Monday, June 29, 2009

Western States - 2009

"AJ, look up there, around 11 o'clock, it looks like we've got company." My pacer Jeff Hutson spotted a light bouncing up to Robie Point about 20 minutes before the end of the WS 100. I knew I was in 11th place at the time (10th male) and I thought maybe, just maybe, I could reel one guy in. So, we ran, hard.

Then we hit Robie and turned onto the pavement. The light ahead was bobbing away.

"OK, AJ, now it looks like we've got someone behind us. Look!" Jeff pointed down to the road leading up to Robie. He was right, two lights were bobbing up the trail about 45 seconds back.

It was 18:30 into the race. I was battling brutally blistered feet and trying my best to stay positive. And, to add stress to the system, I was now in a battle for 10th male. I put my head down and powered up the climb (this would be the first time in 6 races at WS that I would run every step from No Hands to the Finish)

When we crested the hill the light ahead of us was out of sight but the light behind us was right there, closing. I knew I had five minutes left to hold my spot or end my streak of consecutive top-10's at WS. While I know it'll eventually come to an end I didn't want it to be now.

"I'm thinking, how fast can I run 1200 meters?" Maybe the speedwork would come in handy after all.

Well, by the time we got to the entrance to the track the light behind us was out of sight and Mark Lantz (the 9th place runner who had staged an amazing comeback from Foresthill) was rounding the final turn toward his 9th place finish. My kids came bounding up to me and we continued our sprint around the track. In the end I edged out Victor Ballesteros for 10th place by 20 seconds. He had surged from 26th place at Foresthill to 11th at the Finish. Incredible.

My 6th run at WS started oddly as the lead group of 40 or so runners took a wrong turn about five minutes into the race and added a bit of excitement to the proceedings and served to mix things up in the early going. I knew I was in for a long day when I started to blister at Red Star Ridge. It became clear that I would need to gut it out but with trashed feet and that my normally consistent downhills would suffer.

Since I have five years of data for comparison I was able to see how bad it really was. I ended up doing the descent to Duncan 6 minutes slow, the descent to Deadwood 5 minutes slow, the descent to El Dorado 8 minutes slow and the descent to Volcano 10 minutes slow. By the time I hit Cal Street my feet were thoroughly trashed and I knew my planned 2:30 was unattainable. Damage control was now the order of the day. Quads and stomach were fine but I knew the push to the finish would test my ability to balance, focus and persevere.

As far as the competitive aspect of the race, it proceeded as planned but only up to a point. I was 22nd at Robinson, 15th at Michigan, 10th at the River, and 10th at the Finish. In contrast to past years, I had nothing left to close with from the River. It was partly my fault but more an issue of the depth of the field and the quality of 100 mile racers who were in the mix.

Aside from the fact that I was quite surprised at the DNF's from Scott Jurek and Dave Mackey, there was absolutely no way to fake it into the top-10 this year. Kaburagi from Japan was incredible from start to finish and his 2nd place finish absolutely obliterated Tim Tweitmeyer's Masters' Course Record. Jez Bragg from the UK proved a bunch of prognosticators wrong and proved KiwiPaul correct. His 3rd place was the Real Deal. Jasper Halekas did what we all thought he could do and hammered out an amazing, pacerless sub-17 hour 4th place while Kevin Sullivan, from Andover, MA, who chased me through the hills of Vermont last July, established himself as the new beast of the East, with a sub-17 of his own for M5. Zach Miller, Leigh Schmitt and Erik Skaden all powered through amazing races and Mark Lantz got it right on his 4th try and got the top-10 he'd been striving for. In the end, it was truly an amazing group to be part of and I was happy to be the caboose.

Of course, just after Erik and before Mark and I came the extraordinary Anita Ortiz who showed that you can make the move from mountain running to ultras and concluded an extraordinary run leading to her new title as WS Champion. Not bad for a mother of four who took a wrong turn and passed me like I was standing still between Green Gate and ALT!

From my perspective, there are three important takeaways from this year's race:

1. Non-American runners should not be taken for granted anymore: The 2nd and 3rd place finishes by Kaburagi and Bragg have set a high bar. It'll be fun to see how it unfolds from here.

2. The East Coast has arrived: Sure, we've had Morton and Clifton but the races this year by Sullivan and Schmitt (as well as Miller who only recently moved west from Michigan, I think,) suggest a changing of the guard and could lead to some exciting races in the years ahead.

3. Experience, schmexperience! I admit that I have been consistently guilty of suggesting that course knowledge and race-day experience are critical to success at WS. Perhaps this is no longer true. In addition to the Women's Champion, of the top-7 men, only Hal had run the race before. Erik, Mark and I were the other "experienced" guys and we got our clocks cleaned.

As for me, I am currently en route to Silverton to begin my preparation for Hardrock. I have no idea what to expect but if it's half as exciting as my weekend at WS it will make for a summer to remember!

I'll try to write more when I get settled in Silverton. I hope you're all having a great summer!



Ted Nunes said...

AJW... your humility is what draws your readers. I really do think your the voice of ultrarunning.

Congrats on your finish. Your an inspiration... Makes me want to go out and run 70 miles just so I can run a hard 50k after.

good luck at HR


Jasper Halekas said...


Congrats on a gutty finish on a tough day. That top ten streak of yours just gets more and more impressive.

Also mad props to Hal, who made the rest of us look like we had feet of clay.

Still can't get over the wild dashes to the finish for M2-M5 and M9-M11. Yeow!

Best of luck at Hardrock. You might want to put a layer of shoe goo on those feet. ;)


Michael Alfred said...

Conceding on point #3 was very big of you.

I had the pleasure of seeing Jasper at Michigan, Foresthill, and Green Gate and man that guy had a smile on pretty much the whole way. The only other person who pulled off that feat in the heat was Hal. Jasper wins WS100 2010? I wouldn't be against it.

AJW said...


Thanks for the kind words. Not sure about the "voice of ultrarunning" but if it works for you it works for me.


Great race. I knew you had it in you and you got it done. Here's hoping it's the beginning of a great top-10 streak of your own. It's fun while it lasts and I think five years is about as much as I have in me which is why I'm heading to HRH. As for the shoo-goo, I'm afraid my feet need a bit more than that!

And SD 100, glad Jasper was smiling but you can rest assured I was too. And, if I wasn't "big" enough to concede on #3 I wouldn't really be honest, would I? That is what's it's really all about. You know, honoring the race...Maybe I'll see you there next year.

Anonymous said...


You got that Ten Thousand Dollars in escrow? Doesn't look like your prediction panned out.

I think you owe Hal an apology.

kjsully said...


The race was beyond all expectations in terms of every aspect of the day, the AS, the excitement, competition etc. It was great to run with such a talented group of runners. I never expected to be up there but it was truly a blast.

Way to gut it out, man. Your ability to focus on what it takes to keep that top 10 streak going is impressive (and instructive - thanks).

As for the feet, Drymax socks dude. Got get 'em.

Jasper, props to you man. I was in awe to see you come back so strong - you earned it. See you out on the trails.

Old Goat said...

Very impressive run, especially considering the heat, the blisters, and number of great competitors. With all your training miles and experience, I would be interested to learn why the blisters and your thoughts on how to prevent.

To test your humility just a bit, here's another question. Not being a school teacher, I guess I do not understand this new math. So how many times does it take getting "chicked" to end your "top-ten streak"? In the old days, #11 meant just outside top 10.

Craig Thornley said...

@Old Goat - Just curious, what place did Nikki get? You're not proposing that WS drop the distinction between men and women are you? Top twenty overall get to come back instead of top ten men and top ten women? I just might be into supporting that idea :-)

AJW, excellent work. You do have what it takes to be M10! Kinda stressful, huh?

Tony Lafferty said...

WOW as Jasper says the race for m2-5 and m9-11 was great! It would be great to have you or the blogger gods to interview each of the runners to get their views published on the experience of hittng that track and knowing what was at stake. The public would love to hear from all those runners. Anita's run was out of this looked easy from my bath road vantage.


HappyTrails said...

Great Job Andy! What an awesome race it turned out to be this year. Minutes between 2 - 5 after 100 miles is hard to fathom. You have fun in Silverton, enjoy our great state, and get those feet ready for Hard Rock. Thanks for the nice report and insider's view.

Ted Nunes said...

maybe that didn't sound right... but it did in my head... good luck at HR

see you at Javelina?


Buzz said...

I appreciate what you said about being passed by Anita, because it happened to me too - she took a wrong turn, I got ahead, so she comes storming back, knocking down 6 min miles until she regains her lead. She's not the slow and steady type. She's the best runner.

Brad Mitchell said...

AJW - Man, I (we) were pulling for you all day here in the Wood River Valley.
You gutted it out and showed what it takes to stay focused and be positive. Well done! Be proud!
For now, recover, acclimatize and enjoy your "vacation". Best of luck at HRH. We can't wait for all the details.

Derrick said...

Congrats on another hard fought top 10. It's been great following along on your training up to WS and leading into HR. Best of luck!

Jamie Donaldson said...


Very impressive run at WS! It was fun following you moving up online! Congrats on keeping the streak alive! Best of luck to you at HR!

northtexan said...

AJW, congrats. It was fun watching you guys on the WS Webcast, even though it took 2 iPhones and a desktop to do it. Huge internet followers I suppose.

Hank Dart said...

Really, really great, Andy. Rest well and eat well. Good luck at Hardrock. Can't wait to get the gory details when you're back in the valley. Cheers.


GZ said...

Been lurking the blog for some time now ... impressed by the whole approach, the level of dedication and the incredible execution come race day. Well done.

Sophie Speidel said...


Great report! You are such an inspiration, and I know you are going to Rock Hard out at Silverton. Look for my VHTRC friends Joe Clapper and Michele Harmon out there--Joe is running his third HR and Michele is pacing him. Michele and I finished together at Highland Sky a few weeks for third place women :-)

Training is going really well and I look forward to running the 1200s with renewed zeal, knowing how they made the difference for you!

Happy summer!

Gretchen said...

Nice job on yet another year in the top ten! I'm sure you worked hard for it, and it's particularly impressive given the level of competition that was present this year. You looked strong and steady out there. It's amazing that you guys can run 100 miles and still have to sprint the finish.
Best of luck at HR.

Scott Dunlap said...

To hear Lantz and Ballesteros recount your final was nothing short of heroic. Congratulations! Be sure to post that pic of your feet - I stole it for my blog entry too. I sure hope they heal for Hardrock!


Jacqueline Florine said...

As I was walking along enjoying my yummy ice cream, I saw you come into Foresthill. It was so endearing to see your family running alongside you. It brought an answering smile to my face to hear you ask your sons to run with you. It sounded as if you were asking for the bestest : ) present in the whole wide world! WS 100 really is a family fun run for you. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

Dave Mackey said...

Nice run, AJW, especially your finish.

Joe Kulak said...


Paul Charteris said...

A wonderful report Andy and a remarkable finish. This is truly Classic Western states stuff!

Jez and I hung out for a week before the race and I must say i admired his attitude. As the in-form ultra-runner in the UK he has represented his country at the world champs and UTMB etc. Repeatedly, he told me this one was very very special - easily the biggest race of his career. He respected the course, high calibre of athletes (in fact everything about the race) and was determined to do well.

Experience schmerience did count for a LOT in this race. Scanning the entire drop list for names of those runners that I run the course with a lot (and I included visiting Oregoneans here), I see only about 4 familiar names -me included. I'd say the drop rate of course-trained and course-knowledgeable locals was perhaps in the 10-15% range. Well below the average for the entire field. Experience counts.

Cheers, Paul

Peter Lubbers said...

Congrats on your fantastci finish. You wanted that top-10 spot and you got it. Great work.

I was working at the Michigan Bluff AS and could see you enjoying every minute of the race as you came in. You also had one of the best support crews!

I posted some pictures on Flickr, including some nice ones of you and your kids (feel free to grab them, of course):

I guess your "Trashed Feet: Pay me now or pay me later" did not quite work out this year. I'd suggest trying Balega socks and Heavy Bag Balm instead (an no, I am not sponsored by either on), but maybe it was just a fluke.

Burton said...

Great job AJW! I love your enthusiasm for the race, and enjoy your blog. I'm really happy you grabbed that last top 10 spot, so I can look forward to more WS posts next year. I agree with Paul on his experience comment.

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