Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Western States 100

I'm not completely sure where to start on my Western States experience. There is a lottery to get into the race, and a qualifying time at a 50 miler or a completed hundred miler under your belt before you are allowed to enter the race. It is one of the oldest hundred milers there are so there are an incredible amount of people who enter the lottery to race. It was my first time entering and I got in, so I didn't want to pass it up.

Returning from my cross country trip left me a little bit nervous about the distance I hadn't covered since last August and being on roads left me nervous about the trails for 100 miles. So when I got back I immediately hit the trails and started training hard. A semi-failed attempt at a 24 hour race the week after I finished left me a little shaken on the mental side of things but it was all the more insentive to get back on the trails and work harder.

When my dad and I flew out to Reno, NV on Thursday I felt ready for the race and generally stoked that I was about to partake in a race as legendary as States. We flew into Reno and drove the 30 min or so to Lake Tahoe where we were staying that night and the next. I had never been to Lake Tahoe and to be quite honest, sitting on the plane ride back to Virginia not knowing the next time I'll be back is a bit disheartening. It is absolutely incredible there. I am truly jealous of anyone who lives there, or Squaw Valley, CA or in any big mountainous region similar to those.

Thursday my Dad and I went to a casino's buffet and after we destroyed the place we found the hotel in Kings Beach, Ca, which you can see the state line of Nevada from, and crashed after a long day of traveling.

Friday morning I woke up at 5 because I was still on Virginia time and realized it wasn't all the way light yet so I threw on some clothes and ran down to the lake and was able to snap some pics of the lake while it was very still.

My dad had gone out driving very early when he got up so we met up and grabbed some breakfast and headed out to Squaw Valley, where the race starts.

It was the home of the winter Olympics in the 60s, and when I saw it I understood why.

Let's just say I liked it and move on. We also met my grandpa there. He was out on the road in his trailer with his wife Doris and when he found out I'd be racing in Squaw he came out for a visit in his new trailer. I hadn't seen his since Plains, Texas on Feb 12th so it was great to see him.

I attended the equivalent of a road race's "packet pick-up" except this was no ordinary "packet." We formed a line where we received a technical shirt, fleece jacket, Moeben sleeves, bumper stickers, and other various promotionaly items all donning the Western States name and a backpack to put it all in. Then we lined up for the medical check-in. In long races sometimes they have a weight check-in at the aid stations so that you know how well you are keeping up with your nutrition. They were also doing research on how long distance running effects some of the chemicals in the human body, or something like that. I weighed in at 161 with a blood pressure of 132/86 and a heartrate of 83...I was a little bit excited to be there as my heart rate showed.

We had some time between that time and when we had to be back for the pre-race meeting so my dad and I went kayaking on Lake Tahoe. I know, rough life. It was really nice out on the water, a little breezy because there was a storm on the way but pleasent nonetheless.

When we returned to Squaw for the meeting I saw the faces of the elite runners, which I wouldn't see again until Sunday at the awards ceremony, as well as the man that started it all: Gordy Ainsleigh, the first man to run the race intended for horses. He ran again this year at the age of 63.

After the meeting my dad and I took the tram up to the top of the mountain that would be close to the 4 mile mark on race-day. It was 360 degrees of awesome up there. Surrounded by snow, we walked around a little and got a feel for what it felt like to be at 8200 feet. It was also the site of where some of the Olympic events were held. As we got talking to one of the workers I found myself asking about prices of rent in the area and the potential for employment there.

Afterward, we talked with Keaton, an old friend from highschool who lives in California and would be pacing me from mile 80 to the end, and made plans to meet up for dinner with three of his friends, one of which was running the race as well. We met for pizza with Grandpa and Doris and we killed a few delicious pizzas and each went our separate ways to make last preparations for the morning.

-- Patrick

The race

I woke up on Satuday at 2:58 am, took a quick shower, because I don't like to start really long run already dirty, and grabbed the stuff I had layed out the night before. By 3:55 we were in the parking lot of the Squaw Valley resort and I was walking into the building to receive my number. #318. It was chilly, maybe only in the 40s and of course still dark. I stood around with Dad, Keaton, his friends, Dave Snipes and Grandpa, staying warm, trying to relax, and snapping a few pictures.

Finally, people started lining up at 4:55 and at 4:59 Gordy Ainsleigh stepped up to the microphone and said, "You are enter...the Holy Grail...of trail ultrarunning." With that, we counted down the last 10 seconds the gun went off and the blob of 400-some runners made their way forward.

The four mile up to the top of the first mountain was great! Snow all around and when we got to the top someone had carried a gong up there and was smashing the thing like crazy. It was very loud and added a sense of excitement to start off the day. As we crossed the top I looked back over all of Squaw Vally, the surrounding mountains, and Lake Tahoe in the distance. The sun was illuminating everything in an orangish glow and it looked like a postcard. It almost made me want to stay at the top and hang there for awhile, then again, it was cold an I had another 95 or so miles to go.

Up until almost the 13 mile mark we were in snow and crossing streams and bigger streams. Keeping dry feet was not an option. But then again, if I wanted a nice comfortable day, I probably wouldn't have entered a hundred miler.

The majority of the day was spent monitoring my nutritional needs and staying conservative in my pace. I wanted to break 24. That's all.

At mile 80 I sat down and felt terrible. The climbs were tough, it downhilla had been tough, I was blistered and felt beaten. I knew I would keep going but just needed a minute to myself. So my dad helped me change my socks for the third time and Keaton was there ready to roll and got me some crackers and cantaloupe, pretty much the only food I ate other than Gu. After about 5 minutes of sitting there my dad said I had 5 more minutes of sitting and then I had to get up. So, I went to sleep. The second I put my face on my hand I was out cold. I slept for 5 minutes while my feet air-dried. From there Keaton and I made our way toward the finishline - twenty miles away.

Having a familiar running buddy with me was priceless. Having him along to crack jokes made the last twenty fly by. The second to last aid station was "No hands bridge" and was mile 96 ish. We had 3.4 miles to the finish and was right on the line of whether I was going to make it under 23 hours. If I was, though, I'd have to pick up the pace in this last section.

Keaton pointed out that it was do-able and made me go for it. We ran a lot faster than what we had been doing. Up hills, down hills, steep hills and tiny hills, Keaton made me run them all. If he could tell I wasn't doing so well, he'd say, "Alright you've got one minute to walk then we're running again." In actuality though, I took him up on the offer once for the full minute he rationed me.

When we reached the last aid station I didn't stop running and just called out my number so I didn't have to stop, they cheered and it made me feel good and like I was doing something right. We hit the last little hill and then the last downhill that led me onto the final lap around the track at Placer High School in Auburn. From the last aid station I sprinted and for some reason went even faster once I hit the track. I've never been a fan of track workouts but that lap might have been my fastest yet. My time was 22:59 and some change in seconds.

I'm writing this after a full day of non-stop hassles from the airlines trying to get home in time for work tomorrow. But unfortunately, we're spending the night in the airport in New York, and I won't make it to work on Tuesday....technically today.

It wasn't a very restful weekend. By the time we get on the plane tomorrow I will have gotten 9 hours of sleep over 3 days but hey, I got a sweet belt buckle in the process.