Western States 100: Plan Z
The Western States 100 mile Endurance Run starts in Squaw Valley, travels through the Granite Chief Wilderness, and includes altitude, rivers, and deep canyons enroute to the finish in Auburn, CA. Runners are on remote, precipitous trails and fire roads for about 98 of the 100 miles ascending over 18,000 feet and steeply descending even more in temperatures that can sour into the 100’s. The Trail is rich in history and beauty and each year it offers a substantial quad pummeling for runners who take on it’s challenge. The event cut off time is 30 hours and on average only about 60% of the starters make the finish line in Auburn. Though finishing the course in the allotted time is a huge personal win, completing the event in under 24 hours and obtaining the coveted silver belt buckle for this feat is a special and highly respected accomplishment.
Though snow and mud in the high country slowed the pace for all this past Saturday, the first third of my race was enjoyable and scenic. The wildflowers were out in full force and the trail was quiet and dramatic. But despite my training and preparation, my body wouldn’t cooperate during the last half of the course. As the miles moved into night it was apparent that I had lost ground on a personal record time (Plan A) and was losing even more time on the desirable 24 hour mark (Plan B). Although my efforts and mental tenacity were high my legs would not respond positively.
No matter how the cards play out in an event, I'm wired to give it my absolute best shot on the day (Plan Z). If I know I gave it my best shot, no matter the result, I can walk away satisfied. Satisfaction can come in different colors in our lives and I've realized it's an important essence to who I am as an athlete and what I offer others. I'm of the belief that if you're going to put in the work to toe the line, you may as well hang it all out on race day. Why would you not?
I've also learned through giving my “all” time and again that the “all” can become ever more richer than I've seen before. As I realized I was losing time on my Plan B goal I went inside and turned on Plan Z to try and hit the elusive 24 hour mark. Throw it all down and see what you come up with. With 4 miles to go and a steep climb ahead I turned it on.
Looking toward the start at Squaw Valley from mile 30 on the Western States course....
When I hit the track at the finish area just before 5:00 AM I could not see the clock to know how far under the mark I was but I could tell by the crowds’ huge response that it was going to be scary close. Who would have thought that it was structurally possible to go anerobic for the last 4 miles of a 100 mile race then make a last ditch effort sprint around a track to the finish. The pain was so great it was irrelevant. I had flash backs of track workouts and intervals and despite my crippled legs somehow I convinced myself I was a fast runner. My ultimate time of 23:59:33 left the crowd cheering, my legs like jello, and my satisfaction level high.
What a unique, rewarding, trip - a small novel experience for which to raise the bar of human possibility. Or, at minimum raise the bar of what is possible for me and those I shared that with.
It appears that my effort to get the silver buckle took a bit more of a toll on me physically than I expected. In the hotel parking lot after the race, my heart rate shot up and I thought I was going to vomit. Then I blacked out. I woke up a few minutes later as my sister and a crew member were carrying me into the hotel room. I was reduced to crawling around last night due to blisters and leg pain. I have a feeling my recovery might be slower than hoped for.
I'll be back for more. My suffer-fest may not have played out the way I wanted it to but it proved to be a hidden gift—“Go through the Pain”, and it will show you new colors of self and transcendent experiences. Amen.