Posted by: pointlenana | July 2, 2015

The Guy With The Name I Forgot – Western States Part 6

“I’ll prove it all night to the porcelain god, or the dark-eyed girl with the name I forgot…” – Most Messed Up, Old 97s

It was a guy, it was dark hair not eyes, it was day not night, a porcelain god might have been useful but there was none in sight, and I was messed up but definitely not the most messed up.  But otherwise the Old 97s had it about right.

Coming into the Last Chance aid station, I felt like things were finally getting on track.  For the first time in the race, my split from Dusty Corners to Last Chance was about what I predicted it should be.  I was finally getting down out of the altitude, and although the heat was bad it seemed survivable.  Oh, and when I stumbled at aptly-named Pucker Point a few minutes earlier, just before a 90 degree bend in the trail, I didn’t go over the cliff a few feet in front of me.  Life was good.

I went through the usual routine at the aid station – fill bottles with liquids and ice, fill my vest back pocket and bandana with ice, eat, get dowsed, and go.  I also had a drop bag there so I slathered on some sunscreen, swapped one empty bottle for another with drink mix, and restocked my gels.  That’s also where I found out that the Energizer Bunny was Pam Reed.  Finally, I popped a piece of payday bar in my mouth and headed down the trail feeling not perfect but ok.

100 feet later, out of nowhere, I found myself dry-heaving into the bushes, trying to get the payday bar out of my mouth as fast as possible before I really vomited (payday bars are kind of sticky and not recommended for your everyday dry-heave situation).  At one of the pre-race briefings, one or two elite runners talked about the wonderful restorative effects of a good vomit during a 100 mile race and I considered it briefly, but the heaving subsided and I decided to stop eating for a bit and let everything calm down.  I ran on and caught up to my friend Charlie Quinn, who was walking to cool down a bit and digest.  Somewhere down the road we passed a guy sitting by himself in the woods playing – what else could it be – “Chariots of Fire” on his cello.  I didn’t feel great but it was downhill and I knew I could get in the creek at the bottom of the canyon for a moment to cool off.

One big “feature” of Western States is that runners pass through 4 big canyons, usually in the heat of the afternoon.  Something about the topography – sun reflecting off hillsides, lack of air movement, time of day, something else – usually makes the bottom of the canyons hotter than anywhere else during the race.  I was dropping into Deadwood Canyon, the second in the series of four, and knew it was the crux.  1500 feet of downhill in a mile, across the creek, and then up about 1300 feet in less than a mile.  My laps up and down Tiger Mountain (up 2000 feet in 2 miles, down 2000 feet in 2.5 miles) were training for Western States in general, but Deadwood Canyon in particular.  I knew I had trained in cool – 50-70 degree – Seattle conditions but I was hoping my sauna training would cover the heat.

WS runs mostly east to west, so the maps read right to left.  Deadwood Canyon in all its splendor.

WS runs mostly east to west, so the maps read right to left. Deadwood Canyon in all its splendor.

I picked my way down the steep, somewhat technical trail, feeling a bit worse as the heat increased but focused on the cool creek at the bottom.  During the descent I ran into Pam Reed again and she educated me on how my cooling strategy wasn’t perfect.  Near the bottom a guy named Dave Hope passed me.  He lives in Foresthill and we had talked during the first training run.  I asked him how to get to the creek because I remembered from the training runs that it seemed pretty far below the Swinging Bridge .  After we crossed Swinging Bridge, he was kind enough to stop and show me where to pick my way down the bank.  He went on as I staggered down the rocks, found a spot that looked safe enough, and slid into the water.  Ahhh.  I sat there, watching people come down the hill and across the bridge.  Another runner picked his way down near the bridge but across the creek so I called over to him and we had a short conversation about being in heaven.

After sitting and cooling off for a few minutes, I started to push myself up and immediately both calves started to cramp.  I carefully dorsiflexed my feet and managed to avoid full cramping, then rolled over and did a downward dog to pry myself up and out of the river.  Back up to the trail, and then up the hill towards Devil’s Thumb.

There are 36 switchbacks from the creek to the top of the climb, but I forgot to count them from the beginning and when I remembered, I thought “who cares, I just have to go up”.  I went up, very slowly, trying to stay in control.  Somewhere along the way had a couple more dry-heaves.  It sounds bad, but amazingly I passed several people and did not get passed.  I suspect I was passing the people who I saw crossing the bridge – they didn’t take the time to cool down, I did, and it was enough to keep me in the Relentless Forward Progress zone while they were stopping, shattered.

Some time later – 4 years maybe – I finally reached the aid station.  I don’t really remember the last bit up – it was up there somewhere, I heard it in the distance, and eventually I arrived.  I did the aid station routine, and one of the volunteers asked “would you like a popsicle?” “Uh, yes, I would in fact like a popsicle.”  (I’m a little surprised and very thankful I didn’t add “why isn’t it in my hand already???”).  I looked around and spotted The Chair, actually several The Chairs.  There’s an ultra saying “Beware The Chair” – meaning that you can sit down any time you like but there’s a good chance you may never leave because they get very comfortable very quickly.  I sat down anyway and consumed the world’s best popsicle.  I sat there for a bit, trying to decide if I was feeling better.  Then I sat there some more, vaguely aware of other runners passing through and lurching into or out of The Chairs near me.  My stomach still didn’t feel right.  I decided that I would eat another popsicle and then move on, and sat there summoning the energy to stand up, walk 5 feet, and get a popsicle.  I bent forward to get up and noticed I felt slightly dizzy.

Just then a dark-haired guy in sunglasses and a hat came over to me.  He asked, “are you ok?  are you feeling a little dizzy?”  At the pre-race briefing, race director Craig Thornley emphasized that the medical staff on the course are there to help us and get us to the finish.  Still, I had heard a few stories of medical folks pulling people from the race or forcing them to sit in aid stations for a long time.  I figured Mr. Dark Hair was some medical person, so I said “No, not me. Not dizzy at all.  No sir.”  Well, what I actually said is “I can’t get my stomach to settle.  I think it’s the heat, but I’m not sure what to do about it – should I dump ice water in to help with cooling?”  He said it was probably better to cool externally (ice, etc.) and try to get some calories in – it’s a mistake to stop eating when your stomach goes bad due to heat because then you bonk. (Which is exactly what I did after the dry-heaves at Last Chance – stopped eating, even as I did something really hard.)  He said that he had finished the last half of Western States at least once living entirely on Coke and watermelon.  Would I like some watermelon?  Sure.  I sat there, he came back with a small plastic bag full of watermelon and strawberries, and told me to eat the contents of the bag within a mile or two of leaving the aid station.  He told me to get up, wished me luck, said he’d see me at the finish, and sent me on my way.

I like strawberries, but I’ve eaten them before during races (there’s a well-known spot with strawberries towards the end of the Big Sur marathon) and they are not good race food.  But boy, was that watermelon/strawberry combo good.  Wet, watery, moist watermelon and sweet-but-tangy strawberry.  I did as I was told, and over a few miles – and especially at El Dorado Creek where I lay for about 5 minutes letting the cool water flow past and suck away heat – I shifted slightly from Almost Scary Bad to not perfect but ok again.  At the next couple aid stations, I poured down a few small cups of Coke, refilled my bag with watermelon and strawberries, and gradually returned from the land of the walking dead.

Cooling down in El Dorado Creek.  Thank you to Charlie Quinn for capturing me during the best 5 minutes of my run.  Charlie was down there as I arrived across the bridge, we were down there together for a moment, and he took this from the bridge just before moving on.

Cooling down in El Dorado Creek. Thank you to Charlie Quinn for capturing me during the best 5 minutes of my run. Charlie was down there as I arrived across the bridge, we were down there side by side for a moment, and then he took this from the bridge just before moving on. This was a full-service creek – that’s a volunteer in light blue making sure the other runner knows how to get up the bank. Shannon Yewell Weil said this is one of the best pictures of WS she’s seen. She might know since she’s an old-timer, half of the MoShan (Mo Livermore and Shannon) pair who did a lot of the work to make Western States a well-regarded annual event vs. a 1-off Gordy Ainsleigh feat   Nice job Charlie!

After I finished the race, I saw Mr. Dark Hair standing at the rail along the track, watching finishers.  I went over, reminded him of my stay at Devil’s Thumb, and thanked him for his help.  I asked if he was a doctor/medical person and he said no, just an ultrarunner who was volunteering trying to help people get past tough spots.  We introduced ourselves and he told me his name.  Which I promptly forgot.  I’m going to try to track him down through the aid station captain and/or poking around on the internet for pictures of ultrarunners.  He looked vaguely like Karl Meltzer but I’m sure that’s not the name he told me.  Anyway, thank you again Mr. Dark Hair Guy With The Name I Forgot for saving my race.

I talked about volunteering at Cal1.  I’d also like to volunteer at Devil’s Thumb – talk about being on the front lines.

Postscript:  His name is Bruce Falzarano, co-captain of the aid station.  Thanks Bruce!


  1. […] Last Chance, I descended into the Inferno and my race unravelled.  I was no longer racing but surviving.  After Bruce Falzarano revived me at Devil’s Thumb, […]

  2. […] We asked to volunteer there because it was the crux of my run last year – I melted going up, got some great help at the aid station (from Bruce F, one of the co-captains of the aid station), and gradually recovered afterwards to finish and have a great experience.  Getting there as a […]

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