Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Big Dance - Western States 2014

This year I was privileged to once more run Western States.  I last ran it in 2010, when Tony Kocanda and I were the only Minnesotans to attend.  This year young gun Jordan Hanlon, Joseph Altendahl, and Scott Hoberg would be joining the fun.  I'd get the play the role of grizzled veteran at 41.  Four years ago this was my first 100-mile race.  There wasn't much different for me this year, other than the now 9 100-mile races and slew of others under my belt.  OK, a boatload of more experience coming into it this time.  Gone were the questions of could I make it, now it was just how fast could I bang it out.  (yeah you don't bang out a hundred, maybe grind it out is more accurate).

I had good buddies Bill 'Pom Pom' Pomerenke and 'Mountain Man' Paul Bjork along to crew and pace.  Bill has a lot of experience running, pacing and crewing, having helped me to victory in the Black Hills 100 in 2011.  We wouldn't have to worry about a victory this time.  Paul has one run ultra, and was a rookie to the whole crewing and pacing gig.  But with Bill's experience and the fact that they are both over half a century old, I figured they'd work out well together.  I think our troupe of three had a combined age of 150.  I'm sure Jordan's group of 5 couldn't match that.

We all flew out to Sacramento on the Thursday before the race, dined at In 'n Out, because, well, In 'n Out.  It was good.  Then we motored on up to Squaw Valley to make a couple of the presentations, and get settled in.  Mostly Paul slept.  He did a lot of that.  I guess having a 15 month old kid is a little wearying.  For him staying up all night taking care of a bitchy runner with digestive issues probably seemed pretty easy.

Friday was runner check in and pre-race meetings.  The check-in took a while, with getting weighed, collecting a boatload of swag, and getting lined up with the medical test I volunteered for.  I had opted to help a group of British doctors on a heart study so I got a full 12-lead ECG and an echo cardiogram.  They were looking to prove that what was currently considered an abnormality is perfectly normal in endurance athletes of a certain age (me).  And, yep, I had the abnormality.  I'd also volunteered to wear a heart-rate monitor the whole race for them, though it fell of around 30 miles in.  Jordan and I booked off to the pre-race meeting, where I bumped in to 'Fun Size' Denise Bourassa, whom I first met at HURT, then Ice Age, then Speedgoat all in one year.

Most of the day was pretty laid back for me, just relaxing, while Paul slept and Bill buzzed around in and ADD high like a kid in a candy store.  That evening we enjoyed dinner with Karl Meltzer, his wife Cheryl, and a friend they had along.  Then back for some crewing instructions and bed.  The alarm was set for 3AM and it felt like it was coming quick.


I'd slept pretty well, and already had everything organized, so I had plenty of time.  Breakfast, then down to get my bib, weigh in, and get the HRM for the medical study.  My elders opted to stay in the room and have oatmeal instead of coming down the the check-in.  I quickly got all set up, went to the bathroom again and again and again, then managed to hook up with Jordan, Ed and friends.  Eventually Joseph found us, then Bill.  There was a ton of energy and it wasn't long before Jordan and I shed layers and headed for the queue.  It was in the 40's and pretty windy out, but it didn't really feel all that bad.  Gordy said a few words as the last minute ticked off, then BAM when the shotgun and we started up to the Escarpment.

Jordan and I mostly did the bottom of the climb together, then he pulled on ahead.  I sidled into a steady pace, eventually matching up with Meghan Arbogast and chatting with her a bit.  The Escarpment was really windy and chilly, to the point my fingers were tingling.  But once we popped the top and started down the single track on the backside, I warmed up quick.  I ran in a train with Meghan for a while trying to dodge past folks where the trail permitted.  The miles were dropping pretty quickly and I was feeling great, and knew I wasn't going out too hard.

It wasn't long before Jordan and I hooked up again, and the trail brought us to Lyon's ridge and Red Star ridge, new turf for me, since last time was a snow course.  I also picked up Denise again, and ran for several hours with her, on and off, up to Devil's Thumb.  Lyon's and Redstar were beautiful with big mountain views of peaks way off in the distance along with wonderful technical trail.  The weather was great and there was a bunch of chatter with various runners all talking about the day and our time hopes.

The aid stations kept coming up quick, and it wasn't long before Robinson Flats came up, and our first crew point.  I hit it in 5:31, a little slower than my hoped for 20-hour pace.  This is a crazy aid station, it's big, and all the crew's are here cheering like crazy.  I came in, got weighed, then boogied out of the AS to where Bill and Paul were.  Quick, sunscreen, gels, s-caps, then motor out for the big climb, and approach to the canyons.  I got out ahead of Jordan here as he changed shoes, and didn't see him for a long time.

Getting in a Groove


Once out of Robinson, it's another 25 miles until crew shows up again, and between there and here are three canyons and the infamous Devil's Thumb climb.  Denise was right behind me as we climbed out of Robinson, hit the peak then started the long decent on fire roads to Miller's Defeat.  Once through there and on a long section of dirt fire-road she dropped me like a rented mule, passing another gal who was up ahead.  It took me another 5 miles to pass the same lady.  My legs were feeling a little tired in here given how much running there is, and pretty much no hills to walk up.  And it felt like it took a lot longer than it did.  Eventually though, there was the Last Chance Aid AS.  I loaded up on ice, then began the approach to Deadwood Canyon.  It was a quick 20 minute drop to the bottom, where I got to wade through the river and cool off before beginning the monstrous 1800 foot climb.

I felt like I was climbing like a boss, and caught Denise on this ascent, and it wasn't much longer before I saw the Devil's Thumb and the AS appeared.  You pretty much just pop over the top of the climb and there it is.  I loaded up again on ice and some gels, while chatting with ex-Minnesotan Joe Uhan.  Just before leaving two volunteers squeezed icy sponges over my head and my legs buckled from the cold shock.  Fortunately it was just a second, and I got a Popsicle and ran downhill.  Denise and I did most of this together with one other guy, chatting a bit on the way down, then she fell off on the climb after the bottom, and I wouldn't see her again until the finish.

I busted out the climb from el Dorado Canyon and made it to the top and Michigan Bluff feeling pretty good in 10:31, 15 minutes off my goal, so not too bad.  Another weigh in to lots of cheering here, grab some stuff from Bill and Paul, then through the last canyon, Volcano, and onto Forest Hill.  This is a pretty uneventful section, and I used it as recovery from the bigger canyons.  As I had the last 20-miles, I kept splashing myself at every trickle of water I came across.  Then, boom, just like that, Bath Road, where Paul was waiting to run me up to Forest Hill.  We chatted on the way up, ran most of it, got weighed in, had a confused pit stop with Bill, then beat it down to Cal Street.


Just Roll With It


Paul and I had a good time cruising down through Cal 1 and 2, picking up a few runners on the way and just rolling along, without pushing it.  I knew this was a 'sucker' section with lots of awesome downsloping, non-technical trail.  A lot of people run it really fast then blow up the last 20 miles.  I ran it fastish, but never at a point where I felt like I was crushing it.  Down here too, I started having stomach issues, with some cramping and nausea, so I got to do the dance of trying to balance s-caps, water, and not throw up.  Other than a couple pit stops, I made it work (perfect no puke record).  Around Cal 3, Paul started fading and eventually fell off (he had a good time recovering at Rucky Chucky with pretty ladies bringing him food on the cot).  With a couple miles to go to the river, Jordan and pacer Steve Moore blew by me and quickly disappeared.  He put up to 18-minutes on me in about 10 miles.

I got to the river with plenty of daylight (one of my pre-race hopes) and crossed it alone, with all the other runners several minutes ahead or behind.  It was a pretty cool experience as the only runner in the water, a lot of crews on the other side cheering, and all the helpful rope handlers standing in the river.  It was cold, but I could feel my temperature dropping and life coming back to me.

Once out of the water I did a quick shoe and sock change, which was well worth it.  And I rigged for night running, my favorite time of these big races.

Stop, Hammer time!


Suffice to say, as night descended, and I had cooled off from the river, I put the hammer down.  I felt good.  My head wasn't screwed up, I had energy, and the stomach was squared away.  It wasn't long before I caught and passed Kaci Lickteig for good (I almost got her at Cal 3).  In barely an hour out from Green Gate we were at Auburn Lakes and quickly on the way to Brown's bar.  Bill and I chatted a bit, but I think I was pretty quiet for a lot of it, just focusing on running well.  In another hour we were at Brown's Bar, run by stud Hal Koerner.  I said a quick hey to him, then we started up the infinite climb to Highway 49, where Paul would be.

This is the second to last climb, and it's no fun.  It is pretty rocky, and a lot of it is just too steep for me to run.  You aren't, but it feels like you lose a lot of time on it.  The reality, Bill and I did the 3.6 miles in 51 minutes.  And this was the first point of the day I got under 20-hour pace.  Paul was waiting up at the AS and got me set.  We would have been out quick, but Pom Pom, had panic attack about his headlamp and decided to change his batteries.  I was addled enough I waited around for him, when I should have gone out and had him catch up.  Our one time on Ultralive TV too, and it was changing batteries.  Alas.  Only 6.7 miles to the finish, and I was feeling pretty darn good.

After 49 was some easy meadows for a mile or so followed by the long downhill into No Hands Bridge.  Bill was talking about stopping and fixing his lamp, but I was focused on running through, with about an hour of running I wasn't stopping for anything.  Busting down the long downhill was super dusty from a runner in front of me, and it was like running in fog, with the headlamp beams reflecting back off of the dust.  That made me want to go faster and pass so I could see.  We didn't stop at No Hands, which had the big screen and loud music going, but just blew on through across the bridge.  Only 5K left.

With just about half a mile of flat we turned up and began a lot of steep climbing up to Robie Point.  There was a runner behind us, but we pulled away and soon had the trail to ourselves.  It felt like the climb wasn't going to end, but just like that we popped out near the gate, and Robie Point.  There was cheers and offers of aid, but with 1.3 miles left I just wanted to finish.

I could see a couple of groups ahead of us, and I tried to run as much as possible, but ended up walking a good chunk.  Between power walking and some jogging I passed one guy from Croatia and was closing on another group.  That's when I recognized the familiar green tank top of Jordan.  Holy cow, I thought he'd have been done by now given the gap he had.  That's when I had the less than stellar idea to race to the finish.  I dropped my pack and headlamp for Bill and Paul, who had just showed up, and shouted to Jordan something to the effect of 'let's do this'.  I gapped him a bit, but he and his crew were in hot pursuit.  He shouted back 'We're on the roads now!"  He'd kill me in a road race.  It wasn't long before my side started aching, and I though this is stupid, but machismo made me keep pressing.  A few turns and I could see the gate to the track.  Tropical John announced me and said a few things, and I ran around alone.  It wasn't until the turn that I looked and saw Jordan just entering the track.

I felt like I was floating around the turn and the final stretch, knowing I'd had a heck of a day.  I crossed the line in 19:44:25, a PR by over two hours, and bettered my first 100 here by over four.   It wasn't a flawless race, but I'd put together a good one, evenly paced and well executed.  It was a joy to have my tenth 100-miler right where I had my first successful 100-miler.  And all four of us Minnesotans finished, with three silver buckles and bronze by Joseph, who probably shouldn't even have been running.

Hell of a day.


  1. Man that is a solid run! Congrats on the PR, sounds like the Minnesota gang had a good showing.

  2. Thanks, Scott! Hopefully I'll see you on a trail soon. It was a nice day out there, and not a 'Western' hot year.

  3. That course is a lot more challenging than it looks on paper, I can see where the extra knowledge and experience of having done it before would pay off, but you killed it. Congrats.
    Scott H