Monday, June 25, 2007

2007 Western States 100 Mile Run - Safety Patrol & Pacing

Date: June 23-24, 2007
Location: Squaw Valley to Auburn
Race: Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (Safety Patrol & Pacing)

(Picture courtesy of Larry Gassan)

I had been looking forward to this weekend ever since I had signed up for Safety Patrol for the first 30 miles. Anil had participated in the memorial Day WS Training Camp so he was familiar with the middle sections of the WS course. This was our chance to see what the first 30 miles looked like.

We drove up Friday afternoon with Christine Miller, another ultra runner. She was also part of the Safety Patrol for the first 30 miles.

We found our way to our motel a few miles from Squaw Valley after dropping Christine in Squaw Valley. We went and checked out the Start area before doing this though. It was very inspiring.

Anil and I woke up around 2:30 a.m. and quickly ate breakfast and got our hand bottles and waist pouches organized with gels etc. before heading to the Start. It was chilly and I was glad to be wearing 2 layers.

We met a whole host of friends in the Start area. Most of them were runners and a few, like us, were in the Safety Patrol red shirts.

The lot of us in the Patrol started the 3 mile climb up to the escarpment at 4:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the start of the race. The trail was very dusty and steep. A mile or so before the top we could see camera flashes down below to our right and we knew that the race had begun.

The elite group of runners included Lon Freeman (course record in the 2007 Miwok 100K), 2006 WS winner Graham Cooper, Hal Koerner, Guillermo Medina and Brian Morrison among others. The first of the elites passed us about a quarter mile from the top. It was astonishing to see how they were making their way up the steep slope!

Anil and I waited at the top to get to the back of the pack. We were off!

The escarpment was almost at 9000 feet. The first few miles were downhill - fast with decent footing. Altitude affects my breathing but the downhill section was fine. We descended more than 1500 feet and then ran along for the remaining miles mostly around 7000 feet.

The next 10 miles or so we were running among friends - Carol Cuminale, Barbara Elia and Karen Hanke. I was to pace Karen later in the day (from the mile 62 mark in Foresthill). Anil was scheduled to pace Chris Marolf from the same point.

The trail was extremely dusty. The lack of rainfall was evident in the total absence of snow. The only white we could see was on distant mountain tops.

Anil was in fine form. Altitude does not seem to bother him at all. He is going to have a blast in the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler in July!!

My breathing was starting to become labored. We reached the 10 mile aid station and I quickly ate a few cookies and some PBJ squares. The next big cutoff was at Dusty Corners (11:30 a.m.).

By now Karen, Anil and I were running together as were a few other runners just ahead of Karen. They were all anxious about making the cutoff. They finally trooped in at 11:20 a.m. with Carol and Barbara not far behind. They had hardly any time to grab stuff to eat and fill their bottles before they had to leave. Western States is very particular about enforcing cutoff times and no runner wants to be caught napping when the cutoff bell goes off!

Since Anil and I had only another 7 or so miles to go from there on, we decided to back off on the pace. We reasoned that we needed to save something in our legs for the 38 miles of pacing at night.

We walked and ran the next 3-4 miles until we caught up with a runner named Cyrus (from Detroit). The altitude seemed to be affecting him even more than me. He was very tall and he would bend over every so often trying to suck in air. I noticed that his cap was not venting enough of the heat he was generating, causing him to sweat copiously. I asked him to take it off and I gave him my visor. Anil and I also shared our slices of mango & ginger and our sports drinks and salt tablets with him. He made it to the Robinson Flat AS with 5 minutes to spare!

He promptly went out of the AS and sat down just outside. I quickly piled a plate with food and took it to him. His son had his bottles filled up by AS staff. He sat there for another 10 minutes and finally left around 1:50 p.m. His next cutoff was 3:05 p.m. and we later learned that he did not make it. Maybe he will have better luck the next time he start this race. Good luck to him.

I was very surprised to see Karen Hanke still in the AS. She was sitting in a chair and when I asked her when she intended to leave, she announced that she had decided to quit. Poor baby! As she found out later, she had suffered from altitude sickness and just could not maintain a good pace. Even though she rolled into Robinson Flat at 1:10 p.m., i.e. 30 minutes before the cutoff, she knew that she could not sustain it much longer. Being the savvy and experienced athtlete she is, she decided to quit. Smart decision!

Bob, her husband, had offered to drive Anil and me back to Squaw Valley to pick up our car. Since Karen was also with us we decided to grab lunch. We ate in a pizza place near the Foresthill AS. This is where we met Pete Lubbers. Like Anil, he will be starting his first 100 miler in Tahoe on July 21.

By the time we made it to our car in Squaw Valley it was almost 5 p.m. I drove down to Auburn while Anil dozed. We checked into our motel around 7 p.m. after grabbing a bite to eat in a Chinese restaurant.

Anil barely got an hour of shuteye. We left the room at 9:15 p.m. in order to make it to the Foresthill AS. Chris rolled in there just after 10:00 p.m. He was just under the 30-hr finish pace.

Anil took off with him and I drove back to the motel. Since I no longer had to pace Karen, Anil and I had decided to share his pacing load. I was to take over pacing from Green Gate (mile 80).

I figured that Chris, even if he were to lift himself to a 29-hr pace, would get there around 4:15 a.m. (I was going by a detailed spreadsheet he had made prior to the race). It took me almost an hour to find Green Gate. I reached there only to find that Chris had gone through at 3:45 a.m.! He had lifted himself to a 28-hr pace!!

For a few minutes I felt very, very guilty for letting Anil down. I then shrugged it off. It was done. I could do nothing about it. I wished him and Chris luck in my mind and made my way to the next place where I could meet them. This was at the 93.5 mile mark - the Hwy 49 AS.

This time I made sure I did not dally. I reached at 5:30 a.m. and waited along with a whole lot of family members of other runners. I had a fun time talking to Molly Pelton (womens' winner in the 2006 RDL 100 miler). She was part of Gary Bennett's crew.

I went through 3-4 cups of instant coffee and spent some time with Shige (Yuki's friend) and Miho, Yuki's wife. Yuki came in around 7:50 a.m. with Chihping pacing him. He looked tired but I knew that nothing in the world would stop him from his second consecutive WS finish!

Chris came in just past 8 a.m. with no Anil! I asked him and he said that Anil was behind and would arrive soon. Since Anil had the pacer bib number I could not leave with Chris. Chris spent not more than 3 minutes there.

Anil rolled in about 5 minutes later. I quickly took the bib number from him and darted up the trail. I passed Yuki and Chihping and found Chris not far ahead. The trail then descended for the next mile or more down to the No Hands Bridge. Chris was flying! He must have been doing sub-7:30!! I was so impressed. We made it to the No Hands AS and were out of there in no time at all. The next mile or so was flat and then we started the small climb up to Robie Point.

Chris then started running and walking as soon as we hit the pavement section at the top. We knew that we were a mile and a half from the Finish. He looked strong all the way to a 28:36 finish. What a fantastic run he had!! Congratulations my friend. The way you ran those last 6 miles was very inspiring.

Anil was very tired. We went back to the motel where he showered. We then grabbed Subway sandwiches and coffee from Starbucks before heading back to the Bay area. I drove while Anil dozed. He is such a tough runner. He never complains and is always ready to go the extra mile to help a fellow runner.

I hope he and I get in next year.


Chris said...

Thanks for pacing me at the end of the race, Rajeev. I will never forget that section between HWY 49 and No Hands Bridge. Something magic was going on there.

I posted my photos of the entire course here (you are on one of them):

Thanks again!

Cyrus said...

Thanks a million for "talking" me to Robinson Flat. I actually felt good running into Miller's Defeat, must have passed about 5 runners who were all walking. I had 3:03 on my watch and tried to rush out, but the captain told me I had to stop because she had 3:05. Bummer, just when I was going to be dropping to lower altitude. I will be back to take care of some unfinished business.

How was Tahoe?? Give my best to Anil

Cyrus from Detroit