Tag Archives: Western States Endurance Run

Western States Memorial Day Weekend Part Two

I didn’t explain in the first post, this training run covers the final 70 miles of the Western States Endurance Run.  The first 30 miles is usually still covered in snow, and is part of the Squaw Valley ski mountain so its still open to skiers in early May if the late snow pack is still good.

Memorial  Day training weekend breaks up the 70 miles into roughly 30, 20, 20 on each day.

The second day we met back at Foresthill once again and would run from there to the river, where we will cross on race day.  This section leaves the road and turns onto some technical single track that eventually gives way to some beautiful, fast, non technical downhill.  It eventually flattened out and became sandy as it followed along the river.

The run began downhill with some technical sections and a few small creek crossings.  Because I had started at a leisurely pace we were stuck behind several long trains of casual runners. This didn’t feel great on my stiff from yesterday’s effort quads, but once I maneuvered around and could run my own pace everything felt better.  Passing through the aid station I could see that ahead was some beautifully runnable downhill and I let out a cry of glee and I ran down.  (Note to beast coast runners, while there is still plenty of technical running, the trails are straight and fast feeling.)559F5EC2-6969-4EDE-A11A-6A57E4B3D897


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At the river we were shown where the crossing on race day would be and were encouraged to cool off in the river.  From that spot we climbed 2 miles up (not on the actual race course)to where the buses would take us back to our cars.  Also where a fun bbq and massages were.  I realized it was already day two: time was flying by- so I opted to hike the section and take in the expansive views of the river.  Once up top I grabbed a burger, but decided one more mile repeat up the hill would be a good idea.  Afterwards Jackie and I got home and after a shower we both immediately put on our Lily Trotters compressions socks to recover for the next day!8C380F73-CCF3-4AA7-82B6-9F1AE92BBD3B

Western States Training: Fast Forward to 6 weeks left

The last few weeks have flown by as I have been feeling like I needed to play a lot of running catch up….and therefore neglecting this blog.


As you may know if you have followed this blog March was mostly spent bedridden healing from a concussion.

April was a jump start back into training with Bull Run Run 50 as a training run.   It all felt great for about a 50k, I was on pace to better my previous time, and then the brain wheels fell off.   I started feeling like I had tunnel vision and just kind of weird.  Fortunately Sophie Speidel caught up with me shortly after I hit this unhappy place….if you don’t know her, she’s a really fast masters runner from VA.  She was also using BRR as a training run, and her wise words helped reel me back from pondering a dnf.   I switched mentally from the mindset of “race if you can,” to “you have only been back for 2 weeks, if you finish this 50 miles it will be a great training run to have under you” and decided that hiking/running it in was the new goal.    My take away from BRR was twofold.  Spending a month in bed isn’t great for racing, but if you have been consistent with your training in the months leading up to inactivity you can still cover the miles–just maybe not perhaps at the race pace you would have liked.  Thanks coach Meghan Laws for keeping me in shape!  The second part was that maybe using races that I have previously won as a training run isn’t my thing…there was too much expectation going into the run already knowing that I had finished it almost two hours faster 5 years ago.

Once I got over my little BRR ego burst, the rest of April went pretty smoothly.   The weekend after BRR I was back to 20/15,t then 30/20,  then 40/10 on April 28.  This run was an interesting run, super fun, quite the adventure.


Promise Land fell on the same day, so I thought to myself “what a great opportunity to run long, and maybe see some friends running, and use the aid station at the top of Apple Orchard Mtn.”  Bethany Patterson had recommended this route for WSER training months ago, and I finally had the chance to get up there and run that section of the AT.

I woke up that morning and drove the 3 hours up to Lynchburg VA, arriving mid morning and ready to go!  The run started at the James River bridge and went up into the James River Wilderness before climbing through the Thunder Ridge Wilderness and then up to Apple Orchard Mountain at 4,208.   There is an aid station near here, but I had a hard time finding it.  First I was taking in the view from the top and continued down Apple Orchard Mtn, when I realized I was supposed to take the gravel road down from the peak instead….then I saw markings for the race course, and headed down that the wrong way for several miles….finally I got it right, 22 miles later—just as the aid station was packing up!  So much for watching my friends run, but I was super happy for the water and coke they supplied me with before they packed up.   Because I had been noodling around at the top for so many hours, I was off my projected time estimate, so in order to get back down before sunset, I hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway so I could ZOOM back to a slightly closer-to-my-car trailhead.  After a few miles of very runnable slightly downhill road I caught the trailhead at Petites Gap, gaining me more daylight speedier miles.   From Petites Gap there was just under 10 mile back to the car.   I choose this section of the AT for its gradual climbs, and more runnable trail.  The AT can be notorious for slow going rocky, rooty miles….this section was quite runnable.   I got back to my car long before sunset, hopped in and got home by 9pm.   Just in time for bed!  Things I learned from this trip.  I don’t always read texts well when I’m running.  I should always drop water.   DONT FORGET YOUR WATER FILTER.   <—  that!  My husband so lovingly bought me a water purifier, I brought the bottle, but forgot the filter.  There was a lot of running water and pretty falls I could have filtered for water.   Oh well, I had several backup plans, like…get a ride from the aid station worker,  hitch-hike?  Ask a through hiker for their filter? Not the best options, but I never felt like I was actually in trouble.  Plus my (new) phone has a long battery life, and plenty of cell service up on the BRP.  I finished with 38+ miles and 8,434 ft of gain (and descent since I had to come back down the same way) and happy adventure legs!


The following weekend was a family vacation to Hilton Head Island where I relaxed, ran a little, chased my nephew around, and caught my niece’s chest cold….blah!  Good thing the rest of this week has been recovery!


Western States Training: Catch-up on weeks 6 & 7

Oops, time sort of slipped away from me and I missed updating week 6 so I’m adding it in  with week 7.  Again, I’m writing this as a record for myself to look back on, and also as a way to share with you all, so many of the weeks are similar in structure.


Running downhill at South Mountain State Park


The 6th week of training started off pretty great.  The Tuesday workout was pretty typical, overall average pace of 7:50, but the Thursday workout I had a little mental breakthrough.  Running as hard as you can up a hill for 3 minutes hurts. I can get just under a half a mile uphill and on Thursday I was bumping up the number of repeats as well as having a busy week at work and pushing hard and knowing the pain is coming can be almost as much mental as it is physical.  Letting up on the gas is tempting, but at the same time I want each workout to be at least the same overall pace as the previous ones, if not faster.  The workouts are always the same distance in the end, but the speed in the middle gets longer, as the cool down at the end gets shorter. That Thursday I decided that I was just going to be in the moment, not think about the added repeats and how much more they were going to hurt and just run…and I had a much better workout.  My pace dropped to a 7:41 and I ended up with more repeats, and also an extra half mile at the end because I ran my usual cool down loop, forgetting I had added a mile to the hill repeats.  Obviously I should be getting fitter, but that jump was in no way all physical, and probably mostly mental.

That Saturday at the end of the week was also pretty good, it does seem that the pain I experience during the Tuesday and Thursday workouts translates over to my long runs.  Its like once you start to get used the acute fatigue of all out hill repeats, a long run doesn’t feel quite as hard.  I finished the last 5 miles of the long run faster than the previous 15.

Unfortunately I got a 48 hour something and stayed in bed from Saturday night until Monday morning.

Anyway the week looked like this

  • Monday Hour of Trail miles, PM yoga
  • Tuesday 3×3 hill repeats for a total of 8 miles followed by lifting; core and rotational mobility too
  • Wednesday 8 trail miles
  • Thursday 8.5 miles of 3×4 hill repeats, followed by lifting: core and rotational mobility
  • Friday, easy hour with friends
  • Saturday long run with last 5 miles faster
  • Sunday sick all day

Bleeding into

  • Monday sick all day
  • Tuesday, backing off of repeats to 3×3 while I recover from the virus; easy lift, more mobility
  • Wednesday 8 trail miles
  • Thursday 5×3 for 8 miles; lift
  • Friday hour easy run with friends while planning weekend miles
  • Saturday long run in South Mountains State park: 20 miles 4,5000 feet. Run comfortable, unless its a runnable downhill and then run it hard (don’t run the steep and terribly technical sections hard, not worth risking an ankle or leg injury) Finish with a 2 mile hike straight up a waterfall 🙂
  • Sunday, easy road miles with Drew and the dog.

So the take away from this two week block is to be more mindful of being present while running hill repeats.  The benefit of the workout isn’t just the pounding of the legs, or the burning of the lungs…its also training the mind and body to really get close to that edge of suffering, and realizing that its ok. (if you subscribe to the central governor theory, then your brain will cut you off long before you actually do any real damage to yourself by running hard.) I do think when left to my own devices I omit these types of workouts and opt for long slower slogs.  That seems to be the type of pain I enjoy, however, the short, intense training bouts is really what I have been missing.


Waterfalls and laughter with friends


Hope you all had a good few weeks of training!

Western States Training: Week 4 Rest

After 3 weeks of vo2 max workout building, and Refining Ultra strength training, it was time for a recovery week.  Keep the same mileage, take out all the speed and have fun!   Not having scheduled workouts meant that I could do a bunch of random trail running with friends!  After the snow from last week, this week was a muddy and much warmer week and I could get back out onto the trails again.

  • Monday: Easy 5 mile trail run.  The trail was either slick with mud or ice, but it was a relaxed run, and fun never the less.
  • Tuesday: One of my training partners (that I met at Cruel Jewel last May) invited along a friend of hers…who happened to have just signed up for Crew Jewel 100 this coming May.  I thought that this called for a group run with a local trail group, so we met and headed out to the start of Tuesday Hill workout a mile away, which turned into quite an adventure.  After the snow melt from Monday, and a heavy Thunderstorm that ended right before our run the creek had washed away all the bridges so we had to backtrack and cross on the rail road bridge.  None of us are afraid of heights, but if you haven’t crossed a wet, slippery rail road bridge, the thing about it is that its just the wood planks across open air with foot wide gaps in between, and I had to hold onto my skinny whippet dog who kept almost slipping through the gaps.  We met up with the small group and proceeded to run the hill loop, which is mostly just a trail route that doubles back and forth over all the hills in the local forest.  Its not saying much since we live in a rather flat area, I think in 8 miles we got 1,200 vertical feet.  The real adventure was the trek back to the car.  Rather than chance losing the dog through the slats of the rail road bridge, we decided to cross the swollen creek.  The worst part of this is the stream hides many large and small boulder and was freezing and fast moving, so you can easily get your foot caught in the unseen rocks below.  We were in up to our chests, as the dog jumped in, I looked back to see him being swept downstream, and I fell in.  Fortunately he managed to land on a large boulder and jumped out, and Erin grabbed me and we made it to the other side.  The problem now was that we were on the side where we parked, and the dog was on the opposite side refusing to get back into the cold water.  Fortunately Erin’s friend, Sara, had no fear and crossed back over a slippery pipe and carried the dog back over.  Note to self, run from home when it rains like that, and cross the big bridge that never washes away :). Either way, it was fun, and Emmitt and I made a new trail friend.  That afternoon I still did my weight lifting, but backed off on weight and reps as it was recovery week.
  • Wednesday: The three of us headed back out to much drier trails for 5 miles in the woods again.
  • Thursday: The dog was looking a little tired, and possibly sore from his excitement in the creek on Tuesday, so I left him at home and ran 8 miles on the road, focusing on my gait.  Afternoon lifting session at the gym and sauna.
  • Friday: Another easy 5 trail miles with a recovered dog.
  • Saturday:  I am trying to mix up long trail runs with long road runs so I can target both gait focused fast running, and technical endurance trail running.  This week I opted for a long road run.  I met friends who are training for a half marathon, and we did 16 miles at a 7:39 pace.
  • Sunday:  Woke to the sound of rain, but 53 degrees!  It was like an early spring day, and after some procrastination, I got 5 miles done on the road.

Looking to the next three weeks it will be similar, more VO2 workouts, more mobility and lifting as prescribed and put together specifically for Western States and my specific weaknesses by Balanced Movement PT.  Onto the pain!


Are you feeling lucky; Are lotteries in ultras the best way to manage growing interest?

My first ever ultra was Uwharrie Mountain Run in 2012.  Sign up began at 7 am, and was online.  Several of my training partners were hoping to run it as well, so I was thrilled to run my first ultra with friends.  I set my alarm to make sure I was up, knowing it filled up fast.  I pushed back my morning run so I could hover around my computer waiting for 7 am, my fingers itching.
Lottery Test
7am came and I immediately jumped onto my computer..as did everyone else apparently.  The screen froze…NO!  Suddenly my inbox notification started chiming with new emails.  It was several friends on our trail running listserv, also panicking.  Questions like, “did I get in?  Did it accept my credit card twice?” were coming in from several other people sharing in my confusion.
It turns out we crashed the server, I did get in, and the next year the race switched from first-come-first-serve to a lottery system.
The growing number of ultra participants in a blessing and a curse.  It is really inspiring to see so many people take the leap from marathoning to ultra-marathoning.  According to Ultrarunning.com in 2013 that number was 69,573.

What that means for races, however, is that while new ones are popping up everywhere,  tried and true races are having to deal with how to include everyone.


So the question becomes, whats the best way to deal with this?   How can RDs make sure everyone is included?  How about a lottery?
I believe that lotteries are on of the most fair ways of trying to include both newbies and veterans.  One of the oldest 100 mile races does it best.  The Western States Endurance run.  For lack of a better comparison, its the Boston Marathon of the ultra community.  Its been around the longest, it has made names for several individuals, it draws people back every year.  Not only for the competition, but for the camaraderie, the community, the scenery, and its exceptional organization.The details for the Western States lottery can be found here, the RD and board of directors work really hard to make their lottery as fair as they can.  If you look through their history they have tweaked their lottery processes several times.

First come first serve race entry is becoming harder to find.  Another popular race that I have run, in the mid atlantic, is Bull Run Run organized by the Virgina Happy Trails.  This was my first encounter with a lottery system, and I have to say it was much easier than rushing to my computer and panicking while trying to hit refresh on my computer.  Their system is similar to WESR, however, rather than random names pulled they use the DOW in an interesting way.  During the period that their application is open, each person who fills out an application will be given a unique, randomly-generated number from 0 to 999. Once a number is issued, it will not be used again. The starting number is determined by using the least three significant digits of the closing Dow Jones Industrial Average (DOW) as it is normally displayed. The date of the DOW will be specified before entry begins.
I know the lottery system isn’t always perfect for everyone.  I have friends who have put in for WESR several years in a row, and still have never gotten in, while others get in on their first try.
If you are still unconvinced that races are trying their best to make sure people are included, many will allow people to volunteer one year, for entry in the next.
Of course, if you are just unlucky in lotteries from time to time, fat-asses and smaller low key races that don’t fill can still be found around the country.
As for me, fingers crossed…this is my first year putting in for the WSER lottery!