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On Western States 100, Almost and Pride

Sometimes it takes a while after a big race to get to a point to where you are ready to write about it. So, here I am almost a month after Western States and finally getting a blog post out. I have had a lot of ups and downs since the race (and during!) but I wanted to share about my experience out West. This might be long, but hopefully it is not a drawn out, boring report about what I ate or my agonizing over the weather forecasts in the days before the race or what I was feeling mile by mile, but more a reflection on what I learned while I was preparing for and running 100mi through the Sierras in late June.

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Most of you reading this know about my fibula fracture on June 6th, just 3 weeks before the race, forcing me into a hard taper and kicking me out of the altitude tent I had only just started using. 

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Being from the East coast and living sea level makes the journey to compete at Western States a big undertaking and adding the stress of injury when I was finally starting to feel ready took a lot out of me. Not knowing how my leg would handle the race, I ended up making several race plans, preparing for the best and worst scenarios and while that is a critical part of any race prep having to make ones so widely varying was a new one for me!

Pre-Race

Squaw Valley before Western States is like Kona meets a trail race at the Oscars. Seriously, I was overwhelmed with the hype. I made the iRunFar Women’s Preview and the Group Think Predictions “least known runner.” It seemed like some people knew I was going to run this race, but it seemed most likely that the VHTRC folks had stuffed the ballot box! In my wildest dreams I had hoped to come to the West coast and “bring the heat from the East!” but before the race had even started I had come to terms with my new goals.

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Ultrarunning has always held more than marathon or road running for me, mostly because people don’t walk around comparing their 100mi PRs, we support the last runner with the same enthusiasm as the first and the sense of comradery in running long distances even in the face of competition is so much more inspiring than the adversarial interactions I have had with other running disciplines. Now, I don’t want to start a thing here, I run road races, I have great friends who won’t touch the trails, but I LOVE trail running and the ultrarunning community that I come from on the East coast is just awesome, it’s where I feel at home! So, I am not sure if it is ultrarunning on the West coast or just Western States, but the eager eyes and nervous, competitive energy in Squaw before the Big Dance, made me glad in some way that my leg had given me an excuse to check out.

Race

It was the worst of times; it was the best of times. It really could be said about any long race that there are highs and lows and that “anything can happen in a 100miles.” However, I was not expecting to start feeling so bad, so early. I had expected to deal with pain in my leg and to manage the heat, I was ready for that. I was not ready to have my stomach not tolerate solids from half way up to Emigrant Pass, that’s just unfair. My race report goes something like this:

  • My stomach sucks. I hate it. I have struggled with it since the dawn of my ultrarunning, but felt like I had gotten it under control, guess not.

I started vomiting before mi 16 and by the time I first got to see my crew at Duncan Canyon (mi 23) I was in tears, my mental and physical being were falling apart. I wanted it to be over, I wanted to be doing anything else except dragging my broken body through the woods for another 24+hours to make the 30hr cutoff. 

  • My sister changed my race. (My eyes are filling up just writing about this).

She literally dropped the crew bags and hugged me, she told me it didn’t matter, just being out there running was all that mattered and I was awesome no matter what time I got to Auburn. It was such a release to have the pressure of my race plans and the hype of the Ultrarunning Oscars off my shoulders. I started walking as I left the aid station and I didn’t start running again for a long time.

  • I cannot handle altitude.

Even though Western States isn’t that “high” it was still too much for me. Guess I needed more time in the altitude tent, like 6mon more. Or maybe I should just move! I ran when I could, but I walked a lot, a drank my chocolate almond milk and ginger ale when I could but, I ran out of water more than 30min out of Robinson Flat and I arrived in worse shape that when I had left Duncan Canyon. My quads were cramping, I had a near syncopal episode and I sat down wallowing in my own pain, knowing that I wasn’t going to quit, but I had a lot of suffering ahead of me. After avoiding the medical volunteers, filling my bottles with soda and water, I got some much needed tough love from Sophie Speidel and was on my way.

  • I have never felt so alone during a trail race as I felt during this run.

Maybe it was that I don’t know the trails or that almost every face at the aid stations was unfamiliar or that I ran mostly by myself with only brief conversations with other runners or maybe it was my self-pity?

  • A long downhill and passing people who are worse off that you are can give you quite a boost! 

I was mentally prepared for the climb up Devil’s Thumb, I stopped and soaked myself before the climb, I started passing people who looked like zombie, some who were sitting down, and then I saw a guy who was out of water. Helping to motivate guys who were not making forward progress while sitting on a rock get up and giving water to a runner gave me a boost. Maybe I wasn’t feeling as bad as I could be.

  • Progress feels good.

When I got to Michigan Bluff, my crew was animated and let me know I was in the top 20. I hadn’t wanted to know where I was, I wasn’t going to have a competitive day and felt like knowing where I was place wise would only get me down. I had lost my cue cards (probably for the best) but even without them I had made up time on 24hr pace. Seriously?

  • Friends are even better.

Fellow VHTRC member and friend, Keith Levasseur, who had passed me early on when I was hurting, run up behind me. Where did he come from?! We ran the rest of the way to Foresthill together. I couldn’t believe that we had such similar experiences in feeling alone and not having trained with the respect this course deserves, regardless, sharing those miles with Keith was just what I needed. He was running the flats and the gradual uphills just a step faster than I was and it helped me kick into high gear.

  • Sisters are the best.

After Foresthill I was back on 24hour pace. It just felt good. I felt like if I kept pushing just a little, I could make it. My sister kept reminding me to try to run, but take in the mountains, the sunset, pride in what I was accomplishing. To think back at how I was feeling in the morning and what an awesome and inspiring race I was already running!

Then I started passing women. A whole bunch of them.

Then I started passing women who I recognized. Hmm. This was getting interesting.

  • Racing can be fun.

When I got the American River. I realized that I was gaining strength as time went on. I was still only having liquids but I wasn’t feeling like I was going to die. I was in control, I made some jokes, I smiled a little bit. My goal had been to switch pacers and have Pat run with me from the River to the finish and to race the last 20miles feeling like I could compete. I did it.

My sister and Adam had just arrived at Robie Point as they saw lights coming up to the aid station and were surprised as they heard me yell out my number, I almost beat them there! They asked me if I wanted to know what place I was in, I thought about it. I had just passed Meghan Arbogast coming up to Robie Point and she didn’t put up a fight. I knew I wasn’t in the top 10 but I decided I wanted to know. 11th, and 10th was already finished, deep breath and I ran as hard as I could. AJW came out to meet us as the track came into view. I rounded the track, again in tears, thinking back to how far away my early defeats were and then I remembered, I needed to focus on my 200m split, the Dojo would be asking for it! I smiled and took it all in.

Post Race

My reflections and thoughts on this race have been all over the place. This is the hard stuff to sort through. I have at times felt like I know exactly what I did wrong (fractured fibula, woefully inadequate training miles, go out too hard, not handle the altitude or the stress) and that all of those things are within my control to improve on. It feels a lot like my 3:03 at Boston this year. I didn’t set out to run any specific time, but it is so close to a life goal that I have had a hard time not feeling disappointed. Seriously, I know it sounds crazy, I ran a 16min PR in a marathon and I wasn’t satisfied. I think that there is a little bit of that here. I feel so close to top 10 and the what ifs start to take over. Then I think back about why I love ultrarunning so much. I ran the best possible race that I could with what I had available and what was there on that particular day. It can’t be compared to anyone else’s run, it is mine. My crew is amazing and they knew just how to help me ride out the lows and when to push me. Knowing that my friends, family, coworkers, random strangers, scuba buddies were all watching and rooting for me keep me going. I couldn’t have done it without all of their love and support. Thank you! 

I am not sure what I want to do next, (other than run Eastern States in 3 weeks! But that doesn’t count right?). However, I know that I am amazingly proud of what I did accomplish, there is no agony in 11th or relief that I don’t have to come back, there is only pride. I inspired myself and hopefully some others to not quit, a 100miles a long race and anything can happen!

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