2010 Western States 100 Race Report

Coming out of El Dorado Canyon (55 miles)

Coming out of El Dorado Canyon (55 miles)

“No IV,” I told the medical volunteers at highway 49 as I stumbled into the 93 mile aid station with Ticer at about 11:30pm and tried to balance on the scale.  I didn’t want to disqualify myself by getting an IV even though two liters of saline and an antiemetic sounded really tempting.  With those I could probably be feeling good enough to eat a cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake within half an hour.  Without them I would have to fix things through my stomach.  Yuk.

90 minutes earlier I violently puked the pepsi and broth I had put in at Brown’s Bar aid station (mile 89.9).  Didn’t seem like I was there for very long, but suddenly tons of runners were going past me as I sat in a chair puking with my head down. I was still competitive since I noticed and cared that I was getting passed.  A volunteer asked if I needed medical help but I declined and decided to leave before too many more runners came by.   I have puked before in 100s and have always been able to get my stomach back together with crackers, 7-up, broth, potato soup, S-caps, gel or water.   With those experiences and the fact that Brown’s Bar is just not a place I want to sit as the music is loud, the trail is narrow, and my crew is less than 4 miles away, I made the decision to leave Brown’s Bar with crackers and water.  I hoped I could get a gel, some water, and some salt in before highway 49, get my act together there and then finish this 100 miler in about 19:30.  There were only 10 miles left and I had been running pretty good splits for most of the day, including a solid 2:57 on Cal St with Chris.  But, I had been on minimal calories since the river crossing (78 miles) as the stomach just wasn’t real happy.  Consequently, my pace had slowed as the last fumes in the tank were being used up.

Crossing the American River by raft (mile 78)

Crossing the American River by raft (mile 78)

“Not good,” I said to the nurse at highway 49 aid station after we saw 146 on the scale and she asked me how I was feeling (I had been between 150-151 most of the day with a Friday start weight of 149).  The last few miles from Brown’s Bar went from bad to really bad.  I ran out of power and was staggering up the hill from the Quarry Rd.  I was light headed and I told Ticer I wanted to lie down on the trail.  LIE DOWN ON THE TRAIL!  While I have paced a couple of runners that have done that, I had never considered doing it myself.  But there I was, ready to just take a nap a 1/2 mile from an aid station with all sorts of resources, including my crew.  I didn’t want to put anything in my stomach.  I just wanted to lie down.  Less than 8 miles from the finish and I wanted to lie down?  This was bizarre.

My wife Laurie was there and she went back to what we learned from Dave Terry years ago: Volume, Electrolytes, Calories – in that order.   But things weren’t that simple.  I got in a chair where I could put my feet up to get my blood pressure up (volume). They took my vitals lying down and bp was 149/74 with a pulse of 74.  My respirations were shallow and rapid but my mental status was ok.  I got some tingling in my feet and hands probably because of the hyperventilating. Perhaps my blood sugar was low but they didn’t measure it.  I soon chilled down and had multiple blankets on me.  Soup, 7-up, mountain dew, ice water – nothing sounded good.  I did nibble on some crackers but that was about it.  I transferred to the dreaded cot so I could lie completely flat.  I have been on the other side of this many times but this was a first for me being the guy in the cot.  Humbling.  They took my vitals sitting up and I was 112/64 with a pulse of 72.  Ticer, a paramedic and my pacer many times, couldn’t figure out what was going on.  The doctor and nurses didn’t even want to try a standing set of vitals as the difference was too great between lying and sitting and standing was likely to be much lower.  This was not me.  I’ve always been able to just get something to fix my problems, move on and push to the finish.  Something was just not right metabolically and with all the experience and knowledge around me we just couldn’t figure out a quick fix.

My crazy brother/pacer/crew Chris and his gong at Emigrant Pass.

My crazy brother/pacer/crew Chris and his gong at Emigrant Pass.

The next 90 minutes were frustrating for my crew.  I didn’t know whether to drop or continue. I had 5 1/2 hours to get a silver buckle, 11 1/2 hours to get a yellow one (that would be bronze not gold, Katie).  I was getting stiff, cold and my stomach wasn’t improving.  I was asking for everybody’s opinion on what I should do.   What was best for the race?  Continuing on, risking a repeat of what I just went through and stopping somewhere between aid stations where medical/race resources would need to be used to get me out?  Honoring and respecting the race and competitors by walking in?  What was best for me physiologically?  Was this just a fuel, dehydration or sodium problem or was there something else going on?  Why was my breathing so shallow and rapid?  What was best for my crew and pacer?  Sit and wait?  Pack up and drive to the finish?  My crew was divided.  Some wanted me to make a decision, others wanted me to just chill out, rest or take an 8 hour nap if needed and walk it in.  Maybe the rest alone would allow my body to reset itself.  No reason to make a decision now, my wife reiterated several times.  I was talking, air was going in and out and blood was going round and round.  Quads and kidneys were fine.  The latter sounded like the way I should go, but I wasn’t doing anything to get fuel or fluid in so that added to the frustration for the crew who had to just sit there and wait.  I also considered my quest for 10 finishes, the ten-year bet with AJW and the penalty of 32 hours for a DNF here (100/93 x 30 hours), the Pickle Puff bet with Alan.  The efforts of my crew and pacers to get here.  Lots to consider.

So I just continued to take up space on the cot. Nothing they offered me sounded or tasted good: potato soup, 7-up, ice water, mountain dew.  Eventually an ER doc offered me Peppermint Altoids.  I ate them.   Did he think I had bad breath?  He then gave me some glucose tablets.  I ate them.   He gave me more Altoids.  I asked him if he wanted to kiss me but I got little reaction from him.  I then suggested if he french kiss me he might be able to get some gel off my teeth from Robinson Flat. Similar to Shannon Weil collecting rocks from the different landmarks on the course and adding them to the Watson Monument, he could get gel off my teeth from different places on the course.  I still had my sense of humor so I couldn’t have been that bad.  I then drank a cup of potato soup.  Then another.  Then water.  Not exactly in the Dave Terry order, but things were starting to go and stay down.   I noticed people coming into the aid station.  I saw Alan and offered him a spot on the chair next to me.   He declined.  Laurie was talking to her brother in Colorado who was watching the live feed at the finish and I heard that Meghan was on the track finishing 2nd woman. Sweet!

The medical folks weren’t going to let me leave until I peed, so I sat up and I filled a cup.  No muscle damage.  No kidney danger.  I talked on the phone with AJW who was at the finish and he gave me encouragement and told me he’d see me at the finish.  I sat up and they took my blood pressure again.  Similar to the last about 112/68.  A big drop from lying down.  As though my volume were still low or my body couldn’t compensate when my legs were lower than my heart.   My legs were stiff and I got cold again.  I lied back down and sipped on more water and ate more crackers.  Still didn’t want to drink anything sweet, but I thought I got enough calories and fluid in to walk it in.  I had a feeling that if I started running again that I might go right back to where I was so I asked Ticer if he could maintain a 25 minute mile walking pace.  He was still not convinced I should go on, but he was the only one who saw me stumbling 90 minutes earlier and he didn’t want a repeat of that.  Me either.  I got up and we did a test walk.  It was ugly and probably hard to tell the difference between hypoglycemic and stiff-leg stumbling.  But off we went.

It was yet another new experience for me to walk in and not care about being passed.  I thought about running when we reached the meadow but we decided not to.  The competitive mode was gone and I was walking in to get a finish – safely.  It was actually kinda of fun to talk to my friends as they passed me.  John Price came up behind me and asked what my finish time was.  I told him I didn’t know as it was still 6 miles away.  He thought I had finished the race and come back out to pace somebody in.  Nope, John, you’re passing me.  People cheered just as much or maybe even more than when I’ve run 18 hours.  It was pretty darn cool.   Tom Nielsen and his pacer Tracy Moore passed me near Robie Pt.  They were laughing and joking and were so positive.  All my crew and some of Meghan’s joined me the last mile.  We jogged when we hit the white bridge and the reaction from people just continued to amaze me.  It didn’t matter that I was finishing three or four hours slower than I expected, I was finishing.  I saw Meghan on the track and I stopped and gave her a congratulatory hug 50 meters from the finish line.  Medinger was on the PA and reminded me, “It’s a race, Thornley.”  I finished in 22:17.  The slowest of my seven finishes by two hours but the silver buckle looks just like my others.

At the finish

At the finish

Do I ever want to finish like this again?  No.  Do I know what was going on physiologically?  Nope.  My body was whacked.  Sodium level at the finish was 138 so I was not classified as hyponatremic.  Weight was 147.5.  Not a significant weightloss.  I ran hard at least through 80 miles, slowed a little between 80 and 90, puked and totally crapped out about mile 92, stumbled to 93, lied on a cot for 90 minutes, then walked the last 7.  I broke my rule of sleeping before eating and peeing but it was almost the next day and I still didn’t feel like taking anything with calories.  I was able to eat and drink on Sunday and didn’t require any medical assistance.

We waited on the track for our friend Tbag to finish his first 100.  Word was that his toe, which had started bothering him a few weeks before the race, was bad.  He had a splint made at Michigan Bluff that fit into his shoe.  He tried to quit at Foresthill. The aid station captain wouldn’t cut his wristband.  “99% percent of you still works,” he was told by the captain.  So walk he did.  Could he walk 38 miles and still finish?  He tried.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t walk fast enough to stay ahead of the 30 hour cutoffs.  He drank a beer at Brown’s Bar when he knew he couldn’t make it but he was told to continue on.  He saw motorcyclists and other motorheads playing across the river in the Sunday morning sun.  He saw morning joggers with their dogs and clean smelling bodies.  He had been moving for 29 hours, they for 30 minutes.  He got caught by the sweeps on horseback.  He was the last runner on the course.  Still, he walked.

The Splint

The Splint

We got the call from his pacer, Jeff, that he missed the cutoff at highway 49, where I sat for 90 minutes the night before.  I listened to Jeff describe what Tbag had gone through.  That he walked with him for 14 hours with his splinted toe.  I talked with Tbag and told him about my race.  How in the hell do I complain about my 22:17 when my friend walked from Foresthill only to get pulled from the race at mile 93?  I started crying.  This is a crazy thing we do.  I was so proud of him for trying.  For his pacer Jeff and his crew for staying up all night and helping him try to get to the finish.  It’s a humbling thing to run a 100 miler.   I vow to not take it for granted.


  1. Awesome effort Craig! Sometimes our worst days require the most of us physically and psychologically. I still laugh at myself for being absolutely convinced that you had already finished and had come out to 49 to help someone else-just seemed natural that Thornley would do something crazy like that!

  2. It’s a humbling thing indeed. Staying in the morning at the finish line, I felt extremely ashamed of any sad feelings I ever had while finishing a 100, but not in a time I wanted. It hasn’t happened too many times, but it did. I vowed to remember to never take the finish for granted. To never take a start,a fight for granted either.
    Congratualtions, Craig. Well done. Nothing sweeter than crossing that line.

  3. Another inspiring race report to add to the many others Craig. I was there when you stood on the scales wobbling. Then being transfered from the chair to the cot. I believe that all of us that were surrounding the cot knew that some way, no matter what, you would get to the finish line, even if you had to crawl. I watched John’s face as he had to be wondering how in the hell is Craig going to get to the stadium? Very humbling experience indeed. Congrats to you!

  4. This is a great story. You experienced a huge and total bonk and still finished way below the Buckle threshold. As Ronda the Rooster said just a week ago, there are no guarantees in a 100, even after you have done a bunch. That is probably part of the reason for doing them. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Craig-

    Rising from the cot after 2+ hours horizontal with fully blown quads at Hwy 49 to get my first 100 finish in ’02(after 2 DNF’s in ’98 & ’99 at AC) was what makes that year memorable to me and why I still bring stories up from it. I have lots of stories from the AC DNF’s as well but I never really talk about them anymore. Why? Because the impact is totally lost when they are followed by “yeah, well I still ended up dropping at such and such place.”
    After another epic last 30 miles this past weekend it is becoming painfully obvious to me that, as Rob McNair always liked to say, “I am not a 100-mile runner.” But one thing has changed. I have not DNF’ed since AC ’99 and, even though, on some competitive level within, I am really disapppointed that I can’t seem to close one of these damn things out, well, I keep coming back for more because, whether I ever “breakthrough” or not, the awesome experiences keep piling up.
    This is why I am really psyched that, after years of States’ where things essentially went great for you and you had probably come to expect nothing less, when the shit hit the fan, you still got it done. That’s proud and that’s why I suspect you will ultimately come to regard WS ’10 as highly as WS ’05.
    Rest up man and start thinking about the next one. I already have and I bet Margo heard me say out loud at least 50 times from Green Gate in, “I’m done with 100s.”

  6. Thanks for writing this up. I was pretty slow from the River to the finish and walked every step from Brown’s Bar in. Because this whole thing ended in a whimper I’ve been having a hard time being proud of my first 100. But you know what? I got to run over mountains and through snow and waterfalls! 1200 people wanted to start and couldn’t and 100 more didn’t get to the finish. Oh, about getting tired; On Quarry Road I stopped to pee and almost dozed off standing up doing my business. My pacer called my name and I was like “huh? Oh, ok, let’s go.”

  7. So…Looking at your pre-race vitals vs your “in the moment” VS: It is confusing that your Heart Rate maintained a NSR while you were orthostatically hypotensive. We would expect your heart rate to rise as your BP dropped (your system normally compensates even if you are low volume, with faster heart beats).
    We see patients do this, but only if they have medications on board (beta-blockers, Calcium Channel blockers) that inhibit the heart’s compensatory response.

    I’m glad that Tiser was there to watch. I’m glad that he REALLY had his eye on you!

    I’ve had patients that walk around with heart rates in the 30’s and others that walk around with Systolic BP’s in the 80’s. You never have someone with HR in the 30’s & SBP in the 80’s walking around!

    Your pre-race BP’s were slightly high (especially your Diastolic, you might have been fluid overloaded to start). As you bonked your Orthostatic BP’s were positive, but your sitting BP’s were still within normal limits.You felt shitty, but the fact that you had renal perfusion (peeing in a cup) comfirmed that. Your Kidneys are the red-haired step-child as far as systems go, they quit working w/o fluid (keep your kidneys happy, is what I say!)

    I think you pressed, but were strong enough to get off the snide and gut out this finish. You talked about losing too much salt in your final practice runs in AZ. Did you get any blood work done, post race? I suspect that your Na was low (which will make you have the symptoms you had). My concern at the start (your high diastolic, hence fluid overload) might have been your saviour, in that you had fluid to burn and just lost too much salt.

    Once again, glad to have Ticer there to watch you. You owe him…Wayne

    • @Wayne, sodium at the finish was 138, not considered hyponatremic. I still haven’t seen the rest of the blood work so I assume at least my CPK was low or they would have contacted me. My quads are not sore today.

      I was losing too much salt in AZ and that concerned me, but I was able to run the first 78 miles with only taking about 10 S-caps so I did get some adaptation. I ran hard from 70-78 and that might have been too hard in retrospect. I got crampy and ended up taking 3 S-caps within the next 40 minutes to “catch up” on the sodium. Thought I had it back within normal.

      As for my pre-race fluid overload, probably should share what my Friday morning pre-race vitals were (at 6200 feet): wt 149, bp 131/86, p 63.

      Hopefully Ticer will chime in here.

  8. Wow!

    First, Craig, that is an amazing report.

    2nd, I think you know, I don’t have a Christmas list.

    3rd, and most importantly, you did what you had to do.

    I love the reference to DT because we both remember the year he came to the bottom of Bath Rd, sat in the shade, grabbed a big cup of ice water, put his feet up, and got it together.

    It is, in the end, like life… you show up, figure it out, and get it done.

    Just like you did on that cot at Highway 49!

  9. Craig – I have felt your pain. Despite a fairly thorough understanding of physiology sometimes it just doesn’t add up. Sometimes we just never know why we experienced what we did and so it’s hard to figure out how to prevent a it the next time. This can be frightening because you never really know when the wheels will fall off again. But it does keep one humble and grateful when things work out as they should. Glad you had enough of a time buffer to get a chance to come around and at least walk it in. Kudos.

  10. This one might be your most daunting. Thanks for sharing and being so candid. Yes, never take it for granted. A huge kudo to you for gutting it out and not dropping. BTW, for me the pork and beans were good at RF, but not so good after that.

  11. I have had two sorry experiences in a row in ultras and I am 99% sure it comes back to inadequate salt/electrolytes. Which is especially frustrating because at the time in each race I thought my intake should be fine.

    I’m not sure if your race makes me worry that I might never get it dialed in, or if I should take it as a positive that I am on the right track towards getting my own sorry carcass figured out. It seems haphazard to me that if I have a big dark spot to ‘just pound some more S-CAPS’ despite how many I may have taken, but who knows.

    I’m glad you made it safely to Auburn. No race is ever worth permanent damage in order to finish.

  12. Craig, it wasn’t the race you wanted, but it sure made for a great, inspiring report and impressive finish. A lot of us have been there at some point but afterward haven’t been able to describe the feelings, the thoughts and the moment nearly as well. Great job. Cheers.

  13. Hey Craig — I was following the webcast online, and saw you drop off the radar right around the time you started getting into The Hard Place. I knew something was going on & was rooting for you, but just had to wait for the report. Nice crisis-management job by you & your team. And actually, though you say it looks the same as the others, my guess is that this buckle will shine just a bit more.

  14. Craig…..

    All I can say is….amazing spirit from both yourself and Tbag. I was with the Foresthill Aid Station Captain when Tbag came through and he was in a world of hurt. We did what we could but at that point it really was his spirit and motivation that was going to keep him moving, even his pacer was unsure of what should be done.

    Thank you for your efforts in getting yourself to Auburn. For guys like me who are just in it to beat the cutoffs in ultra’s it is so wonderful to hear you thinking about “honoring” the race and its participants and volunteers. Seeing a “fast guy/gal” gut it through when their goals will not be met is encouraging. I by no means expect it but when it happens I remember why I love this sport and everyone with the courage to toe the line so much.

    It was an honor to work the race and give aid to the entire field of runner’s who came through Foresthill. It will be an experience that I will not soon forget.

    • @Brandon D, All of the volunteers were great, but I can particularly speak to the folks at Michigan Bluff and Foresthill, where I spent some quality time. You guys were awesome – and really know how to keep a struggling runner moving along. Thank you so much for being out there.

      And LB, great race report. Congratulations on a well-earned silver buckle. And thank you for all of the guidance and advice in preparing for this monster of a run.

  15. You are LB! Because it sure takes them to continue on when your not sure what to do. Way to gut it out and thankfully not damage yourself. Thankfully you have a lot of very caring people around you in life on and off the trail. Having one bad run at States isn’t to bad considering some people have only one good one. Now that you have that out of the way, hopefully you will be able to learn what went wrong and apply it to next year. And the ten year bet is still on! Way to go man.

  16. Best race ever Craig. You just don’t when in life you will draw upon that experience again. You may have run faster at States, but you haven’t been tested more — what really matters the ticking of a watch or the heart?

  17. Way to gut it out and get it done, Craig, and kudos to Ticer for his part of getting you there. But gol’ dang it: don’t be stressing your mom out like that again! She was so upset she didn’t even realize her hubby was sitting with another woman…


  18. Thanks everybody for the comments. I still don’t know physiologically what was going on at mile 92 except that I experienced a serious bonk like I’ve never before. The numbers (bp, weight, pulses, sodium, etc) didn’t add up to any particular problem. I was concerned it might be cardiac although nobody else articulated that. Bottom line, in retrospect, is a mistake I made was not hanging out at Brown’s Bar (89.9) when I puked. I should have stayed there and gotten fluid and fuel down. I was caught up in people passing me. I am feeling good about the decision to shut it down and walk it in the last seven. I couldn’t have made that decision without my crew and the medical folks at hwy 49.

  19. Craig,

    Your experience, and sharing it, are excellent examples for other runners, be they veterans or first timers.

    I am so glad you decided, and were able, to finish this race, and that it seems like whatever happened hasn’t had any lingering negative physical affects.

    Glad you are OK and glad you finished. In that order.

  20. It must have been the pressure of knowing that I was on track to come in under that 90 min window of time to make up at the Cream Puff.

    But seriously- after I left highway 49, I said to myself “I never told him to just get up and walk it in, and still come in under 24 hrs.” Then I thought- he’ll do that, because that’s the type of person he is. It’s an honor to have you as a teammate.

  21. Somehow not so good races always make for better stories to tell…but please don’t do it again. I wanted to point you out to Devon’s blog, she had problems with low BP and dizziness and bonk in a short span of time as well. Ronda had promised to send some info on that (since she had it at Bighorn). I really wonder what it is and how to prevent/deal with it.

  22. Craig, may not have been what you expected but what an inspirational story of tenacity and will. I have a feeling that years down the road when you look at your 20 finishes, this one will somehow be the one that you recall the most and will be the most memorable of the streak. Way to hang tough and perservere. See you soon at Waldo.

  23. Wow Craig,

    Thanks for sharing the moment to moment and the total bewilderment of it all. Kudos to Laurie for being patient and reminding you to not make a decision too soon. I have seen runners drop because their crews don’t understand how a runner can recover and finish. And thank you for letting my result matter to you. Yours mattered to me – I wasn’t going to rest until I saw you finish.

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