Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run
Prologue - The month of April consisted of very few running miles, including my first dnf at Boston. By month's end I was fairly certain I would be sidelined by my hamstring injury, but with the persistance of my PT (Thank you Robyn Pester!) I was running well by 6 weeks before race day. I was able to get in 3 100 mile weeks prior to tapering, and those weeks included key training days for me - 55 miles of the course at the end of May, and a double crossing of the Grand Canyon (50 miles) 3 weeks before the race with Team Thornley - for heat, altitude, electrolyte, and MENTAL training.
I was excited for this year's race, and not nervous. Not because I was confident, but because 100 miles is too long to get nervous for. My plan was simple - take care of myself, pay attention to the small stuff lest it become a big issue, and save something for the last 38 miles. I had no time predictions, no splits to aim for, so no pressure on myself. I told my crew to expect 'sometime' after Kami, Nikki, and Bev.
The race started at 5:00 am, and I keyed in on Craig - I have trained with him and am accustomed to his pace, and it was good to have someone to gauge my effort against. However, he was already drifting ahead when I caught and passed Nikki and Kami running/hiking together. Kami greeted me, and I joined the 2 of them. There was absolutely no reason for me to EVER be ahead of Nikki in a race, and I enjoyed getting to know them even better in the long ascent to the Escarpment. Just before the first aid station, they pulled ahead. I struggled to get the tops off my bottles, and by the time I was ready to go, I knew that Nikki, Kami, Bev, and Carrinne were all ahead of me, but I was pleased with how the hike up had gone.
Into the Granite Chief Wilderness section on single track was the beginning of the long, isolated, beautiful running along ridges and into and out of beautiful wooded sections. The temperature was comfortable, the footing good. I stayed very relaxed and asked myself over and over 'is this taking care of yourself?' I drank regularly, and only slightly felt the altitude. Eventually I caught Ann Lundblad while she stood off the trail to apply a bandaid. She soon passed me by again, along with Alan Abs. Alan had declared before the race that I had better him beat him this year, so I wondered how that would play out. Before Lyon's Ridge aid station, Ken Gregorich caught me. He was so far having a good day, and we kept company until the aid station. I grabbed 3 figbars while the station folks filled my bottles with GU2O. I walked out, making sure I ate them all before running again. Caron caught me here and lightly tripped away. Caron has incredibly strong legs and runs EVERYTHING, up or down. I was now alone and happy to control my pace. Another hour plus passed, and I arrived at Red Star Ridge aid station. Tents were popped up all around for the volunteers who spend the night, and I was impressed by the number of them and the sacrifice they made to be in this remote spot for all of us. I grabbed figbars, and freshly filled bottles, and made my way. I was excited to know that the next aid station was Duncan Canyon - where I would see Brian, and from which point I had trained on just a few weeks prior.
I was feeling 'okay' - not great. I tried a gel and that helped some, so I took an S! Cap for insurance. I was still basically running alone, saying to myself - 'how am I going to run hard at Foresthill if this feels hard now?' It wasn't that I was running hard, I think it was just the altitude getting to me a little. I passed 2 more runners close to the aid station, and finally arrived to the awesome hoots and hollers of the crews and volunteers. I saw Brian in his red Sunsweet shirt waving fresh bottles. As I approached him, and according to plan, he pointed me away to the aid station food, insisting I find something to eat. I grabbed some melon, some soda, and an S! Cap. Then I asked Brian for some chocolate milk, which I downed in seconds. A volunteer sponged my legs, and as I was leaving, Annette Bednosky arrived. This was a very good sign for Annette, who has been sidelined from hard racing and training for many months from a serious hamstring injury.
Down into the canyon to cross Duncan Creek, I again was alone. Just as I arrived at the creek, Annette pulled in behind. Having fallen off the first rock I stepped on, I just waded across. The cool water was a treat, and I was happy that I no blisters at this point. Annette crossed behind, we chatted briefly, but her injury would not allow her to hike hard, only walk steady. I hiked and ran for what seemed forever before arriving to Robinson Flat to the cheers of Chris, Grayson, and Renee (GO NIPPLE'S SISTER!). I weighed in and was 114 - one lb up, so that was looking good. Tommy led me to my crew, Ed yanked the yellow tape up for me to go under, sat me down in the chair, and it felt like an Indy 500 pit stop. Laura wiped my legs, Ed fed me soup, Alec sponged my head. I drank some juice, grabbed my fresh bottles from Ed, and carefully, slowly, walked away, making sure I wasn't leaving something behind. Finally I began running, and was chased out of the aid station by many well wishers.
I hiked and ran to the top of Little Bald Mountain, and then began the mostly downhill running. I cruised along easily, nearly bit it once but caught myself before what would have been a skin slicer. I scolded myself, and focused on picking up my feet. I spotted Caron Spore ahead, and soon caught up to her. Downhill running is more my strength, so I let myself float down. I caught up to Whit next and ran a few steps with him. I spotted another woman up front, and was gaining on her. Walking a small non-technical uphill section, I took my eyes off the road momentarily, when WHAM - I was eating dirt. Oh, brother. I got up quickly and hoped no one had seen it. Before long I caught up to the woman - Kim Holak, and we ran together all the way to Miller's Defeat aid station. She is another of the many gracious runners I had the privelege of getting to know that day.
At Miller's, I grabbed a handful of potato chips, freshly filled bottles, and hurried out. I knew that Dusty Corners was only 3 or 4 miles away, and there would be some downhill. The amount of flattish running was feeling like a chore, and I had to make a couple of pit stops. Even so, I passed a couple of runners, hit the downhill, and flew into Dusty. I grabbed some soda and melon and went to Brian. He informed me I could get sprayed down, so I took advantage of it, and also had my legs sponged off. I then sat down, asked for Pork and Beans, and to change my socks. I didn't have blisters, but the feet were getting hot spots. While sitting there, Caron, Annette, and Whit, all came through and were out before me. But, I was all freshened up, and eating more beans just before jumping on Pucker Point trail.
This trail went badly for me last year. This year - it was much better. I was feeling tired, but I had run 37 miles or so what did I expect? Soon, I caught and passed Whit as he was drinking and peeing as if he had a straight shot all the way through. He followed me closelyand silently as we traversed through the woods, then out onto the gravel road that would eventually bring us to Last Chance aid station. I weighed in at 110, so drank more while there, and ate pineapple, mango, and cantelope. I had fresh bottles, ate a gel, got sponged off, and then set off for the swinging bridge at the bottom of Deadwood Canyon. This downhill seemed to go on forever. I finally reached the bottom and crossed at the same time as Caron. We began the ascent to Devil's Thumb, which is the hardest climb in the race for me. I told Caron to go ahead, claiming she is the mountain goat, and I watched as she ran away from me and disappeared from view. As I hiked, another runner came behind. I asked if he would like to pass, but he said he was ahead of his splits, so he needed to slow down. We chatted as we slogged, and soon caught Annette. What took me 32 minutes on training day, took 40 minutes today.
At Devil's Thumb aid station I was greeted by one of my massage clients! It was great to see a friendly familiar face, and David did all he could to get me ready to charge on. Now my weight was 117. Huh - 7 lbs in as many miles? I told the crew there that I had been taking salt, drinking, and that I felt good, and that was enough for them.
I left the aid station and entered into My Dark Time. Not sure why, but as I was beginning the run down into El Dorado Canyon I asked myself 'why am I doing this? I don't want to be a runner anymore.' Good, old-fashioned pity party. A few switchbacks on this awesome section, and I caught Annette. We started chatting, and my self-pity disappeared. We kept company all the way to the crossing. She teased me about looking so clean. At the bottom, I drank 2 cups of coke, took an S! Cap and a gel, while Annette started her 'walk' to Michigan Bluff. I finished refreshing, and soon caught up. I hiked strong, jogged when I could, and my new goal was 'get to the river before dark'. I figured I needed to be to Michigan Bluff around 4, and Foresthill around 5 to give myself a good cushion.
When close enough, I ran into the aid station. It was after 4. I weighed in at 117 again. They took my story, let me go, and I had to give a urine sample to the study group, while letting Brian and Ed know that I didn't want to stay long, I wanted to get to the river. Food was not exciting, but chocolate milk and a Payday seemed to fit the bill. They ice massaged my legs, took off my shoes and socks to trade for clean and dry. I chose the Injinji toe socks, and got one all the way on with the heel in the wrong direction, giving Ed a very perplexed expression - 'somethin's not right here'. Wrong foot. As I was getting socks on the right feet, my left calf cramped. I took another S! Cap. Finally, all cleaned up, and I told Brian and Ed - 'at Foresthill, we're going without lights and without the hydration pack'.
Brian ran up the road with me until he was not allowed. I kept running, and was surprised at my pace. Not fast, but not a slog. I soon caught Annette, who again teased me about getting all cleaned up every time. I pulled ahead, and soon began the descent into Volcano Canyon. In pretty short order, my calf started to cramp again. Yikes! I reached for my S! Caps, and discovered I had left them at Michigan Bluff. I walked a little, and ate a few salted almonds, and drank a lot of electrolytes. It seemed to hold it at bay, but I need to be even more conservative. I then decided that it would be irresponsible of me to head to the river without a light. If I cramped up and took 4 hours (my last year's time) I would be in the dark. When I arrived at the creek, Annette was right behind me. I waded knee high in the creek to cool my calf, while she walked out the other side. Whit caught up, and decided the creek looked pretty good too. I climbed out, calf somewhat better, and fell in behind Annette. Passing her on a turn, she said she needed an attitude adjustment, but from being around her I would guess it wouldn't need much.
I carefully pulled myself up some climbs, monitoring my calf. At Bath Road, Brian and Penny were there to run me into Foresthill. Brian had my S! Caps, so I took one and chugged some juice. We hiked nearly the top before I started running. Ed came running towards us, and we all had instructions for the Foresthill stop. I has to get a weight and blood draw for the study group, plus a race weight (117 again), and eat what I could. Soda and a potato. I ran to my crew stop, saw some Corvallis friends, grabbed a head lamp - it was 5:30, 2 bottles, and with Ed as my first pacer, we flew down to California Street. I felt unbelievably good. Wow. My plan had worked. We jumped onto the trail, and continued to fly. We passed number 19, David Goggins, who hung with us. It was better than training day. I hiked the ups, ran the downs. It was looking good for a daylight crossing. In and out of the aid station after coke, gel and watermelon. Between Cal1 and Cal2 we caught and passed Ken Gregorich, running on 'E'. I reminded him that he shouldn't have passed me in the high country. Now we were a train of 5 all the way to Cal2, where we lost Ken to a chair (only momentarily for him, but we didn't see him again until he finished). Back to a threesome, we wended our way from Cal2 down to the river. Before the sneaky climb up from the river (who made this trail!!!) I saw Ann Lundblad. Ed wondered if I was going to chase her down. I told him she would be coming back to me, there was nothing I needed to do, nor could do without getting into trouble. The long climb told me I was getting weary, but when it leveled, I could still run. I caught Ann, and we chatted a bit. She was okay, just a little worse for the wear.
Next we caught one of my teammates, Matt, who had been struggling from the start, but was persevering. We kept on, and at Cal3 I was pretty certain we would make it to the crossing in the light. The downhills were still running, but the uphills, ugh. Finally, Ed asks if he can holler (as only Ed can) and I said 'knock yourself out'. He let out his signature bellow, and we were granted one back by Brian on the other side of the river. I was adrenalized and goofy, wearing a grin like I had won the race when I came into Rucky-Chucky. I weighed in - 117. Down to the river we ran and hand over hand on the cable, we were waist deep, getting the core temperature down and full of optimism for getting there before dark.
Penny and Brian changed my shoes. Ed got me soup. I drank 3 cups of it. I got reports of how everyone was doing. I was now 6th woman. I figured I would be lucky to hold that place, but Caron was 20 minutes ahead, so I could be seeing her. As we left the aid station with lights and a hydration pack, and an extra shirt in case it got cold. I was amazed at how fresh my legs had become. I hiked hard, and broke into a run on more than one occasion on the climb to Green Gate.
At Green Gate, Penny and I were on our own. David was still hanging on, opting to go without a pacer. With lights on, on a runnable coutour, I was flying. David was convinced I was trying to break 20 hours. I just wanted to finish. I hiked the climbs, ran the downs, and finally we got to Auburn Lake Trail's aid station. Another weigh in, still the same. More coke, more gel, more GU2O. Penny did a great job of finding out what I wanted before each aid station and making sure I got it. Now my left calf started to hurt. I took another S! Cap (a wet one from the river crossing) and an Alleve.
We pushed on, and came into Brown's Bar. More potato soup, coke, and we were out of there. I technical downhill and I could feel the fatigue really catching up. Down by the river again, I spotted runners, and was astonished to see Kami and her pacer, Ashley. 'Kami - what's up?'. She was having vision issues and struggling with foot placement. She was as cool as could be - it had happened before and she said 'it is what it is'. She encouraged me on like a true champion.
The ups were getting slower, but I knew that highway 49 was near. A very long climb later, we heard cars, and a sound system. Finally at the top, we ran down to the crossing. 7 miles to go! I got rid of the hydration pack, the fanny pack, the extra shirt, and went with just one hand held light and one bottle. We climbed out steadily, and came to a meadow where Alan and his pacer were stopped. Alan was having energy and foot issues. As I passed I reminded him of his declaration earlier and he was in full agreement still.
David was still hanging with Penny and I. He reported that there were runners coming, but it coincided with some downhill that I was still able to take advantage off. We cruised all the way to No-Hands Bridge, I drank coke and ate a gel, and we were across the bridge in a hurry. A flat running section and the lights caught us. I was relieved it was a male runner with his pacer. We reached the last climb before David finally threw in the towel. No amount of encouragement from Penny would get him to keep up. He said he would see us 6 minutes after we finished.
We came out at Robie Point all fired up. I started running up the hill, as Alec (Jeff Riley's nephew) and Brian ran towards us. Alec gave me an update - Jeff had placed 9th! Nikki, Bev, Carrinne, and Caron had all finished, so it looked like I was good for 5th female. Unbelievable. On the final downhills, I stretched my legs out and felt myself fly. Onto the track, Penny stayed with me to the finish. 20:50. A mere 2.5 hours faster than last year.
Pretty magical day. I owe a debt of gratitude to my husband Brian for working so very hard at the logistics of crewing and overall caretaking, to Ed and Penny for the fabulous pacing and encouragement, to Sunsweet and Sporthill for their sponsorship, to all my Sunsweet teammates, and to the Brothers Thornley (Chris 'Everyone's-a-winner!' and Craig 'Nipples') for the 'Grand- Canyon-training-run-with-yoga.'
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