After running through Redwood Canyon on Friday I had jumped into my car and drove straight out of Kings Canyon National Park to Fresno. My plan was to stay overnight in Fresno, and then leave early the next day to drive through Yosemite National Park over Tioga Pass to visit Tuolumne Meadows that day followed Mono Lake and the town of Bishop the day after. Based on those plans my first stop in Fresno was at a Starbucks to jump online and find some accommodation for the night.
By the time I left Starbucks my plans had completely changed.
During the training runs I had completed on the Western States trail I had met many great people. On the night training run from Green Gate to Auburn (you can read about that run here) I had run a great deal of the night with James, who will also be running the race this year and will be targeting a similar time to me. When I jumped online I found a message from James inviting me to join in for a group run along the Western States trail from Foresthill down to the Rucky Chucky river crossing. I had run through the canyons three times in race direction plus an additional two times in reverse direction, and I had run the section from Green Gate to Auburn twice, once during the day and once during the night. The section from Foresthill to the river was the only portion of the last 55 miles of the course that I had only run once. Therefore I was very keen to join.
I responded that I would join and asked whether anyone in the group might be able to put me up for the night. Then I grabbed some lunch in Fresno and commenced the 190-mile (305-km) trip north just so that I could join in for a group run. On arrival in Roseville I did some shopping to replenish my camping supplies, and then grabbed dinner. Just as I gave up on receiving any offers of a place to stay and prepared to head to a motel I received an email from Doug. We had never met before but he kindly offered me a spare bedroom that I could use for the night. I made my way to his house and spent the evening chatting away about running with Doug, and his wife Debbie.
In the morning we met up with the running group for the morning, and then jumped into two cars for the drive to Foresthill. Arriving at Foresthill we met another group who would be running the same section of the course. That group included the brother of one of the member of our group, and this brother had one a local 100 km event. Therefore the other group was dubbed the “fast” group while our group was dubbed the “slow” group.
Both groups set off together but the fast group stopped early on for a toilet break so our group went on ahead. We turned off the main street in Foresthill and descended to the Western States trail. The group switched and changed places as we settled into our rhythm, and I chatted with a number of the guys about my time in the US so far, my plans for the race, as well as for the rest of my trip. We started to split into smaller groups and I noticed James pull of ahead. My legs were feeling quite tired so initially I let him go, but eventually I decided that the pace I was maintaining with a couple of the guys was a bit slow on the descent so I overtook and moved ahead. I slowly caught up towards James, and when he turned to spot me not too far behind he slowed until I was just behind him.
At the location where the Dardanelles (Cal-1) aid station will be on race day there is a fork, and James wanted to ensure that everybody in our group took the correct path. We stopped there and had some food while waiting for the group to catch up. We heard voices descending towards us but it turned out to be the fast group. They stopped and joined us for a couple of minutes before continuing on their way. When the next couple of guys from our group reached us we decided to continue on. James took off at quite a pace while I slowly built up to speed, and he quickly opened up a gap and moved out of sight.
As we reached the toughest climb on this section of the course at around the 10-mile (16-km) mark of the run I spied the white shirt of James turning a corner ahead of me. I pushed on the hike up the hill and then started to pick up the pace as I commenced the final descent down to the river, where the trail becomes a challenging slog through soft river sand. I caught and overtook three of the guys who had dropped off the back of the fast group, and started to think that I might have overtaken already overtaken James if he had pulled off the course for a toilet stop. I decided to continue on anyway as we would all meet at the river crossing anyway.
As I left the sand onto the section of rolling road that would take me to the river crossing I spotted the remaining members of the fast group, with James running amongst them. I slowly caught up to them on one of the climbs and fell in at the back of the pack. The pace was fast and I struggled to hold them on the descents where they would pull slightly ahead, although I would reel them back in on the ascents. Just before the river crossing I pulled alongside and he mentioned that he would continue past the crossing to start the climb back out towards the road. His wife was heading down to ferry our group back to the car and he would continue up the road to meet her. We met his wife within half a mile of the crossing and returned with her to await the rest of the group.
We made our way down to the river and enjoyed soaking our legs in the cool water while everyone arrived. Then we drove up to the road for the return journey. It had been a great day’s run and I had met even more new trail runners from the area. I had completed that section of the course for the second time, and once again it was run at a pace considerably faster than I plan to run on race.
For details of my continually increasing pace down to the river you can check out MovesCount.com here.