Wednesday, July 10, 2013

2013 Western States 100 Race Report

So I figure I should probably put together a quick race report before details of the race start to become a blur.  That tends to happen with me.  People will comment "oh, remember so and so section of the course, or that part where such and such happens", and I won't have any idea what they are talking about.  Sometimes I will run a race with little recollection of the details of the course, terrain, and surrounding environment.  People will often ask what I think about during races, and I don't usually have a very good answer to give to them. However, being aware of this issue of mine, I actually paid attention during this race.

The big thing that sticks out is the constant evaluating of my bodily needs and current performance within my perceived abilities.  This includes making a mental note of what I need at the next aid stations, pacing, gear (what's working and what's not working), making sure not to get carried into someone else's pace, etc etc.  My mind was also heavily occupied by just being aware of my current situation: I was appreciating the course, reminding myself that I was running the Western States 100, admiring the beauty of my surroundings, and just being grateful for such an amazing experience.

Quick pre-race listing of events: 
-ran 1st 100, 2012 Oil Creek 100, 27:30, qualified for WS, entered lottery
-hanging out on a Christmas train in Titusville (location of OC100, how ironic) with my family, my girlfriend, and her family
-text from friend and ultrarunner Karey "you made it!"
-no idea what she is talking about
-she tells me it's WS100, she was glued to the computer, my name got pulled
*TIP: If you want to get into Western States, don't watch the lottery, and even be completely oblivious to the date of the lottery drawing*
-train for 6 months (training was not as good as it could or should have been, but it was enough to allow me to feel confident).  Hill repeats, long runs, back-to-back long runs, and time in the sauna.  Final long run was June 8th, 31 miles.  Highest mileage week was about 80 miles.
-taper for 2 weeks (my tapers consist of very little running, lots of rest, lots of relaxation)
-go to Cali
-meet a bunch of cool ultra ultra-dudes (Olson, Koerner, Ainsleigh, Clark, Clayton, Meltzer)
-got a bunch of cool swag and bought a few items at the WS store
-sleep good Thursday night, just a few short hours Friday night
-I saw Tim Olson warming up about 30 minutes prior to the race (warming up for a 100 miler, that is intense!)

The Race:
Race begins, 5 am, crowd takes off, I walk.  I don't run a single step until 3.5 miles in.  As many of you know, WS has a 3.5 mile long uphill with 3000 feet of gain at the beginning.  Many people were running up this.  The front runners were FLYING up this hill, it was ridiculous.  But anyways, the front runners can do that.  There was only about 15 runners behind me going up that hill.  I've run enough races to know that many of those in front of me would eventually fizzle out and slow down. While walking up the hill, another runner told me that there was a WS participant who walked from the beginning to Robinson Flat (mile 29.3), and still finished in under 24 hours.  Talk about negative splits!

So I warm up rather quickly going up the climb and get rid of my long-sleeve shirt just before the top.  The climb was beautiful.  Parts of the trail were surrounded with lush green plants and beautiful flowers, and the view behind us got better with each step.  Once to the top, I turned around to see the awesome view of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains.  Even Tim Olson takes a second from his blazing fast run to turn around and appreciate the view (Luis Escobar snapped a great photo of Olson appreciating the view).

After the climb, there's a somewhat technical section that involves many long gradual and fast descents, a few climbs, and many parts of the trail covered with a stream.  Not the annoying "this trail apparently isnt maintained and has now turned into a muddy stream", but more of a "wow, this is amazing the way the stream becomes part of the trail".  Somewhere along this section I was passed by Gordy Ainsleigh.  I will admit, I was a little worried when that happened.  I immediately remembered him in "Unbreakable" walking at the end of the race, over the 30 hour mark. But I quickly reminded myself that it's better to go slow and comfortable early on to save energy for the long run.

Shortly after that section, there was some nice running through a more heavily wooded area, and that came out to an exposed, hot, and rocky mountainous section of the trail with some decent climbs.  I caught up to Gordy at this point, and was running behind him for a few minutes.  I said "Gordy, I'm just going to follow you, you've got a good pace going".  He replied "well, you won't get lost, but you might be late."  Moments later I passed him and that was the last I saw him.  Phew!

I felt really good coming out of the aid station at mile 15. I must have felt slightly slow and lethargic until that point, because I felt a new and strong sense of energy and motivation as I came out of that aid station.

I came into the Duncan Canyon aid station only 10 minutes ahead of the 30 hour pace.  Descended into Duncan Canyon, crossed the creek, and started the ascent out. Most of this area was exposed to the hot sun, and it was one of the sections I remember to be warmer than others (along with the descent into El Dorado).

I felt pretty good coming up out of Duncan Canyon, and passed a couple people as I power hiked at a good pace.  I stayed cool throughout the day by dousing myself from a handheld bottle and drinking from my hydration backpack.  Dedicating an entire 20 oz bottle to keeping myself wet helped immensely in staying cool.

I came into Robinson Flat 25 minutes under the 30 hour pace.  Alright, great, I was slowly bettering myself.  I was happy to finally get to Robinson Flat and see Allison (amazing girlfriend and super crew).  I drank an Ensure (nectar of the Gods) and continued on.  I remember the next 10 miles being the easiest of the race.  It seemed like there quite a bit of very runnable and smooth fire-road.  I passed a few people in this section that were already starting to complain of soreness, particularly in the quads. Some of them were even walking.  I felt a bit sympathetic, because if they were walking this early in the race on such a runnable portion of trail, their situation didn't look promising.

Anyways, I make it to Last Chance about 50 minutes under the 30-hr pace.  I ask multiple people as I come into the aid station, "Why's it called Last Chance".  Each one of the volunteers and spectators responds "because it's your last chance".   That was all they would say.  I'm still confused.  Anyways, after I leave the aid station, its more smooth and gradual downhill running, still making good time.  I'm running next to a woman who is a "safety patrol" (I guess these are runners and safety/medical people that just run certain sections of the trail throughout the day.. I'm not really sure).

I ask her how far to the next aid station.

"about 7 miles" she says.

"Oh, that's not bad" I reply.

"but it'll be a few hours, you've got a long descent followed by a long climb.  When you get to the bottom, sit in the creek for a minute.  It'll cool down your core temperature."

"Thanks, I'll do that!"

Moments later, I'm descending down the switchbacks at a pretty good pace.  Forward lean, quick turnover, keeping pressure off the quads.  Passed a few people on the downhill, most of whom were braking the whole way down.  I finally, after what seems like forever, make it to the bottom.  After crossing a bridge, I found the small stream crossing, and plop right down in the water.  It was cold, and it was refreshing!  I cooled down instantly, and a giant smile came over my face. I said aloud to myself "this is the life!".  A runner soon approached and asked "does that help?".  I assured him that it was indeed worth it.  I got up to give him my spot in the water, and continued on and up the very very very long climb.. Switchback after switchback, again, seemed like forever.  However, I was making good time.

I finally made it to the aid station.  I felt pretty good despite coming out of what I would later decide to be the toughest part of the course.  It was absolutely brutal, but in some sick and twisted way, its brutality made me happy.  I was draped with a cold wet towel and given a popsicle.  Talk about service!  I noticed a few people laying on the lounge-chairs, getting their quads iced.  My quads still felt pretty fresh.  I could definitely tell I gave them a good pounding in that last section, so I grabbed two chunks of ice and gave them a quick preventative rub down before heading out.

I then headed down toward El Dorado creek.  This section seemed like nearly a repeat of the previous.  Long steep downhill switchbacks that seemed to go on forever.  I passed even more people in this section than the last, many of them vocalizing to me their disdain with the condition of their quads.  I was cruising along quite well, and I felt rather proud to fly by these folks like they were standing still.  I was feeling very happy and confident with my downhill running.  Upon arriving at the creek crossing, I felt a bit chilly.  I found that to be rather odd.  I grabbed a few pieces of fruit, and started up the hill.  I still felt cold, and I soon realized I felt weak as well.  I quickly remembered Geoff Roes in "Unbreakable", when he reached a low point, and "doubled his gel intake".   I immediately consumed two gels, two s-caps, and a decent amount of water.  I figured if I'm feeling weak, it has to be due to a lack of one or more of those items.  Within five minutes, I felt back to normal, warmer, and more energized.  That was exciting!  It was exciting to know that I've come to learn how my body operates and reacts while running, and what it needs in certain situations.  Additionally, I found humor in the memory of that movie scene creeping into my head at such a time and helping me out the way it did.

I finally make it to Michigan Bluff, mile 55.  This for me was a mental barrier that I set for myself early in the race. I thought that as long as I get to Michigan Bluff, I will definitely finish the race.  It's only seven miles from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill, and that's when I would be picking up my pacer, and that is where everyone says "the race starts and the trail becomes more runnable."  The crowd support at Michigan Bluff was second to none.  Those people are so supportive, welcoming, and motivating.  Never before in any race, including road marathons, have I experienced such a level of support.  And it's different in ultras. I'm the only one coming into the aid station at that time, and I know all the cheering is for me, and not for the general crowd of runners.  It feels great, and really provides a great mental boost.  I also got to see Allison again at this point.  I had an Ensure, and I think I may have had a can of Starbucks double shot.  I grabbed my headlight just in case, and continued on.  I was now 1 hr 38 min ahead of the 30 hour pace.

Following Michigan Bluff was about 2 miles of dirt road, mostly a gradual uphill, followed by the descent into  Volcano Canyon.  Definitely not as bad as the previous canyons.  The climb up Bath Road was probably the worst part of it.  Finally I arrive at Foresthill and pick up my pacer Jeremy.  I've never met Jeremy until this point.  We met up through the WS pacer request page.  Jeremy turned out to be a great and motivating pacer with plenty of awesome stories along the way, and I was very fortunate to have him for the last 38 miles.

I changed my shoes and socks at Foresthill, and applied some aquaphor to a blister that formed on the ball of my left foot.  My buddy Tom (get some, whooooo) always says "You gotta take care of your spots: food, fluids, friction."

Just after leaving Foresthill, it was time to turn on the headlamps.  The next several miles of trail was somewhat technical at times, but also very runnable.  We were moving at a decent pace, and passing quite a few people along the way.

A few prior to the Rucky Chucky river crossing, I was starting to feel slightly tired and fatigued.  I kept up on my caffeinated gels the best I could, about one every half hour.  Finally we get to the river crossing, and it's quite the production.  Long steel cable across the river being held in place by about a dozen guys/gals with drysuits and wetsuits.  The water was cold and was just above waist high.  After getting out of the water, I drank some hot soup, applied some more aquaphor to my foot, and started up the hill to Green Gate.

I noticed immediately that the cold water refreshed my legs considerably.  I started picking up the pace, and soon we were running up the hill.  People that we passed would make comments like "that dude better get tested for doping", and "you guys are animals, keep it up!".  It was pretty exciting.  We discussed that if we can push the pace til the end, that there is a slight chance for a sub-24 finish.  It would be very difficult, but we decided it would be worth a try.  This decision really lit a fire. We were in and out of the Green Gate aid station, and the following five miles were the fastest I ran all day. W were running everything, and running it hard.  We were passing people left and right.  It was awesome!

As we neared the mile 85 aid station, we could hear music nearly a mile away.  These guys were blasting their music throughout the woods in the middle of the night!  It was quite the sight.  We arrived at 2:12 am, and the 30-hour pace would have us there at 6:30 AM.  We still had a lot of work to do to catch the sub-24.  However, as soon as I left the mile 85 aid station, I knew the sub-24 was not going to happen.  For the first time in the entire race, and quite abruptly, my quads were toast.  I regrettably informed Jeremy that it just wasn't going to happen today.  It was okay though.  I wanted a sub-24 weeks before the race, but upon seeing the forecast for race-day, I simply wanted to finish.  Also, a PR would be great as well.  I knew a PR was still an absolute certain at that point, and I was very proud of the hard running I put in from mile 78 to 85.

Miles 85 to the end were a bit slower.  I did a lot of walking between 85 and 90 until my legs warmed back up some, and then did a lot of slow running.  Shortly after Hwy 49, there was a climb, followed by a beautiful section of trail.  Smooth dirt singletrack just sneaks it's way through a meadow filled with tall and lush grass.  The sun rose as we crested the meadow, and it was extremely peaceful.  A beautiful time to reflect on the 95 miles behind me, and the celebratory final five in front of me.

We slowly worked our way to No Hands Bridge and up to Robie Point.  I passed three or four more runners on the road, came onto the track, and finished the Western States 100 in 25:30:29.  112th out of 383 starters, 277 finishers.

Finish video:  (switched to two handhelds at 93.5)

My pacer Jeremy's blog writeup of the last 38 miles:

RaceReady shorts
UA Heatgear Singlet (sunburn on my shoulders!)
Headsweats visor (sunburn on my head!)
Injinji socks
Saucony Peregrine 2 shoes
Dirtygirl gaiters (hot pink of course)
Bodyglide (no chafing!)
Nathan endurance hydration pack (used for drinking)
Aquaphor insulated 20 oz handheld (used for dousing)
Blackdiamond Storm headlamp (tons of awesome light, but had to swap batteries at mile 85. I plan to buy a second light to swap at a drop bag station halfway through the night for next time)


clif bar, ensure, & coffee 2.5 hours prior to race, gel 10 minutes prior.

during race:
I tried to take in approx. 100 calories and one s-cap every half hour.  Reduced s-caps to about one every 40 minutes at night.  Drank water when thirsty.

lots and lots and lots of gels (between 40-50 total), mostly GU Roctane that were provided at aid stations. Also had a few Crank Sports E-gels, clif gels, and regular GU gels.

Usually two cups of Gu Brew at each aid station.

Ensure at crew accessible aid stations, starbucks double-shots at night.

Miscellaneous items: popsicle, watermelon, cantaloupe, turkey sandwich, grilled cheese sandwich, clif bar, Kind bars, payday, peanut M&Ms, salty potatoes.

Random thoughts / summarizing comments / color commentary / random randomness: 

The WS trail in general is just plain awesome to run on.  The differences in terrain and environment throughout the race is quite impressive.   It was easily the most fun and beautiful trail I've ever run on.

This was the most difficult yet gratifying experience of my life.

I can't wait to go back.

I think I could have ran a little faster earlier on.

Passing people late in the race is so much fun.

As someone from a state with far less elevation change, and having never been west of Ohio prior to this race, I am very proud of how I handled both the downhills and uphills.

I'm glad I ran really hard from 78 to 85.  Sure, I could have slowed down some, and maybe the last 15 miles would have been less arduous, but it was worth a shot.  And I think the resulting time would have been very similar.

The WS100 is a very well organized event that exudes class and purity in every facet of its execution.

I never had any very low moments during this race.  At my first 100 miler, I became very sleepy with a "this hurts" mentality around mile 80.  However, in contrast to Oil Creek, at WS I stayed on top of my water, salt, and calories throughout the night.  Anytime I was feeling tired or weak, I would pop another caffeinated gel.

Thank you to everyone who supports me.  Running is awesome.