Western States 2010 arrived and I was ready. Training had gone well, racing had been good, I was tapered and recovered from a cold just in time. Craig Thornley, training partner and mentor, told me in May “just go win this thing!” I had several friends believing I could, and although no amount of anyone’s wishing or predicting can make it happen, it was extremely flattering and boosted my confidence. I decided to take a risk early and try to stay with Craig from the start. His fast splits were for running 18:30, much faster than my best of 20:50, but I was ready to give it a go.
Morning temps were just a bit nippy, but the forecast was for the 90’s later. The sky was clear and filled with stars. I found Craig and the Jiz (Andy Jones-Wilkins) near the start line. We greeted many of our running companions and competitors as the clock wound down, and crunched in close while Tim Twietmeyer and Gordy Ansleigh each said a few words before the horn sounded.
The gun went off, and I stuck like glue to Craig. He was already running sections I would normally hike but I was committed to trying. The altitude was having it’s usually affect on me, but it seemed that it wasn’t so much for everyone around me. Joelle Vaught, Nikki Kimball, and Devon Crosby-Helms all glided by seemingly unaffected, while my lungs burned and legs protested. I hung on to Craig’s pace for about 2 miles, then let him pull ahead. Reaching the final steep climb before the summit, I began to hear the haunting sound of Chris Thornley’s gong, beckoning us up into the sun. He was offering a mallet to anyone who wanted a go, and I was happy to give it a go.
Reaching the beginning of the snow course, an altered route created due to the difficulty of access for the aid stations in the snow, we began running on a gravel road that was basically down hill for 3 miles. I caught and passed Alan, teasing him for going to fast. I was not in a lot of company, and there were no women around. I guessed there were 4 women ahead – Tracy Garneau, Joelle Vaught, Nikki Kimball, and Devon Crosby-Helms. At the aid station I ate a gu, took an S!Cap, and had my bottles filled with Gu Brew. No one told me my place or how far the women ahead were, so I guessed they were pretty far. We had more road now, and I could see Simon Mtuy ahead. The road went on for several miles, and even though we were lower than the original course, I still struggled, anxiously awaiting the heavier air of lower elevation. Simon maintained his distance, and we caught at least one runner before the final turn to the next aid station. I had been keeping up with Gu and S!Caps, so just refilled my bottles, and finally hit the Poppy Trail.
The trail was awesome. Relatively flat, twisty, soft, tree covered, and easy on the eyes. I was loving it. I slowly reeled in a runner or two, and was caught by a runner, who chose to stay behind and have me set the pace. Eventually we broke out of the trees into the sun, and I was surprised at how it was heating up. We headed up a long grind of chopped and chewed up trail, me leading with a train behind. I knew we were close to Duncan Canyon aid station when I saw Glenn Tachiyama taking photos. I yelled out “Hey Glenn! I’m still clean!” referring to the big mess I was last year after my face plant.
Arriving at the Duncan Canyon aid station, I was happy to see Dan and Theresa. Theresa was there with the facts (I was behind Craig by about 4 minutes) and was indeed 5th woman, with Nikki and Devon not too far ahead. I shed gloves and arm warmers, filled my bottles, and headed out.
Duncan Canyon can be hot, but the temperatures were still fairly mild. I wound my way along, finally hitting the downhill into the canyon. The creek at the bottom was deeper than I remember seeing it, and one runner was standing in it, unsure of how to cross. I plowed through, managing to stay upright. The cold water felt good, even if it did fill my shoes. Once on the other side, I had 2 runners behind me, content to let me set the pace. We caught another runner, and on the downhill I was patient for not very long, before I asked to go around. I floated down the rocky trail, and ran into Ian Torrence who was having difficulties. His cheerful demeanor remained, nonetheless. Another stream crossing then the long steep climb out. I introduced myself to the runner who had stayed with me since before Duncan Canyon aid station – Brad from Massachusetts. It was his first 100 miler, and he was a little worried about his knee holding up. We stayed together a bit longer, then I pulled away in a water filled trail, plowing through it without regard for the wetness. Ahead I spotted Devon, and felt as if I would be catching her soon. Finally hearing the festive sounds of Robinson Flat aid station, I ran over the snow mounds, getting off course slightly, then finding the flagging one more time, crossed the bridge into the welcoming crowds. Bev Anderson-Abbs, sidelined with a knee injury, gave me a shout out, commending me on my work thus far. I handed my bottles to the aid station folks, and had my first weigh in. 120 lbs – up 4 lbs from the day before. I attributed it to my water logged shoes and scale inconsistency, and I was feeling good enough, so they let me go. Laurie Thornley was eagerly offering to fill my bottles, and I assured her that was done. Crew member Ed Willson was ready with some chocolate milk and PB and J, plus the all important stats. He gave me all the women’s splits, but I need to know where Craig was, as he was my theorhetical ‘pacer’. He was 4 minutes ahead, so not gapping me further. Tracy was 22 minutes ahead, Joelle a few minutes back from her. Nikki was 4 minutes ahead, and Devon was in eyesight.
I left the warmth of the supportive crowd onto the road, up several mounds of snow, trying not to waste energy pushing the pace on the soft surface. Winding up towards Little Bald Mountain, I finally caught up to Devon. She was having stomach issues, and while explaining them we followed the footsteps up a direction I didn’t think made sense. But since there were footsteps, we kept going, until 3 men came running back, saying it was the wrong way. After contemplating the situation for a moment or two, we turned back and eventually found the correct way. I should have known better from the past. I started down, with a train of 4 runners behind. We ran the switch backs comfortably. At the bottom, Devon easily glided out of sight, while I tried to keep my breathing in control, still struggling with altitude. I found myself running along side Tim from Colorado, and we chatted all the way to Miller’s Defeat aid station. I was updated there with only that I was breathing down Devon’s neck, so assumed the other gal’s had been through much earlier. The 2.7 miles into Dusty Corners eventually came to an end, into a welcoming aid station, with Dan and Theresa ready to meet my every need. I drank chocolate milk, nibbled a sandwich, and asked Theresa to fill my bandana with ice, as it was heating up. My bottles were filled with ice and Gu Brew, and I shuffled down the road.
Coming into Dusty Corners – Photo by Olga
Turning onto Pucker Point Trail, I was coming into my struggle zone. I tried to relax and float, but I didn’t feel very good. I took another S!Cap (I had been taking it at least once per hour) and pushed on. I was completely alone and wishing the trail would end. It was seemingly the longest section in the race. Eventually I caught and passed Chikara Omine, apparently feeling even worse than I. I heard another runner coming behind me, and hoped it wasn’t a woman. It was Tim from Colorado again. He let me set the pace for quite awhile, then offered to pull for awhile. I hung on for awhile, then let him pull ahead. I was still feeling crummy, so took another S!Cap and more Gu. Eventually hitting the gravel road to Last Chance, I was able to cruise downhill into the aid station. Another weight check – 121 – high, but I told them that was my weight at Robinson Flat, that I was taking salt, and that I felt okay. Bottles and bandana filled with ice, I was once again on my way, looking forward to the next downhill section.
I hit the “Precipitous” trail down to the swinging bridge at the bottom of Deadwood Canyon, not as lively as I had hoped, but no major complaints. My legs were holding up and I didn’t have any major blisters or hot spots. It was heating up in the canyon, but not unbearably. There was no one within sight or hearing distance. I glanced at my watch when I reached the bridge, 12:48, and gave myself a generous 40 minutes to get up to the Devil’s Thumb aid station – an incredibly long, slow, steep climb. About half way up, I heard a “Hello!”, looked up, and saw Devon looking down on me. “Hey – what’s up?” She was in some trouble with breathing difficulties and unable to eat or drink. When I caught up to her, I assured her the aid station folks were fix her up. She told me Nikki was just ahead, which surprised me. I hiked and jogged on up, and saw Nikki just before the top. I got there in 37 minutes, which I was content with. Once there, I weighed in – 120 – took another S!Cap and Gu, got my bottles filled, drank some coke, and ran out, encouraging Nikki to come along.
Ahead of me, Simon was gently loping along with his long legs. Before the next long descent into El Dorado canyon, I moved ahead of him, and began to let myself fly with the gravity. I enjoyed it from a subjective standpoint, but I felt nauseous. I kept downing the fluids, and took more S!Caps. I felt pretty much alone, until I caught Matt Simms. We chatted briefly, and reached the bottom of the canyon about the same time. After refilling again, I began the long hike up to Michigan Bluff. Matt stayed with me about half way, and we caught and passed a few runners along the way. One runner passed me running, which was impressive in this section, but when he started vomiting while running, I wasn’t as impressed. Next time I saw him was sitting in the only creek on the climb out, cooling his core. Afterward, he was back to his jogging, but seemed to have his stomach under control. I felt fairly decent now, and looked at my watch. It was nearly 3:00 now, and I had mentioned to my crew how cool it would be for me to get there by 3:00. I wasn’t going to make it, but certainly the earliest I had ever been there. Finally seeing the landmark “U” tree (a tall evergreen that bifurcates from the main trunk into a “U” shape), I ran the rest of the way into Michigan Bluff. Olga was there, and asked me “what did you do to those girls?” to which I replied “they did it to themselves”.
Climbing out of El Dorado Canyon to Michigan Bluff – photo by Olga
I weighed in again – 121. So I was maintaining a steady weight. My crew was all there now – Theresa worked on getting my bandana ready, Dan handed me the chocolate milk, I turned my nose at the sandwich and Ed wiped my legs off. I was in third place, and Craig was again, 4 minutes ahead, having stopped for a generous rest and downright pampering from his crew. Jeff Riley came out and he, Theresa, Ed, and Dan ran me up the street. The crowd was again SO enthusiastic, it carried me out.
Craig “Lord Balls” Thornley and his Courtiers
Once on Gorman Ranch Road, I kept running the flats and downhills, looking forward to hiking the climbs. I caught and met for the first time Justin Angle. We chatted for a bit, he not having such a great day, but he pulled ahead as we hit the trail, and vanished from sight once we hit the trail down into Volcano Canyon. Alone again I focused on soft landings, and keeping the nausea at bay best I could. Reaching Volcano Creek, I waded across the creek, foregoing my normal full submersion, as I was not unbearably hot and didn’t want to take the time.
I was soon at the bottom of Bath Road, where Ed and Theresa were waiting with good cheer and enthusiasm. Theresa stayed a few steps in front, pulling me along and not letting me get lazy. The plan for arriving at Forest Hill were to get some soup, coke, fill my bottles, get weighed in, and get going. As I arrived, I heard Nikki Kimball’s name being called, and later realized that they had mistaken me for her. While I was getting my things, Rory Bosio
came running in – she was doing great in her first 100, and I was happy to see her.
My crew was working hard on getting me focused and running again, and so we were finally running down to the California Street section. I saw many friends before we hit the trail, including Craig’s crew, who encouraged me to catch him. It was so great finally having Theresa to run with. We ran pretty quick until the first uphill, and I felt like I got hit by a truck. UGH. I complained and apologized to Theresa for going so slow, and she would have none of it, telling me I was doing great. I could hear Rory behind us, and managed to hold her off, although we arrived at Cal 1 aid station at the same time. While looking over all of the food, I mentioned that I hadn’t been eating much and nothing looked good, and one of the volunteers took it seriously enough to insist that I eat something. I grabbed a PB and J quarter, and nibbled. It was sticking in my mouth, and I didn’t want more. And as if Brian were actually there, he said “One more bite! You have to eat if you are going to finish.” I obliged, knowing he was right, and Theresa and I were on our way again.
Simon and his pacer were not far from us, and through the next 2 aid stations we exchanged leads back and forth, enjoying the camaraderie. Theresa knew I was struggling with nausea, so continued telling me stories and updating me on her life, while I silently worked on keeping my stomach together. I lamented to her that I was feeling slow, and thought I was going to have a 4 hour split to the river. When I finally did the math correctly, I realized I was off by an hour, and my demeanor immediately changed. Low three hours for me was faster than I have run this section. Close to the river, I could hear Ed yelling from the other side. We were both very excited to have made it to the river by 7:30 ish.
Theresa and me at the River – photo by Gary Wang
After another weigh in, we made our way down to the boat, and Theresa and I got a ride over quickly. Again, my crew was doing their best to keep me focused and get going. I had a little potato soup, put my light on my head, put my vest on with S!Caps, a spare light and more Gu. My entourage and I headed for the Green Gate, with Simon not far ahead. Dan would break into a jog when the road wasn’t so steep, and Theresa and I followed suit, but I would pull the plug when it felt too hard.
At the Green Gate, I needed no aid, and just as Dan and I were ready to head down the trail, I spied Caren Spore right behind me. Stunned, I said “What are you doing here?” I had not seen her all day, and figured I was well ahead. Swallowing the humble pie, I looked at Dan and said “we have to go NOW!” Knowing that Caren’s strength is running up every hill, and her weakness is not much momentum on the down, we hit the downhills with enthusiasm on Dan’s part and fear on mine. The air was cooling and my stomach not as queasy, but not golden. Dan told me a few stories, and kept the pace honest. His natural speed and foot placement was keeping me focused. I put my feet where his just left. If he ever pulled too far ahead he eased up just a bit. He coached me on the uphills (“use your glutes!”) and reminded me when it had been 30 minutes since my last Gu. I was still popping S!Caps, which would ease my nausea.
Ahead I was surprised to see that in my attempts to outrun Caren, we had caught up to Joelle Vaught. I told Dan we didn’t need to chase her down, but keep the steady effort. In a few minutes we caught her. She was in good spirits, but tired from the long day. We cruised by, and in short order, caught Rory. She too, was running out of gas, but we encouraged each other on. By the time I got to Auburn Lake Trails aid station I was in 2nd place, and feeling on fire. The weigh-in caused a hiccup, as I was now 123. I tried to assure the folks that yes, I had been taking S!Caps, yes, I had been peeing, and would you please let me go I just got in to 2nd place!?! The man most concerned asked if he could watch me actually take an S!Cap, he would let me go. Happy to oblige, I downed one and out we went.
Now it was pretty dark, so when we caught the next runner/pacer, it wasn’t clear who it was. I asked Dan “is that Craig?” and he didn’t think so. We got right on their heels and when the pacer said “let us know when you want by.” It was indeed Craig and pacer John Ticer. Craig was having a pretty bad patch, and I teased him when I went by with a “Let’s go honey!” He cheered us on, and we kept pushing the pace, as I was still worried about Caren catching us. Brown’s Bar aid station was loud, and we got out quickly, heading down the steep rocky trail to the quarry road next to the river. Once there I was surprised to find myself running the uphills and feeling pretty decent. We kept a steady effort even up the mile long rocky climb, and then the trail to highway 49. I was pretty stoked now, feeling like 2nd place was a real possibility.
My crew and Craig’s were all that I could hear and see when we came into the aid station, a mere 7 miles from the finish. Quickly in and out, Dan and I forged on. We ran fairly silently, me focused on his foot placement, and he sensing where I was and not letting the distance between us ever get too far. Approaching the descent to No Hands Bridge, Dan saw the lighted spectacle for the first time, surprised. At the aid station I was grabbing a Gu when I saw Ed and Theresa – what were they doing here? I anticipated seeing them no sooner than Robie Point. Ed said “Nikki was 5 minutes back at highway 49.” Yikes! I gulped the Gu and water, and we headed across the bridge. Dan reined me in not wanting me to blow up in my attempt to put more space between us and Nikki. We had a good steady pace all the way to Robie Point, and for once it actually didn’t feel that long. There were no headlights behind us, but I wasn’t taking chances. We started running up the road until it got real steep, walked for a bit, then started running again, meeting Ed and Theresa who said Nikki was 4 minutes back at No Hands.
I kept running and saying “I just need to get to the white bridge”, and finally, there it was. I opened up my stride and cruised to the track. I hit the nice soft surface and turned on whatever after burners I had. Having no idea what my time was, I was tickled to see 19:15 as I rounded the track. The seconds were ticking, so I went hard to keep it at the 15.
As part of the hyponatremia study, my blood was sampled for sodium, and even though I had at least 25 S!Caps during the day, I was still low. I think if I had heat trained I may have not lost so much.
All in all, my best Western States ever. I feel like maybe I finally ‘got it’, but at 49 years old, time is running out. I will be back next year, still racing hard, and not acting my age.