So in my last post I said I was excited for my run this weekend and boy was I ever! I went from being “ho-hum” about running this week to having a day on the trails where I do not think I stopped smiling for even one minute!
To back track, in 2010 I ran the Western States Training Run Day 1 (there are 3 full days) for the very first time. I called that post A DREAM COME TRUE (read it here). A lot has changed in just four years both for the runners (Pigeon and myself) as well as for the Western States Trail.
In the four years since we last ran this training run, Pigeon has excelled as an ultra runner. She is officially training for a 100 mile race (again) and I have run my second 50k and my second 50 miler in addition to quite a few marathons. When we ran this run in 2010, we were naive. We both had run one 50 mile race and pretty much signed up for this training run on a whim and decided we could handle it. We did but we were complete novices out on the trail climbing mountains that are pretty intense. While we finished in 2010 laughing the whole way, we had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into on that run.
With quite a bit more mileage under our belt, this time around would be a little different. We both have a lot more respect for this trail. In my mind, there is no better place to run than on this trail as it has a little bit of everything and if you are not careful, the trail can rule your day.
Pigeon and I carpooled to Foresthill Elementary School and checked in with the people putting on this run. We paid the fee to run this organized training run because that not only provides us three fully stocked aid-stations along the way it also goes towards restoration and maintenance of the trail itself.
In 2010 Pigeon and I rode the yellow school buses along with hundreds of others doing this run. This year, Pigeon coordinated with a friend to get us a ride to Robinson Flat so we could avoid the bus. The same ride in a bus takes an hour (and it is a curvy road with no shoulder) … in a car that ride took us a half an hour. That means we’d have a good jump on all the hundreds of other runners headed out for a long day out on the trail.
I agreed to the ride, although I admit I was a little bit worried when she told me who else was coming and the car we would be in Â (a Rav4). The numbers didn’t add up in my head. Where would I sit?
While I was sitting nice and
illegal cosy in the back of the Rav4, I listened to everyone talk about their past 100 mile experiences whether in races or on training runs. The whole car was training for a 100 mile race whether it is Western States or Tahoe Rim … and then there was me, in the back. 🙂
When we arrived at Robinson Flat we all got out and stretched and used the facilities. In 2010 there was so much snow on the ground that we could not ride all they way to Robinson Flat. I had forgotten about that and quickly realized that the first 6 miles that I was about to run, I had never seen before!
The excitement started to grow. The girl who drove us was waiting for another person to arrive so Pigeon and I decided to follow some guys who had also avoided the buses and started our run. I didn’t know which way to go and Pigeon had a pretty good idea but we wanted to start out following someone just in case.
Once we left the camp ground and started on the trail following the yellow ribbons, I was in awe. At first we climbed a bit and were behind these guys who seemed equally excited to be out running. At one point they all stopped, not sure which way to go. One guy said he thought we should go right. I looked to my left and saw about 3 yellow ribbons so I said, “I think we go left, there are the ribbons.” Even Pigeon was thinking it was to the right. Luckily we went left. 🙂
Pigeon was cruising pretty fast. She was sticking close to the guys. While I was feeling fine, I could not pass what was before me! Every which way that I turned was the most amazing view I have ever seen!
I was slowly getting left behind because I kept stopping to take photos. I also knew we had a very long day ahead of us and I didn’t want to blow up my quads running down hill racing after the boys. Pigeon was on fire and sticking with them. Me? Nah, I’d rather have a photo op. 🙂
At one point I caught up to Pigeon and the terrible pacer that I am I made her stop. I reminded her that I had never been on this section before and that I was just blown away by the trail and the views … and then I made her take my picture. 🙂
I tucked the camera away (finally) and we kept on running. I knew that I had lots of photos from the second half of the run from 2010 so I needed to make sure I captured all that was before us on the first few miles.
My Jenny Vesta Hydration pack was FULL of fuel and water. I knew there would be aid along the way and mostly I was thinking I would only need water and maybe a few potatoes here and there at the aid-stations. I have been experimenting with my fuel lately and have been relying recently on ProBar products. I am more inclined to use real food instead of gels or chews but the ProBar Bolt chews have been working nicely as well as their ProBar Fuel bars. I prefer the bars most of the time.Â So when Pigeon stopped to find a tree, I had a snack and of course took another photo.
While we were running there would be the occasional runner who would catch up to us and chat for a bit. At one point, a guy who had originally missed the turn but heard us chatting off the trail, ran up behind us and thanked us because we had made him realize he had gone the wrong way. He joined us for a bit.
Now I have shared before that sometimes when Pigeon and I are off running deep in the woods, we will hear the occasional gun shot off in the distance. It sounds miles and miles away and is just the echo throughout the canyons that we generally hear. Not on this day. The three of us are running at one point I had looked down to my right and saw what looked to be a shotgun shell. My brain did a mental pause when all of a sudden we hear BAM! BAM! That wasn’t miles and miles off in the distance that sounded like it was just 15 feet away! The three of us jumped. BAM! again and we looked to our left. We couldn’t see the shooters but they felt way too incredibly close.
With our heart rates pumping, we just kept moving. We came across the first aid-station at Dusty Corners. I didn’t need anything really. I don’t recall what the heck I did at this aid-station other than fill one of my bottles with water.
The temps were definitely rising and in some sections it was down right hot. I felt good though. We just kept trucking along. I knew soon we would be coming to the long descent at Last Chance. It was this section in 2010 leading to Devil’s Thumb that I rolled my right ankle pretty severely and twisted my knee.
It is a very technical descent and the trail is covered in dry leaves so you can’t quite see what is underneath. Pigeon was not bombing the descent like she normally does so I was able to stick pretty close to her. All of a sudden I see her right toe get tripped up on a rock and what followed was in complete slow motion (for me, not sure about her). She trips and starts to fall forward and I go, “oh no!” and as I do, she rights herself almost catching herself from falling. However, out of no where it is as if gravity was pulling her and Pigeon just falls face first down the trail. Her hands didn’t pop out to protect her, at least not from my view but her arms were scrapped and she also ended up with a mouth full of dirt and her feet kicked back behind her like a scorpion’s tail. I did ask her if she was okay but my second question was “can I take a picture?” 🙂 She immediately snapped “no!” and popped up before I could even get my camera out of my pocket.
She had a few minor scrapes on her however we had quite a ways to go until we reached the bottom. Luckily there was a mini stream half way down and Pigeon was able to wash off some of the dirt and blood.
This fall took a lot out of Pigeon. When you fall on a trail run, it is more than just the injury or scrapes that you might end up with. You all of a sudden feel more exhausted than ever and your mind starts to play games with you. Thoughts like “oh, you must be tired” or “I fell because my legs are tired” start creeping into your brain. I was trying to not let Pigeon get down on herself about the fall because we were quickly approaching the toughest climb of the entire day, Devil’s Thumb.
Between Last Chance and Devil’s Thumb is a bridge called The Swinging Bridge. I posted about this in my 2010 post. It was old and scary but it thoroughly did its job of getting runners across the river. However, with the massive fires that this area had last year, this is all that is left of The Swinging Bridge …
Of course I completely forgot all about the bridge or the lack thereof. I had been watching the posts on Facebook over the weeks and I totally confused the construction of “the new bridge” as the replacement for the Swinging Bridge.
So how were we going to get across the river? Not to worry! The Western States crew had thought of everything …
Now the river doesn’t look that high in the photo but those men standing there to help us cross, were standing on rocks. In between those rocks, the water was almost up to our chest! I even asked one of the volunteers to take my photo because you know, I was still smiling.
That dip in the water was SO refreshing. It really cooled the body temperature down which was a good thing because the next item on our agenda was to tackle Devil’s Thumb.
I have only climbed “the thumb” once before. I’ve been to it a few times but the only other time that I actually hike up was back in 2010 with Pigeon. I remember it was tough and I remember going up switch back after switch back.
When we started the climb, Pigeon was leading as usual. I noticed she was getting more and more quiet but we were climbing and I know she was still thinking about that fall. I just stayed behind her and tried to offer some words of encouragement. Occasionally a few other runners would catch us and pass and I know that mentally, it bothered Pigeon. She’d ask to stop a few times and take a breather and that was totally fine with me. I didn’t want to tell her but I was feeling really good on the climb. Of course I was tired and of course my legs were burning, but overall, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other trying to make our way to the top. The top was very far away.
If you look closely at the above photo, you will see little specs of people up the hill. Way up high, between those two trees, is a person and that person is barely half way up this climb. Devil’s Thumb is no joke and we were soaking wet from the chest down (yes, including wet socks and shoes). While it was nice to cool off, it didn’t last long as parts of the Thumb are exposed and as you can tell from above, pretty steep. It was also sad because you can see all the damage from the fires and how barren and charred the trail now looks.
It took a while but we made it. Pigeon had completely sucked her hydration pack dry and finished The Thumb with zero water. She didn’t tell me until we reached the top and I had plenty left in my pack so I handed her one of my bottles that had a few inches of water left. That is what training partners do.
The next aid station would be at the water pump, which the organizers called Deadwood because it is close to Deadwood Cemetery. When Pigeon and I stopped, she filled her pack and I filled my bottles and pack as well. We ate a few things from the aid-station and as we were leaving I asked Pigeon if she wanted to soak the bandanas we had around our neck. We’d stop at a few streams and soaked them along the way putting them on our necks to keep us cool but the pump water is COLD. It felt pretty awesome to soak those and have a nice cool cloth around our neck as we continued on our way toward Michigan Bluff.
The rest of the trail is the same section that we ran just two weeks ago. You can read about that run here and see the photos. It felt like we were on the home stretch and I was still feeling really well however, I knew that we’d soon be entering the El Dorado Creek Canyon and that massive descent which murdered my knees just two weeks prior.
Up until this point, my knees and been feeling pretty good. There were some sections where I would feel a twinge or two but nothing that ever prevented me from moving. El Dorado Creek Canyon leading to Michigan Bluff is a 5.5 mile descent. That is five miles running deeper and deeper into a canyon that doesn’t exactly scream smooth easy trail. It is rocky, technical at times and down right painful when you are battling an IT problem (Iliotibial band). Pigeon’s knee was bugging her from her earlier fall so she wasn’t flying way ahead of me like she had two weeks ago but she was moving a helluva lot faster than I was at times. Occasionally she’d stop and turn and would catch me winching in pain every other step. I may have been wincing, but I was still smiling!
When we got to the bottom, we crossed the bridge and started making our way back out of the canyon towards Michigan Bluff where we knew another aid-station was waiting for us.
As we were climbing, Pigeon started coming back to life. She had a little more pep in her step. Maybe she knew we were close, maybe she had overcome whatever it was that was bringing her down but she was back to her usual self.
As we climbed, we came across two guys who were sitting on the side of the trail. They were not together but they were probably 5 feet apart. One was dry heaving and the other looked like he was dizzy enough to pass out. Pigeon asked the first guy (Mr. Dizzy) if he had any salt on him. He said no and was kind of wish-washy about wanting to take one. I handed him two salt tabs and we told him to take them.
Then Pigeon moved on to the next guy who when she approached, about vomited at her feet. Knowing my feelings about this, she quickly turned to me and said “you may want to look that way for a bit!” 🙂 This guy had a girl with him and she was trying her best to encourage him. He said he wanted something solid, no more gels (who can blame him). I handed him my last granola bar (gluten free baby!). Pigeon also told him that I had ginger chews so she told me to give him one and I did and then I quickly ran back down to Mr. Dizzy and gave him a ginger chew too.
So at this point, we said good luck and continued our way up the hill. I had a gel left in my pack and I think one more package of ProBar Bolts but I was done with wanting any of that.
When we reached Michigan Bluff we were greeted by Ann TrasonÂ (SO COOL) manning the aid-station along with some other women. There were a lot of stragglers who were hovering around this aid-station. I wanted something solid and I quickly dove into some plain potato chips and even and a few pieces of a PayDay candy bar which I have not eaten since 2010. This was sort of a slow aid-station so I ended up filling up my pack myself which was totally fine, I wanted to be on our way.
Pigeon and I started walking and eating at the same time. We were heading to Bath Road which would be our final climb of the day.
I had completely blocked out the section leading to Bath Road. It was a bit up hill with some definite run-able sections. We were moving along at one point, when all of a sudden we hear BAM! I screamed and jumped a mile. Then BAM BAM! Again. These were not shot guns, this was a regular gun. Don’t ask me how I knew the difference, maybe it is too much TV but I could tell, this was more of a handgun than aÂ shot gun and the sound was coming from in front of us and not off to the side.
Pigeon, the girl we were running with and myself were pretty petrified. I pulled out the whistle that comes with my hydration pack and started blowing. Pigeon told me to keep blowing my whistle and the girl we were running with started yelling “hey!” at these people. We could see them and their gun off in the distance. They were standing over a cliff and we couldn’t tell what they were shooting at whether it was a target or if they were just shooting over the cliff. Whatever it was, it freaked me out and when they saw us (and heard sirens in the distance) they stopped shooting and started getting into their car.Â Well that sure made me run faster!
When we reached the bottom before our climb up to Bath Road, there was a stream. In 2010 it was much higher and we needed a rope to help us cross. Now, the stream is not so high but it was pretty darn crowded!
Pigeon and I once again used our bandanas to wipe off our faces and put them around our neck. Bath Road is paved and leads us to the Foresthill Elementary School and ultimately the finish. In 2010, Bath Road and I did not get along. I was done at that point, completely toast (mostly due to the ankle and knee pain I had) so this year, I had some unfinished business.
We didn’t run up the hill the way we did in 2010 but I do feel like I probably could have run portions of it which made me feel good inside that I had the energy and the mojo. Instead though, Pigeon and I just power hiked our way up the road.
We were joined by a group of 3 who were extremely chatty and trying to be funny. Some times they were and sometimes, not so much but it was still entertaining and we just rolled with it. When Pigeon and I reached the top and got to Foresthill Road, we started running and we ran ourselves all the way to the finish.
We’d done it. We completed the training run again! It felt good for me to be able to finish and not feel so completely depleted like I did in 2010.
This year I bypassed the massage tent and instead we went to my car and just tried to clean ourselves up and we hit the road home.
We laughed on the way home about how naive we were in 2010 trying to do this run with very little experience under our belts. That’s how you learn though. That is how you do it sometimes and while the outcome could have been much worse, Pigeon and I are strong runners and when we are together, we seem to be even stronger. We help each other out and we motivate each other when the time comes.
Now, two days later, I have to say, I feel great. While two weeks ago, when Pigeon and I ran in the same canyon, I could barely walk for 3 days straight. I was much kinder to myself when I got home after this run. The kids were in the pool so I stood in the pool too all the way up to my knees. I rolled my quads on the foam roller that night as well. The next day at work, I used The Stick to knock out any additional kinks that I was feeling in my quads. I feel amazing. Stronger.
It was a great day and I couldn’t be happier with myself despite the sour weeks I’ve had leading up to this run. It really is a matter of mindset sometimes. If you talk yourself out of something, you are destined to have a miserable time. Reading my old blog reminded me how much I love everything there is about the Western States trail. While I don’t need to race and be competitive, I am most content when I can just have an awesomely fun day out on the trails with my ultra running partner.
And coming home to two awesome kids and a hubby who fully supported me and this run, was pretty awesome too.
Finally, here are the stats for the day (edited to add: 32 miles inÂ 8 hours). Check out the elevation gain AND the elevation loss. Pretty crazy.
(Edited to add: I hardly ever proof my posts before posting so please excuse the typos and terrible grammar. I do eventually go back and edit … eventually).