Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Obsession with Western States 100

This is not AJW here, but rather LB, one of the "anonymous" Oregonians who has been friends with AJW for quite a few years. Last weekend I suggested he let me guest blog, and I was surprised when today he gave me the password and said have at it. Really? Should I write a post in third person pretending to be him? That could be fun. Should I tell you about the AJW that I know? Nah, we'll just all keep our own view of the guy. Who knows, maybe when you're around him he's a quiet, shy, unassuming, selfless, muscular, fearful, self-effacing, weak-willed, athletic, self-sacrificing, following, modest, giver. Or maybe not.

Instead, I decided I'd write about something that he and I share in common: an obsession with Western States. Last weekend before the ICS run we were sitting in Michigan Bluff talking about the race when a guy we call Tapeworm, a skinny 2:26 marathoner who raced his way into States at Way Too Cool by outkicking Jurek in the last 1/4 mile, said reluctantly, "There is more to life than Western States..." The room went silent (which is a very difficult accomplishment when AJW, Monkeyboy, and I are together), and we all just stared at him. What? What planet do you live on? It's May 2nd, the day before the ICS run, the 9th day of our 10 day training camp in Michigan Bluff, and less than 60 days before the race. What else could there possibly be?

AJW and Me

My obsession dates back to 1978 or 79 when I was a wee bit of a lad growing up in Cool, California. I found myself inadvertently camping at about the 85 mile mark of the WS course. These guys kept coming by all tired and dirty asking us where the aid station was. I was just a high school mile and two-mile runner back then, but the allure of the event had captured me. For the next 20 years I found myself working at Dusty Corners, crewing, pacing, and sometimes just watching. Even before I ran the race for the first time in 2001, I would camp at Devil's Thumb or Michigan Bluff or Driver's Flat, and go for runs on the trail. When I would come home to visit my mom in Cool, I'd almost always include a run to Auburn from ALT. This year I'm going to attempt my 6th States, and at 44 years old I'm just as excited about the race as I was as a 16 year old.

So why does this race have such a hold on me, and why would I want to share this?

I've thought about the first question a lot over the years because I'm often asked it. The course is definitely a big part of it. The history of the miners and the booming towns is fascinating. Running through Deadwood and into Michigan Bluff it is easy to imagine the life of the miners who gave up easy lives elsewhere in the hopes of striking it rich in California. Some might see the greed of those miners, but I see the adventurous spirit. A willingness to put it all on the line to make a better life for their family. Look at the headstones at the Masonic Cemetery in Michigan Bluff sometime.
Headstone at Michigan Bluff

Then there is the high country ... the river canyons ... the oak and pine trees ... the bears, cougars, ticks, foxes and rattlesnakes ... the trail is an authentic path through the Sierras. Start in Squaw; go to Auburn. Sure there are some other 100 mile courses that are point-to-point, but none that follow a less-contrived path. Yes, I love the course.

The training is also a huge part of the reason for my obsession. My wife and I have taken a 10 day vacation in Michigan Bluff for each of the last five years. Before that I used to camp in the area alone. For what? To train for WS. Classic group training runs such as the ICS (Cal2 to Swinging Bridge and back) and the Peace Run (Robinson to the River). Solo runs around ALT, Browns Bar, and No Hands. I can't tell you how many times I've run Cal St. The camaraderie of the group we had for ICS last weekend was pretty cool. There were nine of us. We all ran our own pace, but we frequently regrouped at agreed upon places: Foresthill, MB, Pump, Swinging Bridge, Pump, MB, Foresthill store, the car. The faster folks had to wait for the slower folks, but nobody complained. There is also a group of runners in Eugene who train together each year for States. We meet regularly on Wednesdays for workouts. Each year we have one or two new folks, but there is always a core training for that race in California at the end of June. Yes, I love to train for States.

But the race is also a big part of the obsession. 1300 volunteers, many of whom are not, never have been, and never will be runners. The competitive field. The number of runners who peak for this race. The pre-race hype which is often too much. It's exciting to watch the first timers, whether they are 19 hour runners or 29 hour runners. I enjoy racing with the veterans. Twietmeyer, Terry, Nielsen, Fitzpatrick, Trason, DK, and AJW ... If you're running the race this year, take some time to recognize how many people are out there to help you get through. Pacers, crew, aid station workers, etc. It is a staggering number at the river crossing alone. For me, this is the race that matters most.

So why did I choose to share this instead of doing the other 100 things waiting for me in my Inbox after a 10 day vacation? Especially when the race is getting harder and harder to get into, and as the field gets more competitive it gets more and more difficult for me to get into the race? Hmmmm, maybe I shouldn't have shared that. Because, as AJW has told me, I'm a connector, and look forward to sharing the trail with you on June 28. Thanks, AJW, for letting me post.

Craig Thornley
Eugene, Oregon


Anonymous said...

Oops. I mistakenly gave Tapeworm a 3 minute PR in the marathon. It is 2:26, not 2:23, and it has been changed above.


Anonymous said...

Ahhh Dang. Lord Balls givith and he takith away.

Grae Van Hooser said...


I enjoyed your thoughts on States. I also enjoy your style of writing, having been a fan of your race reports on your website for some years. To bad you can't squeak out some other writings during the year. Although I don't know what the hell you'd write about? I also get a good chuckle out of your nicknames for people. I wish I could figure out who they were. Is that dude in the pic with AJW, with the tat on his arm, Tapeworm (Olmstead) or some scrawny biker dude you talked in to crewing your ice cream sandwich run?
Anyway, I think your thoughts on States are shared by plenty of others. It does seem to be a "California thing" to an extent. All the hype that seems to grow exponentially each year, I feel, may make it difficult for people to see the race and the rich history of the region.Or maybe most people don't care?

Grae Van Hooser said...
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Grae Van Hooser said...
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Anonymous said...


The biker dude with the tat on his arm is known as MonkeyBoy, another 2:26 marathoner from Eugene.


Anonymous said...

Lets be real. Monkey boy has never run 2:26 -- the fastest time I can find on marathonguide.com is 2:29. This is not unexpected.

Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of the race. I have been trying the last two years to get into the event and have not been so "Lottery Lucky". I had a chance to run the lower sections of the Western States trail this past spring and was amazed at how tough they felt. The posting gives me insight into the dedication it must take to finish and prepare for something like this.



Brad Mitchell said...

Well stated Craig - a good read. Best of luck to you and your Oregonian counterparts and of course I'm sending major vibes to my Idahoan counterpart AJW!

Craig's mom from Cool said...

Reading your blog on AJ's blog brought back some memories. Ever since you were in grade school you said some day I am going to run Western States 100. We started following the race 30 yrs. ago sitting up in the bleachers at Placer High School with maybe a dozen others (middle of the night)you not wanting to leave even though we were freezing. Early on we watch Jim Howard and Doug Latimer cross the finish line together. We volunteered at Dusty Corners for yrs. and it became an event we looked forward to every year. The awesome thing is that every year it is a special event and to watch you, my son, running it fills my heart.
Craig's mom from Cool

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - according to marathonguide.com I've never run a marathon. Maybe you need to find another source. Or maybe you're spelling Monkeyboy wrong (it's one word).

Greg - When you do get in the race it will mean that much more.

Brad - I'm also going to be pulling for your Idahoan counterpart but after last year he now has a 2.5 hour lead on me in our 10 year aggregate bet so I don't want him to be too far in front of me.

Mom - I think I was in high school when we started watching the race, but yeah, we got some good memories.


Anonymous said...

What do you think of the new "weighted" lottery system? I hope this system does not turn into Hardrock.



Anonymous said...


The weighted lottery is definitely better for the race than the two-time loser rule because it at least won't accept more runners than there are slots. However, there still is a motive for people to put their name in the hat even if they don't really want to run the race - just to increase their odds for subsequent years. I do not like to hear that someone sent in their entry but they hope they don't get picked.

It's natural, when discussing the entry process, to like ideas that increase your own chances of getting in and dislike those that decrease them. Would it favor me if previous finishes or service to the race were also factors like Hardrock's? Yes. Does that mean it is good for the race? That's for the WS board to decide.

The WS process does factor in previous finishes as you get one automatic shot when you are going for your tenth finish. But other than that it is not a factor (outside of a top ten finish).


Anonymous said...

Craig, great post I enjoyed it! I think both you and AJW are both top-shelf people in the "ultra-world" and I hope you both do well at WS. I don't know a couple of people that can talk more WS science than AJW and LB.

Andy, I have silently ready your blog, it's been a source motivation to keep me going in my training for WS as well. Starting a new job, living by myself, moving my family to Midwest and training in Iowa isn't ideal conditions for preparing for WS, but that's real life and that's what is more important at the end of the day. I'll be pulling for you guys up front! Watch for the late CB surge through the field with a 150 meters to go!!


AJW said...

Hey CB,

Your presence was felt at the Michigan Bluff Training Camp. I don't completely remember all the details but the story sure was funny. Can't wait 'til the Big Dance!


Rod Bien said...

Well, I'm not going to lie..... I'm jealous of you guys. Yeah, I have too much crap going on to be any type of a factor this year so its probably good I'm not taking anyones slot but my M#11 from last year hurts pretty good while reading the write up. I too truly love Western and have a hard time getting nearly as motivated about any other 100 miler. Whether it is the hoopla, the history, the competition. WS is unrivaled. I'll be down there cheering you all on and can't wait for the showdown to go down!
Rod Bien

Olga said...

I think I am even happier to come over and crew/pace this year at WS because it'll give me so much more insight into WS. Yup, I got the hype feeling and fell in love the first year I ran it - nah, the first time I saw a movie and then heard the lottery results and then went to a training camp. I can close my eyes and see evry bend on this course - and I've only been there 4 times (one been a camp). Weird, I think this course has a witching magic:)
Good luck, boys!

AJW said...


Thanks so much for the post. I fully agree with everything you say and was thrilled to join you and the gang for the Ice Cream Sandwich last weekend.

One comment: I remember talking to Ann when I was injured back in 2006 and asking her how she kept coming back to WS through all those injuries. She said, simply,

"From the beginning, I was completely obsessed with the race and the course. For some crazy reason I think the dust gets into your blood and never goes away."

I think of that every year as the race draws near.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, AJW, that was fun. Now you need to follow through with my other ideas for your blog :-)

It's a little hard to read the words on the headstone in the picture. I've included them below. I have no idea who any of the people are. Does anybody out there know anything about them? What Isaiah's fastest split up El Dorado was? Thanks to OD for the pic.


To the memory of my dear brother
Isaiah John McKee
Born Buller Penn
Sept 30, 1826
Stony Bar Placer Co. Cal,
April 1861
Aged 35 Years
To his assistance and encouragement
I owe my Profession and Success in
life. Noble, generous, and affectionate.
Sad the destiny that led him so far
from Home and Mother to die.
J Cooper McKee
Surgeon US
July 1874

Scott Dunlap said...

You crack me up, Craig. Looking forward to seeing you at States!


Anonymous said...