On June 25th at 5am the 43rd edition of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run started in Squaw Valley. The foot race to Auburn began with cool temps, clear skies, and electrictified runners. My 6 year quest to run the Grandaddy of Ultras had finally arrived. This is the original Mountain 100 miler and by far the most prestigious, plus it’s right in our backyard. This year we had 354 runners start while 1500+ volunteers, 21 aid stations and thousands more spectators and crew lined the course in order to help us finish. I was cheered, serviced, loved, fed, washed, photo’d, and safely guided to Auburn. There is no experience that compares to this one. I hope someday everyone who dreams of lining up in Squaw on the 4th Saturday in June gets to experience the magic that is Western States.
The journey started last October when my dear friend aka Chainsaw Lady, Elke Reimer surprised me with my golden ticket. Crowned with the massive title of Trail Boss for the WS Trail, her efforts go way beyond the norm to maintain that wonderful ribbon of dirt. She spared me from my 6th lottery, THANK YOU!!
I got to work with my coach Peter Fain, Run On Dirt, and I logged 1300 miles and 225K of vert. I injured my hamstring skiing in January, and so it was a struggle to get that healed. I was fit and healthy with lofty goals of getting the 50-59 age group record but that wasn’t in the cards. My ultimate goal was to circle that track at Pacer High while cherishing the experience no matter what.
THE HIGH COUNTRY
The shotgun blast shot us up the climb to the top of Squaw and spirits were high. I went over at 58 minutes with a moderate effort and the energy of the crowd was amazing. I felt like a rock star and floated out into the Granite Chief wilderness with a bounce in my step. Cruising along with Caroline Boller chatting about life and all of a sudden at mile 9, I step on a round rock. With a crunch of my ankle, I hit the deck and my “Big Dance” journey suddenly turned into one of pure survival. Everything flashed before me that lead up to this point. My dreams of rolling like a marble in the groove were dashed. I was terrified, shocked, angry, depressed but determined. I took 2 aleve and hobbled to Lyon’s Ridge aid, mile 10.5 where Pete Broomhall and the Tahoe Mtn Milers took care of me. I didn’t think that getting to Auburn was in the cards and wondered how far I could go before dropping or missing a cutoff. I hobbled on and the feeling of getting passed by 150 people over the next 50 miles was um, hard to swallow.
At mile 12 I took 2 more aleve as I could not put much weight on my left ankle. The runners went by me like a freight train and then I spot Magda Boulet walking too and she says she has nothing in the tank after a fever leading up to race day. We hug and I try to rally her to jog with me, “think of Richie and Owen, I can’t wait to see Hunter and Charlotte” but she could not rally and dropped at Red Star ridge mile 16 where Bill Rose was filling ice and told me I can make it and my ankle would feel better. I had to play that mental game for another 24 hours which I find was the hardest part of finishing.
The ankle pain subsided with aid of the aleve and I ran better from Duncan Canyon mile 24 to Robinson Flat mile 30 at 11:30pm. The heat began to crank up but my spirits did too. My crew and friends were there to give me a lift! Abbey, Dan, Pete, Bill and Jill all tended to me.
The ankle started to hurt again on the descent to Miller’s Defeat mile 35 and I made another mistake by taking 2 more aleve. I was not getting calories or hydration in and people kept going by me. The heat cranked up more and the Canyons were looming. I was in a bad way both mentally and physically. Kim and Bonnie really picked me up at Last Chance mile 43. Ice and water with a nice little shot of Sculpin IPA and I was ready for the Deadwood canyon.
As I neared the swinging bridge, Ryan delivered a message from John Trent, “don’t give up, just finish”, and that became my mantra. I fully submerged in the little creek just at the bottom of the climb to Devil’s Thumb mile 48. The heat was intense, but for 15 minutes or so I felt ok. Going uphill didn’t hurt as bad as down but it took it’s toll and I was so happy to reach the top. “Chainsaw Lady” was there to greet me and pump some life back into my veins. I sat for 15 minutes getting broth and a popsicle down before the long descent past the pump and into El Dorado canyon mile 53. The late afternoon Sun baked and and my body was boiling. A cold sponge bath, some Coke and Tina and crew had me on my way with a smile that masked my anxiety as I knew this was going to be a slow hike to Michigan Bluff mile 56.
Pacer2, Galen, met me at the top and shuffled me into town and I was met there by my kids, Mom, crew, DPMRs and a massive crowd of support. Seated and being serviced I took the time to relish everyone who had come out. I had low blood sugar but high hopes. Part of me wanted this day to go on and on, but most of me wondered how the hell am I getting to Auburn.
Volcano canyon is my least favorite but I got through and Galen was at Bath Rd with a cold ice bandana and a coke. About 8pm I reached Foresthill mile 62 aid station and the Silver State Striders Burning Man theme was awesome. 100 yards later I sat with crew and 20 or so family and friends. I threatened to cut my wristband off if anyone told me to get moving. I needed time to rest, reset, get some fluids and food, so I could start running again down Cal St with Pete pacer1. I downed about half a beer, burger, some broth. This stop was long and really needed, but so great mentally.
Temps dropped to 75* with a breeze and so at 8:30pm I said goodbye to the entourage and started down Cal St. A mile later and temps went back to 90, ugh. Basically hiking all the way to Cal2 mile 71. We came up on Anna Mae stopped on the trail, injured and unable to move on, I left Pete to help and alerted medical at Cal2. They went back with a stretcher to carry her down. I sat for 30 minutes, again trying to get fluids and calories. Finally I informed the Captain that I was going on without my pacer and to please allow him to continue since he was helping out.
Holy Crap I was running again. I made good time to Cal3 mile 73, Pete caught up and I saw my friend Tim (co-founder at Canyons 50k). For whatever reason, my legs didn’t want to run, so we shuffled to Rucky Chucky mile 78. I met my crew there for 30 minutes or so and a nap. They were patient and caring and I needed it. I was just in survival mode and still just hoping to finish. At 3am, I got up and crawled into the American River and it’s soothing cold water.
THE FINAL 22
Pete and Galen hiked with me up to Green Gate mile 80 and the cooler temps felt good. Coffee and a quesadilla and we were out at 3:30am. We finally got into a groove and made better time to Auburn Lake Trails mile 85 at 5am. The sun was coming up and my body was too. We ran hard into Brown’s Bar mile 90 at 6am, passing people and having some laughs. In and out quick with a fast descent to the River and then a slow climb up to hwy 49 mile 93.5 at 7am. We beat our crew there, grabbed some bacon and a shot of coke. The Cool meadow and No Hands mile 97 felt like home and I knew now that the end was near.
I soaked in the last few miles, except the hot sun was now heating up the climb to Robie Point mile 99 at 8:10am, but I was sweating normal and shuffling long just fine. Paul handed me a cold beer and I downed it on the climb up where Abbey and Dan met us for the final mile to Placer High. That last mile and rounding the track were completely surreal. What just happened? How did I get here. How could so many people be out here to help me achieve this crazy goal. There is no sound like hearing your name as you enter the final yards of this race to see Craig, the timing light and the crowd of people congratulating you. A long, hard and beautiful journey complete with a lifetime of memories to be cherished. This is the magic that is Western States, I hope you all get your turn to feel it too.
Hugs and high fives, ice and elevate the ankle. Shower and eat. The people that make this event so special come from all walks of life, without each and everyone of them, I would not have made it. Walking up to get my buckle after a time of 27:28 (8:28am) is by far my most cherished finish of all. Never had I doubted the outcome of a race for so long while underway, and I am proud to be able to say that I “GOT BUCKLE”. Thanks to my crew Abbey Drake, Dan Baxley and Bill Rose, pacers Pete Broomhall and Galen Farris, GU Energy, Alpenglow Sports, Elke Reimer, Craig Thornley, the WS Board, the Volunteers (oh you amazing volunteers!) and everyone one of you who touched me along the way. I really hope that someday soon, I will again, SEE YOU IN SQUAW!