35 Days to WSER: Training Run 1 – Robinson Flat to Foresthill

My arrival in the US was specifically chosen to allow me to run the Western States training runs over the Memorial Day weekend at the end of May. Over a period of three days I would run the final 70 miles of the Western States course.

I had completed two runs on the Wednesday totalling 38 km (read the post here) and then joined the Stevens Creek Striders for an easy-paced 60 km run through the canyons on Friday (read the post here). While following trail markings on the Wednesday, which list all distances in miles and elevation in feet, I decided that with a month of training in the US maybe I should adapt myself to their units of measure. So the night before the first training run I switched my watch to use miles and feet, although I did maintain metric temperature readings. In line with that I will now start to talk miles and feet in my posts, although I will also mention kilometres and metres in parentheses.

The first training run would cover the section from Robinson Flat to Foresthill, a distance of 32.3 miles (52 km). Whilst including a considerable net descent the run would also include two of the most difficult climbs of the entire race. After meeting in Foresthill we were taken by bus to Robinson Flag and people immediately disembarked the bus to commence the run.

During a brief climb to start the day I overtook a large number of other runners, many of them walking. Then as we peaked the ascent we commenced a descent on single track that eventually took us onto a downhill gravel road that allowed for very easy running. I had decided to run the day as per my plan for race day and therefore took it easy on the downhill since I would need to protect my quads for later in the race. Possibly all of the people I had overtaken on the brief ascent, plus many more, came screaming past as the long descent continued. It was annoying to think that all of those people would be in my way on the tough, single-track ascents to follow.

We came into Last Chance and I was then onto familiar territory, having run the remaining section in both directions the previous day. I allowed myself to speed up slightly on the steep descent out of Last Chance but continued to hold back. At the bottom we crossed the bridge over the river and it became my turn to overtake again.

Western States Trail - The bridge between Last Chance and Devil's Thumb
Western States Trail – The bridge between Last Chance and Devil’s Thumb

Directly after crossing the bridge the trails takes a sharp left and immediately begins to climb. I continued to run the first ten or so paces and had already overtaken three people. I then dropped back to a fast hike and continued to pass people as I climbed. Towards the top I heard a sound start to build to my right, and a tree fell in the forest. Therefore I can confirm that if a tree falls in a forest and there are people around that it does make a sound.

Over the top of the climb I came to the second of three aid stations on the run. Western States is known for the number of aid stations it provides, and On race day there will be seven aid stations in the same section of course. The aid station was followed by the long descent into the canyons. Similar to the previous day the temperatures were mild through the canyons.

Once I reached the bottom of the canyons I commenced the ascent to Michigan Bluff. The previous day we had walked the entire climb but a large portion of the climb looked possible to run so I wanted to try running where I could. The lower sections were steeper than I had thought and I struggled to run. After thinking that I might have misjudged the climb I found a number of sections I could run towards the top and passed plenty of people. At the top I stopped briefly at the final aid station for the day and had only 10 km remaining.

The next section involved a section of relatively flat gravel road and I started running at a comfortable pace. A short way along I passed a woman who was on a cell phone, and greeted her as I passed. Shortly afterwards she pulled alongside and started running with me. She made a comment about needing to pick up the pace to run with me, but we continued to push along at a pace around 8:00 min/mile (5:00 min/km). We started chatting and I found out that her name was Denise.

There are many runners taking part in the training runs who are not in the race, so I checked whether Denise would be running this year and she confirmed that she would. Then I asked whether she had run it previously and she advised that she had run last year. Considering the pace we were running 25 miles (40 km) into the run I realised that she must be a strong female. She had indeed taken 11th place last year and was hoping to break into the top 10 this year by breaking 20 hours. I advised her that I was also targeting a sub-20 hour time and that we might be seeing each other out on the course. We ran together all the way to the end, except for those sections of the final climb where we walked. Denise was continuing all the way down to the river (where we would end the second training run) for a total of 48 miles (77 km), so we said farewell until the following day.

I enjoyed a quesadilla and coke that they were giving out at the finish, and then treated myself to a chocolate milk that I had well and truly earned. Then I returned home to rest up, as I still had two days remaining.

You can check out the details of the run on MovesCount.com here.

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