Monday, July 8, 2013

Western States Part III - The Journey

I promised myself when I was out on the course, in pain, hating pretty much everything and everyone, that I wouldn't sugarcoat this race report. I wouldn't try to re-write history and make myself look stronger and better than I was out there. I would write it as it happened, with the best recollection that I could. If you are looking for a happy race report, you might as well skip this one. It is also very long. It was my first 100 and I wanted to get all of the information down, so that I can look back on it for future races.

Race Morning
Des, me, and my sister - race morning.

I don't need to wait for my alarm to go off. My eyes pop open at 2:15am. I allow myself a few more minutes in bed before starting my race morning routine. Shower, dress, lube the feet, put on compression socks, eat, drink, look over everything in my pack. None of this takes very long but I like to allow myself time in the morning in case anything unexpected comes up. Everyone else in the house is up early as well and at 4am we pile into Janet's truck for the 2 minute drive to the start line.

Figuring out how to put the chip on.
We head to the check-in spot. Despite the altitude (6250ft), and early hour, it is already warm enough to walk around without a jacket. I make my way through the runner check-in, grab my chip, and get on the scale for my morning weigh-in. I hang out with my crew for a bit, and get to see Willie from Animal Athletics (who would be crewing/pacing Yassine Diboun) and I meet Susan from Lake Oswego in person for the first time. I enjoy one of the perks of running ultras - walking right into the women's bathroom, past a long line of men who were having to wait (participant numbers in ultras are skewed towards men).

With Janet pre-race.
Gathering by the fire, the excitement in the air is palpable. Lots of nervous chatter, laughter, and energy in the few minutes before gun time. I grab final hugs from my crew and toe the starting line. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Shotgun blast. We are off.

For full splits, go here: http://www.ultralive.net/ws100/webcast.php

At the start line. Almost time.
Squaw (mile 0) to Robinson Flat (mile 29.7): 5 AM to 12:40 PM
This is the first race I have started where you essentially walk for the first 4 miles (the front-runners don't, but us back of the packers do). I am excited. I can't believe that I am here! I had envisioned this moment, and it was just as sweet and incredible as I thought it would be. I power hike through the morning light, getting higher and higher, on my way to Emigrant Pass.

The hike itself is good. I feel great, I feel hopeful. I am excited, joyful. Everything that I had hoped for. Soon enough we are at the first aid station at mile 3.5. I stuff a Gu in my pocket and continue up, to the high point at 8700 ft. The light over Lake Tahoe is beautiful, and I make sure to take in the sweeping vista before heading down the other side.

The next 7 miles are ok. The trail is rockier than I had hoped it might be. I don't like having runners right on my tail and I want to make sure I don't do anything stupid (like roll an ankle) in these first few miles, so I pull over to let numerous groups of people pass. There is a good amount of moisture in the high country and at one point the trail was actually a creek. It was here that a friend I made in training camp came up behind me. Watching me pick my way from side to side trying to keep my feet dry, he advised me to just plunge in and get wet. It was great advice and it helped me save time and also made the going less dangerous - less likely to slip and fall when you are just plowing through.

Lyon Ridge Aid station (mile 10) comes up quick. It is already warm. I am happy I changed course the previous day and tucked my hat in my pack instead of in my drop bag at mile 16. I grab some food, don my hat, let the volunteers spray me down, and move on.

At this point life is pretty good. The scenery is beautiful, I am moving well, and then ... it isn't. As had been the case for the past 8 weeks, a very intense, and pounding headache comes out of nowhere. I am still in the diagnostic stage with my doc on what is causing the headaches and we didn't have any solutions/treatments at this time. Ibuprofen would be completely ineffective, and regardless it isn't recommended to take in IB during an ultra anyway. I try to push the headache away and focus on the run - the beauty, the excitement, the challenge. I put on music to try to drive the pain away.

The trail between Lyon Ridge and Duncan Canyon is a bit of a blur. I eat and drink well, despite the headache, filling my bottles at both aid stations. At Duncan Canyon I fill bottles, pull out my bandanna and the volunteers fill it with ice to wrap around my neck to keep cool. As I leave this aid station it starts to get hot. There is a wonderful creek crossing to dip in at the low point before beginning the climb up to Robinson Flat. I take full advantage and enjoy the cool down.

Pam Smith coming through Robinson Flat.
This is what front runners look like.
The hike up to Robinson is exposed. There are trees, but I think they were burned, thus they don't provide much in the way of shelter. I knew the climb would be long and I thought I was mentally prepared. But the heat combined with the headache is getting to me. I get into a very negative space - "you don't belong here. Who do you think you are? You can't run 100 miles. You aren't strong enough. You're fat and you're slow and you aren't a real runner. You'll never make it." - this is on a repeated loop in my head for what seems like hours as I climb up to Robinson. Not exactly inspiring words.

I can't wait to get to my crew. Once I make it up this climb I know the rest of the course as Des and I had run it in training camp. I need the unknown to be over. I don't think I will ever get to the aid station. I see a
This is what I looked like
on my way in to Robinson.
sign that says 1/2 mile to Robinson. I internally scream "how could it still be 1/2 a mile? I have been climbing forever!" Pulling in to the aid station I hear my brother-in-law shouting encouragement and telling me where to find my crew. I go through the obligatory weigh-in. I'm down only 2 lbs - perfect! I find my crew at the very end of the changeover spot.

Telling my crew about my
headache issues.
I sit down in the chair they have for me, I put my head in my hands and ... break down in tears. I catch sight of my sister out of the corner of my eye and watch her mouth "oh" and back away. They don't expect this. They expect me to be hot, maybe tired, maybe moving a little slow, but I know they don't expect tears, not this early in the game. I hold my head in my hands, pressing them against my temples and tell my crew that my head is killing me. I don't know how I am going to get through this race with my head hurting this bad. The last thought in my mind when I started was that the race would become all about survival less than a 50k in.

On my way out of
Robinson.
I give my crew a ton of credit. They pump me up with positives "you are looking great," "your weight is great, you are moving fine, well ahead of cutoffs." They run through my checklist, help me change my shirt, take off my shoe and remove the rock that had been bothering me for a few miles, give me food. Adam readies my pack, as I want to switch from the bottles that I was carrying, with ice water and food, and I get ready to go. He walks me out to the end of the changeover area. Once again on my own.

Robinson Flat (29.7) to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7): 12:40 - 8:10 PM
In addition to pain, I am filled with fear. It is already hot and I am heading in to the heat of the day and the hottest part of the course. I'm not sure if I can handle it. We had heard so much about how the canyons can be so much hotter than other areas on the course. The predicted high in Auburn was 102. Would the canyons be in the high 90's when I hit them? Low 100's? How hot would it be? I try to push those feelings away and focus on putting one foot in front of the other, running when I can, power-hiking when needed. The aid station volunteers are amazing, they provide such incredible support - filling my pack, dousing me with water, filling my bandanna with ice. The temps get hotter, and the sun was more intense - I try not to think about the heat and just keep moving.

Around mile 37 my worst fear strikes - asthma attack. The hot air has been a struggle to breathe for hours and it finally gets me. I have two inhalers on me so this is not cause for panic, yet I do. My chest feels tight, my breathing is getting short. I scramble to pull my inhaler out of my vest. Two puffs. It takes a few minutes, but I can breathe again.

The descent down to Swinging Bridge doesn't seem quite as bad as it did during training camp and I am able to run most of it without. I feel strong for 80% of the climb up to Devil's Thumb. I pass several people, including one of the guys I met during training camp. I find him sitting on a stump. Struggling. I offer words of encouragement, and as I climb the switchbacks I am happy when I look  down and see he is back on his feet once again, moving strong.

By the time I roll in to the Devil's Thumb aid station the heat has gotten to me and I have lost my stomach. Rolling waves of nausea are hitting me hard and fast. I sit down for a few minutes while a volunteer fills my pack with more ice water. I was planning on sitting here for a few more minutes and trying to get some solid food in, but just then a runner comes in and starts vomiting/dry heaving violently into the garbage can. Puking is a sound I just can't stand - I can feel my stomach starting to roll in solidarity. I can't linger. I get myself up and moving.

Conversely, the descent to El Dorado Creek seemed a lot easier during training camp. The heat is taking a
Yassine and Willie at Michigan
Bluff. So happy for him to
go M9 and for both of them
to cheer me in to the finish.
toll, as is the constant headache and nausea. It's hard to eat but I keep trying to get little bites down, along with fluids. I come in to the El Dorado Creek aid station asking the aid station volunteers if they can help me cool down. I think I must look like I am on the verge of tears, as they quickly sprung into action, sitting me down, getting my legs up on a chair, and draping my legs and shoulders in an ice cold towel. Within 3 minutes I feel like I am coming back from the dead and start the long, 3 mile walk uphill to my crew.

The cooling at the aid station helps me feel better for about a mile. And then everything comes crashing down again. My stomach, my head - that's all I can think about. I can't run. I power hike this whole section. This gets me back into my negative head space "you're weak, you can't do this, you aren't a real runner, what are you doing out here?" As I finally get close to the aid station I see Gail and Bret, friends who traveled from Portland to cheer on runners. They look fresh and happy and are so encouraging. I tell them I don't know how I can go on for another 45 miles feeling like this. Bret assures me that I can, and they walk with me to the aid station.

Janet checking in with me. Shoving
down some watermelon.
Michigan Bluff (55.7) to Forest Hill (mile 62): 8:10 - 10:02 PM
Another weigh-in. Weight is still fine, within a pound of starting weight. Since it's after 8pm I can pick up my pacer early and Desiree is ready to go. I'm not sure if I cried here. I might have. I am hot. I'm struggling to breathe the hot air. Adam and Janet give me watermelon, ginger ale and rice. They encourage me. Janet asks if my headache has gotten any worse. I assure her it hasn't, that it is bad but staying the same. They tell me I can do it, that I look good. I put a headlamp around my waist. I choose a packet of  baby food from the myriad food options and stuff it in my pack. Adam tries to get me to take more but nothing sounds good. He walks me out of the aid station. I feel raw. I was again on the verge of tears. I feel stripped of all ability to cope. I don't know how I can keep going. I am fearful as Des and I head into the darkness.

These photos accurately convey the emotion. Fear, uncertainty, pain. Des looks entirely too cute but determined to see me through.
This stretch involves the drop into Volcano Canyon and then back up to Bath Road and on to Forest Hill. I perk up, having company for the first time all day, and someone to talk to. I am actually conversational for a bit. We chat. I feel encouraged. And then I feel hungry. Dizzy. Weak with hunger. I grab the baby food packet and open it. I squeeze some into my mouth. And gag. It's horrible. The taste, the texture. I spit it out. I check the rest of my pack. Somehow I had made it out of the aid station with no other food. How had that happened? I am 5 miles from the next aid, starving, and I have no calories. I try again to choke it down. Talk myself into trying to swallow it. And gag again. It isn't going to happen.

We keep pushing on. I now add hunger to my list of things that are ever present in my mind. We walk. It gets dark. It's only 5 miles, you can make it without food. We turn on headlamps. We run a bit. I find a Gu in my pocket. I'm ecstatic. I suck it down like it is a gourmet meal, overjoyed for some calories.

At some point we decide we are going to blame Jim King for everything. Jim King won WS three times, and during "Jimfest" at training camp we watched the movie Desperate Dreams that chronicled the 1983 running of the race and the duel between him and Jim Howard for the title. During the Q&A after the race Jim King remarked that he would like to see another really hot year, so that folks could see what that was like. The heat? Jim's fault. The aid station being so far away? That was Jim's fault too. My headache? Clearly Jim's fault. Little did I know that Pam Smith had also put out a call to the weather gods for a hot year.

After a few miles in the dark I keep seeing little pinpricks of light on the ground as my headlamp light seemed to reflect off something. I imagine the fireflies from childhood as that makes me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside - but I know there aren't fireflies out here. And then I think of fairies. I know full well they aren't fairies, but that idea keeps me entertained for awhile. Then I decide to look closer and figure out what they are. Much to my dismay I discovered that they aren't anything sweet and pretty but scary, ginormous spiders. Spiders! Everywhere. My headlamp keeps picking up the pinpricks of light. Just my luck. Sometimes there is just way too much nature in nature ...

I'm starting to think we will never make it to the Bath Road aid station, but we finally do. It is a brief hike up and then what should be easy running for 1.5 mile along Bath Road in to Forest Hill. But my stomach hurts too bad to run and every time I try I feel like I am going to throw up. So I run, and I walk, and we alternate this way all the way in to Forest Hill.

I hear the announcer call me name as I make my way into the aid station. "Doesn't she look good folks?" I know he's lying. I can't possibly look good. Another weigh in. Someone hands me a popsicle. A volunteer fills my pack. I make my
Forest Hill. Gail and Bret acting
as my cheering squad.
way to my crew. I am starving but nauseated so nothing sounds good. Janet and Adam suggest mashed potatoes. I was willing to give them a try. They make me warm mashed potatoes loaded with butter and salt for some good fat cals and sodium. They taste delicious. Better than anything I can remember anything ever tasting. Janet cautions me not to eat too fast. I suck down the full bowl. Desiree and I move on.

Forest Hill (mile 62) to Rucky Chucky Far (mile 78.1): 10:02 PM - 3:15 AM
It seems impossible to believe it can get harder, but this is the stretch that everything goes to hell. I try to run. My legs are willing - they even feel good! -  my stomach is not. Extreme frustration that I can't run. My headlamp makes headache worse. My lower back starts to hurt. Every time someone passes me I get angry. Angry at myself for being slow. For being weak. For being a big, ol' baby that can't run because I have a stupid headache and stomachache. In my mind these are lame reasons not to be making faster forward progress.

Des tries to keep my talking and works to keep things positive. I feel angry and disagree with anything she says. "Want to run?" "No. I can't." A minute later I start to run.

The pain gets so intense that all I can do is walk and moan. Step, step, moan. Step, step, moan. I apologize to Des for the moaning. I apologize for being so painfully slow. She tells me I'm not allowed to apologize again. I respond that she needs to cut me some slack because it's likely I won't remember this conversation in 20 minutes.

Around mile 70 something - appx 1am:
Des: "If you could be any superhero which one would you be?"
Long pause. Quiet voice. "Elasti-Girl."
Des "Who? Blast girl? What power does she have?"
"No. Elasti-Girl. Don't you know Elasti-Girl?"
Des "I'm sorry, I don't know who that is. What power does she have?"
"She super stretchy and flexible. Have you not seen The Incredibles?"
Des "No, I haven't"
"What's wrong with you?"

I realize that I'm not afraid of the dark. This had been one of my biggest worries coming in to the race. Normally I'm terrified of the dark and being out on trails in the dark was particularly frightening. With all the pain in my head and the constant nausea there is no space in my brain for fear. All I can think about is pain. I've been trying to escape it for hours - running miles for different folks who I know would love to be where I am, thinking happy thoughts - trying to focus on anything other than pain. But I can't do it. I'm not strong enough. The pain is ever present.

We pull in to Ford's Bar at mile 73. I sit in a chair. I put my head in my hands and started to sob. I had come 70+ miles, farther than I have ever gone in my life, yet I still had more than a marathon to go. It seemed impossible. I went on that way for about a minute before another runner's pacer came over to me. He put a gentle hand on my shoulder. "How about we take this headlamp off for a minute? Give your head a break. Don't cry. You can do this. Look up at me and give me a smile." Half-hearted attempt at a smile. "See, things aren't so bad. The ugliest guy in the aid station just made you smile." And that got a little chuckle. I looked to my right and saw a guy sitting in a chair, sleeping, wrapped in a sleeping bag. Des came up to me with food, handing me some watermelon. "How does that taste?" I make a face, "Like sunscreen." Without a word she puts the remaining watermelon on my leg and encourages me to eat. Then we are up again. The volunteers cheer us out "we'll see you at the finish." I appreciate the enthusiasm but I don't believe I'll make it. We leave the oasis of light and civilization for the darkness of trail.

Walk and moan, walk and moan. Five miles to the creek crossing. I was afraid I wasn't going to make the cutoffs. I thought the river cutoff was 3am. Des found out at Ford's Bar that it was 5am. That gave me hope. Step, moan, step, moan. "Where is the river? Why are there so many hills? Why was I so damn slow?"

"Des?"
"Yes?"
"If I were home right now feeling like this I would be curled in a fetal position on my bathroom floor."
"I know. Stop for a minute. Look at the stars. Isn't it beautiful?"
"It is, I know it is. But I can't feel the beauty right now."

I feel like I am sleepwalking. I resolve to ask my crew when I get to the other side of the river to let me close my eyes for 3 minutes. Maybe I'll feel recharged.

At some point my shoelace comes untied and I need to sit down to tie it. But I'm afraid to sit down because of all the spiders. Des points out a rock "here, you'll be safe on the rock, no spiders." She's so earnest and sincere that even though I know full well the spiders could climb right up that little rock I decide to sit and deal with the shoe. In my mind the ginormous spiders swarm and devour me. At least that will make the pain end.

If I can just make it to the river I have a hope of getting to the finish. At the briefing they told us if you make it across your odds of finishing are very high. I put all the energy I have into focusing on the river.

"Des, I think I am going to cry for a minute or two. Maybe it will make me feel better."
"Okay."
Start crying, after holding it back for the last few miles, the sobs start to explode from my chest.
"Don't hyperventilate."
"I won't. I'm ok now. Just needed a little breakdown."

River crossing. The front runners do
this in daylight. In boats.
Step, moan, step, moan. Is that the river? Did we make it? It is the river. We see the lights, we hear quiet music. Remembering the large steps that lead down to the river Des cautions me to step carefully. "How high is the river?" The response "about waist high." We plunge downward and grab the cable. There are glowsticks lighting the way and a volunteer stabilizing the cable every few feet. They are encouraging and telling us where to step. First the water goes waist high, then higher. It's not cold. It feels good after such a hot day. We creep across.

I can hear the screams of encouragement before I can make out anyone in the darkness. My brother-in-
Des after he impromptu dip.
law, my sister, Janet, Adam, all are encouraging us across. We make it to the other side. Des misses a step and takes an impromptu dip in the river. She still smiles.

Rucky Chucky Far (mile 78.1) to Green Gate (mile 79.8): 3:25 AM - 4:24 AM
My crew has hiked down 3 miles in the dark to make it to this aid station, and waited for hours for me to show up. They make me hot mashed potatoes, give me ginger ale. I switch out headlamp batteries. They ask if my headache is any worse. No, still the same, but no worse. I don't bother to switch clothes or shoes. I'm not cold. The air temperature probably isn't much below 80 and the wet clothes feel nice.

I still don't think I am going to make it. Janet asks me if I want to continue on. "Want? No. Will I? Of course. I'm not quitting. I'll either make it to the finish or miss a cutoff, but I won't quit." She smiles. "You can do this."

"Does anyone know what the cutoffs are?" Amy - "I have the manual here. I'll read them to you." She patiently reads me all the cutoffs. Maybe it's possible. It's only 3:40am. I have 7 hours and 20 minutes to cover 22 miles. This is easy terrain, only 3,000 or so ft of gain and about 5,000 or so of loss to go. Just get moving.

We all hike together uphill the 1.7 miles to Green Gate. I delight in having a whole group of people with me. I ask Amy to run through the cutoffs again because I can't remember them. Trying to do math at 4 in the morning after being on the move for 23 hours is not going well, but I'm slowly working it out in my head. I have 2 1/2 hours to cover the 6 miles to Auburn Lake Trails, and 5 hours to make it to mile 93.5. I can do this. I can't let all of this effort be in vain. I am going to make it to that damn finish line. My focus, determination, and fight is still there. We leave the crew at Green Gate.

Green Gate (mile 79.8) to Highway 49 (mile 93.5): 4:24 AM - 8:23 AM
I rebound. There is still plenty more step, moan, step, moan, but there is more talking too. I'm able to engage in conversation for the first time in hours. I know it'll be getting light soon. I can't wait to take off the headlamp. I watch the clock and the sky waiting for first light. I start to notice trees and rocks that were previously in darkness. By 5:30 we can remove our headlamps and it is an incredible relief.

We can hear the music from at least half a mile away. We are coming in to the aid station at Auburn Lakes Trails - 6:02 am - mile 85. They have hot pancakes. Bland food seems like it might settle my still upset stomach. I shove down 2. I ask the aid station volunteer "Do you know who the top woman was?" "Um ... Smith I think?" "Pam Smith?"  "Pam won?" "Yes." Des and I cheer and do a little dance. The volunteer looks at us like we are crazy. "She's from Oregon, we know her." Filled with excitement for Pam's achievement (she had a tough go of it the year before, battling through hypothermia, asthma, and other ailments - and she comes back this year to take the win? Off the charts awesome.) I set off with renewed energy.

This stretch feels more positive than most. My stomach still makes it hard to run but we run more than I have for hours. It feels good. My legs feel good. Des keeps up the conversation. Positive energy. She's committed to keeping me going.

Highway 49 (mile 93.5) to Robie Point (mile 98.9): 8:23 AM - 10:07 AM
Cruising in to Hwy. 49.

Time to see crew again. This is it. Almost there. An hour ahead of cutoff. Only 6.7 miles to go and I have 2 1/2 hours to do it. The whole crew is encouraging. I suck down two more pancakes. Adam is going to pace me in to the finish. He has donned a matching skirt to pace me in. I smile. He smiles. He was willing to do anything to get me to crack a smile and the skirt did it. As I sit in the chair stuffing pancakes in my mouth Des looks at me "Don't give up on me." I look at her rather quizzically, "I'm not going to quit." Nothing could be further from my mind. They send us off. Des has done great. She got me through the dark hours - both figuratively and
More pancakes.
literally - I'm going to make it.

The energy from the aid station keeps me going for a few miles. We run some. We hike some. Then the energy wears off and the pain creeps back in - step, moan, step, moan. I apologize again because Adam doesn't know my step/moan routine yet. I stop periodically to try to stretch my back. It aches. My feet had started to hurt around mile 90. I can feel my little toes starting to blister. It's getting hot again. Even though it is only 9 am you can already feel the heat from the sun.

We hit my favorite portion of the trail. A brief stretch through a meadow. Something about this place I really love. We see people up ahead on the trail. I tell Adam that I understand the meaning of the buckle now. Before the race I thought if I earned one I would just stick it in my drawer with the other race medals, that it would be just another token, a memento. But I've fought for this. Harder than I have fought in any other race. Harder than I think I have ever fought for anything. If I get that buckle I'm going to find myself a nice belt for it.

We begin the descent to No Hands Bridge. Tim Twietmeyer (5 time winner of WS, 25? time sub 24-hour finisher, board president - in other words, all around awesome) passes us walking uphill. It is nice to see him out there on the course offering support to us way back of the packers. I can hear Pour Some Sugar on Me blaring from the speakers at No Hands Bridge. I run down the hill to the aid station. Before I can even ask for ice the volunteer drapes a sleeve of ice around my neck and tucks it in to the top of my tank top. It feels incredible. I drink a cup of ginger ale. No time to waste, we keep moving.

Within 1/2 a mile I suck the last drop out of my hydration bladder. I should have filled at the aid station. This stretch is hot, exposed, and uphill, and now I have no water. Step, moan, step moan. Water. Step, moan, step, moan. Water. Adam is hiking next to me with a full bottle of cold water that he can't give me. He keeps up conversation. Encourages me when I falter. Could I really not make it when I am this close? He assures me that I will make it. He keeps things light. Keep moving. Stop to stretch my back. Move. Where is the aid station?

Robie Point (mile 98.9) to Finish (mile 100.2): 10:07 AM - 10:27 AM
Like an oasis in the desert the aid station comes in to view. I ask the volunteer for two cups of water
Sign: Pacers are people too!
Yes they are! Without Des
and Adam I wouldn't have
made it through.
with ice, thinking I can't slake my thirst with just one. She hurries to get them into my hands. She takes my pack and gives me a liter of water. I only have a mile to go but I'm not willing to go without water after the last hot stretch.

Another .2 miles. Amy and Scott are there. Another .1. Janet and Desiree are there. Adam is still by my side and we are all going to run together to the finish. I envision linking arms and running the track with all of them. I couldn't have gotten here without their amazing support. I start running. Too fast. The finish line is still too far away. I walk again. Everyone else stops and walks with me. We make it across the bridge. We are getting close. I can see where we will make the turn in to the track. I start to run. Really run. Probably 10 minute miles but it feels like sprinting. And then I am on the track. I see Yassine cheering for me from the sidelines. At this point I can think of nothing other than the finish line. The happy thoughts of crossing the finish line with my crew? Not going to happen. I'm laser focused on the finish. I kick hard, too early, but it doesn't matter. I feel like I am going to throw up; but I'm not going to stop. I see a guy in front of me, only a few feet out from the finish line. Is it ok to pass him? Is that gauche? I slow for a second and then realize I don't care, the finish line is there and I'm almost done. I keep kicking and power across the line.

The Finish
And then the joy hits. I actually made it. I didn't let myself fully believe it was going to happen until it actually did. 29 hours 27 minutes and 30 seconds  after leaving Squaw Valley I arrive in Auburn powered only by my two feet. It's 10:27 in the morning, and I squeak in 33 minutes before the final bell. The route involved 18,000 ft of climbing, 24,000 ft of descending, and lots of sweat and tears.

Adam, Desiree, Janet, Amy, Scott - they are all there to share the success with me. Adam pulls me close into a hug. I can only imagine how hard it was for him continuing to send me back out there knowing how much I was hurting. But he knew how much I wanted this and he did it anyway. Desiree smiles. She put a lot of her heart and soul out onto the trails by my side. One of these days I'll get to pace her on this course and return the favor. Janet was ever present at aid stations and in tune with my hydration, nutrition, and any medical symptoms. And just having Amy and Scott there - smiling, encouraging - I could feel their strength. All of them got me here. Without their kindness, their commitment to helping me stay fed, hydrated, and well-taken care of, I don't think I could have made it. Crew and pacers have a tough job and I hope they all know how much I appreciate their dedication to getting me to the finish line.

From upper left: Adam embraces me at the finish. Soaking my aching feet in ice cold water and talking to my parents.
All smiles with Desiree, who was my shining star throughout a long, dark, pain filled night.
Amy, Desiree, Adam, and I make our way to the finish. Just after crossing the finish line.
The medal. Finish line. Yucky feet. Filthy shoes (they were brand new when I started.)

The Awards
Bronze Buckle.
They hand out buckles in time order, starting with the winners. It's inspiring to see the top ten men and women take the stage. I am awe-struck by their ability to cover the distance so quickly. I have awhile to wait as I'll be in the 29-hour group. They make special notice of the 29 hour finishers. There is no feeling like we are second class to the rest of the field. We get the same cheers as everyone else. It's appreciated.

    Video from my brother-in-law. There is minute or two segment at the beginning of reporter from a Sacramento news station interviewing me. I advise skipping that. :)
    WS 100 (All) from Scott Dawson on Vimeo.
Final Thoughts:
  • While I am not disappointed in the final outcome, I am disappointed in myself. I wanted to be the cheerful person out there. I knew I would be back of the pack and I was ready for that, but I wanted to smile, to find joy, to delight in every step. But I couldn't do it. My joy was pounded out of me first by the headache, and then by nausea, and I wasn't strong enough to fight it. I still said thank you to all the volunteers, I tried to smile, I hope I made them feel appreciated, but I didn't have the attitude I had hoped for, and it disappoints me that I couldn't manage any positivity.
  • Headache pain - the hard part for me about the headache pain is that it isn't visible. It wasn't as though I had a bone protruding. I wasn't bleeding. Or puking, or fainting, or pale. My weight was great. Did people think I was making up pain to excuse my poor attitude? To explain my slow pace? Was I making it up? Did it really hurt that bad? Or am I just a wuss?
  • Nausea - I think the nausea was originally caused by the headache. Then it became an issue of insufficient calories as I couldn't get enough food down because I was too nauseated (I worked on a mini-Luna bar for a good 30 minutes and couldn't get the whole thing down). Perhaps if I had sat down for an extended period of time and shoved in a bunch of cals, I could have gotten the nausea to go away. Or I might have puked and reset my stomach. Or I might have made myself feel worse. Hard to know.
  • I let certain comments/articles/blogs that I read after the lottery get in my head. Comments such as "1st timers don't belong at WS." "The lottery is flawed, good runners didn't get in while people who qualified with an easy 50 miler did." I took this to heart. I felt like I didn't belong there, that I hadn't earned it, that others were more deserving. And while that may be true, I followed the rules of entry and was lucky enough to have my name drawn. Case closed. I shouldn't have let the negativity in. It made me feel so much pressure to succeed, more than I think I would have felt otherwise, as I felt I had to prove that I did belong to be there.
  • Crew, for me, was essential. Even though I only saw them for a few minutes a couple of times on the course, looking forward to seeing them helped keep me moving. And my crew was amazing. From taking care of my feet, to feeding me, to giving me aid station cutoffs, and chronicling the journey in video and photos - all of it helped me succeed. 
  • Pacers, for me, were also essential. Just having someone by my side, even when we weren't talking; someone to share the journey, to be there when I struggled, to offer up quiet words of encouragement, to believe in me. It meant so much to me. (You can read about the race from Desiree's perspective here: http://www.runningbecause.com/2013/07/a-bittersweet-journey.html)
  • Volunteers at WS are amazing. Hands-down the most incredibly well run race I have had the opportunity to run. Attentive, kind, encouraging ... everything you would want out of volunteers. I can't possibly thank them enough.
  • I knew it was going to be tough. I respected the distance. I trained hard. I expected highs and lows and multiples of each. What I didn't expect was a 60 mile low from around 19 to 79. Miles 79 - the finish were much more what I expected, cycling between lows and highs, sometimes a rapid cycling, but I still got the energy of feeling a high before plummeting into the lows.
  • At the awards ceremony, Yassine asked me how many times I had thought about dropping out. Honest answer, "None." Coming in to the race I had told my crew there were three reasons for not making it to the finish line - 1. Medical Emergency, 2. An injury that threatened to sideline me for the rest of the year if I continued. 3. Missing a cutoff - those were the only ways I wasn't going to make it to Auburn. This was my shot, my chance (possibly my only chance) for a Western States finish. Quitting simply wasn't an option.
  • It was incredibly humbling to see all the well wishes on Facebook after the race was over. I had tried to keep things as quiet as possible on social media as I didn't want to fail in such a public forum. And yet the encouragement that I saw on my page brought tears to my eyes. So many people were rooting for me, and cheering for me, and practically trying to will me to the finish line from their computer screens. How did I get so luck to have so many people who want to see me succeed?
  • At each aid station my sister told me that my parents were "watching me" on the computer and wishing me well. My dad was having trouble tearing himself away and found it hard to sleep. Their unwavering support means the world to me.
  • Craig Thornley (RD) and crew were phenomenal. I would say his inaugural year as RD was a slam dunk. I have nothing to compare it to, but the aid stations were incredible as were the volunteers, the course marking, etc ... I was running back of the pack for the entire race and no aid station ever ran out of supplies. There was always ice, cold water, plenty to eat, encouragement, volunteers to assist with your every need. There was no feeling that an aid station was being packed up, that the volunteers were ready to be done. I feel as though I got the same attention and encouragement as the front runners and mid-pack. It was like a well-oiled machine of awesomeness.
  • The all important question - will I do it again? It's a good thing everyone knows not to listen to what I say during a race as I kept saying over and over and over "I'll never do this again." Of course I'll do it again. The challenge now is to see if I can do it better.





5 comments:

  1. I'm sitting here in tears after reading your report. You give yourself far too little credit - I don't think you have any idea how much you inspire and motivate people, or just how strong you are. There's nothing weak about what you accomplished. Nothing. You really should stop fighting the fact that you are far more amazing than you realize. We were all rooting and pulling for you because we all think you are awesome! Great job to you and your crew for making us all wanna-be first-timers proud. What you did out there is what this sport is all about, and don't let any comments to the contrary convince you otherwise.

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  2. Ohmygosh! Sobbing! +1 for everything Teri said! You are such an inspiration. Congrats to you and your awesome team. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Outstanding race report and loved the video too!

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  3. Basically you kicked butt on the tough Western States 100 course. Don't let anything or anyone take that away from you! You deserve this! Make sure you tell your self this many times. You worked hard. Enjoy every moment of what you went through. Not many people can do what you just did. Congrats from both Gail and myself.

    Bret

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  4. I'm so glad we could be there for this. It was an amazing day and you've done a wonderful job capturing the entire thing!

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  5. Reading this with tears streaming down my face (I am an unapologetic sports crier).

    Thank you for this very real and raw account of WS. What a warrior you are to battle through a day where nothing seemed to work in your favor.

    Big congrats on the buckle!!!

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