My buddy Mike K, from the Stevens Creek Striders, is an OG. He’s run 27 or so marathons. He has buckles from WSER100.2 and Leadville. We’ve logged a few miles together, and he has become a reliable voice of guidance as someone who’s been here before. He suggested I signup for the Western States Endurance Run Training Camp. I could learn a lot about our sport as well as that particular section of the American River Valley. I’d get a chance to run alongside some very cool people from all over, which I get a big kick out of. And from a training aspect, it would be a good opportunity to get a long run on the books with the added bonus of running with the other people there (very motivating), a famous trail, and aid-stations. I was excited most of all, for the opportunity to drive with my wife up to Truckee, and spend a weekend in the mountains. The camp is a three day event, covering in total the last seventy miles of the Western States course. Of course, taking it easy and enjoying a slow Saturday, we’d miss day one of the camp, arriving at Chateau Kreaden Saturday evening in time to have dinner with our housemates – Ken McA, Kim E, Peggy A, Peter, and Pierre (Mike K was at his daughter’s graduation and wouldn’t arrive until later in the evening) – all super-cool ultrarunners with equally strong race resumes. Sunday morning, I rode with Mike K. to Foresthill Elementary. This wasn’t Mike’s first rodeo – on the way to the starline (at the elementary school), we stopped at Drivers Flat for Mike to stash a cooler iced and loaded with his favorite IPA. Preparations complete, we rolled in and parked just in time to catch the pre-run briefing. Following some technical instruction and words of encouragement from event-director Craig Thornley (who also ran, and passed me on the trail!), we set out.
I’m learning that the more miles I put in, the more specific my needs get when it comes to gear and nutrition. In the interest of dialing-in my pack-list I’m going to start recording what gear I use on these excursions. Following a few recent “learning opportunities”, I’m becoming more accustomed to carrying hydration, nutrition, and gear on runs that will be longer than 10 or so miles. I had a pair of handhelds, but they haven’t been seen since returning from the Badwater Cape Fear, so I’ve been using a Nathan (VaporCoud) hydration pack with a 2.0L bladder and enough storage capacity for extra layers/hat, gear/medical, and food. I felt prepared for the day.
The trails I ran rolled along the canyons of the American River Valley – the California Street section of the Western States 100.2. Foresthill to Ruck-a-Chucky is a rough net descent of around 3200 feet, interspersed with mixed rollers and one significant climb, “6-Minute Hill.” There were aid-stations, Cal-1 and Cal-2 in the canyons, and Ruck-a-Chucky just before the 2-mile hill to Driver’s Flat.
Following a cool dip in the South Fork of the American, Mike and I stood at the foot of the 2 mile, and 1000+ foot climb up the dirt and gravel access road to Drivers Flat. Mike rocketed up the incline disappearing into an cloud of orange dust. I started forward and my resolve flagged. I stopped right there staring down at all the footprints of those who’d already been tested – those who looking up at that wall of switchbacks were not intimidated, who did not submit. I stood for a moment and I told myself things like, “I’ve done what I came to do,” “trail running is stupid!” and “what have I got to prove, and to whom!?” I decided then that I would turn back to the aid station that was being deconstructed at the river crossing and hitch a ride up and out. I had enough. What was the point of all this, if I was beating myself to a pulp to finish? There’s no way I’d be able to enjoy all the imagined glory while in so much pain! I should quit now, get a ride to the BBQ-tent at the top of the hill, and enjoy the company of the other runners while my body was still in good enough repair to do so! That was a good idea. I was done. I turned on my heels. Before I could take a step my eyes locked with those of two runners coming up the road behind me. One of the runners called out to me. “Drop something?” Busted! I was caught in my moment of weakness! I felt my face turned red. I was so embarrassed! I immediately snapped out of my self-defeating pity-party “Guess not,” I shrugged, and turned back uphill to continue the slog back to the shuttle bus. If those runners hadn’t have been there, I would have quit, for sure. Up, up, up, I eventually came to where the road leveled-off enough to speed up to a fast trot. From around the curve in the road I could hear music, and around the bend cruised Mike K. I didn’t really understand that I was at the end of the road, but all Mike needed to say was “Wanna meet Gordy?” and I was running again! I feel like I floated that last 0.1 mile. What an honor! What a cool thing, to meet the guy that kinda started it all here in Northern California. The Godfather of American Ultrarunning! It’s a good thing I didn’t give up at the foot of the climb. Drunk on endorphins, and more than a little fatigued, I introduced myself. He looked me in the eye and asked if I was planning to run “Western” this year. When I replied in the negative, he said cooly,”Well that’s good. You’re gonna wanna lost some weight.” What a character. Mike handed me a coke off one of the food tables and pointed me toward the last of the awaiting shuttle busses. We climbed aboard and glowing from my congealing sense of accomplishment, settled in for the ride back to Foresthill Elementary, Mike’s parked Audi, and the promise of pizza in town.
I dehydrated pretty badly during the 18.5 mile run. I drained a 1.0L Nalgene on the drive from the house in Tahoe-Donner to the start-line at Foresthill Elementary. I started the run with a full 2.0L bladder. I’m an efficient cooling machine – that is to say, I sweat profusely. In an attempt to make sense of my hydration needs, I wanted to find out how much water I “go through” as I exercise. For my gym workouts (I’m not sure I like having a scale in my home) I weigh-in as well as weigh-out. During an hour-long, 12,000+ meter, Indoor Row, at my maximum aerobic function (MAF) keeping my heartrate below 147 beats per minute, and with an air temperature of around 75F, I can lose more than 8lbs (1 gallon). I lose about 8-10lbs(1Gallon)/hour for the first three hours. Unfortunately, this is as long as I’ve brought myself to workout in a gym, thus the limited extent of my “Study of One.” The gym workouts are carried out without drinking water during exercise. A short couple hours into the run, I had long depleted my bladder. While I was still sweating, when I finally peed, my urine came the color of Coke Classic. At the Cal 1 aid station I filled my bladder with electrolytes-fluid and while I’m sure it did me all the good in the world, it left me feeling parched. I made it to Cal 2 without any problems, though. I refilled my bladder, drank 2 little cups of Coke, and I think this was where I tried eating little food. The food did not stay down. In fact, I began noticing at the Badwater Cape Fear that I have trouble eating during a run. I’ve been practicing, but I haven’t solved anything. I just recently bought a small, soft plastic bottle that I’m going to try filling with a homemade whole-food “gel”. I would like to make finding a suitable source of calories in either a drinkable liquid or squeezable gel or paste. It sometimes gets a little overwhelming, looking down the barrel of that learning curve. I find it helpful, when I feel the walls closing in, to go for a run.