Western States 100 Summary

This week, Donald reports on his experience at last month’s Western States Endurance Run …

Last year, I wrote several articles about training for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, only to have the race cancelled due to wildfires. Don’t worry - I won’t take it personally if you’ve forgotten.

On the other hand, I never forgot about the race – if anything, my desire to participate grew even stronger during the fall and winter. This spring, I trained my tail off, and finally toed the line last month with the best ultrarunners in the world.

Western States took me to some unbelievable places, both physically and psychologically. Some were wondrous and exciting. Others were dark and terrifying. A few were just plain bizarre. The end result was a journey that was both humbling and empowering, discouraging yet ultimately uplifting.

The race begins in the former Olympic Village of Squaw Valley. When you’re milling around the start area, rubbing elbows with the superstars of ultrarunning, seeing the Olympic rings everywhere, and gazing at the tall mountains you’re about to climb, you can’t help but be inspired - and more than a little bit intimidated.

Over the next 100 miles, I would complete 18,000’ of climbing, and 21,000’ of descent traversing one rugged canyon after another en route to the finish line in Auburn. In the two steepest and tallest canyons, temperatures reached 105 degrees on race day. Fortunately, there were river crossings at the bottom of each canyon, where I soaked in the water for several minutes in order to lower my body temperature enough to survive the heat.

The river crossings continued throughout the race – in fact, the biggest one came in the middle of the night. It’s situations like this – standing waist deep in class 3 rapids of the American River at 1:30 in the morning, after running 78 miles with another 22 still to go, so fatigued that you have spasms in every muscle of your body and so sleep deprived that you start to hallucinate – that make you either fall in love with ultrarunning or realize just how crazy the sport is. Or, if you’re like me, both these things happen.

During the 28 hours I was on the course, I battled blisters, muscle pains, dehydration, mild renal failure, and severe nausea. I danced on the razor’s edge of medical stability, needing several minutes of observation at some mandatory health checkpoints. I was so debilitated that I could barely walk at times, and so discouraged that I wondered why I wanted to.

There’s a popular saying that the person who crosses the finish line of a 100-mile race is far different than the one who starts it – and at Western States, that’s especially true. The course breaks you down in every conceivable way - physically, spiritually, psychologically - and makes you question every aspect of your being. It strips you of all pretense and reveals the very nature of your soul.

Sure, it’s not the most pleasant place to be, but surviving such a gauntlet instills an unbelievable feeling of accomplishment, as well as a sense that anything is possible. All from the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.

If all this sounds insane, believe me – this summary barely scratches the surface. There’s a very detailed race report and photo tour of the Western States 100 on my website which may give you the full measure of how crazy and amazing ultrarunning really can be.

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