Western States 100 – Race Report
The Western States 100… a.k.a. The Big Dance, States-mas, The Superbowl of 100’s, The Track Meet, etc… is a race that needs no introduction. I’ve been trying to get into this event for years and the day finally came in December 2011 when I was pulled randomly in the lottery. Since then everything I did was geared toward June 23rd 2012. One might even say that I was a little obsessed. Whatever the case may be I must say that I felt more physically and mentally prepared for this 100-miler than any other previous race in my career.
- Get to the start line healthy √
- Run my race, soak it all in, & enjoy it √
- Finish √
- PR √
- Top Ten Finish (ALMOST!— Read more to find out how close I came to this goal!)
My mother (Mary Lisa), my wife Erica, my daughter Farah, my close friend & Animal Athletics business partner Willie McBride, & my good buddy Joe Kleffner.
Keep things simple. It’s just running, right? I’ll start at Olympic Village at 5am, run up and over a ski resort & down some trails to Robinson Flat (mile 30). From there I will re-stock & then meet the crew again at Michigan Bluff (mile 56), & then yet again at Foresthill (mile 62) where I will pick up my first pacer, Joe. At Green Gate (mile 80) I will swap out Joe for Willie, finish this dang thing off already, and meet the ladies back on the track in Auburn, CA! Approximately, 100.2 miles from the start line…. Simple ….Right?
One thing that I have learned my previous five 100-milers attempts is that the only thing you can expect is the unexpected!
The weather forecast called for rain and wind early on, but coming from Portland, Oregon, I knew that this, if anything, was going to give me an advantage. Every time I heard something about the weather I just thought about how the wet and cold is not going to be an issue for me; I was more worried about the heat in the canyons!
5am. I line up at the front and before I get “centered” and ready to tackle 100 miles of mountain trails, I exchange some high fives with Mike Wolfe, Nick Clark, Topher Gaylord and a few others, as well as giving a good luck hug to Amy Sproston & Timothy Olson. Sheesh! I’m getting butterflies just remembering the feeling!
We climbed and climbed for about four miles; the wind and cold got more severe as we gained elevation. It was ridiculous; Can not imagine the meteorologists knew this was going to happen. There was hail, rain, sleet, and no exaggeration, 40-50 mph gusts that almost knocked my skinny butt off the trail !
Cold Wet Running
Two hours into the race while coming down a little connector fire road I clipped a rock and completely face-planted …. HARD! It happened so quickly and I can’t remember the last time I’ve fallen like that… years. Ryan Burch peeled me off the ground. I had dirt all in my mouth and I thought my wrist was broken. There was a fleeting thought that I would have to drop out of the race. I see long scrapes on my leg with blood pouring down. Then I see blood pouring out of both my hands which caused the adrenaline and endorphins to shoot through my body. I was angry mostly because I let this happen so early into the race, and that multiple runners passed me while I was re-grouping. I ran “angrily” for a couple miles and caught the runners who had passed me. Aid station volunteers patted Vaseline over my wounds to “seal” them and I was on my way; in the same position as I was before pre-tumble. Over the next few miles the driving rain and wind washed away the blood, dirt, and mud. I was less angry and back into “race mode”.
When I arrived at the Duncan Canyon aid station (mile 23), I saw my buddy Dominic Grossman and he said, “You’re in the top ten but you’re getting chicked!”. He ran with me an eighth of a mile down the trail and told me about what was going on ahead but I was just content with where I was. Honestly, I was a little surprised I was in the top ten but knew there were world class runners ahead and behind, and we had a very long way to go. Before long I passed Lizzie Hawker and traded positions with Neal Gorman (who owns the record for the Grand Slam) a few times. I was running the down hills nicely and overall I was feeling really good. I felt as though I wasn’t putting out too much energy too soon. Things just felt easy.
Downhill in the cold
We made our climb to Robinson Flat (mile 31) and I had already knew exactly what I needed from my crew. Number one priority were my gloves. Not only were my hands bloodied, they were frozen! I had told my crew that I would probably arrive at Robinson around five hours give or take. I arrived in 4:42. I immediately saw our good friend Trevor Hostetler (who was crewing/pacing another good pal Nick Triolo). Trev told me that my crew was not there yet. Bummer! Knowing beforehand that this was a possibility, I didn’t get too upset. With all the people around and related hype it was sometimes difficult to stay focused. I saw Todd Janssen and I asked if he had an extra pair of gloves. Without hesitation, he took off his Mountain Hardwear running gloves and literally put them my hands because I had no dexterity in my fingers. Race director Craig Thornley came over to help as well and it was nice to see some smiling familiar faces from a couple Oregonian friends. Nick Triolo’s dad offered some gels and it was comforting to see his entourage. We had just had dinner with them the night before the race. Now it was off to Michigan Bluff and out of the high county…. thank god!
As I descended it reminded me of going down into the Grand Canyon. Not because of the scenery or trails but because every few minutes you could feel it getting significantly warmer. Before long I was tearing off my jacket, tying it around my waist, and stuffing Todd’s gloves into my pockets. I had passed Zeke Tiernan during this descent but as I reached the bottom I could hear two sets of voices quickly approaching and on the climb to Devil’s Thumb, the toughest incline of the race, Neal Gorman and Zeke Tiernan caught me about half way up. During the climb I imagined what it would be like 20-30 degrees hotter and I could see why these canyons eat runners up during normal Western States race day conditions. At this point, I felt confident about the hill work I did leading into the race. As the three of us crested the top then making our way to the aid station, I could see Willie waving his arms and yelling my name. Definitely a sight for sore eyes! After quickly getting weighed in, I scurried to the little area that they had so nicely spread out. I switched out bottles, got rid of trash from my pockets, re-stocked, and all the while Erica was flushing out my legs by massaging them with Arnica oil. It felt great except when she hit the open wounds! I briefly told them about my spill and assured them that I was okay. Leaving, I gave Farah a kiss, smiled, and as I quickly exited the aid station said, “See you at Foresthill !!!”
High Five at Western States
When I arrived at Foresthill (mile 62) fatigue was starting to set in and the heat was in full effect. Running on concrete into the town quickened the pace as did the excitement of seeing people, especially my crew and first pacer Joe! When I arrived my mom misted me with ice water and I took a big bite of my “Sin Dog”, and was able to make another really quick transition out of the aid station. Joe and I ran through the middle of town, soaking in the energy of the spectators and hype. Not only was I making my way through this historic course, I was doing a damn good job of it ! My nutrition and hydration were spot-on all day. At times I wondered if, or when, it was all going to fall apart?
This next section is where they say the race begins. I know this sounds ridiculous to people that don’t run ultras. Not only is it at that distance the race begins but this is also one of the hottest sections given the postion of the sun during that time of day. No question, I could feel it. A mile or two into the stretch Gorman came blazing past but I let him go and settled in with Kleff as we chatted about the day and our plan of attack. I was still running really well in most sections but the inclines and little climbs were becoming more difficult. Up to this point my hiking had been fast but that too was slowing down. Joe was a perfect pacer. He reminded me to eat, to dunk my hat in stream crossings and gathered all the aid station mileage and information every time we stopped. We also had some good stretches without talking; it was just so helpful to be running with a friend. As we got closer and closer to the river crossing I was slowing down but anticipating some much needed relief in the cold water. A mile before Rucky Chucky Joe told me that he caught glimpse of a runner behind us with his pacer. I had some ideas who it could be and I was right….enter Olive Oil Joe Uhan…a fellow Oregonian, a hell of a runner, and good guy.
Me, Uhan, his pacer Jacob, and my pacer scrambled down to the river and we jump on the same raft. It was hectic and just like in the movie, Unbreakable, we cooled down by splashing water on ourselves and waved to AJW and Thornley as we made our way across the beautiful American River. The race was on! I ran some of the hill to Green Gate and was surprised I had that gear at mile 80. The river had re-energized me but soon the heat and hills put me back in my place. Willie took over the pacing and I got little boost! Uhan and Jacob eventually caught us and we chatted briefly. Knowing Olive Oil Joe had meticulously broke down the race, and was after a top ten finish, I told him to go get it as he and Jacob moved on out of sight. Personally, I knew there was still 20 miles left and didn’t want to risk blowing out too quickly.
Willie and I plodded along and after about five miles I saw Mike Wolfe’s girlfriend running towards us. She asked us to give Mike some words of encouragement because he was having a real rough time. I felt badly for my buddy Wolfe-man but said to Willie, “first case of carnage”. I was in 12th place and about to move in to 11th once we caught Wolfe, and in my mind wondering how many others ahead are suffering as well. I tried not to think too much and Willie also did a phenomenal job of keeping me focused. He reminded me multiple times, “No numbers, no thinking, just run.” We eventually caught Mike and kept up with us for a couple miles but I could tell how much he was hurting. As we approached Brown’s Bar at mile 90 we had put some space between us and Mike. At Brown’s Bar we were greeted by a huge party with Jimi Hendrix blaring. Another fellow Oregonian, Rob Cain, who’s amped up tells me that I’m in 11th place with 10th about six minutes ahead. Even with that information I was lacking energy and motivation. Then a mile past the aid station, mile 91, I completely stopped. “I can’t run anymore” I said to Willie. I had nothing left…I finally hit that really low point. I stop and go to the bathroom and it was darker yellow. I was out of drink, dehydrated and demoralized but forced myself to down yet another ShotBlock. My legs hurt, my hips hurt. I felt as if all the people who were sending me positive vibes all day must’ve all stopped and gone to bed!
About 20 minutes later I was back to running and talking and Willie said, “you seem like you’re feeling a little better?” I hadn’t realize it but I had gotten through that rough spot. While I was still bad shape I could at least run again. We entered HWY 49 aid station (mile 93.5). Apparently I had a glazed-over look on my face. Inside I just wanted it to be mile 99. As the sun set, the next few miles were much more technical, and slower, than anticipated. Regardless, me and Willie noted how lucky and grateful we were to be here. It was epic. Words can not do it justice. We finally made it to No Hand Bridge and it was brightly lit…Classic!
We left there with one climb left (Robie Point) and then it was through the neighborhoods to the track at Placer High School. I was moving slowly and couldn’t believe that I was still in 11th place. As we climbed to Robie Point and with about 1.5 miles to the finish, Willie told me that he saw some head lamps back. I pushed hard up the climb and once we hit the streets I was running well. With about half a mile to go and slightly downhill I kicked hard for a couple minutes and I was definitely in the low 6:00′s.
Then a sight for sore eyes; we see the stadium lights from a block away! I entered the track, saw my mom right by the entrance and blew her a kiss. Then I made my victory lap around the track assuming that I had 11thlocked up. But, around the last turn I saw Erica and Farah; instead of smiling and congratulating me Erica is pointing and said with a disturbed look on her face, “GO, GO, GO!!!!!” In my periphery I could see two runners approaching and right around the last turn former JFK 50 winner David Riddle came blowing past me like I was standing still. I yelled, “Really?!!!!” and he offered “Sorry!” It is a race. I’m just thankful that it didn’t knock me out of 10th place… Oh, that would have been bad!
On the Track
Geting clipped did not ruin my experience at all … I didn’t let it. I’m very satisfied with the way I prepared, took care of myself, and ran my first Western States 100.
The level of organization, hype, volunteer enthusiasm, course variability, history, traditions and quality of runners now allows me to understand why they call it, Statesmas, The Big Dance, The Super Bowl. I hope to be lucky enough to run it again someday.
Thank you so much RD’s Greg Soderland and Craig Thornley and to all that are behind the scenes that allows us this once-a-year-pilgrimage to Auburn. 2012 will always be remembered as the “cold year”. It will also be remembered as the year that Timothy Olson and Ellie Greenwood brought down records. Huge congrats to both Timothy and Ellie and to everyone who gave it their best on June 23, 2012.
I would like to say thank you to my sponsors that make my endeavors so much easier and that help keep me health. I’m honored and proud to represent such great companies: Udo’s Oil, Rudy Project, Drymax Socks, Haeleum, & Cheribundi
Last but not least, huge thanks to my crew: Mom, Erica, Farah, Willie, and Joe. You guys rocked and you all did an amazing job. You have no idea how good it is to see you guys after I emerge from the trails sometimes alone for hours. Much love to you all and I’m so glad that you were part of the unforgettable experience!