Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Western States 2009

For the last few months there have been laminated pictures of the Western States sub24 buckle hanging around the house,in my car and in my office. I have been obsessed with getting one for myself and by the time I finally got the opportunity I was not going to let it slip away.
We hung out in Squaw Valley for 3 day prior to the race. All of the pre race meetings and med checks had really got me nervous. I had never seen so many people in such insane shape, it was a bit intimidating. To think that only 20% of these vein popping quadzillas will finish under 24hrs was hard to imagine. We got weight,blood pressure and heart rate checked and picked up our schwag and dropped off my 2 mini drop bags.

Race morning started off hectic as I had set the alarm for 3:15 but screwed it up somehow and looked up to see it was 4:00, only 1 hr to the start, luckily we were only 100 yards from the start line. I ran around crazily getting everything ready, bathroom, food, bathroom, coffee. Just before we walked out the door I hugged Tiff for a few minutes and cried for some reason,,just built up anxiety and nervousness I guess but I felt better afterwards.
Rick and I got to the start about 10 minutes before go time along with our wives and crew. I had my wife Tiffanie, Pacer John King and his wife Stacey to help get me through the race. As we stood there looking up at the illuminated mountain, the masses of people, the clock counting down,,,,it was amazing, truly a moment I won't forget.
I kept repeating to myself "you are a strong runner, keep your head down, stay focused, be thankful." this was sort of my mantra for the day. The countdown from ten started and we were finally off.

The fist hour up over emigrant pass is a bitch. Mostly just 4.5 miles power hiking at about 15% incline. It was long and felt never ending but once we hit the top it was finally time to roll. My nueroma was throbbing pretty good already but it I knew it would be masked by some other pain before too long. From this point on there are a lot of miles I really don't remember. Rick and I hung together for the first 15 miles or so until he pulled away. I was trying to stay at the same effort level on the downs and up and not push hard at all, just run comfortable. Everything was going pretty well until I pulled out of an aid station and fell on my handhelds which caused me to lose about 1/2 of my water. By the time I got to Robinson flat I was pretty trashed and dehydrated. I had been out of fluids for about 45 minutes and was a bit caught off guard on how tough this first 30 miles was. The altitude and the climbs were both hitting me good. I also had a few burning spots from the wet shoes early on but hoped they would fade once my feet dried out a bit. "you are a strong runner, keep your head down, stay focused, be thankful."
I came into Robinson flat and was taken back by how big it was. There were people everywhere. In, refill everything, eat lots and out. I talked to my crew, told them I was dehydrated so Tiff and Tony helped me strap on my Nathan Pack also and fill up mi Ice Bandanna around my neck. The next 33 miles I would be carrying 110 oz of water between my pack and 2 handhelds but I could not afford to get dehydrated, cramps would kill me. There were signs at each aid station with the 24hr and 30 hr pace on them and I was just a few minuted under the 24hr pace, just as planned. It would be another 26 miles before I saw the crew again at Michigan Bluff so I thanked them all and was off.

A few miles after leaving Robinson Flat I crossed path with Dean Karnazes. We were staying within sight of each other for the next 10 or so miles. Got to chat with him a bit until Last Chance Aid station where he took a while to get cooled off since the heat was starting to get to him. Last chance is so appropriately named, it is literally your last chance to get out before heading in and out of the canyons on the roughest 2 canyon descents on the course. I was still hanging right at 24 hr pace. My blisters were getting bad now. They were on the bottoms of both feet and the heel of my right foot which really hurt on any downhill sections and the worst were coming up. "you are a strong runner, keep your head down, stay focused, be thankful."

I headed down the trail to the bottom of the canyon hoping to just get down in one piece without completely shredding my feet. The 2 canyons are also the hottest part of the course but I really didn't feel the heat much. All of those afternoon runs in the 100 degree high midwest humidity were now paying dividends. I was also stopping every time I ran across any water to dip my hat and Great Plains Trail Running shirt (thanks Willy) in the water to help cool off. Once I got to the bottom of the Canyon I was looking forward to climbing up. I was still right on 24 hr pace and felt this was a chance to pad my time a few minutes. Power Walking long steep sections seems top be a strength of mine, too bad there aren't more hills in the the midwest. I passed several people on the 45 minute climb out of Devils thumb and was about 5 minutes up on 24hrs at the top.
Now it was back down to the bottom again for 3 miles of insanely painful descent. I passed several people here of to the side of the trail puking and it I was definitely thankful for not being in their spot. Once down to the bottom of the canyons I hit the aid station and ran into Rick there also. He was loading up with Salt and we headed up the 3 mile climb to Michigan Bluff. I knew once I got to the top I would see my crew so I really kicked it in to power up the climb best I could.
I pulled into Michigan Bluff and I think the crew was surprised to see me already. I felt good and was now over 1/2 done, right on schedule. My weight was up by 8 lbs but I felt good. The blisters were getting quite large now and it was annoyingly painful feeling then squishing around in my shoes. I stuffed my face with food and refilled supplies. John asked how I was feeling and I said I was just trying to save a little for him during the night. I could tell I was doing okay by the look on Tiffs face. I walked out of the aid station about 7-10 minutes up on the 24hr pace.
I took it easy for the last 7 miles before Foresthill and rolled in about on schedule. I spent 8 minutes here getting the night gear on, Tiff drained some blisters and changes my socks. Ate a few Icees and brownies and was thankful for all the people I had there helping me. The blisters were really bad now, by far the worst I have ever had. It was time to suck it up, this is where the real race starts. 38 miles of painful dark running left, this was my time, no whining, no regrets.

John and I took off on to the Cal trails and chugged along slowly and smoothly down, down, down. I was looking forward to hitting the Rucky Chucky River crossing and getting a chance to cool off in the river. The night section of a 100 is all about mental toughness, blocking out the pain and focusing on moving forward, no matter how slow that may be. 16.7 miles later we arrived at the crossing and made our way across. There were a lot of huge boulders to climb over making it more difficult that I was expecting. Once across we started the 2 mile climb up to Green Gate. I knew Tiff, Stacey and Angel were up there, they had hiked 1.5 miles down in the dark just to see us for a few minutes which I was really thankful for. I was a little low when we got up to Green Gate. I think Tiff must have picked up on that. She walked with me for a second and was able to get me really fired up again.
20.5 miles left. John and I left and I was running in front for much of the time, him pushing me a little from behind. We really didn't talk much all night, I was so focused on what I was doing it just felt right being silent, pushing forward, over and over in my mind "you are a strong runner, keep your head down, stay focused, be thankful."
We got to Browns Bar aid station, it was surreal, like a dream, my body was there but my thoughts and focus weren't, loud music, lots of red clothes and flashing lights. After leaving there we noticed the spotlights in the sky. Four huge rotating beams of light stationed at the finish line pulling us in. It was amazing to see them. I did not realize what they were for at first. Maybe McDonald's was running a special or something, then it clicked. I told John " I think that is where we need to go, those are for us". We got up to Hwy 49 crossing where I weighed in at 12 lbs over my start weight. The Dr was concerned and was trying to grab my arm and talk to me about needing to stop and get my weight down. I just kept telling her I was fine. Not a chance in hell they were going to make me stop with 7 miles left. We said hi to the girls gave them a thumbs up and got out before they could had another chance to stop us. We chugged along the next 3.5 to No Hands Bridge which was lit up like a runway, they had a movie playing on a big screen but I couldn't stay to watch much, other things to do right now.
Finally the moment I had dreamed about for 3 years was actually about to happen. The last few miles were amazing. Three and a half years ago, before my first marathon I watched a documentary on Western States and knew I wanted to try it someday. I had been training for the last 8 months for these last few steps. Countless times I have entered that stadium in my mind looking up to see the clock reading 23 something and it was actually happening. I had been so focused on this one goal for so long it was hard to take it all in. I shed a few tears that last road section. John and I turned off our lights and ran the last 1.5 miles in the dark, looking up at those beautiful beams of light in the sky, following those Orange footsteps to the stadium. It was the best mile I have ever ran in my life. We stopped just before entering the stadium, I handed him my bottles and headlamp......"you are a strong runner, keep your head down, stay focused, be thankful."
Tiff came over and ran part of the track lap with me, she was crying pretty good, I told her I couldn't believe it was happening, I actually did it. I crossed the finish at 23:12, got my finisher Medal and just sat in the chair trying to take it all in. It was everything I had hoped for and more, and Rick finishing strong topped it off.

I could go on and on but to sum it up I had a goal to finish under 24hrs, worked my ass of to do everything I could to accomplish it, planned out a strategy and approach for the race and then executed it exactly as planned.
The group of people there supporting me we amazing!! Tiff, John, Stacey, Tony, Angel and Kristi, without them I would not have been able to have success.
A few things that helped me out; Heat training pays off. When cool water is available in a stream take advantage of it. Eat as much as you can at every aid station. It is better to have too much water rather than not enough. Be as nice as you can to your crew, they make this possible. Mental attitude and focus are a priority when running 100 miles.
My new favorite color is Silver.


Dennis said...

congratulations - truly an awesome feat!

rob horton said...

AWESOME!!! thanks for the report - i was following you on the live updates and was sending sub-24 vibes your way. thanks for the inspiration.

Michelle said...

Gabe this is so amazing, I wish I could have read this before the race. You had the right everything for the sub 24 hour mission. I am relly happy for you!! Heal up and hope to see you again somewhere. I love your story from fatty to WSER SILVER!! Michelle Halsne

Ben said...

Hey Gabe, stumbled onto your blog when I googled your race results. Thanks for sharing the write-up and pics. You've definitely inspired me. Congratulations

Thomas Bussiere said...

Awesome Gabe! Congrats with sub 24 @ WS. Enjoyed the report and glad to see a course that really challenged you. A lot of hard work for a lifetime accomplishment.
What kind of specific training did you do to get prepared and what would you do different next time?

Michael Huff said...

Great report and congrats on a great race. Way to stay focused and push on through tough conditions. Let me know if you come east for any events.
Mike Huff

Lee said...

Epic post and run, way to go!

greg said...

Congrats DUDE!!! You are awesome!!!

Darin said...

Great job again, you have inspired me to train harder and get me an awsome report like this. You the man...

Anonymous said...

Vein popping quadzilla. If you thought that about the other runners I can only imagine what they may have thought about you. With your biceps breaking out of your Saran Wrapped Frame looking like a mixed martial arts light heavyweight cage fighter.
Awesome freakin race brother. You are a strong runner dude. The strongest I've ever seen. I don't know how you managed to run through the blisters for so long. You must have been using Super Glue with topical analgesic in it. Cause I sure has hell wouldn't have mad it that far before taping the shit out of them. Congratulations again on a race well exicuted.

JohnnyTri said...

Great Race recap..
Congrats !! You deserve it.


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