There goes my taper…
The weekend started out fantastically.
I worked an aid station at the Sierra Azul 50K with my wife and daughter. We hung out, drank Modelos and then I went for a run while she hung out with Olivia. I pulled race markers, and got in an easy half marathon. I felt fabulous.
We camped, enjoyed some Sunday morning yoga with breakfast and I got in 7 miles of baby-wearing hiking through the Redwoods, while the wife got in her long run. It was amazing.Then we went to dinner Sunday night…and after a short while, I spent the next 9 hours throwing up every last thing in my stomach, while my body quaked with fever.
It was horrible. I wanted to die.
The Doctor called it a stomach virus or something and gave me bottles of amazing medications. I spent the next few days sleeping and eating ramen. I tried my best to recover lost nutrients with things like salads, steak wraps, and even pizza, but everything just made me feel poorly after. I woke up Friday and felt about 85%. I was going to run The Canyons on Saturday, no matter how I had to get it done.
Things were not looking well for me, nor for the weather. We were scheduled to camp out on site, but with a weather report that was turning worse as the race approached, I decided to put the family up in a hotel to keep them warm and dry. I was not about to have my wife take care of our infant daughter in 50 degree rainy gloom, while I had all the fun on the trails…mamma didn’t raise no fool.
The night before the race I slept relatively well, and woke feeling more or less…ok. I pounded my nausea and sickness medications to stave off the day, and made my way to Foresthill Elementary, the start and finish area for the day.
The scene was a buzz, with people everywhere pinning up, stretching out, and walking around in the cold, dark, mountain air. I opted for packet pickup the night before, but it was available race morning as well. They had coffee, bananas, bagels, and muffins for breakfast. Drop bags were collected, and last minute arrangements could be made. I usually save this kind of commentary for the end, but, WOW. What a well oiled machine that event is. Well managed, well run, and well staffed.
The First 50
The 100k started at 5 am, an hour ahead of the 50k. With headlamps bobbing, we took off into the night.
The course is an out and back, out and back. Think like a bow-tie, or figure-8, just on the same stretch of course, with the start/finish in the middle. The first half of the race is the 50k, and goes through some of the toughest sections of the Western States trail, passing The Pump and down on through Devil’s Thumb..then back up again. To call that a 50k is almost selling it short. With 9,000 feet of climbing, that 50k is no joke.
When the 100k runners passed the great URP Alpine Entertainment between the Pump and the Thumb, the rain was beginning to fall, and the course was getting muddier and muddier. It was terrifying and strenuous. I found that controlling my speed downhill through the mud was taking its toll on my quads, as I could not just settle into downhill efforts, for fear of taking a nasty spill and getting injured. By the time I made my ascent up Devil’s Thumb, there was one section of trail that had upwards of 3 inches of mud building up.
El Dorado Creek aid station was exactly where I would build a cabin. They truck in supplies the day before, and camp it out by the river waiting for runners in a deep ravine, with a big decent followed by a big climb – both on the way out, and the way back.
Onward we pressed over the scenic single track and fantastic fire roads. The clouds hang in the river valley, hiding just how far you had to descend, and how far you would have to come back up. There was rain, clear skies, mud and water. The aid stations were well stocked and adequately placed. The out and back configuration was at times an exciting opportunity to see the whole field of runners, and at others a slight nuisance. Although everyone was very gracious, and maintained trail etiquette, it often meant someone was going to have to break momentum and pull off to the side of the trail to let the oncoming runner pass.
Passing each other did have its perks, however. There were some intense looks on the faces of the runners, reminding you that everyone was out there struggling, and taking it as best they could, giving it their all. You could see friends and familiar faces, and cheer people on as you went.
The weather was on the opposite end of the spectrum from hot and miserable, and the mud made for slick running, and dangerous terrain. Runners were laughing at times; hooting and hollering over the adventure at hand; then baring down and gritting their teeth, pushing through it all, at others. I saw both sides of that blade. My body was playing along well enough, but I still felt depleted from the week before, and eating was difficult. I drank a lot of soda to keep my calorie count high and my guts settled. Luckily the aid stations had plenty of watermelon and other foods soft on the stomach. Between their amazing offerings, and my own easy to digest supplies, I was staying fueled and moving – which was all I had hoped for.
The Back Half
The 50k runners enjoyed their well deserved big finish back at the school, and the 100k runners continued on.
Despite the prescription drugs and some over the counter Imodium, my guts gave out on me, and I was reduced to an even simpler palate for sustenance. It started several miles before the halfway, but luckily from Foresthill on, every aid station had soup of some kind. I cannot even begin to put into words how amazing that broth was at every stop. I did my best to pick up and push on, come what may.
With only 5k feet of elevation, the back half pales in comparison to the first 32 miles. Between Foresthill Elementary and Ruck-a-Chucky there are a few miles of fire roads, and some decent climbs, but mostly really enjoyable and runable single track. The majority of the descents and ascents are easily accomplished without too much challenge, the stream crossings can be leapt over or run across, and the scenery is spectacular. Running through the valley and enjoying the American River as the afternoon moved to evening was a magnificent experience. The rain held out and the course on the other side was relatively dry. It was all smooth sailing from here out, it was just a matter of getting it done.
Seeing old friends and cheering on others made the time pass along swiftly. Seeing the leaders fly by on the way to fast finishes, and every runner after them -it was interesting to see other runners in various states of emotion – from heartfelt elation to mental and emotional decomposition, and everything in between.
But isn’t that why we run these things? To feel human? To feel alive?
After the turn around at Ruck-a-Chucky, I was essentially running from aid station to aid station, as I could no longer stomach water or foods in between. I had been diligent throughout the day on my intake and was hydrated enough, so I was not too worried. I was aware of my condition, and that is always the most important part. Sometimes you cannot help your body from going south, just being able to monitor it when it does is the biggest part. I took the last 16 miles or so in stride, syncing up with a new friend, and pressing hard and fast shooting for a sub 15 hour cut off. Together, we kept each other moving and motivated, making amazing time for a 7 mile stretch. Unfortunately, the last few miles of switchbacks and climbs put us over the power curve, and under 15 hours was not to be this year. We embraced our efforts, and celebrated having put in the best effort we could, and hiked out the last few miles of uphills, running what we could.
As I jogged up Cal street, I slowed and stood before the finish line. I wanted to cross over at 15:15:15, but the thought of soup and relaxation was the sirens call that brought me over the line, wings out.
A week and a half ago, I was planning on hitting 14 hours, with sub 14 the “if everything goes well” time. When I woke up that morning, I just wanted to finish. It was not the race I had been planning for, but I was happy to have done it.
I earned my Western States qualifier, forged in a crucible of mud and elevation, starting with the flu and a fever on Monday, and culminating in the toughest race I have ran to date.
Thank you to the RD, event staff, coordinators, volunteers, and aid station attendees. This was a memorable experience, and I look forward to coming back in years to come.
See you all at Strawberry Lodge!
– The Winged Ling