Sunday, July 2, 2017

Western States 2017 - Last Chance take 7!

Note that this is going to be long. Really long. War and Peace long. But there are a lot of pictures so it will go faster than you might think. Think War and Peace from Readers Digest. (All of you under 40 will have to google that.)

For the seventh year in a row, I was invited by Stevens Creek Striders to join their Last Chance party, ongoing since 1982. This is an aid station (the BEST aid station) at mile 43.3 of the Western States Endurance Run.

First things first, I needed to make the signs. Starting in my second year at Last Chance, I thought it would be fun to make signs for the runners I knew in the race. That year I made four signs. This year I made 14 signs (plus three made by others, and there were a couple of general purpose signs that I just reuse). Something a little different this year - I also made a couple based on requests for people I didn't know.

Double-click to see these a bit bigger.
The Trail of Signs on a small uphill bit shortly after the runners leave the aid station.
My next goal was to convince my Soul to haul more stuff.

Yes, this is very redneck. And effective. But redneck.
I wanted roof rails so I could throw some light stuff up on top. Proper roof rails were a bit over $300, which seemed like a lot for the one time a year they would be useful, so I engineered these out of spare parts laying around the house. (I have a LOT of spare parts laying around the house.)

Ready to head out!
I picked up a soft rooftop carrier bag, filled it with a bunch of light stuff, and freed up a lot of interior space. I knew we were getting more ice than ever this year, along with some bonus water jugs, so I needed as much room as possible.

Yes, Amer is a very cool guy, with an icy stare!
I met Amer at the WSER warehouse in Auburn on Friday afternoon, and he turned out to have a vehicle that was big enough to hold my vehicle AND all the ice. We grabbed about 800 pounds of ice and ten water jugs. The trick now was to get all this ice to the aid station before it melted. (Not that being at the aid station was going to keep it from melting - we wrapped it up in a couple of tarps with a layer of insulation, but the heat was remarkable, and it never really got very cool that night. There was a lot of meltage.)

The group shot had to be hurried since we had just heard that Walmsley had already left Dusty Corners.
The Last Chance aid station is wildly remote - just getting there is not trivial - which makes it a bit stunning that so many people willingly give up their weekend to hang out here. There were over 50 people volunteering here - many of which showed up Friday and camped out.

Donna and Tammy checking spelling and grammar on the drop bags.
A fun thing was that Tammy and Donna joined us there for the day. (After five minutes fighting the mosquitos, I think they were having second thoughts, but eventually the mosquitos go away when it gets too hot for them.)

Make mine over-easy please.
Amer manned the grill for the second year, and made the best craft-quality grilled cheese sandwiches.

The buffet!
Get that guy out of there! He'll wreck everything!
Drop Bag Central.
The best porta-potties on the course! (They even had lights with motion detectors in them for night use! And potted plants!)
The MASH tent. Hopefully this wouldn't get used. (Spoiler: I think it did, but not as much as feared.)
The medical people are the first to see the runners as they come in. They need a few huge syringes scattered around as props.
The greeters, waiting for the runners to start showing up.
The radio guys - our only reliable connection to the outside world. (Cell service is at best spotty - for most people it's non-existant.)
What it looked like as the runners came in to Club Last Chance.
It looks like Jim is putting on a mask to hold up the aid station! "Fill this bag with all your PB&J! NOW!"
The first runner in was no surprise - Jim Walmsley came in at about the same time he came in last year, which was way ahead of everyone else. We knew the snow and mud of the high country was going to slow down the runners, but apparently not Jim.

Thirty nine minutes after Walmsley, our second runner arrived.

Eventual winner Ryan Sandes getting soaked before the canyons.

Gail and Tammy wrasslin' an ice bandana. There were a huge variety of these and they all seemed to work differently.

The first woman runner was YiOu Wang! And she looked really fresh and ready to dominate the rest of the course. (Sadly, she wouldn't, and would end up getting cooked in the heat.)

YiOu getting a LOT of ice stuffed in her arm sleeves and pack.

Magda and Kaci came in together, both looking OK considering what they had been through. Magda would end up finishing second and Kaci would have a very tough race, but end up getting the race done anyway.

I should know better than to try to get a nice picture while the runner is eating something. Kaci looks awesome in any case!

The eventual winner, Cat Bradley getting very cooled off!

At first, Lon scared me. "Here, let me show you something" and then he started pulling up his vest. He ended up finishing well under 23 hours and as 26th man!

Something we've never done before was to have an awning over the car wash area. It was really hot by now, and the runners needed every break possible from the sun, even while getting ice cold sponges squeezed on them. (The ground would get muddy, so this setup would end up migrating around a bit to let the mud dry out.)

The aid station exit monitors. Some tasks are more glamorous than others!

The hydration experts - filling bottles at the speed of ice! (I know, that makes no sense.)

Mandie getting the full ice experience!
Every year, Last Chance gets to enter a runner into the race. This year was Mandie's turn, and even better, this was her first 100M race! (Spoiler alert - she nailed it! 14th woman in well under 24 hours!)

Ken helping Kim sort out his drop bag.
Kim was another Last Chance vet that got into the race (using traditional methods - he had only two lottery tickets!). It was his second 100M race, and first Western States - he nailed it! 36th man and just under 23 hours!

The award for the most non-traditional head gear went to this guy.

Tammy and Chris.
Chris and Ace are attempting the wildly hard Original Six Hundo Challenge, where they run each of the original six 100M races in the same summer. This race was the second of the batch.

Chris getting ice shoved into his sleeves.

Ace showing the effects of too much caffeine.
They both got in to the aid station later than planned, which was actually good news since it meant they were adjusting their effort and pace to match the conditions. As a spoiler alert, they would both finish!

Ace getting cool! Even without his horse!

John getting iced up! Popeye arms!
It was so great to see John get into the race - it took him four years of lottery frustration! But he was determined to make the most of it, and was running a smart race.

Rick was an amazing story. This was his sixth year trying to get into the race, and instead of getting in, he made it on to the wait list. Western States added a wait list for the first time this year, and since it was the first time, it was unknown how many of the wait list runners would get in (or at least get offered a spot). The list had 50 names on it - Rick was number 33 - and two weeks before race day, he was in. Eleven runners ahead of him on the list chose not to run the race. (Being on the wait list is really hard - do you train as if you are getting in? Do you book flights and rooms and gather a crew for something that might not happen? Or do you switch to a backup plan?) Rick chose to assume he would get in, and it paid off.

(As it turned out, I believe the 39th runner on the list was the last one to get in, getting Gordy's spot at the very last minute.)

Kent the safety sweep proving to Dwight that he can list off the names of all his kids. In order. (There are a ton of them.)

Another goofy, mouthful picture. This time it's another John!
For reasons that are unclear, we didn't have the traditional sweeper horses this year, but instead had the more standard sweeper runners. I'm not sure how many runners dropped at our aid station, but I think it was only one or two at the most. Sadly, several runners that left our aid station late would succumb to the struggle of the hot climb up Devil's Thumb and end up dropping there.

Ryan Sandes coming in for the win!
Once we had everything packed, it was time to make a mad dash for the finish line. This year, we knew there was little chance of getting there in time to see Walmsley win it, but we pushed on any way.

At Last Chance, we are very isolated. We have to drive about 40 minutes to Forresthill before we get a usable cell signal. So we are completely in the dark as to what's going on in the race, outside of our little piece of it.

I had to make a stop at the warehouse in Auburn before heading to the stadium, and while there, got a call from Amer letting me know that Walmsley had dropped and there had been no winner yet! So I ended up getting to the track in plenty of time to see Ryan come steaming in and grabbing the win.

A bit later, the women's winner Cat came in.

I caught a stupid cold a week before the race, so I did something I've never done here before - I got some sleep. Not a lot of sleep, but enough that I missed seeing several runners come in that I would have really liked to see finish. But the sleep was very needed.

Chris pushing an extremely bored Skye, with Chelsea making sure he doesn't pop any wheelies with that stroller.

Delightful Tiffany with the at least as delightful Liza getting ready to chase Ace around the track. (I'm not sure "delightful" would be an appropriate adjective for Ace.) 

And here comes Ace! I won't say he was looking fresh, but he was looking awfully dang good, all things considered.
It was at this point that my day took a bizarre turn for the worst. After getting this shot, I ran from the track onto the edge of the football field's grass to get ahead of Ace and grab a couple more pictures. (Who am I kidding - at least a dozen more pictures.) And I stepped into a slight depression and twisted my already fragile right knee. Instantly I was reduced to a painful hobble. I managed to get a few more shots, but not the dozen I had hoped for.

Liza: "You call this running? Move it old man!"

Here comes Wait List Rick!
It was so great to see Rick get this finish! He beat so many odds and a really tough running day to earn this - very impressive!

John is here! And his family is struggling to keep up!
The last runner I knew on the course was John, and he came in with plenty of time to spare. By this point I was reduced to just standing in one spot to take shots, so I missed a great finish, but thankfully there were many others there that didn't miss it.

"We're coming daddy!"
And that was about it for me. There was still 30 minutes left in the race, and from past experience, I knew that this last 30 minutes was going to be a bit wild. As it turned out, 23 runners would finish after John - two of those in the last minute, including one woman with nine seconds left! But I missed all that.

In retrospect, I should have hobbled over to the small stands and cheered all these runners in, but all I could think of was how hard it was going to be to drive the three hours to home. (Actually, the drive was fine - thanks in large part to the sleep I had gotten - but getting gas and a burger was challenging.) 

I'm pretty sure this year's running of the race is going to go down in legend as one of the toughest ever. 
  • Based on median finish time, this was the fourth toughest race year. Note that two of the tougher years had a 32 hour cutoff time, which messes a bit with the results.
  • I thought that going by the number of drops would also be a good indicator, but it's not really. 2017 had the lowest finish rate since 2009 (number 9 by median time) and just barely lower than 2015 (number 29 by median).
  • If you look at the top 100 men's finish times, only three men cracked that list this year, with the winner coming in at 45th fastest ever. For reference, last year has nine runners on that list, with the winner at number 16. The women's history shows a similar trend, with winner Cat posting the 57th fastest time ever. That's a definite indication that times were slower for everyone, including the elites.
It was a blast as always. There was a worry that we would run out of ice due to the high meltage, but that turned out not to be an issue. There was also a worry about water - in theory the Car Wash was supposed to stay away from the spring, although we were told on Friday that we were OK to use it. Probably. So we ended up using a mixture of the spring water and jug water (thankfully the spring was working reasonably well this year, but we've learned that we can't really count on that). 

And for the record, the mosquitos seemed to be very happy to see us. VERY happy.

That's it - move along…

PS: Here is a link to all the pictures I took at Last Chance. (Update: That link might not work. Here is one that should.)
PPS: Here is a link to some pictures from the finish line.
PPPS: Here is a link to pictures of the signs. By the way, let me know if you would like your sign, and I will try to get it to you.