For the sixth year in a row (!), the fine people at Stevens Creek Striders let me join their party at the Last Chance aid station, mile 43.3 of the legendary Western States Endurance Run.
The Last Chance aid station is the best one because:
- It's not crew accessible.
- Pacers aren't allowed yet.
- The hours that runners get there are pretty agreeable (roughly 11 AM to 5 PM, which means we can get to the track and see the winner finish once we close, and you can even get an early morning run in on the course if you'd like).
- The runners are about half done and are facing one of the toughest stretches of the course, so they're willing to spend some time getting set for that next bit.
There is a bit of a price to pay though, since you have to get to a ridiculously remote wide spot on the trail before the "road" is closed for the race. And there is pretty much no cell service. And finding a Pokemon is out of the question. (That's going to be a wildly dated reference in a month or so, but it's worth it for a laugh/eye roll now.)
|"Hey Curt! What's in the back of that thing?"|
|"What a cool vehicle!"|
|That's a bit of a sag in the rear.|
There was a bit of drama with regards the source of the water for the Car Wash, but it all worked out (mostly) and it sounds like there will be a good solution for next year.
|The Car Wash is ready to go!|
One big change this year was that the race got rid of their disposable cups! Runners were given a reusable, collapsible rubber cup they could use. Additionally, there were reusable cups at the aid stations that the runners could use (the cups would get washed after each use - I forgot to ask how that went).
|About 90% of the volunteers at the aid station this year.|
|Click this to see it bigger, if you dare.|
This year I think I did 14. Even better, a couple of other people joined in and added a few of their own signs. All of these were posted on a slight uphill as the runners leave our aid station.
|The Car Wash Ladies with their first customer!|
|Sage opting to guzzle an entire soda. Who needs cups!|
|Look, there are things that happen at an aid station that it's best not to think about.|
|The radio guys in the green tent (our only reliable communications with the real world), and the medical table that all the runners must somehow get past.|
|The greeters, waiting for the more normal runners to show up.|
|This 20-year-old, Andrew Miller, would run an amazingly steady race and end up winning it all. (Sorry for the spoiler.)|
|The co-capitans and Craig Thornley, the Race Director.|
Unfortunately (for him), he's a bit trusting.
|"I'll pose with the Car Wash Ladies, but you're only going to pretend to squeeze those sponges on me, right?" "Of course! We would NEVER do something as juvenile as that!"|
|Eventual women's winner, Kaci Lickteig, who trained for this mountain race on the mean streets of Omaha, coming in to Last Chance.|
|Amer: "No grilled cheese for YOU!"|
|Devon Yanko rising from the near dead and storming out to a third place finish!|
|Dwight's brain is swelling out of control.|
All good things come to an end, and eventually the sweeper horses show up and help polish off the fruit. At this point, we pack up and make a mad dash for the track at Auburn in the hopes of getting there before the winner arrives (and as fast as Jim had been going, this was not nearly a sure thing).
|Remember Andrew from about a half dozen pictures ago?|
|Michael showing how to relax while hanging out at the track.|
|The Pixie Ninja still looks fresh and perpetually happy as she storms the finish line.|
But the really cool bit requires a bit of a back story.
A few weeks after the race last year, I got a Facebook message from someone claiming to be from the New York Times - they wanted to use a picture I took of Kaci coming into Last Chance. Once I was convinced that this wasn't some sort of prank, I told them that I had an even better picture of her - giving high fives as she came around the track.
And they agreed, and that picture ended up getting printed!
A few weeks before this year's race, I asked Kaci if she would be willing to sign my copy of the paper, and she was so gracious about it! Once she finished, I gave her a few moments to catch her breath (like she needed more than a few seconds to do that) then asked her to sign it.
|My Western States career has been made!|
|Cassandra and Alva survived their tour of duty at Forresthill and came down to watch the finishes.|
|Way to go Scott Dunlap! Silver buckle!|
Scott, of A Trail Runner's Blog fame, had been trying for years to get back into this race. There is lottery system, and your number of tickets in the lottery double every year your name isn't drawn. Scott was going to have 64 tickets this year (that's 6 years of failure), but managed to get in through another route. And he definitely made the best of it!
|Sarah getting her silver buckle!|
|Way to go Kent!|
|Finishers really get the glamour treatment! That's Tecnu that he's basically bathing in.|
|Hi Sam and Pen! It's all on Jen's feet now!|
|I can't get that much air at the start of a 5K - Norbert's getting it at the end of a 100 mile race!|
|"There's a Jester on the track!"|
|Jen getting it done!|
|Come on Christy!|
|Team Awesome Josam watching the gate, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their runner.|
|Way to go Josam!|
Josam got his first finish with four lottery tickets and a bit over 16 minutes to spare!
|Dwight striding to the finish!|
|Chihping stuck a feather in his hat and got the finish!|
Chihping was a bit different than the others in that this was a fourth finish (he got in with four lottery tickets). But he was really pushing it - he had several rough stretches making this easily his toughest finish. But with a bit over three minutes to spare (yikes!), he got this finish.
And that was about it. There were a couple of runners that did not beat the 30 hour cutoff, and ended up with unofficial finishes, which has got to be a bit heartbreaking after going 100 miles, but those runners get some of the loudest cheers.
A week before this race I was a bit ambivalent about it - it was a busy time and I was having a hard time getting into the swing of things. But then I started making the signs and gathering the car wash stuff, and before I knew it, I was getting excited again. Watching all those friends come in Sunday morning was a perfect cap to the weekend.
That's it - move along…
PS: Here are links to many more pictures I took:
• This is a link to a Picasa album that has full resolution pictures from Last Chance (lots more than in the FB album).
PPS: Just for me, here are links to my previous WSER reports:
• 2012 (rain!)