Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Western States 100 Mile

With pacers Torrey and David, photo by Mackenzie Hardwick
Running on the track at Placer High School, hearing “Tropical” John Medinger call out the names of me, my crew, and pacers, I breathed a sigh of relief. Sort of. I hadn't been able to draw a full breath for 30 miles. I crossed the finish line, unable to stop my legs from pumping. Everywhere I looked were friends and family. Tearful hugs with my father, wife and pacer lent to a complete release of composure. I was exhausted. After weighing in for the last time, I sought medical attention for my labored breathing. The transition from the run to recovery was rough. A couple hours passed before the world began to seem right again. 

Running Western States is surreal. More than the accomplishment of a dream, it satisfied a vein of longing which has manifested in many ways throughout my life. Most closely, running States is reminiscent of my time on commercial fishing boats in Alaska. The processes of grinding away at something, and the satisfaction that comes even as you do the task, are similar. Although there was more money and drama in the fishing. In addition, preparing for the race provided a focal point for my training, and suited my analytical tendencies.

Western States week got started with the "Medicine and Science in Ultra-Endurance Sports" conference hosted by Dr. Marty Hoffman and the Wilderness Medical Society. David, one of my pacers, and I attended the two day symposium on topics ranging from logistics and philosophy to biochemistry and cardiology. I appreciated the distraction from race preparation; my lizard brain absorbed the data, hatching new challenges and training paradigms.

Race weekend began Thursday morning with an official welcome, which was held indoors for the first time in recent memory. A cold front swept over the crest of Emigrant Pass that morning bringing rain, fog and wind. The traditional hike to Watson's Monument was truncated, with many opting for a free tram ride to high camp. My hearty crew stuck with the plan, and hiked to high camp and just beyond for the memorial service honoring those friends of Western States who had passed away in the previous year.

Thursday afternoon hosted a string of clinics ranging from "How to Crew a Western States Runner" to "How to Run Western States for First Timers", culminating in a panel of WS veterans including Karl Meltzer, Nick Clark, Meghan Arbogast, Topher Gaylord, Tom Green (pursuing his tenth WS finish and the grand slam in 2014) and more. The energy built as more people arrived in Squaw Valley. I found friends old and new amongst the throngs.
Twirly, Victor and Junior
Dissociation and disconnectedness crept in on Friday. My anxiety over somewhat spotty training and exhaustive race preparation gave way to a numbness. In damage control mode, I watched myself go through the motions, distancing myself from growing tension among my crew and the small seed of fear planted in my gut. Six months of preparation finally came to a close at 8 pm Friday night. Nothing left to do but wait. I didn't sleep a wink.

Getting into the race via the Sierra Trailblazer's admin spot meant I had been able to reserve my accommodations a week before the lottery was held. As a result, my room was just yards from the starting line. I relaxed in the comfort of my room, sans bathroom lines, until 4:55 am. The starting corral was a nervous buzz. Subdued voices and thousand yard stares surrounded me as I rocked in place. Pharrell's "Happy" played over the loudspeakers. The dissociation continued, and as the minutes turned to seconds I felt apart from the environment. Gordy Ainsleigh jumped on a soapbox near the starting gantry and began addressing the crowd. With 15 seconds to go, the atmosphere swelled with frenetic energy. Gordy's words became drowned out by the crowd counting down from ten seconds. Sensing the time was at hand, he shouted “Once more unto the breach, my friends, ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH!” The shotgun blast rang through the valley, and we were off.

Approaching the escarpment

Cresting the escarpment with Ken Michal
The stress and anxiety melted away on the climb to Emigrant Pass. Jokes about having nothing left to do but run hit home. I hiked amid the pack, admiring the view of the valley floor covered in fog. Struggling up the steep pitch of the escarpment, I caught up to Ken Michal. We paused at the summit long enough to soak in the views and snap a picture. We were just minutes off 24 hour pace.
Sunrise over Lake Tahoe
My plan was simple: eat at least 300 calories per hour (mostly Tailwind), take 5 grams of MAP per hour, stay hydrated, have fun, run hard for a silver buckle if I make it to Foresthill on 25 hour pace. Above all: FINISH.

Emigrant Pass (Mile 3.5): 1:02

Dropping into the the backside of Squaw Valley, the wildflowers provided a technicolor carpet creased by a conga line of colorful runners. I got settled in line after a brief stop to pee in the grandeur that is Granite Chief Wilderness. Everyone was taking it easy and I found myself running near Charlie Ehm, whom I had met soaking in the river after the Canyons 50k. Conversation flowed and the pace was easy. The high country was wet. I slipped while crossing a mud bog, sticking both hands (and the bottles I held) six inches deep into the bog. Thick mud covered everything. Bending my head down to my chest, I fished for the bite valve on my hydration pack. It took a few sips and spits to clear one of the bottle nipples enough for me to continue drinking the calorie rich Tailwind it contained. The icing on the cake? I had to pee again, but feared getting mud in my shorts.

Gorgeous, rugged single track gave way to fire road; Charlie and others picked up the pace. I kept my effort in check, reminding myself to save it for Foresthill. Expecting the Lyons Ridge Aid Station to be close and hearing noise, I was surprised by a throng of spectators in Section 29, a private parcel slated for acquisition by the American River Conservancy. This will enable the entire Western States course to be designated a historical trail from Squaw Valley to Auburn.

Lyons Ridge (Mile 10.5): 2:31

At Lyons Ridge a volunteer helped me wash off the mud and refill my bladder. I got a high five from Race Director Craig Thornley, whom I would see at many points along the course. My pace was comfortable. I asked myself if I could run the same pace at mile 80; the answer was yes. The trail rolled along the ridge line with occasional exposure offering views to the East. Squaw Peak got smaller each time I turned around. 

Climbing Cougar Rock, photo by Keith Facchino

Red Star Ridge (Mile 16): 3:53

I swapped bottles in my drop bag at Red Star Ridge, where the volunteers had a buffet laid out. I should have taken in more solid calories in the high country, but I hurried through the aid stations. The Tailwind was keeping me on track, and all systems were feeling good. What I failed to realize was that the concentrated Tailwind I was using (300 cals/10 ounces) was making me too thirsty. In the cooler temperatures I should have consumed less water.
Red Star Ridge, photo by Keith Facchino

Duncan Canyon (Mile 23.8): 5:37; 1750 calories, 135 oz water

Duncan Canyon Aid Station
My father (“Junior”) and Torrey met me at Duncan Canyon. The temps were climbing and I was struggling with a bloated stomach, the result of drinking more than a gallon of water in five and a half hours. I ate a Tums, restocked ginger chews and MAP, and refilled my pack with ice water. My race plan was to increase my leg turnover on the descent into Duncan Canyon, hoping to practice some faster gears. My stomach wasn’t up to the task. The first low of the race coincided with the traverse of the canyon and the climb to Robinson's Flat. Just as my pity party was getting underway, I was passed by Sam Fiandaca of Brazen Racing. He was recounting his prior Western States experience, a DNF in 2007. His goal was simple: finish. There at Duncan Creek, just over a marathon into the race, it hit me all at once.

You are in the midst of running Western States. 
You may never have this opportunity again. 
Finishing is the only option.

Climbing out of Duncan Canyon, photo by Nate Dunn
From that point on I stayed in low gear. My central governor had taken control; I was in survival mode. I did not want to sabotage myself. After freshening up in the creek with my bandana I set out on the climb to Robinson Flat. The heat was oppressive. I stopped to recover my heart rate a number of times, and felt unable to exploit the more runnable stretches.

Robinson Flat (Mile 29.7): 7:24; 2350 calories, 177 oz water

Getting soaked at Robinson Flat, photo by Christopher Himmel
My weight at Robinson Flat was down about 2% despite all the water in my belly. I was dying of thirst. The crew helped me assess my needs and get restocked. Twirly offered new socks, but I declined, feeling rushed. Mrs. CK was also at hand, soaking me with a sprayer. The bottle swap and resupplying went well and I set out to climb Baldy while eating banana pieces with nut butter. I kept my effort low, feeling like I was holding back. It was difficult, but I was looking forward to the “Western States Half Marathon"; a 13 mile stretch of downhill running to Last Chance. It was another opportunity to put in a good split, but I had to avoid roasting my quads.

Continuing to reserve my effort on the technical descent of Baldy, I settled into a steady effort on Mosquito Ridge leading to Miller's Defeat Aid Station. Time felt distorted, marked only by my hourly dose of MAP. The now familiar trail rolled by like an old film reel. I was picking up positions, so I figured my pace was adequate. In a moment of distraction, I tripped on the dirt road and hit the ground hard, knocking the breath out of me. There were no lasting pains, although my right ankle felt a little vulnerable as I resumed running. I took it easy into the aid station, until I saw the cutoff time: 3:00 pm. I was only 85 minutes ahead!

Miller's Defeat (Mile 34): 8:35

I stopped only long enough to refill a bottle with ice water to douse with, leaving the aid station with a bit of a fire under my ass. I wanted more of a buffer on the 30 hour pace, much less the cutoffs! With a surge of adrenaline giving my stride a bit more urgency, I clipped off a good split to the next station, Dusty Corners.

Dusty Corners (Mile 38): 9:17; 3100 calories, 283 oz water

Junior and Torrey got me resupplied while I drank some ice cold coconut water. Torrey talked me into drinking the remaining Tailwind in my bottle, despite my bloated stomach. I was well ahead of my fueling strategy, but the concentrated Tailwind was making me thirsty. I tried some more Tums, hoping to remedy the discomfort. When asked how I was doing, all I could say was "tired".

Returning to single track provided a little boost, and I picked up the pace on the descent to Pucker Point. I stopped to enjoy the gorgeous view of Screwauger Canyon while taking some MAP. Starchy Grant, whom I had met during the Memorial Day Training Camp, and I shared some miles. We talked for a while, he’d seen my crew guide and asked how my plan was unfolding. I admitted it was overkill; the aid station worksheets needed some refining. By Last Chance Aid Station I was feeling better. Just in time for the canyons.

Last Chance (Mile 43.3): 10:27

It took a long time to mix a new bottle of Tailwind at the aid station, and I opted for an ice water sponge before heading into Deadwood Canyon. A hot spot on my right foot had me concerned. A change of socks was in my Devil’s Thumb drop bag, but John Vonhof was at Michigan Bluff. It seemed silly to stop and change socks only to change them again 8 miles later, so I decided to tough out the canyons and deal with it at Michigan Bluff. Another domino in my mistake chain. The exit from the aid station was littered with signs encouraging specific runners.

The technical descent into Deadwood Canyon should have been an easy task for me, but I remained reserved. Starchy flew past me near the Pacific Slab Bridge. I wanted to follow, but I was stuck in low gear. The North Middle Fork crossing offered relief from the heat, and I took a few minutes to soak in the cool water before tackling the 36 switchbacks to Devil's Thumb. "What's the longest anyone has spent in here?" I asked the volunteers. "What time is it now?" came the response. That one got a lot of laughs.

The climb was a welcome break from running. My power hike proved to be strong, and I passed or dropped most of the runners around me. The sun was lower in the sky than my training runs, resulting in more shade than I expected. A benefit to being in the back of the pack, the canyon ascents did not feel so exposed.

Halfway up the climb I realized my heart rate monitor had not alerted me. At this point in the race I should have been hitting my maximum of 80% while climbing. Instead, it registered 65%. Here I was on the most grueling ascent of the course, in zone one. I tried taking my pulse to confirm and it seemed to correlate with the HR monitor. This confused me and I lost faith in the monitor at that point.

Devil's Thumb (Mile 47.8): 12:01

Devil's Thumb
Cresting the climb, I was ushered to the scale in the aid station. Down 1%. A volunteer asked me how I was doing to which I replied "tired." Although she told me I looked very calm and collected, very focused, she counseled me to stop drinking until my weight loss resumed. I explained that his would be difficult, as I was drinking my calories. While I mixed a new bottle of Tailwind, Ken Michal "dazzled" the aid station. His energy overflowed, and spread through the crowd. Before I could get his attention, he was bounding off into the woods, hollering like no one else can. I wouldn't see him again until the track in Auburn.

Playing leap frog with a few runners through Deadwood, I began reflecting on my expectations. Momentum took on a life of its own. My sense of detachment had grown to a point where I felt great peace, despite the discomfort in my feet. My position in the back of the pack did not bother me; nor did I feel the apathy which creeps in towards the end of a 50 mile run. Bjorg Austrheim-Smith said she approached Western States as if it were a sculpture. She’d chip away at each section, putting it to bed upon completion. I contemplated her philosophy many times while traversing the canyons.

A symphony of one at Deadwood Cemetery
Amidst these musings came sweet music wafting through the trees. Just outside the Deadwood Cemetery a lone cellist played the theme to Chariots of Fire. His hat lay in the middle of the road, filled with tokens of appreciation. I wondered how many gels were in that hat! I thanked him for providing an unexpected flourish to my day then hooked onto a train of runners for the descent to El Dorado Creek. Caution prevailed and I kept holding back despite the runnable terrain. I stopped to take a picture, catching a glimpse of the support I was receiving via Facebook notifications, when my phone died.

El Dorado Canyon

El Dorado Creek (Mile 52.9): 13:14

They were running low on ice at the aid station. I made my stop brief, knowing that Michigan Bluff was less than 3 miles away. My feet went numb when I was running, but the pain returned while walking. The shade grew darker as I climbed, dark enough to remove my sunglasses. Throughout the canyons I had been leap frogging with a young runner who was blazing fast on the downhill sections, but was struggling on the climbs. I came across him sitting by the side of the trail. He was built like an elite runner and looked out of place at the back of the pack. He remarked that he was not having the race he had expected.

Michigan Bluff (Mile 55.7): 14:15; 4300 calories, unknown water

Assessing the damage at Michigan Bluff, photo by Christopher Himmel
TLC from Christopher Himmel, photo courtesy of same
Ann helps me get back on track, photo by Christopher Himmel
Twirly enthusiastically greeted me at Michigan Bluff. I could tell the whole crew was excited. I had only one thought on my mind: fix my feet. I collapsed onto a cot and removed my shoes. My crew surrounded me, asking what they could bring. My coach Ann appeared out of nowhere and began asking tons of questions. How long have your feet been bad? How is your stomach? What have you been eating? Are you peeing? How do you feel? In the end, we determined that I was still in pretty good shape. It was time to start adding in broth and solid foods at the aid stations, as I had consumed too much water. Lauri Abrahamsen walked up and took a look at my feet. As her expression turned from greeting to horror, I felt my only pang of doubt.

Macerated feet at mile 55, photo by Christopher Himmel
John Vonhof working his craft, photo by Christopher Himmel
John Vonhof addressed my feet, and said there wasn’t much I could do but keep them dry. He drained a couple of toe blisters,  leaving the bloody ones closed for fear of infection. He slathered on some Run-Goo-type cream and we put on a fresh set of socks. I ate some potato with salt, drank two cups of broth, three cups of Coke and left the station with pb&j squares in a baggie. I had spent 25 minutes at the aid station. Light was waning, and despite taking the backup flashlight from the crew bag, I wanted to get to Bath Road before dark. Torrey would be there with my headlamp and 680 lumen flashlight.

I walked the fire roads leading to Volcano Canyon while eating the pb&j. Tony “Endorphin Dude" Nguyen lent me some energy as he hiked back towards Michigan Bluff. As the trail bent towards the canyon I picked it up, trying to make my way to the creek before it got too dark. In my haste, I took a tumble that could have ended my race. On a steep switchback, I caught my toe and careened off the trail, landing a couple of meters down the hill in a bush. A runner 25 yards in front of me heard the fall and returned uphill to make sure I was not harmed.

Arriving at the aid station just as the last bit of dusk fell, I looked around for Torrey. He wasn't there. I grabbed a handful of M&M's and drank a couple cups of Coke before heading up the road in the dark. Surprisingly, I was not perturbed by Torrey's absence. I could find my way by the lights of other runners, and I was still moving forward.

Foresthill, photo by Aaron Mount
Halfway up the road David and Torrey showed up and I vomited everything that was on my mind, mostly how hard it was to chew pieces of ginger. I picked up the pace along Foresthill Road. In past years, when Twirly and I would leave Michigan Bluff after packing up the aid station, I would honk at the runners along this section of road. As people now honked for me, it hit me again: I’m running Western States.

Foresthill (Mile 62): 16:18; unknown calories or water

Foresthill was a circus. After weighing in, I cruised through the food tables, drinking some soda and broth. When I checked out of the station, I was surrounded by my crew, and multiple friends who had come out to support me. I was amazed at the crowd around me. Every face I saw looked familiar. I changed my shirt, swapped my hat for a head band and head lamp. I threw the heart rate monitor strap at someone, claiming it was lying to me. I set out for California Street with David and Torrey and a bottle of caffeinated Tailwind. I explained to David that I would need a change of shoes and the socks from Junior's crew bag when I saw him at the river. Then Torrey and I turned left onto California Street and hit the trail.

Formula One pitstop at Foresthill, photo by Mackenzie Hardwick

My feet were feeling pretty tender on the downhill sections of trail. The sensation was not new; during graduate research hiking Paria Canyon my feet developed infected blisters, which I had to endure for 40+ miles. My GI discomfort continued to hinder my running ability. About two miles out of Foresthill, I stopped to pee and realized I needed a pit stop in the woods. I grumbled about how nice it would have been if the urge had struck in Foresthill where I had access to a porta-potty but realized it was wasted energy and began looking for a suitable spot. Cal Street is single track trail cut into a steep slope for most of its length. Had it been daylight I would have been out of luck. However, once I turned off my light, I was invisible. Once back on the trail I was feeling much better.

Bruce LaBelle was at the Cal 1 (Dardanelles) Aid Station, little more than a wide spot in the trail. He brought me a cup of broth with rice. I drank two or three cups of ginger ale, a welcome change from Coke.  Suddenly, Bruce put his cell phone up to my ear. Ann's voice was on the other end. I told her I was still fighting a bloated stomach and she reminded me that sucking on ice chips had helped her in the past. So I grabbed a cup of ice and hit the trail.

It took a couple miles of slower pace, but the ice trick worked! As long as I had ice in my mouth I felt like I could run without significant discomfort. My chest felt tight, as if my pack was restricting my breathing. I mentioned this to Torrey, who quietly acknowledged it but did not offer any opinion. I'd never felt such a sensation before and it scared me a little bit. Then we hit the elevator shaft: a steep, technical descent. I had to walk as my feet hurt too much to run. By the time we reached the bottom I knew it was time to take an Ibuprofen.

The new moon made the stars shine. I could see them in my peripheral vision as I ran through the tunnel cast by our lights. Dust hung thick in the air, sparkling in the light of my headlamp. As I approached runners, reflective patterns on their gear made them look like firemen, or space ships, or Christmas trees. My swinging flashlight made shadows appear to be rushing towards me. At one point I leapt awkwardly into the air to avoid one, eliciting a concerned query from Torrey. The tightness in my  chest turned into wheezing and shortness of breath.

As midnight passed, Torrey asked how I was holding up. Sleep deprivation was setting in; I started babbling about the time I spent 60 hours fishing for halibut near Kodiak, Alaska. I think what came out my mouth resembled something like “starting to feel like I’m fishing.”

By the time we hit Cal 2 (Peachstone), I knew I could run again. The Ibuprofen took the edge off my feet and my legs felt great: no soreness or fatigue! All the caution in the early miles paid off and I left Cal 2 running fast enough to begin passing whoever was in my sights. The next 7 miles from Cal 2 to the river were my high point of the race. I felt awesome, as long as I had ice in my mouth. Every time I saw a runner ahead, I knew I could catch and pass them. I ran to Six Minute Hill, hiked that hard to stay in front of those I had passed, then resumed rabbit hunting in the dark. It was awesome.

Whenever I felt my energy flagging, I took a big pull of caffeinated Tailwind. The sound of the river diminished but I knew we had just a few miles to the river crossing. We hit the fire road and my body told me it was time to ease off. I had been pushing hard since Foresthill and needed a rest. I blew through the aid station on the near side. The water was refreshing, even in the cool temperatures at 2 am.

Rucky Chucky river crossing, photo by Keith Facchino

Rucky Chucky Near (Mile 78): 21:01 

Rucky Chucky shoe change, photo by Aaron Mount

Upon reaching the other side Aaron called out my name. He gave me a cold Boost and a peanut butter cup I had planned as a treat for getting this far. I looked around for David who was to have brought my shoes and change of socks. Aaron had not seen him. It did not take long for me to realize that it was time to continue; waiting around was not an option. David arrived just as we were leaving the aid station. However, he had not brought any socks from Junior's crew bag.

Changing into dry shoes in wet socks was not an option I cared to try. In the midst of this dilemma, Aaron produced socks from his bag. He just happened to have a pair! This saved my race. I would have been in sad shape if I had to run another 13 miles in wet socks. The hike to Green Gate was bizarre. People were everywhere, headed in both directions on the trail. We hiked in silence save for David’s banter. Torrey had provided a solid surface for me to bounce off while I processed the experience. Now sleep deprived and tired, David's job was to nurture me home.

Green Gate (Mile 79.8): 21:53

At Green Gate, I heard a quesadilla call my name, I washed it down with a couple cups of broth and some soda. I brushed my teeth (h/t to Eric Schranz for the idea). It was blissful. I got into a dry shirt, changed my headband and hit the trail. We traversed increasingly familiar trail towards Auburn Lake Trails. David’s energy and guidance kept me on track. I continued sucking on ice, running the rolling trail. Every time the trail turned left, I expected to find Barb's Bench, about a mile from the ALT aid station. A runner in American Canyon groaned when I answered his question about the distance to the aid station (about 2.5 miles, I said).

Auburn Lake Trails (Mile 85.2): 23:35

I rummaged through my drop bag at ALT, not sure what I was looking for. I ate some Tums then proceeded to eat a slice of quesadilla and drink some broth. I left the aid station feeling energized; my legs still felt great. The ice had my GI distress under control. I ran the downhill section to Browns Bar comfortably, but my respiratory distress was growing. The wheezing became more pronounced and the shortness of breath made it difficult to run on the flats, much less an uphill grade. The birds began to sing, and the sky brightened to the East. My highs and lows oscillated faster, dotted with moments of clarity and an acute sensitivity to my surroundings.

As we approached the Browns Bar Aid Station, music wafted through the trees. The volunteers there are notorious for altering the volume of their music to disorient runners as they approach, and I was hearing strange parallax as we skirted the ravine. David said he was having flashbacks to Burning Man. Adding to the surrealness of the moment was meeting Hal Koerner in the aid station.

Browns Bar (Mile 89.9) 24:56

I had some ice left in my cup from ALT, and asked the other volunteer if I could have some ice. He said "Sure, no problem!", and then just looked at me. "Where is it?" I asked. "Right there in your cup," he replied. I shook my head, trying to clear the confusion. I felt like I was channeling Bud Abbott. Then I realized he did not know I had arrived with the cup in my hand. "I'm the one who is supposed to be confused, not you!" I exclaimed to him. In hindsight, I probably came off as grumpy, but I'm sure he'd seen worse. I got a handshake and a hoot from Hal as I ran down the ravine towards Quarry Road.

By the time I got to the road I could hardly breathe. David counseled me to keep it easy and not stress. I focused on keeping a measured effort. Plenty of time to get to the track. Ten miles in five hours is walkable. David became my central governor, telling me to slow down whenever my wheezing increased. I tried not to get frustrated but the rest of my body felt so good it was disappointing to have my lungs holding me back. Respiratory distress was not on my list of potential maladies and I had no plan to counter the problem. Despite my condition I continued to pick up some carnage.

On the climb to Highway 49, Brent, the runner who was the walking dead in the canyons, flew past. His pacer complained that he'd made his runner angry and now he was paying the price. I knew I wouldn't be able to do much until we got to Cool Meadow and the descent to No Hands Bridge, so I kept my pace steady and relentless, saving my energy for one last push.

Highway 49 (Mile 93.5) 26:03

Junior gave me a chair to sit in, saying "you look strong!" while I changed my socks. David brought me some soda and broth. I drank some Boost and some coconut water, changed into a hat and sunglasses, and dropped off my lights and phone, finally. Still struggling to breathe, I kept my measured pace on the climb to Cool Meadow. I stopped to rest for a moment when John Nagel and his pacer came up behind me. I was surprised to see him; he's much faster than me. One hundred miles can sort people out in many different ways. Right behind John was Larry, a runner from Phoenix whom I had met in Deadwood Canyon. Both Larry and John picked up the pace as we neared the meadow, but I couldn't sustain any effort on the flat trail. I kept trying though, and found a rhythm just as we began the descent to No Hands Bridge.

I absolutely love this section of trail: slightly technical but fast. I tripped a couple of times, but managed to stay on my feet. David did an excellent job of reminding me to pick up my feet in the rocky sections and I easily passed Larry and John before we got to the bridge. I felt like I was flying.

No Hands Bridge (Mile 96.8): 27:03

No Hands Bridge on Sunday morning: priceless. Photo by David Leeke

I laughed out loud when I arrived at No Hands. They were playing "Happy", an appropriate bookend to the run. Aaron gave me a fresh bottle of Tailwind and a bottle of water. I changed into my last shirt, a Sierra Trailblazers tee. I gave him my pack and set out across the bridge.  The finish was close and I could hardly contain my excitement. I was about to finish Western States! John and Larry passed me by and I resigned to walk up to Robie Point as I couldn't breathe enough to do anything else. I resumed my steady hike, knowing that a buckle was in my future. I saw Tony Nguyen again and his effusive energy brought a smile to my weary face.

Robie Point (Mile 98.9): 27:46
The home stretch, photo by Luis Escobar

Twirly and crew met us at Robie Point. The hike up the hill was one long celebration. Spectators offered congratulations every step of the way. Never in my life have I felt so much admiration and support from strangers. Whenever the road flattened out, I ran. Twirly worried that I would drop her. As I crossed the white bridge and made the turn for the track, I realized the dissociation was gone. The dream became hyper-real. Time slowed down but I couldn’t hold back my pace once I saw the grass on the field.

The lap around the track felt like it was in slow motion. My name over the loud speaker cemented my arrival. It seemed everywhere I looked were family and friends cheering me into the finishing chute. 

Can you tell I'm already hatching plans for next time? Photo by Keith Facchino

Finish (100.2): 28:06:23

Finish line relief with pacer David Leeke, photo by Mackenzie Hardwick

Hugging it out with dad, photo by Aaron Mount

I provided a blood sample and received an EKG as part of a cardiac function research study. A doctor listened to my chest with a stethoscope and gave me a couple blasts off an inhaler. Friends came by the medical tent to congratulate me while I recovered. After 20 minutes or so, my breathing had improved. The consensus was that I had inhaled too much dust over the course of the run.

100 mile toes
With about three hours to relax before the awards ceremony, I enjoyed drinking Pliny the Elder and eating pizza in the shade of the awards tent. The stories flying around the tent were rich and I got to meet some really great people. Sixty-three year old Tom Green crossed the line with less than 200 seconds to spare, securing his 1000 mile buckle and the first notch in his 2014 Grand Slam effort. Ultrasportslive.tv asked Twirly and me to do an interview.
With stellar Race Director Craig Thornley

Crew chiefs Twirly and Junior, photo by Mackenzie Hardwick
Twirly rocked as Crew Chieftess. Her leadership kept the crew on task and in touch with what was going on. David and Torrey brought me home comfortably and safely. Junior was invited on this adventure for his attention to detail. The old Lieutenant Colonel did not disappoint. In fact, his energy pre-race was almost distracting. Once the gun went off he was there for me in spades. Having my father witness my first 100 miler was priceless. I will hold this experience close to my heart. He never got to see me in action as a commercial fisherman but a front row seat at Western States is a worthy surrogate in my book. Thanks to the rest of the crew: Linda, Mackenzie, Christopher, Aaron, and other friends (who joined the party along the way). Without their support - and Aaron's socks! - I would have had a rough time. Thanks also to supporters Victory Sportdesign and Trkac Running Store. Their contributions helped to make the entire undertaking a success.

I must acknowledge the thousands of volunteers (3 for every runner). The complex infrastructure was seamless and the aid stations are second to none. States is world class, through and through. Every step of the way I felt I received elite-level attention and support. From Thursday morning to Sunday night, I too, was a rock star. This race is worth every penny.

Finally, Ann Trason deserves a lot of credit for keeping me fit and sane through injury-related setbacks in training. Her perspective and guidance kept me from over-reacting to my body's requests for time off in the midst of personal volume records. A nod goes to Mauka Running, for providing a strong base in the winter months.

Besides my feet and respiratory distress, I am happy with the experience. I stayed within myself and kept it easy all day. I know I left a lot of room for improvement and I’m already hoping to give it another shot. The lessons I learned are applicable to shorter distances, not just 100 miles. The concentrated Tailwind ended up making me too thirsty, resulting in the bloated stomach. I'll be examining my water intake and dialing it back accordingly. I was too reserved in the high country; my low gear was too low and I did not eat enough solid food in the early miles. If I had taken Twirly's offer of socks at Robinson Flat, I might not have ended up in the medical tent at Michigan Bluff. For all my planning, I was slow through the aid stations. I need to simplify. Ultimately, I feel that my respiratory distress over the final 30 miles was the largest factor. I've been dreaming up various ways to mitigate the dust, and plan to carry an inhaler in the future. The immediate relief it provided would have changed my race if I'd had it on the trail.

My post race blood work indicated that I was borderline hypernatremic (excessive blood sodium) and had mild muscle damage. I'm not sure if it was all the broth I drank in the later miles, or the Tailwind, but I obviously didn't need any more salt. My CPK was well below average, indicating my legs could have taken more of a beating. 

I realize now that I have been completing, not competing at, the ultra distances. My goals have been to finish comfortably and have fun. In the future, I think I'll explore outside my comfort zone. I'll probably still have fun!

"100 miles is not that far" - Karl Meltzer

But 28 hours is a long time!


  1. Ah... I knew I must have passed you at an AS! Thanks for the kind words!!

    Congratulations again on your first 100, Ken!!! I can't wait to see how the next one goes!!

    It was a blast doing course preview together!!

    All Day!

  2. Stumbled upon your blog and really enjoyed your race report. Well done! What an incredible challenge you conquered!

    1. Thank you Rhody.

      I'm curious: did you literally stumble upon the blog, or did you find it via StumbleUpon?

    2. Ha! It was not entirely through random internet wandering. I saw your link on the Runner's World ultramarathon discussion board.

  3. I have seen Endorphine Dude at so many Tahoe races!!! I think I have run near him at least 5 times in the past two years. He is so positive! (always change your socks!)

  4. Crazy to read this again in 2017, 6-days and 7-1/2 hours before the shotgun...
    "Fuck Ginger Chews!" I remember that as you climbed into forest hill in 2014.
    I look forward to seeing you at Michigan Bluff this year, Ken. And more so, the track.