Just a few short years ago when I became aware of The Western States Endurance Run, there was no way that I could, would, or should run 100 miles in one push. This race was unreachable, and would only ever be a dream stored in the dark, dusty closet somewhere in the back of my mind. Isn't it funny how things change?
On one uneventful morning in December my roommate Avery and I were huddled around our electronic devices watching the lotteries for Western States and Hardrock, as I'd only a single ticket with hopes of Western, and Avery had an equally terrible chance at Hardrock Hundred. The selecting was about three-quarters of the way done, and it was apparent that I'd just have to try again next year. And then I heard music in air. "From Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Devon Olson". I was celebrating by the time he finished saying "From Steamboat Springs". Some things got knocked over, broken, and I almost broke myself in the midst of celebration. Nothing like a good party! Perma-smile!
Avery and I packed up my Corolla and left for Tahoe City on Wednesday the 24th, a few or so hours before the sun set. These long road trips are becoming like clock work for us. There's definitively an art to traveling efficiently, and safely. Either way, we were pretty glad to see the "Welcome to California" sign, and feel the relief of almost reaching our destination. Ultrarunning sometimes requires ultra driving; that is, driving so far that you feel and act like a maniac, but just keep driving anyway. My friend Dave and I used to take ultra-driving trips, and talk like Irish people for hours just to stay entertained, and awake....then we couldn't stop talking with accents. Ughhhh, we did it to ourselves. Good times.
|The starting line the day before takeoff|
|Day before photo|
The 5am start was normal for any ultra, but this particular day was my first ever Western States, and the start line was abnormally dramatic, and intoxicating. It, at this precise moment became clear how much work, and time had gone into what I was about to endure; mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
As we started off straight up the mountain, then escarpment before the first of many downhills, I did my best to relax, focus on a decent heart rate, and find a groove. Naturally, I started off in 30th or 40th place, not at all to my surprise. In the first 20, I had the opportunity to chat with a few people, Anita Ortiz being one. She was running a pace that seemed very reasonable to me, so we shared a few together while a few scurried past in quite a rush. Anita was really kind, and humble. I didn't even realize who she was until after a mile or so! As it turns out, she won WS in 2009!
Somewhere down the trail I found my groove with my first sights set on Robinson Flat (mile 30), which is the first stop that I'd see my roommate/friend/training partner/crew/pacer Avery. Already, I was passing a few people, and my legs felt pretty okay. On the ~5 mile climb up to Robinson, the sun started heating up, and wouldn't let up until dusk. I rolled into Robinson Flat feeling pretty damn good, and the hundreds of people cheering me on reminded me why Western States is "the big dance". At this point, I took my shirt off, snagged my Eastern States 100 hat filled with ice, filled my pack with ice, got doused in ice water, and grabbed more gels. First class service at Western, I must say. Avery said he made it to the the aid just in time. Sometimes things just work out!
After leaving Robinson, there is literally a loss of ~3500' in ~20 miles. And these, these were the miles that left me thinking, "wow, they weren't kidding when they said this course never stops going down!" On the descent into the canyon before the Devil's Thumb climb, I was amongst Michael Wardian, and a guy named Chris (I think. We'll call him Chris no matter what). At the bottom of the canyon, before beginning the ascent, I realized that I'd somehow lost my salt pills, or left them at the last aid station. "Oh shit, I'm going to cramp all the way up this climb with the way I've been sweating". Wardian saved my ass, as he carries two bags in every race. He said that during Olympic Trials one year he ran out, or lost them, and suffered all the way to the finish, so now he always carries two bags. Same goes for if you have to cross a river, with the chance of them getting wet. Oh man, between that and observing him throwing his handhelds on his wrist for the climbs, I was like a sponge soaking in wisdom accumulated through years of experience. That climb to the Devil's Thumb aid (mile 48) was brutal after all that descent. Between the heat in the canyon, and the hardest climb of the day (in my opinion), all three of us struggled up that climb. To me, the crazy part was that I lead Mike, and Chris to the top. At some point my inner dialogue questioned "why are you ahead of Mike Wardian, and this other guy that is clearly a great runner?" To this I had no explanation, and already didn't feel like thinking any more critically than I had to. So, I just ate some popsicle, grabbed more ice for my hat and pack, and kept running.
Somehow after Devil's Thumb I managed to pull it together and got the legs moving on the next descent into El Dorado Canyon. Avery and I had run this section during a training run, so I had a general idea of what to expect. I pulled away from Mike and Chris on the climb into Michigan Bluff (mile 56), and felt good all the way up. I cruised into the aid, which would be the first place I'd see my mom and sister. Avery got me restocked, I changed my socks, and was off. Again, hundreds of people cheering me on....let's just say the stoke was high. I would see everyone again at Foresthill in 6 or 7 miles, which is where I'd pick up a pacer, Kyle, who I'd met the day before. Kyle was in the middle of a Pacific Crest Trail through hike, and had decided to stop in Squaw Valley to check out the race. We randomly started talking, and before you know it, I had a pacer from Foresthill to Green Gate (62-80) before Avery picked me up at Green Gate.
Rolling into Foresthill (goodness I am demanding)
|Kyle and I working our way up to Green Gate|
|Avery and I about to leave Green Gate (mile 80)|
This video my sister took of Avery and I leaving Green Gate is simply hilarious. "Dev, you're doing great". BAM! Trip over rock.
|Leaving Green Gate|
After departing Green Gate, I'd see my crew one more time at the Highway 49 crossing (mile
93.5) before taking it across No Hands Bridge, climbing up to Robbie Point, then hitting a little over a mile of pavement before running around the Placer High School track to the finish. However, it wasn't over just yet.
It's crazy how good some of those last miles were, and how absolutely horrible some of them were. It had gotten to the point where I just wanted to be done, and every time that I stopped at an aid station my legs started tightening up, then I'd have to walk for a minute before being able to resume running. It's so frustrating, really. I mean, I bet I had a few 7-9 minute miles in there, but also walked down a few hills because my legs were so trashed. This is what I mean, halfway there. An improvement for certain, but not perfection.
I must've been out of it at this point because Avery told me I was talking to Hal Koerner at an aid station, and he was filling my bottles. "Dude, you really didn't notice Hal? You were talking to him!" "Nah man, I don't know what you're talking about." "Wow."
Finally, at some point we reached Highway 49, and I was struggling pretty good, still fighting the battle of staying positive. After bitching about this, that, and the other thing to Avery out on the trail, and reminding myself where I was, I did my best to fight those demons. For example, my mom kept telling me to eat at every aid, even after slamming more gels than I'd like to admit. This eventually made me grumpy. See for yourself....hahahahah
The last 7 miles from Highway 49 to the finish were tough. I knew I had basically made it, but had trouble mustering up the will to push hard. And then, right before Robbie Point at mile 98.9, Mike Wardian goes cruising past me. I couldn't freaking believe it. "I thought I lost him miles ago!" And Avery says, "Let's do this. How amazing would it be to end your first Western States racing Mike Wardian around the track?" Without saying anything, I start cranking it down the road, knowing that it was almost over. I catch up with Mike and his pacer, and he starts sprinting away. I chase, and end up running one of the fastest miles all day (probably about 6 minutes), in the last mile. Coming around the track together, I finish less than 20 seconds behind Wardian. It was pretty sweet I'll take it.
Finishing my first Western States Endurance Run was one I'll never forget. 19 hours 11 minutes 52 seconds. This year there were 371 starters, 254 finishers, with a 68.5% finishing rate, much lower than most years-not sure why. To be blunt, my first go at the most prestigious, historic, and competitive 100 miler in the world was more than I could have asked for. Sure, I want to eventually go back for a spot in the top ten, but overall I'm ecstatic placing 23rd overall, with Magdalena Boulet being the only woman to "chick me", running a 19:05. It was an emotional finish, and I'm so grateful that I had some of my family, and my training partner Avery to share it with.
|It's finally over|
Thanks to all the first class volunteers, with first class aid stations for kicking so much ass. Special thanks to those that laughed at my bad jokes, and cheesy sarcasm. Thanks to Gordy Ainsleigh for believing that it was possible to traverse the Western States trail on foot in a day. Thanks to all my family, especially my parents, and siblings. Thanks to Kyle for pacing me on a whim for 18. Thanks to all my friends near and far for all the encouragement. Thanks Avery, who not only kicked ass for me all day, but also joined me in plenty of tough miles these past few months. Lastly, my sister Lindsay and my mom Debbie came all the way from D.C. and Pennsylvania because they knew how much this race meant to me. More than anything that happened the entire trip, the best part was getting to spend time with them. Now that I've run away to Colorado, seeing my family has become much more of a challenge. Though it was the best decision I've ever made, it still sucks being so far away. I still haven't found the words to express my gratitude, as a simple "thank you" doesn't carry that kind of weight. Anyways, it's so incredibly heartfelt, and rad that they showed up. I couldn't have done it without them.
Here are some photos from the trip (post-race)!
|The crew on Lake Tahoe|
|Mum is ripping it up on Tahoe|
|You see this chest hair? That's right...I'm so manly.|
|Avery, Mum, me|
|Lindsay and I|
|That's a good bench, right there|
|Lindsay and Mum|