I trained double hard for this one post Arc of Attrition. I emptied my diary and decided to once again put my training in the hands of James Elson. He helped me through Spartathlon and although I could do this on my own I do enjoy the structure of having a coach I find it very motivating. Plus I was determined to leave no stone unturned, It really had to be this way, No excuses. Training went exactly to plan, long weekends in the lakes, days on the south downs, 50k races, fast marathons, hill reps, I even spent one evening a week doing single leg weighted bouncing lunges just to make sure my quads were conditioned. The only part of training that went awry was my physical job getting in the way of training in the last three weeks, what can you do, works work!.
I had changed my diet too, starting the day after the Arc in fact. I gave up refined sugar and almost all processed food. Such a simple concept but sugar is in everything! However I stuck to it and felt great with it. It's a real enjoyable way to eat, you get lean and gone are the sugar highs and lows. As you get older your body is like a vintage car, you need to put the premium petrol in and the decent oil or it'll run like bag of shit. I experimented with sugar free running too but that didn't work. It's ok to a point but I just kept crashing and burning. So I ditched that idea.
I spent a lot of time toying with kit. The Salomon 1 litre pack was going to be my pack of choice but I kept overheating whilst wearing it so I changed pretty late to 2 x UD handhelds and a waist pouch. With all the support at Western I certainly didn't need to carry more. I love my Hokas but they are pretty unstable. With such a mountainous prospect I decided I need to be nearer the ground. Inov-8 Trail Talons turned out to be the shoe of choice, they are spot on, I'd go as far to say they are the perfect shoe for me.
|Heading up out of Squaw Valley|
|The start line arch|
|Lots of snow near the top|
The day before the start was registration, it was great to see everything set up and ready to go. The start area is a relatively small courtyard with the gantry in the corner. Registration was in an upstairs room in the building behind. After a ten minute queue the process began. All very regimented as we were shepherded from table to table unable to proceed without having fulfilled your task at the current table. Cards with your name and number on, wristbands, photos, questions, freebies all before being ushered straight out the exit. No faff. In and out. The most important thing I walked out with was the sacred wristband, loose it and no race. We all headed over to the briefing room next for the race talk. Same old stuff about course conditions etc. One stand out point was a story about Gordy. The WSER committee had somehow managed to miss count the waitlist entrants and had told one runner he had a place. He flew in from Vermont only to be told they had miss counted and there was no place. That guy happened to be John Fegyveresi from Barkley fame. Now John was in tears at the prospect of having to go home. Then up steps Gordy and says he's had rough week and feels he won't get too far so he will stand back and let John take his place. All to massive cheers. You couldn't make this shit up. Hmm well maybe you could? The cynic in me has my reservations about this story but it sure makes a great headline. To finish the brief they got all the elites up the front, UTMB winners, Laverado winners, WS winners. The thing that struck me is how young they all looked especially Jim Walmsley, a mere slip of a lad. Really made me feel old!
|Gordy the legend|
|Me and David|
I ran across the line and within 300mtrs I was walking, the sloped tracks are fairly steep but runnable, just not today. Not a wise move for all but the elite. As we rose up the twisting tracks the first shards of light could be seen in the distant clear sky. I kept stopping to look and take it all in, the higher we rose the more entrancing the view became. There was a cloud inversion in the valley below. I was in heaven and wasted several minutes stopping to look. Its not everyday you get these views, I made the most of them. After a couple of miles of long smooth switchbacks we hit snow. Very lumpy and still relatively steep we trudged ever upwards. About a mile from the top of the escarpment is a very steep section of trail, real hands on knees stuff as I was already blowing hard from the thinning air. Sixty five minutes had passed by the time I reached the top of the escarpment. Four miles in 8750ft up, incidentally that is higher than any point on the UTMB course. I took one last look at the valley behind and then the wilderness ahead before pressing forward to the cheers of the crowd spectating from the top.
|Half way up the first climb|
|Early in the race|
|Concentrating soon after my fall|
I walked out of Robinson and up the wide dusty road eating a handful of melon. It was really hot now and we were easily in the 90 degree range. I had my hat adapted by my mum pre-race she stitched elasticated pockets to each side of my cap and I would fill these with ice. The ice would then slowly melt and trickle cold water over me. Lovely. I had opted for total skin coverage using my arm sleeves all day. Also the hours spent in the sauna acclimatizing before the race helped loads. All in all I was dealing with the heat really well. As the road reached a crest and I finished eating I started running again for what turned out to be a very runnable bit of trail. Millers Defeat AS soon appeared and I was advised to do as much running as I could in the next 10 mile because after that I'd have 12 mile of hell! I stuffed my hat full of ice, took the advice and ran on. The next section was undulating through thick forest and very runnable, I really enjoyed this part of the run and was leap frogging with several other runners. It worked very well to keep each other going. The trail is extremely dusty almost sandy in places very apt as I passed through Dusty corners AS. I was shuffling a bit which isn't ideal on these rough trails. With that I stubbed my toe square on a rather large rock. The pain shot through me like electricity. Fuck!!! That hurt. I knew straight away by the searing pain that I'd either ripped a nail off or broke a toe. Either way not a lot I could do about it. I carried on to Last Chance AS and had a system check, I was dog tired but still eating, my elbow had stopped bleeding and my knee was sore but if I kept it square to my foot running was perfectly manageable. Oh and my toe was just a stubbed toe.
|The sort of view you can expect|
|Foresthill with Jim|
|OMG I'm tired!|
We were helped into our life jackets and given a glow in the dark neck band. I was pretty shaky and had to be helped into the boat. The oarsman soon had us across and I was helped out the other side. We took our time at the farside AS. I changed my shoes and socks, got loaded with gels and after some soup we hiked up the long ascent away from the river. It was about 2 miles straight up and into another AS. We pressed on and Chris asked if I wanted to run, I explained I was running! This was rubbish, I was rubbish. Chris had flown all the way in from Kansas for this and I couldn't perform. I was doing the motions but was just not moving at any pace.
Much of the next few hours rolled into one. Steady plodding on dusty trails with just enough roots and rocks to keep us on our toes. We both kept tripping over and over again. It became quite comical. Chris kept running way ahead and disappear into the distance then wait for me to catch up. We had a few proper runs but the damage was done. I eyes were spinning with tiredness, the caffeine in the gels wasn't quite cutting it. These are supposed to be the easy miles of the WS course but they are far from flat with hills a plenty. In the distance I could make out the flashing lights of a police car and I figured we were coming up to Highway 49. Daylight was breaking and the 24 hour mark drew ever closer. The police stopped a solitary car as I was given priority over it. We crossed the road and ran through the grassy meadow leading us all the way to Pointed Rocks AS. I entered at exactly 5am and 24 hours had elapsed, I still had 6 miles to go. I felt pretty flat and was busy making excuses to myself in my mind. I had a drop bag here which contained my GB flag but I told the AS staff I didn't need the bag. Chris took a look and saw the flag, he insisted I take it with me. Whatever the finish time I'd earned the right to carry the flag over the line. I jogged down the final descent into the canyon and onto the famous No Hands Bridge. I stood there for a minute and drank a coke, just savouring where I was and the superb runners that had passed this very point. Chris was urging me on though, 3 miles to go. We climbed the final ascent to Robie Point which is a real arse kicker just to finish you off.
|Placer High school|
|Jim and Chris|
Would I do it again? Now there's the million dollar question. For so long I've dreamed of this race, I assumed it would be the holy grail of trail running. In many ways it is, just not my holy grail. I hyped it so much in my mind that it could only ever fall short of my expectations. Yes I enjoyed it and yes It is a running spectacle but its not in my mind the greatest race on the planet. It has the greatest history, the most hype, is incredibly beautiful in places and is bloody hard to get into but that doesn't bring greatness. People will forever chase a place in the Western States Endurance Run and rightly so, it's an experience not to be missed. Part of me wants to walk away from it but me being me will keep putting entries in and I'll make a decision if I'm ever lucky enough to be drawn again.