Western States 100 – It’s Not About the Finish Clock

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Coach Andrew Taylor, Nicole, Samuel, and pacer Josh finishing the Western States 100

A story of my journey to and through the 2016 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run…

As my feet hit the pavement on the outskirts of Auburn, I completely forgot about how long ago the race had started. My thoughts and emotions swelled with the years of training that I completed to get to this point. Just getting into the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is not taken for granted by any ultramarathon runner. To reach this point was the culmination of sacrifice and passion for a sport that has been part of my life for 25 years.

If you have followed me over the years, then you may know my story to reach the Western States 100. In that case, you may want to skip ahead to the actual race recap. If not, I will begin with a quick overview of how I got into the Western States 100.

How I Got into the Western States 100

Living on the East Coast did not give me many chances to train and automatically run myself into the WS100. If runners can claim a top in a Golden Ticket Race, then they are given a WS100 entry. Like most that run WS100, I relied on running a qualifying race each year and holding out hope for the lottery.

I started running qualifying races in 2011 and 2012, while 50-mile trail races were still allowed. For three years, I attempted to reach the 12-hour qualifying finish at The North Face 50-Mile Run (TNF50) in Georgia. Still very new to the sport, I was successful at reaching this standard by running 11:56 and 10:57, respectively. Unfortunately, in 2013, I had a bad stretch of training coming into the mid-September race. I missed the qualifying time by 15 minutes, running 12:15. In the days preceding the event, I debated on what race to squeeze in to still have a WS100 qualifier.

This was the last year for 50-mile trail runs to be used as a qualifier, so I elected to make the jump to the 100-mile distance. I set my eyes on competing in the Pinhoti 100 Mile Endurance Run held at the end of October in Alabama. With TNF50 falling six weeks before Pinhoti 100, it was perfect for a traditional 100-mile training plan. I entered with the mindset of just finishing in the 30-hour cutoff. I fought through regular first 100-mile adversity to finish in 28:08.

Completing that first 100-miler in October 2013 paid off in gaining experience for the future. With a re-invigorated motivation for running, I loaded 2014 with shorter ultras and scheduled two 100-milers. I completed both Burning River 100 and Pinhoti 100 in 24:19 and 23:45, respectively. Unfortunately, WS100 does not give a bonus to runners who complete multiple 100s in a year. However, I was quickly becoming a veteran in the ultra sport and gaining confidence.

After not being selected in the Western States 100 lottery for the fourth straight year, I registered for the 2015 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (TRT100). This race was over mountainous terrain on the opposite side of Lake Tahoe from WS100. I figured it would be a good stepping stone to gaining race-specificity experience. As the TRT100 approached, I felt a little overtrained. I had completed a 24-hour race, a 10x5K race, a sub-8 hour 50-mile race, and a 24,000-foot elevation change 50K already in the year.

During TRT100, I suffered through some altitude sickness and came derailed from a bad pacer experience. With much disappointment, I took the DNF at mile 62. I was mentally and physically beaten up after TRT100. In the months after the event, I did not care too much to run even short distances. At the same time, I was depressed from losing out on the accumulation of years of work for the Western States 100.

Determined not to let training and several years of sacrifices go to waste, I threw myself into Grindstone 100 in early October 2015. This particular 100 features 48,000 feet of elevation change but also allows for a 38-hour finish. I was confident that I could at least walk/run the distance in this amount of time. A week before the race, the South had historic flooding and the event permits for the weekend were all canceled.

Miraculously, the race director was able to re-schedule the event for the next week. I also was able to redo my work schedule to attend the event. I completed Grindstone 100 in 29:49 with no crew, no pacers, and the anxiety of my wife being less than seven days from giving birth to our son.

After five years of qualifying, the December 2015 lottery was kind to me. Training from January through June went well, but it was also met with the addition of a lot of other stress. I was now a father, changing jobs, and making a 2,800-mile move from South Carolina to California just two weeks before the event date.

Race Week

We had just settled into living in a house with four generations of family under one roof when race week began. To try to make the final week as relaxing and stress-free as possible, I packed up all my drop bags, and race items, and prepared all my crew directions before departing for Squaw.

My original race plan was to rely on drop bags over the first 50-some miles. I would then have team support at Michigan Bluff (55.7), Foresthill (62), Green Gate (79.8), and Hwy 49 (93.5). However, this plan changed slightly as the week began. Josh Spague of Orange Mud contacted me about my pacing needs. After getting to know Josh through a couple of emails and phone calls, I agreed to let him join me. His experience in adventure racing was extensive, and his mood was fun and light-hearted. I could tell right away that he would be a tremendous asset to me in the last portion of WS100.

Arriving in Squaw on Monday, I completed a short 3.6-mile hike up a portion of the Western States 100 trail. Later that day, we checked into the rented condo for the week. The condo slept ten people, and Nicole, Samuel, the in-laws (Dave and Irene), Nicole’s sister and her family (Andrea, Maks, and Henry), and Nicole’s relatives (David and Kathy) filled the house. Samuel and Henry were the two babies of the house, which meant there were almost always diapers to change and crying to try to tune out. Thankfully, everyone worked together to keep the atmosphere relaxing and fun all week long. We did a small amount of hiking and sightseeing and spent most nights unwinding in the spa that accompanied the condo.

Did I just break a rib?

Through the first three days of the week, I was staying relaxed and out of trouble. Around midnight on Wednesday, I awoke to go to the bathroom at the other end of our bedroom. As I took a few steps toward the bathroom, my left knee hit the bedpost. The frame of the bed stuck out about a foot from the edge of the mattress. My body lurched forward uncontrollably, and I crashed full force into the pack-n-play. The right side of my body landed squarely on the support of the portable crib. I screamed and gasped for air.

Adrenaline pumping, I fell back into the bed next to Nicole. By this point, she was also awake and in a panic. My right shin was bleeding, and I continued to gasp for air. With each breath, pain radiated through my ribs. As I lay there, I was furious with myself for such a stupid accident. My thoughts swirled around how this might derail my race completely. After cleaning up my wounds, icing, and taking ibuprofen, I finally was able to tune out the pain and fall back asleep.

Despite the pain in my ribs with each breath, I decided to still participate in the WS100 organized hike up to Watson’s Monument on Thursday morning. The hike was a little over four miles in length, and I kept the pace very easy. I discovered that even with my Salomon pack on, there was not much more discomfort over without it while going uphill. Going downhill was a different story, however, as pain shot through my right side with each uneven step. It was not going to be easy going during the actual race in the steep downhill canyons. I was thankful that at least the hike helped me to start to prepare for the discomfort that was imminent.

Nicole, Andrea, Maks, and Irene took the free sky tram ride and met up with me about a mile to go to the summit. The winds were high, and they had elected to haul everything, including the babies, in the two BOB strollers. While BOB-branded strollers are very robust, the incline and crosswinds won out.  Maks continued to the summit with me. Everyone else turned around and headed back to the High Camp to seek shelter.

Start to Emigrants Pass

My alarm went off at 2:00 AM on race morning, but I had given up on sleep around 1:00 AM. I lay in bed in the dark room for close to 45 minutes just staring at the ceiling. Once up, I sipped on a cup of coffee and ate several slices of bacon, a hard-boiled egg, and a Picky Bar for breakfast. I followed breakfast with a bottle of Lemon Tailwind Nutrition. Then started the process of getting dressed, lubing potential chafing sites, and applying sunscreen. Just before 4:00 AM the house came to life with everyone up and readied for a start. After topping off all my bottles with water and Tailwind, we made our way out into the cold crisp, and dark parking lot. Nicole, Dave, and I arrived at the race start area around 4:15 AM.

The Western States 100 requires all runners to check in race morning to pick up their race bib. As I stood in line, the runner in front of me was wearing a hydration pack that, unannounced to him, was spilling water. I informed him of the issue, which slowed down the line progress and garnished a look of panic as to how he was going to stay hydrated throughout the day. As he exited the line, his pace quickened in the direction of his crew. In my head, I laughed at the fact that it was a great cooling mechanism. However, at the same time, I felt sorry for the runner. I hoped that he would come up with a quick solution.

Time seemed to speed up as we stood around in the dark waiting. We enjoyed watching all the last-minute commotion among runners and crew members. Then, with about ten minutes to go, I took my place near the front next to the top contenders. While I did not intend on keeping up with these elite runners, I also did not want to get slowed down coming off the line or feel rushed by the crowd. Andy Jones-Wilkins climbed a ladder next to the start with a couple of minutes to go. His distinctly recognizable voice echoed off the mountains. He welcomed all the runners and crews to what was sure to be an exciting and emotional day.

Before I knew it, the final 10 seconds ticked away, and a shotgun went off. The crowd rushed through the starting archway in the early morning darkness and up the opening climb. Within 100 yards of the start, it seemed that more than half of the field had already sprinted past me. For those that have not seen the opening climb, it is not one that very many can run. Adrenaline pumping, runners took off like it was a flat sprint to the finish just ahead. I ran about 100 yards, then fell into a steady hiking pace. Over the 2,600 feet of climb in 4 miles, I found a few flatter sections on the opening climb to run. These sections allowed me to keep my average pace down under 18-min/mile.

About halfway up the climb, I got the sense that I was somehow at the back of the pack. Peering over my shoulder confirmed that there were now only 50-75 participants behind me. I was slightly frustrated that many had pushed the pace so early. Being far back in the pack meant the single-track downhill after Emigrants Pass was going to be slow going. However, It was not worth the extra energy expenditure to make up ground on the field this early on. I stayed with my pace and focused on finishing off a bottle of Tailwind before the summit.

Emigrants Pass to Robinson Flat

I topped the climb in about 65 minutes and paused briefly to remove the lightweight jacket I was wearing. For the next 25.2 miles, I was experiencing a section of trail called the Granite Chief Wilderness for the first time. The course profile makes miles 4.5 to 10.5 look all downhill, but there were a few short climbs that easily threw off my pacing strategy. The hillside was filled with loose rock and too many runners to find consistent footing. I stayed calm and reminded myself that I had all day to get out of the pack.

I reached the first aid station, Lyon’s Ridge (mile 10.5), in 2:13, which was a solid 21-hour pace. Reaching the station at this pace was comforting and I was not being thrown too far off my strategy. It was only 5.5 miles to the next aid station. Therefore, I took advantage of a quick stop to move up through the field slightly. Putting a few more runners behind me allowed for more freedom to run at my own pace.

A couple of hours into a race this long is still too early to tell how things are going. A quick check of my body, however, made me think the day was going to be a great one. My legs felt strong, my breathing was easygoing, my sore ribs were not too painful, and my shoulders felt very relaxed. I kept focused on hydrating and eating fruit before the sun got too high in the sky and the heat came up. Before I knew it, I was passing through Red Star Bridge aid station, mile 16, at 3:25 into the race. Still on about a 21-hour pace. With 7.8 miles ahead of me to reach Duncan Canyon, I spent a few extra minutes at this aid station to stock up on all my fluids.

For the Western States 100, I was giving a new concentrated Tailwind solution its first real race test. This Tailwind mixture was an attempt to cut down on the need for single packets. These packets are nice, but they can be difficult to open when your hands are sweaty. I had about 8 servings of Tailwind mixed up into an Ultimate Direction 8-fluid-ounce bottle with just a few fluid ounces of water. This syrup-like solution made it incredibly easy to squirt one serving into my larger bottle, then top it off with water. Red Star Bridge was the first aid station where I made use of the concentrated solution. I smiled at the simplicity of this idea that other Tailwind Trailblazers shared with me on the Facebook Page.

From Red Star Bridge to Duncan Canyon, the course was pretty exposed, and I felt the sun starting to warm up on my back and shoulders. The course proceeded mostly downhill into the Duncan Canyon aid station, which I reached in exactly 5-hours. Leaving Duncan Canyon, I decided to push the pace slightly for the next couple of miles to get to the bottom of the canyon. My thought was that I could conserve more time to go easy on the long climb to Robinson Flat. With most of my training done on flat ground in South Carolina, I was not as comfortable or confident on any of the climbs. My lack of climbing skills showed as it took 94 minutes to go 5.9 miles (16-min/mile) to reach the Robinson Flat aid station.

I had been going for just over 6.5 hours and 29.7 miles. I had passed through three staffed aid stations, but coming into Robinson Flat was a very overwhelming experience. Robinson Flat is the first station along the course where many runners elect to have a crew and others come out to spectate. The sounds from the aid station were like coming into a packed arena before a more mainstream sporting event. In the last mile before the station, I had made a mental checklist of everything I wanted to do…refill water, refill Tailwind, take ibuprofen, pack in ice, eat some fruit, drop off extra gear, and get the dirt out of my shoes.

With no crew at Robinson Flat to help keep me on task, I forgot to take ibuprofen and clean out my shoes. Cleaning out my shoes was a simple task that I could do at any point along the way. Taking ibuprofen for my ribs, however, would now have to wait till Foresthill at mile 62. Forgetting this task sent worry through my mind that my ribs would become a point of severe discomfort. I was upset that something so simple might keep me from performing my best. As I pushed up the near side of Little Bald Mountain, I tried to think positively. I took comfort in that I had made 30+ miles so far, my stomach felt calm, and my legs felt unyielding.

Robinson Flat to Devil’s Thumb

Leaving Robinson Flat, I also took comfort in that I was now coming into the portion of the course that I had seen firsthand before. From the top of Little Bald Mountain, the trail descends over 1,000 feet to the Miller’s Defeat aid station, at mile 34.4. With the descent, the footing becomes significantly easier as well. Each step took a lot less effort both physically and mentally, resulting in a natural increase in my pace. I made the Miller’s Defeat aid station still hovering between a 21 and 22-hour pace.

Rocky trail outside of Robinson Flat on the Western States trail

From Miller’s Defeat, the course follows a mixture of fire roads and single-track trails along some breathtaking views. During the training camp weekend, I felt that I had taken the fire road sections too easy. On that training day, the easy pace left me feeling that I needed to push harder through the canyon sections. Today, however, I picked up the pace and dodged between sections of shade. My goal was to reach the Last Chance aid station, nearly 9 miles away, still as close to a 22-hour pace as possible.

Unfortunately, by the time I reached Dusty Corners, mile 38, I was starting to feel overheated and a little nauseous. Up until this point, I had been cooling myself off with ice and cold sponges at every aid station. I had also been consuming between 200-300 calories from a mixture of Tailwind Nutrition, fruit, and potato chips every hour. Now, with my stomach starting to feel a little upset from the heat, I knew I needed to back off the calorie intake. I had a choice to make between cutting back on Tailwind or cutting back on solid foods. My feeling at that moment in time was that I needed the solids, so I only filled up with water before moving on.

Looking back on what transpired later in the race, I feel that I should have stuck with my liquid Tailwind calorie diet. My body was 100% prepared for the heat of the day, but probably not prepared for the elevation changes (due to living at sea level in South Carolina). To this point, I felt that the combination of the heat and climbing was too much for my body. My body’s response to returning to Tailwind later in the race makes me feel that I made the wrong choice at mile 38.

Regardless of how my stomach felt, I was still mentally focused, and my legs felt adamant as I came into Last Chance, mile 43.3. The Last Chance aid station marks the starting point for the section of the race course known as the canyons. The first, Deadwood Canyon, drops nearly 2,000 feet. From my experience here, I found that it was very easy to get going too fast down this first canyon descent. I had run the fire roads section slightly harder, so I held back on my effort to save energy for the climb out of the two canyons. About halfway down the Deadwood Canyon descent, the lack of ibuprofen in my system started to take its toll on my bruised ribs.

Almost every step sent pain radiating through my ribs and in turn, made my stomach feel even more upset. To counter the impact, I focused on even shorter strides than normal and breathed as efficiently as possible with my diaphragm and not my chest. This slight adjustment not only took most of the impact of my ribs but helped me to conserve even more energy than normal on this type of descent.

Crossing the famous Swing Bridge, I quickly shifted my mental focus on the uphill climb to Devil’s Thumb. From the training camp weekend, I had felt that both canyon slopes would probably be the most defeating experience during the race. However, as I made my way up to Devil’s Thumb today, I found a consistent amount of strength-building with each switchback. Even though I felt strong, the heat of the day was adding up against me and my stomach. As I climbed, I took a very short 30-60 second breather every 8-10 minutes in an attempt to keep my heart rate and core temperature down.

Entering the Devil’s Thumb aid station, mile 47.8, I had fallen back to a 24-hour pace. However, I knew if ever there was a section of a course that it was acceptable to lose time, it was the canyons of Western States 100. I sat down in a chair for the first time since the start of the day and was immediately approached by a volunteer with questions about how I felt and what I needed. Like all the aid stations, her focus was on taking care of me, but also on getting me out of there as quickly as possible. She offered me a popsicle and took all my bottles to refill with ice and water. I explained to her that I was feeling hot and not particularly looking forward to the next canyon to get to my first crew stop at Michigan Bluff.

As I sat there trying to get my stomach to settle, I realized that I had reduced my calorie intake to almost nothing over the past couple hours. Back at the Dusty Corners aid station, I thought my body just needed solid calories, but now I realized that I had made the wrong choice at the hottest point in the day. Knowing that I needed to get back on track, I motioned the volunteer back over to me and handed her a packet of Green Tea Tailwind Nutrition.

Not consuming enough fluids and calories was my first mental mistake on the day, the second mistake came with not realizing how much time I was wasting at Devil’s Thumb. My bottles were refilled, my arm coolers and Buff stocked with ice, and it was time to get going, but I proceeded to waste 15 minutes sitting in the chair. These two mental lapses at this point in the race were not good, and I knew I needed to get myself back on track right away.

Devil’s Thumb to Foresthill

Leaving Devil’s Thumb aid station, the course proceeds on fire roads for a couple of miles before starting another steep descent down to El Dorado Creek. I tried to get into a good groove of running/walking over the fire roads, but the mental barrier was now up. I kept fighting off negative thoughts and eventually reached the final descent to El Dorado Creek. Eventually, my stride became a little more consistent before the aid station. However, once again at the El Dorado aid station, mile 52.8, I found myself collapsing into a nearby chair. I had managed to put down my bottle of Tailwind over the last five miles. Therefore, I knew I was getting back on track with hydration, but currently, I was spent. I was not looking forward to the 2.8-mile climb to Michigan Bluff.

I wasted another 20 minutes at El Dorado Creek before getting myself up and onto what most refer to as the last difficult climb of the course. If I could only reach Foresthill still somewhat close to a 24-hour pace, I thought I could gain strength and finish out my goal of a Silver Buckle. I repeated my climbing strategy up to Devil’s Thumb, taking 30-60 second breaks every 8-10 minutes. My nausea had reached a new high on the climb. I kept fighting it off with water, Tailwind, and ginger chews. The negative thoughts were now subsiding, and I kept calculating scenarios in my head to stay within reach of 24 hours.

The original plan upon reaching Michigan Bluff was to quickly grab a pre-filled bottle of Tailwind from my father-in-law, Dave, and get going to Foresthill. Once at Foresthill, I would make a more substantial crew stop. Now, however, taking the final steps into the station sent me into another near-complete collapse. When Dave caught sight of me, he sprung into action to get the bottled filled and into my hands. His excitement, while naive, lifted my spirits. Unfortunately, I still slumped into a nearby chair to rest.

I was 55.7 miles into the coveted Western States 100. However, I was desperately struggling to find a consistent rhythm out on the trail. My legs still felt like they had strength in them, but the heat and climbing had zapped all my mental fortitude. I spent another 15 minutes at Michigan Bluff chatting with a medical volunteer and Dave about my current state. I was very coherent with everyone and tossed jokes around, so everyone knew that I was still in the race to finish. Things just sucked at the present moment!

Finally sputtering out of Michigan Bluff, I started calculating times again. I left Michigan Bluff just a couple minutes past 7:00 PM, which was nearly 40 minutes over a 24-hour pace. However, I knew the 6.3 miles from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill was very manageable. If I could make Foresthill still within 90 minutes of a 24-hour pace, I could steadily make this up over the last 38 miles in the cooler night air.

This focus on my pacing strategy provided just enough distraction from my nausea to get me into a rhythm of running 100 strides and walking 25. I also got just enough cell phone reception to update Nicole on my physical status. I wanted to give her adequate time to prepare for when I reached Foresthill. While Dave would give them a report on when I entered Michigan Bluff, he was not as familiar with ultramarathons and the physical toll they take on a person. This quick text message to Nicole ended up paying huge dividends just a few miles down the trail.

I kept up a consistent 100 strides running and 25 strides walking all the way to Bath Road. As I came onto Bath Road, Nicole, and Josh were standing on the side of the road. Nicole had received my text, and the two of them had elected to walk almost two miles down the trail to meet me. With their presence and conversation, my outlook on the day became extremely confident. We were tossing jokes and stories around, I was laughing, and most of all, I started to realize how great of a time I had been having all day long.

Foresthill to Peachstone

Josh and I started jogging about a half mile out from Foresthill. I ran straight through the aid station at 8:50 PM, exactly one hour off of a 24-hour pace. I was ecstatic by seeing this on the clock. Yes, I was currently off Silver Buckle pace. However, by my standards and way of running, I knew that it was still 100% within reach! In the time from Bath Road to Foresthill, Josh and I had talked through exactly what needed to take place at the crew stop and how much time we were going to take doing it.

We gave 10 minutes to change socks, re-apply RunGoo, change shirts, re-stock fluids, drink an Ensure, and take ibuprofen for my bruised ribs. As all this took place, Josh and I discussed plans for the next section of the trail. About halfway through the stop Nicole, Irene, Dave, and Samuel showed up to encourage me and assist in getting me going. The stop at Foresthill was everything I imagined it to be. Despite my stomach still feeling queasy, my mood had made a 180-degree turn. I was very excited to be soon attacking the final 38 miles of the WS100 course.

As we ran down the remaining portion of Foresthill Road toward Cal Street, there were hundreds of spectators and runner crews lined up on either side. While they all were in some state of the ultra ”hurry up and wait,” they took the time to cheer for each runner. We eventually made the left turn onto Cal Street and entered back into the near silence of the trail.  Josh continued to help get me mentally focused on the challenge ahead. He asked me to describe to him in pretty good detail the upcoming terrain and my focus returned.

I gained a lot of confidence running along with Josh in just the first 30 minutes after leaving Foresthill. He shared stories about his years of adventure racing, which distracted me from the daunting night miles still ahead. We were able to come through Dardanelles (CAL 1) aid station, mile 65.7, still on a solid 25-hour pace. Having Josh with me allowed me to get back into a routine of making it a quick stop for water and a refill of Tailwind before continuing down the trail.

As we left the aid station, Josh took the lead position on the trail. We were now fully into the darkness of night and relying on our headlamps to show the way. It was about halfway between CAL-1 and CAL-2 that I came to an unexpected stop on the side of the trail. Suddenly, I began hurling up the contents of my stomach.

Getting sick, had me scared out of my mind. I have never thrown up during a race or training run. I was sure that this happening was sealing my fate as a DNF. As I stood hands on my knees on the side of the trail, I don’t think Josh realized it, but I started to cry. I had come 68 miles in the race that I had been targeting for the last five years. Now, I figured it was over. About 30 seconds past with complete silence before I began to spew again. In between the gags, I could hear Josh both laughing and encouraging me that it was going to be alright. When the violence of vomiting had stopped, we began to hike slowly down the trail. In my mind, I was done, but in Josh’s mind, we were going to finish.

It seemed like it took forever to go another 2.5 miles to Peachstone (CAL-2), mile 70.7. However, during this feeling of eternity, the conversations with Josh helped me to realize that the race was not over. It was just going to take longer to finish. My stomach was still churning when I arrived at Peachstone and all I wanted to do was lay down. Josh fought me on it for a while before finally relinquishing control and letting me close my eyes for 10-minutes.

I wish I had not been so persistent in wasting time. Unfortunately, I was experiencing a race difficulty (vomiting), for the first time. I felt that I needed time to rest and mentally re-wrap my head around the situation. My thoughts went back to conversations with Nicole leading up to the start about not having a repeat of TRT100.

It was close to midnight when we finally left Peachstone aid station, nearly two hours off a 24-hour finish. I had now 100% conceded fighting for the Silver Buckle and settled with getting the finish. From Peachstone, we had a short 2.3-mile stretch to reach Fords Bar (CAL-3). Then, it was just another 5 miles to arrive at the Rucky Chucky River Crossing at mile 78.

Peachstone to the River

I seemed to be feeling a little better just after Peachstone as we kept focusing on fluid intake. Josh set his watch for 15-minute increments. With each passing time increment, I took a sip of water and a sip of Tailwind. I tried to snack on some pretzels and fruit snacks about halfway through the short section. Unfortunately, about a half mile from Ford’s Bar, I was once again hands on knees vomiting. This time I was confident that there was nothing left in my system and that I would soon be fighting severe dehydration.

I continued to push forward despite everything that my body was expelling. I also somehow remained in an active state of mind. This positive outlook came from the combination of my legs still feeling like they had the strength and the overly upbeat attitude of Josh. About a quarter mile out from Ford’s Bar (mile 73), I told Josh that we were going to run straight through the aid station. If my body was not going to accept fluids or solids, there was no point in wasting any time. I had more than enough water and Tailwind on me to go another 5 miles to Rucky Chucky Crossing. Once there, I knew it was going to take extra time to get across the river. Josh quickly filled his water and grabbed some snacks for himself; then we were off for the River Crossing.

Halfway between Fords Bar and Rucky Chucky, I came to a stop once again on the side of the trail. I’m sure Josh was preparing for another encore performance by my stomach, but this stop was different. I had to go to the bathroom!! Going to the bathroom was the realization that staying focused and sticking with some fluid/solid intake was paying off. If I were facing dehydration, I would not have felt the need to pee so strongly. Despite all the vomiting, my body was absorbing fluids and nutrients. It was still going to be slow going, but I was going to be okay, and I was going to finish.

We came to the Rucky Chucky River Crossing, mile 78, a little before 2:30 AM. All through training, I had envisioned crossing the river just before sunset, not well into the middle of the night. From my past pacing and volunteer experiences at WS100, the river crossing is by far my favorite part. The crossing lived up to my expectations at night as well. Approaching it in the dark was both thrilling and terrifying. Thankfully, the volunteers did a fantastic job pointing out good/bad footing in the dark, cold water.

While in the water, I thought this is cold and I’m never going to warm up. However, as I exited the other side my legs felt somewhat refreshed and the warm night air kept me going. Josh elected to change his socks after the crossing, so I started the hike up to Green Gate by myself. Within a half mile, we were back together and moved at a decent pace up the 2-mile climb.

Green Gate to Hwy 49

Nicole’s parents, Dave and Irene, were waiting for us at the Green Gate aid station. They had made the 2-mile hike downhill from a parking lot to provide me with a sock and shoe change. Nicole stayed back in the car to take care of Samuel. As Josh and I entered the station, it was quite the scene with runners and crew sleeping on the sides of the trail. I was a little confused by the number of people taking a break here. Then I remembered that, like myself, we were all just trying to do what we thought was best to finish. My crew made quick work of taking care of my feet. Then, it was off down the trail for the final 20 miles.

As we went along from Green Gate to Auburn Lake Trails (5.4 miles), then onto Browns Bar (4.7 miles), my body was starting to get itself back together. Josh and I were adding more running back into our progress, and it showed as the average pace for each section dropped back down under 18:00/mile. Still, a far cry from my expectations going into the day, but it felt good to be making faster work again. Josh continued to remind me to drink Tailwind and water. We both knew the temperatures were going to heat back up quickly before I could make it to the finish. Hydration was still very important.

From Brown’s Bar to Hwy 49 it is just 3.6 miles, but the approach to the Hwy 49 aid station features a tricky little climb. This little climb has about half a dozen pesky false flats. It is not a steep or long climb, but Josh was consistently confused by what he thought was the top and surely the aid station. I started laughing out loud at his displeasure with the climb and elected to take the lead. Volunteering at Hwy 49 was my first experience with the Western States back in 2013. The Modesto-based running group, Shadowchase, manages this aid station. I would soon be joining this running group quite frequently for workouts. I already knew several members of the club that would be in the race, so I was looking forward to their additional support and cheers.

We finally crested the hill and dropped down into Hwy 49 at 7:23 AM to the voice of Allen Miller announcing my name. There were cheers all around as I topped off my bottles in less than 2-minutes. I was now just 6.7 miles away from realizing my dream of finishing the Western States 100.

Hwy 49 to the Finish

As I left the aid station, the course climbs ever so slightly. Then the trail opens up into a beautiful meadow. However, the field did not seem so beautiful at 7:30 in the morning with the sun beating down on me. Josh and I ran through the exposed sections and walked the shaded parts for the next mile. Then, we got into a steady groove of running through the shade on the south side of the American River. The course makes a sharp descent about a mile out from No Hands Bridge. From there I knew it was going to be sweltering and sunny. I told Josh about what to expect, and we began to push the pace down to the bridge. We were trying to save as much time as possible for the ascent up to Robie Point.

Just like the previous 5-6 aid stations, I passed straight through No Hands Bridge. Josh and I enjoyed the amazing views from a few hundred feet above the river. Then, we focused our attention on getting up to the paved streets of Auburn. It was hot, and slow going as we made our way up to Robie Point. I let the entire experience of the race start to soak in when I realized that I would be under 29 hours.

The cheers from Robie Point grew louder, and my emotions swelled more and more. When the first volunteer at Robie Point came into sight, I had to choke back tears of joy. I was suffering from the heat for the second time, but I didn’t care. I had a volunteer soak my head and back one last time with cold sponges. Then, I started the last 1.3 miles of paved streets to the finish line on the track.

I emotionally broke down and tried not to look directly at Nicole. If I did, we both would have erupted into a sobbing mess. I held my son, my greatest joy, and accomplishment, in my arms. Nicole, Josh, and I made the last 300-meter hike around the track to the finish line of Western States 100. Crossing the line was much more than just completing the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Finishing was much more than the journey to get there. The feeling puts me at a loss for words even months after the experience.


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