Saturday, December 4, 2010

Little did I know...203 days to go!

Beth walked into the living room this morning as I frantically was setting up my computer to log onto the Western States 100 website. Today was their annual lottery, where anyone who'd run a 50 mile or longer race in the last year and wanted to run the most famous of all ultramarathons found out their fate. Speaking for this entrant only, though I'm sure plenty of others would agree, the definition of "victory" was undefined for next two hours.

"You know they're going to draw your name, right?"
The look on her face was all business. She wasn't kidding. It was like that sixth sense that kicks in for moms had reached her twelve weeks early. She knew something I didn't know, and there was no explanation for it.

"No, they're not. I've got even worse odds than I thought."
I'd done the calculations earlier in the week and figured I had a 16% chance of having my name drawn from the electronic hat, a computer button pushed by special guests from Placer High School in Auburn, California, just yards from the finish line. The computer chat room told me those odds were even lower, at 10%, as they'd be rounding out the field after granting automatic entries to past top finishers, aid station volunteer-designated runners, folks who'd twice lost the lottery in the past in the now-defunct "two-time loser" system, a few foreign runners, a few sponsor runners, and a couple board members. For good measure, Gordy Ansleigh, the man who created this running insanity after his horse came up lame on the 1974 morning of what had previously been a 100 mile horse race, and Cowman A-Moo-Ha (yes, I typed that correctly), the second man to finish the course on foot in 1976, are granted permanent exemptions, and deservedly so. There were 218 slots being handed out today, out of 415 total, and over 2,000 names in that virtual hat. No, they weren't going to pull my name.

And that's the catch. This race has been a dream of mine for the last 3-4 years, ever since I first heard about it. I want to run this race. I own no less than 4 DVDs about it. I've flown out to California to run 38 miles through the night with a complete stranger because, well, something inside of me has pulled me toward this race. It is my dream race. But I really hoped they wouldn't pull my name. Not this year. Just give me the second raffle ticket now given to all lottery losers next year, after I've put one or two more 50 mile races under my belt, when my unborn child is older than four months old, someday, some year, other than 2011.

"You know they're going to draw your name, right?" She's always right. I shouldn't doubt her instincts.

My video feed had a horrible volume feed, so I could barely hear the introductions or the first 30 or so names drawn from the hat.

And then it happened. Beth was in the breakfast room, about 10 feet away from my couch seat and the laptop in my lap, but she heard it, too.

"Chad Silker."

What? No. They've got to be disqualifying me for some reason, not drawing my name. This lottery just started! No, it's some other guy...maybe the Chad Silker who's like a fourth cousin once-removed and lives outside Kansas City. I just got American Airline points for his stay at a Hilton hotel, so I'm sure it's just a mistake again.

"Ballwin, Missouri."

No way. No f'in way. I'm in.
Beth ran over to me for a hug, a huge smile on her face. I started laughing and crying simultaneously. I wasn't sure if it was out of nerves or joy or fear or just plain stupor. Probably a bit of all of them.
I am going to run the Western States 100. In June 2011. I better get training.

I made a few calls, sent a few texts and emails, and kept trying to verify the official entrants list, which crashed along with the video feed within minutes of my name being called. Within minutes, I'd declined my amazing mother's offer to pace my final miles to the finish (sorry, Mom, but even after I've run 80 or more miles, it's pretty technical stuff, and I'd much rather have you there to care for me in aid stations and yelling that high-pitched matronly scream of yours as I enter the track at Placer High), searched for a rental house in Tahoe for that week, and had an offer to replace my knees some day soon from an old college buddy who just happens to be on the verge of being a licensed orthopedic surgeon. Thanks for being in my corner, McCabe. I also thought about the fact that my longest mileage week ever was 62 miles...the week I ran my first 50 miler this past July. Of course, in my defense, I limited all other running that week to 1-2 miles because I'd stupidly bruised my right foot in a hard skydiving landing two weeks before the race. Yes, I like adrenaline. Life was going to change, and not just because I'm guaranteed to forget about any regular sleep patterns when the little one comes along in a few months.

I don't know where this blog will go in the next 7 months. I wish I could tell you that I had a plan for it, but I don't. I hope it will capture my training a bit, because it'll be good to share the high and low points with others. In fact, I had hit a low point this past week, wondering whether I'd find the motivation to run the Boston Marathon again in April. Training wasn't scheduled to start until January, but the short days and cold air had me doubting my drive to get there again for yet another personal record attempt. I planned to run 10-12 miles today, my longest run since the Chicago Marathon in October, but this lottery win inspired me to run over 15 miles today. They were the first 15 of many, many miles to come. One thing is certain: my marathon weekly average of about 45 miles/week will be blown out of the water.

I hope it will capture the psychology of a runner, or at least this runner, because, yes, we're a screw or two loose. That's why we get up early, or stay up late, to run in the dark. That's why we spend our precious little spare time reading reviews of the latest running shoes. That's why I've got friends in every time zone, and a few foreign countries, because I know I've got a screw loose, just like them, and it's in the asylum we call Runners' World Online that we all find some normalcy. I've been lucky enough to find these "imaginary friends" to talk all things running, and all things life. Sometimes the two are difficult to distinguish.

I hope it inspires. I hope it does some good. I hope it's something I can look back on the day after I cross the finish line, or in fifty years, and have the memories and emotions come rushing back to me. I'll tell you the truth: I'm scared. In fact, it's probably the most prominent emotion I'm feeling tonight. For the first time ever, I'm about to embark on something I'm not even sure I can do. That's a scary thing to ponder. But I'm determined to do it, and I have 203 days to ready my body, mind, and soul for the biggest challenge of my life.

I hope it does some good. I've given a lot of thought as to what is going to drive me to train harder than I've ever trained before. The list is long, but there are two primary motivators for the day-to-day stuff.

The fear of failure, for one. I might fail...depending upon the weather, dozens, if not a hundred or more runners, including some of the best ultrarunners in the world, fail to complete this race. There's a good reason for that. The Western States 100 involves over 17,000 feet of climb and nearly 23,000 feet of decline. Temperatures frequently soar over 100 degrees in the middle of the "second marathon" of the day. The race starts in Squaw Valley, crosses rugged old miner trails, involves some snow running, and even includes a run across the American River...without a bridge in 4 or 5 foot deep water. This race is not for the faint of heart. I hope I'm up for it.

A cause beyond myself, for two (ha!). Running is a self-centered sport, though it's definitely filled with some of the least selfish participants one could ever imagine. How far did I run? How fast did I run? I. Me. Mine. Now. I've struggled with guilt all day, knowing that we didn't plan to take a vacation this year, especially with a four month old. I feel bad about those Saturdays to come when I'm out there running all morning while Beth stays in with the baby. I'm lucky I've married a saint. No, really, I am.

And the self-centeredness of it all is why I'm dedicating this race to the men and women of our military. I'm going to run Western States as a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project ( I'm going to dedicate this race to those who give all of themselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally, for all of us and the freedoms we enjoy. I'm going to dedicate this race to my brother, who returns from a tour of duty in Iraq in January, and so many of my friends and family who have served. I hope to recognize many of them in the coming months. And I'm going to try to raise a large sum of money for those injured in the line of duty. There is no requirement that I do so to compete in this race, but I want to do this for them. My pain will be nothing compared to the pains suffered by the brave men and women of our Armed Forces. I hope their sacrifice will drive me to the finish line. I can't thank them enough for their sacrifice. I really hope you'll find it in yourself to give to the cause. My fundraising goal will be steeper than the 100 miles I seek to run, and every penny you can give will be appreciated. The link will be posted soon.

How'd I spend this first night, 204 days before I finish this 100 mile, one day journey? Celebrating, of course. I opened a bottle of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, a true celebration of the mountains I'll run through in June. And it reminded me of one other reason I run: the post-race beer. Nothing's ever tasted as good.

I hope you'll be there, in person or virtually, for the post-race toast with me in 204 days. I promise the posts to come won't all be this long. Let the journey begin. See you in Auburn.


  1. Wooooo-hoooooo! Go Chad!


  2. awesome! Can't wait to follow the blog

  3. Awesome charity as well Chad! Looking forward to following ...

  4. Chad, I am so excited for you and am also crying for your choice of dedication, since it is so close to our heart! Kick everyone's ass and hopefully we'll be there with you!

  5. I'm so excited to follow your journey. I hope you don't mind, but I shared your blog & fundraising site with those that follow me on twitter.

  6. Thanks, Jenn! It's much appreciated. I won't be able to meet these goals without the support of friends and strangers soon to be friends alike!