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Title:Western States -- The Wrong Turn Home
Date:Saturday June 23rd, 2012
Author:Juli Aistars
This year's race was one of the most exciting ever with new course
records and strange weather. Congratulations to Ellie and Tim --
Wow!!! Congratulations to friends David Elsbernd, Steve Holman, Craig
Slagel, Jose San Gabriel, Dale Humphrey, Gary Wang, Chihping Fu, Will
Glover, Dan Brenden, Jason Sullivan, Mark Hellenthal and Clyde Aker.
Congratulations to all who finished but I was particularly thrilled to
see these names in the results. I was also disappointed that others
who I thought would finish did not, like Shelley Cook, who was the
other IL woman to get in by lottery. She was so nice to send me a
message after the lottery and introduce herself at a local race. She
is a fantastic runner and she made it to mile 78. I have yet to hear
what happened.

With all the excitement of the run this year, I doubt that the story
of my 20.5 mile run with only 16 official miles is of much importance.
BTW, I was clocked in at Red Star at 10:40, not 10:18 as I had
thought. Not only can I not follow a course, but I can't tell time
either :). I am sure now that Barkley is not for me... Val, Krista,
and I flew overnight and just got home this morning. I was thinking
about skipping the sordid story, but there could be some value in
telling it.

The most important thing -- I had a wonderful time in California,
spending time with family, seeing ultrarunning friends, and enjoying
part of the WS course. I have never felt so loved and supported by
family and friends, especially after the big gaff.

We flew to CA on Tuesday and visited our sons in the northern part of
the state. Krista, our 22 year old daughter, came along to visit with
her brothers, where she stayed all week. We visited my brother in
Elverta, the one who lives 2 blocks from Gibson Ranch, home of Norm
Klein's 6 day in years past. We got to Tahoe City on Thursday where we
were hosted by Steve Crane who I paced at Kettle last year. He is a
really good runner and though I felt I could have done a better job of
pacing him, he kindly offered to pace me at WS. He did so much more...
He and his wife Susan were the ultimate hosts, making us dinner on
Friday and even breakfast the morning of the race so that I could
sleep longer. Steve took us on a short hike on the TRT the day before
with the most beautiful views. His children, Sophie and Leo, seemed so
comfortable with us invading their space. Thank you Steve and family
for being so good to us!

For months leading up to WS, I stressed, trained, prepared, and
enlisted the help of friend Beth Hall for advice and personal
training. I planned and read everything on the race, watched the
weather, heat-trained in a sauna, breathed a sign of relief that the
Duncan Canyon cutoff was back to 12PM (I missed it by 5 minutes when
it was 11:30A in 2009). I did something different than usual -- I put
all my focus on this race with everything else done in preparation. I
even tapered and deliberately DNFed Kettle 100K so I would be ready
for WS. I clocked a 7:07 mile in a 5K 2 weeks before WS and my lack of
confidence slowly faded. I was ready for this. Thank you to all my
friends who encouraged me and made me believe in myself, including
Steve Crane who sent me texts periodically with advice and
encouragement and Beth Hall who did and said all the right things to
help me prepare. The New Leaf runners were also a great inspiration as
they are to all...

It was an incredible journey, both the training and basking in the
brilliant glow of my wonderful, loving, generous, encouraging and
supportive friends. It would take a lot more than a DNF to make the
journey any less incredible and rewarding. I learned so much along the
way, not just about preparing for WS.

So what happened? I was running along with Jose and a group shortly
before I missed the turn. I saw Catra and Shannon. Jose is so
enthusiastic and gave me encouragement when he finally passed me at
about 7 miles. I also talked briefly with David who said he was
concerned about finishing if I timed out at Duncan. David is a strong
runner -- I was confident he could finish. Shortly after David put my
rain poncho in my Nathan for me, I came upon Ron. I passed him and
then turned to ask him his name. We started to talk as we came upon
the green metal gate in a wooded area. He had surgery on his knee just
3 weeks before and hoped he could finish. There were markers on both
sides of the gate. I went left and Ron went right. The road seemed to
go naturally to the left and that is where we went. "There are no
footprints, " I said. The ground was hard and wet from the rain. Maybe
footprints weren't showing up. We went on for a short way. I asked,
"Could we have missed something back there?" Ron answered, "I don't
think so." I considered turning around but then I saw the yellow
marker in a tree on the right. It looked a little worn and did not say
"Montrail." I was worried but went a little further. Then I saw a
Montrail marker -- relief. The trail, a dirt road, curved back and
forth and was surrounded by vegetation, so it would be hard to see
anyone ahead of us. I ran faster to catch them. I was ahead of Ron
when I came to a turn where there were 3 choices. I went to the right
and ran 1/4 mile without seeing markers. I returned to the decision
point and waited for Ron. We decided to turn back -- we had run quite
a way and now we were going uphill. Ron had a Garmin -- now I know
there is a good reason to wear one on a trail run :). As we were
backtracking, we noticed that our footprints were showing up, so we
should have known that "no footprints" was an important sign that we
were off trail. Ron also noticed anthills on the trail that were
undisturbed. He did not follow his instincts. I did not follow mine.
We had passed about 5 yellow markers but they were higher up than I
expected. We wanted to believe the markers meant we were on trail. Who
would have thought they would still be here from last year? It turned
out we were on the snow course of the past 2 years -- still on the WS
trail, just going the wrong direction. Ron's Garmin was about to hit
14 miles and still no Lyon's Ridge which should have been at 10.5.
Shortly after, we found it, all packed up but the volunteer took our
numbers and wished us luck. "I think we're screwed," is all I could
think to say. We decided to do our best but I think we both knew we
would not make Red Star in time. It was raining and cold. This was
nothing compared to the high winds all the way up to Emigrant Pass.
Chicago weather in the early winter -- no big deal :).

We came upon two runners coming toward us who told us the sweeps were
ahead and did not know we were on the course. They were removing the
markers. We followed the trail fine without markers -- isn't that
ironic? :) We found the sweeps eventually, Sharon and Mark, who are
husband and wife and have been the WS sweeps for many years. Mark ran
behind me and made conversation. I asked him what the cutoff was at
Red Star. He said he wasn't sure. I know now that he was being kind.
He wanted to spare me. Ron had gotten ahead and then I caught him
again. He was positive and did not complain. I know he was
disappointed, but he didn't show it. We had passed the Cowman on our
way in to RS. He came in shortly after and he took a photo with us. He
said, "We're alive." On the trail I reminded him of 2009 when he timed
out at DC by only 10 seconds. I knew the rules at WS were strict when
I saw them enforced on the Cowman. He said, "I don't remember, I
don't remember much of anything," with a smile. He seems like a happy
person, even when he times out. I like the Cowman... It is sleeting,
raining, cold. A little brown, hairless dog shivers on the ground,
waiting for someone to pick her up and warm her, comfort her. I feel
her pain... The volunteers offer us food and to sit in a warm car, but
no one pays attention to the little dog :(

Mark, an aid station volunteer, is finally ready to go. He can only
take one person to RF and then to FH. Ron says, "She is colder than
me, take her." A gentleman to the end. Val and Steve are at Duncan
Canyon trying to get information on my whereabouts. The volunteers
can't tell them for some reason. He and Steve think they have missed
me and try to get to Dusty Corners. They end up at Robinson Flat. They
have no cell reception so the multiple messages I leave from Mark's
phone never reach Val. I stand at FH for what seems like hours. I call
from different phones. I answer questions about the race for crew and
passerbys who ask. I am surprised at how much I know and only have to
direct one question to race officials. At least I make myself useful.
Mark comes by to check on me again. He had given me Gatorade. Thank
you so much Mark! About 4 hours after I timed out, Val and Steve
finally drive up. They were told at RF that I timed out and will be at
Foresthill. On the way there, phone reception returns and Val gets my
messages. We had read all the rules but Val forgot the part about
drops before Foresthill go to FH. Reading is one thing, remembering is
another. We socialize at Foresthill with Dan and some others, we watch
the leaders come through. I get to see Lizzie Hawker in person,
running. I am sure she, the 4 time UTMB winner, world 24 hour record
holder and multi-day trail runner, will win. She is 8 minutes behind
Ellie, but I am certain she has what it takes to triumph in the next
38 miles. She runs well, but she does not win, nor even maintain 2nd
place. I don't believe in her any less. A lot can happen in 100 miles.
She will be back next year to win.

I am disappointed that I made a stupid mistake and timed out because
of it. I can wallow in it or rise above it, learning from it and
moving on. I wonder what it feels like to be an elite ultrarunner,
setting records. Do they ever wonder what it feels like to be at the
other end, sometimes just hoping to finish, even though the effort
expended might not be any less? I talked to Bill from Madison, WI, at
the airport. He was one of the runners who warmed up Kami on the trail
before her DNF due to hypothermia. As Steve said after he told me
about getting lost at a recent trail run, "We all get our turn."
Another example of how little difference there really is between us.

For all the WS runners who didn't make it to Placer High School "the
long way home", don't let a setback ding your belief in yourself. I
hope you are all doing O.K. today and enjoying "being alive" the way
the Cowman meant it...

Congratulations to everyone who competed this past weekend!
Congratulations to Beth Hall, who I just heard was 3rd woman at Black
Hills 100M! Yes!

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Posted:June 25th, 2012 2:34 pm
Last View:July 11th, 2020 3:03 pm
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