Saturday, August 27, 2011

Western States 100 Mile: Devils Thumb to Michigan Bluffs

So happy to be crossing the bridge over El Dorado Canyon. I had been on this bridge before when Tristan and I had hiked during the Memorial Day Weekend Training run (which I highly recommend to gave a sneak peak of the course, I met lots of other runners and it is a beautiful course much of which I covered in the darkness).

By this time I was starting to feel good about my race because I knew exactly what to expect for the remainder of the race. In my opinion knowledge is power. Especially when that knowledge allows you to know the course gets easier, not harder, as the miles increase.

As I get on the scale I am a little overweight. I believe I am about to get the talking to as well as possible sat out for a few minutes. But wait…I have my snake proof gaiters on. I know they weigh 2 lbs. I take them off and am back within specs. WAHOO! I ask the nice volunteers to put them in my drop bag since the sun is starting to get low on the horizon and I feel the rattlesnakes should be going to bed. I also grab my headlamp and put it on as well as a light shirt.

The volunteers as usual are really great and are super nice and helpful. But I want to get away from my air horn stalker. I grab some soup, get my hydration systems filled up and head off. As I exit I hear the single horn alerting runners to less than 10 minutes to the absolute cutoff. Yikes! Time to put some pep in my step.

Running out of the aid station I run with a gentleman for a bit of time. He is good company and suggests that the next section is runnable and the switchbacks to El Dorado Canyon are not too steep. This is comforting. At some point he pulls ahead because even with not too steep downhills I struggle.

The sun is starting to set slowly. But sporadically I end up in a place where there is still direct light. Although I have a long sleeve shirt on I realize that I should take it off so I don’t get overheated, sweat then get chilled. I am reminded of how many wardrobe changes I typically make in any race. I do spend a lot of time thermoregulating via wardrobe changes but I think this is sensible although it does waste a bit of time.

As I run I am getting a little worried. It is dusk and I am alone. This is when mountain lions eat. And they might like a moderately slow runner for dinner or a tasty snack. This is very alarming to me. But I have some defense but not all my defenses. I have pepper spray but I do not have my spot rescue beacon. Alas I have my super secret weapon: singing. I have done this before during other hikes. In fact Tristan and I were busting out with the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme song during a hike near Mt St Helens. And there we were a pair. Here I have to sing alone. I start with 99 bottles of bear on the wall. But I get a bit bored with this even with all the different versions I learned in girl scout and church camp (which in retrospect is kind of an odd place to learn this).

I then change my song to something more motivational. I start singing “Go the Distance” by Micheal Bolton. I think about how I wish I had hair as nice as he does. I also wish I knew the words. But I make do and mumble various words I do know and make up words I don’t know. But I know I can go the distance!

Starting to go down the switchbacks I am back to being content and happy. But not for long. As I jog I hear some rustling in the tree’s and bushes nearby. It is getting closer. I am very worried because that is when the majority of cougar attacks occur. I get out my pepper spray and unlock it for the second time that day. I am ready to start spraying and will ask questions later. Right before I let loose I realize it is another runner. I re-holster my pink pepper spray and tell the young lady she is lucky she did not get sprayed. I am not sure she appreciates how close she was to being the recipient of my hair trigger panic finger. In fact I was a little surprised that as she approached she did not at least mumble “passing”, “hello” or any other greeting. I always alert runners to my whereabouts because when you are in a zone it can be kind of alarming to have a runner next to you. And my strong fear of serial killers really makes this panicked feeling even worse!

She moves ahead of me slowly since we are on the downhill which is my weakness. But she might have been spooked by my statement about cougars (or maybe I picked up the pace for some company). As we get closer to the river I was getting really excited. We could hear the water and I knew as we got close to the base of El Dorado Canyon I knew the remainder of the course from the WS100 memorial training run. We turn a bend and I realize we are very close to where Tristan and I had a yummy picnic lunch. I take a picture and tell my friend about our meal of bread, fruit and cheese. It is a really nice memory. Then we get to the bridge.

On the bridge there are many volunteers. It is great to see people. This is my last aid station where I will be conceptually alone. It is after 8 already and that means when I get to Michigan Bluff I will be able to pick up my pacer Iva. The volunteers are super helpful and as usual attend to all my eating and hydration needs. I grab a few items, refill my bottle and very soon I am on my way. I want to get as far as I can in the light. I know there are a few segments that are a bit tricky and would prefer to get through them with as much light as possible.

Going up the mountain I pass my friend and wish her luck. Then I am moving swiftly power hiking. I am excited to be on trail which I am familiar with. I even jog a bit going up this hill. I am moving quickly because I know the DNF line is creeping up behind me. And I know each mile I move forward I have that much less distance alone. This makes me very excited. I know there are switchbacks then a segment we go down briefly, we cross a small stream then continue up for a bit on the single track. Then we get on a jeep road and pretty soon I will be at Michigan Bluffs. My excitement is building.

Pretty soon I run into folks indicating just a bit to the aid station, then I hear dogs barking, see some houses and make a sharp left turn. I am approaching Michigan Bluff. I am EXCITED. I get to the aid station, check in and immediately see Iva, Shane, Tristan and Bella. What a treat! Nearly my whole pacer/crew/family team is there.

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