Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Western States 100

I arrived into Squaw Valley Resort for the 40th running of Western States 100 mile endurance run the Wednesday before the race began. My mind had been here for 10 months. Since I had earned a automatic entry at Waldo 100k August 2012. My prep began with first off trying to get my injury that I had been dealing with since April 2012, rehabilitated. It took some time but finally in February, friend and fellow ultra runner  Dr. Dan Lehnberg ( able to give me an accurate diagnosis of a proximal hamstring injury. With a prescription consisting of  some simple strengthening exercises, coupled with the body work of Joshua Malpass (,and massage therapy at the hands of Holly Miller (, the injury was on the mend. I now needed to regain my fitness and strength that was lost with taking a month off.
My 2013 race schedule:
three 50 milers starting in late March with Old Goats (2nd place), April I raced Leona Divide (104+ degree heat, 6th place after a horrible 30 miles of vomiting), followed by PCT 50 two weeks later (2nd place).
My altitude training was done by trying to get up to high country as often as I could on the weekends.  My heat training was done starting two weeks out from the race as the weather predictions started to come in that it was going to be a hot year. I took advantage of my one hour commute and cranked the heat on high with the windows up, my own personal sauna.
I showed up 3 days early to get whatever acclimatization I could get before the gun went off. A small shake out run and course preview with my lady up to the summit was the final tuneup before the big day.
Although my training regime was rather light with an average week of  46 miles per week in the three months previous, with my largest week of 83 miles coming one month before, I felt I had gotten some great fitness with the three 50 milers, but still felt that I could have or should have done more. Nevertheless here I was, the penultimate day to my first hundo.
I was stressing all day not about the miles but about what I was going to have in my drop bags, and what I needed Keira to bring me at the aid stations where she could see me. I had a couple goals for the race. First goal was to have fun! Is that possible? Its a hundred miles. Well I was going to try. Second was a time goal. I looked at other competitors that I had run with and their times, with this being my first I thought I could be in the 17 hour range. That is until I saw the forecast for extreme heat, so all times were out the window. I did have another goal of finishing in the top 20 overall. There were multiple friends that had the confidence that I would be in the top 10, I would just need to race smart and hold back. The nice thing is I had no pressure on me except for the pressure I put on myself. That pressure became apparent in the form of a headache, that started at the pre race meeting, and just wouldn't go away. It lasted until the early morning, until I finally went to sleep. I woke up race morning with a terrible stiff neck, obviously slept funny, so this had me worried that it would hinder my performance.

Enough of the background. Its GO time
Race was off, started up the service road and found myself running with the boys up front.  I figured this wasn't going to last as I was only interested in going my own pace. But  I found comfort in the fact that I didnt feel I needed to hike as soon as some of the other top guys. But hike I did. Often. I tried to keep my eyes down on the ground and not get caught up in what would be going on up front.  Not sure what position I was in by the time I hit the top and no idea how long it took as I dont wear a watch but I did recognize some faces around me that I knew would have a good finish. I filled both my bottles at the enscarpement one with water one with carbo pro and nuun.
Mile 4, taking it easy

Up and over the top it was now time for some single track downhill. I let a couple runners around me in the first half mile, and soon found myself sandwiched between the two local runners my friend Peter Fain and Rory Bossio. We had an interesting chill run in the mountains, chatting about bears and trying to pick our way through the streams produced by the remaining snow melt. I was satisfied with my race so far and position, until I saw the streak of Mike Morton come shooting by around mile 6. It had me wondering, did I go out too hard to be that far in front of Mike for that long or did he get to the start late?
I took it for what it was and maintained my own pace, slowly working my to Auburn and distancing myself from Peter and Rory, still not worried about position and letting the words of my friend Jon Clark bouncing around in my head " Race with the burning patience of a candle yet the heated inspiration of a wildfire".

Mile 10.5 Lyon Ridge aid station was on me before I knew it. I took on water and was on my way out when someone asked if I wanted to get shot! huh? I said sure and found out it was a pressurized hose. First soaking of the day. Wonderful!
I was still running a comfortable controlled pace with nothing talking to me yet. Except for my stiff neck that I was constantly trying to massage out as I ran, and that seemed to help for pain relief, to do that every once and a while. Not too long after Lyon ridge (10.5) I saw my first animal come out from amongst the trees, it was what we ultra runners know as a speedgoat, returning to the trail from a nature break.  That gave me comfort in knowing that I was feeling good but still on pace with the Great Karl Meltzer, which I was surely convinced would change as this was only mile 12 or 13.  We traded positions not long after as I too needed to see if I could find some poison oak that needed a drink. I spent the next several miles with Byron Powell and a couple others that seemed to be out for more then just casual morning run shown by the amount of sweat there shirts were holding.
Mile 16 Red Star aid station. I was only anticipating to grab my drop bag (fresh supply of Carbo pro, a couple gels, and a homemade energy bar), fill my bottles and head out. I got much more than that.  I got a pep talk and shot of encouragement from the great Jimmy Dean Freeman (his wife Kate would be pacing me from the river to the finish), and a head full of reminders on the strategy we had talked about the night before from the legendary David Horton. They definitely made me feel important and I left there pumped up. Pretty sure even after all that I managed to get out before a couple of the guys I came in with, as all that information was blasted at me in the time it took to fill my bottles.
Next section was more of the same beautiful scenery, small ups and downs, hike the ups and run the downs. I pulled out my cheat sheet of the aid stations to gander at what was coming up and how many miles I had to go to next aid and saw I had 7.8 to go till I hit Duncan Canyon. Pleasantly surprised that I was nearing 20 miles in and was not feeling any sort of fatigue, I came into Duncan Canyon focused on getting in and out and getting on to business. I came in with three other guys and was intent on getting out ahead of them just to avoid breathing their trail dust as I had been doing for the past 3 miles. As the volunteers filled my bottles I partook in the buffet which I limited myself to a couple potatoes and a piece of watermellon, a quick hello to Craig Thornely and a cold soaking from the volunteers and I was off.
Leaving mile 23.8 Duncan canyon was kinda a turning point for me. I felt so GOOD leaving that aid station, I began to run the hills instead of hike them and it felt good to do, if the terrain required me to hike then I would hike it hard. No more then a mile out I saw Karl just ahead. It took me quite a while to catch up to him but I finally passed him at one of the many stream crossings. It felt a little weird to pass someone of his stature.We talked a little bit about the position we were in, he said we were somewhere in the top 20 putting us in perfect position to clean up the carnage that would be happening up front. This section had many stream crossings, which I took advantage of, dousing myself and soaking my INKnBURN buff and shirt keeping me cool as the climb up to Robinson Flat mile 29.7 was starting to get warm.
Photo: Gary Wang

Robinson Flat is the first spot that I got to see Keira which I was excited for. The buzz coming into this aid station was like nothing I had ever seen. The cheers from the spectators were giving me chills. My crew of one had my bottles ready to change out, a bite of avocado sandwich, and a refreshment of Salt Stick pills, Carbo Pro Amino Recovery/ VO2 Max Power pills and my  INKnBURN handhelds filled with new gels and ginger chews. Leaving the aid station was just as loud as when I came in as the spectators were lined up on either side of the road until we hit the trail again. Josh Nordell was there yelling out positions and conditions of runners that were just ahead.
It took me a couple miles to catch up to Nick Pedatella who left the aid station just in front of me by a couple hundred yards. When I finally did catch him we chatted a bit about how the position we were in and how it might lead to a top ten even though we were sitting 16th, 17th. We arrived at Millers Defeat  aid station together, but by the time I was ready to leave Karl had done what he does best and got me and Nick and the other runner we had come into the aid station with.
We were now on a gradual downhill fire road and I again moved past Karl who didn't appear to be hurting, just going a touch slower then me. I put enough space between Karl and myself to get in and out of Dusty Corners (mile 38) without seeing him. I ran the whole next 5.3 mile section almost entirely alone, but just before reaching Last Chance aid station (mile 43.3) I came up on Jacob Rydman, who was moving a lot slower then I figured  he should be because he is one fast dude, as we matched each others pace he told me he had burnt his quads out on the downhill sections.
Aptly named I took advantage of the last chance I had to get cool and ready for the infamous CANYONS. Off with my shirt, on with my Ultraspire pack containing the most important item, an extra water bottle  for the hot journey, my inknburn shirt that I had been draped over my shoulders since Robinson Flat keeping me wet and cool, back around my neck, my inknburn buff filled with ice around my neck, cap filled with ice on my head, bottles refilled and waiting for me, quick ice bath from the wonderful volunteers and I was off. By the time I was done messing around which didn't seem like it was more then 2 minutes, I looked up the trail and saw Karl and Jacob running together just about 20 seconds up, but it didn't frazzle me at all.
The drop down into the canyon was surprisingly steep. It was the first time that my legs started to talk to me. It was mainly my knees that seemed to be the most stressed as I was very cautious not to let the trail dictated my speed and really held back. It only took one or two switchbacks and Karl was out of sight. Jacob was one turn ahead of me for a lot longer then I thought possible given his condition not that long ago, that speaks volumes of his toughness. Before long he graciously stepped aside to let me pass and that was the last I saw of him. Running water was surprisingly plentiful and I took advantage of every last one of them to soak my hat and shirt.
I began the climb up to Devils Thumb (mile 47.8) with the knowledge that I needed to conserve energy due to the predicted heat. I was nearly half way up the climb when I rounded a corner and into my view is Karl coming up behind Dave Mackey and then passing him as they were heading in a right to left direction from my vantage point. I couldn't believe in half the distance up to devils thumb I caught up to Karl and was so surprised to see Dave moving as slow as he was. I knew something was definitely wrong. Was this the start of the carnage? I passed Dave with a few encouraging words and got on to business of pacing myself, focused on climbing strong yet controlled. It only took a few switch backs and just as many minutes to latch on to Karl. As he heard my steps he looked back and said "you see how you do that"? My reply- "I'm watching the master" referring to one of our conversations earlier about just maintaining and cleaning up carnage. I was content to sit where I was and didn't feel the need to push any harder at this point to get around him or I would just end up in his clutches a couple miles down the trail. So far the two of us had passed each other 3 separate times. We hit the aid station together and I couldn't help but think that wasn't sooooo bad. For me the descent was worse then the climb by far.
The aid station volunteers were amazing again, grabbing my bottles to fill them up, my drop bag was opened and set on a table ready for me to grab my supplies, another buff full of ice, a cold shower and after my cold shower and walking out I was fed information on the condition of the runners just ahead of me.
I again took it pretty easy on the descent to Eldorado Creek remembering that I had been told the hardest thing about states is being able to hold back to save the legs by the veterans.
Somehow in this reserved pace I caught up to fellow Rudy Project team member Yassine Diboune. I was excited to see him and as I approached I said here we are again! Over the past season Yassine and I have run together in a couple big races and find at some point other then the start line we will be together. He was not feeling quite as good as me but we stuck together until we reached the El Dorado Creek aid station (mile 52.9) I was starting to have some stomach issues so I had a bit of ginger ale, another soaking of ice water and off to the climb.
We left together but as we began the climb I started to put a gap on him. Yassine is a tough dude to shake. I remember back to Waldo 100k last year when I finally caught him at mile 50 and as much as he was hurting he just would not let me go. That made me push just a little harder to try to gap him. I made it to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7) excited to see Keira as it was only the second time of the day that I was able to see her. I knew she would have some refreshing surprises for me, she always does. Its nice to come into an aid station and not have to think about what you need to get into your body for the next sections and Keira is the master at crewing. I still wasn't concerned about my position and not really ready to chase anyone down, but Keira was now joined by Kate Freeman (pacing me from mile 80 to the finish)  and another friend Dave Carter were all feeding me information about the guys in front of me not looking so good, and that did get me fired up, because besides feeling a little bloated, I felt strong. Thinking the hottest portion of the race was over I almost got rid of all my cooling apparatus until Kate suggested I keep my hat and fill it with ice. GOOD CALL! Keira followed me up the road for a last little bit of encouragement and sent me on my way. I now had one last 5 mile section before I picked up Marc to pace me. Only a mile or so into this section and I was sorry that I had left my shirt and my buff as the heat was now very apparent.
I reached Bath Road (mile 60.6) and Marc was ready and waiting. He was so excited for me, and was intent on telling me how awesome I was doing and letting me know how the guys ahead were looking. We started the climb up the Black Top road and only made it about a quarter mile and there was Keira and Kate heading down to try and meet me before I reached foresthill  so that I could get calories in before I reached the aid station to save on time. It was uplifting to be able to hike along with them for this little section

Leaving forest hill mile 62 , my pacer Marc Laveson and I were in perfect sync photo: Paul Grimes
Forest Hill (mile 62)
This is where the race starts, so they say. I had met for the first time the night before legendary David Horton, at dinner he told me with the heat the way its going to be I should hold off until Green Gate. Those words stuck with me.With the energizing lift I got from seeing Keira, to picking up Marc, to the cheers from the spectators that lined the streets for the quarter mile stretch to get to the trail, and the fact that I was still feeling strong, I have to admit it was very tough to hold back. There was quite a bit of downhill in this section and it felt so good to just run, but at the same time I didn't want to destroy my legs, there were still 38 miles left. As we were coming in to Cal 1 aid station (mile 65.7) we informed by a bystander that the next runner was only 1 min up on me. My mind told me that it was Karl, after all we had been back and forth since mile 12, who else could it be?  I was so focused on getting refilled, cooled off and leaving that I didn't even see who we had caught. It was less then 30 secs from arrival to departure but as Marc and I left the aid station, the other runners were already out of sight. This was now officially the furthest I had ever run continually, and although I wanted to chase them down I was still intent on just keeping a consistent pace and not overdoing it. Turned out my pace was just a bit faster and we were able to close in on the runner that turned out to be Paul Terranova. We caught and passed Paul and his pacer at the exact moment that we came up on Jorge Maravilla moving very slowly. I wasn't sure of the position I was in but Marc was, affirming that I had just run that last section super strong and that I was now in the top 10. I have to admit that was a pretty good feeling, now all I needed to do was hold it.  That was short lived as Paul and I swapped spots as he caught and passed me at  Cal 2 aid station (mile70.7). I was more determined to just run a consistent tempo then I was to catch back up to Paul and get my top 10 position back but as it turned out the next  2.3 mile section had another big surprise was waiting for me. On the way to Cal 3 not only did we catch and pass Paul and regain position 10, we also passed a visibly hurting Hal Koerner. Now running in ninth place we came into the Cal 3 aid station (mile 73) and saw a shirtless runner sitting in a chair, who I later found out was Jeremy Humphrey's. One of the volunteers told me "that guys been sitting there for a long time,as soon as you came in he jumped up and said we gotta get out of here".  All of this action in such a short time really got me fired up, but I knew I still needed to take it easy. The heat was finally noticeable, it felt like an oven, every time we came out of the shade of the trees, the heat from the sun was just intense. It took nearly the full 5 miles section to catch up to Jeremy, but when we finally did, Paul and his pacer were on us. It was pretty much a race for the river at that point. I couldn't believe after 78 miles it was a 3 man (6 with pacers) race for the river.

Marc and I won the race inside the race and as we put our life vests on I was reaching for some food from the aid station and noticed Paul heading down for the boat. I had heard it was going to be a water crossing by foot, so I was surprised. I said out loud, we are taking a boat across? A volunteer replied, yes but you need to wait for the next one. My reply, Can we jump in the same one? Volunteer, I guess so. I yelled to Marc, lets go!
photo: Gary Wang-Sharing a boat ride 

photo:Luis Escobar

Upon reaching the other side Marc and I were first out, I did a quick full body submersion for a few seconds and took off up the road ahead of Paul working our way up to Green Gate, where I was to pick up Kate. She was on her way down to meet us, reaching us with a mile left to climb. That whole scenario with the river crossing got me into race mode. We were hiking fast, I was feeling good. We caught and passed Karl for what would be the final time, making it 66 miles and never really more then 10 minutes apart the entire day. I was now in 7th place, and as soon as Kate let out her So Cal Coyote howl, I could hear Keira going crazy. I think at that point she was more excited then I was. Last time she saw me I was running 12th. Along with the refreshments, I made a much needed shoe and sock change. Messing with the shoes put me back into 8th as Paul scooted around me. Loss of position was well worth it, to have happy feet. I now had Kate with me for the final 20 miles. My legs and mind were still feeling good, but I wasn't without problems, as my stomach was a bit bloated, but nothing I couldn't handle for 20 miles. We caught and passed Paul in the 5.4 mile stretch to Auburn Lake Trails (mile 85.2). We reached the aid station almost together, but Paul managed to get out before us as I was busy grabbing my head lamp from my drop bag and intent on getting some chicken broth and ginger ale, a little secret Marc had given me that helped him out at San Diego 100.  I told Kate that I intended to just run smooth consistent pace and if we caught him then cool, but I wanted to save a hard effort until after the next aid station. The pass came a lot quicker then I thought it would, less then a half mile after leaving the aid station. We were now running to beat the darkness, trying to cover as much ground before we need our headlamps. It just so happened this transition between light and dark came on a very rocky portion of the course. We came into Brown's Bar (mile 89.9), took on some more chicken broth and ginger ale and were gone with no sign of Paul, what a relief. It was 24 miles of back and forth passing each other 5 or 6 times. I wasn't counting on him being gone though, so I was still pushing hard. Hwy 49 (mile 93.5) was the final spot we had planned to see Keira. Kate traded out her head lamp for one that was more functional for her, I got more ginger ale and as we left I heard Keira tell Kate to get me in under 18 hours. We pushed as hard as our eye- foot coordination would allow with artificial light . We ran right through No Hands Bridge (mile 96.8) without stopping. A quick glance back as we on our final climb up to Robie Point (98.9) and I thought I saw and may have seen a headlamp not far off. I told Kate this is it lets GO! I am not going to let him pass me in the final mile! We again ran right through the final aid station and I busted into a sprint. It was a pretty steep hill leading up to the final descent to the Placer High School and it was on the descent that I knew my position was secure, I backed off my sprint pace which was probably only 7 minute miles and ran the last half mile in with Kate and Keira. I  hit the track and rounded the final corner overwhelmed by the cheers and elated that I had not only finished my first hundred mile race but that I was in the top 10 with a 7th place finish in 17:44.

I am forever jaded with the spectacle that is Western States, it truly deserves the title BIG SHOW. 
I would like to thank Craig Thornley who did a fantastic job as race director ( it was great seeing him out on the course so many times), the aid station volunteers that made me feel like they were my own personal crew.
Carbo Pro for making the products I needed to get it done (Carbo Pro carbohydrate powder, Recovery Amino pills, VO2 Max power pills)
Salt Stick for keeping me salty
INKnBURN for the functional equipment, clothing, and rad designs ( the hand helds kept my drinks ice cold the entire time)
Rudy Project for the technically cool eyewear
Petzel headlamps for lighting the way
M-Drive Elite
Marc Laveson for helping me from p12 to p7
Kate Martini Freeman for helping me hold p7 and being sexy
Keira Henninger for being the most incredible woman on earth and taking care of me ALWAYS. love you!


  1. Good stuff! Way to run smart man. I hope to come down and kick it in OC before too long. Any races on the schedule? Rematch at Los Pinos????

  2. Reading this gave me an adrenaline rush! Thanks for sharing your thoughts while you raced. Your physical endurance was impressive but your personal self was incredible! Physical preparation was long and necessary, but it was your personal knowledge of self that made this such an enduring wanted to "have at my own pace" You were aware of your body's ability and responses under pressure. Most telling of all was your ability to notice the beautiful scenery along the way. Jon Clark's words were perfect, "Race with the burning patience of a candle yet the heated inspiration of a wild fire." That is a great metaphor for LIFE and you live your life well.

  3. Congrats Jesse. Incredible debut 100 bro.

  4. Great race! And awesome report. Thanks for sharing your experience.