Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Western States 100 Race Report

On Saturday, June 25th I ran the 38th edition of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, which started in Squaw Valley, CA and ended in Auburn, CA. I ran the entire race in a pair of Roclite 295’s, which worked very well for me. You can find my detailed race report below.

Highlights of the race:

• Having my entire family (both sides!) and even a college friend out in Squaw Valley to support me.
• Running with old and new friends before and during the race
• Bottoming out physically and mentally in the canyon sections
• Returning from the dead at mile 60
• Running the incredible single track from Forest Hill to the finish
• Running to the Rucky Chucky crossing with Nicki Kimball and her pacer while a chopper flew up and down the canyon
• Getting a first-hand view of the woman’s race unfolding at ~mile 95
• Watching Ellie Greenwood destroy the last 6 miles of the course

My Western States adventure started in fall 2010 during the final miles of the 2010 Mountain Masochist Trail Run where I found myself in second place. Knowing that the top two male and female runners from this race get auto entry into Western States really had me working hard to hold my position. With a bit of luck and determination I finished the race in second place. I had raced a decent amount in 2010, so the plan was to do a solid 6 months of training for Western States with no other ultra-races in between, in hopes of achieving a peak performance at the end of June. My training was going very well until the middle of March when I literally developed a pain in my butt. After a couple of trips to a specialist and a physical therapist, they diagnosed my problem as “SI joint dysfunction” and got me on a series of exercises aimed at developing core, glut, and hip muscles. I did a lot of icing, stretching, cross training, and strength training, but ultimately the injury just needed time to heal. I also went to my family doctor to get a full body check-up. At my request, they did an EKG which the doctors thought looked abnormal. Long story short, after an echocardiogram, a trans-esophageal echocardiogram, and a MRI on my heart the doctors came to the conclusion that I had a “uniformly mildly enlarged heart” aka athletes’ heart and got the OK to continue running as long as I did not develop any symptoms. You can probably imagine that this 5 week period was extremely stressful. There were times when I thought I would have to give up running completely! Luckily, I was able to run again consistently on April 17th. My weeks from April 17th until the race, in terms of mileage looked like this: 33/47/61/65/70/71/86/82/58. Not particularly high mileage, but a good consistent push with several quality back-to-back long runs with a good amount of ascent and descent. You can see the details of my training runs at Attack point.

My family and I made a vacation out of the trip, starting in San Francisco for a couple of days and then moving to Squaw Valley a week out from the race. We did lots of outdoor activities around Lake Tahoe and were super impressed by the area! I got in several runs before the race, most of them involved running up and down Mountain Run, which is an access road that the race uses for the first ~3 miles. By Saturday morning I was feeling strong and rested. At 2:45 AM, we made our way to the starting line. I had a HUGE support group consisting of my parents, Jeff and Marilen Reed, my in-laws, Godfrey and Rose Draviam, my wife Raj, our college friend Karen Scott, and my two children: Zia and Eshan. The start was surreal in that there weren’t any announcements, everybody just watched the large clock above the starting line and then we all yelled 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then we were off at the firing of a real shotgun.

The first part of the race involved climbing ~2500 feet to Emigrant Pass. In general, I like up-hills and therefore ran most of this section. Then we went through a large snow section (~ 10 miles). The snow ranged from soft and slushy to crunchy and icy. The Roclite 295’s tread pattern worked incredibly well and kept me upright, while other runners around me were slipping and trying not to slide down the mountain. I got passed by several runners on the snowy descent, but started to regroup and played leap frog with some runners until about mile 35. From about 40 through 60 miles I was not feeling well. It was a combination of fatigue, mild stomach discomfort and lack of hunger. However, right around 60 I started to feel much better and when I got to Forest Hill - I was feeling great! I met my first crew at Michigan Bluff, but got to see my whole family at Forest Hill, which was very uplifting. Coming out of Forest Hill I just started cranking. I was in about 35th place and my goal became to pick off as many runners as possible, hoping that I might finish in the high 20’s. I just kept feeling better and better. And to top it all off, I got to really enjoy the beautiful trail. All of my self-doubt faded away and I was really able to live in that moment, really enjoying the trail and feeling at one with my surroundings, with an overwhelming thought that my sole purpose was to run. Man, what a great experience and probably why I like 100’s so much.

From Forest Hill to Auburn, I was able to pass about 15 other runners. I started thinking about my finishing time and a new goal developed at mile 70run a 50k in 5.5 hours, which seemed very doable. This would make my finish 11 pm. I continued to give a consistent push. Ellie Greenwood was on my tail and pushing me as we approached Highway 49 crossing. Once we went through the aid station (mile 93.5), we both passed the 2nd and 3rd place females and shortly after that, Ellie passed me. She was just flying. I tried to keep up, but didn’t quite have the leg speed.

Often the last 5 miles of 100 mile races that I have entered have quite an exciting finish – this one was no exception. Excitement/drama has ranged from navigation errors at mile 95 to finishing at a pace that feels like 5k race. At about mile 98, my headlamp caught the eyes of bear in a tree about 6 feet from the ground right next to the trail. I really didn’t have time to get scared, so I just kept trotting along. I even thought that the bear might have been a figment of my imagination. Soon after the sighting, I started climbing out of the canyon on the trail for the last time. About ½ way up, I heard someone’s voice. At first, I thought it was coming from someone in the town of Auburn, but as I stopped and listened more closely, I could hear a women yelling from the trail below, “help, I need help!” I yelled back and asked where she was and she replied “here!” So, I started to backtrack, knowing that my sub 18 hour finish would not happen, but that disappointment quickly faded away. Runners in general and I think particularly ultra-runners are always willing and ready to help each other out, at any cost. This is one of the things that makes off-road ultra-running so special. On my way down, my mind raced wondering what happened. I thought someone may have taken a fall and broke a bone, but as I got further down I thought that maybe she was having a run-in with my bear buddy – the one I saw in the tree a half a mile back. I started to make a bunch of noise and kept trying to communicate with her to see how I could help. As I got closer, more runners from behind caught up with her and yelled for me not to come closer – that there was a bear on the trail. I waited and soon a stream of headlamps came towards me. I asked if everyone was OK, and someone said yes and indicated that they eventually scared the bear off the trail with a strobe from their headlamp. Once I knew no one was hurt, I hammered it back out of the canyon. At the last aid station, I told one of the volunteers what had happened while he showed me permanently-painted footprints on the Auburn streets that I would follow to get to the finish. Eventually, I got to the track and my daughter Zia and son Eshan ran the last 200 meters with me. I ended up finishing 20th overall with a time of 18:12. I was pleased. Before the race I didn’t take a look at any splits, but thought I had a good chance of running somewhere around 17 or 18 hours. I participated in a medical study, which was being conducted with all willing participants of the race. In addition to the questionnaires, vital stats and blood were taken at the end of the race.

Gear I Used, Things I Ate, Stuff I Learned

As I mentioned in the beginning of the report, I wore one pair of Inov-8 Roclite 295 (size 12.5) for the entire race. I laced them up at 2:45 AM Saturday morning and untied them on the car ride back to Squaw Valley at ~1:00 AM Sunday morning. These are quickly becoming my number 1 choice in the Inov-8 line of shoes. I can really lock my foot into the shoe with the lacing system, they are light, dry very quickly, have a very grippy tread pattern, and are extremely comfortable. In comparing myself with other runners during the early snow sections of the run, it is clear that Inov-8 has really nailed it with their choice of rubber compounds and tread pattern for the Roclite shoes. I spent those 11 snow miles upright and confident of my footing, while I watched other runners struggle with the off-cambered snow/ice covered trail – sometimes fighting not to slide down the mountain. I wore a double water bottle pack with two side pockets, visor, and a bandanna around my neck.

Every chance I got, I drenched the bandanna and visor with cold water.
Over the course of the race, I drank water, GU Brew, and cola. I focused on trying to leave each aid station with one bottle of water and one bottle of electrolyte drink. I ate salted potatoes, P&J sandwiches, turkey and cheese wraps, sliced pears, GU and Hammer Gels, and various odds and ends at the aid stations. I also had 5-8 Endurolyte pills and 2 Succeed salt pills during the course of the race. I think I took in more salt than I usually do in a 100 and things seemed to work very well. It will be interesting to see what my blood work shows in terms of electrolyte balance.

I think the biggest thing I learned from this race is the need to maintain focus and attitude during low patches. I recently listened to an Endurance Planet interview with Geoff Roes discussing his 2010 Western States win. During the interview, he discussed the importance of taking care of yourself during these inevitable low patches. This really made sense to me. The following is a strategy that I plan to follow for future 100 milers during low patches. I used parts of this strategy for this race, but there is definitely room for improvement. By NO means is this information original or ground-breaking, as many other ultra-runners have presented these ideas before. Anyway, here it is: 1. Ignore what other runners are doing around you, 2. Take care of yourself in terms of electrolytes, fluid, and calories, 3. Maintain and/or develop a positive outlook on the situation by reminding yourself that you will eventually feel better, and 4. Put your head down and grind it out. Here is a silly little acronym  I.C.P.G.

I. – Ignore. Ignore what other runners are doing around you. What they are doing now works for them, not necessarily for you.
C. – Care. Take care of yourself. Ingest electrolytes, fluids, calories and fix small things that are bothering you.
P. – Positive. Try to spin a positive outlook on your situation – you will feel better!
G.- Grind. Grind it out, this is “gut-check, character building, adventure story-time for you grandkids someday”.