Thursday, January 15, 2009

An open letter to the Western States Board of Trustees:

I am writing as a concerned runner with five finishes at Western States and countless hours training on the course. While I know you take pride in the race course and the history, mystique and all that I think it is time for some changes. As someone who always keeps the best interest of my fellow runners in mind here are my ten suggestions:

1. Move the start: I understand that there is a great deal of excitement in Squaw Valley Village in the lead up to the race but starting at the bottom of a big tall mountain just makes no sense. For the elites as well as the back-of-the-packers starting a race with a 2500 foot climb is plain impractical and, possibly, downright dangerous. So, I would like to suggest moving the start of the race to the top of the mountain. It would get rid of that ridiculous Escarpment section and it would allow for some great pre-race camaraderie when we all ride the Tram to the top. I’m sure no one would mind throwing a few extra bucks into their entry fee to pay for the Tram ride and I’ve heard the views on the way up are spectacular.

2. Now, I know what you’re thinking, moving the start to the top of Squaw would shorten the race by four miles. Hence, suggestion #2: Dr. Antonio Rossman and others spent years in the halls of Congress securing the right to run through the Granite Chief Wilderness. It’s a damn shame that we only get to run four miles through that beautiful place. So, with the need for four extra miles, we could take a more meandering route through the Wilderness and, as an added bonus, Tweitmeyer and Falcone would get to build a brand-new trail. But, please figure out a way to get rid of all the snow that accumulates there from time to time. I’m sure a SnowCat could get up there and the trail could be plowed before race day. This is a Trail Race after all and who wants to run in the snow in June?

3. Much hullabaloo was made about the return to Duncan Canyon after the Star Fire but, c’mon, that section is brutal! With all the burned trees it’s actually pretty ugly through there and the trail is in annoyingly bad shape covered with debris and other pesky things that get caught in your shoes. Plus, it’s so remote that, even on race day, it can get pretty lonely. Furthermore, on a competitive note, Scott’s Course Record was set on the “other” course and for my money that road between Red Star and Robinson is sweet. Who wants to try for a course record on a course that’s not even where the record was set? Please, go back to the Road and give us the added bonus of the pleasant tour around Little Bald Mountain (but clear all the snow out of there too).

4. It is clear that you all love your cute little single track and that’s fine with me. But, a little road running now and then is a good test of a runner’s versatility and adaptability. In short, bring back the Deep Canyon section. Everybody I know loved running that road section as it gave us a little respite from the trails and allowed us to zone out a bit. Also, the climb up to Dusty Corners was always a good heat test. I’ve noticed that there is not nearly as much carnage at Dusty now that we don’t do Deep Canyon. Heck, I don’t think Dr. Lind has pulled a single runner at Dusty in the last four years! Isn’t carnage a good thing? If you want it (and I certainly do!) bring back Deep Canyon.

5. Let’s face it, everybody was bummed that those fires came along and forced the cancellation of last year’s race and I think something must be done to prevent that happening in the future. My suggestion, install a sprinkler system through the Canyons. Truly, Deadwood and El Dorado are obviously the most vulnerable parts of the course. How hard would it be to install a sprinkler system along the trail through that part of the course? In this economy such a project would provide jobs for the irrigation industry and that would undoubtedly stimulate the faltering California economy and prevent future race cancellations in the process. In addition, the sprinklers could be fitted with misters and turned on during the race to keep the overheated runners cool. It would be like Badwater on trails! To me, this is a no brainer.

6. After going through all those steep canyons the climb out of Volcano, is, to be blunt, sucky. Without too much work you could easily shorten that climb, perhaps find a few more shady spots (all that logging on the way down to Paragon Mine has really made it quite an unpleasant section) and improve the experience for the runners at a time when most are feeling pretty miserable. It’s not like you don’t have enough climbing as it is and shortening that lousy climb would make the majestic arrival into Foresthill so much more pleasing for the spectators. Wouldn’t that be good? Often the crews are so overwhelmed by how terrible their runners look when they get to Foresthill they aren’t able to provide adequate aid. I don’t know what you think, but, to me, that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

7. The run on Cal Street is always the highlight of my race. The weather has cooled down, the trail is always buffed out, and the views down to the river are extraordinary. Plus, it’s all downhill which you know plays to my strengths. One problem with that section, however, is that annoying sandy part down at the bottom – I think you call it “Sandy Bottom” or some such thing. It is a total energy drainer at the end of a wonderful trail experience. It would not take too much work to send your trail crew people down there to remove that sand and replace it with a nice hardpack gravel surface like they have at Nardini Manor for Across the Year. In fact, I think they have some extra. I’m sure you could just toss the sand in the river and it will flow downstream possibly making the River Crossing a little shallower.

8. And, about that River Crossing, it’s great you have all those eager volunteers in wetsuits and rafts down there at the crossing and making your way across the river is always fun but why do you need that silly rope? I think it would be much more of a challenge to just make everyone swim across. To be honest, after 78 miles, a little cross-training is good for weary muscles and it will add to the challenge and perhaps create a little drama at an otherwise boring part of the race. And, it would be even better if you made everyone do it naked.

9. As I said earlier, I like downhills and the best part about Western States is that we get to run down a lot. However, you are missing a great opportunity by not running down Ball Bearing Hill. Here’s the thing; that section after ALT is really boring. It winds in and out of the woods, crosses random dry creeks, looks the same the whole way, and is rife with Poison Oak. The run down Ball Bearing is steep and gnarly. Then, you get a nice long section on the Quarry Road before the climb up to Highway 49. Now, I know what you’re thinking, that shortens the course! Not so fast, to make up a few miles we could run all the way to the Cool Firehouse and then do a loop through those nice meadows before the descent to No Hands Bridge. Heck, those fireman could even set up an Aid Station, Brown’s Bar Style, and raise money for their department in the process.

10. My last suggestion is about the finish. Please, don’t take this the wrong way but, c’mon, finishing on a high school track? What’s up with that? Everybody’s run on a high school track? When you spend thousands of dollars, sacrifice career, family and personal health for an event that you’ve dreamed about for years you, quite frankly, want a finish that has more, you know, pizzazz. Plus, who really wants to drag their ass up another nasty hill on tired legs and then run 1.3 miles on pavement through suburbia to enjoy the spoils of their labors? So, my suggestion, finish at the historic No Hands Bridge. Now, I can hear you now, what do we do about parking, spectators, medical, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah…? To me, those are just details. Think the 18th hole at Augusta or the Champs Elysee at the Tour de France. This is majesty, pageantry, the moment of a lifetime, hell, people would pay good money to finish on No Hands Bridge. Think of the photos, the YouTubes, the promotional opportunities. An extraordinary amphitheater type setting worthy of an Obama-esque celebration. It would be epic. I am sure you can work through the logistical issues and the end result would make this race the premier endurance event in the world.

And, there you have it. I hope you will consider my suggestions. I would be happy to address these in person with the Board should you be inclined to invite me to a meeting.

Sincerely yours,

Andy Jones-Wilkins
Five-time WS Finisher
2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007.

This post is the first in a series of five Western States 100 synchroblogs leading up to the 2009 race.  For this first one, the following four bloggers have agreed to write a post making a plea or request directly to the Western States Board of Trustees.  See what they have to say to the board:


Tony Lafferty said...

Andy...a lot of interesting suggestions..I would like to see that tram ride to the top...but not the finish at no hands. That is just a logistical nightmare for The communities..WS is a world class event and the finish at the track is pretty special for many. The no hands finish would be a tough sell to the residents in Cool,Georgetown, Auburn etc.. the traffic management issues would only add to the cost of the already discussed high race fee described in another blog...

I enjoy these coordinated blogs on WS will see what transpires....

Tony Lafferty

kate said...

nice tongue-in-cheek


AJW said...

Thanks Kate! Every class needs its clown!


Brad Mitchell said...

Wow!Do you have some time! Nice work.

Jamie Anderson said...

Pretty funny! That was a good read. Best of luck in your training.

Matt Hart said...

as i read through #2 my brow furrowed and my opinion of you started to plummet. turns out i'm just not that quick and you are a talented writer.

Unknown said...

#1 had me rolling "2500 ft climb is plain impractical and, possibly, downright DAAAANDEROUS". I don't know a thing about WS but I do know that you are in the lottery for Hard Rock... Hope your not afraid of heights my friend....

This is how I think your open letter would be to the Hard Rock board:

Dear HR board,

I have never run HR but I hear it's downright DAAANGEROUS! Is there a way to build bridges over all the rivers and sloshy bogs? Is there a way ARRROUND dem dere mountains rather than over dem? Since we are honoring the miners that worked the area at the turn of the century could we, somehow, use their tunnels to complete the loop back to Silverton. Or maybe we could use the miners pulley system that carried iron ore to get us to the top? Think of how intimate it would be for us to go up the mountain two by two...

hugs and kisses - FastED

HappyTrails said...


You missed two points - 1. They need to have the volunteer trail crews remove all the rocks on the trail as they pose quite a danger to the runners. 2. They should put a pedestrian bridge across the American River.