To give myself every possible opportunity to be successfully at the Western States Endurance Run, and especially since this is my first attempt at a 100 mile race, I chose to spend Memorial Day weekend at training camp. The WSER training camp is an organized event where runners can preview 70 miles of the course over this 3 day period. Aid stations and bus service are provided to participants at a minimal cost. For someone who has never seen the course, and has virtually no ability to train on terrain that even remotely resembles the WS100 course, the training runs can be incredibly helpful. In fact, the training camp and the Quad Rock 50 miler I did just over 2 weeks ago is the only highly-specific training that I will be able to do before Western States.
First, let me share a little background info on the race and the course for those that are unfamiliar. The 100 mile trail race will be held Saturday, June 23rd in the Sierra Mountains between Reno, NV and Sacramento, CA. The 18,000ft of climb that runners face on race day will be difficult, but there is even more descent in total and that aspect of the race wreaks havoc on almost everyone's quads. The weather also plays a huge role in this race because it can be freezing with snow on the ground at the start, but the canyons can be over 110 deg F in the afternoon. The course is roughly divided into 4 parts. The oxygen-sparse high country is the first 30 miles of the race after starting in Squaw Valley and peaking out around 8,750 ft in elevation. Then comes the tough canyons sections from Robinson Flat at mile 30 to Foresthill at mile 62. Next is Cal St, a much more runnable section of trail (if your quads are still working properly) down to the Rucky Chucky crossing of the American River. And then finally, from the river crossing at mile 78 to the finish is another very runnable section if you still have legs. At training camp we were able to run the last 3 sections of the course.
On the first day, we met at Foresthill Elementary school, loaded up on school buses, and took a 1 hour ride to Robinson Flat (mile 30). There was a light dusting of snow on the ground above 6,000ft and it was chilly enough that I had on gloves, arm sleeves, and a light jacket. When I exited the bus, I started looking around for some familiar faces, but I knew very few people and there were probably several hundred runners streaming toward the trailhead. By the time I took a few pictures and got ready to run, I decided it was unlikely that I'd find someone to run with. So I headed for the single track. The first couple miles was VERY slow going. I didn't realize how many slower runners I had gotten caught behind. We were crawling. My first mile split was 18 minutes. The trail was narrow and the line of runners was very long, but I eventually picked my way through. After a few miles, the trail opened up to a fire road and I took off looking for someone running around my pace.
I got sucked into running fast on the gradual downhill just like I DON'T want to do on race day. But this allowed me to catch Salomon teammate Jorge Maravilla and Victor Ballesteros just after the Dusty Corners aid station. My pace cooled as we instantly fell into good conversation. So good in fact, that we missed a turn back onto a single track trail and were 2 miles down the road before we realized our mistake. It was easily corrected though and we turned around to return to the proper course. Of course, now I'm behind all the people I was stuck behind at the beginning. But everyone was more spread out now and most people were willing to let us pass. I ran with Jorge and Victor for a while, but I kept going when they stop to chat with some slower runners. I wanted to test myself a little on the big descents into the canyons.
|Pretty sure we ended up way down there.|
|5 runners = 3 horses?|
The rest of the day was mostly uneventful as I pushed through on my own. The descents were fun and the climbs up Devil's Thumb and Michigan Bluff were tough. The small climb up to Foresthill School surprised me a bit, but I shut it down when I ran into Aliza Lapierre (Salomon), Rory Bosio, and Paul Terranova. I ended the day with 36 miles in 5:39 with 12,000' of descent and 8,500' of climb.
The second day, we ran from Foresthill to the Rucky Chucky under near perfect weather conditions. From Rucky Chucky, the official plan was to climb out 3 miles to a staging area where buses would pick up the runners and take us back to Foresthill. I started with a big group and got some great course advice from veteran Scott Wolfe. After the first big descent of 4 miles, Scott stopped to run with the fast ladies and I was on my own. The Cal St. section is much more runnable than the previous day, so I naturally got into rhythm on this section. I reached Rucky Chucky at 15.5 miles in just two hours. It was going to take me no more than 30 minutes to climb out, and then I would have had to wait an hour for the first bus back to Foresthill. So I just decided to run back on the trail. This was a little risky because I would have to go 15.5 miles with no aid stations as the weather was heating up. Plus, I would be climbing a significant amount on the return trip. I made it back in 2:26 with no real issues, but I did run dry a couple miles out. I tallied 31 miles on the day with about 13,000' of total elevation change. Then I drove back down to the bus stop/aid station so I could get a hot dog and Coke.
|The fast kids.|
On Sunday evening, iRunFar and Montrail sponsored a panel discussion and dinner at a local community center. I won't go into detail about it here because it was all video taped and will be shared on the web soon if you're interested in what was said there. It was cool to hang out with a bunch of Western States legends and put names with faces. I didn't learn anything race-changing, but there were many good reminders. The hard part will be following their advice on race day.
On the third and final day, I was 19 miles ahead of schedule for the weekend, so I decided to relax a little and just enjoy the run. Jorge and I hooked back up and spent the whole morning together. This was another gorgeous and runnable section of trail. I hope to have some legs left when I reach this section during the race. I will say the last climb to the finish at Placer High School was kind of tough. I imagine that it's going to be incredibly tough at mile 97 of the race. 22 miles in 3:07 for the day.
|Jorge and myself at No Hands Bridge.|
It was a great weekend and well worth my time. It's so hard to put a course into perspective until you've run it. The training camp really helped me understand what I'll have to face on race day. The names of the aid stations have so much more meaning now that I've run through most of them. Plus, I got in some great training that I wouldn't have been able to do at home. And I met so many great people who are also passionate about this crazy sport.
I can't wait to do it all again in less than 4 weeks.
|This is the goal. My final destination.|
In my haste to get this post out the door last night, I left out a few details which I think are important…like how I felt or what shoes I wore. And those two things are actually quite related. I was excited to finally receive a pair of the Salomon Sense just a few weeks ago. But because their minimalist 4mm heel-to-toe drop is much lower than I'm used to running in, I knew I would need some time to adjust. Over the last couple weeks, I’d run in them enough to feel comfortable testing them out on the course this weekend, so that’s what I did. I spent all of Saturday and again on Monday in the Sense, but switched back to my Speedcross (I raced QR50 and LBL50 in these) to give the legs a break on Sunday. Overall, my legs felt really good, but my calves definitely noticed the lower profile of the Sense. My quads seems to handle the descents really well, even though I pushed them on Saturday playing catch-up. The Sense is a fantastic shoe. I’m just not sure my calves are ready to handle a 100 mile race in them yet. I was considering several options, one being to start in my Speedcross and switch into the Sense at Foresthill. But when I returned home from California, Salomon had a brand new pair of the S-LAB 5 XT Wings waiting for me on the doorstep. I had never tried this shoe, and honestly didn’t have very high expectations (I was more excited about the Missions in the box as well), but they felt great as soon as I slipped the pair on my feet. I was so impressed in fact, that I opted to do an 8 mile run in them that afternoon. I want to spend some more time in them before States, but the XT Wings could be the middle ground that I’ve been looking for between the Speedcross and Sense. I probably wouldn’t plan to change this shoe during WS if it’s the one I decide to use.
By the way, I'm really pleased with how the legs are feeling two days after the training runs. My calves are still pretty useless, and the legs feel tired in general, but nothing else is even sore. I hope that's a good sign leading into the race.