Western States Memorial Weekend Training Runs

John Medinger writes about the 2014 Western States Memorial Weekend Training Runs.

By on May 29, 2014 | Comments

Aloha, TJThe Western States Memorial Weekend Training Runs were organized sometime in the mid 1980s–I have talked to several veterans and no one seems to recall the exact details. (Perhaps someone with specific knowledge will respond to this article and fill us all in. I first ran in 1989, and the runs were well established by then.)

In a way the lack of specific dates is a perfect complement to the informality of the runs. The low-key fun of the weekend makes it my favorite running weekend of the year–I have missed it only four times in the past 26 years. There is no stress, no performance anxiety, nobody’s in a big hurry, and you are encouraged to check your testosterone at the door. Over the past few years I have frequently devised an alternative route that progresses uphill against the grain of the organized run. I get to say ‘hey’ to everyone in the run, typically about 300 folks, and also the several dozen more who have organized their own transportation and started at different times.

It has become a bit of a tradition on Saturday for a lot of the faster runners (and any number of mid-pack folks) to go from Robinson Flat to the Rucky Chucky River Crossing, a pretty studly 48-mile training run. There was any number of elite runners out there on Saturday–I spied Emily Harrison, Ian Torrence, Keira Henninger, Jesse Haynes, Paul Terranova, Dominic Grossman, Max King, Meghan Arbogast, Stephanie Howe, Denise Bourassa, Joe Uhan, Jake Rydman, Adam Condit–among others. But, it’s not a race. Virtually all of them stopped to say hello.

1 - Jesse Haynes selfie 2

Jesse Haynes (foreground) takes a selfie, with (left to right) Paul Terranova, Tropical John, and Keira Henninger. Photo: Jesse Haynes

The organized run on Saturday starts at Robinson Flat and finishes at Foresthill, a pretty robust 32 miles, complete with the two toughest climbs on the course, Devil’s Thumb and Michigan Bluff. But even back-of-the-packers have little trouble making the very generous cutoffs. The trail is well marked and the three aid stations provide just enough support to get the job done.

This year’s Saturday runners were the first to tour the area that was burned last summer in Deadwood Canyon. The rebuilt Pacific Slab Bridge, about a mile before the bottom of the canyon, was especially impressive. Ace volunteer Bill Rose built this bridge at his house, disassembled it, and transported it to the top of Deadwood Canyon. More than 50 folks schlepped the pieces almost a mile down the steep canyon where it was reassembled almost flawlessly in a single long day.

2 - Bill Rose

Bill Rose, hard at work. Photo: Craig Thornley

3- Pacific Slab Bridge

The rebuilt Pacific Slab Bridge. Photo: Elke Reimer-Truscott

The famed Swinging Bridge was burned and has not yet been replaced. Instead runners were treated to a dip in the creek, aided by a cable strung across. The California drought has made this possible–owing to the low water levels, the deepest spot was a little more than waist deep.

4- Deadwood Creek

Crossing Deadwood Creek. Photo: Craig Thornley

Volunteers have spent hundreds of hours in the canyon and patched things up pretty remarkably; there were several stretches where the fire’s devastation has been substantially ameliorated. But there were also a few spots where the damage is smack in your face, most notably the top of the steep climb up to Devil’s Thumb.

5- top of Devils Thumb

Burnt forest at the top of Devil’s Thumb. Photo: Ana Braga-Levaggi

Sunday’s run was from Foresthill to the Rucky Chucky River Crossing and then up a jeep road to Driver’s Flat, a total of 19 miles. Things were so well in hand that Race Director Craig Thornley joined in the fun and ran with everyone else. Of course at this weekend of fun, Craig is only nominally in charge of things–Western States captains Cheri Alvarez, Bill Hambrick, Mike Sailing, and Lon Monroe–along with Thornley’s wife Laurie–were spotted doing the heavy lifting.

Sunday runners were treated to legendary aid at the Peachstone (Cal 2) aid station. Among the volunteers were Tim Twietmeyer and Ann Trason–who can count 39 silver buckles and 19 first-place cougar statues between them.

6 - Peachstone volunteers

Aid station volunteers Ann Trason and Tim Twietmeyer (far right). Photo: Joe Uhan

The third run on Monday travels the last 20 miles of the race from Green Gate to Placer High School. Fortunately, this is mostly pretty gentle terrain allowing those with sore quads to pace themselves and enjoy the mostly shaded trail.

As is often the case, the weather this year was close to perfect. All three days were sunny and warm–probably not as hot as it will be on race day, but just enough warmth to give everyone a taste of what’s to come.

Here are a few tips for those who are thinking of attending the training camp in future years. The closest airport is Sacramento, about 45 minutes from Auburn by car. Most folks stay in Auburn–there are a number of modestly priced hotels there (Holiday Inn, Best Western, Comfort Inn, etc.). The center of activity is Foresthill, about 25 minutes drive from Auburn but lodging options there are very limited.

Sign up early! Like everything else ultra in Northern California, these runs fill up early. There is a modest fee ($35 per run), which includes bus transportation, aid stations, and post-run food. No, you do not have to be an entrant in Western States to run. Everyone is welcome. If you are one of the many people who are dreaming of running Western States at some point in the future, here is your opportunity to preview the last 70 miles of the course (or as much as you can handle) over three days. Further details are available at the training runs website.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Were you one of the hundreds participating in last weekend’s training runs? If so, did you see Tropical John out there?
  • And, for those of you who experienced the Western States Trail or the training runs for the first time, what did you think? Are your quads still store?
John Medinger
John Medinger is the founder and race director of the Lake Sonoma 50. A former publisher of UltraRunning magazine, he ran his first ultra in 1980 and has now completed more than 130 ultras. He is also the founder and former race director of the Quad Dipsea race and has served on the Western States 100 Board since 1992.