Monday, June 28, 2010

Western States 2010 -- Race Report

Robinson Flat
Getting my buckle from The Legend. Only 18 more to go!
Michigan Bluff
The only two repeat top-10'ers
The top-10 assembles

For the past six years my goals for Western States have essentially been the same each year:

1. Run my own race.
2. Test the limits of my physical, emotional and psychological abilities without pushing beyond them.
3. Finish in the top-10.

I am thrilled to say, as I sit here in Auburn early on this post-race Monday morning, that on Saturday I achieved all three.

I knew going into the race that it would not be easy. The field was extremely deep and talented with both newcomers and veterans and the conditions were forecast to be benign, at best. Fortunately, I was coming off one of my best training cycles since 2007 so I was cautiously optimistic about having a good day. Plus, it was the Big Dance, after all!

My good friend Craig Thornley and I stayed together in Squaw Valley and after seeing my family off to Auburn on Friday afternoon we settled in for a good solid rest.

Race morning dawned clear and cool. The usual excitement was coursing through the starting area and I enjoyed spending the last few minutes catching up with friends and enjoying the environment. Also, knowing that I would not be in the top-tier of runners at this race it was also nice to experience the race, a bit, as a spectator in these last few moments knowing that the favorites for the win, Geoff Roes, Hal Koerner, Kilian Jornet, and Anton Krupicka, were about to blast off into Western States history. They certainly did not disappoint.

After the gun I settled into a relaxed pace and enjoyed the sunrise and the release of adrenaline that always seems to accompany the first hour of Western States. I also enjoyed chatting with Gary Robbins on the climb up and could tell just by talking to him that he was primed to have a good day. Once over Emigrant Pass we dropped into the Granite Chief Wilderness Area and encountered the first of a series of snowfields. It didn’t seem to slow the pace all that much but it was interesting to observe how different runners handled running in the snow. And, it was quite obvious, which runners had no experience in snow!

The snow section gave way to the new “Snow Route” which was really quite lovely. About a mile before the Lyon Ridge Aid Station on the Standard Course, the “Snow Route” turned left onto a muddy two-track and began a long, 7-mile descent to the French Meadows Reservoir. This descent, while quite gradual, made this course about 20 minutes faster for my split from the start to Duncan Canyon. And, the toughest part of this stretch, was the last 1.5 mile-climb to Duncan through a quickly warming exposed burn area on a trail that looked like it had been cut yesterday!

Once back onto the standard course on the descent into Duncan I settled into a nice rhythm and realized that it was not as hot as I thought it was going to be. I moved among a small pack on the descent to the canyon and the climb to Robinson Flat that included Mark Lantz, Rod Bien, Erik Skaden, Justin Angle, Troy Howard, Victor Ballesteros, and Glen Redpath. The race for M10 was clearly taking shape.

I met my crew at Robinson Flat, ate a nice Greek yogurt, grabbed some supplies, and hiked out of there on the snow covered road up to the top of Little Bald Mountain. Someone told me they thought I was in around 20th place. The section from the top of Little Bald to Last Chance, which is almost all downhill, has always been one of my favorite parts of the race and is usually a place where I reel in some of the earlier runners who may have gone out just a bit too fast. And, sure enough, when I rolled out of Last Chance at 11:35am I was in 10th place. I had passed 10 guys in 12 miles and for the next 57 miles I would need to, at worst, hold onto my position, something that has become more and more difficult each year.

I wanted to run Deadwood Canyon in 1-hour flat and I hit it right on. The river bottom was hot but the rest of the climb was surprisingly calm and I was able to eat a turkey, cheese and avocado sandwich on the way up. I was a bit frisky on the descent to El Dorado Canyon and hit the bridge there in 40 minutes flat. This was faster than I had planned to run and I could feel a bit of sauciness in my quads on the climb up to Michigan Bluff. I arrived at the Bluff around 2:15 and needed to re-group a bit. This was my first low-point of the day and I knew from experience that I would need to use the crossing of Volcano Canyon as a recovery section before Cal Street. I took in two cups of double strength chicken broth and headed out onto the Road to Foresthill. On the descent to Foresthill Glen Redpath and Rod Bien passed me. I was in 12th place.

Scott Wolfe, who would run the River to the Finish with me later on in the day, met me at the bottom of Bath Road with my last turkey sandwich of the day and helped me ascend the road steadily and calmly. We rolled into Foresthill at 3:18 and after a quick re-fuel I took off with Bryon Powell to the River.

Bryon has paced me on this section a couple of times and he really knows how to get me through the heat and the challenge of Cal Street and this year was no different. After cruising the descent to Cal 1 we proceeded to run the critical section between Cal 1 and Cal 2 quite well. The highlight of this particular section was Bryon’s all-out face plant on the “Elevator Shaft.” He did a full frontal Superman dive into the dust and jumped up without breaking stride, it was classic. Also, through this section we passed Rod and Phil and were playing leapfrog with Glen. I could tell from running with him many times before that Glen was having a really good day and that he was likely the stronger of the two of us today. As we crested the hill on the sun-baked road just before the River Crossing this was confirmed. Nonetheless, we shared a boat across the river and once across Glen took off. I would not see him again until Auburn.

I also felt some angst leaving the River as two of the great guys in the sport who had been out in front of me all day were apparently through for the day. On the near side, Leigh Schmitt was sitting in a chair, apparently done and on the far side Hal Koerner was hanging out where the boats dropped us off. On the one hand, it was nice to know that I had jumped from 10th to 8th place. But, on the other hand, I was bummed that these two great runners would not be finishing this year.

I returned to the matter at hand and began the climb to Green Gate. Scott had come down to the River to make the transition with Bryon and we hiked steadily up to the Aid Station running a few sections but mostly just using the climb to recover from the heat and pounding of Cal Street. After a quick turnaround at Green Gate, Scott and I rolled out of there at 6:30 and in 8th place.

The relatively easy run from Green Gate to ALT was actually pretty disappointing. For some reason I was just in kind of a lull and actually rather complacent. As a result, by the time we arrived at ALT I had done the section in an hour (typically I shoot for 55 minutes) and Ian Sharman had caught and passed me. 9th place.

Ian’s pass gave me the shot of motivation I needed and I ran much more smoothly from ALT to Brown’s Bar hitting that split in about 50 minutes and staying on top of nutrition and hydration the entire time. I had also given myself added motivation to run hard by intentionally not picking up my headlamp at ALT to force myself to get to Highway 49 before dark.

We descended out of Brown’s Bar at 8:25 hoping to get to Highway 49 by 9:10. At this point, Scott really raised the bar as a pacer. Knowing that downhill’s are my strength he got me rolling fast on the descent and forced me to carry the momentum onto the Quarry Road. As a result, I ran the section from Brown’s to the base of the climb to Highway 49 in a Race Day best of 23 minutes. This, I spite of Scott’s best intentions to distract me when he donned a Nacho Libre mask about halfway up the river road.

Sure enough, Scott’s efforts, Mexican wrestler’s masks notwithstanding, got me to Highway 49 at 9:10. And, it was still light out. I know this may not seem like a big deal to some people but for me, getting to Highway 49 without a flashlight has always been a benchmark of a good race. In my previous six races I had only managed to do that twice, 2005 and 2007. So, I was in good spirits leaving Highway 49 at 9:11 hoping to get to the track by 10:30.

We settled into a nice hike/run up to the Cool Meadow and then kept things steady until the descent to No Hands. Scott said, along the way and knowing my obsession with microsplits at Western States, that “tonight we’re going to make the 15 minute switchback into the 13 minute switchback” and, while we didn’t exactly do that, it did seem to me that we made good time to No Hands Bridge and crossed at 9:50.

Now, as one might expect, given my experience last year of being chased up Robie Point and getting M10 by 23 seconds, I was a bit concerned about what was going on behind me at this point. So, as we crested the first little hill above the river Scott looked back.

“JizzleWizzle, we have two sets of lights coming down the switchbacks. Probably three minutes back. You need to move.”

Scott brilliantly urged me to think of the climb up to Robie in three segments; the Flats, the Rollers, and the Climb. It worked like a charm and by the time we hit the pavement the lights below were out of range. We powerhiked the final climb and then settled into a hard tempo effort to the track. The finish was, once again, a huge thrill and I was really psyched with how it all evolved. 17:31:24, 9th place.

Guess it’s time to book our rooms for next year☺


Michael Alfred said...

Great job Andy. The consistency of your performances is amazing. I saw you halfway up to Emigrant Pass when Gary first said hello to you as you guys were hiking up. I followed the leaders from the River to the finish. Favorite moment of the day was watching Kilian and Tony climb together to Green Gate like they were the Schleck brothers working off each other to fend off the peloton.

GZ said...

Very impressed. I will admit sheepishly that I did not think you make the top ten cut with the depth this year. I am glad to admit I was dead ass wrong. Well done.

"Guess it’s time to book our rooms for next year."

That is sweet music.

Jim P. said...

Congrats AJW...another top 10 finish! Well done! Someday you gotta tell us more about the "sauciness" feeling in the quads. I want some of that mojo. Thanks for the write-up.


AJW said...

Mike, thanks for the comment. It must have been amazing to see those two guys duke it our.

George, I have to agree. I gave myself less than a 50/50 chance to make the cut as well. It's fun to exceed expectations:)

Jim, yeah, that sauciness thing can be tricky!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on a great race and report! Just goes to show ya, you never know what's going to happen in ultrarunning! Hal dropping, I didn't see that coming!

Hank Dart said...

Another great report, and another great Western, AJW. Fantastic.

Unknown said...

What can I say AJW other than Congratulations and you are the consummate competitor! You bring it every time and that's very respectable!

See you in Logan

Derrick said...

Very inspiring run, by a very inspiring ultra runner. Huge Contrats!

Olga said...

This was totaly inspirational how you made the top 10 despite the odds. Seeing you high up by Dusty was a bit unnerving, but you stayed right there no matter what! You run WS as a science, and it is thrilling. I also want to add that your family is absolutely amazing. Watching Shelley asking you questions and listening intently at the finish is something else. And how you thank each and every boy for a very definitive help is heartwarming. Way to go, Andy, and get those rooms booked!

AJW said...

Hey thanks Hank, fastEd, Derrick and Olga, it means alot to feel your appreciation. And, I must say, this one is a little extra special. As difficult as it is at the time there is nothing like the feeling of running those last 10 miles. If there is a way to feel more alive than that I don't know it.

sharmanian said...


Great race and congrats on another top 10. Am glad I gave you some extra motivation at mile 86 and I would have chatted but felt strong so wanted to keep pushing before it faded again - I had a horrible time from Foresthill to the river and had only just got over it when we hit the shade on the other side.



AJW said...


That was an amazing finish. You are one good closer. Congrats and we missed you at the awards. I drank a beer in honor of you passing me like I was a rock on the side of the trail:)

Brian Beckstead said...

Your consistency and enthusiasm are inspiring and the epitame of ultra running. Thanks for the great report and congrats on a great race.

Brad Mitchell said...

You da'man! Great job! Now recover well, the high country is calling.

Scott McMurtrey said...

Great race. Very inspiring. Spent all day on my computer Saturday hitting refresh every min or so giving updates to my dad over the phone while he was traveling through airports. "Here comes Andy -- he keeps moving up." Very exciting.

John said...

AJW, I really enjoyed your video interview over at iRF as well as your race report posted today. You're truly a gifted person in more than just running, and a great asset to the community.

Huge gratz on another amazing race!

TonyP said...

Many, many congrats! Another great one for you!

Stephen Itano said...

Andy, Congrats on a great run and another return trip next year. I really appreciate the insights and advice you've dispensed in this blog and elsewhere as they really helped me.

HappyTrails said...

Bizarre as it sounds to normal folks, we were screaming at our computer for you to hang on to ninth place - like you were really going to hear that! Great job Andy - you are an inspiration!

Brett said...

Thats just crazy to be running along within an hour or two of the top mountain runners in the world who are half your age (almost literally). Not to call you old or anything :) Just definitely more wise.

Thomas Bussiere said...

With such a strong field this year, you still drove home a top 10 – Very amazing AJW.
Great report and enjoyed following you on the PC as the day progressed, wondering if you would hit your mark. Have a few more cold beers – Well deserved.

Anonymous said...

Incredible run for anyone. For you it seems easy. Happy for you!

Rod Bien said...

AJW, as I said before, that was an amazing effort. Your "will" to push is very cool to watch. I'm glad you are in the dance again next year. You sure as hell deserve. My learning curve in 100s seems much slower but I keep taking baby steps. I might be ready for you when you hit 50. :)

Matt Silva said...

What we all really wanna is how you did in the mile on Monday!

rustyboy said...

Man, what an amazing race, right? You got IT DONE, and everyone seemed to have a blast.

Thanks for your time for my "This American Life" piece. Hopefully it gets on air! Now all I have to do is finish it and my training for Pine to Palm. Should be easy...right?

meredith said...

Congratulations on a fantastic race!! My husband, Paul, and Jamie said you looked great when they saw you!

Scott Dunlap said...

You plan to succeed, you train to succeed, and dagnabit, you succeed again and again. Congrats an another amazing performance!

brownie said...

Yawn. AJW finishes in the top ten, sun to rise in the morning...

Just kidding, awesome job out there. See you at the Bear.

Anonymous said...


LK said...

I have to admit, when you blasted into Dusty near the top 10, there were thoughts you may have pulled the trigger a little early. But, you definitely looked great. It was awesome seeing you cross the finish line all smiles and with the whole family there. Solid!

Pete Rodrigues said...

Great Race Andy! What consistency from year to year.

I'm wondering if you could talk a little about how you combine work and running (or maybe you've covered it somewhere). I'm a teacher and am finding the move to more mileage to start running longer races a bit daunting. Any advice?

Meghan said...

Excellent run Andy! I had no doubt you would be top 10. I also enjoyed hanging out with your family and hearing you review with your boys what their specific jobs were. What an awesome family affair. And thanks to Shelly for showing me the taping job - I didn't suffer from major blisters!

zagbag said...

Great job buddy! Well done indeed.
(Steven in Austin TX)