Well, Western States didn’t quite turn out as I’d hoped, as I dropped at Robinson Flat, but my whole trip was still a great experience. As some of you know, I live in Hong Kong, but I’ve been lucky enough to spend the past month up in Truckee/Tahoe training, visiting the area & meeting many of you lovely Donner Party Mountain Runner members. My initial introduction was through Audrey Staples, Helen Pelster & Gretchen Brugman – how lucky I was to be introduced to the three of you! Everyone at DMPR has made me feel so welcome & very much a part of your trail running family. I’m incredibly touched & grateful. I love running in your beautiful mountains – this is a very special place.
I felt excited & pretty good on Saturday morning before the race. Not too nervous & I felt I knew how to manage my race and pace it sensibly. I felt good, having trained pretty well, and was hoping to improve on my 22h32 finish in 2012 and 18th female position. I don’t train to a strict schedule, or do any speed work, but I try to do a mix of short & long runs, & most of all to keep it fun – otherwise I can’t see the point! Running for me is most of all about seeing beautiful places & making connections with like-minded people, not so much about putting on a bib, although I do like to push myself as a more of a personal test. I’m not an experienced 100 mile runner – I’ve only finished 2 previously – Western States & Ultra Trail Mount Fuji. I’ve had more success at the 100k distance.
I love the start of Western States – so much calmer & more low-key than a lot of the European & Asian races, in spite of the fact that it’s such an iconic race. I prefer smaller races & less hype, so I felt privileged to be a part of this special race where you can just rock up to the start 5 minutes before the gun goes off. I bear in mind the words of Theodore Roosevelt at the start of big races now – I first read them on the WS100 website in 2012, when I was preparing for that race:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt
It’s one of the most inspiring quotes I know & it’s particularly appropriate for ultra running.
It was pretty warm at the start in Squaw, which was definitely a sign of things to come. The climb up the Escarpment was stunning, with amazing views of a beautiful pink, dawn sky, with Lake Tahoe in the distance. The lupins & mule ears in full bloom & smelled amazing. Such a treat & a reminder of why I was here.
My run, as far as I got, was pretty uneventful, so I’ll spare you the boring details. The pack spread out quickly, so there was space to run at your own comfortable pace. As ever, the aid station crews were amazing – so helpful, friendly & efficient. Very impressive & much appreciated. I felt pretty good until Duncan Canyon Aid Station, but it was starting to get hot. And then the oddest thing happened – after stocking up with water to mix with my Tailwind and eating some melon at the aid station, I went from trotting along like a happy little mountain goat to feeling absolutely dreadful, in the space of 30 minutes. I’ve had a bad stomach in a few races before, but this was nothing like anything I’ve experienced. The climb out of Duncan Canyon up to Robinson Flat was painfully slow & punctuated with quite a few stops to throw up everything in my stomach. I kept thinking I’d feel better after each episode, but I was slowly dehydrating & getting dizzy & also starting to shiver from the creek water I’d been dousing myself with.
By the time I reached Robinson Flat around 11am, I was in a pretty bad way. I stayed in the aid station for about 30 minutes trying to eat & drink. I wasn’t sure I could carry on, although I was loathe to call it quits so early in the day, having invested so much into this race, and when I wasn’t injured. But I know my body by now & wasn’t confident I could turn things around. Many people recover from this kind of thing though (& indeed, a lot of people did on the day), so, with the “tough love” encouragement of my crew, I gave it a shot. As soon as I got up, I threw up again, but I carried on & hiked for 10 minutes out of the aid station & then had to stop & throw up again & sit down to rest. Heaps of runners came past & were supportive & encouraging – a friend from Hong Kong even offered me his heat scarf (thank you Chor Kin!) – but in the end, I felt the only option was to drag myself back to Robinson Flat, where I found Betsy Nye & her friend Chris (my crew having already left). They were amazing – trying everything to settle my stomach & get me on my way, but after another 45 minutes of being sick as a dog, I finally did the walk of shame over to the Aid Station captain to get my wrist band cut & then find a lift out to Foresthill. (Thank you Tony Lafferty – you saved me!)
It took me a trip to the First Aid station at Foresthill & quite a few hours to start feeling better. I’m still not sure what happened — I guess just an off day & possibly an underlying weakness in my system that meant my body just couldn’t take the stress of the heat & a long run that day. I don’t think I ran too fast. I’ll have to analyse my nutrition some more & see what I can improve. My stomach issues are definitely getting worse as I get older, which is a complaint I hear a lot from friends.
I’m sad I didn’t get to the finish line this year, but I’m thrilled to have been lucky enough to spend time up in Tahoe/Truckee making so many lasting friendships — this trip was about so much more than just a race. And while I respect people who agonise over DNF’ing, I don’t stress about it. I feel it’s all part of the sport – you have to accept the lows with the highs and to take care of your body. The last thing I want is to do serious damage to my health, or to ruin someone else’s race by passing out on the course and forcing them to take care of me & help with a rescue. I’ll push myself as far as I feel I can on the day, but I’m okay with not always achieving my goal.
So it’s onwards & upwards for me. I’ll take a break from racing until the autumn in Hong Kong, and will probably then focus on shorter races, and will take time for other things for a while – probably more adventure travel & less racing. I must say, I have to beg to differ with Karl Melzer, who says that “100 miles ain’t that far”. I think it’s a bloody long way & I’m in awe of so many of you who run that distance on a regular basis.
I’d like to thank each & every one of you for making me feel so welcome. Love you all – you have been so kind. Please reach out to me if any of you ever come over to Hong Kong — I’d love to introduce you to the trail running community over there. Just look me up on Facebook.