Thursday, July 2, 2009

Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run

Sunrise race morning

Robinson Flat 29.7 miles

Entering Michigan Bluff
This was my low point Michigan Bluff, 55.7 miles

Foresthill School

Pacer Tony Clark getting ready to run all night
leaving Foresthill school 62 miles

Adrian waiting for me at Hwy 49 93.5 Miles


The award you see here is the result of a monumental effort of my friends, crew, and my wife. It also represents thousands of miles of training, hours and hours at the gym, victories, defeats, elation, depression, fear, injury, boredom, and—last but not least—agonizing pain.

There is no point in me giving background information on WS100 as it is the most media-covered ultra event in the US. You climb 18,000 feet you descend 22,000 feet... Enough said.

Friday June 26
Slept as late as possible. Then, with Gabe and our respective crews, we went to the med check and packet pick-up. The race swag you get at WS is unbelievable: a nice Mountain Hardware backpack, 3 shirts, LED hat (which is totally useless), GU, Green Magma, Ultrarunner mag, Sunsweet fruit, stickers, and other various promotional items. Next, we got our picture taken with our bib numbers. Then it was on to weigh in and have our blood pressure taken which was all carefully written down along with our name, age, sex, and hometown on a hospital-type bracelet. Most of this info would wear off or be gone by morning as a result of showering. Mid-afternoon, we showed up at race headquarters in the Olympic Plaza for the mandatory race meeting. Most of the stuff said here was the usual fare: don't die, don't go out hard, make sure you drink and eat. Then a race official mentioned Dan Moores, the founder of Auburn Running Company. Dan had died the previous day in a long battle with luekemia. He said that over the years Dan was a major contributor to the race and had run it several times. But his real passion was being an aid-station captain at the Bath Rd. aid station (mile 60.6). The race official asked that we honor Dan by doing three things: running the race with the prestige it deserves; on the climb to the aid station—even if we were hurting badly—to think of Dan and push a little harder; and finally, at the Bath Rd. aid station, give a smile to the volunteers. A moment of silence and bagpipes concluded this race briefing.

Race Day
Saturday June 27
Awake by 3:15. Shower, then food. Pop Tarts, banana, coffee. Tony Clark, my pacer, was already awake. Tony wanted to see the start and had gotten only three hours of sleep due to 15 hours of flight delays and mechanical problems at the airport. Tony is a veteran combat Marine and has done some of the toughest 100s out there: Big Horn, Leadville, HURT. When he called me to volunteer for pacer duty I jumped on it. This was going to be a difficult race and I was going to need a badass to push me. Gabe woke up late and thought that it was all a bad dream. We both fumbled around in silence filling water bottles and double-checking gear.

4:30. Out the door for a short walk to the start. Checked in, got our bib # pinned on took a few pictures, then lined up. I was in awe, the energy at the start is supernatural. Its almost like you absorb the emotions from the other 400 athletes at once. Shotgun blast and we were off. Two years in the making!!!

Squaw Valley to Robinson Flat (0 - 29.7 miles)
This was high country: 7,000 ft average with the highest point being Emigrant Pass at 8,700ft. Emigrant Pass is what you climb towards in the first 3.5 miles and it is quite a hump. Made it to the top in about 52 minutes. Then you go down for awhile. I don't remember much else. Running with Gabe we made it to Red Star Ridge, 16 miles, around 8:10 am 3hrs 10 min. Sat down and laced up my shoes a little better. Even though WS is known for being hot, dry, and dusty, the first twenty miles offer quite a few opportunities to get muddy. Started to noticed a little warmth here. The sun was out over the high peaks. And the altitude made it feel like I was dragging some weight behind me. Duncan Canyon, mile 23.8, marks the start of another significant climb. This will eventually take you to the Robinson Flat Aid Station, 29.7 miles, the second-highest point of the course at 6,700 ft. "Keep your head down and go up," is what I was thinking here. It must have been tough because I remember nothing about this climb except I passed Dean Karnazes and Jenn Shelton—both elite runners, both having bad days. Running into Robinson Flat was exciting. They announce your name and hometown over a loud speaker and everyone is cheering for you. Masses of people lined up against the tape barricades. This was to be the first weigh-in. I was up three pounds: 140 compared to my original 137 lbs. No big deal, and I got waved on by the medical staff. Crew are not allowed to touch their runner in the aid station here. This was a dumb rule and made it hard for some crews to help their runner.

Miller's Defeat to Rucky Chucky (34 - 78.1 miles)
After Robinson Flat I knew the rest of the course. Having run it in training camp, I felt pretty confident. Around Miller's Defeat I noticed the signs at the aid stations. Listed on them were the projected cutoff times for 24 and 30 hour runners. I was less than 10 minutes under the 24 hour cutoff!! (Little did I know this same situation would repeat itself over and over for the next 16 hours). I wasn't real worried yet and I felt really good. Next was a pretty long decent down to Last Chance, mile 43.3, and then a extreme decent down Deadwood Canyon, mile 46.1. This marks the start of the climb to Devil's Thumb. No big deal. It was a little warm. I got to the top and saw at least two runners puking, a couple more laying down. Felt okay considering what I had just done. Grabbed some cut-up mango and took off down to El Dorado Creek, mile 52.9. This was a very long descent and the quads were starting to feel it. It was about 3:30 pm and very warm. The sun was bouncing off this canyon creating kind of an oven effect. But it was nothing I hadn't been through before. Made it to El Dorado Creek A.S. just after 4 pm. This is also where Gabe caught up to me. Took a cool sponge bath. I don't remember eating anything here except maybe an S-Cap and GU, and then we both headed up the climb to Michigan Bluff which isn't real steep, just real long. About half way into the first mile it was was like my switch got turned off. I could feel it happen: dizziness, accelerated heart rate, breathing was out of control. Redlining. Textbook bonk. I stepped off the trail to let Gabe pass. Then I bent over and put my hands on my knees and rested for a few moments trying to get my heart rate under control. "This is bullshit!" was what I was thinking. "This doesn't happen to me, I don't get f@#!ing tired!" I could no longer hold pace. Continued to slog up the climb although it was a lot slower now. This was a very humbling exeperience for me I tried forcing myself to run the short, flat sections. I basically wrote off finishing under 24 hrs here. Wobbled into Michigan Bluff, mile 55.7, at 5:10 pm, 12 hrs 10 min—thoroughly wiped. Weighed in at 131 lbs, from what I weighed at Robinson Flat (26 miles ago) that was a 9 lb loss. My awesome crew noticed immediately that I was hurting and went to work. Red Bull on ice, 2 S-Caps, salt and potatoes, Payday bars, Rice Krispie treats. I spent about 15 minutes here, my longest stop for the entire race. I needed it.I had just gone through hell and my crew helped me regroup. Checked out of the A.S. and slowly worked up to a easy jog. At Bath Rd., mile 60.6, your pacer can meet you and run with you into Foresthill 1.8 miles away. I had caught up to a group of about 4 runners and their pacers and Tony was there to run me in. On this hill I noticed that a runner slightly ahead of me had a pretty good limp and was struggling up the hill with his pacer. He heard me coming and yelled to me and few other runners, "No one walks this hill, we run it for Dan!" This was a reality check I needed. An endurance athlete dies fighting a horrible disease and I'm here alive and feeling sorry for myself because I'm running slow and didn't eat enough. Shut the F up and put out! Ran hard into Foresthill School, mile 62, 6:41 pm, 13 hrs 41 min. My amazing crew again swarmed me: someone took my shirt off and put on a fresh one. Shoes and socks were changed. Slammed another Red Bull. Put on my headlamp and Tony and I were gone. We ran the next 8-9 miles pretty smoothly. I was actually feeling good on this section as it is mostly down hill.

The Darkness
Peachstone Cal 2 - Auburn Finish Line (70.7-100 miles)
Just after passing Cal 2 A.S., about mile 72 the sun went down and so did my pace. In the trade they call this "going soft". Exhausted, my legs were smoked, it was pretty warm, and I was getting a bad attitude. Tony recognized this and took over: "It's okay man, were gonna run for 3 minutes and walk for one." We continued this all the way down to Rucky Chucky, mile 78, where Tony let me sit a couple minutes. Two massage therapists went to work on my quads as I was eating some noodles. While I was enjoying bliss, Tony was refilling bottles and an aid station captain walked up to him and asked, "Is your runner going for silver?" Yes. The captain turned to me and put his finger in my face: "Get out of that chair! I'm kickin' you out! You're 9 minutes above 24 hour pace! You have no time!" This fired me up and with Tony in the lead we crossed the river a headed up the steep windy road to Green Gate, mile 79.8. Angel, Tony's wife didn't miss a beat she had more Red Bull and ice for me. The next aid station was Auburn Lake Trails, mile 85.2. I came into this A.S. around 1 am, almost 20 hrs of running "I'm not going to make sub 24, I'm going to slow, I can barely run anymore." These were some of the negative thoughts I ran with and they were crushing me. The downhills were absolute agony. Brown's Bar, mile 89.9, 2:10 am: empty Jaeger bottles, loud music, and all the volunteers were wearing red dresses. Now, as I write this, 2 hrs and 50 minutes to run 10 miles doesn't seem all that hard. But after running for over 21 hours, it felt like I was gonna have to run an out and back to the moon in order to finish. My stride was gimpy and short. I was frustrated, and downhill running was a no-go at this point. The next few miles, Tony played a huge part in my finish time. He kept talking to me, getting in my head, saying we could knock this thing out in under 24. "If you can hack the pain, you're going to get a silver buckle." I went blank on the insane climb to Hwy 49, mile 93.5. I had less than 1 hr and 50 min to run a 10k. Just to give you an idea, it can take the elite front runners 1 hr 20 min to do this difficult section. Painful run down to No Hands Bridge, mile 96.8. "GO,GO we are not stopping!" Tony yells at me. Just over 5k to go in less than 50 minutes. "This is too close." The climb up to Robie Point, mile 98.9, will forever be burned into my memory. I had to curse, bite, scratch, and claw my way up that long, steep, rocky, nightmare. I fell several times, tripping on jagged rocks going up this climb. At Robie Point, the rest of the course is all pavement with some impressive hills. Someone said I had 21 minutes to run just under 2 miles. Struggling up those final hills I knew I was going to make it. The last half mile to the finish is all painful, joyous, downhill. I lost track of time here and I was running as hard as I could. I entered the stadium and rounded the final turn of the track and saw the clock. I had finished under 24 hours with only seven minutes to spare. Kristi and Adrian were there to hug me at the finish. It was so good to be done! Tim Twietmeyer congratulated me and handed me a finisher medal. Sat down in a chair so medical personnel could tell me if I was going to live or not. Larry Gassan, a photographer who runs the Finish Line Photo Project, came over and pulled me out of the chair to take my picture. I threw everything I had at this race and still, I barely scraped in under 24 hours. Satisfied for now; that's why I'm going to try Leadville.