So I've had a few days up at altitude (6,400ft) at Lake Tahoe and now it's just a couple of days 'til Western States. I think I'm ok with the height now, so it's just the snow, heat and hills I need to concentrate on.
It's amazing how much hype this race gets. Online forums are buzzing with predictions of the winners and top 10, especially with talk of the 'Big Four' of Hal Koerner (won the last two runs), Anton Krupicka (trains 200+ miles per week in the build up and wins a lot), Geoff Roes (has won about eight 100-milers out of eight, with course records) and Killian Journet (insane pro runner with the UTMB record and has just finished a crossing of the Pyrenees). My poll on this blog has Killian as favourite (my pick too), one vote ahead of Anton, then Geoff and only one vote for Hal and a couple of people thinking it'll be someone else (not sure who, but there are a lot of strong runners entered).
Today has been my first immersion in the event, after going to Squaw Valley and taking part in multiple talks and a hike up to Emigrant's Pass, the 2,500ft climb in the first four miles of the race. That is a bitch of a start, but 'only' leaves 15,500ft more to climb and 22,000ft to descend from that point. I have to say I feel a little underwhelmed now by the whole event and am not fully buying into it being the 'biggest/best/ultimate' ultra in the US. It just seems that it's treated as the pinnacle of ultra-running, but I can't see why it's so much better than numerous other races. Others are harder, more scenic and hotter. UTMB (pencilled in for next year) strikes me as more inspiring due to the insanely steep and beautiful course, but I'd better focus on this week's race and get everything from the experience.
Don't get me wrong, the field is the best I've ever heard of in ultra trail-running, it's the original 100 miler and it's undoubtedly cool. However, I now can't quite buy into it being quite as special as many others view it. In the States, it seems you're not a real ultra runner until you've run this and no matter how amazing your other achievements, you haven't proved yourself until you race well here (am thinking of the negative comments Killian's had which have him rated as low as seventh favourite in some online discussions). And I think the constant talk of 24 hour buckles and the 30 hour cut-off has reminded me how much slower this race is than what I'm used to (24 hours is just over 4mph, which is walking speed on the flat).
Hopefully I'll understand better once I finish, but the MdS and Comrades (or even Boston) blew me away in terms of organisation, atmosphere, friendliness, excitement levels, etc., while this hasn't yet. But even with a tamer build-up (for me), the actual race will hopefully prove exciting.
Also, this'll be a snow year, meaning there's too much snow high up for the aid stations to be set up. So a higher section is switched for a slightly lower section for (I think) about 13 miles. It doesn't avoid the highest point and the first 25-30 miles could be fairly snow-laden, so almost everyone will be dealing with that unexpected outcome. I don't mind too much, although I've only done about 30 mins of snow running (last week, by accident). Am sure it won't matter, although temperatures may dip well below freezing if I'm unlucky.
However, it'll still be hot for the rest of the race, with current forecasts for the finish at Auburn of 95F, meaning it'll be hotter than that in the valleys. This is the real test put on by the race, so I hope that a week of saunas before I came to the Tahoe area will help a bit.
I'm still a little nervous, but definitely up for the race, and looking forward to the challenge. I'm in great shape, but not as well trained for mountains as I'd have liked, so I'll just have to see how it goes. Whatever happens, it's bound to be a real adventure and it's the first race (excluding RR100 where I turned up after two months of injury and just wanted to see how the knee felt) in a long while where I'm not 100% certain I'll finish. I just hope I enjoy it since I plan on doing a lot more 100 milers so would have to change my plans if it's just plain drudgery. At least I know that going slowly means I should feel fine for 60+ miles and Miwok 100k was a great training run where I felt very comfortable the whole way and just enjoyed a nice jog. If I get to Foresthill (100k) like that then it should all be fine, since it's easier running from that point.