My exact post-race memories were a bit of a blur. After my crew led me to the finish line, I rode a high for about 15 minutes. Then sheer exhaustion set in.
I’ll try my hand at brevity by quickly explaining the port-race period:
- Volunteers took blood sample to test kidney function,
- Crew and I watched the rest of the 24 hour finishers,
- Got bored and hungry, decided to get breakfast,
- Went to Denny’s, server and cook were only people on duty. Slow service and wrong orders were trumped by deliciousness of Grand Slam,
- Took Michael to his car in Truckee… about an hour drive. I slept the whole way,
- Drove back to Auburn, I continued to sleep. Received texts from Brandon after his runner finished,
- Made jokes about having to wait for Brandon at finish,
- Got back to Auburn, went to field, promptly fell asleep in shade of a tent,
- Woke up, ate breakfast provided for runners (2nd breakfast),
- Slept some more,
- Talked to Brandon about race, we gave each other rundowns of our experiences. He did an excellent job coaxing his injured runner to the finish,
- Ate breakfast for the third time,
- Awards started, slept intermittently during ceremony,
- Received my buckle… but was too exhausted to fully appreciate the moment,
- Momentarily met Bryon Powell, and long-time hero of mine and creator or irunfar website. Bryon has taken a path somewhat similar to the path Shelly and I are going down. I wish we would have had time to chat. Bryon- if you read this, I hope we hook up again in the near future when I’m not as exhausted!
- Drove to Reno, slept most of the way.
How Did I Pull This Off?
I’m not sure if I can fully answer this question. My training (as I detailed in this post) was lackluster by any measure. In fact, I’m not even sure it qualified as training. I think I did manage to do some things in training that worked specific skills that led to success here, but I think experience and confidence played a major role. I also think it helped that Western States features elements that I seem to excel at. Finally, I think my approach to the race played to one of my strengths- I thrive on the unknown.
In my other 100s, I meticulously prepared. I read race reports, studied course maps and elevation charts, watched course videos, and did anything else I could to prepare. Before running the race I developed intricate plans including pace charts, crew plans, and contingency plans. I planned where I’d be on the course at any given time. I wore a Garmin to track my pace and progress. I wanted to know where I was at what time, how far I had to go, and what pace I needed to reach a goal time.
At Western, I took the complete opposite approach. I was vaguely familiar with the course from previous race reports. Brandon and Roger Bonga gave me some information, and other runners and volunteers gave me some info. Other than that, I was in the dark. I didn’t know what to expect, where “difficult” sections were located, the names of aid stations, or cutoff times. I ran the race about as blind as I could.
As a result, every new section was a discovery. Every corner and every hill brought something new and surprising. Discovering the course became an adventure that made it seem less like a race and more like a journey into uncharted territory.
I don’t think this strategy would work for everyone, but it really plays into the reason I run 100’s… I love the adventure.
I do think the terrain and environmental conditions favored my running style. I love running hills… the bigger the better. The frequent climbs and descents of Western States were awesome! In fact, my biggest complaint of the course would be the sections of relatively flat roads… they seriously blew. I really hated the sections of asphalt, too. I despise road running. Shelly even noticed the change in my demeanor at Robie Point when we transitioned to asphalt.
The heat was also a bit of an advantage relative to the field. I love hot weather and perform pretty well, especially in low humidity conditions. Even though this was one of the coolest races on record, the heat still took a toll on a lot of runners. I was largely unaffected. I didn’t do much heat training other than running in Boulder the week before, but I do typically run in heavier-than-necessary clothing.
A great deal of my success stemmed from my miraculous avoidance of serious lows. I really only experienced the one low after Brown’s Bar. Through experience, I’ve learned this is directly attributed to caloric intake at regular intervals during the race.
Eating at aid stations doesn’t allow me to “keep the tank full” so to speak. By eating one packet of Gu about every 20-30 minutes, I was able to maintain pretty level glycogen levels. This is a strategy I’ll definitely use for future ultras.
Jeremiah did play a critical role in the finish. Even though I felt pretty good for the second half of the race, it was his constant coaxing that kept me running anything but the uphills and very technical downhills. I learned a great deal about pacing form him throughout the night, and am eager for the opportunity to pace others. I already have a few gigs lined up.
Overall, I think my success was a function of my approach. Over the years, I’ve experimented to figure out what will work for me. I know myself and how my body reacts to various challenges presented during 100 milers. I am slowly dialing in the variables that will lead to my success.
In the beginning, it was tempting to simply repeat what worked for others. Of course, it rarely led to any measure of success. That experimentation DID allow me to figure out what does and does not work for me, though. Most of my solutions are rather unorthodox, but they work for me. This is one of the appealing aspects of these long races- it’s like a giant puzzle you slowly solve one race at a time.
I’m eagerly awaiting my next challenge. I probably won’t run another 100 until at least fall. I am planning on pacing Jeremiah at this year’s Burning River, then pacing Jesse at this year’s Hallucination. Pacing those two jackrabbits should provide all the base I need to tackle a fall ultra. The list of candidates is relatively short… starting with Grindstone in October.
Looking ahead to the more distant future, Western States was a qualifier to apply for Hardrock (thanks for planting that seed, Rob!) I don’t know if I’m ready for the “graduate course” of 100 milers, but I do seem at home in the mountains and have a strong preference for very technical terrain. I can’t help but to wonder how I’d do there using the same approach and a little more training…
The adventure Shelly and I are about to do will give us the opportunity to spend a lot of time exploring trails all over the country. I think this will give me a better training base than what I had going into Western States. We’ll see… I eagerly await these new challenges!
Shelly Robillard: I have too many things to thank Shelly for… so I’ll have to pick and choose. I wouldn’t even be a runner if it weren’t for Shelly. She was the one that gave me the first taste of this crack we call “running.” I wouldn’t be in a position to even run this race if she didn’t believe in me and my crazy dreams of becoming nomadic running hobos. I also want to thank her for being a tremendous crew chief and sadistic but sometimes compassionate pacer. Her courage has inspired my to face and embrace my own fears. We have a lot of exciting adventures ahead, and I cannot begin to describe how lucky I feel to have her at my side. Of course, I also want to thank her for being such a wonderful spouse.
Jeremiah Cataldo: I wouldn’t have earned that buckle if it were not for Jeremiah’s excellent pacing skills. It’s entirely appropriate that I met Jeremiah for the first time on a 30+ mile training run into the night. Since that night a few years ago, Jeremiah has become a close running friend. His amazing race performances have also been an inspiration for me to challenge my own self-imposed limits. I’d also like to thank him for the extended conversations throughout the night. Oh, and the short shorts.
Mark Robillard: Mark was my original “run for fun” inspiration. As long as I have known him, I’ve never heard him talk about races in terms of time or his own goals. His conversations are always about the number of pictures he took, who he talked to, or vivid descriptions of the beauty of the course. In the process of enjoying the races he’s run, Mark has put up some impressive finishes over a sustained period of time. Also, Mark adds infinite entertainment to any road trip. I’d like to thank him for making this trip even though he didn’t get to pace. Mark is the unofficial leader of our merry band of misfit Hobby Joggas, and he perfectly epitomizes what we’re about.
Michael Helton: I’d like to thank Michael for taking time out of his routine to host us in his house (even though he just sold it) and follow us around the mountains. His familiarity with the area, the course, and this race in general were a huge asset to both me and the rest of the crew. Also, I’d like to thank him for shooting the footage that I’ll make into a video at some point in the coming weeks.
Brandon Mulnix: I’d like to thank Brandon for making the trip out here and giving us tons of information about the race, the course, and crew directions. Your insight was incredibly useful. I’d also like to thank Brandon for his silly playfulness. Our trips up the mountain in Squaw were among the most memorable moments of the trip. Brandon is a relatively new ultrarunner with an incredibly bright future… just keep doing what you’re doing, man! I also want to thank Brandon for providing a little more incentive to beat the runner he was pacing.
Jesse Scott: I won’t lie- I was disappointed Jesse could not be there with the rest of us. For the last two years, Jesse has been my ultramarathon training partner. He has been a sounding board for every single idea I’ve tried from shoe choice to hydration to food selection. You name it, we’ve discussed it. Almost all of my strategic successes at WS are a direct result of conversations we’ve had. I also want to thank Jesse for pushing me to my limits. Even though he is far faster, attempting to keep up with him has caused me to push farther and faster than I could have on my own. I would also like to thank Jesse for making my borderline obsession with mountains seem fairly normal.
Roger Bonga: Roger is a friend from Grand Rapids, and accomplished triathlete, and participant in the 2010 WSER. Roger gave me many tips over the year, which helped me decide what to focus on in training.
The Volunteers at Western States: This one is pretty vague, but I am grateful for the 1,500 or so people that took the time out of their busy lives to help make this event the fantastic adventure it is. This event is truly world-class, and the volunteers are what place it in that rare category.
Merrell: I’d like to thank Merrell for several things. First, thank you for making the perfect trail running minimalist shoe. Before the Trail Glove, I had to make significant sacrifices to find footwear that provided enough protection but didn’t alter my form. Second, thank you for being such an awesome supporter of outdoor adventures and supporting our journey to this race and future events.
Dr. Scott Hadley: Scott is a friend from Grand Rapids that is primarily responsible for keeping me injury-free. I use his self-treatment methods on a frequent basis. They have kept me in one piece. Scott is truly a revolutionary visionary in the physical therapy field.
Tim Looney: Tim was one of my original ultrarunning inspirations. We ran the North Country Trail 50 miler together a few years ago. Tim was a few hundred yards ahead of me for most of the race. I made it a goal to catch him, which I never did. The effect, however, was that I finished the race. Tim also ran Western States in 2007. His race report can be found here: http://www.trailrunnermag.com/showracereport.php?id=25. The picture of Tim’s finger were truly disturbing… and AWESOME! Tim, I hope you’ll be able to get back to the trails soon!
Phil Stapert: Phil is an ultra friend from Grand Rapids. We ran our first 100 at the same time (Burning River ’08.) Phil finished; I DNFed. Since that time, Phil has been both an inspiration and a source of valuable information. Phil also was an inspiration for the “run for fun” idea as he genuinely enjoys the physical act of running. That love has resulted in some pretty amazing training runs that routinely push and exceed 50 miles.
Chip Tilden: I met Chip at this year’s Pineland Farms 50 miler. We ran the first 13 miles or so together. Chip has an amazing life story which was inspirational itself. Chip also provided some valuable mountain running tips that I was able to test out in Boulder the week before WS. I look forward to being able to meet up with Chip in the future… hopefully in another race!
The Good Folks at Kickrunners and Runner’s World: I have a lot of friends that have provided a ton of support and guidance over the years. These communities epitomize the ultra community, and I am proud to be a little part of these groups.
My Barefoot and Facebook Peeps: There are too many to mention, but I genuinely appreciate your kind words during and after the race. I’m humbled to have such a large group of virtual friends.