Western States 2010: Though my first WS, I thought I could get 8th, but struggled mightily the last 20 miles. I ran up to Robie in 10th place with 11th closing fast. I ran my last mile in total paranoia, checking my back about every three seconds. I managed to hold off 11th place by just four minutes! I ended up F10 and third in the Montrail Cup.
Western States 2011: The field was stacked but I was in much better shape this year, so again, I was thinking I could get 8th. But I had a few low patches early, rallied in the middle and then struggled mightily the last 20 miles. I ran up to Robie in 10th place with 11th closing fast. I ran my last mile in total paranoia, checking my back about every three seconds. I managed to hold off 11th place, by, yep, 4 minutes! I ended up F10 and third in the Montrail Cup.
The biggest difference was that I was 56 minutes faster than last year, just to end up in the same place! And of course, there were many differences in the details of the day, but still there were so many similarities between this year and last that there was definitely a sense of deja vu when it was all said and done.
Last year I ran 21:36, but my goal going into WS this year was sub-20, which I not only thought would be totally doable but also necessary for a Top 10 given the depth of the field. My last 20 miles last year were terrible, and I knew I could gain a lot of time there. I ran 9:24 from Foresthill to the river when the average for the top 15 women was around 8:30. So I was figuring I could improve almost an hour just over the last 38 miles alone and then hopefully pick up another 36 minutes or so in the first 62 miles.
The day started well with the climb up to Escarpment. I was in a huge group in the middle of the pack and feeling good. After summiting, the snow got crazy! The "trail" traversed large icy fields with very little grip; there were slushy areas with very unstable footing; and there were places with large sun cups, making for very uneven footing. I was slow through here as I have very little experience running in the snow, but despite my lack of speed, I actually thought the snow section was quite fun. It was beautiful and it was something I don't usually get to do. The only downside to this was the trail markings. To be sure there were ample flags, but marking dirty, yellowish snow with yellow ribbons was not such a good idea! Fortunately, I was with four or five guys and we worked together to spot flags and stay on course.
Right before the second aid station at mile 15, my shoe came untied and I decided to stop for a dual pit stop/shoe tie. Don't try to do these two things at the same time, as it landed me on my butt in the snowy pine needles! I had dutifully left one of my bottles on the trail to mark where I left the course and as I came into the AS to get my bottles filled, I realized I was only carrying one. Doh! Fortunately, only a couple hundred meters of backtracking to get the necessary equipment, but it was a bit odd running against traffic and getting lots of funny looks for swimming upstream!
Last year I ran down the road to the Poppy Trailhead harder than I think I should have, so this year I just ran smooth and easy. I was 13th female, but I wasn't having any problems. It was a little discouraging, though, to come into Duncan Canyon at mile 23.8 only to be told I was already 30 minutes behind the women's leader!
Right after Duncan Canyon my energy really started to lag. I think it was the altitude that was getting to me. Climbing just seemed to wear me out and I felt really flat. At Mosquito Ridge, I was 9 minutes behind my projected split and the lead women were coming through Miller's Defeat, 3.4 miles ahead of me. I felt sluggish on the dirt road and came into Miller's Defeat feeling a little sick. My legs felt better over the next section, but my stomach got worse. I was surprised to catch up with Lewis Taylor who was also struggling with stomach issues and we commiserated a bit.
After last chance, a volunteer pointed us on to "the best five miles of the Western States Trail" but the beauty didn't perk me up. I tried to puke, but couldn't - I am just not a puker - and yet my stomach felt like I was going to let fly with every step. It got so bad, that at one point I was trying to figure how slow I could go and still get a sub-24 finish! Despite the negative attitude, I had my wits about me and realized that I was really deficient with my salt intake. Three S-caps later, things turned quickly for the better and I was running with new life.
Deadwood Canyon went well for me and I came into Devil's Thumb in good spirits. I shook hands and introduced myself to the Devil (Scott Dunlap) and joked about running into Hell. I walked a little too much on the way out enjoying my rainbow popsicle. Unfortunately, this year's popsicle stick joke was way worse than last year's ("What did A and B love about the beach? C-gulls. LAME!). But I felt great on the way down to El Dorado and knew it was a huge improvement over last year, when knee pain kept me from running well downhill.
But the uphill out of El Dorado didn't feel right. I was breathing too hard and I couldn't run anything. Not much of the climb is runnable (for me) but I remember running small little bursts last year and I couldn't seem to manage that this year. My breath just kept getting caught in my chest and I was choking up with deep inhalation. Unfortunately, all my asthma meds were in Foresthill. But the wonderful volunteers and awesome medical staff were there for me at Michigan Bluff and they quickly located an inhaler and got me going.
On the way to Bath Road I maybe should have run a tad more of the uphill, but overall I was feeling much better. Mac met me at Bath road and had lots of updates on the men's and women's leaders as well as the few women just ahead of me. I had a great time in Foresthill and really focused on enjoying the moment. I often get tunnel vision when I am racing and ignore what is going on around me at an aid station. In fact, so many people have told me I look "very focused" when I run that I now cringe when I hear that. I know that is just a polite way of saying I need to pull my head out and have a little more fun! So I was waving at the crowds and even giving high fives. I was still 13th woman, but hearing all the cheering made me feel like I rock star and I really absorbed all the energy. I felt good, but at 11:45, I knew sub-20 was going to require the last 38 miles to be good ones.
The rock star energy seemed to be working, plus I had picked up my pacer, a rock star in her own right, Denise Bourassa fresh off her 4th place finish at SD100 in her first attempt at the distance. My quads were golden and we cruised! We passed Helen Cospolich pretty soon after leaving Foresthill. Unfortunately, I also passed Craig Thornley in this section and I was sad to see the day wasn't going his way. I ran well down to the river and my asthma seemed to be in control. My biggest issue was forcing myself to eat. Nothing sounded good but Denise stayed on me and I knew I needed to get anything I could down. I hiked to Green Gate taking little mouse bites out of a quarter quesadilla and drinking an orange soda.
I was hoping to make it to ALT before needing my light but I was about three miles short. The onset of the dark also coincided with the onset of my massive downhill slide. My asthma was back and I was breathing hard but pushing with what I could. However, at ALT I found out Becky Wheeler (11th place) was 28 minutes ahead of me (12th) with 15 miles to go and I knew I was in no shape to catch her.
I did have the good fortune to meet David Larson from Newport, OR right after ALT and found that he set the perfect pace and we ran much of the way to Brown's Bar together, albeit quite slowly. My quads still felt really good given what they had been through, but I just wasn't getting enough air to let them run. Downhills went well for me, but even the slightest uphill got me panting like an overheated dog. We did pass Anita Ortiz on the way to Brown's Bar and she did not look well at all. But passing her meant nothing to me, as I was still 11th (so I thought) and I had no chance of catching Becky in my state.
The section to Highway 49 crossing was really hard for me, easily my worst section for the day, particularly because the uphill was torture for me. I was breathing so hard that I was freaking Denise (a nurse) out. She even called ahead to the AS to tell Mac to have my inhaler ready. But really I wasn't concerned. I knew I was going to beat last year's time. Plus, I was resigned and at peace with being 11th place, so I knew I could just relax and enjoy the last seven miles with Mac as best as possible.
That all changed when I got to the Aid Station.
"Joelle dropped. You're in tenth place." Mac reported to me.
My response was actually, "Oh crap, now I have to race!"
I thought my major issue was asthma, but the nurse got all concerned that I hadn't peed in three and a half hours (even though my weight was perfect), so in addition to getting meds and food, I had to go squeeze out a few drops of urine to make her happy before I left.
Down to No-Hands was pretty uneventful, except I knew I was slow. And then there is that mild climb after the bridge before the real grunt up to Robie. That is where Angela Shartel passed me last year because I really couldn't run it. Well, I was in no shape to run it this year either, but Mac had his phone on him and when he got the update that Helen was gaining on me and only nine minutes behind at Hwy 49, he became Miwok Slave Driver Mac again! He tells me we are going to do intervals: one minute run, 30 seconds walk, but I couldn't stick to the schedule. It shouldn't be so hard to run for a minute, but there it was, I couldn't do it. And then when I couldn't make 30 seconds of running, Mac starts explaining the math to me: "Helen gained a minute a mile on you over the last section. A nine minute lead with seven miles to go is too close." And then I tried to run again and that is when I lost it.
"Mac, I can't do this schedule. You have to back off! I know I have to run but I can't and you are not helping!" I know that was the fatigue and exasperation talking but still I feel bad about that because I think Mac was a bit stung and he became pretty quiet after that. "I just didn't want you to lose F10 on my watch," he told me, and I appreciate that, even if I didn't at the time.
Coming up to Robie we had lights behind us. "Oh, F*CK!"
"Do you want me to go see who it is?" Mac asks.
"Yes, might as well. There is nothing I can do about it now."
Mac drops back and soon I catch snippets of friendly chat, so I know I am safe for the moment. But my paranoia escalates at Robie Point and I am just certain Helen is coming. Mac finally tells me not to look back any more, my job is just to concentrate on going forward. And there is nothing I want to run, but I do, as hard as I can which was ridiculously slow, but still faster than walking. And oddly, the white bridge seemed to come sooner than I expected and at that point I was pretty sure I'd be ok, because I could run downhill so much better than uphill.
And I just ran, and panted, but I remembered to wave at the people on the street and even smile. And then I was on the track, but I still didn't feel safe, and I was running. The pace felt so fast to me, but it was pathetically slow, and still it was enough to make me feel sick and I was seeing stars and I remember thinking, "OMG, it'll be so embarrassing if I pass out here and I can't make it to the finish." But with only five meters left I knew I would make it and that I could slow down. I practically walked across the finish and still I had my hands on my knees immediately. The video is hard for me to watch I look so bad (and if you listen you can hear me begging for an inhaler), but it also embodies my struggle and the toll of 100 miles.
The announcer quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson right after telling the crowd that I was F10 for the second year in a row: "Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen, philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do." But he was wrong, even with my struggles I was 56 minutes faster than last year. Neither was my day consistent nor the pursuit foolish. And I assure you, my soul (and every other part of me) worked hard for this one! However, I missed my goal by a long shot and I know I didn't really deserve my F10 based on the day I had as I didn't really out run any body to move up, I just benefitted from two people having even worse days than I had. But such is the nature of 100 milers, sometimes just hanging in there and moving forward is enough to get by.
So F10 once again. I was disappointed in my day, but not discouraged. In some ways it gave me confidence: I know I have a sub-20 in me and maybe even a 19:30. And I have my spot for 2012 to give it another shot!