It is the eve of the Big Dance. You have put in the training, done your homework on race conditions, and completed a restful and rejuvenating taper. Now, all that you have ahead of you is one more night’s sleep followed by a full day and night with one of the most extraordinary places I know, the Western States Trail.
After the gun goes off, I hope you have chance to settle into a nice hiking rhythm and get to know some of the people around you. Enjoy the cool, morning air and revel in the camaraderie of the climb up to Emigrant Pass. As you cross over the summit, please turn around and take in the view of the valley below and the blue waters of Lake Tahoe beyond. It is worth your time.
As you traverse the Granite Chief Wilderness, crest Cougar Rock, and roll into the Lyon Ridge Aid Station, pay attention to your body. Measure your breathing, evaluate your pacing, and test your nutrition. On the splendid ridge run on the way to Red Star Ridge, take advantage of the momentum generated by the rising sun and the gently rolling trail. After Red Star, on the descent to Duncan Canyon Aid Station, evaluate your quad muscles as the downhill nature of the course will begin to make itself felt.
At Duncan Canyon, take an extra minute to note what Greg Lanctot and his Quicksilver Runners are wearing and certainly avail yourself of whatever surprise treats they may have on hand. They always have a little something that hits the spot. Since it is likely to be a warm day, be sure to soak yourself in the cool waters of Duncan Creek before making the long ascent up to Robinson Flat. Leaving Robinson and climbing Little Bald Mountain will be one of your last climbs for a couple hours as you begin the long gradual descent through Millers Defeat, Dusty Corners, and Last Chance.
After crossing the re-constructed Swinging Bridge across Deadwood Creek, fill your bottles at the spring coming out of the rocks on your right before beginning the long, steep climb up to Devil’s Thumb. From Devil’s Thumb, you begin a true downhiller’s delight as you descend five miles and over 2,000 feet to the crossing of El Dorado Creek and then ascend back up to Michigan Bluff in a little over two miles. Don’t let the first part of the climb to Michigan Bluff discourage you as it is one of those climbs that levels out and warms up as you get closer to the town.
Michigan Bluff is one of the true, great aid stations on the course where you will be cheered on by hundreds of spectators and have a chance to connect with your crew. You now have just one more canyon to cross. Often overshadowed by its larger predecessors, Volcano Canyon can deliver quite a bit of punishment as it can be hot and steep. Cresting the canyon brings you to the “Hub of the Western States Trail,” Foresthill. The aid station here has everything you could ever need before you make the long, steady descent to mile 78 and the Rucky Chucky River Crossing.
At this point in the race, you will undoubtedly be tired and sore but the restorative waters of the American River will bring life back into your legs and clear the way for the quick but steep climb up to Green Gate. Most Western States veterans will tell you that the last 20 miles of the course are the most runnable, provided you have legs left to run! And, this runability is particularly evident during the 10-mile stretch between Green Gate and Brown’s Bar. After Brown’s Bar and the tricky descent to the Quarry Road, you begin a technical climb up to the Highway 49 Crossing at mile 93.5. If you are not already, it is after this highway crossing that you truly begin to smell the barn. Take a moment to savor the serenity of the Cool Meadow before descending on nice, buttery trail to the iconic No Hands Bridge and the subsequent climb up to Robie Point.
Upon clearing Robie and stepping on to the streets of Auburn, you will have just 1.3 miles left to run. After an initial, grinding climb, you have a nice, steady descent to the White Bridge and onto the track of Placer High School. Here you will likely hear the dulcet sound of John Medinger’s voice (or my voice if you finish between 24 and 26 hours) over the P.A. system as you make the triumphant 250-yard trip around the track. When you arrive at the finish line, take a moment to savor the feeling, there is nothing quite like it in the world.
To all of you, here’s hoping for a great day out there! It is truly one of the most extraordinary things you may ever do.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Western States runners, what are you looking forward to most about your journey down the Western States Trail tomorrow?
- And, for those who have previously run the WS 100, what memories do you have about the high country, the canyons, the river, or the runnable last 20 miles?