Finish line at #WS100 is an awesome display of human achievement and exhaustion. Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
That was my tweet a little after 5am on Sunday, after the last 24-hour finisher pushed around the track to cross the line with about 15 seconds to spare before the clock reached 5am. She got the 125th silver buckle on this cool 82-degree day. The physical and emotional effort was apparent as the medical folks tried to control her so they could take her vitals. She stood, slumped, eyes closed, breathing hard, and not responding to any of them. If you were not familiar with what she had just done you might think she wasn’t happy, but everybody in the stands was going nuts. She was exhausted both physically and mentally. Who knows how long she and her pacer had been calculating exactly how fast they had to go to reach the finish in time. She did it and everybody watching was energized by her achievement. Great stuff.
I had finished more than three hours earlier, AJW seven, both of us just sitting around on the Placer HS track, taking it all in. We joked about how far behind him I finished; talked about puking, gels, bears, snow, falling down, etc; reveled in the awesome performances of many of our friends and the whole field in general; wondered why different runners dropped or still hadn’t finished; and dreamed about our future roles with the race. Neither of us wanted to be anywhere else, and, for the last eight years for AJW, and I don’t know how many for me, that is where we have been. We both dozed off in our bags occasionally, but never strayed far enough to escape the voice of the announcer, who for the second year in a row, was the well-informed, shmack-talking Tropical John Medinger (if he didn’t give you a hard time then he either doesn’t know you or like you) and his much sweeter better half, Lisa Henson.
But there was just a little bit of effort required to get there this year …
The snow up high was awesome. Pretty icy and hard to follow the yellow ribbons but it was fun. I loved it and wished there was 30+ miles of it. I found myself moving past much more talented runners with ridiculous ease. They all passed me back soon after leaving the snow around mile 15 which made it feel like I had gone out too fast. To get a better idea of what the 12 miles (?) of snow was like, check out this video from Gary Wang, the man behind realendurance.com, somewhere in the high country. I’m at the 1:44 mark.
The C snow route was enjoyable until we hit Mosquito Ridge aid station at mile 31. This was close to the regular Miller’s Defeat aid station (34.4). From Mosquito we ran backwards on the real course for about two miles before coming right back to Miller’s Defeat. That sucked! In the old days we would have just run towards Auburn and if was only 96 miles nobody would have cared as it was only about the journey from Squaw to Auburn. But in today’s world of Garmin-wearing anal retentives the race has to be exactly 100.2 miles. OK, so it really wasn’t that bad and apparently the views at the turnaround were really good, but I was getting a little grouchy and ready to make progress towards the finish line.
Once we reached the turnaround of the little out and back it was all downhill to the Swinging Bridge (46) at the base of Devils Thumb (47.8) and I picked up the pace a bit. My splits were great through the canyons and it wasn’t until the climb up to Michigan Bluff that I started to fade just a bit. I had caught up with Meghan at both the Thumb and El Dorado but couldn’t stay with her on the climb to the Bluff (55.7) where we got to see our crew for the first time. It was 2:50pm and I was treated royally by my crew Greyson, Renee, Chris, and John.
Volcano Canyon passed by slowly but eventually I was running with my bro in Foresthill (62), pretty much on my target splits a little after 4:10pm. I took a few calories in the form of soup, Coke, and fruit at Foresthill and then again at Cal-1 (Dardenelles, 65.7) but waited until the Mackey Hill at mile 66 to take a gel. As I had said on Thursday night at a WS panel discussion I spoke at, “everybody pukes.” So, I puked. We kept going and I puked again. This time I noticed red stuff came out and I wondered if it was blood. Chris said it was just the watermelon I had at Cal-1 so we shuffled on to Cal-2 (Peachstone, 70.7) where I decided I’d sit for a few minutes and try to get things turned around instead of just plugging forward. I was frustrated. It was there that I ran into Scott Jaime also taking up space in a chair with the same look on his face that I imagine was on mine. I ate crackers, Sprite, and broth, and as I sat in the chair next to Scott I felt like I was going to puke again. Screw this, I thought. It’s one thing to puke and then feel better, but it is another thing to puke and feel like you’re going to puke every time you put something in your stomach. As I sat there and felt sorry for myself, my brother reminded me of something.
“You know that race that you blog about all the time? You know, Western States?” he said. “Well, we’re at that race and you might want to think about racing.”
We left not long after Scott but arrived at the river crossing (78) at the same time. Scott was genuinely excited to be crossing the river with us. What a quality guy.
Ticer began pacing me here and we walked up with Greyson, Renee, and Chris. I managed to get down almost a whole can of Mountain Dew on the hike/jog to Green Gate (79.8). Ticer, who has paced WS more times than he’s run it, has not paced a “fast” finish since 2004 and it was obvious to both of us that these last 20 weren’t going to be fast either. Every time I tried to take something I felt like I would puke again, which would piss me off, so he suggested that I didn’t need many calories. At the pace we were going I was almost exclusively burning fat and, well, I had plenty of it. I did remind him that earlier in the day my 8-year-old shorts were falling off and that we needed to use a safety pin to tighten them up. I also suggested that if I ran out of fat perhaps I could burn brain cells as Mark Brotherton had told us others thought that’s what he could use for fuel the last seven miles in 1989.
We continued to plod along, burning fat, and I kept trying to calculate what I’d have to do to break 21. I didn’t do well on the flats where we couldn’t justify walking. I ran, but it was so pathetic that it seemed pointless. I needed terrain. I finally got it after highway 49 (93.5) and I was able run fairly fast down to No Hands Bridge (96.8), passing four runners on the descent – the last of whom was Todd Braje who I encouraged to run with me from No Hands. He said he didn’t give a f%^& about breaking 21 hours. Ticer got back in front on the bridge and we got past one more runner in Auburn before reaching the track and hearing AJW on the microphone talking shmack to me.
My eighth buckle did not come easy. It could be that I can’t remember how hard the previous seven were or that I’m just not as tough as I used to be, but the bottom line is I persevered and ran my second slowest time 20:47, good for 52nd overall and 41st man. As Twiet reminded me when I finished and he gave me my medal, I not only suck bad enough that I can’t crack the top ten men anymore, I now can’t even crack the top ten women! I can always count on Twiet to deliver good shmack and he didn’t disappoint. But, in my defense, never before have the top ten men all run under 16:40 and the top ten women run under 20:40. Amazingly deep fields.
So what is next for me? Well, I’ve been open about my quest for the 10-year buckle, and with only two left to go it definitely is within my grasp. But, an opportunity has come up which might allow me to watch the winners finish next year. Rest assured, I will be at Placer High School next June 23 & 24 in some capacity. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.