Sunday, June 30, 2013

A 100 of everything

100 miles is a long way in a car, with air conditioning, the radio, a coffee and an open road. From Squaw Valley to Auburn, with 18,000ft of climbing and temperatures that topped out at 104 in Auburn at the finish, and stayed in the 80's ALL NIGHT, it's a flipping long way!

The start of WS100 at Squaw Valley
This year's Western States was 'only' the second hottest in the 40 year history. It was a long day of ups and downs, literally. If you could fill a day with drama, amazing performances and just downright grit, Saturday was the day.

I was 'pacing' Dave Ross, a Zim/UK friend from Foresthill, the 62 mile marker, to the finish 38 miles away. The only time 38 miles doesn't sound a long way, is when you know your runner has already run 62 miles! This gave me the chance to watch the start, and then follow the race via the excellent timing system and  irunfar tweets. It's hard to access the route and with the temperature at 90 early morning, the air conditioned Auburn Starbucks became race headquarters for me. 

The early pace seemed fast, with defending champ Tim Olson on record pace (set in much better running conditions last year) with a stacked field keeping pace. Olson never faltered and was always tweeted as 'looking strong'. He beat of all the young and old bucks to repeat his win. A great result for a real nice guy. The other story at the front was women's winner 38 year old Pam Smith who astonishing was ninth overall in the most competitive MENS field ever. She was 1 hour 50 mins behind Ellie Greenwood's record, but in the conditions, the placing was the real story. Plenty of the top men will be having nightmares about being 'chicked' in their target race!

Olson and Ross, both very proud of their achievements
So to our race. Dave's splits had been consistent all day, and that was the only info I had. So I waited at Foresthill, trying to drink, stay cool and not think about running in the heat, which I am very crap at. Dave appeared on time, looking super strong and full of beans. Off we set, after weighing, food, drink, sponges etc down into the canyon. It was hot! We were setting a good pace, going past other runners and enjoying the shade. The river crossing at 78 miles is really the next big landmark and where Dave pulled out 2 years ago, so also a psychological barrier. It seemed to take forever to get there, and we arrived in the dark, waded across and started the climb out the other side, 300m up to Green Gate. 

The real trick to running 100 miles (I'm told) is nutrition and body management. To keep eating all day whilst running near your limit is a challenge. Some guys take literally a gel every 20 minutes all day. I'd hate to see what comes out the other end. Most runners try and mix it up with some real food, supplements, tablets, muti and anything that the aid stations provide. Dave had done a great job til after the river, then his stomach rebelled, and like most things that would put normal people in bed, it worked the runner's miracle and got him moving better and faster. It had taken us 58 minutes to make 1.6 miles but now we were suddenly regaining places again. BUT, we were 80 miles and almost 20 hours into the race, and it was hard and slow. BUT, we were in the game, and 54 overall, with over 300 runners behind us, many of whom would take the full 30 hours allowed to finish. Dave's goal was the sterling silver buckle for a sub 24 hour run (ie the WS in a day).

It is quite alluring.....
We kept moving, and as the night wore on, cursed the many climbs, but walked, jogged and ran our way towards Auburn. When 5 mile stretches are taking over an hour, the time goes slowly and it can be quite demoralising for the runners. There was plenty of silence and just focusing on getting to the next aid station and refueling, not just on nutrition, but also on good will and encouragement. They were ticked off slowly and as we moved past 3am, we climbed the last hill and onto the Placer school track and the finish. Dave was 54th and 22,38 hours was on the clock. Another 329 runners were still on the course or had dropped (ie pulled out). 

Dave went to the hotel to shower and sleep, but I wanted to get a taste for the race and see all the finishers come in. Just like Comrades a steady stream of runners becomes a torrent in the last hour, and as 30 hours approached, the numbers finishing grew. I felt quite emotionally that these runners had been on the trail since 5am yesterday and it was now after 10am the next day. They'd had 100+ degree heat yesterday and now had another 5 hours of sun on Sunday to contend with. They all looked pretty stuffed! 

Last official finisher at WS100 after 30 hours running
I can't really comprehend running 100 miles in one day and before yesterday would definitely have said no chance, but looking at that shiny silver buckle and seeing what it meant to people has put a glimmer of interest in my mind. The destructive nature of running that far, in one go, will probably stop that becoming anything more concrete. I like recovering, I like running for fun, but also being competitive, and right now I'm not fit or good enough to do WS100 justice. But never say never!

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