We’ve Only Just Begun

We’ve only just begun, to live!

Minus the white lace and promises of course, the GrandKonaSlam journey has indeed begun, and the Carpenters’ song from 1970 could not sing it any better:

A kiss for luck and we’re on our way
We’ve only begun

Wow, I can’t begin to express my gratitude and appreciation for all of the tangible and intangible support that my crew/pacer team and I received prior to, during, and after this past weekend’s Western States 100!!  It was my first hundred and at the least would be twice the duration that I’ve ever run before in my life.  The 4 weeks after training camp and the travel to Squaw could not have gone any better: no major hoops to jump through at work, no illnesses, no injuries, no delays, etc.  (Though, the track bar on my Jeep did break on the Monday before the race, which I had no intention of trying to replace until AFTER the race.)

Before the rising sun we fly
So many roads to choose
We start out walking
And learn to run
And yes! We’ve just begun

The pre-race forecast of lower than normal temperatures ended up being cold, windy, sleet, hail, misty rain, etc. for the better part of 40 miles.  I’m not much of a weather-guy, as my walk over to the Olympic House at 4am to pick up my bib # was, at the time, enough of a weather check for me.  I came back to the room thinking, “wow, it’s really not that cold out,” and decided to stick with my Rogue singlet, no arm warmers, a thin pair of gloves, and a bandana around my neck (Tim Twietmeyer style).  The hike/walk up the face of Squaw ended up going into the clouds as the wind and the sleet started.  Although not sunny out, I was very happy to have my Oakley M-frames to keep stuff out of my eyes and the contact lenses from drying out.  I found myself with the likes of Aliza Lapierre  (bib #F6 – VT), Josh Katzman (bib #239 – MA), Rory Bosio (bib# F5 – CA), and towards the peak, defending women’s champion Ellie Greenwood (bib# F1 – CAN)!  WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE I thought to myself!!!  I think everybody just wanted to get over the peak as fast as possible and hopefully out of the wind, which the photographers Luis Escobar and Bob MacGillivray among others I’m sure were braving the elements up there!!!!  Think I hit the top at the 50 minute mark which was perfect given the conditions on the way up.   At this point Rory took off after Ellie and I was more than happy to descend at my own pace.

photo by Dusty Davis

I ended up wearing my favorite pair of thin Hind gloves for the first 10 miles and then tucking them into the back waistband of my Lululemon Endorphin shorts.  Lesson #1: In hindsight, a short sleeve shirt, arm warmers, and maybe a thin zippered vest would have been my choice of race attire.  After a quick stop to tighten up my size 13 Montrail Mountain Masochist IIs, I rolled into Lyon’s Ridge aid station (mile 10.5) at 6:50am and then Red Star Ridge (mile 16) shortly thereafter.  At this point I had found a nice steady pace with Aliza and one of her Salomon teammates from Slovenia.  I was wet, but staying well fueled and hydrated and my weight was good at the first med check.  My crew Meredith and Nicole, on the other hand, looked downright soaked to the bone when I saw them at Duncan Canyon (mile 24) at the 4 hour mark (about 9am)!  I patiently took in an additional nutrition push here: half a Bonk Breaker Bar washed down with a small can of Starbucks DoubleShot.  Had I expected the weather to be so raw, I would have requested some hot coco-loco, one of my other favorite treats!!! (half coffee/half hot chocolate)!!!!  Grabbed my refilled water bottles (with ice – lesson learned #2) from my crew and off I went towards Robinson Flat.  Very happy to be seeing this section of course for the very first time, and it was one of those days that very few WS runners get to experience, most years it is starting to heat up already!!!

The section from Robinson Flat to Dusty Corners (mile 38) was relatively uneventful, except for catching up to the likes of Joelle Vaught (bib #27), Nikki Kimball (bib #F3), and Michael Wardian (bib#12).  I think Aliza and I both did a double-take at this point because either Wardian was either way off his pace or we were way too fast.  In any case, we all came into Dusty Corners in a small pack at about 11:30am and went to our respective crews for resupply.  I handed off my misty sunglasses to Nicole with the hopes that the sun would come out later in the day and I could don them again.  Patiently, I took in my nutrition and hiked out of the aid station with fresh bottles, chewing the last morsels of my Bonk Breaker bar.  The rest of the “pack” had already left and started the descent to Last Chance, and I needed to stop and readjust both sets of laces this time, which I did on the side of the trail.  This would be the start of the loneliest section of trail for me, as it felt like I had the whole place to myself!  This made for good running at my own pace, and even an opportunity for a quick much-needed pit stop in the woods.  By the time I hit the descent from Last Chance (mile 43) and down to the Swinging Bridge, the trail was totally dry like during training camp and the sun was actually starting to peek out!  The climb up Devil’s Thumb was rather uneventful, as I shifted into powerhike mode for the duration of the climb, and I got some very nice compliments from spectators along the way for smiling so darn much!  Here I thought of how HOT it must have been in 2006 the first year that Meredith ran here, and how she gutted her way up that climb, all the while dry-heaving and feeling terrible.   The aid station was a flurry of activity, as I weighed in, grabbed some gels from my drop-bag, and made my way down the trail…uh oh…I forgot to get my popsicle!!!!  Or maybe they were not giving them out this year?  Anyway, I was too far down the trail to turn back so I just kept going, what else was I going to do?

photo by: Eddie Schmidt

photo by: Eddie Schmidt

Devil’s Thumb (mile 48) down to El Dorado Creek and up to Michigan Bluff was another quiet section of trail, and I felt like I was making good steady progress all the way.  Nicole met me at Michigan Bluff (mile 56), and sent me on my way refilled and recharged and looking forward to the run into Foresthill.  Coming out of Michigan Bluff, the film crews were set up along the dirt road to assess our biomechanics at a couple locations, which made finding a suitable location in the woods for pit stop #2 a bit of a challenge!  After that bit of business, I was off again and starting to feel my downhill legs getting a bit fatigued at this point.  The descent into Volcano Canyon was uneventful, except for slipping and falling in Volcano Creek at the bottom, which made for a nice cooling off but I could have done without landing on my hip.  Bath Road came up pretty quickly, and my first pacer Matt Crownover was there to greet me and escort me up the climb, where we jogged the last section into Foresthill (mile 62) at about 4:15pm, which seemed pretty long in training camp but went by REALLY fast on race day.   Matt and Nicole had everything laid out for me, and I got down a tasty piece of cold pizza and a healthy amount of Mountain Dew.  My crew encouraged me to change shoes, but I opted to just do another quick clean out and adjust the laces instead.  In hindsight, I probably should have changed shoes for a fresh set for the run-in to the River (lesson learned #3).

Sharin’ horizons that are new to us
Watchin’ the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day, together

Matt and I made good time into the California Street section of trail between miles 62 and 78.  Coming down the Elevator Shaft (I think that’s its name), my quads were definitely talking to me at this point, but we cruised on, leap-frogged a couple times with Joelle Vaught and Amy Sprosten (bib #F8), and Matt was great company, keeping me encouraged, well fueled, hydrated, and entertained by chatting it up with whoever we passed or passed us.  For some reason, I had it in my mind that there was another aid station after Ford’s Bar (Cal-3) at mile 73 before getting to the American River at mile 78, but lo and behold, there we were in the daylight at 7:30pm about ready to cross!!!  Matt could not have been happier as he’s only seen this crossing at nighttime, and I was more than happy for us to share it together.  I told Matt that finishing an Ironman triathlon in the daylight is another one of those benchmarks that some triathletes us to gauge performances.  My buddy Don Freeman from Trail Runner Nation who I met at training camp was working the Rucky near side aid station so he snapped some photos of me stuffing a cheese quesadilla down my gullet!  The only buzzkill was NOT getting to ford across the river via rope, but instead boats were waiting for us.  Luckily, we made the first available boat with Ashley Nordell (bib #24) and her pacer, and I got some cool water on my face and visor as we crossed.  Upon exiting the boat, I grabbed Matt for the obligatory race photo (in the daylight of course) – it’s the little things along the way that always seem to stick with us!

photo by Nicole

Nicole met Matt and me as we were starting the climb up to Green Gate, with food and cold drinks in hand and a bundle of positive energy!  We had a solid hike up, swapped some stories, got an update on how Aliza and Meredith were doing, and hit Green Gate right at 8pm.  I confirmed with Nicole that she would take me in from Hwy 49 (mile 94) to the finish, Matt and I grabbed our lights here and we set off down the trail for the last 20 miles!  I knew I was right on the bubble for 19-hour pace at this point, and was feeling solid on the uphills and even the gradual downhills.  As nightfall descended, I ended up doing more powerhiking than I expected, but always kept moving forward.  I had forgotten how rocky and in some places technical parts of this trail are, especially when moving at night.  Matt kept me focused, eating, and drinking, even when the Brown’s Bar (mile 90) aid station took FOREVER to appear.

And when the evening comes we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes! We’ve just begun

We hit Hwy 49 at about 11:20pm, and I grabbed some Drymax arm warmers to keep from getting too chilled in the night air, and a cup of chicken noodle soup for the hike out.  Nicole did a great job of keeping me moving, even when I was content to just hike.  After reaching the Meadow, my hike turned into a shuffle, and then my shuffle turned into a slow run as we descended to the mile 97 mark at No Hands Bridge, and I thought that we just might creep in under the 20-hour mark if we kept at it.  And we did…like a whipped puppy I ran across the bridge (sorry babe, no sentimental tears for me) and then made our way to the Robie Point climb, Nicole leading, thankfully calling out every rock, root, and chemlight we passed.  Like Brown’s Bar, the actual start of the climb up to Robie took FOREVER to get to.  Meredith and I ran it in the daylight the last day of training camp, but at night it seemed quite foreign.  Finally, we hit Robie Pt (mile 99) at 10 minutes before the top of the hour, and I knew that although we gave it all we had, 10 minutes was just not enough to make it to the track under 20 hours.  Matt had rejoined us at this point after driving from Hwy 49 to the finish line and was giddy to be warm and wearing whatever dry/non-stinky clothing was left in the crew vehicle.  The pavement was steeper than I remembered, my legs were DONE, and I was content to hike it up to the white bridge.  After hearing one last, “C’mon, let’s pick it up,” I threw a royal hissy-fit and spiked my water bottle to the ground, shattering the cap in the process.  Yeah, not my finest nor proudest moment by a long shot!!!!  Calmly, Nicole handed me her water bottle in yet another act of pacer selfless service.  Amen to that.  Tension broken, think we had some good laughs after that, and then finally we reached Meredith who was waiting for us at the white bridge, and she too encouraged me to quit hiking and find whatever run was left in my legs (which was none!).  Ahhh, nothing like the embarrassment of being caught hiking/walking by your studly wife who has been done pacing Aliza to a third place finish for 2 hours!!!  The Placer High School track itself came much faster than I expected, maybe my vision was not so clear as the stadium lights really didn’t guide my way.  Anyway, I DID finally trot it in to the track and then made my way around for the last 200m, listening to announcer John Medinger’s voice announce my arrival, and one of the more memorable finishes, hopefully the first of five this summer!!!

Photo Courtesy of Drymax (Bob)

Photo Courtesy of Drymax (Bob)

And yes! We’ve just begun…

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12 Responses to We’ve Only Just Begun

  1. Larry says:

    A Carpenters song? Really? That will be stuck in my head all morning, now…

    Huge congrats to you, Paul, on a great race! Sounds like you left it all out there on the trails. Way to represent!!!

    That pic of you and Mer hugging at the finish should be framed… 🙂

  2. Pingback: EnduranceBuzz.com » 2012 Western States 100 – TALON Athlete Results

  3. Pingback: 2012 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run | Hill Country Trail Runners

  4. marla says:

    Loved the report and am looking forward to the next. And…I love your song choice. =)

  5. Nate Sanel says:

    That is an awesome beginning to your slam, congrats! See you and Meredith at VT!!

  6. Julia Gale says:

    Great job Team Terranova. Will be following you at Vermont.

  7. Michelle Lapuente says:

    Really brought a tear to my eye. So proud of you and your crew!

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