The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run by Harry Hamilton "It Took Long Enough!"
It was a long wait to get selected to participate in the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. After accumulating 32 tickets from several years of trying to get in, I finally was selected. It got to the point where I didn’t even watch the lottery any more. On lottery selection day my first text was from Elizabeth Azze of Mountain Peak Fitness telling me that I was in.
To the Start
As I woke up to get ready for the start on race morning I noticed a flashing light, which I thought was a reflection from outside. I paid little attention to it as I got up. As I flipped the light switch to turn on the light everything stayed dark. Now I realized that the flashing light was the inside emergency light to indicate that the power was out. That might have rattled some folks on race morning, but the crew of Elizabeth Azze, Karl Loops, Jim Jansen and I weren’t even bothered. We just used headlamps to get ready. Luckily as we drove away from Tahoe City the power was on in Squaw Valley.
I picked up my bib and waited for the race to start. I chatted a bit with friends that I had made from the 2015 WSER training camp. They hailed from CA, SD, IA, IL and I met a couple of NJ transplants from the Boulder Trail Runners as well as meeting some folks from NY for the first time.
To Robinson Flat (mile 29.7)
The race started with a shotgun blast. I chose to hike the first climb and not run any of the steep sections. I was happy that the first section of the trail was not too wet from the crossing streams. I only chose to dip my hat and bandana in the streams as opposed to other runners that sat in the water. I wanted to save as much time as possible although it would be a couple minutes here and there.
I usually do not have a problem with altitude, but today I could definitely feel a little dizziness at times. I was surprised at this because I had no issues at Hope Pass, Bighorn or the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 course which were just as high as or higher than here. At a couple of aid stations during the day I wasn’t exactly coherent, but it passed quickly. Western is always hot and today would be no different. I put ice under my hat and filled my bandana with ice as often as I could.
Just past mile 20 it was already getting hot to the point that I needed to stop and apply some sunscreen. Another local runner from NJ, Nick Schnabel was ahead of me and I caught him to see if he needed any sunscreen before we started to burn. Nick declined and went on. It was about 9:45 AM or so. After the race I found out that Nick got a “little” sunburned…
By mile 22 I was 15 minutes behind schedule and it had reached 25 minutes by mile 30 at Robinson Flat. I was strong, but not climbing fast up to Robinson Flat. This was the first indication that I did not have my usual climbing legs. Robinson Flat was the first time that I would see the crew and they helped me to change out my gear, apply some more sunscreen and move out fairly quickly.
To Forest Hill (mile 62)
At some time during the race I had hoped to cross paths with Serena Wilcox from VT. We had run together a bit at training camp and I thought that we had similar strengths and speed, so I was hoping to work together for a bit. I think that I saw Serena for the first time at an aid station between Dusty Corners and Last Chance.
It was at one of these stations that they had a bowl of pickles, so I tried a few of them. They were surprisingly refreshing. Thanks for the tip Alex Varner!
I was leaving an aid station as Serena was coming in. She caught me within 40 minutes or so and we started to run together. We hiked Devil’s Thumb fairly well, but I had no power in the climbing legs this day. Serena pulled most of the way up. I was also starting to feel some hot spots in my heels around this time. On the way to the Michigan Bluff climb I came across the only critter of the day. A snake had crossed the trail right between my legs. I jumped in the air and the snake was gone before Serena could see it. We ran together all of the way to El Dorado Creek where Serena took a dip and I drenched my hat and bandana and refreshed my legs with the cool water before I hit the aid station. I was through the aid station, but did not see Serena behind me. I made a quick decision to move on because I felt my nemesis blisters starting to hurt to the point where I knew that I’d need care at the Michigan Bluff or Foresthill aid stations. I was hoping to get them taken care of and meet up with Serena again. I got up Michigan Bluff in a decent time and ran into the aid station where the crew would be waiting.
I pulled into Michigan bluff and ran past the crew to find the medical tent. Luckily there was no one getting care in the chair and I was able to get someone to look at my blistered heels right away. They allowed one crew member to come over and Elizabeth came by to see what was going on. We caught up on things quickly and as they worked on my feet as she went over and filled my bottles and grabbed some food and a frosty can of Coke for me. When Elizabeth returned she mentioned to me that I was getting my feet worked on by the guy who wrote the book. I looked at the shirt that he was wearing and saw the logo “Fixing Your Feet”. It was John Vonhof. John had worked on Elizabeth’s feet when she finished the Badwater 135 in 2009. I knew that I was in good hands.
I also knew that my sub 24 was now in jeopardy with the minutes lost at this stop and already being behind 25 minutes. I was OK with that thought because I was running as well that I could when I could. There was nothing further that I could have done to prevent these blisters or get back the lost time from earlier in the race. I also had hoped to make up time in the last 38 miles. I was fairly confident of this since I ran those sections in camp in under 8 hours. After having both heels cleaned and benzoin taped I had everything that I needed to get to Foresthill and headed straight for the trail. The feet were still hurting, but not badly like I had experienced at Wasatch in 2013. If the tape stayed on after crossing Rucky Chucky I was fairly confident that I could still run hard to the finish.
After a few miles while headed towards Foresthill the pain was mostly gone from the feet and I started to pass a few runners. I am not sure of how much time that I lost at Michigan Bluff; 25 minutes, 40 minutes? Not sure, but as they told me back at the medical tent “lost minutes now saves hours later.”
To Green Gate (mile 79.8)
The crew was waiting for me at Foresthill. I ran in, “German Shepard’ some food and filled my bottles. Big Jim Jansen was there to bring me over to the crew down the road a bit where I would change from my Inov-8 Ultra 290’s into the more comfortable and cushion Pearl Izumi N2’s. I would also swap put some other gear.
From Foresthill my pacer was Stacie Riddle (not related to Tom!). Stacie was from San Francisco and knew the trail very well. She had paced a few runners at Western. As we ran towards Green Gate I was amazed at how well she knew the trail. Each climb and section was memorized. She even knew how many turns there were on specific climbs and descents.
As we approached Rucky Chucky I was kind of dreading the crossing. Personally I don’t like the water and I wasn’t enthused about the river crossing. It actually felt good when I crossed and I felt a little rejuvenation as we started the climb to Green Gate.
I thought that the climb was only a mile and quarter, but soon found that it was closer to two miles. The climb was very dusty and for the first time all day I pulled my bandana up over my nose and mouth like a bandit to minimize dust inhalation. The crew was to meet me at the crossing and accompany us up to Green Gate. There was no sign of them yet. As we approached the top of the climb I was beginning to think that maybe they were having issues or were late from another food stop when Karl came trotting towards us with my drop bag. Just before this moment I thought that that Stacie and I would be pushing on to the finish. Karl and Stacie went ahead to tell Elizabeth that I was almost there. Elizabeth would take over the pacing to the finish.
After conferring with Stacie I decided to stay in wet shoes to save time leaving Green Gate and more importantly to save the work that was done to tape my feet. During Stacie’s pacing section she was really good about ensuring that I had nutrition every half hour.
To Placer High School (mile 100.2)
From Green Gate Elizabeth kept me on track with at least 300 calories per hour and hydration. Two GU’s and a Perpetuem Solid were working quite nicely for energy. From Foresthill and continuing on to the finish from Green Gate I ran the vast majority of the sections. I had to in order to save time to ensure that I finished in less than 24 hours, which was now my primary goal. My pre-race goal was to break 24 hours at a minimum. I thought that I could go well under, but with 22 miles to go I still wasn’t sure when I’d cross the line.
I didn’t feel comfortable that I’d break 24 hours until we had about 17 miles to go. There is always a certain point in a race when you know that you’ve got it and all you need to do is hold on. That being said I told Elizabeth to keep the pace as long as possible. I remember flying along the first time that I raced at the Vermont 100 only to crash and burn from my quads giving in. I wanted to get to a point that even if I had to walk 25 minute miles I could still break 24 hours.
I had forgotten until this time during the race that beforehand I had set the alarm on my watch for 3:13 AM to let me know I’d better get my ass moving if I was off pace. The alarm went off.
On the descent to No Hands Bridge the trail was really dusty with very fine dirt. It almost looked like lava flow or a sea of dirt waves. I was having trouble seeing the trail. I thought it was the dust, but Elizabeth noticed that the issue was that my headlamp batteries were starting to fail. I had spare batteries in my pack, but we didn’t want to stop and change them and lose time. Elizabeth suggested that we switch lamps with her carrying my fading lamp in her hand as she paced in front of me.
The No Hands Bridge aid station stop was a “Coke and Go”. I drained three cokes and I think that Elizabeth changed the batteries and off we went. It was just past this time that I had 3 miles to go, and an hour & a half to break 24 hours. I knew that I had it, but for some reason I maintained the pace rather than dial it back a bit. I can’t believe that I did this, but I ran the Robie Point climb almost to the very top. I didn’t even do this at training camp on much fresher legs.
As I came onto the track at Placer High School my first thought was what a crappy track that this was. I had never seen a track in such bad shape. I think that I’ll make a donation towards a new one. The trot around the track was a little anti-climactic because hardly anyone was there except for the crew cheering me on to the finish line. It didn’t matter that the crowd was sparse because I was happy with the result, especially with the heat, blister issues and running too conservatively during the first 30 miles. I pretty much had my happy moment with 17 miles to go when I started to feel that I had it done. The race staff missed videotaping my finish, but luckily Karl captured it for me.
I was surprised to hear that I took third in my age group at the Awards Ceremony. My finish time was 23 hours and 10 minutes to the second. This was a truly wonderful experience for me. I got a lot of love on social media, USL.tv and most of my Family was following my progress on ultralive.net. I still have a smile on face almost 5 days later. East Coast baby!
I received a lot of advice from my friends & coaches on how to approach the race. Thank you Elizabeth Azze, Glen Redpath, Randy Miller, and thanks to Jim Jansen we had a nice place to stay in Tahoe City, CA just about a 20 minute drive to the start.
I would like to give a special thanks to the crew and pacers. I really appreciate that the Mountain Peak Fitness / Red Newt Racing team members sacrificed their time and money to come and out and crew for me. It was a pleasure to have a dedicated crew to keep me check and minimize the time off of the race course. My two pacers Stacie Riddle and Elizabeth were awesome. They made it really easy for me to get this done in a respectable time. All I had to do was keep up their pace and follow their shoes.