The Start - Olympic Valley, Lake Tahoe: I was there with some friends, and we couldn't believe that we were running the Western States 100! It was so unreal, like a dream that was about to become reality. I felt relaxed and ready for the challenge. I had a great training block leading up to the race, running the Avalon 50 mile in January and the Leona Divide 100k in April. I've been coached by Jeff Browning since December, and all the workouts and training led up to this race. The plan for this race is very specific: run an easy pace to save my quads for Foresthill (mile 62), then run it into the finish as hard as possible. The buzz for this race is incredible and the start area was packed with 382 runners. The traditional shotgun blast at 5am started the race and we were off!
The Escarpment: The race starts with a 4 mile, 2400' climb that peaks out at 8647' elevation, so it was key for me to take it easy up this climb and not to force anything. I power hiked most of it, running some sections when it leveled out. My buddy Alex and I paired up at the start and decided to work together for as long as we could. We were having a blast chatting with our friends Chris and Vivian along with some of the other runners around us. We were excited, but knew the giant task ahead. It was a beautiful morning and the sun started to rise as we were a few miles into the climb. The top of the escarpment was full of race fans and fellow runners cheering us on. It was so cool to see many of my Altra Running teammates up there as well. It was an amazing way to start a race, and the sunrise was incredible. I turned around at the top to look at the Tahoe Valley sunrise before starting the first of many downhills in the race. Time/Place 00:57:24 / 227th.
The High Country: Once over the escarpment, the next 26 miles were around 7000' elevation and we could feel it. I had never run this section of the course to Robinson Flat (Mile 30.2). I started a little farther back than I wanted to so there was a bit of a conga line when we hit the single track downhill at mile 4. Alex and I were chatting and running easy, enjoying the views and talking with some of the other runners. It was a little frustrating at times running so slow, but we figured it would help us later on. Beautiful single track trails led us to the 1st aid station: Lyon Ridge (Mile 10.3), Time/Place 2:44:49 / 244th. I filled up my two Ultraspire handheld bottles (1 with water + 1 with FLUID Performance Blueberry Pomegranate), grabbed some food, and took off down the trail. I should also note I was running this race with Spring Energy Gels and Vespa. Alex and I were taking it easy and having a great time, just like the training runs we ran together a month before the race.
We arrived at Red Star Ridge (Mile 15.8), Time/Place 04:05:34 / 229th. It was already getting warm out so I put ice in my neck bandana, loaded up on supplies, and was looking forward to seeing my crew for the first time at the next aid station. More rolling alpine single tracks with huge pine trees, beautiful views, and mostly downhill running led us to Duncan Canyon (Mile 24.4), Time/Place 5:51:05 / 239th. It was so great to see my crew for the first time! Their names are: Andrew MacDonnell (Crew Chief), Cris Francisco (Pacer #1) and Christopher Ferrier (Pacer #2). They were ready with a protein shake, new ice bandana, my ice hat, and a new shirt soaked in ice water. Chris and I learned the ice shirt trick on our long runs on the Pacific Crest Trail. Nothing better than dipping your shirt in a cool stream and putting it back on… it really gives you a new lease on life when it's hot out. I left that aid station feeling great and took off towards Robinson Flat. There's a 1.5 mile downhill to a stream crossing, then the second climb of the race (miles 26.59 - 30.89). Many runners were soaking in the stream, but I was nice and cool with the icy shirt so I just ran right by them. The climb was surprisingly long and tough. The sun was beating down on my back, and I started seeing runners fading in the heat. Alex and I passed many runners on this section, finally arriving at Robinson Flat (Mile 30.3), Time/Place 07:34:38 / 217th. This aid station was huge, there were so many people cheering and helping all of the runners. Alex had his crew at this aid station, but I did not. We took care of business and left together, heading to one of the toughest sections of the race: the Canyons infamously known as the Western States Killing Machine .
The Canyons: There's a 0.5 mile climb out of Robinson Flat that leads to a 14+ mile downhill into the canyons. Alex and I were very cautious on this downhill, watching our pace and taking it very easy. It was warming up but we were playing it smart, chatting a little less but still having fun as we headed into Dusty Corners (Mile 38), Time/Place 09:15:32 / 219th. My crew was at this aid station and I needed a bit of a reset. I sat down for the first time in the race and regrouped as the guys took care of me. I saw Alex was ready to roll, so I got up and we got going into one of the most beautiful sections of the race, which is also known to be one of the hottest. I was a little concerned about the heat, but was iced up and felt really good so I was optimistic. The single track runs high along the edge of the American River, and it's amazing. It's the type of single track trail that pulls you down at a good pace with unreal views. At this point the heat was turning up and both Alex and I were beginning to feel the effects of 40 miles on this tough course. We arrived at Last Chance (43.3 Miles), Time/Place 10:26:00 / 192nd. I got things taken care of and was hoping Alex would leave with me. We had run all 43 miles together, and I was hoping it would continue; however, he needed more time to recover so I took off down into the canyon alone.
I was feeling quite good as I got to the bottom of the canyon, and started up the toughest climb in the race: the dreaded Devil's Thumb climb (Miles 45.74 - 47.55). I had run this section in the training camp, but that was with fresh legs and cool temps. It was brutal during the race! I just put it in power hike gear and pressed on step by step. I could hear other runners groaning and some dry heaving as I got to the midway point of the climb. Mile 47 has over 1000' of vert and it was rough. My pace that mile was 29:29… I finally reached Devil's Thumb (Mile 47.8), Time/Place 12:01:00 / 210th. The aid station was like a medical tent… so many runners looked like death so I didn't want to stay long. I got reloaded, grabbed some food, and walked out of there with a delicious popsicle! One canyon done, one more to go. I wasn't feeling so great at Devil's Thumb, but I recovered quickly and had a great run segment down to the El Dorado Creek bridge / aid station. The single track down to the bridge is smooth and runnable. I was still feeling fairly cool with the ice hat, bandana, and sleeves, but I could feel some very hot breezes as I descended to the bottom. I reached El Dorado Creek (Mile 52.9), Time/Place 13:15:00 / 187th. I took a seat, got taken care of, had a few laughs with Scott and Don from Trail Runner Nation Podcast, and started the long climb up to Michigan Bluff (miles 52.3 - 55.21).
The climb isn't as tough as the Devil's Thumb climb, but it's longer and deeper into the race. Once again I'm in power hike gear, grinding with purpose as I knew my crew was at Michigan Bluff, and I was hoping one of them would meet me at the top to run to the aid station with me. It's the little things in these races that encourage me, anything to give me hope during the low points. Thankfully, I wasn't feeling overheated and met Chris at the top of the climb. We ran to Michigan Bluff, Time/Place 14:22:00 / 190th. It was great to sit down, reload on fuel, and get a leg massage. I got to see a few friends, and left feeling really good. Next stop: Foresthill and my first pacer, Cris Francisco! I ran out of the aid station with a very optimistic mindset… I had made it through the brutal canyons and I was running strong. I was by myself through much of this section, and I regretted not bringing my ice hat. It was cooler at Michigan Bluff, so I figured I didn't need the hat any longer. Bad decision, as the canyon between Michigan Bluff and Foresthill was very warm. I got to the bottom of the canyon and dipped my hat in the water, but in hindsight I should've dunked my shirt as well to cool myself off up that climb. Like earlier, the climb was easy during the training run, but was really tough at this point of the race. I got to the top of the and was greeted by my first pacer, Cris. We chatted and ran it to Foresthill just as it was getting dark, Time/Place 16:03:13 / 187th. This is the first time my stomach started to turn a little. I feel that not taking my ice hat on that section led to this issue. As always, my crew took great care of me, and I walked out of there knowing that I had a lot of work to do. The first 100k of the race is a serious mountain race with 12,500' of vert and 16,500' of descent. Not so much the “track meet” many people speak of, in my opinion!
Foresthill to Green Gate: I wasn't feeling great as we left Foresthill, so I walked a bit to let my stomach settle before we started running again. Cris gave me the rundown on my current race pace, and I was a bit upset at myself for getting so far behind 24-hour pace. I was going to have to push hard to break 26 hours. Mile 60-80 is always the hardest part of a 100 mile race, and I was definitely in the middle of my lowest point in the race. Cris did a fantastic job keeping me focused on the task at hand as we worked into the night. This section was harder than I remembered, with short but very steep climbs. I felt like we were getting back into a groove as we headed into the Cal 1 aid station (mile 65.7), Time/Place 17:04:28 / 184th. I got a delicious hot quesadilla with avocado all over it. At this point I was focusing on liquid calories (FLUID Performance Blueberry Pomegranate), only eating solid food at the aid stations. This strategy has worked well for me in the past, and this race was no different. I do wish I would've hit the caffeine a little earlier than I did, as part of my low was due to being tired and not thinking clearly. I was just doing what I could, and Cris was doing his very best to keep me running as much as possible. We arrived at the Cal 2 aid station (mile 70.7), Time/Place 18:27:00 / 183rd. All I remember about this section was a few steep hills, passing a few runners, and not looking forward to the river. This section was beautiful during the day, but it wasn't much fun at night. I remember Cris encouraging me on that climb and I was happy that I was starting to feel strong again, passing a few runners on the steepest climb before the downhill to the next aid station.
I was still in a little bit of a low as we headed into Rucky Chucky (mile 78), Time/Place 20:36:10 / 181st. I took a quick seat and drank some broth before heading into the American River crossing. Cris and I entered the water, and man was it cold!! It was waist deep in spots, and there were some big boulders to step over and then back in the water. I was smiling in the photos that the race photographer took but I was not enjoying it at all. There were around 10 volunteers in the water helping us cross the river safely. They told me they were each doing 2 hour shifts in the water… God Bless them for being out there at 1:30am! It was pretty awesome going through this section because it's so iconic. I said to Cris, “I can’t believe we’re crossing the American River in Western States!!” We were getting towards the end of the crossing when I heard my second pacer, Chris Ferrier, yelling at us and taking our photo. It was great to see him as we climbed the steep slope out of the river. I had heard that the climb up to Green Gate was rough, and it was indeed brutal. I was shivering cold as we marched up the steep hill to the Green Gate aid station (mile 79.8), Time/Place 21:24:00 / 174th. I sat down and my crew went to work on me: Cris massaged my legs, they covered me with 2 towels to warm me up, and they changed my shoes/socks. It was a full reset that was dearly needed and necessary for me to finish strong the last 20 miles.
Green Gate to the Finish: My low point was miles 60-80, and I knew I had to move well the last 20 to have a respectable finish. I got out of the chair at Green Gate and was feeling very tight. We hiked for a bit, but within a half mile I was loosening up and got into a good rhythm. I took a caffeine pill around 2am and another at 4:30am, and what a difference it made (in hindsight I should've taken one around 10:30pm to help me run stronger through the night). We were running well and started picking off runners at a good clip. The race was on (in my mind), and I was gaining momentum with every mile. I could hear Chris breathing heavily at times and he commented on how well I was running. I was getting fired up, passing 10 runners before reaching the Quarry Road aid station (mile 90.7), Time/Place 24:17:48 / 164th. We left Quarry Road, running well as the sun rose on beautiful Western States Sunday morning. We were having so much fun and my legs felt so strong. It was amazing to be feeling so well and even running many of the uphills along the way. We arrived at the Pointed Rocks aid station (mile 94.3), Time/Place 25:21:26 / 160th. I took a seat, ate some bacon, and got loaded up for the last push to the finish. I got some encouragement from my crew and friends before I took off with Chris for one last segment.
This final section includes the iconic No Hands Bridge and Robie Point. We crossed No Hands Bridge and ran all the way to the bottom of the stairs before the climb up to Robie Point. It was an amazing feeling: I was running strong and the finish was just over 1 mile away!!! We hiked up the final climb to Robie Point (mile 98.9) and met with my crew to run the last mile together. It was incredible, there were so many people on the road cheering us in and we got emotional soaking it all in. It was so surreal as my crew and I ran together towards the track at Placer High. I've watched this on so many videos over the years and wondered if it was something I'd ever get to do. We made the final left turn to the track and were greeted by a swarm of people at the entrance. I entered the track and heard Tropical John Medinger's voice announcing my name and bio information about my crew and family. A cameraman from the live feed was in front of me, my crew at my side running with me as we circled the track. We rounded the last turn and there it was: the finish line of the Western States 100. It was a dream come true, and I was so thankful to cross the finish line with my awesome crew. I completed the race in 26:48:51, placing 155th overall. What a blessing from the Lord it is to run 100 miles and to finish this great race!!
Below are some after race thoughts; things to remember if I get to run the race again or for those planning to run the race.
Things I'd do again:
- Run an easy pace from the start, never rushing at any point of the race.
- Have fun and soak in the Western States 100 experience from start to finish. I was blessed to be there, and I knew it!
- Running with Ultraspire handhelds was awesome. No additional heat from having a pack on, and they're super fast to fill at aid stations.
- Sauna Training: I'm a believer! I had never done it until 3 weeks before this race. It's a must… I never got overheated in this notoriously hot race.
- Ice Hat, Ice Sleeves, and Ice Bandana: Like I said, I never got overheated out there and I was consistently passing overheating people during the hottest time of the race.
- My crew was the best, I'd bring all three guys back if I ever get back in the race. They're very close friends and I'm so thankful that they sacrificed 5 days of their lives for me.
- We made a last minute change to crew at Duncan Canyon and Dusty Corners instead of Robinson Flat. This eliminated the need for drop bags, and I didn't need a crew at Robinson Flat because it's a massive aid station with plenty of people to help all the runners out.
- My Altra Shoe/XOSKIN Socks/SNB combo are the best and I finished with zero blisters or any foot issues.
- Fueling up on FLUID Performance throughout the race was key! Kept my stomach feeling good, and provided the hydration and energy I needed during the toughest parts of the race.
Things I’d do different:
- Start closer to the position that I finished in, around 150th. I started outside the top 200, which led to some slow miles on the downhill single track sections after the Escarpment. I think the first 15-20 miles would have had much easier running than the inconsistent walk/jog of the single track conga line. I passed 90 runners during the race, which is good but wastes valuable energy.
- Flow with the downhills instead of forcing a slower pace. I held back big time on the downhills because I was afraid to blow my quads. I followed the advice of others who had run the race before me, but I trained for the downhills and then ran them too slowly. I did finish really strong, but this is one of the things that prevented me from having a 24 hour finish.
- Keep my ice hat on from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill.
- Take caffeine tablets at 10:30pm, 2:00am and 4:30am. I didn't start until 2:00am, costing me a few good hours of running.
- FLUID Performance Electrolyte Mix (Blueberry Pomegranate flavor)
- Altra Olympus 4 Shoes with Altra Gaiters
- XOSKIN Toe Socks
- Squirrel's Nut Butter Anti-Chafe and Happy Toes
- Patagonia Strider 5" Pro Shorts (5 waist pockets are the best)
- XOSKIN Compression Shorts (XOUNDERWEAR)
- Team Altra Race Tech Shirts (Ice Soaked with 1 dry shirt for Green Gate)
- ICED Hat during the heat, Team FLUID Trucker Hat during the start/finish
- Rudy Project Sunglasses
- Vespa Packets every 2 hours
- Spring Energy Gels (Speednut and Awesomesauce)
- Ensure Chocolate Max Protein Drink at every crew stop (Bigfoot 200 Practice)
- No Doz Caffeine Tablets
- UltrAspire ISO Pocket 3.0 Handhelds
- COROS Vertix 2 Watch
(Photos by Facchino Photography)
Pushing the hills in the early miles!
Crossing the American River.
Running the iconic finish on the track at Placer High School.