30 June 2019

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I started Ultrarunning about 10 years ago upon the urging, I meant invitation, of friends. Not long after, I came across the film "Unbreakable: The Western States 100" and watched it with my better half. That's when my quest to run the oldest 100 mile race in the world, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, began. I entered the Western States entry lottery for the first time in 2012 after completing my first 100 miler at Rocky Racoon. Unfortunately (but ultimately thankfully), I did not get picked for the 2013 race as I got seriously hurt during a soccer match at the end of 2012, leading to a year long journey of physical rehab and recovery after multiple surgeries and other medical complications. In November of 2014, I completed my first 100 miler post injury and reentered the Western States lottery once more. It would take an additional 4 years (a total of 5 consecutive lotteries) to finally get drawn for an entry into the most prestigious 100 mile race in the US and arguably the world.
Not expecting to get drawn in the lottery, I had already entered a couple of other competitive ultras in Europe that I considered bucket list races, which now needed to be cancelled. After all, this may be my only chance to ever run States. As such, I planned my entire summer around it. That didn't mean that it would be my only ultra this summer or even my only 100 miler. You see, the Western States 100 is the crown jewel of the US Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, which requires completion of four of the five oldest 100 mile ultramarathons on the United States. Since it is extremely difficult to get drawn in the WS lottery, I decided to go for the Slam. This meant entering another three race lotteries  (Old Dominion 100 didn't require a lottery entry) and keeping my fingers crossed. Ultimately, I chose to run the six oldest 100 milers in the US over the course of 14 weeks, called the Last Great Race with States the second in the series. This summer's slogan: "Go big or go home!"
Once I knew I was running States, it was time to jump on booking flights and accommodations. I reached out to Rick Rawls, a friend of mine who had run in two years prior, for advice on travel and ended up booking a place about 50 yards from the startline. My wife and I decided to travel to Squaw Valley, CA the Wednesday prior to race weekend. Race activities started on Thursday and I did not want to miss out on any of them. Luckily, I was able to convince my good buddy and training partner Paul Morris to give up a long weekend to accompany both to assist my wife Anya in crewing and as a pacer for the final 38 miles of the race.
Upon our arrival in Sacramento, Anya and I headed straight to Walmart for food supplies, a large cooler and a couple of camping chairs before grabbing lunch at a great vegan spot before making the beautiful drive to Squaw Valley, CA near Lake Tahoe. We arrived with plenty of daylight left to check in to our place and to check out the village, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Paul would arrive the following day, just in time for the crew meeting at one of the conference centers.
The plan for race week was to take it easy. After all, I had no idea how much or how little I was truly recovered from running the Old Dominion 100 four weeks earlier. However, I did take time for a short and easy shakeout run with Matt Hawkins Thursday morning and another with Paul about a mile and a half up the Escarpment and back on Friday morning. It is during this run that we bumped into my good buddy Brian Fisher from Seattle. It was great catching up with him. On top of that, he was kind enough to catch me during the race and snap a coupe of pics (and a video clip) during and after the race, thanks man!
Friday consisted mostly of getting checked in, checking out the expo and catching up with friends, old and new, including the "large" Huntsville contingent of DeWayne, Liz, Emily and myself. After a lunch at the local Irish gastro pub and watching the US women play in the World Cup, I headed over to the mandatory pre-race briefing. Afterwards, Anya had kindly agreed to pasta dinner in our studio apartment to ensure I didn't experiment with foods the night before what would likely be my biggest ultra adventure ever. I had already dropped off my nine drop bags (mostly nutrition only) that morning, so after dinner, it was pretty much lights out for me aside from watching a little TV. After all, the 4AM alarm would come soon enough and I needed to get up right way to take a quick shower and to tape my feet as usual before a 100 mile race.
I woke up at 2AM on race morning and that was pretty much it. While I stayed in bed to try to rest my eyes and body, I was done sleeping. Overall, I struggled all week to get sufficient sleep, but that was to be expected and I did not fret on that too long at all. I knew I had trained all year for this summer and a little sleep deprivation wasn't going to derail that training. However, I am not going to lie, there were plenty of things going through my mind that had me doubting my ability to get to the finish line before 5AM (sub 24 hours), which was my A goal for this race to earn the coveted Silver Buckle. Ultimately, I was going to be stoked to finish this race in the allotted time of 30 hours, but I was going to push for that silver buckle as much as possible without risking my ability to finish. At the end of the day, The Last Great Race and Grand Slam of Ultrarunning require that I finish this race, period.
After six months of training, race morning had finally arrived. I took a shower, taped my feet and went back and forth between wearing a windbreaker and not wearing one due to the low 38 degree temps at the start of the race. However, knowing that we would take on a massive climb up to the Escarpment, the highest point of the race at 8400', I decided to ditch the windbreaker and just use arm sleeves, instead. Headlamps wouldn't be necessary either. I had checked video footage from years prior to be certain.
The atmosphere 30 minutes prior to the start of the race was electric. Runners, friends and family were hugging and high fiving each other while staying warm inside the building right at the start line arch for as long as possible. I was rearing to go. When the traditional start gun was fired, the throng of runners yelled, screamed and hollered along with the crowd of spectators as we made our way under the startline arch and up the Escarpment. The only other time I experienced such excitement (albeit on a larger scale) was at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. It as awesome!
I carried that excitement and it carried me for the entire climb up the Escarpment. Near the top we started to encounter the first signs of hard packed/frozen snow. This snow cover would continue for the next 15 miles plus a few more patches here and there after. Mostly they were snow banks that required quite a bit of attention as we made our way along cambered sections of snow and ice. If it weren't for the course flagging, I would not have been able to find my way across.
My plan for this race was simple, just stay ahead of the sub 24 hour pace. the Western States staff had taken the guess work out of pacing, by creating pace charts based on both terrain and previous years' finishers, so all I needed to do is keep an eye on that pace. I started extremely conservatively without ever checking my watch until about mile 10 at the first aid station Lyon Ridge, when it showed that I was actually 20 minutes behind sub 24 hour pace...say what??? The snow had caused my progress to be much slower than anticipated. However, I did not let that stress me out at all. Instead, I relaxed and continued on. I fully expected to make up the time latter as long as I didn't try to start chasing the pace and splits. Eventually, I did just that, but if you were to look at the splits posted so kindly by WS staff, I never had a sub 24 hour buffer larger than 15 minutes throughout the entire race. In fact, most of the time, I barely had 5 minutes of cushion below the 24 hour pace. While that did ultimately add a little bot of stress, it also kept me more focused than I had been in a race in a long time. It gave me a carrot to chase without causing me to blow up. I had no desired time goal other than to earn that silver buckle, so there was no reason to even attempt to build a bigger cushion (though I'm fairly sure, I couldn't have done that anyway). It seemed I only had one gear in the latter stages of the race, but fortunately enough, it was fast enough to get me there.
After Lyon Ridge, the snow continued all the way until Red Star Ridge AS around mile 16 and I continued my controlled pace, taking in the amazing scenery of Tahoe National Forest around me. I kept my GoPro Hero 7 close at hand and kept taking short clips. This also kept me from going too hard too early. The next 15 miles from Red Star Ridge via Duncan Canyon AS to Robinson Flat AS were fairly uneventful. I kept an eye on my nutrition and hydration in anticipation of the hottest part of the day in the famous canyons. I did enjoy the cooling effects of the Duncan Creek crossing in the bottom of the canyon before starting the first "warmer" climb of the day. The four mile climb out of the canyon and to Robinson Flat AS was slow and grinding, but I was in great spirits and I was looking forward to seeing my crew for the very first time. When I arrived, they were all set up for me and got me reloaded with fuel and cooled down with my cooling bandana contraption. I spent some time here to enjoy the moment and the break and to chug a can of Coke:-)
Once I left Robinson, I knew I wouldn't see my crew again until 25 miles later at Michigan Bluff. In between, I would have to run up and down a couple of canyons and conquer the massive climb up Devil's Thumb. My first "troubles" started around mile 43 at Last Chance AS. The very runnable mile leading into this aid station, I was reduced to a walk. I knew I was overheating (yes, even in this year's "cool" temps) as I was no longer feeling hot. Once I arrived at the AS, I asked for hot soup rather than ice. In fact, i declined any and all ice from that point of the race forward. Food had also become much harder to stomach. While I continued to force down a gel every once in a while, most of my calories now came from Gu Brew Roctane and Coca-Cola. Eating was no longer an option. Once I arrived at Michigan Bluff and saw my crew again, I forced down some salted potatoes, but I felt like throwing up at this point. I left Michigan Bluff in great spirits, knowing that Paul would join me 6 miles later at Foresthill AS at mile 62. I kept a controlled pace, never really pushing but still getting worn down as the race progressed.
I was confident that I could continue to chase that sub 24 hour finish as long as I stayed just near the required pace. I had "warned" Paul that if I was close to sub 24 hour pace when I joined me, his job was to keep me moving and to get me in under 24 hours...no pressure:-) We ran most of the next 16 miles to Rucky Chucky and didn't have to reach for our headlamps until the section between Cal 2 and Cal 3 aid stations around mile 71. The final section leading to the Rucky Chucky river crossing seemed to last forever as did the section climbing out of Rucky Chucky. One of the highlights of my day was actually sharing the boat taking us across the river with Dave Mackey, a true living legend in the sport of ultrarunning. If you don't know Dave and his story, do yourself a favor and read up on him. I dare you not to be inspired!
Unfortunately, I would see Dave again around mil 93 just before he had to call it quits for the day, but not until putting down the hammer in the previous section. He was well on pace to run sub 24 hours and if you need to know why that is special, look him up. Paul and I continued our grind and by now, I was never more than 5 minutes ahead of the 24 hour time cutoff. Ultimately, I decided to start running through some of the latter aid stations to try to make up some time and it worked.
My friend and pacer Paul and I finally entered the famous Placer High School track with my wife waiting and cheering as I ran the final 200m to the finish line of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. I crossed the line just under 23 hours and 44 minutes earning that coveted Silver Buckle. The latter miles of this race were pretty much a blur, grinding up the hills and trying to muster more than just a shuffle on the flats and the downhills and I owe it to Paul to actually keep me in the game. I'm thankful beyond words to both Paul and my wife Anya for joining me on this adventure that at times was probably way more challenging for them than for me. After all, I signed up for this things and I actually got to run it. For now, I am still processing this race. However, I also already have decided to enter the lottery again next year. While I knew this race was huge, I did not know just how epic this race course was and I hope tog et another go at it some day.
Thanks to all of the volunteers, board of directors and staff that make this amazing event possible. This experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. I hop to be back in Squaw Valley and Auburn, CA in the near future, be that as runner, crew or pacer.
Please see section below for my race and drop bag gear choices. Further edits to follow.





























Gear List and Drop Bags

Drop bag contents, running gear and other supplies being laid out and organized before packing for the Western States 100.
While I do pack and plan differently for a 100 mile race when I have the luxury of a crew and/or pacer, the content of my drop bags is essentially the same. As is evident in the picture, I am fairly organized with my race logistics (with some OCD tendencies that I have more or less under control until its 100 mile race week). I create and print aid station and pace charts as well as drop bag tags and I go as far as laminating them. You never know weather conditions on race day and there would be nothing worse than not being able to read our pace chart or identify your drop bags because the pen or ink has bled all over due to being rain soaked. Anyway, that's my reasoning and I won't be convinced otherwise.

My drop bags mainly contain all of my nutrition (both vegan gels by Spring Energy and Gu Brew Roctane) necessary to get me from one drop bag to the next drop bag location. Since the distance between aid stations with drop bag access varies, I sometimes carry as little as 1 gel and as many as 5 gels (one for every 45 minutes of running) as well as the appropriate amount of drink powder (for one 16oz bottle of Gu Brew for every 60 minutes of running). This ensures that I consume about 300 calories per hour from the start of the race. This number may taper down as I slow down in the latter stages of the races, thereby both requiring less calories and desiring less calories. While I don't usually have stomach issues, my appetite does taper down as the race progresses into the later stages and during hot segments.


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