Western States 2011 Race Report Part 1: The Back Story
If you are reading this report, you likely know that I finished Western in 23:08. Earning my first silver buckle at Western and besting my previous Western finish in 2009 by over 4 hours. So instead of jumping right into the race report, I thought I would start with the back story that began in 2007 when I first got an entry to the 2008 race. As runners, we can all relate to the excitement of making race plans for the upcoming year and making New Years training resolutions. Then there are setbacks and successes that happen when you try to stick to those resolutions as you get ready for the race season. I often find these stories as interesting, if not more than, the actual running of races. With this in mind, here is a short chronology, okay it is not that short, of the events that led up to my finish in 2011.
The first year I applied to run Western was in 2005 for the 2006 race. Like most, I had two unsuccessful lotteries before getting into the race on the old two time loser rule. Basically, if you were unsuccessful in being selected in two consecutive lotteries you were automatically in on your third as long as you qualified and applied. They have since gotten rid of this rule because the number of entries has increased so much that the race would essentially fill with two time losers and the top ten men and women 300-207.
Between 2005 and 2008, I had gained a lot of experience running ultras and had built up a pretty solid resume of 100 mile finishes. In 2006, I completed 2 – 100 milers and 4 in the summer of 2007. With my spot in Western secured, I had set the goal of running Western as part of my bid to complete the Grand Slam, running the four oldest 100 milers in North America in one summer.
Over the winter and spring, I trained hard logging a lot of miles on the Baden Powell with the Fools and completing both Coyote Two Moon and a fat ass 100 miler on the Baden Powell to celebrate my birthday. As I prepared for my taper, I was confident in my fitness and more importantly, I had made it through my training with no injuries. I was ready to tackle Western as the first step toward completing the Grand Slam. Unfortunately, mother nature had different plans, I can still remember driving south through Nevada and seeing the smoke off in the distance and having this sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. Pulling into Squaw Valley later that day my fears were confirmed 070-417 as the mountain town was blanketed in smoke. The fires which started the weekend before were burning very close to the course and the the risk to the racers, volunteers, and crew was just too great. Western States was cancelled for the first time ever. Don’t get me wrong, it was the right decision, no question, but it still sucked. The good news was that all entrants were carried forward to the next year but that still meant that I had to get to the start line fit, injury free, and ready to race, not always easy to do when training for ultras.
The cancellation of Western also meant no Grand Slam, sure, they scrambled and added another race at the end of September but it just wasn’t the same so I elected not to run. In 2009, I registered to run Western and I got into Hardrock on my first try so I put my plans to run the Slam on hold, not knowing when the next opportunity would come to run the 4 races.
In 2009 my fears were realized as an achilles injury side lined me from the middle of February until the beginning of May. In the lead up to Western my training was light to say the least, I was able to get in only one 50 miler at the end of May. I didn’t want to push the achilles and chance missing the race so I elected to go in under trained. Between the extreme heat and lack of fitness the race was more about surviving and persevering to get to Auburn. I did circle the track in Auburn in a time just under 28 hours, not how I pictured running Western but under the conditions I was just happy to finish.
In the summer of 2010, Lana and I had a baby boy, Sam, and I elected to stay close to home and did not run any 100 milers that summer. With Sam’s arrival, it meant that Lana would be on maternity leave the following summer. Having the summer off was the perfect opportunity to plan a big trip around some races and what better than the Grand Slam for Sam’s first crew experience. Of course, I first needed to be selected to run Western from the lottery which I had not had a lot of luck with before and it has only gotten more difficult as more and more people apply. On the morning of the lottery, I elected to go out running instead of waiting to see the results updated every few minutes, it was just to painful to watch. Upon returning from my run, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Canada was well represented and that I got one of the coveted lottery spots. My race plans for 2011 were now set and I quickly registered for Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch. There is also a lottery for Wasatch but since it is the last race of the Slam they will give you a conditional spot if you don’t get picked in the lottery but have completed the first three races.
For Western, my goal was the silver buckle for a sub 24 hour finish. To achieve this goal, I needed to get to the start line fit and injury free and hope that mother nature was kind and that the temperatures would not be too hot. Overall my training leading up to the race was great, I had been consistently running 50 – 75 miles per week most of the winter and spring and had stayed healthy which is not always easy to do when you have a baby who doesn’t like to sleep through the night and is a little germ factory.
It wasn’t until the end of April that things got bumpy, first up, a bad flu that left me bed ridden for a couple of days and even after I was able to get out of bed, I was far from 100%. Following that, I had a sinus infection for a couple of weeks that gave me a constant headache and made breathing really challenging while running. Just as that was clearing up, I sprained my left ankle when I slipped on a wet rock on the Bridle trail during torrential rain. My left ankle was sore and swollen but not too bad, I was able to make it through the remainder of the run and only needed to rest it for a day. The ankle was really sore but wasn’t getting any worse from running so no point in letting it stiffen up. The following weekend while doing hill repeats on Old Buck, I landed wrong and rolled my right ankle but unlike the weekend before this time was really bad, I was reduced to a hobble back to the car. By that night it was really swollen and I could only put partial weight on it so I decided to get an x-ray to rule out a break. By mid week with no report of a break and the swelling starting to go down, I got back to training. I am a firm believer in active recovery and getting moving as soon as you can even if it hurts. It was slow going for the next week but the ankle continued to get better but was still not strong. My big concern was that if I rolled either ankle again before they were fully healed the damage could be far worse and I might be side lined for my longer. With this in mind, I elected to run more in Pacific Spirit Park where the trails are not technical with no real elevation change to speak of. I knew that one of the tradeoffs of trying to prevent another ankle sprain was likely going to be that my quads wouldn’t be as prepared for the downhills at Western. I would likely pay for this in the second half of the race but it was more important for me to get to the start injury free. The second ankle sprain marked the end of my bad luck and in the last six weeks leading up to the race I was logging between 70 and 85 miles per week which is high mileage for me and it was feeling easy.
I began my taper two weeks out from the race, cutting my mileage back and easing off on my pace on my longer runs. Going into Western, I was definitely feeling confident about my fitness and the ankles were healed. With no nagging aches or pains, my only worry was my quads…