Western States is probably one of the hardest races to get in to. It's been compared to the "Boston of 100 mile runs" as it was the first and everyone wants to do it. The difference is that they only accept about 350 runners and about 100 of them are already guaranteed spots. With over 3000 people applying that makes your odds pretty low.
Like Boston you also have to qualify. Qualifying used to be as simple as running a verifiable 50 mile or 100 mile run within that races cutoff time Not the easiest of tasks but there were enough around you could find a race pretty easy.
Then last year came and they decided that with so many people trying to get in, they needed to up the anti a bit. Rules changed such that now there are only certain "named" races you can run to qualify and they eliminated the 50 mile option and replaced it with a 100k option. 100k is not that much more but they are not nearly as popular in North America so as it turns out there are only about 5 in North America that are on the list. When you further inspect the list, the vast majority are races "out west". So for us poor souls in the southeast there are not a large number of options without making it a major endeavor, particularly "easier" options (more on that later).
Of note, Western allows you to increase your odds of getting in by showing you're serious about the event. They do this by allowing you to keep your "name in the hat" for the lottery from previous years, however only for consecutive years you apply. This means you have to reapply, and re-qualify every year to increase your odds. If you miss a year, you lose all previous "names in the hat" and start the whole process over again. These days it seems it takes on average submitting 3 consecutive years before you get in and I suspect that will only get worse as the sport gets more popular.
So after pacing Rob Youngren a bit at Hardrock last year, I decided it was time to chase another one of my goals and start the process of qualifying for that race as well. Hardrock is much more difficult, running up over multiple 13k' passes and summiting a 14er during the race in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Qualifying for that race takes a finish of a much harder 100 mile run. These days there are only one or two of these runs east of the Mississippi that will allow you to qualify. I have chosen to run a race in October (Grindstone) to test myself and see if I can qualify. The good news is that this race is also a qualifier for Western. The bad news however is that with it being so difficult, I suspect there is a possibility that I will not finish. That would be bad. As that race is in early October and the "time to qualify" for Western starts/finishes in early November, if I do fail, I will not have time to try again. I will lose all my previous "names in the hat"!
All that long winded description to say... I needed a backup plan. (And being the cheap bastard I am, I really don't want to have to go to some "destination race" far out west and burn vacation I don't have, just to do it)
I had reviewed the list of races of Western qualifiers many times looking for something reasonable in the southeast, or east, or midwest etc but found myself browsing again and happened to notice this race, the Indiana Trail 100. Indiana's not that far, perhaps that might be an option. Doing a bit more research, I learn that it is a relatively flat course of 16.7mile loops. And it is only a second year event and has plenty of open slots still available. This could work! But... It's March 1st and the race is April 26th. That's exactly 8 weeks until race day and I haven't really been training for anything lately. With a 2 week taper (I usually do 3 for 100) that leaves 6 weeks to ramp up. This could be interesting. But hey, It has plenty of space, I don't have to commit yet. I'll start training and see how it goes and sign up last minute. Let the fun begin.
Training goes fairly well at the start, then a setback. I decide to be a good citizen and help out the SORBA group build a new trail on MS. Well swinging a sledge hammer and pulling on a pry-bar to dig up rocks not only ends me up with a puncture wound in my shin, but a few days later the dreaded lower back pain sets in. Lesson learned, don't do things out of the ordinary when your cramming in training. Lost a week of training, but it's OK. Still pressing forward. I build up to my short term goal of 75 mile week and things are looking good. Got in a back to back 30/20 mile weekend and planned to repeat that the following week. Then, another setback. Halfway through the week I start sniffling pretty bad, then coughing. Still get my miles in through Thursday but by Saturday morning. I'm feeling rough. Can barely get out of bed. Take off the weekend from running, go to the doc on Monday and confirmed , ear infection and bronchitis are setting in. I take my meds and am back to running by the next weekend but still wheezing and coughing. And, by now I'm into taper and have blown my chance at another big mile week. Time to think... after much serious consideration, I make the commitment and sign up for the race. Only thing left to do is hang on for the ride.
OK. Race weekend... I drive up with my crew of one, Olivia, on Thursday afternoon and get about half way (in total it's an 8 hr drive up past Ft Wayne, IN) and then finish up Friday. I wanted to get to the pre-race briefing and packet pick up at 3pm (these usually are required but seems this one was not). Also wanted to get up there with plenty of daylight to set up tent. Major plus for the race is the ability to group camp right at the start /finish. To be honest, I've never camped before a major race, always opting for the promise of good rest in a nice quality bed. But, I'm trying to do this on the cheap and you can't beat waking up right at the start line.
Gun goes off at 6am
My "A" goal is to run each loop, 16.7 miles, in 3 hours. That would give me a huge PR at 18 hours and from what I read, the course is flat and easy. That's 10:46/mile. Should be no big deal and even when I do a standard slow down at the end I can get a solid sub 20 hr finish. B goal is to just keep it respectable with a sub 24 and C goal, just finish under the cutoff of 30 hrs. By far, the only real goal is finish and get that qualifier.
I start just off the lead pack to just try and establish a position. Hard to know who's who as it is dark and more than half of these people are only running the 50 mile option. The early parts of the loop are easy, short cut grass trails through meadows with a few rollers but fairly flat as promised. As I hang right behind what I figure is the lead female for the 50 mile from around Boulder, CO (Heather Pietrykowski?), I note that I'm going too fast (9 min miles) but it's early and I feel decent. Just running natural, so I continue on. After the first aid station at 4.3 miles we go a bit longer (4.7) to the next. This drags on a bit but I find myself establishing my position without many around me. I guess there are probably about 20 people ahead of me with most of them being 50 milers. The trail continues to be similar (grassy) but with more trees around and a few muddy sections. It rolls a bit more than earlier and has some grassy off camber sections that a bit annoying but still not bad.
As you get close to the next aid station you spend about a half mile on road/dirt road into a campground. To this point I'm sticking with my general nutrition plan but not too strictly. Just trying to get a GU or block every hour and to keep drinking.
Coming out of the next aid the trail becomes pretty different. Twisty turny, tight single track. Obviously a fairly new trail too as it is not heavily traveled. Rollers are still there but tighter at times making it harder to run. After about a mile you drop down at a boat ramp and a gravel road between two lakes. (Side note... I see 2 large white objects on the far side of the lake that catch my eye. Not sure what they are and can't tell if they are moving) follow the road up a hill (became a designated walk break every lap) as a couple other 100 mile runners catch me, Todd and Craig. I camped next to Craig and we started talking. Up to this point the pace was still too fast. Never seeing 10min pace on my watch and occasionally seeing 8:30. Running with these two keeps my pace up but we're talking and I don't notice much. Craig is from north Kentucky, outside Cincinnati and seems to have a fairly similar (but longer) history of hundreds and times. He knows David Riddle and was also out there running Western the year I quit at 30 and David came in 11th. (Was nice to hear someone else say how the cold wasn't all good that year). Todd is from Chicago area and hasn't done a 100 in a few years. I notice he is wearing the Skechers GRUs and we talk a bit about Rob Youngren and Meb and the Skechers/Nike saga. Towards the end of this first lap, I notice I'm getting a bit tired and tell myself to let these guys go ahead at the turn but it was nice to pass the time. When we come back to finish lap one I note the time, 2:36. Ouch. That's gonna hurt later. I make a fairly quick turn, just dropping off my long sleeve and restocking and head out deliberately walking for a bit. During the turn I dumped my current bottle before grabbing the replacement and noticed a couple spots of mold inside. Swear I cleaned that well and inspected it before leaving home. No bother though the new bottle is clean and I'll just reuse it.
|It's all smiles after lap 1|
|Lap 2 coming into the first aid station|
Unfortunately my plan to recover didn't seem to work. By the 2nd aid station (halfway through the loop) my stomach had gone sour. I tried to keep moving but the 2nd half of this loop was tough. I was doing everything I could to eat salt but it was a struggle. I do recall seeing the 2 large white things in the lake again and was sure they had moved some. My mind started telling me they could be swans. They were on the far side of the lake but they looked huge.
Anyway. Continued to suffer through the 2nd lap, just moving forward and came in around 3:09 Actually not that bad but I was feeling rough. It had got hot and my stomach was toast.
When I got back to the start/finish I sat down and tried to eat something. Nothing much was working. After sitting for at least a half hour I asked for some ice in my hat and got up and started moving again.
At this point, I'm definitely not on "A" goal pace and Olivia decides she is going with me. Even though I figure I'd rather have her later in the race, I'm obviously in no shape to complain and just go with it. She is not a trail runner and really doesn't want to run over those roots etc in the dark, so we head out. More of the same, jogging, walking, walking some more. It was good to have someone along to talk with though and I end up describing upcoming sections as we go. More soup at the half way point and I notice I'm feeling a bit better but we still don't move too fast. My foot is still hurting on the top so we stop at a bench and do some doctoring. I notice nothing but undo the top lace and loosen things up. It does help a bit though and soon I notice that we are running the crappy 5 mile section more than I have since the first lap. We finish up the lap just as the sun is nearing the horizon. Finish in 4:35. Double ouch! but I hardly even notice at the time.
It's now starting to get dark. As I'm prone to do, I leave my headlamp off as long as possible and run in the twilight. (I'm not a fan of the tunnel vision you get with the headlamp.) When I finally do turn it on, I leave it on the dim wide setting for as long as I can. I recall coming into the first aid station and a worker asking me if he can get me some new batteries. Oh well works for me. Eventually I will turn on the bright beam. At the first aid station I start eating. Soup and orange slices go down in fairly large quantities as I'm hungry but I still try to restrain some as I know it can turn again at a moments notice. One thing of note is that at the start of this loop I decide to turn off the GPS. I only had one low battery notice and know it will still last for a while but I'm not sure it will last the whole run so I figure I'll just run based on time of day. Better to have that than nothing.
So I can't remember the details but I note how long it took me to the first aid station and start calculating when I should expect to be at the next aid. Something like 55 mins for 4.3 miles, an even hour for 4.7 and 1:10 for the dreaded five mile section. This seems to work pretty well and I find myself running almost the entire loop. The good news, I'm rebounding and running, the bad news. I'm 65 miles into it and I'm tired. So I run as fast as I can reasonably but it is not that fast. Once I make the halfway aid station I'm smelling the barn a bit and moving pretty well. Finish up the lap in 4:07
Super quick turn and back at it. Trying to keep the momentum I had in the last lap. Goes fairly well but it's 3 in the morning and I am tired. Just keep going. Nutrition has been out the window since the first lap but I'm still pounding soup and orange slices. Now that it is cool an I'm feeling better I'm off the salt completely (for the past couple loops). I'm still doing my time of day math and doing fairly well. When I get to the 1/2 way aid there's a little crowd of suffering runners hanging around the heater. It is cold now and if your not moving you're feeling it. Fortunately, I don't get tempted and after more food move on. The aid station worker is telling me I may make sub 24 if I keep moving. I do the quick math and tell him I'm planning to hit 23. He chuckles and tells me good luck. Well my legs are trashed at this point but I use the cold to get me moving and warm up. With the smell of the barn at only 8 miles to go I just do what I can. Finally I hit the beach leading to the Finish and start to hammer it. Legs are turning over like a 5k as you mind detaches from your body and I hit the finish in 22:40 (4:04 for the lap) and stagger over to get my buckle. Knowing that all that adrenaline and burst of energy will be vanishing soon I grab what food I can (cold pizza never tasted so good) and shove it in. Then I proceed to curl into the fetal position on a hay bale shivering from the cold I have ignored for hours. Mission accomplished
1. Respect your training. I was woefully under-trained for this event and allowed my head to get big based on past performances while ignoring the fact that I hadn't trained like past performances
2. Don't go out too fast. Related to #1 but even so, this is a well known problem I have. It's a long day. Be conservative
3. Sunscreen. I didn't even know it until 2 days later but I got burnt. I'm certain that had some affect on my stomach and general blowup. I whine about greasy sunscreen but just have to suck it up and do what ya gotta do.
4. Figure out the nutrition. I'm not sure what I learned here other than I need to figure it out. It's not working the way it is.
5. Think about injuries. Not really sure what I should have done here, if anything different at all, but my ankle was injured around 50 miles and I kept running on it for another 50. Seems to be a repetitive motion type injury (go figure), similar to carpel tunnel in the wrist. Anyway, it seems stretching of the shins and looser laces is part of the solution.
6. Clean your frikken bottles! I swear I did, but obviously I didn't. Can't ignore that little bit of the back of my brain saying that a little mold can make your stomach turn... who knows.
7. You can fake 100! Well not really. I had experience and "enough training" but Kathy and Rob always told me "you can fake a 50 but a 100 is different". I definitely thought to myself more than once while running how I was somehow cheating on this race.
That's about it.