This past Saturday was my favorite day of the year. Day one of the Western States Training weekend. More than any race, I love this day. 32 miles on a beautiful amazing course with a couple hundred of the coolest people on Earth.
This year, the price rose significantly but if some of the money goes towards trail maintenance, I am okay with that. This trail has it all: huge climbs, massive descents, water crossings, breath taking views and apparently weather patterns that will totally surprise you.
As is tradition, Pigeon and I signed up and planned our day together. I think we have mastered some parts of this run but I still think the day can unfold entirely different than you may have visioned. This trail can do that to you.
I, for one, didn’t know quite what to expect. Let’s be honest, since AR50 I have not been running very much. I had one 14 miler in Auburn about two or three weeks ago and that’s been about it in terms of “long” distance running. To say I went into this completely untrained is an understatement. Yes I have some miles under my belt, but AR50 was early in April and it is now late May. Luckily my body remembers what to do AND even more important, Pigeon was just off her 100K at Quicksilver two weeks prior and was running on some tired legs (though she still rocked it).
As the week wore on, I was slowly getting excited and very nervous. Pigeon knows that I love this day and she was trying to be super excited for me but I think she could tell via my texts that my mind has been elsewhere lately.
Just like last year, Pigeon and I met in Forresthill and checked in for the run. We then got a ride to Robinson Flat where we quickly realized the fog was making things really difficult to see and the rain was starting to come down pretty hard. Oh yea, and it was 40 degrees.
I had not planned on rain. The forecast that I saw didn’t say a thing about rain so I was wearing a tank top and shorts and brought no form of long sleeves what so ever. Thankfully, Pigeon had an extra pair of arm sleeves with her so she wore those and she gave me her long sleeve shirt. I would have been fine running in the 40 degree rain without anything but I was DEFINITELY more comfortable with a shirt.
We used the restrooms at the start and then quickly started running. Running = warmth so we ran. It was hard at first as this section is pretty rocky and your body is still trying to figure out what it is you want it to do.
I did not take many photos in the beginning of the run as I only had my phone and I wasn’t about to pull my phone out in the rain.
Pigeon and I had a lot to catch up on. She told me all about her 100k. I am so proud of her. She worked really hard for that race and I feel like now, she can go into Tahoe with a weight off her back (more or less) and perhaps enjoy the day a little bit more.
We were not the only ones who ditched the bus option and caught rides to Robinson Flat. What is cool about that is you get to see some awesome runners fly by you. Somewhere in these early miles Stephanie Howe ran by us. She won The Western States 100 Mile race last year. They look so effortless when they run but at the same time, they are super nice and say “hi” as they pass.
So it pretty much rained for four hours straight. It would lighten up at times and then come down hard again. My tummy needed some adjustment so unfortunately I had to stop once or twice but the fog makes for great camouflage!
When we hit the first aid-station, the rain was just sprinkling. Some awesome volunteers where manning the station and had huge smiles on their faces. These people are great. Pigeon came right in and asked for duct tape?! I had no clue what she needed it for but apparently her head had shrunk okay, maybe her visor got stretched out, so she used duct tape to try and make it fit a little better on her head.
I checked out what was on the table. My tummy was still uneasy. We chatted with the volunteers for a bit while Pigeon was adjusting her visor and then we were off and running.
The wet conditions and fog made the trail seem different to me so it was kind of like seeing things for the first time. Most of the time, this run is on the warmer side which can be a recipe for disaster later in the day. Not today, today it was cool and damp.
We played tag with a group of other women who were running either before us or after us all day long. For the most part, we were always ahead of them.
Soon we were starting to descend down to Swinging Bridge. This is a long brutal descent that really makes you start begging for an uphill but never fear as Devil’s Thumb is what you have to climb in order to get out and that is a doozy but I secretly love Devil’s Thumb.
We crossed swinging bridge and downed some calories for our climb. Last year the bridge had been burned in a fire and so we had to cross through the river in order to get across which meant we were soaking wet on a very hot and brutal climb. In fact, this was the first time ever that I have climbed Devil’s Thumb and not had it be scorching hot the whole way.
There were a few people climbing the thumb at the same time. Pigeon was in front. I tend to not like people on my heels so I usually step aside and let them pass even if it means I may catch them later, I just prefer not to have someone right behind me.
Eventually, Pigeon pulled off to the side too to adjust her arm sleeves I think and I just went in front of her. There were a couple of crazy athletes who RAN up the thumb. Man, that just blows me away. One foot in front of the other I just climbed strong and steady. I turned around to say something to Pigeon and realized she was no where behind me.
I kept climbing knowing that there was a switchback turn coming up and that I could maybe see her better. Sure enough, the switch back came and I stopped to see if I could see her. I did. I called down “Are you alright?” “I’m good!” she said. So I followed with “Do you have enough water?” Pigeon has been known to run out of water on this climb from time to time. “Yes,” she called and apparently the guy behind me laughed at us. Just looking out for my runner.
Onward I went. Joe McCladdie was at the top taking photos. He always makes me laugh. He is always in a spot that is notoriously difficult but since he is there you HAVE to smile and there is no better way to climb a beast than with a smile. Thanks Joe!
I finally reached the top of Devil’s Thumb and I waited for Pigeon. I downed some of the Oatmeal Banana Cookies that I made while waiting. That climb really gave me an appetite and also evened out the stomach issues I had been having.
Finally Pigeon reached the top and we took off running except that while I had been standing there I had become really cold from the damp weather. I had put my long sleeve back on but my legs were stiff as boards when we started running. I must have looked hilarious.
We reached the aid-station that was at the water pump and this is where I had my first potato chip. Not sure why I grabbed one. My hand sort of gravitated to the bowl but oh my word if that wasn’t the most amazing thing ever at that moment. I had only a few and then I tried to have some of the fuel that I brought with me. Funny how I don’t eat potato chips regularly but out in the woods in the middle of no where, they looked divine.
Onward we ran. At this point, the rain had stopped for good and the sun was trying to poke out from behind some clouds. It was also getting humid. I must have taken that shirt off and on about a hundred times in addition to pulling up the sleeves and then pulling them down again.
After that aid-station you descend down into El Dorado Canyon which is a pretty steep down as well. It was here that my right knee started to yell at me a bit. Okay, maybe yell is too mild, scream bloody murder might be better. My knees just cannot handle downhills, steep downs and this one is notorious for making my knee hurt.
There were times when I had to hobble a bit near the bottom but I finally made it. I need to work on my hip flexors and IT band a bit more – oh and not jump into a 32 mile run on a whim.
Next up is the climb to Michigan Bluff. This is a good 2.5 mile climb and again, I have only ever done this climb in brutally hot weather. Today it was cool and there was as light breeze. Wow does that make a difference.
Pigeon had to use nature’s restroom so I told her I would start off walking up the hill a bit. Not wanting to get too far in front of her I stopped and took some photos.
Once Pigeon caught up to me I saw she had found a bunch of friends that we know. So we all hiked the climb together just chatting and catching up on some things. Eventually though, we all spread out again.
I had some people on my heels and I was feeling too crowded so I let them pass. It was here that I saw a woman behind me further down on the switchback. I looked and thought to myself, “I know her!” But I wasn’t 100% sure.
Finally at one point, she was close enough for me to get a good look and sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed. It was Pam Smith, 2013 Western States winner and one of my favorite bloggers. I adore Pam not only because she is a kick butt runner, but also because she is a full time working mom of two kids and has an active spouse to boot. I can totally relate to that. While her kids are quite a few years older than mine, she gets it and understand the hardship of being a mom and wanting/needing that time to run crazy races.
I turned and asked her if her name was Pam and she said yes and that started what was to be one of my favorite highlights on this years Western States Training Run day. We chatted the whole way up to Michigan Bluff. She was pretty honest with me. She asked me if I was running states and I said no and that I was pacing a friend at TRT100 and that I have two young kids so I can’t really envision WS100 in my near future … Pam said, “Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it only gets harder as they get older. I thought it would be easier but it isn’t.” HA! While I kind of knew that, it was funny to hear it from another hard working running mom.
Pam gets it. She wakes at an ungodly hour to get speed workouts and runs in as do I. She has to split her weekends with her husband so he can get runs in while simultaneously tackling kids sporting activities.
She was so nice, so down to earth. I really enjoyed our little chat while we were climbing up to Michigan Bluff.
When you get to the top of Michigan Bluff you have to walk down a fire road to get to the aid-station. Pam kept walking and while I wanted to keep chatting with her, I didn’t want to ditch Pigeon either so I stopped to wait for her.
When she got to the top, she had made a friend too. Her friend is doing her first Western States this year. I told Pigeon about my little hike with Pam Smith and Pigeon had no clue who Pam was but her friend did and was like, “Oh my gosh! I saw that! That’s so cool!”
We made it the aid-station and again, those darn potato chips really looked amazing. I saw Pam talking to some people and grabbing some fuel and then she was off. I never saw her again.
Pigeon and I ate and walked out of the aid-station happy. We were joking about all sorts of things. There were a lot of funny incidents on this run that I can’t remember. This is what happens when I don’t blog for a while and then have multiple posts to catch up on, I forget things.
I do know that before we started the run, Pigeon sprayed my legs with bug spray as we had remembered that last year the mosquitos were relentless. Well, as it turns out, we forgot to spray our arms. My arms and back (remember I was wearing a tank top) are covered in about 20 mosquito bites! Grrrrr the ones on the back are the worst. Next year I am wearing one of those repellent bracelets.
There is one more descent after Michigan Bluff before you climb the paved road to Forresthill. That down hill trail again aggravated my knee something terrible but the minute we hit an uphill, all the pain goes away.
Pigeon and I hiked the hill back to Forresthill Road and then ran the road to the school. We had the wrist bands cut off made our way to my car to change before BOOM thunder was heard off in the distance and some rain started sprinkling again. Whew, we made it out of there just in time. I would not want to be out running in a thunder storm.
Once again, this run proved to be the highlight of my year. Yes I could have gone into it a little more prepared but I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately and have not had any time to get long runs in. That will change as I have a marathon coming up as well as pacing duties at Tahoe Rim Trail in July. It is good to know what my body can handle though.
Next year’s WS Training Run may be a whole different kind of run. Quite a few people that we know have qualified for the 2016 Western States so I foresee a big run next year hopefully filled with a lot of locals (lottery permitting).
For more of our WS Training Run stories go to the following links:
Our 2014 WS Run – The Trail of Dreams (WS Training Run)
Our 2010 WS Run – A Dream Come True (WS Training Run)