|Well, not exactly one day, 28 hours is a little more than a day, but it’s close enough. The 2004 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run was my first attempt at running 100 miles. It was the culmination of almost 20 years of percolating in my brain, and one year of serious planning, strategizing and training. What impresses me most about this accomplishment, isn’t that I was strong enough, good enough, or motivated enough to do it, what really hits home with me is how lucky I was to finish it and how many people I ended up relying on to be successful. When I started this adventure, I imagined a noble, solo effort to run 100 miles on my own. In the end, I did cover the 100 miles, but not without much more whining and bitching than anyone could consider ‘noble’, and not without the assistance and support of many other wonderful individuals.|
It’s a huge effort, to cover 100 miles on foot, on trails used by the settlers and gold miners of the mid-1800s. Those rugged trails haven’t changed much since that time. You can still ride a horse on them, as the Tevis Cup riders do each year, but the gold miners couldn’t get a wagon down them, nor could we drive a modern day 4x4 there. Upon sight of my WS100 tee-shirt, or the shiny brass buckle, the casual observer naturally thinks I’m some super-human runner to have covered 100 miles of brutal off-road mountainous terrain. However, I know the real truth, I know that almost every single thing that happened to me for the 9 months or so I devoted to the pursuit of this goal, went my way, luck and fate were on my side. Decisions I made along the way all ended up being the right ones. People I didn’t know when this odyssey started, ended up being the lynch pins that allowed me to succeed. I know I was lucky, and I know I was fortunate.
Croom. A Florida 50 mile trail race, that I ran with the goal of finishing feeling very good. I needed to know I could go that long and not be completely wiped out. Total success, I ran well, finished strong and could have kept going farther had I needed to. A big confidence builder.
MiWok. Same goal as Croom, but a farther distance, and 10,000 feet of climbing and descending to test my ‘hill training’(hard to do in Florida). Race site is the Marin Headlands area above San Francisco. Tamara also went with me, enticed with a first-class plane ticket, great restaurants, and a luxurious hotel in Sausalito. This was her first taste of Ultra-Running and try her hand at being my ‘crew’. Though apprehensive about it, she met me at several aid stations, with supplies I needed and a smiling face I needed more. Total success in the run, and I felt wonderful at the end. Tamara actually enjoyed it, and on the way home suggested I plan to make an additional trip to California to do the Memorial Day training weekend on the Western States Trail.
Memorial Day Training Weekend. The last 70 miles of the Western States Trail over 3 days, along with informative presentations at night and the opportunity to meet and talk with a few hundred other runners who know much more about running this race than I ever will. Invaluable. This was the only chance I got to see the ‘canyons’ in their entirety, to run the same part of the trail I’d run in Rucky Chucky for a second look, and to actually cover the last 20 miles of the race so I’d KNOW what to expect come race day. This was critical to my completion of the run, both for the physical experience of the trail, and also because of the valuable wisdom I received from the runners I met there.
A BIG bullet dodged here. My wrist, which barely hurt after the fall, has turned out to be a problem that is still bothering me a month later, hurting when I pick up a bag of groceries or even a can of coke the wrong way.
A wonderful family vacation before the race, with Tamara attending Crew meetings to learn how to take care of her runner, me attending pre-race meetings to learn more about the course and hear from those who are legends in our sport, and the kids doing everything from playing in the snow and ice skating to body gliding down a whitewater river.
I also bought a bunch of Western States race merchandise, something I’ve never done BEFORE finishing a race before. Shirts, a jacket, some nice stuff, that I’d be proud to wear after completing the race. I’d never do this, but everything was there, no crowds or lines, and I knew after the race things would be hectic, I’d be exhausted and I didn’t know what would be left to buy, so I did my shopping. It might be silly, but I’d never wear race merchandise from a race I didn’t complete, and I take that seriously. It would come back to haunt me later, or actually motivate me.
On Friday, I finish my race registration, packet and goodie bag pickup, weigh in, and do all the paperwork and blood drawing for the medical study I volunteered to participate in. What I was told would be a tablespoon of blood that wouldn’t effect performance was 5 vials of what looked like closer to a pint of blood to me. I’m sure it wasn’t, but it looked like a lot to a guy about to push the performance limits of his body.
At 5:00am, a group of 370 runners are at the starting gate of the 2004 Western States 100. Not competitors against each other, only a very few have a chance to win, most of us are Comrades-in-Arms, about to face the same 100 mile Beast. Two hundred and seventy-eight would succeed, 92 would not. This 75 percent finishing ratio is the best finishing percentage in the history of this race, probably due to the wonderful, slightly cooler than normal temperatures.
Most of the friends I’ve made over the last few months I don’t see. I look for Jim and Paul, two friends who’d been so helpful on Memorial Day. I finally find Jim and I wish him well. Jim is one of those runners that has openly shared every bit of his experience and advice with me. Even brought me coffee one morning during the Western States training weekend! He’s done this race before and many 100’s, (along with having run an ultra in every state in the country), and I know I would do well to stick with him, but he’s looking at a 27 hour finish, and I believe I have a shot at 24. He ends up hitting his mark almost right on with a 27:30 hour finish. Another friend that's running, Paul, this is his first WS, but he’d run another 100 earlier in the year. He ran all the same Western trail races that I did, Rucky Chucky, Miwok, Memorial Day. Though Paul is a very accomplished athlete, with a first ascent of a mountain in South America, and having attempted Everest, I know he’s concerned about successfully finishing here, and will be running close to the cutoff times. He’ll be wearing the gaiters my wife made for him, and though I search, I never do find him to wish him luck. A few minutes lost near Foresthill aid station at mile 60 cause Paul to drop behind his schedule. He is able to maintain the right pace afterwards, but never make up the lost time, and misses the Hwy49 cutoff. I wish there was some way I could have given him 20 minutes from my time to let him go on.
We’re off at 5:00am.. 4.5 miles and 2500 feet of climbing. ‘Normal’ people use a ski lift to go up this mountain in the winter. Those of us cursed with this Ultra-Affliction,… uuhhh… DON’T use a ski lift. I feel good and settle into an easy, comfortable hike. No reason to start rushing yet, I have all day, (and all night). I end up making my way up all of this climb with Larry Raemakers, who I run with, and see off and on all day and all night long. The sun is just coming up, we crest Immigrant Pass, and begin to run. The first 20 miles average around 7500 feet of altitude, and this early in the race it’s prudent to be conservative. I feel great, though slightly irritated at those runners that insist on walking or BARELY running down the single track trail, yet, don’t make room for the faster runners to pass.
This part of the course goes by fast, with scenery that no picture or words can do justice. I won’t even try, except to say that a post card could be made of the view from almost every turn in the trail, spectacular. I’m just cruising along, during this section with David and Jennifer from Mills Valley, CA. Both shooting for a 24 hour finish.
Soon we are in more open conditions, where passing is possible, and I pick up the pace and move on. I’m taking a Succeed tablet every 30 minutes, a precaution as I know I’m probably sweating much more than I think. The dry air out west is much different than the humidity I’m used to in Florida. In Florida, when you sweat you are soaking wet, but in the dry air out West, your clothes can be dry and you may not realize you are sweating heavily. My salt intake turns out to be a huge mistake, and with my comfortable pace, and the cool temperatures, I’m actually overloading my system with salt. Something I would pay for dearly later in the race.
Cougar Rock comes and goes, a scenic, famous place along the course with photographers there taking photos. Rolling on through Robinson Flat at 24 miles, I don’t linger, my crew skipped Robinson Flat, to go on to Dusty Corners. That seemed a better place for us to get together. Through Robinson Flat, onto more great trails, around Pucker Point which is an exposed outcropping with a 1000 plus foot drop straight down. It’s got an appropriate name as you run the narrow trail around that section, and I can only imagine what it must feel like when sitting on top of a horse like the Tevis Cup riders. I’ll do it just on my own two feet, thank you.
After many warnings about the long winding road and difficulty getting to Dusty Corners(Mile 38), Tamara did her research and decided she could make it. The drive WAS very long and difficult, and she had to stop a couple times on the curvy, dirt road to let the kids get out of the car. They thought they were going to be sick from the curves and ups and downs. These are children living near Disney, who’ll ride any ride they are big enough to get on, but these roads were more than they could handle. I wasn’t on them, so I can only imagine. I was also expecting to see Chris, my pacer, for the first time this week, who should have arrived late the night before in Auburn. I was anxious to see him and also was ready to get the Subway Turkey Sub that we’d bought the day before. I don’t know why, but that seemed to be something I really thought I’d want, though I’ve NEVER eaten anything like that during a run.
Getting close to Dusty Corners I catch up to Kelly. A friend from the training camp, who Tamara also made a pair of gaiters for. She’s a great runner, outrunning me by 40 minutes at Miwok and hoping for close to 24 hours on this day. I think she has a better chance than me, but we are both going on and on about how great things are going. 40 miles in, it’s a good sign to be so comfortable.
I come into Dusty Corners to cheers from two of my children and Tamara, I look for Chris but don’t see him. I’m anxious to let him know how good things are going, and that he better be ready to run at Foresthill. Tamara explains to me that his Friday night flight was cancelled, he’s coming in this morning and hopefully his flight is landing as we speak. She plans to immediately go to meet him in Auburn and make it back to Michigan Bluff or Foresthill. I hope so. I get a Boost, my Turkey Sub, and start out of Dusty Corners.
Immediately upon eating this sandwich, I feel VERY full and uncomfortable. Kelly catches up to me after a slower aid station stop, and we run for a while. Soon I let her go, I have to stop and adjust my bottle belt and am starting to feel very questionable with my stomach. I won’t see her again, but she goes on to run a super 25 hour race. My hands are very swollen, and I literally feel like my stomach is so full I cannot eat or drink any more. I keep running at a comfortable pace, my legs feel fine and things are ok, except I know I need to be able to keep a steady stream of fluids going in and processing to keep going the rest of this run.
Next stop, the infamous Canyons. Devil’s Thumb, Michigan Bluff, Volcano Canyon.
Soon I am through the Last Chance aid station at mile 43 and begin the climb up Devils Thumb(Mile 47). This is a brutal, steep 1.5 mile, 1500 foot climb. It is relentless and the beginning of what’s known as ‘The Canyons’. I know I have to go very slow on this section, not to let my heart rate climb to high, and not to burn my legs out. This climb is followed immediately with a 2000 foot descent that needs to be run, then another 1500 foot climb to Michigan Bluff(Mile 55), not to mention 1000 foot Volcano Canyon down and up after that.
I’ve not been able to eat or drink anything significant for quite a while at this point, but my stomach has literally ‘shut down’ and is as full as ever. I know I’m on borrowed time, and consider just stopping and sitting to try to recover. No, I push on up Devil’s Thumb, and decide to just go slow. I was passed by multitudes going up this climb, but didn’t lose any confidence over that. I got to the top, very tired, but not out of it. I was able to immediately begin running at the top, and start down to ElDorado. That run was slow, but steady, and soon at the bottom and started climbing again, up to Michigan Bluff. This climb is not as steep as Devil’s Thumb, but longer, and still very difficult. My lack of food/fluid intake really started catching up with me here. I was running out of gas.
Coming into Michigan Bluff, about an hour slower than I’d hoped, I knew I’d have to sit and take a break, and try to regain my composure, things were starting to fall apart, and I needed to put them back together. I was thrilled to see Chris there waiting for me, it was obvious to him when he saw me that things had changed drastically from Tamara’s description of me at Dusty Corners, when I blazed in, talking about how great things were. I sat here for 8 minutes, Chris getting what I wanted from the aid station. I felt better pretty quickly, but still my stomach felt so bad and I just couldn’t eat or drink much of anything. David and Jennifer who I’d run with earlier come into the aid station, and leave quickly, they look like they are moving well. I’m surprised to find out later they drop at the River Crossing at mile 78, about 10 minutes before I get there at 2:00am.
I get up to leave and see Tamara, Ash and Will, and am on my way to tackle Volcano Canyon and on to Forest Hill, where I’d have Chris to run with. That section was ok, still much slower than I wanted but it was all I could do. I got to Bath Road(mile 60), where all my crew was waiting to do the one mile on the road into Foresthill. This is a place I’d previously planned to go very easy, have Ashley and William run with me if they wanted, and talk with Chris about the plan for the rest of the race before we were back on steep, single track trail.
We did that, with Chris staying with me, and Ashley running most of it also with us. It was great to have her along, Tamara and William were in the car beside us for much of that, and we all were able to talk. I felt ok, but was still not happy with my stomach, and eating/drinking was really a problem. It was catching up with me and I was feeling weaker and weaker. This section though, with people along the road offering encouragement, and my support crew there, all made me feel very, very good.
No time wasted in Foresthill, Chris and I already had our lights and were ready to go. Leaving Foresthill, we start to run, and I know I want to run all the steep 3.5 miles to Dardanelles aid station(Mile 65). Chris comments on the excellent pace I’m setting going down this mountain, he’s impressed and thinking maybe we’ll make a good go of it. I had a 24 hour hope, and though I was a good 1 ½ hours off that pace, I still thought it might be possible to get that time back. At least I knew if there WERE any hope for that, I’d have to start taking time back at this point, so I pushed on down the mountain. Toward the end of this climb, things flatten out, and the running is more difficult, here I really paid the price for running hard the last 30 minutes. I was completely beat arriving at Dardanelles. I told Chris I had to sit, to get some recovery. It also had just gotten dark, and we were now using our flashlights. Right about this time, though I didn’t know it at the time, my buddy Jim Sullivan must have gone past.
I leave Dardanelles after 5 minutes of sitting, stomach still feels bad and I don’t really feel like going yet, but the clock is ticking. It turns out to be a mistake to leave so quickly, the next 5 miles are not easy with some steep sections of trail. None terribly long, unless you are in dire straights and bonking badly, which I was. This section of trail, that I’d run in 50 minutes easy during the training days, took 2 hours 20 minutes on this night. I was staggering like a drunk, and thought I would pass out several times. A continuous flow of runners were passing me. Chris could do little, except tell me if I fell, I needed to fall to the right so I wouldn’t go down the steep incline. He was patient with the brutally slow pace and my continual stops with my hands on my knees trying to rest and get oxygen. I was breathing like I was doing intervals on the track, though I was moving at a pace that almost required time lapse photography to tell that I even WAS moving.
This is where I realized I wasn’t going to finish the Western States 100. There was no way I could go this slow and make the cutoffs. I thought I could drop when I got to Peachstone. No I wouldn’t do that, I immediately knew I wouldn’t quit and put that thought out of my head. That just wouldn’t be right after the sacrifices my family and pacer had made to be there. I’d keep moving, until the race officials said I had missed a time cutoff, but I was sure that would come. I was going over in my head what I would say to people, they knew all the training trips I’d made, the time and money commitment, Tamara had never seen me not finish ANYTHING in life that I’ve started, her and my parents pretty much considered it a forgone conclusion that I’d finish, my kids knew I’d finish, (Oh, they’d console me since I didn’t WIN as always, but they knew I’d at least finish), what about Chris who had cut short some of HIS family obligations to be out here helping me, and all that stuff I BOUGHT! What was I going to do with all that? Could I take it back? I could give it to charity, I could box it up and keep it in the event I ever came back and DID finish the run. And NO belt buckle, I’d brought an empty belt in my luggage, to wear my new big shiny Western States buckle on, guess that wouldn’t be happening.
Several mentions to Chris that we’d probably not make it were met immediately and strongly with the opposite view. That I wasn’t to worry about it, that we WOULD finish, just keep moving. He’d take care of the time splits, I just had to get to Peachstone where we could recover. Eventually we DID get there, and I was in very bad condition. I sat, and we both knew I had to sit there until my stomach was processing food, and I really felt better. Right away I started nibbling crackers, sipping ginger ale, then chicken broth. 40 minutes I sat in the chair, as other runners came in, sat beside me a few minutes, got up and left. All said the same thing, “Hang in there”, “Just keep moving”. After 40 minutes, I started feeling better, I felt like I needed to pee, first time since Dusty Corners, 11 hours earlier.
Chris and I talked about it, that regardless what happened, I couldn’t allow myself to go through that low of a spell again. We had to be very smart about pace, and nutrition, and keep me level enough to move steadily. Maybe I COULD do this.
In the end, from this point to the finish, we maintained roughly a 27
hour finishing pace, which was not too bad considering how slow we’d
been moving at some points. The next aid stations, Auburn Lake Trails(Mile
85), Browns Bar(Mile 89), came and went, then it was on to Hwy 49(Mile
93) and eventually No-Hands Bridge(Mile 96) where we passed through without
a significant stop. These 20 miles are where Chris really came through
as a pacer. Never losing focus that he was out there for much more than
to just be someone to keep me company, he maintained a 10-20 foot lead
in front of me, he was a continuous flow of information about what the
trail was like. Whether I needed to keep my feet up and be careful of
rocks, that I could shuffle my feet and save energy, a big step down,
a creek, that we were on a downhill and I needed to run, that I could
walk, etc. When he thought I was walking more than I should, he’d
pick a trail ribbon, or tree, and say let’s run to that. I had
turned everything over to him at this point, and was trying to do as
he asked, only balking once, after Hwy 49 in a grassy, flat ridge that
was exposed to the sun. (Yep, sun was back up, I was on my second day
of running) He wanted us to run it, I was wearing a black, long sleeve
shirt from the river crossing, and wanted to walk it. A few times he
prodded me to run, and I refused, not wanting to overheat in the sun.
I knew I still had a good distance to go, including a pretty long down
hill to No-Hands bridge, then 3 miles uphill to the finish. So I walked
till we were back in shade and going downhill.
Soon No-Hands bridge was to come into view, and we ran the steep little descent to it. A quick stop there, and we were on to our last 3.4 miles. Our pace since Green Gate had been decent enough to now give me the opportunity to go under 29 hours, rather than barely squeak in under 30. I’d walked every step of this 3.4 miles in training to see just how long that would take, in the event I had to do that come race day. I’m glad I did that, because I’d walked it in 1:06 in training, and felt I could do better than that now with just a little running mixed in.
No surprises here, a beautiful little section with the American River
below, and we did run on the flatter sections seeing a few hikers on
the trail. It was obvious they were surprised and impressed to see WS
runners, who they knew had started the race the day before.
Getting close to Placer High School, crossing the white rail bridge and we again start running, I’ve actually done it. 100 miles, Western States Endurance Run, Belt Buckle, I can wear all the stuff I bought, Chris can be proud he at least paced a finisher rather than a DNF, when someone asks if I finished, I can say YES, rather than launch into a 5 minutes explanation of why I didn’t, this is great. A year long quest of hard work, money, time, fun, pain, heat, highs and lows was complete, and completed successfully.
Coming onto the Placer County High School Track is awesome, I hear the announcer announcing my arrival, see Ashley and William running across the infield to run the partial lap with me which they do, Jim Bodah, from Florida runs across mid lap, shakes my hand and congratulates me on my first 100 miles. Tamara is in the stands simultaneously videotaping, and holding a cell phone so my parents can hear, as I cruise on around with my gang in tow for a 28:52 finish. Immediately, I’m whisked away to the medial area to finish my obligation to the medical study I’ve signed up for. Drawing another 5 vials of blood, so they can do work to see just what some of the effects of running 100 miles are on the human body.
The rest of the morning is one blur of a big breakfast of eggs and sausage
in the track infield, chatting with friends and other runners, back to
the hotel for a change of clothes, literally passing out in the car,
hotel, and car again, or anytime I sat down, and then the awards ceremony
in the afternoon. Where every one of the 278 finishers is called up to
get their hard earned and well deserved belt buckle.