Saturday, August 1, 2015

Western States 2015 - Last Chance year five

For the fifth year in a row, I managed to waggle my way into volunteering at the Last Chance aid station at the Western States Endurance Run 100 mile trail race from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Only around 370 runners get the chance to run this race each year (several thousand try to get in), and it's as close to a Super Bowl as there is in trail running.

There are over 1600 volunteers to support those runners, and I get a kick out of being one of them.

For the last three years, I've been "Ice Boy" for this aid station that sits at about mile 43.3. This entails dragging hundreds of pounds of ice to a remote location in the Sierras, then keeping buckets of icy water filled so that the Car Wash Ladies can properly cool off the runners before they head out to the hottest part of the course - the canyons.

Last year, I had this banner made to hang at the Car Wash. The goal was to show the elevation changes between the previous aid station (Dusty Corners, on the right edge) and the next (Devil's Thumb on the left edge). An alert volunteer pointed out that the bit on the left was pretty wildly out of scale. He was right.

So I "fixed" it. (And yes, you are correct that there's no practical reason that the runners are going from right to left. The official race elevation charts do that, so I just copied them.)

One surprise was that someone decided to cut down a couple of dead trees and block the path we use to fill our buckets at the spring off in the distance. The logs were big enough that we couldn't move them or easily step over them, so I ended up clearing a new trail that went around them, which worked fairly well.

Bonnie and Gail Jr. filling a bucket.
Most of this year's Last Chance group.
A unique thing about this aid station is that you have to drive on part of the course to get here, which means you have to get here pretty early, before that "road" gets closed to traffic. Many of us show up on Friday and camp out while some drive in early. But we are all stuck here until the last runner comes through.

A bonus is that we do not have to deal with crews or pacers at all - it's just us and the runners, which is pretty sweet.

Eventual winner Rob threw his bandana on the ground and started filling it with ice before we could point out that there was a table he could use to make that easier.
The Car Wash Ladies are REALLY good at what they do.
The Car Wash Ladies, as usual, were awesome. They managed to get even the tiredest runners to smile and feel better about things before kicking them back out onto the trail.

There were times when we were spread a bit thin with multiple runners at the same time, but mostly each runner got a LOT of attention.

Magda, the eventual lady winner, looks like she's trying to choose which color sponge to have squeezed over her head.
One thing that was very different this year than previous years was that all of the leading runners took the time to get ice and cool off. In previous years, very few of the leading runners would take the time for that process. This was predicted to be a hot year, and it appears the runners took that seriously. (Of the 320 or so runners that came through Last Chance, only about a dozen skipped the car wash.)

Mark showing up earlier than expected - he was flying!
Save the sandwich!

With our ongoing drought, I was a bit concerned that the spring we use for this water might be more of a trickle this year, but it was in fine shape, so we could be very generous with the cooling water.

The water is naturally very cold. It could be a bit of a shock.

Jerry getting thoroughly cooled off.
Sam getting the full treatment.

This guy was feeling really rough when he showed up. He wisely skipped the food and came straight to us. There's an old saying, "Beware the chair!" but there isn't an old saying "Beware the ice chest!" He took his time, got completely cooled off (I've never seen a bucket get dumped on a runner before), then hit the buffet. He came in pretty broken and left like a fine tuned race horse. It was a great transformation to witness.

Edie getting cooled off.

We didn't know it at the time, but this is 70-year-old Gunhild on her way to the most amazing race finish I've ever seen.

Alvin cutting the cutoff pretty close, but still in great spirits and looking fine.
The aid station closes at 5 PM. I load up all the drop bags and various other things I brought, and head down to the finish line. If everything goes right, I get there just before the winner comes in.

Second place finisher Seth coming around the track.
I ended up arriving before Rob came in, but after dropping off the drop bags I had to find a place to park, and ended up missing his finish. But I did get to see almost all of the rest of the finishers.

The scene at the high school football field is pretty amazing. I love how loose it is - how you can stand along the track and get high-fives from the runners. Once they finish, many join us in cheering in the rest of the finishers. I'm not a night guy, but this is one night where staying up is the only logical thing to do.

Magda with her family coming in for her lady win.
Many of the runners show up with lots of family, crew, pacers, friends - it's an amazing scene as they circle three-fourths the way around the track on the way to the finish.

Corn-fed Kaci representing Nebraska and taking second.
Mark finishing WAY under 24 hours.
Jerry running in with his kids.

Franco decided to take on the Original Six Hundo Challenge this year. (Here's a link to a Jimmy Dean Freeman post about the challenge.) The number of people that have accomplished this, which requires running the original six 100 mile races in one summer, is low - I believe two managed it last year.

NoƩ bringing in the only finisher from Mexico.
The runners enter the track through this gate, and it's fun to hang out there and watch the entourages pour in.

One of my favorite things is when a finisher's kids run in with him or her. This was extra funny - last year Sam's son was raring to run him in, and his daughter was WAY not into it; this year the roles reversed, and the son refused to join his dad.

Edie with an amazingly talented entourage.
The signs I put up just past the aid station's exit for the runners I know.
As usual, this event was a blast. It's so cool seeing so many elite runners as well as normal runners all finishing this event.

And then there was Gunhild.

As mentioned earlier, Gunhild was responsible for the most exciting finish I've ever seen. Runners have to finish in less than 30 hours to be an official finisher. Tropical John kept us up to date with Gunhild's progress, since if she finished, she would set a record for the oldest lady finisher.

But it was going to be close. One fun thing was that Rob, who had won the race a bit over 15 hours earlier, headed out to help her make it - like all the rest of us, he found it really hard to just sit and wait. When she came in the gate with less than a minute to go, the place erupted. I've never heard so much cheering at a race.

It was so exciting I failed to get any pictures of it. But there is a video from USL.TV.

There are lots of race reports from this event, but a really fun thing is a video put together by Billy Yang, who is well known for his trail running movies. This one is a bit different though, since it's about him running the race. If you want to get a bit of a feel for what it's like to run in a 100 mile race, this movie is a great place to start.

Also, I've posted all of my Last Chance runner pictures here.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures with snarky comments here: Pre-race, Race at Last Chance, and Race at the finish.

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