Despite not cracking the top 10 this was one of the coolest running experiences I have done thus far! The whole of the trip, I believe, has made me a stronger more efficient runner. I left for California 10 days before the race in hopes to gain some experience on the Western States 100 (WS100) course. I spoke about my training up to the race in my previous blog, but to sum it up I was able to get on 70 miles worth of the course before race day. On race day I felt I had a bit more experience, and a better grasp of how to efficiently descend and ascend the mountainous canyons through the use of a balanced running approach then I did when I left Wisconsin.
Using what I had learned proved to be difficult at times. Old habits die hard stood true for me. I would estimate on race day I was able to effectively use a balanced running approach on much of the ascents, but struggled to efficiently descend at least half of the time. I believe this hurt me in the latter portions of the race because running inefficiently down the mountains beat your quads up more heavily. The important thing for me was that I came away from this experience with the knowledge of how to run more balanced and attack descents efficiently. Now I can practice the approach and hopefully improve my down hill running.
I planned to go out conservatively at the start. I did this mainly because it was my first hundred, and because I believed I was more susceptible to “wrecking” my quads early as some of the more experienced, and more talented mountain runners. During the first 3.5 five miles of steep climbing I focused only maintaining a comfortable heart rate. I believe I was in around 20th place when I reached the top. It was a strange year for WS100 as it rained for about the first 40 miles, and the high country took on 30 mph gusts of wind. A race that is notorious for its scorching temperatures in the canyons was replaced by a frigid and soggy first half, and a pleasantly warm and sunny second half. Those who handled the cold, wind, and rain at the start ran some impressive times!
Once atop the wilderness area I began to eek my way further up the field. I pulled into Lions (mile 10.5) in around 14-15th place. My plan from here was to run conservatively by continuing to listen to my heart rate through the canyon sections of the course. I lucked out in this section of the course with some good company from David Riddle and Jon Olsen leading up to, and into, the canyons. I was a bit more aggressive in the descents leading down to the two canyons after Robinson's Flat (mile 30). In the canyons my approach was to run slowly unless I felt my heart rate start to climb too high, in which then I would power hike. This worked well, except I broke form a bit on the canyon leading into Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7) where I ran the majority of it. I think this took a little too much out of me, because I spent the majority of Michigan Bluff to Forest Hill (mile 62) trying to pull it together and feel comfortable.
When I was about a mile from Forest Hill I began to feel really good. I was able to run into the aid station at a pretty good clip and pick up my pacer Gary Gellin for the remainder of the race. Gary did a great job motivating me. I strongly believe I would have added at least 10-15 minutes to my time had he not been with me. We went through the next section, Cal. Loop to Rucky Chucky ( miles 62-78) at a steady clip of under 10 minute miles. It was in this section that I took my third, and hardest fall (other two were relatively gentle falls). I got cut up pretty good on my knees and right elbow, but was able to get up and keep moving without losing much time. It was in this section were I began to notice my form suffering on the descents. Gary would run behind me and encourage me to stay aware when he noticed my form really begin to slip.
After the river crossing at Rucky Chucky we plotted along at a good pace, but decided to hike the steeper climbs in order to conserve energy for the flat and downhill sections. When I got to mile 80 I convinced myself to break the remainder of the course into four 5 mile sections. I thought this would be a good way to stay positive and not think too far ahead. At mile 85 my pace began to suffer despite Gary's best effort to keep my moving. We were close to other runners, so Gary was frequent in his encouragement to maintain pace. At mile 88 I took in some caffeine. With the sun going down and the race nearing an end I didn't have to worry much about dehydration from too much caffeine use. In about five minutes my energy levels spiked. I entered what was probably my most aggressive section of the course. From mile 88-95 Gary and I were able to pull into 12th place, with the 11th place runner not too far ahead. It was an interesting situation because we thought, at the time, we were in 11th and were closing on the 10th place runner. This certainly increased how aggressive we were during this section. I may have bit off a little too much a little too soon, as when we got to mile 95 mile my quads began to really become non-responsive on the descents. I slowed significantly resulting in my place to slip to 15th. I actually looked forward to the climb from miles 97-99 because my muscles desperately needed a change from descending. When we reached the top of Robie Point we had only one mile of pavement and track until the finish line.
It felt so good to be on concrete after being on the trails for so long. With no runner close enough to catch, and no runner close enough to run us down Gary and I steadily moved towards the finish. We entered the track and I crossed the finish line in a time of 16 hrs. 53 min. 25 sec. It was great to be able to talk to the other runners and spectators about the race. I was especially excited to see Timothy Olsen, whom we had heard was way ahead of course record pace. He was able to win with a time of 14 hrs. 46 min. breaking Geoff Roes previous record of 15 hrs. 07 min. This also sealed the Montrial Cup Trophy Series win for him, which was a goal of his going into the race.
What was learned on the WS100 trail? What I took away the most from WS100 was my weaknesses in descending. I was okay on the less technical descents, but suffered on descents that boasted really technical and rocky terrain (as made evident by the huge scabs I have on my left knee and right elbow). It was impressive to see some of the better technical runners attack some of the down hill portions. It is definitely an aspect of training I will try to improve upon as best I can given the terrain available in Wisconsin.
A huge thanks to Peter Defty, of Vespa Power Products for making this whole trip happen. Also, a huge thanks to Gary Gellin for pacing me in what I hope to be the first of many 100 mile ultras. I could not have asked for a better pacer. Keep your eyes peeled for Gary this August as he will be attempting to break the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Tahoe Rim.
- Vespa ultra concentrate (8), junior (4)
- Innov 8 F-Lite 230 (whole race) from Revolution Natural Running
- Drymax Maximum Protection Running (one pair, zero blisters!!!)
- Fuel Belt: Standard carrier, Slice, and Hydration Pack
- Extreme Endurance: Extreme, Xecute, Omega, Immune, Joint
Escarpment in the early morning fog
Exiting Robinons's Flat
Forest Hill Aid Station
Leaving Forest Hill Aid Station (joined by pacer Gary Gellin)
River crossing after the Rucky Chucky Aid Station (mile 78)
Wrapping up the day on the Auburn Track!
Post race picture while talking to iRunFar's Bryon Powell