With a little over a week to go, it is always good to reflect back to days on the race course!
Training camp over Memorial Day weekend was even better than expected! Following a 2-night stay in Oakland for a work conference, Meredith and I drove up to Auburn with our friend Aliza (bib# F6 this year) from Vermont. After the obligatory visit to Whole Foods Market in Roseville, of which there would be many more to come, we set up for training camp at the Comfort Inn just off of I-80. (Whole Foods would come to be known as our pantry/kitchen)
Day 1 (Friday May 25): The initial plan was for Meredith to drive us up to mile 30 at Robinson Flat (via Mosquito Ridge Rd) so we could first run the course backwards through mile 24 at Duncan Canyon, then turn around and come back to Robinson Flat, and continue to mile 38 at Dusty Corners, about a 20-mile day. We ended up not being able to find the yet to be marked course, as there was still some snow up there and about 35 degrees. Instead, we hatched a plan to get a 5-mile warm up run down the Jeep road, where Meredith would then drive us to Dusty Corners, and we would run the course down to mile 56 at Michigan Bluff, with Meredith intercepting us by parking at Michigan Bluff and running the course backwards to meet us. Wow, that worked perfectly! The weather gradually warmed up and I got my first taste of the canyons, including Swinging Bridge, the Devil’s Thumb Climb, Deadwood Cemetery, and El Dorado Canyon, that Meredith has been talking about for the last 7 years! Aliza led the way as she has run here before. The scenery and pillow soft trails (compared to Texas) made the miles melt away. Further down the trail we ran into Meredith who just passed by a very strong group of experienced Western States runners (Meghan, Craig, Joe, Joe????) who were heading all the way to the American River. The 3 of us continued on and made our way west, enjoying the day and each other’s company. Feeling well fueled by gels, Bonk Breaker energy bars, Metasalts, and plenty of water, I ran the last climb up to Michigan Bluff and caught up with the group that had passed Meredith earlier in the day. They were SO nice and even shared a chicken breast sandwich and a Pepsi with me. Their day was definitely not over, as they refueled and headed back out for the remaining 22 miles to the River. Ours was however, so after a quick stretch, recovery drink, and change of clothes we drove back to Whole Foods to pick up dinner, which would become our ritual of sorts over the next 2 days. Day 1 totals: 23 miles and about 3:45 of running.
Day 2 (Saturday May 26): After a normal pre-race breakfast (Spiz, Bonk Breaker Bar, banana, coffee), we arrived at Foresthill Elementary School at 6am to get on the wait-list for the 7am shuttle bus up to Robinson Flat (via Foresthill Road). Fortunately, we got on the list early, and we were even luckier to bum a ride from our good friend Lee McKinley and his buddy Don Freeman of http://trailrunnernation.com/ fame who were driving up to Robinson Flat to get a head start on the crowd. We hopped in Don’s Jeep and up Baker Ranch-Soda Springs Rd we went, and the temperature continued to drop, and the sight of freshly fallen snow appeared like a winter wonderland! What a gift, because the time we got to the drop of point, there was maybe an inch of snow and a refreshing low-30s temperature waiting for us. After some quick photos, off we went, enjoying every second of the climb up to Little Bald Mountain and the descent down to Dusty Corners, the 4 of us chatting away and me soaking up every bit of knowledge about this section of course from Lee, Don, and Aliza. The first 8+ miles to the first aid station took us about 1:45, and I took Meredith’s advice to try out as much of the aid station food to get a feel for what will, but more importantly, what won’t work come race day. (I’ve never been a huge aid station grazer, so it never hurts to plan for the worst case scenario). The 11 mile section from Dusty to Deadwood took us just over 2 hours, and I got my second look at the Devil’s Thumb climb, this time pushing the pace with a fast hike up. Catching up to us at the top of the climb were none other than Rory Bosio (bib# F5 this year) and VP of the WS Board Tim Twietmeyer himself, what good fortune! Rory busted out a ziplock bag of sweet potatoes to refuel and was nice enough to share with us, that was really nice of her! IT was here that I learned that this particular section of WS trail used to be a toll-trail in the late 1800s, one of the few in the state! We made our way to the water pump and aid station near Deadwood Cemetery, reloaded, chatted it up, and Aliza, Rory, and I started the descent down to El Dorado Creek with Lee, Don, and Tim not too far behind. Descending is one area of my running that I’ve definitely been working on, so I had my work cut out for me to not get dropped by both Aliza and Rory, who are both phenomenal descenders. We hit the bridge at the creek and up we went to Michigan Bluff, with me constantly getting a feel for the best sections to hike and the best sections to run. The 7- miles to Michigan Bluff took about 1:20, and we were treated to another fully stocked aid station and very eager volunteers!!! The 3 of us continued on for another 6+ miles into Volcano Canyon, up Bath Road, and into Foresthill, my first time seeing this section of trail. Coming up Bath Road, David Riddle (Bib# 14 this year) of Cincinnati caught up to us just as Meredith was running down to meet us after her phenomenal swim in Folsom Lake earlier in the day! To show you how small a world it is, turns out that David and Aliza both run for Salomon, David and Meredith share the same coach Ian Torrance, David complimented Meredith on her nutrition podcast, and David ran with my long-time Army friend Brian on the Redstone Arsenal Army 10-Miler team a couple of years ago! We hit the car at Foresthill in just over an hour, and Meredith had an In-and-Out burger and shake waiting for me and a Starbucks for Aliza, after her 4.2 mile swim in Folsom Lake!!!! Stretch, change, and off to Whole Foods again…32 miles in the books, about 6:20 of running.
Day 3 (Sunday May 27): After 2 days in the canyons, Aliza and I were ready to see the California Street section of trail from Foresthill (mile 62) down to the Rucky Chuck river crossing at the American River, about a 16 mile run, with a 4 mile climb out to the main road via Driver’s Flat. Mer dropped us off, and Aliza and I made quick work of the 9- mile section to Peachstone “Cal-2” in 1:22, followed by the 7+ miles stretch to the river in just over an hour, with Mer meeting us after having run towards us from Driver’s Flat. I treated myself to a ceremonial dunk in the very refreshing river, before ascending the last climb, envisioning what the Green Gate climb would feel like 4 weeks later. Again, stretch, refuel, change, and off to Whole Foods!!!! 20 miles, 3 hours of running. We dropped Aliza off at the airport that evening for her flight home to husband George, but not before ANOTHER trip to Whole Foods to get dinner for Aliza and lunch sandwiches for Meredith and me for tomorrow’s flight, YUM!!!
Day 4 (Monday May 28): Today Meredith and I ran for the soldiers http://www.wearblueruntoremember.org/ on this Memorial Day. My brother-in-law Ryan recently deployed to Afghanistan and his unit had just lost their first 2 soldiers from an IED hit, so it was an especially poignant day for us. We set out for a sunrise start from Robie Point (mile 99), and ran the course backwards across No Hands Bridge about 4 miles, to “the meadow” or so I’m told. We turned around and bombed the descent back to the bridge, which happened to turn 100 years old earlier this year in March, happy birthday No Hands Bridge!!! As we were climbing up to Robie Point, a small fox darted across the trail, which was very cool to see. 9 miles, 1:30. No, we didn’t go to Whole Foods this time, just back to the Comfort Inn to shower and pack the rest of our things before heading to the Sacramento airport for the flight home!
All in all, a super successful trip: very happy feet thanks to Drymax socks, a better informed decision of which footwear I’ll wear on June 23rd (thank you Rogue Equipment), increased confidence in my fueling/nutrition/electrolyte plan, images of most (not all), of the WS trail, and a happy wife to be in her element for 4 days! 83 miles, 14:16, about a 10:18 pace per mile average.
10 days and a wakeup now until the GrandKonaSlam officially gets underway!!! Right around the corner…