Archives for posts with tag: Western States 100

There a few things in life that are inevitable, death, taxes, and if you’re a runner, injuries. Though I’ve had my fair share, I’ve been pretty lucky in this department and haven’t had to deal with anything too debilitating…until now.

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It had been a great year up until this point. My goal for 2015 was to focus on speed and technical trail running skills. To do this I opted for shorter trail races where I’d be forced to run at a faster pace to remain competitive.

Last year I only ran four races. Granted they were all long and hard, together totaling 212 race miles (that’s more than eight marathons!). And while it was fun to challenge myself at these longer distances, I missed running fast. Well, you know, fast-ish.

So far this year I’ve already raced four times, mostly trail half marathons. These shorter races are fun and allow for quick recovery times. They were all new courses for me (Vortex Half, Smith Rock Ascent 15M, Trail Factor Half and Mary’s Peak 50K) and it was great to be drinking a celebratory beer before noon, instead of slogging through a 50 mile day.

Things were looking good for my peak race of the year, the Waldo 100K, which would serve as my qualifier for Western States. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Western States 100 is the grand daddy of ultras and it is my dream to run it some day.

To get in you need to run a qualifying race to be eligible for the lottery. For every year your name is not chosen in the lottery, you are given twice as many chances the following year. Your odds improve exponentially with each entry until eventually you get in. But miss just one year of qualifying and it’s back to the beginning.

There’s a limited number of qualifying races and entry into Western States is so sought after that now even the qualifying races have lotteries. It’s a crazy system, huh? I’ve qualified the last four years and after my name was chosen in the lottery for the Waldo 100K, it looked like this year I’d get a fifth qualifier, greatly improving my chances to get into the 2016 Western States. But then I had a little accident.

Cycling home from a show at Mississippi Studios last Tuesday night I hit a divider on a dark street. I went over the handlebars and scraped up my right side. It didn’t seem like that big a deal at the time, so I rode home and went to bed.

The next morning I couldn’t walk. Hoping it was just a strained tendon in my foot, I stopped off at Zoom Care for an X-ray just to be sure. I wanted to cry when the doctor came back with the results carrying a walking boot and a pair of crutches.

Actual X-ray

Actual X-ray

He told me that I have a heel spur, a small extension of the heel bone, on my right foot. It’s not uncommon, about 10% of the population has heel spurs. What is uncommon is to fracture a heel spur, which is what I did on the fall. It wasn’t something he’d ever seen before, so he sent me to a specialist.

The podiatrist said it didn’t look that bad and would probably heal up pretty quick. I was scared to ask her whether I’d be able to race in six weeks.  “Is it a marathon?” she asked.  Ahhh, no.  “A half marathon?” Nope. “Oh no, you’re not one of THOSE, are you?” She went on to say that ultra runners are her most difficult patients because they are so desperate to start running again that their recovery is often compromised.

While it is true that I am one of THOSE, at the same time, I don’t want to be one of those who doesn’t allow the injury to properly heal. I’ve put away the running shoes until I get the green light from my doctor. I don’t know at this point whether I’ll be able to run Waldo (and qualify for Western States), but I haven’t given up hope yet.

In the meantime, my doctor has given me an alternative…swimming. It’s not my favorite form of exercise, but it beats sitting on the couch reading running magazines and feeling sorry for myself.

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70-Year-Old Gunhild Swanson at the finish of the Western States 100

70-Year-Old Gunhild Swanson at the finish of the Western States 100

 

The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is the most famous, most competitive and most prestigious ultra distance race in the world. It’s kind of like the Boston Marathon of ultras. It starts at Squaw Valley and then goes up and over the Sierra Nevada mountains, through canyons and across rivers before finishing on Placer High School track in Auburn, CA.

To show you how difficult the course is, here’s the elevation profile of Western States as it compares to Boston:

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Western States has a strict 30 hour cutoff time and it is only those finishers who receive one of the coveted hand-made belt buckles to commemorate the achievement. The buckles are a throwback to the 100 mile horse ride that inspired the event.

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To get into Western States you must first run a qualifying race of 60 to 100 miles. All qualifiers are then put into a lottery and only 369 winners are chosen to run each year (as opposed to Boston which allowed 32,000 runners last year).

It can take years of qualifying before finally having your name picked in the lottery. And once you do get in, you definitely want to make sure you get that buckle because it could very well be your one and only chance.

The race was run last weekend on a day when temperatures were brutally hot. The heat really took its toll and only 68% of the runners were able finish in under 30 hours.

Men's Winner Rob Krar

Men’s Winner Rob Krar

 

There were many dramatic narratives that played out over the course of this year’s race. However, the loudest cheers were not for the winners, but for the person who finished dead last.

At 70 years old, Gunhild Swanson was attempting to become the oldest women to ever finish the race. And at mile 88 she was on pace to do just that, until she took a wrong turn.

Extra miles are the last thing you want at this point in the race. However, she didn’t let it get her down and instead focused on getting back on track.

When word began to spread that she had a chance of finishing before the cutoff, several runners including Rob Krar met her at the last aid station. Rob ran the last mile with her (in flip flops!) to help push the pace.

When she entered the track at Placer High School, there was still no guarantee that she’d be able to finish before the 30 hour cutoff. The crowd rallied behind her and several folks joined her for the final sprint. It was one of the most thrilling finishes in the 42 year history of Western States.

Here’s a VIDEO CLIP of her finishing with just six seconds to spare. I get choked up every time I see it.

Remember Gunhild next time you don’t want to go to the gym or when you don’t feel like running after work. She’s an inspiration to us all and proof that we’re capable of doing more than we think.

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Last week ultra running stud, Scott Jurek, was in town to promote his book, Eat & Run.  For those of you not familiar with Scott, he is one of the world’s most successful ultra runners.  In the last 15 years, he has won dozens of races, including classics such as the Hardrock 100, the Spartathon in Greece, Death Valley’s infamous Badwater 135, and the sport’s premier event, the Western States 100.

What I find even more impressive, however, is what Scott has given back to the running community.  His kind words and actions have inspired countless runners to go faster and go further.  Articles by and about Scott have motivated countless others to take up running for the first time.  He has volunteered at many races here in the Pacific Northwest and is known for hanging out at the finish line to cheer in every last runner.  As much as he has gotten out of competitive running, he has given back so much more, which is why I was honored to introduce Scott to a couple hundred of his fans at the recent event at Powell’s Books.

While Scott has always been well known in the ultra scene, his popularity with the public at large has grown enormously after being featured in Christopher McDougall’s bestseller, Born To Run.  At the event he discussed the recent death of the book’s main character, Caballo Blanco (Micah True).  A lifelong recluse, Micah died at a time when he was just starting to come to grips with his unwanted fame.  Hopefully his Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon will continue to be held in support of the local Tarahumara in northern Mexico.

I’ve always assumed that elite runners would need to consume lots of animal protein to properly recover from the intense training required to succeed at the highest level.  Yet Scott has been able to accomplish as much as he has living entirely on a plant-based diet.  In his book he explains how he went from being a fast food junkie to someone who has a thoughtful relationship with everything he consumes.  I don’t think I’d ever want to go vegan or vegetarian, but I’m still excited about trying out some of the tasty-looking recipes in Eat & Run.

Both in person and in the book, Scott comes across as a totally normal guy with a lack of pretension that makes the ultra running scene so welcoming and enjoyable.  If you are looking for some inspiring stories, some training tips and some yummy recipes, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Eat & Run.  And who knows, maybe one day you too will be running 100 mile races over mountains and through deserts fueled only by a plant-powered diet.