2012 Western States 100 Training Camp Veterans Panel’s Advice

A group of Western States 100 veterans share their knowledge of the race.

By on May 30, 2012 | Comments

This past Memorial Day weekend, a handful of Western States 100 veterans, many with multiple top-10 finishes convened in Auburn, California to dispense advice. In the following hour-long video, learn from those that know this race better than nearly anyone else. Surely, their advice is applicable to many ultramarathons, especially 100 mile races.

(Click here if you can’t see or otherwise watch the above video.)

2012 Western States 100 Training Camp Veterans Panel Transcript

Andy Jones-Wilkins: With the panelists combined with Craig [Thornley] and I, we have 59 Western States finishes – the four people up here and Craig and I. That’s a lot of experience. Hopefully, you’re coming here to hear from experienced Western States runners. So what I’d like to start with is to have each panelist introduce themselves, where they’re from, how many Western States they’ve finished, and the one thing you wish somebody had told you about Western States before you ran it the first time.

Dan Williams: I’m Dan Williams and I’ve finished 21 times. My first one was in 1984. I live in the East Bay, Lafayette, CA, near Mt. Diablo, good training grounds. The one thing, even though it was a long time ago, 1984, I wished my quads were in better shape. No surprise, right, it’s the real deal. And to get them in shape, that’s from running down hills. If you can find some long sustained downhills, 4, 5, 6, 7 miles and run downhill… I know it’s kind of hard to do, but that will get your quads in shape. Uphills –meh – it’s too much fun.

Kevin Sawchuck: I’m Kevin Sawchuck, also from the East Bay and a teammate of Dan’s on Team Diablo. I have 10 finishes and I had really good personal training from Scott Mills. When I went into my first 100 miler living back on the East Coast in Virginia, I definitely should have done more downhill training to get my quads seasoned and ready. Probably the one thing I really would have liked to have known about before my first race was anything about the course, because I had never set foot on the course before I toed the starting line back in 1996. But Scott really showed me all the ropes, told me all the stories, told me about coming back from the dead – he’d laid on the trail and gotten up and been able to run later. So I really had very good mentoring before I ran my first Western States, but all of the training you’ve done this weekend, seeing the course, it will make a huge difference on race day.

Eric Skaden: Hello, I’m Eric Skaden and I’m local to the area, from Folsom, which is down the street. This June 23rd will be my eighth. As far as what I wish somebody would have told me from day one, I guess it would be that it’s not brute force, only, that is necessary for a 100 miler, but that there is some finesse involved with getting through the distance. You have to appreciate, if you watch tennis, the differences between a power player versus a finesse player, but it’s very similar with respect to ultrarunning.

Meghan Arbogast: I’m Meghan Arbogast and I’m from Oregon. I’ve had five finishes. Like Kevin, I had awesome mentoring from Craig Thornley getting me to my first Western States, so I don’t feel like I missed out on a ton of information like seasoning my quads or metering out the effort, or “Don’t worry about what your place is until you get to Michigan Bluff.” But at the time I did not, and still really don’t have a great grasp on sodium and water; I think I overlooked it. So I guess I wish someone would have been able to tell me to pay attention and to talk myself into listening better to advice about salt and water. I’ve gotten closer, but that’s a big one.

Jones-Wilkins: There’s our experienced panel. Oh, and by the way, Rory Bosio sends her regrets. She was scheduled to be our fifth panelist, but she has an unpredictable work schedule and she was unable to work it out for this evening, but she’s going to participate in our veterans panel that will take place on the Thursday evening before Western States in Squaw Valley Lodge. You’ll have a chance to hear from Rory who’s been top 10 for the last couple of years and is a local runner.

So the themes that we’d like to hit on, and then we’ll certainly open it up to questions, we want to start with the course. We know you’ve spent some time on the course, but we want to start with a break down from each of the four panelists on the course. Each of us will spend some time on things that might be on your mind on nutrition, you’ve already heard some of that. So after the course will be some things about nutrition, some things about gear, some things about the weather conditions. Then there will be a general open discussion about some of the various issues about some of the things you’re likely to face, particularly stomach, quads, and feet. Then we’ll have maybe a little bit of advice or stories on how to best spend these next four weeks and how to perhaps design a taper and the last long run and so on.

The Western States 100 Course

For me, and everybody’s a little bit different on how they break down the course, but since I’m moderating the panel we get to do it my way. I want to do it in four sections: the high country, the canyons, Cal Street, and the last 20. I’ve asked each of the panelists to spend a little time talking about each section.

Williams: So Squaw to Robinson, the first 30 miles, what I want to say is take it easy. Well, you’ve been waiting for this day for seven months, since the lottery last December. You’re excited and maybe you’ve had some coffee. The gun goes off and it’s, “Wow, now we get to run to Auburn!” Take it easy up there.

There’s a couple things. Truly, and everyone is different with their reaction to the altitude – some may not feel it at all and others will – but truly, your heart is working harder at 8,000’ than it is at sea level. So you’re probably working harder than you realize. So what I’ve always told myself is to find a pace that is kind of comfortable and back off of that.

The other thing is there’s low humidity up there generally. The years vary, but generally, there’s really low humidity. So you’re going to be sweating and maybe not realizing it. It’s almost like your sweat sublimates: it just goes into the air and you won’t even see it on your skin much. So the point is, drink more up there than you think you need to. You can pee as much as you need to, just drink early on. You don’t want to get into a deficit hydration-wise. Again, you’re not going to know you’re sweating on a normal low humidity day up there and your heart is working harder. Oh, it’s probably the only part of the course you’re not going to see this weekend. I always liked to run from Squaw to Robinson a week or two or three before the race just as a sight-seeing tour to look around because it is beautiful up there. I don’t know if you’ll get a chance to do that, but I know Jack’s going out in the next couple of weeks. You look at the scenery on your training run, and then on race day, focus on the trail. You don’t want to stumble or trip that early on and bang up your knee or whatever. It’s nice up there, but you’ve got to focus on the trail. There are a lot of rocks… understatement.

Sawchuck. And wet, sticky brush.

Williams: No snow this year. Some years, it can actually be really dusty. Dust can linger in the air. Keep drinking. Keep everything clear.

Sawchuck: Thanks, Dan. So onto the next section of the course. Once you get to Robinson Flat, and that’s a huge milestone, and it’s the first place you’re going to see your crew, it’s important to take really good care of yourself and get all the special things that you like. From there, you have a little bit of an uphill, and then you’re in a big, exposed, dry, really dusty section. The Star Fire went through there less than seven or eight years ago, so there is no coverage there anymore, unfortunately. It gets hot. And for me, whether it was on Cavanaugh Ridge (the old course) or whether it’s going over Little Bald Mountain on the new course, that’s always been a rough section for me. It’s easy to start thinking, “Wait a minute, I’ve gone 30 miles and I have to do that again, and again, and then I still have 10 miles left?” You just don’t want to even go there. You just want to think, “Next aid station – how do I take good care of myself?”

In the first 30 miles, it’s important from the first few miles, that you’re eating and drinking right from the beginning – 200-300 calories of something per hour, plenty of fluids so that you’re peeing, salt regularly. In this section, it’s even more important. It gets hot. This is not necessarily the time to be pushing yourself hard, because you’re going to get depleted, start cramping. It’s hard to run hard and get all the replenishment that you need. The easy part of the course is further down the road. You want to be in good shape then because you can make a difference of one to three hours (finish time) in how you run yourself in the first and middle section of the course for what you do in the last 35-40 miles. So it’s really important to take good care of yourself.

I hit Last Chance, somehow that little … (Jones-Wilkins: Pucker Point)… Pucker Point, yeah, that’s never been a favorite of mine. You’ve gotten there with me a couple times, I hate that section (Jones-Wilkins: I love that section!). But once you get to the canyons, I love the break because a lot of that (previous section) is kind of rolling and generally downhill and it’s not very steep. Once you get to the real canyons, you’re dropping down to swinging bridge and climbing back up, I love that. I love hills and I love really climbing, so to me that’s when things start to feel like they’re really turning. You have more shade in that area. It’s just different.

And I think the most important thing I can say is no matter how bad you feel, it can turn around. It’s so easy to think, “Oh, I’m at 40 miles, I have 60 left, there’s no way this is going to happen.” Your quads are already starting to get sore. My quads started getting sore probably at 20-25 miles. But you can just keep taking care of yourself. Unlike the marathon, where you get one chance at hitting the wall, you’re going to hit a lot of walls on June 23. You’re going to realize that you’ll find doors in those walls and you’ll be able to recover. “Wow, I can’t believe how good I feel because an hour ago I was feeling horrible.” When you start feeling that, slow down, eat, drink, have faith that you can turn it around. Take really good care of yourself through those canyons because those canyons will be really hot and you just have to back off. Again, go kind of easy through that section so you can absorb all the food and fluid that you need.

Arbogast: Probably everyone did Cal Street today after running 30 miles yesterday. You were probably feeling a little tired today. You’re going to feel a lot worse on race day. So don’t despair, it’s to be expected. There are some great running sections. Today, we went in the morning and it was cool, and there’s the river… On race day, it’s going to be hot and bakey, so just don’t lose heart. Take it easy in the open spots, cruise the downhills, and when you see a little uphill in front of you, be thankful you get to walk for a minute. When you get to Cal 2/Peachstone, it’s a pretty shaded area you went through today, pretty fast, lots of switchbacks, you’re down to the river. Well, you’re down to the river, but remember you have to go right back up and you have to do that a few times. So keep that in mind. You’ve got the six-to-seven-minute hill, walk that; it will probably be hot. Then, you’ll come back down into the sandy bottom and it will be a little treacherous, but when you pop back out of that and you’re on the road again, you’ll realize you’re only maybe 20 minutes from the river and that should be enough to get you up that last climb. It’s going to take you a little longer, but you’ll get there.

Skaden: So Dan started with the high country, which is through mile 27-28ish. Kevin described everything beyond that to Foresthill, which is 62 miles. Meghan just described everything from the 62 mile mark to the 78 mile mark. I’m going to describe the balance of the race, which is the last 22 miles. That’s what I did yesterday and it’s what you will be doing tomorrow if you signed up for the whole package weekend. Tomorrow, you’ll be dropped off at approximately 9 am and you’ll have mild temperatures. About the only thing you’re going to find that’s relevant tomorrow with your training run with respect to race day is the dust. Otherwise, the temperatures are night and day different. You’re going to have nothing to worry about tomorrow with hydration relative to race day.

Getting back to what Dan said with regards to perspiration, getting into a deficit hydration-wise, if that occurs between the start and Robinson Flat, it may take until you’re all the way back down to the river before you’re again at an equilibrium. That’s 40+ miles, we’re talking HOURS. So if you make mistakes, you’re going to be suffering severely. But the good news is, if you can get to the river, you cross the river, your core temperature drops, you have, depending on where you’re at with your goal time, you still might have some heat to deal with your climb to Green Gate (1.8 mile climb from river). But low and behold you get there and you notice immediately that you’re going from a deficit to an equilibrium back to normal bodily functions we’ll say (intestinal track, hydration, perspiration) and you start feeling good. You just enjoy that easy last 20 miles. It’s a good opportunity to bond with your pacer if you have one. Enjoy the opportunities; get to the aid stations.

ALT: There’s lights, they have soothing and comforting voices, and then you leave and you’re afraid and you’re back in the dark. Then you get to Brown’s Bar. I don’t know if this tradition is going to continue, but you approach Brown’s Bar and there’s rock music. It used to be the case that you heard it a mile prior and that was uplifting to hear Rolling Stones or something like that. You were anticipating it and that helped the last 10-15 minutes necessary to get there. Then you have a precipitous 0.8 mile downhill which is dark and even with flashlights from your pacer and yourself it’s brutal, chewed up, couple of creek crossings, rocks everywhere. But once you get down there, there’s the Quarry Road and it’s open, it’s rolling, it meanders, and at this point, you’re wondering if you’re going to finish. At this point, there’s so much self doubt. You’re going back and forth. But you get to the Quarry Road and you start doing the math and realize that if you get to Highway 49, that’s seven miles left and you’re two-to-three miles from Highway 49 and you start doing the math. You break it down and your dream starts becoming more of a reality. You get to this left turn up from Quarry road and you go up to Highway 49. It’s a power walk, you’re power walking. Running has ceased to exist. You’re moving forward. It’s gut wrenching, but you’re getting up there anyway you can.

At Highway 49, again, you have wonderful aid station volunteers there: broth, my favorite, I can’t wait to have my favorite broth there at 49. This is the first instance of hearing vehicle traffic. You’d be surprised after 93 miles how much you enjoy hearing vehicle traffic, really. You leave Highway 49 and you exit through this beautiful meadow and you’re in the final stretches with No Hands Bridge and the final climb to Robie Point and you hit pavement again. The last mile is there and you have the neighborhood crowd cheering you on. It’s beautiful. You make the corner and you see the lights of Placer High and you know it’s there. You jump onto the track and you enjoy the last 300 meters with friends and family and whoever happens to come and you embrace with happiness, joy, and love.

Sawchuck: A couple thoughts occurred to me just listening. One is that there are a couple of promises or things that you can hold out for that can improve your mental attitude. One is the pacer. You can always say, “Gosh, when I get my pacer at mile 62 or for some mile 55, it’s going to get better; and it does. Having that company, having someone to share that with, having someone that cares about you, it makes a difference. Number two is the night. If you’re having a bad patch, think of those two things. The night: all the sudden the blood comes back in from your skin, because you’re not needing to sweat as much and cool down as much and often times, things often… my favorite time on the course is in the evening through dark, from about 7 to 8:30 pm or 6 to 8:30 pm. You can get a huge burst. So if you’re looking for something to keep yourself going, and you’re running short: pacer and nighttime.

Another thing is, there are a lot of little side streams. You go through rivers. You [Skaden] talked about crossing the river that we have to wade, there are also other side streams and rivers that you can at minimum wipe yourself off (artificial sweat) or that you can soak your legs in for a little while to cool yourself down, get the grunge out of your crotch, just to… artificial sweat, to make you feel better.

Jones-Wilkins: One of the goals, as I was talking to Craig about having this event, and talking to a lot of folks who might be on the Western States trail for the first time, is to give you all more tools so you can finish this thing. One thing that’s become clear over the last decade or so, is that Western States is more and more difficult to get into; your one shot at running it is narrowing. So I know and we know that many of you who are here this weekend and are coming here again in a month, you’re putting a lot into this, a lot – financially, personally, emotionally, psychologically. So I hope as we roll out of this course description, you are starting to take away that sense that we really want everyone in this room to leave this thinking, “Alright, I’m going to finish this thing.”

Nutrition for the Western States 100

Jones-Wilkins: Probably the number one reason for drops, and I don’t know if there are statistics on this, but probably the number one reason for drops are nutritional issues – some form of stomach going south, some form of insufficient nutrition, some form of just running out of gas. The old saying, “If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, walk anyway,” is much more difficult when you have nothing left in your system. Who’s got, from the panel, let’s hear two golden rules for nutrition.

Skaden: Drink before you’re thirsty. (This is in the program, by the way.) Eat before you’re hungry.

Williams: My career’s so long, I used to be able to eat clear through Foresthill and beyond. Now, I can’t eat (I’m talking about solid food) after about Last Chance (43 mile) The point is, I’ve got to drink my calories. So if your stomach starts having problems on your training runs, figure out what works best for you where you can drink your calories. It can be Ensure or all these commercial drinks. I, literally, have to drink my calories for the last 60 miles now. That’s hard, because you have to keep the right concentration so you don’t … so it’s not too concentrated or too thin.

Arbogast: I think recognizing what you can eat in a race situation versus what you can eat in training is key. In training we tend to be a lot more leisurely about coming to the car and eating a whole sandwich and BSing with our friends and then running for another two hours. “Yeah, I can eat a ham and cheese sandwich, no problem. I’m going to have three of them at all my crew bags.” Then you get to the first one and you’re like, “I can’t eat that.” “Whoa, there goes my whole plan.” So practice eating when you’re running with intensity and what can you swallow and what are you not going to barf up or shoot out the other end? Figure it out. You really don’t want to ruin your race just because you couldn’t find something to sit in your stomach. It’s more than heart and legs. So I’ve gone from, my first race, well, I kind of overthought it, but I had avocado and cheese sandwiches given to me by my crew and I’d take one bite and quietly put it in my fanny-pack and run away. I felt guilty for having it brought to me. Then I’d just eat Gu. That’s pretty much what I do, I eat Gu. I know I’m getting the calories and I know I can do it. I try solid food early, but then I’m running too hard it’s just hard to make a wad of spit in my mouth and I can’t swallow anything else. Those are good things to practice ahead of time, because you don’t want to blow your race because you couldn’t swallow anything.

Sawchuck: Whatever you do, it’s important to start doing it early and have an eating and drinking plan. For me, when it’s cooler, I’ll have a mouthful from a bottle every five minutes. A little bit is easier to absorb than a lot. I’ve done anything from taking two Gu in the entire Western States and subsisting on soup and sandwiches to basically having Clifshots or Gu through the whole race. It depends on what appeals to you. If you have a crew, it’s really helpful to have a lot of options to choose from, because something may or may not agree with you on that day. The early and often rule is … once you start that death spiral – dehydration, and you’re still trying to move and you’re still trying to sweat, and your body diverts blood flow away from your stomach – your body does that so well that your stomach can almost start to get a little ischemic and edematous (I’m a doctor so I use all these big words), you start to get a little swelling. Once you get to that point, it’s really, really hard to come back. So when you start feeling that, it’s like, “Ok, time to back it off. I don’t care what my time goal is.” Finishing should be the goal. Time goals and whatever else are secondary. You back off, you eat, you drink, you go until it starts to turn around, and then pick it up

One of my years, I walked, well my quads were so bad the very first year, I walked from Foresthill to just past Green Gate, and then it turned around and I ran the rest of the way in. That was quad problems, but realize that things can turn around. Just because you’re walking for 3 to 4 hours that you’re necessarily not going to finish.

Jones-Wilkins: My piece on this, I would agree absolutely with having a plan. The single most reason I’ve had success at Western States is because of my crew. It’s my wife and kids and they’re an outstanding crew. I pledge that they will force me to do whatever I said I was going to do a week before, not what I feel like doing in the moment on that day. So I don’t get to say, “I don’t want that sandwich so instead I’ll have water.”

The other thing is, when – and I have a great deal of experience with what I’m about to talk about and that’s throwing up – when … everyone deals with throwing up differently. Some of us have childhood issues of that time we barfed in class … and when we throw up there’s just something that gets in our head. Here’s what you’ve got to do, “Look, Andy Jones-Wilkins has seven consecutive top 10 finishes and he throws up almost every time he runs a 100 mile race and he always finishes.” If you use that in your mind, here’s what you have to do. Here’s what you have to do. It’s going to happen. I guarantee you that 30% of the people in this room are going to have some sort of a throw up event. Don’t let it force you out of the race. If it’s happening and you’re with a pacer and there are other people around, talk to them, say “Oh, that was interesting.”

My good friend, Craig Thornley, pacing me at AC100, we left Idyllwild Aid Station where I’d had a Gatorade, Ginger Ale, M&M’s, and potatoes, and I made it about 500 meters and it was like “patooooo” and he said, “Well, that was a rejection.” Then, here’s what you do, honestly, remember this, think at that point you’re starting over.

First, it’s going to feel really good. Once you’re through with all that it’s going to feel really good. Then, you have to start over. You have to get in a little bit of salt, a little bit of water, chew on a little bit of crackers. Like Kevin said, slow down, get your heart rate down, and just START to put stuff back in. DON’T think that that felt so good and I feel so much better and I’m not going to eat another thing and I’ll be good. It will last about 10 to 15 minutes and then you’ll just crash into this death spiral of absolute self-hatred.

So that’s what you do, and you absolutely need to do it. Then, you slowly start to come back. You get into the next aid station and you say, “I just had a massive vomiting event back there. Please, someone help me and put a sponge on my head.” But please don’t let that drive you out of the race. It’s miserable in the moment, but it definitely gets better once you clear that stuff out and then you’re done. Then you just figure out those things whether it’s crackers… I mean, there’s all kinds of stories, “Oh, you wouldn’t believe it, after I puked I only needed peanut butter filled pretzels the rest of the day and it was perfect.” So please, please, please think about that.

Quads and the Western States 100

So we’ve got nutrition. We’ve talked already in here about quads. The relentless downhills, starting where Kevin talked about just above Robinson Flat on top of Little Bald Mountain. Ok, you’re talking mile 31.5 all the way to mile 45, which is the Swinging Bridge, you’re going downhill. That’s 14 miles of downhill. Yes, a lot of it’s gradual, but some of it’s more steep, and that’s going to work your quads. I know all of these runners have figured out the quad thing. What’s the secret?

Meghan: Run downhill a lot.

Skaden: Repetition.

Jones-Wilkins: How much repetition, Erik? These folks have seen part of the course now these last couple of days. They have 1 to 2 weeks of training still to go. What would you recommend?

Skaden: By now, presumably, with 3 months behind you, you had significant downhill yesterday, significant downhill today, your quads are resilient. That’s a good sign. You did the repetition as a build-up, a weekly, daily build-up. You’re not feeling deep muscle damage.

Williams: The next couple weekends, go find some long hills and run down them. Another thing, we haven’t even mentioned massage. I’m a big proponent of massage. Beat up your quads and have a masseuse work it out. You can do it yourself with bars and etc., but get someone to work on your quads and get that lactic acid out of there and whatever. Get loosened up after these hard workouts and that’s a huge benefit. It’s far more benefit than dropping Advil because your quads hurt.

Sawchuck: You don’t want to actually train too often on the downhill. I think you need some more downhill work between now and the race. But what actually causes the soreness in the muscle is that you’re contracting the muscle at the same time it’s lengthening. It tears the muscle apart. It tends to peak about 48 hours after the onset of the race/workout and it’s another 72 hours or sometimes longer to recover from it. So think about getting maybe two hill workouts in during the week – a long one on the weekend and something midweek – so that you can actually recover and build the resilience instead of saying, “Let’s go hammer those downhills.” You may not recover and you may have sore quads or go into the race not completely recovered.

Jones-Wilkins: If there are any pacers in the room, when you’re pacing your runner, this is the way it’s going to go. The pacer is going to say, “How are you doing?” “Oh, my quads are shot.” Pacer then says, “Everybody’s quads are shot, shut up.” Remember that because it’s absolutely true. Everybody’s quads are shot as they’re rolling out of Green Gate.

Feet, Blisters, and the Western States 100

So nutrition, quads… the third part of the holy trinity are feet – blister issues, those spikes that seem to emerge and jam into the bottom of your shoes. You’ve probably done some work with your feet. You’ve maybe even developed some blisters just this weekend or some hot spots – all of the sudden you’re on these dry dusty trails and you come from a more humid environment or something. Blister tips and foot issues... Meghan?

Arbogast: The first year when I had the salt issues, I was hyponatremic and I was really puffed up and had a lot of fluid in my feet. I got pretty horrible blisters and I didn’t … I live in denial so often and I was like, “I think I might be getting blisters,” at mile 20. By the time I got to Foresthill, that was the time I finally decided to do something about them. The first thing is if you start to feel a blister and you’ve not done any taping is to address it as soon as possible, because it’s not going to go away. I did get through the next two years without much blistering, but there was still some because I was still getting the salt issue taken care of. A couple years ago I felt like I was getting deep blisters under my calluses, so I adopted the kinesiotape job, I think it’s in the Fixing Your Feet book.

Sawchuck: Leukotape, because kinesiotape doesn’t stick.

Arbogast: What did you use, Andy?

Jones-Wilkins: Kinesiotape.

Sawchuck: Did you use benzoin first? [Jones-Wilkins: Yes] That’s the only way that will stick.

Arbogast: Right. So it worked beautifully. Then last year, I (you know there’s still a little rookie in me, which I like because I’m always able to learn something new) did a lot of training in shoes that got a lot of crap in them all the time. I went in hot areas and I did a lot of downhill and I really worked my feet and I thought, “Yay, I don’t need to tape my feet again.” I was wrong. So if taping works, do it, because once they start coming, it’s really not something you’re going to get rid of during the race. It kind of made the last 20 miles of the race stink last year.

Williams: I wear double-layer Wright running socks, and no I don’t work for them, and gaiters. I don’t have problems. I just don’t have blister problems. It really works.

Sawchuck: I have never had blisters except in 100 milers where I’ve always had blisters. The best I’ve found is pre-taping. All the spots I usually get blisters I use Leukotape because it sticks really well. You put it on and you can go through water and it will last several days. I also use the very thin Dirty Girl gaiters on top of that because they breathe pretty well and they keep some of the little junk out. I’ve tried creams and potions, but pre-taping really seemed to work.

Skaden: I just want to categorize… there is some brute force to this event. There’s finesse and there’s brute force. We talked about hydration and nutrition, that’s finesse. That’s the trial and error, you get to know your body on hot days well in advance of the race – what works for you and what doesn’t. But there’s the brute force component. It’s race day and you’re at mile 60, you’ve got blisters… just keep going, man.

Jones-Wilkins: I do recommend John Vonhof’s book if you’re at all prone to foot issues: Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof. I strongly suggest you use that.

Sawchuck: At mile 55, that’s a great place to get your blisters taken care of. I’m the medical captain there and John Vonhof is my blister guy.

Jones-Wilkins: Yes, you can get your feet worked on at Michigan Bluff and it makes a huge difference sometimes after having that treatment. Related to feet, just a quick show of hands, those of you running the race, do you know right now the shoes you plan to run in during the race? Ok, so some are still on the fence. Without getting into promoting any brands here (we’re not here to do this), I know this group has a wide variety of different shoes they’ve used over the years. Do you have a general rule on shoes on what works at Western States and what doesn’t?

Arbogast: You need to have a lot of room at the end for all the downhill running.

Jones-Wilkins: Yeah, Meghan was telling me yesterday, she’s normally a size 9 in men’s and you were wearing a 10 in men’s this whole weekend and it made a huge difference.

Arbogast: Yes.

Skaden: I was going to say, this relates to what Meghan just said, if you plan on changing your shoes, anticipate your feet swelling. That shoe size you started with may not be the shoe size you want at the far side of the river. When you cross the river you may want a fresh, dry pair of shoes and that size may not work. You’re going to have two stumps at the bottom of your legs, right?

Jones-Wilkins: Kevin, do you have any ideas on shoes?

Sawchuck: You know, I’d say two things. One, get the shoes that you can tighten around your midfoot so that your foot doesn’t slide forward and you don’t bang your toenails up. You can do some weird lacing in the middle of the shoe, kind of a hitch knot. I don’t know, minimalist is kind of in right now and I think there’s something to the lack of canting or heel elevation that gets you on your forefoot that disperses forces. I’m not sure I would want to take a really thin shoes on the Western States course because of the rocks. Your feet are going to be really, really sore. So I would get something that’s relatively cushioned and maybe something that’s somewhat flat.

Jones-Wilkins: Dan, 21 years worth of shoes. How many different types of shoes have you worn at Western States?

Williams: Just two: road shoes and trail shoes. In the old days and the fast days, I wore road shoes no big deal. My feet weren’t on the ground that long. Now, I wear trail shoes. I’d just assume that everyone in here has tried and tried and tried several different types of shoes and you’re going to pick the best one for race day and maybe have a spare in your crew bag down the road somewhere.

Jones-Wilkins: I’m going to give you one piece of foot training advice that I’ve done every year sometime in these next two weeks. It’s a really good idea, but it sounds somewhat unorthodox. Get your race day shoes and socks on and get ready to go out on a trail. Soak your feet completely in water. Run through a bunch of dust and kick the dust all around. Then go for a 25 miler. Honestly, you need to practice running with wet feet. Depending on the year, your feet will get wet as early as mile 6-7-8. Up in the high country in the Granite Chief Wilderness you run up some basically creek beds. Now the snow is melting quickly, but even in no snow years there’s still a lot of water up there and it tends to just… you run in wet feet most of the day. So if you haven’t practiced running in wet feet, you definitely need to do that. My technique is one, but you could figure out many other ways. But get that feeling of running, your feet get all pruned up, it gets kind of nasty in there, you get dust and stuff, but it’s a good technique.

Western States 100 Pearls of Wisdom

We’ll go to questions in about 5 minutes. Are there any pearls of wisdom … we’ve kind of hit on some things: working the quads these next two weeks, thinking about your nutrition plan and sticking to it, some of the foot issues. We’re at 27 days, today’s over, 26 days until race day. Are there some key things these people in here should do in these next 4 weeks? And more to the point, are there some things they shouldn’t do?

Skaden: Dr. Lynn, Emeritus, from way back until about 2007, of everything that I’ve learned, the most common wisdom was what Dr. Lynn shared with me at the finish line one year, he said you need 90 minutes per day at 90 degrees for 3 weeks. That was Dr. Lynn’s advice and guess what, I started to apply it after he had told me (one year I melted down) and low and behold it does work. It definitely does work. There was some resilience that I wasn’t aware of.

Jones-Wilkins: Heat training.

Skaden: Yeah, heat training. So that’s with 3 weeks prior to the event.

Williams: And if you can’t, you do what we do in the East Bay and it’s foggy, you put on a wool hat, long pants, and three layers and you go out and run in 75 or 80 degree heat to try to simulate that 90 degree heat. What else can you do?

Sawchuck: Find sunny spots and saunas.

Williams: Well, that’s the other thing: maybe train in a sauna if you can. Do step-ups on a bench that’s in there. It’s good to work up a sweat in there. It can’t hurt. If it turns out to be like [today’s] weather on race day, and you’re heat trained, great! What harm can that do? Get heat trained anyway.

Jones-Wilkins: Assume the worst with heat. Assume it’s going to be 2006 and 115 (degrees F) in Eldorado. Assume that, plan for that, then it just feels great when it’s only 100 (degrees F). I really can’t stress that enough. It’s going to sneak up on us. We really haven’t had a hot day since 2006 and I think we’re due, I really do. We’re back on the high country and back to walking across the river. It should be fun in that way.

Western States 100 Veteran’s Panel Q and A

I’d like to open it up for questions before some final remarks. We could take any topic and perhaps something we haven’t hit on yet.

Participant: What are your favorite sections on the trail, each of you, on race day? And number two, looking at expectations on race day, how do you readjust when things do go south besides the brute force method that Erik always describes?

Williams: My favorite section is from the cemetery down to the Eldorado bridge – downhill in the shade, it’s just great.

Second thing, unfortunately, I adjust every year. I start off with wanting to run sub-something down to the river crossing and then, “well, you know, an hour or two slower wouldn’t be so bad.” And then you get further along and, “Well actually just finishing wouldn’t be so bad.” So anyway, you just do it, basically because you have to.

Sawchuck: I have two favorite sections and one is the canyons. Those are definitely my favorite sections, just the breaking up of the pace, the steep hills, which I absolutely love. The other is wherever I happen to be around evening time, which usually it’s starting to get about dusk as I’m coming into the river. Then up around ALT, between there and Browns Bar is usually where it starts getting dark. I love that time of evening, so those are my two favorite sections.

Expectations: I think you need to go into this and say, “I accept whatever happens. You have to have a lot of goals. First one is, “Hey, I got in and I got to the starting line.” Not everyone will get there. We’ll lose 5-10% of the runners who won’t be able to start because of injury or whatever. So that’s the first goal: get there. Number two: let’s finish – 30 hours, 29:59, great you finished. It’s a buckle. Then it’s sub-24 or a time goal. You have all of those goals because you don’t want, especially in this day when it’s so hard to get in, the pain during race day (and I’ve heard this a dozen times from many people who have dropped out), the pain that you have during the race is going to be over by 11:00 am on Sunday morning one way or another. The pain of not finishing is going to last another 364 days.

Skaden: My favorite section is from the start up to the Escarpment. I get to run with the likes of Andy…

Jones-Wilkins: You’re always so grumpy! I’m always trying to cheer everybody up and you’re like “rahr rahr rahr rahr rahr,” with a garbage bag on or something.

Skaden: By the way, the only time I ever run that section is on race day and I always make sure several times that I look over my shoulder. I want to look at Lake Tahoe. I want to look at the Nevada side. I want to get to the top and then it’s game on, basically, from that point forward.

Second, expectations are important. There are two responses. Adjustment of expectations as you lead up to race day – everybody goes through their own little reality check. Either you were pessimistic and you become more optimistic or the other direction and likewise on race day. But what Kevin said as far as race day is concerned, yes, at some point, the last deep down effort is to finish… hopefully under 24 hours, 23:59:59, right? Ultimately (to finish) that is your failsafe. Maybe not Plan B or Plan C but Plan D.

Arbogast: My favorite section is definitely is the bottom of Bath Road to the river because you finally get to be with your pacer. I just feel like I’ve made it to my pacer! Now, I have this wonderful person trotting after me or in front of me telling me stories. It just really helps pass the time and I’m sort of in my own little head of misery and they’re just chatting away. I really, really appreciate a good pacer. And there’s just something really awesome about getting to the river; the other side is generally the easiest part and it does get cooler and it’s runnable and it’s nice. There’s something sort of “finishy” about the river, too, and getting cooled off in the river.

As far as expectations go, I always aim high, but I don’t take myself that seriously, so, it’s like, “Maybe I’ll be top 5. Oh, I’m in eighth, maybe I can hang on for top 10.” But the ultimate goal is to finish and to enjoy the experience and the course. It’s just awesome and like the best thing in the world.

Jones-Wilkins: Thanks, that was a great question. Not to sound flip, but my favorite part, honestly, my favorite part is the track. Again, I say this not to sound flip, but for me, because of who I am, that is just the culminating moment. Those 275 meters around that track I just get filled with so, so much emotion that I just don’t have in any other place in my life that it’s part of the thing that drives me there and to not drop out every year because I know that 270 meters or whatever around that track is going to be incredible. By the way, this includes some times when there were 3 guys on the track at the same time! So it’s not always low stress. In 2009, I think it was, I was in 10th place and the ninth place guy was finishing as I got on the track and when I went around the corner the 11th place guy came in. We were sprinting and racing right up to the end like Nikki Kimball and Kami Semick did last year in the women’s race.

Another question?

Participant: What about keeping cool? Ice in a vest or bandanas? What do you like to keep cool in the canyons?

Arbogast: I like to use the bandanas that you can put ice in and wrap them around the neck. Be aware that they flop so be ready to tuck them in your shirt. I’m ready to invent something. I’m not sure what it’s going to be but maybe some little ice packs for the arm pits and a couple for the groin. I’m not sure how I’m going to get them to stay there, but … and to keep them cold for a long time would be good. Ice when you can get it and stuff it in your shirt or under your hat.

Jones-Wilkins: In 2006, which was a particularly brutal heat year, I found that especially in the canyons, so down in Deadwood, after you come down and begin the ascent to Devil’s Thumb, after about 150 meters of flat there’s this spring. I’m pretty sure it’s always running. I’ve drunk water out of it, too (everyone’s on their own on that one). I’m not condoning that activity, but I’ve been doing it for 12 years. That’s a great place to soak yourself, spend the 30 seconds, because you have a 35 to 45 minute climb up to Devil’s Thumb. The bottom of Eldorado, I know some people have gone off and you have to clamor down some rocks, you can go completely in the creek. I know you do that, Kevin. [Sawchuck: I have.] They also have buckets with sponges at the bottom of Eldorado. Absolutely don’t overlook Volcano Canyon. That’s the third [canyon] and sometimes can be hotter than the other two. And that has a great creek to douse completely; you cross that on foot, so you can just douse completely. If you’re a faster paced runner, say under 20 hours, so you’re still going to be in the daylight going down Cal Street, there are a few creeks along there that I definitely recommend you do the same thing. It’s sort of the golden rule of trying to stay wet and cold as long as possible. Those are three key places: that spring, if you want to go off the bridge in Eldorado or knowing that they have sponges, and soaking in Volcano.

Skaden: Let me just add to the answer. I want to see if Dan wants to add to this observation that I’ve noticed. The observation is that everyone’s wearing backpacks with a hydration pack, which is the latest accessory. When I started ultrarunning, I looked back at the programs and I was observing what accessories they had and they had these tool belts with bottle holders. Guess what, that’s not a coincidence. You go out on the trail and it’s hot and dusty and you douse yourself with water. So you need multiple bottles so you have two, maybe one in each hand, and you have your holster with a bottle and you recycle. You’re refilling and you empty a bottle and you put the empty in the holster and you pull the full one out and you douse, drink, and there’s a system. Look at the old programs and you…

Williams: Yes, I still use the fanny pack with one water bottle and then I always carry one. It’s too hard and you get too tired to reach around and pull one out. So I just carry one right here and just drink, run a little while, drink…

Skaden: You’re dousing yourself, too.

Williams: Yes.

Jones-Wilkins: The Western States 100 has a lot of outstanding aspects about it. But at the very top of the list are the aid stations. Really take advantage of those aid stations. These aid station volunteers are incredible. You go in, they take your bottles away, they lead you to the food. In most of the aid stations, there’s a specific person who becomes your handler through there; they’ve been given that assignment. That’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re going to ask you questions. Take advantage of them. Say, “I really want a sponge,” or “Just dump this over my head.” There’s one particular young girl on the near side of the river and I will forever cherish this little girl. I have no idea who she is, but I got in there and I got on the scale and she said, “Hey Mister, wanna popsicle?” I said, “Oh, you are an angel, absolutely!” Of course I ate the popsicle and went across the river and puked.

Another question?

Participant: Dealing with altitude. If you don’t live, for instance, you live in the East Bay, how do you deal with the altitude?

Jones-Wilkins: Altitude training.

Williams: Just slow down a little bit. There’s nothing else you can do. If you’re not going to go up there for the next three weeks (weekends) and train at altitude, you just have to slow down.

Arbogast: My experience with that, the first year, I was kind of disappointed with how hard it felt to run. I was kind of feeling pretty miserable until Robinson Flat, and… it got better. As you came down, it just got better. “Ok, I’m not dead. It wasn’t just a bad day from the start.” And since having that experience, now I know when I’m up there, “Ok, it’s just going to be hard.” Like Dan said, slow down even more. If you do get a chance to spend any time at altitude, it does help. If you don’t, just remember, it will get better.

Participant: Maybe the doctor can explain the difference between dehydration and hyponatremia. What’s the difference in the feel? (Because you have a lot of new runners.)

Sawchuck: Well, from the studies that have been done, you can be dehydrated and low on sodium, you can be dehydrated and normal or high on sodium. There are a lot of different ways. It’s hard to test out in the field. Andy, you’ll be happy for me to reveal that one of the ways I do it is I actually taste a drop or two of my urine. If it tastes salty, then I probably have enough salt. You can measure it in the salt, your body will adjust it. That’s one way you can check it. Another way that we have, one of the studies they’ve done at Western States on sodium is to see whether salty foods will appeal to you. If you look at some pretzels or think of some really salty broth and go, “Ohhh, yeah, that sounds great,” then probably you’re behind on salt. And if you’re not peeing (and in the day you’re not peeing as much because all the blood is out to your skin), there’s a lot of blood that goes out to your skin to keep you sweating, but at night if you’re not starting to pee – it’s hard to tell aside from just the taste of the salt. You have to kind of know… weigh yourself after some hot runs and see where you’re at based on what you’ve drunk. Use the scales in the race, although they can be off a few pounds. I remember I paced Mike Morton when he won back in 1997 and they held him at the river for being 4 to 5 pounds down and when we got up to Green Gate he was then 3 pounds over. It was like, “Wait a minute…” Something was wrong. So if you get on a scale and they say, “You’re light,” say, “Let me try another scale.” But it’s hard to tell. If you’re thirsty, definitely you need to be drinking. If you feel like salty foods are very appealing to you, then you’re probably salt-behind. But if you’re in the 1 to 2 S-caps/hour (300-600mg sodium) plus all the other salt that you’ll get with whatever you’re eating, and you’re peeing at least regularly and you’re feeling good, you’re probably ok.

Participant: How long can you go without peeing before you recognize it as a problem?

Sawchuck: I think in the middle of the day, I think you can go for several hours because so much of your blood volume is diverted to your skin instead of your kidneys, so you’re not going to make as much pee. If you’re feeling really good, aside from really sore muscles, and you’re not feeling sort of light headed…

[Break in the video]

Jones-Wilkins: For those of you in the room who are scheduled to run the race in less than four weeks, you’re really coming to Western States in the life cycle of this event. It’s so much more than an event. It’s a lifestyle for so many people, for locals and non-locals. Look at me. I flew across the country from Virginia to be here and I’m not even running the race this year, but it is a part of my life and in my blood. You have the opportunity in four weeks to be a part of that. There’s history here. There’s mystique. There’s absolute passion for the sport. There are hundreds, perhaps even over a thousand volunteers who are going to be there to support your run. Savor this moment. Savor the fact that right now, you’re probably in the best shape of your life or will be in the next couple of weeks. But also remember what my good friend, Andy Black, says, “It’s amazing, you leave Squaw Valley in the best shape of your life and you arrive in Auburn in the worst shape of your life.” But at the end of the day, what you’re engaged in is ultimately… we talked about nutrition, quads, the intricacies of the course, where to soak yourself, and salt and all that’s important. But it’s also important to realize that this is simple. On that day, it’s all you. It’s all your day. You can absorb yourself in running for 16 to 17 hours as some people in this room will do or absorb all the way for 30 hours. But it’s your day. You can make up for it later. But savor where you are in your life. Whether it’s a silver buckle or a bronze buckle, it’s my hope, and I know the hope of all these panelists, that all of you get to that finish line and have that opportunity to do that 250 meters around the track. And I’m going to be there. I’m going to be hanging out watching this whole thing this year because it’s going to be awesome! So I wish you all luck. I want to thank you so much for coming. I also want to give a special thank you to Craig Thornley who put all this together based on one of my silly ideas. He’s working as Assistant Race Director this year as he moves onto become the Race Director.


Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.