Monday, June 28, 2010
Western States 2010 -- Race Report
1. Run my own race.
2. Test the limits of my physical, emotional and psychological abilities without pushing beyond them.
3. Finish in the top-10.
I am thrilled to say, as I sit here in Auburn early on this post-race Monday morning, that on Saturday I achieved all three.
I knew going into the race that it would not be easy. The field was extremely deep and talented with both newcomers and veterans and the conditions were forecast to be benign, at best. Fortunately, I was coming off one of my best training cycles since 2007 so I was cautiously optimistic about having a good day. Plus, it was the Big Dance, after all!
My good friend Craig Thornley and I stayed together in Squaw Valley and after seeing my family off to Auburn on Friday afternoon we settled in for a good solid rest.
Race morning dawned clear and cool. The usual excitement was coursing through the starting area and I enjoyed spending the last few minutes catching up with friends and enjoying the environment. Also, knowing that I would not be in the top-tier of runners at this race it was also nice to experience the race, a bit, as a spectator in these last few moments knowing that the favorites for the win, Geoff Roes, Hal Koerner, Kilian Jornet, and Anton Krupicka, were about to blast off into Western States history. They certainly did not disappoint.
After the gun I settled into a relaxed pace and enjoyed the sunrise and the release of adrenaline that always seems to accompany the first hour of Western States. I also enjoyed chatting with Gary Robbins on the climb up and could tell just by talking to him that he was primed to have a good day. Once over Emigrant Pass we dropped into the Granite Chief Wilderness Area and encountered the first of a series of snowfields. It didn’t seem to slow the pace all that much but it was interesting to observe how different runners handled running in the snow. And, it was quite obvious, which runners had no experience in snow!
The snow section gave way to the new “Snow Route” which was really quite lovely. About a mile before the Lyon Ridge Aid Station on the Standard Course, the “Snow Route” turned left onto a muddy two-track and began a long, 7-mile descent to the French Meadows Reservoir. This descent, while quite gradual, made this course about 20 minutes faster for my split from the start to Duncan Canyon. And, the toughest part of this stretch, was the last 1.5 mile-climb to Duncan through a quickly warming exposed burn area on a trail that looked like it had been cut yesterday!
Once back onto the standard course on the descent into Duncan I settled into a nice rhythm and realized that it was not as hot as I thought it was going to be. I moved among a small pack on the descent to the canyon and the climb to Robinson Flat that included Mark Lantz, Rod Bien, Erik Skaden, Justin Angle, Troy Howard, Victor Ballesteros, and Glen Redpath. The race for M10 was clearly taking shape.
I met my crew at Robinson Flat, ate a nice Greek yogurt, grabbed some supplies, and hiked out of there on the snow covered road up to the top of Little Bald Mountain. Someone told me they thought I was in around 20th place. The section from the top of Little Bald to Last Chance, which is almost all downhill, has always been one of my favorite parts of the race and is usually a place where I reel in some of the earlier runners who may have gone out just a bit too fast. And, sure enough, when I rolled out of Last Chance at 11:35am I was in 10th place. I had passed 10 guys in 12 miles and for the next 57 miles I would need to, at worst, hold onto my position, something that has become more and more difficult each year.
I wanted to run Deadwood Canyon in 1-hour flat and I hit it right on. The river bottom was hot but the rest of the climb was surprisingly calm and I was able to eat a turkey, cheese and avocado sandwich on the way up. I was a bit frisky on the descent to El Dorado Canyon and hit the bridge there in 40 minutes flat. This was faster than I had planned to run and I could feel a bit of sauciness in my quads on the climb up to Michigan Bluff. I arrived at the Bluff around 2:15 and needed to re-group a bit. This was my first low-point of the day and I knew from experience that I would need to use the crossing of Volcano Canyon as a recovery section before Cal Street. I took in two cups of double strength chicken broth and headed out onto the Road to Foresthill. On the descent to Foresthill Glen Redpath and Rod Bien passed me. I was in 12th place.
Scott Wolfe, who would run the River to the Finish with me later on in the day, met me at the bottom of Bath Road with my last turkey sandwich of the day and helped me ascend the road steadily and calmly. We rolled into Foresthill at 3:18 and after a quick re-fuel I took off with Bryon Powell to the River.
Bryon has paced me on this section a couple of times and he really knows how to get me through the heat and the challenge of Cal Street and this year was no different. After cruising the descent to Cal 1 we proceeded to run the critical section between Cal 1 and Cal 2 quite well. The highlight of this particular section was Bryon’s all-out face plant on the “Elevator Shaft.” He did a full frontal Superman dive into the dust and jumped up without breaking stride, it was classic. Also, through this section we passed Rod and Phil and were playing leapfrog with Glen. I could tell from running with him many times before that Glen was having a really good day and that he was likely the stronger of the two of us today. As we crested the hill on the sun-baked road just before the River Crossing this was confirmed. Nonetheless, we shared a boat across the river and once across Glen took off. I would not see him again until Auburn.
I also felt some angst leaving the River as two of the great guys in the sport who had been out in front of me all day were apparently through for the day. On the near side, Leigh Schmitt was sitting in a chair, apparently done and on the far side Hal Koerner was hanging out where the boats dropped us off. On the one hand, it was nice to know that I had jumped from 10th to 8th place. But, on the other hand, I was bummed that these two great runners would not be finishing this year.
I returned to the matter at hand and began the climb to Green Gate. Scott had come down to the River to make the transition with Bryon and we hiked steadily up to the Aid Station running a few sections but mostly just using the climb to recover from the heat and pounding of Cal Street. After a quick turnaround at Green Gate, Scott and I rolled out of there at 6:30 and in 8th place.
The relatively easy run from Green Gate to ALT was actually pretty disappointing. For some reason I was just in kind of a lull and actually rather complacent. As a result, by the time we arrived at ALT I had done the section in an hour (typically I shoot for 55 minutes) and Ian Sharman had caught and passed me. 9th place.
Ian’s pass gave me the shot of motivation I needed and I ran much more smoothly from ALT to Brown’s Bar hitting that split in about 50 minutes and staying on top of nutrition and hydration the entire time. I had also given myself added motivation to run hard by intentionally not picking up my headlamp at ALT to force myself to get to Highway 49 before dark.
We descended out of Brown’s Bar at 8:25 hoping to get to Highway 49 by 9:10. At this point, Scott really raised the bar as a pacer. Knowing that downhill’s are my strength he got me rolling fast on the descent and forced me to carry the momentum onto the Quarry Road. As a result, I ran the section from Brown’s to the base of the climb to Highway 49 in a Race Day best of 23 minutes. This, I spite of Scott’s best intentions to distract me when he donned a Nacho Libre mask about halfway up the river road.
Sure enough, Scott’s efforts, Mexican wrestler’s masks notwithstanding, got me to Highway 49 at 9:10. And, it was still light out. I know this may not seem like a big deal to some people but for me, getting to Highway 49 without a flashlight has always been a benchmark of a good race. In my previous six races I had only managed to do that twice, 2005 and 2007. So, I was in good spirits leaving Highway 49 at 9:11 hoping to get to the track by 10:30.
We settled into a nice hike/run up to the Cool Meadow and then kept things steady until the descent to No Hands. Scott said, along the way and knowing my obsession with microsplits at Western States, that “tonight we’re going to make the 15 minute switchback into the 13 minute switchback” and, while we didn’t exactly do that, it did seem to me that we made good time to No Hands Bridge and crossed at 9:50.
Now, as one might expect, given my experience last year of being chased up Robie Point and getting M10 by 23 seconds, I was a bit concerned about what was going on behind me at this point. So, as we crested the first little hill above the river Scott looked back.
“JizzleWizzle, we have two sets of lights coming down the switchbacks. Probably three minutes back. You need to move.”
Scott brilliantly urged me to think of the climb up to Robie in three segments; the Flats, the Rollers, and the Climb. It worked like a charm and by the time we hit the pavement the lights below were out of range. We powerhiked the final climb and then settled into a hard tempo effort to the track. The finish was, once again, a huge thrill and I was really psyched with how it all evolved. 17:31:24, 9th place.
Guess it’s time to book our rooms for next year☺