Thursday, July 5, 2012

Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run

How did I end up on the Start line at Western States in 2012? 

I began running as an overweight offensive college lineman who had been laying on the couch doing nothing for 10 years after college.  The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics caught my attention as I watched the women's marathon race unfold before my eyes.  It brought back vivid memories of the many football practices where I would occasionally glance over at the cross country team and wonder what it must feel like to actually enjoy running.  I decided it was time to give it a try.

In July of 2008 I laced up my yard working shoes and huffed out about a 100 yards.  Completely out of breath, I excitedly walked back to the house with a new challenge before me.  Run 1 mile without stopping.

Within two weeks I ran a whole mile without stopping.  I ambitiously set a new goal - run 3 miles without stopping.  It took me about two months to make it, but I did and lost about 20 pounds in the process. 

Over the next few months running became a little easier and I set my eyes upon an even bigger goal.  The Myrtle Beach, SC Marathon.  I decided that I would also run the Charlotte, NC Thunder Road Half Marathon two months before in preparation.  I looked up some novice marathon training plans on the net and gave myself six months to train for it. 

Basically, I had no idea what I was doing, but it was fun.

270 pound road runners are BIG targets.  I had bags thrown at me, multiple dog attacks, threats yelled from cars, and several other unpleasant gestures during my days of road training.  I loved my long training runs, but despised running where any traffic was.  I had yet to discover trail running.

To sum this up, I finished my first half marathon in 1:58 and then went on to finish the Myrtle Beach Marathon in 4:33.  These are very average times and I was immediately hooked on going the distance.

I wanted to go longer.

I was so tired of training on roads after the marathon finish and I began to search the net for "trail running".  I quickly discovered that runners actually have longer races than a 26.2 mile marathon called Ultra Marathons and that many of them are on trails.   I found that Terri Hayes had a series of Trail Ultras that were practically in my backyard.  The SC Ultra Trail Series.  So in March 2009 I contacted Terri and she invited me to run my very 1st ultra - The Buncombe 55K Trail Run.

I was instantly hooked and began to run even more of them.  Since May of 2009 I've ran 45 ultras of distances from 30 miles up to just over 100 miles.

Some of the toughest runs have taken place on The Foothills Trail.  Terri introduced me to the sport and Claude Sinclair brought out my love of remote wilderness running with the Laurel Valley 35 mile race.

Along the way I picked up a copy of Dean Karnazes popular book Ultramarathon Man.  I read it cover to cover in a day and was blown away by his experience of running The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.  It instantly became my dream goal race and I hoped to do it one day.

In December of 2011 I ended up getting into the WS100 lottery with a slim 8% chance!  I was so excited and trained as hard as possible for the six months leading up to the race.  GUTS president Janice Anderson coached me and I owe her another "thank-you" for giving me a solid training plan to follow that helped me achieve my goal.

Enough about how I got to the race, it's WS100 race time!

My wife, two kids, and brother in law flew out with me to the race on the Thursday before.  We got settled into our hotels near the start line and spent some time exploring the area.  I was in instant shock when I saw the first 2 miles of the course.  It seemed to climb up at a 15 % incline forever into the blue California sky.  The unknown of the course revisited my mind several times throughout the day.

WS100 requires you to have a basic medical check before the race begins on Saturday morning.  This check takes place on Friday morning and I was shocked to see my blood pressure at 160/101 !  It made me feel a little better to hear that just about everyone else reported similar high numbers with anticipation building towards the race.  I'm just glad that they didn't require a blood pressure screening on race morning.  It would have probably been well over 200/150 at that point.

Pre-race meeting on Friday Afternoon:

We had some Subway for dinner before heading to bed early on Friday night around 7:30.  As the kids watched TV and I layed in the bed drifting, I reminded myself of my last six months of training.  I told myself that if I wasn't ready now, then I probably never would be.  Surprisingly, I drifted off into a deep & relaxing sleep before waking up just before the alarm buzzed on Saturday morning. 

I was up and very well rested on Saturday morning at 4 AM.  I quickly ate a Cliff Bar and a Starbucks Espresso before heading down to check-in and get my bib number.  I still felt strangely relaxed.  The feeling reminded me of one that I get before going on a long training run that I'm very familiar with.  With what the day held, this couldn't be farther from the truth.

The air was electric with excitement at checkin. Nearly 400 runners and their families swarmed the start area making last minute adjustments and giving hugs.  I always enjoy the looks on runners faces before a big race.  Some are super focused with a stone look on their face.  Others just can't stop smiling because they know they are about to spend a day (and night for many) doing what they love.  I'm the 2nd.

I panicked as soon as I opened my big white envelope and saw my name on the race bib.  This was really going to happen to me in just a matter of minutes.  My mind began to race in a hundred different directions with anticipation.  As I had Nick help me Velcro my timing chip around my ankle I felt as though I was being sentenced to "Wilderness House Arrest" for the next 30 hours.  I would be under constant surveillance and expected to get to the finish 100.2 miles down the trail.  It was now my "sentence". 

I took the task on with pride as we lined up on the start line.  Nick jogged up the course a bit to see the runners off and I gave Beth & the kids a quick hug.  As the clock began to tick down from 2:00 minutes I briefly thought of all the well deserving runners who wanted to be here and couldn't for whatever reason.  In a sense I was running for them today too.

For the next 30 hours I would lay it all on the line.  However, living in the moment and making good decisions "now" is how you get through 100 miles.  That was my plan.
100.2 miles.  Things are gonna happen that I can't control.  Keep running.  No excuses.

It has been said that runners show up to Western States in the best shape of their life and finish in the worst.  I was excited to see how that would hold true for me.

A tear rolled down my check when the clock ticked down under one minute.  I had wanted this moment for nearly four years.  It was here and I was living my dream.

My mind had now switched over to race mode.  I felt like a horse in the start gate, nervously waiting for the gate to open.  All of the fanfare was over.  Swag had been delivered, stories had been told, now it was time to do what I loved.  Run!

The clock hit 10 seconds and well over 1,000 people began to chant the countdown 10 - 9 - 8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 - GO!!!

And we were off!  Off and walking - ha ha!

The first four miles of the course features a 2,200 foot climb taking runners to the highest point of the course around 8,800 feet at emigrant pass.  I had no idea what I was in for.  Only the elite runners jogged this portion and I quickly watched in amazement as they disappeared up the mountain together in a very small group.  I struggled to hang with the back of the pack.

I was trained well for this climb.  I wanted to power hike it around a 16-17 minute/mile pace.  I did that for the most part, but what I didn't factor in was the weather.  None of us really factored it in. The forecast for the race was unusually cool with highs expected to reach only around 80 at the warmest part of the day.  Lows were expected to be in the mid 30's at the start.

Honestly, when you see all of the promotional posters from the race showing runners jogging in the sun beside beautiful lakes & rivers you just can't imagine facing a winter like storm.  As a matter of fact I kinda chuckled at some of the bundled up runners around the start line with me.  What in the heck were they thinking?  They ended up being much smarter than most of us.

Around 400 of us climbed the steep road to the top.  After the 1st mile, the temperature must have dropped 15 degrees and the wind began to howl.  I was totally exposed with nothing on but a short sleeve technical shirt and basketball shorts. 

One of my favorite moments of the race occurred here.  I looked over to my right and there was the man!  Gordy Ansleigh.  About 30 years ago he was in a horse race on this trail with many others.  His horse got sick and couldn't make it so he decided to race it on foot.  Thus, Western States 100 was born.  I was running with him!

As we kept climbing the mountain continued to dial the thermostat down and eventually the wind was gusting to well over 50 MPH.  My arms were burning from the cold and I was thrilled to see the top of the mountain as we started into the clouds of blowing sleet. 

Unfortunately, a local runner informed me that we still had over 1 mile to go to reach the top!  By this point I was beginning to worry.  I couldn't close my hands and my arms were turning bright red from the wind / sleet / and hail pounding down on us.  For a second I even thought of retreating back down the mountain in order to avoid hypothermia that was becoming a very real threat.  How embarrassing would it be to drop out of the race after three miles?  Then the super ego kicked in and I decided to press on up with the rest of these maniacs. 

I reached the 3.5 mile aid station and shoved my frozen limb into a bowl for some M&Ms.  When I brought my hand out of the bowl, the candies just fell back to table because I couldn't close my fingers.  I picked up the bowl and shoveled some in and kept going.  Hard to believe it was nearly July!

As a bonus, one of the aid station volunteers dumped some water all over my hand.  It didn't matter, couldn't feel them anyway.

The final half mile climb to the top was just ridiculous.  All runners were on all fours trying to make it up a nearly vertical climb in a 60 MPH sleet storm.  The clouds where rushing by us at 8,800 feet.  Runners were sliding down as fast as they could climb up.  It was a real mess, but I managed to get up and over the top in 1:15. 

I was the only one laughing deliriously as we scaled the climb.  I felt that we were all climbing to our certain death.  For a belt buckle - you gotta admit that is kinda funny.

This slow down put me just minutes ahead of the 30 hour finishing cutoff time from the very beginning of the race.  I didn't panic, but tried to run some and generate heat as the trail began to descend off the peak.  It was all about survival at this point.  Watching my footing and moving were critical to us all.

The first 20 miles or so are in the "High Country" section of the trail.  Generally around 7,500 feet with a lot of rocks as you are still running above the tree line.  I was very surprised at the amount of rocks through this section.  Not only rocks, but at many points we were literally running through creek beds of freezing water.

I quickly understood that I would not be gaining much time on the cutoff through here.  It was too risky to push the pace and twist an ankle on the beds of rocks.

As we entered the 2nd aid station I was shocked to have my own volunteer greet me and take my bottles to be refilled.  He told me to not worry about the cutoff times and to just keep running.  Easy for him to say when he is not the one 6 minutes ahead of the 30 hour cutoff!

I bolted in and out of the station with a hand full of sandwiches and cookies.  Choking them down as the weather began to get even colder and the sleet turned to a steady rain.

As I ran along a ride at 7,500 feet I could see the gray clouds rushing by me below in the valley.  The views must have been amazing through here, but not today.  Everything was covered in clouds.

I ran back and forth with a runner from Chicago named Shelley.  This was also her 1st run at WS and we were both eager to find some relief from this weather.  There was no relief, it just kept coming in the form of wind, hail, sleet, rain, and rocky trails.

I left the Lyon Ridge aid station shivering.  I would have dropped $100 bucks right on the trail for some sleeves.  My arms were completely numb and that left my hands utterly worthless.  I had a lot of trouble getting my water bottles from my waist pack so I just stopped drinking for the time being.  I don't think I was losing a lot of fluid anyway.

At this point in the race I was certain that I would get pulled for being behind the cutoffs.  I had literally pushed myself about as fast as I could go and still couldn't maintain a fast enough pace.  I hit a low spot here very early in the race.  Too early and it caused concern.  I decided to just keep pressing on.  If the sweepers caught me I would sprint ahead of them for as long as I could.
The trail warmed up and became a little more runnable from miles 10 to 13 so I tried to take advantage of the situation and pick up the pace.  I arrived at Red Star Ridge aid station and slammed down some PBJ sandwiches and forced down 10 ounces of GU Brew sports drink.

I was happy to be finished with the winter weather until by surprise it came back again.
Just after the aid station the sleet really started to fall heavily and the wind picked back up.  I just couldn't believe that after the hundreds of miles and hours of heat training this was happening!  It didn't see fair, but like I said before the race, "Things are going to happen that I didn't plan for - keep moving."

As I made my way past mile 20 into Duncan Canyon the weather finally started to warm up into the high 40's.  The clouds had lifted some too, but the sun was a long way from coming out.  It was still cold, raining, and very dismal.

I always seem to become a bit unglued to reality around mile 20-25 for some reason. Today was no different. I began to question why I was out in the wilderness alone on vacation? Why was I asking my family to crew for me on their vacation? It wasn't fair. I'm a selfish person. I should drop out and never do this again. This is stupid. Who runs 100 miles?

On top of this I ran upon a lady who had taken a nasty fall and crushed her knee in one of the many miles of rock gardens.  She was hobbling down the trail with tears bursting from her eyes in agony.  She didn't want to accept the fact that her race was over, but it was.  She looked to be in stellar physical shape and I doubted that I would ever finish this race if she couldn't.
From experience I know that this means my body is converting over to burning fat from it's short term energy stores. In addition my blood sugar was getting low which always triggers brief depression and self-loathing.

I told myself to suck it up and get to the Duncan Canyon aid station.  This would be the first time I would see my crew (family) and I could pound down some sugar to get revived there too.  I at least had to make it that far before getting pulled out of the race.  I thought that maybe one year in the future I could come back better trained and try to finish this race.  It was a bad spot to be in.

The aid station finally came.  I was bracing myself for not having a crew here because I knew it took a very long time down some dangerous mountain roads to get there.  I was pleasantly surprised when I came running in to see them there waiting for me!  This instantly lifted my spirit, even before the sugar.

Seeing your family/friends during a 100 mile race plugs you back into reality.  It gives you hope that there is a finish line somewhere down the trail.  Not only that, but you have some living humans that you can touch who want to see you succeed.  Besides, daddy would never quit in front of his children.  It just won't happen.

I was freezing cold again and I'm sure everyone else was too.  The sacrifices of your crew/pacer are incredible.  Nick literally gave me the long sleeve technical shirt off of his back which left him shirtless in the cold rain.  He even packed his gloves into my waist pack.  That sacrifice made my morning and was a vital turning point in the race for me.  I told lots of runners down the trail that I had the best crew.  I left my pacer half naked a few miles back in a sleet storm.  They agreed.

My mind snapped out of the funk and I was back into race mode.  I took inventory of myself and everything was fine, I was just moving slower that I had planned.  This could be fixed - move faster!

At this point in time I was just a few minutes behind the 30 hour cutoff, but show me my family that loves me and you will get results soon!

With a quick refuel and lifted spirits, I was finally getting off of those exposed ridges, and happy to be going down deep into the canyon.  On a "normal" WS100 year, the canyons are often dreaded due to the heat, but today they were a welcome sight.

There was a looooong downhill into Duncan Canyon.  It was at least 3 miles, maybe more.  A big part of me wanted to just rip lose and start flying downhill, but I knew with 75 miles to go, trashing my quads now would not be in my best interest.  Instead I focused on taking smaller strides and reducing the time my legs were putting on the brakes to stop me from flying off the mountain.

I crossed an icy stream at the bottom of the canyon while a few other runners were trying to play leap frog over the rocks.  In my opinion, its just not worth taking the risk of snapping your ankle to avoid a little water on slick stones, but to each their own.  Besides, I like plowing through water!

The climb up and out of Duncan Canyon would prove to be the most difficult of the day.  It went up for miles and at times got very steep with a lot of false summits to rob you of your hope at the top.  I started getting a little delirious and laughing through here as I was reliving some previous Laurel Valley runs where you think the top of the mountain will never come.

Yea, the blood sugar was probably getting low again. 

The next eight miles were spent with a runner from Texas and an international runner (from England I think).  We chit chatted and enjoyed some nice runnable trails, but every time we went into an aid station I was never more than 15 minutes ahead of that annoying cutoff!  No matter how hard I worked, I just couldn't seem to gain ground on it.

I knew I would be seeing the crew again at mile 38 - Dusty Corners - so I just kept plugging away trying not to worry about the cutoff. 

I let the guys that I was running with know that I had a plan if the course sweepers caught us.  I was going to sprint ahead for as far as I could to stay ahead of them.  I would continue to do this for as long as possible until course officials had to cart me off the course from exhaustion.  They just laughed and agreed to run with me just to see the spectacle if it ever happened.
The temps had finally climbed into the 60's at this point and the weather was starting to clear up.  Seeing the sunshine really gave me a big mental boost.  I was certain to keep drinking and taking 1 Scap (electrolyte tab) every hour.

Dusty Corners came around fairly quick and it was great to see the crew again!  I was feeling much better at this point, but still only 15 minutes ahead of that cutoff.    I downed some Ensure and grabbed some homemade peanut butter cookies for the road ahead.  I can still taste them - they were incredible!

So now I had 100K to go (62 miles) and I was only about 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  This was not the situation I had hoped to be in, but my body and mind were feeling fresh so I just rolled with the punches.

This would be a long, difficult stretch ahead of me before seeing the crew again at Michigan Bluff (Mile 56).  I had several canyons to run into and climb out of.  These canyons are for many the toughest part of the course and I was most concerned with this section.  I was even more concerned about my time.

I hooked up with Andon (fellow GUTS runner from GA) and a few other guys through these sections.  We worked the canyons together as a team and it made a huge difference for all of us.  We spent hours laughing and sharing trail stories.  This was almost a mini "vacation" from the stress of the cutoff and the tough terrain.

The views in this section were simply phenomenal.  At many points you could see for miles down into a canyon and hear the thundering roar of rapids below.  It was bigger and badder than anything I had ever seen on a trail.  It was a reminder of how small I really am out in this huge/remote wilderness.  I loved every minute of it.

There was no time to sit down for a picnic and enjoy the view.  I had to keep running!

All of us worked together and we actually ended up making up about 15 minutes on the cutoff time which gave a little more wiggle room. 

We climbed together up the dreaded Devil's thumb 36 switchback climb, but I still believe that the climb out of Duncan Canyon was tougher.  The Devils thumb aid station was rocking at the top of the climb!  Lots of music, volunteers, handmade posters, and food.  Oh man, this was a serious ultra buffet.  I felt like I was at a all you can eat dinner theater.  They even had Popsicles!

As nice as the aid station was I only stuck around for about 2 minutes.  I wasn't about to give the course back all of that time that we had gained.  It's just too hard to get back.

I was now only about seven miles away from seeing my crew again at Michigan Bluff (Mile 55).  I was also very close to the half way point of the race!  Nick told me that he would probably start pacing me at Michigan Bluff and I was really looking forward to that. 

As I headed into the huge downhill into El Dorado Canyon I decided to take a risk.  I began to push the pace and see how much time I could gain on the cutoff.  I was hoping to gain at least 20 more minutes on it through here and give myself close to an hour of buffer time.  If not, then I would put a ton of pressure on Nick and I for the long night time portion of the race.  I pounded this downhill section, just zoning out mentally and letting gravity pull me.  It was free speed and I was using every inch of it that the course would give up.

I zigged and zagged down long runable stretches and cornered switchbacks like a Nascar driver.  I was tired of fighting the clock all day, I wanted some relief and I was gonna get it here!

Finally, I began to hear the river and another aid station at the bottom of this canyon.  Once again I just quickly gulped down some Ginger Ale and solid food and was back on the trail quickly.  The aid station volunteers saved me at least 30 minutes during the race by filling my bottles for me at each stop.  That was extremely helpful!

The climb up out of El Dorado was long, but not as tough as the one from Devils Thumb.  I was on a mission to pick up my pacer and head into the night for the final 45 miles.  This gave me a lot of drive as I climbed out.  One of our friends in the group decided that he was going to drop at Michigan Bluff near the middle of the climb and after briefly trying to talk him out of it, we went around him.  I felt horrible doing this, but we were all running our own race and it had to be done.  He was a veteran of the race who had already finished so that took a little of the sting out of it.

Michigan Bluff finally came and it was strange to see an actual paved road after spending all day in the wilderness.  It was awesome to see my family again!  Nick met me with a Starbucks Double Shot which was fantastic!  I also took down two Ensures and changed shoes, shirt, and socks.  I wanted to change my shorts, but didn't want to waste the precious time taking my bib number off then back on.

At this point I was about 35 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  Nick & Beth let me know that he would be joining me 7 more miles down the trail at mile 62 instead of here (Foresthill School).  This killed me to hear on the inside, but they kept my hope alive by telling me the reason for this was because I was running so well.  I was sure they were lying to me, but it sure felt great to hear.

Nick ran a short way with me down from the aid station and I felt like we had all made the best decision here.  Nick would be pushing for a new PR (personal record) distance of 38 miles with me during the night on a tough trail.  Adding seven more miles to that could be disastrous and leave me to finish alone.  After nick sent me on my way from there I was heading into Volcano Canyon.  The final substantial canyon of the race.

I was quickly feeling better about Nick holding off pacing duties as the sun began to set over the Sierra Nevadas.  Several runners around me had already picked up their pacer and they were laughing together down the long dusty dirt road.  I slipped my headlamp on and enjoyed one of the most peaceful and beautiful sunsets I've ever seen and I descended into Volcano Canyon.  God had painted purples, blues, pinks, yellow, orange all over the sky as the stars begin to twinkle overhead.  This was one of my favorite memories of the day.

This canyon was a huge dust bowl.  It seemed that every step I took was like plopping my size 13 shoe into a bag of flour.  There were several switchbacks which eventually took me down to a small creek crossing at the bottom of the canyon where I switched my headlamp on for the night.  I ran into Shelley from Chicago again through this section and she seemed to be moving well with her pacer. 

For some reason I ran part of the climb out of this canyon.  I think I was just in a hurry to pick up my pacer.  I really didn't care about the cutoff pace a whole lot anymore.  I knew in my heart that I was going to finish this race.

I normally put together some decent running 2-3 hours after dark and today would be no different.  I hit Bath Road (about 1 mile of pavement) and a volunteer lady named Barb offered to run up the hill with me into Foresthill School.  I kindly accepted the offer and it turned out that she knew Terri Hayes from South Carolina.  They used to run out west together and she was very pleased to hear that she was doing well.

This section went by very quick (thanks to Barb!) and before I knew it I was running into Foresthill!   Just like clockwork there was my crew.  Nick was all geared up and ready to run.  Beth gave me a kiss goodnight as she would now be heading to the hotel with the kids for the rest of the night.  I felt bad that she had to do this, not knowing what was going on all night, but I'm sure she was ready to get some rest too.

Nick and I didn't waste much time getting out of Foresthill.  We accidentally ran past a turn just out of the aid station and some folks on the street let us know.  Thank you!

We sliced and diced this first section very well which was nearly all downhill.  I think we gained about 10 more minutes on the cutoff through there before reaching the Cal 2 aid station around mile 71.  

At this point I had been running about 17 hours and my mind was starting to check out for the night.  I began to have mild hallucinations of snakes on the trail that would cause me to jump when I saw them.  They always ended up being sticks or leaves as I got closer.  I told Nick that I really hated snakes and he assured me that there were none around.

Nick did a great job of making sure that I was eating, drinking, and taking my salt caps.  We worked each aid station just like I did during the day.  Quickly checking in, grabbing what we needed for a minute or two, then heading back on the trail.

It seemed like we were gaining time on the cutoff through most of the night aid stations.  This gave me even more hope.  As the hours stretched to midnight, my mind became more and more hazy.  Nick would often be talking to other runners as we met them along the trail, but I was only happy to listen.  I rarely had much to say as I enjoyed focusing on the run.

We finally reached the Rucky-Chucky river crossing aid station a little around 2:30 AM.  This place was rocking with volunteers and they were serving up some incredible breakfast burritos fresh off the stove.  I enjoyed one just before heading down into that cold dark water known as the American River.

As we headed into the river crossing Nick went first.  This was a big help because I could gauge the deepness of the water by watching where he was stepping.  There were several volunteers in the water and lots of green glow sticks showing rocks on the river bed.

I must admit that I completely zoned out from here and for the next 3-4 miles.  I don't remember much about it except drinking some Ensure and walking up a very long/steep gravel road to Green Gate.  I didn't hit a low point here, but just checked out mentally.  I couldn't really focus on talking or thinking so I just kind of "existed" for a while.  I knew that I was fed, watered, and clothed, oh - and moving so everything was OK. 

I chuckled under my breath when several volunteers yelled out, "great job runner."  Runner?  I must look like a zombie wobbling up this road.  I ate up every little compliment like it was food which fed my spirit.
Thank goodness that Nick was here at this point.  Who knows where I would have ended up through here?!  From time to time I would ask him how he was doing.  He always responded "fine", but I knew that he had to be going through some ups & downs too.  I was happy to have him lying to me because I didn't have any extra mental energy to give away.

At one point he stopped to doctor up his feet a little bit and I knew that he was probably in some sort of pain.  The truth is everyone on the trail at 2 AM is in some sort of discomfort.  It just happens to go with the territory.

Like an idiot, I started doing math in my head.  I thought the river crossing was mile 70 and that we had about 30 miles to go.  I ran the numbers in my head and got very down on myself.  There is no way that I'm going to be able to finish.  I will need to average like a 14:30 min/pace.  Oh well, I didn't want to get Nick down so I just trudged on up the climb behind him.

Nick started talking about our pace on up the climb and said that we were probably about 17  miles from the finish.  I thought WHAT?  I thought we were 27?  NO, the river crossing was mile 80, not 70!   This is GREAT!  I'm really going to finish!  This means that we can do 30 min/miles all the way in and still finish under 30 hours!

I suddenly had a new surge of strength after realizing this, but it was soon beaten down by the difficult footing that the trail from mile 80 to 85 had.  This was a very tough section for me.  Lots of rocks, crevices in the trail, and un even footing.  I wanted to run some, but it was just to tricky for me at this point so we had to do a lot of hiking. 

It was great to finally hit the aid station at mile 85 and we now had a very nice downhill to Brown's Bar at mile 90.  The sun came up through this section and we now had a surge of hope with the daylight.  We walked a lot of this section too because I was honestly just dragging through here.  This made the section go on forever.  At one point we heard the music from the aid station, but it was still about 2 miles away.

After what seemed forever we arrived at mile 90.  I let Nick know that I needed to start running again because the walking was taking a toll.  It hurt more to walk than run at that point and I knew that running would mean finishing quicker.

I began to fantasize about the finish after mile 90.  What would it feel like to be on the final mile?  How great would the Placer High School track look?  I could sit down and not worry about a cutoff time.  Then all of the sudden my mind would snap back to reality, sometimes with a hill to climb, sometimes with a runnable section.  If I was lucky, there would be an aid station close by.

Miles 91-94 took us along some nice fire road with the river to our right.  It was a beautiful sight as the sun began to get higher over the mountains.  The road turned into single track trail around mile 93 and got extremely steep as we climbed towards the HWY 49 aid station which would signify only 6 miles to finish.

This climb hurt.  I was running out of steam and climbing was becoming more and more difficult.  We finally began to hear the aid station and then the trail turned back away from it.  I was getting very frustrated and started my delirious laughter again.  I think I told Nick that this was so awesome and I hoped that the aid station was 10 more miles away.  At least I did in my mind.  Pure sarcasm.

We were finally greeted by aid station volunteers just before crossing the highway and had actual police officers escort us across the road.  I felt like I was being led into a chamber to be questioned by authorities.  I looked around at the aid station, very dazed and confused.  Sure enough, there were faces all around me asking me questions.  Do you need water?  Do you need Coke?  How about some candy?  Do you have a drop bag?  How are you feeling?  I just glared ahead and said yes.  Seriously.  Yes, to everything!

Someone grabbed my bottles out of my hand and told me to get on the scales for medical check.  I was 1 lb. light and they asked me how I felt.  I said "marvelous", where is food?  The doctor just laughed and pointed me away from him.

I glanced over at Nick and he was plowing, I mean plowing through a plate of bacon.  I heard the food volunteers roaring with laughter as he made his way through the calories infested table of goodies.  I walked over to the table and just began eating whatever was in front of me.  Some kid from the area was yelling, "Only 10K to go , you've got this!"

He continued with his antics until he cracked a smile out of me and I told Nick that we had to go.  Transitioning from the peaceful forest to the hustling aid stations was beginning to be too much for me mentally.  I felt like I should be doing something for these people since they had done so much for us all day long.  I still can't express enough thanks for their relentless enthusiasm at even the most humbling duties.  I wanted to cry and scream in happiness at the same time.

Leaving this aid station into the final six miles is another memory that I will never forget.  We climbed a short hill and exited into a bright golden meadow dotted with huge green oak trees.  All that you could see for miles was gold & green.  The trail winded through this meadow and it literally left Nick and I speechless with it's beauty.

We then began a long & easy descent to the final aid station of the day - No Hands Bridge around mile 97.   I ran what I could but walked some due to lots of rocks and shaky footing.  Nick went on ahead of me a little bit and pulled me down the hill the best he could. 

My emotions began to get the best of me through there.

Suddenly down below us was the bridge.  The bridge I had dreamed of crossing for nearly four years.  It was the gateway to the finish.   My eyes filled with tears as soon as I saw it.

I don't think I ate of drank anything at this aid station.  I was in absolute awe.  I do remember Nick throwing a little cracker off the bridge just to count the seconds until it hit the water.  I think it was about 8 seconds.  I told him that I had dreamed of....and then I just got too emotional to continue.

After the bridge, we had about 2.9 miles to go and we were now on some rolling fire road.  There were several locals out jogging and encouraging us to finish.  We past a few runners through there and were passed by a few too.

The road eventually took a hard right and turned into a steep climb up to the final checkpoint of the race - Robie Point which was about 1.5 miles from the finish on pavement.  A husband and wife were out on the trail telling runners how much they loved them and how encouraged they were by us all.  All that I could do was stare at her.  She oozed of kindness and sincerity.  This was the perfect place for her to be today.

At this point I was too shook up and "rocked" to eat or drink and the temperatures had began to climb.  I was pushing hard up the final climb and ran into a little trouble at Robie Point.

Two guys ran out to meet us from the checkpoint and I nearly passed out when we stopped.  I had suddenly gotten very hot and told them that I needed cold water.  Within seconds they had me covered from head to toe with huge ice sponges that instantly brought me back to life.

Hitting the pavement never felt so great.  We ran through a residential neighborhood for the final mile which was partying and carrying on all over the place.  At the crest of the climb a huge neighborhood band was assembled on the right of the road with a big band of drums playing.  It was just too much to take in as they cheered us in.

As we crested the hill there was only a half mile to go until the finish.  I ran what I could and probably hobbled the rest.  It was great to hobble and see the finish.

There is was - the entrance to the high school track!  Less than a quarter mile to go until my dream becomes a reality!  I gave Nick a victory punch into the shoulder and I heard the announcer shout out my name as we entered the stadium.  Beth and the kids appeared out of nowhere and ran the lap with us.

I screamed and cheered with the crowd as we circled the lap realizing that this event was not just about me, but a celebration of the human spirit.  Proof that we can do more and go longer than we think we can.  It's OK to try something you may fail at - that is where greatness is discovered in each of us.  I was honored to be a very small part of the HUGE 2012 Western States puzzle.

Finally Nick and the family broke off to the side and I made my way towards the finish line.  The dream came true in 28:56 and the race director congratulated me with a hand shake and medal around my neck.  I felt "finished" like never before.  Highly content and proud to be across the line with the others who were either walking around or getting IVs.

I was directed to the medical table to give blood for the doctor's study of endurance athletes which I chose to participate in.  After this was done I went over to sit with my family and watch some of the finishers.  I eventually had to lay down from sheer exhaustion.  After laying there for 45 minutes I tried to get up and collapsed back down.  I sent for the medical staff and they assured me that it was only my blood pressure because I was trying to get up too fast.

We made it through the awards ceremony and finally got the buckle!  It looked even better in person!

After the ceremony I treated us all to a huge feast of Chinese food and took a nice long nap at the hotel.

Congratulations to Nick for his 38 mile personal distance record.  It was a real pleasure to share that with him.

I wanted to sincerely thank my family and friends who sent me so much encouragement before, during, and after the race.  It all meant so much to me and that kind of love & support is what life should be about.  Even my sick mother stayed at my house to dog sit and cheered me on!


  1. Well done! I need to do that race some day.

  2. Best race report I've ever read, and I'm dead serious. Thanks so much for sharing so much detail of your adventure. Several of your descriptions put my hair up on end, especially the first climb in wintry weather and the delirium around the river crossing. Well done, Jason! I couldn't be happier for you, because you've earned this all the way.

  3. Well I've been checking in daily looking for this report and it did not disappoint! Awesome job on the race and fantastic report.

  4. I have so much respect for you ultra runners! Reading your recap literally brought tears to my eyes- I can't even fathom how hard you had to work or how incredible it must have felt to cross the finish line on that track. Incredible! Congratulations times one million- you're an inspiration!

    (I crewed my dad for WS 10+ years ago before I "became" a runner and I'm pretty sure watching him cross that finish line is what inspired me to begin my own running journey)

  5. Dude... Felt like I was there all over again. Perfect.

  6. Jason, I couldn't be more proud of you and what you've accomplished!!! It's been a long journey and a hell of a lot of hard work to get that buckle but I know the real payoff is the journey glad our paths crossed a couple of years ago and I can call you a good friend..:)


  7. Incredibly proud of you, Jason! I know how much you wanted this and how hard you trained. Congratulations on your fantastic accomplishment!

  8. Excellent report, Jason! Good work out there.

  9. Thanks for sharing.

    I was out on the trails with you for a few hours. Your optimism and positivity made it easier for the rest of us:-)

  10. Thank you for sharing this awesome experience with us! I felt like I was there with you the whole way! What an experience! Congratulations on one heck of a GREAT race!!

  11. Awesome, Jason! Glad you did it. Thanks for the recap.

  12. A-MA-ZING! You, the story, the race, the vicarious adventure ~ well done. I'm very proud of and happy for you, Sully!

  13. Great report, but more importantly, great race!

  14. Awesome race report! You had an amazing race and I am proud of you! I hope to see you on the trails soon!

  15. Like your Pinhoti shirt there. Nice going.

  16. Really enjoyed the report. I followed hour by hour on race day and prayed the whole time. It was nice to gear about it 1st hand from your experience!

  17. Congratulations on seeing your mission through to the end, Jason. You wrote a very compelling report, one that you should be quite proud of, along with the fantastic finish (with 63 minutes to spare, too!).

  18. I have read it about three times. The only thing better than the report was the actual achievement of finishing WS100, congratulations dude, fantastic!

    As you know, I am insanely jealous :) but at the same time incredibly happy that you had such an awesome race and a great experience.

  19. Well done, big guy! Really proud of your training and how it paid off. Props to Janice for coaching. Don't forget to bring that buckle to Camp Croft! :)

  20. Jason- I just ready every word of your report and was rooting for you the whole time, even though I already knew you finished. I followed the elites and you all race day and knew you would finish. However, they didn't update your finish for a while on the website, so for a few minutes it made it seem like something happened the last 1.5 miles and you didn't finish. I was so sad for you. Then I saw your facebook post that you finished! Yeah! Good job, man- this obviously meant a lot to you. Congrats.

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