Monday, June 30, 2014

What a Journey

Buckle Number One
They say that when one shows up at Squaw Valley to run Western States, they are in the best shape of their lives. When they arrive in Auburn, they are in the worst shape of their lives. I've probably been in worse shape, but my feet are absolutely wrecked. The experience was so rich it will take me a while to digest and organize my thoughts. Rest assured the race report will come, though it may take a couple weeks. Thanks to all who have followed, supported and cheered for me. Buckle number one is in the books. It is time to rest and reflect for a while.

Mile 55, macerated feet fixed up by Jon VonHoff

Monday, June 23, 2014

2014 Western States 100 Preview: The Crew Guide

I knew I would be a basket case, but the past week has been surreal. Dissociation caught me by surprise. All of the planning and training built to a climax and then I crashed. I feel like my life is a wreck and this endeavor is the primary cause. 

Today, the Monday before the race, I have finalized my crew guide and aid station worksheets. My drop bags and crew bags are packed, mostly. Not much I can do at this point besides relax, rest, hydrate and treat my crew like royalty.

My materials are exhaustive. I like to prepare. I'm a scientist. I expect my crew to write some shit down. Expectations can make or break any experience. I have found it is best to define them ahead of time. Below you'll find my crew guide and aid station worksheets for the 2014 Western States 100. These are my expectations. I will also provide other resources to the crew for problem solving, mitigation and adaptations to the plan. 

The aid station worksheets are designed to keep my nutrition plan on track and help prevent overlooked niggles becoming issues.

Aid Station Worksheet, Duncan Canyon:

The crew guide encompasses my thoughts, strategies and hopes for the race. Also included are the logistics of the race; driving directions, and maps. We will develop a timetable for the multiple crew cars once everyone can convene before the race.

2014 Western States 100


2014 Western States 100 Crew Assignments and Contact List

Janis Johnson (Crew Chieftess): 530-263-xxxx

Ken Neely Jr. (Junior/DC Crew Chief): 520-241-xxxx

David Leeke (Crew/pacer): 530-615-xxxx

Torrey Dasman (DC Crew/Pacer): 530-575-xxxx

Linda Eckhart (crew): 530-613-xxxx

Christopher Himmel (Crew-Saturday): 415-706-xxxx

Aaron Mount (Crew-Overnight): 530-400-xxxx

Thank you for being a key part of this adventure.  I’m really excited that you all want to help make this happen.  Below are guidelines and specifics about my plans for the race.  I hope that you’ll have as much fun and adventure out there as I will. Knowing what to expect will make that possible. My goals are to finish, and to have fun doing it. I’d like to do it with some style. If that means pushing for an uncomfortable finish under 24 hours, then I accept the challenge. However, I would surprised if I were within “striking distance” at the decision point (Foresthill). Finishing this thing is the goal, and the thoughts I have on the subject are both contained within these pages and fall out of my mouth repeatedly and unexpectedly. It is a dynamic target.


·       First and foremost, take care of yourselves.  This is super important.  I’ll be giving 100% and will need you to be able to give 100% as well. 

·       Feel free to improvise as needed.  Most of you have some experience with ultras and know what’s going on out there and what needs to be done.  There is extra cash in the Crew Bag if you need to stop at the store for anything (including sandwiches and beer for yourselves) along the way.

·       Have fun.  It may be hard sometimes, but remember that your energy is contagious.  I’ll do my best to bring positive, happy and fun energy into the AS’s.  If we’re all on our game, this will be an unforgettable success.

·       Janis can be reached 24/7 at the number above during the event for any emergency or hiccups (cell service permitting).

·       I plan to divide the race into four segments overall:

o   High Country - miles 0-30

§  Red Star Ridge drop bag – mile 16

§  Duncan canyon Aid Station – mile 23.8

§  Robinson Flat Aid Station – mile 29.7

o   Canyons – miles 30-62

§  Dusty Corners Aid Station – mile 38

§  Devil’s Thumb drop bag – mile 47.8

§  Michigan Bluff Aid Station – mile 55.7

§  Foresthill Aid Station – mile 62

o   Cal Street – miles 62 - 80

§  No drop bags

§  Pacer (Torrey)

§  Rucky Chucky crossing

§  Rucky Chucky (far) – mile 78.1

§  Green Gate – mile 79.8

·       Pacer change (David)

o   Home stretch – miles 80 – 100.2

§  ALT drop bag – mile 85.2

§  Highway 49 Aid Station – mile 93.5

§  No Hands Bridge Aid Station – mile 96.8

§  Robie Point Aid Station – mile 98.9

§  Finish! – 100.2 miles


Let’s begin with the official crew rules for the Western States 100.

Please adhere to these rules, as I could be disqualified in the event any are broken.

(Taken from and also available in the official race program)

1.   A crew member is defined as any individual who provides material support to a runner in the event.

2.   Crews may meet runners or assist them only at those aid stations specifically designated for crews. Crews must wait to assist their runners until after the official check-in and medical evaluation (where applicable).

3.   Crews must adhere to instructions of all aid station personnel, including requests to vacate a certain area of the checkpoint.

4.   Crews must stay within a 200-yard radius of the aid station while attending to their runners.

   Exceptions: Crews may assist runners:

a.   From the foot of Bath Road to the intersection of Foresthill Road and California Street;

b.   From the Rucky Chucky — far side — Aid Station to Green Gate;

c.   From Robie Point to the finish line.Crews may assist runners in designated areas at the aid stations located on both sides of the Rucky Chucky river crossing.

5.   No crews are allowed at the following checkpoints: The Escarpment, Lyon Ridge, Red Star Ridge, Miller’s Defeat, Last Chance, Devil’s Thumb, El Dorado Creek, Dardanelles, Peachstone, Ford’s Bar, Auburn Lake Trails, and Brown’s Bar.

6.   Crews will be limited to one vehicle per runner at all checkpoints except Foresthill. Due to narrow access roads, motor homes will not be permitted into any checkpoints. The only exception is Foresthill.

7.   No crew vehicles will be allowed into Deadwood Ridge, down Bath Road, to the Rucky Chucky river crossing (both sides of the river), to the Green Gate, 49 Crossing and Robie Point. Approximate distance from parking areas to “foot access only” checkpoints: Bath Road: 1 mile; Rucky Chucky — north (near side): Shuttle bus; Rucky Chucky — south (far side): 3¼ miles; Green Gate: 1¼ miles; 49 Crossing: Shuttle bus.

8.   Crews must always drive at safe speeds! No matter how fast a runner may be, it is possible for crews to arrive at all the major checkpoints without exceeding the posted speed limits. Speed limits are rigidly enforced by the U.S. Forest Service, California Highway Patrol and the Placer County Sheriff’s Dept. The speed limit between Foresthill and Robinson Flat varies from 25 to 45 mph. SPEEDERS WILL BE CITED!

9.   Crews must never park in such a way as to block traffic, access to the trail or checkpoint, or other parked cars. Vehicles will be towed at the owner’s expense, and their runner may be immediately disqualified.

10. No mountain bikes or mechanical devices (unless handicapped) will be permitted along crew access roads or in the shuttle service area.



13. Littering of any kind at any checkpoint, along the trail, or at the finish line is strictly prohibited.

·       There are 10 crewed aid stations on this course. Three minutes in each equals a half an hour. If I am close to 24 hour pace, it will be important to be efficient and minimize time spent not moving. This will mean delegation of tasks and walking and crewing at the same time. The early aid stations (Duncan Canyon through Michigan Bluff) will probably not have a gopher:

o   Crew chief

§  Main point of contact between me and crew

o   Scribe

§  Fills out aid station worksheet

·       Time in/out

·       Calories and hydration

·       Status

·       Notes

·       Alterations to plan

§  Assists crew chief in mitigating issues

§  Calls out elapsed time at aid station

o   Gopher

§  Bucket duty (ice water, sponge/ towel)

§  Photography

§  Observe runner, contribute to assessment and aid station quotes

§  Assist crew chief in applying remedies

§  Crew pacer

·       Check with aid station personnel if there is any possibility I beat you to the aid station and have moved on.

·       Please meet me as close to the aid station (but no more than 200 yards from the AS) as possible unless otherwise instructed by AS personnel.

·       I’m going to try to keep the major transitions (putting on lights, shoe changes, etc.) to Foresthill and Rucky Chucky Far only. 

·       Please document as well as you can. Writing things down will help everyone.

·       Even with the log sheet, there will be a lot going on at the AS and I will be easily distracted.  Please ask about everything on the status list. This way, I won’t forget to fix that hot spot that’s been popping up for the last 4 miles or whatever.

·       Most of my nutrition will come from Tailwind and a mixture of bananas, nut butters and AS fare. I will want to carry two gels and one nut butter with me at all times. Please examine my trash and replace anything I may have eaten. If you find something we don’t have, it was trail trash that I picked up along the way.

o   My trash may contain the remnants of a toilet kit. Make sure I get a replacement!

·       I might not finish every bottle…  It would be good if I could slam what is left when I arrive at the crewed stations. Please remind me to do so.

·       Have the crew bag and a full handheld water bottle ready to go at the AS’s. I may or may not take you up on the offer of a handheld, but please offer it. At most of the AS’s the only things we’ll need to exchange are my Tailwind bottle(s) and hydration pack.  I may want to change socks or shoes or who knows what, so please have everything handy.

o   There will be an “everything bag” from Michigan Bluff to the finish. Please have the contents laid out.

·       Feel free to make tons of posts and pics on my FB page.


·       Make sure you get enough calories in before you join me.

·       Ask me what I need as we near the aid stations. Communicate my needs to crew or ensure I get what I need from a drop bag or volunteers.

·       Treat me like a puppy. A puppy that pisses and shits ALL OVER YOUR HOUSE if you display any negativity. Positive re-enforcement all the way.

·       Please help me adhere to my nutrition plan.

·       Your biggest challenge will be to keep me distracted from discomfort and focused on moving. Stories are good, and so are yes or no questions.

·       Please watch my form.  If you see me start to slog, please remind me to pick up my damned feet. If I break down, remind me to run tall. If it gets any uglier than that, good luck!

·       Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see me eating too much.  My bottles have 600 calories each and I’ll be supplementing with VFuel, nut butters and the occasional handful of solid food. The guidelines indicate 2x gel/nut butter, but that is simply the number with which I want to leave each crew accessible station. If I get cranky, tell me to eat something.

·       Don’t be surprised if I blow through an AS or two, especially if I’m feeling good and don’t need water.

·       Let’s celebrate the small things.  Please remind me that we’re kicking ass every chance you get.

o   Please be careful with discussions about mileage and anything potentially negative.

·       Don’t be alarmed when I make noises of pain on the trail.  I may grunt and groan. Just ask if there is anywhere else I would rather be!

·       All plans are subject to change, which is why I’ll need help with sticking to the plan at hand. And I will have been running all day by the time you join me.

As Twirly once said, “it’s amazing what some people will do to say they had fun”. I hope you do have fun, as I hope I do too.   Thanks again.

 Driving directions/estimated times:


  1. Squaw Valley to Robinson Flat — Allow 2½ hours. Take I-80 West. Exit at the Foresthill exit. Turn left. Follow the Foresthill Highway approximately 17 miles into Foresthill. Continue on this same road approximately 34 more miles to Robinson Flat. A shuttle bus service is provided from the Sailor Flat parking area, approximately 1.5 miles south of Robinson Flat. Follow instructions from volunteers. A short shuttle bus will take you to Robinson Flat. Please, only one car per runner.
  2. Robinson Flat to Michigan Bluff — Allow 1¼ hours. Go back on the Foresthill Highway, approximately 30 miles. Turn left on the road to Michigan Bluff and go approximately three miles. This is a very steep, winding road; so proceed with caution. Follow parking instructions. A short shuttle bus will take you into the town of Michigan Bluff.
  3. Michigan Bluff to Foresthill — Allow 20 minutes. Return to the Foresthill Highway. Turn left. Go approximately 4 miles to Foresthill.
  4. Foresthill to Highway 49 Crossing (and/or Green Gate) — Allow 1 hour from Foresthill. Proceed west on Fresthill Highway towards Auburn past Driver’s Flat Rd. After about 14 miles from Foresthill, turn left onto Old Auburn-Foresthill Road and proceed downhill for about 2 miles to the confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the American River. Turn left at the bridge, onto Highway 49 (No Hands Bridge is visible 200 yards downriver) and proceed uphill for about 3½ miles to the town of Cool.
    • NOTE: Do NOT stop enroute at the the 49 Crossing checkpoint; there is no parking at the checkpoint. Continue reading for shuttle service information.
    • Highway 49 Crossing: Arriving in Cool, park in the lot on your right just past the Cool Firehouse. Shuttle service is provided and will transport crews and pacers to the 49 Crossing aid station beginning at 6:30 p.m. Absolutely no crew/spectator parking is allowed at the checkpoint or along Hwy 49 in either direction. Nor is stopping to load/unload passengers at the aid station is allowed. The highway and its shoulders are narrow, and traffic moves very fast. Crewmembers who attempt to stop/park at the 49 Crossing checkpoint risk having their runner disqualified. Also, the State Highway Patrol will be monitoring the aid station area; anyone parking or stopping on the shoulder of Hwy 49 will be ticketed.
    • Green Gate: Reached from the south via Sliger Mine Road off Highway 193, Green Gate is difficult to access and has very limited parking.  No vehicles allowed past the end of the paved road. Access from vehicle to the aid station is by foot only (1.25 miles). Note that there is no shuttle service to the Green Gate as in years past.
  5. Highway 49 to Finish Line — Allow 30 minutes. Return towards Auburn on Highway 49. Cross the bridge over the American River and make an immediate left. Follow the highway uphill for 2 miles. Continue straight on Highway 49. It will become High Street, heading west. Continue on High Street and turn left onto Finley Street, follow three blocks to the stadium.


  1. Squaw Valley to Duncan Canyon— Allow 3½ hours.Take I-80 West. Exit at the Foresthill exit. Turn left. Follow the Foresthill Highway approximately 16 miles. Turn right onto Mosquito Ridge Road. This is a VERY steep, winding road, so proceed with caution. Go approximately 36.2 miles, and look for sign and trailhead. You must park in designated off-road parking areas only!
  2. Duncan Canyon to Dusty Corners— Drive 9.8 miles back the way you came on Mosquito Ridge Road. Turn right on N-44, drive 5 miles to Aid Station.
  3. Duncan Canyon to Foresthill— Drive 5 miles on N-44 back to Mosquito Ridge Road and turn right. Drive 24 miles to Foresthill Road, turn right. Drive 0.8 miles to Foresthill Aid Station.
  4. Split remaining duties with Crew A to the finish.





Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 Western States Training Camp Weekend Days Two and Three: Foresthill to Rucky-Chucky and Green Gate to Placer High School

Days two and three of Western States Training Camp cover Foresthill to the river, and Green Gate to the finish line. Roughly 20 miles each, they felt like shakeout jogs compared to the long run from Robinson Flat to Foresthill. During the race, these legs will be run in the dark. 

Torrey, who paced me at AR50, joined me from Foresthill to the river for a daylight preview of this stretch. He will pace me for this leg during the race. Affectionately known as California Street, or Cal Loop, the 16 miles from Foresthill to Rucky-Chucky (near) descend to river level with over a dozen climbs sprinkled in, mixing up the runnable trail. Almost smack in the middle is "six-minute hill". During the day on Sunday, this dirt road climb was excruciatingly exposed. Torrey reminded me that it would be dark when we see it during the race. I got to check in with Ann again, as she was crewing the Cal 2 aid station during the training run. Later, she told me she was impressed by how calm and focused I was when she saw me those first two days. Despite building anxiety about the overall distance, I do feel very comfortable on the course, and I found these short sections relatively easy to tackle.
Torrey and I tackle the Elevator Shaft, photo by Joe McCladdie

As Torrey and I reached river-level and the shade of the riparian zone, the humidity shot up. Near the now-defunct Sandy Bottom Aid Station, it was hot and muggy. The river flowed tantalizingly close but offered no relief. Runners up and down the trail complained of low energy and sluggishness. Arriving at the river crossing, temps hovered near 90 degrees. It could be up to 20 degrees hotter on race day.

We replenished at the aid station and soaked in the cool water of the Middle Fork American. It was fun the chat up other runners and compare notes on the almost 50 miles of trail we had covered in the past 30 hours. It took a while before we were ready to tackle the 2.5 mile climb to Drivers Flat Staging Area, our finish line for the day.

Memorial Day Monday saw the final stretch of trail, capping off the 70+ mile weekend. David will pace me for this stretch, but was returning from injury and could not join me. As I descended Sliger Mine Road to Green Gate, I fell in with John Nagel, whom I had met near Miller's Defeat on the first day. We ran together for a few miles, chatting about Juneau, Alaska, his home. Of course, we covered his relationship with Geoff Rose, Geoff's training camps and a search and rescue effort underway in Juneau. A local runner had been missing for a few days. John runs quite a bit faster than I, but I figured I would survive. I was able to hold up my end of the conversation as we clipped off 8 minute miles. I also justified the fast early pace because I wanted to simulate weary legs for this home stretch. Hammering the downhill, plus the previous two days' efforts, gave me a look at what that might feel like.
Hoboken Creek, photo by Joe McCladdie

I met a few folks along the way, like Bay Area runner Starchy Grant, whose name I knew but had never met. I also ran with Katie DeSplinter for a few miles. Katie was coming off a win at the Bishop High Sierra 50 miler the weekend before. Overall, I felt good about the pace I was able to achieve and the company I was able to keep for this final day of training camp. I know the Western States Trail from American Canyon to Auburn fairly well form previous training runs and local races like American Canyon 50k and Way Too Cool 50k.

Overall, this three day event was very satisfying. Now that I know more of the course, this race makes that much more sense to me. Thrilling views, fantastic single track, daunting canyons, what more could one ask for? I feel honored to be able to run Western States as my first 100 miler. My confidence is high. I will finish the distance. As Tim Tweitmeyer says: it is me and the mountains against the clock.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Dipsea

The Dipsea is a race like no other. Consider the handicapped head starts given to runners older and younger than the 19-30 year old "scratch" competitors. Peruse the 100+ year history of the oldest trail race in the country. Feel the community entrenched around this coveted race. The black shirt awarded to the top 35 finishers is likely the most coveted race tee on the planet. It took me three tries, but I finally gained entry to the 2014 Dipsea, the 104th edition. The allure of the Dipsea is unavoidable to trail runners from the Bay Area and beyond. Since its start in 1905, it remains a local institution. I was in love with this race from the moment I learned of it, and consumed everything I could on the subject. Movies about the Dipsea Demon Jack Kirk, the Bruce Dern movie "On the Edge", blogs and books; I thought about the race every time I set foot on the legendary trail.

Ann worried that I might sustain an injury, given the technical and crowded nature of the course. Steps of varying sizes and materials separate Mill Valley from the summit of the first climb at Panoramic Highway. Shortcuts with names like Suicide and Swoop bring the courageous down steep trails cut through thick brush. The descent into Steep Ravine is more akin to a controlled fall than running. I knew I had to take it easy. I would never forgive myself if I failed to toe the line in Squaw Valley because of a 7 mile trail race gone awry.

Just three weeks before Western States 100, I figured Dipsea would be a welcome distraction from the impending taper madness. I was right. It is always liberating to toe a starting line knowing I would be dialing it back. Twirly dropped me off and headed straight to Stinson Beach, trying to beat the traffic. As a first year runner, I was set to start in the "Runner" section. The top 750 finishers (overall) from the previous year get an automatic entry. They also get to start first. I watched the 26 waves go off, one each minute, before the Runner section even began. As a 42 year old, I would only have a three minute head start on the scratch runners. The AAA invitational group had a 49 minute head start on me. It became obvious to me that racing my way into the top 750 would require an honest effort!

Once the whistle blew, the adrenaline carried me up the steps. Local residents played music and cheered. The steps were scrawled with chalk; words of inspiration from friends and family members. Walkers stayed to the right, and runners hopped up the left. I passed when I could, but kept my effort in check. A steady stream of scratch runners filed by in the early miles, but I spent most of my time in the fast lane with them. I was anticipating much more difficult passing conditions, but everyone was on the same page. Go hard on the left, stay to the right while you're sucking wind.

My power hiking practice paid big dividends as I passed runners while hiking. My legs felt solid, and strong. Once at the summit of the first climb, I let loose. Descending into Muir Woods I kept pace with some fast runners around me. At the last minute, I turned left to take the Suicide shortcut. Pre-race I was unsure if I should risk the steep slope. The shortcuts are off limits outside of race day, and I had no idea what to expect as I followed the conga line of runners into the bushes. The trail was soft, and a cloud of dust obscured the footing. I could not see a damn thing below my knees. I focused on the hips of the runner in front of me, watching for the larger drops.

Through Muir Woods and across Redwood Creek I did a quick assessment. I felt in control and strong. No niggles. The hike up Dynamite and Deer Creek came and went, and once on the Hogsback I continued passing people. The cool shade of the rain forest was a welcome change from the exposed grasslands of Hogsback. Cardiac Hill was near. I kept a steady pace and gave Cardiac my best effort, setting a PR for the climb on Strava in the process. I dumped my water bottle over my head at the aid station, got a refill and took off for the two mile descent to Stinson Beach. I ran hard, falling into line with a couple guys who had the same plan. The Swoop shortcut offered no passing opportunities amongst the conga line.

Once I hit the bridge on the floor of Steep Ravine I could smell the barn. I ran Insult Hill hard, and kept increasing the effort along the Panoramic Shortcuts. I tried to pass as many people on the road as I could, increasing my turnover on the smooth pavement. Then we would jump back into the bushes and the single file roller coaster ride. The terrain was technical and I found I had to back off the runner in front of me to see where to put my feet.

Then we were back on the Trail headed for the beach. I burst onto the Highway and ran with every ounce of effort I had left. I think I passed another dozen people on the final quarter mile of pavement. When I crossed the finish line, I felt that familiar 5k nausea. I didn't leave much out there!
Finishing chute, photo by Leigh-Ann Wendling

My 1:22:xx was good for 844th place overall. I was 4 minutes late for the top 750 and the invitational entry for 2015. I'll apply again next year and figure out where to shave off four minutes this winter. Heartfelt thanks to all of the volunteers and organizers. This race truly is special, and I look forward to many, many more.

Post race party, photo by Leigh-Ann Wendling