Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Western States 100 Mile Crew Report

I've been staring at this blank page, trying to figure out how to capture this past weekend. It's not a race report. It's not about me (like most of my posts). There has already been so many adjectives spewed about the race, but it is still hard to convey the immensity of the undertaking. 100 miles by foot! Over mountains and canyons and rivers! With hardly a break! Just 27 hours of moving forward.

I guess I'll just do it chronologically, and drop in my thoughts as I go.

Thursday I drove up from LA to Sacramento and met up with the rest of the team; The runner, Mild Sauce (Megan), the pacers, Kynan and Laura, and my crew buddy, Jesse.
We quickly packed up into the rental SUV and headed North to Tahoe. But first, some Hot 'n Ready.
Friday we all headed to Squaw Valley for check-in. Let me tell you, the Tahoe area is a beautiful place. It was a perfectly sunny day, and the natural splendor was a perfect setting to see a place packed with incredible athletes that were about to do the "impossible". It just makes you want to make the most out of your life.

The Starting Line (and Finish - they take it down and bring it to the finish)
I saw Gordy Ansleigh and Ann Trason and probably a bunch more endurance celebrities that I didn't recognize. But it was like a big family gathering. Everyone was so friendly and casual and excited. K & L knew tons of people. We ran into all 3 of the other Loopsters that were running. Megan picked up the best bag of free loot ever (free hydration pack!). We hung out for a long meeting where they introduced all the top runners, then had more pizza.

Eventually we were back to the cabin for a final strategy session. Jesse and I would aim to hit six different aid stations. We had lots of supplies for fuel, first aid, bug spray, sunblock, extra shoes and clothes, etc, etc. K& L would work an aid station much of the day before getting ready to pace. Cars and parking had to be organized. Drive times calculated. For an organization geek like me it was fun. And it all worked out great. Then we tried to get some sleep before the sun was even down. Because the alarm was set for 3AM.

As we loaded up the SUV at 3:30, I noticed the stars. Holy cow! Living in LA, I am missing out on this nightly wonder. I could see the Milky Way for the first time in years. It was very cool.
Anyway, we got to the start and got to do a loopster photo op. Four amazing people, who would be followed and cheered by hundreds across the country for the next day.
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By start time, it was just starting to get light. The start was up the ski hills; 3+ miles of steep climb. The dirt road path was lit up, so we could watch the nearly 400 runners weave up the hill. Too dark for good photos though.
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The crowd was bigger than the race. And we all tried to record the start.
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 and this is the hill they went up

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Now we had 5 hours to get to the first aid station. And we needed a lot of it! Because while Megan ran 24 miles over a mountain, we had to drive about 100 miles to get there! The last 25 were on curvy mountain roads. But it was beautiful! We were deep in the wild. We lost cell phone coverage for the next 8 hours, so we would be at the mercy of a paper map and a plan. Well, actually, we had a Garmin GPS for the car which mostly reached satellites, so there was that. Life isn't too rough in the 21st century. Did I mention these were the same mountain passes where the Donner party resorted to cannibalism? Hopefully we packed enough GU.

We reached the first (for us) aid station, found parking along the narrow road, and hiked another 1/4 mile to get to the trail. There we found tents where volunteers had spent the night in order to be ready. The hundreds of volunteers for this race were incredible. This aid station was kind of crowded. We were 4-5 deep on the side of the trail, trying to spot our runner up the hill. When a runner was spotted, the crew would be allowed under the rope and next to the trail, where they had seconds to set up. The runner would be in and out in a minute or two. Volunteers would refill their hydration packs, while runners ate and checked with their crew.

We weren't there long before the leader came through. It would be another two hours before Megan showed up. But time didn't drag. It was fun watching the activity, and admiring the runners. We had chairs. Finally we spotted her and quickly laid out all the pre-planned articles. She didn't use any of it. Just refilled the hydration pack, ate some food, got sprayed with sunblock and bug spray, and headed back out. But we had a minute or two to talk, and she was doing great.

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And down the trail she went.
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Next stop, mile 38. 14 miles to run, and about the same to drive. So we got there about 3 hours early. Luckily we found space under a canopy, so we had shade during the mid-day sun. The field was more spread out now, and there was more room for crews. As each runner came in, a volunteer would attach to them and get them anything they needed. A personal valet as it were.

We saw one guy with a nasty cut from a fall, blood all down his leg, but they taped him up and he kept going. Another woman had to drop with a lingering hip problem, and we ended up driving her to the next check point. We started to track which runners were near Megan's pace, so we would have an idea when she was coming in. As usual it was inspiring just watching these people, and they all had supportive crews that were inspiring as well.
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Megan came through looking good. The valet filled her pack while she made a quick pit stop (a good sign). She chowed down on watermelon and Oreos, got a sponge shower over her head and neck, had ice stuffed down her bra, and off she went. Did I mention it was 82 degrees on the way to 90?
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We made another long drive over the mountain road and back to civilization where we could check our phone and see what was up with everybody. And I uploaded some pics to Facebook so you all could keep up.

Next stop was mile 53. This one was in a little group of houses on a road, near a city. Lots of space. A few hundred supporters lingered in camp chairs. Occasionally a runner came through and would get cheered. The runners were looking a lot less perky now, after more than 12 hours running through the heat of the day. You could see the strides that were adjusting for blisters or sore muscles. But each one was impressive. Because you just had to think about what they had just done, and were continuing to do. The numbers are mind-boggling. I've run 10 marathons and always felt like I was run over by a truck after 4 hours. I slowed down for a 50K once and managed to run/walk for close to 6 hours. And it wasn't so bad, so I "kind of" got a feel for what they are doing. But 12 hours is a lot more than 6. And so is 24. Or 30. And it's a lot hotter and hillier. So, yeah, insanely impressive.

Megan came through still smiling, although her feet were starting to hurt. But she didn't want to stop and check them, and kept on trucking.

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Jesse and I drove the short trip to mile 62, and I got to do a little running to get to the next aid station. The plan was to run her in the last 1.4 to Foresthill. When I got to the checkpoint, she was not due for 10-20 minutes, so the guy there let me go down the trail to find her. This was one of my highlights. I spent the next 20 minutes or more walking down the trail. Occasionally a runner would come by. I got a sense of the isolation they must feel out there alone for much of the day. It was completely silent. Like 'hurt your ears' silent. And of course beautifully rugged.

Eventually Megan appeared and we walked and jogged over 2 miles together. Her feet were really hurting, which had her pissed, because everything else felt good. After 60 miles. Still we kept up a decent pace up a big hill and trotted in to town where the rest of the team awaited. By now the sun was down and it was getting dark.

Megan peeled off her shoes and surveyed the damage. Big blisters. We got a foot doctor to work on her and he spent over 20 minutes fixing them right up with ointments, tape and whatnot, while she lounged and ate.

Then she felt much better and headed into the darkness with the help of pacer #1, Laura, who would take her through the next 18 miles. Meanwhile, Jesse and I followed Kynan to the Finish and dropped a car, then stopped at In 'n Out for dinner, before making our way down the worst dirt road in the West to get to mile 80.
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 From there Jesse and I hiked 1.7 miles down hill to see the Rucky Chucky river crossing. This is where the runners cross through waist-deep icy cold water, while holding on to a rope. Volunteers stand in the river to assist. For hours! And it was 2 in the morning.

We had only been there 10 minutes or so when our girls appeared, exiting the river. They looked great! And kept on trucking up the trail before I could even gather our gear! I had to walk really fast to catch them, and that 1.7 mile uphill hike to the next station felt like normal pace for good in-shape runners. Not someone dying after 80 miles! I had switched to jeans since it was dark and below 60. But that hike had me sweating through all my clothes! Megan was moving well, but seemed a little loopy. Her brain functions seemed a little slow. But she was in good hands.

By this time, we knew she was going to finish, and finish well. After the river, Megan changed her shoes and socks, although we somehow misplaced the extra socks. So Kynan took the ones off of his feet (relatively clean) and Megan took those. Then Kynan took Laura's (not so clean or dry) socks and put those on. Because he had to run 20 miles too. Wow.

Now it was about 3AM, we had been up for 24 hours, and feeling a bit tired. The three of us drove to the next stop (mile 97) and parked and tried to doze in the car. But no one could really sleep much. Eventually we started looking for the nearest Starbucks, and got there at 4:59, just as they were unlocking the doors. A little caffeine did wonders, and the sun was rising, and we were all reborn. We headed to No Hands Bridge (97) and waited for updates.

Ahead of schedule, here they were, coming down the trail! Megan was raring to go, excited to finish, and they didn't stop long. Soon they were crossing the bridge and the three of us were running back to the car in our excitement to get to the finish line.
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We dropped Laura off midway so she could run up the course and find them sooner. Jesse and I parked near the Finish and started hiking up the course too. It was 8AM on a beautifully sunny morning. Soon we all met up and started jogging the last mile together. One last little hill to hike, and then we cruised downhill the last half mile to the high school track and the Finish line. I turned on my Garmin and we were running at close to 8:00 pace!

All the runners finish with their team, and then celebrate with their team. Pacers and crew are a huge part of this race. And it was an amazing feeling to be part of a team. Everything we did was in a unified mission to get Megan to the finish. And when she succeeded, we all felt the victory personally. I know I did. It felt a little like the old high school track and CC days, when another team member's success felt almost as good as your own.

OK, this is where I got choked up and had to resist the tears that were bubbling up. All the anticipation, all the planning, the waiting and cheering and supporting. All the admiration, not just for Megan, but everybody out there. It was kind of overwhelming. Especially as she exuberantly crossed the Finish line. But, you know. I maintained my cool. And we celebrated. Or something.

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1 comment:

  1. What a great report, Brad. This is just awesome. I am thrilled for Mild Sauce. She must be proud of her accomplishment and thankful to have such a dedicated crew. Don't know if I'll ever have the desire or the stamina to do such a long race, but this surely gets the wheels turning.