Denial. Lying to myself. Ignoring the truth. Not breathing life into reality. Those are the tools I used going into a race when in the back of my mind I knew there were real issues that existed. This was my 9th consecutive Western States 100 (WS, or States) and I am extremely fortunate to be able to toe the line year after year. My list of issues is not unique, not special, and not meant to be excuses, because I don’t like to hear them from others, but they are pieces of the story that I aim to learn from as I go forward in this sport.Training for States had been pretty typical. I ran some early season races, got in some good high mileage weeks, had a stellar 100k in May, and then….
Left hip – something or many things in the glute – I can list all the structures, but the bottom line is – it wasn’t functioning well. This is a training error. It hurt, felt like a tight wad, and after a couple of weeks post-Quicksilver, it was clear that I should not be attempting any speedwork. “Nevermind” I told myself. “I don’t need track speed to have a good States.” Probably true, but I would say that I need to be ABLE to do speed work to have a good States.
Memorial Day weekend runs were…well, good to run those miles with friend Stephanie Howe, Matt Keyes, Zach Violett, and the Twiets, but there was more than one point during the day were my butt was burning in pain and I had to back off. Again, I told myself, doesn’t matter, I won’t be running fast on race day.
And before time to taper, out on my last long run of 25 miles, I tripped, and rather than face plant, I used a lot of muscle to keep from falling, including said left butt, causing it to seize up, reducing me to a walk, then a slow shuffle, then a not slow shuffle back to my car. It hurt, but I just tried to stay positive. The next 3 days were spent moving my daughter to Portland, and I did not run a step. Anyway, enough of the pre-race build up.
Tapering went fine. The butt continued to hurt, I had body work done on it 3 times, and I kept the positive outlook. It really was feeling better, but still felt that a speed session would result in cramping and perhaps injury.
Race morning, I was feeling rested, positive, and ready to run to Auburn. My crew of Mark, Andrea, and Kelsie, were excited, organized, and ready to see me through the day. It was mild at the start, and with Mark’s words of “I believe in you” I was full of hope that it would all come together.
I love this race more than any other, but the first 4 miles are my LEAST favorite. It is such a grind to get to the pass, and as much as I want to follow my mantra “don’t fight the trail” it is hard to put on the blinders and just stay chill. This year, I wanted to run conservatively in the high country, disregarding my time, so that I would be able to take advantage of my strengths of downhill and flat running. I was slower to the escarpment and to Lyon Ridge than I have been in a long while, but I let it go. I met and ran several miles with Caroline Boller – her first 100 – as we had similar strengths. After Lyon Ridge, and before Redstar, I took my first spill. Ouch – my left calf cramped, but at least my butt was fine, and the scrapes were minor. As I pulled into Redstar AS, Craig and Scott were both there, and commented, “did you already fall Queen?” The dirt didn’t lie. I pulled out nice and easy, and out in the open again, I hit another loose rocky area, biffed again, hitting my forehead and chin. My right calf cramped. Chaz, another racer, turned back and asked if I was okay, said it didn’t sound very good when I landed. Embarrassed, I said I was fine, and he finally went on. When I got up, the dirt side of my big right toe was burning. OUCH! Did I break it? I gingerly ran on, never toeing off, but mid-foot planting my way forward down the trail.
All the way to Duncan AS, I managed the pain. It wasn’t that bad if I didn’t toe off, trip, or kick anything. With my conservative running, I arrived at Duncan about 30 minutes later than my fantasy time. In 24 miles, that is significant, but I aimed to make up for it when I could run fast comfortably. Mark was right there, ready to replace my pack, my bandana, and offer me an Ensure, which I downed gratefully. Greg Lanctot came over, mentioned how dirty I was, and helped clean me up a bit. Mark was unsure what place I was in, but somewhere above 15th. This sounded right for how long it was taking me to get places.
From Duncan AS to Robinson Flat, I was pleased to be able to run much of it. I worked steadily at staying cool by dousing with my water, and when I arrived at Duncan Creek I found a place to sit down and then scoop water all over my body. With that cooling, I was able to jog much of the ensuing climb up to Robinson Flat.
Arriving there in over 6 hours, I convinced myself that although it was likely the slowest I had ever taken, I was going to be able to run hard later in the game. Andrea and Kelsie were right there with my new pack, some Ensure, and tons of encouragement. Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick were there telling me how good I looked and that some of the women ahead already looked rough. With those words and the encouraging cheers of onlookers, I ran out, and up much of the climb to Little Bald Mountain.
My nutrition plan was solid – I was eating 200-300 calories per hour, mostly in the form of Huma gels, plus some Accelerade in my bladder. I felt tanked up, but the toe was definitely taking the joy out of my running. Mark Tanaka, a Bay Area runner I have run with, caught up to me and we ran pretty closely into Miller’s Defeat. I iced up there, and left before him enroute to Dusty Corners where Mark would be waiting. I passed an already over heated Jady Palko, and my toe kept me putting the brakes on all the way into the aid station. Mark was ready again. I told him “I think maybe I broke my toe” and he said, well, try and ignore it, and once I resupplied, I stopped at the sponge and mister to get good and wet before heading onto Pucker Point trail.
Pucker Point in theory could be one of the easiest sections on the course. It is pretty dang flat, not very technical. There was not a sole in sight the entire way to Last Chance, although Mark Tanaka was not far behind. At Last Chance, one of the lovely volunteers asked me how I felt. “Not great!” and she then wanted to probe deeper. I assured her I was fine, just tired for just having run 40+ miles. I was wetted down again with sponges and misters, and left the aid station to the cheers of the volunteers. As I jogged along, a raven flew overhead, making a bit of a fuss. “Grandpa!” I thought, chuckling to myself. Mark calls ravens “Grandpa” from the Native American myth that our elders come back as ravens to watch over us. I appreciated Mark’s grandpa making an appearance and telling me to just relax and keep on moving forward.
It was amazingly solitary out there. I’m usually around more runners, but not today. I cruised down the Precipitous Trail best I could, and eventually made it to Swinging Bridge. My energy was good, my legs were good, my tentativeness at an all time high to keep upright. As I crossed the bridge, I saw Denise “Little D” Bourassa heading down to the river to cool off. We exchanged encouragement, and I made my way to the spring up the trail a bit. I sat my butt down in it, right next to the rocks as the water poured over me. I filled my water bottle, drank deeply, and then filled it again. Feeling quite refreshed, I began the long grind out to Devil’s Thumb. I felt reasonably well – my butt was working pretty well, my toe wasn’t too bad on the climb. About half way up I saw 2 of my homies – Ian Torrence and Topher Gaylor sitting on the side of the trail having a moment. “You guys!” I said. “Let’s go!” They just grinned and encouraged me on.
At the top were many friends – Denis Zylof, Charles Savage, Joe Uhan, and Laura Snow. They were all so supportive, telling me how great I was doing, looking, etc. I unintentionally down played their kindness, only declaring that my toe felt broken, and that I was in 15th place and had a lot of work to do. They took great care of me, Laura walking out with me to be sure I was okay with my toe, and off I went. Ahead was the longest, sweetest downhill of the race – the descent into El Dorado canyon. I fell into the middle of a line of 3. Not sure whom I was following, but Klaus was right behind me, and the three of us cruised in silent company. My fears here were 3-fold – 1) the discomfort of the foot plant, 2) kicking a rock with my right toe and 3) falling. I was braking every step of the way.
Finally at El Dorado AS, Kevin Rumon greeted me enthusiastically, and helped me get ice water, ice for my sports bra, while Scott Vosburg helped me with coke and food. Scott said “I heard you broke your toe!” What? How could he have heard that? Apparently, Pam Smith had told him. Which she must have learned from Mac? What? It was too confusing for me. I started the climb out – the first bit being very steep was suddenly extremely tough. Once it got mellower I was able to jog some of the sections. I began to contemplate my present situation, what I was going to complain about when I got to Michigan Bluff to my crew, and I caught myself. What good would it be to complain? We all come to this on our own free will. It is the race of dreams. It is a privilege to be here. The last thing I should do is whine about how terrible my day was going. I was, after all, alive.
Arriving to Michigan Bluff, Mark was ready to crew, and Krissy Moehl and Kim Gaylord jumped into help. Mark asked how I was doing. I said “I could complain, but that would be stupid. I’m lucky to be here.” I drank Frappuccino, Krissy put ice in my bra, and I got sponged down before I gently jogged out – happy that my legs actually felt pretty good, and I was so touched by the amount of cheering that I received on the way. Alone again on the road to Foresthill, I moved along and was finally joined by a Nevada runner, Doug. We ran and hiked a couple of miles together. It was his first WS, and he was full of respect and joy to be there. He let me go before the descent into Volcano Canyon. I placed each step deliberately all the way to the creek. I waded across, and began the climb out, very excited and anxious to meet Andrea and Kelsie, where Andrea would begin her 18-mile stretch of pacing me. As they met me, they began filling me in on what was going on ahead. We were in the process of passing Carrie Wlad who was hobbling along coming off an injury. At that point I was told I was in 13th, as Anita Ortiz had dropped due to a sprained ankle. I jogged and walked while they told me about how the men and women ahead were doing and looking. I cruised into the Foresthill AS, one of the busiest and liveliest of all. I drank a bit of soda, then cruised out to Mark where he was set with my gear for Cal Street. My dad had made the trek out, asked my how my toe was. I asked Mark if he wanted to run down to Cal Street with us, and he almost did before we realized he was wearing Tevas.
Andrea and I cruised down the road to the well-wishers. In a short bit I saw Mark’s Mom and Dad who also had driven out to see all the excitement. A quick hug to Joy and we were back on track. We hit the single track, and now I wanted to attack the trail instead of not fighting it. Turns out to not have been a good idea. Andrea ran in front, pulling me along, reminding me to eat every 20 minutes, and having me run at least 10 steps up each hill before walking. I passed Michelle Yates who was looking very stoic, but obviously hurting. Andrea had me reeling in the next two, and to my pleasant surprise it was my friend Byron “Nature Boy” Pittam and his pacer. We shared a good, few miles together before he passed me back – which was really the beginning of the wheels falling off. The two steep descents, including the Elevator Shaft, were quite difficult with me protecting my toe.
At Cal 2 AS, I filled my bottle with water, and was given the update – Nikki and Joelle were not too far ahead. Nikki less than 10 minutes, Joelle about 3. I told Andrea I wanted to lead here so I could control my downhill speed and protect my toe. In less than 100 yards, I spotted Joelle and her pacer. Over the next couple of miles we slowly gained on her, down the normally free falling grade – I was having to hold back and take each sharp switchback very slowly. When we finally passed her, she was as gracious as ever, and encouraged us on. The 6 minute hill was probably more like 7 minutes, but once at the top I was able to run downhill pretty well to Cal 3. There we were told that Nikki was 5 minutes ahead. We got out quickly. Now every hill was killing my pace. The combination of climbing, and descending with the brakes on had taken its toll. And it was getting dark. I had been in denial about the impending darkness – could it be I really wouldn’t get to the river before dark? It is bad karma to run Cal Street without toting your headlamp, I guess. Through the Sandy Bottom, I kept a decent jog, and commented to Andrea that at least I wasn’t leaning yet! Dusk was upon as when we popped out onto the dirt road a mile and a half to the river crossing. At this point, Andrea pulled out her headlamp, and attempted to light the way for the both of us. With the dust hovering over the ground, it was iffy. I begged myself to not kick a rock. Three more climbs and descents, and we finally rolled into the Rucky- Chuck AS and river crossing.
We were greeted by volunteers, ready to help and was told I was 10th female. What? Hmmmm. I wasn’t going to buy it. I knew I had moved up 2 spots since Foresthill, and unless someone was sitting in a chair at an AS we passed, or someone had dropped elsewhere, I didn’t dare believe it. Kelsie had come to cheer us on, and Andrea and I made our way down to the river crossing. We were adorned with life jackets, and then instructed every step of the way for where to put our feet, given the unevenness of the boulders and different depths. The water felt good, but not as good as it does in the daylight. Chris Thornley, in charge of river crossing was paddling back and forth in a raft, keeping an eye on everyone, and gave me a shout out. Climbing out, my dear friend and next pacer, Caren Wick (nee Spore!) was waiting and ready.
Andrea, Caren and I marched out and up the road to Green Gate. Caren began getting me to run the easier sections, over and over. Sometimes I would start running before she said anything, as I could read her mind. At the top, a deep voice came to me “Is that my girlfriend?” It was Mark, ready with my fresh pack, and info on Nikki – again about 5 minutes ahead. I ate a little broth, then said goodbye to Mark and Andrea, and Caren and I were on our way to ALT. I was able to run a lot of it, and still eat every 20 minutes, but it was getting tough. Caren’s alarm would go off, and I would groan, think about it, stall, and then finally choke down more gel. I held off on one alarm waiting to get some soup at the AS. As we finally rolled in, the folks at the clipboard said “You’re 11th female.” The tired me said “But they said I was 10th at the river!” and the rational me said, “well, that is actually what I thought”. I ate a couple cups of soup, drank some ginger ale, and ambled out. We were told that Nikki and Pam Smith were both about 5 minutes ahead. Sounded as if Pam was having a rough day as well. The tiny climb from the AS was brutal – all 10 yards. I was tanking. But every now and then I found myself jogging along. Caren talked, and I didn’t say much – I told her she could talk all she wants, just don’t expect an answer.
And because things come in threes, I had one more tumble. I was going slow, so it shouldn’t have hurt, but I did happen to land on the water bottle over my chest and my rib didn’t much like that. We could hear voices ahead and voices behind. I hoped that the ones behind were men. They approached quickly, and when I turned I was ecstatic to see my friend Erika Lindland! She is a strong athlete, but lacks belief that she would ever be a top 10 runner here. She looked at me and said “Meghan?!! What is wrong with the universe?!” I was so excited for her. I could tell she would be moving up further before the night was over. In another couple 100 yards, I caught Pam and her pacer Dennis. She looked beat – probably about how I looked. We exchanged words of encouragement. Finally at Browns Bar AS, I called up my number “F8”. They yelled back “F8”. I followed up with “The Queen!” to which the response was much more lively. These folks are from Ashland and I know them well. John Price and Rob Cain were quick to find something for me to eat. Hal Koerner said “Nikki is just a couple minutes ahead of you. You are still in this!” I drank some broth and headed down the hill, doing my best to be smooth on the technical trail with Caren in tow. My toe was not happy at the end of that, so I dug out some Aleve – it had been several hours since I had taken any, and I really needed my toe to stop hurting.
Down on the Quarry road, I found myself able to run the gentle rollers, much to my surprise. I kept that up pretty well, but when I got back to the single track, I really seemed to have lost it all. Caren did her best to keep me eating and keep me moving. We ambled into the HWY 49 crossing, and my crew was there, ready to help in any way possible. I asked how far ahead Nikki was now – a good 10 minutes. I sighed. I had nothing left to try and chase anyone down. I took a new pack, and jogged slowly out. Caren kept me moving up the technical rocks, and when we hit the single track and crested, I started jogging again. It wasn’t fast, but it was faster than walking. Behind me someone was approaching, and the noises coming from him sounded like he was trying not to puke. It was young Ford Smith, with his pacer Joe Uhan. “Ford! What are you doing behind me?” He had struggled with asthma earlier and had a long break, but was now at least moving faster than I. After he passed, I started the cough he had, and realized it was largely due to the dust being kicked up.
Soon we were passed again, this time by a female. Now back in 12th place, there was no real motivation to dig even deeper. I just wanted to finish! We arrived at No Hands Bridge – all lit up in white lights, with a movie screen showing “Unbreakable”. I ate some ramen, chatted with the volunteers for a moment, and then Caren and I jogged across the bridge. On the other side, I kept jogging, and realized that Caren was actually walking as fast as my jog. Keep in mind; she is only 4’10” with relatively short legs. I chuckled and decided I might as well walk. We finally made it up to Robie Point, where Mark, Kelsie and Andrea were waiting. The pulled me along, let me know how the women’s race had panned out. I was able to run some of the last bit, and finally hit the track, waving to John Medinger in the announcer’s booth to his “The Queen is in the House” statement. I crossed the finish line to the taunts of Monkey Boy for my leaning posture (again???) and told Craig “Well, that took a little longer than I anticipated”. 22:36 – my second slowest time. But with it being my 9th finish, I was guaranteed and invitation to run next year.
My toe was gross – all blistered up, but no joint pain. If I broke it, it was just in the last phalange. All I know is that it hurt a lot.
Many thanks to my crew Mark, Andrea, Caren, and Kelsie, who made my trip from Squaw to Auburn much more enjoyable with their personal attention and care. Thanks to the Western States volunteers and RD Craig for continuing to make this event the world class race that it is. Thanks to my sponsors Injinji and Altra for putting me in quality socks and shoes!