Saturday, December 7, 2013

Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run: Race Report

Well, in honour of this weekend's lottery draw for the 2014 Western States, I figure it's finally time to post my 2013 race report to let people know what they're in for.  So what if it was 5 months ago!  I had a great time, even though things did not go as planned.  Injury in the months leading up to the race meant I would be undertrained (as usual).  It then turned out to be way hotter than predicted, the 2nd hottest race in it's 40 year history.  Then the icing on the cake was the worst blisters I've ever had.  Can't wait to go back!

Toronto to Squaw Valley
Our flight to San Francisco on Thursday was delayed 2 hours, off to a great start!  After arriving, took forever to get our rental car, then another eternity sitting in traffic to get out of the city.  After stopping for dinner then at Walmart for supplies, we ended up arriving at Squaw Valley in the dark at about 11pm, way past my original plan to be there for dinner.  It actually took longer to drive from San Fran to Squaw than the flight from Toronto to San Fran! Sitting in a car or plane for over 10hrs now.  I used the time on the plane to go over the maps and put together a chart of my predicted aid station arrival times for Lisa, you can guess how accurate that would end up being.

As we pulled into Squaw and came up to our hotel, we could see the huge rock face at the end of the road, it was massive and an impressive sight.  After we parked the car, I had to go out and have a look, awesome.  I couldn't wait for daylight so I could get a look at everything.  It was now 2am at home, got undressed, flopped on the bed and fell right to sleep.

Registration and Check-In
Up at 7am Friday, I turned on the TV and watched some Sacramento news station while having breakfast.  All they're talking about is the heat wave and then there's a newsflash about the concern for runners in the Western States Endurance Run.  Just what I wanted to wake up to. 

At least I had a great sleep, I always try to get a good night's sleep on Thursday night before a race (as Friday night sleep is a write-off) but it never happens.  This was my longest Thursday night sleep to date at 7hrs, great.  Had some breakfast and we went for a walk to have a look around the village, registration opens at 9am.

It was beautiful looking around at the mountains on all sides.  We were tucked in a valley surrounded by tall peaks, absolutely beautiful in all directions.  Looking up, could see snow at the top, I'd get a better look tomorrow!

We walked over to the start of the trail, then 2 guys came trotting down the hill from a morning run and passed by us, it was Hal Koerner (2 time winner).  I had just watched him in the documentary of the race with my kids a few days ago, it was surreal that I was here about to run this thing with him (well, waaay behind him anyway).   I didn't want to be a geek and stop him during his run, so I played it cool and stepped aside and let him pass.  Plus I didn't want to intimidate him of course.

Soon went to medical check in and registration.  They weighed me, took blood pressure and asked lots of questions.  Then checked in and got my swag, nice.  Arm sleeves, a visor, tech t-shirt, mug, duffle bag and of course, the mighty hoodie.  All with WS logos, the only thing missing was a buckle!

I went to the expo and had a look at some arm sleeves.  Mountain Hardware had these arm sleeves with some sort of technology that makes the material retain your sweat to keep you cool.  Whatever.  They're white, they're thinner than my current sleeves, I'll take 'em.  Grabbed a white hat too with the same new top secret ground breaking alien technology for sweat preservation cooling.

Drop Bags and Pre-Race Meeting
We headed back to our room so I could get my drop bags together. The plan was I'd have 5 drop bags along the course and Lisa would meet me 6 times.  All my drop bags had refills of gels and Clif Shot Bloks, each also had an Ensure to drink. Specific bags had my lights, a handheld bottle and various clothes to change if needed.

We dropped off the bags for tomorrow, then while looking for lunch I saw a guy wearing the exact same shirt as me (Sulpher Springs, the race I did 5 weeks prior), I knew it had to be Charles Oatman, one of the 3 Ontario runners in attendance.  I ran over and said hello, wished him luck.  Then while grabbing some wraps for lunch, I noticed a guy wearing a 5 Peaks shirt, I asked him if he was with Girlie, the other runner from Ontario.  It was indeed her husband Ian.  Turns out Girlie is one of the race directors for 5 Peaks, which my kids and I had signed up to run together 2 weeks later.  We chatted with Ian and walked over to the pre-race meeting where I finally met Girlie (we had chatted by email in the weeks leading up to the race, never met).  The pre-race meeting was on the lawn right behind our hotel room, we picked the right place!

The meeting was great.  There's an energy in the air with everyone here gathered all with the same purpose.  The whole village is full of runners or their support crew, now we were all gathered together.  First we listened to the race director, then some advise from a few people.  Best advise was the race director telling everyone to take their time charts and splits, then throw then in the garbage. The heat tomorrow would be near record high, they warned us that any times we had in mind for tomorrow when we signed up are out the window. Surviving the heat and even finishing will be a challenge, so forget your plans.  He also made a point of letting us know they had to adjust the entrance to the stadium at the finish, so this is why the starting line was moved slightly.  This was done to keep the same distance and not add a course extension (this drew applause from the crowd, he was taking a jab at Leadville).

A doctor had a good speech which I took note of about the importance of keeping body temperature cool in the extreme heat.  People make the mistake of thinking they need to drink lots more when it's hot, but we're just depleting our electrolytes buy drinking so much, not cooling down.  Take advantage of ice at the aid stations and use the cool creek and river water to cool off and keep your body temperature down.

Tim Twietmeyer had a few words (25 time finisher, now one of the organizers), Topher Gaylord (Scott Jurek's childhood buddy, now president of Montrail) and of course Gordy Ainsleigh.  Gordy was the one who started it all 40 years ago when his horse came up lame and he ran the course instead.  He's now 867 years old and he still runs it every year.  Doesn't finish in under 30 hours anymore, but still gives it a go.  Next, they brought up and introduced the top contenders for women, then men.

Nick Clark, Tim Olsen (2012 & 2013 winner), Ian Sharman, some dude, some other dude, dude #3, Karl Meltzer, Mike Morton, Hal Koerner, Rob Krar
It was awesome to see some of the best ultrarunners on the planet standing in front of us (also sitting in the crowd right in front of me was Ann Trason, 10 time woman's winner), and I'd be running with them tomorrow.......Way, way behind them, but they could all get injured, you never know.  They all hung around after to chat with people while old Gordy gave out free massages (he's not a perv, he's actually a registered chiropractor).
We hit the pool and Jacuzzi to relax where we chatted with another runner who'd done it before, he also lives in Auburn and trains on the course.  He gave me a few tips, one of them being about a stream with a shallow pool at the bottom of the valley after Last Chance aid station.  You can actually fill your bottles there, the water if fresh from a spring.
Lisa and I then headed out to Lake Tahoe for a nice dinner (See honey? I told, you it would be a romantic trip!).  The place we picked didn't have pasta, so I loaded up on fries.  Then back to the hotel for some zzzs, set the alarm for 3:15am...
Race Day!
Great sleep, 9:15pm to 3:15am, awesome 6hrs and better than expected!  It really helps living in Eastern time zone and running at Pacific time, makes going to bed and getting up early much easier.  The last 2 nights were the most sleep I've ever had before a race, maybe I won't nod off while running at night for a change...
Got up and followed my usual pre-race routine.  Coffee, toast with PB and a banana, then soaked my legs in a hot bath while munching on a cup of Mr. Noodles (or US equivalent, can't remember the name).  Getting ready was very efficient, I laid everything out the night before and had nothing to organize.  What was going on?  Usually I sleep 3hrs and scramble to get things together in the morning, this was going great.  Woke up Lisa at 4:15 and we headed out just after 4:30am, start line was 200 meters from our door (I highly recommend booking Squaw Valley Lodge).
Before the start we need to check-in and get my bib and chip timer.  After grabbing my bib I realized they didn't give me any pins to attach it.  I went back in and asked for some, but they were out of pins!  The lady at the table looked pissed off, I guess everyone was bugging her about it.  She told me to just fold up the bib and put it in my pocket.  WTF?  Now, I know the chip timer will be the official time and I can shout out my bib number arriving at aid stations (actually later in the race I couldn't remember it and had to keep checking), but I also know that there are race photographers along the course and they send you your pics by...yeah, that's right.... by the bib number in the picture!  Thanks Gerda, I'll figure something out.  I ended up biting 2 friggin holes in the bib so I could slip a strap though it on my vest.  No biggie, but I like to keep my bib numbers, especially from the bigger races.  Whatever, I knew this was going to be the least of my problems today.  Off to the start...

The Course
For those who aren't familiar with the course, it's basically a point to point race starting in Squaw Valley California, crossing through the mountains of the High Sierras and ending 100 miles later in the town of Auburn California.  The start is at an altitude of about 6000 feet, climbs up immediately in the first few miles to just under 9000 feet, then slowly descends through the mountains while passing through a few extremely hot canyons to a finish just above sea level.
I should point out that I cramped up horribly at Boston on that tiny little Heartbreak Hill

This was my first point to point race, most races I've done have been between 3 to 8 loops, which is easier logistically for crewing as you keep passing by the same spots.  There was no way I was going to remember which stations I had drop bags at, or what specifically I had to do at each, so I wrote it out on a card which I brought with me.  The plan was:

Mile 16 - Red Star Ridge - (drop bag)
Mile 29.7 - Robinson Flat - (crew)
Mile 38 - Dusty Corners - (crew)
Mile 43.3 - Last Chance - (drop bag): pick up handheld bottle
Mile 47.8 - Devil's Thumb - (drop bag): pick up headlamp
Mile 55.7 - Michigan Bluff - (crew & drop bag): pick up flashlight and 2nd headlamp for belt
Mile 62 - Foresthill - (crew)
Mile 78 - Rucky Chucky - (crew): replace flashlight batteries
Mile 85.2 - Auburn Lake Trails - (drop bag)
Mile 93.5 - Highway 49 - (crew): drop off lights

So meet Lisa 6 times, 5 drop bags, there was no way I was going to remember what to do at each.  The card proved to be very useful.  Now I should point out we did miss the crew instruction meeting on Thursday night, so some of this plan was flawed from the get go. 

Ok, read on.
Squaw Valley to Robinson Flat (29.7 miles / 47.5 km)

Here We Go
As we headed for the starting line, it suddenly hit me... The sun is not up at 5am!  We're starting in the dark and I'd put my headlamps and flashlight in my drop bags.  Way to go, new guy.  I ran back to the room (once again, I highly recommend accommodation 200 meters from the starting line) and grabbed a crappy spare flashlight to use.
The start was awesome.  I wasn't nervous, I knew what I had to do, just excited.  It was all setting in now that I was really here about to do this epic race.  About 400 runners lined up with the best up at the front.  I decided to hang maybe 3/4 of the way back, but I was being modest and this turned out to be too far back.  At 5am... BOOM!... A shotgun goes off to start the race.

What Goes Up...
The beginning is just a huge crowd of people powerhiking up the mountain.  There were parts where it leveled out some and you could run.  I could have run more than I did overall, but I was trying to conserve energy.  I started around mid-pack, but passed quite a few people on the way up.  About a third of the way up I passed Gordy Ainsleigh, I'd better be able to stay ahead of this guy!  I realized early on that I didn't need a flashlight at all, the hills were lit up with ski lights most of the way.  As we neared the top, the sun was rising so the flashlight was useless.  I felt like a tourist being the only person carrying one, so I asked one of the aid station volunteers to slip it into my pack for me.

Just before the top is the aid station Escarpment at 3.5 miles, I grabbed quick drink and kept moving, feeling great.  I turned and looked back, a beautiful view across Lake Tahoe behind us, stunning.  We'd climbed about 3000 feet in the last few miles.  Even with the heat the last few days, it was still cool up here at 8700 feet and there was snow on the side of the trail.  Most years, this part is covered with snow so I was glad not have to run through slippery snow with my sore groin.

The climb was big, but truly pales in comparison to Hope Pass at Leadville, not even close.  This was not nearly as steep and flattened out a few times along the way up.  Great climb with great views though.  Once at the top, you can look west and see all the mountains of the Sierras we're about to cross.  Then, you crest the top and start speeding downhill!

...Must Come Down
It thought people were going a bit too slow on the downhill, so I passed people wherever I could.  I was feeling great at this point and flying down the hills.  Apparently, I was going too hard down the hills, soon my legs would start to get sore on the downhills, much earlier than anticipated.  Around mile 10 while speeding down a hill a ran though a small stream, I figured my feet would get wet later anyway so I didn't thing anything of it.  Little did I know this little stream was the start of my demise...

I headed through the aid stations Lyon Ridge in 122nd place, Redstar Ridge in 139th place (had a drop bag here to re-stock some supplies) and Duncan Canyon still in 139th place.  Through all of these, I was within 5 minutes of a 24hr finish pace, doing better than expected so fare.  I could feel some hotspots on my feet now, a precursor to blisters, but I didn't worry about it at this point.  My quads were unusually sore on the downhills now.  The heat was also creeping up as the altitude got lower, but it was still bearable.  I ran past Tim Tweitmeyer out on the course.  There were numerous volunteer runners (including Tim) out on the course to check on people, he must have been itching to run!

I arrived into Robinson Flat (mile 29.7 at 11:29am in 158th place out of about 400 runners, still ahead of schedule (24hr pace was 11:20am, only 9 minutes off).  This was to be my first crew meeting with Lisa, or so we'd planned...
Robinson Flat (29.7 miles / 47.5 km) to Last Chance (43.3 miles / 69.3 km)

Didn't You Get the Memo?
As I arrived in Robinson Flat, they weighed me.  I was scared shitless after Leadville where I gained 7 pounds in the first 50 miles.  I stepped on the scale and hoped for the best.... down a couple pounds!  Whew, whatever the hell happened to me at altitude in Leadville wasn't happening here.  I grabbed some fruit and looked around for Lisa.  It was getting hot now and she had a hankerchief for me to fill with ice and wear around my neck to stay cool.  I walked slowly through the crew area and couldn't see her, when I got to the end I wasn't sure what to do.  She has some gels and Clif shots for me to re-stock, but I still had some so no big deal.  I asked someone if I could sit in their extra chair, he obliged while I sat there eating for a few minutes waiting for Lisa to show up.  After 5 min, still nothing.  A woman behind me asked for her number and sent her a text.  I waited a few more minutes, but then I had to go.  I thanked the man and woman and then went on my way.  Lisa was all by herself, so I was hoping nothing was wrong.

Turns out it took her hours to drive along the dirt road to the shuttle, then the shuttle got stuck due to a broken down vehicle on the little road.  She did arrive right around when I was leaving.  She spent hours to get there, all for nothing.  Oh well, I'd see her at Dusty Corners in a couple of hours.

It was really starting to get hot now and blisters were forming on my feet, slowing me down a little but I still wasn't worrying about it.  I passed though Millers Defeat in 168th place at 12:43pm, less than 20min off of the 24hr pace, still doing good.  From Millers Defeat to Dusty Corners, I was still moving pretty good but slowing more.  I was glad I was finally going to see Lisa and re-stock a few things.  I arrived Dusty Corners in 185th place at 1:35pm, now 40 minutes off a 24hr pace.  It was now officially hot as hell.

Or the Other Memo?
As I ran into Dusty Corners, I looked around for Lisa but couldn't find her.  I walked to the end of the station's crew area and back to the other end, nothing.  Ok, now I was starting to worry.  Volunteers were asking if they could get me anything, everyone was pitching in to help asking what I needed.  I asked if someone could try to get a hold of her, but there was no reception so far in the mountains.  I was joking with the volunteers, I said I think my girlfriend left me for another runner mid-race!  That's worse than leaving someone at the alter...

Later we found out that at the crew information meeting which we missed on Thurday night, they told people to go to either Robinson Flat or Dusty Corners, it's not possible to do both.  We didn't know that so she left Robinson just after I did and tried to get to Dusty Corners.  We had no idea that was pointless.  She had now been driving around since 9am and hadn't seen me!  Long day for her too.  Ok, back to me though:

I stocked up on salt pills, GU gels (gross, but my Powerbar Double Latte gels were MIA).  I ate a bunch of fruit, filled my cap with ice and headed on my way with a cup of ice to chew also (I did this at every station).  As soon as you step away from the shade and onto the dirt road in the sun, you could feel the heat rising up from the dirt like turning on a toaster.  Never felt anything like it.

What, No Barf Bags?
Next, there was a large portion running along fully exposed trail from where there was a forest fire years ago.  Having no trees for cover in this heat was brutal.  Then I started to notice something I'd never seen in all of my other races.  Every few minutes I'd come across a pile of vomit, over and over again.  It was hot, dry and dusty here so I guess it really got to some people, I've never seen so much vomit on a trail.  To stay cool, I made sure to conserve enough water so I could keep spraying some water on my neck and arm sleeves.

The dirt and dusty fire roads were extremely hot, felt like forever running on these waiting to get back into some woods for shade.  I was so happy to arrive at Last Chance, knowing we'd be heading into the woods and descending to a cool river!  A young boy was standing outside the station with a spray bottle, I bent down and he sprayed me in the face, it was hot water and I think it evaporated before I even stood up.  I arrived Last Chance still in 185th place at 2:38pm, now 42min off a 24hr pace, not bad at all.
Last Chance (43.3 miles / 69.3 km) to Devil's Thumb (47.8 miles / 76.5 km)
I ate a bunch of fruit here, mostly strawberries. I grabbed my handheld bottle from my drop bag and asked them to fill it with water for me.  I started using the handheld bottle to continually squirt water on myself as I ran to stay cool.  A few minutes after leaving Last Chance, the downhill started to get steeper and steeper.  This leg is basically a steep downhill to the bottom of a canyon, followed by the steepest climb of the course out of the canyon on the other side. 

My quads were really sore now, when it got too steep I had to slowly step down the hills, this was not good less than 50 miles into the race.  I used my handheld to spray my quads with cool water.  My feet were getting very, very sore from blisters, I was really slowing down (the chafing that was developing in private places wasn't helping either).  Other runners were running right past me as I crept down the hill.  My groin had been getting more sore throughout the day, it was bad now too.  Running straight was ok, but any sudden turns and my adductors would hurt.  The worst part was side stepping to let other runners pass, hurt like hell.

Pre-race, another runner had told me that instead of cooling off in the river, there's a fresh spring running out of the rocks forming a little pool somewhere near the bridge and you can drink the water.  As I got closer to the bottom, I saw a small pool (a few inches deep) right after a little wooden bridge, so I sat in it.  It was very shallow and didn't look to clean, but I sat in it anyway.  Any moron would know this was not the spring the guy was talking about, but the heat was getting to me and I wasn't thinking clearly.  Plus I didn't give a crap, it was water.

Berry Good Shower
After a few minutes, bees kept swarming around me so this urged me to get up and get moving.  As I kept spraying myself with my handheld, I noticed the constant smell and taste of strawberry.  I figured it was just from the bunch of strawberries I ate at Last Chance, but the smell wouldn't go away.  I kept running, to stay cool I sprayed my handheld in my hair, on my neck, chest, arms, quads.... Ahhh crap. Now I knew where the smell was coming from.  I squirted a big drink from my handheld into my mouth... yup, I had been soaking myself with a strawberry energy drink all this time.  That explains the bees.  Well, if it had to happen, this was actually the best time for it, I was about to arrive at the bottom with a nice cold river to soak in, along with getting the strawberry drink out of my clothes and hair.

Getting to the river at the bottom was great, I was so hot now, the cold water was amazing.  I lay down in the water with my feet on the shore to keep my shoes dry.  I submerged the rest of my body in the water for a few minutes.  The only problem with this was my shorts filled up with sand when I sat up.  As I got up to resume running, I realized my balls were covered in sand.  I sprayed water down there to try to get rid of as much as I could, I didn't need this chafing to get any worse!

I headed across the bridge and then saw the spring and small pool the guy was talking about.  I filled up my handheld here.  I didn't want to drink it but I'd use it to keep spraying myself.  I then started to head up the dreaded climb to toward Last Chance.

This was the steepest climb of the course, but I actually didn't mind it at all.  The downhills hurt so much that I enjoyed the climbs.  I was passing people the whole way up, no problem at all.  Even my burning feet felt better going uphill, they didn't slide around like on a downhill.  The climb took about 45min, I was happy to reach the top and see the aid station.  I arrived Devil's Thumb at 4:28pm in 204th place, now plummeted to 1hr and 13min off of 24 hour pace.  The super slow downhill did me in.
Devil's Thumb (47.8 miles / 76.5 km) to Michigan Bluff (55.7 miles / 89.1 km)
The heat was still stifling here, but they did a good job cooling people off, too good in fact.  After soaking my head and neck with an ice water sponge for too long, I was freezing!  They offered me a freezy but I was shivering.  The temp was over 100 degrees and I was shivering!  I had a drop bag here so I re-stocked and grabbed my headlamp to bring along. I was feeling a little queasy here so I sat down and had some hot noodle soup.  I sat down in one of the medical chairs for a few minutes.  There were some people around me in really rough shape.  My queasiness was nothing compared to what some of these people were going through. Only sat for a few minutes, then I was off.

This next section was again a steep decent into a canyon, so I knew this would be slow again.  This time there's El Dorado Creek aid station at the bottom.  When I got there, my quads were now throbbing and useless.  I arrived El Dorado at exactly 6:00pm, now dropped to 215th place, 1hr 40min off of a 24hr pace. 

One of the volunteers helped me climb down some rocks to the river, it was not easy!  Getting down to the river was one thing, trying to lower myself into the water was quite a spectacle.  I sat in the cool water for a few minutes, trying to submerge my quads while keeping my burning feet on a rock out of the water.  My volunteer then helped me up and I climbed the rocks up to the aid station.  I was wrecked and only at mile 52!!

I grabbed some fruit and headed up the west side of the canyon, thank goodness for the uphill.  Again just over 45min to the top, no problem climbing at all.  When I got near the top I picked up the pace and ran hard into Michigan Bluff aid station.... and finally there was Lisa!  The last time I saw her was 14hrs ago at 5am, it was now 7:07pm.  I'm now in 216th place.
Michigan Bluff (55.7 miles / 89.1 km) to Foresthill (62 miles / 99.2km)
I was glad to see Lisa and fill her in on my race so far, along with my dead quads and burning feet.  I gabbed some food and finally sat down in my own chair! 

At Michigan Bluff

I didn't stay too long, soon I was up and off.  I grabbed my flashlight and waistlight here before leaving.  Lisa walked with me along the road for a minute as she headed back to the car, I was staggering along as my feet were burning while walking on the flat hard road.  They were really bad now.  Once I picked up the pace and got moving, they'd feel a bit better.  A few minutes after I left, I realized I'd left my handheld bottle sitting on the ground beside my chair!  Crap.  I was hoping Lisa grabbed it, but as I found out later, she missed it too.  No biggie, I specifically had it there for the 2 canyons that I hit during the day, it was now going to start getting dark soon.
The next section got a little rocky, just killing my feet more.  Eventually I reached the Bath Road aid station.  After this it's a long uphill climb along a paved road.  The road had a long, slow curve to it.  Because of this, the road was paved with a constant bank to the left the whole way, this was horrible.  My feet were sliding sideways in my shoes on the slanted road, this sucked.  Not only did my feet slide in my shoe, but the bottoms of my feet were just huge blisters (as I'd soon learn) so my feet would slide inside the skin.  I never knew walking up a paved road could be so excruciating!!  At the top, it's then a flat run through the town of Foresthill to get to the aid station, now in the dark.  I arrived mile 62 at 9:17pm, now in 227th place.
Foresthill (62 miles / 99.2km) to Rucky Chucky (78 miles / 124.8 km)
They weighed me again here, after losing 6 pounds in the afternoon I'd now gained it back, which was good.  I couldn't find Lisa in the dark, then I heard someone shouting my name from the crew area, it was some woman with a loud voice that Lisa met while waiting for me.  I could barely step now, I told Lisa how bad my feet were and decided to see the foot doc.  I was a bit apprehensive about the time this would take, but I couldn't go on like this so surely it was worth it.

I'd never had my feet checked during a race before, but this was different.  I sat down and the doc took off my shoes and I said I'd take my own socks off.  My feet were horrible.  They were bloated and wrinkled, they'd been soaking all day.  The balls of my feet and almost all of my toes were covered in blisters, including between the toes.  The worst part was the bottoms and my heels though, just a giant blister on each foot.  We let them dry out a bit, then he taped all of them up and lanced a few to drain them.  There was nothing he could do about the giant ones, he just covered them in tape as another skin.  I put dry socks on, but as he pointed out I'll be crossing a river in 15 miles so dry shoes would not be necessary.  I put the damp shoes back on and got ready to go.  The bandages helped a bit (or maybe it was Advil #2), but I'd soon find out that the comfort would be short lived.  Lisa got me a bunch of noodles while I had my feet worked on, so I was ready to go.  Trying to walk along the flat road for a bit was horrible.  Eventually I picked up the pace and headed into the woods.

Cal Street
The next section, nicknamed 'Cal Street', is a mostly downhill fast trail section which heads through the aid stations Dardanelles (mile 66), Peachstone (mile 71 at 12:35am in 255th place) and Ford's Bar (mile 73) before reaching the Rucky Chucky river crossing at mile 78.  Some of the sections we run along cliff sides with a wall on one side and nothing on the other.  This would have been some great views during the day, but at night it's just a big dark void beside me.  I was very careful to focus and not doze off during some of these parts.  I eventually arrived at the bottom into Rucky Chucky at 2:54am, now 246th place.
Rucky Chucky (78 miles / 124.8 km) to Auburn Lake Trails (85.2 miles / 136.3 km)
I was looking forward to seeing Lisa here, mainly because I really, really needed an Advil to take the edge off my flaming feet and my worse than ever quads.  I did tell her to skip this station and sleep if she wanted to, but I was really hoping for that Advil!  I soon realized she did indeed opt for the cozy hotel bed.
Rub & River
There was a tent here for massages, so I decided to have my quads loosened up a bit.  This hurt like hell, but I stuck it out in hopes this would help my aching quads.  Not sure if it did, I could barely move whenever I stopped now.
I made my way down the rocks (very slowly) to the river to make my way across.  It's about 40 feet or so across, they have a rope to hold onto along with spotters there to assist.  The water was COLD!  It was up to my chest at one point, I'd taken off my waistpack and hung it around my neck.  Took me forever to creep across.  The cold water felt great on my legs, not to mention my fire-feet.
After I crossed, I asked the aid station workers if I could have some Advil or Tylenol, but they're not allowed to give any.  They first need a medical person to evaluate you... screw it.  I grabbed some food then started my climb uphill.  My shoes were waterlogged, who friggin cares anymore.
The next section is all uphill to the aid station Green Gate at mile 80.  The uphills were still awesome, I really looked forward to them.  Got to Green Gate at 4:08am in 259th place.
After Green Gate, it's a series of up and down trails to get to Auburn Lake Trails.  I would pass people on the uphills and they would pass me on the downhills.  Arrived Auburn Lake Trails aid station at 5:44am in 247th place, now been at it for almost 25 hrs, I had hoped to be done by now!
Auburn Lake Trails (85.2 miles / 136.3 km) to Highway 49 (93.5 miles / 149.6 km)
I was in rough shape coming into Auburn Lake Trails, and the aid station workers could see it.  One girl went and grabbed my drop bag for me while another guy got me a coffee and directed me to a chair.  As I started to lower myself, my quads gave out and I crashed into the chair, it went up on 2 back legs and almost flipped right out of it.  My coffee was the real casualty, I'd dumped it all over myself when I hit the chair.

That morning before the race, it took a large can of Starbucks Double Expresso and poured half of it into an empty Ensure bottle and placed it in my drop bag for this station.  When I tried to drink it, I almost threw it up, it was disgusting.  It had been sitting in my drop bag cooking all day, bad idea.  I took my headlamp, waistlight and flashlight and put them all in my drop bag, it was getting light out now so I wouldn't need them.

As I headed out, I realized I left my drop bag beside my chair instead of putting it back in the pile, but I was in no condition to turn around and get it, I was a minute or two out of the station now.  No biggie, it's 20 feet away from the pile and my bag was clearly marked, the girl who handed it to me would just put it back, right? (no she wouldn't).

Climbing down rocks after sitting at the station was horribly painful on my feet now.  I was yelling and gasping out loud with every step downhill on rocks, I didn't care who heard me anymore.  I still had 15 miles to go and 5 hours to do it.  Sounds easy right?  Not in this condition.  I made my way up and down the trails to Brown's Bar aid station at mile 90.  I arrived at 7:08 am in 244th place.  Didn't stay long I had to get this over with but I was struggling.

Low Point
The long downhill out of Browns Bar was brutal, this was physically the worst part of the race for me.  I knew I had less than 10 miles to go, but I was in extreme pain and moving slowly on the rocky downhill.  At this pace, a finish under the 30hr cutoff was in question.  My feet were worse than ever, my quads could barely keep me upright stepping downhill.  I'd never experienced either of these factors anywhere near this degree in a race before.  I reeeeally wanted an Advil to ease the pain.  I have no idea why I had Lisa hold onto the Advil instead of carrying some with me, it would have made a huge difference.

At the bottom of the canyon, I now had a big climb to get up to Highway 49 aid station.  I could still plow up the hills, but this hill felt like forever.  At every crest and turn I was hoping I was near the top, the hill was teasing me.  Finally I could hear people cheering at the aid station.  There was a small downhill just to piss me off before the aid station, then I came out of the woods and saw it. PLEASE let Lisa be there with Advil!  Please!  And there she was...
Highway 49 (93.5 miles / 149.6 km) to No Hands Bridge (96.8 miles / 154.9 km)
I'd arrived mile 92 aid station Highway 49 at 8:23am in 257th place (not that I cared what place I was in, just adding it as a reference compared to my 122nd place earlier in the race).  I could barely shuffle along now, I was so happy to see Lisa and finally get some Advil.  Now running like an old man who just had hip replacement and then got shot.  Not my finest hour.

Anyway, I took my long awaited Advil and ate some fruit.  An aid station worker came over to check on me, I assured them I was fine, just sore.  I told Lisa I was questionable to even make 30 hours at the rate I was going now.  I had to count on the Advil kicking in....and it did.

I slowed staggered away and made the steep climb out of Hwy 49, I just wanted this to be over with now.  The climb was slow, but once I got to the top the Advil was hitting me.  I started to pick up the pace, just in time as we crossed a long, very hot exposed field.  The temperature was climbing again.

I motored across the field, passing people the whole way, I was at full running pace now.  The next while is a downhill, but the fresh Advil took the edge off my sore quads and I was able to keep up the pace.  I eventually made it to the bottom and No Hands Bridge aid station.
No Hands Bridge (96.8 miles / 154.9 km) to Placer High School - Finish (100.2 miles / 160.3 km)
I was ecstatic to arrive here, I knew it was just 3 and a half miles to the finish and it was basically uphill, which was great.  As I was crossing the bridge, this was the moment when I knew I was going to finish the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.  As crossed the bridge, I let out a screaming  "WHOOOOO-HOOOOO!!!" for everyone to hear!   
No Hands Bridge
I still had one big uphill left, didn't mind at all.  Everyone else was walking now, knowing they were going to make it.  I had to keep running where I could and powering up the hill passing everyone, the thought of the finish line had adrenalin and endorphins kicking in.  Good thing because the Advil had pretty much worn off.
Robie Point
I finally exited the dirt trail and headed along the paved road, still going uphill.  I arrived Robie Point at 10:05am, only 1.3 miles left to go!  It was still a steep uphill for the next few minutes, but I was so excited I ran up the whole thing.  Once at the top, it`s just a mile through town to the finish.  My feet were on fire running along the paved roads, Advil was gone.  Everyone else was walking now, most people were joined by family members.  All of the towns people you see cheer you on, every car that passes waves, honks and yells, it`s an electric and exciting atmosphere that consumes the whole town.
I ran the whole way though town and entered the stadium, Lisa was just inside the gate.  I then needed to head around the track for 300 metres to the finish line on the other side.  I`d envisioned this moment for so long, wondering what condition I`d be in, I knew I wanted to run the last 300 metres around the track hard.  Problem was, after 100 metres or so I was catching up to the guy in front of me who was running slowly with his family.  I couldn`t pass him in the final few metres, that would`ve been a dick move so I just hung back and went very slow.
Finally finished this bitch in 29 hours 23 minutes.  As I crossed the finish line, I was so happy to be done!  I was not happy about my time, but I`d gotten over that many hours ago when I realized I needed to focus on just finishing.  Not what I had planned, but just knowing I`d finished this furnace of a race was enough for me today.

Where's My Buckle?
Lisa met me at the finish to share the moment with me.  I had to get off my feet, I collapsed into a chair in the medical tent until they made me move.  I was scared to take my shoes off, but I had to slowly work them off after a little while.  Worst blistering I`ve ever had and hopefully ever will have.  I made my way over to a foot person to have a look.  She cleaned my feet with cold water and checked them out, she advised I leave the bandages on for now, just stay off my feet (duh) and make sure to air them out to keep them dry the next few days.  As I was sitting in the foot chair, the great Karl Meltzer was standing beside me eating a popsicle so I said hello and chatted for a minute.  Man these guys are tiny.
At the finish, you pick up your various drop bags.  Lisa said the bag from Auburn Lakes Trail was missing.  Of course it was, it was the only bag with any value in it.  It had my Petzl Myo headlamp ($80), my Petzl Tikka headlamp ($40) and my brand new first time used bright ass flashlight ($30).  So the other bags had socks and tshirts, the missing bag had $150 worth of stuff in it.  Great.
After awhile I was able to stomach some food, Lisa grabbed me various items from the breakfast table not knowing what I could eat.  I was able to get a few pancakes down.
Lisa was anxious to leave by now, but she stuck around with me in the 100 plus heat to wait for my buckle.  If you leave, they`ll mail it to you, but I had to have it today!  Felt like forever waiting for the ceremony.  We got our chairs positioned ahead of time to get a decent seat with some shade.  Once it started, Nick Clark sat beside us waiting for the elites to be called up.
My slow ass time meant I was one of the last to go up.  I was going to get Lisa to go up and get it for me, but instead I got up and paced around for a few minutes before they called my name, just to loosen up my legs and get my flaming feet used to stepping first.  My preparation lead to the fine form you see below: 

After a few hours, I finally got my long awaited buckle!

Post Race
We headed back to a motel 15 minutes away so I could take shower, then we were off to the Fairmont Sonoma Resort and Spa to relax for a couple days.  I was a mess, could barely walk the next few days.  When we got to the resort, they had an attendant in a golf cart take me to my room.  They gave us a ground floor room with handicap accessibility, awesome.  The bars to lower myself down to the toilet seat we most appreciated!  I did a lot of sleeping while my crew enjoyed a much deserved spa getaway.

I couldn't wear shoes for a week.  When we got back home, I proudly wore sandals and my buckle to the office.

So what were the factors that lead to my slow-ass finish?

Blisters - Holy crap.  I usually run blister-free, what the hell happened?  I had bad blisters at HURT, but that was after falling in a river late in the race.  These ones started early.  I think shoes were too loose causing my feet to slide around a bit too much, lots of down hills contributed to the sliding more than usual, wet feet were the big culprits but then not taking action earlier fucked me.  I knew blisters were forming on the bottoms of my heels pretty early, I should have had them looked at sooner.  I can't even explain the pain and how it changed every single step for the last half of the race.  Really slowed me down much more than anything else.  Live and learn.

Downhills - WTF?  I've heard the urban legends of people having extremely sore quads from running downhill, but guess what?  They're true!  Never had any pain from running downhill before this.  At Leadville last year, it was the exact opposite, I couldn't step uphill anymore but I could fly down hill.  I'll attribute this to my lack of proper training due to my groin problems all spring.

Extreme Heat - Hottest weather I've ever been in, running or otherwise.  Highest recorded temp was 104f at Rucky Chucky, but canyons were even hotter peaking near 110f (43 Celsius).  Not humid thank goodness, just dry running-in-an-oven weather.  Hard to say how this impacted my race, I actually did a very good job keeping cool.   Ice in my hat at every station, constantly soaking myself with one of my bottles as I ran, lying down in every river and wearing all white including sleeves seemed to do the trick.  It sure changed my perspective of what 'hot' is when I got back home and hear people whine in 33 degree days getting from the AC house to the AC car.

Other Tidbits:
Nutrition - Nutrition and hydration was great.  I ate almost all fruit and lots of Clif Shot Bloks.  Had a gel, salt pill and electrolyte pill every hour.  Carried only water (except when I was soaking myself with that friggin strawberry drink), then drank whatever energy drink they had at each station.  Drank an Ensure at each drop bag, then some coffee at night to keep my eyes open.  Not really any nausea (for a few minutes at Devil's Thumb), weight stayed in a good range, lots of energy.

Crewing - Well, we didn't plan this very well.  Lisa made 3 out of the 6 scheduled stations, no fault of hers.  So in 29 hours and 100 miles, I saw her 3 times.  I had put my lights in my drop bags instead of leaving them with her, I did this because I didn't want to rely on her for these essentials, just in case something kept her from our rendezvous. Good thing!  I wasn't able to re-stock some things when we didn't meet.  What I did learn is that I really don't need a crew.  Mainly because the aid station workers we absolutely awesome, they were doing everything for me.  A crew would be much more valuable in a less organized and less supported race.  From a supply standpoint, it's nice having my chair and being able to re-stock my own things but I can get by without it.  The biggest factor in her crewing is the mental aspect of looking forward to seeing her at the next station.  When I didn't see her at the first 2 stations, this almost backfired as I was really getting worried whether something serious happened to her.  If she hadn't shown up at the 3rd planned meet at Michigan Bluff, I wouldn't have been able to continue the race, I'd be calling hospitals!

Groin - Ah yes, the adductors.  I really thought these would have been healed since February, but it was not to be.  Got pretty sore by mid-race, very painful when I tried to side-step.  As sore as it was, this wasn't a big contributor to my finishing time.  The bigger impact was the effect it had on my training when it was much worse and more painful, causing me to try and cram for the final 2 months pre-race.  I couldn't back out of this race, I knew I wasn't properly trained by I had to make the best of it.

What's Next?
Considering this was over 5 months ago, I'll backtrack a little.  I had planned to run another 100 miler in the fall (against all common sense).  I considered Haliburton, Grindstone or Virgil Crest, but I had schedule conflicts with all of them.  I then started to frantically look around for a 50 miler, but again none really caught my eye.  Just as well, I really should have been letting my groin heal so I could be better for 2014.  So, eventually I calmed down and got used to the realization that I should rest and heal properly.  It was rather nice knowing I had no upcoming races to train for, I kept up running but with no sense of urgency.  It's now December and I haven't run a race since Western on June 30th.  Groin is definitely healing, but not there yet.   I'll do another post in the near future with my plans for 2014.

This race is a must-do for ultra runners, the experience is beyond words.  The atmosphere, the elites, the fantastic volunteers and organization of the race, the whole experience is awesome.  I'd love go back and do it again properly trained, if I ever get through the lottery again!  Thanks to everyone for their support and encouragement.  Thanks to Eman for giving me a great rundown of the course and race ahead of time, tips and info were great.  Special thanks to my crew Lisa of course.  I don't know what drives her to follow me around waiting on me at these races, or to put up with my running in general.  I hope she doesn't start entering something like this, looks like a lot of work!

Take care,




  1. I was hanging on every word Morgan. Thanks for the great report and congratulations on finishing.

  2. Really cool report Morgan. Enjoyed it all. You have a nice writing style and I was hooked on every part of it. I think you did awesome out there. Hope you are healing up and look forward to hearing what you have planned for 2014! Well done again.

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