Western States 100- Crew Perspective
We got to experience the Western States 100 for the first time this year. We flew out of Omaha on Friday, June 28 early in the morning. After a quick stop in Dallas, we arrived in Reno, NV at around 10:00 a.m. The drive from Reno to Squaw Valley is absolutely beautiful. I would love to spend some time exploring the area.
Friday afternoon and evening was a bit of a blur. We bought raffle tickets in the hopes that Cade would get in to the race next year- no such luck. We found my sister and checked in to the condo. We sat baking in the super hot sun and listened to the pre-race meeting. We ate some delicious pizza. We talked race and crew strategy with Kerrie. And we fell asleep. At around 5pm. Seriously. We must have both been exhausted because we slept from 5pm until the next morning. It’s a good thing Cade set an alarm because we would have missed the start!
Kerrie was already gone when we got up so we rushed down to the start and tried to find her in the dark. We had no such luck. I did wish Nick Clark (awesome ultra runner from Fort Collins, CO) good luck. And we were standing right next to Timothy Olson as he gave his wife a hug before the race. The shotgun blasted at 5:00 am and off the runners went up the steep escarpment.
Our crew strategy was to watch the start and then go back and catch some more sleep. The plan was for there to be two crew cars so that no one person would have to be up all night. That plan changed when my sister’s husband stayed home and I was the only crew member left. I wanted to be able to be at every aid station, but I knew that it just wasn’t feasible and it could get dangerous for me to be too tired in the middle of the night by myself. So, we stuck with our original plan and went back to the condo to catch a few more hours of sleep.
We packed up, checked out of the condo, and went to the grocery store for some supplies before heading out to the first point where we would see our runner. It was a beautiful winding mountainous drive from Squaw Valley to Aubern. We kept an eye on the online tracker to see how she was doing and how fast she was running. She was up near the front of the women’s race in the morning so we knew we shouldn’t dawdle.
The first aid station we made it to was Michigan Bluff. That was over 50 miles in to to the race. There was very little shade available and it was hot hot hot. We found a spot under a little bush and set up camp to wait. and wait. and wait. We were there for about 4 hours waiting. It was pretty cool because we got to see all of the leaders come through the aid station. We saw Timothy Olson. Hal Koerner. Pam Smith. All of the leaders and eventual winners of the race.
We enjoyed the famous Western States burgers being sold at Michigan Bluff along with some cold fruit popsicles and lemonade. Finally Kerrie came into view. She was visibly limping… uh oh. She said she had bashed her ankle on a rock many miles ago and while it wasn’t painful to stand or run on, it was bumping against her shoe and that caused her to limp. She spent some time with the medical folks who eventually just cut her shoe down to keep it from bumping. It was worth a shot. We loaded her up with electrolyte pills, sprayed her with sunscreen, got fresh cold water, and sent her on her way.
We had to hurry a bit to the next aid station. We rode a very very very slow shuttle bus up and out of Michigan Bluff. I was thankful for the ride, but the man driving the bus was certainly in no hurry to get anywhere. The next aid station was only 5 or 6 miles of running and we had some driving to do on winding roads to get there so we needed to hurry it up.
We made it to the Forest Hill aid station with plenty of time. This was mile 62, where Cade would start pacing. Kerrie was now several hours behind her original projected time so we needed to make a few adjustments. I calculated the distance and estimated time to the next aid station and made the decision to give both Kerrie and Cade headlamps. I thought it would be dark by the time they got to the next crew point and I didn’t want them out there without lights. It seemed like we had plenty of time. Cade was getting some last minute calories in, getting sunscreen on, getting his water bottles ready- and then there she was. Cade didn’t even have his shoes on yet! Ack! She had sped up a bit. It worked out fine though. Cade threw his shoes on and off they went.
From that point on, I was on my own. I had to carry all of their stuff by myself. Navigate the mountain roads by myself. Keep myself entertained so I wouldn’t fall asleep… I drove to the parking area for the next crew point. It was just a trail head parking area on the side of the highway. The next crew station was the Rucky Chucky River Crossing. There was no driving down to the aid station. I waited around for a bit and then a shuttle came to pick me and a big group of others up and take us to the river. It was a river rafting bus. The drive down was a bit harrowing and I can see why they didn’t want people going down there. It was a rough rocky dirt road with tight turns and long drop offs. The temperature was cooling the closer we got to the river- a welcome feeling. Temperatures were out of control all day pushing 110 in the canyons. Apparently it was the second hottest Western States on record.
I made it down to the river crossing when it was still light out. There was a rope strung across the river and volunteers were standing in the water helping runners and pacers make their way across. It was quite the production. I spread out a towel and leaned against a rock next to the aid station tent where I settled in to wait. and wait. and wait.
I saw some interesting things while I waited there. Hal Koerner, in second place when I saw him last, had dropped out of the race and was sitting in the medical tent. Apparently he had been having some trouble with his foot this year and it didn’t hold up. He and his pacer hung around for a while before finally walking off. I met a nice girl who was waiting for her brother in law (racer) and sister (pacer) to come in. We commiserated about waiting and worrying. Both of our runners were taking a very long time to get in. There was a girl (racer) who came into the aid station and was not doing so hot. She sat down in a chair near me and the aid station volunteers were talking to her. She didn’t want to eat or drink and she didn’t feel well. The convinced her to drink a bit of broth if for no other reason than to get her to vomit- maybe she would feel better. Well, vomit she did. A lot. Medical came over to check her out and were told that she was fine, just taking a little rest. She was finally convinced to at least cross the river and see how it goes. I don’t remember her name or number, but I can’t imagine that she finished. She was killing it all day up to that point too. I think the heat finally caught up to her.
Finally, Kerrie and Cade showed up. Good thing I gave them headlamps because it was pitch dark. Kerrie got her weight checked at medical (as all runners did) and then they made it over to the aid station. I talked to Cade and Kerrie wandered off. Cade was not happy. He said that she wasn’t eating or drinking enough and she wasn’t listening to him. She was wasting energy and starting to whine about her quads hurting. He was frustrated and told me to be ready to run with her at the next crew spot. I talked Kerrie into taking a few electrolyte pills before leaving the aid station. Someone tried to give her ibuprofen when she complained about her quads but thankfully Cade saw it and stopped it from happening. Taking ibuprofen in a situation like that when your body is so stressed and easily cause bad problems- like renal failure. No Ibuprofen! I followed them down the rocks to the edge of the river and watched them make their way across and start up the hill back into the darkness. A few minutes of excitement and I was alone again. Mile 78.
I made my way back to the river rafting shuttle and back to the rental car. The drive to the next crew station was a bit harrowing. It was late. I was tired. I was on a very very winding road. And, I wasn’t quite sure that I was on the right winding road. I made a right hand turn just guessing that it was where I needed to go. I drove a lot farther than I thought I needed to. Finally, I saw police cars and flashing lights- it was the highway 49 crossing. I found the aid station. I drove past it to the designated parking area. Once I got there I calculated time and thought I would have plenty of time to catch a quick nap in the car. I set my phone alarm for 45 minutes and was out quickly.
I woke up disoriented. I gathered all of my things and made sure I had what I needed to run the last 7 miles with her. It felt strangely chilly out even though it was still in the 80s at around 1:00 am. I got on yet another shuttle bus for the short ride down to the aid station. Once there, I laid out my towel to wait. and wait. and wait. I ended up laying down with my sweatshirt hood over my head and my hands tucked under my body to stay warm. I think I fell asleep for a while. They were calling out numbers of approaching runners a few minutes before they would arrive. Finally I heard the number I was listening for and I popped up and hurried over to the lighted area just as they were crossing the highway. Both of them were in good spirits. Cade said she was eating better and they were in a good rhythm. He was going to keep running. I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t be running, but also a little relieved. I was tired and cold and they would hopefully be done soon. Mile 93.
Once again I gathered up all of the gear and walked back to wait for the shuttle. I got back to the car and realized I left the windows wide open while I was gone. Nothing was missing, thankfully. I drove that dark winding road back towards Aubern and headed to Placer High School where the finish line was set up. I found a great parking spot right next to the Placer High track and walked towards the lights. I’ve seen pictures and video of the finish line, but to actually be there was pretty spectacular. It gave me a new sense of energy and a feeling of excitement.
Runners are only allowed one pacer at a time starting at mile 62 of the race. But, after the last aid station with a little over one mile to go, anyone can run along. I set off into the darkness to find the last aid station so that I could run in with them. It was still around 80 degrees and it was now about 4:00 a.m. I was so excited to find the aid station that I was still wearing my sweatshirt- great for standing still but hot to run in- and I didn’t grab my headlamp. I really had no idea where I was going so I was just wandering around in the dark. I would wait to see headlamps bobbing down the street and then I knew I was going in the right direction. At one point I thought about how strange it was to be wandering around, alone, on the streets of a strange town in California at 4:00 a.m. In any other circumstances that would be considered so dangerous! But, there I was.
Finally I came upon a group of people. They were sitting outside their house which was adorned with tons of christmas lights. They were playing music and having a great time. I asked them where the aid station was and they pointed me down a big hill- about 1/4 mile further. I made it down to the aid station and sat on a rock. It was chilly there and I was suddenly glad I had my sweatshirt. I was only there for maybe 5 minutes before I heard Kerrie’s number called. She was ready to be done. Her quads were shot. She could move uphill pretty well, but the downhills were painful. We power walked back up the hill and by the happy christmas light people. We wandered through the neighborhood. At that point there was only one small incline and then a steady easy downhill to the track and the finish line. We ran the last 3/4 mile or so slow and steady. The announcer’s voice came into ear shot. Then we could see the stadium lights. And then, we were there at the entrance to the track. Cade Kerrie and I ran the 300 meters or so around the track as the announcer gave the crowd some information about Kerrie. Cade and I peeled off into the pacer and crew lane as Kerrie crossed the finish line. Her teammate was there waiting for her after finishing hours earlier. I think we were all happy to have reached the finish line at about 4:30 a.m.
We hung around for a bit and then made it to our hotel about 20 minutes away. Sleep. Finally. And a shower. That felt heavenly. We all slept and then made it back up to the track in time for the awards ceremony where Kerrie got her under 24 hour belt buckle. The rest of the day on Sunday we spent eating mexican food, taking a dip in the pool, taking a quick run to REI, napping, going out for a nice dinner, and sleeping. We got up early on Monday and flew out of Sacramento to make our way home.
Western States is an amazing race. I hope to be there with Cade someday so that he can realize his dream of racing. And I hope to be a strong enough runner by that time to be able to pace him and experience it alongside him. It will happen. It’s just a matter of time.
At the start:
A little medical humor at Michigan Bluffs: