Friday, August 23, 2013

CA Trip and Western States 2013 Crew Report

After two long years (and two months after the race), I'm finally able to write an official post about my experience at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, my second go around as a crew member. It's hard to know where to start, except to say that this race has a special place in my heart. It's what inspired me to start running more - particularly on trails, eating better, training smarter, and to start this blog. To thank for this is Olive Oil Joe Uhan, good friend and talented athlete. I've always believed that we all need inspiration from flesh and blood people aka otherwise "normal" people who do great things. I found not only inspiration in Joe's first finish back in 2011, but in the community of amazing people that this race draws. This post recounts my experience, but if you're interested in hearing it straight from the runner, check out Joe's race report here.

**WARNING** This might be my most epic post ever, so grab some snacks and a few beers (or beverage of choice) and settle in for the long haul.

My experience this year was markedly different from 2011 for myriad reasons: a different mix of people, different outcome, and the chance to spend more time with Joe both before and after the race. I flew in to Sacramento a full week before the race and had a wonderfully relaxed build-up to race day, opposed to organized chaos in 2011 marked by a bilateral inguinal hernia that I ruptured on my flight to Sacramento, all of which was endearingly referred to back then as a "clusterf*** of awesomeness." Here's the rundown of my week+ with some of the highlights from this year.

After visiting my good friends in Folsom for a few days, I drove my white Nissan Versa rental up to South Lake Tahoe to stay with Joe and his "other running half" Jacob Rydman in a small rental house they acquired to chill out and acclimate themselves to the altitude. It didn't look like much from the outside, but was plenty comfy for the three of us, and sported some "flat, money singletrak" out back at the end of the road just a few blocks away, where we got in some good easy runs to stay loose. Extended hangout time with nothing on the docket was pretty sweet, as I don't get that much anymore with Joe, and it was cool getting to know Jake, a soft-spoken badass with a bright running future ahead of him. The days were spent chilling out with episodes of Seinfeld, Arrested Development, some old school rap gems, and an original Nintendo complete with Mike Tyson's Punch Out. We also managed to snag some sauna time for heat training at the local gym, and included some drills each day to stay loose. I shouldn't really be using "we" so much here, as they were the ones doing the heat training and staying loose for the race, and I was just lucky to tag along. Other than that, we had a lot of good food, including the largest salad I've ever eaten.

The proper start to any CA trip - In N Out Burger.

Wednesday, June 26th - First Official Run in the Mountains!

The first real highlight of my trip was my long run in the Desolation Wilderness above Emerald Bay on the west side of Lake Tahoe. I needed to get in some good miles to keep with my training for the Moose Mountain Marathon in September, and thanks to Jake's recommendation, I now have another run to add to my list of top runs all time. Starting at Bayview Trailhead (which I passed in the car 3 times like an idiot), I checked out the map and decided to head up and around Upper Velma Lake. It looked like about the right distance to do in about 3 hours, calculating 15 minute miles with all the climbing. Noting the necessary trail junctions and turns in my head, as I didn't have a map to take with me, I set off for a new adventure.

The trail starts by climbing about 800' in the first 3/4 mile up forested switchbacks, giving way to peeks of Lake Tahoe along the way and providing absolutely no warm-up at all. It was a brutal start to try and keep a steady pace, but I was determined and invigorated. Passing Granite Lake along the way, I made a mental note to plan on a swim on the way down if so inclined.

The phenomenal view of Emerald Bay from the switchbacks.
Higher up the trail with a view of Granite Lake.

From the top of the climb, it evened out a little and headed away from the lake further into the wilderness, climbing and descending until leaving the forest and heading down the mountain on the backside, often taking some effort to find the trail. The view of the canyon and the mountains on the far side was spectacular, with the familiar scent of granite, coniferous scrub and mountain dirt rising from the warm summer air. It's a scent I recognize instantly and love unconditionally. It has become the trademark of my summer travels.

After the first two trail junctions and feeling confident that I was on the right track, things got trickier. I finally reached the edge of Upper Velma and hit rushing river, too deep and too swift to cross safely on my own.

With people - no problem. Alone? Not so much.

Thankfully, after poking around a bit, I found a nice makeshift bridge across and was on my way.

Thanks to those who came before me.

The trail was sweet, flat, and fast from here, leading to the base of the mountain, where the forest once again turned to solid granite, making the trail extremely difficult to find. It led to yet another "water hazard," but this time with no discernible crossing. I spent about 10 minutes searching for a way across until a hiker who I had come upon at the previous crossing caught up to me. She and I worked together to find a way across, finally choosing to take off our shoes and "ford the river" at the edge of the lake where the water was much calmer. Everything seemed golden from there, except that we couldn't find the trail. With the way the smaller granite chunks had tumbled down the mountain, everything looked like marked trail. We spent almost a good hour with this whole ordeal, until finally we decided it would be better to just turn back. I was a little disappointed, but this was turning out to be great feet time in any case, and I wanted to get back to running and end the route finding. The way back was good, but I was finally getting low on energy. The sun had been baking me all day, and I needed more than just gels to fuel me. The climb back up the mountain was slow, but my mental state remained positive. Once I hit the final section of switchbacks, I flew down at an almost scary pace, making it to the car at almost exactly 4 hours on trail, only 2.5 of which was actual running. It was at this point when I realized that the decision to turn around was wise, because I had remembered the map wrong and turned off too soon onto a dead-end trail. All that searching for nothing! Here's the map in case you're interested. I just did the red section to Upper Velma and back, totaling about 10.5 miles.

My route - The red line from the east to the south point and back.

Altogether I was thoroughly pleased with my debut performance running in the mountains at altitude. The hiker that joined me in trying to find the way across the river had mentioned that she wanted to turn around because she'd been on trail for 3+ hours and it was getting late. I had made the same distance in an hour, which simply reinforced the reason that mountain running is so awesome. Naturally, running is faster than hiking, but to cover so much distance so quickly in an otherwise desolate place that normally requires a big pack and a ton of gear is just a cool feeling. It also gave me a lot more respect for the ultrarunners who do this for 100 miles!

On to Squaw Valley! 
After lunch Thursday we made our way north to the majestic start of it all - idyllic Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Olympics. The drive up the west side of Lake Tahoe was gorgeous, and for the first time I was actually able to see the lake at water level. Now I know exactly what the bumper stickers "Keep Tahoe Blue" really mean. Turning away from the lake, Squaw Valley appeared in no time, and the excitement mounted.

Trivia of the Day - Walt Disney was the MC for the Olympic games here, and after seeing the unique rock formations on the mountain, he sent surveyors on horseback to sketch it all out, later using it as the basis for Thunder Mountain at Disneyland.

In 2011 I was gung-ho to participate in all of the clinics and festivities to take it all in. Unfortunately, I arrived after the crew meeting had started, but Joe assured me that I was now old hat and didn't need to go. It's always fun to get a taste of "Tropical John" Medinger up close, but there were other things to take care of. I found Jake in the parking lot and we went in to check out the free lodging that Jake's pacer Connor had connected us with through team Salomon. Apparently, Connor had been given a suite to himself by Salomon and had tons of room for us, thereby allowing us to cancel the rooms in Truckee and stay closer for free. As soon as we walked in, I felt immediately uneasy. There were people everywhere, including Salomon's best ultrarunners. I felt eyes all over me and could almost hear "Who the **** are you?" from behind them. I told Jake I was gonna head out and connect with Adam, one of Joe's pacers who had just arrived, and left quickly. Not my idea of tons of space, and even if it was free, I was definitely uncomfortable staying there. Thankfully, Connor said that there was another suite that he was switching to, that definitely had more space. Adam and I went to find it - suite 405 - and for some reason, 405 was the only number not on the fourth floor of this building! It was odd, but as we were looking up and down the hall, Jake called and said he had run into some of the Injinji guys (his sponsor), and they invited us to stay with them at their rental house just a little ways down the road, guaranteeing us plenty of open beds and a cozy space to hang out. I was in. We drove out there and it was incredible! A beautiful house with ample space and plenty of beds for us all. It was here at the table where Joe and Jake tackled their final gear needs, namely the creation of some sexy sleeveless cutoff tees ala Scott Jurek, mutilating their Lake Sonoma 50 race shirts for a good cause. Jake was rather liberal with his, cutting it off to just below the nipples, which I think is illegal in some states, but he does have the abs for it.

Like a 60's James Bond film.
A great place to crash, especially for watching Runaway Train to get psyched.

Back to Squaw for the veterans panel discussion. There was a great deal of confusion as to where this was happening, and no one really seemed to know. I was told by several people that it was in the conference room of the Squaw Valley Lodge, where it had been in previous years, but when I arrived there, a couple of guys were just hanging out chatting, and there was no evidence of a panel discussion happening. Joining a crew of others who were also looking for it, including the likes of 2012 Montrail Ultra Cup winner Denise Bourassa, we finally figured out that it was a short hike over to the Olympic Valley Lodge conference room, a much bigger space than the previously-used one, and for good reason. This year's panel was jam packed with veteran goodness: Ellie Greenwood (winner from previous two years and women's course record holder), Tim Twietmeyer (25-time finisher and 5-time winner), Ann Trason (14-time winner), and Gordy Ainsleigh (the guy who started it all in 1974). It was truly an historical event to witness, and if you're interested, you can watch it here.

Although I had missed the feeling of community at the clinics during the day, I got my fill hanging out with the OOJ posse over dinner and gear sorting at the suite where Joe's mom Meredith was staying. An exceptional group of people to be sure, and it was a good way for us all to get to know each other better. The evening wrapped up with a quality showing of Runaway Train (spoiler link) back at the Injinji house, a film that for some reason caught Joe's interest in a big way. Who doesn't like Jon Voight?

Friday, June 28th - First Mountain Race Ever!

Coming off of my mountain run high from Wednesday, I was totally stoked to take part in the Montrail 6k Uphill Challenge, a new tradition the day before the race, where pacers, crew, and anyone else can register for free to race up the mountain to High Camp. It's a way to experience the start of the race, and a great excuse for climbing the mountain instead of taking the gondola. It was HOT already at 10am, above 80 degrees. My ten minute warm-up was enough to drench me in sweat, so I was somewhat concerned about my ginger complexion on the open mountain. I met up with the illustrious Samuel Jurek and we jawed a bit pre-race until the proverbial gun went off. I took off conservatively and worked my way up, running as much as possible with small steps. It was an excellent challenge, and a ton of fun, until we came to a new section that was covered with mulch! Due to construction next to the standard start area, a new start was used which added 200m or so, thereby taking off 200m up the mountain by adding a short steep climb up a nasty section of mulch instead of winding up on the jeep road. Ugh! By this point, however, I was managing to pass people and not be passed by anyone else. I even managed to sprint the last climb up to the finish with a time of 42:43. Sam's GPS watch had clocked in 2.8 miles instead of a full 6km, but either way, I was happy with my performance. I got my free Mountain Hardware water bottle and Gu Brew at the top and took in the view for a while before heading down on the gondola. 

Racers on the final climb.
Sam and I at High Camp. Photo Samuel Jurek
Getting cleaned up and fed left me just enough time to get to the official pre-race meeting, also in a new location this year and primarily in the brain-baking sun! The highlight was seeing Joe up with the rest of the top 10 from last year, placed amongst a group of elites that he has worked so hard to be a part of.

Photo Jacques Dehnbostel

The pre-race meeting led into the team OOJ pre-race meeting back at Meredith's suite. Joe was incredibly relaxed, drinking Hefeweizen from a Pyrex measuring cup, explaining to us that he's learned a lot in the past two years, was ready, and was going for the win. Words were unnecessary to see how much love Joe has for this race, but he expressed himself quite elegantly with the sentiment that this race has become another family to him, and the course almost like a love interest that one must properly and thoughtfully prove himself (or herself) to. The energy in the room was electric, and I was amped. Joe said many times that waiting around for the race to begin was excruciating; he just wanted to get on with it, not in a nervous way, but in a way that most people can't wait for vacation to start.

All beer should be drunk from its appropriate glassware.

After dinner, Sam and I had talked about a viewing of Unbreakable, the 2011 WS documentary. I thought Joe had his copy with him that I could borrow, but alas, the copy I saw in Tahoe was Jake's. I went out to the WS store area to see if the tent for the film was still there, but everything was cleaned up and all the tents were gone. I spotted the Journey Films van and a couple people still packing up, so I approached them and asked if they had any copies left and voila! I had just enough cash on me to score a copy. Sam, James (fellow OOJ crew member and friend), and I met up at the gelato shop in the Village, grabbed a delicious treat, and joined Sam's runner David at his room for movie night. Thankfully, the film finished about 15 minutes before my planned bedtime, so James and I scurried back to the Injinji house to hit the hay and hopefully get some sleep before the 3:30am wake-up call. Upon entering my bunk room, who did I see standing before me but Dave Mackey, the "gentle giant" and elite ultrarunner. I was a bit surprised to see him there, but apparently he had just arrived at Squaw and was bunking with us for the night. I had the honor of having a "tooth party" with him, as my wife calls it, and as we were brushing our teeth next to each other, I mentioned that I had just seen him on the big screen, appearing in the documentary because he was Geoff Roes' pacer. With toothbrush still in mouth he muttered, "Oh, I haven't even seen that yet. That's when I got dropped." Good conversation, albeit short. It was only after this that the other guys informed me that Dave had taken the mattress off the top bunk and was apparently sleeping in the closet down the hall. Everyone has their own pre-race routine I guess.

Race Day - Highs and Lows (Not just heat and blood sugar, respectively)

My watch alarm was not as annoying as I thought it might be when it started beeping at 3:30am. The velvety richness of the early morning darkness, speckled with crackling white stars, whisked in crisp mountain air from the open window, awakening my senses and invigorating me for the day. I was up immediately and getting my act together. Having put all my ducks in a row the night before, I was up and out rather quickly, with plenty of time before the start, although not quick enough to take Joe to the start. I stopped in at Meredith's to see what was happening, and things were bustling there already. Joe and Jake were suited up and having their morning coffee, seeming relaxed but ready.

BGD, sans D, enjoying some early morning race fuel.

I walked to the starting area to catch the scene. Despite the throng of people and all the activity, it seemed exceptionally calm to me. Joe and Jake were off warming up, so I just chilled and took it all in. I love the start of this race, maybe because of the darkness, with only the warm glow of the ski hill lights, or just because it seems like a community of people all getting ready for a trip together. With about five minutes to go, everyone started lining up, and the elites took their position toeing the line, literally.

Joe with some last minute "stretchies" with a great view of Jake's fashion creation at left.

Just before the gun went off (yes, a shotgun is actually fired to start the race), Gordy Ainsleigh climbed the announcers ladder next to the start arch and offered this bit of advice via Winston Churchill during WWII: "When you're going through hell, keep going!"

Boom! Like a giant, wriggling caterpillar, the runners took off around the corner and up the hill en masse, and I got the impression that this year they were out a lot faster than in 2011, especially young stud Cameron Clayton, who - it seemed - thought he was only running to the Escarpment AS at the top of the mountain. That boy was practically sprinting!

I helped myself to a few bags of ice from Squaw Valley Lodge and James and I took off for Duncan Canyon AS, making a pit stop at the Safeway in Truckee for snacks and then in Auburn to downsize to one car. It was rather ridiculous, but because all of the crew members and pacers arrived at different times, we each had our own rental car. All in all, we probably should have stolen Adam's rental, a Dodge Charger. It would have been much more fun on the road to Duncan and Dusty.

The drive to Duncan Canyon via Mosquito Ridge Road is a true adventure: narrow, barely paved, and precariously winding along the mountainside. We were in a little bit of a hurry to make dead sure we made it on time to meet Joe, who we were expecting to be at the front of the pack. The drive was exciting and beautiful, with the sun inching up over the mountains. Upon pulling in to the AS, we found a Nissan Versa-sized parking spot and grabbed the necessary gear. The woman at the bottom of the trail who was in charge of parking patrol put us on edge with a comment that the first runners may have already come by! Being a slight bit fitter than James, I took the most important gear and hauled ass up the steep trail to make sure. Once I arrived, everyone was standing around looking almost bored. No runners had come by yet and it was going to be a while. Whew! The aid station was a fun place. Just above the actual station a makeshift stage had been set up, and there was a small bluegrass band playing tunes for people. They even had a microphone and speaker setup (running on a generator?) which they used to announce the incoming runners, cutely performed by a young girl. The AS itself was totally stocked! The turkey and spinach sandwiches looked especially tempting, even at 7:30 in the morning, but considering that my breakfast was at 4am, it was almost lunch time! A woman next to me struck up a conversation after noticing my crew shirt, mentioning that she knew Joe. It turned out to be ultrarunner Paul Terranova's wife Meredith. Paul went on to finish 8th with a stout performance.

Finally, we could hear commotion up the trail and the runners started appearing from the woods, bobbing down the hill into the aid station. Some looked rather frantic, some were relaxed, and a few seemed rather clueless as to which way they were supposed to go, which was especially strange because they were the old hat veterans of this race! Joe came down in about 12th place and we jumped out from behind the barrier tape to attend to him. He ignored us at first as he sought a scissors and some lube to deal with the seam piping under the arm of his shirt that he had neglected to cut off with the rest of the sleeve and was suffering from chafing because of it. After following him around and me saying "Joe, we're right here...Joe, right behind you...," he finally stopped and we got things moving. He tossed his heart rate monitor on the ground and said something to the effect of: "My heart rate has been at 170 the whole time, so this thing is useless." We gave him a fresh bottle and his ice bandanna, which James had overfilled "slightly," causing Joe to turn back as he was leaving and with a smug grin said, "maybe a little bit too much ice," dumping half of it out and tying it around his neck, all without breaking pace. James and I agreed that he looked awesome and hung out for a bit longer to see Jake come in and take in the front-of-the-pack excitement. 

Photo shoot at Duncan Canyon to show off the spanky crew shirts.

On to Dusty Corners! We had made a mental mark on the drive out as to where the turn to Dusty would be. Turning onto the road, I paused to take a look at the sign and make sure, not realizing that there was a car right behind me. The guy put his hand out the window and waved me forward to assure me that we were on the right road. Narrow road became narrower and then turned to dry gravel, kicking up a plume of dust behind us. After a while, I noticed that the white car that was so impatiently following us was gone. Had I made a wrong turn? I stopped to see if he would soon reappear, which he did, only for me to realize that he had dropped back to avoid my dust cloud, and here I had put him right back in it like a total d-bag. Sorry! A few minutes later we were at Dusty Corners though, so it wasn't all bad. At this point I realized that the white car was Paul Terranova's crew, including his wife whom I had just talked with at Duncan. 

We were quite early, so we grabbed some snacks and found some empty chairs under the crew tent, which was so nicely placed there by Doug the AS chief. It was a posh setup for crew, and I was certainly thankful for the shade. The pacer/crew duo for Meghan "The Queen" Arbogast joined us in no time, and we had a relaxing time with snacks and water to cool us off. The temp was already getting quite steamy by this point. 

Once we heard that runners were approaching, we got up and crossed over to the side where most people had gathered to meet their runners. James headed up the hill to meet Joe early and get the skinny on what he might want or need. At this point, there had been a decent change-up of leaders, with Hal Koerner coming down first and Timmy Olson in a close second, moving up at least 4 spots if I remember correctly. Cam Clayton, who had took off in a blaze of glory at the start, came down in around 6th place, looking like death warmed over, complaining about something "popping" in his ankle and proclaiming that was going to drop, but try to continue a little further. In fine style, Jorge Maravilla came sailing down the hill, arms out airplane-style, weaving back and forth down the trail, high-fiving people as he passed. After all, it's all about looking good. So far, most of the runners did look good. As the time approached for Joe to arrive, Meredith Terranova came to me and asked me if we had anything to douse Joe with. I only had his dousing bottle for him to take with him, so she disappeared briefly and came back with an extra bottle that she had borrowed from someone so that we could douse Joe on the spot. That's one thoughtful gal! About the time she showed up with the bottle, Joe was coming down the hill, waving. Well, I thought he was waving, but once I looked at the photo I shot, it was clear that he was giving James directions as he passed, pertaining to his ice bandanna.

He had moved up several spots by this point, and looked awesome! He was in great spirits, and it was a total whirlwind as always, here and then gone. James and I were once again filled with excitement after this second contact with our guy, like a well-woven suspense story unfolding in front of you. The one quote that stuck with me when we were attending to him; "It's amazing what you can do when you keep your heart rate down!" It seemed that his initial plan was bearing fruit, so to speak.

Back to Foresthill. James and I braved the crazy mountain roads once more, damn near run off the gravel road by oncoming vehicles blazing at light speed to get to Dusty. We made it safely, however, and things at Foresthill were already picking up. Thankfully there was just enough space for us to park at the "Team OOJ tailgate party" and go grab lunch at Subway. Air conditioning never felt so good! Back at tailgate central, we chilled on a tarp and relaxed in the shade, and I remember thinking that it felt like a long time before any runners came through at all. People-watching also made for good entertainment, especially the eccentric local lady who kept coming up to pacers and crew and telling them that the runners are true American heroes, sometimes snapping pictures of whomever would let her. She also did her civic duty to prohibit people from parking next to the fire hydrant on the corner where she was posted. Just another thing that makes this race so awesome. I made my way up to the AS to check things out, and while visiting the restroom, I ran into a fellow Minnesotan who I had seen after the Uphill Challenge and at the start area. Small world. Eventually, however, runners started trickling in, with Timmy Olson now in the lead.

I feel like the runners were much closer together in 2011, because there were HUGE spans of time before runners came through at Foresthill this year, and reports from previous aid stations didn't seem to be updating regularly enough. Thankfully, there's still plenty of race left once you hit Foresthill, so I wasn't worried.

With at least five different people in our entourage checking every possible online resource, we eventually learned that Joe had checked in at Michigan Bluff and was taking a break to get his legs massaged there, after a long bout of cramping. In fact, iRunfar had posted a pic of him getting worked on, and his face was positive and seemingly relaxed, so it was quite a shock just a few minutes later when Brandie, Joe's sister, got a phone call and blurted out to us rather abruptly, "Joe dropped." Bewildering to be sure, as everything seemed to be going perfectly. After another phone call a few minutes later, we were reassured that Joe had dropped due to his cramping, and was getting a ride back to Foresthill from Connor (Jake's pacer), once he saw Jake come through.

It was a situation that everyone has experienced at least once, where the entire group of people around you goes silent and looks at the ground, as if the wind has sucked all the words out of each and every person's mouth. Then, after a short bout of silence, commentary starts to emerge to act as reassurance that everything is ok. Naturally, it's hard to handle a blow like that, especially because it just didn't make sense at the time, but surely there was a reason for it. This is a fact of ultrarunning - people drop for all sorts of reasons at every possible time, even when everything seems to be going well.

Joe finally showed up in Connor's black beast of a truck, stepping out slowly and stiffly, saying something to the effect of; "This isn't how I intended to roll in to Foresthill." Giving his mom a big hug, there was an apology for letting us all down and a few tears shed by several people. Not only was the DNF hard for him from a personal performance standpoint, but clearly he felt the added guilt of us coming all that way to support him and see him race, only for him to drop at mile 55. That sentiment, of course, was the last thing on all of our minds, and I for one was just happy to be there to help a friend and to experience Western States again. As Joe opened up a bit more, we learned that he had been cramping for the previous 20 miles before Michigan Bluff, and could barely walk, let alone run, once he left the AS. He made it about a mile out of the AS, turned back, tried one more time, and then turned back for good, doing the "walk of shame" back to Michigan Bluff to have his yellow wristband cut and officially drop. The fact that he ran 20 miles with severe quad cramps is badass enough that finishing the race seemed inconsequential to me. Most people would have quit after one mile of that nonsense.

A seemingly appropriate sign for the circumstances.

Now came the point of deciding what to do. Where do we go now? The first thing was to wait for Jake to come by, because although we weren't officially crewing for him, he was definitely still "our" runner, and when he came by, he looked decent - not happy, but decent. There was still hope for a quality finish for him, and so we cheered him on and wished him good luck when he passed.

The group split into different factions, some going back to the pool house in Auburn to swim and relax, Adam and James to head further down course to see what they could see, and I hung out with Joe for a bit in Foresthill, just taking it all in. I was happy to be his chauffeur and take him wherever he wanted to go. It was some good quality time, just he and I, and I think it was easier for him to reflect and voice certain concerns in a one-on-one setting, regardless of if it was with me or someone else. I gave him the other half of my Subway sandwich and after a while decided to head back to the motel to regroup a bit. It took a while for Joe to decide what he wanted to do. He was torn between going back to the pool house to relax and get away from everything, or to go to the finish as he knew he should, to see the top runners come in. I was thankful that he decided the latter.

We all met up at the Placer High School track and watched Timmy Olson win his second Western States in a row, only 30 minutes off of his course record from last year! To understand the gravity of this, one must consider the conditions. In 2012 the weather was very cool and rainy, making the typically smoldering, brain-baking canyons much easier to deal with and the race faster in general. He completed the race in 14:46, which is completely mind-blowing in and of itself. This year's weather was the complete opposite, with near-record heat and the canyons reaching 112 degrees or more! In years with extreme heat, the history shows that finishing times are at least 2-3 hours slower. Timmy Olson added only 31 minutes to his time. Beastmachine indeed.

Proceeding the finish, Timmy was interviewed at the finish line, only to be interrupted by Rob Krar, blazing around the track to finish second, having made up a huge amount of time in the last miles, but not quite enough to catch Tim. One interview turned into a double interview, adding an almost eloquent final touch to a roller coaster of a day. At the conclusion of the interviews, the goal was to get a feel for what Jake was doing, because we had heard he was also slowing down and having problems near the river. It didn't look too good, but he was still moving. In any case, it was clear that Jake wouldn't hit the finish line until well into the late night/early morning. Joe departed to get cleaned up after we decided that it was time for dinner at In N Out Burger! I was stoked...but only for a brief while until the decision was made to go to Auburn Ale House instead. This was not a step down by any means, but I had been craving a double protein animal style. Regardless, a few brews and some delicious food with Joe, James, and Adam proved to be a memorable and relaxing meal.

At this point, I wasn't ready for my WS race day to be done. I had prepared myself mentally to be out on the course at least until around 10pm, and for some reason, I felt I needed to experience just a bit more. James, Adam, and I decided to head back to the track and watch a few more runners finish. Even after a leisurely dinner in town, we made it back to see the seventh place runner finish! We stuck around long enough to see Karl Meltzer finish in 11th place (10th male), who finished over 3.5 hours after Timmy. This is what I mean when talking about how stretched out the race was. I had considered heading back out on the course to catch Jake, but the live splits from the various online updates were showing that he had been stuck at one of the aid stations near Cal St. for nearly three hours, so it didn't seem worth it, mainly because it was unclear when he would get to the next station with crew access, if at all.

By the end of the day, I felt a little lost. The plan for the day had been disrupted so much that I wasn't sure what time it was, where I should be, or what I should be doing. There was a feeling that I had missed something, and I'm sure the lack of celebrating Joe's finish was a big part of that, but regardless, it was another kickass adventure.

Post-race: The Aftermath

Sunday morning brought us to the awards ceremony back at the Placer track. Just as Joe decided to see the first finishers the night before, he wanted to be there for awards, as painful as it might be. Once I connected with Joe, I found out that Jake did indeed drop at mile 80, forcing him to wait at the aid station for four hours in the wee hours of the morning until it closed so that he could get a ride out of there. That's the downside to dropping at a more remote aid station. Not that it was terribly shocking news, but it was a bit of a bummer. I found a spot under the tent in the stagnant, steam bath air and finished up my Subway sub from the previous day as breakfast. It was quite miserable with the extreme heat, but worse out in the sun. Thankfully, race volunteers started poking through the crowd handing out ice cream bars and popsicles, improving the general disposition of all. Sam Jurek and his runner David made their way over to me, David looking a bit catatonic after his 26 hour finish. Sam, on the other hand, was cheerful as always, albeit tired as well. Meanwhile, Joe was in long sleeves under the open California sky, catching up with the other elite runners, which seemed both tough and cathartic for him. It was also quite inspiring to see the final finishers come in under the 30-hour cutoff, receiving huge applause and several standing ovations as they rounded the track just before 11am. Far tougher is it to be out on the course for two sunrises than to finish in record time, as has been noted by many before. Those are the true badasses of Western States. Some of them finished the race and came straight over to the tent for awards, plopping down on the grass, many of whom fell directly asleep. That's dedication. The awards started with the usual affair: Montrail Ultra Cup winners, top 10 men and women, 1000+ mile buckles, and the "geriatric award," given to the oldest male and female finishers. After seeing most of the silver buckles handed out, we jumped ship and headed back to the pool house to relax and cool off.

The rest of the day and the following couple days brought quality vacation time at the pool house in Auburn where Joe and his family stayed. We grilled out, drank plenty of beer, enjoyed the pool, and reveled in what brought me to love ultrarunning so much - the community it creates. The 2013 WS signature beer that Joe's brother-in-law Nate brewed for the occasion was also passed around - the M9 Beatdown Porter. Of course, we all were hoping for the beatdown to be given and received by different parties, but it was nonetheless appropriate I suppose. It was also one of the tastiest porters I've ever had. Props to Nate! Joe also gave a post-race speech with poise and reflection, thanking us once again for supporting him in this unpredictable endeavor of his.

Post-race speech. Photo Meredith Stevens

As I wrap up this immense beast of a post, I want to thank Joe for another opportunity to take part in this incredible event that I have grown to love so much, and to thank his family for taking me in over the years. Their kindness and familiarity has meant a great deal to me, and such inclusion makes this event even more memorable and meaningful. I do hope I have more chances to do it again!

You've made it! You made it to the end of this post, almost as long as the race itself. Congratulations, you officially have the gameness it takes to run ultras. If you're not a runner, consider starting.

Until next time, cheers!

1 comment:

  1. Loved this splendid write-up of WSER experience. I'm heading off to Squaw today to pace a friend, and feel this gave me a great feel of what to expect. Thanks so much for taking the trouble to share your story in such rich detail.