As I contemplate a life of baking pies, making handcrafted furniture or hitting the road as a carny, I want to take a stab at recapping the weekend. Running consistently for 12 years now, I have never posted a race report. Driving out to California with my crew, I had high hopes in participating and finishing Western States. Visualizing being in the race has been swimming around in my head since reading Born to Run and getting introduced to Ultra running years ago.
Arriving in Squaw Valley, CA a couple of days before the race was a rush of “Heck yea!” The ultra sub culture is as strange and unique as any. There are men and women from around the world at the top of their game. Take that and mix it with “average” folks that have focused in their busy worlds and have “done the time” to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder to these elites at the start, and you get Western States 100.
Of the crew that I had assembled, my wife and daughters had crewed me in the Leadville 100, but none of the PBR 4 had ever been to an ultra. The atmosphere surrounding the race is intense and awesome. Imagine getting front row seats to your favorite band, an all you can drink and eat wrist band, and oh you got back stage passes to hang out with them and bring some of your best buddies. Something like that….
I lapped up the scene at the prerace meetings watching the likes of Kaci, Jim, Magda, Mike, Ian, Yiou, Gunhild, runners from South Africa, Hong Kong, Germany, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Panama, New Zealand, England, Chile, and one from Kansas. There was a similarity between all 369 of them. We didn’t know at the time but only 248 of us would finish the 100 mile run through the mountains. That is enough combined miles to run around the equator (ok like really close).
Word was the heat was much higher than normal, there was still significant snow in the high country, and the river was high. I zeroed in on the heat. My training the last six months had seen a decrease in mileage run so I could do core work. I felt strong but knew I would have to run a super smart race to get to Auburn and run the final 300 yards on the high school track.
My family, the guys and I made our way back to the RV park and prepared our last meal before crashing early. Check in started at 4:00 am and the race started at 5. The time between 4 and 5am fluctuated between 10 hours and 5 minutes. All at once, it was 5, 4, 3, 2, ……..and we were off ascending up the slopes of the 1960 Olympics. It took me 1 hour and 10 minutes to get 3 miles up to the top. The next 10 miles were hopping and sliding through snow fields. Runners were focused, polite, quiet, and tense. Gradually the snow faded and the single track trails of the Sierra’s took over. I felt free and great! Years of dreaming of doing just this was happening. Back to the “HECK YEA STUFF”. By the first aid station, 24 runners dropped because they couldn’t meet the time or had to drop. The day was to going to be a beast. We ran out of the morning fog and into the arms of the California heat.
I didn’t meet my crew until mile 31 and was lifted by their spirits and dedication. Remember ultra running is a team sport. Trying to get through the darkness of running long distances is painful alone. Great things are accomplished and shared in community, and truly only experienced with the help of others. Like my attitude, the temperatures had been climbing too. I tried to stave off the effects of the heat by icing my head, neck, and arms. By mile 36, I started puking. I have thrown up in races before. It’s part of it, deal. The difference for me this time is that I couldn’t stop losing my cookies. I would force myself to drink/eat and three more times it all came up. The next time I saw my gang I was rising out of the “Devil’s Thumb” and on to the bluffs of Michigan. It was mile 55 and my pulse was straining and weak. I was gray and shaking. I fought off the urge to quit, and it took a cold shot of chocolate soy milk from my daughter to give me the giddy up to move on down the dusty road. Night was coming on and I was moving with my pacer Jeff. With head lamps on, I stumbled through the next 6 miles to my last Western States aid station.
I knew it in my head and my heart fought against it. Medically I was done and I knew it. I hadn’t been able to eat or drink anything for hours and with 38 more miles to go it didn’t add up. My pace had dropped so low that even if I could move, I would miss cut off.
As Teddy Roosevelt once tweeted, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
I bowed out peacefully just under 18 hours in and 61 miles into the race. Am I disappointed? Heck yes! Am I happy? No and Heck yes! Western States 100 is epic. Do epic stuff. You like to make cookies? Make the best cookies you know how and share them with the people around you. Don’t settle for the small things. Dream big, go far, be real. Enjoy the good times and embrace the pain. Dress in costumes, go to all you can eat buffets, call friends out of the blue, dare to be kind to those that aren’t kind, do a bunch of other stuff that I can’t put words to.
There is a good chance this is my last attempt at running a 100 mile race. I need to rest and do other things. My 18 year old daughter is heading to Chile for a year before heading off to Northern Arizona. I only have a few more years with my other daughter before she steps out. My wife and I, well we may just make pies, hand crafted furniture or take our own version of American Gothic on the road. It’s all good.