This year’s WSER was the same in many ways to 2018, but also a very different experience at the same time, ultimately leading to a 1 hour 16 minute PR over 2018 WSER.
How did I do this? Let’s take inventory below.
The weeks leading up to States I felt so much more calm than last year, for a few reasons. First, last year I sustained a concussion so I couldn’t actually start training until late April. Second, I’d already run it and silver buckled (run sub 24 hours) so I felt like this year I could take some more chances.
Leading up to the race I ran a training race may 11th in Virginia; UROC. It was much more technical than I expected, but it helped me perfect my nutrition and race plan and I came away with a third place finish. The following week I headed to CA and spent the week leading up to the WSER Memorial Day training weekend running on the course and getting to know some of the local runners.
The morning of, I did a little shake out run, realized that the pack I borrowed didn’t fit quite right and did a little last minute pinning adjustment with an extra bib pin. No problem, no worries, I was ready.
As in the usual tradition, a shotgun was shot off and we began our track 100 miles towards Auburn.
Living at 500 feet means I don’t get practice at running at high altitudes, so my plan was to keep a steady pace and calories flowing, as altitude usually makes me feel crappy if I don’t stay on top of food and water. Just like last year I developed a little wheeze up high that eventually turned into a cough down low
This year was a snow year so about a mile up we were running on snow. Fortunately they groomed it so we were able to move without slipping too much on the ski hill. Up to the top of the escarpment I was in 101th place and feeling much easier than last year.
I remained in the same place for the first 30 miles to Robinson Flat. In the high country with my labored breathing and a wheeze i developed I couldn’t push much so I passed people on the downhills, while they repassed me going up. I ran a lot more of this section this year and didn’t feel cranky like last year on the uphill to Robinson.
In and out of Robinson rather quickly. even though the snow ended here,(mike 30ish) I started to put ice in my bandana as a preemptive cooling measure. This year was so much cooler than last.
Into Millers defeat I dropped to 97th and switched out my pack with my crew. We had planned to switch packs at every crew spot, but I only had two packs, having to borrow a third last minute I hadn’t run with it before, so at Miller’s I let my crew know that the borrowed pack was out so we had to refill the one I was using.
From millers to Michigan (the canyons section) I dropped from 97th to 88th. I’m not a strong hiker, but am a strong descender so I took some chances on the technical downhills and stayed steady on the ups. Using those moments to eat and drink, since eating and drinking on fast technical downhill can spell tripping disaster.
On the way up to Devil’s Thumb I had the pleasure or hiking with Dave Mackey. Dave is quite the accomplished ultra runner, having placed second in 2004. Since then he lost his lower leg in a running accident, and it was his first States as an amputee. He kept my mind off the grinding climb with his stories of past races. I learned later that he had to drop after struggling 22+ hours on the technical single track.
Awaiting at Foresthill was my whole crew, both pacers, and Drew’s aunt Martha who came from Grass Valley to watch. I promised this year she would get to bed earlier, so my pacer and I took off aiming for a faster finish. This is where I can finally start running. The altitude is low enough and the final 40 miles plays to my flat-lander strengths. From here to the finish I went from 88th to 54th overall. And from 24thF to 16thF.
Part of my strategy is to catch people at the end. I can’t keep up with those that have altitude lungs, or those that have mountains to climb, so I have to be able to run when the course allows for it.
Down to the river we passed a handful of women, and I almost got to the river before sunset( that’s a goal of mine, to cross in daylight.) my pacer was perfect for this section, Jordan pushed the pace, but not too much. Last year I blew up here with too much excitement at the runnable downhills.
My stomach always goes here, and just as I expected, it went again around mile 60. Last year I shut down and bonked, this year I continued to force things down; switching from skratch to water, and eating potatoes seemed to stay down. Nothing settles it, but I figured if I was going to feel nauseated I might as well not also be calorically deficient as well.
It seemed to work and I continued to pass runners who had given it their all a little too early on.
At Green gate I was now in 59th place and having a little bit of a low. I switched my pacers, and Heidi led me on through the last 20 miles. This is the hardest place for me mentally, it’s “only” 20 more miles but it’s also 20 more miles!!
Heidi lives along this section of the course and having her knowledge of it kept me moving steadily. I passed Kim Magnus, only to have her pass me back somewhere around ALT or quarry road. Usually I love quarry road but this night I loathed it. I felt like I needed to use the bathroom but couldn’t. Ugh.
Up Jim’s turn is rocky and annoyingly uphill. Across highway 49 is a grind, I always wish for longer legs here as the rocks are uneven and sometimes too far apart for me to run across.
We headed into Pointed Rocks knowing there were TWO WOMEN right there a few minutes ahead and only 6 miles to the finish. I grabbed some coke (I don’t drink caffeine so coke was giving me quite the lift) and headed out to find them. From here to the finish I ran, past Kim again, past some other men, up to Robie Point, where I thought I was passing another guy, but it turned out to be another woman with less than a mile to go!
Onto the track there was no one left to pass, just the line to cross. I leaped across in 21:42, an hour and 20 minutes faster than last year. I felt like a completely different runner crossed the finish this year. Last year I was blistered, broken, and sick this year I was giddy and satisfied.
What a day! My goals were to have fun✅
Run everything I could✅
Troubleshoot all my problems ✅
Eat when I felt low✅
Could i have been faster? I hope so, but for now I’m quite satisfied with reaching my goals, getting a big PR and figuring out many of my problems without wasting time.
Speaking of eating, let’s see what I ate…
fig Newman’s, cashew butter and banana wrap, skratch chews, shot blocks, watermelon, sprite, ginger ale, way too much coke, 16 honeystinger gels, 15 Maurten gels, and when my stomach finally got queasy and didn’t want any more food I forced down potatoes, more coke, ginger ale and TUMS! Strava estimates that I burned 7,000 calories and I definitely ate between 6,000-6,500. Not bad for me, who has struggled in the past to choke half that down in races. Training to eat during long runs is key!!
As important as the training is to any 100 mile success, the pacers, crew and support system is just as integral. I’m leaving WSER with on overwhelming feeling of gratitude for everyone who has helped me on this journey.
My husband, Elizabeth and Brian, Pacers Jordan and Heidi were so important to this finish. My support system of family, friends, training partners and others, my coach Meghan Laws , Lily Trotters and Rabbit; thank you so much!
Also a huge thanks to all the volunteers, RD Craig Thornley and others who help make this race so special. If you haven’t run Western States, keep putting into the lottery: don’t get discouraged. It’s so worth the wait!