The Friday medical check went smoothly and quickly. Got 126lbs on the scale, which I felt was quite low dressed and with shoes. 126/72 blood pressure and 65 pulse, good to go! The briefing in the afternoon was informative, although I was still unclear about the rumor of no Dardanelles/Cal-1 station after Foresthill, and had to check with Tim afterwards. And its was again impressive to see so many champions lined up on this major event.
Brian's strategy was to run the first 1/3 of the course (Robinson Flat) conservatively, yet on a 21-hr pace, then picking up the pace in the second third if feeling OK, and push in the last. I was happy to keep up with Brian as we were hiking the uphills, with my much shorter legs. Among many other amazing ultra achievements, Brian has finished the Triple Crown in 2001, hiking 7,371 miles in 300 days. I feel I had better listen to him and follow his footsteps. Unfortunately for him, he had some gastric/transit problems, which made him stopped several times. As I was spending more time in the stations than him, we stayed together until Robinson Flat (mile 31).
I was not really hungry upthere, but enjoyed a few strawberries. And some soup again (I know, taking them together is not a great proof of sense of taste...). Mark (Godale) didn't feel good and asked for a chair to rest. Mark is amazing on flat courses, World Champion, 100km Masters in 2005, and 24-hr American record holder with 162.4 miles. I had met him during the training camp, and asked him what he found so tough at Western States as he had ran it 3 times now. His reply: "everything is tough!" Yikes. To my surprise, he picked two popsicles, the only station to offer this treat. I passed on.
I found Agnès and Rob just before Foresthill school and picked my headlight as planned. We then took off with Rob, and Rob urged me to go quick through the station. Was only the beginning of his great push to save minutes off my (too) long stops at the stations (that has always been my weakness, but I keep thinking that's overall not that crazy to take some time to make sure you don't leave the station missing something for the next 4 to 8 miles). Again, Whit left before us but stopped to his car before California Street (the street we take to go down to the river).
16 miles down to the river, you imagine it's easy. Indeed, there are some good downhill portions, but some uphills to break the rhythm, and then a long, long flat section along the river. I hit the wall during the training camp in this section by adding Foresthill to Rucky Chucky to the planned Robinson Flat to Foresthill 31-mile run. My first experience was not good although I had a much better one on the second day, meeting James on the course, then Simon and others at the river. That day I ran 2h20', today I was happy quite happy with 3 hours. On the way down after Foresthill, we were flying with Rob for a couple of miles before I experienced my first low of the day, the stomach really hurting for a mile. Rob suggested I tried to throw-up, but it didn't work, yet I got some air out of my stomach which really helped. I was enjoying the daylight in this section, as Tim T advised. At some point I hesitated removing my sun glasses and, sure enough, I was not seeing enough in the shade, so tripped and experienced my first tumble. Not too serious though as we were not going fast.
We left for more down hill and this long stretch along the river. Still enjoying the daylight with great views of the river which feels almost still at some points. I thought we would hit another station (Ford's Bar) but we reached Rucky Chucky much sooner than expected then. The family and Kate were waiting for us. Bruno (Karine's husband) was actually very surprised to see me, having closed much of the gap with Karine. He told me Karine was still 4th, and asked me to give her some encouragements if I catched up with her.
The way to Brown's bar seemed long, unable to remember it in the dark from my previous two training runs. Thankfully my new Garmin 305 kept adding the 1/10ths of mile, showing our progress. I triped and felt down a second time, but no damage. Between ALT and BB, I mentioned to Rob that we "just" had one half-marathon to go, seemed to me quite an attainable and encouraging milestone then. Brown's bar aid station is amazing. You can hear the loud music from almost a mile away, and smell the pizzas from half a mile. And the Christmas lights and decorations seemed so irreal in the context. Gave a taste of getting back to the civilization. Not for too long though as the trail, out of the station, is steep down, rocky and slippery. Was the turn for Rob for an acrobatic tripping, well recovered.
The medical check out was much lighter than I expected (weight and blood pressure). Went for a finish line picture, then a massage which was great except that I got a stupid cold as they made me walk barefoot in the humid grass and rinsed my legs with cold water. Was frustrating after feeling so great and not having any cramp for the whole way. Agnès drove the boys back to the hotel in the meantime, then picked me up. Went to bed at 3:30 after a hot bath and slept until 8:30 when Agnès told me Peggy (from our Club) was scheduled to arrive at 9:15, so it was just time to go again.
Inspirational to see Gordy finishing his 24th WS in 29:30, all smiling. Then the oldest finisher (70 years), 2.5 minutes before the 30-hr cut-off. And moving to see the first of the three runners finishing just over 30 hours (finisher medal but no buckle). When 1 minute and 2 seconds make a big deal even after 30 hours and 100.2 miles...
The award ceremony sarted at 12:30 and recognized three member of my running club as Friends of the Western States Trail:
- Jerry Hill who has been the Last Chance captain for many years in the 80s and 90s, and still volunteers at many places every year
- Bob and Marsha who have taken over for almost a decade, co-captaining with me these last 4 years
Will be back for more "farther and faster" experiences!