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.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's almost embarrassing. Last weekend we had our choice of fine trail races to run:

• She Rocks the Trails 25K and 50K out of Auburn (OK, technically I would have had to do some lying regarding my gender to get into this race, but it might have been worth it).
• Coastal Zombie Runner San Francisco Half Marathon (we did this last year and I really liked it - great views and fun trails made it hard to miss this year).
• ITR Pacifica Foothills Half/30K/Full/50K (I really want to do a race in this area - there are amazing views and fun trails).

But we decided to do the race that we had to miss last year while in Colorado - the Brazen Trailquake Half Marathon.

One other thing made Saturday interesting - an impressive heat wave. This made She Rocks much more challenging (a HUGE congrats to all that survived that race) than planned. Even the Pacifica race, which would normally start in cold fog and maybe get a bit of sun later in the day, was drenched in heat. Trailquake had an advantage over all those other races - it was mostly run in dense forests with lots of shade. Which was fine with me.

As Mrs Notthat and I headed from the parking lot to the start area, a perky Grandkid First Born came running up to us.

Followed shortly be the rest of the family. The grandkids and their parents camped in the park for a couple of nights before the race, trying to acclimate to the altitude and secure a good parking spot.

Weird Haired Mom, Mrs Notthat, and I did the Half Marathon while Needs Cool Name and the grandkids did the 5K. (None of the races were easy on this course - anyone finishing any of them had really accomplished something.) Note the two bonus family members in the back - the one next to me is my arch-nemisis Yram (not her real name) and the other is Occor (also not his real name).

A proper(ish - thanks Sirhc!) group shot. The fun thing about this course (besides all the shade) was that there were a lot of out-and-back bits, so we often saw each other during the race.

Mrs Notthat and I have done two races in this park - the Brazen Summit Rock races - and I've previously joked that the park, being in the snooty South Bay (Sanborn Park), required that they use stone-ground organic whole wheat flour for marking the trails. Well, this year they decided to not allow flour at all (I suspect the local wildlife was refusing to share the bread they were making with it). This meant there were ribbons strung across trails we weren't supposed to use, which I'm sure confused the many non-runners also using the trails. Keeping the trails gluten-free seems to be a bit extreme.

The race started with a long, sometimes steep, uphill slog that seemed to never end.

Once we got to the top though, we were rewarded with about 7 rolling miles along Skyline Ridge, where there was a nice breeze and most of the out-and-back bits of trail.

A porta-pottie at the end of one of the out-and-back bits was most welcome. (As were the Brazen Rabbit and her squeeze!)

Picture by Yrrek, volunteer photographer and trail guard.
One challenging bit was coming down this bit of trail and continuing up a yet another hill, while a perfectly fine downhill trail lurked just to the right. We would get to use that downhill trail, but not before four more rolling miles along the ridge.

Another by Yrrek.
Photo by Brazen volunteer photographer
 I love how I'm being shoved out of this aid station. I have a knack for lingering around all the food and such.

Photo by brave Brazen volunteer photographer.
Nobody ever has to shove Mrs Notthat out of an aid station. (And proof that I'm not the only one that gets goofy pictures of Mrs Notthat. I have no idea what prompted this - maybe too many caffeinated GUs.)

The second turnaround/aid station. For the Half course, we had a whopping six aid stations - each with lots of food (the fruit was awesome in the warmth) and great volunteers.

I spent a bit of time running with Atina (not her real name, and winner of her age group!) as we started down the long hill to the finish. When I suggested we turn back because this tree was blocking the trail, she rolled her eyes and managed to put a bit of distance between us.

FINALLY we get to take that attractive downhill trail (and not have to glare at poor Yrrek as we did the first time through here).

These guys got really excited when they saw me - "Surely that old guy needs a stretcher to get to the finish" they said as I stumbled past.

Lots of awesome on this bench, including my arch-nemisis, who is not happy that I beat her.
But I managed to finish under my own power, in no small part thanks to Grandkid First Born coming out and running me in the last bit of trail. (I missed breaking four hours by three seconds. Sigh...)

This was my first race in three weeks where I got to really open things up and go at my own pace. It turns out my own pace is slower than even I thought. But I survived the course (2900' of climbing) and had no issues with the many roots and rocks that tripped up so many others. And I beat my arch-nemisis Yram (who is recovering from a cold, so she says).

Our car said it was 101 when we left, and if you were in the sun, it certainly felt that way. Fortunately, most of our time was in the shade, so it rarely felt all that bad.

It was a fun race with lots of perky runners in a great park with lots of well-marked single-track trails and a ton of enthusiastic volunteers and aid stations.

And the shade. Did I mention the shade?

That's it - move along...

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.