Thursday, February 19, 2009

What I Like Most About Western States...

For me, that’s easy, it’s “The It” of the Race.

Western States is more than a race, it’s more than a run through the mountains, it’s more than a journey, it's more, even, than an event. I guess, ultimately, it’s a quest, perhaps, even, a secular pilgrimage. For me, the race has gotten under my skin and into my blood. It’s gotten to the point now, after five finishes, that I begin thinking and dreaming about “next year” before even “this year” is finished. A little twisted, I admit, but I love so much about this race I cannot always put it easily into words.

As much as the 100 mile distance can sever the spirit and enrich the soul at times it comes down to the little things that need to go right to make running Western States a success. The Western States 100 demands patience and persistence. It rewards wisdom and luck. It takes a steady mind and a driven heart. Above all, I think, it takes faith. Faith in the trail, faith in the process, faith in nature, faith in the power of the human body to overcome adversity, and faith that, through it all, the Finish Line will make it all worth it.

Three aspects of the race epitomize, for me, the "it" of Western States.

First of all, there’s The Course. Not only does it ooze with history from the frontier gold mining days and the early years of the California Republic but it also stands as testimony to the history of trail running as we know it in this country. From Gordy and Cowman, to Jim King, Ann Trason, Tim Tweitmeyer, Scott Jurek and the rest, the Western States Course has been the Holy Grail of ultramarathon running for the last 35 years and the list of winners and other characters is truly awe-inspiring. Running through those canyons one can’t help but feel the presence of history, tradition and something more significant than just a day out on the trail.

Then, there’s the event itself. Some events in sports simply transcend the moment and become larger than life. In fact, these events often subsume the actual experience and make people do strange and unpredictable things. Usually these events, occurring annually in sacred locales, provide a perspective on sport and life that is transcendent. Augusta National, Churchill Downs, and Alpe D’Huez come to mind as such places. There are some who criticize Western States as an over-hyped race that threatens the old-school tradition of Ultramarathon running. In fact, some even avoid the event because of that. However, as much as those people may have a point, it is undeniable that the spectacle that is the Western States 100 has duly earned its place in the Pantheon of sports. It’s not only what it is it’s where it is, too. And that, as Robert Frost might say, makes all the difference.

Finally, there’s the “vibe”. I’ve only run the race a handful of times so I know there are many out there who understand this better than me but something about the race is magnetic. If an event can have charisma Western States has it. It’s the Ultramarathon version of Barack Obama! I have finished at least two Western States’ after which I’ve said, “Maybe it’s time to do other things.” But, each time, after it all settles in, I’m ready to get back to Squaw, back to The Canyons, back to that trip down to The River and back to those last 20 miles which, as we all know, is the crux of the race.

In the end, we have many things in life to like, to cherish, to obsess over and even to get so carried away about that we have quotes taped to our bathroom mirrors and entire weeks devoted to training and war-storying. In these tough times it’s nice to have something we can all love and look forward to.

Now, let’s keep these rains and snows coming so the thing doesn’t get burned out again!

Train on, friends!

This is the second in a series of synchroblogs leading up to the 2009 WS 100. Other posts include:


Sophie Speidel said...


I have run Western States only once, in 2006, the HOT year. My husband crewed for me. I was there with many good friends from the VHTRC, including Goat Powell, who won his age group that year.

I came away from the event with many of the same feelings you reflect on here, despite the fact that I tend to prefer low-key ultras! I absolutely LOVED the race, the trail, the people, the history, the tradition. And despite its reputation for not being crew-friendly, my husband asks me every year when I am going to apply to the lottery so we/he can go back!

One day...

thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Michael Alfred said...

"If an event can have charisma Western States has it. It’s the Ultramarathon version of Barack Obama!"

-- LOVE IT! Thanks for sharing your passion for Western States. I'll be there as a spectator for the first time this year and I can't wait to take it all in. If it's even half of what you describe, I know I won't be disappointed.

Hank Dart said...

Well crafted, Andy. Really nice.