Saturday, July 16, 2016

Western States 2016 - Last Chance take six!

Note: This is going to be long. It's mostly pictures though, so it won't seem as long as it is. But really, it's a bit absurdly long. Sorry.

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?"
The one big change for me this year was that Mrs Notthat had gotten rid of her minivan, which meant my Box had to take its place.

"What a cool vehicle!"
Since I'm the Ice Boy for that aid station, I get to pick up the ice on Friday afternoon at the WSER warehouse, then drive it to Last Chance, where we camp for the night. We managed to get 660 pounds in there, in addition to three tables, two main ice chests, an emergency backup ice chest, the sponge buckets and sponges, and Curt and my sleeping bags, food, and other stuff.

That's a bit of a sag in the rear.
And it worked. We had to take it a bit easy on some of the rougher bits of the "road," but The Box did well hauling all that stuff up the wildly winding, hilly road.

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!
The forecast was calling for it to be a bit warmer than normal, so we had prepared well for the onslaught of hot runners.

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.
A "tradition" that I started my second year at this aid station was to make signs for the runners that I knew in the race. I think there were six or seven that first 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!
We normally see our first runner at about 11:15 or so - 11:17 is listed as the official "course record" pace time to arrive. Jim Walmsley floated in a bit before 11:00 - something that had never happened before. And he looked astonishingly fresh.

Sage opting to guzzle an entire soda. Who needs cups!
The second runner through, at a time a bit closer to normal but still well ahead of CR pace, was Sage Canaday.

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.)
One fun thing that has been a big change over the last couple of years - all but maybe four or five of the runners, including the elites, took the time to pause, get soaking wet, and get ice shoved into a wide variety of places. I credit Rob Krar for that since he was one of the first elites that would take that time - before him, almost all elites and maybe 30% of the other runners would skip the car wash completely.

The co-capitans and Craig Thornley, the Race Director.
This race has 21 aid stations. Craig the RD tries to visit as many as he can each year, but obviously hitting all of them is not possible. This was the second time in six years I've seen him here, and it's great! He seems to know all of the runners and has a great time watching them pass through.

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!"
He's probably still trying to dry out.

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!
One trend that took off this year was wearing arm sleeves and filling them with ice. The ice keeps the major arteries cool, which helps cool the whole body. Plus, who doesn't want Popeye arms!

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?
A drawback of the Last Chance aid station is that you really have no idea what's going on with the race, outside of what you saw at mile 43.3. Lots of things can go wrong in 100.2 miles, and it turned out that a few things did go wrong for Jim and Sage. And a runner that's not even old enough to drink was the first one to get to Auburn! It was so cool seeing Andrew fly around that track as the youngest winner ever!

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.
I was thrilled to see Kaci come in as the first woman! I love that she's from Nebraska, is always smiling, and always runs such a smart race. Last year she finished second, and she came back this year determined to win. And she did.

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!
She was so cool to talk to. I was horribly nervous - I'd never asked anyone before for an autograph, and being a Kansas boy, I'm naturally very shy. In any case, I'm busy studying the best way to frame this.

Cassandra and Alva survived their tour of duty at Forresthill and came down to watch the finishes.
Way to go Scott Dunlap! Silver buckle!
There are two parts of watching the finishes that stand out - watching those that are coming in under the 24 hour mark (and getting a coveted silver buckle), and those that are coming in near the 30 hour cutoff. This year I knew a number of the runners in this race, so I kept busy tracking them and cheering them onto the track.

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!
Sarah Lavender Smith, of The Runner's Trip fame, got in with 8 tickets and ran this race for the first time. She captured that silver buckle by over 15 minutes!

Way to go Kent!
Kent Dozier, who has run more 200 mile races than just about anyone, had some rough spots early in the race (if you ask, he will explain things with very colorful detail that will make you realize you didn't really mean to ask after all), but rallied and managed to finish in under 25 hours.

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!
One cool thing is seeing the runner's crews coming in to the track as their runner gets close to the finish. These people have been up all night, driving on narrow, treacherous roads, chasing their runner through the accessible aid stations, and are now basically done. It's a much tougher job than it sounds, but it's also very rewarding when your runner makes it in.

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!
Norbert got into the race for the first time with 64 lottery tickets!

"There's a Jester on the track!"
Ed Ettinghausen has tried for years to get into this race. It was one of the few 100 mile races he had never run, and he's run over 100 of them. He got in this year with only 8 tickets (if you don't apply to the lottery for a year, you start over again in building up tickets), and had a blast! It was awesome seeing (and hearing) him come through Last Chance and crossing the finish line.

Jen getting it done!
Jennifer had two tickets in the lottery, which turned out to be one more than she needed as she got to run this race for the first time. The 29th hour is referred to as the Golden Hour. A large number of runners have as their only goal to get an official finish, which means they have to finish in less than 30 hours. For that reason, there is a lot of excitement (and nervousness) around the track in that last hour.  Every runner that comes in has gotten to watch two sunrises and been baked by the sun twice. Jen finished with 50 minutes to spare!

Come on Christy!
Christy got her first shot at this race with four lottery tickets, and she was extremely determined to finish it. With over 26 minutes to spare!

Team Awesome Josam watching the gate, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their runner.
Time is winding down, but I still had three friends that needed to finish. It was more than a bit tense; I was pacing on the track near the entry gate. You could hear people up the road a bit cheering as runners went by, which gave us early warning.

Way to go Josam!
Each runner can have as many people pace them from the last aid station (a bit over a mile away) to the finish. Some had dozens of people pouring in through that gate, but most had maybe a half dozen. No matter how many came in, there were hundreds of people wildly cheering them in. I can only imagine what that must feel like.

Josam got his first finish with four lottery tickets and a bit over 16 minutes to spare!

Dwight striding to the finish!
Each aid station is able to choose one runner to avoid the lottery and get into the race. Dwight, for the first time, was this year's Last Chance runner. To keep things exciting, he came in with a bit over 13 minutes to spare. Way to keep things tense!

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!)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Canyon Meadows - could be confused with Canyon Mellows, sort of.

After two years of subjecting my body to the wonders/horrors that make up the Double Dipsea race, I decided to give my body a break and run the Coastal Canyon Meadows race.

Canyon Meadows is based in Redwood Park, which is legendary for having some of the most challenging, technical, and beautiful trails in the East Bay. What's amazing about the Canyon Meadows race though, is that, other than a moderately steep initial climb, the course is fairly mellow, at least as far as climbing goes (you still have the roots and rocks to deal with though).

For a race with so many distances (50K, Marathon, 30K, Half Marathon, and 5M), it was actually a pretty simple course. There was a Half Marathon loop (in red above) and a 5M loop that used a shortcut to keep you from doing the whole Half loop.

I signed up for the Half Marathon while Mrs Notthat signed up for the 5M distance.

All but the 5M distance started together. We had a short bit of flat before we hit the Real Climb.

The Real Climb is about a half mile of fairly steep climbing followed by about four miles of rolling uphill, which meant you were gaining elevation, but had a number of short flat or downhill bits to break it up.

This is where the 5M course spits off on its shortcut. We had a 15 minute head start on the 5M runners, and I had a hope of getting to this point without getting passed by the faster runners, but that didn't happen (although I think there were only 5 or 6 that got by me).

The trails were not what you would call smooth. You really had to pay attention or you would end up tripping and end up wearing a bit of the trail. Or worse.

I've got no idea how they trained that tree to grow horizontally like that - probably just a punk sapling that didn't want to follow the rules, man.
There are a LOT of trees on this course, but occasional breaks would provide great views.

One of my most favorite named aid stations, Moon Gate, was our first stop at about mile 4.7. It was a bit warm, but not oppressively hot. Still, the next aid station would be in 6, often exposed, miles, so it was a good idea to fill your bottles here.

This aid station also meant that we only had a little bit more of climbing to do before we started a nice, mostly downhill stretch.

I really like running through the woods like these.

A runner after my own heart! She came out from Texas and decided to capture as many of the views as possible.

Blue ribbons mean "bad" - don't go that way!
Somebody screwed up - instead of making us take the uphill trail, we got to take the downhill one.

The second aid station, curiously named Fish Ladder, was at mile 10.7. The peculiar thing was that you were actually very close to the finish, and could hear faster runners laughing and cheering and taunting us slower runners.

We had to run past that area, away from the finish area, and back into the woods. There was a long stretch where we could look down on the runners that had already made it to the point where they could head back to the finish for real. I made no rude gestures at them (probably).

Eventually I made it to the main path and headed to the finish for real. As I approached the finish, I saw this guy ahead of me and wondered whether he was in my distance and age group and whether I should sprint to try to pass him. Sanity explained to me that sprinting was out of the question, and the chances of him being in my age group and distance were pretty remote, so I just cruised in behind him.

He turned out to be in my distance and age group and beat me by three seconds. He got 4th and I got 5th though, so neither of us won an award. Whew.

Mrs Notthat, though, did win an award - she got second in her age group (out of eight!), and in addition to the bonus medal, won that empty orange box. (Not really, but she did really want that box.)

The medal and bib.
We signed up really late and I already had a shirt from previously running this race, so I declined getting one (which saves $5). As a total surprise though, Coastal was handing out nice looking long sleeved tech shirts for this race! I don't know if this is a new thing they are doing or this was a unique thing just for this race, but I really like the idea!

As usual, this race was a blast. These trails are tough to beat. The course is fairly forgiving (a bit less than 2000 feet of climbing) and my time wasn't great (a bit over three hours), but I'll take it.

And my body thanked me profusely for not subjecting it to Double Dipsea again.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.