My 50th 50K: so cold, so hard, yet so cool! - It's not easy to find a race to celebrate your birthday, even much so a National Championship! With that, it was a no brainer for me to come back to Long I...
Friday, July 2, 2010
WESTERN STATES 100 MILE ENDURANCE RUN
I grew up in the San Francisco bay area. I had heard of the Western States 100 from very early on – and thought it was so extreme, so unbelievable. But I would read reports every now and then and was very intrigued. When I entered undergrad I started running for fun. Soon I entered some road 5k and 10k races and didn’t do so bad. I was invited to join the college cross country and track teams. I really got into running – I guess obsessed with it. Soon moving up to the marathon and 2 years after I started running qualified for and ran Boston Marathon. All this time though I would hear about the Western States race. Soon I transitioned into triathlon….trying to get into the Hawaii Ironman and missing by a few minutes. But every time I heard of the Western States 100 I was more intrigued but of course in no condition for a 100 miler. I told myself to get to Kona and then one day I would try Western States.
Years went by and I did a lot of cycling and running and triathlons. But then I started my current job and it left me no time to train on the bike for triathlon. So I decided to put my Kona plan on the shelf for a few years and try for Western States.
Two friends who I had met while running were already involved in Ultramarathons. Chihping Fu and Rajeev Patel were these two people. They became my mentors and my friends. I knew I had to qualify for Western States so I upped my running from Ironman training to a 50 mile. I picked the SF One Day as my first ultra. It was also just about my last opportunity in 2006 run a qualifier for the Western States lottery. I did a 30 miler and a 40 miler in training and then went to SF One Day.
At the 2006 SF One Day I had one goal – 50 miles in less than 11 hours so that I could get my name in the Western States lottery. I went out conservative with a run/walk strategy but I found myself in 3rd place. There was this dude in the brightest tights I had seen who took off like a bat out of hell. He and another runner were trading first place back and forth. Soon he began to fade a bit and I caught him and passed him. He and I spent the next 5 miles trading 2nd place. As I lapped a runner he commented that Eric and I were having a good battle. I asked “Who is Eric?” He replied “Eric Clifton – he is a legend.” Wow – that was cool I thought.
Soon I caught Eric again and introduced myself. He asked how my race was going and I mentioned my piriformis was just beginning to act up. So this guy I just met who was in a middle of a race – a legend in the sport – stopped in his track to show me his favorite stretch to help with piriformis. Eric and I chatted a bit. I told second place was all his – all I wanted was to get my 50 mile qualifier. He told me about his Western States experiences.
During the day I also chatted with the woman leading the women’s race. She introduced herself as Kathy D’Onofrio. As we ran we talked about the run and I told her my Western States goal. I learned that she had actually won the event more than once! She also stopped her run and showed me her favorite stretch to help against piriformis. We talked a lot about the race and I was falling more and more in love with this sport. Here I was in my first ultra ever and I am running with elites and they were treating me as one of their own.
I ended up doing 50 miles in a tad over 8 and a half hours. I had qualified for Western States! So I entered the lottery along with a bunch of friends including Rajeev and Chihping. None of us were selected for the 2008 Western States so we looked for an alternate.
Tahoe Rim Trail 2008 was to be my first 100. As a tune-up I entered Quicksilver 50 Mile run. I ended up running the last 15 miles or so with two runners – Mario Jackson and Lon Monroe. Lon had multiple WS finishes and is portrayed in the WS film “A Race for the Soul” when he is laying in a river during the race saying that it was better than sex….at that moment anyway.
At Tahoe Rim Trail, I re-met Eric Clifton there and he was just as friendly as before. Rajeev was there, Chihping was there, and I met people who would soon also become my ultra friends including Peter Lubber (he and I finished side by side) and Anil Rao (who, like me, used TRT as his first 100). As I approached the last aid station a voice shouted to me – it was Lon Monroe cheering me on!!! I finished the 2007 TRT100 and this qualified me for the lottery for the 2008 Western States. I put my name in again and, again, I wasn’t drawn.
So that was two years in a row that I had qualified without being drawn. So I knew my turn was finally coming. All I had to do is qualify in 2008 and I was in thanks to the two-time loser rule (qualify for the lottery two straight years and not get drawn in either then just qualify again in the next year and it was automatic entry). So I did a few races that year – Keys 100, Leadville, and UT Mont Blanc (and Badwater) – and qualified for Western States. That was it….I was in for 2009!
But 2008 had a first for Western States….a cancellation due to wild fires. I felt bad for all the runners who had trained so hard for Western States. I knew I would have been extremely disappointed had it been my WS race. So these runners got automatic entry into the 2009 race. This postponed my two-time loser entry a year further……or did it. Western States management decided to end the two-time loser rule. So my automatic entry was gone. But they held a special lottery for those, like me, that were two-time losers and pending automatic entries. Half were to be pulled for the 2010 WS race and the other were given entries for 2011. I got in for 2011! Wow…..I did my first ultra in 2006 with the single goal of getting into Western States….and I had my entry 5 years later! So I resigned myself to the fact that my first opportunity to do Western States would be in 2011.
There was to be a lottery for 2010 but there were only a small number of slots to be pulled. I mailed in my entry but actually even forgot about the lottery on the lottery day. I was out with Cori and the kids and came home to a string of e-mails telling me I had been pulled in the lottery! Wow…..I was in now in for 2010 and 2011!!!!!! So….now I finally made it to Western States…what follows is what happened to me at the 2010 Western States.
A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
It was Friday morning and Cori and I were trying to get on the road. We were heading up to Squaw Valley to check-in for my attempt at the 2010 Western States 100 mile endurance run. All my gear was basically packed and ready to go. But we had other things to do. We had two dogs that we had drop off at two different locations. We also had to get Connor, my step-son, off to school. So, of course, we left about an hour later than we wanted and hit traffic. The week before I had been fighting a pretty bad headcold I had picked up while in Switzerland and Holland on business. I was still coughing a bit, but overall felt that I could finish the run. I had taken almost a full week off with zero running.
Cori had offered to drive so I could relax. But the last thing I was doing was relaxing. I kept watching the time tick away on my watch getting closer to the 1:00 deadline to check-in. I started texting Christian Griffith and Adam Blum who were at the check-in to let them know I was running late and to see if they could inform the race management. We were approaching Truckee and Cori was doing her best driving fast. Cori then mentioned to me that she was started to feel dizzy. She was 6 months pregnant and had had a few spells of nausea but being dizzy was new.
I looked ahead and there was a turn-off to a gas station about 100 yards away. I told Cori to pull off and I would take over. As she got on the exit she then said that she couldn’t see anything but black dots. We approached a stop sign but Cori was out. We rolled through the stop sign as I grabbed the steering wheel and directed us towards the gas station parking lot. We weren’t exactly flying, but Cori’s foot was still on the gas pedal. I cranked the steering wheel to the left so we started driving in a tight circle and leaned over and grabbed her right leg off the accelerator and moved it onto the brake and pressed down. The car came to a stop and I slammed it into park. I jumped out of the car and ran around to Cori. She was still out cold.
There was a California Highway Patrol getting into his car nearby and I called him over saying something about my wife being pregnant and needing help. He told me later he was scared he was about to be have to help deliver a baby. A face appeared on the passenger side and it was a woman who said she was an EMT and happy to help. Cori started to come to at this point and the CHP called for an ambulance. A man came up and said he was a doctor and offered to help. He spoke with Cori and indicated that it could have been the altitude. He saw how I was dressed and asked if I was headed to Western States. Turned out he was also headed there to be a pacer. He promised to let the race management know what was going on. Soon, just before an ambulance got there yet another man walked over from the pumps and said he was a doctor too and offered to help. Cori certainly picked the right spot to pass out.
The ambulance crew took Cori’s vitals. Her blood pressure was very low – 92 over 60. The medics told her that they would either take her to the ER or let her go if I promised to drive her to the ER. The promise was not necessary- there was no question I was taking Cori to the hospital. So off we went to the Truckee hospital. Almost four hours and an I.V. later, Cori was discharged from the hospital. They believe her episode was due to low blood pressure, dehydration, low blood potassium and altitude. Cori insisted we continue to Squaw Valley.
SQUAW VALLEY AT LAST!!!!!!
Cori and I pulled into Squaw Valley at around 6:30pm. I looked around but of course all check-in and drop box stations were long gone. I came across Christian Griffith and Jeff Genova and Jeff’s pacers. We chatted for a bit and it was confirmed to me that I could check in the morning before the race. So I went to get Cori and we decided to get a bite to eat. While we waited Cori got a chance to meet Christian and Jeff. Then we popped inside the Pizza and Pasta shack at Squaw Valley for a pasta buffet. There we met up with Shannon Farar-Griefer of Moeben fame. She was very concerned about Cori and she and her crew offered any help they could even a hotel room at the finish line for Cori. After dinner, Cori and I went to check-in our hotel. We were staying right at Lake Tahoe. It was a beautiful night and we took an evening stroll along the shore. Then it was back to the room for a last few minute pre-race to-do items. Then off to sleep.
Cori and I woke up early and headed to the race start. The scene was still pretty empty as I got there around 4am to do my initial check-in. There were maybe two dozen people eating the pre-race breakfast. I went around to the check-in and the volunteers were very nice. They recognized my name and Mary at check-in asked about Cori. I was given my race number 207 and my timing chip. Weigh in (man – I was fat) and my pulse…50 something so not too bad, Because I was so late, I lost out on my super cool goodie bag though.
Cori and I waited a bit as I got ready. I grabbed some coffee from the breakfast. Then we met up with Christian and Jeff. The excitement was so thick – you couldn’t cut it with a knife. It would take a chain saw!!!! We all talked and laughed nervously. I saw and chatted with other runners such as Catra Corbitt.
Then Cori mentioned that she wasn’t feeling good again. I walked her to the car very worried but she wanted me to run the race. She said she would text me later letting me know how she was feeling – and I decided to stick my blackberry in my waist pouch. She wished me luck and took off. I went back and saw DC and G from ZombieRunners. My mind was on Cori though.
I went outside and joined the crowd. Soon I regrouped with Christian and Jeff. I also came across Scott and Vanessa Brock from Key West. We talked and waited for the start.
Less than 5 minutes to the start of the race. Gordy was standing nearby – wow! What a feeling. Here we were at the start of Western States next to the man who started the whole thing! The next thing I knew we were under way. I was competing in the Western States 100 – putting my foot to the ground on the course that I had heard about for at least 25 years. A participant in the event that had been an integral part and goal in my life since 2006. I was here.
I started slow and relaxed. I was snapping photos and cracking jokes. I was power-marching the climb. I was surprised how well I felt and was making pretty good time. Soon I passed Gordy and kept going. I saw Jeff and Christian up in the distance and slowly caught up with them. The three of us kept a steady march up towards Escarpment.
There was snow around us and waterfalls created by the snowmelt. The scenery was beautiful. As we climbed up towards escarpment, there were a few brief spots that allowed for some actual running (well, OK I am sure the leaders and other immortals ran all the way). We got to the first aid station very quickly.
We repeatedly crossed snow fields and reached the final climb to escarpment. Footsteps in the snow were like hacked in stairs – it made the climb rather easy.
We kept marching up - part of a very long line of runners.
Then the next thing I knew, we were at the top. There was a man hitting a gong and I was reminded of the song “Bang a Gong!” Jeff pointed out the monument at the top of escarpment.
And then we had downhill!! I love downhills and take some pride in my ability to run them quite fast. So I was excited by this.
But unfortunately the trails were pretty crowded so the speed was dictated by those in front.
After awhile we entered an area with a lot of snow. This was FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Slipping a bit, sliding a bit but never going down, I managed to pass some people here and there by running hard in the snow. I found that my shoes had great traction and as long as I sighted a good line, I was really having a great time. Christian, Jeff and I stayed together most of the time but soon Christian got caught behind some runners and Jeff and I motored ahead. The trails were constantly being interrupted with streams of snow melt – inches wide to feet wide. In between the snow and streams were rocks, mud and slush.
I was leapfrogging all other the place and I know I was sporting the biggest shi+-eating grin on my face. I came up behind a runner that I recognized immediately as DC. I passed him and snapped a photo. He shouted a warning to me based upon my pace: “Remember the Grand Slam”. He was right of course. All I wanted was a finish here to keep my Slam hope alive. So no need to bust the pace or a leg.
As we neared the end of the snow fields Jeff and I met up again and we entered the next aid station together. I had to pee right before the station. At the station I asked for a band-aid – my left nipple had blood dripping out of it – thanks to a combo of the cold air and friction. Then Jeff and I were on the road again.
We fell into a run the flats and downs and power march the ups. We kept a strong steady pace – but I found myself peeing – a lot! I stopped four times in the 10 minutes after we left the aid station to pee. The trail here was more of a wide hard packed road that eventually met an asphalt road. We kept going on – basically at the same pace. Sometimes Jeff would take the lead, sometimes I would. After a bit we got separated and I entered the next aid station first. I went through it pretty quickly, just re-filling my bottles. The trail exiting the aid station wound through a forest along side a lake. This was French Meadow basin – the alternate route thanks to high snow on the ridges.
Usually it was single track trail and at times it was single file line of runners weaving through the trees. There were some creek crossings too – and cupping some of the cold water and pouring on my head felt really good.
Then the trail exited the forest and began to climb. All around were memories of a forest fire. Blackened corpses of trees still standing against the sky. This was the remains of the fire that cancelled the 2008 event.
We kept climbing and I found myself near Alyssa Springman – the winner of the Keys 100 the year I took second place. She was up ahead a bit and there were a group of maybe 8 runners (including me) that kept pretty close together. The trail had been cleared – but not so close to the ground that it wasn’t covered with hundreds of cut off stalks sticking about 3 inches abov the ground just looking for feet to snag and trip. Then we entered the next aid station at Duncan Canyon. This was the part that rejoined the original course. I grabbed some watermelon while the wonderful volunteers filled my bottles for me. Then I was off again.
I was feeling really good now and keeping a nice pace. We were about 30 miles into the race and I was having fun. Every now and then I’d feel a little discomfort on my right foot and would stop and adjust my shoe. It would go away and then come back. I found that every time I came to a water crossing if I let my right foot be submerged in the icy snow melt it felt better for quite a few minutes. At one point we reached a wide river crossing with a rope stretched across to use as a hand bridge. Alyssa was right in front of me as we entered the water. Amy Palmiero Winters, an amputee runner with an artificial leg was on the far side of the crossing.
The water was so cold – it felt great!!!! On the other side of the water the trail started going uphill. The temps were started to climb just like the runners. We continued on – I started chatting with a runner wearing a Pamakids singlet. I knew Panamakids was a bay area club (in fact I ran for them years ago).
Alyssa and I stayed together most of the time and as the trail continued up we would both occasional stop and grab handfuls of snow from the piles along the trail. I stuffed the snow in my bandana around my neck and rubbed it on my head. Pretty soon we were approaching the Robinson Flats aid station. Shortly before getting there DC caught up and passed me. He and Alyssa entered Robinson Flat almost together and I came in about a minute later. As I entered a few people shouted my name to my right and I recognized Georganna Quarles from the Florida Keys. Mark Nassi, one of the Ultraholics, was there cheering as well. Robinson Flat was around mile 30 and I was very pleased with how I was feeling. I was a little concerned with the reoccurring pain in my right foot. But at that moment more concerned with hot spots developing around my toes due to the constant water and mud. So I sat down and stripped off my shoes and socks and reapplied a generous helping of hydropel. My waters were refilled and a nice volunteer squeezed out a sponge of cold water on my head. I thanked her and moved on up the trail. Going up the trail was frustrating to me – it was difficult to get good footing in the snow and it would sink or slip out from under my feet.
Finally however I reached the crest and it was downhill time! I took off down the trail glad I was going to get what looked like a long stretch of downhill running. The view was beautiful.
But the bottom of my right foot started hurting worse. Now it was intermittent, it was with every step. Soon the pain radiated to my ankle and eventually also my right knee. I would stop and stretch it, massage it, adjust my shoe, try anything – and then run again. But it never let me go more than a few minutes before it would stop me again. At one point I pulled off one of my Moeben sleeves and tied it like a tourniquet around my ankle hoping the pressure would help. It did for about 10 minutes but soon I was stopped again. I heard some runners and looked up. They were part of the medical crew. The stopped and asked how I was doing. I explained the situation. I was baffled and frustrated. Overall I felt strong. I wanted to run. But I couldn’t. The medical crew suggested I ice it at the next aid station and they were off.
I started power marching and kept a decent pace.
At one point I decided to check my blackberry and was surprised to see I had service again. I called Cori who answered. I was very much relieved that she was feeling 1000times better. I explained what was going on and she said she would try and meet me at the aid station at Dusty Corners. So I trudged along trying to keep a strong pace but getting very pissed off with my right foot. Finally I entered the next aid station and asked if they had ice. They did so I went over to a chair and two volunteers wrap ice around my right foot. One of the volunteers recognized me from my triathlon days and we chatted. I downed some Tylenol (I usually only take aspirin but since there was no relief I decided to expand my medications).
Soon Christian entered the station and greeted me. He hardly stopped and kept going. I was pretty soon right behind him – with a roll of gauze that the volunteer gave me for my foot. I knew Cori would be at the next aid station and I really wanted to see her and try new shoes to see if it would help my feet. I caught up with Christian and we ran together and talked about the race. Christian was keeping his eyes open for trees with big soft leaves as he needed to visit the woods. Only pine needles greeted him however. I warned him to avoid red leaves and he just kept looking (borrowing a line from a movie my kids love called Rat Race….I think he was prairie dogging at that point). Soon I moved ahead of him and entered Dusty Corners. Unfortunately Cori wasn’t there. Volunteering at the aid station was Bill Andrews who shouted my name. I explained what was going on with my feet. He offered to lend me his spare pair of shoes - but they were 3 sizes too big. So I wrapped my feet in the gauze and started off again. The trail dropped down into a forest. It was actually very beautiful. I found that the gauze actually helped a lot. It provided some cushion and I was able to actually run. It still hurt but it wasn’t unbearable.
I picked up my pace and was weaving through the forest. Soon I was catching and passing people. After about 15 minutes I came up to Christian. We fell into a common pace and motored down the trail. Christian was complaining about his inability to pee. I asked him how long it had been since his last time and it had been at least an hour. I was concerned but he was still motoring along. He told me he was down 10 pounds. I mentioned I was down 7 pounds. So us two light weights kept motoring down the trail. Near the end of the trail we had a water crossing – Christian went first and I followed. I stopped though and splashed water on my head and neck. I never caught up with Christian and he got to and through the next aid station at Last Chance before I got there. I entered the station and scarfed down some food.
I asked medical if they would mind re-wrapping my foot as the gauze had become compressed and my foot was hurting. I hoped they would apply new tape, but instead the re-wrapped it with the old gauge pulling it very tight. I took off running but after about 800 yards the pain was so excruciating. I pulled off and sat on a rock to re-wrap my foot. Catra came by and shouted hello to me. Soon I was off again and fell into the same pace as another runner. We started talking and I mentioned my foot pain. This runner asked if I wanted a Motrin….what the heck I thought just as well expand my meds even further (hell – I would have free based morphine at this stage). This runner gave me the pills and we talked about my recent European trip. Then we got separated.
The downhill to the river was unbelievable. I was so f’n pissed. Normally I would be tearing down that trail like a bat out of hell with its ass on fire, but I was hobbling. Finally I made it down to the bridge to cross the river.
At the base of the mountain before heading up the hill there was a little waterfall. I jumped in and started splashing water all over me. I felt like quoting Lon…..because at that moment it was better than sex (with myself).
Then I started climbing – up the Devil’s Thumb. Usually I don’t care for climbs as I lust after downhills. But here, for some strange reason, I found myself in my element. I started a strong power hike and soon found myself passing people. I caught back up with Catra. I caught about 12 people on the way up and was never passed. I got the top and entered the station feeling like a new man. I saw Christian by the aid station and we greeted each other. I went over and saw they had vegetarian soup! If I ever RD a race, one thing I will definitely have is vegetarian soup or broth at every aid station where I had chicken soup or other meat=based soups. So many times I see that and crave or need some broth but there are no vegi options. Here there was. I stood next to a guy who was waiting to get a refill and noticed how the water and sweat from his head was dripping down into the other cups of vegi broth under him. Yuck!!!!! After he moved along I explained to the volunteers what he did. They threw away the sweat broth and poured me a cup of fresh vegi soup which I downed immediately.
Christian and I each grabbed a popsicle and sat down for 3 minutes. We joked with a volunteer who addressed us as “gentlemen” and stated “I use that term loosely” – I quipped “And incorrectly.” I mentioned to Christian that we were 48 miles into the run and it was 12 hours and 10 minutes down. We actually couldn’t believe it – we were around 25 hour pace. I was feeling great but for my feet and was so happy to see the time. Christian and I finished our popsicles and headed down the trail. Christian decided to stop at a port-a-john. I kept hobbling down the hill. I knew it was only a matter of time for Christian to catch me as I simply could not run downhill. What was worse is my left foot was now hurting just as bad as my right foot. The downhill went on and on – at times I peered over the edge to the canyon below as I could hear water….but all I could see were the tops of the trees and they were way underneath me.
Finally I reached the aid station. They had buckets of water with sponges so I cooled off a bit. I downed some Pepsi and the workers refilled my bottles. Christian entered the station maybe a few minutes after me. Soon he and I were on our way to climb out of the canyon.
The climb up Eldorado was longer than Devil’s Thumb but everyone told us it would be easier. Both Christian and I repeatedly called these people misguided as we waited for the trail to get easier. It was a long trudge up that hill but eventually somewhere in the last quarter of the climb it did get a bit easier. Christian and I soon rounded a corner and saw a volunteer standing there. Great!! That must mean Michigan Bluff A.S. was close. He told us it was about a mile away!!! He was there to offer bug spray to the runners (which I should have accepted – the mosquitoes were thick and hungry). So Christian and I put our heads down and marched on – we heard voices behind us say “A mile?!....man I was thinking maybe a quarter mile, half mile at most.” echoing our thoughts that we still had a ways to go after seeing the volunteer. Christian even shouted back his agreement with the voices.
Soon however we got to Michigan Bluff. Christian entered the station a minute before I did and hurried off to have his feet tended to. I rounded the corner and saw Cori there and Bob Becker (RD of the Keys 100). I weighed in quickly (down 8 and a half pounds). Cori had fresh shoes for me so I sat down and changed into my Asics. They had more cushioning so I hoped they would help my feet.
I grabbed some vegi soup from the aid station and met up with Christian. Soon I saw my friend Scott Brock enter – looking pretty fresh. Bob Becker was his pacer and they started to get ready. Christian and I started out on the road leading to the trail. It had taken us nearly 3 hours to travel the last 7 miles! So we tried to push the pace a bit and soon entered some gnarly single track. Heading down it was getting dark so Christian turned on his headlamp and I switched on my flashlight. At first I was able to handle the downs and Christian and I pushed the pace a bit but soon my feet were throbbing again. I told Christian not to wait for me and soon lost him near the bottom of the trail at the creek crossing. I wouldn’t see him again until Rucky Chucky.
I continued on. I was surprised how warm and humid it was and I began to sweat pretty heavily. The trail continued and I found myself struggling a bit. I took another S! Cap and pushed myself. Soon I was approaching the Auburn Running Company aid station. I started dry heaving a little and some volunteers came out to help me. I sat down and took some ginger that they offered me. I guess with pushing the pace and the setting sun I fell behind in my electrolyte maintenance. Soon Scott and Bob entered the station but went through very quick. I decided to see if I could catch them but never did.
The road from the ARC as to Foresthill aid station was just that – a road with traffic and street lights. I shuffled along the side of the road and finally entered Foresthill A.S. – 100km down…..less than 40 miles to go. But I was feeling like crap. Both feet hurt so bad. I had recovered from my nausea but feeling week.
I met Cori and Rajeev Patel who had volunteered out of his own initiative in the last few days to come up and pace me. I told them that I thought my race was over – that I was hurting and spent. They both basically told me to shut up and that I still had a race in me. They helped me fuel back up and stretch. They massaged my legs and soon I believed them….I still had some fight left in me. So Raj and I headed out in the night with Cori wishing us good luck.
I made it a block or so and mentioned to Raj that I needed to apply some more anti-chafe lube to certain body parts that I did not want to get chafed (groin). He pulled out a tube of something that he said he heard about from cyclists and said it works great. I grabbed some and applied it to my private areas…….and almost fell down screaming. That shi+ burnt like hell. I told Raj that it hurt so much I would disclose every government secret at that point. I quickly applied some hydropel to see if it would help soothe the pain and it did a bit. It hurt enough that it almost made me forget about my feet. We continued on California street to re-meet up with the trail. I started running and was actually maintaining a decent pace. Soon we started catching some runners and came up on Catra and Andy. We chatted with them a bit but eventually moved on.
The trail here went down along a small creek and we had a few crossings before we rose again. I kept trying to move – definitely feeling fresh and trying to push my feet pain to the side. Eventually we entered an aide station and I sat down and had the dry heaves again. Damn….forgot to take my S!Cap yet again. We only stayed a bit and then we were off on the trail again. This time it was a long stretch to the next aid station. My left foot was really killing me and I told Raj that I had to stop there and see if anyone had some gauze so I could tape it like my right foot. The downhills were unbearable at this point. Raj kept motivating me and telling me I was doing great……all along I felt like slugs and snails and turtles and sloths were laughing at me.
Finally we entered the next aid station. I believe we were around 70 miles into the race at this point. A 50km to go and I would be finished. But my feet were a mess. I was starting to develop blisters from my altered running gait and my feet hurt with every downhill step. I asked a volunteer if they had any gauze and a medical volunteer came over. He handed me a roll of white first aid tape. Well, it was better than nothing so I taped up my feet. Jeff Genova was sitting in a chair next to me. It was the first time I had seen him since French Meadows. We both mentioned what a crappy day we were having and soon he and his pacer and Raj and I hit the trails again.
The descent down hurt like hell but I knew I had to play catch up. I was actually behind the 30 hour pace now and needed to make up time. So I pushed it and made it down the trail to the creek crossing. Then it was an uphill which I was able to manage pretty well. I thought that would be it. But once at the top, it was a steep downhill. I simply could not handle it. I slowed to almost stand-still as I went down the hill. I told Raj that the blisters were hurting and the tape on my left foot was not doing a thing so I needed to get another medical person to look at my feet. I finally got into the aid station and Raj informed me there were no medical people there. I almost lost it there. I collapsed in a chair and told Raj I didn’t think I could do it. Raj and a volunteer told me that I could still finish. Rucky Chucky was about 5 miles away and there was foot care there. Ray asked to borrow a knife and he sliced the sides of my shoes to relieve the pressure on my feet.
Finally I stood up and went out on the trail. I pushed myself as hard as I could but fell back into a walk. Raj asked me “How much do you want this?” I told him he had no idea how badly I wanted this race. So he spent a few minutes motivating me, telling me to accept the pain as my friend, telling me that it would hurt but if I wanted it to think about running and to run. Somehow I did that and soon came up on more runners. We actually passed a few people and at one point came up on Shannon F-G of Moeben. We exchanged greetings and kept going. The miles seemed to go on forever and with about a mile to go I again slowed to a walk. Shannon passed me again and entered Rucky Chucky a few minutes before I did.
I entered the station and looked around for medical but Raj had already scouted it out and informed me that there was a podiatrist on the other side of the river. Then a guy came over and asked if I was Alan. When he found out I was he brought me over to Christian who was lying in a blanket on a cot. He had been pulled from the race due to his body shutting down. I felt really bad for Christian. He and I had worked so hard together for much of the race – he and I were so excited to be in WS and his race was over……and mine was hanging by a thread. He asked me if I was going to keep going and try to lay down 15 minute miles. I told him that was the plan.
Raj and I headed down to the boat. I must have looked like a toddler learning to walk as I barely made it down the steps to the boat. Once on the boat we started crossing the river. If only the ride took us to Auburn I would have stood a fighting chance at a buckle. Once on the other side I found the podiatrist. He worked so hard on my feet. He cleaned all the blisters and taped them up. He re-taped both feet with gauze to help provide cushioning. My feet were almost silver as he covered them with duct tape.
Then we were off to Green Gate – the aid station was less than two miles away. Raj and I went up the hill…I was able to keep moving since it was uphill, but it was a slow pace. The sun was just beginning to rise and Raj and I both commented how beautiful it was. I was coughing quite bit from all the dust from the last 10 miles of trails too – but my only concern was my feet.
Finally we entered Green Gate. I went over to the food table as Raj greeted some runners he knew. I accepted some ginger from a volunteer who told me she had been chatting with Cori at Michigan Bluff earlier. Raj came over and we looked at the time – we were running out of time. So we went up the trail and though the gate. Soon, the trail started descending yet again. I tried so hard – each step I would let out a grunt of pain – but I just couldn’t do it. I told Raj I just could not run, only manage a shuffle on the downhills. He asked if I wanted to go back to Green Gate or try and make it to the Auburn Lake Trail aid station. I thought about it – we had over 4 miles to go to the next aid station so going back sounded so nice. But I said to Raj “No. They can kick me out of the race when I miss the cut-off, but I am not quitting.” Raj smiled and we moved on.
Runners passed us occasionally which surprised me as I thought we had to be dead last. The trail rounded a waterfall – it was very beautiful.
We went on a few miles and soon I heard noises behind me. I called out “Raj – runners coming.” I turned around to let them pass but they weren’t runners – they were two horseback riders. “We are your sweeps”. Damn…..my race was over. Raj asked if they could give us a ride the final mile to the aid station. They responded that they were only allowed to give a runner a ride, not a pacer. I said no thanks then – I wasn’t about to abandon Raj who had stuck with me through the lowest points of my run. Raj looked at me and told me to get my ass on the horse. So I climbed on the back of Comet and Raj took off running – I think he probably welcomed the opportunity to actually run after going so slow with me. He was out of sight in a minute. The horse ride went quickly as I chatted with the sweeps.
We passed a monument to a runner who had been killed by a cougar during one of her Western States training runs. The up and down of the horse was lulling me to sleep and I dozed off at least 4 times catching myself right before falling off Comet. Then we rounded the corner and entered Auburn Lake Trail aid station. People were cheering and making comments about my entrance on the horse. I thanked the sweeps and entered the aid station. My 2010 Western States run was over. I sat next to a cot and saw Catra on it receiving an I.V. Another runner denied a buckle. We chatted a bit but then Raj and I got a ride to Auburn.
At Auburn we regrouped with Cori and went out for pizza. I was hobbling around. My feet were so sore and swollen.
I was very disappointed. This was my culmination of the last 5 years leading to, finally, my shot at Western States. But, I knew I had given it everything I had. I told Cori I had never ever tried so hard at something. I left everything I had on the trails. also gained a confidence – I knew that had my feet been OK I certainly had a WS buckle in me. I enjoyed the time I spent running with Jeff, Christian and Raj and it was truly an experience sharing the hallowed grounds of the Western States trail with so many fellow ultra runners. I am already entered in WS 2011 and have my 2010 Keys as my qualifier. Now to get in my service requirement and a hell of a lot of training miles and in the words of the terminator, I’ll Be Back!