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Western States Training Camp

July 19, 2012

Hello I’m alive and well. I haven’t updated in quite a while, and though my blog has been a bit quiet, life has been quite exciting this summer! I meant to write about our training camp weekend for Western States, but never got around to it and then the actual race happened, so this post is only 2 months behind.

Western States is like the Boston marathon of ultra running. It’s the grand daddy of all ultras, mainly because it is how 100 mile races got started in the first place! We go through a similar qualification/lottery system as the Boston marathon, though the qualifying times aren’t nearly as hard (sub 11 hr 50 mile run would qualify you), but the lottery is much harder to get into. Just because you have a qualifying time doesn’t mean you automatically get in. Last December, thousands of hopeful runners (me included) crossed our fingers and toes hoping to get a lucky spot in the race. Unfortunately, I didn’t get in, as my odds were pretty low to begin with since it was my first year applying, but one of my friends did! I paced Helen at San Diego 100 for her first 100 last summer and was thrilled to be a part of this epic race. One of the unique features about this race is their Memorial weekend training camp where anyone can sign up for any or all of the three days and run the last 70 miles of the race course. For being a training run, they did a great job with all the shuttling of runners from point A to point B everyday, well stocked aid stations along the training route and even post run food for everyone that signed up. It was like a low key race without the timing chip, shirt or medal, who needs those things anyways?

Day 1 Robinson Flats to Forresthill 32 miles

We drove to Sacramento Friday afternoon, sat in Memorial day traffic for hours and hours, finally got to our motel around 11PM, our car decided to go on vacation as well, thus giving us around 3 hours of sleep the night before running 32 miles. Happy training camp, indeed! However, we all woke up at the crack of dawn Saturday morning, eager to tackle the miles of beautiful trails ahead. What better way to spend a Memorial day weekend running on some of the most scenic and historical trails with a bunch of other crazy nuts?

The L.A. crew plus Thomas

Going to Sacramento for the weekend, it looked like it would be a pretty hot weekend, so in went the shorts, tank tops and summer dresses. Even a bathing suit since we had a pool in our hotel. You can imagine my surprise when we arrived to this…

No one said anything about snow! I layered up with all the clothing I brought and used my Buff as a headband to keep my ears warm, not exactly the most color coordinated outfit, but it did the trick and by the end of the run, we were all peeling off our layers. I felt pretty good this first day, maybe due to a slow start in the beginning as we trudged up the hill in snow.

Traffic jam

It was fun running with so many friends from L.A. and those that lived up north who also came out. There was no pressure to go fast or anything, so we all took our time, snapped pics, tweeted/facebooked/instagrammed (okay maybe just me) and played on the trails since we had pretty much the whole day to explore.

Texting, Facebooking, Tweeting or Instagraming

There were course markings to follow, but for the most part, since there were so many runners out, it was hard to get lost (well except that one time…). The Western States trail is also really well marked and maintained making it easy to navigate. The aid stations were the best I have ever seen! Fully stocked with everything and anything you could possibly want. I don’t know if it was the mileage or the fact that it was really cold, but I couldn’t get enough of all the great food they had out on the course! I am usually one to stick to gels for 30 miles or less, but I was leaving each aid with a handful of chips, animal crackers, PB&J sandwich quarters and cheez-its. It’s a miracle I made it to the end of each day without a stomach ache, or out of each aid station for that matter. Trail running is probably the only time I eat this kind of food, but it sure tastes good when you’ve been out on the trail for a long time. Heck, anything tastes good on the trail.

Yes, I even take pictures of aid station food

Trail food is so yummy

I mainly stuck with these two goofballs for most of the first day. We were all going at a similar pace (or they felt bad for leaving me behind) and enjoying each other’s company and time flew by. Before we knew it, we were ending our first day at training camp.

Steve, Thomas & Rice Krispies

There were two notable climbs during the first day, Devil’s Thumb and Michigan Bluff where I dragged ass up the hill while getting passed. I did however make a few friends during these climbs which helped to pass the time. I thought Devil’s Thumb was a lot harder even though it was a shorter climb but with a more intense elevation gain, whereas Michigan Bluff was a longer gradual climb. Apparently there was a cool rock that looked like a ‘Devil’s Thumb’ at the top of the climb, but it was too foggy to see or I just didn’t care enough to look for it.

Such an amazing trail with wonderful views. I was actually really surprised by how green everything was, it reminded me of running in Oregon.

We ended Day 1 with a dinner with a bunch of other runners at Auburn Alehouse and promptly passed out. I couldn’t wait for Day 2 to begin.

Day 2 Forresthill to Rucky Chucky River Crossing 19 miles

Given the mileage from the day before, we were all feeling it the next day so it was nice to see everyone in the same boat and running with sore legs down the trail. However, this day also promised to be the most runnable (and fast) section of the entire course. I had to pay attention to all the trail markings since this would be the section I would end up pacing during the race at night. Luckily, the Western States Trail is well marked and there were barely any places you could really veer off course. I’m sure this is also the reason why Helen decided to have me pace this section given my track record of getting lost. She wasn’t taking any chances! On this day, my running partner in crime was Derrick who lives in Sacramento. It was nice to play catch up the entire time until he dropped me during the last 3 mile climb out to our cars, but I forgive him, mainly because of this. We started at Forresthill where we had left off the day before with a gentle rolling downhill to the first aid. This would be around Mile 60 in the actual race and the first place where a pacer could jump in. Quads were screaming a bit, but I love downhills so really didn’t mind it so much. Meg joined for part of the way before turning back, she had a marathon the week after, but still came up to spend a fun weekend on the trails with us. We ran on rolling single track, caught glimpses of the American River below while making our way down the mountain. There were a couple steep climbs, but nothing too bad unlike the day before. For the most part, it was the most enjoyable and fastest section of the race with more stunning views and single track trails.

Once we hit the Rucky Chucky river crossing, around Mile 16 for the day, Mile 80 during the actual race, we had the option of going down to the river to cool off before climbing 3 miles out to our cars to end day 2. During the actual race, there would be a rope set up for runners to hold onto so they could cross the river and continue on the trail on the other side of the river. If water levels were high, they would have a raft set up. Yes, an actual raft! After hitting the last aid station, we decided to make our way down to the river to cool off since it was a lot warmer than the previous day. Once we got down to the river, we saw lots of runners bathing in the crystal clear water and soaking up the sun.

However, the water was not exactly warm! It was actually freezing cold and I could barely stand in the water for more than a minute before having to jump out. I couldn’t believe some people were practically swimming in there. An ice bath indeed.

We forced him to sit in the water

We ended up spending quite some time down there before we finally pulled ourselves together for the final 3 mile climb out to our cars. It was a fairly gradual climb, but hard to get moving again after resting for so long. With the sun beating down on us, my clothes dried almost instantly. Derrick decided he had enough of my company for the day and ran ahead while constantly shouting back that we were almost there. I was so happy to see the pavement with a human finish line.

Since I had to work the next day, I opted out of the third and final day which ended at the finish. It was an amazing weekend playing on the trails with so many old and new friends. I’m glad I got to be a part of it and I can’t wait to go back next year.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2012 8:06 am

    Wow. That sounds like an amazing experience! Really enjoyed the post and your pics.

  2. Thomas permalink
    July 24, 2012 4:49 pm

    Nice summary! Maybe my favorite event this year so far. I want to do this again next year…

  3. Derrick Tsang permalink
    July 31, 2012 6:37 am

    Good to see you’re still alive! Hah I so did not drop you! I was just clearing the cobwebs for you. Such a fun weekend and a blast running with you. Much less stressful than AR 😉

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