This is the weekend of the Western States 100 Training Camp, held every Memorial Day weekend. The camp is designed as a last big mileage push for runners to familiarize themselves with the course over 3 days covering about 70 miles from Robinson Flat to Auburn.
This is my first time attending the camp (even though I didn't camp since I live less than a hour away). I was really excited about running parts of the course that I've never seen before. I participated in only 2 days since I'm working today (Monday). I was able to run today's section last February during another training run and after running 52 miles in 2 days, I'm not sorry to be at work today.
I checked in early Saturday morning and spent the hour before the buses would leave visiting with friends. It was a who's who of ultrarunning with past winner Hal Koerner, Beverly Anderson-Abbs, Scott Dunlap, and many others. I ran into my friend Frankie who would be following me home that night in her words, "like a stray dog". She wasn't set up to camp and I was able to coax her with the promise of a hot shower and soft bed.
Greg Soderlund addresses the crowd
By 8:00 we were loaded on the buses and heading to Robinson Flat, about an hour away on a narrow, twisty road. We were warned that there would be snow at RF so after unloading we should all follow Tim Twietmeyer up the road until we could get onto the trail.
We unloaded and started walking up the road, slipping and sliding on the snow a bit and getting warmed up. It was a beautiful day, not cold but also not expected to be smoking hot in the canyons.
Soon we were off the snow and onto the trail leading down through burnt over Duncan Canyon. It's a pretty rocky trail so not a lot of looking around. I found myself at the head of a line of runners which can be a little stressful because I know a lot of faster people were behind me. We got down to the logging roads and things started to work themselves out.
It wasn't long before I felt cold water being squirted on the back of my leg and Mark Winkelman, a captain I work with, laughed as he ran by. Said he wanted to make sure I didn't over-heat. Thanks for your concern, Mark. Sure hope you don't dehydrate without that water :)
Watch your step. My friend Rose
The trail is a combination of dirt roads and singletrack through remote country and soon we were in Last Chance, the beginning of the canyons section. As I started down this steep, narrow, rocky, leaf-covered, treacherous trail, I couldn't help but get chills as I thought about all the history of this area. It's hard to believe this was a major pack-train route to get supplies to all the miners.
It wasn't long before I felt my quad muscles getting sore. Uh oh. It's too early for this to be happening. After an endless descent I finally came upon the swinging bridge. What a site. I recognized the bridge from all those Western States DVD's I watch repeatedly (which I know my husband just loves). I saw runners down at the river soaking their feet but I just wanted to start the climb out the other side after taking a couple minutes for pictures.
I love this sign: Bridge Limit: 5 runners or 3 horses.
It wasn't long for me to understand why everyone calls this climb up to Devil's Thumb brutal. It is steep. It also didn't take long for me to discover a real weakness I have: I am a very slow climber. I think an old lady in a wheelchair could have passed me, everybody else did. There was a lot of shade and a nice breeze which kept me from getting too hot and I was grateful to finally reach the top where the aid station is usually located. For today's run they moved the AS about a mile further down the trail to Deadwood.
I saw my friend Gretchen taking down runners numbers then took advantage of all the good food and cold water. Now, to the subtitle of this post. It seems like every ultrarunner I know loves Payday bars and I always see them at aid stations and everybody seems to rave about how wonderful they are. So I bought some and tried them out. I wasn't impressed and have steered clear of them since.
But during the early miles I had been talking to my friend Rose about them and she also stated she loved them. So when I saw them on the table I decided to try one. Ummm, good. Really good. So I grabbed a couple and stuck them into my pocket and continued down the trail. And I continued to grab them at every aid station and am a Payday convert. Like GU's, some things just taste better 20 miles into a strenuous trail run.
The next descent into El Dorado Canyon is longer and not quite as steep. At one point I thought the trail would never get to the river. And like the descent, the climb out isn't as steep but longer than the last climb. A man came up to me and said when we get to the tree that looks like an elbow we'll be at the top. We started talking and it turns out he was Bill Hunter, President of the Sierra Trailblazers, a local running club in Nevada County that I belong to. As we arrived in Michigan Bluff he introduced me to Peggy Davidson who is a local ultrarunning legend and our Vice President. Since I have 2 young kids I don't make it to many meetings or club runs which explains why I had never met them before.
The next section from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill was a bit disappointing. You spend quite a while on a dirt road in an area that has been clear-cut and thinned and it just goes up, up, up. Finally I found myself back on a trail that descended steeply to Volcano Canyon. I reached the creek and realized there was no easy way to cross and stay dry so I forged right in. The water came up about mid-calf and it felt great.
One last climb up to Bath Rd and finally back to Foresthill where it all began about 9 hours earlier (32 miles and 8 hours of running). I was hoping to do a little better but I've had limited training the last 3 weeks and it showed. But I've got 3 months to Leadville so I'm not too worried. It will happen.
After phone calls to family letting them know we were safely off the trail, Frankie and I headed home picking up pizza and about 40 lbs of ice for those wonderful ice baths in our immediate future.
Since this post got a little long I'll be back later with Day 2: Foresthill to Rucky Chucky (and up to White Oak Flat).