“Mommy are you okay?” , I could barely hear the faint voice of my daughter Summer Blu coming through on a borrowed cell phone. I was standing just outside of Devil’s Thumb aid station at Western States 100. It was just after 5pm and at mile 48 I was over 12 hours into my race. My goal had been to improve my time from 2013 (23:26). This was before I fully understood how my day would unfold.
I had felt ready the months and weeks leading up to the June 24th race. I felt rested and prepared to tackle the several miles of snow running and mud everyone kept talking about just beyond the valley floor of Squaw in the High Country. The final runner update had indicated approximately 16-18 miles of snow covered the ground and runners should be mindful of their footing as snow bridges had formed in sections where the snow was melting creating mini rivers. In my mind, I was prepared to tackle this section with a sure footed mindfulness. I thought, if I stay light on my feet, I can maneuver up and around the stretches of snow and make it to Lyon Ridge (mile 10.3) without too much of a break in my stride. Boy was I wrong!
Not only did I find myself sliding down the mountainside on several occasions where I narrowly missed colliding into a tree but I couldn’t seem to stay upright. I lost traction three times (feet under me) and discovered even snow can hurt. Runners around me were slipping and sliding. Tiny pink flags marked the undefined trail and the challenge to remain on course was very apparent. So there I was maneuvering through snow and then deep mud. If you are wondering what was going through my head, “This Sucks!” That’s what you sign up for when running these 100 mile races. Trail conditions and weather are factors you can anticipate but not predict. No matter how prepared you may think you are it’s completely different when you are in the middle of it.
When I reached Red Star Ridge (mile 15.8) I remember seeing Camille Heron. She appeared dazed and expressed to volunteers her day was done. She had won Comrades three weeks earlier. I honestly can’t imagine running 100 miles under these conditions after the hard effort she had given to that race. Good for her for knowing when to call it quits.
As I made my way out of the aid station I began to drink my bladder full of Amino Vital, I could feel the temperature shift as the ground became significantly drier. There were still small patches of snow to maneuver around along with mud, but for the most part, the trails were clear and exposed. I began to settle into what I felt was a comfortable stride. I could feel my legs open up. I was looking forward to meeting my first crew team Duke and Martha Hong along with members of The Quicksilver Running Club at next aid stop Duncan Canyon (mile 24.4).
Flow is hard to find when you are running 100 miles. Especially when you have to negotiate choppy trail conditions along with weather shifts. As I worked through the nearly 8 mile section I remember telling myself to relax, breathe, stayed fueled (Amino Vital and a Health Warrior Chia Bar). I could hear the footsteps of runners as they followed single file along the rocky single track.
I could hear the sound of voices and cheers as I neared Duncan . The enthusiasm of my teammates was awesome. I looked for my crew and initially didn’t see them. After a few brief exchanges with Quicksilver Club President Greg Lanctot and teammate Jeremy Johnson, Duke and Martha made themselves known and pulled me off to the side. I sat in a chair and for a brief minute felt the fatigue from the effort I had given just to reach them. A quick shoe and sock change along with bites of an avocado sandwich and I was up and on my way out.
Duke, Bill and Martha assessing the feet after all the snow and mud. Balega…best sock ever!
If you haven’t experienced the notorious Canyons of Western States then you should if you ever dream of running this race. The Canyons are known for their relentless climbs and unforgiving heat. The section of trails which begins at Robinson Flat (mile 30.3) and finishes with a final climb out to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7 ) can weaken the legs of even the fittest of ultra runners. If you overrun them you will likely suffer during the later stages of the race. Anyone who has spoken with Western States veterans say the race begins at Foresthill mile 62. If you have any legs left then you are in good shape. If you don’t then it will be a painful 38.2 mile trek to reach the finish line.
During the course of the race I remember having a few conversations with runners who had heard about the trail carnage that was unfolding just ahead. I knew that my race goal was off and that I needed to reset my expectations. I applaud my crew for remaining steadfast during my moments of woe. They offered helpful words of encouragement to keep me moving forward. This is what you want in a crew when you are having a tough day.
The miles between Last Chance (43.3) and Devil’s Thumb (47.8) were by far the most difficult for me to pull through. If it wasn’t for Peggy Alfred and Ken McAlpin walking me out of Last Chance I would have probably ended my race there. I knew what was coming up next the dreaded climb up Devil’s Thumb. I hit another low point less than a mile from the aid station. Head was pounding, chills shooting through my body. When I finally reached the aid station I sat down (again) and thought okay, I am seriously done with this race. I can’t go on anymore! (Note: When you say that, you actually have still have more than you think in you so keep moving forward). Volunteers came over to assess my condition. I must have appeared better than I felt, after what seemed like a short time a volunteer walked over to me and said, “Well you look good enough so you need to go”. This was after I’d had a nice conversation with Dave Mackey who offered me ginger chews and ginger ale to settle my stomach. He shared with me one of his low points during a past Western States race and how he was able to pull through it. His pep talked worked. It made me realize I still had more to give out there.
When I heard the tone of Summer’s voice, “Mommy are you okay?” I could tell she was anxious. It was well after 5pm and she had been at Foresthill waiting for me. She knew I was way off target pace . When I heard the tone of her voice my heart sank. I knew I had to get to Foresthill. I had to see my kid. There was no way I was going to stop moving now. I reassured her I would make it back and that I was okay. It occured to me this was a new lesson, my take away for the day. This race wasn’t about me anymore.
I handed the phone back to the runner and with a refreshed determination began to run. The next thing I knew I was running down El Dorado Canyon, quick stop at the El Dorado Creek aid station (mile 52.3) then up to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7). Here I found my second crew team mates Paul King and Betsy Mack. Paul met me on my way in to Michigan to get a read on my mental and physical state. He knew I was running on empty.
I said, ” I need an adjustment. Please see if Gordy is available.” He said, “I’m on it.” I ran ahead to Betsy who gave me a lovingly concerned look. Within a few brief minutes Paul returned to say Gordy was ready to see me. I walked over he had the biggest smile on his face, told me to lie face down and gave me a good crack. My neck, upper back and hips released the miles of tension I’d been carrying. I thanked him for his support and as I walked away from the table looked over at Alyssa St. Laurent who was recovering with her crew and encouraged her to get an adjustment.
When I left Michigan Bluff I felt better. I’d had some soup, avocado with potato chips, and coke before I left the aid station. I was wearing a fresh pair of Balegas along with Rabbit shorts and race tank. My headlamp was fired up and with my Ultraspire handheld full of Amino Vital, I was ready to finish the last 6.3 miles to reach Foresthill. Those miles seemed to go by faster than any of the previous in part because the sun had dropped along with the temperature. I met up with Zac Marion (Altra Running Athlete) and we exchanged stories about life and ultra running all the way to Bath Road.
The Finish -Foresthill (mile 62)
As I left Bath Road behind and made my way down to Foresthill I thought about the day. How I had covered 62 of the hardest miles in my ultra marathon history. I thought about what it took to get to this point! I thought of the friends who loved, cared and encouraged me every step of the way. I reflected on the starting line speech John Trent gave to everyone that morning. He said, “Take care of yourself. Remember to love yourself and your fellow runners. Just LOVE!” It was a beautiful way to start a race but to experience it was even better. I truly felt loved that day. People cared about me and as I neared Foresthill and met with my husband Joe who ran alongside, I thought it’s really okay to end my day right here. To be with family and friends, hug my daughter Summer and be satisfied with what I put out on those trails, it was enough. This day, Foresthill was my finish line and I was okay with it. On to the next adventure!
Go To Gear:
Amino Vital Action/Rapid Recovery, Balega Ultralight Second Skin Socks, Ultraspire Spry Vest and Handhelds, Health Warrior Chia and Protein Bars, Rabbit Elite Race Tank and Shorts, Julbo Eyewear
Thank you Sponsors!