The first installment of a two part series, the 2014 Western States Training Camp was too big for one post!
The 2014 Memorial Day Training Camp on the Western States 100 course was an eye opening experience. It was my first look at miles 30-80 of the race course, and they were impressive. Over three days I covered 70+ miles, getting a sense of the terrain albeit 10-20 degrees cooler than race day. Now that I have seen much of the course, the allure of the race is evident. This trail offers beautiful vistas, runnable mountain trails, and canyons deep and steep enough to call ones sanity into question.
|Descending Little Bald Mountain|
|Looking back to Squaw Peak|
On Saturday buses shuttled the runners from the Foresthill Elementary School to Robinson Flat Campground. The line for the restrooms grew, and I chose to ignore the obvious rumbling in my gut. I was looking at a long day, and wanted to get underway. My legs felt tight and my calves threatened to cramp on the mile long climb up Baldy. A spectacular vista welcomed runners to the top. Desolation Wilderness and Squaw Peak provided some perspective about how the course will have brought us this far.
|Traversing above Deep Canyon|
The next 13 miles were easy running through transitional big pine forests on single track and fire road. Word on the trail was that much of the single track turned into road during the American Fire in 2013. The miles clicked by. Just before arriving at Dusty Corners Aid Station I had to abide my rumbling gut. At the aid station I refilled my water bladder and continued on to Pucker Point. The view of Screwauger Canyon from the precipitous section of trail is spectacular. I had to stop and soak in the vista, as on race day I want to be efficient.
|Pucker Point and Screwauger Canyon|
|~6 year old rattlesnake in Last Chance|
I anticipated the canyons as I ran through Last Chance. There was no aid station there during the training run, but I did happen upon a rattlesnake. Then the descent into Deadwood Canyon began, and with it came warmer temperatures. I ran across the new Pacific Slab Bridge, named for a mine tucked into the side of the canyon wall. The roar of the North Middle Fork American River teased from a thousand feet below, and I had to stop a few times to once again soak in the views. The American Fire burned halfway across the famous Swinging Bridge, so we forded the river with the help of a cable. I stood hip deep in the river talking with Peter, a volunteer assisting in the river crossing. I spent about five minutes cooling off before hiking up to the spring, where I filled an empty handheld bottle with dousing water.
The hike up to Devil's Thumb was just as steep as I expected. The fire left little shade on the steep slope, and I tried to keep my pace up and resist trudging. I stopped to enjoy more vistas and allow my heart rate to drop a couple times, and at one such moment a man with a French accent remarked on the view. His voice was immediately recognizable.
|Devil's Thumb ascent amdist the American Fire|
"Is your name Pierre?" I asked. He nodded and looked at me quizzically. "You paced so-and-so in 2009, and they made a movie about it." I had purchased 100 Miles to 40 at Zombie Runner in Palo Alto and devoured the footage from the race. Pierre's influence on the runner made for some entertaining research. We talked about his experience in the race, and how 2014 Western States would be a first for both of us.
I looked and looked but somehow missed sighting the Devil's Thumb formation. I reached the flat campground in about 40 minutes. A short jog to Deadwood Pump Aid Station felt good, and I refilled my two bottles with ice water and Tailwind. I put ice water in the pack and ate a couple slices of banana with peanut butter before heading out along Deadwood Ridge. I tried to imagine the hustle and bustle these woods would have held 150 years ago. Gone are the structures, roads and people. Save for a few rusting relics of industry, an occasional cemetery and historical signage there is no trace of civilization. I hope to fill my head with more history of the area before the race.
I met up with a runner named Mike as we investigated the Deadwood Cemetery, which was devoid of gravestones. Mike finished the race in 2010 and was willing to tell me stories as we cruised the long descent into EL Dorado Canyon. This stretch was runnable and went on and on to the point where I was wishing for a climb! The lower sections became more technical, and by the time I reached EL Dorado Creek I was ready for another soak in the cool water. The swimming hole under the footbridge was full of runners relaxing and trading stories. Butterflies flocked to one man in particular, resting on his hands and shoulders. I began considering an extended stay in the creek, but decided instead to attack the climb to Michigan Bluff. Ann was at the aid station there, and I wanted to give her an update on my day.
|The "spa" at El Dorado Creek|
While longer than Devil's Thumb, the climb to Michigan Bluff is at a lower grade. I hustled up the trail, occasionally surprised by a runnable section. The pine forest gave way to manzanita bushes, resulting in abundant sunshine over the last third of the climb. At the aid station Ann helped me get my pack squared away with ice water and gave counsel. I was tired, but had no complaints. As I ran up the road towards Volcano Canyon I heard the slosh of ice water in a bottle behind me. I turned to greet the runner, and it happened to be 11-time finisher Bruce Labelle. He had run from Foresthill to Michigan Bluff that morning and worked the aid station for a few hours before returning to Foresthill. We ran together for a couple of miles as I quizzed him on the course and race day strategies. He is faster than me on a bad day, and I was fighting to keep up with him on my marathon-weary legs. He bounded up to the next group of folks, and then the next.
Volcano Canyon came and went, and the climb to Foresthill was tame in comparison to the canyons. It took me less than eight hours to run the stretch, and I was not hurrying by any means. I was looking at 20 miles the next day, and the day after that. No need to push too hard. I felt good about the day, and hurried home to Twirly after getting those much-needed recovery calories and hydration squared away.