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  • Western State 100 Weekend Write-up

    Posted on July 5th, 2014 Michele Sun No comments

    The weekend of June 28th, I played part of the Western State 100, an endurance ultra-marathon race that I can only dream about ever!

    I first learned about Western State 100 1 1/2 years ago through GU Energy Lab because they are the sponsor of this epic race, at that time I only knew it’s a tough race but had no idea how prestigious and legendary this race is. The Western States Endurance Run was first completed in 1974 by Gordy Ainsleigh, who had finished the Western States Trail Ride in 1971 and 1972 on horseback. In 1974, Gordy decided to join the horses of the Western States Trail Ride to see if he could complete the course on foot. 23 hours and 42 minutes later Gordy arrived in Auburn, proving that a runner could, indeed, travel the 100 miles in one day.

    Though I have done some trail runs and surrounded by many trail runners, but I didn’t know what it takes to accomplish a race like this class. Until I came to know a great ultra runner Mike, who has accomplished many ultra races including Leadville 100 and his dream was getting into WS100. “What do you mean getting into it?” I asked. Apparently one needs to get qualified for WS100 by completing several qualified ultra races and then get picked by the lottery system. And this year the Striders club members would be hosting the Last Chance aid-station to support 399 runners, and to root for our very own, Mike, Lina and Peggy.

    Two weeks before the race weekend I realized a problem — I have no camping gears for this event. The Last Chance aid station is at mile 43 of WS100 course, and it’s somewhere in Auburn that we would camp there the night before the race for road would be closed on Sat morning. Plus it’s in the middle of nowhere that driving there would be quite a challenge for me. Luckily Max came to rescue when I told him about my excitement and troubles for this volunteering. Friday June 27th, we embarked on our Western State 100 journey at 2:30pm with two ice-chests, gallons of water, clothing, trail shoes, and Max prepared camping gears and even groceries shopped for the two of us.

    Driving out of Bay Area was a pain in the ass on Friday afternoon, the traffics was just horrible and carpool lane was a complete joke. Max kept telling me “just be patient, we will get there,” but that’s something not embedded in my genes my dear. I really appreciated his keeping me sane with interesting conversation as I am not the most chatty person in private, and occasionally he would point out subject like “TOTORO” license plate, or a cute husky sticking his head out of a window, and we talked about Hoover — Chris Jones’ best pal.. etc. We stopped at Auburn for some gas and couple bags of ice, and continued our road-trip toward Foresthill and it finally became much more enjoyable. No data service in the woods is a beautiful thing, and the lavish Tahoe forest is just beautiful in emerald and forest green! The road was very windy and we wished we were in his RS but the off-road portion of this trip would probably mess up his fun car. After Dusty Corner we went off road and were on the actual Western State trail, then finally arrived at Last Chance around 8:15pm.

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    Upon arrival, this year’s volunteers captain Bruce directed us to where to park and camp; Bruce and Peter would be our captains because Lina and Peggy are both running WS100 this year :-). Max did all the setup for our home away from home and I tried my best to play the useful assistant role; quickly our “house” was ready and it looked totally awesome blended in with those huge trees. Someone had started the campfire already, and we joined them by the fire while Max put together proper sandwiches which I enjoyed with the tasty beer he brought. We chitchatted with other volunteers and it’s cool to meet other runners that we have known or heard about from other races.

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    The air was cool and relaxing and Max pointed out to me the stars, and I don’t think I have ever been that close to them before. Those blinking stars were huge and bright, and they seemed to be within my reach as I extended my arms toward the sky. Every time you smile you put a star in my palm, and tonight I feel that I have owned the galaxy in my hands! After the long drive this afternoon, we decided to call it a night a bit after 10:00pm. It’s not that comfortable to sleep on a cold and hard surface, but there was this white noise in the woods kind of soothing and Max said they were frogs. It’s a night of some tossing and turning, but I actually slept OK and got woke up from those early birds’ arguments & debates in the morning.

    Sat June 28th, I could hear some people were already up and having conversation in the open area that’s outside of our tent. We decided to get up and helped with aid-station setup first, then Max and I would go out for a run toward Dusty Corner. He knew it was my dream to run at the actual Western State 100 course, a race that I could never get in.

    Max said he would run with me so I wouldn’t get lost in the woods, but I told him to go ahead and enjoy the course and I assured him I would be fine by myself. The last thing I want is to become someone’s burden or taking away his fun and freedom of running. The first few strides were TOUGH!! I thought I was out of shape & training, but even Max was cursing wth as well, man… the elevation was hard!! Soon he took off and left me eating the dust, no pun intended :-p My plan was to do a time based run – 30 mins out & 30 mins back, and the run felt so magical — “on the actual WS100 course” my heart screamed!! Within few minutes after turning around I tripped and fell hard on fours. I got dirt and blood on my knees and shins and tiny pebbles on both palms, and also reopened the wounds from last weekend’s fell at San Lorenzo River. I quickly cleaned the wounds with the water I was carrying and carefully ran back to Last Chance.

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    Back to the aid-station, a volunteer at medical tent spotted me and said “oh no…”, so I was officially the first customer at Last Chance medical tent. I got seated down on one of the lawn chairs and she got me some wipes and tapped me with Second Skin. I went back to our tent and cleaned the dirt and sweat off my arms and legs, and changed into a clean shirt & track pants. Ready to start my volunteer duty. I told Max what happened and proudly announced that I bled on Western State course, and he half joked that “please don’t make this a habit.” For the record, I only fall and hurt myself when he is around, so I think he should take half of the blames.

    Last Chance was at mile 43 and one of the major aid-stations with food, medic, “car wash”, and supported by about 35 volunteers…etc. It didn’t take long for the aid-station to be properly setup since the Striders have had many years of experience to host this aid station, and Peggy and Lina have good notes about all the details, including the yellow flower pots in front of porta pottis and the banner of Stevens Creek Striders hang on trees.

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    All the volunteers were assigned to a specific task and we had our morning briefing around 9:30am. A very touching moment was when the special appreciation award presented to Penny, and I had to turn my back and silently wiped tears away.

    The race started at 5:00am over Squaw Valley, and we didn’t expect first runner in till sometime after 11:00am. So I had time to munch on the bagels, cookies and berries Max brought, and even got freshly brewed coffee from Dennis, what a treat! My duty, with Max, was to track every runners’ bib number and “In-time”, then turned in the sheet every 15 minutes to the two race official guys with radio. There is no cell data here, and this is the only way to track all the runners’ splits. We had a table and tent, and there were “greeters” sitting next to us to welcome runners in and helped them to get weighted and take care of the bottles & packs, drop-bags, or any other needs..

    At 11:17am, the first runner, Max King, cruised in, who was in for his very first 100 mile endurance race. Within 3 minutes four runners came in pack, and I recognized Rob Krar who I believed would take the crown this year, and a runner in excellent shape that I never heard of before, Seth Swason, was also in this pack. Then Dylan Bowman came in at 11:24am whom I believed would be one of our local boys that would take podium according to his Strava data. There were a lot of big names today, and it’s truly amazing and exciting to see closely how strong and great these runners were. But personally I think the most fun part was seeing Jorge Maravilla (whom I secretly refer to as Fernando’s brother), when he came in and did his famous mid-air sidekick it just cracked me up! All the runners looked very focused and serious, but Marvilla showed us his usual fun spirit toward trail runs and I just love that big smile!!

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    Every runners came in to this aid station were received by the a “greeter”, and Max and I logged their bib numbers & time down like we were having eyes exam which gradually we started failing it. While the greeters took off the belts or packs from them, they got to be “weighted-in” and the medical staffs would ask “how much did you weight this morning?” “have you peed since this morning? what color was your pee?” Sometimes even cracked up few jokes and just to see if runners could get it. Max showed me an article and explained to me why this task is a must and critical, because this is how you ensure a runner is healthy both physically and mentally; doing a 100 mile endurance race at Western State course is an extremely strenuous activity.

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    After they got weighted in, the runners were joined by their greeters and retrieved their backpacks which were properly refilled with GU Roctane and ice/ice water. They moved on to the “buffet table” to get fueled with fresh fruits, grilled cheese, PBJ sandwich, and continued to the most fun part at this aid station — “car wash”. Three volunteers, all girls, were to wash off runners with sponge and cool spring water, and I could see runners really enjoyed this special “no wax deluxe” treatment 🙂

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    Highlight of today must be the moment when Yoshikazu Hara came through our aid-station. When he was standing on the scale I could not believe my eyes that I was actually looking at Hara-san himself!! I immediately left my lawn chair and followed Hara-san to the buffet table, and I asked “Hara-san?” and he looked up at me. I asked him in Japanese if he wanted any “bananas, mangoes, pineapples”..etc, and I was so excited that he was standing only few inches from me and accepted my banana and mango. He wasted no time at aid-station, just like other elites, and continued his race. I could not help to wave bye and shout out “Gambatte Hara-san! Gambatte!!! ” Other volunteers witnessed and puzzled about my excitement, so I had to explain that Yoshikazu Hara was the winner of UT Mt Fuji 2013.

    There are three runners from Striders racing WS100 this year, Mike, Lina and Peggy, which made most volunteers feeling extra special to be here today. We all were antsy, nervous and excitedly waiting for them to come in, and I particularly looked forward to seeing Mike whom I really look up to and have been following his every training runs, in heat, in dark, in high altitude, in high-noon by Embarcadero…etc. When he appeared in his white Salomon shirt and Canadian buff, the noise of cowbells, cheers, claps…went off in full blown; he is definitely a popular and well respected runner among us. Then Lina and Peggy also came through our aid-station and both looking great in spirit and shape! And Peter looked totally happy himself 🙂 A special treat was seeing Loren, whom Max and I had met when we did our first CTR New Year Eve endurance race, cruising through looking strong and happy!!


    Runners at this race are mostly in great physical shape, not skinny but super fit, and I have long noticed before that many trail runners (men) either have beard or long hair, or both. And today I saw quite a few with that “magic beards” —

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    It’s a long, tiring and dusty day to volunteer, and I thank for the candies, fresh fruits and most importantly Max being here with me. Thanks for checking off my wish list with me. There are three cut-off time to watch for at this aid-station, the 24-hour, 30-hour and the final cut-off at 5:30pm. If runner come through after 5:30pm, he/she will be removed from the race and cannot continue. A little after 5:00pm, a tall and white haired runner with white beard came in and his bib read “M0”, WOW!!! Can you believe this? Max and I were so dumbfounded to see Gordy, Mr. Western State, actually running this race. He joked when someone asked how he felt which he replied “damn, this thing is not done yet.” He was so cool and casual, and so many volunteers went up to meet him to have pictures taken, and he even stopped to get “car washed.” 🙂

    At 5:30pm, two horses came in and they were the official sweepers, totally Western State style and uber cool. Which also meant that the runners came after this point would be removed, and sadly we did have one guy that day. Max and I talked about what we would do if we knew beforehand that we were not going to make it? I opted to give all I can and continue to run, walk, crawl till I am told to stop.

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    We quickly dissembled the aid-station tents, cleaned up everything, returned all the lawn chairs, and dumped all the ice out of coolers..etc, then Max took down our home away from home and put everything back to my car. I went to say byes to some new friends just met today, and wished good luck to few that were going to pace. Some were going to the Finish in Auburn and camped out at the high school waiting for runners to finish.

    As we driving away, I turned and looked at all the dust trailing behind us and thinking about how inspiring this weekend has been; I told Max that I hope one day, in the not too far future, I could crew this race for him. I will drive him, carry his bags, massage him, and plead him to have that day come soon as I can’t promise how long I can stick around…

    Sunday June 29th, the first thing we did after opening our eyes was complaining that our backs hurt, and then immediately checked the results of runners we know. At first I was puzzled why some runners had no splits update, then realized that they were still out there running while we were sleeping!! WS100 was such an epic and remarkable experience!!


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