Continuing my (no doubt riveting) Western States series…
When Janet and I travelled down to Auburn in May for 3 days of training runs on the Western States course, we met a great couple, Tamara and John. Tamara and I were running the race, John was going to pace Tamara in the race and was doing the training runs also, and Janet was going to run with me for 2 of the 3 days of the training. We met them at a complimentary wine-tasting in the hotel courtyard, where there were a several non-runners and a few runners who instantly spotted each other, clumped into a group, talked a lot about Western States, and tasted very little wine. I ran with Tamara and John for a good portion of the first training day, and the four of us spent a fair amount of time with each other over the weekend.
On Wednesday before the race, Janet and I were in our hotel room and Janet recognized Tamara’s voice outside in the parking lot. We stepped out onto the balcony, shouted back and forth to them for a while, and finally went down into the parking lot to talk with them. They were headed off to Nevada for a final heat-training run and invited us to join them, but we’d already been hiking that day with our son Wyatt so we opted out.
Later that day, Tamara sent me a message inviting us to join them at “Mike’s BBQ” in Truckee for dinner. We don’t eat meat so going to a BBQ place didn’t seem like a great choice and we declined again. Tamara said she was vegetarian too and was going to bring some veggie burgers. “Doh. Mike is a person, and he’s having a BBQ at his house. I get it.” Ok. We’re not super-extroverted either and the thought of hanging out with a bunch of people we didn’t know seemed daunting, but I was getting pre-race restlessness and it seemed ok to try to be social. Tamara forwarded me an invite which said “2nd annual welcome dinner at my place in Truckee for Canadians running/pacing/crewing at the 2015 WSER. Join the new tradition for Canadians competing at WSER.” Great. We might be able to be a little social, but we’re definitely not Canadian. We went anyway, prepared to explain that we live near Canada.
We had a nice time talking to some actual Canadians, and even another non-Canadian who was there because her coach was going to show up. It turned out that her coach was actually coaching a few of the people there, including BBQ Mike I think. It also turned out that her coach is named Ann Trason. Who did in fact show up. For any non-ultra-runners reading this, it’s a little like saying “I play in a men’s hockey league – Wayne Gretzky showed up at our BBQ last night”, or “After that pickup basketball game at the gym, we went for pizza and my friend’s friend Michael Jordan came with us”. If I were asked to name 3 dominant athletes, I’d say Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Ann Trason. Ann Trason was the women’s winner at Western States14 times in 15 years (she couldn’t run due to injury the one year). At least a couple times she was not too far from beating Tim Twietmeyer and winning overall.
In one of those small world things, I actually rode with Ann Trason for about 15 minutes during a long bike ride a few years ago. I had read Born To Run, knew her name, knew she occasionally did long rides, and saw her in the list of people registered. I did that ride with Janet’s sister Jeanie, well, the last part of the ride since Jeanie started before me. Jeanie is a strong rider and I didn’t catch up to her until lunch. I rolled in just as Jeanie was leaving, ate my own lunch and set out for the second 100 miles of riding for the day. About 15 minutes later I came up behind a woman rider and saw “Ann Trason” on the bib on her back. I pulled up next to her and said something brilliant like “Wow – you’re Ann Trason!” She said “Huh?” I said (again, brilliantly) “yeah, you’re this amazing runner!” She said “Oh, I’m not that Ann Trason”. Huh that’s odd, I thought. It seemed like it probably was That Ann Trason, and I usually don’t mind debating something. But over the course of my life I’ve gradually figured out that another person is more likely to know who they are than I am, so I mumbled “Oh, sorry” and dropped back. Then she said “Just foolin’ with you” and I was next to her again in about half a second. We rode and chatted for a bit, mostly about riding and a little bit about the long-distance running I was starting to do. Then we got to a steeper hill and she dropped me. Jeanie told me later that they had also ridden together for a little while, and then Ann dropped her also.
Ann Trason volunteered all three days at the Memorial Day Western States training runs this year. I saw her briefly at the Michigan Bluff aid station the first day and was going to point her out to someone, but she disappeared. The second day, she was at the Cal2 aid station. Ann grew up in Pacific Grove and Janet got her masters in Pacific Grove – as we passed through the aid station, Janet and Ann found some PG connections and chatted for a few minutes. The third day Ann was at No-Hands Bridge and we again said hi briefly.
Back at Mike’s BBQ the Wed before the race, when Ann showed up she quickly acquired a little group of runners surrounding her. I felt like I had already had all the Ann Trason time I was entitled to in life, and Janet has none of my fanboy-ness, so we sat down randomly somewhere else and started talking to a guy who introduced himself as Bruce. He asked if we were running the race. I told him I was and that I was nervous about my sub-24 hour/silver buckle stretch goal. He gave me some tips on how to approach the race to have the best chance. I said I had heard that there was single-track about 4 miles in where it was easy to get stuck behind people and hard to pass. He said that there would be places to pass every few minutes and that I could use any “stuck” moments to look around and see what we were running through to experience the race in a more meaningful way. He talked about the race being more of an experience than a time thing, at least for most people. We asked about his history with the race – 11 finishes, the first a while ago and the most recent 2 years ago. Pretty awesome. We talked a little more, and near the end he mentioned that there was a uniquely-shaped tree about 7 miles in – if I looked back at it after I passed, I would be able to see 4 big scratches from a bear’s claw. We thanked him for his wisdom, he wished me luck, he mentioned that I might see him at the Cal1 aid station, and then we headed back to the hotel.
The Western States website has a records page that includes a list of people who’ve finished more than 10 times (1000 Mile Buckle Winners). When we got back to the hotel, I looked at the list, trying to figure out who “Bruce” was, but there are no Bruces in the list. “That’s odd.” Then I noticed a tab that said “10 day” and clicked on that. 1000 Mile Winners are people who’ve finished with any time less than 30 hours. “10 day” has a list of people who have at least 10 sub-24 hour finishes. There he was, Bruce LaBelle. So the guy who was giving me advice on my goal had done it himself 10 times, most recently in 2013 during the second hottest day in race history (104 recorded in Auburn) when he was 57. He also ran his first Western States in 1981, almost 35 years ago. I realized it might be good to follow his advice.
Which I did. I saw the bear claw mark, and because I was looking for it I also saw a bunch of other interesting trees, including one that is shaped like a corkscrew. I didn’t actually get stuck much on the single-track, but when I did I turned around and looked back at the gorgeous landscape we’d travelled through since Emigrant Pass. Most importantly, when it started to appear I wasn’t going to make the sub-24 hour goal, I came up with a list of things to do during the rest of the race to make it a great experience. One of the things on the list was stopping at Cal1 to say thank you if Bruce was there and tell him I’d seen the claw marks.
Bob Hearn (my pacer) was waiting for me when I arrived at Michigan Bluff. I said that if sub-24 hour was out of reach when I got to Foresthill, I was going to use up a little more time through the rest of the race to get through my experience list. Bob was very supportive and indeed the goal was out of reach when I arrived in Foresthill. (I would have to be Gunhild Swanson to make up that kind of time.) Bob and I set off together from Foresthill as night fell.
A few miles down the trail, we rolled into Cal1 in full darkness. I found Bruce, but he was talking to someone on the phone so I got food, water, ice, and whatever else I was getting at aid stations at that point. I found Bruce again and whispered that I had a couple quick things to tell him. It was clear he was trying to wrap up the call, so I went off and talked with Bob. Although Bob knew this was important to me, I could see him starting to think “We are Relentlessly Not Moving Forward right now”. I started thinking that too, but I knew that unless there was a disaster – always possible on rough trails at night – I was probably going to finish and a 5 or even 10 minutes difference in my time wouldn’t matter.
I found Bruce again – he was still on the phone with the person, but suddenly he handed it to me and said “Here – it’s Ann, she wants to talk with you”. “Huh? Hello?” “This is Ann Trason, you’re doing great!” She probably said a couple more things like that, but all I could think was “I’m talking to Ann Trason while I’m running Western States – what are the odds?” I mentioned that we had ridden together in the Knoxville ride. She said “I love that ride!” and we talked a little more. And a little more. I finally said “it’s been great talking to you, but I think need to get out of the aid station now”. She said “yeah, get out of the aid station – good luck!”
There was one person out there who saved my race (more on that later), and another person who made it. Thank you Bruce LaBelle for making my “race” the magical experience that it was. I told you yesterday that I only missed one thing on my experience checklist – I didn’t see the morning sun at No-Hands Bridge because it was cloudy as we crossed – but in hindsight I should have had one more sub-item for Cal1. I guess I’ll have to come back sometime and get my picture taken with you, maybe as a volunteer at Cal1. Thank you. And by the way, that phone thing you did was pretty cool – that one wasn’t on my list.