For the fourth consecutive year I made the journey down to Michigan Bluff to join Craig Thornley and his crew of Oregon runners for the annual Ice Cream Sandwich Run. This training run, taking place on the same Saturday as the Miwok 100K, has become a training staple of mine and has, for the past few years, provided great data as to my fitness eight weeks before Western States.
This year I tried something a bit different. Feeling the need to race a bit more in an attempt to combat the impact of aging I had spent the Saturday prior to the ICS run racing the Zane Grey 50 miler in Arizona. This run served to tire my legs out a bit prior to the ICS. In addition, I though it would be a good idea to further tire the legs by running a 20-miler on The Course on the evening before the ICS. So, after arriving in mid-afternoon on Friday, I quickly jumped into my running stuff and ran from Michigan Bluff to the Swinging Bridge and back. After getting to the Bridge in 1:53 I managed some good splits coming back. For those of you who care they were:
Swinging Bridge to Devil’s Thumb -- :32:30
Devil’s Thumb to El Dorado Creek -- :38:35
El Dorado Creek to Michigan Bluff -- :41:00
The stage was now set for the Ice Cream Sandwich Run on Saturday.
This workout was essentially “invented” by the legendary Tim Twietmeyer. Born out of the understanding that success at Western States requires one to be able to, among many other things, run well downhill on tired legs with a full stomach, Twiet created this remarkable workout. Here’s the way it works:
Starting very early in the morning from the Cul-de-Sac about 1.5 miles above Cal 2 the runners run down to Cal 2. From there they are to proceed at a leisurely pace all the way back to the Swinging Bridge. This takes about five hours (26 miles and 6500 ft of vert). Then, after pushing the re-set button, the runner returns to Cal 2 attempting to run from the Bridge to Foresthill at WS 100 race pace and then from Foresthill to Cal 2 (7.85 miles) in 1:15 or less. And, prior to that last section while re-grouping in Foresthill, each runner must consume a 12 oz. Soda (Coke, Dr. Pepper and Mt Dew are preferred) and an Ice Cream Sandwich. Every runner who then manages to run sub-1:15 to Cal 2 without puking has successfully completed the run. Puking, in case you’re wondering, constitutes a failure and disqualifies you from future ICS runs.
And so, this past Saturday, a hardy band of six runners, led by Craig Thornley and including Tom Atkins, Rob Cain, John Price, Meghan Arbogast and myself, set out to complete the task of running the Ice Cream Sandwich Run.
The five-hour journey back up the course to the Swinging Bridge passed uneventfully as we stopped to re-fill and Foresthill and to re-fuel at the house in Michigan Bluff. Craig’s wife Laurie was there and presented us with a beautiful array of turkey, avocado and cheese sandwiches which we eagerly devoured in the mid-morning sun. Then, after meandering through El Dorado Canyon and refilling at the Deadwood Pump, before we knew it we were on the Swinging Bridge.
After lounging in the warmth of the sun on the Bridge we began the workout in earnest. Craig led the climb up to Devil’s Thumb and even though he had said he could deliver us there in 34 minutes he managed to get us there in :33. This was a sign of things to come for sure as he was clearly in good shape and a bit frisky on this day.
I took the lead out of Devil’s Thumb and managed to get down to El Dorado Creek in :41 and back up to Michigan Bluff in :43. The others followed shortly behind at which point another feeding frenzy ensued.
You see, the best thing about the ICS run is the fact that we eat a ton. Passing through Michigan Bluff twice allows us to hit the house and chow down on sandwiches, chips, beef jerky, soda, pretty much anything we want. It doesn’t exactly mimic race day but it sure makes for a fun day.
So, after gorging ourselves at Michigan Bluff, we set out on the penultimate segment of the workout, the calm before the storm, if you will, the trip across Volcano Canyon. Knowing what awaited us after Foresthill we ran a pedestrian :22 to the top of the road. After that, I pushed the pace a bit to the creek and got there in :16. After hiking to the bottom of Bath Rd in another 13 minutes I decided to run the road up to Foresthill. When all was said and done I had run a pretty typical race day split of 1:07 from the house to the store. Then, I limped into the store and dropped 30 bucks on sodas and Ice Cream Sandwiches.
The scene out front of the Foresthill Store at that time must have been pretty funny. Six tired, dirty, sweaty ultrarunners gutting down Ice Cream Sandwiches and Cokes and talking about how much it was going to suck to run down to Cal 2 from there.
As we had arranged previously, Craig, running without a watch, was going to lead the way for Meghan and I down to Cal 2. Tom, John and Rob had decided not to make the attempt at 1:15 so it was just the three of us. After stalling for as long as we could, we took off. Right out of the gate, I knew Craig was on fire. His intent was to get us to Cal 1 in 30, the Spring in 54 and then Cal 2 in 1:14. But, when we got to the Dardanelles Creek sign in 19 I knew we were moving. We hit Cal 1 in 27:20 and the Spring in 52 flat. After that, it was time for the 16 rollers on the way to Cal 2. Craig ran it perfectly and Meghan and I held on for the ride. By the end we had run a PR time of 1:11:45 from Foresthill to Cal 2. It felt great! Then, we hiked up to the car, cracked a few cold beers and headed back to the house.
I learned a lot with this workout. Aside from the fact that I learned Craig was in sub-18 hour shape I also learned that I could still withstand the volume and the pace necessary to get to the starting line ready and able to run sub-17. I have no idea whether I can do that and a leap of faith will be necessary but these last eight days have given me reason to give it a try. Considering the fact that I stayed on top of my food and fuel, had no foot issues, seasoned up my quads to withstand some pretty heinous pounding, and feel very good today, the day after, I think I may be in as good a shape as I have been since 2005. Sure, I am five years older but, what the hell, why not go for it.
You see, in the end, Western States is a very mysterious animal. Performing well in that race requires meticulous preparation, intimate course knowledge and a tremendous capacity for pain. In addition, however, it requires a willingness to surrender to what the day gives you. That paradoxical combination of control and surrender is what makes the Western States 100 so special.
We’re less than 8 weeks away, train on!