This year's pre-race trip to The Course was the best ever for me. Even though I had to cut the trip short due to some family commitments back in Idaho I did have the opportunity to enjoy four marvelous days on the hallowed ground of Western States and I felt a twinge of confidence in the process:
Day 1 - Robie Point to the River and Back. Graham Cooper and Todd Braje met me at Robie Point and we ran relaxed back to ALT taking the Shortcut Trail and the Quarry Road in the process. We took the kick in the teeth that Ball Bearing had to offer and then met our all-star crew of Meghan, Laurie, Craig, Dan and Jeff at ALT. Dan joined us for the run to and from the River an Graham bailed complaining about some such nonsense as having run a triathlon the previous day. I guess if you are unemployed with a Cougar on your mantel at home you can do that.
Anyway, after the River we got a bit more assertive and ran to Green Gate in 24. It felt good and steady so Dan and I rolled into a 46 getting back to ALT. It was here that Dan and I realized we had lost Todd. He was found wandering along Quarry Rd a bit later but it took some of Craig's search and rescue expertise to get it done. The facts are still a bit fuzzy but the general consensus is that he made the turn down Dead Truck Trail and ended up dizzy down by the River after an hour of out-and-backs. Needless to say, this is not something I'd recommend on race day.
After ALT I was on my own and tried to keep the governor on with a 43 to Brown's, a 39 to 49, a 32 to No Hands (the descents were feeling good!) and a 37 back to the Track. Jeff met me there and we sat in the sun and told stories about the good old days but stories we both knew by heart. You know the ones, the stories where you get a top-10 after being injured for all of April or the time you finished second to Jurek:) Needless to say, we were soaking it in.
Then, it was off to the cabin in Michigan Bluff for about 3500 calories in many assorted forms.
Day 2 - Cal Street Time Trial. OK, I admit it, this was something I had wanted to do for a while so I told the group we were doing it and they played along. The plan for the day was simple, run as fast as we could from Foresthill to the River and then drag ourselves back to the cars at the top of Driver's Flat. But, in the interest of friendly competition, I thought it would be fun to do an interval start based on seed times that I created. You know, slowest goes first and fastest goes last and we'll see what unfolds. The idea behind it was that on race day we often see people passing us and we pass people and in many ways Cal Street is a lonely, solitary brush with death so at least practicing would make it easy to stomach on race day. Anyway, here's how it turned out after all the complaining, ruminating and general issues:
Dan Olmstead 1:51
Andy Jones-Wilkins 1:57
Jeff Riley 1:59
Craig Thornley 1:59
Todd Braje 1:59 (could have run faster but was attached to a leash so he wouldn't get lost)
Meghan Arbogast 2:02
Graham Cooper 2:12 (another classic sandbag job)
Day 3 -- Michigan Bluff to Last Chance and Back (solo). This one was more of a mental trainer than anything. With 64 miles in two days on my legs but not a lot of vertical yet I wanted this to be a good old-fashioned quad pounder. While I got out to Last Chance in a pedestrian 2:44 I decided to test the pegs on the descents on the return and stumbled to a 24 descent to Swinging Bridge, a 34 ascent up the Thumb (a full 10 minutes slower than Graham would run the next day), a snappy 41 descent to El Dorado and a confidence building 37 back to the house. All in all, a bit over five hours of running with some healthy vertical. Not like it was hot or anything but at least I was getting the legs seasoned up for the upcoming Thursday sufferfest. And, delicious hot food awaited me in the cabin.
Day 4 - Foresthill to the Swinging Bridge and Back to Cal 2. Graham joined me for this one but we didn't actually run much together as we basically played tag all day with him leading the ups and me returning the favor on the downs. But, the really fun thing was, several others joined us for parts of the run. Craig and Dan did Michigan Bluff to Swinging Bridge and back with us and then Meghan joined us for the run to Cal 2. All in all it was a great day on really tired legs that made us both think (perhaps wistfully) maybe we still have it?
And, if you're still reading this seemingly endless post with no pictures or videos or cool clickable ads on the side you may actually care about the splits, so here they are (for the return):
Bridge to Devil's Thumb -- 32 (Graham 24)
Devil's Thumb to El Dorado Creek -- 36 (Graham 41)
El Dorado Creek to Michigan Bluff - 37 (Graham 30)
Volcano - 56 (I managed to stay ahead of Graham until halfway up Bath Rd when he passed me. Then, I slowly reeled him in before we got to the school together. Only time that happened all day)
Foresthill to Cal 2 -- 65 (Graham 75)
Man, what a day, what a week, what a year!
So, where does this put me with 27 days left?
Not sure. I know I am reasonably fit based on how things have gone over the past month as compared to past years but all the intrigue about which course we're going to do, how much snow will there be, how will we all do with no real heat to train in, blah, blah... is providing more than the usual distraction.
Plus, I am a year older.
All that said, I think it will be another great year at Western States and I hope to be in that top-10 mix once again. It may take sub-17 to do that this year but if it does I hope to be there. If there's one thing I know after the last four days it is that I am seasoned and ready. Now, it's just all about gently, inexorably, sharpening the knife.