Wow! If you've ever fantasied about running Western States like me - run Overlook 50 from Foresthill to Auburn on the Western States Trail! Overlook is like Western States, but 1/2 the distance and all you have to do is pay registration, none of the hassle of qualifying & lottery. The only issue is now I really, really want to run Western States.
I’d had a hectic week at work and hadn’t prepared for this race like my usual 50 miles. No pace chart, no detailed breakdown, no drop bag plan. Ann Trason, my coach, said to treat like I would Bear 100 - walk the hills, eat, drink, be conservative. I've DNFed my prior two attempts at 100 so I really didn't know what a "good" 100 mile pace was.
Driving to Roseville to spend the night before the race, I got stuck in Bay Area AND Sacramento rush hour, taking 4 hours to drive the 120 miles. While I drove, my Mini convertible car thermometer ticked higher & higher to a boggling 97 degrees. I had the top down and tried to “heat acclimate” on the fly. I stopped at Target for race Gatorade, DoubleShots, and I ended up drinking all the Gatorade just on the drive! Felt drained and tired when I got to Hyatt Place Roseville at 6ish. Ordered a pizza to go from California Pizza Kitchen, packed my drop bag, and set my alarm for 3:55 AM. The Hyatt Place was very quiet and clean - a fine choice about a 20 minute drive from Auburn.
Got to Auburn Overlook Park at 4:40 AM, still in pitch darkness. On board the bus for the 40 minute ride to Foresthill, ate my last slice of pizza from dinner for breakfast and realized I’d forgotten my headphones. No worries, I had two (2) backup pairs in my pack. At Foresthill, finally met Ann Trason, my coach in person! She recognized me from photos! There were two Drop Bag piles, one labeled “Rucky Chucky” and the other “Green Gate”. I asked which mile markers these corresponded to, and the guy said “GreenGate is further in the race” (cue ominous music as I put my bag in the Green Gate pile).
Just enough time for a quick picture, then we were off. I’d decided to carry my headlamp in my pack the whole race to replicate Bear100, and also because I didn’t know where I’d be when it got dark. I didn’t use it at all - we started at 6 AM down a road, and by the time we turned off to trail the Sierras were pinky.
For the first 6 miles I was “in the mix” with a big pack. The 100K had started the same time, and had black numbers, mine (50Mile) was red. I led a 10 person conga line hiking up the first big 1,800 foot climb. I kept asking if they wanted to pass, and they said “no, we’re just trying to keep up with you”. This made me feel good that all my uphill training on Fox & Willow Camp had paid off - in the past I’ve gotten passed on the ups. At the slight ups, they would run, but then I would catch them power-walking on the ups and then pass them on the downs.
Michigan Bluff was fun to see - so legendary! The whole course was a Western States geek dream - the first time I saw a Western States Trail sign I got so excited. The sky had turned pink then yellow as the sun rose. I'd run Way Too Cool 50K and found the course very "blah" - but I kept loving all the forest & mountain vistas of Overlook 50 mile. The trail was so dusty that every step billowed dirt but even this was fun.
From Michigan Bluff was a loop down a huge descent then back up. I kept flip-flopping with a group of 3 Asian dudes - they’d run the slight ups, but I was faster on the climbs and the downs. Chihping Fu caught me on the climb, and I was shocked that I was ahead of him - isn't he a quick dude? Then we were back at Michigan Bluff. The day was just starting to get hot - the sun was rising higher in the sky.
The second time we passed through Michigan Bluff we went back to Foresthill the way we’d come out. This was interesting as some of the section had still been early in the morning before and too dark to see. Also neat to judge hills coming the other way. Now I got to fly down the hill I’d climbed before! On the last sustained climb back to Foresthill I caught up with Jeff Le, who I’d met at Skyline 50K. He was struggling a bit with a foot issue. I walked about 10 minutes with him - he’d paced or crewed at Hardrock, Western States AND Leadville. HardRock & Western States are both on my dream list - if I finish Bear100 I’ll qualify for both. Jeff was doing the 100K and a bit slower, so I said goodbye and ran into Foresthill, mile 19.5. I’d thought I’d gone much further - I’d already been on my feet for 4 hours.
Foresthill to Peachstone on Cal Street is where the heat began to reach a furnace like blast. The canyon had been baking for a few hours, and it was exposed to the unrelenting sun. The temperature was in the upper 90s, but with no wind it felt like a convection oven. I'd read that Cal St was "runnable" but it was so hot. I kept walking any & all ups, but I found myself running the flats faster and faster because I wanted to get into the few bits of shade. Ultrarunner joke - “what’s the hardest race you’ve ever run? The current one.” I honestly couldn’t think of a tougher 50 mile besides White River - and that was only because that was at altitude.
13,000 feet of climbing, 15,000 feet of descent - Overlook might be net downhill but I was working hard for every descent. And the heat was unrelenting. The only thing that kept me going was 1) I’d run in hotter temperatures in Austin 2) the thought that the slower I went, the longer I’d be out in the heat. I passed people and said “great job”. I almost caught up with a vomiting woman and man helping her. Then, on a long uphill, I passed them both, then singing along to my iPod passed another man. He said my singing was "not terrible". I could reach back and feel in my hand how much water my Hydrapak still had, and I would drink. I’d accidentally grabbed my old Hydrapak which dribbled on me and was harder to suck water out of. Both turned out to be helpful - the dribbles cooled me. And as it was harder to drink, I had more water for this long 8.7 mile stretch. I ran out of water about 1/2 mile from the aid station, and ran in.
I told the mile 28 aid station they were my favorite of the day. Mercifully, they were in the shade. I drank Coke, ate watermelon, and let them re-fill my pack. When the lady saw how empty my water was, she made me take a bottle with me. Then I was off. About 3 minutes after the aid station, my pack felt completely awkward - the bottle was wedged in and all my electronics (Morphie, iPod cable, iPhone cable, headlamp) were jammed against my back. I stopped and unpacked and repacked everything, and the 5 people I’d passed re-passed me.
Again, some very hot stretches where I thought about how I still had TWENTY more miles to go - how the hell people run Western States in this wretched heat? Now, as I type in cool 58 degree San Francisco, I wonder why the heat was so horrid. At the time, all I could think about was how goddamn hot it was. That’s it. How hot. How hot. And then I would make myself run faster with the promise that if I ran faster I would get out of the heat to the river. How hot. Far below me in the canyon I could see happy rafters - I’d rafted this very stretch last summer the day after Tampala 50K.
Crossing a small stream, I saw out of the corner of my eye a perched Orange figure. It was Chihping Fu
(photo credit: Chihping Fu)He was sitting upstream, dunking water straight out of the runoff and drinking it. Wow, there’s no way I’d drink potentially giardia-infested water. However, the stream looked very tempting…I backtracked and lay down face first in the four inch water. Then I flopped over and soaked my back. Soaking was extremely pleasant, and well worth the 4 minutes in my mental will to continue. After, I started running again, eager to see the aid station. As I passed Chihping he said “you’re flying”. I passed an extremely salty looking runner sitting on the ground with another runner comforting him. “Are you ok?” “Fine - just taking a break”.
In my mind RuckyChucky had a water crossing, ice cream, funnel cakes and a carousel. Ok, maybe not the last two. Instead, RuckyChucky was littered with husks of very crispy fried runners, with salt deposits on their shirts, slumped in any available chair. My drop bag was nowhere to be seen, so I figured it was at a later station. The volunteer said “We haven’t seen many 50 mile runners”, which I interpreted as “You’re so far in the back of the pack we forgot you were still on the course”. I went to the bathroom, refilled my pack & ate watermelon.
As I left, a runner caught up with me, then fell into pace behind me. I kept asking him if he wanted to pass, but he said “however slow you go, I’ll be with you.” Ralph had run Western States in 2009, and he said this race was tougher ! ! than States, as at Western he’d hit the canyons much later in the day when it wasn’t so hot. We crossed to the other side of the canyon to the shade & it was such a discernible relief. I asked Ralph to tuck in an errant cable from my pack, then we were OFF - passing a few runners on the way on the 3 miles to the river.
The river crossing was an absolute highlight. A rope was strung over the shoulder high river, and Gordy Ainsleigh himself !!! Clipped me into a carbiner. The current was stronger than I expected. When I got to the other side, I just floated in the river for ~7 minutes. It was extremely hard to get out. The cold water was so refreshing, and there were still 12 more miles, 25% to go. I watched as Ralph and the other 6 people who’d crossed the river disappeared as I idly floated and basked in having seen Gordy Ainsleigh in person.
Eventually I got out, and had no will to run on the rocky sandy riverbed. I walked the next mile. Then the trail settled back into dirt. All my music was tiresome. Finally at the top of a small hill I switched to my iPod which had new different music. This helped, then I was at aid station 42.
Aid Station 42 had a huge wedge of cheese to make grilled cheese, but no matches. They convinced a runner to eat the cheese raw with them, and of course I made a “cut the cheese” joke. c’mon - I had to! Still no drop bag - I had the horrible (correct) suspicion that I’d accidentally sent it to a 100K only aid station. Filled pack, back in motion, on gentle rolling hills where I walked the ups, coasted the downs.
A lady passed me running on the up - I fought the urge to chase her - the goal was Bear 100 - not this race. This was just a training race. Even if she did look in my age group. The whole race my first goal was survival. My second goal was to place in my age group - there were 5 entrants in my age group, and I hoped to place top 3 out of 5. I hadn’t seen many people the whole race & figured all the fast had finished hours before - but maybe I could trot my way into #3.
Suddenly we turned into the full brunt of the late afternoon sun, on the baking trail. It was so goddamn hot, and if I could will myself into running, I would reach the distant shade. I forced myself to run the next 2 miles, and passed back the lady who’d passed me and a walking guy. I knew I was almost to No Hands Bridge which I’d seen in so many Western States photos. Whether the distance or heat, I became very emotional. Why had I ever doubted myself? Here I was, running the legendary Western States Trail course, coached by Ann Trason, assisted across the river by Gordon Ainsleigh himself. Why had I ever not had confidence in myself? Why had I drifted in my twenties, not believed in my own strength? Here I was, living my dream - running a 50 mile with confidence.
I crossed Highway 47 after a quick pit stop. I saw a dust-covered dude sobbing against a tree as his friend tried to comfort him. In the distance I saw a female bounding down the trail, and I followed. The ribbons started to be tied with reflective tape for after dark. When I got to mile 47, my plan was to pound a cup of coke, eat a watermelon - and GO!! My pack was full enough - time for the final push. At the 47 Aid Station, here’s what I heard:
“You should get going - you’re Second Women”
“You’re f*&^ng with me”.
“You’re Second Women”.
“You mean in my age group right?”
“No, you’re Second Women”.
“you’re F*&^ing with me”
“Would Ultrarunners lie?”
“All the Goddamn time. - “You look good. The aid station is near. It’s all downhill. You don’t smell as bad as you think.””
“You’re really second woman.”
& I took off, not wanting third to catch me! I caught Ralph (from the river crossing) on a long uphill, walking with a woman. When I passed, I looked at her bib - it was red - she was in the 50 mile! I power-walked past them as quickly as I could. I WAS IN THE LEAD. Then she caught me on the downhill and started pounding down. I briefly followed, but then thought “this is a training race. If I sprain my ankle my season is over. My real goal is to finish Bear 100.” And I let her go.
I thought it was three miles to the end, and after 34 minutes I asked a woman if I was close. “Just under a mile.” HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?? AM I MOONWALKING?!? After multiple looks back, none behind me. I searched my pockets, sports bra & pack for more food - nothing. Nothing to do but finish.
One final up, then I was to the finish, taking off my headphones so I could hear “EDITH EDITH EDITH”. Crossed. Lay down in the grass. Let a lady bring me a water bottle that I dumped over myself. The best prior finish I’d ever had in my lifetime was 3rd in age group at a Brazen Half Marathon. Mary, first place, shook my hand, and I congratulated her. I lay on the grass for about 30 minutes cheering on the other finishers and looking up as Marisa Walker & Todd Wong came over to chat. Finally felt like moving, got a picture with Ann Trason.
Things I did well:
S-Caps every half hour or half hour - no cramps
Power-walked all the ups.
Ran own race -didn’t go out too fast
Said thank you to all volunteers
Tried to say to other runners what I wished they’d say to me “Great job! you’re looking strong!”
Course planning - I had no idea of the course - would just fill up pack every aid station. Worked out well in this race as aid stations very far apart.
Had backup pairs of headphones
Pushed even in heat
enough music to mix it up
Soaked in river
Things I didn’t do well:
Drop Bag - just too busy to figure out drop bag.
I actually had another powergel in my pack - but at the very bottom.
Things to improve on:
Now that I know the course, I would have soaked in streams / river much sooner, as soon as accessible from trail.
Buff - would have been great for ice on neck.
No pictures after mile ~10 - too hot, too busy surviving
Buff - would have been great for ice on neck.
No pictures after mile ~10 - too hot, too busy surviving
Still debating whether I should have hung in there with #1 lady 2 miles from the finish. Winning a race would be incredible - I’ve NEVER won a race - in fact my prior best finish was #6 women at Marin Ultra Challenge 50 mile. But just not worth it in big picture of finishing Bear 100 three weeks later