Western States 100 2009
“You’re crazy!” I heard it time and again, and I always agreed. Running in THE Western States 100 mile race 8 days after World Cup 100k was beyond crazy. Stupid is probably more accurate. But, born with a stubborn streak and a ‘can-do’ attitude, I felt compelled to show up at the start line, knowing that if I didn’t, I would regret that more than whatever pain I was about to take on. My soreness gone, my mechanics seemingly working as well as they do, I was hoping to retain a coveted top-10 position so I would be guaranteed a returning spot next year. I also promised my coach that if I started to feel injured at any point I was going to drop, so I really felt no pressure or expectation of a grand performance.
And so it began at 5:00 a.m. While not feeling fresh, I wasn’t sore or injured and had test hiked my legs for the flag-raising ceremony 2 days before. I jogged, hiked, jogged out of Squaw, chatting with gal-TeamUSA-mate Connie Gardner for awhile, then Scott Dunlap, and finally Jady Palco, who was uncharacteristically calm and focused. He was particularly pleased to be running States as his mother, Barbara Ashe, was also running, and at the time they were thought to be the first mother-son combo in the history of the race. He was determined to be conservative and get to the finish line in one piece, preferably before Mom.
Finally cresting the top, I was anxious to start running downhill. The line in front of me was daunting, but eventually I made it around a few runners. My usual pattern is swallow lots of ground on the downhill, and struggle on the ups. Eventually I found a good niche amongst the racers near me, and settled into a good effort to Lyon Ridge. I had already been taking S!Caps – my plan was one at every aid station, and anytime I felt nauseous – and I was feeling alright, but my legs were not fresh. The next section to Red Star Ridge I struggled with soreness and the rocky trail. I couldn’t for the life of me recall this section being so rocky, but in hindsight I’m sure it was just harder to dance on marbles with tired, sore legs than when I am rested and tapered.
Scotty Mills, RD for SD100 became one of my companions during the early hours. I had met Scotty last winter in San Diego, and he learned of my foolish attempt, so each time he would pass me he would comment “I can’t believe you’re doing this! You’re such a stud!” And I would pass him later, and back and forth it went. Caryn Spore was also trading with me every up and down (she is such an animal on the uphills) and calling me her hero. I think it would have been more appropriate to comment on my insanity and lack of setting a good example for the children. Nonetheless, I enjoyed their company.
Just before Red Star Ridge aid station I met Susan Brozic from New Mexico. We ended up running together fair amount throughout the morning. She was nursing a broken toe and torn calf, and wasn’t sure how far she would make it, but she moved very well. From Red Star to Duncan Canyon, I was not feeling great. I gave the altitude and tired legs credit for that, and hoped I wasn’t too far off my splits from ’07. Jed Tuckman, another Cali runner I had trained a couple of times, was just ahead of my on the newly machined dust trail leading into the aid station, when I hit my foot on something and smacked the ground hard, hitting my face on a rock. Always the first thought – “Is my race over???”. Jed turned back, picked up my bottle, and assured me the face wound was superficial, and it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as I thought it would. I made a feeble attempt to brush the dirt off, got my wheels going again, and gave our infamous Glenn Tachiyama a thumbs up as he clicked my picture going by.
I cruised into Duncan Canyon. Brian was ready with chocolate milk, Vespa, and a sense of humor. The kind aid station volunteers did their best to wipe my face and sponge me off. I asked Brian and Theresa to have a clean shirt for me at Dusty Corners. I iced up and was soon on the trail following Scotty again. When we finally reached the creek, it was heating up quite a bit. Scotty tip-toed across the rocks as I plunged in and sat down. “Sit down Scotty!” and he said “Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking” as he too doused himself well. Climbing out ahead of me he turned to let me know that Jenn Shelton was in sight. When I finally caught up to her, she said her legs were trashed. I encouraged her to keep going and be sure to cool off in the streams, and that she could recover.
Finally to Robinson Flat, I was weighed and then I asked for blister help for a hot spot on the back of my heel. Quickly patched up, Ed ran me down to Laura and Alec, and the three of them plus assorted Oregon crews had me fed, ice in my bandana, and gave me a hearty send off. Someone shouted “1 mile of uphill then 15 miles of down!” I liked the sound of that. When I finally started the downhill, I was pretty uncomfortable. My legs were sore, and didn’t want to roll. Patiently I took switchback after switchback, hoping for some turnaround until I admitted to myself that I didn’t have to finish this race. I had nothing to prove, a perfect excuse to quit, no one would be surprised. I continued this negative self talk all the way to Miller’s Defeat, but the aid station volunteers cheered me up and sent me on my way. I knew I could run the next three miles into Dusty Corners, and didn’t want to let my crew down – especially Theresa who had flown all the way from Boston to run me in from the river. The decreased altitude was also starting to play in my favor, and by the time I arrived, I was in much better spirits. I ate, iced up and scooted out again, running much of Pucker Point trail with Susan. It was really hot now, but I had been slamming the salt and keeping cool with the ice and feeling better in this section than any previous race here. At Deadwood, I actually felt like eating pbj, soup, and soda. My weight was reasonable, the volunteers sponged me down, and I was on my way.
I caught an overheated Scotty Mills one more time. “Hey Scotty! I got cleaned up!” He grinned and said “Yes, you did! But you know what? Now you’re just pissing me off! What you’re doing out here today? It’s just wrong!” We both laughed, and I resisted the temptation to say “eat my dust!” Once more I caught Caryn before heading down the trail to the swinging bridge. I gingerly made my way down, happy for the gravity assist, but not happy with the leg jello. At the swinging brigde, I gu’d, salted, and began the long hike up to the Devil’s Thumb. For the first time since running in Western States, I felt fine – even good – in this section, jogging the very few flat bits. Caryn and I arrived about the same time, and efficiently got in and out. As we approached the descent into El Dorado, she again let me go ahead. It seemed to take forever to get to the bottom, and the exposed sections made me want to gasp it was so hot. Again, the volunteers took great care of me, and I was on soon on my way to Michigan Bluff.
My hike was still decent, and I could even jog a few places, and just near the end, I passed a struggling Sean Meissner. He declined any help, but seemed to still have some determination. Arriving to the cheering MB is always a boost. Brian and Theresa took good care of me, quickly, as I said I wanted to try to stay ahead of Caryn. As Theresa ran up the street with me, she said Caryn just arrived. I expected her catch me on the long, hot, uphill road on the way to Volcano Canyon, but I got to the downhill and she wasn’t in sight. With tentative legs, I made my way down, down, down, wondering if these switchbacks would ever end. Finally at Volcano Creek, I gave myself the promised laydown into the cold water, completely dousing. I had hot spots on the balls of my feet that I knew needed attention, and when I met Ed at Bath Road, I asked him to go ahead to Foresthill and see if the aid station folks would fix them. When I arrived they were ready, and after a very long, meticulous treatment during which Caryn came and went, I was ready to roll. Brian, Theresa, Ed, and now Prudence got me fed and filled up with ice while I was sitting, and finally I was going to run my favorite section with Prudence to keep me going.
It was 6:00 p.m. and the road from the school to California Street felt like an oven. It was the most intense heat I had experienced all day, and finally we made it to the dirt. We fairly cruised along, stopping briefly at Cal 1 for Gu, soda, gel, and salt. We kept a good pace on the flats and downhills, but the climbs were getting pretty tough. Prudence did a great job reminding me to breath deeply, by doing so herself (sort of like being in a yoga class). At Cal 2 I was happy and disappointed simultaneously to see Jeff Riley and his pacer Tom Atkins. I wanted him to have a good race, but obviously it wasn’t his day. We encouraged each other, but I was in and out before he was ready to go. The downhill section from Cal 2 was feeling pretty good, and I was thinking we might still make it to the river before dark. Between Cal2 and Cal3, I saw a runner ahead to focus on, and I saw that he was listing rather severely. I felt sorry for the poor guy, and even more so when I realized it was Rob Cain with his pacer Erin. “Rob! What’s going on? Why are you listing?” He smiled and said he didn’t really know why, but he was suffering. I wished him well, and knew he was in good hands. After a surprisingly nice Cal 3 aid station, I could finally hear the sounds of the river crossing activity, and although Prudence pulled out her light, I ran in before it turned pitch black. I was very excited to have made it in about 3 hours from the school.
After weighing in, John Ticer approached me with a message for Scott Wolfe’s crew that Scott was in medical on this side of the river. Prudence and I ran down to the river, and began the most fun event of the day. The water felt great, albeit a bit sting-y on some chaffed areas. I could hear Theresa and Ed whooping it up as we made our way over.
Once on dry land, I ate potato soup, grabbed my headlamp, changed waist packs, said hello to Linda and Bruce, while Brian and Ed made sure I had what I needed. Scott’s crew was no where in sight. Prudence gave Theresa the pacing duties, and we high tailed it out of there. Near the top we met Scott’s SO Siri, and gave her the news. Up at Green Gate, we passed on anymore aid, and headed into the darkness. Theresa seemed to be struggling with the trail a bit, so I reminded her to relax and pretend she was running in her local park, and to trust her proprioception. She laughed, claiming I was pacing her – but she soon got in a groove and we cruised along the flats, hiked the hills, and methodically picked off runners one at time. I had no idea what kind of pace or splits we were running but I felt that I would at least get a sub-24 buckle if nothing dramatic happened. ALT was uneventful, and we kept cruising. Ahead of me, I saw some lights again, and as we got closer, I saw that it was Caryn! Theresa asked if I wanted to pick it up, and I said “No, she’s coming back to us, let’s be patient.”On a small switchback, Caryn could see and hear me, and put the pedal down. I thought she would still come back to us, but that was the last I saw her until the finish. Obviously she had more in the tank than I. I took another tumble, landing hard on my hand, hyper-extending my thumb and finger. No matter how many tumbles, I have yet to do anything that would label me as “Ticer Tough”. No bones sticking out of the skin, no shredded ankle ligaments – just dirt and scrapes. Moments later, Theresa took a spill, which she claimed was out of sympathy.
Into Brown’s Bar, I had more potato soup. Theresa announced what I needed every time we came in to an aid station, and I had everything in moments notice. She also asked the volunteers – “Doesn’t she look great???” to which they would all agree. It was, after all, fairly late, dark, and possibly somewhat boring. She added a nice entertainment factor for them, I’m sure. Leaving Brown’s Bar I warned Theresa that it was long, down, and technical. I tried gingerly running but it proved to be just as fast for me to walk down. Again, I had forgotten how long it took to get to the Quarry Road, but finally, we were there. Surprisingly, I found myself running some of the uphills, getting pretty excited as we approached Highway 49. We the spotter announced us coming, Ed let out his usual whoop, and we arrived to the cheers of Brian, Ed, Laura and Alec. Laura said Jeff was picking it up, and that he might catch me. That cheered me up – I would have loved nothing better. While I was getting ready, Scott Wolfe and John Ticer fairly flew through the aid station – another great surprise! I was so glad Scott had been able to turn around his misfortunes from early in the day.
Before I left, Brian said “Meghan, would you please say something to Dan before you leave? He is really having a hard time.” Until then I hadn’t seen him sitting in a chair, blanket in lap, with his pacer Matt gently massaging his legs, and his wife Courtney at his side being supportive of whatever needed to be done. I rubbed Dan-O’s head – “Hey Dan – there’s still time to feel better. Don’t give up yet.” Had I known what he had already gone through, I might have said “get to the hospital and better luck next time” or something to that effect. It was very sad to see him like that, but he was in very good hands.
Theresa and I headed out and could see Scott and John for one last time before they put a lot of distance on us. Quite alone, we made our way to No Hands Bridge. A good luck hug from Shannon Weil, and we were crossing the bridge. Before we made it to the climb to Robie Point, I saw the familiar gait of Alan Abbs. When I finally reached him I said “Alan, it took me FOREVER to catch you today!” He had left his stomach back at ALT and had nothing left to push hard to the finish. At last, the climb to Robie, and I could hear Ed. Theresa and I both hollered, he replied, and we were on our way to the school. We walked and ran the climbs, then crossed the white bridge, and ran what felt fast down to the school and onto the track. Ed and Theresa escorted me around the track, to my finish time of 21:33. I had achieved my main objective of placing in the top 10 and run a time only 45 minutes slower than 2007.
Quite relieved to be done, I went through the “Vet Check” – my blood pressure was a little high (I was excited!) so I had to sit quietly for a spell. I was also part of a blood sodium level study, and had my blood drawn for that. Surprisingly, it was slightly below normal, even though I had taken at least 3x the amount of salt I had in the past. My second BP pressure was normal, so I was released. The rest of the wee small hours were spent napping, eating, drinking, waiting and cheering for the last runners. At 11:00, most of Team Sunsweet and crew went to see Dan in the hospital. He was in pretty good spirits, and seems he’ll be among the running again in the future.
I want to especially thank Brian, Theresa, Ed and Prudence for their stellar performances all day long! You guys are the best!