Saturday, June 30, 2007

Western States- A week later

Thanks to all of you that have left comments in my support and many others that have e-mailed me. Dealing with a DNF is tough to deal with but as always I try to remain positive and look forward to many more adventures and great times ahead. I thought I might share a little more on the positive time I had at the race.
I had tried to maintain an Eastern time schedule the week I was out West and it helped to that I woke up on race morning at the time I would usually be getting up for work at home. After eating a light breakfast and a cup of coffee, I headed over to the Olympic Center to await the start. It was 37F so I waited inside with most of the others until about 15 minutes before the start. I was surprised that it was that cold but it felt more like about 55 would back home. I was reminded of last August in Leadville when I was comfortable sitting for hours with just a light jacket on the porch when it was 40F. Summer at altitude rocks. I know where I'll be spending my summers in retirement. I saw the Finkles along with John Straub and Dave Bursler at the start. I lined up with Barbara but we hadn't planned to run together. The altitude had been affecting her more and I knew she would start slower than me.
Soon the race started and as I passed under the clock and begin the climb up the ski slopes I had to choke back tears of joy at being there. After about 10 minutes I noticed I was beside Gordy Ainsleigh, the man that started it all. I was very happy that both he and Cowman would both be running the year I finally was in. I would like to have talked to him some but it is a long steady climb over 2,000ft in the 1st 3.5 miles so I concentrated on just maintaining a strong pace. I hoped we might have a chance to talk later but as soon as we hit the top he went flying down the hill like he was shot out of a cannon and I never saw him again.
After finally making the climb over the Escarpment I stood and took in the view all around. I was in awe of the beauty surrounding me. I had heard it was special and I was not disappointed. As an added bonus, due to the lack of snow this year, we were treated to an amazing display of wildflowers along the back slope of the mountain. There would be acres more in all the alpine meadows for most of the course that I saw.
The rest of the section over to Lyon Ridge was amazing with views of the Sierrra's as we passed through the Granite Chief Wilderness. I was afraid there may be a lot of mud but we only passed a couple of short sections. Actually dust was more of a problem. A large portion of the course would be very dusty and by mid-day I resembled Pig Pen from Peanuts as did most of the other runners. By the time I would drop out, my legs from the knee down were completely black and my white shirt was mostly brown.
Some of the climbs between Lyon ridge and Red Star Ridge were very impressive and steep although not too long. I was surprised to see that we climbed over Cougar Rock. I thought from the map we would pass by it but we got to scramble over it. That was very cool and I'm glad I got a couple of photos from there. A helicoptor was passing by covering the race making it seem a bit surreal, a very unusual trail ultra experience for me.
I was expecting the run through Duncan Canyon to be a lot tougher but the trail was in really good shape. Hundreds of volunteer hours have been spent the past year removing hundreds of downed trees and grooming the trail. With the lower temperatures this year the exposure was not a problem either. Seeing the vast size of some of the logs stacked up was amazing. It was sad to see the devastation of the Star fire but also inspiring to see the re-birth already taking place.
By the time I reached Last Chance, we were out of the high mountains and at a bit lower elevation but the course was still pretty and just as scenic. I was a bit surprised at the steepness of the canyon that I knew I would soon be descending and the ruggedness. At times the trail come precariously close to some very steep drop-offs. I thought about how it would be a bit uncomfortable to stub a toe and take a fall along here so I was very cautious. A person could fall off the trail there and not be found for a very long time.
After I dropped at Devil's Thumb I was quickly offered a ride to the Foresthill aid station where most crews and pacers would be waiting. We crammed 8 runners in with the driver for the drive over. I was very lucky that a local, James Harrison from San Jose was in the car. He and his wife were kind enough to give me a ride back to pick up my car from Squaw Valley. After getting my car I drove back to Auburn to check on Barbara and the Finkles. I was happy to see they were still on the course. After watching Nikki Kimball win the women's race I went back to nap in the car for a few hours.
I was back on the track before sunrise and went back to check again on there progress. Then I went to finally take a shower and got a great massage. I had breakfast and then had the pleasure of talking to Cowman for nearly an hour as we watched others finishing. He is a very friendly guy and seems genuinely interested in listening to others. He struck up a conversation with just about everyone that passed by the whole morning. You just have to love a guy named Cowman A Moo Ha.
I got to see Dave Bursler finish and a little while later, fellow NC runner and former multiple top ten finisher Joe Schlereth. Joe was in pain and leaning the last 22 miles but toughed it out in what he claims is his last WS. Finally Barbara came onto the track looking great with her pacer Cindy Goh that had joined her at Foresthill. I was so happy for her in finishing the hardest race ever for her. We were all surprised to learn later that she had won her age-group. Not far behind her were the Finkles finishing hand in hand.
The whole thing was truly an amazing experience. Obviously I was very disappointed not to finish. The hardest part was watching everyone getting their buckles and knowing I would have to wait another couple of years before getting another chance.

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