Tag Archives: Western States Endurance Run

Race Report: Western States Endurance Run

I am not a prolific racer, and 2013 has involved a huge amount of training all built towards one goal: racing the Western States Endurance Run. Therefore I hope everyone will excuse the indulgent length and breadth of this race report, and that some might even reach its end. It is possibly the longest piece I have written since year 12 English.

Training

My training for Western States had been as near to ideal as I could ever have hoped or planned, as detailed very minutely in this blog. The running I had completed in California on the Western States trail as well as in parks such as Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon had provided a huge volume of quality trail running with both elevation and heat.

I have always been a strong climber so my worry had been the huge amount of descent that the race involved. My time on the course plus some very long descents into the Yosemite Valley had been very beneficial in strengthening my quads for those race-day descents and for boosting my confidence to handle those descents.

Pre-Race

Prior to the race I had put a lot of thought and time into planning. I put together a pacing chart with planned timing through each aid station based on past results, as well as inputs from experienced runners. I prepared the nutrition and gear that I would require as I proceeded along the course, available either through drop bags or thanks to my crew, catering for any eventuality I could think of.

But most important to me was that I had planned a strategy, and I spent plenty of time in the final week prior to the race visualising that strategy in terms of how I would tackle each major ascent and descent. The course profile features the biggest ascents as well as the biggest descents in the first 62 miles through to Foresthill, and then features the most gentle and runnable sections from Foresthill through to the finish. Many runners trash their legs so thoroughly prior to Foresthill that they are unable to run the sections that should be the fastest.

My plan was to attack the ascents and defend the descents through to Foresthill, and then to defend the ascents and attack the descents from Foresthill to the finish. The common advice to a Western States novice is to take it easy through to Foresthill to ensure you are still running at the finish, but I didn’t want to waste the opportunity to make good time on the big climbs since they are my strength. My thought was that the long downhill sections would provide sufficient time between climbs that I would still be able to run all the way through to the finish. The plan did require a fine balance since obviously some muscles are used for both ascents and descents.

When the extended weather forecast started showing high temperatures for race day, the planning needed to be re-evaluated. Then as race day approached and it was clear that it would be one of the hottest races on record it was time to adjust the plan. I arranged to carry additional fluids for cooling down my body, and reconsidered my pacing chart. I also went for a few sessions in the sauna and steam room. I would sit in the heat with my eyes closed, sweating profusely, and picturing what it would feel like to climb out of the canyons with a temperature that was cool in comparison. While I had been expecting that a top 40 finish was likely in normal race conditions, I started to think that if I ran a smart race in extremely hot conditions then a top 20 finish was a realistic possibility.

The night before the race I shared a pre-race meal with my pacers and crew. I told them that I would stick to the pacing chart through to Robinson Flat (30 miles / 50 km into the race), but the race could proceed in many ways from there. We would all need to be ready to adapt as the day progressed since no planning could determine what would happen once the heat arrived.

Start to Emigrant Gap

Waking in the morning before my alarm I looked at my watch and decided it was late enough to get up, just before 3:00 AM. I downed an energy shake and banana, jumped online for a final update of email and social networks, showered, dressed into my neatly laid-out clothes and gear, and then headed for check-in. I picked up my bib number and timing chip, and was weighed in for the first of many times for the day.

I then headed to the start line area, where I met with Louis (my pacer from the river through to the finish) and his wife Linn. I handed them my wallet and phone, and we discussed how relaxed the start of trail ultras were. At a road race there would have been people of all levels pushing as close to the line as possible, yet when I headed over to line up with only five minutes remaining I could easily have moved forward beside the elites. I picked a spot about a quarter of the way back through the field and watched the start line clock tick down.

A shot gun blast … the race is away.

We set off at a run and the course very quickly commenced the 4-mile (6.4 km) ascent that starts the climb out of the ski village and over the pass. I walked plenty of the climb, but as per my strategy, continued to run whenever I decided the gradient was gentle enough. I passed, and was passed by, many people that I have met and run with over the preceding weeks, and we joyfully greeted each other. When I passed by Denise, last year’s 11th-placed female and a top-10 aspirant this year, I realised that I was now amongst the top females. Over the past year I have realised that I mix it up well with the leading ladies, so with their fewer numbers in relation to the men, I tend to gauge position and progress based on them.

I reached the top of the pass, turned around to walk the last few steps backwards while enjoying the view towards Lake Tahoe, and then set off forwards into the Granite Chief Wilderness area. As I crested I voiced in my head, “Auburn, here I come.” I looked at my watch for the first time since hitting the start button to see that I had reached the pass in 52 minutes, ahead of my conservative pacing for the climb, but with a long way still to go.

Emigrant Gap to Robinson Flat

I then settled in for the considerable descent down to Lyons Ridge. I ran and chatted for a while with Hendrik, who is Danish but currently residing in India. I pointed out some of the features I was familiar with from my training run along this section of the course, but Hendrik then pulled away on the descent, and then I reached the gate where I had turned around on my training run, and I would be on uncharted territory for the next 21 miles (33 km). Running in towards Lyons Ridge I had the first impression of the heat that we would face. It was before 7:00 AM at an elevation over 7,000 ft (2,100 m), and I was running in the shade, but the heat was palpable.

Just after the Lyons Ridge aid station I chatted with another runner for a while, who had apparently been told by one of the aid station crew that he was in the top 50. He mentioned that we were possibly on pace for a top 20 finish if we kept up the pace, and I discussed the fact that every runner was talking about the carnage that they expected in the heat, yet nobody thought that they would be part of that carnage. Obviously some of them will be wrong, and I hoped that would not include me.

I reached Red Star Ridge aid station, had my first sponge bath of the day, wet my buff, and continued for the descent into Duncan Canyon. Passing the aid station I dropped down to Duncan Creek, where I stopped briefly to cool myself down, and then commenced the long climb to Robinson Flat.

Crossing Duncan Creek with Amy Sproston just behind
Crossing Duncan Creek with Amy Sproston just behind – photo courtesy of Facchino Photography

I fell in behind two strong females, with one of them setting a great pace and running plenty of sections so I sat on their tail. Eventually the stronger climber of the two pulled away from the second, so I stuck with her, and then eventually passed her and continued on my own through to Robinson Flat. I came out onto the road, spotted my crew for the first time of the day, and entered the aid station. I downed some energy shake, carried the rest with me, picked up an additional 8-oz (240-ml) flask of water (for keeping my body wet), and set out once again. I had reached Robinson Flat nine minutes ahead of my pacing chart, but now all bets were off. I would see my crew once again at Michigan Bluff, after two of the three canyons.

Along the course
Along the course – courtesy of Michigan Bluff Photography

Continue reading Race Report: Western States Endurance Run

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Gear Review: Western States Endurance Run

Rather than a detailed review of any particular piece of gear this post will cover the gear that will be joining me as I run 100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn as part of the Western States Endurance Run. One of my running mates Lindsey once quipped that I would be the perfect gear tester, since I have no brand loyalty and like to own nothing but the best. It was a fair comment since at the time I don’t believe a single brand was represented twice. I generally have favoured brands for specific items at any point in time, but if another company comes out with something better I will not hesitate to switch.

For my upcoming race there are a lot of different brands represented, although one has managed to sneak in three times. So here goes, working from head to toe.

Gear - Western States Endurance Run
Gear – Western States Endurance Run

Cap: Brooks HVAC Infiniti Mesh Hat

I do own a lot of running shoes from a lot of different brands, but when it comes to road running Brooks are my go-to shoe. Recently most of my road miles have been completed in the Brooks PureConnect, a shoe which I would confidently run a road ultramarathon in. In terms of this cap it is quite simply the best one I own. The one I will wear was recently purchased on this trip, but is simply a newer model of one that I have been using for the past couple of years. It is comfortable, light and quick drying.

Sunglasses: Rudy Project Rydon with Photochromic Clear Lenses

I had previously owned running glasses made by Nike and Smith Optics, but after buying these glasses it will take a very special product to remove this company. The quality of the lenses for these glasses are fantastic. The glasses allow interchangeable lenses and I have five different pairs (Transparent, Yellow, Laser Blue, Photochromic Red and Photochromic Clear). For the race I will use my Photochromic Clear lenses, which although they don’t go extremely dark in very bright sun, they do adjust very well in shaded areas so I will only need to remove them in particularly dark areas.

Buff: Buff

I am not sure whether any other companies make running buffs, but my buff is made by Buff. The idea to wear the buff actually comes from an ultrarunning friend, Tamyka, so I have to thank her for this one. It would have acted to help keep my neck warm at the start of the race (unlikely to be required with the weather forecast), I can pull it over my face in case the dust is extremely bad, and I can wet it to keep my neck cool during the hot stages of the race. This particular Buff I received from running the fantastic Otter Run (tagged as the “Grail of Trails”), a stunning race along the southern coast of South Africa.

Shirt: Salomon Exo S-LAB Zip Tee

I ran Leadville last year wearing this shirt. I like the tight fit of this top, which has meant that I don’t suffer any chafing on either the nipples or under my arms. There are a couple of other brands (2XU, The North Face) that were starting to challenge for this spot but Salomon still holds them off for the moment. There are two in the photo since I will have a second waiting for me after the Rucky Chucky river crossing in case I opt to change into a dry one.

Hydration: Ultimate Direction Anton Krupicka Race Vest

Up until only a few months ago Salomon would have had a sure thing in this space with their Advanced Skin S-LAB Set (I own both the 5 litre and 12 litre). I am not a fan of carrying water bottles in my hands (although I do own both an Amphipod hand bottle and the Salomon Sense Hydro S-LAB Set) and therefore opt towards a hydration pack in most circumstances. For this race my plan is to go as light as possible and minimise time at aid stations by using water bottles at the front of the pack, rather than a hydration bladder in the back. When Ultimate Direction released this pack, weighing less than the Salomon pack and costing less than half the price I decided to purchase it. I have used it a lot during my training runs (fitted with both bottles and a 1.5-litre bladder) and I can actually fit more in this pack than in the Salomon 5 litre.

The clear problem that I have found with the vest is the included water bottles. I carried along one of the included bottles for a 20-mile run on the Western States course, and found that no matter how it was adjusted, it was digging into my ribs. I felt it starting to bruise so I ended up running the final 12 miles carrying the bottle in my hand. My solution to that problem was…

Hydration: Salomon Soft Flasks

Salomon make these soft flasks in 5 oz (148 ml), 8 oz (237 ml) and 16 oz (500 ml). They are brilliantly soft (therefore not bruising rib cages), and since air does not replace the water that you drink they do not create a sloshing sound at all. It does mean that they collapse as you drink from them, so they drop into the front pockets of the pack. For me, these flasks with the Ultimate Direction vest are an absoluate winner in terms of hydration. I will carry one 8-oz and one 16-oz around for the day, and due to the extremely warm weather forecast for the weekend will also pick up a second 8-oz to carry through the hottest part of the day for wetting my buff and face.

Watch: Suunto Ambit

The Suunto Ambit is a great product and has improved consistently while I have owned it. It has been great to watch the firmware upgrades that have slowly shaped it into the brilliant device that it has become. I have just upgraded it yesterday to what will be the last firmware upgrade (almost as if they planned it in preparation for my race), and it is likely that I might end up with the Suunto Ambit2 (or Ambit3 or Ambit4) when I eventually upgrade. Suunto have also made some great improvements to their MovesCount.com website so that it is now a useful tool for evaluating runs.

Compression Shorts: Skins A400

As an Australian (the company originates from that great country) Skins were the first compression brand that I tried. I had previously used bicycle shorts when running since my large upper legs have always made chafing a problem. I used Skins for a while before switching to 2XU compression wear, but have once again returned to Skins.

Running Shorts: The North Face Better Than Naked Shorts

When I arrived in the US I had never owned any item produced by The North Face. I always knew of the company as a good brand, had looked at and tried on their products on numerous occasions, but no purchase had ever taken place.

I arrived with a pair of 2XU shorts that were intended as my race day shorts, but soon realised that “dying” was not the correct term to use in describing them since they were already “dead”. 2XU has been my go-to brand for both running shorts and shirts over the past couple of years. I still have many shirts remaining but I can’t see myself buying any more of their shorts. I have always disliked the lack of storage, with only a single zip pocket on the left-hand side of the shorts.

Shopping around I found a rack of The North Face running clothing, and was very interested that their Better Than Naked Shorts were extremely light but also featured a central zip pocket at the rear, as well as an elastic pocket to either side. I had found my new race shorts.

I have since bought a couple of Better Than Naked Shirts that I found on a clearance rack, which I have been impressed with, and it is likely that The North Face will start to occupy more space in my running wardrobe going forward.

Calf Sleeves: Salomon Exo Calf Sleeves

I only use calf sleeves during long trail runs. I am unconvinced whether the compression does provide any aid during the run but I definitely do not find them to hamper my running. On trails they provide the additional benefit of protecting the legs from scatches and scrapes, and in California they also protect from Poison Oak. I own calf sleeves by 2XU and Salomon, but the Salomon have received the nod for the race.

Socks: Falke Falkelite

Produced in South Africa I purchased 10 pairs of these socks before departing. They are a great light-weight running sock that wick well.

Shoes: Inov-8 Trailroc 245

A pair of Brooks Adrenaline ASR (the trail variant of the popular Brooks road running shoe) was the first pair of trail shoes that I purchased. Since then all of the trail shoes that I have purchased have been from Inov-8.

I started out with their Roclite 295, with a 9 mm offset, and then ran Leadville in a pair of Roclite 285, with a reduced 6 mm offset. But while I loved the feel of the 295 and wanted the lower offset of 285, I found the Roclite 285 too tight in the mid-sole. When the Trailroc series was announced last year they seemed like the answer. I opted for the Trailroc 245, which has a 3 mm offset, as I felt that I was ready to take it down a step from the 6 mm offset I had used at Leadville, but didn’t feel that I wanted a zero drop shoe for ultramarathon running up to 100 miles.

I recently retired my first pair of Trailroc 245 shoes after 340 miles (550 km) of use, with well-worn but still workable soles, although they do have a couple of extra holes in the uppers that weren’t there when I started. I will start off the race in the blue pair and will switch to the red pair if I decide to change shoes and socks after the river crossing.

1 Day to WSER: Rest and Registration

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.

Western States Endurance Run - My Registration Goody Bag
Western States Endurance Run – My Registration Goody Bag

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).

2 Days to WSER: Two More Cycles of Nature

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.

Continue reading 2 Days to WSER: Two More Cycles of Nature

3 Days to WSER: The Return of the Sun

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.

Continue reading 3 Days to WSER: The Return of the Sun

4 Days to WSER: Rains and Missed

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.

5 Days to WSER: Wet Days and Late Afternoon Runs

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.

Continue reading 5 Days to WSER: Wet Days and Late Afternoon Runs

6 Days to WSER: A Truncated Journey to the Summit

I have two pacers for my run at Western States.

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.

Continue reading 6 Days to WSER: A Truncated Journey to the Summit

Truckee - Sawtooth Trail Panorama

7 Days to WSER: Trailing the Locals

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.

Truckee - Sawtooth Trail Views
Truckee – Sawtooth Trail Views

Continue reading 7 Days to WSER: Trailing the Locals

Mt Judah Panorama

8 Days to WSER: Mt Judah

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.

Mt Judah Views
Mt Judah Views

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.