Posted by: pointlenana | May 2, 2017

Canyons 100k – April 29, 2017

My friend Jeff and I made a quick trip to the Sierra foothills this weekend to run the Canyons 100k – about 31 miles of the Western States course covered as two out-and-backs from Foresthill.  We started by running up the course through Volcano Canyon, Eldorado Canyon, and then into Deadwood Canyon.  Just before Swinging Bridge we turned around, ran ~16 miles back down to Foresthill and continued on towards Rucky Chucky (where Western States runners have to wade the American River).  Then we turned around and ran back to the finish at Foresthill. There’s a total of about 15000 feet of climbing during the day so it’s a fairly challenging 100k.


It was fun showing Jeff around before the race.  We picked up our bibs at Auburn Running Company, which has a lot of Western States history on its walls.  We stopped by the Placer High track, where Western States runners finish their 100 mile journey.  We drove out to Robie Point, where runners exit the Western States trail to run the last 1+ mile of pavement to the finish.  As we were leaving Robie Point and heading back to town, I said “I think Ann Trason lives somewhere around here”.  Just then a car came towards us – I had to pull to the side because the road was narrow.  We looked at the driver of the car as it passed and I said “oh, that’s Ann Trason right there.”


Jeff at the Placer High track, looking forward to his future finish.

One great thing about doing this race was leaving the crummy Seattle weather for a couple days.  The weather for race day was great – sunny, low 40’s in the morning, highs maybe in the upper 70s.  I was a little worried about sunburn since I remembered the course being pretty exposed, especially towards Rucky Chucky, but there was more tree cover than I remembered and the coat of sunscreen I put on in the morning lasted all day.

I didn’t wear a headlamp at the beginning.  We started at 5:30am, just before it got light, but we ran north on paved road for about 1 1/2 miles and by the time we hit trails I could see well enough.  As we dropped into Volcano Canyon, we hit some wet patches in the trail.  I had read that there was lots of water on the course and our feet would be wet for 63 miles.  Postponing the inevitable, I steered around mud and puddles, and was really glad I did when I watched a guy plant his foot in mud only to have his leg disappear up to his knee in the mud.  He climbed out and said “I’m glad it didn’t suck my shoe off – that would have been a disaster.”  He was unlucky – there really wasn’t much mud after that.

There were plenty of creek crossings though – big ones at the bottom of the canyons and smaller ones along the way, especially on the trail from Foresthill to Rucky Chucky.  The creek in Volcano Canyon was moving along pretty well, so the organizers had strung up a couple safety lines that we clung to as we crossed at mile 3 or so – the water was at knee height and my feet were in fact wet for the 60 miles after that.

I started the race worried about inadequate pre-race bathrooming, and my fears were confirmed as I climbed out of Volcano Canyon towards Michigan Bluff.  I tried to put the discomfort out of mind – presumably there would be portapotties at Michigan Bluff – and tried to pick up time on the downhill fireroads where I could.  Thankfully the single portapotty at Michigan Bluff was empty when I arrived and I left soon after feeling much better.

The ~10 mile run from Michigan Bluff out to the turnaround in Deadwood Canyon all went smoothly.  3 miles downhill to Eldorado Creek – where my friend Charlie took my favorite ultra “running” picture of me during Western States – then a long uphill to the plateau before Devil’s Thumb, and then the steep descent into Deadwood Canyon.  The faster runners started coming back shortly before I started the descent into Deadwood Canyon.  That’s one of the good things about out-and-backs – you see all the other runners.  I counted only 15 runners ahead of Jeff – he was almost out of the canyon as I started to drop in.  Although I remembered the trail having lots of rocks and roots, it seemed pretty smooth and the descent went quickly.  I counted about 85 people ahead of me when I reached the turnaround.  I grabbed my wristband – confirmation I didn’t turn around early – and started back up.

The climb to Devil’s Thumb didn’t seem that bad in the training runs, but it was wretched during Western States.  100+ degrees (not joking), I had already run 48 miles, and it’s very steep – something like 1700 feet of climbing in 1.4 miles.  It wasn’t hot this time though and I wasn’t very tired, so it passed quickly.  Similarly, I remembered the drop into Eldorado Canyon as being tough during Western States – I was still hot from the Devil’s Thumb climb, the rocks and roots seemed really bad, and it took forever for the creek to arrive.  Again, this time it went smoothly and quickly.  That’s kind of how the whole day went – my memory of the trail was that it was hard, and reality generally was easier than I remembered.

When I got back to the Volcano Creek crossing, the day had warmed up and I felt a little hot so I crossed and then plunked my butt in the creek and lay backwards.  That was the first of about 20 creek dunkings for me.  People would see me do that and smile, and some would dunk their hat but for the most part they wouldn’t get themselves really wet.

WS Heaven

Charlie’s picture of me in Eldorado Creek during Western States.

I made it back to Foresthill after about 7 hours, and 31 miles of running – ahead of schedule relative to an estimate I made before the race.  After a quick stop at the aid station – I usually filled my bottle with the Gu Roctane drink, had some oranges, and then left with pb&j or stroopwaffles in my hand – I set off down the road towards “Cal Street”.  We actually ran on California Street for a block as we left the little town of Foresthill, but that whole ~16 mile section of Western States trail from Foresthill to Rucky Chuck is known as Cal Street.  That’s the fastest part of the Western States course – mostly flat/slightly downhill with a few bigger downhills and a few short steep uphills, all on very runnable trails.  (Here’s a video Sage Canaday did of that section – with lots of Pixie Ninja sightings.)

I moved along pretty well, ticking off miles and being diligent about taking 20 seconds at every creek to cool off.  One creek was deep enough that I was able to wade in, squat down and get my shoulders in the water.  There was also a great spot just before Rucky Chucky – a semi-paved wash with 8 inches of water running across it – where I was able to convince another runner to do full immersion after she mentioned dunking herself in a creek.

I only carried one handheld bottle.  I knew that I’d be fine in the morning when it wasn’t hot.  There were two 7+ mile legs during the hot part of the day – to and from Rucky Chuck – but I figured I could tank up my belly in the aid stations and then ration the bottle.  I never actually arrived at an aid station with a dry bottle – close but always a couple sips left.  The only problem with this plan was a) I was counting on calories from the Roctane drink mix and b) the Roctane mix had caffeine in it.  I probably drank 15 bottles of Roctane through the day, and (assuming they mixed the Roctane as directed) that meant I had something like 500 mg of caffeine.  That’s a lot of caffeine, along the lines of Rory Bosio’s UTMB race where she drank enough caffeine “to kill a horse”.  It didn’t surprise me that I had trouble sleeping the night after the race – hotel bed, post-race soreness, and a horse-killing load of caffeine in me.

When I saw Jeff again on his way to the finish, he had moved up a couple slots.  He told me I was in 23rd place.  “Not possible” I thought to myself, and yes by the time I got to Rucky Chuck I had counted 50-something people ahead of me.  (“Just messing with you”, Jeff explained later.  Thanks!)  I turned around and headed back towards Foresthill.

I still felt pretty good – tired of course, and with some tightness in one hamstring – but not hot, no stomach issues, and able to run most of the time even on the gradual uphills.  I wasn’t gaining time relative to my estimate anymore, but I wasn’t losing time either and I wasn’t worried about finishing in darkness.  I caught up to a runner who turned out to be Karl Hoagland – publisher of UltraRunning magazine – and had a nice chat with him.

I was mostly running by myself but occasionally I’d catch a glimpse of someone ahead and then gradually work my way up to and then past them.  At this point I was thinking “pass, don’t get passed” and I was a little surprised to have two people come into the final aid station just behind me.  “Where did they come from?  I haven’t passed anyone for a little while”.  I left pretty quickly – one guy followed me out so I tried running faster and was happy to find out that my hamstring didn’t seem so tight anymore.  The guy stayed with me on the flat but after a mile we hit the final climb (1000 feet in about 2.5 miles) and after powerhiking for a bit I had dropped him.

Near the end of the climb, just before we arrived at Foresthill, I saw another runner ahead.  I was wondering about my age group placing at this point – I had to be doing ok but some of those young-looking people ahead of me probably were in my 50-59 age group.  I worked hard for a mile trying to close the gap – making some progress but not like I had with other racers.  As we got off the trail and onto the pavement, I realized the person ahead was a woman (“not in my age group!”).  I debated whether to be That Guy and pass her in the home stretch.  Someone ran with her for a couple blocks and then dropped off – as I passed him I asked “do you see anyone behind me?”  When he said no I decided to just maintain the gap.  I followed her across the line and congratulated her on a strong finish.


The finish area was fun – it was a nice evening and with a dry shirt and hat I felt comfortable hanging out.   Jeff was there – he had a GREAT race, finishing in 12:34, 14th out of 326 starters.  Bruce Labelle was there – it was great talking to him again and he told me that when he finished Western States again last summer he had issues and ran the last 70 miles without eating anything (!) by being smart about running slowly enough and burning fat.  Jeff and I talked some more to Karl Hoagland and his wife Erika (who finished in the top 10 at Western States the past couple years).

My official time was 14:09:46, roughly the midpoint of my most optimistic and most conservative projections.  50th out of 326 starters and 5th out of 52 guys in my age group.  I’m pretty happy with this race – no really bad moments, steady progress (pace through the first half: 13:15, pace for the whole race: 13:21), enjoying the creeks, and running all the flats/downhills/gradual uphills.   The event was also great – well organized, great volunteers, well marked, trails that had recently been cleared of downed trees, the safety lines at Volcano Creek, etc..  It’s not surprising given that it’s Western States-world, but it still takes a huge amount of effort and care from a lot of people so thank you.

There were some very strong women out there, e.g. Suzanna Bon (who won Tahoe 200 a couple years ago) is 52 and Jackie Clark (59) both finished more than an hour ahead of me, not to mention the women’s winner Cat Bradley who beat Jeff by more than an hour.

One final note:  Later that evening, I learned that shoes and socks that have been wet with creek water for 16 hours smell really really foul.

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