Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wild weather and fast times at the WS100

For the second year in a row, Curt and I headed up to the Last Chance aid station at mile 43.3 of the Western States 100 Endurance Run. The kind people from Stevens Creek Striders apparently have short memories, so we were allowed back in.

Truthfully - how many of you noticed the building behind us first?
On Friday at noon, I picked up Curt in Mountain View, loaded his stuff into The Last Chance Van, then headed up to the perpetually sunny Sierra Foothills.

Those clouds mean nothing. History dictates that it will be sunny and hot for this race.

Curt set up his tent...

...while I set up my cushy mat in the back of the van.

As is the tradition, there was a nice cheery campfire that we sat around in the evening. Usually the fire is not needed for warmth, but to keep the mosquitos away. On this night though, the fire felt good. (We were still confident though that tomorrow would bring warm weather.)

Around 5 AM I woke up to the sound of tapping. It took me a while to sort out that what I was hearing was water dripping from the top of the van. Then I could hear the rain falling. On my shoes. That I left outside so they would scare away the bears.

A cutting board makes an effective squeegee.
Fortunately someone had the foresight to cover up all the drop bags and set up most of the awnings the night before, so nothing was seriously damaged by the rain. Well, except for our preconceived notion of how hot it was going to be.

Getting a fire going was a bit challenging, but we managed to succeed. The fire was kept going all day long.

We were well prepared for the heat that never materialized.

Lina and Peggy passed on last minute instructions ("Does everyone know how to swim?").

The entrance to the Last Chance aid station, with the radio guys on the left and the weigh station on the right.
By a little after 10, we were all set up and ready for the first runners. As a bonus, the on-and-off showers we had been having stopped. It remained very cool though.

The eventual winner of the race is the guy in the middle, Tim Olson.
At about 11:17 the five lead runners blew through. They didn't even have the decency to look like they had just finished 43.3 miles of rain, hail, and wind soaked trails - they couldn't have looked fresher at 5 AM when the race started.

My coolest moment was getting eventual women's winner Ellie Greenwood through the aid station. (In truth, all I did was hold her backpack for maybe 10 seconds while she was weighed, then stood back while she grabbed a bit of food and took off. So I can't take all the credit for her win.)

Last year, I met a runner from Slovenia as he came through the aid station. The guy was a blast - taking pictures and cracking jokes - and I mentioned him in my race report thing. The weird thing is that David actually saw the race report thing (life must be exceptionally dull in Slovenia) and emailed me. We've since kept in touch, and I was thrilled when I heard he was going to run the race again.

Last year he finished in a very respectable sub-23 hours. I was stunned though that he showed up MUCH earlier this year. And a lot more focused.

I had never actually met Ace before, but I knew his two pacers well, so I was anxious to see him come through the aid station. The race has a 30 hour time limit, and for most runners, the goal is to make the cutoffs and finish inside that 30 hours somewhere.

But if you finish in under 24 hours (100 miles in a day!), you get a special silver belt buckle. I was very surprised to see Ace come through only about 30 minutes off the pace required to finish in 24 hours. Making up 30 minutes is certainly possible, but runners rarely speed up over the last half of a 100 mile race. Especially the last half of THIS race.

Working an aid station is stressful.

I had been waiting for Jose to come in, and was a bit concerned when he showed up a bit after the projected pace for a 30 hour finish. I loved though that he was looking and feeling good. I also loved that it appeared everyone in the aid station knew him. (Jose ended up being the last runner to make the 30 hour cutoff - totally awesome that he pulled this out!)

Sunshine! It never got warm, but I think my ears got sunburned.

Finally, after a long day, the Sweeper Horses came through. This meant there were no more runners headed towards our aid station and we could pack up. As opposed to last year, we had no runners drop or miss the cutoff here this year.

Remember that picture with all those bags of ice? All but two ended up being dumped. Normally we end up with very little left over. I suspect this picture captures a scene that has never happened before; the afternoon of the race with a fire going and mounds of abandoned ice.

Curt calling his wife (we finally have cell service!) to tell her not to wait up.
Last year, Curt and I headed home after the race was done. This year we were determined to at least get a feel for what it was like in Foresthill (mile 62) and the finish line. Foresthill was a madhouse, and we missed Ace coming through (which was encouraging - he was was still moving fast and was able to pick up a pacer here which should help keep him on track for the sub-24 hour finish, although he was still a bit behind the required pace).

As we were walking up to the finish line in Auburn, we heard Ellie announced as the first woman finisher in a new record pace. Here she is giving an interview under the finisher's arch.

We didn't know this would be here - the finish line is on a track circling a football field, and the baseball field next to it is available for setting up a tent to catch some sleep while waiting for their runner to finish. Next year one of those tents will be ours.

The runners come in a gate and have to run about two-thirds of a lap around the track, which is a bit ironic after having run 100 miles of often technical trails. But the two-thirds of a lap provides a chance for family and friends to spend a little time running with their runner before crossing the finish line, which led to many emotional finishes.

Like this. (I've never seen so many kids up and perky at 3 AM before.)

There were "Find My Runner" stations where you could get information on where specific runners were on the course. Fortunately I was wise enough to check on David's status since he was WAY ahead of last year's pace - he showed up wearing a stylish, yet aerodynamic hat to beat back the cold. (That's his wife on the left.)

He was about five hours faster than last year, coming in in 18th place, well under 17 hours. Astonishing!

At about midnight, Curt decided to try to get some sleep in The Last Chance Van. At about 1 AM, I decided to do the same, but had to wake up Curt to get him to unlock the van. Curt is a great sleeper though, and was quickly back asleep. In the meantime, I just laid there, listening to the announcer and wondering what I was missing. By about 1:45, my bladder was complaining, my calves were cramping (the van is comfortable when mostly empty, but a bit confining when loaded with stuff), and I was contemplating trying to sneak out without waking up Curt.

Then Cassandra called - her and Alva, who had started the day working the Duncan Canyon aid station (at mile 23.8, in the middle of the miserable morning weather) then headed down to the Foresthill aid station (where the weather was MUCH nicer), had just arrived at the stadium and wondered where I was.

So I carefully tried to get out of the van without waking up Curt, but failed. He needed a bathroom too, so he got up and came down with me. (He later went back again for another hour or so nap. Seriously - he has awesome sleeping skills!)

I saw Patrick also wandering around the finish line area. He had been working the Foresthill station as well (it didn't close until nearly midnight).

So my next goal was to watch Ace finish. Reports had him coming in just after the 24 hour cutoff, so a sub-25 hour finish seemed likely. Which is still WAY awesome. But then I started seeing weird Facebook posts, including one by Tony saying he was at the finish line and that Ace would be coming in soon, and a sub-24 hour finish was not only possible, but becoming increasingly likely!

And then just like that, Chris (his pacer at that point) and Ace burst through the gate and both are flying. Ace yelled to Chris "Wanna race?" and sprinted for the finish. He ended up being the last runner to beat 24 hours (and did it with over five minutes to spare). AMAZING!

Once a runner finishes, they have one last weight check.
Once the Ace excitement was over, Curt and I called it a day and started for home. I would have loved to stay and watch the rest of the finishers, but I'm not built for these all-night parties. Congrats to Jose for being the last finisher to beat the 30 hour cutoff (another runner behind him missed the cutoff at mile 98.9 and did not get to finish - that's got to be an awful feeling to get that far, come so close, and yet not make it).

Many records fell this year, which is largely attributed to the unusually cool weather. The men's, women's, and total number of sub-24 hour finishers numbers all easily beat previous records. Most of the runners hated the first 30 miles, where icy winds, cold rain, and hail made it miserable. (Ironically, there was no snow to run through - last year, while it was hot, the trail was detoured due to heavy snow cover.)

It was a blast. I loved working the aid station and loved watching the runners finish. I would love to be able to get a nap at some point, but that's not likely to happen since I don't have Curt's skills.

Next year I'm scheduled to take over the Car Wash station from David, who has done it forever. This will mean a few changes in when I show up and such (probably get a motel room in Auburn, pick up several hundred pounds of ice on race morning, then head to the aid station before the roads close at 9 AM).

Again, a huge thanks to Lina and Peggy for inviting us back and making this such a fun event for all of us. I can't wait for next year!

That's it - move along...

PS: You can see more of my pictures here (please tag anyone you know in these). I'll be adding a lot more to my Picasa site later and will add the link here.


DAK said...

So...do I understand that you didn't actually run in this one, and also that some people ran 24 hours straight in order to finish? I'll believe that when Barry Zito shuts out the Dodgers.

Beth said...

Sounds like so much fun!

mary ann said...

Great report and I can read the names without trying to figure out who you are talking about. Really, it sounds like such a fun trip, despite the weather, but you should have had a dog or two, don't you think?

1stCousin said...

you wrote it the way I remember. Thanks Allen for letting me tag along with you and thanks for the great pictures. I suppose I'll also do the car wash station since I have experience and can show you how to cool runners off with ice and cold water. It can get interesting.