Last week I attended the 36th annual Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, which was postponed a year due to fires in 2008. My wife, daughter, and I packed up the truck and hit the high country of the Sierra’s. The race goes from Squaw Valley to Auburn and covers 100 miles of rugged trails with 18,000 feet of climbing and 22,000 feet of descent.
Most years you would find my wife or I toeing the line as a participant, but this year we would start our journey at mile 10.5, Lyon’s Ridge aide station.
Because of the remoteness of the aide station we were required to camp out overnight with 25 other volunteers. Morning came quickly as the lead runners hit us right at 6:30 a.m., just 1.5 hours after their 5:00 a.m. start. This early in the race all the runners looked great. Some had smiles, but many had the serious look that ones gets during the early hours of any 100 mile race. All knew this would be a tough day with dusty trails and temps topping off around 105 in the canyons. The high temp would lead to 238 finishers out of 399 starters; a finishing rate of 59%.
Most runners were quick to fill up with water, GU2O (which is being replaced by GU Brew), and grab a quick GU gel or other bite of their favorite ultra food of choice. Some lingered around knowing the cool morning temps would soon rise as they made their way over the next section of the course.
The last runner passed through at 8:30 a.m. and we were quick to break down the station and head out. After a two hour trip back to civilization and a quick food stop, it was time to head to Foresthill at mile 62. We would be now crewing for our friend Scott who was attempting his first 100 mile race. His appearance at the mile 10.5 aide station was hours earlier and we knew his early jovial demeanor would be replaced with a more serious approach as he hit the final 38 miles of the course. His appearance at 9:30 p.m. got my blood pumping as I would accompany him to Green Gate, mile 80. His feet were trashed and his pace had slowed, but his power walking abilities made me break into an occasional trot to keep up.
The miles clicked by as we hit some of the best terrain of the day during out meandering journey along the American River. At this point of the day the weary runners were just focused on getting to the finish by 5:00 a.m. or 11:00 p.m. the next morning. A sub 24 hour finish earned runners a silver belt buckle and a sub 30 hour finished gave them a bronze buckle as a reward.
As Scott and I headed down the dark trail, I noticed the array of runners that we passed and passed us up. Hydration packs of all types, handhelds, waist packs, and backpacks were the norm. Trail shoes of every variety with a sprinkling of road shoes. Light systems of every type illuminated the dark trail. 5 hours later we hit one of the many highlights of the race, the crossing of the American River at mile 78. The contrast of the ice cold water hitting us chest high as we left the trails where temps were still in the 80’s made muscles cramp and took your breath away. The quick dip was followed by a 1.5 mile climb up to Green Gate. The climb warmed the runners back up and allowed them to set off down the trail for their final 20 miles.
I quickly headed back to the finish to rejoin my wife as a light stream of runners were crossing the line. The winners had already crossed the line hours earlier. For the men it was Hal Korner finishing in 16:55 defending his 2007 championship. Anita Ortize out of Colorado had an amazing 100 mile debut, stopping the clock in 18:25 and finishing 9th overall.
My runner Scott finished in just under 28:40. Seeing him cross the line for his first 100 mile finish in difficult conditions was a perfect reward after a long day. As I watched runners finishing the last 300 meters around a track I thought back to my previous finishes and hoped that 2010 would bring me another chance to line up in Squaw Valley.