January 19th, 2020
2010 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run
Saturday June 26th, 2010
UltraTails - 2010 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run
Runners measure performance by time over distance. For runners, math calculations grow exponentially more difficult the farther into a run they go. While sitting at the Foresthill aid station, 62 miles traveled, sipping soup, struggling to divide 38 miles by 12½ hours I puked twice then came up with the fuzzy magic number of
It became my most important number and immediate critical mission. “Three miles an hour,” I told Michelle as we made for the exit of the aid station, “think I can do that.”
But how did we get to this point?
It always starts in November, seven months prior to the race with their application regiment. So coveted is a spot in their starting pen that the Western States Endurance Run lottery process lops off 80% of its eager applicants. That may seem severe, and it is, but National Forest permitting restrictions allow only about 425 starters per annual race. I’ve applied every year since 1998 (except one - after the race was cancelled due to dangerous air quality caused by nearby forest fires)... of 12 registration attempts this was only my fifth year being accepted.
Fast forward to race week... This year I was without the services of crewmate Peter Block, who has helped pace, crew, drive, and inspire all four of my previous WS100s. In Pete’s absence Michelle (wife) would serve as crew -but- wouldn’t be able to pace because we had no additional driver. We arrived on Thursday and shared a rental house with ultra-buddy Michael Davenport who was going for his 5th finish too, and first-timers Steve Emmert and Dominic Guinta - all of us from the Chicagoland area. At race check-in we met up with Jennifer Aradi, another rookie from Chicago. Our group of five runners and one crewmate dined at
on Friday evening.
If you’re an ultra runner there is no better place to be than the
WS100 starting pen
, predawn on the final Saturday in June. Last minute adjustments were illuminated by staccato camera flashes. An overhead clocked clicked down to zero, shotgun fired, the collective pack surged... wayward ho, `way we go!
The pack morphed into a tail and wagged
up the mountain
of Squaw Valley ski resort. Climbing, we skipped over sections of snow as behind the sun rose above Lake Tahoe. A final push brought us to the top where a greeter rolled his welcoming Paiste gong at
, 8750 feet above sea level. Whew... four miles done, 96 to go.
Plunging the mountain’s backside a wild, sometimes barely discernable trail bumped and switched deep forest, brush, snow, back country fire trails and creeks. At just six miles into the race those
were our first flirtations with the waters that would converge and form the Middle Fork of the American River.
Near nine miles we detached from the classic trail and descended into the French Meadows Reservoir area. This detour avoided deep snow that cluttered the normal, higher ridge trails and afforded us stunning close-ups of the French Meadows’ shoreline. The 2010 “snow route” featured aid stations at
While trotting along a dusty fire road one of three fishermen stepped out of his truck and asked me, “Is this some sort of competition?”
“Yep, we’re running 100 trail miles to Auburn.”
We all shared a laugh when, incredulously his buddy shook his head, “Man, I’m glad I’m not you!”
We’d covered decent mileage during morning hours but could feel the day’s heat climbing while working the trail through burnt-out patches where new growth was fighting its way back after a 2001 forest fire. To compound hazards this trail had been recently cut leaving two inch spear-like tree-shoots sprouting from underground... careful. I took a brief timeout for a view back to the waters of
At Duncan Canyon aid station - 23.8 miles we rejoined the traditional WS100 course. I met and shared a few rugged trail miles with
, who after many years of crewing her husband was looking for her first WS100 finish. Together we scampered through Duncan Creek, which was running higher & faster than normal due to the late snow melt. A bit farther up the trail I caught the man who started it all, pioneer
as we made our way to the first major crew accessible aid station.
Michelle was there at
. Though it was only 29.7 miles for runners, Michelle had to drive over 100 mountainous miles then catch a shuttle bus to meet me. She gave updates on our Chicago runners (who’d all been through) while I munched cookies, chips and orange slices. It was 12:30 after noon... pretty much my predetermined pace. We planned our next rendezvous for “T plus six hours” at 55+ miles, which turned out to be a serious miscalculation on my part. A kiss for luck and I was off.
Three weeks prior to race I suffered a strained hamstring during an easy run… six days later I pulled it completely while playing softball. At that point my training, which had been hampered due to a nagging achilles tendon became almost completely void of running. I turned to l-o-n-g bike rides and lap swimming for conditioning while addressing these injuries through aggressive therapy sessions. Some friends advised a “DNS” (do not start) but for me that was never a consideration... it’s just too difficult to get in this race... expectations can adjust, but ultimately a finishers’ buckle must be obtained from each WS100 opportunity.
Leaving Robinson Flat persistent snow stretches obstructed progress for 1½ miles until finally we peaked and made the south-facing trails of Little Bald Mountain. Gradually the course changed into easy downhill sections and offered the fastest running of our day. We descended, the mercury rose, the notorious canyons drew closer as we pulled into
checkpoint at 43.8 miles. A friendly scale dialed two ticks up from my starting weight of 145 lbs. More bites of orange and potato chips were in order.
Exiting the station a couple of roving safety patrol officials obliged me a photo roadside near
abandoned mining equipment
. Leaving the road switchbacks led us down technical trail some 1700 feet over the span of just a couple of miles. Long before bottoming out we could hear the rush of our flirtatious friend, the American River which we crossed, this time by
at 2730 feet above sea level. From there a steep trail got us out of the canyon and up to
Devil’s Thumb aid station - mile 47.8
Progress began slowing... lack of training mileage was catching up to me. Five miles of runable trail dipped into El Dorado Canyon but I was reduced to shuffling. I hurried through the El Dorado aid station to start the next 2.8 mile climb as daylight wanned. An hour later my shoes touched backtop roads at the aid station of
Michigan Bluff - mile 55.7
Apologized to Michelle for my serious miscalculation of arrival time at Michigan Bluff... I was an 1½ hours late. She took it all in-stride, “Michael came through more than two hours ago. Steve is an hour up, and Jen is ½ hour ahead of you.”
Michelle had a chair set up and helped peel away my sullied socks for some scrubing, drying and vaselining... then I forced my swollen feet back into their shoes. At 8:20 darkness was settling into the forest. I stood, took a few seconds to regain balance while checking my headlamp. We overheard a report that Geoff Roes had just arrived at the finish line, edging Anton Krupicka by a few minutes... both had bettered the previous course record by a substantial amount of time. They were in Auburn celebrating a race well-run... those of us at Michigan Bluff were facing 45 more miles and now scraping against 30-hour pace projections.
There was a full moon rising and urgency in the air as I followed
to the trail leading down to Volcano Canyon. Didn’t mind being passed by others descending to Volcano Creek... knew I’d catch up on the climb up to Bath Road. There, we were treated to views of the moon through breaches in the forest canopy. I wanted to run the mile stretch along Foresthill Road to the aid station at the elementary school but had depleted energy reserves and couldn’t hold any pace beyond walking. I staggered in and needed help mounting the scale for mandatory weigh-in. Fortunately my weight was satisfactory enough to allow passage.
And there we were... the aid station at Foresthill... 62 miles covered, 38 to go. I worked to
and calculate the pace necessary to beat cutoffs to the finish line.
The pace was
. It became my immediate critical mission.
Michelle walked me through the exit of the aid station and ½ mile down Main Street to the trail head. Dominic appeared there and together we plunged back into the forest. Dom was moving well and soon detached, leaving me in his wake.
Power-hiking was my fastest sustainable speed. Anything faster was raising a nauseous reaction in my stomach. I drank lightly and doused my head continuously from water bottles. Took swigs of coke and soup at aid stations. Pushed to cover three miles in each hour. Thought about the great advice we heard at the pre-race meeting, “You’ll hit low points during the race. Think about how fortunate you are to be one of the few selected for this event. The low points will pass. Be thankful for your good health and cherish the moment.”
16 miles and five hours after leaving Foresthill I arrived at the cool banks of the Rucky Chucky aid station. After a quick weigh-in I hurried down steep rocky steps to grab the last spot on the next raft heading across the Middle Fork of the American River. The short break in the raft and chilly river crossing helped me stomach soup and potato chips before pushing up the 750 foot climb on the other side.
Under the star-filled California skies I arrived at Green Gate - mile 79.8 - the 4th crew accessible aid station. I called out into the darkness for Michelle, but she wasn’t there. Instead Dom appeared from the shadows where he was catching a few winks. Just as at Foresthill we dove into the darkness of the trail together and again, he was moving quicker and soon left me behind.
My power hiking
mission was keeping up a 30 hour projected finish. Figured that eventually I’d have to run or risk a finish too close to the absolute cutoff for comfort. Throughout the night my stomach had protested all calories offered. Just before dawn I found a packet of GU Chomps in my fanny pack and tried a couple between squirts of water. They went down easy. They stayed down without objection. Hmmm... interesting. I shuffled along the trail for a mile and repeated the Chomps intake... success!
This new-found source of energy propelled me into a quicker tempo. I was jogging again and connected with a pack of runners / pacers, nine in all and single-file as the wee-small-hours surrendered to early morning. Pacers were cajoling and advising their runners, “We need to pick it up just a little more.”
Leaving the crazy, cross-dressing checkpoint - Brown’s Bar - mile 89.9, our loosely formed pack splintered. I chased the lead runner and his pacer down rocky trail to the sun-splashed brushy banks of the American River. We rushed along the river then started our second-to-last ascent, 600 feet to the Highway 49 aid station. A
shot of me
as I caught her at the highway crossing.
“Go Billy!”, she guided me to a chair for a quick break and change of equipment. One water bottle and my lucky “Chicago” singlet would see me to the finish... no need to tote flashlights anymore. We had just 6½ miles to go and 2½ hours in which to do it. From the exit point a moderate uphill led to
. Then we doubled back for a final dive to our watery course companion, the American River. Running well on the descent I caught up with Jennifer Aradi... it was the 1st I’d seen of her since Friday dinner some 38 hours earlier... she was looking great and moving well... “Go Jen!”
Crossing the River at No Hands bridge I connected with Dom, “Do you think we have enough time to finish?”
“Piece of cake”, I winked understanding his concern being a first-timer. We raced over the bridge and gently rose with the trail along the river. Auburn awaited, just above the rocky outcropping of Robie Point. Pressing up my last ¼ mile of dusty trail a smiling Tim Twietmeyer approached, “Need any ice?”
Quite bizarre... here was the President of the
Foundation, five-time champion, 25-time finisher (all sub-24 hour)... an A-list celebrity greeting back-of-the-packers as we arrived in Auburn. You’d think he had far more important matters to attend at this moment on race weekend. I declined his offer but gleefully accepted his “high-five.”
The trail ended, handing us off to blacktop road and the Robie Point checkpoint. I stuck to my tradition of skipping the last aid station... followed the orange-painted-footprints
winding through town
. Michelle met me outside the gates of the track and together we made the final lap... she gave me the inside lane. We hit the tape in 29 hours, 12 minutes... far from a PR but satisfying nonetheless.
I dipped into a tent for shade and a podiatrist... feet and toes were mangled... achilles tendon ravaged... no surprises there. Michael appeared looking fresh and rested to congratulate me. Got himself a WS100 PR of 25:33, effectively stripping the “dnf monkeys off his back.” Steve had come in comfortably one hour before. Michelle stood ready at the finish line to cheer-in
. Dom and I snagged a photo with
RD Greg Soderlund
. Adrenaline kept the finish line celebration going for hours.
Our tight group of five from Chicagoland ran well... overcoming all obstacles and long odds each finished within the 30-hour time limit earning our
... to all participants of the 2010 Western States 100.
... to all crewmates, pacers, officials and volunteers who helped us along the way on this adventure.
... to Geoff Roes and Tony Krupicka for their epic dual and for breaking the course record.
... to Tracy Garneau for her winning performance.
No after-thought here... my biggest
... to crew, driver, care giver, nutritionist, photographer, roving reporter, wife Michelle for getting me through this 5th running, 10 years after our 1st WS100...
Like video recaps? Check out Steve's amazing tale of his adventure:
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