Statesmas. I was feeling like a little kid in December, counting the days down, getting excited about seeing my friends and fellow competitors. I was rested, fit, somewhat heat trained, and had spent a fair amount of time at altitude. And then I read the weather forecast and it was as if Santa decided not to come. And what really disappointed me was that I was so deflated by this! As if I was going to be the only one getting wet and cold. Indeed, I took it personally. Humph. Fortunately I had brought enough warm clothes to deal with the inclement weather, and Amy graciously offered me the lightest weight Mountain Hardware wind jacket I have ever seen.
Three a.m. Saturday morning I awoke to my alarm – which meant I actually slept – took a hydrating shower, drank coffee, ate white rice, banana and peanut butter – a formula that has been working well at keeping my bowels under control during hard efforts. I dressed in my race clothes, then bundled up another 3 layers to stay warm before the race. My crew of Hannah, Larry, and Brian and I headed over to the start area a little after 4:00. We waited outdoors near a blazing pit fire, hanging with Craig and Andy – Craig continuing his apprenticeship as Asst. Race Director, and Andy – out this year to a knee injury – a little bit of an empty feeling knowing they wouldn’t be on the course in the same capacity. Nevertheless, I insisted on the usual pre-race picture of me and my boys.
Craig, Me, and AJW. Same annual photo, different story.
RD Greg Soderlund counted us down the last 10 seconds, and we were off. As usual, I was quickly passed by throngs, and the crowds lining both sides of the road were cheering for their runners. The steep ascent was both walked and run, and I connected with many of my friends, trying to find my stride. Jed Tukman, Jen Benna, John Trent, Pam Smith, Ashley Nordell, Darla Askew. I was trying to figure out if I was being hampered by the altitude, but without Craig in the race to key off, it was hard to tell. The higher we got, the windier and colder it became. Then something started to come from the sky – sleet or hail or some combination. I was not in a happy place.
Cold, miserable climb to the Escarpment. Photo by Jeffery Genova.
My plan was to take a gel every 30 minutes during the entire day. Whether or not I would succeed, I at least had a plan. The first aid station I drank from the cups, not filling my bottles as I wasn’t exactly sweating, and grabbed an extra gel. The next steep scrambling section was somewhat sheltered, but the wind at the top of that was just plain mean. I lowered my head, tried to make myself even smaller, and wedged my way through the wind to the Escarpment. It was a pretty slow ascent, and I knew I had quite a number of women ahead of me. Jed motioned me to go first, and we were flying down the trail into the Granite Chief Wilderness. Again, judging by the the size of the conga line, I knew I had a pretty slow start. I was patient for the most part, but occasionally either Jed or I would scramble around a group of runners. The weather gradually changed from cold to cold and wet, to colder and wetter. I rolled into Lyon’s Ridge aid station a bit behind Pam, and she was soon out and up the next climb. I remembered sections of this trail, but it looked different in the cloudy wet weather. There were no views to speak of. Jed was still following, and we came upon Pam emerging from the bushes. I expected her to take the lead back from me as she is a superior climber, but she was beginning to succumb to hypothermia and fell behind. We continued on, passing more male runners and eventually winding our way down to Red Star Ridge. Tim Twietmeyer gave me encouraging words, and when I saw AJW with a clipboard I was sad that he wasn’t in the race, but happy to see him. We exchanged quick hugs, and I asked him what place I was in – about 20th? He said, no, he thought 6th or 7th. That didn’t seem possible, and I really didn’t want to be that high up so early in the very stacked field of women. After leaving the aid station I reasoned with myself that there really was no way I was even in the top ten, which proved to be true.
Continuing in the high country, the runners became more and more spread out. Jed finally decided to go ahead about a mile from the next aid station. I was getting excited to finally see more familiar faces, and when I cruised in I remembered to cheer up and be grateful for all the folks sacrificing their time, standing in the cold, wet weather, to see me for a very short time. I pulled in and Hannah and Larry were at the ready. Hannah stuffed 2 gels in my pack, replaced my bottles, and gave me some chocolate milk. Larry asked me if I had been taking salt, and said that my ass looked good. Ah, nice – they both remembered their instructions!
It had taken me 20 minutes longer to get to Duncan than anticipated, but oh well. I headed off into Duncan Canyon shortly after Ashley, but she was soon out of sight. I was eventually caught by Topher and we encouraged each other along. About 3 miles shy of Robinson Flat, I heard a some yelling – which took me aback – who would be out this far cheering us on? As I approached the noise I saw a runner on the side of the trail, back arched against a log, with 3 runners hovering closely. I ran up and recognized Kami on the ground, having the most horrendous asthma attack I have ever seen. I quickly got down and scooped her head and shoulders into my arms and tried to talk her down, hand on her belly “breathe into my hand, Kami. Do you have your inhaler?” She whispered “no” as she went from slowed breathing back to fast shallow breathing. “I need to pass out”. I said it’s okay, I had her. She danced on the edge of consciousness briefly. I suggested to Topher to start running to Robinson Flat to get someone to get medical. Kami had the wherewithal to start apologizing and telling us to run, which we all adamantly opposed. Soon there were 5 more runners on the scene – including Tyler Stewart and Pam Smith – both with inhalers. One of the men administered the potion while I held her head. Finally she was able to breathe, but she was not in a good way. We eventually got her standing up. I told her I would walk with her, but she wanted the ladies to be racing, so one male runner in the group said he would walk her in.
It had been the longest 5 minutes of the race for me. I ran on, eyes straining ahead for the medical volunteer to come towards me. It was probably 20 minutes before I saw him, and I asked if he was going for Kami. He assured me he was, and then Tim Twietmeyer appeared, running out to help her in as well. I had gotten colder with stop and worried about Kami becoming hypothermic on top of the asthma attack. She did make it out, was taken to the hospital, but fully recovered and came to the race finish in good shape and good spirits.
I was still shaken by the time I arrived at Robinson Flat. It was the first weigh-in, and I wobbled as I stood on the scale. Craig was there, and asked if I was okay, as I was behind schedule a bit. “Yeah, just a little shaken by Kami. Nothing like a little race day perspective.” He ran through the aid station with me, wished me well, and I was soon climbing out just behind Topher.
Craig walking me through Robinson Flat aid station. Photo by Michael Kirby of the Auburn Journal.
We chatted briefly about Kami, then he scooted ahead of me. The rain was coming down earnestly, and when I began the descent from Little Bald mountain, I was at least happy that my legs were doing well. I had a pretty good run down the switchbacks even though it was hard to see through my wet eyeballs. After the technical trail, out on the flat dirt/mud service road, I caught one of the two rocks in the road, went down hard, and hit my head hard on the other rock. Damn. The runner ahead heard me fall and asked if I was okay. “Yeah, sure, fine.” Ugh. I got up gingerly and wondered if I had a concussion, but I was fine. I started running again, and noticed that my right shoulder/upper rib area was fairly sore. As time went on it was apparent that I had damaged something as the pressure it required to blow my nose was a bit painful. (One week later I found I had dislocated a rib – which is by far easier to deal with than a bruised or broken rib).
At Miller’s Defeat, I drank two cups of hot broth, cursed the rain, blessed the wonderful volunteers, and made my way on towards Dusty Corners. I caught and ran with Denise Bourassa for awhile – her first Western States – she was struggling in the cold, but otherwise doing great. I hit the downhill section before Dusty and allowed gravity to pull me in quickly, just behind Topher. Hannah and Larry crewed me again, and Hannah informed me I was in 13th place, and 12th had just left. I was soon on my way to Pucker Point trail. I don’t normally like this section in that I tend to struggle with the flat sections and the feeling that it will never end. This time, however, I was feeling relief from the rain, and it was starting to heat up. I passed Tyler Stewart, moving me up to 12th female, and number 11 was right in front of me. I caught Liza Howard just above the Last Chance aid station, and we ran in together. My weight was still stable at 120, but my bottles were pretty full, so the volunteers were concerned that I wasn’t drinking enough. I had been doing a lot of my drinking from the tables, and I wasn’t sweating much, but decided to try a little harder to drink on the run.
Now approaching some sweet technical single track, I found myself smiling spontaneously for the first time all day! I was finally warming up, drying out, and when I started this descent, my legs actually felt pretty good! I flew down to the Swinging Bridge, and began the ridiculous hike to the Devil’s Thumb. I hydrated, ate gel, and decided to take an Aleve – something I don’t normally do – to take the edge off the pain in my rib.
Reaching the top of the Devil’s Thumb. Photo by Veronica Whittington Schmidt.
I had a good split to the top, 38 minutes, spent a little time at the aid station removing my layers, shoving them in my pack, weighing in, grabbing a couple of gels, and then I was on my way to my favorite descent into El Dorado Canyon. I passed a nice Aussie, who asked for the beta on the next ascent – “is it as ridiculous as the climb to the Devil’s Thumb?” I described the next section as sweeter and more mellow. He seemed relieved as I passed him by. I was having so much fun now, and when I hit the descent into El Dorado Canyon, I was in heaven. Faster and faster, I let gravity pull me down. I passed a couple of men on the way down, and was welcomed by the aid station at the bottom. “What do you need?” I ate some water melon, drank some coke, a gel, took an S!Cap, and headed up the trail to Michigan Bluff. About half way up I was caught by my Aussie friend again, who said he did appreciate the relative run-ability of this canyon. I saw no other runners on this climb out, and was pleased at the number of times I was actually able to run on the ascent. As I entered Michigan Bluff, my movie man, Jay Smith, was there, running after me, filming on the fly. My crew of Larry and Brian was there, and quickly switched my bottles off, gave me a drink of chocolate milk, and I was on my way to Foresthill. Twiet was there again, telling me “Go Meghan! Show ‘em how it’s done!”
Cruising into Michigan Bluff. Photo by Marianne Wedell-Wedellsborg.
On to the last canyon – Volcano – involved a section that is usually quite hot, but the mild temps made this section quite bearable. Here I caught Sunsweet Teammate Joe “Drama Queen” Palubeski. He was in very good spirits, but starting grow weary. We chatted a bit, and I was caught by my Aussie friend again. I dropped them all on the descent, and when I arrived at Volcano Creek, I went down on my knees to ice my quads. Refreshed, I continued on, and finally emerged at the base of Bath Road to the greetings of my pacer Hannah, and Sunsweeters Bev and Jeff. After some quick team hugs, Hannah and I slowly jogged up the road. Hannah filled me in with the race dynamics. She confirmed that I was in 11th place, with Ashley up by 5 minutes, Amy about 20. And because AJW runs the Bath Road section, so did we, albeit at a somewhat pedestrian pace. Before we crested we were met by my other pacer, Mark Richtman, and Brian, and the four of us built more and more speed running into Foresthill. Another weigh in, plus a cheek swab for the research study, and I was ready to go.
Cruising out of Foresthill is always so thrilling, and this time there was the added excitement of being chased by one film crew of Jay Smith, and chasing JB Benna who was filming from his bike, riding in front of me.
Leaving Foresthill with Mark, Brian, Hannah, and cameraman Jay Smith in tow.
I saw so many friends along here that I found myself running a little outside of my head. When the crowd finally thinned and the cameras were gone, I felt a bit winded. But at the same time, I was excited and motivated. “Hang on Hannah! We’re going hard!” We hit the trail, and in a few minutes, came upon Ashley and her pacer. At the same time, a dog entered the trail, aggressively, and I yelled at it as I ran by Ashley, and in all the confusion, I was now in 10th place. We hammered the downs, cruised the flats, and ground up the short hills on this section to Cal 1 aid station. I told Hannah all I wanted was to drink from the table and to eat some melon. We were in and out quickly, but Ashley was still right behind us. We came to the infamous “Mackey Hill” and I struggled as Ashley closed in. Hannah asked if I wanted her to go in front. I said no, as I was redlining already. I made it to the top, started running again, and every downhill I put space between me and Ashley, but every up hill, she brought herself very close again. This game went on for a couple of miles when I finally admitted that if I kept working that hard to stay ahead I would soon dig myself into a very deep hole. The next time Ashley got close, I stepped off the trail. As she passed I said “I’m working way to hard to stay ahead of you!” She sweetly passed, and in no time was completely out of site.
Hannah and I were in and out of Cal 2 quickly and onto one of the fastest/sweetest downhill sections. Mild switch back after mile switch back. Hannah told me stories, and I assured her she could talk all she wanted, but that I wasn’t really listening. We hit the six minute hill, which took me seven minutes this time, but we cruised the next downs nicely, all the way to Sandy Bottom. I didn’t mind running here, as I knew we were getting close to the river crossing. As we finally popped out on the last road section, I realized my Cal Street split was going to be a personal best. I was stoked to be moving so well, and when we arrived at the river, my time from leaving Foresthill to here was 2:46. A very good time for me on race day.
I weighed in right at race weight, was given the go ahead, and we ran to the river. Plunging into the cold water felt very good. Sean Meissner was pacing his runner across the river, and it was fun catching up with him through the chilling flow. Mark and Brian were waiting on the far side of the river, and after a hug from the lovely Diana Fitzpatrick working the aid station, we began our trek up to the Green Gate. I was getting filled in on where the women were, especially those in close proximity, when suddenly I spied Joelle Vaught walking slowly. “Joelle! What’s going on?” And like last year, she smile broadly and said “I’m really a 50 mile runner! I haven’t eaten for awhile, and can’t really get anything down.” And so it was that I moved into 10th place.
After the Green Gate, Mark and I headed onto the trail to Auburn Lake Trails (ALT) aid station. Darkness finally overcame my ability to see, and I switched on the light before the aid station. At this point I didn’t really want to look at my watch anymore as the miles were starting to drag on. Mark was a great pacer – some stories and some reminders to eat, and recognizing that I am working hard and don’t need pushing. Finally at ALT, I weighed in, drank some liquids, and on our way out, finally ran into Jed again, fiddling with his lights. We wished him well, and cruised on. This next section is quite runnable – annoyingly so. I felt myself ebb a bit, and Mark suggested that calories might be prudent, as there was still significant distance left. He was right, so I bit the proverbial bullet, opened a gel, and downed it all at once instead of nursing it like a baby. And low and behold, in about 5 minutes I was running strong again. We relatively clipped along, and caught Paul Terrenova a bit later. His countenance was, as usual, cheerful and positive. I bragged to Mark that Paul was running his first 100, with the goal of completing not only the Grand Slam, but topping off the 4 races with Ironman Hawaii.
Brown’s Bar aid station music reached our ears, and as I began the steep ascent into the lights, I heard “Is that Meghan?” and I raised my fists. The resounding cheers were deafening and so appreciated – this aid station was manned by the Ashland contingency, and I had many dear friends there. They quickly fed me soup, gave me gel, and told me that Ashley was about 5 o4 6 minutes ahead, Amy probably 20. I was more concerned about who might be behind me. Running in 10th place is not exactly comfortable, and I so badly wanted to stay in that position at the very least. Mark and I high tailed it out of the aid station, and I fairly scampered the intense downhill section to the quarry road that paralleled the American River – I only had blisters in the arches of my feet, which weren’t preventing me from running hard. I found myself actually running the uphill sections of the quarry road – not always the case in previous years. The final long climb on single track I mostly hiked due to the technical aspect, until I heard cars and saw car lights, where I picked up the pace and ran across the road to the Highway 49 aid station. My crew quickly aided me, and we were on our way out again.
My pace from here to No Hands Bridge was honest. I ran the down hills hard, and didn’t struggle badly on the climbs. At the colorfully lit bridge, I quickly grabbed a cup of coke, chugged it and hit the bridge running. Across the bridge, it finally felt like the wheels had pretty much disassembled. I shuffled along for what seemed FOREVER before reaching the final single track up to Robie Point. Hannah and Brian were there, and the four of us began the final 1+ miles to the finish. Somehow I found myself running again, and then running faster and faster. We hit the white bridge and I was building momentum. On the track I heard Tropical John Medinger over the PA “Ah… The Queen!” Such a nice welcome. I churned my way around the track, crossing in 19:45, 10th woman, and greeted by Craig, without whom I would never have made it this far. I secured yet another chance to dance here, taking 1:05 off my previous best for the regular course, and full of ambition to do it better next year.
Many thanks to my friends and crew, to all the runners who made it to the start line, Coach Ian Torrence, Sunsweet, Drymax, Garmin, and Scott Shoes. You are all a part of my success.
The great Ellie Greenwood and me. Photo by Brian Wood.
Me, Amy, and Hannah.