Amy and I hopped on our flight Thursday morning to go from Minneapolis to Sacramento. We would meet up with my parents who were already on vacation in California, and make the team complete. We had a pretty uneventful flight and had no problem finding my folks at the airport. We jumped into their car and headed off down the highway, since we wanted to get to Squaw Valley for the crew briefing at 2:30. We took a quick lunch at In & Out then didn't stop until Squaw.
We stayed at The Village which ended up being only about 100 meters from the starting area and all the pre-race activities. After a quick checkin and dumping our bags we headed over to the briefing. This was given by John Medinger, publisher of UltraRunning. He was very informative and helpful to all the crews, and let them all know that Robinson Flats would be a difficult spot because of all the snow and the long shuttle ride. After this session was a trail briefing, but it was pretty much just a recap of what was in all the pre-race updates, so I left early.
My parents took off to go down to Tahoe to get some groceries for dinner (it turned out our room was actually a condo with a full kitchen) and Amy and I headed out for a little run. We decided to head up the opening couple miles of the course, which is all uphill. We took it slow, running and walking some, and I would go on ahead then loop back and see how she was doing. It was a pretty, cool, afternoon and it was nice to get out, but boy did we feel the altitude. I'm glad that a couple of days was enough to get used to it.
My parents had beaten us back and promptly started making a nice steak dinner for us. We had a leisurely evening and wandered around town a bit and checked out the shops and restaurants.
One day to go – Friday, June 25th
Friday was the main day of race preparation. We slept in and had a good scrambled egg breakfast to get the day going right. Most of today would be hanging low and staying off the legs and worrying about the 5AM start on Saturday.
Runner check-in started at 9 and I would be meeting fellow Minnesotan, Tony Kocanda, and his friend Troy Howard for checkin. This was the most elaborate process I've had to go through for a race. First off we had to sign a waiver and we were handed a piece of paper with our name and race number (128 for me). Then it was off through the swag line. The first thing we were handed was a Mountain Hardware backpack. We were told to open the main pocket, which was then stuffed with a bunch of other stuff. All told we ended up with:
Mountain Hardware backpack
Black technical t-shirt with Western States 2010 silkscreen
Moeben Arm sleeves with Western States logo
Fleece Jacket with Western States logo
A mess of energy food samples
Two water bottles
All in all, a pretty generous amount of gear. After all the swag we were all weighed and had our blood pressure taken. These numbers were written on a wristband, which also had our name and number on it, then placed on our wrists. The weight would be used throughout the race to determine how I was doing with my hydration. The blood pressure was used at the end to make sure I was doing alright. At the end of the line we had our picture taken with the piece of paper with our number on it. This would be posted on the webcast page.
Wandering around through all the vendors we bumped into our friends from Team Diablo, Lee McKinley, Hutson, and a few others. I'd see a lot of these folks on the trail, sometimes several times. Amy had cracked open her surprise for me, team t-shirts. What a treat, I had one with 'BUD' on the back and the front's all said 'Team el Futuro'. They wore these around a bit and all during the race. It sure helped me spot them at aid stations.
We stopped for some sushi on the way back to the room, then had the rest of our lunch up in the room. I pretty much hung out here the rest of the afternoon, while the others went out for a walk. We did do a little crewing practice and went over my expectations and what they needed to do for me.
That evening all eight of us from Minnesota, my team and Tony's team, had dinner together at a busy Italian restaurant. Then it was time to get our get ready for the morning and turn in for a fitful nights sleep.
It's on – Saturday, June 26th
3:20 came early. I slept pretty well for about four hours before the anxiety kicked in. A couple packets of plain oatmeal then out the door. I'd be starting out in my Hoka Hubbles. It was a chilly start, but I barely felt it as I picked up my number and timing chip and put them on. The four of us hung out near the start and watched the timer tick down. Shortly before the start all the lights on mountain came on to light our way, then the ten second countdown...and off.
A huge amount of cheering paved the first several hundred meters as all the crews lined the course. Soon though it was just the runners walking their way up to the Escarpment pass 2500' above us. The climb went well and the sun slowly rose behind us, so that when we neared the top we were presented with a great view of Squaw below us and all of Lake Tahoe in the distance. I walked with Hutson for a bit, as well as a number of other people at different times as I moved steadily upwards. Near the top on some runnable terrain I ran behind Amy Palmero-Winters for a bit, who would go on to be the first amputee finisher of Western States.
At Escarpment a man was strumming on a gong, motivating all the runners up and over the top, where we immediately were given a fine fast single track racing downhill to stretch our legs out. After a bit of running we were given about 6 miles of slushy snow, mud, and lots of running water, quickly soaking our feet. There was lots of joggling for position as those of us that were comfortable running on snow and getting our feet wet pushed for position. At one point in a long muddy stretch the gal running in front of me did a full frontal face plant into the mud. Thankfully she wasn't hurt, so it was pretty funny, for her a bit too.
Eventually the snow thinned out and we worked our way onto a double track fire road and several miles of downhill to the reservoir. This was fast and I ran a fair amount of it with some Team Diablo people, including Erik, whom I met during the training weekend. By now, people were getting quieter and just stretching the legs out, not running fast, but focused. It was still early. Along the reservoir was a beautiful rolling single track for several miles of nice steady running. With the field now stretching out there wasn't as much passing and I was able to hook up with people running the same pace as me. Finally we entered the Star Fire burn site for a mile and half of climbing in the sun to Duncan Canyon aid station. I was in the back of a chain of three as we worked together marching up the exposed burn. Soon we could hear the cheers at the aid station and as we approached our names were called out over a speaker and each one of us was cheered.
This was my first taste of the cadillac treatment of this race. As I entered the station the first in a line of volunteers approached me and asked what I needed. I passed him my bottles and he ran off to get them filled up. Grabbing a quick snack, my bottles were given back and he made sure I had everything I needed. I was good to go. Jim, aid station captain, told me how far I had to go and I noticed I was a half hour faster than expected. Sweet, but time to be careful. I got a quick sponge with cold water and took off to Robinson flat and my crew.
I ran a good chunk of this section with a guy from Italy who had finished UTMB the previous year and was running with no crew nor pacer. This was good single track for a long decent to a river with a rope strung across it. At this point I dropped him and moved on up the long hilly section alone. About four miles in I glommed onto another group moving well up the hills. We moved along steadily eventually getting back into the snow. At one point I thought I heard cheers, a little more running, then more cheers. I was almost to Robinson. Just ahead of the aid station we were checked in and our names announced across the PA. This place was crazy. Fans everywhere cheering their hearts out, and what a feeling it was rolling in here, there must have been 1000 people packed in this area.
This was also the first major medical, so I had to get weighed, coming in 2 pounds down from my starting weight and told to drink more. With their great service, while I was on the scale my bottles were filled. I grabbed a quick snack and headed out, looking for Amy and my folks. Just outside the aidstation exist they flagged me down, telling me they only got there five minutes ago. Phew. I changed socks quick, slapped some sunscreen on, loaded on goos, then headed out. I was 40 minutes up already and needed to be careful, with the next 30 miles being very difficult.
It would be mostly downhill for the next 20 miles or so and after a brief one mile climb out of Robinson I left the snow behind for good. Running through some hot exposed sections down to dusty corners, where I started being familiar with the course on down to Last Chance. This is where the fun really started, three canyons, Deadwood, el Dorado, and Volcano, back to back. After last chance I dove down into Deadwood, leaving the group I was running near and wouldn't see again. I moved steadily, but carefully down here since it was a really steep decent a trip would be ugly. Hitting the bottom I didn't stop at the stream, but started immediately up. Keeping it slow and steady, trying not to get any hotter than I was, I made it up to Devils Thumb. I took a seat here to empty my show out and had an attendant working feverishly to cool me off with sponges on the neck, under my arm pits on on my head. I figured, I was well up on my target time, so I was best off taking time at the aid stations and making sure I was in good shape instead of trying to bang out extra minutes.
After probably 5 minutes I got up and moved into the long decent into el Dorado. This was hot, but steadily runnable to the bottom and another aid station. I had to stop here again and slap some vaseline on a blister that was hurting, until I could get it fixed at Michigan Bluff, an hour away. I popped out of here and started uphill playing tag with a few guys and pushing each-other up the hill. At the top the hill kicked over and I ran in, seeing Amy at the bottom cheering and snapping photos. 55 miles in, 45 to go. I immediately asked for medical for my foot, was weighed then sat down in front of the podiatrist. This cost me 20 minutes here, but my foot was duly fixed, fresh socks and my Solomons. Amy led me up to where they were set up, and they sent me on the way for the seven miles to Foresthill. I was now only 20 minutes up on my target, having come into Michigan Bluff with 40 in the bank.
I didn't see a single runner all the way to Foresthill, just listening to my tunes and working on mving forward. There were a couple of solid climbs leading up to the bottom of Bath Road and the aid station there, run by the Auburn Running Company. I grabbed some fruit and a sponge dowsing then started walking the last mile uphill to Foresthill. Midway up, Amy came trotting down to escort me up. She kept up a good chatter as I was hot and tired and not to talkative myself. We pulled over the top and had a nice half mile run into town, where I had the aid station to myself. They had found a pacer for me, since the one I had arranged to meet me was a no show. Grabbing a snack and getting my water filled, Amy and my folks set me up with my night running kit and some goo, then off for 16 miles down to the Rucky Chucky crossing. 62 miles down, 6:20 PM.
Jean, my pacer, had run from Foresthill to the finish and was ok carrying on a one-sided dialog, since I was pretty whipped. We had a pretty good run down through Cal 1, Cal 2, and Cal 3. Though in this section I did find out the difference between a good pacer, and a not so great one. On the first steep downhill we had she dropped me on it, taking off ahead. I had to yell for her to stay close to me. Something I would have to repeat about half a dozen times. When someone is as tired as I was, it is extremely demotivating and frustrating when you pacer leaves you. In any case at aid stations she was attentive and I was doing much better than without a pacer.
Shortly before Rucky Chucky it got dark and we put the lamps on and finished the couple miles down to the river. I would get weighed here again with my weight coming back up from my low point of 161.5. I still had only peed once the whole race. The Rucky-Chucky crossing was pretty cool, flood lights all over, runners milled about. After just a minute we headed down to the boat and life jackets were put on us and we boarded. I had barely sat down and the rower started hammering across the river. I have to give it to that guy, he was 100% about getting us across as fast as possible. Hitting the other side we jumped out to find Amy waiting for us, having walked three miles just to get down here and leaving my folks up at the Green Gate station. A quick blister fix, then the march uphill. 78 miles down.
The next several miles were a fog of tired delirium, making myself run every downhill and the flats as much as possible. Jean thankfully was alert and very familiar with the trail, and calling out large rocks and roots for me. After Green Gate there was a long stretch where I was just heads down and moving as much as possible, I was starting to get passed a fair amount here, where previously I was barely passed at all. I was racing the clock, not them I reminded myself. Worry about your race Jean kept reminding me when I'd bemoan being passed. We did on long climb out of the Highway 49 crossing, which I barely remember getting to since I was asleep on my feet. So I popped a caffeine pill and was soon wide awake. Couple that with only 6 miles to go and I was really smelling that barn. I only had 4 mouthfuls of water from here to the finish since my weight was back to 165 when it should have been down.
We did a long climb out of Highway 49 then ran every step of the mile and a half decent to No Hands Bridge. This place had a big screen TV with music video's playing and Christmas lights everywhere. I grabbed a cup of broth and we walked the bridge while I drank it. Three miles to go, I could walk in a sub 24 at this point. We ran where possible, but it was almost all uphill to Robie Point, where we entered Auburn, and 1.5 miles to go. We walked the 1 ¼ mile hill following footprints spraypainted on the blacktop. Midway up a couple of guys clanged a large triangle and welcomed me to Auburn. Pushing up the hill I dumped my water since and could feel the lightness. I managed to pass a couple people climbing as fast as I could. Right when the hill kicked over to downhill I could see the entrance to the track so I kicked it up so I could get onto it for my lap to the finish.
As soon as I got on I saw Amy and my parents. I pulled Amy out to run around with me, then Jean took off ahead. What the hell? I told her she could hang with my parents and she said, no I'm running you in. I immediately thought, is she going to cross the line with me? I got her to run behind me though and I enjoyed the lap around and the cheers when they announced my name. I was ecstatic when I rounded the turn to the home stretch seeing the finish line meters ahead. Amy and Jean pealed off as I approached the finish and I had the last few meters to my self. 23 hours, 33 minutes, 46 seconds. Glorious. I had just completed the single hardest thing I'd ever done and in good form. All I could do at the end was sit down and shake my head, trying to comprehend what I'd gone through over the last day. You couldn't have beat the smile off of my face.
The next few hours would be a lot of laying down, and slowly eating as I got my appetite back. We had breakfast at the track and hung out there all day watching runners come in. Big highlights were seeing Amy Palmero-Winters come in and the surge of runners in the last hour, giving it their all to beat the 30 hour cutoff. The first person to enter the track after the horn blew was the venerable Gordy Ansleigh and the entire stadium was on its feet chanting Gordy! Gordy! Gordy! What an incredible event he created 37 years ago.