So here we are. Almost. It is one day out until race day and I have finally caught up with my blogging.
I woke up this morning and quickly churned out posts for the last couple of days after breakfast. Then it was time to shower and head over to race registration to let them know I am here and to hand in my drop bags. No run is scheduled today so I will simply relax and soak up the nervous energy emanating from 400 people amping themselves up to run a 100-mile foot race.
The final weather forecast shows that it will be one of the hottest races on record in the 30-year history of the Western States Endurance Run. Everyone you speak to acknowledges that there will likely be carnage out there tomorrow. With high heat comes high drop-out rates. But of course nobody says “I don’t think I will make it.”
I am in the best shape of my life and I have managed some incredible training, not only in terms of running quality (of which there has been plenty), but also in terms of enjoyment and the stunning sights I have seen. I will set out with a firm race plan in mind, but will mold it and shape it as I go. Early on Sunday morning I intend to find myself on the grounds of Placer High School at the finish line in Auburn. All that is required between now and then is 100 miles of running.
The race starts at 5:00 AM Pacific Time and you can follow my progress at www.ultralive.net/ws100 using either my name or bib number (261).
Two days prior to race day I would be relocating from Truckee, where I had spent a week resting and recovering, to the race village at Squaw Valley.
I woke up in the morning, had some breakfast, and wasted some time on the Internet. It was after 11 AM before I decided that I should really start moving for the day, since I had one last run to fit in before heading across to Squaw. I put on my running clothes and headed across to a nearby trailhead to complete two laps of the same loop I had run on my two prior runs. The loop involves a bit of ascent and descent without any sustained climbing, and two loops turn out at just over 3 miles (5 km), which is exactly what I had planned.
Having run the two loops the previous day in reverse direction, on this occasion I decided to run both loops in the clockwise direction which I had preferred. I set out for a casual run, allowed myself to briefly pick up the pace for a couple of short sections, and after what these days feels like an extremely short run (under 30 minutes) I returned to my car.
After 3 days of rain and cool weather the cold front passed over and the sun returned to California. It would be a warm and sunny day before the real heat started to move in over the coming days.
Continuing with my taper my plan was a simple 3-mile (5-km) run. A couple of days earlier I had completed a loop in the Truckee Donner area where I was staying, and then continued further to make up the 3+ miles I had run that day. Today I would start at a slightly different spot and run a lollipop route with two laps of the same loop. I decided to wait until afternoon and head out in the hottest part of the day for my short run.
In the morning I completed my final shopping and prepared my drop bags and some additional bags for the points where I will meet my crew. I was lucky enough to bump into Mariano, who I met at Leadville last year, at the night training run and he was kind enough to volunteer to crew for me along with another friend of his, Joe. It will certainly make things easier on the day, particularly with the predicted heat and the possible changes that will require to my race plan in terms of pacing and/or nutrition.
The previous day with rain already falling when I woke up and the forecast suggesting that it would not stop all day I had decided to reschedule to add a rest day. Therefore I was very happy to be able to sneak in a run when it stopped raining in the late afternoon.
On this day the weather was forecast for rain in the morning followed by showers in the afternoon, so with the improving afternoon I expected that once again I would manage a late run when the precipitation halted. I watched the continuous rain in the morning while putting a great amount of effort into some relaxation. Then I went out for lunch, stopped for a coffee, while it still continued to rain. Throughout the afternoon I continued to look out the window and realised that it was not going to stop on this day. Therefore I added in the rest day that had almost eventuated the day before.
The 3-mile run I had intended was never crucial to my training or my preparation, but the mindset of a runner means that it is tough to miss a scheduled day of running. Maybe my legs will be 3 miles fresher for race day.
Already from 10 days out the extended forecast for race day was looking ominous. The cold front that had come through and shortened my run the previous day would stay in the area for a further two days before being replaced by a hot front. The forecast for race day had temperatures peaking at well over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).
The forecast had it raining for the entire day so when I rose to look outside and see a steady rain falling I decided that I could afford an extra day off. I relaxed in the morning reading, surfing the internet and preparing some blog posts, before setting out to grab some lunch as well as some items for my drop bags and crew points. Then late in the afternoon I looked outside to see a lighter sky, and upon closer inspection saw that the rain had stopped for the moment. I immediately decided that I would squeeze in a quick run.
I was staying in a recreation area called Truckee Donner that provides plenty of facilities so a quick online search brought up a series of trails through the area. Unfortunately the trail map was not to scale and provided little information on distances, so I found a useful trailhead and mapped out a route to follow. I was only looking to run 3 miles (5 km).
I drove to the trailhead as my trail mindset has kicked in to a point where the thought of wasting mileage on road seems wasteful. I set off from the trailhead and reached a branch in the trail where a nature loop started. The two branches would rejoin and continue further along, and could therefore be used as a loop. I set off in a clockwise direction noting a sign mentioning a distance of 1.3 miles, hoping that the distance referred to the far end of the loop, which would thereby give me a distance of almost three miles. The trail gently climbed initially and then flattened out as it passed through some wetland areas. It consisted of some nice single track as well as some boardwalk.
I will be joined by Mike for the section from Foresthill to the Rucky Chucky river crossing. Through another Australian ultra-runner Tamyka, who has completed Western States on two occasions, I was introduced to the Stevens Creek Striders. The running club hosts the Last Chance aid station each year, and Tamyka’s pacer Dennis suggested that Mike would be the man for the job.
For the section from the river to the finish I will be joined by Louis. I met up with Louis through the pacer page on the Western States website. We had been in touch a few times since I landed in the US and would meet up for the first time to go for a run at Squaw Valley. We met up at the bottom of the tram and headed off for our return journey up to High Camp along the Granite Chief Trail. I had taken this trail a couple of times on previous visits to Squaw, a four-mile trail straight up the mountain to the escarpment.
I have spent a lot of time during my trip running through national parks and national forests, running along trails that are famed nationally (and some even internationally) with three-letter acronyms (TRT, PCT) or named after famed people (the John Muir Trail), and even one with two races associated to it (the Western States Trail). On this day I would keep it a lot more local. I spotted the Sawtooth Trail on one of my topographical maps of the Tahoe National Forest made by National Geographic. But looking further into the trail I realised that it is not a US Forest Service trail but rather a local trail. At 9 or 10 miles I decided that the distance was good, and apparently it is a popular trail for the locals, particularly the mountain bikers.
I made my way through downtown Truckee and out towards the trailhead. As I exited my vehicle there were a few other cars in the car park and a runner finishing off some cool-down stretches. We greeted each other, I put on my hydration vest (packed exactly as I plan to use it on race day), and set out along the trail. The trail forms a lollipop route so I set out along the stick. True to reputation I was passed in the opposite direction by a group of five cyclists and then shortly after by a single cyclist as I made my way to the loop. I came across a pleasant view towards the Truckee River so I stopped for a quick photo. After two miles of pleasant single-track running through forested areas I reached the loop, and set off in a counter-clockwise direction that is apparently most popular.
Upon arriving in Truckee I started researching running options but was unfortunately limited by the fact that I was trying to taper my running. I generally try to avoid out-and-back routes so I started looking at trail running loop options. The chosen route that would fill in my training plan for my first day in Truckee would incorporate a section of the PCT (read a bit more about that famed trail here) as well as a loop to the top of Mt Judah for some views over the area, for a distance of around 5 miles (8 km).
I drove out towards Donner Summit, which is host to one of the many downhill ski parks in the area. From there I headed to the PCT trailhead and set out along that trail for only one mile before reaching the fork where I would follow the Mt Judah Trail. I climbed up towards the summit along a trail which was gentle enough to run for most of it so I was able to make good time. There were some pretty sections with alpine wild flowers as well as sections alongside the ski areas where the trail would run directly under chairlifts. I reached the top of the summit, and not unexpectedly the views fell short of some of the stunning one that I have enjoyed during previous runs. I took a couple of photos and then continued on my way.
I descended off the other side of the summit and commenced the descent that took me back onto the PCT, with around a mile back to my earlier turnoff, followed by a mile retracing my steps back to the trailhead. The very bottom section as I neared the trailhead was quite rocky and my mind started thinking that I should take it easy and ensure that I don’t hurt myself at this stage in my training. When I took a bad but recoverable step I realised that I was making the mistake of running too defensively and was actually increasing the risk of injury. I forced myself to run the remainder of the trail as I normally would, and reached the trailhead and my car unscathed.
For details of this run you can check out MovesCount.com here.
At the finish of each of the three official Western States training runs that I ran in May there were massages provided by Monsters of Massage. Their slogan is “It takes monsters to get demons” and they use a massage technique called “Attack-Oriented Target Massage”, developed by the founder Ve Loyce. I received a massage from Ve Loyce after the final day’s run and it was very effective at loosening some tightness in my glutes. Sports massage can never be considered enjoyable, but this was the most painful I have experienced as Ve Loyce drilled his elbow into my glute while simultaneously holding on to stop me from rolling away from the pain.
Therefore it was obvious that when I arranged a final massage to loosen the muscles before the big race that I would ensure to go back to nobody else. I booked a 30-minute appointment with Ve Loyce at his studio a few miles out of Auburn. It was conveniently located between Curt’s house, where I had stayed the previous night, and Truckee, where I would stay for the following week.
For after the massage I had looked into some short running options en route to Truckee on the climb over Donner Pass, but even as I got out of my car prior to the appointment I thought that maybe a run wasn’t really the best idea. Ve Loyce managed to hold true to form, and had me squirming all over the massage table. He worked all of my leg muscles but really focussed on my glutes, which seem to currently be the weakest muscles in my running physiology. Previously it was my calves that would get sore before my other running muscles. I will possibly look to incorporate some better stretching and strengthening (with a focus on glutes, hips and core) after the race but I do not find it to be a concerning problem.
After the massage I realised that a run was definitely not going to happen and instead planned out the remainder of my ad-hoc rest day.
It could almost seem that I am deliberately completing as many crossings over the Sierra Nevada mountains as possible. In keeping with that theme, after a couple of days around Truckee and Squaw Valley, I followed my brief run along a section of the TRT (read that post here) by driving straight back over (this time via a different pass) towards Sacramento. I had some time to kill so I stopped to watch a movie, which was possibly the only relaxation activity other than reading and surfing the net so far on my trip.
I then made my way to Cameron Park, 30 miles east of Sacramento, to meet up with Curt, his family, and fellow house guests. I had met Curt on the night training run I had completed along the Western States trail, and he had kindly offered me a place to stay if needed. A few days earlier I had also requested an additional favour as I wanted to purchase some running gear online but needed an address for shipping. I would stay with Curt and family for a couple of nights, collect my new running gear, and we would get an oppotunity for a daytime run thanks to Curt’s job as a teacher and the ongoing summer break.
Also staying with Curt were a couple of recent college graduates, that Curt’s wife had brought home from the hospital where she works when there cycling trip across the US was cut dramatically short by a collision with a truck only four days in. Luckily some scrapes and stitches were the worst of the injuries but the cycling was on hold while some healing took place.
We spent the evening watching the movie Unbreakable (not the one with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson) about the 2010 Western States race. I had my computer open and was comparing the splits being run by the top three runners that day (Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka and Kilian Jornet) to my planned pacing. Needless to say the gaps were quite considerable.
The plan was to run the section from Foresthill down to the Rucky Chucky river yet again. Curt was interested to run on the course since he will be pacing a runner from Italy. I had already run that section of the course a couple of times, the most recent being just the previous Saturday (read about that run here) but I was glad to get as much time on the course as possible. A friend of Curt who has run Western States previously would also be joining us for the day.