Sunday, July 7, 2013

Western States - Part II: Training Camp & Getting to Squaw

Training Camp

A month before the race Desiree and I were lucky enough to head down for training camp over Memorial Day Weekend. This was an incredible opportunity to preview the final 70 miles of the course over 3 days. In addition to having the chance to run on the trail this would also be a solid weekend of training as we covered 75 miles over 3 days with appx 11,000 ft of climbing, and 13,000 ft of descending.

Our first day we drove to the town of Forest Hill, checked in, and boarded a bus that would take us to Robinson Flat - mile 29.7 on the course. This was a low snow year so even in late May there was no snow to contend with. When we were dropped off at Robinson Flat there was some confusion over where to go, but we followed the crowd and quickly found ourselves on single track - headed uphill. We felt the elevation immediately, and slowed down letting the faster folks pass. It took a few miles for the field to shake out, but once it did we enjoyed a lovely day of running on these historic trails. Finally getting to see the places that were previously just crazy looking blips on an elevation chart - Devil's Thumb, Michigan Bluff, Last Chance. The trail down to Swinging Bridge was just as hard as I had thought it would be, yet we were strong on all the climbs - power hiking past numerous folks. This day ended back at our car in Forest Hill - mile 62.

Day 2 started in Forest Hill and involved running the infamous "Cal Street" section of trail, covering mile 62 to the Rucky Chucky river crossing. Of all the sections of trail this is my least favorite, and proved to be on race day as well. It seemed like a lot of steep descending, some pretty rolling terrain, and then sandy stretches by the river that were hot and just seemed to go on forever. Since we didn't ford the river during training camp we decided to walk down and take a look at it before beginning the 3 mile hike up to where the bus would be picking us up. We walked down the ginormous steps that lead down to the river and all I could think of was how difficult those would be when my legs were tired on race day. The river was flowing pretty good and it was hard to imagine how we would manage the crossing. When you watch the movie Unbreakable you see the front runners being boated across the river. It's mid to late afternoon, the sun is beating down, and taking a dip in the water seems like the most delightful thing in the world. The reality is that the 30-hour runner hits the river crossing somewhere between 3 and 4 am. It's pitch black and submerging in a river doesn't have quite the delightful ring to it at that stage of the game.

Day 3 was my most favorite running of the training camp. You could really see how they say if you still have legs after the river crossing you can make up a lot of time. It felt a lot like running at home - soft trails, little rollers, some easy stream crossings. I think we ran for a solid 5 or 6 miles at one point - the longest stretch of running we had done on the course. The terrain was pretty, we got to experience crossing No Hands Bridge, had a little snafu post Robie Point (one that would not be repeated on race day), and accomplished making it back to Auburn.

Desiree and I at training camp - Day 3.


I would recommend training camp to anyone thinking about running Western States, or just anyone who wants to experience some of the trail. The organization is top notch - for $30 a day you get a fully supported run, transportation, post-run food. You couldn't ask for a better way to see the course. In addition to getting the preview of the trails we got to meet some great people. Folks who took time to share their knowledge of the history of the area, talk about their experience on the trails, or just talk about running and their previous experience in 100s.

Getting To Squaw

I love road trips once they are underway but I hate the packing part. After a whirlwind couple of days of assembling everything we would need for the trip we hit the road on Wednesday evening. Five and a half hours brought us to our stopping point for the night - a Super 8 in Yreka. Can't say I would vouch for this establishment, but it was relatively clean and since all of the campgrounds seemed to be booked in the Ashland area, it seemed like our only option.

The next day we continued south and made it to Squaw Valley (Olympic Valley) just in time for the medical briefing. While the subject matter was interesting I wasn't feeling well, so Adam and I wandered out early to find some cold drinks and shade before the crew training at 2:30. The crew training was very well done and I think it was very valuable for folks that were doing this for the first time. A few important tidbits we picked up - they warned the crew to expect their runner to potentially look pretty rough coming in to both Robinson Flat and Michigan Bluff due to the heat we would be facing and because both aid stations were at the end of long climbs. This would prove to be useful information.

Squaw Valley.

My sister and brother-in-law were due to arrive late in the evening on Thursday but unfortunately some crazy weather patterns created a major travel snafu for them and they didn't roll in until 7 am on Friday morning - just as the rest of us were getting up.

Finally, everyone had made it and we would have time to go over all the logistics in one group. Folks scattered for the day, some to hike, others to run, while Adam and I headed back to the start area to drop off my drop bags and complete the runner check-in. To say I was nervous would be a pretty major understatement. It was hard to comprehend that I was here. We were ushered into the check-in area and first up was getting a card with my name on it and double-checking that everything was accurate. Then came the blood pressure statement. I think the volunteer could tell how nervous as I was as he asked me to take a few deep breaths before we got started. BP was good at 98/82 and moved over to weight. As someone who will often beg my doctor not to take my weight it was an interesting experience getting weighed in public and having the number written on my armband for all to see. With the medical done I picked up all of my schwag (Mountain Hardwear duffel, sweatshirt, Moeben skirt (if only I could actually wear these skirts), mug, visor, and t-shirt).

The final to-do for the day was the mandatory briefing. While the air temperature wasn't that hot, sitting in the sun felt sweltering. As we made our way over to the briefing area we could see that everyone had the same idea, crowding in to any patch of shade that was available. We snagged decent seats and enjoyed seeing some of the pioneers of this sport and trail recognized for their efforts and dedication, and then watching as many of the contenders for the win were brought up to the front. Oregon was well-represented with Yassine Diboun, Timmy Olson, Hal Koerner, and Joe Uhan for the men and Pam Smith, Amy Sproston, Meghan Arbogast, and Denise Bourassa for the women. I couldn't wait to see what these folks would do with the course this year.

My sister and I at the briefing.

There were a few warnings about the heat for the race. The predicted high in Auburn was somewhere in the low 100s, and the predicted low for the night around the river crossing (mile 78) was around 82. The canyons would be hotter than Auburn. In other words, the coolest temps we would experience along the course would be the next morning as we started from Squaw Valley at 5am.

When the briefing was over we made our way back to our house, passing by numerous veterans of the race who were calling for carnage the next day. If you look at the stats the finish rate in hot years tends to be somewhere in the low to mid 50s. The predicted heat was making me nervous but I tried to tune it out. Nothing I could do about the weather except for alter my expectations and adapt as needed.

The crew got together and we discussed the final logistics for the race. Adam, Desiree, and Janet would be managing my needs while Amy and Scott would be working hard to take pictures and video to log the experience for me.

Ironing out the details.

Feeling very fortunate to have such an incredible crew of people aiding me in this attempt, I headed to bed early to try to nab a few hours of restless sleep before an early wake-up at 2:30am.


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