A Letter to the 2012 Western States 100 Runners

AJWs TaproomDear Western States Runners,

On the eve of your big day, I am sending my regards and a few pieces of Race Day advice.

First of all, many of you have waited a long, long time for this day. You have labored and trained, sacrificed much in your life to get here, and now you are poised on the edge of one of the great events in ultramarathon running. Savor it, enjoy it, and revel in the unabashed joy that is the fourth Saturday in June.

Next, be sure to spend a minute or two over the weekend thanking the people who make this thing happen; when Stan gives you the bracelet at check-in, thank him; when Joe takes your pre-race mug shot, thank him; when Deb takes your blood pressure, thank her; when Dr. Lind fires the starting gun, thank him; when those volunteers at the Escarpment top off your bottles, thank them; when the Aid Station crews at Dusty Corners, Last Chance, Devil’s Thumb and Michigan Bluff ask you how you’re doing, tell them you are doing fine, and thank them. When you roll into Foresthill with your game face on, thank the volunteers there, as well, and then get the heck out of there. When you get to the River, thank the guy/gal who holds your hand when you’re walking down to the crossing point and do the same to the person on the other side who holds your hand when you climb up the sandy embankment there. Give a special Thank You to the Rogue Valley Runners gang running the Aid Station at Browns Bar (for the first time) and be sure to hug the folks at Highway 49 as they have one of the longest days of them all (and, in my humble opinion, the best chicken broth on the Planet). Then, when you get down to the bottom of the paved road and you pass through the chain link fence and make your way onto the Placer High School Track thank everyone who helped you get to where you’ll be at that moment. Then, when Greg puts the medal around your neck, thank him.

You get the idea.

As much as this day is all about you, it is also about many, many, many others who have gone before you and love this race in ways that you may never understand. On this day of all days be sure to give them all the gratitude they deserve.

And, along the way, be sure to absorb yourself in everything that is the Western States Endurance Run. Trust me, this event gets in your blood.

Now, while you’re out there running, even though you’ll be enjoying what is forecast to be the coolest day the race has seen since 1997, remember that things can, and likely will, go wrong out there. With that in mind, here are a couple of last minute pieces of advice:

First, try not to blame your pacers or crew for your mistakes. I’ve seen it happen often and it is true that sometimes crews and pacers actually forget who the runner is but remember, it’s “autopsies without blame” out there. The goal is finishing and anything that is said or done on Western States weekend, especially after about 6:00 pm Saturday night, should be quickly and completely forgotten.

Second, you will have stomach issues. You may vomit. Somewhere between Foresthill and the River you may see God (or a mountain lion) and that, in and of itself, will make you want to puke. Don’t worry, you’re not gonna die. Just barf, deal with it, have a little pity party and move on. Don’t let “I couldn’t keep anything down” be your excuse for a DNF. The guys at Cal 3 have great chairs, excellent potato chips, and a loving aroma that makes dropping there virtually impossible.

Third, sometime during the day you might feel like you have a tiny little pebble in your shoe. For the next hour or so you’ll have this little debate with yourself as to whether you should stop to take the pebble out or just wiggle your foot around a bit to move the pebble to a more comfortable position. Don’t have that debate! That little pebble is possibly the beginning of a blister. If you deal with it the minute you feel it you’ll probably be fine. If you ignore it or wiggle around with it you may end up finishing but you’ll do so with a dagger in your shoe.

Finally, you will undoubtedly have a moment between Cal 2 and Auburn Lakes Trails when you feel like you need a Quad Transplant. I got news for you, everyone feels this way. The downhill pounding you put your legs through at Western States grinds the muscles in your quads into sausage. Don’t let it bother you. Yes, one can experience excruciating muscle damage at Western States, but if you have damage that bad, you’ll most certainly know it will feel like Ray Lewis is thrusting two ice picks into your quads with each foot plant. Assuming the pain you’re experiencing is less severe than that, just slow down, stay hydrated, and shuffle on.

I wish I could join you in the race this year, but since I can’t, I look forward to seeing you all out there on race day and especially as you circle the track with that triumphant, fourth Saturday in June feeling.

Until then,

Bottoms up!

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Stone Brewing CoThis week’s Beer of the Week is a special edition beer nominated for AJW’s Taproom by Scott Wolfe of Bend, OR. Stone Brewing Company’s 10th Anniversary Ruination IPA was nominated in honor of Western States Race Director Greg Soderlund as a “strong, committed, robust beer, worthy of Greg’s legacy.”

Call for Comments (from Bryon)
What’s your advice for those about to run the Western States 100?

There are 15 comments

    1. Chad

      I hired him as my coach for last year's race, and I have no regrets. He gave me a split card and a pep talk the day before the race, and I came in 12 minutes ahead of his goal for me…which was four hours faster than I thought I could run!

  1. Mark Ryan

    This is why ultrarunning is better than those those road marathons. It seems there are no egos. Merry Statesmas Mr. Wilkins.

  2. Dan Tree

    I am pacing for the 3rd time tomorrow and have tried to convey to my Brazilian runner what the experience might be like for him and felt like I didn't quite do it justice. I'll translate this for him, because you have obviously nailed it. For most who make it to the Placer High track, it's the culmination of countless miles, hours and sacrifices. The highs and lows experienced out on that trail make the experience life changing not just for the runners, but for any of us fortunate enough to be a part of this spectacle, from volunteers, spectators, crews, pacers and even just people who inadvertently stumble across the run. Your infectious smile will be missed on the run, but thank you for continuing to give back.

  3. Michael Gildea

    AJW, it sounds like your pacer services are in high demand. I love the letter. The thank yous I receive from the runners during the Massanutten 100 are the most heartfelt I have ever heard. Almost to a person, they look me in the eye and offer a sincere thank you and often a handshake. The lack of ego and appreciation for those that help runners achieve their goals is what makes ultras the best events. Thank you for a great article as always.

  4. joshua finger

    Best article you've written by far. If course, that has to do with your beer of the week. Anything from Stone is fantastic, especially the soaked arrogant bastard!

  5. Myles Smythe

    Thanks, AJW! Great pre-race advice and Thank You for spending the weekend at WS, even as a non-runner! No doubt I'll vomit out there, but will kindly do so, off trail.

  6. bill

    i'll be working at the rucky chucky tommorow. Runners will come through and they will have the "Look" ….either their going to finish or not.

  7. Zeke Zucker

    This is first class, as is Andy himself. He's won our Vermont 100 twice, and is a true champion. He has captured that amazing W/S Spirit in his letter. Zeke

  8. Rick Cz

    Great article. One quick point. "Blood Pressure Deb" mentioned above was not at her post this year because she, Deb Paquin, participated for the first time. She finished in just over 29:43 and placed third in her age group. She's also pumped you mentioned her in the letter!

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