I was a bit nervous going into this race, to say the least. I didn't know what to expect and saw the predicted temperatures hovering in the mid-90's all week. Being a Bay Area weenie, anything above 70 is oppressive. I trained with my girlfriend Kristin who was running with me for the entire 50 miles. We followed our training plan reasonably well and finished our last 50k two weeks before with energy left in the tank. We also did a a bunch of 35-40 mile back-to-back Sat/Sun runs. I felt confident in my training.
I knew that the first 20 miles was going to be rough. This went into the infamous Western States "canyons." We went from Foresthill to Michigan Bluff through Vulcano Canyon and then down into the bigger El Dorado Canyon. I took it easy, walked a lot of the steep and watched my hydration/nutrition from the start. The race started at 6am, so the temperatures were moderate and this was surprisingly a very pleasant part of the race. We arrived back at Foresthill at 10:50am and spent 10 minutes cleaning up, reapplying sunscreen, changing socks and getting ready for the afternoon temperatures to soar. We thought the hardest part of the race was over. After all, it was mostly downhill from here, right?
The next aid station, Cal2/Peachstone, was about 8 miles away. I knew to get full water and extra ice. About 6 miles to Peachstone, I ran out of water. I was a little surprised that 2L was not enough, but lesson learned. I was trying to eat Gu every 45 min and take a salt pill every hour, but I couldn't do it without enough water. I started to get a bit dizzy and nauseous at about mile 26 and sat on a rock to recover for a few minutes. Despite not feeling great, I did enjoy sitting there with Kristin and appreciating the view. This was the first time I thought about "What if I do not finish (DNF)?" but I didn't mention anything to Kristin.
This section of the course should have been easily runnable, but every time I hit an exposed part I was forced to a walk with a furnace blast of heat in my face. Temperatures probably reached 100 or at least felt like it. Eventually, we made it to the Peachstone aid station and the people there were awesome. A very nice lady filled my pack with tons of ice and then proceded to dump 3 cups of ice water on my head. Another runner gave me a ginger chew which instantly cured my nausea. I downed some Coke and had a few jelly beans. I was ready to rock. I was amazed at how quickly my body changed.
It was about 1pm as we left Peachstone and we had 2.5 hours to get to the next aid station which was also the 3:30pm cut-off at Rucky Chucky. Rucky Chucky was also pretty far at about 7.3 miles. Based on the last segment, I knew that this was actually going to be getting close to the cut-off, but I was feeling better. We started running and making good time. About 3 miles in my Coke-sugar buzz wore off but I continued to down Gu. The last few miles I saw the clock ticking closer and closer. The signs and my watch were not in agreement on the distance. I was hoping for the aid station at every hill and every corner. Eventually, we rolled into Rucky Chucky (mile 35) at about 3:25. We made the cut-off, but I felt utterly defeated.
There is only one word to describe the Rucky Chucky aid station. Carnage. The volunteers gave slow claps to those entering. The runners (including me) looked awful. The mood was somber. People were dropping as soon as they entered. Rides were being planned to remove them. 100k runners were debating switching to the 50m or DNFing. A guy with whom we had been running accepted his second ever DNF. The kicker: the aid station had no Coke/soda or any beverage with sugar+caffeine. I was 99% sure I was done. I sat for 5 minutes drinking water and electrolyte. The aid station crew were trying to convince people to go on, but very few were having it.
Kristin looked over at me from across the aid station at one point and I just shook my head no. Then, the aid station volunteer who had been helping me asked, "Who's Red Bull is this? Do you want any?" "Yes. Hell yes." Kristin and another guy had some too. I got about half the can of Red Bull and then I sat to let it absorb for 10 minutes. I suddenly started to rise from the dead. The thought of food didn't make me sick anymore, but wasn't appetizing. I forced some fruit and a cookie into my stomach. I drank more water. The aid station captain confirmed we had to leave by 4pm to continue. We left at 3:58.
Twenty steps down the road I realized that I forgot to put Body Glide on a blister that was forming on my heel the previous few miles. I quickly ran back, grabbed it from my bag, and sat down. The aid station captain barked, "You two again!? Get out of here!" I opened the Body Glide and a milky mess flew every where. It was melted from the heat. I slathered some on and tried to tie my shoes while fighting a cramping quad. I believe Kristin finally tied my shoe and I stood up. We profusely thanked the aid station volunteers and were the last people out of the aid station. We were last, but we were moving. It was 3 miles to the Poverty Bar river crossing. The plan was to go aid station to aid station as there was about 16 miles left. Maybe we could make it.
We got to the river and it was wonderfully cool. A volunteer in a kayak carried our phones across. A volunteer grabbed a harness to tie me to the rope across the river. As he turned towards me, I realized it was Gordy Ansleigh! That was pretty cool. I slid along the rope that several other dedicated volunteers were ensuring stayed staked down. The water was cold and I actually started to get numb toes. It felt great. I made sure to profusely thank each volunteer for staying to the very end. Kristin and I were in last for the 50 mile, but we were feeling better.
After the river, I remembered the aid stations were basically 4 miles (Brown's Bar), 4 miles (No Hand's Bridge), and 4 miles to the finish (a couple miles past Roby Point). Optimism crept in and I thought we could finish. Kristin and I ran the last 10 miles over July 4th weekend as practice during the mid-day sun. Quarry Road was nicely shaded at this time of day and slow rolling hills. We made good time run-walking.
When we got to Brown's Bar, we saw a couple guys that had left Rucky Chucky about 20 min before us. The Brown's Bar aid station was great as the 100k folks were merging back in. They looked amazing despite another climb and about 8 more miles. Plus the aid station had a ton of Coke and ice. They stocked us up again and we hit the road pretty quickly.
We kept on to No Hand's Bridge in a reasonable time. During the final decent into the aid station, I turned back and Kristin was having a hard time. Her quads were shot and she was in pain. I assured her that it was all up hill after this. I think that's the first time that "all up hill" was something positive. We left No Hand's and walked it up to Roby Point. From there, night began to fall. We pulled out our headlamps for the last mile or so. I'm glad that we decided to carry our headlamps rather than drop them at Michigan Bluff after dawn. There was live music in the distance and we could see lights. We proceeded the last few climbs and had a few strong 100k runners pass us. It turns out the music was from the fairground, but we entered the horse staging area and picked up the pace to "run it in." Kristin's parents were waiting by the final finish shoot and we were done. Whew.
We returned to the hotel after relaxing, getting a massage from the Monster's of Massage, and chatting with Kristin's parents. We called it an early night. At about midnight, I got a call on my phone from 510 and I thought it might be Kristin's parents. I answered the phone, "Hello?" "Hi Matt, This is Ann Trason." (The race director and 14-time Western States winner.) My heart skipped a beat. "We are following up on some loose ends and we don't have you down as crossing the finish line." I replied "Oh! I finished with Kristin #231. I believe we were the last 50 mile runners. They might've thought I was a pacer." Ann: "Oh, no problem. Sorry for calling so late." I hope they weren't searching for me!What I learned: