Western States Race Report (Part 1 of 3)

I’m breaking down my race report from Western States into three parts. Part 1 will be the start to 70 miles. Part 2 will be 70 miles to the finish. Part 3 will be my reflections on the race. With that being said, here goes!

There is a lot of hype around Western States. It is the oldest 100-miler in the world and it’s the most competitive. It does not have the laid back feel of most ultras. On Friday, there was race check-in, as well as a mandatory meeting. There were so many stories leading up to this year’s race – the snow, the heat, the women’s field… and of course, Jim Walmsley.

After the pre-race hoopla, I grabbed an early dinner, and I actually managed a few hours of decent sleep.

Laura Kline, acting as my crew and pacer, and I headed over to the start a little before 4am. We ran into fellow Beast Coaster, Sarah Keyes.

Read up on her amazing journey to Western States here.

At 5:00am, the gun sounded and we were off up the escarpment. For those unfamiliar with the course, the first four miles climb about 2,500 feet to 8,700 feet elevation. A quick glance back over your shoulder provides you with an amazing sunrise over Lake Tahoe.

Simply put, the high country was a mess. Lots of snow during winter combined with lots of heat during spring created a mish mash of soft snow, collapsing snow bridges and mud. Everyone was falling. Everyone.

After several miles of that, the snow and mud became a bit more patchy. Still, I couldn’t wait to get out of the high country. As an added bonus, it already felt warm out.

At mile 24, I ran into Duncan Canyon and saw Laura for the first time. I was in about 40th place (out of 369 starters). I was doing well and looking forward to dropping down more in elevation (Duncan Canyon is still over 6,000 feet).

Leaving Duncan Canyon, runners are greeted by a long descent followed by a long climb. This takes you up to the first major aid station, Robinson Flat. At the aid station, I saw Lauren, Chris and Zach Miller (yes, the Zach Miller), who were crewing/pacing my friend Jared Burdick. They got a great pic of me cruising on some smooth terrain.

Eight miles later, I met up with Laura again. She was a rock star at the aid station. I also got a hand from my friend, Charles, who just happened to be at the race crewing/pacing Brian Rusiecki. I was in 40th place, and Laura gave me some really positive feedback. I left the aid station and headed toward the canyons with lots of energy.

At this point, I had been running with Clare Gallagher on and off for 40 miles. She was disappointed I wasn’t Ryan Kaiser but decided to stick with me anyhow (apparently, I look and dress like Ryan, because several people thought I was him lol). Clare and I ran down into the canyon together and stumbled across Stephanie Howe Violett having a rough moment. Clare went ahead and I hiked up to Devil’s Thumb with Stephanie. At the top, she was able to get assistance from Andy Jones Wilkins and Dave Mackey, and I took off for the next canyon. More on this later, but Stephanie would rally for a sub 23-hour finish.

I was feeling fresh as I headed down to El Dorado Creek – one of the hottest parts of the course in the heat of the day. The aid station volunteers told me the next day it was 97 degrees there when I passed through. They also told me that they ran into the aid station themselves before volunteering for a twelve-hour day. Wow.

I hiked out of El Dorado Creek feeling the heat but well within myself. I was using lots of ice and water, and I was taking in plenty of calories. I hit Michigan Bluff in 32nd place. At that point, my race could not have been going any better. I saw Laura for the last time before she would be joining me at mile 62 for pacing duties. I had already passed Kaci Lickteig (having a rough day), and heading toward Foresthill, I went by Mike Wardian. The heat was merciless.

When I picked up Laura, it was about 95 degrees. With that being said, one of the locals informed me it wasn’t that bad because there was a light breeze lol. Shortly thereafter, we came across Yiou Wang collapsed on the trail having a medical issue (she’s fine now). She was leading the race, and now her day was done. It was scary and another reminder the heat was taking no prisoners.

I started to become aware of my own hydration/heat issues. Laura and I were running well, but I felt a little off. I decided to stop briefly at Cal-2 to hydrate and cool off. It was mile 70.7 and I was in 32nd place…

Check back in the near future for Part 2!