2005 Western States 100 Race Report

Executive Summary: I run my normal conservative pace early and work up to 15th by Michigan Bluff (55 miles) and into 9th just past Green Gate (80 miles). A bad patch between 83-91 miles slows me down and I fall back to 11th before rallying to finish strong in 18:25, a 21 minute PR, in 10th place. No puking, no getting “chicked”, great quads, great pacing, great crew (without my wife for the first time), great competition, lots of crying.

Training: Low snow in Oregon means less ski patrolling and more running in the winter. I ramp up a little earlier and get real fit in March before succumbing to the flu which whacks me hard. I spend lots of time on the trail again including a 161 mile week in Michigan Bluff at the end of April (Blichigan Muff Caning Tramp) running with my Eugene and some of my California buddies. I was fortunate to have a great group of training partners for weekly speed and tempo work this year (Ed Willson, Jeff Riley, Tom Atkins). Training is fun! A double crossing of the Grand Canyon with my Arizona friend Mike in June and a couple of other runs in the 90+ degree AZ heat and then taper time.

Pre-Race: Ed Willson, John Ticer and I rent a condo in Alpine Meadows and it is packed with our crews and pacers. We do the hike up Emigrant Pass on Thursday and John and his brother Jim carry a flag in honor of their father who passed away just weeks ago (first bout of crying). The three Eugene runners participate in the pain study and my body fat is measured the highest at 24% and then again at 18%, earning me the new nickname “Chub”. By my calculations that’s about 27 pounds of fat to use as fuel tomorrow. That evening Ed reads a 2001 speech that Jeff Johnson gave to the Border Clash cross country runners. Very inspiring (second bout of crying). My brother Chris shows us 418 slides of his recent climb up Denali. There is a palpable feeling of strength in the room. 30 below 0? Bring on Western States!

The Race: The field this year is as deep as I’ve seen it. 25-30 guys on paper could be in the top 10. The 10-12 miles of snow in the high country add a new dimension missing the last few years. Some guys are falling all over the place while others are not. Many times I’m stopped and looking for the trail. Overall, I think it slows me down about 15-20 minutes. It is a relatively cool day and I am able to catch up to last year’s splits later in the day. I don’t find out what place I’m in until Michigan Bluff and there are three of us together in 15th, 16th, and 17th.

Taking my sit-down break in Michigan Bluff (55 miles)

Taking my sit-down break in Michigan Bluff (55 miles)

I’m feeling great when I pick up Chris in Foresthill (62 miles) and we begin running Cal St with Twietmeyer. I’m running the downhills on this section like I have never done before on race day and it feels great. Chris and I pass a couple of guys below Cal 2 (70 miles) the way I usually get passed by Dave Terry – running about twice as fast as them! We run Cal St in 2:44 (goal was 2:45), cross the river (78 miles) in 11th place and Chris and I are just psyched as I love the section after the river. The rest of my crew meets us at the river bottom and Gary tells me that there are 5 guys in front of me within 20 minutes – that’s half the field! Jeff takes over pacing and after walking with my crew and consuming a Mtn Dew we begin to run/walk to Green Gate. We leave Green Gate and Jeff asks me if I saw Richtman sitting in the chair? Nope. He was. We’re in 10th. Bummer for Mark.

Cruising into Foresthill (62 miles) with Gary, Greyson, and Chris

We’re moving well and soon catch Jim Huffman and Jeff says 8th is just ahead. We pass Jim rather quickly but it wakes him up and he just hangs with us. Be patient I tell myself. But a mile or so later I’m running low on energy and he passes me back. Damn, back to 10th. One of the things I try to do when racing is to not project how the rest of the race will go either from a valley (a low period that I’m now in) or a peak (the I can conquer the world feeling I had climbing to Green Gate). The stomach is not very receptive to the Clif Shots I’m trying to consume and I had already switched to water alone at Foresthill so keeping the energy level up is a challenge.

We trudge into ALT (85 miles) and soup and coke is all I can touch. The next 5 miles are not very pretty running for me. I had hoped to run this in about 45 minutes but that ain’t happening. We get by one runner that is walking to move us back into 9th – that was easy. But before Brown’s Bar (90 miles) we get passed by Twiet to move back into 10th. At Brown’s I get two cups of soup and a cup of coke and am hoping it will stay down. It took about an hour to run that 5 miles. Ugh! When we get to the river bottom we hear voices behind us. Jeff looks back and all he sees is a green light – must be a glow stick. But all of a sudden we have company. It is the wily veteran Tom Nielson going stealth (lights off) and his pacer with a deceptive green headlamp. Man, these guys have tricks up their sleeves. I’m now in 11th.

The soup is kicking in and we try to maintain contact with Tom but are 2 minutes back at Hwy 49 crossing (93 miles). Chris tells me Tom is 2 minutes up and Dean is 4 up. I felt a strange sense of responsibility to my crew and pacers to run hard this last section to get back into the top 10. My energy is back up. My quads are great. Let’s get it done. We’re hammering the troughy, tricky downhill to No Hands Bridge (96 miles) as well as I have ever in the race. Just before the bridge we finally see a light and I’m guessing it is Dean. It’s not until we are just on top of them that I realize it is Twiet. Damn, I didn’t want to do this to him again (recall last year he finished M11 behind me to not make the top 10). I apologized as I passed and he made some comment about how he expected me to pass him on this “horsey” trail or something like that referring to the technical rough trail. Maybe trying to hang with Andy JW on the downs in training is paying off?

We cross No Hands Bridge and still have 42 minutes of work left. Jeff wants to reflect on the day and I have to stop him and tell him the race is not over. We’ve got several guys behind us that could pass us like Tom did. I felt a little bad for Jeff but it really was too early to reflect. Luckily, nobody else catches us. The 300 meters on the track was sweet. We run 1:17 from highway 49. Finish time is 18:25:41. A 21 minute PR and another automatic entry into next year’s race.

Problems: Gu2O becomes intolerable by Foresthill (62 miles). Not sure why as I have trained and raced with it. It was a different flavor and it tasted strong???? Without calories from GU2O coming in keeping the energy level up was a challenge and cost me some time late in the race. Running on the snow made for some interesting muscle contractions and left me wondering what was going on in my legs on the dry terrain.

Waiting for Ed: I don’t want to get sappy here and this is a race report about my race not Ed’s, but the day would not end until I watched my friend get his buckle. I spent 6 months training with this old guy and we’ve become great friends. He’s only got one eye and a stride that looks like he’s hopping over newts but he has a heart that is big enough for all of us. He took a leave of absence from work to get a buckle that says “One Day” on it. Where is he? As 5:00am approaches, Jeff and I are getting worried. We walk up the course away from the track and right about the time we’re convinced there is no chance of breaking 24 we see something coming down the street. Then we hear Curt. Oh my god, it is them. We are yelling and screaming as it is 4:57am. I can’t keep up as they hammer on the track to a 23:58:23 finish. This is the crying bout to end all crying bouts. Thanks, Ed.

Reflection: I told several people before the race that “States Day” is the best day of the year for me. My whole running year is focused on this day. As somebody suggested before the race, it is my Christmas. I’ve run on the track, 10Ks and marathons on the roads, 50Ks and 50 milers on trails, and a couple of other 100 milers during my 25 years of running, but nothing comes close to Western States.

Pacers/Crewmembers Jeff and Chris with mom

Pacers/Crewmembers Jeff and Chris with mom

My crew (Chris, Jeff, Gary, Lynn, Greyson) was awesome. Their enthusiasm and dedication helped me late when I was digging for strength. My wife missed this one because of work and I was a little concerned about not having her there. Chris stepped up to the role of crew chief and did all I could have asked for. Thanks, bro.

You know where I’ll be next June 24.

Craig Thornley
Eugene, Oregon
July, 2005

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