Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tevis Run! Western States 2010, Patience Keeps ya Strong

I'm posting this article in the wake of the Tevis ride, just amazed that a human can do this! Steph
Western States 2010, Patience Keeps ya Strong
pureh2o | July 23, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Categories: 100 Mile, race report, trail run | URL:
by Franz Dill

Everyone in the world of ultrarunning knows what the Western States 100 Mile Endurance run is, and if ya don't I'm not saying you're a freak (because we all are) but you are an oddity beyond the normal ultrarunner. In a nutshell, Western States is the equivalent of the Boston Marathon to marathons: Rich in history, runner loyalty, and one of a handful of events that, seemingly every ultrarunner attends in some capacity: running, crewing, pacing, or spectating.

To set the mood, this year's race morning began with a lunar eclipse followed by an evening's full moon - the magic of Western States was mounting in full force. Upon arrival I knew this 100 mile race was different, special. Walking legends were abound: Hal Koerner, Anton Krupicka, Kilian Jornet Burgada, Brian Morrison, Gordy Ansleigh, Geoff Roes, and loads more I couldn't recognize. During pre-race, the runner's faces read like a multi-year book of anticipation, the final chapter would begin today. How would each runner's story end?

My race day goal was to run the beginning of the race conservatively at a 25 - 26 hour finishing pace. Then at Michigan Bluff pick-up speed and finish sub-24, heeding the often thrown around phrase "the race begins at Foresthill". Given that the back-end of the race is extremely runnable if, and that's a big IF, you have the legs a lot of time can be made up. Making the decision to go sans pace chart I started the race with only time and heart rate to guide me. In retrospect a pre-race conversation that Jen and I was very foreshadowing: What finish time to you feel you've earned based on training alone? My answer 26 hours. Jen's answer 25 hours...

The initial climb to Escarpment was difficult and MANY went out extremely fast. I kept my heart rate below 160 most times and was passed in waves of runners. The snow slowed us and the climbs were steep, yet reaching the top was breath taking providing views of Squaw covered in wisps of morning fog under a cresting sunrise to one side and rolling peaks and canyons to Auburn and beyond on the other. I ran portions of this climb with good friend Jose Suarez and old-timer and multi-time grand slammer Bill Dodson (age 75) talking up the day ahead with childlike fervor. I saw flashes of good friend Eric Vaughan on the switchbacks ahead - he always zips out of the gate much faster than I.

Sumitting at 8,700 feet we were welcomed by a gong serenade and views spanning out to Auburn and beyond. It was a very Zen time in the race. Awaiting 1/4 mile down the trail was lots of snow, probably 7 miles of the stuff. I've never run in the snow but it was fun. The trails became a mix of running & skiing with a spattering of cartoon-like, leg flailing, falls. Being a 100 mile race I quickly noted a lot of energy can be expelled here and took it slow. Eventually the snow gave way but definitely not the terrain - it was replaced by numerous creek and river crossings. Our feet were soaked.

During a lengthy downhill run on a smooth fireroad leading to the Poppy Trailhead (mile 19.6) I ripped open a GU preceding my Garmin's 30 minute reminder beep, downed it, and immediately started my vomitous upheavals. I wondered off-trail in an attempt to hide it by pretending to ... "oh, just going to the bathroom over here... {upheave}". Oddly I wasn't panicked despite the best caloric weapon in my ultrarunning arsenal was now DOA. I did have my Suceed Ultra to keep the calories incoming but I needed to re-tool my fueling with only 20% of the race complete. Arriving at the aid station I found that fish crackers, saltines, fruit, and iced water worked well. As I later found, this is not the recipe for a fast race!

Cooling off Before Duncan Canyon. Photo by Facchino Photography

From Poppy Trailhead to Duncan Canyon (mile 23.8) I proceeded at a slow pace and let numerous runners pass. I took the time to dip my wide-brimmed trail hat in every stream crossing, warding off the rising heat. While running the banks of the French Meadows Reservoir, I shared the trail with Amy Palmiero-Winters who would later be the first amputee to complete the Western States 100. That day(s) she ran a course 2-3x more difficult than the one I ran yet she sustained an internal drive that was infectious. We ping-ponged back and forth as she stopped to make numerous adjustments to her prosthetic right leg, each adjustment varying between "hurt and hurt more" in her words. I would later run with her on the descent to the river.

Duncan Canyon Just Ahead. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

My fueling was supporting my slowed efforts reasonably well through Robinson Flat (mile 29.7) where I met my crew Jen, Sona, Brian, and Hao for the first time. After a snow covered maze leading into the aid station I heard the enthusiastic cheers erupt as I broke through the trees. Following the formal aid area I met my crew and was off with a wonderful turkey avocado wrap and my ipod playing Nutshell from Alice 'n Chains. I was helpless in holding back my tears, as that song links me to a past friend, Brian, that was taken by cancer at the age of 32. He was there with me that day call'n me crazy too.

The heat continued to increase on the wide sun baked fireroads leading to Miller's Defeat (mile 35.3). Yet, my body was well adapted because of my tri-weekly trips to the sauna and numerous bikram yoga classes that I started 4 weeks before race day. The heat was noticeable but not sapping - although I was seeing an increase in heat struggles with other runners.

I continued onward at a slow pace dictated by my low caloric fueling option and came into Last Chance (mile 43.3) slightly worn out and weighed in 2 lbs. light. A wonderful volunteer filled my bottles, walked me through the aid station, patiently waited as I picked over the food selection for fruit and crackers, then escorted me to the cold water bath and ice in my cool-off bandanna. Then she warned me with a stern voice, "You know what's next, right?" Yup, I knew and was looking forward to it... the climb up Devil's Thumb.

First the downhill. I was running the single track descent into the canyon a few steps behind another runner when he simultaneously stopped, screeched, and jumped up. I reacted fast enough to stop without tumbling down the cliff to our left. Peering around the startled runner I saw his source of fear, a 3 foot long rattlesnake in the trail ahead of him. He looked back and asked, "Is that a rattlesnake?" I clearly spotted the 4 buttons at the end of its tail and confirmed his fear. Fortunately the snake's primary concern was get off the trail. We skirted around it while I scoped the trail behind for other runners to warn. No one showed. I waited momentarily then scampered down the trail figuring the snake would be well clear when the next runner arrived.

I reached the Swinging Bridge and dipped my hat in the far-side water basin for the hot climb up Devil's Thumb. I knew I could climb this relatively hard based on my training runs. For 1/3 of the climb I power hiked aggressively and caught a number of runners. Then, well, my cracker fueling caught up and my Ferrari engine suddenly morphed into a Mack truck's diesel that was hauling a load over a Sierra mountain pass - I had the power but my was speed gone. And, I got really hungry and all I had was crackers. So I ate my goldfish and saltines, crumbled and soggy from the pre-climb head dunk. It was all I had to quench my sudden fueling uptake needs.

Making it to the top was wonderful. I sat for a moment while re-fueling with fruit, soda, and a popsicle. A runner next to me was suffer from moderate heat stroke, rocking back and forth rapidly and yelling "Oh God, Oh God, Oh God" while aid stations workers put cold water on his legs. It alarmed me enough to immediately stand and move on - aid station illness can be highly infectious!

I moved out to tackle the next canyon descent into El Dorado still feeling low on energy - soda slowly fell out of my menu too! At this point I was running on a fuel completely foreign to me during training, yet I knew eating was key in a successful finish. It was also this point that I pondered my finish time. 24 hours seemed fleeting yet I was still strong for 25. I had no worries though because choosing to run without a pace chart had the added benefit of allowing me the freedom to run to my body's signals which were telling me to take it slow and steady. I made it to El Dorado Creek (mile 59.2) and prepared for the climb to Michigan Bluff. Again, I fueled on fruit and crackers immediately feeling the drag of absent energy.

The climb passed and I emerged into Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7) with fresh legs but a stomach of hunger and pain. Seeing Jen, Hao, Sona, and Brian immediately perked me up. In fact I challenged Jen to a race back to the aid station! My immediate goal was to eat away my hunger pains. Going to it I hit the fruit and ordered some broth then sat down to chug some V8. Like a villain inching his way on stage, the dreaded nausea reared its head. I made some signal to my crew that I was in trouble, Hao reached over and performed a Vulcan nerve pinch on my hand. But nothing was slowing this assassin's strike. I had just enough time to stand, walk 5 feet, then clutch the chain-link fence and assume my most submissive bikram posture. In a series of 5-7 cat-like back arching upheavals I was done. Then one more to be sure. Mixed in the grass below me was my fruit buffet of 3 minutes earlier. All I could muster to say was, "There's some fruit compote for ya kids!" then I promptly walked over to the aid station and ate some more! It wasn't until I was leaving the aid station did I notice a small town news station interviewing runners directly in-line with where I just puked. What a background I provided!

Off I scuttled to Volcano canyon with a happy tummy and a peanut butter cookie to eat. I was feeling really good. Recover and Absorb was the motto but the spring in my step was infectious and I ran more than prescribed. I stopped for a moment to rearrange my ipod wiring and was greeted in a passing Don Charles Lundell of aka Mr. Smooth, Straight Faced, and Quiet. I paced off him to Bath Road (mile 60.6) sharing small conversation. Both of us agreed, "It'll be great seeing George Miller's smiling face at Foresthill". Once on pavement DC took off with a very strong, long-strided, power walk. I was no slouch but watched the gap between him and I grow while still passing other runners.

I made the turn to Foresthill Elementary School and soon found Jen and Hao's smiling faces and pickled shirts. Foresthill was awash with excitement. For one I was with my wonderful crew, secondly I worked Foresthill medical last year and knew everyone, and third good friends and CRC runners George Miller and Mike Weston were there with gigantic grins! I darted into medical and weighed in at 3 lbs under (trending low) dished out some hugs then wandered down the street to the truck. I couldn't help but complain in jest, "Why'd you park so far away?" A quick shoe change, some cheese and salami, crackers, lights, and I was off. I left walking prior to Hao being ready, but I needed the time to warm up again and adjust to the new shoes - damn they hurt at first!

After a 15 minute slow down to allow for digestion, I lead the way to give Hao a "feeling" for my pace. His immediate feedback of my smooth and energetic stride confirmed how I was feeling, which was great. Things were lining up for a wonderful run through the night. Initially we were matched in pace again with Amy Palmiero-Winters (who runs with tremendous mental focus and strength) - ping ponging back and forth but in the progression of time I felt like we were running in a gear unlike those around us; Hao and I were breezing through the pages of a storybook finish. Aid stations came and went in a blur of Christmas lighting. I ate fruit, Tums, and the occasional grilled cheese wedge as we ventured into the dark to chase down headlamps sniper-style.

The river crossing was upon us, but first the weigh-in. Answering the medical workers questions coherently I stood on the scale then pronounced my starting weight of 145 lbs. Dropping my gaze down I read "133" on the scale in complete shock. What? I'm down 12 lbs! Medical was also confused as I wasn't acting out of sorts. I jumped off the scale and then back on for a re-weigh of "139". Okay, I could buy that but 6 lbs. down wasn't good either - yet I wasn't confident in that weigh-in either. Off to the life vests and boat ride to cross the river! And if I had it back Hao and I would have sang "Just the Two of Us, We can make it if we try" while crossing the river. We had planned it, but forgot! Next time!

Smiling at Green Gate. Photo by Ron Little

One the other side was Jen having a grand time in the aid station greeting us with a smile and commenting, you guys are moving! After fueling up we began the steep hike up to Green Gate (mile 79.8). I came in with all smiles and was astounded at the sheer number of crew members lining the fire road around and following the aid station. While hitting my select aid station foods I was delighted to hear a familiar voice; it was Ron Little exclaiming, "Franz! You look great." I was delighted to hear Ron, but then I thought... "Isn't he suppose to be with Eric?" Ron motioned to a cot holding a sleeping bag clad figure. I noticed Eric's wife Denise with a worried look on her face that left me breathless. The figure was Eric surrounded with pure worried love from his family and friends. He assured me that everything was okay, yet his stomach was revolting. In fact he looked great compared to the trail carnage I was seeing. I offered to cut my legs of for him to borrow with the warning they aren't working too well. I think there was a smile... and he sent me off saying, "Go get that buckle".

Up the hill I climbed ahead of my crew and pacer Hao as he made some headlamp adjustments. I took the opportunity to use the porto-potty. On exit a volunteer asked, "Are you looking for a pacer?" "Yes, in fact I am". "Well, he just took off down the trail." In a strange sense of excitement I jokingly retorted, "Great not only did I just run 80 miles but now I have to run down my pacer!" And with that I took off. Fortunately Hao had my speed dialed in and turned back after about 1/4 mile. That moment was exciting... and kind of cool, after the fact.

The trail to ALT (mile 85.2) was a blur of trail and running, good running. I was still working on my hydration but felt wonderful. We ran consistently in 2-3 mile stretches, even uphills. I remembered a top 20 runner telling me during the WS training runs that if you're running here, you're doing really well. That felt damn good at that moment. Again we caught many runners and their pacers. Clare Abrams recognized me and we said hello (her runner had suffered from over hydration, lost consciousness, and was held at ALT for 1.5 hours and was now death marching, not saying a word). Typically while passing other runners I'd say "Good Job". I meant it in the nicest possible way however not all runners took it as such. I had one runner simply growl back at me after the intended compliment. He was clearly in a bad state, though.

We rolled closer to Brown's Bar (mile 89.9) while following the flour markings placed by the Hash House Harriers. Brown Eyed Girl was being blasted through the forest. Hao and I sang, out load, in the dark forest... it was sweet. This aid station had a neon beer sign, Christmas lights, and good music. The first gentleman I saw was dressed as a priest - I wasn't sure if I should hand him my water bottle or admit to my non-christian ways. Behind him were 3-4 guys in really ornate dresses possibly drinking beer. Hao and I were the only ones in the aid station so all eyes were on us and that 5 minutes of my life was very surreal. Then a dress clad man standing, what seemed like 12 feet tall, emerged saying "Franz Dill?" "Errr, yes?" What the hell! It was Ben from my Coastside Running Club! I felt like I starred up at him for 5 unblinking minutes. We chatted about the race, he asked about Eric, then we were off with a fabulous reminder: "You have less than 10 miles to go!"

In this section we passed 1 runner that was moving quick on the uphills in route to the Highway 49 crossing (mile 93.5) and the next place I'd see Jen. We came rolling into the lights as an announcer bellowed my name through the river's gorge to the eagerly awaiting, and very tired crew. The final weigh-in and I was down 5 lbs but passed the verbal test with flying colors as the doctor said, "I'm not holding you back. Go finish this!" I grabbed some food ran over to Jen, Sona, and Brian to drop off my backpack - went back and mulled around the aid station food, then it was on.

We hit a climb up to a large field of knee high grass cut only by a wandering single track dirt trail that lead us to a yellowing full moon perched inches above the distance oak trees. Dawn was coloring the sky with wisps of orange and the running was effortless. Hobbling figures of worn runners cast silhouettes on the Auburn summer backdrop. We were almost there! Again, we passed runner after runner. One pair gave us a challenge but finally succumbed to the urge in stepping aside. Hao stopped momentarily, and I can't remember why, but my body just opened up a bit. It felt good to open my gate and push the pace. Runner and pacer pairs were swept behind me as I dashed towards No Hands Bridge. After 3 minutes had passed Hao emerged and wrangled me in. We were moving amazingly well.

The WS100 2010 Finish. Photo by Sona Dill

The stop at No Hands Bridge (mile 96.8) was a flash then we bounced across the bridge to tackle Robie Point (mile 98.9). My energy retreated a bit here, especially on the hills but we still made good time up the final climb to the cheering aid station above. A quick stop then on to the paved streets of Auburn. I caught Jen walking down to greet and run with me which was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. We summited the final climb to the cheers of many touting signs like "Welcome to Auburn" ringing cow bells. A older lady sat in a lawn chair at the end of her driveway reading the morning paper, she peered up saying "Good Job, you made it!" It was almost too much to not cry.

I told Jen and Hao are you guys ready? I have some legs left and we're running this in, fast! At that we did, following the red shoe prints all the way to the track. Cars stopped, people waved, then seeing the track was special. I rushed through the archway setting foot on a glorious red rubber track. Jen was behind me somewhere - everything began to blur, words were smeared into cheers. In a muffled in-rush of sounds and emotions I made out Hao saying, "Don't worry about leaving me." So I ran. I ran a sub 6:30 min/mile pace in glorious bouncing strides that felt amazingly smooth. Thirty yards from the finish was George Miller and Mike Weston with George's grin big enough for the two of us, offering up the best feeling high-five I've ever shared. I crossed the finish line in 25:23 feeling amazing. I gave Jen a big hug (after zoning out a bit 1st) then was ushered over for final medical checks: weight 5 lbs down, blood pressure amazing (I actually got a "Wow" from the nurse), sodium levels perfect.

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