Check out Shelly’s Crew Report on her blog: http://shoelessshelbell.blogspot.com/2011/07/western-states-crew-report.html
What can I say? It’s the grand daddy of American ultras. When I started toying with ultras in 2005, this was THE race I wanted to run someday. Over the years, the mystique was diminished a little by the likes of Hardrock and the Barkley… but Western was still on my must-do list.
I entered the lottery last year and did not get selected. I entered again this year. I was pessimistic as I had about a 12-14% chance. I still remember the exact moment I found out I was selected. I was shooting the barefoot videos with Merrell. Shelly sent me a text, but the wording made me think it was meant for one of our friends. She called a few seconds later and told me I was picked. I still didn’t quite understand. After going back and forth for a minute or so, I finally understood- they pulled my name in the lottery! I was running Western States in 2011!
I immediately set out to develop the perfect training plan to reach my goal- earn the silver buckle by finishing under the 24 hour mark. My previous two 100 mile finishes were done in 29 and about 28 hours, so I needed some serious training. My plan was perfect. It included long runs, speed work, hill repeats, and lots of heat training. I would prepare my eating and hydration strategy. I would meticulously test my gear. I would have the perfect crew and pacers. I was a man with a plan!
The very next day, I did my first workout- a 5 mile tempo run. The next day was cold, so I skipped the 10 mile Fartlek. The day after, I somehow lost the schedule. I’d spend the next six months or so in what would become the lowest volume of running since I started running barefoot back in ’06. I gave some details in this previous post.
While I wasn’t doing much running, I was busy assembling my crew. I had a few certainties. Shelly would be my crew chief. Having been an integral part of my first two 100 mile finishes, her organization and knowledge of my running needs was critical. I also needed to recruit Jesse Scott and Jeremiah Cataldo. Both are borderline elite ultrarunners. Jeremiah has won a 50 miler and Jesse has a 50 miler and 12 hour victory to his credit, and should have had a second 50 mile victory (see the dramatic photo finish here.) I have run extensively with both and could rely on them to pace me to the finish. Mark Robillard, our unofficial Hobby Jogga leader (and no apparent relation), would also be part of the team. I also recruited my friend Brandon Mulnix who paced another friend (Roger Bonga) at Western last year. The final member would be Michael Helton, a resident of Reno, Nevada. He paced and crewed for me at Hallucination in 2009 and was familiar with the area.
The crew survived except for Jesse as he was unable to leave his internship in Boulder, Colorado. Jesse did end up making a huge contribution, however. Shelly and I spent the week before Western in Boulder where I tested my mountain running prowess with Jesse. He guided me up several summits, including Green Mountain twice. He also taught me a great downhill technique that more or less saved my legs at Western.
By the time race weekend came around, we decided I’d have enough pacers. Brandon was itching to see more of the course than he had with Roger the previous year, so he volunteered to pace another runner. This would lead to some teasing later on.
Since people love hearing about the gear used, this is what I used to run the race:
- Shoes- combination of Merrell Sonic Gloves (in snow and mud, will be released Fall ’11), and Merrell Trail Gloves (everything else.)
- Shirt- a woman’s white cotton long sleeve tee covered with a Merrell Naked Foot 5k tech shirt. I also wore a brown cotton tee for one section.
- Shorts- Brooks running shorts. Yes, I DO hate their shoes… but their shorts are pretty damn good.
- Head gear- A Merrell running hat and buff
- Shades: Ryders Defcon polarized
- Water Bottles: Nathan handhelds (2)
- Lights: Fenix L2D and a cheap headlamp from Meijer (Midwest department store.) Note- the Fenix is the only piece of gear that has been through all four of my 100 milers… DAMN good flashlight!
Also something people ask about:
- Gu or Gu Roctane about every two miles
- Gu Brew and Heed… about 30-40 ounces between each aid station
- About 100 ounces of Coke (the soda, not the orgy-inducing stimulant)
- 1 can of Strawberry Slim Fast
- About 10 cups of chicken broth
- Assorted pieces of fruit
Getting to the Race
Getting to the race proved to be an adventure of its own. We dropped our two oldest kids off at my mom’s house Monday afternoon, then the youngest at our daycare provider later that evening. Shelly and I gathered most of our gear. We planned on getting some sleep then heading to the airport at about 5am. Everything was going according to plan until…
… Shelly received a call at midnight. In her groggy state, she missed the call. Ten seconds later I got a call. It was our daycare provider. There’s always that moment of terror when you receive a call in the middle of the night… especially from someone watching your kid. Fortunately she was calm. Whew! Unfortunately, she explained that Ty had puked all over. She has a “no sick kid” rule that required us to pick him up and find an alternative. At midnight. Five hours before we fly to Western States.
After Shelly pulled some magical favors from our niece Stephanie, we drove Ty an hour to the place where she was camping. We said our goodbys, ran back home, showered, and hit the airport. We were met with a HUGE security line. We ended up boarding the plane minutes before it left. As we sat back in our seats, we reveled in the fact that we could finally relax.
So we thought.
The entire flight was flown on the edge of a major storm. The pilot flew an hour out of the way to avoid the worst of it, but the small plane was tossed around in the turbulence. Sleep evaded us once again.
We landed in the Houston airport with 15 minutes before our next flight left. We opted for carry-on only, which consisted of two bags and two backpacks. We gathered our crap and sprinted to the next terminal. We made it just as they were preparing to close the door.
As we sat on the plane, the first thing I noticed was my throbbing right knee. I hurt it a few years ago. The official diagnosis was patellar tendonitis. I had successfully treated it using a rolling pin therapy recommended by my friend Dr. Scott Hadley. The knee was doing fine until I tweaked it bombing down Green Mountain in Boulder earlier last week. This was an immediate concern because it tends to flare up on downhills… and Western States has somewhere in the ballpark of 22,000 feet of descent. This could be a coffin nail injury…
Once aboard this plane, we both crashed. We intermittently slept until we arrived in Reno late in the afternoon. We picked up our rental van, checked into our hotel, and napped for awhile. Later that evening, we met Michael and Cher Helton for dinner. Michael was a crew member and pacer for my first 100 mile finish and would crew once again for Western States.
Afterward, we went back to our hotel and crashed. Fast forward to arriving in Squaw Valley. My first impression- it was beautiful! My second impression- the mountains weren’t as high as expected. From the race reports I read, I expected them to be higher. Of course, we just spent a week in Boulder. My perception of “big mountains” was a little skewed.
We wandered around a bit, attended the “novice WS runner” meeting, then headed back to Reno to pick up Brandon, the first arriving crew member. Mark and Jeremiah had missed their flight out of Grand Rapids. Their alternative plans would take them to Cleveland, then LA, then Reno. They wouldn’t be arriving until about midnight.
We picked up Brandon, shopped for a few supplies, had dinner, then headed back up to Squaw. We lounged around our room talking about photography. Shelly and I are amateurs eager to learn more; Brandon is a pro. He gave us lots of good tips and insight. I also tried to convince him to become a professional nomadic race photographer. Check out his site here.
In the morning, Shelly and Brandon decided to get in a few miles of running by hiking up the first climb of the course to Emigrant Pass. I hung around the room. Until I got bored. About 20 minutes after they left, I headed up the hill after them. This was my first good look at the beginning of the course. Up to this point, I had considered hiking this barefoot. The sharp jagged rocks convinced me to keep the shoes on here. Here are a few pics:
When we returned, we headed back to Reno to pick up Mark and Jeremiah. On the way back, we stopped at a Cabela’s store on the outskirts of Reno. Apparently Brandon was on a mission to visit every Cabela’s store in the US. As is the case for every road trip, we acted like dumb-asses. We couldn’t help but laugh at the testicles on the mountain goat statue in front of the store. Yes, the Hobby Joggas are a juvenile bunch…
We arrived back in Squaw just in time for the meeting for the crew. The crew sat quietly as a gentleman went through all the information relevant to the crew and pacers. My disdain for meetings reached a boiling point and I wandered back to the room to fiddle with my gear. When the meeting was almost over, I rejoined my crew.
The original plan was to listen to the rest of the meetings that afternoon. My experience at the last two caused me to make an executive decision- we’d skip the rest and start drinking! We headed to one of the local restaurants, got some food, and downed a few beers.
After whetting our palates, we grabbed a backpack full of beer and wine and headed up the mountain toward Emigrant Pass. We stumbled around a bit and a few of us nearly fell down some steep ravines. We made it up about three switchbacks before deciding to head home. We did snap some awesome pics, though:
We even saw a bear:
We chatted for a bit then hit the sack.
The next morning, we woke up, ate a light breakfast, and drove the two hours or so to the Michigan Bluff aid station. The goal was to familiarize the crew to the course so they wouldn’t have trouble finding it the next day.This trip felt long; I wanted to go back and chillax. We meandered back to the hotel. I had to do the preliminary medical check, so I changed into my running gear and headed to race headquarters… 50 yards from out room. That turned out to be a nice convenience.
At the med check they weighed us and took our vital signs. I weighed in at a not-so-svelte 183.4 pounds… about 10 pounds heavier than my last two hundreds. Sadly, not an ounce of that extra weight was muscle.
We then attended the mandatory pre-race meeting. I’d like to say this was a highlight, but it really was just another meeting. It was cool seeing the top male and female contenders, including Geoff Roes sitting immediately to our right. Once the meeting ended, we went back to the room, had a few beers, a lot of water, and I crashed. I think the crew stayed up much later. I heard rumors of a truth or dare game involving Mark and cougar, but that story was never substantiated.
NEXT CHAPTER- THE RACE
Preview to the next chapter- I should have noted there were some significant course changes this year. Apparently this is the most snow the area has had since records were kept in the mid 1800’s. Western States occasionally uses an alternate “snow route” for high snow years. This year, even the snow route was inundated. The race directors were forced to use a “c” route. This had to significant elements:
1. Crew would not have access to runners until Michigan Bluff at mile 55, and
2. About 10 of the first 14-15 miles would be run in snow, with another 3-4 miles of snow at about mile 30-35.
This would require me to rely on aid stations and drop bags, which significantly altered my race strategy. It also meant my crew had about 12-14 hours to kill Saturday. Read their crew reports to find out how they killed that time.
Oh… Almost Forgot… My Goals
I should also mention my goals for this race. As I mentioned in a previous post, my formal training was non-existent. I did about 10 crosstraining sessions in March and April, three or four runs over 30 miles including Pineland Farms, a 50 miler in Maine, and about 40 miles of mountain running in Boulder the week before Western States.
Despite the lackluster training, I was very confident I could finish. Even though my mileage was very low, I still had my endurance base from the previous ultras, had tested my gear, and had run in conditions similar to that which I would face at WS. The course played into my strengths (snow running, hill running, and heat.) I had an excellent crew led by Shelly and a sadistic, knowledgeable pacer in Jeremiah.
Even though I knew I could finish, my only goal was to go out and have fun. I recently adopted a “run for fun” philosophy and it worked well at Pineland Farms. Deep down, there was a hope that I’d feel good enough to push for a 24 hour finish and earn that silver buckle. Based on my previous 100 mile times, I seriously doubted I’d have even a remote chance.
Those that were familiar with my training for Western States seemed extraordinarily concerned that I’d even be able to finish. Brandon made many comments about me needing “heart” to finish, and even complained that he’d have to wait at the finish for me to get in after his runner finished. The pinnacle, however, came from Jeremiah. At some point, Jeremiah proclaimed that he’d get a “Prince Albert” if I finished under 24 hours.
Sidebar- FREE BOOK! That’s right, I’m giving away the pdf ebook version of “The Barefoot Running Book!” Download it from our site that’s documenting our family’s journey around the US as running hobos:
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