Wednesday, July 12, 2017

2017 Western States 100 Mile

Lining up for a Golden Ticket opportunity was not my main motivator in running Sean O Brien 100k, but once I secured a Golden Ticket I had to a decision to make. Initially, I didn't feel ready to take another stab at Western but ultimately I would take the ticket.

Thanks Ian for making your hundredth trip back to WS!

Training has gone so much better this year which is very exciting and also a relief. For the first time since 2012, I've been able to touch on triple digit mileage weeks. I was still conservative with certain aspects of my build-up but not having to adjust training for injury or fatigue was a great feeling. I knew I was in a respectable position in terms of preparation heading into June but I was still wasn't mentally ready to go in guns blazing. Let's call it cautious optimism for my approach.

Oh yes, and we got married too! May 20th, 2017.

Travel to Western States

Before we arrived in Tahoe City for Western States, we made the trek to Big Horn 100 Mile in Wyoming. Everyone said Western brought tough conditions with a 67.2% finish rate (4th toughest year) but Big Horn posted a whopping 40% drop rate this year. Of 437 starters, only 175 would reach the finish line mainly due to low evening temperatures, pouring rain and loads of mud. Add in that crew access is minimal and you have the makings for a long night. When you consider that there are less starters at WS than Big Horn, that makes the Big Horn stat even more astounding. Before conditions deteriorated though, it was fun to chat with Nikki Kimball and Johanna Blanchard at the first aid station while we waited for our runners to arrive.

Not to be outdone by the race excitement, we also had to schedule an emergency visit with the Ford mechanic for our F150 that had not been properly reassembled by a different mechanic before we left. Note: having the steering column bolted down fully is a must for safety and drivability! Luckily, we were able to secure a rental car last minute in Sheridan to having during the race and they were able to fix the truck in time for us to hit the road again.

Even though Ian's race didn't go to plan, we got to see a lot of awesome scenery along the way.

Sheridan, WY rainbow. Our home base the week of Big Horn.

Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah

A stormy day in Grand Teton National Park

Grand Tetons: Colter Bay single track running

Yellowstone National Park: The start of truck woes but at least we got to see a few geysers
in between storms.

Camping in the Ruby Mountains on the way to Reno to pick up my Dad who
flew in from Virginia to help dog-sit and crew. 

Race Day

Dad and I before the start. Can you tell it's 4:45 a.m.?

With the heavy snowfall this winter, that meant we had to navigate snow on the course from Squaw to a little past Red Star Ridge. I enjoy mud and water, but I'm not a natural on the snow and find my self outside my comfort zone. On the climb out of Squaw before we hit the snow line, I got to meet Nathan's Maggie Guterl in person which was a lot of fun. I then quickly found myself behind Amy Sproston. Amy is so consistent at this race that I figured this was not a bad place to be. My goal for the snow section was to not get overly frustrated since that will kill your race quicker than anything. I thought I managed myself well and was able to keep up my fueling throughout. A few us quickly found that sliding down on our butts was the best way to make time. There was a good reminder to not blindly follow the line of runners in front of you. A couple times, the train would start to derail before someone realized they were off course. Course marking was getting knocked over which meant you really had to look ahead.  Luckily, I was able to stay on route for the most part.

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson

Photo Credit: Swiss Ultra Trail

Goal two was to really focus on maintaining decent form on the non-snowy downhill sections so as to not destroy my quads. That's been an issue for me in the past and I didn't wish to have a repeat. At Red Star, I grabbed my first drop bag and moved along. Coming into Duncan Canyon, I was still doing okay and felt I was managing everything well.

Bradley helping the volunteers ice me down at Duncan Canyon.
Photo Credit: Tonya Perme

Coming into Robinson Flat, so far so good. I had been starting to make up ground on some other runners, still running well within myself. I found my crew, Ian and Chris Rennaker (Dad was on dog duty), and went ahead and decided to sit down and change shoes and socks. I typically don't have too many issues with my feet but there was a lot of sand and grit inside my socks so we figured it wasn't a bad idea to make the switch.

Robinson Flat: First time in chair changing shoes with Ian's help.
Photo Credit: Chris Rennaker

I had not seen the road route leaving Robinson but it may have been my favorite section...the exception being the nausea. I still can't pin point what triggered the intense nausea that hit coming out of Robinson Flat. I wasn't overheating (training in 100+ degrees will help with that), I was eating, drinking and taking sodium. There is a possibility I was over fueling up to that point and the body was rebelling a bit or I was indeed starting to dehydrate even though I still felt okay. I slowed my effort down even more and tried to keep taking in the calories but as it turns out, the nausea would continue to come and go the remainder of the race but never to the point of making me stop completely. My hands were also starting to get puffy so in my attempt to problem solve, I upped my sodium intake to no avail. The plus was I got to chat for a few minutes with John Andersen who owns Crozet Running, a small town I know well from my college days in Charlottesville.

Leaving Robinson, bottle of exploding soda in hand (the norm!), literally
minutes before I started feeling off.
Photo Credit: SweetMImages

Coming into Dusty Corners, I wasn't completely discouraged yet. I saw Bradley again, told him what was going on but that I was working through it. I doused with ice water and kept on moving.

From there the fight to quell the nausea continued. I came into Last Chance, grabbed my drop bag, topped off water, iced down and took come ginger chews and along I went.

Here's where the quads really started to rebel. In hindsight, I needed to do a lot more downhill conditioning but I was well-aware of that potentially being an issue going into the race. After being injured after my first WS with IT band and having cranky quads again this year, I think it's fair to say I really have to focus on conditioning my quads better in the future.

Western States becomes a very frustrating race when you're unable to efficiently make time down hill.  Uphills and flats, yes please!

On top of this, I had slowed down my caloric intake so which came first the chicken or the egg? Did I set my quads back early because I wasn't eating much or were my quads going to fatigue in the canyons no matter what?

After making my way through the canyons, I finally dragged myself into Michigan Bluff. I sat in the chair for longer than is advised (which I'd do from then on every time I saw my crew). We changed shoes and socks for the second time because my other shoes were giving me hot spots on my forefeet. Changing shoes is not something I've really ever had to consider doing before so this was a new one for me. I really didn't want to leave Michigan Bluff but Ian says "you know the drill" to which I replied "no, I don't." Ian clarifies, "you have to make it to Foresthill." Oh yes, that drill. So off I went to Foresthill.

My crew was lucky they missed my breakdown in Volcano Canyon. After my legs giving out about the third time going downhill to the creek and sliding onto by bottom, I lost it. I continued to move forward but not without some glorious tears. I'd only let a few more out when Ian and I left Foresthill but otherwise that was the end of that drama.

Once I got to Foresthill, I was determined to be done but Rennaker encouraged me to continue and said we had nothing else to do tonight. My Dad and Ian of course just let me stew in my chair and make my own decision. Ian had his pacer bib on and was ready to go, so after eating a couple cookies,drinking more soda, and gathering headlamps, eventually I stood up. Once I finally got moving again, we told my Dad and Renn to wait at Cal Street in case it was indeed a no-go situation but we continued on and Ian began the trudge into the night with me.

Drive to Auburn or run to Auburn? Bumming at Foresthill.
Photo Credit: Ian Torrence

I had some decent sections throughout the next several miles on Cal Street, albeit still not amazing. Ian may disagree but I thought my mood and energy levels really weren't doing too poorly especially considering I was still a little nauseous (came and went in waves) and wasn't eating much. I will say I recall saying a lot of those downhills were"stupid" though, in particular elevator shaft.

Cal Street Running
Photo Credit: Ian Torrence

Dardanelles Aid Station. Potatoes and fruit were the go to.
Photo Credit: Ian Torrence

Once we finally made it to the river, the lights looked surreal. It was a highlight of this section that Chris Thornley of Flagstaff and Squirrels Nut Butter was the one to raft us across the river. Climbing out onto the steep, sandy riverbank was interesting though but it ended up not being as bad as it looked.

Arriving at Green Gate, I picked up my new pacer Eric Senseman. I was a little nervous about this because Ian's the only person who had ever paced me before. I know Eric well but would he get frustrated if I couldn't navigate the downhills? Would my mood turn sour and he'd have to deal with it? Ultimately, I feel it worked out well. He was always patient with my downhill crawl and we were able to carry on varying conversations in the wee morning hours. He even helped me take off my nasty sock and shoe, likely standing in poison oak, when I exclaimed that something felt like it was stinging my toe. Later on post-race, I realized it was a blister that was on the inside of each pinky toe. We arrived into Quarry Rocks Aid Station where we chatted with Hal Koerner and the other costumed volunteers who were really trying to get us to take as much watermelon as we possibly could. Too bad Ian wasn't there because I know he would have wanted some (not!).

Upon arriving at Pointed Rocks, there was the prospect of the sunrise coming soon. We switched out pacers again and Ian took me in the rest of the way. After what felt like a million runners passed me on the downhill going into No Hands, from No Hands to the finish we didn't see another runner. It was eerily quiet post-sunrise and a very calm finish.

I hadn't planned on seeing another sunrise or being on course for 25.5 hours but at least there were neat photos from it.

No Hands Bridge. Ian had plenty of time to take photo ops while pacing. And who wears a jacket
at Western States after going through triple digit temps?

Leaving Robie Point. And Robie Point is not actually the top of the climb...
Photo Credit: Ian Torrence

Photo Credit: Ian Torrence

The infamous Larry Gassan post-race photo op

What your feet look like after 25+ hours being soaking wet even with two shoe and sock changes.
I also came away with several shiny new blisters.

A special thanks to my Dad who not only crewed but was on dog-sitting duty and made sure Bee & Sycamore were well tended to over the course of the race. They liked having their own personal attendee 😊. We know Sycamore only tolerates a few people so thankfully she likes him and he knows how she ticks. Bee of course loves my Dad so she was easy! My Mom had to channel her nervous energy from long-distance. She knows firsthand what the WS experience is like.

Also a special thank you to Ian for going through yet another Western States and another sleep deprived 100 miler. I guess this is what happens when both of you are ultra runners! Many more to come...

Thanks to Renn and Senseman for taking the load off Ian and my Dad and for being supportive the entire way. Thank you to Bradley Fenner for also jumping in spur of the moment at Duncan and Dusty Corners to make sure I had everything I needed.

The sleep-deprived support team that got me to the finish line:
Eric Senseman, Ian, my Dad, and Chris Rennaker. I couldn't have done without you all!
I thought it was appropriate we took this photo in front of the cross country building.


Tinder said...

Great read! Awesome job Emily! So inspiring!

Brent Hollowell said...

Great job Emily and team! One tough woman! Those feet though...

Anonymous said...

Emily, I am so happy I was a part of this. You worked hard and the humbleness and humility is even harder to train for but you kept going. Nothing can be as satisfying as overcoming the toughest obstacles. You Rock!
Rennaker said...

Awesome post, Emily! I was following your progress all day. Your grit and will in overcoming pain and discomfort is truly inspirational. Thanks for sharing your journey. I loved the pics of you and Ian!