So the race reports lately haven’t exactly been racing themselves to your respective inbox or news feed. Quite the contrary. They’ve definitely been taking a longer time than usual to find their way from my stream of consciousness and on their way to paper (i.e. ones and zeros). Maybe it’s my internal subconscious way of savoring the race experience for just a little while longer. Selfish, I know, but letting a fantastic race and race experience marinate and soak in for a couple extra days can’t hurt right?! I figure that you’ve been mostly preoccupied with World Cup soccer and Hardrock 100 coverage lately (thank you www.irunfar.com and www.drymaxsocks.com !), but both of those recently concluded this past weekend, which just leaves the Tour de France to keep you busy during the day at work and/or in the evenings catching the highlights. Did turning 40 in December make me more thoughtful, pensive, and introspective? Hard to say for sure, but it feels GREAT, heck downright CATHARTIC to finally carve out some writing time (on a delayed plane flight from Baltimore back to Austin) after getting re-assimilated into the normal routine at work, making it through the 4th of July holiday weekend, and then spending a couple of very relaxing days visiting my parents and my sister Nicole’s 3 kids in eastern Long Island.
As you know from my post back in April, turning my ankle BAD at the end of March with 14 weeks until Western States caused a rippling effect of GOOD tweaks and adjustments. The rehab went GREAT, the travel plans got adjusted, races like the Rattler 100k and Lake Sonoma 50m got replaced with different races like Brazos Bend 50m and Quicksilver 100k, Western States training camp went off without a hitch, and I got FOCUSED on getting myself in the best possible shape, attitude, and position to take advantage of what ultimately turned into a very concentrated 10 week build into States.
My crew (wife Meredith, friends Bryan Morton and Justin Wendling) and I enjoyed a super clean travel day to Reno on the Wednesday before the race, stocking up at the grocery store for their “training camp” and the end of my taper before Saturday’s race. Seriously, my crew probably logged more collective miles (running and swimming) in the 3 days before the race than anybody else’s! We’ve been here before and were perfectly comfortable flying under the proverbial radar and doing our own thing. We also enjoyed watching plenty of World Cup soccer matches as well as the USATF Outdoor Track Championships going on in Sacramento.
As always, race day arrives before you know it, and 20-time finisher Jim Scott and his wife Mary Jo helped my crew send me off with sage words of advice. My goals going into States this year following my ankle injury evolved into: show up to Foresthill ready to run GREAT on the Cal Street Loop with my first pacer, Granite Bay local and 4-time finisher Lee McKinley; have Lee deliver me to Green Gate in still phenomenal shape ready to hit the 14 mile stretch to Highway 49 HARD with pacer #2 Bryan (and make it there without needing headlamps); and have Meredith bat clean-up and get my ass to the finish line. As a newly minted 40 year old, hopefully this recipe would land me in top-3 Age Group territory competing with the likes of Mike Morton (M3), Nick Clark (M6), Jesse Haynes (M7), Karl Meltzer (M10), Wolfe, Hara, AJW, Barger, Speirs, Gaylord, Skaden, Eadie, Gellin, Hewey, Lantz, and last but certainly not least Redpath. (I think that’s all of us…my apologies if I missed any) Knowing how deep the men’s field was this year, if another top-10 finish was in the cards it would be the result of a perfectly executed day on my part and some serious mistakes and/or misfortune by the talent in front of me, only one of which was remotely within my sphere of influence. [note: Mike Morton would unfortunately not start due to injury]
Race morning was absolutely gorgeous and the running was easy up top. My strategy for the high country was to not burn any matches with my competition and to not make any mistakes (especially ankle-related) in this more technical stretch of the “Western States Killing Machine” as Joe Uhan coined it http://www.irunfar.com/2014/06/the-western-states-killing-machine-part-one.html . Although my early pace was slightly slower than my “best case” scenario, it worried me not a bit and I went out about methodically working my way from aid station to aid station. Some of the early miles were spent with one of the women’s favorites Emily Harrison (F7) and later with men’s favorites Yassine Diboun (M9) into Red Star Ridge and fellow Hoka-wearer Karl Meltzer into Robinson Flat. Not bad company to be in right?
My crew took GREAT care of me at Duncan and Dusty, and volunteer & friend Sam Jurek, and Jim and Mary Jo were friendly faces at Robinson Flat. Exiting Robinson Flat, I came upon a slow-moving Dom Grossman and offered him some aid and gentle encouragement. Things were not looking good for Dom early on yet he was still moving forward which is always a good thing. Karl bombed the downhill section after Little Bald Mountain and would be out of sight until shortly after Last Chance at mile 43. The trail was majestic and I soaked up every possible bit of it through sights, sounds, and smells, a lot of which had changed quite a bit following last year’s American Fire. I really ran a great clean stretch down to Swinging Bridge and the quick dip in the river was a nice refresh before starting the 30+ minute climb up. Downhill legs were perfect and my ankle was 100%. I smartly filled my 3rd water bottle with cold river water, not for drinking but for squirting on my head. Found my hiking legs right away and went to work despite not having anyone visibly in front of me or behind me.
Came into Devil’s Thumb thoroughly under control, greeted by Joe Uhan (thanks for the help!), refilled bottles, grabbed a pina-colada popsicle, which after one lick I knew was not going to sit well so I had to discard the frozen contents minus the stick which I stuck in the pocket of my race vest (no littering and good trail karma per RD Craig!). Upon leaving the lively Last Chance aid station, I caught back up to Karl and asked if he was ready to start running down some young guys yet? He just replied that his downhill legs were not treating him so well today, which surprised me given how eager he was to let it rip coming off of Little Bald Mtn. Back to the business at hand…
Meredith and I (and many others we’re sure of) absolutely love the descent down to El Dorado Creek having enjoyed it many times in both the race and training camps. All systems were go the whole way down and I came into the El Dorado aid station chipper and ready to get back to work on the climb up to Michigan Bluff. The report I got was surprisingly that Clarkie was next man up on the trail. Sure enough, a couple of switchbacks into it and Clarkie’s legs were having none of it today. Offered him some aid and Tylenol and/or Advil but he politely declined and I scooted on by. With experienced 100-milers like Dom, Karl, and now Clarkie fading early my strategy of not burning any matches appeared to be spot-on. No sense in deviating from it now I thought, despite being about 20 minutes behind my “best case” scenario pace. Back to the business at hand…
Before long I came into Michigan Bluff energetically telling my crew that, “Lee better be ready to RUN when I get to Foresthill!” Traded in my race vest for 2 handhelds which felt FANTASTIC to get a break from it. Upon leaving, Pam Smith’s (F1) husband Mac cheered me on from the shuttle bus, so I wasn’t certain if Pam was in front of me (and Mac was just leaving Michigan Bluff) or she was behind me (and Mac was just getting to Michigan Bluff). Either was I was super-motivated and greatly looking forward to Volcano Canyon and running the climb up Bath Rd with Justin. After running this section a few more times in training camp in May it went by much quicker than the previous 2 years. Justin was waiting as expected at Bath Rd and we made easy work of the climb (thanks for the ICY COLD towel Justin) and the run in to Foresthill aid station. My crew set to work swapping out my Hoka Bondis for Rapa Nui Trails and a fresh pair of Drymax Trail Team RWB issue V5.0 socks. They also deftly switched the timing D-Tag which I had safety pinned to a neoprene ankle strap (see photo). Lee and I set off and he brought me up to speed on the competition and how the race was playing out in front of me.
Some nice perspective upon entering the Cal St trail is the view of Squaw Valley Peak off to our left which Lee pointed out to me…how far I had come already, 62 miles in just a little over 10 ½ hours!!! Lee and I ran this section in training camp together at right about the same time of day as a “dress rehearsal” of sorts, so I’m not surprised that we found our groove immediately with me setting the pace in front of him. We made quick work of Cal-1 and were on the hunt, exactly the position we expected to be in!! Believe that we first overtook Yoshikazu Hara and his pacer and soon thereafter Yassine and his pacer. So far so good…after Cal-2 we reeled in Gary Gellin and his pacer and fellow-Team RWBer Zach Bitter. Gary was quick to ask, “Where’s Karl?” I barely managed a shoulder shrug instead focusing on the work ahead. Later, Lee and I would chuckle that wherever Karl was he was probably now hunting Gary more so than me! In what seemed like a blink of an eye, Lee and I were at Rucky Chucky nearside and I made quick work of the obligatory weigh-in, oblivious to a laid-out Michael Aish at the aid station, before hitting the cable crossing, finally, no boat crossing this year!!! Lee and I were totally stoked to wade across and be greeted by Meredith, Justin, and Jim on the farside, where the report I heard from the aid station was 13th place (more on this later). We boogied outta’ there and Meredith set a perfect tempo for all of us, including Jim who didn’t miss a beat AT ALL, shooting some GoPro footage along the way. I guess you don’t knock out 20 of these (3 of which were top-10) and not have some damn good legs under you!!!! J Upon exiting Green Gate, I caught a glimpse of Jorge Maravilla (2014 Bandera 100k champ) in a chair and thought to myself, okay, that makes me 12th, top-10 might actually happen again. Back to the work at hand…
Bryan and I set off and just like with Lee we dialed in our pace immediately. We’ve run together so many times since 2012 that it’s almost second nature. This year, we didn’t have the back and forth competition of Jesse Haynes to spur us on, but we were motivated to catch Vajin Armstrong before Auburn Lakes Trail and then David Laney (2nd at 2014 Bandera 100k) at the ALT aid station (mile 85) itself. Sorry Vajin for not being so talkative when we came by, had some serious work to do!!! Admittedly I did shush Bryan for volunteering our identity as we came by, run silent run deep. Soooooo….that should have put me into 10th place but upon exiting ALT the volunteer told me I was 13th! What, how can that be, I was 13th at the River and passed 3 people! Bryan rightly corrected me that I was really 16th at the River so we still had significant amount of work to do to reach 12th place Chris Price (Hoka), who was 16 minutes ahead of me after being 18 minutes ahead at Green Gate. Back to work we went…
A quickie pit stop in the woods after ALT meant I forfeited some time going into Brown’s Bar, and there was nothing left to do except make it to Highway 49 with the remaining daylight, which we did right at 9pm. I knew that unless your last name is Olson or Krar, a 60 minute split for the last 6.2 miles is unheard of so a sub 17 hour finish was out the door for me. Chris was 13 minutes up and barring a complete meltdown had 12th place locked up.
Meredith rightly got the spurs into me, encouraging me to fight for every last step. We targeted a 70-minute split and planned to run it at twilight during training camp, but instead opted for an earlier 2nd run of the day. Emily Harrison and I nailed this section during training camp but that was in the late morning, not at 9pm, not with headlamps, not at night. Ugh, I diligently pressed ahead but it was not enough and lost a healthy chunk of time that Lee and Bryan had helped me work so hard to make up. Maybe I needed something to run for…although a PR was in the bag, no other time goal of any significance was worth attaining (Chris easily came in sub 17 with a 16:58), and there were no headlamps in front of me or behind me…until we hit the last climb up to Robie Pt…a lone headlamp…could only be Karl right? Never uses a pacer! He had certainly once again resurrected himself and his downhill legs from the dead I thought to myself! I don’t think Meredith saw the light but I sure did and it lit a fire under my butt to make sure we hit the pavement at Robie Pt with a comfortable enough gap to somewhat enjoy and savor the last mile with my crew and coach Steve Sisson who had come over from the USATF Outdoor Championships. When we made it there, Meredith was on me like white on rice to get moving and stop chit-chatting with my crew. Needless to say she was not happy with me despite what felt like to me was a brisk pace. Wow do I have some recalibrating to do!!! She did give me a hard-earned finish-line kiss though!
Either way, we got the job done in a 30-minute PR of 17:26 and 2nd in the 40-49 AG to 10th place finisher Jesse Haynes in 16:36 who just ran a TREMENDOUS race. Jesse and his fiancée Keira and I also shared some miles together during training camp and I know how much time, effort, and dedication they put into this race. So proud of him and his team.
And who was the owner of that lone headlamp stalking me at mile 98? Not Karl, but none other than 19-year old Jared Hazen, who only finished 4 minutes behind me, holy crow watch out for him!!!!!
What I used & wore:
- Hoka Bondis (start to mile 62)
- Hoka Rapa Nui Trail (mile 62 to finish)
- Drymax Trail v5.0 Team RWB Issue socks (nothing better)
- Patagonia Strider Pro shorts (love the fit and pockets!)
- Patagonia Air Flow Tank (thanks to Tik Tok Ink for the custom print job!)
- Patagonia Duck Bill Cap
- thinksport sunscreen
- Bonk Breaker bars
- Oakley Radar Path sunglasses, G30 lens
- Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest
- Petzl Myo XP headlamp