What I Like Most About the Western States 100

Despite the misimpression I may have made with my previous post about the Western States 100, no other ultramarathon means more to me. Sure, it’s the granddaddy of 100 milers, the focus of many months of my most intense training ever, the site of one of my best races, but none of that is what I like most about Western States. Nope, what I like best about the Western States 100 is that it’s been host to so many meaningful memories. I’d like to share a few of them with you as part of Western States Synchroblog #2.

The Beginning
I can still vividly recall the first time I climbed the maintenance road out of Squaw Valley. In those first pre-dawn moments I felt like I was embarking on the challenge of a lifetime and I was. It was my first 100 and still my most recent great journey into the unknown. At the first major turn during the climb, I watched the leaders going into the distance while a long line of headlamps traced the trail back down towards the valley. Knowing that I’d be excited on this climb, I stuck by the side of a 10+ time WS veteran… and proceeded to talk his ear off. Fortunately, I also had a mini-dictaphone to record my thoughts to share with a dear friend later… I still have that dictaphone with those Western States recordings all these years later. All that pales in comparison to the vivid memory of reaching the top of the Escarpment, pausing, and turning to see Lake Tahoe for the first time as it glowed from the light just peeking over the mountains to its east.

The Course
Just as Western States is not won or lost on that first climb, my weightiest memories come from further down the course. These memories from the course include both the bad and the good.

How could I forget how bad I felt descending into Duncan Canyon for the first time in the heat of 2006. This early suffering resulted in one of the great pity parties of all-time during my slow walk up and out of Duncan Canyon on the way to Robinson Flat. Then again, I remember feeling less then spry in ’04 and ’05 when in the bowels of Deep Canyon, which temporarily replaced Duncan Canyon on the course. While not devastating, I’ll not soon forget coming around a bend en route to Michigan Bluff during 2006 and feeling like someone opened an oven door in front of my face! None of these memories are as frustrating as being reduced to walking DOWN to No Hands Bridge with fewer than 6 miles to go during the 2004 race. Perhaps, I could have better accepted this state of affairs had I not been able to run the flats and climbs after the descent. Stupid quads. Stupider downhills! ;-)

Physical evidence of early suffering in 2006.

On the flip side are some fantastic memories from the course. Some are as simple as enjoying the single track descent on the far side of the Escarpment, taking in the sights of the High Sierras, kicking gigantic pine cones down the trails, sticking snow under my hat as the heat creeps up, or laying down in a cool mountain stream once the heat arrives. Then there’s the thought of my efforts in the canyons in ’04 + ’05. I walked those climbs in their entirety both years, but moved up with field while feeling like a million bucks. In fact, I can remember coming ‘round the bend into Michigan Bluff in 2005 and yelling “Are we having fun yet?” as I beckoned the crowd to cheer. (I then proceeded to undergo a shorts change in front of what felt like 1000 people. I definitely won’t forget that… nor will those present. ;-) )

I wasn’t kidding about the short’s change.

I can only recall one moment of “racing” among my good memories, but it was the final pass after battling back and forth for the age group win in 2005; however, that doesn’t hold a candle to running Cal Street that same year. Sure it was a beautiful temperate day with the American River roaring below, but it is the incredible sense of awe that I had for my body for a good hour during that stretch that will still makes me beam to this day. Despite closing in on finishing my third marathon for the day, I felt like I’d just laced up my shoes and stepped out the door for a run.

The People
Western States holds many memories beyond simple recollections of me versus the course. Nope, many an interpersonal moment are logged among my Western States memories. I’ll never forget the look of concern on my mom’s face as she watched me shiver for two hours after finishing in ’04 nor will I forget my dad holding the shower button on while I showered sitting in a lawn chair later that morning. I recall seeking shade and solace while chatting with my friends E + Merri who helped crew me in ’05. Same goes for sitting on the high jump mats with fellow East Coast runner D recalling the previous day’s events. Then there’s getting to know three pacer’s who I had never met prior to the race …and there’s also the notable fourth pacer with whom I discussed the above-discussed “special dictaphone recording friend.” What made that conversation memorable is that I dated the special friend both before and after the pacer and this was the first time we’d ever talked about her since she and I dated most recently.

My 2005 pacer and crew: E, mom, Morgan, dad, and Merri

The Scotty
One person shines above all others in my Western States memories. In fact, no one else even comes close to Scotty Mills. To me, he is Western States. When I met Scotty at the very start of my ultrarunning days, he already had 10 silver buckles under… er, on his belt. Before I ever stepped foot on the WS course, Scotty and two other veterans briefed me and a group of other first–time WS runners from the VHTRC so well that I felt like a veteran out there and then I was fortunate enough to have Scotty for company for some of the early miles in my first WS. (I also got to carry a bottle of tequila on his behalf… but that’s another story!)

Scotty giving a pre-WS Intelligence Briefing

Despite Scotty not running Western States in 2005 (no lotto luck), I did see him out on the course twice. The first time was at Michigan Bluff where Scotty told me I could break 20 hours. I hadn’t been thinking of this goal out on the course… at least not consciously. In truth, I was afraid to think about this huge barrier, but as soon as the words came out of Scotty’s mouth, I knew it was true. You see, Scotty is a great ultrarunner who has been sub-24 in each of the 1(?) times he’s run Western States and aimed for the 20-hour mark multiple times. He’s come close (20:14 and 20:03) and excruciatingly close (20:00:03). I knew there was no one who better knew if I was or wasn’t on 20 hour pace than Scotty… and probably no one to whom that goal meant more. Many times over the subsequent miles I thought to myself, “I’m going to break 20 hours for Scotty.” (I’m sitting here at my desk and am actually getting choked up just thinking about this.) Scotty was there again at Green Gate and told me that 20 hours was mine and that I was having the race of a lifetime. How right he was! Despite a 15-20 minute wrong turn going into Auburn Lake Trails, I ran 19:30.

Happy times in Michigan Bluff ’05

Even though Scotty’s words in 2005 meant so much to me, those memories were far surpassed in 2006. As I mentioned earlier, I suffered mightily in and after Duncan Canyon. Long before reaching Robinson Flat I had decided that I’d walk over to Dusty Corner and drop out where my crew was waiting for me. Then, on top of Little Bald Mountain, Scotty catches up to me. Wanting to know how his race was going, I decided to jog with him for a minute… and then we ended up running the next 70 miles together. I remember running with Scotty on Little Bald, before and heading into Last Chance, rounding the furnace-like bends heading down to El Dorado Creek, working down California Street, and descending towards No Hands Bridge. By the time that both of our pacers joined us at Foresthill we had developed such an effective partnership that we continued running together with our pacers in tow. As long as I have memories I will cherish finishing that race hand-in-hand with my friend, mentor, and idol Scotty Mills.

Mills and me finishing in 2006

As you can see, while the Western States 100 totals less than three days in my 30 years, it has provided a disproportionate number of memories. Please share some of your Western States memories, good or bad, with me.

This month’s Western States synchroblog focuses on what each of the contributors likes most about the race… or something like that. (Does this seem like a conformist group to you?!) Goes see what the other guys have to say:

There are 8 comments

  1. Sophie Speidel

    I left some general impressions of my 06 WS experience on AJW's blog (my one and only, so far) but will heed your call here and be more specific. (I deleted the first comment due to some typos that I have fixed here).As you know, some of the old guard of the ultra world think WS is over hyped. Heck, we are reminded of that on the VHTRC website each June. In my marathon and triathlon career I avoided the over hyped events like the Boston Marathon and Ironman events for that very reason—I prefer the low-key world of trail ultras. But when I became an ultrarunner in 02 I was drawn to running WS and was lucky to get in on my first try in 06, the year of the HEAT. Here are some memories of that year:I remember Scotty Mills telling us at dinner the night before the race to adjust our race time goals by about 2 hours because of the heat, and to get wet at every AS as much as possible—great advice as it saved my race!I remember Tom Corris telling me to wear white because of the heat and wishing we had a white VHTRC shirt—in the end, I wore (and trashed) the white BRR50 2006 shirt.I remember hiking up to the flag raising ceremony through the snow and listening to the WS board members share their memories of the event—and getting very emotional.I remember running into Michigan Bluff with the sun setting in my eyes and the crowd cheering in my ears, and thinking how lucky I was to be healthy and able to run such an amazing event.I remember leaving Michigan Bluff at dusk and running by the house where Tonto, Scott Jurek's loyal dog, is buried in the yard.I remember climbing up Devil's Thumb way too fast—Scotty told me his race time is usually about 35 minutes to the top so I hammered that climb in 36:00.I remember crossing the American River in a boat and wishing soooo much I could be in that cool water.I remember running with Gordie near No Hands and him telling me that 06 was only surpassed in its heat by 1995. Yowz!I remember running on the road from the last AS at Robie Point and seeing chalk messages on the road cheering us on, and then hearing someone call my name from a front porch (they had a race program)—I started to cry and told my pacer, "I love this sport and these people!"I remember finishing with 45 minutes to spare and telling the VHTRC group at the post-race party that this was my last 100, ever…and of course it wasn't.As I sit here on the computer I happen to be wearing the WS race shirt from 06 (I am still in my PJs). Will I go back to WS? Heck yes, when my kids are off to college and June isn't such a crazy month for me! I have some great pics on my blog from that year, check them out–you are in one with Scotty for winning your age groups! Good times!Thanks for sharing and indulging me here.

  2. Bryon Powell

    Sophie,Thanks for sharing so many of your Western States 100 memories with us. I hope to see you out on the course again in a couple years.

  3. olga

    Goat, you shoudln't have written same questions as Sean did! I can't repeat comments, not allowed! But what I learned about your 2006 and Scotty Mills is awesome – loved it. Man is great. Heck, thanks to him we became friends! And 19:30? I am impressed, if I knew, may be I'd have been scared to be-friend you in the first place! :))

  4. saschasdad

    Scotty is definitely a legend in this sport of ours. More than one time, I wish I would have heeded his advice. I love that guy! Very awesome that you got to run most of '06 with him.

  5. Bryon Powell

    Olga, Perhaps Sean shouldn't have written the same questions I have. :-) Actually, I haven't had a chance to read his or any of the other synchroblog posts yet. Part of the fun of this project is seeing what everyone does with the general assigned topic. Last synchroblog we were all over the place. Apparently, Sean and I overlapped this go round.I'd completely forgotten that Scotty introduced the two of us on the run out of Brighton a few days before Wasatch in 2005. Come on about you might not have become my friend… you were the fast one!

  6. Cynical Mud Babe

    I haven't run WS yet but my memories stem from my childhood. My father ran WS the first time in '79 (or was it '80?) I was 7 years old. Not only was it his first 100 but the whole families first crewing experience. The 4 of us drove across the country in a Chevette packed to the gills with Dad's running stuff and we stayed in the Olympic dorms. I can still remember standing in the darkness waiting for the start and seeing all the bobbing flashlights head off. I remember my mom getting lost going to an aid station and being so worried that Dad would get there before we did that she was sobbing as she was driving. I'll never forget that I also saw my Dad cry that day. I remember giving him flat Cokes and helping him change his socks, and oh God, his feet, I'll never forget the blisters. I remember him practically sobbing at the finish as he immersed his feet and legs in an ice bath. But damned if we didn't do it again another 3 times until it got too hard to get into and he chose to try other 100's. It took me 25+ years to understand the attraction of ultra running and now my dearest dream is to run WS and have my Dad crew for me, I want to know WS from the other side too.

  7. skoshi

    Aloha and hello. Just a note to say I found your blog while following a distant memory of a mention of a new Clif malt ball product. Thanks for the OR review–now I have a name and just need to locate them to try. Enjoy your blog. I'm not an ultra person, but do what I guess can be considered endurance (triathlon, half IM). BTW, my boyfriend is in law school and interned in DC last summer (summer associate for the Fannie and Freddie regulator), and it appears he may be returning again. I've always wanted a smallish farm (with chickens)–with relatively easy access to urbanism…sounds nice!

  8. Bryon Powell

    Mud babe,Thanks for sharing your memories of your father's WS runs. I've heard a number of stories recently of folks who had WS touch their lives in the late-70s or early-80s and not get around to running it until much more recently. I hope you get to share in the experience soon!Skoshi,No need to be an ultrarunner to stick around these parts. I can assure you that there are many iRunFar readers who've never run an ultra.

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