Before I get talking about my run on Saturday, I want to say thanks to all the people who helped me along my way and offered kind words after the run. Without you guys, I'd never be able to accomplish what I did.
Saturday I woke up at 3:15, got dressed and soon was in the car heading to Squaw Valley. I was staying at friend's house about 25 minute away so I ate breakfast in the car to save some time in the morning. After I checkin I ran into a few runners I knew, but mostly sat around with my family waiting for it all to begin. With just a couple minutes left on the clock, I gave my parents each a hug, then lined up near the front of the pack. In just a few moments we counted down the last 10 seconds and then headed up the hill, all hoping to make it Auburn, 100 miles away.
As we ran up in the morning cool, the pace felt comfortable and I felt good, so I was excited for the day ahead. I ran near the front of the pack for the first half the climb, but then more people started to catch up so I crested the climb around 10th place. I felt comfortable so I focused on moving efficiently and didn't worry about what other runners were doing. I switched spots with a few runners as we moved along, but mostly hovered around 10th. Early on I wasn't thirsty at all, I didn't even bother to stop at Lyon Ridge to fill my bottle as I had hardly drank anything. I knew hydration would be important in the heat, but over hydration can be a huge problem so I trusted my body and only drank to thirst.
I kept rolling along in the high country soaking up the views and wondering which of the climbs I should hike and which to walk. I was mostly hiking early on, but after Red Star Ridge, I realized that running the climbs was no problem, so I started running more and soon was passing a few people. I rolled into Duncan Canyon, saw my crew for the first time, and was out quickly on my way.
I left the aid station feeling good, despite the ice bandana that was absolutely freezing, so I picked up the pace a little bit and ran strong to Robinson Flat. The trail crossed a few creeks on the way over to Robinson Flat, so I made sure to soak myself in each creek, heeding the advice of Pam Smith who told me to get wet whenever I could, even if the water was disgusting.
I ran into Robinson Flat feeling strong and in good spirits. I saw the other half of my crew, and was quickly out of the aid station and climbing up Little Bald Mountain. The downhill on the backside opened up to some beautiful views as I cruised along. Soon the trail leveled out turning into a jeep road. I was expecting the downhill from Robinson Flat to be steeper but I accepted what it was and kept running. Some of you may know that flat running is not my strength, but I was happy with how well I ran on that section.
I soon ran through Miller's Defeat, got some ice, refilled my bottle and was on my way. The trail continued to roll along on dirt roads which gradually got steeper as I approached Dusty Corners. I was in and out of Dusty Corners quickly with the help of my crew, but don't really remember too much about that section. Honestly, almost all the way from Robinson Flat to Last Chance was kind of vague. I was still feeling good in this section, so I was trying to keep soaking up the views and not think too much about running.
Dusty Corners to Last Chance put us back on some trails which rolled along slowly losing some elevation. At this point I was starting to get tired of all the easy running, but I reminded myself that just a few miles off I'd enter the canyons which offered some steep climbs and descents. I focused on running to Last Chance. This was the first time I really focused on running aid station to aid station, but it was a theme that would continue throughout the day.
The descent from Last Chance was steep with a few rocks, but never too bad so I was able to run pretty fast for the whole descent. I knew the canyons would be my strongest section on the course so after a strong downhill I focused on making good time up to Devil's Thumb. I found myself power hiking early on in the climb, but soon the trail started to level and I mostly ran up to the aid station after that, only hiking on brief steep pitches.
Up till Last Chance I was just running along and enjoying the views, but once I headed down to the Swinging Bridge and back up to Devil's Thumb, my mentality started to switch. I knew I was in 6th place at the time so I finally started thinking about other runners. I ran pretty well from Robinson Flat to Last Chance, but really started to move on my way over to Devil's Thumb so somewhere on the climb I had a feeling that I might reel someone in. And just few minutes before the top I saw David Laney hiking along. I dropped into a walk behind him then ran past as the trail leveled off. We didn't say much but I could tell David was struggling a bit so I moved by and continued to focus on myself.
I ran into Devil's Thumb aid station and saw Joe Uhan, a good friend from Oregon, working there. We exchanged a few words then I headed out of the aid station quickly. I rolled along a mile of trail before dropping down to El Dorado Creek. The descent still felt easy, so I focused on my nutrition as I headed down the trail as I knew that I put in a pretty hard effort on the climb to Devil's Thumb and would repeat that effort going up to Michigan Bluff. I had been eating a gel every 45 minutes earlier on, but this is where I switched to eating every 30-40 minutes. Just before El Dorado Creek I caught sight of Thomas Lorblanchet and made sure I passed him before the aid station. I rolled into the aid station and caught sight of Didrik Hermansen leaving so I was in and out of the aid station as quickly as I could.
I hiked the first bit of the climb up to Michigan Bluff, then switched to a run and soon saw Didrik ahead of me. I ran past him and kept climbing hard and soon he was out of sight. I looked back on a few switchbacks, but was feeling strong so I was pretty sure he wasn't keeping up. The climb up to Michigan Bluff went well, but I felt a little tired toward the top. I had eaten my last gel nearly 45 minutes earlier, so I backed off the pace a little and made sure to fuel up when I reached Michigan Bluff.
I rolled into Michigan Bluff and was soon on my way with the help of my crew. I headed out of the aid station and ran well on the rolling sections that followed until the road turned uphill and the grade steepened. I knew I was a bit low on calories, and starting to feel the fatigue setting in, but I kept running up the hill, knowing I could quickly fix the calorie deficit. I turned off onto the trail and started down into Volcano Canyon. I ran the descent pretty well and was starting to wonder how far ahead Sage and Jim were. There descent went by quickly, but I was starting to heat up and was hoping to find a creek in the bottom of the drainage.
After dunking in the creek I began the climb out of Volcano Canyon and ran up toward Bath Road. I felt better than I had a few miles earlier, and did a good job of running up to Bath Road. After reaching Bath Road, I knew I'd see my crew soon and pacer soon so that gave me a good mental boost. Shortly after starting the climb I ran into my brother who was going to pace me from Foresthill to the River. The climb seemed less steep than I remembered from two years earlier when I paced Jason Leman which was a nice surprise.
I saw my crew just before the Foresthill aid station so I grabbed a new bottle and some gels and ran right through the aid station. Somewhere in the confusion, I saw my friend Dennis with Pam Smith standing next to him. It was pretty awesome to see them there! Dennis was racing that day, so I felt sorry that something went wrong. But seeing him and knowing he came to see me after a tough day was really special and kept me inspired for the miles ahead.
My brother caught up to me at the end of Cal Street, as he had stopped at the aid station to fill his bottle, and we headed down the trail together. We moved along pretty well down to Cal 1 and the going was still pretty easy for me at that point. We filled up at Cal 1 and headed along to Cal 2.
Somewhere in this section, things started to heat up and the endless winding trail started to take its toll. I never had to walk anything I wouldn't have normally walked, but I could tell that I wasn't moving very well. I kept going and finally we started to near Cal 2. I recognized a couple places from 2 years ago and soon we rolled into Cal 2. I got some ice filled my bottle, and just as I was leaving Didrik Hermansen rolled in behind me.
I took off. That was the first time someone had come from behind me all day so I started flying down the descent to Cal 3. I never saw Didrik when I looked back up the switchbacks but I kept pushing. Soon I hit short steep section of dirt road that lead up toward Cal 3. I felt strong hiking up this section so I figured a had a short gap on Didrik. I was in and out of Cal 3 quickly and didn't see anyone come in behind me so I knew I had run the last couple miles well.
After Cal 3, we stayed on trail much longer than I remembered. I thought that we hit the river road right away so I was thankful for every extra mile of trail. I felt that I still moving well in that section and soon I was about halfway to the river. Shortly after a creek crossing I asked my brother if he had seen anyone behind. He said yeah, he's right behind us.
That was a shock! I thought I was pulling away but he was right on my heels. I was a little startled for a few minutes, but then I calmed down and realized there was still a long way to go. I was running better on the hills than Didrik so I planned to build a gap heading up to Green Gate and if he still stuck with me, then I'd try to pull away climbing up to Highway 49 or Robie Point.
Soon we hit the river road and I focused on getting taking care of myself. The road was hot but never too bad and I slowly pulled in front. Shortly after we hit the road there was a short little climb that I tried to pull away on. I opened a small gap which I had hoped to have coming into the aid station and the river crossing. I knew if I had a small lead going into the climb I should be able to get out of sight which hopefully would demoralize Didrik.
Rolling into the River crossing I saw Joe Uhan waiting there with a yellow 11 bib on, he'd be pacing Didrik. We just looked at each other for a second then I was passed him and had reached my crew. A quick stop and I took off down to the river with my pacer Cary Stephens who would take me to the line.
We jumped in the river and started making our way across. The cool water felt great and I took a few seconds on the far side to stick me head under water before we began the climb. Hopping out on the far bank my legs felt refreshed and we started climbing quickly up toward Green Gate. Didrik wasn't in the water yet when I left the river so I knew I'd have a lead of a couple minutes.
I hit Green Gate and then began rolling along on the winding single track to ALT. I was a little worried I might give up some time along this section so I made sure that my pacer kept me from getting into a lull and running slow.
Once I hit ALT, I heard the Jim was still way ahead, but I had gained some ground since the river. I knew I wasn't going to catch him unless something happened or he totally blew up. Still, it was nice to know I was gaining ground and that gave me confidence I could hang onto second.
ALT to Brown's Bar was similar to the last section as the trail slowly rolled along. I'd lead on some of the steeper ups and fast downhills, but Cary usually stayed in front and kept me going. I was moving a bit slower than I had hoped, but I was able to keep a reasonable pace which would make it difficult for anyone behind me to catch up.
Brown's Bar went by and soon I was starting to climb up to Highway 49. The road rolled along and shortly after we turned off onto a trail and continued the climb. I was getting tired at that point, but was still running well on the uphills so I was happy with the temporary break from flat running. The trail started to level out as I neared the top of the climb and soon I caught sight of the aid station.
As I ran into the aid station I was asked if the course marking was alright. I said yes and didn't think anything of it. Maybe they just wanted to be sure. Then I saw my crew and they were yelling at me that I was in the lead because Jim had missed a turn. I quickly got my bottle and gels and headed out but I listened enough to know that Jim was still off course and I was in the lead with 6.5 miles to go.
I took off on the climb up to the meadow and quickly dropped my pacer. I was feeling great. Adrenaline is truly the body's equivalent of rocket fuel, but it doesn't last long and as I hit the meadow I felt my the added energy wane. I knew I needed to keep running fast, but I also focused on eating and drinking like I had all day because there was still a few miles to go. The descent to No Hands Bridge was longer than I thought but I kept moving and soon I came within sight of the bridge. I ran down the last switchback and headed across the bridge. People were telling me I was surely going to win but I wasn't going to back off yet.
I ran up the road from No Hands, moving well and soon found myself climbing up the trail which lead to Robie Point. The whole time I was running along the road, I kept waiting to hear cheers, but they never came so I was starting to believe that I really would win. The climb was a little bit of a grind but I told myself to run it all and soon was in sight of Robie Point. Then I heard the cheering begin and soon was running along a paved road lined with people.
The last mile was pretty special. I've never seen so many people at an ultra, so I kept moving but made sure I was soaking it all up. I spend nearly a mile with Connor Curley, my contact at Salomon, on the trip through town and a quarter mile or so with my pacer. He managed to get a ride from No Hands Bridge which made me happy because it would have been disappointing for him to miss the finish.
And then I hit the track. People lined the inside and I held out my hand to high five everyone as I rounded the last corner and came down the homestretch. I crossed the line, Craig put my medal around my neck and that was the end of the run.
After the race I got to enjoy the rest of the day with my family, pacer, and everyone else around. It took me a while to start to understand what I accomplished and I still think I'm struggling to fully realize what I did.
One thing I know for sure is that it wouldn't have happened without a lot of help. My crew and pacers did an amazing job out there, and the countless volunteers made it possible for the race even to happen. The people of Auburn made the experience one of the greatest I will ever have with their unbelievable support and excitement over the last mile. Also, I need to thank Salomon for providing me such great gear to use throughout the day. Additionally, Injinji provided great socks which kept me feet happy and blister free. There are countless others who I need to thank but I really want to say thanks to all my friends back home in Oregon for providing so much positive support over the years. Without all those kind words, I might not even be running today.
Western States was truly a special event, in large part because the great community that puts on the race. It will always have a special place in my heart and I look forward to returning next year.
Also, I want to congratulate all the other runners, but especially Jim Walmsley. He ran and incredible race and was unfortunate to get off course so close to the finish. His run was incredible, but his actions after the race were even greater. Jim took the whole ordeal in stride showing how special a person he is. Although he didn't win, he is a true champion.
Thanks again to everyone! I've received countless kind words and am thankful for all the time people have taken to reach out and share their support. See you all on the trail soon.