Western States 100 Endurance Run – June 23, 2007
By Beverly Anderson Abbs
This year was the 3rd time for Alan and me to run the Western States 100 Endurance Run, an amazing event that starts at Olympic Village, Squaw Valley and travels west following old mining trails and roads to eventually end at Auburn, California. We were both hoping for very hot weather, similar to last year when temperatures were well over 100 degrees in the canyons. Unfortunately, as the weekend drew closer, it became obvious that the weather was going to be pretty close to perfect likely making this a fast year.
At 5:00 am Saturday morning the gun sounded and 400 runners began making their way up to Emigrant Pass from the Village. The race begins with a 2000 foot climb over 4 miles and I was feeling pretty good in the cool morning air. I reached the top quickly in first place for the women and set off down the single track to the first aid station at Lyon’s Ridge with Nikki Kimball, the 2004 and 2006 winner, right behind me. I arrived at this station almost 10 minutes faster than last year and a few minutes faster than my goal time.
Nikki and I left the aid station together and kept each other company along the rocky ridges. She pulled away as I stopped to adjust a shoe and I arrived at the next aid station, Red Star Ridge, just after her, refilled bottles, grabbed a bit to eat and hurried on down the trail. Between Red Star and the next aid at Duncan Canyon, there is a significant amount of rocky technical downhill, something that Nikki excels at, and over this section she started pulling away from me. I ran carefully down the rocky parts to avoid crashing like last year, and made it to Duncan Canyon a few minutes behind Nikki. Red Star Ridge would be the last place I’d see her for the rest of the race.
To this point I had seen no other women on the course and was hoping to keep it that way through the end. Robinson Flat, the next aid, is the first place we weigh in and get to see our crews and I arrived here about 20 minutes ahead of last year’s time. The weigh in is to make sure runners are not gaining or losing too much weight. A gain may indicate that you are taking in too much salt so your body is retaining water, or that you are taking in no salt and the water is sitting in your stomach and not moving into your blood stream. Of these, the latter can lead to a condition called hyponatremia as the water eventually moves into your bloodstream and dilutes your body’s salts. Recently this condition has resulted in hospitalization and even death in the case of a radio talk show stunt. Losing too much weight means you are dehydrated and need to take in more water and salts or risk renal failure if it becomes extreme. The goal is to maintain your weight within a couple of pounds of what was recorded at check-in.
I weighed in about 2 pounds up from my check in weight meaning I needed to cut back a little on my salts so my body would get rid of some water. My crew and Alan’s were working together, knowing that we would be fairly close this early in the race. They were jumping up and down to get my attention and had everything I could possibly want ready for me. I grabbed two fresh bottles, a couple gus, a new packet of salt tablets and some little baggies of food I could easily eat on the run.
As I was leaving the aid station I came upon Mark Lantz having some difficulty. One of his eyes had lost depth perception and running down those rocky trails was proving to be very difficult for him.
This next section seemed to fly by as I passed through 2 aid stations on my way to Last Chance, and the next weigh in. The past 2 years I’ve run this section with Dean Karnazes and we’ve pushed each other pretty hard, his absence this year made it tough to keep the pace up. I came in to Last Chance and saw Sunsweet teammate Matt Simms. He had started very fast but by the time he arrived at this aid station he had lost 10 pounds, putting him in a dehydration danger zone. Volunteers held him here until he was able to get some fluids in and keep food down.
Matt and I left together and were about to enter the first of the canyons. We had a long rocky descent to the stream and swinging bridge to look forward to. We stayed together to the bottom catching Glen Redpath, but on the climb out the boys easily outdistanced me up to Devil’s Thumb. I labored up the climb and as I was approaching the top a woman called ahead that I was coming. I heard the cheer long before I reached them. My friend Diane had a popsicle waiting and I got hugs and pats from all my friends. I filled up and headed off again to the next canyon. On the descent I caught Matt and Glen as well as Greg Crowther, one of the favorites to win. I made it to the bottom of El Dorado Canyon and started up the next climb to Michigan Bluff, where I would see my crew again.
Again, Matt and Glen passed on the climb but I kept a steady pace and arrived just after them at the top. I was starting to hit some of these aid stations a little slower than goal although still 15 minutes ahead overall, so I knew I was starting to suffer.
Michigan Bluff is one of those rare small towns where the entire town comes out to support this race and it’s very exciting to come into it. After I weighed in, my crew grabbed my bottles and walked with me as I refueled; 2 new bottles, half a chocolate slimfast, some candy, some baked beans, and turkey, cheese and avocado on white bread for the trail. A bottle of water dumped over my head to cool me down and I was ready to run. Matt was just ahead and I was catching him again. I caught him before the descent into Volcano Canyon and kept going. When I reached Bath road with just under 2 miles to the next major aid at Forest Hill, I ran into someone coming down the hill to meet Craig, another Sunsweet runner not far behind. He ran me up the hill until my pacer came out to pick me up and run in with me. From Forest Hill (mile 62) runners can be accompanied by a pacer for safety, mine was Matt Hart of the adventure racing team DART and he was determined to not let me slow down. He ran me through the weigh in, then to my crew who were again ready to walk with me, carrying everything needed to get me set up for the next section.
Food, water, salts and I was ready to go again, following Matt as he set a pace that I hadn’t kept for a quite a while. I tried to hang on without whining and was doing okay on descents. Small climbs however, were becoming very painful by this point and I was reduced to a walk for even what would normally be seen as a bump in the trail. I forged on trying to keep his pace. The drink mix I had opted for out of Forest Hill did not agree with my stomach and by the time we reached the next aid station I’d had very little to drink. I emptied the bottle and had it filled with gu2o and ice.
Matt pushed hard and got us to Cal2 pretty close to my goal time. We filled up, ate a bit and headed on. I knew this section well and knew we had 6 switchbacks before leveling out and coming to a dirt road. At this point was the worst climb of this section of the course. I tried to forget about the upcoming climb and focus on going fast on the down hill section but my legs weren’t moving as fast as I wanted. This was my first really low point so far in the race. I struggled up the hill, trying to joke about it, hating every step and wanting desperately to stop. Finally we reached the top and the next aid station. The next station would be at the river crossing and I was hoping that the cold water would help get me moving well again.
We slogged along to the river where I weighed in again, so far very consistent through the day, and got ready to cross using the cable. Safety volunteers were there to help runners across the river. The water was frigidly cold, but made my legs feel a little less heavy. After the crossing was another 2 mile climb so I grabbed a cup of soup and some snacks and headed up, being chased by a photographer who wanted me to run. I hadn’t wanted to run for the past three hours so this was a big request. I slogged up and eventually reached the top where I had planned to change socks and shoes. I sat down and took my footwear off to see both of my second toes completely obscured by huge bubbles of blood blister. No wonder they had been hurting for a while. I pulled off a number pin and had it heated with a lighter, popping and tearing the blister skin so they wouldn’t refill, put on fresh socks and shoes, got my lights and another shirt, drank a can of espresso and some more soup and set off. Dave Terry had passed while I was dressing my toes and we caught him again pretty quickly. I was now only a couple minutes ahead of my goal time so I tried to push a little faster. Matt kept me moving and if I stopped to walk, he would count out 25 steps then get me running again. By the time we were getting to the next aid station, it was dark and we were using our lights.
We kept pushing along, more or less matching my goal times to the HWY 49 crossing. This aid station is less than 7 miles from the finish but is followed by two climbs that can insult the body pretty badly. My crew was there to meet me again, as well as Alan’s, indicating he was only 30 minutes behind me and looked pretty good. The final weigh in, 2 cups of potato soup, down to one water bottle for this last push and I was off again. I was told that a friend from Oregon, Rod Bien, was only 8 minutes ahead and I could catch him if I wanted to…hmm. I really hadn’t “wanted” to do anything for a while, but that was a carrot that might get me moving. Matt and I arrived at the final aid station. Three miles to go, with “just” the climb up to Robie point and a mile to the High School left. I checked my times and wondered how it could possibly have taken almost an hour to do this section last year, it’s only 3 miles!
We cruised out of the aid station and after about a half mile of running we hit the actual climb and suddenly I remembered why it took almost an hour! I was reduced to a hike that I couldn’t even call a power hike, literally having to crawl up the wooden steps in a few places as they were too high for me to step up, and finally reached the road with the knowledge that this was actually the steepest part of the climb. Near the top there was a street party going on with people out cheering on runners. The little boost that gave got me up the final bit of climbing and into the last mile. The finish is on the Track at Auburn High School, visiting now for the 3rd time!
I finished in 19:31, 40 minutes faster than last year and 5 minutes faster than my goal, and 2nd place female…again.