Friday, July 12, 2013

Western States Crew Report (Part 2)

When we left off, our hero had just discovered the wonders of Trenchfoot.

After Alexis left Michigan Bluff, we packed up our gear and hiked back up to the car.  While the rest of the crew organized the gear I pinned my pacer bib onto my shorts and we discussed the plans for the rest of the race.  While we drove from Michigan Bluff to the Foresthill Elementary School, Alexis descended into Volcano Canyon by herself.

We got parked just past the Aid Station and I headed out running backwards on the course towards the Bath Road Aid Station.  Crews are allowed to hike the 1.7 miles to this AS and hike all the way back to Forest Hill with their runners.  We decided that I would go alone so that the rest of the crew would have time to get everything ready.  I met another pacer doing the same thing, and we ran together all the way to Bath Road.  This was a nice run, indicative of the sense of family that surrounds an Ultra running event.

When we arrived at the Aid Station we moved to the side to stay out of the way of the volunteers.  This was a pretty small Aid Station compared to everything else out on the course, but in all fairness it was only 1.7 miles from Foresthill, which looked like it was being run by Barnum and Bailey.

Two runners came in pretty close together, and one of them already had a pacer with him.  The pacer must have noticed us other pacers idling around and told us that the Aid Station workers had told him that it was alright to run in and find your runner since it was after 8 pm.  We both looked to the Aid Station worker for reassurance, and she nodded to us.  I immediately headed down the trail, which was steep and technical, I guess the other pacer decided to wait, because I never saw him again.

I only had to run in about a half of a mile before I found Alexis, jogging along like her feet didn't look like oatmeal inside those Hokas.  I asked her how she was, because she looked good, and she told me that Volcano Canyon was turning out to be a long climb out.  We talked and climbed up to the Aid Station at Bath Road, and I must admit that I was surprised to see her in such good shape.  This was mile 60.

Leaving that Aid Station we faced a  3/4 mile paved hill to get us back to the main road in Foresthill.  Alexis let me know that she had no intention of running up that hill, and that was fine, because coming down it I didn't see anyone else running up it.  I let her know that Lee Conner and Alissa Springman, the two girls that Alexis knew at Western States this year, were not that far in front of her.  I didn't tell her this to spark her competitive drive as much as to reassure her that she was running fine.  Slow and steady was still working.

When we reached Foresthill Aid Station, Alexis was whisked away to the medical check-in, and I told her to take her time and eat, and that Scott or Eli would meet her at the end of the line of Aid Station pavilions to guide her to where the crew was parked.  This Aid Station looked like a little town of its own.  Tent after tent of food and drink and massage tables and who knows what else stretched out for 150 yards.  It was dark out by this point, and she didn't have her headlamp on yet.  I ran ahead to the crew to make sure that everything was ready.

I would be lying if I said that this Aid Station stop didn't frustrate me.  We had a plan:  to feed her soup, to put her headlamp on her, to re-supply her gear vest, and to get US running as soon as possible.  With the medical check, the official Aid Station, and then the crew this was three stops in a row, and we didn't need to eat up any more time than was necessary.  But we did.

Looking back I think that my sense of urgency most likely made Sue and Eli a little anxious.  Scott, he doesn't get anxious.  He just does his thing.  At this particular Aid Station he pretty much held the team together.  Alexis looked like she was about to fall asleep on her feet all of the sudden, maybe because it was full-on dark now.  We looked like the Three Stooges trying to get her into her vest and headlamp at the same time.  She took about three bites of soup and said she was done.  Instead of arguing, I ate the soup myself because I wanted us moving again.  I'm sure that I was a bit of a jerk to the rest of the crew here, and they never said anything about it, even after the race.  For that I both thank them, and apologize.  It had already been a long day for everyone, and we were all trying to do our best to get to Auburn.

And we were finally off and running.  Foresthill Aid Station is at mile 62, 100 kilometers run already, 38 more miles to go.  Soon we would be surpassing the farthest distance had ever run before, it was dark, it was still hot, but we had plenty of time, and this was Western States.  I took a mile or so to appreciate the fact that I was running in the footsteps of giants like Scott Jurek, Tim Twietmeyer, Ann Trason, Gordy Ainsleigh, Geoff Roes, and many more.  I tried to share this inspiring moment with my runner, but she was not in the mood for inspiration.

It was going to be a long night.  It was going to be a glorious night.  Almost right away, Alexis tells me that she is tired.

"I know you're tired, you've run sixty-some-odd miles already.  Less than forty left to go."

"NO, I just want to go to sleep!  I can't do this."

"Yes you can," I tell her.  "You didn't come here to quit.  Think about why you ARE here.  You're just hitting a wall, this will pass.  Lets keep moving."


We trudge on for a mile or so more, Alexis grumbling the whole way about hotel beds and soft pillows.  Then it hits me.  HOLY CRAP!  I have let my runner bonk.

"You need to eat something."

"No, I ate so much at Foresthill that my stomach hurts, I have to wait for this to digest before I can eat."

"No, you are out of calories.  A chunk of watermelon and three bites of soup 3 miles ago isn't making you feel full.  You are crashing.  Eat!"

So she ate.  And she complained about it.  And I made her eat some more.  Whatever she had on her.  Grapes, crackers, a gel, everything.  It took about twenty minutes to kick in, but without even noticing it herself, she was moving faster and complaining less.  When I pointed this out, we came to an agreement; she would eat more.  Simple as that.

We traveled over the 16 miles of the California Trail that leads from Foresthill to the Rucky Chucky crossing of the American River.  In and out of three Aid Stations; the Dardanelles with it's glow in the dark aliens at mile 65.7, Peachstone at mile 70.7, and Fords Bar at mile 73 with music hot food and cots full of sleeping runners. We kept moving.  Through this section of the race we passed runners worse off than Alexis, and were passed by runners who were feeling better to be out of the heat of the day.  We saw a lot of people whose race had fallen victim to the near record heat, and would probably not finish the race.  We kept moving, through ups and downs, over many nearly-dry creek crossings, and on into the darkness.

From Ford's Bar to the Rucky Chucky near Aid Station is only 5 miles, but that night I am sure that those miles were measured out by  either David Horton or the Devil himself.  We would get close enough to the river to hear it, and then move away again.  This happened over and over.  This gently rolling section felt like it was full of mammoth climbs, and this is where Alexis' Achilles started hurting her.  We were running along and she yelled out in pain, I thought that she had twisted her ankle or been attacked by a mountain lion or something.  She said that something 'snapped' in her heel and that it hurt to walk on it.

"Well," I said "If it hurts to walk, and it hurts to run, then I guess we'll run."

And we did. Or at least we tried.  There may have been a lot of cursing and a little crying following this incident, but I'll never tell.

We finally reached the river crossing, 5 miles covered in 1 1/2 hours, and found ourselves at another of the Western States Parties.  It was two in the morning, and there was music, hot food, and dozens of volunteers, including a massage therapist from Monsters of Massage.  I went to fill our water bottles and get food for us while Alexis got weighed, and when I came back to find her she was gone.  I looked everywhere, and finally found her laying down on a massage table having her Achilles worked on.  I almost lost it!  We did not have time for this.  I made her eat while the therapist worked on her foot, this was taking forever.  I knew it was two in the morning and that this guy didn't have to be here, in fact it was awesome that he was here, but my runner needed to get her butt up and cross that river.

Being as nice as I could, to the volunteers, not my runner, I got her off of the table and down to the river crossing.  The water was cold, and the water was wide, and the water was a good bit deeper than we had been promised.  But there was not only a guideline to follow, but a dozen or more volunteers standing in the waist deep water at 2 a.m., helping you find the best footing.  We made it across the water to the other side.  It took 30 minutes from the time we arrived at the Aid Station to get across the water.  Sue and Scott were waiting for us, along with a tough mile and a half climb up to the Green Gate Aid Station, where Alexis kept saying that if you made it there within the cut-off times you could finish.

We all hiked up together, and when we got there we changed her socks for dry ones, fed her more, and swapped out my headlamp batteries.  Somehow we spent 15 minutes at this Aid Station, but by this point I was getting used to wasting time.  I checked my watch, twenty more miles of trail, 7 1/2 hours of race.  I knew at this point that a buckle finish was in the bag, and I started to wonder how well we might do.  27 hours?  Maybe 26?

I kept those thoughts to myself, and focused on keeping Alexis fed and moving forward.

I kept repeating to her "Without food you can't move forward."  This became a colossal struggle between me and her fatigued brain.  The other major battle was with her ankle.  The better she ate the less she complained about it.  Somehow with all of the other issues facing her, she seemed for the most part to forget that her shoes were now filled with mushy-swollen-pulp that used to be feet.  She soldiered on, our pace steadily slowed, but I can assure you that the amount of effort put forth grew with every single step.

We shuffled (not ran, because I couldn't ask her to run anymore) across the flats, we jogged down the hills, and we fought our way up the inclines.  On and on like this.  Auburn Lake Trail Aid Station, mile 85.2, the sky was beginning to lighten and they had pancakes.  We ate, we ran away.  Brown's Bar Aid Station, mile 89.9, they had music playing, and it bounced of the canyon walls making you think you were almost there for over a mile.  Cruel.  It was now fully light outside.

The heat was coming on fast, and we were down in a Canyon with a long exposed climb ahead of us.  The climb to Highway 49 had Alexis cursing everyone who has ever called Western States a downhill race.  It was a good 1 3/4 mile steep climb up to the Aid Station.  Highway 49, mile 93.5, we dropped some gear with our crew, partook of some nice cold fruit smoothies, cold Gatorade, and moved on down the trail.  It was full on hot now.  But the end was in sight.

No Hands Bridge, mile 96.8, what a beautiful sight.  We filled water bottles and kept moving.  Tim Twietmeyer was running backwards on the course, and told us that we had three miles to go and two hours to do it.   There was another hot fully exposed climb ahead, but it lead us into Auburn and that was the goal.  She ran like a champ for a full mile out of the Aid Station, but then she went down with a shriek.  It was the Achilles again, she could barely stand up on it.  I told her that she only had 2 1/2 miles to go, and that even if she had to crawl through the dirt I would not let her quit.  I wanted to pick her up and carry her, but I couldn't.  She clenched her jaw, cried a little, and limped up the hill, passing those worse off than her, in silent determination all the way to Robie Point.

"For the Western States 100 is terribly honest in its demands and rewards. During these two-dozen hours in the wilderness we will be governed apart from the world of political favors, hidden agendas, and orchestrated cheers. Our number – which includes woodsmen, ranchers, nurses, investment bankers, mechanics and computer engineers – will all be measured on the same scale. We will test ourselves against the mountains."

Eli was waiting for us at Robie Point.  We got water because even though it was only 1.3 miles, it was already in the 90's.  There is a climb out of this Aid Station, insult to injury is how the saying goes, all on paved road, leading to the final stretch of road into the stadium at Placer High School.  At the top of the hill we picked up Scott and Sue, and passed a runner who was drinking a beer, already celebrating his finish that was still 1/2 mile away.   As we ran past him, he asked how Alexis had any legs left.

"She doesn't," I told him, "all she has left is heart."

"By the time we reach the finish we will have found, both physically and mentally, as many valleys and peaks as mark the trail. For those who come into Auburn arrive with a rare grace. The runners who press through the weary and lonely hours can get through only if they are tough and at peace with themselves."

We crossed the finish line of the 2013 Western States Endurance Run in 28:49:05.  The goal was to finish, but she did much more than that.  The trials that she was able to overcome should make her at least as proud as that shiny buckle that was awarded to her.  But in the end I suppose that the two are inseparable.  We went to California so that she could measure herself against the mountains and the distance.  Add to that the heat and a nearly fatal rookie mistake with her feet, and I dare say that she more than measured up.  She toed the line, met every obstacle along the way, and persevered to the very end.  Congratulations Runner, I would gladly pace you any time.

“What they had done, what they had seen, heard, felt, feared – the places, the sounds, the colors, the cold, the darkness, the emptiness, the bleakness, the beauty. ‘Til they died, this stream of memory would set them apart, if imperceptibly to anyone but themselves, from everyone else. For they had crossed the mountains… “


There were times when it was both scary and inspiring at the same time.  I feel privileged to have been a part of this adventure with you, and even though I know that it was probably harder even than it looked from a pacer's perspective, you have inspired me to go farther and push harder.  To see what you were able to push yourself to accomplish makes me want to demand more of myself.  Not only in my running, but in my life.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"I can't help but feel that I made some mistakes, but I let it go..."

The day after completing Western States I received a message from a friend that I interpreted as not all that supportive of my finish. I took it as a light, but direct, hit on what was hard but in ways I've yet to fully be able to articulate. What I took to be the message of the message took hold of my every thought and began little by little to break down the accomplishment I had reveled in not a full 24 hours prior. In place of trying to understand my hurt and make amends with it I decided to carry a chip with my every step, burden a pressure that was yet understandable but very real.

Finally, last night I admitted to Todd that deep down I've used the message as a way to veil my own disappointment, to conceal the way that I really feel about my run at Western States.

There is a part of me that knows what I should about the run, that it was my first hundred. Going into the run I knew that inexperience would be a factor, that my own self doubt would be a factor, that the distance by it's very nature would be a factor, for an indeterminable number of unforeseens may present themselves at inopportune times. I realize that I accomplished overall what I set out to do, which was finish, but there is a growing discernment that what was a unique and treasured experience was not all that good a day.

And so back and forth my emotions swing, maybe it has to do with the distance but I remember a familiar swing of peaks and valleys following Hellgate last winter. One moment I would hold a sense of pride over my conquering the scary night and the nasty lows but then other times I would experience the lowest lows. Half a year later I'm still somewhat in the middle knowing that this year I'll have to go back and better my time, and in doing so conquer myself as much as the Devil's trail. Now, a week or so out from Western States I'm experiencing the same sort of feelings but with more lows than I would have expected. I decided to compile the thoughts that are haunting me, figured the release of all the pent up second guessing would afford me a reprieve.

For starters, I started slow, like stop and smell the flowers and take a dozen photos slow. At the time I thought this was smart and I was being patient. I don't regret the hike to Emmigrant Pass, I think that was necessary, but I continued on at a snail's pace for the first 24 miles or more of the race. By the time I took to really running a quarter of the run was practically over. In retrospect I worry that I took it too easy, too slow. I don't personally believe you can 'bank' time but I never anticipated what later happened to my feet. That second half wasn't about muscle damage so much as painful feet, had I moved quicker, covered distance faster in the beginning, I wonder if overall my time would have been better.

Then there is my poor grasp on Nutrition. Every really bad race I have had I have later reflected that it all stems back to not eating enough either from the start or at one point or another in the run. On training runs I never bonk, even training runs of up to 25 miles or more. But that's 25 miles. You take me out to a 40 or 60 mile race and eat as poorly as I tend to and it's going to catch up with you. I struggled from the beginning of the day to eat, I even had it written on my arm to eat (but it had completely faded by mile 30). Looking back there were spans of several hours where I ate a few grapes and a slice of Watermelon, a single GU or a couple of crackers. By the time Todd caught on that I wasn't eating enough I had fallen rather low. Despite eating again I never fully came back. To keep moving, even at a much slower rate than I train at, for a sum of nearly 29 hours, my fueling was just sub sub par. And what makes this worse for me is that I do have enough experience to have known at least a little better, Douthat and Hellgate both illustrated, or so I thought, the extreme effect eating has on my run. Sure your energy suffers when you don't eat but so does your ability to handle emotions and pain. I wonder how much better I could have hobbled through those last 35 miles if I had kept up throughout the earlier part of the day on eating more. In my mind this is the single, biggest downfall of my time at Western States.

But there was also inexperience. I had been warned that your feet could and probably would suffer from the dust and heat of the day. I was warned about blisters and gators came highly recommended. I bought a pair of Mountain Hardwear Gators the day before the run, attached them to my Hokas. In doing this I changed my plan of starting in my Montrail Bajadas. In my original race plan I was to wear my Montrails for the first 30 miles. At Robinson Flats I was to change both my socks and shoes, and move into my beloved Hoka Stinson. However, with the gators attached to that one pair of shoes and fearing the dust and blisters I decided to go all willy nilly and change this plan. This has weighed heavily on me every since. People have asked me how I got trench foot by mile 38! Good question. I love wet feet. I have never had problems with wet feet. As stated before, others were dodging that water early on, I did not even pass a thought over what damage wet feet at 20, 25 or 30 hours could do. The time it took me to reach mile 38 was much longer than any of my previous 50k times and was pushing, I believe, my 50 mile time. I've never run with wet feet that long, I didn't realize the consequences until I was living them. Having wet feet and an empty stomach worked quickly to take the good day I had started having away from me.

I thought I was being smart and running easy, that I was saving those quads of mine. And I did. So well that I never in the days following the run experienced any Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Just Delayed Onset Run Regret. But now I am pretty sure the later is just as hard to walk around with.

There was also a lot of time wasted later on in aid stations. I needed the break at Michigan Bluff to change my socks. But I stopped and sat down in at least three different aid stations, something I had vowed I would not do going in. I had a massage before I crossed the river! These just ate time, they didn't benefit my run and are just extra regrets to burden as the days go by. In all though, it was really just the aid stations in the darkness that held me back, during the day I had gone in and out so quickly that I forgot socks and Tums and extra food even when it had been all I thought about for miles headed towards my crew.

And then there were the emotional breakdowns. Horton and Ellie had both warned about being relaxed and patient. But I had a number of lows. Running down to El Dorado Creek I thought I was lost, this was really the first low of the day and in retrospect my eating was just catching up with me at this point. But once I allowed myself to slip mentally it was just easier the rest of the run. I didn't have a 'breakdown' the only time I thought about quitting, but again eating played a huge part in my wanting to quit then. But later, reaching 85 miles I had a nice emotional breakdown that others got to witness but probably don't remember as we were probably all facing our own demons enough to not worry with what other's were experiencing. And maybe that's what happens at mile 85, but I never came back from that low at mile 85. The last 15 miles were a tumbling mix of fatigue, fear, pain and true grit.

I know when I think about the day that I must ultimately embrace that I finished, the weather and the mountains took a good number of people down before the weekend was over. A finish is a finish. But I can't help but wonder, if this then what could have come to pass?

When it's all finished tumbling the same thing keeps coming out clear, I did really enjoy the distance. It was harder than I imagined, and it asked more of me in ways I wasn't expecting, but I did pull through and I did finish. There wasn't necessarily the enlightenment I was hoping for but it did present a window into myself, that I can do what needs to be done with a little help from my friends. However, I hate that I keep having to remind myself of these facts. I could have been a casualty, and with the bad decisions and inexperience it would have been no surprise to fall victim to a DNF, to have bowed out before Auburn.

I am going to quote Ezra Koening at this point and say "I can't help but feel that I made some mistakes, but I let it go" and hope that I can...


Monday, July 8, 2013

The Crew Point of View (Part One)

Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run

We arrived in lake Tahoe a few days before the race.  Early enough to attend all of the crew and runner briefings, the panel discussion with former champions, and to make the four mile hike up to Emigrant Pass for the annual flag raising.  I enjoyed the briefings and course descriptions, but having crewed Alexis at Hellgate I had a pretty good idea what to expect.  I wished that the rest of our crew could have been there for that, but they didn't arrive until later that evening.  They would just have to trust me.  The driving directions from Aid Station to Aid Station were extremely detailed and very helpful.  A thorough crew at WS will drive over 200 miles, that is twice as much distance as those sissy runners have to cover.

I first began to worry about how hard this race was going to be on the runners when we hiked up to Emigrant Pass on Thursday.  It was a four mile hike, mostly on a gravel road, and it took about an hour and 20 minutes.  We climbed from 6000 ft to 8750 ft, and for the first time ever I noticed the effects of altitude.  It was hard to breath whenever I tried to run, and my fingers were a little swollen.  After about 20 minutes at that altitude the swelling went away, and we lingered up there for a few hours in the hopes that she would acclimate a little.

That was on Thursday when the temperature was in the mid-80s, and I ended up getting sun burnt.  The temperature continued to climb as the week went on, with forecasted highs of 102 on Saturday and 106 on Sunday.  The heat was on everyones mind.  I knew my runner could handle the heat better than a lot of people, but hot is hot.

We had the chance to meet several wonderful people, as well as see a few folks we already knew, while hanging out in the Olympic Village in Squaw Valley.  There is such a feeling of community among Ultra Runners that you feel like no one is really a stranger, I guess because we're all a little crazy.  We saw David Horton who was encouraging, and Lee Conner who we had both met at MMTR last November. We met a couple from North Carolina who used to live in Lynchburg, as well as a bunch of other runners, pacers, and crews who were all there to test themselves against the mountains.

On race morning everyone gathered at the start line in Squaw Valley before the sun can up.  It was a rather subdued atmosphere, there was a solemn sense of reverence for the task at hand.  With the Mountains of the Sierra Nevada's looming in the background, we all stood around watching the start clock tick down toward 0, going over race 'plans' and reassuring our runners.

Then the race started.  And nearly 400 runners trotted off into the darkness of the mountains.

After taking some photos of the Race Start and Squaw valley, which we knew we may never come back to, the crews all dispersed.  Although we all know that it is the runners who have to get from Squaw to Auburn, every crew knows that they can not fail to support their runner to the best of their ability.  It was almost too quiet as 400 anxious crews abandoned Squaw Valley for their gear-packed cars and began the long drive around the mountains.

We were very fortunate to have my sister Sue, my brother Scott, and my (favorite) nephew Eli come along and help us crew for this race.  I have heard several times that crewing is as hard or harder than actually running an Ultra, although I know that is not true, make no mistake about how hard crewing can actually be. It can be a challenge Physically, Mentally, and Emotionally.  You have to be awake for a long time, hike heavy gear in and out of aid stations, think for your runner, force them to do things they may not want to do, and watch them break down physically and mentally throughout the race, encouraging them to continue no matter how bad they look.  Crewing is NOT for the faint of heart.

We split into two teams when we reached the town of Foresthill, Scott and Sue headed to the Robinson Flat Aid Station at mile 29.7 on the course, and Eli and I headed to Duncan Canyon at mile 23.5, the first place any runner would see their crew.

After driving 35 miles on the crookedest mountain road I have ever had the privilege of driving, averaging about 18 mph with an 'imminent death' kind of cliff on one side of the car the whole time, we finally reached Duncan Canyon.  (There may or may not have been some car-sickness on this drive, I promised Eli that I would never tell.)  We parked, gathered the gear we thought we would need, and hiked a nice trail in to meet the Western States trail, not quite a half mile from the road.  And we waited.

And we waited.

It took a long time to get to Duncan Canyon, so we were anxious to see Alexis come in, and the longer we waited the hotter it got, and the more anxious we got.  It was a mixed bag at Duncan Canyon, some runners looked fresh and strong, some already looked tired and sore, but everyone looked hot.  When Alexis finally got there, she looked worse than I had hoped.  She was flushed and hot looking, with only 1/4 of the race done.  She handed me a camera as Eli forced her to eat tums and S-tabs.  "I filled up the memory stick," she said.  "I need you to get me another one and get this back to me."

"Drink this Gatorade."

"I need that camera back," she said.  "I need the distraction."

"You need to run," I said.  "I will see what I can do."

As she ran off down the trail, I knew what I would do.  I stuck that camera in a bag and tried to forget about it.  Eli and I packed up our gear and headed back to the car.  It was a quiet car ride to the Dusty Corners Aid Station where we would see her next at mile 40.  She was now headed to Sue and Scott at Robinson Flat.  The Day was getting hotter, and she was out of our hands for a while.  I think that Eli had not expected her to look that rough, I know that I hadn't.  It was too early and she was running too conservatively to be in bad shape.  We were both worried.

We had heard that shade was almost non-existent at Dusty Corners, and after hiking a little over 1/2 mile from the car we found that to be an understatement.  Crews were piled on top of each other around the base of tall trees that offered too-slim of shadows to do any good.  We found a place to set up near another group of crews, and Eli wondered off with the camera to capture some images of Western States.  We knew we had at least 2 hours to wait, maybe 3.

What little shade there was moved around fast as the sun travelled across the sky.  We met some great people and the time passed relatively quickly.  Eli had moved up the trail a ways, in search of shady spots, and spotted Alexis first.  I grabbed our gear and we headed downhill towards the aid station.  She went through the food table (not getting enough), and wandered over to us.

She looked good here.  Way better than she had at Duncan Canyon.  She was talking like she was having fun, and she increased her cushion on the time cut-off by at least 30 minutes.  Maybe because we were relieved to see our runner come back to life, but for some reason Eli and I did not do a good job of crewing her here.  I got her to drink some Gatorade and maybe take some S-tabs, but we let her tell us what was enough, and that was a mistake.  We had socks and shoes for her, but other than asking her we didn't bother to check.  She looked good, and we were happy, and off she ran.

Our next stop was meeting up with the rest of the crew at Michigan Bluff, mile 55.  We had been completely cut off from communicating with anyone, since this side of the course was down in a valley surrounded by tall imposing peaks.  There was absolutely no cell service, and there were so many crews over there that the smoke signals kept getting mixed up.  So we were heading back to civilization now, checking our phones after every hairpin turn.

When we finally got back to Foresthill, I had several messages from the other crew, so I called them right away.  They were at Michigan Bluff waiting for the shuttle to the aid station, so they decided to wait for us, and we all got there and collected our gear and headed down to the aid station together.  The shuttle was slow, and the line was long, so we decided to hike on down, making the trip from car to AS about a mile each way.

All of the Aid Stations at Western States were great, but Michigan Bluff was like a carnival.  Except there was no Ferris Wheel, maybe I should suggest that for next year.  There were hundreds of crew members hanging out, there was a hamburger stand (set up as a fund-raiser for the local swim team), and dozens and dozens of volunteers and medical workers.  We found a spot and set up next to Horton and his crew who was relaxing in nice camp chairs (something that we needed and didn't have).  We spread a blanket, sorted gear, tried to get comfortable, and began to wait.

After we settled in for the wait, we tried to do the math and figure out when she should be arriving at this Aid Station.  When she was later than our most hopeful projection Scott started checking on line to see when she hit the last AS.  When she finally arrived it was later than we hoped, and she had bad news.  Her feet had begun bothering her several miles back.

The podiatrist at the aid station took a look and said that she was experiencing trench-foot from running in wet shoes for so long.  They said that she could finish but it would be painful, so we dried her up the best we could, and sent her hobbling out on her way.  With the exception of bad feet, she was in good spirits and said that she felt good everywhere else.  So we packed up and headed to Foresthill Aid Station where my duties as a pacer would begin.

To Be Continued...


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Race Report: Western States Endurance Run 100

Western States Endurance Run

Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA

Saturday, June 29- Sunday, June 30, 2013

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt

I post the above quote as a means to get started because the words above have been on my mind as the hours following the race turn into days and my mind wraps itself around the run. Had I the time and this report been written sooner you might have found yourself reading a report with a completely different tone, might I have waited even longer, perhaps yet an even more different tone. As it is, it's Thursday the Fourth of July and this report reflects where I'm currently at in the processing and evaluating of my efforts. The Western States Endurance Run held in late June in California was far more beautiful and far more challenging than I ever dreamed. As above noted there was a bit of error and shortcoming, in addition to inexperience on my part that has left me second guessing and replaying pivotal decisions and points of the race in my mind. The clearest thing I can tell you is that I loved this run and would return in a heartbeat given the opportunity once more.

Before I dive in to the nitty gritty details of my day long run that was really a weekend long, I want to comment on a point I read about in a blog or two before heading west. At least one person chided the Western States volunteers and organizers as being rude and even ignoring the non elite atheletes who came to run. I was worried about this and disappointed without proof that this may occur. Having now experienced the run myself I can say that this is simply not true. The volunteers, organizers, aid station captains, other runners, crews, and spectators were by far the most supportive of any race I've ever experienced. For example, Tim Tweitmeyer ran by us headed in the opposite direction at one point about mile 97 and said, very encouragingly "It's in the bag! Three miles to go in almost two hours." And Tim was also there at the awards ceremony to shake every finisher's hand as they received their buckle on Sunday afternoon. But that is just a glimpse into the kind of support and aid from the people associated with the run.

There is a lot to say about the few days before the race, but I'm going to try and keep this post to just the run itself. I will say that I believe I held it together in the final days better than ever before, I focused on knowing that the goal was completing the run and that given a chance I would use whatever I possessed to make that happen.

The night before the run I had my sister-in-law Sue, who'd driven up from Mesa, Arizona along with her son, Eli and brother, Scott to crew, to write a few reminders and words of advice along my arms: "Tree to Tree", "Eat like a horse, drink like a fish and walk before you need to" and "You will want to quit but you won't". These temporary inks along with some motivational cards and a letter I'd written mself would serve, I had hoped, to pull me through particaularly low points in the race.

The morning of the run I awoke to a 3:30 alarm after tossing and turning for about five or so hours. I dressed in my Aid Station jersey and Pearl Izumi shorts and headed upstairs to find my crew already embarked on their long and busy day. They were gathering supplies and had made me coffee and prepared two PB&J sandwiches for me to eat for breakfast along with some water. I knew I was up for a challenge eating when it took me the entire drive to Squaw Valley and literally wetting the second half of the second sandwich to finish this breakfast.

Arriving at Squaw Valley we headed to check-in where I got my official race bib and chip that went around your ankle and was weighed a final time. I was up three pounds from the day before, probably due to a large meal and lots of water the day before.

I wore my Injinji toe socks under a pair of Swiftwick socks and my Hoka Stinson shoes. The day before I'd bought a pair of Mountain Hardwear Gators and wore them over my shoes to protect against the sand and dust I'd been warned of prior to the run. In my shorts were a picture of my children. At the start I wore my arm sleeves though I really didn't need to and my Nike hat that I wore throughout that first day. I also wore my Mountain Hardwear vest equipped for the first time with a hydration pack. Along the rim of my jersey I attached my three ipod shuffles, they would carry me for less than thirty minutes of the entire race, a note I'm quite proud of as I have been known to listen to my ipod for entire runs lasting much longer.

Standing around in the dark at the start David Horton who we had seen a few times in the preceeding days came up hugged me, and told me to relax and run smart. Be patient he warned. I was not nervous per se at this point, just ready to be moving. Todd, Eli, Scott and Sue got to be with me right up until the start.

We started at 5 am on the nose and the crowd I was in jogged a short ways before the real climb began and then the majority of us took to walking. Gordy Ansleigh passed by me and I stuck near him for the first few minutes, I did run for about 100yds twice going up the first big climb, the biggest of the day, but both times I felt silly as others were still walking. I settled into hiking up the entire first climb to the summit which marks the highest point on the course. I met a man named Terry who was a good companion up that first steep climb as well as Lisa, a woman I'd met the day before at the race breifing.

Following the suggestion from Josh Gilbert that it may be a nice distraction I carried in my vest my small Nikon Cybershot and took pictures of the amazing sunset and views of Lake Tahoe. Terry and Lisa were good distractions going up the first climb but they pulled ahead as we entered the Granite Cheif Wilderness just past the summit. I didn't pick up the pace by very much but did start running. Unfortunately, my stomach troubled me immediately and there was nowhere to easily hop off trail as the terrain was wide open. I ended up having to climb up a short hill to hide myself from the pack. Terry and Lisa pulled further ahead and out of view.

I was running along this breathtaking scenery, trying to snap shots and take my mind off of running 100 miles. I kept repeating to myself "Be smart, be patient, relax, hydrate" over and over again. I met a lady named Annette who'd run the race twice before and we ran a ways together. There was no snow like is often the case but we had to run through some trenches where my feet got wet at about mile six. I didn't think it was a big deal, some people were being very careful to keep their feet dry but not me. Turns out I should have followed their lead.

I wasn't running hard at all, walking uphills regardless of steepness. I thought I was being smart and patient, hydrating well. Then going up to Lyon's Ridge Gordy passed me, this is awful to admit, but I berated myself a tad for this. I reminded myself once more that I was being conservative because I thought that was smart. Then Gordy took a tumble fifty yards ahead of me, he got up covered in a mess of sweat and blood, the man beside him remarked that he was going to freak the aid station volunteers out. I settled in behind him and repeated my mantra "Be smart, be patient, relax, hydrate". Then I met Jon Shark, a runner from Washington state so friendly and cheerful that it lifted me a tad. I contined to talk to runners around me and take pictures. I came into Lyon's Ridge, about mile 10.5, right behind Gordy and Jon. The aid station volunteers told Gordy he was running strong. Up until this point I'd eaten 9 PB crackers so I took out my empty ziploc sandwich bag and filled it with M&Ms, grapes, Oreos, and crackers. This advice came from Gordy Ansleigh at the panel discussion on Thursday evening and it was thanks to his presence at this aid station that I remembered to actually implement it. Leaving the aid station they hosed me down as the day was heating up already.

Taking off uphill I basked in the beauty around me and ate from my bag. I never saw Gordy again, I later learned he dropped at Foresthill. Running along the ridge it started to get warm and I focused on drinking more and more. This resulted in my having to stop and pee a lot which proved difficult at times as the ridge was wide open and we were still rather close to one another. But still I drank. I met a man named Tim from Baltimore who saw me taking picures like a tourist and offered to take my picture. We talked about Horton races. Then I met another man though I never caught his name we ran a ways together.

At the Red Star Ridge aid station I wasn't feeling great, it had gotten rather warm out and I was just kind of feeling blah. The volunteer assisting me took my picture with my camera and got water and ice in my bottle and ice for my hat. I put more food in my baggie but I'm very sorry to report that somewhere through the next section I lost my little bag. The section between Red Star Ridge and Duncan Canyon was long and hot, I had to keep stopping to pee which often proved troublesome and I was just in a funk. Then my camera, my favorite distraction of the morning, told me that the disk was full. I was out of real food so I ate my first GU of the day.

Finally I could hear the aid station sounds and knew that Eli and Todd should be waiting. I came into the aid station at about 10:45 and the aid station volunteers took my pack and bottle and filled them with ice and water. They doused me with cold water and put more ice in my hat. I ate a piece of watermelon and walked over to my crew. Todd forced me to take salt tabs, my fourth and fifth of the day and two tums as well as drink a Gatorade.

Then I handed Todd my camera and told him that it was full, "I need you to get me a new SD card and get this back to me."

"From where, Alexis?" he answered with a tone that sounded quite annoyed.

I knew he was possibly worried as I'd come into the aid station later than he'd probably expected and too near the 30 hour cut-off in his opinion. "From town? On the way to Dusty Corners? From Sue or Scott?" I suggested.

He gave me this look that was both worried and confused and I knew that I wasn't going to be seeing that camera again for the duration, "We're in the middle of nowhere, Alexis!"

"But I need that camera, I need the distraction!" I pleaded.

"No you don't, you NEED to RUN" he nearly shouted. I knew I was making him concerned, I handed off the camera and finished the Gatarode he was forcing me to consume and took another pack of crackers and some Clif granola bars for the road and ran off towards Robinson Flat.

Then with the help of the Gatorade perhaps or in spite of having lost my only distraction I actually began to run. I ran well, I kept drinking, I kept stopping to pee. I started to pass people and I even started to run a few uphills. I started to come alive, it was hot but I was for the moment OK. There were numerous creek crossings and I stood in them and doused myself with their cool refreshing water every chance I could. I was running well for the first time all day and I knew it. It was about the only high I had all day long and we're talking a day that lasted for nearly 30 hours.

Coming into Robinson Flat people were cheering and saying I looked fresh. I ran up to the scales to be weighed for the first time during the run. I took my vest off and handed it off to get filled and stepped on. I was up weight, up 1 1/2 pounds.  A doctor asked me how I was feeling and I was so thrown off guard by being up weight that I fumbled over my words. They let me pass and I ate some watermelon and headed off in search of my crew. I found Scott and Sue and they made me drink another Gatorade but the weight was starting already to scare me. I didn't eat the salt tabs but I took the tums, some motivational cards for the journey and a PB&chocolate chip wrap for the road, nothing else. Leaving the aid station I heard Jon Shark call my name and we headed out together, I think we were both in good spirits.

We were running downhill through this next section but it was exposed and it was very, very hot. I reminded myself to make it through the day and be smart but being up weight instead of down was making me quite nervous. I'd been counting and I continued to count, I peed 11 times the first ten hours and over 25 times for the whole run. I've NEVER peed more than about three times in a run.

It was pretty much downhill or flat to Miller's Defeat but it was HOT! I passed some people but then I came upon a woman named Lisa who told me that she knew I was half her age and I was going to hate her for this advice but we had some tough climbs and hot canyons approaching and I better be careful. She may have sounded harsh but I knew she'd run the course before and was only trying to help so I backed off a little more. Coming into Miller's Defeat I got more ice in my hat and some in my bandana and was hosed off. I ate a hummus wrap and watermelon and headed out.

Somewhere along here I noticed that my feet were hurting. I made a note to ask at Dusty Corners for socks and Tums, but then I forgot to. This section is all but gone in my memory. I don't remember seeing Todd or Eli here because they pushed me through fast, all I recall is Todd trying to get me to drink a Gatorade but I only drank half as I was worried about the weight.

I ran on to Last Chance and my feet started to bother me more and more. At Last Chance I was hosed off, had ice put in my bra and hat and bandana before heading into the canyons. There was a lot of descending and I remember rounding a very scary drop off that literally made me hug the side of the wall. It was awesome running down into the canyons but they were not what I was expecting. I was expecting more like the Grand Canyon for some reason but it was far more variated with rocks and cliffs and trees. There was a while of descending and between my feet burning and the heat I decided to climb down a trail and into the water before crossing the bridge at the bottom and starting the ascent to Devil's Thumb.

I soaked in the water up to my chest for several minutes and then climbed back out to make my way up Devil's Thumb. This was in my memory the worst climb of the day. I passed people who looked like zombies and didn't respond to "how are you feeling", I passed people stopped and some sitting down. It was hot and slow and 36 switchbacks of carnage. Near the top I passed a man throwing up, it was absolutley horrible, the sounds this poor soul was making made me want to plug my ears. The terrible sounds he made stayed with me for the rest of the climb and really the rest of the day. Arriving at the Devil's Thumb aid station though I felt good other than my feet. The volunteers weighed me and my weight was perfect, between Friday morning and Saturday morning's weights. They got me a popsicle and ice water, they hosed me off and told me I looked really fresh and good. Standing still I felt really fresh and good. They gave me some vegetarian soup and sent me on my way.

I was running downhill and after a mile or so I realized I hadn't seen anyone. I started looking for streamers but there weren't any. There weren't any in hindsight because there wasn't anywhere else to go but I started to do the opposite of being relaxed, I started to freak out a little. I slowed and started looking back uphill for signs of approaching runners. I ran downhill more but now slower because I started to think about having to go back uphill if I was in fact headed the wrong direction. Then I stopped for a minute and no one was behind me, I hadn't realized I was running fast enough to get spread out. Then I may have started to get scared and a little teary eyed. Fortunately I was only stopped for a minute and I saw a runner coming downhill, it was safely patrol no less checking on runners and she assured me I was headed in the right direction. Right after that I saw streamers and then two minutes later a runner up ahead who was walking downhill, his quads were toast.

Running downhill again I was a little mentally worn down and now my feet were really hurting. At the bottom of El Dorado I let them soak me, drank half a cup of coke and headed back uphill. I was anxious to see my crew and the climb to Michigan Bluff, while not as steep as Devil's Thumb was longer and just as hard. I didn't make good time at all as my feet were starting to possess my every thought with pain in every footfall but especially in my left foot. I didn't want to run it hurt so bad, I was convinced I had a huge blister on both bottoms. However, my plantar fasciitis and achilles tendon which were troublesome in the left heel at the start were both feeling fine.

By the time I made it to the aid station I knew my feet needed serious attention or I was out. Eli was standing off to the side ahead of the crew and I yelled "FEET', in retrospect I was probably a little out of it. Todd said "what" and then the aid station volunteers were on me, I got weighed and told them my feet hurt. They suggested having a podiatrist look at them so I agreed. They brought me to a chair and took my shoes and socks off only to find my feet 'badly macerated' from the hot, wet conditions of the day. The lady helping me said it was the worst they'd seen at this point in the day and got her camera, commenting it was pretty gross and looked like brains on the bottom of my feet. But she said it was far enough from my heart I wasn't going to die. They let them air dry a few minutes before putting on powder and the new socks. As they were helping my feet Todd gave me grilled cheese and a coke and a man walked up with a Ten Days/1000 mile buckle. I jokingly asked if he came over to motivate me out of the chair with his buckle. I was still in relatively good spirits. I'd probably been sitting there ten minutes at that point. I got up soon thereafter but the feet hurt as much as before. But at least now I knew what it was.

I headed over to the rest of my crew, drank a little and got my vest back. They took my picture and headed on to Bath Rd at 7:47, I had arrived at 7:25, over twenty minutes had gone by at that aid station. My crew had given me two bottles leaving Michigan Bluff but I hadn't argued, one of them had GU brew in it, they wanted me to drink calories but I got sick almost immediately from the GU brew, having to race into the woods and tripping on a log with my oh so painful feet and stubbing a toe. I ran down to Volcano Canyon knowing I was running towards a pacer, but despite it being almost 8 pm this canyon was just as hot as some earlier in the day.

When we started moving uphill I saw a lot of pacers running in both directions from the aid stations looking for their runners now that it was after 8 pm. I was doing a fair bit of walking uphill and yet was seeing more and more people than in the previous sections on the course. Near Bath Rd I saw a man hobbling with a stick and safety patrol, his race was over. Then I saw Todd headed towards me, someone had told him he could head in now that it was near 9 pm. We stopped only briefly at the aid station to eat a few grapes and watermelon and head off to Foresthill.

By this point it was dark and we were using headlamps. The run from Bath Rd to Foresthill was easy and I was in decent spirits. We got there at 9:18 and I was weighed and given popsicles and saltines. I walked over to meet Scott who walked me to where the car and our little crew station was set up and I ended up passing off this food without eating any of it. At the car they had made soup and I ate a few spoonfuls but we weren't there long, only enough to get my big headlamp situated. Sue got a picture of us and we headed off into the night.

We had 38 miles left and about 13.5 hours, sounded easy enough. We started out on California St. Trail and I was following in Todd's footsteps but he was definitely running harder than my feet felt up to. The trail was rolling but mostly downhill and it shouldn't have been a problem, I'd been saving my legs all day for this part of the course, but I hadn't anticipated my feet hurting like they were.

And then, almost immediately, I started to feel overwhelmingly exhausted. And I don't know why but I allowed that exhaustion to go in and overtake me. I started thinking about how much I just wanted to lie down and go to sleep. I started expressing this to Todd and pretty quickly it escalated to me wanting to quit, just give up, which I swore going in I wouldn't do. I wasn't upset or emotional. I just wanted to sit down on the trail or be in a hotel on a hotel bed. Todd tried his hardest to get me moving, told me about the folks back home. I knew I was tired so I started to think about reasons I shouldn't quit or couldn't quit. I mean I thought of my friends, of the Aid Station, Jeremy, how disappointed Frank would be, how sad I would be, our kids, I was going through all of these thoughts and I just didn't care, I was numb from fatigue.

A few minutes into this walking and after a good dozen runners and their pacers had passed Todd all of sudden starts apologizing and says "Eat!" He starts telling me that he knows that I haven't eaten much of anything since Michigan Bluff and that he was just accepting that I was full but know he knows I'm not full. He tells me to eat a GU and a Granola Bar and M&Ms, and I do as I walk along and dream of the hotel bed I wish so badly to be in. As I'm walking along dreaming of my hotel bed I start realizing the quickest way to a bed is the car Sue and Scott have at Green Gate. And then I remember that I had read if you make it to Green Gate you can make it to Auburn and the next thing I know I'm running again. In retrospect Todd was absolutely right, as the day had worn on it had gotten harder to eat and I'd done a lousier and lousier job of eating. I was running now, but the feet were hurting as much as ever and I was still tired and I didn't know if I was really in this thing anymore or not.

Much of this section at night was just like this, a battle to eat and to run. I remember coming into an alien aid station and then back out and then into another aid station and being so tired I just sat down. Todd brought me soup and a sandwich and I remember this Irish man we'd passed coming into the aid station showed up and sat down beside me as I was eating, he was nauseous and dizzy. As our anxious pacers worked harder for us then we for ourselves we expressed how terrible we felt, how much we wanted this to be over. But I recoginized now that everyone out here was suffereing so I got up from that chair and headed back out.

In the next section my stomach started to give me trouble and I was stopping every five minutes of so due to trouble from it. Then I would try to eat more food and would have the strength to overcome the pain in my feet for a few minutes of running. Coming into the next aid station I sat down once more and talked to Will Jorgenson. There was a lady here who had been stung by 12 bees and they were just waiting to get her out of there. One of the aid station workers, I think the captain, came over to me and said that I looked too good and had come too far to sit in that chair and told me to get up and get moving.

We ran on but the tired was persistently present, the feet screaming and the distance yet to still travel far. Then climbing alongside the river to the Rucky Chucky aid station my right ankle started to bother me. This section seemed like forever even though we could hear it and kept thinking we were closer than we were. At the Rucky Chucky crossing near aid station I got weighed and told them I needed new feet. They asked if I wanted a message for the ankle and I accepted. This killed more time, a lot more time and I could tell Todd was not happy or in support of this, a well rested me would have thought the same. I was holding on hope that the massage would release some of the pain in the achilles tendon, unfortunately, it did not.

Todd made me get up and we went down to the river to cross with great cheers from both sides. We crossed by foot but the water which was promised to be no higher than our knees was up above my waist the whole way through and as high as my chest in some spots. It was cool and refreshing for the most part and would have been great fun had I not been miserable in body and spirit at this point. My ankle hurt more with every step.

Sue and Scott were waiting on the other side. We ate very little, a cheese quesadilla square for me was all. We saw Lee Conner here who I believe had been suffering with stomach trouble. She had picked up a pacer from someone who had dropped and left moving well up to Green Gate. Climbing up to Green Gate was slow and painful, the feet were wet again and it was the only time I got to be on course with Scott and Sue and I reveled in that. At Green Gate we changed socks again and I ate a little but can't recall what so it probably wasn't all that much. Todd changed batteries here too.

We were down to the final twenty and still had roughly 7.5 hours to do it. I went to the bathroom just after leaving the aid station and we were off. In this next section the ankle continued to get worse, I had more stomach trouble, more lows due to pure exhaustion and probably not eating enough. In addition to all of this my calf, the calf that has worried me for months was very tight, it wasn't locking up yet but it was just another factor in making me extremely slow and worried. The next five and a half miles took us nearly two hours, much longer than either of us anticiapted. I started to become very worried that at this pace I wasn't going to finish. Very near the aid station, at over 85 miles into the race, I had an emotional breakdown. Between my stomach, my feet and my ankle I was convinced that I wasn't going to finish even with a constant forward motion. I wasn't even crying but bawling like a baby, stepping aside to let others pass by me, wiping the tears and just at the bottom of everything. I really wanted to finish but was so convinced that I couldn't and wouldn't. The sun coming up on my second day, I was now over the 24 hour mark and we were leap frogging other runners.

At the Auburn Lake Trails aid station I weighed in at my lowest of the entire race, down two pounds from Friday mornings weigh in and over five pounds from the race start. I knew the day was to be as hot as the previous day so I focused on doing the one thing I knew I could still do, hydrate. I ate a few pancake peices and we headed out without dilly dallying, I was running (hobbling) scared.

My ankle was so painful, it felt like a constant stinging and was bringing me to bite my lower lip to begin each short running section, Todd joked that this was the 100 mile shuffle rather than a run of any kind. Running to Brown's Bar there was still more leap frogging which surprised me and at least one good run and one good low. It felt once more like it took forever, there was music coming into this aid station that you could hear much sooner than you were actually at the aid station. I again had stomach trouble but made it to the aid station to use their bathroom as it was not light out and hard to get off the trail.

We had a quick bite after my bathroom break and headed out with just over ten miles and just over four hours left, Todd was still convinced we could do it somehow in just over two hours, it ended up taking more than three. We met a few runners through this section but they were mostly moving faster than us. We made it to Highway 49 crossing. I was weighed and had put back on a pound or so and drank a cup of smoothie. We handed my vest off to Scott and Sue and went forward with just a couple GU and a water bottle.

A good portion of the way to No Hands Bridge was downhill and we managed to shuffle a bit though the pain was awful and the heat coming on. Coming into No Hands Bridge was absolutely beautiful but hot. We stopped for mere seconds at the aid station. My ankly, feet and calf were no longer giving warnings they were putting up a fight with every step. Along the way to Robie's point I had been shuffling along when the calf felt like a deep stabbing pain, I stopped dead went down on it and screamed words I won't repeat. It hurt so bad and moving forward at any rate was seriously beginning to scare me. Todd told me to look ahead and see the runners in sight of us, they were all walking, he remarked that it was the walking wounded headed towards the finish line at this rate.

It was through here we came upon Tim Tweitmeyer who encouraged me that I would finish but it was tough and there was a lot of carnage all around us. We were headed up the final climb to the aid station at Robie Point and there was a woman stopped getting sick with a volunteer or pacer holding back her hair. Usually I can find strength at the end of a race, but here I found myself with none, I felt like I was in a losing battle. A volunteer came to me and took my water bottle and filled it and brought it back to me so I never even stopped at the aid station but my mind was gone, it was only feet moving forward.

We rounded the turn at the aid station and there was Eli taking pictures. We had a mile and a half and an hour and a half to do it in. It's almost terrible to admit but I gave up the fight, pretty convinced I'd finish I allowed myself to walk up the long hill on the paved roads of Auburn. There were many wonderful residents strewn along wishing us well, telling us we looked great. Eli said Scott and Sue were at the top of the big hill so we climbed on to find them, when we reached them they ran along with us and Scott told me every detail of the steps ahead.  He told me where hills would be and where turns would come, he ran right alongside me. We walked the final hill but then it was downhill to the track, surprisingly we came upon and passed Lee Conner in this section, I thought she would come with us when we encouraged but she just continued on walking.

I remember seeing the track a minute before arriving at the fence and just feeling like a robot. Instead of that overwhelming sensation that I had arrived, that I would finish, I chose to spend every ounce of energy  seeing to it that I could indeed run the last section in. There was no crying, I just remember it being incredibly hot and the track portion seemed indecently long. I heard my name on the loudspeaker as I passed by and remembered that I hadn't submitted an "about me" form because I didn't think I'd finish. And just like that, I was done. I crossed at 28:49:05 for 100.2 miles.

It was over then. They gave me water and a medal and weighed me a final time, I weighed exactly what I had at check in Friday morning. I walked over to some buckets of ice and took my shoes and socks off. A volunteer who was spraying off my feet asked if I wanted to see the podiatrist, the podiatrist told me to avoid socks and wear flip flops I would be fine in a few days time.Then Scott went to get my flip flops from the car and Sue, Todd and Eli went to settle into the award ceremony tent and I sat down on the field of the Placer High School track and tried to soak in the moment. Instead of emotion a wave of exhaustion and soreness began to move in. I walked painfully to the tent where they were seated and I couldn't believe I'd finished the race I could barely walk now that I'd given my body permission to stop.

It was about this time that Sue gave me my phone and I started to read and reveice all of the congratulatory messages from my friends and family back home, this more than actually finishing the race, was honestly the highlight of the finish for me. I hadn't realized just how closely people were following my progress, hadn't realized that Charlie Peele and then others had posted the Ultralive feed for others to follow. Despite feeling like my legs were just going to fall off at the hip sockets I felt pretty high there for a moment.

For the next hour we sat in the shade in and out of sleep, Sue and Eli brought me breakfast and Todd water. David Horton came by to congratulate me and give me a hard time about eating and not being trained better, but there was also an honest happiness for me in his words. I remember when the final runner came onto the track the clock read 30:01, I remember that the crowd gathered under the tent, those runners waiting to receive their buckles and their families and crews, they all joined in giving the runner a standing ovation. He would not be buckled. Everyone of us felt it and it was then that the feat of what I had endured gently washed over me and the emotions briefly but greatly spread through me.

Shortly afterward Todd told me I could go spend a fortune in the Fleet Feet running store set up on the field that sold Western States gear. Call me an absolute fool but I wanted that bumper sticker that said 100.2. However, getting up and walking to the car proved entirely troublesome. Sue agreed to go with me but halfway to the car nausea and the pain in my feet made me sit down. She went to the car and got my wallet and it took me even longer to make it back to the track. I just sat down again. My feet hurt so bad I didn't want to walk the extra 200 yards to get my bumper sticker. A half hour later Todd helped me over to the store and I got a little bit of Western States gear. Literally I sat on the field and he graciously went through and showed me items. He was really sweet about it.

And then we moved back slowly to our spot under the tent and watched every runner, even some of those who didn't finish officially finish, get recognized for their acheivements. Every runner was asked to come up and individually receive their buckly. There were several people waiting to shake every runner's hand including Andy Jones Wilkins and Tim Tweitmeyer. I was really touched by that. And then I got 'buckled'.

Over the rest of the day the exhaustion and pain overtook me, I ate little and definitely didn't stay on hydration like I should have. By 8 pm we were all asleep in the hotel room.

The next morning I was feeling physically better already but the negative numbingness was already setting in, I should have eaten more, spent less time at aid stations, fought harder through the pain. Fortunatetly, Todd reminded me of this quote:

"Your days are short here; this is the last of your springs. And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place, touch the depths of truth, feel the hem of Heaven. You will go away with old, good friends. And don't forget when you leave why you came."   -Adlai Stevenson

You see I went to Western States to finish. I wanted to see if I could walk willingly into something that completely frightened me, something that seemed impossible and then see it through. Looking back I can easily identify a mistake or two that was made, primarily not eating enough, not keeping my feet dry enough and spending too much time at aid stations but there was no mistake in my being there. I look forward to an opportunity to go back stronger, more self-assured and re-test myself against the High Sierras but for now finishing will do.

"For the Western States 100 is terribly honest in its demands and rewards. During these two-dozen hours in the wilderness we will be governed apart from the world of political favors, hidden agendas, and orchestrated cheers. Our number – which includes woodsmen, ranchers, nurses, investment bankers, mechanics and computer engineers – will all be measured on the same scale. We will test ourselves against the mountains." Antonio Rossman

I am feeling pretty good today, my muscles are at the surface recovered, my feet nearly so and my ankle waiting on a run to deliver the final word on its progress. In testing myself against the mountains I didn't come up as strong as I'd hoped, but I've yet to determine if it was primarily a lack of training, inexperience or a mental fortitude deficit. I do know one thing quite completely, I have at least another hundred miler in my bones though not one on the schedule...yet.

In closing I want to thank the Aid Station for their sponsorship, my friends and family for their support, my mother-in-law for taking wonderful care of our children and home while we were away, for my amazing crew, Scott, Sue and Eli who did more than I'm sure they really realize and for Todd whom without I most certainly wouldn't have finished as he kept me moving forward towards Auburn.