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!

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