I have to start by saying that when I was looking for information/blogs for back-of-the-packers like myself for Western States 100, I found few and far between. The ones I did find were usually riddled with strategic placement of sponsorship information. That being said, I wanted to provide a race report that was detailed, raw, and hopefully helpful to anyone attempting Western States 100 for the first time. So, here we go.
What an amazing journey really doesn’t even come close to summarize all that has transpired over the last 6 months. It all started in December 2014 when I was in Flagstaff, AZ, watching the live Western States lottery results with little thought that I would actually make it into the infamous race. After all, I only had 2 tickets, ~8% chance of getting into the race, so the odds weren’t really in my favor! I had been thinking about this race all fall which was the only reason that I decided to run the Javalina Jundred in October 2014. As I waited, refreshed the screen, and waited some more, I suddenly saw my name flash in front of my eyes and I let out a scream, then thought “oh shit!” now what!? I blinked my eyes, refreshed again, and in fact, my name was there, I WAS GOING TO WESTERN STATES!
Giddy with excitement, I immediately started booking accommodations for the trip and asking my runner friends to pace, this was going to be the race of a lifetime! Now I had to start thinking about training. I had NO idea how to plan for a point-to-point hundred, let alone train or it! So, I put together a loose schedule which just involved running and then more running, so I decided that I couldn’t let this opportunity go to chance and that I needed to enlist the help of a coach. I reached out to Olga King who had helped me train a couple years ago for my very first hundred, and asked her to coach me yet again, and she accepted. We got to work immediately with weekly schedules and she helped me work around all of the spring races that I had already planned. Although she was less than thrilled at the amount of road marathons, and a 100 miler that I already had planned, she worked around it.
Through the spring I completed several training runs, back to backs, Boston-to-Big Sur, PF changes, Coldwater 50K, Pemberton 50K, Whisky row, Old man 50K, Lost Dutchman, and even got 2nd female at BLU 100 miler in March with a time of a little over 22 hours! At each race, I tried to train like I wanted to run the race so I went out slow and stayed steady. No PRs were hit during these runs, but that wasn’t the point. I wanted to get comfortable with my clothes, my pack, my nutrition, and practice the patience that I was going to need come race day. I also started to intensify my strength training, which was twice a week. I could have probably benefited from more, but with 2 jobs, just finding the time to properly train was difficult enough. I definitely had weeks where I was unbelievably tired and burnt out of training, but I would just do as much as I could and call it good. Towards the end of training, I needed to make it more fun and less “work” so I viewed my coach’s weekend training schedule as suggestions and not as critical. I also asked several people about heat training since my coach hadn’t had me complete any to this point, to which they all said it was a necessity. Since I knew it to be a weakness of mine, I decided to face it and work on it. Unfortunately for me, but lucky for the rest of Arizona, we had a particularly cool spring, so I decided that heated yoga would be a good addition to my training in terms of heat and strength. Win-win!
After speaking with a couple of veterans, I decided to sign up for the Memorial day supported runs, which I have to say, to-date is some of the best advice I ever received! It was a really fun weekend and I was lucky enough to meet Jen, Rob, and Mark who all made my Western States journey so much better. After the weekend in California, it was abundantly clear that I needed more downhill training (since I had done none to this point) and AIR SQUATS. I came home and ran downhills, walk/run in the heat of the day, and attempt at getting 50-100 air squats in each day. Eventually things got warm in Phoenix, so when I was outside with my hat, longsleeves, and hydration pack, I really did feel like I looked like a crazy person, but I knew it would all help me in the end. Through training, I overcame my fear of heat, learned how to properly cool myself, and also started to enjoy uphills, which was definitely all new to me. I also really started to enjoy the challenges that I was facing and overcoming during my training. Things that I never thought that I could do, or would even want to do, I was doing with little effort and it was actually fun!
Before I knew it, June was upon me and I was a little less than a month from race day. I had a two week taper scheduled with my last long run to be a 50K in Flagstaff. Just before the race, I had been contacted by a friend who had questioned me running this race due to the fact that I might get hurt, but my coach wanted me to do it, so I was going to do it. Although I had had some knee pain after Whisky Row Marathon in early May, I wanted to do the race as a confidence builder going into Western States. As luck would have it, I started feeling like I was coming down with a cold 2 days before the race and although I was predominantly asymptomatic, I simply just felt lethargic and tired. Race day came and they announced that later that afternoon, Rob Krar would be out pouring beers for charity. I toed the line. And set out into the forest. I felt ok, but my legs really felt like lead. I knew it wasn’t the elevation since I had been training in Flagstaff so much, so I could only assume it was my cold. I was supposed to do 4, 8 mile loops to complete the 50K, but on the first loop around mile 7 my toe caught a rock and down I went. I skidded to a stop in the dirt, jumped up to survey the damage, only to find that my uninjured knee caught most of the fall. Not too bad overall, so I continued on. During my 2nd loop, I didn’t feel any better, so I made the tough decision to DNF and stop at 16 miles. This race/run was anything but confidence building! I went home took a nap and we decided to head back out to the race start to meet Rob Krar if possible. Not long after we arrived, an unassuming guy with a grass cowboy hat sauntered by and we noticed that he had “Rob” written on his shirt. I walked up to him and his friend and we just started chatting. We spoke about Western states, pharmacy, running in general and I walked away with a ton of great tips from an amazing runner. While we were there I also had him and his friend Brian sign my hat. It is funny now that looking back on this day, it wasn’t about the race, but rather meeting Rob Krar and hearing the advice he had to offer. He was definitely my good luck charm!
Throughout the following days I began to feel better and better but my knee was still bugging me, which was truly freaking me out, so I made an appointment to see Dr. Ball who I knew could fix me. Unfortunately, he had to cancel twice on me the Thursday and Friday a week before the race which sent my anxiety into overload. I started scrambling to find another person to see about my knee. Finally on Monday before the race, he was able to fit me in and gave me total confidence that I had no damage and that I wasn’t going into my race compromised. This was music to my ears and reset my mind in terms of what was going to happen on race day. That partial week of work was a total blur since all I could think about was Western States and getting to Squaw Valley. I just wanted to be there, be in the environment and soak it all in. Before I knew it, Wednesday arrived and we were set to leave for Sacramento.
We had decided that leaving a bit earlier might alleviate potential baggage or delay in flights so we spent the night in Sacramento with plans to pick up part of our crew the next morning and make our way to Squaw Valley. It was great to finally be on our way, going to the ultrarunning mecca and to hopefully spot some elite athletes. When I finally set my eyes on Squaw Valley, my stomach turned with excitement and anticipation; I couldn’t believe I was finally here.
Needless to say, the night before the race, little sleep was had by anyone. Usually I can sleep pretty well, but this race was different, this was Western States. What concerned me more than anything was the prospect of not finishing, and then also not having the chance to enter the race again. Everything was on the line, all of the training, hard work, discipline, time, and money came down to this weekend. I finally decided to get up around 3:30 to get ready and make sure I had plenty of time before the race started to pick up my bib and not feel rushed. The crew came over to pick us up and we arrived at the village around 4:15. There was an amazing energy and buzz in the crowd as if everything was vibrating with energy, albeit nervous energy! I stood in line to get my cherished bib then relaxed off to the side with my crew, going over last minute details and trying not to be too nervous. With a couple minutes to race start, my crew left to walk up the road to get some beginning race shots and there I was, by myself. I looked around at everyone, all shared my expression of nervousness, anticipation, and excitement. I found a small place to sit off to the side only to look up and see my friends from the memorial day training run, Jen, Rob, and Mark! What a sight for sore eyes! We decided to start together which I was more than happy to do. As the clock approached the starting time, there was a new-years-eve-like count-down and before you knew it, we were off. Cameras flashing and cow bells ringing, I had to choke back tears of excitement as I saw the wave up runners in front of me beginning the ascent up the ski slope. I had seen this moment captured so many times by others, but here I was, I was running it!
As we began the ascent we all power walked up to the peak where there is a small, steep section that only allowed for one runner at a time. At the peak stood a rowdy, fun group who had hiked all the way to the top to enthusiastically cheer us on. An enormous smile broke across on my face as I crested the top and saw everyone cheering us. The next section of the course was single track, with muddy sections where I was particularly careful not to get my feet wet since I was sure that would be a recipe for disaster. Funny how I watched “Unbreakable” so many times, and yet this portion of the course was unrecognizable. This really slowed things down, but then we hit some nice forest roads where we were able to relax a bit and run more. We finally hit the Lyon Ridge at a slower than expected pace. Although I was trying not to stress about time, it of course was in the back of my mind. We ate quickly and were back on the trail again. The next section was a good deal of single track up and downs, with beautiful views and trees. We kept our easy pace going by trotting the flat and downhills and power-walking the uphills. The sun was up at this point and the morning coolness that we had had at the beginning was now dissipating. We decided that when we hit Red Star to take a bit more time, get some ice in our clothes, and make sure to eat. Although I am normally a pretty solid eater during 100 milers, for some reason my stomach was just a bit off today, so I mainly stuck to gu, watermelon, potatoes, and Gatorade. From miles 16-24 it really seemed to climb much more that I was expecting. The elevation tattoo that I had looked NOTHING like the terrain we were encountering! We kept pushing on with our easy pace, the only thing is that at this point, it really didn’t feel so easy. It was thorny at times and definitely warm. Both Jen and Rob were a bit nauseous at this point as well, we just kept hoping it would all pass. By the time we hit Duncan Canyon we were ready for some ice, the only thing is that they didn’t have any, just water sponges, so I drenched myself! I knew it was just going to get warmer and we had a big climb into robinson flat. I shoved in more potatoes, chips, gu, salt tabs, and Gatorade in while a volunteer was nice enough to fill my pack, and then we were off again. Immediately out of the aid station was a bit of a downhill which was welcome, but the only issue was that I knew the climb was coming. When we got to the canyon there was an amazing little stream where Rob got completely in while Jen and I just doused ourselves. It was definitely a refreshing little stop for us all but we didn’t want to take too long, knowing that we were still working against the clock. We started the ascent slowly just taking our time and trying not to over-exert. This section definitely seemed longer than a couple miles, especially towards the top. I separated from Jen and Rob a bit and just kept my head down and powered through. This was definitely a challenging climb where people were pulling over on the side of the trail to catch their breath, but I was determined to get to the top and see my crew! As I approached the peak, I could hear cheering and cow bells which couldn’t have been a sweeter sound. As I approached Robinson Flats, I walked in seeing my crew with cameras in hand and directing me to where they were set up. I quickly grabbed some food at the aid station then made my way to my crew. They were simply amazing, like a well oiled pit crew! They took off my shoes so I could bandage my big toe, gave me a fresh bandana with ice, provided me bean burritos, Gatorade, and watermelon, filled my pack, iced my legs and I was back out on the course!
The next section of the course I was familiar with which was a great relief after all the surprises that I had with the first 30 miles. I knew it was mostly downhill and exposed, but I had ice and my i-pod so I was set. I felt incredible during this section of the course despite it being warm and being 30+ miles in, I was having a great time! I ran all the downs and walked the uphills as planned. The first section was super runable, really all the way from 30-43. Nice downhill single track and nice open forest roads. I was able to make up a great deal of time during this section and passed a lot of people. I felt like taking it easy for the first 30 was really starting to pay off. At Millers defeat I decided to not to refill as the clouds were setting in to provide adequate shade and I only had a few miles before the next aid station. I did take every opportunity to ice down, so again, I put ice in my cap, arm sleeves, bandana, and doused myself with water and I was off. I really enjoyed the next section of all forest roads to Dusty corners, but it did seem a bit longer in mileage than I was expecting. I remembered this aid station from the memorial day run and as always, I took my gu, watermelon, chips, salt tabs and potatoes while one of the many amazing volunteers filled my pack and before I knew it, I was off to last chance. During this section there were a mix of forest roads and single track where I finally caught up to my friend Mark! He had felt good at the beginning and decided to peal off from Jen, Rob, and me but at this time wasn’t feeling the best. I ran with him for a bit, trying to encourage him and to help him break up the course a bit more. We finally got to Last chance which had to be one of the more memorable aid stations since it was so festive, fun, with an amazing soak station/car wash. The volunteers drenched me from top to bottom and it simply felt amazing! The next section of the course was a combination of forest roads and single track all the way to the bottom of devils thumb. The descent down to the river was a LOT longer than I remembered and much more rock/less runable than I remembered as well, hardly runable at this point. This slowed me down quite a bit as I am not a technical runner and I could feel my toes cramming into the front of my shoes. The downhill felt so punishing that you actually wish for the uphill, that is until you actually start climbing! I am so glad I had done the memorial day run and knew what was ahead of me. Before the climb, I went down to the river to cool off since I knew it would take me a while. I started the ascent and just power-walked the best that I could. There were several runners on the side of the trail catching their breath and feeling the effects of the climb. I just kept putting one front of the other and tried not to think about it. By the time that I reached the top at Devils Thumb it was getting later in the day so I decided to get some broth in addition to the usual salt tabs and potatoes. I figured one last water soak would be good before heading back out on the trail. Several runners were collecting themselves at the top of Devil’s thumb, trying to work up the motivation to head back out. Only a couple more miles of forest road then I hit El Dorado creek. This again had a pretty significant descent going into the aid station which was killing my toes at this point and really slowing things down. I chugged some hot soup, refilled my water, had some watermelon, and before I thought too much, started to head up to Michigan bluff. By this time in the day the sun was setting, which was a welcomed change, but that also meant less day light, which wasn’t a good thing as I didn’t have a light with me. By this point, my toes are killing me, my thighs have started chaffing from all the car washes/soaks, and daylight is fading, so I needed to get after it. Again, I simply power walked up the long, never ending but less steep hill and pretty soon, I saw a break in the tree line that let me know that Michigan bluff had to be closely by and soon following came the sound of cheers and cow bells! It had seemed like forever since I had last seen my crew and I was so excited to see them again! As I entered the aid station, I saw Scott from my crew with camera in hand, and my hubby Ian cheering me. Before I had a chance to forget, I blurted out that I needed to change my shorts and I would need a light and my crew sprung into action like ninjas. I grabbed some food, and met my crew on the other side and although I was concerned about the cut-off, they reassured me that I had plenty of time, which was a huge sigh of relief. They gave me my shorts so I changed as quick as I could, they put my light on, provided me some watermelon and some how, even though I had wanted to sit, before I knew it I was whisked away by Irene and sent on down the trail. This next section of the course is difficult simply because you aren’t expecting the climbs on the forest roads, but they are there. When dusk finally arrived, I had started the small descent into the canyon, but it was difficult to see with only the one light in addition to the amount of dust being kicked up from the trail. I slowed quite a bit during this part since I was concerned I would fall and then my day may be cut short. By the time I started climbing it was already dark but I was motivated to see Scott and Irene awaiting me on bath road to run me in to forest hill. Like clock work, they were there waiting for me which was so nice to have the company and know forest hill was so close. We walked the uphill then jogged it in to forest hill. What an enormous aid station!!! This place was lit up like a Christmas tree with anything and everything you could possibly need! As I entered the aid station, I heard them announce my name, what an amazing moment, that was. I grabbed some food from the aid station then heard Ian call my name and saw my parents next to him. They have never seen me, or for that matter anyone else, do a 100 miler before, so this was a whole new experience for them! I found my crew who had coffee, noodles, a chair, and other treats for me all set up and ready to go. I ate as fast as I could while my pacer, Shawna, was gearing up. I felt like I had taken forever, but was also trying to be sure I didn’t forget anything since I had switched from my hydration pack to my waist belt.
Immediately before leaving, I asked Chandler for some blister band aids, so I grabbed 2 without looking and headed out with Shawna into the darkness. Since she was charging my garmin in her pack, so I had no idea of how many miles, or how quickly we were going, which was wearing on me a bit. I was also really feeling a new blister on my heal that I needed to address at Dardanelles. We finally arrived after what felt like eternity, and I plopped down in the chair ready to do some foot care. Shawna took over getting me the food and drinks I needed while I was tending to my feet. As I reached into the pocket for the bandaids and was opening them, I realized that I had the small ones and I needed the bigger bandaids as I had some pretty large blisters brewing. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I took some duct tape and taped on the bandaids in hopes it would help keep them on. Miles 65-70 really felt like forever, so I asked for my garmin back so I wouldn’t annoy her by constantly asking for the mileage. I was trying to run all the flat and downhill, but there appeared to be a big drop off on the side of the trail and it was so dang dusty that I couldn’t see where I was stepping which made it easy to trip, so I just jogged along the best I could. Since my elevation tattoo had worn off due to my arm socks, I was relying on Shawna to tell me how far to the next aid station. I was lucky in the fact that she had taken a sharpie and written the aid stations and miles on her arm! Engenious! Although I had run this section before, I had run it in the day, and the way it looked at night was completely different and so much less runable! We arrived at the small aid station at Peachstone and were in and out with just the necessities. By this point, not only were my blisters hurting me, but now my cheeks were chaffing which was amazingly uncomfortable. No matter how I tried to adjust my shorts, the burning, chaffing wouldn’t subside and my feet now felt like they were on fire. Luckily Shawna had some aquaphor that I was able to put on the chaffed spots (aka EVERYWHERE!). As always, I was also stopping to pee every 2-3 miles at this point which slows things down quite a bit. For some reason 70-80 is always difficult for me. I mean 20+ is still a long way to go! Although I was no where near quitting, I was feeling pretty down. There were hardly any other runners in the woods with me and I felt like I was barely moving. Then came the giant, forest road hill before Fords’ bar that definitely kicks your butt this late in the race! We got in and out of that aid station pretty quick as they didn’t have coffee and that was my main motivation at that point. From 73-78 also seemed to take longer than expected, but we kept plodding along. Finally, I saw Rucky Chucky! I have seen this river crossing in pictures so many times before, and here I was, about to cross it. Plus, my feet were hot and my chaffed cheeks were really looking forward to a cool down in the water. We walked down to the water and were greeted by volunteers that put on our life jackets as we were guided into the water only to see my ultra friend Tony there to help me cross the river! This crossing is definitely challenging this late in the race, especially in the middle of the night, but the volunteers were great at guiding runners across with directions and glow sticks! We made our way across and then started the long slow climb up to Green Gate. I was really looking forward to seeing my crew and fixing my feet since I had been thinking about it now for 18 miles!
I arrived and my crew quickly escorted me to the chair where I took off my wet shoes and socks to trade for dry ones. My friends, Irene and Chandler, helped by cleaning off my dirty, dusty toes before I started to bandage them. I had my bandaids all ready to go, only to realize that I didn’t have duct tape to help secure them in place! I was mortified and didn’t know what to do, so I just sat there trying to figure it out. Scott sprung into action and asked the aid station who lucky for me had duct tape! I began taping, put my shoes on, and was ready to head out with Chandler. I had never seen this part of the course before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Again, in the middle of the night, there appeared to be a large drop off just off the trail which freaked me out quite a bit. We jogged and walked the whole way to Auburn Lakes aid station. As I entered one of the medical staff approached me and started asking me questions to make sure I was ok to proceed. I guess I must have answered ok, since he let me go. For the first time the whole day, I was actually hungry! So I took broth, chugged coffee and took some quesidilla for the trail. It tasted absolutely wonderful. By this point, dawn was upon us and we were making steady progress. Before reaching Brown’s bar, I heard someone call my name from behind and wouldn’t you know, it was MARK!!! I was so incredibly excited to see him and so happy that he was doing so well! We ran into the aid station together where Hal Korner was working. How awesome was that to see Hal at mile 89.9?! We quickly exited and before I knew it, Mark was gone. We jogged down by the river for a bit then the trail took a long climb into the Hwy 49 aid station. This climb was really taking it out of me and I kept calculating and recalculating how far it must be, then in the distance I could hear the whole aid station erupt into “happy birthday dear runner” and I thought was a great birthday present for Mark and what a memorable birthday! Finally we excited the forest and proceeded down into the Hwy 49 aid station. I ate a little bit as quickly as I could but by this point, I was a more than a little out of it, but I was on a mission like a horse to the barn!
I picked up my hubby, Ian, as my pacer, as I breezed through the station only picking up small bites as I wanted to get out quickly. Immediately out of the aid station we encountered a hill that we walked up, which opened up into a beautiful prairie. I trotted along the best I could while making some small talk with Ian. I was so excited to see him and have him with me for so many reasons. He has seen me this late in the race and paced me before so he knows what I need and how to just be with me. As we began the descent into No hands, I started thinking back to that memorial training weekend and reflecting on how amazingly different I felt the last time that I had run this section. By this time in the race, my toes were so incredibly sore from hitting the front of my shoes that I tried to walk sideways to prevent them hitting, but none of this really made any difference. We made our way down to No Hands to see another group of enthusiastic volunteers which was incredibly uplifting at this point in the race. As I turned around to cross the bridge, I remembered what Tim Twietmeyer had said about this point in the race, something to the effect that, “once I make it across No Hands Bridge, I know I am going to finish”. The whole race I hadn’t allowed myself to even contemplate the finish until this very moment. The finish was in my grasp and I still had tons of time. I began to tear up as I began my way across, thinking about how I had seen this place in so many pictures and dreamt about this moment, and there I was. It was completely surreal. We started the up the incline to Robie Point with a slow, steady walk. Ian was trying to make small talk, but I was so tired and so focused, that I just couldn’t entertain small chat, it took too much energry. As we proceeded on, I could hear the aid station volunteers cheering other runners, but it still seemed so far away. Right before the crest of the hill, we saw Tim Twietmeyer running towards us so I knew we were close. He smiled and congratulated me then sped on down the hill. We eventually approached the top of the hill where the aid station was and I could see the rest of my crew there waiting to lead me to the finish line and I again started to tear up. I knew that once I reached the road that I was almost home free and it was such an amazing feeling.
The road into town was lined with race crew and spectators congratulating runners as they made their pilgrimage to the high school track. At the top of the hill, with one mile left, a group of spectators were congregated who were enthusiastically cheering all of us back-of the packers onto the finish. At that very moment, a very sentimental, personal song began to play on my IPOD which further amplified all of the crazy emotions that I had going on and I had to hold back tears as I made my way passed the crowd, smiling and thanking them for their support. The entire way into town was an amazing experience, filled with congratulatory remarks, cheers, and my favorite comment of “welcome to auburn!” As I saw the track in the distance, my friend Tony and Sofie ran up to me, showering me with hugs and encouragement and escorted me, with the rest of my crew onto the track. As I entered the gates, I started full-on water works. Everything hit me at once. All the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice was so worth this very moment. The entire day, I hadn’t allowed the thought of finishing to cross my mind for fear that it wouldn’t happen, and here I was, rounding the track as they called out my name, announcing me as a finisher. I crossed the line, received my finisher medal, then beelined for my hubby who was standing on the otherside of the gate. I hugged him tightly and just sobbed. I have never experienced such an amazing high as the one that followed finishingWestern States, it was the most intense euphoria that I have ever experienced. A few hours later, I finally received the buckle that I had been dreaming of and immediately put it on. The rest of the day was spent celebrating, recapping, and resting. Although I knew the trip had to end, I was saddened to be packing up and leaving such an amazing place. This is the place of dreams; where they are made and possibly broken. I was lucky that day and was able to finish, and for that, I felt so fortunate. I just wanted to stay in Auburn and soak in feeling more as I didn’t want this feeling to end. Western States was even more than I could have imagined and I feel so fortunate to have been able to participate and finish such an epic race.
Did well: memorial day runs, practicing with my pack and nutrition, downhill runs, heat training, ice bandanas, ice in arm sleeves, ice in hat, running my own race, having an elevation tattoo on my arm of the course, mini van for crew, having a crew binder to help direct everyone as to what I might need/want, starting slow, liked staying in a condo that was about 0.5 from the race start-however at times, it would have been nice to be more in action/mix and be down by the race start, squaw valley resort was amazing for the crew-they seemed to really like it, having crew that truly cared about me and were willing to do anything to get me to the finish, waited for my buckle at the awards ceremony- although it was really hot I am so glad I got to go home with my buckle
Would change: blister care at 80, maybe wear casscadias in the early section to avoid toes hurting later, should have booked a room for saturday as well as sunday in auburn, should have booked at the the holiday inn, ensure all the necessities in my hydration pack were given to my pacers,