Thursday, June 30, 2011

Western States 100...(Part 2)

Robert Wehner's Race Report...
As mentioned in my pre-race report, I stood on the starting line of the WS100 with no idea of how far I would get, but was looking to have a weekend of adventure.  The WS100 lives up to it's reputation as the grand-daddy of 100 milers, with the organization and volunteers (and hype) to give all the runners everything they could need and more.  The course takes you into stunning wilderness, and there were times you just had to stop and take in the views.

The start features a 4+ mile climb to the high point of the course, and we had snow starting about 3 miles up; after that the trail was mostly snow covered for the next 12 miles.  The snow was pretty firm (postholing wasn't a problem), but the surface was very uneven, so it was hard to get into a decent running rythym.  There were also a number of icy hillside traverses, where a slip would mean a long slide down the mountain.  Near the end of this section, we had our first stream crossing; the water was flowing fast, cold, and deep!

Up to the mile 20 AS we had had mostly shade, but now the trail was more open, and the sun began beating down on us.  For me, a pattern started to emerge, where I found myself passing people on the uphill portions.  As for my foot, so far so good.  Even with the temps warming up, I was enjoying the drier air; a nice break from the typical WI humidity.  Rather than just relying on gels, water, and sports drink, I found myself being able to eat a variety of food at the aid stations (something I usually didn't do).

There was a long climb up to the mile 31 AS, and I arrived at the AS feeling good; weight was okay (your weight was checked at about a dozen spots along the course).  During the next section, I started to notice more of a problem with the downhill parts.  I still passed people going uphill, but pain in my right leg/foot was slowing me down on the downhills.  Thinking back on it, I had had trouble most of the race with stability/balance in my right foot, and this started to affect the tendons in my lower leg and ankle.  Everything else was still feeling pretty good, and I was happy with my overall pace.

This started to change after mile 43 though.  The next section went down into a deep canyon, and then climbed out up to Devil's Thumb.  I got slower and slower the further down the trail went, and was passed by many other runners.  The only bright spot now, was that I was still able to move uphill well; by the time I got to the Devil's Thumb AS, I had caught many of the runners who had passed me.  As the canyon portion of the course continued, so did this pattern; slow on the downhills, strong on the uphills.

Approaching the Forest Hill AS (mile 62) provided a boost, as Sally and Chloe met me there.  They had been able to check on my progress via the website, but this was their first chance to see how I looked after 15 hours on the trail.  It must have been okay, as they didn't seem to be too worried.  While I had started the day not sure how far I would get, at this point there was no doubt in my mind about continuing on.  I had a bite to eat, changed out my shirt, grabbed my head light, and headed back on out on the trail.  A half hour later, it was dark and the site-seeing stopped for the night.

The next few miles continued downward, so I continued to struggle a bit.  One new issue was that now everytime another runner passed me, there was also their pacer to let by; I seemed to be the only runner without one.  I have nothing against pacers, but after awhile, this started to get annoying.  We hit a section of trail that was more rolling, and I was able to get into a better running rythym, eventually getting by everyone that had passed me the last few miles.  One pacer even started pacing me, not realizing that I had passed his runner (who was behind him).  I waited a few seconds before I told him "I'm not your runner".

Even though I was having trouble with the rocky sections and downhills, overall I was happy with my progress.  Looking at my watch and doing the math, I felt if I could just keep going, I would be in between 6 or 7 in the morning (25-26 hours).  Before I knew it, I had arrived at the American River crossing (Rucky Chucky).  With the deep snowpack this year, they would be rafting runners across, and their set-up for this was impressive.  An AS on each side, and dozens of volunteers to help you get in and out of the raft.  I grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich and headed straight for the raft; had dinner while crossing the river!
After the river crossing, I had the first feelings of deep fatigue hit me.  It was 1.6 miles to the next AS, all uphill on a wide gravel road.  Not having a narrow single track to follow proved difficult, and I found myself weaving back and forth on the way up.  Having only about 20 miles to go kept my spirits up though, so I headed back onto the dark single track and was able to keep a steady pace going for the next few miles.

As I was approaching the mile 85 AS, I stumbled and felt the pain in my right foot/ankle shoot up.  There was a short downhill into the AS, and I could barely get down it.  This AS was a medical check point, so the first thing was the weigh-in; no problem there.  The volunteers asked what I needed, but the pain in my leg prevented me from being able to ask for anything.  At this point, I didn't know what was going to happen, or what I should do.  I was thinking about just walking out, when I decided to sit down and look at my leg.  The flexor tendons on the top of my ankle were inflamed, swollen, and sore to the touch.

When a volunteer asked again about getting me anything, I mentioned my leg problem, and she indicated that there was a PT and Doctor at this AS.  So I walked over to their area and mentioned the problem.  They had me sit down, put my legs up, and we started discussing options.  The plan was to have the PT do some massage on the tendons, and then try some taping for support.  While they were working on my leg, I felt light headed and queasy; I must have also started to go pale, because they realized something was happening to me.  My blood pressure was dropping, so they moved me over to a cot, elevated the legs, and wrapped me in blankets.

They ended up keeping me there for an hour, until my BP was back up and they were sure I could continue on.  I didn't feel too steady as I was leaving the AS, but I couldn't fathom dropping out at mile 85.  I also couldn't grasp how long it was going to take me to finish; I still thought I only had 4 hours or so to go.  As the next few miles went on though, it started to dawn on me how slowly I was moving.  Other runners were coming up on me, passing, and disappearing quickly.  I tried to figure out what my pace was, but could never come up with a number I felt was correct.  Was it 20 minute miles? Or was it 25-30 minute miles?  If it was taking me 30 minutes to cover a mile, then I didn't have enough time.

This uncertainty (and the pain in my leg) continued on hour after hour, and the mental strain started to become just as bad as the physical strain.  My pace was a slow, stilted walk, and the other runners and their pacers continued to come and go.  Even as I approached some of the final aid stations, I started to feel panic that I wasn't going to make the 30 hour cut-off.  How could I have put myself through this misery if I was going to come up short?  Finally, after reaching the second to last AS, the panic started to abate.  I had 1:50 left to cover the last 3.3 miles, and I was able to walk it in to the finish in 29:32.  It had taken me over 6 hours to cover those last 15 miles, and if I had known that while I was laying on the cot, I don't think I would have been able to continue.

I had always thought about the WS100 as a one-time race for me.  But I am thinking hard about wanting to give it another shot when I'm 100% trained and ready for a tough 100 miler.  Entry into the lottery for next year starts in November...

PS - The defending champion at Western was Geoff Roes.  Coming into this race, he had run (8) 100 milers and had won 8 times.  In his first race with me as an entrant, that steak ended (he DNFed).  Perhaps the LPTR can think of me as the guy who took Geoff Roes out.

 Sally and Chloe hiking the first section of the course


  1. Congrats on the finish! Reading the report, I really felt I was there (perhaps because I've had the same problems at the same points in an easier 100). I've never considered NOT having single-track a problem, though!

  2. Robert, what a gutty effort. I am so glad you had the chance to not only finish, but the opportunity to experience the one race I have always wanted to run. Look forward to hearing more first hand.


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