Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Western Freakin' States, Baby

It's about time I got around to posting a report from Western States, especially now that the Vermont 100 is history. Guess I'll have to get that post going as well. Enjoy the read - Jim

Prerace - So way back in December I got lucky (or unlucky) enough to draw out in the Western States Lottery. 1600 people vying for about 275 slots….in June. I decided then that since I got into WS, that this would be perhaps my only opportunity to attempt the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, four 100-mile races in 11 weeks. Western States, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch.
For those not in the ultrarunning know, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is the oldest 100 mile race in the country (38 years). It’s kind of the unofficial 100 mile championship since all of the really fast burners show up to race each other. Figure it’s the Boston of 100 mile events.
So, Aric Manning, Alicia Kirkman and myself ventured out to Squaw Valley, CA the Thursday before the race. We had the opportunity of staying in a house with the Pearl Izumi Ultrarunning Team. These guys are fast, I’m not. It was fun to get to know them, hear how they prep for a race, their strategy (mine was to finish in under 30 hours, theirs was to win). When we got to the house, Nick Clark, one of the PI team, told me that I was picked for 4th or 5th place on the Irunfar website in a reader poll.
Needless to say, I was greatly amused. Obviously whoever did those picks clearly does not know how fast I run, or don’t run.
Friday was pretty uneventful other than a short four mile run in the morning and the race check in hoopla. I gave in to the WS hype and spent way too much money on shirts and other paraphernalia that I really don’t need. I bought a couple of shirts for my crew and pacer as well.
I actually got a decent night’s sleep Friday night, roughly five hours worth. Unusual for me prior to a big race like this. I usually toss and turn all night. Must have been the cool mountain air and the sound of the river rushing just outside our window.
Race day - Saturday 5am. Race start at the Squaw Valley Ski Area base. The first 3.5 miles were all uphill, mostly on a service road. We hit snow at about three miles and had pretty much continuous snow for the next 10-12 miles. A lot of the snowpack was anywhere from 5-10 feet deep. It was interesting to follow the course markings. Since there wasn't a "trail" we went from ribbon to ribbon, sometimes able to make a straighter line than the ribbons did. It was kind of easy to miss ribbons too if you weren't paying attention. We finally left the snow for the most part at the next aid station (15 miles).
The next several miles found us cruising a trail along French Meadows Reservoir, a completely new portion of the course since access to the higher country was blocked by snowpack. I wasn’t a big fan of this section, too many rollers, couldn’t get a good rhythm going and I didn't feel quite right. I couldn't put a finger on it, but just not my A game. I finally got into Duncan Canyon and back on the original WS course. Hopefully all would be right with the world now. I was still running on a sub 24 hour pace, but I figured that wouldn’t hold unless I got really lucky.
So Duncan Canyon goes by, Mosquito Ridge, Robinson Flat, Miller’s Defeat, actually most of the day was pretty uneventful, I just cruised along, kept drinking, eating etc. Just enjoying the run. When I got to Last Chance I knew that the infamous canyons section was next. We had a really steep decent to a river, cross the bridge and then went up over 1600’ in the next 1.25 miles. Holy crap that was steep! I arrived at the Devil’s Thumb aid station pretty well worn out. That climb took a lot out of me. But time to continue on. Michigan Bluff at 55 miles was the first place that crew were allowed. Alicia met me there and I changed packs, shoes, socks, sat for a couple minutes, said goodby and took off. The next aid would be Forest Hill at 62 miles. Forest Hill is the biggest, most major aid station on the course. You run through the middle of town, everyone is out watching and cheering, plenty of parking for crew, generally a good vibe going on. Alicia met me here again. I managed to get to Forest Hill in 14:09. A little slower than I wanted but oh well. Still on pace for a sub-24 hour finish. At Forest Hill I picked up my headlamp, a long sleeve t and left. I wasn’t sure how cold it would get at night, but I figured a long sleeve t would be good enough. Dardenelles, Peach Stone, Ford’s Bar. Don’t remember too much about any of those except I was slow. Down to a walk. In every 100 mile race you have a slow patch, for whatever reason your energy is low no matter how much food or drink you’ve had. You just have to push your way through it. The next aid station I remember was the Rucky Chucky river crossing. In normal years you wade across the river. When the water level is high, they put you in an inflatable and row you across. I got there at around 10pm, and the area was lit up and reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. You could hear the rapids upstream but couldn’t see them. I half way expected to hear some people singing “It’s a Pirates Life for Me”. They had plenty of people helping you down the steep path to the water’s edge, put a life jacket on you and loaded you on the boat. When I went across there was some young kid rowing and he had us across is about six strokes. He pulled hard. We made it to the other side, unloaded and started up the dirt road to the Green Gate aid station (80 miles). This is where I met both Alicia and Aric. Aric was going to pace me the rest of the way in. At this point I was still in shuffle mode and had about six miles to go to the Auburn Lake Trails aid station. We had heard that this was the party station, and it was somewhat noisy. I sat down here and immediately got a little chilled. The aid station was in a low spot and so was I. I sat down and one of the medical staff treated me to a wonderful shoulder massage. I downed some chicken noodle soup, some of the most horrid tasting coffee I have ever had (I mean it was really, really BAAAADDDD), and told Aric to wake me in 15 minutes and was promptly out. 14 minutes later I woke up and got up. It must have been what I needed because I basically ran nonstop for the next four hours. I felt pretty good. That coffee must have been rocket fuel. After that the next aid station I remember was the Highway 49 crossing. Lot’s of good vibes there, especially since there was less than ten miles left. No Hands bridge was beautiful. An old railroad bridge over the American River. Very cool. One last climb up to the bluff where Auburn was and I hit the road for the last mile. Now I was getting excited. No sub 24 hour finish, but a finish nonetheless. We turned the corner and could hear the announcer at the high school stadium that was the finish line. Down one last path, and into the stadium and on to the track. Then you hear your name being announced, people cheering and clapping. It was pretty cool. Alicia met me part way around the track and videoed me as I crossed the finish line. It sure felt good to be done.
Aftermath – Immediately after you finish you can have your blood drawn and a urine specimen taken for research. I opted for that and had the blood test results in a few hours. What the result showed is that I was a little dehydrated (to be expected), but not bad, it showed that I fueled and hydrated just fine during the race. My CPK, a measure of muscle cell death, was somewhat high (also to be expected).
Shoes – I wore my La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0’s for the first half. They were very grippy and perfect for the snow. I almost felt like I was cheating. People were slipping and sliding all around me and I just motored on by. I did go down on the snow three times, but nothing serious. I wore a pair of Hoka Mafate’s for the second half of the race. Great on the downhills and rocky sections. Saved my feet.
Fueling – Once again I did a primarily liquid diet. Lots and lots of 1st Endurance EFS Liquid Shot, probably 5000 calories worth, plenty of chicken noodle soup, probably 400 oz. of water with Hammer Fizz tablets thrown in. A little bit of fruit such as melon and cantaloupe. For electrolytes, I relied on the sodium and potassium in the Liquid Shot and the Fizz tablets. Must have been ok, because I took very few Succeed! Tablets and never had any issues. My weight stayed consistently two pounds below my check in weight. This is a good thing. The only downside to this kind of diet was that by the time I was at about mile 70, I was getting pretty sick of vanilla flavored gel. It took some effort to keep downing the stuff every 30 minutes. But it works.
Observations – Overall the race organization is outstanding. They treat you like rock stars at every aid station. You have your own handler every time you come in. Their goal is to get you across the finish line. The scenery was beautiful, but I’ve run other courses that were just as scenic, if not more so. I did have a lot of fun. I got to hang with some elite runners for a couple days. I got to see other runners that I don’t see very often. I met new friends, including some that are doing the Grand Slam as well. I had a couple of friends that made the trip with me and helped me out, then drove home while I slept in the back seat. All in all, very worthwhile. Not sure I’ll get the chance to do it again, but who knows? I would given the chance.
Here’s the stats –
Time – 27:59:27

Place – 222nd out of 310 finishers, roughly 350 starters, 34th age group (50-59) out of 59 finishers. Not a particularly good finish, but a finish nonetheless.

Calories expended were roughly 12,500 and calories taken in were roughly 6,000.