the finish at Placer High track
The first thing I did when I woke up Saturday morning was check the WS website for runner updates. It also crossed my mind briefly that the runners had already been running for close to 4 hours! The likely suspects were leading the way, but I was quite surprised to see another familiar name in the top 20 - my coworker, Diane! She was listed as being in 14th place, but was also missing a few check-ins. It was clear that a mix-up had occurred, but it was fun envisioning Diane bounding along up there with Geoff, Kilian, and Tracy : ) I spent the rest of my day at work, obsessively checking for updates on both the leaders and Diane. Finally we closed up and after a dinner of some yummy Chipotle, my other coworker, Crystal, and I headed up to Auburn.
Our store's aid station was Ford's Bar at mile 73, but it's a ways away from accessible roads requiring all equipment and volunteers to hike in. We got there around 8:45pm and started down the trail. We were told to follow the dirt trail for a couple miles alonf which we would pass two gates. With headlamps on Crystal and I decided to run in, but after less than a mile Crystal was afraid we made a wrong turn when we didn't encounter any gates. So back we went, only to decide that we were, in fact, going the right way initially. Not long after, we passed our first gate : ) The trek in was about 2.5 miles (not including our backtracking) and mostly downhill. After the first mile, it actually gets pretty steep, so there was a lot of focus on the ground at our feet to keep from mis-stepping and tumbling downhill. Soon we saw some lights in the distance and knew we were close, and just then we crossed paths with a WS runner! We chatted a bit and then told him we'd see him again at the aid station before we jogged on.
directing us to Ford's BarWe finally made it to the aid station around 9:20ish and immediately were shown the ropes then put to work. Several of the volunteers had already been there since that morning and I could tell were losing steam, so Crystal and I were a nice jolt of energy : ) There were a bunch of Christmas lights hung up surrounding the station and music was playing - I can only imagine what a shock for the senses it was for runners after spending several hours in the quite dark! We actually saw quite a bit of traffic during our 6 or so hours there, with the runners ranging from super friendly and fresh to those who were really struggling and barfing in the bushes. By the time we got there the 24 hour cut-off had passed, and as time creeped along the runners started to look progressively desperate but also incredibly determined. Our job as volunteers basically consisted of repeating the same routine over and over: watch for lights approaching in the distance, start cheering, run up a bit to meet them, ask about their needs, and grab bottles/packs to refill. We actually had a great, fast, efficient system going which made it much easier for the runners and pacers.
twinkling lights : )
Crystal and IOne thing that kind of surprised me was just how much work goes into keeping an aid station running in an event like this. Not just setting it up but keeping the food and drinks stocked, preparing hot foods, keeping music going, having medical support ready, etc. My manager has been the captain of our aid station for a few years now and had everything running like clockwork. I was quite impressed! We had a wide array of snacks covering the usual ultra stuff, but the highlights were definitely our quesadillas and grilled cheeses hot off the grill and chicken noodle soup. The night was nice and cool so I think runners appreciated something a little warmer and some real food after eating snacks and Gu all day. The first few hours we were pretty busy and time passed quickly. Crystal and I couldn't help but make the observation that a good number of ultra runners are quite attractive, especially after having run 73 miles ; ) There were some other cool folks that came through, too, including several foreigners, some customers from our store, and even a father-daughter duo. I loved seeing the relationship and interaction between runners and their pacers. It takes a special person to pace someone in an ultra, to focus solely on the runner and their needs, and to keep them moving when they want to stop more than anything. While I one day hope to run this race myself, I think I'd really enjoy pacing someone and having that experience first.
aid station exit to Rucky Chucky and the river crossing
As the hours waned we started wondering about Diane. Last we knew she was about 30 minutes behind the 30 hour cut-off, so we were a little worried. We expected her around 2:30am, but that came and went. Both Crystal and I were getting a bit tired and the runners were coming fewer and farther between. We figured we'd stay til 3am and then head out, and wouldn't you know it, just as we were getting ready to leave we see another light heading down the hill and recognize Diane! I can't tell you how great it was to see her. We could see that she was struggling but she was also determined. With no time to spare we gave her hugs, she grabbed some food, we wished her good luck, and then her pacer was pushing her along. I knew how strong and determined she was so I could only hope that something amazing happened in those next 27 miles.
Diane taking in some much-needed fuel
enjoying our grilled cheese : )
After Diane left Crystal and I began the hike back to my car. Let me just say I did not realize just how much it was going to suck going back up while I was running down. Already sleep-deprived we started hiking up. We'd been told it would take an hour and a half to get back up, and we wanted to be home asap so there was no dillydallying. We did stop for a few moments to take in the overwhelming quiet and myriad stars glittering the clear sky. It was nothing short of beautiful. All I could do was keep putting one foot in front of the other, afraid that if I stopped I wouldn't want to start back up again. It was pitch dark, but thankfully our headlamps lit the way pretty well. It was probably better that we couldn't see everything though, because if I could see how never ending the hills looked I may have sat down and refused to go any further. I got a little anxious after a while and I could feel my quads and calves burning. Finally we passed the second gate and knew we were close, and thankfully the trail flattened out a bit. Crystal and I took advantage and started to run to get out of there that much quicker, and just 55 minutes later we made it back to my car safe and sound.
as bad as it looks.
I slept til noon on Sunday and as soon as I woke up I checked the website - Diane had finished with 9 minutes to spare! She seriously pushed it in those last 25+ miles and I couldn't have been more proud. She put in so much time and effort preparing for this race and even when things got tough (ummm, hello snow for the first several miles?!) she never gave up and accomplished something incredible. I so wish I could've made it to the finish, but I was a total zombie for the rest of the day. My workout intentions that evening were thrown out the window in favor of more sleep, and I was a-ok with that. One thing that can't be argued is that Western States is an epic race. To be able to experience it even in a small way by volunteering was overwhelming, and seeing runner tackling such a challenge has lit a little fire in me...one day, I'll be back, and it won't be as a volunteer : )
p.s. I was ridiculously sore the next day. That climb out was no joke.