In preparation for my shot at the infamous Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, my lovely wife allowed me a long-weekend trip to California to run in the training camp. It was also a great chance to see my Dad; since he lives a mere hour’s drive Auburn, I stayed at his place through the weekend, driving to-from the daily training runs out of Foresthill/Auburn.
I just managed to make a late afternoon flight on Southwest out of Birmingham on Thursday, took nearly 3 hours to get there in storms and major traffic jams. We left BHM a ½ hour late on the long initial leg to Las Vegas. But bless Southwest, they held mine and several others’ connections there so we wouldn’t be stranded for the night. I walked right to the next plane (no bathroom, no get-a-snack, no nothing) and they blasted out for Sacramento. Got into SMF around 2130, only 25min behind schedule. Picked up my rental care and headed to Dad’s place in Browns Valley, finally getting to sleep just past midnight.
On Friday, the sun woke me about 0530, but managed to doze until 0615. After a light breakfast, went down to Marysville and did a WOD with CrossFit Feather River. Turned out to be a great day to make an affiliate visit, owner Debbi Goode treated the 0900 class to the Filthy Fifty of all things! Did it in 25:34 (PR). Good crowd, always fun to see how Marysville has changed in the past 30+ years. CFFR is located on D St and 5 St downtown, I can recall at least five different businesses in there over the years. I hope Debbi is able to keep it going; she gave me the visit for free after I made the obligatory t-shirt purchase. Had some local Mexican food at Tortilleria Florez with Dad, then working from his house on my laptop rest of the afternoon.
Training Camp Day 1 (Sat)
Normally on Day 1 of the camp, we get bussed from Foresthill (FH) Elementary School up to Robinson Flat (about Mile 30 on the course) and run back to FH. However, due to snow and road conditions higher up in the mountains, race management announced an alteration on Wed before I left home that would have us bussing down to Driver Flat near Auburn and running backward on the course past FH to Michigan Bluff and back to FH. I did not like that option very much. After all, the prime reason for flying out from Alabama is to run in the dreaded canyons! After posting on the Ws100 Yahoo groups page, fortunately for me several local WS veterans contacted me offline and extended an invitation to alternate training runs outside the camp. So that morning I had the good fortune to meet up with Bob Crowley and Steve Harrold, among others, at FH. From there we charted a route backwards on the course through Volcano Canyon, MB, into El Dorado Creek, up to Devil’s Thumb and finally across Swinging Bridge up to Last Chance. There must have been 75+ or more folks with similar notions that day, all on ‘unofficial’ training runs in the canyons.
I stayed with Bob and Steve all morning, making a leisurely start form FH about 0615. Made our way down Bath Rd, took a pitstop, then into Volcano Canyon. Fog bank rolling in, actually rather chilly this morning, set of gloves would have been handy. Creek coming thru Volcano Canyon was full, so we were feet-wet within 20min. Long power-hike climb out of that intermediate canyon, linked up with several other locals up top, and made our way to Michigan Bluff. Steve showed me where Carl Anderson/Ann Trason live, and where Scott Jurek buried his dog (stuff only locals would know). They were the most gracious tour guides all morning.
Took a quick stop in MB (1hr27min elapsed), chatted with some others, then dropped down into El Dorado Creek. Long, steady descent with Bob; not trying to kill it, but rather holding back and keeping it under control, lots of running to go today. Bob was playing tour guide most of the way, showed me a spring that marked 1/3 to go (on the climb) back to MB, very cool. Once over the bridge, took another long power-hike up to Deadwood Cemetery. Bob showed me the pine grove that is halfway point between Deadwood and ElDorado. Once past the cemetery, climbed up to the equestrian pump near Devil’s Thumb. That is new from my last time here, a very welcome addition. Many folks up here today on training runs, eschewing the official runs down on Calif St. At the pump we met Matt Keyes from Auburn, heck of a nice guy. Short run from the pump to the Thumb, then made a steady descent (not fast) down to Swinging Bridge at the bottom of the canyon. Chatting with Steve most of the way, very nice fellow. Found out later he is a senior prosecutor from the Sacto County DA’s office, my Dad knows who he is. Got a feeling he is an ass-kicker in and out of the courthouse!
At Swinging Bridge I took my leave from Bob and linked up with Matt. A quad of us (including new acquaintances Ted and Jeff) made a strong ascent out of there and headed up towards Last Chance. Quick stop as the trail emerged onto old mining road to gather everyone up, then made our way to Last Chance. I took a few minutes to identify the spring there for future use. Turned around at about 5hr5min elapsed and headed back to Foresthill!
About 29min to make the descent to Swinging Bridge (all of these are the longest I have made in 9 years!), Matt and I really pushing the pace down the trail and grinding our legs down; that was some fun running. Bob had related his favorite mental imagery of being a frictionless pinball in the race, making the smoothest, faster possible descent down the winding trail I found that very apropos. After the bridge came the 36 switchbacks to Devil’s Thumb (about 39min to make that climb, but cool weather today). We gathered the four of us up on the top and made our way to the pump where I topped off my camelbak (carried far too much water today, knowingly, but oh well). We had been getting short drizzle early in the afternoon, but now we got a hail burst for 10min that turned into light rain for the next 2 hours.
Another fast descent into El Dorado Creek, Matt and I just cranking it down the trail. At the bridge I stopped for a pee, but Matt just rocked on, instantly scraping me off! Oh well, dude is a great runner, glad to have his company for a bit. The climb back up to Michigan Bluff took nearly an hour, just power-hiked it at good pace (but not all out). The aid station for the official training was still set up, so I treated myself to some cookies and soda (hey, I did pay for it). I was starting to get cold in the rain now, temp hovering around 50deg, arms and hands not working real well. So little choice but to pick up a steady run on the forest road and get warmed up again.
Near the Anderson-Trason place, I saw perhaps the biggest darn jackrabbit ever; ears must have been at least 6” tall! Darn thing was huge. It took off running and bounding, made a pleasant sight in the middle of miserable rain. Anyhow, I ground out the climbs, some running and some walking, and then finally dropped back onto single-track into Volcano Canyon. Made a strong descent (not as fast as before, but passed 4-5 folks easily) before crossing through the stream and feet totally soaked again. Long, grinding climb up the rocky trail. Finally emerged onto Bath Rd, picked up the shuffle and ground ran the mile-long climb up to Foresthill Rd, then had a strong pace back to the elementary school. For a while, I had seriously toyed with the idea of continuing down down Cal St after Matt Keyes to aim for 50mi that day. But at FH recognized that I was soaked and cold from the rain, lacking the right gear to keep pushing today (Matt was there in a fresh running jacket) (which I certainly did not have). So called it with about 40mi under my belt, darn fine training day overall.
Took some time to rub ice on my legs, dry off, then helped myself to grilled ham-cheese sandwich. Talked with talked Matt and his lovely wife (Kim) and Tim Twietmeyer some. But started to get cold again, so jumped into car and warmed up. Stopped at JambaJuice in Auburn, back at Dad’s place around 1730.
WS100 Training Camp – Day 2
Got to FH about 0745, checked in and actually got my number this time! Run scheduled to start 0830, but I was ready to go early, so why wait around for it? Just gonna be a conga line if I go with the crowd. So pulled out of FH on a very pleasant morning and headed down the Cal St section of the Western States trail. Took it easy the first 10-15min, jawboning with some others that started early as well. Then cranked up the speed and got going.
Blew thru Cal-1 in about 36min (alas, dumbshit here deleted his split before I wrote them down, so all times today from memory). About 55min to Cal-2. Very fun descent to the river, multiple switchbacks with banked turns. Borrowed Bob Crowley’s imagery again and just imagined myself as a pinball rolling down the race and flowed down them. Reached the river, trail went flat for a bit before a right nasty little climb on the way to Cal-3, worse than I remember, but ground it out. Blew past Ca-3, did not see it, oh well. Came to Ruck-a-Chuck around 2hr45min (15.5mi)
Walked down to the crossing, made a pitstop in the loo there, came back up to aid station and jawboned with Ken Crouse for a while. Ken is another fine gentleman who reached out to me via email to offer options for yesterday’s re-routed training run. Jawboned with him for 10-15 min, great fellow. Found out later he was a US Marine at the Fall of Saigon!
After about 30min screwing around down there, picked up my pack and made the climb out to White Oak Flat. Long switching ascent on the dirt road and some single track. Official finish line up top, about 19mi mark for the mornings. Ate a pair of hot dogs and drank a coke (usually couldn’t stomach something like that, but tasted great today!) Talked with some other folks and chilled for a few minutes. Decided to run back to FH instead of waiting on the bus. After chatting with some local vets, found the historic WS trail, popped out onto some housing, then onto Todd Creek Trail. Had to pull my phone out and check location on the map (that cost me some time), but eventually made my way to Todd Valley Rd and then Foresthill Rd. Climb up to Foresthill (about 3mi) took a bit, but kept it flowing smooth as I could in the rolling fog and intermittent hail storms. Elapsed time at FH about 6 hours, figure 27mi for the day.
WS100 Training Camp – Day 3
Woke 0600, actually had a light breakfast this morning (scrambled eggs, apple) since run won’t start until ~0915. Left house 0645, at Placer HS and checked in around 0800. Run brief 0815, loaded onto the buses and away we go down CA-49, CA-193, then up Sliger Mine Rd to the cemetery. We unloaded and got to running!
Just past the cemetery (~1/3mi) the road goes from paved to rough dirt, and downhill about 2mi to Green Gate (GG). There we typically take a hard left onto the course, and there were two gentlemen out there guiding us that way. But I wanted to go backwards on the course down to the river crossing. So I tried to surreptitiously slip past (unsuccessfully, it turns out) and headed down there. About 2mi descent on dirt road, I had the option of turning left or right near the bottom. Foolishly chose left (wrong way) and down to the river; made a pitstop there. Didn’t seem like the right place, so climbed back up and took the right turn instead. Now I was in the right place, found the aid station location I remember and river crossing location. Made the return climb to GG in 23:06, good pull.
I went past GG and got back onto today’s scheduled/official training route. Turned on the juice and got moving at a solid pace. Had to make guesses at some trail intersections, but got to Auburn Lake Trails around an hour past GG. Farted around there a few minutes making sure I had the right course (the sweeps, now ahead of me, were pulling the course flagging). Finally left here at 1hr7min split.
Once past ALT, I moved strongly along canyon’s edge. Caught the sweeps after about 25min, running hard to get to them and make sure I was going in the right direction (felt right, but just no real confirmation w/o the course marking). They were not happy to see me, evidently discussion about pulling my ribbon/bracelet since I deviated from the official route. I understand their position, but oh well, it is a free country and I’m here to rack up training miles.
Got to Browns Bar aid station location in 29:58. Pushed down the rutty trail to the Quarry Rd along the river, tried to keep a steady pace on the flats, though can tell the training is starting to do it work: can running solid on the flats but not fast! Ground up a short climb to the aid station about 12mi into the official route, then began the climb up to Hwy 49. Rutty, rocky trail but ground it out with 2-3 short (10sec) walk breaks. Got to Hwy 49 with split of 43:31, cruised over the road and got going up the next section (can’t remember the name of it)
Medium climb up and over the meadow overlooking the river and Hwy 49, then hammered the heck out of the last descent into No Hands Bridge. Talked with Jay Freeman briefly on the way down, a gentlemen I met at the Grasslands event and last saw at WS in 2002! Felt fairly good over the bridge all things considered, spent a few minutes in the aid station there getting water refill and drinking some fluids (34:26 split).
Got going on the last section, still shuffling well and able to climb. Came across a 4’ rattlesnake (let it go by), then had to make a pitstop. Made the climb up to Robie Pt, that sucker is a right nasty little spell. Got onto the road and just kept pressing up the steep road into Auburn, dang I had forgotten how bad that section was! Big ass deer (buck) just nonchalantly wandered across the street, kinda surreal. Finally topped out and began slow downhill on the home stretch. Course markings a little scant through the streets, but a nice lady driving by pointed me in the right direction, bless her. Adrenaline flowing now and kicked it good and hard to the track (44:25 split). About 27mi for the day as best I can figure.
Will log 94mi for the training weekend, not too shabby. With the right gear on Day 1, could have pushed that number even higher (oh well). I was fortunate to be contacted by several locals, they got me to thinking that I didn’t necessarily need to follow the masses on the established routes. Having gotten past that herd mindset, it freed me up to rack some miles and push myself more than I would have otherwise. We will see the results on 25-26 June!
Got back to Dad’s place around 1700. Took a while to get cleaned up and gear somewhat packed. Great dinner of lamb/pork meatballs, garlic bread, green beans. Spent some time chatting with Dad, then we were watching Secondhand Lions on DVD late into the evening (among his favorite movies). Caught the 0600 flight out of Sacramento the next morning.