Monday 25 June 2012

Western States III

Top of the Escarpment at 4 miles; photo by Drymax Socks

Writing up something about the 2012 Western States 100 could be a 10,000 word novella but I'm going to save that version (including swearing and long descriptions about being generally very uncomfortable) in my head.

Bryon Powell's irunfar has covered most of it in minute detail, mainly summarized here so instead I'll give a quick overview of one of the most memorable and inspiring days in trail running history. Admittedly there were a few top runners who either didn't enter or had to miss the starting line, but on paper it looked like the men and women would be racing to new levels of excellence.

After doing the 2010 and 2011 races, both with what were considered to be faster snow course diversions, I was looking forward to the full course. Weather reports suggested it'd be cold and wet early on then not very hot at all later and these proved to be true.

In summary, it started cold with rain then snow, sleet and hail. Winds cooled things down further and it wasn't until getting below 5,000ft for the first time after maybe 40 miles that temperatures became more comfortable. The canyons were mild and the hottest temperatures all day were barely over 70F (around 20C) - way lower than the usual furnace.

A lead pack of six hit the Escarpment summit at four miles and these guys pushed each other all day. After reaching that point a few minutes behind and around fifteenth, I zoomed down the first descents and really enjoyed the lack of snow on the course. I wasn't trying to eat into their lead, but went a little too fast and so had sore thighs from very soon afterwards which groaned at me all day. But thanks to the lead pack (Wolfeman, DBo, Jesus 2, Smokey (see the cigar photos of Nick Clark), Elder Statesman Mackey and the Zeke) getting lost along the still-marked 2011 snow diversions for a few minutes, I was somehow in the lead with Ryan Sandes.

They caught back up, then by Duncan Canyon at 23.8 miles I was with Ryan and they had a small lead. Some walking left me in eighth as they climbed to Robinson Flat, but I went past Zeke who looked rough. I wished him luck and suggested he spend a few mins in the next aid station to recover (he did and then had an amazing surge late on to come in sixth) then powered on in seventh, which I held solo for about eight hours. Annoyingly, the six ahead were together and at each aid station I was told this, so knew that catching one of them meant getting back in the lead.

But by Foresthill at 62.0 miles the group had spread slightly with Timmy leading and powering on to his new, super-human, course record. I was 18 minutes behind him and just behind Nick who supposedly looked rough and would be 'easy to catch' according to the volunteers. He wasn't and his ability to come back from the dead suggested more Jesus-like powers, combined with the beard...maybe that does help (beard thoughts). Or maybe his strength comes from the beard, like Samson. Whatever it is, it's biblical.

With my pacers along to help me out, I hoped to capitalize on the easier running in the course in the last 38. Instead I'd used up my ammunition too early and could only grunt through to the finish, albeit fairly steadily. Mike Wolfe was seen after the river doing a slow walk and I thought he was dropping at Green Gate (79.9 miles) but he battled on like at last year's UTMB and still finished a respectable eighteenth man.

Some miles went by well but I was in more pain than previous years, compensated for by being better trained for the hills and starting the race fresher than 2010 or 2011. All I wanted was to break 16 hours and I'd take whatever position that meant. I needed around 10 minute miles for the last 20 miles and kept pushing through miserable sections, just wanting it to finish. With a couple of miles to go I caught Dylan Bowman who was spent, then kept going with a little sprint around the track at the end, mainly to get it over with faster.

Here's a video of the first 10 men finishing and another of the first 10 women too. Plus Greg Lanctot was kind enough to scream at me while shooting me sprint round Placer High track:

I'd describe it as the hardest day of my life (yes, I've led a sheltered life) but with the consolation that as soon as you stop, much of the pain and effort evaporates. Focusing more on this race in 2012 has helped but there are still a lot of things to work on for next year, as I'm sure there will be for the following year, etc. Much as it felt like hell for most of the day, there's something irresistible about the race, not least the level of competition.

Six of us broke 16 hours when only nine had ever done this before and most had done it on supposedly faster (but hotter) courses. Anyway, irunfar can give you all the stats and full results are here. I was extremely happy with 5th in 15:54 and a third top 10 finish. But hats off to so many people for their speedy running, particularly Timmy and Ellie's ground-breaking course records of 14:46 and 16:47.

Damned good runs by Oregonians too with three in the top 10 men and the same in the top 10 women. Too many great performances to mention but it'll be worth reading all the blog reports and irunfar will link to plenty of them once they've been written. Thanks to everyone who helped to put on the race, help out or just turn up and especially to my pacers Zach Violett and Jeff Caba. Somehow listening to me grunt for several hours didn't put them off the race at all.


  1. Well you fooled me. I was at No Hands and saw you run through and I was certain you would catch DBo and Mackey. Turns out I was only half right. I actually told my wife I was surprised at how good you looked going through. Great job.

  2. Great job Ian and nice write up- great seeing you as always and congrats again!

  3. Brilliant time Ian, great run. Worth missing comrades for?

  4. Ian, it was fun watching you look strong and smooth all day long. Congrats! I wanted to say, though, this report reads as hilarious, skipping back and forth from third person to first person. It's like you can only document the most painful bits in the third person, that it'd hurt too much again to write about in any other way. Funny stuff and congrats again. :)