Western States 100

At long last, my race report from the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.

In many ways it is this race that prompted me to start this blog a few months ago. After “winning the lottery” and gaining entry to the 2010 event back in December, every step I’ve taken out on the road or trails has been about preparing for this day. It has been a long journey, one that would feel even longer on June 26th and 27th. But throughout the journey I have accomplished much, have many to thank, and will remember each moment forever.

Mara, the kids and I flew out to Reno on Monday, June 21st. After picking up our rental van we headed west towards Tahoe City, CA. We rented a house for the week up in Ward Canyon, just south of Tahoe City, and it would become “crew central” as we planned for the race. Joining us on Tuesday were most of the rest of my crew. Mara and Cean would pace me from mile 62 to the finish. Deb, Maureen, and Gina would attend to my medical, food, drink, and other needs. Gina would also serve as my official photographer on raceday. Many of the fantastic photos below were taken by Gina, and I can’t thank her enough. My parents arrived on Thursday. They would take care of the kids while the rest of us were playing in the Sierra from Squaw Valley to Auburn.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday all featured clinics of one kind or another, organized by the Western States race directors. The event production was really first class, reflective of the prestige this great race holds. We all learned a lot from the clinics, especially as we were first timers to the WSER, and I’d like to extend a big thanks to the organizers.

We all woke up at 3:00 AM on raceday. I ate a decent size breakfast, double and triple checked my list before hopping into the van for the 20 minute ride to Squaw. We were all so full of anticipation, it took Mara several minutes to figure out how to turn off the interior lights in the car. Turns out her door was ajar.

These next few shots were all taken in the hour or so before the race started…

Cean and I heading to runner registration.

Mara and I ready to go with just 46 minutes until start time.

Runner registration at Squaw Valley. The organization here was fantastic.

Ceremonial pinning of my bib number, #413.

One final group shot with the Team Snipes crew.

Team Snipes discusses race strategy.

A little nervous as the start approaches.

And now, the last few minutes before the gun…

The first three miles or so of the trail are straight uphill, so we all settled into a brisk hike up the mountain. We were instructed to fill up our bottles at the Escarpment aid station, as the second aid station would be 10 miles further down the road. This first 13 miles was a lot of fun. I was so excited to finally be running this race, and being up high in the mountains was exhilarating. We ran across plenty of snow, and where it wasn’t snow it was often water or mud, but it was a blast nevertheless. First, a course map and elevation profile of the course, then the next few shots are all from the start to the Duncan Canyon aid station at mile 23.8

Trail Map – Click for Detailed View

Course Profile – Click for Detailed View

The race leaders launch up the Escarpment. Just 100 miles to go!

Team Snipes looking determined as they leave Squaw Valley.

Looking back at a fog-filled Squaw Valley as I march up the mountain.

Escarpment Aid Station – Snow on the mountain forced them to relocate to Mile 3.

The first snowfield we ran on. There would be many more of these.

First glimpse of Lake Tahoe, sun about to rise.

Dawn on Day 1 of the Western States 100. What a beautiful sight.

Last time I was here I had skis on. Looks like I could still ski down.

Snow-filled Shirley bowl.

Final steep climb up to Emigrant Pass.

This was amazing in the early morning light.

Another look back at Lake Tahoe and the sunrise.

Looking North towards Granite Chief

8330 feet and climbing.

Emigrant Pass in sight, almost there!

Made it!

Running down the double-track jeep road towards French Meadows.

Nice and wide open at these high elevations, made for easy running.

One of the many creeks and streams we crossed early on. My feet were soaking wet from about mile 10 to 30.

High mountain stream, full of runoff.

We ran through the burned out Star Fire area. Amazing to see nature recovering right before your eyes.

French Meadows reservoir.

Arriving at Duncan Canyon I was in great spirits. I had settled firmly in the middle of the pack of runners, more or less what I planned on doing. Later I would wonder if I had gone out too fast, but I didn’t think so at the time. I figured I would try and stay close to a 24 hour pace as long as I could, and I knew the tougher parts of the race were still to come. I fell several times while running down the snowfields, including a nice 20 foot slide on my butt once, but avoided any lasting damage. I also managed to lose the course for a few minutes with some other runners, but we carefully backtracked and were able to rejoin the trail without losing too much ground.

The 1,500 or so volunteers that help make this event possible are truly amazing. At many of the aid stations I was personally attended to by a volunteer set on meeting my every need. My first taste of this was at Duncan Canyon, where I got the “royal” treatment.

Duncan Canyon aid station. My “royal” volunteer helps fill my bottles.

Still feeling great at Duncan Canyon.

After leaving the Duncan Canyon aid station, I had a bit more downhill before the long climb up to Robinson Flat. Robinson is where I would first meet my crew, and I was dying to get there…

A VERY full Duncan Creek. We waded through knee-deep waters moving fast.

Looking South at more high Sierra peaks.

A final glimpse of the French Meadows reservoir.

Arriving at Robinson Flat.

Discussing the race with a Robinson Flat volunteer.

Excited to see my crew!

Loading up on fuel at Robinson.

Team Snipes prepares for some tender love and care. Boy did I need it.

Time for a shoe change, let’s get these things off.

Deb checks out a few blisters. Amazingly, they weren’t really that bad at this point despite my soaking wet feet.

Cleaning up for the tape job.

All geared up and ready to go.

Heading out from Robinson Flat. The next 26 miles were going to be BRUTAL.

The climb out of Robinson was frustrating. It was just a short stretch, but it was covered in slippery, melting snow, and it seemed to take FOREVER. When we finally made it to the top I was feeling good again, but little did I know, things were about to get really tough.

The 12 miles or so from Last Chance to Michigan Bluff were probably the toughest part of the course for me. My legs were starting to hurt a bit, and I had put several thousand feet of downhill elevation change on them. It was starting to tax my quad muscles, as I knew it would, but it was about to get a lot worse.

After climbing 1,500 feet straight up to Devil’s Thumb, I was hanging on by threads. Fortunately, I met the greatest volunteer I would see all race long. He really saved my race. I was hot and tired after overheating in the canyon. My quads were screaming. I couldn’t really eat anything, and I was really down and out mentally. This volunteer took his time to cool me off, fill my bottles, and reassure me by detailing the terrain of the next canyon. While twice as long, the climb to Michigan Bluff was a lot less steep, and had almost made it sound easy. Before letting me depart, he filled my hat with a load of ice cubes that would melt all the way down to the river at the bottom of the next canyon. This really cooled me down and helped tremendously. And last but not least, the Devil’s Thumb aid station had popsicles! I probably could have eaten 10 of them. They tasted amazing.

The next canyon was indeed tough, but I made it to Michigan Bluff… A few shots from there…

Team Snipes, now the complete crew (including the kids), waits patiently at Michigan Bluff.

Emerging from the woods at Michigan Bluff, I was a beaten man at this point.

I was thinking about taking a ride in one of those “Emergency Vehicles”.

Boy am I glad to see you!

Can someone take this waist pack? I’m DONE with it.

Heading over to the Michigan Bluff aid station.

Hmm, nothing really looks like it’s worth choking down.

It was going to take a lot to get out of the chair after sitting down. But hey, I only had 44 miles to go!

I may have just swallowed some Gu.

More foot treatment. Deb and Maureen really outdid themselves.

Up and ready to go again. If I could just make it 6 more miles, I’d be joined by my pacing team.

Off into the sunset…

I knew if I could just get to Foresthill things would get much better. Importantly, I would be joined by Cean, who would pace me from Mile 62 to the river crossing at Mile 78. These would be some tough miles through the night, but I was looking forward to the company and I knew a lot of the trail would be gradual climbs or descents and (hopefully) very runnable.

Running into Foresthill, feeling better now.

Me and my Foresthill volunteer. He was great.

I was able to eat some chicken broth here, and soon after was able to eat Gu regularly again, which really helped.

The Crew CHILL Area.

Looking for my crew.

Counting out the Nuun tablets I would need for the next stint.

Headlamp on, shirt changed, let’s do this.

Cean and I heading out into the night.

Mara had told Cean that his one and only task was to get me to the river crossing… She was going to take it from there.

He really did great, pushing me along while running a few steps behind, keeping me entertained with conversation, and letting me focus on the trail when it was called for. We had a lot of fun running through the night, and I got to share the exciting boat ride across the American River with him. The climb up to Green Gate wasn’t a ton of fun, but we got there, and the rest of the crew was patiently waiting…

Arriving at Green Gate, mile 78. Cean was awesome!

Got to Green Gate, job done.

Looking desperately for a place to change my shoes again.

After 78 miles, I required a bit more blister attention.

New socks, felt soooo good.

So Mara and I left Green Gate to finish the nighttime portion of the run. We wouldn’t see the crew next until the Highway 49 crossing at Mile 93.5, and it would be daylight by then. I knew Mara would get me home no matter what, so I really started to think seriously about what it would mean to finish this thing. I was moving along fairly well, still limping down the hills, but making up time on the climbs. I played leapfrog with a bunch of runners over the next few hours since they would pass me down the hills and I would pass them back as we hiked up the trail later on.

It was amazing to see the sun come up for a second straight day. At dawn we were running along the river, so the views were incredible. These were some of the same trails Mara and I had run many years before in the Way Too Cool 50K, and it was neat to finally be back on them.

As we labored along towards Auburn, the crew got some shuteye…

Team Snipes sleeps at Highway 49, just 6.5 miles from the finish.

Mara and I arrive at the Highway 49 aid station.

You could really smell the finish line from here.

He’s going to make it!

Whoa, you guys have bacon?!

Didn’t spend much time here, was anxious to get going and beat the Sunday morning heat.

Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?

This volunteer chuckled when I asked if there were any more downhills.

Back at it.

The last 6.5 miles were actually a lot of fun. There was one more big downhill to No Hands Bridge, but I ran down it anyway (in excruciating pain) since I knew it would all be over soon. Crossing that bridge was an epic experience, and I was really looking forward to the climb up to Robie Point from there. It actually all seemed to go by too quickly… Before I knew it were were on the roads of Auburn, just a short distance from the finish line.

The crew met Mara and I in town, and we “ran” the last half mile or so together. It was an emotional moment, and I think we all shed a tear or two as we could hear the sound of the announcer at the finish line come into earshot. We had all just been through an amazing journey together, and we all just saw firsthand the true triumph of the human spirit. It was going to be a fantastic finish!

On the road in Auburn…

My crew struggles to keep up with me…

Only 9:20 AM, but it was already HOT.

One lap around the Placer High track. An amazing place to be.

In the zone, 200 meters to go.

There are no words to describe this one. Wow.

In a daze, I was directed by the medical staff for my post-race evaluation.

Weight, pulse, blood pressure… Everything checked out okay.

Drawing blood for a medical study.

I can’t believe I just ran 100 miles through the mountains.

Goal set, and attained.

Medical staff explain that the chemical analyzers are overheating and I won’t be able to get a quick result on the sodium analysis.

Just a few words on the medical side of things… My weight stayed pretty constant throughout the race. I started at 172 lbs, and never saw my weight fall below 171.5 or above 173.5 lbs. I thought I had a pretty solid fuel and hydration strategy coming into the race. The plan was to consume about two bottles of water with dissolved Nuun between each aid station, and to eat about one Gu Roctane per hour. I didn’t stick exactly to this schedule because of the placement of the aid stations, but I was able to get pretty close. I drank more when I was thirsty and a little less during the cooler hours.

I really think I got the hydration right, and I think my race weights reflect that. I learned after the race that my post-race CPK level was 185,000, and indication of just how trashed my quad muscles really were (normal levels are 100-200, the average WSER finisher probably has a level of 10,000-30,000, and anything over 40,000 is considered something to keep a careful eye on). Had I not been consuming enough fluids, I think this could have knocked me out. I know my urine was looking pretty darn dark around mile 80 or so, but it actually started to clear up pretty quickly towards the end of the race and after I finished.

I didn’t end up eating as much as I probably needed, and had some low energy levels as a result. It was especially tough at night because I started to get sleepy and lose focus. Seeing runners laying down on cots at the Ford’s Bar aid station was tough. I didn’t think I would EVER get back up if I tried to take a quick powernap. I wonder if they all made it.

Nevertheless, I fought through a few hours with a queasy stomach on Saturday afternoon and was able to hit the Gu hard again over the latter part of the race. All in all, I’m happy with my plan. Things certainly could have gone a lot worse. Heck, I didn’t even puke.

Good job Daddy!

More congrats from the kids.

Tim Twietmeyer giving out awards.

Receiving my buckle.

It’s hard to wrap up my report with the words that truly capture the whole experience. It was simply epic. I’ll never forget it. I’m so proud to have conquered the course, to have made it to Auburn through the rough, rugged, mountains once battled only by hardened miners who had no choice and didn’t know any better. In our 21st century world, especially in this country, we’ve all got it pretty easy. Things are convenient. We take things for granted. I aimed to prove to myself, to my family, to my friends and acquaintances, that us human beings really are capable of amazing things. I like to think that my son and daughters will grow up knowing few limits, and daring to dream of impossible things.

I’d like to thank my kids Elsa, Sadie, and Graham for their energy and laughter. I’d like to thank Deb, Maureen, Cean, Cameron, Anna, and Gina for their unconditional support and dedication to my cause. They were amazing out there. I’d like to thank Alicia Gonzalez, Amy Witt, Robert Turpin, and the whole Chicago Run organization for making this experience mean even more. I was able to raise over $3,500 towards their wonderful cause, and I’d like to thank each and every friend and colleague that donated on my behalf. That money will “sponsor” dozens of Chicago public schoolchildren in their individual quests to be all that they can be. I’d like to thank my parents for all they have given me, and for their much-needed childcare support during the wee hours of the California night. I’d like to thank all the volunteers and organizers of the WSER for putting on an amazing race, especially that guy at Devil’s Thumb who brought be back from the precipice of crashing out of the race. I’d like to thank Gordy Ainsleigh for inventing the race in the first place. But most of all I’d like to thank my wife Mara. Sharing life’s experiences with her is truly a special treat, and this experience ranks right up there with the best of the best. She inspires me to achieve great things, and I’m just lucky to be along for the ride.

-Richard Snipes