didn’t check my split as I left, but my 2005 split at Little Bald was almost exactly the same as 2004 (less than two minutes ahead). I’m glad I didn’t check, as this was again both good and bad news. This year I’d worked hard to this point for the same split (to be expected with the snow) and had not rested my legs on the 8 mile road stretch to Robinson Flat as I had last year. My legs were becoming fatigued and I knew it… with knowledge of my split I might have become a bit disillusioned (in addition to being knowingly tired) even though I had no reason to be.
It didn’t take Mr. C long to catch up with me out of LBM and I did all I could to hang. The stretch to the Deep Canyon AS (33.7) is a 5 mile descent with a net loss of 1600’ – Mr. Consistency’s relative forte. Multiple times during this stretch Mr. C pulls away, but I catch him on a relatively steep, rocky descent just before the AS and lead him in. Bad news – my stomach has turned south. For the entirety of this leg I refluxed; I know my stomach is not emptying. Coming into the AS, I talk to Mr. C about it. His thoughts on dealing with the gastric emptying problem are the same as mine – I’ve been talking too much electrolyte (I was taking one or two tablets an hour to that point, but not drinking a lot and nothing but sports drink), so I should take some water at the AS and have my bottles filled with half water, half sports drink. I’m not sure if Mr. C mentioned it (I think he implied it), but my plan also had me backing down (I hadn’t told him, but my legs were getting more and more fatigued). My pace was just too hard, or so I thought. I get into the aid station (where we’ve caught Mike Mason, another VHTRC runner), have a few cups water, and I get on my way. Mr. C’s out of the AS and I let him go. I stick with Mike for a minute or two but let him go as well. Even though I’m on a stretch I should run, I decide to walk for three minutes. I start running easy again, another runner or two pass me as I continue the descent down into Deep Canyon – my fatigued legs not appreciating the continuation of the downhill running without an uphill break.
So my legs are tired, my stomach is in revolt, it’s getting hot, and we’ve come to the exposed part of the course – this is starting to suck. What to do when things turn crappy? Take a crap… and so I did in the bowels of Deep Canyon. Having taken care of one annoyance, I start the gradual 400’ climb out of the canyon. If I was feeling well or fool hearty, this would have been a fine stretch to run and plenty of folks run past me as I lock into a fast hiking rhythm. When the terrain switches over to light rolling hills, I continue walking all but the easiest of inclines, not caring about those going by me.
Dusty Corners – Mile 38.0. My second crew, my parents, wait for me with smiling faces and enthusiasm. Me, I’m not so much with smiles or enthusiasm any more. I get fresh bottles, gel, and electrolytes, as well as pick up a pair of socks (which really confuses my parents) and a mini-tub of Bodyglide. Despite my parents attempts, I refuse more Ensure Plus, which I’d planned to take ever time I saw my crew; it surely would have been an invitation for a pukefest with my still nauseous stomach. I head out of Dusty Corners still feeling sorry for myself and mosey on down the trail. More walking of slight inclines follows with only slow going on the flats and
downs, a couple more runners go by as if I’m pulling a car. This goes on for a few miles while I go through a section of trail that is one of the course’s most beautiful, but which I often fail to remember; it’s real nice single track that’s mostly flat with some pleasant rolls, all on a side hill lie through dense, tall coniferous forest on the sides of a canyon.
Despite the scenery, I now look back on this as the low part of the race – I may have been more acutely uncomfortable immediately after Deep Canyon, but my mind was really out of the ball game here. And then…. and then as I’m taking a slow pull on some flat a dude approaches me from behind. When I ask him if he wants to go by (as is the custom), he says no thanks and I continue on with him in tow. This is the best thing that could have happened. Previously unbeknownst to me, my stomach has recovered and my legs have come back. With him (later determined to be Ralph from South Africa) behind me and not wanting to pass, I feel compelled to run more than I had been and to keep up a better pace. That last two miles of this section are worlds better than the first, and just like that all my negative thoughts are gone.
It’s somewhere around here that I come up with a tentative name for this year’s race, The Smartest Idiotic Race Ever. I pushed too hard for 30 miles and was stupid with both nutrition and hydration early on. These things took me out of action for 10 miles leading to the canyons. Having self-destructed, providence saw to it that I blew up at exactly the right point, in exactly the right way, and for exactly the right period, to feel like a million dollars going into the canyons! On this day, my idiocy was the best thing that happened to me – I couldn’t have planned it any better.
I roll in and out of Last Chance – 43.3 – pretty quickly, just taking on some water and putting some ice under my cap. I leave the aid station with James Bonnett, the 18-year-old kid in the race. As we move along at a decent pace we chat a bit and he seems like a nice guy. When the flat trail turns into a decline I take off from James, but this is not the last time we’ll meet. The next two miles of trails, the descent leading to the climb up Devil’s Thumb, is where I knew things were starting to get tough last year. From mile 1.25 to 3.0 of this section the trail drop 1500’+ down a series of some 30+ switchbacks over rough and rocky trail. Last year, my quads were already tired at this point and yet I still put the breaks on far too much coming down this stretch. This year, it took the kamikaze approach and tried not to hold back – I would only slow down where the descent eased off and I could decelerate with minimal effort. The theory worked in practice.
I cruised down the canyonside passing a few runners, but more importantly saving my quads. I should note, for my future races, that I was smart and fueled up specifically for the descent. It was critical to have a high energy level to be agile enough to feel in control while careening down the slope. I think I took a gel on the approaching slight decline – good call. At the bottom, I cross the swinging bridge and go on to my favorite part of the course, from the Middle Fork of the American River to the Michigan Bluff AS. For whatever reason, I have a knack for climbing and this stretch contains the two biggest climbs after the initial ascent. I quickly get into my stride and minutes later blow by Luanne Park, last year’s second place female. A few minutes up the trail I run into Mike Mason who’d rocked me during my rough stretch. He’s looking a bit frayed, so I give him a few encouraging words, and move on. (He goes on to recover and run a solid race – 21:50:04, within 5 seconds my time from last year.) Although I work up a sweat in the heat of the day, I enjoy the rest of the climb, peaking the 1600’, 1.4 mile climb in 32 minutes (last year I was told to expect 45 minutes for the climb) while walking the whole way.
Devil’s Thumb – 47.8 – I make quick work of the Devil’s Thumb AS. I grab my drop bag, drink my nasty warm Ensure, put some more ice under my cap, and get my ass out of there. The next 5.5 miles deserve little attention. After a flattish first mile, which I take easy due to the Ensure in my stomach, the trail drops 2500’. As with the preceding descent, I try to keep things fast and loose. It was a relatively lonely descent that seemed liked it would never end. I was not quite as smooth as I would have liked on this one, but when I came to El Dorado Creek at the bottom and took mental note of my legs’ condition; I was happy that they and particularly my quads still felt pretty fresh.
El Dorado Creek – 52.9 – So I cross the bridge, give the aid station workers my empty bottles, head backwards, and scramble down the rocks to the creek. After taking off my shoes and socks, I go in the swiftly flowing, ice cold, waste deep water at the stream’s edge and stand there for two minutes. (How refreshing!) During this time I also scrub my feet a bit to get off the grit. When I get out, I dry my feet, tap the debris out of my shoes, and put them back on with a fresh pair of socks. This would be the only time from start to finish that I would sit down (besides the boat – more on that later) or take off my shoes. I wasted a whole lot less time this year. Although a few runners go by over the bridge during the 10 minutes I’m on the rocks, I have no worries. I am determined to run my race and do what I need to do to keep myself going.
The dip is done, so now it’s time for the longer (1800’), less steep (2.8 miles) climb up Michigan Bluff. Cake. As usual, I pass some more runners on the up, but am shocked to catch Mr. C, who had flown off as I struggled out of Deep Canyon. He’s still moving pretty well and would finish the day with his second fastest time on the course. (Nice work!) I walk most of the first stretch, but later on the incline flattens a bit and I mix in some running. I was moving as I came down a slight pitch into Michigan Bluff. With the large crowd gathered at the right hand turn., I couldn’t resist yelling out “Are we having fun yet?” (It was that or that schpeel about the Valley of the Shadow of Death from Pulp Fiction.) I was having fun and hoped to give the endlessly waiting crews a brief distraction.
Michigan Bluff – 55.7 – After another no problem weigh in, I was off to meet my crew. My shorts had been falling off for hours and I was sick of pulling them back up. During the climb up Michigan Bluff, I’d switched my number from my shorts to my hat, so I was ready to go. Off to the side of the road and I drop trow. This was right next to the timing table and I got a nice chuckle out of the timers. Other than that, it was a switch of bottles, succeed, and gel while downing another bottle of Ensure. As I bolted out of the aid station I was met by one of my ultra heroes, Scotty Mills, who dropped the news on me – I could break 20 hours! I’m not sure if I’d subconsciously thought this earlier in the day, but I sure hadn’t let it come to the surface yet. Coming from anyone else, I still might have been able to shrug the comme
nt off, but Scotty’s run W$ at least a dozen times and despite always running under 24 and almost always under 22, has never broken 20. He’s done the math. He knows what he’s talking about. My legs are already flying, now my mind is too!
The trail to Bath Road has some “rolls” on it. After a brief flat, you get a 300’ climb, an 1100’ descent, and then a 750’ climb into the aid station. I don’t remember much about this section except feeling strong, being excited about my progress and still feeling so well, and passing a few runners while headed up the first climb. I also checked off another one of the big descents without any hints that my quads were failing. From this point, there’d only be three more descents of 800 feet or more, while I’d already bagged five 1100’+ descents (these five biggies had totaled 9200’+ of descent).
Bath Road – 60.6 – I hit the Bath Road AS and don’t stop. Merri, one of my crew, meets me there and will run with me to Foresthill. She gives me a break from the quiet … and from my waist pack. We walk up the hill together and then run it in on the paved road to Forest Hill. I feel a bit tired on the run down the road, but my spirits remain high, and I look forward to the Cal Street just ahead.
Foresthill – 62.0 – I weigh in again with no weight loss… a good sign. I meet my crew for the usual exchanges and bottle of Ensure, but this time I also pick up my pacer, Morgan, a 24 year who recently graduated from CSU-MB. All things being even, I would have preferred to pick up my pacer 16 miles down the road at Rucky Chucky, but the dude had driven 15 hours from Arizona, was chill, was willing to pace me, and this section of course is beautiful in the evening. As we set out, I tell him to hang way back and to just enjoy the scenery. I didn’t want him running right with me yet, as I wanted to set the pace as my energy/legs/mind came and went. I soon abandoned this plan and had him run with me – I just had him back off a couple steps on the descents.
I’ll skip the details of the next few aid stations, as it suffices to say I was rolling. I ran the 16 miles of Cal Street – the stretch from Foresthill (62.0) to Rucky Chucky (78.0) via Dardanelles (65.7), Peachstone (70.7), and Ford’s Bar (73.0) – in 2:43, a bit over 10 minute pace. (Last year, I thought ran Cal St. well in 3:20.) I even managed to averaged 9:24 per mile for the five miles from Ford’s Bar to Rucky Chucky – not bad work after having completed three marathons – give or take a few miles. I got to run some more with James Bonnett and his father after they caught me coming down the hill out of Foresthill, I slowed up for a bit with a bloody nose, then caught up and ran with them for awhile while we chatted. Morgan and I shot ahead in the latter half of Cal Street and passed some more runners in the miles leading to the Rucky Chucky crossing. Despite my apprehension of having my pacer join me so early, it was good having him with me in on Cal St. We had some good lighthearted conversation, occasionally I had him just talk, and, most importantly, he was great to bounce ideas off – like how hard I should push a given section, what should be my nutritional plan for the coming miles, or whether or not I should try to push it hard now so as to get as miles in during day light as possible. He was an excellent friend and counselor.
Rucky Chucky – 78.0 – Another good weigh in and I jump in a boat. This year the river is flowing at 10 times its normal volume, so there’s no chance that we can walk across. The problem with the boat crossing is only four passengers fit in the boat at a time. I’m lucky as an empty boat is waiting on my side when I show up and only my pacer has to wait for a second trip. (Later in the race, people would have to wait up to 30 minutes for a ride.) The oarsman ferries me across the river to the far bank where Merri is again waiting for me. As Morgan won’t catch up for a while, she again provides excellent company (and another break from my by now very annoying waste pack), as we climb up toward Green Gate. I felt like I settled into a reasonable pace going up… one that I thought would be very similar to last year’s. That was not the case. I made it up the 1.8 mile, 750’ climb in 25 minutes where it took 34 minutes last year. I should point out that it was still light as I climbed towards Green Gate; last year, I barely made it across the river during the last of the daylight. Near the end of the climb, I see Scotty again. He gives me more encouragement and informs me that I’m having the race of my life – how right he was.
Green Gate – 79.8 – Another relatively quick aid station with my full entourage (pacer, parents, Merri, and Elizabeth). The normal switch (except now I take on Coke rather than sports drink), some Ensure, a change of shirts, I also pick up my regular glasses and flashlight. I’m still feeling great and know that if I hit 4 miles an hour, which I did from here on in last year, I would break 20 hours. We settle into a decent, but conservative pace knowing that I can break 20 if I go easy… we figured the only real risk would be if I pushed too hard and blew up. I managed to run the first few miles of this stretch without my headlight, but did not let pride get in my way, as I turned it on under some thick canopy. I was pretty psyched that I’d covered 83 miles in daylight! (Just three years earlier I was ecstatic having covered 70 miles in daylight.)
A little over three miles into the climb we started a long gradual incline. After a while I started getting nervous … I hadn’t seen any course markings in a few minutes. It was now the very end of twilight, the trail was mostly dark, but not dark enough that our headlamps really helped. In this light, the white pulp of a broken tree limb could easily be mistaken for a yel
low ribbon that marked the course. I decided to go on for a minute or so, but to turn around if we didn’t see a marker. We didn’t. Instead we came to road. At the road I saw nothing familiar and was sure that a road crossing would be well marked. After a few words under my breathe, I hightail it down the trail. I push the pace and by the time we come across the right-hand turn that we should have taken, we’ve been running downhill hard for 7+ minutes. As I was walking up the entire outward bound off-course stretch, I reasonably estimate that I lost no less than 17 minutes, more likely 20 minutes. Ugh. I’m pissed at myself and frustrated that my pacer didn’t catch the turn (though I was in the front, as I was all day). Regardless, I take that it as water under the bridge. I’ve lost valuable comfort room for the sub-20, but I haven’t put it out of reach – I just can’t screw up any more. Being a bit jacked on adrenaline, I keep up a decent pace for the mile or so into the Auburn Lake Trails AS.
Auburn Lake Trails – 85.2 – Another weigh in, still at 100%. Now that it’s night, weight loss shouldn’t be a problem unless the caffeine turns me into a racehorse. I made quick work of the AS and got the hell out of Dodge. Coming out of the aid station I was really moving. My pacer took a break in the bushes and that would be the last time I’d see him until Placer High. I’d dropped my pacer! I know he followed for a while, but couldn’t catch back up. I pretty quickly realized that I’d be on my own for the rest of the race. Shit!, I think, what about my paranoia? For those who don’t know, I have some general paranoia on tight forest trails and in almost any natural setting at night. Besides this general paranoia, I’m really friggin’ scared of cougars and here I am alone (bad) at night (bad) moving relatively slowly (bad) in the heart of cougar country. Not only would I have to combat my fatigue and doubts for the rest of the race, but also my worst fears. Anyone who’s run 50 plus miles knows that you start hearing and seeing things late in a race, particularly, after night sets in. I wouldn’t call it hallucinating, more of an over active imagination kind of thing. Well, whatever it is, it was in full effect. I watched up the hillsides. I swept my flashlight beam to starboard and port. Of course, I looked behind me. I’ll even admit to throwing a rock out into the bushes at one point (another no-no, bending down to pick something up). Mind you, I’m doing all this while running at night on trails with tired legs… I might as well have been trying to ride a unicycle across a tightrope, but I never went down during this stretch.
Brown’s Bar – 89.9 – While Ford’s Bar didn’t have beer, Brown’s Bar sure as hell did. Despite many a protestation, I did not partake. I believe the only way I made it out without drinking was with the assurance that I had a cold Newcastle waiting for me at the finish. Although physically still on my game, I wasn’t mentally quick enough to take up an attractive woman’s offer to apply Vaseline to my inner thighs… next time (not that I’ll ever run this again – running 100 miles is dumb). Blah, blah, blah. More fatigue. More darkness. More fear. But you’d be amazed what a relatively responsive pair of legs and the thought of an unbelievably fast finish will do, so – also more running. I was still unwilling to drop the hammer; I still didn’t want to risk blowing up, but, hell, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em…
Highway 49 – 93.5 – The last weigh in. The last crew stop. Both go well. I refuse Ensure (it won’t process in time), but take on more Coke and gels. It’s jet fuel time.
It’s also time to come face to face with my only running nightmare – the 1000’ descent to No Hands Bridge. Last year, I came to this stretch with my quads having already been shot for 40+ miles; I was forced to walk down most of the steep, rocky, equestrian rutted descent. This year, come hell or high water, I was out for blood. Vengeance was mine. I can’t say that I flew down like I did on some of the earlier downhills, but the terrain, footing, the darkness, fatigued legs, and the desire to stay on my feet caused me to try and descend in a smooth controlled manner. Halfway down the hill, I caught James Bonnett. He was still moving well and I gave him encouragement, but I knew I had him. In retrospect, I’m surprised that I was so certain that he wouldn’t catch me, but I was still moving so well. My only troubles on the path to No Hands came on the flattish last stretch. I could see the highway, I could hear the cars, and at one point early on I thought I saw the bridge. I continued down the trail, but didn’t see anything else resembling the bridge, nor did I hear music that would surely be playing there. Had I missed it? I noticed I was on a slight upslope. Had I bypassed the bridge and somehow gotten on the trail up Robie Point? I pressed on, but every time I didn’t see a ribbon or glow stick for a stretch, I stopped and wondered. Eventually, I see the xmas lights lining the bridge and know I’m on trail. I dip down a final little trail and am at No Hands.
No Hands Bridge – 96.8 – The volunteers offer me their help – I kindly refuse. I’ve got some Coke left, so there’s no way I’m stopping. I’ve beaten No Hands, my foe of last year; now to return to last year’s friend, the climb up Robie Point. When recounting last year’s race, I’ve always said that I’d run up almost all of Robie Point, but now I know that isn’t true. How do I know? Well, last year I made the 2.1 mile, 500’ climb in 32 minutes, while I took 28 and a half this year… and I walked some this year. I did run all of the shallow inclines, but late in the section there are steeper portions that tend to be rockier that just weren’t meant for running 98 miles into a run unless you’ve got a really good reason to run. I didn’t. I admit to looking back on occasion, but saw no lights trailing me in the darkness.
Robie Point – 98.9 – Ahhhh… a relieved sigh. That’s what the Robie Point aid station sounds like to me. For the second year in a row, I never had a thought during W$ that I wouldn’t finish, but it sure is nice to hit that last stretch of paved road. When I got the aid station I threw off my pack and handheld bottle. Merri, who came down to run in with me, gave me my club shirt to put on for the run to the track and then stowed the rest of my gear in her backpack. We walked most of the steep uphill, but I definitely started running earlier than last year – my legs still felt good. Once we got to the flat, I was off. Although, I couldn’t drop a sub-7 minute mile, I got into a decent pace. Of course the track seemed further off than it should, but I had no desire to walk a step once we got up on top. Soon enough I saw the fabled white bridge – nearly there – and sure enough, the track was just up the road. I entered the track and Merri peeled off. They announced my name. I dropped into a sprint. By the final straight away, I had my fist pumping in the air. I saw 19:29 high on the finish clock. I savored the moment. I had broken 20 hours. I had covered nearly 102 miles (including detours) of “rough” terrain in 19 and a half hours.
(photo by race photographers)
I enjoyed the rest of the evening. I joked around with the medical crew. I gave hugs to my crew. I was on cloud nine. After getting myself to the shower (something I couldn’t do last year), I went back to the track and watched the rest of the field finish. One by one my friends (new and old) came in. I was excited for people I’d never met before. For all the criticism that Western $tates gets (some of it deserved), the energy at the start and finish is not to be missed; I’m pretty sure that non-competitors, even non-runners can feel it.
My body survived the day. I was a bit nauseous at the finish and didn’t eat or drink much at all until daylight. My feet made me noticeably gimp around the finish area, but it was nothing worse than blisters, some swelling, and bruises on the tops. My legs – I thank you. I could have kept running past the finish. I could have run around the rest of the day. By Tuesday I wanted to run and did on Wednesday with no after effects aside from my sore feet. Sometime shortly after Foresthill, I became amazed with the human body, at my body. How could I run comfortably (and relatively quickly) after 60, 70, 80, 90, 100 miles? I don’t know, but I’m thankful and still awestruck – not a bad thing.
I carried less liquid than last year. I don’t need to carry two or three 26 oz bottles the whole way. During the race, if I had two bottles and knew that I’d only get through one before the next AS, I’d keep the other filled, but if I knew I’d get part way, but not all the way into the second bottle, I would start dropping some of the excess. This gamble only failed on one of the climbs (Devil’s Thumb, I think), but not by much.
No solid food (unless you count a slice or two of watermelon) after mile 30, if not earlier. I don’t mind the taste of Clif Bars, ProBars, or Larabars, but man I hate to chew during a race. I try and eat while hiking the climbs, but after taking even a small bite I have to chew it a few times and each attempt leaves me breathless. After I stopped the solid food, it was only gels on the course and Ensure Plus at all crew AS except Robinson Flat (had it at LBM), Dusty Corners, and Highway 49. I also had an Ensure from my drop bag at Devil’s Thumb. I exclusively drank Conquest and GU2O through the river crossing, except that I mixed in some cups of water at aid stations from 30 to 40 and on occasion after that. Half water/half GU2O or 1/3:2/3 during the rough spot. Mostly Coke from the river on with some GU2O, as well.
First night run with the Gerber LX 3.0 flashlight – Awesome! Highly recommended.
I didn’t sit in a chair the entire race. The only times I sat were on the rocks at El Dorado Creek while soaking and changing socks and then again at the river crossing.
New thin Smartwool socks were better then the old thick Smartwool socks.
The Masai worked great all day. Need to watch out for tying the laces too tight, as that led to bruising of the top part of my feet. I should also try and use fresh pairs at big races as I blow out the uppers and that leads to more grit in the shoes than necessary.
Make sure all clothing fits well… before race day.
[Unless otherwise noted all the photos were taken either by my parents, Barb and George Powell or Elizabeth and Meredith Barrows.]