February 20, 2011

Western States 100 February Training Run Recap

No, I am not running the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. I did, however, have the opportunity to participate in the official February training run yesterday. It ended up being a wonderful day on the trails with great weather, fun people, and stunning views. I got in a solid training run and had a blast, too!

Every year the directors of the WS100 put together a series of training runs covering various legs of the course and offer them to those training for the race as well as any other interested runners. For a small fee you get a fully marked course, transportation, aid stations, volunteers, and a hot breakfast afterward. My coworker Diane mentioned this particular run a while ago, and the timing made it a valuable long training run on some technical trails before Way Too Cool 50k and AR 50.

Considering how my week went (staying home sick for 4 days and not running) I wasn't sure what would happen Saturday, but I had paid for the run and taken the day off so I was at least gonna give it a shot. I did feel better, so I was cautiously optimistic. I met up with Diane and a few friends in Sac and we carpooled up to Placer High School in Auburn. Much to our surprise, we found the little town, just 40 minutes from Sacramento, covered in snow!! It was beautiful, but I was so glad I had layered as I knew it would only be colder further up at the start. We gathered at the high school, signed a waiver and got our numbers on our hands, and tried to stay warm. Our group had planned on heading up to the start a bit early to get a head start (since we'd be running slower than many other runners) so we piled into two cars and made our way up the windy road to the start, the snow growing heavier with each passing minute.
snow day!

It was a total shock to the system to leave the warm car, but we figured the sooner we got going the sooner we'd warm up. The run would cover the last 20 miles of the WS100 course, point-to-point, finishing at Placer High School. We started off in a residential area which we were warned ahead of time was a "no pee zone" - in fact they had actually marked off the point when it was finally ok to pee! As soon as we passed this all seven women dropped trough on the side of the trail - it was a long car ride! Immediately we were treated to gorgeous views of the canyons, covered in a white blanket. It was my first time running in the snow and I absolutely loved it! Everything was just so beautiful.
 just beautiful
the start of the trail
 photo op
 did i mention the views?
the girls

As we ran along I slowly warmed up and was comfortable. I had on a long sleeve shirt, a Breath Thermo half zip, a jacket, capri tights, an ear warmer, and gloves and kept everything on the entire run. The weather started to warm and the sun peeked out as the morning wore on, and soon we couldn't tell if the water falling on us was rain or snow melting from the trees! It was the weirdest thing, one minute it would be sunny and things were green, and then we'd round a corner and it there was mist and snow! We kept the pace easy and conversational and in true ultra fashion we walked the hills. I felt really good and was just enjoying the adventure. Soon we approached our first of many stream crossings of the day, which would eventually be one of my favorite parts of the run. None were super deep, up to the thighs at most, but you basically just walk right through them - it was great! I was afraid my feet would freeze after but the water actually wasn't bad and instead it felt kind of refreshing, almost like a mini ice bath every couple miles : ) Around mile 8 we were passed by our first runner from the buses who was absolutely flying. Eventually others followed and for a while there was a constant chorus of "runner back!"
 watching my step mid-stream!
the only guy in our group, such a gentleman : )
 one of many lovely waterfalls

As we descended we saw less and less snow and instead had amazing views of the lush green canyons and the blue American River snaking it's way through the canyon bed. Around mile 10 we splashed downhill through a stream of water colored red by the mud and emerged on the Quarry Road that runs along the American River. Around mile 12 my hip flexors started to give me some trouble, probably from all the climbing and downhills, but other than that I felt pretty good. Another rolling mile brought us to our first aid station at mile 13. Having never experienced an ultra aid station I was a little taken aback. Instead of just the Gu and electrolytes you find on the roads, you have real food. We're talking fresh fruit, chips, nuts, goldfish, pretzels, pb & j sandwiches, soda, and my favorite, boiled potatoes dipped in salt. Mmmmm : )
 hello, gorgeous
mmm food!

While stuffing our faces at the aid station we were passed by a big group of hikers with several dogs in tow, and not long after we'd continued on we realized one of the dogs had followed us! It seemed that his people didn't notice his disappearance because no one had followed, and so for the next couple mile we were accompanied by the little pooch he just seemed delighted to be running with us. Soon, though we started to worry because we were approaching the Highway 49 crossing and we didn't want the pup to run in the road. Finally we managed to grab her at a parking lot and some passing runners said the owners were looking for her a couple miles back. Diane recognized a friend int he parking lot who offered to watch little Cleo til she was reunited, and so we ran along, our minds at ease.
 the "red river"
American River

At this point we learned that the course had been changed a tad, cutting off a mile from the planned distance, but we followed the route which eventually took us past the Foresthill Suspension Bridge, up to No Hands Bridge and the second and final aid station (mile 15.5). From there it was all familiar territory for me as we made our way up toward the overlook. We passed the waterfall that was absolutely gushing, causing a hell of an uproar and spraying you with mist as you crossed. We climbed up my least favorite, seemingly never-ending hill to Robie Point, but instead of continuing on the trail toward the overlook we emerged on the roads and made our way up a mile long hill that wound through the neighborhood. As I walked during this stretch I could feel my legs tightening up and when I slowly began jogging again it was painful. As we neared Placer High School I couldn't help but think about those runners doing Western States and what it would mean to be running that stretch of road, so close to finishing 100 miles. Imagine!
 Foresthill Suspension Bridge
my attempt to capture how loud the waterfall was!
The finish, at least for this training run, was actually pretty anticlimactic. In fact, all I could focus on was the fact that my Garmin only showed 18.5 miles. I had had my mind set on 20, and all be damned if I wasn't going to get it, so I made my way to the track and set out for 6 more laps until, after nearly 4.5 hours, my watch beeped 20 miles. I know, I have issues. I grabbed a couple pancakes and then met up with my group at the car where I changed into dry clothes. When I stripped off my wet shoes and socks to assess the damage, I was surprised to find that not only were my socks totally dry, but I didn't have one single blister! Just soggy feet and dirty toenails : ) I tried out drymax socks for the first time on this run and only have great things to say. Within minutes of walking through a stream my feet felt completely dry and even in the cold weather they were comfortable. And again, no blisters. Win, win!

On our way out of Auburn we stopped for coffee and as I sat I could feel my muscles start to stiffen. My feet felt pretty beat up and my calves were really unhappy and tight. I started to feel really tired and fatigued, too, but seeing as it was after 2pm and we'd started so early it had been a long day. When I finally got home later, it was all I could do to shower and put my stuff away before I collapsed on the couch. I spent the rest of the day eating, resting, and watching old Friends episodes. While I felt great during the run I think the stress of it aggravated my cold symptoms as I once again have a scratchy throat and stuffy nose, but it was absolutely worth  it. Despite the rest of the week being a total flop, I got in an awesome training run on the trails and was lucky enough to experience the final 20 miles of the legendary WS100 course. It was a day of many firsts, and it certainly won't be my last - one day I hope to cover the other 80 miles of the course and finish the Western States in it's entirety!