Saturday, 07 July 2012

Western States 100 Race Report 2012

Western States 100 Race Report 2012

Western States 100…a.k.a. “The Big Dance”, “States-mas”, “The Superbowl of 100’s”, “The Track Meet”, etc. is a race that needs no introduction. I’ve been trying to get into this event for years and the day finally came in December 2011 when I was pulled randomly in the lottery. Since then everything I did was geared toward June 23rd 2012…One might even say that I was a little obsessed. Whatever the case may be I must say that I felt more physically and mentally prepared for this 100-miler than any other previous race in my career.

My Goals:

  • · Get to the start line healthy
  • · Run my race, soak it all in, & enjoy it
  • · Finish
  • · PR
  • · Top Ten Finish (ALMOST!--- Read more to find out how close I came to this goal!)

My Crew:

My mother (Mary Lisa), my wife (Erica), my daughter (Farah), my close friend & Animal Athletics business partner (Willie McBride), & my good buddy (Joe Kleffner).

The Plan:

Keep things simple---- It’s just running, right? I’ll start at Olympic Village at 5 a.m., run up and over a ski resort & down some trails to Robinson Flat at Mile 30-ish. From there I will re-stock & then meet the crew again at Michigan Bluff (mile 56-ish), & then yet again at Foresthill (mile 62-ish) where I will pick up my first pacer (Joe). At Green Gate (mile 80-ish) I will swap out Joe for Willie and we will finish this dang thing off already, and meet the ladies back on the track in Auburn, CA….approximately 100.2 miles from the start line….Simple….right?

One thing that I have learned in the previous five 100-milers that I’ve attempted is that the only thing you can expect in a hundred is the unexpected!

The Race:

The weather forecast called for rain and wind early on in the race, but honestly (since I live in Portland, Oregon), I knew that if anything this was going to give me an advantage. Every time I heard something about the weather I just thought about how the wet and cold is not going to be an issue for me, and I was more worried about the heat in the canyons!

5 a.m. I line up at the front, exchange some high fives w/ Mike Wolfe, Nick Clark, Topher Gaylord & a few others & give a good luck hug to Amy Sproston & Timothy Olson before I get “centered” & ready to tackle 100 miles of mountain trails…Sheesh!…I’m getting butterflies just remembering the feeling!

We climbed and climbed for about four miles and the wind and cold got more severe as we gained elevation. It was ridiculous and I don’t even think the meteorologists knew this was going to happen. There was hail, rain, sleet, and no exaggeration 40-50 mph gusts that almost knocked my skinny butt off the trail at times!

(about 5-10 miles in to the race up high almost getting blown away! Photo: Luis Escobar)

Two hours into the race while coming down a little connector fire road I apparently clipped a rock or something w/ my foot and completely face-planted …. HARD! It happened so quickly and I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve fallen like that…it’s been years. Ryan Burch peeled me off the ground and I had dirt all in my mouth and I thought I broke my wrist. There was a fleeting thought that I would have to drop out of the race. Then I realized the long scrapes on my leg and blood down there too. The blood pouring out of both heels of my hands caused the adrenaline and endorphins to shoot around my body. I got angry mostly because I let this happen so early into a long race, and that multiple runners passed me while I was re-grouping. I ran “angrily” for a couple miles and caught up to the runners who passed me. Some aid station volunteers patted Vaseline all over my wounds to “seal” them and I was on my way….back in the same position as I was before the intense tumble. For the next few miles the driving rain and wind washed off all the blood, dirt, and mud, I was less angry, and I was back in “race mode”.

(Dropping in to Duncan Canyon. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama)

When I arrived at Duncan Canyon aid station around mile 23-ish I saw my buddy Dominic Grossman and he said to me, “you’re in the top ten…but you’re getting chicked!” He ran with me an eighth of a mile down the trail and told me about what was going on ahead of me, but I was just content with where I was at in this uber-competitive race. Honestly I was a little surprised I was in the top ten but knew there were a bunch of world class runners ahead of me…and many more behind…and we had a very long way to go! Before long I passed Lizzie Hawker and traded out spaces a few times with Neal Gorman (who owns the record for the Grand Slam). I was running the down hills nicely and overall I was feeling really good…like I wasn’t putting out too much energy too soon. Things just felt easy.

We made our climb to Robinson Flat (mile 31-ish) and I had already thought about exactly what I was going to get from my crew. The number one priority was my gloves because my hands were not only bloodied and wounded…they were frozen! Originally I had told my crew that I would probably arrive at Robinson around five hours give or take. I arrived in 4:42 and instantly saw our good friend Trevor Hostetler (who was crewing/pacing another good pal Nick Triolo). Trev told me that my crew was not there yet…Bummer!...However, I knew this was a possibility coming in so I didn’t get too upset about it. There were so many people around and so much hype it was sometimes difficult to stay focused. Then I saw Todd Janssen and I asked if he had an extra pair of gloves. Without hesitation he took off his Mountain Hardwear running gloves and literally put them on for me because I had no dexterity in my fingers. Race director Craig Thornley came over to help a little and it was nice to see some smiling familiar faces from a couple Oregonian friends. Nick Triolo’s dad also offered some gels and it was comforting to see his entourage that we had dinner with the night before the race. Now it was off to Michigan Bluff and out of the high country…thank god!

(Ready to leave the rain and high country. Photo: Brett Rivers)

As I descended it reminded me of going down into the Grand Canyon. Not because of the scenery or trails but because every few minutes you could just feel it getting significantly warmer. Before long I was tearing off my jacket, tying it around my waist, and stuffing Todd’s gloves into my pockets. I passed Zeke Tiernan during this descent but as I reached the bottom I could hear two sets of voices quickly approaching. I started my climb to Devil’s Thumb and this was the toughest incline of the race. Neal Gorman and Zeke Tiernan caught me on this climb about half way up, and we all worked together somewhat to the top. During this climb I imagined what it would be like 20-30 degrees hotter and I could see why these canyons eat runners up during normal Western States race day conditions. I also felt confident at this point about all the hill work I did leading in to the race. The three of us crested the top and made our way to the aid station and I could see Willie waving his arms and yelling my name. It was definitely a sight for sore eyes and, after quickly getting weighed in, I scurried to the little area that they had so nicely spread out. I switched out bottles, got rid of trash from my pockets, re-stocked, and all the while Erica was flushing out my legs by massaging them with Arnica massage oil. It felt great except when she hit the open wounds! I quickly told them about my spill but assured them that I was okay, gave Farah a kiss, and smiled as I quickly exited the aid station. “See you at Foresthill!!!”

When I arrived at Foresthill (mile 62-ish) fatigue was definitely starting to set in a little and the heat was in full effect. Running on concrete into the town quickened the pace (I was still with Gorman with Zeke a minute ahead) as did the excitement of seeing people…namely my crew and first pacer Joe! When I got in my mom misted me with some ice water and I took a big bite of my “Sin Dog”, and I made another really quick transition out of the aid station. Joe and I ran through the middle of town and soaked in all the energy of the spectators and hype of the event. I was making my way through this classic course and I was doing a damn good job! My nutrition and hydration were spot-on all day long and at times I wondered if or when it was all going to fall apart!

This next section is where they say the race begins. I know this sounds ridiculous especially to people that don’t run ultras. This is also one of the hottest sections of the course because of the time of day and the way the sun shines on that part of the mountain trails. I could feel it for sure. A mile or two into the stretch Gorman came blazing past but I just settled in with Kleff and we chatted about the day and our plan of attack. I was still running really well in sections but inclines and little climbs were becoming more difficult. All day I had been hiking really well too but now even my hike was slowing down. Joe was such a great pacer though...He reminded me to eat, and to dunk my hat in stream crossings, and he found out aid station mileage/information every time we quickly stopped in. We also went some good stretches without talking and it was just so helpful to be running with a friend. As we got closer and closer to the river crossing I was slowing down anticipating some much needed relief in the cold water. A mile before Rucky Chucky Joe told me that he caught glimpse of a runner behind us…with his pacer presumably. I had some ideas who it could be and I was right….Enter Olive Oil Joe Uhan…a fellow Oregonian, a hell of a runner, and good guy.

Uhan, his pacer Jacob, and my pacer and I all scrambled down to the river and we all jumped on the same raft. It was hectic and just like in the movies! (Unbreakable!)—We definitely cooled down by splashing water on ourselves & waved to AJW and Thornley who were giddy on the shore as we made our way across the beautiful American River. The race was on! I ran some of the hill up to Green Gate and was surprised I had that gear at mile 80. The river re-energized me a little but then the heat and hills knocked me back in to place. Willie jumped in and Kleffner jumped out and I got another little boost! Uhan and Jacob eventually caught up and we chatted briefly. I knew Olive Oil Joe had meticulously broke down the race and was after that top ten and I told him to go get it as he and Jacob moved on out of sight. I knew we still had 20 miles left and I didn’t want to blow out too quickly.

Willie and I just plodded along and after about five miles I saw Mike Wolfe’s girlfriend running towards us. She told Willie and I to give Mike some words of encouragement because he was having a real rough time. I felt badly for my buddy Wolfe-man but said to Willie, “first case of carnage”. I was in 12th place and about to move in to 11th once we caught Wolfe, and in my mind who knows how many others ahead are suffering badly too. I tried not to think too much and Willie also did a phenomenal job of keeping me focused. He reminded me multiple times, “No numbers----no thinking---just run.” Eventually we caught Mike and he ran with us for a couple miles but I could just tell that he was hurting….Willie and I were able to put some space between us as we approached Brown’s Bar at mile 90. We were greeted by a huge party with Jimi Hendrix blaring loudly from the sound system and another fellow Oregonian Rob Cain amped up telling me that I’m in 11th place with 10th about six minutes ahead. I was lacking energy and motivation at this point and at about a mile past the aid station (mile 91) I completely stopped. “I can’t run anymore” I said to Willie. I had nothing left…I finally hit that really low point. I had to stop and go to the bathroom (which I had been doing on the run most of the day) but this time it happened to be a darker yellow. I was out of drink and dehydrated and demoralized but forced myself to take another ShotBlock. My legs and hips hurt and I felt that all the people that were sending me positive vibes all day must’ve all stopped and went to bed at that moment!

About 20 minutes and 1.5 miles later I was back to running and talking and Willie said, “you seem like you’re feeling a little better?” I didn’t realize it but I did get through that rough spot. I was still in pretty bad shape but at least I could run now. We entered HWY 49 aid station at mile 93.5 and I had a glazed-over look on my face apparently and just wanted it to be mile 99. The next few miles were much slower and more technical than I anticipated. Although Willie and I passed through some amazing sections as the sun went down and both agreed how lucky and grateful we are to be doing this. It was so epic and words really can’t do it justice. We finally made it to No Hand Bridge and it was all lit up…Classic!

We left there with one climb left in the race (Robie Point) and then it was through the neighborhoods to the track at Placer High School. I was moving slowly and honestly couldn’t believe that I was still in 11th place. As we climbed to Robie Point with about 1.5 miles to the finish Willie told me that he saw some head lamps back a little ways. I pushed hard up the climb and once we hit the streets I felt like I was running pretty good. With about half a mile to go and slightly downhill I kicked hard for a couple minutes and I was definitely in the low 6-minutes pace. Talk about a sight for sore eyes….seeing the stadium lights from a block away! I entered the track and saw my mom right by the entrance and blew her a kiss. Then I made my victory lap around the track just assuming that I had 11th locked up. Then around the last turn I saw Erica and Farah and instead of smiling and congratulating me Erica said with a disturbed look on her face while pointing at me, “GO, GO, GO!!!!!” In my periphery I could see two runners approaching and right around the last turn former JFK 50 winner David Riddle (and his pacer) came blowing past me like I was standing still. I yelled, “Really?!!!!” – and he offered a “sorry!” It is a race and I’m just thankful that it didn’t knock me out of 10th place…That would have been bad!

That did not ruin my experience at all … I didn’t let it…and I feel very satisfied with the way I prepared, took care of myself, and ran my first Western States 100. The level of organization, hype, volunteers and their enthusiasm, course variability, course history and traditions, level of runners, and all around professionalism make this run what it is today…Now I know why they call it, ”Statesmas”…”The Big Dance”…”The Super Bowl”…and I hope to be lucky enough to run it again someday. Thank you so much RD’s Greg Soderland and Craig Thornley and to all that are behind the scenes that make it possible for this once-a-year-pilgrimage to Auburn. 2012 will always be remembered as the “cold year” and the year that amazing course records went down by Timothy Olson and Ellie Greenwood…two classy runners that I am privileged to be friends with—huge congrats to the both of you and to all others that gave it their best on June 23, 2012.

I would like to say thank you to my sponsors that make my endeavors so much easier and that help keep me healthy…I’m honored and proud to represent such great companies: Udo’s Oil, Rudy Project, Drymax Socks, Haeleum, & Cheribundi

Last but not least huge thanks to my crew that consisted of Mom, Erica, Farah, Willie, and Joe. You guys rocked and you all did such an amazing job. You have no idea how good it is to see you guys after I emerge from the trails sometimes alone for hours. Much love to you all and I’m so glad that you were part of the unforgettable experience!

Final Result: 16 hours and 43 minutes- Good for 12th place overall- and a current 100-mile PR (Personal Record)

Listen to the podcast of Amy Sproston and me on 3 Non Joggers recapping Western States 100 and talking about lots of other topics too!

Thanks again for all the support and encouragement from everyone! Cheers!

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