“Where on Earth is the trail? I don’t remember having to climb straight up do you?” “I don’t either,” Pigeon said, “but everyone else is going this way.”
That’s pretty much how our day started on Saturday. Climbing hands over feet up a snowy wall blindly following other runners and on occasion, seeing a few yellow ribbons to boost our confidence.
Memorial Day Weekend is my favorite running weekend of the year because it is when the Western States Training Runs happens! I love this weekend. Generally I only do the first day (32 miles) with Pigeon and we typically laugh, no matter what the day throws at us and this year, it threw a lot.
The day was warm to start, even with the snow on the ground. All that initial climbing definitely warmed my body up fast – confirming my thoughts that I didn’t need anything other than a tank top and shorts. Neither Pigeon nor myself have run much if at all since our Quicksilver 100k finish exactly two weeks to the day.
Perhaps we were being a little too optimistic thinking this training run would be a breeze? It might have gone a lot smoother if it wasn’t for the super-hot temperatures, my angry tummy and Pigeon having a nasty chest cold. All of which proved to make our day a bit challenging.
We started our day at Robinson Flat and saw some amazing views right away. Last year it was rainy and foggy so I missed seeing some of this beauty.
The first event of the day is when I decided to try and “jump” in the snow and quickly slipped sliding on my bum down an embankment. Pigeon laughed hard. I was fine. It could have been worse and I prefer falling in snow than on a rocky trail any day.
It took a bit to get the mojo back into my body. It felt good to run along the single track just chatting away with no regard for time or pace. Somewhere in here, I believe Pigeon tripped, but didn’t fall. I then stepped over a rock but apparently landed on a fallen tree branch that swung around and whacked my shin. It stopped me dead in my tracks and I yelled out in pain. “What the heck happened?” Pigeon said. I mean, it looked like a little twig but it wasn’t and in within seconds I had an acorn size goose egg forming on my shin. That would pretty much set the tone of the day, we would alternate tripping or rolling ankles.
We talked about all the other training runs we’ve done. This would be our fourth Western States Memorial Day Weekend run that we’ve done together. We even reenacted some old photos for fun.
The aid-stations were great, super friendly. The “item of the day” for me was fresh cut watermelon (and I typically HATE watermelon) dipped lightly in salt! Oh my word! The combination of the sweet, the water and salt was exactly what my body was craving in the scorching heat.
The trip down to Devil’s Thumb was causing me some nasty knee pain similar to what I had in Quicksilver. I tried to go slow and easy but it was pretty relentless. I ended up taking an Advil to numb it for a bit.
When we finally reached the bottom near the infamous Swinging Bridge, I wanted to stop and take a few photos. Also a bunch of guys had come flying down into the canyon and seemed eager to start their climb.
When it was time to start climbing, Pigeon moved to the side to let me pass. She knows I love to tackle mountains.
I ended up passing a couple of the guys who had passed us on the down section. There was one guy who came running back down. I joked with him that he must love a challenge but he said he was helping out a friend.
When I reached the top, I saw two girls standing there. It was two of my “Instagram” friends, Yvonne and Steph. Yvonne came down and gave me a hug. It was nice to see smiling faces at the top of such a brutal climb. I chatted with them for a bit, ate some food and reapplied some bug spray (oh my word the mosquitoes were back this year and it was horrible). Yvonne and Steph were trail-sweeps for the day but were out on the trail early to cheer on runners. How nice is that!?
A couple of people came up from Devil’s Thumb and looked pretty beat up. One lady was not walking straight and seemed very out of it. Another guy came up and instantly stepped off to the side and began to vomit profusely (and loudly – ugh). Pigeon made her way up and looked like she had been breathing through one lung, which in reality she probably had been because of her cold. She needed to stop and
hack cough a few times before we moved on.
The next aid-station was a welcome site after that super-hot climb. Water, ice and watermelon were music to my ears at this aid-station. I knew that after this, it was another super long descent to El Dorado Creek and then the brutal 2.5 mile climb up to Michigan Bluff which I knew would be HOT.
The descent down to El Dorado was okay. My knee felt a lot better but I ended up rolling my ankle here. Nothing serious but it definitely threw me for a loop. When I reached the river at the bottom, I climbed down to soak my bandanna. Two nice guys kindly took my bandanna and my hat and soaked them in the river. That felt amazing. Cooling my body temp before the heated climb was exactly what I needed.
When Pigeon arrived she mentioned that she was already dreading this climb. It was really hot out and some of this climb did not have shade. Off we went and soon I found myself alone. I came upon a guy who did not look very good. I asked him if he was okay and he assured me that he was. Then about 5 minutes later I saw the same guy who ran down Devil’s Thumb running down Michigan Bluff! I laughed. He was going to help his buddy again which as it turns out, was pretty sick by the time Pigeon passed him. Everyone was overheating.
When I reached the top I found some shade and just enjoyed drinking water and having my peanut-butter cookies when all of a sudden, in mid-peanuty-chew I realized that I had run out of water! I was praying that Pigeon was close because I could barely talk my mouth was so full. HA!
We attacked the Michigan Bluff aid-station, refilled our packs and off we went. The hike out is on this pretty exposed fire road. I mean FULL sun beating down on you without any relief in sight exposed.
As we were trying to muster the energy to start running again. Pigeon noticed a foot print in the dirt. Holy cow! I had to pull out my camera and take a photo … it was huge!
Finally we left the scorching hot fire road and entered the trail that would lead us down another descent to Volcano Creek.
When we arrived at the creek it was full of runners cooling off in the cold water. It was also infested with lady bugs! I hated stepping on them but there were millions of them flying all over the place!
We crossed the creek and knew that we had 3 or 4 miles to go until we were done.
Pigeon and I were surrounded by a lot of people who seemed anxious to be done with the day and who looked very dehydrated.
When you reach the top of Bath Road you have to run down the road until you get back to the Foresthill school. A guy standing on the side of the road told us it was a little more than a mile down the road. Both Pigeon and I did a, “WTF?” We knew it wasn’t quite that far and luckily, we were right.
Overall, the day proved to be a tough one for us physically and mentally. Besides my earlier tummy troubles (which were not caused by the run itself – it was something I had been dealing with in the days leading up to it), I felt genuinely “ok” all day. My knee is still an issue, IT band related most likely. Running 32 miles with over 7000 feet of climbing two weeks after a 100k with 13,000 feet may have been a bit much but I am proud that I was able to do it. I love this run. I love that you see and meet so many other ultra-runners from near and far and everyone is genuinely excited to be there! There is just something special about that trail.
The best part about doing the Saturday training run is that you get to have the rest of the holiday weekend with your family! I had dinner with Vans, I attended a trail running film festival with Stonegate and I lounged by the pool with my Peanut and Squeaker. To me, it was a perfect weekend.
I look forward to next year already.