Saturday, June 24, 2017

Chas and I Crewing the Show: Ron's Western States 100 Domination: June 24th, 2017

Pre Race Meeting - these seats all get filled
I want to start diversifying my posts and writing about something other then races I have run.  I could not think of a better topic then my crewing experience at Western States 100 this year.  For those unfamiliar with this race, it's a tough 100 miler with 18,000 feet of elevation gain and 23,000 feet of downhill.  More importantly this race is one of the most iconic 100 milers in the U.S.  It is the oldest 100 mile run and was started by Gordy Ainsleigh in 1970.  He was in a 100 mile horse race and his horse had issues so he ended up doing the distance on foot in less than 24 hours.  Western States is a point to point course which starts in Squaw Valley, California and ends in Auburn, California.  Each year toward the end of June runners who embark on this historic trail will encounter all kinds of weather from snow in the mountains to 100+ degree heat in the canyons.  Western States is the toughest race to get into because thousands of runners apply through a lottery process but only around 370 are selected.  I have always wanted to be a part of this event in some way to check out the hype since we hear so much about the energy and ultra spirit surrounding it.

Snow in June!!  It was hot out too!
An opportunity appeared upon hearing the news that my friend Ron Delozier had been selected to run the event.  Chas Adams, Ron's longtime friend, immediately got a plane ticket to go out west and be the crew chief for this race.  I didn't want to miss this chance to be a part of the race and assist Chas in getting Ron through this thing so I got my flight scheduled.  I arrived on Friday morning the day before the race started and got right down to business as Chas and I had a lot to do.  We went to the pre-race meeting which was cool to be a part of because there were a lot of notable ultra runners and race directors there.  Then Chas and I went to the grocery store to get food for ourselves during the 30 hours we would be driving around in the middle of nowhere.  We were trying to figure out what to buy and ended up just throwing a bunch of random stuff in the cart as we went down the aisles.  The high cost of living in California slapped us right in the face when we checked out.  In the chaos of getting groceries we did manage to get the most important item, Ron's pre-race 6 pack of Budweiser!  After that Chas and I did a hike around the Squaw Valley area and we reached a big snow field.  The snow pack this year in the Sierras was extraordinary compared to the recent past.  It was very odd seeing snow in June but it is the mountains!  Then we managed to get some dinner and relax for a minute while going over some last minute things with Ron, although Chas already had the race day itinerary dialed in.  Ron proceeded to drink his pre-race beers, after eating his pre-race large pizza, and was getting some weird looks by the other runners.  I guess that is expected sine they were unaware of how bad ass this dude really is!

Final Race Meeting (Beers) 

Ready for complete Western States domination

Race morning was busy around the check in and starting
Starting Line
line area.  We walked up the path a little ways to get a spot where would could see everyone start.  I have never seen so many spectators at a 100 miler before!  The runners were off and it was cool to see the elites out in front of the pack go by us and we bid Ron a farewell as he started the initial 4 mile climb up the escarpment.  After the start Chas and I had some time to kill since we wouldn't see Ron again until he reached mile 31 at Robinson Flat.  The place where we were going was not even that far away as a crow fly's but you have to drive around the mountains to get there.  After two hours of driving we found the parking area for Robinson Flat.  We had to ride on a shuttle bus for a few miles down a one lane road to get to the actual aid station.  When we got there it was like a huge party.  There were a ton of volunteers and spectators scattered about.  Chas and I nervously went through our crewing supplies hoping that we brought everything Ron would need.  We went through the game plan a bunch of times and also had to find the perfect spot to have Ron sit down when he came into the aid station.  That spot changed a few times as the sun rotated around us.  One would think that two ultra runners crewing would have all this stuff dialed in but we were a nervous wreck!  I think it may have been the fear that if we screwed something up that it could really mess with Ron's race.  He is a low maintenance runner and does not require much from a crew but we wanted to make sure we kept him going. 

Ron coming in to Robinson Flat looking strong
Assessing the feet 
We were starting to get concerned because Ron was behind his scheduled arrival time at the aid station but then we were informed about knee deep snow and ankle sucking mud on the first 15 miles of the course.  The temperatures were also beginning to rise early.  It would get up to 100+ degrees.  We did not have cell phone reception so we were standing next to the HAM radio operator's tent and could actually get enough of a signal to check Ron's previous aid station check in times.  Ron came into the aid station and he was soaked from falling in the snow and sweat etc..  We got him a towel that we soaked with cold well water to wrap around himself, he changed his shoes and socks, ate a little food, and drank some coke.  He initially wanted to wait until the night portion of the race before consuming caffeine but I think the tough miles in the beginning took a little toll on him.  He was playing it smart by taking his time through the tough sections.  Some runners were dropping out from the heat and exhaustion from pushing to hard through the first third of the race.  We filled Ron's ice bandanna to put around his neck and off he went.  We told him he only spent 6 or 7 minutes there but after he left we realized it was more like 15 minutes.  Crap!  One of our jobs was to make sure he was in and out of the crew points quickly.  Extra time at aid stations can really add up and put a runner behind the cutoff times.  Oh well, he needed a good reset after the crazy sections and we declared it would not happen again!

Off we went to the next crew point called Michigan Bluff, which was mile 55 for Ron.  We fueled up and got some ice in town before heading to the aid station.  The parking situation was pretty rough when we got there and we had to drive pretty far up a steep paved road until we found a spot along side the road where we could park.  It was super hot out so we sat in the car chilling with the AC blasting.  We were wondering how Ron was doing in the 115 degree heat in the canyons and we felt a little guilty for sitting in the AC, actually, no..we did not feel guilty at all.  In fact, we may have laughed about it a few times.  We decided it would be a good idea to get some sleep before heading a mile and a half down this really steep road to the aid station with all our stuff.  I was just dozing off when all of a sudden a super loud noise was all around us.  Chas's cell phone was hooked up to the bluetooth and when his wife called the volume must of been all the way up because it scared the hell out of us!  There was no going to sleep after that so we did some math to try and calculate when Ron might be coming into this aid station.  The we loaded up all our stuff and hiked down the road with it.  There were a lot of spectators and crews lining the street leading up to the aid station.  It reminded me of a parade that everyone got to early in order to get a good spot.  I ran into a few different people here that I knew including Mike Pfefferkorn and Jay Smithberger.

Coming into Mich. Bluff still looking strong!
Ron came down the trail into the aid station and had made up some good time in that 24 mile stretch.  He was a few hours ahead of the cutoff and we felt pretty good about that.  We gathered up his drop bag and walked him down the street to where we set up.  Ron took his time here to make sure he had everything he needed.  By the time Ron was ready to leave this aid station the last shuttle back to the cars was pulling away.  Chas jokingly gave Ron (who was half way done with a 100 mile race) some shit for causing us to miss the shuttle and having to walk a mile and a half uphill back to the car.  It was all in good fun because we did not mind at all.  Once again we were concerned that Ron had spent to much time at the aid station and we vowed to get him in and out of the next crew point in town at Foresthill which would be mile 62.  Ron's family was going to be there to see him and we got all set up so it could be a quick stop.  Upon arrival Ron declared he had a blister that needed medical attention. Chas went with him back to the medical room.  The woman who was working on his foot took her time in order to do a good job and was being very talkative as well.  There was some very nervous texting back and forth between Chas and myself because we could not believe how long this aid station was taking and time was quickly elapsing.  Ron finally got out of there, said hello to his family, and then we got him everything he would need as the next time we would see him was at mile 78.  Chas ran with Ron for a mile or so as he left and I was cleaning some things up when I noticed that Ron forgot his ice bandanna!  It was still hot out even though it was night time and when Chas got back to the car we both started freaking out that we might of put Ron's race in jeopardy by forgetting to send him with that ice bandanna!  We also realized he spent more than a half hour at this stop and we were a nervous wreck about that as well!!

Gordy and the guy he gave his entry too. 
Video of the crazy shuttle ride below:

We made it to the next aid station where we caught a little bit of sleep in the car and then rode in the scariest shuttle ride of my life.  This old rickety shuttle bus was flying for a few miles down this old dirt rode next to a cliff drop off.  It made for quiet ride for those of us on that tin can of death on wheels.  We made it to the Rucky Chucky river crossing which was mile 78 for Ron.  There was a Doctor at this site and he was intently eyeing up every runner coming into the aid station.  He was all business and we saw him almost put an end to an older runner's race when he came in with a sideways lean!  Gordy Ainsleigh was at this aid station doing chiropractic work on runners.  He gave up his race entry so a runner from Vermont on the wait list could do the race.   We happened to be there when the Vermont runner came into the aid station and was giving his gratitude to Gordy.  Ron came in and we actually got him in and out of there in pretty good time.  This was the type of pit stop we were hoping every crew point would be and we felt a lot better about things as Ron was well ahead of the cutoffs.  We drove to the next crew point at mile 94 where we would have a lot of time to get some sleep.  We had to hike a mile to get to the aid station from the parking lot.  I don't think either of us go much shut eye as our adrenaline was pumping in anticipation for Ron getting his Western States 100 finisher belt buckle.  We were watching the online runner tracker waiting for Ron to check in to mile 85 just so we knew he was on track.  His check in never appeared and there were runners that were at the same pace as him who had already checked in there.  We started getting very worried about why he did not check in and a million things were going through our mind.
The famous Ron and Chas Ultra Backpack

I told Chas that best case scenario is the aid station did not register his chip and he had been there and left but it did not add up.  As the cutoffs elapsed the mile 85 aid station we decided to hike to the aid station we were at and check with the HAM radio operators to see if they could find out what Ron's status was.  We were scared that he either got lost or injured and had to drop out of the race, actually we were both delirious from not sleeping and were completely convinced in our minds that his race was done.  As we were hiking to the aid station with our heads hanging low I hit refresh on my phone for the online tracker and BOOM he had checked in to mile 90 a half hour earlier!  That meant he would be at our crew point soon so Chas took off running to the aid station and I sprinted back to the car so I could grab the Star Wars backpack which had things Ron would need.  I have to explain the significance of this backpack.  Chas and Ron purchased it (at the Dollar store I believe) last year when Chas crewed Ron at Leadville 100 and it brought them good fortune so we had to keep tradition alive and use it at Western States.  It is a mandatory piece of gear for all their "A" races and gets a race pin added after finishing.  I sprinted as hard as I could up a hill and all the way to the aid station.  I passed Mike Pfefferkorn who laughed and commented that I was getting some miles in.  As I got close Chas was giving me the slow down and walk sign because Ron was not there yet.  Our morale completely changed and we were psyched that Ron was still in the race and doing really well.  He came in here and we got him in and out of this aid station quickly.  He only had 6 miles to go so we told him no need to camp out here just get to the finish line.

Ron Leaving mile 94 aid station, easy money!
Chas and I arriving at Placerville Highschool
We drove to Placerville high school where runners go around the track to finish the 100 miler.  We walked a mile down the street where Ron would get to the mile 99 aid station.  This was a very cool aid station because we got to see a lot of runners coming in here and the whole neighborhood was out cheering them on.  It is a point where the runners
Ron entering the final stretch around the track
know they are going to finish the race and their excitement is very emotional.  We also got a good laugh witnessing a local kid on a hover board who was zooming by the aid station table and stealing cookies.  Ron came in and we were super pumped for him.  How cool is it that he only had a mile to go with a lot of time left?!  As we got near the track I did a facebook live video of Ron entering the track and running around to the finish line so everyone back home could see him finish.  We were super pumped that Ron got that buckle.  He persevered through crazy weather and extreme course conditions and ran a very smart race.  It turned out the extra time he spent at those aid stations probably saved his race contrary to what Chas and I thought.  The woman that worked on Ron's foot at Foresthill was at the finish line med tent and she reworked the wrappings.  She was very smart and a protege to the guy who wrote the book 'Fixing your Feet".  I was talking to a gentleman standing near us about the book and he said "I wrote that book!"

Ron's latest hardware, a shiny WS buckle

Fix-A-Foot team
Chas and I had a great time in the adventure of crewing for Ron.  We definitely had a lot of laughs throughout the crazy 30 hours that we were on point.  We decided to reward ourselves and do a run in Lake Tahoe on the Monday after the race.  We were both flying out of Reno on Tuesday so it worked out perfectly.  We picked a random trail and ended up having the best views of the lake that we could of ever asked for on our 20 miler.  It was so majestic and seemed very
Ron got it done
surreal.  Then we had an awesome lunch and off to Reno for some gambling and a bunch of celebratory beers.  I am really pleased that I got to be a part of Ron's crew with Chas and experience all the ambiance that Western States has to offer.  It was definitely an experience of a lifetime and I will never forget it.  This race is sort of like the super bowl for 100 mile ultra marathons and we had a front row seat on the 50 yard line.  Here are some pics from our run in Lake Tahoe:
Marlette Lake

The backdrop is not fake!
Great views of the mighty Lake Tahoe

Ron got his buckle and we are running in Tahoe, life is good!