Thursday, August 11, 2011

Western States 100 Miler: Last Chance to Devils Thumb

On Swinging Bridge on my way to Devils Thumb.
This bridge had a very alarming sign on it indicating maximum one horse or 6 humans. I was ready to start yelling at people if there started to be more than 4 others on this bridge with me...

Apparently many runners will take a dip in this river to cool off on an access path right after crossing the river. As you can see by this time in the race I had put my moeben sleeves on and was alternately putting them on and rolling them down to stay a bit cooler.

Last Chance AS a small disaster occurred. Luckily it did not adversely affect me as much as it could. As I got to the aid station I was weighed in. While being weighed in there was a lot of confusion as they told me to get on the scale while simultaneously telling me to take off my hydration pack and fanny pack. This is where I learn my ensemble weighs 15 lbs as I get on the scale and it reads nearly 150 lbs. Yikes! Then I get my items off nearly having to put them on the ground. I think the look of horror on my face got a volunteer to take it (since I was the only person in this area I could get this kind of service). While standing there I ask for my drop bag. After confirming that my real weight of ~135 is close to my original weight I can move forward to the aid station. At the aid station I eat, drink and be merry. Everyone is super helpful and nice. But a disaster occurs. I am told that my drop bag is not there. Luckily I have not real goals for seeing my drop bag except maybe to resupply my M&M stash. So I say it is fine and continue munching.

As I exit the aid station I see my drop bag. But by this time I don’t really care and simply plan to get to the next aid station where I have a drop bag. But I do take a picture. Also I know I am now less than 20 minutes ahead of the DNF line. The DNF guy with the air horn is now stalking me!!! I keep seeing him at all the aid stations. He is now my arch nemesis!!

The course continues to be fairly runnable. I am feeling pretty good and the scenery is very lovely. I am having a great race except for the DNF line encroaching on my personal space! I know that I have a lot of energy and am feeling strong. But on the other hand I am nearly 1.5 hours behind the recommended 30 hour pace. I am just about 30 minutes ahead of the absolute cutoff and these are not numbers that brings any confidence in my ability to finish. But I vow to keep on moving until told or forced to do otherwise by race staff or my body.

Leaving Last Chance we go down a slow gentle decline. I jog along happily pondering my thoughts. I know I am getting closer and closer to the part of the course I am familiar with. I just need to climb up to Devils Thumb then head to El Dorado Canyon. But this is a lot easier said then done.

As I get to the base of the first canyon I am excited to see swinging bridge. I am alarmed by the sign on it that states “limited to one horse and rider of 6 runners” Trust me if there were 6 runners near me I might have had to bust out the pepper spray to enforce this rule. Alas there is only one other runner nearby. I ask if he will take my picture and he kindly does. We both head up the sheer cliff that is Devils Thumb. I am pretty excited because I am moving smartly and uphills are my strength. This hill is really no worse than Maryland Heights near West Virginia where I have spent many hours, miles and verticle feet climbing. This makes me feel good because the final canyons I will climb, El Dorado and Volcano Canyon I have already seen during the WS100 memorial day training run.

As I climb up I pass 5-10 runners. Some I pass very quickly and am worried about because we are all very close to the DNF line. Others I pass but remain close to me. At some point we get to a bit of clearing where you can see into the canyon. It is a beautiful view but it is also very alarming to me. We are very exposed and just a step or two to the left is a sheer cliff about 1000 feet deep. I stop abruptly. I am paralyzed by fear. I really, really, really hate heights. I am even more worried because at mile ~45 I am not very stable on my feet. I give myself a pep talk saying I have to move forward. I cannot go back because the last aid station will be closed. And I need to finish WS100. I cannot disappoint my friends, family, pacers, crew, pets, etc. I give myself a pep talk. My usual “you are strong, you can do this” does not cut it. I have to harness my inner Puffi. Puffi is our youngest cat who is not afraid of anything. I tell myself she would not let this challenge stop her and I should not let it stop me. Finally I get my courage up and just do it. I am so thrilled with this accomplishment but am worried I will have more of these sheer drops I need to do. But I have faced down this challenge so I savor my victory!

As I climb I hear something I have heard before but the other times it has been after I leave the aid station. This time I hear the Air Horn warning signal of three beeps and I am not at the aid station! This means I am now less than 30 minutes away from the DNF line. But I am getting excited as each time I see brief glimpses of what appears to be the top. And pretty soon there are random folks who are clearly not runners. This means we have to be close to the top. Yippee!!! As I get to the top I am excited to see some horses. I even take a moment to pet one. I need a bit of animal loving.

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