I wasn't supposed to be in California in June, but Europe, so I didn't even try to make it through the lottery. With three runs (2007, 2009 and 2010), I already feel on the lucky side anyway, given the hundreds of runners who can't get in every year. Of course I'd like to get back on that amazing course, where the weather creates a unique version of the event each year. But there are other ways to be "in" Western States, and equally essential to the success of the event. First, through volunteering at one of the numerous and sometimes remote aid stations. Second, pacing one of the runners between Foresthill (mile 62) and Auburn (mile 100.2). Third, crewing for a runner which, given the remoteness of certain aid stations, not to mention the heat, is a sport in itself. Fourth, of course, spectating, either along the course or on the net thanks to UltraLive.net's live webcast or the various Facebook updates.
I had the privilege to get pacers for each of my runs, and I know this makes a huge difference. So much that Karl Meltzer, who won more than 35 100-milers in his career and still counting, is a big advocate of a rule which would prevent the elite to place if they have a pacer. I heard that, among these elites, Rob Krar and Max King ran without a pacer, and they may be others too. Anyway, for me, I took advantage of this great support and I still have found memories of my pacers:
- 2007: Rob Evans (last 38 miles)
- 2009: my son Max (16 miles from Forresthill down to the river, Rucky Chucky) and Adam Blum (river to finish)
- 2010: my son Max (also from Forresthill down to the river) then Pierre-Yves Couteau
But, before meeting Pierre-Yves at Foresthill, I had time to volunteer in the morning. I have been the Aid Station Captain of Last Chance, a station which has been manned by my Cupertino Stevens Creek Striders club for more than 35 years at mile 43, but this year I decided to answer to the call of my other running club, the Quicksilver Running Club of San Jose, which has been operating the Duncan Canyon aid station for a few decades as well.
Because the 400 runners or so come through the aid station in about 3 hours, we operate this station with more than 50 volunteers, a large number which provides a dedicated helper for each incoming running for instance, to attend to the runner's need.
Our Master of Ceremony and announcer was of course our Club President, Gregg Lanctot.
I look forward to seeing all the pictures that station Chief Photographer Officer, Tonya Perme, took all morning. I managed to get a video of the leaders, Max King for the men and Stephanie Howe for the women, and legendary and Western States Endurance Run founder, Gordy Ainslegh, but that was it, the rest was just crunching numbers for 3.5 hours. Except a brief interruption to attend to Pierre-Yves' needs when he arrived into the station.
Unfortunately, Pierre-Yves had another of his bad days, not much so because of the heat which he doesn't like, but it wasn't so hot this weekend, in the 80s, but because of GI issues which started around mile 6. With that, he was in 245th position, certainly not in his usual spot, and it promised to be a long night for us.
We dismantled the aid station by 1 pm and Greg and I drove back to Auburn so I could take a nap before meeting Pierre-Yves at Michigan Bluff. I was encouraged to see Pierre-Yves gaining 42 spots at Last Chance but unfortunately he lost all of them in the subsequent canyons, back to square 1.
We met Pierre-Yves at Michigan Bluff indeed, just after 7 pm. While he was smiling, his intestine was really giving him some trouble and he eventually puked just before leaving the station.
Our stop at the river crossing was sub optimally long with Pierre-Yves having to answer questions for the medical study, him spending some time in the porta potty, and the much needed refueling. We traded a few places which we actually regained in the 2-mile uphill to Green Gate on the other side of the river. By the way, it was the first time I crossed the river at night and I was certainly not suffering from heat myself to enjoy the coolness of the water. But I was so impressed with the courage of the volunteers who spend hours in the water to hold the cable for us and indicate us the path across and above the immersed boulders. Kudos to you guys!
Pierre-Yves had set his mind on walking up to Green Gate but I managed to run/jog/shuffle part of it, to his own astonishment. In the process, we passed a runner paced by living legend Ann Trason (Ann won this race 14 times over 15 years!). And, from now on, nobody was going to pass us again! Every light ahead became a target which we were happily hunting, keeping moving between stations at a great 13 to 14 minute/mile pace. We still spend the required time at the aid station for Pierre-Yves to refuel and eat, but the stops were getting shorter and shorter as we were progressing.
Unfortunately, at the exit of ALT by mile 85, I experienced a bad fall, stupidly tripping on a small rock which I missed. I fell on my side, hip and elbow, and, in the process tripped into Pierre-Yves' legs as I was following him closely. Fortunately, Pierre-Yves didn't fall himself and kept going. I was so much in pain that it took me a few minutes to catch him up and I even considered quitting at this point, each left stride becoming painful. It was a good pacing lesson and I decided to not mention any issue to Pierre-Yves, making sure we focused on his progression.
With that, I was happy with the 14 minute/mile pace myself, but I kept on pushing Pierre-Yves to shuffle the uphills and came up with the concept of virtual walking poles for driving an efficient power walking on the hills he couldn't run (walking/running poles are very common in Europe but forbidden on most of the races in the US so it doesn't damage the trails in National and State Parks, at least I believe that's the official reason).
I had seen Hal Koerner (2-time champion, 2007 and 2009) and Tia Bodington (Miwok Race Director) in the afternoon at the hotel Pierre-Yves had booked a room at, and it was uplifting to see them again at the rocking (as in Rock 'n Roll) Brown's Bar aid station (mile 90). It is always a delight to be helped by some of these high figures in our sport, like if James Lebron was giving you a ball on a basketball court in your neighborhood.
Keeping passing more runners, we had fun counting the remaining miles: a half marathon, phew! Then a 10K, then a 5K... All in all, Pierre-Yves gained 67 spots after Foresthill and we covered the 38 miles in 9.5 hours, that is just below 15 minute/mile. I was particularly proud of Pierre-Yves and how he was finally enjoying and having fun running again. And, for me, it was a great tune-up for night running for Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile, in 3 weeks (I did run through the night at the 24-hour race last weekend, but the course was so flat and smooth, it barely required a light).
Pierre-Yves crossed the finish line in 25:39:56, taking 150. His first goal this weekend was to stay alive and avoid any incident like what happened to him at Ohlone 50K in May 2012 (helicopter evacuation and a few days in ICU). Checked! His second goal was to finish that mythical race, meaning finishing within the cut-off time. Checked! Third was the sub-24-hour of course. Unfortunately he wasn't that far but the initial struggle of the day killed this possibility. A Bronze Buckle will have to do it then, and, this Sunday morning, Pierre-Yves was barely realizing what happened yesterday and through the night, having had serious doubts after struggling so much for the first 62 miles (100K).
Seth Swanson, 2nd in 15:19, and Dylan Bowman in 15:36 (I chatted with Dylan at the hotel breakfast on Sunday morning, he was certainly delighted with the outcome).
In these perfect conditions (no snow, dry trail, top temperatures in the 80s), 129 runners managed to get a Silver Buckle, finishing under 24 hours. Quite a high number but not quite yet the 148 of 2012.
As for our team, Ian Sharman (M4) took 6 this year, Gary Gellin 16th with a time of 17:47 and 3rd Masters. Clare finished 28 minutes ahead of Pierre-Yves, good for 21st in the women division. Sandra Campos in 27:36, Loren Lewis, 28:53, Paul Ng, 29:42. Unfortunately John Nguyen dropped at El Dorado Creek (mile 52) and Jim Magill at Brown's Bar, mile 90. Jim finished his 10th Western States in 2004, he was going for his 11th at age 67 this year. He'll be back...
And back I hope to be in the coming years too, in any capacity. Indeed, there are many ways to be "in" Western States!
PS: a few more pictures. With ultra photography vizir, Glen Tachiyama:
The medical crew: