Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Western States Finish Line

So as you'll notice, I've been quite the blogging slacker the past month+. It's not that I haven't done anything lately, it's just that my mind has been preoccupied with other stuff. There are definitely more than a few unwritten blogs lingering in my head: my Hawaiian adventure, a Rumble re-cap, Sascha's 11th birthday, Spokane River 50k (some days, it's better to not race), over-training while trying to recover, a marathon dns, resting and feeling peppy again, hills, hills, and more hills, crappy snowy weather...etc.

But this blog isn't about any of those topics, although most of those topics do eventually tie-in to what this blog is about. This is about the aid station I'm most looking forward to visiting at Western States. That aid station would be the Finish Line Aid Station.

It sounds simple enough. All I have to do is finish Western States, then I'll see that aid station. Ah, therein lies the issue...finishing. As many of Sascharuns blog readers know, I don't have a very good record in 100s. I've started 6 and finished only 2. Yeah, that sucks.

In 2003, I walked most of the final 50 miles of the Bighorn 100 on badly blistered feet to earn my first finish in 29:06:58 (which was also my first start; maybe I should have stopped there). That's the only ultra I've run that I remember my time to the second; apparently it made a big impact on me. My second 100 start was the Eagle, in Keremeous, BC in 2004. I made it to 1/2 way in 110 degree temps. feeling really hot, but okay. I soaked under a cold hose for almost 10 minutes, ate some food, then ran out on the dirt road. I shouldn't have run so fast with a full belly in the heat. Within a mile my stomach was empty. A few miles later, I was very humbled and I was done. Attempt #3 was WS in 2005. It wasn't pretty (Green Gate to Hwy. 40, 13.7 miles, took me 5 hours), but I finished and earned a silver buckle.

Once again I was ahead of 100s: Sean - 2, 100s - 1.

Then the triple play hit me hard. At the San Diego 100 in 2006, I felt great at 50, started slowing around 60, then when it got dark and Josh joined me, I was pretty miserable. I was cold, so I couldn't go fast, and I couldn't go fast enough to generate any heat. As I was sitting on the trail, huddled with Josh for warmth, Roch Horton flew by me and offered up a fleece pullover, which I eagerly put on. Josh eventually got me up, I staggered to the mile 88 aid station, and immediately got in a car and fell asleep (as Josh froze outside...). Four hours later I woke up, got out of the car to jog it in, and my legs buckled under me. I was done.

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in 2007 was sure to be a good race for me. Tahoe is one of my very favorite places to run and race. I went down with a great group of friends, we rented a house for a few days, and we were racing on a beautiful trail. Sweet! The first 60 went pretty well, then my stomach started really cramping on the Red House loop. I remember talking to Mark Gilligan (rocking it a week after a super-tough century bike ride!) as I was entering the loop and he was going out, and I was doubled over at my waist, my tummy hurt so bad. I made it out of the loop, put on my warm clothes, and headed towards Mt. Rose with a cup of hot soup in each hand. I slowly meandered down the trail, saw a bear, jogged a bit here and there, then when I got to the final little climb before the Mt. Rose aid station, I might as well have been climbing Everest. Going up that hill was so hard; I would slowly walk about 20 feet, stagger to the ground to rest for a few minutes, get up and repeat the cycle. When I finally made it to the a.s., the volunteers led me to the scale, but I passed by and grabbed a cot before I passed out. Luckily Thomas and Valerie were there for me as I was shaking uncontrollably under many blankets and puking my guts out. Mile 76, I was done.

I was supposed to run Western States in 2008, but when that got cancelled, I was lucky enough to get one of the spots TRT r.d. David Cotter opened up for WS refugees and give it another shot. This year was going to be different. I drove down solo, stayed with Thomas and Valerie in Incline Village, and had a different strategy than 2007. At 50, the temperature was about 105 and although I was hot, I was rockin' and rollin'. I felt fantastic. I still felt fantastic through Red House and at Mt. Rose. Like 2007, Thomas and Valerie were there to help. I was excited to be there in plenty of daylight! I got my lights, grabbed a jacket, hat, and gloves, and was stoked knowing I was going to finally finish another 100 in about 5 hours as I cruised out with Nikki and her pacer Howard. As I was leaving, Jenn offered to pace me in, but she wasn't quite ready. So she changed and caught up to me a mile later. Jenn's cool...she's fun and spunky, so I knew I would enjoy running with her. We cruised along nicely to mile 80, at 81 I had to stop for a little puke, and by 82 I was a hurtin' boy. As I was sitting on the trail, shaking uncontrollably and puking, I was wishing Jenn was big, like Josh, as she just wasn't providing any heat for me. She eventually coaxed me to the mile 85 a.s., where I immediately grabbed a cot and some blankets. Then Jenn played nurse and brought me pretty much every item of food and drink the aid station had, just so I could try to get something in my belly. Absolutely everything that went out came back out within seconds. So I napped for a few hours, tryed more food and fluids and got the same result. Mile 85, 100 mile attempt #6 was over.

So naturally I've questioned my ability during and especially right after each of these 100s. Why the heck do I attempt 100s?? Even my two finishes weren't anything noteworthy (other than I did finish them). I'm usually a decent marathoner-to-100ker, so why must I put myself through the agony of 100 milers, only to be batting .333? Why are 100 mile trail races the pinnacle of our sport in the US? I guess for me, it's to really see what I can do and how I can do it. There are so many unknowns in 100 milers. When to push? When to take it easy? When to eat food? When to eat gels? When to drink? What to drink? How much to drink? Electrolytes? Why do some people just seem to excel at 100s (Scott, Karl, Jeff, AJW, Ann, Nikki), while others, who have great results at shorter distances, seem to never quite put together solid 100s (Kami, William E.)?

Anyway, getting back to my original point...the aid station at Western States I'm most looking forward to is the Finish Line. I'm going to be stoked as I'm rounding the track for my final 250 meters, getting goose bumps on my neck, and looking not just at the actual finish line, but a bit beyond for that aid station. I can hardly wait for some eggs.

Read what aid station my fellow geeky Western States Synchrobloggers are most looking forward to seeing:
Bryon Powell
Scott Dunlap
Andy Jones-Wilkins
Craig Thornley


Thomas Bussiere said...

Good luck at WS. I know what you mean by stomack and blister problems with 100s.

Scott Dunlap said...

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go". I don't see your DNF's as failure - they are the success of a courageous man willing to find his limits.

But this year, I bet I will see you at that final aid station. ;-)


Olga said...

Is Scott trying to imply he'll beat you to the finish line? It's a race, Sean! Good luck!

Bret said...

Sean, what Scott said is exactly what I was going to say. We are all made differently. Your challenge has been the 100 mile distance. That is a good thing. Challenge is what motivates us, or at least it does for me. It's like the quote JFK said when sending the country on a path to the moon in the early sixties. "not because they are easy, but because they are hard..."

Matt Hart said...

usually i need pictures and videos to actually read a whole blog post. but this one was good enough to keep my attention.

i wish i could help you exercise your demons at western buddy. this year will be different.

Leslie said...

I really just want to hear about Sascha's birthday party!! :)

Ben Blessing said...

They don't relate at all to the shorter ones. The pain and torture goes through the roof and you are left gasping for relief. Start out slow, and taper from there. Turtles do well at that length of a run. No caffeine for 2 weeks beforehand, and minimal running the week of. Don't sit down for long periods of time either. That will doom you.

Gatto999 said...

Ciao from Italy

Unknown said...


Thanks for the excellent post.

To write about "failure" as well as success takes a lot of humility. And character.

Due to all that you learned, and are passing on to others, I do not see these DNFs as failures at all.

Just another step in the journey.

One might say that they are more illuminating than something the winner of some of these races may have written about their experience.

I am strongly rooting for you to finish the WS100 this year and do very well.

Your post was very helpful to me, as a person who hasn't yet attempted a 100 mile run but is making a first attempt at AC100 this year.

Thanks again.

Robert Blair

saschasdad said...

Wow, never did I imagine I would get the kind of responses I did. Thank you to everyone who commented. All of your comments really do mean a lot to me. I appreciate them. Thank you.

And SG, Sascha's party was epic - a nice, long run in the woods with lots of stinky stuff to roll in. She was besides herself.