Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mine's not done, so here are a few race reports from others.

First, here's an excellent video showing some of the snow running. I make my appearance at the 2:45 mark.

Here's a link to the blog that directed me to that video, where the always informative Craig Thornley offers his race report.

Any race report compilation would not be complete without my coach and, for the seventh straight year, top ten finisher Andy Jones-Wilkins' race report.

I actually made the 6th place women's finisher Aliza Lapierre's race report. Aliza and I ran together during the Memorial Day training weekend, and she did in fact make the noise I predicted she'd make. Nice run, Aliza!

As a reminder that this is a tough sport even for the top guys, course record holder and defending champ Geoff Roes recounts his first ever DNF here.

The speedy superhero Ian Sharman's race report about his tenth place finish can be found here.

Dave Mackey's 8th place running recap is here.

Nick Clark's stellar third place recap is here.

I'm in no way boasting, because he's much more talented than me and, again, anyone can have a bad day in this sport at any time...but was I shocked when the uber-talented Scott Jaime arrived to the track a little after me. Here's his report. I'm glad he fought it out!

And I'll probably keep adding to this list as I find them...and avoid doing my own.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The buckle.

I'll write a full race report later, but I wanted to share this photo of the coveted belt buckle I received yesterday as well as let all of you know how appreciative I am of your congratulatory notes and well-wishes. You were all out there with me in spirit on what turned out to be an epic 100.2 mile run!

Official Finishing Time: 19:48:28

Place: 29th male; 38th overall out of 310 finishers.

And yes, I'm sore.

Friday, June 24, 2011

It's time to run. (One day to go!)

Having dreams is what makes life tolerable. - Pete from the movie Rudy

If having dreams makes life tolerable, how can I capture what it feels like to live my dreams without sounding like I'm exaggerating, or being over-the-top, or just plain obnoxious? I'm not sure I can, though here I am in the midst of one.

I first dreamed of running this race five or six years ago. I was a new runner, falling in love with the sport, and I read, watched, and talked running whenever I could. Somehow, maybe through Dean Karnazes' book, I heard about the Western States 100, and before long, I owned several DVDs on the race and browsed every page of the race website. It became my dream event, something on the bucket list, the race I was going to do, someday...I just never imagined that someday would be tomorrow. Dreams aren't supposed to come true, right?

I am experiencing a lot of emotions as we draw nearer and nearer to the firing of the starter's gun.

First and foremost, I feel gratitude. Yes, even more than nervousness, I'm grateful for everything in my life. I'm surrounded by my family and friends here in California, and there are so many more of you keeping tabs on me back home. That's an incredibly powerful motivation to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm married to a saint. Beth has supported me from Day One two hundred and three days ago, when I felt fear and guilt from the moment my name was drawn about the sacrifices it would require from my growing family. She felt joy, and she quickly imparted that feeling on me. The last seven months have been a crazy time in our lives-I'd highly recommend anyone contemplating their first foray into 100 mile races to wait until a time when they're not expecting their first child-but through it all, Beth has been a rock, that constant source of support and love that I needed to maintain some level of balance in my life. She's an amazing wife, the best friend I could ever ask for, and a loving and caring mother to Nora. There is no way I would be toeing the starting line tomorrow if I didn't have her to lean on. I'm glad she'll be able to run that final mile or so with me to the finish line...she always does see things through to the end. Thank you, honey. I love you.

I've got an amazing family. After their flight out here was canceled due to mechanical difficulties, my parents re-booked, taking three flights over no less than 15 hours to reach us. Their luggage still hasn't arrived. They'll be leading one of the crew cars, and I'm so thankful for their unconditional love and support. For all of my self-doubt, it's always a little flattering to remember that there are two people in this world who have, for nearly thirty-two years, believed that I really can do anything if I put my mind to it. We're going to test that tomorrow, Mom and Dad, but I'm looking forward to seeing you both when I enter Michigan Bluff after a long 55 miles by myself back in the canyons.

My mother-in-law is the quiet force that has kept us going this week. She's there for Beth and me, and in every possible way, Nora, when we need her the most. I don't know how many times I've walked into the living room to see Nora fast asleep in her arms, and I'm comforted knowing that Nora has the care of her Nana while the rest of the crew out here caters to me. Her role is behind the scenes somewhat, but its importance cannot be stressed enough. Thank you, Sigrid, for being here.

And I can't say enough about my friends, those here in person and those scattered across this country and even globe.

My friends here are going to play an important role in getting me to Auburn. I'm fortunate to have Jay's expertise and ability alongside me for the final 38 miles, pushing me forward and attending to my needs, too. He's the fastest man I know personally, but he's also one of the nicest. Pam is going to be a huge help with the crew. She's already come through with camping chairs and coolers, so this Midwestern gang is outfitted as good as the locals. I enjoyed hiking up the first big climb with her yesterday, and I'm glad she took time away from work to spend a few days up here. And I've known Jeff since 1998, and as the second-longest tenured roommate of my adult years behind Beth, he probably knows me better than just about anyone. While two time zones separate us these days, our time together quickly reminds me how we came to be the best of friends. I'm counting on him to keep things light-hearted in the middle of the night to distract from the pain and suffering when I'm in the aid stations.

My friends afar are here with me in spirit, and they will be all along the Western States Trail. Literally dozens of them have changed their Facebook profiles to celebrate being part of "Team Silky" this weekend, and I've received texts, emails, and wall posts wishing me luck than I've been able to respond to this week. Many of them are my virtual training partners, and have been for up to four years now, motivating me to run when I don't feel like it, encouraging me to reach for that goal that seems beyond my grasp, and reminding me that this is, in fact, something I'm capable of doing. There's a group of guys back in St. Louis--Brandon, Tommy, Travis, John, and Greg in particular--who embraced this ultramarathon novice and imparted a lot of wisdom on me along the way. I said it last month, and I'll state it again: No man is a failure who has friends...and clearly, there's no way I can fail, regardless of what happens on the trail tomorrow. I'm a lucky guy to have each of you in my life!

I can't post about all of you without mentioning the driving force behind my Western States run. All of these people, and a few strangers that I've never met, contributed to something so meaningful to me at a level I never thought possible. Since December 4, 2010, when I found out I got into Western States, we have together raised over $12,800 for the Wounded Warrior Project! That is just unreal. When I first gave thought to setting my fundraising goal--for a race with no fundraising requirement, mind you!--at $100 for each of the 100 miles, I hesitated.. $10,000 is a lot of money. I even typed in "$5,000" on the WWP fundraising signup page. But I quickly realized that I wanted to set a goal as big as this event itself...something that, like the race, was going to take hard work and dedication to achieve. I am so impressed by the generosity and kindness of all of you, since we've raised over 25% more than that! This money raised will go to a good cause, aiding our wounded veterans in their greatest time of need, and I promise you that I will find inner strength from your generosity just as I know I find it every day from the bravery, courage, and toughness of our wounded warriors, and all of our men and women in uniform. It is an honor to run for them, just as it's a privilege to live in this great country. So yes, my first emotion today is one of gratitude.

I'm not going to second emotion is one of nervousness and even a little fear. I'm nervous about what's going to happen out there. I'm scared of failure. I'm petrified of the darkness I inevitably will experience at some point. Of course, I'm comforted knowing you're all out there rooting me on. I'll give it my best, I promise, and I will do everything in my power to see this through.

Finally, I feel the excitement of race day, the call to do something epic in a world where the opportunity to do so is so rare. I've trained hard for tomorrow, over 1800 miles since that Saturday morning less than seven months ago when I found out my ticket to the Big Dance, a dream come true, had been punched. There were runs in the snow, runs in the heat, runs in the rain. I ran runs at 4 AM before work, and at 10 PM after a long day of billable hours. I even ran a few miles just hours after Nora's birth. There were many runs I didn't want to end, they felt so good, and a few that I was hoping would never start. Running has in many way come to define who I am as a person, and I don't mean that in a negative way. It adds structure to my life, sanity to my craziness, and stress-relief from the 9 to 5 (if only it was just a 9 to 5!). It will be an amazing experience to line up with 400 of my peers, folks who have trained just as hard, for just as long or even longer, to test our resolve over 100.2 miles. I don't know what's going to happen out there, other than that I'm going to put all of myself out there and see what happens. The journey here was worth it all by itself. No matter what, this has been a dream come true.

If having dreams is what makes life tolerable, you all can rest easy tonight knowing that my life is far beyond tolerable. My life is blessed.

I'll see you on the other side.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Busy day at Squaw! (2 days to go!)

It's another beautiful day in Tahoe! I got a solid 8 1/2 hours of sleep last night, a bit shy of the previous night's 9 1/2, but I'm feeling rested and ready to go!

I'll be heading over to Squaw with my pacer Jay and friend Pam in a little bit. We're going to hike up to Escarpment, about 4000 feet in 4 miles, for a ceremony at the top of the mountain. The highlight, though, will be meeting my coach Andy Jones-Wilkins and his family for the hike! After we've climbed down from the peak, there are a series of seminars available--everything from blister treatment (I'll pass-if I have nastier than usual blisters, I'll be begging an aid station medic for assistance) to final crew instructions to a Q&A session with a few veteran runners that is being MCed by my coach! The real highlight will be milling around with my fellow runners and their friends and families. I imagine there'll be a pre-race energy today!

Tomorrow morning I have a 9 am weigh-in followed by a race expo. At the weigh-in, I'll receive my yellow wristband that is my lifeline to the race...lose that, for any reason, and I'm out of the race. It's the only way that all of the volunteers can ensure that only healthy runners are competing; it's also the only way the race organizers can administer a final test to weed out the morons among us: if you can't go 20 hours without losing the wristband, they probably don't want you out there running 100 miles in the mountains. They'll give us the final runner instructions at 12:30 tomorrow afternoon, and then it's back to the house for a pre-race pasta dinner and last minute packing of drop bags, etc. Breakfast is served at Squaw at 3:30 AM on Saturday morning, and the gun will sound at 5 AM sharp. From there, my big adventure will have begun...and 20-some hours later, I'll hopefully cross that finish line at the Placer High track.

One little note: As I was wandering around the Village yesterday, I was drafted into servitude for the race. When you see the runners run under the huge start line banner on Saturday, and assuming it doesn't fall down on anyone, know that I was one of the able-bodied who helped set that up! Photos to come later.

Time for a shake-out run!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Race day tracking information (3 days to go!)

Race day is nearly here! We're heading over to Squaw Valley in an hour or so to check things out and attend an afternoon seminar. It'll feel even more real when we do so.

A lot of people have asked me about race day tracking information. Here are a few methods by which you can follow along at home:

1) The ultra live website maintains a runner tracking system that is stellar. It provides regular splits and pacing information updated at each aid station. is the link. From there, you can choose your favorite runners to follow by name or bib number. My link is since I am Bib #189.

If you're interested in tracking some of the elite runners, let me suggest following these folks in the men's field: defending champion and course record holder Geoff Roes (M1), last year's third place finisher Kilian Jornet (M3), six years consecutive top 10 finisher and my coach Andy Jones-Wilkins (M9), Nick Clark (M4), two-time champion Hal Koerner (16), and Ian Sharman, who ran a 12 hour 100 mile race at Rocky Raccoon this winter (M8). In the women's field, I met elite runner Aliza Lapierre (24) on Day One of training weekend, and later discovered she was super fast when she was flying down Cal Street on Day Two. I told her then that I expect her to make some noise in this race! Others to watch include defending champion Tracy Garneau (F1), masters' wonder Meghan Arbrogast (F2), Nikki Kimball (F3), recent Comrades 4th place finisher Ellie Greenwood (20), and Kami Semick (26).

On a personal note, my WS training weekend running partners Chris Calzetta (248), Dave Town (372), and Skip Crockett (157). Jeff Bertot (104) has been a virtual running partner after we were introduced by a former track teammate of mine from my high school days, and I was introduced to Nate Sanel (341) by mutual running friend Ron Abramson. Fellow Missourian and Saint Louis Ultrarunning Group member Ben Creehan (154) is a guy I expect to run a stellar race and perhaps surprise a few people toward the front of the field.

2) The race apparently has a number of webcams set up along the course, including one at the finish line in Auburn. Those can be accessed somehow on the website or the ultra live link I posted above. I'm not finding it right now.

3) Facebook, of course. If you want to chat with fellow "Silky Supporters", or get live updates from my crew--including my better half, my college roommate Jeff, my pacer Jay, or my friend Pam--find our Facebook Group "Silky's Western States Crew", request membership, and we'll add you. Of course, the snow course is keeping my crew from seeing me until Mile 60 or so, so they're going to be restricted to the web updates above for a good portion of the day, too.

It really is a motivator knowing that I'll have friends, family, and even a few strangers I'm sure tracking my progress over the Sierra Nevada mountains this weekend! I hope this post is informative, and I look forward to entertaining you all as best as I can!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What to eat...What to eating plan. (4 days to go!)

It's an old rule of thumb that a person will burn 100 calories for every mile run. That means that a runner in the Western States Endurance run will burn, at a minimum, 10,000 calories. That's several days' worth of calories burned in one day, or 28 Big Macs, whichever you prefer.

There are as many suggestions on how to fuel an ultramarathon as there are runners. Some are complex. Any source that starts talking about glucose polymers or whey protein will not keep my attention. Others are simple. Remind me to consume the 300-400 calories per hour I'll need, in foods that my stomach can handle, and now we're talking. As one tip pointed out, that's nothing more than 12-16 ounces of a sports drink and an energy bar per hour. If only it was that easy...

My coach suggested eating about 800 calories for breakfast about an hour before the race. 800 calories. That's only two English muffins (189 calories each) with a little peanut butter (another 40-50 calories), two bananas (105 calories each), a Coca-Cola Classic (12 oz. for 145 calories), and some Gatorade (32 oz for 200 calories). No problem.

But what about when I'm running the race? Coach AJW suggested trying to eat solids for as long as I could before switching to energy gels. By comparison, when I run road marathons, I subsist on GU energy gels, Gatorade, and water for the more or less three hours of competition. For an ultramarathon, though, I need something more...and a whole lot of fluids. My buddy Ryan, who ran the Leadville 100 last year, had a pretty straight forward plan for his first 100 miler:

I decided to accomplish this mostly by ingesting a hammer gel every 30 minutes while I ran, in combination with drinking sports drink and eating some solid foods and more gel crap at aid stations. I also needed to address my caffeine habit. Normal people rely on caffeine late in these races to get them through the night. I, on the other hand, was going to need a constant, high supply of the stuff. To accomplish this I brought Red Bulls (no vodka) & 5-Hour Energies eating solid foods for the first 50 miles before switching to energy gels and water.

My plan isn't complicated. When it comes to fluids, I'll pass on the Red Bull, but I will be partaking in the "flat Pepsi," soda de-fizzed for our stomach's delight on a fairly regular basis, at quite a few of the aid stations. A six ounce hit of Pepsi provides a quick 70 calories plus a caffeine kick that's needed for a Diet Coke addict like me. I'll also be sure to drink a cup or two of Gatorade or water at every aid station, regardless of whether I have a sensation of thirst.

My supply belt holds two 22 ounce bottles, and I'll have a supply of water and Gatorade in the two bottles...Gatorade on the left, water on the right (that became an unintentional habit). For the hotter sections in the canyons, I'll carry a 22 ounce handheld bottle favored by most of my ultra peers. I've never been fond of the handhelds, but recognize the importance of extra fluids in the heat of the day in the depths of the canyons. My goal is to empty these bottles as often as possible. My first ultra featured a stellar case of dehydration (I was eight pounds underweight 28 hours after I finished...a night's sleep, several meals, and a flight home later), and it's all I can do to avoid that again.

As for food intake, I'll try to follow my coach's advice to eat solids for as long as I can before switching over to the GU energy gels. I ran a couple 30 plus mile training runs on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches alone (no gels). Each sandwich has approximately 350 calories, and most of the aid stations will have sandwich quarters available. I'll grab one or two, along with bananas, watermelon, strawberries, licorice, or boiled potatoes and salt, whatever looks good, to supplement the main course. I could look up the calories in each of those, but trust me, they're all decent except watermelon, and that gives me some extra fluids.

As the race grinds on and my stomach starts disagreeing with me a bit, I'll switch over to GUs more frequently. I favor GU Roctanes in Blueberry Pomegranate, Cherry Lime, or Pineapple flavors. If you've never heard of GU, it comes in a small 1.1 oz packet featuring 100 calories of flavored gel. It's not particularly tasty, and in fact it's been known to cause me to dry-heave on occasion, but nothing provides the perfect amount of carbohydrates and all that nutrition stuff that bores me in one quick hit. It's like a booster charge. I've packed 18 packets of GU Roctane, and most of the aid stations will have regular (low octane) GU available, too. There will be no shortage of GU.

The later aid stations will also feature soup broth. One cup of chicken broth only has 38 calories, but it slams runners with approximately 1/3 of the daily recommended value of sodium. Most people try to avoid sodium; ultrarunners thrive off it.

The last element of my food intake will be something called an S-Cap. S-Caps are small capsules that provide electrolytes in a quick hit to alleviate cramping and provide a little pick-me-up. Each capsule has 341 mg of sodium! They also have the other electrolytes--potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, and phosphate, and I can say that they've worked so well on my training runs that I've been cured of calf cramps in a matter of minutes. My plan is to take an S-Cap once an hour throughout the race. By comparison, I'll probably take a GU every 30-45 minutes after I start taking them.

Of course, the one thing I'm hoping I have the stomach for when I reach the finish line, or shortly thereafter, is an ice cold beer. Tentative plans are to get lunch and drinks at the Auburn Ale House after the awards ceremony, and I'm trusting I'll have my stomach back by then....right?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Robie Point to Placer High School (Miles 98.9 to 100.2) (Still 5 days to go!)

You've seen this map before, in my last post about the No Hands Bridge to Robie Point. This stretch, the 25th stage of this historic race, takes runners from the trailhead at Robie Point and heading the other direction, away from the trail and into the city of Auburn, California.

Special thanks to Harry Landers, Vince Brinly and Hallie Shuffler, Deanna Marranzino, Greg Gomez, Jason Terry, Geri Virtue, Ryan and Amy Kelly, Mel Glauber, Courtney and Jim Flynn, Phil Quatrochi, Jerome and Jess Porter, Marea Hunter, and my Mom's employers Gentling Dental Office for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project. Very special recognition to three other donors to this segment: my law school classsmate Daniel Gallegos, Kevin Allie, and the 725th Brigade Support Battalion (Airborne), 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. All are currently serving in the military--Daniel in the Navy, Kevin in the Air Force, and the 725th Brigade is an Army airborne unit based at Fort Richardson, Alaska all made donations to be a part of my Patriot Crew!

In case you didn't notice, the list of donors outgrew my original goal of marking donations to the course in $100 mile increments. We've now raised over $12,000 together, having passed the $10,000 mark one month ago when my then 3 month old daughter Nora made the donation that put us over the goal. I'm going to have to look into freezing her credit cards before she goes to the mall! I'm grateful for everyone's support, and simply humbled by the support of those serving in our military. It is my great pleasure to dedicate my race to all of them, but in particular the wounded among them, and I thank each and every one of them for their service.

This final stretch from Robie Point is one of three spots where crew members can run alongside their runners, the others being along Bath Road into Foresthill and from the river to Greengate. I've asked Beth to join me for this final stretch, and I look forward to celebrating our achievement with her, because all ultrarunners understand that it takes a family united to reach the finish line.

The one thing that can't be seen in these photos, because I don't think they captured it, but the first quarter mile or so of this stretch is extremely steep. Runners express surprise that a paved road could bring them to a crawl, but that's exactly what happens once one emerges back into civilization.

As runners follow small painted arrows through the largely quiet streets (for most of us, anyway, since it's the middle of the night), they might be surprised to find a few residents camping out in their yards, cheering on the runners.

My eyes teared up last year as Fernando and I made our way through the town, passing one small party of race fans. As we did, they shouted out his number, which I've adopted as my own bib number this year-- "189!"--and rang a large gong in his honor. In the darkness of the night, it was a chilling commemmoration of the huge feat he was in the act of completing.

Before long, runners will come into sight of the Placer High School stadium lights glowing ahead of them. WIth a left and a quick right, runners will enter through a gate in the fence, stumble onto the track, and here their arrival announced over the loudspeaker to the spectators gathered at the finish line. There's about a 300 meter run around the track to what most of us would recognize as the traditional track finish line, and each runner's running resume is read out loud.

In 2006, Brian Morrison entered the track with his pacer, seven-time champion Scott Jurek, leading by a solid number of minutes (I think I've read as many as 15 minutes). All he had to do was run the 300 meters along the track, and he would be crowned the champion. Unfortunately, Morrison collapsed, and when it was clear that he was not going to recover, Jurek and another crew member helped him up and carried him across the finish line. In doing so, he was disqualified for receiving improper aid from a pacer or crew, and Graham Cooper was named the surprise champion when he crossed a bit later.

Each runner's crew is permitted to run along the track with them. When the straightaway is reached, crew members can step to the side if they want to let their runner cross the finish line alone. As one might imagine, each finish is a dramatic event, one that brings cheer and emotion from all present.

Here's video footage of Geoff Roes's record-setting final mile and finish last year. Notice how bright it still is--he finished in just over 15 hours, so it was only 8 PM!

Guys like Geoff Roes will finish in the 8 o'clock hour on Saturday evening. In fact, given the course alterations announced today due to snow, I wouldn't be surprised if 2011 featured the first ever 7 o'clock hour finisher. 24 hour hour finishers wanting to earn the coveted silver belt buckle must finish by 4:59:59 AM on Saturday morning, while all finishers must be done by 11:00 AM. One second over 30 hours, and a runner will not earn a bronze belt buckle given to all those who finish in the 24 to 30 hour range.

And that, my friends, is the course! Of course, as my other post today shared, they changed an early stretch. But 100.2 miles is 100.2 miles, and I can't wait to get out there and see it all!

(No) Surprise-It's a Snow Year at Western States (5 days to go!)

Here's the just-released announcement and a photo of the course change.

What does this mean?

Well, the course is rerouted from miles 23 to 35. Ignoring the snow, it probably means a flatter, faster course, as we'll drop down into a valley instead of climbing up into the highlands. Of course, the snow will do its part to slow us down.

It also means that the first spot crews will be able to see their runners is at Michigan Bluff at Mile 55.7...and that may not be enough time to get to Foresthill, where most crews attend to their runners. It's hard to believe that I'll run over 55 miles without seeing my wife and family! At the same time, it may mean they'll get a little extra sleep back at the house we rented in Tahoe City.

Finally, it still means that this is a 100.2 mile race. That hasn't changed. So away we go!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Training Week 24 Recap (6 days to go!)

Well, it's here: race week. Almost 200 days since I heard my name drawn in the lottery and a full six months of training later, I packed my bags today. We'll be arriving at our place in Tahoe City on Tuesday afternoon, and Western States events start on Wednesday afternoon. I won't be running much before Saturday, though I will be logging a few miles here and there to keep the legs fresh and adapt to the altitude.

Here's what I ran in my 24th week of training, a taper week, for this race:

Monday: 5.12 miles.

Tuesday: 5.11 miles. Two days of uneventful running.

Wednesday: 3.10 miles. Legs were still feeling dead, and I got time-crunched at work before a softball game so I didn't get to the track like planned.

Thursday: 8.09 miles. In my final track workout, I ran 3x1600s in 5:48, 5:49, and 5:59 (stomach issues). It was a reassuring workout.

Friday: 1.05 miles. One last loop with the dog!

Saturday: 10.12 miles....and I flew. This was one of those confidence boosting runs that I needed. The weather was perfect, and my legs were comfortable clicking off low 7 minute miles the entire way.

Sunday: 7.56 miles. It was hot and humid, and I took it easy and ran on the sunny side of the road wherever I could. And with that, my final run before officially kicking off race week was done!

Total Week 24: 40.15 miles, my shortest week of running so far this year. I've run 1,658.47 miles in 2011, and 1,797 since I found out I got into Western States on December 4th. And it was all for a little race starting next Saturday.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Silker family has been on the run! (7 days to go!)

Quick post since I can't let the one week mark go unmarked on the blog! The Silker family has had a number of running achievements this week, and I wanted to mark them.

Last night, my dad ran his first 5k in Duluth, Minnesota, at a pre-race event for the Grandma's Marathon! I'm so proud of him-and I hope he gets the marathon bug and decides to run Chicago in 2012!

My mom ran Grandma's Marathon today. She's a grandma of four (and soon to be five), so it's only appropriate that she crushed her marathon PR by over 30 minutes with her finishing time of 4:28! Amazing stuff!

Finally, my brother published this article about my pursuit of a silver belt buckle just one week from today. In fact, I'll hopefully be at or near the Rucky Chucky river crossing one week from right now as I type. Thank you to my brother for writing such a thoughtful article, and thanks even more for inspiring me to run this race for the Wounded Warrior Project.

One week. It's hard to believe how close it is!

Friday, June 17, 2011

No Hands Bridge to Robie Point (Miles 96.8 to 98.9) (8 days to go!)

The 24th stage of the Western States Endurance Run takes runners from the idyllic scene at No Hands Bridge up a steep climb to the pavement at Robie Point on the outskirts of Auburn.

Special thanks goes out to Pat & Gretchen Scoggins and family, Stephanie Grise, Matt & Betsy Malten, my first best friend way back when we were basically born two house away from each other Ben Rempe, Dustin & Julia Beckley, Tom & Nancy Garvey, Troy Headrick, Jason Lentzke & Jennifer Marquez, Jeff and Kristin Votteler, Meghan DiPerna, Mark & Stephanie Becher, Sam Durham, Mike Nawrocki, Brant Frey, and Holly Miller for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsor this section of the course (and, in case you couldn't figure it out, much more beyond that, too, as I'm trying to recognize everyone)!

The first sight on this stage is No Hands Bridge, which will be lined with lights at night as runners cross the American River.

While this photo doesn't capture it, the American River roars below the bridge.

Most of the trail looks like this--single track, dirt, some rocks. It winds its way in a steady uphill that felt steep last year on Mile 35 of my pace run last year, but surprisingly not too bad on Mile 2o of my training run this year. I can hardly imagine what it will feel at Mile 97.

As we rise out of the canyon into the town of Auburn, I distinctly remember hearing the cheers and hoots of the aid station at the top of the climb. The echo bounced off the canyon walls and seemed to call us all forward when gravity, and the competitors' legs, were calling for everyone to take a seat. Before long, we reach the top of the climb, the aid station rests to the left while the gate to the city of Auburn is positioned to the right. It's all pavement from this time forward.

The lead runners will arrive at Robie Point at 8:55 PM. It won't be until 4:40 AM that the 24 hour runners reach the aid station, with the 30 hour runners arriving at 10:35 AM, only 25 minutes before the aid station, and the race, close. Robie Point is a welcome back to civilization--houses, roads, cars, people...of course, for quite a few of the runners, all is quiet since it's the middle of the night. It's just a short jaunt, 1.4 miles, down the road to the cheering crowds at Placer High School.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Western States snow course announced! (Still 9 days to go!)

In a surprise move that conflicted with their earlier message that the snow course wouldn't be finalized until sometime next week, the Western States race committee announced the 2011 snow course today. Follow the link here for a map and explanation.

Highway 49 to No Hands Bridge (Miles 93.5 to 96.8) (9 days to go!)

The 23rd stage of the Western States course departs the large aid station at Highway 49 and works its way to No Hand Bridge over the American River. Given how far into the race runners are when they depart Highway 49, that initial couple hundred foot climb is a tough one. But soon, it's all downhill to the river.

Special thanks to Jim and Connie O'Connell, Amy Sellers, Kathleeen Ricketts and family, CJ Rog, Liz Anderson, Katie O'Connell, Ben Baughman, Vanessa Garza McAllister, and Casey Wendeln for their donations the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsor this segment of the course tour. Special thanks to Jim, who served two tours of duty in Iraq with the Army, and Ben, who also served in the Army (if I recall correctly--sorry, Ben!).

None of the photos I found accurately portray that climb out of the aid station. It's a rocky, rutted climb over a trail battered by runoff water and horses. The footing is poor, and it is steep enough to frustrate even the strongest of runners. I found myself struggling up it over Memorial Day, and I imagine I'll walk this climb, particularly since I know what comes afterward.

Once runners have reached that peak, they'll find themselves in a meadow. The meadow is single track, and full of flat and downhill sections that are best described as cruisers. I remember turning my ankle slightly while pacing Fernando last year, but it's a fast section where even battered runners can get back into a running pace.

After a mile of meadow running, runners emerge onto a fire road again. While it probably won't be in view (I can hope anyway), the tallest bridge in California, the Foresthill Bridge, appears to the runners' right.

Foresthill Bridge is just a few hundred yards from the hotel room I've reserved in Auburn. Built when the federal government had plans to build a dam that would have flooded the canyon we will be running through, it is stands 730 feet tall, higher than the Golden Gate Bridge. I've never seen the scene, because I cannot stand Vin Diesel, but the movie XXX apparently features Diesel's character driving a Corvette off the bridge, opening a parachute as he falls toward the American River.

Before long, though, the trail turns to the left and the bridge commonly known as No Hands Bridge will come into sight, even at night. The aid station volunteers line the bridge with white Christmas lights, a beautiful scene in the darkness of the run. They also set up a large video board that projects movies, more probably for their entertainment than that of tired runners not wanting to waste any time with only a few miles to go to the finish line.

This last photo shows where the aid station is located. The bridge itself is to the left of the aid station, and from there, it's a about a 2 1/2 mile climb up to the city of Auburn.

The lead runners will arrive at No Hands Bridge around 8:25 PM. It's fairly safe to say that in a typical year, the runner who leads at NHB usually will win the race. I'll tell the tale of one who didn't in our final segment of the tour. 24 hour runners will arrive at 4:10 AM, with 50 minutes left to travel the final 3.4 miles. 30 hour runners arrive at 9:55 AM, and the aid station, like the race itself, closes at 11:00 AM. Only 3.4 miles to go!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crew shirts are here! (10 days to go!)

The crew's shirts arrived today. They're simple, but I like that. I wanted something I could easily see. I wanted something in a color I liked. I wanted something with my running nickname. I wanted something that advertised my bib number. And I wanted something that wouldn't break the bank. On just a few days' notice, here's what they look like. I approve.

That's case you haven't heard, I'm Bib #189. I'll post it again, but if you want to follow me on race day, you can do so at

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! (11 days to go!)

Okay, so it isn't actually snowing in Squaw Valley right now...I think. The forecast for the next 10 days shows lows in the 40s with highs sneaking just above 60 degrees. It has been, however, one of the snowiest, if not the snowiest, seasons on record. The ski resort was open on Memorial Day, and rumors are that it'll reopen for the Fourth of July. I found this link to a rotation of Squaw Valley webcams that provides a live view of current conditions. It looks just like summer, doesn't it?

One of the runners I met over Memorial Day grew up at Squaw, and he sent me a text over the weekend that advised that I should hold my final training runs on loose sand, since the snow was still pretty bad. I'm not sure where I'd find a beach big enough in St. Louis, so I'll just have to hope for the best. The organizers of the Tevis Cup, the horse race that served as sort of the inspiration for Western States over thirty years ago, have already announced that they've postponed their event from its July scheduled date to an October start. And despite speculation that a similar postponement was in the works, WS race director Greg Soderlund took to the media to squash those rumors last week.

I awoke this morning to the following update, one that promised that the race will go on, though we may not know exactly where it will go until we report on Friday morning for the pre-race check-in. I've been taught to only worry about those things I can control, rather than those I cannot, so this news has done little to damper my spirits. In fact, a slow, snow-packed start may be just what I need to prevent myself from going out too fast and suffering a slow, painful march to the finish a day later.

Here's the latest:

Snow situation. Currently most of the first 30 miles of the course is still covered by snow. It is very likely that we will use a "snow course" route. The exact route is yet to be determined as the conditions are very dynamic.

Crew access may be limited or eliminated at Robinson Flat, Duncan Canyon and Dusty Corners.

A final decision will be announced about five days prior to the race. There was additional snowfall above 6000 feet during much of the month of May, and the current snow content at Squaw Valley is twice what it was at this point last year.

Even with the snow course, you can expect most of the first 20 miles of the course to be covered with snow. The snow will slow you down. Most runners find it reasonably easy to run in snow on a flat surface, but very little of the snow-covered part of the course is flat. On the downhill sections, a glissading technique is fairly easy to master, landing on your heels leaning back a bit more than normal. On the uphill sections most will be walking; so this, too, presents little difficulty. Where things get tricky is running on a contour, where the trail traverses a hillside and there is a noticeable slope from right to left. It is often difficult to maintain your balance on a slippery surface here, where the snow is chopped up from the runners ahead of you or if it is icy on the surface from a sub-freezing night, which is fairly likely at the highest elevations.

Shoes with an aggressive outer tread will help keep you upright. Most trail shoes have this feature. Nonetheless, you might expect to do a bit of slipping and sliding and even to lose your feet occasionally.

Be careful to avoid the snow immediately next to trees. Trees conduct heat into the ground and often melt the snow below the surface. If you step there, you might break through the surface and sink all the way up to your hip (this is called 'post-holing') -- a most unpleasant experience.

Please note that the use of crampons, sheet metal screws, or removable traction devices such as YakTrax or Kahtoola, is strictly prohibited.

It is very likely that the snow will cause all runners to lose a bit of time, maybe by as much as 60 minutes. Our advice is to relax, be conservative, and don't be overly concerned about pacing early in the day. You'll have plenty of time later to worry about pacing and split times. A conservative approach through the snow will save your energy for a strong second half. Race veterans often say that the race starts at Foresthill. Heed their advice!

Our plan at this time is to post the course decision on the WS website on Monday, June 20, but with rapidly changing conditions we may not know the final course until the Friday briefing on June 24.

Crew access may be limited or eliminated at Robinson Flat, Duncan Canyon and Dusty Corners. The final decision will be announced at the Friday briefing.

The WS Trail Team has been intensely working on the trail through the high country for the past several weekends and will hit the trail again this Friday, Saturday and Sunday with possible trail work extending into next week. We would like nothing more than to see normal trail conditions, but we take what the mountain gives us. Please keep in mind that all the trail work is provided by volunteers.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Training Week 23 Recap (13 days to go!)

Two weeks from now, another Western States Endurance Run will be in the books, hopefully this time with my name on the list of finishers. It doesn't seem possible to be so close to running a race I've been working toward for the past six months. Even worse, I'm pretty much in taper mode right now, so I'm starting to second guess my training, my preparation, my ability to run 100.2 miles in one day. If ever there was a time to have faith, it's now.

On the Wounded Warrior Project fundraising side of things, we're only a few hundred dollars from reaching the $12,000 mark. Remember, every dollar counts...please join me in supporting our wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan if you can!

Here's what I did in the 23rd week of my training:

Monday: 5.05 miles. Note to self: don't eat cheese at the charity board meeting you attend right before the race. Your stomach will thank you later.

Tuesday: 5.29 miles.

Wednesday: 5.15 miles. And the legs are still heavy...

Thursday: 8.11 miles. In an effort to break free from the lead leg syndrome gripping me since Memorial Day, I hit the track...four of them, actually, after the first one had a lacrosse game, the second one was torn up for football field construction, and the third one had a local running store's speed night featuring what appeared to be no fewer than half a million runners. I ended up on the blacktop track of the local middle school for 5x800s in 2:51, 2:47, 2:48, 2:49, and 2:44. It was hot, and even moreso, it was humid, but I knocked out the workout and reminded my legs that they in fact could run fast.

Friday: 5.15 miles.

Saturday: 17.18 miles. I ran from the house to a state park a few miles away, did a four mile loop on one of its trails, and then took the scenic route home. Overall, a solid workout.

Sunday: 14.12 miles. What a difference the cooler weather made! I actually felt like I could run for the first time in two weeks!

Total Week 23: 60.05 miles. I'll cut back about 25% this coming week, with one final track workout.

Two weeks to go. Unreal.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Brown's Bar to Highway 49 (Miles 89.9 to 93.5) (16 days to go!)

The 22nd stage of the Western States course takes runners from the party at Brown's Bar to an aid station on the other side of the first paved road we've seen since Foresthill at Highway 49. While less than 5 miles in length, this section involves a descent and climb that does not compare in any way to the canyons we pass through earlier in the day.

In fact, looking at the photos I found of this stretch, one would think this was a walk in the park. There's a nice wide trail, a river to the runners' right, and trees everywhere. Remember, however, we're 90 miles into this race!

Thanks to Joe Mahoney (Mojo!), Jeanne Haske, Kevin Suhanic, Kate DiNardo, Erin O'Keefe, and Tim & Kristin O'Rourke for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsor this leg of the course tour. Special thanks to Tim for his service in the Marines, and special note of gratitude for the ultimate sacrifices paid by Lance Cpl. Sean Maher and Sgt. Chris "Dirty Squirrel" Hrbek, in whose honor Erin and Mojo made their donations respectively. I'll run proudly in their memory in just over two weeks!

Much of this section is very runnable, if it wasn't Mile 90. I was surprised how effortlessly I moved along this section on the third day of the Memorial Day Training Camp. With paths like the one below, it's not surprising!

Many of the photos for this section capture the unique rocks found here. Of course, it'll be dark and I'll be guided by the light of my head lamp.

One element I haven't mentioned much of is the high rate of hallucination among ultrarunners toward the end of races. Many tell tales of seeing small animals darting across the trail, or mistakenly believing other runners are running right there with them when it's just the runner and perhaps his or her pacer.

Before long, and after a little climb, runners will see the bright flashing lights of a police car directing traffic at Highway 49. I stopped in the shadows of the ridge across the street from the aid station last year so my runner, Fernando, could chug what remained of his Gatorade and water. This was important because his weight was down enough to draw the attention of medical personnel, and Highway 49 is the last medical checkpoint of the race until a runner finishes. We made it through that night with only a little hassle, helped perhaps by my report of a recent "potty" he'd had a few miles back. Yes, they really are asking about your bathroom habits before letting you go forward!

The leaders will depart the Highway 49 aid station around 7:55 PM, with 24 hour runners really starting to show the difference between them and the elites with a 3:10 AM departure. 30 hour runners leave at 9 AM, and the aid station will close 20 minutes later. The finish line is less than seven miles away!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Auburn Lake Trails to Brown's Bar (Miles 85.2 to 89.9) (17 days to go!)

Stage 21 takes runners from the spacious campground-like aid station at Auburn Lake Trails to the remoteness of the Brown's Bar aid station just before mile 90. Thankfully, since we'll be 85 plus miles into the race, this section is fairly runnable again. There is a climb along a narrow single track, and as the elevation map shows, it's a rolling stage that will utilize all of a runner's leg muscles.

Thank you to Daniel and Kristie Clinard, Drew and Brooke Lais, Tom Allen & Molly Norton, Lisa Corcoran, Stacy Slat, Jason Fudala, Steve Berrones, and Dane and Toni Skillrud for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsor this section of the course tour. Special thanks to my college friends Lisa and Stacy, as well as their husbands, for their service--Lisa and her husband Shawn serve in the Army, while Stacy and her husband David serve in the Air Force. Jason's donation is in honor of Jessica Poe. As always, I'm proud to run for all of them, and particularly grateful for the service of my friends.
The above photo captures the trail in this section quite well. It's almost desert-like, though I won't really see that since it'll be pitch dark.

To my right, if I could see it, I'd find the canyon. As I recall, this stretch of trail was memorable last year because we looked off across the canyon and saw the dancing headlamps of other runners on the trail. In an exercise in isolation, just the runner and pacer, there was a strange bond with other runners that those moments brought me last year.

I love this photo because it makes the run look like a cruiser in the local park...and if we weren't so far into the race, it probably would be.

Runners will still have to deal with creek crossings, which become tricky at night. Even worse, no one likes wet shoes when their feet are battered with blisters and sore from the miles.

I can't say for sure, but the Brown's Bar aid station, as I remember it, appears in a large clearing like this. Of all the aid stations, it's the one I remember the most from last year...because we could hear the rumbling noise of The Doors as we approached from the wilderness, and we were greeted by men in red dresses several sheets to the wind. If you read my pace report from last year, you may recall that I was given, on request, a beer at this aid this guy:

It was a party, and all of it was dragged deep into the woods by the volunteers staffing this aid station for over 14 hours! You see, the lead runners pass through Brown's Bar around 7:15 PM, with 24 hour runners around 2:05 AM. 30 hour runners arrive at 7:50 AM, and the aid station finally closes at 9:20 AM, less than two hours before the final cut-off. Runners departing at the close of the aid station would have to run over 10 miles in just 100 minutes.

Green Gate to Auburn Lake Trails (Miles 79.8 to 85.2) (18 days to go!)

The twentieth stage departs Green Gate for Auburn Lake Trails over 5 miles down the trail. It's one of the longer stretches between aid stations, something exhausted runners will notice at this point in the race.

Special thanks to Mike Lynch, Beth's grandparents Mom and Dada, Cory McDevitt (who is practically a local to the race), and a stellar trio of running friends Tom Menner, John Mullaney, and Ken Killingbeck for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsor this segment of the course tour! Cory's donation is in honor of her sister and brother-in-law, Captains Molly and Ben Peterson of the United States Air Force. Thank you all!

The elevation chart looks more difficult than this section really is. A lot of it is runnable, though there are some twists and turns and even a few creek crossings.

By this time, runners have likely spread out along the course, and two-by-two, a competitor and his/her pacer will travel the single track through the thick woods.

For the first time, the river is to the runners' right. Far off in the distance, in the still of the night, it is possible to hear the faint rumble of the highway, a sign that our terrain is fast approaching civilization.

This stretch of trail is cut into the side of a steep mountain. This section features three threats to runners-mountain lions, bears, and snakes, though sightings of any of the three will be rare on race day. Since it's now dark for the majority of the runners, the trail is lit by a string of glowsticks set out every 50-100 yards to guide us all in the right direction. We also all are required to wear headlamps or carry a flashligh (or both) to see the path. A switchback like this can easily be missed by a runner not paying attention.

I remember my surprise when we entered the ALT aid station: a huge campfire roared in the middle of parked cars. My runner, like all of the others, had to weigh in at the medical check point, and we soon walked over to the fire, where busy volunteers brought both of us soup broth and watermelon (what a combination!). It's a drop bag spot, and since Fernando did not have a crew, he shuffled through his bag for a few items. It was the middle of the night, and the temptation to take a seat and even take a nap was high. With a little urging, we were back on our way.

The lead runners will depart this huge campground of an aid station around 6:35 PM, with the 24 hour runners making a post-midnight departure for the first time at 12:50 AM. 30 hour runners will have the sun overhead at 6:30 AM when they leave, and the aid station closes for breakfast at 7 AM. Runners have exactly 15 miles to the finish line in Auburn.