Sunday, July 3, 2011
With Western States 2011 in the books, now is the time to reflect on a truly special and epic weekend!
First off, I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to run Western once again(two years in a row) It is such a special event, a world class affair that is terrifically run. There was about a 7-10% chance of getting in this year so a bit of luck was on my side. There are so many factors that make this such a special race. The first thing is the course/trail itself. I live at exact sea level so I don't get the opportunity to run on such a beautiful trail. The Sierra Nevada's are amazing. The history, the elevation, descent, flora and fauna etc, it is a beautiful part of America.
The other factor that makes Western so special is the volunteers and race officials. The size and scope of this race is huge and I am very thankful to the race committee for the hard work they put into this race every year. The Sierra's had been blasted with snow all winter and still had huge amounts of the white stuff for the first 35 miles. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to make all these last minute changes, a logistical nightmare. The race went off without a hitch and went very smoothly. As for the volunteers, they are second to none. They give up there whole day(sometimes two days) to help you accomplish a life long dream. They are so happy, supportive, willing to do anything for you(including taping up my nasty dogs). When you are feeling at your lowest and you come stumbling into one of the aid stations, the volunteers will always send you on your way feeling so much better. I salute all the volunteers at the Western States 100.
The pre-race buzz was electric. Myself and the Mullenator had changed rooms and were now in the center of the Squaw Village. Tons of world class runners and back of the packers like me milling about. It was a great place to stay and we were right in the middle of everything. All the pre-race briefings went according to plan but I have to admit I was a bit frazzled. I freaked out for a spell when I thought I had lost my race number. Little did I know or I had forgotten that they had not given it to me yet, it was to be given to me the next morning. Mullen could only laugh and tell me to try to keep my head in the game.
Something special did happen during the pre-race briefing that I want to share. I was wearing my 100 Miles 4 Owen shirt when I was approached by a man whose name escapes me. He asked me if I was affiliated with the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation. I was a bit surprised and said that I was. He stated that he recognized the 100 Miles 4 Owen from the GSF website. He mentioned that they have a child with a disability and that his wife follows the Strong's blog religiously. I felt so proud and also a sense of accomplishment. Myself, Mullen and Magda received so many compliments from the shirts we wore and the slogan "we run for those who can't". I love being able to take the time, explain the story of why I am running these races and spreading the message of ending SMA.
Magda arrived on Friday afternoon and the team was fully assembled. I had my running guru/pacer and now I had my chief crew member/Facebook posting officer/No hands Bridge or Bust runner. Team Owen was fully assembled and would not be denied. Let the SMA ass kicking commence!
The morning start was again a literal blast, approx 400 runners and there friends and families assembled at the base of the Squaw Valley Ski resort. The shotgun blast signified the start and we were off. After about 100 yards of running, this part of the race turns into a power hike/sometimes run up the ski slope. They modified the beginning of the race because of the nasty white stuff on the other trail. This I certainly appreciated. After approx. 50 minutes of hiking/running we reached the top of Escarpment. Again I took time to take a look around and was again treated to breathtaking views. Now the fun part.
The big story of Western States 2011 initially was the SNOW. The course had been modified even more than last year because of the snow pack. There was still over 8ft of snow pack in some parts of the high country making the running a bit dicey. I decided before the race that I wasn't going to worry about it or complain about it because there was nothing I could do about it. Last year I found it not to be that big of a deal and kind of enjoyed it. It wasn't running so much as skiing but it was fine. This year was a bit different. The night before the start had been a bit cooler and I found the snow to be more icy. It was tough going but it wasn't that big of a deal. I found myself working a bit harder and I think for some reason the altitude effected me more this year. I fell on my ass a good 8-10 times but no significant injuries or problems. I actually fell right on the back of my head but it didn't hurt. I 've been accused of being a bit a hard headed!.
After about 15 miles of running through the snow, we dropped into the French Meadows Reservoir for some sweet single track. It was a welcomed change from the snow slog and I ran fairly well. My lungs for some reason were still feeling it but no major issues. We came into the Duncan Canyon Aid station and I replenished with some fuel. I was feeling pretty good at this time and ran out of the aid station fairly quickly. This would be a new part of the course we were running because of the snow. As soon as I left the aid station, I ran into a a little low point. It wasn't a big deal but I felt that my energy was sapped. It might have been the extra work through the snow, or maybe the altitude, but whatever it was I slowed down a bit. The one thing that was nagging on my mind was the condition of my feet and how they would hold up. Last year, my feet were crushed with blisters by mile 80 and I didn't want to go through that nastiness once again. I was using hydropel for the first time and I was def satisfied with the results thus far. However I was feeling a hot spot in the area that had given me trouble last year. It was gnawing at me but I knew there was nothing I could do at this time.
This section of the race brought us down a highway road to a new section of the course. The running was easy and I quickly regained my strength. I felt OK and that I was back in the game. We left the road and started a pretty steep climb(over 1000ft) up towards Little Bald Mountain. This was in lieu of Robinson Flats aid station. The climb was tough but I was running ok. I was still feeling my chest though and it was like I couldn't catch my breath. A little further up the trail, my breath was taking away literally as I ran right into a little rattlesnake(at least i think it was a rattler). I am by no means a snake expert but it scared the living bejezus out of me. I definitely picked up the pace after that. There were all kinds of wild life sightings this year, a couple of bears, one of which actually slowed down some of the female lead runners toward the end of the race. This is not your local 5k road race.
After what seemed like a lifetime, we reached the top of the climb and came into an aid station. Again I was in a bit of a lull and I took a little more time than I usually do in this aid station. I changed shoes and socks and did a quick assessment. Feets were looking ok but I was feeling the hot spot on the right foot. I decided to press on and deal with it later. The sun was bright and warm but it was not overly hot. This was also a new section that took us out about 2 1/2 miles and then back. There was still snow all over this section which was hard to believe. I was working hard, actually working too hard I think. This section was pretty unremarkable but it did bring us back to the original part of the course, a nice slow descent toward the canyons and the Last Chance Aid station.
As the air got warmer, something stood out to me. There were a ton of butterflies this year through out the course. Last year as I ran through the canyons I observed many birds hovering skyward with the heat vents. I was reminded and thought of my SMA angels and this year it was the butterflies that gave me pause and reminded me of why I run ultras. My thoughts turned to Owen and his family, Gwendolyn and her family, and all other babies effected by SMA. I also thought of my Grams throughout the day this year. Grams was a huge inspiration for me and a guardian angel for me. She was always there for me when I was down and I owe her alot. She played a big role and was hugely responsible for helping me become the man I am today and I am eternally grateful for her.
As I entered Last Chance, I knew I had to have my foot looked at before I plunged into the canyons. I took about 20 minutes inside Last Chance while a volunteer nurse tended to my feet. She couldn't have been nicer and she had the greatest bedside manner. I was disappointed that I was inside the aid station so long(I am usually right in, right out) but I was sticking to my plan to take care of myself and let the chips fall as they may.
I left Last Chance and entered the Canyons, the toughest part of the course. The first downhill section into Devils Thumb is very steep and unforgiving. Downhill running is not my forte and my quads took a beating as I tenderfooted down the canyon. No turned ankles or injuries occurred so I was quite happy. I crossed the bridge and headed up the Devils Thumb climb. What I remembered from last year is that the first switchback literally took my breath away. And this year was no different. My hill training consists of rolling trails on the Cape so this rugged terrain takes it's toll on me. I was planning on doing more hill training this year but my hernia surgery put a kink in that plan. Oh well, I trudged on and found it a little easier than last year. It was not easy though and it sapped alot of my energy. I was feeling Ok and made my way into the Devils Thumb aid station. Again the volunteers were great and I was quickly rejuvanted for El Dorado Canyon. This is some sweet running, a deeper canyon but more gradual in its descent and ascent. I ran the downhill very well, probably a bit too well. By the time I got down to the bottom my quads were crying momma. I climbed up El Dorado with no problems and was even able to run a bit of it.
I made it out to Michigan Bluff(mile 55) feeling ok but a bit tired. Usually your crew is able to pick you up there and give you a bit of energy but because of logistical issues, Magda and Mullen could not meet me there. I was ok with that because the aid stations are really stocked well, but it would have been nice to see my team. I was buoyed by the site of Jim Guilford and the members of the G.A.C. running club. They cheered my every step and definitely gave me a boast. Gilly and the rest of the members of GAC always make the trip out to Western and they are what is good about the sport of running. Great people! I quickly made my way out and started running towards Volcano Canyon. Only 6 miles until I see Magda and Mullen and make my way into the final 38 miles.
I made my way up onto Bath Road on my way to Foresthill. Mullen was at the bottom and he was a site for sore eyes. I never have a problem going at it alone but it is always easier if you have somebody to pick you up when your feeling down. We made our way to Foresthill Aid station and I was feeling pretty good. I wanted to get in and out because I was about an hour earlier than last year and wanted to make some time. But I stuck to the game plan and had my footsies looked at. I had the pleasure of being attended to by my new friend George Miller. He took great care of my feet and he taped up those badboys with some Rocktape. They felt great and I felt pretty confident that the blister issue of last year would be last years problem. George was great along with all the other volunteers of the aid station. In particular a young lady who was with George whose name escapes me. She was very helpful and supportive and a great example of all the volunteers at Western. After about 20 minutes we met up with Magda and did a quick systems check. I was feeling pretty good and wanted to get going into the trail. I am so very grateful to Magda for making the trip out to Western for me. Crewing at these races are never easy, lots of running around and lots of waiting. Magda does it without complaint and is always willing to do for others. She was amazing and a huge boost as I made my way into the final 38. If I made it to mile 93, Magda would be pacing me the final 7 miles across No Hands Bridge and Robie Point.
As we entered Cal Street there was still plenty of daylight left. I wanted to run as much as I could with daylight still on and made it about 1/2 hour before the headlamp came on. The trails and running were fantastic and I was feeling pretty good, except for the quads. Myself and Mullen fell into a pretty good rhythm and enjoyed our run. I hit a few rough patches but all in all there were no problems. Mullen did a great job of pacing me and keeping me company. I can be a long day on the trails and I some time put my crabby pants on. Mullen put up with my bullshit and was a great pacer. I would pick him again to pace me in a heartbeat. He's got great mojo!
I put on the headphones for a little bit as we ran along the American River. The running was good and strong and pretty memorable as I listened to the Dark Side of The Moon while running along the American River. It was very cool. We then approached the Rucky Chucky River Crossing at mile 78 feeling pretty good. The volunteers were again great and were a huge boost. Again this year we had to cross the river using boats, which was fine with me. One year though I would like the challenge of crossing that river late in the evening. Maybe next year, hopefully. One of the volunteers told me to step onto the boat and as I did I slipped and fell hard into the boat. Everybody was laughing including myself. At mile 78 you don't mind making a fool of yourself. We made it across the river with no problems and made it to the next aid station, Rucky Chucky Far Side. Magda had made the long 2 mile walk from Green Gate aid station to meet me. I quickly changed my shoes and socks and we made our way up the 2 mile climb towards Green Gate. This climbed sucked and I was in full bitch mode. I was feeling so good crossing the river and now I was struggling to climb up this steep road. I was complaining, bitching, moaning and groaning lol. I was in a low patch for sure but kept my head down and kept on plugging.
The next 20 miles are in the deep of the night for me and were a struggle last year. This year I felt a bit better and I felt I was running more of these sections. I was running pretty well for a while but I was in full grumpy mode, Right after mile 85 aid station, I rolled my ankle in the same exact spot as I did last year. These little damn holes along the trail got me again. I was able to walk it off and then run it off and it didn't present any further problems for me.
We made it into Brown's Bar aid station(mile 89) and I knew I was coming to the end. At this time I knew I was going to finish the race but I was a bit disappointed in my time. I knew I was a bit faster than last year but I guess I had higher expectations. After running out of the nasty part of the trail leaving Brown's Bar, I was able to run alot better than I had last year. This was the direct result of not having a blister problem in either foot. We plugged along to Highway 49 where we would meet Magda so she could pace me in.
As we entered Highway 49 to pick up Magda, I was feeling Ok, actually alot better than last year. I even told Magda as we started running that I wasn't as crabby as I was last year and we got a laugh out of that. The running was slow and painful but we were making some progress. Halfway through the race I was hoping to run somewhere in the low 25 hour range but that ship had sailed. I was pretty close to the 27 hour mark and it was pretty doable. However my quads were toast and were not functioning that well. We pressed on and kept going. Magda was doing a great job, gently prodding me to keep going and then letting me know that we had to pick it up if we wanted to make 27 hours. I told her that breaking 27 was not a big deal to me and that my quads were hurting to much for me to push it to hard. Typical baby talk. She stuck with me and we made our way across No Hands Bridge. No hands Bridge and the surrounding area is breathtaking. The sun had just come up and the canyon river basin was live with different colors. The American River was roiling and very powerful! I love the area.
As we approached Robie Point(Mile 99) Mullen made his way down the steep climb to greet me and encourage me. We trudged our way up this climb(whose idea is it to put a steep ass climb at mile 99 of a 100 mile race anyways lol). We made our way out of the trail and made it out to the familiar road towards the track. It is great seeing all the residents of Auburn up early, cheering you on. After running all night in solitude, it definitely pumps up your spirits. I really wanted to run and push the pace into the track but my quads did not want to cooperate. I ran for a little while and then I stopped. I was spent. Magda then let me know with about 1/2 mile left that I had about 12 minutes to make 27 hours. I got my ass in gear and proceeded to run as hard as I could.
As I entered the track, I was again overcome with emotions. The very same weekend in 2007 was a terrible low point in my life. I was adrift and felt that I had no purpose or hope. My life had turned to shit. As I entered the track it struck me how much life can change and I am so grateful for that. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and know good thing dies! I was running 100 miles for the second year in a row instead of being stuck and spinning my wheels. Unbelievable.
The time around the track is much too short, you don't even realize that you are running. As I made it too the finish line, John Medinger announced my name, and that I run for Owen Simmons and to find a cure for SMA. I made a quick look skyward, a little point towards the O-man and then onward to the finish line. I finished in 26 hours and 54 minutes. Someday i will get that silver buckle, I know I will but for the time being I am totally happy and satisfied with my time. Just finishing or starting the race is reward enough.
Again Western States was a truly remarkable experience and life changing event. I love this race and will run it every chance I get. I ran 100 miles and I feel so grateful for that. I have been given a gift, the gift of endurance and the gift to persevere. I feel on top of the world and love feeling like this.. I will continue to run Ultra's in honor of Owen and will keep on running until a cure for SMA is found, or until my legs fall off.
Again a special thanks to all of Team Owen, for without your help no of this would be possible. A special thanks to Claudia and Gillian Sampson who I can always count on to get stuff done. They are Team Owen's foundation and are the best. Even though I am still mad at them for cleaning my house, fixing stuff, etc. lol Magda and Kevin, you guys were great and I am forever thankful for your sacrifice. Magda is always quick to help out and give of herself and for that I am eternally grateful. She is always thinking of others and she is a power of example on how to be selfless. I will be there for Magda when it is her turn to run Western! Kevin I had a great time at Western this year and hopefully we can do it again. You can pace me anytime or next time I will pace you. To Bill, Victoria, and Gwendolyn, thank you for all your support and positive vibes. You don't know how much a power of example you guys are and I am grateful for your friendship. We will not stop until our work is done. Bill the marathon is going to be epic! To Andy and Heather, again thank you for sharing your little angel with all of us and for being the people you are. You guys are amazing and I cant wait to do it again. Finally to my main man Owen, thank you so much for inspiring me, for helping me become a better man. We will continue to honor you and to make changes in children's lives. You are not forgotten, only remembered more strongly!