I could summarize my 2002 Western States 100 run as solid. Not bad, but not exceptional. Finished in 19:44 in 15th place overall and 13th male. The field was very good, building upon last year and approaching the depth of fields seen in the 80s. My time this year would have placed me in the top ten six times out of the last ten years (as high as4th), 11th three times and 12th last year. So even though I fell short of my goal to be in the top ten, considering the competition I am proud of the effort.
I corrected every mistake I made from the year before. That half-hour pedicure I gave myself the night before the race paid off. No blisters until after the river crossing at mile 78 and then those weren’t very bad at all. (I taped all toes and the balls of my feet with elastikon and I switched to a shoe with a softer toebox, the Diablos, thanks to Nate). Stomach was solid the whole way. Hydration and electrolytes were consistent throughout and I finished the race at the same weight I started at: a buck forty one.
What did I eat and drink? Of course I had 3 cans of pork and beans. But also lots of watermelon and other fruits, clif bars, gu, a turkey sandwich, several mountain dews, 4 or 5 cups of soup or broth (thanks to the California guys for suggesting this). I carried two big 26 oz bottles the whole way (well, until dark at least, which came at Auburn Lake Trails). One with water for dousing and drinking and the other with either water or half-strength gatorade. Electrolyte cap consumption was on the light side at probably around 10-12. Only once did I feel the pre-cramp muscles twinges when I was running 8 minute pace through Foresthill (that’s fast for you non ultra runners reading this, especially at 60 miles).
My crew was much improved from last year, and they were very good last year. Laurie and Chris (the bro) were the primary crew members. Gary and Lynn went to Dusty Corners. Others in the crew included my mom, my niece, and friend Greyson who had never seen anything like this before and was more along for the ride and to take pictures [All pictures on this page are his]. They were aggressive at suggesting food, liquids, sun screen, salt, ice, etc. They anticipated my needs very well and each time I saw them I got and left with exactly what I needed, except at Michigan Bluff. I left with one water and one half-gatorade – which I asked for. Should have had two waters as this was the only time on the course that it felt hot and I was out of dousing water on the climb up to see Clem and the SOB gang at Bath Rd.
Gary paced from Foresthill to Highway 49 (93 miles) and Chris from there to the finish. They were both awesome. I wish I could have pushed harder at the end and caught five more for them but it just didn’t happen. The guys and gals in front were moving well, too. When Gary and I would catch someone (we left Foresthill in 20th place) he would get so excited. And Chris so badly wanted to see lights ahead that we could catch on the uphill to Robie Pt (where we caught the last person I was to pass last year). But no lights – just those friggin’ glo sticks that we thought were lights countless times.
So why the heck didn’t I run faster? The downhills. Much to my suprise the only thing that went wrong were the quads. They got pretty worked. I could tell they were getting worked in the canyons and I definitely ran better on the downhills in the canyons this year. I did probably run a little too hard in the early downhill miles trying hang in with the fast pack, but I think I just suck on the downhills. Let me power walk up a hill anytime. In fact, the first time I saw Emma Davies (2nd woman, 9th overall) was when she passed me going down to Deadwood Canyon. She was floating effortlessly down the steep stuff. I passed her and Dean Karnazes on the power walk up to Devil’s Thumb. They, of course, passed me going down into the next canyon. Over and over all day long. The worst was Cal St. That is where I got passed by four people, including a fast charging Dave Terry who awoke from the depths of hell at Bath Rd. Ended up catching three of them walking out of the river but never could catch Dave as we ran close to the same pace from the river in.
Again, I had lots of people out there watching and supporting me and many watching the webcast from home. I thank all of you and hopefully next year we will crack into that elusive top ten. Wow. That wasn’t nearly as long as last year’s report. Dave Terry told me before the race that there is nothing like your first year. I guess even the reports are never the same either.
Craig Thornley, July 2002
A pacer’s perspective, by Gary Stott
I have prepared the following post race write up with the intention of sharing my perspective as a crew member and pacer. Imagine for a moment you’re in my shoes and a good friend with great running credentials throughout all the distances from 10K up to 100M approaches you to help with crew and pacing duties for one of the premiere 100M trail events in the world! You see a guy like me who rarely has been anywhere near the top standings and will never be mistaken for an elite athlete all of a sudden has the opportunity to be in the thick of a race with a legitimate shot at the top ten! I’m not suggesting this race is mine, what I am suggesting is the role of a crew member and pacer should not be taken lightly when your runner is racing the 100M distance, they’ve put trust in you to be there regardless of the good or bad. So in a way it’s natural to want to take some ownership in the race as well. With that being said here goes.
Ultra Running’s premier 100 mile trail event, Western States, is held each year at the end of June, but not before a lottery drawing held the previous December determines who will be granted the privilege to toe the line in 2002. Runners from all over the world seek admission into the race having previously qualified at 50M, 100K or 100M distances and of all the entries only 425 bib numbers are handed out through the lottery while an additional 20 slots are assigned to the top male and female finishers from the previous year. So, if you failed to finish in the top ten the previous year then the first Saturday of December, when the lottery drawing takes place, can be a real nail biter for anxious runners awaiting word of whether or not they’ve been invited to the start. As luck would have it, the 2001 lottery was kind to our good friend Craig Thornley as his name was drawn from the hat and thus his full-blown preparation for WS 2002 was under way.
In 2001, Craig’s debut at Western States, he finished in 16th place overall, 14th male in an impressive time of 20:20. This year he began to prep himself to run smarter, faster, and eliminate the mistakes from the year before and put himself in a position through hard work to improve upon his time, move up in the standings and ultimately earn a spot in the top ten. Craig let me be a part of his preparation this year and again asked for my assistance in crew and pacing duties and so I too began the process of preparing for WS as a friend, occasional training partner, confidant and fellow running geek capable of talking the talk but not necessarily walking the talk as I have limited experience at the long distances. One thing that is for certain is I have always been a sports buff interested in individual athletic endeavors, but I’m mostly enamored with the endurance athlete especially those willing to race a long distance rather than to be content with merely finishing the distance. I was stoked for the chance to be part of Craig’s race because I knew he would be up front where the action is, probably not in the front going for the win but definitely a legitimate contender for a place in the top ten.
The 29th running of the Western Sates 100 Mile Endurance run began at 5:00 am sharp the 29th of June at Squaw Valley CA. This year’s field was loaded with talented runners who have continually proven themselves in distances ranging from 50K to 100 miles. Entered in the race was something like 8 runners who had won a 100 mile event in the last year plus the field was chock full of a bunch of crazy fast runners at the 50M distance capable of blistering the course. The day would certainly promise to hold some excitement.
Throughout the 100 miles the Western States course has some of the most well stocked and staffed aid stations in all of ultra running, however many runners make use of two separate crews during the race so they can receive aid and support multiple times during the day. In Craig’s case he had assigned Laurie (wife) Chris (bro) and Mom, some of you may have heard her (her enthusiasm is rarely matched when it comes to supporting her son), to go to the Robinson Flat aid station at mile 24 and again to Michigan Bluff mile 55. Lynn, Greyson and I were the second crew assigned to Dusty Corners aid station at mile 38. There’s not much of a chance one crew can make it to mile 24 and 38 when your runner is covering ground at the rate Craig is so we split into two groups and would all meet up later at the Foresthill aid station at mile 62.
As a crew member in a 100 mile race you have plenty of time throughout the day to wonder what is going on with the race especially when your first update of the race doesn’t take place until 38 miles into it. It’s really kind of crazy to think the front runners are going to come through the 38 mile aid station about 5 1/2 to 6 hours into a 100 mile race. For those of you who know me as numbers guy, well I’m here to state I damn near drove myself crazy with over analyzing what might be taking place up front in the race. You see, Craig had a game plan well mapped out with regards to splits but we never talked about what place he might be in early in the race. His plan from the beginning was to run his race and if he were able to execute his game plan he would run about 18:30 which would put him into the Dusty around 11:15 am. Well I’m watching runners pour in and I don’t see Craig, but I’m not worried because he has a plan and sure enough at 11:13 am here comes Craig looking relaxed and strong. He takes aid in the form of his favorite Pork N Beans, fills one of his bottles with ice and water and the other 1/2 strength Gatorade mixture and he’s off around the corner but not before Nate McDowell soaks him down with cool water. Craig leaves Dusty Corners in about 25th place.
This year we had the chance to be part of several different runners’ game plans thanks to Kevin Myers who brainstormed the idea of Team Oregon. Kevin arranged for the printing of shirts titled Team Oregon and listed on the back in bold letters the bib # and name of all the Oregon runners who made it to the starting line; the Oregon contingent numbered 21 in all. The three of us hung around to give aid and support to Kevin, Michael Christiansen, and John Pearch and a whole host of other runners before we packed up and headed out to the next aid station.
We arrived back in Foresthill, a small mountain community that plays host to the 62 mile aid station. The place is crawling with activity, as this is the first point runners are allowed to pick up their pacers (if they choose). I am to begin my duties as a pacer here sometime around 4:00 provided Craig is still on pace to finish in 18:30. Again I’m left with a couple hours before Craig shows so I am naturally trying to analyze what might be taking place out on the course. My thoughts turn to how is he dealing with the heat, is he getting enough food and liquid, how are his feet doing, and the list goes on. There are places on the course where Ham radio operators are in contact with the various aid stations but for emergency purposes only, not for broadcasting race standings, so keeping abreast of the race is difficult. I try to relax by curling up in the shade and taking a nap but I can’t quite let myself go, I’m just too pumped to want to help Craig get to Placer High Stadium (the finish) before 12:00 am (19 hours). I’m scheduled to accompany Craig to the Hwy 49 aid station at mile 93.5 where I will then hand over the pacer’s bib and duties to the “Bro” (Craig’s true confidant and support), brother Chris, but not before I have many miles and many hours in his company. This year I have a better understanding of what my role is as a pacer, besides, Craig has a goal as do I and I’m ready to get after it. Last year I helped Craig from Foresthill to the River Crossing (mile 78) and I wasn’t quite prepared for how Craig reacted with low blood sugar and his almost beyond help blistered feet. Further, I was challenged by my lack of training for dealing with his stint of negativity and lack of focus (only 1 hour) but this year I was ready.
It’s 4:15pm and here Craig comes running into the aid station. He jumps on the scales for the mandatory weigh in and he is off and headed for the aid station exit where I am to join him. Craig looks great, smiling even, unlike last year when he came in at 4:40 with mangled meat for feet
and took a chair while a podiatrist lanced his blisters and put him back together. This year he is cruising out faster than he came in! We stop briefly just out of the aid station on Cal Street to pick up some GU and exchange water bottles and then we’re off. I can hardly contain myself. Craig is 35 minutes ahead of last year and in 20th place, his feet are in great shape and we’re off to the River Crossing, a mere 16 miles and 2500′ below. Craig has been eating well all day, he’s lucid and ready to go, and we’re just a little behind schedule but still on sub 19 hour pace!
This season part of Craig’s training was focused on improving his downhill running so he might be better able to hang with the Californians and or more importantly make up time on the downhill portion of the course from Foresthill to the River Crossing (Ruck-a-Chuck). Last year Craig and I took 3 hours and 18 minutes to get to the river, this year we had a goal of 2:45. We started out of Foresthill leaps and bounds faster than last year, possibly due to the fact Craig was running on whole feet. We were cruising along making decent time when all of a sudden here comes the Japanese runner, Tan Ghoon Ghee, blowing by us, and not long after we were passed by Dave Terry, Dean Karnazes and Simon Muty who came smoking by us like we were by standers. Neither of us were too bothered by the recent developments as we both kind of thought they were possibly moving way too fast to keep up that kind of pace. Besides, I know there aren’t many runners out there who can walk uphill as fast as Craig, especially 80 miles into a race and I knew we had the big climb out of the river coming before too long. Sticking to our schedule we figured we would eventually catch and or pass one or more of them so we kept plugging away. Sure enough, every aid station we caught up with Dean who was taking time to fuel and cool off with a sponge bath but every downhill we would encounter he would pass us. Craig was just not able to respond on the downhills. Maybe the aggressive early pace in the race was the reason for trashed quads, maybe not enough rest before hand. I’m not sure why but this never caused Craig to waffle. I kept thinking I might have to muster up the support and encouragement to keep him going while runners kept blowing by us on the downhills, but this time never came. Instead he remained focused and looked forward to putting his great talents of hill climbing and relentless forward motion to use. His time would come, we just had to get to the river.
Enroute to the river we passed our first runner on the Cal Street loop in two years, damn near cause for celebration! We arrived at the River Crossing (mile 78) at 7:30 PM with a split time of 3:15, only 3 minutes faster than last year and a far cry away from our goal of 2:45. At this point Craig needed a spark and he got one because we came in right on the heels of Simon, Tan and Dean. There is something in that American River water because once we got out of the water on the far side I stopped to fill bottles and when I turned around Craig was gone. I really didn’t think Craig had the strength to run the hill out of the river (very few have) but when I looked around and he was so far out of sight I was left to figure he had begun running. I was forced to run several hundred yards before I caught up with him. The guy was power walking up hill at an alarming pace and had literally walked away from the other three runners. One important note is we arrived at the River Crossing 38 minutes ahead of last year, which means we were going to be further down the course in daylight hours. Here I was all prepared to charge the guy up and all of a sudden I realized my role was going to be greatly diminished with regards to affecting the outcome of Craig’s race. Sure I was along for support but I soon realized as part of Craig’s preparation he had placed himself in a position of self-reliance and to trust his strengths; he wasn’t going to need much help from me. He was well on his way to executing a great race.
At the Green Gate aid station (mile 80) we said goodbye to our crew who had made the climb out of the river with us and we were off and running. For many of us, executing a plan to run a distance greater than 20 miles takes some preparation and mental focus. We had 20 miles left and here was Craig treating it like we had only a short ways to go! Craig is teaching me more of what it takes to tackle the 100M distance and as part of his lesson he put his head down, confidant all the while that if we continued to plug along we would catch a faltering runner. At this point in the race we were back in 17th position, having picked off one runner and catching three of the four who passed us on Cal Street, in addition accounting for another runner dropping at the river. Both of us kept thinking back to last year when after many miles of going forward runners began to come back to us. Well, we still adhered to this line of thinking but we weren’t seeing anyone coming back. We arrived at the Browns Bar aid station at mile 90 and we gained yet another spot when we passed Hal Koerner taking up space in a chair. I was getting pretty excited that we finally began to climb up the ladder (now 16th). We charged out of the aid station having learned we were only a few minutes behind Joseph Kulak and fueled by the possibility of picking up another spot. It wasn’t long, maybe 2 miles and all of a sudden we were right on the tail of Kulak when he caught sight of our lights and before we knew it the guy was gone. We must have lit a fire under his ass because he flat out dropped us and we were never to see his lights or his pacer’s again.
We cruised into the Hwy 49 crossing about 11:12 pm, off our goal pace of 18:30 by more than an hour, but well on track for a sub 20 hr finish. Chris took over the pacing duties and I busily went in search of info on where the other runners were. The information I got was a bit sketchy. I did learn Rich Hanna had dropped here so we were now in 15th place and possibly only a few minutes back of a couple runners. I was stoked all over again especially knowing Chris was armed with the same info, perhaps even more accurate than what I was fed, so maybe Craig was in a position to pick up a few more slots and possibly get into the top 10 men. At this point two women, Ann Trason and Emma Davies were out in front. Craig more than once made the comment he wished there were more women in front so he would have a shot at the automatic berth into next years race!
Lynn picked me up at Hwy 49 and we caught the shuttle back to Cool and our truck. We then drove to the finish, got lost and spent most of what little time we had left before Craig finished, trying to find the stadium. We arrived just in time to watch Craig come across the finish line in 19:44 in 15th place overall and 13th male! Craig set a PR on this course, and only the elite few (Sweet 16 to be exact) would finish under 20 hours! Certainly something to be proud of! I sure am.
Gary Stott, July 2002