Posted by: pointlenana | June 30, 2016

Western States 2016 People – Western States Part 13

I probably should have included the stuff below in other posts but I’ll do it standalone.   There are so many stories at Western States.  Every person – runner, crew, pacer, volunteer – has some kind of story.  That’s the kind of people the event attracts.  By being there I got to see and in some cases talk with some of those people.  Ultimately this is going to be peanut gallery opinions about people who are much more knowledgeable than me, and/or fanboy ooh’ing.  But maybe there will be something interesting.  And mostly I write these down for my own sake anyway, to look back on later.  (Whew, this post got long – be warned…)

Racers:

Jim Walmsley:

His story is well-known now – blazingly fast for much of the race, made some mistakes late in the race, finished 20th.  Two great interviews with him on iRunFar before and after the race.  Before, he talked about winning and setting a course record.  He also talked about dropping his pacer near the end, only half-jokingly.  For a guy who hadn’t run a 100 before, the first two goals are pretty confident (but not unreasonable given his talent).  Being confident to the point of planning to drop a pacer seems… well… overconfident.  Matt Fitzgerald talks about this situation in his book “How Bad Do You Want It”, where someone really talented who should be successful undermines themselves by getting distracted from the main goal.  I can see this in his post-race interview – he was hanging back in the early miles but got worried about the course record splits so he took off.  He went from running his own “win the race” plan to a secondary goal (course record).

My sighting of Jim at Devil’s Thumb was very brief.  He arrived about 20 minutes before anyone thought he would, and we were actually in the middle of the volunteer briefing (well, almost done but still “meeting”).  Someone called “runner”, we scattered to our stations, and after I looked up from writing his # and time down, he was already headed out – at most 30 seconds in the aid station, after 48 miles and a brutal climb.  No major effort to cool himself.  He said in the interview afterwards that he felt fine throughout the race and heat wasn’t a problem.  But mental mistakes – missing turns, not making the connection that river current will sweep you away from the safety cable if you swim with two hands, dropping a pacer to save a very small amount of time (Update:  This excellent slide show explains that  he dropped his pacer because his pacer was sick  – yet another lesson on talking on things I don’t know ’bout, and he seems like an awesome person.)- are one consequence of overheating.  A pacer friend also heard that Jim was incoherent at an aid station shortly before he missed the turn.  “I felt fine” and being fine might be two different things.  I can’t take credit for this – I heard it from a friend – “Jim got too close to the sun”.  The Icarus analogy seems pretty good, both literally and figuratively.

All that said, it’s hard not to be a fan after watching Jim’s post-race interview, and I expect he has some amazing Killian-like performances/results ahead of him.

Sage Canaday:

I am a huge Sage Canaday fan, and in a way he’s responsible for me loving ultras/trail races.  I first saw him about 12 miles into my first trail race/ultra (White River – also effectively my first-ever trail run) as he came down past me while I was going up.  I was struggling up a rutted-out trail, he was flying, and as he passed he said “nice job!”  “Huh?  The leader is complimenting me?  These trail races are ok!”  I soon found out the mutual-encouragement was common, as a bunch of other fast people passed me.  But afterwards – after Sage had finished his course record race – I went over to him and he was friendly and encouraging in real-life too.

I was hoping for good things for Sage at Western States but when I watched his pre-race interview I was a little worried when he said “I’m pretty good at struggling through in the heat, and I like heat better than cold”.  There’s going to be a common theme here, but I don’t think it works to struggle through heat.  It’s not like having blister pain or achy quads – you can struggle through those.  Heat causes your body to stop working and bad things happen.  Janet says “Your body needs blood in four places – skin for cooling, legs for running, gut for nutrition/digestion, and your brain for a lot of reasons.  Something has to give.”  You have to focus on staying as cool as possible, and if you do get hot you either are smart and slow down (send less blood to the legs) or bad things happen.  I’ve found it very hard to recover when I overheat – slowing down a little doesn’t do anything.  It’s much better to avoid getting too hot in the first place.

Sage was 2nd through our aid station, and spent a couple minutes there.  He restocked the ice under his hat, got his bandana wet, made sure to drink, and generally took care of himself.  But he looked hot and didn’t have that much ice on his body.  As he was drinking I told him there’s a creek at the next aid station and it’s worth cooling off there, but I’m pretty sure he was focused on being 10 minutes behind Jim Walmsley and I suspect he didn’t want to spare the time.

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Sage at Devil’s Thumb.  No Rob Krar-style arm sleeves for ice, but taking time to cool some.  Three other people of note in this photo – Janet in the red shirt to his right, my savior from last year Bruce F in the first green shirt/red cap to the right of Janet, and Bev (see below) in the far-right green shirt with tape on her knees.

I heard that Sage’s stomach went south eventually (another heat effect – something’s going to give) and he spent 30 miles throwing up, eventually finishing 11th and just missing (by 4 minutes) one of the coveted top 10 spots that guarantees you entry into next year’s race.   Maybe he did lie in the creek, but if he didn’t, 5-10 minutes in there cooling down might have saved him the 10-15 minutes (or more) needed to sneak into the top 10.  (It’s really easy to sit here in my armchair and know EXACTLY what these elite folks should have done differently.)  I talked to him briefly after the race (yes, fanboy…).  He said at the time he felt great about how he had attacked the climb to Devil’s Thumb, but he probably pushed too hard.  He’s smart and I’m sure he’ll figure it all out – I’m looking forward to his video on the race.  It’s really hard to manage the race effort well given altitude, heat, and climbs.  To some degree, I think Jim Walmsley sucked Sage (and others) into running too hard – Jim’s race instead of their own.  But, Sage did finish his first 100, and pretty well given his struggles.

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Shortly after Sage finished, just getting up from a long sit even before the medical tent.  I didn’t see a lot of people having to sit down here.  That’s Byron Powell (from iRunFar) with the microphone on the right.

Andrew Miller:

Andrew was the 5th person to come through Devil’s Thumb.  He looked warm but good.  In his post-race interview he said he was aware that he was pretty far behind Jim Walmsley, but tried to focus on running his own race.  I guess it worked out ok for him.  Winning Western States at the age of 20 must be a cool feeling.  Janet watched him win Orcas 50k a year ago, so we were impressed but not completely surprised.

David Laney:

I’m bummed about his race (and I’m not even David Laney).  He did some of his training for the Olympic Trials here in Seattle last fall.  Janet and I saw him running at Greenlake a few times when we were out, and one day I flagged him down to ooh and aah over his amazing UTMB performance (yeah, fanboy…).  He was very nice – asking about our training, etc..  He won Chuckanut one year when I was there, he did great at UTMB, and he’d been living at Squaw and training on the course since April.  I thought he might win.

David rolled into Devil’s Thumb in 6th place, and it was clear it was not going to be his day.  The first 5 passed through quickly – 1-2 minutes.  David plunked down in a chair and stayed for at least 10 minutes.  It was clear he wasn’t happy – Janet said he was giving away his gels (“I don’t need these”).  I talked to him the next morning – he remembered us from Greenlake (or at least he is GREAT at giving that impression) – and he said he was feeling cold so he was avoiding any kind of cooling.  I guess feeling cold is a sign of severe heat stress, so it’s kind of a viscous spiral at that point.  He limped his way to 33rd.  I’m glad nothing really bad happened, and I hope he’s ok.    He’s probably another victim of the blistering early pace.  And just to cement the “very nice” impression:  When I talked with him at the end of the race (he’s limping around, he’s had a disappointing race the day before, he probably hasn’t slept, some fanboy is talking at him), he thanked us for volunteering at least twice.

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David Laney having a bad day.  That’s Joe Uhan in the red shirt and blue hat – he writes for UltraRunner and has finished in the top 10 at Western States.

As more people came in, it became harder to pay attention to any one runner for more than a few seconds.  But brief comments on other people:

Kaci Lickteig: First woman to Devil’s Thumb, and first woman to the finish.  She looked good and was out within a couple minutes.

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Kaci winning.  Sub 18, an hour faster than she ran last year.

Ben Bucklin: Janet and I saw him at Sun Mountain as he was on his way to winning the 50 mile race.  At Sun Mountain he was really cheerful and encouraging as he came past us a couple times.  He looked great Devil’s Thumb and lit up when Janet mentioned Sun Mountain.  He went on to 15th place.

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Ben Bucklin and Race Director Craig Thornley

Jodee Adams-Moore: A local Washington favorite – she has the Chuckanut course record, something like 10 minutes faster than Ellie Greenwood.  Jodee spent 15 minutes at Devil’s Thumb, and looked a little freaked-out at what she’d just been through.  I mentioned the creek to her also, and she actually seemed interested.  (I’d love to know my success rate for talking people into that – 0%?)  She was the 9th woman, and gets to return next year – if she wants to.  Kudos also to James Varner for pacing her.

Mark Richtman:  The Devil’s Thumb aid station is run by the Buffalo Chips Running group (Sacramento).  Mark is a “local” favorite/star, pointed out to me by Alan (also doing runner check-in).  Mark is 61 and was trying to set the 60-69 men’s record.  He looked good at Devil’s Thumb but he dropped at No Hands Bridge (4 miles from the finish) even though he was on pace to run about 22:30.  I wonder what happened.  That record is 20:30 and he was past that so maybe he said “enough”.

Kent Dozier:  Kent is responsible for my all-time favorite “aren’t ultras great!” video.  I knew he was entered, and I found him sitting in a chair looking a little beat, listing off his body’s issues.  I got all excited and mentioned that video, which I don’t think he needed to be reminded of right then.  He sat in the chair/aid station for about 20 minutes and then went on to finish in a bit less than 25 hours.

Dave Vanmiller: Another WA person.  He was having cramping issues, Janet introduced me, and I proceeded to be an incredibly awkward volunteer with him.  He wanted to put his feet up, so I dragged a chair over and lifted his leg.  He immediately cramped and I dropped the leg.  More cramping.  We gave up on the chair, and I started massaging one of his calves.  He said it was more his quads.  I worked on those for a moment and then suggested he get some food and get out.  While I was getting food, he started shivering – he’d sat there too long.  Another medical person felt his back, said “you’re not hot, you’re just getting cold, so get going”.  He went on to a sub-24 hour finish, even though he left Devil’s Thumb after the “official” time for someone on 24 hour pace.  Nice job!

Brian Morrison:  People know this story now.  He had a disastrous near-victory at Western States in 2006 – he collapsed on the track from hyponatremia, was helped to his feet and around the track by his pacer Scott Jurek (how do you leave someone you are helping just lying on the ground, especially when they are yards from winning?), was DQ’d after he finished due to the assistance, and nearly died in the hospital afterwards.  He owns a running store here in Seattle (the one that Scott Jurek, Hal Koerner, and some others worked in), and organizes one of the White River aid stations.  (I talked to him once during the race briefly about his WS experience – yet another gracious talented ultrarunner.) He hadn’t attempted another 100 until last year, when he ran Cascade Crest to qualify for Western States.

Brian spent about 12 minutes at the aid station, mostly in a chair, looking a little white.  He had his earbuds in but we talked a little, I got him some food, and he kind of recognized me.  I told him I was looking forward to seeing him finish – I was probably one of 1000 people telling him that.  And I did get to see him finish – he entered the track Sunday morning with his two small children and spent almost the whole last 300 yards looking at his kids.  Announcer John Medinger (Tropical John) told Brian’s story again, and the stadium cheered pretty loudly.

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Brian Morrison and one of his kids, about to get his first official Western States finish. BTW, there’s that Monsters of Massage banner in the back.  If you ever get a massage from those folks (after the Western States training runs for example), be ready for some pain.  Especially if you luck out and get VeLoyce.  My friend Tamara screamed obscenities through most of her massage last May.  And VeLoyce was looking for her this weekend.

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Brian taking a post-race call, probably from the President.

Matt Keyes:  I think Matt is known as The Luckiest Person at Western States because of his unreal luck in the lottery.  He’s not fast enough to race his way into Western States, and yet he’s run the race 10 times in the past 11 years.  I ran with Matt for several miles last year and he educated me (too late) on how to use split data from previous races to figure out a good sub-24 hour plan.  In particular he told me that looking at splits for the 23-24 hour finishers (exactly what I did) doesn’t work because that group is filled with people who were aiming for 20-22 hours and imploded.  Shortly after he explained this he pulled away from me, on his way to yet another sub-24 hour finish.  Shortly after he pulled away, I melted.  Matt finished in… 23:46 this year and got his 10 Year buckle.

Rob Bondurant:  Rob’s a friend from WA.  He’d been aiming for a sub-3 hour marathon for a while, and in his first big attempt at it he ran… 3:00:05.  He ran Eugene in May and finally got under 3 hours.  In other words, he’s faster than me.  Like many of us he wanted to go sub-24, and he pulled into Devil’s Thumb at about the right time to do it.  He looked pretty good, maybe a little warm, and I went to bed that night thinking he had a shot based on his progress.  He slowed somewhere and didn’t make it, but he did have a spectacular finish – he started running fast about a mile from the finish, hit the track at a very fast pace (his pacer was having trouble running with him), and probably ran the last 300 yards in 75 seconds. I wanted Janet to see him, and I had to sprint across the infield to get to her in time.

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Rob, a little winded from his 1 mile sprint.

John Maytum:  I mentioned him and used his picture before.  Another WA person, another sub-24 attempt, another 1st-time Western States racer surprised by the challenges.  Seeing him at Devil’s Thumb was like seeing myself a year ago.  When I’ve thanked Bruce F for helping me last year, he says “you were fine, you just needed to recover a little”.  When John thanked me for helping him, I felt the same way.

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This is worth a second look – John finishing 100 miles of challenges with a smile on his face.

Bruce LabelleI wrote about Bruce last year – he made all the difference in how my experience went.  Bruce has a 10 day buckle – 10 finishes all under 24 hours.  Last year he told me he want to run once in his 60s and once in his 70s.  This was the 60s year.  Not surprisingly, he looked fine at Devil’s Thumb.  He had the most beautiful finish I saw in terms of running form – big powerful strides around the track, like an elite marathoner.

Ian Burton:  Another WA person.  He came in late to Devil’s Thumb, with blister problems, but he was in great shape.  And he took time to get the blisters addressed even though there wasn’t much to spare.  While Janet and the medical folks were working on him, some old-timer wandered past me saying “we need to get that guy out of here – he’s doing great.”  Which he was – Ian finished with 8 1/2 minutes to spare, even though he had to stop again for blister care further in the race.

Wally Hesseltine: Heartbreak.  At 72 Wally was attempting to become the oldest finisher at Western States.  (I heard this, although I’m not 100% sure – I can’t find the oldest male finisher.)  He left Devil’s Thumb 27 minutes before the cutoff, which is pretty good.  He cleared Robie Point with 15 minutes left – 1.3 miles with at least 0.3 miles of nasty uphill.  Last year Magdalena Boulet took 15 minutes for that stretch and Gunhild Swanson took about 16.  So it seemed unlikely but we were all hopeful, especially after Gunhild last year.  Wally actually made it to the track but when he was still 200 yards from the finish Tropical John announced “I’m sorry Wally but time just expired”.  He finished anyway, and I learned that everyone who finishes – even after the cutoff – gets a medal.  No belt buckle though, and no official finish.  My friend Bob says you want to be there for Golden Hour (the last hour before the 30 hour cutoff) because something always happens at the end.

Gunhild Swanson:  More heartbreak.  Last year’s amazing DFL, she dropped/missed the cutoff at Rucky Chuck.  She arrived at Devil’s Thumb with 16 minutes to spare, but only stayed for 2 minutes because of the time pressure.  She looked good though, and I thought her experience would get her through.  A friend who crewed for her said she’d been chasing cutoffs all day (10 hours or so from Devil’s Thumb where we saw her and Rucky Chuck where she timed out) and had blister problems but never had time to take care of them.  My friend and the other crew member – one Ann Trason – tried to convince her she could finish, but at Rucky Chuck Gunhild decided enough was enough.

Other people – these folks weren’t racing but I crossed paths with them during the weekend.

Alan Abbs and Bev Anderson-Abbs:  They were part of the runner check-in team with me at Devil’s Thumb.  It was pretty clear from our random conversations that they were pretty capable ultra runners, e.g. they both ran San Diego with me a few weeks ago, Alan finished ahead of me, and Bev was the second woman.  They both had run Western States before too.  But they were nice and funny and not at all impressed with whatever running they’ve done.  Between our shift at Devil’s Thumb and his midnight-6am shift entering data for LiveTracking, Alan took his banjo down to No Hands Bridge and serenaded runners as they passed.  (One person said “Banjo music – that will motivate them to move along.”)

I looked them up on UltraSignup during our trip home.  Woah!  Alan has finished at least 3 Fun Runs at Barkley.  Bev has completed one Fun Run there – I’m told she’s in the Barkley movie, now I have to go watch that again.  Bev is also a 4-time podium finisher at Western States, 3rd place once and 2nd place three times.  Alan has finished 16th at Western States, if not higher.  And that’s just scratching the surface.  There they were, volunteering at an aid station, and doing whatever was needed to try to move runners along.  I did point out Devil’s Thumb to Bev – in all her times there she had never seen it.  Which is not surprising given that I did the training run last year, the race, the trip down to the canyon Saturday morning, and the trip back up Saturday morning without seeing it either.  Until Janet pointed out to me.  It’s hard to see anything when you are focused on your where your feet need to go, which I imagine someone on their way to 2nd place at Western States would be focused on.

Krissy Moehl:  Winner of UTMB several years ago and race director for Chuckanut.  You’ve probably seen her in Patagonia ads.  I was talking to an acquaintance and suddenly I was talking to Krissy also.  She was pretty interested in our volunteer experience and said to the mutual friend/acquaintance, “We’ve been here a dozen or more times – running, crewing, pacing.  We should volunteer at an aid station next year.”  People fall in love with this race and find reasons to be there even if they are not running.

Lauren Fleshman:  You’d think the odds of randomly running into Shalane Flanagan (Olympic athlete, among other things) and Lauren Fleshman (World Championships- quality runner, among other things) in 3 weeks would be close to 0. On our flight home, I noticed that the woman one row up and across the aisle looked a lot like Lauren Fleshman.  I know what she looks like because I was warming up for a small race one day and she ran by, doing a workout with the Oiselle team.  On her next lap around I blurted “are you Lauren Fleshman” and she said yes.  So, on the plane, I’m looking at this woman, trying to figure it out and Janet said “I don’t think that’s her.”  At the end of the flight I asked “are you Lauren Fleshman?”, and yes again (she was sitting with Sally Bergeson, Oiselle founder).  It turns out they were crewing for Devon Yanko (3rd place) at Western States.  Lauren was pretty interested in what she’d seen over the weekend – maybe we’ll see her in an ultra sometime.  And I asked her if I could send her my race schedule, because right after I saw her previously, I won the only race I’ve ever won – maybe she could attend a few more of my races.  She promised to try to fit it in.  So I’ll probably be winning a lot more races from now on.


Responses

  1. Mark, great write ups! sound like there was so much going on an a lot to keep you super busy at the as. I am a big Sage fan also. BTW you can help support him on patreon

  2. Great to see you and Janet at the finish last weekend! Like you, I loved watching the runners, both elites and mortals, run through my aid station at ALT. One interaction that impressed me was talking to Bob Shebest briefly. He came through ALT in the top 10, and ultimately finished 18th. I asked how was doing, and he looked me in the eyes and replied, “Some days you’re the hammer, and some days you’re the nail.”

    • That’s a great quote! I also heard the Bob Lind medical staff quote during our pre-race meeting (perhaps just before Jim Walmsley arrived) – “You look in the runners eyes and see whether their soul is leaving.” Great seeing you too – and good luck with your next adventure.


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