Western States 100 Endurance Run 2011
When I go for a run, I don’t just run—I dive into an ocean of gratitude and joy. Every step and breath is such a gift and I’m very blessed to experience this wonder and joy almost daily. Western States was one epic experience, which was just what I came for. It hurt, many things were unexpected, I suffered greatly, but those intense moments of emotion and suffering lead to some of the best moments in my life. It doesn’t feel like it at the time, but I am ever creating moments and memories that are magical and everlasting. These are times when I’m in a good amount of pain, but with a smile on my face. I accomplished more than I thought possible and through the impossible I, along with a gang of family and friends, enjoyed one wild ride.
We were shot off in the dark, which quickly turned to light after just a mile or so of climbing. As the sun rose we were able to look back down in the valley to some smokey inversion-covering Squaw along with a trail of Western States soldiers climbing the trail. No one was really pushing a fast pace, but I made sure I was not in the front. I knew it was going to be a long day and I wanted to run this race relaxed and as smart as possible.
After some friendly conversation we hit the hard snow pack and needed to focus on footing for the next 12 or so miles. It was challenging yet fun. There’s something about snow that brings out the playful kid in me. It was comforting knowing this was not going to last all day, but rather it was a chance to give our minds and feet something different as we tripped, slipped, slid and smacked that concrete slab of ice.
I was feeling pretty jolly with this until I took my eyes off the ice for a second to chat and smacked my chest to the ice, knocking the wind out of me while continuing to slide twenty or more yards, ripping up my tush and arms as I tried to stop. Luckily there was a tree to end my slide, allowing me to shake it off and go for it again. I witnessed, as was a part of many good falls, nothing race ending, but I’m sure many of us are currently icing some areas that made us want to get off the ice as soon as possible.
I came out that section with some dings, but ready to put that in the past and see what else the course would throw my way. I felt in good spirits and ready for some fast dirt road action. The leaders were out of site so I thought I would push it a bit. I’m not sure what it is about races; ask me to run 6 minute miles back home and I’ll laugh at you, but once I hit a slight down grade in a race I start a cruising. After a few miles I made up some ground and eventually caught a glimpse of the lead pack up ahead. Realizing I did not need to be in the front I backed off a bit and settled into a nice rhythm for the road section.
Reaching the Poppy (mile 20) aid station I was feeling relatively good for the start of a race and ready to go and hang with the leaders. It was a nice rolling section that brought us through some sweet single track along the French Meadows Reservoir. I really enjoyed this section and thought I kept a good pace, as Hal was always 10-20 seconds in front of me.
Running Duncan Canyon. Pic Glenn Tachiyama
Catching up to the lead pack was fun and scary at the same time. I didn’t expect to be by all those great runners, but I kept checking in with my body and I never felt like I was pushing anything I could not maintain the rest of the race.
So after a handful of miles bobbing and weaving through some trails a few of the leaders decided to stop for a bathroom break. I had no intention of letting this happen, but all of a sudden I was in first place! Ok, it felt good and I hope to stay there someday a little longer, but for that particular day and race it was not where I wanted to be. Thank god they caught back up, but it almost seemed like no one wanted to be leading at that time. I wasn’t even pushing that hard of a pace and Killian just stayed a few steps behind me.
Killian, Dave and i. Picture Salomon
Well, guess what happens when you let a rookie take the lead…we got lost. Oops. Ok, it wasn’t entirely my fault, one of us should have seen that the trail marker was torn down and there was a super sharp left turn. Unfortunately none of us saw the turn and we kept climbing up the dirt road. After a while Killian looked at me and asked if we were going the right way. I said that I didn’t know, but I figured I was the only guy there who hadn’t run the course yet, so I thought at least one of them would know if we were on the right track. I shouted back to some of them if we were going the wrong way and everyone just shrugged. Ultimately, as we reached a paved road at the top with no flagging we all knew we weren’t on the course path and needed to back track…bummer, my bad.
We came back to the intersection and realized our mistake and that there was flagging to prevent us from going that way, but an animal or something must have ripped it down. A couple extra miles only make you stronger, right? We probably could have done without them, but they made for an extra little adventure for us in the lead pack. We lost about 15 or so minutes and the lead to about four guys, but eventually started covering some ground and pushed a good climb to the next aid, Mosquito Ridge (mile 30).
From here, Killian, Nick, Mike and Hal really took off. I was happy with where I was and how I was feeling so I didn’t push any harder as I sat back and talked with Geoff Roes for a little while. I maybe should have stayed a little closer to the leaders, but there was plenty of racing left and I wanted to come into Michigan Bluff looking strong for my crew.
The next few sections rolled by as I prepared for the canyons and the fun climbs of the day. Down to Deadwood Canyon was technical and where I had an injury from a few weeks prior to the race flare up again. My damn Gracilis muscle which attaches on the inside of the knee felt like it was ripping off the insertion and I knew the sensation was not going to be fun the rest of the day. This unfortunately made me have to back off on some down hill sections, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me; I planned to keep moving until I couldn’t walk anymore. I must have beat it up pretty good because after the race I had blood pooling on the inside of my knee and down into my calf and behind. I’m still limping considerably and I’m just hoping I can start massaging and breaking up the problem soon.
Being an Ultra, that’s how it goes, and I knew there would be more problems so I didn’t let the feeling dig into my thoughts too much. I fumbled my way down to the bridge and was ready for the 36 switch back, 1600ft climb called Devils Thumb (mile 47.8). I loved this section and caught a few people on it, as I knew these next couple climbs would be a chance to gain some ground. On the really steep sections I hiked/grunted, but overall I tried to run as much as possible. That ascent ended too soon, just as I was getting into a good rhythm, which meant it was a long painful plummet down to El Dorado Creek (mile 53).
Coming into Michigan Bluff. Pic Shahid Ali
Multiple things were hurting at that point, but I tried to focus on the good aspects I was experiencing. These last miles of single track were rough, but beautiful. When things get tough there is always something to bring me back out from inside my own thoughts. Luckily for me it only takes a few cool looking trees and a stream to get me back in the running mood. It was a very green (although mostly poison oak filled) forest filled with things to keep my mind right, and required only that I watched my steps.
The climb up to Michigan Bluff was when things really started to heat up. The grade up was not too steep, but the sun was out and the miles were adding up. Dave Mackey and I started our back’n’forth action that would last about the next 20 or so miles. We never talked much, but developed a bond nonetheless, both going through good and bad moments at opposite times.
It was a good feeling to know I was over half done and about to see my wife and crew in just moments. With all the snow this year, crew was not allowed until Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7) so when I did get to see them it definitely gave me more life. Anyone who thinks Ultra’s are an individual sport does not have the crew, love and support I do. I give it my all, but I would be nothing without my crew working just as hard to be there for me, refueling me and encouraging me every second of that day. In addition to all the love I received from friends, family and Ultra peeps sending me love, prayers and positive vibrations all day. I feel it all and it means a lot to me.
The next section was a low point for me stomach-wise. Something did not sit right in me the last few miles and I was feeling very nauseas. The dry dirt road was pretty exposed and did not help my belly much. Someday I need to dial in this stomach thing, but in the meantime I’ll keep problem solving. Needless to say, the next 40 miles featured roughly thirty bathroom stops, none of which were particularly fun.
Everything was not going as planned, but I did make it that far and I was still moving at a decent clip. The canyons were over and I was about to pick up my good friend and pacer Chris Rennaker at Foresthill (mile 62). Right away he was encouraging me and getting me fired up for the road ahead.
Cal 1 and Cal 2 went right along into a not-so-great routine. I would put down a few Gu’s, hit the can again and kept moving at a steady but underwhelming pace. The race was beginning to wear on me and I needed to hit a solid stretch of renewed energy. After working through a few hours of monotonous torture I hit a high that I decided to ride to the river. Running felt strong and I was able to push it a bit. My stomach wasn’t right, but at least I could run again. I was feeling good and could smell that the river was in reach. It called to me; I paid a $370 race fee, plus a speeding ticket for this ferry ride, and I was going to enjoy it!
River Crossing. Pic Glenn Tachiyama
As I rolled to the river I could not wait to dunk my head in. I know it wasn’t a hot year, but from the weather I’ve been used to in Oregon it was hot enough to want to repeatedly dunk my head in that ice cool river, the relief setting me up for a strong climb. I came into Rucky Chucky (mile 78) feeling good and excited to see my crew and push the climb up to Green Gate (mile 79.8). It was encouraging entering the river crossing, with people cheering and the cool water being just what I needed after running some exposed sections the last handful of miles previous.
I was feeling good, able to see my wife who brings out my best and fills me with hope and strength. I was ready to go! I had a Killian like entourage charging up the climb with me and my new pacer, the one and only Jenn Shelton, to bring me on home. As I climbed I felt strong and ready to keep fighting. We passed Tsuyoshi Kaburaki on the way up hoping to put a gap on him. By the time we reached the top I did manage to open up a bit of space between us, but had to use the port-o-john again, that cut back my advantage. And so it goes.
Jenn and i charging up to Green Gate. Pic Shahid Ali
The next section through Auburn Lake Trails was scenic and I tried to enjoy it, but I just felt like carnage. I had to shit every few minutes and any time I picked up the pace my stomach would hurt more. Nothing was working, but somehow I kept moving. I remember Kaburaki startling Jenn at one point and then ultimately letting him and his pacer pass. He looked like a mirage. He just sort of blurred by and was gone. This would normally charge something in me to go after him, but I had nothing left. I was just hoping I could somehow hold on to this position and make it the finish.
Every now and then I would get a little charge and push it for a minute. Jenn tried to keep my spirits up through the lows, and I got a good couple of smiles cracked which kept me moving. Still, I managed to remain enjoying this torture for some crazy reason. I felt like hell, but it just didn’t matter much. Yes, my leg and ass hurt, but I was in beautiful country running with a friend at Western States 100, so how could I be down. I just kept breathing, remembering all the people I had sending love my way. I could not disappoint them, and I could not give up. I had one option and it was to give it everything I had left in me.
We kept moving through the next few pit stops grabbing my now fuel of choice, Coke on the rocks. It seemed to be just enough calories to keep me moving. We kept pouring water on my head like the refresh button on your Western States updates at home. A mile felt like ten, but through the zigging and zagging I could hear the highway close by. We made it to Highway 49 (Mile 93.5) blurry-eyed, saying hi to my crew, grabbing some coke, watching Jenn shout orders to get me everything I needed. We were in and out and I knew it was just 7 more miles to home. I climbed out of there moving at a decent pace. I wanted more climbing, as that was the only time my legs didn’t hurt and I felt like no one behind me could run the ups like I was. We could smell Auburn and we badly needed a beer.
I want to say this day didn’t go as planned, but that’s understandable, as I didn’t really even have a plan. Through all the craziness of the day, I simply needed to let it sink in that I was running in 6th at Western States. That’s insane, and I knew if I didn’t flop that next and final section I was going to be in the top 10. All I needed to do was breath and run.
So that’s what I did, as Jenn helped by reminding me to take a deep breath every now and then. Then I alternated back to my hyperventilating, succumbing to the out-of-my-mind rhythm I was in.
We sped through No Hands Bridge (mile 96.8), downed a Pepsi (not as good as Coke, I must say) and I was flying on my way. Something significant went off in me as we crossed No Hands, as suddenly I wanted to run out of there as fast as I could. Pain took the back seat and I was ready to roll. We went charging up that last climb as the skylight vanished in the night. We didn’t need a light; the ground would lead us home. I huffed and puffed as we bounded out of there to the road that would bring me to the high school and finish.
Reaching the top, there was a killer party popping off there. The people were going crazy with excitement that I gladly soaked in. I wanted to stay and join in, but I had just one more little mile to go. Jenn would not let me slow the pace. She pushed me to go faster; after all that work, we did not want anyone to catch us on that last mile. I pounded that pavement, clawing every step. I could feel the satisfaction of a hard days work and was so happy to share this moment with everyone there. The feeling of entering that track was like running on clouds. Nothing hurt, I could have sprinted faster, but wanted to let the moment’s weight soak in. So many smiling cheering faces greeted me around the track, and I wanted to hug each of them, but decided for some good ol’ fashion high fives as I made my way to the finish. It was electric and I could not have been happier as I crossed the finish line and hugged my wife after a really, really long day.
Finish! Pic Glenn Tachiyama
The next day, a friend of mine (Jimmy Dean Freemen) told me I was like a wet smiling Golden Retriever. I was just so happy and he wanted to throw a ball and have me fetch after it. That made me laugh a lot and it made me glad that I looked like I was having fun. Running is supposed to be this childlike game, where we run around as if half-naked, jumping in and out of streams chasing a big red ball. I hurt right now, but I love to run and be free. I’m very grateful for the God-given ability to spend hours frolicking on this enchanting earth and soaking up as much joy as I can. I hope you enjoyed my tale of experiencing nature the best way I know how, through running. I’m sure the great outdoors are calling your name. Go live.
Videography-Bobbie Loomis. Editing-Debbie Loomis. Thank you so much!!!
Thank you to everyone who made this day so magical. I could not have done it without you. Thank you to Greg Soderlund (RD) and everyone doing last minute mapping to get us a run-able course. Thank you to all the volunteers before, after and during the race. Many hours go into this and I’m very grateful for you all being there.
Thank you to all my family and friends cheering me on through out the day, your prayers and energy was much appreciated.
And a Huge thanks to my crew Bob, Debbie, Brian, and Shahid for all your help along with video, pictures and editing to make this blog actually interesting. And to my pacers Renn & Jenn who kept me motivated, dealt with all my shit (figuratively and literally) and brought me safely home to Auburn. It meant so much having you all there.
My incredible pacing duo! Pic Glenn Tachiyama
And my biggest thanks to my wife Krista, who is my everything, who is with me the whole time and keeps me solid and strong as I run and hobble through the majestic unknown. Thank you for being the light you are.
Medicine. Pic Glenn Tachiyama
I took 6th with a time of 16:18. 2nd American depending on what Country Nick is claiming. 1st massage therapist!